Gotham Gazette Tue, 23 Jul 2019 20:20:22 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers Quinn Mark-Viverito

Christine Quinn, center, & Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: City Council on flickr)

The September primary election is just over one week away and if New York City Public Advocate Letitia James wins the Democratic nomination for attorney general over her three primary opponents, she will be a significant favorite to win the position in November owing in large part to the state’s Democrat-heavy electorate. No Republican has won statewide since Governor George Pataki captured a third term in 2002; it’s been far longer for a Republican attorney general.

James winning the nomination will likely kick-off, in earnest, a mad scramble by several sitting and former elected officials who may seek to replace her through the at-that-point nearly certain special election for her citywide seat. Among the stronger potential contenders discussed in Democratic circles are two former speakers of the New York City Council -- Melissa Mark-Viverito, who led the body until last year, and Christine Quinn, her predecessor.

[Read: James Victory in Attorney General Race Would Trigger Citywide Special Election]

While they come from different wings of the New York Democratic Party, both Mark-Viverito and Quinn are firebrand politicians in their own right, and both made history in their respective ascensions to the speakership.

Quinn, a Democrat who represented parts of the lower west side of Manhattan, became the first openly gay and first female speaker in 2006, presiding over the 51-member legislative body for two four-year terms. For the last three years, since being term-limited out of office and losing in the 2013 mayoral primary, she has served as president and CEO of Women in Need (WIN), a nonprofit that provides services to homeless women and children. Some Democrats and others have criticized Quinn for her close working relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, including the effort to extend term limits, which allowed Bloomberg, Quinn, and others to seek a third term in 2009 despite public disapproval. She is currently a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who appointed her vice chair of the New York State Democratic Committee.

Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican native who represented a district that includes East Harlem and part of the south Bronx, became the Council’s first Latina speaker in 2014, pushing a broad agenda of criminal justice reform, immigrant protection, police accountability and affordable housing. In January, she became a senior adviser at the Latino Victory Fund PAC, a group that supports Latino candidates for elected office. As speaker, Mark-Viverito was at times criticized for her close relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow progressive Democrat, and she has been an outspoken critic of the governor, endorsing his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon. Mark-Viverito is one of a relatively small group of prominent Democrats that is backing Nixon for governor and James for attorney general.

After a New York Law School panel earlier this month, Quinn did not deny having an eye on the office of public advocate. “We have to get Tish James elected and that’s what I’m focused on and also let’s not forget the Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul, we have to get reelected,” she told Gotham Gazette, when asked if she had considered running for public advocate in the event of James’ ascension to attorney general. “Right now, I am focused, most importantly, on running WIN and helping the homeless families that we serve...and then in my spare time, so to speak, among other things, I’m helping candidates and friends run for office. So that’s what this summer and fall is about.”

Pressed further, she simply repeated the statement. “That’s what this summer and fall is about.”

Mark-Viverito is slightly less circumspect about her own political future. “I’ve been consistent in saying that I’m really proud of the record that I have accomplished and the issues that I’ve championed and what we’ve been able to get done in the city of New York,” she told Gotham Gazette in a recent phone interview. “I’m not gonna close the door on looking at possibilities in the future if other positions or other opportunities became available...So if there is an opportunity that presents itself, I will definitely be taking a look at that. And I feel strongly that Tish will win so we’ll have that conversation later.”

She emphasized that she brings a strong perspective to policy-making as a Latina representing a low-income community. “I think that’s something that we consistently need to have in positions of authority in the city,” Mark-Viverito said. “And I believe my record speaks for itself and I look forward to being able to continue to serve this wonderful city.”

The special election, if there is one, would take place in March, assuming James is sworn in January 1 and vacates her current seat. Special elections for public advocate are nonpartisan, and each candidate would have to run on their own unique political party ballot line. The winner would then have to run for the seat again in a primary and general election later in 2019, if that person wants to keep the position.

There are several others who have either been floated as candidates or have signalled an interest in becoming the city’s ombudsperson, a post also considered a strong launching pad for a mayoral bid as de Blasio illustrated. They include sitting City Council Members Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, and Joe Borelli, the only Republican among them. All of them but Borelli will be term-limited out of office in 2021. State Assemblymember Michael Blake is another potential candidate, as are Republican attorney J.C. Polanco and Columbia professor David Eisenbach, who both challenged James when she was up for reelection last year -- Eisenbach in the primary and Polanco in the general. Eisenbach has already officially filed papers with the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

“I think the position obviously has a lot of potential,” said a Democratic consultant who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It has different potential than being the City Council speaker where you’re not just responsible for yourself, you’re responsible for 50 other members, hundreds of staff, dozens of appointments here or there. It’s a different set of responsibilities and in the hands of someone who understands the levers of government, who understands the bully pulpit and is sort of willing to take bold steps, it can be a very strong position.”

The public advocate can act as more than just a “counterweight to the mayor,” the consultant said. “That person also can establish themselves as someone who is also driving the agenda for New York, and that’s something we haven’t really seen since Mark Green,” the person added, referring to the city’s first-ever public advocate, who served from 1994 to 2001.

Espinal, a Brooklyn representative, said in an email, “I’m seriously considering it, and whether to launch a campaign will come down to the positive energy and support from New Yorkers.”

A spokesperson for Rodriguez, whose district covers neighborhoods in upper Manhattan and a small section of the Bronx, said, “[Council Member Rodriguez] is committed to supporting Public Advocate James in her run for attorney general as she is the most qualified in the race. Should there be a special election for public advocate, he would consider running for that seat.”

Torres, in a statement through a spokesperson, said, “I am still thinking about it and where I would be most effective. I’m debating which position would allow me to be a better advocate for the city.” The Bronx Council member is also said to be looking at a run for Congress or Bronx borough president.

Borelli also said he was considering a run for public advocate, though he conceded that it would be tough to retain. “It’s possible to win a special, but it will be difficult for a Republican to win the following November,” he said in a text message.

When asked about Quinn and Mark-Viverito both running, he said, “Each would be formidable.”

Shortly before a primary debate among the four Democratic attorney general candidates on Tuesday, Assembly Member Blake told Gotham Gazette he was watching closely in case James’ seat becomes vacant. “She’s gotta win first, but it would be irresponsible not to be looking at it,” he said about considering a run. “First and foremost, this is brand new terrain for all of us. The possibility for a citywide special election is unique to say the least...Out of respect for everybody in the field, this is a moot point unless [James] is the attorney general, and we’re gonna be respectful of that.”

He added, “As I tell my team often, proper preparation prevents poor performance. So you’re just ready, and if that opportunity presents itself, we have some serious decisions to make.”

Blake, who is a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, was the campaign manager for 2013 public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani, giving him some recent experience with a citywide race. He was then elected to the Assembly in 2014.

No current elected official would have to give up their seat to run in the special election, but, if victorious, would then have to vacate their position to become public advocate.

As Borelli alluded to, one effect of numerous Democrats entering the fray is that they could split the vote in what will likely be a low-turnout special election, offering up an opportunity for a Republican to claim victory.

Polanco, the attorney and former public advocate candidate, recognizes that opening. Having run for the seat just last year, he has certain advantages. “Whoever is gonna come from our side, there has to be just one candidate,” Polanco said in a phone interview. “We’re small enough as it is. Even in a non-partisan race, you’re gonna need organizational support. So the organizations have to line up behind one candidate from the beginning in order for us to have a shot.”

Polanco noted that the nonpartisan aspect of the election is “always good for democracy, always good for participation,” since voters won’t necessarily make choices along party lines. But he also echoed the risk for any sitting Republican elected official who might run, as Borelli noted. “Do you give up your Council seat for that? I don’t know whether that’s a good gamble or not, especially if you have three years left on your Council seat,” Polanco said.

Polanco also weighed in on the potential contest between two former Council speakers, saying Quinn would be the “ultimate” candidate. “She’s the most qualified of the candidates on that side running,” he said. “But I think the Democratic Party of today is more along the lines of Melissa Mark-Viverito. The Ocasio-Cortezes of the world, the democratic socialists, are getting momentum. She represents that faction. We can’t kid ourselves.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Potentially Crowded Public Advocate Special Election Could Feature Two Former Council Speakers Mon, 03 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Former and Current Elected Officials Discuss Potential Changes to City Campaign Finance System nyccfb twitter

Schaffer, Ulrich, Torres, Quinn, Gotbaum, Cho (l-r) (photo: @NYCCFB)

Former and current New York City elected officials broadly praised the city’s campaign finance system at a panel at New York Law School on Wednesday, while acknowledging that it could be improved to incentivize more reliance on small donors and streamlined to encourage first-time candidates to run for office.

The panel was hosted by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) and moderated by Daniel Cho, assistant executive director for candidate guidance and policy at the CFB. The panellists included sitting City Council Members Ritchie Torres and Eric Ulrich, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who shared their divergent experiences in running for elected office, raising campaign money, and navigating the city’s campaign finance program.

The CFB administers the system and its widely lauded public matching funds program, which intends to level the playing field in elections by matching the first $175 of every qualifying contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio. The rationale is simple: It motivates candidates for local and citywide office to cast a wider net and seek smaller individual donors rather than depend on wealthy contributors giving larger donations.

But, even as other jurisdictions have begun to model programs after New York City’s, the CFB is hoping to strengthen its system, further limit the size of maximum donations, and encourage pursuit of small donors, recommending a slew of reforms for consideration by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s charter revision commission, which will soon announce the proposals it will put before voters on November’s Election Day. CFB Chair Rick Schaffer gave opening remarks before the panel, during which he outlined the history of the campaign finance program and the CFB's new recommendations.

Those reforms include drastically lowering contribution limits, increasing the matching fund ratio to 8-to-1 and the value of matchable donations to $250, changing the thresholds for qualifying for matching funds -- including the addition of a geographic requirement where a citywide candidate would have to get at least 50 donations from each borough -- and lowering the minimum qualifying contribution from $10 to $5. In the coming weeks, the charter commission will issue its final report, and the proposals it lands on will be presented to voters on the November general election ballot.

[Read: Campaign Finance Board Proposes Reforms at Charter Commission Hearing]

Council Member Ulrich, a Republican from Queens, said the matching fund system was instrumental in his special election campaign in 2009, which he ran without help from labor unions or the local party establishment. “The critical factor in me deciding to move forward and to run was in fact the campaign finance program,” he said.

Torres, a Bronx Democrat, similarly said the program gave him “sufficient resources” to run his City Council campaign in 2013, but with one caveat. “The cost of running a campaign seems to vary widely from Council district to Council district.You could win a district like mine on the sheer strength of door-to-door campaigning,” he said.

Quinn -- who is the only mayoral candidate to ever max out on public matching funds, Cho later said -- subsequently noted that rent for campaign offices in particular is one cost that can be drastically different depending on the district.

Gotbaum, who is now executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, said that when she ran for public advocate in 2001, she raised large numbers of maximum donations -- currently $5,100 for citywide candidates -- because of a crowded field and because the CFB’s matching funds tend to be doled out late in the campaign. The program does appear to serve its intended purpose better for City Council candidates as citywide candidates continue to raise a majority of their funds from large donors.

Gotbaum supports the public funds program but worries about the public reaction to the cost of public financing if the matching amounts are raised, though she also acknowledged that not enough New Yorkers even know the program exists. “I think if you put the match up terribly high, those few people that participate may start to complain...I’m just throwing that out there as a point of discussion,” she said.

The CFB gives out public funds twice in an election in most cases, for the primary and then for the general. But Ulrich pointed out that for Republicans, who tend to be involved in far fewer primaries owing to Democrats’ heavy voter enrollment advantage in the city, matching funds are usually only disbursed once. In some cases, Ulrich argued, this gives Democratic candidates advantages in terms of getting their message out to voters and attacking their Republican opponent. “So I think the board should probably look at that,” he said. “It doesn’t affect most participants but...certainly in my part of the city, it does.”

All the panellists agreed that a big challenge to ensuring ordinary voices are reflected in elections is that voter participation and engagement is far too anaemic in New York City. They not only stressed the need for more voter education but also the dire necessity of reforming the state’s antiquated voting and election laws which are widely held responsible for low voter turnout.

“The reliance at the state level is on these big donors, corporate donors in fact,” said Ulrich, who ran for state Senate in 2012 and said he received dozens of large, unsolicited donations. “I would much rather if there was any way possible for state, federal, and city candidates for public office to be participating in a matching funds program. It’s a much more transparent, fairer, and I think ethical approach to running for political office.”

Ulrich’s Republican colleagues who control the state Senate have not had the same opinion, however, as the chamber has opposed most campaign finance reforms supported by the Democratic Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, as well as most voting and election reforms.

Quinn took particular issue with state election law’s LLC loophole, which allows hidden donors to legally circumvent the already high state contribution limits through multiple limited liability companies. As Council speaker, Quinn ushered in campaign finance reforms which included a prohibition against LLC donations in city elections. She also said the practice of intermediaries “bundling” donations from several contributors for a single candidate tend to be more corrupting than a single, maxed-out donation.

“That’s really where the amplification of corporate interests comes into place,” she said, urging the CFB to go beyond simply lowering contribution limits.

Torres also wanted to see “bolder” reforms. “Some of these improvements do feel incremental,” he said, pointing out the heavy reliance on large donors, particularly in the mayoral race. He wants to see a drastic reduction in the contribution limits. “I think it would create a system that is purely powered by small donations,” he said.

The Council member also noted that the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez -- who ran on a platform opposed to corporate donors -- over Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in the June congressional primary shows a “millennial outcry” against excessive money in politics. “If the mayor’s charter commission were to radically reduce contribution limits in response to the national zeitgeist that’s taking hold, I think it would be a legacy achievement for the mayor,” he said.

The panellists also agreed that perception matters in politics, and that constituents need to be reassured that government is not for sale, with some discussion around the “doing-business” limits on donations from entities seeking or holding city contracts.

“For me, the standard is whether you contribute to the appearance of corruption,” Torres said, noting that Council members can raise substantial sums of money from industries that they regulate and that individual members also hold an almost “veto power” over land use matters that could be worth tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. “I’m not suggesting that this happens but the fact that it’s even a theoretical possibility is problematic,” he said. “A member could leverage the power you have over the [Uniform Land use Review Procedure] to extract sizable contributions. So why not foreclose that possibility.”

Ulrich blamed the negative perceptions that the public holds of New York politicians on the long and constant stream of state-level elected officials, mostly in the state Legislature, who have been convicted of corruption. “I think until Albany gets their act together and enacts some form of real and robust ethics reform and campaign finance reform,” he said, “that is going to overshadow...all the wonderful and great work that the CFB is doing.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Former and Current Elected Officials Discuss Potential Changes to City Campaign Finance System Wed, 08 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
10 Great NYC Debate Moments quinn liu de blasio albanese

Quinn, Liu, de Blasio, Albanese (from 2013)

Debates have been an invaluable part of political discourse and elections for centuries. The face-to-face interactions between candidates reveal a lot about their character, policies, and ability to perform under pressure.

Debates for citywide races in New York -- for Mayor, Comptroller, and Public Advocate -- have played no small part in helping New Yorkers decide which candidates best represent their interests. Ahead of the 2017 debates, which begin Wednesday with the first Democratic mayoral primary debate between Mayor Bill de Blasio and former City Council Member Sal Albanese, Gotham Gazette presents 10 great moments from New York City debates of the last few decades.

1. Giuliani declines debate, spurs matching funds/must debate law
1993 General Mayoral Debate; 10/17/93
Candidates: David Dinkins (D); Rudy Giuliani (R); George Marlin (Conservative)

A non-debate on a debate list belongs because of the importance of the decision, both during the contentious 1993 rematch between Dinkins and Giuliani, which Giuliani would win, and the long-term implications of the subsequent change in law.

Mayor Dinkins wanted to include the Conservative Party candidate in any debate between himself and Giuliani, but Giuliani would only agree to a one-on-one debate, and so the two major party candidates did not have a single debate before the election that year. In response, the City Council voted on legislation that forced any candidate taking public matching funds (as both Giuliani and Dinkins did) to participate in two debates before both the primary and general elections, given certain criteria.

At the debate that Dinkins and Marlin did have, they both attacked Giuliani for not participating, and on other grounds. In his closing statement, Dinkins, who had bested Giuliani in 1989, said, “It takes a certain kind of temperament and personality to deal with the various legislative bodies in order to achieve [my accomplishments], I suggest to you that Rudolph Giuliani does not have the temperament to get the kind of consensus necessary to achieve the things that we’ve done.”

For his part, Giuliani explained, “I have a letter from April of this year, where I had a firm commitment for a one-on-one debate with Mayor Dinkins, which NBC has now allowed him to sneak out of, because he rolled over for them. He shouldn’t do that, it’s wrong. And I know why David Dinkins won’t face me. On 12 occasions in 1989, he ducked out of one-on-one debates with me. On 7 occasions, he has ducked out of one-on-one debates with me in this election. They shouldn’t allow him to do it, because I’ll ask him the questions that some of you won’t ask him about how he’s cheating.”

Watch the October 17, 1993 debate between Dinkins and Marlin here.

2. Mayor Bloomberg tries to speak Spanish
2009 General Mayoral Debate; 10/13/2009
Candidates: Michael Bloomberg (i); Bill Thompson (D)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempts to speak Spanish are well-known and much-skewered, most famously by the @ElBloombito Twitter account. Bloomberg used to end each news conference by summarizing his statements in Spanish, and he occasionally gave entire interviews in his second tongue. In a 2009 general election mayoral debate, Bloomberg tried responding to a question about diversity in his cabinet from Juan Manuel Benitez, host of Pura Política on NY1 Noticias, in Spanish. Although the mayor received applause, the moderator had to ask him to repeat his answer in English, as many in the room and at home had no idea what he had said.

Watch the moment here and watch the entire October 13, 2009 debate between Bloomberg and Democrat Bill Thompson here.

3. David Yassky sings Beyonce
2009 Comptroller Debate, Democratic Primary; 9/10/2009
Candidates: David Yassky (D); Melinda Katz (D); John Liu (D); David Weprin (D)

A crowded Democratic primary for Comptroller in 2009 included a lightning round of questions during the September 10 debate. When candidates were asked if they had listened to Beyoncé, all candidates said yes, and Melinda Katz even quietly said, “To the left.” But only David Yassky actually sang, to the amusement of the audience, especially the moderators. Yassky sang the chorus to Beyonce’s 2006 mega-hit, “Irreplaceable.”

Yassky’s singing prowess did not carry him to victory, however, as John Liu won the primary and became Comptroller.

Watch the moment here, and watch the entire September 10, 2009 Democratic Primary Comptroller debate here.

4. Giuliani calls out Henry Hewes for not even being his party’s official candidate
1989 General Mayoral Debate; 11/5/89
Candidates: David Dinkins (D); Rudy Giuliani (R); Henry Hewes (Right to Life)

Before he refused to debate with a third-party candidate present in 1993, Republican mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani showed his distaste for them in this surreal moment from the second of two general election debates that took place the week before the 1989 election, which Giuliani narrowly lost to Dinkins. Eight minutes into the hour-long debate, Giuliani claimed that Right to Life candidate Henry Hewes didn’t deserve to be there. He then explained Hewes was not even the officially registered candidate of the Right to Life Party, as he pulled out a letter from the Board of Elections confirming that, indeed, Henry Hewes was a registered Republican and had not filed any declaration of his candidacy on the Right to Life ticket.

Watch the November 5, 1989 debate here. The moment is at 7:50.

5. Donald Trump’s influence on New York City
2005 General Mayoral Debate; 10/6/05
Candidates: Fernando Ferrer (D); Thomas V. Ognibene (Conservative)

During the lightning round of this 2005 general mayoral debate, the moderator asked Democrat Fernando Ferrer and Conservative Thomas Ognibene (Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not attend as he was addressing a potential threat in the city), “Is Donald Trump a positive influence on the city?”

At the time, this was a throwaway question about an infamous New York celebrity. Before Twitter, before the presidential run, Trump was a local tabloid legend, real estate baron, and TV personality to most New Yorkers. The candidates agreed in their initial response: “I could care less.”

Listen to the lightning round that included the question here, or watch the entire October 6, 2005 debate here.

6. Scott Stringer goes for Spitzer's jugular
2013 Democratic Primary Comptroller Debate; 8/12/13
Candidates: Eliot Spitzer (D); Scott Stringer (D)

The 2013 Democratic primary for Comptroller was defined by consistent antagonism between the two candidates, then-Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and former Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Five years earlier, Spitzer had resigned while under federal investigation, and during a section of the debate in which the candidates could ask each other a question, Stringer seized. “So Eliot, if you were the chairman of a large company, and you hired a CEO, and they engaged in money laundering, illegal wiring of funds to shell corporations, and if the CEO was under federal investigation - criminal investigation - and that CEO was fired, would you hire that CEO again?”

Listen to highlights from the debate, including this moment, here, or watch the entire August 12, 2013 debate here.

7. Democrats try to tie each other to Mayor Bloomberg
2013 Public Advocate Democratic Primary Run-off Debate; 9/24/13
Candidates: Letitia James (D); Daniel Squadron (D)

The end of Mayor Bloomberg’s third term was a time when many New Yorkers were seeking change in city leadership. Candidates capitalized on this desire, and in few places was this more apparent than the 2013 Public Advocate Democratic primary. Candidates Letitia James and Daniel Squadron -- locked in a run-off for the nomination -- traded the usual barbs about each other’s backgrounds, but they often simply used any kind of tie the other candidate had to Bloomberg as an attack.

James stated that Squadron had stayed silent when Bloomberg’s third term was being debated, while Squadron claimed that it was not right that James had “stood with the mayor over 98 percent of the time.”

Listen to highlights from the debate, including this moment, here, or watch the entire September 24, 2013 debate here.

8. Bloomberg pressed by moderator and opponent about book of jokes he allegedly made
2001 Republican Primary for Mayor; 9/9/01
Candidates: Michael Bloomberg (R); Herman Badillo (R)

During his initial run for mayor, Michael Bloomberg was repeatedly questioned at a primary debate about an article in New York Magazine in which columnist Michael Wolff described a gift given to the future mayor at a company party in 1990. The gift was a booklet of quotations supposedly said by Bloomberg, some of which were blatantly misogynistic and homophobic.

During one of the 2001 Republican primary debates, both moderator Gabe Pressman and rival Herman Badillo pressed Bloomberg on whether or not he said what was written in the booklet. Bloomberg repeatedly claimed he did not remember saying any of those things, and in the end, he attempted to move the debate along, claiming, “It was in a book written by somebody else. Let's go on to the issues. Come on…”

Read a transcript of debate highlights, including this moment, here, or watch the entire September 9, 2001 debate here.

9. Candidates debate prevalence of racial profiling in NYPD
2001 Mayoral General Election Debate; 11/1/2001
Candidates: Michael Bloomberg (R); Mark Green (D) 

Michael Bloomberg’s implementation of widespread “stop-and-frisk,” a police tactic criticized for disproportionately targeting African-American and Hispanic men, is perhaps the least popular aspect of his legacy. During a 2001 general election mayoral debate between first-time candidate Bloomberg and Democrat Mark Green, one exchange reveals Bloomberg’s early views on racial profiling in the NYPD. When asked, Bloomberg agreed that racial profiling must be combated because “the perception is widespread.”

Watch the moment here, or watch the entire November 1, 2001 debate here.

10. Bill de Blasio targeted as Democratic frontrunner
2013 Democratic Primary Debates; 8/14/13 & 8/21/2013
Candidates: 8/14/13: Christine Quinn (D); Bill de Blasio (D); John Liu (D); Anthony Weiner (D); Bill Thompson (D)
Candidates 8/21/13: Sal Albanese (D), Christine Quinn (D); Bill de Blasio (D); John Liu (D); Anthony Weiner (D); Bill Thompson (D), Erik Salgado (D)

As the fast-moving 2013 Democratic primary moved to within a month of a vote, Bill de Blasio made a surprise leap into the lead of the polls. Just after a new poll showed de Blasio in the lead for the first time, the leading Democratic candidates showed for a debate, and the other candidates clearly recognized the new order by attacking de Blasio more than they previously had, when it appeared that Christine Quinn, Anthony Weiner and Bill Thompson were all likelier nominees.

Quinn said de Blasio “was in the Council for eight years, he didn’t pass one bill to create a good paying job, not one bill to help our schools, not one bill to keep our city safe. That’s not a record of results,” according to The Daily News.

“The only difference between Speaker Quinn and Bill de Blasio is Speaker Quinn has been more successful. They made the same promises to the same people. She got elected speaker and he’s never gotten over it,” Weiner said.

A week later, for the first of two official, Campaign Finance Board-sanctioned primary debates, those same leading Democrats, along with Sal Albanese and Erik Salgado, took the stage in prime-time. De Blasio was again the focus of many attacks. He would go on to win the primary less three weeks later, even securing the 40 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.

by Thomas Duda
with reporting by Ben Weiss

10 Great NYC Debate Moments Sun, 20 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Campaign Finance Board Fines De Blasio, Others for 2013 Campaign Violations bdb 32bj 1

Mayor de Blasio accepts a union endorsement for re-election (photo: Ben Max)

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign is being fined $47,778 by the Campaign Finance Board for ten separate violations, including improper post-election spending. Additionally, the board determined at its Thursday hearing, of the $3,994,496 in public matching funds de Blasio’s 2013 campaign received, it must repay $485.02.

The single largest fine to de Blasio’s campaign, $21,159, is for making impermissible post-election expenditures. The CFB found that de Blasio’s 2013 campaign improperly spent $160,888.45 after the election to 13 vendors; $116,250 of which was spent on Hilltop Public Solutions, the political strategy firm of de Blasio’s campaign manager.

“We strongly disagree with the CFB’s finding,” said Dan Levitan, de Blasio’s campaign spokesperson, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “The CFB’s own rules would prohibit Hilltop from not charging for this campaign wind-down work.”

CFB ruled that the campaign “failed to provide sufficient explanations and documentation” regarding Hilltop’s role and services as a “general consultant” to the Campaign, and thus failed to demonstrate that the post-election expenditures spent on Hilltop were justified. In August 2015, The New York Post had reported on the eyebrow-raising post-election spending to Hilltop.

At the same time de Blasio’s 2013 campaign continued to pay Hilltop after the November 2013 general election, the newly-created Campaign for One New York, a nonprofit advocacy group started by de Blasio and his allies, began to employ the firm as well. Several of the same strategists who ran de Blasio’s campaign ran the Campaign for One New York, which was shut down amid controversy after taking millions of dollars in donations from entities with city business.

Other violations and fines imposed on the de Blasio 2013 campaign by the CFB include accepting over-the-limit contributions ($12,483); accepting contributions from corporations, LLCs, or partnerships ($6,086); failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements ($3,200); failing to file or late filing of daily pre-election disclosure statements ($2,087); accepting contributions from unregistered political committees ($1,000); failing to demonstrate that spending was in furtherance of the campaign ($806); failing to report transactions ($407); failing to document transactions ($300); and commingling campaign funds with funds accepted for a different election ($250).

Levitan said the campaign is “pleased that the 2013 campaign audit is now complete,” though they “strongly disagree with many of the CFB’s findings.” De Blasio’s 2017 re-election campaign, which again employs Levitan’s BerlinRosen firm, is already underway, holding fundraisers and even rolling out several endorsements.

The Campaign Finance Board on Thursday also determined that 13 other campaigns involved in the 2013 citywide election cycle committed violations, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (who lost to de Blasio in the mayoral primary), chair of the City Council Committee on Finance Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

No one from the de Blasio campaign appeared before the board to contest the violations, nor did anyone from the Quinn or Ferreas-Copeland campaigns. Brewer, Stringer, and Council Member Vanessa Gibson did send representatives to contest the board’s findings.

Of the 14 campaigns determined to have committed violations, the board determined that nine campaigns are required to repay public funds -- which are issued to match small-dollar private donations to candidate campaigns.

”Today’s determinations reflect the Board’s commitment to safeguarding the public matching funds,” CFB said in a statement. “The $38.2 million that the Board distributed in 2013 helped ensure cleaner, fairer elections in New York City. Every campaign receives a nonpartisan, independent review, and the results encompass a range from technical errors to serious violations."

Quinn was fined $13,611 for eight violations made in relation to her 2013 mayoral bid, including $5,425 for accepting over-the-limit contributions and $3,200 for failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements.

The board fined Stringer a total of $10,514 for seven violations, including failing to report transactions ($3,689); accepting over-the-limit contributions ($3,500); failing to demonstrate compliance with intermediary reporting and documentation requirements ($1,500) accepting contributions from unregistered political committees ($675); accepting contributions from corporations, limited liability companies, or partnerships ($550); failing to document transactions ($400); and failing to file or late filing of daily pre-election disclosure statements ($200).

Laurence Laufer, an attorney representing Stringer in 2013, and Peter Frank, treasurer of Stringer’s 2013 campaign, appeared before the board to contest three penalties (though they did not contest the board’s findings), asserting that the penalties were too high. Bethany Persky, an attorney for the Campaign Finance Board, dismissed all of Laufer’s arguments, noting that the campaign had “ample opportunity” to respond to the board’s requests accordingly, and that, in regard to intermediary policy, “the campaign is essentially asking the board to rewrite guidelines.”

Four City Council members who won their 2013 elections were fined by the board on Thursday, the same day the Council passed about 20 bills to modify the campaign finance system. Also fined were six candidates who failed to get elected in 2013, many of whom appeared before the board Thursday to give explanations for their violations in an attempt to avoid paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in penalties. The CFB did a significant amount of business Thursday to wrap up much of its final work on the 2013 cycle, just before the 2017 cycle kicks into full gear.

Council Member Ferreras-Copeland was fined $5,718 for eight violations made during her 2013 campaign, most of which stems from failing to demonstrate compliance with reporting requirements for disbursements ($2,000) and failing to file or filing late disclosure statements ($1,850)

Council Member Ruben Wills was fined $810 for four violations, and owes $450 in public funds repayment. Former City Council Member Maria Carmen del Arroyo, who resigned in December, 2015, was fined $5,735 for ten violations, and owes a public funds repayment of $3,607.91, which represents the campaign’s final bank balance.

Out of everyone the board fined on Thursday, the steepest penalties were dealt to Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who, despite the pleas of a representative, Stanley Schlein, that the “application of the three time expenditure limit” is “draconian” and “so severe that it is disproportionate to the conduct,” now owes $68,639 in penalties for nine violations, as well as $2,225.68 in public funds repayment. Almost all of that $68,639 in fines comes from a $65,574 penalty for exceeding the expenditure limit.

Additionally, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was fined $3,036 for four penalties, $2,600 of which was incurred due to a late response to the draft audit report, and owes $405 in public funds repayment.

Thursday’s meeting marks the final one for CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn, who had previously announced her intent to leave the board. Mayor de Blasio, in consultation with the Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, will nominate a new CFB chair in the new year.

Gill Hearn both praised and criticized the City Council for pushing through two packages of bills that will reform the city’s campaign finance system. While Gill Hearn was pleased to see the Council is finally set to approve a number of proposals previously put forward by the CFB, including a bill to eliminate public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city, she expressed disappointment with the fact that the Council has essentially rushed through one package of bills with little time for public review and, according to the board, in need of additional tweaks.

The manner in which the Council and the Campaign Finance Board worked together over a long period of time to “get the details right” for the first package of bills “contrasts sharply with the approach taken for another set of bills the Council also plans to adopt today. These bills were introduced just last month,” Gill Hearn said.

The Council has been criticized for rushing the bills through, and CFB added to that chorus, stating in a press release sent out after the hearing that “the Board continues to believe the remaining bills could have been improved significantly if they were considered on a schedule that allowed more time for deliberation…We believe that some of these bills will have an effect that runs contrary to their stated purpose.”

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Campaign Finance Board Fines De Blasio, Others for 2013 Campaign Violations Thu, 15 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
How We Got Here: City Creates New Office of Civil Justice BdB Levine Gibson

At Tuesday's bill signing (photo: @NYCHRA)

"The Gideon versus Wainwright case paved the way for the right to legal counsel in criminal cases but, sadly, the right to counsel was not available in civil cases when the stakes were also very, very high for those involved. Civil cases affect some of the most important parts of a person's life, the ability to have and keep a home, to keep a family together, to escape from domestic violence, in fact, to be able to stay in this country. So on these areas there is a deep need and my administration is focused in an unprecedented manner on civil legal services including legal assistance to protect tenants and prevent homelessness. This bill is a step towards fixing the imbalance between those who can afford adequate civil counsel and those forced to face life altering legal issues without help of attorney."  -Mayor Bill de Blasio, June 16, 2015

On Tuesday, June 16 Mayor de Blasio signed Intro. 0736 into law, establishing an Office of Civil Justice and creating a new Civil Justice Coordinator position. This office is modeled after the Office of Criminal Justice, with the Office of Civil Justice set to provide coordination around city resources related to civil court proceedings, especially with regard to legal representation for low-income defendants in places like immigration and housing courts.

While defendants in criminal court do have a right to counsel, defendants in civil court do not. In cases of eviction, deportation, and child custody - among others - not having access to legal aid can be detrimental to a person's case. The bill creating the civil justice office was sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and comes as the city has been increasing funding and efforts to ensure that more low-income New Yorkers have access to attorneys in civil matters. The Office of Civil Justice will coordinate efforts, assess needs, and make recommendations.

The following is an abridged history leading up to the signing of the bill:

December 2005: Study of Self-Represented Litigants in New York City Family Court and New York City Housing Court: The Office of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives released survey results covering 3,303 litigants appearing without a lawyer in the city’s family and housing courts in 2003. It was found that 83 percent of self-represented defendants reported a household income of under $30,000. Sixty percent of the people surveyed in housing and family court also reported that they felt they could not afford an attorney.

December 7, 2012: The New York Immigrant Representation (NYIR) Study Report Part II:  The NYIR Study was launched by Judge Robert A. Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals and found that “people facing deportation in New York Immigration courts with a lawyer are 500 percent as likely to win their cases as those without representation.” It was also found that “nondetained immigrants with lawyers have successful outcomes 74 percent of the time, those on the other end, without counsel and who were detained, prevailed a mere 3 percent of the time.”

July 19, 2013: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Immigrants Rights Groups announce The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP): The Council announced a one-year pilot program, NYIFUP, “the nation’s first government-funded system of universal representation for immigrants facing deportation.” Immigrants facing deportation have low rates of success when doing so without legal representation, especially given language barriers which often exist. NYIFUP creates a “network of legal counsel for New Yorkers who are detained and at risk of permanent exile.” No universal right to counsel exists, but more coverage is provided by the program, started with $500,000 in funding.

March 26, 2014: Council Member Mark Levine sponsors Intro. 0214: The legislation would require that legal counsel be provided to tenants and homeowners who are facing “eviction, ejectment or foreclosure proceedings” and create a Civil Justice Coordinator position. Civil courts do not guarantee a “right to counsel” as criminal courts do and this bill is an attempt to provide that counsel, to level the playing field for tenants who are unable to seek it on their own. The bill had 39 sponsors as of mid-June 2015, but has not been given a committee hearing.

June 2014: Right to Counsel NYC Coalition is formed: Created to build a citywide movement that works to establish New York City as first in the nation to establish a right to counsel for tenants in housing court. Coalition members include The Community Development Project at The Urban Justice Center, Bronx Defenders, Legal Services-NYC, and others.

June 11, 2014: Council Members and housing activists rally on City Council steps: “By no definition are tenants getting equal justice in housing court, where only 10 percent of tenants have legal representation and 90 percent of landlords have attorneys,” said Council Member Mark Levine at the rally with Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, and others.

June 26, 2014: New York City Council includes $4.9 million funding for NYIFUP: “New York City will become the first jurisdiction in the nation to have a functioning public defender system for immigrants facing deportation. In New York City, no family will have a loved one locked up and deported simply because they cannot afford a lawyer,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, chair of the Council’s Committee on Immigration. NYIFUP is able to provide legal coverage to all eligible immigrants in New York immigration court, with over 1,300 immigrants served.

September 23, 2014: Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Robin Hood Foundation and New York Community Trust announce the Unaccompanied Minor Children Initiative: A $1.9 million public-private partnership that provides funding for legal organizations who are supporting “free legal representation and access to social, mental health, and medical services for more than a thousand unaccompanied minor children appearing on the Juvenile and Surge Dockets at the New York Immigration Court.” Funding is mostly focused on “increasing access to counsel” for children in the most urgent need.

December 16, 2014: The Times features former Justice Critical of Housing Court: “Emily Jane Goodman, a retired justice of the New York State Supreme Court, said Housing Court was her ‘worst’ experience on the bench. “Housing Court is the most unbalanced, unfair and unjust court in our system, and the biggest problem is lack of legal representation,” Ms. Goodman said. “Tenants do not know their rights, are frightened, intimidated, enter agreements they do not understand and cannot possibly fulfill,” she said. “Typically, they may consent to a judgment of eviction and agree to pay a sum of money they have no ability to raise.”” Goodman said in the Times’ “Push to Provide Lawyers in New York City Housing Court Gains Momentum.”

February 11, 2015: Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito introduces “The people’s law firm” in 2015 State of the City: With more than 1.25 million low-income New York City residents without access to legal services, Mark-Viverito proposes “the people’s law firm” or “El Bufete del Pueblo” in the form of an Office of Civil Justice. The OCJ would prepare an “annual survey” to assess the “unmet civil legal services needs among low-income NYC residents”, develop a five-year plan based off of these surveys, make budget recommendations on the funding of civil legal service programs, explore free and low-cost civil legal service programs, and provide outreach and education about the programs.

April 15, 2015: Council Member Levine and Council Speaker Mark-Viverito submit Intro. 0736: The legislation outlines an office in charge “with assessing the need for civil legal services throughout New York City.” The bill will create an Office of Civil Justice and a Coordinator position which will review the budget of agencies with civil justice programs and make recommendations to the Mayor; prepare an annual report for the Mayor and Council of the civil legal service needs of low-income residents and the availability of that service, what those civil legal matters concern and concentrations of these matters by area or populations; ascertain the effectiveness of civil legal service programs; “serve as liaison between providers of low-cost or free legal services” and those residents in need of civil legal services; and also create a five-year plan.

The bill is aimed at helping prevent unnecessary and unjust evictions and deportations, and at ensuring that low-income New Yorkers have the legal representation they need in crucial life-changing situations. The coordinator will be tasked with making sure that already existing low-cost or free legal representation is available to the low-income residents who need it. The office will have an initial budget of $2 million and will be slotted under Steven Banks, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration (HRA), which runs public benefit programs for low-income New Yorkers.

May 26 & 27, 2015: City Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services, then full City Council pass Intro. 0736: The bill was unanimously passed in committee and then through the full City Council the next day. It is sent to the mayor’s desk for signature on June 16, 2015.

At the bill-signing on Tuesday, June 16, Council Member Levine said, "The truth is what's happening in housing court, immigration court, any civil arena today doesn't meet a reasonable standard of justice. It's a place where if you don't have money, you're on your own, you don't have an attorney," but "today we're taking a step forward by putting in place the infrastructure that we need now that we're growing the funding and hope to continue to grow it. The kind of infrastructure that we've had on the criminal side, which for years has had a criminal justice coordinator, we're now catching up on the civil side."

by Erika Wang, Gotham Gazette

How We Got Here: City Creates New Office of Civil Justice Tue, 16 Jun 2015 18:58:36 +0000
Cuomo Seizes on Wage Issue as Legislature Sits Paralyzed by Scandal, Partisanship Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo at a minimum wage rally (Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)

"Do we have any members of labor in the house today? I can't hear you!" Gov. Andrew Cuomo shouted to a crowd of union members holding signs touting the "Fight for $15." Cuomo held a large rally in Manhattan's Union Square earlier this month as he announced he had instructed his labor commissioner to empanel a wage board to consider upping the minimum wage for fast food workers.

Cuomo Seizes on Wage Issue as Legislature Sits Paralyzed by Scandal, Partisanship Tue, 26 May 2015 02:10:07 +0000