Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2036 Sat, 15 Aug 2020 15:11:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) State Budget Negotiations are Focused on the Wrong Priorities; We Need an Emergency Coronavirus Package https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9256-new-york-state-budget-negotiations-wrong-priorities-need-emergency-coronavirus-package https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9256-new-york-state-budget-negotiations-wrong-priorities-need-emergency-coronavirus-package Robert Carroll State Assembly

Assemblymember Carroll, the author (photo: New York State Assembly)


In a few days the New York State Legislature will pass a new state budget. In a normal year, this is the most consequential task the Legislature does. In a crisis year, it may be the last thing we do.

What we do now could help New Yorkers weather the storm. Unfortunately the discussions we are having, which are few, are emphasizing the wrong issues.

To understand New York’s politics, one must understand that New York’s budget is not just dollars and cents, but also a way to enact legislation. In normal years, this is a poor way to run government because it stifles debate and lacks transparency. In a year where the Legislature cannot meet in large groups and advocates and stakeholders are quarantined, it is downright anti-democratic.

Currently, via text and conference calls, the Legislature is discussing Medicaid cuts and big policy decisions like legalization of marijuana and gestational surrogacy, and rolling back bail reform. This is frustrating and frightening. Governor Cuomo has done a phenomenal job in responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, but he is acting like this year’s budget process is no different than last year’s.

There is a common-sense solution to this problem. Push off major policy debates and legislation that are not connected to COVID-19.

This includes policy issues I support, like the legalization of adult use marijuana and surrogacy, and issues I don’t support, like rolling back bail reform or creating new criminal penalties. Rolling back bail reform is especially distressing since we know jails and prisons are particularly vulnerable to epidemics. No one deserves to die from coronavirus, but it would be especially tragic if individuals held in detention died awaiting trial on minor charges. Sticking to criminal justice, Governor Cuomo should be bold and release prisoners who have served at least 50% of their sentence and are vulnerable to COVID-19 due to age or underlying health conditions. Our prisons are bad enough, we should not allow them to become death traps.

Thankfully, the governor has moved the presidential primary from April 28 to June 23, but now the Legislature must act to protect every New Yorker and ensure participation in our elections by mailing every New Yorker a ballot for the primary and general elections.

Second, we should suspend rent payments for the next 90 days for residential and commercial tenants who lost their job or business due to coronavirus. Landlords should get a similar reprieve from mortgage payments in an amount consistent with their lost rent. The governor already barred foreclosures and evictions for 90 days, this is the logical next step.

Third, we should require insurance companies to honor business interruption insurance. It is unconscionable that insurance companies that were bailed out in 2008 won’t pay out business interruption policies because they say “viruses” were either explicitly carved out of policies or because adjusters claim a “virus” is not a “physical” interruption.

Last and most importantly, we cannot cut Medicaid. Yes you heard that right – the current state budget plan, as outlined by the governor, would cut Medicaid funding to some of our neediest communities and hospitals. What we need to do is increase funding to our hospitals and other critical pieces of infrastructure that are currently taxed or are facing severe deficits, like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

The only way to do that is to raise taxes. Raise them on second homes over $5 million, raise them on individual earners over $1 million, raise them on luxury goods, or charge fees on non-essential online deliveries. No matter what we do, we need the revenue because the federal stimulus has not addressed lost state revenue.

In the last 20 years, New York lost thousands of hospital beds because of a medical system that is built on profit. Land that was valuable was sold to real estate speculators and hospital beds were lost. We had our priorities out of whack. Let’s not do it again. Governor Cuomo, if you are able to do all that and get the Legislature to go along with it, #CuomoForPresident will no longer just be trending on Twitter and might just become a reality.

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Assemblymember Robert Carroll is a Democrat who represents Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Ditmas Park, and other neighborhoods. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn.

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

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State Budget Negotiations are Focused on the Wrong Priorities; We Need an Emergency Coronavirus Package Sun, 29 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Time for Public Power for New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9077-time-for-public-power-for-new-york-energy https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9077-time-for-public-power-for-new-york-energy crowds gather witness

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


New York’s Public Service Commission recently approved another rate hike for Con Edison, as it does every three years. This hike will increase electric rates by 13% and gas rates by 22% over the next three years.

Con Edison won. Like always, it requested and was granted its rate hike. It doesn't matter that New Yorkers already pay the second highest municipal rates in the country. Nor the $200 million for new fossil-fuel infrastructure baked into Con Ed's request. Despite this, state regulators are once again allowing them to increase rates and their return on investment. The regulators ignored that Con Edison has been absolutely disastrous for New Yorkers.

Last year, hundreds of thousands experienced blackouts, brownouts, and shutoffs. Some of these happened on the hottest days of the year. And they mostly happened because Con Ed hasn't done routine grid maintenance. But when you are an unaccountable monopoly, profits to your shareholders will always win out over safety and health.

The reason Con Ed is so profitable is simple, we allow them to be. It cannot fail financially because it is a privately-owned monopoly providing an essential service: energy. For this, state regulators don't care if projects complement or harm New York's goals of reducing our carbon footprint. To regulators, there is no difference between a solar farm or a new fracked gas pipeline. For Con Ed, new fracked gas pipelines are easier and cheaper to connect to the existing grid, so with their contractually guaranteed return, they choose and advocate for a gas pipeline over a microgrid every time. In this rate case Con Ed did just that!

And don't get us started on the coercive actions of National Grid, whose self-imposed gas moratorium hurt thousands of New Yorkers. This phony crisis was all an attempt to bully New York into approving another dirty fracked natural gas pipeline. Luckily, National Grid lost, but it is still asking for a rate increase of over 17% this year.

The science tells us that we have a decade to shift from a fossil-fuel based economy to one of renewables. That won't happen with Con Ed or National Grid. Only one PSC Commissioner, Tracey Edwards, had the courage to break the insane cycle of ever- increasing rate hikes coming at the expense of the environment. In voting against this increase she said, "I can't support it because I want to just push us [the state] further and further to go faster and faster [toward renewable energy].” She's right. Con Ed and National Grid have proven that they will not get us there. They have proven that profits and shareholders come before our environment and ratepayers. 

That is why there is only one thing for New York to do: make our utilities and electric generation publicly owned, 100% renewable, and democratically controlled.

First, New York should invest in the necessary energy generation to make all state-owned properties 100% renewable by 2025.

Second, turbocharge renewable energy production by allowing the New York Power Authority to own renewable energy production. With our current for-profit model, New York generates only 5% of our energy from wind and solar. To meet the state's codified climate goals, and to face environmental realities we need to do much better. Direct investment and ownership of renewable energy production is the only way to make a meaningful change. 

Finally, consolidate the privately-owned downstate utilities into the Downstate Power Authority, a democratically-controlled and publicly-owned utility.

This publicly-owned distribution utility will provide rates cheaper than what we pay now, while having democratic oversight. With this, we will finally have a distribution utility run for and by the rate-payers.

If we do these three things we will transform our energy system into one that recognizes the scale of the environmental crisis we face. We know our current utilities have no interest in being part of this transition. That is why we have introduced three bills that will give power to the people by bringing Public Power to New York.

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Robert Carroll represents the 44th Assembly District in the New York State Assembly. Aaron Eisenberg is a climate activist with the NYC Democratic Socialists of America. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn & @ae53 of @nycdsa_climate.

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

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Time for Public Power for New York Sun, 26 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
State Lawmakers Criticize Campaign Finance Commission Results While Legislative Leaders Stay Mum https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8960-state-legislators-criticize-campaign-finance-commission-outcomes-while-legislative-leaders-mum-cuomo-heastie https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8960-state-legislators-criticize-campaign-finance-commission-outcomes-while-legislative-leaders-mum-cuomo-heastie state legislators hearing

(photo: @FairElectionsNY)


A state commission charged with creating a system of public financing for state elections has prompted harsh rebukes from several state legislators for proposing what they say is watered down campaign finance reform and for ostensibly advancing a political agenda that targets longtime critics of Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The New York State Public Campaign Financing Commission was appointed by Cuomo and state legislative leaders after a failure of consensus on overhauling the state’s campaign finance system. It was tasked in state law to create a public campaign finance system and, per Cuomo’s goals, to examine political party qualifications.

Advocates have long called for a setup at the state level modelled on New York City’s successful public matching funds system, which incentivizes candidates to seek small dollar donations rather than relying on wealthy contributors, includes low maximum individual contributions, requires a great deal of transparency, and comes with robust oversight.

But the system proposed by the commission, in its final vote on Monday, fell short of the expectations of advocates and reform-minded legislators. Though it voted to reduce contribution limits across the board for statewide and legislative seats, candidates will still be able to raise vast amounts of private money for elections. For instance, the limits for statewide candidates were reduced from about $70,000 to $18,000 for a full election cycle. But that is more than three times higher than the $5,400 that a candidate for president can raise in a cycle.

Unless the state Legislature returns to amend the commission’s recommendations within three weeks, the system will be adopted. The Legislature could, however, choose to pass new campaign finance laws and tweak the program in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

The commission also approved a higher threshold for parties to obtain a ballot line, increasing it from 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election to 130,000 votes every two years, and increased the ballot petition signature requirement for statewide candidates from 15,000 to 45,000. To observers, the ballot threshold change in particular seemed intended to kneecap third parties like the Working Families, Conservative, and Green Parties and appeared to be carried out at the behest of Cuomo, who has feuded with the WFP for years. But that controversial mission was also carried out with at least the acquiescence, if not full support, of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, both Democrats, as is Cuomo.

Yet several Democratic Assembly members and Senators from New York City were displeased by the recommendations the commission made and the process through which its work was carried out over the last several months and quickly made their concerns known.

Queens Senator Jessica Ramos, a progressive elected last year with support from the WFP, took to Twitter to air her criticism of the commission’s proposals, as did other legislators. “We worked HARD last session to fix NY’s broken electoral system. We made it easier to vote & got closer to a people-powered government. The Public Finance Commission's vote is a disservice to our democracy & will eliminate @NYWFP. We need to engage more voters, not limit them!,” she tweeted.

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou of Manhattan agreed with Ramos, simply tweeting “Yup” in response.

Senator Julia Salazar of Brooklyn tweeted, “This is shamefully undemocratic. We need to act swiftly in the legislature to reject it.”

Brooklyn Assemblymember Walter Mosley tweeted that the party qualification issue should never have been on the commission’s agenda. “Third parties are an essential part of the electoral system in New York, shining light on important issues that otherwise may not get the attention they deserve,” he wrote, calling the proposals “unacceptable” and promising to oppose an increase in the threshold for ballot access. “We should be making it easier for third parties to make it on the ballot, not harder,” he wrote.

In a series of tweets, Assemblymember Bobby Carroll of Brooklyn cited his “no” vote on this year’s state budget deal because of the inclusion of the “poison pill” provision on the state campaign financing commission. “I have said it from the beginning that this commission was rotten! Now we just know how rotten,” he tweeted. “This isn’t a public matching program this is a farce. The legislture (sic) needs to take back control.”

Manhattan Assemblymember Harvey Epstein tweeted, “Deeply concerned w Public Campaign Financing Commission’s vote to recommend legislation riddled w inadequacies, including overly high contrib caps at every level & a measure to kill minor parties."

In response, Manhattan Assemblymember Richard Gottfried wrote, "Protect voters & 3rd parties. The Legislature must reject the commission scheme!"

Brooklyn Assemblymember Jo Ann Simon tweeted, "I’m disappointed w/the Public Campaign Financing Commission’s vote to make it more difficult for minor parties to access a ballot line. We need a special session to address this, the still-too-high contribution limits, & limiting matching donations to a candidate’s district only."

Bronx State Senator Alessandra Biaggi has repeatedly let her disappointment be known. She credited the commissioners for their service but said she does not like the product, writing in part, "The Commission was created to put forth a plan that empowers everyday NYers & reduces the influence of money in our politics – the existing proposal only scratches the surface in achieving that aim, failing to significantly lower contribution limits." Biaggi also cited a "political agenda" at play in the attempt to "increase barriers for third parties."

"This proposal is half-baked & does not reflect the vision of the NYer who testified at the Commission’s hearings, & who raised their voices throughout this entire process," Biaggi continued. "The Legislature now has the responsibility to fulfill our promise to the people and get the job done."

In a phone interview, Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera reiterated his call for the Legislature to vote on a “clean bill” on campaign finance reform. “I'm terribly disappointed, but I'm certainly not shocked,” he said of the commission’s recommendations.

Rivera blamed the governor’s machinations for derailing the process. “The governor, sadly, does not really care about establishing a campaign finance system. All he cares about is getting even with the folks who are his political rivals. That is his M.O.,” he said.

The “pièce de résistance” he said, was the ballot access threshold requirement, “which is ultimately, with a wink and a nod, trying to get rid of the WFP, which is really what this was about from the beginning.”

“The overwhelming majority of people made it very clear that they should create a campaign finance system that actually tries to at least minimize the impact of big money but that they should steer away from third parties, from fusion voting altogether. All those folks were ignored,” he said.

It’s unclear whether legislative leaders have any intention to support the idea of modifying the binding proposals. Assembly Speaker Heastie’s appointees on the commission generally went along with Cuomo’s appointees, while those commissioners appointed by Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins tended to break from the pack.

Heastie’s office did not return a request for comment about the commission’s plan. Carolina Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Stewart-Cousins, referred Gotham Gazette to comments the senator made in a November 22 interview with WXXI News’ Karen DeWitt. “I’m not trying to destroy parties or make it impossible,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I definitely know, however, that we must reform our campaign finance (system).” She said she would prefer the party conversation to be separate from the campaign finance one, but also seemed open to legislative tweaks come January.

A spokesperson for Senator Mike Gianaris, the deputy majority leader, acknowledged a request for comment but did not provide one by publishing time. Senator Liz Krueger’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Jonathan Timm, a spokesperson for Senator Zellnor Myrie, declined additional comment until the commission’s recommendations are formally released. “Senator Myrie has made clear his support for public financing of campaigns, lowering contribution limits, and keeping the commission's hands out of fusion voting (which he stated explicitly in his testimony to the commission),” Timm wrote in an email. 

The WFP itself appeared to threaten primary challenges against legislators who fall in line behind the governor’s “power grab.” “Instead of designing a strong system of public financing of elections, this commission has designed a weak one, as a cover for a politically motivated attack on the Working Families Party,” Bill Lipton, WFP director, said in a Monday statement. 

He added, “Our opponents believe they can kill us. They are wrong. We will bring the full power of the WFP and our allies to bear in 2020 challenging those who block progressive change and electing the next generation of progressive leaders. We will build the biggest WFP GOTV operation yet to meet these new thresholds. And we will win.”

“If New York Assemblymembers don't speak up about and act to stop this public financing commission, they will be primaried with some amazing, energetic, democratic candidates. We are ready to go,” tweeted Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran against Cuomo in the Democratic primary in 2014, last year sought the Democratic primary nomination for attorney general, and is something of an inspirational leader for the New York left.

At a media gaggle on Tuesday, Cuomo downplayed the changes made to ballot thresholds while praising the commission. “I think the commission was charged with a very difficult task, which was to reform the campaign finance system,” he said. “I have to read the full report, I haven’t done it yet, but they made a number of inarguably great and dramatic reforms.”

He said the state shouldn’t be doling out public funds to political parties “without accountability and responsibility.”

“They’ve set a threshold by percentage and number, which they believe is a threshold that a credible party should reach,” he said. “If it’s not a credible party, then it shouldn’t be getting public tax dollars in primary races, et cetera. The Working Families Party, I think, would meet that threshold. You have to work to meet the threshold, but if you’re not working to meet a threshold, then you shouldn’t be qualifying for public money anyway.”

[Read: State Commission Approves New Campaign Finance System, Raises Bar for Political Party Ballot Access]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated with additional comments from legislators.

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State Lawmakers Criticize Campaign Finance Commission Results While Legislative Leaders Stay Mum Tue, 26 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
As Session Starts, Legislators and Advocates Push Overhaul of State Ethics Enforcement https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8184-as-session-starts-legislators-and-advocates-push-overhaul-of-state-ethics-enforcement https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8184-as-session-starts-legislators-and-advocates-push-overhaul-of-state-ethics-enforcement comprehensive reform gov

(photo via the Governor's Office)


As the state Legislature returns to session on Wednesday with Democrats in control of both chambers for the first time in a decade, State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Assemblymember Robert Carroll from Brooklyn are set to introduce a resolution that would amend the state constitution, adding new provisions to prevent and combat public corruption.

The resolution, first introduced late in last year’s session, would add a new section on state government integrity to the state constitution and would consolidate two agencies that are currently charged with monitoring and tackling corruption -- the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission -- into a new New York State Commission on Government Integrity. The effort is aimed at dealing with a long-standing problem in New York state government that recently saw the leaders of both houses of the Legislature convicted of public corruption, along with many other legislators who were removed from or left office due to ethical issues over the course of decades.

“We think this is the way to create a truly independent ethics body,” Assemblymember Carroll said in a phone interview on Tuesday, shortly after a rally outside the State Senate chambers alongside Senator Krueger and a cohort of government reform advocates. One of the central criticisms of JCOPE, which was created in 2011, is that it is too closely tied to the governor and legislators to be effective, making it a limited deterrent and a weak enforcer.

The proposed resolution would have to be passed by the current Legislature and again by the next elected Legislature in the 2021-2022 session, after which it would be presented to voters as a ballot question for their approval. If successful during this session and in 2021, Carroll estimated that the new law could go into effect by January 2022.

It would create the new nine-member commission -- five of whom would be appointed by the judiciary; two appointments jointly by the governor, comptroller, and attorney general; and two by legislative conference leaders whose parties are the top-two voter getters in a previous gubernatorial election. The commission would be empowered to issue civil sanctions and censures against legislators, would be able to suspend, demote, or terminate a non-elected employee, and make referrals for criminal prosecution. It would also serve as an independent counsel to legislators and state employees seeking informal ethics advice that can later be used in their defense. Those who have served as political party officials, state employees or lobbyists within the previous three years would be barred from being appointed.

Though the proposal does not require Governor Andrew Cuomo’s support, Carroll hoped that it would receive it nonetheless. “I hope the governor sees this is a major ingredient in reforming our broken political system in Albany,” he said.

During the only general election debate against his Republican opponent Marc Molinaro, Cuomo had signalled support for reforming JCOPE. “Change begins with the thin edge of a wedge,” Cuomo said, using a phrase he has often employed, in this case to indicate that he was pleased to accomplish something on ethics reform, and can then use it to do more.

He added, “I believe we need more independence on JCOPE, I believe we need totally independent appointees and not necessarily representatives of both houses. I’d be open to a number of configurations, but they’d have to be independent.” In a statement on Tuesday, Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Cuomo, reiterated that stance, but stopped short of endorsing the Carroll-Krueger plan: “As the Governor has previously said, we are open to changes to the structure of ethics enforcement and we will review any proposals that are introduced.”

Both Carroll and Krueger, Democrats like Cuomo, argue that a constitutional amendment is essential, particularly with renewed attention in this last election cycle to the activities of JCOPE, headed by Seth Agata, a former Cuomo aide nominated by the governor and appointed as executive director by the agency's commissioners in similar fashion to his predecessors. The state agency, which monitors lobbying at the state level besides ethics violations, has been widely criticized as inefficient and overly vulnerable to political interference, while at the same time being entirely opaque to the public and lacking clear jurisdiction.

In particular, Krueger said the agency has failed to investigate incidents and allegations of sexual harassment, even when they are made widely known. For instance, in January 2018, then-State Senator and Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein was accused of forcible kissing a former staffer, Erica Vladimer, but JCOPE has yet to make clear whether it is investigating the claim and has not provided any information to either the public, press, or Vladimer in the year since since she spoke out. JCOPE officials have pushed back against such criticism, noting that divulging information about investigations is against the law. At a March 2018 meeting, Commission Chair Michael Rozen said the agency's silence does not indicate action or inaction. "No conclusions should be inferred by the Commission’s silence," he said.

The new agency, on the other hand, would have to establish a dedicated unit for sexual harassment investigations and would also have more expansive transparency provisions, being subject to the same Freedom of Information Law that currently applies to the executive branch (there are ongoing negotiations about extending FOIL to the Legislature).

Last year, JCOPE’s lack of transparency was put to the legal test. New York Republican party chair Ed Cox and Molinaro, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, sued the agency to force a vote on an investigation into Joe Percoco, the former top Cuomo aide who was convicted on federal corruption charges last year. During the trial, Percoco was found to have improperly used his executive chamber office while working on Cuomo’s campaign, but he was never investigated by JCOPE. On December 19, a state supreme court judge ruled that the agency must take a vote within 30 days and then inform the judge, though they were not ordered to release the details of the vote to the public.

“I don’t think that current model is working and I think we need to fix that...It’s just not designed to do its job,” Krueger said of JCOPE in a December interview. She and Carroll were joined at the state Capitol building on Tuesday by representatives of groups including Common Cause New York, Reinvent Albany, the League of Women Voters of the State of New York, the New York Public Interest Research Group, the New York City Bar Association, as well as a few legislators, such as Senator Jen Metzger and Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Carrie Woerner.

What remains unclear is whether the leaders of both legislative chambers will support the proposal. Requests for comment to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ offices went unanswered.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Seth Agata was appointed by JCOPE commissioners, not the governor. It has also been updated to include public statements made by JCOPE chair Michael Rosen about why the agency does not comment on investigations. 

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As Session Starts, Legislators and Advocates Push Overhaul of State Ethics Enforcement Tue, 08 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Assembly Committee Examines Election Administration, Eyes Voting Reforms in 2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8075-assembly-committee-examines-election-administration-eyes-voting-reforms-in-2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8075-assembly-committee-examines-election-administration-eyes-voting-reforms-in-2019 voting booths

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Come January, Democrats will control both houses of the New York state Legislature and the governor’s office, and they have declared that after years of being stymied by state Senate Republicans, voting reform will be at the top of the 2019 agenda. But even before that new governing reality comes to fruition, Assembly Democrats, already in the majority by a wide margin, examined both voting administration and the broader laws at play during a hearing on Thursday in Manhattan.

Though with looming new political dynamics as a backdrop, the Assembly Election Law Committee and Election Day & Voter Disenfranchisement Subcommittee held what is a typical post-election hearing to discuss how to improve voting in New York, where for years the state has had some of the most regressive laws in the nation. The legislators present and those testifying focused specifically on early voting and no-excuse absentee voting as key reforms on the table, but often deviated towards criticism of the state’s entire election structure, with accompanying calls for comprehensive reform.

New York is one of only a small number of states that does not have early voting or no-excuse absentee voting, and has the strictest party registration deadline in the country. There appears to be unanimity among Democrats about moving ahead with early voting. And while research on whether it improves turnout is mixed, it would likely foster a more diverse group of voters, who would not have to take off work to vote, and would allow election administrators to diagnose and correct problems, such as the two-page ballots that led to problems at the polls in New York City last week, at an early stage in the process.

“People working multiple jobs, people in the gig economy or with unsteady work, are often forced to choose between selecting their representatives in government and making a living,” said Ethan Geringer-Sameth, of government reform group Citizens Union, in testimony to the committee. “For many New Yorkers, early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots would provide the first real opportunities to vote.”

New York’s voting laws once again came to the forefront on Election Day, when issues at the polls led to long lines and numerous people leaving before voting. The fiasco renewed calls for reforms, particularly early voting, which some argue could have made a significant impact, as well as better election administration through professionalizing the city Board of Elections.

“Early voting would have also mitigated the impact of broken scanners and its cascading effect of long lines, overcrowded poll sites, and compromised ballot security and privacy,” said Alex Camarda of Reinvent Albany, another good government group. “By holding voting on days other than Election Day, voters are distributed across many days and volume is reduced on Election Day. The Board can troubleshoot problems in advance before Election Day.”

The Assembly has on numerous occasions passed voting reforms such as one week of early voting, and Governor Andrew Cuomo included a two-week early voting period in his budget proposal last year, but efforts have annually been stopped by the Republican-controlled State Senate.

With control of the Senate turning over to Democrats based on last week’s election results, early voting appears poised to become reality in the state. Committee Chair Charles Lavine said, given the new dynamics of state government, the Legislature has a “unique opportunity to enact meaningful reforms,” including early voting and no-excuse absentee voting.

Two commissioners and two executive directors of the State Board of Elections testified on Thursday, and all adopted a reformist tone, though the Board is not known as particularly progressive with regard to pushing changes to make voting easier in New York.

Robert Brehm, one of two executive directors, said that New York’s unusually high turnout this year put a strain on the voting system, and that early voting would mitigate the stresses of high turnout and other factors such as inclement weather and a complex ballot.

“Where many other states were using some series of days leading up to election, to allow early voting, we all had to accomplish it in one day,” Brahm said. “Certainly, we could’ve provided a better customer service process if we were able to stretch it out over a period of time.”

Brehm and the commissioners noted several elements of early voting and absentee voting that need to be addressed for them to work, including making sure that voting rooms are adequately staffed and have enough equipment, and that the use of snail mail for absentee votes doesn’t prevent votes from being counted, as it has in the past. On the mail front, Brehm endorsed a bill in the Assembly that would allow voters to apply for absentee ballots online.

Andrew Spano, one commissioner, signaled support for early voting while also casting aspersions on the entire system writ large.

“Our system is basically a de facto voter suppression system, because we have all these hurdles that we have to get through,” said Spano, who served as Westchester county executive for 12 years. “There’s no motivation for the voter in some of these elections to come out. Midterm elections, village elections, school elections. They’re all decided by a fraction of the voter population.”

The commissioners noted that early voting was not a “panacea” solution to the problems afflicting New York elections, but that as part of a package, it could help improve the situation. Other proposals included electronic poll books and the abolition of election districts, to be replaced by poll sites as an administrative unit with books organized alphabetically instead of geographically. They also signaled support for automatic voter registration, despite possible issues with implementation regarding individuals who relocate.

The hearing was also an opportunity for Assembly members to unload on Michael Ryan, the embattled executive director of the New York City Board of Elections who has shouldered much of the blame for the administrative failures on this past election day and others.

Assemblymember Robert Carroll of Brooklyn told of his experience on Election Day. At his polling place, 350 people were stuck in line for several hours after each machine at the site broke, he said. After Carroll contacted the board, a tech was sent to fix the problem, but the machines continually broke throughout the day, leading to scores of people leaving poll sites without voting.

“I am very hopeful that New York State and New York City have early voting, have electronic poll books, voting on demand,” Carroll said. “But why should we, as elected officials, think that the New York City Board of Elections will be able to administer any election, and especially an updated election process in the future after such a terrible track record in the last year?”

Ryan argued that the issues this year were a result of both unusually high turnout (though it was still under 40 percent in the city) and other aggravating factors, including inclement weather, and a perforated two-page ballot that led to jams when voters didn’t submit them correctly. He noted education efforts were designed on short notice and inadequate, and endorsed ideas for improving the process such as having workers from municipal agencies act as poll workers or better storage for emergency ballot procedures, as well as early voting.

Carroll was not convinced.

“Yeah I get it: there’s a lot of people in New York City. Guess what? That’s always been true,” Carroll said. “We need to actually make sure that we can run an election. So how are we gonna change that?”

[Read: Voter Turnout Booms in New York]

[Read: 3 Big Reasons Elections in New York City are So Poorly Run]

***
by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Assembly Committee Examines Election Administration, Eyes Voting Reforms in 2019 Thu, 15 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
To Save the MTA, Push ‘Fast Forward’ Ahead Quickly and Responsibly https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7938-to-save-the-mta-push-fast-forward-ahead-quickly-and-responsibly https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7938-to-save-the-mta-push-fast-forward-ahead-quickly-and-responsibly mta subway action

(photo: MTA New York City Transit/Marc A. Hermann)


The fight to fix our ailing transit system took a significant step forward in May when New York City Transit President Andy Byford released his “Fast Forward” plan to dramatically accelerate comprehensive fixes to our city’s subways and buses. We, along with many other legislators and advocates, praised the plan and Byford’s work to create it. Fast Forward isn’t just a clear roadmap to a modern subway system; it’s also a very necessary roadmap to MTA reform.

Now it’s time for the MTA to take the next step toward transparency as the governor and Legislature begin the difficult work of finding sources for the billions of dollars necessary to pay for Fast Forward -- as well as the authority’s expected capital needs. While Byford estimates the cost of Fast Forward to be $40 billion, it is essential that the MTA provide a budget detailing the plan’s costs as well as its 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment. If state government is to do its job, we need to know what fixing our subways and buses will really cost. Without a detailed budget, the necessary revenue that must be provided to save our transit system will be unlikely to materialize and millions of riders will suffer the consequences every day.

The collapse of our subway and bus systems isn’t Byford’s fault. It is, in fact, ours. Decades of indifference, neglect, and underfunding from Albany has hamstrung our public transit and now threatens to irrevocably damage the fabric of our city. Make no mistake, without public transit; New York City ceases to be. So it is our duty to fix it.

Historically, Albany’s inaction has stemmed in part from the lack of a clear vision of how to fix public transit. Now that we have that framework in place, the final step still remains. The MTA must show us exactly how it plans to implement the plan and how much it will cost.

There have been many ideas for how to provide additional revenue to the MTA—congestion pricing, value capture, a millionaires’ tax, new corporate taxes—but not a single one of these proposals will ever gain enough support in the Legislature if lawmakers are in the dark as to the exact costs of the agency’s capital needs.

Time is of the essence. The governor will deliver the next State of the State on January 9 and the next preliminary budget a week later. The MTA cannot wait until then to submit to the Legislature its capital needs and a budget for the Fast Forward proposal. The costs of Fast Forward need to be factored into the governor’s executive budget long before its release, and the scope and importance of the Fast Forward plan requires that the Legislature is given ample time to review and hold hearings on the authority’s proposed costs well before budget negotiations begin in January.

Once the MTA shows us the numbers, then it becomes Albany’s task to make sure we raise the necessary revenues without unduly burdening already-frustrated straphangers. Unfortunately, Albany doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to securing real funds for the MTA.  The authority’s current capital budget, the 2015-2019 Capital Program, was only approved in 2016—sixteen months late—and of the $32 billion that was approved, the source of most of the state’s $8.3 billion share has yet to be identified. This type of delay and the lack of a clear identified revenue source cannot happen if we expect the Fast Forward plan to be successful.

Beyond submitting its Fast Forward and 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment budgets this fall, the MTA should submit future Capital Program budgets earlier, in order to demonstrate the need for dedicated, long-term revenue streams, the Capital Program should have a longer timeline than its current five years.

This year Assemblymember Carroll drafted and passed in the Assembly a bill, A.11094, which would have required the MTA to submit its capital budgets earlier than currently mandated—but the bill never came to a vote in the Senate. To facilitate long-term planning, the MTA should share the full cost of the 15-year Fast Forward plan rather than breaking it up into the five-year chunks.

The current system of temporary fixes is unsustainable and cannot continue. Without a budget and time for the Legislature to review it, the state will again fail to act on a concrete plan to finally fix and modernize our subway system. There might be some serious sticker shock in Albany, but it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. If we don’t, then Fast Forward will remain Byford’s dream, while millions of riders suffer the daily nightmare that our subways have become.

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New York State Assemblymember Robert Carroll represents the 44th Assembly District which is comprised of the neighborhoods of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Victorian Flatbush and Boro Park. Nick Sifuentes is the executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transportation advocacy organization. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn & @Nick_Sifu of @Tri_State.

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

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To Save the MTA, Push ‘Fast Forward’ Ahead Quickly and Responsibly Mon, 17 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
As New York Votes, a Push to Allow 17-Year-Olds the Ballot Next https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7303-as-new-york-votes-a-push-to-allow-17-year-olds-the-ballot-next https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7303-as-new-york-votes-a-push-to-allow-17-year-olds-the-ballot-next bobbt carroll presser

Assemblymember Robert Carroll at Monday's rally


On the eve of Election Day 2017, a state Assembly member from Brooklyn held a press conference focused on voter engagement and turnout, but it wasn’t in support of his own candidacy -- he’s not up for reelection until next year -- or anyone else’s. Instead, Assemblymember Robert Carroll was talking about his push to allow 17-year-olds to vote.

In the state capital of Albany, Carroll recently introduced a bill, the Young Voter Act, that would allow 17-year-olds to cast ballots in state and local elections. The voting age is currently 18 for national elections and within New York. The legislation would also require that all students in public high schools receive at least eight hours of formal civics education, and that schools provide voter registration forms to students when they turn 17.

The proposal, which Caroll will attempt to see moved when the Legislature returns to session in January, is aimed at improving New York’s dismal record of voter turnout (among the worst states in the country). On Monday, Carroll rallied in support of the bill outside the city’s Board of Elections with fellow Brooklyn Democratic Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, as well as several politically engaged high school students and advocates.

This included the leadership of the Youth Progressive Policy Group (YPPG), a group of students whose stated mission is to “give the youth of New York a voice in our state’s political process.” The group claims that engaging people in the electoral process early will lead to a more civically active life later on, and it is thus important to not only educate students in civics at an early age, but also to empower them to be a part of it.

YPPG’s President, Eli Frankel, a senior at Manhattan’s Bard High School, was quick to note that 17-year-olds are productive members of civic society in other ways, and that this should be extended to voting.

“We are organizing rallies like this, we’re going out and we’re talking to people, and a lot of 17-year-olds are contributing to their communities and have responsibilities of adulthood already,” Frankel told Gotham Gazette. “They’re paying taxes, they’re driving, some can enlist in the military. So, it’s time that voting is incorporated into those responsibilities that 17-year-olds already have so they can begin participating in government in a really substantive way so their voice is heard.”

Chris Stauffer, YPPG’s vice chair and a senior at Bard, noted that in places where voting rights were extended to high school students, the turnout results have been very promising.

“Sixteen- to 18-year-olds in Takoma Park, Maryland actually have double the turnout than 18- to 25-year-olds,” Stauffer told Gotham Gazette of the locality that has lowered its voting age to 16. “This is without any reform to civics education.” People who are still in high school may have fewer extraneous obligations than someone in the age bracket immediately following, where many are away from home at college, allowing them to vote with regularity and consistency and setting them up for a lifetime of civic engagement.

Lowering the voting age alone might not be enough to spur extensive turnout among high school students and young people in general, which is why the bill includes more robust, comprehensive civics education in New York schools.

The non-profit group Generation Citizen partners with schools in cities around the country, including New York City, to provide students with an “action civics” curriculum centered around local issues, wherein students seek to enact change in specific issue areas. Generation Citizen helps fill a gap in civics education found in many schools and school systems, but it currently operates in a relatively small percentage of classrooms.

Civics education is often lacking in schools, especially as it relates to close-to-home politics and government.

“A lot of civics courses focus on larger, more grand themes in American history,” Frankel said. “And the civics seminars that this bill mandates all students get really directs students on the nuts and bolts of how they can go out and vote, how they can fill out a ballot correctly, how to register to vote, how to make sure their voice is heard outside of voting, how elections work, and where they can find the information about candidates and about elections that they need to go out and turn out.”

The bill also would provide for instant registration within schools. Schools currently have most relevant information for voter registration anyway, aside from an individual’s signature and party registration, according to YPPG Policy Director Max Shatan, a senior at Bard. This allows the process to involve minimal effort on the part of students.

According to YPPG PR Director Ilana Cohen, a senior at the Beacon School in Manhattan, these foundational steps in schools would engage people in the process even more than simply allowing them to vote at 17.

“Establishing the importance of voting in the classroom has a much greater effect than simply allowing teenagers to go out after high school and let them independently register to vote,” Cohen said.

Prior to the bill’s introduction, Assemblymember Carroll sat down with some of the students at YPPG to gather input on a pre-registration bill already in the Assembly. According to Carroll’s chief of staff, Dan Campanelli, during this conversation Carroll suggested crafting a bill to lower the voting age to 17, which was ecstatically received by the students. Carroll subsequently worked on the bill with the students.

“In this age of civic participation and interest, we need to make sure, in New York State, that we are teaching our young people what it means to be an active participant in their democracy,” Carroll said at Monday’s rally. “We teach young people all sorts of things. We teach them how to drive cars, we teach them how to take the SAT. We should teach them how to be active citizens and how to vote.”

Although the bill has 23 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly including Carroll, it would have to overcome the significant hurdle of passing the Republican-controlled state Senate, as well as to bypass a culture in Albany that is notoriously resistant to voting reform. Senate Republicans have been resistant to election reform measures that have passed the Assembly, like early voting and same-day registration. Younger voters typically skew Democratic, giving another reason for the GOP to oppose Carroll’s bill, especially as Republicans cling to the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, only due to several rogue Democrats who either caucus or form a coalition with the GOP. Though Carroll largely did not speak to its chances in the Senate, he is confident in its ability to pass the Assembly if it gets out of committee there.

“If you are against more people accessing the ballot box, then guess what? You’re against democracy,” Carroll said Monday. “And maybe you should get out of the business of holding elected office, because that’s the point of it.”

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify that YPPG's members are seniors at Bard High School, not juniors.

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As New York Votes, a Push to Allow 17-Year-Olds the Ballot Next Tue, 07 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
A Victory for School Based Health Centers, But More To Do https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7151-a-victory-for-school-based-health-centers-but-more-to-do https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7151-a-victory-for-school-based-health-centers-but-more-to-do carroll simon

Assemblymembers Carroll & Simon, the authors (photo via @Bobby4Brooklyn)


School based health centers (SBHCs) are a critical safety net for immigrants and the uninsured. There are 145 SBHCs serving students in more than 345 schools across the city, regardless of their ability to pay. SBHCs provide primary and preventive care, reproductive and mental health care, and first aid; manage chronic illnesses; and more. From asthma and diabetes to food allergies and anxiety, these clinics can make the difference between life and death for many of our schoolchildren.

The clinics yield positive health outcomes and are cost-effective through their provision of preventive health care. They are also wildly popular with parents, students, and school administrators. The city wholeheartedly supports the clinics, which have been shown to reduce absenteeism and enhance school performance. The clinics also fulfill the state’s goal of access to community-based care.

Therefore, it was alarming when four schools in District 15 received a letter in June from SUNY Downstate Medical Center, which operates five SBHCs, informing them that state funding had been dramatically reduced and that the SUNY Downstate SBHCs were in jeopardy. 

A combination of a 20% cut in non-Medicaid funding in the 2017-18 State Budget ($3.9M), a May 2017 change by the State Department of Health to the funding methodology for the distribution of non-Medicaid funds, and a July 1, 2018 deadline to be carved-in to Medicaid Managed Care has created underfunding and instability to the SBHCs. 

SUNY Downstate was a big loser in the state’s funding methodology changes that followed closely on the heels of the state’s budget cuts: SUNY Downstate’s budget for 2017-18 was slashed by 70%, from $669,322 to $198,187. While some sponsors received more money and are scheduled to open new centers this year, some of the larger sponsors took significant blows to their budget; NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers also took a cut of over $500,000, as did Mt. Sinai Hospital, which experienced a nearly $700,000 loss.

SUNY Downstate later announced that the cuts were unsustainable and that it could not operate four of its five centers. This included the centers at M.S. 51 William Alexander; Brooklyn New School (BNS) and Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies; P.S. 38 the Pacific School; and the School for International Studies and Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School.

Quickly, a coalition of parents, administrators, community leaders, labor unions, and elected officials came together to organize and fight back and everyone pitched in. An online petition in support of the centers was launched by the local elected officials. Jeremy Amar, a parent at MS 51, created posters of several student beneficiaries of the SBHCs with the slogan: “save your school based health center; community health starts here.” Amy Sumner, a parent coordinator from BNS 146, put out the call for personal stories about an SBHC and they poured in.

Thankfully, the coalition’s advocacy efforts were successful. SUNY Downstate decided that no matter the level of state funding that it received, it will continue to operate the four clinics for this year. We are very grateful that SUNY Downstate has stepped up for our children, but recognize the need to ensure the long-term viability of the SBHCs. It’s very likely that we will need to find a new sponsor for the four centers next year and we all need to make sure SBHCs across the city and state are properly funded going forward.

According to a study by the Children’s Defense Fund, next year’s Medicaid carve-in will reduce revenues to SBHCs by $16.3 million -- on top of this year’s cuts. Legislation was passed by the State Legislature to enact a permanent Medicaid Managed Carve-Out for SBHCs (A7866 /S6012). We are hopeful that Governor Cuomo will sign that bill into law by the end of the year.

SBHCs are only one piece in a very complex and large health care system, but this experience has demonstrated that these small pieces often have a significant impact on the daily lives of New Yorkers and their children. We are proud that our coalition came together to save these clinics because they are vital to the health of our students in District 15 and as elected members of the state Assembly we are committed to seeing to it that they are preserved for many school years to come. 

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By Robert Carroll, Assemblymember, 44th District, & Jo Anne Simon, Assemblymember, 52nd District. On Twitter @Bobby4Brooklyn & @JoAnneSimonBK52.

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

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A Victory for School Based Health Centers, But More To Do Thu, 24 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC’s New Class of State Legislators https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6818-adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6818-adjusting-to-albany-meet-nyc-s-new-class-of-state-legislators nyscapitolbuilding2

photo via @NYSCapitolTours


While the ethics trainings and orientation for new state legislators may have evolved over the years, one thing has remained constant: the daunting task of navigating the Capitol’s maze-like corridors during one’s first weeks of work in Albany.

Orientation provides some roadmap to Albany’s byzantine legislative processes, including workshops in drafting bills, organizing a press conference, and conducting research, and legislative staffers are provided for support, but it can take a few weeks, if not months, for newly minted politicians to fully acclimate to life as a state lawmaker.

In fact, much of the training happens on the job, according Assemblymember Tom McKevitt, who oversees the trainings for incoming Assembly members in the chamber’s Republican minority.

“For many people they are coming to a different part of the state, they are leaving their families, leaving their hometowns, to come to a very different place,” said McKevitt, who represents part of Long Island, and has served in the Assembly for just over a decade. “New York State government is a massive operation. It really is. So we try to give them as much knowledge as possible and give them as much resources as possible to get them as productive a start to their legislative careers.”

All new legislators in the Senate and the Assembly receive mandated training when they begin their legislative careers in Albany. In addition, each party conference provides training, as McKevitt indicated for the Assembly minority.

NEW LEGISLATORS

* AM Yuh-Line Niou
* Sen. Jamaal Bailey
* AM Robert Carroll
* AM Carmen De La Rosa
* AM Brian Barnwell
* AM Tremaine Wright
* AM Stacey Pheffer Amato
* Sen. Marisol Alcantara
* AM Clyde Vanel
* AM Inez Dickens

This year, there are 10 new state lawmakers from New York City, joining the 150-seat Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats, and the 63-seat Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Republicans. All of the new reps from the city are Democrats -- there are only a handful of New York City Republicans in the Legislature altogether, mostly from Staten Island.

Gotham Gazette began interviewing each of those 10 new members in February to gauge how they are adjusting to life in the state Legislature, which is notoriously dysfunctional and insulated, and has seen its share of corruption scandals in recent years.

While the first weeks of the legislative calendar leading up to one-house budgets in March are always fairly intense for new legislators, this year appears to have been more so. As with other state capitals and city halls around the country, the inauguration of President Donald Trump, followed by the unconventional president’s chaotic first two months in office, have cast a long shadow over governing in New York.

As the Trump administration rushes to follow through on campaign promises to scale back reproductive rights, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and ban immigrants from select countries, many legislators, especially Democrats, are feeling more uncertainty and a greater sense of urgency. Both come in part from their constituents -- New Yorkers who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton in November.

Several incoming lawmakers hailing from the five boroughs are facing challenging political climates in their districts and given local political dynamics. Yuh-Line Niou, now representing Lower Manhattan’s 65th Assembly District, must deliver for a constituency accustomed to receiving an exceptionally high level of resources given that the seat had been held for decades by (now convicted) former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The 31st Senate District’s new representative, Marisol Alcantara, is a member of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), at a time when the breakaway group of Democrats that forms a coalition majority with Republicans is facing some significant backlash. Meanwhile, Senator Jamaal Bailey, of the 36th Senate District, is joining the mainline Senate Democratic Conference that is struggling in the minority.

To begin our series on new city-based state legislators, Gotham Gazette spoke with Niou, Bailey, and Brooklyn Assemblymember Robert Carroll. Read their interviews through the links below, and stay tuned for our interviews with the seven other new lawmakers from the five boroughs. 

yuh line niou2
Yuh-Line Niou

Assemblymember for the 65th District
Lower Manhattan
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“This is a constituency that literally had the most service and then almost no service for a period of time. It’s been a shock to the system.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou


jamaal bailey
Jamaal Bailey

State Senator for the 36th District
Parts of the Bronx and Mount Vernon
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“But a lot of the preparation, it just comes in real-time. Just seeing the bill and you have to vote on it.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Senator Jamaal Bailey


robert carroll 2
Robert Carroll

Assembly Member for 44th District
Brooklyn (Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Park Slope, Flatbush)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“I think if you are going to be in politics, you have to understand that you’re not going to win every fight, and you have to be ready to stay in the arena.” 
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assembly Member Robert Carroll


Carmen for assembly
Carmen De La Rosa

Assembly Member for 72nd District
Manhattan (Harlem, Inwood, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights)
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat & Working Families Party
“It’s definitely a great place to be, coming from the City Council, it’s sort of government on a larger scale, so it’s a welcome challenge for me.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Carmen De La Rosa


Brian Bramwell
Brian Barnwell

Assembly member for the 30th District
Parts of Astoria, Long Island City, Maspeth, Middle Village, and Woodside
Elected 2016; took office 2017
Democrat
“The budget process was certainly long, but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, it’s better to negotiate and negotiate and negotiate, instead of just doing the deal for the sake of doing a deal.”
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW with Assemblymember Brian Barnwell


Coming soon, interviews with:

  • Assemblymember Tremaine Wright
  • Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato
  • Senator Marisol Alacantra
  • Assemblymember Clyde Vanel
  • Assemblymember Inez Dickens

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC’s New Class of State Legislators Sun, 19 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Adjusting to Albany: Assemblymember Robert Carroll https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6816-adjusting-to-albany-assemblymember-robert-carroll https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6816-adjusting-to-albany-assemblymember-robert-carroll robert carroll

Assemblymember Bobby Carroll (photo via @Bobby4Brooklyn)


A lifelong resident of Windsor Terrace, Robert “Bobby” Carroll hails from something of a Brooklyn political dynasty. His grandfather co-founded the influential Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID) club, and, until he assumed his state Assembly seat, Bobby Carroll served as the club’s youngest president. Carroll previously worked as an attorney alongside his father, John Carroll, who has also served as CBID’s president, and in 2001 ran unsuccessfully against Mayor Bill de Blasio in a Democratic primary for City Council.

Bobby Carroll is also a cousin of Bay Ridge Democratic district leader Kevin Peter Carroll, who is currently running for the 43rd City Council District seat.

Carroll’s name recognition and political connections likely helped him shore up endorsements early in the race for the 44th Assembly District seat -- including from his now predecessor, Assemblymember James Brennan, who was retiring, other electeds, political clubs, and good government groups -- and now he is eager to make a name for himself as a progressive reformer on the state level.

Gotham Gazette spoke with Carroll in February about his priorities for the upcoming session, his first few weeks in the Legislature, and more.

GG: What was the orientation like? Was there a sexual harassment training?

RC: We took several ethics courses and general orientation. And I believe all Assembly members go through sexual harassment training every two years. I am not sure which ones were because I am a freshman and which are regular training sessions.

I noticed that you had the opportunity to to speak up on the floor in defense of the City Council’s plastic bag bill, despite the fact that the Legislature voted to block it. Were you disappointed with the way your chamber voted?

Well I voted no, so obviously I would have rathered us not override the City Council bill. But, you know, that’s part of politics and part of democracy, that you are not always going to agree with your colleagues. What I do think is really important in government — and it’s the reason I’m in government— is to be a voice for your constituents, and to be your own voice, so then you can stand up and say ‘this is what I think, this is what I’ve decided on this issue.’

I think it’s important to have an open and transparent debate so the vast views of our conference and our state are fully expressed on the floor of the Assembly and the state Senate, so that we can finally come to some type of agreement about how we are going to move forward in New York State.

GG: Are there bills you are working on? What are your priorities for the session?

RC: We are working on some of the bills that Assembly Member Brennan had. He had a lot of bills in the 32 years that he was in office. That is just one set of bills that we are working on. We are also working on a bunch of bills around electoral reform, criminal justice reform right now. These issues are very, very pressing.

We have the budget coming up, it's going to monopolize a lot of time for the next six weeks. [The budget] is...a very good litmus test for what we care about in the state, what we are going to spend money on. I think it's absolutely imperative that we make sure that we fully fund our public school system in New York City. If you look at the CFE [Campaign for Fiscal Equity], we are still short about $1.6 billion. It’s very, very important to have that fully funded.

I think it’s very, very important to really dig down deep and see if we are actually funding the MTA capital budget through 2019. I think the projections that some folks have on operating funds that are going to come in through tolls and fares and other ways of raising revenues for the MTA are very optimistic. But we need to have very, very tough conversations about how we are investing in our education and our infrastructure. If we are investing in our infrastructure, those are great ways to spur business and create better lives for New Yorkers.

GG: Are you enjoying Albany? The commute? Any favorite restaurants?

RC: I really like it. I take the train up. I enjoy the train — it’s a beautiful train ride on Amtrak. It’s quicker than driving most of the time. It’s only about two-and-a-half hours from Penn Station and from where I live it’s only about 30 minutes on the subway to Penn Station, so it’s really quick.

I usually writes some emails, read the paper. There’s WiFi, so I’ll usually watch something on Netflix. When I’m up there I’ve been hopping around, a couple hotels, bed and breakfasts, kind of getting the lay of the land and a couple of different neighborhoods in Albany. I don’t drive, so I like to be within a 10- or 15-minute walk to the Capitol.

I went out with my parents to Jack’s Oyster House — that was pretty cool, I really like that place on State Street, they have good oysters and pretty good steak. It’s a little expensive for a legislator to be going there often. There are a couple of different bars and restaurants a couple of Assembly members and I -- and some other folks -- have gone out to on occasion. But we are also in chambers a lot, just this Monday we were in chambers until 10:30 [p.m.]. So it's not a place where it's like happy hour every night. It’s 6:30 [p.m.] and people are like, ‘Oh, well, what are we going to do?’

GG: Any moment you are particularly proud of or any disappointments, such as the plastic bag issue, for example?

RC: I wouldn’t consider the plastic bag thing a disappointment. I spoke up on behalf of my constituents and what I thought was right. I think if you are going to be in politics, you have to understand that you’re not going to win every fight, and you have to be ready to stay in the arena. I think there are going to be a lot of issues like that. I used to practice election law before I got here. We were with Attorney General Schneiderman...when he introduced his package of reforms.

We are not only going to be fierce advocates for Schneiderman’s reform package, we are going have a couple bills in the next few weeks that are going to push that even further. I think we are going to be introducing a whole host of bills that will end up helping folks if we are talking about criminal justice, if we are talking about education, and if we are talking about our transportation system.

[Read more from our series, Adjusting to Albany: Meet NYC's New Class of State Legislators]

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Adjusting to Albany: Assemblymember Robert Carroll Sun, 19 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000