Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1378 Thu, 22 Apr 2021 20:21:32 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Newly-Seated Brooklyn City Council Member Quickly Faces Tough 2021 Primary https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10026-new-brooklyn-city-council-member-darma-diaz-sandy-nurse-2021-primary-election https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10026-new-brooklyn-city-council-member-darma-diaz-sandy-nurse-2021-primary-election East New York CCD37

Former City Council Member Rafael Espinal in the 37th District (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Darma Diaz is one of the newest members of the New York City Council, having recently won the election to represent Brooklyn’s District 37, filling an unexpected vacancy at the beginning of December. But her election did not take place under normal circumstances and now the Democrat must defend the seat that she won unopposed in both the June primary and the November general.

District 37, which covers Bushwick, East New York, Cypress Hills, Ocean Hill, and Brownsville, had been without a City Council member for more than ten months this year after former office-holder Rafael Espinal resigned for a private sector job in January. The vacancy initially prompted a nonpartisan special election, which would have been held in April, but the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the electoral calendar. Governor Andrew Cuomo used his executive power to first suspend the election, and then postponed it to June 23, the same day as the primary election to select a nominee for the same seat. Finally, he cancelled the special election altogether and held only the ‘regular’ primary in June and general in the fall.

Cuomo sowed additional chaos and confusion by amending ballot access requirements, reducing the required number of ballot petition signatures to 30% of the normal threshold, which is 450 for City Council seats. Candidates would only have to gather 135 valid signatures. But, the city Board of Elections subsequently ruled that the executive order did not apply to the District 37 race, which meant that Diaz was the only candidate to qualify for the ballot while four other candidates were invalidated. Legal challenges by the candidates also eventually failed, leaving Diaz a free and clear path to office.

Three of those candidates are now running again in the June 2021 Democratic primary against Diaz and though she now has some advantage of incumbency as well as the backing of some other powerful forces, Diaz’s hold on the seat could be in jeopardy.

A former district leader, Diaz was backed in her bid for office by the Brooklyn Democratic Party and its newly elected leader, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte. The party also supported successful petition challenges against Diaz’s opponents, which prompted broad criticism that she had effectively been installed in the seat in undemocratic fashion. The party is again in her corner for the upcoming election. “Of course, they are backing Darma Diaz,” said Bob Liff, a spokesperson for Bichotte, in an email.

But Diaz faces tough competition, in a primary that will be decided by ranked-choice voting, among the first crop of city special and party primaries using the new system. She is being challenged by Sandy Nurse, a community organizer and carpenter; Rick Echevarria, a former official in the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD); Misba Abdin, a community activist; and Heriberto Mateo, former director of the city’s Commission on Human Rights.

In a phone interview, Diaz said she’s confident about her chances of reelection. “I have 30 years-plus of community service. My record stands for itself,” she said. “I was prepared for a primary, I was prepared for a special. I will continue to act accordingly.”

darma diaz via city councilDiaz (pictured) previously served as director of housing services at a homeless shelter run by Overcoming Love Ministries. Before that, she worked as director of community relations for the State Assembly and also worked as an aide to Assemblymember Daryl Towns.

Diaz pushed back against the criticism levelled at the Brooklyn Democrats and by extension her campaign for the procedural means through which they kicked other candidates off the ballot ahead of the primary earlier this year. “I did not cut any corners. I followed the process known to me, from A to Z,” she said. “I was last man standing because I did everything that I was supposed to do from day one. It's a shame that individuals running against me don't want to give me credit for my service.”

Diaz has about six months to make an impact on the main issues in the district, which she said are “the lack of food equity, housing, safety, education and employment.” And she intends to make her mark by holding Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to its promises under the East New York rezoning of 2016, the first major neighborhood rezoning approved under the mayor’s overarching plan to build and preserve rent-restricted housing in the city while also encouraging economic development and community improvements. Four years on, many of the pledges for housing and job creation have yet to be fulfilled.

Diaz conceded that the rezoning deal was “a little faulty” but was nonetheless proud to support it. “What this opportunity gives me is to have the follow-up conversation with the mayor on the non-deliverables,” she said. “I think that within itself should show that I'm about the people, for the people, and just going from an advocate to being a decision-maker at the table and working towards securing deliverables that were committed to us.”

She’s also creating a housing task force to examine the district’s needs and said she’s reached out to state legislators about securing more money for affordable housing. “To bounce back, to make our community affordable, it's going to take creative thinking,” she said.

Diaz did raise concerns about ranked-choice voting, saying, “there's going to be an educational issue” around informing voters in the district about how it works. A group of Council members sued to delay the rollout of the system, which will happen for a Queens City Council special election in February then other special elections in Queens and the Bronx before the June primary, arguing on similar grounds that it could disenfranchise Black and Latino voters without a sufficient education campaign. A State Supreme Court judge struck down the legal request. Diaz said she would support a delay “simply because our system is not prepared for it. Had covid not hit us and life was normal, I would have been OK with it. But the way it stands now, to me it's a disservice to our voters.”

Of all the other candidates, Nurse appears poised to present the strongest challenge to Diaz, having been backed by a slew of prominent progressive elected officials including Congressional Rep. Nydia Velazquez, State Senators Julia Salazar and Jessica Ramos, Assemblymember Maritza Davila, and City Council Member Antonio Reynoso. Notably, parts of Salazar’s district overlap with the 37th Council District.

Nurse also has the endorsement of the Working Families Party, which can help bolster a candidate’s campaign operation and spend on the candidate’s behalf, and several progressive advocacy groups and political organizations, some of which are part of the WFP, such as Make the Road Action, New York Communities for Change, Citizen Action of New York, Vocal NY Action Fund, the New Kings Democrats, and others. Many of the groups offer volunteers to knock on doors, make phone calls, and hand out campaign literature.

Nurse is running to Diaz’s left on a host of issues including political reform.

“I'm running to really champion some issues that I think are possible to push forward with a brand new city government,” Nurse said in an interview, “really running to guarantee housing, to champion a Green New Deal in New York City, to divest from the prison system, invest in our communities and to ensure our youth are nurtured and engaged and protected.”

As with the other candidates, Nurse emphasized the need for housing and jobs in the district, connected issues that have been drastically affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment jumped to a record high of well over 20% across the city earlier this year before coming down to what is still-crisis level of roughly 13%. An eviction crisis is looming. And District 37, home to working class communities of color, has been hit hard. “Housing is the number one issue in this district. It's the thing that's impacting our young people, one in six of whom are very housing insecure,” Nurse said.

Nurse is among those who have been critical of the East New York rezoning and believes it has only exacerbated the dearth of affordable housing in the district without delivering on the jobs front. “It speaks to what I think is a failed system of incentivizing large private developers in the real estate industry to build affordable housing for us by giving them all sorts of subsidies and tax breaks or rezoning large swaths of land for upscale market rate housing,” she said, echoing a common refrain against the mayor’s rezoning approach.

Earlier this year, Nurse was an organizer in the “defund the NYPD” movement, pushing for a significant reduction in the city’s police department budget -- something she would have a more direct say in if elected to the Council. For the last six months, after being bounced from her prior campaign but launching anew with her eye on June 2021, Nurse has been involved in food aid operations and helping families in dire need of assistance. “The lines are just getting longer and it's really starting to impact people that haven't traditionally had to step into a pantry line or receive food assistance,” she said. It’s the kind of work she would have done as a Council member, she said, and it’s what was particularly necessary as the district lacked representation for months.

Nurse also has a background in local efforts to fight climate change, particularly composting food waste, and has been vocal with criticism of Mayor de Blasio’s decision to cut the organics pick-up program amid this year’s budget crunch.

She said she was “excited” about ranked-choice voting and how it can “allow a lot of different voices and visions to kind of come forward and be seen.” And she seemed to dismiss any concerns that the Brooklyn Democratic Party may again attempt to throw people off the ballot on technicalities. “Machines are gonna machine, right?...If they want to spend time and money and resources on kind of suppressing democracy or engaging in dirty tricks around it, that's what they're gonna do.”

Echevarria says his central concern is the district’s affordable housing crisis, and the first step to addressing it is reorganizing the city’s housing department. He saw first hand how the agency (HPD) functions when he spent a year working as director of the city’s Tenant Interim Lease program. After he was fired, he sued the city in 2017, claiming that he was wrongfully terminated from the agency for blowing the whistle about corruption. The case was settled, according to his campaign website.

In a phone interview, Echevarria said that HPD has failed in its duty of oversight over the preservation of affordable housing, which is “plagued by decades of mismanagement and neglect, and corruption.” He cited the “gross mismanagement” of various housing programs such as the Mitchell-Lama program, the Housing Development Fund Corporation cooperatives program and the Third Party Transfer program.

“I'm the only candidate that has run a housing organization in the district and worked in city government and the housing agency. So, resumé-wise, I don't think the other candidates quite compare to me in terms of my diverse experiences around housing issues,” he said, pointing to his background which includes founding the Bushwick Housing Independence Project and working as a senior manager at CHANGER, an advocacy group. He was also critical of the East New York rezoning. “I would have opposed it...I don't believe in targeting low-income communities like East New York as the introduction for [Mandatory Inclusionary Housing],” he said of the de Blasio change to the city’s land use rules that mandates a percentage of affordable housing in any new housing development when added density is allowed to the developer.

“I'm not a politician, I'm an activist, and I've been working in District 37 for over 20 years, maybe more,” said Abdin, who is cofounder and CEO of Bangladeshi American Community Development & Youth Services, a local nonprofit. He criticized Diaz as just another product of the “nepotism” of the Brooklyn Democratic establishment.

He said his top priorities are education, public safety, and affordable housing, but he had particular gripes about issues of quality of life and crime. He said the community’s needs have gone unfulfilled for decades, “and that's why crime is high, people are living in a very unsafe environment, the education system is failing.” He called for more cops patrolling the streets in the district.

As a resident of East New York for more than 40 years, Abdin said he was dismayed to see how the recent rezoning has made a once crime-ridden neighborhood into an exploitable business opportunity. “This is a business for the developing companies, because they have no more space in the city. So they come into East New York, develop and make money. They [aren’t] concerned about the community and neighborhood...After 20 years of people living and making this community safer, now developers come, they rezone, they want to kick everybody out, which is totally not fair.”

Mateo’s campaign is his second attempt at the District 37 seat, having unsuccessfully run in the 2013 primary, which Espinal won before winning the general election. At that time, Mateo served as director of the New York City Commission on Human Rights. He also previously served as president of Community School Board 19 and president of the Martin De Porres Day Care Center in Bushwick. “I'm running because I believe we need to have real leadership in this community,” he said in a phone interview. “I've been living in this community almost all my life. I know the issues and the concerns.”

Mateo said Diaz has been as “part of the machine all her life” and said she does not have a record of delivering for the district. “I've been fighting against the establishment for so many years, even though I was raised a Democrat,” he added.

He stressed the need to build more affordable housing in the district and to save small businesses that have suffered during the pandemic. “The rent here is going too high to the sky,” he said. If he wins, he said he would create an office dedicated to helping small businesses navigate covid relief assistance and city grant programs.

The Democratic primary is in June. The winner will be heavily favored to win the general election given the district’s overwhelming Democratic voter enrollment advantage, though if she’s unsuccessful in the primary, Nurse could potentially run in the general election only on the Working Families Party ballot line and, in a one-on-one contest versus the primary winner, have another formidable opportunity.

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

Read more by this writer.

Inset Diaz photo via the City Council

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Newly-Seated Brooklyn City Council Member Quickly Faces Tough 2021 Primary Sun, 27 Dec 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Johnson Unveils Plan to Address Hunger and Food Inequity https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8715-johnson-unveils-plan-to-address-hunger-and-food-inequity https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8715-johnson-unveils-plan-to-address-hunger-and-food-inequity 48433082297 f0af3fb88d z

Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Thursday announced a plan to address hunger and the lack of equitable access to fresh food in New York City, laying out a package of legislative proposals that the Council will consider over the next year.

Food insecurity — the absence of or insufficient access to affordable, nutritious food  — affected nearly 1 million New Yorkers as of 2017, according to a new City Council report that Johnson released at Cypress Elementary School in East New York. The school is the first in Brooklyn that has a greenhouse and incorporates nutrition education into the curriculum.

The Council’s report, titled “Growing Food Equity in New York City,” found that food insecurity particularly affects individuals living in poverty, seniors, and people of color, and it pervades higher education — 48% of students at City University of New York said they had experienced food insecurity in the last month.

Johnson, a Democrat who is exploring a run for mayor in 2021, outlined measures that would address neighborhood inequities in access to healthy food through improvements in food governance, reducing food waste, promoting healthy school lunches and nutritional education, and expanding urban agriculture.  

The proposals include the creation of a citywide food plan, a push to help seniors receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (also known as food stamps), and increased city funding for coupons called Health Bucks, which are provided to low-income New Yorkers to buy fresh food at any city farmers market.

“Adequate access to nutritious food is a human right,” Johnson said. “This principle isn’t just for developing countries. It’s something we must follow right here in New York City, one of the richest cities in the world.”

The food equity plan is the latest big policy announcement that Johnson has made since becoming speaker. In March, Johnson proposed a plan for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses, followed in May by a sweeping criminal justice reform agenda. 

As part of the food equity plan, the Council will work to expand existing programs that have already been successful such as Health Bucks, nutrition programs in schools, and lunches cooked from scratch at public schools. One bill would require that schools send information about summer meals programs to families, and another would create an Office of Urban Agriculture that would focus on incorporating city farming and gardening into city planning.

The Council and the Department of City Planning will also work to expand the number of neighborhoods eligible to receive the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) zoning bonus. FRESH offers financial assistance and zoning incentives to grocery stores that provide affordable and fresh food in communities that lack access to nutritional food.

Johnson said the City Council will also advocate at the state and federal level to protect and expand access to SNAP benefits. In June, the Trump administration announced plans to change SNAP eligibility requirements. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly 3 million people would lose their food assistance as a result. Johnson said the Trump administration’s “relentless attacks” on SNAP are an enormous threat to the city as food stamps generate up to $5.3 billion in economic activity and the president’s “fear-mongering” has discouraged some who worry they would lose their immigration status.

“Shame on the federal government for using food as a weapon to disenfranchise vulnerable communities,” Johnson said. “Shame on the Trump administration for denying the rights of food to families and seniors while heavily subsidizing corporate interest.”

The speaker was joined on stage by Council Member Rafael Espinal, a Democrat who represents East New York. Espinal noted that 16% of New Yorkers go to bed hungry every night, and 20% of those city residents live in Brooklyn. The Council member has helped pass legislation that set up the city’s first website dedicated to urban agriculture and authored a bill with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to create a comprehensive urban agriculture plan.

Espinal spoke of his own experiences with food insecurity growing up in East New York. He said healthy food was hard to come by, but his father’s garden helped reduce the number of times his family had to drive for miles to buy fruits and vegetables.

“I grew up learning about soil, harvesting and maintaining produce, eating healthy food, and how to become a healthy adult,” he said. “The majority of kids across New York do not have the same opportunity, and to this day most communities are deprived of this kind of experience.”

Another piece of legislation the council will consider would improve and codify the Office of Food Policy, which the speaker said has been under-resourced. Getting New Yorkers more accessible, healthy food options should be one of the city’s top priorities, Johnson said.

“What I really want to see, and what’s at the heart of the food justice movement, is for all of our communities to have greater control over their food options,” Johnson said. “Food is power. We feel it when we eat it. We feel it when we feed our children. We want that power in the hands of our communities.”

***
by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Johnson Unveils Plan to Address Hunger and Food Inequity Thu, 01 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Adjusts Its Digital Footprint https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8648-city-council-adjusts-its-digital-footprint https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8648-city-council-adjusts-its-digital-footprint lcitycouncilmaykr

CM Espinal, center, with Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


When Corey Johnson took over as Speaker of the New York City Council last year, he quickly took steps to shake up the way the legislative body does business. He created new issue-focused committees and leadership positions, including naming Council Member Rafael Espinal the new Deputy Leader for Digital Communication.

The position was intended to create a more coherent public face for the Council, easing communication with constituents, modernizing the Council’s digital operations, and spreading the gospel of legislative progress to all New Yorkers.

Espinal and Johnson quickly set about overhauling the Council’s digital communications, bringing in a new digital director and consolidating a separate public tech team -- created by the prior Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and reporting directly to her -- into the communications umbrella. In an interview earlier this year, Espinal boasted of the progress made in the first year, though it appears he’s no longer overseeing those efforts.

Over the course of a few weeks early in 2018, Johnson changed the structure and personnel of the Council’s communications team, bringing his own people in, and putting the imprint of his hyperkinetic style across the board.

Johnson and his team, headed by communications director Jennifer Fermino, took an active interest in cultivating the Council’s online presence, through social media, digital campaigns, and data analysis projects aimed at improving how New Yorkers access and interact with the City Council. They flooded the market with Johnson’s busy activities and outgoing personality.

Despite Espinal’s title, which doesn’t appear on his Council member page, he seems to have effectively ceded the role to Fermino, who oversees all aspects of the Council’s central communications. (Fermino was hired after Espinal was named to the position.)

In the 18 months since Johnson took the helm, the Council’s Instagram account has nearly doubled its followers to more than 5,200, the Council gained 13,000 new followers on Twitter, and the speaker’s own newly-created account has almost 18,000 followers. “The Council is proud of the work it has done to digitally reach New Yorkers and educate the public on what we are doing,” Fermino said in an email.

Early on, Johnson faced criticism when he fired several staffers from the Council’s public tech division, created by Mark-Viverito and headed by Erica Gonzalez, a Latina emblematic of Mark-Viverito’s efforts to make the Council more representative of and able to communicate with New Yorkers. The unit led communication efforts directed at communities of color, spreading the first Latina speaker’s message and Council’s work to a broader audience.

In April 2015, Mark-Viverito launched her own precursor effort to improve digital engagement, under a plan called Council 2.0. The Council partnered with Civic Hall, a civic tech business and venue, and redesigned its website, launched a new legislative tracking portal, and an initiative called ‘Council Labs’ meant to test new ideas. “The council must grow into a digitally agile institution that can easily adapt to emerging technology while remaining grounded in our communities," Mark-Viverito said at the time.

During his tenure, Johnson has moved that work along, launching new interactive tools, including maps, and surveys.

A few months into his term, Johnson displayed an ability to use social media to help get things done, launching an online campaign to push for funding the Fair Fares program, which provides half-priced MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. Johnson and his fellow Council members hit the streets to talk to commuters outside subway stations, shooting videos and straight-to-camera testimonials to post to the Council’s Twitter account. Mayor Bill de Blasio, initially hesitant to pony up the funds for the program, eventually relented, giving Johnson an early legacy-making victory.  

The Council also took a data-analytic approach to its website, looking at the pages that New Yorkers tend to visit the most and highlighting them on the homepage, including links to city budget documents, hearing schedules and livestreams, and Council members’ individual pages. The Council central staff has also trained Council members to use Facebook, particularly those who don’t have staff running social media.

In an interview earlier this year, Espinal said he had pushed to create the digital communications position, working with Digital Director Kevin Groh to focus on the entire City Council membership rather than just the Speaker. (Somewhat ironically, Espinal also introduced a bill last year that would limit employers’ digital communications with employees after work hours).

“It was a new position that I wanted to create because I think now more than ever, it’s important for New Yorkers to be able to connect with local government,” Espinal said, citing his own proclivity for social media. 

In line with that effort, the Council’s communications team made tweaks and enhancements to all digital outreach. Every video posted to social media is now captioned and images are posted with alt-text, to make them more accessible to people with disabilities. 

“Now members feel as if they’re a part of the City Council digital communications outreach team,” Espinal said. “There have been more videos made of Council members in specific districts, videos focused on legislation that they’re working on or passing.”

Council members’ work is now highlighted on the Council’s website, linking to albums on the Council’s Flickr account. 

But the digital efforts go beyond fun and interesting photos, they’re used to inform policy, help people understand its effects, and move New Yorkers to get involved, as in the Fair Fares campaign. When tech giant Amazon was attempting to locate a major campus in the city, the Council wanted to know more about its plans and how it would affect the communities in Long Island City, Queens, and beyond.

Prior to holding hearings where Amazon executives testified, the Council solicited questions from the public through the hashtag #AmazonAnswersNYC on Twitter. Johnson posed some of those questions at the hearings, which were particularly tense, and later used Twitter to highlight key testimony. “Real New Yorkers are tweeting questions using #AmazonAnswersNYC and top Amazon executives are answering those questions right now at the @NYCCouncil. That’s accessible and modern government,” Groh tweeted at the first hearing in December.

There’s also a new Data Operations Unit, housed under the legislative division, which creates graphics and charts to make policy proposals more interesting and accessible, and which explores issues empirically to craft bills. A central dashboard of data, for instance, allows New Yorkers to delve into the number and type of 311 call requests made in each Council district. 

The Council has also used data to map out the misuse of city-issued parking placards, complete with 311 complaints, responses, and the bills under consideration to tackle it. They compiled data on lead paint in homes across the city, mapping violations and listing litigation and legislation related to it. When considering a bill to give the Parks Department authority over Hart Island, the potter’s field where the city’s indigent are buried, the data unit laid out its background, the age and location of death of people buried there since 1977, and, of course, the legislative package under discussion.

One can also find data and charts on city schools, school bus delays, physical education in schools, immigrant resources, and the Council’s participatory budgeting program.

“The overall aim and goal here was to make our social media presence a lot easier to digest, to access,” Espinal said, “and also to highlight Council members and make sure that members’ work is being recognized by New Yorkers but also folks like you in the press.”

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

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Adjusts Its Digital Footprint Thu, 27 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +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***

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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.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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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
E-Scooter Companies Ramp Up Lobbying for State and City Authorization https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8293-e-scooter-companies-ramp-up-lobbying-for-state-and-city-authorization https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8293-e-scooter-companies-ramp-up-lobbying-for-state-and-city-authorization birdride inc

(photo: @BirdRide)


With Governor Andrew Cuomo proposing the legalization of electric bikes and scooters in New York and the New York City Council considering several bills to achieve that goal, the two prominent e-scooter firms looking to do business in the state are ramping up efforts to lobby lawmakers and other officials.

Bird and Lime are barnstorming New York with lobbyists as they seek to expand into what could be a massively profitable market. The e-scooter companies have already established a presence in hundreds of cities across the United States and the globe, presenting their products as affordable “micro mobility” alternatives that get people around while reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion.

It’s an appealing argument that has been embraced as part of the broader public transit conversation by many elected officials and transit and street safety advocates, particularly in New York City with its crumbling subway system, slow buses, and crowded streets. And that argument is being spread widely through hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lobbying.

At the state level, Cuomo has proposed giving municipalities the authority to legalize both e-bikes and e-scooters, which many, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, argue would need to happen first if the city is to act.

“Authorizing these transportation alternatives in a sensible and safety conscious manner will provide cheaper and more environmentally friendly transit options to New Yorkers and visitors who can use these options for work or leisure,” said Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, in a statement. The proposal includes mandates for the use of helmets, reflective gear, a bell or horn, and a maximum speed limit.

“It will also attract new businesses and generate job opportunities for New Yorkers, and align the state with many other states and cities that have successfully brought this technology to their residents,” Conwall added.

De Blasio has seemed open to legalizing e-scooters, though he has emphasized that public safety must be the first priority. “If I can see something that will create safety in this city and allow people to use e-bikes or e-scooters, I’m very open to that,” he said at an unrelated news conference in November. But while he is in favor of pedal-assist e-bikes, he has strongly opposed legalizing e-bikes with throttles, citing safety concerns, though without evidence.

At de Blasio’s behest, the NYPD has been cracking down and confiscating e-bikes, which are often used by immigrant delivery workers, and fining individuals and businesses (most of the fines are levied against individuals, as reported by Gothamist in January, contrary to de Blasio’s professed plan to target businesses). Meanwhile, the city launched a pilot dockless-bike program last year in July -- in partnership with Lime, CitiBike, and Jump -- which allowed pedal-assist bikes, which are similar to throttle bikes but run at slower speeds.

Scott Gastel, a city Department of Transportation spokesperson, said the de Blasio administration is reviewing the governor’s proposal. “If the State takes action to provide a local path to legalization, there will be a conversation about what makes sense for New York City,” he said in an email.

The City Council is already pushing that conversation, however, through four bills that were debated at a transportation committee hearing last month where Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg raised concerns about the “unregulated, illegal nature” of e-bikes and “particularly their speeds and irresponsible use by some.”

The bills in question -- sponsored by Council Members Fernando Cabrera and Rafael Espinal -- would remove restrictions against e-scooter and e-bike use, create a program to help throttle-bike owners to convert them to pedal-assist bikes, and create a pilot scooter-sharing program.

“Legalizing electric scooters and throttle electric bikes may seem like distinct issues, but they share a common theme: transit equity,” said Espinal, in a statement, “the principle that all people – particularly marginalized communities – deserve affordable, accessible, and safe transit options that get them where they need to go, whether that be for a job, a social engagement, or anything else.”

For certain City Council members, lobbying by e-scooter firms has presented a golden opportunity to attach e-bikes to the conversation, providing what they say is much-needed justice for immigrant delivery workers who have suffered under de Blasio’s crackdown.

“There’s no doubt that the reason that we’re talking about e-bikes today again is because of the money and the power that has been wielded by these tech companies, these e-scooter companies,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, in a brief interview outside City Hall. Menchaca has been among the most vocal critics of the mayor’s enforcement policy on e-bikes, calling the crackdown “discriminatory.”

Over the last year, Bird Rides Inc. has hired several firms to represent its interests including Blue Suit Strategies, Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz, the Mirram Group, Dickinson Avella Vidal, and Tusk Strategies, which has close ties to Council Speaker Johnson and is known for its successful effort in helping the ride-hailing service Uber avoid new regulations in New York City in 2015 (those regulations did pass in 2018).

David Estrada, Bird’s chief legal officer, is among several Bird employees who have also registered as lobbyists in New York. By the end of 2018, Bird had spent about $142,000 on its lobbying effort, according to city and state lobbying records.

Those efforts are ongoing and Bird signed retainer agreements with several of firms to work throughout this year. Blue Suit, for instance, signed an agreement to be paid $3,000 each month through March 2019 to lobby before city officials. Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz signed on for a $6,500 monthly retainer through the end of the year. The Mirram Group’s contract, which extends till August, is expected to cost $10,000 per month. Ostroff Associates is expected to receive $5,000 each month till the end of July. And Tusk Strategies’ contract was the costliest, at $25,000 per month for the full year.

Neutron Holdings, Lime’s parent company, similarly hired James F. Capalino & Associates, Urban Strategies, and Yoswein New York to lobby local and state officials for both e-scooter legislation and for expanding its dockless bike share service into New York.

“We are working with both state and city officials to improve transportation options for all New Yorkers,” said Phil Jones, Lime’s senior director of East Coast Government Relations & Strategic Development, in a statement. “Shared dock-free scooters can make transportation reliable and affordable for all New Yorkers—especially underserved communities that do not have easy access to mass transit.”

The company had already spent about $146,000 by the end of last year and plans more. Capalino & Associates’ contract runs through the end of 2019 with a $10,000 monthly retainer. Urban Strategies was retained to work for the company through the end of May for $5,000 each month.

Menchaca is adamant that e-scooter legalization should only happen along with e-bikes, and the e-scooter firms also seem on board since it advances their interests. “I was very clear from the beginning...that we’re not even talking about e-scooters till we figure out what’s going on with the e-bikes and fix that problem,” he said. “They understood that so they’re gonna play...They’re savvy. We’ll do it together.”

And he seemed to partly excuse the de Blasio administration, even as he criticized the “discriminatory focus from the NYPD” on immigrant workers. “We can’t move that much because of the state, the state needs to move to unlock our ability to legislate this,” he said. “So I wouldn’t say that the administration’s not listening.”

Does the mayor really care? “I think we’re gonna make the mayor care,” Menchaca said.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso sees the issue as indicative of a larger de Blasio problem. “The way we’re thinking about it is we’re gonna leverage the lobbying effort made by the e-scooters to make sure that we get justice for the e-bike folks,” he said in a brief interview in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

“I think it’s less about whether or not the mayor cares about lobbyists and immigrants and more about the mayor just being bad on transportation policy,” he added. “Let’s put it in perspective. Who it affects, how it affects them is kind of second to the mayor not understanding that he’s a proponent of car culture in a significant way. So whether it’s e-scooters or e-bikes, I think to him, who’s advocating for it is second to just bad policy.”

De Blasio finds himself increasingly isolated in his position. E-scooters and e-bikes are one of those rare issues where the interests of transit and street safety advocates on the ground line up with those of large firms with a profit incentive.

“It is indeed disturbing to continue to see Mayor de Blasio...continuing to criminalize the use of an e-bike which is an efficient, sustainable mode of transportation,” said Marco Conner, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, in a phone interview he gave while riding a CitiBike, the bike-sharing program that de Blasio has expanded and which started to offer pedal-assist bikes as part of the city’s L-train shutdown mitigation plans. “Meanwhile, he’s en route to inviting e-scooter-share companies and has also legalized pedal assist e-bikes.”

Conner said the mayor’s argument that e-bikes are illegal and so the NYPD must enforce the law doesn’t hold water, particularly considering the mayor’s rhetoric about making New York the “fairest big city in America” with strong “sanctuary city” protections. The crackdown, he noted, exposes low-wage immigrants to the criminal justice system, opening them up to potential interactions with immigration authorities. “Every New Yorker jaywalks daily. Police officers jaywalk daily,” Conner said. “That’s illegal under local statute but you don’t see that kind of targeted crackdown.”

He also suggested that the city should institute a buy-back program for e-bike owners, similar to the NYPD’s regular gun buy-backs that take guns off the streets.

Conner did have concerns, however, about the governor’s legalization proposal, particularly the helmet and reflective clothing requirements, which he said are “well-intended” but would discourage the use of e-bikes and e-scooters. It would also harm the existing CitiBike program, which doesn’t require either, he pointed out.

“Helmet sharing is not a thing and will never be a thing,” he said, while the reflective clothing rule is “a recipe for subjective and racially disparate enforcement.” The governor’s proposal also gives motor vehicles the right of way over e-bike and e-scooter riders, which Conner said should be reversed.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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E-Scooter Companies Ramp Up Lobbying for State and City Authorization Tue, 19 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
Opposing Responses to Cashless Retail on Docket for City Council Hearing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8277-opposing-responses-to-cashless-retail-on-docket-for-city-council-hearing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8277-opposing-responses-to-cashless-retail-on-docket-for-city-council-hearing cm rtorres funding

Council Member Ritchie Torres (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


The polarizing issue of local retailers going cashless has gotten the attention of New York City Council members, and on Thursday a Council committee will hear testimony on the topic and consider competing legislative proposals.

The Committee on Consumer Affairs and Business Licensing, chaired by Council Member Rafael Espinal, a Brooklyn Democrat, will hear the bills for the first time. One, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, would outright ban retailers from not accepting cash. The other, sponsored by Council Member Fernando Cabrera, would require cashless retail establishments to display conspicuous signage to alert consumers that they are card-only before they get to the register. Both Torres and Cabrera are Bronx Democrats.

After Torres introduced his bill last fall, it generated widespread media coverage and ignited a debate on the convenience of credit and debit cards versus how refusing cash excludes individuals without plastic. Notably, as of Tuesday afternoon, Torres’ bill has 18 co-sponsors in the 51-seat Council, including committee chair Espinal. Cabrera, along with Council Member Andrew Cohen, also a Bronx Democrat, are the lone sponsors of his bill.

Cashless retail establishments are seen as problematic for the “unbanked” or “underbanked,” those without bank accounts and those without easy access to banks, respectively. In 2015, an Urban Institute study surveying New Yorkers found that nearly 12 percent, or 360,000 households, did not have bank accounts. The finding is higher than the approximately 8 percent of Americans nationwide who are unbanked. An additional 25 percent, or 780,000 New York households are underbanked, the study found, compared to the 20 percent of underbanked Americans across the country.

Shoppers in the U.S. are expected to generate 190 billion cashless transactions this year, including e-commerce, according to Kristen Regine, a professor of marketing at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I. She cites millennials as leading the way on the consumer side, but the move is likewise a matter of convenience for retailers.

“A lot of people think money is dirty and they don’t want to touch and deal with it. For retailers, it’s more labor intensive to deal with, to reconcile the days’ end transactions. And for the retailer thinking about line queue, it’s swipe and go and quicker to get through the line. In some places you’re not even signing your name anymore,” said Regine. “In areas where there’s a lot of traffic and robberies, it’s safer for the person working behind the counter not to have cash.”

The growing trend of exclusively requiring plastic or mobile pay, like Apple Pay, for purchases is here locally, with fast casual chains such as Sweetgreen and Dig Inn, or higher-end restaurants such as Danny Meyer’s epicurean empire adopting the policy.

Cabrera also sees this as part of the trend Regine described. “This is not new, this is not someday, this is the now. And if that’s their business model, and they have taken into consideration the potential they could lose a few customers, you know, that’s their business model. My bill basically gives them the freedom to use their business model, but at the same time, gives strong consideration to the customers to be able to know right off the bat that business will accept cash or not,” said Cabrera.

Torres, seeking to ban establishments from going cashless, is more concerned with inequality baked into cashless policies. “If you have the money you should be able to use it. Cash is the great equalizer and the universal mode of currency. Not everyone accesses credit or debit, but everyone uses cash at some time in their life,” said Torres. “In New York City, we have a historic opportunity to set a national precedent for rest of country to follow.”

As for the country, according to Regine, over 40 percent of U.S. adults don’t carry cash. “It’s just kind of our way of life,” she said.

Yet, both Cabrera and Torres want to account for that other 60 percent, which may be higher in New York City given the unbanked population. Thursday’s hearing will provide insights into where their legislation may be headed. But, there won’t be any votes on Thursday. The Council committee will hear the bills and testimony from whomever has been invited or signs up to discuss the legislation, such as business owners and consumers. Then the bills will be laid over in committee, at which point they can be tweaked within the Council, or not, and picked back up for a vote by the committee. If successful in committee, a bill heads to the full Council for a vote.

Both Council members are cautiously confident their bills will move forward for a vote. “I believe we’re going to get this through. It’s a common-sense bill,“ said Cabrera.

Torres slightly hedged his bet. “There’s no telling what will happen in a City Council meeting,” he said, adding, “I see a clear path of passage for the bill.”

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Opposing Responses to Cashless Retail on Docket for City Council Hearing Tue, 12 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
In First Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Take on De Blasio, Amazon & Each Other https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8263-in-first-debate-public-advocate-candidates-take-on-de-blasio-amazon-each-other https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8263-in-first-debate-public-advocate-candidates-take-on-de-blasio-amazon-each-other Public Advocate debate Feb 6 2019

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

(l-r) Danny O'Donnell, Jumaane Williams Michael Blake, Rafael Espinal, Erich Ulrich, Ron Kim, Ydanis Rodriguez, Dawn Smalls, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Nomiki Konst


With 10 candidates on stage and less than three weeks until election day, there were some sharp elbows at the first of two televised debates Wednesday night in the race to be the city’s next Public Advocate. The citywide special election is February 26.

The candidates, including eight current or former elected officials, debated for two hours on NY1, discussing where they disagree with Mayor Bill de Blasio, what should be done about the crises enveloping public housing and public transit, whether they support the deal to bring an Amazon campus to Queens, and much more. There was a lot of finger-pointing on NYCHA and the MTA, among the city and state elected officials on the stage, and from them at the mayor and the governor.

Most of the candidates agreed on a lot, while at times there were slight degrees of disagreement among the nine Democrats, while the lone Republican, City Council Member Eric Ulrich, was often more of an outlier. On some issues, like what to do about admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and whether the city should have control of the subways and buses, there was more diversity of opinion. The candidates mostly agreed that the Amazon deal was done in a bad process and took an unacceptable form, with too much secrecy and subsidy; that there should be a congestion pricing program implemented in the city; and that the city needs to kick in more funding for the MTA.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former City Council speaker, was the candidate most frequently attacked by opponents, perhaps indicating her status as a perceived frontrunner, while City Council Member Jumaane Williams, also thought to be at the head of the pack, was also targeted on multiple occasions, including by Mark-Viverito and state Assembly Member Michael Blake over where Williams has stood on abortion and marriage equality.

The debate provided a venue for voters to get to know 10 of the 17 candidates who will be on the ballot, how they come across in such a setting, and their positions on a wide range of issues. The job the candidates are applying for is supposed to be a watchdog over city government and an ombudsperson to whom regular New Yorkers can go with complaints and looking for assistance. The public advocate has the power to introduce legislation to the City Council. 

Along with Mark-Viverito, Williams, Ulrich, and Blake, the other candidates in the debate were journalist Nomiki Konst, attorney Dawn Smalls, City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Rafael Espinal, and Assembly Members Danny O’Donnell and Ron Kim.

For those who want a public advocate inclined to use the bully pulpit the position provides, a debate may provide special insight. While all of the candidates spoke with energy and passion, Mark-Viverito and Konst were especially assertive, including arguing with each other at times, even as they sat inches away from one another. Konst argued that her skills as an investigative journalist and her lack of ties to the political system uniquely qualify her to be the public advocate, and said that the position needs a non-politician.

“The public advocate needs to be a loudmouth on your behalf,” O’Donnell said in his opening statement, though the long-time representative of the Upper West Side and former public defender was one of the more passive participants in the debate, staying out of the fray and repeatedly stating his agreements with Smalls, who was also mostly on the sidelines when there were pockets of open discussion or back-and-forths among candidates.

O’Donnell did point to reasons New Yorkers should trust his independence, like his refusal to sign a letter asking Amazon to come to New York and his efforts leading ethics investigations in the Assembly. Smalls highlighted her work in the Obama administration and her plan to focus on helping homeless families if elected public advocate.

“I’m concerned about the direction of our city,” Espinal said early on. “As a born and raised New Yorker, I feel that the city that never sleeps is getting tired. Tired of the broken MTA, tired of the cost of living, tired of seeing community gardens and green spaces being bulldozed.”

Along with the MTA, NYCHA, and Amazon, affordability was a consistent theme throughout the night. Mark-Viverito, Williams, Blake, and others talked about increasing affordable housing in the city, while Smalls said the city must prioritize homeless families with young children when housing those coming out of shelters. O’Donnell called for down-zoning across the city so that development would only happen with more community input, Konst repeatedly said the power of big real estate interests was suffocating the city, and Kim railed against corporate giveaways.

For those who might want their public advocate to be a strong legislator, the debate offered some help, especially with so many current or former lawmakers on stage. Candidates were able to highlight legislative accomplishments or offer plans for a bill they would introduce if elected, but not all of them spoke in detail about their legislative records.

Ulrich cited his bill to create the city’s Department of Veterans Affairs (making it an agency, not just an office within the Mayor’s Office) and said he would push for the public advocate’s office to have more teeth -- something O’Donnell and Konst agreed with, while Blake said the public advocate should get a seat on the MTA Board. Rodriguez said he would push a bill to allow immigrants with green cards and work permits to be able to vote in local elections. Konst said she would champion a $30 minimum wage for city workers and employees at companies with more than 75 employees.

Williams highlighted his vote against a city program to mandate affordable housing units in upzoned properties or neighborhoods, and criticized Mark-Viverito for ushering it through the Council when she was speaker, a move she said she was proud of, given that Mandatory Inclusionary Housing was a historic progressive change in the city’s land use rules. Williams believes it didn’t go far enough.

If holding the mayor, especially the current mayor, accountable is important to you as a voter, the candidates had plenty of opportunity to explain their approach to that part of the job. Asked for one major policy disagreement with Mayor de Blasio, the candidates gave a variety of answers.

Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally for most of his first term, said that she had many disagreements with him. After having said in her opening statement that she had pushed the mayor on closing the Rikers Island jails and “decriminalizing” low-level, non-violent offenses, she later said a “major flaw” of the de Blasio administration “is the lack of serious community engagement in major decisions that are being made.”

Konst and Kim cited the Amazon deal, while she also mentioned neighborhood rezonings as a major area of disagreement with the mayor. O’Donnell said similarly, citing overdevelopment.

Williams said no one who knows him doubts his willingness to call out the mayor, but said he’s also worked with de Blasio on a lot, before focusing in on policing. “We’re better than where we were,” he said. “It’s a low bar but we’re better.” Still, Williams said, on NYPD transparency and accountability, de Blasio had failed.

Blake took issue with the theme of de Blasio’s tenure, saying the mayor’s approach to “equity” was off in a variety of ways. “We should be building schools, not jails,” he said. He also mentioned lead paint in NYCHA, a topic on which he pointed to Mark-Viverito, who defended her record on the issue by citing increased funding, creating a Council committee to focus on public housing, and more. It was one of several tense exchanges where Mark-Viverito forcefully defended herself. In other instances, Espinal challenged her about constituent support in her district and Konst took her on over her support for the East Harlem rezoning.

Rodriguez said the mayor’s lack of support for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which would institute new rules about commercial tenant leasing, was a source of frustration, and he also used the moment to say that Mark-Viverito had not been willing to allow a hearing on the bill as speaker, whereas her successor, Corey Johnson, did.

Ulrich, as expected, separated himself most clearly from his opponents on issues, especially in his opposition to closing the Rikers Island jail complex, his support for Amazon to come to Queens, and his opposition to congestion pricing (all the other candidates said yes to congestion pricing). He also claimed that he would be Mayor de Blasio’s “worst nightmare” as public advocate.

“Right now we have an absentee mayor who seems more interested in raising his national profile and running for president even than he is actually tending to the day to day affairs of the city and addressing city problems,” Ulrich said early on.

Ulrich did have to defend himself at times -- after he referred to those on Rikers as “criminals,” several of his opponents jumped in to remind him that most of the people held in the city’s jails are pre-trial, not convicted of any crime, and often incarcerated because they cannot pay bail. And, Ulrich was asked by Smalls during the cross-examination round to explain whether he supports President Donald Trump, to which he answered that he did not support Trump in the 2016 Republican primary (he backed John Kasich) and disagrees with him on many issues, including a woman’s right to choose, while also listing areas he agrees with him on, like pursuing economic growth and supporting law enforcement.

Both Blake and Mark-Viverito put Williams on the defensive about his support, or lack thereof, for a woman’s right to choose and for marriage equality. Williams has said in the past that he grew up with more conservative, religiously-founded views on those issues but that he has evolved, also at times saying that while he may have a personal view on one or the other issue, that his voting record showed he was consistently supportive of abortion and LGBT rights.

All three of Blake, Williams, and Mark-Viverito were attacked by others for having signed the 2017 letter wooing Amazon, though all three have taken exception to the deal that was reached. Espinal said no one who signed the letter should be elected public advocate, noting that issues with Amazon that have come up during the recent public debate were well-known to those who did their “homework.”

Mark-Viverito said the process getting to the deal was “anti-democratic,” while Williams said signing the letter did not mean taking Amazon under any circumstances, and Blake said there are a variety of “dramatic changes” needed to improve the deal to make it acceptable, such as guarantees around local hiring and unionization.

The debate was moderated by NY1's Errol Louis, who was accompanied in asking questions by NY1's Grace Rauh and Laura Nahmias of Politico New York.

The second debate in the special election will be Wednesday, February 20. It is unclear how many candidates will qualify.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify that Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said he would introduce a bill allowing only immigrants with green cards and work permits to vote in local elections, not all immigrants. 

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In First Debate, Public Advocate Candidates Take on De Blasio, Amazon & Each Other Wed, 06 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000