Gotham Gazette Sun, 09 Aug 2020 14:14:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Queens Democrats Set to Vote for Next Borough President: What to Know About the Race and the Candidates queens borough president election

Left to right: Democrats Richards, Crowley, Constantinides, Yin, Miranda

This story was published in partnership with the Queens Daily Eagle

Early voting begins today -- Saturday, June 13 -- for the Democratic primary for Queens Borough President, a race that was triggered when the previous officeholder, Melinda Katz, was elected the borough’s district attorney last year and took office in January.

As much as borough presidents hold largely ceremonial roles, they do have important powers, healthy budgets, and a make-what-you-will-of-it bully pulpit -- they can have real world impact and the office-holder matters. This is especially true as the city faces a tough road to recovery from the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout.

In terms of nuts-and-bolts powers, the borough president makes advisory recommendations on land use issues, appoints members to the borough’s 14 community boards, and allocates funding from a $65 million discretionary capital budget.

In normal circumstances, the vacancy left by Katz would have been filled fairly quickly through a nonpartisan special election. But after COVID-19 struck and New York City became the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, the state’s electoral calendar was disrupted. A special election scheduled for March 24 to name a borough president for the rest of the year was initially suspended by Mayor Bill de Blasio on March 15, just one day after early voting began.

Subsequently, Governor Andrew Cuomo delayed the special election to June 23 before outright cancelling it so it would not clash with the primary scheduled the same day, part of the election to determine the officeholder for all of 2021, when there will be yet another election in the city’s normal four-year election cycle. Interim Borough President Sharon Lee has wound up with a far longer tenure than anyone foresaw when she was sworn in just after Katz had to resign to take her new post.

There were six candidates running in the special election – sitting City Council Members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides; former City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; retired NYPD Sergeant and police reform advocate Anthony Miranda; former Queens Assistant District Attorney Jim Quinn; and Dao Yin, a community activist with corporate experience. Quinn, who did not petition to get on the primary ballot, has since been forced to drop out of the race after a failed court challenge to restore the special election.

“While I strongly disagree and believe this decision disenfranchised Queens voters who have a right to an elected borough president before January 2021, at this point further legal action would be futile and we must accept the judge’s ruling,” he said in a May 29 statement.

The other five candidates -- a group with diverse backgrounds, viewpoints, and priorities for Queens -- are on this month’s Democratic primary ballot. Along with early voting June 13-21 and primary day, June 23, all eligible voters can utilize absentee balloting per a Cuomo order aimed at reducing the risk of coronavirus spread.

The pandemic has far-reaching implications for the election and its aftermath, particularly since Queens, with more than 2.3 million residents, contains some of the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. As of June 10, the city reported 205,011 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 53,369 hospitalizations and 21,960 confirmed and probable deaths. There have been 6,389 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths in Queens alone.

Neighborhoods in western and southeast Queens have borne the brunt of the outbreak, seeing more cases than most other zip codes across the city. That also raises the question of who will turn out to vote. There is no polling model for voter behavior in the middle of a pandemic and there have been no public polls at all to gauge the state of the race.

With most people sheltering at home and wary of casting their ballots in person at polling sites, and with the state hoping to avoid new clusters of infection, Governor Cuomo passed a series of executive orders that first allowed any voter to request an absentee ballot and then directing the State Board of Elections to mail a postage-paid absentee ballot application to all registered voters.   

Candidate Differentials
The candidates themselves have had to adapt to the new reality. Each of them abandoned on-the-ground canvassing efforts and turned to digital and social media to reach voters. They have continued to participate in town halls and debates, held virtually.

On the issues, the candidates largely express similarities, though they have taken varied stances on some important topics and have different focal points of their campaigns. All of them, save for Yin, have presented themselves as progressives who want criminal justice reform, economic development, more affordable housing, environment protections, and improved transit. They all supported the closure of the Rikers Island jail complex. Yin’s focus seems to be mostly on protecting small businesses, and he’s also tacked to the right on policing.

But there are degrees of difference and the candidates each have their areas of expertise. Constantinides, as chair of the Council’s environmental protection committee, can squarely declare himself the green candidate and has sought to claim ground as the most progressive candidate. Richards has spent years focused on police reform, including as chair of the Council’s public safety committee, and smart development, including of mixed-income affordable housing. Crowley is a more moderate liberal, focused on job growth and quality of life, with reform through steady, incremental change. Miranda declares himself the outsider with no ties to the current or former political establishment. And Yin is the longer longshot candidate, with a far less active campaign than the others.

For the undecideds, the voters who wait till the last minute to make their choice, the recent protests in the city spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis could also be a determining factor. Queens voters could reject candidates who stand alongside the police rather than the protesters, or vice versa. Some voters may base their choice on who they’ve heard speak to them on issues related to police reform, the NYPD budget, and combating structural racism. Some voters may yearn for limited change -- while western Queens has become a hotbed of progressivism, the eastern part of the borough remains more moderate and conservative, and home to many in law enforcement.

Donovan Richards
Richards is among the frontrunners, having secured the backing of the Queens Democratic Party. But the county party is a shadow of what it once was and may no longer play the kingmaker of past elections.

But Richards, who is black and represents District 31 covering southeast Queens and Far Rockaway, isn’t relying on the party infrastructure to lift him to the top. He’s confident that he’s the most experienced and accomplished candidate in the race. “If you had a major surgery, do you want somebody to operate on you their first day on the job or do you want somebody who’s actually had the experience and record of getting you through a successful surgery?”

This isn’t the first time Richards has had to tailor his campaign to a major emergency, he said, noting that he was first elected to the City Council in a special election in 2013 just months after Hurricane Sandy. As he was working to deliver food and emergency supplies to those affected by the hurricane then, he’s been working to ensure that Queens residents have access to personal protective equipment, testing, and other necessities during the COVID-19 pandemic. And he has been a vocal proponent for reforming the NYPD and cutting the department’s budget amid the ongoing movement against police brutality during which the mayor has mostly dug in his heels.

“People want to see you out in the street. They want to know that during a time of crisis, you're going to respond and you're going to be on the ground,” he said. “A campaign shouldn't be about slogans and about who can get the best sound bite in a debate. It should be about, what is your record in a time of crisis.”

Richards proudly touts the resources and investments he’s brought back to his community: $1.5 billion for sewer infrastructure in Southeast Queens when he was chair of the environmental protection committee; $139 million under the Downtown Far Rockaway rezoning, which includes about 2,000 units of affordable housing, new libraries, parks and commercial space. He also played a role in creating the city’s OneNYC sustainability plan, aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change and had a hand in the final design of the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing affordable housing policy when he chaired a zoning subcommittee.

All the other candidates “have never lived that experience of bringing a community back after eight years from the devastation of a hurricane,” he said.

“There's no community in Queens that’s seen more investment than ours. So that's what people are looking for and I think I have the blueprint of how to achieve that for the entire borough,” he added. 

As the borough and the city at large struggle with an affordable housing crisis, Richards said he’s the only candidate “who actually understands housing policy” since he led the subcommittee on zoning and franchises. “In a community like mine, you can literally and physically come in and see 10,000 units of affordable housing being built,” he said. “While the rest of Queens’ economy is sort of stagnating and you're not seeing new commercial come into communities, in the Rockaways, there’s about 300,000 square feet of new retail coming in. New plazas, new streets, new infrastructure. That's the difference.”

Richards said he has broad support across the borough, not only in his district. He has been endorsed by several prominent labor unions including 1199 SEIU, DC37, the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council, along with nearly two dozen state, local and national elected officials including Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Gregory Meeks (who leads the Queens County Democrats). “We’ve built out a broad enough coalition,” Richards said.

With the movement on police reform having gathered strong momentum leading up to the primary vote, Richards also believes his record on pushing for police accountability sets him apart. “My first vote coming into the City Council was on the Community Safety Act, which actually ended stop-and-frisk technically,” he noted of the 2013 legislation, passed over a Mayor Michael Bloomberg veto, that established an inspector general of the NYPD and strengthened protections against racial profiling in police stops.

He’s also sponsored several bills to reform the department including, most recently, one that would create a disciplinary matrix for officer misconduct. “There’s no one who’s been more entrenched in the work than me,” he said. The legislation, first introduced by former City Council Member Dan Garodnick last Council session, may be finally set to move, though while a hearing was recently held, chaired by Richards, a full Council vote has not been scheduled.

One area where Richards may lose progressives, however, is his willingness to accept contributions from real estate developers, which have become taboo for some over the course of several years as the city’s unaffordability crisis has worsened. Richards has insisted that he’s shown an ability to drive a hard bargain and that he wouldn’t be beholden to those donations. “I think it's going to be incumbent that we have a borough president who understands and knows how to work with development, and how to shepherd in benefits for local communities. It’s not just writing a blank check to developers,” he said.

His campaign fundraising and expenditure is second to Crowley. As of June 8, he has raised $295,382 in private donations, received $751,284 in public funds from the Campaign Finance Board and has spent about $826,312.

Costa Constantinides
City Council Member Costa Constantinides, who is white and represents District 22, covering Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside, has also been primarily focused on the response to the pandemic. “This is the challenge of our lifetimes and that’s not an understatement. This is life and death,” he said.

“My priority as a Council member and as a candidate is taking care of people, first and foremost...What sets me apart is that we have a real plan,” he said. He pointed out that the very issues he’s advocated for – a ‘Green jobs plan,’ reducing pollution and investing in renewable energy, environmental justice and public health – have all converged under this pandemic caused by a respiratory illness. Neighborhoods with more pollution tend to have higher rates of asthma, which in turn can put people at higher risk of dying from COVID-19, according to at least one study. The massive job loss and recession brought about by the coronavirus shutdown have also made the need for green jobs more urgent, Constantinides argues.

His advocacy for environmental causes has earned him the endorsement of the Sunrise Movement NYC and Sierra Club NYC. He has several labor backers including RWDSU, Teamsters Local 553, UFCW Local 1500, IUOE Local 94 and CWA Local 1106. And a number of Democratic clubs have also endorsed him including Stonewall Democrats, the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, New Queens Democrats, and Muslim Democratic Club of New York. He has the support of StreetsPAC, Our Revolution, and the Hispanic American Voters Association.

“We have built a progressive coalition that's focused on fighting for the future of Queens and what kind of world we want to live in,” he said.

Constantinides sees almost every issue, whether its infrastructure or economic development or even a criminal justice issue like closing the Rikers jails, from an environmental perspective. That’s the foundation of his green jobs plan, which he said would be essential in driving the borough’s recovery from COVID-19.

“We need 21st century middle-class jobs,” he said while also taking a shot at the failed Amazon deal that did not include a guarantee of union jobs. He envisions “rebuilding Rikers Island, when it closes, with green renewable energy. Looking to solarize and green roof every city building in Queens. Having public works projects that are going to invest in our borough, that’re going to lift people out of poverty and into middle class jobs and at the same time reduce the burden on environmental justice neighborhoods that are suffering from decades of environmental racism.”

While the city has suspended the land use review process during the pandemic, Constantinides has been pushing to restart it at least for the redesignation of Rikers as a public space.

He also seemed to express some displeasure with Katz’s tenure as the borough president. “I'm not the status quo. I'm not willing to go along with what's been going on for the last seven years,” he said.

The city’s matching funds program has also put him at largely an even footing with the other candidates. Constantinides has raised  $266,261, received $720,754 in public funds, and has spent $860,104 as of June 8.

Elizabeth Crowley
Former Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, who is white, has laid the groundwork for a run for borough president for several years — at least since her narrow defeat to Bob Holden in Queens’ District 30 in 2017.

She has outraised her opponents, raking in $505,614 in private contributions and $1,152,592 in matching funds as of June 8, and she has outspent them — making big TV ad buys ahead of the canceled March special election.

To Crowley, the office of borough president demands a leader who can unite the sprawling borough’s diverse communities in pursuit of common goals.

“I don’t look at the role as a cheerleader. I look at it as a master planner. Someone who understands how to properly grow communities,” she said. Crowley supported Amazon’s plan to establish a sprawling campus in Long Island City and has said that Queens will be “open for business” if she were elected. She has the support of various trade and transit unions, including Transit Workers Union 100 and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 9 — her own former union.

She has also has the backing of various firefighters unions, whom she worked with as chair of the Council’s Fire and Criminal Justice Services committee. Her cousin, former Queens Democratic boss and Congressional Representative Joe Crowley, has fundraised for her.

Crowley’s top priority is ensuring Queens gets its “fair share” in terms of public transit, school funding, and medical facilities. The fair share argument is a common complaint at community board meetings and town hall events in Queens, where parents decry sending their kids to the most overcrowded schools in the city. The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the borough’s inadequate number of hospital beds, exacerbated by the shutdown of three hospitals since 2008.

Transportation has remained the centerpiece of Crowley’s campaign. Before announcing her candidacy, she championed a plan to resuscitate a discontinued rail line linking Jamaica and Long Island City, with stops in Middle Village. She has also long called for free bus service, a de facto policy during the COVID-19 crisis that she said should remain in place.

Improved transit access and brand new routes would lead to more jobs and affordable housing, she said.

Crowley, who made nominations to Queens Community Board 5 during her time as a Council member, has raised eyebrows with her responses to questions about community boards during her campaign. In November 2019, she and Constantinides signed a pledge to defer to local boards on “any and all” recommendations  — a commitment she repeated during a candidate forum in Little Neck in February. Nevertheless, she has described community boards as “out of touch” with a need for more young voices.

She has squared the seemingly divergent perspectives by explaining that her board appointments would truly reflect each district, making their recommendations more representative of the community’s interests. As borough president, she would have the power to overhaul the make-up of Queens community boards.

Crowley has distinguished herself from her two former Council colleagues in the race, Constantinides and Richards, by tacking to the center-right on public safety. She proudly accepted the endorsement of the city’s Police Benevolent Association and stood by their support, even as other Queens elected officials publicly denounced the union and returned campaign contributions from the cops.

“I still stand by our police but I know that reform needs to happen,” she said. “While there is systemic and generational racism in the police department and other city agencies, and that’s something we need to combat, at the same time the vast majority of officers are going to work every day to protect and serve.”

She has pledged to form an office task force to examine and combat anti-Semitism and other hate crimes.

At the same time, she has pointed to her progressive record on criminal justice issues, citing her early advocacy for closing Rikers Island jails (which appeared to cost her significantly in her 2017 campaign versus Holden) and passing the Raise the Age measure, which finally moved children off Rikers in 2018. 

Crowley has also rejected contributions from developers — an issue she said is important for a potential borough president who makes advisory recommendations on land use issues. 

“I’ve seen firsthand how for-profit developers drive out communities,” she said. Ridgewood, located within her former Council district, has seen a surge in new development and rising rents, similar to other parts of the borough, especially in western Queens.

While Crowley, endorsed by the PBA and rated “A+” by the Presidents Co-Op and Condo Council, seeks to appeal to moderate voters, another candidate has emerged as the most conservative voice in the primary.

Dao Yin
Dao Yin, an entrepreneur and business consultant born and raised in China, has differentiated himself from the field by championing the NYPD’s response to Black Lives Matter demonstrations and the police crackdown following isolated looting incidents.

“We are all appalled by the looting across our city,” Yin said in an interview. “The chaos and anarchy on our streets screams for more officers in our streets to defend our working men and women.”

He said the looting was yet another assault on small businesses battered by exorbitant commercial rents and the COVID-19 economic lockdown. Fostering a business-friendly environment is one of his main focuses, he said.

“We must protect our businesses and residents across our city. The economy is already devastated by COVID,” said Yin, who has raised $122,915 in private contributions and $407,041 through the city’s matching funds program as of June 8.

A borough president has no formal role in creating law enforcement policy or ensuring public safety, but Yin said he would orient the office around establishing respect between communities and law enforcement. He said he would specifically set up a division within the borough president’s office to liaise with Queens police precincts and the Queens District Attorney’s Office.

“The police department in the community is more important than ever now. If I’m elected, the first thing I’ll do is collaborate with community leaders throughout Queens to promote respect,” he said.

He would also use the office to promote a plan for “reasonably priced prefabricated buildings” to foster cost-effective affordable housing development. The concept has begun to gain some traction, with a prefabricated modular affordable housing complex in the works in Brooklyn.

“It would ensure developers can make a profit while charging reasonable rent prices. The material cost is cheaper and building time is shorter,” Yin said.

Yin also touted his business credentials and said he would work to lure major corporations to the borough in the wake of Amazon’s decision to pull out of Long Island City. At a candidate forum hosted by the Queens Chamber of Commerce in February, Yin said he would have flown to Seattle to beg Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to change his mind. 

He doubled down on his support for Amazon in the recent interview.

“Queens is a borough of small businesses, we have thousands of small businesses, but we have to work with large corporations like Amazon,” he said. “Amazon would have invested in us.”

Yin said he would welcome other large corporations to the borough. “Amazon is the largest but Amazon has rivals,” he said.

Anthony Miranda
Like Yin, retired police sergeant Anthony Miranda has attempted to outflank his opponents. But in Miranda’s case, it’s from the left, framing himself as the most progressive candidate in the Democratic primary. He was the only candidate to endorse Bernie Sanders from the very beginning of Sanders’ campaign — Constantinides endorsed Sanders after Elizabeth Warren dropped out.

Miranda has specifically advocated for a moratorium on luxury development in the borough and said he would reject any land use plan that does not include 100 percent affordable housing.

“We’re in a housing crisis and again we’re giving away land,” Miranda told the Queens Eagle, while discussing his opposition to a rezoning proposal along the Flushing Creek Waterfront. “This is a pattern consistent all over Queens. We’re in an affordable housing crisis and our solution is to build luxury apartments?”

Reporting on Miranda’s past campaigns calls some of his current progressive messaging into question, however. In 2010, he ran against Assemblymember Jeff Aubry and criticized Aubry’s efforts to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws, according to the Queens Chronicle and Queens Courier.

Miranda disputed that reporting on his 2010 campaign and said he has championed police reform as a leader of the National Latino Officers Association. He texted two Getty Images photos of himself standing with Sean Diddy Combs, Russell Simmons, and then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo at a press conference demanding the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

“We were speaking about these issues before it was safe or popular,” he said, adding that he would have “representatives from every single community in the borough functioning in our office.”

Miranda, who has raised $82,915 in private contributions and $377,484 in public matching funds as of June 8, remains aligned with close friend and one-time boss Hiram Monserrate, a former state senator and City Council member convicted of both public corruption and a domestic violence-related misdemeanor. Miranda defended his ties to Monserrate, who is now running for Assembly against Aubry, and said justice reform means giving people new opportunities after they serve their sentences.

He also pointed out that Costantinides, Crowley, and Richards attended a forum at Monserrate’s East Elmhurst Corona Democratic Club in 2019.

Miranda has been sharply critical of the three current or former Council members in the race when it comes to affordable housing and police reform. He went on the offensive during a NY1 candidates’ forum in early June, calling out Richards for his votes to increase NYPD funding.

Miranda has also blamed them for the lack of diversity on Queens community boards.

“They have all been part of that process, and it is either direct neglect or inattentiveness to that fact that there has been this lack of representation,” Miranda told the Queens Eagle in December 2019.

He said that as borough president he would assist Council members and local community boards with conducting community outreach to ensure people from underrepresented communities, especially Latino residents, apply to the boards. All 14 Queens community boards have significant racial, gender and ethnic disparities compared to the districts they represent.

Miranda has the backing of the Voice of Pakistani Americans, The Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group, New York City Deputy Sheriffs Association and 100 Hispanic Men.

He acknowledged the limited role of the borough president in terms of crafting policy. The main function of the office is to coordinate the borough’s many elected officials to more effectively lobby for the borough, he said.

“A coordinated process would have brought better results for Queens in the past,” he said. “The Queens borough president is supposed to be the chief cheerleader and organizer of all the political leaders in Queens and I would ensure that happens.”

All Queens Democrats are eligible to vote in the Borough President primary, which is happening via early voting June 13-21, primary day June 23, and absentee balloting open to all voters due to the pandemic. The winner of the primary will advance to the fall general election and be favored to win, then take office January 1, 2021, before having to run for reelection in the June 2021 primary and, if successful, fall 2021 general in order to then serve a full four-year term from 2022 through 2025.

by Samar Khurshid of Gotham Gazette & David Brand of the Queens Daily Eagle

@samarkhurshid @GothamGazette
@DavidFBrand @QueensEagle

Note - this article has been updated.

Queens Democrats Set to Vote for Next Borough President: What to Know About the Race and the Candidates Fri, 12 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
I Survived COVID-19; It Proved the Queens Hospital Crisis covid 19queens

Council Member Costa Constantinides (photo: New York City Council)

The whole thing happened so fast. One minute my son and I are playing video games and the next he and my wife, who struggles with diabetes and is in renal failure, rush out the door to her mother’s apartment. So much has changed for my family and our community in the weeks since my fever first hit 102 degrees. However, throughout this experience, one thing remains shockingly clear: we need more hospitals in Queens and to reimagine how people access health care in the World’s Borough. 

Queens is the epicenter of the epicenter. All of us — from those who fell ill, to our healthcare workers, to those whose anxiety was worsened by being locked in for weeks — will no doubt carry physical and mental scars forever. My family’s hellish few weeks of multiple trips to the hospital is the story of so many residents of Queens, where well over 56,000 positive cases are among the most of any county in New York State. And in many ways my wife and I are lucky. 

Still, I’ll admit it’s been hard not to be angry at the fact that Queens has lost five hospitals over the last 20 years. You cannot refute that the loss of hundreds of hospital beds over a two-year period in the late 2000s is part of the reason why so many people have died — many at home surrounded by panicked relatives unsure of what to do. About one-sixth of all New York State’s positive COVID-19 cases have been in Queens, a borough of 2.3 million people serviced by eight hospitals. It doesn’t take a math expert to see this was a doomed situation from the get-go. Because we didn’t have a plan sooner to flatter the curve, a tidal wave crashed down on our already worn-out health-care system -- and we couldn’t even brace for it.  

This virus is an enigma even the world’s most brilliant minds are still working to crack. Not understanding the symptoms has led many of us to overthink every cough. Panic reigned supreme. Was I cold because the fever is back or because the window was open? Do I have to go to the hospital for burning my hand on the radiator, potentially spreading this to more people? Why did I feel better one day and twice as worse the next? It took weeks to accept the fact that I cannot unpack this problem, determine the cause, and find a creative solution. I could not legislate away the coronavirus. 

The best I can do is to get better, then work like hell to make sure other people can solve this. Once we’re fully on the other side of this curve the first order of business must be to build new hospitals in Queens. We lacked the capacity to properly observe all COVID-19 patients, let alone treat any other illnesses or injuries people experienced during the apex. The isolation of this virus is the cruelest part, as it takes away the support system on which we all rely. Many sat at home like I did, frightened by their symptoms, left to stare at their son’s toys on the floor or their wedding photo on the wall and wonder, Will I ever see my family again?

New hospitals shouldn’t be just about saving the lives of people who walk into them. It’s about those who run them, too. Our health-care workers are heroes, but they’ve also borne the burden of a pared down medical system. They work tiring shifts without enough protective equipment. Because we cannot hold our loved ones’ hands as they succumb to this virus, these heroes provide those last moments of comfort. Many are stoics who shrug it off as “part of the job,” but we know they are silently fighting severe emotional distress. A memorial to them is overdue. But the greatest tribute we can make is to build the infrastructure, both in more capacity so they can do their best job possible the next time a pandemic strikes and in support so they won’t be coming home to deal with tragedy alone. 

I first ran for office seven years ago on the promise to support Mount Sinai Queens, which in 2004 didn’t have the specialized resources to treat my father for an aneurysm. He died in transit to the closest Manhattan hospital that could. My hope was that no one would have to face the choice I did: let him die here in Queens or run the risk of crossing the bridge. I thought it was a major victory when we funded a state-of-the-art stroke center there. I've been proud to support and partner on this vision of growth at Mt. Sinai. In hindsight, however, it was a drop in the bucket. So much more is needed now. 

Everyone should have the ability to go to a hospital. The hard work to get out of this crisis has only begun. It will be all for nothing unless we fight for greater hospital capacity. I owe it to the countless people who made sure our son still has his mom and dad. 

Costa Constantinides is a New York City Council Member and candidate for Queens Borough President. On Twitter @Costa4NY.

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I Survived COVID-19; It Proved the Queens Hospital Crisis Mon, 01 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
New Queens Borough President Special Election Date - Same as Party Primaries - Causes Confusion for Candidates, Officials mashup six

(l-r top) Richards, Crowley, Constantinides, (bottom) Quinn, Yin, Miranda

After being postponed because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Queens Borough president special election was rescheduled to take place on June 23, causing broad confusion among the candidates running for the seat and likely a logistical headache for election administrators since a separate primary for the position is also set for the same day.

The special election, which was triggered when Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was elected the borough’s district attorney, was originally scheduled for March 24, with an early voting period preceding it. But the winner of the election would only have served till the end of this year. Party primary elections would be held in June, followed by the general election in November, which would determine who serves the remainder of the term, which ends December 31, 2021.

Now, both the special election and the primary are scheduled for the same June date, coinciding with New York’s primary election for congressional and state legislative seats, according to an executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The governor also moved the state’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 23. The June election will also have the required early voting period (June 13 through June 21).

Special elections are nonpartisan, which means any registered voter can cast a ballot, and candidates do not run on established party lines but must create their own. Primary elections, on the other hand, are “closed” and only allow voters registered with the relevant political party to cast a vote.

But officials have now scheduled for the same day the special election to see who will be Queens Borough President for the rest of the year and the primaries to determine nominees for the November general election that will determine the officeholder for 2021. According to New York City Board of Elections general counsel Steven Richman, this means that voters will receive different ballots depending on their party affiliation, with some eligible to vote in both the special election and the Democratic primary, and some only eligible for the special election. It is unclear if there will be any other party primaries for the seat.

There are six candidates on the special election ballot for Queens Borough President, while the primary ballot has yet to be set. The candidates include City Council Members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides; former City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; retired NYPD Sergeant and police reform advocate Anthony Miranda; former Queens Assistant District Attorney Jim Quinn; and Dao Yin, a community activist. They are all registered Democrats. [Read about their visions for Queens and the role of borough president.]

It’s an unprecedented situation, and the candidates themselves have received little clarity from election authorities. At the same time, the candidates also worry that by June, the coronavirus pandemic will have yet to subside and that voters need easier ways to vote while still staying safe from exposure.

“There’s some ambiguity still,” said Crowley, in a brief phone interview. “I'm confident in my electability as both a candidate in the special and the primary, but I want to know about the rules of fundraising and how you keep two elections separate.”

Crowley said she wants the New York City Board of Elections to make it easier for people to vote, particularly if they’re continuing to mostly shelter at home in June. “I would like to see the Board of Elections give every voter an absentee ballot. They already pay money to send voters information about where they should vote and where their early voting sites are. With that, they should also send them the ballot in case they're not able to go, they can vote by mail.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Constantinides said that votes cast in early voting, which had briefly begun in mid-March before the election was cancelled, should still be counted. He also called on the BOE to automatically mail absentee ballots to every registered Queens voter, rather than have people apply for them as is currently required by law.

Currently, state election law only allows absentee ballots by mail for specific circumstances, and none of them account for the situation currently facing the state. State legislators have proposed expanding the criteria, but their proposals have yet to advance in the Legislature.

Constantinides also called for a new cycle of public matching funds administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The CFB administers the city’s campaign finance programs and candidates are required to file separate spending and fundraising disclosures for each election. It’s unclear how the CFB will be able to monitor campaigns for separate elections held the same day.

In a letter to city and state leaders last week, CFB executive director Amy Loprest recommended that the special election be scheduled for June 23, but with the winner serving the remainder of the term through December 2021. She insisted that the administration of two elections set for the same day would be a nightmare and would also confuse voters. “The recordkeeping that will be required of candidates, and the subsequent CFB audit of expenditures, will be borderline unmanageable,” she said.

Miranda echoed those concerns. “They're going to have to relax the absentee ballot process and ensure that everybody is getting an absentee ballot at home,” he said. He also criticized the “lack of clarity” from election officials about the rules governing two simultaneous elections. “You cut down the ability for candidates to communicate with the constituents, and you have no clarity in the message of health or the rules and regulations that govern this particular campaign,” he said.

“The health of voters and poll workers remains our primary concern, and moving the election is a way that will help us accomplish that,” said Council Member Richards, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “But we also need to educate voters on the process for this election, which requires guidance from the Board of Elections and the Campaign Finance Board. Elections are a crucial component of our democracy, and we must ensure that they are conducted properly.”

Quinn praised the governor’s decision to reschedule the election. “This is an incredibly trying time for our nation, our city, and in particular, our home borough of Queens, which continues to be a hot spot in the Coronavirus outbreak,” he said. “More than 10,000 of our friends, family and neighbors have contracted COVID-19 and more than 200 Queens residents have lost their lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by this virus. As we navigate this ‘new normal,’ we will continue to make the health and safety of New Yorkers our top priority and do our part to stop the spread. I have no doubt that we will emerge from this stronger than ever and more united in support of a strong, safe and healthy New York.”

[Read: In Special Election, Borough President Candidates Offer Different Visions for Queens]

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

New Queens Borough President Special Election Date - Same as Party Primaries - Causes Confusion for Candidates, Officials Tue, 31 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Offering Different Visions for Queens, Borough President Candidates Face New June Special Election Constantinides Richards City Council Queens

Council Members Constantinides, left, & Richards (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases skyrocketed in the city this month, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to cancel the special election for Queens Borough President that was scheduled to conclude March 24.

Early voting had already begun in the special election to fill a vacancy that was created when the former officeholder, Melinda Katz, was elected Queens District Attorney. A spokesperson for the mayor said that “pending state approval,” the city will reschedule the election – along with another special election for the City Council’s District 37 seat, which was set for late April, – for June 23, when state and congressional primaries are slated to take place.

The winning candidate in each of the two special elections would serve the remainder of the term, through December 2021, rather than having to run for reelection in a primary and general this year, as had been required before the coronavirus outbreak.

On Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he is postponing the April 28 presidential primary election and special elections set for that date, including the Council District 37 election, to all coincide with the June 23 primaries, though the executive order did not mention the Queens Borough President election. Then on Sunday, Cuomo signed another executive order moving the Queens Borough President special eleciton to June 23 as well, and clarifying candidate eligibility.

"The special election in the City of New York to fill the vacancy in the Office of Borough President of Queens is rescheduled for June 23, 2020," the executive order states. "Only candidates who were eligible to appear on the ballot for the March 24, 2020 special election shall appear on the ballot for the June 23, 2020 special election."

Like other elections set for June 23, there will be an early voting period from Saturday June 13 through Sunday June 21, with a day of no voting on Monday June 22, followed by the election day of June 23. There is some discussion in Albany of allowing all voters to vote by mail, but nothing has advanced yet. But there's a catch: as of now, on those same June dates, there will be both the special election for Queens Borough President to see who holds the seat for the rest of 2020 and the party primaries to nominate candidates for the November general election that will determine the officeholder for 2021.

The Queens Borough President Race
The election is a six-way contest among sitting City Council Members Donovan Richards and Costa Constantinides; former City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; retired NYPD Sergeant and police reform advocate Anthony Miranda; former Queens Assistant District Attorney Jim Quinn; and Dao Yin, a community activist with corporate experience.

The special election scheduled for March was to be nonpartisan, with any registered voter in the borough able to cast a ballot; candidates were not running on established party lines and each created their own party name to appear on the ballot. Whichever candidate received the most votes was to win, no matter the percentage -- there is no run-off and ranked-choice voting, which was approved by voters by ballot referenda last year, does not go into effect until 2021.

These rules will be recreated for June, so all Queens voters would be able to participate in the borough president special election. But if officials keep the party primaries for Queens Borough President at the same time, only party-affiliated voters will be able to participate in that one of the two concurrent borough president elections.

One factor that none of the candidates could have accounted for is the disruption currently rippling across the city because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before the election was suspended, candidates were already reeling and drastically altering their campaigning strategies. On March 14, Governor Cuomo did sign an executive order suspending the ballot petitioning process while also cutting the signature requirement to 30% of the threshold.

The six candidates in the special election are seeking to represent a borough of more than 2 million people, nearly half of whom were born outside the United States. Gotham Gazette interviewed five of the six candidates over the phone – Dao Yin’s campaign did not respond to inquiries – and they mostly agreed that the main issues that Queens voters care about are affordable housing, transit, environmental protection, public safety and criminal justice, and job growth.

Queens, as is the case with the entire city, is struggling with an affordability crisis that threatens to drive out low-income residents, particularly in communities of color, as gentrification continues in a number of neighborhoods. About 85% of the borough has limited if any access to subway lines, with large portions considered public transit deserts. Parts of the borough continue to feel the devastating impact of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, with homeowners facing rising ocean water and flood insurance rates. The borough will also eventually house a new jail, approved as part of the Rikers Island closure plan, which was part of what brought criminal justice and pre-trial justice issues to the forefront in last year’s Queens District Attorney race. The massive Sunnyside Yard development plan is beginning to gain steam and will be a key project for the next borough president to monitor and influence.

The borough president does not hold the same power as an elected legislator on all those issues but the office offers a prominent bully pulpit, depending on how it’s wielded, among other defined and fungible resources. Borough presidents play a significant role in influencing land use decisions but do not have a binding vote. They control millions of dollars in capital funding every year for infrastructure projects like schools, parks, libraries, and bike lanes. They appoint members of community boards, who also play an advisory role in local land use decisions. And they have the ability to sponsor legislation before the City Council, though they cannot vote on that either. The borough president sits on the Pension Board of Trustees and appoints a member to the citywide Panel for Educational Policy, as well as members to local Community Education Councils and a member to the City Planning Commission. Mostly, the borough president is the borough’s community liaison, advocate, defender, ombudsperson, and cheerleader, all wrapped in one.

The candidates Gotham Gazette spoke with -- interviews that occurred just before the coronavirus outbreak took over the city and postponed the special election -- outlined different visions for the role and how they’d use it to help Queens residents.

Richards: “I’ve led on each one of these issues.”
Though there’s been no public polling in the race, some consider City Council Member Richards the frontrunner after he was endorsed by the Queens County Democratic Party and many Queens elected officials at various levels of government. He has since been backed by leaders of the Brooklyn Democratic Party as well and prominent unions including the United Federation of Teachers and the Hotel Trades Council.

Richards has represented District 31, which covers Southeast Queens and Far Rockaway, in the Council since 2013. His borough president campaign pitch is not so much about what he would do for the borough but rather what he has already done as a member of the City Council.

In his seven years in the Council, he has served as chair of the environmental protection committee, the zoning and franchises committee, and the public safety committee. “Everybody will talk about climate change. They'll talk about the need for housing, they talk about safety. And over the course of the last six years, I've led on each one of these issues,” he said. He ticked off pieces of his record: helping coauthor the city’s OneNYC sustainability plan to fight climate change, spearheading the Downtown Far Rockaway rezoning, which he worked with the de Blasio administration on and is already bearing fruit, and the Peninsula Hospital rezoning (a private plan yet to be approved), and securing $2 billion in funding for infrastructure in his community.

“We've shown over the course of the last six years that we are ready to make sure every corner of Queens feels represented,” he said.

Richards prides himself on being able to meet people in the middle on issues. It’s what defines his approach to public safety and policing. He’s played a prominent role in the Council’s efforts to reform the NYPD and drastically reduce marijuana summonses, while also negotiating with the administration to build a new $94 million police precinct in his district. He asks pointed questions of NYPD officials while chairing oversight and legislative hearings, but always appears ready to find common ground with department leaders. At the same time, he has been outspoken about wanting to see more accountability for officers who unjustly harm civilians, particularly in instances where black men have been killed or injured by police.

Somewhat controversially, Richards hasn’t shied away from real estate donations, which some of the other candidates have eschewed as have progressive Democrats more broadly in recent elections. He insists that real estate developers need to be at the table as the city seeks to build more affordable housing. He also noted that he’s been a strong supporter of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, the change in land use policy that mandated that developers create affordable housing when they receive allowances from the city to build more densely. Richards says he’d never be beholden to campaign contributions  and pointed out that he’s the only candidate who turned in people who actually tried to bribe him. “We can't be bought,” he said.

“My integrity can never be compromised. Every developer knows when they come to my desk that we're going to drive a hard bargain,” he added.

With land use being one of the main areas where the borough president can play a prominent role, Richards says he will create a zoning task force and ramp up the land use division at Queens Borough Hall to look at corridors of the borough to create more density, infrastructure, retail development, and wraparound services. “One of the things that's held city planning back from moving more aggressively is the belief of community opposition everywhere. So if the community comes up with the plan...we can lead the conversation,” he said. 

Richards is also among the candidates who lament the failure of the short-lived deal to bring an Amazon satellite campus and a promised 25,000 jobs to Queens. The deal caused a rift among elected officials and among labor unions – those who supported it pointed to the jobs and revenue it would have created, while those that opposed it criticized the billions in subsidies offered by the city and state and Amazon’s anti-union record, among other things. “The subsidy is a hook for accountability,” Richards said. “It’s no different than when we do affordable housing and a developer comes and says I want a 40-year tax abatement. That’s a hook. They need my approval.”

Constantinides: “I really believe that we can transform how the borough president can interact with the residents of Queens.”
City Council Member Constantinides represents District 22, which includes Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside.

Environmental issues are top of mind for Constantinides, who has been the chair of the Council’s environmental protection committee since 2015. He has sponsored and passed 35 environmental protection bills in six years, a record that earned him the endorsement of the Sunrise Movement NYC. His achievements include the landmark Climate Mobilization Act, a version of a “Green New Deal” for New York City, passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor last year, that mandates massive greenhouse gas emissions reductions, particularly from the largest buildings that contribute about 70% of all emissions in the city, and retrofitting for environmentally-friendly energy use.

His borough president platform reflects that priority – he has proposed a “Green New Queens” plan that would create 50,000 new green jobs and double green spaces in ten years; utilize capital funding to install green roofs and solar panels on city buildings; close dirty power plants in the borough by 2025; and also appoint a resiliency czar as a new Deputy Borough President for Sustainability. 

He also wants to transform Rikers Island into a “renewable energy island” as the city debates uses for the site after the jail complex eventually shuts down. As a supporter of the state’s recent criminal justice reforms (limiting cash bail, enhancing speedy trial, and discovery reforms), he also linked the closure of Rikers to the plague of environmental injustice. “The same communities that have been over-policed have also had power plants put in their backyard,” he said, noting that fixing one would help to fix the other.

Constantinides wants to expand the borough president’s constituent reach by following Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s lead in reforming the community board appointments process and creating satellite offices across the borough. “We’re the largest borough and yet we are still using an antiquated system to appoint our community board members and an antiquated system to reach out by only having one office of 60 employees on Queens Boulevard. We could look to Gale Brewer’s model as a better one,” he said.

Constantinides’ support for organized labor – he said he would oppose any land use application that lacks a union labor component – is among the reasons he opposed the Amazon deal. “I believe Amazon was a bad deal, from start to finish,” he said. “They tried to come in by not using ULURP. They tried to come in and not have any of their employees unionized. They tried to come in and overwhelm our transit system and gentrify our families out of our neighborhoods. They came with no plan for resiliency.” The powerful Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which had similarly opposed Amazon, endorsed Constantinides for borough president.

Though he insisted he was not criticizing Melinda Katz’s record as borough president, he said the office has too often taken a “backseat” on land use issues. In particular, though he was one of the Council members to approve the de Blasio administration rent-restricted housing policies (mandatory inclusionary housing), he was critical of how MIH has played out.

“I voted for MIH and I believed at the time that MIH was going to be a good step forward. But in practice, it hasn't worked,” he said, noting that the policy gives City Council members the ability to choose one of three affordable housing options and that it hamstrings them from making harder bargains with developers. “It's definitely a plan that needs to be tweaked,” he said. Of note, he has rejected donations from the real estate industry and he also supports Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ proposal to mandate a racial impact study of proposed rezonings.

Constantinides has proposed giving each of the five borough presidents an appointment on the MTA Board, to vociferously advocate for the borough’s transit needs. His opponents have embraced the idea and, shortly after he proposed it, Queens Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and Brooklyn State Senator Andrew Gounardes introduced a bill to that effect before the state Legislature.

Crowley: “Queens needs a borough president who fights for the borough’s fair share, and that's something I've been doing my whole life.”
In 2009, Elizabeth Crowley became the first woman and first Democrat to represent City Council District 30, which includes the neighborhoods of Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Woodhaven, and Woodside. She served for nine years on the Council, and was chair of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services and co-chair of the Women’s Caucus. In 2017, she narrowly lost her seat to Bob Holden, a registered Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged her in the Democratic primary and then defeated her in the general election running on the Republican line.

Crowley’s top campaign priority has been advocating for improving the city’s mass transit system. She’s among the many elected officials to oppose the Queens bus network overhaul that the MTA has proposed (and said it is going back to the drawing board to redo). “Queens, if it was its own city, would be the fourth largest city in the country and we are growing fast, and that infrastructure need has not been met with the growth,” she said. Crowley is advocating for a new commuter train line on the existing freight routes running through Glendale and Maspeth, and wants to expand ferry service to Northeast Queens. Her advocacy for transit was behind the endorsement she received from the Transport Workers Union Local 100.

She also promises to extend that advocacy to land use. The city needs to pursue “transit-oriented development,” which she said was missing from the Downtown Far Rockaway rezoning. “That area of Queens is completely underserved, no transit improvements were [made] with this development,” she said. Crowley’s refused donations from real estate developers, though she has accepted them from members of construction unions. “I'm a trades person first. I was a union member,” she said, referring to her time as a member of D.C. 9 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

As a City Council member, Crowley repeatedly and successfully fought back the closure of firehouses in the borough. She’s also promised to create an anti-Semitism task force to tackle rising hate crimes in the borough. She’s been endorsed by uniformed workers unions including the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the NYPD, among others.

But that doesn’t mean she has a more moderate stance on criminal justice – she supported the closure of the Rikers jails and reopening the Queens House of Detention; she was also a proponent for raising the age of adult criminal responsibility to 18 years old, to prevent 16- and 17-year-olds from being jailed at Rikers and other outcomes.

Since leaving the Council, Crowley has helped lead the 21 in ‘21 initiative, which aims to elect 21 women to the City Council in the 2021 elections, when the entire elected city government will be on the ballot and dozens of Council members are facing term limits, thus opening up their seats. There are currently 12 women in the Council, down from 18 in 2009, and that number could fall even further. There are also no citywide positions held by women; and of the five borough presidents, Gale Brewer also can’t run for reelection (though she plans to pursue her old City Council seat, currently held by Helen Rosenthal, who is running for Comptroller).

That underrepresentation also exists in Queens community boards, an issue that Crowley pledges to fix. “Here we are in the most progressive city, at least we like to think that, in the entire country, and when it comes to women's representation on community boards and legislative bodies, we don't even have a critical mass...Our most local level of government is not reflective of the population it represents,” she said.

As with other candidates, Crowley said she would use the borough president’s pulpit to advocate for more capital dollars to invest in resiliency infrastructure, besides using the funds at her disposal to make improvements to city buildings. “We can be the first county in the state to go carbon neutral...We also need to be more proactive about protecting our shorelines and greening our infrastructure that is already built,” she said.

She added, “I think that there's only $60 million, roughly, in the borough president's budget and if you want to make a larger impact with climate, then you have to partner with the mayor and the governor to bring back sizable resources.”

One issue that other candidates besides Crowley seem to have overlooked is veterans affairs. Queens is home to 58,815 veterans, the most of any borough, and Crowley believes the city has failed them. “The city's not doing enough and our veterans are suffering,” she said. If elected, she intends to re-appoint a veterans’ affairs liaison at Borough Hall to expand access to services. She’ll also factor in veteran status when making community board appointments, she has pledged.

Crowley was also a supporter of the Amazon deal, though she did concede that the company should have worked harder to engage with community residents before attempting to plant its flag in Queens.

Miranda: “I'm the only independent candidate that’s not county-run. I'm not compromised by any special interest.”
“I'm running for Queens Borough President to be able to change the conversation,” said Miranda, a retired NYPD sergeant who is founder and chair of the National Latino Officers Association.

Miranda’s could easily be described as an anti-establishment campaign. “I believe that most of Queens’ residents are fed up with politics as usual,” he said. He emphasized that problems that plague Queens aren’t new and that they can’t be solved by the very people in office who have overseen them for years. “Everything you look at has been an ongoing problem,” he said, whether it’s the lack of affordable housing, a dysfunctional transit system or an unequal criminal justice system. But his biggest gripe was that Queens residents are being left out of the key discussions about their borough on everything, from housing to transit, public safety, criminal justice, and more.

“The borough president is one of the most vocal positions that you can have. You represent all of Queens. You can hold public hearings, you can bring attention to issues, you can organize around issues, so you don't have to be left out of the conversation,” he said.

On the major issues that Queens has faced in the last few years, he said the de Blasio administration and local electeds have ignored the desires of the community while failing to fix the problems that already exist, whether it concerns the borough-based jails plan, the Rockaway rezoning, the Sunnyside Yards proposal, or the Amazon deal.

“We have current crises in all of our borough but we have proposals for billion-dollar projects without fixing the basic things that are still broken,” he said.

He said the Far Rockaway rezoning didn’t do enough to address resiliency infrastructure or transit. “We're going to build the Downtown Rockaway area and then have the rest of the homes float away? We still have families that have not been back in their home since the hurricane. How is that possible? We still have houses that get flooded every time there's a significant rainfall in Far Rockaway. How is that not fixable? We still have transportation deserts where the buses or trains don't even get to. How was that not part of our plan, but we're gonna invest millions in downtown?”

His critical stance on the “luxury development” rampant across the borough, exacerbating the existing displacement pressures that Queens residents feel, is why he is refusing donations from the real estate industry as well. “I think every average person will know that there's a conflict of interest in that kind of taking of money,” he said.

And he criticized the elected officials that approved the mayor’s housing program and have facilitated, in his opinion, the overdevelopment of Queens. “Everybody running for office right now, the elected officials running for office were the cause of the problem,” he said. “Many of them speak to little projects that they did in their communities, in their particular districts, but they're the same people that signed off and approved all the other displacement that's going on, the disenfranchisement, the gentrification of the communities that are all over Queens.”

Quinn: “The prime concern of any public official in New York City should be the safety of the citizens of New York City.”
It’s not surprising that for Quinn public safety is the prime issue in the borough president race. Quinn is the former senior executive assistant district attorney in the Queens DA’s office, where he was second-in-command to the late DA Richard Brown. After Brown’s death, Quinn led the office in the interim.

Quinn separates himself from the field by his positions on criminal justice. A “tough-on-crime” prosecutor, he was the chief spokesperson for the DA’s office in opposing the “terrible idea” to close Rikers Island jails and replace them with borough-based jails – as borough president, he’s vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to try and halt that plan in Queens. Instead, he would like to see the Rikers facilities reformed and rebuilt.

“They could have started this three years ago and rebuilt all the jails on Rikers Island and they'd be done by now,” he said. “Because they don't have to fight communities. They don't have to fight the community boards. They don't have to go through the ULURP system. They don't have to go through all these other machinations that they now have to do.” Quinn has also advocated against what he calls the recent “irresponsible and reckless” criminal justice reforms adopted by the state, like on bail.

“I decided to run because I wanted to make a difference in this race and I wanted to make sure that these issues were addressed, and that they're addressed intelligently, not just in chants and slogans,” he said.

He cited the uptick in crime numbers reported by the NYPD early this year after the state’s bail reform took effect as a major cause of concern. However, there has been some debate about whether the numbers can be fairly judged in such a short time frame. Quinn brushed that aside. “There was no debate about the numbers when it showed crime going down,” he said.

Though he is a registered Democrat, he has been endorsed by the Queens County Republican Party and the Conservative Party. The New York City Correction Officers Benevolent Association backed him, as did the aforementioned City Council Member Holden, who unseated Crowley in 2017.

Whether on housing, transit, or economic development, Quinn said the conversations tend to be derailed by politicians pandering to interest groups and by a lack of reasonable debate. “I don't think we have realistic, rational discussions about issues in New York City anymore. It's all fighting and yelling at one another,” he said.

One example he cited is the Amazon deal, which he supported. “New York City and that raucous, loud group was able to drive out a business that would have created 25,000 high-paying jobs,” he said, referring to the elected officials, community groups, and advocates who opposed the proposed campus.

Though he said a key role of the borough president is to convene public hearings on everything from the proposed development of Sunnyside Yard or the MTA’s bus redesign proposal, he argued the limits of the office in effecting broader change, on climate change, for instance. “The notion that the Queen's County Borough President is going to have a substantial effect on climate change is fanciful to put it mildly,” he said.

A former robotics company executive and community activist, Yin worked as a corporate comptroller for 11 years for two fortune 500 companies, according to his campaign website.

Yin’s platform is focused on creating jobs for the borough, while preparing Queens residents for the future of employment. “Technology jobs play a larger role in our lives but maintaining an educated and trained workforce outside of the Technology Industry will be just as important,” his website reads. “We need to plan for the future of work and jobs, and we need a borough led effort to respond to advancements, in a way that protects and honors the role of workers within the work they do.”

Citing the rising costs of living in Queens, Yin pledges to work for the improvement of working families in the borough. He particularly noted that the loss of the 25,000 jobs that the Amazon deal would have brought with it “should not have happened.”

“Dao Yin is determined to work with the large corporations to bring back those jobs to Queens by working with its communities and showing its residents how they would benefit from such windfalls. Dao believes that if the public understands the benefit they would support the job creation,” his platform reads.

He also says he tackle the borough’s transit and homelessness issues, though he seems more focused on so-called “quality of life” problems. “Quality of Life issues should take precedence and homeless people living on our streets and corners should not be an issue that residents should have to settle for in their everyday lives,” his platform states. He would push for a 10% City Rent Tax Credit for households under a certain income threshold and promote homeownership programs.

He would also push for improvement to the borough’s bus and subway systems, and supports the proposed LaGuardia AirTrain project as a key job creator.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated to reflect the June election set by the governor.

Offering Different Visions for Queens, Borough President Candidates Face New June Special Election Sun, 29 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Ballot Set for Queens Borough President Special Election After Unprecedented 'Lottery' 1 flushing meadow

Queens BP special election is March 24 (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

In low-turnout and low-information elections, like the typical special election in New York City, the prominence of a candidate’s name on the ballot can go a long way -- and that depends largely on the order in which the candidates are listed. Traditionally the subject of gaming by campaigns, for the March special election to name a new Queens Borough President, the order was determined by an unprecedented method: random draw.

“Three candidates filed simultaneously so the order of the ballot is going to be determined, by rule of our commissioners this past Tuesday, for the first three candidates that filed, via the lottery,” said Tom Satte, the ballot coordinator at the New York City Board of Elections, as he announced the outcome like the host of a lottery drawing. He was sitting in the BOE offices in Lower Manhattan in front of a large bingo wheel as another staff member turned, pulled, and read numbers off the colored balls inside.

Normally, ballot order is determined on a first-come, first-serve basis, where candidates are listed in the order in which they submit the requisite number of qualifying petition signatures starting on the submission date set by the BOE. But in the special election to replace former Queens Borough President Melina Katz, which has already seen its share of ballot-access wrangling among nearly a dozen potential candidates, three prominent campaigns -- those of Elizabeth Crowley, Donovan Richards, and Jimmy Van Bramer -- turned in their petitions within two minutes of one another, a margin narrow enough to lead elections administrators to consider using the novel approach for what they say is the first time.

On January 6, the third day to file petition signatures, Crowley, Richards, and Van Bramer, all current or former Democrats in the City Council, each delivered more than the required number of valid signatures and accompanying documentation between 9 a.m. and 9:02 a.m. Following a recommendation by the board’s legal staff and in compliance with state rules, the BOE voted to hold a random drawing among the three candidates to determine who’s name would appear first on the ballot.

“This is the first time that this specific issue happened,” said BOE General Counsel Steve Richman in a presentation to commissioners last Tuesday. “A fourth candidate filed at 9:06, Costa Constantinides, so I guess he’s not applicable [under our rules] because it’s four minutes later.”

The final order on the ballot will be Richards, Crowley, Van Bramer, then Constantinides (another Democratic Council Member), followed by Jim Quinn, Dao Yin, and Anthony Miranda. Van Bramer had dropped out of the race, citing his mother’s health, before the bingo drawing, but since he submitted valid signatures in time, his name will appear on the ballot.

Miranda, a former police sergeant who initially did not qualify because of a technical error on his cover sheet, was added to the ballot following a rare successful appeal. Quinn is a prosecutor and 42-year veteran of the Queens District Attorney’s Office and Yin is a businessman from Flushing.

In order to get on the ballot, candidates must obtain a set number of signatures from eligible voters, which varies depending on the office sought. For the Queens Borough President special election candidates needed to submit 2,000 valid signatures of registered Queens voters by the January 14 filing deadline. In partisan elections, like party primaries, the signatures must come from voters registered with the given party, but city special elections are non-partisan meaning candidates don’t run on traditional party lines, and any registered voter in the district could provide a valid signature. All Queens voters are eligible to vote on March 24, the special election day, and the nine days of early voting beforehand.

Candidates usually seek more than the minimum signature threshold -- often by a factor of three -- because once petitions have been submitted, campaigns try to challenge the validity of their rivals’ signatures in an effort to knock them off the ballot. The ability to submit enough signatures early and to challenge the signatures on an opponents’ petition is usually the sign of a well-organized and well-resourced campaign, and is part of the election calculus of campaign strategists.

The Queens Borough President special election was officially declared by Mayor de Blasio at the beginning of the year, when Katz took office as Queens County District Attorney after winning a crowded and closely-watched race in 2019.

Nine candidates, two of whom failed to get on the ballot, filed with the New York City Campaign Finance Board. In the first filing period all the candidates reported raising a collective $1.4 million in private contributions.

Of the roughly $858,000 spent in the race as of the January 16 filing, the biggest spenders remaining -- Crowley and Constantinides -- are also the only two thus far receiving public matching funds through the city’s campaign financing program. Crowley has spent about $232,000 and received $498,000 in public matches. Constantinides trails slightly, having spent $213,000 and received $477,000.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ballot Set for Queens Borough President Special Election After Unprecedented 'Lottery' Tue, 04 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
The Energy Behind the Renewable Rikers Vision rikers island jails via lippman report25

Rikers Island (photo via Lippman Commission report)

After five years of struggle, the New York City Council voted last month to finally shutter the house of horrors that is Rikers Island. Closing this facility, however, is only the first step toward true restorative justice. New York City must invest in the communities that have borne the brunt of the over-policing and under-investment that fueled the mass incarceration machine. These communities are the same ones who are most vulnerable to rising sea levels, toxic air, and extreme heat brought about by the climate crisis.

The good news is that a group of advocates, experts, community organizations, and Council members has proposed a solution to solving all of these challenges with one sound policy: a Renewable Rikers Island.

Our collaboration created a framework for the Renewable Rikers Act, a three-bill package that sets us down a road to restorative justice. The plan would mean fewer trucks, cleaner air, less waste, lower asthma rates, and new access to waterfront and affordable housing on the footprint of former pollution factories.

The Lippman Commission on the closure of the Rikers jails, the #CloseRikers coalition, and the City Council’s Progressive Caucus have all endorsed this as the best plan moving forward. 

We can use part of what will be newly-available 413 acres to build a solar farm, with space for large-scale batteries to store the energy generated. With plenty of land left over, the city can build a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant on Rikers to absorb much of the sewage overflow that currently pollutes our waterways, particularly adjacent to low-income and working communities. If the ambitious vision is implemented, this new waste water treatment plant could mean shutting down one or more of the Depression-era wastewater treatment plants in communities overrun with polluting facilities.

A new treatment plant on Rikers should also be outfitted with an anaerobic digester, which turns the facility’s sludge into natural gas. This digester can also process food waste that currently goes to a landfill, where it emits greenhouse gases. Expanding organic waste processing on Rikers means it will no longer be trucked in and out of the South Bronx, North Brooklyn, Southeast Queens, and Sunset Park, where most waste transfer stations are clustered.

Even if we make only some of this happen on Rikers Island, it would open up land in communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. The Regional Plan Association expects more than 200 acres of city-owned land to become available for public use if we build wastewater plants on Rikers. Closing “peaker” plants – the plants that only kick on during times of high power demand – across the five boroughs will open up sizeable footprints in communities of color that have long pined for new parks, community centers, and affordable housing, while also reducing the air pollution emitted by these fossil-fuel burning plants.

And finally, a Renewable Rikers will create thousands of good, green jobs in innovative industries. Those should be filled primarily by the formerly incarcerated who have turned their lives around, as well as members of communities who for too long saw little investments in their neighborhoods.

We can only have real environmental justice if the stakeholders in these neighborhoods are the ones who drive the conversation around how this land is used. The time to listen to their voices is now.

Detractors and distractors will try to point to other possibilities for Rikers Island, but we believe that is simply an attempt to kick the can down the road. Justice delayed is justice denied. Any proposal that does not directly benefit the communities so long impacted by the abhorrent conditions in the jails on Rikers should not be considered as a matter of process and justice. And, this land is unsuitable for anything else because it is built on a decaying toxic landfill.

The coalition of criminal justice reform, community, environmental, faith-based, and environmental justice organizations and advocacy groups who support the Renewable Rikers vision is diverse and vast. This is a clear opportunity for our city to continue taking bold and progressive steps towards a more sustainable and just future, and passing the Renewable Rikers Act is the first critical measure to ensure we move toward this vision of a cleaner, greener, fairer city.

City Council Member Costa Constantinides represents parts of Queens and Rikers Island, and chairs the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection; he’s on Twitter @Costa4NY. Melissa Iachan, Esq., is a Senior Staff Attorney in the Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

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The Energy Behind the Renewable Rikers Vision Tue, 10 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Why I’m Voting Yes to Close Rikers and Build Humane New Jails costas consta attends

Council Member Costa Constantinides, the author (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)

Nothing in New York City’s or our country’s history says we’re good at running jails. 

For hundreds of years, we have cast detainees away to far-flung islands. Out of sight, out of mind. Mostly black and brown men. Overwhelmingly, without having even been convicted of a crime. 

So, the recent skepticism to build a jail in the heart of my beloved Queens is justifiable. After countless meetings with criminal justice advocates, many among them previously jailed in Rikers Island’s houses of horrors, it’s clear the borough-based plan now before the City Council is the best option New York has.

A decision like this isn’t arrived at easily. I am ultimately voting “yes” this week because the perfect cannot be the enemy of the good while thousands of people are stripped of their human rights, confined in decrepit, asbestos-riddled jails far from their attorneys, families, and communities. 

The alternative would be to walk away now with no plan to close the Rikers Island jails. 

A once-in-a-generation opportunity to shut down the jails for good, in as little as five years, would vanish. The rare consensus among academics, the legal community, and victims of this broken system, which ensures people paying their debt to society are rehabilitated and prepared to re-enter civil society, will have been in vain. As a legislator, as a New Yorker, and as a human being, I cannot let this happen. The Lippman Commission rightly called the 80-plus years of jailing people on Rikers a stain on our city’s history. 

The stories from Rikers remind us why the jails there must close and why we must do better in the future. Sadly, it took Kalief Browder’s suicide after three maddening years in solitary confinement, a punishment that was hideously disproportional to the crime for which he was accused, for many of us to listen. 

Now, we’ve heard from Vidal Guzman, who recently pointed out that “Just because someone has left Rikers, doesn’t mean that Rikers has left them.” Kandra Clark, who spent four months in the infamous women’s facility, has spoken about the emotional torture of “the male correctional officers who would watch me go to the bathroom through the window in my cell door each night.” Dr. Homer Venters, the former chief medical officer for Correctional Health Services, recently went public about the toxic culture within the jails as well as what this physical and mental abuse looked like up close.

A “no” vote punts this to the next City Council, guaranteeing this inhumane status quo lives on for the time being. Instead, the City Council vote on Thursday can pave the way for more humane facilities. Is incarcerating any person the ideal? No. But, as former detainee Marco Barrios said earlier this year, the borough-based facilities “will not fix all the problems by themselves, but they can provide important progress.” 

This week, the Council will vote to build smaller, safer detention centers for violent-crime suspects and anyone else who spends any time in jail in New York City; to make it easier for the loved ones and attorneys of all those detained to visit them; and to create a system focused on rehabilitation of those swept up in the system.

New York City will invest in programs within the detention centers to break people free from this vicious cycle. And, our state government in Albany has been chipping away at the system that essentially makes being too poor to afford bail a crime. Previous reforms have already put us on a strong pace to shrink the city’s jail population from the current 7,000 to the necessary 4,000 that guarantees the permanent closure of the Rikers jails. 

Life is full of grey areas. The harsh reality is that some people commit heinous crimes and must be kept from the public. We, as a society, owe that to every child who’s had to hide under a bed, taking low, quiet breaths while an abusive parent bangs on the locked apartment door. Rape victims deserve to walk the streets without fear their attacker is out in public. 

But no longer will New York City’s jails function like a factory that takes in teenagers on a marijuana possession charge and pumps out hardened repeat offenders.

The rest is on us as policy-makers. I believe the city should invest in elements of the #CloseRikers coalition’s #BuildCommunities platform. This money must go into black and brown neighborhoods that traditionally have seen few city investments beyond more police cruisers.

The coalition has common sense asks: supportive housing, job training, access to physical and mental healthcare, educational investment, partnerships with community groups, as well as neighborhood conflict de-escalation and alternatives to incarceration. These investments should not be a one-shot either, and I will continue to fight for these things well beyond my tenure in the City Council.  

Community leaders, criminal justice advocates, and former Rikers detainees believe the plan the Council votes on this week will work. I trust them. And I trust my colleagues in the City Council and elsewhere in city government to follow through on the promises we’re making. I will be among those making sure that we do.

Tomorrow, the next day, and every day after this vote we have to break the stigmas around the formerly incarcerated. Remember the Bryan Stevenson mantra: “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” The City of New York must apply this same logic to itself. The mistakes of our predecessors shouldn’t prevent us from making the right decision for the future. 

Rikers Island can be part of that future if the city uses the vacated land to get dirty infrastructure out of the same communities broken apart by the criminal justice system. These are the power plants, sewage facilities, and garbage stations that give people asthma, make them miss school, and saw their opportunity ladder in half. Voting to close Rikers today means we can give our kids a healthier tomorrow. 

City Council Member Costa Constantinides represents District 22, which includes parts of Queens and the Bronx, including Rikers Island. He is the chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection. On Twitter @Costa4NY.

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Why I’m Voting Yes to Close Rikers and Build Humane New Jails Tue, 15 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
7 Years After Sandy - Part II: The City’s Limited Resiliency Efforts Since coneyisland wetlands rendering

Rendering of Coney Island wetlands project (photo: mayor's office, Oct. 2013)

This is part two of a three-part series on '7 Years After Sandy.' Find part one -- Pieces In Place That Worked, Rebuilding Efforts That Failed -- here. Find part three -- Is the City's Emergency Responsiveness Ready for Whatever Comes Our Way? -- hereThis series is part of Gotham Gazette's work in participation with the Covering Climate Now project, which includes over 250 media outlets focusing on climate coverage in the week leading up to the 2019 United Nations Climate Summit on September 23.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy killed 43 people and caused nearly $20 billion in damages and lost productivity in New York City. While the city has not seen a storm of that scale in the nearly seven years since, climate change, sea level rise, and the dangers posed by major weather events have continued to accelerate. In the aftermath of Sandy, the city began to implement a number of programs to make the city more resilient, or prepared for another Sandy-caliber disaster.

But elected officials, advocacy groups, and other experts say a Sandy-caliber storm would be nearly if not just as devastating today as it was in 2012. The city and its partners at other levels of government have been far too slow to act, and have not moved with requisite boldness in considering how to truly prepare the five boroughs, with their 520 miles of coastline, for the present and the future, they say. Projects are behind schedule or on too-long timelines, federal money isn’t being spent quickly enough by the city, there’s no real plan guiding it all.

In other words, New York City is nowhere near as resilient as it needs to be, and it’s not clear when the city might meet even a low bar for preparedness.

As the seventh anniversary of Sandy’s landfall in New York City nears, another round of evaluations, oversight hearings, and other discussions is kicking off. To many, what’s been accomplished in terms of resiliency efforts is astonishingly limited given that it’s been seven years and the lessons that were supposed to have been learned in the storm’s aftermath. Some are calling on the city to drastically speed up its implementation of resiliency projects to protect the city’s residents and their property, while a new proposal would mandate the city produce a five-borough resiliency plan.

Beyond the emergency response, the biggest questions from seven years ago remain the same today: what is actually being done to prepare New York City for the next big storm and the climate future, and what else should be done as quickly as possible?

Where Things Stand
In June 2013, the year after the storm hit, the city introduced the New York City Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), a $19.5 billion program to reinforce disaster protocols and prevent damage from future climate events. The initiative sought to “ensure that New York City is ready to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of climate change,” according to Jainey Bavishi, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in January 2014.

The city is especially concerned with climate change, including sea-level rise, hurricanes, extreme precipitation, heat waves, and rising temperatures, according to a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency.

“Global warming is an emergency, and adapting quickly is an existential necessity,” Bavishi said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We’re investing $20 billion across all five boroughs to help ensure that New York City is ready to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of climate change.”

Many of the city’s goals are included in the OneNYC plan, a comprehensive compilation of initiatives that include strategies to improve resiliency and address climate change. By the 2050s, OneNYC estimates that the nearly 1 million residents who will live in the expanded coastal floodplain will be particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding, with sea levels expected to rise by up to 30 inches, not including the effects of major weather events. High tides will cause flooding twice a day in some areas, and permanent inundation in others, according to those projections.

Despite agreement on the urgency of the threat, the city has not executed as much as talked about its plans for resiliency, said Eric Goldstein, New York Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The SIRR, first released post-Sandy by the Bloomberg administration in its final year, and subsequently backed by the de Blasio administration, includes more than 250 separate projects and major coastal flood protection initiatives. Its focus is five especially vulnerable areas: the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the east and south shores of Staten Island, South Queens, South Brooklyn, and lower Manhattan.

A good deal of work is in motion, with dozens of projects completed and others moving ahead, but at an overall pace that is surprisingly slow to many. The city has spent less than 54 percent of the $15 billion that has been funded from the city’s $20 billion SIRR, according to a May report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

“If another Sandy-caliber storm struck today, all roads lead to New York being completely shut down,” said Brooklyn City Council Member Justin Brannan, chair of the new Council Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, at City & State NY’s “Protecting New York Summit” on July 31. “My fear is that if Sandy were to happen tomorrow we’d see the same effect we saw almost seven years ago. That’s what a lot of my constituents feel as well.”

Brannan has been surveying coastal areas of the city, including those in his southern Brooklyn district, and plans to hold multiple oversight hearings this fall, he told the Max & Murphy podcast earlier in July. Brannan also discussed the fact that he and City Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, recently introduced a bill to mandate the mayoral administration create a five-borough resiliency plan, with certain specific guidelines.

“You’d think that, after the Rockaways, Broad Channel, and Southern Brooklyn went under water in Sandy, we’d be in better shape,” Brannan and Constantinids wrote in a recent joint op-ed discussing their bill and plans to assess post-Sandy efforts. “The 500,000 New Yorkers who live along our shores have little more than some sandbags despite scientific models showing that sea levels will rise a foot over the next 30 years.”

The city’s current efforts to become more resilient -- often called too piecemeal by Brannan, Constantinides, and others -- can be broken down into improved infrastructure, coastal defenses, and community preparedness.

On the coasts, the city has reconstructed boardwalks, built dunes across beaches on Staten Island and the Rockaways, and coordinated to place 4.2 million cubic yards of new sand on city beaches, according to a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency. The city has intermittently installed flood protection measures at 40 sites, including those most impacted by Sandy, according to the spokesperson. However, these efforts are largely temporary -- they are designed to mitigate flooding until permanent measures are designed and implemented.

In lower Manhattan, the city has advanced the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, an approximately $500 million investment in flood-risk-reduction projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood, The Battery, and Battery Park City. The plan is expected to cover 70 percent of the lower Manhattan shoreline, according to the city’s OneNYC Plan.

For the remaining 30 percent of lower Manhattan’s shoreline, which includes the seaport and the financial district, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency told Gotham Gazette that a two-year master planning process is expected to be completed in 2021.

In terms of creating more resilient infrastructure, the city has focused efforts on upgrading building and zoning codes and investing $1 billion to improve the steam, electric, and natural gas distribution infrastructure of Con Edison facilities. In the aftermath of Sandy, Con Ed agreed to compile a report assessing the effect of the city’s changing climate on its electrical grid. The first chapter of the report (on heat and humidity) was due in 2014. Five years later, the chapter has not yet been delivered, with a new deadline set for the end of this year. And at a hearing last week discussing Con Ed’s response to summer electrical blackouts, Speaker of the City Council called Con Ed’s public response “inadequate and laughable.”

The city has also been working with federal partners, specifically emergency management (FEMA), to create a future flood risk map that can be to be incorporated into building and zoning codes. 

The city has also discussed plans to extend the shoreline of the Financial District and South Street Seaport somewhere between 50 and 500 feet into the East River. Due to the current proximity of businesses to the shore, implementing land-based adaptation measures would be difficult, Bavishi said at the Protecting New York Summit, on a panel alongside Brannan.

“Any land-based protection feature would have to go deep into the neighborhood,” Bavishi said. Instead, the city is planning to build into the water. 

The city will not be able to complete all of its projects without funding and relies on the federal system to receive support for many of its projects, Bavishi said at the summit.

“Funding is a challenge. We have a federal system that funds these kinds of projects in a very reactive way when we inherently want to take proactive action to address these challenges we know are coming,” Bavishi said.

“Our actions will protect Lower Manhattan into the next century. We need the federal government to stand behind cities like New York to meet this crisis head on,” de Blasio said in a March press release.

However, as the city moves ahead with efforts to fortify parts of Manhattan, many have been critical of its work to prevent flooding in the other boroughs, arguing that their risk remains as high as when Sandy hit in 2012.

“My goal with the new [resiliency and waterfronts] committee is to work with the city to make sure folks in the outer boroughs see what the city is working on in their area,” Brannan said at the City & State event. “That the city is focused on them as well, not just lower Manhattan.”

“New Yorkers deserve a mapped-out resiliency plan that protects every community — instead of a single neighborhood,” Constantinides said in a June press release announcing the five-borough resiliency plan legislation he and Brannan were introducing and referencing what some see as the over-focus on lower Manhattan.

However, city administration officials maintain that they are working equally hard to bring resiliency to the other boroughs in addition to Manhattan. Officials point to efforts to bring dunes to the Rockaways and the importation of sand to the city’s beaches. But Brannan and others pan the sand measures as something that might have made sense in 2013 or 2014, but not seven years after Sandy, when stronger and more permanent resiliency measures should either be in place or close to it.

For many of its resiliency projects, the city is working in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To date, the partnership has resulted in the construction of around five miles of new dunes across the Rockaway Peninsula.

What More Can Be Done
The city is currently working with the Army Corps of Engineers on $1 billion worth of resiliency projects, including the beginning of the construction of the Staten Island Levee in 2020, a measure expected to mitigate flood risks along 5.3 miles of Staten Island’s east shore.

In Southeast Queens, the city and the Corps are working on a plan to create a tapered groin field and “reinforced dune on Rockaway Beach combined with a system of berms, floodwalls, and nature-based features to increase resiliency for bayside communities,” according to the OneNYC Plan. The city also says it will soon begin building the Red Hook Integrated Flood Protection System, which is expected to reduce flooding in the area by installing “tiger dams” along the shoreline -- a system of plastic balloons that inflate with water and fill up to create a flood barrier as water moves inland.

In their 2013 “Sandy Success Stories” report, the Environmental Defense Fund found that wetland restoration was key in preventing serious flood damage during Superstorm Sandy. It appeared to work well in Marine Park and Dreier Offerman Park in Brooklyn, for example. However, few if any of the city’s plans include wetland restoration, and the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency did not include it alongside a litany of other projects they would be undertaking.

Among the wetland restoration recommendations in the Sandy Success Stories study are systems to choose plans for their tolerance to flooding and salt inundation, in conjunction with a slope of 1:3. 

“A moderately steep slope seems to provide the most benefits in terms of supporting plant life and habitat, preventing erosion, attenuating wave action, and ensuring survival in the face of sea level rise. At the same time, this slope is shallow enough to minimize the reflection of wave energy that erodes the wetland area,” the recommendation reads.

Council Members Brannan and Constantinides are trying to look at both immediate needs and long-term planning.

“In the short term, we have to promote more green infrastructure,” the two Council members wrote in their recent op-ed. “Bioswales, which are sidewalk gardens, absorb up to 75 percent of stormwater. The Climate Mobilization Act paved the way for green roofs atop newly constructed buildings, which can retain 95 percent of rainwater dropped in summer months. And we have to make serious investments in infrastructure that might not always seem exciting, such as sewers.”

The two plan to hold a joint October City Council oversight hearing on issues faced by coastal areas of the city, post-Sandy recovery, resiliency measures, and the resiliency plan bill they are cosponsoring.

“That is a big part of this committee I’m chairing, the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, where we’re going to take a really close look into what has been done and what has not been done to help make the city of New York more resilient,” Brannan said on Max & Murphy. “When we’re dealing with this thing that is literally a race against the clock, we can’t tie our own hands and sort of hold ourselves hostage to this bureaucracy of how things were done in the past.”

In his May report, Comptroller Stringer called for the city to “develop a citywide comprehensive coastal resiliency plan” while also accelerating the pace of investments into resiliency projects, and expanding a homeowner buyout program in targeted vulnerable neighborhoods, among other measures to protect the city, especially its coastal communities, from the effects of major weather events and climate change.

The citywide plan, Stringer says, “should blend data about sea level rise and other vulnerabilities from the latest science, information about the state of good repair of waterfront assets, and a deep level of community engagement and dialogue” and should be developed by the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and other agencies, including the proposed Mayor’s Office of the Waterfront. In June of last year, Council Member Deborah Rose of Staten Island introduced a bill to create such an office, with Rose calling the waterfront “in many ways our sixth borough.”

That proposal could come up again as the Council examines post-Sandy efforts next month.

“[Constantinides] and I are looking at doing an oversight hearing in October,” Brannan said, “to really dig into the seventh anniversary of superstorm Sandy and where we’re at, what we’ve done and what we haven’t done.”

This is part two of a three-part series on '7 Years After Sandy.' Find part one -- Pieces In Place That Worked, Rebuilding Efforts That Failed -- here. Find part three -- Is the City's Emergency Responsiveness Ready for Whatever Comes Our Way? -- hereThis series is part of Gotham Gazette's work in participation with the Covering Climate Now project, which includes over 250 media outlets focusing on climate coverage in the week leading up to the 2019 United Nations Climate Summit on September 23.

by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

7 Years After Sandy - Part II: The City’s Limited Resiliency Efforts Since Tue, 17 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Getting New York City Ready for the Next Big Storm - & the Next Heat Wave, Flash Floods & Other Climate Emergencies cm carlos m cm dan gardonick marine

 (photo: William Alatriste New York City Council)

Billy Joel’s dystopian vision for New York City, laid out in the very upbeat but equally terrifying “Miami 2017,” is coming true. The lights have indeed gone out on Broadway. Perhaps the only difference is that Queens won’t stay. 

This is New York City in 2019: a near 100-degree heat wave shut down power for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, who then trudged through flooded streets once the high temperatures gave way to torrential rain. 

One thing became clear as climate change brought its greatest hits to the Big Apple: we are nowhere near ready for the next big storm. 

Considering we’re quickly approaching the seventh anniversary of Sandy’s decimation to Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, that’s downright shameful. The City of New York needs to move into high gear for both short- and long-term solutions that protect every single neighborhood from the effects of climate change, because this is a public safety crisis. 

Don’t believe it? Clearly you haven’t seen the footage of a straphanger at the Court Square station who was nearly swept onto the tracks by downpours. Twitter is filled with cellphone video of Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue flooded by water from the Gowanus Canal, which is a Superfund site. Or maybe you haven’t heard of instant New York legend Daphne Youree, who got out of her car near Exit 25 on the Long Island Expressway and used an orange traffic cone to clear a clogged drain to alleviate flash flooding. 

These sound like a new version of the stories our parents told of the bad old days in the 1970s, when the Fiscal Crisis turned New York City into a living performance of Mad Max. But, as skyscrapers for the ultra-rich keep cropping up along 57th Street, we can’t shrug at the fact that half of New York City’s 10 wettest years have come since 2003. 

If another Sandy-caliber storm struck today — though we hope it doesn’t — New York would be brought to a grinding halt based on what we’ve seen in the last week. Temperatures caused some 53,000 customers to lose power last weekend, as Con Ed pulled the plug on parts of Brooklyn and Queens, apparently so the grid wouldn’t be further strained. Even after the heat broke, on Tuesday, almost 3,000 customers were still without power and they were overwhelmingly in the outer boroughs.

Add a hurricane’s storm surge to the mix and our electrical grid would crumble. 

Con Edison has failed its duties as a public utility throughout the heatwave, which begs the question: how would they perform if a big storm hit tomorrow? The men and women who worked in the heat should be commended for getting power back up, but they shouldn’t also be responsible for communicating that to those suddenly cleaning out their refrigerators. That’s their bosses’ job — one they didn’t do well enough. All the while, they’re asking New Yorkers for a collective $695 million rate hike. 

Meanwhile, New York City’s streets are starting to look like Venice. You’d think that, after the Rockaways, Broad Channel, and Southern Brooklyn went under water in Sandy, we’d be in better shape. The 500,000 New Yorkers who live along our shores have little more than some sandbags despite scientific models showing that sea levels will rise a foot over the next 30 years. 

In the short term, we have to promote more green infrastructure. Bioswales, which are sidewalk gardens, absorb up to 75 percent of stormwater. The Climate Mobilization Act paved the way for green roofs atop newly constructed buildings, which can retain 95 percent of rainwater dropped in summer months. And we have to make serious investments in infrastructure that might not always seem exciting, such as sewers.

But we also have to make sure our kids don’t have to deal with the mess we were too scared to clean up. Earlier this year we introduced a bill requiring New York City to create a five-borough resiliency plan.

Lower Manhattan is great, but asking Congress for $10 billion to protect a single business district when JFK Airport could be underwater by 2100 seems fiscally irresponsible. Failing to protect every neighborhood from Riverdale to Rockaway helps stave off tens of thousands of climate refugees the National Climate Assessment warned of when the seas come to claim our coasts.

We look forward to holding a hearing on this bill in October ahead of Sandy’s anniversary, so we can get to work on doing the long-term resiliency work. In the meantime, our city agencies need to mobilize, assess what’s causing rampant flooding throughout the city, and fix the problems immediately. Lastly, we need to make sure our threats against Con Edison have teeth and give the utility an ultimatum: give us the resilient, renewable grid we deserve or we’ll come for your power lines. 

The status quo is quickly sinking under the floodwaters, and New Yorkers are taking notice. Just like we’ve put our foot down to demand reliable service from the MTA, we need to take a stand on infrastructure. Because being late for work is one thing — being unprepared for a storm is fatal. 

Costa Constantinides represents western Queens in the City Council and chairs the Committee on Environmental Protection; Justin Brannan represents southern Brooklyn in the City Council and chairs the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts. On Twitter @Costa4NY & @JustinBrannan.

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

Getting New York City Ready for the Next Big Storm - & the Next Heat Wave, Flash Floods & Other Climate Emergencies Thu, 25 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Calling for 'Climate Emergency' Declaration, Council Members Examine City's Progress in Renewable Energy declaring council examines

Climate emergency rally (photo: @BenKallos)

The likely future of devastation caused by climate change is one of several reasons activist Becca Trabin said New York City needs to declare a climate emergency.

“You look out at this beautiful cityscape. You don’t just see these tall buildings that are standing here today, you see what this space will look like if we continue on our current trajectory,” Trabin said. “I see devastation all around, I see death. And I see that there is still time to avert that trajectory.”

Trabin was surrounded by about 90 activists in front of City Hall on Monday – including City Council Members Ben Kallos, Costa Constantinides, and Rafael Espinal – who rallied ahead of a hearing of the Council’s Committee of Environmental Protection that included discussion of a resolution to declare a climate emergency in New York City.

The resolution, sponsored by Kallos, declares a climate emergency and calls for immediate emergency mobilization to restore a safe climate. It would not have the force of law, but would be a symbolic step toward pushing climate-change deniers to finally do what must be done to save the planet, as Kallos put it. New York City would be the largest city in the world to declare a climate emergency, according to Kallos, and join London, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

Including the resolution, eight proposals (all focused on renewable energy and its implementation) were discussed at the Council environment committee meeting, which was also billed as an oversight hearing on the city’s efforts to move to renewables.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has goals for the implementation of renewable energy through his “New York City Green New Deal,” which aims to have city government commit to carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% clean electricity by 2040.

The city plans to meet these goals through a variety of measures and programs, including the use of solar and wind energy, transitioning the extensive city vehicle fleet toward electric cars, and more.

One of the bills discussed at the Council hearing, Intro. 49, sponsored by Constantinides, requires the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to conduct a study on the installation of utility-scaled battery storage systems on city buildings.

A battery storage system is a “set of methods and technologizes utilizing a range of electrochemical storage solutions, including advanced chemistry batteries and capacitators, for the purpose of storing energy,” according to the bill. Battery storage systems store the energy from wind and solar power, and work to ensure electricity is uninterrupted, even if wind and solar assets are minimal.

The city’s renewable energy goals would be accomplished in part through battery storage systems in the city. Representatives of the mayor’s office testified in general support of the bills in front of the committee Monday. Susanne DesRoches, Christopher Diamond, and Anthony Fiore spoke on behalf of the de Blasio administration and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services about the goals for battery storage and the progress on achieving that goal.

“We expect growth in this sector to accelerate by a combination of the city’s commitment to expediting permitting for small and medium lithium battery installations,” said DesRoches, Deputy Director of Infrastructure and Energy at the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

Currently, there is one battery operated system at Jacobi Hospital and three additional systems being installed across the city, said Fiore, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Energy Management Officer for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The goal for battery storage is 500 Megawatts by 2025 citywide. The city presently has about 18,000 kilowatt hours (or 18 Megawatts) in battery storage. However, this amount is expected to significantly increase with a state-incentivized program.

“There is a program that will be rolled out between now and 2023 where there’ll be 300 Megawatts of utility scale storage that’s incentivized by the state and procured by ConEdison,” DesRoches said.

A combination of Megawatts from the ConEdison program, public, and private storage facilities is expected to make up the 500 Megawatts goal by 2025. In terms of battery storage goals for city buildings, Fiore said that the city’s goals are consistent with the overall goal, but didn’t lay out specific figures on how city buildings would work to meet it.

Among the bills related to battery storage and geothermal technologies, several people testified about Intro. 140, which would require the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a feasibility study on the implementation of a community choice aggregation program.

Community choice aggregation allows local governments to purchase energy for entire communities as an alternative supplier to existing utility providers. CCAs often promote renewable energy, and those who testified about the program highlighted how CCAs could help the city meet its goal of 500 Megawatts by 2050.

“Existing Community Choice Aggregation Programs have been a resounding success in eight states thus far, and a similar program in New York City would likely be no exception. In 2017, over 750 CCAs provided 42 million megawatt hours of energy to an estimated 5 million consumers,” Michael Gersho, a Green Building Worldwide Research Fellow, said during his testimony.

Most of the testimonies about CCAs were in favor of the program but varied in implementation methods. Some said New Yorkers should be able to opt-in to the program while others said a better strategy would be letting people opt-out, meaning all citizens of a community would be automatically enrolled and could choose not to participate.

If the bill passes, and the proposed study finds that CCAs would be feasible in the city, the program would start March 1, 2020.

Along with Intros. 49 and 140, and Kallos’s resolution, the committee heard Intro. 51, which would establish a pilot program for a district-scale geothermal system and Intro. 269, which would require the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability establish a residential renewable energy pilot utilizing solar thermal district heating systems and photovoltaic systems.

The committee also heard Intro. 426, which would require the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to conduct a study on the costs of installing solar and thermal energy and heating systems in city-owned buildings; Intro. 1076, which requires the Department of Environmental Planning to study areas most suitable for geothermal mini-grids or district heating; and Intro. 1375, which calls for the creation of a database of geothermal energy systems in the city.

As expected, none of the bills or the resolution was voted on at Monday’s hearing. Negotiations around the legislation may continue internally at the Council or between the Council and the de Blasio administration before any of it moves ahead to a committee vote.

by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette

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