Gotham Gazette Wed, 12 May 2021 17:21:33 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) New York Voters Face Sharply Reduced Choices in Future Elections crowds gathered votes

Voting (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)

In April 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo virtually forced the New York legislature to make severe changes to New York’s ballot access laws, by inserting those changes into a budget bill, which had to pass in order to avoid chaos. If those changes are not reversed, New York voters will invariably see only two candidates on their general election ballots in 2022 for almost all congressional and statewide races. In 2024, for president, chances are also high that they will see only the Democratic and Republican nominees on the November ballot.

One change increased the petition for statewide office from 15,000 to 45,000 signatures required to appear on the ballot. However, for 2020 only, Governor Andrew Cuomo reduced it to 30,000 signatures by executive order due to the pandemic. Even with that reduction, not one statewide independent petition succeeded in 2020. In the entire history of New York’s government-printed ballots, which originated in 1890, this was only the second time when not one statewide petition succeeded in a presidential or gubernatorial election year. The only other instance was in 1956, when the only two groups that tried, the Socialist Labor Party and the Socialist Workers Party, had their statewide petitions challenged and rejected.

In the spring of 1992, when Ross Perot was starting to run for president as an independent, the New York petition requirement was 20,000 signatures. Although Perot was very popular in the national polls, and was rapidly getting on the ballot in all the other states, New York legislators were concerned that Perot would not be able to get on the ballot in New York. So they eased the petition requirement, to 15,000 signatures. The bills that made that liberalizing change, S7922 and A11505, were obviously motivated to avoid the embarrassment of Perot getting on the ballot in all states except New York, because the effective date for the reduction in signatures for other statewide office was set in 1993, but the reduction for president went into effect the day the bill was signed. Governor Mario Cuomo signed the bill on May 8, 1992. Perot did then get on the ballot in New York and all other states.

If the 1992 session of the legislature had a plausible fear that 20,000 signatures was too difficult for someone as popular as Ross Perot, it makes no sense that Governor Andrew Cuomo chose 45,000 for future statewide petitions, unless he desired to block all future statewide independent petitions.

The severity of the statewide petition increase was not obvious in 2020, because New York already had eight ballot-qualified parties. The Libertarian, Green, and Independence Parties were each free to nominate someone for president without a petition, and did so. Therefore, New York voters had five candidates for president on the general election ballots: Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Jo Jorgensen (Libertarian), Howie Hawkins (Green), and Brock Pierce (independent). The SAM Party, which was also on the ballot, chose not to have a presidential nominee. The Working Families Party listed Biden; the Conservative Party listed Trump.

But, the 2020 ballot access change had another provision, increasing the requirements for a group to meet the definition of a ballot-qualified political party. It increased that definition so severely that four of New York’s parties are no longer automatically on the ballot. If they want to run in 2022 and future years, they will first need to get 45,000 valid signatures for their top-of-ticket nominee. To put the difficulty of getting 45,000 signatures in perspective, note that in 2020, not one independent candidate, and not one minor party, successfully completed any petition anywhere in the nation that exceeded 5,000 signatures, for any office. Granted, petitioning in 2020 was especially difficult due to the covid health crisis.

Defenders of the new definition of “political party,” a group that polled at least 2% for the office at the top of the ticket every two years, in gubernatorial and presidential elections, argue that the Working Families and Conservative Parties meet the new definition, so that New Yorkers will still have four parties to choose from. But in New York, the Working Families Party has never, in its 23-year history, nominated anyone for statewide office who was not the Democratic nominee. For the U.S. House, the Working Families Party also almost never runs anyone other than the Democratic nominee. In 2020 it had only one nominee for U.S. House who was not also the Democratic nominee, and that was an unintended accident, and if the Working Families Party had won in court, even that one nominee would have been replaced by the Democratic nominee.

The Conservative Party generally nominates the Republican nominee. For president, it has never nominated anyone who was not also the Republican nominee. For other statewide offices, it has not run someone who was not the Republican nominee since the U.S. Senate race in 2004. For the U.S. House, it almost always nominates the Republican nominee. In 2020, there were only two districts in which it ran someone against the Republican nominees. Therefore, the presence on the ballot of the Conservative and Working Families Parties barely adds to the list of candidates.

In 2020, in the U.S. House races, 17 of New York’s 27 races had at least three candidates on the ballot, but that was almost entirely due to the fact that the Libertarian, Green, and SAM Parties had their own nominees. Without those parties on the ballot in future elections, virtually every U.S. House race, and the vast majority of state legislative races, will have only the Democratic and Republican nominees on the ballot.

New York has been one of the states with the most third party and independent choices on the ballot for its entire history, and New Yorkers have been the voters most likely to elect such a candidate to Congress, compared to the voters of the other states. Individuals who were not Democratic or Republican nominees were elected to Congress from New York in 1947, 1948, 1949, and 1970. In the last 100 years, no other state can match that level of political diversity in congressional elections. If New York wants to keep its storied political diversity, the ballot access changes of 2020 must be reversed.

Richard Winger is the publisher of Ballot Access News.

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New York Voters Face Sharply Reduced Choices in Future Elections Thu, 06 May 2021 04:00:00 +0000
City Comptroller Candidates Should Make This Pledge to Combat Climate Change may fight change

The current comptroller, Scott Stringer, with Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

Perhaps the single most important thing the New York City Comptroller can do to combat climate change is to insist that companies in which we invest our $230 billion of pension money adopt the recommendations of the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure. This year, we will pick a new comptroller. We should insist that all candidates for the job pledge to call on companies to agree to the new reporting rules.

It is tough to imagine a topic with less political sex appeal than accounting standards, but anyone who understands the world of finance and the clout of the city’s pension investments will realize how important the Task Force’s recommendations are. They constitute a call for all companies to include in their annual financial reports an assessment of the risks to their businesses from climate change and their strategies for responding. 

The impact of climate change is all-pervasive at this point. It has caused unimaginable floods here in New York City, untamable wild fires in California, and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast with alarming frequency. Europe has experienced record hot summers. The polar ice cap is melting. The resulting rise in sea levels threatens to submerge island nations and coastal communities from Bora Bora to Brooklyn with devastating consequences. President Biden has declared responding to climate change a top national security priority.

The Financial Stability Board, an arm of the Bank for International Settlements—the central bank for central banks—has a mandate to promote complete and accurate financial reporting by companies around the world. Reliable information is the only way investors know what they are investing in when they buy stocks and bonds. Climate change will affect how almost every industry operates with implications for profits and long-term viability. Yet, there is currently no standard for including the impact in financial reports. Investors are making decisions through smog-clouded vision.

Requiring companies to include a clear-eyed assessment of how climate change will affect their businesses will allow investors, like the five New York City pension funds responsible for the retirement future of 700,000 current and former city workers, to understand a fundamental risk associated with their investments. That will allow smarter decisions that will improve the long-term performance of the funds. Requiring transparency on the topic will cause corporations around the world to embrace measures to reduce climate-damaging pollution because a credible response to climate change will become essential to maintain the confidence of the capital markets they rely on to finance their operations.

Much attention has been focused on oil and gas companies, and three of the city’s five pension funds have divested from the sector. Divestment is a blunt tool. Once used, an investor loses influence over the companies shunned. And while carbon fuel companies are perhaps the most obvious contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, they are far from the only ones. The transportation industry; mining, materials, and building businesses; agriculture, food, and forestry sectors are all huge emitters of climate-damaging gases. All businesses are subject to the extreme weather risks climate change has created. We need all corporations to get with the program of saving the earth. Using New York City’s pension fund power to insist companies adopt the Task Force’s reporting requirements will help it to happen.

Climate change offers more than financial risk. The compelling need to transform the way we power modern life offers tremendous economic potential. The clean energy industry can provide thousands of good jobs right here in New York City. We have ample opportunity to make our region a renewable power hub, including through a repurposing of Rikers Island. With interest rates at all-time lows and unemployment painfully high, now is the time to invest in making our infrastructure more resilient, and our public and private sector buildings more energy efficient. 

Yet, New York City, as big as it is, is responsible for just one quarter of one percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. The companies our pension funds invest in emit far more of the climate damaging pollution that threatens us all. It is time to deploy our financial power in defense of the environment we all rely on. Voters should insist that every candidate for New York City Comptroller pledge to do so. 

Chris McNickle writes about New York government and politics. On Twitter @NYChrisMcNickle.

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City Comptroller Candidates Should Make This Pledge to Combat Climate Change Sun, 21 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
It’s Time for a Really Robust Ranked-Choice Voting Education Effort voting west ele

Voting (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Voting is the backbone of our democracy, and should reflect the will of the people. That is the idea behind New York City’s 2019 vote, in which 73% of voters supported a ballot question changing our electoral process from a single choice plurality voting to a new system, known as ranked-choice voting (RCV). Following the lead of cities like Minneapolis and San Francisco, voters decided it was time to change the way we select the leaders in our local government.

In party primary and special elections for city government positions, RCV allows voters to rank up to five candidates by order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate in last place is eliminated and that candidate’s votes are redistributed based on those voters’ second choices. The process continues until a candidate receives an outright majority.

According to proponents of the new system, there are many benefits, including ensuring that winners have broader support, discouraging negative campaigning, and avoiding costly run-off elections. But in addition to reflecting the will of the people, it must also be easy and accessible, and there are strong concerns about the timing of implementation and the ability of our New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to properly inform voters of this new change to how they will be electing their representatives. 

In the first special election this year, in Queens’ City Council District 24, a candidate received a majority of first-place votes, negating the opportunity to see ranked-choice voting in action. When I speak to voters about the upcoming City Council special election here in the Northwest Bronx, in which I am running, it is clear that many do not know about the shift to ranked-choice voting, and even those who vote in every election are unfamiliar with the concept. This is deeply concerning, as the democratic promise of RCV relies on an informed and educated electorate.

But due to a lack of outreach and education on the part of the CFB, which is tasked with those responsibilities by the RCV law, it is likely that voters may end up selecting their top choice while leaving other choices blank, which could effectively disenfranchise those voters and leave them without the voice they were promised when these reforms were made. This is not the intention of these reforms, and if we want to fully embrace the new system, widespread education must be implemented by the CFB. Even worse, voters may end up invalidating their ballots due to errors. I was very troubled to learn that while there are opportunities for those voting in person to fix ballot errors, there is no ballot curing process for voters who vote by mail and vote for more than one candidate in the same ranking, or “over-vote” — a mistake that we can predict and address if we take action now. 

As New Yorkers, we like to think that our city government reflects our progressive values. However, the most vulnerable residents in our city have always been left behind, and we often fail to get resources to those who need it the most. We saw this happen in last year’s elections, where problems with absentee ballots disproportionately negatively impacted seniors and people with disabilities, and in the middle of a pandemic forced voters to choose between their health and casting their vote. Without proper education, the new ranked-choice voting system has the potential to disenfranchise voters who are historically overlooked, including immigrants, people of color, and older adults. 

The CFB’s actions to reach voters are insufficient. It is currently hosting RCV education webinars, but they are not widely publicized or advertised to the general public. To try to supplement these, the CFB has also enlisted community groups to conduct RCV workshops for voters. This means that a voter’s opportunity to learn about the new system can depend on the enterprise of their local community organizations, and whether or not residents are plugged in to those organizations. We are already seeing more of these workshops taking place in white, affluent parts of our city, often for younger or more technologically-adept individuals. The pandemic has shone a light on the digital divide that affects our communities with inadequate access to the internet, which is crucial to attending these trainings amid a pandemic. Furthermore, there appears to be little effort to target non-English speakers, making language access yet another barrier for RCV education.  

I am dismayed by the thought of voters being confused while they fill out their ballots. The CFB must increase its efforts to run a robust public education campaign immediately. Our city must immediately expand community outreach, and provide education on TV, digital platforms, and radio. RCV information should already be posted on the almost 2,000 LinkNYC kiosks across the city. We should also advertise on our subways platforms and bus stops. We should incorporate RCV education into social services, such as meal delivery to seniors. This education campaign must extend to every neighborhood in our city, with dedicated resources for inclusive language access. 

I have fought to expand access to early voting and mail-in balloting, and to make the process of voting easier and accessible for all New Yorkers, including non-English speakers and people with disabilities. The rollout of RCV still leaves many questions unanswered, which threatens to disenfranchise wide groups of voters. Our seniors, who have been voting the same way their entire lives, now must contend with this new system without sufficient education. It is not beyond the capability of the CFB to do this right. If we don’t get serious about ranked-choice voting education for our city’s voters, the very communities that need the most support during this pandemic will once again be voiceless.

Eric Dinowitz is a candidate for City Council in the District 11 special election taking place on March 23 in the Bronx. On Twitter @EricDinowitz

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It’s Time for a Really Robust Ranked-Choice Voting Education Effort Thu, 18 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Candidates, Experts Discuss Potential Positives and Pitfalls of Ranked-Choice Voting Amid New York City Implementation 2 candidates expert

Voting (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

As New York City implements ranked-choice voting for the first time and prepares for its widespread use this year in special and party primary elections for city government positions, experts and politicians have been weighing in.

The city’s first ranked-choice election -- a special election in City Council District 24 in Queens -- just wrapped up voting on Tuesday, February 2, and other special elections will take place in the weeks ahead in Queens and the Bronx, voters, candidates, campaigns, the Board of Elections, and other government entities are all working to prepare New Yorkers to use the new system and understand how it works, including the counting process and how much time it may take for full results

City & State NY hosted a virtual event, “NY’s Path to Ranked Choice Voting: Queens Forum,” on January 28, where a pair of candidates in the 2021 mayoral election, current elected officials, and civic engagement experts discussed the new voting system, its pros and cons. It was moderated by NY1’s Cheryl Wills.

Citizens Union held a “Ranked-Choice Voting Civic Conversation” on February 1 over Zoom, to explain how ranked-choice voting works, the potential benefits and pitfalls, and what has to happen in order for the new election system to be implemented successfully. This event featured three experts and advocates and was moderated by Gotham Gazette’s Ben Max.

How It Works
Ranked-choice voting allows voters in special and party primary elections for city government positions to select up to five candidates, rather than just one, in order of preference. It applies to positions of Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough President, and City Council -- all of which are on the ballot this year.

As explained at both of the events, people can choose to vote for only one candidate, by selecting them as their first choice and not ranking any others, though this would effectively be the same as discarding the potential for four chances to vote, depending on how the results unfold.

If a voter selects the same candidate for all five ranks, it is the equivalent of voting for them only once as their first choice, New York City Campaign Finance Board Assistant Executive Director for Public Affairs Eric Friedman said at the City & State event.

If one candidate receives at least 50% plus one of the first-place votes -- a majority -- they are declared the winner of the election, and there is no need to examine voters’ rankings.

However, if no candidate reaches the majority threshold, the ranking system comes into play. The candidate with the least first-place votes gets eliminated, and their votes get redistributed to each of their voters’ second choice.

The process continues until there are only two candidates left, by which point there will have to be one candidate with a majority of the vote.

The candidate with the most first-choice votes may not win the election, though in most cases that candidate does. The system is meant to eliminate costly and low-turnout runoff elections that have been in place for citywide positions, to ensure that winners have shown a broad base of support by getting ranked not only first but also second and third by many voters, to encourage candidates to campaign both positively and widely, appealing to as many voters as possible.

If a voter makes a mistake on their ballot or doesn’t understand the system before mismarking their choice, Friedman explained that they are able to make up for it up to two more times. In total, a person will have three chances to vote correctly: each person is allowed a second ballot if they inform a poll worker that they messed up on their original one, then they are allowed to fix their ballot one more time if the scanner detects a problem.

As a fail safe, the ballot scanners are supposed to be able to catch if a ballot isn’t filled out properly. Once the machine notices this, it is supposed to spit the ballot back out so that the voter can correct their errors on a new ballot. All of this highlights the importance of well-trained poll-site workers and supervisors, and good protocols in place from the Board of Elections, as well as the voter education piece, which is being run by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, with a great deal of support from community and civic groups, among others.

While other cities that have adopted the ranked choice-voting system use a computer software to count and distribute votes, the New York City Board of Elections has yet to finalize the software to do this job — which means the first ranked-choice voting election in the city is being counted by hand, if needed (after the initial tally of ballots, former City Council Member James Gennaro had a commanding lead that may mean there is no examination of the candidate rankings).

“It does seriously make you wonder what everybody was doing between the time the voters passed this and now, because there are established software companies out there that know very much what they’re doing, so we’ll continue to ask this question,” WNYC Editor-in-Chief Audrey Cooper said at the Citizens Union event.

A Variety of Perspectives
The ranked-choice voting system was implemented after 73.5% of voters elected to pass the proposal back in 2019, when a charter revision commission had put it on the ballot.

Before its implementation this year, some elected officials and advocates tried to stop its use with a lawsuit, since dismissed, arguing that voters would not be properly educated in order to use the system and thus risk disenfranchisement. Despite the fact that it is now actively being implemented, not everyone is fully on board.

For example, at the City & State event, State Assembly Member Alicia Hyndman, a Queens Democrat, said that she supports ranked-choice voting, but not necessarily for right now. 

With the coronavirus pandemic preventing door-knocking, in-person gatherings, and other traditional ways to spread word of the new system and its details, Hyndman said that she feels it is not the best time to start implementing ranked-choice voting.

“I just think that this needs to be delayed, because we’re talking about enfranchising voters,” she said at the Spectrum event. “I think that this is disenfranchising people because it’s too much information. I’m not saying people can’t grasp the information — I have a very well-informed community that will get the information — but there’s a huge percentage of people who are not going to get this and who will go there, be confused and guess who they’re going to blame? They’re going to say, ‘The politicians are changing things again and they’re trying to take away my right.’ I’m telling you, this is what is going to be said. So, as much as we can, we’ll educate, but I’m concerned that this is just too much, too fast, and that this is not going to achieve the desired effect.”

Hyndman was not the only speaker at the two events who voiced concerns, though the potential benefits were more widely discussed.

The most common concern that was brought up was about education. If not enough is done to educate the public on how this new system works, it could lead to invalidated ballots, votes not accurately reflecting people’s intended choice, voters not making more than one selection and therefore not having any votes beyond their first choice counted, and some people just choosing not to vote altogether.

This concern is especially acute regarding communities that are already underserved, like low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, places that often receive the least outreach and resources.

“The big concern right now is that the communities that were hit hardest by COVID, and there’s always a common denominator, communities that are disinvested in, are we really reaching them,” recently-elected Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said at the City & State event. “And I think during this period the challenge is — and once again, I am a firm supporter of ranked-choice — how are you reaching those folks.”

However, as one expert pointed out, there isn’t much point to debating ranked-choice voting, it’s happening.

“I think we’ve seen with this most recent election what can happen when candidates or their surrogates negatively poison the field,” said Lurie Daniel Favors, the Interim Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, at the Citizens Union event. “I think it’s really important that now that it’s here — we’re no longer in 2019 — despite how we might feel about it, this is the system that is in place and it is important that people who are currently in positions of power use their voice to encourage people to learn more about this system, as opposed to using their voice to continually decry what they think may be the negative side of the matter.”

Mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia, who was at the Spectrum event, said, “Ranked-choice allows a diversity of candidates, and it means that whoever wins will have been voted on by a majority of New Yorkers. And it helps to ensure that we don’t split and have a spoiler candidate in the race. And for the candidates themselves, I hope that it means that we are all running positive policy-issued races.”

She went on to say that she sees no potential drawbacks to ranked-choice voting.

Rose Pierre-Louis, the Chief Operating Officer of New York University’s McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research and a leader of the Committee for Ranked-Choice Voting NYC, expressed her optimism about the implementation of RCV.

“I’m extremely excited about ranked-choice voting for the very reason, as I said in the beginning, I think it levels the playing field,” she said. “You often hear from someone who says, ‘I’d love to run for office, I think I have something to offer,’ but then talks about the politics and not being a player in that space, and often being discouraged from running. I think now you’re seeing a diversity of candidates — if you look at CD24, it’s an incredible array of diversity in these races and at a time when we’re looking at issues of racial diversity and gender diversity, for example in the city council and in government, period. I think we’re seeing a great number of people who are considering running for office, simply because of ranked-choice voting.”

[Watch the video of the Citizens Union-hosted event here]

Candidates, Experts Discuss Potential Positives and Pitfalls of Ranked-Choice Voting Amid New York City Implementation Wed, 03 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Manhattan Borough President Candidates Pitch West Side Democrats lower manhattan skyline

Lower Manhattan (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

The six Democratic candidates running for Manhattan Borough President in this year’s election appeared Thursday night at a forum hosted by the West Side Democrats. The five Democratic candidates running for City Council District 6, based on the Upper West Side, also appeared before the club, following the borough president hopefuls. Both primaries are among those happening for all of city government in June and will feature the first full citywide round of ranked-choice voting, which applies to special and party primary elections.

Forum participants answered questions focused on a range of issues, including public and private housing, homelesssness, transit, land use and development, small businesses, the city’s Open Streets program, concern over federal aid, and more.

Candidates vying to succeed term-limited Gale Brewer for Manhattan Borough President include Lindsey Boylan, former deputy secretary for economic development and housing in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration; Kimberly Watkins, president of Community Education Council 3 in Harlem; City Council Member Mark Levine of District 7; Elizabeth Caputo, former chair of Manhattan’s Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side; State Senator Brad Hoylman of District 27; and City Council Member Ben Kallos of District 5.

Participating candidates appeared consecutively and were given three minutes to introduce themselves, then six minutes to answer questions pre-submitted by West Side Democratic Club members. The candidates were asked mostly the same set of questions during the forum, which was moderated by club members Pablo Zevallos and Rachel Landis.

In his opening remarks, West Side Democratic President Richard Oppenheimer reflected on Wednesday’s attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, calling it “a moment of darkness and light” for democracy. Most of the candidates commented on the riot, as well, agreeing that peaceful transfers of power at all levels of government are necessary components of a healthy democracy.

Lindsey Boylan
“I came to New York, interested in urban planning, wanting to be the next Jane Jacobs and think about how to make cities work for people,” said Boylan, discussing her decision to run for borough president. For Boylan, equitable urban planning has never been more important than it is now in the midst of a pandemic that has devastated the city’s local economy on top of all the challenges the city already faced.

“The borough president's job is all about how to use all the tools at our disposal to make this borough, and as a result the city, more equitable, livable, and sustainable. I’ve been doing that my whole career,” said Boylan, noting two decades of experience managing public spaces, primarily the Bryant Park Corporation, 34th Street Partnership, and the Chelsea Improvement Company, as well as her more recent position in the Cuomo administration. Boylan left that position in 2018 and recently accused the governor of having sexually harassed her repeatedly, a charge he denied.

In 2020, Boylan ran an unsuccessful Democratic primary challenge to Rep. Jerry Nadler.

At the forum, Boylan criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program for its failure to address the city’s critical need for affordable housing via “luxury bonuses.” When asked about single-room occupancy housing, Boylan said, “This is a critical way that people live in the city. And we're not offering any alternatives.” She referenced recent housing lotteries in which applications far exceeded the number of available units as evidence of the city’s need for “deeply affordable housing.”

Boylan also expressed her disapproval of “large-scale luxury redevelopments” and “piecemeal development of public spaces and green spaces.” When asked about Speaker Corey Johnson’s recently-introduced comprehensive planning legislation, Boylan was cautiously supportive, saying, “I do think we need comprehensive planning…I'm still exploring whether or not I think this is the right avenue for it.”

Kimberly Watkins
Watkins, a local parent education leader, pitched herself as “the schools candidate,” touting a five-point plan that will address the biggest issues facing the public school system, “starting with the abolishment of mayoral control” of city schools.

Watkins said that her “people-centered platform” is focused on solving “the funding and resource issues for schools,” as well as the overlap between public education and other major sectors like affordable housing and the jobs market.

On affordable housing, Watkins expressed support for single-room occupancy housing, saying, “I think they’re great. We need more innovation in terms of increasing home ownership.” Watkins voiced criticism of the Obama-era program called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) in which NYCHA privatizes building management of its properties while maintaining ownership and bringing in new revenue. “I also want to fight RAD, figure out a way to improve public housing without privatizing it,” she said.

When asked about comprehensive planning legislation, Watkins voiced support for the concept, saying, “I really think getting behind the idea of broader planning is a positive thing for our city,” although she did not endorse Johnson’s proposal in specific terms. Watkins added, “What I would like to see us do more of is have the conversation sort of expand out from the individual community board, to neighboring boards, or potentially even the full borough.”

Mark Levine
“I'm running for [borough] president to fight on behalf of the west side, this borough, and the city. It's a fight that I've been engaged in my entire adult life,” said Levine, who represents a district including parts of Washington Heights, West Harlem, and the Upper West Side. A former teacher who is now the chair of the Council’s health committee, Levine touted his success as a non-profit founder of a community credit union, which resulted in “$25 million in micro loans to low-income families.” He also cited his first-term work as chair of the City Council's parks committee, in which he “fought to deliver millions of dollars to green space,” as an example of his qualifications.

He praised Morningside Heights, one of the neighborhoods in his district, for working with him to develop community-driven planning. In the wake of heated debates over development that played out all over the city this past year, and are ongoing, Levine voiced steadfast support for comprehensive planning, promising that “if it doesn’t happen city-wide, then I’m going to push it as a borough-wide, comprehensive plan.” On urban planning overall, Levine said he believes in “balanced development, which protects the integrity of neighborhoods, but prioritizes creating more affordable housing.”

Levine highlighted improving transportation as a key aspect of his policy platform. Noting that the ridership of buses tends to include lower-income people, seniors, people of color, and those with disabilities, he said, “I'm a huge advocate of investing energy and resources into buses to speed them up. I think that's probably the biggest bang for the buck.” One of his goals is to see every bus line outfitted with transit signal priority (TSP) technology, which turns lights green when a bus approaches a given intersection and “shaves 21% off the travel time,” he said. Levine also said he has plans to push a bill to create free bus fare in New York City, saying this will “boost ridership and get people on mass transit” post-pandemic.

When asked about the pandemic-era Open Street program, Levine said, “It’s a policy that should remain.” He also voiced support for a vacancy tax on property owners in hopes of lowering rents and reviving the small business sector.

Elizabeth Caputo
Caputo, citing her experience as the longest serving chair of Community Board 7 in Manhattan and other leadership roles she’s held, said, “I’m running because we need strong innovative leadership right now.” She went on to criticize “career politicians,” pitching herself as a “bridge-builder.”

When asked how she would improve garbage collection in the city, Caputo told the West Side Democrats that “composting and equity, how trash and sanitation gets built in those neighborhoods, would be a huge priority of mine as borough president.” She cited her work creating a task force to provide services and support to NYCHA residents, including sanitation, as an example.

Caputo said that one of her chief priorities as borough president would be improving transportation through increased Select Bus Service. “I work every day working on safer, cleaner, greener, and more equitable forms of transportation all over the world,” Caputo said, referring to her full-time position at World Economic Forum, where she runs its U.S. government engagement. Caputo called for more Select Bus Service and promised, “Mass transit is the greatest equalizer of our city, and I’m going to be the candidate that brings it back and makes it equitable for everyone.”

When asked about the crisis over the more than 200 men sheltering at The Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side, Caputo said, “I'm the only candidate who has actually represented this district for the last 10 years, where we have had a quality of life and homelessness crisis for a very long time.”

“Those men and those people who have lived in Lucerne have a right to stay there,” she said.

Caputo also voiced her support for the Open Streets program, citing her track record as a transportation and safe street advocate in securing bike lanes for both Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue, as well as bringing Citi Bike to the neighborhood.

Brad Hoylman
“I've been proud to sponsor some of the most consequential legislation in Albany over the last few years with our new Democratic supermajority,” said Hoylman, the only openly LGBTQ candidate in the race for borough president, and until this year the only openly LGBTQ state senator in New York. He went on to cite his work as a state senator, including the Child’s Victim Act, which allowed child sexual abuse victims to pursue charges against their abusers going back decades, and a number of other bills.

“I have a record of getting things done in Albany,” Hoylman told attendees before highlighting small businesses, public spaces, affordable housing, revitalizing the arts, and economic equity as key aspects of his platform in the borough president race.

On revitalizing small businesses that have taken a severe economic hit during the pandemic, Hoylman said he has sponsored legislation called “Save Our Storefronts” that “would allow tenants to pay a percentage of their revenue to their landlord with support from the state of New York to make up the difference.” Hoylman continued, “I piloted that at Grand Central Station, where we saved a number of small businesses that couldn’t pay rent.” He complimented outgoing Borough President Gale Brewer for her “landmark legislation” regulating retail zoning on the Upper West Side, which his new legislation expands upon.

“We certainly need to get rid of the commercial rent tax below 92nd Street, at least during the pandemic,” he added.

Hoylman also adamantly opposed the idea of moving the current residents out of the Lucerne Hotel, saying, “We cannot move New Yorkers like they are chattel.”

“It certainly has a lot of merit,” said the state senator when asked if he supported comprehensive planning legislation, championed by Council Speaker Johnson, who represents an overlapping district with Hoylman. “Community-based planning is really the heart of the borough president. I'd like to replicate and actually have every community board, should they choose, institute a 197-a community based planning process. There is no more important time than now to get planning right. We risk either becoming a burnt-out shell from the 1970s or Disneyland for the super rich.”

Ben Kallos
City Council Member Kallos represents parts of the Upper East Side, Midtown, El Barrio, and Roosevelt Island and is the co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. He’s been known for a focus on campaign finance reform, among other issues, during his two terms in the Council.

At the forum, Kallos said his firsthand experience with a variety of challenges, from the stigma associated with food assistance programs to the affordable housing crisis exacerbated by sudden rent hikes, have influenced his progressive policies and focus on trying to solve problems through legislation, citing his several laws and resolutions on campaign finance reform as examples.

Noting that he has refused money from developers, corporations, and lobbyists since his initial bid for City Council in 2013, Kallos said that as borough president, he will “prioritize a worker-led recovery.”

On housing, Kallos criticized Mayor Bill de Blasio for failing to build affordable housing in his district on the Upper East Side. “All the affordable housing initiatives that have happened in my district, I’ve had to do working with everyone but this administration,” Kallos said, touting 1,000 new units of affordable housing during his Council tenure. That is why he’s been a long-time supporter of legislation for comprehensive city planning, he said. A bill to mandate such planning was recently introduced to the Council by Speaker Corey Johnson and other members.

According to Kallos, solving the city’s homelessness crisis has been one of his chief goals since he was elected to public office. He co-founded the East Side Taskforce for Homeless Outreach and Services (ETHOS) in 2016 with Borough President Brewer, which connects city agencies with non-profits and faith-based centers providing services to the unhoused and to build new supporting housing on the Upper East Side. “They’re going to the same school my daughter will go to, and that’s a city I want to live in,” he said of children who have received housing support via this taskforce. Kallos also expressed support for getting unhoused people out of shelters and into hotels, explaining that when a hotel the size of The Lucerne (the west side hotel that has been the focus of controversy over its housing homeless men offered departure from group shelters during the outbreak) in his district opened to homeless people, he greeted them “with open arms,” adding “they are still there, and they can stay there forever.” He also wants to go a step further, citing an opinion piece he co-authored arguing that the city should buy and lease the 10,000 vacant apartments in the city to unhoused people.

“This is personal for me,” said Kallos, who said he heavily relies on public transportation and biking to get around the city, when asked if he saw more opportunities for Select Bus Service on the Upper West Side. According to Kallos, he “created a new technology system” that uses “bus time transponders to track every single bus in the system” and leverage traffic improvements.

Kallos said he is the only candidate in the race who has ever led a community-based rezoning, citing work to stop development of super-tall buildings in the Sutton Place neighborhood. Kallos voiced his support for a resident-led rezoning proposal in Morningside Heights, focused between 110th and 125th Streets, that would reduce density along the side streets and increase density along the avenues, and create affordable housing as dictated by Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. “You better believe that if I'm the next borough president, we will get this rezoning done,” he said.

Kallos also emphasized that he’s “the only candidate in this race who voted to defund the police,” referring to his vote against the current city budget, which he and several other members who voted in opposition said didn’t go far enough to reduce NYPD spending, while several others voted against it because they felt it went too far.

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Manhattan Borough President Candidates Pitch West Side Democrats Sun, 10 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
40 Questions for New York Politics in 2021 hands up qs

Many questions for 2021 (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)

While we ask dozens of questions at the start of each year about what lies ahead in New York politics, as we look ahead to 2021 many of the 50 questions we had for 2020 are on the table again, either because they are evergreen or because the pandemic froze so much of political life in place. Some of those questions are repeated below, some aren’t, even if they are applicable.

There’s so much unknown as we head into 2021, a year of incredible importance to New York City and State, especially as we try to stem another covid wave while administering the covid vaccines, spur economic recovery and a return to some sense of ‘normalcy’ around schools, business, tourism, and more. That more includes government leaders dealing with budget deficits, negotiations with a new presidential administration and new Congress, and the monumental task ahead for New York City voters of selecting a new mayor (the #1 purely political question of the year ahead, of course) and new class of other city government officials, from the comptroller to the borough presidents and the 51-seat City Council.

And much more, like legislative redistricting. The list goes on — see it below.

But it isn’t meant to be completely exhaustive. Nevertheless, if you think we missed something or have an answer to one or more of the questions below, tweet us @GothamGazette or email — and thanks for reading. Here’s to a better 2021 for all New Yorkers.

1. Can New York flatten the second covid curve? Can New York execute covid vaccination well enough to make the city mostly safe from covid?

2. Will the federal government bail out New York State and New York City governments? Will there be more federal money for the MTA? Will there be another broader federal stimulus package to help New Yorkers and New York businesses, nonprofits, schools, and other entities? How will the eviction and foreclosure moratorium ultimately be resolved?

3. How will New York recover from what covid has wrought? What will all three levels of government do to address the devastation of covid, ease burdens on New Yorkers, and provoke recovery? How will New Yorkers collectively and individually mourn? How will the city collectively celebrate those frontline workers who helped New York survive? Will there be any major, long-term social, economic, or political shifts that result from the covid crisis? When will schools fully reopen? How will the city and state ensure that students are able to have the best chance to make up for missed time, learning, and other development?

4. Will New York Senator Chuck Schumer become Senate Majority Leader? How will Schumer perform, whether as Minority Leader or Majority Leader?

5. Will any New York officials, like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, take positions in the Biden administration?

6. How will the New York House delegation perform, especially the newest members, like Reps. Ritchie Torres, Nicole Malliotakis, and Jamaal Bowman? What will Rep. Ocasio-Cortez do in her second term? Will Rep. Hakeem Jeffries become widely seen as the likely next Speaker?

7. Will any New York entity -- U.S. Attorney for the Southern or Eastern District, NYS Attorney General, Manhattan District Attorney -- bring criminal or civil charges against Donald Trump? Other members of the Trump family? Rudy Guiliani?

8. What will Bill de Blasio’s 2021 agenda look like? How will the outgoing, term-limited mayor try to cement his legacy? Can he help lead the city’s recovery effectively? With time running out, will he unleash a torrent of long-stalled ideas and proposals? Can he make final progress on key priorities and major challenges facing the city on jobs, housing and homelessness, crime and policing, and much more?

9. Who will be elected the next Mayor of New York City? Who will run in the Democratic and Republican primaries and who will win those nominations? Will there be a formidable ‘independent’ candidate for the general election — including, possibly, someone unsuccessful in the Democratic primary? What will be the most important issues and factors in the mayoral race?

10. Who will be elected the next Comptroller of New York City? Will Jumaane Williams win reelection as Public Advocate?

11. Who will win the ‘open’ Borough President elections in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island? Will Donovan Richards win reelection as Queens Borough President?

12. What will the next City Council class look like? How will its 51-member class break in terms of political ideology, demographics, and other key factors? Will the effort to elect more women to the Council get closer to gender balance in the legislative body? What will its makeup portend for the race to be the next Council Speaker? Who will make moves in that bubbling race to become Speaker? How will labor and activist alliances do in attempting to elect City Council allies? What clashes will occur and who will prevail? How will the Democratic Socialists of America New York City branch do in its effort to elect six new Council members?

13. How will the rollout of ranked-choice voting go? Will the implementation of RCV happen as currently planned and mandated by law? Will the Board of Elections successfully implement it, starting with several imminent special City Council elections? Will voters know enough about it? How will voters feel about it?

14. Who will be elected Manhattan District Attorney? Will Cy Vance pursue reelection after all?

15. How will the pandemic impact the mayoral and other campaigns?

16. What will voter turnout for the June primaries look like? The fall general?

17. Which races will be competitive in the general election? Can the Republican nominee crack 40% in the mayoral race? How many Republicans will win City Council seats — can the GOP expand on its current minority conference of three?

18. Which entities and forces will matter most in the mayoral and other city races? How will the Democratic county parties fare in backing candidates for office, from mayor through the City Council? What allegiances and alliances may emerge? What impact will labor unions, advocacy groups, and other players have on the mayoral and other races? Will Mike Bloomberg get involved? What will Bill de Blasio’s role be?

19. Who will win the several upcoming special City Council elections in the Bronx and Queens in February and March?

20. What will City Council Speaker Corey Johnson do in his final year as Speaker and in the Council? What priorities will the Council push ahead as many of its members seek reelection or higher office? What will the Council make for policy, budget, and oversight priorities in this final year of the current class? Will there be another big debate over NYPD funding around the city budget?

21. Will the city’s recent increases in gun violence continue or be reversed?

22. What will be the next steps in the police reform process and movement? How will the NYPD’s implementation of promised reforms go? What will the NYPD’s reenvisioning design, per a statewide executive order by Governor Cuomo, look like and will it gain City Council approval? With legal challenges resulting from the repeal of 50-A be resolved and a flood of NYPD disciplinary records see the light of day? Will Dermot Shea make it through the year as police commissioner?

23. What high-profile de Blasio administration departures will occur? How many “acting” commissioners will the city have come the final months of de Blasio’s tenure?

24. Will anything be done on property tax reform?

25. Will anything be done to help distressed taxi driver-medallion owners in the city, especially with regard to their debt?

26. How will the proposed rezonings of Soho and Gowanus proceed? What other big land use issues are resolved or become focal points? Will there be any pandemic-related shift in how major development projects are viewed?

27. Will there be significant movement to raise revenue for NYCHA, through various proposed mechanisms including infill development? Will the federal government come through with billions in needed repair money? How will de Blasio approach NYCHA in his final year and how will the federal monitor play a role?

28. What will new admissions policies for middle schools and high schools mean for desegregating New York City schools for the 2021-2022 school year? Will there be any movement on reforming admissions to the city’s specialized high schools?

29. Will there be any real debate about the future of mayoral control of city schools?

30. What will drive Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2020 agenda? Can the governor close the state’s budget gaps without significant cuts to local funding and without raising taxes?

31. How will the Democratic majorities in the Legislature perform? Will the Assembly and Senate majorities be largely aligned? Will they take control of the legislative process and force the governor’s hand? Will they override any Cuomo vetoes?

32. Will New York state government pass revenue-raising measures, including new taxes?

33. Will New York legalize adult use of marijuana? Will the state pass protections for gig and freelance workers? Will there be new limits on solitary confinement? Any significant parole reform? Any real movement on the New York Health Act for single-payer health care? Will the cap on charter schools in New York City be lifted? Will the state extend anti-sexual harassment laws to the Legislature? Will there be any reform of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE)? Will there be any significant reform of the New York City Board of Elections? What other high-profile policies pass or fail or lay dormant?

34. How will the state’s legislative redistricting processes unfold? How many seats in Congress will New York lose, one or two? What controversies arise around how congressional and state legislative districts are drawn?

35. Will the MTA make it through the year without major service reductions or personnel layoffs? Will its capital program be able to move ahead? Will the subways and buses get people where they need to go in timely fashion and safely?

36. Will congestion pricing be approved by the Biden Administration and implementation begin in New York?

37. Will New York City streets be made significantly safer for pedestrians and bike-riders? Will there be additional busways and an accelerated bus lane buildout? Will there be a large push to add protected bike lanes and connect the bike lane network? Will the city lower its per-ride NYC Ferry subsidy? Is the BQX project dead? What's going to happen with the BQE? Will there be any significant changes to how space is allocated on the Brooklyn or other bridges? Will anything be done about all the trash on the sidewalks?

38. What will 2021 bring in the ongoing Bill de Blasio-Andrew Cuomo saga?

39. What’s next for Bill de Blasio? Will he write a book? Get a cable news gig? Land a job in the Biden administration? Another political position? Teach? Plot a 2024 presidential run? Pursue another elected office?

40. What's next for Corey Johnson, Ruben Diaz, Jr., and other officials who aren't seeking reelection or another office this year? What's next for those who are unsuccessful in their attempts at reelection or higher office this year?

What did we miss? (We may expand the list to more than 40) Tweet us @GothamGazette and @TweetBenMax

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

40 Questions for New York Politics in 2021 Sun, 03 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000
Newly-Seated Brooklyn City Council Member Quickly Faces Tough 2021 Primary East New York CCD37

Former City Council Member Rafael Espinal in the 37th District (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Darma Diaz is one of the newest members of the New York City Council, having recently won the election to represent Brooklyn’s District 37, filling an unexpected vacancy at the beginning of December. But her election did not take place under normal circumstances and now the Democrat must defend the seat that she won unopposed in both the June primary and the November general.

District 37, which covers Bushwick, East New York, Cypress Hills, Ocean Hill, and Brownsville, had been without a City Council member for more than ten months this year after former office-holder Rafael Espinal resigned for a private sector job in January. The vacancy initially prompted a nonpartisan special election, which would have been held in April, but the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the electoral calendar. Governor Andrew Cuomo used his executive power to first suspend the election, and then postponed it to June 23, the same day as the primary election to select a nominee for the same seat. Finally, he cancelled the special election altogether and held only the ‘regular’ primary in June and general in the fall.

Cuomo sowed additional chaos and confusion by amending ballot access requirements, reducing the required number of ballot petition signatures to 30% of the normal threshold, which is 450 for City Council seats. Candidates would only have to gather 135 valid signatures. But, the city Board of Elections subsequently ruled that the executive order did not apply to the District 37 race, which meant that Diaz was the only candidate to qualify for the ballot while four other candidates were invalidated. Legal challenges by the candidates also eventually failed, leaving Diaz a free and clear path to office.

Three of those candidates are now running again in the June 2021 Democratic primary against Diaz and though she now has some advantage of incumbency as well as the backing of some other powerful forces, Diaz’s hold on the seat could be in jeopardy.

A former district leader, Diaz was backed in her bid for office by the Brooklyn Democratic Party and its newly elected leader, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte. The party also supported successful petition challenges against Diaz’s opponents, which prompted broad criticism that she had effectively been installed in the seat in undemocratic fashion. The party is again in her corner for the upcoming election. “Of course, they are backing Darma Diaz,” said Bob Liff, a spokesperson for Bichotte, in an email.

But Diaz faces tough competition, in a primary that will be decided by ranked-choice voting, among the first crop of city special and party primaries using the new system. She is being challenged by Sandy Nurse, a community organizer and carpenter; Rick Echevarria, a former official in the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD); Misba Abdin, a community activist; and Heriberto Mateo, former director of the city’s Commission on Human Rights.

In a phone interview, Diaz said she’s confident about her chances of reelection. “I have 30 years-plus of community service. My record stands for itself,” she said. “I was prepared for a primary, I was prepared for a special. I will continue to act accordingly.”

darma diaz via city councilDiaz (pictured) previously served as director of housing services at a homeless shelter run by Overcoming Love Ministries. Before that, she worked as director of community relations for the State Assembly and also worked as an aide to Assemblymember Daryl Towns.

Diaz pushed back against the criticism levelled at the Brooklyn Democrats and by extension her campaign for the procedural means through which they kicked other candidates off the ballot ahead of the primary earlier this year. “I did not cut any corners. I followed the process known to me, from A to Z,” she said. “I was last man standing because I did everything that I was supposed to do from day one. It's a shame that individuals running against me don't want to give me credit for my service.”

Diaz has about six months to make an impact on the main issues in the district, which she said are “the lack of food equity, housing, safety, education and employment.” And she intends to make her mark by holding Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to its promises under the East New York rezoning of 2016, the first major neighborhood rezoning approved under the mayor’s overarching plan to build and preserve rent-restricted housing in the city while also encouraging economic development and community improvements. Four years on, many of the pledges for housing and job creation have yet to be fulfilled.

Diaz conceded that the rezoning deal was “a little faulty” but was nonetheless proud to support it. “What this opportunity gives me is to have the follow-up conversation with the mayor on the non-deliverables,” she said. “I think that within itself should show that I'm about the people, for the people, and just going from an advocate to being a decision-maker at the table and working towards securing deliverables that were committed to us.”

She’s also creating a housing task force to examine the district’s needs and said she’s reached out to state legislators about securing more money for affordable housing. “To bounce back, to make our community affordable, it's going to take creative thinking,” she said.

Diaz did raise concerns about ranked-choice voting, saying, “there's going to be an educational issue” around informing voters in the district about how it works. A group of Council members sued to delay the rollout of the system, which will happen for a Queens City Council special election in February then other special elections in Queens and the Bronx before the June primary, arguing on similar grounds that it could disenfranchise Black and Latino voters without a sufficient education campaign. A State Supreme Court judge struck down the legal request. Diaz said she would support a delay “simply because our system is not prepared for it. Had covid not hit us and life was normal, I would have been OK with it. But the way it stands now, to me it's a disservice to our voters.”

Of all the other candidates, Nurse appears poised to present the strongest challenge to Diaz, having been backed by a slew of prominent progressive elected officials including Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez, State Senators Julia Salazar and Jessica Ramos, Assemblymember Maritza Davila, and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. Notably, parts of Salazar’s district overlap with the 37th Council District.

Nurse also has the endorsement of the Working Families Party, which can help bolster a candidate’s campaign operation and spend on the candidate’s behalf, and several progressive advocacy groups and political organizations, some of which are part of the WFP, such as Make the Road Action, New York Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York, Vocal NY Action Fund, the New Kings Democrats, and others. Many of the groups offer volunteers to knock on doors, make phone calls, and hand out campaign literature.

Nurse is running to Diaz’s left on a host of issues including political reform.

“I'm running to really champion some issues that I think are possible to push forward with a brand new city government,” Nurse said in an interview, “really running to guarantee housing, to champion a Green New Deal in New York City, to divest from the prison system, invest in our communities and to ensure our youth are nurtured and engaged and protected.”

As with the other candidates, Nurse emphasized the need for housing and jobs in the district, connected issues that have been drastically affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment jumped to a record high of well over 20% across the city earlier this year before coming down to what is still-crisis level of roughly 13%. An eviction crisis is looming. And District 37, home to working class communities of color, has been hit hard. “Housing is the number one issue in this district. It's the thing that's impacting our young people, one in six of whom are very housing insecure,” Nurse said.

Nurse is among those who have been critical of the East New York rezoning and believes it has only exacerbated the dearth of affordable housing in the district without delivering on the jobs front. “It speaks to what I think is a failed system of incentivizing large private developers in the real estate industry to build affordable housing for us by giving them all sorts of subsidies and tax breaks or rezoning large swaths of land for upscale market rate housing,” she said, echoing a common refrain against the mayor’s rezoning approach.

Earlier this year, Nurse was an organizer in the “defund the NYPD” movement, pushing for a significant reduction in the city’s police department budget -- something she would have a more direct say in if elected to the Council. For the last six months, after being bounced from her prior campaign but launching anew with her eye on June 2021, Nurse has been involved in food aid operations and helping families in dire need of assistance. “The lines are just getting longer and it's really starting to impact people that haven't traditionally had to step into a pantry line or receive food assistance,” she said. It’s the kind of work she would have done as a Council member, she said, and it’s what was particularly necessary as the district lacked representation for months.

Nurse also has a background in local efforts to fight climate change, particularly composting food waste, and has been vocal with criticism of Mayor de Blasio’s decision to cut the organics pick-up program amid this year’s budget crunch.

She said she was “excited” about ranked-choice voting and how it can “allow a lot of different voices and visions to kind of come forward and be seen.” And she seemed to dismiss any concerns that the Brooklyn Democratic Party may again attempt to throw people off the ballot on technicalities. “Machines are gonna machine, right?...If they want to spend time and money and resources on kind of suppressing democracy or engaging in dirty tricks around it, that's what they're gonna do.”

Echevarria says his central concern is the district’s affordable housing crisis, and the first step to addressing it is reorganizing the city’s housing department. He saw first hand how the agency (HPD) functions when he spent a year working as director of the city’s Tenant Interim Lease program. After he was fired, he sued the city in 2017, claiming that he was wrongfully terminated from the agency for blowing the whistle about corruption. The case was settled, according to his campaign website.

In a phone interview, Echevarria said that HPD has failed in its duty of oversight over the preservation of affordable housing, which is “plagued by decades of mismanagement and neglect, and corruption.” He cited the “gross mismanagement” of various housing programs such as the Mitchell-Lama program, the Housing Development Fund Corporation cooperatives program and the Third Party Transfer program.

“I'm the only candidate that has run a housing organization in the district and worked in city government and the housing agency. So, resumé-wise, I don't think the other candidates quite compare to me in terms of my diverse experiences around housing issues,” he said, pointing to his background which includes founding the Bushwick Housing Independence Project and working as a senior manager at CHANGER, an advocacy group. He was also critical of the East New York rezoning. “I would have opposed it...I don't believe in targeting low-income communities like East New York as the introduction for [Mandatory Inclusionary Housing],” he said of the de Blasio change to the city’s land use rules that mandates a percentage of affordable housing in any new housing development when added density is allowed to the developer.

“I'm not a politician, I'm an activist, and I've been working in District 37 for over 20 years, maybe more,” said Abdin, who is cofounder and CEO of Bangladeshi American Community Development & Youth Services, a local nonprofit. He criticized Diaz as just another product of the “nepotism” of the Brooklyn Democratic establishment.

He said his top priorities are education, public safety, and affordable housing, but he had particular gripes about issues of quality of life and crime. He said the community’s needs have gone unfulfilled for decades, “and that's why crime is high, people are living in a very unsafe environment, the education system is failing.” He called for more cops patrolling the streets in the district.

As a resident of East New York for more than 40 years, Abdin said he was dismayed to see how the recent rezoning has made a once crime-ridden neighborhood into an exploitable business opportunity. “This is a business for the developing companies, because they have no more space in the city. So they come into East New York, develop and make money. They [aren’t] concerned about the community and neighborhood...After 20 years of people living and making this community safer, now developers come, they rezone, they want to kick everybody out, which is totally not fair.”

Mateo’s campaign is his second attempt at the District 37 seat, having unsuccessfully run in the 2013 primary, which Espinal won before winning the general election. At that time, Mateo served as director of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. He also previously served as president of Community School Board 19 and president of the Martin De Porres Day Care Center in Bushwick. “I'm running because I believe we need to have real leadership in this community,” he said in a phone interview. “I've been living in this community almost all my life. I know the issues and the concerns.”

Mateo said Diaz has been as “part of the machine all her life” and said she does not have a record of delivering for the district. “I've been fighting against the establishment for so many years, even though I was raised a Democrat,” he added.

He stressed the need to build more affordable housing in the district and to save small businesses that have suffered during the pandemic. “The rent here is going too high to the sky,” he said. If he wins, he said he would create an office dedicated to helping small businesses navigate covid relief assistance and city grant programs.

The Democratic primary is in June. The winner will be heavily favored to win the general election given the district’s overwhelming Democratic voter enrollment advantage, though if she’s unsuccessful in the primary, Nurse could potentially run in the general election only on the Working Families Party ballot line and, in a one-on-one contest versus the primary winner, have another formidable opportunity.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Inset Diaz photo via the City Council

Newly-Seated Brooklyn City Council Member Quickly Faces Tough 2021 Primary Sun, 27 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
More Covid Special Elections are Coming; Let’s Make Them as Safe as Possible nyvote westvillage election

Voting during a pandemic (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Governor Cuomo just shut down indoor dining in New York City for the second time this year. Hospitalization rates and COVID-19 positivity rates across the five boroughs continue to soar, and the Mayor is warning that a full shutdown is imminent.

Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced that "we could start to see things start to get really bad in the middle of January, not only for New York state but for any state or city." Amid this dire backdrop, the City’s Board of Elections is holding a special election in Council District 12 in the northeast Bronx, where voting has already begun, and is also preparing for four other City Council special elections, to take place in the coming months. Two Queens elections are already scheduled for February, and two Bronx elections, including my race in District 11 in the northwest Bronx, will likely be scheduled for March.

In light of what the City faces, we need to make sure to prioritize public health and our fight against this virus, while guaranteeing that all New Yorkers have full representation on the City Council as soon as is safely possible. Here are some proposals to make sure the four upcoming City Council races do not set us back in our fight against the coronavirus.

Suspend Requirement Candidates Collect Voter Signatures to Appear on Ballot
In normal circumstances, candidates running in a special election for City Council are required to file petitions with 450 signatures of registered voters in their district in order to appear on the ballot. In reality, election lawyers encourage candidates to collect three times that number -- 1350 -- in case the petitions are challenged in court. 

While petitioning for the Queens races has already taken place, petitioning can and should be suspended for the upcoming Bronx races. To require what could be more than a dozen candidates in these two races to travel their communities to come in close contact with thousands of people at this time is highly irresponsible and could result in more people contracting this virus. As an alternative, candidates who have qualified for the Campaign Finance Board’s matching program, which requires City Council candidates to receive a minimum of 75 in-district donations of $10 or more, should be allowed to appear on the ballot. 

Send Postage-Paid Absentee Ballots to All Eligible Voters
For any election, voters should have as many options to cast their votes as possible. For these upcoming elections, this must include every effort to encourage people to vote by mail. If every eligible voter has an absentee ballot sent directly to their home, more will vote by mail. Period.

Postpone In-Person Voting Until More People Have Been Vaccinated
The City Charter requires the Mayor to call special elections within 80 days of a City Council Member leaving office. But while the Mayor is obligated to schedule these elections, the Governor can postpone them, as he has done with other elections this year to help to slow the virus’ spread.

The expansion of mail-in balloting in New York has reduced the number of people physically at the polls, but many will still vote in person, either out of preference, or because they do not receive a ballot by mail, or because they require assistance. 

With vaccines now being deployed, a postponement of in-person voting for these four elections to April or May could make a tremendous difference -- for poll workers, for voters, and for their families. With the state prioritizing vaccine distribution to New Yorkers above the age of 65 and to those with underlying health conditions, even a modest delay could mean thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors would be more protected before exercising their right to vote.

Abigail Martin is a social worker and an adjunct professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work, and a candidate for City Council in District 11 in the Bronx. On Twitter @Abigail4theBX.

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More Covid Special Elections are Coming; Let’s Make Them as Safe as Possible Tue, 22 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Ranked-Choice Voting is Coming; NYC Must Immediately Fund a Public Education Campaign early voting pres

Voters at work (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

The combination of early voting, vote-by-mail, and the desire to vote out Donald Trump made 2020 a huge year for voting in New York City. Despite long lines, when voters are given the right resources and awareness, we can raise the level of participation.  

As we turn towards 2021, the next chapter for voting in New York City will be the implementation of ranked-choice voting (RCV) for special and party primary elections for city government positions. If properly implemented, it will further improve our electoral process. But it’s an open question whether our government is up to the task of strong implementation, including extensive voter education, and the lack of effort and funding so far does not inspire confidence.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates based on their preferences, from choosing one up to five candidates in order. If a single candidate does not reach 50% of first-place votes, the last place candidate is eliminated and their votes are reallocated to the remaining candidates based on those voters’ second choices, with candidate elimination and vote reallocation continuing until a candidate hits 50%. 

When properly implemented, ranked-choice voting is good for our democracy and our city:

It is a more accurate representation of the electorate and a fairer process.

It empowers voters to make more candidate preferences heard.

It forces campaigns to build broad coalitions -- to focus on winning over a majority of voters in their districts.

It decreases negative campaigning.

Ranked-choice voting will be a major change in how city officials are elected, yet most voters are unaware of what’s coming or how RCV will work. City government, having adopted this new system through a charter revision commission and voter referendum, has a responsibility to educate voters or risk disenfranchising large swaths of voters who are confused by the process. With the first ranked-choice election scheduled for a special election that will culminate on February 2 in Queens’ City Council District 24, a seat recently vacated by Rory Lancman, we cannot allow any more delays in launching a major public education campaign to ensure all voters understand ranked-choice voting. 

After that special election, we will quickly have at least three more special City Council elections, followed by the June citywide primaries for Mayor, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents, and the entire City Council. With such a significant change in how voters will elect these officials, there is no time to waste.

Similar to the 2020 Census efforts, it is critical that the city immediately funds a public education campaign on ranked-choice voting. From sending mailings to voters, to partnering with local organizations and influencers to get the word out, to running television ads, to utilizing digital advertising, the city should be meeting voters where they are. Further, this outreach must be conducted in multiple languages so that voters for whom English is a second language are not left out of the civic process, as they too often are. We must be careful to include historically-disenfranchised communities of color in every part of our electoral process as we transition into ranked-choice elections.

Voting is the most sacred right in our country and a cornerstone of our democracy. With Republicans no longer able to block voting reforms in Albany, our laws are finally catching up with more progressive states and making voting easier. But failure to invest in civic education  following such a major change creates an obstacle to reform, unintentionally suppressing votes.  The implementation and funding of a ranked-choice voting education program is New York City’s opportunity to ensure the success of our new voting system, but only if we step up and take action right now.

Josué Pierre is a candidate for City Council in the 40th District, in Brooklyn. On Twitter @CitizenPierre.

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Ranked-Choice Voting is Coming; NYC Must Immediately Fund a Public Education Campaign Thu, 03 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Ray McGuire Launches Campaign for Mayor of New York City raymcguire launches campaign

Ray McGuire (photo: Ray McGuire for Mayor)

Ray McGuire, a top Wall Street executive who recently left his job to explore a run for Mayor of New York City, launched his 2021 campaign on Wednesday in a video released online and narrated by famed New York filmmaker Spike Lee. 

McGuire, 63, previously served as vice chair of Citigroup, the global banking giant, and was one of the highest-ranking Black executives in an industry dominated by white men. He left the position in mid-October to lay the groundwork for a campaign to replace Mayor Bill de Blasio, who cannot run for reelection because of term limits.

Running as more of a moderate than some further to the left in the crowded Democratic mayoral primary, which will take place in June and feature ranked-choice voting, McGuire is pitching his business, management, and leadership skills and experience, as well as his life story and ability to bridge gaps among New Yorkers and help lead a revival of the city’s economy.

“If we want to stop more and more jobs and small businesses from vanishing, we need a mayor who can think big, bring in every expert, call in every favor,” Lee says in the video. “The leader to pull this off is one who knows hundreds of small business owners and the people who invest in them. And for the fight for racial justice, we need someone who lives that fight every single day. We need a mayor who can bring us together. We need Ray Maguire.”

In the video and a subsequent interview on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, McGuire spoke of his life on “the other side of the tracks” in his native Dayton, Ohio, where he grew up in poverty raised by a single mother and his grandparents, living with his two brothers and countless foster siblings. “So that means I understand the fears and anxieties that many of us have, many New Yorkers have, from how I grew up,” he said Wednesday morning on WNYC.

He pitched himself as a self-made success who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, attended Harvard University, and then rose through the ranks of Wall Street. He said he wants to create opportunities for others that he had, and put his leadership skills to use for the city he loves.

“We're facing three existential crises at the same time: the pandemic, the economic challenges, and racial injustice,” he said on WNYC. “That's why I'm running for mayor. I've been able to have the lived experiences which is how I got here, got the management capabilities, relationships, proven leadership and I have a vision to lead the greatest the history of New York City.”

As he is expected to throughout the campaign, McGuire is initially leaning in hard on his business chops as he emphasized the need to bring jobs to the city, his support for major development deals that have fallen through in recent years, and the financial woes of small businesses that may never recover from the pandemic.

Some of McGuire’s initial framing and comments -- including a focus on education -- evoke the politics of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a candidate of the business community and a liberal on many social issues, as well as some of his competitors in the current race, particularly Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

McGuire said on WNYC that he does not favor raising taxes on millionaires, a proposal being pushed by many progressive Democrats in Albany. “We can't tax your way out of this,” he told Lehrer. “We need to grow our way out of this and all of us are gonna have to contribute.” McGuire, who his campaign says has quickly raised over $2.3 million from more than 1,800 individual donors, is not participating in the city’s public matching funds program, thereby allowing him to raise and spend more. His campaign told Gotham Gazette he is not taking public matching funds because he does not want to accept public money when the city is in such a financial crisis and he can raise all he needs privately either way. McGuire told Lehrer that he is not rejecting donations from the real estate or finance industries as some other candidates have done.

He said as mayor he would not let another Amazon or Industry City deal fall through, in reference to the defeated Queens ‘HQ2’ project and Brooklyn expansion proposal that were both pulled by the companies in the face of vocal opposition and minimal effort by de Blasio to see them through.

Those stances are among several that show he is running more of a moderate or centrist Democratc campaign, in a similar political lane to Adams as well as former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former city Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton, military veteran Zach Iscol, and Shaun Donovan, a former Obama cabinet secretary and top Bloomberg administration official who is attempting to straddle the progressive and moderate lanes.

McGuire’s work in the financial sector, in particular, could be attractive to voters looking for an economic savior and displeased with de Blasio’s relative antipathy toward business leaders and the well-off. But it could also be off-putting to left-leaning Democratic primary voters frustrated by the city’s rampant income inequality that de Blasio pledged to fix but made limited progress in addressing, even before the pandemic cost hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers their jobs. His record at Citigroup and the financial giant’s overall imprint on the city and country are likely to be heavily scrutinized in the weeks and months ahead.

McGuire has more than three decades of experience in business and finance, including, he stressed on WNYC, experience building and leading teams. He has advised CEOs on business growth, his campaign said. For the last 13 years, until he recently stepped down, McGuire was the head of global corporate and investment banking at Citigroup, and has “personally originated and executed deals valued at over $650 billion,” according to his campaign.

“So when people look at me, they should look at the totality of my record and my ability to lead and to manage,” McGuire said when asked by Lehrer about his Wall Street background. “And the fact that I know how New Yorkers feel, I know how it feels, those people who...are the most challenged, who are the most at-risk.”

He emphasized that he wanted to provide New Yorkers with the same opportunities that helped him succeed, particularly in education. He said his “cradle to career” plan for education would support children all the way from pre-kindergarten through graduation into the workforce. Pillars include additional efforts to get all students reading on grade level by 3rd grade, a goal de Blasio has set for the city to hit by 2026, and the creation of a tutoring corps. 

McGuire said he would “go big, go small” on the economy, saying he would create 500,000 jobs by not only investing in large infrastructure projects but also small businesses, arts, culture, and tourism.

Systemic racism in policing and the debate around defunding the NYPD is a central issue in the mayor’s race and McGuire said it is a personal issue for him. “When I take off my suit and put on a sweatshirt or tracksuit, I could be George Floyd, I could be Eric Garner. Our children could be Tamir Rice,” he said. But McGuire said he did not support the ‘defund’ movement and would rather implement a policing plan he termed “RAP – respectful, accountable, proportionate.”  

“I am not for ‘defund.’ I'm for restructuring, having better policing, not fewer police,” he said when Lehrer asked for his stance on the controversial activist call that has roiled city politics, taken center stage in the June city budget battle, and become a flashpoint in the 2021 election cycle. McGuire did echo some of the demands of the police reform movement, which he has participated in, saying he wants to divert some police funds to other types of services and move some responsibilities away from police officers with guns.

According to McGuire’s campaign, and again reminiscent of Bloomberg’s background, he has been active for decades in the city’s civic life, including efforts in support of De La Salle Academy, the New York Public Library, New-York-Presbyterian Hospital, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. McGuire has also mentored a rising generation of business leaders, his campaign noted.

“Politics as usual just won't cut it in City Hall,” McGuire said in his launch video, which stressed the damage done to New York by the coronavirus pandemic. “We have big problems. But if you're ready, together we can get New York City working again. This time, we'll make sure it's a city that works for everyone.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Note: this article has been updated with additional information about McGuire's fundraising.

Ray McGuire Launches Campaign for Mayor of New York City Wed, 02 Dec 2020 07:00:00 +0000