Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/392 Mon, 01 Jun 2020 04:36:53 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Budget Crisis, State Bail Reform Could Delay Closure of Rikers Island Jails https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9408-city-budget-crisis-and-state-bail-reform-could-delay-closure-of-rikers-island-jails https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9408-city-budget-crisis-and-state-bail-reform-could-delay-closure-of-rikers-island-jails dcc jponte rikers

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The Rikers Island jail complex, a notorious and decrepit institution sitting on 413 acres in the East River, was slated for closure well before New York City became the country’s epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, during which the complex has emerged as a hotspot for infections that have led to the deaths of several detainees and corrections officers.

But the timeline for shutting down the jail complex and building local jails in four boroughs has been thrust into uncertainty by countervailing forces: state bail reforms were recently rolled back and could reverse a downward trajectory of New Yorkers detained on the island pre-trial, but there are also fewer detainees than ever before as the city has released hundreds in the interest of their health and safety during the pandemic. Meanwhile, due to the economic shutdown, the city’s financial picture has become dire, quickly shifting planned investment in the construction of the new jails necessary to the closure of those on Rikers.

The $8.7 billion plan to close the Rikers jails by 2026 and replace them with four smaller, safer, and more humane borough-based jails, in each borough except Staten Island, was approved by the New York City Council last year after years of pressure from criminal justice reform advocates and elected officials who decried the horrid conditions and crumbling infrastructure of the island’s jails. 

[A Closer Look at the Costs, and Savings, of Closing Rikers and Building Four New Jails]

The plan was put into motion in 2017 by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who convened the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, chaired by former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmann. The commission crafted the foundation of the city’s plan for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who reluctantly embraced it but then ensured a path to its fruition.

The closure of Rikers was contingent on reducing the average daily jail population to below 5,000. In October, when the Council voted on the plan, the daily average was about 7,200 and dropping, with major state-level bail reforms set to take effect in January; there are 14,000 beds across the city jail system. The initial design of the borough-based jails calls for a total of 3,795 beds, and the city intends to house only 3,300 detainees across all four.

As this year began, the bail reforms were implemented, arrests continued their multi-year drop, and the city jail population shrunk significantly, to 5,557 by March 16. But facing a growing campaign of criticism, including some disinformation and fearmongering, state lawmakers decided in April of this year to alter the still-new bail reforms, ensuring more defendants jailed pre-trial. By the time that decision was finalized, the state was already in lockdown due to the coronavirus, concerns about the health of detainees were growing and tax revenues were plummeting. As he ordered the release of some Rikers detainees, de Blasio redesigned his capital budget plan to postpone spending on the new jails.

“In October 2019, the City Council, backed by the Mayor and numerous justice reform advocates, passed a historic measure that will allow the City to replace Rikers Island with four new community-based facilities by 2026. That remains the plan,” said Colby Hamilton, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, in an email.

Initially expected to be completed over a decade, the closure plan timeline was shortened to nine years after a spate of reforms passed last year by the Democrat-led state Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo that eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felony offenses. Those reforms quickly led to a 40% decrease in the city’s pretrial jail population over the previous year, according to an analysis by the Center for Court Innovation.

But, just three months after those reforms went into effect, Cuomo and the Legislature rolled them back, reinstating cash bail for dozens of offenses and giving judges discretion in setting bail for offenses currently ineligible for pretrial detention. The new rules go into effect July 1 and the Center for Court Innovation estimates that they will lead to a 16% increase in the use of bail and detention over one year, based on the number of people ordered to bail and remand in 2019, adding about 450 more people to the average daily jail population.

After the rollback, activists worried that the Rikers plan was in jeopardy, though the de Blasio administration has not expressed the same level of anxiety. “We also do not believe the recently passed changes to the State bail laws will have a significant impact on the jail population -- we remain on-track for 3,300 by 2026,” Hamilton told Gotham Gazette, referencing a new projection released by the city just before the City Council voted through the jails plan.

The Council also remains committed. “The goal of closing Rikers has not changed,” said a spokesperson for Speaker Corey Johnson, in a statement. “We will work to build on our criminal justice reform efforts as we negotiate a budget during an unprecedented economic downturn.”

The pandemic has proved both a curse and a blessing to those who want to see Rikers shuttered for good. Already reviled for its inhumane conditions, Rikers was at risk of becoming a petri dish for the coronavirus. Data released last week by the Department of Correction showed 362 confirmed cases of coronavirus among the jail population, and another 1,319 among DOC staff. Three detainees and ten corrections officers have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

But, because of the concern for safety of detainees, since the city went into lockdown, de Blasio has ordered the release of hundreds of people detained for nonviolent offenses or those who are particularly vulnerable because of age or preexisting medical health conditions. Cuomo has also taken measures to reduce jail and prison censuses across the state, including by releasing some people incarcerated for technical parole violations.

There are now 3,906 people in New York City jails, down 1,651 from March 16. Of those still in jail, 3,421, or 87.5%, are pretrial detainees, including 595 there on open cases and parole violations. Another 214 are being held only on technical parole violations with no open cases, such as missing curfew or an appointment with a parole officer, for instance.

For those who have long criticized New York’s punitive carceral system, the drastic reduction in the jail population through administrative measures has been vindicating, though there have been a number of detainees who have been rearrested after being released. And the pandemic has added to their fervor to push for a quicker closure of Rikers.

“The COVID-19 crisis has only created more urgency to shut down the Rikers jails, and we are closer than ever to actually doing so,” said former Chief Judge Lippman, in a statement, noting that the jail population was lowered below 4,000 through “smart decisions” while prioritizing public safety. He said the city could still move forward with the borough-based jail plan despite its fiscal woes and “put a permanent end to the miserable legacy of Rikers and save billions in operating costs over the long term. This is a time of great difficulty and pain across the city, but it is not the time to turn back on our commitment to a better future.”

Tyler Nims, executive director of the Lippman Commission, echoed Lippman in a phone interview. “We have fewer people in jail than in any time in recent memory,” he said. “This crisis has just heightened the need to shut Rikers down and placed even more attention on the harms that incarceration can have and the need to use it as sparingly as possible.”

A new report from the commission that looks at the impact of the recent changes to state bail laws recommends several measures that will ensure that the jail population continues to fall after the pandemic. The commission is pushing for the passage of the Less is More Act, sponsored by Manhattan state Senator Brian Benjamin and Brooklyn Assemblymember Walter Mosley, which would limit reincarceration for technical parole violations. That would enshrine into law the administrative changes that the mayor and governor have enacted in the last two months.

The commission also urges district attorneys and judges to employ the additional discretion they will have after July 1 and request bail only when absolutely necessary, expand the use of supervised release, and provide greater pretrial services like housing to those who need them. “There are also a lot of things that can be done by the courts, by the district attorneys, by the city to make sure that that additional judicial discretion...is not used in a way that results in a return to the pre-bail reform practices,” Nims said.

The commission also recommends implementing an “ability-to-pay assessment” for cases where cash bail may be imposed and calls on the state Legislature to give charitable bail organizations greater ability to post bail.

“I do have faith that, with the right political pressure, the right smart policies and laws can be put in place to continue the progress that has already been made,” Nims said.

However, the mayor’s latest budget proposal released last month would delay capital spending meant to build the new borough-based jail system. The administration cut the entire $140 million it planned to spend on the effort in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and reduced planned capital spending in the next fiscal year from $392 million to $196 million. Even in the best of times, the city has struggled to complete large capital projects on time and within budget. The design process for the jails has barely begun – the city released a Requests for Qualifications for construction vendors for the project in November. While reiterating that the city plans to meet its larger timeline, MOCJ’s Hamilton did not address the delay in capital spending or say whether the planning process for the borough-based jails is still on track.

[Jails, Affordable Housing and Other Capital Projects Delayed as City Grapples with Cash Crunch]

The city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure was suspended on March 16, which means that a land use measure initiated by the City Council that would officially prohibit future jails on Rikers Island by designating it a public space was also put on hold.

City Council Member Costa Constantinides, whose district includes Rikers, has called on the City Planning Commission to resume hearings virtually to ensure the process is completed. “Every day we let this application stall is another life put at risk on Rikers. Nothing should stop the decision to close Rikers Island, when we have proven everything from City Council meetings to weddings can be conducted remotely,” he said in a statement last week. “What this virus has done to the detainees, employees, and guards there only underscores why we cannot wait any longer. If there is one application the City hears virtually, in a way that keeps everyone safe, it should be the one that guarantees Rikers is no longer used as a jail.”

Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank, has suggested that, with the financial uncertainty the city currently faces, the administration would be better off abandoning the borough-based jails plan and instead rebuilding Rikers. “With the pandemic, the city must inevitably rethink its capital-budget priorities so that one experimental project does not overwhelm the rest of the scarcer money available for critical infrastructure,” she wrote in a report last week that cited the city’s poor performance on capital projects in the past, among other issues with the plan.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Budget Crisis, State Bail Reform Could Delay Closure of Rikers Island Jails Tue, 19 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
WATCH: Democratic Primary Debate in the Bronx's 15th Congressional District https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9394-watch-democratic-primary-debate-bronx-15th-congressional-district-serrano-retiring-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9394-watch-democratic-primary-debate-bronx-15th-congressional-district-serrano-retiring-election bx debate 514

left to right: (top) Michael Blake, Chivona Newsome, Frangell Basora, Samelys Lopez
(bottom): Melissa Mark-Viverito, Tomas Ramos, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres


On Thursday, May 14, eight Democratic candidates vying to replace retiring Bronx Congressional Rep. José E. Serrano met for an online debate hosted by Gotham Gazette, City Limits, The Point CDC, and other partners.

The debate, watched by hundreds on Zoom and Facebook Live, with a Spanish translation phone line, can be viewed via the embedded video below.

Participating candidates were Frangell Basora; Michael Blake; Chivona Newsome; Samelys Lopez; Melissa Mark-Viverito; Tomas Ramos; Ydanis Rodriguez; and Ritchie Torres.

The debate was moderated by Gotham Gazette's Ben Max, with questions asked by Daniel Parra of City Limits, Sierra Straker of The Point, and Parker Quinlan of Hunts Point Express/Mott Haven Herald.

Serrano is retiring from Congress after 30 years due to health reasons, so his seat in New York's 15th Congressional District is effectively open and a crowded field has formed in the Democratic primary, set to be decided in June. Given it is one of the most Democratic districts in the country, the winner of the primary is all but certain to be the next member of the House of Representatives from the Bronx district home to some of the highest poverty rates in the country.

Voting is just around the corner: primary day is June 23, with early voting from June 13 through June 21, and all eligible voters will be mailed an absentee ballot given the coronavirus outbreak.

Ruben Diaz, Sr., also a candidate for the office, did not agreed to participate in the debate. (There will be other candidates on the ballot, but they have not mounted serious campaigns as indicated by a total lack of fundraising and were not invited to the dbeate: Mark Escoffery-Bey, Julio Pabon, Marlene Tapper.)

The 15th is the only Congressional district located entirely within the Bronx. It covers Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Melrose, High Bridge, Port Morris, Clason Point, Morrisania, Concourse Village, East Tremont, Tremont, Morris Heights, Castle Hill, University Heights, Bronx River, Belmont, Shorehaven, Claremont Village, Fordham, West Farms, Longwood, Mount Hope, Soundview and Harding Park.

Watch the candidates discuss their records and platforms and answer questions about the coronavirus response, housing, immigration, jobs, and more:

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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WATCH: Democratic Primary Debate in the Bronx's 15th Congressional District Sat, 16 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Intense Competition for 'Open' Bronx Congressional Seat: Watch the District 15 Democratic Debate on Thursday May 14 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9378-bronx-congressional-district-15-democratic-debate-2020-house-serrano https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/9378-bronx-congressional-district-15-democratic-debate-2020-house-serrano Michael Blake, Renee Chivona, Ruben Diaz Sr., Samelys Lopez, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Tomas Ramos, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres

left to right: (top) Michael Blake, Chivona Newsome, Ruben Diaz Sr., Samelys Lopez
(bottom): Melissa Mark-Viverito, Tomas Ramos, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres


With longtime Representative José E. Serrano retiring from Congress after 30 years due to health reasons, his seat in New York's 15th Congressional District is effectively open and a crowded field has formed in the Democratic primary, set to be decided in June. Given it is one of the most Democratic districts in the country, the winner of the primary is all but certain to be the next member of the House of Representatives from the Bronx district home to some of the highest poverty rates in the country.

With the vote just around the corner -- primary day is June 23, with early voting from June 13 through June 21 and all voters eligible for absentee balloting given the coronavirus outbreak -- 8 of the Democratic candidates will debate on Thursday, May 14, from 6-8 p.m.

The debate, hosted by Gotham Gazette, City Limits, The Point CDC, and other partners, will be streamed via Zoom (at this link) and Facebook (at this link).

The debate will also be translated in Spanish at 1-800-719-6100 followed by the access code of 1157388. Those interested in Spanish translation can watch the debate by Zoom or Facebook while listening via the aforementioned phone line.

The participating candidates include: Frangell Basora; Michael Blake; Chivona Newsome; Samelys Lopez; Melissa Mark-Viverito; Tomas Ramos; Ydanis Rodriguez; and Ritchie Torres.

Ruben Diaz, Sr., also a candidate for the office, has not agreed to participate in the debate. (There will be other candidates on the ballot, but they have not mounted serious campaigns as indicated by a total lack of fundraising: Mark Escoffery-Bey, Julio Pabon, Marlene Tapper.)

Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max will moderate the debate, and panelists will include Sierra Straker of The Point CDC's youth advisory group; reporters Daniel Parra of City Limits and Parker Quinlan of the Hunts Point Express and Mott Haven Herald.

The 15th is the only Congressional district located entirely within the Bronx. It covers Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Melrose, High Bridge, Port Morris, Clason Point, Morrisania, Concourse Village, East Tremont, Tremont, Morris Heights, Castle Hill, University Heights, Bronx River, Belmont, Shorehaven, Claremont Village, Fordham, West Farms, Longwood, Mount Hope, Soundview and Harding Park.

Tune in at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 14 via Zoom or Facebook.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Intense Competition for 'Open' Bronx Congressional Seat: Watch the District 15 Democratic Debate on Thursday May 14 Wed, 13 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The Right Side of Rikers History https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8855-the-right-side-of-rikers-history-close-jails-mark-viverito https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8855-the-right-side-of-rikers-history-close-jails-mark-viverito mmv red cross

Melissa Mark-Viverito, the author (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


For decades, Rikers Island has served as a clear illustration of our nation’s willingness to turn a blind eye in the face of injustice. Home to decades of violence, corruption, and cruelty, the continued operation of Rikers Island jails has been a striking reminder that our justice system is anything but just. 

Activists, grassroots organizers, impacted individuals, elected officials, and many other New Yorkers have been demanding the closure of Rikers jails for decades, but their pleas have often fallen on deaf ears. Now, the New York City Council is on the verge of casting a vote that could get us one big step closer to ending the injustice of Rikers once and for all. 

As activists and advocates, it has been a long, treacherous process getting to this point. But we have now reluctantly handed over the torch to our elected officials and urge them to understand that they too have a moral obligation to do everything in their power to close down Rikers. Our hard work and our fight has gotten us this far, but we need our representatives to stand with us and get us one step closer to eliminating a system that has deprived people of their dignity, respect, and basic human rights. 

When I initiated the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform (The Lippman Commission), I tasked its members with determining if and how Rikers could be closed. The commission was made up of policymakers, researchers, system actors, and directly impacted individuals like Julio Medina, the Executive Director of Exodus Transitional Community, a preventative, reentry, and advocacy organization located in East Harlem. 

Like Julio, many survivors of Rikers and their loved ones exposed the jails’ horrendous conditions and inhumane treatment. Survivors recounted not just the horrors they lived while in Rikers, but the devastating life-long impact their experience had on them and their families.

Stories like that of Kalief Browder, an African-American man from the Bronx who was unjustly arrested and held at Rikers for three years – two of them spent in solitary confinement – have been told in many variations over and over again. By sharing narratives, those closest to the problem became instrumental in devising solutions to overhaul and reinvent a deeply broken system. 

The Commission’s report, alongside the momentum, leadership, and advocacy of those who have been directly impacted, forced Mayor de Blasio to put forth the current plan under consideration, calling for the closure of the Rikers jails and the reduction of jails in New York City from twelve to four.

The Lippman Commission has been committed to transparency in its process, allowing for planning and advocacy to happen in full view of an initially-skeptical public. In 2016, there were dozens of public meetings in all five boroughs, each inviting people from across the city to provide input. The #CLOSErikers campaign, led by directly impacted individuals, created a collaborative community process that produced a robust set of transformative demands, known as the #buildCOMMUNITIES platform. The public was also given the opportunity to critique and demand amendments to the borough-based jails plan through local Neighborhood Advisory Councils, town hall meetings, and the rigorous public review process of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

To hear opposition forces now claiming that too few opportunities for public input have been offered is downright wrong, and an affront to the openness and outwardly engaging process that has taken place.

The reason for advocates’ high standard is obvious: they know that we only have one chance to get this right — not just because it has taken decades to get here, but also because failure is fatal. Faltering now in the face of the opposition's NIMBY-ism, racism, and false representations would mean that Rikers will probably remain open for generations to come, creating immeasurable cost.

Today, I proudly stand with Julio Medina and many, many others as we urge City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and all New York City Council members to approve this plan. We are closer to our goal than ever before. Let this be the Council that can say that they stood on the right side of history by voting to close down the Rikers Island jails and create a stronger, safer, and better New York City. 

***
Melissa Mark-Viverito is a former Speaker of the City Council and currently a candidate for Congress in New York’s 15th Congressional District. On Twitter @MMViverito.

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

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The Right Side of Rikers History Wed, 16 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As City Council Vote Nears, Leading Mayoral Contenders Clarify Positions on Jails Plan They May Have to Implement https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8839-city-council-vote-positions-rikers-jails-plan-stringer-johnson-adams-diaz https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8839-city-council-vote-positions-rikers-jails-plan-stringer-johnson-adams-diaz De Blasio close Rikers

De Blasio, Johnson, Ayala & others at Rikers announcement (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The plan to close the Rikers Island jails and replace them with four borough-based facilities has sped through the city’s land use process and is awaiting approval from the New York City Council, prompting both support and rebukes from criminal justice reform activists and those who prefer to keep most city detainees on the island. If it passes at the scheduled October 17 vote, full implementation of the plan will fall in the hands of a future mayor, perhaps two, and the four high-profile elected officials expected to be running for the position in 2021, when Mayor Bill de Blasio is term-limited, aren’t all on the same page.

The city’s Rikers closure plan was set in motion in 2017 and aims to create smaller and safer jail facilities closer to courthouses in every borough except Staten Island. It includes three larger jails where existing facilities exist, plus a new jail in the Bronx. It’s dependent on reducing the city jail population below 5,000 detainees by 2026, a target the city is on track to exceed, the de Blasio administration has said given criminal justice reforms passed in Albany last year and city arrest trends.

As of July, there were about 7,400 detainees across the city jail system, many of them pre-trial and held in the problem-ridden Rikers jail complex, down 2,000 from when the closure plan was announced. Last month, the City Planning Commission approved the combined land use application for the four facilities, which are expected to cost about $9 billion together. The application was then sent to the City Council, which held a public hearing on the plan and is expected to hold the vote next week.

So far, four leading Democratic candidates have either declared or are expected to run for mayor in 2021 – City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. All four are facing term limits and cannot run for reelection. While Stringer was the first of the four to call for closure of the Rikers jails, Johnson has the most on the line as City Council Speaker – where he continued the legacy of his predecessor, Melissa Mark-Viverito, helped craft the current plan and move it to the verge of passage – and all four have supported the general concept of closing the island jails.

Whomever becomes the next mayor, implementation of the jails plan is likely to become a defining first-term issue.

Most of the four leading likely candidates for mayor insist that a borough-based jails plan must be accompanied by broader criminal justice reforms and community investments that would continue to reduce the number of people incarcerated in city facilities. The size of the four jails is also at the top of the list as negotiations continue between the de Blasio administration and City Council members, particularly Johnson and the four members who represent the districts that will be home to the facilities.

“We have an opportunity to close Rikers Island, which will help change our city for the better,” Johnson said, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “This whole process started with activists who were directly harmed by Rikers raising this as a necessary step to transform our criminal justice system. This isn’t about just closing jails. I want investments in our City that will help end the pipeline to prison that’s done so much damage to our communities.” Johnson and former New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who led a commission empaneled by Mark-Viverito that pushed de Blasio into support for closing Rikers, co-authored an op-ed earlier this year explaining why the city must seize this moment for closing the island jails.

Adams made a series of recommendations to the proposal when it was going through the land-use process, and while he is supportive of the general plan, he continues to hope the Council will heed some of his words.

“Beyond siting the [Brooklyn] facility and determining height and capacity, we also need to focus on how we disrupt the pipeline to our criminal justice system, and reduce recidivism rates,” he said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, echoing Johnson. “For example, a significant percentage of Riker’s inmates are dyslexic. That’s why my recommendation outlines steps we can take to improve educational opportunities and provide wraparound services that must be part of a long-term approach to improving our criminal justice system.”

Stringer continues to support closing the Rikers jails, but is also calling for additional community investments in the final deal. “Rikers Island is a symbol of injustice, and we can’t just close it, we have to shut it down forever by ensuring we never repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said in a statement. “Before moving forward with any vote to close Rikers Island, the City must commit to developing and funding a plan to bolster the supports that will actually enable communities to thrive. This is what communities have been calling for and the administration has so far failed to deliver. Without that commitment, thousands of New Yorkers will continue to rotate through the revolving doors of incarceration, homelessness, and hospitalization — regardless of where jails are sited. This is a generational opportunity, and we must seize it together.”

Asked to clarify if that meant Stringer actually supports building borough-based jails, spokesperson Tyrone Stevens said, “We think there is a need for new, modern borough-based facilities that come with an airtight commitment to invest more in communities. We also think the proposed facilities can be smaller in scale and hope the final plan reflects these important priorities.”

Diaz Jr. is the only candidate that is outright opposed to the current plan, but his objection is based on the choice of site in Mott Haven in the Bronx. That is also the only entirely new facility while the others are being built to replace existing ones.

Diaz Jr. proposed an alternate site next to the Bronx Hall of Justice, which the city rejected based on its size and other logistics. In his testimony before the New York City Council at a hearing on September 5, he called the proposal “wrongheaded” and pushed the Council to correct what he sees as the administration’s mistake. “Instead of reaching out to the community and engaging on this site selection, the administration has decided to impose a monolithic, oppressive structure adjacent to a community of reclaimed apartments, homes and schools, in the name of political expediency,” he said.

He added, “It is now up to the City Council and its members to listen to the people of this borough and adjust this proposal accordingly. Any failure to do otherwise will deleteriously alter the face of this borough for decades to come.” John DeSio, a spokesperson for the borough president, said in an email on Wednesday that Diaz Jr.’s position has not changed. Asked if Diaz Jr. believes the plan shouldn’t go forward if the Bronx site is not changed, DeSio did not provide a response, and it’s unclear if Diaz Jr. would support the current plan or a no vote on the entire proposal. (He told the Queens Daily Eagle in June that if he is elected mayor, he would reexamine the chosen sites.)

City Council Member Diana Ayala, who represents East Harlem and the part of the Bronx where the new jail is sited, had agreed to the location when de Blasio and the Council announced the locations last year. When asked about her support, Diaz Jr. has said he believes she’s mistaken and noted that she’s not from the Bronx.

Johnson, Adams, Stringer, and Diaz Jr. find themselves in somewhat tricky positions. The borough-based jails plan has proven more politically complicated than de Blasio and others may have expected. While the city’s efforts have been broadly praised by activists from the #CLOSErikers campaign who have long criticized the inhumane conditions at Rikers and helped push the issue to the forefront, there has been strident local criticism of some of the new facilities that the city proposed and a larger contingent of activists who are opposed entirely to any new jails being built.

The aptly named No New Jails NYC campaign had the support of Tiffany Caban, the upstart public defender who nearly claimed the Democratic nomination for Queens District Attorney earlier this year but lost to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz in a recount. Just last week, Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive heavyweight, also weighed in, saying the city should not construct any new jails, particularly if there are no legal assurances that Rikers will in fact be shut down. The latter point appears to have resonated, with the mayor saying on Monday he thinks such language makes sense and NY1 reporting on Wednesday that the Council and administration are crafting an agreement to ensure no jails can be active on Rikers by 2026. The city map change application will be voted through the Council on Thursday of this week and head for approval to the City Planning Commission. Jennifer Fermino, a spokesperson for the City Council speaker, noted that the proposal had been in the works for a long time and was not prompted by Ocasio-Cortez's comments. 

“Rikers Island is synonymous with mass incarceration, pain and suffering," Johnson said in a statement on Wednesday. "This land use action shows our commitment to closing all of the jails associated with Rikers. The jails will be required to close by 2026. Advocates raised the need for a guarantee, and we agreed with them completely. I am proud of the Council for this historic step, and our commitment to improving the lives of all New Yorkers.”

The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice & Incarceration, former by Mark-Viverito and led by Lippman, was the architect of the Rikers closure plan and has sought to push back against No New Jails, which offered its own alternative proposal last week that would house 3,000 detainees in existing borough facilities. The Lippman Commission called the proposal “morally indefensible” and illegal, releasing a point-by-point rebuttal to the idea.

It’s unlikely at this point that the Council will reject the plan outright but there are possible tweaks that could be made to the final proposal. The three main sticking points, as the various stakeholders have indicated and as the mayoral candidates themselves seem to point out, are the size and number of beds at some of the facilities, the legal promise that Rikers will close, and whether the city will make broader community investments in criminal justice reform and social services.

A package of investments and other reforms would drive down the city’s incarcerated population further than current projections, which could require fewer beds and lead to lower building heights for some of the facilities.

The mayor said in his weekly appearance on NY1’s Inside City Hall on Monday that the Council and administration would work to add the guarantee to the proposal. “I think I have to make clear, once we build these borough-based jails and they’re going to be able to handle all of the inmates in New York City, there’s no reason to have Rikers and there’s much better ways to use that land,” de Blasio said. “Everything there should be taken down and utilized in a whole different fashion. So we’re working on a way to make that real, real clear, but I also think that the facts will speak for themselves. The new jails will be enough to take care of everyone.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated.

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As City Council Vote Nears, Leading Mayoral Contenders Clarify Positions on Jails Plan They May Have to Implement Wed, 09 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
NYPD Continues Move Away from Criminal Penalties for Low-Level Offenses, But Racial Disparities Remain https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8768-nypd-fewer-criminal-penalties-for-low-level-offenses-racial-differences-remain https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8768-nypd-fewer-criminal-penalties-for-low-level-offenses-racial-differences-remain maydbd coord off

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The New York City Council’s effort to reduce the criminalization of low-level, non-violent offenses through legislation passed in 2016 has continued to further achieve its aims for the third year in a row, as the NYPD makes fewer arrests and hands out fewer criminal summonses, opting instead for civil fines. But there remain concerns about racial disparities in law enforcement, as an overwhelming number of citations are handed out to black and Latino New Yorkers.

In 2016, the Council under former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito passed the Criminal Justice Reform Act, creating civil penalties for low-level offenses that include public urination, open container of alcohol, breaking park rules, littering, and excessive noise. The legislation, signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio after some negotiation by the administration, allowed police officers to instead of issuing criminal summonses give civil fines, which involve a citation and court date but do not lead to jail.

Instead of involvement with the criminal justice system, many thousands of New Yorkers -- often poor, young, black, and/or Latino -- would instead be sent to a civil process through the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, preventing the detrimental effects of even one short trip to jail, the stain of a criminal violation on their permanent records, or arrest warrants in case of absences from court. The Council also worked with district attorneys to clear 644,000 outstanding warrants for those low-level offenses.

After the first report from the NYPD on the implementation of the CJRA, the Council touted a 90% drop in criminal summonses, and the numbers have continued to fall. In 2018, the department issued 89,908 criminal summonses, down from 424,883 in 2013. Through June 30 of this year, there were 44,382 criminal summonses issued, a pace just below last year’s.

The first CJRA report covered the third quarter of 2017, and showed 28,557 criminal summonses issued. In the second quarter of 2019, the number was down to 22,328, a reduction of 6,229. Even compared to the same period last year, there were 1,481 fewer criminal summonses issued.

The CJRA’s effects quickly became clear. In the third quarter of 2017, the NYPD gave out 2,607 criminal summonses for open container of alcohol violations, which dropped to 696 in the second quarter of 2019; public urination summonses fell from 327 to 174; littering summonses fell from 180 to 57.

Even as the city has moved from criminal to civil penalties, civil summonses have also been dropping overall. The NYPD issued only 14,908 civil summonses in the first half of 2019, down from 26,782 in the same period last year. 

Arrests have fallen from 388,368 in 2013 to 246,781 last year.

“The City Council is very proud that the Criminal Justice Reform Act has resulted in significant reductions in the number of criminal summonses given out in New York City for minor offenses that are better dealt with in civil court,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “These summonses don’t belong in criminal court because we’ve seen that they have no impact on crime rates. Unfortunately, there are significant racial disparities with respect to who gets a criminal summons in lieu of a civil summons, resulting in continued concern regarding consistent enforcement. Clearly, we need to address these racial disparities.”

As Johnson noted, enforcement remains uneven. Excluding businesses, 13,702 criminal summonses in the second quarter of 2019 were given to individuals, of whom 1,236 were white; 91% of criminal summonses were given to people of color. For comparison, out of 8,690 civil summonses given out in that same period, 15.3% were issued to whites; nearly 32% to black New Yorkers; 39.2% to Hispanics; and 7.6% to Asians and Pacific Islanders.

According to the latest available U.S. Census data, New York City’s nearly 8.4 million residents are 32.1% white; 29.1% Hispanic or Latino, 24.3% black, and 14% Asian.

Officers continue to use an exception that allows them to give out a criminal summons instead of a civil fine, vaguely citing “law enforcement reason” as a criteria. That criteria -- which an NYPD spokesperson declined to define for Gotham Gazette -- was used in 1,769 of the 22,328 criminal summonses in the second quarter of 2019, about 8% of the time, and up from 672 times in the third quarter of 2017.

There are other exceptions that allow for arrests as well, including having an open warrant or two felony arrests in the previous two years, for having ignored three or more civil summons in the previous eight years, or if an individual is on parole or probation.

An NYPD spokesperson did not address the increase in the use of the catch-all exception or the racial disparities in enforcement, but instead touted the department’s overall success in reducing crime and enforcement. Sergeant Jessica McRorie, a spokesperson for the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, cited a five-year record that shows street-stops down more than 90%, arrests down by 37.3%, summonses down nearly 79%, and marijuana misdemeanor violation arrests down by 71%, while major felony crime fell by 14.2%.

“The NYPD has shown that we can drive crime down significantly with a far less-intrusive enforcement approach,” McRorie said in a statement. “By building stronger relationships with the community through Neighborhood Policing and a singular focus on violent crimes and those who commit them through precision policing, we have continued to drive crime down to record lows.”

Advocates have for years pointed to racial disparities in policing, particularly when it comes to the low-level offenses that are targeted by the so-called broken windows policing method preferred by Mayor de Blasio and his two most-recent predecessors, which focuses on low-level crime and disorder in the theory that it helps prevent more serious crime.

“In most of these categories, there should be no police involved,” said Bob Gangi, a veteran advocate who ran a longshot mayoral campaign in 2017 on a platform of police accountability and reform. His organization, the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), regularly releases court monitoring reports that show how New Yorkers of color are overwhelmingly caught up in the criminal justice system for offenses that white New Yorkers are rarely punished for.

“Someone carrying an open alcohol container, who is not drinking, who is not disruptive, who is not in any way causing a threat to public safety or public civility, that shouldn’t be a matter for the police,” Gangi said in a phone interview. “And it’s similar with virtually all the other offenses.”

The police’s involvement in enforcement of these acts, he said, “in effect begins the process of criminalizing people for what are essentially innocuous activities” and the numbers show a “stark racial bias” in that enforcement. He pointed to one major problem with the CJRA itself that leads to this imbalance: that officers continue to have discretion in choosing a civil fine over a criminal summons. “So we have not eliminated the fundamental problem, which is racist policing,” he said. “We've tweaked it, we've modified it to a certain extent, but we have not eliminated it.” 

There are other takeaways from the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings report on the Criminal Justice Reform Act’s implementation. Nearly 20% of the total civil summonses were dismissed for being defective, which often means the ticket was improperly filled out by an officer, missing the date or time of the offense, for example. And a small percentage of people, just under 13%, opted to perform community service instead of paying a fine based on a civil summons.

Council Member Donovan Richards, chair of the Council’s public safety committee, called the latest data a “mixed bag” of results. “Certainly it shows that the department is continuing to recognize that incarceration is not the answer in all cases to reduce crime,” he said. “We still see crime rates going down at historic levels.”

He continued, “It shows the fact that there are those who will cry that when reforms take place, that the world is going to come to an end, but it's not, right?” As he alluded, when the CJRA was first introduced, it was met with opposition from the NYPD, and even Mayor Bill de Blasio, and it took months of cajoling and compromise to get them to agree to passable legislation. In part, then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the City Council leave the criminal penalties on the books, adding corresponding civil penalties as a preferred alternative, but not removing the possibility of arrest or criminal summons.

“In terms of correcting the [racial] disparities, there's a lot more work that needs to be done,” Richards added. “Certainly...this is a step in the right direction. But the only way to ensure we are building trust with communities and the police department is to ensure that we recognize that these disparities still exist.” Though he commended Police Commissioner James O’Neill for the department’s community outreach efforts, he called for more diversity within the department and its leadership.   

“This city still has a long way to go when it comes to addressing racial division,” he said. “The new Jim Crow is incarceration and I think it's incumbent upon the police commissioner and the mayor to really sit in a room and get serious about this stuff.”

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

Read more by this writer.

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NYPD Continues Move Away from Criminal Penalties for Low-Level Offenses, But Racial Disparities Remain Tue, 03 Sep 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Special Election Provides Testing Ground for Push to Elect More Women to City Council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8462-special-election-provides-testing-ground-for-push-to-elect-women-to-the-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8462-special-election-provides-testing-ground-for-push-to-elect-women-to-the-city-council womenscaucusnyc pro ground

The City Council Women's Caucus (photo: @WomensCaucusNYC)


In 2009, there were 18 women in the 51-seat New York City Council. A decade later, after resignations and members term-limited out of office, that number has dropped to just 11, most of whom are serving their second and final term. It’s a paltry ratio for a legislative body that prides itself on inclusion and diversity, and one that the “21 in ‘21” initiative is striving to address.

The nonprofit organization is building a network to boost women seeking local elected office and could make its first mark in the city’s political scene next month in a special election for the District 45 Council seat in Brooklyn, recently vacated by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

The 21 in ‘21 initiative was launched in 2017 by then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Margaret Chin, then-Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (she lost her seat later that year), and Effective NY, an advocacy group. The goal is to elect at least 21 women to the City Council in the next municipal elections in 2021, when at least three dozen Council seats will be up for grabs, along with the five borough president posts and all three citywide positions of mayor, comptroller, and public advocate.

The group is set to make its first official endorsement of a candidate in the District 45 special election.

“If women ran with the same frequency as men, we would have equal representation, not only in the City Council, [but] all over state legislatures and in the federal government,” Crowley, the chair of 21 in ‘21, said at a meeting of its members at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning in Queens on Monday. The initiative was buoyed that day by a show of support from U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, who, as the new chair of the Queens County Democratic Committee, will play a powerful role in 2021 when 11 Council seats will be open in that borough alone.

“We’ve got work to do. Instead of us progressing, we went back. Instead of us continuing to lead, we’ve lost our numbers,” Meeks said of the diminishing number of women in the Council. It’s not immediately clear what his actual commitment to the 21 in ‘21 effort is, however.

The District 45 special election on May 14 will be the 21 in ‘21 initiative’s first outright foray into elections as the organization plans to endorse one of the five women running for the seat -- Monique Chandler-Waterman, Jovia Radix, Farah Louis, Xamayla Rose, and Adina Sash -- out of nearly a dozen candidates. The organization will hold a candidate screening on April 29 where its 235 members will have the chance to assess the five candidates before recommending an endorsement.

“This is kind of going to be a pilot, test run for what’s going to happen in 2021,” said Moira McDermott, executive director of the organization, in a phone interview. “We’re looking to make sure that they’ll commit to helping the mission in the Council and that they’ll commit to mentoring women to run...or in general to prepare, and having more women on their staff and helping women into leadership positions on the Council.”

[Read: Crowded Field Forms for Special City Council Election to Replace Jumaane Williams]

Till now, the organization has been building its base, recruiting would-be candidates and holding trainings on navigating the political process, including how to conduct community outreach and how to raise money for a campaign. Meeks’ support in Queens is also helping build momentum that could convince other elected officials and county Democratic organizations to support their efforts, McDermott said.

“Our goal isn’t necessarily accepting all the endorsed county candidates but it’s a matter of working together to make sure that any women they have in the pipeline, to bring them into the organization and...encouraging them to work with the women that we have in our pipeline,” she said. “So it’s a joint effort to have the most viable and qualified candidates.”

“We feel incredibly optimistic,” said Crowley, in a subsequent phone interview, confident that District 45 will elect a woman to the Council next month. “We want to make sure that candidates have been involved in their communities, that they understand how it takes a full investment of oneself to be a Council member, and certainly to have the opportunity to be a successful candidate,” Crowley added.

She also emphasized the grassroots strength of the organization, which she said will boost its chosen candidates and sets it apart from other political action organizations. “It’s not like we give a check and walk away. We’re engaging other New Yorkers to believe in you and believe in your candidacy,” she added. Crowley herself doesn’t intend to run for the City Council in 2021, she said, but she wouldn’t say if she’d run for higher office. There may soon be a special election for Queens Borough President if the current officeholder, Melinda Katz, wins this year’s District Attorney race.

21 in ‘21 is not the only organization pushing to get more women elected locally. Amplify Her, which launched with a similar mission and endorsed several successful female candidates for state Senate last year, is holding a candidate forum on April 23 for the District 45 race.

Public Advocate Williams has emphasized that his successor should be a woman and he’s already endorsed Chandler-Waterman, a close ally and former aide. “While there are many good candidates running in this race, particularly women of more color, there unfortunately is only one position available and Monique is the best person for the job,” he said in a statement.

“I like the idea of an endorsement, it does show strength, it does show unity, and it certainly shows power,” said Queens Council Member Adrienne Adams, another 21 in ‘21 supporter, in a brief interview outside City Hall. “The more we can show strength and at least try to get some balance, the better of course we’ll be as a city.”

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

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Special Election Provides Testing Ground for Push to Elect More Women to City Council Thu, 18 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Aftermath of the Public Advocate Race https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8337-the-aftermath-of-the-public-advocate-race https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8337-the-aftermath-of-the-public-advocate-race ccm j williams prelim

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


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

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

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

aftermath pub adv

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Aftermath of the Public Advocate Race Thu, 07 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Unsuccessful in Public Advocate Bid, Mark-Viverito Faces Uncertain Political Future https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8314-unsuccessful-in-public-advocate-bid-mark-viverito-faces-uncertain-political-future https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8314-unsuccessful-in-public-advocate-bid-mark-viverito-faces-uncertain-political-future  New York City Council

Melissa Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)


Former Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito lost her bid for public advocate in the special election held Tuesday, as Brooklyn City Council Member Jumaane Williams came out on top of a crowded field of candidates to claim victory by an unexpectedly wide margin. Mark-Viverito came in third behind WIlliams and City Council Member Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican elected official in the field of 17 candidates. It was the first-ever nonpartisan citywide special election in New York City, decided by an expectedly low turnout of voters.

With about 87.5 percent of ballot scanners reported, Mark-Viverito had received about 11% or 39,730 votes, while Williams had just over 33% with 118,979 votes. Ulrich was in between the two at about 19%.

At her election night party at the London Irish Pub in East Harlem, part of the district she represented for three terms in the City Council, Mark-Viverito claimed credit for influencing the issues in the public advocate campaign, while acknowledging she had come up short. “[I]n this campaign, we helped change this city in so many important ways,” she said, touting her push for improving the MTA, her advocacy for residents of public housing, her call for taking ICE out of the state’s courts, and spotlighting the lack of diversity in city leadership.

On that last point, she seemed most disappointed. “I don’t see myself as a woman reflected in this city right now, and that is troubling,” she said, noting that the three other offices with citywide responsibilities are currently held by white men (Speaker Corey Johnson is the acting public advocate until Williams is sworn in), including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Mark-Viverito encouraged young women to run for elected office, an effort she herself has supported through the 21 in 21 campaign to elect 21 women to the City Council in the 2021 municipal elections.

Mark-Viverito could attempt another shot at the public advocate’s seat in the coming months. Under the City Charter, the winner of the special election must defend the seat this year, first in a party primary in June if a challenger emerges and then in the November general election, to serve the remainder of the term that runs through 2021. Letitia James was elected attorney general this past November, creating the public advocate vacancy just one year into her second term in the post.

Mark-Viverito did not indicate on Tuesday whether she would seek the primary nomination for public advocate against fellow Democrat Williams, and she refused to take questions from reporters at her event. She did say she had spoken to Williams but she didn’t reveal what she said.

In a strange twist, ballot petitioning for the June primary began on Tuesday, as voters went to the polls in the special election. Candidates will have to submit signatures by April 4 to get on the June ballot.

Mark-Viverito was one of the leading candidates in the race and had the highest level of experience in city government. She served three terms in the City Council, representing District 8 which covers East Harlem and the South Bronx, before being unanimously elected speaker for her final term, becoming the first Latina to occupy the post. She was also one of only four women on the special election ballot out of 17 candidates, though one of them, Assemblymember Latrice Walker, withdrew from the race weeks ago. Mark-Viverito emphasized that imbalance throughout, and was endorsed by several women’s groups.

As speaker, Mark-Viverito had often faced criticism for being too friendly to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who helped her get chosen to lead the 51-member legislative body. But just as she did as her tenure progressed, she spent the public advocate campaign distancing herself from her once-ally in the progressive movement. She pointed to instances when she broke with de Blasio, particularly her push for closing the Rikers Island jail complex, which the mayor eventually adopted and put into motion. She also heralded the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which effectively decriminalized several low-level offenses such as drinking alcohol in public and public urination, despite heavy initial opposition from de Blasio and the NYPD.

Mark-Viverito’s campaign made mass transit a top priority, as was clear from the “Fix The MTA” party line she created for the purposes of the nonpartisan election, but she also focused on housing and homelessness, immigrant rights, health care, and education. She largely touted her legislative accomplishments as speaker, which is effectively a citywide position in scope and authority, and promised to continue her unreserved advocacy from the public advocate’s bully pulpit.

But those efforts were in vain, at least in terms of the results on Tuesday. While Mark-Viverito has been rumored as a possible 2021 mayoral candidate whether she were to win or lose this special election, she’ll first have to decide whether to run in the primary set to take place June 25 and try to win the public advocate seat that eluded her this time.

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

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Unsuccessful in Public Advocate Bid, Mark-Viverito Faces Uncertain Political Future Tue, 26 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
How to Choose a Candidate in the Public Advocate Special Election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8310-how-to-choose-a-candidate-in-the-public-advocate-special-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8310-how-to-choose-a-candidate-in-the-public-advocate-special-election voting new york city

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


For weeks, intensifying ahead of Tuesday, friends, family, acquaintances, and colleagues have been asking for advice about who to vote for in the special election for Public Advocate. My response usually starts with a question: What do you most want in a Public Advocate?

Sometimes that’s followed by another: How much time do you have? There are 17 candidates who will be on Tuesday’s ballot, each with certain qualities, qualifications, and visions for the office. The Public Advocate has wide latitude for how he or she approaches the job, making the question of what you most want in the office-holder key, especially given the broad and deep pool of candidates now running.

While the Public Advocate’s office comes with a modest $3.5 million annual budget and is oft-ridiculed, it actually has a lot of responsibility and can have significant impact on public policy, not to mention the fact that the post can be an important proving ground for pursuing higher office (see the last two Public Advocates: Mayor Bill de Blasio and Attorney General Letitia James). The four individuals who have been elected Public Advocate to date have brought different skills, priorities, and approaches to the role.

The Public Advocate is the citywide official charged with being a watchdog over the rest of city government and with being an ombudsperson for the public. The Public Advocate has the power to introduce legislation to the City Council, a seat on the city’s public pension board, and a healthy bully pulpit and springboard underneath them. The Public Advocate is often expected to be a willing critic of the Mayor, taking the city’s chief executive to task for blurring ethical lines or spending too much or flubbing the rollout of a program or traveling out of town too often -- and so on.

On Tuesday, the many candidates will be listed with a “party” name they made up for this unique, “nonpartisan” election -- the first citywide special election since the current city government system was enacted after the 1989 charter revision -- that do give some indication of how they’ve framed their campaigns. (For more on how the candidates have sought to define themselves, read here.)

The election is open to all registered voters across the city, with polls open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Very low turnout is expected from the city’s roughly 5.2 million registered voters, but perhaps given recent Trump era trends and the fact that there are so many candidates who’ve been campaigning New Yorkers will exceed those forecasts.

Here’s how to vote based on what might be important to you:

Do you want a Public Advocate who…

...will aggressively hold Mayor de Blasio accountable?
Go with Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican elected official in the race.

...has high-level experience in the federal government, and little local political muck on their shoes?
Go with Dawn Smalls, an attorney who worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.

...knows both federal and state government?
Go with Michael Blake, a member of the state Assembly who worked on both Obama campaigns and in the administration.

...has the highest level of experience in city government?
Go with Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former City Council Speaker.

...will agitate and legislate, is as likely to lead a protest through the streets as introduce a bill?
Go with Jumaane Williams, the City Council member who aptly calls himself an “activist elected official.”

...will throw rhetorical bombs and rage against the machine from the far left?
Go with Nomiki Konst, an activist and journalist who was a Bernie Sanders delegate and pulls no punches, at times overzealously, while calling for policies like a $30 minimum wage.

...is thinking about urban policy for the future, with an eye on sustainability and a green economy?
Go with Rafael Espinal, a City Council member focused on legislating for a more “livable city.”

...is most focused on engaging New Yorkers to participate in civic life and impact the direction of public policy that’s best for their communities?
Go with Ben Yee, who wants to take his informal but informative civic education program to new heights in elected office.

...is the most conservative, with nice things to say about President Trump?
Go with Manny Alicandro, the other Republican in the race, who is far more aligned with Trump than Ulrich is.

....will focus on immigrant communities and transit issues?
Go with Ydanis Rodriguez, a City Council member and himself an immigrant, who has led the Council’s transportation committee for several years.

...has been an LGBT trailblazer and leading advocate for LGBT rights?
Go with Danny O’Donnell, an Assembly member from the Upper West Side.

...will call out and examine overspending by the city?
Go with Ulrich.

...will focus on the legislative powers of the role?
Go with Mark-Viverito, Espinal, or Williams.

...is best positioned to run policy and program oversight operations of the office?
Lean toward Mark-Viverito, but consider Smalls.

...will continue Tish James’ use of the office as a law firm of sorts?
Go with Smalls.

...will transform the office to focus on alleviating student debt?
Go with Ron Kim, a state Assembly member who has pledged to reinvent the office.

...ardently supported the plan to bring an Amazon campus to Queens?
Go with Ulrich.

...ardently opposed the Amazon plan?
Choose from O’Donnell, Kim, Espinal, and Konst.

...thought the Amazon deal could be reworked to benefit New Yorkers?
Choose from Smalls, Blake, and Williams.

...will take on real estate developers?
Choose from David Eisenbach, a Columbia professor and activist, Konst, O’Donnell, and Williams.

...will continue to lead the push to close the Rikers Island jails?
Go with Mark-Viverito.

...thinks Rikers Island should remain home to most of the city’s jail population?
Go with Ulrich or Alicandro.

...has negotiated neighborhood rezonings with the de Blasio administration and may be able to help as others attempt to do so?
Choose from Mark-Viverito, Espinal, and Rodriguez.

...is supportive of charter schools?
Go with Blake, Ulrich, or Tony Herbert, a consultant and activist.

...would bring greater gender balance to citywide government?
Go with Mark-Viverito, Smalls, or Konst, the three women in the race (Latrice Walker will also be on the ballot, but she dropped out weeks ago).

...would continue an established focus on helping more women run for elected office?
Go with Mark-Viverito.

...has been a criminal justice reformer?
Choose from Mark-Viverito, Williams, and Blake.

...will focus on NYCHA tenants?
Choose from Blake, Herbert, and Mark-Viverito.

...will make affordable housing a top priority?
Go with Williams.

...will make helping homeless families a top priority?
Go with Smalls.

...has been an ally for military veterans?
Go with Ulrich.

...will make small businesses a top priority?
Choose from Eisenbach and Rodriguez.

...will push for change at the MTA?
Choose from Mark-Viverito, Rodriguez, and Blake.

...has an eye toward more forward-thinking transit policy?
Choose from Espinal, Rodriguez, and Mark-Viverito.

...will focus on minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs)?
Go with Blake.

...will be completely independent?
Choose from O'Donnell, Konst, Smalls, Eisenbach, Alicandro, and Herbert.

...has been a close ally of Mayor de Blasio’s but also pushed him on several issues?
Go with Mark-Viverito or Williams.

...has a solid working relationship with Governor Cuomo and state legislative leaders?
Go with Blake.

...is most ready to step in as Mayor if there is a crisis that necessitates it?
Lean toward Mark-Viverito, but consider Blake.

...won’t use the position too evidently as a stepping stone to run for Mayor?
Choose from O’Donnell, Smalls, Konst, Yee, or several others not named Ulrich, Blake, or Mark-Viverito.

[WATCH: 15 Minutes with Each of 14 Candidates for Public Advocate]

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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How to Choose a Candidate in the Public Advocate Special Election Mon, 25 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000