Gotham Gazette Thu, 18 Apr 2019 21:02:27 +0000 en-gb (Webmaster) Little-Used Community Land Trust Model for Affordable Housing May See Big Boost Carlina Rivera City Council rally housing

Council Member Rivera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Manhattan City Council Member Carlina Rivera is part of a growing coalition of Council members pushing for city government's first major commitment to a seldom-utilized affordable housing model. In the face of rapid gentrification, they say, the city should invest $850,000 in Community Land Trusts, or CLTs, in the city budget currently being negotiated.

Doing so could help advocates and nonprofits acquire land to operate deeply affordable housing and amenities -- albeit on a small scale -- in perpetuity.

“They're not a silver bullet but should be a major component of any affordable housing plan,” Rivera told Gotham Gazette. Other allies include Queens Council Member Donovan Richards and Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin.

A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit that acquires and manages land, either one continuous plot or scattered sites. People who live and work on the land collectively set the terms of use, and can mix residential and commercial space with community centers and gardens. Most CLTs prohibit their properties from ever being sold for profit, ensuring affordability in the long term.

There are currently 11 community-based organizations with CLT projects underway across the five boroughs. Though several are still in early planning stages, groups hope to ultimately control thousands of housing units and hundreds of small businesses citywide.

A new $8 million bank settlement from Attorney General Letitia James is also being parceled out this spring to land trust projects across the state. Municipalities can apply for up to $2.5 million each. “The interest in CLTs has expanded a lot,” said Elizabeth Zeldin, director of Enterprise Community Partners, which is distributing the funds.

New York City’s oldest CLT model, the Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, is in Council Member Rivera’s district. It has grown to nearly 400 apartments and 20 small businesses since its formation in 1994 (including one of Rivera’s personal favorites, Pageant Print Shop, which sells antique prints and maps). “I think we have to plant seeds for these CLTs to grow,” she said. “They can ward off mass speculation of developers, like happened in Cooper Square.”

With citywide elections on the horizon in 2021, “Every front-runner in every office race should be discussing this as part of their affordable housing platform,” Rivera said.

Rivera’s spokesperson, Jeremy Unger, told Gotham Gazette that “the Councilwoman is planning a Council briefing on CLTs” and will be discussing the model during internal deliberations as the Council prepares to negotiate with the mayor’s office.

“We look forward to working with the City Council throughout the budget process and will evaluate the proposal from CLTs,” de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. (The Council recently held a month of preliminary budget hearings, then issued its official response to the mayor’s initial budget plan for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1.)

Barriers to CLT expansion include limited funding for housing development and renovation, and limited access to viable land. The model stands in contrast to de Blasio's 300,000-unit affordable housing plan, which predominantly enlists large for-profit developers to construct and preserve mixed-income housing on a large scale.

Council members have contributed to individual land trusts in their districts over the years. But the $850,000 ask would contribute to a broader project, organizers say, covering hiring costs for one staff member for each community group currently developing a land trust, plus technical and legal assistance.

With this funding, says Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of the New Economy Project and board chair of the New York City Community Land Initiative, CLTs can "deepen the organizing, education, and partnership development," so they can acquire and rehab properties down the road.

Del Rio draws a comparison to the city’s Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, which has seen worker-run businesses more than double from 21 to 48 since the City Council started funding it four years ago.

The East Harlem El Barrio CLT, one of the more established in the bunch, is currently closing on a portfolio of four residential buildings in East Harlem with 36 apartments among them. The buildings are in poor condition, and the CLT is negotiating additional preservation assistance from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

“With the Second Avenue Subway coming through,” says El Barrio project coordinator Athena Bernkopf, “there are concerns about what that will do to the housing and economic landscape.” Ultimately, the CLT hopes to add more buildings “facing immediate gentrification pressure.”

Other CLTS are in earlier planning stages. Chhaya CDC, a non-profit serving the city’s South Asian Community in Queens, hopes to establish a land trust in Jackson Heights to manage affordable community space and shops. While CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities envisions a land trust in Chinatown with affordable senior housing and storefronts for immigrant-owned businesses.

HPD began working with affordable housing groups and nonprofit developers to study the viability of CLTs in the summer of 2017, distributing a $1.65 million grant from a $3.5 million bank settlement from then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Part of that initial funding covered a two-year program called the NYC CLT Learning Exchange, organized by the New Economy Project, where community groups met regularly to learn about the model.

Now, says City College of New York Political Science Professor John Krinsky, groups will begin to delve into the inevitable challenges of working together to decide how a piece of land will be used and operated. For example, “What are the tradeoffs when we are thinking about financing and affordability, and what that means in the long term?”

Down the road, advocates are hopeful that New York City will establish a pipeline of land for CLTs, and more long-term financing tools to support extremely low-income households. “I think we have to be looking at vacant lots,” Council Member Rivera told Gotham Gazette. While the city’s reserve of such lots has been dwindling over decades, there are still dozens that can be utilized for housing, with many in the pipeline for development through HPD.

Oksana Mironova is a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society, and helps facilitate the New York City Community Land Initiative's policy work. She’s hopeful that the ongoing collaboration between various CLTs will help ensure that they don’t become affordable islands in gentrifying neighborhoods. Cooper Square, for example, organizes with neighboring tenants at risk of displacement.

“There’s a way to do CLTs where they become a sort of oasis that only benefits the people who live on the CLT,” she said. “But then there’s a way to make CLTs that are benefiting not just the people who live on the CLTs…that take a bigger look.”

by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Little-Used Community Land Trust Model for Affordable Housing May See Big Boost Wed, 17 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council Takes on Climate Change costa const 600

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

April 17, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council Takes on Climate Change

costa const 150City Council Member Costa Constantinides joined the show to discuss a package of legislation he's shepherding through the City Council that aim to fight climate change, including by major requirements for reducing building carbon emissions, as well as his vision for the future of Rikers Island, and more.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council Takes on Climate Change Wed, 17 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Early Childhood Educators Consider Strike, New York City Must Achieve Pay Parity mayor firstday

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

We know now, more than ever, just how malleable the mind of a young child is, and we understand that the earlier we begin engaging a child’s mind, the better off that child will be. Early childhood education can positively impact the academic, social, and emotional development of children, while providing much-needed financial relief for our city’s low-income families with children, for whom child care is a major expense.

Our city recognizes the significance early childhood education has, both for children and families. Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to investing in and expanding his Universal Pre-K and 3-K initiatives is proof of that, and we wholeheartedly support these programs because they help level the playing field for some of our city’s most vulnerable families.

Yet it is unconscionable that while the programs continue to grow, City Hall has failed to address a significant inequity that threatens the very success of the initiatives – the fair pay of teachers. Our children deserve the best opportunities we can give them, and in order for that to happen, we need to fairly compensate those who dedicate themselves to caring for our children and providing that critical, quality early education.

Most of the children who are currently enrolled in the Universal Pre-K program attend programs offered by community-based organizations (CBOs), where early childhood educators are rightfully fighting for wage parity that can help level the playing field for them and their families, as well. CBO-based pre-K teachers with bachelor’s degrees earn significantly less than their counterparts with the Department of Education (DOE) -- and often work more hours for a longer school year.

A CBO-based certified teacher with five years of experience makes approximately $42,000, while DOE counterparts with the same credentials earn closer to $60,000. The gap in salary widens over time — nearly doubling at 10 years of experience. A DOE pre-K teacher with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience can earn as much as $91,000 annually, while a CBO-based teacher with identical credentials can max out at approximately $50,000.

The same job responsibilities, the same experience, and the same qualifications for significantly less money. It’s not right, and it isn’t fair.

It’s no surprise that many CBO-based early childhood programs struggle to hold on to quality educators. Wage disparity demoralizes educators at CBOs -- many of whom are women of color -- and puts them in the unfair position of having to choose between the work they have passionately dedicated their lives to and caring for their own families. How can we expect our children to be properly educated and cared for if those tasked with that responsibility aren’t provided with the resources to do the same for their own?

Many of these educators are forced to look elsewhere for employment as a result, and that frequent turnover can have a destabilizing effect on the development of a young child’s mind. The longer we continue to drastically underpay non-DOE early childhood educators, the likelier it becomes that more and more of the early childhood programs that so many of our city’s families rely on will be forced to close their doors.

In the City Council, we pushed for funding for pay parity to be a part of the fiscal year 2019 budget, following a summer hearing on the Early Learn transition to DOE. At the hearing, we made it clear that pay parity needed to be addressed, but the de Blasio administration failed to see the same urgency, instead promising that the issue will be resolved during contract negotiations. That still has not happened and the mayor is out of time.

When the administration released a new round of contracts for early childhood services, it failed to include the increased funding that community providers were looking for, making clear that there is a lack of urgency or interest in addressing this problem. We need real solutions, not gestures.

The City Council just released its response to the mayor’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget proposal, and under the leadership of Speaker Corey Johnson, we are specifically calling on the mayor to include an $89 million investment that would close the wage gap. Securing this funding in the budget would create stability for these educators, as well as the program and the community-based organizations that provide many of these services. It's the right thing to do.

Teacher strikes have picked up momentum across the country for better pay and improved classroom conditions; and now, early childhood educators are deciding whether to strike here in New York City. We stand with teachers in calling for wage parity for early childhood educators and know that this decision does not come lightly. It is only after years of underpayment and efforts toward a resolution.

At a time when the mayor and his administration rightfully strive for the need for a school system that provides ‘equity and excellence for all,’ what sort of message are we sending by so drastically underpaying the teachers who primarily care for and educate children from low-income families? We’re not just shortchanging these educators; we’re shortchanging the students they teach, their families, and our city’s communities.

We want a school system that gives every single student in our city the same opportunities to succeed – that simply cannot happen if the system itself is unstable. A teacher’s salary should not depend on the type of contract they have with the city, but too often, it does. It is time that we correct the inequities of our system and support professionals who work hard to ensure that every child is getting the proper head start on development they deserve.

Mark Treyger is the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education. Stephen Levin chairs the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare. On Twitter @MarkTreyger718 & @StephenLevin33.

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As Early Childhood Educators Consider Strike, New York City Must Achieve Pay Parity Tue, 16 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Fire Department Proposals Don't Match Need for Reform mayorcommappleton

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Last week the City Council presented its response to Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. It proposes to add $1.5 billion in annual operating expenditures and more than $1 billion in capital spending to the budget proposed by the mayor. Among the proposals are four that would significantly increase spending on the Fire Department and for which there is no clear justification other than political expediency. Two of them would not only be expensive, but would undermine provisions of contracts agreed to through collective bargaining.

First, the Council would add a fifth firefighter to 20 engine companies across the city. Most fire engines are staffed with four firefighters as is the practice in most fire departments across the country.

The 2015 contract with the Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) added a firefighter to 20 companies to be phased in over four years, in exchange for agreement that the absentee rate be kept below 7.5 percent. High absenteeism has been a problem at the FDNY, which contributes to high overtime expense.

The trade-off of adding staffing (and hence, new hires) while offsetting some of the cost through reduced absenteeism is exactly the type of mutually-achieved productivity measure that the de Blasio administration proudly touts as part of its approach to labor relations.

Yet last December, when the fifth firefighter was taken off the engines because the absentee rate rose over its agreed cap, the UFA complained vehemently. The mayor reinstated the staffing after there were media reports about the disagreement. Now, the Council proposes adding another 20 firefighters without any linkage to the absentee cap. The location of the engine companies to be increased and/or criteria for making these additions is not specified by the Council.

It is certainly true, as the Council notes, that FDNY call volume has been rising, but the calls are not for fires for which an additional firefighter to stretch out water hoses would be deployed, but for medical emergencies.

Less than 2% of all calls answered by the FDNY city-wide are for fires. The vast majority of calls are for some kind of medical situation. While engine companies answer most of these calls because they can get to them most quickly, they cannot administer most medical services or transport sick people to the hospital, so an ambulance usually must follow the fire engine to these incidents. Therefore, an additional firefighter does nothing to improve or increase response to the vast majority of fire engine runs as the Council implies.

The additional staff would effectively repeal a labor contract provision. Would the Council ever propose to legislatively overrule a contract provision that is regarded by a union as favorable to its interests? Doubtful.

The FDNY most definitely needs to rethink and reallocate staff to adapt to the fact that it has become primarily a medical-emergency, not a fire-fighting, organization. The last thing it needs is more staff who are not trained to administer to medical needs, hired to increase headcount and the number of UFA members. Not only should the mayor reject this proposal, he should direct the Fire Commissioner to re-institute the contractual link between the current five-staff engines and the absentee rate.

Second, the Council wants to add $17 million in capital funding to establish a third EMS station on Staten Island. But EMS runs for life-threatening incidents have grown less on Staten Island than in any other borough over the last year.

Nor is there justification for creating a $32 million firehouse in Hudson Yards. The UFA has been advocating for a station in this new neighborhood since work on the development began. There are EMS ambulances posted in the area and three fire stations nearby. All of the brand new buildings in Hudson Yards have the latest fire safety technology and there is no reason to expect significant increases in fire calls in the area, yet the Council and the UFA want to allocate 45 new permanent firefighter positions, adding more than $4 million to annual FDNY personnel costs.

Finally, there is a call to “re-evaluate public sector wages across the board and plan to correct disparities.” Among the “egregious” disparities noted are those of emergency medical service technicians and paramedics who earn less than firefighters. The Council calls on the FDNY to reset wage rates for its workers.

No cost estimate for this recommendation is included but raising all EMTs and paramedics to the same salaries as firefighters with the same years of service would cost an additional $67.5 million a year, plus an additional $10.5 million in additional costs for increased pension and payroll tax contributions, according to Citizens Budget Commission. This magnitude of expense should not be imposed outside the collective bargaining process, during which other issues like potential productivity offsets can be taken into account.

It is true that the lower salaries and higher workloads of EMTs compared to firefighters are contributing to relatively high overtime and staff turnover. The FDNY needs to be re-engineered to acknowledge and improve its primary function as a medical emergency service; simply paying EMTs and paramedics much more would just be a band-aid on a larger problem, and a very expensive one.

New Yorkers respect and appreciate the valiant service of our firefighters and our emergency medical service personnel. It is possible that some or all of the additional costs of the Council’s proposals could be offset by reducing unneeded, expensive fire stations, and bills introduced by Council Member Joseph Borelli to require ongoing evaluation of the impact of new development on EMS service would provide real data upon which to base future resource allocation decisions. But the Council’s reaction to changed conditions in its budget response is solely to spend more on everything.

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

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City Council Fire Department Proposals Don't Match Need for Reform Tue, 16 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Hears Bill to Expand Public Match in Campaign Finance Program Kallos City Council

Council Member Kallos (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations heard testimony on Monday on a bill to expand the public matching funds available to candidates under the city’s campaign finance program.

The campaign finance system incentivizes individuals to seek small dollar donations when running for office, matching those contributions with public funds. Under a recent city charter amendment approved by voters, a citywide candidate can receive public funds at an 8-to-1 ratio for the first $250 of each contribution (an increase from 6-to-1 for the first $175), and they can cover up to 75% of the spending limit for the office through public funds (up from 55%).

That charter change was quickly implemented through local law, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, for all special elections before the 2021 general election, thus applying to multiple races this year.

Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, has also proposed increasing the public funds cap to roughly 89% of the spending limit, effectively allowing candidates to run their campaigns entirely on small contributions and the subsequent public match, and diluting the effect of wealthier, larger donors. And he hopes to put that reform into effect for the 2021 city election cycle, which will feature a massive number of local races, from citywide and borough wide posts through the City Council. Kallos estimates it will lead to roughly $61.7 million in public funds disbursements, about $10.3 million more than if the 75% match is kept in place. His projections are based on participation rates in the 2013 election when the CFB gave about $38 million to qualifying candidates. 

“I think this is a gamechanger,” Kallos said at Monday’s hearing, citing the recent citywide public advocate special election as proof that increasing the public funds match reduced big donations. He pointed to the latest campaign finance disclosures from all the campaigns, which showed that contributions of $250 or less made up 61% of all contributions, up from 26.3% of all contributions in the 2013 public advocate race, according to his office’s analysis of the numbers.

“We have flipped how campaigns are financed, upside down,” said Kallos, who is term-limited and expected to seek higher office in 2021, emphasizing that he believes the system must be expanded to fully eliminate big money donations.

[Read: Council Member Kallos Pushes Next Increase in Matching Funds Available Through Public Campaign Finance System]

Kallos’ bill has the support of the committee chair, Council Member Fernando Cabrera, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is exploring a run for mayor and only taking donations of $250 and under. But other city officials seemed less sure about the exact proposal while supporting its goals more broadly.

Ayirini Fonseca-Sabune, the city’s new chief democracy officer who runs Mayor Bill de Blasio’s DemocracyNYC initiative, generally praised the campaign finance program and the recent improvements that were enacted within it by the charter amendment, which was set into motion by the mayor’s formation of a charter revision commission.

She emphasized the need to increase public engagement in the city’s democracy by increasing public trust. “Establishing this trust begins with rooting out corruption and even the perception of corruption by getting big money out of politics,” she said in her testimony. But she said while the administration “support[s] the values” of Kallos’ bill, there would need to be more discussion of its specifics with advocates, the Council, and the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), which administers the campaign finance program.

Similarly, Amy Loprest, executive director of the CFB, and Frederick Schaffer, chair of the board, said they were “supportive of the goals of this legislation” but had practical concerns about the current version. For one, Loprest noted, the recent charter amendment imposed a prohibition on early payment of public funds unless a candidate submits a Certified Statement of Need, in order to prevent unserious candidates or those without any opposition from getting public money. Kallos’ bill removes that prohibition, and Loprest said it should find a way to address it.

She also pointed out that candidates who rely overwhelmingly on public funds -- which are subject to fairly strict standards for campaign use -- would lack the flexibility to spend campaign funds on expenditures that do not qualify for the public funds program. For instance, cash payments or post-election spending.

The bill has the support of Reinvent Albany, a government reform group, and Dawn Smalls, an attorney who ran for public advocate in the February special election.

Tom Speaker, a policy analyst at Reinvent Albany, pointed out that with the current 75% cap on public funds, candidates for City Council would still have to raise about $47,000 in private donations and could look to wealthy donors. ‘“Raising the cap can reduce that dependency and allow for more donations from small donors,” he said.

Smalls, who was a first-time candidate in February, emphasized the importance of the small dollar matching program, which she said, “allowed me to communicate with voters and effectively compete in this race.” She did, however, criticize the CFB’s compliance regulations, which she said are "an unnecessary burden on all candidates, but one that falls excessively on candidates that may be new to the process and have less infrastructure." She emphasized her campaign's sophisticated operation and team of professionals, which she said shouldn't be necessary or reasonably expected of first-time candidates.  

Not everyone in the Council is a fan of the bill, of course. Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat and former campaign finance consultant, criticized the proposal and sought to repeatedly poke holes in the campaign finance program more broadly.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify Dawn Smalls' comments.

Note - This article has been updated with cost projections from Council Member Ben Kallos.

City Council Hears Bill to Expand Public Match in Campaign Finance Program Mon, 15 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
A Busy Week at the City Council & MTA, Brooklyn Special Election Debates & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 15 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

We may get the answer this week as to whether Mayor Bill de Blasio is indeed running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. The mayor has been visiting early primary/caucus states and saying for weeks that a decision will be coming "sooner rather than later." He stayed in the city this weekend, perhaps preparing for an announcement one way or the other. Stay tuned. De Blasio begins his week with events related to NYCHA and the city's jails plan, as well as his usual NY1 Monday evening appearance (see below for details).

While the state Legislature is now on its usual mid-April break, the City Council will be very busy this week with committee hearings and a full-body Stated Meeting, at which new bills are introduced and bills that have passed committee are voted on by the full Council. This week's passed bills are expected to include a major package of environmental policy including mandates for many large buildings to become more eco-friendly. Some of the committee hearings this week will also consider new or updated legislation for the first time, with no vote expected, but signifying possible movement toward eventual passage.

It's the first week since the Council released its response to de Blasio's preliminary budget plan. Public and private negotiations over the city budget will continue this week as the mayor is set to release his executive budget proposal later this month, leading to another round of Council hearings and an evenutal budget agreement by the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

[READ: City Council Response to De Blasio Budget Includes Investment in Workers, Cut to ThriveNYC, & Ferry Spending Transparency]

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson]

This week will also feature an MTA Board meeting, a meeting of the city's Panel for Educational Policy, a speech by Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton, two debates among candidates vying in the special City Council election to replace Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and more. As always, there's a lot happening - see our day-by-day rundown below.

And, perhaps this will be the week that the mayor, City Council speaker, and borough presidents name the inaugural members of the new New York City Civic Engagement Commission, which was supposed to be named for April 1.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday at noon at the Williamsburg Community Center in Brooklyn, "Mayor de Blasio will make an announcement regarding NYCHA’s lead prevention efforts. This event is open press. There will be Q-and-A. Later, the Mayor and Council Member Levin will meet with community leaders to discuss the City’s borough-based jail plan. This meeting is closed press. In the evening, the Mayor will appear live on NY1’s Inside City Hall with Errol Louis."

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the environmental impacts of the proposed Williams Pipeline.” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks.
--The Committee on Public Housing will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYCHA management of Tenant Participation Activity funds.”
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law to increase the cap on public funds available to participants in the city’s public financing system, and to implement the charter revisions approved by city voters in November.
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “FDNY ambulance costs,” as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the FDNY to report on the cost of ambulance transport.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at 1 p.m.

Monday is MTA Board committee meeting day for April.

On Monday at 10 a.m. on the Lower East Side, "the NY Renews coalition and member organizations including the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, Demos, and Make the Road NY will release a new report: Justicia Climática: How the Climate & Community Protection Act will Increase Resiliency for New York's Latinx Communities. The report details the ways in which Latinx communities are both disproportionately impacted by both the toxic effects of extracting and burning fossil fuels, and more likely to suffer damage to homes, person, and property from severe weather caused by climate change."

On Monday at noon in Chinatown, the city's Small Business Services department "will announce that registration is now open for new business courses in multiple languages, available to over 5,000 entrepreneurs. The courses will offer new culturally-competent curricula tailored to the needs of immigrant communities. The first new courses will be available in Spanish, Mandarin, and Russian."

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Sanitation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss the implementation of a 5 cent fee on paper bags, opting the city into a new law passed in the adopted state budget alongside the near-ban on plastic bags.
--The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing “examining water quality at the Parks Department’s beaches.”
--The Committee on Contracts will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws related to increased reporting requirements for contract modifications and to city contracts with non-profits.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Ben Kallos will speak to the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce at Fortis Lux Financial in East Midtown.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Brooklyn College’s CLAS Student Government and the Young Progressives of America will host a forum for candidates for the 45th Council District seat at the Brooklyn College Student Center. The participating candidates will include Farah Louis, Anthony Beckford, Jovia Radix, Monique Waterman, Hercules Reid, and Xamayla Rose.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committee on Juvenile Justice will tour the Crossroads Juvenile Detention Center in Brownsville at 1 p.m.
--The Committees on Transportation, Economic Development and Governmental Operations will meet jointly at 1 p.m. to discuss the potential creation of an “Office of the Waterfront,” which would coordinate among agencies on waterfront-related issues and would be tasked with “implementing the New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan,” as well as the potential creation of a “Director of Ferry Operations” within DOT.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the MTA will hold a board meeting.

At noon Wednesday, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will speak at the Monsignor Hartman Memorial Luncheon at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday on WBAI radio, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air. Tune in at 99.5FM or This week’s show will focus on the latest out of state government in Albany.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will meet at Murry Bergtraum High School in Chinatown.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, LatinoJustice PRLDEF Lideres will host “Latinx: Political Power Rising” at the Black Gotham studio in the Financial District. Panelists will discuss the ascension of Latinx politicians and candidates and issues facing the community. Panelists will include Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, Senior Political Strategist for the Center for Popular Democracy Natalia Salgado, and Associate Counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF Jorge Vasquez.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City & State will unveil its debut “Higher Education Power 50” list at the Battery Gardens restaurant in Battery Park City. Maya Wiley, Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School and former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, will give keynote remarks.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will hold a town hall meeting at the Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. The town hall is being organized in partnership with U.S. Reps Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Grace Meng, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senators Jessica Ramos and Toby Ann Stavisky, Assemblymembers Catalina Cruz and Michael DenDekker, and City Council Member Danny Dromm.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday at Brooklyn Law School, "Brooklyn Voters Alliance and Brooklyn Law School, along with local partners, will host an educational forum on the restoration of voting rights for people on parole and universal voting. We will hear from legal experts, advocates, and most importantly, New Yorkers who have felt the impact of our arcane and discriminatory voting laws as we engage in a dynamic, educational, and emotional discussion concerning the history of felony disenfranchisement...Speakers from the ACLU, Parole Preparation Project, National Action Network, the Brennan Center, Hour Working Women, and more."

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. It will be prefaced by the usual pre-stated press conference hosted by Speaker Corey Johnson.

Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton at the Mezzanine in the Financial District, discussing an “updated progress report on the redevelopment projects at the region's airports in a presentation titled "From Vision to Reality: Rebuilding New York's Airports for the 21st Century".”

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the Rent Guidelines Board will meet at the Landmarks Preservation Commission offices in the Manhattan Municipal Building.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 1:30 p.m. Thursday, U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will speak at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Gerald Lynch Theater.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, activists will rally and march from City Hall across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest the proposed Williams Pipeline.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, candidates for City Council in District 45 will participate in a debate at the Pakistani American Youth Society in Kensington. Bklyner's Kadia Goba will moderate. Participating candidates include Victor Jordan, Anthony Beckford, Monique Waterman, Farah Louis, Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, Adina Sash, Jean Similien, Rickie Tulloch, and Hercules Reid.

Friday and the weekend
Beginning at 8 a.m. Friday, the Regional Plan Association will host its 2019 Assembly at the Grand Hyatt New York in Midtown. Speakers “will address ways to promote both prosperity and community health—and how to put those policies and projects into action.” The keynote speakers will be Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont. A variety of local officials will also participate.

Mayor Bill de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday at 10 a.m.

Friday is Good Friday and the first night of Passover, and Sunday is Easter.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

A Busy Week at the City Council & MTA, Brooklyn Special Election Debates & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 15 Sun, 14 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Response to De Blasio Budget Includes Investment in Workers, Cut to ThriveNYC, & Ferry Spending Transparency city council point prelim mayor

The Mayor and the Council in a budget briefing (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

The City Council on Tuesday released its response to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fiscal year 2020 preliminary budget, calling its own outline “a fiscally responsible plan that safeguards the city’s financial future and secures the city’s social safety net for New Yorkers.” Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council members are calling for additional reserves and targeted investments, while also saying they’ve identified roughly $1 billion in savings that can be achieved between the end of the current fiscal year and the next one, which begins July 1.

The Council spent most of March focused on the mayor’s $92.2 billion preliminary budget plan and the separate capital budget, holding over 30 hearings, at which leaders of 55 city agencies gave hundreds of hours of public testimony, according to the Council. The formal preliminary budget response is the culmination of this stage of the budget process -- and it comes just after the adoption of the new state budget, which significantly impacts how the city plans its spending. The Council will next move into negotiations with the mayor ahead of the release of his executive budget later this month, which will trigger another round of Council hearings, more negotiations, and a deal expected sometime in June.

Appearing on Wednesday’s Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio, Johnson highlighted three areas of the response: growing the city’s reserves, strengthening the social safety net, and achieving pay parity for some sectors of the city workforce.

First, the Council is requesting $250 million be added to the budget reserves, noting that the Council was able to secure $225 million during the last budget negotiations. Johnson said the city economy continues to look strong, but that a recession could be on the horizon. “We don’t entirely agree with the Office of Management and Budget” on revenue forecasts, he said, indicating that the mayoral administration’s budget office is being typically conservative in its estimates. Johnson said numbers over the next two months, as more tax receipts come in, will inform what will happen in the final budget.

The city has billions in reserves but Johnson is worried that given the size of the city budget it may not be enough to weather a recession. Still, he did not indicate too much concern about the budget’s continued growth under de Blasio and the Council, with another $3 billion or so in spending expected for the coming fiscal year about the current one.

The Council’s response also includes a request for pay parity for certain sectors of city workers, specifically human services providers, daycare workers, assistant district attorneys, and indigent defense attorneys. The request includes $109 for the indirect cost rates of human services providers and $89 million to increase daycare worker salaries. Additionally, the request includes $5 million to boost pay for assistant district attorneys and $15 million for indigent defense attorneys.

Third, as he said multiple times throughout the preliminary budget hearings, Johnson reiterated on Max & Murphy that “we have to strengthen the social safety net in this city.” Within the Council’s budget response there are several proposals to increase funding for programs to help New Yorkers in need.

Programs that the Council wants to better support include the New York Immigrant Family Unit, senior meals, childcare services at CUNY, Fair Futures for those leaving foster care, and social workers for families with children at each of the 57 Department of Homeless Services-contracted hotels.

The Council is also requesting for $580 million more in education funding, which will go to fair student funding, an expansion of the Comprehensive After School System (COMPASS), security cameras in all schools, and renovations for school bathrooms.

The response also calls for $40 million to fund the city’s efforts surrounding the 2020 Census, an expansion of pre-arraignment programming, a funding increase for the NYPD Collision Investigations Unit, expansion of evidence collections teams, the opening of a community justice center in Far Rockaway, and the prioritization of the Department of Homeless Services Peace Officers for crisis intervention training.

The City Council wants to expand the pre-arraignment programming and calling for $2.2 million, increase the NYPD Collision Investigation Unit, and expand evidence collection teams with $1.2 million in funding, open a community justice center in Far Rockaway, and prioritize Department of Homeless Services Peace Officers for Crisis Intervention Training.

In addition to Mayor de Blasio’s $750 million PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap), which is set to find that amount of savings across city agencies in time for the executive budget, the Council is also recommending an additional $972 million in savings over two fiscal years. These savings come from agency efficiencies, additional revenues, and expense budget re-estimates, according to the Council’s budget response.

The Council found several ways to make city agencies more fiscally efficient. It wants the current partial hiring freeze expanded to include 870 additional vacancies that it says should be frozen for fiscal year 2020 or eliminated altogether as planned spending.

The Council also wants a $50 million cut to the planned spending on the ThriveNYC initiative, which is estimated at $250 million next year. ThriveNYC, First Lady Chirlane McCray’s signature initiative, has recently come under increased scrutiny for unclear benchmarks and a lack of transparency and accountability. The initiative was recently criticized by several Council members at a March 26 hearing and has been the subject of a great deal of press examination. The Council writes that a $200 million allocation for next fiscal year would better match the plan’s actual growth over the last few years as it has ramped up, consistently spending less than budgeted.

Other efficiencies include reducing energy usage, uniform overtime, the city’s vehicle fleet, and the Entertainment Incentive Fund.

The Council also wants to see better budget transparency and clearer accounting. “The Council asks the Administration to increase the number of units of appropriations and capital budget lines, create a comprehensive capital project tracking system, and establish a NYC Ferry Budget Report,” the Council’s response reads.

“However, new units of appropriation will not solve the problem of being unable to clearly track multi-agency initiatives or offices,” the response says. “For programs such as ThriveNYC, Universal Pre-K, and the Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, the Administration must commit to supplemental reporting with each financial plan and consistent budget labeling to show all relevant budgetary information for these wide-ranging programs. In addition, the Council calls on the Administration to provide additional reporting on particularly opaque parts of the budget, such as Department of Homeless Services shelter spending and NYC Ferry, which is operated by the Economic Development Corporation.”

Additionally, the Council believes that there are several revenue streams that the preliminary budget does not take into account, such as additional state and federal funding for the Department of Social Services. A planned expansion of the city’s school-zone speed camera program could also generate up to $30 million in additional revenue, the Council estimates. The Council also believes that the mayor’s budget estimates for various fines and fees should be revised upward, and also recommends re-estimates to the costs of various city obligations, such as interest costs on the city’s debt service and holiday pay at some agencies.

On the capital side, the Council budget response calls for a “sizeable investment” to increase bus lanes, bike lanes, and pedestrian areas. These investments would be part of a master plan for New York City streets, which Johnson said he will introduce legislation requiring “in the next month or so.” That master plan is part of Johnson’s proposal for improving the city’s transportation and livability, as he laid out in his State of the City speech last month. “Transit is the lifeblood of New York City,” Johnson said on Max & Murphy.

The Council’s response calls for installation of 50 miles of new bike lanes and 30 miles of new bus lanes per year. The Council is also requesting a doubling of the Department of Transportation’s Pedestrian Plaza program.

Raul Contreras, a deputy press secretary for Mayor de Blasio, said in a statement that “we look forward to working with the City Council throughout the budget process to build on our success, including collaborating on ways we can grow our historic reserves. We also look forward to evaluating new needs while being mindful of the City’s mandatory savings targets and any economic uncertainty the City faces.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

City Council Response to De Blasio Budget Includes Investment in Workers, Cut to ThriveNYC, & Ferry Spending Transparency Wed, 10 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson lead emil cohen

Speaker Johnson with Max & Murphy at City Hall (photos: Emil Cohen/City Council)

April 10, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson

inset emil cohenCity Council Speaker Corey Johnson joined Max & Murphy for an extended, wide-ranging onversation about his leadership of the City Council, his relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, city budget negotiations, housing and transit policy, and much more. The converstion also included a discussion of the speaker's exploration of a run for mayor in the 2021 election and his initial pitch of his vision, the issues that matter most to him and what the election may be all about.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson Wed, 10 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
State Legislature Begins Post-Budget Session, Specialized High Schools Hearing, & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 8 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Mayor Bill de Blasio is back from Nevada and the state Legislature is back in session post-budget. Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Governor Andrew Cuomo, will speak about the administration's accomplishments and priorities and the City Council will pass bills. The first state Senate hearing on the city's specialized high schools and the MTA's last public hearing on the new L-train plans are both scheduled.

There's a lot to watch for this week -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

[READ: 10 Issues to Watch in Albany's Post-Budget Legislative Session]

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committees on Mental Health and Aging will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “qualifications, training, and protocol” for home health care aides.
--The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding Neighborhood Advisory Boards.
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss a proposed law that would ban the Department of Probation from conducting drug tests in search of marijuana for prospective employees.
--The Committee on Health will meet at 11:30 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws related to water tanks, including several new regulations and reporting requirements regarding inspections and imposing civil penalties for building owners who fail to repair water tanks.
--The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 2 p.m. to discuss a proposed law which would ban employers from drug testing prospective hires for THC, with the exception of “safety and security sensitive jobs” or jobs tied to federal or state contracts.

On Mondayschools "Chancellor Carranza will kick off Civics for All Week with Chief Democracy Officer Ayirini Fonesca-Sabune. They will participate in student voter registration and a government class at High School for Environmental Studies. Later, he will participate in a panel discussion on the Wallace Foundation Principal Pipeline Initiative. In the afternoon, he will attend the School Diversity Advisory Group youth symposium and deliver brief remarks."

At 1 p.m. Monday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will deliver remarks at a Women's Agenda event at Hamilton College.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the MTA will host the fourth and final open house for community members regarding the “revised” L-train project. This hearing will take place at the 14th Street YMCA in the East Village.

Mayor Bill de Blasio will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday evening in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. It will be preceded by the typical pre-stated press conference led by Speaker Corey Johnson.

Just before the state meeting, there will be a noon rally at City Hall where “elected officials, activists and organizational leaders, including members of the Climate Works for All coalition, will call for the  passing of Intro 1253, the most comprehensive climate legislation that slashes climate and air pollution from the city’s top source of pollution: large, dirty buildings, before Earth Day...Intro 1253, prime sponsored by Councilmember Constantinides and Speaker Johnson, is a world-first law to set specific, comprehensive standards on buildings to cut pollution by 40% by 2030 and over 80% by 2050. It would be the single largest cut to climate pollution by any city ever. The rally will push for passage of this legislation, which is opposed by the deep-pocketed real estate industry, before Earth Day.” Participants: “Councilmember Costa Constantinides and other elected leaders and activists plus leaders from, AFSCME DC37, ALIGN-NY, American Institute of Architects - NY, DSA-NYC, People’s Climate Mobilization - NY, NYC-EJA, New York Communities for Change, Sunrise Movement - NYC, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and Working Families.”

Also at the City Council on Tuesday: The Committee on Criminal Justice will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring the Department of Correction to notify defendants when bail is set below $10, and to remove added fees associated with making bail payments via credit card.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo will join the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center for a discussion on food policy in the city.

At 11:15 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, "three hundred activists from across New York State will rally and lobby for the passage of the Climate & Community Protection Act (CCPA) in 2019. Now that the state budget has passed, both the Assembly and Senate are poised to vote on the CCPA, which would set an enforceable mandate to ensure New York achieves a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, while investing funds in low-income communities and communities of color and creating good, green jobs."

At noon Tuesday, the Brennan Center will host “Prosecution in the 21st Century: Transforming the Criminal Justice System” at the NYU Law School, discussing the power wielded by prosecutors and how the job is changing in the 21st century. Panelists will include Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Cook County, IL State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, author and journalist Emily Bazelon, and Fair and Just Prosecution Executive Director Miriam Krinsky.

On Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. in Albany, Senator Brad Hoylman, legislative colleagues, and coalition members of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group will host a press conference "to urge action on critical LGBTQ-specific issues this legislative session."

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Attorney General Tish James will be honored with a “Public Service Award” by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York at their annual gala at the Pierre Hotel.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the state’s medical marijuana program and its intersection with a recreational marijuana program,” as well as to discuss resolutions calling on the state to expand its medical marijuana laws and to patch any conflicts between medical and potential recreational marijuana regulations.
--The Committees on Justice System and Immigration will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding ICE in New York City courts, as well as to discuss a resolution calling on the state to pass the Protect Our Courts Act, which would prohibit ICE raids at courthouses.
--The Committees on Hospitals and General Welfare will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “impact of marijuana policies on child welfare,” as well as to discuss proposed laws requiring ACS to report on the allegations leading to investigations of child abuse and on the number of patients referred as a result of a positive drug test performed in a public hospital. The committees will also discuss resolutions calling on ACS to recognize that marijuana use alone doesn’t constitute child abuse, and for the state health department to create “clear and fair regulations” for hospitals drug testing pregnant women.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Higher Education will meet in Albany for a public oversight hearing regarding for-profit schools.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy program will air on WBAI radio, 99.5FM and, and feature an in-depth interview with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s will host Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to Governor Cuomo, for a “Business Breakfast” at the New York Athletic Club, discussing “the Cuomo administration’s agenda, the new political dynamic in Albany and her experience as the governor’s top aide.”

At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws related to elevator safety. These include requiring landlords to post signs in elevators on safety protocol in the event of stoppages and requiring residential landlords to provide “reasonable accommodations” to any resident with disabilities in the event of a stoppage lasting longer than a day.
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss several proposed laws related to food vending, including laws increasing the number of street food vending permits, creating a dedicated law enforcement unit for enforcing vending laws, and creating a “street vendor advisory board” to examine existing statutes and regulations for “duplicative, unclear, or unnecessary provisions.”

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the Housing Justice for All coalition will lead a “Moral March for Housing”: “Join community, faith, & labor leaders to fight evictions. We'll have a rally at Abyssinian Baptist Church, followed by a march to the State Office Building to hold a vigil for those who have been evicted thanks to weak tenants' rights and unaffordable rent. 100 New Yorkers are evicted every day. It's now or never for housing justice— We need Universal Rent Control!” Participating groups include New York Communities for Change, Met Council on Housing, VOCAL-NY, and others.

At 10:45 a.m. Thursday in Manhattan, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will join “Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan and RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum at a media availability to discuss a mission trip they are taking to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, Catholic Charities Immigration Services, 80 Maiden Lane, New York, N.Y.”

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, State Senator John Liu and colleagues will hold a “community forum” on school diversity and specialized high school admissions at Queens Borough Hall.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday at 10 a.m.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max

State Legislature Begins Post-Budget Session, Specialized High Schools Hearing, & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, April 8 Sun, 07 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Mark Gjonaj, Bronx City Council Member and Real Estate Player, Blamed ‘Progressives’ for Not Evicting Tenant Now in Prison for Federal Drug Crimes cm gjonaj town hall district

City Council Member Mark Gjonaj (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)

At an April 2018 constituent forum, City Council Member Mark Gjonaj found himself taking a particularly tough question from a community member.  

It was a unique problem for the Council member of the tight-knit City Island community of the Bronx, where he is popular. A constituent asked Gjonaj why a notorious heroin dealer was allowed to live and sell drugs in an apartment building previously managed by Gjonaj and owned by Gjonaj’s family for years.

Gjonaj, a Democrat, called the question the “dirtiest thing” he had ever been asked and said laws exist that “protect criminals” by preventing eviction.

“I know the law when it comes to real estate. And it’s the progressives who don’t allow me to evict a criminal,” said Gjonaj, to cheers.

He later said “no law would allow me to evict” the dealer and that he threatened him.

“I promised him that if I saw him dealing, that I would be his problem. I took matters into my own hands when I was a civilian,” Gjonaj recounted at the April 2018 meeting (which has not been reported on before), a statement his office is now contradicting, claiming Gjonaj had no knowledge of the serious drug-dealing going on at the property.

The drug dealer in question was Frankie Beqiraj, who was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison in December 2018 for distributing heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and Xanax throughout City Island. He caused the direct overdose deaths of at least four residents in the area, according to a federal sentencing memo.

Federal prosecutors said “that Beqiraj used his home as the center of his drug operation...confirmed by the evidence recovered from his home by law enforcement.”

This evidence included heroin, oxycodone, cocaine, marijuana, scales for drug measurement, plastic bags for packaging the narcotics, and a safe designed for keeping a handgun. Prosecutors said Beqiraj not only sold heroin to customers in his home but also sold to employees who would later deal on his behalf.

Beqiraj lived at 30 Pilot Street, otherwise known as Pickwick Terrace, a property that Mark Gjonaj managed for years until 2016. Gjonaj was a member of the New York State Assembly from 2012 through 2017, the year he won a seat in the City Council, where he has served since January 2018. The property is currently owned by Gjonaj family members, namely Kramluap Realty LLC (Kramluap is Mark and Paul, the name of Gjonaj’s brother and previous business partner, spelled backwards).

It shares the business address of a number of companies that Council Member Gjonaj currently receives passive income from (the City Council banned members from earning most types of active income in 2016, which, upon his joining the Council, impacted Gjonaj more than most, if not all, members).

Contradicting what Mark Gjonaj said to City Island constituents in April 2018, earlier this month and nearly a year later, a spokesperson for Gjonaj denied that the Council member ever knew there was drug dealing going on at 30 Pilot Street when he managed the building. He also said Gjonaj never tried to evict Beqiraj because there was no means to do so.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, the spokesperson for Council Member Gjonaj defended his role:

“Mr. Beqiraj, who originally moved into the building as a child with his family, live [sic] in one of the buildings owned by the councilman’s family. Mr. Beqiraj was convicted in part due to the video evidence provided by the managing company and the councilman was happy to see that justice was served. This was a tragedy that impacted not only the victims but the families that were forced to mourn their loss. It’s a shame that these families now have to relive these painful memories because someone has chosen to politicize their tragedy in an effort to score a political point. We understand that politics can be a rough arena but there are some issues that no decent person should attempt to capitalize on. This is one of those times,” said Reginald Johnson, chief of staff for Council Member Gjonaj.

Beqiraj had been arrested several times prior to his 2018 conviction and served three years in prison before returning to 30 Pilot Street in 2013. Federal prosecutors allege that in July 2016, Beqiraj assumed “his role as the leader of a drug enterprise that provided one-stop shopping for addicts throughout the small Bronx community of City Island.” He was arrested in early 2017.

Gjonaj’s management company provided video evidence of Beqiraj to federal prosecutors, aiding in his conviction. A spokesperson for Gjonaj said Beqiraj was not convicted of anything and, therefore, there was no recourse to evict him. The spokesperson also said tenant laws would have protected Beqiraj. This runs counter to Beqiraj’s arrest record prior to his federal sentencing and New York state realty law’s threshold for evicting a tenant engaging in “illegal business.”

It is not the first time Gjonaj’s relationships with his past and current businesses have come up as questions during his career as a legislator.

While Gjonaj served in the Assembly, he spent a large sum of campaign funds at his brother’s restaurant and helped host an ethically-mired Albanian Flag Day party also involving his brother’s business. Gjonaj is the first Albanian-American elected to the City Council.

After entering the City Council, Gjonaj ran into trouble for his past business relationship with a major Bronx trash hauler responsible for worker deaths and his legislative and public relations efforts to help them. The company, Sanitation Salvage, whose owners have donated heavily to Gjonaj's campaigns, has been put out of business by the city.

And, early this year, Gjonaj was reportedly under examination from the City Council for his use of taxpayer funds to pay for services from companies whose owners are campaign donors and a company sharing a business address with his own businesses.

by Jake Shore for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.



Mark Gjonaj, Bronx City Council Member and Real Estate Player, Blamed ‘Progressives’ for Not Evicting Tenant Now in Prison for Federal Drug Crimes Thu, 04 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000