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Absent from Cuomo's New Education Task Force: A Student


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Gov. Cuomo chats with students (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)


On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of a "Common Core Task Force – a diverse and highly-qualified group of education officials, teachers, parents, and state representatives from across New York." Absent from the list of task force members is a current student in New York schools.

To be sure, there are parents and teachers of New York students on the committee, as well as high-level officials, such as State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, trusted to represent a wide range of views, including those of the young people attending the state's public schools, where the common core standards are being implemented and tested. But, as is often the case when education policy is being made, students are left without a formal seat at the table.

Nor are students mentioned as key sources of feedback for the task force, which is charged with performing a "comprehensive review" of the common core and related education policy. In the video message explaining the committee, Gov. Cuomo says, "I have asked the task force to make the entire process as transparent as possible. It must communicate with parents, teachers, and educators all across the state." The written announcement says the governor "has directed the Task Force...to solicit and consider input from regional advisory councils comprised of parents, teachers and educators."

There is an open forum online where anyone can provide "comments and recommendations," part of the new Common Core Task Force website. At that website, the overview says that "parents and teachers should be able to have faith" in the state's learning standards, which must be "strong, sensible and fair." There is no mention of the confidence of the young people tasked with meeting the standards, whatever the adults decide they may be.

When asked about the omission of a student representative, a spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, wrote Gotham Gazette to say, "The task force will seek and consider input from all types of stakeholders including students."

The announcement of the task force launch includes a statement from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who says that his Democratic majority "has heard the frustrations of parents and educators alike regarding the Common Core implementation in New York State." One can assume that Heastie sees "parents and educators" as able to convey the sentiments of the students.

But, comments from the speaker, the governor, and others indicate the common adult schema that education is something done to students, not with them. Heastie's press release statement goes on to say, "We remain confident that our public education system and our students will be best served by a collaborative effort of policy makers, parents and educators."

It is this paradigm that Zak Malamed has been working to change. Malamed is the founder and executive director of Students Voice, a non-profit "Inspiring and empowering students to take charge of their education." Malamed is from Great Neck, New York and is a senior at the University of Maryland. Student Voice is operating nationally, has robust online conversations, and recently launched a student bill of rights project.

Malamed, who said by phone Monday evening that he's lobbying the Cuomo administration to create a student advisory council system, had a mixed initial reaction to the lack of a student representative on the governor's new task force.

"My initial and impulsive reaction is, if this is really about the students, as Cuomo would say, you would think they would include students directly in this conversation, in this task force," Malamed said after looking around the task force website.

"Take a step back as an activist," he continued, "as students, we haven't done enough of the job to really push for that inclusion, we could always do more. Parents and teachers have organized quite well." But, Malamed said, "I don't think it should really rest on students' shoulders to have to force their way onto this type of task force."

Like Cuomo and many others, Malamed believes that the common core is strong in concept, but has seen a flawed implementation. He's quick to note, though, that he did not experience common core as a student.

Saying "it's frustrating" that there is no student seat on the task force, Malamed noted it would also be "tricky" to just select one student to participate. That's, in part, why he wants a representative advisory council system implemented, so that there is a mechanism for electing student members to these types of commissions.

Malamed added, though, that a couple of parents and teachers on the task force doesn't mean "they are totally representative either" - even a union head, he said, like the AFT's Randi Weingarten, who is on Cuomo's committee.

In his video message to parents, Cuomo puts students front-and-center, saying that his goal has been "to ensure that all students have access to high standards that prepare them for college and for the workforce, and that every child, in every zip code, has a quality education." The governor says the state must reduce student anxiety by scaling back on testing (about 20 percent of eligible students opted out of the most recent round of state tests).

Cuomo says he is eager for the task force to begin its work, and adds, "I urge parents and educators to participate in the process because this is about our children's future and their education to determine their ability to compete in the world of tomorrow."

Cuomo distills his message, saying, "the basic truth here is all of this is not about politics and not about Democrats and Republicans, it's not about the bureaucracy, and it's not about politicians or union officials. Education is about the kids."

Zak Malamed agrees: "to not include students at the end of the day is silly," he said. "It is perhaps the most important perspective."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

Alain Kaloyeros, Powerful Centerpiece of Buffalo Billion, Could Become Household Name


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Alain Kaloyeros (photo via the Governor's Office on flickr)


It is easy to spot Alain Kaloyeros, head of SUNY Polytechnic, around Albany. You can often see him jetting around Stuyvesant Plaza, an upscale shopping center basically next door to the campus he built, which features a spaceship-like structure rising out of the dirt of constant construction.

It doesn't hurt that he drives a Ferrari Spider with the license plate "Dr. Nano." He is New York's highest paid state employee.

Working with five governors, and powerful legislative allies like former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Kaloyeros has overseen the development of the nano school while attracting millions of dollars of outside investment. He oversees over $14 billion worth of campuses, labs, and scientific "clean rooms" across the state. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Kaloyeros added to his portfolio helping the state direct the Buffalo Billion program that has attracted major investments from IBM and SolarCity - and now, from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

As Kaloyeros' power and influence has grown many who observe and are involved in state government say that checks and balances around his decisions have evaporated.

"The governor loves this guy. He's got carte blanche," said one legislator who is particularly interested in Kaloyeros' work and requested anonymity in discussing it. Kaloyeros makes more than $800,000 a year - Cuomo earns $179,000 annually, while state legislators earn just under $80,000.

Kaloyeros' cavalier attitude, flaunting his extensive power, and what some say is a focus on promoting profits over academia and rewarding allies appear to have earned his projects the attention of federal investigators led by Bharara.

Bharara's office has subpoenaed SUNY Polytechnic and insiders say the focus of the probe is the request-for-proposal process and whether officials tailored RFPs to award contracts to major political donors and allies. While SUNY Polytechnic says that Kaloyeros has not been subpoenaed, watchdogs are concerned that there is not enough oversight in place to prevent Kaloyeros from benefiting himself in these deals.

SUNY Polytechnic issued a statement saying the organization doesn't believe it or any of its employees are under investigation. and claiming they have been transparent. Asked about the investigation last week, Gov. Cuomo told reporters, "You can have investigations but that does not mean there's any 'there' there, or that anyone did anything wrong."

Journalists who have attempted to scrutinize contracts and requests for proposal have had their freedom of information requests refused, or been given censored documents by the Cuomo administration and Kaloyeros' organizations, raising further concerns about the transparency surrounding the investment of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds into private business.

Good government groups including Reinvent Albany, Citizen Action, NYPIRG, and League of Women Voters have called on reforms to peel back the layers of opaqueness that surround the the state's investment in semi-private and private entities, which is the essence of the Buffalo Billion project meant to stir the city's economy.

"By using a mixture of non-profit groups—including Ft. Schuyler and the SUNY Research Foundation—and academic institutions like SUNY Polytechnic, the State is blurring responsibility and reducing the accountability for decisions worth hundreds of millions of dollars," the groups said in a recent statement. "Subsidy deals are complex, often involve a real risk to public funds, and have the potential for significant conflict of interest. We wonder, who exactly is making the crucial decisions about who wins these deals? What is the basis of these decisions and how can we be sure that the deals themselves are well conceived and fairly awarded?"

Kaloyeros has repeatedly rebuffed interview and information requests from the Investigative Post's Jim Heaney, who has doggedly reported on Buffalo Billion spending from the start. "I told you once and I told you a million times. We are not political operatives nor do we respond to perceived threats and terrorism," Kaloyeros told Heaney in an email.

At public events, Kaloyeros has refused to take questions from the press about Bharara's interest in his work. He told a Syracuse reporter that it isn't polite to ask off-topic questions.

Kaloyeros' behavior has frightened some of his colleagues involved in the partnerships between academia and state government who feel he has far too much power over the state's investments. Further, they say that his public displays of wealth and power are not becoming of someone in his position and they expected it to draw the attention. Kaloyeros is not known to be an easy boss.

Some critics point to Kaloyeros' Facebook page that some say can resemble that of a teenager. The page is a mixture of bathroom selfies, memes about slow drivers, and pictures of sports cars and Darth Vader.

Kaloyeros has touted his lifestyle as funded by proceeds from his patents in interviews with The Buffalo News and The New York Times.

Kaloyeros was raised in East Beirut, Lebanon. A Times Union article from 2012 describes how as a 19-year-old college student Kaloyeros was attacked by what he assumed were members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization at the start of the Lebanese Civil War. His face was sliced and he was left for dead. One of his friends was actually killed. Later he said he joined a Christian militia and was trained by Israeli forces in tanks and artillery, later commanding a group of two dozen street fighters.

That part of Kaloyeros' life appears to have been balanced by his love for science. His father was a school teacher and his mother worked in marketing for Sanyo and SONY. Kaloyeros left Lebanon in 1980 to attend graduate school in the U.S. and in 1988 earned a doctorate from the University of Illinois.

In 2002, Kaloyeros told the Times that the "in crowd" in his high school was made up of the smart kids. ''Better be nice to geeks,'' he said, ''because the way the world is going, chances are you're going to end up working for one.''

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Report Shows Need for Elementary After-School Expansion


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Mayor de Blasio & students (photo: Mayor's Office)


The expansion of public educational programs to enhance the traditional school system and combat rising inequality has been a signature of the de Blasio administration.

Much like his universal pre-kindergarten program, de Blasio's vast expansion of middle school after-school offerings allows more structured opportunity for young people as well as more assurance and opportunity for parents.

Yet, while over 65,000 four-year-olds are now enrolled in pre-K and more than 100,000 middle schoolers in after-school programs, there remains a glaring gap in the availability of after-school offerings for elementary school students. A recent survey by the Campaign for Children, a coalition of 150 educational advocate groups, shows the need in stark figures.

A report based on the survey, an advance copy of which was shared with Gotham Gazette, shows that 88 percent of the 83 elementary school programs surveyed have waitlists, with an average waitlist of 38 percent of capacity. Some lists reach as high 357 spots while others cap waitlists at 30 or 50 due to very low drop out rates.

"The City's significant investment in programs for middle school students has been a major success," said Stephanie Gendell, Associate Executive Director for Policy and Government Relations at Citizens' Committee for Children and a member of the Campaign for Children. "But given the high percentage of programs reporting waitlists, after-school should be extended to the families of children at all grade levels, all year long."

Mayor de Blasio acknowledges the importance of extended-day programming and has touted his expansion of middle-school after-school.

"After-school is such a huge difference-maker," de Blasio said during a press conference to announce increased funding for additional middle school after-school programs. "It extends the learning day, provides an enrichment that is not there without it, keeps kids safe and sound, helps kids to the right path, including a lot of young people at the middle school level, where we're focused, who might be tempted by some of the negative dynamics around them."

When told of the Campaign for Children survey, a representative of the de Blasio administration stressed its commitment to expanding after-school offerings. "Providing as many young people as possible with free, safe and high-quality afterschool programs is one of this administration's top priorities," said Mark Zustovich, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development.

"This year, the City's unprecedented expansion of middle school programming means that 106,000 students in sixth through eighth grades will be served during a very critical time in their development," Zustovich said.

The de Blasio administration has indicated no elementary after-school expansion plans as of yet.

The after-school system is comprised of three components. COMPASS, or Comprehensive After-School System of New York, which has been the major focus of de Blasio's expansion and offers expanded educational opportunities in arts and sciences as well as activities to keep children engaged and active. Beacon Community Centers use schools as hubs for community-based programing like physical and mental health services, English as a second language (ESL) classes, and traditional after-school activities. And, Cornerstone Community Centers operate out of NYCHA facilities and are focused on families within the surrounding housing complexes.

Demand for after-school enrollment far outweighs supply. Yamayra Lopez, a 40-year-old insurance broker in the Bronx and mother of two, said enrolling her daughter in an elementary level after-school program was a stressful endeavor to say the least.

"In order to make sure she had a spot, I had to leave work early to meet deadlines and hand in paperwork," she said. "There were hundreds of people waiting in a line that stretched around the block. A lot of parents were left out."

According to a report out of Princeton University, after-school programs that provide additional educational instruction and social interaction "not only support healthy, positive development during [ages 6 through 14], they will also put in place the kind of safety net needed to support healthy, positive passage through early and middle adolescence."

Aside from the intellectual and social benefits for students in after-school programs, they also provide financial relief for low-income families. Parents are able to work or work more hours, and to save on childcare costs.

The Campaign for Children surveyed 2,500 parents who currently enroll their children in after-school programs – 268 from the Bronx, 453 from Brooklyn, 279 from Manhattan, 428 from Queens and 48 from Staten Island.

All told, 91 percent said they required after-school and summer programs to attend work or school, 64 percent said they relied on the programs to help feed their children, and 30 percent said they would either have to quit their job or leave their young child at home without supervision if they couldn't register.

"I can't afford to leave work early to be with her everyday," Yamayra Lopez said of her daughter. "These programs were where she could build a foundation to transition into a well-adjusted person. She came out with a wealth of knowledge. I am eternally grateful."

For families with elementary school students on waitlists, the city's further expansion of after-school programs can't come soon enough.

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by John Spina for Gotham Gazette
@jsspina24
@GothamGazette

City Council Considers Regulation of Grocery Personnel Decisions


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Council Member Miller (photo by John McCarten)


The City Council Committee on Civil Service and Labor saw heated debate at a Friday hearing on a proposed law to protect grocery and retail store workers from job volatility. The bill, known as the Grocery Worker Retention Act, aims to regulate personnel decision-making during store ownership transitions.

Introduced by Council Member I. Daneek Miller, chair of the labor committee, the act (Intro. 632) would require grocery stores that undergo a change in ownership to retain employees for a 90-day period and to review their performance on an individual basis thereafter, keeping employed those who've performed satisfactorily. In case of employee cutbacks, those with seniority or experience would be required to be retained. The act also affords these employees legal recourse in case any conditions are violated.

Although the bill drafting process began over a year ago, said Council Member Miller, a former labor leader himself, now may be the time to maximize the benefits envisioned. In July, supermarket giant A&P declared bankruptcy and will be selling dozens of its stores, which would stand to have an effect across the five boroughs. Many locations will be up for auction, with thousands of employees facing job insecurity.

The unions that altogether represent roughly 50,000 grocery workers in New York City -- around one-fourth of the city's retail workforce -- are heavily in favor of the bill.

The law is beneficial to workers, owners, and customers, said David Mertz, New York City Director for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "A worker retention policy such as in this legislation protects working families, provides a stable and experiences workforce for owners and thus maintains a safe and reliable service to customers," he said at Friday's hearing.

Others who testified in the law's favor included union representatives, non-profit health and safety groups, and individual grocery store employees.

Representatives of the retail and grocery industry are displeased with the bill, viewing it as an overreach by the Council. Employers see the liberal legislative body as trying to impose excessive regulation of employment decisions by private entities.

Jay Peltz, general counsel and vice president of government relations for the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, questioned the legal authority of the City in passing the bill in so far as it aims to maintain health and safety standards at stores. Peltz was insistent Friday that the bill would do more harm than good, disincentivizing investors from purchasing supermarkets, which means "the neighborhood around [a store] would be deprived of a better store with wider assortments, healthier choices, and more jobs. This would hurt the health and well-being of an area, not help it."

The hearing saw a thorough back-and-forth between industry representatives and Council Members Ben Kallos and Daniel Dromm, who refused to accept the opposing arguments being made. Dromm personally recounted the predatory practices of a supermarket owner in his district and repeatedly refuted and dismissed counter-arguments.

The bill is not the first of its kind. Local Law 39 from 2002 gave protections to building service workers in much the same vein as this law would do for grocery store employees. A more parallel example is a law passed statewide in California earlier this year that even withstood a challenge at the State Supreme Court.

The Council labor committee also quickly discussed and unanimously approved Intro. 903 which would provide health insurance coverage to the family members of deceased employees of the Department of Sanitation. The law was requested by Mayor de Blasio in response to the on-duty death of a sergeant from the Department of Sanitation in July this year.

The Grocery Worker Retention Act currently has 20 sponsors in the 51-member Council. After Friday's hearing it could be tweaked, or not, before being voted on in a subsequent committee hearing before heading to the full Council for approval - if it has enough support.

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by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid
@GothamGazette

The Week That Was in New York Politics, September 21-25


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photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday September 25

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio greets Pope Francis, via @BilldeBlasio; Pope Francis at the 9/11 memorial, via Ben Fractenberg.

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pope 911 memorial

TOP STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Pope Francis Visits NYC: Pope Francis was greeted by New York's top elected officials when he arrived at St. Patrick's Cathedral for evening prayers Thursday, his first public appearance in New York after addressing Congress in Washington, D.C. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo both greeted Francis and each has expressed admiration for the pope's messages of justice and compassion.

In New York, Francis also addressed the UN General Assembly and spoke at an interfaith ceremony at the 9/11 memorial on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, the pontiff is set to visit a school in East Harlem, proceed through Central Park, and give mass at Madison Square Garden. Mayor de Blasio sees the pope's message as similar to his and cites the pope in support of his mission to combat inequality, calling Francis the "leading moral voice on this earth.”

2. Bratton Responds to Comptroller, City Council: NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton hit back at Comptroller Scott Stringer this week for comments he made about the city's use of crime statistics. At a press conference on Monday in Brooklyn near the site of several weekend murders, Stringer said the city's crime statistics were "politicized" and called for a "real" discussion on how to curb violence in New York City. Bratton defended the police force and stated once again that overall major crime has decreased. Bratton also stated again this week that he sees the City Council as overreaching in its attempts to legislate NYPD-related policy. This time, Bratton was spurred to speak out against the Council about a new bill to implement warnings when a police officer may be a frequent user of excessive force.

3. Legal Moves in the Bronx: Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson has secured a nomination for an open state Supreme Court judgeship. Johnson waited until just after he won the primary for his DA position with no one running against him to announce that he wanted to seek a judgeship. Now, Democratic party leaders are handpicking his replacement on the November ballot. Bronx Democratic leaders are being criticized for a variety of machinations involved that make it appear they are subverting the democratic process and largely leaving voters out of the equation. They have defended themselves, in part, by saying that there is nothing illegal they are doing. Several Bronx leaders have remained silent on the moves.

4. First Homeless Shelter/Affordable Housing Development: The new $62 million "Landing Road Residence" project in the Bronx marks the first time the city has attempted to tackle two major issues - homelessness and affordable housing - under one roof. The project will feature 135 units of housing alongside a 200-bed shelter for homeless working adults.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 150 beds will be provided for homeless people through a partnership between the Roman Catholic Church and New York City, Mayor de Blasio and Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced this week.
  • #83479-053 is former Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm’s prisoner number as he entered a medium-security federal prison in Lewis Run, PA, for his eight-month sentence.
  • 2 million packets of K2 were seized by the NYPD after a raid in the Bronx.
  • About 80,000 people were set to gather in Central Park on Friday to see Pope Francis after securing tickets in a city-sponsored lottery.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for Mayor Bill de Blasio as he met with Pope Francis during his first visit to New York City. In Pope Francis, the mayor has found a powerful validator of his fight against inequality, aligning his own efforts to fight inequality with Francis' messages of economic, environmental, and social justice.
  • It was a bad week for Bronx Democrats, as Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson is stepping down to become a state Supreme Court justice, enabling Democratic Party leaders to bypass voters and handpick his replacement.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time 239 years ago, on September 21, 1776, Trinity Church on Wall Street was destroyed when a fire swept through colonial Manhattan, leaving a quarter of the city in ruins. The British suspected arson, but the cause of the fire was never determined.
  • Around this time 226 years ago, on September 25, 1789, the first U.S. Congress met in New York and adopted twelve amendments to the Constitution. Ten of them went on to become the Bill of Rights.
  • Around this time last year, on September 23, 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the United Nations, speaking briefly about climate change and efforts to combat it.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

In Pope Francis, De Blasio Finds Ultimate Validator, by Ben Max

Combatting New York's Enduring Quality-Of-Life Problem: Litter, by Cole Rosengren

Newest Prison Sentences Remind Of Limited Movement On Even Agreed Upon Reforms, by David King

Inmate Bill Of Rights Among New Wave Of Rikers Reforms, by Meg O’Connor

And, Gotham Gazette's David King appeared on WAMC's The Capitol Connection radio program to discuss the latest moves by Governor Andrew Cuomo, listen here.

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

  • The Wall Street Journal looks at Emma Wolfe, a key aide to Mayor de Blasio, and her role in brokering the relationship between de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, among others
  • The Observer profiles Mark Peters, the commissioner of the city's Department of Investigation
  • DNAinfo with a fun look at the many gifts that get sent to Mayor de Blasio

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

Combatting New York's Enduring Quality-of-Life Problem: Litter


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DSNY Commissioner Garcia (photo: @NYCSanitation)


New York is safer and more prosperous than it's been in years, but the city still can't figure out how to stop people from trashing streets with litter.

Despite a focus on quality of life issues, City Hall has made limited progress in dealing with a problem that has plagued mayors since the days when animals roamed Broadway. Even a small army of workers from the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), business improvement districts, and the Doe Fund still can't fully police 6,000 miles of city streets and more than 27,000 public waste and recycling baskets on a daily basis.

Two bills discussed at a recent hearing held by the City Council's sanitation committee aim to increase penalties for littering and illegal dumping, by doubling them or more in some cases, in an effort to curb bad behavior.

"It's not a cure-all for littering. It's not going to solve the littering problem that we have on Staten Island and our city. But it's part of a multi-pronged approach that my office and this Council has taken to combat littering," said Council Member Steven Matteo, Republican Minority Leader from Staten Island, at the hearing. "Littering is out of control in our city and it's out of control because we're doing it to ourselves."

The city still receives high cleanliness scores, as determined by the Mayor's Office of Operations, though the proportion of streets considered "acceptably clean" has slowly declined to 92.7 percent - though even those numbers have been challenged. With tourism and population growing every year, stray takeout containers and over-stuffed wastebaskets have become common sights. According to a Council briefing report, monthly 311 complaints about dirty sidewalks have nearly doubled from approximately 700 in July 2010 to 1,200 in April 2015.

One bill -- introduced by Matteo with four other sponsors -- would increase the fines for littering from $50 to $250 for a first violation and up to $450 for a third or subsequent one.

Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia supports the bill, but warns about enforcement. Garcia said it would still be difficult for DSNY agents to issue tickets due to a lack of authority. A ticket can only be written if the offender is witnessed littering and agrees to provide their name. Sanitation agents aren't allowed to pull over drivers witnessed littering either. Because of this, DSNY issued just 746 littering violations from July 2014 through June 2015 (fiscal year 2015).

Garcia said that if littering was reclassified as a criminal offense it would fall under the purview of the NYPD, which has larger issues to worry about. DSNY plans to begin sending stern letters to drivers caught in the act this fall, though Council members agreed that was unlikely to be a successful deterrent.

Another bill -- introduced by Council Member Karen Koslowitz, a Queens Democrat, with eight other sponsors -- would increase fines for illegally dumping residential or commercial waste inside public baskets from $100 to $200 for a first violation and up to $600 for a third or subsequent violation. DSNY supports the bill, but wants it to also include penalties for illegal dumping next to baskets.

A 2005 DSNY study showed illegal dumping accounting for 20 percent of all waste in public baskets. Due to some confusion over the state's new e-waste ban, TVs and computer parts have also begun showing up on street corners.

After the Council hearing, Garcia told Gotham Gazette that the city is always looking for ways to make waste disposal easier by installing new types of baskets and increasing education. She said that DSNY plans to continue fighting litter based in part on the "broken windows" theory often cited by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.

"If people see one gum wrapper, they think nothing of adding their fourth and fifth gum wrapper," she said. "So we really try and stay ahead of it."

While some New Yorkers don't seem to care about keeping their streets clean, multiple Quinnipiac polls show that others are bothered by the issue.

In 2009, when streets were rated at their peak cleanliness levels, 42 percent of registered voters said the city wasn't doing enough about "quality of life offenses" such as littering and loud music. In 1998, when streets were rated slightly dirtier than today, 51 percent of residents said they considered littering to be a "very serious problem."

Robin Nagle, an NYU anthropology professor who specializes in "discard studies," said the city has been trying to tackle this issue for a very long time. Under George Waring, a prominent sanitation commissioner during the 1890s, nearly 1,000 young children were enrolled in Juvenile Street Cleaning Leagues to police the streets and raise awareness by writing fake tickets.

Nagle doesn't think such an effort would be successful today, but said there needs to be a greater sense of shared responsibility. She said that other countries have already found ways to crack down on littering and wondered if society's attitude toward it will someday shift similar to smoking.

"How do we help people be a little less selfish without telling them that they are selfish?" she asked. "When you're on the street you're sharing a commons. You're sharing a place that is not only yours, but is ours."

Anti-littering messages from government agencies are posted on bus stops, subways, trash cans and DSNY vehicles. They range from the annual summer environmental appeal of "Clean Streets = Clean Beaches" to the MTA's subway announcement about trash-related track fires causing delays.

Recently, elected officials and community members have decided to address the problem on a more local level. For the second year in a row, the City Council funded a $3.5 million clean-up initiative in Fiscal Year 2015 to help district efforts. Other officials have also taken up the cause.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo's "Operation Clean Sweep" is responsible for cleaning 120 locations since April. His office has partnered with local businesses to create public service announcements and help maintain their areas through programs such as the city's "Adopt-a-Basket." In April, Oddo also announced a public-private partnership between the Institute of Scrap Recycling, Jason Learning, and multiple city agencies to create a pro-recycling/anti-litter curriculum in 10 local schools.

"Litter is a problem that is created by a small number of people, but one that affects everyone. All of us have to deal with the filth that collects on the side of the road, making our community look uninviting and run down," said Jennifer Sammartino, Oddo's communications director, in an emailed statement. "The more litter we have on our streets the more it becomes an accepted part of life."

A group of frustrated citizens working with the Greenpoint Chamber of Commerce have taken on the problem in Brooklyn with a project called "Curb Your Litter: Greenpoint." Funded by $570,000 obtained from a state settlement with ExxonMobil over a local oil spill, the project will spend three years studying the sources and types of litter with the help of cutting-edge sustainable planning firm Closed Loops. They will also work with local businesses, create educational material and soon launch an interactive website for the community to have input about new baskets.

The project's director, Caroline Bauer, said that so far volunteers have picked up nearly 1,500 pounds of trash on 135 blocks this year. She supports the two new City Council bills, which may be voted on at an upcoming committee hearing, but said that ultimately it's up to New Yorkers to come together over what should be a simple issue.

"Litter is something that nobody enjoys," said Bauer. "It really erodes the way that you think of the community and your neighborhood."

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by Cole Rosengren for Gotham Gazette
@ColeRosengrenNY
@GothamGazette

In Pope Francis, De Blasio Finds Ultimate Validator


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Cardinal Dolan & Mayor de Blasio (photo via @BilldeBlasio)


Pope Francis is the "leading moral voice on this earth," according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is welcoming the pope to New York City with open arms.

At a press conference Wednesday, the day before the pope is due to arrive in New York, de Blasio again spoke highly of Francis and pointed to the pope's moral authority and inspiration when announcing a partnership with the Archdiocese of New York to provide additional beds to homeless New Yorkers.

"Pope Francis is calling us all to action...asking all of us to do more to help those in need," de Blasio said Wednesday as he, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, and others outlined new steps to help homeless individuals through city partnerships with faith-based organizations.

As de Blasio and other New Yorkers anticipate Pope Francis' Thursday arrival, the mayor is able to frame his efforts to fight inequities and help struggling and vulnerable New Yorkers in terms of the pope's worldview.

Citing Francis' messages on economic, environmental, and social justice, de Blasio continues to point to the pope as the moral standard-bearer, repeatedly praising Francis for his bold vision for a better world. This has included, for example, the mayor quoting Francis' critique of trickle-down economics.

Though the mayor is a municipal executive, he has sought to take his own message national and global. In Pope Francis, de Blasio may have found the most powerful validator of his fight against inequality.

"We have to do everything we can do to create a more just society," de Blasio said Wednesday, referring to the pope and his mandates. "We are amplifying the pope's agenda. We are answering his call to action," the mayor said, explaining that it is imperative the city takes care of all New Yorkers in need in order to truly be "the greatest city in the world."

Upon arriving in the United States, Pope Francis spoke at the White House Wednesday morning. He called for participation in his mission, saying, "I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children."

For de Blasio, there is undoubtedly great appreciation of Pope Francis' pointed critiques of the social and environmental impacts of a changing world. But, de Blasio is also able to utilize Francis in support of his agenda, which comes as welcome help to a mayor who has had his share of detractors.

Still, promoting the pope and some of his messages also creates conflict for the mayor, who has described himself as a person of faith, though not particularly religious. De Blasio must face criticism from those who say that he is blurring lines of church and state and figure out a way to explain why Francis is so right on certain issues like climate change and immigration, but not a moral authority on others, like same-sex marriage or abortion rights.

De Blasio has made his adulatory relationship with Francis one of convenience, as is often the case with political allies, and mostly sidestepped those criticisms and conflicts.

When asked about specific areas where the mayor disagrees with the pope and criticism of the city promoting the leader of the Catholic Church, de Blasio spokesperson Monica Klein wrote Gotham Gazette to say that Pope Francis is "a leading global voice on ending income inequality and fighting climate change—issues that are important to people across all faiths in our city." In one public area of criticism, de Blasio did say this summer that the Catholic Church must be more inclusive of women.

Klein also wrote that "When any visiting dignitary travels to New York City, the Mayor works to accommodate their visit and provide appropriate security." The mayor has himself said similar things when questioned by reporters.

Well before the announcement of the pope's visit, even before de Blasio's July visit to the Vatican for a conference on climate change, de Blasio began citing Pope Francis as an essential voice in the fight against inequality, and thus a validator of the mayor's agenda, which includes creating affordable housing and reforming the criminal justice system.

It is uncertain that Pope Francis will discuss de Blasio's work in any specificity while in New York, but the mayor will greet the pope at Kennedy Airport Thursday and accompany Francis at most of his public appearances, which include a speech at the UN and a visit to an East Harlem school.

Like the pope, de Blasio has sought to tie economic and environmental justice together, releasing his OneNYC plan with long-term goals for sustainability, housing, and poverty-reduction.

De Blasio gladly accepted the chance to speak at the pope's climate conference. At the Vatican, de Blasio said of Pope Francis, "This is a leader such as we haven't seen before, really. He is saying things so clearly and so powerfully all over the world that need to be said...What he is doing is, he's creating an international voice of conscience that I can't think of any previous parallel for."

de blasio pope francis

As de Blasio and Francis hit several similar themes, they are hearing similar attacks. While de Blasio is being called out by some for overstepping the secular ideal of city government, Francis is being criticized for being overly political.

De Blasio has been painted as a liberal boogeyman by many on the right and Francis has begun to hear similar barbs. Republican Congressional Rep. Paul Gosar, from Arizona, is among those who planned to boycott Pope Francis' speech in front of Congress because he is dismayed that the pope is taking on climate change. In a recent op-ed explaining his criticism, Gosar wrote, "When the pope chooses to act like a left­ist politi­cian, then he can ex­pect to be treated like one."

One can imagine de Blasio hearing this and smiling.

When in Rome, de Blasio discussed being convened by Francis to take part in efforts to combat climate change, saying, "having the support of His Holiness is the most encouraging thing I can think of. It's the most empowering possibility to have the strongest moral voice in the globe today calling us to action."

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a political force de Blasio has had limited success marshalling to his advantage, spoke of Pope Francis. "In some ways, ironically, the pope's message isn't even religious. It is so universal that it is just humanitarian. It's communitarian," Cuomo told NY1's Zack Fink.

Here, de Blasio and Cuomo are on the same page, looking to the world's preeminent religious figure as a voice for universal righteousness. On Wednesday, as de Blasio invoked Francis' name again and again, he repeatedly stressed a non-religious message, at one point saying, "All of us can feel commonality in Pope Francis' vision of a more inclusive society. It doesn't matter, again, what faith you believe in – Pope Francis is a moral voice, speaking to all of us, calling all of us to action."

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

Newest Prison Sentences Remind of Limited Movement on Even Agreed Upon Reforms


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Albany leaders (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)


Last week, two former New York State Assembly Democrats were sentenced in federal corruption cases. While the punishment bestowed upon each may warn current lawmakers to toe ethical lines, progress on concrete reforms aimed at curbing the type of behavior that landed William Boyland Jr. and William Scarborough in prison has been slow to materialize.

Boyland Jr., of Brooklyn, received 14 years for taking part in bribery and extortion plots and for defrauding the state of hundreds of thousands of dollars by claiming travel expenses he never incurred. Scarborough, of Queens, was sentenced to 13 months for defrauding the state of at least $40,000 by claiming fraudulent travel expenses. Scarborough pleaded guilty and resigned his seat in May, while Boyland stood trial after refusing a plea deal, and was convicted in March of last year.

"The most powerful message that has been sent to incumbents is that they better be careful because people are actually watching them," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group when asked whether any real action has been taken in Albany to prevent similar cases of corruption.

Regardless of that powerful message, sent by prosecutors, and the many other indictments and convictions of legislators on corruption charges, both houses of the state legislature have yet to make good on ethics reforms agreed to in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in April that both Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos had agreed to a series of ethics tweaks that included setting new rules for what is required for lawmakers to be reimbursed for their travel and stripping the pensions from public employees who are convicted of felonies. With the legislative session long over, the pension-forfeiture plan is still up in the air, while critics say the per diem requirements set by both houses do little to prevent intentional fraud.

In the 2016 budget - which went into effect April 1, 2015 - the legislature agreed to install an electronic verification system for legislators to prove their presence in the capitol, and according to Cuomo's office, "develop and implement policies to verify attendance at official events and establish standards and limits for reimbursable events."

Assembly Speaker Heastie, a Bronx Democrat who has been one of the top participants in the per diem system, released new regulations for Assembly travel reimbursement this spring, satisfying what had been agreed to in the budget.

In May, Heastie announced new rules for acceptable documentation to prove a member is in Albany when he or she claims per diem expenses. Acceptable forms of documentation now include an electronic recording of a member's vote in committee, session attendance, swiping a machine in the Assembly's Legislative Office Building, EZ Pass documentation, recorded presence at a public hearing, or even dated receipts from hotels and restaurants in the region.

Critics note that the system could easily be gamed by having staffers faking an Assembly member's presence. The system also does nothing to ensure a member is actually doing the people's work while in the area and collecting per diems.

In June, Heastie issued new rules for reimbursement of travel expenses incurred when the legislature is not in session. The rules mandate that legislators seek approval from Heastie's office if they want to be reimbursed for out-of-session trips exceeding 30. Members can receive the full reimbursement rate of $172-a-day for 20 of their 30 allowed trips.

Critics note the rules for out-of-session travel aren't exactly strict. "The overwhelming majority of the members of the Assembly are men and women of integrity and honor and these new rules will reflect our house's commitment to the highest standards of accountability for the public resources entrusted in us," Heastie said in a statement announcing the new rules in June.

Senate Republicans, who control that house, issued a similar set of requirements on June 19. Senate standards for collecting per diems include documenting presence in session, swiping an electronic reader, EZ Pass, train tickets, toll receipts, press clippings or meeting agendas.

"This stuff makes it less likely people will make dumb mistakes," said Horner. "But when you look at those two cases, it seems like Scarborough may have just made some dumb mistakes, while Boyland concocted an elaborate scheme, and these changes won't do anything to stop someone who puts effort into defrauding the state."

Some legislators have been caught using campaign funds to pay for travel and then having the state reimburse them for the same expenses. John Kaehny of good government group Reinvent Albany said that there are fairly straightforward ways to prevent any sort of double-dipping. Kaehny suggests ending reimbursements altogether and simply providing legislators with a per diem expense card. "The card would simply stop working if per diems are exceeded," said Kaehny.

Kaehny said he would also like to see all per diem data sent directly to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and format per diem expenditure reports in a way that they could be directly compared to campaign expenses so that double-dipping could be easily identified.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, has also advocated ending per diems altogether. "Legislators should be reimbursed for their actual costs of travel. Total reimbursements should be capped. And that should be it," Schneiderman said during a speech in March.

Schneiderman has also called for sweeping campaign finance and ethics reforms, including term-limits for state legislators, and said he is done with small tweaks, though even those seemingly smaller moves seem difficult to get implemented.

Pensions
Senate Republicans acted first on the pension forfeiture measure that was agreed to in the budget. They passed a constitutional amendment that would have stripped the pensions of public employees who commit felonies. Assembly Democrats did not act in kind. Facing pressure from unions and some elected officials, the Assembly stalled and then eventually introduced an amended bill that strictly defines which public and appointed officials could have their pensions stripped.

Republicans balked at the Assembly version and both houses left town with no resolution to the issue.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb railed against the Assembly Majority's stance on the pension-forfeiture bill during last session. He has long-advocated a host of reforms that are unlikely to see the light of day in the Assembly.

"With two former Assemblymen headed to prison, we are reminded that Albany's corruption problem isn't going to fix itself," Kolb said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "Assembly Republicans have pushed for pension forfeitures, term limits for leadership positions, a new independent public ethics committee – but our efforts have been blocked by Democrats each time. In March, Assembly Democrats walked away from an agreed-upon pension forfeiture bill, and came back in the last days of session with a weaker version they knew would never become law. Their actions demonstrate a lack of courage and complete refusal to address the corruption issue. The allegiance to the status quo is what prevents real reform from taking place at the Capitol."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Inmate Bill of Rights Among New Wave of Rikers Reforms


bdb rikers video

Mayor de Blasio at Rikers Island (photo: Mayor's Office)


The New York City Council passed eight bills last week in an effort to mandate greater transparency into and oversight of the Department of Correction and to reduce violence within the city's jails. All are expected to soon be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, with the package part of ongoing reforms aimed at changing the culture at Rikers Island and other jail facilities run by the city.

One of the bills (Intro 784-A) creates an inmate Bill of Rights and Code of Conduct and mandates rules for ensuring that it is presented to prisoners.

The bill would require the DOC to inform all incoming inmates of their rights and responsibilities under the DOC rules of conduct in plain and simple language. The bill also requires inmates' rights and code of conduct to be communicated orally to the inmates in their primary language. Currently, upon intake all inmates are given a rulebook, which explains the regulations they are expected to adhere to.

Yet, with so many regulations listed in the dense rulebook, many inmates have failed to understand just what rules they are expected to follow behind bars, and many remain unaware of their rights as prisoners, especially since a significant number of inmates on Rikers are illiterate. There are also often language barriers if inmates primarily speak a language other than English.

The bill aims to "clear the lines of communication between inmates and staff," Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, the bill's prime sponsor, said last week at the meeting of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services that saw the bills passed before they were then moved through the full Council.

The inmate bill of rights will "communicate their rights to services, such as visitation and medical care," Crowley said at City Hall on Thursday. "It is critical that all individuals are aware of these rights."

"Carlos Mercado died while in our city jails because of a diabetes-related complication, and because of simple neglect," Crowley continued, referring to the recent death of a Rikers Island inmate whose repeated pleas for medical assistance were ignored by correction officers over a 14-hour period. The new rules appear meant not only to make sure that inmates know their rights and expected conduct, but also to remind correction officers of what they must provide inmates.

Seymour James, Jr., the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society, worked closely with the City Council to develop the legislation. James Jr. said that he believes the eight bills passed last week "will go a long way to address some of the problems," but added, "Aside from these bills, there needs to be greater oversight and discipline of the correctional officers. There's a pending lawsuit which is awaiting approval for the court which will attempt to address some of the problems."

On the other hand, the president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, Norman Seabrook, called the move for greater transparency a "welcome development," but added, "this package of legislation completely ignores the needs of our heroic correction officers."

Though 784-A does not alter the rules that have already been established for prisoners, the change in the methods of communicating those rules (and rights) to inmates seeks to curb violence and mistreatment within Rikers by ensuring that all inmates (and guards) are well-informed.

The bill mandates that prisoners are given information about their rights "under federal, state, and local laws, and the board of correction minimum standards" on topics such as "personal hygiene, recreation, religion, access to legal services, visitation, telephone calls and other correspondence, media access, due process in any disciplinary proceedings, medical care, safety from violence, and the grievance system."

The plain-language document provided inmates will also have to include "a description of educational, vocational development, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling and other related services available to inmates." DOC will be required to post the documentation "on the department's website." The bill also mandates that each inmate receives a copy of "Connections," the resource-filled guide to reentry.

Other bills passed last week are specifically intended to increase Department of Correction transparency by mandating that the city makes far more information publically available, including: demographic breakdowns of inmates; the rules regarding the use of force by staff on inmates; the number of inmates on a waiting list for a segregated housing unit; the bail amounts set for inmates; how long inmates are incarcerated pretrial; the number of visits inmates in city jails receive; and the number of grievances filed by inmates, the status of grievances, and the resolution or dismissal of grievances.

"There has been a lack of transparency and that goes back a long time," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a press conference last Thursday. "The majority of inmates in our jails, in fact, have not been convicted of any crime and are still awaiting their day in court."

"It is our moral obligation to ensure people in our jails are treated decently and humanely," Mark-Viverito continued. "These bills will mandate greater transparency regarding conditions in our city jails so the nature and extent of problems can be more readily assessed and addressed."

Transparency alone will not necessarily reduce violence or protect inmates rights' within the city's jails, Alex Vitale, associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project, points out. Vitale told Gotham Gazette that "rights are only as good as the enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure them."

"So it seems to me that it's not likely to be a very fruitful strategy for reducing abuses. The existing Board of Correction already has the authority to guarantee these rights, and to enforce them, but almost never does so," Vitale elaborated. "So, in my mind, if you want to really improve the situation at Rikers you need to do two things: reduce the population and get the BOC to be a robust oversight agency."

The move to mandate greater transparency is still a "positive development," Vitale said, since the bills "hold out the possibility of giving advocates additional tools to push for meaningful reforms."

Martin Horn, executive director of the New York State Sentencing Commission, expressed a similar point of view, "I'm a big believer in transparency. Increased transparency is always a good thing. The test will come when we see what they do with the data."

Although Crowley maintained that the "grouping of bills emphasizes the Council's desire to curb violence on Rikers Island by addressing inmates' as well as staff's needs," the head of the correction officers' union does not share the same view.

"We need to do much more to achieve real reform for inmates as well as the hard-working correction officers who are still treated like second-class citizens by a Department of Correction that doesn't seem to care about them," Seabrook said in a statement.

The new package of Council bills comes as Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Joe Ponte continue to make changes at Rikers, including to limit the use of solitary confinement. There are also new proposed rules around visitation to Rikers inmates that have drawn criticism from advocates and family members of incarcerated individuals.

Greater transparency about the conditions on Rikers Island and increased protection of inmates' rights are desperately needed, as U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's 2014 investigation into the conditions on Rikers Island found there to be "rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by New York City Department of Correction staff," and that the "inadequate reporting by staff of the use of force, including false reporting" contributed to the "excessive and unnecessary use of force by DOC staff."

At City Hall on Thursday, Council Member Dan Garodnick, who sponsored three of the eight bills that were passed, called attention to the fact that "conditions have deteriorated to the point where the United States government is now suing the New York City Department of Correction in order to enforce change. It should never have come to that."

Garodnick and other Council members have noted that it is the Council's responsibility to perform oversight of city agencies and in doing so, they must have more data at their fingertips. Ideally, the increased availability of information will make the situation in New York City jails much clearer, ultimately making it easier for advocates and policymakers to enact meaningful reform to alleviate some of the problems that plague the jails system - including violence that hurts both inmates and officers.

"We believe that if they have to report on the problems that are in existence, then there will be pressure on them to reduce the problems and limit them," James Jr. of Legal Aid Society told Gotham Gazette. "If in fact there are long waits for people to get into housing, if there are problems with visitation, if they have to report on it, it's an incentive for them to correct the problem."

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@megoconnor13

The Week That Was in New York Politics, September 14-18


week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday 

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio delivers an education speech, via The Mayor's Office on flickr; NYPD Commissioner Bratton is briefed as the city prepares for the Pope's visit next week, via NYPD; the Mayor's administration faced off with the City Council in softball, via John Kenny

BdB edu speech

bratton briefing

bdb mmv softball

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. De Blasio Education Announcement: The mayor gave an "Equity and Excellence" education speech Wednesday, outlining a wide-ranging education policy plan that will commit about $186 million per year to enhance the performance and readiness of the city's students. Key elements include expanding computer science and advanced placement courses and adding reading specialists. The pieces will work in conjunction with previously announced de Blasio education initiatives including pre-kindergarten and community schools.

2. Cuomo Commits $ to Hudson Rail Tunnel: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sent a letter to President Obama offering to fund half of the Hudson River rail tunnel project if the federal government pledges to pay for the other half. The project could cost up to $20 billion and has been the source of tension between federal and local officials.

3. Crackdown on K2: On Wednesday, authorities announced that they had dismantled an international ring responsible for manufacturing and distributing synthetic marijuana, known as K2 or spice, which drug officials say has caused a public-health crisis. The mayor has designed a multi-agency strategy to combat the proliferation of K2 and several bills have been introduced into the City Council.

4. Papal Visit, UN General Assembly Create Security Challenge: Pope Francis' visit next week coincides with the annual U.N. General Assembly, which will bring 170 world leaders to the city, creating what Police Commissioner William Bratton called "the largest security challenge the department and this city have ever faced." Federal and city agencies are preparing for the security and transit logistics.

5. Bharara Investigates Cuomo's Buffalo Billion: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is reportedly investigating Gov. Cuomo's controversial Buffalo Billion revitalization project, according to The New York Post. The investigation focuses on the multimillion-dollar contracts awarded to build facilities for high-tech, drug-development, and clean-energy businesses.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • $60 billion was spent on education in the 2013-14 school year in New York State, averaging $21,812 for each of the state’s 3 million students.
  • Up to $20 million in federal funds will be given to New York City as part of a pilot program to decrease traffic injuries. As many as 10,000 vehicles will be fitted with smart devices designed to reduce traffic injuries, congestion, and pollution by 2017, and traffic lights will also be set up to beam information.
  • 20.9% is New York City's poverty rate, according data released by the Census Bureau on Wednesday, meaning that the poverty rate has not lowered at all since last year.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for Columbia Law School Professor Tim Wu, who joined Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office while he is on sabbatical. Wu, who coined the phrase "net neutrality," will serve as a senior lawyer and special adviser to Schneiderman focusing on technology and the law. Wu was a candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 2014.
  • It was a bad week for former Assemblymember Bill Scarborough, a Democrat, who was sentenced to 13 months in prison and two years of supervised release after he pleaded guilty to state and federal corruption charges.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time 95 years ago, on September 16, 1920, Wall Street was hit by a bomb blast outside the headquarters of J.P. Morgan. The blast killed several dozen people and injured hundreds more. Authorities believed it was the work of anarchists, but the bombers were never found.
  • Around this time 23 years ago, on September 16, 1992, thousands of off-duty police officers stormed City Hall to protest Mayor David Dinkins' support for an all-civilian police complaint review board.
  • Around this time 4 years ago, on September 17, 2011, a demonstration calling itself "Occupy Wall Street" began in New York.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Cautious Optimism Ahead of Hearing on Citywide Ferry System, by Christian Zhang

Rumored Scheme Brings Scrutiny to Bronx Political Machine, by David Howard King

Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back? by David Howard King

How To Become A New York City Council Member, by Catie Edmondson

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

  • Gotham Gazette's David King appeared on The Capitol Connection to discuss the latest with Governor Cuomo and more.
  • The Economist looks at how Mayor de Blasio is "doin'."
  • New Quinnipiace poll results show how New Yorkers are feeling about their elected officials and more.

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max



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