Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/365 Wed, 26 Feb 2020 12:05:44 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Where Top City Officials Who Appointed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission Stand on Its Proposals https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8876-top-city-officials-who-appointed-the-2019-charter-revision-commission-stand-proposals-de-blasio-johnson https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8876-top-city-officials-who-appointed-the-2019-charter-revision-commission-stand-proposals-de-blasio-johnson council finance dromm johnson mbdblasio fiscal budget

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

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Where Top City Officials Who Appointed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission Stand on Its Proposals Thu, 24 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Attorney General James Should Sue to Dissolve the Trump Organization https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8736-attorney-general-james-should-sue-to-dissolve-the-trump-organization https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8736-attorney-general-james-should-sue-to-dissolve-the-trump-organization let james att

NY AG Letitia James (photo: @NewYorkStateAG)


For a company of only a few dozen employees, the Trump Organization has accumulated an astonishing rap sheet of fraud, crime, and other corporate misconduct over the years. And since its owner came to occupy the Oval Office, the company has sunk to new depths as a vehicle for influence and corruption by supplicants from corporate lobbies and foreign governments.

Now that federal prosecutors have refused to pursue a clear case of felony campaign violations using the Trump Organization as the fraudulent financial vehicle, Trump’s Attorney General and the federal Department of Justice are giving the boss’ company a green light for similar campaign crimes in 2020.

But New York Attorney General Letitia James doesn’t answer to Trump, and she has a power unique in America: the power to investigate and potentially dissolve the Trump Organization. It’s time to use that power.

Under the state’s Business Corporation Law—the modern version of a long-standing legal procedure with a rich history tracing back to the medieval English “writ of quo warranto” —Attorney General James can file a lawsuit in state court to dissolve a corporation, such as the Trump Organization, that is incorporated in New York. The test is whether the company “has exceeded the authority conferred upon it by law,...or carried on, conducted or transacted its business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal manner, or by the abuse of its powers contrary to the public policy of the state has become liable to be dissolved.” (This is a cousin of the separate legal provision under which the New York Attorney General successfully sued to dissolve the Trump Foundation.)

This type of lawsuit to dissolve a corporation isn’t common, but it isn’t rare either. Right now, Attorney General James is in the middle of a dissolution case against a credit card equipment leasing company, and just last year her office won another dissolution order against a different company. It’s true that neither of those were companies owned by the president of the United States—but it’s all the more important that the president should not get more lenient treatment for fraud than other citizens get. If no one is above the law, New York state law should apply to presidents and non-presidents equally.

Consider, then, the Trump Organization. That’s the small nerve center, based in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, that oversees a sprawling empire of about 500 tightly-controlled Trump businesses and real estate developments. Some of those, like the Trump National Doral Miami golf course, were legitimate businesses before the Trump Organization bought them. Others, such as the no-longer-Trump SoHo in Manhattan, seem on paper like they might be legitimate, but due to the Trumps’ poor business skills, can only be profitable through extensive fraud.

Still others, such as the Mar-a-Lago resort and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., began as legitimate businesses, but have become festering swamps of corruption since Trump entered the White House. And a few, such as a Panama City development dubbed “Narco-a-Lago,” or the failed Trump Tower Baku in Azerbaijan, seem to have been conceived at the start as vehicles for money laundering and corruption.

The case against the Trump Organization, detailed in a series of letters that we and our colleagues sent to Attorney General James and her predecessors, is extensive. Keep in mind that Michael Cohen already pleaded guilty to a campaign finance felony directly implicating Trump himself and Trump Organization officials knowingly and willfully.

Some of the charges on the company’s rap sheet—fraud against customers and investors, illegal political contributions, bribery, and obstruction of justice—reflect corporate misconduct of a relatively familiar type, but at an eye-opening scale. Other charges—violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, and facilitating the most flagrant presidential violations of the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses as a business model—are more unusual and also more compromising of our national security. The overall picture is a company soaked in a culture of corruption and impunity.

Dissolving the Trump Organization doesn’t mean closing office buildings, hotels, or golf courses, or putting innocent people out of work. The law provides that the Attorney General can work with a court-appointed receiver to develop a plan to ensure that relevant businesses can continue to operate and pay their staff and vendors while dissolution is pending in court, and allow for successful operation afterwards under new ownership.

Will Attorney General James use her authority to hold this corrupt company accountable? She’s not afraid to tangle with Trump. When he accused her—the first woman and the first African-American to be elected New York attorney general—of just being Governor Cuomo’s “tool” for “harassing” Trump’s businesses, she kept her cool and responded, “No one is above the law, not even the President. P.S. My name is Letitia James.”

It’s a name that Trump—as well as Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and the assortment of corrupt “business associates” sweating in Trump Tower—had better learn. Because if enough New Yorkers make their voices heard, her signature may soon appear on a lawsuit to dissolve the Trump Organization.

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Ron Fein is the Legal Director of Free Speech For People. Jed Shugerman is Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. On Twitter @RonFein & @JedShug.

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

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Attorney General James Should Sue to Dissolve the Trump Organization Thu, 15 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
A Monument to an Indigenous Future, Worthy of Attorney General James’ Support https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8730-a-monument-to-an-indigenous-future-worthy-of-attorney-general-james-support https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8730-a-monument-to-an-indigenous-future-worthy-of-attorney-general-james-support shinnecock indian nation 600x400

The Shinnecock billboard on Route 27 (photo via a Shinnecock Nation member)


New York State Attorney General Letitia James earned a reputation as a relentless fighter for working people in the Brooklyn gentrification struggles of the early 21st century. Representing parts of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in the early 2000s, City Council Member James insisted that low-income and working people must have a place and a future in Brooklyn.

Block by block, James helped community members keep their homes and businesses in a context where the rent -- tied to the speculative dreams of wealthy investors and not to the livelihoods of current residents -- was always rising. James's office supported my own rent battle in Crown Heights from 2005 to 2010.

But now, in her new statewide role as Attorney General, James is threatening the land rights of a community that has resisted and survived one of the original, violent processes of forced displacement in United States history. Why? 

The Shinnecock Nation of Eastern Long Island is facing legal threats from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and the State of New York for launching a billboard project on tribal land.

The advertising revenue from two 60-foot electronic billboards on either side of Route 27, known as Sunrise Highway, at Hampton Bays is slated to support health and dental clinics, a community daycare facility, and other projects for the Shinnecock community. 

The town of Southampton, the Shinnecock's nearest neighbor since 1640, has deemed the billboards a driver distraction, an aesthetic blight, a detraction from the 'character' of the Hamptons, and has enlisted the DOT to stop the project.

The irony of Southamptonites' pearl-clutching in response to the Shinnecock’s modest attempt to chart a path toward economic survival, and not to the McMansions, the private jets, the environmental disaster of a golf course, and all manner of excess that characterize the Hamptons development trajectory is laughable, but not surprising. For generations, Southampton town has insisted that the Shinnecock should play a particular role (read: silent, servile, picturesque) in their shared community. 

And yet, the Shinnecock Nation's decision to use its land as its members wish is their right, the result of 32 years of successful struggle to become a federally-recognized Indian nation; NIMBY doesn't work when it is not actually your backyard.  The legal battle involving this only highway into the Hamptons tests the solidity of federal tribal sovereignty rights against a monied community’s belief that the future of the Hamptons is theirs alone to dream and develop.

Supporting the Shinnecock are the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and others who recognize that the survival of indigenous communities will require new, creative, and unapologetic assertions of sovereignty. In many parts of the country, state or federal highways run across tribal land. These thoroughfares are spatial evidence of a history of violent displacement but they also offer economic opportunities for native communities. By foregoing local or state permits, the Shinnecock root their economic development project in their hard-won federal legal status; and well they should. State and local courts have historically lacked the precedents or courage to support indigenous economic self-determination. The problem of so-called “home cooking” in biased state courts is legendary in federal Indian law jurisprudence

Given her 2018 election as the state’s chief legal officer, Letitia James has an opportunity to move Albany beyond the acrimony that predates her, and has long characterized the relationship between New York State and the Shinnecock Nation.

James had spoken of a desire to use the law to fight for all New Yorkers; there are few politicians who better understand the right to space as a key battleground for creating opportunity and equity. However, the entanglement of economic marginalization and geographic displacement looks different in the state versus the city contexts. Here, the "neighborhood" is the curling whippet of land along the Peconic Bay; "gentrification" has looked alternately like genocide, golf courses, and greenwashing (among other things) over the past five centuries. 

A phenomenon that native scholars have coined “indigenous erasure” helps explain why the Shinnecock billboard project faces such opposition in eastern Long Island, why few in the New York City-Hamptons circuit have spoken out about this issue, and why a progressive fighter like James has not yet reached out to the Shinnecock Nation, choosing instead to maintain the state’s track record of relating to this community through lawsuits and threats. 

I live in eastern Long Island, where indigenous names dot the landscape from Montauk to Massapequa and yet non-native communities are defensive or downright hostile when asked to acknowledge the indigenous present or make room for an indigenous future. Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s claim that "[the billboards] will completely change the character of the community we have fought long to protect" reflects a jarring sense of entitlement; 500 years of settler history will do that to you.  

In these parts, people wonder out loud why the Shinnecock can’t think of anything beyond cigarettes and billboards to earn money -- which is really a way of insisting that the Shinnecock future must follow a course pre-approved by the settlers in their midst who know little about the Nation and care even less. In my area, people crow loudly that this billboard project is the Shinnecock “straying from their culture”-- which is really a way of saying that externally-generated stereotypes of American Indians are more authentic than the voices of actual living indigenous people. ‘Why can’t they just follow the law?’ I have heard. ‘This is not about race, it’s the law!’ But this too is a smokescreen, a bemusing disregard of the copious evidence that U.S. law, particularly where land is concerned, has never been color- or power-blind.

And yet, with all deliberation and speed the Shinnecock Nation moves forward to pursue an economic future despite being largely excluded from the wealth streams of the Hamptons development machine. And so Shinnecock tribal elders have deemed these billboards a monument. They have claimed them as works of art and justice, as a tangible symbol of the Nation’s effort to choose how it is represented in public and to determine its economic trajectory.

As a historian, I understand the multivalent work of monuments -- the way they preserve and petrify particular narratives in their heavy materials. So this past July 4 at sunrise, I joined my Shinnecock neighbors at this monument as an act of solidarity and gratitude for their work of art and faith. I almost hoped to see Attorney General James there. I’ll be looking out for her on Labor Day Weekend at the 72nd Annual Shinnecock Pow Wow.  

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Dr. Abena Ampofoa Asare is Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Stony Brook University (SUNY). She is the author of Truth Without Reconciliation: A Human Rights History of Ghana (University of Pennsylvania, 2018).

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

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A Monument to an Indigenous Future, Worthy of Attorney General James’ Support Sun, 11 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Public Advocate's Office, Law Department, Ranked-Choice Voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8372-charter-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-public-advocate-s-office-law-department-ranked-choice-voting https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8372-charter-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-public-advocate-s-office-law-department-ranked-choice-voting charter2019nyc pub adv

(photo: @Charter2019NYC)


Three former New York City Public Advocates argued for strengthening the powers of the office. Former and current Law Department officials defended the agency’s independence. Experts on city government argued for and against expanding the powers of non-mayoral elected officials. And a Board of Elections official detailed the logistics of implementing ranked-choice voting in New York City.

Those were the broad themes of a Monday night hearing held at the City Council chambers by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is tasked with examining the powers and functions of city government with the aim of improving them. The commission, whose members are appointed by a variety of the city’s elected officials, will put forth proposals to change the city’s constitution that will go before voters this November.

Monday’s was one in a series of “expert hearings” being held by the commission as it considers specifics within its previously outlined focus areas. Before Monday, expert hearings had been held on police accountability, election reforms, city budgeting and contracting, and conflicts of interest and a proposal to create a chief diversity officer across city government.

Strengthening the Public Advocate
Among the ideas the commission is considering is giving more authority to the public advocate -- or to eliminate the office entirely if not -- and three of the four former officeholders were at the hearing to defend the role of the city’s ombudsperson. They included Mark Green, Betsy Gotbaum and Letitia James, who held the position before being elected attorney general last year. James was also one of the original sponsors, along with Borough President Gale Brewer, of the legislation that created the charter commission.

The only former public advocate not in attendance was Mayor Bill de Blasio. City Council Member Jumaane Williams is currently public advocate-elect after winning the February special election. He’ll take office soon. The public advocate is the city’s watchdog and ombudsperson, one of just three citywide elected officials and first in line to the mayor if the city’s chief executive is unable to finish his or her term.

James, Gotbaum, and Green all defended the responsibilities of the office they once held, and called for giving the public advocate greater authority. James pushed for subpoena power for the office and for the statutory ability to bring lawsuits against city agencies on behalf of New Yorkers, an issue she pursued after using litigation to mixed effect against the de Blasio administration. She called on the commission to “finally fulfill the promise of a fully empowered people’s watchdog.”

All three also argued for an independent budget for the public advocate, where it would receive a certain percentage of the city’s overall budget or financing based on some other statistical model, removing its reliance on the mayor’s whims. The office receives about $3.6 million in funding for the current fiscal year. Though de Blasio, a former public advocate himself, has increased the office’s budget and is proposed another small increase for next fiscal year, previous mayors have not been so generous. “It was this constant dance and constant fight,” said Gotbaum, now the executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union, of her fight for greater funding under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “That’s just unnecessary.”

Green was the only one to suggest a number: at least $6 million to carry out the office’s duties. “It is wrong and foolish that if an office does its job, it loses its job because of a mayor who is politically or personally antagonistic,” he said.

He also urged the commission to finally put to rest the idea that the public advocate should be eliminated, a suggestion that was even put into legislation by a few City Council members earlier this year.

Though the commission seemed open to the former public advocates’ ideas, Commissioner Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, repeatedly asked them to justify the office’s existence, citing anecdotal evidence that people believe it is a wasteful use of taxpayer money. He insisted that City Council members can perform the same duties and that the public advocate was a “vestigial” institution in the city’s political system.

Naturally, the three former public advocates pushed back. James cited the thousands of complaints she fielded and resolved for New Yorkers, and the bills she introduced that were passed into law -- more than all public advocates before her combined, as she is fond of noting. Green cited the office’s push for the creation of the city’s 311 helpline, among other successes, saying it was “spurious and silly” to consider scrapping the office altogether.

James and Gotbaum also advocated for giving the public advocate the power to appoint members to other watchdog agencies such as the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Conflicts of Interest Board, and the Human Rights Commission. “Putting more public officials on those committees would at least get a better balance of interests on those committees so that the mayor isn’t so, so powerful,” Gotbaum said.

Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College who has worked with previous charter commissions, did later agree with Albanese that the public advocate’s office has been ill-defined since it was created by a 1989 charter revision commission that drastically changed the structure of city government -- the last major overhaul to the city’s governing document and structure. “It derives from the ambiguity of the position,” Muzzio said during his testimony. “It was never decided what the purpose of the body was...All the reforms are random decorations on the christmas tree. They’re not integrated into a purpose that is coherent, logical, and adequately funded.”

Conflicts at the Law Department
In its recommendations to the charter commission, the City Council raised questions about the corporation counsel, the city’s top lawyer and a mayoral appointee, and the Law Department, specifically wondering who the agency represents if there are internecine disagreements in city government. The Council has in the last year sued the city to block a development project on the East River waterfront and even filed a lawsuit against the corporation counsel, arguing for the ability to file amicus briefs in court.

At the hearing, former corporation counsel Victor Kovner and Karen Griffin, senior counsel at the Law Department, defended how the department functions and attempted to clarify how legal decisions are made. Both urged caution and insisted that any attempts to interfere in the powers of the corporation counsel, including imposing term limits as some have suggested, would undermine the office’s independence.

“It would undermine the independence of that office at great cost to the city,” Kovner said.

“Ultimately, the charter gives the corp counsel the authority to make final decisions about what’s in the best interest of city,” Griffin said.

Though Griffin did not take a position on whether the City Council should be given “advise and consent” authority in the selection of the corporation counsel, as the Council has called for, Kovner rejected the proposal, again citing the office’s independent reputation. “I think it’s a great mistake...Leave it. It’s working well,” he said.

Griffin also explained that when conflicts arise in the Law Department’s representation of a city official against another, the agency would “independently decide which position is legally correct.” And, in cases involving the mayor facing off against the City Council, the department sides with the mayor as the appointing authority, which could change if advise and consent is approved as a policy. Otherwise, in those circumstances, the Council has called on the charter commission to consider mandating that the Law Department provide funding for outside counsel for all other non-mayoral elected officials.

Muzzio later suggested that the city do away with the corporation counsel and create the position of city attorney, similar to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Balance of Power
The commissioners questioned the third panel of experts -- Muzzio and Stanley Brezenoff, a veteran of decades of city government service who recently retired after holding several positions under de Blasio -- on improving the balance of power in city government, which heavily favors the mayor.

“Is there anything that either of you envision that a body like this could do to provide for a meaningful voice…to the borough executives without disrupting [the] strong mayoral formula?” asked Commissioner Stephen Fiala.

Muzzio suggested that the power of borough presidents could be enhanced through independent budgeting and by giving them a greater voice in the city’s land use approval process.

“We don’t have a government, fortunately, that is simply a top government and a bottom government. We have an intermediate government that can recognize the needs and desires of boroughs and at the same time work within a citywide paradigm,” he said. “This is a supplemental power, it’s not revolutionary. It’s not going to change the basic strong mayor structure of city government.”

He similarly argued that the City Council’s authority could be strengthened in various ways without undermining the mayor.

But Brezenoff warned of diluting the power of the mayor or the Office of Management and Budget, which sets funding levels for the borough presidents. “This surgical approach to governmental structure is hard stuff,” he said. Brezenoff also did not seem to agree with the idea that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) should have set timelines under the charter. “This is a very difficult balancing act. I would just urge care,” he said. (ULURP will be one focus of Thursday’s expert hearing.)

Ranked Choice Voting and Special Elections
Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, was the final panellist to testify before the commission on Monday. Ryan primarily urged the commission to consider a change in the charter’s provisions on special elections, pointing to the recent one held for public advocate in February.

Currently, the charter requires that the mayor declare a special election, after a vacancy, to be held within 45 days. That short timeline, he said, precludes the BOE from being able to send out ballots in time, particularly military ballots, and also prevents candidates or voters from successfully challenging ballot petition decisions in court. It will also mean that once Council Member Jumaane Williams, now the public advocate-elect, resigns his Council seat, another special election will have to be held within just six weeks, instead of waiting for the already-scheduled election days this year, which are for a June primary and November general election.

Ryan said the commission should consider bringing the “glaring inconsistency” in the city’s special elections in line with timelines set for state special elections -- elections take place between 70 and 80 days after the governor’s proclamation. That would also be particularly necessary once the city begins to implement early voting for elections under a new state law, he said. “The more predictability that people have in the conduct of elections, the better off we’re all gonna be,” he said.

Asked about ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, Ryan said the BOE did not have an official position. A charter commission convened by the mayor last year declined to formally take up the issue, citing a lack of sufficient time to explore its pros and cons.

At the hearing. Ryan did lay out the prerequisites for implementing ranked-choice voting from his perspective. He said the BOE’s vendor of election systems would be able to implement it with its current mechanisms, though with duplicative counting required by the agency, and that a more automatic process would require more time to upgrade software. “Until we know what the rules are and what the expectation is, the algorithm can’t be determined,” he said of the ranked-choice formula that voting machines would have to use. [Read more about ranked-choice voting]

He did point out that the state BOE would have to approve any changes passed by the city, though he doubted it would face any opposition since it would be limited to New York City alone. “I can’t imagine a scenario where the state would say no,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Public Advocate's Office, Law Department, Ranked-Choice Voting Tue, 19 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Acting Public Advocate, Johnson Eyes Information Commission Revived by James But Killed by De Blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8200-as-acting-public-advocate-johnson-eyes-information-commission-revived-by-james-but-killed-by-de-blasio https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8200-as-acting-public-advocate-johnson-eyes-information-commission-revived-by-james-but-killed-by-de-blasio Corey Johnson Tish James

Corey Johnson, Laurie Cumbo, Tish James (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


A charter-mandated city commission meant to help New Yorkers access information about their government sputtered to a stop in 2016 owing to a lack of funding, barely three years after being revived by former Public Advocate Letitia James. Now, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is also acting public advocate for the next several weeks, is taking up James’ unfinished business and attempting to raise the commission from its grave.

The Commission on Public Information and Communication (COPIC) was created in the City Charter in 1989 with a mandate of informing the public about data created and maintained by the city and helping New Yorkers access it. Chaired by the public advocate, the commission is meant to regularly examine the city’s information policies as well as monitor agency efforts to comply with them.

The charter requires the commission to hold at least one hearing each year and issue an annual report. COPIC must also annually publish a directory of “computerized information produced or maintained by city agencies which is required by law to be publicly accessible,” though it has not done so since perhaps the 1990s. The commission does not have a website, despite being in existence for 20 years, and records of past meetings and reports are not easily accessible (the public advocate’s website hosted some of this information but was archived once James vacated her seat).

The commission was also tasked with evaluating the implementation of the city’s webcasting law, passed in 2013 and requiring agencies to broadcast meetings online and archive them. In 2015, James’ second year as public advocate, the commission was exploring ways to assist agencies with their webcasting requirements and setting up a central repository of all webcasts.

The body’s membership, all unpaid, is meant to comprise the heads of several city agencies or their delegates including the city Law Department, the Department of Records and Information Services, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications; one City Council member; two other members appointed by the mayor; one member appointed by the public advocate; and one appointed by the borough presidents as a group.

But COPIC hasn’t held a hearing since March 2016 when James was in the midst of her attempt to rescue the commission from bureaucratic apathy only to be denied resources by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. As James’ predecessor in the public advocate’s office, de Blasio himself had only convened one hearing of the commission. The public advocate’s office receives little funding for its own duties, let alone to hire staff for COPIC.

It’s unclear why James did not continue her advocacy for the commission after having revived it with some fanfare early in her tenure (her office even created a new Twitter account just for COPIC). A spokesperson for James did not respond to a request for comment.

When James was sworn in as New York’s attorney general, the public advocate office fell to Speaker Johnson’s stewardship until a new public advocate is chosen by voters in a special election scheduled for February 26. In the limited time available to him, Johnson is eyeing several avenues of his expanded responsibilities. “I absolutely want an active COPIC, and I want to build on the work Tish James did as Public Advocate in this area,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This is something she fought for and it’s something I want to keep working on in my time as acting Public Advocate.”

One reason that COPIC has been unable to publish the requisite public data directory is because the Law Department argued in 2014 that the city’s Open Data portal already accomplishes this goal. But Johnson’s office disagrees. A spokesperson said that though the two databases have significant overlap, COPIC’s public data directory could and would go further, identifying new datasets that members of the public can then request under the city’s Freedom of Information law. The Open Data portal, on the other hand, relies on agencies self-identifying datasets that they believe should be subject to the open data law. Earlier this month, Johnson sent a letter to the mayor requesting that information with a February 15 deadline for a response.

“We’ll look into it,” said mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips, in an email, when asked about the speaker’s letter and the lack of funding for COPIC.

Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, who was the Council’s pick to be on the commission, said the fault for COPIC’s inactivity lies solely with the mayor’s office as he praised James for trying to resuscitate the commission. “COPIC is yet another board that is completely controlled by mayoral appointments, which has a responsibility to be a check on the mayor, which is why it has probably never been funded properly in my recent memory,” Kallos said in a phone interview, noting that the mayor chooses seven of the 11 COPIC commissioners. “COPIC is a powerful agency in the charter which has been written out of the charter by a chronic defunding of the agency as a whole.”

Kallos requested funding for the agency in three successive budgets. In 2015, several civic technology groups and good government advocacy organizations also joined that push, including Common Cause New York, Citizens Union, the New York Public Interest Research Group, BetaNYC, Civic Hall, Reinvent Albany, the League of Women Voters of the City of New York, and the Women’s City Club of New York. “Given the promise of COPIC to increase public accessibility of city government meetings, data and information, we request the modest budget of $250,000 for staffing of COPIC to ensure it is able to fulfill the duties outlined in the City Charter,” the groups wrote in a 2015 letter. That funding is estimated to be sufficient to hire a full-time executive director and general counsel, which the charter mandates.

Kallos was disappointed that those calls went unheeded. “The mayor never included it in the budget. I pushed for it. Tish pushed for it. The good government community pushed for it,” he said. The most impactful role that COPIC could play, Kallos said, is providing advisory opinions to members of the public, elected officials, and city agencies about laws requiring public access to meetings, transcripts and records.

“COPIC has the potential to be the equivalent of the Committee on Open Government at the state level,” he said, referring to the state agency that gives the public, press, and state government advice on the state Freedom of Information Law, the Open Meetings Law, and the Personal Privacy Protection Law. Kallos said he would advocate for the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to strengthen COPIC’s powers.

“You can only expect people to work for so long without being compensated for their work, and with the federal government shut down, we’re seeing those limits tested,” Kallos said. “In this case we have COPIC being operated and moved forward for three years without any funding and I hope that people will finally fund this important agency that very few have ever heard of but would have the power to really force the executive to really open up.”

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

Read more by this writer.

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As Acting Public Advocate, Johnson Eyes Information Commission Revived by James But Killed by De Blasio Mon, 14 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Will Tish James Follow Her Campaign Rhetoric and Investigate Cy Vance? https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8183-will-tish-james-follow-her-campaign-rhetoric-and-investigate-cy-vance https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8183-will-tish-james-follow-her-campaign-rhetoric-and-investigate-cy-vance tish james becomes attorney general

AG Tish James (photo: New York Attorney General website)


In 2018 Letitia James won a historic election to become the first woman of color to hold statewide office in New York and the first woman to be elected Attorney General. Filling a seat vacated by Eric Schneiderman (a misogynist playing women’s champion by day), James pledged to be a new kind of people’s lawyer, “unbossed and unbought” by Governor Andrew Cuomo or anyone else. James takes the helm at a moment where a bold vision for making a difference for New Yorkers will also have great consequence for the country.

New Yorkers should look forward to James’ leadership taking on important issues like pollution, reproductive rights, and protecting people and communities in other ways. I am disappointed, however, that she has thus far been silent on the matter of the state’s investigation into the Manhattan District Attorney’s handling of a 2015 sex crimes case against Harvey Weinstein and other sex crimes cases -- such as the one against Dr. Robert Hadden in which I was a victim.

The first question at an August 2018 Democratic primary debate for Attorney General was about a BuzzFeedNews report that Governor Cuomo had ordered the Attorney General's office to suspend its investigation into Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office. The candidates were asked if they would have agreed to suspend the case as requested. James said that she would not have put the investigation on hold. This story and question only came about because of my advocacy. While representatives of the governor’s office were saying one thing publicly and to me, they had backed off on any real action in support of survivors and against corruption.

Not coincidentally, the next debate question was about how the candidates would maintain their independence from Cuomo. James said, "The office of attorney general is independent from the office of the governor, and I don't believe anyone can question my independence."

Now, James must live up to her campaign promises. The six-month “pause” on the state’s investigation of Vance ended in December. Will James resume it and finally take a real look at the DA’s practices? Or, will she fall in line with Cuomo’s tactics of publicly calling for something to get credit but then letting it slip into the ether when no one is paying attention?

Opportunities to investigate a prosecutor’s actions are rare. And, with the newly-created Commission on Prosecutorial Misconduct itself in legal jeopardy, they remain further out of reach for many who’ve been harmed. As someone on a long list of people who were sexually assaulted in New York City and failed by the systems supposedly in place to help us, I remain perplexed at the lack of willingness by the state’s legal entities to conduct a thorough review of the Manhattan DA despite case after case of questionable outcome.

In addition to the much reported campaign contributions from Weinstein and Trump family attorneys, Vance repeatedly took contributions from my abuser’s attorney and a member of his employer’s Board of Trustees. Vance has denied that these contributions reveal corruption and pledged to reject contributions from those with cases before his office. The report he commissioned from Columbia University to reach this logical conclusion failed to mention any conflict of interest or the case against my abuser even though it had made headlines.

I could no longer stay silent and watch the same players continue to replay the same game at the expense of women. I didn’t set out to talk about being sexually assaulted by my OBGYN while I was pregnant. I wanted to show what happens when you come forward seeking help and are failed by a system rigged to favor well-connected perpetrators. I was one of more than 20 women who came forward about the same man. Rather than pursue justice, the DA chose to offer him a plea some have called the “deal of the century.” No one should have the experience I did once they decide to report a crime.

In a letter to Vance, Counsel to the Governor Alphonso David wrote that "women have been victimized by the system for years and it must stop." I couldn’t agree more. Oversight by legislators, advocates, and the public is critically important to how institutions such as the Manhattan DA perform moving forward. New Yorkers will be waiting to see if Attorney General James is indeed independent and fulfills her duty to complete the investigation. I’m not giving up until the problem is solved -- and it is far from solved. I hope James won’t give up on this either.

***
Marissa Hoechstetter is an activist. On Twitter @MHoechstetter.

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

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Will Tish James Follow Her Campaign Rhetoric and Investigate Cy Vance? Mon, 07 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8175-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-public-advocate-special-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8175-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-public-advocate-special-election ballot tish

Tish James voting (photo via Gotham Gazette)


Updated as of January 29.

In February, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to cast a ballot for a new public advocate in the first-ever special election for a citywide office. The current vacancy was created when the most recent officeholder, Letitia James, was officially sworn in as the state’s attorney general, a position she won in the November general election.

The public advocate is the people’s representative, a watchdog and ombudsperson, with a post that has little direct influence over city policy but a strong bully pulpit from which proposals can be made, grievances can be amplified, and the mayor and the rest of local government can be held to account. The office is charged with hearing complaints from New Yorkers about city services and can investigate the work of city agencies though with limited ability to enforce reforms. The office holder can also introduce legislation in the City Council but cannot cast a vote.

The special election to fill one of just three popularly-elected citywide positions has a crowded field and a short timeline. Here’s what you need to know.

When is the election?
Mayor Bill de Blasio officially proclaimed on January 2 that the election would be held on Tuesday, February 26.

Who is running?
There are 23 candidates who filed petition signatures with the New York City Board of Elections to get on the ballot, but not all of them will qualify. Once the mayor signed the city proclamation, the many candidates had 12 days to collect the 3,750 petition signatures they needed to get on the ballot. Signatures can come from any registered voter in the city, and many candidates pursued far more than the minimum required in order to protect themselves from challenges of invalid signatures.

Special elections in New York are nonpartisan -- no candidate can run on an existing party line like that of the Democratic or Republican Party -- and each candidate has created their own ballot line that is not supposed to resemble another political party’s name. Another quirk in the system is that ballot position is decided by the order in which petition signatures are submitted, which made the mad scramble to get on the ballot that much more frantic.  

The number of candidates, even in a narrowed field, could test the limits of modern ballot design since half a dozen sitting and former New York City Council members, several State Assembly members, and a number of activists and others outside of government are running. They include former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who submitted her petition signatures first and will likely be at the top of the ballot; sitting City Council Members Jumaane Williams, Rafael Espinal, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican office-holder in the race; Assemblymembers Michael Blake, Latrice Walker, Ron Kim, and Daniel O’Donnell; activist and journalist Nomiki Konst; Columbia University professor David Eisenbach, who ran against James in the 2017 Democratic primary for public advocate; attorney Dawn Smalls; and entrepreneur Benjamin Yee, among others.

The actual field will become much clearer once petition challenges have been ruled on by the Board of Elections on January 29 -- eight candidates are being challenged -- whereby candidates can have their ballot access denied due to faulty petitions. Candidates often file suit to get other candidates kicked off on technicalities -- something as small as a missing cover sheet on a petition can ensure that a candidate does not qualify.

How much campaign cash can they raise and spend?
Along with his announcement of the date of the special election, the mayor also signed into law a bill sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos that immediately puts into effect new campaign finance regulations that were approved by voters through a ballot referendum in November.

The new rules allow candidates to choose between two tiers of participation in the city’s public matching funds program, administered by the New York City Campaign Finance Board, which monitors campaign fundraising and spending. The program currently gives participating candidates a 6-to-1 match for the first $175 of every campaign contribution. Those who choose to abide by these old rules would be limited to a maximum campaign donation of $2,550, and can receive a maximum of $2.5 million in public funds.

The second, new tier allows candidates to opt for a $1,000 contribution limit and receive an 8-to-1 match in public funds for the first $250 of each contribution, allowing them to receive up to $3.4 million in public funds. To receive public funds, a candidate would have to meet the dual threshold of raising a total of $62,500 from at least 500 individual contributors.

Those that choose to participate in the public funds program will have to abide by a $4.5 million spending limit, though any candidate is unlikely to reach that astronomical number in just seven weeks. They will also have to complete a mandatory campaign finance training at the CFB.

The first campaign finance disclosure deadline passed on January 15, with several candidates showing strong fundraising numbers. The following disclosure deadline is January 25, and there are others into February.

Will the candidates debate?
Many of the candidates have already appeared and are regularly appearing at a series of public forums and debates organized by advocacy groups, political clubs, and others to lay out their platforms and positions on specific policies. But there will also be two official debates organized by the CFB. The first debate will be held February 6 and the second one is scheduled for February 20. Both will be broadcast by Spectrum News NY1, and livestreamed on NY1's website and Facebook page. 

To qualify for the first debate, candidates will have to raise and spend at least $56,938 by January 21, the campaign finance disclosure deadline just prior to the debate. The second debate, for “leading contenders” will have greater thresholds -- candidates will have to raise and spend $170,813 by February 11, and must be endorsed by a state, local or federal elected official representing New York City, or by a membership organization with 250 members living in the city. The sponsors of the debates include Politico New York, Citizens Union, the League of Women Voters, the Latino Leadership Institute, Borough of Manhattan Community College, NAACP New York State Conference Metropolitan Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., East Kings County Alumnae Chapter.

Ten candidates qualified for the first debate.

Unlike in the past, the debates will also be simulcast by the city-run NYC Life, making them freely and publicly accessible, as mandated by a law passed last year.

What will the election cost?
The New York City Board of Elections estimates that the special election will set the city back at least $15 million, a price that is nearly five times the actual annual budget of the public advocate’s office.

But, unlike a regular citywide election, there will be no costly runoff if a candidate does not meet a certain threshold. The candidate with the most votes wins, even if a large field means the winner takes a small percentage of the vote.

Who can vote and who will vote?
Every registered voter in the city can vote in the special election but turnout is likely to be low, though it is hard to predict since the city has never held a citywide special election before. New voter registration applications sent by mail must be postmarked no later than February 1 but the BOE will accept in-person applications till 5 pm on February 16. 

In City Council special elections, turnout tends to be severely depressed owing to several factors -- a lack of awareness of the election, an election date outside of the expected September-November window, voter apathy.

In the 2017 election, when James was reelected to a second term, a total of 1.1 million New Yorkers voted for public advocate, only about 22 percent of the total registered voters in the city at that time.

Who will win?
Who knows. But, we do know that the winner of the special election will, if he or she wants to keep the office, have to run for reelection in the fall. By city law, there will be a typical set of primary and general elections in September and November to decide the public advocate for the rest of the current four-year term, which runs through the end of 2021. The winner of the special election will only be guaranteed the office through the end of this year.

Democratic and/or Republican primaries will be held as needed in September before a November general election. There could also be a run-off if there is a crowded primary or general election field and no candidate earns 40 percent of the vote initially. In 2013, James won the Democratic nomination in a primary run-off before easily winning the general election.

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

Read more by this writer.

Note: This article has been updated to include the voter registration deadlines for the special election and other information.

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Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate Thu, 03 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
35 Questions for New York Politics in 2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8168-35-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8168-35-questions-for-new-york-politics-in-2019 Cuomo de Blasio Amazon

Cuomo & de Blasio celebrate Amazon to NY (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


1. Will Kirsten Gillibrand and/or Michael Bloomberg run for President?

2. Will Andrew Cuomo explore a presidential run?

3. How will Chuck Schumer perform as Senate minority leader amid a new power dynamic in Washington? What impact will Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have as she officially takes office and the year progresses? What other New York representatives will make significant impact in the new Washington, especially given new powerful committee roles? Will Gateway funding from the federal government come through? Are there other major decisions related to federal funding or policy that impact New York?

4. How will Cuomo’s third term start, with major accomplishments, acrimony with legislators - both? How much of his outlined "first 100 days" agenda will he get passed in that time period?

5. What will and won’t pass in Albany before and through a budget deal at the end of March? Will the budget be on time? How will the changes in the federal tax code affect New York? Where will the areas of more easy agreement be among the legislative majorities and Cuomo? What subjects will prove most contentious? What will be left over to the legislative session after the budget?

6. Will the Reproductive Health Act sail through? The Child Victims Act (with what details)? Will marijuana be legalized and if so, what will the regulations look like? Will congestion pricing pass? The Dream Act? Which pieces of gun control will pass? What will the New York Green New Deal look like exactly? Will cash bail be abolished? Will anything be done about plastic bags? Will rent regulations, such as and especially vacancy decontrol, be reformed/eliminated/extended? Will there be hearings and real debate over single-payer health care (the New York Health Act)? Will there be any movement on granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants? Will sweeping voting reforms actually be passed? Will there be strong new state government ethics and campaign finance laws? And so on...

7. Where will the annual fight over education aid land this year? What other key education battles will emerge? Will there be legislation related to teacher evaluations? Will anything happen regarding admissions to New York City’s specialized high schools? Will mayoral control of New York City schools be extended? What will happen with the charter school cap? Will mayoral control be extended to another municipality, like Rochester?

8. How will Andrea Stewart-Cousins perform as Senate Majority Leader and how will the new Senate Democratic majority run the chamber? Which new state senators will set themselves apart?

9. Will the Legislature hold tough oversight hearings? Will there be one on the MTA? Will there be hearings on sexual misconduct in government and the private sector? Will laws meant to prevent sexual misconduct passed in 2018 be strengthened in 2019?

10. How will Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie approach the new world order in Albany? How will Heastie’s relationship with Cuomo evolve? How hard left will the Assembly Democrats push?

11. Will state lawmakers take any significant action to change the outcomes of the decisions of the legislative and executive compensation commission?

12. How will Letitia James perform as Attorney General? Will her efforts to investigate President Donald Trump, his associates and enterprises, show results? Will she be the independent actor she has promised with regard to Governor Cuomo and other elected officials?

13. What next steps will Comptroller Tom DiNapoli take in his management of the state pension fund, especially with regard to fossil fuel companies and the question of divestment? How will DiNapoli approach his oversight role?

14. Who will be the next head of the MTA? Will the MTA be restructured? Can the next MTA chair, Andy Byford, Governor Cuomo and state legislators save the subways? Can they, along with Mayor de Blasio, resuscitate the buses? Will MTA labor and construction costs be reined in? How will the MTA’s capital needs be funded?

15. Can Cuomo and de Blasio work together productively on anything? Many things?

16. Will Mayor de Blasio regain some mojo? Will the mayor put forth new, exciting ideas?

17. Who will be the next Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development? Will there be (m)any high-profile departures of top administration officials?

18. How will de Blasio’s programs evolve and proceed in 2019 -- will he adjust his affordable housing plan further? Will he figure out funding for the BQX by securing the federal dollars he says are needed? Can he again rethink his approach to homelessness to more quickly reduce the number of people living in shelters? Which neighborhoods will the city rezone in 2019?
Will crime continue to drop? Will the city become safer for pedestrians and bicyclists? Will the mayor do anything serious about street congestion?

19. What’s next in the process for Amazon to create a Queens campus? Will there be sustained protests? How will community outreach go? Will there be changes to the deal announced, like some planned return/investment of subsidies? Is there anything opponents, especially in the state Legislature, can do to stop or significantly alter the deal? How will the Cuomo-de Blasio alliance on Amazon evolve? Will they stay united in defense of the project or will the like-mindedness fray given de Blasio’s comments about subsidies?

20. What will be the result of the NYPD trial of Officer Daniel Pantaleo? Will anything larger change in how the NYPD deals with accountability for its officers? Will the state repeal or drastically alter the 50-a section of civil rights law that relates to making officers’ personnel records publicly available?

21. Who will run NYCHA? Will the federal government insert itself in a new, formal way? Will Mayor de Blasio appoint someone new as Chair? Will de Blasio and NYCHA move ahead aggressively with the new NYCHA 2.0 plan that de Blasio and others unveiled at the end of 2018?

22. How will Margaret Garnett perform as Department of Investigation commissioner? Will anything come of the reported investigation into whether Mayor de Blasio or City Hall officials interfered with a city investigation into the education yeshivas provide?

23. Where will things go with oversight of those yeshivas and new state guidelines to ensure they are providing substantially equivalent secular education to public schools?

24. Will anyone do anything about rampant parking placard abuse?

25. Will anything be done to help distressed taxi drivers in the city, especially with regard to medallion debt? What’s next in terms of regulating Uber/Lyft and such companies?

26. How aggressively will the city, the Department of Education and Chancellor Richard Carranza push local school districts to pass rezonings and changes in admissions policies aimed at racial integration? What will happen with de Blasio’s Renewal Schools program? How will the rollout of de Blasio’s “3-K” program proceed?

27. Who will be the next New York City Public Advocate (the election is February 26!)? Who will run in the fall election for that same position?

28. How will Speaker Corey Johnson perform as acting Public Advocate from January 1 to February 27? How else will Johnson make his mark in 2019? Will he give a State of the City speech and announce bold proposals? What will his push for city control of the subways and buses look like? Will the City Council pass bills the Mayor doesn’t agree to? Will it force the Mayor to use his first veto since taking office?

29. What will be the key battles in the next city budget negotiations? Will de Blasio and the City Council take steps to increase savings and reduce spending?

30. What will the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put on the November ballot? How will those proposals fare? Will there be major overhauls to how New York City does its budgeting and/or land use? Will there be instant-runoff voting?

31. Who will be the next Queens District Attorney? Will there be competitive races in the Bronx or on Staten Island for those two DA positions?

32. Will Chirlane McCray’s political plans become clearer? Will we get any sense of what Mayor de Blasio is eyeing post-mayoralty?

33. What will be the next steps in the early 2021 mayoral campaign -- will Corey Johnson join Scott Stringer, Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Eric Adams as candidates clearly intent on running? Who else might float their names or signal their exploration? Who will take the first steps toward running for City Comptroller in 2021? Who else will emerge as candidates for the various borough president positions? (We know Jimmy Van Bramer is running for Queens BP and Robert Cornegy Jr. is running for Brooklyn BP)

34. Will there be apparent jockeying to become the next City Council Speaker?

35. What steps will Republicans in New York take to remake the party and prepare for future elections? What role will 2018 gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro have moving forward? Can the party develop its bench, and better line candidates up for citywide, statewide, and other key positions? Can it set the groundwork to regain the state Senate in 2020? Will the state party and party leaders rethink their approach to President Trump?

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated.

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35 Questions for New York Politics in 2019 Tue, 01 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Declared and Exploring Candidates for New York City Public Advocate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8136-declared-or-exploring-candidates-for-new-york-city-public-advocate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8136-declared-or-exploring-candidates-for-new-york-city-public-advocate 10 candidates

(l-r) Tish James, Ydanis Rodriguez, Melissa Mark-viverito, Jumaane Williams, Latrice Walker
Rafael Espinal, Danny O'Donnell, Michael Blake, Erich Ulrich, Ron Kim


There are roughly two dozen candidates who have officially declared or indicated they are exploring a run in the February special election for New York City Public Advocate, which will take place Tuesday, February 26.

Attorney General-elect Letitia James officially vacates the office of New York City Public Advocate on January 1, setting off the next steps of the process, whereby Mayor Bill de Blasio will officially call what will be the first citywide special election since the current city governmental structure was designed in 1989.

Candidates have already been hitting the forum and debate circuit, with groups and voters across the city eager to hear from those seeking to become of just three popularly-elected citywide officials. The Public Advocate is significantly less powerful than the Mayor or the Comptroller, but has a citywide perch, important responsibilities as a watchdog and ombudsperson, the power to introduce legislation and file litigation, and a bully pulpit. People who have held the position in its relatively short history have been elected mayor (Bill de Blasio) or almost so (Mark Green), and now attorney general.

It won’t be completely clear who is fully running to become the next Public Advocate until candidates collect signatures to get on the ballot and file their fundraising numbers with the Campaign Finance Board. Special elections in the city are “nonpartisan,” meaning there are no party primaries and candidates cannot run on the major party ballot lines. Each candidate will create their own party label to run on, and they’ll need to collect 3,750 valid signatures from registered voters of any party (or none) to make the ballot.

Declared and exploring candidates include several current and former elected officials and a variety of other individuals looking to pull off a surprise win. With the prospect of well more than ten candidates on the ballot and low voter turnout virtually a given, the winner of the special election could be anyone who finds the right formula for the necessary thousands of voters.

The winner of the special election will quickly have to win a regular election, though, since city law dictates that for such a vacancy, there is not only a special election but then a regular election, with party primaries if needed, the following fall. So, there will be an election for Public Advocate in November, with September party primaries if necessary, in the fall of 2019.

Below is a running list of candidates, either declared or exploring, for the Public Advocate special election (in alphabetical order):

-Manny Alicandro is an attorney who recently sought the Republican nomination for attorney general. @Manny_Alicandro

-Assemblymember Michael Blake represents part of the Bronx and is also a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. @MrMikeBlake

-Theo Chino is a bitcoin entrepreneur and county committee member. @theochino

-Daniel Christmann is a radio host. @EcallerTh

-David Eisenbach is a professor of history at Columbia University, who unsuccessfully challenged Tish James in the 2017 Democratic primary for Public Advocate. @Eisenbach4NY

-City Council Member Rafael Espinal represents part of Brooklyn. @RLEspinal

-Peter Gleason is an attorney and former police officer and firefighter, who once represented the infamous “Soccer Mom Madam.” @PeterGleasonEsq

-Gwen Goodwin is a community activist and past candidate for City Council.

-Tony Herbert is a community activist who was a candidate for Public Advocate in 2017. @herbert4nyc

-Ifeoma Ike is an attorney and co-founder of consultancy Think Rubix, LLC. @IfyWorks

-Walter Iwachiw is a perennial Republican candidate for various offices, such as mayor, state Assembly, CUNY Student Senator, and even U.S. president.

-Assemblymember Ron Kim represents parts of Queens. @rontkim

-Nomiki Konst is a journalist, activist, and member of the Democratic National Committee. @NomikiKonst

-Abbey Laurel-Smith @The46thPOTUS_

-Danniel Maio is a former candidate for state Assembly.

-Melissa Mark-Viverito is former Speaker of the City Council who helped lead the Latino Victory Fund after being term-limited out of office at the end of 2017. @MMViverito

-Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell represents part of Manhattan. @DannyforNYC

-Jared Rich is an attorney from Brooklyn. @JaredRichNYC

-City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez represents part of Manhattan. @ydanis

-Ralph Schweizer is a Bronx activist. @RealRalphNYC

-Diane Signorile is a real estate broker from Staten Island. @kittydat2

-Curtis Sliwa is a radio host. @CurtisSliwa

-Nancy Sliwa is an attorney and real estate broker who ran for attorney general this year on the Reform Party line. @SLIWA4NYAG

-Dawn Smalls is an attorney who previously worked in the Obama and Clinton administrations. @DawnSmalls2

-John Tabacco is the New York State Reform Party secretary. @HTBExperts

-City Council Member Eric Ulrich represents part of Queens. @eric_ulrich

-Assemblymember Latrice Walker represents part of Brooklyn. @WalkerForNYC

-City Council Member Jumaane Williams represents part of Brooklyn. @JumaaneWilliams

-Ben Yee is a technology entrepreneur, member of the Democratic state committee, and secretary for the Manhattan Democratic Party. @yben

-Mike Zumbluskas is the former chair of the Manhattan Independence Party. @MikeZumbluskas

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Declared and Exploring Candidates for New York City Public Advocate Tue, 11 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Cuomo Reelected, Democrats Take the State Senate; 2018 General Election Results in New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8058-2018-general-election-results-in-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8058-2018-general-election-results-in-new-york and cuomo nov

Gov. Cuomo votes (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Democrats will take full control of New York state government in 2019 thanks to the reelection of Governor Andrew Cuomo and other candidates for statewide office, as well as wins in the state Senate that flipped control of the upper chamber. Democrats continue to hold a wide majority in the state Assembly. With help from New York, Democrats also flipped the U.S. House of Representatives.

The state Senate and gubernatorial victories open the door for Democrats to move a sweeping policy agenda that has been blocked by Republicans, some items for years, in areas such as voting, campaign finance, and criminal justice reform, women's reproductive rights, alterations to rent regulations, and more. While some results are still to be finalized, Democrats may have 39 seats in the 63-seat chamber come January.

Cuomo won a third term on Tuesday, easily defeating Republican challenger Marc Molinaro and three other candidates, while his running-mate Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul won a second term alongside the governor.

Letitia James, currently the New York City Public Advocate, was elected Attorney General and is the first woman of color elected to a statewide position in New York. She's also the first woman and first person of color elected to become New York Attorney General.

The other Democrats running for statewide positions were also victorious, with U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli both winning reelection by wide margins, as expected.

New York City and State races also contributed to a Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives.

And, in New York City, the three ballot proposals from Mayor de Blasio’s charter revision commission were all approved by wide margins, ushering in campaign finance reform, a new civic engagement commission, and term limits for community board members.

In the overall race for control of the state Senate, Democrats claimed a majority, and seemed on their way to winning at least 36 and up to 39 seats while several remained neck-and-neck and could also tilt their way, according to unofficial state Board of Elections results. With Democrats in control, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins will become the first woman of color majority leader of the state Senate. "I am confident our majority will grow even larger after all results are counted, and we will finally give New Yorkers the progressive leadership they have been demanding," she tweeted Tuesday night.

Much of the action was on Long Island, but one of the few Republican-held seats in New York City was also hotly-contested and appears to be a Democratic pick-up for Andrew Gounardes, though Senator Marty Golden has not conceded.

In the open race for District 3, Democrat Monica Martinez defeated Republican Dean Murray. In District 5, Democrat James Gaughran won by more than 9 points against Republican Carl Marcellino. In District 39, Democrat James Skoufis beat Republican Tom Basile. Kevin Thomas, the Democrat in District 6, closely defeated Republican Kemp Hannon. In District 7, Democrat Anna Kaplan defeated Republican Elaine Phillips with an almost ten-point margin.

In two other open races, however, Democrats lost to their Republican opponents. In District 43, Aaron Gladd was defeated by Republican Daphne Jordan, and in District 50, John Mannion was defeated by Bob Antonacci.

The current Republican majority leader, Senator John Flanagan, said in a statement, "This election is over, but our mission is not. Senate Republicans will never stop advocating for the principles we believe in or the agenda that New Yorkers and their families deserve."

Along with competitive races for state Senate seats, many eyes were on potential swing districts for New York seats in the House of Representatives, part of the national picture whereby Democrats flipped the chamber to secure some control of government in Washington, D.C. and a significant leverage point regarding legislation, funding, and oversight of President Trump and his administration. That effort was aided by outcomes in New York, including an upset in New York City.

In the one city-based congressional seat held by a Republican, Rep. Dan Donovan lost to Democrat Max Rose, who will go to the House to represent New York’s 11th congressional district of Staten Island and part of southern Brooklyn. In the 19th congressional district covering parts of the Hudson Valley and Catskills, Democrat Antonio Delgado defeated incumbent Republican Rep. John Faso. And in Central New York's District 22, Democratic candidate Anthony Brindisi was ahead by a razor-thin margin over incumbent Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney, in a race that seems too close to call. In Congressional District 27, though Democrat Nate McMurray had conceded to Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Collins, McMurray's campaign later called for a recount when the margin between the two was only one point.

Back in the five boroughs, of the three ballot proposals passing, Mayor de Blasio said in an election night statement, “Tonight we took a big step toward becoming the fairest big city in America. The question in front of voters was simple: are we going to be a city that works for everyone? New Yorkers answered with a resounding ‘YES, YES, YES!’ They voted to set a historic new direction for campaigns in our city by getting big money out of politics. They voted to give voters more power over their tax dollars. They voted to bring new voices into our democracy. The end result of the charter revision process that began nine months ago at the State of City is a democracy that can work for all of us – not just the wealthy and well-connected.”

In terms of specific outcomes in important New York races, as of 2 a.m. on election night, initial results and tentative margins included:

-Governor Cuomo was reelected with about 58% to 36% for Molinaro, while Green Party nominee Howie Hawkins received 1.7%, Libertarian Larry Sharpe won 1.6%, and Stephanie Miner of the Serve America Movement got less than 1%. Both Sharpe and Miner earned their parties automatic ballot access for the next four years (Cuomo on the Women's Equality Party line and Molinaro on the Reform Party line did not get enough votes on those lines and parties will lose their automatic ballot lines.

-James won the attorney general office with 60% over Republican Keith Wofford, who received 34.3%, and other candidates splitting 2.3%.

-DiNapoli was reelected comptroller with 64.4%, while Republican nominee Jonathan Trichter got about 31%, and other candidates split 1.7%.

-Gillibrand won 64.5% of the vote, while Republican Chele Farley received 32.5%.

In competitive state Senate races, the results included:

-Democrat Andrew Gounardes appears to have won with 49.8% over Republican Senator Marty Golden's 48% in Senate District 22

-Democrat Monica Martinez won with 52.2% over Republican incumbent Dean Murray's 47.5% in Senate District 3, which includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Republican Phil Boyle won with 50.4% over Democrat Louis D’Amaro's 46.7% in Senate District 4, which also includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Democrat James Gaughran won with 53.23% over Republican incumbent Carl Marcellino's 44.7% in Senate District 5, which includes parts of Suffolk County.

-Democrat Kevin Thomas won with 49.2% over Republican incumbent Kemp Hannon's 48% in Senate District 6, which includes a portion of Nassau County.

-Democrat Anna Kaplan won with 53.7% over Republican incumbent Elaine Phillips' 44.5% in Senate District 7, which a portion of Nassau County.

-Democrat incumbent John Brooks successfully defended his seat, with 53% against Republican Jeff Pravato's 44% in Senate District 8, which includes Eastern Nassau and Western Suffolk counties.

-Democrat James Skoufis won with 52% over Republican Tom Basile's 45% in Senate District 39, which includes parts of Rockland, Orange, and Ulster counties.

-Democrat Pete Harckham won with 49.9% over Republican incumbent Terrence Murphy's 48% in Senate District 40, which includes Yorktown and Putnam, Westchester and Dutchess counties. 

-Republican incumbent Sue Serino won with 50% over Democrat Karen Smythe's 48% in Senate District 41, which includes parts of Dutchess County.

-Democrat Jen Metzger won with 50% over Republican Ann Rabbitt's 47.4% in Senate District 42, includes parts of Delaware, Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster counties. 

-Republican Daphne Jordan won with 52.1% over Democrat Aaron Gladd's 44.2% in Senate District 43, which includes parts of Saratoga, Rensselaer, Columbia, Washington counties. 

-Republican incumbent George Amedore Jr. won with 55% over Democrat Pat Strong's 42.2% in Senate District 46, which includes Montgomery and Greene counties and portions of Schenectady, Albany and Ulster counties. 

-Republican Robert Antonacci won with 50.4% over Democrat John Mannion's 48% in Senate District 50, which includes Syracuse and the surrounding area.

In competitive House of Representatives races, the results included: 

-Democrat Max Rose won with 52% against Republican incumbent Dan Donovan's 46% in Congressional District 11, which includes Staten Island and parts of South Brooklyn. 

-Democrat Antonio Delgado won with 49.2% against Republican incumbent John Faso's 46.4% in Congressional District 19, which includes the Hudson Valley and Catskills region.

-Democrat Anthony Brindisi led with 49.5% against Republican incumbent Claudia Tenney's 48.9% in Congressional District 22, which includes parts of Chenango, Cortland, Madison, and Oneida counties.

-Republican Incumbent John Katko won with 52.2% against Democrat Dana Balter's 46% in Congressional District 24, which includes pats of Cayuga, Onondaga, and Wayne counties.

- Republican incumbent Chris Collins, who is under indictment for insider trading, received 48.1% over Democrat Nate McMurray's 47.1% in Congressional District 27, which includes Orleans, Genesee, Wyoming, and Livingston counties. McMurray's campaign has called for a recount.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.

Note - This article has been updated.

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Cuomo Reelected, Democrats Take the State Senate; 2018 General Election Results in New York Tue, 06 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000