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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 13


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

We have an MTA funding deal! Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have agreed to a capital budget plan for the MTA, ensuring that the money will be there for the five-year, $26 billion program for infrastructure upgrades and expansion (the capital program is different from the operating budget).

The mayor and governor had been jockeying over how a remaining shortfall in the program would be filled - in the end, both agreed to increase the contributions from their ends, with the mayor ultimately putting up more money than originally expected and winning agreement from Cuomo that city-based decisions would largely be made by city reps and that the state would not "raid" money from MTA funds.

Is this the start of a new page in the de Blasio-Cuomo relationship? Will the mayor and the governor give more detail about how they are funding the commitments each has made to the MTA plan?

TRACKING DE BLASIO: Later this week, Mayor de Blasio leaves for Israel late Thursday evening and will be there Friday to Sunday. He will keynote the Annual Conference of Mayors, speaking "on the topic of Anti-Semitism in the West: How Cities Must Lead," according to his office. "The Conference is being hosted by the American Jewish Congress, American Council for World Jewry, and World Forum of Russian-Speaking Jewry, and will bring together dozens of mayors from around the world to discuss the issues and challenges facing cities."

Before leaving on Thursday, de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and others will hold a ceremony to rename the Municipal Building for former Mayor David Dinkins.

Before that, on Wednesday, de Blasio will hold an open forum on "rent security and tenant protection," according to the mayor's office, as reported by the New York Times. It will reportedly include "about 250 tenants in Washington Heights."

De Blasio spent the weekend at a couple of different Columbus Day parades. On Tuesday, he'll "deliver remarks at the funeral for Department of Correction Assistant Deputy Warden Rodney Bowden....deliver remarks at the dedication ceremony for the Battery Park Police Memorial" and hold public hearings for several bills that have passed the City Council, signing some of them (others will be signed at a later date), see below for details. Tuesday evening, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will deliver remarks at the second annual UpStander Awards," according to his public schedule.

Before we give you an extensive day-by-day rundown, a few other highlights of the Week Ahead:

  • Governor Cuomo's "Common Core Task Force" is set to meet for the first time this week, though we don't know where or when yet, as reported last week by Politico New York. The task force is likely to meet privately and set dates for public hearings. [Read: The task force is without a student representative].
  • On Wednesday in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Education will hold a public hearing on "Chronically Struggling Schools and School Receivership" in order "to examine and study schools eligible for school receivership in order to better understand how to support these schools in their turnaround efforts to improve student performance."
  • And, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton heads back to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, for, as he explained it to the media this past week, "a day-long meeting" with "the attorney general, a number of police leaders, government leaders, on the issue of – the incarceration issue – the idea that so many people put in jail, are now coming out. What do we do with them? How do we deal with that issue?...And there might be a potential meeting with the President on Thursday as a follow up to that."

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - 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, Columbus Day - Mets v. Dodgers, Game 3

Tuesday
At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet regarding three bills related to making buildings more bicycle-friendly.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on land use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m.The Committees on Health and Parks and Recreation will meet on a bill that would require defibrillators at baseball fields dedicated to youth activity.

"Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is in Colombia and Dutchess County on Tuesday" as he continues to tour the state.

More on Mayor de Blasio's Tuesday schedule:

  • 10 a.m: Delivers remarks at the funeral for Department of Correction Assistant Deputy Warden Rodney Bowden.
  • 11 a.m: Delivers remarks at the dedication ceremony for the Battery Park Police Memorial.
  • 3:30 p.m: Holds "public hearings for and sign Intro. 903, granting the Mayor authority to extend health insurance benefits to the widow and family of Frank Musella, a sergeant in the New York City Department of Sanitation who passed away while on duty; and Intro. 730, in relation to reports on school discipline and police department activity in schools. The Mayor will also hold public hearings for Intros 917-A, 885, and 897, which would provide additional tools for City agencies to combat the manufacture and sale of the synthetic drug K-2, and will be signed at a later date."
  • 6:30 p.m: With First Lady Chirlane McCray, delivers remarks at the second annual UpStander Awards.

On Tuesday starting at 7 a.m., The New York Civil Liberties Union will kick off its annual Week of Action, this year's focus is "students' rights when facing suspensions." On multiple days this week, "NYCLU volunteers will visit selected schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx before classes start and after the school day ends to speak with students and distribute Know Your Rights When Facing a Suspension palm cards."

On Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., New York City Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco will chat with Jordan Crook, Senior Writer at TechCrunch, and Jessica Lawrence, Executive Director of the New York Tech Meetup, about her first year in the new position. The event will be held at LMHQ in Downtown Manhattan.

Also at 8:30 a.m., “NYS School Environmental Health Summit: Is Your School Clean, Green and Healthy?”, a statewide conference focusing on school environmental health, will commence at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The day-long event aspires to raise awareness and support for the newly developed NYS Clean, Green, and Healthy Schools program that’s mission is to provide every child and school employee with “the right to a safe and healthy learning and working environment that is clean and in good repair”. The event will include city and state officials.

On Tuesday at 9 a.m., "New York City Council Member Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Deputy Commissioner Edwin Torres will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by presenting a $1.4 million capital award to The Hispanic Society of America (Hispanic Society) in upper Manhattan."

On Tuesday at 11 a.m., "Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) will join concerned NYC college students, representatives from Moms Demand Action, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence for a press conference on gun violence prevention at Hunter College's Roosevelt House...Maloney will stress the need for Congress to take action, and outline where gun violence legislation stands in Congress...A community forum will take place prior to the press conference," at 10 a.m. Public Advocate Letitia James will participate in both the forum and the press conference.

At noon in Albany, “Assemblymember Sandy Galef and nuclear expert, Paul Blanch, will join New Yorkers to deliver over 30,000 petitions calling for Governor Cuomo to stop construction of a high-pressure gas pipeline next to the Indian Point nuclear facility.”

At 6 p.m. New Yorkers for Parks will host the “2015 Party for Parks Gala” at ICQ in Chelsea. The event will honor former Parks Commissioner Veronica White, former Executive Director at the Center for Economic Opportunity and current Chief of Staff at Bloomberg LP; and Shola Olatoye, recipient of the NY4P Urban Leader Award, Chair & Chief Executive Officer at the New York City Housing Authority. Tickets require a donation to the organization.

Also at 6 p.m. Tuesday, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will co-host a forum with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to educate homeowners about deed theft and scammers in the housing market."

On Tuesday evening, city Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the Mill Basin Civic Association Monthly Meeting and then at the Bergen Beach Civic Association Monthly Meeting, both in Brooklyn.

On Tuesday night in Brooklyn, Public Advocate Letitia James will attend the official Hillary Clinton campaign debate watch party. Many miles west in Las Vegas, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito will be at the debate in person at the behest of the Latino Victory Fund. Both James and Mark-Viverito have officially endorsed Clinton.

Tuesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6p.m.
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 7:45 p.m.
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Higher Education will meet for oversight of College Testing Access.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on General Welfare will meet to discuss two bills concerning the administration of HIV-AIDS treatment and services.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Oversight and Investigation, the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, and the Committee on Technology will meet for oversight on the Verizon FiOS Franchise.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Waterfronts will meet for oversight on an update concerning the development of the Governor’s Island.

On Wednesday at 8 a.m. City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the Committee on Finance, will discuss her priorities while serving as head of the committee at a breakfast event hosted by Citizens Budget Commission (CBC).

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Morgan Library and Museum, "The Center for an Urban Future and the City of New York will hold a high-profile conference...about the future of the arts in New York City. The event...will feature NYC Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, Former NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Acting Commissioner Edwin Torres, Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak, Studio Museum Director Thelma Golden and choreographer Michelle Dorrance, a 2015 MacArthur "Genius" Award recipient." City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the cultural affairs committee, is also expected to speak at the conference.

"Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is in Suffolk County on Wednesday," touring and visiting with area legislators.

At 11 a.m. the the New York Ethics Review Commission will hold a public hearing at the New York Law School, “to receive public comments on the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission.”

On Wednesday at 11 a.m. on Staten Island, "Borough President James S. Oddo, City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation ("Parks") Staten Island Borough Commissioner Lynda Ricciardone, and Marie Didato, Executive Director of the New Dorp Friendship Club, will announce the progress made in the reconstruction of the Club, which was extensively damaged by Hurricane Sandy."

At 11:30 a.m., #PeoplesClimate groups and participants will assemble at St. Barts Church in Midtown to march to demand better environmental conservation policy. The protest, which will also have an early evening demonstration in Harlem, is promoted and organized by ALIGN NY and many other groups in the People’s Climate Movement NYC and is part of National Day of Climate Action.

At 12 p.m.,the Brennan Center for Justice will hold  “Stronger Parties, Stronger Democracy: Rethinking Political Reform,” a discussion on how strengthening parties in an age of super PACs can boost electoral participation and create a more transparent and inclusive democracy. The panel will feature Matea Gold, National Political Reporter at The Washington Post; Lee Goodman, Federal Election Commission Commissioner; Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; and Daniel Weiner Senior Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Also at noon Wednesday, on the steps of the City Hall, homeless New Yorkers, faith leaders, and other homeless will come together for allies “Faith Leaders Say NO: #HandsOffTheHomeless”: a protest against the inhumane treatment of the homeless by the NYPD.

At 2 p.m. the Office of Manhattan Borough President Brewer will sponsor a symposium on urban agriculture. The event will be held at the Natural History Museum and allow participants and attendees to “exchange knowledge, experience, and best practices for growing community-based urban agriculture programs.”

At 6 p.m. the Supportive Housing Network of New York will hold its annual gala to honor partners in public and private sectors. State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi will be honored as representatives of the public sector.

Also at 6 p.m. the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a Public Board Meeting to field grievances from city residents.

On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Robert Siano is kicking off his campaign to reform the Bronx District Attorney's Office. Siano will launch his campaign from the Bronx County Republican Party Headquarters.

The Police Reform Organizing Project, or PROP, will host a Wednesday evening event: PROP leaders will lead a public discussion at the Ethical Culture Society to review relevant issues and topics and plan future events.

The welcome reception for the 2015 Annual Environment Conference, sponsored by the Business Council of New York State, will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The event will bring together professionals from both public and private sectors to discuss the ever changing environmental policies of New York. Senator Thomas F. O’Mara will attend the conference along with a number of other high profile members of the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. The event will run through Friday, October 16th.

At 6:30 p.m., at the Sunset Park Recreation Center in Brooklyn, NYCEDC will hold a public open house and information session on the future of the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal.

Wednesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 4 p.m.
  • CM Mark Treyger (District 47, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Finance will meet to approve “the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Public Safety will meet to discuss bills that would: require the police department to post weekly, monthly, and quarterly statistics reports on domestic and hate crimes; require the police department to post domestic crimes and murders that occurred in NYC’s public housing, and the percentage of felony crimes related to domestic violence; require the police department to report the percentage of all domestic violence crimes that involved intimate partners; and require the police department to report the number of all hate crimes and separate the tally to indicate which groups were most often targeted.
  • At 1:30 p.m. will be the City Council Stated Meeting, prefaced as always by the Speaker’s pre-stated press conference, at 12:30.

On Thursday Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host a ceremony to rename the Manhattan Municipal Building in honor of former mayor David N. Dinkins. “He’s left an indelible impact on this city – and on Chirlane’s and my lives. We are so grateful for Mayor Dinkins’ decades of public service and everything he’s done to ensure a stronger, safer city” said de Blasio.

Thursday is “NYC Go Purple Day” in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, chair of the Council’s women’s issues committee; Public Advocate Letitia James, state Senator Jesse Hamilton, and Assembly Member Walter Mosely will hold an 8 a.m. event outside Barclays Center.

On Thursday at 3 p.m. at CUNY School of Journalism, Errol Louis, of NY1 and the CUNY J-School, will team up with Tequila Minsky (Caribbean Life) and David Cruz (Norwood News), "two journalists from New York’s community and ethnic media,” for a Q&A with city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

At 7:30 p.m. the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association will hold its monthly meeting. The event with feature a panel discussion on “Citizens: Try creating a level playing field… before the field is purchased.” Adam Forman, senior researcher at the Center for Urban Future; Norman Siegel, attorney and past-director of NY Civil Liberties Union; Council member Jumaane Williams; and moderator NIck Powell, opinion editor at City & State NY, will participate in the discussion.

Mayor de Blasio leaves for Israel late Thursday evening, and is there for the weekend.

Thursday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn) 10 a.m.
  • CM Donovan Richards (District 31, Queens) Time TBA
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 7 p.m.
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • CM Jumaane D. Williams (District 45, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:30 a.m. Friday, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Red Tape Commission will host its “Brooklyn Hearing for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs.” The event will serve as a brainstorming session for ideas and policies to improve government support for growing businesses, while eliminating detrimental bureaucracy. Commision members include: Council Member Robert Cornegy; Melissa Chapman, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; Antoinette Balzano, Totonno's Pizzeria; Jonathan Butler, Brooklyn Flea; Dr. Roy Hastick, Sr., Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Deb Howard, Pratt Area Community Council.

At noon Friday, "The NYC Jails Action Coalition (JAC) will hold a rally prior to the NYC Board of Correction hearing with faith leaders, children and families of incarcerated individuals and other criminal justice advocates. City Council Members have been invited."

At 1 p.m. the New York Board of Corrections will hold a public hearing, as board members consider passing new rules, including changes to the Department’s visitation rules and requirements for the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit.

At 6:30 p.m. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be honored at the 3rd annual Power and Policy awards for her outstanding contributions as a New American Leader. The event will take place at the Newseum in Washington DC. Other honorees include California state senator Ricardo Lara and writer and Al Jazeera co-host Wajahat Ali.

On Saturday at 1 p.m., NYCEDC will hold the second public open house and information session about the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal for those unable to attend the first open house on Wednesday.

On Sunday PROP will hold its Mock Summons Action in Park Slope, Brooklyn. PROP volunteers with fan-out across the yuppie-filled, predominantly white neighbor to hand out mock summonses for “activities like biking on the sidewalk, jaywalking, spitting, open alcohol container, and being in the park after dark” in an attempt to bring attention to the racially biased ticketing practices of the NYPD.

***
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
@GothamGazette

Discussion of New York's 'Broken Bail System' Comes to Brooklyn


de Blasio Lippman

Mayor de Blasio testifies in front of Judge Lippman (photo: Demetrius Freeman, Mayor's Office)


New York's “broken bail system” puts an estimated 50,000 people behind city bars each year simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. These people are accused of low-level, non-violent offenses, many of whom wind up not even seeing trial or being convicted of a crime. But, they do not have the means to pay bail, part of system being questioned by many of late, including the state’s chief judge, elected officials at various levels, activists, and the experts who spoke on a panel Tuesday at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The panel was titled, “Why New York? Our Broken Bail System.”

"Money bail fails to distinguish between those who are the most dangerous and those who are low risk,” said panel moderator Shaila Dewan, of the New York Times, “but it easily distinguishes between those who have money and those who don’t. New York State’s own chief judge has called this system ‘ass backwards.’”

Tuesday’s discussion occurred just days after Jonathan Lippman, the very New York State chief judge Dewan referened, announced a series of initiatives aimed at addressing what he called the “unsafe and unfair bail system,” including an automatic review of all misdemeanor cases in which the defendant cannot pay bail within ten days of arraignment, and new training for judges to encourage them to use some of the other types of bail that are already available, rather than predominantly using cash bail for defendants.

The purpose of bail is to ensure that defendants return for their court dates, but for various reasons, in New York bail has overwhelmingly become something that keeps poor people in jail as they await their trials.

Panelists in Brooklyn discussed the human, economic, and criminal impacts of the way the system is being run.

Kicking off the conversation, Dewan said, "The Supreme Court has said, ‘in our society liberty is the norm, and detention without trial is the carefully limited exception.’ It has become, unfortunately, in practice, the norm."

Dewan pointed out that there are several different bail options available, such as allowing defendants to pay ten percent of the bail to the court up front and sign a paper promising to pay the rest later, or simply releasing defendants pending trial.

One key issue criminal justice reform advocates have with the cash bail system is the fact that those who are held in pretrial detention tend to have worse outcomes to their cases. "They get longer sentences, they get less favorable plea deals, they’re more likely to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit," Dewan said, "and - perhaps most importantly - they are more likely to commit new crimes. So, we think we’re holding people in jail before trial to protect the public, but in fact we may be increasing the crime that’s out there."

Judge George Grasso, a panel member, said now is the perfect time to evaluate "the issues impacting the fairness of our criminal justice system. I think Judge Jonathan Lippman really hit the heart of this bail issue this past Thursday, I think he used the term ‘Alice in Wonderland’ - referring to the fact that we have a system that metes out punishment first."

"There are far too many people in jail who are really pretrial and who pose no threat to society," Judge Grasso continued. "Without waiting for state legislature to act, we can and we must make substantive changes to this system."

To that end, New York City officials recently announced new measures to assist nonviolent offenders stuck in the city's bail vice. In late June, the City Council approved Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's proposal to set aside $1.4 million of the city's budget for a citywide bail fund to help pay bail for low-level defendants whose bail is set at $2,000 or less.

Though some taxpayers may rebuke the idea of their money being used to bail people out of jail, Mark-Viverito argues that the bail fund would actually save the city money, given the fact that it costs the city a little over $450 a day per inmate to keep people locked up. According to Mark-Viverito, a defendant who cannot afford bail stays in jail for an average of 24 days for nonviolent offenses, like jumping a turnstile or marijuana possession.

Similar initiatives, like the Bronx Freedom Fund and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, have had excellent results.

Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, told the crowd gathered at the Brooklyn Historical Society, "In the past five months, the bail fund has paid for 133 clients, at a cost of about $110,000. Ninety-seven percent have made their court dates, even though they had no financial incentive to return. These are individuals who would have been jailed, perhaps for months, for the lack of a few hundred dollars. Out on bail, they’ve had significantly improved case dispositions. Fifty percent have had or will have dismissals. Not a single client has been sentenced to additional jail time. Clients who are out have not been coerced to plead guilty."

In July, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a separate $17.8 million initiative to reduce unnecessary jail time for those awaiting trial. The program aims to help roughly 3,000 low-risk defendants per year by substituting cash bail with a "supervised release" program, which would allow poor defendants to be released and supervised until their trial, rather than detained on Rikers Island.

Judge Grasso, speaking of his own involvement in the development of city-wide initiatives to reform the broken bail system, said, "We are in the process right now of expanding supervised release for indigent defendants tried with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. They will use a risk assessment instrument and focus on linking defendants with appropriate services, and a contact regime in lieu of cash bail, to release people on their own recognizance. That’s what we’re working on expanding right now through Mayor de Blasio’s task force - I happen to be a co-chair of the subcommittee that recommended that."

When asked why judges don’t use the many alternative forms of bail that are available more often, Judge Grasso’s answer made a solution to the problem sound shockingly simple, “Frankly we need more training in the court system. Not only do the judges need to be trained, but the court clerks who prepare the paperwork for the judges and the court need to be trained in that.”

“There’s about seven other types of bail,” Judge Grasso continued, “What we really need to do is embark upon top-to-bottom training, so the paperwork is available, clerks know what’s going on, and the judges are trained in how to use different types of bail for different types of situations. That’s something that Judge Lippman said this past Thursday that he’d make a top priority.”

As Dewan pointed out during the question and answer portion of the discussion, typically, judges set bail for two reasons: “one, so that person will return to court; two, to protect public safety in the meantime.” Yet “in New York State, the law says you can only consider their likelihood of returning to court; you can’t consider public safety?” Dewan asked.

“One of the problems in the state of New York is the fact that we’re not supposed to take public safety into consideration [when setting bail],” Judge Grasso said. “You can consider community contacts, you can consider the strength of the charges, but can’t consider public safety directly.”

As a result, wealthy, dangerous people may get out of jail to await their trial, while nonviolent, poor people must remain behind bars until their day in court. “It’s been a real serious problem in the State of New York,” Judge Grasso said. “Judge Lippman has been proposing legislation to change that, and so far it has stalled.”

Some criminal justice reform advocates want the city to entirely do away with money bail for low-level offenses, which officials in Washington D.C. did in the 1990s, opting instead for a system in which most defendants are either detained because they are considered a flight or safety risk, or let go without bail.

However, in New York, such an overhaul would need to be approved by state lawmakers in Albany, where legislation to change the bail system has gone nowhere time and again.

When asked by the Brooklyn Historical Society crowd what the obstacle to ending money bail in New York City is, criminal justice reform advocate and founder of JustLeadershipUSA Glenn Martin, who was previously incarcerated on Rikers Island, remarked, “the bail bondsmen have a very strong lobby, and they give money to our elected officials in New York State, which influences their decision making.”

Speaking to the larger issue of mass incarceration, public defender Josh Saunders told the crowd on Tuesday, “Let’s not forget that we are the world leader in incarceration - the United States has five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Are there people who need to be incarcerated? Sure, but are we also all participating in this kind of diseased fiction that the way we solve problems is to put people in cages? I think we’re doing that too.”

With 50,000 people - the population of Hoboken, New Jersey - locked up annually on Rikers awaiting trial solely because they cannot afford bail, the human cost of putting those “people in cages” can easily be forgotten. Panel member Miguel Padilla spent over a week at Rikers because he did not have the $1,000 he needed to buy his freedom. While driving his intoxicated brother-in-law home from a family gathering, Padilla was pulled over for a broken tail light, then arrested for driving with a suspended license. Desperate to see his wife and three children again, Padilla said he pleaded guilty “just so I could come home.” As a result of his brief stint in Rikers, Padilla lost both of his jobs and gained a criminal record, which in turn left him struggling to find a new job for over a year.

"We should ask ourselves,” Judge Gasso said, “what is the primary purpose of our criminal justice system? Do we want a system that is based primarily on the concept of punishment, or primarily on the concept of justice?

***
by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOConnor13

The Week That Was in New York Politics, October 5-9


week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday October 9

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio pitches his rezoning plans in East New York, via Chang W. Lee for the New York Times; charter school supporters rally in Brooklyn, via Eva Moskowitz; Gov. Cuomo and former VP Al Gore celebrate a climate change-prevention announcement, via the governor's office

BdB East NY Chang W Lee NYT

charter rally

Cuomo Gore climate change

 

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Cuomo On Climate Change: On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with former Vice President Al Gore, announced four actions to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across New York State. Cuomo signed the Under 2 Memorandum of Understanding, reaffirming his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. By signing the ‘Under 2 MOU,’ Cuomo committed New York to the global effort to keep the earth’s average temperature from rising two degrees. The governor reiterated several measures that will make up New York’s efforts to do so, including an increase in the cultivation and use of solar power.

2. Charter School Politics: A large pro-charter school rally led by Families for Excellent Schools was held on Wednesday; bolstered mostly by Eva Moskowitz, who closed her Success Academy Charter Schools so that students, parents, and staff would attend. Moskowitz accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of going back on his word to find space for seven new elementary charter schools in time for them to open in August. Generally, charter supporters are upset with the mayor for being against the expansion of charter schools. Then, on Thursday, Moskowitz announced that she will not be running for mayor in 2017, despite speculation that, as one of Mayor de Blasio’s biggest critics, she was going to run.

3. New Info In Deadly Brooklyn Explosion: On Thursday, fire marshals eliminated natural gas as a possible cause of the explosion in Brooklyn last Saturday that destroyed a three-story building, killed two, and injured thirteen. Investigators are now looking into whether some type of accelerant or fuel was involved in the blast. FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said information from the investigation and “examination of the building gas meters, found that there was no natural gas flowing to the second-floor apartment (where the fire originated) since June 26.”

4. MTA Funding Feud Continues: Governor Cuomo again took issue with Mayor de Blasio over funding the MTA in a WNYC interview on Tuesday. Cuomo and the head of the MTA, the governor’s appointee, are demanding the city contribute about $3 billion more. De Blasio is apparently offering over $2 billion, a major increase from previous commitments, but is saying he wants assurances that Cuomo will not remove any money from the MTA budget as he has done repeatedly in the past. The sniping continues.

5. Staten Island Family Justice Center Finally Breaks Ground: After years of delays, Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, and others gathered on Monday for the groundbreaking of The Staten Island Family Justice Center, largely focused on domestic violence prevention and response. The center is the first of its kind on Staten Island, following the lead of every other borough in the city, each of which already has such a center dedicated to providing comprehensive civil legal, criminal justice, and social services free of charge to victims of domestic abuse, sex trafficking, and elderly abuse.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 1.5 million New Yorker City residents live in overcrowded (more than one occupant per room) or “severely overcrowded” (at least 1.5 occupants per room) situations, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer
  • 282,000 domestic violence incidents were filed by the NYPD in 2014 - roughly 800 per day.
  • $11.7 million in earmarks have been awarded to State Senator Jeff Klein over the last three years - more than triple the amount of any other senator.
  • 32% of the newest class of NYPD officers are Latino, the highest ever percentage ever. The new class of NYPD recruits hail from 36 countries, speak 22 languages, and are 20% women.
  • 68 is how old NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton turned this Tuesday. Commissioner Bratton has 45 years of policing under his belt as of this week.
  • $155 million will be spent by the city over the next year to fix up more than 35 parks in high-poverty areas.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time four years ago, on October 7, 2011, the NYPD busted a Queens-based identity theft and retail crime ring, arresting over 110 people - the largest identity theft ring in the history of the United States at the time, making an annual profit of over $13 million.
  • Around this time two years ago, on October 9, 2013, a 'Times Square Elmo' was sent to jail for a year for trying to extort $2 million from the Girl Scouts of the USA.
  • Around this time last year, on October 7, 2014, the family of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after an officer put him in a chokehold while wrestling Garner to the ground in order to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes, filed a claim to sue the city over his death.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Progressive Critics Largely Convinced by Cuomo's Wage Push, by David Howard King

Buffalo Billion Boss Offers, Cancels Interview; Claims 'Threat of Jail', by David Howard King

City Council Takes Aggressive Role in Workplace Issues, by Samar Khurshid

A Better Way to Fund the MTA, by Assembly Member Dan Quart (opinion)

Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon, by David Howard King

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

  • The New York Times' Liz Harris looks at the city's dual-language programs
  • WNYC's Beth Fertig reports from a "renewal school" in the Bronx
  • The Daily News' Harry Siegel writes about police-community relations in East New York

***
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

City Council Takes Aggressive Role in Workplace Issues


Miller UFCW

Council Member Miller & union workers (photo: @IDaneekMiller)


A slate of recent bills introduced in the New York City Council have a lofty objective indicative of the progressive streak running through city government and raising eyebrows in the business community. Through legislation, the Council is addressing the city's widespread economic disparities by incrementally tackling workforce issues such as wages, workers rights, and access to employment.

Since Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito both came to power, there has been one big picture aim: to address income and other forms of inequality. Headline-making moves such as an expansion of paid sick leave came within a few months. Less flashy yet crucial bills followed. In August 2014, the Council passed the mayor's proposal to supplement the wages of school bus drivers employed by private contractors.

De Blasio and Mark-Viverito have both been called anti-business, and there have been claims of overreach by the mayor and the Council. Business leaders are often loathe to see the hand of government reach further into industry.

In recent months, the Council's formidable progressive caucus has done just that, pushing bills that address large-scale and nitty gritty workplace issues, including others in specific industries. The Council recently heard a bill aimed at regulating personnel decision in the grocery industry.

Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been closely involved. He is currently working with the Freelancers Union to develop legislation that would protect freelancers, and by extension other workers in the on-demand "gig" economy, from wage theft. Modelled on similar protections provided by the state Department of Labor and the Attorney General, this "administrative solution with an enforcement option" would protect the likes of writers, graphic designers, Uber drivers, and Handy.com cleaners from being denied their wages and having to go to court to redress grievances.

"The economy is constantly evolving," Lander told Gotham Gazette. "Unfortunately it's doing so in the direction of inequality. And it's not only the Council but also the State which is fighting to level the playing field and lift up the floor in terms of wages for workers." (Governor Andrew Cuomo recently came out with a plan for an eventual $15 per hour minimum wage.)

At the city level, Lander called the Council's efforts a "thumb on the scale" to help workers have paying jobs. Of course, Lander expects this rebalancing of the relationship between employers and workers to be debated and contested. But he insists that the Council wants to be responsible in implementing changes rather than run roughshod over industry and business interests.

For instance, in April this year, the Council passed a bill co-sponsored by Lander that bans employers from discriminating in hiring decisions on the basis of credit checks. But the Council did make accommodations, Lander said, after consulting with business owners and advocates.

From a business perspective, however, the Council's efforts have uncomfortable connotations of government intervention in private enterprise.

Late last month, two bills were discussed at a hearing of the Council's Committee on Civil Rights but received little attention. The bills aim at prohibiting employment discrimination based on a person's status as a caregiver and at clarifying reasonable accommodations that businesses could make for applicants with disabilities.

At the hearing, President and CEO of Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde provided written testimony opposing the bills. She stated that the Council was proposing more mandates on employers, driven by special interest advocacy groups that argue based on anecdotal evidence that discrimination and mistreatment of employees and applicants is widespread.

"There is no data that justifies new and costly laws and regulations that make it even more difficult to create jobs and grow a business in New York City," Wylde wrote. She also asserted that the bills would drain resources from businesses and make the city less competitive, and that additional Council mandates would accelerate the loss of middle class jobs (she said the city lost 100,000 middle class jobs in the last five years).

Data consistently shows that inequality has only risen in the city over the last many years. A report last year by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York showed that there was a significant uptick in the concentration of wealth among the richest 20 percent of New Yorkers between 1990 and 2010. According to the study, the median income of the upper one percent of all household income earned in New York City jumped from $452,000 in 1990 to $717,000 in 2010 while the lower 20 percent of New York City households' earned median income rose from $13,000 in 1990 to $14,000 in 2010.

James Parrott, deputy director and chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, approaches any analysis of labor markets from a historical perspective. He said changes in the labor market in recent years have been unproductive and harmful to workers and to the economy. So there is definitely a need for regulation, he believes.

Ideally, he said, regulation would be at the national level and enforced by federal compliance officials. But, with federal action being hampered by an inactive Congress, it has fallen to state and local governments. He called the Council's bent in addressing these issues "reasonable and appropriate."

"Businesses tend to oppose any regulation at all. But a lot of history and analysis shows us that informed regulation is good for businesses," Parrott said, insisting that it keeps the competition honest as well.

In particular, he referenced the Grocery Worker Retention Act (GWRA), introduced by Council Member I. Daneek Miller. Miller, a former labor union leader, is now chair of the Council's civil service and labor committee. The bill would require large grocery chains to at least temporarily retain the workforce when an ownership change occurs, and then handle any personnel moves on an individual basis after three months.

Parrott testified years ago when a similar bill (Local Law 39 from 2002) dealing with building service workers was passed. "I don't see how one could oppose doing that in concept," he said, referring to the opposition from industry representatives who argued feverishly against the GWRA at a hearing two weeks ago.

For Council Member Miller, a Queens Democrat, the bill is just another of many measures to remedy an economic imbalance created by three successive Bloomberg terms.
"To a certain degree, we have come through 12 years of an administration that for all intents and purposes undermined the value of workers," Miller told Gotham Gazette.

His bill mandates personnel practice and grants workers legal remedies against unfair termination. It would help both union and non-union workers, he says, and create transparency and protect employees in an industry with a history of exploitation.

"Organized or unorganized, in order for the middle class to thrive, we need for people to have a voice," Miller said. "Without that, we see the wage disparity and wage suppression that we've seen in the last decade or two."

As expected, industry officials criticized the proposed bill for what they see as an overreaching mandate and even questioned the legal implications of the Council's intervention. But Miller said these objections are not supported by certifiable data and that he is confident the bill will be voted out of the labor committee and brought to a full Council vote.

(On a related note, Miller also sponsored a resolution that was approved by the Council in June calling on the state legislature to extend labor protections to farm workers statewide.)

"My personal preference is that we can educate and we don't have to legislate," he said.

Most of the workforce measures have received wide support from Council members and the mayor. Some have even come from de Blasio or Mark-Viverito themselves.

Last year, de Blasio issued an executive order that expanded the city's living wage law to thousands of individuals. Mark-Viverito successfully sponsored a bill that passed in June this year requiring car wash businesses to operate under licenses and enforcing stronger safeguards for employees. Another employment bill goes into effect by the end of October: the Fair Chance Act prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants based on their arrest record or criminal convictions.

But wide support does not mean unanimous. There are concerns even within the Council about the scope of legislation. Council minority leader Steve Matteo, a Republican from Staten Island, shares his colleagues' interest in improving working conditions but worries about possible harmful unintended consequences.

Matteo said he is a "firm believer" in the free market's ability to self-correct and adapt whether in response to consumer demands for healthier food or safer products, or to compete for better employees with higher pay, more benefits, and a better work environment. "Over-reaching government mandates, on the other hand, as many economic studies have shown, can be financially devastating to small businesses and lead to job cuts and fewer new hires," he said.

On the other hand, some question how easily workers can adapt to the free market.

"Businesses have a better ability to shift their economic resources to adapt to changing economic conditions, more so than workers, especially low-income workers who lack access to education, child care, the basic necessities of life," said Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, research associate at the Center for an Urban Future, who believes that the balance of resources has tilted towards businesses.

Gonzalez-Rivera said more people than ever before are working low-wage jobs in the city; even those working full-time are not able to make ends meet and are being treated as if they are expendable.

Gonzalez-Rivera praised the City's increased support for worker cooperatives. The Council announced in its budget this year that it will invest an additional $2.1 million in its Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative and create 22 new worker cooperatives.

"Government does need to step in and provide protection," he said. It's a sentiment that Council Member Lander echoes: "Looking to give people a fair shot is part of our job," he said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon


klein riverdale record

Sen. Klein's "newspaper"


The latest edition of the "newspaper" being published by state Senator Jeff Klein features frontpage news celebrating his ability to bring cash home to his Bronx district.

"UFT, educators herald Klein's $1.5M support for community schools," reads one frontpage headline.

Another: "Community applauds Klein for securing $250K for Hudson River Greenway study."

The timing is interesting given that the latest edition of "Riverdale Record" - circulation 37,000 - hit mailboxes just as Klein and the large sums of funding he secured have come under scrutiny by the press and good government groups.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo once railed against member items and pushed to abolish them but this year they returned with a vengeance, given Cuomo's approval, and Klein, an ally to both Cuomo and Senate Republicans, appears to be the biggest beneficiary by far.

The leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, Klein has been in a unique bargaining position over the last several years. Klein has brought home over $11.7 million in earmarks from the State and Municipal Projects Fund over the last three years, more than three times that of any other Senator, Politico New York reported on Monday. That funding is allocated through the Dormitory Authority to projects like building basketball courts, improving parks, and installing security systems in public places.

The funding Klein touts on his new front page do not appear to be from that allotment of cash, nevertheless it fuels Bronx-based critics who say Klein has been leveraging his largesse to combat or silence local media outlets. Those critics say Klein's "newspaper" is just another weapon that allows him to avoid scrutiny and damage the legitimate Bronx press.

klein paper

Klein's Democratic critics say his take home in pork projects is a reward from Senate Republicans for helping them keep their thin majority instead of enabling Democrats to seize the chamber.

Good government groups say the current member item system is ripe for corruption and political abuse. "It is stunning that the process of handing out legislative pork was restarted during the most disastrous session in history after the two most powerful Senators and the most powerful Assemblyman were toppled by corruption inquiries," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, referring to Tom Libous, Dean Skelos, and Sheldon Silver. "To restart the process now shows utter obtuseness to the corruption that is going on."

Klein broke from Senate Democrats in 2011 after Republicans won the majority, creating the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Klein said the move was motivated by dysfunction in the mainstream Democratic caucus, but Democrats and advocates have since accused Klein of creating the party simply to increase his power and ability to bargain with Senate Republicans.

Klein did in fact partner with Senate Republicans to give them a majority in 2012 when Democrats won a numerical majority. The IDC has enjoyed increased staff funding and more legislative input. Even after Republicans won an outright majority, they have continued to try to keep Klein happy as an insurance policy against future Democratic victories.

Now critics have even more ammunition against Klein's motives as the cold hard numbers are available. To put Klein's State and Municipal Projects Fund awards in perspective you just have to look at what the most senior members of the Senate Republicans were awarded. Former Majority Leader Dean Skelos won $3.6 million, Sen. George Martins, $3.5 million, and former Sen. Tom Libous, nearly $3 million.

A spokesperson for Klein defended the member items to Politico New York, saying it "funds important government projects throughout New York State."

Many legislators argue member items are important because they allow politicians to deliver for the most worthy causes in their districts. The Bronx has traditionally been underserved by state government, but Klein is not the only representative of the area and according to the list of member items released by Senate Republicans, only Republicans and members of the IDC were able to deliver this type of funding for their districts.

Good government groups note that the process has been abused many times and has led to embezzlement and corruption. Some groups call for depoliticizing the process by giving members discretionary funding based on the population of their districts.

Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, said he believes if the state insists on giving out member items it should follow the model created by the New York City Council under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

In 2014, the Council overhauled its member item process after a number of members were caught directing funds to projects that benefited them or their friends and family. The old process was also routinely criticized because it allowed the council speaker to punish and reward Council members. Now members bring home nearly equal funding to their districts, with some variance based on poverty levels.

[Related: In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Starts Own 'Newspaper']

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Buffalo Billion Boss Offers, Cancels Interview; Claims 'Threat of Jail'


Cuomo Kaloyeros Buffalo

Cuomo and Kaloyeros, both pointing (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


In response to a recent profile of him, Alain Kaloyeros, president of SUNY Polytechnic and the man Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose to administer his Buffalo Billion program, invited Gotham Gazette to meet him for a tour of the SUNY Poly campus. In doing so, Kaloyeros explained that he faces "the threat of jail" if he discusses the U.S. Attorney's investigation into the Buffalo redevelopment program, an investigation that is creating headaches for the governor and thrusting Kaloyeros into the spotlight.

After setting up a date and time for the tour, Kaloyeros' office abruptly canceled a few days later, without providing a reason.

A number of sources and other news outlets have confirmed that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office is investigating how contracts were awarded in the Buffalo Billion initiative, where concerns arose that some requests for proposals were tailored only to fit specific Cuomo campaign donors. Cuomo has denied that he or his staff have been subpoenaed and SUNY Polytechnic has denied Kaloyeros is the subject of any inquiry.

Kaloyeros contacted this reporter by Facebook messenger in response to an article published on September 29 that detailed how a number of officials and observers are concerned with a lack of checks and balances over Kaloyeros and the feeling that he operates with complete impunity and little regard to the fact that he is a public employee handling major sums of taxpayer money.

"Ooo...so you're the one who thinks I act like a teenager...cute," Kaloyeros wrote, referring to mention in the article of his predilection for Facebook posts of bathroom selfies and complaints about slow drivers accompanied by photos of traffic that he appears to take while driving.

After a back-and-forth Kaloyeros suggested that a tour and chat about oversight of the Buffalo Billion project might rectify his concerns with the article. When this reporter pointed out having reached out to SUNY Poly before publishing the article, Kaloyeros responded:

"The issue we have is confidentiality. We were instructed in no uncertain terms not to comment on the inquiry from down South with the threat of jail which is being interpreted as we are the target of an investigation. So that part we cannot comment on beyond what we were authorized to say publicly. The rest is not a problem."

Kaloyeros did not reply when asked if he had a particular issue with the article or thought an individual part of the investigation was being misrepresented in the press.

Gotham Gazette reached out to Kaloyeros via an official email address he provided and a spokesperson set up a meeting and tour for October 19.

In the days following, Kaloyeros continued to post to Facebook traffic photos with clear view of his dashboard and radar detector in the windshield along with complaints. This reporter tweeted one of those photos and Kaloyeros' complaint which apparently caught Kaloyeros' attention (even though he does not appear to be a public Twitter user).

"Since you seem so fascinated with my traffic posts and deem them newsworthy, here's one for you to post," Kaloyeros messaged this reporter over Facebook on Wednesday, October 7 at 11:39 a.m., with another photo included.

Later that day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a number of questions from the Albany press on the Buffalo Billion investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Cuomo was asked if he looked into the project after hearing reports of an investigation and he said he hadn't and wouldn't.

Cuomo appeared to waver when asked if he or his staff had been subpoenaed in the case. He denied that he had been, but declined to answer questions about his staff. "Well, you said, 'and staff.' I have not, but I don't want to get into commenting on a U.S. attorney's investigation," Cuomo said before repeatedly telling reporters to ask Bharara's office.

Later, Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi issued a statement saying, "Just to be clear, neither the Governor, nor his staff has been questioned or subpoenaed on the Buffalo Billion project. Going forward any questions should be referred to the U.S. Attorney."

Around that time this reporter responded to Kaloyeros' message that included a picture of traffic and asked who had warned him he could face jail if he spoke to the press.

Shortly after, Gotham Gazette received an email from Kaloyeros' spokesperson saying the tour and meeting set for the 19th had been canceled. Gotham Gazette reached out to both Kaloyeros and the spokesperson asking why, but neither responded. Kaloyeros appears to have now blocked this reporter on Facebook.

Bharara's office declined to comment on anything regarding the Buffalo Billion investigation when Gotham Gazette asked whether it had threatened Kaloyeros with jail if he spoke out on the investigation.

Jennifer Rodgers, a former prosecutor who served as deputy chief of Bharara's appeals unit, told Gotham Gazette that it was extremely unlikely that the U.S. Attorney's office would warn Kaloyeros not to speak to the press. Rodgers is now executive director of Columbia University's Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity.

"I don't know what was said in this particular case, but generally prosecutors don't tell witnesses or suspects what they should or shouldn't say to the press," Rodgers told Gotham Gazette. "Usually they have a lawyer who would advise them on those matters."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 5


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will include a focus on what the city can do to stop gas-related explosions after another such explosion occurred this weekend, this time in Borough Park; education politics and policy, as the pro-charter, anti-de Blasio group Families for Excellent Schools will hold a large rally; a continuation of negotiation and criticism between city and state entities over MTA funding; and more.

Oh, and it's the Major League Baseball playoffs, with both the Mets and Yankees in the post-season for the first time in a long time, with many hoping for a "subway series" World Series between the two, a la 2000, when the Yankees defeated the Mets.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: With the threat from Hurricane Joaquin abated, Mayor de Blasio decided to go through with his trip to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore on Friday and Saturday. The mayor delivered remarks at a reception for the State Innovation Exchange Conference on Friday, then attended the United States Conference of Mayors Fall Leadership Meeting on Saturday. The mayor then headed back to Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he attended to the emergency gas explosion that tore apart a building, killing at least one and injuring several.

The incident is another in a string of gas explosions, including East Harlem and the East Village, that has many worried and talking about a need for new measures to combat the deadly incidents. Gov. Cuomo announced he was deploying representatives to investigate and city officials are calling for action. This explosion appears to have been caused by mistakes made during the removal of an oven.

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will be on Staten Island for the groundbreaking of The Staten Island Family Justice Center, at which the mayor will speak around 10 a.m. Read more from the Staten Island Advance, including that Staten Island will join the other boroughs, each of which already has such a center, which "provide comprehensive criminal justice, civil legal and social services free of charge to victims of domestic violence, elderly abuse and sex trafficking in the other boroughs."

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - 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
At 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Bronx County Courthouse, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will announce a major crackdown on distributors of synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs."

On Monday morning, "State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan joins state Sen. Martin Golden on a walking tour and media availability in Gerritsen Beach, starting in front of 3078 Gerritsen Ave., Brooklyn," according to City & State NY.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will announce the "launch of MonumentArt, an International Mural Festival hosted in East Harlem and the South Bronx," from La Marqueta.

On Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James "will travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation conference."

Monday evening, First Lady McCray will be among the honorees of a Feminist Power Award from the Feminist Press.

At 8 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer "Receives the Pacesetter Award at The National Association of Investment Companies 45th Annual Meeting & Convention Welcome Reception."

Monday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 pm
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 6:30 pm
  • CM Julissa Ferreras (District 21, Queens) 7 pm

Tuesday
Tuesday, at 10 a.m., a press conference in PACE University's downtown campus will mark the beginning of Poverty Awareness Week, which is co-sponsored by Pace University and The Mayor's Office. The week will include a series of events. Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. will be one keynote speaker; Shola Olatoye, Chair and CEO of NYCHA will participate in a discussion on "Local Initiatives to Eradicate Poverty."

On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio "will deliver remarks at the ribbon-cutting for the Brooklyn College Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School for Cinema at Steiner Studios."

At 5 p.m., the Mayor will appear on WCBS Newsradio 880.

In the evening, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and many others will attend a birthday celebration for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host "Why New York? Our Broken Bail System." The event will be moderated by New York Times journalist Shaila Dewan, with panelists: Judge George Grasso, public defender Josh Saunders, criminal justice reform advocate Glenn E. Martin, and an individual who couldn't afford bail.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY Tech Meetup will be held at NYU, with a number of New York companies presenting demos of technologies that they are developing.

Tuesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 4 pm
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6 pm
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 6:30 pm
  • CM Brad Lander (District 39, Brooklyn) 6:30 pm
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 8 pm

Wednesday
JCOPE is set to meet Wednesday morning in Albany.

Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., City & State NY holds its fifth annual "On Energy" event, inviting leaders in government, advocacy and business to speak on a number of topics related to the future of energy. Among the topics of discussion will be Governor Andrew Cuomo's regulatory overhaul in New York, Mayor de Blasio's 80 by 50 plan, and more. The event includes a panel with Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director of Center for an Urban Future; Nilda Mesa, Director at NYC Mayor's Office of Sustainability; Kathryn Garcia, Commissioner, NYC Department of Sanitation. Other notable speakers to appear include: Richard Kauffman, NYS Chair of Energy & Finance; Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, Chairman of New York AREA; Ambassador Ron Kirk, Chairman of CASEnergy; Kevin Parker, a New York state Senator and ranking member of the Energy & Telecommunications Committee.

On Wednesday, The Families for Excellent Schools rally, postponed from last week because of weather and "to demand equal opportunity in our schools," will take place, starting mid-morning at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, followed by a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, and a 12:30 p.m. press conference at City Hall. The rally is, in essence, to promote more more charter schools and criticize Mayor de Blasio's education agenda, which does not include more charters. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is expected to headline the rally, along with several high-profile performers, including Jennifer Hudson.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., The Committee on Transportation will meet to discuss a bill that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a study on the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists along bus routes. DOT would then institute new safety measures based on the data. The Committee will also discuss a bill that would require the identification of dangerous intersections based on incidents involving pedestrians, and implement curb extensions in such areas. The Committee will also make a decision on resolutions that would require the MTA to instal rear guards on bus wheels and to study ways to eliminate blind spots for buses.
  • Also 10 a.m., The Committee on Aging will hold an oversight hearing on older adult employment.

At 10 a.m. The East 50s Alliance will hold a community rally to protest the planned construction of a 900-foot tower in the 58th street residential area. The residents are "deeply concerned that the tower will diminish the safety, accessibility and livability of a narrow side street during a lengthy construction process and forever after." City Council Member Ben Kallos will speak.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Vivertio, along with Council Members Paul Vallone and Vincent Gentile and others, will hold a Celebration of Italian Heritage at the Council Chambers in City Hall. The event will also celebrate Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday.

From 6 to 8 p.m. at Fordham Law School, The Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center and the Women's City Club of New York will host "This Bridge Called My Back: Women of Color and the Fight for Economic Security", on "how gender intersects with economic and racial inequality in New York City." Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University, will moderate the panel, with Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York; Luna Ranjit, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Adhikaar; Joanne N. Smith Founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equality; and Margarita Rosa, Executive Director of National Center for Law and Economic Justice participating in the discussion.

Wednesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 6 pm
  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 pm
  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn) 6:30 pm
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens) 7 pm

Thursday
On Thursday at the City Council:

  • 9:30 a.m., Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss three land use applications in Manhattan.
  • 10 a.m., Committee on Finance will meet regarding the Department of Finance's Office of the Taxpayer Advocate.
  • 11 a.m., Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss a land use application in Brooklyn
  • 1 p.m., Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss another land use application in Brooklyn

Thursday at the New York State Legislature: the Assembly Standing Committee on Health, Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health, and Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities will hold a joint public hearing regarding Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment and Services. "The Committees are seeking oral and written testimony from patients and their families, clinicians, service providers, and the Department on topics including the incidence, severity and consequences of TBI; treatment and service appropriateness and availability, including the rights of patients sent out-of-state; and issues relating to the transition of the TBI Waiver program to managed care."

At 9 a.m. Thursday New York State Assembly Members Latoya Joyner and Marcos Crespo will kick off "Let's Put Our Cities on the Map," sponsored and hosted by Google at the Bronx Museum of Arts, which will offer free counseling for small businesses on how to reach local customer bases, specifically by using "SmartLogic" online tools.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, October 8 at 10:00 AM."

At 5 p.m. Thursday, EmblemHealth and LaborPress will honor 12 labor union members, from eight different labor unions, for their remarkable contributions to the labor communities at the fourth annual "Heroes of Labor Awards". EmblemHealth has invited many city elected officials to speak, several are expected.

At 6 p.m. Thursday in Washington, D.C., the Brennan Center for Justice and Vox will hold "The Politics of Participation: Building an Engaged Citizenry for Millennials and Beyond," including City Council Member Eric Ulrich. It is billed as "a candid conversation about what the shifting demographic landscape means for grassroots movements, political action, and civic engagement; how can we shape our democracy into one that is truly representative of the people being governed?"

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold "The Changing Face of Activism," which will explore the historical progression of activism from the 1960s desegregation movement to the present day Black Lives Matter movement. Moderated by Alethia Jones, a leader of 1199 SEIU, the panel will feature activist Barbara Smith; Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform; and Jose Lopez, Lead Organizer at Make the Road NY and member of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Dan Abrams of ABC News will talk with Ray Kelly, the longest-serving NYPD Commissioner, at the 92nd Street Y. Kelly will hold a book signing for his new memoir Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City, after his talk with Mr. Abrams.

Thursday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn) 5 pm
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens) 7 pm
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 8 pm

Friday and the weekend
Friday at 8:15 a.m., NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton will speak at New York Law School, as part of the CityLaw breakfast series.

Weekend participatory budgeting:

  • Friday, CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 1 pm.
  • Saturday, CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), time TBA.
  • Sunday, CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), time TBA.

*Note: we'll publish our next 'Week Ahead' on Monday, October 13 given the Columbus Day holiday

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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).

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

The Week That Was in New York Politics, Sept. 28-Oct. 2


week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday October 2

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio does some road repaving on Staten Island, via the Mayor's Office; Gov. Cuomo checks out the beer at the Anheuser Busch brewery, via @NYGovCuomo; Public Advocate Tish James welcomes Ahmed Mohamed to City Hall, via @TishJames

de Blasio Staten Island repaving

Cuomo beer check

tish james ahmed

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. NYPD Use of Force: On Thursday, the NYPD announced a set of new guidelines and a tracking system to document officers' use of force. Officers will be required to detail every instance when force is employed, not only during arrests but brief detention-and-release incidents. The NYPD will also track use of force against officers. The announcement comes after City Council members have introduced legislation to require an "early warning system" be put in place to identify officers who use force inappropriately and on the same day as a new NYPD Inspector General report on use-of-force was released.

Read: Next Steps After Eye-Opener NYPD Inspector General Use-of-Force Report by Council Members Jumaane Williams and Brad Lander

2. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion Under Federal Investigation: Federal investigators are looking into how contracts were awarded in Governor Cuomo’s Buffalo economic development program. The Buffalo Billion program is intended to infuse $1 billion into the upstate economy and create 14,000 jobs, but has become the focus of a corruption investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who has issued subpoenas to major entities involved.

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

3. Chief Judge Takes On Bail: On Thursday, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced a series of initiatives aimed at addressing what he called the “unsafe and unfair bail system,” including automatic review of bail for misdemeanor cases.

4. Debate Over Rezoning of Brooklyn Schools: The Department of Education came under fire on Wednesday at a hearing on the rezoning of two Brooklyn schools. The DOE’s proposal is intended to ease overcrowding one school, but the proposal has sparked debate over race, school equity, school quality, and school desegregation and integration. The de Blasio administration has done little to explicitly address school segregation, but the rezoning at play in Brooklyn is at least somewhat inadvertently moving the issue.

5. Movement on MTA Funding: The de Blasio administration appears to be moving toward meeting more of the funding requests made by the MTA, a state agency, even as the Cuomo and de Blasio administrations continue to spar publicly about responsibility, funding levels, and other aspects of the issue.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • $1.8 billion is how much prosecutors are investigating Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officials for diverting from the Hudson River rail tunnel. The funds were spent on state-owned roads instead.
  • 18% decrease in the number of incidents where New York police officers fired their weapons thus far in 2015 compared with the same period last year.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for Staten Island commuters, as the city's ongoing repaving efforts continued, with some help from Mayor de Blasio, under the supervision of Borough President James Oddo; and the official start of expanded Staten Island ferry service, by which the ferry will run every half-hour all the time.
  • It was a bad week for gun control advocates, in New York and elsewhere, whose frustration continues to grow amid news of another mass school shooting, this one in Oregon. Governor Cuomo has had especially harsh words for federal officials who refuse to act on gun regulations such as expanded background checks.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time last year, on September 30, 2014, Mayor de Blasio signed an executive order to expand New York City's living wage law to cover thousands of previously exempt workers and to raise the hourly wage itself for workers who do not receive benefits. The move was criticized by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Report Shows Need for Elementary After-School Expansion, by John Spina

Cuomo Takes Additional Executive Action on Criminal Justice, by David King

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

Absent from Cuomo's New Education Task Force: A Student, by Ben Max

Do New York Elected Officials Deserve A Raise? by Meg O’Connor

Will New York Be Last to 'Raise the Age'? by David King

Amid Federal Brinkmanship, New York City Officials Redouble Support for Planned Parenthood, by Meg O’Connor

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

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

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

***
by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

Amid Federal Brinksmanship, New York City Officials Redouble Support for Planned Parenthood


Chirlane PP

NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray at a Planned Parenthood rally (photo: @Chirlane) 


In the face of federal debate and brinksmanship over funding for Planned Parenthood, many in New York City have doubled down on support for the women's health care organization.

In the past month, the city has seen the opening of a Planned Parenthood health center in Queens (expanding the organization's presence into all five boroughs), two large rallies during which numerous elected officials championed the importance of Planned Parenthood’s health care services, and one leading Assembly Democrat calling for the state to boost its financial support for the clinics if conservatives in Congress were to cut off the organization's federal funding.

“The attacks against Planned Parenthood, we all know, are attacks against women and, in particular, low-income women and women of color who rely on Planned Parenthood for vital services - medical services that are comprehensive,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a large rally in Manhattan Tuesday. The speaker and others rallied in support of Planned Parenthood, repeatedly attacking conservative Republicans for their efforts to defund the organization.

The city government’s strong support for Planned Parenthood, seen at Tuesday’s rally, which featured several elected officials, and in budget dollars that go toward supporting the organization, help cement New York City’s national reputation as a liberal capital.

On Wednesday, Congress avoided a government shutdown by passing a temporary spending bill that will keep federal agencies operating through December 11. The threat of a potential shutdown over funding of Planned Parenthood loomed for weeks, spurred by the release of secretly filmed videos this summer which showed Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the preservation of fetal tissue for medical research.

The Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group that filmed the videos, claims that they show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissue. The videos have prompted an ongoing investigation by Congress into Planned Parenthood’s practice of donating fetal tissue for medical research. A forensic analysis of the videos commissioned by Planned Parenthood found evidence of manipulation, "intentionally deceptive edits, missing footage, and inaccurately transcribed conversations," according to Politico, which obtained a copy of the report.

Four states - Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah - have ordered state agencies to cut off federal funding to local Planned Parenthood chapters, leading those branches to file lawsuits. According to the Associated Press, in court documents, the Utah branch said the governor's decision to cut off funding is based solely on unproven allegations that took place in other states, by other arms of the national group.

New York City government sends approximately $850,000 a year to the city’s central Planned Parenthood branch in the forms of various grants, namely for health care services and sex education, according to an official from PPNYC. The city also allocates capital awards to Planned Parenthood each year, which have ranged from $75,000 to $400,000.

Speaking about the services that Planned Parenthood provides for New York City residents, PPNYC CEO Joan Malin told Gotham Gazette, “Roughly 85 percent of our services are preventative care - birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, STI testing, annual exams - we do the full range of reproductive health care services for women and men.”

Malin explained that Planned Parenthood New York’s funding comes from a combination of “private donors, public funding from the city, state, and federal government,” and an endowment, “but for our patient services, we rely overwhelmingly on Medicaid and Title X family-planning grants, which allows us to provide services for anyone who needs our care regardless of their ability to pay. Out of a $44 million budget, $9 million is federal funding. If that were to go away we would be sorely challenged to continue to provide our services."

Mark-Viverito, joined on stage at Tuesday’s “Pink Out NYC” rally by fellow Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Brad Lander, said, "We are proud as Council members to ensure that we direct your taxpayer dollars and invest your taxpayer dollars in Planned Parenthood, to make sure that they are able to provide vital services throughout the City of New York. We expect the federal government to continue to do the same thing."

The rally on Tuesday in lower Manhattan was one of nearly 300 events held in 90 cities across the country in support of Planned Parenthood’s work, organized as negotiations continued in Washington, D.C.

"Congress should be ashamed!" New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray shouted to the crowd of some 500 pink-clad supporters, just hours before it was announced that government funding would be extended until mid-December. "Congress should be ashamed to punish women who have no other health care options. I know firsthand that Planned Parenthood provides excellent services!"

McCray continued, “Planned Parenthood provides services to "2.7 million women, men, and young people....Did you realize that? We need Planned Parenthood and we will not allow the funding to be taken away!"

McCray, Mark-Viverito, Rosenthal, and Lander were joined at the rally by Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and state Senators Daniel Squadron and Liz Krueger.

"Our bodies will not be used as an organizing strategy for the right," Public Advocate James shouted, eliciting cheers from the crowd. "This is nothing more than a distraction from the issues that we care about — a need to educate girls, a need to end income inequality, and a need to end poverty in this country."

James pointed out that the bulk of services Planned Parenthood provides have nothing to do with abortion, despite the national conversation being focused on the abortion issue. "Let me tell you the facts,” James said, “80 percent of Planned Parenthood clients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancies. Planned Parenthood provides nearly 400,000 pap smears, and 500,000 breast exams every year. These tests detect life-threatening cancers. Planned Parenthood provides nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections and diseases, and Planned Parenthood educates and provides outreach to 1.5 million young people."

On Thursday, Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues, emailed Gotham Gazette to call Planned Parenthood of New York City a long-time “staunch advocate, educator, and provider of reproductive health care to 50,000 patients annually.” PPNYC “has received funding from the New York City Council to expand services to support family planning, curb teen pregnancy and STDs through education.”

When asked what might happen next for Planned Parenthood, even with a temporary compromise in Washington, PPNYC CEO Malin replied, "This issue is going to remain in the public discussion, unfortunately. As all of our speakers said, there are so many issues that we need to be talking about - greater access to health care, immigrant reform, Black Lives Matter - there's so many issues we need to be talking about. Focusing on reproductive health care is important, but the way [opponents are] talking about it is a distraction. I would say that that distraction is going to continue throughout this election, and Republicans are going to look for ways to keep this issue at the forefront."

Not all Republicans are looking to keep the issue of defunding Planned Parenthood in the spotlight, however. Republican strategist and president of Somm Consulting, Evan Siegfried, told Gotham Gazette, “Until we know what the facts are, the calls to defund are premature.”

Congressional investigation is ongoing, and as analysis of the incendiary videos showed the footage had been drastically altered, Planned Parenthood Federation of America CEO Cecile Richards testified before Congress just this Tuesday. Richards defended the $450 million in federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood, explaining that 87 percent of it comes from Medicaid and Title X family planning monies. “We, like other Medicaid providers, we are reimbursed directly for services provided,” she said.

“No federal funds pay for abortion services, except in the very limited circumstances allowed by law. These are when the woman has been raped, has been the victim of incest, or when her life is endangered,” Richards explained (abortions account for just three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services nationally, according to the organization’s most recent report).

Hard-line conservatives like Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz are committed to defunding Planned Parenthood to the point that they would rather plot to shut down the government than allow the organization to continue its work through federal funding.

Cruz recently decried the state of his divided party, saying that the more socially liberal Republicans, specifically the “New York billionaire” donors who insist candidates are pro-choice, hate the base and hold the party back from really fighting on key social issues. It’s part of the intra-Republican conflict that led to House Speaker John Boehner’s recent resignation announcement.

Speaking anonymously with Gotham Gazette, New York Republicans have indeed expressed frustration with the far right wing of their party, with one saying it is “on a crazy quest that will kill [Republicans] with the swing voters in 2016.”

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOConnor13
@GothamGazette

Will New York Be Last to 'Raise the Age'?


Cuomo inmates raise the age

Gov. Cuomo meets with young inmates (photo: Governor's Office)


Gov. Andrew Cuomo is fond of calling New York a "progressive leader," declaring the state trailblazing on issues that matter, like marriage equality and gun control. It is a tenet of the governor's new push for an eventual $15-per-hour minimum wage.

However, New York lags so far behind other states on one criminal justice issue that it could soon be the only state in the nation to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults - a practice that advocates and criminal justice experts say does irreversible damage to youth who are merely charged with a crime, much less convicted.

In declaring October "National Youth Justice Awareness Month" earlier this week, President Barack Obama pointed to the fact that just two states prosecute all 16-year-olds as adults regardless of their crime, and said, "Involvement in the justice system -- even as a minor, and even if it does not result in a finding of guilt, delinquency, or conviction -- can significantly impede a person's ability to pursue a higher education, obtain a loan, find employment, or secure quality housing." A total of nine states prosecute all 17-year-olds as adults, the president wrote.

Raising the age of adult criminal responsibility has been something Gov. Cuomo has been pushing, but unless the governor can soon cut a deal with the state Legislature, especially Senate Republicans, he and his Democratic allies will find themselves watching North Carolina become the 49th state to move to at least 17 as the adult age of criminality. There appears to be bipartisan agreement among North Carolina legislators on a plan to stop the practice of trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in their state.

Bipartisan agreement on criminal justice issues has been particularly elusive in the New York state Legislature, despite Cuomo's attention on raising the age and other related matters.

After including funding for "Raise the Age" in his most recent budget, Cuomo was unable to reach a deal with the Legislature. Then, Cuomo made raising the age a major priority during the waning days of this year's legislative session, even visiting an upstate correctional facility to speak to young inmates about life behind bars. Yet, Senate Republicans balked at Cuomo's plan to redirect most 16- and 17-year old offenders to family courts, while some Democrats worried his plan wouldn't actually improve how teens are treated by the justice system. Cuomo's original push stemmed from reports about abuses at Rikers Island jails.

With session over, Cuomo announced he would take "executive action" to at least remove 16- and 17 year-olds from a situation he had described as "intolerable."

"We did not reach an agreement on something called "Raise the Age," which is a proposal that I had made in the State of the State. The executive will on its own raise the age of people in state prison," Cuomo said in June. "Right now 16- and 17-year olds are going to state prisons and that, I believe, is an intolerable situation. So by executive action we will take 16- and 17-year olds out of state prisons and put them in separate facilities which will be designed and managed by the Department of Corrections and OCFS."

Advocates were initially pleased by the move until it became clear the administration had no concrete plan on where to house the 16- and 17-year-olds it promised to remove from adult prisons. They were further disappointed when it became clear the administration would have no say over county jails and therefore the number of youths separated from adult populations would be relatively small - all taken from state-run facilities.

With the year coming to a close the administration appears to be admitting they have hit a wall.

"We are in the process of engaging with a few agencies, the relevant agencies, to determine how we can do that," Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, said during an interview on Capitol Tonight earlier this month when asked about the process of relocating 16- and 17-year-olds. "There are operational issues that you can anticipate that we have to address. We're hoping to do that in the near future."

A Cuomo administration official acknowledged to Gotham Gazette that they are aware of the legislation advancing in North Carolina and that they hope to work on the challenges faced in finding alternative housing for the teens currently serving time while negotiating a broader bill with the Legislature. "We are hopeful that the Legislature will take another look at this," said the official.

Paige Pierce, executive director of Families Together New York, told Gotham Gazette that regardless of the fate of the governor's "executive action," the bigger issue remains how being processed as an adult can permanently damage the futures of thousands of young New Yorkers, whether they are found guilty or not.

"The larger issue is that every 16- or 17-year-old arrested is treated as an adult and therefore lacking access to support from family services, their parents don't have to be notified, and their records aren't sealed," Pierce told Gotham Gazette.

Members of the "Raise the Age-New York" campaign point out that youth in adult prisons face high rates of sexual assault and are much more likely to commit suicide than those in juvenile facilities. "New York has failed to recognize what research and science have confirmed: adolescents are children, and prosecuting and placing them in the adult criminal justice system doesn't work for them and doesn't work for public safety," the campaign emailed.

Advocates say that there was some hope at the end of last year as a few Senate Republicans were involved in discussions with Assembly Democrats on a compromise. That last-minute compromise may have died, but it gave indication that there may be room for negotiation when the clock is not ticking. It's unclear what kind of pressure moves by President Obama and North Carolina might exert on the governor and other New York lawmakers.

In his September 30 proclamation, Obama writes that trying 16- and 17-year-olds as adults "continues despite studies showing that youth prosecuted in adult courts are more likely to commit future crimes than similarly situated youth who are prosecuted for the same offenses in the juvenile system." He also points out that it is not cost effective to hold so many young people in state facilities.

Republican Sen. Patrick Gallivan, former sheriff of Erie County, told Gotham Gazette earlier this year that he is interested in discussing increasing alternative sentencing and other diversions for teen offenders. "We need to continue this discussion," he said. "Youth courts and other alternatives should be looked at as models."

How much influence Gallivan might have with his conference on the issue is unknown. However, both he and Cuomo have said that an agreement was in reach last session but was snuffed out by time constraints.

That isn't necessarily good news for the issue in the coming session. Advocates are quick to point out that 2016 is an election year and while the issue might be good for most Democrats, being seen as tough on crime is never bad for electeds, especially Senate Republicans who will be looking to defend and grow their majority.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing



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