Gotham Gazette Thu, 04 Mar 2021 22:33:11 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) A CLEAR Path Forward on Emergency Preparedness corona convenvens ex

Mayor de Blasio holds an emergency management briefing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

I’m writing this from my living room. My three-month-old daughter is across the room, sleeping in her activity gym. My wife is watching television. This should be another normal day, but all of us, including you reading this, knows it's not. Our daughter has barely seen her grandparents since February. My wife hasn't seen the outside world in almost two months. Aside from a few stressful trips along empty streets to the grocery store, neither have I.

Nothing about this pandemic has been normal — not even our response. The COVID-19 outbreak rekindles the darkness of Hurricane Sandy. No one knew what to do or where to go. By the time the government acted, it was too late. No master plan existed to deal with prolonged school closures, hold an election after a disaster, and mobilize large-scale relief efforts. Tragically that is still true.

There was no plan in place before the first coronavirus case was confirmed in New York City. The Greatest City on Earth is letting its people down time and time again because we fail to prepare for the next inevitable disaster. 

The City of New York needs to do better, and I have a plan to make that happen. My first bill introduced to the New York City Council will be the New York Create and Learn Emergency Action Response Act. The NY CLEAR Act would create a five-level, color-coded alert system based on the post-9/11 federal system. New Yorkers should be able to know green means everything is smooth sailing; blue could indicate a closure or restriction due to standard winter storms; and red would mean the city is shut down in its current form. 

The NY CLEAR Act would live up to its name by being concise and easily understood. It would be a universal language so our diverse communities all understand the severity of a situation. No matter which of New York City’s more than 200 languages you speak, you’d know that green means everything is fine — the city is safe. New Yorkers would know it’s safe to enjoy a park, go to work, or get on a subway that’s as unreliable as normal.

Blue would indicate the city is monitoring an evolving situation. This code should be in place when we send more police officers to Penn Station and other crowded areas after a terror attack, as we did the night of the 2015 Paris shooting. It would give New Yorkers a sense that the city is aware of a threat and is working to address it. Internally, blue signals to the Office of Emergency Management it must collect data on the event to adapt the city’s standard response plan. 

Yellow means that threat is now inevitable. Hospital administrators would start implementing plans to increase supplies and staff. Alternate side parking rules would be suspended, while garbage pickups and mass transit service would be modified. Small businesses should take yellow as a warning that their hours might change or close completely. 

Orange would mean the emergency is already happening — such as when the number of positive COVID-19 cases spiked over 1,000. Schools, courts, and all non-essential offices would immediately close. If severe weather has caused us to go orange, evacuation centers are opened. 

Red tells New Yorkers that leaving their home is life-threatening. At this point, each agency’s specific emergency plan would go into place. Pre-identified roads will close to non-emergency vehicle traffic. City government should be ready to deliver food, protective equipment, and other life-saving materials door-to-door. 

Imagine the number of cases we could have prevented, the number of lives saved, if city government had a wholesale plan in place for when a crisis strikes. Instead, our collective anxiety was compounded by the government operating on the fly — obviously without a serious plan for this type of situation and without the people of New York knowing how or being prepared to respond. 

The NY CLEAR Act will make New Yorkers safer. Informational posters will be clearly displayed at every workplace alongside other key documents such as the Department of Labor’s “know your rights” sheet. Every New York City hotel room would provide a mandated pamphlet, so visitors can learn the emergency system quickly.The NY CLEAR Act should also be taught at an age-appropriate level in classrooms so young people will know how to adapt in the event of an emergency. 

It is critical every New Yorker knows how to prepare for an emergency, and how to respond when the time comes. They deserve for New York City to declare an emergency at the right time, and for agencies to be held accountable for their responses. The NY CLEAR Act will mandate a hearing any time the city goes to yellow or higher. When a service is suspended, or when certain plans are put into place, it should require the city to conduct a wholesale look at whether protocols were properly followed and what we can learn to improve our response.

Crises have historically challenged us, well after the actual tragedy. We are judged both by our response in the moment as well as what we did to mitigate future catastrophes. Hurricane Sandy and COVID-19 both cost us too many lives. It’s time we learn our lesson and prepare. The next disaster will come. Whether or not we are ready, that much is clear. 

Nick Roloson is a candidate for the New York City Council in District 22, in Queens. On Twitter @nickroloson.

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A CLEAR Path Forward on Emergency Preparedness Wed, 20 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Coronavirus Crisis Again Shows New York Must Ensure Long-Term Support of Grassroots Emergency-Response Groups campaign against hunger

Community groups can organize other community groups (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Every day, New Yorkers are faced with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented public health and economic crisis ravaging our city. As the federal government continues to recklessly shirk responsibility, state and city governments strain to support hospitals and those impacted by the pandemic with their depleted budgets, leaving low-income and marginalized communities more vulnerable than ever.

In their wake, mutual aid and nonprofit organizations are expanding the critical work they do in their communities in an effort to make up the difference. In fact, when New York is faced with crisis, it is often our community-based organizations that respond most quickly to deliver aid and emergency services in neighborhoods across all five boroughs. These organizations are often unfortunately doing this crucial work without coordination, which as we’ve seen in our public and private hospital systems, can result in duplicitous efforts and competition for the same resources to serve the same people. 

When faced with an emergency, where organizational leaders cannot attend each other’s planning meetings or digital town halls to coordinate efforts, we must ensure that mutual aid groups and nonprofits are working together to deliver the most good to the greatest number of New Yorkers.

New York City government has a responsibility to step in and assist these efforts. We are calling for legislation that would require the city to create a framework to support and aid in the creation of emergency community response groups, arming every neighborhood with an established means of coordination among community-based organizations when disaster strikes. In the spirit of continuity and improvement, we must learn from our response to this and previous disasters and prioritize funding for preparedness groups and Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, otherwise known as VOADs. 

Such legislation could be modeled on creating more standing coalitions such as LES Ready! - a grassroots coalition of community organizations across the Lower East Side and Chinatown that was developed in response to Superstorm Sandy, to ensure there is an active and coordinated community-based emergency response. 

Thanks to LES Ready!, the efforts of our existing community-based organizations, mutual aid groups, and nonprofits in our neighborhood have been streamlined and effective in ensuring that vulnerable community members are receiving the food, medical attention, and emergency resources they need. Every group in LES Ready! is part of a larger communications structure that knows what the others are doing and ensures an exchange of critical information. The coalition also has a direct line to the city’s Office of Emergency Management both during non-emergency periods and in the midst of crises.

These community networks are needed even more for the COVID-19 pandemic, which is proving even more devastating to our communities city-wide than Superstorm Sandy or the September 11, 2001 attacks. A survey conducted by the New York Federal Reserve found that the pandemic could wipe out about one-fifth of the city’s small businesses. While the federal government has allocated billions of dollars in funding to bolster the economy, distribution efforts have been chaotic at best. Overwhelming demand, shifting borrowing rules, regulations that favored big corporations over small minority-owned businesses, and a lack of infrastructure have all combined to create a bureaucratic nightmare for businesses on the brink.

By contrast, our local groups have responded quickly to the challenge. For example, AAFE, a long-time community lender, was able to establish an emergency loan fund repurposing existing loan capital and private bank fundraising by mid-March. The first loan was processed less than a week after the fund was announced.

AAFE and its fellow local community-based organizations, mutual aid groups, and nonprofits are able to be so nimble because of the coordination made possible through local grassroots networks and routine communication with agencies and officials. With a similar framework supported, funded, and implemented in every neighborhood across all five boroughs, the response efforts of all community-based organizations could be just as effective in delivering crucial support where it’s needed as quickly as possible. 

And as part of this focus on community-led approaches to planning for and recovering from disaster, we must also establish a civilian advisory board with the capability to evaluate the city’s disaster response efforts. This board would oversee how the city is spending its resources and fostering communication with the groups on the front lines to help ensure, when the time comes, that direct public emergency services are getting to where they are most needed. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed so many gaping holes in local and national government systems and structures. In this period of crisis it feels impossible to look beyond the next week, or even the next day, but we must do so to ensure we are applying the lessons of today to the tests of the future.

New York will overcome this crisis. Let’s be sure we’re best prepared to overcome the next one, too.

City Council Member Carlina Rivera represents parts of Manhattan. Thomas Yu is the Co-Director of Asian Americans for Equality. On Twitter @CarlinaRivera & @AAFE1974.

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Coronavirus Crisis Again Shows New York Must Ensure Long-Term Support of Grassroots Emergency-Response Groups Sun, 10 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo v. De Blasio: Who Has the Last Word on Reopening New York City? Cuomo de Blasio coronavirus

Cuomo and de Blasio at a March briefing (photo: Don Pollard/Governor's Office)

This guest column is part of Citizens Union Speakers, a regular series of op-eds written by members of the Citizens Union Foundation community in Gotham Gazette, CUF's flagship public education program. The opinions expressed in these Citizens Union Speakers columns are those of the authors alone, not Citizens Union Foundation, Gotham Gazette, or any other entity.

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Turf battles between government executives occur all the time. But when it comes to a public health crisis like this pandemic, ultimate decision-making really matters, and lives are literally at stake.

In the early days of this COVID-19 crisis and since, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have at times clashed over the timing of business shutdown orders and school closings, so the question arises, "Who has the final say over when and how New York City reopens?"

Sorry, Mr. Mayor: It isn't you. Under well-established New York law, it's the Governor.

That is not to say that the Mayor is without authority to act in such an emergency. New York State Executive Law Section 24 provides that a local "chief executive may promulgate local emergency orders to protect life and property or to bring [an] emergency situation under control," and the New York City Charter itself incorporates that same language.

But the New York Court of Appeals has severely circumscribed municipal home rule, holding as recently as 2013 that the State's authority was paramount even over the City's local taxi medallion industry, reasoning that "the public health, safety and welfare of residents of the State of New York traveling to, from or within the City of New York" is "a matter of substantial State concern."

So if the Governor wants to overrule the Mayor in this situation, he clearly can do so.

Leaving no doubt about it, the State Legislature just two months ago amended New York State Executive Law 29-a to expand the Governor's power to respond to such an emergency. That statute now authorizes the Governor, "by executive order," to "temporarily suspend any state, local law, ordinance, or orders, rules or regulations, or parts thereof, of any agency, during a state disaster emergency, if compliance with such provisions would prevent, hinder, or delay action necessary to cope with the disaster or if necessary to assist or aid in coping with such disaster."

The State Legislature explained that it intended by this amendment to allow "the governor" to issue "any directive necessary to respond to a state disaster emergency." That statute further provides that the Governor "may issue any directive during a state of disaster emergency declared" in an "epidemic," now defined to include a "disease outbreak."

Thus, when Mayor de Blasio suggested in mid-March that he was considering a "shelter-in-place" order for New York City, Governor Cuomo sought to pre-empt the field by issuing an executive order that "no locality or political subdivision shall issue any local emergency order" regarding COVID-19 "without the approval of the State Department of Health."

As a result, it seems crystal clear that Governor Cuomo has the emergency authority to issue executive orders intended to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including overriding the requirements of existing laws and the directives of local officials like Mayor de Blasio for the duration of the crisis. And court decisions support that conclusion.

For example, just last month, a state court judge ruled that "it is within the Governor's power to suspend th[e] statutory right" to a preliminary hearing "during a state emergency disaster." And nearly 20 years ago, another state court judge found that Governor Pataki had the power to suspend the Speedy Trial Act in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center.

Of course, the State Legislature remains free to check the Governor by taking back the power it gave him. Indeed, it expressly provided in Executive Law 29-a that it "may terminate by concurrent resolution executive orders issued under [that statute] at any time." In reality, though, the State Legislature gave the Governor that power and even expanded it in the early days of this COVID-19 crisis, so that is not going to happen anytime soon.

In other words, within New York State, Governor Cuomo really does have the "total authority" that President Trump claimed over all 50 states to direct emergency response during this pandemic. And there's nothing Mayor de Blasio can do to cross him because the Governor can override any of the Mayor's moves to address this emergency disaster. So in this chess match between political heavyweights, it's checkmate for Cuomo.

Randy Mastro is the Chair of Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation, a former New York City Deputy Mayor, and a current partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email

This guest column is part of Citizens Union Speakers, a regular series of op-eds written by members of the Citizens Union Foundation community in Gotham Gazette, CUF's flagship public education program. The opinions expressed in these Citizens Union Speakers columns are those of the authors alone, not Citizens Union Foundation, Gotham Gazette, or any other entity.

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Cuomo v. De Blasio: Who Has the Last Word on Reopening New York City? Mon, 04 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
The State Legislature in a State of Emergency num limited senate

A near-empty chamber conducts Senate business (photo: NY Senate Media Services)

As New York has become the country’s epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo has stepped onto the national stage as New York's (and the region's) captain, coordinating the state's response to the outbreak with a profusion of executive orders and fireside chats from the State Capitol, streamed daily and with PowerPoint.

The governor has signed 11 executive orders, suspending dozens of laws, as he, his top aides, and public health officials respond to the most pressing needs presented by the emergency. He has been speaking regularly with President Trump and is leading a growing coalition of states in taking unified action to battle the novel coronavirus.

"I accept full responsibility," the governor said Friday when he signed a sweeping order to require all non-essential businesses statewide to close or stop having employees commute to work. "If someone is unhappy, somebody wants to blame someone, people complain about someone, blame me. There is no one else who is responsible for this decision."

While the Legislature retains some significant power in an emergency, like the ability to override any executive emergency decree, it so far has settled into a role of limited checks on Cuomo's executive power as the disaster unfolds. Few question the necessity of swift, resolute government during a crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak in New York. But some watchdogs note the legislative branch has become marginal in governing during the crisis, while much of the state's complex legal and regulatory framework is pushed aside.

The governor's emergency powers come from a set of statutes known as the Executive Law, which give Cuomo virtually unilateral discretion to modify or suspend any law or regulation in a disaster. At his request, the governor's power in such circumstances was recently expanded through legislation passed by the two Democratic majorities of the Legislature, along with a $40 million package to help him fight the virus.

"The governor has very broad power to set aside, modify provisions of state and local law in a disaster to address the disaster," said Evan Davis, senior counsel at the law firm Cleary Gottlieb and former counsel to Governor Mario Cuomo in the 1980s. "And the limit on that power is: the Legislature may terminate...anything that the governor has done."

"They do have an ability to pull the governor back, but whether or not they have the interest in doing so is another question entirely," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a good government watchdog.

The reasons are complicated. The State Legislature is a huge, two-house, many-member body that operates on majority rule, and simply cannot act as quickly as the governor. Because of its congregational nature, its day-to-day operations have been profoundly disrupted by social distancing mandates (somewhat unique to the coronavirus, as opposed to a hurricane, terrorist attack, or many other emergency events). And the speed of new information about the outbreak and the number of new directives being issued by state, city, and federal officials daily is unprecedented in recent history.

On March 3, the Legislature passed and Cuomo quickly signed the bill freeing up $40 million in state funds to go toward emergency coronavirus management and amending the Executive Law to give the governor greater powers during an emergency, which will not expire until April 30, 2021, a move that has raised concerns among advocates like Horner.

The amended law gives Cuomo the power to suspend any law and authorizes him to issue "any directive" as long as it is "necessary to cope with the disaster." But the statute retains an important clause, which gives the Legislature power to terminate any order of the governor's through concurrent resolution. A majority vote in both chambers is sufficient to block any executive action.

"So it's sort of important that the Legislature stays open for business at the capacity to act, otherwise they lack all capacity to be a check on an absolute power by the chief executive," Davis said.

"Obviously you want to defer greatly to the chief executive in this kind of situation but absolute power is never a good idea," he added.

How exactly the Legislature "stays open for business" poses another challenge, with three lawmakers already testing positive for COVID-19, all in the Assembly, and activity in the chambers reduced to a trickle as government employees move mostly to remote work. Davis suggests the Legislature can use its termination power under the Executive Law as a check on Cuomo, to bring him to the table in setting the parameters for executive orders.

There is no provision in state law that requires the governor to give advance notice of executive orders to the Legislature, Davis noted.

"We are working closely with the Executive and the Assembly," wrote Gary Ginsburg, a spokesperson for the State Senate majority conference, by email. Spokespeople for Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Cuomo (all Democrats) did not respond to inquiries about the nature of communication among the leaders around executive orders, or whether norms around their vetting are being established.

Legislators have returned to Albany to pass some key bills, including paid sick leave, doing so using a special new approach to social distancing while debating and voting in the chambers.

Having moved largely to tele-commuting and facing the pressures posed by the outbreak, Horner fears legislators may have also lost ground in negotiating the state budget, which is due April 1.

"The governor is in the driver's seat to begin with, the Legislature now really is not even in the front seat anymore. They've moved to the back seat when it comes to the budget," he said.

Budget negotiations are happening, and legislators may return to the capital this week, possibly to vote on a deal if one comes together. Cuomo has insisted that legislators should continue to travel to the capital to do their work and pass a budget before the April 1 deadline, which starts the new fiscal year. He’s also said he wants to include a variety of policy decisions in the budget deal, an annual Albany practice but where the governor is potentially able to exercise even more leverage this year.

"It's not like they haven't thought about the [Executive Law], they just passed an amendment to it a couple of weeks ago,” Horner said of legislators. “They are well aware of their powers, they are well aware they could put the brakes on the governor if they wished, and there's no evidence that they wished to do so.”

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The State Legislature in a State of Emergency Mon, 23 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000