Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/75 Wed, 11 Dec 2019 14:47:09 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Deadly NYPD Shooting of Officer and Civilian Tests New Body Camera Footage Policy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8978-deadly-nypd-shooting-of-officer-and-civilian-test-new-body-camera-footage-policy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8978-deadly-nypd-shooting-of-officer-and-civilian-test-new-body-camera-footage-policy anto reyes police body cam

Monday's press conference at City Hall (photo: @changethenypd)


Antonio Williams’ parents were not allowed to see their son in the hospital before he died from police gunshot wounds he sustained while attempting to flee a police stop in late September. Two-and-a-half months later, they are seeking footage from the body cameras worn by the officers involved that night and, in the process, are testing the NYPD’s new policy for publicly releasing video of what it calls “critical incidents,” including when civilians are killed by police.

NYPD Officer Brian Milkeen was also shot and killed by NYPD officers during the altercation as he wrestled with Williams. Many details of the event remain murky but a police department representative said Monday the NYPD expects to release footage of the incident "in the coming week."

At a tearful press conference on the steps of City Hall Monday, Williams’ family was joined by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams (no relation), members of the City Council, and the families of other black men killed by police to seek details from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD about the September shooting. Despite a recently-published policy designed to clarify and expedite the process of releasing footage to the public, Shawn and Gladys Williams, Antonio’s father and stepmother, say they have not been shown body-camera video of the events leading to their son’s death.

“At the end of the day, we just want the truth. We want to find out what happened that night, why it happened, what could have been done to prevent it happening,” said Shawn Williams. Shawn and Gladys were joined by Antonio’s brother, Justin, who wore a shirt that said “My Brother, My Guardian Angel.” Others held signs saying “Justice for Antonio Williams #ReleaseTheNames.” Others held signs saying “De Blasio/NYPD Stop Blocking Transparency, Justice for Antonio Williams.”

On September 29, Mulkeen, in plainclothes, approached Antonio Williams in front of the Edenwald Houses, a NYCHA complex in the northeast Bronx, then chased and wrestled him to the ground after Williams fled, according to then-Police Commissioner James O’Neill. Other officers were also in pursuit. According to the police department, Mulkeen can be heard via the not-yet-released body camera recording yelling, “He’s reaching for it. He’s reaching for it,” as Williams is, according to the NYPD, seen reaching toward his waist. Both Mulkeen and Williams died by police gunfire. Officers on the scene discharged 15 rounds, O’Neill said.

Police reported finding a handgun on the scene belonging to Williams, which had not been fired. A witness said that Williams was waiting for a cab when he was approached. Advocates say that in New York State it is not, by itself, illegal to run from the police.

The police department has not released details to the Williams family or the public about what Williams was being stopped for or whether he was suspected of a crime while the events were unfolding. It is also unclear whether officers identified themselves as police before approaching Williams.

Jonathan Moore, a lawyer with Beldock Levine and Hoffman LLP who is representing Williams’ family, said they have requested these details, as well as the names of the officers involved and any body-worn camera footage recorded that night, which could illuminate what happened and whether police officers acted appropriately and within the law. Moore’s firm submitted a request for the body-camera footage and other details through the state’s Freedom of Information Law on Monday, Moore said.

“We are concerned that that information is being covered up,” Moore said at the press conference. “Let’s see some transparency here. Let’s level the playing field. Let’s have the evidence about what happened.”

On October 18, the NYPD quietly published a long-sought policy outlining how the department would approach publicly sharing body-worn camera footage of “critical incidents” -- police interactions where the use of force resulted in death or serious injury, or where releasing body camera video would “address vast public attention, or concern.” The policy came months after O’Neill and de Blasio announced the full implementation of the body-worn camera program. It was originally piloted as a way to hold officers accountable after a judge found the NYPD had for years unconstitutionally targeted people of color with stop-and-frisk policing. As of this fall, roughly 24,000 police officers have been equipped with cameras.

The shooting deaths of Mulkeen and Williams appear to fall squarely within the NYPD’s definition of a “critical incident,” and participants at the press conference Monday, organized by Communities United for Police Reform, an advocacy coalition, said the department is in possession of video that could provide answers and closure for Williams’ family.

“We don’t even know what happened,” said Brooklyn City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “We don’t know whether the officers did anything wrong, whether Antonio did something wrong. We don’t know anything. We’re standing here blind. The city has all the information and refuses to give it to us.”

The new policy says “the Department will decide when to publicly release BWC footage of a critical incident within 30 calendar days, excluding any non-disclosure period(s), provided that the force investigation review is completed.” It does not say whether it applies to events retroactively and does not guarantee footage will be published, leaving that decision entirely within the police commissioner’s discretion.

In an email to Gotham Gazette, police spokesperson Devora Kaye wrote, “The NYPD is committed to releasing footage of critical incidents captured by body-worn cameras within 30 days, with limited exceptions, while also balancing privacy concerns, protecting against compromising criminal investigations, and the need to comply with federal, state and local disclosure laws.”

“We expect to release the video from this incident in the coming week, and the Department will be sharing additional videos for other police involved shooting incidents in the coming weeks and months,” she wrote of the September 29 shooting.

Last month, under the new policy, the NYPD posted a 14-minute video of the fatal shooting of Gregory Edwards by police on Staten Island.

When asked whether the new policy should apply retroactively to Williams’ death and if Mayor de Blasio had discussed the matter with the police department, a mayoral spokesperson deferred to the NYPD.

The increasingly vocal public outcry around Williams’ death is setting up the September shooting to be one of the first tests of how the department will deal with critical incidents since the policy was released.

“I call on Dermot Shea, the new police commissioner: this is the first item on your plate,” said Moore on Monday. “We’re asking simply that there be full disclosure so that we can determine whether justice has been done in this matter.”

City Council Member Brad Lander, also a Brooklyn Democrat, said the police department will need to be more transparent about the application of the policy, especially in sharing video to the families of people killed by police. “A policy is written precisely to go out of the realm of implication into the realm of specific knowledge, and it is not clear. It does not obligate the NYPD to share [footage] with the family,” he told Gotham Gazette after the press conference.

Shaping the narrative and controlling the information around civilian deaths are hard and enduring issues for the loved ones of people killed by police. The new body-camera footage policy says the police department will release “representative samples” of the video but makes no commitment to publish footage completely or without redaction.

“Before they bring the evidence out, they want to tell it their way,” said Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, at the press conference. “But that officer [Brian Mulkeen] may have died for other reasons, we don’t know. They want to make Antonio the scapegoat like in so many other cases.”

Speaking the day after the shooting, then-Police Commissioner O’Neill told reporters, “Make no mistake, we lost the life of a courageous public servant solely due to a violent criminal who put the lives of the police and the people we serve in jeopardy.”

“We just need to know,” said Gladys Williams, Antonio’s stepmother. “It has been two-and-a-half months. It is hard to spend the holidays without our son.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Deadly NYPD Shooting of Officer and Civilian Tests New Body Camera Footage Policy Mon, 09 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Lander Pledges Neutrality in Crowded Brooklyn City Council Race to Succeed Him https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8971-lander-pledges-neutrality-in-crowded-city-council-race-to-succeed-him https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8971-lander-pledges-neutrality-in-crowded-city-council-race-to-succeed-him lander successor piece

Council Member Lander, right, with Shahana Hanif (photo: @ShahanaFromBK)


New York City Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn, has pledged to remain neutral in the crowded race for his current seat, which he’ll vacate at the end of 2021. Lander cannot seek reelection because of term limits and has declared a run for city Comptroller.

Council District 39, where Lander has served since 2010, covers some of the highest voter turnout areas of the city and includes the neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, Kensington and the Columbia Street waterfront. Before Lander, the seat was held by Bill de Blasio, who went from Council member to Public Advocate to now two-term Mayor.

Lander is among the 35 Council members who will be term-limited out of office after the 2021 elections, along with the mayor, comptroller, and the five borough presidents (the public advocate will also be on the ballot but incumbent Jumaane Williams was only elected to the seat in a special election this year). Open seats tend to trigger competitive races in the city, at least in the Democratic primary where most contests are decided because of the party’s staggering voter enrollment advantage.

District 39 is consistently one of the most politically active districts and shares ground with recent competitive State Senate and Congressional primaries. Lander will be looking to his vote-rich home district to help catapult him toward citywide office. Council Member Helen Rosenthal, from an even more vote-heavy district of the Upper West Side, is also a declared candidate for Comptroller, as is Queens Assemblymember David Weprin, while State Senator Brian Benjamin of upper Manhattan has said he’s considering a run. All four are Democrats. Other candidates are expected into the race as well.

There are already four declared candidates for Lander’s Council seat: Briget Rein, a United Federation of Teachers activist; Shahana Hanif, currently Lander’s director of organizing and community engagement; Justin Krebs, a political organizer; and Brandon West, president of the New Kings Democrats.

Though he sings Hanif’s praises and Council members often back aides to replace them, Lander told Gotham Gazette he would not weigh in on the race. “There are many great candidates to be the next Council Member for the 39th District, in the race already and considering it, including many people who I’ve worked closely with over the past decade,” Lander said in a statement. “The voters in our district are going to have some dynamite choices -- and the great thing about democracy is that they will make this decision. I don’t plan to make an endorsement in this race.”

Asked specifically about Hanif, Lander said, “[S]he is an inspiration, to me and many others. The work she has done recently to support Ms. Zahan (a woman in our community who escaped domestic violence and an abusive marriage), Ahsan Ullah and his family, and our participatory budgeting district and youth committees show how lucky we are to have her leading the community organizing work of our Council office. I learn from working with her all the time and I think it’s fantastic that she’s running for public office.”

Hanif credited Lander’s mentorship for inspiring her to run for office. If she won, she would be the first South Asian and first Muslim woman to be elected to the 51-member legislative body. “Brad is a great example of how elected officials can really listen to and work with constituents at the grassroots,” Hanif said in an email, saying she would follow through on Lander’s efforts on participatory budgeting and school integration. Lander has also prioritized police accountability and workers’ rights during his Council tenure, where he helped launch the Council’s Progressive Caucus, which helped land Melissa Mark-Viverito the speaker’s office from 2014 through 2017.

While it’s still somewhat early in the current city election cycle, the all-important Democratic primary is scheduled for June 2021, just over a year-and-a-half away, and many candidates for Lander’s seat and others are making their intentions known, fundraising, and campaigning more broadly.

Other than Rein, none of the other declared District 39 candidates have filed fundraising reports with the city’s Campaign Finance Board. Rein has $23,527 in campaign cash after raising $51,382 and spending $28,855. Besides the UFT, she has also received support from several unions. The American Federation of Teachers, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 891, the Mason Tenders District Council, the New York City Central Labor Council, the Plumbers Local Union, IBEW and RWDSU Local 338 have all donated to her campaign. "This district has a history of great leadership at all levels of government," Rein said in a statement. "I'm running to continue to do that great work, with a focus on innovative ideas and on our community, which is the most important. I know how to get things done in city government, and I plan on bringing that expertise to accomplish great things for my community."

In an email, Krebs had effusive praise for Lander. “I imagine most of us would want Brad's vote of confidence—but while none of us may get his endorsement, we all get the benefit of his years in the district, as we wrestle with how to build upon and expand beyond his work,” he said.

He added, “He may not dive into the campaign for the 39th, but we'll make sure the district lands with passionate, innovative representation. The voters of the 39th wouldn't allow anything less.”

West said in a message, "I generally think it's a good move because I think it's not great when legislators try to become "kingmakers" and dictate the politics and future of the communities they were once legislators in. Especially with ranked choice voting, people should just get a chance to meet all the interested candidates and pick their preferences."

Other rumored candidates for the seat include Doug Schneider, the Democratic District Leader of the 44th Assembly District; and Josh Skaller, the Democratic District Leader in the 52nd Assembly District. State legislators, especially from the Assembly, often also pursue open City Council seats. It is to be seen if either Jo Ann Simon or Robert Carroll, Democrats whose Assembly districts partially overlap with Council District 39, show any interest in the 2021 race. They are both up for reelection to the Assembly in 2020.

One name that would vault the race into headlines is First Lady Chirlane McCray who, with her husband Mayor Bill de Blasio, owns two properties in Park Slope. They continue to cast their votes in the district and McCray said last year that she was considering a run for office. “It could be something in Albany, it could be Brooklyn, local, citywide, I don’t know,” she told the New York Times. “But certainly I would consider it.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - this article has been updated with comments from Brandon West and Briget Rein. 

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Lander Pledges Neutrality in Crowded Brooklyn City Council Race to Succeed Him Thu, 05 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
After Ballot Proposal Spending, Council Member Eyes Expansion of Independent Expenditure Disclosure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8918-city-council-expand-law-requiring-independent-expenditure-disclosures https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8918-city-council-expand-law-requiring-independent-expenditure-disclosures 107 123 c3560 1

One PBA IE on 2019 ballot question 2 (photo via Campaign Finance Board filing)


Just after an election where the issue became especially apparent, a New York City lawmaker is planning to introduce legislation to close a loophole that has allowed independent expenditure committees to shield donors when they spend money to sway voters on ballot proposals. The potential change in city law would bring certain donor disclosure rules in line with state regulations and extend other city regulations to what is already required for political spending on candidates by groups outside the candidate campaign.

The move by Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander comes five years after the city enacted disclosure regulations on independent expenditures for candidates and following two consecutive general elections where city charter revision referenda went before voters.

In the most recent election, just completed, three groups -- each with its own independent expenditure committee registered with the state -- spent over $1 million either in support of or in opposition to ballot proposals. None of those entities had to disclose their contributors to the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), forcing members of the public to navigate a labyrinth of city and state databases in order to get the most complete picture of the influence of large political spenders. Nor did the independent expenditure committees have to follow a city law mandating such groups disclose their top three donors on communications with voters, a regulation in place for promoting or disparaging candidates.

“In 2014, we created a great law to provide disclosure for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and there is already evidence that it is working,” Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette. “This year, the first significant expenditure on behalf of a ballot measure revealed to us the need to expand our disclosure rules, already among the strongest in the nation for candidates, to cover spending for ballot measures as well.”

“I am working on introducing legislation to do just that, to ensure that the same level of transparency applies across the ballot,” he said. Lander was the lead sponsor on the 2014 legislation that created the new independent expenditure transparency requirements. It came just after the city’s raucous 2013 election cycle when IEs played a significant role in the first mayoral race following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, among other local elections where such spenders sought influence.

Lander’s stated plan comes days after the CFB issued a recommendation to the City Council suggesting lawmakers close gaps in the city’s campaign finance laws. Those gaps became more evident as spending around the ballot questions picked up in the days leading up to the general election this fall. Following the CFB recommendation, the Daily News Editorial Board endorsed the idea of closing the loophole.

In a press release issued Thursday, the CFB asked the Council to consider legislation that would amend the campaign finance laws in the City Charter to require independent expenditure committees to disclose their contributors to the CFB via its online portal; and publish “paid-for-by” notices on electioneering materials -- both of which are already required for spending on behalf of candidates under the 2014 law.

The City Charter also requires organizations making contributions of $50,000 or more to independent spenders on behalf of candidates to disclose all donors who gave more than $25,000 in the preceding 12 months.

Under the CFB recommendation, the paid-for-by notices would include a list of the independent spender’s top three donors as well as a weblink to the agency’s online portal, where the public can view detailed information on political spending. The aptly-titled “Follow the Money” portal presently contains details on how much was spent on political campaigns by independent expenditure committees, including what the spending went to and when it was spent, with images and videos of each ad posted or aired.

But that is the extent to which the public can follow the money through the CFB’s relatively user-friendly online resource. To find out who is bankrolling the independent expenditure committees, interested parties must visit the State Board of Elections’ cumbersome financial disclosure webpage where the information is largely decentralized.

“New York City has the country’s strongest disclosure requirements and resources for independent expenditures. Unfortunately, when it comes to ballot proposals, our law has a blind spot,” said CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest in the Thursday press release.

“Bringing the disclosure for ballot proposals in line with the requirements for independent expenditures about candidates will provide voters with important information that will help them cast informed votes, and we urge the Council to take action,” the statement reads.

For the past two general elections, New York City voters have had the opportunity to approve or reject City Charter amendments proposed by successive Charter Revision Commissions. Charter commissions can be empanelled by the mayor or through City Council legislation to examine the city’s central body of laws, take public testimony, and make recommendations for reform.

This year, the Charter Revision Commission was created by the City Council in conjunction with then-Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The commission put five questions on the ballot, together containing 19 distinct amendments, dealing with a range of city election and governance issues.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the nine-day early voting period in late October, and Election Day on November 5, three independent expenditure committees together spent roughly $1.15 million urging voters to cast ballots either for or against one or more of the proposals. All five questions were overwhelmingly approved by voters citywide.

The vast majority of independent spending was around Question 1, which contained an amendment that would bring ranked-choice voting to certain New York City elections. The voting method, which allows voters to list candidates in order of preference rather than making a single all-or-nothing choice, was backed by a coalition of good government reformers and elected officials under an independent expenditure committee called “Committee for Ranked Choice Voting NYC.” The committee spent a total of $986,017 on digital, TV, and direct mail advertising between mid-September and Election Day, according to the CFB portal.

But, while the principals of the committee are required to be reported to the CFB, the committee’s funders are not. According to the Daily News editorial, which analyzed data from the State Board of Elections, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting had received a total of $1,996,948.33, of which 90 percent is from just four large contributors.

Ballot Question 2, which dealt with police oversight, also saw significant spending, but to vote down the proposal. That campaign was waged by the city’s largest police officer union.

While there were independent expenditures made for and against ballot proposals in the 2018 general election, the total independent spending on those campaigns was a much smaller $125,659, according to the CFB portal.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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After Ballot Proposal Spending, Council Member Eyes Expansion of Independent Expenditure Disclosure Tue, 12 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Push Launched to Get Voters to Choose Ranked-Choice Voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8802-push-launched-to-get-voters-to-choose-ranked-choice-voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8802-push-launched-to-get-voters-to-choose-ranked-choice-voting yesone1 commoncause

(photo: @commoncauseny)


A coalition of elected officials, business and labor leaders, and reform groups gathered Thursday in Lower Manhattan to launch a campaign to convince New York City voters to change the way they elect their representatives in city government.

Voters in New York City this fall will have the opportunity to approve ballot referenda on a number of reforms to the City Charter, including a new election system known as “ranked-choice voting.” The new system would allow voters in primary and special elections -- but not general elections -- to rank up to five candidates on the ballot rather than choosing just one, which advocates say will force candidates to reach a larger base, eliminate so-called “spoiler” candidates, ensure winners have a broad mandate, and save the city millions in costly runoff elections.

The coalition, Rank the Vote, which formed to promote the new voting method, held a press conference on the steps of Federal Hall Thursday morning, just over six weeks from this year’s Election Day, which is Tuesday, November 5. Speakers discussed the possibility of overhauling city elections and what they believe is the importance of voting yes on the ranked-choice voting ballot referendum, which will be the first of the five charter revision questions on the ballot.

“Ranked-choice voting is a system that will help voters choose the candidate who has the broadest base of support, because all too frequently what we find is that the winner in these crowded fields is chosen with much less than a 50 percent majority,” said Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York, as she kicked off the press conference. “It’s not as healthy for our democracy as it needs to be.”

Ranked-choice voting is in effect in a few cities like San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Santa Fe, and Maine is projected to use the method in the upcoming presidential elections. Under a ranked-choice voting system, voters choose candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a majority of votes on the first count, the candidate with the least support is eliminated and ballots for them are redistributed to their voters’ second choices. That process is continued until a candidate crosses the threshold need to win the seat.

The proposal before New Yorkers this year allows voters to rank up to five candidates in primary and special elections, and requires the winner to receive more than 50 percent of votes. Democratic primaries in New York City can be especially crowded, with citywide elections prone to possible run-offs between the top two candidates if neither reaches 40 percent initially, and down-ballot races won by candidates with relatively small pluralities.

The referendum is one of 19 placed on the ballot in five yes or no questions by the city’s 2019 Charter Revision Commission. The body -- with representatives appointed by the mayor, City Council, public advocate, city comptroller, and five borough presidents -- was responsible for examining the entire City Charter and putting amendments on the ballot to be voted on by the electorate.

Speaking Thursday morning were players from across the city’s political spectrum, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat, and Kathy Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, which represents the city’s business community. Also speaking were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bertha Lewis of the Black Institute, and Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School.

Assembly Member Ron Kim and Council Member Brad Lander made remarks, as did representatives from New Kings Democrats, Amplify Her, and New York Communities for Change. Labor unions like RWDSU and CWA, and good government groups like Citizens Union and Lerner’s Common Cause NY are also members of the coalition.

Ranked-choice voting, also known as “instant-runoff voting,” would replace the current voting system in city primary and special elections, which for citywide elections requires candidates to win 40 percent of the vote; if no candidate reaches the 40 percent threshold a runoff election is triggered -- a separate election in which only the highest two vote-earning candidates face off again.

“As someone who ran for Citywide office and participated in a runoff election, I know from personal experience that Ranked Choice Voting is necessary for New York,” said Betsy Gotbaum, the former public advocate and currently executive director of Citizens Union, in a statement. “Ranked Choice Voting will foster more positive, issue-focused campaigns, give voters more choice, ensure that elected officials are accountable to a broader spectrum of their constituents and avoid costly, time consuming and unnecessary runoff elections.”

The advocates say ranked-choice voting strengthens the concept of majority rule by ensuring the winner is receives more than 50 percent of the vote and requiring candidates to seek support beyond their base.

Brewer said it is important in a city as diverse as New York for voters to be able to express a range of choices in multifaceted campaigns. “If you’re running city-wide, you don’t just go to ten districts...you got to go to all the districts, you have to talk to everyone, you got to have a conversation,” she said.

“I am tired of people winning with 28 percent of the vote,” said Lewis, likely referencing borough president and City Council races, where there are no runoffs and candidates often win all-important Democratic primaries with low percentages in crowded races.

Supporters also say ranked-choice voting encourages turnout and can help "minority candidates" win. Alice Nascimento spoke for New York Communities for Change, which organizes low- and moderate-income families for political action. “When we talk to them about voting a number of times they say my vote doesn’t matter, there are too many candidates,” she said, referring to the constituents she works with.

The city Campaign Finance Board anticipates an astounding 500 candidates to be running for city office in 2021, when most City Council seats, four of five borough president positions, and two of three citywide positions, including mayor, will be wide open due to term limits. Because many of those races are likely to have several candidates, it’s likely that no candidate will receive more than 40 percent of vote in many races.

“Nobody’s going to know all of those candidates, and we really have to put the burden on candidates to get out beyond their core, base group and get to know what the issues are for the broader constituency,” said Wylde of the Partnership for New York City.

“And business issues aren’t frankly being very well represented these days, and we think this is a shot at getting them better represented in the public dialogue,” she added.

New York has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country and that is likely to be worse in the “off-year” elections of 2019, when only two major races are taking place (a public advocate special election and the Queens district attorney election). This means few New Yorkers are likely to turn out to decide the charter revision proposals.

Asked whether fundamental voting methods should be decided by a small fraction of eligible voters, Council Member Lander acknowledged the scenario was not ideal, but that passing ranked-choice voting by referendum in 2019 is the best option the city has.

“I’m confident this would win in a high turnout election. Charter revision commissions are timed when they are timed, so we have to move forward now,” Lander told Gotham Gazette after the press conference.

“And the charter revision process was very inclusive of a lot of people. Lots of communities, I think, were consulted in it and really had an active voice,” added Cynthia Richie Terrell, executive director of Represent Women.

Questions remain about how the public will be informed about the changes to city elections, should ranked-choice voting be approved this fall. “There’s going to be a learning curve...It’s very difficult. We have to find more creative ways, obviously, to get the information out. Those creative ways also cost money,” Public Advocate Williams told Gotham Gazette.

The city Board of Elections has been criticized for the low level of voter education and public engagement it has undertaken in the past. “Hopefully when people get to Election Day they’ll be given better instructions than they’ve been given in the past about what’s going on. But I think we’ll learn together and with any new system, the more we use it the more people are going to get used to it,” Williams said.

Lerner, speaking on behalf of Rank the Vote, which has a 501(c)4 registered with the Board of Elections for political activity, told Gotham Gazette, “There is confidence in a broad coalition of New Yorkers -- civic organizations, labor unions, engaged citizens -- who are going to take the message out.”

“If the voters adopt this we will absolutely be working with the city, with the board, but we are not going to rely just on the Board of Elections,” she added.

Ranked-choice voting will be part of the first question on the ballot this fall. Voters will be able to weigh-in during the nine-day early voting period from October 26 to November 3, or on Election Day, November 5.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Push Launched to Get Voters to Choose Ranked-Choice Voting Thu, 19 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
State Senator Brian Benjamin Explores Run for City Comptroller https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8790-state-senator-brian-benjamin-explores-run-for-city-comptroller https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8790-state-senator-brian-benjamin-explores-run-for-city-comptroller senator state a

State Senator Brian Benjamin, left, with Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: @NYSenBenjamin)


The 2021 primary for New York City Comptroller may be 21 months away, but there are already three declared Democratic candidates in the race, and another has now indicated he’s exploring a run. State Senator Brian Benjamin, who represents Upper Manhattan, announced on Thursday that he is testing the waters for a potential bid for comptroller and said he would explore over the next year, including a 2020 Senate reelection campaign, to see if his candidacy is viable.

“I believe that the decisions I have made over my life have really set me up to be uniquely qualified to serve in this role,” Benjamin said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, citing his work as an affordable housing developer, an investment advisor, and Harvard Business School graduate.

Should he choose to run, Benjamin would likely face New York City Council Members Brad Lander and Helen Rosenthal and Assemblymember David Weprin, as well as others who may enter the field ahead of the June 2021 primary, which is likely to be decisive in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. Incumbent Comptroller Scott Stringer will be term-limited out of office in 2021 and is running for mayor.

Benjamin, whose district includes Harlem, the Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights, said he will begin to raise funds and drum up support, setting a deadline of November 2020, after he likely earns another two-year legislative term and the presidential election has wrapped up, to make his ultimate decision. “I think a year is enough time to see how it's going,” he said. “Have I raised sufficient resources? Am I getting support of people thinking that I would be a good candidate in that role?”

The comptroller serves as the city’s top fiscal officer, overseeing how city agencies expend resources and auditing their performance, reviewing and approving city contracts, monitoring the city budget, and enforcing the living wage and prevailing wage laws. The comptroller also acts as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds, worth more than $200 billion. That’s a role that Benjamin says he takes very seriously, particularly as the son of two union workers.

“I've actually done this in the private sector before being a senator,” he said of his investment management experience on Wall Street. He said he could use the pension funds to finance the creation of affordable housing and stem the city’s homelessness crisis. And he proposed creating a public bank to provide loans to affordable housing developers. “A public pension fund has to be mindful of the needs of its constituency,” he said.

He also emphasized that his finance background positions him well to oversee city spending. “It's not my decision as the comptroller to determine where the resources go,” he said. “That’s the mayor's job, the City Council's job. I do believe there's a role for someone to be the chief financial officer to say, ‘Okay, wait a second. Let's evaluate the decisions that have been made, and provide some analysis around whether or not it has accomplished the things that you expected to accomplish when you made the investment.’”

“There is a real role for someone to not be the decider, but to be an analyzer, to be an accountability person,” he added.

Benjamin did praise Stringer’s work in the office and said he would build on it. Two entities he said he would focus on closely are the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Department of Education.

Along with the other candidates, Benjamin said he would also participate in the city’s public matching funds program, which matches qualifying small dollar donations at an 8-to-1 or 6-to-1 ratio, depending on which of two programs candidates choose for the 2021 cycle. Benjamin said he would aim for the higher match, which comes with lower contribution limits, and also said he would refuse all contributions from individuals who have business with the city.

“I believe very strongly that anybody running should be able to convince ordinary everyday citizens that they are the right person for the job,” he said. Benjamin has over $280,000 in his state campaign account, though it’s unlikely he’d be able to transfer all of it to a city account.

Lander leads the early race in fundraising by a wide margin and has been the most active in working to secure allies and endorsements. He has about $204,000 in his campaign coffers; Rosenthal has about $67,000; Weprin has just under $50,000 but also owes the Campaign Finance Board nearly $320,000 in public funds repayments from his race for comptroller in 2009. 

Next year, Benjamin will be up for reelection to his Senate seat but he doesn’t believe his eye on the comptroller’s race will distract him from his work. Even if it prompts primary challenges, he welcomes them. “Anyone who believes they will be a better senator than me, they should put themselves forward,” he said. “I'm not one of those people who believe in being fearful of whether someone runs against you or not.”

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

Read more by this writer.

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State Senator Brian Benjamin Explores Run for City Comptroller Thu, 12 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York City is Waist-Deep in a School Desegregation Conversation - How Did We Get Here? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8769-new-york-city-waist-deep-school-desegregation-conversation-how-did-we-get-here-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8769-new-york-city-waist-deep-school-desegregation-conversation-how-did-we-get-here-de-blasio maydbd district15

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Earlier this week, the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) released its second and final set of recommendations to integrate city schools, a significant development in the current chapter of the city’s response to deep racial and economic segregation in its school system, which is the largest in the country and home to 1.1 million students.

This chapter began in 2014, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education and Bill de Blasio’s first year as Mayor, when a report published by the UCLA Civil Rights Project showed that New York’s was one of the least integrated school systems in the country -- the worst state in terms of white-black segregation and among the bottom three for Latino-white segregation. Much of that segregation was due to the facts on the ground in the country’s largest city.

De Blasio and his administration have been forced to acknowledge that dismal reality in the years since, at first looking to largely sidestep the issue, then beginning with modest proposals to improve diversity in schools and ultimately creating the SDAG at the end of 2017. The administration’s focus on school segregation did not happen immediately following the March 2014 UCLA report, released just three months into de Blasio’s tenure as mayor, and not without pressure from grassroots advocates, students, families, and local elected officials at various stages during the last five years.

The SDAG’s two sets of recommendations, some of which are especially controversial, on top of de Blasio’s previous proposal to take aggressive measures to integrate the city’s eight prestigious specialized high schools, have set off something of a firestorm. They set the stage for challenging decisions that de Blasio will soon make about which recommendations to pursue, including, perhaps, a sweeping overhaul of the city’s “gifted and talented” programs and selective admissions to middle schools. Following will likely be years more of debate about how to desegregate city schools while also improving the quality of education hundreds of thousands of students receive.

Before the next chapter begins, how did we get here?

2012-2013
Some would say the recent history of New York City’s school desegregation debate begins, before the 2014 UCLA report, with a districting proposal that illustrated the complex factors the city would later need to address.

In the fall of 2012, the District 15 Community Education Council approved a school district rezoning proposed by the Department of Education (DOE) under Mayor Michael Bloomberg that would shrink the geographic districts of two popular but overcrowded schools in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and open a new school to serve some of the students who would be cut out. At the same time, the DOE was rebuilding a predominantly African-American 300-seat school in neighboring Community School District 13. For a period of time, both the District 13 and District 15 schools were housed in the same building.

“That sounded sensible, except what they were really saying was, ‘We’re gonna build a building with two doors; into one door will go 300 black kids, and to the other door will go 600 mostly white kids,” said Brad Lander, a City Council member representing parts of both school districts, in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

“That was enough for people to wake up in this district and say, ‘That is insane. We will not allow that level of school segregation,’” recalled Lander, who succeeded then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio in the City Council.

After a prolonged battle with the Bloomberg administration, local elected officials, parents, and advocates, the DOE agreed to create a single 900-seat school -- P.S. 133 -- open to students from both districts with a model for inclusive admissions, becoming the first school with enrollment set-asides to increase diversity, according to Lander.

2014-2015
In 2014, six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial segregation in schools unconstitutional, the UCLA Civil Rights Project published its report, with research led by Dr. John Kucsera and Dr. Gary Orfield, which stated New York State had “the most segregated schools in the country,” largely due to inequality in the city’s school system.

The report found roughly 66 percent of black students and 57 percent of Latino students attended schools where less than 10 percent of students were white. Some of the worst segregation was in the Bronx, where not a single school’s student body was more than 10 percent white.

“For New York to have a favorable multiracial future both socially and economically, it is absolutely urgent that its leaders and citizens understand both the values of diversity and the harms of inequality,” the report reads.

When asked about the report and the city’s segregated schools, de Blasio initially and for years mostly had a three-pronged answer: one, that school segregation is the result of hundreds of years of history and broader “structural racism” in society; two, that his education programming was focused on improving all schools and thus helping foster integration and reduce the need for desegregation; and three, that if local communities wanted to pursue solutions to desegregate nearby schools, they had his blessing.

He also noted on multiple occasions that families make major decisions and investments based on schools, and indicated he needed to be cautious about more drastic measures that might alter school zoning, enrollment or admissions policies. And, the mayor repeatedly mentioned that in part because of housing segregation, there are many geographic areas of the city home to residents of limited diversity, making local school integration especially challenging without a choice he was not willing to pursue: the New York City equivalent of busing students to achieve integrated schools.  

“The reason we have segregation in our society is about structural racism, is about 400 years of American history and a lot of things that should have been done differently in American history,” de Blasio said later, in 2018. “It’s about economics first and foremost and the fact that economic opportunity is still not open and consistent across different racial groups and ethnic groups and that’s the first problem. That leads to housing segregation and that in turn leads to a situation where our classrooms are not diverse.”

In November 2014, prompted by the UCLA report and the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown decision, the City Council held its first public hearing on school segregation in decades, and led to the passage in 2015 of three pieces of legislation sponsored by Council Members Inez Barron, Brad Lander, and Ritchie Torres, known as the School Diversity Accountability Act.

The UCLA report and the anniversary year “presented an occasion to renew our city and our country’s commitment to desegregation,” Torres, who represents parts of the Bronx, said in an interview. “The fact is that we have the most segregated school system in the country. We have a school system more segregated than the vestiges of Jim Crow in the South.”

The package required the DOE to report annually on demographic data that could be used to evaluate segregation and diversity, and report on what steps the DOE is taking to address those issues. The City Council cannot mandate the DOE adopt specific policies, so Torres sponsored a resolution in the package calling on DOE to develop a plan to combat school segregation. 

“In some ways that call is what SDAG is now, many years later, answering,” said Lander.

“This is a step further in our efforts to ensure that our schools are as diverse as our city and people of all communities live, learn, work together,” de Blasio said in June 2015 when signing the legislative package.

In 2014 and 2015, grassroots advocates, parents, and educators in Community School Districts 1, 3, 13, and 15 became more active organizing around school-by-school, as well as district-level, integration plans. Some of the most vocal desegregation activists, like those in IntegrateNYC, a student-led advocacy group, formed during this period.

They “saw a historic opportunity to renew the campaign to desegregate our school system. It was driven not primarily by elected officials but by grassroots activists, especially students,” Torres recalled.

Activism, panel discussions, and other conversation around school desegregation continued.

In 2015, the DOE took its first steps toward establishing the Diversity in Admissions pilot program, a school-by-school approach modeled on the types of inclusive admissions policies P.S. 133 was employing. The city designated seven schools to participate in the program that year, according to Lander, “and since we have 1,700, that was pretty modest...It was the first official step of them doing anything [but] it was not yet a serious effort to confront segregation across the school system.”

“We were able to create admissions policies that promote diversity and respect the needs of the community. I’m hopeful that these changes will help serve as a model for schools across the City,” said then-Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in a press release, without explicitly mentioning the issue of segregation.

When Gotham Gazette asked the mayor in November 2015 why he wasn’t taking more aggressive measures to integrate city schools, de Blasio’s response made waves. “You have to also respect families who have made a decision to live in a certain area oftentimes because of a specific school,” de Blasio said.

By this point, the advocacy around the issue was well underway and gaining steam, and the DOE was submitting its first reports required under the School Diversity Accountability Act.

2016
In 2016, much of the public attention and advocacy was focused on district-level plans, where changes could be made on a small scale and tested, especially in areas that resemble a microcosm of the city’s school demographics.

Questions still hovered around whether de Blasio, who ran for mayor on a progressive platform focused on equity -- including bridging racial, educational, and socioeconomic gaps -- would make the issue a priority. (School segregation was not a high-profile issue during the 2013 election, and his campaign did not address it other than de Blasio calling for greater diversity at the city’s eight specialized high schools.)

A “controlled choice” admissions policy -- in which parent/student school choices are balanced with goals of socioeconomic integration -- was proposed in District 1 in the Lower East Side. (In October 2017, District 1 became the first district to push for and win a district-wide model for school integration.)

Asked about pursuing greater desegregation measures and specifically a broader controlled-choice admissions policy during a June 2016 appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio demurred.

“We believe there is a lot more to be done in terms of fully integrating our schools, but I do want to say, right now we are seeing some real success with models that are being used right now in our school system that are starting to be very, very effective in terms of bringing in a better mix of kids into some of our schools. I think the pre-K program has also been an example of an initiative that has had a really good impact in terms of diversity. So, we’re looking at a lot of options. I’m committed to it.”

Pushed a bit further, de Blasio said, “There’s different models that we have some real hope in. But let’s be clear...this is also the result of decades, in fact hundreds of years, of segregation in our nation. And a lot of that goes back to economics and housing. Our affordable housing plan, also, we believe, creates more diversity in neighborhoods, and that’s really, obviously, the root of the situation. If we can create more diversity through housing and development, that is another way to get at the schools issue.”

In September 2016, de Blasio was asked by a reporter about pushing more desegregation measures, and said, in part: “[W]e’ve already foreshadowed we’re going to have a bigger vision that we’ll put forward about how we can do diversification work for our schools – something we believe in. But we also want to be clear about the limits of it, and I’m going to be very explicit about this as we present that vision. The problem is not an education problem, the problem is an American history problem. It’s the problem of structural racism. It’s a problem of housing segregation.”

He continued: “Let’s not ask the schools to address all those problems simultaneously – that’s not viable. But there’s ways that we can do better through our schools. And, I certainly think if you talk to parents about pre-K and what it’s done for their kids, it’s been a success. So, we have to – the first mission is always to make the education system work for the kids to achieve onto itself equity and excellence. And it’s crucial distinction – if we want a more just city and a more just nation, then let’s get our school system to live up to a notion of equity and excellence. Separately, we have to do a lot in our society writ large to create more diversity and more opportunity across the board.”

2017-2018
One indication from de Blasio that he would pursue a broader integration plan came with the launch of Equity and Excellence for All in June 2017, which led to the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) that would explore solutions for city-wide desegregation, according to Council Member Lander.

The vision’s main focus, however, was expanding course options and resources in underserved (and heavily segregated) schools and districts. The program included initiatives like “Algebra for All” and “AP for All” and other planks of a platform de Blasio said would help improve learning opportunities for students wherever they may attend a city school.

The framework also provided for the DOE to support school districts in developing diversity plans to achieve greater integration, without ever making explicit mention of segregation, according to Lander. 

All the while, de Blasio maintained that through his universal pre-Kindergarten initiative, Renewal School turnaround program, and Equity and Excellence initiatives, he was ensuring there would be “no bad schools,” which would make racial segregation less of a concern and improve the chances of integrated schools.

During a June 2017 appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, de Blasio defended himself against the notion that he was not being bold enough on school desegregation. He said, in part, “Here’s what troubles me when people put the question of diversification ahead of the question of immediate efforts, toward better schools and more equal schools. We’ve got kids right now -- a generation of children right now who need our help. By doing things like Pre-K for All, Advanced Placement courses in all high schools, including ones that never had any – getting kids on grade-level reading by third grade. These are things that got ignored for many, many years...And so, bluntly, inequality grew and grew and grew. I have the tools right now to start addressing this, with the geographical realities and demographic realities we face. That is how we address equity right now while building towards a more diverse and integrated society. But, we’ve got to help kids now.”

In Fall 2018, District 15 in Park Slope, where Lander, Council Member Carlos Menchaca, and Parents for Middle School Equity had been working to change screening policy in middle school admissions, became one of the first districts to be approved and receive funding for integration planning.

“We eliminated screening in the District 15 middle schools. In some ways that is the proposal SDAG is making, to take that to a broader level,” Lander told Gotham Gazette, referring to the recommendations released this week that call for sweeping changes to admissions processes and investments in new enrichment programming.

The SDAG, a group of civil rights activists, students, parents, educators, and other experts appointed by the mayor as he sought reelection, held its first meeting on December 11, 2017. The same month, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced she was stepping down from the post.

At the December 22, 2017 press conference announcing Fariña’s retirement, Gotham Gazette asked her if she regretted not taking on school desegregation more aggressively.

“No,” she said, “I think we’ve done some really good work. There’s always more than can be done on any initiative, but I’m going back to what I said before – you could mandate some things, but having a lot more conversations with people, which is what we’ve been doing...And I think convincing people to come to the table to want to do the right thing for the right reasons is a lot more important, and I think that’s what we’ve been doing.”

She continued; “I certainly feel that our new diversity committee that we just put in place – they just met, I think, last week – has gotten some great suggestions because this is not just us coming with ideas, but what does the community think?”

After a few other thoughts, she concluded: “So you can always do things better. I agree with the Mayor that in our Equity and Excellence the next chancellor should be thinking about going deeper and deeper, but I think we’re on the right path.”

2018
In March 2018, Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho very publicly announced he would not become the new Schools Chancellor a day after accepting the job. That week Mayor de Blasio hired Richard Carranza, a superintendent in Houston and San Francisco schools, to be the next schools chancellor.

“The equity agenda championed by our mayor is my equity agenda,” Carranza said at the City Hall press conference announcing he would be taking the position. Within a month, Carranza was discussing school desegregation explicitly, breaking from de Blasio’s and Fariña’s practice of avoiding the term in favor of the far less defined and loaded concept of “diversity.”

“Without that [shift] we would not be anywhere close to where we are. He has been much more enthusiastic about this issue than the mayor,” Lander said, responding to a recent New York Times article that describes Carranza in his second year as trying to “reset expectations” about the prospect of integration.

In June 2018, two months after Carranza started, he and the mayor announced a proposal to improve diversity at the city’s selective specialized high schools, where enrollment of black and Hispanic students has declined precipitously in the last four decades. The plan included scrapping over three years the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which is seen as a critical factor in the predominant enrollment of white and Asian students.

The fate of the SHSAT for the three most prestigious of the eight specialized schools is controlled by the state, not the city, and many saw it as a way for de Blasio to take up the issue of school segregation without implicating his administration’s own responsibility in addressing it. That plan faced severe backlash from many parents and students who were eager to keep the rules the same, and was criticized for not having enough community input. It did not advance in Albany in 2018.

2019
A year later, the SHSAT is still the single admissions test for enrollment in eight of the city’s nine specialized high schools (the ninth is a performing arts school). In March, it was reported that only 7 out of 895 seats in Stuyvesant High School’s next freshman class would go to black students. Later that month, as he was considering a presidential run on a progressive platform, de Blasio used the word “segregation” to describe New York’s school system for the first time, according to Chalkbeat.

Discussing specialized high schools during an appearance on WNYC radio, de Blasio told host Brian Lehrer, “We’re saying we’re not going to live by this old system that has perpetuated massive segregation, not just segregation – massive segregation.”

Meanwhile, in February, the School Diversity Advisory Group released its first of two sets of recommendations for the city to improve school integration. The recommendations include adding metrics on diversity and integration to mandated reporting, creating a “General Assembly” of high school reps to assist in crafting a citywide agenda, and monitoring discrepancies in school discipline. Other suggestions dealt with improving culturally-relevant education and engaging communities through local partnerships.

“Although we applaud SDAG’s reference to more ambitious short, medium and long term integration goals by requiring district, borough and then city-wide integration plans, these will only be effective if the City develops powerful metrics for defining integration,” wrote the Alliance for School Integration and Desegregation, a coalition of recently-formed and longstanding civil rights groups, in a statement following the report.

Asked about taking on segregated schools during a February 26 press conference on the “record high” number of city students taking Advanced Placement course, de Blasio said, “[T]here is a much bigger discussion that we will have in this city and we’ve put forward some pieces of it, and there is a lot more to come, on how to make sure our children learn with each other and how to have the most diverse classrooms that we can have. But that should not be mistaken for the primary way or the only way to ensure that kids get a great education. We have kids in every kind of community who are ready to achieve their potential. They need investment. They need high quality teachers. They need the best possible principals. This is the path forward, first and foremost, that’s what Equity and Excellences is all about.”

In June, de Blasio announced the city would be adopting 62 of the initial 67 recommendations. At the time, the report was criticized for not dealing with gifted and talented programs for elementary school children and selective admissions screenings for higher grades, which are seen as among the greatest barriers to integration.

“I wish the focus could largely be kept on reforming admissions. For me enrollment policy is, beyond housing, the root cause of a heavily segregated school system,” Council Member Torres told Gotham Gazette, saying the administration’s preoccupation with specialized high schools diverts attention and political capital from more fundamental issues. 

On Tuesday, SDAG released its second and final report, which among other things recommended the city eliminate its gifted and talented elementary school programs and admissions screenings for middle schools, while adding new enrichment programs to all schools that need them to serve all learners. The new recommendations fell short of proposing admissions policy for high schools be changed, even as they called for other selective admissions practices to be reformed, instead suggesting study down the line after other changes are adopted.

Now it is up to Carranza, and ultimately the mayor, to act on the group’s recommendations. At a press conference Tuesday, Carranza indicated he was eager to review the report, and de Blasio also said he would review it but made no commitment to acting on the recommendations. 

SDAG has left the ball in the mayor’s court.

“We have decided not to be very prescriptive in terms of the recommendations, in part in recognition that New York City is so large, districts differ greatly in terms of their demographics and their needs,” said Amy Hsin, a sociologist at Queens College and a member of the SDAG executive committee, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. 

“So we feel that the DOE needs to work with communities to co-develop an integration plan where communities are stakeholders,” she added. “That’s what we are trying to push the city to do in our reports.”

How de Blasio responds will pose a major test in the final years of his mayoralty, and may significantly shape public discourse during the upcoming race to replace him.

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

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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New York City is Waist-Deep in a School Desegregation Conversation - How Did We Get Here? Mon, 02 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
School Diversity Group’s Second Set of Recommendations Expected Soon; Will Take on Admissions Policies https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8726-diversity-group-s-second-set-of-recommendations-expected-soon-will-take-on-school-admissions https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8726-diversity-group-s-second-set-of-recommendations-expected-soon-will-take-on-school-admissions district 15 div plan announce

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Following the city’s adoption of 62 recommendations targeting diversity and desegregation in public schools, a new report expected this month from the same advisory group will aim to tackle the tough topics of screened admissions and gifted and talented programs.

The two reports come from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, which Mayor Bill de Blasio formed in 2017 amid increasing demands that he take significant steps toward desegregating the city’s highly racially-segregated schools. The group released its first report with 67 recommendations in February, and the city accepted 62 of them in June, including adding diversity targets in middle school admissions, encouraging more districts to come up with diversity plans, and adding diversity metrics to an annual report, among other potential changes. The first set of recommendations largely dealt with elementary and middle schools at the district-level, with more specific admissions proposals coming in the second wave.

Members of the advisory group said in June that the second report was expected in just a few weeks, but have since said the report should be public by the end of August.

While some said the adopted recommendations are a positive step after years of the mayor and the DOE balking at the issue of school segregation, critics noted that as it stands the plan lacks timelines for implementation and more aggressive citywide solutions, including taking on high school admissions. The city did not accept recommendations to create a Chief Integration Officer or to consider moving the supervision of School Resource Officers from the NYPD to the Department of Education.

The first recommendations focused on pushing individual school districts to develop their own diversity plans -- de Blasio has expressed support for the few districts that have taken this on in the past and said he believes integration should be pursued by local communities not pushed by the administration. The city also adopted a framework created by the student-led advocacy group Integrate NYC called the five R’s (race and enrollment, resource equity, relationships across group identities, representation of staff, and restorative justice), which will be a foundation for creating school integration policy.

“Our schools are stronger when they reflect the diversity of our city, and we’ve taken real steps to integrate our schools, including adopting the student-developed ‘5 R’s’ framework for real integration,” DOE spokesperson Will Mantell said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We thank the students, educators, and families who have made their voices heard, and we’ll continue to act.”

Matt Gonzales, a member of the School Diversity Advisory Group and school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed, said the second report will lay out ways the city can change admissions policies as well as more detail on goals and timelines for implementation. He said the group wants to see some of their recommendations in the second report start to be put into effect in the fall.

Gonzales said he could not detail the specifics of the report, but that the group focused on areas where enrollment policies create “concentrations of privilege and vulnerability.” He added that the SDAG found that gifted and talented and screened admissions are tools that enable segregation.

The group’s intention, Gonzales said, was to originally write only one report, but the members later decided that the first report would lay out the framework for the conversation around desegregation. The next report will be more specific.

“The second report is really about following through on trying to address some of the primary mechanisms that facilitate segregation,” Gonzales said. “We could write a hundred reports, probably, on what needs to be done. There will be more to say and do after this report comes out.”

The SDAG overall aims to reshape citywide policies to desegregate public schools, which a UCLA report in 2014 said are the most segregated in the nation. Though some progress has begun, the gifted programs are a stark example of the segregated school system and remain a point of tension as the city wrestles with when and how to pursue racial and economic integration.

The city’s school system is nearly 70 percent black and Hispanic with white and Asian students making up around 15 percent each. But black and Hispanic students make up only around 27 percent of students in gifted and talented programs, according to Chalkbeat.

Students in kindergarten through third grade can take an exam to get into the gifted programs at the five gifted and talented schools that take students citywide or individual district programs.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said he expects the second report to be stronger than the first, but added that the real question is whether it will have any impact or if it is part of de Blasio’s strategy to appear concerned about segregation “without really doing anything.”

“Simply calling for the change does little to meet the change,” Bloomfield said. “This go-slow approach seems to be ineffective in making the school system more equitable.”

Bloomfield said the new report could go deeper into the “hundreds” of schools that use academic screens — test scores, grades, interviews, admissions visits, or geographic location — to admit students. About 25 percent of middle schools and 33 percent of high schools use screened admission processes, and the eight specialized high schools only admit students based on their SHSAT scores.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has been critical of the use of academic screens, and the mayor this year unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate the SHSAT via state legislation. Though, Bloomfield said de Blasio could do more by focusing on the ways he could make the system more equitable without having to change state law: eliminating academic screens or changing the selection mechanism. Some have also called on de Blasio to create new specialized high schools, which the city has the power to do, while it could also change the admissions criteria at five of the existing eight schools (the other three are indeed governed by state law).

On the Max & Murphy podcast, City Council Member Brad Lander -- a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city, including in his own district, which has its own school desegregation plan already showing progress -- said the city has not made “any meaningful progress” for integration at the high school level yet.

Lander said the city could move to a process that requires integration in high schools where students travel to schools across the city, relieving the burden of residential segregation.

“High schools are a big opportunity,” Lander said. “Most of the focus has been on the specialized high schools, but we have about 400 high schools. And other than those eight, the city sets admission guidelines.”

Lander said that the first set of recommendations were a good development and he is optimistic for more progress, but that integration efforts are just getting started.

“We’ve got a long, long, long way to go,” Lander said. “We’re finally starting.”

***
by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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School Diversity Group’s Second Set of Recommendations Expected Soon; Will Take on Admissions Policies Wed, 07 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Planning for the City's Future & Desegregating Its Schools, with Council Member Brad Lander https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8710-max-murphy-podcast-planning-for-the-city-s-future-lander https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8710-max-murphy-podcast-planning-for-the-city-s-future-lander brad lander local100 wbai 600

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


July 31, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Planning for the City's Future

cm brad landerCity Council Member Brad Lander joined the show to discuss his efforts to institute better long-term city planning, to desegregate city schools, and to punish reckless drivers. He also weighed in on the presidential race and the candidacy of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was Lander's predecessor in District 39's City Council seat.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Planning for the City's Future & Desegregating Its Schools, with Council Member Brad Lander Wed, 31 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Leaving the REBNY vs NIMBY Doom Loop https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8708-leaving-the-rebny-vs-nimby-doom-loop https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8708-leaving-the-rebny-vs-nimby-doom-loop city planning manhattan brooklyn waterfront

(photo: NYC Planning)


This past week, amidst flooded streets, blackouts, overheated jails, and subway failures, New Yorkers saw the consequences that result from a failure to engage in strategic long-term planning for the future of our city. In the final decisions of the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, we also missed a big chance to do something about it.

The dangers of failing to invest strategically in the infrastructure that sustains our city will grow in coming decades, as temperatures and sea levels rise. Meanwhile, even as our infrastructure strains, the city’s population continues to grow. So our housing affordability crisis is on track to get worse – exacerbating displacement, inequality, and the unfair imposition of our city’s burdens on low-income communities of color.

It’s clear that we need a better way to make infrastructure and land-use decisions that take climate change, affordability, and the challenges of growth seriously. Our piece-meal planning system is not up to the task. 

Currently, the process of developing a capital plan to invest in our infrastructure constitutes just making a big list – a list that is in no way informed by plans for rezoning or development. How can we plan which neighborhoods should get resilient infrastructure like levees and seawalls when land-use and growth decisions are happening elsewhere? Shouldn’t we include capital budgeting for infrastructure like transit and schools as part of the process of planning for the new residential growth that will require it?

Meanwhile, New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) is a reactive, project-by-project process for considering changes – bereft of strategic vision, shared values, or a connection to long-term infrastructure planning.

Codified in 1975 when the city’s challenge was abandonment rather than growth, ULURP has become reduced to a shrill, tug-of-war between the pro-growth forces of the Real Estate Board of New York (who profit on each development, and therefore rarely worry about which ones make long-term sense for the public good) and neighborhood activists whose Not In My Back Yard advocacy (rooted in a variety of motivations) leaves no way to figure out where and how the growth we need to address the scale of the housing crisis should take place.

The process ensures that decisions are driven by the interest group with the most powerful political connections, creating a planning rationale that reflects and reinforces systemic inequities.

If we are going to plan for the future that’s coming, like it or not, we need a way out of the REBNY vs. NIMBY doom loop. 

The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission -- which last week issued its final decisions on ballot proposals to go before voters this November -- had the chance to plot a better course forward. The Charter Revision Commission heard more complaints about New York City’s land use process than any other topic. Commission members and staff acknowledged “a level of public disillusionment” and that “the somewhat scattered approach the Charter currently takes to its various planning requirements exacerbates this disillusionment and confusion.”

But, even with all the signs pointing to the need for better long-term planning, they failed to propose any meaningful changes. When we vote in November on charter changes, addressing our disparate and dysfunctional planning processes won’t be on the ballot, though 19 other proposals will be.

When the commission began its work last fall, we proposed a real step forward. Together with the Thriving Communities Coalition of community-based groups, affordable housing, environmental, and planning advocates, we asked the commissioners to require New York City to undertake a comprehensive planning process, in which we would work together to set a broader citywide framework for land use and infrastructure decisions.

The process would begin with data-driven, citywide analyses of our challenges. We would then have a public conversation about the values that should shape decisions -- values like fairness across communities, making sure people can stay in their homes, mitigating climate change, investing in resilient infrastructure, new modes of transit, and closing the Rikers Island jails. We could do it every ten years as they do in so many other cities, or every four years to coincide with our mayoral election cycles. 

Together, we would set a citywide framework for the tough job of balancing citywide needs and neighborhood preferences. Communities would get a real voice, but not a veto. The City Council would vote on this broader framework. After that, zoning actions, development proposals, and infrastructure investments aligned with the comprehensive plan would move more smoothly. Those that conflict with the plan would not (or, at least, would have to clear extra hurdles). 

We would plan for increased transit capacity alongside increased housing density, budget for new parks equitably across the city, and take a holistic look at where we need to take further action to plan for rising sea levels and more 100-degree days. Communities could be able to have confidence that promises made to them – for new parks, schools, libraries, or transit – would actually be kept.

Comprehensive planning is not a panacea, but evidence from other cities suggests that it is an essential component of fair and rational progress. As part of their process last year, our friends in the Minneapolis City Council voted to get rid of single-family zoning across the city, and upzone their transit corridors citywide to address their housing shortage (at the same time, they voted to strengthen tenant protections to protect renters from displacement as growth occurs).

Let’s be honest: there is no way Minneapolis would have done this with a process like ULURP, which goes one neighborhood or project at a time. What neighborhood would have agreed to be the first one to give up the privilege of single-family zoning? Not one.

By comparison, of the ten neighborhood rezoning processes initiated during the de Blasio administration, nine have been in low-income communities of color. This would not have happened if we had developed a comprehensive plan, with fairness across communities as one of its principles. 

The Charter Revision Commission failed to get the job done. But the heat wave and its impacts reminded us that, in the longer term, we really don’t have a choice. So in the coming months, we’ll be working in the City Council to do what we can through legislation. And in the coming years, we’ll try to make sure that the 2021 city elections focus on issues that matter the most, even if they don’t always make the daily news cycle. 

Comprehensive planning may not top the polls. But if we are going to meet the collective challenges of rising temperatures and sea levels, growing population, aging infrastructure, keeping people in their homes, and addressing deeply-rooted inequality, we’re going to have to start doing it.

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City Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso represent parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @BradLander & @CMReynoso34.

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

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Leaving the REBNY vs NIMBY Doom Loop Tue, 30 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Officials Debate What To Do About Taxi Medallion Debt Crisis https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8695-city-officials-debate-what-to-do-about-taxi-medallion-debt-crisis https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8695-city-officials-debate-what-to-do-about-taxi-medallion-debt-crisis taxi medallion drivers rally city hall

Council Members Levine & Rivera & drivers rally at City Hall (photo: Jeff Reed)


City Council Speaker Corey Johnson asked what sounded like a simple question: should the Taxi & Limousine Commission apologize for its role in the taxi medallion debt crisis, in which thousands of taxi owner-drivers have been trapped in predatory loans unchecked by city and state watchdogs?

Jeffrey Roth, nominated by Mayor Bill de Blasio to lead the TLC, failed to give a direct “yes” or “no.” Johnson asked again, to which Roth said, “whether or not the TLC leadership there should apologize, I don’t know.” Visibly frustrated, Johnson moved on to a new question.

The exchange took place at a July 18 hearing to discuss Roth’s nomination for TLC Commissioner – a nomination that has since been temporarily withdrawn in part due to Roth’s performance at the hearing.

Roth’s evasiveness on the apology questions and others, and Johnson’s resulting exasperation highlighted a growing debate over the culpability of city government in facilitating the medallion crisis. As a New York Times two-part investigation published in May revealed, the TLC ignored warning signs of a highly inflated medallion market (the city sells taxi medallions and sets baseline prices for auction) and risky lending practices, leaving many medallion owner stranded in colossal debt when the market collapsed. A wave of suicides among driver-owners, along with the Times' series, has elevated the discussion to emergency status.

But, as policymakers, drivers, and others have been asking, should the city itself be responsible for forgiving the debt? What is the best path for helping driver-owners get out from under their loans?

For the Taxi Workers Alliance, the most prominent organization representing for-hire vehicle drivers, the answer is a resounding yes: New York City government should prepare a bailout. But Mayor de Blasio has repeatedly said a bailout would be both out of the city's purview and too costly to the city's budget. On the other hand, several City Council Members, including Speaker Johnson, have expressed some initial support for the idea of a partial bailout of driver-owners.

Bhairavi Desai, the head of the union since its inception in 1998, has called for a city-run program to determine the current market value of medallions, then buying out and forgiving loans down to that value. At the height of the market in 2014, medallions were going for more than $1 million, compared to a $200,000 price tag a decade earlier.

The TWA has calculated that, based on a current medallion market value of $150,000 and an average owner-driver debt of $600,000, the program would cost between $1.6 and $2.4 billion – an increase from the $1 billion the TWA estimates that the city made from inflated prices at medallion auctions.

City Council Member Mark Levine, who represents Upper Manhattan and has long been one of the TWA’s strongest allies in government, claimed at a July 11 rally outside City Hall that a clear precedent for a city-run bailout exists.

“During the housing mortgage bubble, an entity here called the Center for New York City Neighborhoods did exactly that for New Yorkers with underwater housing mortgages,” he said alongside Desai and dozens of assembled owner-drivers. “The fact is, there is a myriad of precedents for this here in New York City, and it’s simply inexcusable to say this isn’t possible when we have done projects like this in the past.”

Levine is not alone in his support for the TWA’s proposal. Council Member Carlina Rivera of Lower Manhattan appeared at the same rally to call for loan forgiveness; City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Council Member Ritchie Torres, among others, have also expressed some measure of support for city-financed debt relief. Because bailout legislation has yet to be introduced to the City Council, it is difficult to gauge how broad the proposal’s support is.

Desai and the TWA have also called for a cap on medallion mortgage payments at $900 per month (compared to an average of $3,000 a month currently) and the creation of a retirement fund for drivers, among other things. But with chants of “Loan forgiveness now!” and pre-printed signs calling for “Debt Forgiveness NOW!” at the July 11 rally, owner-drivers have made their first priority clear.

On the other hand, de Blasio, as well as officials in the TLC, have expressed skepticism about, even dismissal of such an idea. Their preferred plan of action is for the city to instead pressure the private banking lenders to downsize loans, without the city itself directly buying or bailing out anything.

De Blasio, in a June interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, said that he would “absolutely pressure banks and lenders to be fair to these drivers, we’ll do that.” But he rejected the possibility of a city bailout, saying the city “doesn’t directly fund the drivers…There’s some things the City of New York simply has limits on.” He has indicated on multiple occasions that the city simply doesn’t have the billions of dollars that would be needed for a bailout, that it would be too costly of a one-time expense.

Meera Joshi, formerly the commissioner of the TLC, listed in an email to Gotham Gazette several proposals to address the crisis, all of which involve the city leaning on banks to modify loans so that they match drivers’ income. “State and city officials should publicly name those that refuse to work with borrowers,” she suggested, “much like the 100 worst landlords list. Publicity about their inflexibility will go a long way in making a change, and will achieve change quickly.”

Two other possibilities Joshi mentioned involve conditioning medallion ownership on viable financing, thus causing “banks that do not modify loans within a prescribed period [to] lose the medallion as an asset,” and “chang[ing] state tax law to ensure that forgiven loans are not considered taxable income for individuals below a certain income level.”

When asked directly about the possibility of direct loan forgiveness by the city, Joshi stated that she supports “all real assistance, but prioritizes what can realistically happen, affects the largest group, and most of all happens quickly, which is pressuring banks to restructure loans.”

Current Acting TLC Commissioner Bill Heinzen, during a June 24 City Council oversight hearing on the crisis, expanded on this assessment, saying that “the people who have the power and money here are the banks and the credit unions that hold those loans, and they should be the ones who should be forced to write down those loans to something that is human and possible to pay.”

And Roth, responding to pointed questioning from Johnson, said that he thinks “there are measures short of financial bailout...that might be sufficient and not excessive.”

Writing in a City & State op-ed column the day after the July 11 rally, Nicole Gelinas argued that the roughly $2 billion required for a bailout of many owner-drivers would make a significant, arguably unfair dent in the city’s budget. “The city must follow only public need,” she wrote, “not the extraordinary circumstances of one industry.” Others, including Roth, have pointed out that a city-financed bailout might inadvertently reward lenders for their predatory behavior.

While she echoed some of the other ideas that have been offered for alleviating the crisis, another of Gelinas’ proposed fixes involves city- and state-level regulation, without either funding a bailout. “The city,” she wrote, “should make it much clearer whether it is giving up on the medallion system or not, guiding both lenders and borrowers on underlying value, and allowing lenders to keep an interest in the future, possibly higher value of a medallion in exchange for debt relief.”

For their part, the TWA and its Council allies have also called on the city to lean on lenders to forgive debt and ease burdens on owner-drivers. Levine noted that, if the city can successfully push lenders to downsize loans, then the pricetag the city pays for a bailout decreases and becomes more politically feasible.

But some who support a city forgiveness program worry that the focus on outside forces like credit unions makes concrete solutions harder. Council Member Brad Lander, at the June 24 oversight hearing, said he worries “that if we only focus on accountability, we will fail to come up with a real approach to relief...We must find a way to do both.”

A spokesperson for the City Council said in a brief Thursday statement to Gotham Gazette that “Speaker Johnson and the council are committed to helping drivers, and the newly appointed task force is exploring a variety of ways to help including various forms of a bailout.”

Appearing on Thursday evening’s Inside City Hall on NY1, Johnson was asked by host Errol Louis about what he thinks should be done for the medallion owners. “I think the mayor is right in one aspect,” Johnson said after disagreeing with the mayor’s claim that if a cap on new for-hire vehicle licenses had been instituted in 2015 much would have been different, while also reiterating his regret for not supporting the cap back then, “which is $17 billion for a full bailout is not realistic, and it would be inappropriate and disingenuous for me to say that’s what we can do. But there has been a proposal -- Council Members Levin and Levine and Lander have been talking about doing a partial bailout for some of the medallion owners who are under water, maybe at $100,000 or $200,000, to get them out of debt in a way where they’re not as under water. It’s something we need to look at.”

Underlying the debate over debt forgiveness is a deeper question over who, exactly, bears the blame for the crisis to begin with. Mayor de Blasio has called the crisis a “private market reality,” and the TLC released an investigation it conducted laying the responsibility on lenders and the National Credit Union Association while insisting that “TLC and the City have no regulatory oversight or control over lending practices.”

Additionally, Roth, Heinzen, and Joshi – the prospective, current, and former TLC commissioners, respectively – all pointed to the specific ways in which the TLC worked to mitigate the crisis, including loosening restrictions and reducing taxes on drivers. The cap on vehicle hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft has also been highlighted as a measure that the city took to help owner-drivers (de Blasio has repeatedly said he wishes the City Council had gone along with his 2015 push for a FHV cap, rather than stalling for several more years until its passage in 2018). 

For many, however, these measures were too little and too late. Though the city was not directly responsible for reckless lending practices that may have helped thrust owner-drivers into severe debt, Levine and others claim it still has a “moral debt” to pay for its lack of oversight. Levine charged that “the city itself was asleep as thousands of drivers entered into a world of financial hell.” 

Council Member Torres, who co-chaired the oversight hearing with Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, said that the TLC “is inclined to scapegoat everyone except itself.”

The TLC, as many debt-relief proponents have pointed out, was not just a regulator asleep at the wheel. Faced with a $3.8 billion budget deficit early in his administration, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his TLC commissioner, Matthew Daus, advertised the medallion market as a stable, “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity in order to increase city revenue. In 2011, Andrew Murstein, the former president of a prominent medallion lender, called the city his “partner,” because “they want to see prices go as high as possible.”

Debt relief, either from the city or from lenders, is not the only measure being discussed to address the medallion crisis. At the June 24 oversight hearing, four bills were proposed that would increase accountability at the TLC, with the goal of preventing future crises.

Additionally, Council Member Rodriguez, who chairs the Transportation Committee, has proposed a bill that would exempt taxi drivers from congestion pricing. The TWA held a rally on July 18 demanding that the cap on for-hire vehicles be extended, which would continue to restrain competition to the taxi industry. And, as Roth mentioned in the July 18 committee hearing, the TLC plans to set up a driver assistance unit to provide drivers with financial and mental health services.

But, as these legislative proposals’ backers have attested to, such fixes are not enough to help those already in massive debt. Regardless of who bears the blame for the crisis and who needs to pay for it, thousands of drivers remain in dire straits. “This may have taken years in the making; it cannot take years more in the fixing,” said Desai at the July 11 rally.

“Otherwise," she said, "thousands of families are going to simply break.”

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by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Officials Debate What To Do About Taxi Medallion Debt Crisis Thu, 25 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000