Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/234 Sat, 24 Aug 2019 00:48:01 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Eric Adams Plans to Put Public Health on the Menu in the Next Race for Mayor https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8728-eric-adams-public-health-next-race-for-mayor https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8728-eric-adams-public-health-next-race-for-mayor eric adams healthy food

Eric Adams with healthy food people (photo: @BPEricAdams)


Eric Adams, Brooklyn’s borough president since 2014, can always count on one place for good reviews: vegan magazines and websites.

Forks Over Knives, an organization dedicated to plant-based diets, collaborated with Adams for a 2018 mini-documentary about his lifestyle. Plant-Based News has written several stories concerning the measures Adams has championed as borough president. Vegan blog The Plantiful declared in 2018 that “we are lucky to have an inspirational Borough President” like Eric Adams.

After a 2016 diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, Adams, a Democrat, transformed his lifestyle, switching to veganism and developing a rigorous exercise regimen. He dropped 30 pounds and became a crusader for health initiatives -- everything from yoga to biking to eating less meat -- in Brooklyn and beyond. His public health focus has earned him attention in more mainstream local media and among advocates, and he’s spearheaded several public policy changes, including getting New York City schools to adopt “Meatless Mondays.”

“At every event, I talk about how health is the cornerstone to our prosperity,” Adams said in a 2017 New York Times profile about his response to his diabetes diagnosis and published shortly after he went vegan.

While Adams will not be running as a single-issue candidate, he appears likely to put public health front and center in making his upcoming New York City mayoral campaign pitch.

The public health programs he’s backed, and the personal story behind them, have made him a popular figure in media devoted to healthy eating and a fairly unique political profile, especially relative to most other politicians, including his likely mayoral race competitors.

Now, as he gears up for a mayoral run toward the all-important June 2021 Democratic primary, Adams will have to see whether he can go citywide with his message of healthy living and gain traction among voters who will also want to hear about education, housing, transit, public safety, and other typical big-ticket issues, among others that may be more niche.

And while the former 22-year veteran of the NYPD and seven-year veteran of the state Senate will surely have plans and talking points on a wide variety of issues as the mayoral race unfolds, his focus on public health may help set him apart.

In a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with Gotham Gazette about his career and the upcoming campaign, Adams made it clear that health will indeed be a major component of his 2021 platform. “Health! Health is crucial!,” he said. “It’s not sustainable,” he added, of the city’s overburdened health care system. He went on to describe tele-medicine, one of many policies he has committed to focus on in order to address the city’s purported health crisis, which includes higher than average obesity rates.

Under Adams’ idea of expanded tele-medicine, patients would have increased options to talk to a doctor online rather than travel to the doctor’s office, potentially a great help to seniors and others who may have difficulty leaving their houses. “There’s no reason people should sit in the emergency room,” Adams said, “when they can use tele-medicine and look right on the screen and speak to a doctor right away.” 

Adams also professed support for improving lunches in New York City’s schools and hospitals, though he did not provide details. He’s also making a push for adding yoga and meditation to school curriculum.

Along with specific healthfulness policies, Adams believes that the best way to reduce the healthcare system’s woes is to reduce the need for so much institutional healthcare to begin with. “While other people are talking about making sure children have access to emergency rooms,” he told Gotham Gazette, “I'm having a conversation about preventing families from going to emergency rooms…I’m going to wean people off being reactionary, and create a proactive form of dealing with health.” 

It’s a philosophy born of Adams’ approach to his own illness. He wrote retrospectively in 2018 that he “wanted to try lifestyle changes before signing up for insulin injections,” and his goal is for everyone else to have the same choice he did. Calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase plant-based medicine at New York City hospitals, Adams had a simple plea: “Give the patient the option.”

Looking at his likely 2021 opponents -- including at least fellow Democrats Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. -- Adams said that “what I am offering is different from everyone else that is running because no one else is looking outside the box the way I’m looking outside the box.” 

One key question Adams will face is how much voters want to hear about public health policy, and whether he can make them care enough about healthy living to base their mayoral vote on it, at least in part.

A poll conducted by Quinnipiac in October 2017, just ahead of de Blasio’s re-election that November, asked likely voters in New York City what the most important issue would be for them in deciding who to vote for in that year’s mayoral election; health was not considered notable enough by the pollster to include in its list of options. Only 1% of respondents volunteered an answer other than those provided: the economy, education, crime, housing, homelessness, and public transportation. 

Similarly, an article on NY1’s and Baruch College’s The City Poll from May 2017 listed affordable housing, crime, jobs and the economy, and homelessness as the top four issues for New Yorkers, with no mention of health. Public health issues were little discussed in the 2013 and 2017 mayoral races.

Health care is, of course, a crucial aspect of many peoples’ lives and often a central piece of the national discussion, whether it’s Medicare for All, “Obamacare,” or reproductive rights. The conversation also does come up locally -- there’s been much discussion in New York state government about a state-level single-payer healthcare system, and de Blasio has made recent announcements around expanded city health care for uninsured New Yorkers, especially those who are undocumented. Issues related to health care access, including hospital closures, have been part of the local political discussion in recent years.

In a national poll conducted by Pew Research Center in 2019, health care costs were the second-most important policy priority for voters. This would indicate that voters pay more attention to health-related issues on the federal level, though perhaps more city residents need to be asked about it. 

One challenge for Adams may be to convince voters that the mayor’s office should play a greater role in lowering health care costs and making the city a healthier place. The issue certainly was central at times during the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg, who instituted a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and calorie counts on menus at chain restaurants. He also sought to limit the sizes of sodas that could be purchased at some establishments due to high sugar concentrations.

And de Blasio has made mental health a major focus through the at times controversial ThriveNYC program led by First Lady Chirlane McCray, which Adams has mostly expressed support of.

As a pair of studies from 2014 show, Bloomberg, Adams and others are not wrong to focus on health as a major concern. Between 2004 and 2014, obesity among New York City adults increased from 27.5% to 32.4%, while diabetes rates rose from 13.4% to 16.0%. The study’s authors note in the abstract that they “observed increases in eating out and screen time over time and no improvements in physical activity.”

A different study found a 2014 obesity rate of 27.0% in the whole of New York state; if the city had been its own separate state, it would have been the ninth-most obese state in the nation. 

It is against this backdrop that Adams has waged his fight for a healthier Brooklyn, and New York. His first foray into health-related legislation was in 2011, when he was the sole sponsor of a quixotic bill in the State Senate to entirely ban the use of salt in New York restaurants; the bill was introduced twice, and died in committee both times. 

Following his ascension to borough president, and his subsequent diabetes diagnosis, he has increased his efforts exponentially, oftentimes with much greater success. His Meatless Mondays initiative, which requires vegetarian school lunches every Monday, began as a pilot program in 15 schools across Brooklyn less than two years. This coming September, it will be rolled out across the entire city public school system.

“I stood beside Mayor de Blasio and then-Chancellor Fariña in 2017 to announce that fifteen schools in Brooklyn were undertaking Meatless Mondays,” Adams said in March about the rollout. “In less than eighteen months, we can announce that Meatless Mondays has spread to more than one million children at every school across the city, putting us on the path to make our kids, communities, and planet healthier.”

Adams was also successful shepherding a bill through the City Council in 2017 that created a city urban agriculture website, which informs residents about local community gardens and farms. And his general push to make Brooklyn Borough Hall a mecca for healthy lifestyles is evident, with bike-to-work events or vegan meetups happening nearly every month. As a former NYPD officer and now elected official, Adams has also taken a leading role in addressing gun violence as a public health issue, allocating and pushing for more resources to community-based solutions and proactive efforts to reduce vulnerable young people's propensity toward illegally carrying or using a gun.

Some initiatives that Adams has championed remain in limbo. A 2018 bill introduced at his request in the City Council to eliminate processed meats in public schools has not made it out of committee, though some of its provisions are present in de Blasio’s “New York City’s Green New Deal.”

A more recent push this past April to ban junk food advertisements from city property has also made no apparent headway thus far.

With the 2021 primary now under two years away, Adams will soon intensify his citywide healthfulness pitch. He says his Brooklyn constituents have already felt the effects of his initiatives. “It may not be on everyone's radar,” he said, “but it has taken flight.”

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by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Eric Adams Plans to Put Public Health on the Menu in the Next Race for Mayor Thu, 08 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
‘This Town Needs a Woman Mayor’: Alicia Glen Isn’t Ruling Out a 2021 Run https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8717-deputy-mayor-alicia-glen-woman-run-de-blasio-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8717-deputy-mayor-alicia-glen-woman-run-de-blasio-election depmaypant sho ho bug

former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


While she insists she has no intention to run at this time, former Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen is not ruling out a campaign to become New York City’s next mayor, and says the city needs a woman in charge after her former boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio, is term-limited out of office at the end of 2021.

“Right now I have no plans to run for mayor because I think that the constant speculation about who’s running for mayor sort of distracts from what the real issue is,” she said during a recent interview with Gotham Gazette. “And what the real issue is, is what kind of mayor do we need going into the next decade? And, in my mind, I think this town needs a woman mayor. I think this town needs somebody who actually has experience and a track record of running things.”

With the all-important Democratic primary for New York City mayor just under two years away, in June 2021, the four declared and likely Democratic candidates, all men, have begun earnestly raising funds and pitching potential allies for what is expected to be a highly competitive race. Each of the four -- Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Comptroller Scott Stringer -- has significant political experience, a base of support, and an early, distinct pitch of their vision for leading the city.

While one essential question of the last open race for mayor, in 2013, was whether the city would elect its first female mayor, in then-Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who lost to de Blasio in the Democratic primary, one ongoing question about the 2021 race is whether any female candidate will enter the race. (Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis challenged de Blasio in the 2017 general election and lost by a wide margin, indicative of Republican chances in today’s New York City.)

Given her fairly high-profile status as deputy mayor for housing and economic development for de Blasio’s first five-plus years as mayor, Glen’s name has been bandied about as a potentially strong contender should she jump into the mayoral race, though she would clearly face an uphill climb given the likely field, and her lack of an electoral base or popular name recognition. And while she would face criticism over various housing-related crises the de Blasio administration has faced, she would be able to boast a series of tangible accomplishments at the highest level of city government.

A controversial figure given the affordable housing program she designed, her work to broker the ill-fated Queens Amazon campus deal, and the state of the city’s public housing, Glen would likely face opposition from a growing progressive movement across the city. But some say Glen would present a clear and viable alternative to the other candidates and that her time as deputy mayor makes her perhaps most qualified to be New York City’s chief executive. Glen has been in and around city government for decades.

As Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top housing and economic development official for nearly five-and-a-half years, and as a former Goldman Sachs executive, Glen has managerial experience and concrete accomplishments that would make for a robust mayoral resume. She’s helmed the mayor’s housing program, which is on schedule to create and preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing over 12 years (2014-2026); she spearheaded large economic development projects, like those at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, that are expected to directly and indirectly create tens of thousands of jobs; she helped turn around the operating finances of the New York City Housing Authority; and she oversaw the expansion of the Citi Bike program and the launch of the new ferry system.

But with each item on her resume comes an asterisk, especially in a Democratic primary. Housing advocates say the mayor’s plan doesn’t target enough housing for the lowest-income New Yorkers and marginalizes the homeless; the ferry system is massively subsidized and isn’t linked to the current MTA fare system for buses and subways. The biggest blot is the public housing system, home to more than 400,000 New Yorkers and scandal after scandal. As residents continue to live in squalid and dangerous conditions, a federal monitor is now in place. And while de Blasio and Glen have accurately pointed to a lack of adequate federal and state support for NYCHA, with crises dating back into past administrations, the turnaround job they promised is far from complete.

Those who have worked with Glen believe that she has the chops to be mayor. Vishaan Chakrabarti, associate professor of practice at Columbia GSAPP and founder of the Practice for Architecture and Urbanism, said he would vote for her. “I think that position [of deputy mayor] definitely qualifies one to run for mayor,” said Chakrabarti, formerly a city planner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

“I'm hoping we get to a place where we can reconcile the...very progressive agenda that...many people want to see with the ability to really get things done on the ground, where it's not just rhetoric, right? It's actually being able to deal with the controversy of bringing change,” he added, insisting that Glen has the “toughness” for the job of mayor. 

Glen is no stranger to controversy and she has never shied away from tough decisions. And she sees the job of mayor as more than a political position. “[I]t’s also a job that requires you to be able, in a very complex economy, in a very complex jurisdictional construct between state, regional, national politics, in a city which is still, I would argue, the global capital of commerce, culture and hopefully innovation -- that requires I think some skills that are not necessarily the skills that people who are always in the political class appreciate as much,” she said, insisting that she was not referring to any of the current candidates in the race. 

Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of the New York Tri-State Region for CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm and chair emeritus of the Real Estate Board of New York, said Glen “would make a great mayor.” 

“It would be thrilling to have a mayor who would place all her energy in the job and who knows how to manage,” she said. “You know, at the end of the day, a mayor’s job is that of a manager. It's not setting national policy, if you know what I mean. It's sticking up and getting the garbage picked up. It's making the life of the city fair and safe. I think Alicia would do thrilling things that would really benefit New York City if she were to be elected.”

One of the challenges for Glen may be her close association with de Blasio in a race where most of the candidate will be running as a break from him. Organizations like the Working Families Party and the Democratic Socialists of America, ascendant in recent state and city elections, would also be heavily opposed to Glen, given her ties to real estate and business.

Some Democratic consultants believe Glen’s chances of victory would be slim. “She has no constituency to count on. She is not well known in the city,” said George Arzt, a veteran of citywide races. “That said, there is also no woman in the race.”

There are relatively few women in elected office in New York City: none of the current citywide officials are women and while two of the five borough presidents are women, neither Manhattan’s Gale Brewer nor Queens’ Melinda Katz, who may be on the verge of becoming district attorney, is likely to run for mayor in the next election. Just 12 of the 51 members of the City Council are women. Quinn has been the subject of speculation with regard to the upcoming mayoral race, but few if any other names of women have been mentioned in the early chatter.

“I think I wouldn’t rule it out because of the fact that New York City doesn’t have, right now, a lot of women candidates,” Glen said just after leaving City Hall, appearing in March on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast, adding, “There are an unbelievable number of young women out there who blow my mind every single day, but there’s still a dearth of women who have executive experience, have run complex organizations, who’ve had multiple experiences, both in politics and the private sector, and in the nonprofit sector. You know, it’s something I would obviously think about at the right time.”

Arzt said Glen is behind. “If she started earlier, she could have been getting some publicity,” he said. “Starting this late and going into it next year, I don't think she has the momentum going forward or the fundraising that the others do…She is way behind.” Arzt also noted that, even if she chose to run, even real estate interests and business groups would be unlikely to rally behind her. Rather, they’ll back the candidate most likely to win, he said. “I would view her potential candidacy as a real long shot,” he said. 

Another consultant who wished to remain anonymous in order to speak more freely said Glen doesn’t have the progressive track record necessary to be successful in the upcoming Democratic primary. The consultant cited Glen’s past as a Goldman Sachs executive, her lack of focus on NYCHA, and the city’s unaffordability despite the much-touted affordable housing program.

“I think she would be an interesting foil for the rest of the candidates, especially Stringer, who is focused on running as a progressive, because I think she would turn off folks like DSA,” the consultant said. “I'm not totally sure where she would actually get her votes from because it seems like Eric Adams is focused on Brooklyn, Ruben Diaz Jr. has the Bronx. Corey and Scott are sort of fighting over Manhattan. But Alicia seems like she would also be working on Manhattan...So I’m not totally sure where her base would be that wasn’t overlapping with multiple other people.”

Glen has hardly the level of name recognition as the others. Diaz Jr. and Adams are popular in their boroughs, each having won multiple borough-wide elections as well as legislative ones before those. Johnson is increasingly seen as stepping in for an absentee mayor as de Blasio runs for president. Stringer is ubiquitous at events around the city and the only one of the four already elected citywide (twice). “The everyday person does not know what a deputy mayor is,” the consultant said. “Alicia Glen is not a known name outside of the political chattering class.”

For her part, Glen says she will continue to work towards the city’s future, whether she’s in government or outside of it. She’s currently the new chair of the Trust for Governors Island, but it’s unclear what other moves may be on the horizon, near- or long-term.

“At the end of the day, New York City is a really, really, really complex organism and I do believe strongly that we need to have a mayor and a team of people who can appreciate that and sort of understand you have to get stuff done,” Glen said during the recent sitdown with Gotham Gazette. “And that doesn’t mean there aren’t really important policy arguments going on, and policy informs implementation but you have to be able to play in a much more nuanced, complex world.”

“[T]he economy is not necessarily going to stay as strong as it has been,” she warned, “just as you look at historical cycles and that’s going to require people who understand how to leverage resources really well, assemble great teams, manage the balance sheet and those are hard skills. I don’t think you need Michael Bloomberg to come back. What he may have known about running a big company he may have lacked in understanding some of the other great things that our mayor has to do. But I do think I want to be part of the ongoing success story of New York and however that plays out, I’ll be there.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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‘This Town Needs a Woman Mayor’: Alicia Glen Isn’t Ruling Out a 2021 Run Mon, 05 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
On Presidential Campaign Trail, De Blasio Promises Paid Vacation Law ‘This Year,’ But City Council Has No Timeline https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8707-presidential-campaign-trail-de-blasio-promises-paid-vacation-city-council-no-timeline https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8707-presidential-campaign-trail-de-blasio-promises-paid-vacation-city-council-no-timeline proposes mybdbd become

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


As he campaigns for president, Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly said that “this year” the city will pass a mandate that most businesses provide employees with two weeks of paid personal time each year, but the City Council, which would have to pass such legislation, has not committed to the timeline the mayor is touting.

De Blasio first announced his support for paid personal leave and said it would get done “this year” in his January State of the City, and he’s doubled down on that timeframe a number of times since, including during remarks at a U.S. Conference of Mayors session in late January, despite the fact that he has no public commitment of that sort from the city’s legislative body.

In May, the mayor led a rally for paid personal time legislation just ahead of the City Council’s initial hearing on the bill, which was first introduced in 2014 by then-City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is now the public advocate. De Blasio did not back the bill, which would expand the city’s paid sick leave law and is facing opposition from business owners, until five years later.

At the rally, both de Blasio and Williams said it would be passed this year.

The push has become a major talking point for de Blasio on the presidential campaign trail -- “we’re going to pass a law in New York this year, two weeks paid vacation for every working person,” he said this past Sunday on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos -- and he included the idea in his recently-unveiled “21st century workers’ bill of rights” campaign agenda.

But there has been no apparent movement on the bill since the May hearing, and it has just eight sponsors in the 51-seat City Council (including Williams, who as public advocate is a non-voting member of the Council but can sponsor bills).

Asked how the mayor could be so certain about it passing this year, a City Hall spokesperson for de Blasio, Laura Feyer, said in a statement, “Since the start of the year, we have been pushing hard and working nonstop with stakeholders and elected officials to get Paid Personal Time legislation passed this year. We look forward achieving this massive win so that New Yorkers get the time off they are owed.”

A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson told Gotham Gazette that the speaker continues to be supportive of the aims of the bill but has concerns about potential unintended consequences impacting small businesses. Unlike de Blasio, the Council has no set timetable in mind, the spokesperson said.

“The paid leave proposal is going through the legislative process,” a Council spokesperson wrote by email.

Williams remains optimistic, but he appears to have backed off any timeline. “As the bill goes through the legislative process, our office looks forward to continuing to work with the Council and Administration so that Paid Personal Time is no longer a privilege, but a right for all New Yorkers,” Williams said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Despite being asked, Williams did not comment on the timeframe for passage of the bill.

At the May rally, Williams said, “In a couple weeks or a couple months we are going to have paid personal time.”

At a January press conference not long after de Blasio announced his support for paid personal time, Johnson said he was supportive of the bill conceptually, but “it will go through the legislative process.”

“We want to hear from all the stakeholders. We want to hear from workers and small business owners,” he said. The Council created that opportunity in May. Before the hearing, de Blasio and Williams led their rally in support of the bill, while business owners and other critics led a rally in opposition. Proponents and opponents of the bill then testified before the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, chair by Council Member I. Daneek Miller. 

Miller’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation’s status and potential timeline for passage.

The legislation would require private employers with five or more employees to offer 10 days of paid personal leave annually, accrued based on employee service hours. For every 30 hours worked, an employee would earn one hour of paid personal time, with a maximum of 80 hours earned per year, according to the bill. De Blasio and other supporters of the legislation have pointed to similar programs in other countries, and lamented the United States as the only “industrialized” nation that does not mandate any paid personal leave.

New York City mandates paid sick leave for employers of the same size that would be affected by the proposed legislation, a law that was passed in late 2013 and then expanded multiple times by de Blasio and the City Council, beginning during the mayor’s first year in office in 2014.

“Working people have been working longer and harder with very little to show for it,” de Blasio said at the May rally. “Too many people in this city aren’t guaranteed any time off – not a single day. That’s not what New York City is about,” he said.

During Sunday’s interview on ABC, de Blasio said, “We need to do things like ensure a $15 minimum wage and paid vacation days....every country on Earth, every major country on Earth provides paid vacation days as a matter of law. Doesn’t happen in this country, we’re going to pass a law in New York this year, two weeks paid vacation for every working person.”

Later in the interview he said it again: “Look, in New York City, we've done pre-k for every child for free. We have done $15 minimum wage. We've done paid sick days. We're giving those two weeks paid vacation to every working person. We're literally guaranteeing health care for anyone who does not have health insurance. These things are happening in the nation's largest city.”

Small business owners and advocates have made their opposition to the paid personal time bill known over the last few months, saying that while they want to be able to give paid personal leave, they cannot afford to do so and would be on board if the city funded it. Up to 80 percent of small business owners are concerned that mandated paid personal leave would require “significant operational changes,” which could include letting workers go, according to a June survey of 1,471 small business owners.

Supporters for paid personal leave have found a rallying cry in 2014’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Law, citing similar pushback from small business owners at the time.

“Yeah, we heard that when we all did paid sick leave together, we heard that when we did the fair work week together, every time we heard the same refrain, it would hurt our economy and we would lose jobs. Well, guess what? We have more jobs in New York City than we've ever had in our history,” de Blasio said of opposition at the May rally.

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

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Ben Max contributed to this story.

Note: this story has been updated with comment from the mayor's office.

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On Presidential Campaign Trail, De Blasio Promises Paid Vacation Law ‘This Year,’ But City Council Has No Timeline Tue, 30 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Revision Commission Gives Final Approval to 19 Proposals in 5 Questions to Appear on November Ballot https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8696-charter-revision-commission-final-approval-19-proposals-5-questions-november-ballot https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8696-charter-revision-commission-final-approval-19-proposals-5-questions-november-ballot voting election

(photo: Mihael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission held its final meeting at City Hall on Wednesday to officially approve the language of 19 ballot proposals that will be put before voters for the November 5 general election. (The commission dropped a proposal related to units of appropriation in the city budget, which had earlier been approved for inclusion.)

The meeting concludes a year of activity for the commission, which was created through legislation passed by the City Council and included members appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, former Public Advocate and now State Attorney General Letitia James, and the five borough presidents. Over more than 65 hours of public hearings and meetings – and doubtless dozens of hours of discussions behind closed doors – the commission sifted through hundreds of suggestions about how to amend and improve the charter, the city’s governing document that establishes the powers and functions of municipal entities and officials.

The ballot proposals that the commission settled on are as varied as they are numerous, and are grouped into five overarching questions that will appear on the November ballot, when voters across the city will have few electoral races to decide but significant potential changes to city governance and elections to approve or disapprove.

The questions will be grouped by those about elections and redistricting; the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which investigates police misconduct; ethics and government; city budget; and land use. New Yorkers will have to cast a “yes” or “no” vote on those questions, each of which needs a simple majority to be approved.

As Wednesday’s meeting in the City Council chambers got underway, it was almost immediately disrupted by Black Lives Matters protestors, who were displeased that the commission did not advance a measure to create a popularly-elected CCRB. Commission Chair Gail Benjamin was forced to recess the meeting temporarily until the protestors voluntarily departed. 

There were few amendments proposed to the draft report that the commission had approved earlier. Commissioner James Caras said there was a lack of consensus on language for the units of appropriation proposal, but that he had been assured by the City Council and the mayor’s office that they would work together on the issue, which is about how clearly budget line items are presented, outside of the charter revision process. 

Elections and Redistricting
The first of the three elections-related proposals would establish ranked-choice voting in primary and special elections for all city government seats beginning in January 2021. The process would allow voters to rank as many as five candidates in order of preference, eliminating costly and labor-intensive runoff elections in primaries for citywide seats and helping to create a stronger sense of a popular mandate behind the winners of crowded elections. 

Another proposal would extend the time between a vacancy and a special election, to bring it in line with state and federal laws, while the third proposal would change the timing for redrawing City Council districts. 

Civilian Complaint Review Board
The CCRB is an independent civilian agency charged with monitoring and investigating complaints of abuse of power and misconduct by police officers. The charter commission’s proposals would expand the Board’s membership from 13 to 15. One of the two new members would be appointed by the public advocate, and the second, who would also serve as chair,  would be chosen jointly by the mayor and City Council speaker. The proposal also allows the Council to directly appoint members to the body rather than requiring the mayor’s approval.

Besides tweaking the structure, the ballot question also expands the CCRB’s authority. The board, with a majority vote, would be able to give the executive director subpoena power; it would receive a guaranteed personnel budget unless the mayor expressly determines otherwise; and it would allow the board to investigate and discipline officers for lying during a CCRB probe. 

Another proposal requires that the NYPD commissioner provide a written explanation any time they do not abide by a disciplinary recommendation made by the CCRB. 

Government Ethics
Former city officials and employees currently face a one-year ban from appearing as a lobbyist before the agency or branch of government they served. The commission proposed expanding that to two years for anyone leaving their post after January 2022. 

Commissioner Sal Albanese said it was a “modest improvement” on the revolving door of city officials and the lobbying industry, and proposed amending the implementation of that proposal to make it effective by January 2020. But his amendment failed. 

“My ideal is a lifetime ban,” he rued. “I proposed a five-year ban, I settled for a two-year ban.”

The ballot question also contains significant changes to the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board. The board currently has five members appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council. The ballot question would replace two members with one appointee each of the comptroller and the public advocate. It would also ban COIB members from working for political campaigns in the city and lower the maximum amount of money they can donate to campaigns to $400 (the “doing business” limit).

Another proposal in the question would give the City Council advice and consent power in the appointment of the corporation counsel, who heads the Law Department and is the city’s top lawyer; and it would also require the citywide director of the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program to directly report to the mayor and be backed by a mayoral M/WBE office.  

City Budget
Though the city sets aside billions of dollars each year in reserves that can be used in case of an economic slowdown, there is no specific charter-approved or -mandated fund for that purpose. The commission proposed allowing the creation of such a “rainy day fund” that can cover revenue shortfalls if the city should face them. This measure, however, would also require separate authorization from the state Legislature because of the city’s troubled fiscal history of decades ago.  

Commissioner Stephen Fiala sought to set parameters for any proposed rainy day fund and tried to strengthen the language of the charter amendment. But that proposal, like Albanese’s, also failed to get support, with other commissioners worrying about the unintended consequences of last-minute changes. 

The ballot question also proposes guaranteed budgets for the offices of the public advocate and the borough presidents, therefore preempting the mayor’s office from slashing their funding at its discretion. At minimum, these offices would receive a budget increase in line with inflation or the percentage by which the city’s expense budget increases, whichever is lower.

Two other proposals would give the City Council a more even hand in deciding budget allocations with the mayor’s office, requiring that the mayor provide non-property tax revenue estimates to the Council on an earlier timeline, and to provide proposed budget modifications within 30 days when making changes to the city’s financial plan.

Land Use
On land use, the commission did not propose sweeping changes that many advocates wanted. Nonetheless, the ballot question proposed would give borough presidents and community boards more information and a somewhat greater voice in the approval of land use applications through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). 

The proposal requires the Department of City Planning to provide detailed summaries of ULURPs to the borough representatives at a minimum of 30 days before the application is certified for public review. It would also give community boards additional time to review land use applications.

Election Day -- when the five questions with 19 proposed city charter amendments will be on the ballot -- is Tuesday, November 5. The charter commission will dedicate resources over the coming months to making sure that New Yorkers know they can and should go vote on the charter revision proposals in November.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Charter Revision Commission Gives Final Approval to 19 Proposals in 5 Questions to Appear on November Ballot Wed, 24 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Assemblymember David Weprin Plots City Comptroller Campaign https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8684-assemblymember-david-weprin-plots-city-comptroller-campaign https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8684-assemblymember-david-weprin-plots-city-comptroller-campaign comptroller david weprin

(photo: David Weprin for Comptroller, 2009)


State Assemblymember David Weprin of Queens has officially filed papers to run for New York City Comptroller in 2021 and has been raising funds for the race for the last five months. He is the third Democrat to jump into the race, joining New York City Council Members Helen Rosenthal of Manhattan and Brad Lander of Brooklyn.

The 2021 election is expected to be a herculean undertaking, with all three citywide elected officials, the five borough presidents, and all 51 City Council seats on the ballot. Except for the public advocate and about 15 City Council members, most elections will be for an “open” seat because of term limits preventing incumbents from running for reelection.

All-important in most New York City races, the Democratic primaries will be in June of 2021, just under two years from now.

Weprin has represented the Assembly’s 24th district since 2010, when he was elected in a special election. He holds the same seat that was once held by his brother, Mark Weprin, and before that his father, Saul Weprin, the former Speaker of the Assembly. Prior to serving on the Assembly, Weprin served two terms on the New York City Council, from 2002 till 2009, chairing the powerful Committee on Finance. 

"I like to think that I’m the most qualified candidate for comptroller,” Weprin said in a brief phone interview, citing his prior experience as Deputy Superintendent of Banks under Governor Mario Cuomo, Secretary of the Banking Board for New York State, his long career on Wall Street, his time as chair of the Securities Industry Association, and as a member of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

This is not Weprin’s first attempt to win the office of the chief fiscal officer of New York City, who is charged with overseeing city spending, approving city contracts, and serving as fiduciary to the $200 billion-plus pension funds, among other duties. In 2009, Weprin unsuccessfully sought the Democratic primary nomination for comptroller, getting 10.6% of the vote. The election went to a runoff when no candidate crossed the 40% threshold for victory. John Liu of Queens, now a state Senator, eventually emerged as the winner of the runoff and the general election. 

But Weprin expects different circumstances, chiefly, the fact that he may be the only candidate from Queens. "I thought I was the most qualified candidate in ‘09...but we had three Queens candidates and I think that hurt me significantly," he said, referring to himself, Liu and then City Council Member Melinda Katz. Weprin and Katz got far fewer votes than former City Council Member David Yassky, who advanced to the runoff. 

That also wasn’t Weprin’s only unsuccessful bid at higher office. In 2011, he was the Queens Democratic Party’s pick after the resignation amid scandal of Anthony Weiner in the 9th Congressional District, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens, in yet another special election. But Weprin lost to Republican candidate Bob Turner by nearly 3,700 votes, giving the GOP that seat for the first time in 88 years.

Filings with the New York City Campaign Finance Board show that Weprin has raised $62,672 for his 2021 campaign from 154 donors. He has spent about $13,290 and has $49,382 in cash on hand as of the filing. Weprin has more than $444,000 in a state campaign account that he could transfer to his citywide account. But he also owes the CFB a debt of nearly $320,000 – a repayment of public funds from his 2009 campaign –  which he must first clear before receiving any more public funds.

In terms of fundraising for this race, his two opponents already have a leg up. Lander has $204,468 in the bank, and Rosenthal has $66,777. All three candidates are participating in the CFB’s public matching funds program, under new rules that were approved last year and recently strengthened by the City Council. Each of them can raise maximum individual donations of $2,000, with the first $250 of each qualifying contribution being matched at an 8-to-1 ratio. Weprin already has $22,817 in matching claims, but those funds won’t be disbursed by the Campaign Finance Board until later in the election cycle. Neither Rosenthal nor Weprin appears to have made a large initial fundraising push, while Lander put some effort into fundraising, including a large 50th birthday party event. In conjunction Lander has also apparently made moves to lock in a number of early supporters among elected officials and activists whose names appeared on the party invitation, though his campaign has not rolled those out formally as of yet.

In the Assembly, Weprin serves as chair of the Committee of Correction, and has advocated for the passage of parole reforms through the Legislature (a major push for parole reforms failed in Albany this year). The Correction Officer’s Benevolent Association donated $2,000 to his comptroller campaign last month. He’s also received contributions from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association ($500) and the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association ($1,000).

As of now, Weprin joins a field with two candidates occupying political space to his left.

"I know both of them, they’re both excellent City Council members," Weprin said of his opponents. "I have nothing negative to say about them. I just think my resume for comptroller is superior. That’s the only office I’m really interested in. I’m not just interested in running for the sake of running or running for mayor in the future. I have no intention of doing that. I think comptroller is an office I know something about. I think it’s an office I’m uniquely qualified for."

Notably, Weprin was among a vocal minority of state lawmakers who, in the run up to the state budget this year, opposed a proposal to create a congestion pricing program in New York City. The program eventually passed, though it will not be implemented till 2021, which could potentially make it an election issue in the city, particularly in Weprin’s native stronghold in eastern Queens.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated with comment from Assemblymember David Weprin. 

Note - this article has been updated to note that Weprin owes the CFB a $320,000 debt for repayment of public funds from his 2009 campaign. 

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Assemblymember David Weprin Plots City Comptroller Campaign Fri, 19 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Corey Johnson's Big Small-Dollar Bet https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8685-corey-johnson-s-big-small-dollar-bet https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8685-corey-johnson-s-big-small-dollar-bet Corey Johnson

Council Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s expected mayoral campaign is based in part on a big small-dollar gamble.

When Johnson announced in January that he was exploring a bid for mayor – he hasn’t made it official yet – he set a $250 limit on all campaign contributions, far below the maximum possible limit of $5,100. And though the latest campaign finance disclosures show him outpacing his three likely Democratic primary opponents in the number of donations he received, he is well behind the pack in total funds and will have to work overtime to fill the gap.

Along with the low self-imposed donation limit ($250 is also the ceiling for how much of each donation can be matched eight-to-one in the city’s public campaign finance system), Johnson has also pledged not to take any campaign money from real estate developers, lobbyists, or corporate political action committees.

By constraining himself in these ways, he’s making a calculated bet: that New Yorkers will be impressed enough by his voluntary limitations that so many will donate, albeit in small amounts, to still get him the war chest he needs to spend as much as his competitors given the cap on expenditures that comes with the city’s matching system. And, that he’ll hit those maximums while earning a larger, more enthusiastic grassroots base of supporters than his opponents.

He’ll be living out the values that many Democrats espouse, and he’ll have a very effective talking point as he seeks to separate himself from the pack, expected to also include City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

“I’m focused on these small-dollar contributions because there’s a double benefit,” Johnson said in a Wednesday interview. “Of course there’s the money you raise, but also you get to meet a lot more people around the city and spread your message to New Yorkers.”

“I’m doing this in a way that no one’s ever done before,” he added, “and I was a little concerned when I made the pledge, wondering if I’d be able to raise the amount of money to be able to compete. But after these last five months, I feel good about where I am and I feel like it’s totally doable.”

The latest filings with the New York City Campaign Finance Board show that Johnson has raised a total of $379,728 from 3,029 contributions. The money came from 2,612 individual donors, with many of them giving more than once. He also transferred $88,780 from his City Council campaign account, spent only about $32,800 and has just under $432,000 in cash on hand.

“I think it shows the grassroots nature of the campaign and I did it all without raising money from real estate developers or people who work at lobbying firms and with a self-imposed cap of $250,” Johnson said Wednesday. “So I feel excited. I worked really hard. I went around the city and met with voters in their neighborhoods, in their living rooms and talked about the issues that matter to New Yorkers.”

Johnson will be bolstered by the city’s voluntary public matching funds program, which incentivizes small donations by matching them with public funds and has recently been enhanced by the City Council through legislation, a portion of which stirred controversy given its apparent benefit to Johnson and detriment to his rivals.

A ballot referendum approved last year gave candidates the ability to choose one of two versions of the city’s public funds program, run by the Campaign Finance Board. For candidates for citywide positions, they can now opt for a new $2,000 contribution limit and receive an 8-to-1 match for the first $250 of an eligible contribution, or they could stick with the older $5,100 limit and receive a 6-to-1 match for the first $175 of an eligible contribution.

The City Council then bolstered the new system further by enhancing the extent of the public match candidates can receive as it relates to the spending cap in their race, and made the new system retroactive to the beginning of the four-year cycle, meaning the start of 2018, which rankled Johnson’s rivals, especially Stringer, who would have to return a significant amount of money in order to opt into the new system.

Stringer accused Johnson of playing political games with his government position, while Johnson noted he was acting on a recommendation from the Campaign Finance Board, looking to help take big money out of politics, and that Stringer could stick with the higher donation limits if he’d like (though Stringer had already chosen the new system, not thinking he would have to make refunds from 2018 fundraising). The changes also impact Adams -- who also has criticized Johnson over the move -- and Diaz, Jr., though they have not made clear which system they plan to choose. After this election cycle, the new system will be the only choice.

Johnson chose the new system and of his total fundraising, $315,421 qualifies for public matching funds, meaning he could receive eight times that amount in public funds. When the Council increased the cap on the amount of public funds a candidate can receive – from 75% to 88.8% of the spending limit for a campaign – it meant Johnson will be able to stick to his self-imposed limit and spend as much as his three rivals, who are all expected to participate in the matching funds program and therefore abide by spending limits. It’s unclear if any other Democrats will jump into the race, or what the general election field may look like.

It's likely that Johnson, Adams, Diaz Jr., and Stringer are all able to raise as much as they need to, in combination with matching funds, and spend the allowable amount -- $7.3 million for the primary. But Johnson appears to think his pledge will significantly impact how voters and donors see him, and his competitors, which can potentially help him secure more support in the ascendent left wing of the Democratic Party.

Johnson sees significant momentum in his first filing period, noting that he currently has the largest amount of funds that can be matched, compared to the other candidates who had been raising funds for well over a year before he began.

There are also pitfalls to Johnson’s approach. He said he can’t afford full-time campaign staff and admits that it’s “been a challenge” to vet the thousands of contributions he’s receiving with a mostly volunteer crew. He’s had to return about $4,100 to people who have gone over his campaign limit. It also takes major time and effort to raise so many smaller contributions and not buttress them with larger ones.

“Oh my god, it’s very tough. It’s grueling. And sort of nonstop, and it’s house party by house party, 20-25, 30-35 people at a time,” said Johnson, who has been appearing at a variety of small campaign gatherings.

Compared to Adams, Diaz Jr., and Stringer, the Council speaker is currently far behind in money in the bank. Along with taking the larger donations, the other three have been raising funds far longer and have deeper coffers from their own earlier races. No one has received any public matching funds yet, and won’t anytime soon -- the Democratic mayoral primary will be in June, 2021. (If Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is running for president, doesn’t finish his term for one reason or another, things could speed up a bit.)

Stringer leads the pack with nearly $2.6 million in cash on hand. He raised $336,700 in the last six months from 1,447 individual contributors after having raised at a faster rate previously, when he was toying with a challenge to de Blasio head of the mayor’s 2017 reelection. Stringer was able to transfer $1.4 million to his campaign from a previous citywide campaign account and has been prolific in his fundraising. Of his total, he has about $254,554 in funds that qualify for a public match.

Opting in to the newer of the two campaign finance systems, Stringer now has to return many thousands of dollars that represent the retroactive lowering of the individual contribution limit. Stringer called the new regulations a “power grab” by Johnson, critiquing him for changing the rules midway through the race (a criticism that Adams echoed).

"Time and again, Scott Stringer has stood up for bold progressive solutions to our toughest challenges, and this latest filing shows the growing energy behind our people-powered campaign,” said Emily Bernstein, finance director for Stringer’s campaign, in a statement. “At grassroots events across the city, we’ve talked with New Yorkers about real ideas to make our city more affordable for working families, build a better future for our children, and deliver true progressive change. We’re incredibly humbled by the support we’ve received, and we’re excited to build on our momentum.”

After Stringer, Adams has the most funds, with nearly $2.3 million in cash on hand. He raised $583,627 in the last six months from 1,234 donors. He also made an earlier transfer of $332,594 from his borough president campaign account. A total of $273,385 from his fundraising would be matchable by the CFB, though Adams has not yet declared if he is participating in the public matching funds program, much less which of the two versions, and has been accepting donations of the maximum amount allowed, $5,100. “New Yorkers believe in Eric and trust that he shares their vision for our city--that's why so many of them from such diverse backgrounds are supporting his campaign to lead the five boroughs. And he's just getting started,” said Evan Thies, a campaign spokesperson, in an email.

In comparison, Diaz Jr. has about $931,228 in the bank. He raised $232,334 in this latest filing period, from 385 donors, and he transferred $219,395 to his campaign for this race. He also hasn’t declared whether he will participate in the public funds program but most of his money came from large donations. He has about $57,476 that would qualify for matching funds.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Corey Johnson's Big Small-Dollar Bet Thu, 18 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Campaigning for Congress, Torres Touts City Funding Secured for Development Outside Council District https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8672-campaigning-for-congress-torres-touts-city-funding-secured-for-development-outside-council-district https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8672-campaigning-for-congress-torres-touts-city-funding-secured-for-development-outside-council-district 1 cm r torres lib

Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Bronx City Council Member Ritchie Torres is touting $3 million in city funding he secured for a residential complex that falls outside the Council district he represents, but within the Congressional district where he’s seeking votes.

The money will go to Concourse Village, Inc., a nearly 1,900-unit housing cooperative located in the south Bronx, over a mile away from the border of Torres’ district. The second-term Democratic Council member is running for Congress in the primary that will be held in June of next year.

Torres sent a campaign text message announcing the “great news,” using the funding allocation he secured as a member of the City Council to advance his congressional campaign, apparently targeting voters in Concourse Village.

"This is Council Member Ritchie Torres, running to be your next Congressman,” read a text message shared with Gotham Gazette. “GREAT NEWS: In the latest NYC budget, I secured $3 MILLION for Concourse Village.” The message went on to tell the recipient not to hesitate to reach out to Torres, providing a phone number, and concluded, “You can always count on me to fight for the Bronx. - Ritchie".

The youngest member of the City Council and the first openly gay elected official from the Bronx, Torres officially announced his candidacy for Congress on Monday, though he has been exploring a run for months. He joins several other Democrats vying for the seat opened by incumbent Representative José E. Serrano, who announced in March he would not seek reelection because of health concerns related to Parkinson’s disease. Representing the district in Congress since 1990, Serrano’s current term will end at the end of next year. Torres, who has been representing the 15th Council District since 2014, is not eligible to run for reelection in 2021 because of two-term limits. (Serrano’s Congressional district also happens to be the 15th.)

Others in the race include City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr. and Assemblymember Michael Blake.

Taking advantage of the authority and influence of elected office to secure popular measures that can later be used as campaign fodder is commonplace in New York, where local politics is often a stepping stone to higher office. But the grey area around promoting public interest and political aspirations becomes less ambiguous when the sway of an elected office goes to benefit another district entirely, with electoral goals at play.

"How do you rationalize using campaign funds to communicate with people outside your district to tell them that you got them money blatantly for the purpose of trying to curry political favor?" said Blake, whose district includes Concourse Village.

Torres says the budget allocation for what he calls the largest concentration of cooperative housing in the South Bronx is consistent with his focus on affordable housing, especially for African-Americans. So is the political campaigning that followed.

“I have been an advocate for affordable housing not only in my district but throughout the city,” Torres told Gotham Gazette. Concourse Village “has an outsized presence in the housing stock of the South Bronx, which is keeping with my record and reputation for advocating for affordable housing.”

“I think of cooperative housing like Concourse Village as the bedrock of the African-American middle class, you know, whether it’s Co-op City in the East Bronx or Concourse Village in the South Bronx,” Torres, who is black and Latino, said. Black voters in the 15th Congressional District are expected to be an important part of the primary vote. Blake is African-American and Torres is African-American and Latino.

Concourse Village, Inc. is subsidized under the Mitchell-Lama housing program, which offers income-restricted rentals and below-market value buy-in for co-ops, a boon for affordable housing.

The neighborhoods comprising the South Bronx are home to some of the worst poverty in the country and also have some of the highest rates of rent burden in the city. In the community district that includes Concourse Village, more than half of households are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 35 percent of income on rent, according to the Department of City Planning.

Torres, who grew up in NYCHA public housing and chaired the Committee on Public Housing during his first term, has made the living conditions of the city’s most underserved residents a signature priority.

He notes the $3 million allocation did not come from the capital funding dedicated to his Council district, but from the city-wide pool controlled by Speaker Corey Johnson. Torres told Gotham Gazette, “if it had come from the Council District 15 pot then there is cause for controversy, but there is nothing unusual about funding for Concourse Village from a city-wide pot.”

“And since I had a role in securing the funds, it’s natural for me to take credit,” he added.

Each fiscal year the City Council is given a capital budget from which Council members may apply to allocate funds, according to Jonathan Rosenberg of the Independent Budget Office. Individual members can apply for district-specific projects, and borough delegations can sponsor projects that span multiple districts. The Council speaker ultimately decides how that money is disbursed and can also allocate it to city-wide projects.

In recent years, speakers have designated an equal amount of capital funding, $5 million, to each of the 51 Council members with the remainder of the now $655 million capital budget going to a city fund. City-wide allocations are controlled by the speaker and might go toward large or expansive projects like street reconstruction, according to Rosenberg, and members are able to put in requests.

“This money was funded by the City Council Speaker at the request of Council Member Torres,” said a Council spokesperson. The spokesperson said it’s not unprecedented for members to seek funding for a project outside their district, adding that the money is from the city capital funding, not the money set aside for Torres’ Council District 15.

Torres has also secured funding for cooperative housing in his district using the money designated specifically for that purpose by the Council leadership. This year, he put roughly $1 million of the $5 million towards renovationing a Mitchell-Lama co-op, known as Dennis Lane Apartments, in the heart of District 15.

Concourse Village is located south of Torres’ district off of Morris Ave. within the borders of Council District 16, represented by Vanessa Gibson. Gibson, a Democrat, is not listed among the sponsors of the $3 million Concourse Village, Inc. allocation, despite the project falling into her district. “I actually was not even made aware of this allocation until the day of adoption,” she said in a phone interview.

“I did not have the opportunity to work with the speaker nor Ritchie on this. It was something that Ritchie had done on his own, but I am grateful for the attention Concourse Village is getting in the budget,” she said.

“I get the strategic way that Ritchie is obviously looking at the future. This was a development that came up among the priorities within the district, and I truly believe that that was the logic behind it,” she added.

But Blake called foul on that strategic approach. “It is difficult to say that you want to be a fresh voice in Congress when you are directly trying to communicate to people that you want to pay for their vote," he said.

“I’m proud of the role that I played in securing the funds. Concourse Village is one of the most important housing developments in the Bronx and in the city,” Torres said. “And it’s been a stabilizing force for communities of color, for middle-class communities of color. That’s why I felt so strongly about it.”

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette      

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Campaigning for Congress, Torres Touts City Funding Secured for Development Outside Council District Mon, 15 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8665-max-murphy-podcast-queens-district-attorney-primary-recount-caban-katz https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8665-max-murphy-podcast-queens-district-attorney-primary-recount-caban-katz mxm logo

l-r: Tiffany Cabán (photo: @CabanForQueens); Melinda Katz (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


July 10, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: the Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount

juan manuel benitezThe Queens District Attorney Democratic primary is heading into a recount, and Juan Manuel Benitez of NY1 & NY1 Noticias, who has been covering the process closely, joined the show it all down, from the absentee ballots that moved Tiffany Cabán from the primary night lead to second place behind Melinda Katz by 16 votes, to controversy over contested affidavit ballots, the potential for hundreds of new votes that ballot scanners didn't read, and political implications of how it all turns out.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Queens District Attorney Primary Heads to Recount Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
It Pays to be Comptroller: Scott Stringer's Mayoral Platform Takes Shape https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8653-it-pays-to-be-comptroller-scott-stringer-s-mayoral-platform-takes-shape https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8653-it-pays-to-be-comptroller-scott-stringer-s-mayoral-platform-takes-shape scott stringer bill de blasio bernie sanders inaugural ceremonies

Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has made no secret of his plans to run for mayor in 2021, when both he and Mayor Bill de Blasio will be term-limited out of their current positions. And the outline of his mayoral policy platform is already hiding in plain sight.

After briefly entering the 2013 mayoral campaign before shifting to a first successful run for comptroller, Stringer has spent a long time laying the groundwork for a full mayoral bid, so much so that many expected him to challenge de Blasio in the Democratic primary in 2017 had the mayor faced any consequences from dual ethics investigations into his fundraising activities. But the mayor faced no charges and both officials instead sailed to reelection.

One of three citywide elected officials, besides the mayor and public advocate, the comptroller is the city’s top fiscal officer, charged with overseeing the mayoral administration’s spending, auditing city agencies for waste, approving city contracts, and acting as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds (with assets worth nearly $200 billion). Though they have next to no official policy-making power, those who’ve held the office also tend to issue policy reports and make recommendations for policies the city should implement.

In about five-and-a-half years as comptroller, Stringer has released numerous sweeping proposals to tackle everything from the cost of child care to building more affordable housing to abortion funding, improving city bus performance, and hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Stringer fought against term limits for community board members, a ballot measure overwhelmingly passed by voters last year, and he’s pushed for this year’s city charter revision commission to propose creation of a citywide Chief Diversity Officer, building on his focus on city contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses. And, he’s helped lead the effort to divest city pension funds from fossil fuel companies.

As a citywide official, he’s weighed in with statements on many issues that don’t directly relate to functions of his job, and he’s taken on certain mantras, like the need for more “community-based planning,” that also indicate the initial building blocks for his all-but-official run for mayor.

Stringer’s work in the comptroller’s office has been a continuation of similar efforts he made as Manhattan borough president, unveiling various plans that would have a citywide effect.   

“Comptroller Stringer has spent his career in public service standing up for working families. From his time as a housing organizer, to his work as Manhattan Borough President, to his leadership as the City Comptroller, he’s proven progressive government isn’t just something he talks about – it’s what he delivers on each and every day,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, Stringer’s press secretary, in a lengthy statement responding to Gotham Gazette’s inquiry about Stringer’s various policy proposals.

“He’s used his office to change the face of corporate America and open doors of opportunity to women and people of color; he’s changed the conversation and shined a light on the touchstone progressive issues of our time, including housing and child care; and in every challenge impacting working New Yorkers, Comptroller Stringer sees a progressive solution worth fighting for,” Crampton-Hays continued. “With two and half years left in his term, he will continue the fights that have been at the heart of his entire career -- for equity, affordability, and fairness for all New Yorkers.”

When Stringer declares his candidacy for mayor in earnest, he’ll have a lengthy, detailed campaign platform on day one, thanks to all of the reports and audits out of his office. It’s a smart and appropriate use of the comptroller’s office, said veteran political consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “The New York City comptroller can do whatever the New York City comptroller wants. The office has broad authority under the city charter,” he said.

The issues Stringer has examined, Sheinkopf noted, cut across a swath of constituencies in a citywide electorate and have garnered significant attention. “He’s very able to get appropriate coverage for whatever he does. He also knows – because politics has been his life – how to take those issues and turn them into relationship-builders with particular interest groups,” Sheinkopf said. “He will be a highly competitive candidate for mayor, should he choose to run.”

Along with his policy proposals, Stringer’s near ubiquitous presence across the city should help him, Sheinkopf added. “No matter what choice New Yorkers will make, anyone who’s paid attention to the news will be able to say, for whatever reason, whether they can identify the issue or not, that somehow Stringer spoke to them about something,” he said. “And that’s a pretty good place to be and what he spoke to them about goes beyond color lines or race lines or ethnic lines or gender lines. He has made himself into the person whose words and even actions have become relevant to people beyond and outside of his social grouping, religion, race, class, and residence, which is not easy for someone who’s a west-sider from Manhattan.”

Stringer is expected to compete in a Democratic mayoral primary with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and anyone else who throws their hat in the ring ahead of the June 2021 vote. Each has also been in the process of staking out their policy positions and possible major mayoral platform areas, though none has led the size of operation or had the citywide vantage point, at least for as long, as Stringer in the comptroller’s office.

Political consultant George Arzt, who previously served as a campaign spokesperson for Stringer, echoed Sheinkopf. “The comptroller can put out anything on a platform just as the mayor or public advocate would put out anything on their platform,” Arzt said. “Perhaps increasingly so during an election year. But every elected official does it.”

Below are a sampling of the ideas that Stringer has proposed over the years, some of which are likely to form the basis for his mayoral campaign platform:

Child Care
In May, Stringer proposed a plan dubbed “NYC Under 3” aimed at drastically reducing child care expenses for 70,000 families. The plan, paid for with a payroll tax, would purportedly expand child care assistance to families with a combined income of up to $100,000 a year for a family of four, and triple the number of children enrolled in city-funded child care programs. The proposal was broadly praised by advocates, unions, and educators.

“New York City should drive a child care revolution, put working families first and establish a model for the nation to follow,” Stringer said in a statement at the release of the plan. “NYC Under 3 is a down payment on future generations and would benefit children, parents, and the local economy by increasing job stability and economic security.”

Since releasing it, Stringer has done a media and local event blitz to talk it up, including a “roundtable discussion” Monday evening with members of advocacy group Community Voices Heard in East Harlem.

Affordable Housing
Stringer has repeatedly criticized de Blasio’s affordable housing program, saying it has not created or preserved enough affordable units for low-income New Yorkers and that it has failed to stem the city’s homelessness crisis. In November, he released a proposal that would reimagine the city’s housing plan to target the 580,000 households that are in most need.

Stringer’s plan would put $375 million in the capital budget annually and repurpose the roughly 85,000 units left to be built under the mayor’s 300,000-unit plan towards extremely low-income households (which earn less than $28,170 annually) or very low-income households (which earn less than $46,950 annually). An additional $125 million would go to operating subsidies to ensure apartments remain affordable. He also proposed increasing the set aside for housing for the homeless by nearly three times to 15%.

The plan would be paid for by eliminating the Mortgage Recording Tax and implementing a Real Property Transfer Tax on all home purchases based on price. These measures would raise roughly $400 million each year, Stringer estimated. He also reiterated his call for a New York City Land Bank/Land Trust, which he first proposed in February 2016, to build housing on vacant lots.

Teacher Residency
In June this year, Stringer released a plan to reduce teacher turnover in city schools, after an analysis by his office showed that 41% of teachers hired in the 2012-13 school year had left their jobs within five years. 

Stringer proposed a paid, year-long residency program to train 1,000 new teachers annually, partnering them with mentors for classroom training and providing them with stipends for living costs.

On other education fronts, Stringer’s efforts more closely linked to his core job responsibilities have already shown results. After a May 2015 report on inadequate physical education at schools across the city, the de Blasio administration added $100 million to hire physical education teachers in the five boroughs. And following an April 2014 report on broad disparities in arts education, the city allocated $24 million in new city funding to hire more than 100 arts teachers in neighborhoods with the highest needs. 

Abortion Funding
Ahead of the passage of the city budget this year, Stringer rallied with reproductive health rights activists to push the city to allocate $250,000 to the New York Abortion Access Fund, a nonprofit service provider. The push was successful, with the City Council and de Blasio deciding to earmark funding, reportedly making New York the first city in the country to directly fund abortion services.

Insurance for Pregnancy
In March 2015, the comptroller released a report on pre-natal care coverage for pregnant women enrolled in insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA did not recognize pregnancy as a “qualifying event” for immediate coverage. Following Stringer’s report, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Aravella Simotas introduced and passed legislation to allow for that coverage in New York, making it the first state to do so.

Puerto Rico Recovery
In October 2017, after Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, Stringer released a six-point plan based on an analysis of federal programs to help the island recover from the hurricane’s devastation. New York City is home to the largest community of Puerto Ricans outside of the island, many of whom continue to have ties to family living there, and the city was one of the main destinations for residents fleeing the island after the hurricane.

Stringer proposed federal loan guarantees for the construction of public infrastructure to help the debt-ridden island, called on Congress to authorize Disaster Recovery Private Activity Bonds (which were utilized after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to rebuild Downtown Manhattan), and an expansion of federal safety net programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit for residents of Puerto Rico. He also pushed for measures to help displaced Puerto Ricans, including additional education funding for displaced and homeless students, and for higher education institutions where Puerto Ricans are enrolled.

Chief Diversity Officer
Stringer has used his position as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds to push for greater board diversity at companies where the pension fund invests its money. At the same time, he has pushed for more diversity at city agencies, more city contract spending with MWBEs, and has called for the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer at City Hall (Stringer has appointed his own chief diversity officer). He pushed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to include the idea among its ballot proposals but was unsuccessful, though the commission is moving ahead with a proposal to enshrine responsibility for the city’s MWBE program at City Hall.

Immigrant Services
In March 2015, Stringer released an “Immigrant Rights and Services Manual” – initially translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian and Spanish – to help immigrants navigate local, state and federal services.

In February 2016, he also released a report on citizenship application fees, with recommendations for federal and local action. He urged the city to provide more citizenship assistance programs, to add funding for English and civics classes, and to expand free legal services, among other proposals.

Commuter Rail & Bus Reliability
In October 2018, Stringer released a proposal to expand access to Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, by reducing fares for in-city trips to the cost of a single MetroCard swipe. He called on the MTA to ensure commuter trains take more local stops, that buses provide enhanced service to commuter rail stations, and that those stations be made ADA accessible. His plan, which would entail providing commuter rail service at 38 stations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, would cost about $50 million each year, he estimated.

In 2017, Stringer released a major report on the city's struggling buses, which have lost ridership at a dangerous clip, with an agenda for how to improve the system.

Security Deposits & Credit Score Benefits
In July 2018, Stringer released an analysis of security deposits in the New York City rental housing market, finding that renters paid about $507 million into security deposits in 2016. He called for legislation to cap security deposits as well as additional regulation regarding payments and refunds. The state Legislature this year put new rent regulations into effect that implement some of those reforms.

And in October 2017, Stringer launched pilot projects to help renters in roughly 3,000 apartment units to report their rent payment to increase their credit scores. The program was expanded a year later.

Playgrounds
In April, Stringer launched the “Pavement to Playgrounds” campaign, pointing to a dearth of playgrounds across the city and substandard conditions at hundreds of city playgrounds. Stringer pushed the city to build 200 new playgrounds over five years through partnership between the city’s Parks Department, the Department of Transportation, nonprofits and community boards.

BQE Reconstruction
In March, Stringer proposed his own vision for how the city should rehab the crumbling Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, including by converting the triple cantilever and Cobble Hill trench into a truck-only thruway and building a new two-mile park on the remaining space. A panel assembled by de Blasio is working on coming up with recommendations for a new plan after the city’s original idea received a great deal of pushback and appears to have been scrapped.

Marijuana Legalization
Before de Blasio released his administration’s plan embracing the legalization of recreational adult use of marijuana in December, Stringer had already explored the possible ramifications of creating a legal market in the city and proposed measures to ensure that the city creates an equitable industry.

Stringer pushed for investing tax revenue from sales into communities most adversely affected by marijuana enforcement, called for equity provisions in state legislation (particularly by making people with marijuana-related convictions eligible for licenses to sell legal marijuana) and proposed a citywide equity program to provide assistance to individuals and businesses seeking to enter the industry. 

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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It Pays to be Comptroller: Scott Stringer's Mayoral Platform Takes Shape Mon, 08 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
20 Things Tiffany Cabán Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8641-25-things-tiffany-caban-has-promised-to-do-as-queens-district-attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8641-25-things-tiffany-caban-has-promised-to-do-as-queens-district-attorney tiffany caban

Tiffany Cabán and supporters (photo: Working Families Party)


Public defender Tiffany Cabán, a self-described “31-year-old queer Latina” originally from Richmond Hill, appeared to pull off a stunning upset victory on Tuesday in the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney. If the counting of a few thousand absentee and other final ballots stays true to her roughly 1.5% margin over apparent second-place finisher Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Cabán will be the heavy favorite to win the general election and take over as District Attorney in January, the first newly-elected Queens DA in almost 30 years.

Cabán declared victory Tuesday night, while Katz declined to concede and said every vote must be counted. In her remarks to a packed and jubilant crowd -- chanting “Tiffany,” “Black Lives Matter,” “No new jails,” “AOC,” “DSA” and more -- at La Boom in Woodside, Cabán reiterated key planks of her insurgent campaign, in which she promised nothing short of a complete overhaul of the Queens District Attorney office and how criminal justice is meted out in the borough of more than 2 million people.

“We can’t have people sitting on Rikers simply because they cannot afford their bail, while the wealthy continue to be provided their constitutional right to the presumption of innocence,” she said Tuesday night. "We built a campaign to reduce recidivism, to decriminalize poverty, to end mass incarceration, to protect our immigrant communities and keep people rooted in their communities through access to services and support."

"We will need to build bridges with communities that have understandably been distrustful of the District Attorney’s office," Cabán said,  while also promising to be a DA for those who did not vote for her.

"I want to be very clear: nothing, nothing is more important to me than the safety of all people who call this borough home,” she said toward the end of her remarks. “We are going to center community solutions, and invest in healing and stabilizing lives. The changes that we are fighting for will be a fairer, more equitable, more efficient criminal justice system. And that doesn’t come at the cost of our safety, that is the source of safety."

But what exactly did Cabán promise throughout her campaign? What were the planks of her platform that energized thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of voters?

“For me, my decision to run in this race very much so feels like the natural progression of my advocacy for my clients,” Cabán said in a February interview with Gotham Gazette. Below are 20 more specific things she promised to do if elected Queens District Attorney:

1. Decline to prosecute many non-violent crimes.
-“Decline to prosecute cases that pose little or no threat to public safety” and “Decline to prosecute crimes of poverty and instead go after wage theft and bad landlords,” according to her campaign website, and force bad landlords to provide decent housing.
-“Not only decline to prosecute individuals who engage in sex work, but...partner with sex workers to push for legislative reform,” according to her Jim Owles Club survey.
-“Decline [to prosecute] transit offenses, trespasses, gravity knives,” she said at a May 3 Players Coalition forum.

Her full decline-to-prosecute list of offenses, per her survey for an Accountability coalition including 5Boro Defenders, Vocal New York, and others : marijuana, theft of services, unlicensed massage parlors, airport taxi (1220B), unlicensed driving and other minor driving offenses, turnstile jumping, petit larceny/shoplifting for amounts under $250, trespassing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest,“bump up” burglary in the third degree felonies (would charge them as petit larceny misdemeanors), possession of gravity knives, “bump up” felony gravity knife cases, loitering, drug possession, welfare fraud, prostitution.

2. For misdemeanors, raise charge standard from “probable cause” to “beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to her campaign website. And analyze racial, economic, and immigration impacts of charges filed, according to her campaign website and debate appearances.

3. Hold police officers accountable for breaking the law, including for lying under oath. She told the Queens Daily Eagle she would publish the DA office's list of officers who have credibility and misconduct problems, and may be liabilities if put on the stand in a case.

4. Decriminalize drug use “that does not pose a threat to others,” including but not limited to marijuana. “We’re going to decriminalize marijuana and invest in services for substance use disorder, not fight a failed war on drugs,” she said in a June 19 tweet.”

5. Support the creation of supervised injection sites, according to her Jim Owles Club survey. Provide naloxone, overdose training, and outreach to reduce overdose deaths, according to her campaign website, and bring companies that deliberately overprescribe drugs to court.

6.Bail reform.
-End cash bail for all offenses. “Cash bail is wrong—period. We can’t have two systems of justice: one for the poor and one for the wealthy,” she tweeted. And implement prompt automatic bail reviews.
-Cease use of risk score algorithms which are “based in...racist and classist ideas,” as she said in a May 3 candidate forum. 

7. Fight for open file discovery – “it speeds up cases, it’s what’s fair, it provides closure for survivors and victims of crime much earlier, ” she said in a tweet from February.

8. Pursue shorter felony sentences and never pursue life without parole.
-Advocate for legislation to review sentences of those over 55 who have been incarcerated for over 15 years – a “top priority in my office,” according to her survey for the Jim Owles Club, which endorsed her. “The goal should be on rehabilitation and safety – not on punitive, overly-lengthy sentences that do little to safeguard community stability,” she wrote.
-Presume shortest possible sentence, exceptions are to raise length of sentence – not the other way around, she said at a May 3 Players Coalition forum.

9. End civil asset forfeiture, and refuse to profit from prosecution decisions. In February, she called civil asset forfeiture “a terrible practice where money is seized from people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime.”

10. Consider defendant’s ability to pay in imposing fees and fines, according to her campaign website.

11. Give money obtained from legal proceedings to housing, job, and education services, which “evidence shows actually reduce crime,” according to her campaign website.

12. Create a Conviction Integrity Unit to review cases. “Part of what [it] will do is not just look at the quote on quote typical innocent cases but looking at cases that involved officers who have histories of misconduct, looking at cases that involve prosecutorial misconduct, looking at cases that relied on bad science to get convictions,” she said in a June interview with PIX11.

13. Create a Retroactive Release Unit “so that we are making sure that we are not unnecessarily keeping people incarcerated for offenses that we recognize really should be treated with treatment or supportive services,” she said in a June interview with PIX11.

14. Create a Record Review Unit to clear the record of those in prison for no-longer-prosecuted offenses, according to her campaign website.

15. Create a Reentry Services Unit to help the recently-released and reduce recidivism, according to her campaign website, “because 97 to 98 percent of people who are removed from their community reenter their communities no better than what they were, [and] in fact oftentimes worse,” as she said in an interview with New York Magazine.

16. Create units for corporate crime, consumer protection, wage theft, and antitrust investigations, according to her campaign website.

17. Prosecute ICE agents who engage in abusive conduct, according to her campaign website, and “Ban ICE from our courtrooms, not let them terrorize our neighbors,” she tweeted on June 19.

18. Help close Rikers Island jails, “faster than the proposed timeline,” with no new jails built in its place. “Every time new jails are built throughout this country's history, they are filled, she’s said. She promised to fight instead for “significantly smaller, better equipped community based jails next to court houses,” according to her Accountability survey.

19. Hold quarterly town halls, per her Accountability survey, and create a Community Advisory Board, according to her website. 

20. Exit the District Attorney Association of New York. “I will exit DAASNY & work instead with DAs who share our values,” she said, due to DAASNY’s opposition to open discovery. “These associations tend to have regressive, racist, and classist “tough on crime” mentalities,” she wrote in an Accountability survey.

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by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

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20 Things Tiffany Cabán Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000