Gotham Gazette

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Government

Election Reform: Big Changes, Little Notice


Governor Eliot Spitzer has announced a package of reform proposals that could fundamentally change many aspects of elections in New York State. But despite its sweeping nature, the plan, coming in a flurry of activity in the closing days of April, received little if any fanfare.

The election changes include proposals for Election Day voter registration, altering the state’s redistricting process, uniform poll site hours, less burdensome signature requirements for candidates seeking office, and reform of the system for selecting candidates for judgeships. In announcing reforms, Spitzer said, “This package will effectively end the gerrymandering that has led New York to the highest incumbency rate in the country and preserved a status quo that for years has been counterproductive to the public interest. It will break down the barriers to voter registration and employ simple and effective methods to improve voter turnout and access to the polls.”

The governor announced the measures as a group, along with a series of reforms to the New York State court system, including a court restructuring proposal and pay raises for the state’s judges. Spitzer’s call for raises for judges, without a recommendation for a pay increase for the state legislature, stole the spotlight from the election reform measures long sought after by good-government advocates. Meanwhile, the governor has focused his reform efforts on the fight to strengthen the states campaign finance laws (see related article)—some of the weakest in the nation. It is reported that the governor will not agree to pay raises for members of the State Senate and Assembly unless the legislature make good on reform promises -- starting with changes in how campaigns are financed in New York State.

PROPOSALS FOR CHANGE

The election reform proposals the governor floated included constitutional amendments as well as various changes to state election law.

Creation of an Independent Redistricting Commission

Responding to growing dissatisfaction with the current process for the drawing of state district lines, Spitzer introduced a constitutional amendment to reduce the role that partisan politics play in the process. The proposal calls for the creation of an independent redistricting commission to propose new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts. The lines are redrawn every 10 years, following the census.

Currently members of legislature determine the new districts. Critics have long complained that the existng system leads to uncompetitive election as legislators draw lines that protect their own seats. At least partly as a result of this, about 98 percent of the legislature’s incumbents are reelected every two years, usually by huge margins.

The constitutional amendment would replace the current system with an 11-member independent redistricting commission. Eight of the commissioners would be appointed by the four legislative leaders, with the Senate majority and minority leaders, the Assembly speaker and the Assembly minority leader each selecting two members. These eight members would then chose the other three commissioners. The commission would also have the power to finalize and approve the redistricting plans. Now the legislature approves its own district lines.

Election Day Voter Registration

In an effort to increase voter participation around the state, the governor proposed a pair of bills aimed at allowing New Yorkers to register to vote on Election Day. The first would amend the state constitution to remove the requirement that, to be eligible to vote, a person must submit a registration form to the Board of Elections in advance of the election. The second would call for legislation detailing how the state would implement Election Day voter registration.

The Election Day voter registration bill would allow people who register on the day of an election, or within 15 days of a primary and 10 days of a general election, to vote if they sign an oath or affidavit attesting to their qualifications to vote and certifying that they have not previously voted in the election; and present adequate proof of identity and residence. These voters will be permitted to vote only by paper affidavit ballot.

Election Administration, Polling Hours and Ballot Access.

To address a host of issues related to how the state’s elections are administered and how candidates gain access to the ballot, the governor proposed a multi-faceted bill for consideration by the state legislature. It would:
• Require all polling places across the state to be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on primary and general election days. (This already is required for New York City.)
•Reduce by one half the number of signatures a candidate needs to get on the ballot.
• Set simpler requirements for the petition forms potential candidates must submit.
• Make it easier for any presidential candidate who qualifies for federal matching funds under the Presidential Campaign Fund Act to get on the ballot in the state.
• Eliminate the need for voters to disclose details of their vacation, illness or other reasons for requesting an absentee ballot.
• Designate voter registration and votes cast as "confidential election information" and establish penalties for stealing, altering or destroying such information.

Judicial Selection

In response to two federal court decisions that have found New York’s system of choosing state Supreme Court judges unconstitutional, the governor proposed broad changes to the way justices of the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, and judges of the Court of Claims, Family Court, Surrogate's Court and County Court are selected. The U.S. courts ruled that the current system, which uses nominating conventions to choose Supreme Court candidates, violates the rights of voters, candidates and political party members to meaningfully participate in the selection process. This existing system puts much of the power to choose judges in the hands of the leaders of the two major political parties.

The proposal to amend the state constitution would eliminate elections for these positions altogether and establish a merit-based appointment system that mirrors the process used to select Court of Appeals judges and make interim appointments to various trial level courts. Under this proposal, various statewide and regional judicial nominating commissions would be established. These commissions would evaluate and screen judicial candidates based on their character, qualifications and professional experience. They would be directed to be mindful that the court should represent the diversity of people living in the jurisdiction.

Until the passage of such a constitutional amendment, the governor proposed altering the convention system, to allow for more competitive and open judicial elections.

SUPPORT FOR THE PLAN

Despite the governor's understated introduction strategy, the election reform proposals have gained support from the good-government community.

Commenting on the election day voter registration proposal, president of the League of Women Voters of New York State, Marcia Merrins said, “It is essential that our state constitution reflect the ability of citizens to exercise their absolute right to vote rather than be used an impediment to that right. We applaud the governor for proposing this constitutional amendment for providing this improved access.”

Doug Israel is policy director at Citizens Union Foundation, which publishes Gotham Gazette. 

Metal Bat Ban, Benefits for Domestic Patners, and Chocolate Milk


Councilmember James Oddo is afraid of metal baseball bats. Convinced that the bats pose an unreasonable danger to children, the Republican minority leader of the City Council has spent years fighting to ban them.

Last week, Oddo got his wish. A its stated meeting on March 14, the council passed a bill (Intro 341-a) that would make New York City the first municipality to forbid their use high school leagues. The council also voted on bills related to domestic partnerships and bike safety, and swore in a new member.

METAL BAT BAN

Oddo's self-confessed fixation on metal bats has been met with a mixture of amusement, admiration, and scorn. He guessed that support for the bill came partly out of his colleague's desire for him to stop talking about bats.

"I know this is not the most pressing issue in the eyes of my colleagues or New Yorkers, but I believe in this bill," he said. "I don't like government overreaching, but when people fail to act, someone has to step in."

Oddo's concern about metal bats is about safety, but several other council members said the metal bats leave New York's young ballplayers at a competitive disadvantage, since the major leagues allow only wooden bats. Councilmember Leroy Comrie went as far as to suggest that the increasing proportion of foreign players in Major League Baseball is in part due to American players' lack of expertise with wooden bats.

But critics questioned the bill's underlying assumption that a baseball comes off of a metal bat faster than one struck by a wooden bat. Statistical evidence to back this up is patchy at best. Concerns were also raised about the cost of using wooden bats, which break and must be replaced more frequently than metal bats.

Companies that manufacture metal bats lobbied heavily against the bill. One manufacturer, Easton Sports, spent $134,000 trying to convince the council to vote against it, according to the New York Sun.

The editorial boards of local newspapers opposed the ban. The News wrote that it "meddles in the rules for sports – a territory where lawmakers are most unwelcome." The Post called the safety of metal bats " a non-issue, except in the minds of busybodies like Oddo and his colleagues on the council," and said that the bill was "dumb."

The rancor had some council members on edge, as they jumped to Oddo's defense. Many members praised his perseverance during last week's meeting, and some had harsh words for the lobbyists and editorial boards.

"Anyone who goes after one of us goes after all of us, and will be dealt with," said Comrie.

But the criticism of the bill resonated with some members of the council.

“As much as this is an emotional and sensitive issue, sometimes you have to have facts, and the statistics are just not there," said Councilmember Tony Avella. Councilmember Melinda Katz, a ballplayer herself, says she hits harder with a wooden bat.

Proponents of the bill dismissed these arguments, saying that it was "common sense" that metal bats caused the ball to travel faster. Oddo did temper his bill to attract more support; originally it would have banned metal bats in Little Leagues, as well.

The council voted 39 to six to pass the bill, a sharp split by its standards. Avella, Inez Dickens, Dan Garodnick, Letitia James, Katz, and John Liu voted against the bill. Hiram Monserrate and David Weprin abstained.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has left open the possibility that he will veto the bill, but the council has the votes to override.

DOMESTIC PARTNERS

The council also strengthened the city's law providing health care, city services, and other benefits to domestic partners. In 1998, City Hall passed a law granting domestic partners many of the same benefits as spouses. But the law did not give domestic partnerships every benefit, and new benefits for spouses that have been added since 1998 have not necessarily been extended to domestic partners. Intro 501-a would require that any city benefit provided to spouses also be provided to domestic partners.

Supporters say that the bill finishes what they had initially intended to do in 1998, but had not been able to for political reasons.

Rights of domestic partnerships have arisen as an issue recently in the Department of Homeless Services. Married couples at risk of homelessness are eligible for family housing. Under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, domestic partners were also eligible. But beginning in 2003, the Department of Homeless Services no longer recognized domestic partners as families, requiring them to separate in order to seek shelter. Hundreds of couples, the majority of them straight, were denied family housing, according to Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless. There are currently 9,300 families sleeping in the shelter system each month.

Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn agreed to change the Department of Homeless Services' policy in February. Markee said that the changes would prevent similar inequities in the future.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn saw last week's action as important for symbolic as well as practical reasons.

"We can't pass a civil marriage in the city of New York for same sex couples, but we can do the most that a municipal government can do," she said. "I hope that this does send a very strong message to those in our state and country who do have power over marriage."

The bill passed 42 to three. Simcha Felder, Dennis Gallagher, and newcomer Vincent Ignizio voted no. Darlene Mealy and James Oddo abstained.

The council also passed a resolution (Res. 366) asking the US Congress to reintroduce a bill that would allow citizens and legal residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration to the United States in the same way that spouses can. That resolution passed by a vote of 39 to five, with Councilmembers Felder, Gallagher, Vincent Gentile, Ignizio, and James Vacca voting no. Three others – Mealy, Oddo, and Peter Vallone – abstained.

BIKES, TRANS FATS, VOTING MACHINES AND FLAVORED MILK

The council passed two bills related to bike safety.

Intro 24-a would require businesses whose employees use bicycles to provide them with bike helmets, and to require employees to wear them. Those employers who do not would be held criminally liable, while commercial bike riders would face a fine for riding without a helmet. That bill passed 46 to one, with Avella voting no.

Intro 58-a would require such businesses to post bicycle safety procedures and the rules of the road in English, Spanish, and any other language used by those riding bikes for their jobs. That bill passed 45 to two, with Gallagher and Vacca voting no.

The council also voted to ban trans fats, which would effectively make the Board of Health's rules city law. That bill passed 46 to one, with Avella voting no.

The council passed a resolution (131-a) encouraging New York State to certify Paper Ballot Optical Scan voting systems as the new voting technology for New York City.

Another resolution (267-a) encourages the Department of Education to reconsider serving flavored milk in public schools. Currently schools only serve 1 percent and non-fat milk, with chocolate milk available occasionally. The council would like the department to consider serving strawberry and vanilla milk in cafeterias, as well.

NEW COUNCIL ASSIGNMENTS

Also at the meeting, a new councilmember was sworn in – Vincent Ignizio of Staten Island. Ignizo left the State Assembly to replace Andrew Lanza, who left the council to go to the State Senate. Ignizio will serve on the education, environmental protection, land use, standards and ethic, transportation committees, and the planning, dispositions & concessions subcommittee, part of the land use committee. Ignizio was to have been sworn in earlier, but a controversy over the eligibility of another newly elected member, Matheiu Eugene, delayed the ceremony. Eugene won the seat formerly held by Yvette Clarke, but his residency was brought into question. Another special election to fill that seat will be held April 24, with Eugene running again.

Letitia James was named as the chair of the contracts committee, taking Clarke's position. The appointment comes with a $10,000 stipend.

Jessica Lappin gave birth since the last stated meeting, and did not attend.

 

Speaker Christine C. Quinn: State of the City Address: February 15, 2007


Speaker Christine C. Quinn
State of the City Address
February 15, 2007

Remarks As Delivered

I want to thank all of you, and all of my colleagues, all of our community partners and advocates in this room, for making this such a great first year for me as Speaker.... and such a positive and productive year for our City.

And Mayor Bloomberg, I too would like to thank you for being a true partner in government.

One of America's greatest heroes, Jackie Robinson, said “A life isn't significant except for its impact on other lives.”

It's a wonderful quote that captures what public service is all about.

All of us are here to make a difference….to help solve people's problems.

In an effort to become more relevant and more effective, we've taken an honest look at ourselves and how we do business…

We've acknowledged that some things we did weren't really working.

And we made changes.

We put aside differences, whether party, ego or anything else…

to work together to improve our city.

We've been up front with each other -- and with the Mayor -- about what we think is right and what we think is wrong for New York City.

We focused on progress, not politics, and we took steps to reinforce our commitment to good government.

We didn't agree on every issue all the time - but we showed the public is best served when government puts collaboration over conflict.

Thanks to so many in this room, these reforms and this new spirit of cooperation have produced real achievements –  and have made this a more livable City.

There's probably no better example of the Council's new approach, than the passage of the citywide garbage plan.

For too long, a few neighborhoods – predominantly poor and of color – bore the health and environmental consequences of storing the City's garbage or having it shipped through their backyards. 

Now, it might have been easier for these 51 members to take a “not in my backyard” approach, but that wouldn't have solved this decades-old problem. 

Instead we came together -- under the leadership of Mike McMahon -- to pass a plan that took more garbage trucks off the road and was fair to all five boroughs.

Time and time again, we've come together to find common ground

to solve community problems.

When a series of tragedies put nightclubs on page one, the Council  -- led by Peter Vallone and Melinda Katz -- did more than pursue headlines, we worked together to make New York nightlife safer. 

When we found out that the City's Finest didn't have the highest quality bullet proof vests…together with Vinnie Gentile and Maria Baez, we made THEIR protection OUR priority.

And as a result of our efforts, 18,000 police officers now have the best bullet proof vests money can buy.

When we learned the New York City Housing Authority was in financial trouble, we fought for and -- thanks to Rosie Mendez and Melissa Mark Viverito --  we secured Section 8 vouchers for 2,300 families.

We set a long-term goal to cut the number of hungry New Yorkers in half and to bring healthier food to every community… and we've made real progress.

Just a year later, as a result our advocacy, the City has a brand

new approach.

The Mayor's Office has hired a Citywide Food Policy Coordinator.

More needy families are receiving food stamps and more green markets are accepting them, thanks to Eric Gioia, Bill DeBlasio and Betsy Gotbaum.

We have a long way to go, but we've laid real groundwork for achieving this ambitious goal.

By getting things done, by keeping our word, we've increased people's faith in government.

That's why instead of sticking to the status quo, this Council embraced reform and made real changes to restore people's faith in the power of government.

We changed the lobbying laws to erase any perception of special influence on the work of this body.

We brought the Council into the communities we represent, so everyday New Yorkers could get more involved in their government and in setting our priorities.

People work for a living. 

They don't have time to take an afternoon off and schlep to City Hall for a hearing...so we went to them – holding public meetings from Flatbush

to Flushing.

We also improved the Council's operating rules so we could become more democratic and more professional. 

And now, we must build on all this progress, by reforming our campaign finance system so the public can see -- we're looking out for their interests, not anyone else's.

New York City has one of the best campaign finance programs in the nation…

….but there is still a sense of special influence and unfairness.

It undermines the integrity of the system in the eyes of the public and those that run for office.

Contributions by those who do business with the city must be restricted.

Loopholes in the ban on corporate contributions must be closed.

And candidates who abide by the rules must get quicker and clearer decisions from the Campaign Finance Board.

Simcha Felder and I, working with the Mayor, will introduce legislation

in the coming weeks that will make needed reforms and enhance candidate participation in the public finance system. 

Making government work for New Yorkers is about more than just reforming lobbying or campaign finance laws.

Effective government is about making a connection to the problems people face in their everyday lives.

Last year, we announced CouncilStat, a new tool to identify and respond to shortfalls in government services.

Now I know that combining tens of thousands of constituent concerns --

from 51 district offices into one central database is not necessarily a headline grabbing concept.

But CouncilStat will let us see when one constituent call is more than an isolated problem – when it's actually part of a larger trend that requires a legislative, budget or policy response.

This spring, CouncilStat will be operating in five districts – one in each borough.

And by the end of the year, it will be in every district office, providing the Council with a snapshot of gaps in government services, and allowing us to develop citywide responses to citywide problems.

CouncilStat and the Mayor's 311 allow citizens to directly report problems to government.

But government doesn't have the same ability to communicate directly with the public. 

If there's an emergency and we need to get information out fast – we still rely on third parties, like the media –– or on outdated technology like the emergency broadcast system.

It's amazing, that in this day and age of cellphones and blackberries, we're still relying on something from the cold war.

Partnering with the Mayor, we are going to develop a new emergency response system... one that can get real time information directly to New Yorkers.

A year ago we spoke about ending the annual budget dance with the Mayor.

This issue is about much more than the back and forth of symbolic cuts and restorations.

The budget dance is bad government; it detracts from our responsibility to be stewards of the taxpayer's dollars... to make sure we root out waste and identify unnecessary spending.

Thanks to the hard work of all my colleagues, funding for libraries, summer youth jobs, trash pick up, arts organizations, the CCRB, parks maintenance and family day care are now in the baseline of the budget.

Now we're not quite ready to spin Donna Summer's Last Dance, but the curtain is finally starting to come down.

Addressing the budget dance will allow us to connect the budget to the long-term needs of the City; from housing to education -- from public safety to infrastructure.

We'll also identify needed cuts, from outdated programs to government waste.

We are committed to making responsible choices on both sides of the budget ledger.

Today, our city is enjoying a tremendous fiscal boom…

Wall Street is thriving and record numbers of tourists are visiting.

But unfortunately, no fiscal boom lasts forever.

And in the good times, you need to save money.

It's not rocket science. 

It's common sense. 

Families do it, businesses do it, … even squirrels save nuts for the winter!

New York City may be the only entity – human, governmental or animal -- that is literally prohibited from saving its own money. 

This didn't start out as some sinister plan to handcuff New York City.

When the City was on the verge of bankruptcy thirty years ago, a balanced budget was one of the appropriate fiscal constraints that helped save the day.

For the City's own good, it was required to spend only what it took in – nothing more and nothing less.

Back then, it was the right thing to do. 

But now it's thirty years later --  the Berlin Wall fell, bellbottoms came

out of -- and back into -- style, and the first of the MTV generation are about to get their AARP cards.

A lot's changed – so should this.

As we saw after the September 11th attacks, without a rainy day fund, there's no choice when times are bad -- but to cut services or raise taxes.

This savings prohibition is a relic of a bygone era.

And I am pleased to announce that at my request -- Senator Diane Savino and Assemblymember Denny Farrell have agreed to sponsor legislation in Albany to create a New York City Rainy Day Fund.

Today, the City's fiscal health is very strong…probably stronger than at any point in recent history.

The treasury is flush -- but not every resident is sharing in this great prosperity.

While some are accumulating extraordinary wealth; there are plenty of others struggling to stay afloat …to stay afloat in a city that is becoming more and more expensive.

We've heard this over and over again - in almost every community conversation we had - whether with Inez Dickens in Harlem, Domenic Recchia in Bensonhurst, Leroy Comrie in Jamaica or Maria Arroyo in Melrose.

There is a growing sense across the boroughs that the day is coming when the men and women who protect us, who teach our children, who take care of our parents, and who serve our coffee won't be able to afford to live in New York City.

And middle class neighborhoods are quietly but steadily disappearing from the city's landscape.

In 1970, they made up nearly 50% of the City; in 2000, it was 30%.

And the numbers are decreasing every year. 

The issue isn't how much some investment banker made.

or that certain businesses are doing too well.

But the success of New York City can't be judged solely by the success of Wall Street or Sotheby's.

We want them to do very, very well – but they really aren't looking to

Chris Quinn or the Council for help. 

It's everyday New Yorkers – bus drivers, nurses, construction workers,

and small business owners – that need our help to deal with the rising cost of living.

President John F Kennedy said – a rising tide lifts all boats.

But I'm worried that if we don't do something -- this rising tide is going to push a lot of boats right out into the Atlantic Ocean…

In the year ahead, all of us must work together to keep the middle class and those striving to get there from being squeezed out of our city --- a city that desperately needs them.

The greatest financial burden on New Yorkers is housing – an issue my colleagues and I hear time and time again.

The cost of housing was the region's main driver of inflation last year.

You don't have to be an economist to understand that housing costs are a huge issue for most New Yorkers.

Just look at the long lines when additional Section 8 vouchers were recently announced.

This is a huge crisis staring us right in the face.

Mayor Bloomberg & Housing Commissioner Shaun Donovan have put forward an ambitious plan to create and preserve 165,000 units of housing.

I support that goal one hundred percent.

But this plan alone is not enough...we need a further commitment and

a lot of collaboration….

the kind we demonstrated when we reformed the 421-a tax exemption program.

Under the leadership of Erik Dilan, we took an existing tax break and we made it a more effective tool for affordable housing and economic development.

Instead of advocating one extreme or the other and ending up with nothing, we reached a compromise –

-- a compromise that promoted good policy and will become law.

After September 11th,

we had to raise property taxes.

But we made a promise –

-- a promise to reduce those taxes when times were better.

Now times are better.

And we'll work with the Mayor to make good on that commitment.

But home owners aren't the only ones who sacrificed for the good of our city.

For most, New York City is a city of renters... millions of New Yorkers who live paycheck to paycheck; never getting a bonus; lucky to get a raise; doing the jobs that make our city run.

They are facing the same housing pressures... But they keep getting the short end of the stick.

When property taxes go up, their rents go up too... because their landlords pass higher costs on to them.

2/3 of our residents rent their homes - and for too long, they've been forgotten -- and ignored when it comes to tax relief.

They've not benefited from the rebates or the tax breaks owning a home can bring.

In a year with a larger than anticipated surplus, it's finally time --- time for the City's renters to receive some long overdue help.

Today, I am proposing a renters tax break.

Our plan will provide a $300 credit for working families.

And 1.1 million tenants will benefit. 

A home is a home, whether you rent it or you own it.

So when we go to Albany, it will be for tenants and homeowners alike.

But tax relief is only a part of the equation  --- too many affordable apartments are being lost – because of weakened rent protections, landlord neglect and the soaring cost of real estate. 

Just look at what happened at Stuy Town and Peter Cooper.

This - despite the dogged and valiant effort of

Dan Garodnick and the tenants association.

If we keep losing the existing housing stock, it doesn't matter how much new affordable housing we build.

That's why we'll work with Charles Barron and the residents of Starrett City in their fight to preserve their community and their way of life.

This year, we'll also launch a renewed campaign in Albany to force the repeal of Urstadt and regain our control over New York City's rent protection laws.

And right here at home, we'll pass 2 landmark laws to protect tenants against harassment and to make sure that New York City apartments are kept in livable condition.

The vast majority of landlords are law abiding, responsible citizens. 

This historic overhaul won't affect them at all.

But let me be clear… if you are one of the bad actors, consider yourself forewarned – things are going to be a lot different.

We've all heard the horror stories.

Hot water that is suddenly ice cold, routine repairs that are never scheduled.

Tenants can't leave -- because they've got nowhere to go.

And under the existing laws, they have little option except to complain to the very person causing the problem.

If they have the resources - they can take a landlord to court for each and every individual violation - but they are helpless against a pattern of harassment.

Until now…

This year, the Council will pass a law that will give a tenant a legal cause of action in housing court to fight harassment.

But to really get at the bad buildings, the ones that are downright dangerous, we need to drastically change the City's approach and give HPD the power to better enforce the housing maintenance code.

Over the past year, in a true example of cooperation, we've been working with Tish James, the City, the rent stabilization association, and tenant advocates to develop a new legislative solution to this old problem.

We are no longer going to wait for landlords to fix the problems they've caused.

And we're not going to settle for superficial fixes anymore.

Landlords will be given a window to make repairs…a limited window.

If they don't - the City will step in and do the work… at the landlord's expense.

These repairs won't be restricted to the specific problem. 

It is no longer going to be sufficient to plug a leak --  if the problem is caused by a faulty plumbing system.

From top to bottom, HPD will identify the systemic causes of the problems, fix them and prevent them from happening again.

Once repairs are finalized - we won't just walk away.

We will continue working with the tenants and the landlords to make sure the necessary upkeep is maintained.

Together, these two pieces of legislation -- and our work with HPD--

will mark a new era of tenant empowerment in our city.... and put a renewed emphasis on the P in the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development.

The majority of tenants rent because they can't afford to buy.

If we really want to move people into the middle class, we need to help more New Yorkers become homeowners.

 

The City has a good program to help first time buyers with down payments.

But it's limited to residents earning less than $57,000 a year.

There are a lot of families in New York making more than that who need financial assistance if they are ever going to afford a home.

So I am proposing to create the Renters to Owners Opportunity Fund – ROOF -- a new program to provide down payment assistance for middle class families making up to $92,000.

Families will of course have to invest their own savings to match the City's contribution but together, we'll connect the dream of home ownership to a lot more New Yorkers.

For every generation, education and public schools have been the pathway to the American dream.

The Mayor and Chancellor Klein have brought renewed energy and focus to our public school system.

Our schools are better for it.

I support their goals of increasing accountability and improving results.

But I have real concerns about the latest restructuring proposal.

Holding principals accountable for the success of their schools is a great idea – but we need to make sure they're up to the job - and have the right training and meaningful involvement of their school leadership team, so they can really handle the additional responsibilities.

The school funding formula is ripe for an overhaul -- but before  we implement changes, let's make sure any new plan treats all students fairly – from ELL to gifted and talented to kids that need a little extra help.

These proposals may be just what our schools need – but since there are many unanswered questions from parents, educators and advocates, let's make sure we find the most effective changes and decide how, and when, to implement them…together.

 

The issue before the school system isn't whether to change; we all know changes are necessary.

But we need to make sure the right changes are made -- in the right way. 

One thing we hear so often from parents -- is that the education system isn't responsive to their kids needs.

Despite the best intentions, what the Department of Education is doing to involve and inform parents just isn't working.

Parents are confused, frustrated, and too often angry because they don't know where to turn for help.

Choosing the right school is a particularly torturous process. 

Applying to middle school makes solving the DaVinci Code look simple.

Something's got to give.  We've got to find a better way.

That's why today, I am proposing that we establish school navigators throughout the city.

These individuals will specialize in explaining the transition process for elementary, middle or high school.

School navigators will complement the work of guidance counselors, and the DOE's student placement efforts.

When a parent has a question about the application process

or which school is best for their child,

there'll be a specialist in their neighborhood whose sole job -- is to provide information and support during this process.

Engagement, cooperation and just plain dialogue will always achieve better results -- whether it's between the Council and the Mayor or schools and parents. 

In the past year, we saw historic progress for

New York City schools in the area of funding.

After many years in court, our students will finally receive more education funding from Albany.

We all stood together -- Robert Jackson, the Mayor, Governor Spitzer, Speaker Silver, parents, teachers, principals

and the Council -- and we prevailed in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. 

Now, we can go to work to reduce class size at every level in every borough. 

But before our kids get to elementary school,

we need to give them the strongest educational foundation possible. 

New York City has a great universal pre k program to build on.

But the vast majority of children are still in half day pre kindergarten – that's just 2 ½ hours a day.

Kids barely have time to get their jackets off before we're sending them home.

Last year, the Council fought for --  and won -- full day slots for 2200 more children.

But we won't be satisfied until every family who needs full-day pre kindergarten can get it.

All of us who care about education need to think of better ways – like smaller classes and full day pre k - to teach our children.

And now, with new funding, it's exactly the right time to be considering new approaches.

No place needs more new thinking than middle school education.

Our middle schools are failing. 

We're losing too many kids between elementary and high school.

And if we lose them there -  it's a short road to high school drop out and a lifetime of limited opportunity.

We need to re-build our middle schools -- so they can be a path to the middle class for the next generation of New Yorkers. 

That's why the Council is appointing a Middle School Task Force to be chaired by two distinguished New Yorkers who are here with us today.

Doctors Pedro Noguera and Charlotte Frank.

The Task Force will be made up of educators, parents, business leaders and experts, including the Coalition for Educational Justice.

They'll be charged with coming up with the best ideas and best practices.

When their work is complete in a few months, we'll have a blueprint for middle school reform that will finally give our students the top quality schools they deserve.

Despite all the attention and money being spent on health care in America, we still haven't found a way to provide affordable and accessible care to everyone.

Right now, the way we deliver health care in

New York and all across the country is upside down.

Too much money gets spent on expensive

in-patient care once people get sick.

Not nearly enough gets spent on the preventive primary care that keeps us healthy.

Tough as it is to say…

There are simply too many hospital beds in New York City.

That's why I support the effort to consolidate services and right size our State's healthcare system.

But that's only part of the equation.

Right-sizing also means we have to address the lack of access to primary care at the same time.

This reality has been noted by the Chair of our Health Committee, Joel Rivera, and the Chair of Hospital Closings Task Force, Helen Sears.

There are too many neighborhoods, especially in low-income and isolated areas, where you can't find a primary care doctor or a full service clinic anywhere.

And it's those neighborhoods that will be most hurt by the misguided healthcare cuts being proposed in Washington and in Albany.

To change that, and help expand access to primary care, I am proposing that we create 10 state of the art healthcare facilities in high-need communities over the next five years.

These clinics will be patient-centered, offering the highest quality of care, from top of the line technology to the best-trained nurses and doctors.

And of course, we'll match language and cultural competencies with the local population.

These centers will save taxpayers' dollars by giving New Yorkers a better option than emergency rooms for basic care. 

And they will help ensure that more New Yorkers have access to the kind of first-rate preventive health care that so many of us take for granted.

I'd be remiss without addressing one final important issue.

New York City has a great police force.

Men and women who risk their lives -- and too often give their lives -- protecting us.

Their work has made New York City the safest big city in America.

All of us should feel safer every time we see the NYPD blue.

But the sad reality is, not all of us do.

A tragic death this fall highlighted police community tensions; tensions that rise and fall but never seem to go entirely away.

Some believe it's not our role to address this issue.

But this is too important.

So we'll ask tough questions, we'll demand honest answers and we'll provide strong, thoughtful oversight.

This council is going to work fairly and constructively -- with our communities and the Bloomberg Administration -- toward the day when the only New Yorker who sees a squad car in their neighborhood and feels anything but comfort is a criminal who broke the law.

I've spent a year working in these five boroughs, and I've met a lot of

New Yorkers.

Let me tell you, I believe in this City and I'm in awe of the power of its people.

Our City is one so full of hope and opportunity that it's almost mythical.

For hundreds of years, immigrants have come here from all over the globe to pursue their dreams.

Generation after generation has built New York into an amazing melting pot of human, economic and cultural power.

Their hard work has brought us tremendous success…

Our City is truly doing so well!

If we continue to focus on solutions, not politics... Seek cooperation instead of competition... Strive every day to have a real impact on the lives of others... And always ask, “"How can we help you?”"

Then our rising tide will finally lift all boats.

Thank you.

 

Special City Council Elections


Some special elections have lots of drama. Last week, voters on Long Island were treated – or subjected -- to one of the most expensive state legislative races in New York history, campaign visits by luminaries such as Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani and inflammatory campaign flyers about gay marriage and the terrorist threat facing New York (and Israel). In the end Democrat Craig Johnson beat Maureen O’Connell for the State Senate seat – at a cost of at least $5 million – or $100 a vote.

Who Votes and How

The special elections for two City Council seats on February 20 is open only two registered voters – of all parties – living in the two districts: the 40th in central Brooklyn and the 51st on the South Shore of Staten Island. (To determine if you live in either one, go to Gotham Gazette’s Find Your District.)

Polls will be open to 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. To find out where to vote, go to the Board of Election’s poll site locator.

In New York City things seem more polite. There is not much money or vicious campaign literature in the campaigns for two City Council seats – one in Central Brooklyn to replace Yvette Clarke, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November and the other to fill the seat left vacant when Andrew Lanza moved on to the State Assembly.

The Brooklyn race in the 40th district features ten candidates, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, vying to represent a district with a large Caribbean population. Candidates cite an array of issues as important, including affordable housing, jobs, education and health care. While their solutions to these problems vary, much of the campaign has centered on whose experience would best serve the interests of the district – and on ethnic politics. Eight of the candidates have ties to the Caribbean or Central America, with a number of nationalities represented. The race could give the City Council its first Haitian member or its first Pakistani.

The Staten Island race is more sharply focused. Only two candidates, one Democrat and one Republican, will appear on the ballot and one issue – overdevelopment of the island’s South Shore – overrides all others.

However these midwinter races turn out, more elections are on the way. Even though most City Council members will not be up for re-election in November, the two members elected on February will be. Governor Eliot Spitzer is expected to call special elections to replace Assemblymembers John Lavelle of Staten Island, who died earlier this month, and Pete Grannis of Manhattan, who is leaving the Assembly to become state environment commissioner. And if Ignizio wins his election on Tuesday, voters on Staten Island’s South Shore will probably be going to the polls once again – to choose someone to fill his seat in the State Assembly.

For more on the Brooklyn race, click here.

For more on the Staten Island race, click here.

 

Mayor Bloomberg's 2007 State of the City address


The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's State of the City Address as prepared at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn:

Marty Markowitz, and a marching band, as they say in Brooklyn, Fuhgeddaboutit!

How about those Brooklyn Steppers!

Thank you, Marty, for those very kind words, and for welcoming us here to the New York City College of Technology. I also want to thank Dr. Russell Hotzler, the President of City Tech, for hosting us.

Of course, being a gracious host comes naturally at this school, which has one of the finest hospitality management programs in the nation. That includes outstanding training in the culinary arts and and I can vouch for that first hand. One of City Tech's current students happens to be the most important man at Gracie Mansion, the executive chef, Feliberto Estevez.

I think I get to eat his final exam, so I hope he does well.

Speaker Quinn, a true partner in government, members of the Council, Comptroller Thompson, Public Advocate Gotbaum, Borough presidents, distinguished guests, my fellow New Yorkers.

Last year, we began a new term and promised that we would come out of the gate stronger than ever. I think it's safe to say, we've blazed through the first year at a record pace. Behind me, you see a visual record showing the progress of the year just passed, and the promise of the years ahead.

Much Went Right In 2006

During 2006, so much went right throughout this great city, even if that Subway Series I promised somehow slipped through our grasp. In 2006, unemployment hit an all-time low, while our bond rating hit an all-time high. Our population surged to new heights 8.2 million and counting and we hosted a record number of visitors 44 million. We drove crime to historic lows and made our streets their cleanest ever. We won our campaign to convince the State to pay its share of our historic school construction plan.

And all across New York from the Freedom Tower rising in Lower Manhattan to the new Yankees and Mets stadiums in the Bronx and Queens, to the new rail link at Howland Hook on Staten Island to right here in Brooklyn, where from East New York to the East River, new homes are going up and new businesses are opening. The evidence is all around us. This is a great time for New York an encouraging, optimistic time. And our spirits have been lifted higher still by the special guests whom I'm honored to introduce now.

Heroic New Yorkers

First please join me in recognizing someone whose service to our nation fills us with pride: Marine Captain Ray Lopes. Born on Staten Island now a Manhattan resident and awarded the Purple Heart for his service to our nation in Iraq. Thank you, Ray, on behalf of 8.2 million New Yorkers.

I'm also proud to share the stage with some other exceptionally brave New Yorkers: Two winners of the Sanitation Department's Gold Medal of Honor. They rescued a little Borough Park girl who had been struck by a van by actually lifting the van off of her with their bare hands.

Please welcome men who are truly our Strongest Ralph Cimmino and John Talmadge. Three weeks ago, our next special guest was off-duty and shopping with his family when a pair of armed bank robbers tried to steal his car for their getaway. They picked the wrong guy. He fought them off and despite being wounded, chased them down. He's definitely one of New York's Finest: Officer John Lopez!

Next, a man who captured the attention of the world last month emonstrating once more the compassion and bravery of New Yorkers. A guy who today barely needs an introduction. The Harlem superhero: Wesley Autrey!

And you know, heroism comes in all forms, as our final guest shows. He gashed a tendon while helping apprehend a criminal here in Brooklyn last week and he is fresh out of the hospital. But he told us he wouldn't miss the State of the City for anything. Please welcome one great German shepherd Ranger of the NYPD's K-9 unit and his handler, Officer Neal Campbell.

Just take a look at these amazing New Yorkers!

How can you not feel that New York's future is bright with promise and that the State of our City is alive with hope. Now fueled by the energy of New Yorkers like these we are ready to take the next strong and confident steps forward to reach our goals.

The Year Ahead

In the year ahead, we'll make the long-term investments, and pioneer the innovations, that will ensure New York's future, and our continued national and international leadership. We'll make them in reforming our schools, growing our economy for all New Yorkers, making the safest big city even safer, and improving the efficiency of our government.

All those investments and innovations will mobilize the ideas and energy of the people of New York City empowering everyday New Yorkers to step forward to take fuller control of their destinies and to pass on to our children a city even greater than it is today.

Education

I've always said that our first priority is improving education so let me start by describing further dramatic reforms to our public schools. Four years ago this week on Martin Luther King Junior's birthday in 2003 we spelled out our plan to uphold a basic and fundamental civil right: The right to a quality education.

Under the old Board of Ed, children were abandoned by people who too often put favoritism and patronage first. We've come a long way in leaving those bad old days behind, and believe me- we're not going back. Not ever!

Because the progress we've made is strong and clear: On-time graduation rates are now the highest they've been in more than 20 years reading and math test scores have risen substantially. Our Black and Hispanic students are closing the racial and ethnic performance gap that has long been the shame of our school system. Those successes are evident in schools like the International High School in Prospect Heights -- one of the 332 schools in our Empowerment Schools Initiative.

I'm happy to say we have one special student from that school with us today. Chime Dolma. She fled political persecution in her native Tibet four years ago and started school for the first time ever when she arrived here at age 13. Now a junior, she is an 'A' student, a school leader and her principal says that she is "as college-bound as it gets." I'd like to ask her to stand, along with her principal, Alexandra Anormaliza and one of her teachers, Danny Walsh. Congratulations to all of you and keep up the good work!

We've come a long way in our schools but we've still got a long way to go. Because even today more than half of Black and Hispanic students still do not perform at grade-level standards and only one in four Black or Hispanic students now graduates with a Regents degree. If that's not reversed, too many of our children will face dead-end futures in a highly competitive global economy.

We cannot let that happen.

During our first term, we brought stability, accountability, and standards to a school system where they were sorely lacking. With this strong foundation now laid, we can take the next steps forward, creating great schools where all students can succeed. That means encouraging and expecting leadership, accountability, and empowerment to thrive at the school level.

And now, four fundamental reforms that we'll launch this year will take us toward that goal:
First, we'll empower school principals to be true leaders. Second, we'll hold schools publicly accountable for student progress. Third, we'll reform our system of teacher tenure. And fourth, we'll bring fairness to our school funding system. Let me briefly discuss each.

As to empowering principals, we've always known that great principals make great schools. But until now, we haven't always given them the full authority they need in order to lead. Today, important decisions about, for example, teacher professional development, get made for principals by regional offices - whether the principals like it or not.

But beginning this year, principals will have the power to make such choices themselves. No one, not outside consultants or the DOE, will be able to force such decisions on principals. The principals will be in charge of what's best for their students, always.

With this reform, the regional offices that we established four years ago to stabilize a failing system will be eliminated now that their job is done. And the 32 community school district superintendents will report directly to the Chancellor. Each school will be able to pick the path that's best for its students, parents, and teachers. And the money we save by downsizing the bureaucracy will go directly to the schools to help our kids, where it belongs!

As we give principals more autonomy, the second of our four reforms will also hold them more accountable. By next fall, we'll be sending user-friendly reports on every school to every public school parent across the city. Each school will receive a grade, from "A" to "F", on its year-to-year progress in helping students advance.

Personally, I can't think of a better way to hold a principal's feet to the fire than arming mom and dad with the facts about how well or poorly, their children's school is performing.

Our third reform focuses on the classrooms. Reforming the tenure process - which we'll undertake with the help of the United Federation of Teachers - will allow us to reward teacher excellence and begin to eliminate mediocrity. The UFT shares my view that improving the number of quality teachers is the most critical element of all in driving reform. Too many of our new teachers leave the system after only a few years, frustrated by their inability to make a difference for children.

We must do a better job of keeping new teachers who are effective instructors and we must continue to give them the support they need. But we must also make sure that ineffective teachers are not awarded the privilege of tenure and the near-lifetime job security that comes with it.

Accordingly, we are building a more rigorous review process, one that will assure that tenure decisions are made thoughtfully, and based on the facts. Teachers have been and must continue to be our strong partners, and we look forward to working with the UFT on these important issues.

Fourth and finally, we will overhaul a decades-old school funding system that, solely for political reasons, rewards some schools over others. You wont believe this, but today, funding gaps between comparable schools can top $1 million, or $2,000 per student, year after year.

That's not right and we're going to fix it.

Starting in September, we're going to fund students instead of schools, basing our investment on the number of students enrolled, and their particular needs. The goal is equitable funding among our schools and ensuring that each school has what it needs to teach its students.

We will implement this approach flexibly, and phase it in over time to make sure that important programs and services for our kids are not jeopardized. We may use Campaign for Fiscal Equity funds, or other resources, to achieve this critical goal. But in the end, all kids deserve the same level of commitment from us and they're going to get it.

All four of these reforms have this in common. They're about empowering school leaders, and then holding them accountable. That's the only way we can ensure that the investments we make produce the results we all want. Students who are ready and able to follow their dreams. And to help realize their diverse dreams, we must give them a wider range of schools to choose from. To further empower these students and their parents, we will again demand that the State Legislature expands the number of charter schools this year.

The Economy

Great public schools will prepare our next generation of New Yorkers for jobs in our growing economy. And it's an economy that today is firing on all cylinders. You can see the sparks here in Brooklyn, where we've cut the unemployment rate almost by half over the past four year from nine percent in 2002 to 4.7 percent today.

In fact, across the city, in the past two years alone we've created nearly 100,000 new private sector jobs. Now it's time to take the next steps forward in growing the economy ensuring New York's position as a global hub of commerce making business districts in all five boroughs stronger and investing in the parks and cultural institutions that make this an exciting destination for visitors from around the world.

We are in an age of information, when technology increasingly makes major financial transactions possible from virtually anywhere and that means that we can't take New York's longstanding leadership in financial services and other industries for granted.

We've got to continue to protect consumers and investors but at the same time, New Yorkers, and the nation, have to balance that objective with the barriers - regulatory, legal, and otherwise - hurting our global competitiveness. Other nations have figured out how to do both, we can, too!

Next week, Senator Chuck Schumer and I will set out the local and national steps needed to ensure New York City's continued leadership in global financial services, including re-opening our nation to the highly skilled workers, from every corner of the globe, who truly make our economy thrive.

As we think globally, we'll also act locally, with policies and investments making all our communities more business-friendly. And because New York's international leadership also depends on our great education and research institutions we will promote projects such as the development of Columbia University's new campus, in a way that also meets the needs of its host West Harlem community.

We'll unveil a master plan to build on the amazing renaissance of the South Bronx and another to transform Willets Point. We'll rezone Jamaica, Coney Island, and 125th Street to catalyze new business development. We'll work with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership that's doing so much to promote business and the arts in this great borough. And we'll help launch construction of the most exciting private development Brooklyn has ever seen: the Atlantic Yards project!

We'll continue supporting our city's Business Improvement Districts, which bolster the neighborhood businesses that are the backbone of our economy. And to strengthen them even more - this year, we'll launch "NYC Clean Streets" a $1.6 million initiative making commercial corridors in all five boroughs more attractive.

We'll also keep investing in the transportation infrastructure critical to our economy. That means not only extending the Number 7 line, a City-funded project that will spur the historic development of the Far West Side but also helping Congressman Rangel, Senators Schumer and Clinton, and others, to secure Federal support for Lower Manhattan's rail link to Jamaica, Long Island and Downtown Brooklyn, too. And I also look forward to working with Governor Spitzer to finally create the rail gateway our city deserves one that will be a lasting monument to the great Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

To foster our city's growth, we'll also continue to invest in the cultural facilities that make us the world's most exciting city. Tell me what other town has 500 art galleries, 375 theater companies, 330 dance companies, 150 museums, 96 orchestras, 24 performing arts centers and one Burmese python named "Fantasia" at the Brooklyn Children's Museum?

Every year, tens of millions of tourists flock here to enjoy our cultural offerings, which generate hundreds of millions of dollars for our economy. In fact, two major art events - the Armory Show and the Art Show - are expected to draw more than 60,000 visitors in one weekend next month. And just last month, the Museum of Natural History set a new attendance record - when more than 31,000 people passed through its doors on one single day. (Maybe some of them wanted to spend "A Night at the Museum" with Ben Stiller and Robin Williams.)

So this year we'll restore that Museum's classic 77th Street façade. We'll also go forward - Marty won't mind hearing - with a major renovation of the great New York Aquarium in Coney Island. And we'll continue work on a project that is close to the heart of Yvette Simmons, who is with us today. Yvette's roots in Central Brooklyn, you should know, run deep. In fact, her great-grandfather, Moses Cobb, was one of the first African American police officers in the community.

By next year, Yvette, family stories like yours will get the showcase they deserve when we complete the new education museum at the expanded Weeksville Historical Society in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Moses Cobb will never be forgotten!

We're also making unprecedented investments in another area crucial to our quality of life: our parks. Just a few blocks from here, for example, we'll proceed with building Brooklyn Bridge Park - the borough's biggest new park in nearly 130 years.

We'll also break ground for the first playing fields in what will become the 2,200-acre Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island - which will be nearly three times the size of Central Park.

Affordable Housing

As we make New York a better place to live, we'll also make it a more affordable place to live. That's why we're engaged in the biggest affordable housing initiative ever undertaken by an American city a $7.5 billion plan that will build and preserve 165,000 units - enough housing to accommodate the entire population of Atlanta.

But big as it is, we can't stop there - not with our city projected to reach nine million people by the year 2030. To meet the demands of that growing population, this year we'll begin taking the next steps forward to create even more affordable housing in our city.

We'll do that with targeted rezonings around town. And, thanks to the leadership of Speaker Quinn and our partners in the City Council the recently enacted changes to the 421-a program will also begin to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for affordable housing investment.

Creating more housing - and making more housing affordable - was one of the key long-term sustainability goals that we outlined last month. And in March - as part of the "PLAN-NYC" process - we will present a detailed agenda for implementing those goals and for solving the problems raised by the bigger, older, and more environmentally challenged city New York will be in the year 2030.

Planning for the future includes setting the right priorities now and that's what the city's budgeting process is all about.

Finances -- $1 Billion Of Tax Relief

Next week, we will release our preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2008. It will continue the sound policies that have put New York City on a firm budgetary footing and that permitted us to end Fiscal 06 with a record surplus. But, rather than increasing spending in good times, that needs to be cut in bad times -- and thus hurting New Yorkers in the process, I believe that a good portion of the surplus revenues we anticipate in the current fiscal year should go back to the New Yorkers who made sure that the city's recovery from 9/11 exceeded our wildest dreams and who we want to continue living, working, and investing in New York.

So, my preliminary budget will include $1 billion of tax relief. This is a broad-based package of tax cuts, designed to pump money back into our neighborhoods, create jobs, lower the burden on property owners, and make New York an even more attractive place to live and work.

First I will propose to the City Council that we lower the property tax rate -- for one year -- by roughly five percent, or by $750 million. I've always said I wanted to cut property taxes and this year we can.

It would be great if we can extend this in the years to come, but we can't know that we'll be as fortunate in the future with our revenues and expenses so right now it would not be fiscally sensible to commit to doing so. Because the best way I know to have the good times continue is to act responsibly now.

We will also seek permission from the State Legislature to continue the $400 property tax rebate. We expect they will approve our request since the original law said the rebate would be continued only if the city reduced the overall rate - exactly what I am proposing today.

The other $250 million in tax relief we propose will be included in three other measures.

One: we will seek to help small businesses grow by reducing the Unincorporated Business Tax through a combination of deductions and credits. This tax hurts our ability to attract and retain small businesses; reducing it will strengthen our long term business climate. And remember, one of every two people working in New York are employed by small businesses.

Two: to create the jobs that will continue to fuel our economy and to benefit businesses large and small. We will also propose three targeted reductions in the General Corporate Tax, including a credit to owners of small, or "S," Corporations, as Speaker Quinn has championed.

And three: to make sure that shoppers and visitors continue to flock to great stores in all five boroughs, we will totally eliminate the city sales tax for all clothing and footwear.

And as to the rest of our surplus, we will be prudent and dedicate it to reducing future deficits.

Working With NY State On Medicaid And Pensions

On the expense side of the budget, we will work hard to make sure that all of our money is well spent. And this year, we'll take aim at a problem that has cried out for attention: Medicaid fraud. Working with the State, we'll attempt to root out fraud and waste - and return the savings to city taxpayers.

We'll also put forward state legislation that will help us control costs in a second area that threatens our long-term fiscal health, the unchecked growth of pensions.

It's no secret that the State Legislature has been giving away the store getting no productivity in return and saddling our children with costly pension giveaways. It's time for Albany to stop playing Santa Claus with the city's money!

If they want to fund pension increases, they should pay for it. But this year, let's put the city's pension decisions where they belong, on the collective bargaining table. That's what accountability is all about!

Helping Poorer New Yorkers Achieve More "Self-Sufficiency"

To control our destiny, we must control our budget, so we can invest in a better city for all New Yorkers. And that includes pragmatic ways to help more people achieve the dignity of work and to help more working people achieve the goal of self-sufficiency.

Over the past five years, we've moved more than 400,000 people from welfare to work. Our welfare rolls are down 18% from 2002 - and are now lower than at any time since 1964. Still... nearly one in five New Yorkers - many of whom set the alarm clock and punch the time clock every working day - live below the Federal poverty line.

Last fall, our Commission for Economic Opportunity presented a realistic, cost-effective roadmap to help thousands of poor New Yorkers help themselves. We're already realizing many of the Commission's recommendations.

And today, let me describe just three of the ways more New Yorkers will begin to achieve further self-sufficiency this year.

First - building on the great work our Department of Consumer Affairs does each year we're going to help even more hard-working New Yorkers claim tax credits to which they're entitled. This week, the Department of Finance will start sending tax forms to about 120,000 households who were eligible for City, State and Federal Earned Income Tax Credits in 2003 and 2004 but who never claimed them.

The average household is due well over $1,000 - and some are owed considerably more. We're so determined to help New Yorkers get that money that we've already done the math on their tax forms!

Now they will simply have to sign the forms, mail them in and get ready to receive money they've already earned. For working families with children, that money is going to make a huge difference in helping them get ahead and it's money that will be spent in their local communities, thereby helping local businesses, as well.

By the way, this will generate more in sales tax revenue for the city than our share of the EITC expense.

The second Commission recommendation we're announcing today will help working students at CUNY's community colleges step forward to earn higher degrees - and then, higher incomes. Right now, the demands of their jobs prevent far too many of them from completing their studies and without degrees, they often remain among our working poor.

So this September the City University will establish dedicated morning, afternoon, and evening tracks, enabling some working students to do all their schoolwork during hours convenient for them. As far as we know, no community college system anywhere has ever attempted this approach. But every successful business offers services that reflect customer needs. And so should government!

Finally, the third recommendation that we'll put into action will help break the long-term cycle of poverty in our city.

When it comes to improving the odds for poor mothers and infants, it's hard to beat our Nurse Family Partnership program. Through one-on-one nurturing and guidance, NFP helps first-time mothers build stronger futures for themselves and their children. And by this September, we'll have expanded this proven program by more than 50%. Because of its track record of success, I'm a big believer in NFP.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Just ask Sheena Persaud. She was 17 when she enrolled in NFP. And she wasn't attending school and didn't plan to. But with the guidance of her nurse, Carol Coleman, she not only learned about taking care of her beautiful little girl, Serena, she also stepped forward and got her GED. By the time she finished the Partnership last November, she had her current full time job in a bakery and she hopes someday to have her own catering business. Sheena, Carol, we're all very proud of you. Now we're going to help more New Yorkers like Sheena step forward and create better futures for themselves and their children.

As the NFP shows, improving public health is key to reducing poverty. So in the year ahead, we'll also focus on reducing chronic illnesses that take their heaviest toll in low-income communities. We are, for example, rapidly expanding voluntary HIV testing.

And with more than $40 million in city and federal funds, we will expand the electronic health records that help doctors and patients in poor neighborhoods improve preventive care. We'll continue to be a national leader in promoting systems that shift focus from reacting to illness, to preventing it. We know that reducing poverty won't be easy but over the past five years, we've shown that we can craft solutions to our toughest problems.

Protecting Children

That includes protecting children who are most at risk. Last year - in the wake of Nixzmary Brown's appalling death - we took a hard look at the Administration for Children's Services, and then took decisive steps. Now, police officers and case workers collaborate more efficiently on the most severe cases of abuse. Medical providers have better training in recognizing and reporting the warning signs of child abuse or neglect and later this year, we'll expand such training to child care providers, too.

During 2007, we'll take the next steps in protecting our most vulnerable children. In March, we'll open a Leadership Academy for Child Safety which will serve ACS social work managers. We'll also propose amending State law to give ACS the power to check criminal records when child abuse allegations arise. Because how can we thoroughly determine a child's safety if we can't find out about prior criminal convictions in the home?

Public Safety

Public safety - in the home and on the streets - is the foundation of civil society. And there's no stronger bedrock than the FDNY and the NYPD and let's not forget our Boldest, the Department of Correction! Today, we're joined by members of all three Departments -- Edgar Pitre and Kelly Lonergan of the FDNY, NYPD Detective Diane Menig and Police Officer Cyrus Johnson, and Correction Officers Emmanuel Pierre-Lewis and Lashana Taylor.

Over the past five years, the FDNY has reduced fire deaths in our city to the lowest number during any five-year period in modern history. The members of the FDNY are famous for always working to find better ways to carry out their mission. We share that commitment. And that's why this year, we're going to launch a major expansion of FDNY training. Currently, our newly appointed firefighters receive 13 weeks of training.

This year, we'll start to lengthen that to 23 weeks. That will give FDNY recruits one of the most comprehensive training programs offered by any fire department anywhere handling hazardous materials, and fire prevention with extended instruction in terrorism preparedness.

We'll step up our protections against terrorism in other ways too. In the next fiscal year, for example, we will invest city capital funds in the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative. It will protect our bridges, tunnels and other critical infrastructure, as well as all those who live, work, and do business Downtown. We will always do whatever it takes to protect our city and we expect the Federal government to do its part to keep the nation's economic engine safe, too.

Keeping our city safe, of course, begins with fighting crime -- and no one does it better than the NYPD. Last year, even as violent crime began to rise in the rest of the nation, the men and women of the NYPD continued to reduce violent and property crime in our city. Today, crime is more than 20 percent lower than it was five years ago.

One reason we've been so successful is because we've always been ready to look the facts straight-on - whether we liked them or not. And last year, the fact was that even as overall crime went down, homicides in our city went up. Most of those murders were committed with illegal guns. So this year we'll continue to step up our fight against the deadly menace of illegal guns in several key ways.

We'll build on the NYPD's increased enforcement activities - which last year raised gun arrests by 13 percent. But we did more than simply make arrests. We also expanded the NYPD's work with the district attorneys, intensifying debriefings of gun offenders to learn more about where they buy their guns.

Now, beginning with a pilot program in the Bronx, we'll take the next steps forward. We'll mine that new information to map the illegal gun market and then identify - and go after - gun traffickers to stop the flow of guns onto our streets.

Illegal guns are not just a problem for New York City. Two weeks ago, across the river in New Jersey, an off-duty Paterson police officer, Ty-ron Franklin, was gunned down at a restaurant when he refused to turn over his wallet. The City of Paterson lost one of its finest and a 16-month-old child lost a father.

New Yorkers know the ache and anger of such losses all too well. We remember so many - including Detectives James Nemorin and Rodney Andrews and Detectives Dillon Stewart and Daniel Enchautegui. And we also know that in 2005, when we lost Detectives Stewart and Enchautegui, 55 law enforcement officers were murdered across our country, 50 of them with guns. This has got to stop.

Today, we're joined by the Mayor of Paterson, Jose "Joey" Torres. Mayor Torres, New York City offers its deepest condolences to you and your city. And we'll also join you in working to bring sanity to gun policy in our nation. Next week, more than 50 mayors from across the country - who are part of our coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns - will gather in Washington, DC, to take up this challenge.

And I'm happy to say that Mayor Torres will be with us. Our goal will be getting Congress to overturn a wrong-headed law - one that blocks access at the local level to federal data that would let us hold gun dealers accountable for illegally selling to gun traffickers. Mayor Torres and I have a simple message for Congress: It's time to take ideology out of crime-fighting and time to give mayors - the people who are responsible for policing our streets - the tools we need to protect our citizens.

To make New York even safer, this year we'll also launch the most significant restructuring of our juvenile justice system in decades. We're going to do more than ever to hold accountable the children and teens who run afoul of the law and also help them get the services they need.

For the first time, we'll give judges objective, data-based analysis that will accurately assess the real threat posed by young offenders. And we'll provide judges more options for keeping those offenders in the community - but out of trouble.

We'll take aim at chronic truancy so often a precursor to serious delinquency with dedicated truancy courts in Red Hook and Harlem - holding children and their families accountable for school attendance.

We'll also launch a $9 million initiative to reduce the number of kids sent away to Upstate facilities and instead provide intensive family-based services and monitoring. And we'll partner with John Jay College on an initiative linking young offenders released from detention with the mental health services they need.

At the same time, we have to face facts: more than 50 percent of all gun arrests involve young offenders. We have got to stop treating illegal gun possession among minors as though it were a trivial, youthful indiscretion.

It is not. It is a serious, potentially deadly crime and those arrested for illegal gun possession are the most likely to commit violent crimes in the future. That's why this year -- as we work to keep more young people away from guns -- we will also ask Albany to eliminate youthful offender status for any violent felony committed with a firearm.

As we step up the fight against crime, we're also going to make sure that the NYPD treats every New Yorker equally and with dignity and that all complaints are taken seriously.

We call our police "New York's Finest." That's our term of respect for those who have sworn to protect us. And we must always insist that such respect flows in both directions! This year, we will expand the resources and staffing at the Civilian Complaint Review Board to ensure that all complaints are dealt with swiftly and seriously.

To build stronger trust and cooperation between the public and the police, we're also going to empower more New Yorkers to step forward and join the fight against crime.

This year, we'll begin a revolutionary innovation in crime-fighting: Equipping "911" call centers to receive digital images and videos New Yorkers send from cell phones and computers something no other city in the world is doing.

If you see a crime in progress or a dangerous building condition you'll be able to transmit images to 911, or online to NYC.GOV. And we'll start extending the same technology to 311 to allow New Yorkers to step forward and document non-emergency quality of life concerns holding City agencies accountable for correcting them quickly and efficiently.

Finally, we are going to work to improve training of our police department by identifying a site for a modern new police academy. Our police department deserves a 21st century, consolidated facility to continue to fulfill its important mission. Making government more accountable also means fighting patronage and strengthening ethics.

Government Reform

These days, there's welcome talk of reform in Albany, thanks to Governor Spitzer. And I can't think of a better place to start than by overhauling the last vestige of State-sponsored patronage: the Board of Elections.

We're not only paying for cronyism, we're paying for inertia and inefficiency! Enough is enough! This year, we'll propose legislation to take a giant step forward out of the 19th Century and into the 21st by replacing the broken State Board of Elections with the kind of professional, nonpartisan agency that other cities and nations already have.

And while we're reforming broken State boards and in keeping with Governor Spitzer's call to bring more transparency and accountability to public authorities let's work with our partners in Albany to abolish the anti-democratic Public Authorities Control Board.

Government by three men in a room has turned New York State into a national symbol of governmental dysfunction. Enough is enough!

I was also pleased to hear Governor Spitzer talk about two other areas in desperate need of reform -- judicial selection, and "pay-to-play" campaign contributions. I hope every elected official in the city will stand with me in supporting Governor Spitzer's proposed constitutional amendment to bring merit selection of judges to New York State. (It's about time, isn't it?!) And I hope every city elected official will support the Governor's call to severely limit I would go further, and say "ban" contributions from those who do business with government.

After all, that's what the voters of New York City expected when they passed a referendum on the issue nearly ten years ago. Working with Speaker Quinn and Chairman Felder, I expect we will craft a law that I hope will be the strongest in the nation.

But if we do not reach agreement in the weeks ahead, the New York City Campaign Finance Board has committed to taking action on its own. One way or the other, we will get pay-to-play reform in 2007 giving New Yorkers greater confidence that decisions by their elected officials are based on merit - and merit alone.

A Future Of Limitless Promise

That, and all the other steps we've discussed today, will build on the progress, and the promise, that are so evident in this hall and throughout our city today.

You can see that hope and dynamism in these photos and charts behind me... and more importantly, in the faces of the people of our city. Every reform - every step forward - that we're proposing today springs from a belief that we New Yorkers deserve to hold our own destiny, one filled with such tremendous potential, in our own hands.

And now New Yorkers are ready to take all the next steps forward that we've described today. Because over the past five years, we've shown what independence, accountability, and making decisions based on the facts can accomplish.

Together, we've achieved more in turning our schools around, improving our quality of life, and bringing our city back than most people ever thought possible. And because we've done all that's necessary and then some, the future of our magnificent city is one of limitless promise.

It's time to fulfill that promise for all who are here and all who will come. With confidence and courage, let's take those next steps together.

And let's start today!

Thank you.

And God bless.

 

After The Election -- What Will Be Different Now?


Last week's Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives and the Senate indicate that it is "time for a change," according to soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In Albany, meanwhile, Eliot Spitzer led a Democratic sweep of all statewide offices -- the first time this has happened since 1938 -- and vowed that "Day One, Everything Changes."

Many are predicting that New York City stands to gain from all this change. Its congressional delegation holds more clout in Washington than it has had in decades, something that can only benefit the city, according to Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Spitzer's lopsided victory, meanwhile, gives him a solid chance of reforming Albany's legendary ineffectiveness -– or at least that's what many of those who voted for him are hoping.

But is sweeping change really on the way? How will the results of last week's election affect the lives of New Yorkers? Some of Gotham Gazette's regular contributors take an issue-by-issue look.

Civil Liberties and the Election

By Andy Humm
CIVIL RIGHTS: The Democratic sweep in Congress and in the New York Statehouse may result in little more than a change of tone, rather than concrete legislative change, when it comes to civil liberties.

 

Hundreds Of Millions Of New Dollars To New York?

By Glenn Pasanen
FINANCE: The ascendant Democrats in Washington and Albany could deliver big to New York City in tax relief and tax dollars. On the other hand, the U.S. President, and the New York State Senate, are still Republican.

 

Looking for Government Help on Housing

By Joe Lamport
HOUSING: Activists hope Democrats in Congress will take steps to address the city’s housing crunch, but worry about Eliot Spitzer’s ties to the real estate industry.

 

A Greener Governor?

By Anne Schwartz
PARKS: Advocates expect Eliot Spitzer to continue his support for open space in New York City, while they hope the new Congress will increase funding for urban parks.

 

New Help For the Working Poor?

By Nancy Rankin
SOCIAL SERVICES: Most New Yorkers would want newly elected Democrats in Albany and Washington to take bold steps to improve education and affordable housing.

New Congress Will Move On Transportation

By Bruce Schaller
TRANSPORTATION: New York officials will likely use their new clout to push the 2nd Avenue Subway and other needed transportation projects forward.

The Sheriff of State Street

By Blair Horner
VOTING: How can Eliot Spitzer change Albany's wayward ways?

Gotham Gazette asked experts and advocates from a variety of perspectives to weigh in on what will be different after November 7

The World Is Now Perfect
By Angelo Falcon
As a result of these past elections, peace will return to the world, poverty will disappear, everyone will be able to afford college, socialized medicine will be adopted, civil liberties will be totally restored...

Congressional Clout
By Jerry Skurnik
With the Democrats in control on Congress, members of New York City’s congressional delegation have the committee assignments and the seniority to help the city.

An Urban Agenda in Congress?
By Douglas Muzzio
With a Democratic majority in Congress, New York politicians may try to take on gun control, immigration and funding for transit.

Mighty Wind of Change, or a Breeze?
By Julia Willebrand
The Green Party candidate for comptroller questions what Democratic victories in the state and in Congress will really mean to New Yorkers on issues such as health insurance, tax fairness, an end to corporate handouts, and the free dissemination of information.

Taking on Special Interests
By Nicole Gelinas
Governor Eliot Spitzer could do much for the city of New York by cutting through Albany’s firewall of special interests (such as the health care workers' union) to tilt the balance of the Empire State’s taxing and spending toward the public interest. To do that, he will have to battle Albany’s self-serving culture.

Gay Rights Moves Forward
By Christopher Murray
Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in New York City seem uniformly optimistic

Helping Small Businesses
By Jonathan Bowles
The shift of power in Washington will benefit New York's small businesses

New Energy to Combat Predatory Lending?
By Mark Winston-Griffith
Eliot Spitzer's victory bodes well for New Yorkers needing protection from unscrupulous financial institutions.

Fewer Children Left Behind?
By Norm Fruchter
Democratic control of both the House and the Senate should result in changes in the No Child Left Behind program that will benefit New York City's schools and students.

Hope For Education and The Arts
By John Brademas
A former member of Congress hopes the future will be more like the past, when it comes to bipartisan support for the institutions that matter to New Yorkers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guide For The Last Minute Voter, 2006 General Election


Why The 2006 Election Matters

ALBANY
. Governor
. Attorney General
. Comptroller
. State Legislature

WASHINGTON
. Senate
. House of Representatives

BEFORE YOU GO TO THE POLLS
. Where and When Do I Vote?
. What Are My Rights?
. Where Can I Go for Help?
. What Do First Time Voters Need To Know?

GETTING THE RESULTS
. How Do I Find Out Who Won?

 

WHY THE 2006 ELECTION MATTERS

If Jeanine Pirro's marriage weren't so rocky, Alan Hevesi hadn't been caught using taxpayer money to pay for his wife's chauffeur, and John Spencer hadn't called Hillary Clinton ugly, it would have been easy to forget that people are campaigning to be elected to public office in New York.

But people are campaigning -- lots of them. On November 7 New Yorkers will vote for governor, state attorney general, and state comptroller. Every single seat in the state legislature is up for election, as are all 13 of the seats for the House of Representatives representing New York City, and one of New York State's two United States senate seats.

New York's Democratic Party has been predicting a sweep of the three highest statewide offices -- governor, attorney general, and comptroller. Polls support their assertion, while also showing that their party may well make gains on the national level. This, say Democrats, will shift the direction of state and federal policy, allowing them to push policies that have been blocked by Republican officials. There are concrete differences between the state's Republican and Democratic candidates in how they would approach school funding, gay marriage, and the dysfunction that currently reigns in Albany -- all issues that state officials will soon be weighing in on.

To help voters as they make their decisions, we offer the following guide. And check out Gotham Gazette's election results starting at 9 p.m. on Election Day.

ALBANY

GOVERNOR

New York State will elect a new governor for the first time in 12 years, as George Pataki is not running for reelection, setting his sights on the 2008 Republican presidential nomination instead.

Click here for 2006 New York Gubernatorial Candidates Grid

The campaign for governor of current Democratic state attorney general Eliot Spitzer has energized New York's Democrats, who hope a Spitzer win will be key to shifting Albany's balance of power in their favor. His opponent, former Republican state assembly member John Faso, is pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and is running on a platform of across-the-board personal and corporate tax cuts.

The winner of this race will inherit some serious challenges. The state's Medicaid program is unaffordable, say both candidates, and will have to be addressed. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a lawsuit that would require the state to increase school funding by billions of dollars, is reaching its conclusion and will have to be addressed by the next governor. And demands for the reform of Albany's "Three Men in a Room" version of democracy -- where all decisions are made through private agreements between the governor, the head of the state assembly, and the head of the state senate -- are growing.

Faso and Spitzer's ideas for Medicaid reform are similar: combat fraud, provide care in less expensive community settings when possible, and use generic drugs to lower the costs of prescriptions. But the candidates have very different ideas on how to confront other issues facing the state. (Watch a video of a debate between the candidates)

A court decision on gay marriage this year set the stage for the state legislature to make a big decision on how New York will treat gay couples. Eliot Spitzer says he would introduce a bill giving gay marriages full legal recognition; Faso says he would veto any such legislation, though he is open to recognizing civil unions.

Spitzer has said he wants to dedicate $4 to $6 billion in additional school aid to New York City public schools as a way to settle the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit. Faso argues that a lack of money is not the problem, and that the poor performance of the city's public schools would be better dealt with though increased accountability. He has also proposed giving financial help to parents who want to send their children to private schools.

Spitzer's pledge that "Day One, Everything Changes" includes the promise to implement policies of which Faso disapproves, including an independent redistricting commission, and strict campaign contribution limits and public financing for state-level elections.

There are four other candidates running for governor: Malachy McCourt of the Green Party; John Clifton of the Libertarian Party; Maura DeLuca of the Socialist Workers Party; and Jimmy McMillan of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party.

Look also at the gubernatorial “Campaign Trail” -- summaries of, and links to, articles about the race going back to the beginning of the year.

ATTORNEY GENERAL

Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Jeanine Pirro, are running to replace Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who is leaving his seat to run for governor.

The duties of attorney general have been largely defined by the person holding the office. Eliot Spitzer is known -- and, in some circles, criticized -- for expanding the responsibilities of the office to go after Wall Street transgressions. Supporters and critics agree that he has significantly raised the profile of the office. Spitzer's legacy, many say, combined with the continued tendency of the current United States Supreme Court to rely on the judgment of the states on many issues, will give whoever wins this election a lot of power.

Click here for 2006 New York Attorney General Candidates Grid

The race to replace Spitzer has not inspired a lot of enthusiasm. Newspaper endorsements have regularly started with the caveat that both candidates are seriously flawed. Indeed, it has been difficult to look past the personal scandals that have dominated the campaign -- or the abundance of evidence that neither candidate wanted the job until better opportunities fell through. But some digging will show that the candidates do differ in their political views and conception of how the office should work.

The Republican, Jeanine Pirro, is running mainly on her experience as a former district attorney in Westchester -- her campaign Web site does not devote a single word to her plans for the office she is running for. She says that the highlight of Andrew Cuomo's political career -- his time as the secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development -- has not prepared him to serve as New York state's top lawyer.

As district attorney, Pirro focused largely on sexual predators; she has said she wants to continue that focus as attorney general. Pirro calls sex offenders "the most important public safety issue of our time," and has been pushing for civil confinement -- or continued supervision even after a sentence is completed -- for those convicted of violent sex crimes.

Pirro's critics say that this focus would be appropriate for district attorney, but not for attorney general. Cuomo sees the post less as an office for criminal justice than as a place to launch campaigns to "clean up government" and "fight for social justice."

This difference is reflected in the candidates' different approaches to Medicaid fraud, something that all those running for statewide office have cited as a priority. Pirro says she will use aggressive law enforcement tactics to catch those cheating the system; Cuomo wants to create a law that would offer financial rewards to whistleblowers.

Another clue about how Pirro and Cuomo would differ as attorney general are their views on social issues. Cuomo opposes the death penalty and supports gay marriage, while Pirro is pro-death penalty, and against a gay marriage bill --- an issue that will almost certainly come up in Albany come January. (Watch a video of one of the two debates between Cuomo and Pirro.)

There are three other candidates running for attorney general: Rachel Treichler on the Green Party line; Christopher Garvey on the Libertarian line; and Martin Koppel on the Socialist Workers Party. (Watch a video of a debate among the third-party candidates.)

Look also at the attorney general's “Campaign Trail” -- summaries of, and links to, articles about the race.

COMPTROLLER

Until September, the assumption was so wide-spread that Alan Hevesi was cruising to re-election as the state's comptroller that pollsters didn't even include the race in their surveys of New York voters. Hevesi's performance to that point had inspired few complaints, and the Republican party had put up what everyone was acknowledging as a token opponent: J. Christopher Callaghan. Hevesi didn't even bother to put together a campaign Web site.

Then Callaghan got an anonymous tip that Hevesi had inappropriately used a taxpayer-funded driver as a chauffeur and companion for his ailing wife. By the time the smoke cleared, a state ethics committee had alleged that Hevesi had committed a crime, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer withdrew his support, and others were calling for Hevesi to resign.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, Callaghan had a chance.

Click here for 2006 New York Comptroller Candidates Grid

Hevesi agreed to debate Callaghan (watch video of debate), and began running television advertisements questioning his ability to run the large comptroller's office, which oversees the state's $145 billion pension system and serves as Albany's fiscal watchdog. Callaghan, meanwhile, continued to criticize Hevesi's ethics, also attacking the comptroller's acceptance of campaign contributions from companies that do business with the state. Support for the previously unknown candidate ballooned; he has been endorsed by officials as far away as Arizona . In a nutshell, Hevesi says Callaghan isn't experienced enough to do the job, and Callaghan says Hevesi isn't honest enough to do it.

Callaghan has proposed a 401(k)-style pension plan for new state employees, which would not have the guaranteed payout of the current pension plan. Callaghan argues that such an approach would be cheaper for taxpayers and would be as secure as the current system. But Hevesi has attacked what he describes as a "privatization" plan, saying that new employees would be at risk of losing their pensions.

Callaghan has also criticized Hevesi's practice of investing the state's pension fund in "socially responsible" ways. While Hevesi argues it is possible to do this while also maximizing returns, Callaghan says it is inappropriate.

There are three other candidates running for comptroller: Green Party candidate Julia Willebrand; Willie Cotton of the Socialist Workers Party; and Libertarian John Cain.

Look also at the comptroller “Campaign Trail” -- summaries of, and links to, articles about the race going back for months.

STATE LEGISLATURE

In the last few years, the cry to reform Albany, particularly the state legislature, has become a kind of mantra. But many lawmakers are running unopposed, and those who do face opposition have all the advantages of incumbency, so the opportunities for sweeping change in the Capitol seem scant.

State Senate

Democrats had hoped that the major change in the legislature would be a shift in power in the state senate, in which the Republicans now hold a 35 to 27 majority. In New York City, Republicans have only five of the city's 26 seats. There are four open seats, including the Manhattan/Bronx district of David Patterson, who is running for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket. Democrat Bill Perkins, Republican Al Mosley, and Independent Jessie Fields are running to replace him.

In another notable race, the Republican Party has decided not to field a challenger against incumbent Efrain Gonzalez, representing the 30th District in the Bronx, even though Gonzalez has been indicted of mail fraud for allegedly using $37,000 donated to a non-profit organization for personal expenses.

(To see a list of all the contested Senate races, click here)

State Assembly

The State Assembly is controlled by Democrats who hold more than two thirds of the 150 seats. In the city, the numbers are even more one-sided, with Republicans holding only four of the city's 65 seats. (One Republican, Dov Hikind, has the Democrat's backing as well.)

In Queens' 25th District, Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin decided not to seek re-election, and was indicted shortly thereafter on federal racketeering charges. Morshed Alam is running on the Republican line, with Rory Lancman running as the Democrat. The contest is a rematch of the Democratic primary.

But not every assembly member under indictment has ducked out. Diane Gordon, who is charged with taking bribes, is running for re-election in the 40th District in the Bronx. Her opponent, Godfrey Jelks, is not running an active campaign.

(To see a list of all the contested Assembly races, click here)

JUDGES

This year's ballot also includes elections for civil and supreme court judges. The state Bar Association has put together a voter's guide profiling the candidates.

WASHINGTON

SENATE

New York's junior senator, Democrat Hillary Clinton, is facing a challenge from former Republican mayor of Yonkers John Spencer.

The campaign has dealt largely with Senator Clinton's ambitions beyond the senate. One of Spencer's major criticisms of Clinton is that she is planning to run for president in two years; Clinton refuses to comment on the nearly universally believed rumor. In a bizarre chance encounter with a reporter on an airplane, Spencer allegedly ridiculed Clinton as having been an ugly teenager, and said that she had gotten millions of dollars worth of plastic surgery. Spencer denies making such comments, but the encounter quickly became the most memorable moment in an otherwise low-key contest.

(Watch a video of a debate between the candidates)

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Across the country, the campaign for a third of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate, as well as all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives is in high gear, with Democrats hoping six seats in the Senate will change hands and give them control. They need to pick up 15 more seats in the House to be the majority party there.

New York City has 13 seats -- 12 of which are held by Democrats, the other held by Staten Island Republican Vito Fossella. Three incumbents are running unopposed. There will be at least one new Representative, in Brooklyn's 11th District, where Representative Major Owens is not seeking reelection. Democrat Yvette Clarke faces Republican Steven Finger, Freedom Party candidate Ollie McClean, and Conservative Marianna Blume.

(To see a list of all the contested House races, click here)

BEFORE YOU GO TO THE POLLS

Where and When Do I Vote?

The election will be this Tuesday, November 7, with polls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Only registered voters who have registered at least 25 days before the election can vote.

You should have received a notice in the mail telling you where to vote, but if you do not have it, you can go to the Board of Election's poll site locator or call 1.866.VOTE-NYC. This number can provide you with other information as well, such as registration deadlines.

On its Web site, the Board of Elections also has instructions for how to work the voting machine.

Absentee ballot applications can be obtained by calling the Board of Elections at 1-866-VOTE-NYC, e-mailing a request to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Those who wish to vote by absentee ballot have two choices:

- Deliver by mail: To be counted, an absentee ballot must be postmarked the day before Election Day, November 6, and reach the Board of Elections no more than seven days after the election. Or you can drop off an absentee ballot at one of the Board of Elections borough offices by 9:00 p.m. on Election Day.

If the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot by mail has passed and you cannot appear at the polls on Election Day because of an accident or sudden illness, you may send a representative with an authorized letter to receive an Absentee Ballot Application and Absentee Ballot and return both to the Board of Elections by 9 P.M. on Election Day at your Borough office.

What Are My Voting Rights?

The New York Voter's Bill of Rights guarantees the right to:

. Vote: The right to vote includes voting for candidates and questions on the ballot.
. Have Your Vote Count: Vote on a voting system that is in working condition and that will allow votes to be accurately counted.
. Secrecy in Voting: Secrecy in voting will be preserved for all elections.
. Freedom in Voting: Cast your vote, free from coercion or intimidation by poll workers or any other person.
. Permanent Registration: Once registered to vote, you will continue to remain qualified to vote from an address within your county or city.
. Accessible Elections: Non-discriminatory equal access to the election system for all voters, including the elderly, disabled, alternative language minorities, military and overseas citizens, as required by federal and state laws.
. Assistance in Voting: You may ask for help in voting because of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write.
. A Ballot in Your Language: Voters in New York City are entitled to a ballot in Spanish. Voters in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens have the right to a ballot in Chinese and Queens voters must be able to obtain a ballot in Korean.
. Instructions in Voting: You can view a sample ballot in your polling place prior to voting, and before entering the machine, you may request help in how to operate the machine.
. Absentee Voting: If you will be out of your county of residence on Election Day, or are unable to go to your polling place due to illness or physical disability, you may cast an absentee ballot.
. Affidavit Voting: Whenever your name does not appear in the official poll book, you will be offered an affidavit ballot.

What Do First Time Voters Need To Know?

New Yorkers who registered to vote for the first time via mail, may be asked to provide identification, such as a driver's license, when they go to the polls.

Those without a driver's license can also offer a copy of one of the following:
. a valid photo ID
. a current utility bill
. a bank statement
. a government check or other government document that shows the voter's name and address.

Those who don't have any form of identification or refuse to supply one will be allowed to vote on paper ballot, not in the machines, according to the Board of Elections. Those votes will be counted if they are verified to match registration forms.

The new rule is part of the federal Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed after the turmoil in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

What If You Encounter Problems at the Polls?

If a poll worker says you are not on the list, ask an inspector to verify that you are at the correct Election and Assembly District for your address. If you believe that you are eligible to vote, you can ask for a paper or affidavit ballot. After the election, the Board of Elections will check its records and your vote will be counted if you are deemed eligible to vote and were at the correct polling site.

The Board of Elections says that it has increased efforts to make polling places accessible for senior citizens and handicapped voters, but they admit that there are still problems at some sites. Voters who feel that their polling site is inaccessible should call the Voter Registration Unit of their local borough office for information.

If you encounter problems at the polls, call one of the following places:
- New York Public Interest Research Group: 212.822.0282
- League of Women Voters Election hotline: 212 725-3541.
- New York Civil Liberties Union: 212-607-3300

For assistance in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Hindi, Khmer and English, call the Asian American Legal Defense Fund at 800-966-5946.

HOW DO YOU FIND OUT WHO WON?

Visit Gotham Gazette's Election Results.

 

A Guide for the Last Minute Voter, Primary 2006


[

For a guide to the 2006 GENERAL election on November 7th, click here.

/

Like tantalizing cooking smells wafting from the apartment next door, the political battle in Connecticut has left many New York political junkies bemoaning their own sparse election diet this year. But while nothing in New York has captured national attention like Connecticut’s Senate race, where longtime incumbent Joe Lieberman lost his primary to a political newcomer (or even New Jersey's, where two well-funded rivals are running neck and neck), New York Democrats and Republicans will go to the polls in a primary Tuesday. This week’s election will set the stage for the final round on November 7 when New Yorkers will cast votes for a U.S. senator, all four statewide offices, every member of the city’s 13-person congressional delegation and all the city’s representatives in the State Senate and Assembly.

Unfortunately, owing to New York’s Byzantine election laws and crony politics, choices will be limited in many parts of the city. Only voters registered with a party having a primary can vote on Tuesday. And even their choices are limited. Just two of the 13 congressional districts, for example, offer truly competitive primary contests. By one recent count, although there are 26 seats in the State Senate representing New York City, only eight districts will have primaries; of 65 districts in the State Assembly representing New York City, only 19 offer primary races.

But some of these primaries are intense contests. Tuesday’s ballot will also feature a hot race for the Democratic nominee for attorney general and a rare Republican primary for U.S. Senate. And even though the pundits are declaring Eliot Spitzer the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary and saying anti-war candidate Jonathan Tasini has no chance against Senator Hillary Clinton, the truth is, as trailing politicians always say, the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day.

To help voters before they go into the polling booth, we offer the following guide. And on the night of the election and in the days after, go to Gotham Gazette’s election results.

THE FIGHT FOR ALBANY
The Governor’s Race
Three Other Statewide Offices
The State Legislature

NEW YORK’S REPRESENTATIVES IN WASHINGTON
The Primaries for U.S. Senate
Contested House Seats

OTHER RACES

BEFORE YOU GO TO THE POLLS
Where and When Do I Vote?
What Do First Time Voters Need To Know?
What Are My Rights?
Where Can I Go for Help?

GETTING THE RESULTS
How Do I Find Out Who Won?

THE FIGHT FOR ALBANY

The Governor’s Race

In November, voters will chose a successor to Governor George Pataki, who is leaving office after 12 years. But this week, the only voters who get a chance to weigh in on who should hold the state’s highest office are Democrats. In their primary, State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is running against Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi.

(Republicans avoided a primary when former Massachusetts Governor William Weld dropped out of the GOP contest, insuring that former State Assemblymember John Faso would be the party’s nominee in the November election.)

Spitzer received the endorsement of the state Democratic Party at its convention last spring and holds large leads in the polls, a massive advantage in fundraising and endorsements from much of the Democratic establishment and advocacy groups, unions and newspapers. But Suozzi has stayed on the campaign trail, presenting himself as a strong manager who brought sweeping reform to financially troubled Nassau County. If elected, he say, he will shake up Albany. “The reasons I'm losing are the same reasons why I'm running,” Suozzi says on his Web site.

To find out the candidates’ stands on the issues, check out their Web sites and Gotham Gazette’s Eye on Albany archive of press coverage. To read a transcript of their July debate, click here.

The question of who eventually becomes governor, of course, makes a lot of difference to New York City because, legally, New York City exists as a creature of the state. For example, the state requires the city to pay half of the state’s share of costs of the Medicaid program, but sets the rules about how the program operates. It determines tax policy, decides to fund or not fund various programs, and establishes the parameters for rent control.

Two thorny issues provide an example of how the governor could make a big difference to city residents. One is school funding. The state’s courts have repeatedly ruled in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit that city schools need billions of additional dollars a year to provide students with a “sound, basic education.” So far, the state has not provided the extra operating funds, largely because Pataki continues to fight the ruling in the courts.

Suozzi has said he would give the city schools an extra $2.5 billion a year but adds that the problem is “not just a funding crisis, or educational crisis; this is a moral crisis that has to compel all of us to act.” And so he has called for improving teacher quality and expanding charter schools and pre-kindergarten programs.

Spitzer says the city schools need an extra $4 billion to $6 billion a year.

On rebuilding the World Trade Center site, Spitzer has criticized the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the soon to be defunct agency Pataki created to handle rebuilding. "We need to regroup and make sure that we can get this moving in the right direction with construction that will bring back the vitality we desperately need in lower Manhattan,'' the attorney general said in May.

Suozzi, in turn, has criticized Spitzer’s criticism. “Eliot has been a statewide elected official every day since Sept. 11, 2001, as well as running for governor for more than 500 days, and he has never offered one idea, constructive or otherwise, regarding the rebuilding of lower Manhattan,” Suozzi said.

Other Statewide Posts

New York has three other statewide offices -- lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general. But the only office that will be on any primary ballot is that of attorney general. The spirited contest for the Democratic nomination to succeed Spitzer has come down to three contenders: former federal housing secretary Andrew Cuomo, former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green, and corporate attorney and former Bill Clinton aide Sean Patrick Maloney. (Former federal housing official Charlie King dropped out last week.)

Cuomo won the backing of the state’s Democratic establishment, capturing 67 percent of the delegate votes at the state party convention. This compelled his rivals to mount petition drives in order to a primary and get on the ballot. (One, Denise O’Donnell, bailed out of the race at that point.)

Most of the coverage of the race has centered on Cuomo and Green. The contest has had its absurd and even ugly touches, with Green lambasting Cuomo’s record as federal housing secretary and Cuomo attacking Green for attacking Cuomo.

Click here to read a synopsis of the debate between the candidates or to listen to the whole thing. And go to Gotham Gazette’s Eye on Albany for a press archive on the race.

For better or worse, in his eight years as attorney general, Spitzer demonstrated how important a person in that office can be to New York City. Although attorney general is technically the state government’s lawyer, representing it in legal cases, Spitzer used the office to pursue investigations of Wall Street and the mutual fund industry, leading major firms to agree to change long held practices. “He has transformed a sleepy office into the nation's dominant regulator and reengineer of the financial services industry — all in the name of protecting consumers,” Daniel Gross wrote in Slate.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro in November.

THE LEGISLATURE

In the last few years, the cry to reform Albany, particularly the state legislature, has become a kind of mantra. But with most incumbents running unopposed or facing only token opposition, the opportunities for sweeping change in the Capitol seem scant. (For an overview, see State Races and Incumbency -- How New York Is Not Connecticut.)

State Senate

In the State Senate, Republicans hold an edge -- 35 seats to 27 for the Democrats. But in New York City, Republicans have only five of the city's 26 seats. And on primary day, only one Senate district offers a Republican primary. Most of the day’s Senate action will be for the Democrats.

For a list of all the city’s State Senate primaries, including candidates, links and brief descriptions, go to Contested State Senate Seats.

State Assembly

The State Assembly is controlled by Democrats who hold more than two thirds of the 150 seats. In the city, the numbers are even more one-sided, with Republicans holding only four of the city’s 65 seats. (One Republican, Dov Hikind, has the Democrat’s backing as well.) On Tuesday, 16 distrcts will hold Democratic primaries, two will have Republican contests, and there will be one Conservative Party primary – in the Bronx.

For a list of all the city’s State Assembly primaries, including candidates, links and brief descriptions, go to Contested State Assembly Seats.

NEW YORK’S REPRESENTATIVES IN WASHINGTON

Across the country, the campaign for a third of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate, as well as all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives is in high gear, with Democrats hoping six seats in the Senate will change hands and give them control. They need to pick up 15 more seats in the House to be the majority party there.

Operatives of both parties, along with reporters, commentators and consultants, have drawn lists of those posts they believe to be in play – the seats that could change from one party to the other. While some House seats upstate comes up with some regularity, none of New York City’s 13 seats -- 12 of which are held by Democrats – are considered likely to switch parties this year.

But any shift between parties will not happen until November. This week, both the Democratic and Republican parties have primaries for U.S. Senate. One of the city’s congressional seats is open and features a hard fought Democratic primary. And one veteran member of Congress faces a serious challenge.

U.S. Senate

In the Democratic primary, Senator Hillary Clinton is facing a challenge from Jonathan Tasini. Billing himself as a “real Democrat,” Tasini, former president of the National Writers Union, wants an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and, while he holds positions on other issues, is largely challenging Clinton on her support for the war.

Obviously he would like to copy Ned Lamont’s success in Connecticut, but unlike Lamont, Tasini does not have money to fund his own campaign and some progressive Democrats, such as MoveOn.org, which backed Lamont, have not offered their support to Tasini.

The GOP contest to face Clinton in November could be the year’s weirdest race. Last year, the party seem on track to nominate Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Pirro but Pirro’s campaign quickly faltered -- she lost a page of her speech announcing her candidacy, could never raise money and lost the baking of key officials -- and in December, Pirro decided to run for attorney general instead.

Two Republicans stepped into the breech: former Yonkers mayor John Spencer and K.T. McFarland, who worked in the Reagan administration (the extent of her responsibilities has been open to debate). Although real issues undoubtedly separate the two -- she is pro choice, while he opposes abortion, for example -- the campaign has been mired in accusations about each other’s personal life.

In an August debate, for example, McFarland criticized Spencer for fathering two children with his chief of staff while he was married to another woman. McFarland’s personal life -- her alleged abuse as a child, her abandonment of a brother who died of AIDS -- have also been grist for the political mill.

House Seats

District 10 (East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene): Democratic primary

• Charles Barron
• Roger Green
• Edolphus Towns

Towns has held this seat since 1984 and has had tough primaries before. This time he faces a challenge from City Councilmember Charles Barron, a former Black Panther known for his outspoken style on the council, and from State Assemblymember Roger Green.

Towns has been under attack from Barron -- who has called him “lackadaisical” and part of a machine -- and from the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives. But his campaign skills and the advantage of incumbency have helped him hold on before.

For more on this race see Gotham Gazette’s U.S. Congressional District 10 – Taking On Ed Towns. To link to a radio talk by Green and Barron click here. (Towns has declined to participate in the debates.)

District 11 (Park Slope, Flatbush, Brownsville): Democratic primary

• Carl Andrews
• Yvette Clarke
• Chris Owens
• David Yassky

The race to fill the congressional seat being vacated by Major Owens has been New York City’s most heated contest for the past several months. One reason is that congressional seats rarely become open in New York. This contest also combines race (Yassky is the only white candidate in the predominantly black district), money (at one point Yassky had raised more money than any other Democrat seeking an open seat in the entire country) and nepotism (Chris Owens is Major Owens’ son; Yvette Clarke is the daughter of Una Clarke, who once challenged the senior Owens).

Few issues divide the Democratic contenders, who have vied to see who can be the most outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq. They do differ over Atlantic Yards; Owens opposes the arena and residential complex in downtown Brooklyn, Andrews and Clarke support it, and Yassky favoring it with modifications. And the candidates have clashed over each other’s connections and background, with Andrews under attack for his ties to now convicted Brooklyn Democratic boss Clarence Norman and Clarke having had to deal with embarrassing disclosures about her college transcript and loans as well as campaign funds.

For more see Gotham Gazette’s Running for Brooklyn’s Open Seat. Other articles on the race have appeared recently in the Times and the Village Voice.

District 13 (Staten Island): Independence Party primary

• Vito Fossella

Anita Lerman Lerman, the vice chairperson of the Staten Island Independence Party, is challenging Fossella, the one Republican in the city’s congressional delegation. Regardless of who wins the primary, Fossella will still appear on the November ballot as the GOP nominee.

District 17 (north Bronx): Democratic primary

• Eliot Engel
• Jessica Flagg

Engel, a former New York City schoolteacher and member of the State Assembly, was first elected in 1988. According to the Almanac of America Politics, his “once strongly liberal voting record has become more moderate.” That appears to be the impetus behind Flagg’s candidacy. A business consultant who says she became more politically involved after “the Supreme Court intervention” in the 2000 presidential election,” Flagg’s Web site says that she decided to challenge Engel “because of his position on the Iraq war, the way he speaks about Iran and his lack of support for the resolutions calling for Censure, impeachment or even investigation of the Bush/Cheney administration.”

OTHER CONTESTS

Judicial Races

One of the ironies of New York politics is that judges are supposed to be apolitical but run in political party primaries. This years ballot features Democratic primary contests for two countrywide Civil Court judgeships in Brooklyn, and two Civil Court contests in districts in Manhattan and an Independence Party primary in Manhattan. Aside form party machines, one of the few groups that pays attention to these races is the bar association, which evaluates candidates, listing them as approved or disapproved, without further explanation. These ratings are not currently on the web site.

All the candidates in the three boroughs were approved except for John Serpico, Robin Sheares and Pia Wood in Brooklyn; and Mary Rosado in Manhattan’s 7th district.

The Democratic and Independence parties will also hold primaries for internal party posts, such as county committees, for state committee, district leader and judicial conventions.

For more on this, see Albany Matters.

For a complete list of candidates, borough by borough, go to this pdf file on the Board of Elections Web site -- Candidacy List, 2006 Primary Election

BEFORE YOU GO TO THE POLLS

Where and When Do I Vote?

The election will be this Tuesday, Sept. 12, with polls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Only registered voters who have registered at least 25 days before the election can vote. If you have moved within your election district, you can still vote. But if you moved to another election district you must have notified the Board of Elections of your new residence – unless you moved within 20 days of the election. Then you can still vote in your old district.

To vote in the primary, you must have signed up with a party to vote in the primary and you can vote in that party’s primary only.

You should have received a notice in the mail telling you where to vote, but if you do not have it, you can go to the Board of Election’s poll site locator or call 1.866.VOTE-NYC. This number can provide you with other information as well, such as registration deadlines.

On their website, the Board of Elections also has instructions for how to work the voting machine.

Absentee ballot applications can be obtained calling the Board of Elections at 1-866-VOTE-NYC, e-mailing a request to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Those who wish to vote by absentee ballot have two choices:

- Deliver by mail: To be counted, an absentee ballot must be postmarked by the day before Primary Day, September 11, and reach the Board of Elections no more than seven days after the election. Or you can drop off an absentee ballot at one of the Board of Elections borough offices by 9:00 p.m. on Primary Day.

If the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot by mail has passed and you cannot appear at the polls on Election Day because of an accident or sudden illness, you may send a representative with an authorized letter to receive an Absentee Ballot Application and Absentee Ballot and return both to the Board of Elections by 9 P.M. on Election Day at your Borough office.

What Are My Voting Rights?

The New York Voter's Bill of Rights guarantees the right to:

• Vote: The right to vote includes voting for candidates and questions on the ballot.
• Have Your Vote Count: Vote on a voting system that is in working condition and that will allow votes to be accurately counted.
• Secrecy in Voting: Secrecy in voting will be preserved for all elections.
• Freedom in Voting: Cast your vote, free from coercion or intimidation by poll workers or any other person.
• Permanent Registration: Once registered to vote, you will continue to remain qualified to vote from an address within your county or city.
• Accessible Elections: Non-discriminatory equal access to the election system for all voters, including the elderly, disabled, alternative language minorities, military and overseas citizens, as required by federal and state laws.
• Assistance in Voting: You may ask for help in voting because of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write.
• A Ballot in Your Language: Voters in New York City are entitled to a ballot in Spanish. Voters in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens have the right to a ballot in Chinese and Queens voters must be able to obtain a ballot in Korean.
• Instructions in Voting: You can view a sample ballot in this polling place prior to voting, and before entering the machine, you may request help in how to operate the machine.
• Absentee Voting: If you will be out of your county of residence on Election Day, or are unable to go to your polling place due to illness or physical disability, you may cast an absentee ballot.
• Affidavit Voting: Whenever your name does not appear in the official poll book, you will be offered an affidavit ballot.

What Do First Time Voters Need To Know?

New Yorkers who registered to vote for the first time via mail, may be asked to provide identification, such as a driver's license, when they go to the polls.

Those without a driver's license can also offer a copy of one of the following:
• a valid photo ID
• a current utility bill
• a bank statement
• a government check or other government document that shows the voter's name and address.

Those who don't have any form of identification or refuse to supply one will be allowed to vote on paper ballot, not in the machines, according to the Board of Elections. Those votes will be counted if they are verified to match registration forms.

The new rule is part of the federal Help America Vote Act, which Congress passed after the turmoil in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

What If You Encounter Problems at the Polls?

If a poll worker says you are not on the list, ask an inspector to verify that you are at the correct Election and Assembly District for your address. If you believe that you are eligible to vote, you can ask for a paper or affidavit ballot. After the election, the Board of Elections will check its records and your vote will be counted if you are deemed eligible to vote and were at the correct polling site.

The Board of Elections says that it has increased efforts to make polling places accessible for senior citizens and handicapped voters, but they admit that there are still problems at some sites. Voters who feel that their polling site is inaccessible should call the Voter Registration Unit of their local borough office for information.

If you encounter problems at the polls, call one of the following places:
- New York Public Interest Research Group: 212 349-6460
-League of Women Voters Election hotline: 212 725-3541.
- New York Civil Liberties Union: 212-344-3005

For assistance in Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Hindi, Khmer and English, call the Asian American Legal Defense Fund at 800-966-5946.

HOW DO YOU FIND OUT WHO WON?

On the night of the Primary Election and in the days after, visit Gotham Gazette's Election Results. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enabling Voters With Disabilities?


One definition of democracy is the ability of voters to cast a ballot in secret. But every Election Day, one specific group of voters is deprived of this right -- voters with disabilities.

Here in New York City, where there are estimated to be over a million residents living with disabilities, an unknown number are eligible voters who require assistance to cast a ballot on Election Day. Those who choose to vote are forced to divulge their selection: Blind people must tell somebody their choice since the current voting machines do not include Braille, as must physically restricted people since there are no "sip and puff" provisions or other modern assistive technology.

Disabled voters who do not wish to disclose their vote or have difficulties traveling to their local poll site are able to request an absentee ballot from the Board of Elections. This allows voters to vote through a mail-in ballot prior to Election Day. There are currently 22,217 permanent absentee ballot voters in the city; experts speculate that many of these voters are disabled.

But soon things are supposed to improve for the disabled voter, thanks to what is officially known as "Plan B" -- ironically, a reflection of New York's failure to do what it was supposed to do.

How The “Help America Vote Act” Can Help

In addition to standardizing and modernizing the face of elections nationwide, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was also intended to provide individuals with disabilities access to the polls to cast an independent and private vote on Election Day. But here in New York, the implementation of HAVA is in limbo, with a federal lawsuit looming over the State Board of Elections due to its non-compliance and delay.

The judge mandated the state board to provide a plan for implementation of new voting systems and a statewide voter registration database.

The interim solution proposed by the State Board of Elections, also known as ‘Plan B’ calls for the purchase and limited deployment of special machines to aid disabled voters under HAVA. These devices will assist voters in completing paper ballots in various ways. For example, a visually impaired voter would go into a booth,put on a headphone, and have a recorded voice read the names on the ballot. The voter might have a joystick, and the voice would say, for example, "Push the joystick to the left for Eliot Spitzer, to the right for John Faso." The machine will then print out a paper ballot with the voter's choices.

Throughout New York, most counties have stated their ability to accommodate only one or two of such assistive devices to be placed in a central location for disabled voters on Election Day. The New York City board plans to purchase ballot marking devices for 2006 to be placed in the five borough offices.

On June 2nd, the court signed off on the state’s proposed plan, but also required the state to develop a comprehensive strategy by mid August to replace all lever machines in 2007.

Access at a Price

Although voters with disabilities will have the new option of voting at the borough office on a ballot-marking device in 2006, the jury is still out as to whether this plan will actually enfranchise voters to vote in an independent and private manner. The rush to implement a separate voting process for disabled voters, coupled with the novelty of ballot markers, is a recipe for problems on Election Day. Also, since ballot markers will be placed centrally, disabled voters must travel to cast an unassisted ballot beyond their local polling site. Additionally, since disabled voters are the only voters to vote on the new machines, it can be easily determined how they voted as a group, therefore compromising the confidentiality of their vote.

In response to such concerns, State Senator John Flanagan from Long Island called for the legislature to provide $10 million more in state funds for the purchase of additional voting machines for the disabled in 2006.

But election officials are hesitant to purchase additional machines under the interim solution since counties will choose new voting systems in 2007 that may not be compatible to the ballot markers for 2006.

Groups such as Citizens Union Foundation (for whom I work) have submitted legal briefs that oppose the proposed plan, arguing that such a partial solution is ineffective and that it would make more sense to wait for a more comprehensive implementation of HAVA in 2007. The City Council has introduced a resolution that also advocates for such course of action. Although the court has signed off on “Plan B”, the judge has set July 6th to hear Citizen Union Foundation’s amicus motion and also to entertain the intervention motion made by the New York Public Interest Research Group and other groups in the HAVA suit.

Regardless of the court decision, it is up to the State Board of Elections and county boards in the state to ensure that voters with disabilities have access to a private and independent vote.

“New Yorkers with disabilities have been waiting for over 200 years to have full access to voting machines, polling places and the ballot,” said Brad Williams of the New York State Independent Living Council, a statewide non-profit disability organization. “It is time that New York State be compelled to honor their moral and legal responsibilities…”

Amy Ngai is program associate for Citizens Union Foundation, which publishes Gotham Gazette. 

Drawing the Line: Redistricting and Non-Competitive Elections in New York State


Drawing the Line: Redistricting and Non-Competitive Elections in New York State was a forum held by Citizens Union Foundation (which publishes Gotham Gazette) and the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College on Friday April 28, 2005. The following are excerpts from discussions at the forum.

SHOULD LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS BE REDRAWN TO ENCOURAGE COMPETITION?

Jeremy Creelan (Brennan Center for Social Justice): We have demographic realities that mean that for the most part our general elections are not competitive in New York City, and they're not competitive upstate. [Therefore], when you talk about wanting competition, you have to talk about what the goal actually is. Competition sounds good, and theoretically it has been shown to increase voter involvement and some elements of accountability, but it might be more important to focus on other elements of political power -- or at least consider them at the same time.

Henry Stern (New York Civic): Isn't the only totally non-partisan way to do districting to make it on a geographic basis?

When you go into considerations like giving advantage to party, or giving advantage to an ethnic group, or an interest group, or a disenfranchised group, don't you then impose extra burdens, privileges, or priorities on a scheme of theoretically disinterested neutral, geographic redistricting?

Steve Carbo (DEMOS): You and I might have a disagreement about the purpose of redistricting and representation. I question the ultimate and fundamental and democratic value of drawing lines according to geographic county lines as being the “end all and be all” of redistricting. In my mind, the goal of redistricting and the election process is to give the different interests that reside in that state, and that are represented by its voters, a fair opportunity to have their interests represented by their elected officials. [They should] have their interests and agenda advanced by those that they elect. That means that you end up looking not only at county boundary lines, but where people live and what are people's preexisting opportunities for fair representation. There are factors that go into this process; it is not a clean one that is best served by drawing the straightest and narrowest lines that are possible.

Lucia Gomez (Cuban American National Council): Just to think of the purity of it all – the goal is to give every person equal access to vote. Everyone has the same right as the next person, and his or her vote is worth the same thing.

There is a demographic reality, though: New York City has changed. There are not many districts Latinos need to strive for, draw, or gerrymander lines, to capture a district that is majority Latino. But because demographics change, we need to begin to understand and define what competitiveness is. In New York City, we're not going to begin to try to draw districts that are competitive between Democrats and Republicans…

…When we talk about the criteria, [we may need to] go beyond the criteria we have already set. We need to begin to see that how demographic realities make it difficult to abide by old criteria like not crossing county lines.

Rachel Leon (Common Cause New York): One of the ways we define competitiveness is regular people being able to run for office for these races. One of the problems when you don't have compact districts is it makes it so much more difficult to mount a challenge. The further you have to go, the notion of door-to-door grassroots campaigning gets lost. Ultimately we want regular people to run for office.

EJ McMahon (Manhattan Institute): I don't think the kind of competitiveness that we would like to encourage is the kind that entails stretching the Upper West Side into a district with someone with Saratoga Country. I think that compact and contiguous districts [is appropriate] as a goal. There are people in this room – I among them – who live in one form of community of interest that stretches around the globe via the internet. There are other people who share interest with people in Ithaca in terms of political ideology. However, the organizing principle of our community is the place where we live. There are no guarantees in life, but compact and contiguous is the most competitive.

Also, when you have large, ungainly geographically huge districts, it's very hard to recruit candidates. It's very hard to get five or six county committees to choose a candidate for state assembly. Compact and contiguous is a very good organizing principle if you want competitive elections.

Jeremy Creelan (Brennan Center for Social Justice): There's a distinction between taking the self-dealing out of the redistricting process by saying someone other than the legislators should be drawing the lines and requiring competitiveness. A redistricting commission in New York could produce lines that are entirely non-competitive, but yet we have all sorts of positive impacts of that, that we can't fully tease out today.

EJ McMahon (Manhattan Institute): A process that is indifferent to competitiveness will produce the result of competitiveness. If the process is focused on organizing districts around natural communities, it will be more competitive. I want that to happen because I want it to be more competitive, but I'm not saying that competitiveness is the principle that guides the drawing of the map.

Nicole Gordon (New York City Campaign Finance Board): This is not about turning incumbents out; it's about making sure that they have something to worry about because anybody who has done service for the community has an opportunity to make a meaningful case that they could do better.

When you talk about redistricting you are talking about general elections. I've always wondered whether it doesn't satisfy the notion of competitiveness that if you can have at least a competitive primary or at least a competitive general election, you may have satisfied some of the issues that are raised. You're not going to turn the Upper West Side into a Republican district very soon. But what you can have is a very lively primary, so at least you have a way for the incumbent to worry about serving the community.

Jeremy Creelan (Brennan Center for Social Justice): If a legislator wins or loses, he or she should win or lose for the right reasons. In my mind, that boils down to making sure that the reason is not because a line is drawn to make sure that he does win. There are other things too – you're making sure that he or she does not win because the campaign finance rules are rigged. To me, that is the ultimate test. You want [elected officials] to have a sense that they have to face whatever competitiveness and accountability the system allows.

Rachel Leon (Common Cause New York): Redistricting, in and of itself, is not a magic bullet. You have other things you need, like campaign finance, like legislative rules, like ethics. Ideally, the combination of those then gives you a healthy democracy where legislators are debating the issues of the day and responding to public concerns. That is ultimately what we want.

DISENFRANCHISING POLITICAL MINORITIES

EJ McMahon, director of the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy

I live in a Senate district whose shape Blair Horner of New York Public Interest Research Group has described as “Abraham Lincoln Riding on a Vacuum Cleaner,” and an Assembly district that stretches well over 100 miles and straddles four or five counties.

Large ungainly districts deter challenges. This is a real problem for the minority party. Political organizations are organized on a county level. When you have slices of four or five counties in an assembly district, it complicates candidate selection immensely.

By creating entrenched political minorities and further strengthening the hands of very powerful leaders, this has weakened political minorities in the legislature. This is an area in which New York is exceptional. The minority parties in both the Senate and the Assembly –but especially in the Assembly because the margin is so one-sided – are effectively disenfranchised, and their constituents are disenfranchised. There is an enormous disparity in the distribution of resources to minority members, and the parliamentary rules are rigged against meaningful participation by the political minorities. Indeed, two members of legislative minorities – Democrat Liz Krueger in the Senate and Republican Tom Kerwin in the Assembly – are pursuing a lawsuit to challenge that situation. I frankly don't think it has much chance at producing a result.

If we had an honest redistricting process, there would be a more liberal cast to the Senate. On the other hand, in the Assembly, there is a considerable segment of members from both parties who are temperamentally and politically more moderate to conservative, especially on fiscal issues, but who are now invisible. With redistricting, you might actually see the emergence of a working majority that is more moderate to conservative on fiscal and tax issues. You would have a breaking of the majority.

The single most important thing to bring change is to hold the gubernatorial candidates’ feet to the fire on stopping their cooperation with the current redistricting process. This is totally within the hands of the governor to stop.

WHY NONPROFITS ENCOURAGE GERRYMANDERING

Lucia Gomez, Cuban American National Council

I participated in a redistricting process with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, and got to see redistricting on two different levels in terms of nonprofits.

First, I worked on was to organize people at the local level to participate in the redistricting process, with the goal of helping draw districts that they thought were beneficial to their neighborhoods. To do so the boundaries should realistically reflect their geographic communities and social service needs. That was my primary goal.

The other level was to work with individuals in the Latino community, helping them understand how redistricting plays out in the way in which their neighborhoods vote, their level of civic engagement, and the way money is distributed. I wanted them to understand how redistricting was a fundamental component of whether adequate money came into the neighborhood to fund social services.

Through this work, I learned to see the way nonprofits engage in the political process through a different lens. Nonprofits were really playing a political role for incumbents, in which incumbents were using these groups to argue for why their districts should be drawn the way they were.

At first, I thought the nonprofits didn't know what was happening. I thought I was educating them so they could see that they could leverage additional support by drawing districts that were competitive and that really gave the voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

But I started seeing how the elected officials were playing the nonprofits to their advantage, knowing exactly what they were doing. And the nonprofits knew exactly what they had to do in order to get what they wanted out of their elected representative. Nonprofits and social service organizations rely so heavily on contracts that are provided by state agencies that they don't know any other way of having a relationship with their elected official other than doing whatever that elected official wants. A lot of our nonprofits are being used – and they love being used so they can keep their budgets going, supported by the very incumbents [they help keep in office through gerrymandering].

THE WAY WE COUNT PRISONERS IS A CRIME

Maggie Williams, project director of the Bronx Defenders' Voter Enfranchisement Project

Because of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, 16,000 people are incarcerated right now in New York State for drug offenses. Of those, 80 percent have never committed a violent felony. So we are talking about low-level users and low-level pushers. And 92 percent of those who are incarcerated for drug offenses are Latino and black.

I take as given that the drug laws are incredibly racist, but they also connect to prisons and redistricting.

Communities of color are being targeted by law enforcement. Individuals get locked up for these low-level drug crimes, and they lose their right to vote. So then you have folks, who in New York State, cannot vote while they are incarcerated and while they are on parole. Meanwhile, they are shipped upstate to white, rural communities, where they are counted in the census.

All these districts upstate are able to count these prisoners in their population, even though prisoners are not able to vote there. There are seven State Senate districts right now that would not meet the minimum number of residents required for a state senate district were it not for the prison population that they are counting.

Of those senate districts, two state senators – Michael Nozzolio and DaleVolker -- are on state senate committees that are the so-called tough on crime committees. They are the forces that oppose, most vociferously, any change to the Rockefeller drug laws.

So, it is a really powerful cycle to say the least: upstate legislators are actually able to hold onto their seats because of the prisons in their district -- and they are very aware of it.

I think there are two ways that New York can deal with this. One, New York, can actually become a voice in advocating for how the census counts prisoners, because that is where the issue originated. Or, New York can choose not to base its legislative districts solely on census count.

A PLAN FOR REFORM

Michael Gianaris, State Assembly Member representing the 36th District in Queens

In the last state legislative elections, in 2004, 25 percent of state legislators had no opposition. None. Voters went into the booths and had no choice to make. Not just another major party, but no choice whatsoever. No Green Party, no Marijuana Reform Party, nothing.

The number of legislators who had competitive races against opponents who had enough resources to make their case to the voters is even more surprising. Almost 60 percent of us didn’t have an opponent who raised even $1,000 for their campaign, which means effectively there was no election in those districts.

What this means is we are in a situation in New York where most of the state legislature is getting re-elected without the voters picking them or even stating, “I like the job the incumbent is doing and I want him re-elected.” We’re depriving voters of their voices because we have a system based on non-competitive elections.

Much of this is due to gerrymandering. The New York State constitution says that the New York legislature shall determine the district lines, so if we are going to reform the redistricting process, we have to do it by legislation. As a result, I am proposing legislation to set up an independent redistricting commission to deal with this problem.

REFORM GOALS

Now what is the objective? I don't want to force competitiveness by somehow creating districts just as gerrymandered or just as bastardized as the ones we are dealing with today so that there is an equal split among the parties. That to me doesn’t make things fair.

But I think we would go a long way if we just set up a process that no longer tried to remove competition from the process. We have a system now where the legal and stated goal actually is to reduce competition. If we just take that out of the equation, we wouldn’t need to worry too much about making sure Democrats and Republicans have an even numbers in every district, because you would end up getting competition de facto in that kind of a situation.

The real goal is compactness, keeping communities together, and letting the chips fall where they may. If 90 percent of the people in a particular area are Democrats, let them elect a Democrat. But at least let them have a choice when they are doing that -- either in the primary or in the general election.

I want to use different criteria for redistricting, and change the purposes for which we draw the lines right now. The most important part is the language that says "no district shall be drawn with an intent to favor or oppose any political party or any incumbent federal or state legislator." Right now that is probably the single greatest purpose for which those lines are drawn.

AN INDEPENDENT COMMISSION

My bill sets up a commission which will use these criteria to draw new district lines. It must be independent. If you set up a commission and it is created directly by the people who you are trying to remove from the process, it doesn't help very much. We tried to create several layers between the appointing authorities and the commission members.

The legislature will have the final vote on approving the commission's decision. But it must vote either up or down, with no opportunity for amendment.

This plan is ambitious; it's difficult. We do have over 30 sponsors on the bill, and we are making some progress in the Assembly. I think the fact that we have six years until the next reapportionment works in our favor. It is allowing us to build some momentum. The gubernatorial candidates are stating their desire for an independent commission. My hope is that the legislature will see the writing on the wall and try to solve this problem ourselves before we get to 2012.

 



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