Gotham Gazette Sun, 05 Jul 2020 20:16:48 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) De Blasio, City Council Agree on Contentious $88.2 Billion Crisis Budget with Focus on NYPD Shifts de blasio city

City budget announcement from 2019 (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

The New York City Council approved an $88.2 billion budget for the 2021 fiscal year shortly after midnight in one of the most divided votes for the legislative body in recent history. The new budget, which takes effect immediately for the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, is a sharp decline in expected city spending given cratering revenue brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and includes significant cuts to and funding shifts from the NYPD in response to recent mass protests against police brutality and over-policing. It passed with 32 "yes" votes and 17 "no" votes out of 50 (there is one vacant seat on the Council), with many Council members dissenting because they believed the cuts to the police department did not go far enough; yet others voted against the budget because they did not want to see any reduction in NYPD funding. 

With just hours to go before the midnight deadline, Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had separately announced on Tuesday that they had reached an agreement on the budget. The NYPD funding issue was central to contentious negotiations between the de Blasio administration and the Council, with the final result touted by de Blasio but leaving frustrated Johnson and a number of Council members to both the speaker’s left and right. The compromise infuriated activists who criticized the budget choices and gimmicks used to get to what the mayor called a $1 billion cut that had been targeted by reformers but Johnson acknowledged had not been met in reality.

This year’s budget proved to be the toughest that de Blasio has had to navigate. After years of the city being flush with cash and the mayor and two City Council classes growing the budget by over $20 billion, the city faced a $9 billion revenue shortfall because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout. De Blasio had originally proposed a $95.3 billion spending plan in January and was forced to pare it down, while dipping $4 billion into reserves and finding about $2.7 billion from reductions to planned spending by city agencies and citywide savings.

Even as the bleak budget picture became starker and starker in March, April, and May, the city erupted into mass demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. The NYPD responded with force, supported more often than not by the mayor, creating a critical mass movement to defund policing and reinvest resources in communities of color. Advocates demanded that the mayor cut the NYPD’s $5.9 billion operating budget by $1 billion, receiving support from the City Council Speaker and many members, who were already questioning in April why the mayor had left the police department untouched while slashing funds for the city’s social safety net and youth services.

De Blasio and Johnson chose to forego the traditional “budget handshake” that indicates the two sides have come to an agreement, holding separate news conferences on Tuesday to announce the deal.

Stuck in a tough spot, the mayor had hoped for federal stimulus funds that never arrived and had also sought fiscal borrowing authority from the state government, whose leaders were reluctant to grant it. Without either, he warned that the city would have to lay off as many as 22,000 employees beginning in October. He has said he will work with labor unions to find $1 billion in savings to avoid such dismissals, while continuing to seek both federal aid and state permission for borrowing, which has not been completely taken off the table.

“With all these challenges, we still found a way to get to a budget that, again, focuses on your health, your safety, putting food on your table, making sure you have a roof over your head. That's the focus,” the mayor said to New Yorkers on Tuesday from City Hall.

The changes in NYPD funding totaled about $1 billion according to de Blasio’s math – about $484 million in reduced spending (including a promised $296 million drop in overtime spending and from a reduction in NYPD headcount), and $354 million in shifts to other city agencies accompanied by $162 million in a shift of fringe benefits costs. The budget outlines an at least temporarily lowered NYPD headcount by 1,163 uniformed officers by canceling two of four cadet classes this year. There are currently about 36,000 uniformed officers. School safety and school crossing guards will be moved out from under the NYPD and restored to the Department of Education, while homeless outreach will shift to the Department of Homeless Services.

“This is a lot of redistribution, but it's still done in a way that is safe for this city,” de Blasio said, in response to reporters’ questions. “That is the balance that I said we had to strike, and we have struck this balance.”

One of de Blasio’s main priorities was to keep the officer headcount stable in order to ensure a similar level of neighborhood patrols as exist now, and he said he was pleased to report that would be the case.

Johnson, who had targeted a larger reduction in the police force, was visibly deflated when he detailed the Council’s many victories and concessions in his own news conference. “Heart-wrenching, impossible decisions needed to be made in this budget,” he said, “and this Council was determined that we would protect and preserve as many vital programs and services as we could for vulnerable New Yorkers.”

The speaker noted that the budget does not cut $1 billion in direct NYPD spending as he had wanted, but repeatedly emphasized that he had to balance the wants and needs of a diverse City Council as well as face a mayor who refused to budge very far. Many Council members had already pledged to vote against the budget if it did not achieve the $1 billion goal while others were critical of those cuts, citing an increase in crime over the last few months.

Some members, including Johnson’s budget leadership team of Council Members Danny Dromm, Vanessa Gibson, and Laurie Cumbo, defended the deal and the speaker, outlining the challenging circumstances and explaining that some members of color presented particularly nuanced views about police presence and reform.

Johnson repeatedly said that he had not struck a deal that went as far as he had wanted but took to heart that the agreed upon steps would lead to systemic reforms, particularly by transforming school safety from a punitive system to one that focuses on restorative justice. “These are real changes and I stand by what we were able to accomplish in those areas,” he said. “To everyone who is disappointed that we did not go farther, I want to be very honest and candid, I am disappointed as well.”

Both Johnson and de Blasio pointed to the importance of how school safety agents are transitioned into a changed command structure, citing the importance of new training and protocols, while activists called the move a sham that will continue to criminalize student behavior.

Johnson argued that there were many cuts in the mayor’s executive budget that should not have been proposed in the first place and cited Council victories in restoring funding for them, most notably the restoration of the program providing paid work to young people.

“These are programs that address injustice and inequity, these are programs that support the social safety net, and address systemic inequality,” he said.


As he pointed out,the Council was able to broker the restoration of funds for education and youth that the mayor had planned to cut. They include $100 million in fair student funding for schools as well as investments in school counselors, social workers, and school health programs. The budget also includes about $116 million to reinstate the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) and the COMPASS, Beacon, and Cornerstone summer camp programs, all of which were on the chopping block in the mayor’s budget proposal. SYEP had become the symbol of the mayor’s entrenchment with the police department at the expense of young people.

The mayor had also proposed eliminating the CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which has proved particularly helpful to lower-income public college students, but the Council fought to maintain it at $34.3 million. Among the other programs were investments in food security, public libraries, culture and arts funding, small businesses, senior services, housing, criminal justice, and services for domestic violence survivors and immigrants.

During the nearly three-hour long budget vote, Council members fell into three camps – those who supported the budget despite conceding it was far from perfect, those who felt the budget did not do justice to the widespread demands to make substantial cuts to the NYPD, and those who opposed any cuts to the NYPD budget. 

Members such as Cumbo, Alicka Ampry-Samuel and Robert Cornegy, all Democrats voted for the budget, noted their disagreement with certain aspects of the "Defund the NYPD" movement, particularly the calls for a wholesale elimination of school safety agents, 80% of whom are Black women. The budget, they insisted, is a first step in a broader school safety reform conversation and includes funding for crucial services for communities of color.

"The pandemic has underscored our vulnerabilities and weaknesses and put us in a position to either drive down a hill or off a cliff," said Ampry-Samuel. She pointed out that the budget will shift more than $500 million from NYPD capital funding to youth recreation centers and public housing, will fund SYEP, and return school safety to its "rightful place" under the DOE. "Driving off a cliff would've been laying off hard working New Yorkers, gutting SYEP, overpolicing stressed out communities while waiting for federal aid that may never come to save us. But we were able to save ourselves."

"This budget is not an end to our policy making as a council, it is not a final chapter," said Cornegy. "It's not the conclusion of the important discussions we're having around policing and caring for our shared committees."

Though other members, also Democrats, commended the Council's push back against the mayor's cuts, they felt strongly that the Council had failed to appropriately address the critical mass of voices calling for cuts to the NYPD. Among them were Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer, Carlina Rivera, Antonio Reynoso and Donovan Richards, who chairs the public safety committee. 

"Sadly the most historic part of this budget is how badly it manages to meet the moment," said Van Bramer. "The people have spoken through marches and rallies and by occupying City Hall. We must listen to the people we work for." 

Richards said his vote against the budget was not only about the $1 billion cuts and cost shifts but about the culture of policing in the city. "A $1 billion budget cut can't address systematic racism that runs rampant within the NYPD," he said. "Today, we must send a clear message that it's not okay to kettle peaceful protesters, that it's not okay to place Black and brown New Yorkers in a chokehold as they gasp for air. We must send a clear message that it's not okay to shoot unarmed black men like Sean Bell and Ramallah Graham. Tonight, we must send a clear message that no one is above the law, not even the NYPD."

The three Republicans on the Council and certain moderate Democrats such as Bob Holden and Ruben Diaz Sr. expressed their support for the NYPD as they voted against the budget. "Friends, you're witnessing a moment where we are democratically electing to make the city of New York less safe, and I won't be a passive participant as we undo three decades of good work by our predecessors," said Council Member Joe Borelli, a Staten Island Republican, citing a recent uptick in shootings. 

In explaining his vote, Council Member Holden, a Queens Democrat, said, "The political class of this city continues to disregard the people they serve. They continue to push policies that make the city and the constituents they are supposed to protect less safe."

Earlier in the day, dissatisfied with the developing compromise between the Council and the mayor, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams threatened at the last minute to use his charter authority “to prevent the budget from being executed during the final tax warrant process.” In a remote news conference on Tuesday morning, he pushed for a full hiring freeze at the police department and a solid commitment to a better school safety system.

Freddi Goldstein, a de Blasio spokesperson, said in response, “The NYPD budget is being cut by a historic $1 billion while maintaining safety on our streets. We’ve reached a fair deal that prioritizes our youth and communities most in need. That’s what New Yorkers need as they attempt to rebuild from a global pandemic that made our city the epicenter. The budget is effective as soon as Council passes it and is certified only by the mayor, comptroller, and city clerk.”

Williams may be able to hold up some tax revenue, but is likely to be challenged in court if he does attempt to do so.

In a statement after the budget passed, Williams expressed his disapproval. "In a moment when New Yorkers, with the entire nation, are demanding a reimagining of public safety, a reckoning with systemic injustices and inequities, the city falls far short with a budget that misses the moment of need," he said. The budget, he added, "perpetuates the idea that the NYPD is sacrosanct and the solution is always more police, and that we must accept this. This budget reiterates that message in a failure to commit on paper to a just transition for school safety. It is one that I cannot support and will not sign off on."

Comptroller Scott Stringer also criticized the mayor and City Council in a statement calling the supposed $1 billion cut a “bait and switch and a paper-thin excuse for reform.” “Meaningful change in this moment won’t come by shifting police from one agency to another, and budget tricks won’t bring an end to the status quo. The movement in the streets won’t be suppressed by manipulated math,” he said.

Andrew Rein, president of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, said in a statement, “New York City leaders may be breathing a sigh of relief for meeting the budget deadline after particularly arduous negotiations, but the fiscal crisis is far from over.” He said the budget is “precariously balanced” and does not address major budget gaps in the future. “New York City’s leaders did not make sufficient hard choices needed to put the City on a firmer fiscal foundation for the long term.”

The Council members who voted "yes" include Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Laurie Cumbo, Daniel Dromm, Vanessa Gibson, Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Diana Ayala, Justin Brannan, Fernando Cabrera, Andrew Cohen, Margaret Chin, Robert Cornegy, Mathieu Eugene, Barry Grodenchik, Andy King, Peter Koo, Karen Koslowitz, Rory Lancman, Stephen Levin, Mark Levine, Farah Louis, Alan Maisel, I. Daneek Miller, Francisco Moya, Bill Perkins, Keith Powers, Ydanis Rodriguez, Debi Rose, Rafael Salamanca Jr., Ritchie Torres, Mark Treyger and Peter Vallone.

The Council members who voted "no" include Inez Barron, Joe Borelli, Steven Matteo, Chaim Deutsch, Ruben Diaz Sr., Mark Gjonaj, Bob Holden, Ben Kallos, Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, Donovan Richards, Antonio Reynoso, Carlina Rivera, Helen Rosenthal, Eric Ulrich, Jimmy Van Bramer and Kalman Yeger.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note - this article has been updated.

De Blasio, City Council Agree on Contentious $88.2 Billion Crisis Budget with Focus on NYPD Shifts Tue, 30 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Police Commissioner Repeatedly Contradicts Mayor on NYPD Reform ceremonial for police

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea had strong words Tuesday about the City Council's recently-passed bill banning police chokeholds, which he said went much further than the state's new ban and ignored input from law enforcement.

Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio having expressed support for the bill, Shea called it "incredibly reckless" in a videoconference with interfaith leaders, hosted by the New York Board of Rabbis. The comments are the latest example of Shea and other NYPD leaders publicly breaking with their boss, the mayor, over major police reforms that have cascaded out of City Hall and Albany in the weeks since protests against police brutality and racism began.

The legislation passed the City Council on June 18, as part of a package of NYPD reforms pushed through in the wake of George Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police and the national unrest that followed. Just before the Council passed the bill de Blasio indicated he would sign it, saying he had consulted with Shea, and the mayor has scheduled a required public hearing on the bill for July 7.

"I've worked on this closely in the last few days and been in constant touch with our police commissioner and I'm now convinced this is the right legislation to move forward with and I will sign it," de Blasio told reporters hours before the Council voted through the bill.

But in the video conference Tuesday, Shea told religious leaders, "Now you have a law passed by this City Council that I think is incredibly reckless. And I'm speaking about -- again I'm going to have my opinion -- I'm speaking about the chokehold ban that was passed in the City Council."

The problem with the bill he said, is that, unlike the state chokehold prohibition, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law in mid-June, the Council's bill not only makes it a misdemeanor for a police officer to compress an individual's windpipe, it also outlaws "sitting, kneeling, or standing on the chest or back in a manner that compresses the diaphragm."

"The diaphragm opens up the front stomach area or above the stomach, the back of somebody," Shea said. The bill says, "during the arrest you should not sit -- I agree with that -- stand -- I agree with that -- or kneel -- and that's where we have a problem."

"When you look at the police officers now, and again I'm being honest," Shea continued, "they are going to make a mental calculation: ‘am I making the arrest here, what am I doing, do I engage here, am I going to be supported, and what if it goes wrong am I going to be arrested?’"

He said the breadth of the prohibition could make even small or accidental pressure on a person's stomach or back -- what he said is a frequent occurrence in "fluid" arrests -- a criminal offense.

Police chokeholds have particular resonance in New York City, where Eric Garner was killed in one by Daniel Pantaleo during a 2014 arrest, despite being banned in NYPD rules since the 1990s. While the state law makes police using a chokehold a criminal offense, a statement from the City Council said it did not go far enough because it only applied to cases that lead to serious injury or death. The Council legislation also expands the prohibition to include kneeling on a person, as Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department did to kill George Floyd. Both men, before dying, uttered the words "I can't breathe," a phrase that has helped give voice to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Today the Council does what the NYPD has failed to do: police the police by making it an actual crime for a cop to put someone in a chokehold or to sit, kneel, or stand on them so they can't breathe," wrote Council Member Rory Lancman, a Queens Democrat and the bill's sponsor, in a statement when it passed. Lancman introduced the bill shortly after Garner’s 2014 death.

The same day the city legislation passed, the Council also passed a resolution in support of related legislation in Congress called the “Eric Garner Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019”, sponsored by Brooklyn and Queens Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, which would make police chokeholds a civil rights violation. That bill only deals with pressure to the throat.

Commissioner Shea said part of the problem was the bill-making process. On the state law, sponsored by State Senator Brian Benjamin, a Manhattan Democrat, NYPD representatives had consulted on the bill and were comfortable with the outcome, Shea said. But the police department was not as successful with the diaphragm provision in the Council bill, which he said was added in a later draft.

"We worked strenuously behind the scenes, and said we would support that law but just take out that piece of it and it fell on deaf ears," he told the religious leaders, who included Rev. Dr. A.R. Bernard of Christian Cultural Center, Rev. Dr. Que English of Bronx Christian Fellowship Church, and Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis.

"There were requested changes, those changes were not taken, and we're proud of the bill that we’re voting on today," Council Speaker Corey Johnson told reporters before the bill passed.

The bill has been in the City Council for years but the body had not moved it and de Blasio had not previously supported it, citing concerns that it doesn't protect officers in life or death situations.

"Looking back, I now see that, honestly, the information I had at the time, I don't think was the whole truth," he told reporters the day after it passed. "I now believe, based on consultation with some additional lawyers, that there are those protections embodied in state law.

This is not the first time NYPD officials have publicly opposed one of the reforms recently embraced by the mayor.

Another piece of the police reform package passed by the Council in mid-June was the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act, which would require the NYPD to publish information on the types of surveillance equipment it uses and the rules governing its uses. Proponents say more transparency is needed to ensure New Yorkers' civil liberties are protected. De Blasio has long opposed it because of counterterrorism, undercover, and public safety considerations. But in June, after almost three weeks of demonstrations for broad changes to policing, his tune changed.

"I am convinced that the wording of the act is appropriate, is balanced, so I'm comfortable supporting it," he said at a news conference the day before it passed.

But the following day, in response to a Gotham Gazette inquiry, a police spokesperson wrote: "The NYPD cannot support a law that seems to be designed to help criminals and terrorists thwart efforts to stop them and endanger brave officers."

That afternoon the NYPD's Guardian Association President Felicia Richards and Hispanic Society President Larry Fuchs, wrote an op-ed in the Daily News saying the legislation should have a provision exempting technology used by undercover agents and informants if that disclosure would jeopardize their life. The NYPD promoted the piece on social media.

On Tuesday morning, Shea went against the administration's position on another matter, this time on the controversial subject of defunding the NYPD, which has taken center stage amid claims of over-policing in Black and Latino communities. On Monday, de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson reached a tentative agreement to cut the police department's budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. The deal includes reducing the NYPD headcount by about 1,160 officers, reductions to planned overtime spending, and shifts of personnel from the police department to the education department and other agencies. De Blasio also announced plans to shift hundreds of millions in capital funds from the NYPD to youth and public housing projects.

"I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform, that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time ensure that we keep our city safe," de Blasio said Monday.

The plan balances the call to reform while "mak[ing] sure that our officers are on patrol where we need them around this city," he said.

But on PIX 11 the next morning, shortly before his conversation with faith leaders, Shea said, "Cutting overtime, cutting head strength at a time of rising crime is going to be an extreme challenge for the men and women of this department." (Gun violence and burglaries have increased this month, according to police reports.)

"It's going to impact our patrol strength, it's going to impact our training, and the sad part is," he said, "it's probably going to impact people of color more than anybody else."

"It's well-documented where most of the violent crime occurs and where most of our resources are as we try to police this city," he added.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Police Commissioner Repeatedly Contradicts Mayor on NYPD Reform Tue, 30 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
As Council Negotiations Continue, De Blasio Promises $1 Billion Cut to NYPD Operating Budget, Plus $500 Million in Capital Shifts cojo del

The Mayor and Speaker at an NYPD press conference (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


As pressure mounted on the city to drastically reduce spending on policing in the budget that is due before Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council reached a tentative agreement on Monday to cut $1 billion from the NYPD and to reinvest funds in youth and social services. Nearly half the reduction, however, involves shfiting spending on school safety to the Department of Education rather than actual cuts. 

The agreement would reduce the NYPD's uniformed headcount by canceling an incoming class of 1,163 cadets. It also includes about $350 million in cuts to overtime spending and various other cuts to traffic enforcement, vehicle purchases, contracts, and more. All those cuts total about $512 million. Shifting school safety and school crossing guards out of the NYPD's purview together account for $483 million in the $1 billion deal.


On Monday morning, de Blasio announced that he proposed a plan to the City Council that would reduce the NYPD’s annual operating budget by $1 billion while also shifting another $500 million in capital spending from the police department to other agencies.

A document obtained by Gotham Gazette showed that reduction would mostly be achieved by moving school safety out of the NYPD’s purview and will not be accompanied by a significant reduction in the department’s headcount. As the mayor stressed Monday, all plans and details remain tentative given that de Blasio and the City Council continue to negotiate the full terms of the new city budget. Council Speaker Corey Johnson has not indicated that he and de Blasio are in agreement on what de Blasio announced, and the document obtained by Gotham Gazette shows the two sides’ different proposals for NYPD budget shifts.

The push to “Defund the NYPD” has emerged as the central point of tension in this year’s budget negotiations. It is being led by activists protesting both police brutality after the killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd last month and the NYPD’s harsh crackdown against protesters in the wake of Floyd’s death, as well as the long history of racially disparate treatment by extremely well-resourced police departments.

Activists have called for cutting $1 billion from the police department’s $5.9 billion operating budget, a call that has been supported by the City Council and prominent elected officials including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. Comptroller Scott Stringer proposed a four-year plan to reduce NYPD spending by $1.1 billion.

The Council proposed a $1 billion cut through various means – shifting responsibilities from the NYPD to other agencies, reducing the 36,000-officer headcount through attrition, and cutting overtime spending.

De Blasio, on Monday, said his administration presented a plan to the Council over the weekend that would “achieve a billion dollars in savings for the NYPD and shift resources to young people, to communities, in a way that would help address a lot of the underlying issues that we know are the cause of so many problems in our society.” 

“I am excited to say that we have a plan that can achieve real reform that can achieve real redistribution, and at the same time, ensure that we keep our city safe,” he said. He promised that an additional half-billion dollars would be taken out of the capital budget for the police and used to build youth recreation centers and to invest in public housing at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). 

In April the mayor proposed an $89.3 billion budget for the next fiscal year, which includes about $5.9 billion in direct operational funds for the NYPD. However, the city spends closer to $11.5 billion in police-related costs in a year. Fringe benefits and pension contributions add another $5 billion to spending. Hundreds of millions are also spent through the capital budget – on police infrastructure – and to pay down debt incurred from those projects, an annual expense attributed to debt service not the police department. There is just over $400 million in NYPD capital spending planned for next fiscal year and just over $200 million in debt service expense spending budgeted.

[‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget]

The Council had been pushing for cuts to the NYPD even before the recent protests, noting that when the mayor cut his initial proposed budget (which was $95.3 billion in January) because of the economic fallout from the pandemic, the police department was largely untouched.  

A spreadsheet obtained from a Council source shows a gulf between how the Council and mayor have intended on achieving the $1 billion reduction.

The Council proposed cutting $747 million from the department’s expense budget and another $329 million in accompanying fringe costs, for a total of $1.076 billion. In the Council proposal reviewed by Gotham Gazette, the capital budget was not addressed.

The operating shift proposed included moving school safety and school crossing guards out of the NYPD, which would cut $374 million in direct funds and $159 million in fringe spending, for a total of $533 million reduction from the NYPD. It’s not clear if these expenses would simply be made up for at the amount under other agencies.

Reducing the uniformed headcount and lowering the “budgeted peak headcount” under the Council plan would together save another $176 million in operational funds and $169 million in fringe benefits, totalling $345 million. Savings in overtime (cutting spending, capping uniformed overtime and savings cancelled events) would amount to $140 million. The Council also proposed canceling an incoming cadet class, and cutting spending on contracts, vehicles and other miscellaneous expenses. 

The mayor’s proposal falls short of those demands in certain areas while proposing other changes that the Council did not put forward. He proposed $533 million in expense cuts, saving $177 million in fringe costs for a total of $731 million. It’s unclear how the mayor’s proposal will reach the $1 billion mark he announced Monday. 

The mayor’s school safety and crossing guard cuts total $506 million -- and the document also does not indicate if these costs are simply recreated under other departments. As he’s made clear a number of times, de Blasio is less willing to cut the department’s headcount, only proposing a $55 million cut, which will save another $26 million in fringe benefits, for a total of $81 million. His proposal would not reduce the peak budgeted headcount. And he proposed $50 million in overtime cuts (overtime spending routinely outpaces what is budgeted; the NYPD has spent as much as $728 million on overtime in the 2019 fiscal year after budgeting $600 million) and $13 million in cuts to contracts and other expenses. 

He did propose $76 million in savings through other measures the Council did not consider, including $14 million in reducing school safety overtime, a $42 million reduction in traffic enforcement revenue, and $5 million each from a delay in purchasing vehicles, cuts to traffic enforcement, a hiring freeze for certain civilian positions, and from shifting homeless engagement to the Department of Homeless Services.

The mayor also proposed a $516 million shift in capital funds originally intended for a property clerk facility and the new 116th precinct in southeast Queens. 

Reactions have been predictably split. Several Council Members, including Republican Joe Borelli and conservative Democrats Bob Holden and Ruben Diaz Sr., have criticized the move to cut the NYPD’s budget, particularly noting that crime has been increasing in the last few months. 

Meanwhile, police reform advocates and some elected officials have largely been dissatisfied with what the mayor and Council have proposed so far as too little, warning that they are playing three-card monte with NYPD funds without addressing their core demands. 

“Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Johnson are using funny math and budget tricks to try to mislead New Yorkers into thinking that they plan to meet the movement's demands for at least $1 billion in direct cuts to the NYPD's almost $6B FY21 expense budget and reinvestments of over $1 billion to communities,” said Anthonine Pierre, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, in a statement on Monday. “This is a lie and the movement isn't falling for de Blasio and Johnson's budget tricks that are protecting and giving special treatment to the NYPD, refusing to even institute a full hiring freeze on NYPD uniformed officers - all while continuing to decimate the social safety net, threaten future layoffs that are not police, cutting non-police hate violence prevention initiatives, and refusing to take care of elders, youth, Black and other communities of color most devastated by the pandemic and ongoing police violence.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

As Council Negotiations Continue, De Blasio Promises $1 Billion Cut to NYPD Operating Budget, Plus $500 Million in Capital Shifts Mon, 29 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
4 Things to Watch as Mayor and City Council Finalize New Budget city budget negotiations council de blasio johnson

The Mayor and City Council discuss the budget (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

New York City’s next fiscal year begins Wednesday, July 1, and there is no clear picture of the city’s fiscal future. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has been catastrophic for the city’s economy, gutting revenue streams and necessitating major cuts in planned city government spending, along with tapping into billions of dollars in reserves.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council are engaged in intense negotiations as they seek to fill a large budget gap and try to prevent significant cuts to services and avoid mass layoffs while coming to a budget agreement by Tuesday night.

In his Executive Budget plan released in April, de Blasio had cut proposed spending by $6 billion from his January, pre-pandemic Preliminary Budget, from $95.3 billion to $89.3 billion. This was done through $2.7 billion in savings, largely reductions in planned city agency spending, and drawing $4 billion from reserves to attempt to minimize the city’s budget gap. But as tax revenue has continued to plummet that gap has continued to grow and the administration still has to find another $1 billion to balance the budget.

Yet the City Council was not in agreement with de Blasio’s Executive Budget and the two sides have had different priorities heading into final budget negotiations, most notably the goal set by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and dozens of the Council’s 51 members to slash the police department’s $5.9 billion operating budget by $1 billion.

Meanwhile, hanging over the city budget picture have been two possible ways to close the immense gap that are out of the control of the mayor and Council: a federal “bailout,” which looks virtually impossible before the June 30 city deadline (thanks to Republicans in Washington), and permission from the state for the city to borrow billions of dollars to cover operating expenses, which appears unlikely to be granted in the next few days (thanks to Democrats in Albany).

Here are four things to watch in the city budget:

How will the city balance the budget?
Mayor de Blasio said at a press briefing on Friday that the city could have to lay off as many as 22,000 employees by October 1 if it cannot fill the $1 billion gap that remains.

Along with persistently but unsuccessfully lobbying for federal funds, de Blasio has been pushing the state Legislature to allow the city to borrow funds to cover those operational costs, a move that was prohibited after the practice in part pushed the city to the brink when it faced insolvency in the 1970s and the state came to the rescue. The resulting legislation after that fiscal crisis created an oversight body, the state Financial Control Board (FCB), and required that the city only spend as much revenue as it has on hand. 

The mayor said his borrowing plan has been amended and instead of seeking authorization to borrow $7 billion, the city will ask for $5 billion over two years. “We hope to borrow none, if we actually got the kind of federal stimulus support we deserve,” he said. “Maybe that will come, but we need the fallback of borrowing.” He said the process would be closely monitored by the FCB.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have been reluctant to approve any operational borrowing by the city but have yet to give definitive answers on the mayor’s latest proposal.

“Borrowing for operating expenses is a risky proposition, and it has to be done with caution, if at all,” Cuomo said at a press briefing on Thursday. “Because now you’re really rolling the dice on future revenues. We went through this situation in the ′70s, where New York City was basically bankrupt and the state had to step in.”

“If there is a plan, we will review it,” said Caitlin Girouard, a Cuomo spokesperson, in an email on Friday. “That said, the existing financial control board is in the best position to review any plans for New York City to issue long-term debt to pay for current operating costs.”

On Saturday, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat, issued a statement indicating the Senate Democratic Conference is not there yet on supporting borrowing by the city.

“New York City is the economic engine for our nation and our state, and so it is a priority for the Senate that it remains economically strong and viable,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Prudence requires the development of a plan not rushed through before action is actually necessary, especially when the possibility of additional federal aid remains unresolved. Mayor de Blasio has made it clear we have several months before drastic measures like layoffs would occur and other city leaders have sent mixed signals about the wisdom and efficacy of the current request. The Senate will work with our partners in Government including the Mayor, the City Comptroller, the City Council, the Assembly, and the Governor to help New York City. We are open to approving limited loan authorization but more work needs to be done to develop a consensus around a sound approach.”

In response, mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “Waiting to see what will come from Washington has never been a viable option. It wasn't during the crisis, and it’s not in its aftermath. We need money to restart our city, keep New Yorkers working, and deliver the services they need most as they rebuild their lives. Now is the time to act. We’re disappointed the State Senate doesn’t see that.”

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said the Assembly will review any proposals.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson came out against the proposal to borrow $7 billion in May, instead pushing the administration to cut between 5 and 7% of city agency budgets. At the time, he said borrowing should be a “last resort” for the city. But at the Thursday briefing, Johnson said he wasn’t outright against it and that it may be required if federal stimulus funds aren’t delivered. “I am open to a responsible borrowing plan if we are at the same time focusing on meaningful cuts to city agencies without jeopardizing our social safety net,” he said. “We can’t just borrow to avoid looking hard at our budget and net agency spending. There are long-term implications to borrowing and if we do it, it must be done carefully and we can’t do it to supplement the entire city budget.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has supported a long-term borrowing plan, insisting that cuts to services and layoffs would affect the very communities that have already borne the disproportionate brunt of the pandemic.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has cautioned against the burden that borrowing could place on the city, estimating that a $7 billion debt would need $11 billion in repayments over 20 years or $12.5 billion over 30 years. “While it's too soon to rule out any specific budget action, New Yorkers should know that under the Mayor’s proposal our children could be paying over $500 million a year for the next 20 years. I urge extreme caution,” he said in at the start of the month.  

The four Democratic candidates running for Comptroller in 2021 have taken somewhat divergent views. Council Member Helen Rosenthal has called for borrowing. Council Member Brad Lander, State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember David Weprin, however, have warned against it.

[2021 Comptroller Candidates Offer Different Ideas for Addressing City's Fiscal Woes]

De Blasio is urging labor unions to help find enough savings in labor contracts to help the city avoid the layoffs. “The layoffs would not begin until October 1, so, there's time to find the resources,” he said Friday on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show. “But if I don't have borrowing and I don't have stimulus, I'm just out of options. We would still say to labor, help us find a different kind of savings, and we wouldn't do layoffs. But we need them to come to the table and work with us.”

Citizens Budget Commission, a fiscal watchdog group, has recommended several “hard choices with difficult consequences” that the city could undertake to find almost $1.7 billion for the next fiscal year and reduce gaps down the line without layoffs or borrowing. It recommends cutting spending by $1.6 billion through improved efficiencies, renegotiating labor contracts, and cutting 9,000 employees from the 340,000-strong full-time workforce through attrition. They also called for a two-year property tax increase of 2%, selling city assets and freeing up another $750 million from the $1 billion general reserve fund.

“If the City’s leaders are willing to make the right and reasonable hard choices, they can balance the budget without asking future generations to pay for today’s bills or resorting to layoffs,” said CBC President Andrew Rein, in a statement.

Cuts to the NYPD
One of the major sticking points between the Council and the mayor is the push to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s nearly $6 billion budget (which doesn’t include billions in other annual NYPD-related expenses) and to fund youth and social services that otherwise face cuts under the mayor’s proposal. The Council has been pushing for that reallocation for weeks but pressure has only increased after the recent protests of police brutality and racism as activists have taken up a call to “Defund the NYPD” and have even camped out next to City Hall for days to press their demands.

The Council proposed cutting the $1 billion by taking certain responsibilities from the police department, including shifting school safety, which cost $327 million this year, to the Department of Education, cutting the department’s headcount through attrition and a hiring freeze, and limiting overtime costs.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a news conference on Thursday that the mayor’s executive budget proposal “is not a budget that the Council accepts, not a budget that would get the votes to pass,” citing cuts to education and the city’s social safety net while the NYPD emerged relatively unscathed. “This moment in our country and in our city calls for appropriately cutting funding for police and making sure that we are making structural changes to policing, re-envisioning what public safety looks like, and investing that money into communities of color and vulnerable communities. What was outlined in the executive budget doesn't do that.”

Though de Blasio has agreed to shift some funding away from the police department and said he is finding some agreement with the Council, he had said the $1 billion demand is too large. “We don't have a final dollar figure, but we're going to do something very, very substantial,” he said Friday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “We'll know more in the next few days. Yes, money will come out of the NYPD. Yes, money will go to youth programs.”

The mayor has also pushed back and is reportedly considering cutting the Council’s discretionary funding, according to the New York Daily News.

But on Monday de Blasio announced that he had put forward a plan to shift $1 billion in NYPD operating budget funds away from the department and another $500 million in capital dollars. While a deal with the City Council has not been reached, the two sides appear closer to an agreement on "defunding" the NYPD by the $1 billion, though some advocates and elected officials say that too much of the cut is really just moving functions and employees from the police department to other city agencies, like school safety to the Department of Education. The details of the proposals put forth by the mayor and the Council show some overlap, but also some key distinctions, especially when it comes to NYPD headcount.

Comptroller Scott Stringer has pushed for a $1.1 billion reduction to the NYPD over four years, achieved through a reduced headcount by attrition, cutting overtime, and other miscellaneous costs. 

Summer Youth Employment and Other Programs
The City Council took particular issue with the mayor’s executive budget proposal, noting that it only reduced the NYPD budget by less than 1% while slashing the budget of the Department of Youth and Community Development by 32%. That cut meant that the city was zeroing out the $124-million Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides summer jobs to young people between the ages of 14 and 24. The city allocated funds for 75,000 jobs last year, many of which went to youth from low-income communities of color.

Though after major blowback de Blasio promised an alternative plan, details have yet to be released. De Blasio recently said the program will take shape soon, albeit late this year, and include a mix of outdoor and virtual opportunities.

[Amid Blowback Over Planned Suspension, De Blasio Administration Explores Alternative Summer Youth Employment Program]

Summer youth employment is one of many relatively smaller budget items, whether full or partial, that have been on the chopping block as de Blasio has sought to close the budget gap. But those very programs are often ones that Council members don't want to see cut, so the end result of how agency spending is trimmed will be full of details of great interest to many stakeholders inside and especially outside of government, including, for example, the many nonprofits that the city contracts with to perform vital services as well as CUNY, the city's public university system, and more.

Also in this larger category are city funding for individual schools, which supports not only teachers' salaries but guidance counselors, nurses, and more.

Capital Budget
The mayor’s executive budget also made major changes to the four-year, $67.2 billion capital plan, which funds long-term infrastructure investments around the city, from building and repairing schools to the city’s vehicle fleet and much more. Most capital projects were delayed to future years, when de Blasio will no longer be in office.

The capital budget is funded through long-term borrowing, but billions of dollars in debt service is paid each year through the city operating budget, so de Blasio’s plan is aimed at reducing some of those annual costs in the near-term.

Notably, the mayor cut significantly from planned upcoming investments in affordable housing, new schools, and the plan to build four new borough-based jail facilities to replace the Rikers Island jail complex which is slated for closure.

[Jails, Affordable Housing and Other Capital Projects Delayed as City Grapples with Cash Crunch]

Budget watchdogs have emphasized that the city should continue funding routine maintenance and repair work, which are essential to the city’s quality of life and its eventual recovery. Others like City Council Member Brad Lander have urged the mayor to invest more funds in capital projects as a means to not only ensure the long term prosperity of the city but to also put New Yorkers back to work at a time of record unemployment.

Citizens Budget Commission, however, recommends reducing the five-year capital plan by a total of $6.7 billion – $2.4 billion in planned school construction and $4.3 billion in other expansion projects.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated with news of de Blasio's Monday announcement about NYPD funding.

4 Things to Watch as Mayor and City Council Finalize New Budget Sun, 28 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Teen Activists Pledge Protests If Mayor Doesn't Soon Announce Summer Youth Employment Program 3 activists pledge

Mayor de Blasio makes a summer youth employment announcement (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Teens Take Charge, a youth advocacy group, held a town hall Tuesday where its members demanded Mayor Bill de Blasio announce his decision regarding the Summer Youth Employment Program by Friday, June 26, or they will take to the streets to protest. 

“We’ve been screaming this message at the mayor for the past two-plus months,” said Kai-Lin Kwek-Rupp, one of the hosts of the town hall and leaders of Teens Take Charge, about the importance of SYEP and a clear plan from the mayor. “We need to make sure that we have constant pressure up until June 26, the last day of school, so that we really do get a commitment from him, and providers can start planning SYEP, and participants can start planning their summers.”

Amid the coronavirus shutdown and severe budget crunch, the mayor announced in April the cancellation of SYEP, which last summer offered 75,000 summer job placements at partner organizations for young adults across the city. City Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Bill Chong wrote a letter to nonprofits citing the uncertainty of COVID-19 as the main reason for the cancellation, while the mayor also cited the city’s cratering tax revenue based on mandated economic closures.

Since the mayor’s announcement, advocacy groups like Teens Take Charge and a variety of elected officials and others have criticized the decision and organized to reinstate SYEP for this summer. Teens Take Charge has held forums, including one with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, written op-eds, interviewed with various media outlets, and pushed their supporters on social media to demand funding for SYEP. Along with the public advocate, more than half the City Council and over 100 SYEP providers have supported their cause, according to Teens Take Charge’s online tracker.

The significant blowback de Blasio received plus the eventually improving public health crisis led the mayor to say he was reconsidering SYEP and that his administration was in discussions about how to have a version of it in the age of social distancing and with many offices still mostly using a work-from-home model. 

“This is a particularly important initiative to people all over the city. The City Council has raised important ideas, proposals, ways of addressing how we revitalize the Summer Youth Employment Program in the context of this pandemic,” said de Blasio during a June 11 press conference. “That is an ongoing conversation with the City Council. That will be part of our budget decision making with the City Council over the next two weeks or so.”

With many arguing that some version of SYEP could take place and de Blasio saying it might be possible, Teens Take Charge also developed a proposal with HERE to HERE, ExpandED Schools, and dozens of SYEP providers on how to conduct a remote youth employment program. Their initiative, which they named the Youth Empowerment Summer, or YES, would combine public and private funding to provide 40,000 digital internships, with stipends ranging from $700 to $1,000, according to the proposal. They are looking to raise a total of almost $2.9 million in private investments and secure a little less than $50 million from the city in SYEP funding. The city projected to save about $124 million from cancelling SYEP, according to the executive budget de Blasio released in April.

With the Black Lives Matter movement’s resurgence, members of the City Council and Public Advocate Williams have called to move $1 billion from the police department’s $6 billion annual budget to youth and social services in the new city budget. SYEP has positively impacted Black communities, advocates and elected officials point out -- last year, almost half of SYEP participants identified as Black, according to DYCD’s numbers, which means more than 30,000 Black youth received work, wages, and growth opportunities.

De Blasio promised in early June to work with the City Council to move some funds from the NYPD towards youth and social services, but did not provide a target amount or any other specifics, instead saying he would be negotiating with the Council in crafting the new city budget due by July 1. 

During Tuesday’s town hall, Teens Take Charge invited former SYEP participants and organizations to speak on the importance of the program for youth development and organization capacity. The teens cited financial independence, skill-building, and career exploration as some of the benefits of the program. Nonprofits such as City Growers and Faith in New York said they base their summer programs on the inclusion of youth employees, and without them the programs cannot operate the same way.

Brooklyn State Senator Julie Salazar and City Council Member Carlos Menchacha, both Democrats, as is de Blasio, also attended the town hall to show their support.

“Budgets are a reflection of our priorities, it’s already been said, and it’s so true,” said Salazar. “Mayor de Blasio, show us that you care about young people. Show us that you care about their education, their future, and investing in them by continuing to fully fund SYEP.”

The town hall hosts, teens Carmen Lopez Villamil and Kwek-Rupp, saved their demand for the mayor until the end of the event. Lopez Villamil said if de Blasio fails to make an SYEP decision by Friday, Teens Take Charge will plan a protest near Gracie Mansion. She said this protest would most likely happen on Monday, June 29.

As of now, de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson have released the Neighborhood Opportunity Network Summer, or NeON Summer, as a summer youth employment alternative. The program offers six-week, paid learning opportunities to young people in certain low-income neighborhoods, youth on probation, and those who reside in the hardest-hit COVID-19 communities. However, Teens Take Charge noted that NeON Summer only serves a fraction of  New York City youth, with just 2,700 total slots.

The City Council also held a hearing Tuesday that included leadership of the Council’s Committee on Youth Services advocating for the reinstatement of SYEP. During her opening remarks, Council Member Deborah Rose, a Staten Island Democrat who serves as the chair of the committee, stressed the importance of the employment program and that the Council would keep putting pressure on de Blasio for New York City youth. 

“We know SYEP and other employment programs uplift impoverished youth who historically struggle to access the labor market,” said Rose. “Tragically these are the very youth whose communities have been ravaged the most by COVID-19, and whose futures we as a city must be investing in more than ever.

by Melissa Lent, Gotham Gazette
@melmollyrose @GothamGazette

Teen Activists Pledge Protests If Mayor Doesn't Soon Announce Summer Youth Employment Program Wed, 24 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Breaks with His Police Department as Council Passes Surveillance Transparency Bill de Blasio NYPD

Another chapter between Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

A long-stalled bill meant to shed light on the surveillance equipment used by the NYPD has suddenly moved through the City Council with the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite being virtually unchanged since the mayor and NYPD leaders raised dire alarms about it in recent years. Now de Blasio is breaking with his own police department, which he has maintained has been on board with a slew of recent changes to NYPD oversight and discipline in the wake of national unrest.

The Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology (POST) Act would require the police department to report what monitoring equipment it has and the rules governing its use, which is almost entirely unknown outside of the NYPD. The City Council, which passed the bill 44-6 Thursday, says it will provide much needed transparency on how spy tech is used on members of the public, but the mayor and NYPD have for years said it would pose a threat to officers' safety and that decades of progress thwarting terrorist plotters would be lost. Department officials continued to speak out against the act as it was being passed.

Yet on Wednesday, in response to questions from a reporter about whether he would sign the bill, de Blasio said that he does indeed support it. "I've looked at [it] carefully and, as I think I said to you, my concern was to balance transparency with our ability to deal with profound safety concerns, including terrorism, which unfortunately still is a part of our lives. But I am convinced that the wording of the act is appropriate, is balanced, so I'm comfortable supporting it," he told Jillian Jonas of WBAI radio at a press briefing, who asked him about the fact that Council leaders had announced plans to pass the bill, which was first introduced in 2017 during the last Council class and de Blasio's first term.

The bill now awaits the mayor's signature.

The legislation has not changed substantially since it was first introduced in June 2017 and the NYPD still strongly opposes it. In a statement to Gotham Gazette Thursday, shortly before the POST Act was passed, NYPD spokesperson Detective Sophia Mason wrote: "With a minor change, this bill would achieve both transparency and public safety and safety for our most vulnerable officers, our undercover police officers. Unfortunately, the version being voted on today does not achieve these goals."

"To be clear, the bill, as currently proposed would literally require the NYPD to advertise on its website the covert means and equipment used by undercover officers who risk their lives every day. No reasonable citizen of New York City would ever support that," she wrote. Mason did not specify what the "minor change" was that NYPD had sought.

The POST Act mandates the NYPD publish the "description and capabilities, rules, processes and guidelines, and any safeguards and security measures designed to protect the information collected," according to the Council's plain language summary of the bill. It also requires the department to solicit public feedback on usage policies before finalizing them.

NYPD officials have maintained that revealing how surveillance technology is used would give terrorists and organized crime a step-by-step guide to avoiding the department's eyes and ears and could endanger undercover operatives and witnesses.

Last fall, the police department had roughly 2,000 members working in its intelligence and counterterrorism units, according to Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, speaking on the Max and Murphy podcast. In the two decades since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the city's Joint Terrorism Task Force expanded from a dozen detectives to over 100, Miller said. During that time, the NYPD has purchased military grade surveillance equipment, from cell phone monitoring devices, and X-ray vans, according to a statement from Council Speaker Corey Johnson, to thousands of security cameras and license plate readers. How exactly those technologies are used and interact with the new frontier of artificial intelligence, like facial and speech recognition, is not known.

Over the same period, the nature of terrorist threats in New York City has changed almost entirely from large-scale attacks made by complex terrorist organizations, like Al Qaeda, to lone-wolf rampages by radicalized individuals, Miller said. The police have been using surveillance since well before the NYPD had a counter-terrorism office, and Miller frequently noted the POST Act could also endanger narcotics operations, raising questions about the extent of public surveillance within and beyond the scope of counter-terrorism.

The assertion that the POST Act could jeopardize officer or public safety is "plainly wrong because we are only requiring a privacy policy associated with new technology," said one the bill's original sponsors, former Council Member Dan Garodnick, in an interview. "This equipment today is bought in secret, used in secret, and there is absolutely nobody outside the NYPD who could attest to the fact that New Yorkers' privacy is being protected."

"Today, NYPD surveillance often is no better than digitized stop-and-frisk. These programs are biased, broken, and deeply damaging to a democratic society," wrote Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, which advocated for the legislation.

Garodnick and NYPD officials had several tense back-and-forths after the bill was introduced.

In June 2017, de Blasio said he opposed the bill because privacy protections were "baked in" to police practices and that "real checks and balances" were already in place, AMNY reported. Last week, the mayor told reporters, "I would have to see the language," before he could support the legislation.

The language is largely unchanged, except for a provision requiring the impact and use policies include an analysis of potential disparate impacts on any protected group defined in the city's Human Rights Law, according to Michael Sisitzky, lead policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union, which supports the bill. "Otherwise, there’s just some technical things like renumbering of sections," he said.

After co-sponsoring it last session, Council Member Vanessa Gibson reintroduced the bill this session (Garodnick was term-limited out of office after 2017), and there have been similar exchanges between members of the Council and the NYPD at hearings where the bill has been considered. Earlier this week, Johnson, Gibson, and other Council members decided to advance the bill along with a package of other police reforms against the backdrop of weeks of protest.

The mayor's newfound support for the bill is part of a slew of about-faces he has taken on police issues in recent days in response to massive protests demanding changes to police practices -- and widespread criticism that he has aligned with the NYPD over demonstrators despite fashioning himself as a police reformer. The mayor's office did not answer questions about how he has come to support the bill after long siding with his police department.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who had been a regular fixture of the mayor's daily briefings, has been absent in recent days as the mayor has announced significant changes to NYPD transparency and discipline.

Along with the two public hearings, the NYPD met with the bill sponsors to share concerns several times since it was first introduced.

Last fall, Deputy Commissioner Miller said on Max & Murphy, "We said if you made these changes this bill could work for both causes. Both transparency but not so much transparency that we would either be letting criminals get away or putting police officers or witnesses or victims in danger -- and they took copious notes." But Garodnick returned with the same bill, Miller said, having addressed none of the department's concerns.

"Despite these reasonable discussions, the council has repeatedly introduced the same bill with no changes," wrote Detective Mason, the NYPD spokesperson, Thursday. "The NYPD cannot support a law that seems to be designed to help criminals and terrorists thwart efforts to stop them and endanger brave officers."

"It became clear to me that they did not want to have a serious conversation about how to address any concerns they might have," Garodnick said Thursday. "They just wanted to kill the bill. I can't even say that I could articulate what their specific [requests were] -- and I was always willing to have that conversation."

In an op-ed published in the Daily News Thursday, Felicia Richards and Larry Fuchs, presidents of the NYPD's Guardian Association and Hispanic Society, respectively, wrote that an additional sentence in the bill could go far to protect undercover officers and informants: “The Police Commissioner will have the authority to exempt from this reporting any device(s) used by officers acting in an undercover capacity, or individuals acting at their direction (informants or cooperating witnesses) if the description of the technology or device and public disclosure of same would endanger the lives of police officers or others.”

It’s unclear why the officials waited until the bill was being passed to provide that sentence publicly.

Asked why she thought the bill was moving ahead now, Gibson told Gotham Gazette, "Today’s vote would not be possible without the Speaker’s leadership on this issue and the persistent push from several of our civil rights and civil liberties groups that have been by our side from the beginning."

"The decision to move forward with a vote on the POST Act is a tremendous win for us and all of the amazing advocates that have supported this bill since its conception," she wrote in an email.

"This is an important transparency initiative to protect the privacy rights of New Yorkers and to provide real oversight of the NYPD," Garodnick said. "That's what it was then and that's what it is now. The difference is that there is now a will to get it done."

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio Breaks with His Police Department as Council Passes Surveillance Transparency Bill Thu, 18 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
How New York City Should Make 'Hard Choices' to Close Growing Budget Gap, Per Watchdog 6 presents fiscal year

De Blasio makes a budget presentation (photo: Mayor's Office)

New York City’s political leadership is staring at major challenges with a new city budget due by the July 1 start of the next fiscal year. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council are facing massive drops in tax revenue given the coronavirus shutdown, and must still craft a balanced budget.

The mayor has sought a federal “bailout” to replace several billion dollars in lost revenue, but while the Democrat-led House of Representatives passed a massive relief bill the Republican-led U.S. Senate does not appear inclined to take it up. De Blasio is also seeking mandatory state approval for the city to borrow billions of dollars to cover operating expenses, but that effort has also stalled.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog, is calling this the city’s “most severe fiscal crisis in generations.”

And to address that crisis, CBC recently released a report, “Hard Choices That Can Balance New York City’s Budget,” which includes a series of concrete proposals aimed at mitigating harm to New Yorkers and maintaining the city’s competitiveness while balancing the budget.

“If city leaders make the right hard choices, we can manage to close the budget gap without layoffs and without borrowing,” said Andrew Rein, the president of CBC, in an interview. “City leaders need to start now,” he added, but “addressing the crisis is doable.”

“Part of our concern is when you have a crisis like this it’s multi-year impacts and it takes a while to recover,” said Ana Champeny, CBC’s director of city studies and author of the new report. “The city needs to be thinking long-term.”

When Mayor Bill de Blasio released his executive budget plan in April, his administration expected revenue to fall by $5.3 billion in the next fiscal year, and put forth a tenuous plan to balance the budget based on that projection. But a month later, in the mayor’s annual revenue letter to the City Council, the administration projected another $1.6 billion in lost revenue for fiscal year 2021, with the gap then totaling $6.9 billion. The CBC report addresses how the city can rebalance the budget after this downward revision of the revenue forecast.

While de Blasio is seeking state borrowing permission for up to $7 billion to cover operating expenses, which he called a backstop if federal aid doesn’t come through, Rein and a number of other prominent voices have warned against this. Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed significant skepticism (even as the state moves to do its own additional borrowing), while City Comptroller Scott Stringer has questioned the idea citing long-term costs of the debt services and a lack of serious belt-tightening by the mayor, who has overseen an exploding city budget in his six years in charge. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and others, including State Senator Brian Benjamin, key voices in the process, have also been skeptical, saying the mayor needs to show a real plan if he’s seeking such borrowing capacity.

“Borrowing should be at the bottom or near the bottom of any choice,” Rein of CBC said. “It pushes off current costs so future New Yorkers have to pay for services they’re not getting and constrains future budgets through debt service.”

“There are times that [borrowing] has been necessary but we’re not at that time yet given current projections and options available to us,” Rein said.

The $1.65 billion in gap-closing measures for next fiscal year identified by CBC include reducing the city’s workforce, increasing property taxes, and other budgetary maneuvers. That number increases in subsequent years, by CBC’s design.

CBC is also proposing that the city uses $1 billion of its budgeted reserves by freeing up $750 million of the $1 billion in the current budgeted general reserve and the entire $250 million capital stabilization reserve.

The biggest gap-closing measure that CBC proposes is a 9,000-employee reduction in the city’s 334,000-person workforce, which would come solely through attrition, meaning not filling positions vacated due to retirements and other voluntary departures. The city sheds about 7% of its workforce every year, according to Rein, but those departures have been replaced and then some under de Blasio.

“We’re talking about bringing the workforce back to where it was in 2016,” Rein said, in reference to the fact that the city’s personnel roster has grown significantly under de Blasio, who took office in 2014.

Per the CBC plan, the largest personnel reductions would come from NYPD officers and Department of Education administrators. These would save the city $450 million in the coming fiscal year and $898 million in the following fiscal year (FY2022).

CBC is also advocating for a two-year temporary increase in the property tax. It suggests a start date of July 2021 for the increase, so it would coincide with an expected economic recovery. A 2% increase in the property tax could boost the city’s coffers by $690 million for fiscal year 2022, with the average homeowner paying $143 more as a result, according to CBC.

Additionally, CBC reiterated its calls for de Blasio to address inefficiency in city government that could yield further savings. Citing prior reports, CBC says welfare fund consolidation could save the city $164 million, while productivity improvements at the Department of Sanitation and the elimination of the Absent Teacher Reserve, which would both require collective bargaining, could save a combined $160 million. If the city centralized procurement at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the savings could be $80 million, the report says.

CBC also believes that all agencies could cut 1% of their budgets, for additional savings of $700 million.

The report also suggests that the city reform its health insurance policies so that city employees and retirees contribute towards the cost of insurance. The city would save $350 million if retirees paid 16% of the premium for pre-Medicare insurance and 25% of the premium for Medicare Part B and Supplemental Medicare coverage. The city would save another $700 million annually if employees making under $65,000 contributed 6% for single coverage and 8% for family coverage and employees over $65,000 contributed 14% for single and 16% for family coverage. The CBC notes that these contribution rates are equal to or under the rates for New York State employees.

The report also recommends that the city’s five-year capital plan be reduced by $6.7 billion (or 10%). This includes savings of $2.4 billion in reduced new school construction and $4.3 billion by delaying and limiting expansion projects.

And, CBC suggests the sale of parking lots and underutilized buildings owned by the city could generate $50 million for next fiscal year.

Given recent events and the ongoing discussion around how much by which to reduce the police department’s roughly $6 billion annual operating budget, the CBC proposal to reduce the number of NYPD uniformed officers by 1,174 is noteworthy. This would represent a 3.1% decrease in the total number of uniformed police officers in the NYPD. It would also come five years after the NYPD added nearly 1,400 uniformed officers at the request of the City Council, then under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The current Council Speaker, Corey Johnson, supported that push as a rank-and-file member but has recently called it a mistake as part of the new effort he and other Council members are making to reduce the NYPD budget by $1 billion next fiscal year, a number de Blasio has called too high, though he has pledged to shift some funding from the NYPD to youth and social services.

The change in the NYPD force suggested by CBC would come through a combination of attrition and adjusting the sizes of incoming police recruit classes. It would save the city $57 million next fiscal year and $100 million annually in the years to come.

It would also represent a 1% reduction in the NYPD operating budget, currently $5.9 billion, for the new fiscal year and a fraction of the $1 billion (16.9% of NYPD budget) that some activists and local lawmakers have been clamoring for. Comptroller Stringer, by contrast, has put out a plan to reduce the NYPD budget by $1 billion over four years.

“We will be moving funding from the NYPD to youth initiatives and social services,” the mayor said at a June 7 press conference.

“The details will be worked out in the budget process in the weeks ahead,” de Blasio recently said, not putting a specific number on how much of a reduction he thinks the NYPD budget should or will see.

The CBC report also identified four streams of potential federal aid, which could help reduce the city budget gap. FEMA could waive the 25% local share for disaster funding, which means the city would gain $600 million. An extension of the enhanced Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (eFMAP) by another six months to July 2021 would mean an additional $224 million in federal funding. The city could also receive an additional $717 million in federal education aid through the state for fiscal years 2022. Lastly, the city could receive general disaster aid from the federal government and CBC estimates that $5 billion would be a reasonable figure. In total, CBC believes that the city could receive $8.2 billion in additional federal funding, based on similar events, such as the Great Recession.

“There’s no question that the federal government should cover the additional costs,” Rein said, referring to the pandemic and resulting recession. However, the likelihood of such aid cannot be counted on. According to Rein, “the federal government has stepped up more in the past than it has in the present.”

“Quite frankly the city needs to adopt the budget, it cannot wait for the federal government,” Rein said.

The city has already received several billions of dollars in federal aid to cover costs related to the coronavirus public health crisis, which has killed over 17,000 New York City residents.

In the race to succeed Stringer as the city’s chief fiscal officer, some of the declared candidates have put forward their own proposals for solving the city’s budget issues. Most proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy to close the budget gap, which would have to happen at the state level, unless the property tax levy is adjusted as CBC is suggesting.

Manhattan City Council Member Helen Rosenthal is the only of the four declared 2021 comptroller candidates who supports the city borrowing to close the gap. She would limit borrowing to $2 billion, she said. She also proposes to undo the 100% state rebate on the stock transfer tax, which could generate billions of dollars split between the state and city governments. She opposes wage freezes for the city workforce.

Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander proposes to eliminate the “carried interest” loophole, which allows private-equity and hedge-fund managers to pay a lower rate on their earnings than the income tax. Lander is opposed to borrowing for closing the city budget gap, but says that it would be a good time to borrow more for long-term capital projects. He said labor leaders should work with the city to find cost-cutting options.

Manhattan State Senator Brian Benjamin, who chairs the Revenue and Budget Committee, is skeptical about city borrowing, but has said it needs to be among the considerations. He also said the city should bring labor leaders to the table.

Queens Assemblymember David Weprin opposes borrowing for operational costs. He has proposed several solutions, including a commuter tax, legalizing online sports betting, and granting a new casino license in New York City.

Virtually everyone from CBC leaders to Stringer, Johnson, and the 2021 comptroller candidates is calling on de Blasio to find more in city agency savings, while not hurting New Yorkers who rely on the extensive social safety net. De Blasio has been reluctant to demand more in efficiencies from his commissioners and budget officials but has warned that without federal help or state borrowing permission, there will likely be deep, widespread budget cuts coming soon.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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How New York City Should Make 'Hard Choices' to Close Growing Budget Gap, Per Watchdog Wed, 17 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Makes Big Bus Move, But Continues to Disappoint Electeds and Advocates Seeking More de Blasio city bus

De Blasio rides the bus (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

As the coronavirus public health crisis waned and New York City headed toward entering the first phase of “reopening” its economy after the government-ordered near-shutdown, Mayor Bill de Blasio was under increasing pressure to develop transit plans to help New Yorkers returning to work get around by various and safe means. This was especially true regarding buses.

While the city’s subways and buses are run by the state-controlled MTA, de Blasio does have significant sway over the bus system given the city’s street-design power.

On June 8, the first day of the city’s phase one “reopening,” where hundreds of thousands of workers were allowed back to their workplaces, the mayor unveiled his intent to add 20 more miles of bus lanes throughout the city as part of a plan for “safer transit” to help maintain social distancing and get people where they need to go efficiently. He also announced that the 14th Street “busway” would be made permanent and that the city would be rolling out five other busways between July and October.

The new bus lanes will become permanent if successful after a yearlong trial. The mayor also announced that the Staten Island Ferry will increase rush hour service to run every twenty minutes.

But while de Blasio called the announcement “a major step,” many policymakers and transit advocates say the plan doesn’t go far enough, even if some are celebrating it as an important step. For example, the mayor’s 20 miles of new bus lanes is a third of what Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of MTA New York City Transit, requested in an open letter to the mayor four days before his announcement.

Previously, in May, four of the five borough presidents called on de Blasio to add 40 miles of new bus lanes to the city ahead of phase one. TransitCenter, a nonprofit think tank and advocacy organization, has also pushed for 40 new miles of bus lanes, while various advocates and elected officials have sought an expansion of the busway pilot.

Leading up to the start of the city’s economic reopening, there was widespread frustration that de Blasio had not put forward any plans to expand city transit options to better balance public health, commuting, and street congestion concerns.

“As New Yorkers head back to work, they’ll be relying on the bus more than ever – and I’m proud to offer them faster and more reliable options,” the mayor said during the June 8 announcement. The mayor himself last rode the bus in November of last year, when he rode the 14th Street busway for the first and only time, six weeks after it launched. Prior to that, the last time Mayor de Blasio rode a city bus was in 2017, according to public records. He did so twice that year, in September and October, while commemorating the start of Select Bus Service on the BX6 and M23 routes, respectively.

De Blasio’s plan includes five new busways and four new bus lanes, but only one busway and two bus lanes will be operational this month. Main Street in Queens will see the city’s second busway, launching later this month. Jamaica Avenue, also in Queens, and 5th Avenue, in Manhattan, will have busways launched in July. Brooklyn’s Jay Street will get a busway in August and 181st Street in Manhattan will get a busway four months from now, in October.

The bus lanes, with signage and street markings, will be added to East 14th Street in Manhattan and 149th Street in the Bronx this month, Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island in July, and Merrick Boulevard in Queens in August.

The mayor’s plan is far cry from Feinberg’s request, outlined in her letter to the mayor, which called for triple the new bus-lane mileage de Blasio announced. While some of Feinberg’s proposals were heeded, the letter’s request for busways on Archer Avenue in Queens and Livingston Street in Brooklyn went unanswered.

Feinberg also wanted to see several additional new bus lanes, including four more in the Bronx (E.L. Grant Highway, Tremont Avenue, Fordham Road, and University Avenue), one in Brooklyn (Flatbush Avenue), and two on Staten Island (Bay Street and Richmond Terrace).

Feinberg’s proposal would have represented a 42% increase in the miles of bus lanes in the city, while the mayor’s plan will increase the city’s miles of bus lanes by 14%.

Feinberg has noted that the bus system saw over 715,000 daily weekday riders during the week before her early June letter, compared to a mere 400,000 at the system’s lowpoint during the crisis. On the average weekday in 2018, by comparison, an estimated 1.8 million New Yorkers rode the bus. Bus ridership has jumped higher as the city entered phase one of reopening, with some indications that more people are returning to the buses than the subways, a trend de Blasio has acknowledged.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson criticized both the timing and substance of the mayor’s bus plan in a statement to Gotham Gazette, calling the roll out “haphazard” and saying “the administration has had months to think about how to make it safe and easy for New Yorkers to return to work using mass transit, and now we’re reopening without a robust plan in place for increased bus service and protected bike lanes.”

“The administration needs to do better, quickly,” said Johnson.

According to a spokesperson, Johnson believes the mayor and MTA New York City Transit should have worked on proposals together instead of talking past each other.

In his own letter to de Blasio on May 29, Johnson outlined what he saw as the most-needed transportation fixes ahead of a reopening. He advocated for “a bold vision for rapidly expanding safe transportation alternatives, including dedicated bus lanes and increased service along the routes with highest ridership, the rapid expansion of the city’s protected bike lane network, and dramatically increased open space for pedestrians to ensure computers are not cramped together on the city’s narrow sidewalks.”

Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for Riders Alliance, called the mayor’s plan “an unprecedented and bold commitment to riders.” Pearlstein notes that “bus riders are overwhelmingly low-income people of color” and “nearly half of bus riders are essential workers.” He says “bus riders literally got us through the worst of Covid.”

According to Pearlstein, “with most people staying home, bus riders experienced major speed and reliability improvements. City policy must make every effort to cement those gains.”

When asked about the de Blasio proposal and his daily press conference on Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said “obviously, there’s a disparity between what the MTA asked for and what the mayor’s doing.”

He then deferred to Janno Lieber, the President of the MTA Construction and Development Corporation, who happened to be at the briefing that day. Lieber said that “from the MTA’s perspective, 20 miles of bus lanes is a step in the right direction, but we asked for 60 for a reason.” He cited the need to accelerate the speed and frequency of bus service for both economic and public health reasons.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Makes Big Bus Move, But Continues to Disappoint Electeds and Advocates Seeking More Wed, 17 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Where the 2021 Mayoral Candidates Stand on Removing School Safety from the NYPD's Domain NYPD in schools

Police in schools (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

As the City Council is pushing to cut $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget for next fiscal year, City Council Members Mark Treyger and Donovan Richards have proposed revoking the police’s role in school safety and restoring it to the Department of Education. The proposal has been a top priority for some police reform and education activists for years and has taken on renewed urgency in the wake of the countrywide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio may be hesitant to support it, several candidates running for mayor in 2021 say it’s high time that the city remove police officers from schools.

Treyger, who chairs the education committee, and Richards, who chairs the public safety committee, are not among those mayoral candidates, though Richards is currently running for Queens Borough President in a primary this month. The Council members released their proposal on Monday, decrying “zero tolerance” discipline policies that have created a school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately harms black and brown students and those receiving special education services. While most schools in the city don’t have “zero tolerance” policies, the presence of police officers in schools has led to many more arrests of students than would otherwise occur, reform advocates point out.

Though the Council has over the years sought to make changes to the NYPD’s role in schools, it has only so much power over the police department or education department. The Council has passed reporting bills requiring greater disclosure but the police department has always been reluctant to abide by those measures. The Treyger-Richards proposal constitutes a much broader move, removing the Division of School Safety from the NYPD’s purview and returning it to the Department of Education, where it was originally headquartered before being relocated by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1998.

“Enough is enough. Incremental reforms to a system that does not want to be reformed are futile. We need nothing short of structural change,” Treyger and Richards said in a joint statement.

They pointed out that the city spends more money on school safety agents than it does on counselors, social workers, and psychologists all together. But those roughly 5,000 school safety agents are not accountable to school principals. 

“At a time when students are experiencing more trauma than ever, we need to make sure that our approach to school safety is aligned to meet the holistic needs of children. School Safety Agents, most of whom are doing their best to keep kids safe within a broken system, are too-often called upon to intervene in behavioral crises because the vestiges of Zero Tolerance prioritize punitive interventions over social emotional supports,” Treyger and Richards wrote.

“A seven-year-old having a bad day in a school without a social worker is not an NYPD issue,” they added.

The call for removing police from schools has been championed by groups like Dignity in Schools, which coordinates efforts by several local groups to advocate against the school-to-prison pipeline.

The NYPD’s budget allocates as much as $331 million to school safety, which would make up a significant chunk of the $1 billion that the Council wants to cut from the police department’s funding. The Council is also looking at reducing the overall headcount of the NYPD, cutting overtime costs and shifting other duties away from the department, among other measures.

Mayor de Blasio has pushed back against both removing school safety from the NYPD and cuts of that scope to the police department budget, though he did recently announce he is ready to move some NYPD funding to reinvest it in youth and social services. He has not offered a dollar amount, but said it would be part of negotiations with the Council as the two sides must craft a new city budget by July 1.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson, among the most prominent likely candidates in the 2021 mayoral race, is backing the contents of the Treyger-Richards letter.

“I’ve said repeatedly that we need to reimagine policing in New York City, and this is one way to do that,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, when asked about the letter from two of his members. “I’ve also said I will listen to communities most impacted by over policing, and this is one of their big concerns. I want to thank Council Members Treyger and Richards for their advocacy, and I look forward to working with them to convince the de Blasio administration that this is both urgent and necessary. We need big changes, and we need them now.”

[Read: ‘Defund the NYPD’? What’s Really in the New York City Police Department Budget]

Johnson is among the top contenders seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in 2021, along with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Comptroller Scott Stringer. Other candidates include Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive in the Bronx; Loree Sutton, former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services; and Shaun Donovan, a former aide to President Barack Obama and Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

Though Adams and Stringer are not as intimately involved in the budget process as Johnson, both have also been vocal about the need for police reform, and Stringer released his own plan for shifting NYPD funds about eight days before Johnson and other Council leaders called for the $1 billion NYPD cut in the coming fiscal year.

On June 4, Stringer proposed a $1.1 billion cut to the NYPD over four years, largely through a headcount reduction by attrition, and cuts to overtime and ancillary expenses. On the issue of the NYPD handling school safety, Stringer called for ‘rethinking’ the paradigm, but did not make his position fully clear.

“As we reimagine policing in our city, we must rethink the role of NYPD in our schools,” he said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “For too long, our city has over-invested in punitive policing - while systemically disinvesting in programs and services that can actually address the poverty, trauma and structural racism that impact Black and Brown communities and complicate the trajectories of children of color. It is not enough to shift the budgetary line item from one agency to another. Real school safety goes hand in hand with transformative investments in the social-emotional health of schools - including in social workers, school psychologists and other mental health professionals, guidance counselors, restorative justice coordinators, and regular training for all school staff to support a school climate that is welcoming and safe for all students.”

Borough President Adams, a former NYPD officer and captain, did not return a request for comment for this article and his position on the role of the NYPD in school safety.

In an op-ed on Monday in the Daily News, Morales called on the city to reprioritize how financial resources are distributed. “The next step in addressing the problem of policing should pursue a harm reduction approach that removes police from schools and disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline that criminalizes student’s behaviors and puts them into contact with law enforcement,” she wrote. “Those resources should instead be directed toward educational supports, mental health services and other needs that must be addressed in order for students to succeed in schools.”

Donovon, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, also said the city needs to end the school-to-prison pipeline and reevaluate whether certain roles of the police could be given to other agencies that are more suited to handle them “without the use of force and without overly punitive repercussions.”

“School safety is just one such area,” he said, applauding Treyger and Richards’ proposal. “An investment is urgently needed in intervention programs that are educationally oriented. We know that the consequences rendered by police enforcement are disproportionate relative to the severity of the infractions of young students, and disproportionately applied to Black students and students of color.”

Sutton was the outlier among the mayoral candidates who have made their positions at least somewhat clear, expressing wariness of the proposal to remove school safety from the NYPD’s domain.

“This proposal strikes me as a superficial hasty move which risks further polarization during this highly charged period marked by community distrust, civic unrest and pandemic-related public health concerns,” Sutton said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “The task of restoring trust and building community partnerships is paramount and will not be achieved through reactive proposals, however well-intended.  Leadership is needed to engage all stakeholders -- families, neighborhoods, community-based organizations, schools, law enforcement, academic institutions, essential workers, small business and corporate leaders, as well as elected and civic officials.  This thoughtful process should explore a variety of options, shared values, conflicting opinions, desired outcomes and potential unintended consequences as a vital means for informing and strengthening the decision-making process. All voices matter. What NYC needs is a new way of thinking about policing, not a rushed maneuver to move budgets.”

The proposal, and Johnson in particular, came under fire from Gregory Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents 5,000 school safety agents, most of whom are black or Hispanic. “If this was a union with a white labor leader and with a mostly white membership, Speaker Corey Johnson would have called me to discuss his plan,” said Floyd, according to a New York Post report. Floyd singled out Johnson for the plan and called him “a racist” for supporting it. In a letter to Johnson and other Council leaders, Floyd said that "The inconvenient truth is that there are New York City school children who seek to harm their classmates and school staff. And is is the enormous responsibility safety agents to protect New York City's 1.1 million school children and 135,000 school staff members from that harm."

In response to Floyd’s comments, the Urban Youth Collaborative, a coalition of youth-led organizations in the city, issued its own retort. “Let’s be serious: Maintaining a system designed to criminalize Black and Brown youth is racist. Finally heeding the calls of Black and Brown youth, clamoring to dismantle this system, is not,” the statement reads. “The evidence shows that no matter how interactions with police change, Black and Latinx students are disproportionately criminalized and harmed by School Safety Agents. We are sick and tired of Black and Latinx students being criminalized for being children and adolescents. We demand police-free schools.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Where the 2021 Mayoral Candidates Stand on Removing School Safety from the NYPD's Domain Tue, 16 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Administration Opposes Council Bill to Create 'City Restart Officer' de Blasio city hall reopening govt

Mayor de Blasio at City Hall (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Brooklyn City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, a Democrat and the Council’s Majority Leader, wants to establish a new position in city government to oversee the reopening of city government after the coronavirus shutdown. Her bill (Intro. 1950) would create and require the position of “City Restart Officer” to coordinate safety measures taken by city agencies and require them to submit their policies and plans to the restart officer for review.

“Many New Yorkers are excited yet apprehensive about reopening and rightly so,” Cumbo said at a virtual hearing on the bill on Tuesday held by the Council Committee on Governmental Operations. “We want to make sure that we are putting forth the best practices to make sure that New York City opens safely.” Cumbo’s bill currently has 16 sponsors in the 51-seat City Council.

New York City is just over a week into phase 1 of its economic “reopening” that began when the COVID-19 public health crisis subsided to a significant degree, with the city hitting state-set metrics and some of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own thresholds for allowing more travel and economic activity. The city could enter phase 2 of reopening on Monday, June 15, at the earliest, though de Blasio has said he believes it will be later than that.

The Tuesday hearing, led by Cuombo and Bronx Council Member Fernando Cabrera, who chairs the government operations committee, included an opportunity for the members to question de Blasio administration officials on the bill and the city’s reopening plans.

At the hearing, Lisette Camilo, the Commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), said that city government -- which employs hundreds of thousands of workers -- has taken the appropriate precautions to protect its workforce while maintaining necessary functions.

She estimated that two-thirds of the city’s workforce was able to transition to work from home, with only a fraction of those workers now returning to in-person work since phase 1 started. Most of the returning workers thus far have corresponded with industries that were allowed to restart in phase 1, such as Department of Buildings inspectors going to job sites again now that private construction is no longer largely halted.

Camilo also mentioned the “Core Four” precautions that all city workers should abide by, including staying home when sick, wearing face coverings, practicing good hygiene, and maintaining a social distance of six feet. She said the city is working towards making daily screenings available for workers.

At a Tuesday press conference, de Blasio said that the city now sponsors about 20,000 tests daily, with another 30,000 coming from other providers. The city’s tracing program is currently tracking 4,300 cases and the mayor said the program will have the capacity to trace 250,000 sometime this summer.

“That is the level we're going to reach, a quarter million people who will need help and support to help them through this disease, to keep all the rest of us safe as well,” de Blasio said.

Camilo says the city has divided its preparations for more workers returning to in-person work into four categories: preparing buildings, workspaces, workforce, and communication. The city is modifying its buildings and workspaces to allow workers to maintain social distance, training its workers to follow new protocols, and communicating these changes and resources to the public, according to Camilo.

Camilo and other agency leaders at the Council hearing did not voice support for Cumbo’s bill. The administration prefers an inter-agency approach instead, Camilo said. “We have been working across the agencies that have the expertise to inform the guidance,” she said, adding that agencies “are the best experts” at addressing their internal needs and that “it can’t be a cookie-cutter approach.”

When asked about planning for phase 2 by Cabrera, Camilo said “we don’t have finalized plans,” despite phase 2 potentially being days away. De Blasio said similarly at his Tuesday morning briefing.

According to Camilo, the Mayor’s Office has not yet received plans from all city agencies about their individual reopenings, adding, “I’d rather be conservative in the approach,” given this process has never been done before.

Camilo said that the city “do[es] not have an enforcement part of our guidance,” but that “I don’t think anyone will want to take a gamble on the health and safety of their workforce.” Cabrera and Cumbo both voiced concerns about agencies having enough lead time to comply with city protocols ahead of the next phases of reopenings.

During the public comment portion of the hearing, an employee with the Parks & Recreation Department expressed his concern about the city’s plans for reopening. When asked by Cumbo, he said that he wasn’t aware of any channel for reporting coronavirus-related safety concerns.

During the hearing, Cabrera mentioned several times that New York City could potentially move to phase 2 of reopening on Monday, June 22, which would mark two weeks after the city entered phase 1. However, there have been no official announcements regarding that as of now.

At his Tuesday press conference, de Blasio talked about trying to “keep expectations low” and that the city and state “may want and need a few more days to get more data beyond June 21 before moving to the next phase of reopening. The mayor also promised more city guidance would be publicized “over the next few days” and the city “will be ready for next week, if the indicators and the discussions with the state tell us that we’re ready to go next week.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Administration Opposes Council Bill to Create 'City Restart Officer' Tue, 16 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000