Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/transparency 2019-07-22T01:29:16+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com 18 Steps to Increase Transparency at the MTA and Help Restore Public Trust 2019-05-01T04:00:00+00:00 2019-05-01T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8489-18-steps-to-increase-transparency-at-the-mta-and-help-restore-public-trust Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mta-chairman-foye.jpg" alt="mta chairman foye" width="600" height="443" /></p> <p>MTA Chair Pat Foye (photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>In recent weeks, Pat Foye, the new CEO/Chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has twice publicly committed to improving the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and open data processes at the MTA. This is welcome news and an essential step forward for a government authority that has lost a great deal of public trust and is widely perceived as being politicized by the governor’s office. Our organization, Reinvent Albany, will strongly support this push by Foye and we hope it is a small down payment on a new culture of openness.</p> <p>The MTA is widely seen as having a serious credibility problem with the public and state Legislature. This loss of trust has been aggravated by the tendency of the authority’s top management to treat routine matters as emergencies that must be addressed suddenly, in secret, and outside of existing rules and normal processes. Some days, the MTA seems to operate more like the CIA than a public transit agency. This hurts public confidence in the agency and reduces the political support it needs to make tough decisions about spending and service disruptions.</p> <p>For its own good, the MTA needs to act like a public transit agency, not the CIA. The core of New York’s Freedom of Information Law is that “a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public.”</p> <p>In the fight for congestion pricing, which Reinvent Albany strongly supports, members of the New York State Legislature expressed frustration at the MTA’s secrecy, and constantly questioned the credibility of information provided by the authority. Some of this was political theatrics by opponents of congestion pricing. But even allies of the MTA were critical, highlighting the gap between the public’s expectations that the MTA be open and honest, and the agency’s habit of shading statistics, telling partial truths, and making it difficult for the public to see underlying data -- including on high-profile issues like Con Edison-caused service disruptions and fare evasion.</p> <p>We believe the MTA’s lack of candor and transparency is hugely self-defeating and has led directly to the Legislature imposing more and more reporting requirements, including a host of <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8448-the-devilish-details-of-albany-s-mta-budget-package" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new ones in this year’s state budget</a>.</p> <p>Fortunately for the MTA, there is a clear path forward on transparency. In early April, Reinvent Albany released <a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2019/04/steps-forward-for-mta-foil-and-open-data/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Steps Forward for MTA FOIL and Open Data</a>, a comprehensive report on transparency at the MTA, with 18 specific recommendations about how it can improve transparency. We urge the MTA to examine these recommendations, summarized below, and move toward “open by default.” Here are<a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2019/04/steps-forward-for-mta-foil-and-open-data/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">18 Steps Forward for MTA FOIL, Open Data and Transparency</a>:</p> <p><strong>Open FOIL</strong><br /> 1. The MTA should adopt an Open FOIL platform using best practices from other jurisdictions such as <a href="https://records.metro.net/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">LA Metro</a>, the <a href="https://corpinfo.panynj.gov/pages/public-records-fulfilled-requests/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Port Authority of NY/NJ</a>, and within New York State such as NYC Open Records. FOIL requests should be used to prioritize proactive release of information via a “Reading Room.”</p> <p>2.The MTA should create an in-house MTA Police incident reports portal, allowing the public to privately request incident reports online (incident reports currently make up two-thirds of all MTA FOIL requests). The MTA should work with the NYS DMV to develop their own portal, like the <a href="https://transact2.dmv.ny.gov/AccidentSales/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">state’s crash reports portal</a>. Other user-friendly models include the <a href="https://crashreports.psp.pa.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">State of Pennsylvania crash reports site</a>.</p> <p><strong>Open Data</strong><br /> The MTA should publish all tables, charts and other tabular data from their performance reports, capital plans, budget documents, Board materials, and other reports as open data. This should include:</p> <p>3. Full compliance with <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/no-95-using-technology-promote-transparency-improve-government-performance-and-enhance-citizen" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Executive Order 95</a>, requiring the publishing of all public MTA data on the <a href="https://www.ny.gov/keywords/open-data" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York State Open Data portal</a>. Legislation should be considered in this area if compliance cannot be achieved administratively.</p> <p>4. Release of all underlying datasets that are used to create MTA performance metrics, with full release of methodologies and API access (allowing apps to interface the data automatically).</p> <p>5. Creating a contracts database that provides full and complete information about projects and vendors.</p> <p>6. Providing all data from current MTA Board and Budget materials well in advance of meetings in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form.</p> <p>7. Creating an MTA “Open Budget” website for the MTA’s budget information, similar to the state <a href="https://openbudget.ny.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Open Budget NY site</a>.</p> <p><strong>Budget and Capital Plan Transparency</strong><br /> 8. Capital Planning Oversight Committee Materials should be improved through releasing all data in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form. Data should always include original project schedules and budgets. All current projects should be listed in the “Traffic Light” report, including those in the CPOC’s Risk-Based Monitoring Program.</p> <p>9. Budget Documents should be made open and more complete, and released in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form. Budget Documents should also provide detailed breakdowns of past yearly expenditures and revenues, going back at least 10 years for both the capital and expense budget, comparing them with past projections.</p> <p>10. <a href="http://web.mta.info/capitaldashboard/CPDHome.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">MTA Capital Dashboard</a> should be updated and improved, with improved timeliness of data updates, ensuring that all click-through data can be downloaded in bulk, more data such as contract numbers. The MTA should hold a user-group feedback session to identify additional improvement areas, and expand the “FAQs” Section.</p> <p><strong>Better Understanding Itself and Its Riders</strong><br /> 11. The MTA should conduct and publicly release in an open data format an updated demographic analysis of its riders that looks at age, median individual and family income, race, ethnicity, gender, profession, disability, geographic locations, travel times, and other metrics.</p> <p>12. The MTA should release more detailed methodology and tabular data about its fare evasion statistics, such as data broken out by borough, subway line, etc.</p> <p>13. The MTA should release publicly, in an open data format, all data from its customer service portal and all staff analyses of the portal, polls and surveys.</p> <p>14. The MTA should publicly release, in an open data format, its submission to the FTA of its Transit Asset Management (TAM) plan and the update to its 20-Year Needs Assessment.</p> <p>15. MTA staff should conduct and release an in-depth “lessons learned” report about installation of Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) on the 7 Line.</p> <p><strong>Open Meetings Law</strong><br /> 16. The Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) should comply with the Open Meetings Law to ensure that all of its deliberations are conducted in public meetings, in particular its votes to approve capital plans and their amendments.</p> <p>17. A website should be created for the CPRB where it publishes its mission, activities, members, calendar of meetings, meeting minutes and materials, and contact information.</p> <p>18. All future commissions, advisory workgroups, and other public bodies formed by law to provide recommendations regarding the MTA should fully abide by the Open Meetings Law.</p> <p>***<br />Rachael Fauss is Senior Research Analyst and John Kaehny is Executive Director at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ReinventAlbany">@ReinventAlbany</a>.</p> <p><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/columnists/rachael-fauss" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Read more from Rachael Fauss</a></p> <p>

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mta-chairman-foye.jpg" alt="mta chairman foye" width="600" height="443" /></p> <p>MTA Chair Pat Foye (photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>In recent weeks, Pat Foye, the new CEO/Chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has twice publicly committed to improving the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and open data processes at the MTA. This is welcome news and an essential step forward for a government authority that has lost a great deal of public trust and is widely perceived as being politicized by the governor’s office. Our organization, Reinvent Albany, will strongly support this push by Foye and we hope it is a small down payment on a new culture of openness.</p> <p>The MTA is widely seen as having a serious credibility problem with the public and state Legislature. This loss of trust has been aggravated by the tendency of the authority’s top management to treat routine matters as emergencies that must be addressed suddenly, in secret, and outside of existing rules and normal processes. Some days, the MTA seems to operate more like the CIA than a public transit agency. This hurts public confidence in the agency and reduces the political support it needs to make tough decisions about spending and service disruptions.</p> <p>For its own good, the MTA needs to act like a public transit agency, not the CIA. The core of New York’s Freedom of Information Law is that “a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public.”</p> <p>In the fight for congestion pricing, which Reinvent Albany strongly supports, members of the New York State Legislature expressed frustration at the MTA’s secrecy, and constantly questioned the credibility of information provided by the authority. Some of this was political theatrics by opponents of congestion pricing. But even allies of the MTA were critical, highlighting the gap between the public’s expectations that the MTA be open and honest, and the agency’s habit of shading statistics, telling partial truths, and making it difficult for the public to see underlying data -- including on high-profile issues like Con Edison-caused service disruptions and fare evasion.</p> <p>We believe the MTA’s lack of candor and transparency is hugely self-defeating and has led directly to the Legislature imposing more and more reporting requirements, including a host of <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/opinion/8448-the-devilish-details-of-albany-s-mta-budget-package" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new ones in this year’s state budget</a>.</p> <p>Fortunately for the MTA, there is a clear path forward on transparency. In early April, Reinvent Albany released <a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2019/04/steps-forward-for-mta-foil-and-open-data/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Steps Forward for MTA FOIL and Open Data</a>, a comprehensive report on transparency at the MTA, with 18 specific recommendations about how it can improve transparency. We urge the MTA to examine these recommendations, summarized below, and move toward “open by default.” Here are<a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2019/04/steps-forward-for-mta-foil-and-open-data/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">18 Steps Forward for MTA FOIL, Open Data and Transparency</a>:</p> <p><strong>Open FOIL</strong><br /> 1. The MTA should adopt an Open FOIL platform using best practices from other jurisdictions such as <a href="https://records.metro.net/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">LA Metro</a>, the <a href="https://corpinfo.panynj.gov/pages/public-records-fulfilled-requests/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Port Authority of NY/NJ</a>, and within New York State such as NYC Open Records. FOIL requests should be used to prioritize proactive release of information via a “Reading Room.”</p> <p>2.The MTA should create an in-house MTA Police incident reports portal, allowing the public to privately request incident reports online (incident reports currently make up two-thirds of all MTA FOIL requests). The MTA should work with the NYS DMV to develop their own portal, like the <a href="https://transact2.dmv.ny.gov/AccidentSales/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">state’s crash reports portal</a>. Other user-friendly models include the <a href="https://crashreports.psp.pa.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">State of Pennsylvania crash reports site</a>.</p> <p><strong>Open Data</strong><br /> The MTA should publish all tables, charts and other tabular data from their performance reports, capital plans, budget documents, Board materials, and other reports as open data. This should include:</p> <p>3. Full compliance with <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/no-95-using-technology-promote-transparency-improve-government-performance-and-enhance-citizen" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Executive Order 95</a>, requiring the publishing of all public MTA data on the <a href="https://www.ny.gov/keywords/open-data" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York State Open Data portal</a>. Legislation should be considered in this area if compliance cannot be achieved administratively.</p> <p>4. Release of all underlying datasets that are used to create MTA performance metrics, with full release of methodologies and API access (allowing apps to interface the data automatically).</p> <p>5. Creating a contracts database that provides full and complete information about projects and vendors.</p> <p>6. Providing all data from current MTA Board and Budget materials well in advance of meetings in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form.</p> <p>7. Creating an MTA “Open Budget” website for the MTA’s budget information, similar to the state <a href="https://openbudget.ny.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Open Budget NY site</a>.</p> <p><strong>Budget and Capital Plan Transparency</strong><br /> 8. Capital Planning Oversight Committee Materials should be improved through releasing all data in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form. Data should always include original project schedules and budgets. All current projects should be listed in the “Traffic Light” report, including those in the CPOC’s Risk-Based Monitoring Program.</p> <p>9. Budget Documents should be made open and more complete, and released in machine-readable, CSV spreadsheet form. Budget Documents should also provide detailed breakdowns of past yearly expenditures and revenues, going back at least 10 years for both the capital and expense budget, comparing them with past projections.</p> <p>10. <a href="http://web.mta.info/capitaldashboard/CPDHome.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">MTA Capital Dashboard</a> should be updated and improved, with improved timeliness of data updates, ensuring that all click-through data can be downloaded in bulk, more data such as contract numbers. The MTA should hold a user-group feedback session to identify additional improvement areas, and expand the “FAQs” Section.</p> <p><strong>Better Understanding Itself and Its Riders</strong><br /> 11. The MTA should conduct and publicly release in an open data format an updated demographic analysis of its riders that looks at age, median individual and family income, race, ethnicity, gender, profession, disability, geographic locations, travel times, and other metrics.</p> <p>12. The MTA should release more detailed methodology and tabular data about its fare evasion statistics, such as data broken out by borough, subway line, etc.</p> <p>13. The MTA should release publicly, in an open data format, all data from its customer service portal and all staff analyses of the portal, polls and surveys.</p> <p>14. The MTA should publicly release, in an open data format, its submission to the FTA of its Transit Asset Management (TAM) plan and the update to its 20-Year Needs Assessment.</p> <p>15. MTA staff should conduct and release an in-depth “lessons learned” report about installation of Communications Based Train Control (CBTC) on the 7 Line.</p> <p><strong>Open Meetings Law</strong><br /> 16. The Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) should comply with the Open Meetings Law to ensure that all of its deliberations are conducted in public meetings, in particular its votes to approve capital plans and their amendments.</p> <p>17. A website should be created for the CPRB where it publishes its mission, activities, members, calendar of meetings, meeting minutes and materials, and contact information.</p> <p>18. All future commissions, advisory workgroups, and other public bodies formed by law to provide recommendations regarding the MTA should fully abide by the Open Meetings Law.</p> <p>***<br />Rachael Fauss is Senior Research Analyst and John Kaehny is Executive Director at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ReinventAlbany">@ReinventAlbany</a>.</p> <p><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/columnists/rachael-fauss" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Read more from Rachael Fauss</a></p> <p>

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

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A Simple First Step to Help the MTA Re-Establish Credibility 2018-12-03T05:00:00+00:00 2018-12-03T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8116-a-simple-first-step-to-help-the-mta-re-establish-credibility Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-rf.jpg" alt="mta rf" width="600" /></p> <p>Andy Byford (photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is teetering on financial collapse and still struggling to overcome a meltdown in subway service and collapse in bus ridership. No one doubts that the MTA has serious problems and riders are suffering. But before the State Legislature approves tens of billions of new funding, the MTA needs to show it is serious about improving its decision-making and transparency.</p> <p>Politically, the MTA has met the enemy: its lack of credibility.</p> <p>Former Chair Joe Lhota at the <a href="https://youtu.be/dUDLF8o1Hi0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">MTA Board’s October 2018 meeting</a> acknowledged this, saying, “I’m aware that before we can credibly appeal for billions of dollars of public money, we must continue to advance a reform agenda.” New York City Transit’s <a href="https://fastforward.mta.info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Fast Forward plan</a> is a whopping $40 billion appeal and promise to improve the subways and buses. Andy Byford, New York City Transit’s president and the plan’s architect, <a href="https://youtu.be/LYisjAjvOhs?t=2727" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in unveiling the plan</a> stated that NYCT is working on the “rollout of a new transit organization - one that is built around a customer centric, continuous improvement model, one that emphasizes transparency and accountability, and one that going forward delivers on its promises.”</p> <p>One of the easiest ways for the MTA to show that it is serious about improving transparency is to bring its Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) process into the 21st century. This means putting it fully online with an OpenFOIL website, modeled on the successful platforms already used by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the City of New York, and as developed by the Obama administration for federal agencies.</p> <p>The idea behind FOIL is that the public can ask for and get information that government decisions are based on -- information that we, the public, paid for with our taxes (and, in some cases, fares and tolls). Ideally, much of this information should already be online in an open format that is easy to search, download and use. But in 2018, the MTA is still a long way from putting important information online and in accessible formats. For journalists, researchers, and watchdogs that seek to hold the MTA accountable, that means FOIL is often the only way to get certain public records.</p> <p><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Unfortunately, the way the MTA implements FOIL is not working for either MTA staff or the public. A recent report by my organization, <a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2018/10/comprehensive-report-foil-that-works-recommends-overhaul-at-mta-with-openfoil-and-online-incident-reports-recommendations-supported-by-13-groups/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">FOIL that Works: Increasing MTA transparency and accountability by putting FOIL online</a>, dug into the MTA’s FOIL process and found a dysfunctional and fragmented mess.</p> <p>The MTA received nearly 9,000 requests in 2017 (see chart below), with those inquiries handled differently among its eight separate agencies. New York City Transit still responds to many FOIL requests with paper letters instead of by email. Complicated requests can take over a year to fill, and most FOILers don’t have the legal resources to take the MTA to court to speed things up. FOIL requests might be deemed “closed” by agency staff, but this does not mean the requestor actually received the information sought.</p> <p>There is a better way to do things, and fortunately for the MTA, it doesn’t have to look far. The Port Authority in 2012 revamped its freedom of information access policy, and <a href="https://corpinfo.panynj.gov/pages/public-records-fulfilled-requests/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">created an online portal for FOI requests</a>. This reform was led by Pat Foye, then the Port Authority executive director, and now the MTA’s president, as well as&nbsp;Scott Rechler, who has since switched boards to the MTA. Now, once a record is released to the public, it goes online in a searchable portal for everyone else to benefit from. This saves both the Port Authority staff and the public time - a win-win.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-image1.png" alt="mta image1" width="400" height="310" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>The City of New York also has an <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Open Records</a> web portal, which eases the FOIL process for the public and agency staff. The code for the portal is available in open source, which is essentially free for the MTA to adopt and expand for its needs. &nbsp;</p> <p>The MTA also doesn’t segregate information requests the way it should. As shown in the chart above, in 2017 two-thirds of MTA FOIL requests - more than 6,000 - were for police incident reports. But these don’t have to go through FOIL. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has an in-house <a href="https://transact2.dmv.ny.gov/AccidentSales/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">online collision reports portal</a> where the public can privately request their own incident reports, and the MTA should do the same. The MTA’s FOIL staff should focus on other types of FOIL requests to ensure that they don’t languish for so long.</p> <p>OpenFOIL and an online police incidents portal for the MTA are <a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2018/10/fourteen-city-state-and-national-groups-urge-mta-to-fix-dysfunctional-foil-process/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">supported by 13 other city, state, and national organizations</a> - a diverse group including good government, transportation, freedom of information, and environmental organizations including the National Freedom of Information Coalition, Riders Alliance, League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Environmental Advocates of New York.</p> <p>The MTA can and should put FOIL online on its own. But should it not, the public has another important backstop - the state Legislature. Newly elected and re-elected legislators, in particular Senate Democrats, have promised to tackle MTA reform, and if the MTA can’t reform itself, they should require it. Passing legislation requiring OpenFOIL for the MTA is a great start for legislators to take their oversight role seriously.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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Rachael Fauss is Senior Policy Analyst at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @RachaelFauss & @ReinventAlbany.

 

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<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-rf.jpg" alt="mta rf" width="600" /></p> <p>Andy Byford (photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit)</p> <hr /> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is teetering on financial collapse and still struggling to overcome a meltdown in subway service and collapse in bus ridership. No one doubts that the MTA has serious problems and riders are suffering. But before the State Legislature approves tens of billions of new funding, the MTA needs to show it is serious about improving its decision-making and transparency.</p> <p>Politically, the MTA has met the enemy: its lack of credibility.</p> <p>Former Chair Joe Lhota at the <a href="https://youtu.be/dUDLF8o1Hi0" target="_blank" rel="noopener">MTA Board’s October 2018 meeting</a> acknowledged this, saying, “I’m aware that before we can credibly appeal for billions of dollars of public money, we must continue to advance a reform agenda.” New York City Transit’s <a href="https://fastforward.mta.info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Fast Forward plan</a> is a whopping $40 billion appeal and promise to improve the subways and buses. Andy Byford, New York City Transit’s president and the plan’s architect, <a href="https://youtu.be/LYisjAjvOhs?t=2727" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in unveiling the plan</a> stated that NYCT is working on the “rollout of a new transit organization - one that is built around a customer centric, continuous improvement model, one that emphasizes transparency and accountability, and one that going forward delivers on its promises.”</p> <p>One of the easiest ways for the MTA to show that it is serious about improving transparency is to bring its Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) process into the 21st century. This means putting it fully online with an OpenFOIL website, modeled on the successful platforms already used by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the City of New York, and as developed by the Obama administration for federal agencies.</p> <p>The idea behind FOIL is that the public can ask for and get information that government decisions are based on -- information that we, the public, paid for with our taxes (and, in some cases, fares and tolls). Ideally, much of this information should already be online in an open format that is easy to search, download and use. But in 2018, the MTA is still a long way from putting important information online and in accessible formats. For journalists, researchers, and watchdogs that seek to hold the MTA accountable, that means FOIL is often the only way to get certain public records.</p> <p><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019"><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/agenda19v2-a.jpg" alt="Gotham Gazette: " width="261" height="131" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></a>Unfortunately, the way the MTA implements FOIL is not working for either MTA staff or the public. A recent report by my organization, <a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2018/10/comprehensive-report-foil-that-works-recommends-overhaul-at-mta-with-openfoil-and-online-incident-reports-recommendations-supported-by-13-groups/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">FOIL that Works: Increasing MTA transparency and accountability by putting FOIL online</a>, dug into the MTA’s FOIL process and found a dysfunctional and fragmented mess.</p> <p>The MTA received nearly 9,000 requests in 2017 (see chart below), with those inquiries handled differently among its eight separate agencies. New York City Transit still responds to many FOIL requests with paper letters instead of by email. Complicated requests can take over a year to fill, and most FOILers don’t have the legal resources to take the MTA to court to speed things up. FOIL requests might be deemed “closed” by agency staff, but this does not mean the requestor actually received the information sought.</p> <p>There is a better way to do things, and fortunately for the MTA, it doesn’t have to look far. The Port Authority in 2012 revamped its freedom of information access policy, and <a href="https://corpinfo.panynj.gov/pages/public-records-fulfilled-requests/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">created an online portal for FOI requests</a>. This reform was led by Pat Foye, then the Port Authority executive director, and now the MTA’s president, as well as&nbsp;Scott Rechler, who has since switched boards to the MTA. Now, once a record is released to the public, it goes online in a searchable portal for everyone else to benefit from. This saves both the Port Authority staff and the public time - a win-win.</p> <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/mta-image1.png" alt="mta image1" width="400" height="310" style="margin-right: 10px; float: left;" /></p> <p>The City of New York also has an <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Open Records</a> web portal, which eases the FOIL process for the public and agency staff. The code for the portal is available in open source, which is essentially free for the MTA to adopt and expand for its needs. &nbsp;</p> <p>The MTA also doesn’t segregate information requests the way it should. As shown in the chart above, in 2017 two-thirds of MTA FOIL requests - more than 6,000 - were for police incident reports. But these don’t have to go through FOIL. The state Department of Motor Vehicles has an in-house <a href="https://transact2.dmv.ny.gov/AccidentSales/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">online collision reports portal</a> where the public can privately request their own incident reports, and the MTA should do the same. The MTA’s FOIL staff should focus on other types of FOIL requests to ensure that they don’t languish for so long.</p> <p>OpenFOIL and an online police incidents portal for the MTA are <a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2018/10/fourteen-city-state-and-national-groups-urge-mta-to-fix-dysfunctional-foil-process/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">supported by 13 other city, state, and national organizations</a> - a diverse group including good government, transportation, freedom of information, and environmental organizations including the National Freedom of Information Coalition, Riders Alliance, League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, and Environmental Advocates of New York.</p> <p>The MTA can and should put FOIL online on its own. But should it not, the public has another important backstop - the state Legislature. Newly elected and re-elected legislators, in particular Senate Democrats, have promised to tackle MTA reform, and if the MTA can’t reform itself, they should require it. Passing legislation requiring OpenFOIL for the MTA is a great start for legislators to take their oversight role seriously.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project<br /><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8029-agenda-2019">Find the rest of the series here</a></em></p> <p>

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Rachael Fauss is Senior Policy Analyst at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @RachaelFauss & @ReinventAlbany.

 

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

</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>
Passed by Senate, Bill Would Allow Public to Call State Agency Hearings 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7750-passed-by-senate-bill-would-allow-public-to-call-state-agency-hearings Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/sengianaris-press.jpg" alt="sengianaris press" /></p> <p>Senator Gianaris (photo: @sengianaris)</p> <hr /> <p>New Yorkers may soon have a new tool to influence their government. A bill in the state Legislature would allow members of the public, given enough support, to compel state agencies to hold public hearings on proposed rules.</p> <p>The bill (S2397), sponsored in the state Senate by Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, would establish a three-year pilot program ordering seven regulatory agencies — the Workers' Compensation Board and the Departments of Education, Environmental Conservation, Health, Financial Services, Labor, and Family Assistance — to hold public hearings if at least 125 New Yorkers petition them to do so.</p> <p>Senator Gianaris told Gotham Gazette that these agencies were selected for being those that “the public would benefit the most from opening up.” The agencies listed craft rules that directly impact ordinary New Yorkers.</p> <p>The legislation, which passed the Senate unanimously on June 11 and now awaits action in the Assembly, where it has been stuck in committee since early February, also authorizes agencies to use “innovative means” of enhancing public participation in the rulemaking process, including establishing a designated time for public questioning of agency officials, organizing roundtable discussions, and using teleconference technology.</p> <p>New York could join several other states that require public rulemaking hearings upon petition. California, Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, Illinois, and Utah all have similar rules, though none require as many petitioners as New York might. In California, for instance, state agencies are required to host public hearings upon “request of any interested person.”</p> <p>Similar legislation passed both houses of the State Legislature in 2008, but then-Governor David Paterson, citing “technical flaws,” vetoed the bill. In response to this previous legislative failure, this bill included the Workers’ Compensation Board within its ambit and established a timeliness clause. If a petition is received later than the twentieth day before the last date for public comment, the public hearing becomes optional.</p> <p>Senator Gianaris told Gotham Gazette that “agencies come out with regulations that have the force of law and [New Yorkers] don’t know anything about it or how the process happened.”</p> <p>He expressed hope that the legislation would “force agencies to opine on issues that they’d like to ignore and sweep under the rug.” When asked to specify such issues, he named transportation and healthcare, but added that there’s “no limit to the type of thing that people can now have open up to public discussion.”</p> <p>Anticipating that “one of the main things that will come out of this [legislation] is related to housing issues,” Gianaris called the state’s Housing and Community Renewal agency “completely inaccessible.”</p> <p>The Senate bill and its companion in the state Assembly, A9737, appear to be identical. The Assembly bill, however, has not progressed beyond its February 5 introduction and referral to the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Governmental Operations. Until it is passed by committee, approved by the full Assembly, merged with S2397, and approved by Governor Cuomo, the aforementioned measures will have no bearing on the functionings of New York state agencies. It’s unclear if Cuomo supports the bill, which would place the burden of implementation upon executive branch agencies under his purview.</p> <p>Through a spokesperson, Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz, of Brooklyn, said the bill should be considered next year. The legislative session is scheduled to end for the year on Wednesday.</p> <p>

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/sengianaris-press.jpg" alt="sengianaris press" /></p> <p>Senator Gianaris (photo: @sengianaris)</p> <hr /> <p>New Yorkers may soon have a new tool to influence their government. A bill in the state Legislature would allow members of the public, given enough support, to compel state agencies to hold public hearings on proposed rules.</p> <p>The bill (S2397), sponsored in the state Senate by Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, would establish a three-year pilot program ordering seven regulatory agencies — the Workers' Compensation Board and the Departments of Education, Environmental Conservation, Health, Financial Services, Labor, and Family Assistance — to hold public hearings if at least 125 New Yorkers petition them to do so.</p> <p>Senator Gianaris told Gotham Gazette that these agencies were selected for being those that “the public would benefit the most from opening up.” The agencies listed craft rules that directly impact ordinary New Yorkers.</p> <p>The legislation, which passed the Senate unanimously on June 11 and now awaits action in the Assembly, where it has been stuck in committee since early February, also authorizes agencies to use “innovative means” of enhancing public participation in the rulemaking process, including establishing a designated time for public questioning of agency officials, organizing roundtable discussions, and using teleconference technology.</p> <p>New York could join several other states that require public rulemaking hearings upon petition. California, Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, Illinois, and Utah all have similar rules, though none require as many petitioners as New York might. In California, for instance, state agencies are required to host public hearings upon “request of any interested person.”</p> <p>Similar legislation passed both houses of the State Legislature in 2008, but then-Governor David Paterson, citing “technical flaws,” vetoed the bill. In response to this previous legislative failure, this bill included the Workers’ Compensation Board within its ambit and established a timeliness clause. If a petition is received later than the twentieth day before the last date for public comment, the public hearing becomes optional.</p> <p>Senator Gianaris told Gotham Gazette that “agencies come out with regulations that have the force of law and [New Yorkers] don’t know anything about it or how the process happened.”</p> <p>He expressed hope that the legislation would “force agencies to opine on issues that they’d like to ignore and sweep under the rug.” When asked to specify such issues, he named transportation and healthcare, but added that there’s “no limit to the type of thing that people can now have open up to public discussion.”</p> <p>Anticipating that “one of the main things that will come out of this [legislation] is related to housing issues,” Gianaris called the state’s Housing and Community Renewal agency “completely inaccessible.”</p> <p>The Senate bill and its companion in the state Assembly, A9737, appear to be identical. The Assembly bill, however, has not progressed beyond its February 5 introduction and referral to the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Governmental Operations. Until it is passed by committee, approved by the full Assembly, merged with S2397, and approved by Governor Cuomo, the aforementioned measures will have no bearing on the functionings of New York state agencies. It’s unclear if Cuomo supports the bill, which would place the burden of implementation upon executive branch agencies under his purview.</p> <p>Through a spokesperson, Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz, of Brooklyn, said the bill should be considered next year. The legislative session is scheduled to end for the year on Wednesday.</p> <p>

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo 2018-06-06T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-06T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7718-attention-shifts-to-assembly-hesitation-on-accountability-bills-opposed-by-cuomo Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-speakerheastie.jpg" alt="govcuomo speakerheastie" width="600" height="429" /></p> <p>Speaker Heastie, left, and Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid open conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Senate recently passed a package of bills aimed at shedding light on taxpayer-funded economic development projects, among other reform measures. The move helped reignite attention on the legislation and put pressure on the Democrat-led Assembly to pass bills it has previously supported.</p> <p>The legislation includes the Procurement Integrity Act, which would restore the state comptroller’s power to review contracts before they are officially awarded, and the “database of deals” bill, which would create a public catalogue of economic development awards and their results. Such grants run into hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, though they are often largely hidden from the public and have been at the center of recent corruption charges.</p> <p>Assembly support for the measures was strong enough that earlier this year they were included in the chamber’s one-house budget, as they were in the Senate’s, though they were not included in the enacted state budget after negotiations among the Assembly, Senate, and governor.</p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the Procurement Integrity Act last year, <a href="http://wxxinews.org/post/lawmakers-voice-hope-reform-economic-development-contracts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">saying,</a> “Another set of eyes will make people feel better that, yes, things are done correctly.”</p> <p>However, the bill hasn’t made it out of the Assembly’s Government Operations Committee -- even though the committee’s chair, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, is the very lawmaker sponsoring the legislation. The bill has 37 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.</p> <p>And as the June 20 scheduled end of legislative session approaches, the “database of deals” bill is stalled in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Democrat Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn. That bill has 34 co-sponsors.</p> <p>The reason for the hold-up? Advocates for the legislation are pointing at Cuomo, and his influence over Heastie.</p> <p>“The speaker is jamming the bills because the governor wants him to,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany. “If those bills went to the floor of the Assembly, they would pass overwhelmingly.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat and main sponsor of the “database of deals” bill, echoed Kaehny’s comments.</p> <p>“The governor does not want this bill moved,” the Buffalo-area representative told Gotham Gazette. “The question is, do Chair Weinstein and Speaker Heastie -- are they going to do the right thing or are they going to roll over and not move?”</p> <p>Weinstein’s, Peoples-Stokes’, and Heastie’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. Questions around the bills, and whether Heastie and Assembly Democrats are willing to cross Cuomo, come as Democrats have a relatively recent “unity” pledge and coordinated campaign effort ahead of the fall elections.</p> <p>The economic transparency legislation is seen by many as essential after corruption indictments centering on some of the governor’s most vaunted development programs.</p> <p>Federal indictments in 2016 depicted a “pay-to-play” culture in which members of Cuomo’s inner circle received bribes or other perks in exchange for lucrative state contracts and special treatment meted out to developers in secret. Longtime Cuomo government aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">was convicted</a> of fraud and soliciting bribes in March. Former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">heads to trial</a> later this month for allegedly helping rig multimillion-dollar contracts.</p> <p>Both the Procurement Integrity Act (<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?term=2017&amp;bn=S03984" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S.3984</a>/<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A06355&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A.6355</a>) and “database of deals” bill (<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=S06613&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S.6613</a>/<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A08175&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A.8175</a>) aim to address perceived flaws in how Cuomo has overseen funding allocations. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Cuomo has in the past dismissed calls to restore the comptroller’s pre-clearance authority on the applicable state-funded contracts, which was stripped from the office during Cuomo’s first years as governor.</p> <p>The projects Kaloyeros helped oversee, including a $750-million solar panel factory in Buffalo, were tied to SUNY Polytechnic. While Kaloyeros was allegedly scheming to reward developers who had donated to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the state comptroller had no insight into the process; the governor and legislative leaders took away his power to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, including for SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated non-profits, in 2011 and 2012.</p> <p>The Procurement Integrity Act, introduced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would restore that power.</p> <p>"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7709-little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Syracuse.com</a> last month.</p> <p>The bill would also authorize the comptroller to approve SUNY Research Foundation contracts valued at over $1 million and would bar state-affiliated nonprofits from doling out contracts unless explicitly authorized by law. Such non-profits are at the center of the Percoco and Kaloyeros cases, with an entity called the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation awarding allegedly rigged bids.</p> <p>Last year, Cuomo’s counsel told Gotham Gazette the clean-contracting legislation “does not address the issue.”</p> <p>“The proposed legislation…is both burdensome and duplicative,” Alphonso David said. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>Still, basic information about the taxpayer-funded programs that Kaloyeros helped oversee, along with numerous other public-private projects, is not available to the public. The governor’s office publishes vague information about projects like the Computer Chip Commercialization Center in Utica, which has been variously described as generating <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-danfoss-establish-new-manufacturing-operations-utica" target="_blank" rel="noopener">300</a> to <a href="http://www.ftsmc.org/utica/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1,500</a> jobs and entailing investments from $100 million to $1.5 billion.</p> <p>The “database of deals” would aim to fill in holes in public knowledge of such projects. It would list every taxpayer subsidy that corporations receive along with the number of jobs created and cost per job to taxpayers.</p> <p>The Senate passed the “database” bill and the Procurement Integrity Act by votes of 62-0 and 60-2, respectively, on May 9. They were part of 11 total reform bills widely viewed as a <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener">snub to Cuomo</a>, who fell out with the Senate’s Republican leadership amid <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/nyregion/new-york-state-senate-democrats.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">political maneuvering</a> in April.</p> <p>“Because [Cuomo] went to war with the the Senate GOP, [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan put them up for a vote and -- no surprise to anybody -- they passed overwhelmingly,” Kaehny observed.</p> <p>“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” Flanagan, of Long Island, said in a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/john-j-flanagan/senate-passes-historic-package-good-government-reforms-will" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement</a> after the reform bills were approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds.” While pressure from the Senate GOP is unlikely to sway Cuomo, recent weeks have seen the governor change his stance on a variety of issues in the face of the Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Observers have noted she’s pushed him left on policy like <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2018/04/12/marijuana-legalization-push-new-york-state-how-andrew-cuomo-has-responded" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legalizing marijuana</a>.</p> <p>But while the actor and activist-turned-candidate has slammed Cuomo on corruption scandals in general, she is yet to make a cause of transparency and accountability reform legislation in particular.</p> <p><a href="https://soundcloud.com/user-18109193/06-04-18-cpseg3" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom</a> radio show on Monday, DiNapoli, a Democrat, voiced skepticism that the bills will pass the Assembly this session. Even if the Assembly approves the legislation, one of them -- the “database of deals” bill -- varies slightly from the Senate version and would have to be reconciled in conference.</p> <p>“I’m the forever optimist, but it seems that the end of session is getting very bogged down and work’s not happening,” DiNapoli told host Susan Arbetter.</p> <p>“My optimism is somewhat tempered by the seeming stalemate,” the comptroller added, referring to drama in the Senate. “At least, that’s how we ended last week. Let’s hope this week turns out a little differently.”</p> <p>A number of advocacy and watchdog groups are organizing a final push for the “database of deals” and clean-contracting legislation, including a rally calling on Heastie to advance the bills on Thursday in Albany. Participants include Reinvent Albany, as well as Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, &nbsp;League of Women Voters NYS, New York Public Interest Group (NYPRIG), and a variety of progressive advocacy organizations, such as Fiscal Policy Institute.</p> <p>“There are many steps we should be taking, but the time is running out,” Assemblymember Schimminger said.</p> <p>

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/govcuomo-speakerheastie.jpg" alt="govcuomo speakerheastie" width="600" height="429" /></p> <p>Speaker Heastie, left, and Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Amid open conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Senate recently passed a package of bills aimed at shedding light on taxpayer-funded economic development projects, among other reform measures. The move helped reignite attention on the legislation and put pressure on the Democrat-led Assembly to pass bills it has previously supported.</p> <p>The legislation includes the Procurement Integrity Act, which would restore the state comptroller’s power to review contracts before they are officially awarded, and the “database of deals” bill, which would create a public catalogue of economic development awards and their results. Such grants run into hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, though they are often largely hidden from the public and have been at the center of recent corruption charges.</p> <p>Assembly support for the measures was strong enough that earlier this year they were included in the chamber’s one-house budget, as they were in the Senate’s, though they were not included in the enacted state budget after negotiations among the Assembly, Senate, and governor.</p> <p>Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the Procurement Integrity Act last year, <a href="http://wxxinews.org/post/lawmakers-voice-hope-reform-economic-development-contracts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">saying,</a> “Another set of eyes will make people feel better that, yes, things are done correctly.”</p> <p>However, the bill hasn’t made it out of the Assembly’s Government Operations Committee -- even though the committee’s chair, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, is the very lawmaker sponsoring the legislation. The bill has 37 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.</p> <p>And as the June 20 scheduled end of legislative session approaches, the “database of deals” bill is stalled in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Democrat Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn. That bill has 34 co-sponsors.</p> <p>The reason for the hold-up? Advocates for the legislation are pointing at Cuomo, and his influence over Heastie.</p> <p>“The speaker is jamming the bills because the governor wants him to,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany. “If those bills went to the floor of the Assembly, they would pass overwhelmingly.”</p> <p>Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat and main sponsor of the “database of deals” bill, echoed Kaehny’s comments.</p> <p>“The governor does not want this bill moved,” the Buffalo-area representative told Gotham Gazette. “The question is, do Chair Weinstein and Speaker Heastie -- are they going to do the right thing or are they going to roll over and not move?”</p> <p>Weinstein’s, Peoples-Stokes’, and Heastie’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. Questions around the bills, and whether Heastie and Assembly Democrats are willing to cross Cuomo, come as Democrats have a relatively recent “unity” pledge and coordinated campaign effort ahead of the fall elections.</p> <p>The economic transparency legislation is seen by many as essential after corruption indictments centering on some of the governor’s most vaunted development programs.</p> <p>Federal indictments in 2016 depicted a “pay-to-play” culture in which members of Cuomo’s inner circle received bribes or other perks in exchange for lucrative state contracts and special treatment meted out to developers in secret. Longtime Cuomo government aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7539-joseph-percoco-former-top-cuomo-aide-convicted-on-3-felony-counts" target="_blank" rel="noopener">was convicted</a> of fraud and soliciting bribes in March. Former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7558-post-percoco-conviction-kaloyeros-trial-likely-to-further-stain-cuomo-administration" target="_blank" rel="noopener">heads to trial</a> later this month for allegedly helping rig multimillion-dollar contracts.</p> <p>Both the Procurement Integrity Act (<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?term=2017&amp;bn=S03984" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S.3984</a>/<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A06355&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A.6355</a>) and “database of deals” bill (<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=S06613&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">S.6613</a>/<a href="http://nyassembly.gov/leg/?bn=A08175&amp;term=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A.8175</a>) aim to address perceived flaws in how Cuomo has overseen funding allocations. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Cuomo has in the past dismissed calls to restore the comptroller’s pre-clearance authority on the applicable state-funded contracts, which was stripped from the office during Cuomo’s first years as governor.</p> <p>The projects Kaloyeros helped oversee, including a $750-million solar panel factory in Buffalo, were tied to SUNY Polytechnic. While Kaloyeros was allegedly scheming to reward developers who had donated to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the state comptroller had no insight into the process; the governor and legislative leaders took away his power to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, including for SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated non-profits, in 2011 and 2012.</p> <p>The Procurement Integrity Act, introduced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would restore that power.</p> <p>"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7709-little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller" target="_blank" rel="noopener">told Syracuse.com</a> last month.</p> <p>The bill would also authorize the comptroller to approve SUNY Research Foundation contracts valued at over $1 million and would bar state-affiliated nonprofits from doling out contracts unless explicitly authorized by law. Such non-profits are at the center of the Percoco and Kaloyeros cases, with an entity called the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation awarding allegedly rigged bids.</p> <p>Last year, Cuomo’s counsel told Gotham Gazette the clean-contracting legislation “does not address the issue.”</p> <p>“The proposed legislation…is both burdensome and duplicative,” Alphonso David said. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”</p> <p>Still, basic information about the taxpayer-funded programs that Kaloyeros helped oversee, along with numerous other public-private projects, is not available to the public. The governor’s office publishes vague information about projects like the Computer Chip Commercialization Center in Utica, which has been variously described as generating <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-danfoss-establish-new-manufacturing-operations-utica" target="_blank" rel="noopener">300</a> to <a href="http://www.ftsmc.org/utica/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">1,500</a> jobs and entailing investments from $100 million to $1.5 billion.</p> <p>The “database of deals” would aim to fill in holes in public knowledge of such projects. It would list every taxpayer subsidy that corporations receive along with the number of jobs created and cost per job to taxpayers.</p> <p>The Senate passed the “database” bill and the Procurement Integrity Act by votes of 62-0 and 60-2, respectively, on May 9. They were part of 11 total reform bills widely viewed as a <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7666-furthering-split-from-cuomo-senate-passes-reform-bills" target="_blank" rel="noopener">snub to Cuomo</a>, who fell out with the Senate’s Republican leadership amid <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/nyregion/new-york-state-senate-democrats.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener">political maneuvering</a> in April.</p> <p>“Because [Cuomo] went to war with the the Senate GOP, [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan put them up for a vote and -- no surprise to anybody -- they passed overwhelmingly,” Kaehny observed.</p> <p>“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” Flanagan, of Long Island, said in a <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/john-j-flanagan/senate-passes-historic-package-good-government-reforms-will" target="_blank" rel="noopener">statement</a> after the reform bills were approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds.” While pressure from the Senate GOP is unlikely to sway Cuomo, recent weeks have seen the governor change his stance on a variety of issues in the face of the Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Observers have noted she’s pushed him left on policy like <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2018/04/12/marijuana-legalization-push-new-york-state-how-andrew-cuomo-has-responded" target="_blank" rel="noopener">legalizing marijuana</a>.</p> <p>But while the actor and activist-turned-candidate has slammed Cuomo on corruption scandals in general, she is yet to make a cause of transparency and accountability reform legislation in particular.</p> <p><a href="https://soundcloud.com/user-18109193/06-04-18-cpseg3" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom</a> radio show on Monday, DiNapoli, a Democrat, voiced skepticism that the bills will pass the Assembly this session. Even if the Assembly approves the legislation, one of them -- the “database of deals” bill -- varies slightly from the Senate version and would have to be reconciled in conference.</p> <p>“I’m the forever optimist, but it seems that the end of session is getting very bogged down and work’s not happening,” DiNapoli told host Susan Arbetter.</p> <p>“My optimism is somewhat tempered by the seeming stalemate,” the comptroller added, referring to drama in the Senate. “At least, that’s how we ended last week. Let’s hope this week turns out a little differently.”</p> <p>A number of advocacy and watchdog groups are organizing a final push for the “database of deals” and clean-contracting legislation, including a rally calling on Heastie to advance the bills on Thursday in Albany. Participants include Reinvent Albany, as well as Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, &nbsp;League of Women Voters NYS, New York Public Interest Group (NYPRIG), and a variety of progressive advocacy organizations, such as Fiscal Policy Institute.</p> <p>“There are many steps we should be taking, but the time is running out,” Assemblymember Schimminger said.</p> <p>

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
City Council Considers Requiring More Reporting on Required Reporting 2018-05-29T04:00:00+00:00 2018-05-29T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7700-city-council-considers-requiring-more-reporting-on-required-reporting Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/40303428840_65c3c0f1a4_z.jpg" alt="City Council Cabrera Vallone" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>CMs Cabrera, left, and Vallone (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>How does the New York City Council check city government agencies without legislating agency operations, which it sometimes does not have the power to do? Reporting bills.</p> <p>The Council often passes legislation that requires an agency under the direction of the mayor to produce a report, like Local Law 47, which compels the NYPD to compile data on subway fare-beating arrests. This bill, and the NYPD’s response, quickly became another flash point in tensions between city agencies and the Council, which has mandated oversight responsibilities along with its legislative powers.</p> <p>The intention behind the bulk of reporting bills -- which, like other legislation passed by the Council, are typically signed into law by the mayor -- is more transparency into agencies that then allows both the public and Council members additional insight into government function, effectiveness, and efficiency, and indications of operational or budgetary reforms that may be needed. But, reporting bills can also be onerous, requiring valuable resources at city agencies mandated to compile information, and there are questions about how often required reports are even produced or used by the Council.</p> <p>Now, a new bill at the Council is aimed at bringing additional oversight and transparency to the totality of required reporting -- but that bill itself is the source of disagreement. A recent hearing on the bill, which is sponsored by City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and would add new requirements for an online database of all required reports, saw discussion of the bill as well as the practice of passing reporting bills. The bill would add new information about when reports are due and put public pressure on city agencies to produce required reports.</p> <p>According to <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3479566&amp;GUID=F244E6EE-7219-4FCF-B31C-6AB4F802C52E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the listing for the bill</a> on the Council website, the bill would require the city’s Department of Records and Information Services, “which is currently required to receive and post all reports required to be produced by local law or executive order on its website, to list all required reports, when they were last received and when they are next due.” It would also require DORIS to send a request “to any agency that does not transmit a required report, and would require the posting of such request on the website in lieu of the required report until such report is received.”</p> <p>At the April 26 hearing, representatives of the mayor’s office and the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) testified in opposition to the bill, which also received a lukewarm public reception from some City Council members.</p> <p>The bill currently has the sponsorship of only Council Member Cabrera, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, which held the hearing, at which other Council members voiced concerns over the Council’s tendency to pass reporting laws and whether or not such laws do more to inundate agencies than substantially help the Council or the public.</p> <p>If enacted, the bill -- known as Intro. 828 -- would enhance the DORIS-run digital database of reports required by local laws, executive orders, or mayoral directives. Currently, DORIS maintains the <a href="http://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Government Publications Portal</a>; however, the scope of this portal is limited by a mandatory keyword search engine as well as the fact that it lacks some of the most recent reports from city agencies. For example, the portal does not provide any reports from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) past the year 2014, despite reports being published as recently as this year.</p> <p>Additionally, other recent reports by agencies such as the Department of Buildings, including those on gas utility risks or construction safety, or the Department of Criminal Justice, such as annual reports on jail population or crime rates, are similarly not accessible through the current portal.</p> <p>DORIS and the Mayor’s Office of Operations cited unnecessary burden and premature planning as to why the bill should not be passed.</p> <p>“With the continuous addition of legislated reports required of city agencies, we recognize the need to ensure strong administrative practices to support agency compliance,” said Emily Newman, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, at the hearing last month. “However, we do not believe that Intro. 828 identifies the most effective approach and that it is not in the city’s best interest to mandate a new process in advance of any relevant recommendations of the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission.”</p> <p>The Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which reviews reporting requirements and assesses the usefulness of such reports, among other objectives, was set to reconvene this month. The last time the commission met was in 2012, despite the city charter mandating that it has annual public meetings.</p> <p>“Intro. 828, as drafted, includes requirements that would be onerous for DORIS to undertake in real-time,” Pauline Toole, the DORIS commissioner, said at the City Council hearing. “Some agencies submit reports on a weekly basis, some monthly, some quarterly, and updating the list for each submission would require extensive resources and, ultimately, not provide the public with a worthwhile service.” Toole said DORIS currently updates the site on a “regular basis.”</p> <p>Toole also cited an increase in the number of reports submitted to the government publications portal, where over 21,000 reports have been submitted to the current DORIS portal today, a jump from 7,000 reports submitted in 2014.</p> <p>Both Toole and Newman reaffirmed a desire to work on another possible solution in concert with the City Council in order to update the accessibility of all governmental reports online. Meanwhile, other concerns were additionally raised by Council members.</p> <p>“I am as big on transparency as anything, but when we make demands out of agencies to do their jobs in other ways, I do worry that we are adding in so much onto them that is unfunded,” Council Member Keith Powers said at the hearing. “You know, we don’t fund new staff for that.”</p> <p>Council Member Kalman Yeger also raised the concern of finances by considering what the potential savings would be if DORIS had a smaller annual quota for reports it must make available, which, according to Toole, currently stands at about 400 reports per year. “I’m curious to know how much we can save the taxpayers if we perhaps were to stop legislating the various agencies of this city to prepare information that is probably readily available by simply asking the agency to give the information out,” Yeger said at the hearing.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group focused on increased transparency, testified in support of the bill at the hearing – albeit, with some tweaks.</p> <p>While the bill currently says that DORIS would send a letter of request of transmission to agencies ten days prior to a report’s deadline, and subsequently post that request on the website until the actual report is submitted, Camarda suggested that such a letter should be sent at the beginning of the fiscal year and that a seperate column listing all the agencies that did not yet transmit a report be created. Other proposed amendments to the bill include identifying which part of the charter administrative code requires the report as well as providing a brief summary of the report in the online database.</p> <p>“We think government generally needs to move away from providing information that’s locked in static PDF reports and report data in an open, usable and dynamic form,” said Camarda.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera’s office did not respond to multiple requests to discuss the hearing and any modifications that he might consider making to the bill.</p> <p>

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/40303428840_65c3c0f1a4_z.jpg" alt="City Council Cabrera Vallone" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>CMs Cabrera, left, and Vallone (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>How does the New York City Council check city government agencies without legislating agency operations, which it sometimes does not have the power to do? Reporting bills.</p> <p>The Council often passes legislation that requires an agency under the direction of the mayor to produce a report, like Local Law 47, which compels the NYPD to compile data on subway fare-beating arrests. This bill, and the NYPD’s response, quickly became another flash point in tensions between city agencies and the Council, which has mandated oversight responsibilities along with its legislative powers.</p> <p>The intention behind the bulk of reporting bills -- which, like other legislation passed by the Council, are typically signed into law by the mayor -- is more transparency into agencies that then allows both the public and Council members additional insight into government function, effectiveness, and efficiency, and indications of operational or budgetary reforms that may be needed. But, reporting bills can also be onerous, requiring valuable resources at city agencies mandated to compile information, and there are questions about how often required reports are even produced or used by the Council.</p> <p>Now, a new bill at the Council is aimed at bringing additional oversight and transparency to the totality of required reporting -- but that bill itself is the source of disagreement. A recent hearing on the bill, which is sponsored by City Council Member Fernando Cabrera and would add new requirements for an online database of all required reports, saw discussion of the bill as well as the practice of passing reporting bills. The bill would add new information about when reports are due and put public pressure on city agencies to produce required reports.</p> <p>According to <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3479566&amp;GUID=F244E6EE-7219-4FCF-B31C-6AB4F802C52E&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the listing for the bill</a> on the Council website, the bill would require the city’s Department of Records and Information Services, “which is currently required to receive and post all reports required to be produced by local law or executive order on its website, to list all required reports, when they were last received and when they are next due.” It would also require DORIS to send a request “to any agency that does not transmit a required report, and would require the posting of such request on the website in lieu of the required report until such report is received.”</p> <p>At the April 26 hearing, representatives of the mayor’s office and the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS) testified in opposition to the bill, which also received a lukewarm public reception from some City Council members.</p> <p>The bill currently has the sponsorship of only Council Member Cabrera, who chairs the Committee on Governmental Operations, which held the hearing, at which other Council members voiced concerns over the Council’s tendency to pass reporting laws and whether or not such laws do more to inundate agencies than substantially help the Council or the public.</p> <p>If enacted, the bill -- known as Intro. 828 -- would enhance the DORIS-run digital database of reports required by local laws, executive orders, or mayoral directives. Currently, DORIS maintains the <a href="http://a860-gpp.nyc.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Government Publications Portal</a>; however, the scope of this portal is limited by a mandatory keyword search engine as well as the fact that it lacks some of the most recent reports from city agencies. For example, the portal does not provide any reports from the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) past the year 2014, despite reports being published as recently as this year.</p> <p>Additionally, other recent reports by agencies such as the Department of Buildings, including those on gas utility risks or construction safety, or the Department of Criminal Justice, such as annual reports on jail population or crime rates, are similarly not accessible through the current portal.</p> <p>DORIS and the Mayor’s Office of Operations cited unnecessary burden and premature planning as to why the bill should not be passed.</p> <p>“With the continuous addition of legislated reports required of city agencies, we recognize the need to ensure strong administrative practices to support agency compliance,” said Emily Newman, the acting director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, at the hearing last month. “However, we do not believe that Intro. 828 identifies the most effective approach and that it is not in the city’s best interest to mandate a new process in advance of any relevant recommendations of the Report and Advisory Board Review Commission.”</p> <p>The Report and Advisory Board Review Commission, which reviews reporting requirements and assesses the usefulness of such reports, among other objectives, was set to reconvene this month. The last time the commission met was in 2012, despite the city charter mandating that it has annual public meetings.</p> <p>“Intro. 828, as drafted, includes requirements that would be onerous for DORIS to undertake in real-time,” Pauline Toole, the DORIS commissioner, said at the City Council hearing. “Some agencies submit reports on a weekly basis, some monthly, some quarterly, and updating the list for each submission would require extensive resources and, ultimately, not provide the public with a worthwhile service.” Toole said DORIS currently updates the site on a “regular basis.”</p> <p>Toole also cited an increase in the number of reports submitted to the government publications portal, where over 21,000 reports have been submitted to the current DORIS portal today, a jump from 7,000 reports submitted in 2014.</p> <p>Both Toole and Newman reaffirmed a desire to work on another possible solution in concert with the City Council in order to update the accessibility of all governmental reports online. Meanwhile, other concerns were additionally raised by Council members.</p> <p>“I am as big on transparency as anything, but when we make demands out of agencies to do their jobs in other ways, I do worry that we are adding in so much onto them that is unfunded,” Council Member Keith Powers said at the hearing. “You know, we don’t fund new staff for that.”</p> <p>Council Member Kalman Yeger also raised the concern of finances by considering what the potential savings would be if DORIS had a smaller annual quota for reports it must make available, which, according to Toole, currently stands at about 400 reports per year. “I’m curious to know how much we can save the taxpayers if we perhaps were to stop legislating the various agencies of this city to prepare information that is probably readily available by simply asking the agency to give the information out,” Yeger said at the hearing.</p> <p>Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany, a government reform group focused on increased transparency, testified in support of the bill at the hearing – albeit, with some tweaks.</p> <p>While the bill currently says that DORIS would send a letter of request of transmission to agencies ten days prior to a report’s deadline, and subsequently post that request on the website until the actual report is submitted, Camarda suggested that such a letter should be sent at the beginning of the fiscal year and that a seperate column listing all the agencies that did not yet transmit a report be created. Other proposed amendments to the bill include identifying which part of the charter administrative code requires the report as well as providing a brief summary of the report in the online database.</p> <p>“We think government generally needs to move away from providing information that’s locked in static PDF reports and report data in an open, usable and dynamic form,” said Camarda.</p> <p>Council Member Cabrera’s office did not respond to multiple requests to discuss the hearing and any modifications that he might consider making to the bill.</p> <p>

***
by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Sunlight for Subsidies 2018-03-14T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-14T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7542-sunlight-for-subsidies Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/andrew-cuomo-buffalo.jpg" alt="andrew cuomo buffalo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in Buffalo (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State and local governments<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/blueprint-economic-development-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> spend over $8 billion annually in taxpayer money</a>, giving subsidies to businesses through tax abatements and credits, low or no interest loans, grants, and capital investments like building factories. Eight billion dollars could otherwise pay for the MTA Subway Action Plan in addition to the entire 5-year capital plan for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Instead it is awarded to wealthy companies like<a href="https://subsidytracker.goodjobsfirst.org/prog.php?statesum=NY" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Alcoa, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Tesla, Verizon and JP Morgan Chase.</a> &nbsp;</p> <p>While spending billions, Governor Cuomo and Empire State Development have not acted on common-sense transparency measures that provide basic information taxpayers deserve to know: the types of benefits companies are receiving; the cost to taxpayers; and the number and cost of jobs created or retained. &nbsp;</p> <p>Their inaction comes as the governor’s former senior advisor Joe Percoco was convicted on three federal corruption counts, including solicitation of bribes, in the first of two trials involving the alleged rigging of contracts tied to upstate mega-development projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in business subsidies.</p> <p>New Yorkers deserve to know more about economic development money being spent, including where it is going and what the money is actually producing.</p> <p>Democratic Assemblymember Robin Schimminger and Republic Senator Tom Croci have introduced legislation (A.8175/S.6613-B), which would create a “Database of Deals” listing all projects awarded to a particular company, detailing subsidies received, and what New Yorkers are receiving for their return on investment in the taxpayer cost per job. The bill passed out of committees in both houses last year but never made it to the floor for a vote.</p> <p>The Assembly and Senate each included a similar proposal in one-house budget resolutions passed on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the New York City Council passed legislation in December codifying its own “<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867876&amp;GUID=94241FF8-9F73-42A7-97B5-65380D2E7E6E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Database of Deals</a>” established by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC.) EDC had already made economic development in New York City more transparent by publishing a<a href="https://www.nycedc.com/about-nycedc/transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> map</a> showing major projects and their essential data across the five boroughs. &nbsp;</p> <p>A state “Database of Deals” is fundamental transparency modeled on existing disclosure in numerous states of different political stripes including<a href="http://www.floridajobs.org/business/DEO_EDP_PROD.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Florida</a>,<a href="http://commerce.maryland.gov/fund/maryland-finance-tracker" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Maryland</a> and<a href="https://transparency.iedc.in.gov/Pages/ContractSearch.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Indiana</a>. This reflects the near-unanimity on the need for greater transparency and accountability of business subsidies.</p> <p>While states fervently compete to give taxpayer subsidies to the world’s wealthiest corporation, Amazon, for its second headquarters, the way in which public money is awarded is being challenged from the left and the right. Nationally, the progressive labor-backed<a href="https://www.goodjobsfirst.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Good Jobs First</a> has long advocated for economic development accountability while the conservative<a href="https://www.charleskochfoundation.org/apply-for-grants/requests-for-proposals/corporate-welfare-reform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Koch Foundation</a> is seeking proposals to “identify and develop measures to provide transparency and accountability to corporate welfare.” In New York, groups as ideologically varied as the<a href="https://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/There-are-few-winners-in-Aetna-s-move-to-New-York-11295512.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Working Families Party</a>, Citizens Budget Commission, and<a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/empire-center-pries-open-albanys-biggest-pork-barrel/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Empire Center</a> have questioned the state’s economic development practices. &nbsp;</p> <p>But Governor Cuomo need look no further than his own 2013 Tax Reform and Fairness Commission to understand the need for transparency and accountability of business subsidies. &nbsp;In a report written for the commission entitled<a href="http://origin-states.politico.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/files/131115__Incentive_Study_Final_0.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> New York State Business Tax Credits: Analysis and Evaluation</a>, the authors concluded, “There is, however, no conclusive evidence from research studies conducted since the mid-1950s to show that business tax incentives have an impact on net economic gains to the states above and beyond the level that would have been attained absent the incentives. In addition, business tax incentives violate principles of good tax policy and tenets of good budgeting.”</p> <p>Despite the questioning of their efficacy, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposes over $2 billion in new spending and tax credits on business subsidies. Last year, the Assembly and Senate wrote the governor a blank check, increasing economic development spending without passing any legislation that would make the spending more transparent or measure the effectiveness of whether, and which, business subsidies work best. &nbsp;</p> <p>This year, Reinvent Albany and fiscal and transparency watchdog groups are urging<a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2018/03/watchdogs-call-for-assembly-and-senate-one-house-budget-resolutions-that-boost-the-transparency-and-accountability-of-billions-in-business-subsidies/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> the governor and Legislature to act on four measures</a> to make taxpayer spending on business subsidies more transparent and accountable, including the “Database of Deals.”</p> <p>They should act swiftly to restore the public trust, which has been battered by federal indictments and sordid accounts of insider dealing at trial.</p> <p>***<br /> Alex Camarda is senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/alex_camarda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@alex_camarda</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/ReinventAlbany" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@ReinventAlbany</a>.</p> <p>

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

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/andrew-cuomo-buffalo.jpg" alt="andrew cuomo buffalo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in Buffalo (photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>New York State and local governments<a href="https://cbcny.org/research/blueprint-economic-development-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> spend over $8 billion annually in taxpayer money</a>, giving subsidies to businesses through tax abatements and credits, low or no interest loans, grants, and capital investments like building factories. Eight billion dollars could otherwise pay for the MTA Subway Action Plan in addition to the entire 5-year capital plan for New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Instead it is awarded to wealthy companies like<a href="https://subsidytracker.goodjobsfirst.org/prog.php?statesum=NY" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Alcoa, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Tesla, Verizon and JP Morgan Chase.</a> &nbsp;</p> <p>While spending billions, Governor Cuomo and Empire State Development have not acted on common-sense transparency measures that provide basic information taxpayers deserve to know: the types of benefits companies are receiving; the cost to taxpayers; and the number and cost of jobs created or retained. &nbsp;</p> <p>Their inaction comes as the governor’s former senior advisor Joe Percoco was convicted on three federal corruption counts, including solicitation of bribes, in the first of two trials involving the alleged rigging of contracts tied to upstate mega-development projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars in business subsidies.</p> <p>New Yorkers deserve to know more about economic development money being spent, including where it is going and what the money is actually producing.</p> <p>Democratic Assemblymember Robin Schimminger and Republic Senator Tom Croci have introduced legislation (A.8175/S.6613-B), which would create a “Database of Deals” listing all projects awarded to a particular company, detailing subsidies received, and what New Yorkers are receiving for their return on investment in the taxpayer cost per job. The bill passed out of committees in both houses last year but never made it to the floor for a vote.</p> <p>The Assembly and Senate each included a similar proposal in one-house budget resolutions passed on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the New York City Council passed legislation in December codifying its own “<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2867876&amp;GUID=94241FF8-9F73-42A7-97B5-65380D2E7E6E&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Database of Deals</a>” established by the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC.) EDC had already made economic development in New York City more transparent by publishing a<a href="https://www.nycedc.com/about-nycedc/transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> map</a> showing major projects and their essential data across the five boroughs. &nbsp;</p> <p>A state “Database of Deals” is fundamental transparency modeled on existing disclosure in numerous states of different political stripes including<a href="http://www.floridajobs.org/business/DEO_EDP_PROD.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Florida</a>,<a href="http://commerce.maryland.gov/fund/maryland-finance-tracker" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Maryland</a> and<a href="https://transparency.iedc.in.gov/Pages/ContractSearch.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Indiana</a>. This reflects the near-unanimity on the need for greater transparency and accountability of business subsidies.</p> <p>While states fervently compete to give taxpayer subsidies to the world’s wealthiest corporation, Amazon, for its second headquarters, the way in which public money is awarded is being challenged from the left and the right. Nationally, the progressive labor-backed<a href="https://www.goodjobsfirst.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Good Jobs First</a> has long advocated for economic development accountability while the conservative<a href="https://www.charleskochfoundation.org/apply-for-grants/requests-for-proposals/corporate-welfare-reform/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Koch Foundation</a> is seeking proposals to “identify and develop measures to provide transparency and accountability to corporate welfare.” In New York, groups as ideologically varied as the<a href="https://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/There-are-few-winners-in-Aetna-s-move-to-New-York-11295512.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Working Families Party</a>, Citizens Budget Commission, and<a href="https://www.empirecenter.org/publications/empire-center-pries-open-albanys-biggest-pork-barrel/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> Empire Center</a> have questioned the state’s economic development practices. &nbsp;</p> <p>But Governor Cuomo need look no further than his own 2013 Tax Reform and Fairness Commission to understand the need for transparency and accountability of business subsidies. &nbsp;In a report written for the commission entitled<a href="http://origin-states.politico.com.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/files/131115__Incentive_Study_Final_0.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> New York State Business Tax Credits: Analysis and Evaluation</a>, the authors concluded, “There is, however, no conclusive evidence from research studies conducted since the mid-1950s to show that business tax incentives have an impact on net economic gains to the states above and beyond the level that would have been attained absent the incentives. In addition, business tax incentives violate principles of good tax policy and tenets of good budgeting.”</p> <p>Despite the questioning of their efficacy, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposes over $2 billion in new spending and tax credits on business subsidies. Last year, the Assembly and Senate wrote the governor a blank check, increasing economic development spending without passing any legislation that would make the spending more transparent or measure the effectiveness of whether, and which, business subsidies work best. &nbsp;</p> <p>This year, Reinvent Albany and fiscal and transparency watchdog groups are urging<a href="https://reinventalbany.org/2018/03/watchdogs-call-for-assembly-and-senate-one-house-budget-resolutions-that-boost-the-transparency-and-accountability-of-billions-in-business-subsidies/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"> the governor and Legislature to act on four measures</a> to make taxpayer spending on business subsidies more transparent and accountable, including the “Database of Deals.”</p> <p>They should act swiftly to restore the public trust, which has been battered by federal indictments and sordid accounts of insider dealing at trial.</p> <p>***<br /> Alex Camarda is senior policy advisor for Reinvent Albany. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/alex_camarda" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@alex_camarda</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/ReinventAlbany" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@ReinventAlbany</a>.</p> <p>

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

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'Open Budget,' Economic Development Transparency Bills Become Law 2017-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7346-open-budget-economic-development-transparency-bills-become-law Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/34230498096_8f776460b1_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio public hearing City Council bills" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio at a public hearing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Four government transparency bills that were passed by the City Council on October 31 aged into law on Friday, having gone 30 days without any action in favor or against them by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills all relate to increased disclosure by the administration of billions in city government spending and have been praised by good government advocates.</p> <p>Among the bills was one that <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2709949&amp;GUID=A23CF8CE-1F3D-45FA-8C20-7A787B22EEE8&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">requires</a> the administration to publish annual budget documents in a user-friendly, machine-readable format to the city’s online Open Data Portal, allowing the public easier access to information that is currently listed in thousands of line items in the $86 billion city budget. The bill’s lead sponsor was Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7284-city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The three other bills</a> -- with lead sponsors Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Dan Garodnick, and Corey Johnson -- formed a package aimed at improving transparency at the Economic Development Corporation, a city-run entity that manages and promotes the administration’s job-creation and business-development initiatives. The bills allow the City Council added oversight of EDC, which provides many millions of dollars in financial benefits to projects and businesses each year and also handles the sale and lease of city-owned land. They mandate that EDC provide fiscal impact statements and job creation estimates for projects receiving financial assistance; require EDC to detail their efforts to clawback funds from those agreements that fail to meet their goals; and allow the City Council time to review and comment on proposed economic development agreements.</p> <p>“These new City laws will make it much easier to understand both the big picture of how the City is spending money and the specifics of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy deals the City makes with businesses,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, in a statement Friday. “It will be much easier to see if the taxpayer is getting a good deal. These new laws are a blueprint for what the state should do.”</p> <p>The City Charter provides that if the mayor takes no action on a bill after it is approved by the City Council, within 30 days, it automatically becomes law. In fact, it’s “pretty common” for bills to age into law without the mayor’s signature, said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email on Friday. She added that if the mayor signed every bill, “we’d be doing bill signings like every day.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Goldstein noted that out of the 25 bills passed by the Council on October 31, all but one aged into law. The only one the mayor signed was Council Member Rafael Espinal’s bill to repeal the city’s antiquated Cabaret Law, which used to require establishments to obtain licences from the city to allow dancing. De Blasio signed the bill on November 27 at Elsewhere, a popular nightclub in Brooklyn.</p> <p>Often, the mayor holds bill-signing ceremonies at City Hall, affixing his signature to numerous bills at a time. At one such ceremony on October 16, for instance, de Blasio signed a dozen bills into law. “It’s really just a timing thing,” Goldstein said in a later email, estimating that perhaps close to 100 bills have similarly lapsed into law in de Blasio’s first term.</p> <p>City Council spokesperson Robin Levine declined to comment for this article.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/34230498096_8f776460b1_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio public hearing City Council bills" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>De Blasio at a public hearing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Four government transparency bills that were passed by the City Council on October 31 aged into law on Friday, having gone 30 days without any action in favor or against them by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills all relate to increased disclosure by the administration of billions in city government spending and have been praised by good government advocates.</p> <p>Among the bills was one that <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2709949&amp;GUID=A23CF8CE-1F3D-45FA-8C20-7A787B22EEE8&amp;Options=&amp;Search=">requires</a> the administration to publish annual budget documents in a user-friendly, machine-readable format to the city’s online Open Data Portal, allowing the public easier access to information that is currently listed in thousands of line items in the $86 billion city budget. The bill’s lead sponsor was Council Member Ben Kallos.</p> <p><a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7284-city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The three other bills</a> -- with lead sponsors Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Dan Garodnick, and Corey Johnson -- formed a package aimed at improving transparency at the Economic Development Corporation, a city-run entity that manages and promotes the administration’s job-creation and business-development initiatives. The bills allow the City Council added oversight of EDC, which provides many millions of dollars in financial benefits to projects and businesses each year and also handles the sale and lease of city-owned land. They mandate that EDC provide fiscal impact statements and job creation estimates for projects receiving financial assistance; require EDC to detail their efforts to clawback funds from those agreements that fail to meet their goals; and allow the City Council time to review and comment on proposed economic development agreements.</p> <p>“These new City laws will make it much easier to understand both the big picture of how the City is spending money and the specifics of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy deals the City makes with businesses,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, in a statement Friday. “It will be much easier to see if the taxpayer is getting a good deal. These new laws are a blueprint for what the state should do.”</p> <p>The City Charter provides that if the mayor takes no action on a bill after it is approved by the City Council, within 30 days, it automatically becomes law. In fact, it’s “pretty common” for bills to age into law without the mayor’s signature, said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email on Friday. She added that if the mayor signed every bill, “we’d be doing bill signings like every day.”&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Goldstein noted that out of the 25 bills passed by the Council on October 31, all but one aged into law. The only one the mayor signed was Council Member Rafael Espinal’s bill to repeal the city’s antiquated Cabaret Law, which used to require establishments to obtain licences from the city to allow dancing. De Blasio signed the bill on November 27 at Elsewhere, a popular nightclub in Brooklyn.</p> <p>Often, the mayor holds bill-signing ceremonies at City Hall, affixing his signature to numerous bills at a time. At one such ceremony on October 16, for instance, de Blasio signed a dozen bills into law. “It’s really just a timing thing,” Goldstein said in a later email, estimating that perhaps close to 100 bills have similarly lapsed into law in de Blasio’s first term.</p> <p>City Council spokesperson Robin Levine declined to comment for this article.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Dissecting Mayor De Blasio's Record As He Seeks Reelection 2017-11-01T23:26:00+00:00 2017-11-01T23:26:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37117856722_b1e7513769_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio &amp; First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, seeks reelection this fall, a close examination of his record is essential. De Blasio came into power promising to address inequlality in a variety of forms, including income, educational, policing, racial, and opportunity inequities he identified during his 2013 campaign. In this year's election de Blasio is running in part on his record, which is headlined by the implementation of his campaign promise to provide universal pre-kindergarten for the city's four-year-olds. But, there is much more to the mayor's record than UPK, which has clearly been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/17/de-blasios-win-on-pre-k-is-making-an-easy-campaign-even-easier-115084" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his biggest success</a>.</p> <p>In this series, Gotham Gazette, with election coverage partners City Limits and WNYC radio, examines de Blasio's record on a variety of important issues. While this is not completely exhaustive, it should be helpful to voters and others seeking to evaluate de Blasio this fall. With our partners, Gotham Gazette will release articles and audio pieces on the following aspects of de Blasio's record -- those already published are linked below.</p> <p>Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.</p> <ul> <li>Ethics &amp; Transparency: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7258-de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Ethics and Transparency</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Ben Max of GG: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-ethic-and-transparent-has-bill-de-blasios-term-been" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Big Lesson: Transparency Matters</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Economy &amp; Jobs: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7270-de-blasio-s-record-on-jobs-and-the-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Jobs and The Economy</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Poverty &amp; Inequality: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Budgeting &amp; Fiscal Health: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7300-de-blasio-s-record-on-budgeting-and-fiscal-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Budgeting and Fiscal Health</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>NYCHA: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on NYCHA</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Environment: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/11/02/on-the-environment-de-blasio-defied-expectations-with-bold-goals-but-now-must-deliver/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">On the Environment, De Blasio Defied Expectations with Bold Goals, But Now Must Deliver</a> (City Limits, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Policing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/16/bill-de-blasios-police-reform-agenda-has-achieved-much-and-disappointed-many/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Police Reform Record Has Achieved Much and Disappointed Many</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-bill-de-blasios-record-crime-and-policing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Rocky Blue Line Divides De Blasio and Police</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Housing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/04/bill-de-blasio-is-still-in-his-first-term-and-were-already-debating-his-housing-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio is Still in His First Term and We're Already Debating His Housing Legacy</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-housing-after-four-years-bill-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Analyzing Housing After Four De Blasio Years</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasios-homelessness-struggle/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Homelessness Struggle</a> (WNYC, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Transit: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6855-de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda</a> (Gotham Gazette, April 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/bill-de-blasios-big-homelessness-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Big Homelessness Problem</a> (Gotham Gazette/The Daily Beast, July 2017)</li> </ul> <p>More to read/view/hear:</p> <ul> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/19/a-look-at-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-on-nyc-transportation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on transportion</a> (NY1)&nbsp;</li> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/03/bill-de-blasio-record-on-crime-as-mayor-nyc-nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on policing</a> (NY1)</li> </ul> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/37117856722_b1e7513769_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio Chirlane McCray City Hall Reelection Parade" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio &amp; First Lady Chirlane McCray (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Mayor Bill de Blasio, a first-term Democrat, seeks reelection this fall, a close examination of his record is essential. De Blasio came into power promising to address inequlality in a variety of forms, including income, educational, policing, racial, and opportunity inequities he identified during his 2013 campaign. In this year's election de Blasio is running in part on his record, which is headlined by the implementation of his campaign promise to provide universal pre-kindergarten for the city's four-year-olds. But, there is much more to the mayor's record than UPK, which has clearly been <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/17/de-blasios-win-on-pre-k-is-making-an-easy-campaign-even-easier-115084" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">his biggest success</a>.</p> <p>In this series, Gotham Gazette, with election coverage partners City Limits and WNYC radio, examines de Blasio's record on a variety of important issues. While this is not completely exhaustive, it should be helpful to voters and others seeking to evaluate de Blasio this fall. With our partners, Gotham Gazette will release articles and audio pieces on the following aspects of de Blasio's record -- those already published are linked below.</p> <p>Election Day is Tuesday, November 7.</p> <ul> <li>Ethics &amp; Transparency: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7258-de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Ethics and Transparency</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Ben Max of GG: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/how-ethic-and-transparent-has-bill-de-blasios-term-been" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Big Lesson: Transparency Matters</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Economy &amp; Jobs: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7270-de-blasio-s-record-on-jobs-and-the-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Jobs and The Economy</a> (Gotham Gazette, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Poverty &amp; Inequality: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7280-de-blasio-s-record-on-poverty-and-inequality" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Poverty and Inequality</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Budgeting &amp; Fiscal Health: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7300-de-blasio-s-record-on-budgeting-and-fiscal-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on Budgeting and Fiscal Health</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>NYCHA: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7299-de-blasio-s-record-on-nycha" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayor De Blasio's Record on NYCHA</a> (Gotham Gazette, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Environment: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/11/02/on-the-environment-de-blasio-defied-expectations-with-bold-goals-but-now-must-deliver/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">On the Environment, De Blasio Defied Expectations with Bold Goals, But Now Must Deliver</a> (City Limits, November 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Policing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/16/bill-de-blasios-police-reform-agenda-has-achieved-much-and-disappointed-many/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Police Reform Record Has Achieved Much and Disappointed Many</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-bill-de-blasios-record-crime-and-policing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A Rocky Blue Line Divides De Blasio and Police</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Housing: <a href="https://citylimits.org/2017/10/04/bill-de-blasio-is-still-in-his-first-term-and-were-already-debating-his-housing-legacy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio is Still in His First Term and We're Already Debating His Housing Legacy</a> (City Limits, October 2017)</li> <li>Discussion on WNYC, with Jarrett Murphy of CL: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/analyzing-housing-after-four-years-bill-de-blasio" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Analyzing Housing After Four De Blasio Years</a></li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/de-blasios-homelessness-struggle/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's Homelessness Struggle</a> (WNYC, October 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Transit: <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6855-de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">De Blasio's 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda</a> (Gotham Gazette, April 2017)</li> </ul> <ul> <li>Homelessness: <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/bill-de-blasios-big-homelessness-problem" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bill de Blasio's Big Homelessness Problem</a> (Gotham Gazette/The Daily Beast, July 2017)</li> </ul> <p>More to read/view/hear:</p> <ul> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/19/a-look-at-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-on-nyc-transportation" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on transportion</a> (NY1)&nbsp;</li> <li><a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/politics/2017/10/03/bill-de-blasio-record-on-crime-as-mayor-nyc-nypd" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A look at Mayor de Blasio's record on policing</a> (NY1)</li> </ul> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
Departure of Assembly Ethics Official Prompts Calls for Broader Reforms 2017-11-02T04:00:00+00:00 2017-11-02T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7294-departure-of-assembly-ethics-official-prompts-calls-for-broader-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36651878000_a15510bf8a_z.jpg" alt="Carl Heastie Assembly" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Carl Heastie (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When ethics expert Jane Feldman’s departure from the New York State Assembly, and her appraisal of the experience as “as waste of money,” was <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the Times Union last week, many saw it as another blow to reform efforts in Albany.</p> <p>Feldman <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the outlet</a> she she “didn’t do anything” and called her hiring as executive director of the Office of Ethics and Compliance in September 2015 a “P.R. move.” The office itself, according to Feldman, was a windowless space on the ninth floor of the Legislative Office Building with airflow problems that had been carved out of a larger conference room.</p> <p>Two years ago, the office was created by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of the newly-selected speaker’s larger commitment to introduce more ethics and transparency measures to the 150-seat chamber. Promises were made, in part, to appease critics frustrated by the backroom speakership appointment process, and to signal a new era after that of infamous former Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>Heastie, a representative of the Bronx, created <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a working group</a> on rules reform, led by Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, of Manhattan, and Gary Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, and vowed to choose an “independent” advisor who could offer guidance to members and offer suggestions for improving Assembly processes. Feldman, who previously headed the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for six years, was chosen by a six-person team following a nationwide search, and was seen as a fresh and independent perspective, someone from outside Albany’s long-standing and secretive power structures.</p> <p>But during her two years in Albany, Feldman says she rarely spoke to Heastie and found even members who were interested in reforming the Albany process rebuffed her suggestions.</p> <p>"There are so many things that are so entrenched,” said Feldman, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot of good members who I think want to see ethics reforms, but when I would tell them how other states do things, the attitude was, 'well, that would never work here.'"</p> <p>Heastie’s office chalked up her experience to a misunderstanding about the job description, saying in a statement, “there was a disconnect between our expectations for the office and this individual’s view of her responsibilities.”</p> <p>But good government watchdogs say the larger problem is that no in-house advisor could make much of a dent in Albany’s ways, including how the legislative houses operate, the loophole-riddled campaign finance system, an opaque budget negotiation process, and flawed oversight structures.</p> <p>“Internal oversight is sort of an oxymoron,” said New York Public Interest Group’s Blair Horner. “The fundamental problem is you can’t really self-regulate when it comes to ethics. It’s like self-policing. An honor system only works for the honorable.”</p> <p>While it might have been helpful to have a person for members to go to for advice, Feldman’s described duties essentially duplicated the role of the Legislative Ethic Commission (LEC), a bi-partisan entity comprised of senators, Assembly members, and outside experts that provides advice to lawmakers on outside income, fundraising, and other conflict of interest queries. In at least one instance, this created a conflict, when the LEC offered one lawmaker different advice than Feldman did about whether the lawmaker could accept a speaking engagement, Feldman told the Times Union.</p> <p>It would be difficult to reconcile the two interpretations of the law given that opinions produced by the LEC are not made available to the public, and even Feldman said she could not access them. Legislative ethics advisory bodies in other states all make their opinions available to the public, and some of them even tweet out their opinions, she noted.</p> <p>Even the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which acts in an advisory role for the executive branch, and its predecessor agencies have made opinions public and publishes a bulk of information online.</p> <p>By many accounts, the Assembly has become more democratic under Heastie. The majority Democratic conference is consulted more frequently during budget negotiations, leadership opportunities are created for new members, and more hearings for legislation are held. Silver’s extremely intense grip on power has been loosened by his successor. But these strides are “infinitesimally small compared to the needs of the state, which is for radical overhaul of ethics oversight in New York,” according to Horner. “To have an office in the Assembly -- even if it doesn’t have any windows -- to sort of generate recommendations and answers to people’s questions is sort of in the chicken soup category. It doesn’t deal with the cancer of corruption that has plagued the Capitol.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, said that the biggest problem plaguing state government is its rampant pay-to-play culture. But while the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation that would curb the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to attempt to influence lawmakers with virtually unlimited campaign donations, the bill has been blocked from consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate. Other efforts at campaign finance reform, including instituting lower caps on individual donations and a public-matching system, have also stalled.</p> <p>“If it were up to the Assembly, they would probably pass a New York City-style small donor matching campaign finance system, but that’s not the law, and they have to exist within a system that is really corrupt and just a complete swamp of money,” said Kaehny. “So the question of what exactly Jane Feldman was supposed to do is a little elusive.”</p> <p>When Heastie announced a 2016 ethics reform package -- which included a bill limiting outside income for lawmakers and closure of the LLC loophole -- Feldman said she learned about it viewing the roll-out on T.V., and it became obvious that the job was not as she felt it had been described to her during interviews with the search committee and with the Speaker.</p> <p>In a statement, Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland said, “the office was created as a training and expertise resource for members and staff and independent of the Speaker’s office. It was never meant as a position that would craft policy and take part in negotiations, something that would obviously compromise the independent nature of the office. This is an independent, bipartisan office that serves both the majority and the minority and thus has no responsibilities to negotiate laws.”</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Heastie's own press release, the Feldman was supposed to be involved in "reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements."&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But Feldman said the Assembly was resistant to changes as small as publicizing on its website the times that it would go into legislative session. She said she was told that the parties go into conference so it was impossible to predict. “To me this is kind of archaic, but the way members learned what time session would be, is they would get a phone call that said ‘session is going to be at 11.’”</p> <p>“I was told many times by people that I saw my job as much more important than it was intended to be,” said Feldman.</p> <p>In 2015, good government groups sent a series of proposals to Kavanaugh and Pretlow for how the Assembly rules could be improved. The letter, signed by Common Cause, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, ReInvent Albany, and the Brennan Center for Justice, recommended that rank-and-file members be able to independently bring legislation with majority support to the floor -- even over objection of leadership -- that allocation of resources be more equitably distributed among members, as well as other transparency and efficiency measures.</p> <p>“There was resistance to our recommendations, because they didn’t like anything that encroaches on the power of the speaker,” said Horner. “They did make some changes, but I still think there’s a long way to go.”</p> <p>The working group was criticized for not holding any public hearings and for failing to include input from members of the minority conference, but it did produce a lengthy list of <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160317/recommendations20160317.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a>. The fixes were technological and procedural, with an eye on more transparency and communication, such as ensuring wi-fi service throughout the Assembly chamber, increased use of text alerts for staff and members, improvements to the Assembly legislation database, and livestreaming more committee meetings. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">There were</a> a handful of notable changes to the committee process, such as one that would allow all members five opportunities to force a bill to be voted on in committee.</p> <p>“I think there were 90 suggestions that we made, some of them take a longer time than others to be addressed, and most of them were accepted by the speaker,” said Pretlow.</p> <p>But helping to craft the Assembly’s internal rules reform also, apparently, did not fall under Feldman’s purview. Pretlow said Feldman was not at all involved, adding that he did not interact with her during her time in Albany. Feldman, in an email, clarified that the working group met and had decided on recommendations shortly before she arrived in Albany.</p> <p>Whyland did not respond to a request for comment on whether any candidates have emerged to replace Feldman or whether the role would be redefined, but he told the Times Union that the Assembly is looking to fill her former post with "someone who understands New York law, truly grasps the serious responsibilities of the office and its independent and bipartisan nature, and is willing to carry out its mission in full."</p> <p><em>Clarification: The article has been updated to indicate that decisions about rules reform in the Assembly were made prior to Feldman's arrival.</em></p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36651878000_a15510bf8a_z.jpg" alt="Carl Heastie Assembly" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Carl Heastie (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>When ethics expert Jane Feldman’s departure from the New York State Assembly, and her appraisal of the experience as “as waste of money,” was <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the Times Union last week, many saw it as another blow to reform efforts in Albany.</p> <p>Feldman <a href="http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Former-top-Assembly-ethics-official-Position-a-12296842.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told the outlet</a> she she “didn’t do anything” and called her hiring as executive director of the Office of Ethics and Compliance in September 2015 a “P.R. move.” The office itself, according to Feldman, was a windowless space on the ninth floor of the Legislative Office Building with airflow problems that had been carved out of a larger conference room.</p> <p>Two years ago, the office was created by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie as part of the newly-selected speaker’s larger commitment to introduce more ethics and transparency measures to the 150-seat chamber. Promises were made, in part, to appease critics frustrated by the backroom speakership appointment process, and to signal a new era after that of infamous former Speaker Sheldon Silver.</p> <p>Heastie, a representative of the Bronx, created <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a working group</a> on rules reform, led by Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh, of Manhattan, and Gary Pretlow, of Mount Vernon, and vowed to choose an “independent” advisor who could offer guidance to members and offer suggestions for improving Assembly processes. Feldman, who previously headed the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission for six years, was chosen by a six-person team following a nationwide search, and was seen as a fresh and independent perspective, someone from outside Albany’s long-standing and secretive power structures.</p> <p>But during her two years in Albany, Feldman says she rarely spoke to Heastie and found even members who were interested in reforming the Albany process rebuffed her suggestions.</p> <p>"There are so many things that are so entrenched,” said Feldman, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot of good members who I think want to see ethics reforms, but when I would tell them how other states do things, the attitude was, 'well, that would never work here.'"</p> <p>Heastie’s office chalked up her experience to a misunderstanding about the job description, saying in a statement, “there was a disconnect between our expectations for the office and this individual’s view of her responsibilities.”</p> <p>But good government watchdogs say the larger problem is that no in-house advisor could make much of a dent in Albany’s ways, including how the legislative houses operate, the loophole-riddled campaign finance system, an opaque budget negotiation process, and flawed oversight structures.</p> <p>“Internal oversight is sort of an oxymoron,” said New York Public Interest Group’s Blair Horner. “The fundamental problem is you can’t really self-regulate when it comes to ethics. It’s like self-policing. An honor system only works for the honorable.”</p> <p>While it might have been helpful to have a person for members to go to for advice, Feldman’s described duties essentially duplicated the role of the Legislative Ethic Commission (LEC), a bi-partisan entity comprised of senators, Assembly members, and outside experts that provides advice to lawmakers on outside income, fundraising, and other conflict of interest queries. In at least one instance, this created a conflict, when the LEC offered one lawmaker different advice than Feldman did about whether the lawmaker could accept a speaking engagement, Feldman told the Times Union.</p> <p>It would be difficult to reconcile the two interpretations of the law given that opinions produced by the LEC are not made available to the public, and even Feldman said she could not access them. Legislative ethics advisory bodies in other states all make their opinions available to the public, and some of them even tweet out their opinions, she noted.</p> <p>Even the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), which acts in an advisory role for the executive branch, and its predecessor agencies have made opinions public and publishes a bulk of information online.</p> <p>By many accounts, the Assembly has become more democratic under Heastie. The majority Democratic conference is consulted more frequently during budget negotiations, leadership opportunities are created for new members, and more hearings for legislation are held. Silver’s extremely intense grip on power has been loosened by his successor. But these strides are “infinitesimally small compared to the needs of the state, which is for radical overhaul of ethics oversight in New York,” according to Horner. “To have an office in the Assembly -- even if it doesn’t have any windows -- to sort of generate recommendations and answers to people’s questions is sort of in the chicken soup category. It doesn’t deal with the cancer of corruption that has plagued the Capitol.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of ReInvent Albany, said that the biggest problem plaguing state government is its rampant pay-to-play culture. But while the overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly has repeatedly passed legislation that would curb the notorious LLC loophole, which allows wealthy interests to attempt to influence lawmakers with virtually unlimited campaign donations, the bill has been blocked from consideration in the Republican-controlled Senate. Other efforts at campaign finance reform, including instituting lower caps on individual donations and a public-matching system, have also stalled.</p> <p>“If it were up to the Assembly, they would probably pass a New York City-style small donor matching campaign finance system, but that’s not the law, and they have to exist within a system that is really corrupt and just a complete swamp of money,” said Kaehny. “So the question of what exactly Jane Feldman was supposed to do is a little elusive.”</p> <p>When Heastie announced a 2016 ethics reform package -- which included a bill limiting outside income for lawmakers and closure of the LLC loophole -- Feldman said she learned about it viewing the roll-out on T.V., and it became obvious that the job was not as she felt it had been described to her during interviews with the search committee and with the Speaker.</p> <p>In a statement, Heastie spokesperson Mike Whyland said, “the office was created as a training and expertise resource for members and staff and independent of the Speaker’s office. It was never meant as a position that would craft policy and take part in negotiations, something that would obviously compromise the independent nature of the office. This is an independent, bipartisan office that serves both the majority and the minority and thus has no responsibilities to negotiate laws.”</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Heastie's own press release, the Feldman was supposed to be involved in "reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements."&nbsp;</span></p> <p>But Feldman said the Assembly was resistant to changes as small as publicizing on its website the times that it would go into legislative session. She said she was told that the parties go into conference so it was impossible to predict. “To me this is kind of archaic, but the way members learned what time session would be, is they would get a phone call that said ‘session is going to be at 11.’”</p> <p>“I was told many times by people that I saw my job as much more important than it was intended to be,” said Feldman.</p> <p>In 2015, good government groups sent a series of proposals to Kavanaugh and Pretlow for how the Assembly rules could be improved. The letter, signed by Common Cause, Citizens Union, NYPIRG, ReInvent Albany, and the Brennan Center for Justice, recommended that rank-and-file members be able to independently bring legislation with majority support to the floor -- even over objection of leadership -- that allocation of resources be more equitably distributed among members, as well as other transparency and efficiency measures.</p> <p>“There was resistance to our recommendations, because they didn’t like anything that encroaches on the power of the speaker,” said Horner. “They did make some changes, but I still think there’s a long way to go.”</p> <p>The working group was criticized for not holding any public hearings and for failing to include input from members of the minority conference, but it did produce a lengthy list of <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/Press/20160317/recommendations20160317.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommendations</a>. The fixes were technological and procedural, with an eye on more transparency and communication, such as ensuring wi-fi service throughout the Assembly chamber, increased use of text alerts for staff and members, improvements to the Assembly legislation database, and livestreaming more committee meetings. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">There were</a> a handful of notable changes to the committee process, such as one that would allow all members five opportunities to force a bill to be voted on in committee.</p> <p>“I think there were 90 suggestions that we made, some of them take a longer time than others to be addressed, and most of them were accepted by the speaker,” said Pretlow.</p> <p>But helping to craft the Assembly’s internal rules reform also, apparently, did not fall under Feldman’s purview. Pretlow said Feldman was not at all involved, adding that he did not interact with her during her time in Albany. Feldman, in an email, clarified that the working group met and had decided on recommendations shortly before she arrived in Albany.</p> <p>Whyland did not respond to a request for comment on whether any candidates have emerged to replace Feldman or whether the role would be redefined, but he told the Times Union that the Assembly is looking to fill her former post with "someone who understands New York law, truly grasps the serious responsibilities of the office and its independent and bipartisan nature, and is willing to carry out its mission in full."</p> <p><em>Clarification: The article has been updated to indicate that decisions about rules reform in the Assembly were made prior to Feldman's arrival.</em></p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio’s Record on Ethics and Transparency 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-22T04:00:00+00:00 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7258-de-blasio-s-record-on-ethics-and-transparency Ben Max <p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="https://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/36293022713_309bde7089_z.jpg" alt="Mayor de Blasio City Hall " width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong><em>This article is part of <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a> as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits. <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>It is a source of great frustration for Mayor Bill de Blasio and hangs over his administration and reelection bid as an albatross. Observers across the political spectrum, including Democratic and Republican opponents in this year’s mayoral race, have attacked de Blasio for blurring or crossing ethical lines, and for lacking transparency.</p> <p>De Blasio rode into power promising the most transparent administration in the city’s history, but his nearly four years in office have been marked by continuing questions and controversies over both his administration’s opaqueness and ethics, highlighted by twin law enforcement investigations into fundraising practices and government favors for campaign donors. The incumbent Democratic mayor, seeking reelection this fall, has repeatedly argued that he and his associates have carried themselves ethically and that he has done more disclosure than his predecessors and other high-level officials.</p> <p>Yet, along with his electoral opponents, political observers, government reform advocates, and City Council members also say de Blasio’s rhetoric has not been backed by action and that his record on transparency and ethics has been, at best, a mixed bag.</p> <p>In endorsing him in the Democratic primary, the New York Times editorial board <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/05/opinion/editorials/mayoral-endorsement-bill-deblasio.html?_r=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, “A political operative before he ran for public office, Mr. de Blasio has not shaken free of detractors’ suspicions about his ethical compass. He was subjected to both federal and state investigations into whether he presides over a pay-to-play system that favors well-heeled donors seeking favors from City Hall. Ultimately, no charges were brought against him or his aides. Though the mayor declared he had been vindicated, the Manhattan district attorney concluded that some of his fund-raising appeared to have violated “the intent and spirit” of the law. That’s a far cry from Mr. de Blasio’s claim to have been pronounced “innocent.”</p> <p>De Blasio was indeed chastised by federal and state prosecutors, who, while they did not bring charges against him or his associates, investigated their actions and outlined problematic practices, some of which led to new city laws limiting certain fundraising activities that the mayor and his team engaged in. De Blasio has claimed that he and his aides have held themselves to the highest standards, but he has regularly raised those standards when pushed.</p> <p>Part of the mayor’s pushback against criticisms has been that he and his associates have always had good motives, like expanding pre-kindergarten, and that a political nonprofit his allies ran to support his agenda disclosed more than required. Though he has been dogged by questions from members of the media, de Blasio readily points out that regular New Yorkers don’t often ask him about his fundraising practices or release of email records when they have the opportunity to question him at town halls or radio call-in segments.</p> <p>“People never bring up the issues from the investigations, because I think there was a broad understanding in the public that there was an immense amount of scrutiny that found absolutely nothing wrong,” he said in a recent <a href="http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/09/bill-de-blasio-in-conversation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Magazine</a> interview, mischaracterizing the facts given that while no charges were brought, prosecutors did indicate that the mayor and his associates had blurred or crossed ethical lines. “Everyday New Yorkers are much more concerned with kitchen-table issues. Some political insiders, maybe they’ve come to certain conclusions. But for everyday New Yorkers? They didn’t see anything wrong, and they’re right, because there wasn’t anything wrong.”</p> <p>As de Blasio asks New Yorkers for four more years, ethics and transparency will continue to be a focus of criticism from his general election opponents and others, while the mayor will defend himself and attempt to point to stronger aspects of his record. But the record of how he and his administration have conducted themselves when it comes to playing by the rules, separating political fundraising and governing, and providing the public with both ethical and transparent government is very much worth chronicling and examining as voters evaluate their choices this November.</p> <p>Mayoral spokespeople Eric Phillips and Austin Finan agreed to speak with Gotham Gazette for this story, but, other than a brief conversation to discuss the premise of the article, no comment was provided.</p> <p>The most recent Quinnipiac University public opinion poll that included a question about de Blasio's&nbsp;ethics, published at the end of July, <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/new-york-city/release-detail?ReleaseID=2475" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">showed</a> New York City voters saying 52 to 35 percent that he is honest and trustworthy, down from 59 to 31 percent in May. Still, the 52 was up from the lowest rating de Blasio has received in a Quinnipiac poll over his four years as mayor: amid intense controversy in May 2016, 43 percent <a href="https://poll.qu.edu/images/polling/nyc/nyc07312017_trends_N79jmpp.pdf/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> he is honest and trustworthy, while 45 percent said he is not. The highest de Blasio's honesty was rated by voters eight months into his tenure, when the balance was 66 to 22 in his favor.</p> <p><strong>Selective Transparency</strong><br /> In his former role as public advocate, de Blasio championed transparency and took the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg to task for its apparent lack thereof. De Blasio disclosed meetings with lobbyists and implemented tools to track Freedom of Information Law requests, while criticizing the Bloomberg administration for its lax FOIL response time.</p> <p>Fast forward nearly four years and the same official who urged increased disclosure by Bloomberg has been reticent to show the same commitment in his own operations on FOIL responsiveness speed and other things like police discipline records and emails with top non-governmental advisors. For example, as public advocate, de Blasio recommended legislation requiring the mayor to include FOIL response statistics in the annual Mayor’s Management Report, but it is not something de Blasio has done as mayor himself.</p> <p>Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio's second-in-command, recently conceded at a New York Law School breakfast that the administration could improve it's record on FOIL requests. "I don't think we've done as good as job on that as we could have," he said, <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/10/13/de-blasio-deputy-mayor-says-blaming-predecessor-is-not-productive-115038" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York reported</a>. "But I can't tell you we've gotten good enough. ... Our open data initiative has been, I think, one of the stronger ones in the country. ... Fundamentally, the more data that we can put out there so people don't have to say, 'May I,' but can do their own analytics, is the way to do."</p> <p>On August 23, at the first of two mayoral debates in the Democratic primary, de Blasio was asked by debate panelist and NY1 reporter Grace Rauh about steps he would take to improve transparency in a second term, should he be reelected, or if he considered any improvements unnecessary. As he often does, the mayor disagreed with the premise of the question, and pivoted toward touting his record on transparency. “Anytime a lobbyist lobbied me on behalf of a third party I put that up online so that people know exactly who talked to me when. I did that,” de Blasio said. “No other mayor’s done that before in our history. I’m in favor of the kind of transparency that’s gonna make life different for everyday New Yorkers like body cameras for all of our patrol officers over the next two years. This is one of the ultimate acts of transparency and accountability in government.”</p> <p>He added, “Past administrations did not disclose all sorts of things. I’ve made it a point to be open about disclosure. Some areas where I disagree specifically I do not think it was appropriate to disclose but compared to previous administrations we’ve gone a long way and a lot farther in terms of openness and disclosure and transparency....No mayor previously had that level of transparency and I’m very proud of the fact that we put that in place in the city. When it comes to tough questions, well it’s a tough job as part of what I’d expect as mayor of New York City.”</p> <p>It was a far from satisfactory answer for de Blasio’s only opponent on the debate stage, former City Council Member Sal Albanese. “I’m just incredulous,” Albanese responded. “This administration is the least transparent administration in recent history,” he added (it is not an easy comparison to make).</p> <p>“We should have a higher standard for the mayor than not being indicted,” Albanese said repeatedly during the debates and the primary campaign.</p> <p>Government watchdog groups have also found that de Blasio reneged on his campaign pledges around core good governance, though there has been acknowledgement that the administration has implemented certain policies that have enhanced transparency, including related to data generated by city government.</p> <p>For instance, the city has continued and expanded the implementation of the Open Data law, launching a redesigned <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">online portal</a> with thousands of datasets available to the public. The administration has launched <a href="https://a860-openrecords.nyc.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">OpenRECORDS</a>, a centralized website to file and track FOIL requests with numerous city agencies. These advancements, while notable, do not capture the full picture of mayoral transparency, however.</p> <p>Early on in his term, the mayor began limiting interactions with the press, eschewing the daily news briefings that previous mayors had traditionally held and restricting occasions when he would take “off-topic” questions. It earned him scorn from detractors in and out of the media, and, almost cyclically, reinforced his derision for reporters who grew frustrated with the dearth of unfettered, unscripted responses to their questions.</p> <p>“There’s a Trump-like quality in his whining about the media,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, CUNY. “He’s got the same disease as the President.”</p> <p>“There’s a lot the citizenry could find praiseworthy in his record,” Muzzio added, “but the two main issues are his transparency and political ethics, and his sense of self-aggrandizement where everything is ‘historic’ and ‘transformative.’ The problem is the distance between rhetoric and reality.”</p> <p>Muzzio also noted that the administration has released a lot more data than previous mayoralties, which has been useful for analysis of city agencies. “It’s the personal transparency, rather than institutional transparency, that’s lacking,” Muzzio said of de Blasio.</p> <p>One example of rhetoric versus reality was a <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-defend-boastful-video-decried-watchdogs-article-1.2926739" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">promotional video</a> put out in December 2016 by City Hall that touted the administration’s accomplishments, as it was mired in the two investigations that had captured headlines for months. Good government groups criticized the mayor at the time for effectively putting out a campaign ad shortly before the start of an election year during which government-funded advertisements would have been prohibited. The mayor fielded questions about the ad for weeks and grew frustrated by another example of what he has perceived as reporters’ fixation on trivial matters at the expense of spreading all the “good news” that is happening as a result of his policies.</p> <p>At the August 23 debate, prompted by NY1’s Rauh, de Blasio pledged that he would not set up another issue-advocacy nonprofit like the Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of one of the two investigations into his administration. It was something the mayor had previously said he didn’t plan to do and had in fact signed a new law making virtually impossible. In making the pledge, he reiterated that he faced tough questions about his ethical conduct purely because he was willing to voluntarily disclose who had donated to the nonprofit group and how much.</p> <p>“If you know you did things right you disclose,” he said. “If you’ve got something to hide, you don’t disclose. That’s what we did over and over again with donations that we did not have a legal obligation to disclose but we went ahead and disclosed anyway and I’m proud of that fact.”</p> <p>But, the mayor’s approach to disclosure has been highly selective. For the better part of two years, media outlets have pushed, and NY1 and the New York Post even sued, the administration for access to emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and unpaid outside advisors. The mayor’s team has shielded those communications, terming the advisors “agents of the city” who would not be subject to disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law that typically apply to correspondence between government officials and non-government entities. Exceptions to FOIL exist for intra-governmental communication that is part of the decision-making process, but de Blasio and his team argued that the advisors were so close to City Hall and the mayor that they were de facto members of the administration.</p> <p>Eventually, the mayor relented to an extent, and troves of emails, numbering in the thousands and many of them significantly redacted, have been released on numerous occasions, usually in Friday “news dumps.” The administration is still in court appealing the decision to release the emails, but the mayor pledged in March to release all communications going forward. The emails have not shown wrongdoing, but rather painted the administration, and the mayor particularly, in an unflattering light at times. Some showed de Blasio’s harsh treatment of underlings while others revealed his proximity and degree of access afforded to donors, including controversial ones.</p> <p>Watchdogs have pointed out that with the Campaign for One New York and the “agents of the city,” de Blasio has created his own problems by blurring lines and limiting transparency. By inviting massive donations to the nonprofit from entities with city business, de Blasio opened the door to pay-to-play allegations, and even the federal investigation. Under intense scrutiny, the mayor wound up promising extensive evidence of donors who did not get favorable treatment from city government -- a promise he eventually admitted he regretted -- but after months of delays, he produced a column on the online publishing platform Medium that left many wanting for more detail.</p> <p><strong>Big Money for the ‘Right’ Causes</strong><br /> As public advocate, de Blasio urged big corporations to adopt policies against funding political action committees and organized elected officials dedicated to that cause. He filed a legal brief in federal court arguing against the removal of limits to donations to PACs and he railed against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed untold amounts of money from undisclosed donors to flood electoral campaigns.</p> <p>“Deep-pocketed donors have turned their sights on New York and our best-in-the-nation campaign finance system,” de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/PAC" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>, in a statement on Oct. 3, 2013, when he filed the amicus brief. “They’re determined to upend protections that have safeguarded our democratic process for decades. This is about more than one election. It’s about defending the voices of everyday New Yorkers. It’s a fight we are going to win.”</p> <p>While de Blasio has continued to rail against Citizens United and call for full public campaign financing, the mayor has not aggressively pursued such a system in New York and the same politician who has long decried wealthy moneyed interests influencing government relied on them to promote his own political agenda while mayor.</p> <p>De Blasio came into office with a come-from-behind primary win and a general election landslide. He had the wind at his back and attempted to take on the world, so to speak. This led to the creation of the controversial nonprofit and a 2014 effort to swing the state Senate Democratic that got him in trouble, along with other actions that have hurt his reputation for openness and clean government.</p> <p>Within a month of the mayor’s election, his allies set up a political nonprofit group called UPKNYC, later branded The Campaign for One New York, to promote the goal of universal pre-kindergarten in the city, which in part depended on state-level approval. After achieving its initial goal -- de Blasio favored a tax on the rich to fund the proposal but settled for direct funding from the state -- the group pivoted to promoting the mayor’s affordable housing plan. All along, the 501(c)4 organization solicited unlimited donations, many from wealthy donors and labor unions that also had business with the city. The group did voluntarily disclose its finances and donors every six months.</p> <p>Scrutiny of its activities, and the mayor’s fundraising for it and possible exchange of government favors, helped trigger one of the two separate corruption investigations, a federal probe into allegations of pay-to-play at City Hall --- the second was a state-level inquiry into whether the mayor’s attempt to sway state Senate races for Democratic candidates in 2014 had violated election law by funneling big donations to candidate campaigns through local Democratic committees.</p> <p>The mayor maintained throughout that he and his associates had acted under strict legal guidance and had followed the letter of the law, and both probes eventually concluded with no charges. But the stench of scandal remained as the Manhattan U.S. attorney concluded that the mayor, though not crossing into clear criminal activity, had sought contributions from donors and then had “made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies” on behalf of those donors.</p> <p>De Blasio defended this as typical practice and even good government -- that any constituent, whether a donor or not, who brings a concern to him is directed to someone in the administration who may be able to help, but that the relevant powers make decisions based on the merits, not relationships. What has been abundantly clear, however, is that de Blasio donors have enjoyed special access to and attention from the mayor and his administration.</p> <p>De Blasio also regularly made the case that the ends justified the means, that because he was fighting for universal pre-kindergarten and affordable housing, his skirting of campaign finance rules and blurring of lines was acceptable. The contradiction became especially evident when de Blasio agreed to sign legislation pushed by the City Council, notably Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a close de Blasio ally, to drastically limit political nonprofits with ties to elected officials. De Blasio would explain that it was “the right thing to do” but did lament that he felt it might hamstring progressive politicians with good intentions like himself in the ongoing fight against opposing big-money interests.</p> <p>At the second Democratic mayoral primary debate on <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzIfDLHon-c" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">September 6</a>, debate moderator Maurice DuBois of CBS-2 put the mayor on his heels with the first question, about his apparent ethical failings. “Mr. de Blasio, here’s a true story,” DuBois began. “A political leader and his associates used pay-for-play tactics...but were not charged with a crime. However, state and federal prosecutors insist those people did violate the intent and spirit of the law. While there were no criminal charges, would you want people like that working for you?”</p> <p>A defensive de Blasio again stood by his administration’s efforts and the policy goals that they achieved, and insisted that he and his associates had been vindicated by the intense scrutiny by prosecutors that nevertheless found no wrongdoing. “I look at everything that we’ve done and I’m very convinced that high standards were kept to and the results speak for themselves in terms of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we’ve improved,” he said. “That’s what I came here to do, make people’s lives better.”</p> <p>Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, said she is “torn” over the mayor’s first-term scandals. “Part of me is just wondering, ‘is this the cost of doing business as a politician in the 21st century if you’re not a billionaire?’” she said, drawing a contrast with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did not have to depend on donors for his own campaigns. “Part of me thinks, ‘Well if you don’t have billions to contribute on your own, do you possibly have to get that from unsavory characters and make alliances and depend on people who have resources?’ But the other part of me wonders, ‘Wow, it seems like we’re always asking about some sort of potential wrongdoing.’”</p> <p>Greer’s conflict seems to be indicative of that of at least several prominent Democrats, including officials like Comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the Campaign for One New York as a “slush fund” but wound up endorsing the mayor for reelection, citing his progressivism in fighting inequality. For some time, Stringer was considering a mayoral run, either against de Blasio or in the event de Blasio did not seek reelection due to results from the investigations that did not materialize.</p> <p>Greer emphasized that de Blasio’s ethics record should not be conflated with his transparency, even though the two are sometimes drawn in “concentric circles.” She noted that de Blasio’s refusal to take questions from the press simply raises more concerns about what else he isn’t being transparent about. “I genuinely do not understand why there are times that de Blasio makes life much harder for himself than he has to...He brought that on himself,” she said. She did agree that perhaps everyday New Yorkers don’t care about issues of transparency that “get into the weeds,” but said he couldn’t dismiss the concerns of those who do. “By you not wanting to answer it, you can’t wish it away by saying nobody’s interested,” she said. “Yes, we are interested.”</p> <p>De Blasio’s criticism of and condescension towards the media was on full display in the <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">column</a> he wrote on Medium, where he attempted to defend himself against pay-to-play allegations and special access for donors. The column, promised by de Blasio more than a year prior, was meant to illustrate instances of donors who sought favors from the administration but were denied. In the face of allegations and investigations, de Blasio had promised “a whole lot of evidence” of donors not getting the action they desired from the city. De Blasio provided little evidence in his Medium column, but went after the media with gusto.</p> <p>“Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City,” de Blasio wrote of the coverage of his contact with donors. “Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>The column contained few examples and no names, and largely blamed the media for over-inflating the scandals that have plagued de Blasio’s tenure. “It was a non-explanation, he gave a few examples of dubious quality,” Muzzio said with an exasperated sigh, noting how the mayor looked down his nose at the press.</p> <p>Some top Democratic elected officials have been hesitant to criticize the mayor openly, save for Stringer and a few others. Public Advocate Letitia James, de Blasio’s successor and whose office is meant to serve as a watchdog over city government, declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson. James has largely stayed away from questions about de Blasio’s ethics and transparency issues, explaining her approach as more focused on the substance of agency work and using litigation and legislation to make policy change.</p> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, ostensibly the second-most powerful elected official in the city, deflected when asked about the mayor’s defense of the Campaign for One New York and his transparency, at a news conference on Sept. 7, when the mayor’s ethics record was being argued over both on the primary election debate stage and throughout the ongoing race for mayor.</p> <p>“We continue to have conversations in this Council and we continue to look at legislation to figure out how we can be more transparent,” she said. “That doesn’t just fall on the mayor, that falls on all of us to be more transparent in government.”</p> <p>Mark-Viverito emphasized the Council’s measures to improve the Campaign Finance Board’s functioning and the laws governing campaign fundraising and spending. “Being a candidate and being an elected official is not easy,” she said. “The CFB rules are extremely complicated to follow and sometimes to keep track of and so sometimes you can get a little bit lost in them.”</p> <p>When Gotham Gazette pointed out that the mayor’s Campaign for One New York operated outside of the CFB’s purview and asked if looking back on it she felt it was still ethical for the mayor to have created the group, Mark-Viverito said, “I’m not gonna respond to that at this moment. I haven’t really focused on it as of late. Again, what we strive to do is to be accountable to our constituents and that’s what I have been doing as an elected official, that’s what we do each and everyday and I’m gonna continue to strive down that path.”</p> <p>Though she was quite reticent to weigh in on the issue when it was most relevant, Mark-Viverito did eventually spearhead the writing and passage of the legislation to rein in groups like Campaign for One New York, forcing the mayor’s hand on a measure that ensures few like it will ever exist in the future, given several new restrictions, like severe limits on what entities with city business can donate to nonprofits closely associated with an elected official. Even during that legislative process, Mark-Viverito, largely a de Blasio ally, took pains not to criticize the mayor directly, while tacitly and legislatively showing her disapproval. In signing the legislation, de Blasio refused to acknowledge that he had made any mistakes, but touted it as good legislation further reigning in money in politics.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, who is among a number of members running to be the next speaker of the Council, also gave a quasi-defense of the mayor. “I think he has to be judged by the fact that there was extensive scrutiny with considerable resources at multiple levels of government, local and federal, that left no stone unturned and determined there was not ground to charge,” he told Gotham Gazette, “and that at the end of the day is the most important standard and one that he justifiably touts, particularly in light of the months of leaks which gave him bad press for issues which ultimately were not deemed sufficient to charge on.”</p> <p>But multiple City Council members, who did not wish to be named, felt differently. Separately, they gave similar opinions to one another, criticizing the mayor’s hypocrisy on transparency, his handling of the “agents of the city” emails, and his continued arrogance over escaping an indictment.</p> <p>One Council member said the mayor was “vulnerable” on issues of transparency and that he faced “justifiable criticism” over his shielding of his emails, which did not seem at all legally defensible. The months of bad headlines, said the Council member, led to a “bunker mentality” and the mayor and his associates dug in their heels deeper. (Indeed, de Blasio has reopened himself to many more press questions since the investigations ended.)</p> <p>Two Council members said the mayor’s shielding of his emails was largely an exercise in protecting his image rather than hiding instances of corruption. “It’s clear they are well aware of who their friends are,” said one member, of the mayor’s relationship with donors. The <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/emails-reveal-another-side-of-bill-de-blasio-1466038087" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Wall Street Journal</a> has reported that the contents of some of the “agents of the city” emails are especially gossipy and embarrassing.</p> <p>Another Council member commended the press as the institution, more so than the City Council, that has most held the mayor accountable, and criticized the mayor for attacking the media’s reportage. The member noted that the Council did not use its subpoena power and did not act on the Campaign for One New York until after Common Cause NY, a good government group, filed an official complaint with the Campaign Finance Board.</p> <p>That Council member also critiqued the mayor for not revealing who administration officials hold meetings with, an issue on which de Blasio had campaigned, and for not fully implementing the online FOIL portal. On the mayor’s Medium post, the Council member said, “It’s a little too cute to tell folks exactly who did what without using their names.”</p> <p><strong>‘Backwards on Police Transparency’</strong><br /> In April 2013, then-Public Advocate de Blasio <a href="http://archive.advocate.nyc.gov/foil/report" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">released</a> a “Transparency Report Card” that evaluated 18 city agencies on their response to FOIL requests. The two agencies that received a failing grade were the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the NYPD. A <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/04/11/in-de-blasios-new-york-transparency-laws-mean-nothing/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Village Voice</a> analysis from April of the de Blasio administration’s handling of FOIL records showed that little had changed in more than three years. “A review of thousands of pages of FOIL records shows the city’s system for handling public information requests remains haphazard, under-resourced, and often excruciatingly slow. And the mayor’s own office is the slowest of all,” the report reads.</p> <p>The mayor’s earlier criticism of the NYPD’s opaqueness perhaps most smacks of hypocrisy to police reform advocates who say his administration has not only not made progress, but actually backtracked on transparency at the police department. The NYPD, and then de Blasio, last year contended that successive administrations had for decades misinterpreted Section 50-a of the New York State Civil Rights Code, which protects the personnel records of police officers from public disclosure. As the department saw it, the law prevents them from releasing “personnel orders” that summarize disciplinary actions taken against officers. These orders had routinely been released until the revised policy was put in place, and the city has fought tooth and nail to uphold its reinterpretation of the law, even appealing an unfavorable judicial ruling, and has pointed to the need for the state to change the law. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The de Blasio administration has taken the city backwards on police transparency and accountability with its misuse of state law 50-a to conceal information,” said Lumumba Bandele, a spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocacy groups. Bandele noted that, though the mayor released a proposal to change the law in Albany, there was little evidence that the administration made it a priority in this year’s legislative session. “On policing, this administration is misusing the law as an excuse for being less transparent than those of Bloomberg and Giuliani,” she added, “allowing the NYPD to shield police abuse and corruption from public scrutiny, and failing to provide leadership to improve police accountability and transparency.”</p> <p>The notion -- that the de Blasio administration has been worse about NYPD transparency and accountability -- is one that was also echoed this year by City Council Member Jumaane Williams, who is a de Blasio supporter overall.</p> <p><strong>Scrutiny and Change</strong><br /> Undoubtedly, scrutiny of the mayor’s actions led to change in his behavior. He stopped communicating with top lobbyists who were close to him and began to limit government-related interaction with outside consultants, particularly Jonathan Rosen, a confidante who was involved in the mayor’s 2013 campaign and the Campaign for One New York, and whose firm is again working on the mayor’s 2017 reelection bid. The scandals also prompted the legislation by the City Council -- which the mayor signed into law -- regulating donations to nonprofit groups affiliated with elected officials and requiring disclosure by these groups under the oversight of the Conflicts of Interest Board. And, de Blasio changed his “agency of the city” email transparency policy as he continues to battle in court to keep past emails secret.</p> <p>But it’s unclear if the mayor, who won his primary handily and is expected to coast to reelection through the general, will take substantive steps to be more transparent. “[If] he gets a second term, I can’t see him as a lame duck being more transparent, so I think that’s a concern,” said Greer.</p> <p>There’s no doubt that de Blasio’s general election opponents, chiefly Republican Nicole Malliotakis, a state Assembly member from Staten Island, will continue to make de Blasio’s ethics a focus of the campaign. The question remains, though, how much voters care. Political analysts note that most voters do not vote based on transparency and ethics issues unless there is a major scandal that has led someone to jail. Voters often vote based on “pocket book” and “kitchen table” issues like jobs, schools, and crime -- a point de Blasio himself regularly acknowledges at least tacitly.</p> <p>Council Member Brad Lander, who was one of the co-sponsors of the legislation regulating political nonprofits, said it was more constructive to focus on the political system that allows, and in some way encourages, reliance on wealthy donors. “If we want elected officials in New York City to live up to a higher standard of good government, then the best approach is to strengthen our own rules,” he said. “That’s more valuable than focusing on individuals.”</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p>A TIMELINE of MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS RELATED to MAYOR DE BLASIO'S RECORD on ETHICS and TRANSPARENCY</p> <p>November 2013: Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gets elected mayor of New York City after running a campaign in which he promised an unprecedented level of transparency in government. As Public Advocate, de Blasio issued a “Transparency Report Card” evaluating city agencies on their response to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests. He chiefly criticized the NYPD for their lax FOIL response times, giving them a failing grade in his report.</p> <p>December 2013: De Blasio’s allies set up UPKNYC, also known as the Campaign for One New York, an issue-advocacy nonprofit -- classified by the IRS as 501(c)(4)s -- that could solicit unlimited contributions and spend unlimited funds to promote the mayor’s agenda, namely promoting universal pre-kindergarten. Under law, the nonprofit was not required to disclose its donors. The mayor’s associates later set up another nonprofit called United For Affordable NYC, to promote his affordable housing plan. The Campaign for One New York eventually became the locus of two parallel investigations by federal and state prosecutors into the mayor’s fundraising practices and his effort to sway state Senate races in 2014.</p> <p>July 2014: The Campaign for One New York voluntarily discloses its fundraising and donors to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and to the public, despite not being required to do so, showing $1.76 million in donations, a lot of which came from labor unions that have been big supporters of the mayor and from groups that do business with the city. The mayor faced scrutiny for allowing doing business donors to give unlimited amounts, whereas those same donors would’ve been limited in how much they could contribute to a campaign committee. The Campaign for One New York later shifted its focus towards the mayor’s larger progressive agenda, particularly affordable housing, after having already achieved the goal of funding universal pre-kindergarten in the city.</p> <p>May 2015: De Blasio heads to Washington D.C. to <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/in-washington-de-blasio-unveils-his-progressive-agenda-campaign.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">launch</a> “The Progressive Agenda,” a platform of progressive policies that he attempted to advocate for at the national level to try to influence issues in the presidential race. Another nonprofit, the Progressive Agenda Committee, is set up by October 2015 to helm the project. The group would have little to no impact before <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/progressive-agenda-committee-spends-418-298-but-has-no-staff-and-didnt-do-anything-103906" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">shutting down</a> within less than a year, only making headlines for an aborted attempt at holding a presidential candidate forum in Iowa in December 2015.</p> <p>The same day de Blasio was in Washington, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/group-supporting-de-blasios-agenda-is-said-to-draw-interest-of-ethics-panel.html?ref=nyregion&amp;_r=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times</a> reports that the Campaign for One New York has come under scrutiny by JCOPE for not registering as a lobbying entity. In 2014, UPKNYC had registered as a lobbyist to promote universal pre-k.</p> <p>July 2015: Yet again, the Campaign for One New York discloses its fundraising, showing another $1.7 million in fundraising over a six-month period. The donations came from unions, lobbyists, wealthy donors and real estate executives. A <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2015/09/the-transactional-mayor-returns-025908" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a> analysis in September shows that 46 of 74 donors “either had business or labor contracts with City Hall or were trying to secure approval for a project when they contributed, public records show.” Over the next few months, de Blasio faces constant questioning about potential conflicts of interest and the perception of a pay-to-play culture emerging at City Hall. The nonprofit groups also seem to slow down their operations and fundraising amid increased criticism.</p> <p>Feb 2016: Common Cause New York, a government reform advocacy group, files <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/states/new-york/press/press-releases/coib-cfb-review-of-deblasio-fundraiser.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a complaint</a> with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board and the Campaign Finance Board, requesting investigations of the Campaign for One New York and United for Affordable NYC. “The Mayor's unprecedented use of 501(c)(4) fundraising has spawned a shadow government that raises serious questions about who has influence and access to the policymaking process,” Common Cause NY said in a statement at the time. “It has created a perpetual campaign, confusing the role of government and politics, to the detriment of the public interest.”</p> <p>March 2016: The Campaign for One New York <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/political-organization-tied-to-nyc-mayor-bill-de-blasio-is-closing-1458208801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announces</a> plans to close down as the spectre of pay-to-play allegations begins to hound the administration. United for Affordable NYC ends operations in conjunction, but the Progressive Agenda Committee continues to exist with minimal staff.</p> <p>April 2016: Then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reportedly</a> begins looking into two de Blasio donors, in connection with a separate corruption case involving the NYPD. Both donors contributed to the mayor’s campaign as well and were part of his inauguration committee. CBS2’s Marcia Kramer <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2016/04/08/nypd-probe-mayor-fundraising/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reports</a> that Bharara’s office had started focusing on the mayor’s fundraising practices. Mayor de Blasio, saying he was unaware of any federal investigation, says on April 11, “I’m not going to be speaking about this after today.”</p> <p>On April 22, the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/de-blasio-gamed-donation-limits-hid-names-board-elections-article-1.2611406?utm_content=buffer3ac9b&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_source=twitter.com&amp;utm_campaign=NYDailyNewsTw" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reports on a leaked memo from the state Board of Elections regarding the mayor’s 2014 efforts to help Democrats win the state Senate. The memo alleges that de Blasio and his team circumvented campaign contribution limits to benefit three Democratic campaigns, thereby warranting criminal prosecution. (It would later emerge that the memo was released by a Republican BOE spokesperson.)</p> <p>On April 28, after de Blasio’s counsel confirms having received subpoenas in parallel state and federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, de Blasio maintains his innocence. “Everything we’ve done from the beginning is legal and appropriate,” he said. “There’s an investigation going on, we’re going to fully cooperate with that investigation.”</p> <p>May 2016: A lawyer for the Campaign for One New York tells JCOPE that the nonprofit would stop complying with subpoenas, suggesting that the probe into CONY has become politically motivated.</p> <p>On May 18, Mayor de Blasio promises to produce a list of donors who contributed to the Campaign for One New York but did not receive favors from City Hall, insisting that his administration makes decision based on merit and not on favoritism.</p> <p>The same month, de Blasio comes under fire for shielding his email exchanges with five unpaid outside advisers, some of whom have business with the city. The administration terms them “agents of the city” and <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/05/de-blasio-lists-advisers-he-considers-exempt-from-transparency-law-101954" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">argues</a> that they are exempt from disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Law.</p> <p>June 2016: The administration releases selected emails from outside consultants to <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/06/city-hall-releases-selective-emails-with-outside-consulting-firm-102771" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Politico New York</a>, in response to long-pending FOIL requests.</p> <p>July 2016: The New York City Campaign Finance Board <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6426-campaign-finance-board-rules-in-mayor-s-favor-while-criticizing-him" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules</a> that the Campaign for One New York did not violate campaign finance law and that donations and spending by the group do not count towards the mayor’s 2017 reelection campaign. But, the board criticized the mayor’s fundraising practices, which they saw as circumventing the city’s strict campaign finance restrictions, and called on the City Council to pass legislation to close the loophole. &nbsp;</p> <p>“New York City’s system depends on reasonable contribution limits that reduce the appearance that influence can be bought or sold through campaign contributions,” said then-CFB Chair Rose Gill Hearn. “It defies common sense that limits that work so well during the campaign should be set aside once the candidate has assumed elected office.”</p> <p>August 2016: A battle brewing in the background for months over NYPD officers’ disciplinary records came front and center as the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exclusive-nypd-stops-releasing-cops-disciplinary-records-article-1.2764145" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Daily News</a> reported that the department would no longer release “personnel orders” summarizing disciplinary actions against officers. Then-Commissioner Bill Bratton insisted that the city had long misinterpreted a decades-old state law -- Section 50-A of the New York State civil rights code-- that had led to the release of officer records. The law has been a particular sticking point for police reform advocates incensed over the administration’s efforts to protect the disciplinary record of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a banned chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner in 2014. Mayor de Blasio, whose administration has been fighting for well over two years to shield Pantaleo’s record, insisted his hands were tied on 50-A unless the state Legislature took action to change the provision.</p> <p>At an unrelated news conference in late August, de Blasio said he had stopped meeting with lobbyists, chiefly James Capalino, a top lobbyist and advisor to the mayor. “He, going into the mayoralty, was someone I respected as a friend and who I talked to a lot over the years,” de Blasio said. “But I do not have contact with him anymore.”</p> <p>September 2016: Two media outlets -- NY1 and the New York Post -- <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/two-media-outlets-sue-bill-de-blasio-in-freedom-of-information-case-1473375298" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sue</a> the mayor for the release of emails exchanged with Jonathan Rosen, of the consulting firm Berlin Rosen, who is one of the mayor’s “agents of the city.”</p> <p>That month, the City Council <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6545-city-council-drafting-bills-to-regulate-political-nonprofits-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">begins</a> drafting legislation to regulate political nonprofits like the Campaign for One New York. Multiple bills were formulated to implement additional disclosure rules for these groups and to bring them under the purview of the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>October 2016: After weeks of criticizing the New York Post for their coverage of his administration, de Blasio repeatedly ignores Post reporter Yoav Gonen’s questions at an October 6 news conference. Gonen presses on with questions, leading to heated words from the mayor, who calls the Post a “right-wing rag” before moving on to other reporters. The incident earns the mayor widespread condemnation from local media.</p> <p>That same month, amid increasing criticism over the administration’s stance on Section 50-A, de Blasio releases a legislative proposal calling on Albany to amend the law to remove confidentiality provisions and make the full disciplinary records of officer available to the public. “Without significant changes to this statute, the city remains barred from providing New Yorkers with the transparency we deserve," the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a>.</p> <p>November 2016: The Council introduces legislation to curb political nonprofits, particularly limiting contributions from entities and individuals with business before the city. Nonprofit groups would also have to disclose their donors to the Conflicts of Interest Board.</p> <p>On November 23, the administration releases thousands of pages of emails exchanged between the mayor’s office and Jonathan Rosen, who was among those classified as “agents of the city” to prevent disclosure.</p> <p>At a November 29 news conference, de Blasio <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">indicated</a> to the press that he had reduced contact with Rosen. “I think it’s fair to say that it’s pretty rare I’m talking to people, but each situation is individual,” he said at the time.</p> <p>December 2016: On his weekly <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/mondays-with-the-mayor/2016/12/5/mondays-with-the-mayor--agents-no-more.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance on NY1</a> on December 5, de Blasio tells anchor Errol Louis that his communications with outside advisors and consultants will no longer be shielded from disclosure. &nbsp;</p> <p>On December 15, the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/nyregion/bill-de-blasio-investigation.html?mcubz=0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Times reports</a> that two grand juries have been convened to hear testimony on the state and federal investigations into the mayor’s administration and fundraising. De Blasio continues to maintain that he and his associates acted legally and appropriately, following guidance from the Conflicts of Interest Board and from campaign lawyers.</p> <p>March 2017: Federal and state prosecutors jointly <a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> on March 17 that de Blasio and his aides would not face charges in the dual year-long investigations into the administration. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance criticized the mayor in a statement, saying that de Blasio and his associates violated the spirit and intent of the campaign finance law. Joon H. Kim, acting-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, noted that the investigation looked into “several circumstances in which Mayor de Blasio and others acting on his behalf solicited donations from individuals who sought official favors from the City, after which the Mayor made or directed inquiries to relevant City agencies on behalf of those donors.”</p> <p>De Blasio, at a <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/158-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-holds-press-conference-the-federal-budget-city-hall" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">news conference</a> that day, said the conclusion of the investigations “simply confirms what I’ve said all along. My staff and my colleagues and I have acted in a manner that was legal and appropriate and ethical throughout. This is something I feel very strongly about in public service – that we have to comport ourselves in the proper manner and we have done that, and that has been confirmed by the results of this investigation.”</p> <p>Also in March, a Manhattan appeals court <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/city-wins-two-cases-keep-police-discipline-records-secret/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rules in favor</a> of the de Blasio administration in the case of Officer Pantaleo’s disciplinary record, superseding two earlier lower court decisions that had allowed the release of some information.</p> <p>April 2017: After months of delaying his promise to provide a list of donors who did not receive favored treatment from City Hall, de Blasio partly backtracks and insists that he will pen an op-ed by the end of April that would mention certain relevant instances. (He had been hesitant to release the list earlier, citing the ongoing investigations.)</p> <p>August 2017: The de Blasio administration releases more emails that show two donors who were embroiled in a police corruption scandal had relatively easy access to the mayor. &nbsp;</p> <p>At the first Democratic mayoral primary debate on August 23, de Blasio concedes that the op-ed on donors is forthcoming and would be released before the September 12 primary. On September 1, de Blasio delivers in the form of <a href="https://medium.com/@NYCMayorsOffice/how-we-make-decisions-in-the-era-of-big-money-politics-e195917db5d7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a post on Medium</a>, an online publishing website. The post reads more as a screed against the media and contains only four instances involving unnamed donors to illustrate the mayor’s point. Some of those had emerged from emails released by the administration earlier in the month.</p> <p>“Media reports on these contacts fixated on their access to me and ignored the fair and transparent outcomes that followed,” the mayor writes. “Unfortunately, sensationalism often sells in New York City. Merit-based bureaucratic decision-making is a little boring for the nightly news.”</p> <p>September 6: The second mayoral primary debate begins with a heavy focus on de Blasio’s ethics.</p> <p>September 12: De Blasio handily wins the Democratic primary for mayor.</p> <p>November 7: Election Day</p> <p style="text-align: center;">**********</p> <p><strong><em>This article is part of&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">a series on Mayor de Blasio's first term record</a>&nbsp;as he seeks reelection this fall, in partnership with WNYC radio and City Limits.&nbsp;<a href="https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7221-dissecting-mayor-de-blasio-s-record-as-he-seeks-reelection">Find all pieces of the series here</a>.</em></strong></p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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