Gotham Gazette Mon, 24 Feb 2020 22:06:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Department of Investigation Commissioner Pledges to Eliminate 'Shameful' Background Check Backlog city oversight hearing

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

The Department of Investigation, an independent city agency that monitors and investigates government corruption, waste, and mismanagement, has yet to complete thousands of background checks on workers currently employed in city government. At a hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations on Monday, DOI Commissioner Margaret Garnett sought to explain why the agency had fallen behind and assured Council members that the problem would not carry on into the future.

As of Friday, February 21, DOI had 5,122 backlogged background check applications from city agencies, down from about 6,479 on July 1, 2019, Garnett testified. She pledged that DOI “is successfully shrinking the massive backlog that had been growing for years and remains committed to eliminating it within four years, if not sooner. This issue is among my top priorities.” By that timeline, Garnett apparently meant from the time of her appointment last year.

Council Member Ritchie Torres, a Bronx Democrat who chairs the committee, said the backlog “is not only an embarrassment but it’s a threat to the integrity of city government.” He noted that backlog came under scrutiny in recent months after David Hay, a high-ranking official at the Department of Education whose file was included in that backlog, was arrested in Wisconsin in December on charges of seeking sex with a minor. Hay did undergo two checks by the DOE and Garnett has insisted that, even if her agency were to have conducted a background check, it would not have necessarily surfaced the red flags that were found in Hay’s past (he misrepresented certain facts in his file, only found through a subsequent investigation by the Special Commissioner of Investigation at the DOE).

Torres also cited the example of Kevin O’Brien, a former aide to Mayor Bill de Blasio who was fired after facing allegations of sexual harassment. O’Brien had previously been fired for the same reason from a job at the Democratic Governors Association, a fact that he lied about in a background check questionnaire. Garnett said it would have been hard to identify O’Brien’s red flags because the case involved a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and he committed “perjury” by not disclosing it on his questionnaire.

“What I want to hear from DOI is a diagnosis of what went wrong,” Torres said in his opening statement. “Why was the Background Investigations Unit allowed to atrophy from neglect?”

Garnett made it clear that the backlog she inherited was a “shock” and that it seemed to stem largely from the department being woefully understaffed to handle the massive uptick in city hiring after de Blasio took office. She said she has been attempting to cut down that backlog since she took over as commissioner early last year, making it her priority to hire new investigators and restructure the Backgrounds Investigation Unit, she said.

The backlog increased from about 2,000 in the summer of 2014, de Blasio’s first year in office, to about 6,400 by April 2019, while DOI’s background investigation staff only saw moderate increases. “The current circumstance is shameful. It is a dereliction of DOI’s responsibility to the hiring agencies and to the city as a whole,” Garnett said.

The department also added 13 new positions with additional funding last year to create a team dedicated solely to resolving the backlog, while ensuring that a separate 28-person team completes all new background checks within six months of receiving an application from a city agency. Since July 1, the latter team has completed 766 new background investigations in an average of 71 days, Garnett said.

Garnett said she is taking additional steps to further reduce the backlog while maintaining a balance between the “objective” and “subjective” triggers for an investigation. One “objective” trigger is a salary of $100,000, which Garnett said she is considering increasing to $125,000. She said she would also tweak the categories of managerial employees that are currently subject to background investigations to narrow it somewhat. She also said the department is updating how the “subjective” criteria are defined, which cover employees such as those who have access to sensitive information-technology infrastructure and those who have the authority to negotiate and approve contracts, permits, and zoning applications.

She also seemed open to legislative fixes to the background investigation process. City agencies only send background check applications after making a hiring decision, and then help applicants fill out their forms before sending them to DOI. That means an agency employee could be on the job for months before DOI unearths any information that could mean they should not have been hired or are fired or disciplined.

Torres suggested that perhaps some aspects of the background check process could be preconditions for hiring. Garnett said fingerprinting and a criminal history check would be feasible. “We could accommodate it logistically if the agencies were willing to partner with us in doing that,” she said, emphasizing that “the agencies really control the pipeline.”

She also said she didn’t have “any inherent objection” to creating statutory timelines for background checks going forward, though she said that doesn’t apply to the backlog. “I would resist a legislative mandate regarding the backlog...Legislation’s kind of a blunt instrument,” she said.

“We think it’s surgical,” Torres replied.

Garnett also pushed back against the Council member suggestion that DOI inquire specifically about sexual misconduct in its background investigations, discussing both the Hay and O’Brien cases. “Given the national zeitgeist, the #MeToo movement, why not ask specifically about sexual misconduct?” he wondered.

Garnett cautioned against the approach, pointing out that DOI seeks any and all adverse information about a city employee, and that narrower questions could lead to limited answers. “I don’t think that privileging sexual harassment allegations over the range of other corruption vulnerabilities that are our primary focus, is the way to go.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Department of Investigation Commissioner Pledges to Eliminate 'Shameful' Background Check Backlog Mon, 24 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Busy City Council & State Legislature; MTA Board Meeting; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 24 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

After his win in Nevada over the weekend, many eyes in the New York political world and beyond are on a surging Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and questions around whether his nomination is becoming all-but-certain. Another Democratic primary debate is set for Tuesday night in South Carolina, just ahead of that state’s primary on Saturday. Michael Bloomberg will surely be looking for a stronger performance than he had in Nevada this past week, even though he still won’t be on the ballot yet. Bloomberg starts to appear on ballots for Super Tuesday, which is the series of states that will vote on March 3, results that will give a much more clear picture of whether Sanders is really cruising or if the contest will be more competitive.

Not only is Bloomberg hoping to slow Sanders down, but Joe Biden is hoping for a win in South Carolina to reenergize his campaign and Elizabeth Warren is hoping that South Carolina then Super Tuesday give her the boost her Nevada debate performance may have portended, especially considering her jolt in fundraising and polling since she had that big night attacking Bloomberg and other rivals, though she mostly stayed away from Sanders.

Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar likely know that how they fare in South Carolina, the first state to vote that has a sizeable black population, will be heavily scrutinized and that if they continue on to Super Tuesday they will need to show real results, which is of course true for all the candidates, though Sanders’ strength at this point means he has some room for faltering. Another wrinkle as the race moves to South Carolina: Tom Steyer will return to the debate stage Tuesday night and he's polling fairly well in the state, where he's spent a lot of money and time. Steyer finished fairly well in Nevada and his ability to pull votes in South Carolina could continue to impact the race.

It remains to be seen whether Mayor Bill de Blasio will be of use to Sanders in South Carolina or on national TV leading up to the primary -- it was a state de Blasio spent significant time in during his short-lived presidential campaign last year. De Blasio made waves this weekend by tweeting some especially pointed attacks on Buttigieg after Buttigieg criticized Sanders during his remarks on the Nevada results and path ahead.

Meanwhile, it promises to be a very busy last week of February in New York politics and government. The City Council has many committee hearings and a Stated Meeting where new bills are introduced and bills that have passed committee are voted through by the full Council.

After its usual mid-February break the State Legislature is back in Albany for four session days. There’s just over a month until a new state budget is due.

There are also a wide variety of interesting and important other hearings, panel discussions, and other such events this week -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

And there will be significant attention this week on the fact that the Trump administration’s new “public charge” rules go into effect and that New York’s new plastic bag ‘ban’ (of sorts) goes into effect on Sunday, March 1.

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday, February 24
Mayor de Blasio will make his weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours Monday.

Governor Cuomo will make an announcement at 12:45 p.m. from the state Capitol in Albany.

The State Legislature is in session Monday afternoon in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Monday, "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Announces Upstate Workforce Development Initiative Awards Funding" at Foodlink in Rochester. At 1 p.m. Hochul will make another such announcement at Time Release Sciences in Buffalo.

At 8:30 a.m., the New York City Bar Association will host the New York State Environmental Year in Review, evaluating the most significant developments New York State and New York City environmental law. Speakers will cover “New York State's Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act and New York City's Climate Mobilization Act and Local Law 97,” as well as “New York State environmental regulatory and litigation updates.” Speakers include Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice at the Mayor's Office of Climate Policy Adriana Espinoza, among several other experts.

At 9 a.m. Monday, Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson will be “joined by tenants, advocates, lawyers, and the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition (RTCNYC) at a rally on the steps of City Hall to support two bills that would expand the overwhelming successful Right to Counsel law passed in 2017.”

At the City Council Monday:
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Oversight and Investigations will hold an oversight hearing on the Department of Investigation’s backlog of background investigations.
--At 10 a.m., the Committees on Justice System and Housing and Buildings will meet jointly to hear two bills sponsored by Council Member Mark Levine on the “Implementation and Expansion of Right to Counsel in Housing Court.” The first bill would “require the Office of the Civil Justice Coordinator to expand the scope of right to counsel for all tenants making under 400% of the federal poverty guidelines, including any proceeding where ejection, eviction or terminance of residency may result.” The second bill would “require the office of the civil justice coordinator to collaborate with community groups in engaging and educating tenants of their rights in housing court, and then report on their efforts.”
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Hospitals will hold an oversight hearing on the “safety of New York City Emergency Departments.”
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Emergency and Fire Management will hear a bill sponsored by committee chair Joe Borelli that would “require the Fire Department to implement a pilot program for the use of electric scooters by personnel delivering emergency medical services.”
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Cultural Affairs will hold an oversight hearing on "Creating a NYC museum of African American history."
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Mental Health, Disabilities, and Addiction will hear bills sponsored by Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Ritchie Torres. The Cumbo bill would authorize “the creation of a mental health coordinator in each city agency to assist and perform outreach to city employees with mental health need.” The Torres bill would require “the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to develop a list of all free behavioral health services and share the information with any City agency that provides direct services to young adults, families, and children. DOHMH would also be required to train the identified agencies on appropriate dissemination of the information and ensure that the developed list would be available on the appropriate agencies’ websites.”

On Monday beginning at 8:30 a.m., the MTA Board will hold its monthly committee meetings.

On Monday at 11 a.m., “the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) will host a media roundtable with New York City and State officials, advocacy organizations, and local immigration legal experts to discuss and answer questions about the public charge rule. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it will begin implementing its public charge rule on February 24, 2020, except in Illinois where it is still blocked. This follows a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 27, 2020, which permitted the rule to go into effect while lawsuits continue. While the public charge rule may prevent some immigrants from getting lawful permanent resident status (green card) or a visa if they use certain public benefits or are deemed likely to use them in the future, legal experts will explain that many immigrants are NOT impacted by the public charge rule. Public charge does NOT apply to all immigrants, and it is NOT a factor if you are applying for citizenship. Additionally, the public charge rule does NOT change eligibility requirements for public benefits or access to health care services. The City’s new NYC Care program and many types of health coverage are NOT considered in the public charge rule. City and State officials, along with advocacy organizations, will discuss what is being done to provide free legal services for immigrant families so they may seek legal help if they have concerns about public charge. New Yorkers who have questions about immigration and public benefits can get help making the best decisions for themselves and their families by calling the free, confidential ActionNYC hotline at 1-800-354-0365 and saying “public charge.””

At 3 p.m. Monday in Albany, "On behalf of Donald J. Trump for President, Inc., NYGOP Chairman Nick Langworthy will deliver the necessary paperwork to appear on the New York ballot this November."

At 6:30 p.m. Monday in Brooklyn, “U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08) will deliver his annual State of the District address. He will discuss the Democratic agenda for America, which includes lowering healthcare costs and fighting for more affordable housing,” at Long Island University.

Tuesday, February 25
The State Legislature is in session Tuesday in Albany.

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Workers Circle will host New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams as part of its ongoing “Breakfast with Champions” series, where he will “talk about his work addressing immigrant and worker rights, federal actions that impact New York City, and other key issues.”

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the Regional Plan Association will “release its second report with ‘Make the Road New York’ on equitable adaptation in Central Queens.” Guests can “join RPA staff for a discussion around the key recommendations and findings of the report as well as the next steps.”

At the City Council Tuesday:
--At 9:45 a.m., the Committee on Women and Gender Equity will meet on a bill related to "Reporting on efforts to prevent and address sex- and gender-based discrimination and harassment."
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet on a bill sponsored by Council Member Mark Treyger on “individualized responses to hate crimes” from the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes.
--At 10 a.m., the Committees on Small Businesses and on Technology will hold a joint oversight hearing on “cybersecurity for small businesses.”
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will hold an oversight hearing on “the future of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.”
--At 10:30 a.m., the Committee on Environmental Protection will hear bills sponsored by Council Members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides. The Richards bill “mandates that preliminary budget accounting and executive budget accounting include an accounting of the carbon emissions, carbon offsets, carbon mitigation and net carbon impact that would be generated by each unit of appropriation in the preliminary budget, by each agency, and by the entire city government and include, where appropriate, the changes from the adopted budget for previous year to the carbon emissions, carbon offsets, carbon mitigation and net carbon impact that would be generated by each unit of appropriation in the preliminary budget, by each agency, and by the entire city government with an explanation of the cause of such changes.” The Constantinides bill requires “that the office of long-term planning and sustainability, or such other agency or office as the mayor shall designate, develop for each city agency and each affiliated governmental organization a climate emission plan projection designed to assure that each city agency and each affiliated governmental organization remains below the upper level of greenhouse gas emissions needed to achieve the city’s previously identified climate reduction goals.”
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections will meet to consider Mayor de Blasio’s two appointments to the Conflicts of Interest Board, Wayne Hawley and Nisha Agarwal.
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Economic Development will hold an oversight hearing on “borough-by-borough projects” being led by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, including “Jamaica NOW, Bronx Point, Manhattan Life Sciences Campus, Bedford Union Armory & Stapleton Waterfront.”

At 10 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources will hold a public hearing “to examine the effectiveness of current flooding emergency and mitigation efforts, and to discuss the need for future assistance due to the increase in extreme weather events.”

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Albany, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics will hold a general meeting.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Speaker Corey Johnson and the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus of the New York City Council will host the annual Black History Month celebration in the Council Chambers of City Hall.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday in Lockport, the New York Civil Liberties Union will hold a town hall “to discuss the impact that [facial] surveillance technology has on students in the Lockport City School District.” The event is part of a series of town halls taking place across New York State.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will hold a public meeting on climate and transportation. The department will “provide an update on the Transportation and Climate Initiative Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to implement a regional cap and invest program to transition to a more sustainable, resilient, low carbon transportation sector.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Transportation will hold a public workshop in Astoria to discuss the progress of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector project. This workshop will “will provide an opportunity for attendees to learn about and discuss the BQX planning work that’s been done to date, and the process moving forward.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Museum of the City of New York will host a talk titled “Puerto Rican Activism: New York, San Juan and Beyond.” The event will focus on the Young Lords Party’s influence on Puerto Rican activism, both on the island and in the diasporic communities of New York City. Speakers include Johanna Fernández, author of the forthcoming book, Young Lords: A Radical History; researcher Pablo Benson-Silva; filmmaker, writer, and scholar Frances Negrón-Muntaner; and Monxo López, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Museum of the City of New York.

Wednesday, February 26
The State Legislature is in session Wednesday in Albany.

At 8:15 a.m. Wednesday in Albany, State Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will join Times Union editor Casey Seiler at the Hearst Media Center “to discuss the state budget negotiation and what comes after - including the fight to maintain or even expand the Democratic majority in November.”

The MTA Board will hold its monthly Board meeting on Wednesday.

At the City Council Wednesday:
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Higher Education will hold an oversight hearing on the “research foundation of CUNY.”
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hear four bills sponsored by committee chair Stephen Levin, including two related to the pets of those who enter city homeless shelters, one that would require DHS to “provide case management services to everyone assessed by either DHS or by an organization that contracts with the City, who is reasonably believed to be living on the street”; and one that “would set 30 days as the maximum time that the DSS/Human Resources Administration may require a street homeless applicant to have received case management services to be eligible for certain rental assistance programs.”
--At 10 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zonings and Franchises will meet to consider several land use applications.
--At 11 a.m., the Committee on Health will vote on two resolutions sponsored by Council Members Daniel Dromm and I. Daneek Miller that relate to sickle cell disease.
--At 11:30 a.m., the Committee on Housing and Builds will meet on a bill sponsored by Council Member Robert Cornegy related to construction and the energy code.
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Parks and Recreation will hold an oversight hearing to “examine the Parks Department’s Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) Program.”
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Education will hold an oversight hearing to gauge the “experience of New Yorkers enrolled in adult education and adult literacy programs.” The Committee will also hear a resolution sponsored by Council Member Daniel Dromm that would “establish Diwali as an official holiday for NYC public school students.”
--At 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Dispositions will meet to consider several land use applications.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air live on WBAI radio, 99.5FM and, and feature a live panel event discussion about the Democratic presidential primary including supporters of several major candidates. The live event begins at 4:30 p.m. at Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Ave, Brooklyn -- details and RSVP here.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the New York State Board of Regents will continue to hold a series of regional meetings “to review the State’s high school graduation measures and reaffirm what it means to obtain a diploma in New York State.” This time at Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn and hosted by Regent Kathleen Cashin.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the city’s Panel for Educational Policy will hold a general meeting at MS131 in Manhattan. Agenda topics include proposals for “significant changes in school utilization” and “proposed amendments to Chancellor Richard Carranza’s Regulation D-150.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will host “Black History’s Next Chapter: Impacting Our Communities.” Asha Boston, founder of media literacy nonprofit The Dinner Table, will serve as the keynote speaker.

Thursday, February 27
The State Legislature is in session Thursday in Albany.

The New York State Board of Regents will continue to hold a series of regional meetings “to review the State’s high school graduation measures and reaffirm what it means to obtain a diploma in New York State.” Four meetings are taking place Thursday, including two in Brooklyn, one in Buffalo, and one in Syracuse.

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute will hold a forum titled “Food Equity Research in New York: Fresh Perspectives.” Discussion topics “include the food justice movement in New York, racial disparities in the urban food system, the role and limitations of government-sponsored nutrition assistance programs in addressing hunger, and labor in the city’s food economy.”

At the City Council Thursday:
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Oversight and Investigations will hear a bill sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres to require the “Department of Investigations and the special commissioner of investigation to create web applications to track agency cooperation and compliance with investigations and recommendations.”
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will hear bills sponsored by Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Daniel Dromm that would, respectively,l “create a position of a not-for-profit ombudsperson within the Department of Finance (DOF)” and create several “exemptions from the sale of tax liens” and “[approve] the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”
--At 1:30 p.m., there will be a City Council Stated Meeting to pass and introduce legislation. Speaker Corey Johnson will host the usual pre-Stated press conference at 12:30 p.m.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will hold a Census 101 panel discussion at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will hold an installment of their “What’s on Tap?” series with New York City Council Member and Chair of the Land Use Committee Rafael Salamanca Jr. at the Ainsworth in the Financial District. Salamanca will “discuss his path to office, experiences in government, and vision for New York City” and take questions from the audience.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Queens Council Members Donovan Richards, Adrienne Adams, I. Daneek Miller, and Rory Lancman will hold a Public Safety Town Hall with NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea. Commissioner Shea will address comments and concerns about public safety from members of the community.

Friday, February 28 & the weekend (It's a Leap Year!)
At the City Council Friday:
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Education will hold an oversight hearing on class size reduction.
--At 10 a.m., the Committees on Hospitals and Immigration will meet jointly to hear a resolution sponsored by Council Member Carlos Menchaca on “combating Deceptive Immigration Enforcement Practices Act of 2019.”

At 10 a.m. Friday, the Senate Standing Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development and the Senate Standing Committee on Social Services will hold a joint public hearing “to examine issues related to homelessness, housing insecurity and affordable housing, and identify potential legislative remedies.”

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

At 6 p.m. Friday, City Council Member Farah N. Louis will host “Unapologetically Black,” a gathering to celebrate the conclusion of Black History Month.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, the Manhattan delegation of State Senate Democrats will hold a State Budget Forum at the New York Academy of Medicine. Residents are invited to share their opinions on budget priorities with their legislators before the 2020-2021 budget passes on April 1st. State Senators Liz Krueger, Brad Hoylman, Robert Jackson, Brian Kavanagh, and Jose Serrano will be in attendance.

The state’s ban on many types of carryout plastic bags goes into effect on Sunday, March 1.

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

by Ben Max & Claire Del Sorbo

Busy City Council & State Legislature; MTA Board Meeting; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 24 Sun, 23 Feb 2020 19:47:43 +0000
Key Details Emerge for How Ranked-Choice Voting Will Work in New York City primary voting chi bdb

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Though a new system for holding many city elections was overwhelmingly approved by voters last fall, new details about how ranked-choice voting will actually work continue to emerge.

Ranked-choice voting, which will apply to only special and primary elections for New York City government positions, allows voters to rank up to five candidates in order of preference. If no candidate hits a majority of votes, a system of vote redistribution based on second and possibly subsequent choices is executed, with ballots initially cast for the last-place candidate assigned to each of those voters’ second choices, and so on until a winner is crowned.

While several potential benefits, including the end to costly, low turnout run-off elections, helped lead to the passage of ranked-choice voting, concerns have been raised about educating voters on the new, complex system before its 2021 implementation.

Under ranked-choice voting, how the results are tabulated, when vote tallies are reported, and when unofficial winners are declared have implications for the way New Yorkers understand election results.

Newly evident details about the methodology for tabulating and reporting ranked-choice voting results in New York City are now surfacing, including areas in which the New York City Board of Elections has discretion. They come amid concerns over the recent debacle at the Iowa Democratic presidential primary caucuses and a nationwide call to remove chaos and misinformation from elections -- while New York City contests have seen their share of controversy and uncertainty.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting say it will encourage more civility in campaigning and require candidates to reach a larger base of support, with candidates hoping to be named either first or second choice on as many ballots as possible, while also eliminating the need for party primary run-offs. The 2019 Charter Revision Commission, created through City Council legislation, proposed amending the City Charter to establish ranked-choice voting (among over a dozen other proposals). Voters approved the amendment including ranked-choice voting with 73.6 percent support, while all the other proposals on a wide variety of topics also passed with similar degrees of support.

Jurisdictions using ranked-choice voting allow voters to rank candidates as ‘first choice,’ ‘second choice,’ ‘third choice,’ and sometimes more (the city will allow up to five, though voters can still just select their top choice for a position and leave it at that). If no candidate wins a majority of first choice votes upon the initial counting, the candidate with the fewest first choice votes is eliminated and their votes are reassigned to the second choice candidate listed on each of those ballots. That process is then repeated as needed until a winner is declared.

Gotham Gazette has learned that, if no candidate hits a majority of votes and candidate elimination is triggered, under the law a winner will not be announced until all but two candidates have been eliminated and all ballots with other candidates listed first are redistributed among those top two finishers.

This differs from the way most jurisdictions using ranked-choice voting in the United States tabulate votes. According to the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center, of the 15 jurisdictions that use ranked-choice voting to elect a single winner, all but two stop the counting and declare a victor as soon as any candidate reaches more than 50 percent of the vote.

“A close reading of the Charter shows that the 2019 Charter Revision Commission selected a far less common version of Ranked Choice Voting for New York City, and very few New Yorkers, including many legislators and advocates, realize that,” wrote Rachel Bloom, policy director at Citizens Union, a good government group, in an email to Gotham Gazette.

While falling into the minority of ranked-choice voting methods, experts say the city’s so-called “down to two” approach provides a fuller picture of the electorate’s position. They say it adds to the value of ranked-choice voting by showing a wider breadth of support for the winner in a crowded special or primary election.

“Running the count down to the final two gives you a better sense of a candidate's mandate and what coalitions they may have formed or have available to them as electeds,” wrote Christopher Hughes, the policy director and general counsel at the Resource Center, who has worked with governments and advocates throughout the country on adopting and implementing ranked-choice voting, in an email to Gotham Gazette.

A City Council source said that running the tabulation down to two is a transparency measure and will not affect which candidate ultimately wins.

But making vote tabulation more complicated, in any sense, could also have negative side effects in terms of informing voters.

At a press conference last week in Lower Manhattan and again Tuesday on WNYC radio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Democrat and likely 2021 mayoral contender, claimed election results will not be reported after polls close on the night of an election using ranked-choice voting. In almost all recent elections in New York City, unofficial results have been known and publicized the night of the election. Instead they may not be announced for days or may trickle-in in pieces, with the first round of counting published days before the final outcome is known -- or both.

“We are definitely not going to know on primary night in June of 2021 who the winner is. It’s going to take potentially days...You’re hearing it here, now, 17 months before the election,” Johnson said on WNYC.

He cited the length of time it will take to count votes, eliminate candidates if none reach a majority of highest rank votes on the initial count, and redistribute the votes as needed. 

But the true calculus is not as cut and dry and when results are announced depends on the discretion of election administrators, who have yet to publicly discuss how ranked-choice voting will be executed. Under New York State election law, the New York City Board of Elections, which administers elections in the five boroughs, must report unofficial election results on the final night of an election after polls close. But the City Charter amendment creating ranked-choice voting gives the city BOE discretion to decide whether to, on the night of a special or primary election, report just the first round of tabulation or the results of all rounds.

According to the City Council source, the BOE will ultimately have to make a rule about its approach to reporting. The board must issue a report in June on its plan for implementing RCV in 2021, but is not explicitly required to include a determination on the reporting method then.

A spokesperson for the city BOE said it was too early to say which approach the board would take and that staff would be meeting with voting technology vendors in March to discuss the options.

In a phone interview, Michael Ryan, the New York City Board of Elections executive director, said the nuances of ranked-choice voting mean a candidate elimination might not be triggered until after absentee and affidavit ballots are counted.

“The Speaker’s statement is correct. There are going to be contests, maybe not all of them, but there are going to be contests where the outcome will be an open question for a much longer period of time than we have become used to in the city of New York,” Ryan said.

“The Speaker’s prediction is based on the findings by the Charter Revision Commission,” wrote a Council spokesperson in an email. 

Unofficial election night results differ from the certified election results, which can come days or weeks after an election. In New York, election administrators have 13 days to declare official winners. To reach the official results, all votes including absentee and affidavit ballots have to be tabulated.

“In most RCV jurisdictions the election administrators have communicated to press/candidates/voters how and when results of the RCV count will be released,” Hughes wrote by email. “Most places tend to get unofficial round-by-round results out in the 24 hours after an election, but first-time implementations may take a bit longer as people work out the kinks in the process.”

The kinks, according to Hughes, are not necessarily a matter of technology. “The additional rounds of counting, if needed to determine who the final two candidates are [and] their vote shares, don't take much additional time because the software used to run the count is fairly efficient at this point,” he pointed out.

With the potential that first round tabulations can yield different vote leaders than the final “down to two” count, partial or piece-meal reporting could confuse voters and diminish confidence in the final results. “We definitely won’t know that night, we may not know the next day, and people should understand that that night candidates are going to...stand at a lectern and say, ‘ra! ra!’ but not be able to say who actually won or not,” Johnson said Tuesday of election results and the nights of special or primary elections (which now come after a period of early voting in New York for each election).

The 2021 election cycle, which will be the city’s first using ranked-choice voting, will be incredibly busy, especially for the June Democratic primaries, with hundreds of candidates expected across races for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, the five borough presidents, and all 51 City Council seats. Many of those contests will be for “open seats” with no incumbent running, traditionally leading to more candidates in the running and increasing the likelihood that ranked-choice voting will involve more triggered candidate elimination, vote redistribution processes.

Along with clarity and planning from the city Board of Elections, elected officials and advocates are calling for an education campaign so that voters know how ranked-choice voting works, both from voting and vote-counting standpoints. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, also a Democrat and likely mayoral candidate, has already pledged to start holding educational workshops.

“Clarity is needed so we can begin a comprehensive voter education program in advance of the 2021 primary where RCV will go into effect.  RCV education is not only about how to vote but also how results are calculated. The last thing we want is voters not understanding why a certain candidate won,” Bloom wrote.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Key Details Emerge for How Ranked-Choice Voting Will Work in New York City Thu, 20 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
King Saga Shows Need to Bring Real Ethics Reform to the City Council council andy king

Council Member Andy King (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

Another day, another egregious ethics violation, and it’s still business as usual in the City Council. Last week, the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics announced yet another investigation, the third to be precise, into Council Member Andy King’s behavior.

New charges allege that King actively tried to circumvent the Council-imposed ‘monitor,’ seemingly a glorified babysitter since he could not be trusted to act appropriately with his staff, and violated a majority of the disciplinary provisions imposed by the Council in the fall. New allegations include misappropriation of city funds for his personal benefit. 

The Council had every chance to remove him this fall, yet in an appalling 34-12 vote on his expulsion, the Council decided to punt, and in a separate vote opted to suspend him instead. Here begins a renewed round of flimsy excuses and attempts to hide behind precedent from those who voted against his expulsion.

I of course support restorative justice and giving people a second chance, but this is a Council member who has been warned for the umpteenth time and is clearly more emboldened to do whatever he wants. 

The Council is long overdue to rethink ethics oversight. Time and again the Council is asked to police its own members. And time and again, we’ve seen just how ineffective, broken, and inequitable this process is. There’s a better way.

The theory of change is not radical: remove ethics oversight from the political power structure and start a meaningful process to build a system, with input from staff members and aides, that will  protect workers and restore the public’s faith in the Council. This, out of necessity, will require a truly independent ethics oversight body.

But that’s just the first step. No New Yorker should face harassment on the job. It is unacceptable to protect Council members who have demeaned and harassed their employees, like King, who should have been expelled, and avoid severe repercussions for their behavior. The lack of accountability only creates a perverse permission structure that allows this type of deplorable behavior to flourish. That’s why I stand with Harassment Free NYCC, a courageous group of current and former City Council staffers, in their fight for a safe and inclusive work environment.

It’s simply not good enough to do the bare minimum. City Council staffers must be given the same opportunities and benefits as millions of other city employees and be allowed to unionize. I remain hopeful that the burgeoning union, the Association of Legislative Employees, is able to make significant progress on their unionization drive over the next year.

But this kind of reform also requires that the ‘but-this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it’ mentality is shoved aside. In Albany, we’ve already seen the impact of what can happen when a group of insurgent candidates run, win, and create the space to upend antiquated norms for the better. As someone who used to work in City Council, I know there are many short- and long-term changes that can be made if we empower the staff themselves.

The looming realignment and wave of brand new councilmembers coming to New York City politics and government in 2021 is fertile ground for such structural change. Which is why we need an energized and ambitious cohort of new elected officials to capitalize on this unique opportunity to reimagine how the Council does business. It’s vital that independent reformers, not those beholden to a calcified Council culture and party bosses, are part of the new wave. 

Brandon West is a candidate for City Council in Brooklyn’s District 39 and is the former president of the New Kings Democrats (NKD). On Twitter @btwest.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

King Saga Shows Need to Bring Real Ethics Reform to the City Council Tue, 18 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Sanders Endorsement Fallout; Reckoning with Bloomberg's Record; Cuomo's Budget Amendments; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 17 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

The week begins with a holiday and Mayor Bill de Blasio flying back from Nevada, where he was campaigning on behalf of Bernie Sanders for president after endorsing the Vermont senator. After a tortured 2016 process that led to a humiliating endorsement of Hillary Clinton in that year’s Democratic primary over Sanders, de Blasio attempted his own run for president this time around, quickly bowing out of the race after entering it late, and is now behind Sanders after the senator’s strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire, and just ahead of the Nevada caucuses this coming weekend.

One way in which de Blasio appears ready to be a forceful Sanders validator is as a critic of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently cannonballed into the Democratic presidential primary, seemingly in part because of his dislike for Sanders’ agenda. De Blasio is already taking Bloombeg to task on the campaign trail over stop-and-frisk, the policing tactic that exploded under Bloomberg until a judge ruled the NYPD was unconstitutionally using it to stop hundreds of thousands of mostly young men of color. It became a major focus of de Blasio's succesful 2013 campaign for mayor. Along with de Blasio, other New Yorkers continue paying attention to and participating in the presidential campaign (Queens State Senator Jessica Ramos was also in Nevada campaigning for Sanders this weekend, for example), and now especially given Bloomberg’s presence and renewed scrutiny of his record, as well as a number of New York supporters who have emerged for the former mayor, including, for example, Queens Rep. Gregory Meeks.

There is a Democratic primary debate on Wednesday night from Nevada before Saturday’s caucuses. On Tuesday a new poll showing him rising to second nationally behind Sanders meant that Bloomberg will be on the debate stage. (A week after Nevada’s caucuses, South Carolina will hold its February 29 primary, followed quickly by a variety of contests on March 3, known as Super Tuesday. Bloomberg won't be on the Nevada or South Carolina ballots because of his late entry into the race, but then he'll start appearing on Super Tuesday.)

As de Blasio returns to the city the major issue hanging over local politics continues to be the state budget picture and how Governor Andrew Cuomo is dealing with reining in runaway Medicaid spending. In some ways it will be a typically quiet mid-February week, however, given that schools are on break and that means coinciding breaks for both the City Council and the State Legislature, at least from most formal hearings. The Legislature just wrapped up several weeks of hearings on Cuomo’s budget proposal.

Speaking of which, 30-day amendments to that Cuomo budget plan are due. Cuomo has recently blown through other budget-related deadlines, and given that his Medicaid Redesign Team has just begun its work, it’s unclear what changes he may be able to offer in an updated budget plan, though he could account for the latest tax receipt info and other feedback.

The other dominant issue of the last several months is the ongoing debate over whether last year’s state bail reforms that fully went into effect on January 1 of this year need to be adjusted. This week will likely see continued discussion on that front, especially after last week included Senate Democrats floating a plan to change the bail law to fully eliminate cash bail but add judicial discretion around assessing suspects’ dangerousness, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, among others, denouncing the idea of changing the law so briefly into its implementation. Over the weekend, New York Times editorial board member Mara Gay published a column calling on lawmakers to stand firm on the bail changes until much more data is available, while encouraging members of law enforcement and others who have been critical of the new system to engage more on its merits instead of anecdotes and fear-mongering, and to collaborate on seeking better treatment for individuals suffering from mental illness.

Meanwhile, there are a variety of events happening in New York to be aware of -- 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, February 17
Monday is the celebration of Washington’s Birthday (aka Presidents Day).

Mayor de Blasio continues to campaign for Bernie Sanders for President on Monday in Nevada, before heading back to the city Monday evening. He will appear in his usual Monday evening segment on NY1’s Inside City Hall in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

At 8:45 a.m. Monday in Manhattan, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will attend the Association of Towns of The State of New York’s 2020 Annual Meeting and Training School.

At 11 a.m. Monday, “Local elected officials and representatives from the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development ( and the Municipal Arts Society will hail the victory over the developer of 200 Amsterdam, which cobbled together multiple zoning lots to achieve extra height for their building.” Participants include Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and several other Manhattan officials.

Tuesday, February 18
At 8 a.m. Tuesday, "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Delivers Remarks at Association of Towns Annual Meeting" in Manhattan. At 1 p.m., "Hochul Announces Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative Project Funding in the Bronx."

At 10 a.m. Tuesday at Diversity Plaza in Jackson Heights, Queens, elected officials and advocates will rally “to protect bail reform.” Participants will include City Council Member Danny Dromm, VOCAL-NY, and others.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday in White Plains, members of the Westchester State Senate Delegation will hold a New York State Budget Forum for community members, advocates, and other interested parties to share their opinions on the proposed 2020-2021 NYS budget. State Senators Jamaal T. Bailey, Alessandra Biaggi, David Carlucci, Peter Harckham, Shelley B. Mayer, and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins will be present.

At 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will appear on Fox 5's Good Day New York. At 10:30 a.m., Johnson will appear on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show.

At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice will host a discussion with Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who will discuss his “advocacy for immigration protections, quality health care, access to higher education,” and more. Professor John D. Gutierrez of the Department of Latin American and Latinx Studies will moderate.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio "will appear live on MSNBC’s MTP Daily with Chuck Todd." At 9 p.m., "the Mayor will appear on PBS Frontline’s “Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos.”"

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams will hold a "bail reform community information session" in Harlem. "The Public Advocate will hold a community discussion of the recently enacted bail reform laws, answering the questions and concerns of New Yorkers with a panel of experts and advocacy organizations."

On Tuesday evening, City and State NY will hold its 2020 Education Power 100 reception, which will include “keynote remarks by Betty Rosa, Chancellor, New York State Department of Education and State Senator John Liu, Chairman of the New York City Education Committee.”

Wednesday, February 19
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Crain’s New York Business will host a breakfast with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, where he will “discuss his proposal for mandatory paid vacation, the climate for real estate and major rezonings around the city, and his role as an activist-elected official.” After Williams delivers remarks, Crain’s’ Will Bredderman and Anna Sanders of the Daily News will ask the public advocate questions.

At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the Urban Land Institute of New York will hold a panel on the future of New York City’s airports. Panelists will “give an update on [Port Authority’s] megaprojects and delve into the history of them, how the deals came together, and their impacts on real estate in New York.” Keynote presentation will be given by Derek Utter, Chief Development Officer of The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. A panel discussion will include Gerrard P. Bushell, Executive Chair of JFK New Terminal One Development Project; Christina Callahan, Deputy General Manager of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey; and Thomas J. Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce; and professor Francisco X. Pineda of Columbia University will moderate.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public hearing in Manhattan, dealing with matters including on the rezoning proposal for Industry City in Brooklyn.

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI radio, 99.5 FM and, and will include a discussion of Michael Bloomberg’s record as mayor of New York City and his 2020 presidential campaign.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Office of Council Member Helen Rosenthal and the New York City Department of Buildings will host a town hall at B’Nai Jeshurun on the Upper West Side. District 6 residents will be able to “hear from newly appointed DOB Commissioner Melanie La Rocca about the direction and priorities of the agency going forward,” and can “ask questions directly of the Commissioner, and meet one-on-one with DOB staff to address local building issues.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Century Foundation’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative will host “The Urgency of Action on Child Poverty,” at Henry Street Settlement in Manhattan. Speakers will “examine the devastating consequences of growing up poor and investigate which bold and targeted actions will make the most difference in ameliorating these devastating effects...[including] the ineffectual remnants of our social welfare system, entrenched racism, and an unmotivated government.”

Thursday, February 20
At 9 a.m. Thursday, City and State NY will hold its 2020 Diversity Summit, which “will offer industry executives, public sector leaders and academics a full-day conference dedicated to fostering business partnerships between the state and local government, prime contractors and minority and women-owned businesses (MWBEs).” Speakers include Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives J. Phillip Thompson; Department of Citywide Administrative Services Commissioner Lisette Camilo; Director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs Jonnel Doris; City Council Members Robert Cornegy and Ben Kallos; MTA Chief Diversity Officer Michael J. Garner, and others.

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the directors of Empire State Development will meet.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will host a State of the Borough reception and give his 2020 State of the Borough Speech, at Veterans’ Memorial Hall in the Bronx.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Civic Hall and the Minority Cannabis Business Association will hold a panel titled “Reparations Now: Black America and the War on Drugs.” The panel will address the potential benefits New York could stand to gain from legalizing recreational marijuana, as well as reckoning with the war on drugs’ legacy on black communities and what the state owes families torn apart by mass incarceration. Speakers include Lorenzo Jones, Co-Founder & Co-Executive Director at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice; Lawrence Grandpre, Director of Research for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle; and Imani Dawson, Executive Director at the Cannabis Education Advocacy Symposium and Expo.

Friday, February 21 & the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday in Albany, the Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service and Pensions will hold a public hearing “to explore the idea of establishing a ‘civil service pipeline’ statewide in which graduating students are trained for and recruited directly into public sector jobs.”

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

At 9 a.m. Saturday, IGNITE and New American Leaders will host “Boss Ladies New York: Training the Next Generation of Campaign Leaders,” a half-day training seminar for aspiring campaign managers. Participants will “ earn how campaigns work at different levels of government, the role of a campaign manager, and how to run a successful campaign.” Speakers include Crystal Ann Berger, chief of staff to Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker; Felicia Singh, candidate for New York City Council District 32; and Ny Whitaker, political strategist and community leader. Amanda Faris, candidate for New York City Council District 6, will serve as a trainer at the seminar.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, the New York City Parks Department will hold an event for Black History Month titled “African American History of Staten Island” at Tappen Park. Urban park rangers “will provide historical information on points of interest that are focal points of the African-American story on Staten Island.”

At 11 a.m. Saturday, the New York City Parks Department will hold an event for Black History Month titled “Brooklyn and the Underground Railroad.” Urban park rangers will take visitors on a walking tour through Brooklyn Bridge Park while explaining the borough’s role in providing slaves with an escape from slavery.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Y. Myrie will present his first State of the District Address with an introduction Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. Myrie, a Democrat representing Crown Heights and parts of Park Slope and Sunset Park, invites the community to “hear about the progress we’ve made so far and our agenda for the work ahead.”

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

by Ben Max & Claire Del Sorbo

De Blasio Sanders Endorsement Fallout; Reckoning with Bloomberg's Record; Cuomo's Budget Amendments; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 17 Mon, 17 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council's Plan to Reduce Homelessness spk co jo ste lev

Council Member Steve Levin & Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

February 12, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council's Plan to Reduce Homelessness

ste levin wbaiCity Council Member Stephen Levin joined the show to discuss the City Council's new report and plan to reduce homelessness in New York City. Levin, chair of the Council committee with oversight of homelessness, was involved in crafting the report and its many recommendations.

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: The City Council's Plan to Reduce Homelessness Wed, 12 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Council Moves Legislation Requiring City to Enroll More Eligible Seniors in Food Assistance jumaane williams alan maisel attend

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

The City Council is set to pass legislation requiring two city agencies to collaborate on a plan to ensure more older New Yorkers who are eligible for food assistance are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.

It is one of four bills related to food access passed by the Council’s Committee on the General Welfare during a Monday hearing, just ahead of the full Council meeting on Tuesday where the legislation is expected to be voted through and sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The bill (Intro. 1659-A) focused on enrolling eligible seniors into SNAP, a federally run program that provides nutrition benefits to low-income families and individuals, seeks to address a significant problem of hunger among the city’s older residents. The bill would require the city’s Department of Social Services (DSS) and Department for the Aging (DFTA) to “develop a plan to identify and enroll seniors who are eligible” for SNAP benefits, according to the bill summary.

“While DFTA and Meals on Wheels do help screen elderly hometown New Yorkers for SNAP benefits, many seniors aren’t connected to the benefits and are unaware of the program,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, the general welfare committee chair, when discussing the bill, the prime sponsor of which is Council Member Margaret Chin.

The senior population in New York City is booming, with all five boroughs seeing huge increases in older populations. Manhattan saw a 33% increase in the number of older adults between 2007 and 2017, according to a 2019 report from the Center for an Urban Future. Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx saw 22%, 18%, 27%, and 26% increases, respectively. The same report details how there has been declining numbers of people under 65 across the five boroughs. This disparity highlights the need for substantive senior services and increasing access to and enrollment in public benefits.

A 2017 report from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Office identified that over the last decade there had been a 19% increase in seniors in New York City, hitting 1.1 million, making up 13% of the city’s population. The report says the group was expected to continue to grow.

Last month, the Center for an Urban Future released a list of 63 policy recommendations to improve older adult services in the city. One policy recommendation urges the city to “undertake a citywide campaign to enroll older New Yorkers in benefits programs for which they are eligible,” using SNAP as an example.

“Fewer than half of the older adults eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are receiving nutrition benefits,” the recommendation reads. “DFTA should partner with NYC Opportunity, the Human Resources Administration (HRA), and the Department of Finance (DOF) to launch an extensive marketing and outreach campaign designed to call attention to the benefits programs available to older adults and to help them enroll.”

The bill passed by committee on Monday heads in that direction.

“I look forward to the bill’s implementation and certainly focusing on seniors and their eligibility for nutritional benefits, and SNAP is always a great thing because many seniors do not apply,” Council Member Vanessa Gibson said in support of the bill at Monday’s hearing.

The bill also requires comprehensive reporting. The Department of Social Services and Department for the Aging are required to annually submit a report that provides information on activities with respect to SNAP, the number of seniors enrolled and recertified in the program over the course of the previous year, a comparison of the rate of enrolment versus the number of seniors who the departments estimate are eligible for SNAP, identification of barriers to enrollment and recertification for seniors, and a plan to overcome the barriers.

The bill emphasizes the need to identify and address barriers related to “seniors who are unable to travel senior centers, whether due to physical limitation on lack of access to transportation or other reasons, and seniors who are not receiving other social services.”

The law would take effect immediately after adoption, either by the mayor signing it or it aging into law, while the reporting component is set to begin in April 2021.

The other bills passed by the committee on Monday were Intro. 1650, which mandates that the Human Resources Administration provides information about Health Bucks and farmers markets to participants of the SNAP program and two non-binding resolutions (1024 and 1025) that seek to expand SNAP to public college students and allow SNAP participants access to hot meals from participating delis, restaurants, and grocery stores. The resolutions are aimed at encouraging the federal government to adopt such regulations for SNAP.

Levin said “the proposed bills will make critical strides not only on hunger, but on the much needed improvements in the city's practices on planning, distribution, and data collection related to food.”

The four pieces of legislation are part of a larger food equity package moving through the Council this week and previously outlined in a speech and presentation last year by Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Other bills include codification of the Mayor's Office of Food Policy and the requirement that said office creates a long-term city food plan.

The bills are expected to be approved by the full City Council on Tuesday and have support from the de Blasio administration. Kate MacKenzie, the new director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that “the Administration strongly supports these bills and the broader food equity vision outlined by the Speaker. I look forward to working with the Council and advocates in creating and formalizing a robust food policy plan for the City of New York.”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Council Moves Legislation Requiring City to Enroll More Eligible Seniors in Food Assistance Mon, 10 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
City to Codify Office of Food Policy and Require 10-Year Food Plan corey jphnson participate

Council Speaker Johnson at a food pantry (photo: John McCarten/CityCouncil)

The City Council is expected to pass a package of food policy legislation on Tuesday, central components of an agenda laid out by Speaker Corey Johnson last August to strengthen relevant governance and food policy planning, while combating inequality and waste in the food supply chain.

One bill, sponsored by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, would require the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy to develop a ten-year plan to address food access and build a sustainable and economically viable agricultural landscape serving New York City. The second bill, carried by Council Member Ben Kallos and co-sponsored by Johnson, would codify the Office of Food Policy in the City Charter as a permanent office responsible for coordinating food-related initiatives across multiple city agencies, with an emphasis on promoting nutrition in communities with limited access to healthy food because of “economic, racial, or environmental factors.”

Both bills passed out of the Committee on Economic Development on Monday and will be up for a vote by the full City Council on Tuesday, where they are expected to pass.

“Food is a human right, and in one of the richest cities in the world, it is completely unacceptable that one million New Yorkers are food insecure and that many communities have inequitable access to healthy food,” a Council spokesperson for Johnson said in a statement. “The Council’s food equity legislative package is part of Speaker Johnson’s vision to promote food justice in this City, and we are thankful to all the Council Members and staff for working hard on these bills as we move closer to ending the food equity gap.”

Johnson’s platform, first proposed in a report entitled, “Growing Food Equity in New York City,” takes aim at rampant food insecurity, including in low-income communities and communities of color, and the structural inequities that contribute to that problem and others, including inconsistencies in access to healthy food. It comprises a number of provisions, many of which were contained in a package of fourteen bills and two resolutions heard in Council committees last September, including several being voted on Tuesday (several other pieces of the package were passed through the Council’s general welfare committee on Monday).

In addition to the food policy office and ten-year plan bills, Johnson’s full agenda includes legislation to enhance food metric reporting, expand public assistance like food pantries and SNAP benefits, targeted support for seniors and students, farm-to-city programs, and food procurement reforms.

The number of New Yorkers living with food insecurity -- defined as lacking adequate access to affordable and nutritious food -- between 2015 and 2017 was 1.09 million, according to a report by Hunger Free America and cited in the Council’s report. While constituting a 22 percent drop in food insecurity from the 2012-2014 period, the figure also represents a 22 percent rise since the pre-recession period from 2005 to 2007, according to the Hunger Free America report. The number of children who experienced food insecurity between 2015 and 2017, 324,432, improved at a slower rate (16 percent) than the overall population from the previous three-year period.

A particular emphasis is on food justice and ameliorating the disparate access to healthy foods in predominantly low-income neighborhoods. The expected passage of the bills comes shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as constitutional the Trump administration’s public charge rule, making it harder for immigrants to obtain a green card when they receive public benefits like food stamps.

“The City of New York is responsible for feeding a large portion of our population, whether it’s 1.1 million public school students who are entitled to free breakfast and free lunch, or it’s people in our senior centers...or people in our shelter system who we’re feeding, or just the countless New Yorkers who rely on food assistance in the form of SNAP,” Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, told Gotham Gazette.

The city has a tremendous amount of sway over food policy and can have meaningful impact by utilizing it, according to Nevin Cohen, research director at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute. “Agencies procure food for various purposes, they control land that food can be grown on, they provide resources for business like food manufacturing business. So food spans the gamut of city agencies and having an office that can coordinate food related policies is really essential,” Cohen said in an interview with Gotham Gazette.

The two bills passed by the economic development committee are a package that work in tandem, one establishing the food policy office in the City Charter and one requiring it to develop a ten-year plan. The bills are written to go into effect simultaneously.

Under Gibson’s bill, the Office of Food Policy would be required to draft a comprehensive ten-year plan -- coordinating among myriad agencies, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders -- that would bring the city’s approaches to governing food production, sale, and supplemental assistance under one umbrella. The plan would be required to make recommendations on “reducing hunger, improving nutrition, increasing access to healthy food, reducing food waste, developing and improving food and farm economies, and increasing urban agriculture and sustainability.”

“There has been no shortage of food policy ideas and strategic documents and recommendations from different parts of city government, but there hasn’t yet been a cohesive food plan for the city of New York,” Cohen said. “That’s been a major gap that this bill will fill.”

The ten-year plan would include strategies for successful implementation with benchmarks and the Office of Food Policy would be required to give progress reports to the mayor and Council speaker.

“I believe this legislation will have a tremendous impact on thousands of families that deserve access to healthier high quality food options. However, we must continue to work together as legislators with community advocates and stakeholders to ensure we establish concrete goals to reduce hunger,” wrote Gibson, a Bronx Democrat, in an email. The Hunger Free America report called the Bronx the “hungriest borough,” with one in four residents experiencing food insecurity.

Kallos’ bill, in codifying the Office of Food Policy, outlines the powers and duties of the director in the City Charter. Currently, the role of Director of Food Policy is housed within the mayor’s office and exists at the mayor’s discretion. After former Director of Food Policy Barbara Turk stepped down in March 2019, the position went vacant for six months until a new director, Kate MacKenzie, was appointed by Mayor de Blasio this past October. Under the legislation, the office could be established either directly within the mayor’s office or in another mayoral department, with the director appointed either by the mayor or the department head.

Supporters say codifying the office will bring a degree of accountability over the city’s food policy efforts, which are currently controlled largely through executive action. The bill establishes four official responsibilities of the office: make recommendations to the mayor; coordinate interagency initiatives; conduct outreach to key stakeholders; and promote efforts designed to increase equitable access to nutritious food.

“I think the fact that [the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy] was vacant for so long explains why it needs to be codified in the law: so that it is something that we can hold accountable. I am very glad Mayor de Blasio appointed a director, one who has been empowered to do so much, but the mayor could have just as easily eliminated the position,” Kallos said.

The mayor’s office says it supports the bills.

“The Administration strongly supports these bills and the broader food equity vision outlined by the Speaker. I look forward to working with the Council and advocates in creating and formalizing a robust food policy plan for the City of New York,” MacKenzie wrote in an email.

Kallos believes codifying the office’s general responsibilities will also give it leverage in negotiating among city agencies, which often operate as independent fiefdoms.

“When I was chair of Governmental Operations I had oversight over half a dozen agencies and it is incredibly difficult to force agencies to work together. By giving the food policy director this power in the Charter, it means there is something they can point to when they are trying to force people to the table who otherwise might not want to work together,” he said.

To some extent, codifying the office is a statement about how much city resources should be expended on comprehensive food policy.

“I think a really important need is for the city to adequately fund the Office of Food Policy. Since its inception the office has really had only one or two staff people, and for a city the size of New York that’s just not enough,” Cohen said.

Kallos’ bill does not appropriate city funds for the office or say how many staff members it must have, but Cohen believes the legislation can still be a boon.

“Local laws generally don’t have specific appropriations of funding attached to them, but my feeling is that by putting the office in the City Charter it adds significant importance to the office and it will enable advocates both inside and outside of city government to advocate for sufficient funding,” he said.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

City to Codify Office of Food Policy and Require 10-Year Food Plan Mon, 10 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Albany Testimony; City Council Passes Legislation; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 10 New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

The week begins with a great deal of attention on the shootings of two NYPD officers in separate weekend incidents in the Bronx, allegedly committed by the same assailant. Both officers, one who was sitting in an NYPD van and the other who was in an NYPD precinct house, are in stable condition (the officer shot on Saturday night was released from the hospital on Sunday).

NYPD officials and others are calling the shootings assassination attempts and tying them to recent anti-police protests, during which protestors vandalized subway stations and called for violence against police officers. The exact motives of the shooter, suspected of being the one to pull the trigger in both incidents and reportedly an individual with a long criminal record including violent incidents and paroled in 2017, are not evident at this time. In separate press conferences on Saturday night and Sunday morning, Mayor de Blasio addressed the shootings and called violence against police officers an attack on all New Yorkers.

The week also begins amid an ongoing feud between Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump over the Trusted Traveler Program. As the two continued trading comments and accusations, Cuomo was in Washington D.C. on Saturday and Sunday to attend the 2020 National Governors Association Winter Meeting. While there, he gave remarks to the association and, in a separate event, interviewed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in front of a live crowd.

There’s a great deal happening this week, both locally and beyond, including the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary on Tuesday. In Albany, state legislative budget hearings will continue this week, starting with Mayor de Blasio’s testimony on Monday.

In the city, the City Council has a busy week, including a Stated Meeting where bills will pass and new bills introduced. Among the legislation expected to pass is Council Member Brad Lander’s Reckless Driver Accountability Act.

There are many events to be aware of this week -- see our day-by-day rundown below. Also, this Friday (Feb. 14) is the deadline for New Yorkers who are already registered to vote to change their party affiliation and have it impact which party primaries they can vote in for the April presidential primary and June congressional and state legislative primaries.

***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, February 10
The New York State Board of Regents will hold its monthly meetings on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

The State Legislature is in session on Monday in Albany. At beginning at 11 a.m., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on local governments, led as usual by New York City, with Mayor Bill de Blasio testifying on Governor Cuomo’s executive budget proposal and the city’s state priorities. City Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will also testify, as well as leaders from other cities around the state. After de Blasio testifies he will hold a media availability, then meet privately with legislative leaders, according to his public schedule. In the evening de Blasio will appear in his usual Monday evening segment on NY1's Inside City Hall, in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

On Monday in Albany, the New York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials will host its annual legislative meeting. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will be among those in attendance.

At noon Monday in Albany, Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at a press conference with a coalition of labor leaders.

At the City Council Monday:
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Transportation will hold a hearing on Council Member Brad Lander’s Reckless Driver Accountability Act, a piece of dangerous driving legislation expected to pass this week.
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts will hold an oversight hearing to share updates on the Build-it-Back Sandy Funding Tracker.
--At 10 a.m., the Committee on Immigration will hold an oversight hearing on the dismantling of the U.S. asylum system and its impact on immigrant New Yorkers. The committee will also hear a resolution from Chair Carlos Menchaca on “maintaining the availability of asylum-related protections for individuals and families with a well-founded fear of persecution due to domestic or gang-related violence.”
--At 11 a.m., the Committee on Economic Development will meet on two pieces of food policy legislation.
--At noon, the Committee on General Welfare will meet on several bills related to food assistance.
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Public Safety will hear a bill sponsored by Council Member Mark Treyger on individualized responses to hate crimes. The bill “would require the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC) to provide an individualized response to alleged violent hate crimes...provide information to the affected community within 24 hours of the occurrence of a violent hate crime when practicable…[and] notify the Mayor, the Speaker of the Council, the Public Advocate and the council member of the district in which a violent hate crime has occurred.”

At 7:30 a.m. Monday, Brooklyn Borough Adams will appear on Fox5’s “Good Day NY”; at noon outside 1 Police Plaza, Adams will hold a “solidarity press conference with business and elected leaders following attempted assassinations of NYPD officers in the Bronx’s 41st Precinct” - participants will include Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce President Jessica Walker, Council Member Fernando Cabrera, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and others; and at 5:30 p.m., Adams will appear on News12 Brooklyn’s “Ask the BP.”

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, the city’s Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop will appear on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

Tuesday, February 11
"On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio will meet with World War II veteran Sidney Walton. This event is closed press. In the afternoon, the Mayor will sign Intro. 1785 to expand healthcare benefits to surviving family members of City employees who die in the line of duty or who die from a 9/11 illness. The Mayor will also sign Intros 420-B, 873-A, 891-A, 904-A, and 919-A to further reduce lead exposure in New York City. This event is open press. There will be no Q-and-A. Later, the Mayor will deliver remarks at a contract rally for 32BJ. This event is closed press."

At 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will hold a breakfast with New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Linda Lacewell, who will discuss the state of the New York insurance industry, the Department's accomplishments in the past year, as well as areas of regulatory concern.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Corrections will hold its first public meeting of the year.

The State Legislature is in session on Tuesday in Albany. And at 9:30 a.m., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on elementary and secondary education. New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza is among those who will testify.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--At 10 a.m, the Committee on Finance will hear a bill sponsored by Chair Daniel Dromm that “would authorize the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub business improvement district to increase the amount it expends annually, extend its boundaries, provide additional services and the modify of existing services, and change the method of assessment upon which the district charge is based as set forth in the BID’s amended district plan.”
--At 10:30 a.m. the Committee on Rules, Privileges & Elections is expected to approve the nomination by Mayor de Blasio of Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk as the next chair of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, moving the nomination to a full Council vote.
--At 11 a.m., Council Speaker Johnson, Council Member Brad Lander, other Council members, and safe streets advocates will rally outside City Hall to celebrate the impending passage of the Reckless Driver Accountability Act.
--At 1:30 p.m., there will be a full-Council Stated Meeting to pass and introduce legislation. Speaker Corey Johnson will host the usual pre-Stated press conference at 12:30 p.m.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Immigration Coalition Legislative Breakfast in Manhattan.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will attend the lease-signing ceremony for Brooklyn Community Pride Center at Restoration Plaza.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Manhattan, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams will delivers keynote remarks at the Cadwalader Black and Latino Association Event, discussing "Black History Month, the ongoing struggle for progress across a wide range of issues, and the work the office is undertaking."

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host “The Toxic City: Lead Poisoning and its Silent Attack on the Vulnerable.” The event will cover the history of lead poisoning in New York City and its impact on marginalized populations, particularly low-income communities of color. Speakers will include Matthew Chachère, activist in the fight against lead poisoning; Dr. Morri Markowitz, Director of Lead Poisoning Prevention and Treatment at Montefiore Children’s Hospital; and Cordell Cleare, candidate for City Council District 9. The discussion will be moderated by Christopher Werth, senior editor at WNYC who has recently broken important news about lead exposure in city schools.

Wednesday, February 12
The State Legislature is in session on Wednesday in Albany. And at 9:30 am., there will be a joint legislative budget hearing on public protection. At noon, the Senate Standing Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering will hold a meeting to discuss “the economic impact of the three unused downstate casino licenses.”

At 10 a.m., the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a public meeting.

At the City Council Wednesday:
--At 10 a.m., the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet.
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations will hold an oversight hearing on the closure of the Court Square Library.
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet on several bills.
--At 1 p.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings and Dispositions will meet.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold its monthly meeting.

At 5 p.m., this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI radio, 99.5FM and, and include a discussion of Mayor de Blasio’s 2020 agenda and the City Council’s recently-released plan to fight homelessness with Council Member Stephen Levin.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee (VAAC) of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a public meeting at which “NYC Votes and the VAAC will discuss plans to help naturalized citizens in New York City register to vote and mobilize get out the vote efforts in 2020 and beyond.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the New York League of Conservation Voters will hold a forum with Queens Borough President candidates, where they will be asked “where they stand on environmental and sustainability issues, including how the City can meet its 80x50 climate goals, improve access to clean transportation, and reduce waste,” among other issues. Candidates Costa Constantinides, Elizabeth Crowley, Anthony Miranda, and Donovan Richards are participating in the forum, which will be moderated by Katie Honan of the Wall Street Journal.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host “Trailblazers: Program and Award Ceremony in Honor of African-American History Month” at Long Island University in Brooklyn.

Thursday, February 13
Beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday, “Robin Hood will host its fourth annual No City Limits Conference, convening national leaders across sectors in the fight to increase economic mobility from poverty in order to spur innovative solutions and increase collective impact. In conjunction with Columbia University, Robin Hood will launch its Annual Poverty Tracker Study, which documents the dynamics of poverty and disadvantage in New York City. Following this, a series of panels, presentations and speakers will focus on addressing poverty through academic work, innovative research, and civic engagement.” Speakers will include Stacey Abrams, American politician and founder of Fair Fight, Fair Count; Esther Duflo, 2019 Nobel Laureate and Co-Founder of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT; Wes Moore, CEO, Robin Hood; Nicholas D. Kristof, Columnist, The New York Times and co-author, "Tightrope"; Alexis McGill Johnson, Acting President and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and others.

At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host a breakfast with Donna De Costanzo, Director, Eastern Region, Climate & Clean Energy Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). De Costanzo will “discuss her career path and her policy work addressing climate pollution, energy efficiency, renewable energy deployment, and clean transportation.”

The State Legislature is in session Thursday in Albany. And at 9:30 Thursday in Albany, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on economic development. And at 1 p.m., a joint budget hearing on taxes.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a general meeting.

At the City Council Thursday:
--At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will meet.
--At 1 p.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet on two bills related to fast food industry employment.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Spencerport, the Board of Regents is holding another in a series of public meetings about high school graduation requirements.

On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Red Hook, the city Economic Development Corporation is hosting a community meeting on the proposed BQX streetcar.

Friday, February 14 & the Weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law will host a breakfast with Janet Sabel, Attorney-in-Chief and Chief Executive Officer of Legal Aid Society, who will speak about “working towards justice one case at a time.”

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

Beginning Friday, it is New York State Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus weekend in Albany.

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

by Ben Max & Claire Del Sorbo

De Blasio Albany Testimony; City Council Passes Legislation; & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, February 10 Sun, 09 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Investing in New York City’s Future 3 chancellor receiving

Saving for college (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Across every borough, neighborhood, and community in New York City, families are united behind one wish: that their children will have the access and opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Making this wish a reality, however, is more complicated.

Increasingly, current household income determines a child’s future. Nationally, fewer than 10% of children from low-income households graduate from college, compared to nearly 80% from high-income households.

While programs like free college and student loan debt forgiveness are being debated nationally, statewide efforts like the Excelsior Scholarship have made college more affordable for some New York students, and CUNY provides affordable tuition options for many students, we need to provide support that can cover both tuition and non-tuition costs that pose barriers to higher education for many families.

To bridge the gap of what’s possible for New York City’s youth, we need meaningful collaboration among government, the private sector, philanthropy, and local communities to provide actual funding and support to increase college and career-training access. We need a universal college savings system for every New York City student.

For many New York families, post-secondary education is not even a possibility due to the astronomical costs. For those that do go, nearly 60 percent end up with debt averaging more than $31,000. There is also a stark socioeconomic disparity in savings: among New York City’s lowest-income neighborhoods, just one out of every 91 kindergarten students had a NY 529 savings account, while one in four kindergartners in the highest-income neighborhoods had a NY 529 account.

Having savings set aside for college and career training, from an early age, can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to attend, graduate, and obtain higher paying jobs. A child in a low-income household with modest savings - between $1 and $500 - has been shown to be three times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to graduate from college than a child without an account. This clearly demonstrates the power of early investment in student potential to succeed in the long term. 

Here in Western Queens, students entering kindergarten in a public school in District 30 have been part of a ground-breaking pilot program that provides them with college savings accounts. Through the NYC Kids RISE Save for College Program, every kindergartener over the past three years has automatically received an NYC Scholarship Account with a $100 initial deposit.  This has been made possible by The Gray Foundation.

While similar programs have been piloted in other cities and states, this program is unique in its community-driven, neighborhood-based approach that allows any person, company, community organization, or philanthropy to provide funding to participating students’ accounts. Some examples include the “Concert for College,” a “Donate the Change” campaign sponsored by Seamless, a $15,000 contribution by Brooklyn parents to participating students at P.S. 92 in Corona and the recent “Funding Long Island City’s Future” campaign. These community scholarships have added an additional $400,000 into student college savings accounts.

In addition, the Save for College Program works by partnering with all 39 elementary schools in District 30, the Department of Education, and community-based organizations. All partners work together to provide financial education and college-and-career resources, meeting parents and students locally to provide wrap-around support and information.

Beyond the monetary value, these investments and resources communicate an important message to our children that the community is supporting their future. This month, the third cohort of kindergartners and new first- and second-graders in District 30 were enrolled in this program. With the new cohort, the total number of students with college savings accounts through this program is more than 10,000.

We believe that every New York City community would benefit from this program. That’s why we are working together to bring universal college savings accounts citywide, to all 83,000 kindergarteners who enter the New York City public school each year. We will work with our colleagues in the City Council, the Mayor’s Office, our partners at NYC Kids RISE, and other philanthropic and nonprofit partners to support the expansion of this program to new communities and boroughs.

This universal college savings and community wealth building initiative will not only reduce the cost burden of higher education but also bring our communities together to invest in our city’s future. Please join us in showing our children that their communities have their backs.

City Council Members Danny Dromm, Costa Constantinides, Francisco Moya, and Jimmy Van Bramer represent different parts of Queens.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

Investing in New York City’s Future Tue, 04 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000