Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/63 Wed, 17 Jul 2019 02:49:12 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Advocates See Irony in Cuomo's Thinly-Veiled Shots at De Blasio Over City Problems https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8677-advocates-see-irony-in-cuomo-s-thinly-veiled-shots-at-de-blasio-over-city-problems https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8677-advocates-see-irony-in-cuomo-s-thinly-veiled-shots-at-de-blasio-over-city-problems cuomo bdb amazon

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


Governor Andrew Cuomo believes in action, rather than rhetoric, and rarely shies away from criticizing those who he believes fail to live up to their promises, including his fellow Democrats. He’s also appeared particularly irritated by the ascendent progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which has challenged him, unfairly he argues, and offers what he says are pie-in-the-sky talking points over the types of achievable results he’s delivered.

Cuomo brought the critiques together on Friday in an op-ed in the New York Daily News, where he inveighed about underfunded schools, the problem-plagued Rikers Island jail complex and the plan to close it, New York City’s homelessness crisis, and the mismanaged city public housing authority (NYCHA). That same day, Cuomo complained of a rising homeless problem on the city’s subways, calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), an entity he effectively controls, to confront it in its upcoming reorganization plan. 

But on each of those issues, Cuomo, now in his third term, offered no concrete solutions of his own, and advocates who have watched him hold the reins of power for eight-and-a-half years say his rhetoric distracts from his own policy failures while pinning the blame on others. In this case, the unnamed target was clearly New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is now running for president on what the mayor calls a long list of progressive accomplishments in the nation’s largest city.

In many instances, including the op-ed, Cuomo’s indulges in discussion of “what it means to be progressive” appear to be his attempts to differentiate himself from de Blasio, among others.

“The common denominator of these great failures — Rikers, poor schools, NYCHA — is obvious,” Cuomo wrote in the op-ed, “poor, powerless minorities and basic civil rights violations. Addressing them should be the cornerstone of a true progressive agenda, and yet they continue to languish.” 

He went on to criticize “Democratic failures” that fuel Republican success, before taking a shot at the 2020 Democratic presidential field. “Today, every 2020 Democratic presidential candidate is articulating the same basic ‘progressive’ goals: more economic opportunity, better public education, affordable health care, etc. To me, the far more important question is how we achieve these goals and who has the ability to get it done,” he wrote (Cuomo has repeatedly expressed support for former Vice President Joe Biden). 

The governor all but shouted from the rooftops that the common denominator on all those issues is de Blasio, a favorite target of his criticism despite the long history the two share. Cuomo’s acrimony towards what he sees as faux progressivism is never as obvious as when it’s directed at the second term mayor, and the two have spent more time arguing over issues they agree on rather than working on solutions.

Cuomo has been quick to fault de Blasio for the city’s homelessness crisis, the long-running problems at NYCHA, and what he inaccurately called a “stalled” plan to close Rikers. Inequity in school funding is another area where Cuomo, despite his own significant power to effect change, has taken a cudgel to the mayor. While de Blasio has struggled to varying degrees with each of the problems Cuomo mentioned, the mayor and others have also sought more state support than the city has received.

The mayor’s office clearly understood who the op-ed was targeting. “We agree - being progressive requires more than just talk,” said Jane Meyer, a spokesperson for de Blasio, in an email. “That’s why we back our words up with action. Our plan to close down Rikers is one year ahead of schedule, we have helped over 117,000 New Yorkers avoid or exit shelter, and we are testing 135,000 NYCHA apartments for lead to eradicate exposure.”

It is not lost on many close watchers and stakeholders that the issues Cuomo has railed about, and targeted de Blasio on, have of course been ripe for gubernatorial action, especially from a governor who has repeatedly sought to outshine, undermine, and overstep the mayor, whose shortcomings are not to be dismissed.

But overall, those working on solutions in the areas Cuomo mentioned say his op-ed says as much, if not more, about him than anyone he sought to call out. 

Rikers Island
In a conference call with reporters on Friday, Cuomo repeated his criticism of the Rikers closure plan, saying the state Legislature should have acted to close it long ago and that de Blasio’s plan “was unworkable from the day it was announced” -- a claim that does not appear supported by fact at this point in the process currently unfolding.

Though he was ready to offer help -- “Tell me what you need from the state’s point of view and we’ll be however helpful that we can,” Cuomo said -- he did not provide any concrete ideas. And he seemed to suggest that elected officials in the city would be best served if they moved ahead with the plan despite community opposition, which is what appears to be happening, contrary to Cuomo calling the plan unworkable and stalled. 

Brandon Holmes, the New York City campaign coordinator for JustLeadershipUSA, which has spearheaded the #CloseRikers campaign, chalked up Cuomo’s rhetoric to a “political game” with the mayor and one that undermines a successful ongoing effort to move towards a closure of the jail complex. Instead, he called out Cuomo’s yearslong efforts to either oppose or water down criminal justice reforms making their way through the state Legislature. 

Holmes noted, for instance, that Cuomo opposed the complete elimination of cash bail (it was severely limited for use in non-violent offenses under new legislation this year, which will be a big boost to the Rikers closure efforts given the expected reduction in remand), did not voice support for reforms to the parole system or eliminating solitary confinement.

“Cuomo didn’t support all of these things that would not only improve conditions for people who are currently incarcerated but also ensure that thousands more New Yorkers would never come into contact or return to prison in the first place, and he didn’t support any of that,” he said. “This is really just a political move. I don’t know what games he thinks he’s playing but he really should stay out of the picture and allow advocates and people who are formerly incarcerated to continue leading this movement to decarcerate New York which we’ve had to force him and drag him along the way to doing.”

While Cuomo did champion major bail and other criminal justice reforms that did move this year after Democrats won the state Senate, the governor’s critiques of de Blasio’s efforts to close the Rikers Island jails appear to boil down to calling the timeline too long, which is certainly debatable, though the governor has not followed up that criticism with anything concrete, and the unfounded jabs at the replacement plan, which is moving through the city’s land use review process.

Homelessness
Cuomo has repeatedly criticized the rise of homelessness in New York City, which continued to climb during de Blasio’s first several years as mayor but has plateaued after billions of dollars in additional spending by the city administration. De Blasio has himself repeatedly mentioned homelessness as his biggest failing as mayor, where he said he did not quickly enough grasp the magnitude of the problem and how many city resources needed to be dedicated toward it.

But Cuomo’s more recent tirade was directed more specifically at homelessness on the subway system. “[I]t's something we've all lived with as New Yorkers, but what's striking to me is how much worse it is and it's not just a question of looking at the numbers and the statistics, it's visibly worse,” said Cuomo, who has not ridden the subway in two-and-a-half years, on the press call. 

Cuomo called on the MTA, which is currently undergoing a top-to-bottom reorganization of its bureaucratic structure, to tackle the issue without relying on assistance from the city, while he again appeared to distance himself from actually providing state help.

“We need social service outreach workers. We need police in a supporting role. We need transportation accommodations. And the MTA has to have a concerted, efficient, professional effort where outreach workers make contact with homeless people on trains and in terminals doing assessment on-site as to the issues that are being presented by the homeless individual,” he said. “If the homeless individual is violating the laws or the regulations of the MTA, then help that person get the assistance they need. Be it a shelter, supportive housing, mental health facilities.” 

But the governor’s comments about additional policing, just a month after a separate announcement that the MTA would add 500 new police officers to patrol the subways for fare evasion (funded by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office), struck some experts as misguided.

Jacquelyn Simone, policy analyst at nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement Friday that the state should redouble its investments in permanent solutions such as affordable and supportive housing. “However Gov. Cuomo’s reference to increased policing of homeless people in the subways is misplaced,” she added. “We have always advised State and City leaders that the answer is most definitely not more policing because summonses and harassing vulnerable people to make them move simply pushes them deeper into the shadows without helping them obtain the services and housing each one of them needs. If Gov. Cuomo wants to fix the problem, let him step up with more housing and services specifically targeted for homeless people, stop shifting the cost of shelters off to localities, and stop the prison-to-shelter pipeline from the State’s correctional facilities.”

Cuomo’s has touted state investments in affordable and supportive housing, but experts have shown it has been slow to materialize, and the governor has refused to support a more significant state investment into housing subsidies that the city has provided to those leaving shelter.

JustLeadershipUSA’s Holmes offered rhetorical questions: “He comes out with this investment saying he’s gonna fund additional police officers into the MTA to solve those problems. What if he actually put that money towards providing permanent housing for people who are experiencing chronic homelessness? What if he put that money into repairing public housing buildings across the city?”  

NYCHA
The city’s public housing authority has suffered a series of setbacks and self-inflicted problems over the last many years, not the least of which involved the falsification of lead inspection records that led to a federal lawsuit and eventual oversight from a federal monitor. The authority also has an estimated $32 billion capital repair backlog, though the de Blasio administration was able to bring its operational expenses under control after years of deficits, in part by putting more city funds toward the authority.   

For over two years, however, while the agency faced investigation, Cuomo has refused to release about $450 million in state funding allocated for repair and maintenance, citing the agency’s mismanagement. “Progressives all espouse the need for affordable housing, but the incompetence of NYCHA has been tolerated for years with children being housed without heat and exposed to lead poisoning, without any coherent solution,” Cuomo said in his op-ed.

The governor also seized on NYCHA as an issue last year, as he was running for a third term, holding a number of NYCHA-related government events at various public housing developments, promising some conditional funding, and threatening a state monitor, pending the outcome of the federal examination.

The governor has not been a frequent NYCHA visitor since winning his primary last September, and he did not allocate any additional NYCHA funding in the new state budget passed April 1.

School Funding
“On public education, I think the op-ed is a bit of an indictment of his own policies,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an education advocacy group, and a frequent Cuomo critic who supported the governor’s primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, in last year’s election.

AQE has long pushed for fully funding the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which would require billions more in state “foundation aid” funding for underfunded schools in poorer schools districts. Cuomo has repeatedly denied that funding, arguing that the state has no remaining obligation under the CFE decision, and this year pushed his own alternative “education equity” formula that would require districts to direct more funding toward their poorer schools.

In his op-ed, Cuomo critiqued the state Legislature for failing to increase funding for poorer school districts without also increasing funds for richer ones, but his formula accomplishes the same outcome. The governor pushed through additional requirements for New York City to report on how state education aid is being delivered to specific schools. 

“He has utterly failed to deliver for high-need schools in this state,” Easton added. “This year the Legislature proposed a plan that would increase funding over the next four years for high-need school districts by $3 billion and he aggressively blocked it.”

Cuomo has at once touted that the state continues to increase overall education funding to record levels each year, and also said that the state cannot keep throwing more money at education, citing the highest per-pupil spending in the country, by far.

He’s backed an expansion of charter schools, particularly in New York City, an effort that stalled this year under full Democratic control of the Legislature despite the state cap on charters for the city having been hit. De Blasio and Easton are staunch opponents of charter schools, which supporters point out often deliver better education than traditional public schools in low-income communities of color, while critics say they often don’t educate representative student bodies, are test-prep factories, and starve district schools of resources.

Easton derided the governor’s so-called pragmatism as one driven more by fiscal conservatism, and noted that the disparity in per-pupil funding between richer and poorer school districts has only gone up under Cuomo’s tenure (though the Legislature certainly has a hand in that as well). 

“I think he’s just lashing out. He’s lashed out at de Blasio, he’s lashed out at AOC, he’s lashed out at Cabán,” he said. “He’s lashing out at anyone who’s actually a progressive. He wants the definition of progressive to probably be center-right like he is. That’s just not the reality. The truth is, what the op-ed also shows is that progressives are defining the agenda that Democrats have to respond to. He’s got that intuition, he’s always had the intuition that he needs to brand himself as a progressive but he’s a lot better at branding than he is at delivering on some of the most important progressive priorities.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Advocates See Irony in Cuomo's Thinly-Veiled Shots at De Blasio Over City Problems Tue, 16 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Struggling with Overcrowded Schools and Large Class Sizes, City Advances $8.8 Billion Plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8673-struggling-with-school-overcrowding-and-large-class-sizes-city-advances-8-8-billion-plan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8673-struggling-with-school-overcrowding-and-large-class-sizes-city-advances-8-8-billion-plan 2 cm r espinal ground

Mayor de Blasio & others break ground for a new East New York school (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Some days, it can be hard for Arthur Goldstein to walk down the hallway of Francis Lewis High School in Queens, where he teaches English as a second language. Goldstein’s school is one of 25 overcrowded schools in the 26th school district, and has a utilization rate of 207 percent, according to a 2018 Department of Education report.

“There are some days when I think I’m going to go to this office and I turn around and walk to another office because it’s just too much work to get through walking down the hall that way,” Goldstein said. “I don’t know if you can even imagine that, but that’s happened to me more than once.”

Francis Lewis High School has a capacity of about 2,400 but enrolls closer to 4,600, Goldstien said. Those students are some of about 520,000 students — nearly half the city’s school population — in the city who attend an overcrowded, also known as over-utilized, school, according to a Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) report released July 9. Those students attend roughly 618 schools, with the worst overcrowding in Brooklyn, Queens, and the central Bronx. Overall, there are roughly 1.1 million students in 1,840 schools in 32 school districts across the five boroughs, according to the Department of Education.

While the CBC report said crowding may lessen as enrollment citywide declines and, overall, the number of crowded school buildings has declined by 31 since 2015, others have expressed concern that the problem will get worse because the current need is already greater than the 83,000 seats the Department of Education has identified to be built to reduce crowding. In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio added 57,000 seats to the 2015-2019 capital plan to meet the 83,000 need seat estimate. 

The new plan also includes $180 million for the removal of Transportable Classroom Units — known as TCUs or trailers — where some students at crowded buildings may be receiving instruction. In 2018, it was estimated that about 8,000 students learned in trailers, and then-schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said the DOE had removed 159 out of 354 total trailers and had plans to remove 75 more. In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s capital plan projected that all TCUs would be able to be removed, and he promised that would be completed by 2012.

Former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver had in 2014 urged de Blasio to prioritize the removal of trailers and set aside some of the $800 million the city received from the Smart Schools Act, which allocated funds for districts to upgrade technology, increase pre-kindergarten capacity, and get rid of trailers.

Chalkbeat reported at the time that lawmakers had doubts that removing trailers was a priority of the de Blasio administration, as a DOE official said at a hearing earlier that year that trailers could be used to expand capacity for pre-K, de Blasio’s top campaign promise and mayoral priority. De Blaiso said at a press conference at the time that he will keep prioritizing the issue in his capital plan, as in 2014 his administration allocated $405 million toward removing TCUs.

“I don’t want kids in trailers,” de Blaiso said at the press conference. “I want to move aggressively to get them out of trailers. We know that will take some time, but we’re committed to it. We’re also committed to putting in new facilities in most overcrowded areas.”

Now, several years later, advocacy groups like Class Size Matters and City Council Members like Daniel Dromm say the new city capital plan — which includes nearly $8.8 billion for school capacity projects to be started over the next five years — does not have an updated estimate of the need for seats since the 2015-2019 capital plan as residential development, rezoning projects, and other trends will change the need in certain sub-districts.

“It’s very suspicious,” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit advocacy organization. “They claim to be building all the seats that are necessary, but that’s based upon an estimate that is many years old.”

Overcrowding occurs in pockets around the city with crowded buildings in each district of each borough, but CBC research associate Riley Edwards, who wrote the new school capacity report, said there are enough seats currently for all New York City students, and the key to thinking about alleviating school overcrowding is more aggressively pursuing strategies other than school construction.

Edwards said most districts actually have an excess of seats, and the severe overcrowding occurs in sub-districts, with nine of 32 districts — five in Queens, two in Brooklyn, one in the Bronx, and one on Staten Island — packed with more students than their target capacity.

Other myths about school overcrowding, as detailed in a 2016 CBC report also authored by Edwards, are that middle and high school students face the worst crowding problems — it’s actually elementary school students — and that plans to build new schools will solve the problem. The new report says the DOE needs to focus on other strategies it already uses, such as rezoning, changing admissions policies, repurposing seats, and programming.

“It does take a long time for the city to site and build a new school,” Edwards said. “There’s only so much available land in the city and a limited amount appropriate for school buildings.”

According to the Independent Budget Office, Queens’ District 26 ranked as the third-most crowded school district with a utilization rate of 109 percent for the 2017-2018 school year, behind District 25 in Queens, and District 20 in Brooklyn, which both had over 121 percent. However, Dromm said district- or borough-wide numbers do not reflect the “tremendous” overcrowding that occurs at the sub-district level in individual schools.

According to Class Size Matters, the average class size for K-12 schools in New York City during the 2018-2019 school year was 26, almost no change from 2014-2015 when the last capital plan was proposed. The average class size in the United States is 21, according to the Office for Economic Cooperation and Development. Haimson said over 330,000 students in the city were in classes of 30 or more.

While some research shows that reducing class sizes may have small benefits at best, Haimson said ultimately larger class sizes are detrimental for students.

“There’s a huge amount of rigorous research that shows the larger the class, the less learning goes on,” Haimson said. “There are also a lot of other negative effects of large class sizes. Kids become less engaged, they’re more likely to get held back, they’re more likely to get referred to special education, and they’re more likely to have disciplinary problems.”

Dromm, now the Council’s finance chair and previously its education committee chair, said during the 25 years he was teaching at P.S.199 in Queens’ District 24 he saw the crowding getting worse each year.

“I remember a day when the janitors came into the school, and they opened the maintenance closet right outside the staff room,” Dromm said. “They took out the pitchfork, they took out the rake, they took out the shovel, and they threw up a coat of paint. They turned that into the speech classroom. That’s how bad some of the situations are in some of the schools.”

To address the issue, the city Department of Education’s new $17 billion five-year capital plan for 2020-2024 proposes funding to create 57,000 new school seats across all school districts, with about half expected to be completed no later than the start of the 2025-2026 school year, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. The IBO predicts that all of the seats would be completed by 2028.

The plan sets aside $8.8 billion for capacity issues, including $7.9 billion for 57,000 new school seats in 88 new buildings and $150 million for class size reduction programs, which the DOE described as “increasing the number of school options available to students.” The DOE plan outlines the Class Size Reduction Program as building additions or new school buildings near buildings that have a high rate of overutilization, use trailers, are geographically isolated, or has a recognized seat-need that has not been funded.

“We’ll continue to build on these investments and work with school communities to meet their needs,” Isabelle Boundy, an assistant press secretary at the Department of Education, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

In 2003, following a lawsuit that claimed the state’s school funding system underfunded the city’s public schools, a New York Supreme Court concluded that for New York City students to receive their constitutional right to a sound basic education, more equitable funding was needed to reduce class sizes. At the time, the average class size for grades 4 through 8 was 25, and Contracts for Excellence — the nonprofit advocacy organization that filed the lawsuit — said class sizes needed to be just slightly lower, around 24. 

Four years later, the state passed a law called Contracts for Excellence that partly required districts to put funds toward reducing class size and required New York City to reduce class sizes across all grades to specific goals — such as reducing 4 through 8 class sizes to 23 by 2011 — over the next five years.

Since 2007, about 93,000 school seats have been built, according to CBC, but Class Size Matters says class sizes have gone up and are “still significantly larger” than in 2003. Kindergarten class sizes have risen from an average of 21 in 2007 to 24 in 2019, though the Contracts for Excellence target was around 20.

Class Size Matters joined a group of parents and other advocacy groups in April 2018 in filing a lawsuit against city schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, the DOE, and state education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to demand the city reduce class sizes. The court ruled in 2018 it was up to the commissioner to decide, and she said in 2017 the class size requirements in the Contracts for Excellence law had expired years ago, though Class Size Matters charges that the law is still in full effect. The plaintiffs are now appealing the decision and arguments are expected later this summer.

Meanwhile, the city continues to build new school seats to try to relieve crowding issues, but does not have to follow the guidelines for class size in the Contracts for Excellence law.

At a City Council hearing in December, Dromm said while the investment in 57,000 new seats included in the new capital plan will bring the total number of seats constructed since the start of the last five-year plan to a “historic” 83,000 seats, he said the DOE did not include a new, recalculated number of seats needed in 2024.

He said the 83,000 seats fulfills a commitment the mayor made in 2017 to fully fund the identified seat need by 2025, but there is disagreement over whether that number will remain years later by the end of the new five-year plan in 2024. Shino Tanikawa, the co-chair of the city’s Education Council Consortium, a body of elected parent leaders, said even though the mayor added more seats to the plan, the city is “always behind” the need.

In 2015, the city rejected a recommendation from the Blue Book Working Group — which was formed to make the DOE’s Enrollment, Capacity, and Utilization report, commonly known as the Blue Book, more accurate — to include the class size standards set in the Contracts for Excellence law in the Blue Book calculations for capacity and utilization. Though, the DOE did remove trailers from capacity calculations, decreasing the capacity of those schools.

Tanikawa, who was a member of the group, said the DOE should use aspirational class sizes to calculate, but instead the report is calculated using class sizes that are too large. For grades 9 through 12, the Blue Book uses a target class size of 30, despite the 2007 goal of an average class size of 25 for those grade-levels, according to the city’s Planning to Learn report from 2018. The Blue Book uses a higher target class size than the goals set in 2007 for all grades except for Kindergarten through 3.

“To many of the advocates on the working group that was the most important recommendation we made,” Tanikawa said. “And that was the one that was rejected.”

The 83,000-seat estimate came from a DOE analysis in November 2017 and was released in the February 2018 version of the 2015-2019 five-year plan. Class Size Matters estimates that the need is at least 100,000 seats based on the number of schools that are currently overcrowded, the likelihood of enrollment growth in parts of the city, and the need for class size reduction.

“I believe that they’re right,” Dromm told Gotham Gazette of Class Size Matters’ estimate. “Seat need is probably closer to 100,000, and the administration’s plan does not really reflect that. They claim that they put 57,000 seats into the budget this year, but still it doesn’t really reflect the need we feel is out there.”

The DOE predicts a decline of 4 percent enrollment, down to about 881,000 students, across public schools (the projection excludes enrollment in non-DOE spaces, charter schools, and District 75) by 2022-2023, though Dromm said residential construction, rezoning efforts, and overall city population growth are not adequately addressed in the plan. Haimson said demographic trends are difficult to predict and that there may be less overcrowding due to population shifts in certain areas over time, but the city’s population is growing fast.

Enrollment has declined over the past decade across the United States due to falling birth rates, but CBC has also reported that enrollment may increase in already crowded districts. 

The city’s population is expected to grow from 8.6 million in 2019 to 9 million in 2040, with the Bronx and Brooklyn expected to grow at the largest percentages, according to the city’s population projections.

“More and more families are choosing to stay in the city when they have children,” Haimson said. “And the mayor’s continuing to encourage development at any cost.”

When the city has undergone large-scale neighborhood rezonings, such as the ones for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx and East New York in Brooklyn, the School Construction Authority works closely with the Department of City Planning to identify the projected school seat need for those areas, according to SCA President Lorraine Grillo’s comments at a Council hearing in December. Rezoning deals between the city and local Council members often include school seat considerations, sometimes including the construction of at least one new school, like in East New York.

The new five-year plan allocates funding for 6,000 seats within six rezoning areas projected to move ahead during that time: the Hudson Square rezoning and Hudson Yards in Manhattan; Crotona Park East/West Farms rezoning in the Bronx; Pacific Park, Greenpoint Landing, Domino Redevelopment and Albee Square in Brooklyn; and Halletts Point rezoning in Queens.

According to the city’s Rezoning Commitments Tracker, the construction for a 1,000-seat school in East New York (the first neighborhood rezoning passed under de Blasio) has begun, and commitments were made in the Jerome Avenue neighborhood plan for new elementary schools in Districts 9 and 10. Commitments for at least one new school were included in four out of the city’s five large-scale neighborhood rezoning plans, with the others slated to be completed by 2023.

Council Member Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx, who chairs the Council’s capital budget subcommittee and negotiated the Jerome Avenue rezoning, said at the December Council hearing she was “pleased” about the Jerome Avenue commitments but added that the city is frequently rezoning smaller areas, and every new construction will bring families with school-age children. Griillo said the SCA is informed of smaller rezonings and uses them to inform future projections.

“(There are) the larger neighborhoods that we have rezoned from East Harlem, East New York, Far Rockaway, Jerome in the Bronx, and Inwood, but on a monthly basis on a much smaller scale we pass out smaller rezonings every single month,” Gibson said at the hearing. “We are creating an incredible amount of housing.”

The recent CBC report said there are significant shortcomings in the school construction the DOE and SCA do undertake. Not all new school capacity is created to address overcrowding, according to the report, and not all new seats are built in districts with overcrowding.

While the DOE also projects by 2022-2023 an enrollment decrease of 7 percent in elementary schools, where CBC says nearly two-thirds of the seat need is, the mayor’s initiatives like universal pre-kindergarten have added additional pressure to already overcrowded schools, though some programs are located at separate sites not run by the DOE, Edwards said.

A majority of the 93,000 seats built since 2007 have been for elementary school students, but more than 3,700 of those seats were built in districts with a “relatively low utilization,” according to the report.

Dromm said the DOE has allocated seats for districts they say have not received seats “in a while” though the need is greater in other districts. He said for District 24, the DOE has recognized that around 4,000 seats are needed to address crowding issues there, but those seats were not funded in the new five-year plan and were distributed to other areas.

At a council hearing in December, Grillo said more seats were added in District 24 than any other district in the city, so the funding for those seats were reallocated to districts that had not yet received additional seats.

“But District 24 remains one of the top districts for seat need,” Dromm said. “They’re still not addressing the areas where the seat need is the greatest, and that’s concerning to me.”

Additionally, the CBC report said the city has allocated too many seats for high schools, whose overcrowding problems could be solved by utilizing the surplus of high school seats and changing high school admissions practices.

Edwards said the city actually has more seats than students — the shortage of seats in crowded high schools, according to the CBC report, is about 32,000 whereas there’s about 65,000 unused seats at high schools — and there are ways the city can maximize that space.

However, the IBO said in testimony to the Council in 2015 that using the unused seats to alleviate overcrowding is difficult because changing admissions policies can be a contentious topic, the extra seats span across boroughs so the potential for change is limited to a few areas of the city, and DOE policies like universal pre-K will continue to put capacity pressure on buildings.

In the CBC report, Edwards outlined four ways the DOE can address overcrowding that are less expensive and more efficient than school construction, which takes an average of 41 months from the start of design to the end of construction. The DOE already uses these alternative strategies to reduce overcrowding — rezoning, repurposing seats, changing admission policies, and programming — but the report said they are “underutilized” while school construction is the main method.

According to an April 2019 DOE report on space overutilization in schools, the decline in overcrowded buildings from 646 in 2015 to 615 in 2018 was due to a combination of new capacity, resiting, facility upgrades, and new facilities.

According to CBC, in 2017, 42 high schools implemented “split-session” scheduling, which allows more than the traditional eight periods to be scheduled throughout the day; 43 schools were impacted by the rezoning of school districts; and 21 schools repurposed seats through re-siting to underutilized or new buildings. Some other schools received renovations or new facilities.

The CBC report says the DOE could rezone elementary schools or allow zones to overlap or be grouped together to use more seats at under-utilized schools. The report says the majority of the school district rezonings enacted between 2014 and 2017 were to accommodate the opening of a new school and implementing them more often to adjust incoming enrollment would be more effective.

According to the report, the city could also more frequently repurpose seats by truncating some schools and expanding others to relieve crowding. Another way to repurpose seats that has “substantial potential” to address the issue is converting administrative and non-school space to instructional rooms, CBC says.

While the report specifically says that buildings with multiple schools should share administrative offices to save space, some overcrowded schools have had to convert spaces like closets to create more room.

Enforcing enrollment capacity standards at high schools would reduce overcrowding at schools, like Francis Lewis in Queens, because there are enough seats citywide for high school students and those admissions are done on a citywide basis, the report said.

Tanikawa said because of the way the city funds schools — through the Fair Student Funding Act that allocates a fixed amount per student and adds funds if the school also serves students who are poor, struggling academically, have disabilities, or are learning English — there is an incentive for principals to take more students than a building is designed to hold.

“They don’t do it to be evil,” Tanikawa said. “They want to provide a robust, comprehensive education program and in order to do that principals are forced to take more students than they really should.”

Goldstein said it is “insane” that there is no limit to the number of students, which he said would be the best way to reduce overcrowding at Francis Lewis. Instead, the DOE plans to build an annex by 2021 which will add about 10 to 15 classrooms and replace the trailers the school currently uses.

Goldstein is his high school’s United Federation of Teachers chapter leader, and he said though the UFT has guidelines for class size, there is no upper enrollment limit for neighborhood schools like Francis Lewis.

He said he taught in a trailer for 12 years and taught in a half-sized classroom last year, which posed challenges ranging from preventing students from cheating to just getting around the room. Goldstein said he hopes they can eventually get rid of the trailers, but he fears that even with extra classrooms from the annex will not be enough.

“It will be good,” Goldstein said. “Will it be perfect? No it won’t be perfect.”

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bySamantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

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Struggling with Overcrowded Schools and Large Class Sizes, City Advances $8.8 Billion Plan Mon, 15 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Police Reform Movement is Focused on Officer Accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8666-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-accountability https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8666-max-murphy-podcast-police-reform-nypd-accountability eric officers councilcall

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


July 10, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: the Police Reform Movement is Focused on NYPD Officer Accountability

anthonine pierre bmc wbai 150Anthonine Pierre of Brooklyn Movement Center and Communities United for Police Reform joined the show to discuss what police reformers are focused on right now, Mayor de Blasio's record on police reform, and what legislation in Albany they were disappointed to not see passed in the recently-concluded legislative session.

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: Police Reform Movement is Focused on Officer Accountability Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
It Pays to be Comptroller: Scott Stringer's Mayoral Platform Takes Shape https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8653-it-pays-to-be-comptroller-scott-stringer-s-mayoral-platform-takes-shape https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8653-it-pays-to-be-comptroller-scott-stringer-s-mayoral-platform-takes-shape scott stringer bill de blasio bernie sanders inaugural ceremonies

Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has made no secret of his plans to run for mayor in 2021, when both he and Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of their current positions. And the outline of his mayoral policy platform is already hiding in plain sight.

After briefly entering the 2013 mayoral campaign before shifting to a first successful run for comptroller, Stringer has spent a long time laying the groundwork for a full mayoral bid, so much so that many expected him to challenge de Blasio in the Democratic primary in 2017 had the mayor faced any consequences from dual ethics investigations into his fundraising activities. But the mayor faced no charges and both officials instead sailed to reelection.

One of three citywide elected officials, besides the mayor and public advocate, the comptroller is the city’s top fiscal officer, charged with overseeing the mayoral administration’s spending, auditing city agencies for waste, approving city contracts, and acting as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds (with assets worth nearly $200 billion). Though they have next to no official policy-making power, those who’ve held the office also tend to issue policy reports and make recommendations for policies the city should implement.

In about five-and-a-half years as comptroller, Stringer has released numerous sweeping proposals to tackle everything from the cost of child care to building more affordable housing to abortion funding, improving city bus performance, and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Stringer fought against term limits for community board members, a ballot measure overwhelmingly passed by voters last year, and he’s pushed for this year’s city charter revision commission to propose creation of a citywide Chief Diversity Officer, building on his focus on city contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses. And, he’s helped lead the effort to divest city pension funds from fossil fuel companies.

As a citywide official, he’s weighed in with statements on many issues that don’t directly relate to functions of his job, and he’s taken on certain mantras, like the need for more “community-based planning,” that also indicate the initial building blocks for his all-but-official run for mayor.

Stringer’s work in the comptroller’s office has been a continuation of similar efforts he made as Manhattan borough president, unveiling various plans that would have a citywide effect.   

“Comptroller Stringer has spent his career in public service standing up for working families. From his time as a housing organizer, to his work as Manhattan Borough President, to his leadership as the City Comptroller, he’s proven progressive government isn’t just something he talks about – it’s what he delivers on each and every day,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, Stringer’s press secretary, in a lengthy statement responding to Gotham Gazette’s inquiry about Stringer’s various policy proposals.

“He’s used his office to change the face of corporate America and open doors of opportunity to women and people of color; he’s changed the conversation and shined a light on the touchstone progressive issues of our time, including housing and child care; and in every challenge impacting working New Yorkers, Comptroller Stringer sees a progressive solution worth fighting for,” Crampton-Hays continued. “With two and half years left in his term, he will continue the fights that have been at the heart of his entire career -- for equity, affordability, and fairness for all New Yorkers.”

When Stringer declares his candidacy for mayor in earnest, he’ll have a lengthy, detailed campaign platform on day one, thanks to all of the reports and audits out of his office. It’s a smart and appropriate use of the comptroller’s office, said veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “The New York City comptroller can do whatever the New York City comptroller wants. The office has broad authority under the city charter,” he said.

The issues Stringer has examined, Sheinkopf noted, cut across a swath of constituencies in a citywide electorate and have garnered significant attention. “He’s very able to get appropriate coverage for whatever he does. He also knows – because politics has been his life – how to take those issues and turn them into relationship-builders with particular interest groups,” Sheinkopf said. “He will be a highly competitive candidate for mayor, should he choose to run.”

Along with his policy proposals, Stringer’s near ubiquitous presence across the city should help him, Sheinkopf added. “No matter what choice New Yorkers will make, anyone who’s paid attention to the news will be able to say, for whatever reason, whether they can identify the issue or not, that somehow Stringer spoke to them about something,” he said. “And that’s a pretty good place to be and what he spoke to them about goes beyond color lines or race lines or ethnic lines or gender lines. He has made himself into the person whose words and even actions have become relevant to people beyond and outside of his social grouping, religion, race, class, and residence, which is not easy for someone who’s a west-sider from Manhattan.”

Stringer is expected to compete in a Democratic mayoral primary with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and anyone else who throws their hat in the ring ahead of the June 2021 vote. Each has also been in the process of staking out their policy positions and possible major mayoral platform areas, though none has led the size of operation or had the citywide vantage point, at least for as long, as Stringer in the comptroller’s office.

Political consultant George Arzt, who previously served as a campaign spokesperson for Stringer, echoed Sheinkopf. “The comptroller can put out anything on a platform just as the mayor or public advocate would put out anything on their platform,” Arzt said. “Perhaps increasingly so during an election year. But every elected official does it.”

Below are a sampling of the ideas that Stringer has proposed over the years, some of which are likely to form the basis for his mayoral campaign platform:

Child Care
In May, Stringer proposed a plan dubbed “NYC Under 3” aimed at drastically reducing child care expenses for 70,000 families. The plan, paid for with a payroll tax, would purportedly expand child care assistance to families with a combined income of up to $100,000 a year for a family of four, and triple the number of children enrolled in city-funded child care programs. The proposal was broadly praised by advocates, unions, and educators.

“New York City should drive a child care revolution, put working families first and establish a model for the nation to follow,” Stringer said in a statement at the release of the plan. “NYC Under 3 is a down payment on future generations and would benefit children, parents, and the local economy by increasing job stability and economic security.”

Since releasing it, Stringer has done a media and local event blitz to talk it up, including a “roundtable discussion” Monday evening with members of advocacy group Community Voices Heard in East Harlem.

Affordable Housing
Stringer has repeatedly criticized de Blasio’s affordable housing program, saying it has not created or preserved enough affordable units for low-income New Yorkers and that it has failed to stem the city’s homelessness crisis. In November, he released a proposal that would reimagine the city’s housing plan to target the 580,000 households that are in most need.

Stringer’s plan would put $375 million in the capital budget annually and repurpose the roughly 85,000 units left to be built under the mayor’s 300,000-unit plan towards extremely low-income households (which earn less than $28,170 annually) or very low-income households (which earn less than $46,950 annually). An additional $125 million would go to operating subsidies to ensure apartments remain affordable. He also proposed increasing the set aside for housing for the homeless by nearly three times to 15%.

The plan would be paid for by eliminating the Mortgage Recording Tax and implementing a Real Property Transfer Tax on all home purchases based on price. These measures would raise roughly $400 million each year, Stringer estimated. He also reiterated his call for a New York City Land Bank/Land Trust, which he first proposed in February 2016, to build housing on vacant lots.

Teacher Residency
In June this year, Stringer released a plan to reduce teacher turnover in city schools, after an analysis by his office showed that 41% of teachers hired in the 2012-13 school year had left their jobs within five years. 

Stringer proposed a paid, year-long residency program to train 1,000 new teachers annually, partnering them with mentors for classroom training and providing them with stipends for living costs.

On other education fronts, Stringer’s efforts more closely linked to his core job responsibilities have already shown results. After a May 2015 report on inadequate physical education at schools across the city, the de Blasio administration added $100 million to hire physical education teachers in the five boroughs. And following an April 2014 report on broad disparities in arts education, the city allocated $24 million in new city funding to hire more than 100 arts teachers in neighborhoods with the highest needs. 

Abortion Funding
Ahead of the passage of the city budget this year, Stringer rallied with reproductive health rights activists to push the city to allocate $250,000 to the New York Abortion Access Fund, a nonprofit service provider. The push was successful, with the City Council and de Blasio deciding to earmark funding, reportedly making New York the first city in the country to directly fund abortion services.

Insurance for Pregnancy
In March 2015, the comptroller released a report on pre-natal care coverage for pregnant women enrolled in insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not recognize pregnancy as a “qualifying event” for immediate coverage. Following Stringer’s report, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas introduced and passed legislation to allow for that coverage in New York, making it the first state to do so.

Puerto Rico Recovery
In October 2017, after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, Stringer released a six-point plan based on an analysis of federal programs to help the island recover from the hurricane’s devastation. New York City is home to the largest community of Puerto Ricans outside of the island, many of whom continue to have ties to family living there, and the city was one of the main destinations for residents fleeing the island after the hurricane.

Stringer proposed federal loan guarantees for the construction of public infrastructure to help the debt-ridden island, called on Congress to authorize Disaster Recovery Private Activity Bonds (which were utilized after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to rebuild Downtown Manhattan), and an expansion of federal safety net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit for residents of Puerto Rico. He also pushed for measures to help displaced Puerto Ricans, including additional education funding for displaced and homeless students, and for higher education institutions where Puerto Ricans are enrolled.

Chief Diversity Officer
Stringer has used his position as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds to push for greater board diversity at companies where the pension fund invests its money. At the same time, he has pushed for more diversity at city agencies, more city contract spending with MWBEs, and has called for the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer at City Hall (Stringer has appointed his own chief diversity officer). He pushed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to include the idea among its ballot proposals but was unsuccessful, though the commission is moving ahead with a proposal to enshrine responsibility for the city’s MWBE program at City Hall.

Immigrant Services
In March 2015, Stringer released an “Immigrant Rights and Services Manual” – initially translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian and Spanish – to help immigrants navigate local, state and federal services.

In February 2016, he also released a report on citizenship application fees, with recommendations for federal and local action. He urged the city to provide more citizenship assistance programs, to add funding for English and civics classes, and to expand free legal services, among other proposals.

Commuter Rail & Bus Reliability
In October 2018, Stringer released a proposal to expand access to Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, by reducing fares for in-city trips to the cost of a single MetroCard swipe. He called on the MTA to ensure commuter trains take more local stops, that buses provide enhanced service to commuter rail stations, and that those stations be made ADA accessible. His plan, which would entail providing commuter rail service at 38 stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, would cost about $50 million each year, he estimated.

In 2017, Stringer released a major report on the city's struggling buses, which have lost ridership at a dangerous clip, with an agenda for how to improve the system.

Security Deposits & Credit Score Benefits
In July 2018, Stringer released an analysis of security deposits in the New York City rental housing market, finding that renters paid about $507 million into security deposits in 2016. He called for legislation to cap security deposits as well as additional regulation regarding payments and refunds. The state Legislature this year put new rent regulations into effect that implement some of those reforms.

And in October 2017, Stringer launched pilot projects to help renters in roughly 3,000 apartment units to report their rent payment to increase their credit scores. The program was expanded a year later.

Playgrounds
In April, Stringer launched the “Pavement to Playgrounds” campaign, pointing to a dearth of playgrounds across the city and substandard conditions at hundreds of city playgrounds. Stringer pushed the city to build 200 new playgrounds over five years through partnership between the city’s Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, nonprofits and community boards.

BQE Reconstruction
In March, Stringer proposed his own vision for how the city should rehab the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, including by converting the triple cantilever and Cobble Hill trench into a truck-only thruway and building a new two-mile park on the remaining space. A panel assembled by de Blasio is working on coming up with recommendations for a new plan after the city’s original idea received a great deal of pushback and appears to have been scrapped.

Marijuana Legalization
Before de Blasio released his administration’s plan embracing the legalization of recreational adult use of marijuana in December, Stringer had already explored the possible ramifications of creating a legal market in the city and proposed measures to ensure that the city creates an equitable industry.

Stringer pushed for investing tax revenue from sales into communities most adversely affected by marijuana enforcement, called for equity provisions in state legislation (particularly by making people with marijuana-related convictions eligible for licenses to sell legal marijuana) and proposed a citywide equity program to provide assistance to individuals and businesses seeking to enter the industry. 

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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It Pays to be Comptroller: Scott Stringer's Mayoral Platform Takes Shape Mon, 08 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8644-we-re-moving-now-city-pursues-school-desegregation-measures-with-major-looming-test Carranza De Blasio education

Chancellor Carranza & Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced on June 10 that the city will adopt 62 recommendations focused on diversity and integration in public schools, focusing on middle and elementary schools, from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, a new step toward school desegregation as many students, families, educators, and others have waited years for the city to make progress.

A 2014 UCLA report said New York public schools were the most segregated in the country, but stressed that they didn’t have to be. The report said a combination of demographic transformations and a lack of diversity-focused policies led to “problematic segregation patterns.” 

Adding metrics to an annual report to track numbers related to diversity and integration, defining a city goal to aim to have “all schools to look like the city,” and investing in programs to provide more opportunities in high poverty schools are some of the recommendations that some say are the most significant. Also part of the picture is city grants to school districts that want to design their own integration plans, as a few districts have already done.

The adoption of the recommendations come after “a long period of frustration,” according to City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city. Lander added that Carranza’s leadership has been significant in moving the advisory group and broader conversation along. The city accepted all but five of the group’s 67 recommendations, with two rejected and three are still under review.

While many say the initial slate of recommendations is a positive step, some have criticized the plan for lack of timelines for implementation and not being aggressive enough to make fast progress on school integration. Members of the group have said this report is just a start, and a second set of recommendations in July will address some of those concerns, including taking on the tough subject of high school admissions. 

Some have also said the two recommendations the de Blasio administration did not select — the creation of a Chief Integration Officer position and analyzing the possibility of moving the supervision of School Safety Agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education — could have spurred more progress. 

The three of the 67 from the first report that are still under review would make resources available to any district making diversity plans if the DOE receives more applications than the $2 million it already set aside can support and establish a separate set of funds for districts that have not started integration discussions yet. The third suggests developing and investing in enrichment programs in elementary schools.

Since Carranza took over as chancellor in April 2018, he has taken a much more aggressive approach to school desegregation than his predecessors, the apparent result of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new willingness to address an area of significant criticism during his first five years in office, though the mayor is still facing heat for his tepid approach to what is a civil rights and education issue with major socioeconomic and racial implications.

Carranza has implemented mandatory implicit bias trainings for all teachers, lobbied state lawmakers to drop the single entrance exam for the city’s specialized high schools where few black and Hispanic students are enrolled, and eliminated the use of “limited unscreened” enrollment policies in high schools, which gave priority to applicants who attended admissions fairs to show interest and were thought to favor students with more engaged and wealthier parents. 

Mayor de Blasio in 2017 had created a modest diversity plan and established the School Diversity Advisory Group, which came up with the recently-released recommendations. But, de Blasio’s agenda had lacked plans on school integration until recent years. Council members as well as student and teacher advocates increasingly pressured the mayor in the years after the UCLA report. Then he appointed Carranza, who has been outspoken, at times ruffling feathers de Blasio had been loathe to disrupt, to push conversation and action around school integration.

“The chancellor’s coming and embracing that advocacy and working together to build it...has been essential,” said Lander, who co-sponsored a package of legislation passed in 2015 that intended to bring attention to segregation in public schools, “because we had all that organizing going on, but we did not yet have much progress.” 

Preliminary Movement: 62 Recommendations
The 2014 UCLA report found that of the city’s 32 school districts, 19 included 10 percent or fewer white students. Additionally, it said the combination of “double segregation” by both race and socioeconomic status created more inequalities. 

An updated 2019 report found that while some progress had been made, the city’s schools remained largely segregated. From 2001 to 2015, the number of “intensely segregated” elementary schools in gentrifying areas declined by about 10 percent (from 91 percent in 2001 to 83 percent in 2015), those in non-gentrifying areas increased by 15 percent. Intensely segregated schools are defined as 90 to 100 percent non-white. 

Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio and now senior vice president for social justice at the New School and a co-chair of the School Diversity Advisory Group, said in an interview on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC that school integration benefits all students. She said dropout rates go down while graduate rates go up, and students do better in college.

Wiley said that the recommendation adding diversity metrics is a “game changer.” She said having numbers on diversity and providing the public with the reports will help keep the city accountable. 

She added that one of the recommendations, creating diversity targets in middle school admissions, is an expansion on the mayor’s 2017 Diversity in Admissions program that planned for 50,000 more students to attend racially representative schools. Because some researchers noted that the goal could be met by demographic shifts alone, Wiley said the SDAG wanted to be more aggressive. 

“In the short term we said schools, meaning zero to three years, schools should look like their districts. Then over five years they should look like the borough. In 10 years they should look like the city,” Wiley said on WNYC. “The link to the metrics is how do you know if you’re getting that done if you’re not reporting?”

Two-thirds of the students in the city’s school system are black and Hispanic, 15 percent are white, and 16 percent are Asian, according to DOE data. In the city overall, 33 percent are white, 26 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic, and 13 percent are Asian.

Clara Hemphill, the director of education policy and editor at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs’ project InsideSchools, said the recommendations serve as a guide for how the city can move forward with integration on the district level.

The recommendations encourage districts to develop their own diversity plans similar to the one in Brooklyn’s District 15, part of Lander’s Council district, which eliminated the use of screens in middle school admissions and committed 52 percent of seats to students who are low-income, learning English as a new language, or are homeless.

The city announced that five districts will receive $200,000 in grants to increase their schools’ diversity, and one recommendation from the advisory group encourages nine more districts to develop integration plans. Another recommendation outlines that the DOE will “support and encourage” districts to examine new middle school admissions policies, while another urges districts to be transparent about their integration processes to ensure progress.

However, Hemphill said for a borough like the Bronx, whose population is largely black and Latino, there is not going to be integration of different races and income levels at most schools in those districts. She added, though, that the recommendations do layout an answer to help those schools: providing more and encouraging the recruitment of diverse faculty create ways to improve the schools’ quality.

“At neighborhoods where you can’t have racial integration of students, you can still make schools that have plenty of resources and represent the kids,” Hemphill said.

The mayor’s approach to school desegregation so far has been to encourage districts to pursue their own integration plans with assistance from the DOE, which has happened with success through parent-led efforts in Districts 15 and 3. De Blasio regularly says he believes it must be a bottom-up, not top-down effort to integrate city schools.

City Council Member Daneek Miller said at a June 19 press conference that there is a consensus from the members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus as well as the Progressive Caucus that the recommendations are necessary to address school segregation problems. He added, though, that “these 62 points don’t necessarily address everything.”

Perceived Shortcomings
Critics have said the recommendations lack specific timelines for implementation and fail to address greater issues of enrollment screens and district segregation.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said because the recommendations focus on district plans rather than a city-wide plan, not much progress can be made on desegregating schools. The district lines are ethnically and racially drawn, so desegregation efforts need to happen across districts rather than within districts, he said.

Bloomfield added that one of the rejected recommendations, the creation of a Chief Integration Officer, was a “major mistake” because someone in that position could have focused on the city as a whole rather than the individual districts.

“[A city-wide plan] does require imagination and professional staff,” Bloomfield said. “That seems to be lacking in how the mayor sees desegregation efforts. In some ways it’s a plan for a plan, and it’s too late to be going so slow.”

Carranza has said that in his role as chancellor, he is the Chief Integration Officer.

Of the other of two recommendations the city did not adopt, that of moving the supervision of the School Safety Agents to the DOE from the NYPD, would have been beneficial in decreasing police presence in schools and students getting caught up in the criminal justice system as opposed to having more issues handled at their schools. Not long after the de Blasio administration announced it was accepting the 62 of 67 recommendations from the advisory group, it announced a new school discipline code and new agreement between the NYPD and DOE to lighten how students are policed in schools — the first update to that memorandum of understanding in about 20 years.

Given the lack of timelines for implementation, the advisory group recommendations form a “roadmap” for what the city wants to do rather than a plan with deadlines, Hemphill said. 

The recommendations also did not take on high schools and screened admissions policies.

Lander said while some of the recommendations are significant and are an overall positive step, they tackle the “lower hanging fruit.” He said there is room for the city to make changes in the admissions processes of high schools that use academic screens, which does not require changes in state law and is a “more thoughtful” approach to integration. 

The student advocacy group Teens Take Charge, which held a rally at the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, home to the DOE, calling for a high school integration plan four days before de Blasio announced the adoption of the recommendations, echoed Lander’s sentiment.

Soknadiarra Ndiaye, the chief operations officer of Teens Take Charge, said the group hopes the next set of recommendations due next month will deal with enrollment processes and high schools. The group set a June 26 deadline, the last day of school, for de Blasio to announce a comprehensive high school integration plan, and held a sit-in at City Hall when no such plan was announced. 

The Teens Take Charge campaign calls for the city to promote academic, racial, and socioeconomic integration at high schools by setting diversity thresholds in the admissions process that all high schools would have to meet. 

“When it comes to high school, one of the reasons why our high school system is so segregated is because of enrollment,” Ndiaye said. “So we’re hoping that [the city] will either adopt our policy or something similar to it.” 

City Council Member Mark Treyger, the chair of the Council’s education committee, said making changes to admissions processes is one way for the Department of Education to take steps forward on school integration without needing state lawmakers to change state law, which is necessary for tackling issues related to the three (of the eight) marquee specialized high schools and the SHSAT used for admissions (the state legislative session just ended with no movement on reforming the specialized schools’ admissions).

De Blasio has said he does not think it is wise to change the process at the five specialized high schools the city controls, pushing for state law changes to scrap the test in favor of multiple measures and criteria that would diversify the schools, home to high percentages of white and Asian students.

Treyger said he is “pleased” that the recommendations signal the city is moving forward on the issue, but added that “time is of the essence.”

“Every school year delayed is justice delayed and these are precious years that our students can never get back,” Treyger said. “There needs to be a real effort underway, not just to simply form another working group or have another study, but to really find ways to implement strategies right now that we know work.” 

Matt Gonzales, school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed and also a member of the city’s SDAG, said SDAG is writing the second report, which he said will take on high school policy and enrollment issues. He added that the group did not design the first set of recommendations to be the only plan they propose.

“I guess there’s a distrust that the advisory group isn’t going to follow through,” Gonzales said. “There was never an intention just to lay out this first report and wipe our hands.” 

The City’s Slow Progression
School integration was not on de Blasio’s platform when he ran for mayor in 2013, nor was it included in his “Equity and Excellence” education speech in 2015, though he discussed a number of education initiatives. Those programs, like Algebra for All and Computer Science for All and AP for All, are virtually all aimed at enhancing schools as they are currently constituted, while ignoring racial segregation, an approach some have called de Blasio’s version of ‘separate but equal.’

Pushed on not moving to desegregate city schools, de Blasio repeatedly said he had put a great deal in motion to improve schools. He also pointed to the historical constructs and sources of segregated schools and neighborhoods, and to the fact that many New Yorkers had made major life decisions, like buying homes, with the current school districts in mind. Those comments received significant criticism. 

Bloomfield said de Blaiso started to tackle the issue after years of increasing pressure from the public, advocates, and other city leaders. He added that the timing of the city moving forward also coincides with the arrival of Carranza, who prioritized the issue, as well as de Blasio’s reelection.

“He felt that he could risk some political capital on this initiative,” Bloomfield said of the Democratic mayor, now in his second and final term (and running for president).

The City Council, however, began to address school segregation issues in 2014, just after the UCLA report. In October of that year, Council Members Lander, Ritchie Torres, and Inez Barron introduced a package of legislation to draw attention to the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. The Council has no power to change admissions processes or school district lines, policies that are set by the mayoral-controlled Department of Education, technically a state entity, local parent education councils, and the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which is mostly run by mayoral appointees.

Lander’s portion of the legislation included requiring the Department of Education to publicly report diversity metrics. Torres and Barron both introduced nonbinding resolutions that sought to officially declare diversity one of the Department of Education’s goals and to rewrite the law requiring the city’s specialized high schools to admit students based on an entrance exam. 

The Council passed the legislation, and in 2015 passed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which requires the Department of Education to annually report on steps they are taking to address school segregation. The Council has also held several hearings on the issue, including one in May. 

“We have been pushing for integration efforts for quite some time,” Treyger said. “And the City Council is limited in terms of its legislative authority in terms of DOE policies, but we do have oversight power. We’ve used it and we’ll use it again to hold the DOE accountable.”

Districts themselves have also implemented their own integration plans, with District 15 in Brooklyn and District 3 in Manhattan both enacting more inclusive admissions practices in their middle schools. 

No action was taken to further school integration by either the Department of Education or the mayor’s office until 2017, when de Blasio established the SDAG and set goals for more diverse schools. 

The 2017 diversity plan outlined diversity as a priority for the Department of Education and included short-term goals such as decreasing the number of economically stratified schools by 10 percent and increasing the number of schools that serve English Language Learners and students with disabilities. 

“It was very weak tea,” Lander said. “I mean, it was better than nothing, but the goals were very modest. And there was no reason to believe that the School Diversity Advisory Group would be real, would be meaningful would be independent with recommendations.” 

Lander said Carranza was key in giving the SDAG confidence to be bolder and move forward with proposing the recommendations in February 2019. 

Treyger said after some months had passed, he wanted to hold a hearing to find out where the administration stood on the recommendations. He said he, Speaker Corey Johnson, and other Council members were “frustrated” that the city was not ready to publicly weigh in yet. 

At the hearing held in May, Carranza testified that he needed to further discuss the recommendations with the SDAG before making a public announcement on which ones the DOE would adopt. A month later, the city announced the adoption of most of the recommendations.

Lander emphasized that this action comes after years of waiting, but the recommendations signal an intention that there will be more progress on the issue. 

“I’m glad we’re moving now,” Lander said. “I wish we started earlier.” 

Bloomfield said after the second report comes out in July, there could be months of waiting for the mayor to decide which portions of the proposal he wants to adopt. Though he said the progress that has been made now will make it more difficult for the city to stop the movement. 

“The significance is that it’s now squarely part of the city’s agenda,” Bloomfield said. “A new mayor will have a harder time putting the genie back in the bottle.”

‘A Witch Hunt’
Carranza has come under fire from some parents and City Council members following a lawsuit filed by three white veteran Department of Education administrators who claimed they were demoted because of their race, as well as anti-bias trainings that have become the subject of ire from some officials, the New York Post, and others.

A Post columnist, Bob McManus, wrote that Carranza’s agenda is all about “racial division” and that the anti-bias trainings are “white-bashing” sessions that have inflamed rather than eased race relations.” The Post editorial board has written several pieces critical of Carranza in recent months.

In a letter dated June 15, seven City Council members and two state Assembly members sent a letter to de Blasio saying if Carranza continues to “divide the city” then the mayor should replace him. Eight of the nine signers were white, and Council Member Robert Holden of Queens spearheaded the action. The other signator, Council Member Peter Koo, is Asian, and representative of a community that has taken issue with Carranza and de Blasio seeking to overhaul admissions to the specialized high schools, where Asian students are far overrepresented compared to their population in the city or larger school system.

For Council Member Daniel Dromm, a former teacher and former chair of the Council’s education committee, the situation was “almost predictable.”

“As soon as you start to talk about implicit bias or culturally responsive education, you could’ve put money on it that you’re going to get this kind of backlash,” Dromm said during a June 19 press conference held by both the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and its Progressive Caucus. “Which is why no other chancellor would go near the issue to begin with.” 

In response to the letter, the Mayor de Blasio has said the chancellor is not going anywhere. He said on NY1’s Inside City Hall that the Council members “should have known better.” 

“[Carranza] is doing a great job,” de Blasio said. “I think a lot of people in this city really look up to him and are depending on him.” 

Several other Council members also released statements of support for Carranza. Lander said the New York Post is leading a “witch hunt” against the chancellor. 

Others have echoed Dromm’s sentiment that much of the backlash Carranza has received is a nature of his progressive agenda. Gonzales said the New York Post is trying to “discredit” the chancellor as he pushes a progressive agenda.

“Everything that’s been happening in response, I don’t think now that any of this was a response to any particular one thing,” Gonzales said. ‘It’s just a response to who he is, and how bold he has been about identity, how that informs the work he does, and the prioritization of a racial justice agenda.” 

Carranza, who is of Mexican descent, said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on June 11 that the letter is “just a distraction.” He said he will continue to work on making sure all students have access to the same opportunities, a goal outlined in the 62 recommendations the city accepted.

“It’s always often kind of rich when there are inequities happening in a system and the minute you start pointing out those inequities and actually working to change those inequities it becomes divisive,” Carranza said on the show. “I’ve never seen how you can improve a system without identifying what the issues are in the system, and you can’t fix the inequities without talking about them.”

***
bySamantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

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'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Reps Sought to Kill Police Accountability Measure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8632-de-blasio-reps-sought-to-kill-police-accountability-measure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8632-de-blasio-reps-sought-to-kill-police-accountability-measure mdbd graduation cermony

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Less than a week after arguments ended in the high-profile NYPD administrative trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the administration of Mayor de Blasio waged an effort to block a significant reform aimed at preventing and punishing lying by police officers during investigations of misconduct.

One commissioner on the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission says members were contacted by a representative of the mayor in advance of a vote earlier this month on whether to move to the November election ballot a slate of proposals to modify the city charter, while the police department carried out a parallel campaign to sway commissioners, who are supposed to be independent of the elected officials who appoint them.

A spokesperson for de Blasio did not deny the effort, telling Gotham Gazette that the administration talks through all the issues with charter commissioners, including sharing concerns from city agencies.

The 15 commissioners on the 2019 commission, tasked with reviewing the city’s central governing laws and presenting proposed changes to voters, were appointed by the mayor, City Council, comptroller, public advocate, and borough presidents. After months of hearings and meetings, the commission recently met twice to vote on which proposals to advance to the ballot, selecting 20 in total.

One of the 20 proved especially controversial. It was the only one that was voted down during the first of the two recent meetings, but was then passed upon reevaluation at the second. It deals with strengthening the power of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to prosecute discipline charges when police officers lie during the course of investigations.

According to four charter revision commissioners Gotham Gazette spoke with, in the conversations ahead of the first meeting on June 12, administration and police representatives urged the commissioners to vote down the measure, “proposal 7,” which accountability advocates believe would significantly curtail officers’ ability to avoid scrutiny and discipline.

In public, however, the administration has maintained silence on the proposal to rein in police lying -- a practice that has been exposed in significant new detail in recent months by reporting by Gothamist and elsewhere -- and a spokesperson for the mayor told Gotham Gazette it is still in the process of official review.

The events shine a light on the mayor’s oft-criticized level of commitment to transparency and accountability with regard to police misconduct and efforts to reform the politically powerful police department.

Commissioner Sal Albanese, who twice voted against the charter proposal, told Gotham Gazette he was contacted by a representative of the de Blasio administration who told him the current apparatus to deal with false official statements is working well.

“The de Blasio administration made a very compelling case that the present system works. If an officer is accused or makes a false statement that they handle it, and if it’s serious it goes to the prosecutors. That was their position and it makes sense,” Albanese said, referring to the NYPD’s process of handling allegations of police lying internally. Albanese, a former City Council member and mayoral candidate, was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, himself a former NYPD officer and captain.

Probed further about contact from the de Blasio administration, Albanese said, “That’s their position. That’s the call I got from them, yeah.”

But in an email to Gotham Gazette Friday, Will Baskin-Gerwitz, a spokesperson for the mayor, wrote: “Mayor de Blasio has heard the informed opinions of CCRB and NYPD about the proposal, and he continues to review it in advance of the revision commission’s final vote in July.”

Albanese and six other commissioners, including all four appointed by de Blasio and the commissioner appointed by Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, originally voted against proposal 7 on June 12 at the first meeting where the commission took up potential charter amendments. The measure was the only one of the 18 considered by the 15-member body that was not passed that night.

Asked to comment on the mayoral appointees’ voting pattern at the June 12 vote, Commissioner Sateesh Nori, an appointee of former Public Advocate Letitia James, told Gotham Gazette, “I don’t know what happened exactly in their minds, and whether they voted individually or as a collective group, whether they represented anybody.”

“But they’re all respectable, straightforward people and I think hopefully they’ll change their minds, or enough of them will,” he said, referring to the possibility of revisiting the vote.

“I think that’s the only life and death issue that we’re dealing with here,” Nori said. “It’s deeply disappointing.”

In an unusual display of political metanoia, after speaking with representatives of the CCRB and hearing from police reformers including the mothers of men killed by police, charter revision commissioners moved to revisit proposal 7 at the June 18 hearing, and voted it ahead toward the ballot in November.

One mayoral appointee, Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, changed his vote to support the controversial measure. The other three affirmed commitments to police transparency and honesty but did not support codifying the measure to bring police lying under independent scrutiny.

The purpose of the June votes was to advance proposals from the commission staff to the commission’s final report, which members need to approve at the end of July before amendments can be placed on the ballot in November.

‘The only life and death issue’
False statements made by the police in the course of misconduct investigations are well-documented and have figured into some of the most serious cases of police brutality and corruption, including the trial of Daniel Pantaleo in the 2014 death of Eric Garner. 

A number of versight entities have been created to address police misconduct, corruption, and mismanagement, each with a relatively narrow mandate to pursue aspects of departmental impropriety. Several of the reforms being weighed by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, including the one that has apparently attracted the opposition of the administration, have to do with giving more teeth to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which is appointed by the mayor from a pool designated by the mayor, City Council, and police commissioner.

The CCRB is the principal entity charged with investigating civilian allegations of police misconduct when they fall into one of four categories, known as FADO: use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, and offensive language.

Currently, false testimony by the police to investigators falls outside the FADO categories, and as such cannot be the subject of investigations and disciplinary recommendations by the CCRB, which is an independent agency with the power to prosecute cases in administrative settings. Instead they must be referred to the police department to be dealt with internally, where allegations of lying are often downgraded or dismissed without repercussion.

A report in the New York Times last year found that of the 81 tracked cases of false statements referred to the police department by the CCRB since 2010 only two were affirmed by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau. A “Blue Ribbon” panel appointed by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill to recommend reforms to the department’s internal disciplinary system, in its final report in January, discussed a pervasive culture of “lax” or nonexistent responses to officers who lie to investigators about their and their colleagues’ actions.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a spokesperson for the NYPD, said the department has “accepted all of the recommendations of the independent Blue Ribbon Panel on discipline.” McRorie made a distinction between “intentional or willfully false statements” -- which would immediately result in an investigation and potential disciplinary action -- and “unintentional inconsistent statements which are generally the result of insufficient preparation for testimony, in which case enhanced one-on-one training may be appropriate.”

The distinction did not resonate with some of the charter revision commissioners.

“I have to say that the argument that we should be giving the benefit of the doubt to police officers who cannot remember what they did in a situation of likely police misconduct and even violence,” in contrast with the treatment of people of color by police nationwide, “was infuriating to me,” Commissioner Alison Hirsch told Gotham Gazette. Hirsch, the political director at the powerful building services workers union, 32BJ SEIU, was appointed to the commission by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

To enhance the CCRB’s ability to check the powers of the police, many stakeholders have pushed for the expansion of FADO to include other types of misconduct like lying to investigators. The charter revision commission, which has the power to examine the entire City Charter and put amendments directly to voters via referendum, has attracted advocates eager to see reform to the NYPD, a less-than-transparent city department backed by influential political forces with a great deal of sway at City Hall.

Several of the commissioners, who saw the June 12 commission vote as an opportunity to advance police reforms, were surprised at proposal 7’s lone failure that night.

“Some of us left that meeting last week with our jaws dropped. Like, what happened, how did that happen?” Nori said. “We thought it was a close vote but we didn’t think it would be unsuccessful, and that was a huge shock.”

Several other commissioners who spoke with Gotham Gazette expressed the same sense of bewilderment.

That night, seven commissioners voted against proposal 7, including all four de Blasio appointees, as well as the commissioners appointed by borough presidents from the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. The commissioners chosen by the public advocate, comptroller, and Manhattan borough president, and two of the commissioners appointed by the City Council voted in favor. The remaining two City Council appointees abstained from voting, and the Queens Borough President’s appointee was absent because of a family emergency.

Four other proposals relating to the CCRB were voted ahead on June 12. If passed by voters in November, they will give other entities besides the mayor the authority to appoint members to the board; give the CCRB executive director subpoena power; guarantee a minimum budget for the agency; and require the police commissioner to provide an explanation when deviating from a CCRB disciplinary recommendation.

Charter revision commissions have historically been empaneled by mayors, as was the one that put proposals on the ballot last November. The current commission, however, was created through the City Council on the initiative of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and then-Public Advocate Letitia James.

Its members were appointed by a mix of elected officials, with none appointing a majority: The mayor and City Council each chose four commissioners; the remaining seven were appointed by each borough president, the public advocate, and the city comptroller.

“It's important that no single official appoints a majority. Some previous charter reviews haven't been independent, instead dominated by appointees answering directly to mayors,” wrote Brewer and James in an op-ed announcing their plan.

Vote Revisited
Following the June 12 failure of proposal 7, a counter effort was waged among some of the commissioners sympathetic to the arguments of police reformers to revisit the “no” vote.

“The police have a tremendous amount of power in this city and they waged an effective campaign to influence people and change their minds,” Nori told Gotham Gazette before the second meeting, referring to commissioners.

“I hope we can try to change that today,” he said.

On June 18, when the commission met for a second time to discuss and vote on which proposals to send toward the ballot, Nori raised the issue again and asked if any of the opposing commissioners would reconsider their vote.

Weisbrod was the only commissioner appointed by the mayor to change his vote to support proposal 7 but, thanks to the affirmative votes of commissioners who had abstained or were absent at the first meeting, the proposal passed eight to six (with one abstention) at the second meeting.

One of four de Blasio appointees, Weisbrod, flipped his vote to support the enhanced oversight measure after thanking Nori and Hirsch for helping him “see the light on it for what it is,” after the previous meeting.

“I think we have an obligation to support the truth,” he said at the meeting.

The other mayoral appointees seemed to walk a fine line when they chose to explain their opposition in the face of reconsideration.

Commissioner Lisette Camilo, a de Blasio appointee and the head of the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services, said, “I really agree with the spirit of the reasons to put this motion forward and I supported the reconsideration. I will vote no. I do not believe that passing this will largely change anything. This is more of a symbolic action.”

Commissioner Paula Gavin, another mayoral appointee and former Chief Service Officer under the mayor, said, “I do believe in truth and honesty but I’m going to keep my vote as no because it has to do with structure.”

Commissioner Lindsay Greene, a de Blasio appointee and senior advisor in the mayor’s office, said, in the absence of more fundamental changes to the powers of the CCRB, “I don’t think this does enough, so it feels more form over substance. But I generally support any efforts we are trying to pursue, generally, for more police accountability. My vote is no.”

But the measure passed, and police reform and accountability activists celebrated.

“The false statements ballot item is important because it is the ONLY item on this November’s ballot that has any meaningful significance for police accountability,” wrote the Communities United for Police Reform coalition in a statement.

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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De Blasio Reps Sought to Kill Police Accountability Measure Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
How De Blasio Fared in Albany This Year https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8635-how-de-blasio-fared-in-albany-2019-cuomo https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8635-how-de-blasio-fared-in-albany-2019-cuomo mayor state state

Mayor de Blasio with Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Democrats in control of the state Legislature for the first time in a decade ended a whirlwind legislative session last week, having notched a raft of progressive victories that were denied to them when Republicans controlled the state Senate. 

At a news conference in Albany on Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared it the “the most productive legislative session in modern history,” and in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed.

“As we tally up the scorecard for the end of session, one thing is clear: New Yorkers have won big on a host of progressive legislation that will help make our state fairer,” de Blasio said in a statement on Friday.

Among the bills passed this year were several sweeping packages with significant ramifications for the city’s 8.5 million residents. Registering to vote will become easier. Tenants will have stronger protections. Wealth will no longer determine, in most cases, if someone accused of a crime loses their freedom. Marijuana possession won’t land people in jail. The subways will get new funding and the streets will be a little less crowded by vehicles. Cameras will catch speeding drivers near schools. Construction projects will be completed more efficiently. Undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for driver’s licenses and receive education funding. And that’s not all.

Among de Blasio’s top stated priorities, he saw movement on stronger rent regulations, mayoral control of city schools, congestion pricing, election reform, design-build authority, criminal justice reform, and more.

Nonetheless, there were a few professed priorities for the mayor that did not get approved this year including legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana, scrapping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), and reforming Section 50-a of the state Civil Rights Law, which shields police officer disciplinary records from public disclosure, among others.

“We haven’t seen a session this daring, productive and progressive in decades, and while we have much more work to do for New Yorkers, I want to thank Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the rest of the legislature for passing these sweeping reforms,” de Blasio said. “I also would like to thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for taking swift action on many of these pieces of legislation.”

The city has already or will soon begin the process of executing some of the various reforms that passed, including creating new local regulations for e-bikes and e-scooters to expanding contract awards for MWBEs, and implementing bail reform. Some reforms will also take effect immediately while other programs are scheduled to ramp up over time.

Here’s a rundown of approved bills and programs, some broad and others more specific, that will impact New York City:

Expanded MWBE Program
The Legislature gave the city greater authority to award discretionary contracts to Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs) as well as Emerging Business Enterprises run by socially and economically disadvantaged business owners.

The legislation increases the value of contracts that the city can award without a formal competitive process to such businesses from $150,000 to $500,000 million. It also allows adding MWBE or EBE status as a criteria for creating pre-qualified vendor lists, allows the Department of Design and Construction to create a mentoring program for MWBEs and EBEs, and allows those businesses to apply for School Construction Authority contracts.

De Blasio had called this a top priority, holding a press conference on the subject in late March (he wanted the threshold raised to $1 million, but was pleased with $500,000) and reiterating its importance as the session moved toward completion. A $1 million threshold would have allowed the city to increase annual MWBE awards by $500 million, he had said.

“Our city is fairer and more vibrant when everyone – regardless of race, gender or ethnicity – has an opportunity to participate in our economy,” de Blasio said in a statement. “With the help of State lawmakers and persistent advocacy from our minority and women entrepreneurs, we managed to once again expand economic opportunity for people who have historically been left out of our economy. A $500,000 discretionary award limit for minority and women entrepreneurs will strengthen our thriving economy and entrepreneurial backbone.”

Expanded Design-Build Authority
Design-build is a procurement method intended to cut infrastructure costs by allowing government to solicit a joint design and construction contract. De Blasio has been pushing for the commonsense measure for years but it was repeatedly used as a leverage item by the governor and Republican Senate, with at times small gains allowed to the city.

Democrats this year expanded the city’s design-build authorization to several city agencies: the Department of Design & Construction, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection, the School Construction Authority, the Department of Parks & Recreation, the New York City Housing Authority and New York City Health + Hospitals.

Legalizing Electronic Bikes and Scooters
The Legislature legalized e-bikes and e-scooters (with a maximum speed of 20 miles an hour), mandated safety requirements for e-scooters, and gave municipalities the ability to regulate e-scooters within their jurisdiction.

In New York City, the bill could end a de Blasio-ordered crackdown by the NYPD on e-bikes, which are often used by immigrant food delivery workers. It will also allow the City Council to create new regulations where earlier its hands were tied. Several bills were introduced and discussed at a Council hearing in January, which can now move forward. When pressed on his e-bike crackdown, de Blasio repeatedly pointed to Albany, saying he wanted state regulations so the city could then act, but also expressing safety concerns not backed up by any data.

Governor Cuomo did say Friday that he is still reviewing the legislation, and he expressed safety concerns about where and how e-bikes and e-scooters riders would operate, saying he didn’t think they should be in bike lanes or on sidewalks with those riding traditional bikes or walking. De Blasio has expressed similar concerns.

Rent Regulations
The Legislature passed and governor signed a package of sweeping tenant-friendly rent regulations, with no expiration dates unlike previous rent laws, which are expected to affect more than 2.4 million rent-regulated tenants in the city. 

The bills ended high-rent and high-income vacancy decontrol, limited rent increases from “major capital improvements,” and banned blacklisting of tenants for being sued in housing court, among other regulations.

De Blasio called the rent regulations “extraordinary” in an interview on NY1’s Inside City Hall. “[W]e created the biggest affordable housing program this city has ever had, we gave free lawyers to stop evictions, we’ve done a lot of things here that are working – rent freezes for two years, obviously. But the missing link was to get action in Albany,” he said. “Now we have the strongest rent laws we’ve ever had and that’s extraordinary. And I think this has been – this is one of the watershed moments in terms of protecting New York City as we love it, you know, keeping New York New York, making sure it’s a city for everyone.”

Environmental Regulations
In a last-minute agreement, the governor and Legislature approved the expansive Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, said to be the strongest environmental regulation of its kind in the country. It mandates goals for cutting carbon emissions to zero in the electricity sector by 2040, invests heavily in wind and solar energy, and will direct state agencies to invest 40% of clean energy funds in disadvantaged communities.

The bill also empanels a Climate Action Council charged with creating a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050.

De Blasio has already set New York City on a path to reduce emissions by making large buildings more energy efficient and other measures, including related to how the city gets its energy and uses automobiles. The mayor announced in April that all city operations would be powered by renewable energy sources within five years. The CLCPA, with its aggressive goals, will add fuel to those efforts and beyond.

The Legislature also passed a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at retail and grocery stores (a few years after the state overruled a new city law to a similar effect). The bill does include several exemptions, however, and also allows municipalities a choice to impose a 5-cent fee on single-use paper bags. 

Voting and Elections Reform 
The Legislature passed several laws this year to remove hurdles to voting and registering to vote, most of them early in the year. In New York City, where the New York City Board of Elections has shown repeated failures in administering elections, some of those reforms promise to make voting processes far more efficient. 

Among the measures the Legislature passed were early voting, electronic pollbook authorization, three hours of paid leave on Election Day, consolidating the federal and state primary, pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds, changing the party enrollment deadline to allow more time for voters to pick a party, and universal portability of voter registrations.

The Legislature also approved measures to amend the state constitution to allow same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots by mail. Those measures will have to pass through another Legislative session and a ballot referendum.

De Blasio has already been wrangling with the city Board of Elections, which the city does not control but funds, about some of the changes, including how many early voting sites will be operated for the November election.

Extended Mayoral Control
The state budget deal passed in April gave de Blasio a three-year extension on mayoral control of city schools, compared to the one- and two-year extensions he’d received in the past. The extension gets him through the rest of his term.

The deal also required no concessions from the mayor, unlike when Republicans used mayoral control to pass measures friendly to charter schools or require more oversight. In fact, the charter school cap, which has been hit in New York City, was not lifted at all this year, pleasing the mayor.

The budget did add two members to the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, and changed how members of local parent councils are appointed.

The city will also have to do additional new reporting on where state education aid is going, which could lead to conflict next year if Cuomo believes the city is not moving enough state dollars to the most needy schools.

Criminal Justice Reform
De Blasio’s plan to close the Rikers Island jails hinges on reducing the population of the jail complex to below 5,000 (the city's entire correction facility population was slightly under 7,500 as of this week, according to the de Blasio administration). The mayor has repeatedly insisted that that would require broad criminal justice reforms at the state level, and the Legislature obliged with a broad package.

The Legislature ended the use of cash bail for most offenses, save for violent crimes; they overhauled the discovery process, allowing defendants access to evidence against them earlier and more easily; and they guaranteed a defendant's right to a speedy trial.

De Blasio had wanted a change in the recently-passed bail laws, asking the Legislature to give judges the ability to assess a suspect’s “dangerousness” in order to set bail in cases of violent crimes, but the measure proved controversial and failed.

At a June 3 news conference in Albany, he explained, “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. In those cases, judges’ hands are tied and they do not have a ready way to hold them in, 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.”

The Legislature also decriminalized possession of low quantities of marijuana, but failed to legalize the recreational adult use of marijuana which would have also allowed commercial sales.

De Blasio has insisted that he would only support legalization done responsibly and with investments for communities long adversely affected by enforcement. “I want to see legalization of marijuana for sure, but I want to see it done in a way that does not create a new monster corporate class that takes advantage of people, that profits in a very inappropriate way,” he said at the June 3 Albany news conference. Cuomo has promised to pursue marijuana legalization again next year.

Transit, Traffic and Congestion Pricing
After opposing it for years, de Blasio embraced a congestion pricing program to impose a charge on drivers entering Manhattan’s central business district, 60th street and below. The Legislature this year approved something of a broad plan -- though it will not take effect till 2021 and must be designed by a committee where de Blasio has little control -- which will create an annual stream of $1 billion in revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and allow it to leverage to raise about $15 billion in bond funding to repair and maintain the city’s struggling subways. 

The governor and Legislature also mandated reforms at the MTA, including an overhaul of its management structure. But Governor Cuomo seemed to make a last-minute power grab at the state authority, where he already appoints a plurality of board members and its top leadership.

Cuomo nominated his budget director, Robert Mujica, to the board and was successful in pushing the Legislature to waive the requirement that Mujica be a resident of the city. In fact, he had state law changed so that the state budget director is always a member of the MTA Board.

One new de Blasio nominee to the board, former city labor commissioner Bob Linn, was approved by the Senate.

At the same time, the governor failed to advance the mayor’s other nomination for MTA Board member, Dan Zarrilli, to the Senate for confirmation, which leaves de Blasio and the city with one fewer representative.

“It is disappointing the City will have less say on the board during this critical time of change for the MTA, especially that of Mr. Zarrilli, a Staten Islander and professional engineer who is ideally suited to the role,” said Seth Stein, a de Blasio spokesperson, in a statement. “We will continue advocating for the residents of New York City.”

The governor’s office has not fully explained why Zarrilli’s nomination was held up. A spokesperson for Cuomo, Patrick Muncie, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “Mr. Zarrilli’s recommendation was received after Mr. Linn’s, and he is currently going through the background process.” Muncie did not respond to a question about whether Cuomo prefers to have the city at less than full strength on the Board.

Aid for the Undocumented
The Legislature approved the Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act, named for the state Senator who sponsored the bill but died last year before seeing it passed. The bill gives undocumented immigrant students access to state tuition assistance to attend college and also creates a privately-funded scholarship fund. It’s likely to be significantly impactful in New York City, which is home to about 150,000 DREAMers, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The Legislature also approved the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act that would reinstate undocumented immigrants’ eligibility to apply for drivers licenses, which was banned following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. 

Cameras Near Schools and on Buses
Democrats reauthorized and dramatically expanded a speed camera program around New York City schools this year, after Republicans had let it lapse last year. Cameras are expected to be installed in 750 school zones, up from 160, and will operate for longer hours.

And the state moved to allow for cameras mounted on city buses in order to ticket vehicles parked in bus lanes, which will aid de Blasio's effort to speed up the city's slow bus fleet.

Veteran Firefighters
Working with city officials, the Legislature crafted and approved a bill that would allow military veterans to subtract seven years from their age (up from six) to qualify for the city’s Fire Department. “If you’re a veteran who has served this country proudly, your age shouldn’t be a barrier to continue serving our fellow New Yorkers,” de Blasio said, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

LGBTQ and Gender Equity
The Democrat-led Legislature moved forward on a number of bills that Republicans had repeatedly blocked in past years. They banned conversion therapy for minors, passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), prohibiting discrimination based on gender and sexual identity.

The Legislature also passed the Reproductive Health Act, which codified federal abortion protections established by Roe v. Wade into state law, and passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, mandating that insurers cover the cost of contraception. They also banned employers from discriminating against employees based on reproductive health decisions.

Child Victims Act
The Legislature approved the Child Victims Act, which raises the statute of limitations for adult survivors of child sexual abuse to file civil and criminal complaints.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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How De Blasio Fared in Albany This Year Mon, 24 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City to Launch 5 Cross-Agency Projects to Fight Poverty-Related Challenges https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8622-city-to-launch-new-cross-agency-projects-to-fight-poverty https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8622-city-to-launch-new-cross-agency-projects-to-fight-poverty bdb att ge er sc bk institute

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)


The de Blasio administration is hoping to address challenges faced by struggling New Yorkers and fight poverty by improving access to city services through five new initiatives that will launch July 1, the start of the next city fiscal year.

The five projects, overseen and funded by the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, cut across city agencies and involve a diverse set of goals: increasing school attendance for students in temporary housing; expanding education services for adults leaving jail and prison; improving staff training at and design of domestic violence shelters; improving how the city tracks services for homeless people living on the street; and enhancing the city’s family support service system.

“Many folks in the world of social services, whether at nonprofits or city agencies…are all in general agreement that silos are bad,” said Matt Klein, executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity, which uses data and research to fight poverty-related challenges faced by New Yorkers. “Issues related to poverty are multi-faceted and complex so this is an effort to put into operation the principle that we should serve people more holistically as opposed to single isolated interventions.”

Klein’s office put out a call to city agencies last September to solicit ideas about improving collaboration and overcoming “service silos” to provide more efficient and well-rounded social services. The projects will receive a total of $6 million over the next three years from NYC Opportunity’s Innovation Fund, a $28 million pot of money that the office uses to test new projects and ideas to tackle poverty. The office also publishes its own measure of poverty, which takes into account additional cost of living factors in the city to provide a more coherent picture of poverty than the federal measure.

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed to fighting poverty and income inequality in the city, having won office on that platform in 2013, any city administration has somewhat limited tools to directly achieve what is largely affected by macroeconomic factors.

The mayor has taken many related steps to support the lives of no-, low-, and middle-income New Yorkers, including enacting universal pre-kindergarten, various workplace protections like expanding paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage for city employees to $15 (before the state followed suit for all workers), funding lawyers for many tenants facing eviction, and a large affordable housing program. De Blasio has also claimed success, announcing earlier this year that there were 236,500 fewer people living in poverty or near poverty in 2017 than in 2013. Poverty rates have been falling nationwide, owing to strong and stable economic growth over the last decade, and it’s hard to attribute the effect solely to city policies. The fact that the minimum wage jumped quickly over the last few years has been a significant factor in New York.

NYC Opportunity’s projects are intended to make improvements in the systems that the city does control, in providing social services and easing access to them. The projects include:

A partnership between the Department of Education and Department of Homeless Services to increase coordination and data-sharing to increase attendance rates for thousands of students living in 25 homeless shelters across the city.

Improving 15 domestic violence shelters through environmental design changes and better training for staff to provide trauma-informed care. That project will involve the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Human Resources Administration and the Administration for Children’s Services.

ACS and DOHMH will also work together to analyze how families interact with city services to find ways to “refine referral pathways, improve families’ access to services, and promote positive child outcomes.”

The CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice Prisoner Reentry Institute and the SUNY Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center will collaborate to provide individuals who leave city jails and state prisons with high school, college and career preparation services as well as individual support.

The Department of Homeless Services will improve how it tracks street homelessness by expanding its StreetSmart tracking and case management system to Drop-In Centers and Safe Havens which provide services to those outside of the shelter system. DHS will also give nonprofit service providers better access to data to improve services.

The projects are meant to be scalable and to provide lessons in best practices. For instance, the domestic violence shelter project acknowledges “both the relation between physical design and programmatic effort to address trauma,” said Klein. “That could also be precedent setting in the development of public spaces. All of these have potential for very meaningful operational change.”

David Berman, the office’s director of programs and evaluation, added, “As part of the selection criteria, we particularly focused on projects that could have a big impact on low-income residents but also to potentially transform systems or provide informative learning for other city agencies so that they would have a bigger impact.”

Berman said the office will apply performance tracking measures to each of the projects to measure process and outcomes, and will publicly report the results. “We’re continuously working with our agency partners to monitor the programs as they go,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City to Launch 5 Cross-Agency Projects to Fight Poverty-Related Challenges Thu, 20 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Administration Doesn't Support 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

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De Blasio Administration Doesn't Support 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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The Fading Promise of Property Tax Reform Tue, 11 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000