Gotham Gazette Tue, 25 Jun 2019 12:54:24 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) De Blasio on Presidential Debate Stage, Taxi 'Crisis' Hearing, MTA Board Meeting, Pride Celebrations, & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 24 New York City Hall

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What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Tuesday is primary election day in New York. In the city, the two most high-profile races are Democratic primaries for Queens District Attorney and City Council District 45 in Brooklyn, the second special election for that seat in two months. There are also a number of judicial elections and party position votes. [READ: Upcoming Elections: What's on the June 25 Ballot in New York City]

Mayor Bill de Blasio will appear in the first Democratic presidential primary debate on Wednesday night in Miami, Florida. De Blasio was in South Carolina campaigning this weekend. The mayor, who has been polling at zero or one percent in the crowded 20-plus candidate field, will get a chance to introduce himself to many Democratic voters tuning in, as well as to make some additional waves, as he has been in criticizing former Vice President and early polling leader Joe Biden.

Closer to home, it's a busy week in New York politics, as we continue to dissect the recently-completed state legislative session, and there's a long list of events on the docket, including a variety of hearings at the City Council, MTA Board meetings, LGBTQ Pride celebrations, and more -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

And further from home: Governor Cuomo said Monday he'll be heading to Israel on Wednesday for a trip that includes solidarity and trade aspects.

***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:

Monday, June 23
At the City Council on Monday:
-At 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation and the Committee on Oversight and Investigations will jointly hold an oversight hearing on the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s role in the taxi medallion debt crisis. Four new bills will also be heard, three of which concern increased regulation of medallion sales and lenders, while a fourth would mandate the creation of an Office of Financial Stability within the TLC to prevent future debt crises. [READ: Council to Examine City Role in 'Taxi Medallion Crisis']
-At 1 p.m., the Committee on Women and Gender Equity will conduct an oversight hearing on the annual report on domestic violence initiatives, indicators, & factors, and will also discuss a resolution from new Council Member Farah Louis reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
-Also at 1 p.m., the Committee on Hospitals will meet to hold an oversight hearing on safe staffing ratios in hospitals. Additionally, several bills and resolutions will be discussed, including two bills from Council Member Mark Gjonaj to conduct a study on prolonged hospital wait times and to require the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene to better inform New York City residents of the emergency care facilities available to them.
-Also at 1 p.m., the Committee on Environmental Protection will conduct an oversight hearing on renewable energy. Several bills concerning renewable energy usage in the city will also be discussed, including two proposed pilot programs to power select districts using exclusively solar and geothermal energy.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will be attending the RFK Human Rights Compass 2019 in Massachusetts from Monday until Wednesday.

Starting at 8:30 a.m. Monday, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) will hold a series of committee and division meetings.

At 9 a.m. Monday, city schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will attend a pre-K stepping up ceremony and delivers brief remarks, at PS 68 Port Richmond School for Visionary Learning on Staten Island.

At 11 a.m. Monday in Harlem, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a press conference at NYC Mission Society.

At 11 a.m. Monday, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will deliver a commencement address at Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice, The New School University Center in Manhattan. At 12:15 p.m., Hochul will celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month with a visit to the recently-opened NYC WorldPride Welcome Center in Manhattan.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams will speak at the Spring Creek Community School Graduation in Brooklyn, giving "the keynote speech at the graduation ceremony on themes of perseverance and overcoming obstacles."

At 6 p.m. on Monday, Civic Hall and the Participatory Budgeting Project will host “Democracy Beyond Elections: A New Deal for Our Broken Democracy.” Representatives from Ireland, Scotland, Madrid, and New York City will be in attendance to discuss “their experience with expanding or engaging with participatory democracy practices...Be inspired by how community and government leaders from these programs have used participatory democracy to equitably reshape government policy and spending on issues such as abortion, climate change, and transportation.”

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, State Senator John Liu, Chair of the Committee on New York City Education, will hold a community forum on school diversity and specialized high school admissions at the office of the Staten Island Borough President in conjunction with BP James Oddo.

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center’s Garden Party in Manhattan.

Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall on Monday in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Tuesday, June 25
Tuesday is primary election day! Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. for primary elections across the city, including the Democratic primaries for Queens District Attorney and City Council District 45 in Brooklyn, among other mostly judicial elections. [READ: Upcoming Elections: What's on the June 25 Ballot in New York City]

At the City Council on Tuesday:
-At 10 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on the Nicholas Scoppetta Children’s Center, as well as discuss a bill from Council Member Stephen Levin to require the Administration for Children’s Services to study the use of psychiatric medication for youth in foster care.
-At 1 p.m., the Committees on Education and Higher Education will hold a joint oversight hearing on teacher preparation and training.
-At 2 p.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will hold an oversight hearing on pay inequity issues within the New York City Probation Department and the New York City Fire Department.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday at the New York Athletic Club, Crain’s Business Breakfast will host members of the City Council to “discuss how the council’s powers should change in the city charter revision, whether the council will take on a greater role in light of the mayor’s presidential campaigning and how they see the next race for speaker shaping up.” Council Members in attendance will be Joseph Borelli, Justin Brannan, Keith Powers, and Carlina Rivera. This event has been cancelled!

At 9 a.m. Tuesday at Baruch College, the Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice will host the panel discussion “After Rikers: Course Change for People with Serious Mental Illness, Substance Abuse Disorders and Other Disabilities.” The discussion, hosted by Cheryl Roberts, will feature State Senator Brian Benjamin, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, Arizona State Representative Nancy Barto, Judges Steven Leifman and Matthew D’Emic, and author and columnist D.J. Jaffe.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has four events Tuesday: he'll attend the Mott Hall graduation and deliver commencement address; join City Council Member Daneek Miller for a visit to PS 360 in Queens; attend the Academy of Innovative Technology graduation and deliver commencement address; and attend the Stonewall Scholars celebration and delivers brief remarks, at Yankee Stadium.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals will hold a public hearing to discuss projects all five boroughs.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics will hold an open meeting on regulating lobbying and ethics in New York, and will discuss annual financial disclosure statements and provide an update on lobbying applications.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host “What’s on Tap?” with State Senator Andrew Gounardes to discuss “his path to office, experiences in government, and vision for New York City.”

Also at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Commission on Gender Equity will host its Bronx Gender Equity Summit. “Summit participants [will] join small group discussions to help CGE identify ways to involve men and youth in the fight to advance gender equity; ensure greater gender diversity at all levels of public service; and prevent, reduce, eliminate gender based violence in all communities.”

Also at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Manhattan GOP, in conjunction with Log Cabin Republicans of New York, will host “Pride Right: The biggest Pride celebration of LGBT + Ally conservatives in New York.” In attendance will be Andrea Catsimatidis, Chair of the Manhattan GOP; Jerri Ann Henry, National Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans; and other elected officials.

Also at 6 p.m. Tuesday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a celebration of World Pride and Stonewall’s 50th anniversary.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at at the New York Yankees Legacy of Pride Game at Yankee Stadium.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Great Hall at Cooper Union, the Rent Guidelines Board will hold a public meeting to take its final vote on rent increases.

Wednesday, June 26
Governor Cuomo will head to Israel on Wednesday.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
-At 10 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet.
-At 10:15 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet.
-At 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a stated meeting in the Council Chambers at which bills that have been voted through committee are passed by the full Council and new bills are introduced. Council Speaker Corey Johnson will hold a pre-stated meeting at about 12:30 p.m.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the Association for a Better New York will host a Boardroom Breakfast with Bradley Tusk, founder of Tusk Strategies and former campaign manager to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to “discuss his career path, approach to political change, and the evolving political landscape in New York City.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) will hold its monthly board meeting, preceded at 8:30 a.m. by an audit meeting.

At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Community Service Society will hold a roundtable discussion on the most recent legislative session and its effects on individuals with conviction histories.

At 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners meeting.

On Wednesday at 5 p.m., this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI radio, 99.5 FM or, and will feature reflections on the recently-completed state legislative year with State Senators Zellnor Myrie and Liz Krueger.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Roosevelt House and Hunter College’s LGBTQ Policy Center will host “Fifty Years After Stonewall Where Are We Now? Where Do We Go from Here?” “Four of the queer movement's outstanding thinkers, writers, and activists – Ann Pellegrini, Rich Benjamin, Chase Strangio, and Edmund White – will assess the movement's extraordinary accomplishments since 1969 and pinpoint its policy goals for the coming decade.”

Wednesday at 9 p.m. is the first of the two-night first Democratic presidential primary debates of the 2020 election cycle. Mayor Bill de Blasio will appear on Wednesday night, along with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, and others.

Thursday, June 27
At the City Council on Thursday:
-At 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing will meet to discuss three bills aiming to limit the use of single-use utensils and beverage containers in restaurants.
-Also at 10 a.m., the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet to discuss several bills relating to waste hauling and the trade waste industry.
-Also at 10 a.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet to discuss six bills on disparate subjects. One bill aims to provide safe locations for internet-arranged purchase exchanges to take place; another bans the sending of sexually explicit images as a means of harassment; a third prohibits law enforcement from staging “perp walks;” two concern stricter laws and increased reporting on 3D-printed guns and “ghost guns;” and a final bill would provide notice to minors included in the criminal groups database.
-At 1 p.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to discuss several new pieces of legislation concerning tenant protections, including bills to limit fees and increasing regulation of security deposits.
-Also at 1 p.m., the Committee on Small Business will hold an oversight hearing on the changing market for food delivery.
-Also at 1 p.m., the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations will hold an oversight hearing on “New York City’s LGBTQ+ Community and the Arts: Resources, Opportunities and Support.”

At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Citizens Budget Commission will host its Trustee Breakfast at the Yale Club, with City Comptroller Scott Stringer as guest speaker. “At the breakfast, Comptroller Stringer will discuss City fiscal policy, including the Comptroller’s Agency Watch List and the need for rainy day reserves, and how to promote New York City’s competitiveness, among other topics.”

At 9 a.m. Thursday at City Hall, "Over 100 environmental justice, safe streets, and small business advocates, sanitation workers, and City Council members will rally on the steps of City Hall before a hearing on legislation to reform the private carting industry. The Commercial Waste Zones Bill, sponsored by City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, would overhaul an industry that is responsible for more than two dozen traffic and workplace deaths in the last decade. The legislation will cut commercial garbage truck traffic in the city by 60% by limiting one private sanitation company to each zone of the city. The Department of Sanitation will select waste haulers for each zone through a competitive bidding process that prioritizes fair prices for small businesses, good environmental practices, and high safety standards. The rally will be followed by a hearing on the legislation in the City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management."

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will host “Charting the Future of Urban Agriculture in New York City,” an Urban Food Policy Forum. “As the City Council considers requiring a comprehensive urban agriculture plan, this forum will explore what such a plan should include and how the city should go about crafting it.” The forum will be moderated by Nevin Cohen, Research Director at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute. Speakers will include Raymond Figueroa, Jr., Taconic Faculty Fellow at the Pratt Center for Community Development; Aziz Dekhan, Executive Director of NYC Community Garden Coalition; Onika Abraham, Director of Farm School NYC; and Ricky Stephens, Co-Founder at AgTech X.

At 10:45 a.m. in Utica, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will attend a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Doyle Building.

At 6 p.m. on Thursday, the New York City Commission on Gender Equity will host its Staten Island Gender Equity Summit. “Summit participants [will] join small group discussions to help CGE identify ways to involve men and youth in the fight to advance gender equity; ensure greater gender diversity at all levels of public service; and prevent, reduce, eliminate gender based violence in all communities.”

Also at 6 p.m. Thursday, City Council Member Diana Ayala, in collaboration with U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat, will host a Census 2020 Information Session.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, City & State NY will host its 2019 Pride Power 100 celebrating the LGBTQ community, “gathering top brass from advocacy, academia, media, business and beyond for a networking opportunity you do not want to miss.” Speakers will include Corey Johnson, Speaker of the City Council; Emma Wolfe, chief of staff to Mayor Bill de Blasio; Alphonso David, counsel to Governor Andrew Cuomo; and Thomas Duane, former state senator.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, the Museum of the City of New York will host “Whose Streets? Reclaiming NYC for Cyclists,” a panel discussion with “urban planners, biking advocates and experts about how New York City could achieve a shared “right to the road” for everyone, on two wheels or otherwise.” Speakers will include Ydanis Rodriguez, City Council Member; Judi Desire, founder of Uptown & Boogie Bicycle Advocacy; Helen Ho, co-founder of the Biking Public Project; and Adam Mansky of Transportation Alternatives. The discussion will be moderated by Streetsblog editor-in-chief Gersh Kuntzman.

Thursday at 9 p.m. is the second of the two-night first Democratic presidential primary debate of the 2020 election cycle. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will appear on Thursday night, along with former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, and others.

Friday, June 28
At 8 a.m. Friday, Be Social Change will host “Women’s Leadership Breakfast – Reshaping America’s Political Landscape by Elevating Women Leaders,” featuring speaker Erin Vilardi, founder and CEO of VoteRunLead.

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

Sunday will mark the official New York City Pride March, celebrating the LGBTQ+ community and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. The march begins at noon; many elected officials from around the city and state are expected to attend.

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 Joey Fox and Ben Max

De Blasio on Presidential Debate Stage, Taxi 'Crisis' Hearing, MTA Board Meeting, Pride Celebrations, & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 24 Sun, 23 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council to Examine City’s Role in ‘Taxi Medallion Crisis’ bloomberg gillibrand nadler yassky fed

(photo Credit: Edward Reed/City Council)

Amid a new flurry of attention to challenges faced by taxi drivers in New York City, the City Council will hold an oversight hearing Monday on the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission’s “role in the taxi medallion crisis.”

As a New York Times two-part investigation published in May helped bring back into extensive public conversation, taxi medallion prices rose to extreme heights between 2002 and 2014 – as high as $1.3 million – before crashing down amid a boom in the launch of the app-based for-hire vehicle sector. Thousands of medallion owners are in immense debt with their medallions, which allow them to operate a city-sanctioned yellow taxi, worth far less than at point of purchase, when they bought them from the city through loans provided by private banks.

Reporting prior to the Times’ exposé had already documented the mounting debt crisis for medallion owners, connecting it largely to the rise of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft. All of the city’s 13,587 taxi medallions took significant hits in value, both those owned by individual drivers themselves and those constituting larger taxi fleets. The City Council passed and Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a cap on new for-hire vehicle licenses and new wage guarantees for drivers amid a series of driver suicides in 2018, tragedies that pushed the medallion crisis into public view.

Now, the Times’ investigation has caused a new flurry of legislation after it showed how the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) was instrumental in the extraordinary inflation of medallion prices. Though the TLC was not directly involved in the reckless lending practices that led to the taxi drivers’ debt, it stood to benefit from skyrocketing prices at medallion auctions and chose to ignore signs that the market was highly unstable. The TLC is charged with regulating the taxi industry, and the Mayor oversees it and the city budget, which has included and relied on revenue from medallion sales.

While much of the Times’ reporting focused on other culprits, including predatory lenders and the National Credit Union Association, medallion owners and their representatives have laid a lot of blame on city government.

Sergio Cabrera and Carolyn Protz, two medallion owners, wrote in a scathing Crain’s New York Business op-ed that “the real how the Taxi and Limousine Commission, as well as elected officials, played a pivotal role in taxis’ demise.”

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, similarly charged that “the city raked in profit while working-class immigrant drivers of color were swindled and pushed into financial despair.”

Many elected officials agree. In an interview with City & State, City Council Member Mark Levine stated that “the city itself also bears responsibility for this, because we were selling medallions with the goal of bringing in revenue to the city and we were promoting them and pumping them up in ways that I think masks the true risks that drivers were taking on.”

The hearing on Monday, which will be jointly held by the Committee on Transportation and the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, will likely feature significant grilling and criticism of the TLC, as well as testimony from non-governmental parties, like medallion owners, pointing the finger at city government. On its website, the Taxi Workers Alliance has already promised to “pack the hearing room.”

Council Member Ritchie Torres, who will be leading the hearing as chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee, said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette that “the purpose of the hearing is to examine TLC’s role in creating a speculative bubble in the medallion market, and to identify the regulatory failures, the policy failures, that led to the collapse of the medallion market and the resulting humanitarian crisis.”

“There’s a sense in which TLC was functioning both as a market regulator and a market purchaser, and there is a conflict of interest between those two parts,” Torres said, echoing concerns outlined in the Times articles.

Although his committee began an investigation into the commission in November of 2018, “TLC has [since] been insufficiently cooperative with the City Council,” and the hearing is intended as a continuation of this inquiry. Despite the TLC’s stonewalling, Torres did disclose that the investigation has been productive, saying “there’s more evidence that the City is culpable than even the New York Times exposé suggests.”

In addition to the oversight portion of the hearing, which will begin at 10 a.m. Monday, four new bills aimed at mitigating the crisis will be introduced and discussed.

The first, from Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Transportation Committee, would require the TLC to “evaluate the character and integrity” of medallion brokers. Another, from Torres, would create a department within the TLC to evaluate the financial stability of the industry. This could theoretically prevent another bubble from forming based on false assertions of taxi market infallibility.

A third bill, sponsored by Council Member Adrienne Adams, would require the TLC to collect annual financial disclosures from individuals with interest in a taxi license. Finally, Council Member Francisco Moya is introducing a bill to prohibit the sale or transfer of a taxi license unless the funds used have been reviewed by the TLC.

These four bills are far from the only ones being drafted and discussed. On May 21, Rodriguez and fellow Council Member Fernando Cabrera proposed an exemption for taxi drivers from congestion pricing to lower their costs, saying that legislators had a “moral obligation” to do so.

Rodriguez also recently saw the City Council pass his bill to reduce the commercial motor vehicle tax on medallion owners from $1000 to $400. In a statement, he pledged to continue “to find ways to ensure that Taxi Medallion owners receive the justice they deserve.”

Meanwhile, in the state legislature, State Senators Jessica Ramos and Leroy Comrie have proposed a bill that would establish a taxi medallion guaranty program to help medallion owners who are unable to pay off their loans.

For some activists and lawmakers, these proposed changes don’t go far enough. Levine, writing in the Bronx Free Press, proposed “dramatic plans” to buy back medallions and forgive taxi drivers’ debt to augment smaller changes such as waiving fees and establishing task forces; City Comptroller Scott Stringer has expressed support for a similar solution.

The Taxi Workers Alliance, one day after the Times article was published, proposed a slightly less drastic plan. It would create a Council-appointed task force to determine the proper current value of taxi medallions, and any loan amounts exceeding that value would be forgiven (the specifics of how the loans would be forgiven have not been made clear).

Unlike Levine’s proposal, this would still likely leave many drivers hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. And as transportation expert Bruce Schaller pointed out to City & State, many medallion owners have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off their loans, money that a debt forgiveness program would not help them reclaim.

Any debt forgiveness bill may also face a difficult path under the de Blasio administration. Though the mayor has embraced investigations of lenders and higher wages for drivers, he dismissed the possibility of bailouts in an interview with Brian Lehrer, calling the crisis a “private market reality” that the city is not culpable for, mostly side-stepping city government’s role in selling such inflated medallions and TLC’s lack of oversight. De Blasio did acknowledge that the city allowed something of a bubble to develop, but cited his administration’s efforts to stop selling medallions and to cap app-based for-hire vehicles (a 2015 push by de Blasio to cap FHVs failed, only to be achieved three years later).

The June 24 Council hearing comes at a time of upheaval at the TLC. On June 18, de Blasio announced that Department of Veterans’ Services official Jeffrey Roth will become the new TLC commissioner. He replaces Meera Joshi, who departed the agency in March.

Joshi, for her part, was concerned that direct bailouts would benefit banks too much and drivers too little. Her preferred solution instead was to encourage banks to take a loss and downsize the loans. That way, the banks could “at least have a good live loan at the right price, [rather] than have someone who’s out of work and the bank with a loss.” Roth, who will need to be approved by the City Council before he becomes commissioner, does not yet have a stated position on the issue.

Though relief for medallion owners is likely still a long way off regardless of policy direction, Council Member Torres hopes that the upcoming hearing can begin the process of recovery. “My overall message is this: the city has been part of the problem, and it’s time to make the city part of the solution.”

by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Council to Examine City’s Role in ‘Taxi Medallion Crisis’ Thu, 20 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Hears 3 Campaign Finance Bills to Enhance Low-Dollar Impact, Limit Criminals, Curb Conflicts council comm hearing

Council Member Keith Powers (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing Wednesday to discuss three bills related to campaign finance reform. Two of the bills would prohibit candidates convicted of felony corruption or misuse of public funds from receiving public matching funds and reduce the matching funds contribution minimum from $10 to $5. They are sponsored by Council Members Fernando Cabrera and Keith Powers, respectively. Cabrera is the chair of the governmental operations committee.

The third bill, also sponsored by Powers, would amend the definition of “business dealing with the city” to include an earlier trigger in the land use review process. That bill would make those entities with uncertified applications under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and zoning text amendments part of the “doing business” database that severely limits what they can give to political candidates, with the goal of decreasing the influence of large real estate contributions in elections and the opportunity for pay-to-play politics.

The hearing included testimony from representatives of the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB), which runs the city’s public matching system and trains, monitors, and audits campaigns; and Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group. Each of the bills is based upon recommendations filed by the CFB in its 2017 post-election report.

Prohibition of Funds for Felons
Currently, the campaign finance act prohibits candidates from receiving public funds if they have been convicted of felony fraud in the course of program participation. It does not prevent candidates convicted of fraud or corruption more broadly from receiving public funds.

In 2017, a candidate participating in the city’s matching system, Hiram Monserrate, who received public funds had previously served 21 months in prison for using government funds to pay campaign staff.

“Ensuring individuals with a track record of fraud do not receive public funds is not only good public policy but is fundamental to the integrity of the matching funds program,” CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest said at the hearing.

While supportive of the bill, Loprest suggested that the Council could do more to ensure that public funds are not given to those who have a track record of misusing them. She encouraged the Council members to extend the bill to cover misdemeanors related to corruption, and to specify the language of the bill to explicitly tie previous crimes to an individual’s actions as a candidate or office-holder.

Loprest also suggested that the committee implement sunset clauses of five years for misdemeanors and 10 years for felonies, after which a candidate would again be able to receive matching funds.

Lowering of Matching Funds Contribution form $10 to $5
To qualify for the city’s public financing program, candidates must meet a two-part fundraising threshold. Depending on the office sought, candidates must receive a certain number of contributions of at least $10. This bill would lower the requirement to qualify for the threshold from $10 to $5.

Currently, all contributions are eligible for public matching, but contributions under $10 do not count towards meeting the threshold to receive public funds. Critics of the current system argue that a minimum contribution of $10 can impose too significant a burden on New Yorkers from economically-disadvantaged areas of the city. For candidates seeking to represent these areas in local elections, achieving the minimum number of contributions to reach the threshold can be a challenge exacerbated by the high minimum.

The campaign finance board discussed lowering the minimum to $1, but determined that $5 was “a balance between showing serious support and the financial burden from people from certain districts,” Loprest said at the hearing. The city typically encounters few $1 contributions, she said.

During the 2017 election cycle, just 186 contributions to Council candidates, or 0.72 percent, were under $10, and 30 contributions, or 0.12 percent, were under $5, according to a review by Reinvent Albany.

“Lowering the amount to $5 would allow more residents to participate in helping their favored candidates qualify for matching funds, and more candidates would be able to meet the threshold sooner in the election year,” Loprest said at the hearing.

“For large-scale elections in the city it would be an easier way to encourage people to get into the matching funds program,” Council Member Powers said of his bill.

Amending the Definition of “Business Dealings”
The third bill discussed would place limits on contributions to candidates running for office from persons with “business dealings” with the city.

Included in “business dealings” is applications for approval under ULURP and applications for zoning text amendments, but currently only after the City Planning Commission has certified an application as complete. Often, these applications are filed months or years before they are certified by the City Planning Commission. Those who file applications can thus make maximum contributions after filing their application for land use changes but before it is certified, providing more opportunity for a pay-to-play culture and undue influence, or at least the appearance of it.

Persons seeking land use approvals made up less than 1% of individuals doing business with the city during 2017 election cycle, but they were significantly more likely to make campaign contributions. Nearly 20% of those seeking land use contributions made contributions to candidates during the cycle, according to the CFB. Currently, there are 87 ULURP and land use applications in the city that remain uncertified, according to the CFB.

Amending the definition of “business dealings” will allow the city to include those who have filed an application but have not yet been certified by the City Planning Commission to hold them to the same standard as those who have already been certified. Maximum contributions to candidates vary based on the office sought, as do the much lower doing business limits. For example, the maximum donation someone on the doing business list can give to a candidate for mayor is $400.

Including applications that are not yet certified in “business dealings” is “an effective way to ensure that the matching funds program is doing everything it can to curb both corruption and the appearance of corruption,” Loprest said at the hearing.

In all other “business dealings,” with the city, people are compiled into and remain in the city’s doing business database for one year after the end of the transaction. This management system allows the campaign finance board to determine if a contribution is within the applicable limit. Loprest testified that land use application under the ULURP coverage period should also remain in the database for one year.

“If we’re going to have a system where we limit contributions for those doing business we should limit contributions when those business discussions begin,” Powers said at the hearing.

by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Council Hears 3 Campaign Finance Bills to Enhance Low-Dollar Impact, Limit Criminals, Curb Conflicts Thu, 20 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Looks at Reducing Recidivism for People with Mental Illness council comm cj

Elizabeth Ford of Health + Hospitals, left, & Becky Scott of DOC (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

City Council members on Monday held an oversight hearing to examine how New York prevents formerly incarcerated mentally ill persons from returning to jail. The hearing made clear that the de Blasio administration, Health + Hospitals public hospital system, and City Council members all want to reduce the number of mentally ill persons who rely on the jail system for their mental health care and keep those with serious mental illness out of jail altogether.

But, it was evident at the hearing that there is much more emphasis on services for the imprisoned mentally ill than on keeping those with serious mental illness out of jail, whether for the first time or in all-too-common recidivism.

The psychiatric services offered in city jails -- like nurse and doctor staff, therapeutic groups, and medicine -- are robust but someone with a serious mental illness often loses the best care upon leaving jail. This then contributes to high recidivism rates.

The hearing centered several key data points: roughly 43% of those held in city jails are suffering from mental illness (14% have serious mental illness); the recidivism rate in New York City is 20%, but for those with mental illness it’s 47%.

Held by the Council’s Committee on Justice System, Committee on Criminal Justice, and Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction, the hearing looked at the different ways the city Department of Correction and Correctional Health Services, a part of New York’s public health care system, New York City Health + Hospitals, provide care for the mentally ill in prison and once they leave. Two pieces of legislation dealing with notifying defense attorneys of their detained clients’ mental health and returning unused commissary money to recently released inmates were also discussed with various stakeholders who testified.

As the overall jail population has declined significantly, the proportion of New Yorkers with mental illness in city jails has risen in recent years: the overall average daily population of city jails decreased from around 11,500 in 2014 to around 8,900 in 2018, and the percentage of people with mental illness increased from 38% to 43%.

The percentage of those with a serious mental illness, defined by Correctional Health Services as anyone with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, has increased from 10.2% to 14.3% in that same time frame.

Council Member Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Committee on Criminal Justice, asserted that the City Council and the different city agencies in attendance all agree that jail is not the place to help seriously mentally ill people. However, jail is often where people with serious mental illness wind up, and jails often offer medical services – city jails have many psychiatric services located in one place (in fact, Rikers Island is the third-biggest provider of psychiatric care in the United States behind jails in Los Angeles and Chicago).

Currently, city jails put inmates diagnosed with mental illness in “mental observation houses” (MOs), where there are advanced levels of service and psychiatric nurses available, or the more intensive option, PACE (Program to Accelerate Clinical Effectiveness) units where there’s 24/7 embedded staff and more therapeutic groups, according to Dr. Elizabeth Ford, who testified for Correctional Health Services.

However, through questioning from Powers, Ford admitted right now there are people who qualify for PACE but due to spacing issues are only in MOs. THE CITY reported in April that the de Blasio administration is well behind on its planned 12 PACE units by 2020 (currently there are six).

Council member questions made clear that there are many mental health services available in prison, but the key organizing question of the hearing was: what happens when an inmate/patient is released? Ford said CHS gives inmates seven days of their medicine so they don’t drop off too preciptiously after leaving jail, a 30-day prescription which can be fulfilled at a pharmacy of their convenience, and many referrals to outpatient treatment programs.

Outpatient treatment is the primary way people with mental illness are treated in New York, most of which are run by New York City Health + Hospitals. Outpatient care requires patients to appear at appointments, as opposed to inpatient care or state institutionalization – mental health care nationwide over the past 60 years has transitioned away from state-run facilities once known as “insane asylums” or “psychiatric hospitals” and towards outpatient care.

When asked how CHS can make sure recently-released inmates follow through on getting care, Ford mentioned they are hiring more social workers and focusing on making sure existing services, like existing mobile care teams, work well rather than accepting “new mandates.”

In terms of keeping mentally ill people out of prison in the first place, Ford brought up the new plan from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio of helping mentally ill people go to the Health + Hospitals system, instead of prison.

Furthermore, two diversion centers -- in East Harlem and South Bronx -- will offer police officers a place to bring emotionally disturbed people who exhibit signs of mental illness instead of arresting them. They’re not open yet, but are supposed to open later this year.

Ford hopes the community-based aspect of the diversion centers will be especially useful as the centers will be located to existing outpatient care.

Supportive housing is another way to prevent recidivism, according to Ford. Supportive housing offers mental health services to people struggling to find housing. The de Blasio administration plans to build 15,000 supportive housing units over 15 years.

If the roughly 1,200 city jail detainees diagnosed with serious mental illness were to be released tomorrow, the relatively minor supportive housing options and short-term diversion centers combined with New York’s disinclination towards inpatient care throw doubt on how the seriously mentally ill would be treated without jail-based services.

The city has created what they call Community Re-Entry Assistance Network (CRAN) teams, which are six-month transitional teams to help those with serious mental illness re-enter the community after release.

On the two pieces of proposed legislation being considered at the hearing, the lead sponsor of the defense attorney notification bill is Manhattan Council Member Margaret Chin, while Queens Council Member Donavan Richards is the lead sponsor of the commissary bill.

Chin’s bill, Intro. 1590, would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to notify the defense attorney of a person who is in the custody of the Department of Correction and who has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness.

The bill, co-sponsored by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and six other Council members, is not supported by Correctional Health Services in its current language. Although Dr. Ford chose to keep some reservations of Correctional Health Services private, she did mention that the agency has a newly-created court liaison program intended to act as a go-between for defense attorneys and medical officers.

The current process for notifying the defense attorney of a seriously mentally ill person who is accused of a crime is the patient must give consent to Correctional Health Services and CHS gives information relevant to the mental illness diagnosis to the defense attorney.

The bill “attempts to break the cycle of imprisonment,” said Chin, as ideally more cases could take mental illness into account.

The most intense exchanges of the hearing occurred in regard to the other piece of legislation discussed Monday. Intro. 0903, Council Member Richards’ bill, would require the Department of Correction to notify all recently-released former inmates if there is money in their individual jail commissary account as well as return that money within 60 days of release.  

A commissary account, which can be deposited into by an inmate’s family, is essentially a bank account that the inmate can use to purchase snacks or personal products while in jail. Currently, the Department of Correction is holding $3.7 million from as far back as 2012 in unclaimed commissary money for the over 140,000 individuals who have not claimed it.

Richards, indignant, heavily implied DOC wasn’t making any effort to return the money, while DOC testifiers stated multiple times they don’t use the unclaimed money for their own purposes.

According to those who testified for the Department of Correction, the only outreach done by the DOC has been to put posters -- only in English -- in the jails. DOC representatives said the often unpredictable nature of inmates’ release schedules as well as the general difficulty in remaining in contact with released inmates makes returning the money difficult. DOC does not support the bill, citing difficult logistics.

In a fitting summary of the hearing, Council Member Diana Ayala of Harlem and the Bronx said if the Department of Correction cannot find people leaving prison to give them their money back, how can they ensure the mentally ill leaving prison get the mental services they need?

by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

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City Council Looks at Reducing Recidivism for People with Mental Illness Tue, 18 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
NAACP, Anti-Smoking Groups Press City Council Speaker on Bills Banning Flavored Cigarettes press conf flavored

Council Members Levine, center, & Cabrera, behind him (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

The New York chapter of the NAACP and four of the nation’s largest anti-smoking groups are urging City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to support two bills that would effectively ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in New York City. The groups recently sent a letter urging Speaker Johnson to bring the two proposals up for a vote in the City Council.

The first bill, Intro. 1345, sponsored by Bronx Council Member Fernando Cabrera, would end an exemption in a previous city law that banned the sale of flavored cigarettes to allow for the continued sale of menthol, mint, and wintergreen flavors.

The second bill, Intro. 1362, sponsored by Manhattan Council Member Mark Levine, who chairs the Council’s Health Committee, would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

The American Heart Association, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Lung Association, and American Cancer Society joined the NAACP’s New York State Conference in calling for flavored tobacco products to be banned in New York City. They say the tobacco industry uses flavored products to specifically target young people and communities of color.

“We strongly urge you to enact two proposals pending before the Council – both cracking down on flavored tobacco products that lure and addict our children,” reads the letter.

The letter states that 85% of African-American smokers use flavored productions (compared to 29% of white smokers). These organizations believe this is a leading reason why “African Americans suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related mortality of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.”

Last year, youth e-cigarette use, which increased 80% in 2018, was declared an “epidemic” by the U.S. Surgeon General. The advocacy groups’ letter points to a survey that found that “81.5% of youth e-cigarette users and 73.8 percent of youth cigar users saying they used the product ‘because they come in flavors I like.’”

The letter calls these trends “simply unacceptable” and implores Speaker Johnson to act on the issue. Both bills were first introduced in January and hearings were held in that same month, but there has been no change in the legislation’s status for five months, save additional sponsors signing on.

In May, all five borough presidents signed on to a letter drafted by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams supporting the two bills. Both Adams, who has made public health a signature issue, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. are considering runs for mayor, as is Johnson, who has also had a focus on health and chaired the Council’s health committee last term.

Johnson has been waging a public battle to quit smoking cigarettes, recently tweeting that he had hit 40 days without one (he told Gothamist he bought a juul, but did not indicate if it is flavored).

“The Council is always working to improve the public health outcomes of all New Yorkers, and we are continuing to review these proposals as they go through the legislative process,” according to a spokesperson for Johnson, who did not indicate where the speaker himself falls on the bills.

Neither bill has a majority of sponsors in the Council.

Eighteen of 51 Council members have sponsored Cabrera’s bill. “Flavored tobacco leads to the preventable deaths of thousands of New Yorkers each year and it is people of color and our children who are most at risk of getting hooked,” Cabrera said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We must move quickly to significantly restrict menthol cigarettes and flavored cigarettes in our city.”

Fourteen Council members have sponsored Levine’s bill. Twelve of the 14 also sponsor Cabrera’s bill. “To protect kids and our communities, we have to end the sale of flavored tobacco products in New York,” Levine said in a statement, adding that he is “working hard in the City Council to pass legislation to ban these products and ensure they can no longer be used to addict the most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

Some anti-tobacco advocates have posited that the bills haven’t moved because the National Action Network, a civil rights organization led by Rev. Al Sharpton, has come out against Cabrera’s proposal.

During the Council health committee hearing on the bills in January, Kyra Stephenson-Valley, NAN’s cessation coordinator, said “it is proven that increased regulation does not necessarily stop users, but rather criminalizes addicts without resource,” pointing out that there have been “disparate impacts.”

She went further, declaring that “bans and prohibitions can lead to an increase in negative interactions between law enforcement and African-Americans.” She also alluded to Eric Garner’s death, saying “history has shown us here in New York City that can take your life over a loose cigarette.”

In addition to City Council testimony, according to Politico, NAN “has held town halls at prominent black churches throughout the United States to talk about how menthol bans criminalize the black community.” According to a spokesperson for Council Speaker Johnson, Sharpton has mentioned the issue to him in passing, but has not directly lobbied Johnson or the Council.

City Council Member Keith Powers, a Manhattan Democrat who supports Levine’s bill but not Cabrera’s, said in a statement, “I have been an ardent supporter of stricter laws on smoking but want to ensure that no community feels targeted.” He did not respond when asked whether any individual or group personally lobbied him against Intro. 1345.

According to FairWarning, NAN receives funding from R.J. Reynolds, the second-largest tobacco company in America. The company produces Newports, which are the nation’s best-selling menthol cigarette brand. According to FairWarning, R.J. Reynolds’ donations to NAN are part of a broader corporate strategy of “seizing on the hot button issue of police harassment of blacks to counter efforts by public health advocates to restrict menthol sales,” with the help of prominent African-Americna leaders and advocacy groups.

The tobacco industry has a long history of employing similar tactics. According to the CDC, tobacco companies have historically attempted “to maintain a positive image among African Americans have included such efforts as supporting cultural events and making contributions to minority higher education institutions, elected officials, civic and community organizations, and scholarship programs.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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NAACP, Anti-Smoking Groups Press City Council Speaker on Bills Banning Flavored Cigarettes Tue, 18 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Administration Doesn't Support Council Bill to Create Department of Sustainability & Climate Change Costa Constantinides City Council

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

At a recent hearing of the City Council Committee on Environmental Protection, the de Blasio administration expressed its opposition to a bill that would establish a New York City Department of Sustainability and Climate Change.

The bill, Intro. 1399, was introduced in February by Council Member Costa Constantinides, a Queens Democrat and chair of the environmental protection committee.

It would make New York City among the first in the nation to implement a municipal-level agency dedicated to sustainability and climate change, according to Constantinides, and would repeal the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability and replace it with the new department, led by a commissioner. This change, going from part of the mayor’s office to a separate department, would likely mean more funding and staff for the responsibilities involved, signifying greater emphasis on the city’s efforts to fight climate change and prepare for its effects.

The commissioner of a Department of Sustainability and Climate Change would be responsible for all matters pertaining to recovery, resiliency, and sustainability, the three main pillars of the work involved as the city takes additional efforts to deal with and fight climate change. The department would develop and coordinate the implementation of policies, programs, and actions to meet the long-term needs of the city.

The proposed bill would also establish a Sustainability Advisory Board with members to include, at a minimum, “representatives from environmental, environmental justice, planning, architecture, engineering, oceanography, coastal protection, construction, critical infrastructure, labor, business, and academic sectors.” Most members would be appointed by the Mayor though it would also include the Speaker of the City Council and the chair of the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection or their designees.

“It’s time for us to make as a city a larger investment, a deeper investment, and one that when this mayor leaves, and when this City Council leaves, that we’re leaving behind a stronger apparatus, an apparatus that would be in perpetuity in relation to climate change,” Constantinides said during the hearing.

But Mark Chambers, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, testified before the Council committee at the June 12 hearing, which also dealt with two other bills related to reducing methane emissions and leaks in the city, and expressed the de Blasio administration’s opposition to the bill to create a new department.

After highlighting what he deemed the many successful initiatives of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, and the Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs, Chambers said a new department is not necessary. Key measures and structures are already in place to ensure that resiliency, sustainability, and recovery are embedded in all New York City agencies and initiatives, Chambers argued.

“Climate change is a cross-cutting issue requiring the specialized expertise of almost every city agency. By giving the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and the Mayor’s Office of Climate Policy and Programs the power to coordinate agency efforts, we are able to act with the urgency that our residents demand,” Chambers said in his testimony.

“Having said that, while the administration believes that our current climate teams are structured appropriately to meet the challenge, New York City residents need every tool at our disposal in this fight,” he continued. “We share your goals that were put forward in Intro. 1399 to prepare New York City for the impacts of climate change, build a more sustainable city and effectively respond to and recover from climate emergencies. In the coming months, we look forward to discussing strategies for effectively meeting these goals together.”

“I completely agree that doing more is not only advantageous but it’s absolutely necessary. To your original point about the benefits of making sure there is a legacy of this work, making sure that it has to continue, one of the hallmarks of our approach to our climate work is codifying it wherever possible,” Chambers said in his testimony. “So it’s not just working with the Council, it’s also with changing the energy codes, changing the building codes, changing the zoning codes to make sure that it is not subject to just prioritization but it’s become a culture of how we do work internally in the city as well as how the city at large has to redefine our environment.”

Constantinides acknowledged the work that the mayor’s office and the City Council have done to address climate change, its threats and impacts, but said the city needs a single agency to act as a conduit for all resiliency work moving forward. “The men and women of MOS and MOR have done an outstanding job and I want to thank them for that,” he said in his opening statement. “We cannot expect, however, that the several dozen employees in this office have the capacity to manage the sustainability policies for the over 300,000 strong city workforce. We want to give them more help.”

The new department would implement and monitor sustainability initiatives in New York City that have been launched in recent years such as the city’s commitment to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 and the city’s initiative to install 1 gigawatt of solar capacity citywide by 2030 -- enough to power 250,000 homes -- among many others. Led by Constantinides, the City Council just passed, with de Blasio’s support, sweeping legislation to mandate major carbon emissions reductions and green upgrades at the city’s largest buildings, and the de Blasio administration is moving ahead not only with continued recovery efforts from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, but new resiliency efforts like the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project.

The proposed bill would also require the commissioner of the Department of Sustainability and Climate Change to present a long-term sustainability plan for the city that would detail interim goals based on planning and sustainability indicators. The city would have to achieve each interim goal by no later than April 22, 2030 and long-term goals no later than April 22, 2050. (April 22 is Earth Day.)

Additionally, the commissioner must prepare and submit to the mayor and the speaker of the City Council an initial report on the city’s performance with respect to the identified sustainability indicators and long-term planning and sustainability efforts no later than April 22, 2020.

At the hearing, Constantinides asked Chambers how a new mayor would affect the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability’s current $17 million budget. “The discretion would still stand with the mayor, whether it’s agency or whether it’s mayoral office,” Chambers responded.

After Chambers and other representatives of the de Blasio administration testified, members of the public appeared before the Council to discuss the bills at hand, raising some questions about the proposed department bill.

“I’m concerned that there do not appear to be any enforcement mechanisms if agencies fail to meet their stated goals,” said Amy Ruther of the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “I’m also concerned that the members of the Sustainability Advisory Board are all appointed, not elected, and they are not required to seek input from the communities that their decisions will impact the most.”

by Jewel Antoine, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio Administration Doesn't Support Council Bill to Create Department of Sustainability & Climate Change Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Quick Rematch in Second Special Election for Brooklyn City Council Seat Farah Louis City Council

Council Member Farah Louis is sworn in (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

City Council Member Farah Louis was officially sworn in at City Hall on Thursday, a few weeks after winning a crowded special election to succeed Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to represent the Council’s 45 District in Brooklyn. But thanks to New York’s laws for special elections, she is already running for reelection in another special election, with the all-important Democratic primary set for June 25, in which Louis is facing several opponents she outpaced in the May 14 election.

The first special election was to serve through the rest of this calendar year, while the June primary and November general elections will determine who holds the Council seat for 2020 and 2021, the final two years of the four-year term. There will then be an election for the seat as part of the full city election cycle in June and November of 2021.

cd45 mapThe district includes parts of Central Brooklyn including areas of Flatbush, Flatlands, Canarsie, and Midwood.

Louis won the May special election with 42% of the vote in an eight-candidate field. Monique Chandler-Waterman finished second with 30%, and is running again in the June 25 primary.

The other six candidates from May – Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, L. Rickie Tulloch, Adina Sash, Anthony Alexis, and Victor Jordan – all received under 10% of the vote. Several of the other candidates are also campaigning ahead of the June vote.

All eight candidates who ran in May will appear on the ballot again in June, but only some are actively campaigning, led by Louis, Chandler-Waterman, and Rose.

Louis, now the incumbent, is of course running again, this time with the institutional support of the City Council behind her, including Speaker Corey Johnson. Runner-up Chandler-Waterman is actively campaigning, as is fifth-place finisher Rose, who got 6% of the vote in May. Anthony Alexis has also continued to campaign and raise money, but he received only 1% of the vote in May. Jovia Radix, L. Rickie Tulloch, and Adina Sash have all suspended their campaigns, while last-place finisher Victor Jordan’s plans are unclear.

Four candidates have filed with the Campaign Finance Board to receive public matching funds: Louis, Chandler-Waterman, Rose, and Alexis. As of June 7, only Louis and Chandler-Waterman raised enough to receive matching funds; Rose and Alexis are actively fundraising but have not yet hit the threshold needed to qualify for public funding.

With just a week before primary day, it appears to again be a two-candidate race between Louis, a Judicial Delegate and former aide to now-Public Advocate Williams, and Chandler-Waterman, who continues to have Williams’ endorsement for his old seat. Chandler-Waterman is also a former Williams aide and more recently led East Flatbush Village, a non-profit she founded that aims to eliminate violence through after-school programs and mental health workshops, according to its website.

Though the election has been contentious and closely fought, policy differences among the leading candidates are few and far between. Louis’ and Chandler-Waterman’s websites both lack sections devoted to issue positions; Rose is the only candidate with a clear policy agenda laid out. Most social media and news coverage has instead focused on their differing biographies, resumes, and political supporters.

Differences, when they do emerge, are largely matters of emphasis, though they have expressed different top priorities. In an interview with NY1’s Errol Louis, Farah Louis prioritized zoning and development regulations, “ensur[ing] that the neighborhoods continue to look the way they looked when we first invested into them.”

Chandler-Waterman, in her interview with NY1’s Louis, stressed the need for police reform and mental health initiatives, saying that she does “not believe the NYPD should be responding to any individual that has mental health illnesses.”

For the voters’ guide published by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, Louis listed her top three issues as “preserve and expand affordable housing,” “invest in educational” [sic], and “support economic development and jobs.”

For the CFB guide, Chandler-Waterman listed her top three issues as “affordable housing,”  “education,” and “public safety.”

The candidates’ answers to questionnaires from Citizens Union, a good government group, show similar differences. Louis lists housing initiatives as her top two of five main priorities, while Chandler-Waterman’s first two points concern gun violence and public safety.

The questionnaires also illuminate small policy differences between the two candidates relating  to voting and City Council reform. Chandler-Waterman supports changes to reduce the number of City Council committees and to require that laws enacted through a referendum can only be changed by voters; Louis opposes both reforms.

For the June 25 election, as of the June 14 filing, Louis raised $42,289 and received $75,308 in public matching funds, while Chandler-Waterman raised $33,555 and received $66,576 in public funds. The two candidates led the field in fundraising ahead of the May special election as well.

Both candidates have significant endorsements in their corner. In addition to Johnson, Louis has been endorsed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, who represents an overlapping Assembly district, as well as many other City Council members, Assembly members, and 1199 SEIU, the powerful health care workers union that Louis used to belong to and then worked for. Louis also has the backing of the district’s large and powerful Orthodox Jewish community leadership, which endorsed and voted for her over Adina Sash (who is Orthodox Jewish) in May and appears to be fully behind her again this month. On Wednesday, Bklyner reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Hotel Trades Council labor union had both thrown their support behind Louis.

For her part, Chandler-Waterman has Williams’s backing – a point of consternation for Louis, who was until recently his staffer. Williams is continuing to fundraise for Chandler-Waterman. Following her special election loss, Chandler-Waterman appears to have lost the endorsement of City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, who represents a nearby district (Cumbo’s name has been removed from the endorsements page of Chandler-Waterman’s website). However, she picked up endorsements from the politically-potent property service workers union 32BJ SEIU and former opponent L. Rickie Tulloch, and maintained the support of Assembly Member Nick Perry, State Senator Zellnor Myrie, and other local politicians.

Chandler-Waterman was also endorsed by the City Council Progressive Caucus and the Working Families Party in the first round, indicating that her progressive bona-fides may be stronger than Louis’. The Working Families Party has recently reaffirmed its support for Chandler-Waterman, but the Progressive Caucus appears to have rescinded its for the second special election.

Rose, the third particularly active candidate in the race, is the founder of an anti-violence nonprofit and a member of Community Board 17.

Both Louis and Chandler-Waterman have made and addressed controversial comments recently. Louis apologized for tweets from 2010 which demeaned Jews and the LGBT community; she nonetheless maintained her endorsements from LGBT Democratic clubs and Jewish representatives like Council Member Chaim Deutsch.

Waterman-Chandler, meanwhile, was recorded yelling at NYPD officers outside her child’s school in October of 2018 following an unverified charge against her husband. More recently, in an interview with City & State just after the May 14 election, she accused Louis of winning the special election on the backs of “Trump supporters.” Her claim appears to be supported by voting data; the Midwood precincts where Louis won overwhelmingly, which are mostly Orthodox Jewish, were also the 45th District’s most Trump-friendly in 2016. Louis’ campaign itself did not respond to Chandler-Waterman’s comments, but City Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Louis ally, called them offensive.

While Louis, after winning in May by a large margin and now having at least the buzz of incumbency, is clearly the favorite in the June 25 election, it’s not clear what the electorate may look like and whether Waterman-Chandler is taking any new measures to alter the race this time.

Turnout was incredibly low in the May 14 election – only 9,235 people cast votes out of 94,089 active registered voters in District 45. While the May special election was non-partisan and open to all registered voters in the district, the June vote is a Democratic primary, wherein only registered Democrats in the district can vote. There are no other major races bringing voters to the polls.

Although the 45th Council District is heavily Democratic, the winner of the primary election may not have the ballot to themselves in November. Anthony Beckford, who ran for the same seat in 2017 on the True Freedom line against then-incumbent Jumaane Williams, has said he’s running but has yet to report raising any money. There’s also the chance that Louis or Chandler-Waterman could appear on one or more other ballot lines - like Working Families Party - after the Democratic primary.

by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Quick Rematch in Second Special Election for Brooklyn City Council Seat Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
End of Albany Session, Primary Election Crunch Time, & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 17 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

All eyes are on Albany as the week begins and there are just three scheduled days of this year's legislative session left - Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday - with a number of issues on the table for potential deals, from legalization of adult-use marijuana to driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, sweeping environmental legislation to changes to the state's sexual harassment laws, and much more. Will there be a "big ugly" voted through in the wee hours as Wednesday turns to Thursday? Stay tuned...

There's also a good bit of action at the City Council this week, including several interesting hearings - see the rundown below. Those hearings come just after a city budget deal was announced Friday by Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. The $92.8 billion spending plan kicks in July 1, and includes just about everything that advocates and Council members had wanted to add in after the mayor released his executive budget plan earlier this spring. After that announcement, de Blasio headed to New Hampshire on Saturday to campaign for president, just after he had learned he'd officially be among the 20 candidates participating in the first primary debate, which will occur over two nights on June 26 and 27 from Miami.

Speaking of primaries, this Tuesday will mark just one week until primary election day in New York. There are not many elections on the ballot, but the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney is massively important. Others of note include the Democratic primary for City Council District 45, the second special election in the district within about six weeks, and a number of judicial races.

 And there's more -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

***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:

Monday, June 17
The state legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

At the City Council on Monday:
-At 10 a.m., the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will hold a meeting on oversight of private ambulances, including two new bills which would require the New York City Fire Department to submit reports to the Council on its use of private ambulance services.
-Also at 10 a.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings & the Committee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a joint oversight meeting on “the third party transfer system in modern day New York.”
-At 1 p.m., the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction, the Committee on Criminal Justice, & the Committee on Justice System will hold a joint meeting on recidivism for individuals with mental illness. Additionally, two new pieces of legislation will be discussed: one which requires defense attorneys to be made aware of their client’s mental health diagnosis, and another which would mandate that the Department of Correction inform inmates scheduled for release if they have funds remaining in their accounts, and instruct them on how to request a refund.

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, “Congressman Max Rose and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will be making an announcement on public transit on Staten Island on Monday, June 17 at MTA’s Yukon Bus Depot.” Rose will be joined by MTA New York City Transit President Andy Byford, among others.

At 9:30 a.m. Monday at NYC Sanitation Pier 99, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host a press conference to announce the Manhattan Paper Recycling Challenge.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will appear on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams will speak at the Broome Street Academy Graduation. “The Public Advocate will speak to the graduating seniors and their families on the theme of P.R.I.D.E. (Professionalism, Resilience, Investment, Dignity and Empathy).” At 5:45 p.m., Williams will attend a rally and press conference on the Central Park Five Case. “Public Advocate Williams will join Justice League NYC to put pressure on Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance to investigate Linda Fairstein's past cases and remove Elizabeth Lederer from her post in light of their conduct in the Central Park Five case.”

At 1 p.m. on Monday, the City Planning Commission will hold a review session.

At 5:30 p.m. Monday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host a Borough Board meeting.

At 6 p.m. the New York City Council will host a Pride Celebration at The Joyce Theater. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks.

At 6 p.m. on Monday, the New York City Commission no Gender Equity will host its Brooklyn Gender Equity Summit. “Summit participants [will] join small group discussions to help CGE identify ways to involve men and youth in the fight to advance gender equity; ensure greater gender diversity at all levels of public service; and prevent, reduce, eliminate gender based violence in all communities.”

Also at 6 p.m. Monday, candidates running in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney will participate in a candidate forum at the Jacob Riis Settlement in Queensbridge. The forum is sponsored by organizations including 696 Queensbridge, CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Justice 4 All Coalition, Legal Aid Society, Urban Upbound, VOCAL-NY; and will be moderated by Bishop Mitchell Taylor of Urban Upbound and Jarrett Murphy, Executive Editor of City Limits.

Mayor de Blasio will appear in his usual Monday evening segment on NY1’s Inside City Hall at 7 and 11 p.m.

Tuesday, June 18
Tuesday will mark just one week until the June 25 primary elections, including the Democratic primaries for Queens District Attorney and City Council District 45, among others. Tuesday also marks the last day to postmark an application for an absentee ballot.

The state legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Tuesday: At 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will hold a meeting to discuss 12 new bills and three resolutions, all of which broadly concern animal welfare. Among the most major are bills establishing a Department of Animal Welfare, requiring the NYPD to publish semi-annual reports on complaints and investigation of animal cruelty, and increasing fine and civil penalties for persons engaging in animal abuse, as well as a resoltuion providing a tax credit for taxpayers who adopt household pets from animal shelters (corresponds with A.286 in the state legislature).

At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, the New York City Bar will host a conversation with U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney to “discuss her work in Congress on many issues important to New Yorkers.”

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board will hold a public hearing.

At 6 p.m., the 2019 Charter Revision Commission will hold a public meeting. “The Commission will continue to consider proposals for revisions to the New York City Charter for presentation to the voters of the November 5, 2019 election, and such other matters as may be necessary.”

At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the New York City Commission on Gender Equity will host its Queens Gender Equity Summit. “Summit participants [will] join small group discussions to help CGE identify ways to involve men and youth in the fight to advance gender equity; ensure greater gender diversity at all levels of public service; and prevent, reduce, eliminate gender based violence in all communities.”

Also at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a celebration of the history and culture of the Russian-speaking community. The event will honor Sanobar Babakhanova, President of the Uzbek American Association; Emanuil Kalendarev, President of the Rego Park Seniors Club; and Irina Roizin, Executive Director of the Brighton Ballet Theater.

Wednesday, June 19
The state legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, together with the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and several New York City agencies, will host a Hell’s Kitchen small business roundtable.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday at the City Council, the Committee on Youth Services & the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities and Addiction will hold a joint oversight hearing on mental health services for LGBTQ+ youth.

Also at 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or, and feature the latest from the end-of-session in Albany and, with just six days before the vote, analysis of the Queens District Attorney Democratic primary, featuring journalists Emma Whitford and David Brand of the Queens Daily Eagle.

At 5 p.m Wednesday in Nautilus playground, Council Member Mark Treyger, NYC Parks, and Alvin Ailey Extension will host a Juneteenth celebration “commemorating the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans throughout the former Confederacy of the southern United States.”

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Queens Borough Hall, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and City Council Members Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer will host a Pride Month celebration.

Also at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will host a Caribbean Heritage celebration event at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Plaza.

At 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a meeting at High School for Fashion Industries in Manhattan.

Also at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the Manhattan Institute will host a discussion with political commentator George Will to “hear Will present a strategy for renewing the nation’s core ideals in our present political and cultural context.”

Thursday, June 20
At the City Council on Thursday:
-At 9:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will hold a meeting.
-At 10 a.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will hold a meeting to discuss several bills and resolutions, including three new bills designed to expand the prevailing wage law for building service employees at city development projects, prevent employers from requiring freelance workers to sign uncompensated non-compete agreements, and modify the way that workers’ compensation data is reported.
-At 1 p.m., the Committee on Contracts will meet to discuss four new bills concerning Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs). The bills proposed would add Native Americans to the definition of “minority group,” require the Comptroller to conduct annual M/WBE-specific audits, require City contractors to hire a consultant for every M/WBE contract over $10 million, and require the chief procurement officer to more frequently update M/WBE operational protocols.
-Also at 1p.m., the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet to discuss three new bills. One bill prohibits candidates who have been convicted of corruption- and fraud-related felonies from receiving public matching funds; another reduces the per-contributor amount required for the public funding threshold for eligibility from $10 to $5; and the third amends the definition of “business dealings with the city” to include uncertified applications under ULURP and uncertified applications for zoning text amendments.
-Also at 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet.

At 8:30 a.m. on Thursday in the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, there will be a meeting of the Borough Board.

At 9 a.m. on Thursday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a CAPA hearing regarding proposed rules on the prevention, reporting, and investigation of injuries, where members of the public will have the opportunity to make oral comments.

At 5 p.m. Thursday at the Oberia D. Dempsey Multi Service Center, the New York City Rent Guidelines Board will hold a public hearing.

At 6 p.m. Thursday at the Abron Arts Center, the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board will host a panel on “the need for strong policy inclusion and infrastructure concerning NYC’s State of solid waste management within New York City’s development of Green New Deal policy.” Panelists will include Antonio Reynoso, City Council Member; Robert Hockett, Professor of Law at Cornell University and Co-Author of "The Way Forward;” Ron Gonen, Co-Founder and CEO of Closed Loop Fund; and Jennifer McDonnell, Resource Recovery Program Manager at NYC Environmental Protection.

At 6:45 p.m. Thursday, the New York Young Republican Club will host its general club meeting, featuring City Council Member Joe Borelli and others.

Friday, June 21 and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

At 6 p.m. Friday, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli will host a Pride Month celebration reception at the Elmo Restaurant and Lounge in Manhattan.

At 7 p.m. on Friday, Council Member Rafael Espinal will host a Bushwick town hall & resource fair.

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 Joey Fox and Ben Max

End of Albany Session, Primary Election Crunch Time, & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 17 Sun, 16 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Passes Campaign Finance Bill Roiling Early Mayoral Race Johnson Kallos City Council

Council Members Kallos, left, & Rodriguez, right, with Speaker Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

The City Council passed a much-anticipated, controversial campaign finance bill Thursday, raising the cap on how much public funding a campaign can receive and altering other dynamics of the city’s matching system. The bill -- the source of significant consternation over the past several days, particularly among likely 2021 mayoral candidates - passed by a vote of 41-6, with one abstention, and three absences.

The legislation, which Mayor de Blasio has indicated support for, increases the public matching funds ceiling so that campaigns are able to raise only smaller donations and still have enough money to hit their spending limit. It also has a retroactivity component, a bill change within just the past 10 days, that caused a stir and appears likely to impact several upcoming races, including the Democratic primary for mayor.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a likely 2021 mayoral candidate, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, the lead sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation, including retroactivity that will make candidates return money raised in 2018 above new lower donation limits if they choose to opt into the newer of two programs that has more public matching.

That portion of the bill stands to benefit Johnson and hurt competitors like Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

“We are literally doing something that is entirely consistent with what we did three months ago and now all of a sudden we are being criticized for it,” Johnson said at the press conference, referring to actions the Council took to make new campaign finance rules approved by voters last year apply to the special election for Public Advocate.

Johnson, who pledged in January not to take any donations larger than $250 as he explores a mayoral run, said he has long supported the legislation and it has nothing to do with the race. He and Kallos also pointed out that the retroactivity component was discussed during an April hearing on the bill and recommended by the Campaign Finance Board so that an entire four-year election cycle would be run by the same rules, for whichever of the two programs candidates choose.

Still, neither Kallos nor Johnson had a clear answer for why the amendment to the bill had come so close to the Council’s votes on the matter.

Johnson noted the difficulty in creating legislation that affects lawmakers themselves.

“It’s hard to vote on these things because every time you do you’re potentially affecting yourself and your colleagues in what you do. It’s one of the challenging things you deal with as a current elected official when you start to look at the system that exists and you seek to improve it or change it,” Johnson said.

“For the current election cycle, just like we did for public advocate, when no one criticized it, you need to pick option A or option B,” Johnson said at the press conference. “No one is being forced to opt into the 8-to-1 [matching] system. We are just saying if you are going to opt into one system, be consistent throughout the entire cycle,” Johnson said.

If Stringer or others opt into the new system, they would receive its 8-to-1 match on all qualifying donations $250 or under, but under maximum individual donations of $2,000 (down from $5,100 for citywide candidates), and they would, based on the new Council bill, have to return the difference on any donations above the new maximum. That last aspect is what has driven Stringer and others to call Johnson out.

Others have criticized the bill for using more taxpayer money.

“I’m not sure how we look a homeless person in the eye and tell them we can’t find them an affordable place to live but don’t worry we have money for our next campaign mailing,” Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn Democrat, said on the Council floor before the vote. He voted no, as he had done in committee on Tuesday.

Supporters of the bill pointed out it’s potential to decrease the power of special interests and large donors in politics.

“I can’t believe we’re standing here having an argument over how much big money people should get to take after the voters said they want politicians to get less big money,” Kallos said at the press conference.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone say to me ‘I don’t want my dollars matched.’ The public match is increasing participation and the taxpayers, the residents actually like it. They like having their voices amplified and direct access to elected officials that they otherwise wouldn’t,” Kallos added.

“There’s a lot of cynicism in government because people feel like big donors have too much access in government, and here’s a way to take big money out and have it be publicly financed,” Johnson said at the press conference.

Representatives for Stringer, who would likely have to return the most money under the new system, if he sticks with the program of lower donation limits and higher matching, called Johnson amending the legislation and pushing it through a “brazen power grab” and using his government position to advantage his campaign.

“Johnson is rushing through a law that explicitly benefits him,” wrote Stringer spokesperson Tyrone Stevens on Twitter. “It’s deeply unethical and it’s not good government. Shame on him.”

"I’m a firm believer you don’t change the game in the middle of the game,” Adams told the Max & Murphy podcast on Wednesday, “...any major changes in the system should not be beneficial to any party involved. And I think that’s part of what Scott Stringer was saying." Adams said he wasn’t yet sure which of the two campaign finance programs he’ll choose.

A spokesperson for Diaz Jr. did not respond to a request for comment.

At the Council on Thursday, among those voting no was Yeger, who sits on the Committee on Governmental Operations, which first heard and passed the bill, sending it to the full Council. Joining Yeger in opposition were Council Members Mark Gjonaj and Ruben Diaz, Sr., both Bronx Democrats, and the Council’s three Republicans: Council Members Eric Ulrich, Steven Matteo, and Joseph Borelli.

Council Member I. Daneek Miller was the sole abstention. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who was absent for the committee vote on Tuesday, was also absent for the vote by the Council, despite having been present during the press conference preceding the full Council meeting.

by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Council Passes Campaign Finance Bill Roiling Early Mayoral Race Thu, 13 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Fading Promise of Property Tax Reform may bdb cc speaker corey jo

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

Despite promising that in his second term he would take on the challenge of property tax reform, Mayor de Blasio appears to be shying away as many leaders have done many times before.

New York City government is extremely dependent upon its property tax, which will generate roughly $30 billion this coming fiscal year, more than any other single revenue source. Not surprisingly, New Yorkers gripe about their property taxes almost as much as about the subways.

The laws and methods used to determine and assess the tax on individual properties are extremely complex and inequitable, but reforming them is a daunting task that will inevitably make some property owners unhappy. For that reason, elected officials have long avoided tackling the problem.

The current New York City property tax system was created in 1981. A lawsuit brought by law professor William Hellerstein in 1975 challenged the legality of the property tax system state-wide as violating the constitutional requirement that all similar properties be taxed equally.

After several missed deadlines, rejected proposals, and a last-minute override of Governor Carey’s veto, a new law was passed that divided properties in New York City into four “classes,” set different percentages of the value of each class of property to be assessed (assessment ratios), limited the amount of total property tax levy to be derived from each class (class shares), and provided for phase-ins and limitations on the growth of tax revenue from different classes so that no one property or type of property would experience a dramatic increase in value and taxation as the new system was phased in.

Thirty-eight years later, New York City looks quite different, property values have soared, and there have been many unintended consequences of the design of the property tax system.

Limitations on phasing in growth in value mean that properties within the same class are often taxed at very different effective rates and the limitations on class shares of the tax levy mean that different classes are shouldering disproportionate amounts of the burden of the growth in overall property value.

One of the most egregious outcomes is that co-ops and condos -- for which the market was very different in 1981-- are in the same class as rental properties and are assessed, not on their market value, but as if they were only generating rental income. The result is many high-end apartments assessed at far lower amounts than their real value; whole residential co-op and condo buildings in some parts of Manhattan are taxed at less than the actual sales prices of individual apartments in the building.

What is to be done? In April 2017 a group of frustrated real estate developers and landlords joined with individual property owners and supportive civic and civil rights groups (including Citizens Budget Commission, which I led at the time and filed an amicus brief) to file a new lawsuit, Tax Equity Now NY LLC vs. City of New York, et al. alleging the current property tax system discriminates against primarily people of color who are low-income renters and homeowners. The lawsuit was filed in the hope that, as had happened in response to the Hellerstein case, city and state leaders would respond with urgency and determination to develop a reformed taxation system.

Instead, both city and state defendants have strenuously resisted the suit, moving to dismiss it on the grounds that the plaintiffs aren’t directly impacted and/or that the state defendants aren’t responsible. The City also infuriated City Council members who wanted to intervene on behalf of the plaintiffs by opposing their application to file a separate brief.

The motion to dismiss was filed in June but it took until September 2017 for the judge to rule that the case could proceed and until February 2018 to rule that the Council members could not intervene in the case. The City filed an appeal and all further action in the case is on hold until that appeal is decided.  

At a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York the day before he was re-elected in November 2017, I asked Mayor de Blasio whether he was going to take on property tax reform. He answered directly and forthrightly that the system needs to be more fair and transparent but that we cannot afford to reduce substantially the revenue it generates and that relying on the judicial system to resolve the problem would be a mistake.

He estimated that it would “take a year or two” to bring all the stakeholders together and come up with the needed reforms and that it would require being “blunt” about the challenges. He said: “I am ready to do it….When I say something that definitively, I mean it…We will create tax reform.”

It took until May 31, 2018, more than a year after the Tax Equity Now case was filed and now a year ago, for the Mayor and the City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to announce the formation of an Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform. Co-chaired by former city Housing Commissioner Vicki Been, then faculty director of the NYU Furman Center, and former First Deputy Mayor and then Interim COO of CUNY Marc Shaw, the commission was charged to “develop recommendations to reform New York City’s property tax system to make it simpler, clearer, and fairer, while ensuring that there is no reduction in revenue used to fund essential City services.”

No deadlines were specified, but the commission was instructed to conduct at least 10 public hearings.

All the public hearings and meetings were recorded and are available online. The last one was held this past February 28. Yet there is still no word on what the commission will recommend or when it will publish its report. The state legislative session is almost over so it is too late to achieve any changes this year and Been has become a deputy mayor with a lot more on her plate.

So the mayor’s promises notwithstanding, an opportunity to rationalize our property tax system and make it more fair has been missed and the commission looks more like a stalling device than a sincere effort to make tough decisions. Who wants to make New York property owners unhappy during a presidential campaign? As was the case four decades ago, it appears that we will need a lawsuit to compel elected officials to make tough decisions.

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


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The Fading Promise of Property Tax Reform Tue, 11 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000