Gotham Gazette

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Do New York Elected Officials Deserve A Raise?

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Mayor de Blasio along the parade route (photo: @BilldeBlasio)

What should the mayor of New York City be paid each year? How much should City Council members be paid? Do elected officials deserve incremental raises each year?

Or, maybe elected officials are overpaid as it is?

Some, like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, think higher government salaries would entice “better” people into public service, meaning smarter and more honest officials.

A host of questions have popped up in New York of late as controversy swirls over corruption in Albany and the pay of state legislators - with some, like Schneiderman, calling for pay increases in order to help prevent corruption. Meanwhile, in New York City, these questions are again relevant as Mayor Bill de Blasio, in a move required by law, has called a pay commission to evaluate city elected officials’ salaries.

“Lawmakers need to come up with adequate compensation where you don’t detract people from running for office because salaries are too low, but on the flip side, not too high that the taxpayers who pay those salaries are incensed,” Blair Horner, Legislative Director at the New York Public Interest Research Group, told Gotham Gazette.

De Blasio appears to have called the commission reluctantly, as it is always tough public relations for politicians to move toward giving themselves and their colleagues raises. In the announcement of the three-person panel, de Blasio’s only statement is to praise the commissioners. The mayor currently makes $225,000 per year.

Pay dynamics at the city and state levels are very different in New York, though members of the state Legislature and City Council are all considered part-time and able to earn outside income. There are no term-limits at the state level, while there are in New York City. The mayor is required to call a compensation commission, yet the state is only just moving to such a framework in 2016. Thus, city officials last received a pay raise in 2006, while state officials haven’t seen one in over 15 years.

Pay is higher in New York City than at the state level (the governor makes $179,000 annually), though the cost of living is, of course, higher in the city than any other place in the state. This discrepancy doesn’t help state legislators who live in the five boroughs, of course, which is part of the reason we often see state Assembly members seek City Council seats (and earn money from a second job). Members of the state legislature currently earn $79,500 per year, while a City Council member earns $112,500 annually.

As always, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many New Yorkers calling for increasing the salaries of elected politicians. With wages stagnant or too low to get by on for so many, elected officials are also reluctant to pursue pay increases, as exemplified by de Blasio’s delay in calling the pay commission he recently assembled and the mayor’s pledge to not accept any recommended increase until his second term, if he is re-elected.

Not long ago, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, took $1 a year to run the city for twelve years. Bloomberg was also reluctant to call a pay commission, which he did leading to the 2006 raises, but refused to do again while in office.

Where do the wages of New York electeds stand now, how do city salaries stack up to those of officials elsewhere, and where may they be heading?

New York City Analysis & Background
The salaries of the mayor, Council members, district attorneys, and other elected officials have not been changed since 2006. Since the cost of living in the city has increased by about 18 percent since then, the commission is all but certain to recommend increases.

One of the factors the commission will take into consideration is what similar positions in the private sector pay. By that standard, many elected officials may be considered underpaid – for example, the average salary for first-year associates at private law firms in New York City is $160,000, while New York City’s five district attorneys each make $190,000.

Elected officials can reject salary increases, and the acceptance or rejection of the commission’s recommendations typically takes into account the state of the city’s economy and budget at the time. While the city’s revenues are quite strong and the budget has been growing rapidly, Mayor de Blasio and many other elected officials have decried income inequality and may be reluctant to exacerbate differences between their salaries and the earnings of lower-income constituents.

In 1991, as reported by The New York Times, both Mayor David Dinkins and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. agreed that elected officials should not receive pay increases due to the city’s budget crisis.

In 1995, everyone except Public Advocate Mark Green accepted the raises that were approved by the Council and the mayor. Green said that he could not “in good conscience accept a large salary increase” at a time when he was being forced to fire members of his staff and cut services for those in need.

Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire from his private sector success, accepted just $1 a year during his time as mayor of New York City, 2002-2013. De Blasio is of much more modest means than Bloomberg, and has two children in college and two mortgages. According to The New York Post, when asked whether Mayor de Blasio believes raises are justified, a spokesperson said he would “decline” accepting any pay hike “for the duration” of his current term.

Other Cities
At $225,000 a year, the mayor’s salary is more than four times greater than median household income in New York City, which is $52,259.

According to the City of Los Angeles salary database, the title of highest-paid mayor in the country belongs to LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who makes $239,993 annually. Although Mayor Garcetti makes roughly $15,000 more per year than Mayor de Blasio, he is responsible for approximately 4.6 million fewer people. (2014 Census estimates put the population of New York City at 8.5 million, and Los Angeles at 3.9 million.)

In New York, City Council members currently make $112,500, plus stipends, with salaries part of the regular commission review. In Chicago, council members – called aldermen – make approximately $115,000 annually, and their salaries have been pegged to changes to the cost of living for the past eight years. Since aldermen can reject taking a salary increase (or decrease, should the cost of living go down), there is an $11,000 difference between the highest and lowest salaries of Chicago’s 50 aldermen. (Though they are paid similarly, each of those 50 aldermen are responsible for far fewer constituents than New York’s 51 City Council members, given population differences.)

In Los Angeles, the salary for Council members is higher – at $184,610, Council members make a little over four times the $49,497 median household income in LA. However, members of LA’s City Council are not allowed to earn income from outside jobs, nor do they receive stipends.

On the state level, meanwhile, at $79,500 New York state lawmakers have the third-highest salaries in the country compared to their peers. Lawmakers in California earn the most with a salary of $90,526 annually, while Pennsylvania’s legislators make $84,012 per year. Still, state legislators, especially many from New York City, are seeking an increase as the cost of living increases.

De Blasio’s Commission
Albeit a bit late, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently followed the law and appointed an advisory commission to review the compensation levels of elected officials, including mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents, City Council members, and district attorneys. The three-person commission will recommend changes to those compensation levels, if warranted, in November.

The salaries of elected officials in New York City have not been reviewed since 2006; former Mayor Mike Bloomberg declined to appoint a commission in 2011. The appointment of an advisory commission in 2006 was itself the result of postponement, since a commission was supposed to be appointed in 2003, but Bloomberg opted to delay appointing a commission since the city was already facing budget cuts.

The 2006 commission’s recommendations resulted in a salary increase of 25 percent for Council members, bumping their compensation levels from $90,000 to $112,500, and increased the mayor’s salary by 15.4 percent, from $195,000 to $225,000.

New York City law requires the salaries of elected officials to be reviewed every four years by a trio of private citizens who are generally recognized for their knowledge of management and compensation. This year, the commission includes Fritz Schwarz, Jr., the Chief Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, who will chair the Commission; Jill Bright, Chief Administrative Officer at Condé Nast; and Paul Quintero, Chief Executive Office at ACCION EAST, Inc., a nonprofit that works to empower low- to moderate-income business owners with access to capital and financial education.

According to §3-601 of the New York City code, in making its recommendations, the commission will take into consideration: “the duties and responsibilities of each position; the current salary of the position and the length of time since the last change; any change in the cost of living; compression of salary levels for other officers and employees of the city; and salaries and salary trends for positions with analogous duties and responsibilities both within government and in the private sector.”

Requiring regular commissions and placing the responsibility for recommending salary increases on private citizens are means to quell discontent around the inherently contentious issue of raising the pay of elected officials. Ultimately, the mayor may accept, reject, or amend the findings of the commission, and the City Council votes on any new salaries to approve them into law.

State Level Compensation and Corruption
In April, the state Assembly included the creation of a commission on legislative, judicial, and executive compensation in a budget bill. It calls for a commission to review the compensation levels of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches to be established every four years. The first, though, will be convened in 2016, and pay raise recommendations could be passed that would go into effect for the new class of legislators come 2017.

The commission will consist of seven members: three appointed by the governor; one appointed by the Senate majority leader; one appointed by the speaker of the Assembly; and two appointed by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

Previously, a special commission on compensation had to be empanelled when agreed upon.

However, given the overwhelming unpopularity of any mention of potentially increasing the salaries of government officials, especially given the consistent parade of corruption cases coming out of Albany, their salaries often go unchanged for long periods of time. New York state-level officials have not had their salaries increased since 1999 – a duration that would be uncommon in the private sector and in many public-sector jobs.

A 2014 Quinnipiac University poll found that a vast majority of New York State voters (82 percent) oppose a pay raise for state legislators. Yet, many experts agree a review of the compensation levels of elected officials is much needed, not only because good compensation levels are necessary to attract skilled people to the positions, but also because it may help deter corruption.

“Compensation, of course, affects the recruitment pool,” said Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science and director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz. “You want to attract and retain people of ability, and honest people, therefore the whole compensation question is linked to the corruption question. ‘Why are you stealing from your campaign fund?’ ‘Well, I’m not paid enough.’ If we want to have greater probity we also have to consider greater compensation.”

Former state Assemblymember William Scarborough, a Democrat from Queens, was recently sentenced to thirteen months in prison for submitting at least $40,000 in fraudulent state travel vouchers for days he had not actually traveled to Albany. In a statement, Scarborough, who was first elected in 1994, apologized for his actions, blamed “severe financial problems,” and pointed out that state legislators had not received a raise in sixteen years.

Members of the Senate and Assembly currently make a base government salary of $79,500 per year. (The positions are considered part-time, though, and many legislators make outside income.) The governor of New York makes $179,000, the attorney general and the comptroller each make $151,500.

In January, then-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who has been in office for several decades, was charged with five counts of fraud and corruption. Federal investigators allege Silver exploited his position to rake in millions in bribes and kickbacks. And in May, then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, was indicted on charges of wire fraud, extortion, conspiracy, and bribe solicitation. Both face trial beginning in November.

Aside from major, and even minor, corruption scandals, there is a perpetual flow of questions about campaign donations, pay-to-play dynamics, and legislators earning outside income and how their non-governmental work may affect their work for the state.

These ongoing questions and the recent spate of corruption in Albany prompted Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to propose a sweeping ethics reform bill, the End New York Corruption Now Act, which seeks to drastically lower and restrict campaign contribution limits, end outside employment income for legislators, expand terms to four years, and increase legislators’ salaries to $174,000 annually.

Yet the final legislative package at the end of the 2015 session came and went without including any of Schneiderman’s reforms.

Some good government organizations, like the New York Public Interest Research Group, don’t agree with all of Schneiderman’s propositions. Horner told Gotham Gazette, “We have not endorsed the Attorney General’s proposal that state legislators should get the same pay as city lawmakers. Our view is, there’s a process. Their salaries should be determined by independent people using basic objective measurements as much as possible, making independent determinations on what is an adequate compensation level for elected officials.”

City v State
Two major differences between New York City law and state law are that in New York City, both the mayor and the City Council need to approve the recommendations made by the compensation commission in order for any raises to go into effect. This means that the Council and the mayor are effectively voting to increase their own salaries, since the raises can be retroactive to the date of recommendations. Mayor de Blasio, however, has promised not to take a salary increase until the start of his second term, if he is re-elected to one.

Whereas in the state, the pay commission’s recommendations for legislative pay raises will automatically become law and go into effect for the next class of lawmakers, on January 1, 2017, unless the Legislature specifically votes against the increases. The commission’s recommendations are due November 15, 2016. To be sure, many of the same officials will be in office in January of 2017 as are in office now, but it is still a difference.

While city officials are not supposed to have control of the regular establishment of a compensation commission, they are able to vote in retroactive salary increases, an ability that has raised eyebrows. In its report, the 2006 quadrennial advisory commission suggested “limiting the ability of government officials to raise their own salaries and receive them immediately would improve the integrity of the government and public confidence in it.”

The compensation levels of New York City Council members in particular has been hotly debated, since Council members can earn an additional $5,000 to $25,000 a year in stipends, or “lulus,” for leadership positions, including heading committees and subcommittees. What’s more, Council members are the only elected city officials among those included in the commission review that are considered part-time and allowed to earn outside income from another job.

The Speaker of the Council controls the amount and distribution of lulus, which can result in lulus being used to “reward allies and enforce discipline,” as former Council Member Walter McCaffrey stated before the 2006 Quadrennial Commission.

In its report, the 2006 Commission called lulus “ripe for reform,” and recommended that either a future Charter Revision Commission or the Council should consider reforming the practice of awarding extra stipends to Council members.

“There's no question that lulus should be done away with. Lulus are a terrible idea.,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, told Gotham Gazette. “People should be paid an appropriate base salary, and there should not be increases or stipends or special favors given out at the discretion of the speaker. It's a politicized situation and it has all too frequently been used in the past as a way of punishment and reward. It has another negative aspect, which is the creation of committees unnecessarily. It interferes with the well thought out committee structure. We see that in a much worse way in Albany.”

According to The New York Times, the 2006 advisory commission found that “Outside of New York, almost no other city council or state legislature distributes such stipends.” Even in Congress, every representative earns the same pay regardless of responsibility or seniority.

In 2014, $376,000 in stipends was doled out to Council members. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito received $25,000, while Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer was awarded $20,000 (though he turned it down).

Ten council members were offered $15,000 apiece and thirty-four others $8,000 each. Eleven council members have refused to accept the money this year (including Van Bramer), according to the Daily News editorial board, which continues its own ongoing crusade against the lulus.

Upon Mayor de Blasio’s recent announcement of a new compensation commission, Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, told The New York Post that he supports elected officials getting raises since “eight years is a long time to go without one,” but pointed out that “the real question isn’t whether they get raises, it’s the size of the raises and whether the commission will look at limiting [elected officials’] outside income and banning ‘lulus.’”

The controversy surrounding stipends for elected officials in New York is not specific to the city, as Horner told Gotham Gazette: “At state level, there are a lot of stipends being divied out, many for positions for which there's not obvious work being done. The stipends are increasingly being used as a way to reward loyalty and seniority and are less about the workload. We don’t object to a stipend being offered if somebody has to do real additional work, but we think there should be a limit on it.”

Professor Benjamin told Gotham Gazette, “Regarding additional compensation, lulus in Albany, I think that this process grew up to compensate leaders in part to make salary adjustments. So, in a small body like the Senate you can give every committee chair something more. In the Assembly, you can reward a lot of people, but not all people. There should be some increment of compensation for leadership positions, but I prefer to have salary equity and less in the way of special payments, with periodic salary adjustments, which would be fair and better.”

Next Steps
Blair Horner, of NYPIRG, told Gotham Gazette that pegging salaries to cost-of-living changes could “unnecessarily exacerbate public citizens. They don’t get to choose if their salaries go up and down. And if what they see in their lives is that their salaries are stagnant but elected officials are going up, they’re going to resent that. It's hard to do that because it's a politically charged topic. If you’re going to make changes, it needs to be done in a delicate matter. One way to do that is to maximize independence of who makes the call and focus on publicly defensible metrics.”

Professor Benjamin, who is also currently part of a compensation commission in Ulster County, expressed a similar point of view: “I think having a commission is a good idea.” Benjamin believes, though, that it is important that “sometimes the commission says ‘we won’t increase the pay.’ In my current commission in Ulster County, because the positions are part-time, I advocated for the legislature giving up its health insurance coverage for a significant salary increase. And the effect of that was to link the consideration to the total compensation package.”

“Simple constitutionality requires that policy-makers make the decision about things that government spends, and one of the things that government spends is on their salaries,” Benjamin added.

This year’s New York City advisory commission will report back with its recommendations in November. While it’s clear that the compensation levels of elected officials need to be reviewed from time to time, the announcement of a review commission is generally seen as unfavorable – in this case prompting the New York Post to print a headline declaring, “Bill de Blasio moves to give himself a raise.”

by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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

Kaloyeros Cuomo Buffalo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 28

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

In its post-Pope Francis world, will New York politics take heed of the pontiff's words and be a place of more cooperation, compassion, and grace?

The best place to look, of course, will be the relationship between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo. The two powerful New York Democrats embraced and chatted face-to-face while awaiting Pope Francis on Thursday of last week. Perhaps being in the pope's presence will move the two to put aside old differences and work together for the good of the people of New York. Case in point: MTA funding, where, quite seriously, lives are at stake as subways run overcrowded and needed repairs go untended to.

Speaking of the governor, Cuomo gave a stirring euology at the Saturday funeral of his former aide, Carey Gabay, who was killed by gunfire in Brooklyn. Cuomo included a call for federal gun regulations in his speech and said that Democrats must approach the issue like those on the right approach their agenda.

Cuomo's public schedule lists no events for Monday as of Sunday evening. Mayor de Blasio was in Connecticut Saturday to Sunday, presumably visiting his son Dante, who is a freshman at Yale. After a week in which de Blasio was very focused on Pope Francis' visit and tying his own agenda to the pope's messages on inequality, de Blasio starts his week making another announcement regarding his battle against homelessness. The mayor will hold a 2:30 p.m. press conference to make an announcement about "homelessness prevention," according to his public schedule. On Friday, the mayor is expected to speak at an event in Washington, D.C. - see below for details.

It is a slow week at the City Council this week in terms of committee hearings, though there is a full-body Stated Meeting on Thursday afternoon, at which new bills will be introduced and some previously-heard bills passed through and sent to the mayor's desk. [Read our report on a new bill, the Grocery Worker Retention Act, which is controversial and just had its first committee hearing]

And, President Obama starts the week in New York City, along with many other world leaders - Obama spoke at the United Nations on Sunday; on Monday he will again speak to representatives of many other countries and hold private meetings.

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:

At 9 a.m. Monday on the steps of City Hall, there will be a press conference in support of Planned Parenthood funding, featuring several elected officials and advocates such as "Assemblyman Keith Wright, Congressman Charles Rangel, NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Zenaida Mendez, Now-NYS, Sharon Nelson, President of National Political Women's Caucus, NYC Chapter," and "Stakeholders and Concerned Citizens" - according to AM Wright's office.

Monday at 11 a.m., members of the New York City Council and other elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, will issue a public proclamation on the steps of City Hall, honoring Ethel Rosenberg on what would have been her 100th birthday.

Also at 11 a.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña hosts a roundtable for "ethnic and community media" at Tweed.

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, former Environmental Committee Chair Donovan Richards, and other Council members will gather at Green City Force in Brooklyn for a press conference to announce a "new funding initiative for Greener NYC."

On Monday in the State Legislature:

  • At 11 a.m. the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will hold a public hearing to "examine what steps can be taken to preserve Plum Island as an open space in light of the pending sale."
  • At 6 p.m. the Senate Standing Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities will hold a public hearing regarding "The future of sheltered workshops in New York State for families and individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities."

Monday at noon, Comptroller Scott Stringer will appear on BK Live, via BRIC TV.

Also at noon at Brooklyn Borough Hall, BP Eric Adams "will practice yoga with students from PS 196 Ten Eyck in East Williamsburg as part of his second annual celebration of National Yoga Month, a daylong gathering in Brooklyn Borough Hall featuring classes and demonstrations of yoga and related holistic living disciplines, such as meditation and tai chi. Prior to the yoga demonstration, Borough President Adams will join local practitioners to speak about the importance of inner wellness to the health of Brooklynites."

Monday afternoon in the Bronx: "South Bronx Rising Together, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. and dozens of school and community stakeholders" will mark Attendance Awareness Month and commit to ending chronic student absence in the heart of the South Bronx.

At 5:30 p.m. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Carlos Menchaca, the New York City Council Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus, and the New York City Council will host a New York City Celebration of 194 years of Mexican Independence.

At 7 p.m. Citizen Preparedness Corps Training Program, which trains citizens to be ready to react in case of natural disasters, will be held in Queens, sponsored by the governor's office, Congressional Rep. Grace Meng; Borough President Melinda Katz; State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky; Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi and City Council Member Karen Koslowitz.

On Monday evening, it's Community Voices Heard's 20th Annual Honorable Shirley Chisholm Lights of Freedom Awards Celebration. Public Advocate James and other elected officials are expected.

Monday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Ritchie Torres (District 15, Bronx) time TBA
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens), 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn), 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (District 21, Queens), 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens), 6:30p.m.

Tuesday Mayor de Blasio and Fred Wilson, Founder and Chairman of CSNYC, will appear live on CNBC's Squawk Box at 6:50 a.m. to discuss Computer Science for All. After, at about 10 a.m., the mayor will testify at Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's public hearing on civil legal services.

Tuesday starting at 8 a.m., City & State NY is hosting "Housing Health Equity," presented by NYC Smoke Free at New York Law School. The forum will "discuss strategies to address NYC's tobacco-related health disparities as well as efforts to house health equity with smoke-free housing." Keynote remarks will be made by Assemblymember Felix Ortiz; the event will feature an interview with city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett and a panel discussion including City Council Member Donovan Richards.

At 8:15 a.m. the Manhattan Institute will host the fifth annual Proxy Monitor event, which will feature an interview of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, followed by a panel discussion.

At 8:30 a.m. "join the Municipal Art Society of New York and the NYC Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency for a comprehensive discussion about ongoing and upcoming efforts to build resilience in New York City!" The event will feature conversation about the City's Phase 2 application for the National Disaster Resilience Competition. The event will include several speakers, such as Amy Chester of Rebuild by Design; Kate Dineen of the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery; Rob Freudenberg from the Regional Plan Association; Lisa Bova Hiatt from the Governor's Office of Storm Recovery; Mary Rowe of Municipal Art Society; and Daniel A. Zarrilli of the NYC Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Speaker Mark-Viverito will be at the Apollo Theater for Glamour Magazine's "A Global Conversation on the Power of Educating Adolescent Girls" on a panel with First Lady Michelle Obama, former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and actress Charlize Theron.

At noon at Foley Square, Mark-Viverito will participate in "Planned Parenthood's Pink Out Day Rally to support reproductive health access for all New Yorkers." Many other elected officials and advocates are expected.

At noon as well, at City Hall, "City Council Members Vanessa L. Gibson and Corey Johnson will join community groups, education activists, and fellow Council Members to call for passage of vital amendments to the Student Safety Act. The updated Act will strengthen transparency and data collection on school discipline issues, including incidents between students and police. A vote on the Act is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, September 30th. These much needed amendments will increase transparency and strengthen data collection to help the City further advance an approach to school discipline that is grounded in creating safe and supportive schools, while respecting the dignity of all students, and keeping students in school."

Also Tuesday at noon at the Manhattan Borough President's office, a press conference at which "Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, and civil rights attorney Norman Siegel will unveil a new report with recommendations for improving police-community relations in New York City...The report's findings are based on feedback gathered from over a thousand New Yorkers at a series of town halls and digital dialogues in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The announcement, which will highlight key proposals outlined in the report, comes following a number of recent headlines addressing public safety and proper policing practices citywide."

At 6 p.m. Tuesday: WE ACT's 2015 gala will honor Luis Acosta, Founder and President of El Puente; Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network; James S. Hoyte, Counsel of ADS Ventures; Sarah Martin, WE ACT and a NYC recycling activist; Denise Scott, Executive VP for Programs at LISC; and Edison Severino, Business Manager of LIUNA Local 78; for their achievements in engaging a larger demographic with environmental problems on the rise in New York and the world.

Also at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the city's Panel for Educational Policy will meet on Staten Island.

Also at 6 p.m. Tuesday, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo is hosting a community presentation from the Department of City Planning on two rezoning proposals: "Zoning for Quality and Affordability" and "Mandatory Inclusionary Housing."

At 7 p.m. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold a small business roundtable discussion, where East Village small business owners can speak about challenges they face, informing elected officials, city, state & federal agencies, and small business stakeholders.

Tuesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Andrew Cohen (District 11, Bronx), 7 p.m.
  • CM Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (District 21, Queens), 7p.m.
  • CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan), 6 p.m.
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens), 6p.m.

Wednesday morning, Crain’s New York Business will hold a forum with Republican Senator Majority Leader John Flanagan. Flanagan will discuss the Senate majority’s top priorities and the de Blasio administration’s Albany agenda.

At 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Manhattan Institute hosts “Data and Education: Can new tools empower parents and improve schools?” The event will begin with a panel and Q&A moderated by Naomi Nix, Senior Reporter, The Seventy Four. will give a presentation at the end of the conference.

On Wednesday, Families for Excellent Schools is planning a morning rally at Cadman Plaza, march across the Brooklyn Bridge, and 12:30 p.m. press conference at City Hall “to demand equal opportunity in our schools.” The pro-charter school organization is expected to demand "bold" action from Mayor de Blasio.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m. Committee on Finance will meet to discuss several changes that would allow certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.
  • 1:30 p.m. The City Council Stated Meeting, as always, prefaced by the pre-stated press conference led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at 12:30.

At 12 p.m. The Center for NYC Neighborhoods will hold a discussion regarding “The Future of Affordable Homeownership in NYC” at New York Law School, with “specialists in the fields of housing, finance, academia, government, and more to talk about what challenges New York City homeowners are facing and hear about new and innovative ways we can help keep working families in New York.”

At 6 p.m., VOCAL New York and the recently launched SIF NYC campaign will hold a town hall on rising homelessness and the problem of drug abuse, proposing an alternative to Public Injection, and supporting Supervised Injection Facilities.

At 7 p.m. Take Back NYC will host a small business forum, advocating for legislation that would stop unreasonable rent increases and unfair leases to small businesses by landlords. City Council Member Annabel Palma will deliver opening remarks.

Also at 7 p.m., BetaNYC will hold a “Civic Hack Night” at Civic Hall - a weekly initiative that allows technologists, designers, developers, data scientists, map makers, and activists to gather and to work on “civic technologies” to improve the city together.

On Wednesday evening, Comptroller Stringer hosts a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.

Wednesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Costa Constantinides (District 22, Queens), 7 p.m.
  • CM Robert Cornegy (District 36, Brooklyn), 7 p.m.
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens), 6:30 p.m.,
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan), 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Brad Lander (District 39, Brooklyn), 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx), 4p.m.
  • CM I. Daneek Miller (District 27, Queens), 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens), 6:30p.m.
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan), 6 p.m.

On Thursday, starting at 9 a.m., the fifth annual "New York State Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise Forum: The State of Business Opportunities" will commence in Albany, as announced by Governor Cuomo. Offering participation in Workshops, Seminars, Exhibitions and opportunities to meet New York's top public and private sector leaders and procurement decision makers, the event will last until Friday 3 p.m.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a public land use hearing.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Museum of the City of New York: Kendall Fells, Organizing Director of Fight for $15, will join Sarah Maslin Nir, New York Times reporter; Jessamyn Rodriguez, Founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen; Dorian Warren, political analyst and MSNBC host for a discussion titled "The New New York Activists: Living City, Living Wage." Georgia Levenson Keohane, Senior Fellow at New America, will moderate.

Thursday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan), 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens), 7 p.m.
  • CM Donovan Richards (District 31, Queens) time TBA
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan), 6 p.m.
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan), 6 p.m.
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens), 6 p.m.
  • CM Jumaane D. Williams (District 45, Brooklyn), 6:30p.m.

Friday and the weekend
The governor's "Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise Forum" continues in Albany on Friday.

"On Friday, October 2, 2015 American Family Voices will bring together representatives of the business community and leaders in the national progressive movement. Sessions of the conference will explore shared policy priorities and how we may work together to collaborate on a legislative agenda, support businesses with progressive values, and build state level infrastructure. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio will address the conference during the morning session."

On Saturday at 10 a.m. as part of the New Yorker Festival, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson; Shawn Armbrust, executive director of Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project; Patrick Quinn, the Forty First Governor of Illinois; and Tyrone Hood, a citizen who spent twenty one years in prison for a wrongful conviction, will speak on a panel: "Justice Delayed: Guilty Until Proven Innocent." Nicholas Schmidle, New Yorker staff writer, will moderate the discussion.

And a participatory budgeting event on Saturday is being held by CM Antonio Reynoso, at 1 p.m. 

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

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

Report Shows Need for Elementary After-School Expansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by John Spina for Gotham Gazette

City Council Considers Regulation of Grocery Personnel Decisions

daneek miller presser

Council Member Miller (photo by John McCarten)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

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

week in review bus readers

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

Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday September 25

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

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pope 911 memorial


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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DSNY Commissioner Garcia (photo: @NYCSanitation)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Cole Rosengren for Gotham Gazette

In Pope Francis, De Blasio Finds Ultimate Validator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One can imagine de Blasio hearing this and smiling.

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

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

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

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

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

Heastie Cuomo Flanagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

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