Gotham Gazette Sat, 28 Nov 2020 14:45:33 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Public Safety at Brooklyn Forum Gotham Gazette:

l-r: (top) Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Carlos Menchaca, (bottom) Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley

Eight Democratic candidates for New York City mayor gathered Tuesday night for another candidate forum in the early phase of the campaign, which will culminate with a June primary and fall 2021 general election. The online forum, hosted by the Central Brooklyn Political Action Association, focused on “The Future of Public Safety” and was moderated by Dr. Christina Pardo and Greg Albro, co-chair of the New York Progressive Action Network.

The eight participating candidates were divvied up into two panels, each lasting about an hour. The first panel included former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Maya Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio. The second panel consisted of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former federal Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, and former city Veterans Services Commissioner Loree Sutton.

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, a Democrat running for reelection next year, was also on hand to deliver remarks, telling the audience of about 200 attendees, “the next mayor will inherit a lot” but that “there’s an opportunity for tremendous change.” He also added that, “June seems like a long way away but it really isn’t.” At the end of the night, Williams said “I was disappointed at how many people skirted around the issue of defunding the police, but I was really happy to hear most folks discussing the root causes of gun violence.”

Several of the candidates have some professional background in public safety issues. Adams served for 22 years in the NYPD; Wiley chaired the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), and Donovan participated in the Obama-era Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Morales has worked in social services for many years; Sutton is a military veteran; and Menchaca was among the City Council members pushing aggressively for reducing NYPD funding in the most recent city budget negotiations.

The first question put to both panels was about how candidates would address health disparities faced by marginalized communities, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We saw from the federal response how much the federal government is integral,” said Menchaca, but “the things that we can do is communicate to everyone.” It’s essential the city does a better job of translating information for immigrant communities, he said.

“We needed to close the schools faster,” Wiley said, criticizing the pandemic response of her former boss, de Blasio. “We’ve been gutting our public health department for years. It used to do much more programmatic work.”

“The bottom line is that this administration was not ready to meet the challenge of this pandemic,” said Stringer, who noted his office has been investigating City Hall’s response to the early months of the pandemic. “You can’t manage your way out of a crisis if you don’t have the structure in place to do it.”

“The systems did not work together to meet the needs of a massive crisis,” Garcia assessed. “Housing is a health issue. If you do not have stable housing, you will continue to struggle.”

“New York City and New York State took on a Trumpian response to the pandemic, downplaying it and not closing schools soon enough,” Morales said, in an apparent criticism of both de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

According to Sutton, “better planning, coordination, and communication” were needed in the early months of the pandemic, but she also said that “here in New York, we went from worst to first and I think Governor Cuomo deserves some praise for that.”

“When covid hit the city, I was leading from the front,” said Adams, who said he “was demonized for giving face masks to NYCHA residents.” He also asked, “Why did we have a drive-through testing center on Staten Island before Brooklyn? We treated Black and brown people differently.”

“Planning doesn’t start when the crisis hits. It has to be in place before a crisis.” Donovan said, reiterating his crisis management bona fides, which has become a central talking point in this nascent campaign with references to his Obama administration work on the economic recovery from the Great Recession and in response to Hurricane Sandy. He expressed optimism that he would be able to work with the federal government to secure additional relief funding.

The second question focused on relations between police and communities, particularly the merits of calls to “defund the police” and how candidates are thinking about the future of public safety.

Stringer, who cited his participation in protests against police brutality and his move to divest the municipal pension funds from private prisons, said, “New York City’s mayor has a chance to lead the country on police reform and what we saw on the streets of our city is something I haven’t seen at protests.” He criticized how the NYPD treated largely peaceful protestors and said “let’s reduce the NYPD’s role in mental health incidents and traffic violations” and “decriminalize low-level offenses.” He committed to “bring down the rate of incarceration.”

“We have to put the public back in public safety,” said Wiley, calling for the ouster of NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea and a “top-to-bottom restructuring” of the NYPD. Her vision of public safety includes “policing is about partnership and problem solving,” with the police focusing on violent crime and other agencies handling lower-level offenses.

“Keeping people safe in their communities is one of the first responsibilities of a mayor,” said Garcia, who said she opposes defunding the police. “We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” she said, citing “simple reforms” that the city can make, including raising the minimum age of officers to 25 (currently 21), a city residency requirement, and increased training across all levels of the chain of command. She wants an NYPD “focused on crime and not other issues.”

Menchaca took the opportunity to lobby Council Speaker Corey Johnson to make him the next chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee (a position being vacated by Donovan Richards when he assumes the Queens Borough Presidency at the beginning of the new year). “I think it’s time the City Council pass a budget that you designed and reflects the people’s needs,” Menchaca said. “That’s how we have a transformational shift.”

“Public safety and justice go together. We can’t have one without the other,” said Adams, who advocates reallocating funds within the NYPD budget and moving officers out of clerical roles into crime prevention. He also proposed promoting school safety officers to police officers after two years of service to increase the proportion of city residents in the force.

“We have a chance to reimagine what modern policing should be,” said Sutton. “Cops need communities as much as communities need cops. We need to rebuild those relationships that have really been shredded in recent months.”

“I was the first mayoral candidate to call for defunding police and I stand by those words and I’m not backing down,” Morales said. She continued: “Policing does not equal public safety. We need to transform public safety,” and advocated using community-based groups to substitute for police in certain circumstances.

“We need to dramatically reduce their role,” Donovan said of the police, speaking particularly about school safety and mental health crisis response. “We need to reimagine the way we respond to violence well beyond policing.” He said that a “dramatic response across the entire system is required” and that “this has to be a public health and all-of-government approach.”

Candidates were asked about economic issues facing New Yorkers and rising levels of income inequality during the pandemic, and how each would protect immigrant communities and other vulnerable populations.

“We have to make sure that we’re using our resources,” Wiley said, noting that thousands of NYCHA units are unoccupied because of uninhabitable conditions. She also said that she would “demand more from for-profit developers because they’re in a position to do more and this current administration hasn’t asked enough of them.”

Garcia recalled her role as “food czar” for the city during the early months of the pandemic, saying she learned that “Our emergency food system is incredibly fragile and not distributed equally across the city.” She also stressed increasing “pipelines to employment.”

“We need to think about how we’re going to build the next generation of low-income housing and we need to do it fast,” Stringer said, criticizing de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program for “building affordable housing that wasn’t affordable to people in those communities.” He also said that vacant land across the city “must go back to the people, with a subsidy” to develop affordable housing.

Menchaca criticized de Blasio for “failing to provide a lawyer for [all] undocumented immigrants who needed one during deportation proceedings.” He criticized NYPD cooperation with ICE and proposed that “the next police commissioner appointment should come from the City Council” to ensure a “civilian approach to leadership.”

Sutton said, “Our elected leaders in Congress should have been raising holy hell” to get more relief funds and “the next mayor has to understand the world we’re looking at now is different from the one even from eight or nine months ago.” She said the city “must partner with the private sector when it comes to housing” because it “can't leave tenants or landlords on the hook.”

“As someone who has worked side-by-side with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, I would work effectively with the federal government to make sure we have the support we need,” said Donovan, who added he would focus on English language learners in education to close achievement gaps and expand MetroPlus to ensure health coverage for all New Yorkers.

Morales said that “it is time for banks and developers to pay their fare share” and stressed the need for the state to help, saying “where New York City goes so does the state, so the governor has something to worry about. We need to push for the support from the state and federal level.” She also said “we need to think creatively about spaces available” when it comes to housing.

“We need to expand voting rights in municipal elections,” said Adams. “If you pass that, you start sending a clear and loud message that immigrants are welcome here.” Adams has supported a push to allow non-citizen permanent city residents to vote in municipal elections.

The final question centered on solutions to gun violence, with the moderators noting that it was the issue most put forward by audience members.

Garcia said “the police have to be on the ground in their communities and they have to have people trust them,” citing the Police Athletic League as an example of a program that built strong community relations.

“The way we’re going to stem the tide of gun violence is mentorship of our young people,” said Stringer, stressing the need to give young people “hope and opportunity, while also noting, “You can police, but that’s not solving the systemic issues. We have to invest in our kids.”

“Gun violence fundamentally is about disinvestment in communities,” Wiley said. “You need to go out and get the guns, but we need the dollars in our communities. That’s what solves gun violence.”

“How do you address gun violence? Fully fund our public schools and summer youth programs,” Menchaca said.

Donovan said “we need a mayor who’s going to lead a national coalition of mayors against the gun industry” and that “if we can cut the supply of guns, we can dramatically change this situation.”

“I’ve dedicated my life to the issue of gun violence,” Adams said, adding he “would reinstitute the [NYPD] crime prevention unit, which the specific shooters.” He also said “we need a tristate approach to stop the flow of guns to this city.”

“It’s through partnership that we can lead our country forward,” said Sutton, stressing the need to rebuild trust between communities and the NYPD.

Morales said “police are not the answer,” continuing: “the thing about those models that actually work is that they’re driven by members of those communities.” She stressed the importance of “addressing the root causes.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk Public Safety at Brooklyn Forum Wed, 18 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Mayoral Candidates Pitch Their Resumes and Values to the West Side Democrats 8x8mashup 2

 l-r: (top) Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Carlos Menchaca, (bottom) Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley

With the 2020 elections over -- but for the counting of absentee ballots across the city and state -- greater attention is turning to New York City’s 2021 local elections, including an increasingly-crowded race for mayor. The first candidate forum of the 2021 cycle was held by the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club last month, featuring seven Democratic mayoral candidates: Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, nonprofit executive Diana Morales, Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and civil rights attorney Maya Wiley, who was counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

On Thursday night, those seven, plus former city Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton, participated in a forum hosted by the West Side Democrats. Former Citigroup executive Raymond McGuire, who is the most recent entrant into the race but like several others in the field has not formally launched his campaign, did not participate in the forum, nor did military veteran and nonprofit founder Zach Iscol.

The online forum, which had a quick pace to ensure the more than 350 viewers could hear from eight candidates in a reasonable amount of time, continued to show the early dividing lines in the Democratic primary field, with candidates staking out different “lanes” based on their political ideologies and personal and professional experiences. The party primaries for mayor and all other elected positions in city government will be held in June of next year, and they will feature ranked-choice voting.

During Thursday’s forum, candidates were given six minutes to speak about their candidacies and priorities for the city and then questioned for an additional three minutes by a group of West Side Democratic Club leaders, who asked questions submitted by club members. The candidates appeared one at a time and answered a different set of questions.

Eric Adams
The candidates went in alphabetical order, with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams kicking off the event. “I think we’re all breathing a sigh of relief, but let’s not kid ourselves, there’s still anxiety in this city,” Adams said, referencing the results of the presidential election.

“I get it,” Adams emphasized, listing a series of quality of life concerns and painting a bleak picture of New York City, from rising crime rates to public drug use and urination. He warned of a possible return of less prosperous times for the city in the wake of the pandemic. Speaking from personal experience, Adams told the audience, “I went through a lot. It’s time to have a mayor who’s gone through a lot to help people who are going through a lot.”

“Our cities are made up of agencies and if the agencies aren’t doing their jobs, it doesn’t matter how much money we throw at them,” Adams said, noting that “inefficiency leads to inequality” and “the inability for agencies to coordinate is failing this city.” He called out the Department of Education in particular for the poor nutritional quality of school meals and “historically failing black and brown boys year after year.”

“You’re doing your job as taxpayers. We’re not doing our job of effectively running this city,” Adams said.

Adams said that his time in the NYPD taught him city agencies need to go from being “reactive to proactive to predictive.” He also said that “Public safety is a prerequisite for prosperity in this city, but I believe we’re slipping back.” He called policing “a noble profession,” but that he believes “we can be safe and we can have the justice we deserve,” which he said means rooting out offices unfit for the job.

On housing, Adams said, “I believe we are failing in NYCHA and real affordable housing” and to combat this, he supports “upzoning all throughout the city” because “the problem of real affordable housing is a citywide problem.” He said that “high transit areas,” presumably including the Upper West Side where the host club is based, “need to share that prosperity with the rest of the city.”

Shaun Donovan
Donovan said he’s running for mayor because he’s a “lifelong New Yorker who grew up in another time of crisis,” referring to the 1970s. A veteran of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, Donovan stressed that he was there for the first and last days of Barack Obama’s presidency, serving that administration in multiple roles.

He said he’s spent his career “on the frontlines of housing and homelessness and racial and economic justice,” while also noting his emergency management experience relating to the federal responses to the 2008-2009 Housing Crisis, Hurricane Sandy, and Ebola.

Donovan said his progressive politics and record of accomplishment in government make him “the best candidate to lead this city because I combine the biggest, broadest vision for change with the deepest experience to accomplish it.” He also claims that he is the “real, true progressive in this race,” which several other candidates would be quick to dispute, based on what he’s actually gotten done.

Donovan discussed several broad planks of his vision for the city, including creating "21st century streets...without cars dominating our streetscape," but didn’t offer specifics for what that would really look like.

On housing, the former HUD Secretary said, when asked about the proposal, that “Land banks are a critically important example of the ways we can ensure public ownership of land.” He said that the city needs to “reimagine our right to shelter as a right to housing” because “if we believe we’re going to solve homelessness with homeless programs alone we’re going to fail.”

While Donovan declined to voice his support for “defund the NYPD” as a slogan, he said he did “support reducing, reimagining, and reinvesting our criminal justice system.” As mayor, he would want to “reduce [the NYPD’s] role and focus them on guns and violent crime,” including by removing the police from schools, homeless outreach, and other tasks.

Kathryn Garcia
Garcia pitched herself as “the go-to crisis manage for New York City” in recent years, citing her role as the “food czar” during the early months of the pandemic and leading the city’s response to the lead crisis at NYCHA, touting a 20% reduction in children with lead poisoning under her leadership. “You won’t find someone with more municipal crisis experience than me,” she said, also referencing her work as sanitation commissioner under Mayor de Blasio and working on clean water under Mayor Bloomberg.

Garcia said that the rising covid rates have “been extraordinarily concerning” and that the only way to end the crisis will be “fast, free, and easy access to a vaccine.” She pitched herself as the best-equipped person to ensure that happens, saying, “I’m an operations person. This is what I do best.”

She also said that in the coming months that the city should keep open “as much as possible, but in a safe way,” noting that visiting a museum is much safer than indoor dining as an example.

Additionally, she proposes free childcare for families with incomes less than $70,000 a year to combat what she describes as a “childcare crisis,” particular for working mothers.

Noting the city’s fiscal woes, Garcia said that she would “prioritize core services,” such as sanitation, fire, parks, water, and education, and to “stop wasting money on ineffective band aid solutions” because “we know tax revenue is down so we can’t afford to be wasteful.”

She mentioned a few examples of where she’s seen inefficiency in city government, including that she believes there are too many different technology offices and chief officers, the city’s resiliency and climate offices should be combined, and that she’s not sure what the public engagement division actually does.

Garcia sounded an optimistic note on the chance for a federal stimulus, saying, “I have a lot more confidence that we will get some relief from a Biden administration.” However, she also said that “it won’t be enough to close every gap.”

When asked if she thought the Office of Public Advocate was unnecessary, Garcia answered “I’d love to keep Jumaane in that role...but it is the question of if you need an ombudsman at that scale.”

Carlos Menchaca
“Covid has changed everything for the entire city,” Council Member Carlos Menchaca said at the beginning of his remarks, but “what I want to bring is a whole different way of thinking about government that starts with community.” He directly criticized Mayor de Blasio, saying his “entire time has really been removing power from communities from making decisions that are best for them.”

He praised Sunset Park, one of the neighborhoods in his district, for building “100% affordable” housing developments and “not waiting for towers of luxury housing to come to displace our communities.” According to Menchaca, “those units went so low in terms of access that local residents are able to afford them.”

The term-limited Council member also said that he wants “to bring universal basic income to the city of New York through pilot programs. I think this is something that can really change how people access not just housing but all the things they need.”

He had harsh words for both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, saying they “represent some of the worst kinds of politics.” As an alternative, he pointed to his opposition to the Industry City rezoning proposal, which he helped kill, telling the West Side Democrats that “we did our homework but I also shared that homework with transparency” and “that’s how I’m going to run this mayor’s office.” 

Dianne Morales
“This is the greatest city in the world but we’re falling short,” Morales told the West Side Democrats. “A system that works for some of us is not good enough,” she went on to say, and “the multiple crises we’ve been navigating are the result of deeply ingrained systems and structures.”

Morales says she’s running because “We’ve got to live up to the rhetoric of being the greatest city in the world.” To do so, she says “it’s time to throw out the old playbook...the people who are closest to the problems need to be part of the solution.”

Asked about the idea of NYCHA public housing becoming resident-run, she said believes that “NYCHA, with the right support, should be handed over to community ownership.”

Additionally, on housing overall, the city “should be adopting models that increase community ownership and community decision-making over their housing”

Morales described the current school year as a “lost opportunity” for desegregation, stating “there’s no reason why we couldn’t have begun to experiment with desegregating classes with virtual learning.” For example, she said that the best teachers on the Upper West Side could have been paired with poor students of color in Brooklyn. 

When asked about municipal property taxes for small homeowners, Morales said that she thinks “the city needs to find other ways to cover those expenses.” She reiterated that “we need to cancel rent,” she said, because evictions are “only going to further compound the issues and challenges we’re dealing with in this city.” She also said something must be done to help make small landlords whole in such a scenario.

Scott Stringer
“For me, this is somewhat of a homecoming,” Stringer said at the start of his segment, noting that his political career began on the Upper West Side and with the West Side Democrats’ forerunner clubs. He told the attendees that the city needs a mayor who “continues to be progressive, but is also competent in management.”

Stringer said that he knows “a mayor needs to be specific,” and highlighted his “25-point small business plan” as an example of his policy specificities. As part of that plan, he said “we’re going to have to incentivize our small businesses to move to vacant corridors,” as well as provide other support for small businesses, such as with technology. Stringer, whose long list of policy plans have been produced through the work of the very large government agency he runs as comptroller, also pointed to his affordable housing plan.

Stringer was among Mayor de Blasio’s harshest critics of the night, particularly when it came to his relationship with the state government, stating that he would “reset the city-state relationship in Albany.” He said “Cuomo’s playing chess, he’s playing checkers,” while promising attendees that “no one is stealing my lunch money in Albany,” in part because of his familiarity with state government -- Stringer was a member of the Assembly before becoming Manhattan borough president, then comptroller. He said as mayor he would work with progressive state legislators to secure the city’s policy priorities.

The term-limited comptroller said that he has opposed rezonings that have occurred during the de Blasio mayoralty because the city needs to “build with communities not against them.” 

“When I open this economy as mayor, we’re not opening the same way we closed it,” Stringer said, continuing that New York will “finally” not be a “tale of two cities” under his leadership. He highlighted his progressive management of the city’s pension system as comptroller, which has included divestment from private prisons and working toward divestment from fossil fuel companies.

Stringer was also critical of Mayor de Blasio’s climate goals, saying that focusing on “2040 or 2050 goals is simply kicking the can down the road” and that “what’s happened in this administration is that we’ve been too slow to realize our yearly goals.” He promised that would change under his leadership with “an 8-year plan” and a “fossil fuel infrastructure moratorium,” noting that he has “opposed pipelines throughout the city.”

On affordable housing, Stringer said that the city “needs a reset,” away from the current Mandatory Inclusionary Housing model,  and “to merge a real affordable housing plan to our homelessness plan.” As mayor, he promised to get a law passed that would mandate “25% of as-of-right developments must be set aside for affordable housing.” He said that this key plank of his housing plan would help integrate the city.

Loree Sutton
Sutton noted that three in four registered Democrats in the city have not voted in recent local elections, but now believes many more see the importance of local leadership. She said she would take a “systems approach” as mayor, to develop innovative solutions like the 14th Street busway and Governor Cuomo’s approach to the L-train tunnel repairs that avoided the planned full shutdown.

She praised her fellow candidate Shaun Donovan’s record as HUD secretary of reducing veterans homelessness by 50%, while noting that as the city’s veterans commissioner, she brought down the city’s homeless veterans population by 90%. She believes that her work on veterans homelessness “can be applied to the larger population.”

Sutton, who is clearly running as a moderate Democrat, cited the City Journal, published by the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank, and the business-friendly Partnership for New York City as inspirations for her campaign ideas, though she said she doesn’t always agree with those sources. She also cited Regional Plan Association. She would later name former Mayor Ed Koch as one of her personal heroes, arguing that “to mayor is to walk around - mayor is a verb.”

“There’s so much that we can do together and that requires a kind of leadership that we haven’t seen,” she said.

Sutton criticized Mayor de Blasio, who brought her into city government in 2014, for his handling of the Lucerne Hotel row, specifically the “process that placed hundreds of homeless individuals without preparing the communities receiving them.” She said that “community engagement has to proceed any major shift in a community ecosystem.”

When asked more specifically how she would deal with the city’s homelessness crisis, Sutton said that “we need social workers to work with the police, not send out social workers instead of the police.”

Maya Wiley
“I am running to be the next mayor of New York City because I know our city can become one where all people live with dignity,” Wiley told attendees, in the last candidate segment of the event. She said that the city should be able to “retain what we love about it while fixing what produced so much inequality.” Much of her prepared remarks focused on her lived experiences and history of advocacy, including decades as a civil rights attorney, and the work she did in the de Blasio administration on equity, particularly on broadband access.

Wiley stressed that she did not personally know Mayor de Blasio before joining his administration, but that she was “totally on board with [de Blasio’s] mission” of ending inequality, in an apparent attempt to distance herself from her former boss. She noted she was the first Black woman to serve as counsel to the mayor.

When asked about the NYPD’s disciplinary process, Wiley, who was chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) that investigates some instances of alleged police misconduct, said, “The [NYPD] commissioner cannot solely determine what discipline is” and “I think we need to reimagine public safety top to bottom.”

When asked about how to overcome community opposition to low-income housing and homeless shelters via a “NIMBY” approach, Wiley said that she thinks “it starts with a very engaged process that ensures every community does its part.”

In the final question of the night, Wiley was asked to name one city agency inefficiency that she would solve. Wiley noted that “we desperately need more nursing services,” particularly in schools, and she would accomplish this in part by merging the nursing programs at the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene so as to increase the number of school nurses.

The forum was moderated by Alec Barrett, a district leader; Lauren Brody, interim vice president of the club; and club member Pablo Zevallos. Barrett emphasized that the primary will be conducted using ranked-choice voting.

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

Mayoral Candidates Pitch Their Resumes and Values to the West Side Democrats Fri, 13 Nov 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Appear at First Candidate Forum of 2021 Race joldc mayoral forum 2021

l-r: Eric Adams, Kathryn Garcia, Shaun Donovan,  Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Carlos Menchaca, Maya Wiley

The Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, which bills itself as the progressive LGBTQ political club, hosted the first forum for the 2021 New York City mayoral election Tuesday night, inviting seven declared or exploring Democratic candidates to participate. The Democratic and Republican primaries for mayor will take place in June of next year.

Participating candidates -- who appeared one at a time by Zoom, giving brief opening remarks, then answering a series of yes-or-no questions from the moderator, club president Allen Roskoff, followed by several other questions and answers at greater length -- were, in order of appearance, former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; former top Bloomberg and Obama administrations official Shaun Donovan; City Comptroller Scott Stringer; former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales; Brooklyn City Council Member Carlos Menchaca; and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who recently announced he would not be running for mayor in the 2021 election after planning to and doing initial fundraising for a campaign, gave opening remarks at the forum.

“Even though I am no longer a candidate for mayor, I am paying deep interest in this race,” said Johnson, listing off a number of key issues that the race must focus on and the next mayor will have to deal with. “Many of the issues being talked about tonight are issues that the Council has worked on and is going to work on until the end of our term.”

At one point, Roskoff noted that there were over 1,200 attendees for the forum over Zoom.

Roskoff said that not every declared Democratic candidate was invited to the forum, only those whom his club considered “most relevant to the left.” Loree Sutton, the former commissioner for the city’s Department of Veterans Affairs, was not invited, deemed too conservative by the organizers. Roskoff has cited her remarks earlier this summer suggesting that protesters should be required to obtain city permits, and that idea formed one of his questions to the participating candidates, all of whom disagreed with the concept.

That was among several points of agreement among all the candidates throughout the forum, while there were a number of areas of varying viewpoints, many of both of which were drawn out in the “lightning round” of roughly 10 yes-or-no questions asked to all of them by Roskoff.

Each candidate promised not to take donations from law enforcement unions, yet candidates were divided on the issue of real estate donations. Morales, Wiley, and Menchaca have all pledged not to take donations from individuals associated with real estate, while Stringer has said he will not return real estate donations made to him before he launched his mayoral run and also said that money from big developers is what he has since made off-limits. Garcia, Adams, and Donovan all said they would accept real estate donations, with Garcia noting that she wants everyone at the table and that real estate “has skin in the game” and Adams noting that there are many different types of people involved in real estate, including himself as a small property owner and landlord.

The candidates almost uniformly agreed on not seeking an endorsement from outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio, a term-limited Democrat. All but Adams and Wiley said they wouldn’t seek or accept the mayor’s endorsement, while Wiley said she wouldn’t seek it and didn’t mention whether she’d accept it or not.

Unsurprisingly, all seven candidates said they would not keep Dermot Shea on as Police Commissioner if they were elected mayor. Five candidates, other than Garcia and Wiley, stated that they would eliminate the NYPD’s Vice Squad. Opinion was divided over whether a mayoral appointee for police commissioner should be subject to a City Council confirmation. Adams, Morales, and Menchaca said they should be, while Garcia, Donovan, Wiley, and Stringer favored the status quo where the mayor needs no approval.

Donovan, Morales, and Menchaca said that they would be in favor of removing the Columbus statue from Columbus Square and renaming the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge due to Koch’s record on LGBTQ rights and the HIV/AIDS crisis, while Adams was in favor of renaming the latter and Stringer, Wiley, and Garcia would not commit to either. All seven candidates supported requiring all New York City apartment buildings to allow cats and dogs to be kept as pets by tenants.

Garcia, Stringer, Morales, Wiley, and Menchaca are in favor of sex work decriminalization and oppose the Nordic model, while Donovan supports the Nordic model and Adams, a former NYPD officer, said he opposes decriminalization of sex work.

There were mixed comments and significant hedging on the ill-fated Amazon ‘HQ2’ Queens campus deal, with Garcia expressing the most support, given the job promises, she said. Of the governor and mayor striking the deal, Adams said that he “opposed the way they did it,” but indicated overall support for the project. Wiley said “it was clearly a bad deal because people killed it and we need to re-envision how we do development,” but did not directly state her view of the massive project that was said to be able to create tens of thousands of jobs. Donovan said he did not support the specifics of the deal but he believed “we could have gotten to the right proposal.” Stringer curiously called the deal a "failed ULURP" due to it being struck in secret, though the project was never set to go through the city's uniform land use review process, or ULURP, and was instead presented as a state general project plan. Morales and Menchaca said they opposed the deal.

Garcia was the only candidate not to directly oppose the relocation of homeless men from an Upper West Side hotel being used as a shelter, stating that “using hotels is problematic” and that she “would not have put them there in the first place.”

Some of the candidates were asked whether they would return the CUNY system to being tuition-free for New York City residents. Morales and Menchaca said they would; Stringer said he would make community colleges tuition free; and Donovan voiced support for expanding apprenticeship programs and workforce development. Garcia, Adams, and Wiley were not asked about CUNY tuition.

Kathryn Garcia
“If my name is familiar to you, it’s because I’ve been in leadership positions in New York City government my entire career,” Garcia said in her opening remarks. “You won’t find a candidate with more crisis and management experience than me.”

From early 2014, when de Blasio named her commissioner, until just recently when she resigned to explore a mayoral run, Garcia led the Sanitation Department, which she noted is overwhelmingly male. At the same time, she was repeatedly tapped by de Blasio to deal with crises, including reducing lead paint exposure, especially in NYCHA developments, running the entirety of NYCHA, and implementing the city’s massive emergency food program amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I resigned that post because I saw firsthand a mayor who is unprepared to deal with this crisis, who responds to headlines and made budget cuts that hurt this city,” Garcia said of her departure.

Garcia told the attendees, “Together we can build the right foundation for our city for the next hundred years.” She said she would focus on job creation, noting, “Nothing is affordable if you have no income. We must support job growth.” She also said that efficient delivery of government services would also be a priority, “there shouldn’t be anything you can’t do with a smartphone” when it comes to such services.

Garcia labeled herself a “practical progressive.” When asked by Roskoff what that label was insinuating, she clarified, “I’m about getting things done. I’m about taking progressive policies and making sure we get things implemented.” She was further pressed on a previous claim that she would be an “Ed Koch-like mayor” and she said she was referring to how Koch “always wanted to hear feedback from the public and he was very instrumental in bringing us back from a fiscal crisis.” However, she said, “I don’t embrace all of his policies.”

Eric Adams
Adams has served as Brooklyn Borough President since 2014. Before that, he was a State Senator for seven years and a police officer for over two decades before that, rising to the rank of Captain. In his opening remarks, Adams recalled his own experiences with economic hardship and housing instability as a child and said, “I’ve spent my entire life helping those people,” who are currently in similar situations, as a police officer, activist, and elected official.

“Too many things don’t work for far too many people in this city,” Adams said, continuing that “our city is dysfunctional,” which he says predates the pandemic. “We continue to operate our agencies as silos that work against each other and the city.” He also said that he believes “The lack of education is one of the biggest crimes I see in this city.”

When pressed by Roskoff on his 2018 comments following the Tree of Life massacre that there should be more guns in houses of worship, Adams said that his words were misinterpreted and taken out of context. He said he was referring to “trained law enforcement officers, active or retired, not citizens, coordinated with their pastors and imams, and rabbis.”

Roskoff also asked Adams about the recent outbreaks of COVID-19 in some parts of Brooklyn, particularly Orthodox Jewish communities, and how he would handle that as mayor. Adams said that he would start by “getting on the ground. We unfairly communicate to a diverse city as though everyone in New York speaks one language and watches the evening news.” He also said he would use a civilian team to enforce public health guidelines, instead of the police, and criticized de Blasio’s response, saying, “we have a reactive plan, not a proactive plan.”

Shaun Donovan
Donovan served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and later Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration and, before that, as the Housing Preservation and Development commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He describes himself as a “lifelong New Yorker who became a public servant because I grew up in another time of crisis,” during the 1970s and 1980s. He believes he is the best candidate suited to be mayor at this moment, saying “in more than two decades of public service, I’ve learned to lead through crises,” noting he was city housing commissioner following 9/11, HUD Secretary following the Great Recession, managed the federal recovery response after Hurricane Sandy, and was budget director during the Ebola epidemic.

Through these crises, Donovan said that he learned “the most vulnerable before the crisis are the worst hit.” He says that the pandemic presents an opportunity for New Yorkers to “reimagine this city together as a city that works for everyone.” He believes he is the “true progressive” in the mayoral race due to his track record of accomplishments.

Roskoff pressed Donovan over his work in the Bloomberg mayoral administration, asking when Donovan ever disagreed with the former mayor. Donovan called stop-and-frisk “a mistake” and said he disagreed with Bloomberg’s handling of the mortgage crisis and its causes. However, he said, “I’m proud of the work I did under Mayor Bloomberg” and that “we created a tool that could lock in affordable housing in neighborhoods permanently,” referring to Inclusionary Housing, calling it the “most aggressive affordable housing plan in the country.” This may have been true at the time, but it has since been surpassed by de Blasio’s.

Donovan also outlined broad housing policy principles, saying, “I believe the right to legal counsel is important, I believe that the strengthening of rent stabilization and rent laws at the state level is important and the strong enforcement of that, and the right kind of community-oriented planning when we rezone.”

Scott Stringer
City Comptroller since 2014, Stringer was previously Manhattan Borough President for two terms and served seven terms in the State Assembly. At the forum, Stringer touted his long record of being an early endorser of progressive causes, including being one of the original sponsors of marriage equality in the State Legislature.

“Our work is far from over but the stakes could never be higher,” Stringer said. “We cannot open the economy the way we closed it.” He noted he was the only Democrat in the State Assembly to vote against weakening rent control laws in the 1990s, which he attributed to “starting the gentrification spiral.”

When pressed on his support for Hudson Yards and other development deals as Borough President (while he criticized the Amazon ‘HQ2’ deal as Comptroller), Stringer said that he worked with local communities and that there were “times we won, and times we lost.”

Dianne Morales
Morales has spent much of her career as a nonprofit executive, resigning from a position running a social services organization in the Bronx in order to run for mayor. She said her campaign is “reflective of New Yorkers ready to build a new social contract” and highlighted -- just after Stringer spoke -- that she is not a career politician and will not be indebted to political machines or special interests.

“My personal and professional experiences have made me acutely aware of longstanding and structural barriers,” said Morales, a Black Latina who has “called out the NYPD for profiling and assaulting my son.”

“We’re living in unprecedented times and that calls for a radical reimagining of what’s possible,” she said, calling for defunding the NYPD and reinvesting in communities that have historically been marginalized and prejudiced. Morales would be the first woman and woman of color and Latino person to be mayor of New York City.

Carlos Menchaca
The most recent entrant into the mayoral race, at least in exploration of a run, is Menchaca, who has served in the City Council since 2014, representing the 38th district -- largely Sunset Park and  Red Hook, with a portion of Borough Park. Like Stringer and Adams, he is term-limited and cannot run for reelection to his current position next year. Prior to his Council tenure, Menchaca worked in former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s office and then for former Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

A Mexican-American, Menchaca would be the first Hispanic mayor of New York City. He would also be the first openly gay mayor. (Sutton is also openly gay.)

Menchaca noted his support for Cynthia Nixon in the 2018 gubernatorial primary against Governor Andrew Cuomo, part of what he believes is a long track record of progressive bona fides. He explained his reasoning for jumping into the race, saying, “some of you have watched the mayoral race emerge and evolve, and like many of you I just wasn’t happy.”

“The covid pandemic has really given us an opportunity to think about how we restructure this city,” Menchaca said. He criticized wealthy New Yorkers for leaving the city during the worst of the pandemic, while essential workers “stayed and are rebuilding.”Asked about increasing taxes on the wealthy, Menchaca said “we gotta do that” and that “the Council has been trying to figure this out but we need a willing partner. I will be that.”

Menchaca, who was one of only nine Council members to vote against this year’s budget because they believed it did not sufficiently reduce the NYPD budget, linked the issue to the rest of the budget. When asked about CUNY tuition, he said, “this is about prioritizing our city budget” and “this is why the defund [the NYPD] movement was so important.”

Maya Wiley
Wiley served as counsel to the Mayor and chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates some forms of police misconduct, during the de Blasio administration, but since 2018, has worked as a professor at the New School and a legal analyst on MSNBC. She recently left those roles to run for mayor.

“As someone with no political background, I am an unconventional candidate,” Wiley admitted, but said she decided to run “because I saw firsthand that city government has the power to impact people’s lives directly.”

Wiley is actually in a lot of company in the current field as a candidate who has not run for office before, along with Morales, Garcia, Sutton, and Donovan.

In her introduction, Wiley said, “This must be a city where we can all live with dignity,” citing her personal experiences growing up in a Black community and segregated public schools. Though she worked for the current mayor, she has frequently criticized him in her early campaign.

“We need a transformational leader who gets us off the treadmill of incrementalism,” said Wiley, who would be the first Black woman and first woman to serve as the city’s mayor. When asked about her association with Mayor de Blasio, she said, “I’m a woman who stands on her own two feet” and cited the increase of broadband access and city contracts awarded to Minority and Women-Owned Enterprises as her top accomplishments in City Hall.

When asked by Roskoff about her originating the “agents of the city” designation, which was used to shield the mayor’s email conversations with outside advisors from Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, Wiley said, “attorneys offer advice and the client makes the decision. As mayor, it is critically important to restore trust.” She said that she would not have made journalists sue for those records.

When asked about taxing the rich, Wiley said this current crisis necessitated an “all hands on deck approach” and that “everybody in this city has something to contribute.”

by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Hopefuls Appear at First Candidate Forum of 2021 Race Wed, 14 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Maya Wiley Announces Campaign for New York City Mayor 2 maya wiley campaign

Maya Wiley at City Hall (photo: Rob Bennett/mayor's office)

Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, is running to succeed the term-limited de Blasio as mayor of New York City in the 2021 election.

Wiley, a Democrat, officially announced her campaign in a video posted online Wednesday evening, which will be followed by a launch event outside the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday. In the video, Wiley offers an initial message of a city with greater equity and unity and presents herself as “not a conventional candidate,” needed now to tackle new and long-standing crises New York City faces, especially amid the continued fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and a resurgent Black Lives Matter movement in response to police brutality.

While she provides no specifics about her background or her plans for the city in the video, Wiley strikes key themes that promise to be the foundation of her campaign. Like every candidate, she will have to offer solutions to the socioeconomic devastation wrought by COVID-19, but Wiley is also expected to place police reform and racial justice, education equity and the desegregation of city schools, and economic opportunity at the center of her candidacy.

Most recently, Wiley has been a professor of social justice at The New School and an MSNBC legal analyst, though she stepped away from both roles as she has prepared to run for mayor. Previously, Wiley was appointed chair of a police oversight board by de Blasio in mid-2016 when she left his office, where she had been his top counsel and worked on issues including internet access equity.

Pointing to the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York and “a crisis of confidence in our city’s leadership” -- a line clearly meant to differentiate herself from de Blasio -- Wiley says in the video that “some will say I don’t sound like past mayors, or look like them, or think like them — and I say, yes, I don’t, that is the point.”

“The risk,” she says, is not “changing it up” with a candidate like her, who has not held elected office before and would be the city’s first woman and first woman of color to be mayor, but in “electing the same kinds of people bringing the same kinds of broken promises over and over again.”

Wiley joins a still-developing Democratic primary field that includes declared or exploring candidates such as city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former city Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton, former top official in the Bloomberg and Obama administrations Shaun Donovan, and finance executive Raymond McGuire. The primary, the first mayoral election to use ranked-choice voting, will be in June of next year. All of city government is on the ballot next year, with most offices, including mayor, seeing turnover due to term limits.

Never having run for elected office before, Wiley joins a likely field where that characteristic is more common than not -- only Stringer and Adams have run for or held an elected government post. While Wiley has no existing political base of voters, a challenging place to start, she also has the opportunity to capitalize on her many political and civic connections, relative fame from MSNBC, and large social media following. She does not have a government record to tout or defend beyond her work for de Blasio, which will likely offer several hurdles she must leap but allows her to try to make her campaign mostly about her larger resume, ideas for the city’s future, and ability to connect with voters personally.

Like declared candidates Adams and Morales, and McGuire if he runs, Wiley is seeking to become the city’s second Black mayor. Morales is the only Latino candidate in the field, while Stringer, Donovan, Garcia, and Sutton are white.

In order to win, Wiley will likely have to assemble a coalition similar to de Blasio’s when he won the crowded 2013 primary: white progressives and voters of color, especially Black voters. But she likely won’t be seeking de Blasio’s endorsement, a reflection of the mayor’s limited popularity, even among Democrats. Like other former de Blasio administration officials Garcia and Sutton, Wiley will have to navigate many questions about the current mayor’s record.

For Wiley, that will include de Blasio’s ethical problems, particularly when he tried to shield email communications with outside advisors that Wiley termed “agents of the city,” a classification that did not hold up in court when news organizations NY1 and the New York Post successfully sued to overturn denied Freedom of Information Law requests. Having chaired the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which investigates some forms of police misconduct, Wiley will also be asked about NYPD reform, or lack thereof, an issue she has recently been outspoken about, most notably by calling for the firing of Police Commissioner Dermot Shea amid what she deemed as inappropriate NYPD response to protests against racist policing.

Wiley has a long history, prior to joining the de Blasio administration, of working to protect civil rights and foster greater racial and social equity, including at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and she appears poised to make police reform a major focus of her mayoral campaign. She may also choose to separate herself from the mayor based on her work co-chairing a task force that de Blasio assembled to tackle the city’s deep school segregation but the most aggressive recommendations of which the mayor ultimately sat on for many months leading up to the covid outbreak, which put the proposals deeper on ice.

And, among other issues, Wiley is likely to make universal internet broadband access a key tenet of her pitch after having worked on such issues both in the de Blasio administration and since joining The New School faculty.

Wiley will give more insight into the initial focus areas of her campaign at her Thursday launch event, where, according to her campaign, she will be joined by supporters from all five boroughs and elected officials endorsing her including State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris of Queens.

Wiley’s campaign has staffed up in the lead-up to her launch. Her strategist and general consultant is Jon Paul Lupo, another veteran of the de Blasio administration. As is Alison Hirsh, a senior advisor to the campaign who has deep labor connections and other political relationships in the city. They’ve brought on campaign manager Maya Rupert, who was deputy campaign manager for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s presidential run and campaign manager for Julian Castro’s bid. Akilah Ensley, a veteran of Andrew Gillum’s Florida gubernatorial campaign and Michael Blake’s Bronx run for Congress, is also on the team. Wiley has hired consultants from Precision Strategies for communications and press, Brilliant Corners Research for polling, GPS Impact for digital strategy. New York City Council veteran Matt Gewolb is leading her policy planning; Cathy Albisa is her campaign treasurer.

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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Maya Wiley Announces Campaign for New York City Mayor Wed, 07 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'I Actually Have to Negotiate a Budget': Corey Johnson and the Challenge of Running for Mayor as City Council Speaker 4 budget deal ptfs

Corey Johnson, with Bill de Blasio watching (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Speakers of the New York City Council don’t fare well when running for citywide office. Melissa Mark-Viverito, who previously held the job, was unsuccessful in a crowded 2019 special election for public advocate. Christine Quinn, the speaker before her, placed third in the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary that saw Bill de Blasio advance toward the mayoralty. Gifford Miller, Quinn’s predecessor, similarly lost in the 2005 Democratic mayoral primary to Fernando Ferrer, and Peter Vallone came in third in the 2001 Democratic primary.

Corey Johnson, the current City Council Speaker, is hoping to buck that trend as he pursues his own mayoral bid in 2021, when both he and de Blasio will be term-limited out of their current offices. But like Council speakers before him, his leadership of the city’s 51-member legislative body is likely to be a double-edged sword.

Johnson has been able to achieve major goals and advance populist ideas that could serve as the foundation of a fruitful campaign platform. But, by nature, his position requires consensus-building among a large, diverse group of lawmakers and compromising with the mayor. That was the case when he brokered the recently approved $88.2 billion city budget and found himself balancing the positions held by Council members and the demands of a movement against police brutality, and delivered a compromise that broadly angered people on the left and the right, and which even he admitted he was disappointed with.

“I love being speaker,” Johnson said in an interview earlier this week, discussing criticism he’s received, including from others in government. “I can't speak to other people's jobs, but as speaker I'm able to have a big impact on policy and legislation and the budget in New York City, and I'm grateful for that. It's a challenging job that requires me to take positions on issues on almost a daily basis. And there's an upside to that but also a downside to that because some of these things are complicated, nuanced, and politically fraught but still exciting and you still have the ability to impact the city and public policy in a significant way.”

Johnson’s potential mayoral opponents, particularly Comptroller Scott Stringer, had harsh words for the budget deal, especially with regard to the NYPD picture.

“Politics is politics sometimes,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s anything new that potential opponents are going to try to use issues and votes and the budget process against me or other Council members. That’s probably happened for time immemorial so I don’t think it’s unique to me. But, at the same time, being speaker, I actually have to negotiate a budget. I actually have to negotiate legislation, I have to support members who are negotiating land use deals. These things are much more under the microscope and politically electrified than what other elected officials have to deal with on a daily basis.”

In past interviews, when asked about the trend of City Council speakers struggling to become mayor, Johnson has pointed out it is a small sample size and that no comptroller has become mayor in decades, while no borough president has become mayor since David Dinkins won in 1989. Along with Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is the other current elected official expected to run for mayor in the 2021 election.

With the city facing a $9 billion revenue gap, Johnson faced the toughest budget that the Council has had to deal with in his time as speaker. The city had been flush with cash for years through a robust recovery after the Great Recession, allowing for massive increases in spending. Now, the mayor was proposing cuts to social services, youth development, education, and more. There was also a growing demand from police reform advocates that the city cut $1 billion from the police department’s nearly $6 billion annual operating budget.

Even as Johnson embraced that advocacy, he could not obtain the level or types of cuts he was pushing for as he cobbled together the votes for the budget. It was ultimately approved 32-17 just past the midnight deadline for the July 1 start of the 2021 fiscal year. It included pledged cuts to police overtime spending with no specific plan to achieve them, a small reduction in officer headcount, and hundreds of millions in costs shifted by moving school safety back to the purview of the Department of Education.

The pieces added up to what the mayor called $1 billion but were marked by the sort of gimmicks that incensed advocates and Johnson acknowledged did not hit that target. (Even the school safety shift isn’t expected to happen within the new fiscal year, a detail that didn’t emerge until after the budget was approved.)

“From the moment George Floyd was murdered at the end of May till when we passed the budget in the hours leading up to July 1, we were able to do a lot while also recognizing you can't do everything in five weeks,” Johnson said.

There has been speculation that the budget vote will come back to haunt Johnson’s mayoral prospects. A bargain frustrating the most fervent activists and made with de Blasio before a change election where each candidate is seeking to differentiate themselves from the two-term mayor could be challenging for the speaker. It’s somewhat reminiscent of what worked against former Speaker Quinn in 2013, who had been an ally of then Mayor Bloomberg and was running to some degree on a continuation of his policies and the broad success of the city. But Quinn, who hasn’t ruled out a 2021 mayoral run, was in part done in by her deal with Bloomberg to extend term limits over the will of voters.

“Chris Quinn...had the problem of being seen as too close to the mayor,” said Jessica Proud, a Republican consultant who helped run Joe Lhota’s 2013 general election campaign against de Blasio. “Corey doesn't necessarily have that problem but the duties of the job and the nature of the job, the decisions that come with it, pose challenges like any leadership position.”

While they have worked together on many things, Johnson has also repeatedly set himself apart from de Blasio and under him the Council has tried to exert its power more often than under former Speaker Mark-Viverito, whom de Blasio helped become the speaker for his first term. Though he has at times made significant concessions when de Blasio has taken issue with his proposals, Johnson has more often than not forged ahead with his priorities and forced the mayor to go along.

The recent passage of a bill criminalizing the use of chokeholds and other harmful restraining methods by police officers is testament to that, particularly as it almost invited the first ever mayoral veto by de Blasio before he begrudgingly agreed that he will sign it over the opposition of vocal police leaders.

It also remains unclear how many voters will broadly attribute the budget deal solely to Johnson or if it will even take center stage in a primary that will occur in the middle of another budget session and, current signs say, while the city is still on its way to recovering from the pandemic. The deal may have alienated some on the far left, but that isn’t far and away the only constituency in the Democratic primary and it's not clear that those voters will have another candidate to turn to given that Johnson has also been competing for the left among the current crop of 2021 candidates.

There are, of course, center-right Democrats, the kind who voted for Bloomberg, who may also be turned off by the NYPD cuts. Moderate and conservative Democratic Council Members including Robert Holden, Chaim Deutsch, Kalman Yeger, and Ruben Diaz Sr. all voted against the budget on those very grounds. As one Democratic consultant said, “I don't know yet if this mayoral race is going to be about, ‘We need a fervent socialist, progressive, Black Lives Matter mayor.”

Johnson believes that voters won’t focus on this one budget vote, but will be looking for a larger vision for the future of the city. He denied conjecture among political observers, reported by Politico New York, that he may opt out of the race because of the fallout of this budget, though as with other candidates, he has yet to officially declare his candidacy. That announcement will likely happen after the presidential election in November, he indicated.

Unlike some of the other declared and potential mayoral candidates whose focus has seemed more defined, Johnson says he isn’t carving out a specific niche for himself. “I’ve never really thought of my campaign for mayor with regards to trying to appeal to one lane or one subset of voters,” he said. But he is clearly running to the left on issues that affect the city’s most vulnerable residents, as indicated by his support for the calls of a $1 billion NYPD budget cut. “It’s really about coming up with big ideas and solutions for the future of New York City, being myself, and seeing if that connects with a broad electorate,” he said.

Stringer has long-standing ties to the political establishment but has been wooing the insurgent left, especially as he has endorsed several female candidates, particularly women of color, aligned and adjacent to the Working Families Party, Democratic Socialists of America, and other groups that have emerged as formidable forces in recent elections.

Adams, a Black former police officer and state senator, now Brooklyn Borough President, leans more moderate, and hopes to win over both Black New Yorkers and the white ethnic voters that helped elect Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Guiliani as mayor.

Loree Sutton, a retired Army Brigadier General and former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans Services, is also vying for the center-left, and advocates for a more fiscally restrained government and tougher law enforcement. Former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales (who left her job to run) has centered social justice issues in her campaign, including a major rethinking of how public safety is done and the need to create more opportunities for women to thrive and lead.

Former top Obama and Bloomberg aide Shaun Donovan has a lengthy resume as a public servant that has managed fiscal, health, and environmental emergencies. Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio, is an accomplished civil rights attorney and activist whose campaign would likely target issues of criminal justice and racial inequity. She has been more outspoken of late, including in criticism of the city budget deal and in calling for the removal of NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Some who observed the budget process, or participated in it, had praise for Johnson’s leadership.

Longtime political consultant and former Mayor Ed Koch spokesperson George Arzt said Johnson did “an exceptional job” balancing the countervailing demands over the budget. “I think all in all, by next year, this will have been forgotten,” he said, noting that between now and the 2021 primary, there will be another budget modification in the fall, a presidential election and, hopefully, a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Arzt also noted that Johnson bore the brunt of criticism because of the public’s lower expectations from the mayor. “I don’t think there has been a mayor in recent times as unpopular as de Blasio, and he still has a year-and-a-half to go. So people look to Corey for leadership on major issues,” he said. “What the budget process showed is that he’s a person that people look up to for leadership and he can work to put together a stable government.”

Council Member Antonio Reynoso was among the half-dozen or so members who voted against the budget because the NYPD cuts did not go further. “I think that the speaker is in an unenviable position,” said Reynoso, a Brooklyn Democrat running for borough president in next year’s election, noting that the speaker’s individual positions can’t override the majority of Council members, who didn’t want to defund the NYPD as aggressively.

“I don’t think there’s any other position in the entire city that has the same role as the speaker,” Reynoso said. “Everybody else – the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, borough presidents, and even Council members can all speak independently about what they want without having to be accountable to anyone except their constituents. He, on the other hand, has to be accountable to these elected officials, to these Council members.”

But Reynoso did say that the police funding issue will continue to be on the forefront if the Council and mayor fail to follow through on the promises made in this budget, particularly relating to changes in how school safety is handled. “If a lot of the stuff that [Council members] thought was going to happen doesn't happen this year, I could see a change in heart [from Council members],” he said, predicting that in such circumstances, there may be even more support from progressive members allowing for greater cuts to the police budget next year.

Advocates are also keeping a watchful eye to see that those pledges, however disappointing, are fulfilled. “We’re in this for the long haul, we're not going anywhere,” said Andréa Colon, lead organizer for Rockaway Youth Task Force, a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition.

Colon faulted all parties involved in the deal – the mayor, speaker, and the Council at large. “Even members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus said, ‘This is a win for our community. This is a first step,’ but so many acknowledged that this doesn't go far enough. So if they’re able to acknowledge that, why vote yes?”

The night of the budget deal there was chatter among activists on Twitter that Johnson’s mayoral campaign was over.

“It was probably one of the most challenging budgets in modern municipal history,” Johnson said in the interview. Having spent weeks dealing with the varying crises the city faced, and having to triangulate what his members demanded and what the mayor was willing to concede, he appeared visibly exhausted and browbeaten in the hours before the budget vote. “My goal was to save as many programs that affect poor New Yorkers, communities of color, and covid-vulnerable communities as possible while at the same time recognizing this moment of national reckoning on police reform and racism and pushing as far as we can go,” he said.

Even as the full scope of proposed NYPD cuts weren’t realized, the speaker emphasized that the Council managed to save vital programs and services to the tune of about $700 million that were on the chopping block in the mayor’s proposal, besides the funding that was reallocated from the police. “The mayor wasn't there and the Council was divided,” he said on the NYPD budget. “So I had to try to find consensus. And I think we were able to do a lot of good in this budget, and I look at this as really the beginning, not the end.”

Ravi Gupta, co-founder and managing partner of Arena, a national organization that trains and supports progressive Democrats running for office and those seeking to work on campaigns, said that though Johnson could be hurt by carrying the weight of the budget vote, he can also benefit from it.

“I think given the trauma that this city has been through over the past year and even longer, superficial politics are going to be a thing of the past,” he said. “Straight rhetorical politics aren't really going to carry people very far. And [Johnson] will have a case to make that he has had to make tough decisions, which is not something that everybody in the race, either now or in the future, not everybody's going to be able to say that.”

He also noted that Johnson’s potential opponents will have to explain their own records. “Not all, but many of the people critiquing Corey don't have very long histories of being aggressive for reform of the police,” he said.

“The '$1 billion cut' to the NYPD proposed by the Mayor and the City Council is not a $1 billion cut—it's a bait and switch and a paper-thin excuse for reform,” Stringer said of the budget, though he had proposed a more modest NYPD cut than Johnson’s plan, and Johnson acknowledged before the budget vote that the deal did not include $1 billion in cuts.

Adams said, “The city is in crisis, inequality is deepening, New Yorkers are marching every day against injustice — and instead of forging change and lighting a path to a brighter future, this budget simply maintains the status quo.”

On Twitter, Wiley wrote, “Today’s deal isn’t a cut. It’s moving the deck chairs around. We have to stop tinkering and start transforming public safety.”

Morales, in a statement, said the budget “failed those whose lives have been lost at the hands of the NYPD and communities of color who have been disproportionately impacted by violence and brutality.”

Johnson’s “greatest advantage,” Gupta said, is the various proposals he has advanced at the Council, particularly his Streets Master Plan (though that has been delayed because of the pandemic’s impact on the budget). “I think there's a huge constituency in the city for that kind of vision right now,” he said. Johnson was also successful in convincing the mayor to fund the Fair Fares discounted MetroCard program for low-income New Yorkers and in getting more funds to provide pay equity to early childhood educators. He has proposed major plans to address homelessness and food insecurity.

“This is an existential election for the city. So people are going to be looking for truth-tellers, not performers,” he said. “I think people are going to be looking for somebody that they trust. And I don't know who that person is yet but I certainly don't think that this past week has been disqualifying [for Johnson].”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

'I Actually Have to Negotiate a Budget': Corey Johnson and the Challenge of Running for Mayor as City Council Speaker Thu, 09 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The 2021 New York City Mayoral Race, One Year to the Primary inauguration mayor

City Hall on inauguration day (photo: mayor's office)

It’s election day, and all eyes on the 2020 party primaries in New York, though the results won’t be clear for at least one week. But one year from now, New Yorkers will cast their ballots in another primary election, one that will likely determine the slate of leadership of New York City for the next four years, including the next mayor. With Mayor Bill de Blasio term-limited, the stage is set for a fierce competition, which may not really take off until just after this year’s presidential election but has already begun.

With the economy in shambles and the streets echoing with the exasperated cries of a city disillusioned with current leadership, political analysts say New Yorkers will look for a steady hand to guide them through the city’s many crises, whether it’s the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural and systemic racism, economic devastation, perennial unaffordability, entrenched homelessness, crumbling public housing, and more.

Observers admit that there are no easy predictions to be made about the 2021 mayoral race, particularly at this early stage while the city is still trying to overcome what has proved to be the greatest public emergency in its modern history. Candidates, some of whom have spent years preparing to run to become the city’s chief executive, are eyeing the future of the campaign while continuing to make their aspirations clear to voters. Now with just under a year to the primary, fundraising urgency will pick up, as will the need to hold house parties where candidates interact with small groups of voters, even if they must be virtual for the time being. Campaign teams must be built, volunteers recruited, labor leaders schmoozed.

There are so far six Democratic candidates who have declared or are actively exploring runs for mayor: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; Comptroller Scott Stringer; Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; Loree Sutton, former commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services; Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive in the Bronx; and Shaun Donovan, who served as HUD Secretary under President Barack Obama and was previously an aide to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

There are several other individuals either rumored to be considering a run or being pressed to do so, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, and Citigroup executive Ray McGuire. With Democrats holding a 7-to-1 voter enrollment advantage over Republicans, it seems all but assured that the winner of the Democratic primary will win the November general election, but nothing in politics is ever guaranteed.

On the Republican side, there has been little movement so far. Billionaire supermarket magnate John Catsimatidis has raised speculation that he may run, announcing he is formally exploring another campaign. He ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary in 2013, losing to Joe Lhota, and was reportedly considering doing so again in 2017 but chose not to jump into the race. Perhaps the best-known Republican in city government, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, has ruled out a run. There are few other Republicans who hold elected office in the city, though Queens City Council Member Eric Ulrich also toyed with a 2017 campaign but decided not to run.

What remains to be seen is how the political winds will blow. Will today’s anger on the streets carry through to poll sites next year? Will voters choose experienced leadership from those who have long served in elected office or will they look outside for fresh faces and perspectives? Are they more focused on the city’s economic recovery or will social justice be the driving force behind their votes? What specific issues will emerge as paramount? Which policy proposals will gain the most momentum? What impact will labor unions have?

What role might “identity politics” play -- will voters choose an openly gay white man (Johnson) or an openly gay white woman (Sutton) or a Black man (Adams) or a Black Boricua (Morales) after nearly three decades of a heterosexual white man running City Hall and no Latino or woman or openly gay peson ever elected mayor? How will the new ranked-choice voting system for primaries (and special elections) play out?

As the Democratic field currently stands, and perhaps even with additions, Johnson and Stringer will likely compete for the most progressive parts of the Democratic Party, with other candidates also trying to make headway there. Johnson, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive City Council Speaker (and only open HIV-positive elected official in the state), has focused heavily on the social safety net in his time as speaker, promoting populist policies to lift up the city’s most vulnerable. Stringer, as the city’s top fiscal officer, has acted as a foil to the mayor’s spendthrift policies, released a long list of policy proposals, and shrewdly cultivated allies in labor and among insurgent Democrats at the state and local levels.

Adams, a former NYPD captain, tends to appeal to the more moderate viewpoints among Democrats but does not easily fit descriptors, and has reportedly proclaimed that he wants to “out-white” Stringer, an apparent plan to appeal to white ethnic voters key to the elections of Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. The borough president has tried to walk the fine lines of promoting law and order with police reform and real estate development without displacement. He has already outlined his platform for instituting “real-time governance,” pledging to modernize how city government operates.

As the calendar has inched toward 2021, and as de Blasio ran for president leaving more of a leadership vacuum and the coronavirus crisis hit, Johnson, Stringer, and Adams have been staking out more positions on major issues and through their official jobs auditioning for the role of mayor.

Morales is a proponent of strong social justice policies that said she will reduce the “inequality and inequities” that have been exacerbated in the last few months and which “I've been talking about forever.” She pointed out that her campaign has been built on the very issues that have inspired the recent mass protests. “I am a reflection and representation of the communities that have been disproportionately harmed or left behind,” she said. 

Morales hopes that the electorate will have its eyes open to the failures of the city’s political leadership. “There is an increasing recognition that while the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented, that we weren’t prepared,” she said. “There are so many things that were done the way things have always been done, that left us unnecessarily vulnerable, not just from a health perspective but from an economic perspective. And my hope is that people will come out of this ready for a different kind of leadership with a new lens on what we really need.”

Sutton skews more centrist and promises “seasoned leadership,” which she says has been sorely lacking during the current crises (and those preceding them) and that she can bring after a career in the Army then her time in city government. She admits she has a big hill to climb to raise her profile and build her campaign coffers. And she also differentiates herself from de Blasio, her former boss. “In a Sutton administration, you will see a very different dynamic,” she said, “between the mayor and the media, between the mayor and corporate leaders in New York, between the mayor and communities of color, between the mayor and my own administration and the types of leaders that I will bring in and will build upon.”

She would also welcome the unenviable challenge of running the city during this pandemic, a task that would test even the most effective leaders. “I would give anything to be the mayor right now...This is my burning building. This is what I run towards,” she said.

Donovan’s resume lends him a credible campaign platform, particularly during the recovery from the pandemic since he was intimately involved in the federal response to the Great Recession and the recovery effort from Hurricane Sandy. Rick Fromberg, a spokesperson for his campaign, said he can easily make a compelling argument to voters. “Shaun’s experience and bio are so far and away better than anybody else in this race that it's just a matter of us telling people,” he said. “Nobody who has ever run for this office has this kind of experience in dealing with such analogous kinds of situations.” 

“Shaun’s not a politician,” Fromberg continued. “He never has been. He's always been a public servant. And I think that is something that we will certainly hang our hats on.”

Most observers agree that the election will inevitably be tinged with resentment of de Blasio, an increasingly unpopular mayor who, despite his progressive accomplishments, has only cemented his status as a lameduck in his struggles to respond to COVID-19 and the mass protests against police brutality and racism.

“New York is a progressive city and is one that has been dealt an enormous body blow over the last four months, and is looking for someone who is progressive but who has a vision on how to manage and lead this city at this really dark period,” said Chris Coffey, a veteran of the Bloomberg administration, consultant with Tusk Strategies, and ally of Speaker Johnson but not working on his campaign. 

“I think New York needs a cheerleader and wants a cheerleader,” Coffey said, alluding to what many have observed as de Blasio’s apparent lack of interest in celebrating the many particularities of New York as well as Johnson’s apparent penchant for such enthusiasm. “I think every mayor is in some ways a reaction to the last mayor...being a progressive who can govern and manage the city and be a cheerleader and give people some hope and confidence in their mayor is what I believe this election will be about.”

George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant who has previously worked for Stringer, echoed that view. “I expect a lot of de Blasio-bashing and I don’t expect anyone to come out and say that [they are] the successor to the policies...that de Blasio espoused,” he said.  

Over the next year, who emerges on top will depend in part on which of the largely unknown candidates can garner the necessary name recognition as well as the fundraising to get their message across to New Yorkers. To an extent, the fundraising field can be levelled by the city’s voluntary public matching funds program, which matches small-dollar donations at high rates through the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

On name recognition, the sitting electeds do already have an advantage by virtue of their positions in government. They have each been in the limelight and continue to be during the pandemic and its fallout. The other candidates may have to work harder for it, though their respective messages -- of competent leadership challenging the very people in power that are responsible for the state of the city -- could resonate. 

Fordham professor Dr. Christina Greer said the next few months will be crucial as the city heads through summer, a season that is usually accompanied by an uptick in crime (a trend that has already begun). Rampant unemployment and a prolonged recession could only exacerbate that, she noted, and could determine the type of candidates and campaigns that gain traction. Then there’s the presidential election in November, which will likely have its own impact on local races. 

“Will we see someone who is very progressive, say a ‘defund the police’-type candidate? Let's just say there's an uptick in crime in the next few months, will we see someone who is a little more centrist in their thinking? Will we see someone who wants to be a little more of the Bloomberg model, which is fully economic, trying to get the city back on track financially, or will we see someone who is more of a social justice candidate who's trying to bring all these things together in a more holistic way?” 

A key known wild card in the election will be ranked-choice voting, which will be implemented for the first time next year. The system allows voters to cast votes in order of preference and a candidate must cross a certain threshold of first-preference votes to win. It’s hard to predict the effect it will have in a crowded field as New Yorkers vote their values. 

As Greer noted, if moderates come together behind one candidate and progressives go for another, a more consensus second-choice candidate could end up claiming victory. 

“In 2021 we need a Mayor who will meet the imposing challenges in New York City that 2020 has exposed,” said Maya Wiley, now a New School professor and MSNBC commentator, in an email. “New York City needs a Mayor who will see that the twin pandemics of virus and brutality require history-making, not deal-making. We need a Mayor who will get us off the treadmill of incremental reform and command an all-of-government response to structural disparities. We need a Mayor who gets that New York doesn’t work in isolation and that we need an urban policy humbly led by the chief executive of the greatest city of the world.” 

She did not address the candidates directly, however. “It’s not for me to say whether the current crop of candidates includes that Mayor. That's for New Yorkers to decide.”

Wiley also did not respond to the question of whether she is considering a run.

“It’s a free-for-all right now,” said J.C. Polanco, a Republican attorney and strategist who ran for New York City Public Advocate in 2017. He noted that the closed primary process will affect who comes out to vote. In both parties, that is usually the most active, motivated and “ideologically purist” voters, he said. The Democrats, he said, will “fight hard to see who can captivate that ultra, uber-progressive wing of the party because those are the voters that come out for sure.” 

The one almost certain bet is that Republicans will have a hard time running a competitive campaign against a Democrat. “Our numbers are dwindling a great deal. It’s difficult for a Republican to have a fair shot at winning a citywide election,” Polanco said. “As you know I could attest to that.”

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

The 2021 New York City Mayoral Race, One Year to the Primary Tue, 23 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Pandemic Reinforces De Blasio's Inaction on School Desegregation Recommendations deblasio chance carmen

Mayor de Blasio during a school visit (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor's Office)

As the coronavirus pandemic further exposes deep fissures in the city's education landscape for low-income students and students of color, it has also further stalled Mayor Bill de Blasio's already-halting efforts to integrate New York City's deeply segregated schools.

In the nine months since a de Blasio-appointed advisory group released its final recommendations on ways to desegregate and in other ways improve city schools, virtually nothing has been said on the subject out of City Hall or the Department of Education beyond a commitment to review them. The mayor said in early September that he would take “the whole school year for deep stakeholder engagement” on the recommendations, but took no public steps in the subsequent six months. Then the pandemic came to New York. The mayor's office is now acknowledging any review effort continues to be on hold as the government's focus and resources are diverted by the pandemic.

The school year and the first chapter of pandemic-induced remote learning is nearing an end, with major admissions policy decisions imminent. Whatever changes de Blasio may advance, he has left many advocates for school desegregation, including even members of his own advisory group, confused and frustrated by the lack of action before the outbreak hit.

"We have not heard back from the Department of Education about whether or not they are going to move forward on any of our recommendations," said Maya Wiley, co-chair of SDAG and former counsel to de Blasio in the mayor’s office, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. "Our position as a group was that we obviously wanted to hear back and hoped for some response on some of the recommendations. We didn't necessarily believe they all would require a full year."

"Yes, it would be better if we had made more progress on the SDAG recs before the pandemic," said City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has pushed for integration-focused admissions reforms in schools within his district and across the city. "That said, the crisis presents a challenge, which we need to rise to and which creates an opportunity to be more thoughtful about school admissions."

With learning, assessment methods, and application processes all disrupted, de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have indicated the city will soon offer changes to school admissions processes, raising hopes and fears of the potential opportunity to expedite reform, though it is unclear how ambitious they may be.

"Many things are going to be reevaluated as a result of this crisis,” the mayor said at a press briefing on May 7 when asked about possible changes to school admissions processes, which must move ahead in some form soon. “The whole concept I've been putting forward, that we are not just going to bring New York City back with the status quo that was there before, but we're going to try and make a series of changes that favor equity and fairness. We were already in the process of doing that when it came to school admissions. So, certainly, the screened schools are being reevaluated and we’ll have more to say on that in the future.”

De Blasio did not mention the recommendations put forth in August of last year by his School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG), a controversial and sweeping set of proposals that he has largely avoided since their release.

"When this pandemic started, we shifted our focus to the success of remote learning and the wellbeing of students and staff,” wrote mayoral spokesperson Jane Meyer by email, in response to questions about the status of the administration's review of the School Diversity Advisory Group’s recommendations. “Our priority right now is the health of New Yorkers and academic success of our students in these extraordinary times, and we’ll continue to adjust policies to meet those goals for the duration of this crisis."

When the group published its final report in August, de Blasio said he would assess the recommendations over the next year. “Now we’re going to really dig deep into what makes sense and by the end of the school year we’ll know where we’re going,” he told reporters a few days after the recommendations were released and as the new school year was starting, citing plans to undertake more community engagement. At the time, de Blasio was in the midst of his four-month campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.

"We are taking a very, very deep dive into what the recommendations have been from the School Diversity Advisory committee," Carranza said at the time.

But the mayor has discussed little publicly since then and the recommendations -- or anything related to school desegregation -- were conspicuously absent from his State of the City address in February, when he outlined his priorities for the year, his next-to-last as mayor, under the theme of “Save Our City.”

De Blasio’s further delay in addressing school segregation in New York City, to the extent that it may be attributed to the pandemic fallout, is another example where the coronavirus crisis not only exacerbates racial inequalities by hitting communities of color harder but also by diminishing the government's overall capacity. But the situation also speaks to the slow pace at which the de Blasio administration has approached a particularly thorny issue that goes to the heart of the mayor's promises to end “the tale of two cities” and create "the fairest big city in America."

New York has among the most segregated schools of any state in the country, with a heavy concentration in New York City. A groundbreaking UCLA study in 2014 found that 19 out of New York City's 32 school districts had 10 percent or less white students, including all of the Bronx and two-thirds of Brooklyn. It showed a correlation between racial segregation in schools and concentrations of poverty.

In 2017, after years of pressure from advocates and elected officials, the mayor announced the "Equity and Excellence for All" plan to improve all schools, especially those predominantly serving students of color and historically lacking investment. Soon after, he empaneled the School Diversity Advisory Group to explore ways to increase “diversity” in city schools, while he studiously avoided the words “segregation” and “integration.”

"We have to improve the quality levels of our public schools and we have to do it in a way that promotes equity – that’s the mission, now – that’s the central mission," he told reporters on June 9, 2017, a few days after the announcing the plan. When pressed on the specific issue of segregation he said: "The quality of education for students is paramount in this discussion. So, when we talk about it, we have to understand, we need any plan to start with the quality of education for all students, including those who have not gotten a fair shake previously."

The group, made up of students, parents, and experts, released two sets of recommendations, one in February 2019, which was largely adopted by the mayor and chancellor, and a second in August, which contained significantly more controversial changes to admissions, districting, and tracking policies.

"Our hope was that it would spur a lot more innovation and creativity, not just out of the Department of Education at the administrative level, but also within school districts and across school districts," Wiley said in the interview.

The recommendations are based on the concept that "more educational opportunity was not a one size fits all," she said, and "a clear roadmap around the kinds of admissions policies that were clearly creating more problems than solutions.”

The final recommendations included a range of small and large proposed solutions to the problems of school segregation and its many negative consequences, the most controversial among them being to limit middle school admissions screening and phasing out "gifted and talented" programs, both shown to favor white and Asian students, and the group recommends replacing G&T tracts with more inclusive schoolwide enrichment models. Another controversial point, redrawing school district lines, gets at the geographic element involved in school segregation, especially for elementary schools.

The proposal received fierce opposition from some parents who have had the means to prioritize stronger school districts when deciding where to live and for years have found a sympathetic ear in the mayor, as well as a number of local elected officials.

Wiley said the big ticket items have come to overshadow simpler, perhaps less-controversial ones.

"Some of these are really obvious and easy to fix," she said. "For example, if you use attendance as an admissions factor, you are going to essentially make it more difficult for low-income students of color to be competitive."

Another issue is disciplinary history. "A student who may have had a disciplinary issue because they spit gum on the floor. Does that mean they don't deserve real consideration and opportunity to get into a good program in middle school or in high school?" she asked. "We conflate a lot of different kinds of disciplinary issues and also the ways it sometimes works against low-income students of color in particular."

According to SDAG's first report in February, 87 percent of New York City public school suspensions are of black and Latino students, despite making up 66 percent of the student population.

Fed up with the administration's silence on desegregation, student-led groups IntegrateNYC and Teens Take Charge, which had been prominent advocates in the lead-up to the mayor announcing the SDAG, organized a school boycott to push de Blasio and Carranza to integrate city schools, including by eliminating admissions screens. The boycott was planned for May 18 to coincide with the 66th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision but was called off because of the pandemic. The groups and their allies have continued to use social media and other avenues to keep the conversation alive.

As the end of the school year approaches and students and parents look ahead to the fall, some advocates and local elected officials have called on the city to embrace innovative redistricting and admissions models that have been piloted in certain districts. The most prominent one is in Brooklyn’s Community School District 15, where in 2018 middle schools eliminated screening and moved to a ranked-choice lottery system with a 52 percent of seats reserved for low-income students, students in temporary housing, and English-language learners. Enrollment data released last November after the first year showed promising results for integration.

"Next fall, as today’s fourth graders and seventh graders start the process of applying to middle and high schools, the Department of Education will need to make significant changes, since so many of these decisions have relied on grades, attendance, and test scores," wrote Lander, who represents parts of Community School District 15 and championed the new system, in a new letter to Carranza. "The admissions changes we made together for middle schools in District 15 last year can serve as a model for how to address middle school admissions for the 2021-22 school year.​"

But Lander argues an emergency pandemic response should not be an invitation to replace thoughtful policymaking. "I don't think this moment is a good moment to make permanent long-term decisions. There is just too much uncertainty, too little opportunity to do good, inclusive public process," he told Gotham Gazette in an interview.

"In terms of where the city is in regards to integration, not enough system-wide action has been taken,” wrote Matt Gonzales, director of the Integration and Innovation Initiative at NYU and at one point a member of the SDAG, by email. “The lack of action on the SDAG recommendations is definitely an indication of this."

"However, if you look at the history of integration efforts in NYC, it is also true that no administration has moved the needle more than the current one. The number of districts and individual schools who've implemented plans has increased," he said.

"We very much applauded the fact that the Department of Education, along with the state, were funding districts to look at how they might integrate their schools," said Wiley. "We thought there should be more of that, so that there was actually support for that kind of innovation."

"The good news is the Department of Education was doing some of that already. We hoped they would do more. Obviously it's a challenging time now," she said.

Gonzales said the pandemic has slowed community planning efforts underway in Community School Districts 13, 16, 28, and 9, "but I am hopeful those resume when society resumes."

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Pandemic Reinforces De Blasio's Inaction on School Desegregation Recommendations Thu, 21 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Keys to 'Inclusive Economic Recovery' in New York City Include Investments in CUNY and Workforce Development, Experts Say reyna rob program

Considering an inclusive recovery in New York City (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

As the COVID-19 public health and economic crises continue, so does the conversation about recovery. This past week, the Center for an Urban Future (CUF), a nonprofit think tank focused on economic opportunity and equitable growth, hosted a digital discussion, “Ensuring an Inclusive Economic Recovery in NYC,” featuring several public policy experts.

Jonathon Bowles, the executive director of CUF, opened the discussion saying “the immediate priorities are clear: keep people safe, get people back to work, and help our small businesses survive.” He then posed the question to the panelists to kick start the conversation, asking if there is an opportunity in this crisis to build a more inclusive economy.

The panelists were Maria Torres-Springer, Vice President for US programs at the Ford Foundation and formerly Commissioner of three different New York City government agencies for housing, economic development, and small businesses; Maya Wiley, professor at the New School and former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio; Harry Holzer of the Brookings Institution and Georgetown University; David Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York; and Joey Ortiz, Jr., executive director of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition.

One of the broad themes in the panelists’ responses was that this situation offers an opportunity to do things differently and fundamentally change how New York thinks about economic recovery. On tangible ways to spur economic growth and improve equitable access for all New Yorkers going forward, two focus areas emerged: the roles of education and job training.

Torres-Springer said New Yorkers must first identify and be real about who has suffered the most and the fact that the community-level impacts of a disaster, like food insecurity, afflict marginalized populations on a daily basis.

She added that everyone must “resist the temptation to make false choices. False choices between equity and growth, between public health and individual civil liberties, between fiscal prudence and strengthening, for instance, the not-for-profit sector, and instead take this opportunity and turn this crisis into a time when we can identify the types of strategies that strike a better balance and bend towards better outcomes.”

Panelists agreed that economic growth should not be considered in a siloed way, but must be embedded into a conversation that encompasses public transportation, affordable housing, food security, workforce development, and how each impacts the economy. The pandemic disproportionately affects black and Hispanic communities and low-wage workers, Torres-Springer said. Holzer agreed, and said, “first we learn, do no harm. But there is a lot of harm out there, and Maria is right, it falls, and especially in New York City, very heavily on people of color, disadvantaged workers, low-wage workers.”

Jones, who is also on the MTA Board that oversees the city’s massive public transit system, pointed out that black and Hispanic populations are suffering a higher COVID-19 death rate and that the hospitals serving communities of color in the city lack resources.

“The pandemic has really exposed entrenched inequalities but it has laid bare the interdependence and interconnectedness,” Torres-Springer said. “And really shown us we are only as safe as the least protected among us.”

To do recovery the right way, Ortiz said the city needs to bring people in from the most impacted communities, and ensure that they are part of the planning.

“I think what often happens in any of these discussions is we bring incredible people together to talk about the challenges without the perspective of who may be living it on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “It’s important for us to be empathetic, it’s important for us to understand and care very deeply about the communities we serve, but we need to invite them into this discussion in a very active way.”

Jones described the interruption of education, especially for those who were only marginally involved in the system an “unmitigated disaster,” adding that “we already knew we were having trouble in terms of retaining kids of color from poor communities in K-12, but we’ve done reports that show that the community college system in the State of New York can’t be considered a great provider of job skills yet, and the assumptions that the community college system would be a feeder to the four-year system doesn't happen in New York.”

Wiley agreed, pointing to how essential educational opportunity is for people of color and low-income communities and saying that, historically, city investment has been lacking. Limited funding for education, along with public transportation, technology, and job training -- which impact an individual’s ability to access education -- are “historic failures we keep reinforcing,” Wiley said.

“It’s a combination of multiple pieces here,” Ortiz said. “The pieces that were raised before, in terms of K-12, and certainly the higher education CUNY system is essential here, but I think there is also meeting folks in between, the workforce development system, and smaller community-based organizations have done an incredible job of supporting people here in New York City.”

Jones likened the CUNY system to apartheid, saying New York has an overwhelming number of black and Latino students concentrated in two-year schools. “It’s resource allocation, we’re not really adequately resourcing our community college system. I do think it’s a potential springboard.” But we have to be serious, he said. “We have to think more holistically and make community college perhaps a centrepiece.”

Holzer agreed that community colleges are a key piece. “I do think there is lots of good training at the community college level that does lead to good-paying jobs, some of them involve associate’s degrees, especially associate’s in science,” he said. “Some of them are good certificate programs and people have a greater likelihood of completing, but again it’s hard to build up capacity in these programs without money.”

Education is directly related to access to the job market, of course, and over the last decade, there was huge growth in both low-wage industries and jobs for college educated individuals. Holzer said that jobs that used to only require a high school diploma now often require some kind of post-secondary education, and employers have a harder time filling certain gaps. To address this problem and increase access to the labor market, all the panelists agreed there are two main strategies: building the skill-building sector, and working with employers to create better quality jobs that can lead to a career.

Wiley cited “three legs of a stool,” with the need for a stronger education pipeline, better quality jobs, and especially more affordable housing, saying “unless we’re addressing the affordability problem then we are not going to be doing enough just to be doing jobs or just to be doing education, we need the three legs of that stool.”

“It requires a vision that says a New York that we all want to live in, a diverse New York that has all of us in it. We can become San Francisco and watch people of color get pushed out and still be unaffordable for a white middle class, that doesn't help any of us,” Wiley said.

The city’s plan for addressing recovery is also dependent on the level of funding support that might be offered from the federal government. “The point of this particular crisis is, is the federal government going to step in and provide more resources or not those two scenarios create different opportunities,” Wiley said.

New York State and City face many billions in lower-than-expected tax revenue given the economic shutdown and recession brought on by the coronavirus outbreak, and are seeking bailouts from the federal level.

“The services they end up cutting back on most severely are those that are trying to help those at the bottom who don’t have political clout, who aren’t considered economically viable,” Jones said of likely city budget cuts, some of which the mayor has already outlined for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. “And if we persist in that kind of behavior we are going to have the inequality system that we have now just explode.”

One program that the mayor has put on the chopping block is the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which seeks to connect “NYC youth between the ages of 14 and 24 with career exploration opportunities and paid work experience each summer,” according to the SYEP website.

“Summer youth is a good example of when something is hard, let’s just scrap it rather than say let’s try to find the best possible plan to keep our young people safe,” Ortiz argued. “This was an incredible opportunity for them to develop the technological infrastructure that was required to learning or investing in the system from a distance. And now we have a situation where, during a health crisis, 100,000 young people won’t have anything to do. These types of moments are when we need to take our big ideas and apply them so we can move forward in a really positive way.”

“We can’t have young people who are already marginally connected to the economy with no summer plan, no school,” Jones said. “You can’t do that. You can reconfigure it to have social distancing but we’ve got to get young people in these communities engaged and some income coming in for them and their family and some hope they can participate in the economy going forward.”

Holzer added that a program like SYEP “has strong evidence it actually helps students graduate from high school, it reduces engagement in crime, it reduces incarceration, violence and homicides and things of that nature, as an example. It’s such a short-term mistake to not fund those types of things.”

Torres-Springer pointed out that how New York recovers is uncertain because the city is still very much in the midst of the crisis. She added that there are a number of policies that are emergency measures, such as direct cash and paid sick leave, that months ago would have been unthinkable, but a key question is the transition from the short-term triage to the long-term policies.

“We need to make sure people’s lives are secure and people have good wages, have a dignified and rising standards of living,” Torres-Springer said. “We can’t fool ourselves that this is the job only of local and state policy-makers. We cannot let Washington walk away from their obligations.”

by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

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Keys to 'Inclusive Economic Recovery' in New York City Include Investments in CUNY and Workforce Development, Experts Say Sun, 03 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test Carranza De Blasio education

Chancellor Carranza & Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced on June 10 that the city will adopt 62 recommendations focused on diversity and integration in public schools, focusing on middle and elementary schools, from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, a new step toward school desegregation as many students, families, educators, and others have waited years for the city to make progress.

A 2014 UCLA report said New York public schools were the most segregated in the country, but stressed that they didn’t have to be. The report said a combination of demographic transformations and a lack of diversity-focused policies led to “problematic segregation patterns.” 

Adding metrics to an annual report to track numbers related to diversity and integration, defining a city goal to aim to have “all schools to look like the city,” and investing in programs to provide more opportunities in high poverty schools are some of the recommendations that some say are the most significant. Also part of the picture is city grants to school districts that want to design their own integration plans, as a few districts have already done.

The adoption of the recommendations come after “a long period of frustration,” according to City Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city. Lander added that Carranza’s leadership has been significant in moving the advisory group and broader conversation along. The city accepted all but five of the group’s 67 recommendations, with two rejected and three are still under review.

While many say the initial slate of recommendations is a positive step, some have criticized the plan for lack of timelines for implementation and not being aggressive enough to make fast progress on school integration. Members of the group have said this report is just a start, and a second set of recommendations in July will address some of those concerns, including taking on the tough subject of high school admissions. 

Some have also said the two recommendations the de Blasio administration did not select — the creation of a Chief Integration Officer position and analyzing the possibility of moving the supervision of School Safety Agents from the NYPD to the Department of Education — could have spurred more progress. 

The three of the 67 from the first report that are still under review would make resources available to any district making diversity plans if the DOE receives more applications than the $2 million it already set aside can support and establish a separate set of funds for districts that have not started integration discussions yet. The third suggests developing and investing in enrichment programs in elementary schools.

Since Carranza took over as chancellor in April 2018, he has taken a much more aggressive approach to school desegregation than his predecessors, the apparent result of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new willingness to address an area of significant criticism during his first five years in office, though the mayor is still facing heat for his tepid approach to what is a civil rights and education issue with major socioeconomic and racial implications.

Carranza has implemented mandatory implicit bias trainings for all teachers, lobbied state lawmakers to drop the single entrance exam for the city’s specialized high schools where few black and Hispanic students are enrolled, and eliminated the use of “limited unscreened” enrollment policies in high schools, which gave priority to applicants who attended admissions fairs to show interest and were thought to favor students with more engaged and wealthier parents. 

Mayor de Blasio in 2017 had created a modest diversity plan and established the School Diversity Advisory Group, which came up with the recently-released recommendations. But, de Blasio’s agenda had lacked plans on school integration until recent years. Council members as well as student and teacher advocates increasingly pressured the mayor in the years after the UCLA report. Then he appointed Carranza, who has been outspoken, at times ruffling feathers de Blasio had been loathe to disrupt, to push conversation and action around school integration.

“The chancellor’s coming and embracing that advocacy and working together to build it...has been essential,” said Lander, who co-sponsored a package of legislation passed in 2015 that intended to bring attention to segregation in public schools, “because we had all that organizing going on, but we did not yet have much progress.” 

Preliminary Movement: 62 Recommendations
The 2014 UCLA report found that of the city’s 32 school districts, 19 included 10 percent or fewer white students. Additionally, it said the combination of “double segregation” by both race and socioeconomic status created more inequalities. 

An updated 2019 report found that while some progress had been made, the city’s schools remained largely segregated. From 2001 to 2015, the number of “intensely segregated” elementary schools in gentrifying areas declined by about 10 percent (from 91 percent in 2001 to 83 percent in 2015), those in non-gentrifying areas increased by 15 percent. Intensely segregated schools are defined as 90 to 100 percent non-white. 

Maya Wiley, former counsel to Mayor de Blasio and now senior vice president for social justice at the New School and a co-chair of the School Diversity Advisory Group, said in an interview on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC that school integration benefits all students. She said dropout rates go down while graduate rates go up, and students do better in college.

Wiley said that the recommendation adding diversity metrics is a “game changer.” She said having numbers on diversity and providing the public with the reports will help keep the city accountable. 

She added that one of the recommendations, creating diversity targets in middle school admissions, is an expansion on the mayor’s 2017 Diversity in Admissions program that planned for 50,000 more students to attend racially representative schools. Because some researchers noted that the goal could be met by demographic shifts alone, Wiley said the SDAG wanted to be more aggressive. 

“In the short term we said schools, meaning zero to three years, schools should look like their districts. Then over five years they should look like the borough. In 10 years they should look like the city,” Wiley said on WNYC. “The link to the metrics is how do you know if you’re getting that done if you’re not reporting?”

Two-thirds of the students in the city’s school system are black and Hispanic, 15 percent are white, and 16 percent are Asian, according to DOE data. In the city overall, 33 percent are white, 26 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic, and 13 percent are Asian.

Clara Hemphill, the director of education policy and editor at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs’ project InsideSchools, said the recommendations serve as a guide for how the city can move forward with integration on the district level.

The recommendations encourage districts to develop their own diversity plans similar to the one in Brooklyn’s District 15, part of Lander’s Council district, which eliminated the use of screens in middle school admissions and committed 52 percent of seats to students who are low-income, learning English as a new language, or are homeless.

The city announced that five districts will receive $200,000 in grants to increase their schools’ diversity, and one recommendation from the advisory group encourages nine more districts to develop integration plans. Another recommendation outlines that the DOE will “support and encourage” districts to examine new middle school admissions policies, while another urges districts to be transparent about their integration processes to ensure progress.

However, Hemphill said for a borough like the Bronx, whose population is largely black and Latino, there is not going to be integration of different races and income levels at most schools in those districts. She added, though, that the recommendations do layout an answer to help those schools: providing more and encouraging the recruitment of diverse faculty create ways to improve the schools’ quality.

“At neighborhoods where you can’t have racial integration of students, you can still make schools that have plenty of resources and represent the kids,” Hemphill said.

The mayor’s approach to school desegregation so far has been to encourage districts to pursue their own integration plans with assistance from the DOE, which has happened with success through parent-led efforts in Districts 15 and 3. De Blasio regularly says he believes it must be a bottom-up, not top-down effort to integrate city schools.

City Council Member Daneek Miller said at a June 19 press conference that there is a consensus from the members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus as well as the Progressive Caucus that the recommendations are necessary to address school segregation problems. He added, though, that “these 62 points don’t necessarily address everything.”

Perceived Shortcomings
Critics have said the recommendations lack specific timelines for implementation and fail to address greater issues of enrollment screens and district segregation.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said because the recommendations focus on district plans rather than a city-wide plan, not much progress can be made on desegregating schools. The district lines are ethnically and racially drawn, so desegregation efforts need to happen across districts rather than within districts, he said.

Bloomfield added that one of the rejected recommendations, the creation of a Chief Integration Officer, was a “major mistake” because someone in that position could have focused on the city as a whole rather than the individual districts.

“[A city-wide plan] does require imagination and professional staff,” Bloomfield said. “That seems to be lacking in how the mayor sees desegregation efforts. In some ways it’s a plan for a plan, and it’s too late to be going so slow.”

Carranza has said that in his role as chancellor, he is the Chief Integration Officer.

Of the other of two recommendations the city did not adopt, that of moving the supervision of the School Safety Agents to the DOE from the NYPD, would have been beneficial in decreasing police presence in schools and students getting caught up in the criminal justice system as opposed to having more issues handled at their schools. Not long after the de Blasio administration announced it was accepting the 62 of 67 recommendations from the advisory group, it announced a new school discipline code and new agreement between the NYPD and DOE to lighten how students are policed in schools — the first update to that memorandum of understanding in about 20 years.

Given the lack of timelines for implementation, the advisory group recommendations form a “roadmap” for what the city wants to do rather than a plan with deadlines, Hemphill said. 

The recommendations also did not take on high schools and screened admissions policies.

Lander said while some of the recommendations are significant and are an overall positive step, they tackle the “lower hanging fruit.” He said there is room for the city to make changes in the admissions processes of high schools that use academic screens, which does not require changes in state law and is a “more thoughtful” approach to integration. 

The student advocacy group Teens Take Charge, which held a rally at the steps of the Tweed Courthouse, home to the DOE, calling for a high school integration plan four days before de Blasio announced the adoption of the recommendations, echoed Lander’s sentiment.

Soknadiarra Ndiaye, the chief operations officer of Teens Take Charge, said the group hopes the next set of recommendations due next month will deal with enrollment processes and high schools. The group set a June 26 deadline, the last day of school, for de Blasio to announce a comprehensive high school integration plan, and held a sit-in at City Hall when no such plan was announced. 

The Teens Take Charge campaign calls for the city to promote academic, racial, and socioeconomic integration at high schools by setting diversity thresholds in the admissions process that all high schools would have to meet. 

“When it comes to high school, one of the reasons why our high school system is so segregated is because of enrollment,” Ndiaye said. “So we’re hoping that [the city] will either adopt our policy or something similar to it.” 

City Council Member Mark Treyger, the chair of the Council’s education committee, said making changes to admissions processes is one way for the Department of Education to take steps forward on school integration without needing state lawmakers to change state law, which is necessary for tackling issues related to the three (of the eight) marquee specialized high schools and the SHSAT used for admissions (the state legislative session just ended with no movement on reforming the specialized schools’ admissions).

De Blasio has said he does not think it is wise to change the process at the five specialized high schools the city controls, pushing for state law changes to scrap the test in favor of multiple measures and criteria that would diversify the schools, home to high percentages of white and Asian students.

Treyger said he is “pleased” that the recommendations signal the city is moving forward on the issue, but added that “time is of the essence.”

“Every school year delayed is justice delayed and these are precious years that our students can never get back,” Treyger said. “There needs to be a real effort underway, not just to simply form another working group or have another study, but to really find ways to implement strategies right now that we know work.” 

Matt Gonzales, school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed and also a member of the city’s SDAG, said SDAG is writing the second report, which he said will take on high school policy and enrollment issues. He added that the group did not design the first set of recommendations to be the only plan they propose.

“I guess there’s a distrust that the advisory group isn’t going to follow through,” Gonzales said. “There was never an intention just to lay out this first report and wipe our hands.” 

The City’s Slow Progression
School integration was not on de Blasio’s platform when he ran for mayor in 2013, nor was it included in his “Equity and Excellence” education speech in 2015, though he discussed a number of education initiatives. Those programs, like Algebra for All and Computer Science for All and AP for All, are virtually all aimed at enhancing schools as they are currently constituted, while ignoring racial segregation, an approach some have called de Blasio’s version of ‘separate but equal.’

Pushed on not moving to desegregate city schools, de Blasio repeatedly said he had put a great deal in motion to improve schools. He also pointed to the historical constructs and sources of segregated schools and neighborhoods, and to the fact that many New Yorkers had made major life decisions, like buying homes, with the current school districts in mind. Those comments received significant criticism. 

Bloomfield said de Blaiso started to tackle the issue after years of increasing pressure from the public, advocates, and other city leaders. He added that the timing of the city moving forward also coincides with the arrival of Carranza, who prioritized the issue, as well as de Blasio’s reelection.

“He felt that he could risk some political capital on this initiative,” Bloomfield said of the Democratic mayor, now in his second and final term (and running for president).

The City Council, however, began to address school segregation issues in 2014, just after the UCLA report. In October of that year, Council Members Lander, Ritchie Torres, and Inez Barron introduced a package of legislation to draw attention to the lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools. The Council has no power to change admissions processes or school district lines, policies that are set by the mayoral-controlled Department of Education, technically a state entity, local parent education councils, and the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, which is mostly run by mayoral appointees.

Lander’s portion of the legislation included requiring the Department of Education to publicly report diversity metrics. Torres and Barron both introduced nonbinding resolutions that sought to officially declare diversity one of the Department of Education’s goals and to rewrite the law requiring the city’s specialized high schools to admit students based on an entrance exam. 

The Council passed the legislation, and in 2015 passed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which requires the Department of Education to annually report on steps they are taking to address school segregation. The Council has also held several hearings on the issue, including one in May. 

“We have been pushing for integration efforts for quite some time,” Treyger said. “And the City Council is limited in terms of its legislative authority in terms of DOE policies, but we do have oversight power. We’ve used it and we’ll use it again to hold the DOE accountable.”

Districts themselves have also implemented their own integration plans, with District 15 in Brooklyn and District 3 in Manhattan both enacting more inclusive admissions practices in their middle schools. 

No action was taken to further school integration by either the Department of Education or the mayor’s office until 2017, when de Blasio established the SDAG and set goals for more diverse schools. 

The 2017 diversity plan outlined diversity as a priority for the Department of Education and included short-term goals such as decreasing the number of economically stratified schools by 10 percent and increasing the number of schools that serve English Language Learners and students with disabilities. 

“It was very weak tea,” Lander said. “I mean, it was better than nothing, but the goals were very modest. And there was no reason to believe that the School Diversity Advisory Group would be real, would be meaningful would be independent with recommendations.” 

Lander said Carranza was key in giving the SDAG confidence to be bolder and move forward with proposing the recommendations in February 2019. 

Treyger said after some months had passed, he wanted to hold a hearing to find out where the administration stood on the recommendations. He said he, Speaker Corey Johnson, and other Council members were “frustrated” that the city was not ready to publicly weigh in yet. 

At the hearing held in May, Carranza testified that he needed to further discuss the recommendations with the SDAG before making a public announcement on which ones the DOE would adopt. A month later, the city announced the adoption of most of the recommendations.

Lander emphasized that this action comes after years of waiting, but the recommendations signal an intention that there will be more progress on the issue. 

“I’m glad we’re moving now,” Lander said. “I wish we started earlier.” 

Bloomfield said after the second report comes out in July, there could be months of waiting for the mayor to decide which portions of the proposal he wants to adopt. Though he said the progress that has been made now will make it more difficult for the city to stop the movement. 

“The significance is that it’s now squarely part of the city’s agenda,” Bloomfield said. “A new mayor will have a harder time putting the genie back in the bottle.”

‘A Witch Hunt’
Carranza has come under fire from some parents and City Council members following a lawsuit filed by three white veteran Department of Education administrators who claimed they were demoted because of their race, as well as anti-bias trainings that have become the subject of ire from some officials, the New York Post, and others.

A Post columnist, Bob McManus, wrote that Carranza’s agenda is all about “racial division” and that the anti-bias trainings are “white-bashing” sessions that have inflamed rather than eased race relations.” The Post editorial board has written several pieces critical of Carranza in recent months.

In a letter dated June 15, seven City Council members and two state Assembly members sent a letter to de Blasio saying if Carranza continues to “divide the city” then the mayor should replace him. Eight of the nine signers were white, and Council Member Robert Holden of Queens spearheaded the action. The other signator, Council Member Peter Koo, is Asian, and representative of a community that has taken issue with Carranza and de Blasio seeking to overhaul admissions to the specialized high schools, where Asian students are far overrepresented compared to their population in the city or larger school system.

For Council Member Daniel Dromm, a former teacher and former chair of the Council’s education committee, the situation was “almost predictable.”

“As soon as you start to talk about implicit bias or culturally responsive education, you could’ve put money on it that you’re going to get this kind of backlash,” Dromm said during a June 19 press conference held by both the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and its Progressive Caucus. “Which is why no other chancellor would go near the issue to begin with.” 

In response to the letter, the Mayor de Blasio has said the chancellor is not going anywhere. He said on NY1’s Inside City Hall that the Council members “should have known better.” 

“[Carranza] is doing a great job,” de Blasio said. “I think a lot of people in this city really look up to him and are depending on him.” 

Several other Council members also released statements of support for Carranza. Lander said the New York Post is leading a “witch hunt” against the chancellor. 

Others have echoed Dromm’s sentiment that much of the backlash Carranza has received is a nature of his progressive agenda. Gonzales said the New York Post is trying to “discredit” the chancellor as he pushes a progressive agenda.

“Everything that’s been happening in response, I don’t think now that any of this was a response to any particular one thing,” Gonzales said. ‘It’s just a response to who he is, and how bold he has been about identity, how that informs the work he does, and the prioritization of a racial justice agenda.” 

Carranza, who is of Mexican descent, said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on June 11 that the letter is “just a distraction.” He said he will continue to work on making sure all students have access to the same opportunities, a goal outlined in the 62 recommendations the city accepted.

“It’s always often kind of rich when there are inequities happening in a system and the minute you start pointing out those inequities and actually working to change those inequities it becomes divisive,” Carranza said on the show. “I’ve never seen how you can improve a system without identifying what the issues are in the system, and you can’t fix the inequities without talking about them.”

by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette

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'We're Moving Now': City Pursues School Desegregation Measures, with Major Looming Test Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council to Examine NYPD Oversight Board maya wiley mayor de blasio appointment

CCRB Chair Maya Wiley & Mayor de Blasio in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a key provider of oversight of police conduct in New York City will be subject to oversight itself at a Friday hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. It will be the first of its kind during the current administration wherein the CCRB is evaluated by the Council outside of the annual budget process. The hearing comes amid controversy over NYPD transparency with regard to officer discipline records, alongside the perpetual scrutiny of policing in the city, and three months after Mayor Bill de Blasio named a new CCRB chair, Maya Wiley, who is expected to testify.

The CCRB is an independent agency of civilians, as the name suggests, tasked with investigating complaints against police officers and recommending disciplinary action to the commissioner of the police department. It’s composed of 13 members - one each from the five boroughs, chosen by the City Council; five members, including the chair, chosen by the mayor; and three members selected by the police commissioner. Each member serves a three-year term and can be reappointed to the position.

Wiley, the current chair, was recently appointed after leaving her post as counsel to de Blasio in July. Her appointment was met with skepticism from certain quarters, with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch calling it a “politically-motivated” tactic used by the administration that undercut the agency’s independence. Wiley’s predecessor, Richard Emery, who resigned amid scandal, was also seen by some as a political appointment and criticized for his close relationship with former police commissioner Bill Bratton.

De Blasio has had a contentious relationship with Lynch and the PBA, which is locked in negotiations with the city as one of a small number of municipal unions not under contract. Still, de Blasio and Bratton instituted new training protocols for police officers and while crime has continued to decline, so have arrests and complaints to the CCRB.

Friday’s hearing will examine the current CCRB’s overall functioning, looking at its case processing times, procedures that have been put in place under the current administration and outreach efforts made by the board to communities on the ground. Undoubtedly, it will touch upon larger issues as well, coming at a time when the administration is besieged by criticism over its refusal to disclose police officer disciplinary records and within the same week that an officer shot and killed an elderly, mentally ill Bronx woman in her home.

With new leadership at the CCRB as well as the NYPD, where Commissioner James O’Neill took over from Bratton six weeks ago, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said this is the “critical and right time to have this hearing.”

Besides the usual questions about procedures and agency efficiency, Gibson said, “We also wanted to look at the future of the CCRB. It’s critical that, as CCRB continues to grow...I want to find out how the relationship with the police department is going to be.” Looking ahead to next year’s budget season, Gibson said the hearing would also help the Council determine how to help the CCRB to more effectively do its job.

CCRB Chair Wiley said she looks forward to being able to show the committee the improvements and impact the agency has made in handling cases and in building community relationships. “We’re in a situation where we’re consolidating the improvements made in the past two years,” she said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. Just last month, the agency released a new website and made data on police misconduct allegations easier to access and understand as part of a larger Data Transparency Initiative.

The CCRB compiles four main categories of data - complaints, allegations, victims, and alleged victims - and demographic data on NYPD personnel, and issues monthly, annual, and semi-annual statistical reports. It also examines issues of police misconduct and releases reports with recommendations for improving policies and procedures.

Wiley said she is also looking for ways to increase discussions about policing in communities and awareness among people about CCRB’s role. “It’s certainly an area of growth opportunity for the agency,” she said. But she won’t be surprised if she’s asked about the controversy over section 50-A of the Civil Rights Law. That provision has given the mayor and the NYPD legal justification, they say, to shield from disclosure the personnel records, including disciplinary proceedings of the CCRB, of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. During a time where several entities were seeking Pantaleo’s CCRB record, the NYPD stopped publicly posting promotions and disciplinary actions at One Police Plaza after decades of doing so.

Last Friday, the mayor proposed changes to the law that would allow for more transparency and disclosure of officer disciplinary records. Even though the de Blasio administration is appealing a court ruling that said the city could release Pantaleo’s record, de Blasio has said he favors disclosure. Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocates, said the mayor’s proposal was a red herring that doesn’t in fact create substantive reform. A number of groups and experts have said that the city could continue to post NYPD personnel records and have questioned the city’s appeal.

Josmar Trujillo, an organizer with the Coalition to End Broken Windows, a police reform organization, said it would be interesting to see the Council do “oversight of an oversight agency,” but he questioned whether it would be substantial. “From my experience, the CCRB kinda just limps along and tweaks a few things, and the City Council isn’t really involved,” he said. He criticized the CCRB as an “ornamental agency” that has limited capacity to hold police officers accountable, a critique that has been echoed by other advocates of police reform in the past. Earlier this year, government reform group Citizens Union proposed solutions to that issue, calling for structurally and legally empowering the CCRB as part of a larger position on police accountability. Citizens Union also wants more public information from the police commissioner when he or she disagrees with a CCRB recommendation for officer discipline.

Although reform may not be on the committee’s stated agenda for Friday, Trujillo hopes the Council will show how they can act as an outside check on the relationship between the mayor and the CCRB, and look at how the new chair of the board is handling her role.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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City Council to Examine NYPD Oversight Board Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000