Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/513 Wed, 08 Jul 2020 11:22:58 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) James Oddo's Not Done Fighting the Bureaucracy, But He's Also Not Running for Mayor https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8993-james-oddo-not-done-fighting-bureaucracy-also-not-running-for-mayor https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8993-james-oddo-not-done-fighting-bureaucracy-also-not-running-for-mayor bp jim oddo press ferry

SI BP James Oddo, right, with Mayor de Blasio (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


James Oddo, the outspoken Republican Staten Island Borough President, doesn’t want to talk about President Donald Trump or the contentious congressional race heating up in his borough, and says he won’t run for mayor of New York City or any other elected office ever again. But none of that’s to say that the zip is coming off Oddo’s trademark chin-music political fastball.

“The bureaucracy is too big and and the reality is but for one time—during Rudy Giuliani—that's when we were treated really well...So yeah, I would want to see us be our own city,” Oddo said of Staten Island secession from New York City, during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy podcast.

Oddo, an avid baseball fan, was asked the question of the ongoing but recently rekindled debate about Staten Island becoming its own city, jump-started again as his fellow Staten Island Republicans, City Council Members Joe Borrelli and Steve Matteo, have now introduced legislation seeking a study of secession.

Oddo said that after Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican, gave Staten Island special treatment, it was dealt with fairly well, as “one of five,” under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-independent (and now Democrat again as he seeks the presidency), but frustrations have grown again under Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat.

As for de Blasio, whom Oddo considers a personal friend, he said: “The perception, whether it's the truth or not, let's put that aside; the perception of this administration from early on was they're not about delivering services. Well, it's the Mayor's Office; it’s the Department of City Planning; it’s the Department of Transportation. That's your job. And so my job is, instead of working with my partners in government, is too often dragging them along.”

“Some commissioners, some agencies...they want to work with you,” Oddo said, digging into one of his favorite topics: his battle with government bureaucracy. “Some aren’t led well and there’s bureaucracy... some agencies again are really responsive -- School Construction Authority...Lorraine Grillo: absolute best; City Planning: absolute worst; insular; indifferent defiant.”

Oddo emphasized that his goal as borough president has been to steer clear of partisan bickering and instead focus on improving the effectiveness of his office and the city agencies it interacts with on a daily basis in its efforts to provide better services to Staten Islanders.

“My mission was to get Staten Island a little better,” he said during the wide-ranging interview, reflecting on what will soon be six years as borough president. “I’ve never been ideological. I see my job as to establish relationships in order to get stuff done,” he said. As he often does, Oddo indicated that he works the phones and schedules meetings and pushes buttons in order to get answers and action from city agencies, but stressed that such progress shouldn’t depend on whether he can personally call the mayor and get him to spur a city commissioner to action.

Oddo continues to search for broader systemic change in how government does business. What does it ultimately come down to? Leadership at the top that establishes the right get-it-done culture, including striking the right balance of delegation and empowerment.

“You have to be hands on. You have to lead. You have to have to surround yourself with talented people who are leaders. You have to allow them to lead, but there's got to be accountability to you,” Oddo said.

A major difficulty in delivering effective government services comes down to a dysfunctional agency culture, Oddo said. City commissioners, for instance, enjoyed considerable power during the Bloomberg administration; Oddo called this the “golden era” of being a commissioner as Bloomberg kept many of the same officials for much or all of his 12 years, allowing the commissioners to run their departments without extensive outside accountability. The negative side of that era, Oddo said, is that those commissioners who were there a long time could become too calcified in their ways.

Local Issues
Oddo takes a very conservative approach to development on Staten Island, in part, he says, the island’s infrastructure can’t handle significant population growth and in part because Staten Islanders like their communities the way they are, and live on Staten Island to have something of a suburban lifestyle.

The borough president is frustrated by the recently-passed rezoning of part of northern Staten Island, which was led by the City Planning Department and approved by City Council Member Debi Rose, and he says the area isn’t ready for given its limited infrastructure.

“The biggest lesson in the history of Staten Island is...you have to plan because we have no infrastructure,” Oddo said. “We already have three-and-a-half rush hours. We already have sewer backups in people’s homes. We already have communities that don’t have storm sewers. So, when you say you want to add density, you have to do it smartly and you have to put the investment in infrastructure.”

Oddo said he received support about combating “irrational development” from de Blasio, but that the results have been disappointing. The mayor charged City Planning with taking on the issue on Staten Island, but the department only created a working group, which met once, and no further action was taken, Oddo said.

But Oddo’s pleased with progress, in part due to his partnership with first-term Democratic Congressional Rep. Max Rose and federal funding, on the way in the form of an East Shore Seawall, as well as the coming expansion of the city’s fast ferry service to the borough.

Oddo’s list of priorities over his final two-plus years in office include implementation of the early phases of the seawall and the ferry service, continuation of his public health agenda, and devoting resources towards philanthropic organizations such as Meals and Wheels and Staten Island’s Children’s Aid Society.

“I don’t want to say it's, like, ‘It's personal, it's my time,’ but some of this is, when I look back, I want to make sure that, you know, I live true to my values,” he said, indicating repeatedly that he is focused on getting as much done as possible over the next two-plus years before he’s term-limited out of office.

Community health and wellness has been a major focus for Oddo, including efforts related to the proper amount of sleep, especially for young people. And Oddo argued that the benefits of investing in local health programs extend to all taxpayers.

“And if you're a taxpayer, if you are in my political party and you’re like, ‘What is Oddo doing on health and wellness? That's not what government should do,’ I could sit down and have a cold beer with him and I think make the argument from a very conservative point of view about as a taxpayer why I'm tired of paying for people's health care,” Oddo said.

Policing
On issues related to policing and crime in the borough, and the ongoing aftermath of the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, including the recent firing of NYPD Officer Daniel Panatalo, Oddo expressed overall optimism and in particular cited the increased presence of neighborhood coordination officers (NCOs), part of the neighborhood policing model de Blasio has instituted across the city, as a successful program.

“I think we are in a much better place today than we were a few years ago in terms of overall police-community relations,” Oddo said. “The NCOs and community policing has gone a long way. It’s a major success on Staten Island…[Neighborhood policing] works for different reasons in different parts of the borough in terms of race relations. I think the community has gotten to build a relationship with these cops. I think the police officers have gotten to build relationships with the community. I think the tensions have dissipated to a large degree.”

On Pantaleo’s firing and the atmosphere on Staten Island, where many NYPD officers live, Oddo said that the process, while difficult for the community, had not appeared to undermine the progress around police-community relations or how officers are doing their jobs.

“There’s been no ‘Pantaleo effect’ that we can see,” he said, referring to the notion that after Pantaleo’s firing officers took few police actions out of hesitation or protest. “They’re going out there, and they’re doing a good job,” Oddo said of police officers.

Politics
“You won’t see my name on a ballot in a competitive race again,” Oddo said at one point in the interview. But why not run for mayor, given Republicans’ only chance to win could be a more moderate, government service-oriented straight-talker? “I don't think I can win. And I don't want those parts of the job,” he said of some of the politics.

He continued: “I do, though, have aspirations and ambitions of actually being on the inside...Put me on the inside with some TNT and watch me blow up the bureaucracy.” Oddo has previously said a dream job for him would be first deputy mayor. Reminded of this during the interview he said he wouldn’t even need that high of a position, just some control over key pieces of the city government he’s been wrestling with for so many years from outside mayoral administrations.

Before the city is fully focused on the next mayoral race, the 2020 elections will dominate local and national politics. Those themes meet on Staten Island as first-term Democratic Representative Max Rose seeks reelection in New York’s 11th Congressional District, which includes all of the island and a slice of Brooklyn. Rose is expected to face State Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis in the general election in a race that already has a lot of national attention, given that the seat has been somewhat reliably Republican in the past.

Oddo, who has developed a strong working relationship with Rose and does not appear close with Malliotakis, declined to give support for either candidate. However, while insisting that he was not taking “veiled shots” at either candidate, he broadly criticized what he called “perpetual campaigns” by career politicians seeking office over and over again.

“I don't like perpetual campaigns and I don't like two-year campaigns,” Oddo said. “And what this will be is...if Nicole Malliotakis beats Max Rose, Max Rose is going to run against her two years later. So this will be a perpetual campaign for four years. I don't think that's good for Staten Island. I don't think that's that that's good for the body politic.”

Superstorm Sandy Recovery
On New York’s recovery from Superstorm Sandy, roughly seven years after the storm hit and devastated many parts of Staten Island, Oddo expressed grave disappointment.

“The recovery has been the single most infuriating, heartbreaking experience of a nearly 30-year career in public service,” Oddo said, adding that he laid most of the blame on the administrations of Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio.

“We had the opportunity to take the harder path and rebuild a different way, and we didn’t. We did incremental instead of transformative,” he said. Oddo’s hope was that the city would engage in acquisition for redevelopment, buying out homeowners in some places, and rebuilding communities more comprehensively, with real planning conscientious of a variety of needs and of potential disasters like Sandy. While he’s pleased about the coming East Shore Seawall, that is still years away and little has been done since Sandy hit to prepare Staten Island for future major storms.

New York is “no better prepared for the next storm” than before Sandy, Oddo said. “When you look at the final product, it doesn’t honor the people we lost [during Sandy] and it really is an example of government at its worst.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Staten Island Borough President James Oddo]

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by Ben Max & Stephen Wyer

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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James Oddo's Not Done Fighting the Bureaucracy, But He's Also Not Running for Mayor Mon, 16 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Staten Island Borough President James Oddo https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8882-max-murphy-podcast-staten-island-borough-president-james-oddo https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8882-max-murphy-podcast-staten-island-borough-president-james-oddo james oddo si 600 px

Staten Island BP James Oddo (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)


October 28, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Staten Island Borough President James Oddo

james oddo podOutspoken Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, a Republican, joined the podcast to discuss a wide range of topics, from the status of his constituents seven years after Superstorm Sandy to how well his borough is prepared for the next big storm, from housing and development on the island to what he thinks is needed to make New York City government run better, from Mayor de Blasio's record to what the next mayoral race will about, and much more.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Staten Island Borough President James Oddo Mon, 28 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Donovan, Grimm in Final Days of Contentious Congressional Primary https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7765-donovan-grimm-in-final-days-of-contentious-congressional-primary https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7765-donovan-grimm-in-final-days-of-contentious-congressional-primary grimm donovan ny1

Rep. Donovan, left, and former Rep. Grimm on NY1


Perhaps the most-watched congressional primary in New York ahead of Tuesday’s vote is the Republican contest centered on Staten Island, where former Congressional Representative Michael Grimm is attempting to unseat incumbent Representative Dan Donovan in what has been a nasty, hard-fought race with a heavy focus on President Donald Trump.

The district, which includes all of Staten Island and a sliver of southern Brooklyn, is home to many Trump supporters, especially in the Republican primary, and both candidates have been pledging allegiance to the commander in chief, despite each having a fairly moderate record. Trump recently endorsed Donovan, a fact that the incumbent -- who voted against Trump’s signature tax reform legislation -- has been touting as he attempts to stave off what appears to be a very serious threat to his reelection.

The winner of the Republican primary will face the victor on the Democratic side in what promises to be a spirited general election also centered around Trump and the first-term president’s policies. While the district almost exclusively elects Republicans to Congress, Democrats see an opportunity this year given heightened expectations about turnout in the first national elections since Trump shocked much of the world in 2016.

But first, the Grimm-Donovan contest has been full of energy, policy, and drama. While Donovan has virtually all of the institutional support, including from all of the Republican elected officials in the area, a long list of labor unions, and the two newspaper editorial boards that stand to matter to primary voters -- the Staten Island Advance and the New York Post -- Grimm still retains a strong following in the district and is putting his formidable campaign skills to work.

In endorsing Donovan in a move it acknowledged as exceptional given its reluctance to weigh in during party primaries, the Advance editorial board called it an "extraordinary race" indicative of "this era of out-of-the-ordinary phenomena on America's political landscape." "For us, there is no question: Dan Donovan deserves to be the Republican nominee," the board wrote. "He has served Staten Island with distinction and sensitivity, despite accusations to the contrary tossed about by Mr. Grimm."

The two candidates recently engaged in one radio and one television debate, where they lobbed personal and professional attacks against each other, attempted to prove who is the most supportive of the president, defended their policy records, and presented some sense of their vision for representing the district into the future if entrusted by voters to do so.

The debate on WABC radio, hosted by Rita Cosby, was full of argument and insults, emblematic of the overall race, which has been bitterly fought and has included a number of specific allegations of wrongdoing in each direction, not to mention discussion of Grimm’s time in prison after he pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion. It was that plea that led him to resign from Congress just after winning reelection in 2014, in what is the only Republican-held Congressional seat in New York City.

The debate on NY1 television, moderated by Errol Louis along with Courtney Gross and Anthony Pascale at the College of Staten Island, was a somewhat tamer affair than the radio debate, and included a bit more substance, though it did not lack for candidate attacks.

“My opponent’s whole campaign has been based on lies about my record and about his,” Donovan said near the start of the radio debate, responding to a question about whether his own campaign excessively used Grimm’s criminal record. “The people have to know what the truth is.”

“What I think it is,” Grimm responded, “is he’s trying to reflect onto me the fact that he’s been lying about his own record.”

During his opening statement of the TV debate, Grimm criticized Donovan’s decision to not rent a D.C. apartment but to instead sleep at his office while working in the capital, which the incumbent calls an efficiency measure.

“I’m running again because over the last three years, my opponent hasn’t just been sleeping in his office, he’s been sleeping on the job,” Grimm said. “And that’s why I’m asking for your vote.

In asking for votes, Grimm cannot bolster his pleas with the backing of the president, whom he has heaped praise on an attacked Donovan for not supporting enough.

The president backed Donovan’s candidacy in two tweets that lauded the incumbent for his stances on borders, crime, the military, and tax cuts. Donovan boasted of Trump’s support during the NY1 debate,  noting that not Trump not only supported his candidacy but denounced Grimm’s, making an apparent reference to Grimm’s record and the notion that Grimm would be a weaker general election candidate than Donovan. The president analogized Grimm’s candidacy to that of Roy Moore in the 2017 special Senate election in Alabama. Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was the rare Republican to lose an Alabama Senate race to a Democrat, doing so amid allegations of sexual assault.

“I have a campaign going on now that you’re watching and witnessing that’s filled with lies and distortions, so much so that the president of the United States had to come in and set the record straight,” Donovan said. “He told the people of our community he wants me to be the candidate, he wants me back in Congress to help him make the America first agenda succeed and help make America great again.”

With each candidate’s allegiance to the president clear, they were asked if they would side with Trump even if it meant harming the district. Both said while they support the president’s national goals, the district will always come first. They each cited a time when they opposed the Republican Party while they were in Congress.

Grimm spoke about his flood insurance reform bill in 2014 — a measure put in place to repeal overwhelming increases in flood-insurance rates after Superstorm Sandy devastated New York — citing that he “risked my career” to get the bill passed despite harsh opposition from Republicans.

Donovan reminded viewers that he was one of only 12 House Republicans to vote against the GOP tax bill in December, citing that it harms high-tax states like New York.

“I voted with the president 90% of the time,” Donovan said during the NY1 debate. “I voted with the people I represent 100% of the time.”

Still, Grimm challenged Donovan’s allegiance to the president during the WABC debate, citing how the incumbent has voted against major legislation pushed by the Trump administration, such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a ban of sanctuary cities, and the passage of the tax reform bill.

“Those are three signature issues that our president actually ran on,” Grimm said.

Though he doesn’t have Trump’s endorsement Grimm drew his own parallel with the president, saying that he was targeted by then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch just as Trump has been targeted by special counsel Robert Mueller in the federal investigation into possible Russian collusion and other matters during the presidential election.

“I think everyone knows that I had three delivery boys and a dishwasher off the books,” Grimm said during the radio debate, referring to his hiring of undocumented employees to work at his Manhattan-based health food restaurant, Healthalicious. “And I never hid from that. It was a civil offense that the Obama Justice Department, that is politically corrupt, used against me.”

In 2014, Grimm was indicted on 20 counts, including charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, and the preparation of false federal tax returns, although he only pleaded guilty to one charge of tax evasion. When asked during the radio debate if he would now release his tax returns, Grimm said he would not because he’s “not required to,” then said that Donovan pushing for the release of his tax returns was “a typical liberal line.”

On more substantive matters facing the country and the district, the race has had a lot of discussion of immigration, as well as storm recovery and resiliency, the opioid addiction crisis, and other matters.

Neither candidate’s website specifically addresses immigration policy, but Grimm’s prior employment of undocumented workers and Donovan’s vote against punishing sanctuary cities like New York — cities that limit their cooperation with the federal government over the enforcement of immigration law — has elicited strong criticism from one another and some discussion of policy proposals.

Grimm advocates for the implementation of a stronger guest worker program and e-verify, a system that allows employers to verify the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S. Donovan snapped backed during both debates that Grimm’s sudden support of e-verify is contradictory given his history of hiring of undocumented workers.

“The one thing he mentioned that’s pretty ironic, though, is e-verify,” Donovan said on NY1. “If we had e-verify when he owned his restaurant, he would have been caught a lot earlier because e-verify requires employers to check and verify the status of anybody that they hire.”

“Sanctuary city policy is a horrible, dangerous policy,” Grimm said during the WABC debate. “It came down to when you had an opportunity to send the message to Mayor de Blasio and ban sanctuary cities, the bottom line is he voted ‘no.’”

The former Richmond County district attorney defended his vote, stating on NY1 that he worked in law enforcement for 20 years.

“I believe that you have to enforce the laws and you can’t pick and choose which ones,” Donovan said. “Sanctuary cities choose which laws to enforce and they don’t enforce our federal immigration laws…if you’re not going to enforce the federal law, we’re not going to give you federal funds to do it.” He explained his vote, however, by saying he was worried about how Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, would adjust policing in the city based on withholding of federal funds.

In regards to the opioid epidemic on Staten Island, a significant issue in the district discussed during both debates, the two again quarreled. Donovan said within his first few months of office, he helped incorporate New York into a national database that would allow the state’s pharmacists and physicians to see whether or not patients were going to bordering states to get their prescriptions filled.

Grimm, on the other hand, contends that New York already had such a program in place with the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act, or I-STOP, and associates the rise of the opioid epidemic with Donovan’s 12-year tenure as Richmond County’s district attorney.

“If you really look at my opponent’s record as the district attorney, when he first came in…there was barely a problem,” Grimm said on WABC. “That problem grew into a crisis, that crisis became an epidemic on his watch. The reality is this epidemic was fostered under your watch.”

The allegation incensed Donovan, who argued that he was both tough and smart about the growing crisis while district attorney, and was not caught flat-footed by its growth, helping by both prosecuting dealing and pursuing preventative approaches for users.

Grimm also said that he attempted to make New York’s I-STOP program, which enables doctors and pharmacists to access data that could identify potential drug interactions or abuse between patients and other doctors, into a federal law, although it didn’t pass during his time in Congress.

On the issue of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, which was discussed during the NY1 debate, Grimm and Donovan agreed that parts of the program should remain, such as child eligibility for parental plans until the age of 26 and covering those with preexisting conditions.

Nevertheless, Grimm said the act should be torn apart and renewed from scratch, and he criticized Donovan for not voting for its repeal, though Donovan argued he didn’t vote to rescind the act only because there was not a suitable replacement plan.

“Government intervention into our healthcare system was probably the worst thing we could do,” Grimm said on Thursday. “The private sector does things more efficiently, more effectively, and we should keep the government as much as we can out of our health care.”

Donovan’s platform additionally pushes for creating new transportation projects to help those on Staten Island and in southern Brooklyn with long commutes, improving student aid for covering the costs of higher education, increasing healthcare competition while reducing premiums, supporting the Veterans Healthcare Choice Improvement Act, and fighting cuts to law enforcement resources, although these issues were barely — or not at all — brought up during either debate.

Grimm, whose campaign website does not have a page dedicated to issues, has announced his support of Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and supports the termination of the Diversity Lottery program in various press releases posted onto his website.

The only public poll of the primary put Grimm ahead by 10 points over Donovan, as conducted by NY1 and Siena College, though potential voters were polled right around the time of the Trump endorsement, the effect of which was likely untapped. Donovan also has former Mayor (and now Trump lawyer) Rudy Giuliani and virtually the entire New York Republican establishment behind him, including Republican elected officials from Staten Island like conservative City Council Member Joe Borelli and moderate Borough President Jimmy Oddo.

It’s a fact not lost on Grimm, who is using it to portray himself as the candidate of the people, though it is indicative of the fact that he is seen as toxic by many due to his criminal record and behavior such as his threatening a NY1 reporter while he was still in Congress.

“Dan Donovan has the entire establishment behind him,” Grimm said, responding to a question about the poll. “He has the president behind him. He has all of these endorsements and I only have the people behind me. And I’m okay with that.”

A Donovan campaign spokesperson, on the other hand, dismissed the lone poll results. “Siena poll means nothing,” tweeted Jessica Proud. “In the field prior to Trump endorsement, our internals show us up. Weight of paid media on endorsement going to crush his false narrative. Talk to me in a few weeks.”

Voters will do that talking on Tuesday.

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by Jordan Kimmel and Chelsey Sanchez

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Donovan, Grimm in Final Days of Contentious Congressional Primary Fri, 22 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Joe Borelli https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7659-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-joe-borelli https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7659-max-murphy-podcast-city-council-member-joe-borelli mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


May 7, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Joe Borelli

joe borelli podcast map 277

Joseph Borelli is a City Council member, former state Assembly member, Staten Islander, conservative Republican, and outspoken Donald Trump supporter. On the podcast, Borelli discusses his district, his constituents and their concerns, the fact that he is a "proponent of secession" for Staten Island from the rest of New York City, his take on Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, President Trump, the media, and more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy, and this week's guest is @JoeBorelliNYC. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: City Council Member Joe Borelli Mon, 07 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Interests Given Varied Priority in Three Albany Budget Plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6226-new-york-city-interests-given-varied-priority-in-three-albany-budget-plans https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6226-new-york-city-interests-given-varied-priority-in-three-albany-budget-plans de blasio heastie albany

De Blasio & Heastie (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio didn't need to see the Assembly and Senate one-house budgets to know where he stands with each chamber - Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is a close ally of the mayor, his fellow New York City Democrat, while Senate Republicans hold a major grudge against de Blasio for leading a failed effort to boot them from the majority two years ago. Most Republican legislators, who control the Senate but not the Assembly, are also philosophically opposed to much of de Blasio's agenda.

Still, the documents give de Blasio - himself in the midst of a city budget process that depends quite a bit on state decisions - more clarity as budget negotiations truly heat up in the capital. With the governor's executive budget out for two months, plus the newly passed one-house budgets, de Blasio now has an idea of how hard a fight he and his allies have to get what they want.

The Legislature uses one-house budgets to set chamber priorities after analyzing the governor's spending plan, which is typically issued at the start of the year. The budgets are non-binding but used to send clear messages about majority conferences' top priorities before entering final negotiations with the governor.

While there are a variety of city-specific issues at play, de Blasio has made it clear that he is supportive of Cuomo's push for both a minimum wage increase toward $15 per hour over the next several years and a paid family leave policy. These are two major agenda items for the governor, where Cuomo laregly has Democratic support but must negotiate deals with Republicans.

With all three budgets out, Mayor de Blasio, city officials and residents are all taking note of where things stand on several other major issues.

Mayoral Control of Schools
Cuomo: The governor's budget includes a three-year extension of mayoral control, which is fairly short compared to the seven-year extension Mayor Michael Bloomberg was able to win during his tenure. Last year Cuomo also proposed three years, but the three parties only agreed on a one-year extension in June, angering de Blasio and his allies. (The issue was bumped beyond the budget into legislative session last year, as it may again this year.)

Assembly: Mayor de Blasio's allies in the Assembly support a seven-year extension of mayoral control, which would make expiration June 30, 2023. Such a distant date would remove the issue from the political equation for years to come and prevent Cuomo and Senate Republicans from holding it over de Blasio's head, even through a potential second term for the mayor.

Senate: While addressing the chamber before the vote on its one-house budget on Monday, Majority Leader John Flanagan said that he didn't feel mayoral control was a budget issue. He indicated he expects to have relevant hearings later in the year where de Blasio will be asked to testify. When asked about attending hearings by Gotham Gazette de Blasio said on Monday that he had expected them and welcomes the chance to discuss mayoral control. He was quick to remind that he had already met with Flanagan and discussed the subject.

"I've already sat down with him, obviously, and talked to him about this," de Blasio said on Monday at an unrelated press conference in Harlem, referring to the mayor's trip to Albany earlier this year. "I certainly made my case to him, it was a very good and respectful meeting. I think he heard my points. I'm not saying he agreed with all of them, but he heard them. He knows a lot about education, obviously, from his own work on the education committee in the Senate. And I will welcome a dialogue. I told him I will happily appear at a hearing any time."

CUNY and Medicaid Cost Shifts
Cuomo: The governor's budget could cost the city nearly a billion dollars in funding through plans that would see the city assume increasing costs for Medicaid and funding for CUNY. The governor insists that the city can afford to take on a greater share of the costs of both city-state programs.

Facing criticism from de Blasio, his allies, and budget watchdogs who warned the shifts would devastate the city's finances, Cuomo insisted his budgeting would simply foster a joint cost-saving exercise that in the end wouldn't cost the city anything. However, no adjustments were made to the plan in the governor's 30-day budget amendments, leaving the cost shifts as an expensive bargaining chip. While aides to de Blasio and Cuomo have been in conversation, there has been no evidence of progress in finding such efficiencies.

Assembly: Assembly Democrats rejected both cost shifts, winning the praise of the mayor and education groups who have turned up lobbying efforts in recent weeks. Advocates say the cost shifts would devastate CUNY and make it much harder to provide higher education, especially to those who can't afford private school tuition.

Senate: Both proposals remain in the Senate plan. Debate over the CUNY shifts took a curious turn on Monday as Republican Sen. Cathy Young, the chair of the finance committee, offered a new rationale for the CUNY proposal: the cost shift as a punishment for recent anti-Semitic incidents at CUNY and what some lawmakers see as an inefficient response to them.

"In light of recent anti-Semitic events at CUNY campuses," reads the Senate's budget summary, "the Senate denies additional funding for CUNY senior schools until it is satisfied that the administration has developed a plan to guarantee the safety of students of all faiths. The Senate fully understands the importance of the City University System, and supports the full restoration of State support when this difficult and atrocious situation is adequately addressed."

Democrats were taken aback by the rationale. "Everyone agrees that anti-Semitism is bad. But the way you fight it is not by hurting the students," said Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky of Queens.

"This administration has been outspoken in ensuring that NYC continues to be a model for other cities in combating anti-Semitism," de Blasio said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Our institutions of higher education must be spaces where people of all faiths can thrive and feel safe, and CUNY must ensure that's the case. The best tool to combat hate is education - and we must be investing in it, not cutting it."

Tax-Exempt Affordable Housing Bonds
Cuomo: The governor's budget includes a proposal to give the state final say over housing projects financed by federal tax-exempt bonds the state distributes. The Public Authorities Control Board, made up of one appointee each from the Governor and legislative leaders, would have the ability to veto individual affordable housing projects. Cuomo touted the plan as lending transparency to the process, but contractors, housing advocates, Mayor de Blasio, and others expressed significant worry it would lead to instability, uncertainty, and delay to badly-needed affordable housing projects.

Assembly: Rejects the plan.

Senate: Rejects the plan.

De Blasio appeared buoyed when asked about both chambers rejecting the plan. "I think in the democratic system that's a rather striking statement," the mayor told reporters on Monday afternoon. "We said from the beginning that we thought this would make it harder to create affordable housing, and would slow the process down. It's quite clear the Senate and the Assembly agree, and we appreciate their support and look forward to working with them, because we need to, in fact, speed up the supply of affordable housing, not slow it down."

Construction Takeover
Cuomo: The governor's budget proposes the creation of "The New York State Design and Construction Corp." that would be given oversight of public construction projects worth over $50 million. The DCC would be a subsidiary of the state's Dormitory Authority and would be headed by three commissioners, all appointed by the governor. Budget watchdogs and legislators see the plan as a power grab designed to give the Governor say in major construction projects headed by independent agencies such as the MTA.

Assembly: Rejects the plan.

Senate: Rejects the plan.

MTA Funding
Cuomo: The governor's plan technically provides $8.3 billion in funding for the MTA capital plan, per an earlier commitment Cuomo made in striking a deal with de Blasio over plugging a funding gap. However, the governor's budget only appropriates $1 billion for the MTA this year and puts off the rest of the funding until the MTA exhausts its current resources.

Assembly: Rejecting Cuomo's condition that the MTA exhausts its current funding first, the Assembly plan appropriates the remaining $7.3 billion Cuomo's plan puts off.

Senate: Accepting most of Cuomo's funding plan, the Senate requires the state to provide $3.5 billion in additional funding to the Department of Transportation Capital Plan.

Tenant Protection Unit
Cuomo: The governor's budget recommends $4.4 million in funding for the agency he credits with restoring 50,000 units to the affordable housing rolls. 

Assembly: Provides a $5.8 million appropriation for the unit.

Senate: Denies funding for the unit.

Next Steps
On Tuesday, the two houses of the Legislature convened a joint hearing to kick off the formal conference committee process whereby representatives of each house meet to hash out the differences in their plans. Leadership announced committee hearings on public protection, mental hygiene, higher education, general government, environment and housing, transportation, economic development, human services/labor, and education all to take place throughout the day on Wednesday.

Cuomo, Heastie, and Flanagan are also expected to pick up their closed-door negotiations with the deadline for a final budget being April 1. When the state budget is decided, de Blasio will then have to weigh its impact on his budget negotiations with the City Council, with a final city budget due at the end of June.

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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New York City Interests Given Varied Priority in Three Albany Budget Plans Tue, 15 Mar 2016 22:33:16 +0000
Safe and Healthy Housing for All New Yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6186-safe-and-healthy-housing-for-all-new-yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6186-safe-and-healthy-housing-for-all-new-yorkers housing march parade

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


I just can't take the mice and the mold anymore.

For years, I have lived in a Staten Island apartment in desperate need of repair. I live there with my daughter, and we've constantly struggled to get our landlord to fix the problems that make our home an unhealthy place to live.

Over the past six years, we've frequently gone without heat and hot water, faced endless mold growing in our cabinets, and suffered rodent infestations that simply won't go away.

We've asked the landlord time and time again to make the repairs to the apartment that we need, but, when he finally does something, he only applies quick fixes. For instance, after we pushed hard for him to replace our moldy cabinets, he finally gave in—but the leak that caused the mold is still there, and it will soon grow again.

Ours is the story of thousands of New York families who suffer dangerous and unhealthy living conditions because of landlords who put profit above people. In my case, the conditions caused by the landlord's failure to make the necessary repairs have made my asthma worse; last week, I had to go to the hospital because of a respiratory infection. And, like any mother, I worry constantly about how our unhealthy apartment is affecting my daughter.

This type of problem afflicts tenants across the city. That's why it's so important that the New York City Council pass an important bill this year, Intro. 543, that addresses the underlying conditions that bad landlords like mine so often fail to address.

Here's what Intro. 543, introduced by lead sponsor Council Member Ritchie Torres, does: in the case that a landlord refuses to address the underlying condition causing a housing violation (for instance, a leak that produces mold), the bill would empower tenants like me to take our claims to housing court.

This is important because, all too often, when landlords finally act to address housing violations, they fail to deal with the physical defect or failure in the building system that causes the violation. An example with which many New Yorkers will be familiar: the landlord who patches the dripping ceiling or paints over mold, but fails to fix the leaky pipe that's producing the problem.

Currently, the city's housing agency (HPD) is only able to investigate up to 50 cases per year related to underlying conditions. The department does not currently have the capacity to fully take on all the cases that exist, which is why tenants like me need the legal recourses provided by this bill.

It's time for landlords to accept responsibility for ensuring that tenants like my family are living in apartments that are safe and healthy.

But landlords who profit enormously off of unhealthy apartments won't act alone. We have to make them, and that takes a change in the law. We need the City Council to pass Intro. 543 as soon as possible. If they don't, too many New Yorkers like me won't have the tools to ensure that our landlords make the repairs we need to make the mice and the mold go away.

***
Dulce María Rivera is a member of Make the Road New York, the largest grassroots community organization in New York offering services and organizing the immigrant community. On Twitter: @maketheroadny.

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

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Safe and Healthy Housing for All New Yorkers Mon, 22 Feb 2016 03:52:03 +0000
Eyeing 100 Schools, Will Success Academy Expand to Staten Island? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6170-eyeing-100-schools-will-success-academy-expand-to-staten-island https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6170-eyeing-100-schools-will-success-academy-expand-to-staten-island moskowitz rally

Eva Moskowitz & students at a charter school rally (photo: @MoskowitzEva)


With 34 schools currently serving around 11,000 students, Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy is, and will likely continue to be, the largest charter school network in New York City. Success currently operates in four boroughs and Moskowitz has an ambitious target of reaching 100 schools within the next decade, which prompts the question: Why are there no Success Academy schools on Staten Island?

Success Academy has not sought authorization to run a school on Staten Island. The borough only has three charter schools run by any provider, of the nearly 200 in the city. A fourth charter school is in the process of being set up. Some say that the borough’s current crop of district, charter, and private schools are relatively strong, leaving little demand for Success to move in. But, it may just be a matter of time, especially as the network continues to post extraordinary test scores and seeks to expand its reach further.

“We have a few charter schools that are serving our community’s needs, and if they no longer serve that need then I wouldn’t be opposed to Success Academy coming to Staten Island,” said Sam Pirozzolo, vice-president of the New York City Parents Union, a volunteer organization that has been a vocal supporter of the charter school movement.

Pirozzolo, who lives on Staten Island and was president of the borough’s community education council (largely parent advisory groups organized through a process run by the city Department of Education), said parents should be able to choose between district and charter schools, and that both have faults.

Success Academy hasn’t ruled out Staten Island in its expansion plan, said Ann Powell, a spokesperson for the network. “It’s certainly possible in the future,” she said pointing out that the network only expanded to Queens two years ago. “As we move forward,” she said, “we hope to be able to serve families and students in Staten Island.”

“Eva Moskowitz has a very good reputation with her charter schools,” Pirozzolo told Gotham Gazette, exemplifying the view of many who see Success schools as strong alternatives to traditional district schools.

Moskowitz, a former City Council member, founded the Success Academy network in 2006 after a failed run for Manhattan Borough President. She has staunchly defended the network’s methods, which elicit much debate. Critics say its strict disciplinary practices and overemphasis on testing are detrimental to students, while supporters cite high performance on standardized tests and stronger school culture than neighboring district schools.

Adding fuel to the fire have been controversies at individual schools. The New York Times on Friday posted a video from a Success Academy school that shows a teacher harshly reprimanding and shaming a first-grader for stumbling over a math problem. In October last year, the Times also exposed one Success principal’s “Got to Go” list of underperforming students, whose parents claimed they were being pushed out of the school. There have been separate allegations that students with disabilities are systematically mistreated. Two federal lawsuits have been filed recently against the network, with several more over the years. Public Advocate Letitia James and City Council Member Daniel Dromm, who heads the Council’s education committee (that Moskowitz once ran), have joined one of the newer complaints.

Moskowitz and Success have also battled with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has been an outspoken critic of Moskowitz, over school co-locations, and are currently tangling over pre-kindergarten contracts.

But there is no apparent evidence that these controversies and disputes have been mitigating factors for interest in Success schools among parents, especially in areas of the city with historically troubled schools, nor for interest in a Success school on Staten Island. There are even students who commute from the island to Success schools in other boroughs.

“We support any school – public, charter, or private – that gives Staten Island students a greater chance of success,” said Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, in an email. “With that in mind, we want Staten Island parents to have a variety of local school choices.”

Oddo said the “greatest outcry” from parents and advocates was for schools that better serve children with learning disabilities. He cited the example of a private school in Teaneck, New Jersey which specifically helps students who have difficulties with reading. A number of Staten Island students were enrolled there, he said, since their neighborhoods lacked adequate facilities and their tuition was paid by the Department of Education.

“If Eva Moskowitz, or anyone else, is interested in talking with us about how they can help us meet the needs of these students, we would certainly welcome that conversation,” Oddo said.

Mike Reilly, president of Community Education Council 31, which represents the entire borough, believes Success hasn’t made the move to Staten Island because existing public schools are doing well. CECs advise the Department of Education on district needs and communicate with local residents.

“We’ve noticed that many charter schools open in areas where there’s a concern over performance of district schools,” Reilly said. “The need for charter schools doesn’t seem to be there in Staten Island. I’ve never heard anyone ask about opening a Success Charter school.”

City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo, a Republican representing the mid-Island district, echoed this opinion. “The public and private schools in my district are well-regarded and I think parents are very happy with the choices they have,” Matteo said in a statement. “I am not sure there is a need, or necessarily a market for Success Academy here."

Most Success Academy schools are concentrated in areas of the city with the district schools that struggle the most - areas of the south Bronx, central Brooklyn, and northern Manhattan. Many parents see Success as desperately-needed alternatives to district schools with low standardized test scores and a lack of order. Some appear to be turned off by reports of Success suspension rates far higher than district schools’ and the extreme focus on performing well on test scores.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, believes that there is likely to be demand for Success charters on Staten Island even if it’s not overtly apparent. He speculated that transportation and infrastructure concerns might be holding back such a prospect.

“Networks generally try to not have their schools geographically dispersed. Growth might better happen through new independent schools or by someone starting a network, who lives on the island,” he said. He also noted that Success leaders have been adamant in the past about co-locating with existing schools and that Staten Island affords few schools with that capability.

Still, Merriman said, “I think there’s been demand for a Success school in most corners of the city.”

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

Read more by this writer.

Carmen Russo contributed reporting to this story.

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Eyeing 100 Schools, Will Success Academy Expand to Staten Island? Mon, 15 Feb 2016 03:33:41 +0000
To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6078-to-meet-staten-island-needs-borough-president-focuses-on-beating-bureaucracy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6078-to-meet-staten-island-needs-borough-president-focuses-on-beating-bureaucracy oddo torres springer meeting

SIBP Oddo, right, & Maria Torres-Springer of the de Blasio admin (photo from Oddo's Twitter) 


Staten Island has the highest rate of homeownership of any city borough, residents largely use cars to get around, since mass transit options are severely lacking, and despite being the city’s third largest borough in terms of square miles, Staten Island is home to just under 500,000 out of more than 8 million New Yorkers. There are a unique set of concerns on Staten Island, to say the least of the often strained relationship between the borough and City Hall.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo and the borough’s other elected representatives often feel as though they have to scratch and claw to get their constituents due attention and resources. While Mayor Bill de Blasio has been paying more attention to Staten Island than some may have expected considering it was the only borough he lost in his 2013 election, there is still a sense among many Islanders that the administration does not pay enough mind to their concerns.

In sending out an end-of-year message and in a subsequent interview, Oddo indicated the special circumstances of his borough, described an ongoing battle with “the bureaucracy,” and outlined the needs of Staten Islanders, progress made in 2015, and what to expect in 2016.

“For far too much of the last two years my staff and I have engaged in a full-fledged steel cage match with the bureaucracy, attempting to get City government to bring long planned projects to fruition,” Oddo said in an end-of-year message. “We have fought so that Borough Hall’s new visions and initiatives might take root, and wrestled with city agencies to work in conjunction with us to efficiently and effectively resolve the daily quality of life issues facing Staten Islanders.”

That “steel cage match” does not involve the mayor, Oddo explained in an interview with Gotham Gazette, but rather “middle managers or bureaucrats - folks that hold onto the status quo like grim death…deputy commissioner-level folks who have been in those city agencies” long before Mayor de Blasio or Oddo were elected to their current positions (the two were City Council colleagues at one point).

“I’m very pleased with the level of communication I have with the mayor himself, and with the deputy mayors. I think the frustration I’ve felt in the last two years is referring to individual agencies,” Oddo clarified, adding that he finds it “curious that there have been many instances over the last two years where it's been borough hall and the mayor's office versus their own agencies.”

Oddo has been particularly consumed with Sandy recovery, health and wellness, transit options, and road repaving.

To the borough president and his constituents, Staten Island’s lack of mass transit options and related severe traffic congestion are pressing issues that have a big impact on residents’ day-to-day lives, adding hours to their daily commutes. Yet that sense of urgency is not shared by some officials within city agencies, Oddo says, and as a result, issues go unresolved for long periods of time.

“I get the sense that for some long-standing agency officials, whether the project is completed in fiscal year ’19 or fiscal year ’29, it really doesn’t matter to them,” Oddo said.

The biggest issue to tackle in 2016, Oddo explained, is getting the city to help figure out a way to improve the commute on Staten Island. Staten Islanders spend more time and money on their commutes than the average New Yorker: Staten Island to Manhattan via express bus costs commuters about $57 each week, and while ferry service (the only other mass transit option that connects Staten Island to Manhattan) is free, the boat ride takes almost half an hour, and getting to the ferry can take between ten minutes and an hour-and-a-half for those relying on mass transit.

There is only one train on Staten Island, and that train runs exclusively along the east side of the borough, leaving a majority of those who need to use mass transit to get around Staten Island stuck waiting for the notoriously unreliable buses.

The initial draft report of the MTA’s comprehensive study of all existing bus routes on Staten Island (some of which were designed 40 or 50 years ago) should be received in 2016, Oddo said, and while “no one has any delusions that the MTA is going to come in with this unending source of capital money, we believe we can restructure these routes and find a great deal of efficiency. I really expect some improvements. That’ll be big in 2016.”

Oddo said that he hopes to “improve to some degree the commutes that are worsening by the day. It’s literally robbing hours of your life - it’s two to four hours on top of your workday.”

Though 2015 has seen progress toward improving Staten Island’s current mass transit options, with movement on the MTA study and Mayor de Blasio investing nearly $5 million a year to ensure the ferry runs every half-hour 24-hours a day, progress toward providing Staten Islanders with more transit options has been less than ideal.

“I’m not so happy with the progress that has not been made with the fast ferry,” Oddo said, referring to a new ferry program he’s advocated for. “We still have lots of work to do to make it a reality.”

Ideally, a fast ferry service would run from transit-starved areas of the borough which are far from the island’s existing north shore ferry location to areas with docks for ferries in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Mayor de Blasio did put forward a fast ferry plan last year, and funding from the city has been set, but the plan adds just one fast ferry location to the island, in Stapleton - a mere six minute drive away from the existing ferry terminal in Saint George.

In 2015, Oddo got a fast ferry service to conduct test runs from more remote locations on Staten Island, like Prince’s Bay, to lower Manhattan and midtown in an effort to prove the service would be a viable option for such locations.

The ferry from Prince’s Bay (which is at least a 45-minute bus/train ride away from the Staten Island ferry terminal) to lower Manhattan took 47 minutes during Oddo’s test runs.

Though the Stapleton fast ferry is arguably not what Staten Islanders looking to save time on their commutes need, given the city’s plans for economic development in the Bay Street Corridor/Stapleton area, the fast ferry could be helpful in the future, Oddo told the Staten Island Advance last year.

“There’s more to be done, and we’re going to keep working on expanding options,” Mayor de Blasio said when asked about the lack of mass transit options on Staten Island during a Jan. 4 press conference to promote the city’s new commuter benefits law.

While improving the commute for Staten Island residents is something Oddo says still “needs the city’s help in advancing,” the borough president says he is “happy with some of the progress that we’ve made with our health and wellness program, the tech hub [that will be created on Staten Island’s North Shore], and the “Too Good for Drugs” program that the mayor came out to announce.”

Oddo said out of all the initiatives that progressed in 2015, he is most proud of “Too Good for Drugs,” as Staten Island’s “epidemic in terms of opioid abuse” is a matter of “life and death.”

The educational anti-drug program for students, which started last year in fifth-grade classrooms in five Staten Island schools, “came out of Borough Hall, we’re very proud of it, and the feedback has been fantastic,” Oddo said.

“The folks at City Hall believe in it and it's one of several fronts that we need” to reduce substance abuse and drug overdose deaths, he added. Oddo said treatment programs are also needed, but preventing substance abuse by teaching “the notion of making smart decisions at as early as an age as possible” is seen as an important first step by Oddo.

Expanding “Too Good for Drugs” is one of the items on Oddo’s agenda for 2016, with the program set to expand to 47 schools after receiving $70,000 in the city budget.

Mayor de Blasio and his administration have made an effort to show City Hall remembers the “forgotten borough.” The mayor made several trips to Staten Island in 2015: he vowed to complete all repairs and construction still needed for Staten Island residents whose homes were ruined by Hurricane Sandy by 2016; he broke ground on Staten Island’s first Family Justice Center for domestic violence prevention and response; and announced his administration’s comprehensive effort to reduce opioid misuse and overdose deaths, among others.

“There will be a lot of town halls in 2016, including Staten Island,” de Blasio said during the Jan. 4 press conference when asked about doing a Q&A session on the island.

Besides continuing to fight that “steel cage match with the bureaucracy” to make the commute better for Staten Islanders and repaving the borough’s roads, 2016 will also “bring a new economic development campaign to entice businesses who are being priced out of other boroughs to think of Staten Island instead of New Jersey,” according to Oddo’s year-end message.

Oddo did not get into specifics in terms of his thinking about the ongoing development of the New York Wheel or the accompanying Empire Outlets expected to be constructed near the ferry terminal within the next few years as he spoke about different aspects of economic development, and had a clear focus on quality of life issues.

Other initiatives, he said, include “a new program to match Staten Island high school students with mentors in their areas of interest, and out-of-the-box ideas to help tackle North Shore traffic issues.”

***
by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette, @MegOConnor13

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To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy Sun, 10 Jan 2016 20:45:56 +0000
New York City Needs Supervised Injection Facilities https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6053-new-york-city-needs-supervised-injection-facilities https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6053-new-york-city-needs-supervised-injection-facilities mccray bassett thrivenyc

First Lady McCray & Health Comm. Bassett (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


There is a hot topic trending in the debate over the war on drugs: should there be safe places for intravenous drug users to inject? A panel of experts from around the world convened a symposium in New York City to share their experiences and the panelists and their sponsor, VOCAL NY, called for such a facility in the city. They are completely correct.

There are an estimated 100 supervised injection facilities worldwide and advocates credit them with reducing both overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases (HIV and hepatitis C). These facilities offer clean needles, a sterile environment, and emergency services in the case of an overdose. They also provide education, counseling, access to treatment, and other services that might save users' lives.

Without such refuge, addicts resort to "whatever it takes" to get high and the resulting health problems resonate throughout society by way of the spread of infectious disease and the death of loved ones.

The rise in heroin, the primary drug used via injection, is well-documented and New York is no exception. Staten Island is the borough hardest hit by the heroin epidemic; 74 people there died of overdose in 2014. Many heroin users began by taking prescription painkillers that are chemically similar and after becoming addicted find that heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain.

Mayor de Blasio traveled to Staten Island in early December to announce measures addressing the heroin crisis there. He has made naloxone, an overdose antidote, available in pharmacies without a prescription and promised to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment by licensing more physicians to prescribe maintenance drugs that dull the cravings for heroin.

These are good steps. We still need supervised injection facilities.

Naloxone does not prevent overdoses which can occur from the improvised situations that users often find themselves in. Supervised facilities prevent overdoses by providing an environment that is cleaner and less chaotic than, say, a gas station restroom.

The spread of infectious disease through unsanitary conditions and instruments represents an even deadlier and widespread threat than overdose - infected users spread disease to unsuspecting loved ones, often through sexual intercourse.

One of the thorniest problems in combating illegal drugs is the fact that they are illegal and addicts, because they are punished, deplored, and shamed for their disease, live in the shadows, apart from mainstream society. Supervised facilities provide a place where they are not judged. Staff, often recovered addicts who understand their dire situation, can offer users a path out of their misery and provide education on infectious diseases and methods of prevention.

Supervised injection facilities are one example of the "harm reduction strategy" towards substance abuse. Needle exchanges are another example; they accept the fact that users will utilize infected needles if that is their only choice, but respect that users are intelligent and prefer clean needles if they are available. The immediate result of needle exchanges is fewer persons infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, thus the harm of addiction is reduced. New York City has 15 needle exchanges, but only one on Staten Island and, sad to say, no one is asking for more.

The harm reduction strategy is the polar opposite of the 50-year-long "war on drugs" which was lost long ago, though few will admit it. Throughout the world opinion is shifting towards decriminalizing all drugs. A recent draft United Nations report recommended decriminalizing drugs and Portugal did so about ten years ago with no discernible detriment to civil society.

A recent editorial in the Staten Island Advance excoriated the idea of safe places like supervised injection facilities, saying that they encourage more drug use - but they do not; they encourage safe drug use.

It is the plain fact that many thousands of people, without any encouragement, are seeking out heroin for any number of reasons. On Staten Island, and throughout New York City, it is time to tear down the walls that separate us, bring users in from the cold, and offer them whatever help we can.

***
Christopher Beall works at a criminal justice nonprofit in the Bronx and is on Twitter @JailedintheUSA.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

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New York City Needs Supervised Injection Facilities Wed, 23 Dec 2015 16:01:24 +0000
Two New Reps Join the City Council https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5999-two-new-reps-set-to-join-the-city-council https://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5999-two-new-reps-set-to-join-the-city-council borelli grodenchik council

CMs Borelli, right, & Grodenchik are sworn in next to the Speaker (photo by William Alatriste) 


The New York City Council has two new members, each with prior experience in elected office and bringing to the 51-member body the perspective of New Yorkers living in the city's outer-reaches. Both districts being represented by new members are populated by many car- and single-family-home-owners.

One new representative - Barry Grodenchik of Queens - brings a fairly moderate Democratic viewpoint to the Council's majority, while the other new Council member - Joseph Borelli of Staten Island - brings an outspoken style to the Republican minority. Both Grodenchik and Borelli were sworn in on Tuesday, November 24, and participated in their first official Council business at that afternoon's "Stated Meeting."

Earlier this month, the two former Assembly members were chosen through special elections to fill Council vacancies created by members who resigned to take other jobs: Mark Weprin left to work for Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vincent Ignizio to lead Staten Island Catholic Charities.

The New York City Board of Elections counted all absentee and military ballots and officially certified the elections, and the two members took office. They were given a standing round of applause by their colleagues when they were announced into Council Chambers at City Hall.

Grodenchik, most recently a deputy Queens borough president after his time in the Assembly, prevailed in a crowded Democratic primary and went on to defeat his Republican opponent, retired police captain Joseph Concannon. Grodenchik will now serve the remainder of Weprin's term through 2017.

No stranger to elected office and political work, Grodenchik says he's ready to hit the ground running: "My learning curve is much shorter than a new Council member's would usually be," he said. "I bring experience in government. This is what we campaigned on and obviously people responded to that."

While Grodenchik says he's excited to work with his new colleagues, many of whom he knows well, and about the progressive direction of the Council, he also represents a district that largely differs on some of the policies of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, many Council members, and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Borelli, meanwhile, represents a district whose residents have even less affinity for the progressive direction the city is heading and the people leading that charge, starting with the mayor. Borelli is expected to bring a strong dissenting voice to the Council as he joins what will be a three-member Republican minority led by his Staten Island neighbor Steven Matteo and also includes Queens Council Member Eric Ulrich.

Coming from the Assembly minority, though, Borelli may actually have more opportunity to influence the policy discussions in the Council.

"I think it's a great time to be a member of the City Council because the spectrum of opinion is so wide," Borelli told Gotham Gazette. "I'm excited from a policy advocacy standpoint just to be able to present my opinion."

Besides their obvious disadvantage, he said the Republican minority is "a small but stalwart band."

Both Borelli and Grodenchik plan to make an impact over the next two years, as they described to Gotham Gazette in recent interviews, and will then be up for reelection in 2017, when the entire Council is on the ballot, including 11 seats where the current members are term-limited - chief among those being the speaker.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Mark-Viverito said, "Council Members-elect Barry Grodenchik and Joseph Borelli staunchly represented Queens and Staten Island in the New York State Assembly and now bring their strong records of public service to the City Council. I look forward to working with our incoming members to deliver results for New Yorkers across the five boroughs."

Gotham Gazette spoke at some length with both incoming Council members, Grodenchik and Borelli, about their experience and their priorities:

Barry Grodenchik, Queens Democrat, District 23
"I knocked on close to 5,000 doors in the course of the campaign. The two complaints that I heard over and over was water and sewer rates and property taxes going up each year," Grodenchik told Gotham Gazette. "Taxes on condos and co-ops are unfair. There's no question about it. That's something I'm going to gauge my colleagues on," he added.

Along with these issues of home ownership and affordability, Grodenchik cited transportation as a key concern. Situated on the edge of Queens, District 23 lacks much of the mass transit infrastructure in other parts of the city. There are no subway or Long Island Rail Road stops. "We live in what has been rightly called a mass transit desert," he said. "It can take an awfully long time to get from my district to the downtown business district," he said.

While he did not say he has any specific legislation in mind, Grodenchik is gathering a policy agenda and continuing to talk with constituents. He's been attending community and private meetings across the district, which covers Queens Village, Bayside, Douglaston, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park and Little Neck. One week this month he had more than a dozen meetings with representatives from community boards, civic, and cultural organizations, he said.

Grodenchik also has plans to visit every public school in his district over the next few months to familiarize himself with school officials and parent-teacher associations to "make sure they're getting what they need to be the best schools in the city," he said.

As a "good Democrat," Grodenchik has a strong contingent of progressive colleagues, some of whom he has known for years. He admires the progressive direction that the Council has taken in the last two years and says he will likely see eye-to-eye with them on most issues, but not all. "I think people can disagree without being disagreeable," he said, stating his ardent opposition to congestion pricing proposals as an example. "I see it as a tax, particularly for people in Queens. It's a non-starter as far as I'm concerned," he said.

But he looks forward to being a part of a Council that has become more equitable, he said, under current Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, with resources allotted to members and districts in a clear, fair fashion.

Grodenchik has a long history of serving Queens. He worked under Queens Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn; he was Chief Administrative Officer for Borough President Claire Shulman for more than ten years. He was also a deputy borough president under Helen Marshall. In 2002, he was elected to the New York State Assembly where he served till 2014 (Grodenchik ran an abbreviated campaign for Queens BP in 2013 before dropping out of the race during the primary - he went on to become eventual winner Melinda Katz's director of community boards.)

Government, at any level, is complicated, Grodenchik says, but "You have to be able to come to the table with people you like and people you don't like to craft a solution that works for both community and the city...to move the city forward in the best possible way."

Joseph Borelli, Staten Island Republican, District 51
Borelli, a state Assembly member, ran unopposed for District 51 on Staten Island, winning the seat formerly held by Vincent Ignizio. The district covers the southern end of the borough including neighborhoods such as Arden Heights, Bay Terrace, Oakwood, Great Kills, Richmond Valley, Huguenot and Princes Bay. Like Grodenchik's, it is also seen as a transportation desert.

For Borelli, the transition to the City Council is relatively easy. "The district is pretty much the same so I'm just sort of moving my bullseye over a bit," he said. With a strong idea of the work ahead, Borelli is making the rounds of the district. He has spent time during the last two weeks in meetings with his predecessor about issues to pursue and with city agencies to discuss capital projects in the district.

In setting his agenda, Borelli already has a few concrete priorities. "There are some major land use issues here that are especially important to us," he said of the construction of an outlet mall in Rossville at a massive liquefied natural gas storage site.

"These are big projects in this, some would say, backwater of New York City that require the same attention from the city planning and building department as some of the higher-profile projects in Brooklyn or Manhattan," he said.

He also hopes to improve the city's solid waste plan for e-waste which, he said, seems to work better in areas with high-rise buildings than it does in his community. "Why should it be more difficult for my community to get rid of a TV?"

A Republican, Borelli is not particularly on board with the Council's liberal bent, expressing his concern for many of the proposals recently put forward such as those to reform the NYPD and Riker's Island, and the decriminalization of minor offenses like public urination and open container violations.

"Some of the new proposals don't jive well with a bedroom community like Staten Island," he said, citing a bill recently introduced by Council Member Mark Levine which would prohibit credit checks for renters.

Borelli believes that "progressivism" doesn't speak to many people who live in the outer boroughs, who aren't represented by "these squeaky-wheel groups" who lobby the Council on issues and who feel the movement has lost touch with middle class New Yorkers.

"What group out there hopes for more public urination?" he asked rhetorically. "I'm against progressivism and in favor of restoring some rational thought to policies like that."

In doing so, he firmly believes he has his community's support. "My constituents really have my back," he said, "and it's very empowering when you feel like that."

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by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

This article has been updated to reflect the two new members officially taking office - it had originally been published in the lead up to their formally joining the Council.

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Two New Reps Join the City Council Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:51:10 +0000