Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/63 Tue, 18 Jun 2019 10:54:55 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) De Blasio Opposes Council Bill to Create Department of Sustainability & Climate Change https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8611-de-blasio-opposes-council-bill-to-create-department-of-sustainability-climate-change https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8611-de-blasio-opposes-council-bill-to-create-department-of-sustainability-climate-change Costa Constantinides City Council

Council Member Constantinides (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


At a recent hearing of the City Council Committee on Environmental Protection, the de Blasio administration expressed its opposition to a bill that would establish a New York City Department of Sustainability and Climate Change.

The bill, Intro. 1399, was introduced in February by Council Member Costa Constantinides, a Queens Democrat and chair of the environmental protection committee.

It would make New York City among the first in the nation to implement a municipal-level agency dedicated to sustainability and climate change, according to Constantinides, and would repeal the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and replace it with the new department, led by a commissioner. This change, going from part of the mayor’s office to a separate department, would likely mean more funding and staff for the responsibilities involved, signifying greater emphasis on the city’s efforts to fight climate change and prepare for its effects.

The commissioner of a Department of Sustainability and Climate Change would be responsible for all matters pertaining to recovery, resiliency, and sustainability, the three main pillars of the work involved as the city takes additional efforts to deal with and fight climate change. The department would develop and coordinate the implementation of policies, programs, and actions to meet the long-term needs of the city.

The proposed bill would also establish a Sustainability Advisory Board with members to include, at a minimum, “representatives from environmental, environmental justice, planning, architecture, engineering, oceanography, coastal protection, construction, critical infrastructure, labor, business, and academic sectors.” Most members would be appointed by the Mayor though it would also include the Speaker of the City Council and the chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection or their designees.

“It’s time for us to make as a city a larger investment, a deeper investment, and one that when this mayor leaves, and when this City Council leaves, that we’re leaving behind a stronger apparatus, an apparatus that would be in perpetuity in relation to climate change,” Constantinides said during the hearing.

But Mark Chambers, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, testified before the Council committee at the June 12 hearing, which also dealt with two other bills related to reducing methane emissions and leaks in the city, and expressed the de Blasio administration’s opposition to the bill to create a new department.

After highlighting what he deemed the many successful initiatives of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, and the Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs, Chambers said a new department is not necessary. Key measures and structures are already in place to ensure that resiliency, sustainability, and recovery are embedded in all New York City agencies and initiatives, Chambers argued.

“Climate change is a cross-cutting issue requiring the specialized expertise of almost every city agency. By giving the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and the Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs the power to coordinate agency efforts, we are able to act with the urgency that our residents demand,” Chambers said in his testimony.

“Having said that, while the administration believes that our current climate teams are structured appropriately to meet the challenge, New York City residents need every tool at our disposal in this fight,” he continued. “We share your goals that were put forward in Intro. 1399 to prepare New York City for the impacts of climate change, build a more sustainable city and effectively respond to and recover from climate emergencies. In the coming months, we look forward to discussing strategies for effectively meeting these goals together.”

“I completely agree that doing more is not only advantageous but it’s absolutely necessary. To your original point about the benefits of making sure there is a legacy of this work, making sure that it has to continue, one of the hallmarks of our approach to our climate work is codifying it wherever possible,” Chambers said in his testimony. “So it’s not just working with the Council, it’s also with changing the energy codes, changing the building codes, changing the zoning codes to make sure that it is not subject to just prioritization but it’s become a culture of how we do work internally in the city as well as how the city at large has to redefine our environment.”

Constantinides acknowledged the work that the mayor’s office and the City Council have done to address climate change, its threats and impacts, but said the city needs a single agency to act as a conduit for all resiliency work moving forward. “The men and women of MOS and MOR have done an outstanding job and I want to thank them for that,” he said in his opening statement. “We cannot expect, however, that the several dozen employees in this office have the capacity to manage the sustainability policies for the over 300,000 strong city workforce. We want to give them more help.”

The new department would implement and monitor sustainability initiatives in New York City that have been launched in recent years such as the city’s commitment to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and the city’s initiative to install 1 gigawatt of solar capacity citywide by 2030 -- enough to power 250,000 homes -- among many others. Led by Constantinides, the City Council just passed, with de Blasio’s support, sweeping legislation to mandate major carbon emissions reductions and green upgrades at the city’s largest buildings, and the de Blasio administration is moving ahead not only with continued recovery efforts from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, but new resiliency efforts like the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project.

The proposed bill would also require the commissioner of the Department of Sustainability and Climate Change to present a long-term sustainability plan for the city that would detail interim goals based on planning and sustainability indicators. The city would have to achieve each interim goal by no later than April 22, 2030 and long-term goals no later than April 22, 2050. (April 22 is Earth Day.)

Additionally, the commissioner must prepare and submit to the mayor and the speaker of the City Council an initial report on the city’s performance with respect to the identified sustainability indicators and long-term planning and sustainability efforts no later than April 22, 2020.

At the hearing, Constantinides asked Chambers how a new mayor would affect the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability’s current $17 million budget. “The discretion would still stand with the mayor, whether it’s agency or whether it’s mayoral office,” Chambers responded.

After Chambers and other representatives of the de Blasio administration testified, members of the public appeared before the Council to discuss the bills at hand, raising some questions about the proposed department bill.

“I’m concerned that there do not appear to be any enforcement mechanisms if agencies fail to meet their stated goals,” said Amy Ruther of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “I’m also concerned that the members of the Sustainability Advisory Board are all appointed, not elected, and they are not required to seek input from the communities that their decisions will impact the most.”

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by Jewel Antoine, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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De Blasio Opposes Council Bill to Create Department of Sustainability & Climate Change Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Fading Promise of Property Tax Reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8586-the-fading-promise-of-property-tax-reform https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8586-the-fading-promise-of-property-tax-reform may bdb cc speaker corey jo

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


Despite promising that in his second term he would take on the challenge of property tax reform, Mayor de Blasio appears to be shying away as many leaders have done many times before.

New York City government is extremely dependent upon its property tax, which will generate roughly $30 billion this coming fiscal year, more than any other single revenue source. Not surprisingly, New Yorkers gripe about their property taxes almost as much as about the subways.

The laws and methods used to determine and assess the tax on individual properties are extremely complex and inequitable, but reforming them is a daunting task that will inevitably make some property owners unhappy. For that reason, elected officials have long avoided tackling the problem.

The current New York City property tax system was created in 1981. A lawsuit brought by law professor William Hellerstein in 1975 challenged the legality of the property tax system state-wide as violating the constitutional requirement that all similar properties be taxed equally.

After several missed deadlines, rejected proposals, and a last-minute override of Governor Carey’s veto, a new law was passed that divided properties in New York City into four “classes,” set different percentages of the value of each class of property to be assessed (assessment ratios), limited the amount of total property tax levy to be derived from each class (class shares), and provided for phase-ins and limitations on the growth of tax revenue from different classes so that no one property or type of property would experience a dramatic increase in value and taxation as the new system was phased in.

Thirty-eight years later, New York City looks quite different, property values have soared, and there have been many unintended consequences of the design of the property tax system.

Limitations on phasing in growth in value mean that properties within the same class are often taxed at very different effective rates and the limitations on class shares of the tax levy mean that different classes are shouldering disproportionate amounts of the burden of the growth in overall property value.

One of the most egregious outcomes is that co-ops and condos -- for which the market was very different in 1981-- are in the same class as rental properties and are assessed, not on their market value, but as if they were only generating rental income. The result is many high-end apartments assessed at far lower amounts than their real value; whole residential co-op and condo buildings in some parts of Manhattan are taxed at less than the actual sales prices of individual apartments in the building.

What is to be done? In April 2017 a group of frustrated real estate developers and landlords joined with individual property owners and supportive civic and civil rights groups (including Citizens Budget Commission, which I led at the time and filed an amicus brief) to file a new lawsuit, Tax Equity Now NY LLC vs. City of New York, et al. alleging the current property tax system discriminates against primarily people of color who are low-income renters and homeowners. The lawsuit was filed in the hope that, as had happened in response to the Hellerstein case, city and state leaders would respond with urgency and determination to develop a reformed taxation system.

Instead, both city and state defendants have strenuously resisted the suit, moving to dismiss it on the grounds that the plaintiffs aren’t directly impacted and/or that the state defendants aren’t responsible. The City also infuriated City Council members who wanted to intervene on behalf of the plaintiffs by opposing their application to file a separate brief.

The motion to dismiss was filed in June but it took until September 2017 for the judge to rule that the case could proceed and until February 2018 to rule that the Council members could not intervene in the case. The City filed an appeal and all further action in the case is on hold until that appeal is decided.  

At a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York the day before he was re-elected in November 2017, I asked Mayor de Blasio whether he was going to take on property tax reform. He answered directly and forthrightly that the system needs to be more fair and transparent but that we cannot afford to reduce substantially the revenue it generates and that relying on the judicial system to resolve the problem would be a mistake.

He estimated that it would “take a year or two” to bring all the stakeholders together and come up with the needed reforms and that it would require being “blunt” about the challenges. He said: “I am ready to do it….When I say something that definitively, I mean it…We will create tax reform.”

It took until May 31, 2018, more than a year after the Tax Equity Now case was filed and now a year ago, for the Mayor and the City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to announce the formation of an Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform. Co-chaired by former city Housing Commissioner Vicki Been, then faculty director of the NYU Furman Center, and former First Deputy Mayor and then Interim COO of CUNY Marc Shaw, the commission was charged to “develop recommendations to reform New York City’s property tax system to make it simpler, clearer, and fairer, while ensuring that there is no reduction in revenue used to fund essential City services.”

No deadlines were specified, but the commission was instructed to conduct at least 10 public hearings.

All the public hearings and meetings were recorded and are available online. The last one was held this past February 28. Yet there is still no word on what the commission will recommend or when it will publish its report. The state legislative session is almost over so it is too late to achieve any changes this year and Been has become a deputy mayor with a lot more on her plate.

So the mayor’s promises notwithstanding, an opportunity to rationalize our property tax system and make it more fair has been missed and the commission looks more like a stalling device than a sincere effort to make tough decisions. Who wants to make New York property owners unhappy during a presidential campaign? As was the case four decades ago, it appears that we will need a lawsuit to compel elected officials to make tough decisions.

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

 

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

 

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Fading Promise of Property Tax Reform Tue, 11 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Assessing Vision Zero Amid a Spike in Traffic Fatalities https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8583-assessing-vision-zero-amid-a-spike-in-traffic-fatalities https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8583-assessing-vision-zero-amid-a-spike-in-traffic-fatalities Vision Zero

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Soon after Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped into office in 2014, he championed Vision Zero, a signature street safety program with the goal of reducing traffic-related fatalities from 297 in 2013 to zero by 2024. About halfway through that ten-year timeline, the program has become a significant de Blasio success, even as some advocates and lawmakers have said the administration could and should be moving ahead faster to protect pedestrians and bikers, and limit deference to cars.

Through increasing the number of protected bike lanes, reducing speed limits, redesigning intersections, increasing penalties for dangerous drivers, and other street safety improvements, the number of traffic fatalities fell to an all-time low of 202 last year. But the first half of this year has seen a dramatic spike.

Through June 2, the number of fatalities due to traffic crashes on city streets has risen to 82, a 26.2% increase over the same time period from the previous year, according to city statistics. Advocates and legislators alike are calling on the de Blasio administration to address the increase as an emergency and do much more to continue and accelerate the trend VIsion Zero had been following.

During a press conference last week, de Blasio said he would not stop until he had  “done everything conceivable,” and that is why he “takes a Vision Zero approach.” Yet some view de Blasio as too timid in implementing key elements of Vision Zero. Last year, de Blasio’s administration built 21 miles of new bike lanes, a decrease from 25 in 2017.

“The frustrating thing in light of this epidemic of traffic violence is that under de Blasio, even though many of these tools have been implemented, they simply have not been implemented at the pace that the crisis and the epidemic requires,” Marco Conner, interim executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast.

Transportation Alternatives is an advocacy group whose mission is “to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and advocate for better bicycling, walking, and public transit for all New Yorkers.”

Conner would like to see a city less dependent on cars, he said, though he acknowledges car transportation will remain a key aspect of city transit and street use. It’s the degree that matters. His comments are in line with Speaker of the City Council Corey Johnson’s recently introduced legislation to mandate a “master plan for city streets” to help accomplish his goal to “break the car culture” in New York. Johnson’s plan would have the city create within five years at least 150 miles of protected bus lanes, at least 1,000 intersections with signal priority for buses, at least 250 miles of protected bicycle lanes, many more pedestrian plazas, and citywide upgrades to bus stops.

Others, including Conner and Transportation Alternatives, have called for narrower vehicle lanes and more pedestrian islands to decrease crossing distance and improve pedestrian safety.

“The extent to which our streets are saturated with cars and trucks is not something that we need,” Conner said. “And so the ideal New York City that I imagine is one where everyone in New York can get around without a car if they have to,” he said.

De Blasio has emphasized a lower speed limit and speed cameras and appeared less enthusiastic about increasing the number of bike lanes (and though he recently took more of an interest, he’s been especially slow to show much interest in speeding up the city’s buses). The mayor recently announced that the city will install speed cameras in all 750 of the city’s school zones by June 2020, the result of his and others’ advocacy and a new state law.

“The central problem still is motor vehicles. The central problem is changing behavior, getting people to actually slow down, getting people to actually follow the laws, stop at the stoplight, stop at the stop signs, yield to pedestrians,” de Blasio said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on May 31.

Many of the city's existing bike lanes leave cyclists at high risk to nearby traffic, but some still blame cyclists for creating a traffic hazard. “We also have to overcome the victim-blaming that we see, and that’s something that we actually see in part with the mayor now, who has directed a crackdown against food delivery workers on e-bikes in this city,” Conner said.

Johnson’s proposal to create more protected bike lanes would be a “tremendous step forward,” Conner said.

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, sees bike lanes as instrumental in decreasing the number of cars in the city.

“I think that our goal should be to reduce the number of New Yorkers who own vehicles, from 1.4 million car owners that we have today to 1 million by 2030. And by doing that, we have to continue building more protected bike lanes,” Rodriguez said on Max & Murphy. “And I feel that when we look at protected bike lanes and see how we’re building around 20 protected bike lanes last year, we could do better,” he said.

Rodriguez also noted the importance of improving public transportation in “transportation deserts. We need to create jobs besides the Midtown area, Long Island City, and Brooklyn, so that people, they don’t have to travel to go to work,” he said.

However, Rodriguez offered only vague answers to possible costs that would come as a result of the solutions being offered by legislators like Johnson and advocates like Conner. Asked about the reduction of free on-street parking that may come from an increase in bike lanes and other measures to “break the car culture,” Rodriguez said he was focusing on “how drivers are still driving over the speed limit, and how we can redesign our intersections and also how we can redesign our streets.”

Rodriguez’s own legislation, developed with Transportation Alternatives and others, known as the “Vision Zero Street Design Standard bill” just passed through the City Council, and is expected to become law.  It mandates the city Department of Transportation “to develop a standard checklist of safety-enhancing street design elements that the department must consider for major transportation projects,” according to a press release from Rodriguez’s office, including things like ADA accessibility, protected bicycle lanes, dedicated unloading zones, narrow vehicle lanes, pedestrian safety islands, and more.

DOT will also “be required to post the standard checklist on its website for public access” and “to complete a checklist stating which street design elements were applied and justify which elements were not applied.”

During the interview, Rodriguez also offered an ambiguous answer about what to do with the city’s taxi medallion crisis, though he acknowledged that the city had failed those to whom the city marketed medallions and pledged a proposal is in the works.

“I think that we need to put together a team of individuals that brings recommendations on how to reorganize the TLC industry and how to be helpful to all sectors that interact with the Taxi & Limousine Commission,” Rodriguez said. He said that he is working with Speaker Johnson and others on a plan, but did not provide specifics.

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Is Vision Zero Stalled?]

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by Noah Berman
@GothamGazette

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Assessing Vision Zero Amid a Spike in Traffic Fatalities Sun, 09 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Interim NYCHA CEO Kathryn Garcia on the Federal Monitor and Future of Public Housing in New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8562-interim-nycha-ceo-on-the-federal-monitor-and-future-of-public-housing-in-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8562-interim-nycha-ceo-on-the-federal-monitor-and-future-of-public-housing-in-new-york de Blasio NYCHA lead

Mayor de Blasio & Kathryn Garcia, right (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Four months on the job, NYCHA Interim Chair and CEO Kathryn Garcia remains optimistic and determined about the future of the New York City public housing authority, home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers and several major crises. Garcia, who was the city’s sanitation commissioner for about five years until taking leave to fill in as the head of NYCHA, appeared on WBAI’s Max & Murphy show, where she discussed the de Blasio administration’s plans and programs to address problems at the housing authority, which is now under federal monitorship.

“NYCHA is huge organization and in many ways you can think of it as a small city, the size of Miami,” Garcia said. “One of the things I wanted to put in place while I was here is the on-boarding of the federal monitor, which started a few weeks after the agreement was signed to make sure we were setting up systems to come into compliance and have a successful monitorship.”

Garcia discussed working with the monitor, Bart Schwartz, and said she does not believe she is in the running to be named as the permanent NYCHA chair and CEO -- Mayor de Blasio and federal authorities have extended their own deadline to name a new NYCHA leader until the end of June. She also detailed some of what NYCHA is doing to address its long-term financial troubles, including the controversial plan to allow developers to build new private apartment buildings, with a mix of “affordable” and market-rate housing, on under-utilized NYCHA land.

In terms of getting Schwartz integrated and beginning their working relationship, Garcia said they were doing “big-picture planning on issues of compliance” and “setting up the three departments -- compliance, safety, and quality assurance,” and addressing lead paint, “hopefully eventually coming off having a monitor.”

“But there’s also a longer-term goal,” Garica said, of “how do we drive investment into these buildings. Because they are assets of the city and critical homes for all of the residents.” It’s important, she said, to consider a variety of newer options, including the “Obama-era RAD program, or what we call the Build to Preserve program to ensure residents are seeing impact as quickly as possible,” referring to the Rental Administration Demonstration program that allows for private management of NYCHA buildings and added federal dollars, as well as the “infill” private development on NYCHA land.

For Garcia, and whomever replaces her, the challenges are immense -- not only has the public housing authority had a lead paint scandal that it is now aggressively attempting to mitigate, but overall NYCHA has a $30-plus billion needs assessment for the housing stock to be brought to a state of good repair over the next five or so years. That need includes things like roofs, boilers, elevators, and more.

On the show, Garcia noted that “one role NYCHA is serving is it’s the only bastion of affordable housing left in some of these neighborhoods, so it’s doubly important for us to make a commitment to it.”

“[W]e don’t have a lot of options at this point in terms of the incredible need,” she said at one point, pointing to the administration’s plan to lease NYCHA land to developers who will fund millions of dollars in repairs at the NYCHA properties where they build.

NYCHA is operating under Schwartz’s eye after the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) threatened receivership and federal prosecutors turned up major safety issues. At the end of January, Mayor de Blasio and HUD Secretary Ben Carson came to a deal, approved by a judge and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, that included the monitor.

The month before, in December 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled “NYCHA 2.0,” a ten-year plan to repair public housing in the city by bringing in $24 billion. The plan includes funding for capital repairs across the NYCHA system and tackling problems such as lead paint, mold, elevator malfunctions, heat outages, and vermin infestations, which have increasingly plagued the city’s public housing in recent years. The plan represents three-quarters of NYCHA’s $31.8 billion overall capital needs.

Garcia acknowledged that it has been “somewhat more complicated” to run an agency under federal monitorship, but also said that “outside eyes” can often be helpful in tackling a complex issue such as NYCHA.

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia]

Garcia remains “hopeful” that the state and federal governments will increase their funding for NYCHA, but she, like de Blasio, appears realistic that major help is unlikely any time soon. She did note, though, that an allocated $450 million in state money is on the verge of finally being spent on NYCHA repairs, and she explained that “one of the reasons we’re looking to these programs that convert from traditional public housing funding to section 8 is it’s been historically more fully funded than traditional public housing.”

On the RAD program and whether it should raise concerns of NYCHA “privatization” as some have claimed, Garcia said, “we are leveraging the private market to bring additional funding into NYCHA.” She emphasized that NYCHA will still own the land and will ensure that residents are protected in development.

Despite some initial pushback to the “NYCHA 2.0” plan, Garcia called the Build to Preserve program, which would see private development on NYCHA-owned land, “another tool in our toolbox to drive funding into NYCHA’s buildings” and “one of three legs” along with RAD and selling air rights. She also said the program would not work or be appropriate everywhere.

“I completely understand why NYCHA residents would be anxious about it because historically people got moved out of their homes and they never came back,” Garcia said, but then also promised, “we are taking a completely different approach to this,” pledging a lot of communication, no residential displacement, and investment of revenue directly into the home campus.

Saying there aren’t other options to address NYCHA’s needs, Garcia added, “This is a way to take...value from the campuses and do two things really: make sure residents do well and also increase the supply of housing and affordable housing in the City of New York, which is of course always in dire need.”

On the lead crisis at NYCHA, Garcia said, “We stabilized thousands of apartments that had presumed or lead-based paint with children under six. We still have a lot more to do...We don’t know where all the lead paint is, and that is why we kicked off what is called the XRF initiative, which is X-raying the paint and being able to tell whether it has any lead. We started that on April 15...It will take us till end of 2020 to get that done because we are planning to test 134,000 apartments.”

Some issues present “relatively straightforward fixes, like baseboards were painted lead, but nothing else in the apartment, while there will probably also be apartments where lead paint was used on every wall and those will obviously be much more significant jobs,” she said. X-raying all the paint is the “critical first step,” she said.

Asked her assessment as to what really went wrong around lead paint inspections, Garcia said, “I obviously wasn’t here to assess exactly what all the steps were...One of the things that I think is true is a basic failure to understand what the requirements were and how much work it was going to take under HUD regulations and getting systems in place to really ensure that that happened,” later adding that it was also about complying with “local law.”

“This an easy place to get trapped in putting out the fire of the day,” she continued, “and not stepping back and saying are we hitting all the milestones we need to hit to ensure that we are coming into compliance and to ensure that we are building a future here.”

She also said “lead-based paint is...inherently a maintenance issue,” because “it’s not dangerous if it’s not peeling and chipping off the walls,” but when leaks are allowed to fester and apartments are not regularly painted, problems arise.

Another big part of NYCHA 2.0 is the plan to convert 62,000 of its 176,000 public housing units to Section 8, through programs such as RAD. Sarah Watson, the deputy director of the Citizen Housing and Planning Council, appearing on Max & Murphy just after Garcia, compared this to a similar strategy that was used to fix London’s public housing in the 1980s.

“The UK did hit a similar sort of crisis around public housing around 40 years ago, so has spent 40 years trying to deal with a very similar issue, which is it’s somewhat easy for government to build housing but it’s difficult for them to figure out how to keep that going” without dramatically increasing subsidies, she said.

About a third of London residents were living in 770,000 public housing units in 1980. This is compared to the 400,000-plus New Yorkers living in 176,000 units today. The UK’s solution had two parts. First was allowing public housing residents to buy their homes and second was repairing the remaining public housing stock. “One of the most radical acts of housing policy ever seen was giving families the right overnight to buy their house or apartment,” according to Watson.

She also said that the first phase then saw “a downside effect of being left with the worst quality housing stock with the most troubled and low-income residents.”

While she acknowledges that replicating London’s plan may not be a complete fix, Watson said that fixing NYCHA “will take some radical new approaches and certainly some bold leadership,” like what happened in the United Kingdom. London’s public housing included a substantial number of homes in addition to apartments and “it was a little harder to get apartments to sell.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia]

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Lessons from London for How to Fix NYCHA]

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Interim NYCHA CEO Kathryn Garcia on the Federal Monitor and Future of Public Housing in New York Mon, 03 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio's End-of-Session Albany Agenda https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8566-de-blasio-s-end-of-session-albany-agenda https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8566-de-blasio-s-end-of-session-albany-agenda mayor bdb carls assembly

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


With 11 days of state legislative session left, including Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio headed to Albany to confab with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to push for several legislative priorities.

Among the major items on his agenda, according to mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, are reforming rent regulations, legalizing marijuana, eliminating the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT), authorizing design-build contracting at several city agencies, expanding the discretionary threshold for awarding contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs), restoring employer protection provisions for school bus contracts, repealing Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights law, which shields disciplinary records of police officers, parole reform, and allowing judges to consider dangerousness of an individual as a factor when determining bail.

"There's a lot going on in the final weeks here of the legislative session," de Blasio said at a Monday afternoon news conference, before meeting with legislative leaders. "I want to say at the outset, I want to express my admiration for Speaker Heastie and Leader Stewart-Cousins. What they've achieved already this year has been remarkable, it’s been historic. A lot more is going to happen over the next few weeks. This is going to be judged as one of the great legislative sessions in many decades."

De Blasio has mostly been quiet about his Albany priorities ahead of the June 19 end of the scheduled session, at which time a typical “big ugly” mash-up of bills may again pass through the Legislature and be approved by the governor. Active on the presidential campaign trial, de Blasio is making his presence felt in the state capital at what he says is the right time, given that little is decided in Albany before the final days before a budget is due or the legislative session ends. Questions linger, though, about de Blasios’ focus on his mayoral duties, including pushing his state agenda, and about what kind of clout the mayor has among state leaders.

Unlike past years, where the mayor had to contend with a hostile Republican-controlled Senate, de Blasio finds himself in a stronger position as he negotiates with and lobbies his own Democratic allies. The mayor did not meet with Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday but, on a few items on his list, he finds himself on the same page as Cuomo, who listed his own ten legislative priorities last week.

Cuomo’s top priorities include rent regulation reform, strengthening the state’s MWBE program, strengthening state sexual harassment laws, legalizing paid surrogacy, banning the ‘gay and trans panic defense’ for violent crimes, passing an Equal Rights amendment to the state constitution, approving drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, ending the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree rape, passing a prevailing wage requirement for certain private construction, and pay equity for women.

“The first opportunity to pass these things was in the budget, so the items that are left are the items that we couldn’t pass in the budget for one reason or another,” Cuomo said at an unrelated news conference. “Either they were too difficult or we just couldn’t get to them as a matter of time.”

Rent regulations
In a May 20 op-ed for The New York Daily News, de Blasio railed against state rent regulations, which are expiring June 15 and apply to roughly 1 million New York City apartments, home to about twice that many New Yorkers.

Democrats, in control of both houses of the Legislature for the first time in nearly a decade, are advancing a massive overhaul of the current state rent laws that housing and tenant advocates have blamed for increasing unaffordability and a housing crisis in the state. It’s unclear at this time, however, if the Assembly majority, Senate majority, and Cuomo can get on the same page with exactly how aggressive they want to be in favor of tenants. So far, de Blasio has sounded mostly aligned with Cuomo, a bit more moderate than where Assembly Democrats say they want to go with the laws. The Senate majority has not outlined its agenda.

“For 25 years, the landlord lobby has had the upper hand writing these rent laws,” de Blasio wrote. “Now, we have a chance to do right by tenants and close the loopholes landlords have exploited. People’s homes and security are on the line. There’s no higher priority for the days left this session in Albany. I’m ready to fight alongside tenants, shoulder to shoulder, to get this done once and for all.”

Last week, in a Friday interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio again said his top agenda item is reforming rent regulations. “Well on the Albany I’d say rent, rent and rent,” de Blasio told Brian Lehrer. “I mean overwhelmingly, number one is to strengthen rent control, get rid of vacancy decontrol, get rid of the vacancy bonus, fix the whole situation with the major capital improvements and the apartment improvements so that tenants are not paying through the nose and constantly paying for something even after it’s already been paid off, protect folks who have preferential rents, you know, stop the abuse of them.”

Marijuana Legalization
De Blasio also insisted that the legalization of adult use of marijuana should be “done the right way.” It has been looking increasingly likely that marijuana legalization will again fall off the table as decisions are made in the capital. Cuomo has repeatedly said he doesn’t believe the votes are there in the Senate to pass legalization, citing reports from the Senate Democrats themselves.

“I still think it might happen, Brian, but I’m adamant about the fact it cannot lead to a new corporate reality and I fear this deeply that legalization of marijuana creates a new tobacco industry or a new opioid industry done the wrong way,” de Blasio said. “If New York State as a progressive state is going to legalize marijuana it has to be done in a way that really empowers community-based businesses particularly in communities of color that suffered for so long because of draconian laws that sent people to prison for low-level drug offenses.”

On Monday, he reiterated that position. "We have a chance to get it right. It does not have to be a sector dominated by big corporations. It can be something very different, and New York State has the power to do that, and that's what I'm going to fight for," he said. 

SHSAT
The SHSAT is a single test used to determine admission to the city’s eight specialized high schools, per state law that applies to the three most prominent of the eight. But de Blasio has sought to scrap the test in part to diversify the student population at those high schools, where black and Latino students are vastly underrepresented.

Though the mayor has the ability to eliminate the test at five of the eight schools, he has instead sought state authorization to do away with the test entirely. It is a controversial stance that has backers and opponents, and it appears unlikely that the Legislature and Cuomo will come to resolution on the issue by the end of session.

Design-Build
Design-build allows government agencies and authorities to solicit bids for infrastructure projects that, as the name suggests, combine both the designing and building aspects in one contract. It streamlines procurement, cutting down on time and costs. But New York City agencies need the state’s approval to use design-build, and Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly pushed for it to little avail. 

"Design- build is not high profile, but it's high impact," the mayor said on Monday. "We’re talking about a methodology that saves across many, many construction projects, can save literally billions of dollars, can save years of construction time, much better for neighborhoods." The key agencies and authorities for which the mayor is seeking design build authority are the Department of Transportation, Department of Design and Construction, the Parks Department, Health + Hospitals, and the New York City Housing Authority.

MWBE Discretionary Funding
In the last few years, the city has successfully lobbied the state to increase the value of city contracts that can be awarded to Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) from $20,000 for goods and services to $150,000. Last year, the city awarded $3.7 billion in contracts to MWBEs, up from $1.6 billion in 2015. In March, de Blasio announced a state proposal that would expand the discretionary threshold to $1 million, estimating that it would increase MWBE contract awards by $500 million each year. 

Reforming 50-a
Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights law prohibits the disclosure of the personnel records of police officers. Though the statute was not enforced for decades, the NYPD under de Blasio began to use it to prevent the disciplinary records of officers from being released to the public. De Blasio has defended the department’s about-face on the policy as simply compliance with the law, but has repeatedly said he supports reforming the statute, a position that has been echoed by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill.

Bail and Parole Reform
Earlier this year, the state Legislature passed several criminal justice reforms, including severely limiting the use of cash bail. But, while reform advocates want to completely eliminate cash bail, de Blasio has instead supported a “dangerousness” standard that would allow judges to factor in whether a defendant could pose a risk to public safety. "Remember, there are some people who are profoundly dangerous who have a proven, unfortunately, a proven record of being dangerous to their communities, but are not a flight risk," de Blasio said Monday. "In those cases, [the] judge’s hands are tied and they do not have a ready way to hold them in the way they need to. We need to come up with a very precise definition of dangerousness so that it is not overused. But I think that's something that can and should be done while this legislature is still in session." Even as they accepted compromise on significant limits to the use of cash bail, legislators who backed bail reform have mostly balked at the idea of creating a “dangerousness” standard.

De Blasio is also in support of a bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Walter Mosley and State Senator Brian Benjamin, that would prevent parolees from being sent to jail for non-criminal, technical violations. The measure would further reduce the population of Rikers Island, which is necessary for the city’s plan to close the scandal-plagued jail complex. De Blasio has also pushed for New York State parolees to be removed from city jails, which the administration says is the only population that has been increasing at Rikers.

Employer Protection Provisions
De Blasio has pushed since 2014 to restore Employee Protection Provisions (EPPs) to all school bus contracts awarded by the Department of Education. EPPs require bus companies to hire workers based off a seniority list, to ensure adequate wages and pension benefits. The inclusion of EPPs has been a priority for the New York City Council as well; the Council’s Committee on Education passed a resolution last week calling on the state Legislature to approve EPPs in all current and future bus contracts.

MIssing from De Blasio’s End of Session Agenda
De Blasio’s recent comments and the list provided by his spokesperson do not include a variety of policies that the mayor has either expressed support for or interest in seeing addressed by state government. These include legalization of certain e-bikes and e-scooters, aggressive climate protection legislation, and more.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that Mayor de Blasio supports reforming Section 50-a of the Civil Rights Law, not repealing it. 

Note - This article has been updated with the mayor's comments from a Monday news conference.

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De Blasio's End-of-Session Albany Agenda Mon, 03 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Criticizing De Blasio Rezonings, Williams Introduces 'Racial Impact Study' Requirement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8558-criticizing-de-blasio-rezonings-williams-introduces-racial-impact-study-requirement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8558-criticizing-de-blasio-rezonings-williams-introduces-racial-impact-study-requirement maybill public adv

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Fulfilling a promise he made in his successful campaign for public advocate, Jumaane Williams introduced legislation on Wednesday that would require the city to conduct an assessment of expected racial and ethnic impact brought on by proposed neighborhood rezonings, in order to ensure that the city is complying with the federal Fair Housing Act, and combat segregation and displacement.

The Fair housing Act, passed in 1968, is meant to protect against discrimination in the sale, purchase, and renting of housing, or in trying to obtain housing assistance, and it also requires jurisdictions receiving federal assistance to take affirmative steps to integrate housing. New York City, Williams said at a news conference Wednesday morning, has failed on that front.

The public advocate was joined by Bronx City Council Member Rafael Salamanca, who chairs the powerful land use committee and has co-sponsored the bill, and members of Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH), a grassroots advocacy group that has called for such ‘racial impact studies’ to help inform neighborhood rezonings, which typically occur to change land use rules to allow greater housing density and usher in new city investments in a given community. City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents areas of Brooklyn that have seen significant gentrification and is negotiating a possible Bushwick neighborhood rezoning with the city, also expressed support for the legislation. 

“Rezonings are one of the primary drivers of gentrification, which leads to displacement, which leads to racial segregation,” Williams said, harshly critiquing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which has relied on upzoning neighborhoods to create more density with a legal requirement -- Mandatory Inclusionary Housing -- for developers to build affordable housing.

Most of the rezonings pursued by the administration have been in low-income communities of color and advocates say that has exacerbated gentrification while also refusing to ask more affluent and white communities to allow more housing in their neighborhoods. Williams, who voted against MIH when he was in the City Council, has called for a moratorium on all neighborhood rezonings.  

Williams’ bill would mandate that any land use application that goes through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires an environmental impact statement and is reviewed by the City Planning Commission, must also include a racial impact study. The ULURP process occurs for many proposed new developments, from neighborhood rezonings that impact broader communities and are typically spearheaded by the mayoral administration to single plot rezonings that allow developers to build a bigger building than the current zoning allows.

“[E]ven the announcement of ULURP leads to rampant speculation that coincides with a rise in harassment and displacement,” Williams said. “The link between [neighborhood] rezonings and racial segregation is very clear. I don’t think anyone can argue with the results of it. Yet the city has failed to even acknowledge the problem.”

As an example, Williams pointed to the 2005 rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront, approved under then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which “transformed low-income communities of more color into enclaves for new wealthy and white residents,” Williams said. “A decade later, the waterfront area’s white population increased by 45% compared to 2% decline citywide, while the area’s Latinx population declined by 27% compared to a 10% increase citywide. This is just unacceptable. To combat racial segregation, we first need to study it.”

Williams also noted that Seattle has implemented a similar policy that takes racial justice into account while creating affordable housing. “Even Seattle doesn’t have the phrasing ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and they are doing much more to address the tale of two cities, I believe than the housing plan here in New York City,” he said, invoking the campaign slogan that de Blasio employed in his first mayoral race in 2013.  

At an unrelated afternoon news conference, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not take a position on the bill, saying he had yet to study it. But he acknowledged the rationale behind it. “I do think what it speaks to is the gentrification and displacement that we’ve seen throughout our entire city, all five boroughs, that anxiety, that fear, especially amongst long term residents about what’s happening to them,” he said.

De Blasio has insisted that his housing and planning policies are sound and use a combination of strategies to create new housing, including many affordable units, while also putting resources in communities with new parks, school seats, and other investments that often accompany rezonings. He has said that the neighborhood rezonings under his administration have been done in concert with local Council members who welcome new zoning rules, more affordable housing, and city investment. The mayor has also pointed to the city’s significant increase in tenant eviction protection during his tenure.

"This Administration is fighting displacement with record levels of affordable housing, free legal services, rent freezes, and programs to combat harassment," said Jane Meyer, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement. "Through Where We Live NYC, we are developing new fair housing policies to fight discrimination and build more inclusive neighborhoods. We look forward to reviewing this legislation and working with our partners to promote equity and fairness."

Salamanca has his own concerns with the mayor’s housing plan as he has pushed for a 15% set aside in new affordable housing for homeless New Yorkers, which the administration has resisted. “We can continue to grow the city of New York, because there is a housing crisis,” he said at the morning news conference with Williams, “but we should be able to do that without displacing our communities, and that’s what this is about.”

He also refuted the notion that a racial impact study could add another layer of red tape to the already lengthy and burdensome ULURP process. “We’re not trying to change the timeframe as to how the ULURP process works,” he said in response to reporters’ questions, “but...what we’re adding is more resources, more information, to that [environmental impact study] so that Councilmembers can make the right decision.”

CUFFH was created ten years ago when advocates sought to fight the proposed rezoning of Broadway Triangle in Brooklyn. The group was part of a larger coalition that took the Bloomberg administration to court, arguing that the rezoning would violate the Fair Housing Act. The case was only settled in 2017 with the de Blasio administration.

But Alex Fennell, network director of CUFFH, said the city continues to fail to live up to its obligations under the FHA. “Being displaced is not a choice. And the current zoning process, rather than promoting fair housing encourages developers to profit from harassing, displacing and segregating out long time residents,” she said on Wednesday.

She added, “The racial impact study is the first step in undoing the harm caused by over a century of land use policy rooted first in overt racism, then shielded by colorblind language.”

The next step for the bill would be a committee hearing.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from a mayoral spokesperson.

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Criticizing De Blasio Rezonings, Williams Introduces 'Racial Impact Study' Requirement Wed, 29 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8559-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-s-future-with-interim-ceo-kathryn-garcia https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8559-max-murphy-podcast-nycha-s-future-with-interim-ceo-kathryn-garcia kathryn garcia wbai 600

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


May 29, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA's Future, with Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia

kathryn garcia wbaiKathryn Garcia, the city's sanitation commissioner for most of Mayor Bill de Blasio's tenure, was recently named interim chair and CEO of NYCHA, tasked with steering the public housing authority through tumultuous times, including the beginning of a federal monitorship. Garcia joined the show to give her perspective on NYCHA, how the monitor is working so far, how she's appoached the job, lead paint remediation, the "NYCHA 2.0" plan that the mayor announced in December, and more.

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 wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: NYCHA Interim CEO Kathryn Garcia Wed, 29 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
WATCH: Breaking Down De Blasio's Presidential Bid https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8553-watch-breaking-down-de-blasio-s-presidential-bid-launch-2020 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8553-watch-breaking-down-de-blasio-s-presidential-bid-launch-2020 maybdeblasio nan convention

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Why is Mayor Bill de Blasio running for President? What's his pitch in the early days of his campaign? How was he received in Iowa and South Carolina on his first campaign trip? How might he gain some traction? What will this run do to his image at home in New York City?

Gotham Gazette's Ben Max hosted a discussion answering those questions and more featuring political strategist L. Joy Williams, WNYC radio's Brigid Bergin, and The New York Times' Jeff Mays. Watch the program, produced by Manhattan Neighborhood Network, below:

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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WATCH: Breaking Down De Blasio's Presidential Bid Tue, 28 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
More Sites, Better Democracy: Board of Elections Must Get Early Voting Right https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8551-more-sites-better-democracy-board-of-elections-must-get-early-voting-right https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8551-more-sites-better-democracy-board-of-elections-must-get-early-voting-right de Blasio early voting new york city

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Early voting has finally come to our state, but it won’t work in our city unless the City Board of Elections ensures there are enough voting sites. That needs to happen, and it needs to happen now for our 3 million immigrants, our communities of color and every New Yorker who has a hard time voting on Election Day.

Later today, the BOE is due to announce how many early voting poll sites New York City will have for the November election – the first time New Yorkers will have the right to vote early.

The preliminary list the BOE released last month, which included just 38 sites, was not enough and seemed designed to undermine the idea of early voting itself. Let’s think about how preposterous just 38 voting sites would be in a city that stretches out over 300 square miles, and how far out of the way New Yorkers may need to travel to get to the nearest early voting site assigned to them. For example, if you live in upper Manhattan but want to vote early near your job downtown, or even if you want to vote close to home but the nearest of just 38 sites is too far, you won’t be able to under BOE's plan. This is restrictive and counter intuitive to the spirit and letter of the law, which is supposed to make voting as convenient as possible. New Yorkers deserve more time to participate in our democracy, not just on Election Day.

Early voting gives New Yorkers nine days before Election Day to cast their ballot – including two weekends. That isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity for millions of citizens whose schedules are filled to the brim with work, school and/or family commitments. The fact that until now New York State has restricted voting to a single day has contributed to two awful realities: voter turnout has been at historic lows and Election Day is plagued with long lines for those who do show up to exercise their right. This is on top of arcane, confusing rules that are near impossible to comprehend, particularly for limited-English-proficient New Yorkers and immigrant citizens.

The last November General Election was a prime example of many of the challenges New Yorkers faced when they went out to the polls, making lines even longer than usual. At one point, ballot scanners that had been malfunctioning all day at M.S. 80 in the Bronx all broke down, bringing voting to a dead stop. This same problem at St. Cecilia's in Greenpoint led to hundreds of voters waiting up to four hours to cast their ballot. At other sites like Christ Church in Bay Ridge, the size of the new ballots caused a myriad of scanning problems that led to similar, massive delays.

The problem will only get worse as the BOE continues to ignore calls for reform and as New Yorkers get more energized for upcoming elections.

We have a chance to make things right. This year, the New York Legislature did its job and passed a package of election reforms, including early voting. But the BOE – which is funded by New York City and yet independent of City control – isn’t living up to its responsibility.

Under the current proposal, more than a third, or 21 out of a total of 51 City Council districts, wouldn’t have a single early voting site. In the borough of Queens alone, there are almost 1.2 million voters and more than 1 million immigrants. Yet, the BOE’s initial plan sited just seven early voting locations in the whole borough. With xenophobia and racism rearing their heads at the highest levels of government, the BOE has effectively excluded immigrant neighborhoods and communities of color from proximity to early voting sites, suppressing the voices of minorities in our elections. The BOE can and must do better.

Today we’re waiting to see whether the BOE takes up the City’s offer and expands its original 38 sites to 100. With the 2020 elections fast approaching, it’s vitally important that we maximize opportunities for our city’s five million registered voters. Their voices guide the City in all that it does.

This is a moment that should anger anyone who believes in democracy, anyone who believes in the empowerment of our City’s immigrants, and the rights of all eligible voters to make their voices heard.

New York City has provided $75 million for a robust early voting program, and now the BOE needs to step up to the plate and do its job by making early voting available to every registered voter, in every borough. Otherwise, the promise of early voting and of this democracy will be betrayed.

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Bill de Blasio is Mayor of New York City. Steve Choi is Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition. On Twitter @NYCMayor & @SteveChoiNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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More Sites, Better Democracy: Board of Elections Must Get Early Voting Right Mon, 27 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
8 Big Questions About De Blasio's Presidential Bid https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8537-8-big-questions-about-de-blasio-s-presidential-bid https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8537-8-big-questions-about-de-blasio-s-presidential-bid off dedication statueoflib

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography)


Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced his campaign for President of the United States, hoping to win the Democratic nomination and face President Donald Trump in the 2020 general election. De Blasio's decision to run raises many questions. Here are eight big ones.

1. Can he run for president and run the city at the same time?
De Blasio of course says yes, he can run the city and run for president at the same time. First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan will be in charge of the day-to-day in his absence, and he will be in constant touch with his team when he’s traveling, as he says has been the case during his fairly frequent trips outside the city even before announcing a presidential bid.

Asked by WNYC radio’s Brian Lehrer on Friday, de Blasio called it “a very valid question” and said he has “thought about this a lot.”

He continued:

"I’m absolutely convinced that my administration and I can continue to serve this city very, very effectively. This is my sixth year in this job, I know exactly the agenda that I am implementing, it’s very, very developed at this point – pre-K for all now going to be 3-K for all and keeping the city safe, safest big city in America and continuing to get safer as you’ve seen from the recent news and everything we are doing to create and protect affordable housing. That’s all going to go – and I think it is going to intensify as we move forward because we have a great team. We have a very clear vision of where we are going to build up, you know, our city in the right way. And I am confident that I am going to be able to get the job done wherever I am. I’ve traveled before, I stay in touch with all the key folks in my administration constantly. We are going to keep things moving forward in New York City."

He went on to say that the problems facing the city and its people cannot only be solved by city government, and talked about the imperative of denying Trump another term, citing global warming, infrastructure, resiliency, and health care.

But it remains to be seen how much the campaign takes de Blasio out of the city, both physically and mentally. Being on the trail is grueling and requires significant time and energy, including prepping for visits to far-flung places where it’s important to know local issues and leaders. He’ll need to develop real domestic and foreign policy chops if he’s in this for the long haul. There’s also the fundraising time that is surely intensifying now that he’s a declared candidate.

Still, the mayor may ironically be determined enough to show that he can do both that he is in some ways more engaged with running the city than he has been. Many New Yorkers already see him as aloof enough that his presidential bid was met with half-jokes that it won’t make a difference if he’s traveling the country on a more frequent basis.

What’s interesting, though, is that de Blasio -- a leader of many contradictions -- is somehow known as both a micro-manager and disengaged. He’s noted the irony of these dual characterizations himself, pointing out that critics really should choose one -- preferably that he’s a micro-manager, though he doesn’t like the insinuation that he moves on decisions too slowly as a result. Yet, it is actually possible to be both, and he may be pulling it off as he is known to stall review and approval of decisions that members of his administration suggest and to hold few meetings with his agency commissioners, spend little time at City Hall, and focus significant energy on building a national profile, an effort that started during his second year in office.

The city has major crises to deal with (homelessness, crumbling public housing, measles, lack of affordability, hate crimes, failing schools, congested streets) and de Blasio has controversial plans that he must convince New Yorkers to support (NYCHA infill, homeless shelter openings, neighborhood rezonings), not to mention the day-to-day of running effective, efficient city services.

How will de Blasio, and his constituents, handle it when there’s an emergency and he’s out of town?

2. Can he raise money? And from whom?
De Blasio, the 23rd Democrat in the race, is getting a somewhat late start to the presidential campaign. Though no votes will be cast until February of next year, he has to ramp up fairly quickly to have a real shot at making waves, and this of course includes raising money.

He just opened his federal campaign account. Who is donating? Most likely he’ll get several thousand small donations from long-time supporters, New Yorkers who have backed him for years and believe he’s doing a good job as mayor (though de Blasio’s approval ratings are not strong, there’s still plenty of New Yorkers who believe in him, and even if many don’t think he should run for president, they may be willing to give him a few bucks to get it out of his system).

But the larger money, up to the $2,750 cap on individual donations to a presidential candidate, may likely come from the same types of folks -- individuals with or seeking favorable action from de Blasio’s city administration -- that have given to his other fundraising entities and landed him in some hot water, including several law enforcement investigations.

De Blasio has repeatedly declined to make his early fundraising numbers public, saying he doesn’t plan to release them until the first mandated filing, in July, which is indicative of a slow start. He needs 65,000 individual contributions (in combination with the 1% in three different qualifying polls that he has already received) to have a good shot at making the first Democratic primary debate in late June, for which there are 20 slots over the course of two nights.

That might be a tough haul.

Can de Blasio raise enough money to run even a skeletal campaign for a few months, build some momentum while not crossing ethical lines, and start to pick up financial support from voters across the country? Time will tell.

3. Does he have a “lane”?
With 22 other candidates in the field, it would seem virtually every “lane” is already filled with a Democratic presidential candidate of a certain combination of experience, political philosophy, and demography. But, de Blasio believes he has a lane as the candidate with the right mix of progressive vision, executive experience, toughness to take on Trump, and crossover appeal.

Even with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren seemingly dominating the far left of the primary and its political territory, de Blasio thinks he can make inroads as someone who isn’t just talking about progressive ideas for “working people,” but has actually implemented a suite of those goals, from an expansion of early childhood education to benefits for workers like paid sick leave.

He’ll have a variety of similar talking points to Sanders and Warren, it seems, straight from his main campaign line that “there’s plenty of money in the country, it’s just in the wrong hands.”

Like others in the race, de Blasio is targeting the Obama coalition of white progressives and people of color, which actually happens to be the de Blasio coalition. But, he also seems intent on wooing white moderates, perhaps including some who voted for Trump or didn’t feel motivated to vote for Hillary Clinton.

Can de Blasio break Joe Biden’s grip on many of the Obama coalition voters, especially voters of color? And how strong is that grip anyway? But what about Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, the two black candidates in the race, not to mention the appeal that Warren and perhaps others may have simply based on their platform, personality, or both?

Asked about support among black voters, which is de Blasio’s strongest demographic group in New York City, he told WNYC’s Lehrer, “Look, one thing I’m proud of is I’ve always been able to build a very broad coalition. You know when I won in 2013 I ran against a very diverse field in the primary. There was obviously a woman candidate, a candidate from the LGBT community, an African-American candidate. I ended up winning all of those demographics in that primary.”

Pushed a little further, with Lehrer naming Harris and Booker, de Blasio said, “I’m not here to compare against my fellow candidates,” but that he’d “make a broader point – I have proven for people of all backgrounds that you can have a government that puts money back in the hands of working people.”

He said all communities across the city appreciate what he’s done, a claim that is not supported by polling data.

“But I’ll tell you something,” he added, “I think for African-American voters and all voters, they are not looking first at demographics, they are looking at who can produce for them and their families. And I have a track record of actually achieving progressive outcomes that help working people that I’ll put up against any candidate.”

4. What’s he running on?
First and foremost, de Blasio is running on his record of five-plus years as mayor of New York City, which he will, it seems, parlay into a policy vision for the country. He’s running on the fact that he is the “CEO” of the biggest city in the United States, with a larger population than most states and a bigger budget than all states but two (New York and California).

“Every goal we have is about fighting income inequality and helping working people secure an economic future they can believe in,” de Blasio wrote in a fundraising email this week, reminding supporters of his core 2013 campaign message. De Blasio has shied away from talking about the fight against “income inequality” in recent years, likely as an acknowledgement that without the power to alter most tax rates, he has not really been able to make a serious dent in the relevant numbers. Instead, he mostly talks about “opportunity” and “equity” and “fairness,” with a second term goal of making New York “the fairest big city in the country,” something he hasn’t really explained how to measure.

“I’m running because I’ve made big, substantial, progressive changes,” de Blasio told MSNBC host David Gura on Sunday morning from South Carolina, “pre-K for all, paid sick days, guaranteed health care for all New Yorkers, including mental health services. We’re now working this year to get done legislation that will be guaranteeing two weeks paid time off for every working person. These are fundamental changes that working Americans deserve. And the difference is there’s a lot of great candidates...but I’m talking about things that have actually been done, that I’ve achieved.”

So far, de Blasio has only really talked about his achievements in New York, with no early announcements about his policy plans for a de Blasio presidency, though he has seemed to indicate that he wants to extend several New York City initiatives, like pre-K, across the country.

“I am going to come out with position papers over time,” de Blasio told WNYC’s Lehrer on Friday, when Lehrer pressed him on if he had a federal affordable housing policy. “I’m giving you a flavor of what I’m thinking, and you’ll understand it’s going to take a little time to formulate the formal proposals. But I actually think a lot of what we have done has a lot of application elsewhere and for federal policy.”

Seemingly spitballing a bit, with reference to New York City and State policies, de Blasio had mentioned a few possible planks, saying, “we could use a national policy to help encourage the right kind of rent regulation...How do you get policies at the federal level that encourage things like stopping illegal eviction? I think it can be done, because we’ve seen it work in New York City. And clearly passing laws either locally or there’s some kind of national legislation to require the creation of affordable housing when developers are allowed to build, you know, in a bigger way than was previously allowed. That’s something I think is really good model that could be used anywhere.”

If de Blasio’s running on his record as a CEO, how much will his failures as mayor, both programmatically and ethically, hurt him? Will his campaign finance scandals travel? Will voters care that he has struggled greatly with reducing homelessness and that the public housing authority he oversees is not only falling apart, but has been home to a lead paint scandal? Though he's spearheaded progress in many areas, the mayor hasn't nearly been able to solve a variety of major challenges facing New York, leading some to wonder why he thinks he's ready to lead the country.

5. What’s his game plan?
De Blasio actually has the potential to perform above what are now very low expectations in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where, respectively, he has worked on the caucuses before (Edwards 2004, Clinton 2008); his wife, Chirlane McCray has roots and he knows a bit as a Massachusetts native himself; and he could appeal to some of the core black voters.

However, it is hard at this point to see many voters in the early states shunning the top tier of candidates that includes Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, and, at least for now, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. There’s also Booker and Beto O’Rourke, and then others who would not at this point be considered in or near the top tier, though there’s a lot of time between now and the February Iowa caucuses.

It’s clear that de Blasio has decided attacking Trump, including by repeatedly using the nickname “Con Don” (because Trump is “a con artist”), is an important strategy for getting media and popular attention as well as early campaign donations, all seemingly helped by Trump’s must-punch-back mentality.

De Blasio is already using Trump’s taunts as alleged evidence that Trump sees him as a threat, which is of course a stretch, and as a fundraising tool. He does risk turning off some voters by eagerly mucking it up with Trump and coming across as less-than-presidential.

But the key for de Blasio now is attention and momentum. He'll want to make enough progress, slowly but steadily, that he starts to really register in polling, gets more media buzz, and catches a few people in the polls to consistenly make it into "the conversation," part of the second tier, let's say. There's a long way to go.

As de Blasio assesses the field, one important question he’s already beginning to face is how aggressive he’ll be not only with Trump but with his fellow Democrats, especially those who appear toward the top of the polls. Will he attack Biden as a centrist whose time has passed? Will he say Sanders and Warren haven’t really accomplished anything?

One factor that could come into play here is if de Blasio has secondary goals in mind, short of winning the Democratic nomination and becoming president. Does he want to be the next Democratic National Committee chair? Does he want a cabinet post in the administration of the Democrat who is able to knock off Trump, if the nominee can do so?

6. How’s Andrew Cuomo going to handle this?
Unless he’s excited to potentially watch de Blasio crash and burn as a presidential candidate, Governor Andrew Cuomo can’t be too happy seeing de Blasio pursue this campaign and all the attention, even if much of it is negative, that comes with it.

It will be interesting to see how Cuomo might make de Blasio pay for taking the leap that in some ways Cuomo surely wishes he was taking and for the mayor’s absences from the city. Cuomo, who has expressed full-throated support for Biden and may be interested in a position in a potential Biden administration, has rarely passed up an opportunity to leverage a de Blasio weakness into his own gain in what is, as Cuomo sees it, the zero sum game of politics.

On Thursday, the day de Blasio announced his campaign, Cuomo added two events to his public schedule, competing with de Blasio's first press conference as a presidential candidate. Cuomo declined to take reporters' questions, though, providing no public reaction to date to de Blasio's decision to run.

7. Who else will fill the city power vacuum?
The 2021 mayoral race is already underway, with the only known likely candidates -- Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Comptroller Scott Stringer, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, all Democrats -- each taking steps to prepare for a run, including their positioning relative to de Blasio, who is term-limited from running for mayor again.

As the mayor is absent more from the city, it will be worth watching how each of the four, and perhaps others eyeing a mayoral run or just looking to take some of the mayor’s unused political capital, responds. The likely 2021 candidates would be ramping up anyway, but de Blasio’s presidential campaign offers more opportunity for them to snatch headlines and appear more engaged with the city they hope to lead and de Blasio appears bored with.

To an extent, Johnson is initially in the driver’s seat given he is currently negotiating the city budget, due by July 1, with de Blasio. The City Council may be able to extract additional concessions from de Blasio who will not want conflict at home as he talks up voters across the country. And, virtually anything the mayor may agree to from Council demands will only create additional talking points he can use on the campaign trail.

8. What will this do to his legacy?
In terms of the potential downside of a presidential run for de Blasio, perhaps the most glaring questions are: One, how might this hurt the city he was elected to lead and claims to love? And two, what might this campaign do to his long-term legacy as New York’s 109th mayor?

On the latter, de Blasio is already slogging through year six of his mayoralty with low but not disastrous approval numbers and a too-strong sense among many New Yorkers that he doesn’t work that hard at his job or care enough about leading the city. This presidential run may only cement that image for many New Yorkers and push others into that category of skeptics, critics, and naysayers. De Blasio appears to fail to realize that he has a chance to push things in the other direction by putting his head down and executing, something he should have done in his first term, and if he had, perhaps more New Yorkers would look at him here in term two and think of him as presidential material, ready to step outside the five boroughs and lead.

But when de Blasio is remembered years from now, will the first thing people say be that he ran a ridiculous campaign for president that went nowhere but angered many New Yorkers, further undermining his accomplishments?

Will he be remembered as a mayor who had incredible luck in terms of a booming economy, the ability to spend billions on his priorities, and low crime, but was always so focused on growing a national profile, including a misguided presidential campaign, that he never came close to realizing his full potential as leader of the greatest city in the world?

Then again, it's unlikely, but he could win.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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8 Big Questions About De Blasio's Presidential Bid Mon, 20 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000