Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Amid Calls to Action, City Council to Examine Bail Reform

BdB Rikers

Mayor de Blasio at Rikers (photo: @NYCMayorsOffice)

The suicide of 22-year-old Kalief Browder has heightened scrutiny and intensified calls for reform of the city's bail system. Even prior to Browder's death, the New York City Council had been planning to consider new and proposed reforms at an oversight hearing set for Wednesday, June 17. Chief among those reform ideas is one introduced by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to create a $1.4 million city-wide bail fund for nonviolent, low-level offenders.

Each year, tens of thousands of New Yorkers like Browder are detained at the Rikers Island jail facility when they are unable to post bail. According to the Department of Corrections, 53 percent of inmates taken into Rikers in 2014 were admitted only because they could not pay bail, which is often $1,000 or less. These detainees totaled about 38,000 last year. Those calling for reform say that these jailings are unnecessary and are proven to have dramatic, life-altering negative effects on those individuals, including loss of jobs and housing.

Accused of stealing a backpack, Browder was 16 when he was arrested in 2010. With his family unable to pay his $3,000 bail, he was sent to Rikers Island for pretrial detention. Browder spent the next three years there, including more than 400 days in solitary confinement, until charges against him were dismissed. Browder was released and struggling deeply with the legacies of his time in jail. Following the news of his death, elected officials including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mark-Viverito cited Browder's story as a "call to action."

"I think his case was an eye-opener to New Yorkers across the board," de Blasio said on Monday. "There is no reason that someone should be held for a long period of time if they can't pay bail and we can help on a modest bail level like that."

De Blasio expressed support for "some type of bail reform" and said there'd be more news "in the coming weeks." Before this past Wednesday's full-body City Council meeting, Mark-Viverito invoked Browder and again emphasized the urgency of reform, noting the upcoming oversight hearing.

"We need comprehensive criminal justice reform and we need it now, here in New York City and across the nation. We cannot throw away any more time or any more lives," Mark-Viverito said. Afterward, she choked up speaking of Browder on the Council floor, where she again promised relevant reform.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette on Thursday, Mark-Viverito said, "Far too many New Yorkers suffer the long-term consequences of incarceration – though innocent in the eyes of the law – simply because they cannot afford to post a low bail while awaiting trial. A broken system that unfairly subjects our young people of color to senseless abuse and violence is unsustainable. The New York City Council proposal for a citywide bail fund would ensure that qualifying individuals can get home to their families, reducing the number of lives that would be forever marked by a needless stay in jail. I look forward to a productive hearing examining much-needed and long-overdue bail reform in New York City."

In her February State of the City address, Mark-Viverito unveiled her fund proposal, saying, "because the overwhelming majority of those in jail are there because they can't afford bail—often as little as $500 to $1000 dollars—we will work to create a citywide bail fund." On Wednesday, she, her Council colleagues, and others who testify will evaluate the current system and envision a new one.

"The central thing we're working on is the nightmare known as Rikers Island," Council Member Rory Lancman, chair of the Committee on Courts and Legal Services, which will hold the hearing along with the criminal justice committee, told Gotham Gazette. "And at the core of Rikers Island problems are these extraordinary numbers of people who are there because they can't make a small amount of bail. So we will be looking at the system for assigning people bail, what amounts of bail are spent for people, what defines a bail mechanism or offer to defendants, and what alternatives there might be to the bail system as we know it."

Representatives from the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice and the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, a private non-profit agency contracted by the city to interview defendants before their bail is set, will testify at the hearing. Lancman also said that the city's district attorney offices may send people to testify.

The Council will also look to evaluate supervised release programs, which are "designed to provide the courts with an opportunity to release some defendants under community supervision as an alternative to bail setting," according to the Criminal Justice Agency's report on its supervised release program in Queens.

"We are very interested in getting their feedback as to how they believe those programs are working, what the completion rates are," Lancman said. "I'm very interested in what the re-arrest rates are...we want to make sure [those released are] not out there committing new crimes in the community and we've heard some statistics that give us pause."

Critics: System denies poor defendants justice
Under current New York criminal procedure law, judges must consider whether a defendant is a flight risk when setting bail. Defendants are asked to pay bail money to be released and to ensure that they appear at future court dates. If the defendant continues to show up to court, the money is returned at the end of their trial. If the defendant fails to appear, they lose their bail money.

To assess flight risk and determine bail, judges often use the recommendation made by the aforementioned Criminal Justice Agency (CJA), as well as those from both prosecutors and defense attorneys. CJA details defendants' past history, including prior convictions and missed court dates, ultimately making a recommendation as to whether or not the defendant should be released on their own recognizance - meaning the defendant does not have to pay bail but issues a written promise that they will return to court for their upcoming proceedings - issued a bail demand, or locked up without the opportunity for pretrial release.

In far too many cases, critics argue, setting even a fairly modest bail demand is tantamount to pretrial detainment because defendants are of such modest means. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito said, "We have already paid a high price, as a city and as a society, for policies that senselessly incarcerate and abuse a generation of young people who have not been found guilty of a crime."

In New York City, the median bail amount is $5,000 for felonies and $1,000 for non-felony cases, according to CJA's 2013 report. Bail amounts can vary widely from judge to judge and from day to day.

The CJA report shows that only 9 percent of defendants charged with felonies and 12 percent charged with non-felonies were able to make the required bail payment at their arraignment. Even in cases where the bail was $500 or less, only 23 percent of felony defendants and 15 percent of non-felony defendants were able to post bail. Defendants with smaller bail amounts are also less likely to be helped by bail bondsmen, professionals who collect a commission on the bail money that they pledge to the court on defendants' behalf.

Those unable to pay their bail are detained, entering a jail system and suffering at-times severe consequences, both at Rikers and on the outside.

Critics have billed the system as unfair to poor, low-level offenders - many of whom are often people of color. In 2013, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman submitted a proposal to the state legislature that created a "presumption of release" for non-violent offenders, putting the burden on prosecutors to prove that defendants should be detained because they will not return to court or because they pose a danger to public safety.

The proposal was not well-received by some Republicans in the state Senate, who control that chamber. "The last thing I would want to be doing is giving get out of jail free cards," State Sen. Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, told the New York Daily News. The legislation has since stagnated.

According to Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat, the current system denies indigent individuals access to "a real system of justice." Rivera, who supports the creation of a city-wide bail fund, sponsored the 2012 Charitable Bail Law, which authorizes and regulates charitable bail organizations at the state level.

In a phone interview with Gotham Gazette, Rivera spoke of the unjust incarceration of individuals waiting for trial. A report by the Vera Institute of Justice determined that in 2013, half of the people jailed in New York City were being held on bail of $2,500 or less.

"These are individuals who are innocent until proven guilty, yet they're being held there as if they are criminals, many of them because they are poor, because they are unable to post bail," Rivera said.

In New York City, defendants unable to post bail before their trial are sent to Rikers Island, a complex currently consisting of nine operational jails. Rikers is also where prisoners serving sentences of up to a year are housed. For longer sentences, prisoners are sent to prisons elsewhere in the state.

In a recent New York Law Journal column, Council Member Lancman and his legislative counsel, Molly Cohen, write that "According to the Department of Corrections, on any given day about 78 percent of Rikers' approximately 10,000 inmates are pretrial detainees."

In opening the piece, Lancman and Cohen explain the thrust of renewed Council focus on the bail system, which will be taken up at Wednesday's hearing: "Our city deserves a bail system that not only ensures that defendants return for court appearances, but that does not punish people for their poverty, is not racially discriminatory, does not distort case outcomes and runs efficiently," they write.

A $1.4 Million City-wide Bail Fund
The city-wide bail fund would be modeled on the Bronx Freedom Fund, a non-profit revolving bail fund with a 98 percent success rate according to its one-year report released in November. (The Brooklyn Community Fund is a newer bail fund.)

The Bronx Fund was the first organization to be licensed under the Charitable Bail Law that permits organizations to post bail of $2,000 or less for defendants charged with misdemeanors. In New York, a misdemeanor is a crime for which an imprisonment of more than 15 days but not more than a year can be imposed - this includes offenses such as graffiti, endangering the welfare of a child, and third degree assault.

Alyssa Work of the Bronx Freedom Fund believes theirs is a model that can be scaled up. "I know that the need is very, very great and we're doing as much as we can with the resources that we have," she says. "And I do believe that with enough staff and with enough resources for bail itself, that it is a model that can work across the five boroughs."

Work also argues that a city-wide bail fund would save New York money as bail money revolves through; once a case is completed the recovered bail money returns to the fund to be used for future bail. "It's very expensive to incarcerate people at Rikers Island," she says. "Compared with that, the cost of implementing and running a bail fund is far lower."

The City Council points out that "taxpayers spend over $100,000 a year to maintain just one person on Rikers Island." As part of a new infographic, the Council also argues that only 12 percent of misdemeanor defendants post bail of any amount, costing the city "millions of dollars to unnecessarily house people who simply cannot pay their bail." Mark-Viverito and others seeking bail reform are often quick to point out that the changes they seek are not aimed at allowing violent offenders any additional leeway.

Work, of the Bronx Fund, cites both financial and other costs. "We're not even talking about the cost to people's lives which is a separate and serious issue," she said, pointing to the many cases where defendants have lost jobs, custody of their children, housing, or educational opportunities.

Creation of a city-wide bail fund will certainly take center stage at Wednesday's hearing - Mark-Viverito and others still want to see funds included in the fiscal year 2016 budget, the final details of which the Council and the de Blasio administration are still negotiating. A final deal is due on or before June 30.

Meanwhile, the heightened focus on the bail system is part of a larger discussion of the justice system. De Blasio and Mark-Viverito have both been focused - to varying degrees - on reducing unnecessary arrests, as they call them. De Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton changed enforcement of low-level marijuana possession and Mark-Viverito is looking to add civil penalties for certain nonviolent offenses that only have criminal penalties as of now.

Kalief Browder's case, and his death, have not only increased scrutiny on the bail system, but also on Rikers Island, the source of much criticism and ire of late, including from the US Attorney's Office, the de Blasio administration, and the Council.

Eliminate Bail Altogether?
Amid the talk of bail reform, there are also voices calling for deeper change, including the elimination of bail altogether. Among these voices are those from the Pretrial Justice Institute, which has started a petition calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to eliminate the practice of cash bail in all of New York. Executive Director Cherise Fanno Burdeen believes that this would prevent future tragedies like the suicide of Browder. "He would have been assessed for release pending trial," she says. "He would have likely been released because, really, he was charged with theft of a backpack. And his case would have gone to trial."

Calling the idea of a city-wide bail fund a "noble band aid," Burdeen argues it is not a necessary use of taxpayer dollars. "I do find it curious that one part of the city would create a bail fund to pay another part of the city," she said, referring to the fact that it would be a city bail fund paying fees to the city courts.

State Senator Rivera also questioned whether the bail system needs to rely on monetary collateral, saying that he hopes Browder's death will galvanize lawmakers to engage in a larger discussion about bail.

"It's not a positive thing that we have to talk about this when there's a person that's taken their life, more than likely because of the abuse he suffered spending a few years behind bars for doing nothing," Rivera said. "But I do think that now we should have a conversation about whether the bail system needs to exist at all."

Short of even discussing eliminating bail altogether, Republican City Council members have been resistant to the idea of a bail fund. "As a taxpayer, I don't want to be paying people's bail," Council Member Vincent Ignizio told the Staten Island Advance after Mark-Viverito proposed the fund in her State of the City address. Council Member Eric Ulrich of Queens agreed, telling CBS New York, "I don't know that it's a wise use of city tax dollars to be used as a bail fund to get people off the hook."

There are currently three Republicans of the Council's 51 members. A bail fund bill, if proposed, would likely have more than enough support to pass through council committee and the full council. Right now, the Council is exploring the program and looking to set up a system without new legislation.

Mayor de Blasio did not include funding for the program in the executive budget he released in May. Still, Lancman remains optimistic that the city will allocate money to create the bail fund.

"I think it's one of the central pieces of the speaker's and the Council's budget agenda and we're in the heart of hammering out the budget right now," Lancman said. "So I absolutely expect it to be a part of the budget that we will agree to by June 30."

by Catie Edmondson and Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette

Cuomo Tenant Protection Unit an Overlooked Part of Rent Regulation Debate

BdB Harlem rally

Mayor de Blasio addresses a tenants rally in Harlem (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

On Saturday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo attempted to reset his position on the state's rent laws. Facing pressure from tenant advocates and electeds Cuomo took a new position on strengthening rent regulations, saying in a Daily News op-ed that he wants to eliminate the process, known as vacancy decontrol, by which landlords increase rents until apartments are taken off the rent control rolls. In the article, Cuomo touted measures taken in 2011 to limit "vacancy bonuses" and "make sure landlords played by the rules."

Cuomo cited the 2011 creation of a new entity designed to prevent tenant harassment and illegal rent hikes. "[A]rguably our most important innovation," Cuomo writes, "was the creation of the first ever Tenant Protection Unit empowered with the authority to investigate, audit and bring legal action against landlords who gamed unsuspecting tenants."

Now, four years later and as an intense sense of urgency around renewing and strengthening expiring rent regulations has gripped tenant advocates, many are lukewarm on the program that Cuomo created as a stopgap to mollify legislators who were livid about the 2011 rent deal.

With a staff of about 25, the Tenant Protection Unit, or TPU, is charged with auditing, inspecting, and number-crunching in the effort to verify that landlords are making the repairs they claim to have made before raising tenants' rent. The TPU budget is unclear as Cuomo funds the agency through executive appropriations, though a number of advocates and legislative staffers who follow the issue closely estimate the unit operates on about $5 million a year.

The Cuomo administration touts the TPU, which is overseen by New York State Homes and Community, as revolutionary and credits it with putting 40,000 apartments back on the affordable housing rolls. Advocates say it is something that should have been in place a long time ago and worry it is currently understaffed and only funded at Cuomo's whim, as it was not created by legislation. They also point out that the agency was staffed by shifting employees from other departments.

The real estate industry and Senate Republicans appear to feel the unit is effective enough at protecting tenants as they both have made efforts to squash the TPU. Landlords and three landlord groups filed suit against the state in 2014 claiming that the TPU violates state law and its efforts "represent an agency's dramatic intrusion into the legislative and judicial areas, usurping powers specifically enumerated to the legislative and judiciary branches of government."

Senate Republicans tried to defund the program during budget negotiations this year. A number of Senate Republicans, including housing chair Catharine Young, have characterized the TPU as "executive overreach."

Frank Ricci of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, said his coalition is involved in the lawsuit because the TPU is treating landlords unfairly and is unwilling to provide them with basic information that would help communication and compliance.

The TPU asks landlords for detailed information regarding agreements with contractors to verify claimed renovations and repairs have indeed been done. "We've asked them to give us standards and they've refused," said Ricci. "Some of our landlords might get very detailed contracts while some of of the smaller owners don't deal with contractors that provide sophisticated contracts. So we've had some members get their rents rolled back because the TPU isn't satisfied with the documentation. It would be better for us all if we knew what the standard was."

A state judge dismissed the Cuomo administration's request to dismiss the suit in November of last year and the case is currently in discovery. A spokesperson for the Cuomo administration declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending.

The real estate community's frustration with the TPU is evidence to some that it is extremely effective. "They are doing such good work that the Republicans are trying to kill it and the real estate industry is opposing it in court" said state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, a Manhattan Democrat who added that he would like to see dedicated budget funding created for the agency.

Michael McKee of Tenants PAC isn't so convinced. He says the TPU has refused to assist tenants whose apartments were already taken off of the rent control rolls due to vacancy decontrol. He worries that the complaint-based nature of the TPU means that tenants who don't know to complain are just out of luck. "It is a good thing in principle and it is fair to say they've done good things, but it's not a substitute for strengthening the laws, or doing away with vacancy decontrol, or regulating the [units] that we've lost."

Members of the Cuomo administration say that the TPU's scope is not as narrow as McKee might think, as a single complaint allows them to investigate all of a particular landlord's housing stock. They also employ data-mining along with audits to make sure rent increases actually add up to the heightened rent.

Landlords are currently allowed to remove apartments from rent regulation when they reach a rent of $2,500 per month, able to increase rent along the way when repairs are made. Landlords can also raise rent on a regulated apartment by 20 percent after a tenant leaves without making repairs. Advocates say these rules provides landlords an incentive to push tenants out.

Cuomo administration officials also note that the TPU has expanded its reach by partnering with the Attorney General's Office and city agencies to form The Tenant Harassment Protection Taskforce to investigate deregulation, destruction of apartments, and tenant harassment.

The TPU has also been involved in large settlements with major landlords who were caught receiving tax abatements for making improvements to affordable housing stock when no actual improvements had taken place, and who received tax breaks for providing affordable housing when they weren't actually meeting rent regulation guidelines.

Perhaps the most famous TPU achievement thus far was working with the Brooklyn district attorney's office in a case that saw the criminal indictments of Joel and Aaron Israel, landlords who were found to be destroying their apartments to drive tenants out in four Brooklyn apartment buildings. The TPU served a subpoena to the Israel's real estate firm last year for records on their practices regarding 10 apartment buildings in Brooklyn. The TPU's findings were so damning that they handed them over to the Brooklyn DA.

The TPU also assists the state Homes and Community Renewal office in vetting landlords and developers in their applications for tax breaks, state loans, and grants. Administration officials say the TPU helps identify predatory landlords by investigating their holdings, tenant turnover rates, and previous tenant complaints.

One legislator, who requested anonymity for fear of angering the Cuomo administration, said that the ease with which the TPU has been effective in only three years and on a small budget should be a tremendous warning to lawmakers that the current regulations aren't actually working. "They simply went and contacted landlords who had just taken themselves off the rolls because no one was paying attention and restored thousands of apartments," said the legislator of the TPU's work. "That is the kind of enforcement environment we were dealing with - no one was paying attention and now someone is, but it should never have gotten to that point in the first place and we have to make sure the law prevents that."

Tenant advocates see the TPU as being born out of Cuomo's failure to go to the mat to end vacancy decontrol in 2011. Negotiations over the rent laws spilled over the deadline and in the end Cuomo and the Legislature made minor tweaks to the laws that he touted as revolutionary. City-based legislators, stunned by the deal, met with Cuomo privately to express their anger and he promised the state would do more to enforce current laws. Thus the TPU was born.

With less than a week left in this legislative session Cuomo finds himself in an even tighter spot on rent laws than he faced in 2011.

US Attorney Preet Bharara's investigation into corruption in state government has been galvanized by cooperating witnesses connected to Glenwood Management, a real estate group that has given Cuomo over a million dollars; tenant groups have seized on the connection and with the help of activists, legislators, and New York City Council members staged headline-grabbing protests against the Governor on the issue - one such protest led to over 50 arrests on the 2nd floor of the capitol. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are more loathe than ever to deliver any tweaks to the laws that govern rent control, in part because Bharara's probe has scared them away from making legislative trades.

Since March, Cuomo has been downplaying the ability of the Legislature to accomplish complicated negotiations on the rent laws this session, but in his op-ed he suddenly announced a new position: that he wants to see vacancy decontrol done away with altogether. At this point in the game many legislators doubt it is possible while advocates doubt Cuomo's sincerity. Cuomo does say in the piece that if it is not done away with, decontrol rules should be strengthened so that more units remain regulated.

In a speech this past weekend at First Corinthian Church Baptist Church in Harlem, Mayor Bill de Blasio warned what would happen if Albany failed to act. "In Albany, they will decide whether to continue or eliminate rent regulation for over 2 million New Yorkers," de Blasio said. "If you live in a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartment, I hope you feel the magnitude of this moment, because if Albany doesn't act, rent control and rent stabilization go away. All those protections go away. All those guarantees go away. The market takes over – and we have seen what the market has done to so many hardworking families, haven't we? We've seen people displaced too many times, haven't we? And Albany not only has a choice to keep rent regulation or to eliminate it, they could do the right thing and strengthen rent regulation so more and more people are protected."

McKee of Tenants PAC said his experience with Albany worries him. "We've been asking Albany to adopt proactive enforcement for 40 years," said McKee. "I had the conversation with Mario Cuomo. They can't wait that long to act on vacancy decontrol or their won't be any affordable housing left."

Espaillat said the timing this year is frightening despite the fact that Albany has a history of waiting until the last minute to move on renewing the rent laws. "They push it up against the cliff so there is no negotiating room. They wait until we are on the precipice and that is why we've lost so many units of affordable housing over the years."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

De Blasio Stresses Mayoral 'Urgency' at World Cities Summit

BdB mayors forum

De Blasio addresses the mayors forum (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office)

Addressing about 80 of his fellow mayors at the 2015 World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in midtown, New York's Bill de Blasio stressed that it is mayors who are on the front lines of crisis response and innovation. Praising his colleagues, de Blasio said that it is mayors who have no choice but to act, to govern everyday, and that their "urgency represents the highest form of public service."

Read more: De Blasio Stresses Mayoral 'Urgency' at World Cities Summit

Resetting the End of Session Agenda in Albany

Cuomo deal

Getting to Yes (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)

It often seems Albany lawmakers have a kink for waiting to the very last minute. With only seven days scheduled in the legislative session due to end June 17, the 'three men in the room' are likely to move, perhaps begrudgingly, toward agreement on issues of great importance to New York City that face sunset this month and even a few other bills that don't cause either majority conference any political headaches. But Albany, as everyone who spends more than a few minutes in the capital finds out, is a place that has a knack for upsetting expectations - and often in a headache-inducing way.

Read more: Resetting the End of Session Agenda in Albany

The Week That Was in New York Politics, June 5


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, June 1-5

Photo of the Week
via The Villager: State Senator Brad Hoylman and other state and city officials and advocates protest outside Governor Cuomo's office, demanding stronger rent regulations

Hoylman Villager

Tweet of the Week
via @Azi

"complicated heart of @harrysiegel's column: "If we really want a fairer NY, that may mean...a bit more crime"  #NYPD"

Top 5 Stories of the Week, June 1-5

1. De Blasio and Cuomo Settle In: Last week's heightened tensions between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio softened this week as each had more complimentary and conciliatory words for the other. Cuomo restated his support for two of de Blasio's top priorities in Albany, mayoral control of city schools and strengthening rent regulations. The two have been most contentious over the 421-a tax abatement program and continue to disagree, though they shared kinder words this week when describing their disagreement and the work ahead. Related: Gotham Gazette, WSJ, Observer, NY Magazine

2. De Blasio Responds to Increase in Shootings and Homicides: The New York Times reported that shootings in New York City have risen for two consecutive years and this is the first time this has happened since the 1990's. There has been a 20% increase in shootings this year but as Mayor de Blasio noted, there has been a 6.6% decrease in overall crime compared to this time last year. This will also be the second summer of the "Summer All Out" program, sending police officers from precincts that are low in crime to other precincts. This effectively increases police coverage without necessarily increasing the total number of NYPD officers. NYT, Observer.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to be surveyed by New York Agencies: A five-page, 22-question survey was distributed to state agencies by Governor Cuomo's office probing the performance of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office. The survey comes a week after Mr. Schneiderman proposed his "End New York Corruption Act" claiming to lower contribution limits and close donation loopholes. While this bill would certainly strengthen the reach of the Attorney General's office, the survey of the AG's office, if negatively reflective, could do just the opposite stripping authority and funding. The New York Times reported that Governor Cuomo's office had added that the Governor himself "had no knowledge of the survey". NYT, Times Union
Calls for stronger rent regulations: Affordable housing prices have become increasingly closer to market prices with Mayor de Blasio backing stronger rent regulations in early May, Governor Cuomo coming out to support the strengthening of rent control laws this past Wednesday and the June 15 expiration date fast approaching. However, state and city legislators, such as Council Member Jumaane Williams and New York State Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, believe further action is necessary, calling for a repeal of vacancy decontrol and peacefully protested outside of Governor Cuomo's office before being arrested Wednesday night. Current New York City law allows for vacancy decontrol, or allowing landlords to raise a rent-stabilized apartments' price every time the apartment is turned over, giving incentive to landlords to allow their apartments to fall into disrepair in order to encourage tenant turnover. Governor Cuomo's office had organized a rally for Thursday afternoon but this was pushed to an unspecified future date. Mayor de Blasio and Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright will be holding a housing rally this Saturday in Harlem. Office of the Mayor, Capitol Confidential, WSJ, Observer, Crain's, Capital.
Cuomo identifies his end of session priorities: As the end of session approaches Governor Cuomo has pushed three of his session priorities, the Parental Choice in Education act, the New York State Property Tax Cap as well as Raise the Age. The Parental Choice Education act is an education tax credit program that looks to offer "$50 million annually in tax credits for donors who contribute to scholarship funds" for students in private or religious schools. Donors can give "up to one million dollars, and in exchange receive a credit of $750,000 on their taxes". The Governor invited different church leaders, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, to the Governor's mansion this past Monday to persuade legislators who had not yet signed the bill. Governor Cuomo is also looking to "make permanent a 2-percent property cap" by expanding on the New York State Property Tax Cap. Just this past Wednesday, Governor's office released a report that states that the cap leads to "real, significant savings for taxpayers". Even though the cap does not expire until June 2016, it's tied to the rent-control law expiring on the upcoming June 15 and the Governor has taken this opportunity for legislators to take up the tax cap. Governor Cuomo's Raise the Age legislation received ample support this past week, including Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner William Bratton. Mr. de Blasio, Commissioner Bratton and other law enforcement officials wrote an open letter stating that "treating 16 and 17 year olds as adults in the criminal justice system" is one area where New York is "behind all but one other state in the country". The legislation would effectively raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18, changing the juvenile justice system. While Governor Cuomo has pushed for these specific pieces of legislation before the end of session he also backed a continuation of mayoral control of New York City schools as well as strengthening rent regulations. Capital, WBFO, Capital, Property Tax Cap Report, IBT.
This Week's Numbers:
Shootings in NYC have spiked by 20%. (439 shootings) NYT.
MTA is pushing for $14 billion more to fully fund their five-year capital plan. CBS New York.
Mayor de Blasio's "mansion tax" claims that it will "raise about $200 million annually to finance about 37,000 affordable apartments". Crain's.
The Glory and The Goat:
It was a good week for Council Member Karen Koslowitz who was elected chair of the Queens City Council delegation. She is the longest tenured member of the City Council and will be replacing Council Member Mark Weprin.
It was a bad week for Governor Cuomo with his lowest approval rating ever at 44-42.
The Flash:
This week last year Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo both expressed a push towards a $10.10 an hour minimum wage. Observer, The Business Journals.
In June of 1846, the New York State's Constitutional Convention of 1846 was held and the Third Constitution of New York was written. As a result the term of a senator is shortened to two years from four and it is decided that senators and assembly members will be elected from one of thirty-two districts.
Watch out for... (sneak peeks into Week Ahead)

by Ben Max and Erika Wang, Gotham Gazette

How We Got Here: New Law Aims to Increase Transparency and Diversity at the FDNY

fdny medal day

2015 FDNY Medal Day at City Hall (photo: @FDNY)

"Diversity is strength – and the world's greatest fire department will grow even stronger when it more closely resembles the city it serves." -Mayor Bill de Blasio, June 2, 2015

On June 2, 2015 Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law Intro. 0579-A, allowing for greater transparency into the New York City Fire Department application and hiring processes by requiring that an annual report be made with regard to the racial and gender makeup of applicants. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Elizabeth Crowley, was a result of years of scrutiny on diversity in the FDNY. Currently, less than .5 percent of over 10,000 FDNY firefighters and officials are women. In 2014, the city agreed to a $98-million-dollar settlement paid out for lost wages and benefits to 1,470 black and Hispanic firefighter applicants.

Read more: How We Got Here: New Law Aims to Increase Transparency and Diversity at the FDNY

Schneiderman's Evolution on Ethics


AG Schneiderman (photo via AG's flickr account)

Scandal fatigue hit Attorney General Eric Schneiderman differently than it hit Governor Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the state legislature.

Conventional wisdom is that the arrest and indictment of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver earlier this year sent shockwaves through Albany. And yet as far as ethics reforms go, the result of the indictment of the man many saw as the most powerful man in "the room," a man who controlled the Assembly for over two decades, was actually quite routine. Albany went to its fallback, responding to ethical crisis by tinkering around the edges, haggling over small pieces of a larger puzzle, lauding incremental ethics reform as "the toughest in the nation."

Read more: Schneiderman's Evolution on Ethics

SCOTUS Case Could Diminish New York City, Democratic Clout in Albany


SCOTUS (photo: Carol M. Highsmith (Library of Congress))

A case brought to the United States Supreme Court by two voters in Texas has the potential to significantly alter the political dynamics within New York. By looking at what exactly is meant by "one person, one vote," the Court could set a national precedent that would significantly reduce New York City's representation in state government.

Read more: SCOTUS Case Could Diminish New York City, Democratic Clout in Albany

Proven Homelessness-Fighting Program Loses State Funding, Faces Uncertain Future

Cuomo church appearance

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin) 

More than 60,000 people will spend the night in a New York City homeless shelter tonight. Estimates suggest roughly one-third struggle with untreated mental illness, many of whom find themselves trapped in a turbulent cycle of life including jail, psychiatric wards, homeless shelters and living on the streets.

Read more: Proven Homelessness-Fighting Program Loses State Funding, Faces Uncertain Future

Flanked by Business Leaders, De Blasio Continues Mayoral Control Push

bdb classroom visit

Mayor de Blasio in a classroom (photo: @BilldeBlasio)

After meeting privately with a bipartisan group of business leaders at City Hall on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio told members of the media that there is widespread agreement mayoral control of city schools must be extended by Albany lawmakers. And, he said, these business leaders, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and others believe it must be extended for at least three years.

Read more: Flanked by Business Leaders, De Blasio Continues Mayoral Control Push

Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast: Bill De Blasio's Legacy and Eric Adams' Agenda
Max Politics Podcast: Bill De Blasio's Legacy and Eric Adams' Agenda
Gotham Gazette: Emma Wolfe Reflects on the De Blasio Years
Emma Wolfe Reflects on the De Blasio Years
Gotham Gazette: City Continues Expansion of Online Access to Public Benefits
City Continues Expansion of Online Access to Public Benefits
Gotham Gazette: Max Politics Podcast Max Politics Podcast