Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2152 Thu, 09 Apr 2020 10:58:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Why is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries MIA on the Green New Deal? https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8480-why-is-rep-hakeem-jeffries-mia-on-the-green-new-deal https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8480-why-is-rep-hakeem-jeffries-mia-on-the-green-new-deal gov cuomo locations

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (photo: Kevin Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


The Green New Deal resolution has garnered a lot of attention since it was introduced in February. The nonbinding resolution, sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), aims to reshape our energy system and economy by committing to a swift and just transition to 100% clean renewable energy.

Such a bold transformation is exactly what is needed according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. After all, the IPCC explained that we only have twelve years to get our emissions under control or else we will be locked in to climate catastrophe.

The Green New Deal promises not only to get us off fossil fuels, but will also create millions of good jobs retrofitting existing buildings so they are more energy-efficient and boosting wind and solar energy investments. The resolution also aims to protect frontline communities and those most affected by climate change and pollution. 

The Green New Deal has attracted considerable support in a rapid time, receiving endorsements from nearly all Democratic contenders for the presidency and having over 90 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. According to a Business Insider poll, over 80% of respondents support almost all of the components of the Green New Deal resolution.   Of course, the resolution has garnered its critics too, with President Trump referring to it as “socialism.”

Nearly all of the congressional representatives from New York City signed on as co-sponsors to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’ resolution. However, there remains a glaring omission in Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Rep. Jeffries represents a solidly blue district in Brooklyn and Southwest Queens which has already witnessed the devastating effects of climate change firsthand with Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. In fact, his 8th congressional district received more aid for Hurricane Sandy relief than any other district in the city.

While there is wide support for the resolution, the Democratic leadership in Congress remains disinterested in moving forward, exemplified when House Speaker Pelosi laughed off  the resolution by calling it the “green dream.” Likewise, Mitch McConnell’s stunt vote in the Senate failed to garner a single Democratic vote. The Democratic Party leadership in Congress, including Rep. Jeffries, should demonstrate that they are committed to tackling climate change head-on by supporting the Green New Deal.

Rep. Jeffries is certainly a major player and rising star within the Democratic Party, as he was elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and is rumored to be on the fast-track to be Speaker of the House. Interestingly, Rep. Jeffries owes his current leadership position in part to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who ousted the previous chair of the caucus, Rep. Joseph Crowley, in a primary.

Rep. Jeffries should prove his progressive bonafides by supporting the Green New Deal. Indeed, it may be bad politics for him to avoid the resolution; he wouldn’t want the same fate of Rep. Crowley by being primaried from the left.

As it currently stands, Rep. Jeffries and freshman Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) are the sole New York City members of Congress to fail to sign on to the Green New Deal. Rose represents another area massively affected by climate change and Hurricane Sandy -- Staten Island and Southern Brooklyn. However, Rep. Rose’s district is hardly safely Democratic, and he does not need to fear a primary challenger from the left.

To be sure, the Green New Deal is only a nonbinding resolution and doesn’t actually enact any measures that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rather it sets the vision and the goals to massively transition the economy away from its reliance on fossil fuels.

Rep. Jeffries has indicated that rather than signing on to the Green New Deal, he is inclined to wait until the bipartisan “House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis” makes recommendations on the issue, a process that can take over a year. However, with climate change, time is not a renewable resource. It is essential that congressional leadership at least entertain solutions commensurate with the challenges we face. Rep. Jeffries should show the courage and leadership on the climate and support the Green New Deal.

Rep. Jeffries has a duty to his constituents to support policies that will reduce carbon emissions, create green jobs, and build up the infrastructure that protects his district from the next superstorm. After all, not only is it good politics to support the Green New Deal, but according to the world’s top scientists, it is absolutely necessary policy. To show true leadership, for his party and the country, Rep. Jeffries should champion the Green New Deal.

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Ari R. Lieberman is an attorney and the legislative coordinator for 350Brooklyn, a grassroots climate change organization affiliated with 350.org. On Twitter @the_greenmarble.

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Why is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries MIA on the Green New Deal? Mon, 29 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Amazon’s Recent New York Campaign Contributions Mostly to Members of Congress https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8082-amazon-s-recent-new-york-campaign-contributions-mostly-to-members-of-congress https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8082-amazon-s-recent-new-york-campaign-contributions-mostly-to-members-of-congress cuomo jeffries

Gov. Cuomo & Rep. Jeffries (photo via Governor's Office)


Before Amazon announced the placement of one of its next satellite “headquarters” in Queens, drawing mixed reactions from local lawmakers and significant overall pushback, the company’s campaign finance footprint in New York shows it was spreading its money around to many New York politicians, mostly those at the federal level.

Eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York City, all Democrats, who signed a now infamous letter last year to compel Amazon to consider the city, received more than $26,000 in total campaign contributions from Amazon from the beginning of 2017 to October 2018, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, with four of the members receiving $7,500 of that total before signing the letter.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, whose district includes part of Queens, received $8,000 total from Amazon in four separate contributions to his campaign since 2017, including $1,500 before he had signed the letter and $6,500 afterward, a time period that coincided with Jeffries’ recent reelection to the House, though he did not face serious opposition. Jeffries’ office did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but he said in a statement to Cheddar that the deal “will supercharge New York City’s reputation as the single best place to do business in America.”

Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke received $5,000 from Amazon, half before signing the letter and half since -- Clarke did face a tough primary challenge this year, narrowly defeating Adem Bunkeddeko before cruising to victory in the general. In a statement for the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) that was sent to members of the media upon the Amazon announcement, Clarke said, “Amazon’s decision to locate a headquarters in New York City is a testament to the strength of our technology sector.”

Other letter signees who received Amazon contributions include Rep. Eliot Engel, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (whose district includes Long Island City), Rep. Gregory Meeks, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, all of the five boroughs. Maloney called for a fair “public review” of the deal in a statement to Politico, arguing that “[a] beneficial deal will withstand public scrutiny.”

Upon the announcement of the deal to bring Amazon to New York City, Espaillat issued a statement of praise, saying in a tweet, “Welcome to New York City, @Amazon. We have the best & brightest technologically skilled workforce that is ready & willing to work & invest in our community & help our economy continue to grow,” while Velazquez issued a statement criticizing the process and outcome, saying, “Many New Yorkers, myself included, are concerned by the enormous incentives this package extends to Amazon.”

Rep. Joe Crowley of the Bronx and Queens received $2,500 from Amazon before he signed the letter, according to FEC filings. He lost his seat in an upset to now Congressional Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has been a strident critic of the Amazon deal. The democratic-socialist tweeted that she finds the deal “extremely concerning,” arguing that the money for tax breaks for Amazon could be better spent on the “crumbling” subway and disenfranchised communities.

It’s unclear if any of the members of Congress played a role in the negotiation process, which was apparently led by Cuomo, along with de Blasio and members of their two teams -- those involved apparently signed non-disclosure agreements at Amazon’s insistence. Members of Congress’ support or opposition, however, can play a crucial role in the overall atmosphere around such a deal and the public perception thereof. For the most part, Amazon is more concerned with federal regulations and nationwide tax policy, evident from its campaign funding patterns. Data from OpenSecrets.org shows that Amazon gave about $1.17 million to federal candidate campaigns in 2018 alone, 52% of which went to Republicans and 48% to Democrats.

Amazon has also given some campaign contributions at the local level, including $1,000 to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s campaign committee in January of this year, according to state election records. Heastie did not respond to a request for comment, but the Bronx Democrat told the New York Times in a statement that “this deal has the potential to more than pay for itself.” He added that, “Of course we take our role in approving aspects of this deal very seriously and we will be closely reviewing it.”

The only other local lawmaker whose campaign funds Amazon added to was Republican state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, who received $1,000 in January, according to state election records.

New York City and State have agreed to roughly $3 billion in financial incentives to Amazon to settle in Long Island City, including tax breaks and rebates mostly from existing economic development programs that would be applicable to other companies, as well as a roughly $500 million capital grant from the state that is discretionary. The deal is based on a pledge by Amazon to create 25,000 new jobs in the city over 10 years, at an average salary of $150,000 per year. Some of the incentives are directly tied to those jobs coming to fruition. The company may also qualify for new federal tax savings.

Critics have cried foul about a secretive process with virtually no public input before a deal was struck (there will be some before everything is finalized) and that there are billions of dollars of incentives going to one of the wealthiest companies in the world. A number of elected officials did praise the deal, including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic Senate minority leader. Schumer received a total of $10,000 from Amazon in three separate contributions to his campaign committee in 2015 ahead of his reelection the following year, according to FEC filings. He has not received any funds from Amazon since his 2016 reelection.

Some of the criticism towards the Amazon deal is tied more broadly to Cuomo’s economic development programs and their incentives for companies to relocate or create jobs. Flanagan, whose 2018 campaign got the relatively minor boost from Amazon, criticized Cuomo for giving handouts rather than working to improve New York’s overall economic climate. Flanagan’s majority conference, which is handing over the reins next year to Democrats who flipped the chamber on Election Day, has signed off on budgets that have included Cuomo’s programs.

Amazon, a trillion dollar-company, spent $110,000 lobbying the state Assembly, Senate, and executive branch on bills related to taxation and regulation of internet companies from the beginning of 2017 to October of 2018, according to state lobbying records. JCOPE (the Joint Commission on Public Ethics) lists Amazon lobbying activities as only related to “internet/online sales & related issues,” but specific bills lobbied on include the establishment of a task force to study an internet marketplace tax and bills that propose to regulate voice-recognition technology.

The company also spent over $120,000 lobbying New York City government in the last two years for participation in their cloud computing services, according to city lobbying records.

The records do not show lobbying related to the new headquarters in Queens. That process appears to have been removed from official lobbying and instead part of the competition Amazon announced, wherein it received hundreds of pitches from governments and coalitions around the country. There are no records of Amazon donating to the campaigns of either Cuomo or de Blasio.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and one of the wealthiest people in the world, said in a statement on the day of the announcement that the new “headquarters” split between New York and Virginia “will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come. The team did a great job selecting these sites, and we look forward to becoming an even bigger part of these communities.”

Hiring for the new offices is scheduled to begin in 2019, according to Amazon. Governor Cuomo has said that the new office campus and related employment will generate more than $27 billion in tax revenue over the next 25 years.

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by Jake Shore for Gotham Gazette
  

Read more by this writer.

 

 

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Amazon’s Recent New York Campaign Contributions Mostly to Members of Congress Sun, 18 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Rep. Jeffries Backs Gov. Cuomo for Reelection https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7879-rep-jeffries-backs-cuomo-for-reelection-as-governor https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7879-rep-jeffries-backs-cuomo-for-reelection-as-governor governor cuomo delivers

Gov. Cuomo with Rep. Jeffries (photo via the Governor's office)


U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a rising Congressional star and Brooklyn political power-broker, is backing Governor Andrew Cuomo for reelection.

Jeffries, who represents the 8th Congressional District of New York, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, sees Cuomo’s case as airtight, despite a fierce gubernatorial primary challenge being waged by actor and activist Cynthia Nixon.

“As the governor of the state of New York, he’s done a phenomenal job over the last eight years,” Jeffries told Gotham Gazette in a brief interview, just after endorsing fellow Brooklynite and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James in her run for state attorney general. “I’m looking forward to his leadership over the next four when he’s successful in November.”

Since even before Jeffries’ start in Congress, the former member of the state Assembly has enjoyed a close relationship with Cuomo. Jeffries joins a growing list of elected officials, including several members of the city’s congressional delegation, backing the incumbent governor for a third term. His support signifies additional reinforcement of the firewall Cuomo is relying on to beat Nixon in New York City, especially in communities of color, where Democratic primaries are often won, particularly in New York.

“Congressman Jeffries been a strong partner and advocate for New York, and the governor is proud to have his support,” said Abbey Collins, a spokesperson for the Cuomo campaign. “Together, we will continue to fight back against Donald Trump’s divisive, ultra-conservative agenda and move New York forward.”

Nixon has made Brooklyn – a large part of which is included in Jeffries’ district, which covers Coney Island, Canarsie, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Clinton Hill, and a chunk of southern Queens – the nexus of her own campaign trail. It was in Brownsville that Nixon first launched her gubernatorial campaign, the event taking place in a neighborhood partially encompassed by the Eighth Congressional District, although Nixon’s event occurred just outside its border. Then, in March, Nixon also accepted Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ invitation to visit NYCHA housing in Crown Heights and, in May, Nixon did a subway tour, where she made her way from Cobble Hill to Williamsburg.

While Adams has not endorsed in the gubernatorial primary, Nixon has won the backing of a number of the borough’s political clubs and advocacy groups, as well as a handful of election officials, including City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Brad Lander. Cuomo, on the other hand, has the support of ten other Brooklyn City Council members.

Last month, Nixon formally announced a cross-endorsement with Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is challenging Cuomo’s lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, in the primary, which will be held September 13. The Nixon-Williams press conference was held at an entrance of Prospect Park; Williams’ 45th City Council District slightly overlaps with Jeffries’ congressional district. Jeffries, however, is endorsing Hochul, a former member of Congress from Erie County, for reelection to her statewide post in what is an increasingly contentious primary.

“I think Democratic primaries are healthy at the end of the day as long as we respect the will of the people once they make a decision and we all come together afterward,” Jeffries said of Williams’ bid for lieutenant governor. “If Kathy Hochul is successful, I’m hopeful that Jumaane Williams will be supportive of the ticket moving forward. And if Jumaane Williams is successful, we have to find a way to stand behind our governor and our lieutenant governor nominee.”

Hochul and Cuomo have both made Brooklyn a major focus in recent months, with the governor announcing “Brooklyn women for Cuomo,” the endorsements of elected officials at various levels of government, and holding several government events that often have the feel of campaign rallies. Hochul spoke at four African-American churches in Brooklyn this past weekend while on the campaign trail, while Cuomo spoke at one, in Crown Heights, in what was listed as a government event.

Prior to Jeffries’ endorsement, Cuomo’s campaign has announced support from other members of Congress, including U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Jose E. Serrano, and Adriano Espaillat, with others expected. Cuomo’s campaign highlights that the governor’s new federal political action committee has given maximum $2,700 donations to each of 10 congressional candidates in competitive districts across the state, including Max Rose, who is trying to unseat the only Republican member of the New York City House delegation, Rep. Dan Donovan.

Though his campaign does not highlight the endorsement, the governor has also been backed by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who is running for attorney general in the four-way primary that includes James, who has cross-endorsed with Cuomo and has her base of support in central Brooklyn, where she was a City Council member.

Polling continues to show Cuomo with a major advantage over Nixon in New York City, especially among black voters. Brooklyn has the most Democratic voters of any county in the state, with more than 1 million registered as of April, many of whom reside in Jeffries’ congressional district.

“Andrew Cuomo has consistently led in the polls by 30 or more points and I expect that the margin of victory at the end of the day will be extremely comfortable, both because of his track record and because of the inexperience of his opponent,” Jeffries told Gotham Gazette.

Of Nixon, Jeffries said, “The electorate in New York City, including very progressive individuals, seem disinclined to put another actor in a position of importance in the context of the governor’s mansion, having seen the disaster that Donald Trump has been as president.”

In response, Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for the Nixon campaign, said, “Cynthia Nixon was raised by a single mom, and she started acting when she was 12 in order to pay for college. She has nothing in common with Donald Trump. Governor Cuomo, on the other hand, has accepted $64,000 from the Donald, which he refuses to return.”

[Read: Key to Victory, Black Voters Appear Solidly Behind Cuomo Over Nixon]

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Rep. Jeffries Backs Gov. Cuomo for Reelection Wed, 22 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Rep. Jeffries Endorses Council Member Cumbo for Reelection https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7113-congressman-hakeem-jeffries-endorses-council-member-laurie-cumbo-for-reelection https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7113-congressman-hakeem-jeffries-endorses-council-member-laurie-cumbo-for-reelection 15064019050 ec023beaf0 z

Council Member Laurie Cumbo (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)


New York Congressional Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, has endorsed City Council Member Laurie Cumbo for reelection. Cumbo, a first-term Democrat from District 35, which covers Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, is in the midst of a tough primary battle against Ede Fox, a Democrat who lost to Cumbo in 2013 and is running again this year.

Jeffries, whose congressional district includes large parts of Cumbo’s Council district, explained the endorsement to Gotham Gazette in a phone interview on Monday. “These are challenging times in our country, and Democratic members of our Congress are fighting hard each and every day to stop the onslaught of regressive policies coming from the Trump administration,” he said. “In this atmosphere, having a strong ally in the City Council to defend the interests of the neighborhoods we both represent is critically important. There is no better ally that I could have at the local or state level than Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo.”

The Congressman said he plans to actively campaign for Cumbo in local churches, block parties, senior centers, subway stations, and “whatever else it takes to make sure she wins decisively” in the September 12 primary and the November 7 general. Jeffries is extremely popular among his constituents and was reelected last year with 93.3 percent of the vote in the general election after being unopposed in the primary.

The Congressman, who was rumored to be a potential challenger to Mayor Bill de Blasio for much of last year, has taken on a notable role among national Democrats since the election of President Donald Trump. Jeffries was elected as co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee in December and has since emerged as a vocal critic of the Republican president. Jeffries and Cumbo share many views on major issues, including handling the district’s housing crisis and improving education.

“Laurie Cumbo has been a tremendous champion both in creating and preserving affordable housing throughout Central Brooklyn,” said Jeffries. “On issue after issue, she’s been phenomenal when it comes to pushing back against the intense gentrification that we confront in Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights.”

Jeffries is the latest high-profile fellow Democrat to endorse Cumbo. Last week, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke declared her support for Cumbo’s reelection. Cumbo has also been endorsed by Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Vanessa Gibson and the Council’s LGBT Caucus.

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(photo: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries/Flickr)

 Jeffries praised Cumbo’s accomplishments in her first term, and spoke highly of her efforts to preserve affordable housing in Brooklyn, getting at a core issue motivating Fox’s challenge. “She’s been responsible for helping to prevent the privatization of certain housing cooperatives in the Clinton Hill section of the district. She’s fought hard to affirmatively create affordable housing opportunities on NYCHA developments throughout the district, particularly in Fort Greene,” said Jeffries. “Cumbo single handedly shut down the [Bedford Union] Armory deal because it did not meet the aspirations of the community that she effectively represents.”

 

The Bedford Union Armory rezoning proposal has been a particularly hot issue in the District 35 race, and represents the core of any vulnerability for Cumbo in the September 12 primary. The project -- which would convert the Armory into 330 units of rental housing and 60 condos, and includes plans for a state-of-the-art recreation center -- faces heavy opposition from some residents who believe it is a sweetheart deal for real estate developers, would spur gentrification, and doesn’t include enough affordable housing. Although Cumbo came out against the proposal in May, some constituents and community activists criticized her for her delayed opposition. Critics point to the project’s affordability levels -- about 50 percent will be set aside for affordable units in the current proposal -- will not match the incomes of the district, and say that the facility should be 100 percent affordable. Jeffries, however, felt comfortable that Cumbo has handled the development effectively.

“At this point, the City Council has a long standing policy of not moving forward with a development deal absent the support the local City Council member,” he said. “There is no scenario that I can envision where the Armory deal moves forward and sees a vote for the City Council as long as Laurie Cumbo is opposed to it. [Up] to this point, she has managed to negotiate improvements to the deal with the developer and the [de Blasio] administration, and I have every reason to expect that her opposition will only strengthen the leverage that she has to improve the outcome.”

Though there are several other Council districts that fall in the areas that Jeffries represents, the Congressman said he did not have plans to make any other endorsements. “Laurie Cumbo is the only endorsement that I have made this summer in the City Council races, and it’s not clear that I will go beyond this particular contest,” he said. “She is an on-hand, ever-present, active representative of the community, and a tremendous partner to me.”

Council Member Cumbo, who was pregnant throughout the campaign and gave birth on Friday, was with her newborn son and not available to comment. A spokesperson said she was thankful for Jeffries’ endorsement and was excited to work with him on affordable housing and improving schools in their shared communities.

Although Cumbo has a slew of prominent endorsements, her primary opponent Ede Fox has also picked up support. Fox has been endorsed by a number of local Democratic organizations, the Transit Workers Union and New York Communities for Change, among others.

The winner of the primary will be a heavy favorite in the general, where she will face Republican Christine Parker, as well as the winner of the Green Party primary between Scott Hutchins and Jabari Brisport.

[Related: Rare Green Party Primary in Brooklyn City Council Race]

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by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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Rep. Jeffries Endorses Council Member Cumbo for Reelection Tue, 08 Aug 2017 00:57:08 +0000
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6690-bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6690-bill-de-blasio-s-police-accountability-problem de blasio nypd headquarters

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign account recently posted a Twitter message touting the NYPD’s neighborhood policing initiative. “New York City is proving to the rest of the country that respectful, compassionate neighborhood policing drives down crime & makes us safer,” the tweet from @BilldeBlasio read.

In a response symbolic of a problem de Blasio is facing as he heads into his re-election year, Lumumba Bandele tweeted his response to de Blasio: “You & #NYPD are in no position to talk about respect & compassion.” Bandele then cited the fact that the police officers who killed Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager shot to death in 2012, and “others,” likely a reference including Eric Garner, are still employed by the city.

Bandele identifies himself on Twitter as an organizer, writer, producer, and professor from Bedford-Stuyvesant. His mention of Ramarley Graham came as there has been increased attention from police reform activists to pressure de Blasio to proceed with an NYPD trial for Officer Richard Haste and the others involved in Graham’s death. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill recently announced that such a trial was likely to begin in early 2017.

The new year, de Blasio’s fourth as mayor, is also expected to see movement regarding accountability for Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Garner’s 2014 death during an attempted arrest. A Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Pantaleo in 2014, and the federal Department of Justice has been investigating his actions, which, according to de Blasio and the NYPD, has kept the city from moving ahead with any of its own disciplinary procedure.

As the mayor kicks off his re-election campaign, police reform activists, including some elected officials, are frustrated with de Blasio for what they see as a failure to live up to his 2013 promise as a police reformer, especially with regard to increasing accountability at the NYPD. While these two high-profile cases may soon see developments, advocates say that punishment for officers takes far too long and is far too soft, and that on holding officers accountable for inappropriate or illegal behavior, the mayor has done nothing systemic to change NYPD culture.

For his part, de Blasio argues that he has been the reformer he said he would be, that he has overseen major changes to policing in New York City while both crime and arrests have declined. De Blasio, a Democrat, has been battling perceptions that he is "anti-cop" and would be soft on crime since his 2013 campaign. While he has mostly assuaged the latter, the former persists in some corners, perhaps contibuting to a lack of action in addressing accountabiity, even as, on the other side of the equation, reformers believe he has not been tough enough on badly-behaving officers.

Some reform advocates do give de Blasio credit for following through on elements of his campaign rhetoric, which had a significant focus on policing as part of his larger call for greater equity. But, they are quick to note that de Blasio’s efforts have not extended into essential areas of transparency and accountability.

City Council Member Jumaane Williams and members of Communities United for Police Reform, for example, acknowledge that de Blasio has overseen certain tactical changes at the NYPD, like instituting a new training regime focused on de-escalation, continuing to reduce street stops, and a more lenient approach to marijuana arrests. But, they believe that it amounts to little if it is not accompanied by major changes to how police officers are dealt with when they abuse their power, especially around excessive use of force.

Real culture change, they say, requires both front- and back-end reform -- new training, strategies, and directives, as well as beefed up oversight and increased transparency and accountability. At the same time de Blasio has been criticized for doing little on officer accountability, after decades of doing so the NYPD stopped making public a weekly update on officer disciplinary actions, citing their realization that they had been violating a state law.

When de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill held an early December press conference to announce low crime in the city, Communities United put out a press release saying, “As Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill gave briefing on crime data from November, they continued to ignore alleged abuses and misconduct during month.” The release linked to more than two dozen news articles about alleged police abuses or a lack of transparency into the NYPD.

“There’s a lot of talk about building relationships and building trust between communities and police,” but “our position is, hold up, in order for us to have trust, we need greater accountability,” said Monifa Bandele, a vice president at Moms Rising, a national organization that in New York is part of Communities United for Police Reform. Bandele spoke with Gotham Gazette after CPR held a mid-December press conference calling for new measures to improve transparency and accountability in the NYPD. Police officers regularly violate people’s rights, she said, but “nothing seems to come of it.”

CPR and a majority of City Council members want to see the Right to Know Act passed. The legislation would require police officers to provide more information to people they are stopping on the street, including identification. Despite majority support, the Right to Know Act has stalled in the City Council because de Blasio does not support it, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not allowed it to come to a vote, and other Council members have been unwilling to move it to a vote without the speaker’s blessing. Mark-Viverito did announce a compromise with the NYPD to institute elements of the legislation through NYPD training and the patrol guide.

Council Member Williams is one sponsor of the Right to Know Act, and while he wants to see more from de Blasio and the NYPD, he also says that there has been progress. In an interview, Williams said that there probably hasn’t been enough credit given to de Blasio for some of the change, but that that is a result of other failings.

“It’s very real that when it comes to transparency and accountability we’re no better than any other city in this nation and that’s a problem, we should be leading this effort,” Williams said.

“One of the best ways to change behaviors is to make sure people feel there’s accountability for that behavior,” said Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat. “So those are the type of things that I think people have yet to see and they’re very concerned about it and it’s what he campaigned on so I think people have an expectation to see it.”

Williams said he’s pleased about neighborhood policing, street stops continuing to decrease, and marijuana arrests being down, but that the city still needs to look at the racial breakdown, the percentages by demographic group, of some of the stops and arrest data. It is a sentiment echoed by leaders from Communities United for Police Reform, an umbrella group, as well as PROP, the Police Reform Organizing Project, which monitors arrest data and court proceedings. These activists say that it is good that a number of metrics are trending downward overall, but that disproportionate racial disparities persist on everything from street stops to summonses and arrests for all types of low-level crimes.

“I would love to hear a coherent answer on that,” Williams said when asked why he thinks de Blasio hasn’t been more aggressive on the transparency and accountability aspects of police reform.

Asked recently about the issue, de Blasio told WNYC radio host Brian Lehrer that he believes he’s lived up to his promises on policing and that disciplinary matters are done on a case-by-case basis.

“What did I say we were going to do? We were going to greatly decrease the use of stop-and-frisk. We did that. We were going to institute neighborhood policing. We’re doing that. We were going to stop the things that were causing a rift between police and community. For example, we stopped the arrest for low-level marijuana possession. You know, we are now doing an entirely different training regimen for our cops including de-escalation when there are encounters with civilians. We’re starting implicit bias training at the NYPD – a huge step forward for the largest police department in the country,” de Blasio said December 7 on WNYC.

The mayor continued: “I think folks who want reform should look at all that – all the things that they had said they wanted are actually happening. In terms of the disciplinary cases, each and every one of those is going to be seen through. As you know, the Garner case, right now, is in the hands of the U.S. Justice Department. When they finish their process, if they do not bring charges, there will be disciplinary action determined through the NYPD’s due process.”

“So, I don’t put those pieces together the same way that some critics do,” de Blasio said. “I think we have made steady progress on police reform.”

To support his point, de Blasio said that the city has “reinvigorated” the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a nominally independent agency that hears civilian complaints about the NYPD, holds hearings, and recommends punishments. Under de Blasio, complaints against police officers to the CCRB have dropped, something the mayor regularly cites. He mentioned it on WNYC earlier this month, while also bringing up the NYPD Inspector General, a position created through City Council legislation co-sponsored by Council Members Williams and Brad Lander, de Blasio’s successor in the City Council from Park Slope, and passed over the veto of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg (de Blasio was supportive of the legislation as public advocate at the time).

“We have so many elements of reform that some of these same advocates said, for years, would change everything,” de Blasio said on WNYC. “We’re doing it. And body cameras – in the course of this year, you’re going to see body cameras starting to be introduced on a large level in New York City. They will be expanded greatly from there.”

One problem that reformers point to in de Blasio’s argument is that the NYPD commissioner continues to possess discretion as to what extent he or she follows CCRB recommendations on officer punishment and that discretion almost always leads to a lesser penalty, often significantly so. Officers who use excessive force, for example, may be docked a few vacation days as opposed to being suspended without pay or worse. Advocates want “zero tolerance” for officers who violate the rights of civilians.

Citizens Union, a government reform organization, recently published a new set of recommendations for streamlining and improving police accountability, including changes to the process by which officers are disciplined. This was a follow up to a 2012 Citizens Union report that analyzed more than ten years of CCRB and NYPD data, raising significant questions about officer discipline -- it found that “The NYPD almost always did not follow CCRB recommendations to administer the most severe penalty despite the fact that the CCRB shows great discretion in accepting and investigating complaints against police officers.”

De Blasio, who has had a contentious relationship with the main union representing rank-and-file NYPD officers, has repeatedly deflected discussion of police accountability by focusing on the new training that officers are getting, arguing that it and other reforms are preventing bad actions by officers, and reducing negative interactions between officers and members of the public.

Along with tougher sanctions on officers who use excessive force or otherwise break protocol, Williams, CPR, and others want to see movement on the Right to Know Act and another bill, sponsored by Council Member Rory Lancman, to make police chokeholds illegal -- they are currently banned by NYPD policy, but critics say this has not deterred officers from using them, as seen in Garner’s death. (Even if made illegal, chokeholds, like any other use of force, would be allowable under law when an officer’s life is in danger.)

According to Monifa Bandele of Moms Rising, the Right to Know Act would build on the progress of the Community Safety Act. She said that children come home having had an interaction with police that they felt was unjustified or abusive, but can’t tell their parents who the officer was. “It’s hard to have accountability when you don’t know who you’ve interacted with,” she said, noting that adults often have the same issue. “Transparency, which is what the Right to Know Act is rooted in, is very key to get to accountability,” Bandele said, adding that officers seem to know that “there won’t be any consequences to violating the rights of New Yorkers.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio argued that “The mayor has delivered the farthest reaching criminal justice reforms of any mayor in the city’s history," but did not address questions around officer accountability and punishment for officers who violate rules and laws.

The de Blasio administration is currently being sued by Legal Aid Society and others over its refusal to release the discipline records of Officer Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner’s death. This, in combination with the change in policy around what had been a weekly posting of officer promotions and disciplinary action at NYPD headquarters has led to claims of backsliding on transparency and accountability.

“Without transparency about past disciplinary records when the CCRB finds an officer has committed misconduct, how can there be any real accountability?” asked Council Member Lander in a statement. “[I]f the NYPD can dismiss or downgrade the CCRB's charges secretly, and the public never knows about patterns of repeat offenders, how can communities be asked to trust the system? That’s why we are deeply distressed by the NYPD’s recent decision to suddenly reverse course on a decades-old practice of transparency, and why we’re joining the call today to release records pertaining to complaints against Officer Daniel Pantaleo.”

Pantaleo has been on modified duty since Garner’s death, but he continues to draw his NYPD salary, and was even found to be collecting significant overtime pay -- something that the NYPD quickly moved to address when Politico New York reported it. Overtime limits or not, modified duty is not enough for Pantaleo or other officers accused of wrongdoing, advocates for reform say.

Monifa Bandele said her teenage children are told the rules at school, but if they violate them, there are consequences. “Accountability is what we want from Bill de Blasio,” she said. “He’s done great things,” she added, noting universal pre-kindergarten and paid sick leave, “but what about policing -- this is an issue that Bill de Blasio ran on...it’s what separated him from the rest of the pack.”

It’s unclear at this point what “the pack” will look like as the mayor seeks re-election in 2017, but Bandele said “I don’t know” when asked if de Blasio has done enough good to warrant her support this time around. She indicated there’s still time for him to show real commitment to police reform by focusing on the transparency and accountability elements.

Congressional Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio and is talked about as a potential mayoral candidate, though he has said he is not planning to run. At a September press conference outside NYPD headquarters, Jeffries said, “The administration said to us that they would be transparent as it relates to the issue of the police and the tension with the community. Instead, they’ve retreated, and declined to provide information on rogue officers who don’t deserve to wear the blue uniform any further. The de Blasio administration promised the people of the City of New York that we would receive meaningful police reform and instead we’ve gotten more of the same. That is shameful. And we will no longer tolerate it.”

Public opinion polls consistently show de Blasio with strong support among African-Americans, especially relative to white New Yorkers. Asked about this and whether people of color should support de Blasio, Council Member Williams said, “Well I think none of our support should be taken for granted so I would tell my constituents ‘don’t give anybody your support without asking hard questions and having them respond.’”

As for whether he plans to back de Blasio (seven of Williams’ colleagues recently announced their endorsements of the mayor for re-election), Williams said, “He’s the person I supported before, I think I am inclined to still support him, but not without hearing a lot of answers on police reform issues and housing issues, these are really affecting my constituents because I think there are glaring problems in what we want to accomplish in this city and what’s been done.”

“There has been movement,” Williams added, making sure to acknowledge progress. “We said we were going to push wholesale, systematic differences and changes and I don’t think that’s come about and people have a right to hear, well, ‘why hasn’t it and what’s going to be different in the next campaign?’ So all i’m going to tell my constituents: let’s wait and hear what those answers are.”

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Monifa and Lumumba Bandele are married. Separately, this reporter noticed the Lumumba Bandele tweet mentioned in the beginning of the story and came across Monifa Bandele at the press conference mentioned, later confirming the relationship.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Bill de Blasio’s Police Accountability Problem Wed, 28 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000