Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2161 Mon, 01 Jun 2020 04:05:58 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) No to Austerity, Yes to Efficiency and Fairness: Getting Our Budget Priorities Straight for a Strong Post-COVID New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9415-no-austerity-budget-priorities-strong-post-covid-new-york-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9415-no-austerity-budget-priorities-strong-post-covid-new-york-coronavirus exec bud 18

Major budget questions loom as coronavirus takes its toll (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)


As we work to show COVID the door, tough budget decisions are ahead. Governments at every level are grappling with the unprecedented toll this pandemic has had on the economy. 

COVID has laid bare structural inequities too stark to ignore. While some work comfortably from home, others put themselves in danger on the front lines. While some flee to the Hamptons, others pass the virus between family members in cramped New York City apartments.

These choices become even more stark when we take a cold, hard look at post-coronavirus state and municipal budgets. New York State is facing a $10-$15 billion budget deficit. New York City projects a $7.4 billion loss in tax revenue. 

Where should we go to fill the budget gaps? 

Our executives have given us hints of what they want to do. We are told that painful cuts are necessary, that sacrifices must be made.

Mayor de Blasio already took a scythe to just about every program with the prefix summer including the Summer Youth Employment Program, a program that provides summer jobs for at-risk teenagers. He has also cut services that affect our daily lives, like trash pickup days and electronics recycling.

Governor Cuomo pushed to cut health-care funding in this year’s budget, even as our public hospitals struggle to treat an influx of coronavirus patients, and we’re told to wait with baited breath for more cuts to come.

The mayor continually refuses to lessen property tax burdens on low- and middle-class homeowners and renters, many of whom are bearing the brunt of COVID’s pain, while the governor has refused to consider revenue raisers on ultra-millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations, many of whom are left unaffected by the virus’ scourge.

We believe these are misguided decisions. We reject the choice between austerity budgeting and a tax burden shouldered by low- and middle-income New Yorkers.

Instead, we need an honest assessment of how we can raise revenues by looking to those who can afford to pay their fair share.

The very wealthiest New Yorkers will not face eviction or foreclosure, like so many other New Yorkers. They will not struggle to access unemployment benefits. They will wait out the storm in second homes.

As a matter of basic fairness, these individuals less impacted by COVID can and should contribute more.

We should also look at corporations that have profited specifically because of this pandemic. These large corporations can and should pay more to rebuild our economy when this is all over.

Passing austerity budgets that cut essential services will only doubly punish our frontline workers and those struggling to make ends meet during and after this pandemic. After all, our essential workers — EMS, police, firefighters, Parks Department employees, grocery store workers, transit workers, nurses, doctors, and so many others — are about 40% people of color; 75% of whom live in the so-called outer boroughs. One-third of our frontline workers are from low-income households.

An austerity approach will inevitably push our city deeper into recession and make it even harder to dig out of this financial hole.

In addition to revenue raisers on those who can afford it, we need substantial federal funds and can borrow up to 20% of the budget from the Federal Reserve’s COVID-19 emergency lending program.

Finally, we also must take a hard look at the waste in our budgets. The New York City budget has ballooned by $20 billion in the last six years alone. The state budget is certainly not immune to wasteful spending either. 

Instead of making cuts to hospitals, CUNY, and summer employment, we need to look at the programs with unproven impact, the spending that doesn’t go directly into communities.

For example, procurement contracts make up nearly 40% of the city budget’s recent growth. These contracts should be reviewed and scrapped or renegotiated as necessary. In 2018, the Independent Budget Office suggested that simply switching to open source software could save the city $30 million per year.

For every wasteful or unproven program we know about, there may be many more that we haven’t yet identified, in part for lack of looking close enough. These budgets need to be scrutinized and every revenue-raising option must be explored before we cut a single dollar to any program that working-class New Yorkers rely on. 

This pandemic has put us through the wringer in the most brutal way. All of us are reflecting on what kind of society we want to be when we emerge from this dark time. 

Our post-COVID government budgets will demonstrate our values. We stand for a New York City and State that cares for its people and lifts up those who need it most.

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State Senator Andrew Gounardes and City Council Member Justin Brannan represent parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @agounardes & @JustinBrannan.

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

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No to Austerity, Yes to Efficiency and Fairness: Getting Our Budget Priorities Straight for a Strong Post-COVID New York Thu, 21 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Council to Pass Bill Capping What Food Delivery Apps Can Charge Restaurants, Sponsor Says https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9364-city-council-cap-food-delivery-apps-charge-restaurants https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9364-city-council-cap-food-delivery-apps-charge-restaurants images shot day

Restaurants are struggling to survive during the lockdown (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


As New York City’s mom-and-pop restaurants struggle to survive in lockdown conditions owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the New York City Council appears poised to help them cut costs by passing a bill to cap fees charged by third-party delivery services, which have proliferated in recent years via phone apps.

Small restaurants that cannot afford delivery workers or have recognized the popularity of the apps rely on the third-party services like Grubhub, Seamless (which is owned by Grubhub), DoorDash, and Uber Eats, which charge significant fees that eat into an establishment’s profits. Those fees, hidden from customers who use the services, can include charges for processing, delivery, and commissions, and can end up hurting, rather than helping a food establishment’s business.

A particularly harsh example made waves on social media when a pizza restaurant owner, Giuseppe Badalamenti, in Chicago posted details of a Grubhub invoice on Facebook. Orders that totalled about $1,042 over the month of March only netted him about $376 after Grubhub took its cuts. “Stop believing you are supporting your community by ordering from a 3rd party delivery company,” Badalamenti wrote on Facebook in a post that went viral.

Grubhub defended the fees in a statement to the Chicago Tribune. “Restaurant owners select the services they want and only pay a commission to Grubhub when we help generate sales. Grubhub is happy to work with restaurant partners to help them manage costs and grow their business,” the statement said.

Restaurant owners and trade associations in New York City have been complaining about the fees charged by the app-based delivery companies for some time, with the temperature significantly raised amid the coronavirus shutdown wherein restaurants are only allowed to offer delivery and takeout. “The third-party delivery platform situation was a crisis before we were in this crisis,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, in testimony before a remote Council hearing on the bill on April 29. “What companies like Grubhub and Seamless are doing is using sophisticated techniques to basically extract as much money as possible out of businesses pre- and during this pandemic.”

The bill before the New York City Council, which its lead sponsor says will soon pass, will limit any fees charged by a third-party delivery service at 10% of the total purchase price of an online order.

The bill was introduced by Queens Council Member Francisco Moya in February, well before the coronavirus made it a far more urgent issue, and has since been amended to account for the pandemic. In the case of a declared public emergency, the bill limits delivery fees to 10% and prohibits any other fees. The law would go into effect immediately and carries a hefty $1,000 penalty for each violation. Moya told Gotham Gazette the bill will be voted on and passed at the next full meeting of the City Council, which was originally scheduled for May 5 but has been recheduled for May 13. "Yes," Moya said, when asked if the bill will be voted on and passed by the full Council (it will have to be passed in Council committee first).

A spokesperson for Council Speaker Corey Johnson declined to comment for this article.

When the outbreak began, Moya and others were somewhat optimistic that delivery service companies would come to the aid of small businesses. On March 13, Grubhub had announced that it would temporarily stop collecting commissions of up to $100 million, and set up a charitable fund for drivers and restaurants in several cities, including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Portland and Chicago, where the company was founded and is headquartered.

“Independent restaurants are the lifeblood of our cities and feed our communities. They have been amazing long-term partners for us, and we wanted to help them in their time of need. Our business is their business – so this was an easy decision for us to make,” said Matt Maloney, Grubhub Founder and CEO, in a statement at the time. 

But, as Badalamenti found out the hard way, Grubhub is still making a tidy sum off commission, delivery, and processing fees. His invoice also included charges for promotional services that he chose.

“There’s a word for things that feed off the lifeblood of others and that’s of course is leeches,” Moya said in a phone interview. “Grubhub is still coming after these [restaurants], and they’re gonna suck them dry if we don’t help level the playing field.”

He added of his district that includes Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Corona, “I represent an area where it’s a large immigrant community. These are small family-owned restaurants. They can barely afford to keep the doors open, let alone sustain the fees that they're being charged.”

Inquiries to Grubhub went unanswered. Harry Hartield, a spokesperson for Uber Eats said in a statement, “Restaurants have the option to choose different services at different commission levels. With Uber Eats, they can choose to pay a lower commission and pay for full-time delivery people themselves. Many restaurants don’t have the resources to do that and they choose to have Uber Eats cover all the costs and logistics of delivery. This law would simply shift the costs back onto small, local restaurants who can afford it the least.”

A DoorDash spokesperson made a similar argument, noting that the company has cut commissions in half for small restaurants as part of a $100 million effort at commission relief and marketing support. “Unfortunately, an arbitrary cap could limit the services we can provide to local restaurants and ultimately hurt couriers who need these work opportunities more than ever,” the spokesperson said.

The bill doesn’t yet make a distinction between those different types of arrangements. For instance, restaurants with their own delivery workers and those that rely on the service’s delivery workers would be subject to the same cap. Moya did say, however, that final negotiations about the bill are ongoing before it is passed, and that it could be tweaked to separate caps on delivery fees from caps on commission and processing fees. The bill has 14 co-sponsors so far in the 51-seat Council.

Moya’s bill is also part of a larger package of regulations regarding third-party food delivery services that were the subject of the remote hearing on April 29, held jointly by the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, Committee on Small Business, and Committee on Housing and Buildings. Other proposed measures include requirements for disclosure to consumers of the fees and commissions charged to restaurants as well as requiring a license from the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, among other bills.

Bronx Council Member Ritchie Torres said on Twitter the bills aim to “protect struggling restaurants from outrageous fees from food delivery apps & to ensure delivery workers receive their well-earned tips in full. We must protect restaurants so they’re able to return & thrive."

In the virtual hearing, Amy Healy, a Grubhub representative, called the bills an example of “government overreach.” Brooklyn Council Member Justin Brannan pushed the company to voluntarily commit to a fee cap, but the company said that would force it to operate with losses. “Restaurants may have been deemed ’essential’ during #COVID19 but it ain't peaches & cream. They are all struggling to make ends meet with take-out & delivery as their only means of staying afloat. NYC must institute an emergency 10% cap on all delivery apps,” Brannan tweeted.

Other proposed measures include requirements for disclosure to consumers of the fees and commissions charged to restaurants as well as requiring a license from the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, among other bills.

“[M]y agency and administration, generally we agree with the issues that the Council is trying to address with these bills,” said DCWP Commissioner Lorelei Salas, a de Blasio appointee, at the hearing. “Given the ongoing emergency and fiscal situation, it would be challenging for us to contemplate taking on a broad area of new regulation. With that said, we want to work with the Council to figure out the best pathway forward and what we can do to help small businesses that most need this help right now.”

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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 next full Council meeting has been rescheduled for May 13. 

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City Council to Pass Bill Capping What Food Delivery Apps Can Charge Restaurants, Sponsor Says Sat, 02 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
We Deserve The Right To Be Forgotten https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9083-we-deserve-the-right-to-be-forgotten https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9083-we-deserve-the-right-to-be-forgotten daily life imagery

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


An old school newspaper editor once told me through a cloud of cigar smoke, “The accusation? That's front page news. The acquittal? You're lucky if that makes the paper at all.” 

Being “innocent until proven guilty” is one of the most sacred tenets of the American criminal justice system. But in the modern digital age, “innocence” is something the acquitted or the wrongfully accused never fully achieve, because, on the internet, their name stays forever affiliated with the crime for which they were charged. That’s why we should be pushing to institute a national “Right to Be Forgotten.”

Imagine you are accused of a crime you did not commit. After what was most likely a long and traumatic trial, the judge or the jury finds you did not commit the crime, and you are released from the custody of the state. All you want to do is get back to normal life. You apply for jobs (you lost yours during the trial), but, mysteriously, you keep getting turned down, despite a clean record. The fact is, you may have successfully cleared your record, but you will never clear your name, because every trace of media where you are referred to as the suspect, the accused, or the alleged perpetrator remains online forever.

Every single article, video, tweet, Facebook post, and any other media remnant easily pulled up on the internet, will still be the top hit on a search engine, despite your innocence before the court. It’s an injustice that has no place in our system, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

A “Right to be Forgotten” law would require search engines like Google to remove any links to articles and publications that associate a person with a crime for which they’ve been found not guilty. The content is not destroyed – there would be no loss to the work of journalists who covered the initial charge – but by removing widely accessible links that pop up in simple searches, the law attempts to make it significantly more difficult for the average person on Google to discover a person’s affiliation with an accusation that was determined to be unfounded or untrue. 

Right now, we attempt to “clear” a person's name by publishing an article of their acquittal, and consider the record corrected. But we all know this is not how modern media works. Depending on the situation, your charge and your mugshot gets thousands upon thousands of views, whereas your acquittal (months or years later) maybe gets a few hundred. There is no amount of record-correcting that can overpower a person’s affiliation with an accusation. Once we see a person’s name connected with a crime, even if we know they’ve been acquitted, it’s the accusation that sticks. Innocence be damned. 

Now, there are certainly some people, and some crimes, to which this should not apply. Public figures (like elected officials or heads of major companies), should not receive this protection, in order to preserve the public’s access to information that may be in their interest. In addition, crimes like sexual assault, which have an abnormally low conviction rate and are often comparatively difficult to “prove” in the eyes of the court, could also be exempt. But there is simply no good reason that the average person accused and acquitted of a crime should carry the burden of guilt for the rest of their lives.

Don’t get it twisted, I’m all for the free flow of information, and preserving the public record as best as we can. But we have to recognize that the modern digital age presents a unique problem, where the ruling in the court of public opinion matters almost as much – if not more in some cases – as the one in criminal court.

For this legislation to have an impact, it would have to be passed on a federal level, with the power required to regulate large search engines and internet providers. I cannot push this legislation on the city level, but I urge my colleagues in Congress to take up this cause, and help preserve the innocence of so many. The old newspaper editor was right: the accusation is almost always front page news but you're lucky if the acquittal makes the paper at all. We need to uphold the power of innocence, or innocence itself ultimately loses its value.

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City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @JustinBrannan.

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

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We Deserve The Right To Be Forgotten Tue, 28 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
It’s Time to Bring MTA’s Paratransit Into the 21st Century https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9003-time-to-bring-mta-paratransit-into-21st-century-access-a-ride https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9003-time-to-bring-mta-paratransit-into-21st-century-access-a-ride mta aar residents

(photo: MTA)


There is a reason why Access-A-Ride is better known as “Stress-A-Ride” for the approximately 170,000 New Yorkers who depend on it. 

The bill for Access-A-Ride will hit $616 million this year and the MTA is seeking additional funding from the City of New York. It’s mind-boggling to think this service can cost the cash-strapped agency so much for such low-quality service. That’s why before anyone kicks in additional funding, the MTA must fundamentally transform the way it runs its paratransit program and bring it into the 21st century.

New York City Transit (NYCT), which is part of the MTA, administers paratransit service, which provides 24/7 shared-ride, door-to-door transportation through the five boroughs and in parts of Westchester and Long Island. The scale and scope of this service is unmatched by any other transit system in the nation. However, disability advocates and budget watchdog groups alike have observed for years that the MTA’s byzantine approach to paratransit services leads to inefficiencies and a lack of transparency and accountability, culminating in the highest cost-per-trip ($68.71) in the country. The second most expensive (Chicago) is half the MTA’s at $38. Why? 

Fundamentally, the way the MTA contracts its paratransit services is both cumbersome and inefficient. Right now, the MTA provides Access-A-Ride through a constellation of for-profit and not-for-profit contractors, including 13 Dedicated Carriers, which use specially-equipped buses and cars owned by NYCT, and two Broker Car Service Providers, which provide transportation services to ambulatory passengers through a network of subcontracted livery and black car service providers.

And there are separate contracts that govern Access-A-Ride’s eligibility determination unit, the command center which receives trip requests and designs schedules and routes, and the carriers that complete those trips. Is your head spinning yet?

In addition, more than half of Access-A-Ride trips are “ambulatory” for people who are able to walk to, enter, and exit vehicles without assistance. Vehicles with special equipment are not necessary for these trips. Putting people in taxis or other for-hire vehicles is cheaper. A single trip under the e-hail program costs the authority $35.91. The same Access-A-Ride trip costs the MTA $68.71. 

So how could we turn things around for Access-A-Ride?

Instead of over a dozen contractors and vendors to provide paratransit services, the MTA should unify the entire system with a single, full-service technology platform to handle all relationships with vehicle providers. The MTA could streamline management of Access-A-Ride and ambulatory services, encourage more competitive bidding, and lower administrative costs.

In the last five years, reports by experts at the Citizens Budget Commission, NYU Rudin Transportation Center, and Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office all point to the burdensome administrative and coordination layers that are the direct result of multiple types of contracts and vendors at every step of the service: verification, booking, dispatching, routing, vehicle operations, customer service, etc.  

While they’re at it, the MTA should require that this platform enable on-demand rides in real-time so that people are no longer forced to call to reserve a trip one to two days in advance and wait to be given an unpredictable and often inaccurate pickup time.

We should have a system to match paratransit customers to right-sized vehicles from a variety of modes; increase efficient sharing and routing of vehicles; and create more transparency and accountability for quality-of-service and customer complaints. The technology for this solution is well-established and the MTA should begin the work immediately to transition to such a system.

In the meantime, it should build on the success of the e-hail program – the MTA’s one innovation in this space in recent memory – instead of curtailing it. The pilot provided the city’s paratransit customers with rides in yellow or green taxis through an e-hail app, Curb or Arro, but was only made available to 1,200 users, less than 1% of the service’s customers. The MTA is now looking to severely limit the one bright spot in its paratransit program by capping rides and having customers pay more. It should instead improve the program.

Most of the rides currently booked through the e-hail pilot are single-passenger rides, but where appropriate we should use ride-matching technology to have more multi-passenger ambulatory trips as a way to lower cost-per-trip.

The MTA recently held a conference inviting technology companies to share ideas for slashing time and cost of modernizing the antiquated signal system in the subway. Mark Dowd, the new Chief Innovation Officer at the MTA, declared, “We are looking for cutting-edge technologies, technologies that may have not been designed for this purpose, but can be applied to this purpose.” The MTA needs to apply this type of thinking to transform the costly and antiquated paratransit program. Now.

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City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of Brooklyn; City Council Member Diana Ayala represents parts of Manhattan and the Bronx. On Twitter @JustinBrannan and @DianaAyalaNYC.

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

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It’s Time to Bring MTA’s Paratransit Into the 21st Century Wed, 18 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
What to Watch for When the City's Property Tax Commission Finally Issues Its Report https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8987-what-to-watch-for-when-city-property-tax-commission-finally-issues-report https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8987-what-to-watch-for-when-city-property-tax-commission-finally-issues-report bay ridge vnb

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


“To be the fairest big city, you need a fair tax system. For too long, New York City taxpayers have had to grapple with a property tax system that is too opaque, too complex, and just feels unfair,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in May 2018 after announcing the creation of a commission to examine the issue. “New Yorkers need property tax reform, and this advisory commission will put us on the road to achieve it,” he said.

When the New York City Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform releases its final report, promised by the end of the year, it has the potential to upend the city’s methods for collecting real estate taxes, impacting its most stable source of revenue -- supporting roughly a third of the current $94.4 billion budget. The result is expected to be recommendations to create a more rational and equitable system, and with it a new field of winners and losers.

Commission Chair Marc Shaw told Gotham Gazette last week that the report would be “out soon,” at which point a slew of public debates will be triggered before the hard work of policy-crafting begins for city and state lawmakers. Much of the city’s property tax system is governed by state law. De Blasio has promised to push for reform once he receives the report and the next state legislative session begins in January.

“This commission is coming back this year with recommendations,” the mayor said in a July WNYC radio interview. “Two things then happen. Some [recommended changes] will be part of city law, which means they can be voted on by the City Council, and then I decide of course whether to sign or not, and the other [changes have] to be done by state law.”

“The state legislative session begins in January,” de Blasio continued. “We’re coming up to the point where these things are going to be put on the table and resolved.”

The commission was created by de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in May 2018 as a way to lay the groundwork for reforming a system described as byzantine, illogical, and unequal -- and one that is largely controlled by state law. It was also partially a response to a lawsuit filed against the city and state calling the property tax system unconstitutional (the suit survived a motion to dismiss, which is currently being appealed).

The commission held a series of public meetings throughout the first half of 2018 to hear from experts and solicit recommendations. Since February, the commission has been working out of public view as it attempts to tackle a complex problem.

“It deserves some care. There is no single easy or obvious way to create a fairer system,” a spokesperson for Johnson told Gotham Gazette in May. But the spring turned to summer, then fall and now winter, with no commission report.

"Property taxes were a top issue in the Mayoral race and Mayor de Blasio committed then to establish a property tax commission to address the inequities with the current property tax system,” said Staten Island Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, de Blasio’s Republican challenger in the 2017 mayoral race, in a statement Wednesday asking for the results of the commission. “People across the five boroughs testified over a year ago and he promised that his commission would present a report of its findings and recommendations before the end of the year.”

Everyone feels the effect of property taxes, from small-home owners to local businesses to landlords and tenants. For almost all property owners -- and those who pay property taxes through rent -- property taxes have risen every year over the past two decades with the relatively stable growth in the real estate market. Almost everyone feels they are too high, even those who pay relatively little.

The property tax system, by and large, is a creature of state law, which dictates the criteria for valuing property in each of its statutorily-designated “classes:” small homes, apartment buildings, utilities, and commercial property. But the city controls the rate at which taxes are levied and the Department of Finance comes up with the formula for determining a specific property’s value based on the state’s broad requirements. Experts say each of these steps comes with flaws the commission could address.

“The Advisory Commission’s recommendations for property tax reforms should reduce inequities in property tax burdens both within and across the existing tax classes, while improving the system’s transparency and simplicity,” wrote Ana Champeny, Director of City Studies at the Citizens Budget Commission, in an email to Gotham Gazette.

With the promise of the commission’s non-binding recommendations, state legislators have been spurred to consider potential changes they may be facing, with some beginning to prepare their staff, committees, and constituents for potentially groundbreaking shifts. But the commission, which is mandated to avoid recommendations that would diminish city revenue, may also offer a reality check to local officials who have historically tried to insulate themselves from the political fallout of raising taxes or cutting services.

At the heart of the issue is inequity across the system. State law divides properties into categories, each to be valued and levied differently, based on the outdated logic of the way land was used when the current system was enshrined in the 1980s. A system of assessment limitations created at the state-level to shield property-owners from rapid market value growth, who would otherwise see their taxes skyrocket, has over the decades distorted the relationship between assessed value and market value.

In perennial attempts to ease the tax burden on particular constituencies, politicians have created a labyrinth of abatements and exemptions that experts say makes understanding one’s real estate taxes virtually impossible for everyday New Yorkers.

“Bottom line is right now owners of multi-million dollar brownstones are paying less in property taxes than people in my district who live in a two family attached house. If that’s not a tale of two cities, I don’t know what is,” wrote City Council Member Justin Brannan, a Brooklyn Democrat representing Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Bensonhurst, in an email, with apparent reference to Mayor de Blasio’s 2013 campaign slogan.

The phenomenon Brannan describes is likely the result of multiple intertwined issues. The one experts point to most frequently, and which was raised at several commission meetings, is the inconsistent methodology with which different state-defined categories of property are valued.

In Class 1 are 1-, 2-, and 3-family homes, which are assessed on their market value (their actual or estimated sales price). In Class 2, are rental properties, valued based on the income they earn in a year. In Classes 3 and 4 are utilities and commercial properties, assessed based on the utility costs or net income, respectively.

Oddly, co-ops and condos -- which include some of the city’s most expensive apartments -- fall into Class 2 with rental property, valued based on the annual income “comparable” apartments receive in rent, even though they more closely resemble Class 1 properties, which also tend to be occupied by the owner.

What recommendations could be on the table?

>Property Classifications and Value Assessments
Among the suggestions most frequently raised by experts are to rationalize the classification of property types and to assess taxes based on market value (which is not often the case now), with a mechanism of relief for property-owners with low or fixed incomes. But changing that formula will mean some New Yorkers will see their taxes rise, including those who already feel constricted by tax collectors.

Many experts want to see classification changes with co-ops and condos in Class 1, where they would be evaluated based on sales price. Doing so would require a change in state law.

Then there is the way the city identifies comparable properties for the purpose of estimating value, which is done by the Department of Finance. Some of the inequities of the system may be helped by adjusting the department’s criteria for determining whether a property is comparable to another.

>Annual Assessment Increases and Circuit-Breakers
State law also imposes limits on the amount the assessed value of a property can grow over a one- or five-year period, which can result in inequity within a given tax class. In areas experiencing acute gentrification this can mean property tax rates lag behind the market value. Studies have found homeowners in the Bronx and Staten Island pay a much higher effective tax rate than the owners of similar property in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Many want to see the state eliminate those “caps and phase-ins.” But doing so could have consequences for homeowners with low, fixed, or even middle incomes -- especially in up-and-coming neighborhoods -- who purchased property when prices were low. To help them keep their homes when the market leaps, a number of experts and elected officials have called for “circuit-breakers,” which offer relief by mitigating property tax liability based on a household’s annual income.

Champeny said circuit-breakers are a more efficient and targeted form of relief than many of the piecemeal abatements and rebates currently in place.

But while contributing to inequities across the system, caps and phase-ins also provide a degree of stability, which is important to maintain the city’s largest revenue stream. When a small home experiences market growth that outpaces the statutory limits on assessment growth over a few years or decades, the assessed value will continue to increase even if the market slows. This provides a buffer for the city during periods of economic contraction. Eliminating caps and phase-ins without undermining the city’s fiscal stability will be one of the challenges the tax commission faces.

“The city’s fiscal health has benefited from the stability inherent in the structure of the current system,” Champeny wrote. “Proposed changes should not adversely impact the long-run stability and reliability of the tax as the City’s primary revenue source.”

>Adjusting the Tax Rate
The city under Mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio has harnessed the skyrocketing price of real estate to increase property tax revenue without changing the tax rate. One way to deal with potential fluctuations in property taxes, either as a result of market changes or changes in the law, is for the mayor and City Council to adjust the tax rate, which has been frozen since 2009.

The Citizens Budget Commission supports a system that favors residential over commercial property and utilities, which Champeny says can be achieved with differential assessment methods or through different tax rates. Class 1 should be saddled with the lowest tax burden (as measured by market value), followed by rental buildings, utilities, and finally commercial properties, she recently said in testimony to the state Senate.

If co-ops and condos are moved into Class 1, like many advocates and elected officials want, over half of the city’s roughly 3 million taxable residential units will fall within it. That new arrangement, along with any changes to the way co-ops and condos are valued, will have implications for the city’s tax rate if it is to maintain its current levy.

>Considering Tenants
Property-owners are not the only ones squeezed by the system. Often the property tax burden for rentals is felt by both landlords and tenants. Some advocates and elected officials want to make sure tenants are considered when lawmakers approach reform.

“Tenants of rent-stabilized units need guarantees that savings will be passed on to them if property taxes decline on rental properties,” Brannan wrote. There are roughly 2 million tenants in about 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in the city.

“Lessening the burden on rental properties can only help the city’s considerable challenge in preserving affordable housing,” he added.

Property taxes make up about 30 percent of the operating cost of rent-regulated units and increased assessments contribute to the rising cost of housing, according to a spokesperson for the Partnership for New York City, an advocacy group for the city’s business community. Kathryn Wylde, the Partnership’s President and CEO, supports reclassifying rent-regulated housing to reduce the tax liability of those properties.

Suing for Reform
The city’s commission is not the only thing compelling lawmakers to act. The aforementioned lawsuit filed by Tax Equity Now New York, a group led by former Department of Finance Commissioner Martha Stark, is challenging the property tax system on constitutional grounds.

“The property tax system is in need of a complete overhaul that should be guided by legal principles enunciated by the court. While the Commission may come up with some good ideas, without the court's guidance those ideas may fail to garner the support of those who need to enact any changes,” Stark wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

“The system is unconstitutional, illegal, and discriminatory,” she wrote, “the court is in the best position to offer the parameters for an overhaul that balances these fundamental issues.”

[Read: State Senators Look Ahead to Complicated Task of Property Tax Reform]

[Read: An Old, Unfair System: New York City's Property Tax Conundrum]

***
by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What to Watch for When the City's Property Tax Commission Finally Issues Its Report Wed, 11 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8933-city-council-considers-new-office-to-aid-non-profits https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8933-city-council-considers-new-office-to-aid-non-profits cm farah louis

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits Mon, 18 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
How Vulnerable is Max Rose? https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8822-how-vulnerable-is-max-rose-congress-malliotakis-trump https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8822-how-vulnerable-is-max-rose-congress-malliotakis-trump rose handshake

Rep. Max Rose (photo: @MaxRose4NY)


Max Rose calls himself a “centrist populist.” The first-term Democrat who represents New York’s 11th congressional district, which spans across Staten Island and along the shore of Southern Brooklyn, appears set on trying to make that label stick, and in doing so earn a second term when voters head to the polls next year.

Rose’s pitch and politics seem to match the district well: he’s a moderate, center-left politician and military veteran with a no-nonsense but affable and energetic personality. His mantra is serving constituents above political party, he regularly criticizes fellow Democrat Mayor Bill de Blasio, and he distances himself from the ascendent left-wing of his party, but sticks close to the House majority, though in fulfilling a campaign promise he did not vote for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to retain her leadership role.

But as he runs for reelection for the first time in 2020, a presidential year where Donald Trump is expected to be on the top of the Republican ticket, Rose is one of the top targets of Republicans hoping to regain majority control of the House of Representatives while holding the Senate and reelecting the president. Representing one of the swing-iest districts in the country -- represented by three Republicans and two Democrats in the last 10 years -- Rose is dealing with major countervailing forces: Trump’s strong popularity among many New York-11 voters and Democrats awakened by Trump’s surprise 2016 win who swept Rose into office last year.

Indicative of the minefield he finds himself navigating, Rose just became the last Democrat from New York City to announce support for impeachment proceedings against the president. While Rose’s somewhat cautious approach to Trump may endear him to some of his district’s center-right voters, it, coupled with his moderate positions on a variety of issues, could embitter the very Democratic base that he needs in his corner. But upon announcing he backs the impeachment inquiry into Trump at a Staten Island constituent town hall on Wednesday night, Rose shifted the terms of his already-heated reelection campaign.

“So while the President of the United States may be willing to violate the constitution to get re-elected, I will not,” Rose said on Wednesday. “I will not shirk my duty and I will not violate my oath. I will support and I will defend the United States Constitution. And it is for that reason that I intend to fully support this impeachment inquiry and follow the facts."

His announcement, coming just the day after a Democratic primary challenger launched a campaign against him, was met by derision from Republicans who hope to unseat him through next year's election.

Rose won the 11th district seat last year against Republican Dan Donovan, the former Staten Island District Attorney elected to Congress in 2015, in a 2018 election that saw a surge in Democratic turnout, giving the Democrats control of the House and dramatically shifting the national political landscape. Rose’s margin of victory was substantial – he received 101,823 votes to Donovan’s 89,441, even defeating the Republican on Staten Island by more than 5,000 votes.

It was a reversal of fortune for Donovan, who had been reelected to the seat in 2016 with 142,934 votes against Democrat Richard Reichard’s 85,257 (there were nearly 60,000 more votes cast that presidential year than in the 2018 midterms). It helped Donovan that Trump was running for president and won Staten Island with 56.3% of the vote against Hillary Clinton’s 41.2%.

But Rose is confident he can pull off another victory, even with Trump on the ballot, in part by remaining far more focused on local issues than the national dynamics of the 2020 election. “We have gotten tremendous amounts of legislation through and by that I don't mean symbolic or ceremonial pieces of legislation passed by the House of Representatives, and then resigned to the graveyard that is Mitch McConnell's Senate,” Rose said in a recent phone interview. “I mean things that have or will be signed by the president of the United States.”

He cited four major victories – approval for the Staten Island east shore seawall, permanent funding for the 9/11 victims compensation fund, sanctions on Chinese pharmaceutical companies to stem the flow of fentanyl into the city, and two-way tolling on the Verrazzano bridge to reduce traffic.

“Staten Island and south Brooklyn are on the map, and we are not stopping. We are advocating for issues at every level of government to make sure that people are no longer ignored,” Rose said.

Though there is a Republican primary for the seat as well – between Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis and longshot candidate Joseph Saladino, a YouTube personality who goes by the name Joey Salads and has a history of racist pranks – virtually all observers see the race as an eventual Rose-Malliotakis battle, though there does remain the question of whether any other Republicans may jump into the race ahead of the June 2020 primary.

When he first ran for office last year, Rose set himself apart from most other New York City Democrats, seen as a necessity in a district that defies the bluer boroughs. Though there are more active registered Democrats (191,145) than Republicans (114,363) in New York-11, along with 93,303 party-unaffiliated voters, the district elected Trump by a margin of nearly 10 points, after a tight victory there for President Barack Obama in 2012. Governor Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, won the district in his last two elections. 

Though Trump remains extremely unpopular in New York City, with his approval rating at 26% (to 71% disapprove) in an April Quinnipiac University poll, his approval was generally higher on Staten Island, at 47% approval to 52% disapproval. The Island is fairly split, with more Democrats concentrated along the northern shore than in other parts of the borough, which gets more conservative the further south one goes.

Rose made it clear he was running against what he saw as ‘the establishment’ and the ‘career politicians’ in Congress and elsewhere who had ground the business of the people to a halt. He was, and remains, a critic of de Blasio, even focusing on him in a 2018 campaign ad, and refuses to embrace the politics of newly elected progressives in the House such as fellow New York City Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“We are showing people that you can make war against the establishment, you can choose not to play by the rules of inside-D.C. establishment politics while also accomplishing something,” Rose said in the interview, citing his vote against Pelosi’s election as speaker.

City Council Member Justin Brannan, a Southern Brooklyn Democrat and Rose ally, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, “Ultimately this election is going to come down to what kind of elected official do you want. Max refuses to take money from lobbyists. He supports campaign finance reform. He has been unwavering in his battle against [the Trump] administration's discriminatory policies that directly impact the hardworking people he represents.” Brannan added that Rose has fought “Trump's discriminatory Muslim ban not just in words but in action by literally helping reunite families torn apart by conflict. Meanwhile, his Republican opponent is on Twitter posting ‘You're Fired’ memes.”

Despite his distance from Ocasio-Cortez and others, Republicans have still sought to paint Rose as a “socialist Democrat” who has betrayed the will of the voters who elected him. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has spent months hammering at Rose in press releases and public statements, largely on the general principle that he’s part of a Democratic operation hostile to the president.

NRCC spokesperson Michael McAdams says the party’s chances of taking back the seat are strong, citing the district’s strong Republican presence and Trump’s victory there in 2016. “Max has claimed that he is a moderate. On the campaign trail, he said he was going to be an independent voice for Staten Island, and he's gotten to Washington, D.C. and he's fallen right in line with the socialist Democrats and their socialist agenda,” McAdams said in a phone interview, though he did not provide specific examples (later in the interview he said Rose hasn’t taken a position on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants).

“He votes against President Trump 96% of the time, which is an absolutely shocking number given that a majority of his constituents voted for the president last cycle,” McAdams said.

Malliotakis, whose Assembly district covers much of the east shore of Staten Island and a small part of Southern Brooklyn, has extended the same argument. “As far as I’m concerned, this race is between me and Max Rose,” she said, dismissing any worries about facing a primary opponent. Though Salads is running a barebones campaign, there’s also the possibility that others could jump into the race. Michael Grimm, who previously represented the district and served prison time for felony tax evasion, has signalled he may run. New York City Council Member Joe Borelli, who represents the South Shore of Staten Island and is running for public advocate in this fall’s special election, has also not ruled it out.

“I believe I am more in line with the people in this district,” Malliotakis said, citing her nine years in elected office. She said the race would be a combination of local and federal factors. “This is a district that is pretty impacted by what the federal government does,” she said, pointing to the seawall project, national parks, a veterans hospital, and the Fort Hamilton army base. She also brought up issues that were salient in the 2017 mayor’s race, including her opposition to sanctuary city policies and safe injection sites for drug-addicted people, and said she would push for a federal infrastructure package.

“The Democrats in the House are more concerned with continuing investigation instead of actually working with the president to address a lot of these issues,” said Malliotakis, who has come around to closely embrace Trump as she runs for Congress after having been a supporter of Senator Marco Rubio in the 2016 Republican presidential primary and distancing herself from Trump in the 2017 mayoral race. She begrudgingly stated at one point that she had voted for Trump over Clinton, and expressed regret for having done so.

“I’m going to be running on the same ticket as the president and I embrace that,” Malliotakis said, when asked if she sees herself in line with the president, calling Trump a “voice of reason” in Washington, D.C.

The House of Representatives has “absolutely no interest in actually doing the job that they were elected to do and instead they're just looking to see how they can tear down the president,” she said, “And so he needs people who are willing to work with him, and particularly from New York City, and I will be an individual who will work with him to accomplish things where we see eye to eye...I'm not going to agree with everything the president does but for the most part, yes, I do agree with a majority of what he's doing. And I think that he's doing a good job overall.”

Malliotakis says Rose has been more progressive than moderate, insisting that he votes “in lockstep” with Pelosi and members of the so-called Squad of Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive women of color. “The votes he's taking in Washington are not representative of views in this district,” she said, citing, for instance, his support for a resolution that criticized Trump for a racist tweet about the women of color representatives of “the Squad.”

But it’s a tenuous argument, says Richard Flanagan, political science professor at the College of Staten Island. “I don't think it holds water with the independent voters at all,” he said. “Rose has done a really good job of positioning himself in the center, getting federal action on local issues. He's very upfront about his military record. It’s definitely differentiated him from [the members of the Squad]...I guess [Republicans are] going to do that to try to get their base to come out to vote, but it's not persuading anybody in the middle.”

Rose himself scoffed at the Republicans’ attempts to align him with progressives. “If they think anyone's gonna believe that, they're idiots. The truth is that nobody in the entire Democratic caucus has pushed back more than I have,” he said, pointing to his votes against Pelosi, his opposition to the Green New Deal, which he called a “socialist lie” in the interview with Gotham Gazette, and his repeated disapproval of Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar over her criticism of Israel. “The NRCC and Nicole Malliotakis have such an obsession with these individuals that it's clear they would rather run against them than me,” he added.

On the question of impeachment Rose found himself in a difficult place. He issued public statements that showed him seemingly vacillating on the issue saying that “all options must be on the table,” which signalled to some that he was open to jumping on board. He voted to table a privileged resolution led by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that would have disapproved of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s actions to begin an impeachment inquiry.

Just before Rose announced his support for the impeachment inquiry, McAdams from the NRCC said Rose’s decision, either for or against, would doom his chances of reelection with one or the other segment of voters.

“I think support for the president is at the top of the line there,” he said, predicting that support for impeachment would lose Rose votes among Republicans and opposition to it will anger the Democrats who powered his victory. The latest Quinnipiac University poll from September 30 may show a fast-moving shift, as it found that nationally voters were split 47-47 percent on impeaching and removing Trump from office. Just last week, support was at 37% and opposition at 57%. By a majority of 52-45 percent, voters approved of the impeachment inquiry opened by the House.

The NRCC and Malliotakis both quickly jumped on Rose after he proclaimed his support for the House impeachment inquiry. "Just one day after finding out he had a challenger in the Democrat primary, Congressman Max Rose caved to socialists Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Nancy Pelosi in the rush to impeach President Donald Trump," Malliotakis said in a statement. "It just shows that when pressure is applied, Max Rose stands with the radical left instead of Staten Island."

During his remarks at the Wednesday town hall, Rose followed his comments about the impeachment process by attempting to preempt that line of attack: "But, I want to make something else very, very clear: nothing, nothing at all—impeachment or otherwise—will distract us, will distract me from my work fighting for you," he said. "I will not let this or anything else detract us from our focus on ending the opioid epidemic, holding pharmaceutical companies accountable, making sure that we have the backs of our cops and our firefighters and our first responders, and yes--ending our commuting nightmare.”

What kind of impact Rose's support for the impeachment inquiry has on his standing in his district is yet to be seen. A great deal will of course play out over the next year-plus before the 2020 general election.

Rabyaah Althaibani, a community organizer and co-founder of Arab Women's Voice, a consulting firm, rallied the Arab vote in Southern Brooklyn behind Rose last year. But she’s worried that he has disappointed progressives, particularly by refusing to support impeachment. “There are a lot of issues that progressives...just don't agree with Max on, and a pretty sizable bunch of people are very upset with him,” she said, although she praised him for supporting the Yemeni American community by questioning the rationale behind Trump’s Muslim travel ban and for pushing to end American support for the war in Yemen.

“The Yemeni community and allies that care about the community, I'm just hoping that they're going to rally and help us get him elected again,” she added. “But Max has a lot of work to do, a lot of explaining to do. He needs to reach out to the progressive base.”

Althaibani did recognize that Rose faces a tough situation, having to reconcile the differing parts of the district with its spread of conservatives and progressives, and many moderates in between. She expressed doubt that Rose would face a tough primary. “I don't think anyone can do what Max is doing right now,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Staten Island Advance reported that Richard-Olivier Marius, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, is challenging Rose in the Democratic primary. In an interview with the paper, Marius said he had voted for Rose in 2018 but was running because of Rose’s failure to support progressive legislation like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, as well as impeachment of Trump. 

A Democratic operative familiar with the race, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that Rose may be trying the same balancing act as the last Democrat to hold the seat, Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, who voted against the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of not alienating conservative voters. But while that move backfired against McMahon, the dynamics of the district necessitate similar thinking by Rose.

As of the latest fundraising deadlines, Rose held a significant advantage. His campaign had $1.2 million in cash on hand as of June 30, compared to Malliotakis’ $475,000. (Saladino had $16,877 in his campaign account.)

But the Trump effect may nullify that. As Flanagan from College of Staten Island noted, the district has always been competitive and even Republicans have never won in a blowout. He said the race will hinge on voter turnout, which will be hard to predict since Trump being on the ballot will drive voters from both parties to the polls. “Are these Trump voters gonna come back and vote for Trump and vote straight ticket? Or are they willing to ticket-split? I think that's the big question,” he said.

Malliotakis is trying hard to turn Trump’s presence to her benefit, and appeal to voters across the district who have seen her on the ballot before, whether in her Assembly district or when she faced de Blasio in 2017 and, while receiving only 27.1% of the overall vote to de Blasio’s 65.1%, did blow the incumbent mayor away on Staten Island, winning 70% of votes to de Blasio’s 25.3%. (As it was in Rose’s 2018 win, one of the keys in 2020 will be the turnout in the more Democratic Southern Brooklyn portion of the district.)

On several issues, Malliotakis has broken from Trump while embracing him on most fronts. She has wholeheartedly accepted the aid of Trump and his allies, including national Republican stars like U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney and Dan Crenshaw, who canvassed for her in Staten Island a few weeks ago, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Yet a source close to the Staten Island Republican Party said she is far from an ideal candidate to beat Rose, despite the potential that’s there to unseat him. “Rose is vulnerable to a candidate that can land some punches on him,” the source said. “However, we saw from Malliotakis’ race against Bill de Blasio that she can't land a punch on even him.”

The source, who requested anonymity to speak freely about internal party concerns, added, “Rose is moderate, he's likeable, he hasn't made many errors. And I think when he campaigns, he grows his support. And the more Malliotakis’ campaign develops, the less it seems successful.”

The Republican said Malliotakis needs to “clarify where she stands” with respect to Trump. “The 2017 Malliotakis is not the same as the 2019 Malliotakis,” the person said. “It’s just so plainly evident that anyone can see it.”

Rose, meanwhile, believes Trump will fail to affect the vote. “I'm going to win,” he said. “The people of this district are independent and they will vote and have consistently voted for the person, not the party.”

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated to reflect Rose's support for the House impeachment inquiry.

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How Vulnerable is Max Rose? Tue, 01 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
7 Years After Sandy - Part II: The City’s Limited Resiliency Efforts Since https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8780-7-years-after-sandy-city-resiliency-efforts-since https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8780-7-years-after-sandy-city-resiliency-efforts-since coneyisland wetlands rendering

Rendering of Coney Island wetlands project (photo: mayor's office, Oct. 2013)


This is part two of a three-part series on '7 Years After Sandy.' Find part one -- Pieces In Place That Worked, Rebuilding Efforts That Failed -- here. Find part three -- Is the City's Emergency Responsiveness Ready for Whatever Comes Our Way? -- hereThis series is part of Gotham Gazette's work in participation with the Covering Climate Now project, which includes over 250 media outlets focusing on climate coverage in the week leading up to the 2019 United Nations Climate Summit on September 23.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy killed 43 people and caused nearly $20 billion in damages and lost productivity in New York City. While the city has not seen a storm of that scale in the nearly seven years since, climate change, sea level rise, and the dangers posed by major weather events have continued to accelerate. In the aftermath of Sandy, the city began to implement a number of programs to make the city more resilient, or prepared for another Sandy-caliber disaster.

But elected officials, advocacy groups, and other experts say a Sandy-caliber storm would be nearly if not just as devastating today as it was in 2012. The city and its partners at other levels of government have been far too slow to act, and have not moved with requisite boldness in considering how to truly prepare the five boroughs, with their 520 miles of coastline, for the present and the future, they say. Projects are behind schedule or on too-long timelines, federal money isn’t being spent quickly enough by the city, there’s no real plan guiding it all.

In other words, New York City is nowhere near as resilient as it needs to be, and it’s not clear when the city might meet even a low bar for preparedness.

As the seventh anniversary of Sandy’s landfall in New York City nears, another round of evaluations, oversight hearings, and other discussions is kicking off. To many, what’s been accomplished in terms of resiliency efforts is astonishingly limited given that it’s been seven years and the lessons that were supposed to have been learned in the storm’s aftermath. Some are calling on the city to drastically speed up its implementation of resiliency projects to protect the city’s residents and their property, while a new proposal would mandate the city produce a five-borough resiliency plan.

Beyond the emergency response, the biggest questions from seven years ago remain the same today: what is actually being done to prepare New York City for the next big storm and the climate future, and what else should be done as quickly as possible?

Where Things Stand
In June 2013, the year after the storm hit, the city introduced the New York City Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR), a $19.5 billion program to reinforce disaster protocols and prevent damage from future climate events. The initiative sought to “ensure that New York City is ready to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of climate change,” according to Jainey Bavishi, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office in January 2014.

The city is especially concerned with climate change, including sea-level rise, hurricanes, extreme precipitation, heat waves, and rising temperatures, according to a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency.

“Global warming is an emergency, and adapting quickly is an existential necessity,” Bavishi said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We’re investing $20 billion across all five boroughs to help ensure that New York City is ready to withstand and emerge stronger from the impacts of climate change.”

Many of the city’s goals are included in the OneNYC plan, a comprehensive compilation of initiatives that include strategies to improve resiliency and address climate change. By the 2050s, OneNYC estimates that the nearly 1 million residents who will live in the expanded coastal floodplain will be particularly vulnerable to coastal flooding, with sea levels expected to rise by up to 30 inches, not including the effects of major weather events. High tides will cause flooding twice a day in some areas, and permanent inundation in others, according to those projections.

Despite agreement on the urgency of the threat, the city has not executed as much as talked about its plans for resiliency, said Eric Goldstein, New York Environment Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The SIRR, first released post-Sandy by the Bloomberg administration in its final year, and subsequently backed by the de Blasio administration, includes more than 250 separate projects and major coastal flood protection initiatives. Its focus is five especially vulnerable areas: the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, the east and south shores of Staten Island, South Queens, South Brooklyn, and lower Manhattan.

A good deal of work is in motion, with dozens of projects completed and others moving ahead, but at an overall pace that is surprisingly slow to many. The city has spent less than 54 percent of the $15 billion that has been funded from the city’s $20 billion SIRR, according to a May report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

“If another Sandy-caliber storm struck today, all roads lead to New York being completely shut down,” said Brooklyn City Council Member Justin Brannan, chair of the new Council Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, at City & State NY’s “Protecting New York Summit” on July 31. “My fear is that if Sandy were to happen tomorrow we’d see the same effect we saw almost seven years ago. That’s what a lot of my constituents feel as well.”

Brannan has been surveying coastal areas of the city, including those in his southern Brooklyn district, and plans to hold multiple oversight hearings this fall, he told the Max & Murphy podcast earlier in July. Brannan also discussed the fact that he and City Council Member Costa Constantinides, chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection, recently introduced a bill to mandate the mayoral administration create a five-borough resiliency plan, with certain specific guidelines.

“You’d think that, after the Rockaways, Broad Channel, and Southern Brooklyn went under water in Sandy, we’d be in better shape,” Brannan and Constantinids wrote in a recent joint op-ed discussing their bill and plans to assess post-Sandy efforts. “The 500,000 New Yorkers who live along our shores have little more than some sandbags despite scientific models showing that sea levels will rise a foot over the next 30 years.”

The city’s current efforts to become more resilient -- often called too piecemeal by Brannan, Constantinides, and others -- can be broken down into improved infrastructure, coastal defenses, and community preparedness.

On the coasts, the city has reconstructed boardwalks, built dunes across beaches on Staten Island and the Rockaways, and coordinated to place 4.2 million cubic yards of new sand on city beaches, according to a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency. The city has intermittently installed flood protection measures at 40 sites, including those most impacted by Sandy, according to the spokesperson. However, these efforts are largely temporary -- they are designed to mitigate flooding until permanent measures are designed and implemented.

In lower Manhattan, the city has advanced the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, an approximately $500 million investment in flood-risk-reduction projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood, The Battery, and Battery Park City. The plan is expected to cover 70 percent of the lower Manhattan shoreline, according to the city’s OneNYC Plan.

For the remaining 30 percent of lower Manhattan’s shoreline, which includes the seaport and the financial district, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency told Gotham Gazette that a two-year master planning process is expected to be completed in 2021.

In terms of creating more resilient infrastructure, the city has focused efforts on upgrading building and zoning codes and investing $1 billion to improve the steam, electric, and natural gas distribution infrastructure of Con Edison facilities. In the aftermath of Sandy, Con Ed agreed to compile a report assessing the effect of the city’s changing climate on its electrical grid. The first chapter of the report (on heat and humidity) was due in 2014. Five years later, the chapter has not yet been delivered, with a new deadline set for the end of this year. And at a hearing last week discussing Con Ed’s response to summer electrical blackouts, Speaker of the City Council called Con Ed’s public response “inadequate and laughable.”

The city has also been working with federal partners, specifically emergency management (FEMA), to create a future flood risk map that can be to be incorporated into building and zoning codes. 

The city has also discussed plans to extend the shoreline of the Financial District and South Street Seaport somewhere between 50 and 500 feet into the East River. Due to the current proximity of businesses to the shore, implementing land-based adaptation measures would be difficult, Bavishi said at the Protecting New York Summit, on a panel alongside Brannan.

“Any land-based protection feature would have to go deep into the neighborhood,” Bavishi said. Instead, the city is planning to build into the water. 

The city will not be able to complete all of its projects without funding and relies on the federal system to receive support for many of its projects, Bavishi said at the summit.

“Funding is a challenge. We have a federal system that funds these kinds of projects in a very reactive way when we inherently want to take proactive action to address these challenges we know are coming,” Bavishi said.

“Our actions will protect Lower Manhattan into the next century. We need the federal government to stand behind cities like New York to meet this crisis head on,” de Blasio said in a March press release.

However, as the city moves ahead with efforts to fortify parts of Manhattan, many have been critical of its work to prevent flooding in the other boroughs, arguing that their risk remains as high as when Sandy hit in 2012.

“My goal with the new [resiliency and waterfronts] committee is to work with the city to make sure folks in the outer boroughs see what the city is working on in their area,” Brannan said at the City & State event. “That the city is focused on them as well, not just lower Manhattan.”

“New Yorkers deserve a mapped-out resiliency plan that protects every community — instead of a single neighborhood,” Constantinides said in a June press release announcing the five-borough resiliency plan legislation he and Brannan were introducing and referencing what some see as the over-focus on lower Manhattan.

However, city administration officials maintain that they are working equally hard to bring resiliency to the other boroughs in addition to Manhattan. Officials point to efforts to bring dunes to the Rockaways and the importation of sand to the city’s beaches. But Brannan and others pan the sand measures as something that might have made sense in 2013 or 2014, but not seven years after Sandy, when stronger and more permanent resiliency measures should either be in place or close to it.

For many of its resiliency projects, the city is working in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To date, the partnership has resulted in the construction of around five miles of new dunes across the Rockaway Peninsula.

What More Can Be Done
The city is currently working with the Army Corps of Engineers on $1 billion worth of resiliency projects, including the beginning of the construction of the Staten Island Levee in 2020, a measure expected to mitigate flood risks along 5.3 miles of Staten Island’s east shore.

In Southeast Queens, the city and the Corps are working on a plan to create a tapered groin field and “reinforced dune on Rockaway Beach combined with a system of berms, floodwalls, and nature-based features to increase resiliency for bayside communities,” according to the OneNYC Plan. The city also says it will soon begin building the Red Hook Integrated Flood Protection System, which is expected to reduce flooding in the area by installing “tiger dams” along the shoreline -- a system of plastic balloons that inflate with water and fill up to create a flood barrier as water moves inland.

In their 2013 “Sandy Success Stories” report, the Environmental Defense Fund found that wetland restoration was key in preventing serious flood damage during Superstorm Sandy. It appeared to work well in Marine Park and Dreier Offerman Park in Brooklyn, for example. However, few if any of the city’s plans include wetland restoration, and the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency did not include it alongside a litany of other projects they would be undertaking.

Among the wetland restoration recommendations in the Sandy Success Stories study are systems to choose plans for their tolerance to flooding and salt inundation, in conjunction with a slope of 1:3. 

“A moderately steep slope seems to provide the most benefits in terms of supporting plant life and habitat, preventing erosion, attenuating wave action, and ensuring survival in the face of sea level rise. At the same time, this slope is shallow enough to minimize the reflection of wave energy that erodes the wetland area,” the recommendation reads.

Council Members Brannan and Constantinides are trying to look at both immediate needs and long-term planning.

“In the short term, we have to promote more green infrastructure,” the two Council members wrote in their recent op-ed. “Bioswales, which are sidewalk gardens, absorb up to 75 percent of stormwater. The Climate Mobilization Act paved the way for green roofs atop newly constructed buildings, which can retain 95 percent of rainwater dropped in summer months. And we have to make serious investments in infrastructure that might not always seem exciting, such as sewers.”

The two plan to hold a joint October City Council oversight hearing on issues faced by coastal areas of the city, post-Sandy recovery, resiliency measures, and the resiliency plan bill they are cosponsoring.

“That is a big part of this committee I’m chairing, the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, where we’re going to take a really close look into what has been done and what has not been done to help make the city of New York more resilient,” Brannan said on Max & Murphy. “When we’re dealing with this thing that is literally a race against the clock, we can’t tie our own hands and sort of hold ourselves hostage to this bureaucracy of how things were done in the past.”

In his May report, Comptroller Stringer called for the city to “develop a citywide comprehensive coastal resiliency plan” while also accelerating the pace of investments into resiliency projects, and expanding a homeowner buyout program in targeted vulnerable neighborhoods, among other measures to protect the city, especially its coastal communities, from the effects of major weather events and climate change.

The citywide plan, Stringer says, “should blend data about sea level rise and other vulnerabilities from the latest science, information about the state of good repair of waterfront assets, and a deep level of community engagement and dialogue” and should be developed by the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency and other agencies, including the proposed Mayor’s Office of the Waterfront. In June of last year, Council Member Deborah Rose of Staten Island introduced a bill to create such an office, with Rose calling the waterfront “in many ways our sixth borough.”

That proposal could come up again as the Council examines post-Sandy efforts next month.

“[Constantinides] and I are looking at doing an oversight hearing in October,” Brannan said, “to really dig into the seventh anniversary of superstorm Sandy and where we’re at, what we’ve done and what we haven’t done.”

This is part two of a three-part series on '7 Years After Sandy.' Find part one -- Pieces In Place That Worked, Rebuilding Efforts That Failed -- here. Find part three -- Is the City's Emergency Responsiveness Ready for Whatever Comes Our Way? -- hereThis series is part of Gotham Gazette's work in participation with the Covering Climate Now project, which includes over 250 media outlets focusing on climate coverage in the week leading up to the 2019 United Nations Climate Summit on September 23.

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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7 Years After Sandy - Part II: The City’s Limited Resiliency Efforts Since Tue, 17 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Getting New York City Ready for the Next Big Storm - & the Next Heat Wave, Flash Floods & Other Climate Emergencies https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8701-getting-new-york-city-ready-for-the-next-big-storm-the-next-heat-wave-flash-floods-other-climate-emergencies https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8701-getting-new-york-city-ready-for-the-next-big-storm-the-next-heat-wave-flash-floods-other-climate-emergencies cm carlos m cm dan gardonick marine

 (photo: William Alatriste New York City Council)


Billy Joel’s dystopian vision for New York City, laid out in the very upbeat but equally terrifying “Miami 2017,” is coming true. The lights have indeed gone out on Broadway. Perhaps the only difference is that Queens won’t stay. 

This is New York City in 2019: a near 100-degree heat wave shut down power for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, who then trudged through flooded streets once the high temperatures gave way to torrential rain. 

One thing became clear as climate change brought its greatest hits to the Big Apple: we are nowhere near ready for the next big storm. 

Considering we’re quickly approaching the seventh anniversary of Sandy’s decimation to Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, that’s downright shameful. The City of New York needs to move into high gear for both short- and long-term solutions that protect every single neighborhood from the effects of climate change, because this is a public safety crisis. 

Don’t believe it? Clearly you haven’t seen the footage of a straphanger at the Court Square station who was nearly swept onto the tracks by downpours. Twitter is filled with cellphone video of Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue flooded by water from the Gowanus Canal, which is a Superfund site. Or maybe you haven’t heard of instant New York legend Daphne Youree, who got out of her car near Exit 25 on the Long Island Expressway and used an orange traffic cone to clear a clogged drain to alleviate flash flooding. 

These sound like a new version of the stories our parents told of the bad old days in the 1970s, when the Fiscal Crisis turned New York City into a living performance of Mad Max. But, as skyscrapers for the ultra-rich keep cropping up along 57th Street, we can’t shrug at the fact that half of New York City’s 10 wettest years have come since 2003. 

If another Sandy-caliber storm struck today — though we hope it doesn’t — New York would be brought to a grinding halt based on what we’ve seen in the last week. Temperatures caused some 53,000 customers to lose power last weekend, as Con Ed pulled the plug on parts of Brooklyn and Queens, apparently so the grid wouldn’t be further strained. Even after the heat broke, on Tuesday, almost 3,000 customers were still without power and they were overwhelmingly in the outer boroughs.

Add a hurricane’s storm surge to the mix and our electrical grid would crumble. 

Con Edison has failed its duties as a public utility throughout the heatwave, which begs the question: how would they perform if a big storm hit tomorrow? The men and women who worked in the heat should be commended for getting power back up, but they shouldn’t also be responsible for communicating that to those suddenly cleaning out their refrigerators. That’s their bosses’ job — one they didn’t do well enough. All the while, they’re asking New Yorkers for a collective $695 million rate hike. 

Meanwhile, New York City’s streets are starting to look like Venice. You’d think that, after the Rockaways, Broad Channel, and Southern Brooklyn went under water in Sandy, we’d be in better shape. The 500,000 New Yorkers who live along our shores have little more than some sandbags despite scientific models showing that sea levels will rise a foot over the next 30 years. 

In the short term, we have to promote more green infrastructure. Bioswales, which are sidewalk gardens, absorb up to 75 percent of stormwater. The Climate Mobilization Act paved the way for green roofs atop newly constructed buildings, which can retain 95 percent of rainwater dropped in summer months. And we have to make serious investments in infrastructure that might not always seem exciting, such as sewers.

But we also have to make sure our kids don’t have to deal with the mess we were too scared to clean up. Earlier this year we introduced a bill requiring New York City to create a five-borough resiliency plan.

Lower Manhattan is great, but asking Congress for $10 billion to protect a single business district when JFK Airport could be underwater by 2100 seems fiscally irresponsible. Failing to protect every neighborhood from Riverdale to Rockaway helps stave off tens of thousands of climate refugees the National Climate Assessment warned of when the seas come to claim our coasts.

We look forward to holding a hearing on this bill in October ahead of Sandy’s anniversary, so we can get to work on doing the long-term resiliency work. In the meantime, our city agencies need to mobilize, assess what’s causing rampant flooding throughout the city, and fix the problems immediately. Lastly, we need to make sure our threats against Con Edison have teeth and give the utility an ultimatum: give us the resilient, renewable grid we deserve or we’ll come for your power lines. 

The status quo is quickly sinking under the floodwaters, and New Yorkers are taking notice. Just like we’ve put our foot down to demand reliable service from the MTA, we need to take a stand on infrastructure. Because being late for work is one thing — being unprepared for a storm is fatal. 

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Costa Constantinides represents western Queens in the City Council and chairs the Committee on Environmental Protection; Justin Brannan represents southern Brooklyn in the City Council and chairs the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts. On Twitter @Costa4NY & @JustinBrannan.

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

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Getting New York City Ready for the Next Big Storm - & the Next Heat Wave, Flash Floods & Other Climate Emergencies Thu, 25 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Examining the City's Resiliency Planning & Emergency Preparedness https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8697-max-murphy-podcast-resiliency-emergency-preparedness-brannan https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8697-max-murphy-podcast-resiliency-emergency-preparedness-brannan Justin Brannan

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


July 24, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Evaluating the City's Emergency Preparedness

cm justin brannan 150 wbaiCity Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of southern Brooklyn and is the chair of the newly-created Council Committee on Resiliency & Waterfronts. He joined the show to discuss recent emergencies the city has faced, the upcoming seventh anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, and what he's planning to do with his new committee to help make sure New York City is more resilient and better prepared for the next major storms and other weather events.

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
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Examining the City's Resiliency Planning & Emergency Preparedness Wed, 24 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000