Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/340 Wed, 17 Jul 2019 00:57:54 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Quick Rematch in Second Special Election for Brooklyn City Council Seat https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8612-rematch-in-second-special-election-for-brooklyn-city-council-seat https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8612-rematch-in-second-special-election-for-brooklyn-city-council-seat Farah Louis City Council

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Quick Rematch in Second Special Election for Brooklyn City Council Seat Mon, 17 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Criticizing De Blasio Rezonings, Williams Introduces 'Racial Impact Study' Requirement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8558-criticizing-de-blasio-rezonings-williams-introduces-racial-impact-study-requirement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8558-criticizing-de-blasio-rezonings-williams-introduces-racial-impact-study-requirement maybill public adv

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Fulfilling a promise he made in his successful campaign for public advocate, Jumaane Williams introduced legislation on Wednesday that would require the city to conduct an assessment of expected racial and ethnic impact brought on by proposed neighborhood rezonings, in order to ensure that the city is complying with the federal Fair Housing Act, and combat segregation and displacement.

The Fair housing Act, passed in 1968, is meant to protect against discrimination in the sale, purchase, and renting of housing, or in trying to obtain housing assistance, and it also requires jurisdictions receiving federal assistance to take affirmative steps to integrate housing. New York City, Williams said at a news conference Wednesday morning, has failed on that front.

The public advocate was joined by Bronx City Council Member Rafael Salamanca, who chairs the powerful land use committee and has co-sponsored the bill, and members of Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH), a grassroots advocacy group that has called for such ‘racial impact studies’ to help inform neighborhood rezonings, which typically occur to change land use rules to allow greater housing density and usher in new city investments in a given community. City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents areas of Brooklyn that have seen significant gentrification and is negotiating a possible Bushwick neighborhood rezoning with the city, also expressed support for the legislation. 

“Rezonings are one of the primary drivers of gentrification, which leads to displacement, which leads to racial segregation,” Williams said, harshly critiquing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing plan, which has relied on upzoning neighborhoods to create more density with a legal requirement -- Mandatory Inclusionary Housing -- for developers to build affordable housing.

Most of the rezonings pursued by the administration have been in low-income communities of color and advocates say that has exacerbated gentrification while also refusing to ask more affluent and white communities to allow more housing in their neighborhoods. Williams, who voted against MIH when he was in the City Council, has called for a moratorium on all neighborhood rezonings.  

Williams’ bill would mandate that any land use application that goes through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires an environmental impact statement and is reviewed by the City Planning Commission, must also include a racial impact study. The ULURP process occurs for many proposed new developments, from neighborhood rezonings that impact broader communities and are typically spearheaded by the mayoral administration to single plot rezonings that allow developers to build a bigger building than the current zoning allows.

“[E]ven the announcement of ULURP leads to rampant speculation that coincides with a rise in harassment and displacement,” Williams said. “The link between [neighborhood] rezonings and racial segregation is very clear. I don’t think anyone can argue with the results of it. Yet the city has failed to even acknowledge the problem.”

As an example, Williams pointed to the 2005 rezoning of the Williamsburg waterfront, approved under then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which “transformed low-income communities of more color into enclaves for new wealthy and white residents,” Williams said. “A decade later, the waterfront area’s white population increased by 45% compared to 2% decline citywide, while the area’s Latinx population declined by 27% compared to a 10% increase citywide. This is just unacceptable. To combat racial segregation, we first need to study it.”

Williams also noted that Seattle has implemented a similar policy that takes racial justice into account while creating affordable housing. “Even Seattle doesn’t have the phrasing ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and they are doing much more to address the tale of two cities, I believe than the housing plan here in New York City,” he said, invoking the campaign slogan that de Blasio employed in his first mayoral race in 2013.  

At an unrelated afternoon news conference, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson did not take a position on the bill, saying he had yet to study it. But he acknowledged the rationale behind it. “I do think what it speaks to is the gentrification and displacement that we’ve seen throughout our entire city, all five boroughs, that anxiety, that fear, especially amongst long term residents about what’s happening to them,” he said.

De Blasio has insisted that his housing and planning policies are sound and use a combination of strategies to create new housing, including many affordable units, while also putting resources in communities with new parks, school seats, and other investments that often accompany rezonings. He has said that the neighborhood rezonings under his administration have been done in concert with local Council members who welcome new zoning rules, more affordable housing, and city investment. The mayor has also pointed to the city’s significant increase in tenant eviction protection during his tenure.

"This Administration is fighting displacement with record levels of affordable housing, free legal services, rent freezes, and programs to combat harassment," said Jane Meyer, a mayoral spokesperson, in a statement. "Through Where We Live NYC, we are developing new fair housing policies to fight discrimination and build more inclusive neighborhoods. We look forward to reviewing this legislation and working with our partners to promote equity and fairness."

Salamanca has his own concerns with the mayor’s housing plan as he has pushed for a 15% set aside in new affordable housing for homeless New Yorkers, which the administration has resisted. “We can continue to grow the city of New York, because there is a housing crisis,” he said at the morning news conference with Williams, “but we should be able to do that without displacing our communities, and that’s what this is about.”

He also refuted the notion that a racial impact study could add another layer of red tape to the already lengthy and burdensome ULURP process. “We’re not trying to change the timeframe as to how the ULURP process works,” he said in response to reporters’ questions, “but...what we’re adding is more resources, more information, to that [environmental impact study] so that Councilmembers can make the right decision.”

CUFFH was created ten years ago when advocates sought to fight the proposed rezoning of Broadway Triangle in Brooklyn. The group was part of a larger coalition that took the Bloomberg administration to court, arguing that the rezoning would violate the Fair Housing Act. The case was only settled in 2017 with the de Blasio administration.

But Alex Fennell, network director of CUFFH, said the city continues to fail to live up to its obligations under the FHA. “Being displaced is not a choice. And the current zoning process, rather than promoting fair housing encourages developers to profit from harassing, displacing and segregating out long time residents,” she said on Wednesday.

She added, “The racial impact study is the first step in undoing the harm caused by over a century of land use policy rooted first in overt racism, then shielded by colorblind language.”

The next step for the bill would be a committee hearing.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note - This article has been updated with comment from a mayoral spokesperson.

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Criticizing De Blasio Rezonings, Williams Introduces 'Racial Impact Study' Requirement Wed, 29 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Progressive Caucus Endorses in Brooklyn Special Election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8514-city-council-progressive-caucus-endorses-in-brooklyn-special-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8514-city-council-progressive-caucus-endorses-in-brooklyn-special-election jum williams monique

Monique Chandler-Waterman & Jumaane Williams (photo: @MoniqueForNYC)


The political arm of the New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus is endorsing Monique Chandler-Waterman in next week’s special election for the Council’s District 45 seat. The district was previously represented by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, whose own special election victory led to the vacancy being filled through a vote this coming Tuesday, May 14.

Chandler-Waterman is a community activist and founder of East Flatbush Village, a nonprofit that works with at-risk youth in the community. She is one of eight candidates vying to represent District 45, which includes the neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Canarsie and Flatlands. The other candidates in the race, a nonpartisan special where there are no formal party labels, are Anthony Alexis, Victor Jordan, Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, Adina Sash, and L. Rickie Tulloch.

A longtime ally of Williams -- who held the seat since 2010 before being elected public advocate in February -- Chandler-Waterman served as his community outreach director for two years. Last month, Williams endorsed her over another candidate, Farah Louis, who was a staffer in his Council office for years.

The Progressive Caucus Alliance, in its announcement provided to Gotham Gazette, said it chose to endorse Chandler-Waterman “not only because of her progressive credentials but because she has shown a long history of strong resolve and concrete ability to better her communities.” The Caucus Alliance includes 16 members from the 21-member Progressive Caucus within the larger 51-seat City Council. Endorsements are made by a two-thirds majority of the Alliance.

“We are confident that she will provide excellent constituent service, represent their communities with distinction, and champion legislation that helps create a more just and equal New York City - that forwards racial, gender, and social justice campaigns in the Council and beyond - which is the key mission of the Progressive Caucus,” the announcement said. The Alliance plans to aid Chandler-Waterman’s campaign with voter outreach along with allies in labor and the nonprofit world.

“I’m overwhelmed with excitement...The Progressive Caucus Alliance endorsement means a lot,” Chandler-Waterman said in a brief phone interview, pledging to join the Progressive Caucus if she wins the election.

She said her first priority would be to push for more district engagement in the Council’s legislative and budgeting processes, through monthly meetings with community members. On the policy front, she spoke of addressing the issue of recent police-involved shootings of emotionally disturbed persons in the district.

“I don’t think the NYPD should be responding to those who are in crisis,” she said, striking a similar note on an issue Williams has been vocal about. And, also in keeping with Williams’ positions, she said she would push to overhaul the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, which she said has failed to create enough “true affordable housing” in the community.

Notably, two organizations that are working to elect more women in local government -- Amplify Her and 21 in ‘21 -- have also endorsed Chandler-Waterman, though 21 in ‘21, in its first foray into electoral influence, issued a dual endorsement, also giving its support to Radix.

The 51-seat Council currently has only 11 women representatives, down from a high of 18 in 2009. A nonprofit, 21 in ‘21, aims to help elected 21 women to the Council through the upcoming 2021 city election cycle, when many Council members will be term-limited out of office. The District 45 special election offers an opportunity to get to 12.

In line with that goal, Council Member Ben Kallos, a co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, said the PCA only interviewed women candidates -- all of them were invited except Adina Sash -- in the race before making its endorsement. “We need to elect more women to the City Council,” he said in a brief phone interview. “Monique has experience in the Council and the community. Whenever she’s seen a problem, she’s rolled up her sleeves and fixed it herself, and that’s the kind of attitude we need in City Council members.”

Chandler-Waterman said she looked forward to increasing the ranks of women in the Council, not only by being elected herself but “also going back and helping other women that want to be in politics and continue this movement of making sure that women’s voices are at the table.”

The PCA’s support adds to a list of prominent endorsements that Chandler-Waterman has received, including from a variety of Brooklyn officials such as Assemblymember Nick Perry (who is also her campaign chair), state Senators Zellnor Myrie and Kevin Parker, and Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Antonio Reynoso. The Working Families Party is also supporting her campaign, as are progressive organizations like New York Communities for Change, New York Progressive Action Network, and Make the Road Action. The influential unions DC37 and 32BJ SEIU also endorsed her.

If Chandler-Waterman wins the race next week, she will hold the seat through the end of this calendar year and have to defend it later this year, first in the June 25 primary election if a challenger emerges and then in the November general election, again only if a challenger is on the ballot. The winner in November will serve the remainder of the term, which ends in 2021.

[READ: Special Election Provides Testing Ground for Push to Elect More Women to City Council]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that the Progressive Caucus Alliance did not invite all the five women candidates for their endorsement interview. 

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City Council Progressive Caucus Endorses in Brooklyn Special Election Thu, 09 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Where Top City and State Officials Stand on Raising the Charter School Cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8481-where-top-city-and-state-officials-stand-on-raising-the-charter-school-cap https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8481-where-top-city-and-state-officials-stand-on-raising-the-charter-school-cap govcuomo capi rally

Gov. Cuomo at a charter school rally (photo: governor's office)


After several new charter schools were approved last month, the cap on such schools allowed in New York City was reached. New York State has a cap on the number of issuable charters, which allow a group to start a new charter school, the controversial, privately-run, publicly-funded schools that mostly proliferate in the five boroughs and educate roughly 10% of the city's 1 million students. Within the larger cap, there is a sub-cap for charters that can be issued for schools in New York City.

In the past few months, 18 applicants for charters in New York City made it through the initial application process and a meeting of the SUNY Board’s charter schools committee, one of the two authorizers, but there were only seven charters left to be issued under the sub-cap.

New York City Charter School Center, among others, raised concerns about this earlier this year. James Merriman, the center's CEO, called the situation “the definition of a crisis” at the time. Charter school advocates had hoped that the sub-cap would be addressed in the state budget process, but there was little talk of an extension in Albany during budget negotiations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and longtime charter school supporter, favors lifting the cap. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a second-term Democrat and longtime charter opponent, is against lifting the cap; as is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. It’s not clear how much say de Blasio, Johnson, and Williams will have, though, as the decision will be made by Cuomo and the state Legislature, where the Assembly appears cold to the idea of lifting the sub-cap while the Senate appears open to it.

While it was clear the New York City sub-cap on charter schools would be hit this year, Cuomo did not include raising the cap in his State of the State policy book or his executive budget. After the Cuomo administration declined to comment for a Gotham Gazette story in February, when the cap was about to be hit, a budget deal was reached with no mention of the cap.

“We support raising this artificial cap, but the legislature needs to agree as well,” said Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, echoing a comment he made mid-April to the New York Post.

This public support heightens the potential that there could be a change to the charter school cap before the end of the legislative session in June. Cuomo has long been a strong supporter of charter schools and his advisor’s comments mirror Merriman’s statement that the cap is “arbitrary.”

A spokesperson for Senate Democrats told Gotham Gazette, “We will discuss as a conference” while a spokesperson for Assembly Democrats said “It is not something we are considering.”

State Senator John Liu, a Queens Democrat and the chair of the Senate’s subcommittee on New York City Schools, said “The charter cap should be increased only when charter schools are held to the same accountability standards as public schools. For every family waiting for a spot in a charter school, there are more families waiting for a spot in a preferred public school.”

Before Democrats took a majority in the State Senate last year, Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference would work with Cuomo to advance charter school priorities as part of the budget process or the regular negotiations over extending mayoral control of New York City public schools.

With the new budget, state lawmakers agreed to extend mayoral control for three years, until June 2022, after Mayor Bill de Blasio will leave office, but the charter cap was left out of the deal, perhaps indicative of the new Democratic reality in Albany.

This last happened in 2017 when a deal was struck for a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools. The deal also allowed 22 revoked or surrendered charters to be reissued.

It’s unclear how hard Cuomo will push for the cap to be raised, and how receptive Senate Democrats might be. As often happens in Albany, a deal may be reached where Assembly Democrats get movement on a priority in exchange for agreeing to the cap being lifted.

Senate Democrats could also help mitigate potential opposition in key swing districts in next year’s legislative elections, when they will be trying to defend their new majority for the first time. Charter school interests are often major campaign donors -- including to Cuomo, the former IDC, and Senate Republicans -- and spenders on independent expenditure campaigns meant to influence elections.

Those charter interests have also spent heavily against de Blasio in the past. Asked for the mayor’s position on the charter school cap, a spokesperson pointed to a statement by the mayor from September and said “our position hasn’t changed.”

“I believe that the charter cap is perfectly sufficient the way it is,” de Blasio said at a press conference then, “and that our focus should not be on the expansion of charters. Our focus should be on doing the hard work of making our traditional public schools better.”

Other New York City elected officials are also against an expansion of charter schools in the city. “I have long had concerns about charter schools, which is why I do not support raising the cap. Chief among those concerns is the fact that charter schools do not have the same level of transparency that’s required of public schools, which is inherently unfair. Our focus should be on strengthening all of our schools and ensuring every student gets the opportunity to succeed,” said City Council Speaker Johnson in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

"The answer to the real issues in the NYC public school system is not to create further imbalance," Public Advocate Williams said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "I do not support the the current push to raise the charter school cap. In fact, what the Governor should do is pay the public schools of the city the money they’ve been owed for decades. I also urge the Administration to launch a full investigation into the controversial disciplinary practices seen in some charter schools to combat wrongdoings that continue to occur.”

A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a Democrat, said she is “opposed to raising the cap, period.” In previous testimony, Brewer has said that charter schools “are unsustainable education practices that serve the few at the expense of many.”

Spokespeople for other top city officials -- Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. -- did not provide comment for this story on where those officials stand on the charter school cap, despite multiple requests to each office.

Adam and Diaz Jr. have both been supportive of charter schools, while Stringer has been more cool to the privately-run, publicly-funded schools that now educate roughly 10% of the city’s students.

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Where Top City and State Officials Stand on Raising the Charter School Cap Sun, 28 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Crowded Field Forms for Special City Council Election to Replace Jumaane Williams https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8422-crowded-city-council-field-forms-for-special-election-to-replace-jumaane-williams https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8422-crowded-city-council-field-forms-for-special-election-to-replace-jumaane-williams citycouncil cm

Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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

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Crowded Field Forms for Special City Council Election to Replace Jumaane Williams Wed, 03 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
WATCH: New Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on His Vision for New York City https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8387-watch-new-public-advocate-jumaane-williams-on-his-vision-for-new-york-city https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8387-watch-new-public-advocate-jumaane-williams-on-his-vision-for-new-york-city counciljwoffice

Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


After winning the February 26 special election for New York City Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams catapulted from Brooklyn City Council Member to one of just three citywide elected officials. With the election results certified, Williams sat down at the Manhattan Neightborhood Network studio with Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max for an in-depth, wide-ranging interview about his plans, priorities, and positions. Watch:

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WATCH: New Public Advocate Jumaane Williams on His Vision for New York City Mon, 25 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Report: Under New Law, Small Donors Drove Public Advocate Special Election Campaigns https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8348-report-under-new-law-small-donors-drove-public-advocate-special-election-campaigns https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8348-report-under-new-law-small-donors-drove-public-advocate-special-election-campaigns  poolnytdebate 001

The first public advocate debate (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))


Small-dollar donors were behind 63 percent of the first wave of campaign contributions to candidates who ran in the February special election for public advocate, up from 26.3 percent in 2013 when there was an open race for the seat, according to an analysis by New York City Council Member Ben Kallos. The Manhattan Council member sponsored the law to implement in the public advocate special election the new campaign finance rules overwhelmingly approved by voters in a ballot referendum last year.

The public advocate special election, in which City Council Member Jumaane Williams emerged victorious, was the first citywide race under the new rules that lowered contribution limits for special elections for citywide offices from $2,550 to $1,000 (special election limits are half of the regular election limits, which changed from $5,100 to $2,000), increased the ratio of public matching funds given to candidates from 6-to-1 for the first $175 of a qualifying contribution to 8-to-1 for the first $250, and increased the limit for public funds payments from 55 percent of the spending limit for a race to 75 percent. Soon after the referendum was approved -- by just over 80 percent of voters -- the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio expedited legislation in order to apply the rules to elections before 2021, after which they were set to be mandatory. For the special election and those through 2021, the next citywide election year, candidates must choose the old or new system.

Of the 17 candidates on the public advocate ballot, all but one opted into the voluntary public matching funds program, which is administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Only four decided to stick with the outgoing matching program while the rest chose lower contribution limits that came with higher public matching funds. In total, the 11 candidates who eventually qualified for public funds received $7,178,120 via the CFB.

According CFB’s own analysis released the day after the election, the most common contribution amount was $10, down from $100 in previous public advocate elections. “The matching funds give candidates the incentives to raise money the right way, by going to the New York City voters they want to represent in government, not to big-money donors or special interests,” said Amy Loprest, CFB executive director, in a statement on February 27. “If we want a government that is closer and more responsive to the people, it has to start with how candidates fund their campaigns.”

Kallos, the City Council’s resident good government wonk, has pushed improvements to the city’s campaign finance law for years and felt vindicated by seeing the campaign finance numbers behind the election. The ballot question, proposed by a charter revision commission created by Mayor Bill de Blasio, was largely similar to a bill Kallos had sponsored in the previous legislative session of the Council.

“One of the reasons I was so eager for this to apply in the public advocate’s race is I was worried about the time between the vote in November [2018] and 2021 and I wanted to prove to people that this could work,” he said. There will be another public advocate election this fall to decide who will hold the seat vacated by Attorney General letitia James for the final two years of her public advocate term. Kallos’ bill also lowered the thresholds for candidates to qualify for official debates sponsored by the CFB and for public funds payments.

His analysis, which covers the candidates’ pre-election campaign finance disclosures till February 11 (the most recent filing deadline - final numbers are due March 25), found that contributions of $1,000 and more accounted for 26 percent of the $2.2 million raised to that point in the election, compared with 60 percent throughout 2013. In total, all the candidates raised $2.6 million for the special election, which was “nonpartisan” and did not have party primaries. In 2013, candidates raised $4.9 million running for public advocate in the primary and general.

Kallos has long been critical of big money in elections, particularly donations from the real estate industry which have been a large force at the city and state level. “This is the first time a citywide elected official has been elected without real estate money,” said Kallos, who himself rejects real estate donations.   

Several candidates in the special election similarly refused real estate cash, which is of a piece with broader calls for candidates to rely on small donors. Public Advocate-elect Williams was among those who signed a pledge floated by New York Communities for Change, a housing justice advocacy organization, to refuse corporate and real estate money.

“New York City has changed forever: we will no longer be held hostage by big-money real estate developers and landlords who aim to profit through policies that incentivize the displacement and gouging of low-income tenants,” said Jonathan Westin, NYCC executive director, in a statement calling on other candidates to follow Williams’ lead.

Several candidates running for citywide office in 2021, or exploring a candidacy, have already said that they will rely on the new campaign finance system, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Real estate donations are increasingly becoming a litmus test for progressive Democrats, some of whom were elected to the state Legislature last year and are also pushing to implement a public financing program for state elections similar to the city’s model. For advocates and labor leaders, the public advocate election was proof positive that small-dollar financing is effective and should be replicated by the state. “Jumaane Williams's victory, and the public participation in the process, is a glimpse of what we could accomplish if we pass campaign finance reform at the state level,” said Stanley Fritz, campaigns manager for Citizen Action. Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, said, “The major shift towards small donor financing in city wide elections shows that working people in our state want a more democratic system.

Kallos notes that candidates can spend fewer hours dialling for dollars from wealthy donors if they rely on small contributions from the tens of thousands of residents of their districts, or from millions in the case of citywide races. “My hypothesis was that if we increase the public match...that that would halve big money and it actually did that,” he said. “It wasn’t a modest success. It literally cut it almost in half.”

The expanded matching funds program has been widely praised for elevating the voices of everyday New Yorkers. “Normally, a special election for public advocate would probably be very much of an insider’s race. It would be funded by insiders and people who follow politics closely,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a good government advocacy group. “And I think that what putting this legislation into effect now did was incentivized candidates to reach out to ordinary New Yorkers to campaign.” Camarda also expects this momentum to carry forward and that candidates will feel “real pressure” to participate.

Many of the candidates who ran for public advocate were also first-time contenders, including Nomiki Konst and Dawn Smalls, who were among the ten candidates on stage at the first official debate in the race, and among the seven candidates at the second official debate.

There have been arguments levelled against the public funds system, of course, and it’s hard to predict exactly how it will work for a full-fledged citywide race rather than a truncated special election. Some candidates have said the regulators of the program are sometimes overly harsh and fine them for small, technical violations. Others criticize the cost to taxpayers -- the entire special election is estimated to cost the city around $20 million in administrative and public campaign financing while the annual budget of the public advocate was only about $3.6 million last year. Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who stuck with the old campaign finance rules and came in third in the special election, argued that the new system was being pushed through to prevent her from winning, apparently in part because she was transferring a significant sum of funds from her prior campaign account, an advantage more easily mitigated with the new system.

But there is otherwise broad agreement that the city’s program is a model to be emulated, as other jurisdictions have done across the country, and it is progressively being improved. “I’m still not done yet,” Kallos said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify that total candidate fundraising was $2.6 million for the special election. It has also been updated to clarify the contribution limits for special elections. 

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Report: Under New Law, Small Donors Drove Public Advocate Special Election Campaigns Mon, 11 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
With Williams in Office, Will Public Advocate Get Budget Boost? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8338-with-williams-in-office-will-public-advocate-get-budget-boost https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8338-with-williams-in-office-will-public-advocate-get-budget-boost citycouncil corey johnson jumaane williams

Jumaane Williams (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Jumaane Williams, the City Council member elected public advocate in a special election last month, has vowed a renewed push for increased funding and an independent budget to bolster the meager resources of the office he now occupies.

Over the course of the six-week long special election that Williams won, virtually all of the 17 candidates who were on the ballot argued that the public advocate’s office needs more funding. One of just three elected positions with citywide responsibilities, the public advocate’s office currently has a budget of $3.6 million for the year, giving it little leeway to pursue the grand promises that each candidate made, whether it involves investigations of city agencies or creating new deputy public advocate offices in the boroughs, as Williams himself has pledged.

“I haven’t met too many people that said the money they have is sufficient to do the work they have to do. So the short answer is, you can always use some additional funds,” Williams said when asked about the public advocate’s budget at his first news conference at his new office on Thursday afternoon. Williams was sworn in by the city clerk at a private ceremony on Wednesday and will be transitioning into the role over the next few weeks (results of the special election still need to be certified and Williams must resign from his City Council seat).

Renewed focus on the office’s budget thanks to the special election comes in the early stages of city budget season, with a new spending plan due by July 1, the start of the city’s fiscal year, and as a charter revision commission considers an overhaul of the city’s foundational laws. The commission’s work will include reevaluation of the role of the public advocate and consideration of independent budgeting for various offices.

Williams appears ready to simultaneously push for more funding for next fiscal year and independent budgeting for the long-term, something that the charter commission would have to propose and voters would have to approve in November, when Williams is expected to again be on the ballot to attempt to earn the rest of the current four-year term through 2021.

In a subsequent Thursday phone interview with Gotham Gazette, Williams said, “Two things that would make this office immediately strong are subpoena power and independent budgeting. As the watchdog-ombudsman, it would make sense that this office would have a budget that’s not subject to the whims of the government that we’re supposed to be an ombudsman over.”

Williams did concede that he doesn’t have a budget figure in mind and that he has yet to figure out “the most pragmatic and effective way to do that.” He added, “I do feel like people understand why it’s necessary.”

Currently, the Independent Budget Office, a nonpartisan city-funded fiscal watchdog, is the only city government agency or entity with a budget pegged to another existing one rather than being allocated by the mayor or the mayor and the City Council through the annual city budget process. By law, IBO’s annual budget cannot be less than 12.5 percent of the annual funding for the mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. That precludes any mayor from slashing IBO’s budget at their whim.

The public advocate’s budget, on the other hand, is set by the mayor and City Council, which is what allowed former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to cut funding to the office when he was in power. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a former public advocate himself, restored that funding and has incrementally increased it each year. In turn, calls for independent budgeting also seemed to fade away and then-Public Advocate Letitia James, now the state Attorney General, did not take a position on it.

The mayor’s preliminary budget for the 2020 fiscal year beginning July 1 proposes increasing the budget again, to $3.8 million, up from $3.1 million in de Blasio’s first adopted budget in 2014. When he was public advocate, de Blasio led a push for independent budgeting for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates police officer misconduct, indicating that he’s open to the concept of separating funding for a government watchdog.

“We look forward to reviewing a proposal for an independent budget for the Public Advocate’s office,” said Raul Contreras, a de Blasio spokesperson, in an email. “It’s worth noting that this administration has significantly increased the Public Advocate’s budget by 66 percent since taking office.”

Even at the proposed $3.8 million for next fiscal year, the public advocate would be tasked with keeping watch over a city government de Blasio has said will spend roughly $92.2 billion during the same time period.

The circumstances of the special election had other elected officials also clamoring for greater resources for the city’s ombudsperson, including City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who served as acting public advocate while the seat was vacant for seven weeks.

“I think independent budgeting is key for this office so it’s not on the whims of whoever the City Council speaker is or whoever the mayor is and that it can be a truly independent watchdog,” Johnson told reporters as he walked Williams to his new office at 1 Centre Street last week. “I know that’s what Jumaane would do with whatever budget he has but it’s beyond one public advocate, it’s beyond one speaker of the Council. It’s really about checks and balances.”

The City Council has also called on the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to consider a charter amendment to give the public advocate the ability to submit a proposed budget into the mayor’s executive budget, the second iteration of the annual spending plan.

[Read: City Council Seeks Expanded Power, Sweeping Change in Recommendations to Charter Revision Commission]

In its report to the Charter commission, the Council noted that the mayor sets the public advocate’s and comptroller’s budgets though both are independently elected citywide officials. “This budgetary relationship can become more political than practical and may significantly hamper the ability of these elected officials to do their work — particularly if their priorities conflict with the Mayor’s priorities,” the report reads.

The comptroller’s budget is currently $107.5 million for this fiscal year.

The charter commission is currently holding hearings to solicit expert testimony on various focus areas, including on independent budgeting for entities such as the public advocate and whether to propose modifications to the public advocate’s powers or perhaps eliminate the office entirely.

At a January 31 hearing where the commission voted on those focus areas, Commissioner James Vacca, a former City Council member, did raise concerns about independent budgeting. “I think that you will have a lot of people knocking at your doors and they will be saying that they want to establish their own budgets, too, and I don’t know if that’s fiscally possible or responsible,” he cautioned.

Williams has promised that he’ll make the most of his limited resources. “As a Council member, I didn’t have nearly this kind of budget and I think I was able to be effective,” he said. “And now, in this position, I think I’m able to amplify [issues] even more...An independent budget just makes it that much more effective. So we’re going to continue to push but we’re going to get the job done either way.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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With Williams in Office, Will Public Advocate Get Budget Boost? Thu, 07 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
The Aftermath of the Public Advocate Race https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8337-the-aftermath-of-the-public-advocate-race https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8337-the-aftermath-of-the-public-advocate-race ccm j williams prelim

Melissa Mark-Viverito & Jumaane Williams (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The public advocate special election has come and gone. The implications of the results will be felt for years to come. Yet there is a debate over whether the position of public advocate should even exist. But it is here and the last two to hold the position—Bill de Blasio and Letitia James—have moved on to higher office.

The Candidates
Jumaane Williams, the winner of the race with 33% of the vote in a very crowded field and now the third African-American to hold citywide office in New York City, will surely be mentioned as a mayoral candidate in the future. Williams, perhaps contrary to popular expectation, was dominant in a diverse set of communities in the city—from central Brooklyn to the Upper West Side, northern Bronx to the Lower East Side.

The following map, created by Steven Romalewski of CUNY Graduate Center’s Mapping Service, vividly captures the results of the citywide race, showing Williams’ geographically- and numerically-wide victory:

aftermath pub adv

The breadth and depth of his victory was surprising. Many, including me, assumed that Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Latina, would run a more formidable race. Conventional wisdom held that along with Williams (who ran for lieutenant governor last fall), she would enter the race with the highest name recognition, after serving as speaker of the City Council for four years and thus appearing often on newspaper pages and TV networks throughout the city. Instead, Mark-Viverito took a very distant third place, with only 11% of the overall vote.

Mark-Viverito’s electoral performance was so weak that she won her home Assembly district (the 68th district in East Harlem) by only 216 votes over Williams. By comparison, Williams defeated his next closest opponent by over 3,000 votes in his own Brooklyn Assembly district. Assemblymember Michael Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and in his home district defeated his closest opponent by over 1,000 votes.

This does not mean that Mark-Viverito has taken herself out of contention for future races. But she has much work to do to improve name recognition and to make a more compelling case for being elected to higher office.

The Votes
In my last column, I noted that 67% of the runoff election for this seat back in 2013 came from Manhattan and Brooklyn. I figured that in this shortened special election, these two boroughs would continue to play an outsized role. Manhattan and Brooklyn duly accounted for 60% of the overall voter turnout. And it was in these two boroughs that Williams vastly outperformed his competitors.

In that same column I pondered the potential role that outside groups and labor could play. I believe it was the endorsement of The New York Times, an entity I did not mention in that piece, that cemented an already strong campaign by Williams as outside groups and labor mostly remained on the sidelines.

The Black and Latino Vote
While it will be at least another month before we have the full data on who actually came out to vote, we have some hints about the Latino and black communities: that districts with over 55% of black voters comprised 22% of the overall vote; that districts with over 55% of Latino voters comprised about 10%; and that together black and Latino voters appear to have constituted almost a third of the overall vote.

As we explore the dynamics of the black and Latino vote in this special election, it is noteworthy that the depth of Williams’ victory extended to some key Latino districts, where it may have been expected that Mark-Viverito would dominate. Surely, having Ydanis Rodriguez and Rafael Espinal in the race did not help her cause to win the lion’s share of the Latino vote. But Williams’ performance is striking in places like Washington Heights, where he came within 16 votes of Mark-Viverito’s second place finish (Rodriguez won this, his home district).

In Bushwick, East New York, and parts of Williamsburg, where Latino voters still outnumber other groups, Williams handily beat Mark-Viverito and Espinal. These were all areas in which Mark-Viverito needed to pull out strong Latino numbers. But she failed to do so.

The Latino vote was particularly low overall. And that is troubling. During the previous municipal general elections, in 2017, Latinos made up roughly 18% of the overall vote (blacks comprised 30% of the vote). This past November, Latino turnout citywide increased by 3%. But in my estimation, in this special election Latinos barely reached the 10% mark. Though we will not have the full picture for a while, clearly plenty of work remains to be done to increase voter participation in Latino communities.

And as Latino leaders gather in Albany this weekend for the annual Somos legislative conference, I would hope that they brainstorm strategies to increase Latino voter participation.

All in all, and the public advocate special election notwithstanding, in years to come Latinos and black voters will continue to gain influence as crucial voting blocs in New York City. Given their potential voting power, the task is making sure they turn out to vote.

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Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter @EliValentinNY.

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

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The Aftermath of the Public Advocate Race Thu, 07 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate-Elect Jumaane Williams https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8315-max-murphy-podcast-public-advocate-elect-jumaane-williams https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8315-max-murphy-podcast-public-advocate-elect-jumaane-williams mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


February 27, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Jumaane Williams Wins & Key Takeaways from the Public Advocate Special Election

pa jwilliamsCity Council Member Jumaane Williams won the crowded Public Advocate special election in convincing fashion, receiving 33% of the vote with 17 names on the ballot. Williams joined the show to discuss his win and what comes next.

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," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Public Advocate-Elect Jumaane Williams Wed, 27 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000