Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics



A Change New York Must Make to Protect Safety Net Providers and Their Clients

spk co jo br bell

Health care professionals (photo: John McCarten/NY City Council)

Finalizing a budget can be chaotic in the best of times. This year, we hammered out the last details of the state’s $177 billion spending plan as the COVID-19 crisis was approaching its peak in New York State. 

It was in this context that the Legislature agreed to a little-noticed recommendation from the Governor’s Medicaid Redesign Team II (MRT II) that strips a critical federal benefit from health-care providers and patients in New York. Luckily, we have until April 1, 2021 to undo this mistake. I will be working non-stop over the next seven months to do just that, along with a coalition of advocates and Medicaid patients as part of the Protect the Safety Net campaign. 

The MRT II pushed through a provision in the budget that would “carve out” a pharmacy benefit from the state’s Medicaid managed-care program and shift payment to a fee-for-service reimbursement. The commission claimed its goal was to lower costs and increase transparency, but in reality this provision would devastate Ryan White Clinics, federally-qualified health centers, safety net hospitals, and other safety net providers in the 340B drug discount program. In Monroe County, for example, Trillium Health, Jordan Health, and the University of Rochester Medical Center all rely on 340B to provide essential services to families in our community. 

The federal 340B Drug Discount Program protects safety net providers from drug price increases and gives them access to pharmaceuticals at discount prices. This includes HIV/AIDS clinics that receive support under the Ryan White CARE Act as well as community health centers that have been on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19. 340B providers rely on this funding to operate food pantries, provide transportation assistance, STI screenings, mental health and wellness programs, and run harm reduction programs – services that are often grossly underfunded by the state.

If the carveout is not reversed, many patients across New York State will simply have nowhere to turn. These are not savings that should be made on the backs of those who can ill afford these cuts. 

The 340B Program is under constant threat from Big Pharma, which has tried to distort and undermine the program since it was established with broad, bipartisan support back in 1992. For the pharmaceutical industry, a discount program for Medicaid patients just means less profit. For short-sighted bureaucrats in Albany, it’s a chance for accounting gimmicks that allow them to claim “savings” that would actually harm the vulnerable New Yorkers they are supposed to be serving. 

The Medicaid commission chose the worst possible time to experiment with changes to New York State’s safety net. 340B providers care for patients in communities that have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. If these providers are forced to eliminate services, more patients will be forced to go to hospital emergency rooms for care – swamping our hospital system and driving up costs while leading to poor health outcomes. 

This would also threaten the progress we’ve made in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Ryan White Clinics have built comprehensive models of health care and social services to address the diverse needs of their patients. This comprehensive model of care is only possible because of the clinics’ participation in the 340B program. 

In the weeks and months ahead, New Yorkers will be hearing a lot more about this issue. The New York chapter of Ryan White Clinics for 340B Access recently launched a campaign to Protect the Safety Net, led by advocates and Medicaid patients. We’re going to keep fighting until the state reverses course and restores this critical benefit for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

Assemblymember Harry Bronson represents Rochester and surrounding areas. On Twitter @HarryBBronson.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

How to Vote Biden-Harris and Protect Progressive Power in New York

gv cu mid

The Working Families Party's survival is on the ballot (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)

When we each ran for State Senate, the Democratic establishment supported our opponents — but the Working Families Party had our backs. That’s because for over 20 years, the WFP has stood up for working people’s champions running for the New York state Legislature and fought for true progressive power in Albany. So it’s no surprise that Governor Cuomo and the corporate Democratic establishment are now trying to take away the Working Families Party’s ballot line and weaken progressive power.

We can’t let that happen — that’s why we’re voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on the Working Families Party ballot line, and you should too.

For decades, Albany was controlled by Republicans and corporate Democrats who worked hand in hand to empower themselves, rather than working people. The Working Families Party spent years campaigning to send working people’s champions to Albany — leaders like State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the Bronx, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou in Manhattan, and Assemblymember Diana Richardson in Brooklyn. And in a historic power shift in Albany in 2018, the WFP recruited, supported, and elected a slate of candidates who unseated the Independent Democratic Conference and their corporate allies — flipping the State Senate blue for the first time in eight years and kicking off the most progressive legislative session in New York history.

While establishment Democrats refused to endorse that slate of progressive champions — Jessica Ramos, Alessandra Biaggi, Robert Jackson, Rachel May, John Liu, Zellnor Myrie (and me, Julia Salazar) — the WFP was in the trenches. The WFP built campaign plans, recruited volunteers, and brought in the grassroots support and progressive muscle we needed to win.

Because of the Working Families Party, the State Senate was able to push through massive progressive wins in 2019 that had been bottlenecked by Republican control for years: from historic tenant protections and voter access laws to landmark climate legislation and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. And that same year, the WFP invested heavily in Tiffany Cabán’s decarceral District Attorney campaign. This cycle, the WFP continued to back progressives like myself, Jabari Brisport, Marcela Mitaynes, Khaleel Anderson, and dozens more.

So it’s no surprise that Governor Cuomo and his corporate allies have been laser-focused on weakening the Working Families Party — the party that wrested control away from the Governor and his Republican allies and began to truly deliver for working people. During this year’s budget negotiations amid a pandemic, the Governor slipped in an eleventh-hour clause — requiring all political parties to meet the strictest ballot requirements in the nation to maintain their ballot line. Parties once needed 50,000 votes every four years to maintain their ballot line. Now, they need 130,000 votes or 2% of all votes — whichever is higher — at the top of the ticket and they need these votes every two years, starting now. The threshold and timing were clearly meant to hurt the WFP this year, during a presidential election with very high turnout.

It’s clearer than ever why we must work to protect the Working Families Party’s ballot line: if not for the WFP, Democrats might be still battling with Republicans for control of the statehouse. Instead, GOP legislators are dropping like flies, corporate Democrats are on the defensive, and the Left is building real power in Albany. 

We will both be voting on the WFP line, because we cannot let Governor Cuomo and his fellow corporate Democrats weaken our progressive power in the middle of the political fight of our lives. New York is in the midst of a massive public health crisis, while suffering the effects of decades of austerity budgets and racist police brutality. We need to build working people’s power in Albany — and the WFP plays a key role in that fight.

Tens of thousands of our loved ones have died because of the state’s crumbling health-care system; millions are at risk of eviction; too many to count cannot afford to feed their families. Unemployment claims are climbing, and New York and Washington have left our undocumented brothers and sisters out to dry. If Governor Cuomo has his way, New York will continue cutting funding for hospitals, schools, and localities instead of asking the wealthy to pay more so we can all survive. We can’t afford a weakened Left right now. By voting for Biden and Harris as well as candidates like us on the WFP line, you can help protect the ballot line — and protect the multiracial, people-powered movement for justice that this moment demands.

For those of us who believe in a truly progressive agenda, voting for this year’s Democratic presidential ticket is not going to be easy; Biden and Harris are far from the working people’s champions that this moment deserves. But we also know that we can and must use our ballot to vote against Trump and to vote to strengthen progressive power in New York, by voting for Biden and Harris on the WFP line. To win, we need to keep progressive power growing in New York — so join us, and vote for Biden and Harris on the WFP line.

State Senator Julia Salazar represents parts of Brooklyn in the 18th District and is running for reelection. Jabari Brisport is the Democratic and WFP nominee for Brooklyn’s 25th State Senate District. On Twitter @JuliaCarmel__ & @JabariBrisport.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Saving Lives from Domestic Violence

chirl oped gbv

City Hall in purple (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

One survivor used the word “red” in telephone calls with her best friend when she and her children were in trouble. A family living with an abuser placed a photo in a window visible from the street – when the photo was not visible it meant they were in trouble. Another survivor signaled for help with a special knock on the wall shared with a next-door neighbor.

As a domestic violence survivor said in “When Staying Home Isn’t Safe,” one of my recent ThriveNYC podcast episodes, “If you can’t be strong, be brave. Go get help.” In her case, she left her partner after the smacks turned into punches. Survivors break through isolation in many ways, as the above anecdotes show.  

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is marked every October but COVID-19 has changed everything this year. There have been surges in suspected and reported domestic violence nationwide since the pandemic, with a 19% uptick in calls to New York’s domestic violence hotline since April compared to last year. A New England Journal of Medicine article called domestic violence during COVID-19 “a pandemic within a pandemic” because of a cascade of relationship stressors -- crowded housing, unemployment, illness, isolation, remote schooling and work.

In this moment of protests for racial equality and a higher profile for social justice movements, now is the time for all New Yorkers to become allies in the fight to end domestic violence, which touches 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men. Like so many social ills, domestic violence cuts across all demographic lines, exacerbated by factors like racism, homophobia, citizenship status, and poverty. 

We can all do much more than wear purple on October 22, a day historically dedicated to raising domestic violence awareness.  

Be an “upstander” not a bystander. Learn the signs of domestic violence and abuse by going to our NYC Hope website, and memorize and share the phone number of the domestic violence hotline: 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) to connect to services.  

The ThriveNYC helpline at 1-888-NYC-Well is also available 24/7 to talk, text, or chat with trained counselors in almost every language. It is a free and completely confidential place to talk about whatever is on your mind. The city’s Family Justice Centers (a one-stop shop for survivor services) closed temporarily because of the pandemic but services are available by telephone.

Still active is the city’s network of services and assistance for survivors: shelters, food delivery, legal assistance, reimbursement for tele-health mental health services. Links to those services are on the city’s domestic violence support page.

These strange, unprecedented few months have been a time to learn what we can do better. Survivors have told city officials that during the COVID-19 crisis they urgently need survivor-led spaces for peer-to-peer support. So for the first time ever, the city is supporting a series of public, virtual Survivor Town Halls in every borough, with two planned for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. One is on October 15 in Manhattan and one is October 28 in Brooklyn. 

Notably, the town halls are organized with grassroots organizations like the Voices of Women Organizing Project, the lead initiative of the Battered Women’s Resource Center.  

These 90-minute Zoom calls are an opportunity for networking, story-telling, and resource-sharing with fellow survivors and representatives of such key city agencies as the Administration for Children’s Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Among topics to be discussed are financial survival, being undocumented, family court, mental health, and staying safe online.  

Cecile Noel, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-based Violence (ENDGBV), emphasizes that allies must listen to what survivors need and be respectful of their choices, which might include staying with the person who has abused them. 

There is always hope and there is always help. We need every New Yorker to join us in this battle for equality, dignity, and life. In a time of rampant uncertainty, isolation and fear, we are stronger by standing together. As the marches and social justice protests across the country have shown, we can share a different vision for how we treat one another, even in our own homes and our most intimate relationships.

Chirlane McCray is First Lady of New York City. On Twitter @NYCFirstLady.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

What We Mean by Defund The Police

police dep joneill

NYPD officers at a precinct (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)

While there's widespread agreement today about the need to change or improve policing in our country, we fall far short of a consensus about the particular reforms needed. Should the changes leave the basic institutions of policing intact or should they be far-reaching? Should we dismantle current law enforcement structures and replace them with new entities? Or more generously fund existing agencies for promoting safety and justice?

Advocates' analysis is that abusive practices, from egregious incidents of brutality to bogus arrests backed up by "testilying" to daily disrespect and indignities, are so deeply entrenched and long-standing (reaching back to the founding of police departments in the U.S. in the 19th century), that only measures that are radical -- in that they address the roots of the problem -- will suffice to deliver justice.

Most police departments have unchecked power, and as the old shibboleth has it: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Most politicians, even self-identified progressives like Bill de Blasio, will not take meaningful steps to curb the abuses or to sanction many officers whose violence and lawlessness are undeniable, documented by an unending series of hard-to-watch videos.  

After Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd, the movement promoting fundamental change literally swept the country, with street demonstrations and urgent calls for action taking place in virtually every sizable U.S. city, as well as many other jurisdictions. These activities took place under various banners, most often "Black Lives Matter" or "Defund The Police," or both slogans simultaneously. Over time "Black Lives Matter" has grown more popular with a broad range of constituencies. Many mainstream politicians, for example, subscribe to it, adopting the rallying cry and authorizing murals attesting to their support. 

"Defund The Police," however, remains highly controversial amongst the public and with numerous public figures, including Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who express discomfort or outright opposition. Biden, in fact, has actually called for increased funding for police. 

People's discomfort and opposition are based on their somewhat understandable interpretation that the slogan means the expeditious cutting of all monies for, and the disbanding entirely of, police forces. Also, many Americans think of public safety in terms of what police do or don’t do. Alternative means of curtailing crime and disorder are rarely part of the public discourse, and the fact that many calling to defund the police mean to shift significant sums away from policing and toward social services is often not understood or acknowledged.

Here's what PROP -- the Police Reform Organizing Project, a nonprofit that I run -- means by Defund The NYPD. Our guiding operating principle is to sharply curtail police power, presence, and personnel, mainly because such steps will significantly reduce the department's ability to carry out, and to get away with, abusive and racist practices. Also, through the resulting savings, these measures will make available additional resources to fund effective and benign alternative approaches. 

Specific examples include:

Transfer traffic enforcement to another government agency. In 2019, NYPD officers issued nearly 1 million traffic summonses -- why do we need an officer with a gun to pull someone over who's driving a car with a broken taillight?

Disband NYPD units that are notorious for violating the rights and well-being of vulnerable constituencies. Eliminated units would include the nuisance abatement, vice, and peddlers squads.

Have mental health professionals be the first responders to emergencies involving people in psychiatric crises. Now 911 dispatchers have virtually only one option: to send officers, whose instincts and inclinations are often to use force to resolve problematic situations, an approach that far too often results in harm or even death for the New Yorker in emotional distress.

Remove from public schools all NYPD personnel who now outnumber social workers in the system. Let's return responsibility for school safety to educators who can still call on the police in exceptional circumstances.

Additionally, as part of an effort to curb police abuses, New York City should establish an independent prosecutor's office whose sole purpose would be to investigate and prosecute when warranted all alleged acts of police brutality, even when the victim was armed or did not die.

New York City spends over $10 billion annually on its law enforcement apparatus, the bulk of it going to the NYPD, whose practices drive the entire big, bloated system. Our proposed measures would cut expenditures by several billions, funds government could allocate to programs that support the communities most compromised by biased police tactics, for instance: real affordable housing to address our dire homeless problem; smaller school classes that studies show improve academic outcomes for all children across race and class lines; expanded health and mental health services; Cure Violence programs employing credible messengers who divert neighborhood youth from anti-social to productive activities; and public works projects providing jobs and job training to unemployed New Yorkers.

This agenda, manageable and sensible, would go a long way toward eliminating the severe hardships inflicted on vulnerable New Yorkers by our so-called justice system. Perhaps to enhance its political viability, we should consider employing different slogans from Defund The Police, such as: People Before Police; Government Should Help People, Not Hurt Them; or Cut Cops, Build Communities. Maybe they're not as dramatic or pithy as Defund The Police, but they more accurately reflect our worthy goal of creating a just, safe, and inclusive city for all New Yorkers. 

Robert Gangi is Director of the Police Reform Organizing Project. On Twitter @GangiFromPROP & @PROPNYC.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Letitia James Serves as Last Line of Defense Against Trump Administration

3 lj ag

Attorney General Letitia James (photo: @NewYorkStateAG)

In blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to sabotage the 2020 Census, a California court last week handed yet another key victory to the Office of the New York Attorney General. And this is just the latest in a string of triumphs coming from the office of the Empire State’s top lawyer as the president pushes his election-year agenda.

While the president’s rhetoric often translates to the introduction of potentially devastating policies, many of the administration’s most egregious moves have faced successful opposition on the legal battlefield. In large part, that is due to the tireless efforts by Democratic state attorneys general. And New York’s Letitia James has long been in the lead, fighting back the Trump administration’s agenda.

On immigration issues, she has been particularly successful. She led the successful charge to block immigration agents from making arrests at courthouses and filed a lawsuit that pressured the Department of Homeland Security to abandon plans to deport international students during the pandemic.

In another victory for asylum seekers and asylum recipients around the country, a lawsuit filed by Attorney General James blocked an order that would have limited employment authorization for asylum recipients. Her efforts also stopped the increase of fees for immigration related applications. Earlier this month, AG James secured another hard-fought win when a judge ruled in her favor to invalidate regulations that would have stripped workers of labor protections.

While James has used her role as the state’s top legal officer to protect vulnerable communities, that position has been weaponized by conservative attorneys general putting political interests above the public good.

The Trump administration’s frequent political stunts have further underscored the motivational differences between Democrats and Republicans holding the office. Democratic state attorneys general dedicated to preserving this nation’s bedrock principles have built coalitions and banded together to challenge the administration’s efforts to erode the rule of law. The same cannot be said of many Republican AGs, who have joined United States Attorney General Bill Barr in converting their offices into Trump campaign subsidiaries.

James has proven she can take Trump to task and her victories are adding up. In addition to her latest triumph in support of an accurate Census, in June, her office thwarted the administration’s craven bid to exclude undocumented immigrants from the 2020 count.

More than just lawsuits, James’ office carries institutional heft that she has put to use to call out flagrant abuses of power and advocate for increased transparency in law enforcement. This year, that role has been more important than ever. Last week, she joined the chorus of voices calling on Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear to release grand jury evidence in the Breonna Taylor police shooting case.

In addition to fighting for the voice of the people, AG James has rightfully blasted self-serving attorneys general such as Texas’ Ken Paxton, who has used the COVID-19 pandemic to attack reproductive rights. James, on the other hand, has continually backed an agenda to protect women’s rights and expand access to reproductive health care, which has included sparring with Trump and his attempts to reduce options for women everywhere.

Importantly, James hasn’t shied away from investigating the Trump Organization’s financial dealings. A Manhattan judge recently ordered the president’s son, Eric Trump, to comply with a subpoena and sit for an interview with James’ office.

In the coming months, it’s likely her leadership will be needed to combat a new slate of obvious overreach by an administration looking to exploit government powers to exact political retribution and gain. One of the latest attempts to undermine the rule of law: weaponizing the Department of Justice and taking aim at liability protections in order to bludgeon the administration’s perceived political enemies in Silicon Valley.

As the election approaches, New Yorkers will continue to look to AG James to protect democracy’s most foundational institutions. Her office ― time and time again ― has served as a last line of defense against a dangerously partisan president and his team of sycophantic enablers.

I look forward to continuing to support her on her journey to give voice to our most vulnerable citizens and bring justice for all New Yorkers. The future depends on it.

Jeremy Sherber is the founding president of Grand Street Democrats in New York City. On Twitter @jsherber.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Candidates Eyeing Seats in Albany Should Sign Our Anti-Corruption Pledge

cand eyeing alb

The State Senate (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

The presidential election will no doubt get most of the political ink between now and Election Day, November 3, but it’s important to remember that candidates for the state Legislature, including many incumbents and their challengers, are also on the ballot here in New York, the most politically corrupt state in the nation.

Among the most critical powers all state legislators wield is the power to control how elections are conducted and how government officials are held accountable. These “rules of the game” have everything to do with the policy outcomes that we all have to live with. It’s quite possible that all our political corruption is linked to the fact that New York is also number one in economic inequality, with the fewest people taking the biggest share of the money.

We at Represent.Us NY believe now is the perfect time to bring people together to fight for a government that works for all the people, not just the wealthy and connected. We’re asking all candidates for State Senate and Assembly to sign our #FixNYDemocracy pledge and commit to act on corruption in the next legislative session.

We began our campaign before the June primary, and gathered a bipartisan group of 37 candidates across 26 districts throughout New York State, from Buffalo to the Bronx, to commit to democracy and sign the pledge. Fourteen of those signers won their primaries, including but by no means limited to a group of progressive challengers who swept incumbents out of office. 

That leaves dozens of incumbents and challengers whose level of commitment to cleaning up New York government remains unclear. Some incumbents may have feared retaliation from party leaders before the primary. But now that many candidates are likely to win safe districts in November, we really hope they’ll feel more free to stand up for what is right and help us build an unstoppable wave of electoral reforms that are so sorely needed here.

The pledge covers three essential issue areas:

1. Fixing New York elections through unbiased redistricting maps, fair ballot access rules, and expanding ranked-choice voting.

Redrawing election districts happens every ten years, once new Census data is out. New York passed a new redistricting process in 2014 that bears little resemblance to the relatively fair, independent redistricting that can be found in some other states. With the statehouse now firmly in Democratic Party hands, that process is still being debated, and could be in play well into next year. Also, last year Gov. Cuomo oversaw a process that made our ballot access rules the most restrictive in the nation, an existential threat to so-called third parties. This effort is still in the courts, but could affect 2021 elections.

2. Getting big money out of New York politics with lower contribution limits. New York’s political campaign contribution limits have been lowered, but remain among the highest in the nation.

3. Holding officials accountable through a truly independent ethics watchdog. The current commission, JCOPE, is weak and there have been efforts afoot to change it through legislation.

We need more elected officials who make decisions based on what is right for the people, rather than what big donors or a corrupt system pressure them to do. They must have the independence and courage to take on inequities further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the movement against police brutality. 

As Zohran Mamdani, a candidate for state Assembly in Astoria, Queens who won his recent primary winner over an incumbent legislator, said, “We’re in the midst of many crises but it’s important to know that they began long before this pandemic. For years, landlords, lobbyists and police unions have bought our elections and controlled our politics – and our politicians.”

Mamdani stands with Represent.Us NY to #FixNYDemocracy, get big money out of New York politics, and tackle inequality.

Represent.US NY continues to collect signatures on the pledge, and will do so until just before Election Day. Voters should contact their elected officials and local candidates and demand that they sign the pledge.

Karen Young is a volunteer with Represent.Us NY, the Empire State Chapter of Represent.Us, the nation’s largest grassroots, nonpartisan anti-corruption organization. On Twitter @RepresentUsNYC.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Advice for the Next Mayor from a Veteran of the City Hall Trenches

1 advice pr

State of the City 2020 (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

New York City is at a crossroads. As our response cautiously shifts to recovery, we will have an equally important responsibility to reimagine the promise of the greatest city in the world. While Bill de Blasio has a year to jumpstart that progress, it will largely fall to the next mayor to make it happen.

I helped grind the gears of City Hall for three years under this administration. I saw a lot that worked and a lot that didn’t. With the 2021 mayoral race quickly taking shape, here’s the advice I would give whoever is elected to write one of the most important chapters in our city’s history.

Have a strong chin. Nobody escapes City Hall unbloodied. The legacies of Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg needed heavy polishing in the years after they left. De Blasio’s will, too. The second hardest job in American politics is not for people who need to be loved. Being mayor is a service-delivery job and people are never satisfied with their service. Test scores go up and crime goes down because of teachers and cops. Schools lag and crime climbs because of you. This is it for your political career, so smile and do the right thing.

Think big. One in five New Yorkers is out of work. Safety, tourism, transit, and tax revenue feel less reliable than they have in two decades. We can’t count on Albany or Washington for help. Incrementalism will not restart our economy and pragmatism alone will not restore faith in our city’s future. We need a big thinker capable of reimagining some foundational elements of our city’s physical and economic landscape to meet this moment. If you’re not ruffling some feathers, you are not thinking big enough.

Be strong and sometimes wrong. Politicians in search of perfect triangulations that make everyone happy fail in New York City. So do those toiling to perfect bulletproof fixes to intractable problems. New Yorkers, and our media, reward courage and confidence – even if that decisiveness means a few more swings and misses. Manage to make lots of good decisions rather than a few great decisions. When you get it wrong, own it. It will be a welcome reminder to New Yorkers that you don’t think you're perfect.

Do not touch animals. The media love animal stories because people love animals. Don’t take the bait. Cradling groundhogs and relocating wayward deer seem like easy wins right up until the moment they are not. Animals only die. Except rats, which you will never be able to kill to anyone’s satisfaction. If you want a friend in politics, get a dog. Just don’t pet any.

Redistribute wealth without dividing people. You don’t have to be a fan of our rigged economy to be a fan of wealthy New Yorkers’ contributions to our city. Good politicians are great at picking villains to harpoon. Those who do it best avoid targeting whole classes of people. We are going to need everyone at the table for this recovery, especially those with resources to leverage. Let’s leave a light on for them so they can help pay the bill.

Understand moments – and how to see past them. Twitter isn’t real life. Your city wants better cops, clean streets, safe and improving schools, and a sharp plan to reduce homelessness. Each week will offer a new challenge that someone smart will say is legacy defining. It almost never is. The subjects on your final report card will be much more conventional than anyone ever says. Have a nose for movements and moments, but don’t be held captive by them.

Don’t argue with the refs. New York City reporters are the most aggressive and talented in the world. Like any good New Yorker, they are colorful storytellers. Coverage of you will range from aggravating to downright unfair. The good news is that you don’t need to waste your time fighting them. Right or wrong, people won’t care about your gripe. New Yorkers read, watch, and listen to reporters we like. Fight with our favorites and you’ve made yourself the enemy.

Manage as an ideology. Being mayor is three things. It’s earning and leveraging public opinion to accumulate power you can spend on things people want. It’s knowing how to move things – mostly trash, snow, people, and money. And it’s being able to square lots of diffuse data and history in making more tough decisions in a day than corporate CEOs make in a month. Doing those three things well is about managing your agenda, your time, and your financial and human resources against a clock. You must enjoy making sausage to make good sausage. You won’t get the results you want if your heart is the only thing pointed in the right direction.

Live like us. We know your schedule is busier than ours. The least you can do is occasionally survive the city like we do every day. Take the subway. Ride a bike or a bus. Go to bars not in midtown hotel lobbies. Sit in the cheap seats. Break out of the rose-colored bubble that will grow around you. You get a mansion, bodyguards, unlimited staff, and a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth. Walking a few minutes in our shoes is a decent way to show some thanks.

New York City is a circus that needs clowns. You can’t make a point in New York City’s public discussion without a personality – even when you run City Hall. Champion the things that we love and hate the things we hate. Chase ambulances to tragedies and heroes. We reward outsize characters and even some big egos. We covet personal flaws and self-deprecation. If you are a mayor who can’t laugh when you’re the butt of the joke, the joke will always be about you.

Eric F. Phillips is a crisis communications and media relations consultant. He was Mayor de Blasio's longest-serving press secretary, from 2016-2019. On Twitter @EricFPhillips.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Health Care Heroes Had Our Backs. Now We Must Have Theirs

applaud thank staff

Honoring health care heroes (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Roars of applause, cheers, and clanging of pots and pans – the familiar 7 p.m. signal in New York for many bleak early spring days of 2020 quickly became a daily ritual in fervent support of health-care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. While most watched the wave of infections unfold through the media from the safe havens of their homes, health-care workers went to work hoping, praying, and questioning the chance of infection and survival for themselves, their families, and their patients.

Jarring stories from intensive care units and reports of suicide among clinicians demonstrated that our claps and recognition were not enough to sustain their well-being. In a new normal where the present and future of this pandemic remain uncertain, we must prioritize mental health services for our front-line health-care workers.

The unknown aspects of the COVID-19 virus presented unprecedented challenges for health-care staff, especially in the outbreak’s epicenter, New York. Lingering uncertainty and a heightened sense of anxiety were fostered by extensive media coverage and a declared state of emergency. The rapid call to response for clinicians set forth a range of obstacles including unmanageable patient loads, providing care outside their skill sets, and witnessing firsthand the growing illness and morbidity rates among coworkers and patients. Health-care workers were living in a constant state of fear and psychological stress, rooted in the risk of transmission of the virus to others and inability to save patients despite their efforts.

While the added sources of stress may have subsided after the city’s immense wave of infections, for many health-care workers, mental health issues stemming from these experiences can and, for many, will persist long after the peak of the pandemic.

The negative mental toll on health-care workers from COVID-19 and previous pandemics is well documented. An analysis published by British Medical Journal of SARS, H1N1, MERS, Ebola, COVID-19, and other pandemics found that staff working directly with infected patients reported higher levels of distress, burnout, and post-traumatic stress. In a systematic review of COVID-19-related studies, insomnia, depression, and anxiety were also reported among health-care workers. Factors such as inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE), risk of infection among medical staff, long hours, and lack of organizational support were noted to contribute to adverse psychological outcomes. These results enforce the growing evidence of mental health challenges among health-care workers treating patients with COVID-19. 

Health organizations must promote a culture of caring and psychological wellness to protect the long-term wellbeing of their staff. Experts recommend that leadership can help normalize a focus on mental health needs by providing models for self-care and help-seeking behaviors, and establishing opportunities for staff to share concerns for themselves, colleagues, and patients in a safe and anonymous way.

NYC Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospitals system, has led the way by establishing partnerships to provide mental health support to health-care workers and first responders on the frontlines of the pandemic. This is an opportunity for other health-care organizations to follow suit by ramping up mental health and wellness programs for employees and sustaining comprehensive support services post-crisis.

In the United States, providing mental health services for clinicians is not a standardized practice. With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting so many facets of the health-care landscape, health organizations have largely prioritized immediate needs, such as patient care coordination and acquisition of necessary equipment, over mental health. In the aftermath of the most devastating period, the provision of mental health support services will be especially crucial for health-care workers to combat both the short- and long-term effects of stress endured during the worst of the pandemic and into the months of its persistent presence. As the potential for a second wave looms, it is imperative for health organizations to implement effective measures to preserve the mental well-being of their staff.

Now more than ever, proactive and longstanding changes to health-care infrastructures are necessary in order to normalize and integrate mental health services for staff on a routine basis. Recognition alone will not suffice as the future recurrences of the COVID-19 pandemic remain ominous. We owe it to the heroes in this fight to support their recovery and ensure they can continue providing quality care for whatever may come our way. Our lives depend on it.

Sandra Carlino Oliveri is a Quality Improvement Specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and an MPA Candidate at the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

New York City Schools Need a Trauma-Informed Approach to Student Behavior

back school parkside

Students return to schools (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Black, brown, and indigenous students are suspended from school more than any racial or ethnic groups in the United States. This disproportionality exacerbates educational inequities. By controlling misbehavior, rather than correcting it, excessive school discipline has lifelong negative impacts on well-being, academic, and professional success. 

The long-term consequences of racially-biased discipline in schools will be even more devastating in a school year as unique and challenging as this one, when the most fragile children, with the greatest need, will return to schools that are chronically under-resourced.

Too many children of color already suffer the irreparable harm of racism and its related diseases, such as poverty, chronic illness, housing instability, and excessive punishment. Today they are experiencing heightened anxiety and depression as the coronavirus decimates their communities and they are isolated from their friends and usual support networks. They are understandably fearful as their parents lose their jobs and struggle to keep their home. Too many are grieving the loss of loved ones and caregivers.

As young people return and acclimate to their COVID-19-modified classrooms, their existing trauma and mental health struggles will become apparent. Teachers are accustomed to the usual jitters associated with the “back to school” transition from summer recess; this year we must be prepared for so much more. Grief and anxiety will manifest in a multitude of ways. Some children will act out. Others will withdraw. All this, in the context of new rules and pressures to wear masks, wash hands, keep distance from friends and teachers, and more. How can we enforce these mandates without penalizing students? Will we be punishing, or act supportively and sensitively? What is our track record?

Given that the New York City Department of Education has not provided guidance on disciplinary practices, schools are being left to determine appropriate protocols individually. 

As parents, educators, and neighbors, we must respond with empathy, kindness, and equity above all else. Children need the opportunity to reflect upon their actions and work through the struggles they may be experiencing. If a parent or teacher immediately reacts angrily toward a child without examining context, a child is likely to become even more confused, afraid, or withdrawn. Adults are anxious too, complicating the response. 

Make no mistake: responding to a child’s trauma with punitive action will cause harm. It will re-traumatize the child and compound suffering in an already painful circumstance. 

Children get their cues from adults, especially during times of extreme stress. They look to us for guidance on how to navigate unusual experiences. Our behavior sends particularly important messages at times like these. When a child “misbehaves,” it’s almost never malevolent. Meltdowns, outbursts, or aggressive gestures signal an underdeveloped ability to deal with transition, disappointment, or disagreement. Misbehaviors may also be signs of trauma. That’s why it’s important to respond by asking the child questions about what they are experiencing in the moment, encouraging them to articulate what is underneath their fear, angst, or reclusion.

Teachers across the country are rightly asking for training on how to support and work with traumatized children. Caregivers should likewise feel empowered to lean on external support systems. At JCCA, for example, we offer individualized family therapy and support services for any family on Medicaid, and already serve over 17,000 children in New York. Parents should also look to mental health counselors and social workers embedded in their schools, who are available remotely to help a child and their family work through the avalanche of challenges stemming from COVID-19.

The pandemic poses many challenges to educators, students, and families. At the forefront should be the challenge of how to address and heal the inequities of our school system—not perpetuate them. 

Supportive resources are accessible to parents in well-funded school districts, but scarce in the communities hardest-hit by COVID-19; we must marshal every advocacy and funding opportunity to correct this inequity. In the meantime, all of us can help prevent moments of duress by proactively checking in with kids, asking how they are feeling and affirming the sources of support they can rely on.

As children return to school, we cannot underestimate how the pandemic has turned their world upside down and how it will continue to affect them in the months ahead, especially for students of color. How we respond to their pain in this moment will leave a lasting imprint on their lives, and on the strength of generations to come. 

Ronald E. Richter is CEO of JCCA. On Twitter @RichterJCCACEO.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Affordable Housing is the Key to New York’s Recovery

remarks tres puentes

Housing is essential to the city's recovery (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

As we begin yet another month of the pandemic, New Yorkers are alarmed at the acute rent crisis crippling our city. While statewide executive orders temporarily postponing evictions help for the moment, unemployed tenants are building up unpaid rent debt that they will struggle to pay even after they begin working again. And even before COVID-19, more than half of city renters were paying more than a third of their income in rent, and a third of city renters paid more than half their income in rent. While this was never sustainable in the long run, it is now a major obstacle to achieving the recovery New York desperately needs. 

The city has been facing an affordable housing shortage for over a century. The virus has put into stark relief that this scarcity impacts not only lower income residents but also the vital middle class. So as we look to recover, we can – and must - make our communities stronger and safer by investing in housing that people can afford as opposed to barely scraping by. Not only will this create jobs that are desperately needed, it will also mean more money in our local economy for the small, local businesses that need our support more than ever.

This is why New York City must embrace New Deal-style economics, starting with an affirmative policy of “Housing First,” focusing both on helping New Yorkers with housing insecurity and also moving people out of the expensive, unpopular, and unhealthy shelter system. Beyond the direct benefits dramatically expanding stable, affordable housing will also improve outcomes for people facing substance abuse, mental health, education deficits, or lack of medical care. 

To achieve this, we need a multi-tiered approach that includes community-driven, 100% affordable housing upzonings in areas that have been overlooked.

We need to review the Inclusionary Housing program to consider increasing the percentages of affordable units and use an affordability standard that is not based on a misleading “Area Median Income” that averages low-income communities with ultra-wealthy places like the Upper East Side or Westchester County.

Any new housing on NYCHA land must be built with the support of NYCHA residents, and it must be for 100% affordable housing, not luxury housing that will have almost no impact on the $40 billion backlog in repairs public housing needs.

Overall, we need to take every opportunity to finance and build new affordable housing. And I know we can do it.

On Manhattan’s Community Board 9, I joined in advocating for 200 units of affordable housing in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of West Harlem as part of a landmark redevelopment, saving a piece of history in the RKO Theater at 146th Street and Broadway. I also pushed City Planning to allow the construction of 300 units of affordable housing in Manhattan Valley above the Con Ed substation at 110th Street and Amsterdam. Both projects will be 100% permanently affordable housing, and if realized, will provide new homes for over 1,000 residents in the 7th City Council District.

We need a complete survey of unutilized or underutilized land and air space, and we need to aggressively determine what is suitable for new Mitchell-Lama style, 100% affordable housing, and then we need to build it.

Affordable housing is a century-old problem for New York, but in this moment, we have a unique opportunity to address this need with actions that can also help restore the economy as our city suffers like never before. It’s time to invest.

Dan Cohen is a candidate for City Council in the 7th district, an affordable housing advocate, and community leader. On Twitter @DanCohenNYC.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rebuilding A Stronger, Healthier New York Through Science

science policy topics in nyc

Mapping community concerns that science can help address

Any true New Yorker knows the question is not if New York City will rebuild from COVID-19, but how and when. In order to genuinely build back a better, more sustainable, equitable, and resilient city there has never been more need for effective partnerships between communities, government, and experts. 

Science for New York aims to overcome these challenges on a local scale in New York City. We are scientists who volunteer our skills to translate technical and analytical information into meaningful, policy-focused recommendations aimed at increasing the well-being of the city and its residents. While COVID-19 took an enormous toll on our city, including shutting down academic research laboratories, it provided the opportunity for us to redirect this important human capital toward civic engagement work.

One project mapped publicly available data and public input from New York City’s 59 community boards to highlight science-related inequities across the neighborhoods. Your community might be most concerned about sunny day flooding, broadband availability for remote learning, or access to more medical care. Neighborhoods with lower numbers in key socioeconomic metrics had multiple issues that could benefit from scientific support. Our goal was to use the map as science policy outreach to City Council candidates and community organizers.

We reached these key stakeholders through 21 in ’21, an organization striving to achieve gender parity in the New York City Council through the 2021 city elections. Science for New York (Sci4NY) hosted a summer workshop series for its members on how science-based issues including COVID-19, climate change, health, and STEM education impact New York City. The most important lesson we learned from this engagement activity is that our ability as scientists to meaningfully and rapidly identify and synthesize data is very valuable to candidates working to address these issues in their local communities. Currently we are providing support to candidates and community organizers in areas such as maternal and newborn health disparities, green roofs, urban farming, foster care, and climate equity. 

Beyond the projects related to the science policy map, Sci4NY has piloted a number of other collaborative projects in the city. These include: lending technical input on pesticide legislation; better ways to improve composting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and ways to identify climate change knowledge gaps in order to improve community resiliency. We also worked to bring local policymakers and scientists together at events to learn from each other and simply interact more.

A recent, successful example of having local communities and scientists work together to solve complex issues facing local communicates comes from another equity-challenged city: San Francisco. In April, a coalition called Unidos en Salud recruited hundreds of volunteers to run one of the largest “test to care” coronavirus studies to reduce COVID-19 transmission in the city’s disproportionately affected low-income Latino communities. Since many community members could not work from home, local volunteers worked in tandem with medical professionals and scientists to greatly improve testing. Government officials helped with mobilization, including relaxing requirements for staffing diagnostic labs. In four days, over 4,000 people were tested. Those who tested positive were given care. 

In the research community, we have an approach called team science, where groups of academics with different expertise and backgrounds come together to produce solutions, balance contrasting viewpoints with evidence, and develop new ideas. We see particular reason to use this effective approach to tackle some of New York City’s largest challenges. At the same time, we fully acknowledge that many smart and highly-capable people already work on these issues in New York City. Therefore, we strive to not replicate, but rather, amplify existing efforts by integrating our scientific skills to address community knowledge gaps and enhance the overall policy process.

We are confident that many world-class scientists will continue to flock to the city’s academic institutions, eager to explore New York City’s diversity, inspiration, and innovation. As they express their desires, like those scientists before them, to help build a better society, we’ll be here to show them a path forward. Three years in the making and counting, Sci4NY remains committed to developing the collaborations that will rebuild a stronger, healthier New York City for all.

Kristin R. Anderson is a postdoctoral research fellow and holds a PhD in Neuroscience, and a member of Sci4NY. Arthee Jahangir is a co-founder of Sci4NY and holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. Nancy Holt is a co-founder of Sci4NY and holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry.

Sci4NY can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and on Twitter @Sci4NY.

Above map was created by Karen Ingram, an indie Creative Director who focuses on science communications and a cofounder of CoLab Futures.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice

Gotham Gazette: ‘I Actually Have to Negotiate a Budget’: Corey Johnson and the Challenge of Running for Mayor as City Council Speaker
‘I Actually Have to Negotiate a Budget’: Corey Johnson and the Challenge of Running for Mayor as City Council Speaker
Gotham Gazette: Black Business Owners Hang On Through Covid Crisis as Black Lives Matter Movement Surges Black Business Owners Hang On Through Covid Crisis as Black Lives Matter Movement Surges Gotham Gazette: How 2021 Mayoral Candidates Have Responded to the Coronavirus Fallout and Cries for Police Reform How 2021 Mayoral Candidates Have Responded to the Coronavirus Fallout and Cries for Police Reform Gotham Gazette: The Max & Murphy Podcast The Max & Murphy Podcast