Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

 

Opinion

Opinion

Attorney General James Should Sue to Dissolve the Trump Organization


let james att

NY AG Letitia James (photo: @NewYorkStateAG)


For a company of only a few dozen employees, the Trump Organization has accumulated an astonishing rap sheet of fraud, crime, and other corporate misconduct over the years. And since its owner came to occupy the Oval Office, the company has sunk to new depths as a vehicle for influence and corruption by supplicants from corporate lobbies and foreign governments.

Now that federal prosecutors have refused to pursue a clear case of felony campaign violations using the Trump Organization as the fraudulent financial vehicle, Trump’s Attorney General and the federal Department of Justice are giving the boss’ company a green light for similar campaign crimes in 2020.

But New York Attorney General Letitia James doesn’t answer to Trump, and she has a power unique in America: the power to investigate and potentially dissolve the Trump Organization. It’s time to use that power.

Under the state’s Business Corporation Law—the modern version of a long-standing legal procedure with a rich history tracing back to the medieval English “writ of quo warranto” —Attorney General James can file a lawsuit in state court to dissolve a corporation, such as the Trump Organization, that is incorporated in New York. The test is whether the company “has exceeded the authority conferred upon it by law,...or carried on, conducted or transacted its business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal manner, or by the abuse of its powers contrary to the public policy of the state has become liable to be dissolved.” (This is a cousin of the separate legal provision under which the New York Attorney General successfully sued to dissolve the Trump Foundation.)

This type of lawsuit to dissolve a corporation isn’t common, but it isn’t rare either. Right now, Attorney General James is in the middle of a dissolution case against a credit card equipment leasing company, and just last year her office won another dissolution order against a different company. It’s true that neither of those were companies owned by the president of the United States—but it’s all the more important that the president should not get more lenient treatment for fraud than other citizens get. If no one is above the law, New York state law should apply to presidents and non-presidents equally.

Consider, then, the Trump Organization. That’s the small nerve center, based in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, that oversees a sprawling empire of about 500 tightly-controlled Trump businesses and real estate developments. Some of those, like the Trump National Doral Miami golf course, were legitimate businesses before the Trump Organization bought them. Others, such as the no-longer-Trump SoHo in Manhattan, seem on paper like they might be legitimate, but due to the Trumps’ poor business skills, can only be profitable through extensive fraud.

Still others, such as the Mar-a-Lago resort and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., began as legitimate businesses, but have become festering swamps of corruption since Trump entered the White House. And a few, such as a Panama City development dubbed “Narco-a-Lago,” or the failed Trump Tower Baku in Azerbaijan, seem to have been conceived at the start as vehicles for money laundering and corruption.

The case against the Trump Organization, detailed in a series of letters that we and our colleagues sent to Attorney General James and her predecessors, is extensive. Keep in mind that Michael Cohen already pleaded guilty to a campaign finance felony directly implicating Trump himself and Trump Organization officials knowingly and willfully.

Some of the charges on the company’s rap sheet—fraud against customers and investors, illegal political contributions, bribery, and obstruction of justice—reflect corporate misconduct of a relatively familiar type, but at an eye-opening scale. Other charges—violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, and facilitating the most flagrant presidential violations of the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses as a business model—are more unusual and also more compromising of our national security. The overall picture is a company soaked in a culture of corruption and impunity.

Dissolving the Trump Organization doesn’t mean closing office buildings, hotels, or golf courses, or putting innocent people out of work. The law provides that the Attorney General can work with a court-appointed receiver to develop a plan to ensure that relevant businesses can continue to operate and pay their staff and vendors while dissolution is pending in court, and allow for successful operation afterwards under new ownership.

Will Attorney General James use her authority to hold this corrupt company accountable? She’s not afraid to tangle with Trump. When he accused her—the first woman and the first African-American to be elected New York attorney general—of just being Governor Cuomo’s “tool” for “harassing” Trump’s businesses, she kept her cool and responded, “No one is above the law, not even the President. P.S. My name is Letitia James.”

It’s a name that Trump—as well as Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and the assortment of corrupt “business associates” sweating in Trump Tower—had better learn. Because if enough New Yorkers make their voices heard, her signature may soon appear on a lawsuit to dissolve the Trump Organization.

***
Ron Fein is the Legal Director of Free Speech For People. Jed Shugerman is Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. On Twitter @RonFein & @JedShug.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Improving Opportunity Zones to Truly Benefit Needy Communities in New York City


childrens museum cojo

Speaker Johnson, the author, at a construction site (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Opportunity Zones, which were part of the 2017 federal tax package, have the potential to improve low-income communities. But the way they are currently structured, they will only benefit neighborhoods already in the midst of building booms and gentrification.

Here is how they are supposed to work: Investors get tax breaks if they invest in businesses and property development in low-income communities. In New York City, investors are eligible to save on state and local taxes in addition to their federal taxes.

Unfortunately, in a city like New York that already has substantial incentive programs across the city and has enjoyed relative economic success in recent years, these new incentives could end up mostly going to projects that would have happened anyway. 

Opportunity Zone neighborhoods like Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn, and Gowanus are communities where private investment has already poured in, and seems poised to continue doing so even without the extra tax incentive - and as a result, they are expected to attract the majority of any Opportunity Zone investment that does happen. Our city does have neighborhoods that would benefit from the additional investment right now, but these aren’t them.

Displacement is a concern, too. 

The expected concentration of investment in a small handful of already-affluent (and often rapidly-changing) communities, and in high-end real estate, could accelerate many of the elements of gentrification that we are already struggling to keep up with. 

Fiscally, the program could be a huge loser for New Yorkers. 

With investors looking for the optimal combinations of high-profit and low-risk investments, and no requirements that investments deliver any public benefit, capital is likely to flow toward large, low-risk companies and high-end residential, commercial, or hotel development. In other words, not the intended targets, and not the people or businesses who could use help from the government. 

New York City taxpayers will bear a huge chunk of the cost. The city’s loss of tax revenue shares from Opportunity Zone tax breaks at the federal, state, and local levels could amount to $715 million just over the next five years – and much more over the following decades as investors continue to cash in on tax-free capital gains.

In New York, officials must make sure these Opportunity Zones help the right targets in the most vulnerable communities.

First, lawmakers in Albany must add localized criteria to the incentives. In order to be eligible for state- or city-level Opportunity Zone breaks, I am proposing that a project must be receiving substantial state or city government discretionary assistance, such as direct subsidy, land acquisition, or subsidized loans. This would help because local government agencies consider public benefit as a factor in dispensing discretionary assistance, so this change would enshrine a requirement of at least some benefit for local communities.

Second, we need to right-size other, complementary subsidies for projects. State and city agencies should consider Opportunity Zone equity sources as part of their due diligence process and allocation calculations when disbursing subsidy. This could prevent the unnecessary over-subsidizing of projects receiving both government assistance and Opportunity Zone tax breaks.

Third, we need robust monitoring at all levels. Federally, and at the state level, administrators must mandate transparency, monitor compliance, and evaluate results to ensure that Opportunity Zone incentives are used appropriately, fairly, and to the benefit of the public.

In cities like New York, this program could be a windfall for wealthy investors to little community benefit. But with action from state legislators, there is still a chance to salvage at least some benefit for New Yorkers who actually need it.

***
Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. On Twitter @NYCSpeakerCoJo.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A Monument to an Indigenous Future, Worthy of Attorney General James’ Support


shinnecock indian nation 600x400

The Shinnecock billboard on Route 27 (photo via a Shinnecock Nation member)


New York State Attorney General Letitia James earned a reputation as a relentless fighter for working people in the Brooklyn gentrification struggles of the early 21st century. Representing parts of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in the early 2000s, City Council Member James insisted that low-income and working people must have a place and a future in Brooklyn.

Block by block, James helped community members keep their homes and businesses in a context where the rent -- tied to the speculative dreams of wealthy investors and not to the livelihoods of current residents -- was always rising. James's office supported my own rent battle in Crown Heights from 2005 to 2010.

But now, in her new statewide role as Attorney General, James is threatening the land rights of a community that has resisted and survived one of the original, violent processes of forced displacement in United States history. Why? 

The Shinnecock Nation of Eastern Long Island is facing legal threats from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and the State of New York for launching a billboard project on tribal land.

The advertising revenue from two 60-foot electronic billboards on either side of Route 27, known as Sunrise Highway, at Hampton Bays is slated to support health and dental clinics, a community daycare facility, and other projects for the Shinnecock community. 

The town of Southampton, the Shinnecock's nearest neighbor since 1640, has deemed the billboards a driver distraction, an aesthetic blight, a detraction from the 'character' of the Hamptons, and has enlisted the DOT to stop the project.

The irony of Southamptonites' pearl-clutching in response to the Shinnecock’s modest attempt to chart a path toward economic survival, and not to the McMansions, the private jets, the environmental disaster of a golf course, and all manner of excess that characterize the Hamptons development trajectory is laughable, but not surprising. For generations, Southampton town has insisted that the Shinnecock should play a particular role (read: silent, servile, picturesque) in their shared community. 

And yet, the Shinnecock Nation's decision to use its land as its members wish is their right, the result of 32 years of successful struggle to become a federally-recognized Indian nation; NIMBY doesn't work when it is not actually your backyard.  The legal battle involving this only highway into the Hamptons tests the solidity of federal tribal sovereignty rights against a monied community’s belief that the future of the Hamptons is theirs alone to dream and develop.

Supporting the Shinnecock are the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and others who recognize that the survival of indigenous communities will require new, creative, and unapologetic assertions of sovereignty. In many parts of the country, state or federal highways run across tribal land. These thoroughfares are spatial evidence of a history of violent displacement but they also offer economic opportunities for native communities. By foregoing local or state permits, the Shinnecock root their economic development project in their hard-won federal legal status; and well they should. State and local courts have historically lacked the precedents or courage to support indigenous economic self-determination. The problem of so-called “home cooking” in biased state courts is legendary in federal Indian law jurisprudence

Given her 2018 election as the state’s chief legal officer, Letitia James has an opportunity to move Albany beyond the acrimony that predates her, and has long characterized the relationship between New York State and the Shinnecock Nation.

James had spoken of a desire to use the law to fight for all New Yorkers; there are few politicians who better understand the right to space as a key battleground for creating opportunity and equity. However, the entanglement of economic marginalization and geographic displacement looks different in the state versus the city contexts. Here, the "neighborhood" is the curling whippet of land along the Peconic Bay; "gentrification" has looked alternately like genocide, golf courses, and greenwashing (among other things) over the past five centuries. 

A phenomenon that native scholars have coined “indigenous erasure” helps explain why the Shinnecock billboard project faces such opposition in eastern Long Island, why few in the New York City-Hamptons circuit have spoken out about this issue, and why a progressive fighter like James has not yet reached out to the Shinnecock Nation, choosing instead to maintain the state’s track record of relating to this community through lawsuits and threats. 

I live in eastern Long Island, where indigenous names dot the landscape from Montauk to Massapequa and yet non-native communities are defensive or downright hostile when asked to acknowledge the indigenous present or make room for an indigenous future. Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s claim that "[the billboards] will completely change the character of the community we have fought long to protect" reflects a jarring sense of entitlement; 500 years of settler history will do that to you.  

In these parts, people wonder out loud why the Shinnecock can’t think of anything beyond cigarettes and billboards to earn money -- which is really a way of insisting that the Shinnecock future must follow a course pre-approved by the settlers in their midst who know little about the Nation and care even less. In my area, people crow loudly that this billboard project is the Shinnecock “straying from their culture”-- which is really a way of saying that externally-generated stereotypes of American Indians are more authentic than the voices of actual living indigenous people. ‘Why can’t they just follow the law?’ I have heard. ‘This is not about race, it’s the law!’ But this too is a smokescreen, a bemusing disregard of the copious evidence that U.S. law, particularly where land is concerned, has never been color- or power-blind.

And yet, with all deliberation and speed the Shinnecock Nation moves forward to pursue an economic future despite being largely excluded from the wealth streams of the Hamptons development machine. And so Shinnecock tribal elders have deemed these billboards a monument. They have claimed them as works of art and justice, as a tangible symbol of the Nation’s effort to choose how it is represented in public and to determine its economic trajectory.

As a historian, I understand the multivalent work of monuments -- the way they preserve and petrify particular narratives in their heavy materials. So this past July 4 at sunrise, I joined my Shinnecock neighbors at this monument as an act of solidarity and gratitude for their work of art and faith. I almost hoped to see Attorney General James there. I’ll be looking out for her on Labor Day Weekend at the 72nd Annual Shinnecock Pow Wow.  

***
Dr. Abena Ampofoa Asare is Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Stony Brook University (SUNY). She is the author of Truth Without Reconciliation: A Human Rights History of Ghana (University of Pennsylvania, 2018).

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Protecting Aging New Yorkers Amid Growing Threats Posed by Extreme Heat


mansion tax

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


In a city where flooding is the face of climate change, extreme heat is a silent but growing threat. Every year, extreme heat in New York City causes, on average, more than 450 emergency room visits and 150 hospital admissions, and results in the deaths of 115 New Yorkers from heat stroke and heat-related exacerbation of chronic health conditions. Older people are at the most risk.

For the first time in human history, our planet has more people over 65 than children under five, and the world’s global population is concentrating in cities. New York exemplifies both demographic shifts.

The city’s largest landlord, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), has approximately 62,000 residents aged 65 years and older, and seniors continue to be the public housing authority’s fastest growing population. Research shows that during heat waves older people suffer worse outcomes than the general population when air conditioning is not available or fails due to power outages. This makes it critical that the city augment its current cooling strategies.

As heat waves continue to increase in frequency and intensity, a new report commissioned by NYCHA recommends ways to protect the city’s most at-risk population. Sheltering Seniors from Extreme Heat compares the benefits and costs of a variety of physical upgrades, including energy efficient façades, mechanical cooling, and onsite generator backup, and provides a list of sustainable improvements that would allow NYCHA’s senior residents to remain safely at home during summer heat waves and power outages.

Arup’s study of NYCHA senior housing units reveals that, in the absence of air conditioning, indoor air temperatures rise dangerously high during heat waves and that upgrading building envelopes is not enough to remedy the problem. To ensure adequate cooling, these upgrades must be supplemented with backup power. Analyses comparing partial backup of critical systems to full-site backup found that the latter increases comfort and that implementation is less disruptive to NYCHA residents’ daily activities.

NYCHA recently launched a new cooling system initiative in response to the report. The smart air-conditioning pilot project is currently underway at Meltzer Tower, a NYCHA senior building in Manhattan. As part of the project, each of the building’s cooling units will be linked to a networked central control system for a safe and efficient service during dangerous heatwaves.

Another pilot project designed to test the feasibility of heat-pumps as an environmentally sustainable alternative to gas is slated to launch this summer. Seven apartments at the Fort Independence Houses in the Bronx will have their gas-fired hot water heating replaced by an electric heat-pump system that can also deliver cooling.

Smart and electrified cooling systems offer a great opportunity for New York City to meet its ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent before 2050, while ensuring that senior residents can remain comfortably and safely in their own homes during a heatwave or blackout. As the landlord to more than 400,000 city residents, NYCHA has an important role to play in safeguarding New York’s senior population and is paving the way to make New York a safer, more heat-resilient city.

***
Pallavi Mantha is Senior Energy and Sustainability Consultant at Arup. On Twitter @PallaviMantha of @ArupGroup.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Equifax Data Breach Highlights Corporations’ Troubling Use of Mandatory Arbitration and Need for Reform


govcuomo signs first exec

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced that New York will receive $19 million from Equifax as part of a broader $700 million settlement for a massive data breach that took place in 2017. This settlement represents a clear victory for civil justice, but it also highlights how major corporations use underhanded mandatory arbitration policies to deny accountability and recourse to consumers.

When news of the data breach first broke in fall of 2017, Equifax attempted to make amends by offering a year of identity theft protection services to affected customers. But this offer came with a startling catch – under the required terms, which could not be negotiated by the customer, affected customers were prohibited from joining collective lawsuits against the company, and instead were required to accept “mandatory arbitration.”

“Mandatory arbitration,” the legal clause wielded by Equifax in its offer of “free” identity theft protection, is widely used by companies as a shield from the civil justice system. Further, it is often buried in cumbersome contractual language (the “terms and conditions” people blindly agree to when they buy something online or even use a coupon), which is more often than not overlooked by consumers until it is too late.

Why is mandatory arbitration a scourge to consumers and victims?

The mandatory arbitration clause strips victims of their right to a trial by jury, which is guaranteed by the 7th amendment, and instead resolves victims’ claims through a private process with an arbitrator and arbitration association selected by the corporation. These arbitration associations routinely do business with the corporation and owe their loyalty not to the interest of justice, but to that corporation. 

Moreover, victims are up against powerful corporations with overwhelming resources, and in an arbitration everyday working New Yorkers are no match for a team of high-powered, professional defense attorneys, who will sit across from the consumer at a large, intimidating conference table, hammering home their points. Further, in mandatory arbitration evidence and outcomes are shielded from public scrutiny and wrongdoers are able to hide their bad acts.  

Our country’s civil justice system is designed to hold companies and industries responsible when their actions cause harm to consumers and employees. In a court of law, victims of negligence, discrimination, and malpractice have an opportunity to address corporate transgressions.

For that reason, it’s important that consumers have avenues to justice unencumbered by mandatory arbitration policies. It’s critical that those affected by corporate negligence can hold bad actors accountable. Under mandatory arbitration, perpetrators can escape scrutiny by burying individual claims in paperwork and litigation costs.

In practice, the civil justice system has forced companies and organizations to address wrongdoings, compensate victims, and correct institutional flaws. When mandatory arbitration has been removed from the picture, civil courts have successfully helped to limit deceptive tobacco advertising, protect people from toxic chemicals, and even make our cars safer.

Mandatory arbitration is a sham, intended to stifle cries of injustice and protect a company’s bottom line. Moreover, this assault on the right to trial has crept into all types of contracts, including the agreement you sign with the nursing home for your elderly parent as well as the items and services you may buy online.

In the wake of the Equifax scandal and countless others like it, it is imperative that our state and federal lawmakers stand up for consumers’ legal rights. 

The concept and practice of mandatory arbitration is an offense against the public interest. It’s time for big business to end the use of mandatory arbitration, or risk being held accountable for using this shameful and deceitful practice to rip off everyday Americans.

***
Michele Mirman is President of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association. On Twitter @NYSTLA.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

American Prosecutors Need Not Wait for Marijuana Legalization


cc ps comm prelim budget

Four New York City District Attorneys (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Last week, Governor Cuomo signed a bill effectively decriminalizing recreational use of marijuana. Once in effect at the end of August, New Yorkers charged with possession of less than two ounces of marijuana will face fines instead of criminal charges. Possession of over two ounces of marijuana maintains high fines and the possibility of jail time.

It is well known that throughout the United States communities of color have been disproportionately affected by marijuana arrests. In 2018, 89% of all New Yorkers arrested for marijuana possession were black or Hispanic; only 7% of people arrested for marijuana possession in New York were white.

The new law fails to address the disparate impact of the pernicious enforcement of marijuana use as grounds for parole and probation violations, but thankfully will allow people already convicted of low-level marijuana possession to have those charges expunged from their criminal records.

This law is an important legislative step towards addressing the over-policing and over-prosecution of our communities, and brings about a statewide change that has already been successfully piloted in parts of New York City thanks to local prosecutors’ sound use of their discretionary power.

In 2014, then-Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson implemented a policy declining to prosecute possession of small amounts of marijuana. In 2018, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance declined to prosecute low-level marijuana possession in his jurisdiction and vacated 3,000 cases and bench warrants for possession and smoking of marijuana. In February 2019, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark declined to prosecute low-level marijuana possession.

These efforts have been mirrored in other states as well. Baltimore District Attorney Marilyn Mosby rightly announced in February that “prosecuting [marijuana] cases ha[s] no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources.”

Prosecutors across the country should follow the example of these district attorneys. Using their powers, prosecutors don’t need to wait for state or federal marijuana decriminalization or legalization to provide justice.

Prosecutors use their discretion every day to tailor their recommendations on cases; the decision to decline to prosecute certain crimes that do not affect public safety is one way prosecutors should use that discretion to reduce the negative impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color, build trust with the communities they serve, and reduce interactions with the criminal justice system that may cause harm despite benign intent on the part of the system.

Regardless of the outcome of any particular case, contact with the criminal justice system can affect an individual’s employment, interrupt child care, and make community members feel unsafe due to unnecessary system pressure. For prosecutors managing offices with heavy caseloads, the decision to decline to prosecute cases that do not increase public safety is also a strategic one. By lowering caseloads, prosecutors are able to reallocate resources to finding

innovative, evidence-based, restorative responses to serious crimes that cause true harm to our communities.

Local prosecutors across the country have the potential to impact countless people through the thoughtful use of their discretion in ways that reflect local values while prioritizing the safety of all. As New York has demonstrated, prosecutors need not wait on state or national legislative solutions to enact policies that will help enable communities to thrive.

***
Lucy Lang is the Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. On Twitter @LucyLangNYC.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Note: this column has been corrected to note that the Brooklyn DA office announced its policy in 2014 under then-DA Ken Thompson.

As New York’s Ambitious Energy Plan Breaks Offshore Wind Records, Report Identifies Challenges and Opportunities


energy gov nrel gov 2

(photo: Energy.gov/NREL.gov)


The offshore wind energy revolution has arrived on American shores. In a relatively short period of time, East Coast states are breaking offshore wind records as they compete with each other over wind power. A recent report, though, by the Business Network for Offshore Wind finds that industry challenges will slow growth unless offshore wind states work together to find solutions.

Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo launched the largest offshore wind project in the country. His climate change bill codified 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind power into law, which will produce clean energy for over 3.4 million homes. Similar record-breaking news has been announced in other East Coast states but problems with grid connections, transmission lines, port infrastructure, marine logistics, and employee training can stand in the way of reducing carbon emissions with ocean power quickly and efficiently.   

The speed behind the development of ocean power is one of the most important races the United States must run to strengthen our environment, our economy, and our job growth. Today the U.S. has one offshore wind farm consisting of five turbines, compared to Europe’s 4,543 grid-connected offshore wind turbines across 11 countries. During the next two decades, East Coast states and California will have over two-dozen offshore wind farms under development in various stages. 

Our states have demonstrated they can and will play a critical role in the global renewable energy market, but we have work to do if we wish to ascend to a top leadership position globally. With the help of over 100 offshore wind experts, the Network’s Leadership 100 report focuses on the demands facing the industry with recommendations to meet them.

For example, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are accelerating their goals for a total of almost 16,000 megawatts (MWs) in offshore wind power. But, as of right now, the Northeast grid will be challenged in capacity to produce beyond 4,000 MWs.

The report argues that a project-by-project approach to grid connection is necessary to get the first turbines in the water. However, once the first few projects are constructed and connected to the grid, it will be difficult to reach the goals set forth by states without a coordinated grid approach. This means states need to build and pay for one grid for all states on the East Coast.

Port infrastructure is another obstacle. The report recommends that port infrastructure for offshore wind should be built and its use distributed among states, meaning some states will use port infrastructure in other states to support different parts of a project, and other states may not need to build offshore wind ports at all.

Unique and customized solutions for the U.S. offshore wind industry will give way to yet unknown spin-offs. For example, a bonus industry for the East Coast region is a marine logistics industry. With multiple developers and utilities involved in different states, marine logistics will be critical for coordinating the use of vessels and ports.

Also, as the report explains, bottlenecks will occur, along with setbacks, if the U.S. does not inventory what it can do well and focus on these few things. State competition needs to be resolved and a recognition that not everything can be built in the U.S. is also required.

Overall, there is confusion within the states about the labor, skills, and training needed for offshore wind production. Industry leaders also are confused on where to access training. Our workforce development system is daunting and needs improvements.

The Network’s report includes recommendations for offshore wind states for advancing grid and transmission projects, developing an industry road map and launching a public engagement campaign. The offshore wind supply chain has the potential to reach every state. We all want an American industry operated with American content, intelligence, and know-how. Let the race for ocean power begin but let’s all get on the same team.

***
Liz Burdock is President and CEO of Business Network for Offshore Wind. Jay A. Borkland is Senior Engineering Manager for Lloyd’s Register Boston Office of Renewables. On Twitter @LizBurdock1 of @offshorewindus.

How Many Must Die for Change - Corrupt Campaign Finance Laws Pave Way for Only ‘Thoughts and Prayers’


gov cuomo remove

(photo: the governor's office)


After the Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton massacres of the last two weeks, many Americans are asking how many more Stephen Romeros have to die before we stop the corporate, state-sponsored domestic terrorism of the gun-rights lobby. If you need to take a tally of children killed by guns, start with Stephen, and then include the 20 children of the Sandy Hook school shooting of 2012, then add Parkland and don't forget Keyla and Trevor, who were killed with Stephen that day in Gilroy.

When we are done counting the dead, the number of children killed by firearms every year in the United States is in the thousands

No person should fear walking out their door. We should be free to attend a movie, go to the mall or a concert, congregate to celebrate one’s faith, or have fun at a festival with our friends and family without looking over our shoulder or imagining someone showing up with an AR-15. No one should be wondering if today is the last day they will see their child alive when they send them off to school.

This is terrorism, enabled by a dysfunctional Congress that accepts the legalized bribes of the gun lobby and weapons manufacturers and executives. Campaign funds and Super-PAC money from the gun lobby are used to influence federal government decisions to do nothing but send thoughts and prayers to the devastated families and many millions more who live in fear of being next.  

Recent polls show a majority of Americans want more safety from guns. Overall 61% support stricter gun laws in the U.S., 77% support requiring a license, and 63% support a nationwide ban on assault weapons. And 94% support background checks, even a vast majority of NRA members who were polled, 69%, are in favor of background checks. The safety of our children isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a necessity and Americans know that. Why doesn’t Congress? 

The obvious reason for Congressional inaction is partisanship. The gun lobby, especially the NRA, floods Republican coffers with campaign contributions from their various Super PACs and for decades used their money to campaign for a majority of Republicans and against Democrats. Making gun legislation a partisan issue and creating division within the Republic. They have in effect enforced a paid for blockade on gun safety legislation from the majority of Republicans.   

Inaction in Washington, D.C. can be contrasted with action in Albany.

New York legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo are creating safer communities for all. Most recently, New York has passed several gun safety measures like the Red Flag law andextending the waiting period from three days to 30 during a delayed background check. They banned the sale of bump stocks in the state and passed mandatory lock and storage for gun safety in the home. They defied the culture of fear when they banned teachers from carrying firearms.

These 2019 accomplishments followed the passage of 2013 gun laws in New York that came just after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, measures that included a ban on assault weapon sales.

While some states like New York might be leading, Americans need and are asking for Congress to pass national comprehensive gun safety laws, which are especially necessary where there is no state-level leadership. 

Congress won't act until we get rid of the corruption of big money in politics. The gun lobby has spent millions in legalized bribes to Congress, through campaign contributions and Super PACs and other dark money groups. This flow of money to campaign coffers ensures that regulations on the industry are almost non-existent. Those who can pay to play buy Congress’ attention, it’s a fact. The American people can lay the dead at Congress’ feet and still, they’d step over the corpses of our children to grab a check from a gun lobbyist.  

The problem of money in politics is linked to the crisis of mass shootings and the domestic terrorism that we as a society face daily. Americans can do more than pray for a better tomorrow, we can demand legislative change to end the corruption that is preventing a safer, better world for our children.

That change needs to come in the form of an amendment to our United States Constitution for campaign finance. Once we have that, we can end the stranglehold of the gun lobby on Congress and that leaves the peoples’ voices to be heard. If Americans want a nation of safer schools and safer communities, we need to end this corruption now.

***
Joseph Sackman is the national coordinator for Wolf PAC. On Twitter @WolfPAChq.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Slowing Down 14th Street Bus Plan is Anything But Progress, or Progressive


mta bus electric

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


One of the most frustrating things about local New York City politics is that many people who believe in progressive ideas on the national stage do an about-face when it comes to progressive change on the local level, often when that change might actually touch their day-to-day lives in some way.

This phenomenon has been captured perfectly by the current debate around the 14th Street busway -- a pilot program approved by the mayor, which would prioritize public transit and trucks over private cars on one of the city’s busiest corridors -- and the troubling last-minute temporary restraining order against its implementation.

Just about everyone talks about how we need to make transit better for working New Yorkers, and that moving New Yorkers by bus, train, and bikes is more efficient and environmentally-friendly than by car, and yet, progress has been ground to a halt in the name of “environmentalism” by a few local residents using their connections and resources to jam up a groundbreaking transit project.

The lawsuit that led to the restraining order comes from a few wealthy, car-driving “progressive” West Side residents who claim that the 14th Street bus plan, as well as the protected bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets, should be subject to an environmental review. (Funny, the car lanes and free parking weren’t subject to an environmental review.)

The cynicism being displayed here by some of my West Side neighbors is far from universal. In fact, support for a busway on 14th Street in our community is overwhelming.

Community Board 6 Manhattan, of which I am a member, represents 147,000 New Yorkers on the East Side, covers half of the 14th Street corridor, and has been on the record supporting bus priority for almost a year. We first voted in favor last September, and then just reiterated our support in a second resolution in February.

Our position has been informed by the testimony of dozens of people at multiple meetings, including meetings hosted by us, by the city Department of Transportation, by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), by our elected officials, and others.

Our support for bus priority on 14th Street is informed by our own experience. Because there’s no area north-south subway east of Union Square, we depend on MTA buses more than people in other parts of Manhattan. We rely on the M15-SBS almost like a subway. We use existing upgraded crosstown bus service like the M23-SBS and M34-SBS to connect to the subway system. And we absolutely depend on 14th Street bus service, which (as everyone knows) is unreliable even after recent MTA upgrades.

In our neighborhood, we need and we deserve world-class transportation, and the transit and truck priority corridor the DOT planned would give it to us. It was planning to launch last month — until West Side attorney Arthur Schwartz, who is leading the lawsuit, somehow convinced a judge to put it on hold.

It’s rich to have Schwartz attack the busway with the baseless claim that the community is united in opposition to it. I am here to tell you that that claim is false; the support of Community Board 6 is emphatic and broad-based and it’s on the record. It shouldn’t surprise us that this same attorney has been cluelessly quoted that he doesn’t take the bus when he’s in a hurry.

But some New Yorkers don’t have much of a choice; people like me and 27,000 of our neighbors ride the M14A -- the city's slowest bus -- and M14D every day. Collectively we've lost out on about a year's worth of time while our buses idle in mixed traffic. Our voices matter.

The benefits of faster and more reliable bus service disproportionately accrue to people with lower incomes (that’s the definition of progressive). That reality isn’t lost on most of us invested in the fight to improve transportation in New York City, and we aren’t going to let people like Schwartz wear a mantle that he hasn’t earned, no matter how much they like to call themselves progressive.

I hope the baselessness of this lawsuit is exposed at Tuesday’s hearing where a New York State Supreme Court judge will hear arguments on both sides. I’m optimistic we can get the busway back on track as soon as possible. It will be a game-changer for tens of thousands of working New Yorkers, saving us thousands of hours a year otherwise sitting in traffic or standing in the rain. That’s a progressive step forward that everyone should support.

***
Rich Mintz is a member of Manhattan Community Board 6. On Twitter @richmintz.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A Threat to the Right to Abortion Anywhere is a Threat to Abortion Everywhere


mbdb flcm

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


The fight for safe, legal abortion started long before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion care. Planned Parenthood of New York City and all Planned Parenthood affiliates will always stand in solidarity to protect safe, legal abortion. That has not, and will never change. However, we live in a country where health care is deeply politicized -- because politicians have made it that way, even here in New York.

Abortion is health care, and health care is a fundamental human right. Let me be clear, the same politicians who seek to outlaw abortion are also the same politicians who are forcing dying patients off their insurance by dismantling the Affordable Care Act. They are the same politicians who are lobbied by big pharma in order to triple the cost of insulin. They are the same politicians who want to allow insurance companies to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. These politicians continue to pull the levers of power in favor of themselves, and not the people they represent. These are the types of political barriers our patients and health care professionals face every day. 

In May, I stood before a crowd of nearly a thousand New Yorkers, who were enraged over the extreme abortion bans sweeping our country. New Yorkers are fortunate to live in a state where the protections of Roe v. Wade were recently enshrined into state law, but New Yorkers are also savvy enough to know that an attack on abortion in any state, is an attack on abortion in every state.

I echoed the true New York City spirit - If you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us - that evening at a “Stop the Bans” rally in Lower Manhattan. I described the abortion bans as a coordinated attack in order to drive care underground and force a national showdown at the Supreme Court. I added that it’s not just an attack on women, it’s an attack on anyone who can and might get pregnant - including transgender men and gender non-conforming people. The crowd cheered with approval. I imagine in that moment, people who fought to be seen as human, got the recognition they needed and deserved.

Immediately after the rally, anti-abortion extremists pounced on the opportunity to denounce my statement. One network rolled footage of a woman in front of a podium at a reproductive rights rally, while the host criticized what I said. It was clear the network failed to acknowledge the unique individuality of women, and all people, across our country. The host growled the stale notion that “that only women can bear children...reality is worth defending.” I disagree. This reality is worth defending, as are the fundamental human rights of our patients.

Transgender men and gender non-conforming people can have children if they want to. They are also at risk of pregnancy against their will. A 2015 survey found that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. For transgender men, a devastating rape could result in unwanted pregnancy. Planned Parenthood of New York City will always be a safe haven for anyone who needs compassionate, non-judgmental care. Our doors will always be open to everyone.  

Unfortunately, the Trump-Pence administration refuses to embrace people with the same compassion. This year, the White House welcomed Pride Month with a proposal to dismantle Obama-era protections for transgender people. The administration wants to make it legal for doctors to discriminate against patients based on their gender identity. The White House also wants to define gender as a fixed biological condition -- essentially erasing transgender identity out of existence.  

Now, the Trump-Pence administration has created a new health care hurdle by enforcing the Title X “gag rule.” The “gag rule” makes health care providers, like Planned Parenthood, ineligible for federal funding for family planning and preventive care -- like birth control, STD tests and treatment, and cancer screenings -- if they also counsel or refer for abortion care. This is another way of politicizing health care at the expense of underserved and uninsured people -- our people, our patients. 

Here in New York the situation is much different. Earlier this year, New York shielded legal abortion in our state with the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), cementing New York’s position as a safe haven for sexual and reproductive rights, even if Roe is overturned by the conservative majority in the Supreme Court. The RHA was a political win for New Yorkers and the national fight for reproductive freedom. Our Albany lawmakers exercised their legislative power to safeguard reproductive rights for all New Yorkers, and for anyone across the country who may have to travel to our state for safe, legal abortion. Simply put, this victory proves that elections matter.

Health care is at the core of Planned Parenthood’s mission, and has been for more than 100 years, but it is also our obligation to heal the scars of political oppression and ensure that laws and policies allow us to continue care for the next 100 years. We will stay committed to protecting our patients, because if we don’t advocate for their right to affordable, quality medical care, who will?

***
Laura McQuade is the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. McQuade will assume leadership of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York when the affiliate launches in 2020.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A Chore We Must Do: Over-Hauling Private Waste Management in New York City


assist parade cleanup

(photo: Michael Anton/Department of Sanitation)


Environmental advocates and labor unions are dissatisfied with New York City’s system of collecting garbage from commercial establishments. Unlike waste from residences, including apartment buildings, which is collected by the city’s Department of Sanitation, waste from office buildings, retail businesses, and restaurants is collected by for-hire companies that charge their customers fees for the service.

Environmentalists decry the traffic and pollution caused by multiple different waste collection companies’ trucks driving all over the city on uncoordinated routes and schedules. Labor unions are concerned about the reliance of many of the smaller waste-haulers on non-unionized workers with low salaries, no benefits, and relatively little in the way of safety protections. These concerns were highlighted by fatal crashes that led to the shutdown of one waste hauling company. 

My former organization, Citizens Budget Commission, has long been concerned about the high costs of New York City’s waste disposal practices; as CBC President I first testified about this issue before the City Council Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management in October 2011.

We published a comprehensive analysis of city solid waste management in 2014. With respect to commercial waste collection, CBC noted that the high number of private carters (as many as 250 in 2014, including those that handle only special types of waste such as construction and medical) has kept collection prices low and minimized corruption, but a more efficient zoned system would minimize congestion and greenhouse gas emissions:

“...the City should shift from “open” competition to competitively awarded franchises for service in designated districts. The franchise should not be given exclusively to one carter but instead limited to a small number of firms. Such “non-exclusive” franchises allow for greater competition and provide greater opportunity for small and medium size businesses to compete…The franchise agreements should include standards for worker safety and vehicle environmental performance.” 

In November 2018, after two years of study and consultation with stakeholders, the Department of Sanitation released a reform plan that largely reflects CBC’s recommendations. As the City Council appears close to movement on solid waste management reform, it would be wise to quickly adopt legislation that includes the key tenets of what CBC and Sanitation have put forward, so that an aggressive but careful multi-year implementation process can begin.

Sanitation proposes a Commercial Waste Zone (CWZ) program that would divide the city into 20 zones. Within each zone carters would compete to win city contracts to provide waste collection services. Three to five carters would be selected in each zone, depending on the density of commercial activity in the zone. Selected carters would have to specify a maximum price, offer recycling and organic collection at discounted rates, and comply with vehicle emission standards. The contracts would last 10 years and the first awards would be made in 2021 with the system to be phased in over the following two years, 2022-2023.

CWZs would be a dramatic change and all change meets resistance. Some carters are opposed to limiting the number of franchisees, fearing that they would not be able to compete and would go out of business. Businesses, especially large ones that are now able to drive a hard bargain, are concerned that collection fees will increase and they will have little leverage to control costs. They also want flexibility to be able to change trash haulers if they believe they can get a better deal or performance isn’t meeting expectations.

Environmentalists contend that there should be only one carter per zone to achieve the maximum reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Labor unions want the better salary and benefits that union-only employees would receive and that only very large collection firms that have exclusive franchises can assure. 

The City Council Sanitation Committee chair, Antonio Reynoso, has been a strong advocate of some environmentally–oriented waste management policies, like charging for single-use plastic bags and curbside collection of organic waste. Now, he has taken the lead on CWZs by introducing legislation to create franchise zones.

His bill provides for only one franchisee per zone. The enviro/labor groups are pleased, but the business community is very concerned about the prospect of dramatically increased waste collection fees and a loss of customer choice. They point to the recent experience in Los Angeles, which adopted single-vendor zones and prices for some companies quadrupled.  (The LA system is quite different and much larger and more expensive in that it applies to multi-family residential as well as commercial waste collection.)

As they say, the mark of a good compromise is that all stakeholders are somewhat dissatisfied. CWZs will require significant readjustments by the Department of Sanitation, the city’s Business Integrity Commission ( which licenses carters), the business community, and the waste collection industry; it would be wise to move resolutely but carefully.

Moving from what is essentially a free-for-all to a highly constrained and regulated system is probably too much to do all at once. The Department of Sanitation’s proposal to allow several franchisees per zone would give businesses some price and quality leverage to select among a few competitor vendors. It would enable some of the smaller waste haulers to remain in business while elevating the quality of equipment and safety of the industry citywide.

Studies indicate that as much as 85% of the greenhouse gas emission reductions to be gained from a CWZ system would be achieved by limiting franchisees to a small number. So while it may not be the more categorical result that some would prefer, let’s hope that the Council doesn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the very good.

The Sanitation Department’s proposal is a thoughtful balancing of interests and concerns. Hopefully some areas of compromise can be found so that the Council can adopt CWZ legislation in the fall and adjustments can be made, if needed, after the city has some experience with the new system. But the time to act is now.

***
Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

 

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: 3 Issues the Governor Says Will Form Basis of His 2020 Agenda3 Issues the Governor Says Will Form Basis of His 2020 Agenda Gotham Gazette: Charter Revision Commission Puts 20 Proposals Toward November Ballot Charter Revision Commission Puts 20 Proposals Toward November Ballot Gotham Gazette: How De Blasio Fared in Albany This Year How De Blasio Fared in Albany This Year Gotham Gazette: The Max & Murphy Podcast The Max & Murphy Podcast