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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."

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 21

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

THE POPE IS COMING: Pope Francis is coming to New York City at the end of the week, with public events on Thursday and Friday. The Pope's visit to the city will coincide with the UN General Assembly, at which he will speak, and will include mass at Madison Square Garden on Friday after a procession through Central Park, a visit to a school in East Harlem, and a ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Significance, attention, security, and traffic will all be heavy.

TAKING ON K-2: There's a new drug crippling New Yorkers and it is "K-2" or "synthetic marijuana" (though it is not actually a form of marijuana) and city officials are working to quickly combat what some have said could lead to a new crack epidemic. Mayor de Blasio announced a multi-agency strategy last week and the City Council has seen several bills introduced to up regulation and enforcement. The Council will hold a hearing Monday on the bills, which have been introduced by Council Member Dan Garodnick, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: The mayor gave a big education speech on Wednesday last week and followed it up with efforts to spread the word about his plans, including an interview with the Daily News Editorial Board and another appearance on WNYC. De Blasio has said he will be taking his message to New Yorkers more and more in the coming weeks as he ramps up efforts to improve his public approval numbers and make sure that his programs and plans are known.

De Blasio had no public events Saturday. On Sunday, the mayor appeared on This Week on ABC, delivered remarks to the congregation at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, and marched in and deliver remarks at the African American Day Parade in Harlem.

On Monday, de Blasio is set to hold a noon press conference to discuss the upcoming papal visit. De Blasio is also meeting privately with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and former tennis star James Blake regarding NYPD reforms and the recent incident in which Blake was mistakenly arrested by an NYPD officer and handled roughly in the process.

We also know that on Thursday evening, de Blasio is expected to speak at an event at The New School: "to engage with world-leading Mayors and local government representatives as they pledge their support for the United Nations' new Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) in their cities and commit to implementing the new urban agenda between now and 2030."

AS FOR THE GOVERNOR: Governor Cuomo also participates in events related to the African-American Day Parade on Sunday. His remarks Sunday morning focused on calling for federal action on gun regulations and raising the minimum wage. Cuomo was asked about recents reports that federal prosecutors are investigating his Buffalo Billion program around the contracting process - the governor maintains he knows nothing about the investigation other than what he reads in the newspaper and downplays subpoenas being issued, saying that as Attorney General he used to issue many as part of fact-finding, but that does not mean there's been criminal behavior.

On Monday, Cuomo has no public events scheduled.

See below for more details about Monday and the rest of a very busy week in New York politics in our day-by-day rundown...

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

At the City Council on Monday:

  • 10 a.m. the Committee on Consumer Affairs in conjunction with the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services, Committee on Health, Committee on Public Safety, Committee on Aging  will meet to discuss “The Proliferation of Illegal Synthetic Cannabinoids: Health Impacts and Enforcement.” The bill would suspend cigarette dealer licenses for any “dealer who violates the provisions of the proposed synthetic drug prohibition” and “create a mandatory revocation for a second violation of such proposed prohibition.” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will give opening remarks.
  • 11 a.m. the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss three land use applications for Landmarks, Corbin Building, 11 John St, Manhattan , Landmarks, Stonewall Inn, 51-53 Christopher St, Manhattan , Landmarks, Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II, Manhattan.
  • 1 p.m. The Committee on Civil Rights will meet to hear the introduction of four initiatives. The first bill, presented by Council Member Deborah L. Rose, prohibits “employment discrimination based on an individual’s actual or perceived status as a caregiver.” The following three propose expansions on the New York City Human Rights Law. Rose will also introduce one of these bills, as she seeks to expand the definition of “employer under the human rights law to provide protections for domestic workers.” She will be joined by Council Members Inez D. Barron and Brad S. Lander who will introduce legislation to clarify “reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities,”  “expand the right to truthful information” and to create “an express cause of action for employers and principals whose rights are violated by conduct to which their employees or agents are subjected.”

At 9 a.m. Monday the New York State Department of Health will hold one in a series of “From Blueprint to Action: Ending the Epidemic - New York Statewide Regional Discussions,” to address the problem of HIV/AIDS in New York State. Monday’s event, on the Upper West Side, will provide information about HIV/AIDS and related services, include opportunities for public input, and offer a Call to Action to end the epidemic by 2020.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, "The New York State Democratic Committee will hold its Fall business meeting on Monday, September 21st in New York City."

Monday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will appear to discuss “the film industry’s expansion into the Bronx, with several television shows being shot in the borough as of late and Silvercup Studios, home to shows such as "Girls"  and "30 Rock," spending $35 million to convert a warehouse in Port Morris to a film and television production complex.”

At 11 a.m. Monday in Brooklyn, "Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, joined by citywide elected officials, residents, and community organizations will gather at the Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses on Monday to make a public appeal for community cooperation to aid in NYPD apprehension of suspect(s) involved in Sunday's triple homicide." Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James are set to attend.

At noon in downtown Brooklyn, "At a major news event organized by the Real Affordability for All campaign, Mayor de Blasio will be pressured to revise his rezoning plan for East New York, the South Bronx, and other neighborhoods to ensure that current low-income residents have access to real affordable housing and good-paying union construction jobs...This event comes as the public land review process is set to begin Monday for the rezoning of East New York and amid growing concern that de Blasio's plan will accelerate gentrification and displacement in low-income communities of color, leaving behind too many vulnerable New Yorkers."

Also at noon, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito will moderate the Q&A session with Chelsea Clinton at the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee Annual Fall Luncheon.

At 1 p.m. in the Bronx, “New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye will announce the launch of "MyNYCHA," a new mobile application for residents to make repair requests. With the free app, residents can create, schedule, and manage work tickets via their mobile devices (smartphones or tablets). They can also subscribe to alerts for outages in their developments (NYCHA Alerts) and view inspection appointments.”

“Freelancers across New York City gather on Monday, September 21st for the #FreelanceIsntFree Campaign Launch and Brooklyn Town Hall Meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall.” The event will be led by Sara Horowitz, Founder of Freelancers Union, Brooklyn City Council Members including Brad Lander, and “New York City’s finest freelancers to talk about the issue and ways we can make a change.”

At 6:30 p.m. The New School’s Milano School is set to host Politics & Policy Series: Examination of Voting Rights in 2016 US Election at 6:30 p.m. Ari Berman of the Nation will read from his book Give Us the Ballot. Following a brief reading, New School urban policy professor Jeff Smith will moderate a conversation with Berman, New York Times national political correspondent Maggie Haberman, and Fordham political science professor Christina Greer.

On a similar note, at 7 p.m. Monday The New York City Campaign Finance Board will host its National Voter Registration Day Kick-Off, part of a non-partisan effort to register all eligible citizens nationwide. Lisa Evers of Fox 5 News and Hot 97 will discuss voting rights and the immigrant vote with panelists Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of National Urban League; L. Joy Williams, President of the Brooklyn NAACP; Steven Choi, Executive Director of the NY Immigration Coalition; and Jaime Estades, Director of Latino Leadership Institute, voting rights and the immigrant vote in 2016. Crystal Valentine, the 2015 Youth Poet Laureate, will perform after the discussion.

Also at 7 p.m., Daniel A. Zarrilli, Director of the city’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, invites the public to join his office at the second public hearing regarding an update on Lower Manhattan resiliency efforts.  The discussion will touch on issues of coastal protection, stormwater management and resiliency upgrades for affordable housing developments. The draft for the Resiliency Update is available for review online at

"On Monday, September 21, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will be the guest on the 1,000th episode of "BronxTalk," hosted by Gary Axelbank and airing on Bronxnet. The show, which airs at 9 p.m., will be streamed live at, and can be viewed in The Bronx on Cablevision channel 67 or Verizon FiOS channel 33."

City Council Participatory Budgeting events Monday, September 21:

  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 1:30 p.m.
  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 p.m.
  • CM Laurie Cumbo (District 35, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Steven Levin (District 33, Brooklyn) 6:30
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Andrew Cohen (District 11, Bronx) 7 p.m.
  • CM Costa Constantides (District 22, Queens) 7 p.m. 

Tuesday morning NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton will speak at an Assocation for a Better New York (ABNY) breakfast event. He will discuss “the NYPD’s efforts to address public safety and quality of life conditions in New York.”

At 9:30 a.m. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a meeting at Queens Borough Hall, which “focuses on city service delivery and agency responsiveness across the borough and hears presentations on these issues from City officials and others.”

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m. The Committee on Contracts will meet with the Committee on Public Housing to examine “the Need for Contracting Accountability and Transparency at NYCHA in Light of Leaking Roofs at King Towers”
  • 10 a.m. The Committee on General Welfare will conduct a “Review of HRA’s Employment Plan Concept Papers.”
  • 10 a.m. The Committee on Environmental Protection will discuss “Use of geothermal energy in New York City.”
  • 10 a.m. The Committee on Higher Education will meet to discuss, “Higher Education Access for Incarcerated and Recently Incarcerated Individuals.” and  “Support of President Barack Obama’s Second Chance Pell Pilot Program”

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day. Over the next several months drives will be held to increase awareness about the importance of voting. The list of the events can be found on this calendar. "Only 81% of NYC's eligible voting age population is registered to vote, and just 20% of eligible voters actually voted in 2014. NVRD is about increasing those numbers and invigorating the voting population. Our democracy, after all, is only as strong as its participants.”

On Tuesday, "Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the New York State Department of Labor and the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation will co-host a Bronx Job Fair."

At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday the New York State Preparedness Corps Training Program will host a two hour long event intended to provide residents with “the tools and resources to prepare for any type of disaster” and to “respond accordingly and recover as quickly as possible to pre-disaster conditions.” The program is sponsored by Gov. Cuomo, Rep. Gregory Meeks, Queens BP Melinda Katz, State Senator James Sanders Jr. and City Councilman Donovan Richards.

City Council Participatory Budgeting events Tuesday, September 22:

  • CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.
  • Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday looks slower in New York City as many participate in the Yom Kippur holiday. Other events can, of course, pop up last-minute.

City Council Participatory Budgeting events Wednesday, September 23:

  • Carlos Menchaca (Distict 38, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • I. Daneek Miller (District 27, Queens) 7 p.m.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, City & State NY will hold its 4th Annual "On Diversity" event featuring leaders in government, business, and advocacy to discuss the social and economic advantages of promoting diversity in both the public and private sectors. Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor, will make keynote remarks. Panels will include R. Fenimore Fisher, Chief Diversity and EEO Officer at the New York City DCAS; Carra Wallace, Chief Diversity Officer at the Office of the NYC Comptroller; Charissa Fernandez, Executive Director of Teach for America; Bertha Lewis, Founder and President of The Black Institute; Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight of MWBEs; and Assemblymember Michael Blake, Chair at the Subcommittee on Mitchell-Lama.

At 10 a.m. Thursday the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold its next public meeting.

At 10 a.m. the New York State Assembly will have a public hearing regarding child poverty in the NY state. New York currently has “some of the highest levels of child poverty in the country.”

At about 5 p.m. Thursday Pope Francis will arrive at JFK airport. It will be his first visit to New York and the first Papal visit since 2008. At 6:45 p.m. Pope Francis will hold an evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. [On Friday the Pope will visit the United Nations, attend a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, visit Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, hold a mass at Madison Square Garden and have a historic procession through Central Park.]

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, a panel hosted by the New York City Bar Association: “New York City- Building Energy Benchmarking Law: Acting On the Results” will evaluate NYC’s landmark Local Law 84. The event is co-sponsored by the Bar’s Environmental Law Committee and chair Michael G. Mahoney in conjunction with the Sallan Foundation, the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School.

At 7 p.m., Cities Deliver Sustainable Development: Global Urban Leaders Endorse and Operationalize the SDGs will be hosted by Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN) at the New School, in association with the Campaign for Urban SDG, the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments and the Tishman Environment and Design Center. Expected speakers include Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as Edmund G. Brown Jr., Governor of California; Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris; Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro; Xu Qin, Mayor of Shenzhen; Mpho Franklyn Parks Tau, Mayor of Johannesburg; Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul; and Park Won-soon, Mayor of Seoul.

City Council Participatory Budgeting events Thursday, September 24:

  • CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan) 5:30 p.m.
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Julissa Ferreras (District 21, Queens) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Andrew Cohen (District 11, Bronx) 7 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday:

  • 10 a.m. Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet to discuss two bills. The first “would require new grocery store owners to retain the previous owner’s staff for a transition period after a business is sold.” After the transition period, the new employer would also have to evaluate each employee and consider keeping them. The second bill seeks to “extend health insurance coverage to the surviving spouses, domestic partners and children of employees of the Sanitation Enforcement Division of the Department of Sanitation who died on or after July 29, 2015."
  • 10 a.m. the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to discuss three pieces of legislation. The first would require owners of buildings with over 50,000 gross square feet to file energy efficiency reports every five years. The second pushes “low energy building requirements for certain capital projects.” The bill would also require the Mayor to produce several reports that track and confirm capital project compliance with the law. The final bill would impose “green building standards for certain capital projects.”
  • 10 a.m. the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet to examine “ACS’s Juvenile Offender Population.”
  • 11 a.m. Committee on Land Use will meet in the Committee Room in City Hall.
  • 1 p.m. the Committee on State and Federal Legislature will meet to pass resolutions on: Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act of 2015, Improving the Treatment of the U.S. Territories Under Federal Health Programs Act of 2015, and Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the “Jones Act.”
  • 1 p.m. Committee on Small Business will meet to discuss two bills. The first “would require an employee within the Mayor’s Office For People With Disabilities to be designated as a small business accessibility coordinator, responsible for liaising with agencies involved in accessibility projects and for educating business owners and operators about their obligations under local, state, and federal law to make their businesses accessible to people with disabilities.” The second “would create a cause of action for harassment of small businesses and other non-residential tenants by landlords.”
  • 1 p.m. the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet to discuss the Build It Back 2015 Update.

Friday will be a busy day for Pope Francis in New York City.

  • At 8:30 a.m. he is set to visit the United Nations and give an address to the UN General Assembly. His speech will concentrate on challenges that face humanity in the 21st century, such as sustainable development and climate change. He will also meet with UN officials.
  • At 11:30 a.m. the Pope will visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
  • Later, the Pope will pay a visit to an East Harlem School, Our Lady Queen of Angels, that has been providing elementary level education in the area for 120 years.
  • Then, in the late afternoon, Pope Francis will participate in a Central Park procession.
  • Lastly, at about 6 p.m., Pope Francis will hold mass at Madison Square Garden. He departs for Philadelphia on Saturday.

On Friday beginning at 9 a.m.: “NYC Media Lab's Annual Summit is a snapshot of the best thinking, projects, and talent in digital media from universities in NYC and beyond. This is an opportunity for media executives, technologists, and decision makers to explore interesting technologies and applications related to the future of media.” The event, being held at NYU, will include remarks from Maria Torres-Springer, head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation and Luis Castro of the Mayor's Office of Media & Entertainment.

At 8:30 a.m. Friday Crain’s New York Business is hosting an “Art & Culture Breakfast: The Next Generation of New York’s Cultural Leaders.

A City Council Participatory Budgeting event is being held Friday by CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) at 6 p.m.

On Saturday, there will be City Council Participatory Budgeting events held by CM I. Daneek Miller (District 27, Queens) at 1p.m. and CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, Participatory Budgeting events are being held by:

  • CM Robert Carnegy (District 36, Brooklyn) 1p.m.
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 9:45 a.m.
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6 p.m.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max

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


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.


  • $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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


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


  • 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!

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

Cautious Optimism Ahead of Hearing on Citywide Ferry Plan

ferry DOT

(images: NYC DOT/EDC)

Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed expansion of the city's ferry system, announced in February, appears to be one of the least politically controversial initiatives of his term. Ahead of a City Council hearing on the topic scheduled for Monday, no Council member has publicly opposed the plan, while some have loudly praised it.

But this support comes despite concerns from transit advocates that ferries may not be the most cost-effective form of transportation for New Yorkers and that other investments in buses or bike lanes should not be overlooked. Meanwhile, others like Staten Island Borough President James Oddo want the system expanded further.

The five planned ferry routes, connecting 21 locations in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, will be rolled out in two phases in 2017 and 2018, according to the city's Economic Development Corporation (EDC). A sixth route to Staten Island is "proposed" but not part of the two phases or included in cost estimates. De Blasio said in February that rides would cost $2.75—the same as a subway or bus swipe, though MetroCards won't be accepted for payment—and that the system would bring residents of far-flung waterfront neighborhoods "closer to the opportunities they need."

"Beyond connecting residents to jobs in Manhattan, our new citywide ferry system will spur the development of new commercial corridors throughout the outer boroughs," de Blasio said during his State of the City speech.

One reason why the ferry plan is uncontroversial may be its relatively small size: its estimated 4.6 million riders per year by 2018 is less than the subway's average daily weekday ridership of nearly 5.6 million in 2014 (with 1.75 billion subway rides for the year). The boats' estimated $55 million price tag and $10 to $20 million annual operating subsidies are also a fraction of the city's $78.5 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

"Because it's cheap, politicians can say they're pro-transit," Nicole Gelinas, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank, said. "I think the bigger danger is neglecting other transit."

Few Concerns
Council members interviewed by Gotham Gazette were all supportive of the plan, which they say will provide a convenient mode of transportation in neighborhoods poorly served by subways.

"We are in a city with an existing transportation infrastructure that is at capacity...So we need additional alternatives," Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens said. His district includes Long Island City, which has seen tremendous residential development in recent years and will be served by one of the new stops.

At Monday's Council hearing, Van Bramer said he wants to "get a timeline on just when we can expect the landings to be sited, and when we can start service."

Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan's Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island said making sure the three stations planned for his district are moving forward is a "high priority."

The few concerns expressed about the current plan are oriented around the locations of landings. Residents at a recent community meeting in Long Island City were divided over where the neighborhood's stop should be: at Center Boulevard, close to waterfront high-rises, or at 44th Drive, less pedestrian-friendly but also less disruptive for a nearby boathouse.

Council Member Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn said EDC should try to offer solutions to siting concerns as it implements the project. Menchaca represents the busy waterway neighborhood of Red Hook.

Ydanis Rodriguez, Council member for Washington Heights and Inwood and chair of the City Council transportation committee, said that he is looking forward to hearing more details about the plan from EDC—as well as promoting his own proposal for a ferry route along the west side of Manhattan.

"I believe ferries play an important role when it comes to identifying different modes of transportation," Rodriguez said in an interview with the Gotham Gazette. "I hope that in the near future, all the areas not included in the present plan will be included." Rodriguez will co-chair Monday's Council oversight hearing, dubbed "Evaluating the Plan for a Citywide Ferry System" on the Council website.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo is also aboard the ferry plan, even though the first two phases of the plan will not reach his island and a sixth route has only been proposed for Stapleton, near the Staten Island Ferry's St. George terminal. Oddo said he's working to see if some sort of public or private service can one day reach other parts of the island.

"To me, it [ferries] doesn't take a great deal of capital investment in our borough," he said. "It's the quickest avenue Staten Islanders have to getting some help to their commutes."

Traffic engineer and former traffic commissioner "Gridlock" Sam Schwartz said that some of the issues he wants discussed at the Council include more details on expected ferry ridership, operating costs and fares, and integration with other forms of transit.

"I think it would be a mistake not to have as robust a ferry system as well as improving transit, bus, and rail," Schwartz told Gotham Gazette.

Cost and Control
Gelinas, of the Manhattan Institute, says an important question Council members should ask is how heavily the city should subsidize the ferry routes—especially if Mayor de Blasio sticks to his promise that each ride will cost the same as a MetroCard swipe.

"It really has to come down to a cost-benefit analysis of how many New Yorkers will benefit at what cost," Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said. "Ferries are a great option, but it's an option that should only be considered after rail and bus options have become untenable." White's group advocates for expanding bike lanes and mass transit projects like Select Bus Service, or express bus lines.

A 2011 EDC study showed a subsidy-per-trip of $5.95 for the fare-free Staten Island Ferry and $21.22 for a pilot Rockaway ferry service launched in 2008.

"Some subsidy is reasonable," Gelinas said. "It will also depend on how much development we get [along the waterfront]...The more people you have, the lower the subsidy."

Manhattan Council Member Dan Garodnick, who will also co-chair Monday's meeting, said that officials from EDC will have to answer questions about the status of the project, costs, community input, and integration with the rest of the city's transit system. He said he wants riders to be able to use MetroCards for boat fares—something EDC has ruled out, saying the 23-year-old card will be soon phased out.

"Many of us are extremely enthusiastic about growing our ferry system," Garodnick said. "At the same time, we want to understand its cost and long-term viability."

Other Council members were more optimistic about ferry finances.

"This is another piece to the puzzle," Kallos said. "Despite initially low projected ridership, when you are speaking about the infrastructure we're building, and the cost of it...This is providing a lot more service to four or five boroughs, and it's improving people's commutes."

EDC representatives are expected to testify Monday and say that the plans for the ferry system are on track. The agency is currently reviewing responses to a request for proposals for a ferry operator and plans to integrate the East River Ferry operator into the new larger ferry system. Officials point to the successes of the East River Ferry as they imagine expansion of ferry service.

Rodriguez said that ferries are also particularly effective when natural disasters hit—a route between Manhattan and the Rockaways was established within days after Hurricane Sandy knocked out subway service to the neighborhood in 2012. He and Kallos also pointed that the ferry system would be completely under the city's control—unlike the MTA, which is state-run.

"Investing in our waterfronts and our ferry system is a way for our city to have strong accountability and control over our infrastructure," Kallos said.

Gelinas and White said that there are ways for the city to invest in transit without relying on the state. The 7 train's new 34th Street-Hudson Yards station, for example, was funded primarily by city tax bonds.

proposed ferry network

Waves Ahead?
Schwartz said political opposition to ferries may emerge as waterfront dwellers start to complain about the noise and pollution boats generate. Residents of Battery Park City have long complained about ferry horns in the early morning hours—required by Coast Guard regulations.

Noise was one of several concerns expressed by Long Island City residents at a recent community meeting on the ferry plan. But even there, most speakers said they want even more ferries to more destinations, not fewer.

With the current plan, "you're only serving part of the community," resident Rebecca Olinger said. "I think it's foolish to put something in that serves such a small part of the neighborhood."

by Christian Zhang, Gotham Gazette

Rumored Scheme Brings Scrutiny to Bronx Political Machine

diaz jr heastie crespo

Diaz Jr., Heastie, Crespo (l-r) (photo: @rubendiazjr)

By all reasonable indicators, Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson should cruise to reelection this November despite his low conviction rate, notoriously slow pace in filing charges, and apparent lack of serious fundraising. But many are watching closely to see if Johnson drops off the ballot this month and makes himself eligible to be appointed to a judgeship--thereby allowing the Bronx County Democrats to name his replacement.

As rumors and suspicions swirl, the notion of Johnson and other longtime Bronx party leaders manipulating the electoral system to their advantage comes as little surprise to those who've seen the Bronx machine at work. But, with powerful Bronx elected officials newly more prominent, the risks of such machinations are greater than in the past.

District Attorney Johnson has been in a unique situation for decades. Thanks to the support of the Bronx County Democratic Party, he has faced few serious political challenges since taking office in 1989 and is running this year on the Democratic, Conservative, and Republican ballot lines.

Bronx insiders are convinced that Bronx County Democratic Chair Marcos Crespo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (Crespo's predecessor as county chair) have decided to appoint Johnson to a judgeship and then replace him on the ticket with one of their allies, thereby subverting the democratic process.

The technique that could be used to replace Johnson isn't unique; it has been used time and time again across the city to, basically, gift seats to party-friendly candidates. The Bronx has long been a haven for the workings of the County Democratic machine, but with Heastie's ascent to one of the post powerful positions in the state and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.'s rising profile, it appears it will be much more difficult to pull off such maneuvers without paying a price.

Actions in the Bronx are now linked to the larger political aspirations of these rising stars and they've earned the attention of good government groups and media outside the borough.

What is particularly concerning to reformers inside and outside of government is that Crespo, Heastie, and Diaz would essentially be appointing the person who is, in part, supposed to police their actions. Johnson's record on corruption busting is suspicious to many. He has pursued cases against former Assemblymember Nelson Castro and former Senator Pedro Espada, but at the time both men were out of the county party's good graces. In fact, they were known for causing Bronx Democrats nasty headaches.

With Heastie, who this year replaced the indicted Sheldon Silver as speaker, pledging transparency and reform in the Assembly, some observers wonder if he isn't trying to avoid future embarrassment by being directly responsible for appointing the new district attorney.

"The bottom line is that it is always nice to have your derriere covered by a prosecutor that owes you their job," said Douglas Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College.

Johnson's office has refused to comment for this story. Heastie has told other reporters that he gave up decision-making abilities as the chair of the Bronx County Democrats when he became Assembly speaker. And Assemblymember Crespo has avoided responding to queries from numerous outlets, including Gotham Gazette.

It stands to reason that Bronx Borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., who would also have a say in the matter given his relationship with Heastie and his quest to run, eventually, for mayor. Diaz Jr.'s office also ignored requests for comment.

The scenario has been further complicated by Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, who has made it no secret that he is interested the district attorney position. Sepulveda is said to have informed Johnson he would be challenging him down the road, even while helping him collect petitions for his reelection this summer.

Bob Kappstatter, a prolific Bronx journalist who currently works as a political consultant and counts Sepulveda as a client, took to Facebook to decry the behind-the-scenes machinations that may be afoot.

"We can count on one hand how many Bronx politicians Rob Johnson has gone after, with most of those being County's enemies. Meanwhile the feds have vacuumed the borough ALMOST clean," Kappstatter wrote on Facebook. "Carl [Heastie], whom we hear didn't expect all this heat from the media and good government groups, has dumped the deal in the lap of new County Leader Marcos Crespo, an honest, decent guy who will have to take the heat if it goes through. Marcos is already looking like Heastie's puppet, diminishing his power among the city's four other Dem county leaders while Carl still pulls County's strings."

Sepulveda's interest in the DA position has angered the Bronx County Democrats. Earlier this month the Daily News ran a story detailing how Sepulveda's estranged wife sought an order of protection from him earlier this summer. Both Luis and his wife told the Daily News that she withdrew the request. Insiders see it as retaliation from County for his interest in Johnson's job.

Exposing any deal among Johnson and other officials could benefit Sepulveda, because outside pressure might lead to Johnson stepping down after the election rather than before.

The process Bronx County Democrats could use to replace Johnson is particularly effective because Democratic enrollment in the borough greatly eclipses that of all other parties.

Democratic voters decide the election during the September primary, with the November election essentially being a formality - not that Johnson was challenged in the primary. If Johnson steps down before Election Day, his county-picked replacement would move into office with all the benefits of incumbency and the backing of the establishment. Any future primary challenger would face a well-known, well-financed incumbent who hadn't actually been elected by a significant number of voters.

"This is a fairly common practice in New York politics," said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz. "It is anti-competitive and it allows the newly appointed incumbent to use that incumbency to defeat their next challenger."

"As a general principle of government, it stinks," said Gene Russianoff of The New York Public Interest Research Group. "The primary election process might not be perfect but at least it offers hope. Forgoing it is a thumb in the eye to voters."

Johnson would have to submit a letter to the Board of Elections asking to be removed from the ballot by Monday, September 21.

If Johnson resigns after he is elected in November, Gov. Andrew Cuomo could name an interim district attorney and would eventually set a date for a special election. This would likely allow Sepulveda and other hopefuls a chance to actually vie for the seat.

Professor Benjamin said that voters should be especially concerned about the machinations involved in Johnson's possible replacement and appointment to a judgeship given what The New York Times described as "an unusual string of legal lapses" that allowed Heastie to keep a home his mother purchased with embezzled funds.

Heastie agreed to sell the house as part of a deal that allowed Heastie's mother to avoid jail time. His mother died three weeks after being sentenced and Heastie stopped trying to sell the home. He sold it six years later at a profit of $200,000.

"Carelessness of those involved in the case could be to blame, or something more questionable could have occurred, given the Bronx Democratic Party's influence on the court system and its long history of back-room deal-making," wrote the Times.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 14

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

  • Where will the heated discussion over MTA funding go?
  • What's next in the James Blake-NYPD saga?
  • Is there any sense that Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo may figure out a truce and work together instead of being antagonists?
  • What bills will be introduced and passed at the City Council's first (of two) full-body Stated Meeting of the month, set for Thursday?

These are a few of the questions we're asking as a new week in New York politics dawns. Sunday saw plenty of politial action as Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials held a ribbon cutting for the new 7-train extension to the far west side of Manhattan.

The event saw de Blasio and others praise former Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the project's vision (and funding), though Bloomberg was not in attendance. It also was the latest theater for the ongoing conflict over the MTA capital plan and whether the state can secure more funding from the city. De Blasio insists that the city is paying its fair share, while the MTA and Governor Cuomo continue to say the city must put billions more into the plan. The 7-extension opening comes just a couple of days after a G-train derailment, which brough the system's need for repair into stark relief yet again. What's next?

On Saturday, de Blasio, Cuomo, and most other major New York political figures marched in the Central Labor Council's 2015 New York City Labor Day Parade. Cuomo and de Blasio did not appear together, though they did speak in person on Friday at a September 11th commemoration.

On Monday, at 12:30 p.m., de Blasio will take part in a multi-agency preparedness excercise for the papal visit. One Police Plaza will host a 3 p.m. press conference on the papal visit featuring de Blasio, Bratton and members of the Secret Service and FBI.

Cuomo has no events announced as of yet. 

As tense as this week may or may not be, there will be some levity in city politics Thursday night at the annual de Blasio administration-City Council softball game.

In terms of hearings and events, it's a slow start to the week, but then things get quite busy - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday will likely be a fairly quiet day in New York City as Rosh Hashanah is observed.

City Council member Participatory Budgeting meeting to be held on Monday:
7 p.m., Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)

[Read our recent report on one Council member, Brad Lander, who has launched a project tracker so that constituents can better see how money is getting spent and whether projects are progressing - and it is an interactive mapping project that Lander hopes will be a model for the city]

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Joseph S. Murphy Institute/CUNY will hold "Unions, Workers and the Democratic Party," a panel exploring how to most effectively influence political candidates with financial contributions from labor organizations. Participants will include Basil Smikle, Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party; Juan Gonzalez, columnist for Daily News and co-host of Democracy Now!; Larry Cohen, former President of Communications Workers of America; and Randy Weingarten of President of the American Federation of Teachers.

At Civic Hall Tuesday night, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will make remarks at an event, hosted by NY Tech Meetup, entitled "Tech and Government Featuring NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman"...The Attorney General's remarks will be followed by a panel of representatives from his office, moderated by Andrew Rasiej, Chairman of NY Tech Meetup. The panel will include: Lacey Keller, Director of Research and Analytics; Eric Stock, Chief of the Antitrust Bureau; Kathleen McGee, Chief of the Internet Bureau; and Tim Wu, Senior Enforcement Counsel and Special Advisor."

The Board of Regents will meet Wednesday to discuss a number of issues, including the recently reported 20% state standardized test opt-out movement and teacher evaluations.

At 10:30 a.m. at The Sagamore Resort on "scenic Lake George" the Business Council of New York State will commence its 2015 Annual Meeting. The conference will run through Friday and include "engaging speakers" and "incomparable access to business leaders and politicians." Notable speakers include Emmy Award winning journalist Campbell Brown (keynote); former Governor David Paterson; Bob Duffy, the President and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance; former Assemblymember Michael Benjamin; and policy experts from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Cuomo administration, and the state Legislature. The governor has been invited to speak, but had not confirmed as of last week.

At the New York City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to discuss four bills. The first two mandate a stricter filing system for the Department of Buildings when dealing with restrictive covenants and applications for the construction of new buildings or the alteration of existing ones. The latter two bills alter the rate of interest applied "by the Department of Finance to unpaid charges owed by landlords to the City for emergency repair work conducted by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development" and the filing fees for new buildings or alterations.
  • 10 a.m., The Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet to discuss legislation dealing with waste disposal policy. More specifically, the proposed bills would increase fines for littering and depositing residential or commercial waste into public receptacles, require "food and beverage establishments" to clean up any liquid waste their trash left on the sidewalk, and order special trashcans for rodent infested buildings.
  • 11 a.m., The Committee on Environmental Protection will continue discussion from last week concerning a bill that would prohibit stores from propping their door(s) open when the air conditioning is on.
  • 1 p.m., the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations will meet to pass a resolution praising Pope Francis and "his lifelong pursuit of peace among all peoples" during his upcoming visit to NYC (which is set for the end of next week).
  • 2 p.m., the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services will assemble to make decisions on bills directing the Department of Correction to provide a list of all inmates waitlisted for placement or transfer to alternative housing, to expand its report on "enhanced supervision housing," to publish "their rules and regulations regarding the use of force by staff on inmates," to post quarterly reports detailing the visitation of incarcerated individuals, the department's grievance system, and the demographic of incarcerated individuals in city jails, and to create "an inmate bill of rights." Proposed legislation also requires "the office of criminal justice to post an annual report on bail and the criminal justice system."

City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings to be held on Wednesday:

  • 2:30 p.m. Laurie Cumbo (District 35, Brooklyn)
  • 6:30 p.m. Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)
  • 7 p.m. Andrew Cohen (District 11, Bronx)
  • 7 p.m. Costa Constantinides (District 22, Queens)

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, "Hear from the NYPD executives, ask questions and get involved" at a Staten Island Community Forum on public safety. The event will be held at Ralph R. McKee Career & Technical Education High School.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society kicks off its fall public programming with the event "Why New York? Our Segregated Schools Epidemic." WNYC education reporter Beth Fertig will moderate a discussion about school segregatin and integration in New York. Participants will include Norm Fruchter, writer, scholar and Principal Associate of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform; Nikole Hannah-Jones, investigative reporter with The New York Times Magazine; Clara Hemphill, founder of; and Craig Gurian, Executive Director of the Anti-Discrimination Center.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, New York State Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie "will present his priorities for New York State and reflect on his first session as speaker" at a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold a "public hearing on Manhattan traffic congestion" to gain a full perspective on "all sources of traffic increases."

At The City Council on Thursday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to consider a land use application for the Tremont Renaissance in the Bronx, and a resolution regarding the allocation of funding from the Expense Budget to "certain organizations."
  • 10:30 a.m. the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will submits the names of three people to the City Council: Shampa Chanda, a resident of Queens, for appointment as a member of the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals, Helen Arteaga as a Council candidate for designation and subsequent appointment by the Mayor to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Board of Directors, and Arva R. Rice, candidate for re-appointment by the Council to the New York City Equal Employment Practices Commission.
  • 1:30 p.m., the City Council will have a full-body Stated Meeting, its first of two this month (the other is scheduled for 9/30). As always, this will be pre-faced by a pre-stated press conference led by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at City Hall.

City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings to be held on Thursday:

  • (time TBD) Donovan Richards (District 31, Queens)
  • 4 p.m., Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan)
  • 6 p.m., Jimmy van Bramer (District 26, Queens)
  • 6:30 p.m., Steven Levine (District 33, Brooklyn)
  • 6:30 p.m., Carlos Menchaca (District 39, Brooklyn)
  • 7 p.m., Costa Constantinides (District 22, Queens)

At noon Thursday, Crain's New York Business is hosting its "50 Most Powerful Women in New York Celebratory Luncheon." The event will feature a panel discussion with Candace Beinecke, chair of Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP; Katherine Farley, Senior Managing Director of Brazil and China and Global Corporate Marketing for Tishman Speyer; Alicia Glen, the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development for City of New York; and Liz Rodbell, the president of Hudson's Bay Company. Several elected and appointed officials including Glen, who is number one, are on the Crain's list.

At 5:30 p.m. the Museum of the City of New York will host a symposium, "Affordable Housing: What about the Future?" Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York, and Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, will give opening remarks. Barney Frank, former Massachusetts Congressman, will follow with the keynote address. The last segment of the event will feature a discussion panel featuring John Banks, President, The Real Estate Board of New York , Rafael E. Cestero, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Community Preservation Corporation, Ron Moelis, CEO and Chairman of L+M Development Partners Inc. , Richard Roberts, Managing Director of Acquisitions of Red Stone Equity Partners LLC, Ismene Speliotis, Executive Director of Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY) and Saky Yakas, Partner at SLCE Architects. Sam Roberts, New York Times Urban Affairs Correspondent, will be the moderator.

The Contracts Committee of the Panel for Educational Policy will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Tweed Courthouse.

At 6 p.m. the CUNY School of Law Democrats will welcome New York City Public Advocate Letitia James as part of their "Ignite Justice! Speaker Series awards event." James will give a talk about her role in city government and how she uses the law as a vehicle for social justice and change. Take a look at our recent coverage of PA James and her approach to her position: Suing the Hand That Feeds You.

At 6:30 p.m. the Brooklyn Historical Society will host "How Brooklyn Works: Trash Pick-Up" with "Famed TED Talk presenter, author of Picking Up, and the New York City Department of Sanitation's anthropologist-in-residence, Robin Nagle." Nagle will present a brief overview of the history and structure of the DSNY and lead a discussion with a panel of DSNY sanitation workers.

At 7 p.m. former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, the longest serving police commissioner in New York City history, will hold a book signing on Staten Island. In his new memoir Vigilance: My Life Serving America Protecting its Empire City Former NYPD Commissioner Kelly gives an account of his nearly 50 years in law enforcement.

In the evening the City Council will square off with and the de Blasio administration a softball game at Richmond County Bank Ballpark. De Blasio and his crew will be looking for revenge after a 17-13 loss last year.

Friday and the weekend
On Friday at noon, the Manhattan Institute will host former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly for a book luncheon highlighting "Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting its Empire City."

At the City Council on Friday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Women's Issues will meet with the Committee on Courts and Legal Services to hold an oversight hearing on the effectiveness of human trafficking intervention courts.
  • 12:30 the Committee on Waterfronts will meet for a tour of the Saw Mill Creek Mitigation Banks.
  • 1 p.m the Committee on Community Advancement will meet (agenda TBA)
  • 1 p.m. the Committee on Veterans will meet to consider a bill creating a taskforce to study veterans in the Criminal Justice System

Weekend City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings:

  • Friday at 6 p.m. by Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan)
  • Saturday at 10 a.m. by Robert Cornegy (District 36, Brooklyn)
  • Saturday at 6:30 p.m. by Ben Kallos (District 5, Manhattan)

On Sunday at 1 p.m. outside Gov. Cuomo's Manhattan office, Riders Alliance says: "We're heading to Governor Cuomo's NYC office to tell him to fix the subways--and we want you to join us! As you know, we've been calling for Gov. Cuomo to fix our trains and buses by funding the MTA Capital Plan. Our message is definitely getting across: after your "Subway Horror Stories," our #RideCuomoRide petition, and the Cardboard Cuomo subway tour, the Governor finally responded by pledging $7.3 billion toward the capital plan's budget gap."

[Read the latest in-depth reporting from Gotham Gazette]

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max

Did Bill De Blasio's Tirade Help Andrew Cuomo Get His Groove Back?

Cuomo labor day parade

Gov. Cuomo at the Labor Day parade (photo: The Governor's Office via flickr)

On Thursday Governor Andrew Cuomo, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, held a rally to announce a campaign to make New York the first state in the nation with a $15-per-hour minimum wage.

"So Mr. Vice President, today I announce that I will propose to the New York state legislature not just $15 for fast-food workers, because a fast-food worker deserves $15 an hour, construction workers deserve $15 an hour, and home healthcare aides deserve $15 an hour, and taxi-cab drivers deserve $15 an hour, and every working man and woman in the State of New York deserves $15 an hour as a minimum wage - and we are not going to stop until we get it done!" Cuomo said, his voice rising.

It was a triumphant moment for the governor, and for unions and progressive groups who have worked for the last year to get Cuomo on board with a $15 hourly minimum wage. It is being called a major about-face by many watchers, including some who note that Cuomo now supports a policy his rival, Mayor Bill de Blasio, has been pushing for quite some time and that Cuomo had previously dismissed.

The move, along with other recent Cuomo plays, is in striking contrast to the Cuomo of last spring, who some confidants and legislators describe as aimless, distracted, and maybe a little bit bored.

Now, though, any such perception has dissipated, perhaps in large part thanks to de Blasio's exasperated June tirade against the governor, which came at the end of this year's legislative session. Harsh, damning words from the mayor may have been the challenge Cuomo needed in order to reinvigorate.

De Blasio pulled no punches, boldly saying Cuomo had made promises he didn't intend to keep, is vindictive, and backed policies that were harmful to New York City. "And what I believe here is the governor worked with the Senate in some cases to inhibit the work of the Assembly, to inhibit the agenda that New York City put forward," de Blasio told NY1 anchor Errol Louis in a June interview, before sitting down with City Hall reporters to reiterate his message.

Cuomo had used de Blasio as a punching bag for months before de Blasio's explosion, even apparently giving publications blind quotes attacking the mayor. But with the feud spilling out into the open, observers say Cuomo was freed in a way, even given a gift--a political opponent to war with in the open.

The mayor's declaration of war was something pundits and sources close to the Cuomo administration say the governor desperately needed. "The governor is at his best when he has someone to duel in the political arena," one Albany insider told Gotham Gazette. "It is also when he is apt to make mistakes, but he comes alive when he is going for the kill."

For some Democrats, de Blasio's tirade was a breath of fresh air - someone, they said, had finally called out the bully. Others, including members of the Cuomo administration saw it much differently. They heard it as the younger brother finally crying "Uncle!" because he had no other means of retaliation.

Sources within the Cuomo administration say they saw de Blasio's "tantrum" as an admission that he had failed at moving his agenda and was giving up any hope of future success in Albany. That appears to have left an opening for Cuomo to reassert himself on progressive issues - like minimum wage - that de Blasio has staked out.

Not very long ago, Cuomo was advocating a plan that would eventually raise the minimum wage to $11.50 in New York City and $10.50 elsewhere in the state. He appeared to scoff at the Assembly's proposal that would have raised the minimum wage across the state to $15 by the end of 2018. "God bless them — shoot for the stars," Cuomo said, dismissively, in March at a stop in Rochester. The governor has repeatedly cited the Republican-controlled state Senate as a place where such progressive proposals go to die.

If Cuomo had made a major announcement on a $15 minimum wage a year ago, it would have appeared as though he had been dragged to the position kicking and screaming by The Working Families Party and de Blasio, who brokered a deal between the two to prevent a WFP-backed primary challenge to Cuomo in the 2014 gubernatorial race.

At the time, Cuomo appeared to agree to back the mayor's proposal to allow the city to raise its minimum wage up to 30 percent higher than the state's (as well as other WFP-backed policies and a Democratic takeover of the state Senate). But this year Cuomo presented his own plan, which did not include giving the city a say over its wage, and was still short of what activists on the left were calling for.

But now, Cuomo has swooped in to champion the $15 wage, albeit on an extended phase-in timeline that would implement $15 per hour in New York City at the end of 2018 and state-wide in the middle of 2021.

Cuomo is notorious for refusing to move on proposals that he won't receive absolute credit for enacting into law. With de Blasio all but slain in Albany after a rough 2015 legislative session, Cuomo was freed to move on minimum wage and other progressive initiatives, knowing he could charge in and pick up the baton that he had knocked out of de Blasio's hands.

Meanwhile, Cuomo enjoys the benefits of being de Blasio's enemy, which boosts his standing with conservatives and moderates (and even some liberals) across the state. Cuomo's favorability ratings dropped to all-time lows this summer, but de Blasio's poll numbers are even lower.

"I'm not buying de Blasio gave him an overarching focus, because clearly the governor used the mayor for a punching bag from the very beginning of the administration, whether it be on the millionaire's tax or charter schools," said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College. "It certainly did exacerbate the relationship and gave Cuomo the opportunity to strike out at a perceived tormentor."

Cuomo and de Blasio have appeared to go out of their way to avoid each other at public events, though they did speak in person at a September 11th commemoration on Friday. Cuomo has either not invited the mayor to several, like his recent solidarity mission to Puerto Rico, or de Blasio has not appeared interested in attending, like for the governor's announcement of a new LaGuardia Airport.

Cuomo has appeared to jab at de Blasio when reporters ask why the two are not meeting at events, which have included several parades. He's also made efforts to strengthen relationships with sometime de Blasio antagonists like Comptroller Scott Stringer and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and de Blasio ally City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Last Thursday, Cuomo was honored as "Man of the Year" by the city's largest police union, which is headed by de Blasio nemesis Patrick Lynch. "You deserve to be paid for the job you do," Cuomo told the officers, hinting at their dispute with the city over pay raises. Someone in the back of the room shouted back: "Tell de Blasio!"

Cuomo's feud with de Blasio appears to be helping insulate him from backlash he has faced from police unions for signing an executive order giving the Attorney General the ability to act as special prosecutor in cases where police kill unarmed civilians.

"De Blasio has served as a foil for the governor with some groups," said Muzzio. "This conflict certainly enhances his influence with certain interests, especially with the Republican-controlled Senate."

Cuomo's moves on progressive issues may risk some of his goodwill with Republicans, but nevertheless, the governor has shown a renewed sense of urgency. It is energy that Cuomo has also been putting into efforts not easily labeled as progressive, such as Upstate economic development.

Pundits say they feel the Cuomo of the past few months is a stark contrast to the Cuomo of this legislative session, who shied away from public and media appearances for weeks at a time.

It's fairly easy to see why Cuomo may have been off his game.

His reelection bid was complicated by rebellious progressives and unions who felt Cuomo had delivered more on conservative causes than on Democratic ones. The governor was also reeling from the backlash he faced from shuttering the Moreland Commission. His campaign strategy to ignore his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, might have been more effective if Fordham professor Zephyr Teachout hadn't joined the Democratic primary. Her campaign quickly made Cuomo appear detached from voters, and at times exposed his tendencies as a bully.

Cuomo moved from a closer-than-expected election to face the death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and the federal indictments of then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. He appeared ready to end the legislative session early after securing a number of education reforms that were fought tooth-and-nail by teachers unions (and opposed by de Blasio). But the pressure mounted on the governor to deliver deals on rent regulations, mayoral control of New York City schools, and other big-ticket items, all while the legislature remained in turmoil thanks to their leadership crises.

Virtually all of the deals reached were less than desired as far as de Blasio was concerned, with the one-year extension of mayoral control of schools an especially bitter pill - and perhaps the final nudge over the edge.

With session over and his legislative opponents out of town, Cuomo leaped into action, issuing an executive order to create a special prosecutor for police killings. This not only ingratiated Cuomo to many on his left, but also brought one of his main rivals - and a natural de Blasio ally - AG Eric Schneiderman, closer to Cuomo's hip.

A flurry of executive activity was capped off by the finding of his fast food wage board that workers in the industry should be paid a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Cuomo was lauded by union leaders and progressive elected officials; his achievements made for evidence in the effort to disprove de Blasio's accusations that the governor was hamstringing the progressive agenda.

And, they allowed the governor to demonstrate one of his favorite points: that he gets things done regardless of political ideology.

On Thursday, de Blasio's office quickly shot out a statement praising Cuomo's decision to advocate a $15 minimum wage but laced with language highlighting that Cuomo is late to the party the mayor's been leading.

"Nothing would do more to lift New Yorkers out of poverty and move our economy forward than raising the wage...We welcome the Governor's support for a $15 minimum wage – and New York City stands ready to help make it a reality," de Blasio's statement reads. "We have been doing all we can here in the city: affordable housing, Pre-K for All, increasing and expanding the living wage, and much more. But combating income inequality requires bold action on all levels of government. I urge Albany to act quickly."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

The Week That Was in New York Politics, September 7-11

week in review bus readers

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

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday September 11

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton surveys Times Square, via @CommissBratton; Mayor de Blasio & First Lady McCray greet a family on the first day of school, via @NYCMayorsOffice; and a 9/11 rememberance, via Ben Max

bratton times sq

BdB greets prek

Engine 7 911


1. Primary Election Results: It was a rare Thursday election day and a year with lower-profile races on the ballot and thus even lower voter turnout, but there were still ballots being cast. In one of the higher-profile races, Barry Grodenchik emerged from a crowded Democratic primary in a Queens City Council race to fill a seat vacated by Mark Weprin, who left to work for Gov. Cuomo (Grodenchik is heavily favored to also win the November general). Read about other results around the state here, via Politico NY. And, read our look at the many voting opportunities for New Yorkers in 2015 and 2016.

2. De Blasio Celebrates Expanded Pre-K: Mayor Bill de Blasio went on a five-borough school tour Wednesday to celebrate the first day of the 2015-2016 academic year and the initial success of his universal pre-kindergarten program, now enrolling more than 65,500 children. If there is one thing that de Blasio promised on the 2013 campaign trail, it was "UPK," as it is often called, and in a short time he has devoted unseen resources to increase the number of New York City four-year-olds in school - up from about 20,000 full-day pre-K students in 2013-2014. De Blasio also defended his larger education agenda Wednesday and previewed the argument he'll make for another extension of mayoral control of city schools.

3. Cuomo Pushes $15/hr Minimum Wage: On Thursday, Governor Cuomo called for an across-the-board increase in the minimum wage to an eventual $15 per hour for all workers in New York State. He'll seek passage of a phased-in increase during the next legislative session in Albany, but is sure to face fierce Republican opposition.

4. Cuomo Announces New York Aid for Puerto Rico: On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo concluded a brief "solidarity mission" to Puerto Rico with a promise to offer advice, technical assistance, and other aid to the island territory facing some $72 billion in debt. In part, though, Cuomo is calling on the federal government to help Puerto Rico through a restructuring of its debt and systems.


  • 50 first days of school as an educator for city schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña as of this week's opening day.
  • 45% of excessive force allegations made against police were substantiated with video evidence in the first six months of 2015 – as opposed to 34% in 2014, according to the CCRB’s semiannual report.
  • About 500 units of affordable housing to be built on public land at NYCHA developments in Wyckoff Gardens in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and Holmes Towers on the Upper East Side, officials said Wednesday.


  • 14 years ago, on September 11th, 2001, terrorists attacked New York City and other U.S. locations
  • 2 years ago around this time, on September 10, 2013, then-mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio took the lead in the primary, just attaining more than 40% of the vote to claim the nomination
  • 44 years ago around this time, on September 9, 1971, prisoners seized control of the maximum-security Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, N.Y., beginning a four-day siege that claimed 43 lives.


Pre-K Pillar in Place, De Blasio Must Build Rest of His Case for Mayoral Control, by Ben Max

In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Publishes Own Newspaper, by David Howard King

McCray Set to Unveil ‘Mental Health Roadmap,' Signature De Blasio Plan, by Kaela Sanborn-Hum

Proposed Rikers Visitation Rules Stir Debate, by Meg O’Connor


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!

by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

Pre-K Pillar in Place, De Blasio Must Build Rest of His Case for Mayoral Control

bdb parent first day of school

De Blasio greets a parent on the first day of school (photo: @BilldeBlasio)

It was his number one campaign policy proposal and as mayor, he's delivering. Mayor Bill de Blasio went on a five-borough school tour Wednesday to celebrate the first day of the 2015-2016 academic year and the initial success of his universal pre-kindergarten program, now enrolling more than 65,500 children.

If there is one thing that de Blasio promised on the 2013 campaign trail, it was "UPK," as it is often called, and in a short time he has devoted unseen resources to increase the number of New York City four-year-olds in school - up from about 20,000 full-day pre-K students in 2013-2014. The only thing that may come ahead of pre-K at City Hall is crime, and that's not such a sure assertion.

How much the mayor's success on pre-K benefits city students, families, and de Blasio himself, is yet to be seen.

UPK is one initiative that has won the oft-embattled mayor universal praise, even, at times, from some of his harshest critics. In fact, de Blasio indicated on Wednesday that UPK will be a key pillar in his argument for another extension of mayoral control of city schools when he must go defend his stewardship to Albany skeptics such as Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan.

While de Blasio and members of his administration still need to prove pre-K is effective in helping children increase their learning and set on a path toward greater academic and professional success, the program is having immediate effects in terms of parents' savings on child care and opportunity to work or work more hours. To be sure, pre-K certainly cannot hurt young students from poor families in terms of their word acquisition and social-emotional development.

Still, as far as UPK goes, there will be little other than the impressive rollout for de Blasio to discuss when he sits in front of the state Legislature to discuss mayoral control whenever Flanagan next beckons.

There was much controversy when, this spring, the state extended de Blasio's rule of city schools for just one year (as opposed to a longer extension or letting mayoral control expire and returning the city's education governance to a decentralized Board of Education). This included some he-said/he-said over whether Flanagan, who used to be chair of the Senate education committee, had requested de Blasio appear at a hearing and whether de Blasio had been willing to testify.

On Wednesday, de Blasio promised more on his education initiatives later this month, and touted several aspects of his work on the subject in addition to pre-K, such as his community schools initiative. The mayor was asked about extension of his control of the schools and responded defiantly to any notion that it might be stripped from him.

Whether it was the effects of a humid day spent traversing the city, reading out loud to students, thanking teachers, and snapping selfies with grateful parents or the frustrating reality of the power dynamics at play, de Blasio sounded somewhat fatigued when asked about mayoral control during an afternoon press conference.

"I think the facts really will speak for themselves," the mayor said at his last school stop, in Manhattan. "I think the success of pre-K last year, now amplified on a much greater level. I think the success we're seeing on test scores, the progress we're seeing on renewal schools, the impact of greater professional development, which I know is going to help us retain good teachers," de Blasio said, previewing the argument he will make to Flanagan, Cuomo, and others.

The mayor continued, hitting on something that may help win over Cuomo: "We've obviously been assertive about helping teachers who shouldn't be in the profession to move along," de blasio said. "So I think that all those facts are going to add up. And I think, again, the people are going to demand that it be continued on a longer scale because it's part of what allows us to keep our school system improving."

Whether those points, even explained in more detail, will make for a convincing case in front of Senate Republicans and a governor whose education politics are far from de Blasio's is unclear.

The test scores de Blasio refers to (for 3-8 grade students on Common Core-aligned state tests) did indeed show slight progress, but also a great deal of room for improvement to see New York students meeting the standards as measured by the tests. While only about 30% of students are proficient in reading and 35% proficient in math, the city's test scores do compare well with the rest of the state, especially the other largest cities.

The "renewal schools" that de Blasio referenced are those in which the city has had to implement turnaround plans and are at risk of state takeover. Those 94 "persistently struggling" schools - along with de Blasio's opposition to charter schools, which are often juxtaposed with the city's most maligned schools - could be at the center of the discussion in Albany.

"Renewal schools are a huge focus for us," de Blasio said on Wednesday, "and we're very, very excited about the progress that's already happening in renewal schools...let's be blunt, a lot of those schools were left without the support and resources they needed. A lot of those schools happened to be in disadvantaged communities. We're changing that. We're giving them the support so they succeed."

In a press release, the de Blasio administration wrote that the 94 renewal schools are included in the 130-school community school initiative, which means that they have "wraparound services like counseling, free eyeglasses, and additional tutoring to eliminate barriers to learning for at-risk students." The renewals "all have extra academic support for struggling students, including an extra hour of time in class each day."

De Blasio won't have impressive renewal school test scores to bring to Albany, so he'll have to sell his turnaround model using those services, attendance records, and other metrics. There may be no getting past his opposition to charter school growth, which continues to provide ammunition to Cuomo, who is much less friendly with the teachers unions than de Blasio and is backed by donors who heavily support charters.

While de Blasio has made reforms to the city's education system since taking the helm some 20 months ago and may indeed feel good about the direction he has the schools headed, he knows that he will soon have to bring a scorecard to Albany - and then to New York City voters come 2017. De Blasio himself has said that the real accountability on mayoral control is that New Yorkers know who to hold responsible for the schools when they go to the polls.

It appears fairly certain that de Blasio has at least impressed many parents of new pre-k students.

In front of a Staten Island school the mayor promised "to talk a lot more in the coming days about the other elements that are going to allow us to transform this school system." He said that the month of September is an obvious one for a focus on education.

"But pre-k is literally the foundation, for each child, for each family, and for the change of this school system as a whole," de Blasio said, consistently bringing his narrative back to his crowning achievement.

On WPIX-11 Wednesday morning, the mayor said he'd be saying more on education next week. "We want to strengthen our schools across the system – not just pre-k. All the way up – we want to strengthen graduation rates, college readiness, and we're going to have a lot to put forward on that," de Blasio said. "But what's great about today is, this is really the foundation for the future not only for the individual children and their families, but this will make the whole school system stronger."

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Publishes Own Newspaper

klein riverdale record

The August issue of Riverdale Record, Sen. Jeff Klein's 'newspaper'


Some residents of the Bronx were surprised in August when what looked like a new newspaper arrived in their mailboxes. Upon closer inspection of Riverdale Record, some could tell they had received an elaborate piece of campaign literature from state Senator Jeff Klein dressed up as a community newspaper.

“Riverdale Record Serving the communities of Riverdale, Van Cortlandt Village & Kingsbridge” reads the masthead, next to a picture of a smiling Klein.

Underneath, in smaller white-on-red type: “The Official Publication of Senator Jeff Klein and Our Community.” The paper is also labeled as having a distribution of 36,000. At the very bottom of the fourth and last page there is a note that reads: “Paid for and approved by Klein for New York.”

The front page of the August edition features a headline about Engelbert Humperdinck and another that reads “Klein delivers during long legislative session.” Several pundits say Klein’s newspaper may be deceptive but has become part and parcel of big-money politics. However, some Bronx politicos and a host of journalists say that it is only the latest move by the extremely powerful and press-sensitive senator to bully and pressure local journalists and hamstring media outlets.

Klein’s press aides are notorious for lashing out at local journalists with threats, personal barbs, curse-laden tirades, and even boycotts. Staffers have tried to physically block journalists from speaking to Klein at public events and are accused of using their influence with the editorial boards of local papers that rely on access and political support from Klein to squash offensive stories.

A number of journalists offended by Klein’s latest move - publishing his own newspaper - say that it was borne of his displeasure with two articles from The Riverdale Press that examined the donations he received from real estate mogul Leonard Litwin and another that covered a protest by tenant advocates at Klein’s office. Litwin has been tied to the corruption cases against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Klein, who heads the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, has had a close working relationship with both Silver and Skelos, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The first issue of Klein’s paper includes Klein’s direct rebuttal to a Riverdale Press column that criticized the senator for his position on sex offender legislation. Klein has boycotted the paper on at least three occasions. He reportedly told The Riverdale Press, “Find another target!” when asked why he was ignoring its inquiries.

Shant Shahrigian, editor at The Riverdale Press and author of two of those articles, used to cover Klein in his previous role as political reporter. Shahrigian said that Klein’s office mailed him a copy of the Riverdale Record at his office. Shahrigian gave Gotham Gazette this statement:

“Politicians at every level today are doing their best to thwart independent reporting on their policies and activities. State Sen. Jeff Klein is a case in point. His staff has endeavored to control access to the senator — even at public events — and he has, from time to time, refused to communicate at all with his local newspaper, The Riverdale Press. Now he has packaged the same sort of self-promoting message that every office-holder sends to constituents in the guise of a newspaper. I am confident that readers will be able to tell the difference between that and real news.”


A veteran Bronx journalist expressed concern to Gotham Gazette that Klein’s paper could hurt the borough's already small media footprint. “It’s important that there be independent and responsible media,” said the journalist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of hurting a relationship with Bronx Democrats in general. “Putting out a faux newspaper is disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worst. If Senator Klein disagrees with an editorial, he should respond in kind. But this poisons the media climate in a media-starved borough and that’s not good for anyone, including the senator.”

Bronx journalists theorize that Klein spokesperson Candice Giove is in charge of the paper as she used to write for The New York Post. Most of the articles in Klein’s paper do not feature bylines. One of Giove’s 2011 Post articles, “Bronx Dem Deserter’s Reward: $1M Staff,” centered on Klein and featured a quote likening Klein to disgraced Sen. Pedro Espada and detailed the increased salaries of his staffers.

The article noted that Klein’s spokesman at the time, Richard Azzopardi, made more than $95,000 a year working for Klein and the IDC. (Azzopardi now works in the governor’s press office.)

Reached by phone, Giove declined to discuss Gotham Gazette inquiries about the paper and asked that questions be emailed to her. She provided a statement about the intentions of the Riverdale Record, but did not respond to questions about who writes the articles. Klein was not made available for a requested phone interview about his relationship with Bronx media.

“The Riverdale Record is geared toward keeping local residents up to date on the latest news, upcoming events and important work Senator Klein is doing to build up our borough and invest in Bronx families,” wrote Giove. “Each month, highlights include Bronx small businesses, programs and services Senator Klein sponsors and the important legislation he is fighting for in Albany on behalf of all New Yorkers. Most importantly, the Riverdale Record champions the community – all the progress we’ve made together, and the work that lies ahead – to build a stronger, brighter borough.”

Gotham Gazette spoke to a number of journalists who currently cover Klein on a local level or who did previously, and they described being repeatedly abused by his press staff, insulted by the Senator personally when they asked relevant questions, and constantly contending with the pressure Klein can bring on them and their editors as the most powerful Bronx Senator.

The journalists’ major concern about Klein’s Riverdale Record is that it could negatively impact local community journalism that is already contending with lower readership and harsh financial realities. They say Klein’s delicacy and his office’s tactics have become major impediments to providing accurate, detailed coverage to the Bronx community that is already news-starved.

"Senator Klein speaks to local reporters throughout his district,” Giove wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette, responding to questions about Klein’s relationship with local press. “Just look at the pages of the Riverdale Review, the Bronx Times, the Bronx Free Press, the Bronx News, the Norwood News, the Bronx Chronicle, the Hunts Point Express, the City Island Current, the Irish Echo, Pelham Weekly, the Pelham Patch, the Pelham Post, Pelham Plus, Pelham Rising, Westchester Rising, Mount Vernon Rising, the Mount Vernon Inquirer and DNAinfo or broadcasts on News12 The Bronx, News 12 Westchester and Fios1."

Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz, said that Klein’s paper is simply par for the course. “This is no more deceptive than some radio or TV ads we see out there. We aren’t playing softball,” Benjamin told Gotham Gazette.

Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that his group believes campaign funds should be spent during election season, not in off-years, but that Klein’s paper does not seem to be violating any particular piece of election law.

Good government advocates note that Klein is capable of putting out a monthly paper with a reported circulation of 36,000 because he is such a prolific fundraiser. Klein’s committee reported having $1,140,634 on hand in its periodic July campaign finance report, making Klein one of the largest fundraisers in the state. The senator may not have to report expenses incurred from publishing the Riverdale Record until January.

One question that could be answered by Klein’s next filings is whether he paid celebrity chef Padma Lakshmi for her column titled “Healthy Eating With Top Chef Padma Lakshmi,” or if the column was an in-kind donation. Giove only replied to a question about the column to say that Klein and Lakshmi have worked together in the past.

As Klein’s influence has grown as he has leveraged his Independent Democratic Conference’s votes to earn powerful positions and favorable legislation from Senate Republicans, Bronx reporters say he and his staff have become less likely to talk and more abusive.

One Bronx reporter who has run into significant backlash while covering Klein said, “They call him the golden goose and you don’t want to piss off the golden goose.”

The September issue of the Riverdale Record reports a circulation jump from 36,000 to 37,000.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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