Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2740 Wed, 05 Aug 2020 13:35:46 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8933-city-council-considers-new-office-to-aid-non-profits https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8933-city-council-considers-new-office-to-aid-non-profits cm farah louis

Council Member Farah Louis (photo: New York City Council)


The New York City Council is considering legislation that would create a new office to assist non-profit organizations in navigating regulations and applying for city contracts and funding.

Council Member Farah Louis, a recently elected Brooklyn Democrat, has proposed legislation that would mandate that the mayor institute an Office of Not-For-Profit Services. The bill is set to be examined by the Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations at a hearing on Tuesday.

The legislation, which is thus far co-sponsored by Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Ben Kallos, and Justin Brannan, intends to create a resource center that can help nonprofits tackle the bureaucratic challenges presented by city government. Nonprofit human service providers are a crucial resource for the city, with more than 200,000 employees contracted out to deliver a range of services including housing, mental health care, job training, and care for the elderly, children, people living in poverty, and those experiencing homelessness.

“Across New York City, nonprofits are on the ground, doing vitally important work in schools, senior centers, libraries, and other public spaces, and providing services that our constituents rely on every day,” Louis said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

But the city’s nonprofit sector has long been in crisis and is headed towards a fiscal cliff. Across the city, nonprofits suffer from perennial delays in the payment of contracts by the city and nonprofit leaders say Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has been slow to respond to their calls for more funding to cover the costs of and related to their services.

A January report from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office noted that 89% of human services contracts in the 2018 fiscal year were sent to the comptroller for certification after the contract start date. “This is a higher retroactivity rate than the city-wide average, suggesting that non-profit organizations wait longer for their contracts to be submitted for registration than vendors that do business with the City overall,” a summary of the report stated.

A separate study published in April by Seachange Capital Partners, a nonprofit merchant bank, found that contract delays in the 2018 fiscal year became “slightly worse” than the previous year. It found that social service contracts were registered an average of 221 days after their start date, up from 210 days in the 2017 fiscal year; only 11% were on time, slightly better than the 9% in 2017; and 20% continued to be unregistered after one year, marginally worse than the 19% in 2017. The report estimated that the fiscal burden on nonprofits from registration delays was as much as $744 million, up from $675 million in 2017.

“A nonprofit delivering services under an unregistered contract faces a growing cash flow burden associated with the unreimbursed expenses. It must also pay interest and fees on the debt it uses to finance this cash flow need – if it can be financed at all,” the study reads.

Council Members Rosenthal and Kallos cited that study in a July joint op-ed, criticizing the city’s “broken procurement system” and how delays affect nonprofits. “New Yorkers deserve the best services, and the CBOs providing those services deserve to be paid fairly and on time by a city government they can hold accountable. Overhauling the procurement system may be bureaucratic and slow in nature, but it is necessary if we are to properly serve the New Yorkers who are most in need,” they wrote, citing separate legislation they introduced to achieve that goal.

Though leaders in the nonprofit sector credit the mayor for creating the Nonprofit Resiliency Committee in 2016, they say more must be done to ensure the survival of essential partners in city services. Earlier this year, when the City Council and mayor came to an agreement over the $92.8 billion budget for the 2020 fiscal year, they did not include a $106-million funding request from nonprofit service providers.  

Louis’ bill seems intended to address some of the needs of nonprofits, while creating a general structure to ensure more city accountability for support of the sector. She said it would “provide guaranteed resources to anyone seeking to incorporate and successfully maintain a non-profit.”

The proposed Office of Not-For-Profit Services, which per the bill the mayor could choose to house under the executive office or as a separate office, would be charged with analyzing the problems plaguing the nonprofit sector and proposing solutions to them. It would act as a one-stop-shop to conduct outreach and give nonprofits advice and assistance, while also coordinating with other city agencies to refer organizations to services related to obtaining exemptions, waivers, permits, registrations, or approvals. It’s aim would be to simplify application processes and regulatory mechanisms.

“This office will function as a liaison between nonprofits and any city agencies, work to devise solutions to any problems that organizations might have with incorporation, financing, or administration, and keep the Council updated on issues affecting local non-profits,” Louis said.

But the bill does not solve the core issues facing the sector, said Allison Sesso, executive director of the Human Services Council of New York, which represents 170 nonprofits that provide 90% of human services in the city.

“The main issue facing New York City's human services nonprofit sector is not a lack of understanding of the City's policies and contracting processes, it's chronic underfunding,” Sesso said in an email. “While providing nonprofits with educational resources and assistance is a positive goal, it falls flat in a system that is setting those same organizations up for failure. One out of five providers in New York City are technically insolvent and organizations across the City are being forced to scale back services or consolidate just to survive. We need fundamental change to address the underfunded contacts and unfunded mandates that impact services across the City and stifle the wages of the human services workforce.”

Three other bills related to services for nonprofit providers are also being discussed at Tuesday’s hearing. Council Member Antonio Reynoso has proposed creating a nonprofit ombudsperson within the Department of Finance (DOF), and exempting in certain cases the lien sale of property owned by a nonprofit organization.

A bill from Council Member Diana Ayala would require the DOF and Department of Environmental Protection to create a single application form for the nonprofit real property tax exemption and exemptions from water and sewer charges. The third, introduced by Council Member Carlina Rivera, would require DOF to create an informational guide on relevant taxes and exemptions for nonprofits.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits Mon, 18 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Council Examines Gaps in City Shelter Services for Domestic Violence Survivors https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8812-council-examines-gaps-in-city-shelter-services-for-domestic-violence-survivors https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8812-council-examines-gaps-in-city-shelter-services-for-domestic-violence-survivors mmv attends brides

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Domestic violence continues to be a leading cause of homelessness in New York City and ahead of Domestic Violence Awareness month, the New York City Council sought to examine how Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has provided services to survivors of domestic violence who rely on the city’s shelter system. 

Under state law, counties are required to provide shelter and services to domestic violence survivors. In New York City, that responsibility falls to the Human Resources Administration (HRA), which administers the largest domestic violence shelter system in the United States, comprised of 55 confidential facilities across the city that house 2,514 emergency beds. Those 55 sites include nine “Domestic Violence Tier II transitional shelter facilities,” with a total of 362 units where survivors are placed once they are stabilized in the emergency system.

According to HRA data, in fiscal year 2019, ending June 30, the city’s domestic violence shelter system served 10,983 individuals, including 355 single adults and 3,877 families.

But there remain several challenges for survivors and Council members attempted to address them at a joint hearing on Tuesday of the Committee on General Welfare and the Committee on Women and Gender Equity. The hearing was largely dedicated to oversight of the system, but also focused on two bills and a resolution under consideration by the committees.

In 2018, the NYPD responded to 250,447 domestic incident reports, about 8% more than the national average, according to the committee’s report from Tuesday’s hearing. According to NYPD data, felony assault complaints related to domestic violence increased from 7,800 in 2017 to 8,200 in 2018.

One bill on the docket at Tuesday’s hearing, sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin (chair of the general welfare committee), would require HRA to report monthly disaggregated statistics on families with children living in shelter, while the second bill, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal (chair of the women and gender equity committee), calls for reports on services provided to transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals in domestic violence shelters. The resolution, put forward by Council Member Farah Louis, calls on the state Legislature to authorize domestic violence shelters to be reimbursed for the payment differential for housing a single individual in a room intended for double occupancy.

Council Member Levin noted in his opening remarks that state law only allows survivors to remain in shelter for 180 consecutive days, after which they have few options at hand if they have failed to find permanent housing. Many end up trying to find shelter in the larger Department of Homeless Services (DHS) system, which doesn’t provide the same services that would be available to them in the domestic violence shelter system. Another choice they often face after the 180-day period is to return to their abusers.

Levin noted that in 2016, among families with children entering the DHS system every month, an average of 31% had a history of domestic violence. “This is a reality that we must change and that we have an obligation to as the city address with every resource that we have,” he said.

Rosenthal pointed out a dire problem. Citing a 2017 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, she noted that just 13% of intimate partner violence survivors attempted to access shelter; and about 43% of those who did seek shelter were denied and one-third of those were rejected based on gender identity.

She estimated that between 40 and 50 survivors were likely being turned away from domestic violence shelters in New York City each year because of their gender identity. “These numbers are clear. The TGNC community in New York is underserved,” she said, pointing out that the domestic violence shelter system favors cisgender individuals and that no beds are specifically available for TGNC survivors.

Rosenthal said the city should not only be providing more training to ensure TNGC individuals do not face discrimination but called on the Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV) to audit the work of domestic violence shelters to ensure equal compliance.

Testifying before the committees, officials from the de Blasio administration laid out a long string of efforts taken in the last few years to improve the city’s domestic violence shelters.

Annette Holm, HRA’s Chief Special Services Officer, said contracts for 300 additional emergency beds, announced by the mayor in 2015, had been awarded; a new shelter for families with pets opened last week; and 295 of 400 Tier II transitional units also announced in 2015 had been awarded. Three more Tier II shelters will open in 2020, she said.

“HRA addresses the scourge of domestic violence, a major driver of poverty and homelessness, by ensuring survivors and their families have access to a safe living environment and trauma-informed services, both within the shelter systems and as they transition back into communities,” Holm said. The agency also collaborates with several other mayoral offices and agencies to provide mental health, economic empowerment, legal and social services to domestic violence survivors, she noted, and has conducted trainings to ensure shelters are more inclusive to LGBTQI and TNGC populations.

Holm said the administration would work with the Council to achieve the goals of the bills at hand but raised some concerns, “namely about ensuring that collection of such information about transgender and non-binary people does not create barriers to access, raise privacy concerns, and/or further traumatize a client in an already vulnerable situation.”

She also noted that Levin’s bill could run up against the strict confidentiality requirements under the law and that the city would require consent from sheltered individuals before collecting their information.

Some of the issues raised by the Council members were echoed by survivors who testified as well. Alida Tchicamboud, a survivor leader at Sanctuary for Families, a domestic violence survivor service provider, emphasized how the city’s shelter system saved her life. But there were hurdles along the way, she explained. “It seems like the system works against survivors, especially for single women with dependent minor children, by forcing them to go back into the cycle of lifetime public assistance,” she said.

She said the limit on stays should be extended to a year, and that the rental assistance vouchers provided to survivors to find permanent housing were insufficient. She urged the city to provide more trauma-informed services, to enhance prosecutions of landlords who often illegally refuse to accept rental assistance vouchers, and to build permanent housing that prioritizes domestic violence survivors.

Rosenthal raised several complaints brought by service providers and advocates about both HRA’s processes and services. She urged HRA to ease the process of documenting attendance of survivors in shelter. Holm said that was already underway, with a new electronic attendance system that has been piloted in seven shelters and will be rolled out across the entire system in six months.

Rosenthal also called on HRA to share its annual reviews of shelter operational plans with ENDGBV, to ensure that shelters are providing adequate services for TGNC individuals. She also pushed HRA to be more flexible with paying service providers, and called on the administration to conduct greater outreach to domestic violence shelter and service providers who currently do not receive any government funding.

Levin encouraged HRA to increase access to mental health and financial literacy services, insisting that he wants to see some strides on those fronts before his City Council term expires in two years. 

On one area, there seemed to be some disagreement. Holm insisted she had never heard of the shelter system turning away any individuals based on their gender identity. “We don’t make a distinction. We treat them all the same. If they come in and we have an available bed and they meet the criteria, they will be housed,” she said.

Elizabeth Dank, ENDGBV’s deputy commissioner and general counsel, said her office conducts regular trainings for other agencies and service providers, particularly for screening and reception staff, to ensure they are sensitive to all domestic violence survivors, regardless of identity. 

But Rosenthal echoed advocates who said it is a real problem.

Catherine Shugrue dos Santos, deputy executive director for programs at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which contracts with the city, said that “there are precious few, if any, beds in New York City available at any time for survivors who do not identify as straight cisgender women with dependent children...Our clients regularly report being turned away from shelters and having nowhere to stay, thereby putting them at risk of further, potentially deadly violence.” She supported Rosenthal’s reporting bill and additionally called on the city to provide more funding for space to accommodate individuals across the sexual orientation and gender identity spectrum and more training for shelter providers.  

Jimmy Meagher, policy director of Safe Horizon, reiterated the point: “TGNCB survivors face all of the same obstacles and challenges that many cisgender survivors do – trauma, confusing and controlling systems, economic insecurity, the herculean task of finding affordable permanent housing, etc. But they also face discrimination, hate, and additional forms of violence.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Council Examines Gaps in City Shelter Services for Domestic Violence Survivors Tue, 24 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
2019 Primary Election Results: Cabán Declares Victory in Queens DA; Louis Prevails for City Council; & More https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8638-primary-election-results-katz-wins-queens-da-louis-holds-on-in-brooklyn-council-race-more https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8638-primary-election-results-katz-wins-queens-da-louis-holds-on-in-brooklyn-council-race-more caban rally

Tiffany Caban (photo: @CabanForQueens)


Public defender Tiffany Cabán declared victory in the crowded, competitive Democratic primary for Queens District Attorney on Tuesday night, though Borough President Melinda Katz did not concede, instead promising to see every vote counted, despite the fact that the numbers appear to make Cabán nearly impossible to overcome.

A primary win would set Cabán up to win in November in the overwhelmingly Democratic borough and become the first newly-elected Queens District Attorney in almost 30 years.

With 98.58 of election precints reporting, Cabán had 33,814 votes - or 39.57% of the total, outpacing Katz, who had 32.724 votes, or 38.3%.

Coming in third was Greg Lasak, with about 14.5%, followed by Mina Malik with 3.9%, City Council Member Rory Lancman, who dropped from the race on Friday to back Katz, with 1.4%; Jose Nieves with 1.3%, and Betty Lugo with 1%. The total number of votes in the primary stood at 85,447 at that point, roughly 12% of Queens' 766,117 active registered Democrats (as of February 1, according to the state Board of Elections).

The New York City Board of Elections will be responsible for counting outstanding absentee, military, and affidavit ballots, and reviewing the election results before certifying them. It is unclear if Katz will reevaluate her stance and concede -- she spoke Tuesday night before Cabán declared victory.

In the other higher-profile primary race of the day, City Council Member Farah Louis -- who won a crowded special election on May 14 -- won the Democratic primary as she tries to keep the District 45 seat formerly held by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams beyond this year. If Louis wins in November, she'll have the seat for the rest of what was to be Williams' term, through 2021. Louis again defeated a field with Monique Chandler-Waterman, who had Williams' support. Louis recorded about 50% of the vote to Chandler-Waterman's 43%, unofficially.

In judicial races:

-Margarita Lopez Torres won a Surrogate Court Democratic primary race in Brooklyn.

-D. Bernadette Neckles won a Brooklyn Civil Court Democratic primary.

-Lumarie Maldonado-Cruz won a Queens Civil Court Democratic primary.

-E. Grace Park won a Democratic primary for Judge of the Civil Court - 4th Municipal Court District in Manhattan.

-Caroline P. Cohen won a Democratic primary for Judge of the Civil Court - 6th Municipal Court District in Brooklyn.

Other results for judicial delegates and state committee and county committee positions can be found here.

@GothamGazette

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2019 Primary Election Results: Cabán Declares Victory in Queens DA; Louis Prevails for City Council; & More Tue, 25 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Quick Rematch in Second Special Election for Brooklyn City Council Seat https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8612-rematch-in-second-special-election-for-brooklyn-city-council-seat https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8612-rematch-in-second-special-election-for-brooklyn-city-council-seat Farah Louis City Council

Council Member Farah Louis is sworn in (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


City Council Member Farah Louis was officially sworn in at City Hall on Thursday, a few weeks after winning a crowded special election to succeed Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to represent the Council’s 45 District in Brooklyn. But thanks to New York’s laws for special elections, she is already running for reelection in another special election, with the all-important Democratic primary set for June 25, in which Louis is facing several opponents she outpaced in the May 14 election.

The first special election was to serve through the rest of this calendar year, while the June primary and November general elections will determine who holds the Council seat for 2020 and 2021, the final two years of the four-year term. There will then be an election for the seat as part of the full city election cycle in June and November of 2021.

cd45 mapThe district includes parts of Central Brooklyn including areas of Flatbush, Flatlands, Canarsie, and Midwood.

Louis won the May special election with 42% of the vote in an eight-candidate field. Monique Chandler-Waterman finished second with 30%, and is running again in the June 25 primary.

The other six candidates from May – Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, L. Rickie Tulloch, Adina Sash, Anthony Alexis, and Victor Jordan – all received under 10% of the vote. Several of the other candidates are also campaigning ahead of the June vote.

All eight candidates who ran in May will appear on the ballot again in June, but only some are actively campaigning, led by Louis, Chandler-Waterman, and Rose.

Louis, now the incumbent, is of course running again, this time with the institutional support of the City Council behind her, including Speaker Corey Johnson. Runner-up Chandler-Waterman is actively campaigning, as is fifth-place finisher Rose, who got 6% of the vote in May. Anthony Alexis has also continued to campaign and raise money, but he received only 1% of the vote in May. Jovia Radix, L. Rickie Tulloch, and Adina Sash have all suspended their campaigns, while last-place finisher Victor Jordan’s plans are unclear.

Four candidates have filed with the Campaign Finance Board to receive public matching funds: Louis, Chandler-Waterman, Rose, and Alexis. As of June 7, only Louis and Chandler-Waterman raised enough to receive matching funds; Rose and Alexis are actively fundraising but have not yet hit the threshold needed to qualify for public funding.

With just a week before primary day, it appears to again be a two-candidate race between Louis, a Judicial Delegate and former aide to now-Public Advocate Williams, and Chandler-Waterman, who continues to have Williams’ endorsement for his old seat. Chandler-Waterman is also a former Williams aide and more recently led East Flatbush Village, a non-profit she founded that aims to eliminate violence through after-school programs and mental health workshops, according to its website.

Though the election has been contentious and closely fought, policy differences among the leading candidates are few and far between. Louis’ and Chandler-Waterman’s websites both lack sections devoted to issue positions; Rose is the only candidate with a clear policy agenda laid out. Most social media and news coverage has instead focused on their differing biographies, resumes, and political supporters.

Differences, when they do emerge, are largely matters of emphasis, though they have expressed different top priorities. In an interview with NY1’s Errol Louis, Farah Louis prioritized zoning and development regulations, “ensur[ing] that the neighborhoods continue to look the way they looked when we first invested into them.”

Chandler-Waterman, in her interview with NY1’s Louis, stressed the need for police reform and mental health initiatives, saying that she does “not believe the NYPD should be responding to any individual that has mental health illnesses.”

For the voters’ guide published by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, Louis listed her top three issues as “preserve and expand affordable housing,” “invest in educational” [sic], and “support economic development and jobs.”

For the CFB guide, Chandler-Waterman listed her top three issues as “affordable housing,”  “education,” and “public safety.”

The candidates’ answers to questionnaires from Citizens Union, a good government group, show similar differences. Louis lists housing initiatives as her top two of five main priorities, while Chandler-Waterman’s first two points concern gun violence and public safety.

The questionnaires also illuminate small policy differences between the two candidates relating  to voting and City Council reform. Chandler-Waterman supports changes to reduce the number of City Council committees and to require that laws enacted through a referendum can only be changed by voters; Louis opposes both reforms.

For the June 25 election, as of the June 14 filing, Louis raised $42,289 and received $75,308 in public matching funds, while Chandler-Waterman raised $33,555 and received $66,576 in public funds. The two candidates led the field in fundraising ahead of the May special election as well.

Both candidates have significant endorsements in their corner. In addition to Johnson, Louis has been endorsed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, who represents an overlapping Assembly district, as well as many other City Council members, Assembly members, and 1199 SEIU, the powerful health care workers union that Louis used to belong to and then worked for. Louis also has the backing of the district’s large and powerful Orthodox Jewish community leadership, which endorsed and voted for her over Adina Sash (who is Orthodox Jewish) in May and appears to be fully behind her again this month. On Wednesday, Bklyner reported that Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Hotel Trades Council labor union had both thrown their support behind Louis.

For her part, Chandler-Waterman has Williams’s backing – a point of consternation for Louis, who was until recently his staffer. Williams is continuing to fundraise for Chandler-Waterman. Following her special election loss, Chandler-Waterman appears to have lost the endorsement of City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, who represents a nearby district (Cumbo’s name has been removed from the endorsements page of Chandler-Waterman’s website). However, she picked up endorsements from the politically-potent property service workers union 32BJ SEIU and former opponent L. Rickie Tulloch, and maintained the support of Assembly Member Nick Perry, State Senator Zellnor Myrie, and other local politicians.

Chandler-Waterman was also endorsed by the City Council Progressive Caucus and the Working Families Party in the first round, indicating that her progressive bona-fides may be stronger than Louis’. The Working Families Party has recently reaffirmed its support for Chandler-Waterman, but the Progressive Caucus appears to have rescinded its for the second special election.

Rose, the third particularly active candidate in the race, is the founder of an anti-violence nonprofit and a member of Community Board 17.

Both Louis and Chandler-Waterman have made and addressed controversial comments recently. Louis apologized for tweets from 2010 which demeaned Jews and the LGBT community; she nonetheless maintained her endorsements from LGBT Democratic clubs and Jewish representatives like Council Member Chaim Deutsch.

Waterman-Chandler, meanwhile, was recorded yelling at NYPD officers outside her child’s school in October of 2018 following an unverified charge against her husband. More recently, in an interview with City & State just after the May 14 election, she accused Louis of winning the special election on the backs of “Trump supporters.” Her claim appears to be supported by voting data; the Midwood precincts where Louis won overwhelmingly, which are mostly Orthodox Jewish, were also the 45th District’s most Trump-friendly in 2016. Louis’ campaign itself did not respond to Chandler-Waterman’s comments, but City Council Member Kalman Yeger, a Louis ally, called them offensive.

While Louis, after winning in May by a large margin and now having at least the buzz of incumbency, is clearly the favorite in the June 25 election, it’s not clear what the electorate may look like and whether Waterman-Chandler is taking any new measures to alter the race this time.

Turnout was incredibly low in the May 14 election – only 9,235 people cast votes out of 94,089 active registered voters in District 45. While the May special election was non-partisan and open to all registered voters in the district, the June vote is a Democratic primary, wherein only registered Democrats in the district can vote. There are no other major races bringing voters to the polls.

Although the 45th Council District is heavily Democratic, the winner of the primary election may not have the ballot to themselves in November. Anthony Beckford, who ran for the same seat in 2017 on the True Freedom line against then-incumbent Jumaane Williams, has said he’s running but has yet to report raising any money. There’s also the chance that Louis or Chandler-Waterman could appear on one or more other ballot lines - like Working Families Party - after the Democratic primary.

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by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Quick Rematch in Second Special Election for Brooklyn City Council Seat Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Crowded Field Forms for Special City Council Election to Replace Jumaane Williams https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8422-crowded-city-council-field-forms-for-special-election-to-replace-jumaane-williams https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8422-crowded-city-council-field-forms-for-special-election-to-replace-jumaane-williams citycouncil cm

Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Jumaane Williams’ victory in the February special election for Public Advocate has created a ripple effect, namely a special election for his former City Council seat, representing Brooklyn’s Council District 45, set for May 14.

The district encompasses parts of the Central Brooklyn neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, Midwood, and Canarsie. According to 2010 Census data, the district is majority black, at 76.1%, with Afro-Caribbeans like Williams making up the bulk of the population. Another 10.5% of the district is white, largely composed of Orthodox Jews.

There’s a crowded field of candidates that has assembled to try to replace Williams in what is a nonpartisan election, meaning candidates cannot run on traditional party lines, and there are no party primaries. The winner of the special election will subsequently have to compete in the June primary, about six weeks after the special election, if challenged by someone from their party, and the November general election, if challenged. While some have decried the calendar, Mayor Bill de Blasio had no choice by law in calling the special election after Williams resigned to become public advocate.

The special election is expected to be a very low turnout affair, making voter mobilization all the more important. Candidates have quickly been appearing at local forums and jockeying for and announcing endorsements from officials and groups.

Those in the running range from close confidantes of Williams to longtime antagonists. The new public advocate has not made an endorsement at this point, but has repeatedly stated that he is excited by the prospect of his successor being a woman of color, given the dearth of women in the City Council.

As of Wednesday, ten candidates have filed with the city’s Campaign Finance Board, while the voter-signature petitioning period, whereby candidates secure their places on the ballot, just ended. Notice for a candidate forum set for April 18 shows 11 candidates participating.

Williams’ former deputy chief of staff, Farah Louis, is seen by many as the frontrunner, with support from Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte and several other officials and groups. She recently picked up endorsements from two LGBTQ clubs: the Jim Owles Democratic Club and Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn.

Others in the running include attorney Jovia Radix and Monique Waterman, founder of the nonprofit group East Flatbush Village, who also has close ties to Williams. Radix originally had the support of Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Frank Seddio in his personal capacity (the party itself may not endorse a candidate), but Seddio recently moved his endorsement to Louis, according to a source close to the party.

Also contesting the race are previous electoral opponents and critics of Williams, namely activist Anthony Beckford. Another Williams critic and electoral opponent, Lou Cespedes, quickly dropped out of the race according to Kings County Politics.

Other candidates include Health + Hospitals executive Rickie Tulloch; Adina Sash, often known as “FlatbushGirl,” who has a very active social media presence; Anthony Alexis, a former Assembly and Council aide who now supervises city-funded senior centers; Victor Jordan, a member of Community Board 17; Xamayla Rose, an anti-violence community activist; Hercules Reid, the legislative director of the CUNY University Student Senate and an advocate for CUNY students; and Jean Similien, who ran against Williams in 2013.

Affordable housing, a main focus for Williams, appears to be the marquee issue in the election, as residents worry about gentrification and displacement. The Institute for Poverty, Children, and Homelessness found in 2017 that 29 percent of District 45 is “severely rent burdened,” meaning those residents pay 50 percent or more of their income in rent. Candidates generally agree that more affordable housing needs to be developed and that the current methodology through which housing is determined to be “affordable” is flawed.

Candidates in the special election had until Wednesday to present 450 valid signatures from voters in the district in order to appear on the ballot -- we’ll soon know who exactly has qualified to appear on the May 14 ballot. Some candidates may see their signatures challenged at the Board of Elections. And the first filing deadline with the Campaign Finance Board is on April 12, which will give the initial indication of how fundraising efforts are going for each official candidate.

A closer look at each candidate in the mix (in alphabetical order by last name):

Anthony Alexis
Alexis has worked in both the Assembly and the Council as a staff aide, and in 2001 unsuccessfully ran for Council, losing to Kendall Stewart. He currently works in a supervisory role at city-funded senior centers.

Anthony Beckford
Beckford is a longtime activist in the district who has been critical of Williams. He ran against Williams in 2017 on the True Freedom party line, calling attention to the fact that Williams, who has worked on issues of police accountability, had voted to add 1,000 police officers to the NYPD despite record low crime rates and instances of police brutality, though he has also discussed working with Williams in support of various causes more recently.

In 2018, Beckford unsuccessfully ran for Assembly in the 42nd District on the Green Party line.

According to his Facebook page, Beckford leads the Brooklyn CopWatch Patrol unit, a group that monitors law enforcement officers for instances of police abuse and brutality. He is the president of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn; though the group is not affiliated with the larger nationwide network, Beckford’s group has lobbied state and city government on numerous issues, such as for a bill to criminalize discriminatory 911 calls and against the 421-a tax incentive program for real estate developers. He is also affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America.

Last month, Beckford excoriated Mayor de Blasio for proposing to cut social workers for homeless students in the upcoming budget. “The Mayor has truly abandoned our children and we should not be surprised,” Beckford said. “His loyalty is only to those who are against our communities and our schools.” He called for adding $1.4 billion in funding for city schools, to remove police officers from schools and cease payments by the Department of Education to the NYPD, and to hire more counselors and psychologists.

Victor Jordan
Jordan is a small business owner and economist originally from Guyana; he has taught either high school or college level economics and math classes in Guyana, Jamaica, and New York, and also once worked as a trade economist for Trinidad’s Ministry of Trade and Industry, according to a video he recorded for the Campaign Finance Board in 2017. A former chair of the land use and education committees of Community Board 17, Jordan has unsuccessfully run for the Assembly seat in District 42 three times, in 2014, 2016, and 2018, and most recently got 28% of the Democratic primary vote against incumbent Rodneyse Bichotte. He also ran in the open 2017 primary for the 41st City Council district seat, winning 5% of the vote and losing to Alicka Ampry-Samuel.

At Community Board 17, Jordan helped establish and leads a local chapter of the Community Emergency Response Team, an organization that educates community members about disaster and emergency preparedness, according to his CFB page. At a recent candidate forum, Jordan identified gentrification and high foreclosure rates as major problems in the district that he would attempt to tackle in the Council.

Farah Louis
Louis, described by Kings County Politics as the “early favorite” in the race, most recently served as Williams’ deputy chief of staff after filling other roles in his Council office, including as budget director. Previously, she worked as both a reporter and an organizer.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Louis said that there’s “room for change” in the mayor’s affordable housing plan, but did not display the outright opposition to it that Williams has regularly shown.

“I believe that there’s room for change. The former Council member had his views, I do believe that there’s room to change,” she said. “And it’s not just the mayor, but it’s working with those agencies, HPD in particular regarding AMIs [area median income] and MIH [mandatory inclusionary housing], to really fit the character and the income of the folks that really live in our district.”

Asked what work she was proudest of from her tenure in Williams’ office, Louis noted her work on the Community Safety Act, which created the NYPD Inspector General’s office and new protections against racial profiling by police; anti-gun violence initiatives; and her work in constituent services. She singled out issues related to small businesses as an area where she would like to improve upon Williams’ work, but she did not take a position on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act when asked about the long-stalled legislation that would institute new rules around commercial lease agreements to help small businesses with more favorable terms.

Jovia Radix
Radix is an attorney who has previously worked for the Brooklyn Democratic Party and as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Brooklyn Regional Representative, handling constituent affairs. She most recently was a vice president at Kasirer LLC, a consultancy.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette, Radix identified the quality of sanitation service as a major but less discussed issue for the district, noting that residents and business owners she speaks to often complain of poor or infrequent service. She also named major issues defining the race, especially affordable housing and the ability of seniors to stay in the district. On affordable housing, Radix said that the use of AMI, which is an average based on the whole city and wealthy suburbs, in the district has resulted in the development of unaffordable units, and that AMI needs reform.

“We too often find that young people leave our district, go to college, get good jobs, are making money where they should be able to sustain themselves but they can’t afford to live in the communities where they grew up,” Radix said. “That’s a concern of our community. We want to ensure those young people come back and are able to put into the community what the community put into them.”

Hercules Reid
Reid, who at 26 is the youngest candidate in the race and would be the youngest Council member if elected, currently serves as legislative director for the CUNY University Student Senate and has been a long-time advocate on behalf of CUNY students, particularly for increased funding of CUNY and tuition-free CUNY. Reid is a critic of “predictable” tuition increases at CUNY and of Governor Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship, and helped lobby successfully for a tuition freeze at CUNY in 2015.

At a recent candidate forum, Reid spoke of how homeownership should be encouraged as a means of building generational wealth within low-income communities, and for expanding access to senior affordable housing. On his website, Reid’s campaign notes his support for the “No New Jails” movement opposed to building borough-based jails to replace Rikers Island.

In a campaign video and at the recent candidate forum, Reid spoke of how young people are often discouraged from participating in politics by the older people who run the show. “Young leaders like me are ready to lead and are often discouraged by the ‘wait your turn, you’re too young, you have no experience,’” Reid said in the video. “We have heard it all, and enough is enough.”

Xamayla Rose
Rose is a community activist who was spurred into her role after the 2005 killing of her brother Christopher over an iPod. In the wake of that, she and her family founded the Christopher Rose Community Empowerment Campaign (CRCEC), which aims to prevent youth violence and to provide community development for local youth.

The organization has three programs: CAMERA, which facilitates neighborhood watches to observe and prevent violence; PACE, which provides after-school “physical, academic, and cultural enrichment” to young people to keep them away from violence; and HOPE, which provides resources to the families of victims and education to others.

Rose has served as the chair of Community Board 17’s education committee. She previously worked for the Brooklyn Borough President’s office, where her work centered on juvenile justice issues.

At a recent forum, Rose said she believes that AMI needs to be reconfigured to more adequately reflect the income composition of the community. She is also in favor of ending third party transfers.

Adina Sash
Sash is a comedian and activist, active on Instagram with over 45,000 followers on the platform (more than double that of Williams), who has become well-known for challenging gender norms within the insular Orthodox Jewish community. She previously ran for District Leader in the 45th Assembly District but lost to incumbent Margarita Kagan.

Sash has released several policy proposals on her Instagram account, many affecting the district’s Jewish community, though not all. Despite controversy surrounding a lack of mandatory secular education at some yeshivas, Sash calls for increasing public funding for STEM education at the religious schools, arguing that yeshiva students are unfairly denied funding that public school students receive.

She is also pledging to donate half of her $148,500 Council salary, which she argues is too high, to local nonprofits, in both the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of the district, and to maintain a staff reflective of the district’s diversity. She also believes that the Met Council on Housing should receive greater funding to prevent evictions.

Despite her alignment with the conservative Orthodox community on certain issues, she has defied the community on several others. For example, she defended a lesbian comedian who was bumped from a performance at a kosher restaurant due to her sexual orientation.

Jean Similien
Similien has worked as a union representative for SSEU Local 371, the social services employee union. In 2013, he ran in the Democratic primary against Williams but came up far short, winning 12% of the vote. In his 2013 run, Similien’s platform included measures to reduce crime, lower the size of classrooms, and opposition to a neighborhood rezoning.

Rickie Tulloch
Tulloch currently serves as the Senior Director for Capital Contracts at NYC Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital network, where he has filled various positions over 33 years, including as Deputy Chief Financial Officer at Harlem Hospital, he told Gotham Gazette in an interview. He also served on Community Board 17 for 18 years, with terms as land use chair and treasurer, and unsuccessfully ran for the 40th Council District in 2009 and the 42nd Assembly District in 2014.

Tulloch, who said he immigrated to Brooklyn from Jamaica as a teenager, stressed in the interview that his experience sets him apart from his opponents, noting in particular his experience at H+H managing large budgets and procurements and his long community board tenure.

Like his opponents, Tulloch noted in the interview that affordable housing and the district’s rent burden are the top issues in the election. He proposed upzoning commercial corridors for more housing while downzoning residential areas to preserve the “essence” of the neighborhood. He also castigated the use of AMI to determine affordability thresholds, noting the city’s AMI is higher than that of the district.

“We want it to be based not on the AMI, but the poverty level,” he said. “That way it captures just about everybody in the community and makes it affordable to folks."

Monique Waterman
Waterman is the founder and CEO of East Flatbush Village, a local nonprofit dedicated to combating violence in the community through a variety of after-school and civic programs for low-income youth; she is currently on a leave of absence from the organization to focus on her campaign. Waterman has been profiled several times by local media as head of the organization, including by NY1 and the Brooklyn Paper.

At a recent candidate forum, Waterman took a similar line to Williams on rezonings in the neighborhood, arguing that the rezonings needed to be tailored to the district and not haphazardly applied.

The Waterman campaign did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: after publication of this article a source close to the Brooklyn Democratic Party contacted Gotham Gazette to explain that Frank Seddio, in his personal capacity, not on behalf of the party, had expressed support for Radix but had then changed his endorsement to Louis. The article has been adjusted to reflect that information.

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Crowded Field Forms for Special City Council Election to Replace Jumaane Williams Wed, 03 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000