Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/392 Tue, 12 Nov 2019 06:48:07 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 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. 

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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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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.”

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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.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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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.

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

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

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The Aftermath of the Public Advocate Race Thu, 07 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
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.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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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
     

Read more by this writer.

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How to Choose a Candidate in the Public Advocate Special Election Mon, 25 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Last-Minute Guide: How the Public Advocate Candidates Have Tried to Define Themselves https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8308-last-minute-guide-how-the-public-advocate-candidates-have-sought-to-define-themselves https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8308-last-minute-guide-how-the-public-advocate-candidates-have-sought-to-define-themselves public advocate new york city

(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City’s special election for Public Advocate will take place this Tuesday, February 26, and there will be 17 candidates on the ballot, although one has suspended her campaign. Ten of these candidates qualified for the first official televised debate, then seven of those ten qualified for the second debate. Those candidates and others in the race have also been appearing at many local forums, making the rounds on television and radio, and taking part in other aspects of campaigning as they make their pitches to voters on why they should be the next citywide official tasked with providing oversight of the rest of city government and being an ombudsperson for New Yorkers.

The public advocate also has the power to introduce legislation to the City Council and the post comes with a budget of roughly $3.5 million. The position has proved to be a springboard, with its most recent occupant, Letitia James, now in the Attorney General’s office, and her predecessor, Bill de Blasio, now the Mayor. Most candidates have said that if they win on Tuesday they do not intend to run for mayor in 2021; meanwhile, the winner of the special election would need to then win an election later this year to hold the seat for 2020 and 2021. There will be June party primaries if necessary and there will be a November general election.

As the candidates finish campaigning, below is a look at how each has sought to define themselves and their candidacy. Next to each candidate’s name is his or her self-created party ballot line, a necessity given that special elections are nonpartisan.

Melissa Mark-Viverito (Fix the MTA)
A former Speaker of the New York City Council, Mark-Viverito has continued in her public advocate campaign to focus on her two top issues as Council speaker: immigrants’ rights and criminal justice reform, including the plan to close Rikers Island jails, which she spearheaded and brought Mayor de Blasio along to support. She’s also focused on the MTA, wanting to see the legalization of marijuana use, with tax revenue going toward the subways and buses, along with congestion pricing as another funding source.

Mark-Viverito has stressed the need for diversity in government, including to have female representation among officials with citywide responsibilities -- the current mayor, comptroller, and Council speaker are all white men. She’s criticized de Blasio and Governor Cuomo for failing to work cooperatively on the MTA and other matters, part of continuing attempts to prove that she would be tough in holding de Blasio accountable given that the two have had a close working relationship, including the mayor helping Mark-Viverito to become the speaker.

Michael Blake (For the People)
A member of the state Assembly from the Bronx, Blake is also a vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee. He touts his work on the campaigns and in the administration of President Barack Obama, and in Albany on issues from criminal justice reform to economic opportunity.

Blake has led the race in fundraising and has received a wide variety of endorsements from elected officials and political clubs. His campaign slogan is “jobs and justice for the people,” and he’s focused on issues including affordable housing, NYCHA, criminal justice reform, and empowering women- and minority-owned businesses (M/WBEs). Blake was critical of the deal to bring Amazon to Queens that later fell apart, but has indicated he wanted it reworked, not scrapped altogether. That stance is indicative of the fact that Blake often takes somewhat more moderate positions than some of his fellow Democrats, especially those in the public advocate race.

Jumaane Williams (The People’s Voice)
A City Council member from Brooklyn, Williams has been seen as the frontrunner in the race from the start given the momentum from his 2018 primary challenge of incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, when he ran alongside Cynthia Nixon in her campaign for governor. That race gave Williams a leg up in name recognition and relationships that quickly carried over to this campaign, helping him land a long list of endorsements from clubs, groups, and leaders.

He often calls himself an “activist elected official, long before it was popular,” saying “I can be the voice for change while effectively being the person making that change.” Williams has long focused on both affordable housing and criminal justice reform. In this race he has often touted his opposition to the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy passed last term under de Blasio and Mark-Viverito.

During the first debate, both Blake and Melissa Mark-Viverito criticized Williams over his past statements on abortion and marriage equality. Williams has indicated an evolution on both issues and apologized to members of the LGBT community for past statements that he says did not express clear enough support. He has said that he would not want to pursue abortion for a pregnancy he was involved with, but that he has consistently supported women having the choice.

Dawn Smalls (No More Delays)
Smalls is an attorney and former official in the Clinton and Obama presidential administrations. In a first run for office, she often touts her work to implement the Affordable Care Act and says she has the ability to break through government bureaucracy. Smalls also says she is “completely independent of the political structure” in the city, so she can be “a true watchdog over the mayor and the City Council.”

Smalls has focused her campaign on the MTA and housing, saying that a top priority would be the homelessness crisis, especially women and children. She has shown some unfamiliarity with city government and politics, but has said that her experience, knowledge, and approach to government should win over those who are interested in an outside and not worried if their public advocate doesn’t know every piece of legislation that has gone through the City Council in recent years.

She opposed the Amazon deal, but said her criticisms were on the process, specifically the lack of public comment. In the second debate, she said “I’m the only person on this stage who did not attend an anti-Amazon rally” and that “if New Yorkers wanted to welcome Amazon, we should absolutely welcome Amazon.”

Rafael Espinal (Liveable City)
A City Council member from Brooklyn, Espinal has focused his campaign on making the city more “liveable,” meaning easier to afford, get around, and enjoy. He often touts his record championing the city’s nightlife industry, its workers, and others affected by laws governing it -- his legislation repealed the Cabaret Law, which limited where dancing is allowed in the city and he and others called racist and homophobic.

Espinal has a focus on environmental issues and a forward-looking campaign, with a promise to legislate for a city of the future. He was ardently opposed to Amazon bringing a massive campus to the city, instead calling for investments in small businesses and infrastructure.

Ron Kim (People over Corporations)
A member of the state Assembly from Queens, Kim has focused his campaign on both fighting big corporations such as Amazon and using the office to help cancel out New Yorkers’ student debt. Kim was fully opposed to Amazon coming to New York and has railed against any and all “corporate giveaways” by government.

Kim has said in the effort to attack the student debt issue he would move away from the public advocate office’s typical and core functions, such as being a watchdog over city agencies.

Nomiki Konst (Pay People More)
An activist and journalist who has been involved in a variety of short-term projects, Konst has said she’s a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and has run a far-left campaign. A Bernie Sanders delegate who was named by Sanders to a reform and unity commission of the Democratic National Committee, where she made some waves and developed a larger progressive following (also aided by her appearances on cable television political talk shows), Konst has proposed a $30 minimum wage as the centerpiece of her campaign agenda.

Her campaign is also focused on fighting the power of big real estate (she’s said “real estate developers own this city”) and she has regularly railed against the elected officials in the race, arguing that New Yorkers should elect a true outsider to the role of watchdog, also highlighting her skills as an investigative journalist. She has promised to have public advocate campaign staff spread throughout the five boroughs. Konst recently failed to answer a number of questions about her resume and biography for a Politico New York profile.

Danny O’Donnell (Equality for All)
A member of the state Assembly from Manhattan, O’Donnell was the first openly gay man elected to the state Legislature and a lead sponsor of the Marriage Equality Act in 2011. He touts his independence and says “the public advocate needs to be a loudmouth and that’s what I intend to be on your behalf.”

He says his top priority as public advocate would be to expand the power of the office, such as giving the public advocate subpoena power, and promises a push to “downzone” parts of the city to limit large real estate development and enhance community input on projects. O’Donnell was a steadfast opponent of Amazon coming to Queens.

Eric Ulrich (Common Sense)
A City Council member from Queens and the only Republican elected official in the race, Ulrich says he would be “Bill de Blasio’s worst nightmare” as public advocate.” He promises to hold the mayor and City Council accountable. He often frames his positions, such as support for the Amazon deal and opposition to congestion pricing, as defending the outer boroughs.

He cites his biggest accomplishments as work he has done for the city’s military veterans and for rebuilding in his community, which was especially hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. He’s opposed to closing the Rikers Island jails, but wants to renovate them, and says community jails would make neighborhoods less safe, but could not provide evidence for that theory given that Manhattan and Brooklyn already have downtown jails.

Ulrich calls himself a “Rockefeller” or “Bloomberg” or “moderate” Republican, who is socially progressive and economically conservative. He has been a staunch supporter of women’s reproductive rights and LGBT marriage equality. He has said de Blasio and the City Council have been spending far too much money in the city budget, and will pursue greater oversight on that issue if elected.

Ydanis Rodriguez (Unite for Immigrants)
A City Council member from Manhattan, Rodriguez has top priorities of fighting for immigrants and transit -- he has been the chair of the City Council’s transportation committee for more than five years now. He wants municipal voting rights for immigrants who don’t currently have them, and a bailout for taxi medallion owners.

Rodriguez helped usher through the Inwood neighborhood rezoning, which he says wasn’t perfect but is a positive for the community given the investments it will bring. He also cites his support of the stalled Small Business Jobs Survival Act in the City Council, which would regulate lease renewals for small business in the city. During the campaign Rodriguez received a full-throated endorsement from City Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., who made his latest homophobic remarks while pushing Rodriguez’s candidacy on a radio program. Rodriguez explained he disagreed with Diaz Sr.’s remarks, but did not disavow the endorsement.

***CATCH UP ON ALL GOTHAM GAZETTE COVERAGE OF THE PUBLIC ADVOCATE SPECIAL ELECTION HERE***

Manny Alicandro (Better Leadership)
An attorney, Alicandro is a Republican who argues he is the only true conservative in the race, taking on Ulrich for being more of a moderate. Last year, he unsuccessfully sought his party’s nomination for state Attorney General. His reason for running is that he is “fed up with the dysfunction of city hall.”

“I’m the only pro-Trump candidate in the race,” he’s said, positioning himself as an outsider. His top priorities are fixing the MTA, investigating NYCHA, and addressing the homelessness crisis.

David Eisenbach (Stop REBNY)
Eisenbach is a history professor at Columbia University who unsuccessfully challenged Letitia James in the 2017 Democratic primary for public advocate. He has been highly critical of Mayor de Blasio, saying he has been involved in “pay-to-play” corruption and too much real estate development. He regularly cites what he calls a “small business crisis” in the city and wants to pass the Small Business Survival Jobs Act.

Tony Herbert (Housing Residents First)
Herbert is a community activist and consultant, and an unsuccessful candidate for public advocate in 2017. He points to his experience as a community advisor and activist and has focused his campaign on repairing NYCHA, moving homeless people into affordable housing, and creating a citywide vocational education program.

Benjamin Yee (Community Empowerment)
Yee is an entrepreneur and civic technologist who has worked in and around Democratic politics for roughly a decade, including as secretary of the Manhattan Democratic Party. He has sought to engage more people in local politics through a program to help people run for county committee positions. In recent years he has been teaching civic engagement seminars across the city and he wants to implement a more robust program as public advocate. Most of his platform is centered on engaging and educating members of the public, empowering them to influence city government.

Yee also promises to investigate “bad actors” at the Board of Elections, who he says are responsible for voter purges and election mismanagement. He has criticized the city government for failing to enforce concessions made by developers to communities.

Jared Rich (Jared Rich for NYC)
Rich is a Brooklyn attorney and first-time candidate for office who promises to use the position of public advocate to be “the people’s lawyer.” He has said that he is “a litigator who will fights and a negotiator who will listen.” His priorities as public advocate would be making every school in the city great, attacking the opioid distribution chain, and fixing city housing issues. He has called the current state of public schools “an embarrassment.”

Helal Sheikh (Friends of Helal)
Sheikh is a public school teacher and community activist in Queens. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent City Council Member Eric Ulrich in 2017. His platform covers many of the same issues as his fellow Democrats in the race, but he has put a specific emphasis on addressing the needs of senior citizens.

Latrice Walker (Power Forward)
Walker, a state Assembly member from Brooklyn, dropped out of the race but was not able to remove her name from the ballot.

***CATCH UP ON ALL GOTHAM GAZETTE COVERAGE OF THE PUBLIC ADVOCATE SPECIAL ELECTION HERE***

***WATCH A 15-MINUTE INTERVIEW WITH ONE OR MORE PUBLIC ADVOCATE CANDIDATE(S) HERE***

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette
   

Read more by this writer.

Brendan Rose and Ben Max contributed to this article.

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Last-Minute Guide: How the Public Advocate Candidates Have Tried to Define Themselves Sun, 24 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In Second Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Argue Over Amazon, Insult De Blasio & Make Closing Cases https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8297-in-second-debate-public-advocate-candidates-make-closing-arguments https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8297-in-second-debate-public-advocate-candidates-make-closing-arguments poolnytdebate 002

Candidates at debate #1 (photo: Holly Pickett for The New York Times (pool))


While there were disagreements over the Amazon deal that fell apart and contentious exchanges over their records, the seven candidates for public advocate who debated Wednesday night agreed on a lot, including that Mayor Bill de Blasio should not run for president and instead focus on major challenges in New York City.

With less than a week until the Tuesday, February 26 special election vote, seven of the 17 candidates who will be on the ballot took the stage at Borough of Manhattan Community College for the second of two official, televised debates, broadcast by NY1. The seven candidates -- Nomiki Konst, Michael Blake, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Dawn Smalls, Rafael Espinal, Jumaane Williams, and Ron Kim -- met the financial and endorsement thresholds set by the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

The previous debate, two weeks prior, featured those seven candidates as well as Danny O’Donnell, Ydanis Rodriguez, and Eric Ulrich, the lone Republican and only ardent supporter of Amazon creating a massive campus in Queens among the ten candidates.

After opening statements where candidates reiterated their pitches from prior debates, interviews, and local forums, the first question from moderator Errol Louis had the participants weigh in on the collapse of the Amazon deal, which spurred a lengthy conversation, including prolonged cross-talk at one point, and some of the clearest differentiation of the night among seven mostly left-wing Democrats.

Konst, Espinal, and Kim continued to argue that a deal to bring Amazon’s “HQ2” to the city should not have been pursued, while the other candidates said it should have been done with both better process and outcomes, in some cases talking about the opportunity in more positive terms than they had before the deal fell apart.

There were several tense back-and-forths throughout the hour-and-a-half debate, especially during the “cross-examination” round where candidates each had the chance to ask one opponent a question. That portion repeatedly turned into arguing and, at times, saw the candidate asking a question give a series of attacks before posing their query and the candidate being asked a question deflect by throwing criticism back at the interrogator.

By all measures, Jumaane Williams was treated like the frontrunner that he is widely perceived to be -- several of the other candidates used their questions to target him. Like in the first debate, Mark-Viverito was also the subject of questions and criticism, especially from Konst.

Overall, the candidates largely agreed that Airbnb needs to be strongly regulated but that homeowners should be able to rent out a room here and there, and perhaps even their entire apartments; that the mayor’s housing plan needs to do more for low-income New Yorkers; and that homeless shelters need to be equitably distributed throughout the city. They also mostly agreed that undocumented immigrants should be allowed driver’s licenses and municipal voting rights. On the latter, Mark-Viverito said she almost moved a bill as Council speaker, but that given Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency and anti-immigrant policies, advocates asked her not to move forward.

Asked about whether Mayor de Blasio is qualified to run for president and should do so, all seven candidates took shots at the mayor, some more harsh than others, and said he needs to focus on problems in the city. Kim said de Blasio is “delusional” if he thinks he’s going to be president. "No, he is not qualified to run for president, he should not run for president," said Blake, who worked for President Barack Obama and is a vice chair with the Democratic National Committee.

Like others, Mark-Viverito, a long-time ally of de Blasio who has separated herself from him in recent years, said the mayor needs to focus on running the city, but also said that de Blasio does not really execute unless he’s working on a “pet project” of his own.

Several of the candidates were more shy when asked if they had voted for Williams last year when he ran for lieutenant governor. Four didn’t answer: Konst, Mark-Viverito, Blake, and Smalls. Kim and Espinal said they did vote for Williams, who challenged Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in the Democratic primary.

The debate provided candidates a near-final opportunity to pitch themselves directly to voters and to media that might amplify their message. The public advocate is one of three citywide elected positions, responsible for being a watchdog over city government and an ombudsperson, with the power to introduce legislation to the City Council, and some influence over the public pension system. The public advocate is first in line of succession to the mayor if the mayor is unable to finish his or her term.

Konst, an activist and journalist, targeted the city’s wealth gap and called for higher taxes on the wealthy, and said in her opening that New Yorkers should “elect the next progressive millennial woman.” Blake, a member of the state Assembly, mentioned his “jobs and justice” platform and said it’s essential the next public advocate is “independent of the mayor.”

Mark-Viverito touted her career in activism and record as City Council speaker, including her successful pushes toward closing the Rikers Island jails and reforming how low-level offenses are policed and prosecuted in the city. Against attacks from Konst she defended her record on housing, including by citing the “right to counsel” in housing court law that was passed while she was speaker and has helped reduce evictions significantly.

Smalls, an attorney with experience at high levels of the federal government, differentiated herself as the only mother and attorney on the stage. She cited her campaign focus on helping homeless families get into housing. “I have experience breaking through bureaucracy to get results and that’s what I want to do for New York,” she said.

Espinal, a Brooklyn City Council member who previously served in the state Assembly, cited his experience at two levels of government, and ran through a variety of areas where he believes New York is not “livable” enough and he wants to address, including affordable housing and running small businesses.

Williams cited his combination of activism and legislative accomplishments. He touted his work on affordable housing and said the mayor and other elected officials had not fought hard enough to make housing affordable enough for the people who really need it. He attempted to defend himself against attacks from other candidates, particularly as Mark-Viverito again went after him for having staff members and endorsements from several men who have mistreated women.

Kim reiterated that he is against “corporate giveaways” and said that while the Amazon deal may have been stopped by strong activism, there is more work to do to address the larger pattern. He called for passage of his new legislation that would stop New York from engaging in interstate bidding for companies, and said the answer is to build economic development capacity in communities.

In taking a different approach, Williams said he had been in favor of “engaging” Amazon and wanted “to use the power of the city to see if we can change the worst of their behavior” while attaining jobs for New Yorkers. He, Blake, Smalls, and Mark-Viverito all argued there should have been better leadership by the mayor and the governor.

“My criticism of the Amazon deal was always on the process,” said Smalls.

Mark-Viverito said the Amazon deal was deeply flawed because it did not address the city’s two major crises: affordable housing and transit.

“This is not just about process,” Konst argued. “It’s about an exploitative company with a history and track record for decades of increasing homelessness, not being honest in their deals. They should’ve never been welcomed here.”

“Amazon is a super monopoly,” Kim said, “they are an abusive company and the more we engage them, they’re gonna be emboldened. We need to hold them accountable from the beginning and not court them.”

The election is Tuesday and open to all voters across the city. Also on the ballot beyond the ten candidates mentioned earlier are David Eisenbach, Benjamin Yee, Jared Rich, Tony Herbert, Manny Alicandro, Helal Sheikh, and Latrice Walker, though she has dropped from the race.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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In Second Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Argue Over Amazon, Insult De Blasio & Make Closing Cases Wed, 20 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
7 Candidates Qualify for Second Public Advocate Special Election Debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8290-7-candidates-qualify-for-second-public-advocate-special-election-debate https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8290-7-candidates-qualify-for-second-public-advocate-special-election-debate Public Advocate debate 10 candidates

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


Seven candidates running in the special election for New York City Public Advocate have qualified for the second and final official televised debate, which will take place Wednesday night, just six days ahead of the February 26 election.

There will be 17 candidates on the ballot, 10 of whom qualified for the first televised debate. Now, for the “leading contenders” debate, seven candidates met the threshold set by city law, which includes raising and spending $170,813, according to a spokesperson for the city’s Campaign Finance Board. Candidates made their latest filings to the Campaign Finance Board by midnight Friday.

The seven candidates who will debate Wednesday night on NY1 television are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, attorney Dawn Smalls, activist Nomiki Konst, City Council Members Jumaane Williams and Rafael Espinal, and state Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Ron Kim.

Of the ten candidates who made the first debate, City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Eric Ulrich and Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell did not meet the threshold for the second debate.

To make it into the “leading contenders” debate, the candidates then had till February 11 to raise and spend $170,813 and needed to be endorsed by an elected official representing New York City at the local, state or federal level, or by a membership organization with at least 250 members in the city (a labor union or political club, for instance).

Ulrich, the only Republican at the first debate, Rodriguez, and O’Donnell did not meet the financial threshold for the second debate.

At the first debate on February 6, the ten candidates made their pitches to city voters and weighed in on everything from funding for the MTA and NYCHA to the then-happening Amazon deal, and their disagreements with Mayor Bill de Blasio. To qualify for that debate, the candidates were required to show $56,938 in campaign fundraising and expenditure by the filing due just before the debate.

[Read: In First Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Take on De Blasio, Amazon & Each Other]

The debate at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (February 20) will broadcast by Spectrum News NY1 and will be publicly accessible on NY1’s website and Facebook page. It will also be simulcast by NYC Life, the city’s media channel. The hour-and-a-half debate will again be moderated by Errol Louis of NY1, with questions also coming from Laura Nahmias of Politico New York and Bobby Cuza of NY1.

The public advocate special election was triggered after the former office-holder Letitia James was elected New York State Attorney General. James filled a vacancy created by the resignation of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in the wake of allegations of physical abuse by several intimate partners.

The public advocate is a watchdog over city government and an ombudsperson, with the power to introduce legislation to the City Council. The public advocate is also first in line to the mayor if the mayor is unable to serve out his or her full term. The position helped launch James to become attorney general, and her predeccessor, Bill de Blasio, to become mayor.

The sponsors of the debate include Politico New York, Citizens Union, the League of Women Voters, the Latino Leadership Institute, Borough of Manhattan Community College, NAACP New York State Conference Metropolitan Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., East Kings County Alumnae Chapter.

Beyond the ten candidates who made the first debate, the other candidates on the February 26 ballot will be Benjamin Yee, Manny Alicandro, David Eisenbach, Jared Rich, Tony Herbert, Helal Sheikh, and Latrice Walker, an Assembly member who has dropped out of the race but was unable to have her name removed from the ballot.

The election, open to all registered voters across the city, is expected to be low turnout. The winner will hold the seat at least through the end of this year -- there will be a primary election this June and a general election this November to determine who holds the seat for 2020 and 2021.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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7 Candidates Qualify for Second Public Advocate Special Election Debate Sat, 16 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000