Gotham Gazette

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Ranked-Choice Voting Won Out — Let's Not Blow It with Premature Tabulations

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Voting (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

After a once-in-a-century pandemic, concerns about rising gun crime, debates about usage of our streets, and perennial conflict over integration of our schools and neighborhoods, the 2021 mayoral primary cycle's final day centered less on why we were voting than on the mechanics of how we'd be casting our ballots.

Watching Kathryn Garcia and Andrew Yang team up to campaign jointly over the home stretch, current vote leader Eric Adams baselessly compared the ranked-choice motivated alliance to a  poll tax and said the instant-runoff system approved by New York voters three-to-one was effectively abetting voter suppression. Adams also continued to hedge about whether he'd even abide by the results of a ranked-choice tabulation. While in many instances he has been unequivocal about abiding by the outcome, he has at other times betrayed reluctance, including commenting that “no one is gonna steal the election from me,” bringing to mind Trump's Big Lie about his own loss and the resulting capital insurrection.

Fear-mongering about ranked-choice voting depressing turnout or confusing voters—from Adams and allies including City Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Daneek Miller, among others—didn’t bear out. Turnout was high, reporters profiled numerous voters expressing confidence about  how to rank their preferences, and candidates are properly directing their supporters to wait until every vote is counted before declaring victory or acknowledging defeat.

The high voter turnout and ranking enthusiasm are great news, but it's not too late for us to blow it.

Judging by the Board of Elections' announced plans for ballot-counting and tabulation, they’re about to add confusion by running interim tabulations of ranked-choice results on incomplete sets of ballots every week until all ballots are processed. This means candidate rankings will shift unpredictably until certification.

In doing so, the Board of Elections runs the risk of telegraphing an inaccurate outcome that could indeed undermine confidence in the real one—especially if the changes impact Eric Adams’ final tally, and he uses those shifts to attack the system he and his allies so often question. It’s not just Adams who might find fodder in inaccurate tabulations: any of the twelve losing campaigns may do so in whiplashed tabulation results.

This unforced error is avoidable if New York changes course and decides to act more like Maine—the state whose ballot access efforts I led in 2020. Maine has been a national leader on successful usage of ranked-choice voting, and it waits until all votes are received and ready before performing its ranked-choice “instant runoffs.”

It would be a pity to muck the election up now: so far, RCV has been a huge success.

With over 120,000 Democratic absentee ballots yet to count, turnout appears to have surged to its highest levels since 1989. The New York Post ran a comprehensive feature about how intuitive and inclusionary voters found the process of ranking their preferred candidates. Reviews of Campaign Finance Board reports show a surprising paucity of attack ads. And, almost assuredly, this system will be the one under which New York elects a new mayor who is female, Black, or both—and a City Council with more than the aspirational 21 women members targeted by the "21 in ‘21" campaign.

Judging by the voters profiled across the city, New Yorkers' experience with RCV has made them feel more bought into the outcomes of their races and more interested in learning the details of candidates' platforms; these are the very benefits that have led Maine to nation-leading turnout and recommitment to the system on a second statewide ballot referendum.

Now it's time for voters to wait for the results.

Some commentators are mistakenly blaming Board of Elections mismanagement or RCV for the fact that final results remain a couple of weeks away, and the media could be doing a better job explaining that the cause of any further delay isn't running tabulations but processing absentee ballots.

That process is slow for good reason: voter-friendly rules allow receipt of ballots by a week after Election Day and include a window during which voters may "cure" certain ballot defects. The Legislature has already ensured this process will be faster in future elections by passing a law that will allow earlier processing of absentees received before election day.

If New Yorkers now just have to sit tight to let absentee ballots be processed, and then for RCV tabulations to be run, what could there possibly be to worry about?

Well, the problem is that the Board of Elections doesn't plan to do these steps serially, but to run tabulations on subsets of ballots while still processing others. This plan will do nothing but confuse voters about how the allocation of those votes will work out.

According to the current plan, beginning on Tuesday, June 29, the BOE will start modeling RCV tabulations—eliminating the lowest first-rank vote-getter from contention, then allocating their ballots to the second-place choices on those ballots, and continuing those "instant runoffs" until there are just two candidates left and showing a winner—on whatever subset of ballots they happen to have ready each week.

That won't be all the ballots, and it will be skewed heavily to early and primary day ballots to the exclusion of absentees. Absentees might be systematically different from the rest of the ballots (for example, if they’re more likely to be cast by older voters or by Manhattanites, or both).

FairVote, a nonpartisan organization that promotes use of RCV, notes that these "unofficial" tabulations have been done elsewhere—such as San Francisco—and says they're similar to unofficial vote counts from election night.

However, the logic of how election night vote totals will change as more ballots get counted is extremely straightforward. Eric Adams has 31.7% of the roughly 800,000 early and primary day first-place votes, Maya Wiley has 22.2%, and Karthryn Garcia has 19.5%. As well over 120,000 absentees get counted, those numbers will shift. Still, we know that each candidate’s current first-place vote numbers can only go up as more ballots get counted.

In spite of this clarity, even releasing early and primary day vote totals while absentees are coming in presents challenges to voters’ understanding of the results. For example, the simple "blue shift" of changes to the top-line numbers from election night in 2020—when mailed ballots favored Joe Biden over Donald Trump, showing a flip in states like Pennsylvania as they were counted—was enough to underpin the Big Lie.

RCV instant runoffs extend those normal shifts with an unimaginable butterfly effect, because the final order in which candidates finish determines the order in which their votes get reallocated. Running RCV tabulations before all ballots are in can thus have distressing consequences.

Imagine if the reallocation of lower-placing candidates’ ballots shifts who ends up in the final two with Eric Adams. Kathryn Garcia's voters, largely in Manhattan and influenced by the New York Times editorial board, may overwhelmingly prefer Wiley to Adams—giving Wiley a shot to win if she’s the last candidate standing with the Brooklyn borough president. Conversely, many Wiley voters may have ranked Adams, the other top-tier Black candidate, after her, meaning that Garcia wouldn't benefit as much from that reallocation. As more absentees get processed and included in forthcoming RCV tabulations, we might flip from one of those scenarios to the other.

These scenarios are conjectures. Still, what’s certain is that what we see in “unofficial” tabulations may not give us an accurate preview of the final result. Unlike primary night results reflecting the first-place top-lines, having processed 90% of the ballots doesn't mean RCV tabulations will be 90% representative of the final result. Indeed, they might be diametrically opposed to it.

What will happen if the multiple premature RCV tabulations show major variability in the final result, given that they will reflect results of runoffs that only include a subset of the electorate?

RCV is a fantastic system that leads to more representative, more inclusive outcomes. There is no reason to undermine New York voters' experience of it through the release of pointless interim tabulations. Instead, we should run RCV tabulations all at once after all ballots are received and cured, as Maine does.

Democracy advocates know that a slow and steady count is the best bulwark against claims of election fraud. When we're so close to the finish line, the BOE should be wise enough to hold out to deliver its own. New Yorkers will be patient if the BOE communicates that comprehensive results are worth waiting for.

Ryder Kessler, a former executive board member of Manhattan’s Community Board 2, served as the Maine Democratic Party’s 2020 Voter Protection Director for Joe Biden and down-ballot Democrats. On Twitter @ryderkessler.

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Close the Credibility Gap for New York City Schoolchildren

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Kids in school (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

The full in-person public school re-opening won’t be a return to normal for the New York City school children who have suffered most from 16 months of covid turbulence, exacerbated by histories of systemic and structural racism. Their outlook on life has fundamentally changed. 

As Schools Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter has acknowledged, we need more social workers in schools, lifting students’ voices. But unless we as social workers and educators can also shift our approach to meet their realities, we will lose a pivotal opportunity to re-engage a significant majority of our young people.

Perhaps the question is: should we return to “normal” at all – or do we want to build a more equitable school system that fulfills the promise of opportunity for all our children?

New York City’s school system enrolls 41% Latino and 26% Black students—and these students have lost parents or caregivers at twice the rate of Asian or white children. The insecurities are profound: 23% of those Latino and Black children are at risk of entering foster or kinship care and 50% of living in or falling into poverty. 

Organizations such as ours that provide trauma-informed counseling and mental health services in public schools have stayed connected to our students remotely when schools closed in March 2020 and since then in person as necessary throughout on-and-off schedules and turbulent re-openings. We have seen an influx of new referrals and increased hardships, underscoring the mental health crisis emerging from the pandemic.  

Now in the precious weeks and months ahead, we must accelerate our outreach with culturally-competent summer programs and ongoing mental health supports that empower students to candidly express themselves. This will give us a true understanding of the troubling emotions, experiences, and outlooks that our most vulnerable children share and endure. 

This will necessitate reframing our approach to social-emotional learning (SEL), a core element of social work. Traditionally this process aims to help children understand their emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy, and make responsible decisions.  

The shortcoming of this approach is that too often those goals are set by others without considering the context in which each child comes to school.

For a generation of children coping with the everyday realities of COVID-19 devastation, exacerbated financial hardship, and systemic racism, SEL can feel like a parallel universe to their own experience.

When children come to school hungry, how can we expect them to think about others, let alone engage with the material and participate in class? When a middle school student follows stories of police brutality toward Black men, should he really be expected to set aside his heartbreak and anger to learn about the American Revolution? Are we asking children to frame their behaviors to conform to a reality they don’t experience?

Our work is grounded in neuroscience showing that the stresses of financial, food or housing insecurity can become toxic and inhibit children’s abilities to learn and socialize. Establishing trust as a caring adult is proven to buffer children from factors that are out of their control.

The outdated expectation that young people can rise up “by their bootstraps” on a clearly uneven playing field needs to be replaced by an equity strategy. Right now, our credibility as a society is at stake as it never has been. Everyone should be watching to ensure we provide the right educational and social service supports for children as we emerge from the pandemic and open schools fully.  

In the year ahead, we should make sure our schools feel nurturing and safe to children and families. The schools must meet children where they are, and build trust with school communities. We especially need social workers who have lived through the pandemic and have experienced systemic racism to work with and for the communities they serve, culturally-responsive teaching, and materials to which children can relate. Finally, practitioners of Social Emotional Learning must consider modifying their practice to consider children’s lived experiences and the context of the school environment in which our students are often forced to navigate. 

This is not only a formula for healing, but also an opportunity to empower children to use their emotions and their voices to re-imagine their futures. 

This fall, when students fill New York’s public schools, let’s make sure their hearts and minds are in class too.

Travis Rodgers is Chief Equity and Strategy Officer at Partnership with Children.

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Remembering Herb Sturz: Pioneering Social Entrepreneur

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Herb Sturz, left, and Jonathan Lippman, one of the authors

Herb Sturz, one of the original social entrepreneurs, died this month. 

Herb was equal parts bright-eyed idealist and sharp-eyed power broker. All of the obituaries and tributes that will follow in the days to come will no doubt detail his remarkable resume. 

Herb was a man of many hats. The founder of the modern bail reform movement. The spark behind the creation of numerous nonprofit organizations, including the Vera Institute of Justice. Deputy Mayor and City Planning Commissioner under Mayor Ed Koch. Member of the New York Times editorial board. Real estate developer. Philanthropist working for the Open Society Foundations. And many more.

Has anyone ever touched so many different professions? Herb knew the power players in a wide variety of fields.

Like many movers and shakers, Herb’s success was built, in part, on the strength of his social network. But Herb was much more than a man with a golden rolodex. 

We had the pleasure of working with Herb on various criminal justice reform projects over the past three decades. In unguarded moments, we would often seek to ascertain the secret of Herb’s success. He was obviously a man of intellect and ambition. But the truth is that New York City is full of people like that. Herb had something else.

Over the years, we came to realize that Herb’s two superpowers were creativity and humility. He was a man of a thousand ideas. Not all of them were great, but his batting average was better than anyone else we can think of.  

Crucially, his imagination was paired with a willingness to work behind the scenes and let others receive the glory. Harry Truman is credited with saying “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Herb was the living embodiment of this insight. This was a key factor in his ability to convince powerful people to run with his ideas.

Herb’s creativity and humility were much in evidence in the last great fight of his career: the battle to close the notorious jail complex on Rikers Island. 

It was Herb’s idea to create a blue-ribbon commission to study the idea of closing Rikers back in 2016.  This wasn’t exactly a new idea for Herb – he had tried to get rid of Rikers before, back in the Koch administration, without success. This time around, he went to Mayor Bill de Blasio and then-New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and asked them to authorize a commission. 

Mark-Viverito launched the commission with great fanfare at her state of the city address. We were in the audience watching with Herb that day – he had also asked each of us to be part of the Commission.  

At that point, closing Rikers Island seemed like a progressive fever dream rather than a real possibility.  There was, to be sure, a vibrant grassroots movement, led by formerly-incarcerated activists, arguing for closure and building public support. But most public officials were cool to the idea, and the Mayor questioned whether closing Rikers was logistically feasible. In normal times, this lack of institutional support would spell doom for any new criminal justice reform.

Given this reality, why did we sign on to Herb’s scheme? Because Herb was the one doing the asking. Herb was willing to put his time and effort and reputation on the line. That immediately convinced us that the fight might be winnable. 

Having brought the team together, Herb then made his next crucial move: he faded to the background, allowing us to step forward to organize the commission and lead it forward. He knew better than to micro-manage, but he was always available with advice whenever asked.

Five years later, the effort to close Rikers Island is still ongoing. But enormous progress has been made. The Mayor and the City Council have both endorsed a plan to shutter the inhumane jails. It will remain for the next Mayor to carry this plan to fruition.

However things turn out, we are grateful that Herb asked us to participate in his plan to close Rikers Island. It was, and is, an audacious effort to make the world a better place on behalf of a population that is often voiceless in policy debates. We hope the next generation of Herb Sturzs is waiting in the wings to take up the battle.

Jonathan Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State and of counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP. Greg Berman is the former director of the Center for Court Innovation. They are both members of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which Lippman chairs.

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Gender Violence is on the Manhattan DA Ballot

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Voters voting (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

New Yorkers are choosing the next Manhattan District Attorney, who will profoundly shape prosecutions of gender-based violent crimes like sexual assault, domestic violence, trafficking, stalking, and hate crimes targeting women of color. It is essential that the next Manhattan DA combat the scourge of mass incarceration of non-violent offenders, and at the same time combat the under-prosecution of violent and predatory gender-based crimes. In the U.S., 49 out of 50 rape cases do not result in jail time for the perpetrator. We need the next Manhattan DA to lead in a better direction.  

Yet some of the candidates have taken positions that would leave victims of gender-based violence even less protected than they are now. Here are just a few examples for Manhattan Democratic voters to consider.

Domestic violence
One survey asked if candidates would dismiss charges any time there are cross-complaints (two people accuse each other of violence) and the parties say they do not want to go forward with a criminal case. But false counter-allegations are a classic abuser tactic to terrify victims into dropping charges. Good prosecutors scrutinize cross complaints carefully, proceed with caution when a victim proposes to drop charges, and assess victim intimidation and lethality risk.

A blanket promise to dismiss cross complaints would nullify the victim’s access to criminal justice protection whenever a batterer strategically files a retaliatory charge. Candidates who promised to dismiss charges when there are cross-complaints included Tahanie Aboushi, Alvin Bragg, Diana Florence, Eliza Orlins, and Dan Quart. The candidates who answered “No” to this question were Tali Farhadian Weinstein and Lucy Lang. The eighth Democratic candidate, Liz Crotty, did not participate in the survey.

Multiple candidates in the race agreed that they would “never seek more than the minimum sentence.” Even for progressives like me who want to see incarceration reduced for many offenses, this pledge is extremely problematic when applied to violent crimes. If a serial child molester charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse in the first degree has no prior conviction (which many serial abusers—think Larry Nasser—do not), the minimum sentence is probation. Yet probation would be wildly irresponsible in such a case.

For countless cases of rape, domestic abuse, and other forms of violence, the minimum sentence would likewise be totally inappropriate. Survivors need prosecutors to tailor sentencing requests to the merits of each case, not adopt a one-size-fits-all policy. Candidates who agreed they would “never seek more than the minimum sentence” included Tahanie Aboushi, Alvin Bragg, Diana Florence, Lucy Lang, Eliza Orlins, and Dan Quart. The candidate who answered “No” to this question was Tali Farhadian Weinstein. Crotty again did not participate.

Some candidates pledged to cut the resources of the Manhattan DA office by 50%. Yet prosecutions of gender-based violence are labor intensive and are already under-resourced. We need the next DA to redistribute precious resources so that prosecutions of gender-based violence receive the investigative work, the expert witnesses, the forensic testing, the technology support, the trauma-informed approaches, and the prosecutor time and attention they need.

Candidates who agreed to cut the office’s resources by 50% included Tahanie Aboushi and Eliza Orlins. Candidates who answered “No” to this question were Alvin Bragg, Tali Farhadian Weinstein, Diana Florence, Lucy Lang, and Dan Quart. Crotty did not participate.

Arrest policy
Candidates were asked if they support a “mandatory arrest” policy for felony domestic violence. These are cases in which the abuser has caused serious physical injury, used a weapon, or violated a stay-away order of protection – truly dangerous situations. The policy instructs police officers to arrest assailants, not try then and there to “reconcile” the parties. It was enacted to stop officers from telling batterers to ‘take a walk around the block’ to cool off, leaving victims in danger. Candidates who opposed the arrest policy were Tahanie Aboushi, Alvin Bragg, Eliza Orlins, and Dan Quart. Candidates who supported the arrest policy were Liz Crotty, Tali Farhadian Weinstein, and Diana Florence.   

The next Manhattan DA needs a bold, smart plan for combating gender-based violence. A report by Reform the Sex Crimes Unit evaluates and links to the candidates’ platforms; voters can assess the thoughtfulness and detail of each candidate’s approach. New Yorkers need the next Manhattan DA to show the world that we can reduce incarceration for non-violent crimes and combat the abuses of the criminal justice system, while at the same time protecting survivors of domestic violence and increasing the prosecution rates for rape. Let’s keep survivors of gender-based violence at the center as we build the New York City we want. 

Jane Manning is an attorney and advocate for survivors of sexual assault.

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The Next Mayor Must Stick with the Plan to Close The Boat, and Rikers

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A rally for closing Rikers (photo: @CLOSErikers)

The Vernon C Bain Correctional Facility, known as The Barge, or The Boat, has been getting some attention recently. Ava Duvernay and Laura Poitras recently discovered it, and mayoral candidate Eric Adams said he wants to sink it. But Bronx residents have been calling for the closure of this modern day slave ship for years. We do so because it is an affront to human rights, and our values. While we welcome the support, this recent attention is concerning. 

The closure of The Boat requires more than tweets and talk. It requires a plan and thankfully, we have one that was hard-won by impacted Bronx residents and their allies. We need to move forward with that plan - the Close Rikers plan - including the replacement jail in the Bronx.

Consider this - if The Boat closed today, the people there would be moved to the notorious Rikers Island jail complex. Moving them right now would be especially cruel as we head into the summer, since The Boat has air conditioning (that works at least occasionally), and the available units on Rikers have none. 

What many New Yorkers don’t know, or have chosen to ignore, is that all of the Department of Correction facilities in New YorK City are unfit for humans. Let’s review the options. There is a penal colony on toxic land (Rikers); a prison ship (The Boat); closed jails in Queens and Brooklyn that each have insufficient square feet per incarcerated person to meet state standards (and also, lack air conditioning); or the cramped and decrepit “Tombs” in lower Manhattan. 

Throughout this campaign season, nearly every mayoral candidate has said Rikers should close, but detailed plans to do it have been much more scarce even as they question the current plan. What candidates aren’t promising is an end to all policing, prosecution, and incarceration in the Bronx, or New York City. This is why every Bronx voter should know that when we oppose the replacement jail in the Bronx, we are approving the human rights violations on Rikers and The Boat.

So while incarceration continues in some form in our city, the question is where, and under what conditions?

We know that we can continue to reduce incarceration, but we must do so while addressing dangerous and dehumanizing conditions for people who are detained. That’s why we support the Close Rikers plan. This plan replaces 17,500 jail beds in 14 inhumane facilities, with 3,300 beds in four facilities in the boroughs. This plan closes all the jails on Rikers and The Boat by 2027.

Reducing New York City’s jail population to less than 3,300 people, the lowest it's been in 100 years, will require that we make investments to strengthen the Bronx, and other communities unfairly burdened by criminalization. We have both spent most of our lives fighting for those investments, including NYCHA repairs, violence-prevention programs, career-track job training, community counseling and mentorship, transit improvements, environmental remediation, and more. 

As members of the Bronx Neighborhood Advisory Committee, we worked with the City Council to secure commitments to specific investments in connection with the Close Rikers plan. Those investments are a necessary starting point to help us catch up to the rest of the city. These investments focus on community development, providing care and the prevention of crime, instead of policing and punishment. We understand that this plan doesn’t end incarceration completely. But when we take a community first approach we can incarcerate fewer people, in conditions that recognize their humanity is not terminated when they are sent to jail.

The Bronx can do just that, by securing the investments we deserve and moving forward with the replacement jail. Every day that our family and neighbors spend on Rikers or The Boat compounds their trauma, and we cannot leave them there until we restructure our entire society. 

That’s why we’ll be fighting to make sure the next Mayor moves forward with the plan to close Rikers and The Boat on the fastest possible timeline. We invite everyone who is serious about human rights to join us.

Ramona Ferreyra is a Bronx community leader and owner of Ojala Threads. Reverend Wendy Calderón-Payne is the Executive Director of BronxConnect. On Twitter @ramonathemona & @BronxConnect.

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For Our Next Bronx Borough President, Leadership for the Entire Borough

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Elvin Garcia, Vanessa Gibson, Nilka Martell (photo: Gibson campaign)

The 2021 election cycle will elect a new mayor, a new City Council, a new Bronx Borough President, and more. This new decade represents a new era on the other side of a pandemic that has forced us to reflect on the kind of future we all deserve. Going back to normal is not viable, neither is politics as usual.

As Puerto Ricans and Dominicans of The Bronx, from the community and government perspective, respectively, we are proud to support Vanessa Gibson for Bronx Borough President. She is a proven and passionate leader with a record of accomplishment and accountability – who if elected, would become the first woman and first African-American Bronx Borough President.

Over previous decades The Bronx produced Jewish, Italian, Irish, and, more recently, Latino Borough Presidents. The impact and history of Latino leadership in The Bronx will continue to expand and inform the next generation of Latino elected office-holders. We are proud to continue the Bronx legacy of Black and Latino unity as we come together for the good of the entire borough.

Vanessa Gibson has an impressive list of Latino support across the Bronx and the city, including Rep. Ritchie Torres, former Rep. Jose E. Serrano, State Senator Jose M. Serrano, Assemblymember Karines Reyes, and City Council Members Oswald Feliz, Diana Ayala, and Carlina Rivera.

Vanessa has over a decade of experience delivering for all the people of The Bronx; she’s a proven leader on education, affordable housing, public safety, and quality of life. We have worked with Vanessa, across government and community organizing efforts, and have seen first-hand her ability to deliver results, leaving no one behind. Most notably, Vanessa has worked to provide historic protections for tenants facing eviction by co-sponsoring the first-in-the-nation Right to Counsel law, which provides free legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction in Housing Court.

We support Vanessa because her commitment to community investment at the grassroots level is unmatched. Vanessa allocated over $60 million in new parks and additional park renovations, meeting the needs of unserved communities in the borough. She is also the co-chair of the Women’s Caucus of the City Council, where she has fought for women’s rights and the expansion of opportunities for women-run businesses. At the grassroots, Vanessa has been instrumental in providing funding and resources to Bronx residents who steward and program local parks for the benefit of the entire borough. And during the height of the pandemic, we saw first-hand Vanessa Gibson step up and partner with us during our borough’s greatest need to address food assistance.

In this consequential election year for our borough, with multiple candidates to choose from with a new ranked-choice voting system, we encourage our neighbors to rank Vanessa Gibson as your first choice for Bronx Borough President. And if you have already made up your mind otherwise, we strongly urge you to consider Vanessa as your second choice. Time and again, Vanessa has put the people of The Bronx first, so let’s return the favor and make sure she can keep delivering for all of us.

Nilka Martell is a lifelong Bronx resident, non-profit executive, and an environmental advocate for over 10 years. Elvin García is a lifelong Bronx resident, was a 2017 Democratic candidate for City Council in District 18, and was Bronx Borough Director at the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit. On Twitter @nilkamartell & @ElvinGarciaNYC.

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They Provide Essential City Services. They Deserve More

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Providing city services (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

As COVID-19 swept across our city, nonprofit human services workers were a beacon of hope, providing a safe haven for New Yorkers from all walks of life. While others were told to stay home, these workers--who are predominantly women and people of color--were deemed essential and showed up in public-facing roles to help carry New Yorkers through an unprecedented crisis. They provided assistance to those who found themselves newly in need of access to food, shelter, and other supportive services. They put their health and that of their families at risk by prioritizing the wellbeing of our communities.

Their reward for these selfless personal sacrifices? The city froze their wages in the middle of the pandemic.

The human services workforce has been toiling under city-contracted poverty wages since long before the devastating effects of COVID-19. These organizations deliver services through government contracts that are drastically underfunded, which results in alarmingly low wages. The average annual income for human services workers in New York City is only $32,700. This makes the human services sector the second-lowest paid sector of all industries in the city, only after the restaurant industry. Despite being highly educated, over 60% of human services workers in our city qualify for public assistance. That means they’re often forced to rely on the same services they provide to others.

It’s not just an issue of decency for the workers themselves. Low pay makes it difficult for nonprofits to attract talented workers and results in frequent turnover, which ultimately hurts the quality of services available to those in need. Given the makeup of the workforce and the communities they serve, this is a key issue of racial equity.

In acknowledgement of these issues, the city provided these workers with a three-year cost of living adjustment in the 2018 budget. But when that expired last summer, the COLA was not renewed—leaving wages for essential workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 stagnant. We recognize that last year’s budget was strained and forced tough decisions related to many sectors, but budgets are a statement of our city’s values. What does it say to our constituents when jobs that police and incarcerate our communities’ residents make over twice as much as those that support our constituents with social services?  

The federal stimulus money available this year is an opportunity to transform this system and ensure we are fully valuing the labor of women and people of color who support our communities. It is long past time for New York City to appropriately invest in essential human service workers, whom we all rely so heavily on by finally paying them fair wages under city contracts.

We are calling for the city to restore this sector’s COLA in the fiscal year 2022 budget, due by July 1 of this year, at a rate of at least 3%—an investment of $48 million. That is the bare minimum that we can provide for the chronically overworked and underpaid human services workforce. If we trust nonprofit workers to deliver vital services on the government’s behalf then we must respect them enough to pay them a living wage.

Nonprofit human services organizations will continue to be essential for New York’s  post-pandemic recovery. City Hall talks about an equitable path forward. That will require the support of nonprofit workers providing job training, tutoring for kids left behind by remote schooling, sheltering those who will be at risk of homelessness during the looming eviction crisis and more. These workers continued to serve our city through the darkest days of the pandemic; now it’s our turn to show up for them. We let them down last year, but this is our chance to reset.

by the members of the New York City Council's Progressive Caucus and Women's Caucus. On Twitter @NYCProgressives & @WomensCaucusNYC.

Progressive Caucus
Ben Kallos (Co-Chair), Diana Ayala (Co-Chair), Keith Powers (Vice Co-Chair), Carlos Menchaca (Vice Co-Chair), Margaret S. Chin, Carlina Rivera, Corey Johnson, Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, Bill Perkins, Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy Van Bramer, I. Daneek Miller, Adrienne E. Adams, Stephen T. Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Brad Lander, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Justin Brannan, Deborah Rose.

Women’s Caucus
Vanessa L. Gibson (Co-Chair), Farah N. Louis (Co-Chair), Margaret S. Chin, Carlina Rivera, Helen Rosenthal, Diana Ayala, Adrienne E. Adams, Karen Koslowitz, Laurie A. Cumbo, Darma V. Diaz, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Inez Barron, Deborah Rose.

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Increasing Women’s Civic Engagement in New York City


Elected officials and advocates (photo: Alycia Kravitz)

Even before the pandemic, we knew that women—especially women of color, immigrant, transgender, and incarcerated women, as well as gender non-conforming and non-binary individuals—experienced high levels of political exclusion alongside poverty, discrimination, and violence. 

Now, we are at a pivotal moment in our country’s history, as we emerge from a devastating pandemic and still bear witness to the consequences of systemic racism and social injustice. 

Across the country, more women may be running for office than ever before—but more women are not getting elected. In New York City, women hold only 14 of the 51 seats in the New York City Council, and 12 are women of color. Due to term limits for 31 seats, that already low level of representation could be reduced even further once the ballots are counted from this month’s primary elections.

While voting is not the only form of civic engagement, it is an important way for women to participate and advocate for themselves and their communities. In New York City, where we have three women candidates in the top tier of the mayoral primary and hundreds of women running for City Council and other elected offices, we are either on the cusp of significant change or about to repeat a pattern of unequal representation. 

And while our organization, Women Creating Change, as a nonprofit, is not advocating for any specific candidates, we are encouraging women to flex their civic engagement muscles and show up at the polls and have their voices heard.

Our new report—A Blueprint for Women’s Civic Engagement in New York City —illustrates that even with a record number of women seeking elected office, women are underrepresented at every level of government and confront harmful gender stereotypes and other barriers to participation on a daily basis.

Nearly all organizations we surveyed for the report (92%) believe that more significant investment in women’s civic engagement in New York City is needed, particularly for women of color, immigrant women, and working-class women. We learned that women continue to encounter barriers to full participation, such as the burden of work and care, gendered and cultural stereotypes surrounding civic engagement, political exclusion, and voter suppression. These barriers persist in a context shaped by systemic racism, sexism, and classism.

There is a path forward, where all sectors can collaborate to dismantle those barriers and improve the ability of women to engage more actively, not only in voting but in all areas of civic life.  Nonprofits and community-based organizations should continue to expand civic education and engagement programs. Government should expand voting access and rights; improve the city’s election infrastructure and voter data analysis; ensure a fair and accurate U.S. Census and redistricting process; increase funding for, and coordination of, civic learning opportunities for families and adults; and give community boards a greater voice in our city’s future.

Foundations and the private sector also should direct more resources to organizations implementing inclusive civic engagement programming, those that conduct work through an intersectional lens, organizations of color, multi-year initiatives, and community-based organizations focused on movement-building.

The recommendations are only a starting point to improve civic processes and begin remedying systemic injustices. Everyone should have the knowledge, resources, and connections to advocate for themselves, their families, and their community—and do so by community organizing, volunteering, serving on boards, demonstrating, and participating in community meetings, among other ways to engage. This will lead to stronger communities, an improved quality of life, and a better democracy where every voice is heard—especially those who have been historically excluded from civic life.

Civic engagement is fundamental to the underpinnings of our democracy, and supports jobs, community health, and equity. With the citywide municipal elections, it is more important than ever for all New Yorkers to have the opportunity to shape the future of our city so that we can serve as a national model for inclusive civic education and engagement.

Possibilities for women in this country abound. Yet the promise of the possible requires all of us to invest in the futures of women who seek to run for office, become civically engaged, or to yield changes in their communities and in society at large.

Carole J. Wacey is the President and CEO of Women Creating Change. On Twitter @WCChange.

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One Crime Question Mayoral Candidates Still Need to Answer

end violence women

Ending violence against women (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

In poll after poll in the lead-up to the mayoral primary election, New Yorkers are citing crime and public safety as a top issue of concern. Yet debate after debate, the question never gets asked, “what will you do to root out sexual assault and street harassment as part of rebuilding New York and creating a world class city?”

Women want to know: when will leaders realize that running on a platform to transform how we treat women is a winning one.

It’s an area of crime that no candidate for mayor has seized fully. It won’t come as a surprise that the two leading women in the race, Maya Wiley and Kathryn Garcia (both of whom NOW-NYC has endorsed), have raised the issue in debates and on the campaign trail. Other candidates, Andrew Yang and Dianne Morales, have said they are in support of decrimihalizing the sex trade -- which sexually exploits the most vulnerable among us and goes hand-in-hand with other criminal activity. Morales has a vision for it, with red light districts around the city. Ms. Morales, how will you decide which lucky neighborhoods become magnets for sex buyers and violence?

We already know that the NYPD has to spend resources and time tracking and investigating human traffickers who import immigrant women and recruit local women and girls from our poorest neighborhoods to meet existing demand from wealthier New Yorkers looking to buy a sex act.

Red light districts would certainly exacerbate the problem of rape and sexual assault. As it stands, the NYPD hasn’t been able to adequately respond to the current levels of assault. Year-to-date, there have been nearly 1,500 rapes reported; and as we know, what’s reported is a fraction of the real picture.

This past year, Women's Justice NOW, in partnership with NOW-NYC, conducted a survey to evaluate the NYPD’s response to survivors of sexual assault and rape. All 20 rape crisis programs and first responder organizations, working with an estimated 5,000 sex crimes victims, said the same thing: the quality of Special Victims Division (SVD) investigations varies widely (19) or that SVD handles these cases poorly most of the time (1). Not one organization said that SVD handles sex crimes well most of the time.

When asked how providers would rate the job SVD is doing, 13 out of 20 organizations (65%) said “not so good” or “poor.” Not one organization believed that the NYPD’s SVD was doing an “excellent” job. Only 3 out of 20 organizations (15%) said “good.”

These results go hand-in-hand with the findings of a 2018 New York City Department of Investigation report, which found a persistent lack of investment in SVD and in the training and experience levels of its investigators.

How is it that in 2021 -- four years after MeToo had its breakout moment and three years after the devastating DOI report led to rallies and protests pressuring Mayor de Blasio -- reforming the NYPD’s Special Victims Division is not a major theme candidates for mayor are running on this cycle?

It’s a question worth asking at the final debate and when you get in the voting booth.

Sonia Ossorio is President of National Organization for Women NY. On Twitter @soniaossorio & @NOW_NYC.

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Composting the Patriarchy: A Feminist Green New Deal for Sanitation

climate sha bike

Shahana Hanif (photo: @ShahanaFromBK)

Trash is too often an afterthought. Voters and friends pause when I share my love for recycling, composting, and colorful trash cans. But, as a climate champion endorsed by Sunrise NYC, Resilience PAC, TREEage NYC, and NYC’s chapter of Sierra Club, I know that waste equity is critical to achieving New York City’s climate resiliency goals.

We need to stop thinking of waste as ‘trash.’ Waste is valuable material; compost is nutritious food for our community gardens’ soil. Over one third of New York City’s waste is made up of food and organics that should be composted. Instead, this resource is thrown away and transported to decompose in landfills, which contributed to 3.5% of New York City’s carbon emissions in 2019. These landfills pollute Black and brown neighborhoods as far away as Virginia, furthering the disproportionate burden of waste inequity, pollution, and the immediate impacts of climate change on communities of color.

Environmental racism is local to Brooklyn too. It should be no surprise that predominantly Black and brown, working class, and immigrant neighborhoods, like my home neighborhood Kensington, are not prioritized in waste collection and other sanitation services. 

I am calling for a Feminist Green New Deal for Brooklyn.

To me, feminism means collective action to address harm. Through the City Council District 39 Participatory Budgeting process, our community created the largest community-based compost facility in Brooklyn at the DEP/DSNY Salt Lot in Gowanus. Repairing the harm of waste inequity across the city and District 39 means investing in more sanitation services and creating good composting and recycling green jobs.

During the pandemic, the city’s residential composting program and environmental education programs were also completely cut and the Department of Sanitation had its budget slashed by $106 million, despite operating the city’s emergency feeding programs. Even though $2.9 million was restored in July 2020 for community composting, it was only for a few drop-off sites across the city, mostly in Manhattan. This lack of service has led to trash buildup.

To clean up our neighborhood, my neighbors and I have had to call in programs like ACE New York to pick up waste and rely on neighborhood trash cleanups organized by community members, like the Kensington Stewards and Ocean Parkway Cleanup. A Feminist Green New Deal calls for us to compensate those caring for our communities, instead of relying on nonprofits, private organizations, or volunteers to keep our neighborhoods clean.

As a lifelong resident of Kensington, I know the pandemic budget cuts did not cause this waste crisis. In our district, neighbors in Park Slope have long had curbside compost pick-up, while residents in Kensington and Borough Park do not. We must fully fund the Department of Sanitation to equitably handle waste and prioritize waste-overburdened neighborhoods. We need a comprehensive citywide composting program that will produce local green jobs, lower the carbon footprints of New Yorkers, and enhance our green spaces.

Composting is one local component to addressing climate change. We must dedicate resources to protect our existing compost sites, and expand funding for programs, like the NYC Compost Project, which provides training for community members to build and maintain more composting sites. We should also push for increased flexibility of park space for gardening and composting to encourage community engagement, environmental education, and ecological stewardship.

The climate crisis is at the crossroads of racial justice, migrant justice, economic justice, labor justice, and gender justice. We cannot waste another minute. We must secure a climate resilient future by building dynamic local solutions to our waste problem.

Shahana Hanif is a Democratic candidate for City Council in District 39 in Brooklyn. On Twitter @ShahanaFromBK.

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To Save Democracy and the Planet, Chuck Schumer Must End the Filibuster

senate demo leader

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (photo: Senate Democrats)

It’s 2024. Democrats have lost the House and Senate thanks to gerrymandering and voter suppression. Although Joe Biden won reelection, Republican Secretaries of State are throwing out millions of ballots in order to change the results. White nationalists storm the capital, and Republican House and Senate leadership welcome them in with open arms. The far right Supreme Court upholds their actions. A Q-Anon believing, white nationalist, climate denier is installed as president. Once again, blue states like New York are denied essential funding from the federal government as vengeance for their voting preferences. City and state level laws that protect immigrants, uphold abortion rights, tackle gun violence, and protect the environment face renewed attacks from an extreme right wing government in D.C. And meanwhile, global carbon emissions continue to rise, locking in an uninhabitable future. 

This is the future we face if Majority Leader Chuck Schumer doesn’t end the Senate filibuster to pass S1, the For the People Act, within the next few months. 

Donald Trump’s presidency and attempts to steal the 2020 election made clear that our democracy is weak. That’s why Senate Democrats’ very first bill, S1, is a comprehensive democracy reform bill to protect voters, end gerrymandering, and secure democracy. 

Meanwhile, state Republicans in swing states of Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Pennsylvania, and more have passed laws designed to disenfranchise Black, youth, immigrant, and poor voters while making it easier for Republican elected officials to throw out votes after they are cast. 

But Schumer is nowhere to be found. With Republicans successfully filibustering legislation to investigate an armed attack on the capitol, you’d be forgiven if you assumed Mitch McConnell was still majority leader. And the clock is ticking on S1: if Democrats don’t pass this crucial democracy reform by the end of the summer, it will be too late to protect voters’ freedom to cast their ballots in 2022. Then, Democrats will likely lose the House and Senate in the midterms, and with that, they will lose their last chance to protect our democracy from the authoritarianism of Trump Republicans. 

And the midterm election isn’t our only deadline. According to scientists we have less than nine years left to cut global greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming to 1.5 degrees. If we continue our current course we will see 3 or even 4 degrees celsius of warming in our lifetimes, enough to displace hundreds of millions if not billions of people, to turn rainforests into deserts, to cause famines, floods and fires leading to horrific mass death on a scale we can’t even imagine. If Democrats don’t act now to protect and secure democracy while also passing aggressive climate legislation, America will miss a precious opportunity to prevent disasters with unimaginable human cost. 

Here in New York, millions of people - millions of Senator Schumer’s constituents - could soon see food and water shortages as well as increasingly frequent superstorms and floods. Already, extreme heat kills hundreds of New Yorkers each year, and hits the elderly, the disabled, and Black New Yorkers first and worst. 

Senator Schumer has said many times that tackling climate change is a top priority (along with protecting democracy). He has even introduced legislation to electrify transportation and is supporting the THRIVE Agenda, a Green New Deal-inspired legislative package. 

But the thing is, none of it matters if he doesn’t end the filibuster. And none of it will matter if Democrats lose the Senate and House in 2022 and the presidency in 2024 to climate denying, white supremacists who are content to let the world burn as long as their oil industry donors make a profit. 

Senate Democrats have a brief window to meaningfully protect the American people from an untenable, terrifying future. They must seize it. Senator Schumer is the majority leader. He needs to act like it.

End the filibuster now. Before it’s too late.  

Liat Olenick is an activist and teacher. On Twitter @LiatRO.

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