Gotham Gazette Wed, 08 Jul 2020 12:10:34 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) James Oddo's Not Done Fighting the Bureaucracy, But He's Also Not Running for Mayor bp jim oddo press ferry

SI BP James Oddo, right, with Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

James Oddo, the outspoken Republican Staten Island Borough President, doesn’t want to talk about President Donald Trump or the contentious congressional race heating up in his borough, and says he won’t run for mayor of New York City or any other elected office ever again. But none of that’s to say that the zip is coming off Oddo’s trademark chin-music political fastball.

“The bureaucracy is too big and and the reality is but for one time—during Rudy Giuliani—that's when we were treated really well...So yeah, I would want to see us be our own city,” Oddo said of Staten Island secession from New York City, during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast.

Oddo, an avid baseball fan, was asked the question of the ongoing but recently rekindled debate about Staten Island becoming its own city, jump-started again as his fellow Staten Island Republicans, City Council Members Joe Borrelli and Steve Matteo, have now introduced legislation seeking a study of secession.

Oddo said that after Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican, gave Staten Island special treatment, it was dealt with fairly well, as “one of five,” under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent (and now Democrat again as he seeks the presidency), but frustrations have grown again under Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat.

As for de Blasio, whom Oddo considers a personal friend, he said: “The perception, whether it's the truth or not, let's put that aside; the perception of this administration from early on was they're not about delivering services. Well, it's the Mayor's Office; it’s the Department of City Planning; it’s the Department of Transportation. That's your job. And so my job is, instead of working with my partners in government, is too often dragging them along.”

“Some commissioners, some agencies...they want to work with you,” Oddo said, digging into one of his favorite topics: his battle with government bureaucracy. “Some aren’t led well and there’s bureaucracy... some agencies again are really responsive -- School Construction Authority...Lorraine Grillo: absolute best; City Planning: absolute worst; insular; indifferent defiant.”

Oddo emphasized that his goal as borough president has been to steer clear of partisan bickering and instead focus on improving the effectiveness of his office and the city agencies it interacts with on a daily basis in its efforts to provide better services to Staten Islanders.

“My mission was to get Staten Island a little better,” he said during the wide-ranging interview, reflecting on what will soon be six years as borough president. “I’ve never been ideological. I see my job as to establish relationships in order to get stuff done,” he said. As he often does, Oddo indicated that he works the phones and schedules meetings and pushes buttons in order to get answers and action from city agencies, but stressed that such progress shouldn’t depend on whether he can personally call the mayor and get him to spur a city commissioner to action.

Oddo continues to search for broader systemic change in how government does business. What does it ultimately come down to? Leadership at the top that establishes the right get-it-done culture, including striking the right balance of delegation and empowerment.

“You have to be hands on. You have to lead. You have to have to surround yourself with talented people who are leaders. You have to allow them to lead, but there's got to be accountability to you,” Oddo said.

A major difficulty in delivering effective government services comes down to a dysfunctional agency culture, Oddo said. City commissioners, for instance, enjoyed considerable power during the Bloomberg administration; Oddo called this the “golden era” of being a commissioner as Bloomberg kept many of the same officials for much or all of his 12 years, allowing the commissioners to run their departments without extensive outside accountability. The negative side of that era, Oddo said, is that those commissioners who were there a long time could become too calcified in their ways.

Local Issues
Oddo takes a very conservative approach to development on Staten Island, in part, he says, the island’s infrastructure can’t handle significant population growth and in part because Staten Islanders like their communities the way they are, and live on Staten Island to have something of a suburban lifestyle.

The borough president is frustrated by the recently-passed rezoning of part of northern Staten Island, which was led by the City Planning Department and approved by City Council Member Debi Rose, and he says the area isn’t ready for given its limited infrastructure.

“The biggest lesson in the history of Staten Island have to plan because we have no infrastructure,” Oddo said. “We already have three-and-a-half rush hours. We already have sewer backups in people’s homes. We already have communities that don’t have storm sewers. So, when you say you want to add density, you have to do it smartly and you have to put the investment in infrastructure.”

Oddo said he received support about combating “irrational development” from de Blasio, but that the results have been disappointing. The mayor charged City Planning with taking on the issue on Staten Island, but the department only created a working group, which met once, and no further action was taken, Oddo said.

But Oddo’s pleased with progress, in part due to his partnership with first-term Democratic Congressional Rep. Max Rose and federal funding, on the way in the form of an East Shore Seawall, as well as the coming expansion of the city’s fast ferry service to the borough.

Oddo’s list of priorities over his final two-plus years in office include implementation of the early phases of the seawall and the ferry service, continuation of his public health agenda, and devoting resources towards philanthropic organizations such as Meals and Wheels and Staten Island’s Children’s Aid Society.

“I don’t want to say it's, like, ‘It's personal, it's my time,’ but some of this is, when I look back, I want to make sure that, you know, I live true to my values,” he said, indicating repeatedly that he is focused on getting as much done as possible over the next two-plus years before he’s term-limited out of office.

Community health and wellness has been a major focus for Oddo, including efforts related to the proper amount of sleep, especially for young people. And Oddo argued that the benefits of investing in local health programs extend to all taxpayers.

“And if you're a taxpayer, if you are in my political party and you’re like, ‘What is Oddo doing on health and wellness? That's not what government should do,’ I could sit down and have a cold beer with him and I think make the argument from a very conservative point of view about as a taxpayer why I'm tired of paying for people's health care,” Oddo said.

On issues related to policing and crime in the borough, and the ongoing aftermath of the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, including the recent firing of NYPD Officer Daniel Panatalo, Oddo expressed overall optimism and in particular cited the increased presence of neighborhood coordination officers (NCOs), part of the neighborhood policing model de Blasio has instituted across the city, as a successful program.

“I think we are in a much better place today than we were a few years ago in terms of overall police-community relations,” Oddo said. “The NCOs and community policing has gone a long way. It’s a major success on Staten Island…[Neighborhood policing] works for different reasons in different parts of the borough in terms of race relations. I think the community has gotten to build a relationship with these cops. I think the police officers have gotten to build relationships with the community. I think the tensions have dissipated to a large degree.”

On Pantaleo’s firing and the atmosphere on Staten Island, where many NYPD officers live, Oddo said that the process, while difficult for the community, had not appeared to undermine the progress around police-community relations or how officers are doing their jobs.

“There’s been no ‘Pantaleo effect’ that we can see,” he said, referring to the notion that after Pantaleo’s firing officers took few police actions out of hesitation or protest. “They’re going out there, and they’re doing a good job,” Oddo said of police officers.

“You won’t see my name on a ballot in a competitive race again,” Oddo said at one point in the interview. But why not run for mayor, given Republicans’ only chance to win could be a more moderate, government service-oriented straight-talker? “I don't think I can win. And I don't want those parts of the job,” he said of some of the politics.

He continued: “I do, though, have aspirations and ambitions of actually being on the inside...Put me on the inside with some TNT and watch me blow up the bureaucracy.” Oddo has previously said a dream job for him would be first deputy mayor. Reminded of this during the interview he said he wouldn’t even need that high of a position, just some control over key pieces of the city government he’s been wrestling with for so many years from outside mayoral administrations.

Before the city is fully focused on the next mayoral race, the 2020 elections will dominate local and national politics. Those themes meet on Staten Island as first-term Democratic Representative Max Rose seeks reelection in New York’s 11th Congressional District, which includes all of the island and a slice of Brooklyn. Rose is expected to face State Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis in the general election in a race that already has a lot of national attention, given that the seat has been somewhat reliably Republican in the past.

Oddo, who has developed a strong working relationship with Rose and does not appear close with Malliotakis, declined to give support for either candidate. However, while insisting that he was not taking “veiled shots” at either candidate, he broadly criticized what he called “perpetual campaigns” by career politicians seeking office over and over again.

“I don't like perpetual campaigns and I don't like two-year campaigns,” Oddo said. “And what this will be is...if Nicole Malliotakis beats Max Rose, Max Rose is going to run against her two years later. So this will be a perpetual campaign for four years. I don't think that's good for Staten Island. I don't think that's that that's good for the body politic.”

Superstorm Sandy Recovery
On New York’s recovery from Superstorm Sandy, roughly seven years after the storm hit and devastated many parts of Staten Island, Oddo expressed grave disappointment.

“The recovery has been the single most infuriating, heartbreaking experience of a nearly 30-year career in public service,” Oddo said, adding that he laid most of the blame on the administrations of Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio.

“We had the opportunity to take the harder path and rebuild a different way, and we didn’t. We did incremental instead of transformative,” he said. Oddo’s hope was that the city would engage in acquisition for redevelopment, buying out homeowners in some places, and rebuilding communities more comprehensively, with real planning conscientious of a variety of needs and of potential disasters like Sandy. While he’s pleased about the coming East Shore Seawall, that is still years away and little has been done since Sandy hit to prepare Staten Island for future major storms.

New York is “no better prepared for the next storm” than before Sandy, Oddo said. “When you look at the final product, it doesn’t honor the people we lost [during Sandy] and it really is an example of government at its worst.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Staten Island Borough President James Oddo]

by Ben Max & Stephen Wyer

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

James Oddo's Not Done Fighting the Bureaucracy, But He's Also Not Running for Mayor Mon, 16 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Staten Island Borough President James Oddo james oddo si 600 px

Staten Island BP James Oddo (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)

October 28, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Staten Island Borough President James Oddo

james oddo podOutspoken Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, a Republican, joined the podcast to discuss a wide range of topics, from the status of his constituents seven years after Superstorm Sandy to how well his borough is prepared for the next big storm, from housing and development on the island to what he thinks is needed to make New York City government run better, from Mayor de Blasio's record to what the next mayoral race will about, and much more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Staten Island Borough President James Oddo Mon, 28 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Where Top City Officials Who Appointed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission Stand on Its Proposals council finance dromm johnson mbdblasio fiscal budget

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other top city officials have remained mostly quiet about their positions on a set of proposed changes to city government and elections, which are set to go before voters when early voting begins on Saturday. The five “yes” or “no” ballot questions include 19 distinct proposals from the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, whose members were appointed by the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, City Council speaker, and five borough presidents. Yet those same elected officials have been hesitant to say whether they approve of the commission’s recommendations.

While some of the city’s top elected officials, namely City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, have when prodded expressed their thoughts on some or all of the proposed charter amendments, Mayor de Blasio is said to still be reviewing the proposals and other top officials have been reluctant to opine on the potentially consequential changes.

The ballot proposals include instituting ranked-choice voting for some city elections, strengthening the city’s civilian police oversight body, and making various other changes to city governance, budgeting, and land use processes.

Gotham Gazette surveyed the city’s most powerful elected officials to find out how they plan to vote on the proposals and whether they have taken positions on any provisions in particular. Almost all of the elected officials contacted had at least one appointment to the body that created the proposed amendments (Williams is the exception given that he took over as public advocate after his predecessor, Attorney General Letitia James, had made the office’s one appointment to the charter commision).

Williams, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have all indicated they support a “yes” vote on all five ballot questions. (Johnson had initially expressed enthusiastic support for a “yes” vote on question one, which includes instituting ranked-choice voting, and on the land use question, number five, then said he supports all five sets of proposals in an October 31 tweet to Gotham Gazette).

The commission was conceived by James and Brewer, and created through City Council legislation with the support of Johnson, who wound up with the power to appoint several members and the commission chair. Appointments were apportioned so that no one official or entity held a majority. Gotham Gazette contacted each of the appointing offices and received varying degrees of response, while Johnson and Williams made some of their thoughts known during a recent radio and podcast interview, respectively, as well as Johnson's subsequent tweet.

To amend the Charter, the city’s central governing document, the proposed changes must be approved by voters, who can weigh in either during the new nine-day early voting period October 26 through November 3, or on Election Day, November 5.

The commission developed the five questions, which encompass 19 individual measures to change city governance. As captured by the commission, each question covers a different category of potential reform: elections, Civilian Complaint Review Board, ethics and governance, city budget, and land use.

Question one, which mainly deals with ranked-choice voting, has garnered widespread support and almost no opposition, and could have a major impact on how party primaries and special elections work.

Together, the changes in questions two through five amount to a relatively minor retailoring of certain aspects of city government, not a large-scale overhaul. But, some of the provisions are considered important by various officials, experts, and interest groups.

Perhaps the most controversial changes voters will decide on related to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the city’s civilian police oversight agency that investigates certain allegations of police misconduct. One provision within question two would expand the jurisdiction of the CCRB to include prosecuting officers who lie while they are under investigation. That provision is being supported by many police reformers and opposed by the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the state’s largest law enforcement union.

Another proposal, found within question four, to allow the city to use a “rainy day fund” for savings during times of prosperity is being supported by the Citizens Budget Commission and other fiscal watchdogs.

Mayor de Blasio has not taken a public position on any of the five questions or the specific proposed amendments they contain.

“Mayor de Blasio continues to review the Charter revision questions that will be on the ballot,” wrote administration spokesperson Will Baskin-Gerwitz in an email to Gotham Gazette. De Blasio appointed four of the 15 members of the Charter Revision Commission that devised the proposals, two of whom currently serve as top officials in his administration.

While still avoiding a public position, Baskin-Gerwitz says the mayor “encourages every New Yorker to do their civic duty and have their say on their city’s Charter after early voting begins on October 26 or on Election Day November 5.”

De Blasio’s non-position on this year’s proposed charter amendments contrasts with his push last fall to secure a “yes” vote on the three ballot questions last year, placed on the ballot by a charter revision commission created and appointed entirely by the mayor.

Four of the officials contacted by Gotham Gazette have publicly expressed support for all five of this year’s ballot questions.

Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Comptroller Scott Stringer, said he supports all five proposals but would not comment on any specific proposal nor whether he is urging New Yorkers to vote in favor of the amendments. Some of that hesitancy may be related to questions about whether elected officials are allowed to in their official capacities discuss items on an election ballot.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is “100% supportive of all five ballot questions and is urging New Yorkers to vote for them all,” according to her press secretary, Courtney McGee. McGee did not elaborate on any of the positions or what outreach Brewer has done. There are major questions about how many New Yorkers actually know about the ballot questions and the ability of the Charter Revision Commission to get the word out, especially with limited help from top elected officials.

On the Max & Murphy podcast, Public Advocate Williams said, “I am in favor of voting ‘yes’ on all of the ballot initiatives, including ranked-choice voting.” A number of the proposals deal directly with the office of the public advocate. Two of the provisions would give the public advocate an appointment to the Conflicts of Interest Board and Civilian Complaint Review Board, and another would guarantee the public advocate’s budget at a set minimum calculated based on the size of the overall city budget.

“If people come out and vote, [we] may have an independent budget, which I think is critical. It sucks if you have to go ask the people for money that you are supposed to hold accountable,” Williams said.

Johnson, who appointed four charter revision commissioners including the chair, spoke about two of the measures -- ranked-choice voting, and changes to the city’s land use process -- on The Brian Lehrer Show on Monday. He said he supported both -- which are parts of question one and five, respectively -- but did not discuss any of the other proposals. Johnson’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article, but the speaker then made his opinion clear in the October 31 tweet.

Other officials have either weighed in on specific aspects of the ballot questions, did not respond to requests for comment, or declined to comment.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams “supports ranked-choice voting, and encourages New Yorkers to support it,” wrote Jonah Allon, an Adams spokesperson, in an email.

“He has also been a strong champion of police accountability and transparency dating back to his days serving in the NYPD, and supports any proposal that would further the goal of making police more accountable, while upholding the public safety gains we’ve made in recent decades,” Allon wrote, apparently referring to the amendments related to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. He did not clarify whether the borough president explicitly supports that ballot question or others.

“We are closely reviewing the other questions, and encourage a robust debate in the weeks ahead to ensure all New Yorkers are informed and make their voices heard on these important proposals,” added Allon.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, the lone Republican with an appointment to the charter commission, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz declined to comment. Katz is the Democratic nominee for Queens District Attorney, appearing on the ballot in her borough along with the charter questions, and expected to win that election easily.

Attorney General Letitia James, who as public advocate co-sponsored the legislation creating the charter commission and appointed one of its members, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Some officials or their representatives expressed trepidation about whether they were allowed under the city’s conflicts of interest law to promote their positions on ballot questions at all. During his conversation with Lehrer, Johnson made sure to indicate he was talking about his personal, not official, positions on ranked-choice voting and other measures.

A Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) representative said they could not comment on general policy matters related to elected official conduct, but added in an email, “To the extent that elected officials may not understand the scope of the application of the conflicts of interest law to their conduct you should feel free to refer them to us.” The spokesperson said they could not respond to a question asking whether any officials had sought clarity from COIB on publicly promoting their positions on the referenda.

Johnson, Adams, Stringer, and Diaz, Jr. are all Democrats expected to run for mayor in 2021, what would be the first city election to use ranked-choice voting should it pass.

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been updated with Johnson's Oct. 31 tweet.

Where Top City Officials Who Appointed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission Stand on Its Proposals Thu, 24 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals Mayor de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio is seeking to make a lasting impact on city governance through a charter revision commission that would transform the city’s campaign finance system, promote greater civic involvement in city affairs, and inject new blood into local community boards. But prominent elected officials, most of whom are Democrats like de Blasio, don’t agree with the proposals the mayor’s commission has put on the November 6 ballot and are urging New Yorkers to reject them.

The mayor’s commission put three questions on the ballot for voter approval through a simple majority. The first would significantly reduce individual campaign contribution limits and expand the city’s public matching funds program; the second would create a civic engagement commission with appointments mostly by the mayor to coordinate citywide participatory budgeting and other initiatives such as interpreting services at polling sites; and the third would impose term limits on community board members and alter how those members are recruited and appointed to ensure greater diversity.

Though the mayor appointed the commission and announced its areas of focus, he was not to have direct say over its final report or proposals, but he did announce support for all three and is now campaigning to see them approved by voters.

“These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections,” he said in a September statement, when the proposals were released. “There's no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.” On Sunday, de Blasio spoke at two churches in Manhattan, urging congregants to flip their ballot and decide on the three questions. “[V]ote yes, yes, yes. So we can open up the doors of democracy wide and make this an even greater city,” he said at Bethel Gospel Assembly.

Other elected officials, however, are not so certain, and are expressing somewhat mixed reviews, though many are opposed to community board term limits.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, for instance, supports lowering contribution limits and creating a civic engagement commission, but not term limits for community board members. “I don’t think term limits are necessary,” Johnson, a former community boar chair, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “These aren’t lifetime appointments. They must be reappointed by elected officials who are term limited. I think that provides enough checks and balances to our community boards, while allowing us to keep the good members with experience and wisdom. It is also our job as elected officials to always be looking to appoint new civic minded leaders who are interested in serving.”

It’s an argument that’s also been advanced by four of the five borough presidents -- only Brooklyn’s Eric Adams supports the term limits question.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, in fact, led the creation of an independent expenditure committee to oppose both term limits and the civic engagement commission, an effort in which she was joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo (Oddo is the lone Republican in the group). “These proposals would be a real—and in some cases dangerous—disruption to the way Community Boards protect our communities,” Brewer wrote in an email to supporters earlier this month, arguing that it could lead to a drain in institutional wisdom and give real estate interests and lobbyists a leg up in discussions about community development. The proposal does include a provision whereby individuals term-limited off of community boards are eligible to serve again after a one-term, two-year “cooling off period.”

“Our community boards are the eyes and ears of our neighborhoods and are often the first line of defense against unwanted projects as well as the initial point of contact between city agencies and our neighbors,” said Diaz Jr. “We should be working to strengthen their role, not strip them of the knowledge and historical focus that makes them so important in the first place.”

Katz said the current appointment process allows “ample opportunity” to pick diverse candidates “for a dynamic mix of talent,” while Oddo worried that the “one-size-fits-all solution” could have unintended consequences.

Adams, however, has argued, “While institutional knowledge is valuable, a reasonable term limit for Community Board members will allow the best of both worlds: institutional knowledge and new voices.”

On expanding the campaign finance system, however, only Adams and Oddo have publicly opposed the question among the borough presidents, though for different reasons. “[Brooklyn BP Adams] opposes the campaign finance reform measure because it doesn’t go far enough as he believes in 100 percent public financing,” said an Adams spokesperson. Oddo, on the other hand, has been a staunch opponent of public financing and simply said, “Hell no!” about proposal one.

Spokespeople for Katz and Diaz Jr. did not respond to requests for comment about the campaign finance reform proposal.

[Read: Brewer Creates Committee to Oppose Charter Revision Proposals]

Comptroller Scott Stringer also opposes the second and third questions while supporting the first on campaign finance reform. “The City must take a serious look at our Charter — it’s critical to tackling the important issues facing New Yorkers,” he said in a statement. Stringer has laid out his own exhaustive plan of charter proposals to the 2019 charter commission, a separate one from the mayor’s that was created through City Council legislation that is taking a far broader look at the city’s governing principles. 

Stringer added, “I support the first initiative because we need a campaign finance system that does everything it can to engage New Yorkers and help people run for office. I oppose proposals 2 and 3 which will weaken communities’ voices in shaping their own development.”

At an October 31 news conference at City Hall, Gotham Gazette asked Speaker Johnson if he would urge the 2019 commission to reverse community board term limits if they should pass. Johnson said he would not. "I think it's important to lice by the will of the voters," he said.  

A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not provide her stances despite multiple requests for comment, one of which was acknowledged.

Among a few rank-and-file City Council Members, reception of the proposals seems to be mixed. Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, for example, supports all three proposals and has in particular been advocating for the creation of the civic engagement commission -- Lander had proposed the idea through legislation and presented it to the commission.

“I truly believe these ballot proposals give us an opportunity to do something important to strengthen our local democracy: To improve our campaign finance rules. To turbo-charge civic engagement. To expand participatory budgeting city-wide,” he said in an email blast to supporters, calling on New Yorkers to pledge their support.

Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, also a Democrat, is backing all the proposals as well. Kallos has been a staunch campaign finance reform advocate and the first question would partially achieve what he has in the past tried to do through legislation, to expand the amount of public funds given to candidates running for office. “Democracy in New York City will finally get better,” he said in a September 6 statement, if the first question is passed, “reducing contribution limits and making small dollars more valuable by matching more of them with a greater multiplier.”

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, is also urging a "yes" vote on all three proposals. City Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat, has expressed support for the campaign finance proposal, but a spokesperson did not respond to a request for his positions on the other two.

On the other end, there’s Council Member Helen Rosenthal, again a Manhattan Democrat, who opposes all three measures. “The spirit of the first two proposals is positive and some of the substance is even promising, but each raises significant concerns to the point where I cannot support them,” she said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. Also noting a criticism that was raised when the mayor first announced his commission, she added, “Of course, all three proposals could be implemented through the current legislative process.”

Even government reform groups appear somewhat split on the ballot proposals. Reinvent Albany is advocating for all three. “Reinvent Albany believes a YES vote on these ballot measures will collectively amplify the voice of everyday New Yorkers and create new opportunities for injecting fresh perspectives into the public debate over how to make our city better for everyone,” the group said in an email blast on Monday.

Citizens Union, another good government advocacy organization opposes the proposal for a civic engagement commission, supports community board term limits, and has not taken a position on the campaign finance question.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with additional comment from City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Jumaane Williams.   

Prominent Elected Officials Oppose De Blasio Charter Revision Proposals Mon, 29 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Elected Officials Present Broad Proposals to 2019 Charter Revision Commission stringer charter testimony

Comptroller Stringer testifies at the 2019 Charter Revision Commission (photo: @NYCComptroller)

The charter revision commission created through New York City Council legislation concluded its first round of public hearings last month, receiving dozens of suggestions about improving the functions and structure of city government. Unlike the commission established by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which has three proposals on this November’s ballot, the Council-created commission is set to propose changes to the city’s central governing document via the 2019 election.

Among those who testified at the 2019 commission’s initial hearings were several elected officials who presented their own broad proposals that could significantly change how the city conducts its business and how those who hold power can wield it. They included City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, and several City Council members from the five boroughs.

Johnson -- who appointed the commission’s chair Gail Benjamin, the former head of the Council’s land use division, and three other members -- sees in the commission an opportunity to fix the balance of power in the city, which tilts toward the mayoralty and at times can diminish the oversight and accountability role played by the 51-member Council.

In testimony at the September 27 hearing held at City Hall, Johnson noted the Council’s limited ability to review mayoral appointees to head city agencies, and that the body cannot remove an agency head. He also suggested that the commission examine whether the budgets for certain offices “which are uncertain and subject to political considerations as opposed to substantive need, should be fixed or independently set.”

Johnson also recommended the commission look at the structure of the Law Department and the Corporation Counsel. “One lawyer attempting to serve two separate branches of government is an invitation for confusion and disruption and may not be in the best interests of the City,” his testimony reads, in reference to representation of both the executive and legislative branches of city government, an issue that has come to the fore as Council members have sought to join a lawsuit against the city’s property tax system.

Johnson is also pushing for changes to the city’s budget process to give the Council a greater voice and to tie budget allocations more closely to city programs, and also argued in favor of instant runoff voting, also known as ranked choice voting.

The most sweeping reforms that Johnson proposed, however, deal with the city’s land use process, which is almost always contentious and has been recently as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has moved to rezone several neighborhoods -- mostly low-income, communities of color -- to increase density and create more affordable housing. Johnson and other members of the Council’s Progressive Caucus have advocated for a citywide planning framework that gives communities greater say in land use decisions and balances equity with development. They have also called for an independent City Planning Commission, as opposed to the one currently composed largely of mayoral appointees. Council Members Diana Ayala, who co-chairs the caucus, Keith Powers, a vice co-chair, Brad Lander, and Adrienne Adams each testified on those proposals at separate borough hearings. “The status quo of ad hoc planning is just not working…We need a larger vision based on equity, a vision in which low-income communities do not have to slowly bear the brunt of the city’s every housing and infrastructure need,” Ayala said at a September 12 hearing in the Bronx.

Those goals are also in line with a report released in January by the Regional Planning Association, a prominent think tank, in partnership with community advocacy groups, academic experts and partners in city government. The RPA report, titled “Inclusive City”, was also presented to the charter commission and cited by elected officials, including Brewer, who also testified at the Sept. 27 hearing. Brewer, along with Public Advocate Letitia James, was the driver behind the legislation that created the commission and has expressed hope that it can bring a sea change the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 1989 charter commission fundamentally altered the structure of city government, giving it its present form.

In her testimony, Brewer emphasized a more thoughtful process for land use decisions that includes early input from community boards and elected officials before applications are certified through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). “With pre-planning we can do more than merely react—we can shape a project,” she said.

She also pushed for more technical improvements to zoning and permitting procedures, in the context of a long-term citywide approach. “There needs to be a citywide comprehensive plan every ten years,” she said. “This planning process could distribute new development equitably across the city, rather than concentrate rezonings in communities of color.”

Similar to Johnson’s testimony, Brewer advocated for increased transparency in the city budget. She also said the Civilian Complaint Review Board should be strengthened and its budget tied to the NYPD’s, to ensure that the watchdog agency has sufficient resources to deal with a growing police body. Additionally, she noted her opposition to term limits for community boards, which have been proposed in a ballot question by the mayor’s commission. Borough presidents appoint most community board members.

Comptroller Stringer’s ideas, in number at least, outpaced other elected officials. In an exhaustive report presented at the City Hall hearing, Stringer recommended 65 revisions to the charter ranging from proposals on city budgeting and procurement to housing, cybersecurity, children’s services, campaign finance and voting reforms.

“Since the last major charter revision nearly thirty years ago, New York City has grown by 1.2 million people and the world has changed around it, yet its charter is not prepared to meet the needs of today’s challenges,” Stringer said in a statement. “The Charter Review Commission is an opportunity for us to build a better government that takes aim at our affordability crisis and builds a fairer city by giving a voice to New Yorkers.”

Chief among Stringer’s proposals was a push for a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s office and in each city agency, to ensure diversity in hiring and in contracting. Stringer has advocated for increased investment in Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (M/WBEs) and he noted that though New York City spends nearly $20 billion on goods and services each year, less than 5 percent of the contracts are given to M/WBEs.

He also proposed a new Office of Inspection independent of the Department of Buildings and the Housing and Preservation Department, which he said play conflicting roles since they both approve new construction and development and are also charged with enforcing housing and construction codes. In line with his role as the city’s chief fiscal officer, Stringer also pushed for reforms to the capital budget, which funds infrastructure projects in the city. He said it should be transparent enough so the public can identify the cost of specific projects and be informed when those costs change.

Several other City Council members also weighed in on proposed charter revisions.

Council Member Ben Kallos, also co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, proposed 72 ideas in total, in updated testimony, including a citizen “Bill of Rights to free higher education, affordable health and mental health care, and, access to parks, libraries, public transit and affordable internet.” He stressed that any revisions to the charter brought about through a ballot referendum should go through further changes only after being presented to voters again. He pushed to give the Council and borough presidents the ability to make appointments to mayoral boards that have land use authority and said the charter should be amended to allow city residents to propose legislation and be heard before the Council. “Our City’s Charter is truly a living document,” he said in a statement, “but it is up to us to make sure it remains alive.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal pushed for the charter to formally adopt the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against
Women (CEDAW), and also advocated for reforms to the city's contracting process to ease burdensome requirements on non-profits that provide early childhood
education, homeless services, senior services, and mental healthcare.  

At the September 20 hearing in Queens, Council Members Adams and Francisco Moya, who is not a Progressive Caucus member, supported improvements to ULURP. “Displacement in our neighborhoods is no longer a possibility but a fact of life,” Moya said, according to written testimony. He called for the charter to mandate assessments of displacement brought about by proposed development. “We cannot view our city and its neighborhoods in a vacuum,” Moya said.

There were, of course, elected officials with more borough-specific agendas. At the September 24 hearing on Staten Island, testimony by Borough President James Oddo, and Council Members Steven Matteo and Joseph Borelli (all three Republicans, unlike all of the other aforementioned officials, who are Democrats), advocated for greater freedom for the borough from “bureaucrats in Manhattan,” as Oddo and Matteo put it.

Oddo and Matteo, in submitted testimony, said that city agencies should be restructured to give borough commissioners more power over local issues. “Agencies should be restructured in such a way that the chain of command within the agency is clear, and that one individual on the local level is not only responsible and accountable, but specifically empowered within the agency to act,” they wrote.

Borelli similarly pushed for more decentralization of power, expressing concern that the priorities of Staten Islanders are often ignored by city government and that new changes to the charter could adversely affect the borough. “We don’t want to be laboratories for the latest experiments in social engineering as too often seems the case on issues ranging from buses to composting,” he said. He largely argued for giving the borough president greater jurisdiction over local issues, similar to a county executive outside New York City.

He also criticized the city’s public matching funds program for campaign financing, calling on the commission to negate the potential expansion of the program that could happen through a ballot proposal put forward by the mayor’s commission. And, he advanced several other proposals -- mandating that the Independent Budget Office study the fiscal impact of every piece of City Council legislation; reducing duplicative roles played by different city agencies; making it harder to raise taxes in the city; improving the process for holding special elections; and curbing the power of the Board of Standards and Appeals.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to include testimony from Council Member Helen Rosenthal and updated testimony from Council Member Ben Kallos.  

Elected Officials Present Broad Proposals to 2019 Charter Revision Commission Thu, 11 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Suggestions for Better Disaster Relief from Former HUD Leader NYC Ferries

NYC Ferries (Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As the city approaches the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged the eastern seaboard and wrecked homes and businesses in New York’s coastal communities, a new report says there is more work to be done to prepare for the next storm.

Former HUD regional administrator for New York and New Jersey Holly Leicht, who oversaw the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $15.2 billion Superstorm Sandy recovery program, presented a report last week with 41 recommendations for how the government at the federal, state and local levels could better approach natural disaster preparedness and recovery. Leicht’s report was the centerpiece of a symposium sponsored by the Community Preservation Corporation (CPC), a nonprofit organization that deals with affordable housing for underserved communities, and the Staten Island Borough President’s office.

The 51-page report includes numerous proposals for stronger coordination between federal and local authorities in the wake of a disaster, streamlined funding for disaster relief, improved communication with affected communities and reduced bureaucratic hurdles in disaster response.

For instance, Leicht suggests creating a single disaster relief website where individuals could go to seek assistance from multiple agencies, making a single office in charge of disaster recovery, and instituting fundamental readiness standards. She floats the idea of giving HUD the authority to appropriate disaster recovery funding, encourages standardization of disaster relief funds to prioritize low- and middle-income families, and recommends that Congress and White House allocate additional tax credits to replace lost rental housing units with new affordable housing. 

“This is something we can accomplish without our heads exploding,” Leicht joked in her opening remarks at the CPC conference. “We’re making incremental change in an area where we need to be making drastic change and fast change.”

Asked what she would say to critics who might question the cost of such reforms, Leich told Gotham Gazette, “I think my message is that a lot of these things are cost neutral. Out of 41, we could probably do 25 without expending much money or having to change laws. The key thing is having leadership to get started.”

From 2011 to 2013 alone, the federal government spent a total of $136 billion on disaster recovery. Leicht argued that not nearly enough funding is being spent on mitigation to prevent damage from future natural disasters. According to her report, prioritizing mitigation can save $1.2 billion in funding annually.

“I know this is difficult,” said Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, who participated in the panel discussion during the event. “We, as government, made mistakes...I’m not trying to pick a fight with a billionaire ex-mayor, I had plenty of dials with that administration back in the day. I’m not trying to tug on the current mayor’s cape, but I owe it to my constituents to make sure there’s a process that is frank about what went wrong.”

One of the major criticisms regarding the recovery effort after Sandy is the amount of time it took to repair and restore homes that had been destroyed. According to Leicht, 18 months was considered the gold standard as to when individuals could expect to move back into their homes after Sandy, and many homeowners were not aware of this.

“I absolutely believe had my constituents known that they were looking at an 18-month, two year, three year, five year process, they would have made different decisions,” Oddo said. Many are still not back in their homes as the five-year anniversary of the storm approaches this fall.

There also seems to be lingering confusion around how recovery is defined in government agencies that are supposed to be providing relief to victims. Recovery could simply mean making sure the person affected by the disaster is able to get back on their feet, or it could also mean that recovery has not been achieved until the victim has been fully compensated for what was lost.

“We’ve gotta make some substantive changes here,” said Brad Gair, former director of Housing Recovery Operations in New York City and currently the senior managing director of Witt O’Brien’s, a private sector crisis and disaster management firm. “This recovery was a disaster. We failed the people of New York -- I’m talking from a city perspective. The problem is, what are we trying to do here? When we talk about post-disaster housing have we ever had the discussion of: do people, who lost their houses because of a disaster, are they entitled to a new home at the government’s expense? I’m not saying yes or no. I’m saying we’ve gotta talk about that. Until you talk about that, you get what you get.”

Nonetheless, the city and state have taken some steps to safeguard against future damage caused by hurricanes. For example, some properties in coastal areas that are at risk of being impacted by storms are being bought by the government to prevent individuals from moving back in.

But Oddo concluded with some cautionary words for lawmakers and administrators. “Be careful of the struggle between building quickly and building smartly,” he said. “We were so careful we did neither.”

Suggestions for Better Disaster Relief from Former HUD Leader Tue, 25 Jul 2017 19:36:45 +0000
De Blasio Holds Town Hall as Week on Staten Island Nears Conclusion de blasio oddo staten island

De Blasio & Oddo on Staten Island (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As Mayor Bill de Blasio’s week on Staten Island neared a close Thursday evening, City Council Member Debi Rose told a north shore town hall audience that “Staten Island can no longer use the moniker that we are ‘The Forgotten Borough.’” In opening remarks before introducing de Blasio at I.S. 27, Rose said that the mayor’s attention to the borough had negated that longtime, self-given nickname of neglect.

From Monday through Friday, de Blasio and his top aides are working out of Staten Island borough hall and holding events around the island, in what is the first of five such weeks in the mayor’s new “City Hall in Your Borough” initiative.

The week has included announcements of an expansion of neighborhood policing on the south shore; the proliferation of an electronics recycling pilot program that started mid-Island; and increased boarding options for the Staten Island Ferry. De Blasio held constituent office hours, participated in evening road repaving, visited a senior center, talked with a local family about their water bill, celebrated Passover at a synagogue, visited several top borough restaurants, and took in a concert.

“The mayor has shared our concerns and interests,” Rose said, calling de Blasio “responsive” and noting that people are apt to criticize but don’t give credit enough. Rose listed major concerns for her constituents: education, transportation, traffic, safety, recreation facilities, job creation, protecting the environment, and managing development and growth while maintaining Staten Island character -- most of which came up in the two-plus hours that de Blasio took more than 50 audience questions at Thursday’s town hall.

Rose, a Democrat, spoke just after Borough President James Oddo, a Republican, and state Senator Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, who both stressed that Staten Islanders focus less on political party and more on getting things done. Oddo and de Blasio share a particularly close relationship going back to their days on the City Council, and they have appeared at a number of events together during the week. In his opening remarks the borough president briefly recounted how productive a week it has been and his appreciation that de Blasio immersed city government in Staten Island issues for the five days.

When he took the microphone, de Blasio noted his positive relationships with the borough’s elected officials and touted reductions in crime on Staten Island, thanking the NYPD, as well as a drop in traffic fatalities this year compared to the same period last year. He announced that a new Staten Island Ferry boat would be named after Sandy Ground, which was an African-American settlement dating back to the 1830s and a stop on the Underground Railroad. The mayor explained that his administration recently announced a new plan to combat the opioid epidemic and his ongoing focus on repaving streets, two very different but particular concerns for Staten Islanders.

Over the course of the town hall, de Blasio took a few general questions about city policy, but largely heard constituents’ local, specific concerns, from problems at a nearby elementary school to development along the north shore, a lack of transportation options, and police-community relations. He heard from constituents of diverse backgrounds and of all ages, including a high school student worried about protections for LGBT students and an elderly woman concerned about broken sidewalks.

The mayor, who at times was short and cranky with audience members who he wanted to ask their questions more quickly, gave frank answers, even when he disagreed with the questioner, and often called over different commissioners, NYPD representatives, and other aides to give more detailed answers after his general one. It was a similar scene to the dozens of prior town halls de Blasio has held all over the city during the past year and a half.

Thursday’s was de Blasio’s second Staten Island town hall -- he previously held one mid-Island with Republican Council Member Steven Matteo. De Blasio has promised to hold a town hall in all 51 City Council districts, leaving him one more on Staten Island, that of Republican Joe Borelli, who appeared with the mayor for the policing announcement on Monday.

Two themes among the wide variety of questions Thursday night were opportunity for community youth and development along the north shore. There were also a number of education and school-related questions. “[T]he youth, give them something to do,” one attendee said to de Blasio, and was met with applause from the audience. “I share that view so much so that...every middle school kid has free after-school,” de Blasio responded, touting one of his key education investments, though he told the audience that not enough families are taking advantage of the program.

“I can’t make a commitment to you tonight,” de Blasio said about a new community center for youth. “We’re making a benefit available exactly for that reason,” he added regarding young people not having enough to do. The mayor mentioned tutoring, homework help, recreation, and enrichment, but he encouraged audience members to spread the word about the program.

The north shore of Staten Island is home to much development -- as de Blasio decamped on borough hall, he was a stone's throw from ongoing construction of a new outlet mall, one of several changes that will remake the area. De Blasio insisted that the city will hold developers to their commitments and also previewed a rezoning of part of the north shore district that Rose represents, explaining that a ”rezoning offers the opportunity for a massive infusion of resources into a community,” including the types of amenities that some town hall participants were asking for, such as a new community center. He referenced the only community rezoning that has occurred during his administration, that of part of East New York, Brooklyn. It was not clear if the mayor was able to assuage the concerns of those who worry about new development and the loss of community "character."

Multiple attendees asked de Blasio about policing or police-community relations and de Blasio gave similar answers each time: explaining that he has worked to improve those relations through the implementation of the neighborhood policing model while also reaffirming his commitment to "quality-of-life policing," which is also known as Broken Windows policing, though the mayor rarely uses that term unprovoked. He stressed that crime is down while arrests and negative interactions between officers and New Yorkers are also down.

One constituent asked de Blasio what, if re-elected, his top three second-term priorities for Staten Island would be. De Blasio declined to make the answer local, instead explaining his goals for the city: continuing to drive crime down and improve police-community relations; improving schools through his “Equity and Excellence” agenda; and making the city more affordable though more rent-regulated housing and better-paying jobs.

The mayor will conclude his five days on Staten Island Friday with one public event: a tour of the community center at Mariner’s Harbor Houses, a NYCHA property, where he will also "make an announcement about the Cornerstone Program," according to his public schedule. Prior to that, he'll make his weekly appearance on WNYC radio's The Brian Lehrer Show, as he did his Monday evening spot on NY1's Road to City Hall television program.

Still, de Blasio has been very limited in dealing the media this week. The mayor took press questions at his Monday mid-day event in conjunction with his policing announcement on the south shore, but held no other question-and-answer session with reporters all week. He held several events open to the press, but did not allow questions, ignoring any that were asked by members of the media who attended.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio Holds Town Hall as Week on Staten Island Nears Conclusion Thu, 13 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Goes Local with ‘City Hall in Your Borough’ Series de Blasio Staten Island Oddo

De Blasio at a Staten Island town hall (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio will be on Staten Island this week in the first of five “City Hall in Your Borough” sojourns wherein the mayor, who is up for reelection this fall, is bringing city government local. De Blasio, many of his commissioners, top aides, and City Hall staff will work out of borough hall, hold constituent office hours and a variety of events on the island, and attempt to immerse themselves in borough issues for the week.

The mayor chose to start the initiative on Staten Island, the only borough the first-term Democrat lost in his landslide 2013 victory. De Blasio’s week will include a town hall Thursday night, but begins Monday with several events, including a morning cabinet meeting with senior staff at borough hall, a noon press conference related to neighborhood policing, and a 10 p.m. visit with a road re-paving crew.

According to the mayor’s office, de Blasio will set aside time to meet with local constituents and groups, visit at least one house of worship, and make many other stops around the borough. He is expected to hold events with each of Staten Island’s three City Council members, and to spend a good deal of time with Borough President James Oddo, a Republican whom the mayor has a close relationship with. First Lady Chirlane McCray is expected to hold events related to ThriveNYC, the mental health program she spearheads.

The mayor will be commuting to Staten Island from Gracie Mansion, his office said, not spending overnights on the island. [The Staten Island Advance acquired a draft schedule for de Blasio’s week, though it is unclear how closely his actual plan will match it. The launch of the overall initiative was first reported by The Daily News.]

De Blasio’s week on Staten Island is sure to deal with some broad citywide themes like public safety, education, affordable housing, and development, but will also have a distinctly local feel. As borough officials often say, Staten Island is more like the rest of the United States than it is the rest of New York City. Staten Island has high homeowner and driving populations compared to other boroughs, for example. Many Staten Islanders also continue to battle their way back from Superstorm Sandy and there has been a good deal of frustration about the city’s Build It Back recovery program. The borough is also dealing with the opioid addiction and overdose problem that has spread throughout communities across the country.

After Staten Island, “City Hall in Your Borough” will proceed to the other four boroughs throughout the year, all as de Blasio competes in the Democratic primary and, likely, general election in his pursuit of a second term. Asked about the initiative coinciding with election season, mayoral spokesperson Jessica Ramos said that “It's coinciding with spring” and that the administration wants New Yorkers to interact with their local government in their own neighborhoods. ‎”We'll be doing this again over following years,” she said in an email.

The mayor and his team are likely to work out of borough hall in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, according to The Daily News, but will seek uptown space in Manhattan given that City Hall and the Manhattan Borough President’s offices at 1 Centre Street are so close to each other.

Asked about the initiative, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams had praise for de Blasio, but said in a statement that while he “would welcome Mayor de Blasio and his team to Brooklyn Borough Hall with open arms for this would be even more impactful for us to work together on bringing City Hall to neighborhoods like Brownsville that have a real need of this presence. A site such as the Brownsville Recreation Center, for example, would serve as a great hyperlocal hub for this effort."

Adams said City Hall in Your Borough is “a smart concept to get government out of the austere structures that often separate it from the communities it serves.” According to his office, borough specific issues Adams wants to see City Hall focus on include affordable housing, tenant harassment, civic tech innovation, preventive health care, school tech infrastructure, among others. Adams also wants to see city agencies rethink community engagement models.

In a brief interview, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said that her team and the mayor’s have been in touch already. Asked what the focus issues should be, Brewer said her office “gets a ton of housing, housing, housing” and that people really are concerned about both residential and small business affordability. Small Business Services, NYCHA, and the Department of Buildings were three city agencies that Brewer said the mayor’s team should be ready to prioritize.

As for space, Brewer said she is the only borough president without a grand borough hall, but that she is also the only one with a storefront presence. She said her office’s uptown satellite space on West 125th Street “is not huge but it can fit 25 or 30 people at a time. So, we'd love him to join us there. We also have an office at the Harlem State Office Building, which has, obviously, huge spaces. So, either one, I think, would be fabulous, and we'd love to host the mayor.”

A spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. declined to comment on City Hall in Your Borough or to make the borough president available for a brief interview. Diaz Jr. has been an outspoken critic of de Blasio on several issues, and was considering challenging the mayor in the Democratic primary, but now plans to run for re-election. He is the only borough president that de Blasio is not on good terms with.

A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz did not return a request for comment. Katz praised de Blasio at a recent town hall event in Queens for delivering on universal pre-kindergarten, though she and many in her borough want to see more from City Hall on school overcrowding and have concerns about the mayor’s homeless shelter siting.

At a January event hosted by Crain’s New York Business, the five borough presidents gave their assessments of de Blasio and offered him advice for how to improve his relationships with their boroughs.

Oddo, who will host de Blasio this week on Staten Island, said he still wants to see a culture change at city agencies where rank-and-file employees feel more urgency to complete projects and make progress. “You want to have a legacy” as a mayor, Oddo said, “you have to change the culture of these agencies, and I don’t believe that’s happening.”

“He could do a whole lot better, in my opinion, in his messaging and communication to the people of the City of New York,” Diaz Jr. said.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

De Blasio Goes Local with ‘City Hall in Your Borough’ Series Sun, 09 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Five Borough Presidents Advise, Critique De Blasio 5 borough presidents crains forum via bpericadams 1

The five BPs at Crain's forum (photo: @BPEricAdams)

Communicate better. Build more affordable housing, and faster. Streamline small business regulations. Improve transit offerings in the outer boroughs. Bust the bureaucracy to get city agencies moving more quickly.

These tips and pleas were among the guidance that the five New York City borough presidents offered Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday morning. At a forum convened by Crain’s New York Business, moderator Erik Engquist, a Crain’s editor, asked Manhattan’s Gale Brewer, Brooklyn’s Eric Adams, the Bronx’s Ruben Diaz Jr., Staten Island’s James Oddo, and Queens’ Melinda Katz a series of questions, including what advice they would give de Blasio, who has just entered his fourth year in office, which is his re-election year.

When Engquist posed the question -- if he asked you for a piece of advice, what would you offer Mayor de Blasio? -- about 20 minutes into the discussion, he got a laugh from the roughly 125 audience members by calling on Diaz Jr. first. The Bronx Borough President has been one of the most outspoken critics of the mayor and is considering whether to challenge de Blasio this year.

Once the laughter subsided, Diaz Jr. reiterated a point: that he wants the city to “hand over the keys” to the developers of the Kingsbridge Armory, a project that has been caught in limbo for some time and has been a flashpoint in the tension between Diaz Jr. and de Blasio, with some involvement from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is much closer to Diaz Jr. than to de Blasio.

Of advice for de Blasio, Diaz Jr. then said, “Obviously homelessness is a big issue, not only in my borough, but throughout the city of New York.” He the mayor and his administration “haven’t been able to wrap their hands around” the crisis and called for more permanent affordable housing, supportive housing, and development in the Bronx, saying that the administration takes too long to make decisions.

Diaz Jr. also called for improvements to gifted and talented school program offerings and transportation expansion.

“He could do a whole lot better, in my opinion, in his messaging and communication to the people of the city of New York,” Diaz Jr. added.

Asked by Gotham Gazette after the event to expand on the communication critique, Diaz Jr. said the mayor and his team should be more proactively communicative with local communities about all kinds of issues. It is a common refrain from de Blasio critics -- and some allies -- that was echoed by Queens Borough President Katz and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams as well.

Among the borough presidents, both Eric Adams and Gale Brewer are strong de Blasio allies. Adams has already endorsed de Blasio for reelection (he plans to run for Mayor himself, he said again at the Crain’s event, but not this year) and Brewer told Gotham Gazette afterward that she is supportive of de Blasio’s bid for a second term.

Still, Adams and Brewer had ‘constructive criticism’ for the mayor. Citing “quality of life” issues, Brewer said she wants the mayor to focus on noise mitigation, improving city schools, investing even more in NYCHA and affordable housing, and expanding free WiFi. Brewer credited de Blasio for crime being down and improving relationships between community members and the police, as well as the IDNYC program.

Adams also cited communication, saying that the mayor could do better showing people the improvements that have been made in the city. The Brooklyn BP then cited issues with “middle management,” saying that “the permanent bureaucracy” in city government shows a “lack of innovation, a lack of creativity.”

Adams wants the city to stop holding back businesses by continuing to reduce unnecessary fines, an area where de Blasio has made a great deal of progress, and acting more quickly at the Department of Buildings and elsewhere. “The slowest walking human being I’ve seen in my life was at the Department of Buildings,” Adams said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

A former NYPD officer and captain, Adams gave de Blasio significant praise for improvements at the police department, especially in terms of interactions with New Yorkers. “Police are now doing something that is revolutionary,” he said, “they are saying ‘good morning.’” Adams said cops are walking the beat and talking with people, having positive interactions.

Speaking after Adams, Queens Borough President Katz said she agreed with several points made by her colleagues before her. She noted that all five borough presidents have known and worked with de Blasio for years, since all six have held other positions in government.

“As beneficial as he has been on a lot of topics, the communication part has been ineffective to a certain extent,” Katz said. She credited the mayor for universal pre-kindergarten and general progress. But, she called the “homeless crisis” “a very serious topic,” and cited issues in Queens related to use of hotels for housing homeless people and the protests that Queens residents have staged against the administration on the topic.

Katz said she wants the city to better help people stay in their homes and their communities and to enhance “economic services to help get folks back on their feet.” Communities need to be involved in decision-making, she said, at which point Engquist aptly pointed out that communities often reject homeless shelters. Katz responded that “the worst thing you can do with a community is not tell them things” and that there are ways of being more upfront and negotiating better.

Speaking last on the topic of advice for the mayor, Staten Island’s Oddo, the lone Republican among the borough presidents, said that a “sea change at the top of city government” with the election of de Blasio has not led to much change at all when it comes to the city bureaucracy that he often does battle with.

It is consistently frustrating, Oddo explained, “to have a great idea, to have the mayor of the city of New York and the mayor’s office say ‘that is a good idea,’ and then run headlong into the brick wall of city agencies, time and time again.”

“It’s the same jerks that were there in the Bloomberg years that are here now,” Oddo said, speaking of agency officials and local agency workers, especially at agencies like the Department of Transportation, Department of Buildings, and the Department of Design and Construction. “Unless you have an administration with strong deputy mayors pushing down on commissioners and making commissioners change the culture of these agencies, I hate to say it guys, I’m not sure if it really matters who’s up at the top.”

“You want to have a legacy,” Oddo said to this mayor or any, “you have to change the culture of these agencies, and I don’t believe that’s happening.” Instead of commissioners changing their agencies, Oddo said, he sees agencies changing the commissioners for the worse.

“The sea change that was promised, whether you believe in it or not, hasn’t happened,” Oddo said. At which point, Adams -- a vocal de Blasio supporter -- jumped in to echo the point, lamenting the permanent culture of “no” among civil servants who “wait out mayors...wait out commissioners and...get in the way of change.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio declined to comment on the critiques provided by the borough presidents.

Other than critiquing the mayor, at the Crain’s event the five borough presidents also discussed specific development projects in their respective boroughs, their takes on Uber and Airbnb, and broader political dynamics.

There were half-jokes about the fact that Diaz Jr. is very close with Gov. Cuomo, while Adams enjoys a closer relationship with de Blasio. Yet there were more direct words between Diaz Jr. and Adams over whether Cuomo has been strong enough in backing fellow Democrats, specifically with respect to the state Senate, which remains in Republican control. Brewer said the governor has not been enough of a Democratic champion, which Adams agreed with and Diaz Jr. denied. Adams and Diaz Jr. debated the issue for a couple of minutes.

Engquist also asked the borough presidents whether they plan to seek higher office. All five are eligible for another term in their current positions, and the four other than Diaz Jr. are definitively seeking re-election.

As for later aspirations, Adams said he wants to be Mayor eventually. Diaz Jr. said he plans to seek higher office someday, but “I don’t know when.” Brewer said she doesn’t plan to seek a higher office; Katz demurred, saying she is focused on running for re-election; and Oddo said, “No, because First Deputy Mayor is not an elected position.”

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Five Borough Presidents Advise, Critique De Blasio Tue, 24 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Misguided 'Reform' Threatens to Undo Progress bp oddo group si

BP Oddo, the author, with a group on Staten Island (photo via @StatenIslUSA)

The divide is even greater than I feared.

The chasm between how folks across this city see our world is even wider than what it seemed. As a Republican fully aware he’s in a blue city - a guy who once led a merry band of between two and five GOPers in a legislative body of 51 - I know better than most how disparate the various points on the political spectrum are in this town, and how the perceptions, reality, and everyday feel differs across New York City.

I lived that divide and operated within it when I was in the City Council. And to deliver for the smallest, least politically influential borough, one that was either ignored, neglected, or treated as fifth of five except during the Giuliani years, I figured out how to respect the divide, maneuver within it, and effectively represent my community.

So when I say the breach is even more expansive than I once feared, it truly is.

The City Council’s Criminal Justice Reform Act is intended to help New Yorkers represented by a majority of the City Council. It’s intended to address problems that are real to them and their constituents. With that said, to folks who live on Staten Island like me, and those in other areas such as Southwest Brooklyn, parts of Queens, and parts of the Bronx, this package represents a chainsaw where a scalpel is needed. We should not be encouraging people to think we don’t care about negative behavior like urinating in public or throwing trash on the ground.

Ultimately, the bills are Miracle Grow for the perception that lawlessness lurks around the next corner, a perception that we know can feel awfully similar to reality. A furthering of this ideological agenda corrosively eats away at the thin line between civilized communities and disorder.

For the love of Pete (not Pete Vallone Jr. or Sr., but man, where have you guys gone...), can’t we even agree in this town that litter is wrong and should be punished as often and in as financially impactful a manner as possible? One unified voice coming from the Council and other sectors of city government should be all of us saying to the city agencies that the guy who throws the bag of White Castle burger remnants out the window of his car and the mocha latte drinker who flings her empty plastic cup indiscriminately into a street should pay dearly.

But we can’t even agree on that. As someone who has spent too much time, energy, and taxpayer money these last 28 months as Borough President trying to change the behavior of the selfish, ignorant Staten Islanders who continue to litter, that hurts my head.

I am keenly aware that in many ways - from home and car ownership percentages to housing typology and various other barometers - Staten Island more closely resembles the rest of America than the other four boroughs. I understand this is a left-of-center town during this “progressive” era of local government, but some truths are grounded in history and history should not need to repeat itself for us to understand the consequences of actions like passing the Criminal Justice Reform Act. So-called quality-of-life offenses rob residents of the city they deserve and expect. As a city we should be doing more to discourage litterers and those engaged in public urination and other anti-social acts on behalf of the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who don’t engage in these behaviors.

Whether folks liked or disliked Rudy Giuliani, his unquestioned, greatest and lasting legacy is that every New Yorker now has a heightened expectation of how safe and orderly New York City should be. Individually and collectively we will never tolerate a return to the “bad old days.” I am not one who embraces the screaming tabloid headlines announcing the 1970s have returned. That’s silly. I simply don’t like seeing perhaps well-intentioned, but nonetheless misguided steps, even small ones, in that direction.

James Oddo is the Staten Island Borough President and a former Minority Leader of the City Council. On Twitter @HeyNowJO.

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Misguided 'Reform' Threatens to Undo Progress Tue, 24 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000