Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/272 Thu, 12 Dec 2019 06:16:29 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Council Hearing Points to Problems with City's 'Batterer Intervention' Programs to Reduce Domestic Violence https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8942-domestic-violence-focus-city-council-examines-batterer-prevention-programs https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8942-domestic-violence-focus-city-council-examines-batterer-prevention-programs council comm womens

Council Member Rosenthal (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council’s Committee on Women and Gender Equity and Committee on the Justice System held a joint hearing on Wednesday to examine the effectiveness of the city’s programs meant to reduce domestic violence by holding abusive partners accountable through treatment and rehabilitation. But representatives of the de Blasio administration could not provide metrics about how many programs there are currently in place across the city or how they are working. And even as the city is exploring new initiatives both inside and outside the justice system, an outside expert testified that the approach may suffer from a major flaw.

“As violent crime rates continue to drop across the five boroughs annually, the rates of domestic violence have remained pervasive,” Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the women and gender equity committee, noted in her opening remarks.

Between 2010 and 2018, according to city data, there were 599 domestic violence murders, accounting for 17.6% of the 3,412 murders in that time. The number of domestic violence murders rose to 55 last year, compared to 50 in 2017. Of the 55 murders, 30 were at the hands of an intimate partner, up from 26 in 2017. Just this month, two women have been murdered by their abusive husbands.

Rosenthal and Council Member Rory Lancman, a Queens Democrat who chairs the Committee on the Justice System, held the hearing to seek metrics and research from administration officials about the city’s Batterer Intervention Programs (BIPs), also known as Abusive Partner Intervention Programs (APIPs), that involve providing psycho-therapy and education to abusers to make them take responsibility for their pattern of behavior.

“While such programs have existed in some form or another for over 30 years, there is little proof that these programs actually put a stop to domestic violence, and reforms are necessary,” Rosenthal said.

According to a City Council analysis, the budget for the current fiscal year (FY2020) includes $11.1 million in funding for BIPs run by three city agencies – the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV), the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), the Administration for Children’s Service – and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

There are two tracks of the city’s efforts to work with abusive partners through BIPs: one involves those that are mandated by the courts to participate in programming, and a separate incipient approach deals with voluntary treatment for abusive intimate partners. The mandated programs, for instance, require an individual to attend a one-hour educational session every week for 24 weeks, where they are taught to recognize and take responsibility for their abusive actions.

Hannah Pennington, Assistant Commissioner for Policy and Training at ENDGBV, and Deanna Logan, Deputy Director of Crime Strategies at MOCJ, detailed the various efforts the city is undertaking along those tracks. But neither could point to definitive success.

When Lancman pressed them for a list of all court-mandated programs operating in the city, they could not provide one, though they did promise to cobble together a list by working with the Office of Court Administration by the end of the year.

“It's concerning that the city’s represented by two agencies that I would think would be most responsible for knowing what is going on in our courts when it comes to Batterer Intervention Programs, BIPs...and you don't know,” Lancman said.

Lancman’s focus was on the court-ordered program, specifically the Power and Control (PAC) program that is run by MOCJ to provide educational programming rather than punishment to domestic abusers. Logan, however, could not provide metrics of success on PAC programs that have been in place since 2018, though she said she had requested them. She also noted that the city has contracts for providing such services to only about 450 individuals.

Pennington stressed that the de Blasio administration’s work marked a shift in the paradigm, “and a willingness to innovate, and a willingness to look at different models and a willingness to work to create a new evidence base, and actually to identify gaps that existed because we haven't talked about non-mandated community-based programs.”

She emphasized that the city’s approach had grown out of a collaborative, yearslong effort beginning with a roundtable in 2015 convened by ENDGBV and the Coalition on Working With Abusive Partners. That led to the creation of the Interagency Working Group on New York City’s Blueprint for Abusive Partner Intervention. The IWG worked with the Center for Court Innovation and Purvi Shah, an independent expert, to publish the Seeding Generations report that made recommendations for a citywide approach to abusive partner intervention.

The result of those efforts was the Interrupting Violence at Home initiative, launched last year, which takes a multipronged approach to tackling abusive partner violence outside the justice system. It includes engaging community-based organizations to provide batterer intervention services, for which the city is currently soliciting contract applications.

It is also meant to help develop a proven methodology for batterer intervention programming. “We want to look at the intervention as we're creating it to see that we are creating an intervention that actually is effective and that is responsive to the needs of abusive partners,” Pennington said.

“The way we are viewing this initiative and all the components of Interrupting Violence at Home is that there is an opportunity to build an evidence base of best practices,” she added.

But Pennington’s testimony was, in part, undermined by Dr. Linda Mills, professor and executive director of the NYU Center on Violence and Recovery, who has studied treatment programs for domestic violence offenders for 20 years.

“Studies suggest there is little evidence that BIPs are effective in reducing subsequent violence,” she said, citing a recent study she published along with research partner Dr. Briana Barocas. She said that BIPs are more effective when combined with other treatment approaches including restorative justice, cognitive behavioral treatment, and acceptance and commitment therapy.

To the city’s credit, as Pennington noted, the Interrupting Violence at Home initiative is focused on all those various aspects as it develops BIPs. The initiative is, in part, focused on implementing restorative justice practices in community-based interventions targeting domestic violence. ENDGBV and MOCJ also contracted the Center for Court Innovation to create the Dignity and Respect curriculum for court-mandated BIPs for male abusive partners. The curriculum relies on cognitive-behavioral methods to help abusers change their behavior.

Rosenthal said she was “disheartened” that the city was essentially tackling domestic violence as a relatively new issue, by only issuing contracts for community-based services four years after the ENDGBV roundtable, instead of giving it the urgency needed. “I'm just a little baffled to understand that we're not farther along,” she said.

She also pointed out that the need for services seemed to outweigh the supply, noting that district attorneys across the city handle tens of thousands of domestic violence-related cases each year.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez testified that his office deals with 10,000 such annually, the majority of which are classified as misdemeanors. But, he said at the hearing that his office sends very few domestic violence offenders to batterer intervention programs, either because they do not agree to participate or because of the costs that individuals cannot afford, and questions about the effectiveness of programs. “For even those who agree to participate, there is currently very little evidence tracking the efficacy of these programs,” he said, noting that he was reluctant to recommend disposing of a case through a BIP without concrete proof of success.

Several advocates also testified at Tuesday’s hearing, exhorting the City Council and administration to focus on pretrial services and programs that do not involve the criminal justice system.

Piyali Basak, supervising attorney at the Integrated Criminal-Family Defense Unit at Brooklyn Defender Services said BIPs should be free like most other court-mandated programs, and that the programs should be offered in the city’s ten designated languages to expand access, particularly in immigrant communities.

Audacia Ray, director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, noted a glaring lapse in the city’s current programs. “At this time, there are no LGBTQ-specific abusive partner intervention programs in New York State, and few programs that will serve women who are identified as abusive partners,” she said in her written testimony. Ray urged the Council to work with the mayor to increase funding to provide free programs that are “culturally responsive, inclusive, and affirming across the spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation, with specific programming designed to work with LGBTQ people who have caused hard to their intimate partners.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Council Hearing Points to Problems with City's 'Batterer Intervention' Programs to Reduce Domestic Violence Wed, 20 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
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
State Senator Brian Benjamin Explores Run for City Comptroller https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8790-state-senator-brian-benjamin-explores-run-for-city-comptroller https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8790-state-senator-brian-benjamin-explores-run-for-city-comptroller senator state a

State Senator Brian Benjamin, left, with Comptroller Scott Stringer (photo: @NYSenBenjamin)


The 2021 primary for New York City Comptroller may be 21 months away, but there are already three declared Democratic candidates in the race, and another has now indicated he’s exploring a run. State Senator Brian Benjamin, who represents Upper Manhattan, announced on Thursday that he is testing the waters for a potential bid for comptroller and said he would explore over the next year, including a 2020 Senate reelection campaign, to see if his candidacy is viable.

“I believe that the decisions I have made over my life have really set me up to be uniquely qualified to serve in this role,” Benjamin said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, citing his work as an affordable housing developer, an investment advisor, and Harvard Business School graduate.

Should he choose to run, Benjamin would likely face New York City Council Members Brad Lander and Helen Rosenthal and Assemblymember David Weprin, as well as others who may enter the field ahead of the June 2021 primary, which is likely to be decisive in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. Incumbent Comptroller Scott Stringer will be term-limited out of office in 2021 and is running for mayor.

Benjamin, whose district includes Harlem, the Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights, said he will begin to raise funds and drum up support, setting a deadline of November 2020, after he likely earns another two-year legislative term and the presidential election has wrapped up, to make his ultimate decision. “I think a year is enough time to see how it's going,” he said. “Have I raised sufficient resources? Am I getting support of people thinking that I would be a good candidate in that role?”

The comptroller serves as the city’s top fiscal officer, overseeing how city agencies expend resources and auditing their performance, reviewing and approving city contracts, monitoring the city budget, and enforcing the living wage and prevailing wage laws. The comptroller also acts as the fiduciary to the city’s pension funds, worth more than $200 billion. That’s a role that Benjamin says he takes very seriously, particularly as the son of two union workers.

“I've actually done this in the private sector before being a senator,” he said of his investment management experience on Wall Street. He said he could use the pension funds to finance the creation of affordable housing and stem the city’s homelessness crisis. And he proposed creating a public bank to provide loans to affordable housing developers. “A public pension fund has to be mindful of the needs of its constituency,” he said.

He also emphasized that his finance background positions him well to oversee city spending. “It's not my decision as the comptroller to determine where the resources go,” he said. “That’s the mayor's job, the City Council's job. I do believe there's a role for someone to be the chief financial officer to say, ‘Okay, wait a second. Let's evaluate the decisions that have been made, and provide some analysis around whether or not it has accomplished the things that you expected to accomplish when you made the investment.’”

“There is a real role for someone to not be the decider, but to be an analyzer, to be an accountability person,” he added.

Benjamin did praise Stringer’s work in the office and said he would build on it. Two entities he said he would focus on closely are the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the Department of Education.

Along with the other candidates, Benjamin said he would also participate in the city’s public matching funds program, which matches qualifying small dollar donations at an 8-to-1 or 6-to-1 ratio, depending on which of two programs candidates choose for the 2021 cycle. Benjamin said he would aim for the higher match, which comes with lower contribution limits, and also said he would refuse all contributions from individuals who have business with the city.

“I believe very strongly that anybody running should be able to convince ordinary everyday citizens that they are the right person for the job,” he said. Benjamin has over $280,000 in his state campaign account, though it’s unlikely he’d be able to transfer all of it to a city account.

Lander leads the early race in fundraising by a wide margin and has been the most active in working to secure allies and endorsements. He has about $204,000 in his campaign coffers; Rosenthal has about $67,000; Weprin has just under $50,000 but also owes the Campaign Finance Board nearly $320,000 in public funds repayments from his race for comptroller in 2009. 

Next year, Benjamin will be up for reelection to his Senate seat but he doesn’t believe his eye on the comptroller’s race will distract him from his work. Even if it prompts primary challenges, he welcomes them. “Anyone who believes they will be a better senator than me, they should put themselves forward,” he said. “I'm not one of those people who believe in being fearful of whether someone runs against you or not.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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State Senator Brian Benjamin Explores Run for City Comptroller Thu, 12 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Fixing the City’s Broken System that Puts the Social Safety Net at Risk https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8682-fixing-the-city-s-broken-system-that-puts-the-social-safety-net-at-risk https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8682-fixing-the-city-s-broken-system-that-puts-the-social-safety-net-at-risk speaker m mv cm helen westside

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The recently-passed New York City budget greenlights billions of dollars to some of the most vital programs across the five boroughs. These dollars will help to fund homeless shelters, emergency food pantries, senior services, mental health services, and early childcare for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

The City of New York contracts with over 1,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) to provide these essential human services at a cost of $6 billion annually. But thanks to the City’s broken procurement system, CBOs are forced to wait a very, very long time to see their money. In fact, according to a recent Comptroller’s report, human service providers wait an average of 221 days before being reimbursed for services and labor they have already provided.

Under the current system, CBOs are forced to essentially cover the City’s costs and then wait over seven months on average for payment, which, when it arrives, doesn’t cover their actual costs. What private business would accept -- or be able to operate under -- these terms?

This awful status quo persists because there are virtually no timelines attached to the City’s procurement process, which allows bureaucrats to sit on contracts and deprive local nonprofits of desperately needed funds. After a contract is awarded, it goes through the supervising agency’s review process, then to the mayor’s office, and, if all goes well, on to the comptroller for registration. Only the comptroller is subject to a time limit, however, which is 30 days.

As a result, 80 percent of all contracts issued by the City are currently delivered late, with a whopping 89 percent of human services contracts arriving tardy. For nonprofits and charities that provide crucial citywide services, these delays can be catastrophic. Since these organizations cannot close their doors to those in need, many opt to take on loans. The problem is, these loans often come with interest. 

One study estimated that late contracts cost New York City nonprofits a staggering $774 million in 2018 ($756 million in negative cash flow and another $18 million in associated financing costs). This is up from $675 million in 2017.

Think of the critical services -- for the elderly, young children, and disabled people -- that could have been provided by the $18 million lost to interest payments.

This burdensome debt not only drags down the vital services that CBOs can provide, but also threatens the livelihood of their employees. As Human Services Council Executive Director Allison Sesso writes, human service workers “increasingly find themselves in the very same position as their clients -- in need of social service assistance to provide for their families.” The financial strain also disproportionately affects already marginalized populations, as women and people of color represent 85% and 75% of human service workers, respectively. In an industry with already high employee turnover, the City should be doing everything in its power to bolster, not undermine, these organizations’ finances.

This is why we are introducing legislation that will help end the long delays within the City’s contracting process and bring relief to CBOs. Our legislation, Intro. 1627, would require the City’s Procurement Policy Board to establish time limits on each bureaucratic phase of the procurement process for any contract exceeding $100,000. The limits would be developed in consultation with each contracting agency and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS).

Not only will this legislation help CBOs and other human services providers be paid in a timely manner, it will also require MOCS to report publicly on each agency’s adherence to the time limits, providing the public with a necessary source of accountability.

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.

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City Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Ben Kallos represent Manhattan districts. On Twitter @HelenRosenthal and @BenKallos.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Fixing the City’s Broken System that Puts the Social Safety Net at Risk Thu, 18 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Assemblymember David Weprin Plots City Comptroller Campaign https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8684-assemblymember-david-weprin-plots-city-comptroller-campaign https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8684-assemblymember-david-weprin-plots-city-comptroller-campaign comptroller david weprin

(photo: David Weprin for Comptroller, 2009)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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

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Assemblymember David Weprin Plots City Comptroller Campaign Fri, 19 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Takes Stock of City's Efforts to Help Victims of Domestic Violence https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8634-council-takes-stock-of-city-s-efforts-to-help-victims-of-domestic-violence https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8634-council-takes-stock-of-city-s-efforts-to-help-victims-of-domestic-violence first lady chirlane annual dom vio

Annual Gladys Ricard and Victims of Domestic Violence Memorial Walk/Brides' March (2016) (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The City Council held an oversight hearing Monday to discuss an annual report on domestic violence in New York City, including city initiatives to help victims. The hearing featured testimony from Cecile Noel, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV), and advocacy groups.

“As more survivors come forward to report abuse we must make sure the city is capturing the demand for services,” said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Council’s Committee on Women and Gender Equity, at the hearing. Indicators continue to show that reports of domestic violence are on the rise in the city, though it’s unclear if that is more a result of victims reporting the abuse than more incidents actually taking place.

ENDGBV was re-launched in 2018 by Mayor Bill de Blasio to develop policies, organize training, and operate the New York City Family Justice Centers, among other responsibilities. With one located in each borough, Family Justice Centers connect survivors of domestic and gender-based violence with organizations that provide case management, economic empowerment, counseling, civil legal, and criminal legal assistance. Many of these services are located within the Family Justice Center, so survivors only need to go to one location.

In 2018, 25,222 different clients visited a Family Justice Center, according to ENDGVB statistics, and made a total of over 65,000 visits to the centers.

The new report - the first of its kind mandated by a recent city law - and the Council hearing, come at a time of higher reporting of domestic violence in the city. While the “Me Too Movement” and associated cultural awareness has brought more attention over the last few years to domestic violence and sexual assault, after spiking, NYPD “radio runs” responding to alleged or suspected domestic violence decreased slightly last year.

Police officers responded to 241,584 domestic violence calls in 2018, down from 245,577 in 2017, according to an NYPD spokesperson. Police officers received 287,549 domestic violence incident reports in 2017, a number that dropped by about 5,000 in 2018, according to the spokesperson. More domestic violence incident reports were received by the NYPD in 2017 than in any year since 2014.

However, the number of felony assault complaints related to domestic violence increased from 7,800 in 2017 to 8,200 in 2018, according to data from the NYPD’s website.

A dozen years ago, in 2007, 4.8 percent of all major crimes in the city were related to domestic violence. In 2016, domestic violence constituted 11.6 percent -- a function of both most other major crimes continuing to drop and reporting of domestic violence increasing.

Domestic violence was a factor in 17.5 percent of homicides and 20 percent of assaults in the city in 2017, according to ENDGVB’s annual report. The number of homicides related to domestic violence increased from 51 in 2017 to 54 in 2018, according to NYPD statistics. There were just under 300 total murders in the city in each of those years, meaning roughly one in six murders in the city are related to domestic violence.

Vulnerable New Yorkers are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, especially low-income New Yorkers and people of color, Council Member Rosenthal pointed out at the hearing.

While Family Justice Centers provide integral services to often underserved communities, they are still in need of improvements, said Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat. Rosenthal highlighted the significant number of New Yorkers that speak a language other than English, and the challenges posed to them by using a contracted interpretation service to communicate at Family Justice Centers.

To communicate with clients who do not speak English, Family Justice Centers employ Voiance, a telephonic interpretation contractor. Rosenthal pressed Noel on the sensitivity of the subject requiring interpretation, suggesting that interpreters should receive training on how to discuss trauma with survivors.

“Given the inherently sensitive nature of this work and what we’ve learned about the implications for people who are not trained for survivors, it would be of the interest of the committee and the counsel to find out how that’s working out,” Rosenthal said at the hearing. “Perhaps there should be more preventative training for these workers,” she said.

“To every degree possible we make sure the contractor understands both the Family Justice Center and our issues,” Noel said. “We don’t provide direct training to Voiance but if issues come up that present any problem to the contractor those are immediately addressed.”

The language barrier has not gotten in the way of the Family Justice Centers doing the work, Noel said. Every one of the unique clients who visited a Family Justice Center in 2018 filled out a client intake form, the first step in receiving services.

Rosenthal encouraged the Family Justice Centers to bolster their economic empowerment initiatives. ENDGVB operates a learning lab at the Manhattan Family Justice Center, increasing the capacity of ENDGVB’s existing four-month career training program by 50 percent. Learning labs do not exist at Family Justice Centers in any other borough.

“We are aware of no public investments specifically allocated to workforce programming for gender-based violence survivors,” said Sarah Hayes, Deputy Director of Economic Empowerment Program at Sanctuary for Families, a group providing services for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.

While the Family Justice Centers track their visitors and the services they use, they do not track from where the clients are referred.

“A tracking mechanism is essential because it will tell us where the bulk of our constituents are coming from and will allow us to better engage with them,” Council Member Diana Ayala said at the hearing.

De Blasio has taken several steps to address domestic violence as incident reports have grown, introducing in 2017 the Domestic Violence Task Force, which invested nearly $11 million in programs to enhance legal protections for survivors of domestic violence and improve education on the issue, according to a press release from that year.

“This report sends a loud and clear message – we will not tolerate domestic violence, survivors have the City’s full support, and abusers must be held accountable. We will do everything we can to ensure that New York City is safer for everyone, everywhere, at all times,” de Blasio said in a May 2017 press release announcing the results of the task force’s report. As the city saw increased domestic violence reporting, de Blasio and other city officials were pushed to take action.

In 2018, de Blasio signed bills to combat workplace sexual harassment, expand the city’s paid leave laws to employees who are survivors of domestic violence, and enacted ENDGBV by executive order, mandating the city to address and coordinate a response to domestic violence.

First Lady Chirlane McCray has taken a primary role in the city’s efforts to combat domestic violence, announcing in 2018 Interrupting Violence At Home, a citywide program to address domestic violence through services, training, and intervention for abusive partners who are not involved in the criminal justice system.

“Any kind of violence is unacceptable. But as we keep survivors and families safe, we must also do everything we can to intervene directly with their abusive partners,” McCray said in a 2018 press release announcing the initiative. “Hurt people hurt people.”

The Council committee also discussed on Monday a resolution to encourage the federal passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019. The Violence Against Women Act was first passed under President Bill Clinton in 1994, but must be renewed by Congress. The bill has been renewed in every subsequent administration and was last renewed in 2013.

The bill passed in the House of Representatives in April, but has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Opposition to the bill has focused on a provision, known as the “boyfriend loophole,” that would make it easier for law enforcement to strip perpetrators of domestic violence of their guns.

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Council Takes Stock of City's Efforts to Help Victims of Domestic Violence Wed, 26 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
First City Agency Workplace-Climate Survey Under New Law Raises Questions, Concerns https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8541-first-city-agency-workplace-climate-survey-under-new-law-raises-questions-concerns https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8541-first-city-agency-workplace-climate-survey-under-new-law-raises-questions-concerns cm francisco moya

(photo: Jeff Reed/City Council)


Last year, amid a national awakening about sexual harassment spurred by the #MeToo movement, the New York City Council passed a package of legislation. Among other things, it required the city to disclose more data about harassment claims and to undertake workplace climate surveys about harassment, discrimination, and other issues in order to create action plans and make improvements.

But the first climate survey results were recently delivered to the City Council and do not contain enough information to illuminate how different agencies handle the problem of harassment, said City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity. Rosenthal, who helped lead the charge on the Stop Sexual Harassment Act bill package, told Gotham Gazette the initial climate survey results have prompted her to prepare legislation requiring agency-specific climate survey data.

The climate survey of city agencies was conducted by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), which provided its report to the mayor’s office and the City Council. Gotham Gazette obtained the five-page report through a Freedom of Information Law request.

The survey, which was voluntary for respondents and anonymized, looked at how familiar agency employees were with the city’s Equal Employment Opportunity policies and complaint process, whether they experienced or witnessed workplace discrimination, and also how aware supervisors and managers were of EEO processes.

Of the respondents, 32.4% were supervisors and managers; 59.5% identified as female; 85.5% said they were heterosexual. (The survey broke down the respondents by age, racial background, gender and sexual identity).

Overall, a majority of respondents (the report does not say how many were polled, the law only requires the survey to be offered to all employees) said they were familiar with EEO policies and had received training within the last year, that they had not personally experienced or witnessed discrimination of any type, and that their workplace was safe from EEO violations.

“I commend them for taking the first step,” Rosenthal said, “But..I’m disappointed that their takeaway thoughts are pretty light. It’s thin, it’s just thin.”

Pointing to the report’s general conclusions, she said, “The majority of respondents know the policies, did not personally experience [discrimination], and they indicate their work is safe. Well how do we even know what standard DCAS is comparing this to?”

Data released by the city earlier this year showed that the Department of Education accounted for a majority of sexual harassment complaints -- 186 out of 472 complaints filed in the 2018 fiscal year. What may be true of one agency, DCAS for instance, where there were only eight complaints filed, may not be true of the Department of Education. “So that’s just an out of context assertion that I dont think is valid,” Rosenthal said of the notion that the majority of respondents find their workplaces safe. “I’d like to see a little more rigor there.”

The Manhattan Democrat emphasized that the results are too general and occlude the differences between agencies. For instance, while only 9.6% of respondents said they had personally experienced sexual harassment at work, 14.2% said they had witnessed instances of sexual harassment.

“That could’ve been an interesting finding that they culled out, and say well what does that mean? What does that tell us? Does that mean that people are not reporting? That could be the takeaway. And that’s concerning.” Rosenthal said.

Responses about agency procedures and environments were also of concern to Rosenthal. Asked if their workplace was “safe and free of violations of the EEO policy,” 61.5% said they strongly agree or agree; 18.9% said they strongly disagree or disagree; and 19.7% were neutral on the question. “The truth of the matter is, that’s not a slam dunk for them,” Rosenthal said.

“I suppose if you had the information by agency, then you would see which agencies need a serious action plan,” she added.

Spokespersons for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not provide comment on the results of the survey or whether they would support Rosenthal’s proposal to disaggregate data by agency. A spokesperson for de Blasio said “Sexual harassment has no place in the City of New York. The de Blasio Administration is committed to preventing sexual harassment – and all other forms of discrimination – inside and outside of the workplace. We look forward to reviewing the bill.”

About 92.4% of respondents said they were familiar with the city’s EEO policy and 84% said they knew how to file a formal complaint about an EEO violation. But only 57.4% said they knew how EEO complaints were processed after being filed. The report did acknowledge this last statistic, and concluded that more training and communication would be required to make employees more aware of the process after a complaint is submitted. Under the law, DCAS will be required to create an action plan to implement this change by the end of the year, with a report due on actions taken by March 31 of next year. Another survey will also be carried out in July 2020.

Besides sexual harassment, the survey also examined discrimination based on age, gender, racial and ethnic background, religious background, disability status, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, military status, partnership status, a category called “Predisposing Genetic Characteristics/Genetic Information,” prior record of arrest or conviction, and for victims of domestic violence.

Agencies generally performed well, save for a few major categories: about 16.8% of respondents said they had experienced racial or ethnic discrimination, while 20.8% said they had witnessed it; 11% said they experienced gender discrimination, and 13.2% said they had witnessed it; 10.5% said they experienced age discrimination, and 14.5% said they had witnessed it.

Here are a few of the other highlights of the survey:
-70.6% strongly agreed or agreed that their “rights are protected to pursue [their] duties in a respectful workplace”; 14.3% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 15.1% were neutral on the question.

-67.3% strongly agreed or agreed that they felt protected from workplace harassment; 16.2% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 16.6% were neutral on the question.

-61.1% strongly agreed or agreed that they are treated equally and fairly; 20.6% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 18.3% were neutral on the question.

-63.7% strongly agreed or agreed that steps are taken to prevent violations of the EEO policy; 13.8% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 22.5% were neutral on the question.

-59.7% strongly agreed or agreed that violations of EEO policy are taken seriously and investigated; 12.9% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 27.4% were neutral on the question.

-51.2% strongly agreed or agreed that adequate response is provided to those employees who have experienced and submitted claims of violations of EEO policy; 12% said they strongly disagree or disagree; 36.9% were neutral on the question.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been corrected to note that the Department of Education had the highest number of harassment complaints filed in 2018, not the Department of Investigation.

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First City Agency Workplace-Climate Survey Under New Law Raises Questions, Concerns Tue, 21 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Member Rosenthal Pursues Legislation to Create City Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8540-council-member-rosenthal-legislation-to-create-office-of-sexual-harassment-prevention https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8540-council-member-rosenthal-legislation-to-create-office-of-sexual-harassment-prevention cm h rosenthal during p

Council Member Rosenthal, center (photo: William Alatriste\New York City Council)


City Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Committee on Women and Gender Equity, plans to introduce legislation to create an Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention within the mayor’s office, she told Gotham Gazette on Monday night.

Rosenthal, who recently spearheaded passage of sweeping anti-harassment legislation, made a request to draft Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention bill following a recent Gotham Gazette report about a 1993 executive order signed by former Mayor David Dinkins that would’ve created such an office, but was never put into effect.

“I think it’s an exciting idea,” Rosenthal said. “Let’s see where it would fit in to start and then what is its mission, what it would have authority over. There are a lot of important questions that have to be answered.” Those answers would come in both the bill-drafting and legislative hearing and negotiation phases.

[READ: A Citywide Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention? It Almost Happened 25 Years Ago]

In 1993, Dinkins signed an executive order to create the Citywide Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention on a pilot basis for two years. The order was a response to a sexual harassment scandal that led to the resignation of a top Dinkins aide, and followed a larger push by then-Comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman to reform anti-sexual harassment policies at city agencies.

But the order was signed two weeks before Dinkins’ term ended, giving him insufficient time to implement it. His successor, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, did not put it into effect and the order lapsed.

Last year, amid the #MeToo movement, New York City officials woke to the issue of sexual harassment, and the City Council passed a slew of new bills aimed at improving how city agencies and the private sector deal with workplace harassment. Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bills into law.

De Blasio’s administration then released data on instances of sexual harassment at agencies, and admitted to flaws in the standards for reporting and assessing harassment. The latest data released by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services showed that 472 complaints of sexual harassment were filed in the 2018 fiscal year, and 243 of those were resolved (569 complaints were resolved overall in that period).

Rosenthal has asked the Council’s bill drafting unit to begin creating the legislative framework for a mayoral office that would be dedicated to handling those complaints. Currently, sexual harassment falls under the purview of several agencies and commissions -- the Commission on Human Rights, the Commission on Gender Equity, the Equal Employment Practices Commission. But the CHR and the EEPC existed when Dinkins signed his executive order as well, and sexual harassment has far from ceased to be an issue despite their existence, which is why Rosenthal said a new agency or office would not be duplicative.

Rosenthal’s committee is set to hold a hearing to assess how, or whether, the administration has indeed stepped up enforcement against sexual harassment. (A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, May 22, but has since been deferred. It’s unclear when it will be rescheduled.)

“I would guess the administration would say they’re [enforcing] it now and then in our hearing we’re gonna see whether or not they can demonstrate that,” Rosenthal said. 

To emphasize the need for a standalone office, she pointed to the Department of Education. Of the 472 sexual harassment complaints filed in the 2018 fiscal year, 186 complaints were at the DOE (which can in part be explained by the fact that the DOE has the largest number of city employees of any agency or department).

But, Rosenthal noted, DOE still has only one federal Title IX coordinator whose task it is to monitor complaints of discrimination based on sex, compared with a Title IX office of 20 people in Chicago, a much smaller city with a school system barely one-third the size of New York City’s. “If we had an office that was only looking at sexual harassment, and had we had that for the past 25 years, we’d be in a different spot,” she said.

There’s a long road ahead for any legislation, Rosenthal conceded, but she’s hoping she can introduce it before her committee holds its next hearing. Besides the usual delays in drafting most legislation, there’s likely to be thorny issues in the possibility of creating an entirely new office with a mission that overlaps with other agencies. But Rosenthal says her effort is not merely symbolic. “I wouldn’t want it to be,” she said. “If all it’s going to be is a symbolic gesture, then that’s not meaningful.”

Asked about Rosenthal's pursuit of the legislation, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Marcy Miranda, said by email: “Sexual harassment has no place in the City of New York. The de Blasio Administration is committed to preventing sexual harassment – and all other forms of discrimination – inside and outside of the workplace. We look forward to reviewing the bill.”

A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not provide comment for this article.

[READ: A Citywide Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention? It Almost Happened 25 Years Ago]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Council Member Rosenthal Pursues Legislation to Create City Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention Tue, 21 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
A Citywide Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention? It Almost Happened 25 Years Ago https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8508-a-citywide-office-for-sexual-harassment-prevention-it-almost-happened-25-years-ago https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8508-a-citywide-office-for-sexual-harassment-prevention-it-almost-happened-25-years-ago mayor chirlane david

Former Mayor David Dinkins, left, with Chirlane McCray (photo: Edwin J. Torres/City Council)


In October 1992, amid sexual harassment scandals that rocked his administration, former Mayor David Dinkins created a task force to examine the issue of sexual harassment in city government. The task force, chaired by late Congressional Rep. Bella Abzug, who led the larger Commission on the Status of Women, submitted its report to the mayor the next year in November, recommending that the city create a Citywide Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention.

The following month, in December 1993 and just two weeks before his mayoralty ended, Dinkins heeded the recommendation and signed an executive order to establish that citywide office as a pilot for two years.

The office was to advise and counsel city employees on sexual harassment issues, as well as mediate when allegations were made. It would be mandated to investigate formal complaints of harassment and discrimination, and recommend disciplinary measures. It was to monitor how city agencies dealt with harassment, evaluate the effectiveness of harassment trainings for employees, and be required to submit quarterly reports on its work to the mayor. And it was to maintain a central repository of formal and informal sexual harassment complaints.

But as administrations switched, Dinkins’ eleventh-hour executive order was lost to the pages of the municipal archives -- the Citywide Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention was never established. The Rudolph Giuliani administration does not seem to have paid any attention to the executive order, which lapsed after its two-year lifespan without being specifically rescinded.

Twenty-five years later, the #MeToo movement’s focus on addressing sexual harassment triggered a cultural paradigm shift across the country and beyond. The New York City Council took stock and passed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, a package of 11 new laws to prevent sexual harassment in the public and private sector, through a push led by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity.

New York State also passed similar legislation last year to address sexual harassment, and more recently held its first public hearing on workplace harassment in nearly three decades, with additional change to the law being pushed by advocates and victims this year and another hearing scheduled for May 24.

A spokesperson for former Mayor Dinkins, who currently teaches at Columbia University, said there was insufficient time to implement the order before his term ended.

“I’ve never heard of it and I’ve been around in almost every administration since,” said Dr. Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who served as former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s director of the Department of Personnel, under whom the citywide sexual harassment prevention office would have been established under the order. “In retrospect, it would’ve been a wonderful thing. It’s a horrible thing for any human being to go through those kinds of things.”

When Giuliani came to power, Barrios-Paoli said the administration’s immediate focus was civil service reform and drastically cutting down the city’s workforce. “I don’t recall [the sexual harassment office] ever coming up with me,” she said, lamenting the lost time on addressing the issue. In city leadership, she said, “There was so little awareness of that those days. The consciousness was just not there.”

“I don’t think there was a woman that was exempt. We didn’t think there was any recourse,” she said of harassment in the workplace. “What happens in the change of administration is a lot of things fall by the wayside unless they have a champion.”

The creation of Dinkins’ task force led by Abzug owed largely to the efforts of former Congressional Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, who was City Comptroller during Dinkins’ term and attempted to examine sexual harassment policies in city agencies only to find a dearth of information.

Only two agencies responded to Holtzman’s requests for information, the Department of Transportation and the Fire Department, and they woefully misunderstood and mishandled the issue of sexual harassment, Holtzman said in a phone interview. “Both responses showed that neither agency understood what the legal requirements were, how to enforce the law and...the people who were victimized by sexual harassment were revictimized by reporting and the people who were perpetrators were allowed to get away with, at worst, a slap on the wrist,” she said.

The glaring lack of a standard across agencies should have invited “a major citywide response,” she said, and Dinkins’ executive order came much too late. “I’m not surprised about Mr. Giuliani’s indifference to sexual harassment. We can see that from his present employment. But I am surprised that both Mayor Bloomberg and Mayor de Blasio have turned a deaf ear to it as well. It’s not a good sign,” Holtzman added, with reference to Giuliani’s work for President Trump, who has a history of misogyny and was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault.

“It just shows how important the MeToo movement is and it shows that nobody’s exempt, including the City of New York,” Holtzman continued, “and even though it wants to tell the country how liberal and progressive it is, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to sexual harassment, they’ve got a lot to account for.”

That accounting is meant to happen under the package of bills the Council passed, which include requirements for reporting on sexual harassment within city government, mandated anti-harassment trainings at city agencies and private employers, and required climate surveys and action plans from city agencies, besides strengthening existing anti-harassment protections.

Merrick Rossein, professor at CUNY School of Law, served on Dinkins’ sexual harassment task force and was also a commissioner on the Equal Employment Practices Commission under both Dinkins and Giuliani. “I do not recall if the Office was functioning by the time Giuliani took office in January 1994. He was hostile to all [Equal Employment Opportunity] enforcement,” Rossein said in an email.   

“The City was an early leader in addressing sexual harassment, including mandating training,” he added, noting that he conducted interactive sexual harassment trainings for Dinkins, his deputy mayors and the corporation counsel to show that the city was taking the issue seriously.

“The City should have followed through by establishing the recommended Citywide office. There have been too many cases of sexual harassment from that period until the #MeToo movement and the recent City Council legislation. Too many victims were harmed and tax payers were on the hook for the millions of dollars in settlements, court awards, and lost productivity caused by the disruption of failing to prevent or stop the harassment effectively. The recent legislation is helpful but still insufficient.”

As Rossein noted, the citywide office would have tackled many of the issues that became apparent in city government once the #MeToo movement pushed the New York City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to look inward at their own approach to a systemic problem.

After the passage of the Stop Sexual Harassment Act last year, the mayor released what data was available on the number of harassment complaints across city government, showing glaring discrepancies in how different agencies approached the issue. The mayor himself conceded that “what’s abundantly clear is there was not a single standard for ‘mayoral’ and ‘non-mayoral’ agencies.” Though de Blasio also downplayed complaints that had come through the Department of Education, remarks he later walked back, and has more recently faced intense scrutiny over his administration’s handling of harassment by his former acting chief of staff.

"Mayor Dinkins was a visionary leader who understood the importance of taking a stand against sexual harassment decades before the Me Too movement, and his executive order was a prime example. The spirit of this order lives on under the de Blasio Administration," said mayoral spokesperson Marcy Miranda in a statement. "Last year, the Mayor signed the Stop Sexual Harassment Act to address and prevent sexual harassment, and we continue looking at ways the City can improve its processes to reduce sexual harassment and all forms of EEO discrimination at work."

Council Member Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity, led the way on the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act and was shocked to learn that the city could have acted aggressively so long ago through Dinkins’ order. “What we’ve learned from the MeToo movement is that with focused attention on sexual harassment and experiences of sexual harassment, we are in the midst of changing the cultural tide that allows sexual harassment to continue,” she said. “I can only imagine how much farther along we would be if the...Giuliani administration would have implemented this executive order.”

Dinkins created his task force soon after his own office came under scrutiny for appointing a new deputy mayor who faced allegations of sexual harassment. Dinkins later defended the deputy mayor who would then resign from his post.

Now, the City Council is preparing to hold another hearing on sexual harassment policies next month, where it will examine the implementation of the laws passed last year. Rosenthal said she is waiting to hear if the mayoral administration is “resisting or embracing” the new policies. The Council is currently dealing with sexual harassment allegations against two of its members, and held a mandatory training on Wednesday at City Hall, which was, according to the Daily News, marred by outbursts from another member, Ruben Diaz Sr., who later told the Daily News that sometimes "sexual harassment is a compliment."

Asked if a citywide office would be worth creating, she said the Council would likely receive pushback from the administration. The Equal Employment Practices Commission and the city Commission on Human Rights both currently handle enforcement of laws against sexual harassment, and it’s possible a new agency would be duplicative, Rosenthal noted. But, she said, “I think we have to learn more from our reporting bills to see whether or not the administration is following through on our set of bills that we passed.”

Holtzman praised Rosenthal’s legislation and the overall package the Council approved, but she nonetheless believes the city needs a dedicated office to tackle sexual harassment. “It’s one thing to have reports and it’s another thing to have a commission that has its responsibility rooting out this problem,” she said. “Unless they can show it’s not a problem, why not?”

She continued, “You need to have a proper administrative structure. I remember when I was trying to deal with the problem of Nazi war criminals in America, the government had done nothing about them for more than 25 years and they were finding sanctuary in the United States. I did create an administrative structure in the Department of Justice, which had that as its mission. You have to give an agency a mission and monitor that agency to make sure it carries out that mission, and instead the message was to all city agencies, it’s not a serious problem.”

At the April 25, 2018 news conference when Mayor de Blasio, who worked in City Hall under Dinkins, addressed reporters’ questions about sexual harassment complaints, he noted that the #MeToo movement was leading to a sea change in city government. “So one thing that has come out of this very important movement, this emerged from a social movement in this country that demanded clearer answers from every segment of this society, is we’re aligning all standards on sexual harassment across all agencies,” he said. “And I think that’s going to make a big difference.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: The Long Fight for New City Sexual Harassment Laws, with Liz Holtzman and Helen Rosenthal]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

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A Citywide Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention? It Almost Happened 25 Years Ago Wed, 08 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000