Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/234 Mon, 18 Nov 2019 00:46:59 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) After Ballot Proposal Spending, Council Member Eyes Expansion of Independent Expenditure Disclosure https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8918-city-council-expand-law-requiring-independent-expenditure-disclosures https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8918-city-council-expand-law-requiring-independent-expenditure-disclosures 107 123 c3560 1

One PBA IE on 2019 ballot question 2 (photo via Campaign Finance Board filing)


Just after an election where the issue became especially apparent, a New York City lawmaker is planning to introduce legislation to close a loophole that has allowed independent expenditure committees to shield donors when they spend money to sway voters on ballot proposals. The potential change in city law would bring certain donor disclosure rules in line with state regulations and extend other city regulations to what is already required for political spending on candidates by groups outside the candidate campaign.

The move by Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander comes five years after the city enacted disclosure regulations on independent expenditures for candidates and following two consecutive general elections where city charter revision referenda went before voters.

In the most recent election, just completed, three groups -- each with its own independent expenditure committee registered with the state -- spent over $1 million either in support of or in opposition to ballot proposals. None of those entities had to disclose their contributors to the city’s Campaign Finance Board (CFB), forcing members of the public to navigate a labyrinth of city and state databases in order to get the most complete picture of the influence of large political spenders. Nor did the independent expenditure committees have to follow a city law mandating such groups disclose their top three donors on communications with voters, a regulation in place for promoting or disparaging candidates.

“In 2014, we created a great law to provide disclosure for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and there is already evidence that it is working,” Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette. “This year, the first significant expenditure on behalf of a ballot measure revealed to us the need to expand our disclosure rules, already among the strongest in the nation for candidates, to cover spending for ballot measures as well.”

“I am working on introducing legislation to do just that, to ensure that the same level of transparency applies across the ballot,” he said. Lander was the lead sponsor on the 2014 legislation that created the new independent expenditure transparency requirements. It came just after the city’s raucous 2013 election cycle when IEs played a significant role in the first mayoral race following the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, among other local elections where such spenders sought influence.

Lander’s stated plan comes days after the CFB issued a recommendation to the City Council suggesting lawmakers close gaps in the city’s campaign finance laws. Those gaps became more evident as spending around the ballot questions picked up in the days leading up to the general election this fall. Following the CFB recommendation, the Daily News Editorial Board endorsed the idea of closing the loophole.

In a press release issued Thursday, the CFB asked the Council to consider legislation that would amend the campaign finance laws in the City Charter to require independent expenditure committees to disclose their contributors to the CFB via its online portal; and publish “paid-for-by” notices on electioneering materials -- both of which are already required for spending on behalf of candidates under the 2014 law.

The City Charter also requires organizations making contributions of $50,000 or more to independent spenders on behalf of candidates to disclose all donors who gave more than $25,000 in the preceding 12 months.

Under the CFB recommendation, the paid-for-by notices would include a list of the independent spender’s top three donors as well as a weblink to the agency’s online portal, where the public can view detailed information on political spending. The aptly-titled “Follow the Money” portal presently contains details on how much was spent on political campaigns by independent expenditure committees, including what the spending went to and when it was spent, with images and videos of each ad posted or aired.

But that is the extent to which the public can follow the money through the CFB’s relatively user-friendly online resource. To find out who is bankrolling the independent expenditure committees, interested parties must visit the State Board of Elections’ cumbersome financial disclosure webpage where the information is largely decentralized.

“New York City has the country’s strongest disclosure requirements and resources for independent expenditures. Unfortunately, when it comes to ballot proposals, our law has a blind spot,” said CFB Executive Director Amy Loprest in the Thursday press release.

“Bringing the disclosure for ballot proposals in line with the requirements for independent expenditures about candidates will provide voters with important information that will help them cast informed votes, and we urge the Council to take action,” the statement reads.

For the past two general elections, New York City voters have had the opportunity to approve or reject City Charter amendments proposed by successive Charter Revision Commissions. Charter commissions can be empanelled by the mayor or through City Council legislation to examine the city’s central body of laws, take public testimony, and make recommendations for reform.

This year, the Charter Revision Commission was created by the City Council in conjunction with then-Public Advocate Letitia James and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The commission put five questions on the ballot, together containing 19 distinct amendments, dealing with a range of city election and governance issues.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the nine-day early voting period in late October, and Election Day on November 5, three independent expenditure committees together spent roughly $1.15 million urging voters to cast ballots either for or against one or more of the proposals. All five questions were overwhelmingly approved by voters citywide.

The vast majority of independent spending was around Question 1, which contained an amendment that would bring ranked-choice voting to certain New York City elections. The voting method, which allows voters to list candidates in order of preference rather than making a single all-or-nothing choice, was backed by a coalition of good government reformers and elected officials under an independent expenditure committee called “Committee for Ranked Choice Voting NYC.” The committee spent a total of $986,017 on digital, TV, and direct mail advertising between mid-September and Election Day, according to the CFB portal.

But, while the principals of the committee are required to be reported to the CFB, the committee’s funders are not. According to the Daily News editorial, which analyzed data from the State Board of Elections, the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting had received a total of $1,996,948.33, of which 90 percent is from just four large contributors.

Ballot Question 2, which dealt with police oversight, also saw significant spending, but to vote down the proposal. That campaign was waged by the city’s largest police officer union.

While there were independent expenditures made for and against ballot proposals in the 2018 general election, the total independent spending on those campaigns was a much smaller $125,659, according to the CFB portal.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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After Ballot Proposal Spending, Council Member Eyes Expansion of Independent Expenditure Disclosure Tue, 12 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the 2019 Election Results https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8904-max-murphy-podcast-analyzing-2019-election-results https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8904-max-murphy-podcast-analyzing-2019-election-results rank the vote on 1

(photo: @RankTheVoteNYC)


November 6, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing 2019 Election Results

PodcastThe results are in! Voter turnout was higher than expected, Jumaane Williams was reelected, Melinda Katz elected, ranked-choice voting is coming to New York City, and more. On this episode, the hosts break down the 2019 election results, discuss the first early voting session, look ahead to the next elections coming our way, and more.

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."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Analyzing the 2019 Election Results Wed, 06 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Securing Two More Years as Public Advocate, Williams to Keep Pushing De Blasio on Housing, Policing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8902-reelected-public-advocate-williams-push-de-blasio-housing-policing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8902-reelected-public-advocate-williams-push-de-blasio-housing-policing ee7tqcgxsaevmo6

Jumaane Williams (photo: @nycpa)


Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat, easily won his reelection bid on Tuesday, beating Republican Joseph Borelli, a City Council member from Staten Island, and Libertarian Party nominee Devin Balkind. With about 723,000 votes counted and 90% of election precincts reporting at midnight, Williams had received 78% of the vote (563,000 votes) to Borelli's 20% (144,400) and Balkind's 2% (14,500).

Williams previously represented Brooklyn in the New York City Council and was first elected to the public advocate’s office in a crowded February special election, replacing now-Attorney General Letitia James. Election law required him to defend his seat in the November election, and after emerging victorious, he will now serve out the remainder of the term which runs through 2021.

Though the public advocate’s office, with its annual budget of just under $4 million, has limited power, it is one of three citywide elected positions and gives its holder a bully pulpit to raise issues and to hold the mayoral administration to account. It is meant to act as an ombudsperson for the public, hearing and investigating complaints and advocating on New Yorkers’ behalf.

The public advocate can also introduce legislation in the City Council but cannot cast a vote on any bills. The office is also considered a launching pad to higher office. Before James was elected in 2013, the seat was held by de Blasio for one term. Williams, however, has repeatedly pledged that he will not run for mayor in 2021. If he chooses to, and barring any electoral setbacks, he could serve as public advocate for two full four-year terms through 2029.

As a community organizer before he joined the City Council, Williams touts his activist credentials and has been a frequent critic, as well as an ally at times, of Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration. Williams has been particularly critical of de Blasio on the issues of housing affordability and police accountability.

"I know sometimes it feels like pushing the boulder up the hill. That the challenge is too great, the goals too difficult. At times like that, we need to think about the victories, and that's what we're recognizing here today," Williams said in his victory speech Tuesday night. "I've had the honor of serving as your Public Advocate for the last eight months, and as the people's advocate in City Government for the last ten years. In that time we've fought to end the abuses of stop question and frisk. We've passed affordable housing laws and tenant protections. We've put in place protections against discrimination based on military service and reproductive rights. We've given formerly incarcerated people a fair chance and many people a first chance. We've done all that because of the combined power of people inside and outside of government, demanding transformational change."

Considering Williams’ broad name recognition – he came close to winning the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor last year – and the overwhelming enrollment advantage that Democrats enjoy in the city, he had small odds of being deposed by Borelli or Balkind, both of whom readily acknowledged that fact.

Borelli’s rationale for the public advocate’s office was simple: either bolster its authority significantly or eliminate it entirely. He also cited the importance of having a public advocate from the opposite political party from the mayor, and said the city needed someone to pull de Blasio back toward the center. Balkind, a civic technologist who runs a nonprofit, ran on a five-point platform of technocratic solutions to improve city governance, provide better social services, and increase civic engagement.

Williams’ predecessor, James, was an experienced litigator and used the public advocate’s office to regularly take legal action – to varying degrees of success – against the de Blasio administration. But Williams has taken a different tact and is seeking to pull the mayor to the left on various issues where he believes the city has failed. Shortly after being elected in February, he restructured the office and appointed five new deputy public advocates with specific portfolios that cover housing, criminal justice, health, public safety, education, civic engagement, and more.

Over the last few months, he has increased his criticism of the city’s protocols for handling people with severe mental illnesses, several of whom have been killed in interactions with police officers. Williams has instead called for a comprehensive approach that eschews police involvement and emphasizes treatment and services.

Williams was one of the few City Council Members who opposed the de Blasio administration’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, approved by the Council in 2016. MIH is meant to mandate that private developers build affordable housing in new developments that receive rezonings to allow more density. But it has proved controversial and critics say it does not go far enough to build housing for the lowest income New Yorkers who need it most.

Williams has called for a moratorium on all proposed neighborhood rezonings, and has also sponsored legislation that would mandate a racial impact study of rezonings prior to approval.

[WATCH: Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on his vision for the office and city.]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Securing Two More Years as Public Advocate, Williams to Keep Pushing De Blasio on Housing, Policing Tue, 05 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Promising Reform and Independence, Melinda Katz Elected Next Queens District Attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8903-promising-reform-and-independence-melinda-katz-elected-next-queens-district-attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8903-promising-reform-and-independence-melinda-katz-elected-next-queens-district-attorney 46150297784 be0720dfa5 c

Melinda Katz (photo: Queens Borough President Melinda Katz)


Queens will get a new district attorney for the first time in nearly three decades as Democrat Melinda Katz won the seat on Tuesday with an overwhelming 75% of votes over Republican Joseph Murray, who received 24% of the vote (about 1% of the more than 184,000 votes were write-ins). Katz will be the first newly-elected Queens DA after former District Attorney Richard Brown died in May. Brown had been in office nearly 30 years.

After squeaking out a primary win in a recount earlier this year, Katz was all but assured a victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough, with strong name recognition after having served as Queens Borough President since 2013, and broad support from the Queens Democratic Party, labor unions, and fellow local and state elected officials.

Murray, an attorney and former NYPD officer, is a registered Democrat but received the Republican Party line to run against Katz. He had little hope of winning but campaigned arguing that Katz was promising to go too far as a progressive prosecutor, part of a larger movement in the city, state, and country that he believes is misguided.

In her victory speech, Katz hit familiar themes of promoting what is good for Queens families and honoring the borough's tremendous diversity, while reiterating promises to fight gun violence, end cash bail, protect victims of crime, including workers, and more. Katz said Queens has the opportunity to be a national model for criminal justice reform and pledged to work with a broad coalition to execute her extensive list of campaign promises.

Katz did not simply sail to election, having had to first fight a drawn-out primary battle that was only settled after a recount and court battle over uncounted votes. She came out on top with a 55-vote margin against insurgent candidate Tiffany Cabán, a queer Latina public defender who ran on a platform of decarceration and gained national attention from the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.

Though Cabán lost the recount, she was successful in pulling Katz to the left. The borough president’s rhetoric and promises became decidedly more progressive as she saw the winds change and Cabán receive many endorsements.

However, to Katz’s critics, that was further evidence that she is a career politician searching for her next gig. She has previously served in the City Council and the state Assembly, and unsuccessfully ran for Congress and for City Comptroller. In between, she was a lobbyist with ties to the real estate industry and those connections have been a source of some criticism in the current race. Developers were among her biggest contributors this time around, even as Katz vowed to crack down on predatory landlords and developers, and pitched a detailed platform for construction worker safety and worker protection. Katz also drew criticism, which she pushed back against, that she is too close to the Queens Democratic Party, and therefore not independent enough to be the kind of district attorney free of political ties and considerations.

As district attorney, Katz will head up an office of roughly 600 people, which she argued she is qualified to do, given her time running the borough president’s office since 2009. But what she has in at least some managerial qualifications, she lacks in actual courtroom experience. Of all the candidates who ran in the Democratic primary, she was the only one without any.

Nonetheless, she has promised to transform the Queens district attorney’s office, which has been among the last in the city to embrace a less punitive approach to criminal justice. Former DA Brown had a reputation for being tough on crime and did not follow the example of other district attorneys in the city who moved away from prosecuting low-level offenses. He even refused to create a conviction review unit to investigate potential wrongful convictions, something that Katz has promised to do.

During the race, Katz made a slew of promises that advocates and observers will likely hold her to as they seek to see a new system of criminal justice in a borough that is home to over 2.3 million people, largely immigrants. She will also take office at the start of 2020 when sweeping reforms passed by the state Legislature this year – including bail reform, speedy trial and discovery reform – will take effect.

[Read: 19 Things Melinda Katz Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney]

[Read: 'Hard to Define': Melinda Katz's Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Promising Reform and Independence, Melinda Katz Elected Next Queens District Attorney Tue, 05 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Williams Remains Public Advocate; Katz Next Queens DA; Ranked-Choice Voting on Its Way; & More: Election Results 2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8901-williams-remains-public-advocate-katz-next-queens-da-ranked-choice-voting-on-its-way-more-election-results-2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8901-williams-remains-public-advocate-katz-next-queens-da-ranked-choice-voting-on-its-way-more-election-results-2019 37538369094 848cd1720a c

(photo: Gotham Gazette)


After about 60,000 New York City voters took advantage of the first early voting period in city history, albeit during an especially quiet electoral year, more than 650,000 others went to the polls on Election Day 2019, providing mostly expected results and approving multiple controversial ballot proposals to change city elections and governance. This year provided a helpful initial test run for early voting and all that goes with it, such as electronic poll books and a lot of poll-worker training, before what is expected to be an incredibly tense and busy 2020 election year, with especially high turnout for the presidential election, as well as those for Congress and the State Legislature.

After winning a special election earlier this year, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat, was reelected Tuesday to serve the rest of the term through the end of 2021. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, also a Democrat, was elected Tuesday to become the next Queens District Attorney, a four-year term beginning at the start of 2020. Council Member Farah Louis, who replaced Williams in the City Council after winning her own prior special election, also retained her seat and can serve through at least 2021.

And the relatively small number of New York City voters who turned out this fall (about 15% of the city's 4.8 million active registered voters) -- from the inaugural early voting period and on Election Day -- also approved 19 specific changes to city elections and governance with overall “yes” votes on five ballot proposals. Those changes include instituting ranked-choice voting for party primary and special elections; bolstering the agency that investigates and prosecutes certain allegations of police officer misconduct; and making several tweaks to ethics, budgeting, and land use laws.

Along with those candidate races, there were a variety of judicial elections around the city, and some candidates with regularly-scheduled elections -- namely Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark and Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon -- ran unopposed. It was a slightly more exciting election year than expected given the special elections for Public Advocate and City Council, and the Queens District Attorney Democratic primary that ended with Katz winning in a recount.

Adding to the intrigue was the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which put the 19 proposals in five questions on the ballot. With all the questions approved by voters, the following changes are among those that will be instituted (some of the language is directly from the charter commission’s materials):

-Ranked-choice voting for party primary and special elections for the offices of Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council Member. This will begin on or after January 1, 2021.

-The time to hold a special election after a city office is left vacant is extended to 80 days.

-Alters the structure of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) by adding two members, one from the Public Advocate and a joint appointment by the Mayor and the City Council, who would also serve as chair.

-Provides that the Council directly appoints its members to the CCRB.

-Requires the Police Commissioner provides a detailed explanation to the CCRB when deciding to impose discipline on an officer that differs from the level of discipline recommended by either the CCRB or the NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Trials.

-Allows the CCRB Board to delegate its subpoena power to its Executive Director.

-Allows the CCRB to investigate potentially false official statements made by an officer it is investigating and to recommend discipline, if appropriate.

-Provides a minimum budget to the CCRB sufficient to fund CCRB staff equal to 0.65% of the number of uniformed police officers, unless the Mayor determines that fiscal necessity requires a lower budget.

-Extends the post-employment appearance ban for elected officials and certain senior appointed officials from one year to two years for employees/officials who leave city service on or after January 1, 2022.

-Amends the structure of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) by replacing two members now appointed by the Mayor with one member appointed by the Comptroller and one appointed by the Public Advocate.

-Limits the political activity of COIB Board members by prohibiting participation in campaigns for local elected offices, and reducing the maximum amount of money that they can contribute to the amounts that candidates can receive from those doing business with the city ($400 or less, depending on the office).

-Requires that the Citywide M/WBE Director report directly to the Mayor and be supported by a mayoral office of M/WBEs.

-Requires advice and consent by the City Council for the Mayor’s appointment of the Corporation Counsel.

-Allows the city to use a “rainy day fund” to save money for use in future years, such as for addressing unexpected financial hardships. (Changes to state law will also be needed for this rainy day fund to be usable.)

-Sets guaranteed minimum budgets for the Public Advocate and Borough Presidents at or above their respective Fiscal Year 2020 budgets, adjusted in future fiscal years by the lower of inflation or the percentage change in the city’s total expense budget (excluding certain components), unless the Mayor determines that fiscal necessity requires a lower budget.

-Requires the Mayor to submit the revenue estimate to the City Council by April 26 (instead of June 5).

-Requires the Mayor to submit budget modifications to the Council within 30 days after the submission of any periodic update the city’s financial plan during the year.

-Provides a ULURP Pre-Certification Notice Period by requiring the Department of City Planning to transmit a detailed project summary of ULURP applications to the affected Community Board, Borough President, and Borough Board at least 30 days before the application is certified for public review, and to post that summary on its website.

-Provides Community Boards with additional time to review ULURP applications certified for public review by the Department of City Planning between June 1 and July 15, from the current 60-day review period to 90 days for applications certified in June, and to 75 days for applications certified between July 1 and July 15.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Williams Remains Public Advocate; Katz Next Queens DA; Ranked-Choice Voting on Its Way; & More: Election Results 2019 Tue, 05 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
19 Things Melinda Katz Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8893-things-melinda-katz-promised-to-do-as-queens-district-attorney https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8893-things-melinda-katz-promised-to-do-as-queens-district-attorney Melinda Katz

Melinda Katz (photo: Queens Borough President office)


Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is well-positioned to be elected the next district attorney for Queens, filling a vacancy created earlier this year by longtime DA Richard Brown, who had not planned to run for another term even before his death in May. Katz emerged victorious in a hard-won Democratic primary that was decided after a recount and court battle by a razor thin margin, and she is now facing Joseph Murray, an attorney, former NYPD officer, and barely known Republican challenger in a borough where Democrats have a 6-to-1 enrollment advantage.

Katz, a Democrat from Forest Hills, is currently in her second term as borough president and is term limited in 2021. A long-serving elected official, she has previously represented Queens in the New York City Council and State Assembly, and has unsuccessfully tried to run for City Comptroller and United States Congress in the past. Whomever wins the general election being decided this week, it will mark the first time a new Queens DA is elected in nearly 30 years.

“As the borough president, I run a multi-million dollar budget, and we have a voice that we give to the vulnerable every single day,” Katz said in the only televised debate of the general election, hosted by NY1 on October 23. “To be the district attorney of an office of over 700 people, you need to have that skill set. And you need to have that experience to not only bring our office into the 21st century, but also to keep our borough safe.”

In the crowded primary for the race, Katz was a somewhat moderate choice for voters, particularly compared to the insurgent public defender Tiffany Cabán, a newcomer to politics who appeared to grab the nomination on primary night but ultimately lost by only 55 votes in the recount. Cabán, a 31-year-old queer Latina, ran on a platform focused on decarceration and sweeping criminal justice reform, shifting the center of the race and pulling Katz to the left.

Katz modified some of her positions over the course of her campaign, aligning herself more closely with the progressive priorities of criminal justice reform advocates. In the general election, Murray has argued that Katz is far too progressive to responsibly take over as the borough’s chief law enforcement official. "I am running because I am against this progressive criminal justice reform that is being rammed down our throats," Murray said in the NY1 debate.

Several questions have been raised about Katz’s qualifications to become district attorney – of the six candidates in the Democratic primary, she was the only one without any courtroom experience, and in her long career as an elected official, she has not particularly prioritized issues related to the criminal justice system.

Katz summed up her campaign platform the same way she has done so in previous races. “If it’s good for families, it’s good for Queens,” she said. But the needs of families vary in an immigrant-heavy borough of more than 2.3 million people, where 48% of residents were born outside of the United States. And Katz has made broad promises about how she will enforce the law while protecting the safety of the people of Queens, even as she vows to reverse tough-on-crime policies that defined Brown’s decades-long record.

“My biggest pride comes from knowing that every day that I have been in public service, I have stood up to powerful interests but I’ve also been a voice for people who didn’t have one,” Katz told Gotham Gazette ahead of the primary election. “And at every level that I’ve served, I have brought justice to people.”

[Read: ‘Hard to Define’: Melinda Katz’s Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney]

District attorneys have broad discretionary authority and, if she chooses to, Katz could very well transform the borough’s criminal justice system depending on which crimes she decides to prosecute and how harshly, among other major, far-reaching choices likely ahead of her. Those decisions, which also include how she might interpret and execute criminal justice reforms passed earlier this year in Albany, would have trickle-down effects as well, determining how many people end up incarcerated in city jails and even the types of arrests that police officers will choose to execute.

As Katz stands on the verge of election as Queens District Attorney, here are 19 campaign promises she has made.

1. Reduce prosecutions for low-level, nonviolent offenses
Katz has promised she will “refuse to prosecute low-level marijuana arrests within Queens and will instead urge the legislature to legalize adult recreational cannabis and expunge all convictions for past arrests,” according to her campaign website. Though the state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo came close to legalizing adult-use marijuana this year, the measure failed and instead marijuana was decriminalized. Katz’s platform notes that full legalization would also require strict enforcement of laws that prohibit driving under the influence.

Katz has also promised to reduce, though not eliminate, prosecutions for low-level, nonviolent offenses such as transit fare evasion, trespassing, petit larceny, unlicensed driving and other minor driving offenses, among others.

“While I would look to significantly reduce prosecution of these types of offenses, other than marijuana I would want to consider each arrest on its merits before declining to prosecute,” she said on a candidate questionnaire circulated by Queens for DA Accountability, a coalition of several advocacy groups including 5Boro Defenders, Vocal-NY Action Fund, and New Queens Democrats.

2. Establish a Conviction Integrity Unit
Former DA Brown was the only district attorney in the city to refuse an offer of funding from the New York City Council to create a conviction integrity unit to investigate potential wrongful convictions. Katz has vowed to create such a unit, which would also make recommendations for exonerations.

3. Create a legislative and lobbying committee for reform
Katz has said she will create an internal committee to draft legislation and lobby the state Legislature on criminal justice reform. The committee will include members of the community, advocates and assistant district attorneys.

4. Enforcing hate crime laws
Hate crimes have been steadily on the rise in New York City over the last few years, which many people, including Katz, have attributed to the election of Donald Trump as president. Katz has said she will make hate crime prevention and prosecutions a leading priority.

Previously, as a state legislator, Katz cosponsored a law that made sexual orientation a protected class under the state hate crimes law. She also co-sponsored the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, access to public accomodation and credit.

5. Boost construction worksite accountability and worker rights
Katz has a lengthy platform focused on construction worker safety, though that did not dissuade the real estate industry from making large contributions to her campaign, as The City reported. She told the media outlet that those donations would not stop her from prosecuting lawbreaking developers or construction contractors.

She’s promised to use various tools to go after wrongdoing in the construction industry including strictly enforcing construction safety codes and cracking down on illegal conversions. Her platform notes that these violations are misdemeanors but she would seek higher charges that lead to jail time.

In plea negotiations, she will seek the surrender of licenses from the Department of Business or other agencies, which are not automatic in cases of criminal convictions. She will also use asset forfeiture funds for construction safety training programs, which were made mandatory under a law passed by the City Council in 2017, she has said.

Her platform also states that she will work on a multi-agency Construction Safety Task Force, and assign an investigator to every workplace accident that results in a serious injury. She says she will also “aggressively prosecute” employers for wage theft and overtime violations, establish a multilingual outreach program to inform workers of legal protections, as well as create a system so workers can anonymously report violations of their rights.

“Developers and construction companies will be held accountable if they fail to follow the law and keep their workers safe, as they are now being held accountable in Brooklyn,” her platform reads. “This will not only provide justice for victims of workplace safety violations, but will also send a clear message to developers that any effort to cut corners will have severe consequences.”

6. Implementing discovery reform
The state Legislature passed a slew of criminal justice reforms this year, including changing the discovery process so that defendants are better informed about the evidence against them. Implementation of the new law will be closely watched in Queens and beyond.

In a March 17 op-ed in QNS, prior to the passage of that legislation, Katz pledged her support for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s decision to voluntarily implement open-file discovery reform and criticized the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York for opposing it.

“We need not fear fairness in the courtroom,” she wrote. “Providing immediate access to evidence means that both sides are on a level playing field, which is fundamental to our system of justice.”

7. Closing Rikers Island
Katz supports the city’s plan, recently approved by the New York City Council, to close the Rikers Island jail complex by 2026 and replace it with four borough-based facilities, including a new jail in Queens.

But she has been critical of the process in which the plan advanced, what she saw as a lack of community input in the selection of jail sites and of the size of the proposed facilities.

“My objection was, you're closing one horrible mass institution and replacing that with four horrible mass institutions,” Katz said in the NY1 general election debate, though not explaining why she believes the new jails will be so bad. “They think they're going to lower the rate of people that are in Rikers to about 3,000. So the math doesn't add up to put a 1,500-bed facility in the borough of Queens,” she continued, overstating the number of beds planned for Queens. It was a number that also came down further, to about 885 beds, just before the Council voted the plan through, which occurred several days prior to Katz’s debate statement.

“I believe in community jails. It is the common construct of jails all around the country now and I believe that they will do good,” Katz added, “but with that, you also need a guarantee of services for the individuals that are in the jails. Nobody comes out of Rikers better than when they went in. But if we're going to do community jails, we have to do it right...But as far as the mayor's plan goes, they're too big. And the community was not involved in the initial placement of those jails. And so that's what I was truly against.”

As DA, Katz would likely have to work closely with city officials on many aspects of prosecutions, diversions, and logistics as they close the Rikers jails, build the new Queens jail, and continue overall reforms.

8. Ending cash bail
As DA, Katz will have to enforce recent reforms to the bail system made by the state Legislature, which eliminated bail for most misdemeanors and low-level offenses and will take effect at the start of next year. But during the primary, some of the candidates, including Katz, said they would eliminate cash bail entirely in their requests to judges.

Katz was initially unwilling to commit to that position but later shifted her stance saying she will completely do away with it, though with considerations of whether an individual is dangerous or has repeatedly been arrested. “If someone is a threat to our community’s safety, they shouldn’t be on the streets; if they’re not, they should not have to sit in jail awaiting trial regardless of their financial situation,” her platform reads.

At the NY1 general election debate, she explained further, insisting that she would focus on alternatives to incarceration and diversion programs. “Whether you get out of jail before you are convicted should not depend on the amount of money that you have in the bank. That is the unfairness of the bail system,’ she said.

9. Night duty for ADAs
At the NY1 debate, Katz indicated that she would make assistant district attorneys more accessible so that a person arrested after the end of the typical DA office work day won’t end up spending a night in jail.

“We're going to have ADAs that are on duty in the evenings, and they will be able to be approached any time of night, any time of day,” she said, “to look at what the charges should be of those that are brought in. And one of the ways to get diversionary programs intact and make sure that people also don't end up going through the justice system when they shouldn't have to is to make sure that they go into these programs pre-charge.”

10. Tackle housing fraud and predatory practices
Katz has promised to create a Bureau of Housing and Loan Fraud at the Queens DA office to prosecute predatory lenders and landlords, and to educate homeowners and renters in the borough about their rights and protections.

“For too long, white collar criminals have gotten off with little more than a slap on the wrist or a fine they can write off as a cost of doing business, while regular homeowners, borrowers, small businesses and renters have their lives destroyed,” she wrote in a February op-ed in Amsterdam News. “Theft is theft, whether the robber wears a mask or a three-piece suit; whether it’s stealing a car or robbing a family of their financial security through housing fraud. As district attorney, I will make it clear that predatory lending has no home in Queens.”

11. Transparency in asset seizure and refocusing resources
District attorneys seize millions of dollars in assets each year in the course of prosecutions, which help bolster their budgets and fund pet projects under their jurisdictions. But the way these funds are collected and used isn’t always clear to the public. Katz has promised that she will release an annual report on asset seizure and the programs that are funded by it, and will retool spending towards reducing and preventing crime.

Specifically, she has promised to invest in overdose clinics and services for those suffering from opioid addiction, including by setting up a program similar to Staten Island’s Heroin Overdose Prevention and Education (HOPE) program. She also aims to invest in Cure Violence programs that seek to prevent gun violence, and will partner with ride-sharing services to fund free rides during major holidays to prevent driving while intoxicated.

12. Speedy trials and plea bargains
Katz’s platform states that her office will immediately review any case that has gone more than six months without a trial date to see if it can be disposed.

She will also end a current practice where the Queens DA’s office refuses to consider plea bargains after indictments are made. That practice can coerce defendants to accept plea deals even if they are innocent and before they can see the evidence against them, her platform states.

13. Protect child victims
Katz’s platform also takes stock of the recent passage of the Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for adult survivors of child abuse to seek civil and criminal action against their abusers. “As District Attorney, Melinda will work with victims’ organizations to assist all survivors seeking justice even if years have passed since they were harmed,” her platform states.

It also promises that Katz will take efforts to prevent children from being victimized by online sexual predators, will create new educational programs for parents, run sting operations and help organizations screen potential employees if they frequently interact with children.

14. Fight elder abuse and fraud
According to Katz’s campaign website, she will “ensure that seniors, their families and other caregivers are provided information on identifying signs of elder abuse, as well as information on reporting suspected abuse.” She also promised to vehemently prosecute real estate scammers and identity thieves that target seniors.

15. Help those with mental illness
Noting that people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime, Katz pledged to work with law enforcement to create strategies to provide services to those suffering from mental illness rather than criminalize them.

“When a person with mental illness is accused of a crime, it demands specific protocols within the District Attorney’s office, working with advocates and mental health professionals to determine the appropriate course of action from a prosecutorial and/or treatment perspective,” her platform reads. She also promises to advocate for improved mental health services for incarcerated individuals.

16. Fight for LGBTQ rights
Katz pledged to create an LGBTQ Rights Advisory Board to deal with issues that are specific to the community such as bullying and intimidation, and discrimination in employment or housing opportunities.

17. Fight domestic violence in immigrant communities
Katz intends to create an Immigrant Justice Unit which will, among other duties, target domestic violence in immigrant communities. “Domestic violence is a particular challenge in immigrant communities, where women are often reluctant to report abuse to police because of fears of deportation,” her website notes. “Through her Immigrant Justice Unit, Melinda will partner will immigrant advocacy groups to educate women about their rights, protect them from Trump’s ICE, assist them in leaving an abusive situation and prosecute abusers as appropriate.”

18. Train employees to recognize and fight internal bias
Responding to the questionnaire from the Queens for DA Accountability coalition, Katz committed to implicit bias training for employees of her office and ongoing training in diversity, inclusion, and equity. “[It] is imperative that all staff members have received the latest training to best serve all members of our community,” she wrote.

19. Refuse to prosecute sex workers
Katz has said she will not prosecute sex workers but will rather target traffickers and pimps. “We're not going to convict people for sex work,” she said at the NY1 debate, “and we're going to actually try and get to the sex traffickers and those that are forcing people into this industry, and at the same time try and make sure that if there's other issues like drug abuse or anything else that comes with the industry, that we can be of service. These are women that are being double victimized. These are people that are being double victimized.”

She has, however, been less willing to investigate the NYPD’s Vice unit which effectuates arrests of sex workers and has been criticized for alleged corruption and abuse of sex workers. “[I] am reluctant to publicize information on investigation and arrest procedures that may make it easier for sex traffickers and others to commit their crimes,” she said on the candidate questionnaire.

[READ: Melinda Katz's Path to the Precipice of Becoming Queens District Attorney]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Stephen Wyer contributed to this story.

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19 Things Melinda Katz Promised To Do As Queens District Attorney Sun, 03 Nov 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Election Proceeds, Affidavit Ballot Bill at Center of Queens Controversy Continues to Languish https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8895-election-approaches-no-apparent-movement-on-affidavit-voting-bill-queens-controversy-cuomo https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8895-election-approaches-no-apparent-movement-on-affidavit-voting-bill-queens-controversy-cuomo gov cuomo casts

(photo: the governor's office)


Few New York elections go by without controversy, and this year’s relatively quiet slate has been no exception. As voters head to the polls during the inaugural early voting period and heading into Election Day, one major question that came up during the June primary continues to hang over the general election.

A bill that could change the way provisional affidavit ballots are counted as soon as this year is languishing in Albany, having passed both houses of the state Legislature in June. The bill would make it harder to disqualify those ballots on technicalities if the intention of the voter is clear, thus keeping some number of voters from disenfranchisement.

The legislation was the subject of controversy during the Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney earlier this year, a race that was decided in a recount, with many affidavit ballots left uncounted. While it’s unclear if any general election race, in New York City or elsewhere in the state, will be anywhere near as close, the bill would impact whether some votes are counted.

“The bill protects otherwise-eligible voters from having their ballots thrown out on highly-technical, unfair grounds. Had it been signed in a timely way after passage on June 12 and 13, this protection would have been in place for the June primaries and the 2019 general election,” said Jarret Berg, a voting rights lawyer and elections watchdog.

“Instead, the safeguard is either being ignored or intentionally delayed as elections they would help to improve come and go," he said, adding that the law would go into effect immediately and wouldn’t cost the state or localities anything to implement.

Caitlin Girouard, a spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette Tuesday that the legislation was “under review.” As of Thursday, it had not been sent to the governor by the Legislature or called to his desk by Cuomo, the two mechanisms that would force the governor’s decision to sign or veto it much more quickly ahead of the final December 31 deadline.

Registered voters in New York City have the opportunity this fall to cast ballots for public advocate, Queens District Attorney, a Brooklyn City Council seat, some judicial positions, and five referenda containing proposed amendments to the city charter. For the first time in New York State, polls are open during a nine-day early voting period, which began October 26 and ends November 3. Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.

After the primary polls closed in June and the close race headed toward counting absentee and affidavit ballots, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and public defender Tiffany Cabán, along with their respective teams of lawyers, fought over reinstating ballots disqualified by the city’s Board of Elections. As a recount unfolded, one major question became which affidavit ballots would be counted and which wouldn’t, a debate that often starts with the envelope containing the ballot.

Appearing before a judge, lawyers for the two candidates argued over validating discounted ballots, often discarded on the basis of minor technical errors, like failing to put a return address on the ballot envelope or not listing a previous address, despite a qualified voter making a clear vote in the race.

Many of the disqualified affidavit ballots were believed to favor Cabán, while absentee ballots, often cast by older voters, favored Katz, in part due to targeted campaigning by the borough president. Cabán supporters pushed for Cuomo, a Democrat, to sign the affidavit ballot bill during the recount in hopes of preserving more of those votes. Legislators passed the bill weeks before the primary election, but the governor would not sign it after the ballot counting had begun. Cabán ultimately lost by about 60 votes, with more than 350 potential votes uncounted, according to a court filing related to the race.

“With that portion of the election cycle over, it is my hope that the governor gets this legislation on his desk and signs it before November 5 so that those ballots can be appropriately considered under what is a much more reasonable standard,” said Assemblymember Kevin Cahill, a Hudson Valley Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors.

"We are very supportive of this bill and believe that where a voter's intent is clear, their ballot should count,” wrote State Senator Zellnor Myrie, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Senate Elections Committee, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “The will of the legislature is clear from the passage in both houses so it is our hope, given the importance of every election, that the bill is signed as expeditiously as possible."

Leroy Comrie, the bill’s Senate sponsor, did not respond to requests for comment.

Affidavit and absentee ballots are placed in individual envelopes and have “a variety of other circumstances associated with them that could put them at risk of being considered technically flawed,” said Cahill. One of those circumstances is the fact poll workers hired by the city Board of Elections often advise voters on how to fill out affidavits, according to Cahill, which he says makes it unfair to penalize ballots for technical errors.

Voters use affidavit ballots when they believe they are registered to vote but are not found in the voter rolls at a poll site. Roughly 2,800 affidavit and 3,400 absentee ballots were reportedly cast in the high-profile Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney.

As it became clear the vote was close and headed to a recount, some called on Cuomo to sign the legislation and allow more votes to be counted. Part of the concern, expressed by some, in enacting the legislation before the recount had finished was that it would change the rules of the game by which voters and the poll workers often advising them had been operating.

“The rule is the rule,” Cahill said.

“We wouldn’t want to be impacting a result, after the fact. That wouldn’t be fair,” he added, in apparent reference to changing the rules of how certain votes are counted after they’ve been cast.

Given that Cuomo did not sign the bill before early voting began, the same issue is now at play for the general election. Generally speaking, the legislation is not seen as beneficial to particular candidates, but many believed more affidavits were likely to be for Cabán than Katz in the Queens primary because she appeared to be the favorite of newer, younger, more transient voters who may have been more likely to have to fill out an affidavit ballot.

“This legislation is not a partisan issue, nor does it help or hurt any particular candidate or party in any given election, and it has already passed both houses,” said Berg.

“It’s not that radical a bill,” Cahill said, “it really is just a common sense piece of legislation that says…[a voter] should be permitted to have that vote counted notwithstanding some minor technical differences between what that ballot says and what the law requires.”

The decision to send a bill to the governor for enactment is, practically speaking, a collective one among the Assembly, the Senate, and the governor’s office, according to Cahill. The chamber that first passes a two-house bill is responsible for sending it to the governor’s office; if it is sent to the governor and not signed or vetoed within ten days, in most cases it becomes law. If Cuomo’s administration is not prepared to address the legislation, sending the bill to his office for consideration could lead to its demise, he said. The governor can also at any time call to his desk a bill that has passed both houses.

“It is a shared decision when a bill gets sent to the governor. If it gets sent prematurely before the governor’s office wants it, we’re putting the bill at risk of being vetoed just for procedural reasons and we don’t want to have that happen,” Cahill warned.

“But in this case we are very anxious for this bill to get before the governor, to be on his desk and get his signature so we can start to have people’s votes counted when they should be,” added the member of the Assembly, which was the house to first pass the affidavit bill.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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As Election Proceeds, Affidavit Ballot Bill at Center of Queens Controversy Continues to Languish Sun, 03 Nov 2019 04:00:00 +0000
WATCH: 15 Minutes with Public Advocate Candidate Joe Borelli https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8872-watch-15-minutes-with-public-advocate-candidate-joe-borelli-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8872-watch-15-minutes-with-public-advocate-candidate-joe-borelli-city-council mnn borelli

Public Advocate candidate Joe Borelli talks with Ben Max on MNN


The race for New York City Public Advocate is one of the few elections on the ballot this fall, and it's only happening because former Public Advocate Letitia James was elected New York Attorney General, leading to a special election in February to replace her for the duration of this year, followed by an election this fall to see who will hold the citywide position for 2020 and 2021. Then-City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat like James, won the February election by a wide margin in a crowded field. He now seeks to hold the post against Republican challenger Joe Borelli, a City Council Member from Staten Island, and Libertarian Party nominee Devin Balkind, a civic technologist.

Borelli and Balkind each sat down with Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max on Manhattan Neighborhood Network for a 15-minute conversation about his platform and why he believes he should be the next public advocate. Watch the Borelli interview below; find the Balkind interview here. Early voting is ongoing through November 3; Election Day is November 5. Voters in New York City can vote in the public advocate race, a few other local elections, and the five charter revision questions on the back of the ballot.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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WATCH: 15 Minutes with Public Advocate Candidate Joe Borelli Wed, 30 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
WATCH: 15 Minutes with Public Advocate Candidate Devin Balkind https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8873-watch-15-minutes-with-public-advocate-candidate-devin-balkind https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8873-watch-15-minutes-with-public-advocate-candidate-devin-balkind mnn balkin

Public Advocate candidate Devin Balkind talks with Ben Max on MNN (photo: @MNN59)


The race for New York City Public Advocate is one of the few elections on the ballot this fall, and it's only happening because former Public Advocate Letitia James was elected New York Attorney General, leading to a special election in February to replace her for the duration of this year, followed by an election this fall to see who will hold the citywide position for 2020 and 2021. Then-City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat like James, won the February election by a wide margin in a crowded field. He now seeks to hold the post against Republican challenger Joe Borelli, a City Council Member from Staten Island, and Libertarian Party nominee Devin Balkind, a civic technologist.

Borelli and Balkind each sat down with Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max on Manhattan Neighborhood Network for a 15-minute conversation about his platform and why he believes he should be the next public advocate. Watch the Balkind interview below; find the Borelli interview here. Early voting is ongoing through November 3; Election Day is November 5. Voters in New York City can vote in the public advocate race, a few other local elections, and the five charter revision questions on the back of the ballot.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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WATCH: 15 Minutes with Public Advocate Candidate Devin Balkind Wed, 30 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Dodges Questions About His Stance on Ballot Proposals https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8886-de-blasio-dodges-questions-stance-ballot-proposals-charter-revision https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8886-de-blasio-dodges-questions-stance-ballot-proposals-charter-revision first day voting

Mayor de Blasio & First Lady McCray vote (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio is dodging questions about his position on a series of ballot referenda that propose changes to city elections and governance. In two interviews Friday and Monday, the mayor avoided giving any specifics when asked repeatedly to discuss the proposed amendments to the city charter, all of which impact city services and administration, and he refused to say how he voted on them.

The ballot this year has five “yes” or “no” questions containing 19 distinct changes to the city’s core body of laws, which voters have the opportunity to approve or reject in the final stage of a unique amendment process in New York City. The proposals were placed on the ballot by a commission created by City Council legislation and appointed by a spread of city elected officials, including the mayor. The goal was to identify areas of reform in the charter that could not be easily addressed through the typical legislative process, and put them directly to voters.

De Blasio cast his ballot in Brooklyn on Saturday, the first day of the new nine-day period of early voting. (Registered voters have until November 3 to vote early; Election Day is on November 5.) Along with just a few candidate races, the ballot contains significant potential reforms, including to how some elections are run, how police oversight is carried out, how budgeting is done, and more.

“On the 19 separate questions, I’m not going to get into parsing what I feel on each one. I can give you a broad answer which is my team, my administration fully participated in this commission,” de Blasio said during his usual Friday morning interview on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, inaccurately describing the ballot proposals, which come in five questions.

The 15-member charter revision commission was designed to give no one entity a majority of appointments. Council Speaker Corey Johnson and de Blasio each selected four commissioners, with one appointee made by each of the comptroller, public advocate, and five borough presidents (Johnson selected the chair from his appointees).

When pressed by Lehrer to give more details on how he feels about -- and would vote on -- the potentially impactful provisions, de Blasio repeated his stance about the charter revision process while evading questions about how he intended to vote.

“I am comfortable with the overall result of this commission and my main point to people is I think they did good work and I think everyone should vote,” he said.

He maintained his posture about the charter revision process and questions when asked again by Errol Louis on NY1’s Inside City Hall Monday evening. Having voted over the weekend, he wanted to keep his ballot secret. “I have a blanket rule, I mean obviously everyone’s vote is personal, and I respect that in everyone else,” de Blasio said.

The five ballot questions cover general categories, each outlining more granular measures. Voters can weigh-in on charter changes to the city’s elections, Civilian Complaint Review Board, ethics and governance, budget, and land use.

De Blasio was asked directly about his positions on Questions 1 and 2, which have received the vast majority of public attention on the ballot proposals.

Question 1 on the ballot asks voters if they support for primary and special elections a system of ranked-choice voting, a balloting method that lets voters list candidates by preference rather selecting one in an all-or-nothing fashion. It would eliminate costly party primary run-off elections and help show broader support for the winner of crowded primaries and special elections. That proposed change has the backing of a coalition of election reform advocates and elected officials who have been promoting a “yes” vote on the question since September. There is no evident organized opposition to the proposal.

When asked directly by Louis, de Blasio expressed interest in ranked-choice voting but raised questions about what impact it would have on political participation and representation.

“We do know an advantage is it doesn’t require a runoff and therefore saves money and saves time and energy, and it’s true that a lot of those runoffs have been lower turnout,” the mayor said Monday. (De Blasio, himself, won a runoff for the Democratic nomination for public advocate in 2009.)

“I don’t think it’s 100 percent clear what it will yield but I’m certainly hopeful about it,” he added, giving an inkling of support.

Question 2, related to strengthening the police oversight function of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, has emerged as the most controversial piece of the proposed charter revisions. Among other things, the amendment would allow the CCRB to examine officers suspected of giving false testimony while under investigation for misconduct. If those suspicions are substantiated the agency could then bring charges in an administrative trial setting.

The CCRB recently led the high-profile prosecution of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who placed Eric Garner in a deadly chokehold on Staten Island in 2014. The prosecution and conviction in an NYPD administrative trial led Police Commissioner James O’Neill to dismiss Pantaleo from the force in August.

CCRB officials say Question 2, if passed by voters, would also streamline the civilian agency’s operations by giving the executive director subpoena power and providing a baseline for its annual budget. Other provisions in Question 2 would codify existing practices, expand the number of appointments to the board and slightly alter who makes them (currently all the Board members go through the mayor).

The proposal has raised the ire of the Police Benevolent Association, the city’s largest law enforcement union, which last week launched a campaign urging its members and allies to vote “no.” The PBA on its website and in posts to social media has described Question 2 as a “power grab” by an agency with a “rampant anti-police bias.” In response, the CCRB released a “fact sheet” aimed at debunking what it describes as “myth” propagated by the police officers union.

Both Lehrer and Louis directly asked the mayor about his position on Question 2. In both instances he refused to discuss any particulars on the proposal and responded generally about the charter revision process.

“Because it’s 19 different subset questions I’m going to stay broad but say, yeah, we participated. In the end, again, I think the broad product of that charter commission was good. I think a lot of good work went into it. But again I’m not going to get into parsing on each of the questions,” he told Louis Monday.

Despite the mayor taking no public position, Gotham Gazette reported in June that administration representatives sought to secretly influence the charter revision commissioners in an attempt to kill the controversial proposal to allow the CCRB to pursue officers found to be lying to misconduct investigators.

De Blasio was not specifically asked about Questions 3, 4, and 5, which include an extended moratorium on former elected officials lobbying city government; a provision allowing the city to create a “rainy day” savings fund; and changes to the land use review process.

On October 17, nine days before the start of early voting, administration spokesperson Will Baskin-Gerwitz told Gotham Gazette, “Mayor de Blasio continues to review the Charter revision questions that will be on the ballot.”

Other top elected officials who appointed members of the 2019 Charter Revision Commission have taken positions on the proposals, mostly in response to Gotham Gazette inquiries: Comptroller Scott Stringer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer both said they support all five ballot questions. Johnson and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams support Question 1 (ranked-choice voting) but have not expressed opinions on the others. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also said he supports all five questions, though he did not make an appointment to the commission (that was his predecessor, Letitia James).

Meanwhile, James, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo did not respond to Gotham Gazette inquiries about their positions on the proposals. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz declined to comment.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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De Blasio Dodges Questions About His Stance on Ballot Proposals Tue, 29 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000