Gotham Gazette

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Depraved Indifference and Second Look Sentencing

first lady chir2

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Valerie Gaiter died in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility last week. She had been in prison longer than any woman in New York State.  She had cancer. She was 61 and had served 40 years of a 50-years-to-life sentence for her conviction of the murder of two elderly people in Brooklyn in 1979. She was eligible to see the Parole Board in 2029 when she would have been 71.

Edgardo Gonzalez is in Fishkill Correctional Facility. He is 75. He has chronic liver failure, hepatitis, and other ailments. He has lost almost 40 pounds in the last four months. He has served 36 years of a 50-years-to-life sentence for his conviction of the murder of two people in a Brooklyn social club in 1983. He will be eligible to see the Parole Board in 2034 when he would be 90 years old.  

To be perfectly clear, Ms. Gaiter and Mr. Gonzalez were convicted of brutal crimes. Lives were taken. Families were devastated. The harm caused is incalculable. 

And yet, how much time must someone serve for a violent crime? This question must be confronted to redress the crisis of mass incarceration, since the vast majority of the 2.3 million people in United States jails and prisons were not convicted of so-called low-level, non-violent offenses. 

As long as people are defined as “violent criminals” it becomes easy to banish them forever and talk about the crisis of mass incarceration but do nothing to end it. Those serving life sentences are more than the crimes they committed. It is time to interrogate whether those who promoted get tough on crime policies continue to perpetrate their own violence by ensuring that older, reformed offenders die in prison.

Mr. Gonzalez has a stellar institutional record and extensive family support. He presents no threat to public safety. He’s received only one disciplinary ticket in 36 years and that was for having an untidy cell (a photograph of his mother taped to the wall). My students submitted a clemency application on his behalf two years ago but have yet to receive any response.  

I met with Mr. Gonzalez last week at the Regional Medical Unit at Fishkill prison. Not that long ago, he was a robust former boxer in excellent health. He once fought future Olympic gold medalist Howard Davis in Madison Square Garden. Pictures of that match showing a chiseled athlete in the prime of his career were part of his clemency application. Now his health is in rapid decline. He is confined to a wheelchair and struggles to breathe. His voice is barely a whisper.

Mr. Gonzalez asked what the law meant by “depraved indifference.” In 1983, he was inside a social club when a melee broke out. Mr. Gonzalez was shot through the stomach, but also shot and killed his assailant. For that, he was convicted of intentional murder. Another shot fired by Mr. Gonzalez killed a woman standing nearby. For that, he was convicted of what the law calls depraved indifference murder. 

As we discussed the law regarding depraved indifference murder, it was impossible not to think about how the state treated Valerie Gaiter, Edgardo Gonzalez, and the thousands of others serving death by incarceration sentences. 

The law says you are guilty of depraved indifference murder if you engage in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and are aware of and consciously disregard that risk. We know the grave risk, indeed the likelihood, of death in prison for people serving life sentences. According to a report by New York’s Department of Corrections, the average age of death for those who died in state prison of natural causes was 57. And yet, that risk is regularly disregarded as sentences like those imposed on Valerie Gaiter and Edgardo Gonzalez are often sought by prosecutors and imposed by judges.

The courts further define a depraved indifference state of mind as exhibiting an utter disregard for the value of human life; simply not caring whether grievous harm will result. Depraved indifference is said to reflect conduct that is wanton, deficient in a moral sense of concern, devoid of regard for the lives of others. 

It is wanton, morally deficient and utterly devoid of regard for the value of human life to preclude the potential for redemption; to ignore all those who have long since aged out of any threat of future crime, especially those who are living out their final days in prison medical units. 

We must take steps to ensure that the state no longer acts with depravity toward those in prison.  

Sentencing laws must be reformed to bring the United States in line with other industrialized nations where a 20-year maximum is the norm. Prosecutors and judges must stop the common practice of seeking and imposing maximum sentences on those who exercise their constitutional right to a trial.

But the most far-reaching fix is the one proposed by the American Law Institute’s revisions to the venerable Model Penal Code – second look sentencing. 

The Code urges state legislatures to enact a “second look” provision; to create a mechanism to reexamine a person’s sentence after 15 years no matter the crime of conviction or the original sentence. It is not a “get out of jail free” card. Release must be earned. It must be evident that the person is not a threat to public safety and there must be evidence of rehabilitation; proof that the person has changed, come to grips with, accepts and acknowledges their actions and the harm they caused. 

The Code recognizes that a sentence once imposed is not just, fair, and appropriate in perpetuity. Second-look mechanisms are meant to recognize the possibility of transformation and allow for mid-course correction if warranted by changed circumstances -- major changes in the offender, the crime victim, or the community. It is consistent with the growth of restorative justice that eschews punishment paradigm of the last several decades and is also a way to confront the systemic racism revealed in arrest and sentencing disparities.

Such a bill was introduced in the last New York legislative session regarding parole eligibility for people who are least 55-years-old and have served at least 15 years. There will be costs associated with establishing such second-look processes, but money will ultimately be saved as more people are sent home from prison. Most importantly, basic human decency should compel a different result for Valerie Gaiter and the many others facing the prospect of dying behind bars.  

In the meantime, we must use the limited procedures available to ensure a measure of dignity to those at risk of perishing in prison. New York does have a mechanism in place for compassionate release for those with terminal illness. However, according to a study by the Vera Institute of Justice, there were 476 requests for compassionate release from 2013-17, but only 72 people were ultimately released. On the other hand, 143 of those medical parole applicants died in custody, demonstrating why other, more comprehensive, solutions are necessary.

Edgardo Gonzalez was recently certified by corrections medical personnel as one of the few people eligible for medical parole. He had his medical parole interview before the Parole Board last week. To deny him parole would be the height of depraved indifference.

Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law and a former Public Defender. On Twitter @SteveZeidman.

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Seeing Healthcare Through a New Lens

healthcare seeing

(photo: @sunyopt)

Most people have heard the saying that the eye is the window to the soul. But what they may not know is that the eyes also hold the key to revealing underlying health issues for many individuals.

As optometrists, we recognize that making eye exams accessible to underserved families can be a critical first step in addressing healthcare disparities in New York City. And as healthcare providers, we’re always looking for new ways to educate patients about the importance of preventative care as a first step in detecting chronic, systemic health issues and ultimately to enhance population health.

Brownsville and Battery Park are just nine miles apart, but life expectancies of their residents are more than ten years apart. Something as simple as an eye exam can help fix that. That’s why, three years ago, SUNY Optometry created the Health and Wellness Expo to bridge the gap between the most-vulnerable members of our society and healthcare professionals. By offering free screenings for vision, dental care, podiatry, as well as access to cholesterol, Body Mass Index, and diabetes testing, community members can engage with health professionals and start taking control of their wellbeing.

An eye exam is never just an eye exam. A routine eye exam offers far more than simply testing eye and visual health. It provides insights into the future health of a patient and reveals opportunities to enhance quality of life.

Eye examinations are especially critical for the pediatric population because good vision is crucial to children’s cognitive development. However, children from underserved and underrepresented communities often lack access to eye examinations based on perceived barriers – frequently, a result of financial challenges within the family.

The Expo, which was initially billed as a back-to-school event three years ago, and with less than 500 participants, has evolved into one of our most important community outreach initiatives. At our most recent Expo on August 3, we welcomed nearly 1,000 New Yorkers who had a chance to interact with health professionals and community-based organizations.

We know that race, ethnicity, and economic hardship are contributors to healthcare disparity, and it not only impacts the affected group but our entire community.

By connecting families to community health organizations from all over the city, we are working to ensure that no particular group remains marginalized.

The facts are troubling: Approximately 60 percent of children with learning difficulties have a form of undetected vision impairment. Twenty-five percent of school-aged children have an eye problem that limits vision. More than 60 percent of parents don’t include eye exams as part of their children’s healthcare routine.

Determined to ensure that financial barriers do not become an impediment to healthcare access, we formed critical partnerships with community organizations across all five boroughs.

By offering free vision screening alongside other health services providers, children and their families now have access to additional healthcare services and educational resources. More importantly, we are helping to eliminate one of the barriers that often translate into academic challenges for children.

When people think about healthcare, they often do not immediately think of optometry or the impact that eye care has on overall wellbeing. Nor do they realize that a simple eye exam can be a window to uncovering other chronic diseases. We know that eye health is critical, particularly among low-income communities and communities of color where rates of diabetes are high, leading to loss of eyesight.

As the only institution in New York State that educates Doctors of Optometry, we owe it to our communities to improve the health of our population through better eye care.

We understand the challenges that thousands of families in New York are experiencing. We know this because, across our clinical care system, we encounter nearly 250,000 patient visits annually, in addition to training the next generation of leaders and scholars in eye care, education, and research. One out of every two optometrists in New York are graduates of the SUNY College of Optometry. We must do all we can to prepare the next generation of healthcare providers to care about the communities they serve.

Dr. David A. Heath has served as president of the State University of New York College of Optometry since June 2007. He is the third president of SUNY Optometry, which was founded in 1971 and is one of the 64 campuses constituting the State of New York’s public university system. On Twitter @SUNYOPT.

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Replacing Unsuccessful ‘Community Benefits Agreements’ with Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plans

yankees nycfc stadium

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

When Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man, and Amazon sought to locate a major campus in New York City, they ran into a buzzsaw of opposition that derailed the project. Despite the promise of tens of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in local investments, members of the community reacted to the company’s planned arrival with fear and fire. Rallies against the tech giant occurred weekly. Elected officials orchestrated public hearings where they criticized the corporation. Lots of bad press accompanied the news that Bezos would have his own helipad.

Neither Governor Cuomo nor Mayor de Blasio could put this Humpty Dumpty deal together again. After months of disgrace, Amazon withdrew.

Now, the world’s third-wealthiest man, Mansour bin Zayed, owner of the New York City Football Club, wants to build a soccer stadium in The Bronx. And, like Bezos in Queens, he’s likely to run into a storm of opposition from that community. What can be learned from the Amazon issue that can help both the neighborhood and the stadium project?

The collapse of the Amazon move into Long Island City signaled the end of the era of the “Community Benefits Agreement” (CBA). The benefits agreement strategy has been used by neighborhoods for decades to confront gargantuan development projects like sports arenas or corporate expansions. But decades of unfulfilled promises made by corporations and government officials to communities have sullied the reputation of CBAs. New York City neighborhoods have become suspicious of agreements that can be (and have been) ignored by behemoths like Amazon, Forest City Ratner, and politicians.

The Barclays Center was created with a CBA. The new Yankee Stadium came with a CBA. And, the current talk about a Bronx professional soccer stadium includes conversations focused on perks promised to the host neighborhood, like jobs and housing for local residents. But the promise of perks never convinced Queens that the Amazonian tech giant and the world’s wealthiest man were worthy of their support.

Civic groups in Queens like those in the Bronx and Brooklyn have become disillusioned because these benefits agreements lack enforcement. At Yankee Stadium, members of the community board who opposed the new ballpark and its CBAs were removed from the board. In Brooklyn, small businesses feel ripped off by the developer whose community benefits promises lacked the force of law and transparency. In Queens, local elected officials were left out of the negotiations by the mayor and the governor.

New York City neighborhoods need a new strategy to safeguard their integrity and create a partnership among residents, local businesses, nonprofits, government, and developers.

I propose a new approach, a Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plan (NSOP), modelled after employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

ESOPs have been around since 1956. Across the country, there are nearly 7,000 ESOP companies covering more than 14 million participants. In ESOPs the workers earn the right to buy shares in the company at a discount rate based on the number of years they have worked there. These worker-shareholders have a seat on the company’s board. Profits are shared with employees through dividends and increases in the stock price. Transparency abounds, and so does workplace satisfaction.

The ESOP model can be modified to reflect and reinforce lots of different stakeholders, not just employees. It can become a mechanism by which residents, local businesses, employees, and civic organizations become partners with, not opponents of, a developer.

This is how a Neighborhood Stock Ownership Plan could work: those who live, work, or own a business in the development area will be given stock options based on the length of time they’ve lived, worked, or operated a business in the project district. Nonprofits in the vicinity would also be gifted shares based on their membership. Instead of agitating, NSOP members will be aggregating money, based on the revenues of the company and its stock price.

This NSOP will protect communities from having to settle for corporate hand-outs. It will tie the community and the corporation together so that revenue for the company automatically means money for the community.

If a soccer stadium were built in the Bronx, for example, an NSOP would mean that broadcast fees, stadium naming rights, and merchandising deals benefit those whose transportation, trash, and tranquility will be impacted by the sports venue. Using an NSOP framework would give neighbors and newcomers a common ground to discuss corporate policies and procedures. With an NSOP, the dynamics of patron and patronage that created hostile environments for Amazon, Barclays, and likely a new soccer stadium could be avoided.

Whatever is good for the community will be good for the corporation and vice versa.

Will the stadium developer, the team owners, the mayor and the governor have the foresight to reject the old “community benefits” strategy and try a new approach? Will they see the soccer stadium project as a chance for social innovation and community support? Seems to me like a good goal (pun intended) for everyone.

Dr. Cary Goodman is executive director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District at Yankee Stadium.

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The Small Business ‘Crisis’ That Isn’t

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(photo: William Alatriste/City Council)

When shops and restaurants that you love and depend on close it can be heartbreaking; I know from personal experience. My Upper West Side neighborhood has been seen as the epicenter of what some call a “small business crisis” in New York City, and we have certainly seen our share of lost community icons and long-shuttered storefronts, but a new report shows there is no citywide crisis and lawmakers should be very careful as they consider remedies to what problems do exist.

Earlier this month the New York City Department of City Planning issued a comprehensive, well-designed study of vacancies on commercial business strips in 24 neighborhoods across the city. It shows that retail storefront vacancies are not unusually high in most neighborhoods (the industry standard is 5-10%) and, where they do exist, are due to a number of causes, which differ from place to place and storefront to storefront.

Just last month, a package of bills was adopted by the City Council that will provide even more information about retail vacancies by requiring that landlords report periodically to the Department of Finance on the number and status of their retail spaces.

Yet elected officials continue to refer to a “crisis” of retail vacancies. Just a few days after the City Planning report was released, Council Speaker Corey Johnson bemoaned the “blight” of retail vacancies “all across the city.” 

Examples of long-standing merchants priced out by rising rents are more compelling news stories than data that shows the localized nature of the problem. So, despite the fact there is no citywide crisis and the Council’s new legislation will provide additional data on vacant storefronts, support is strong for a proposal to require sweeping protections for retail tenants to help assure lease renewals, including mandatory 10-year terms and arbitration when landlord and tenant cannot agree on rent increases. The number of Council sponsors of the “Small Business Justice and Stability Act” (SBJSA) has grown to 30 (of 51 members) since a hearing was held on it this past December.

Concern about retail storefront vacancies and turnover in New York City is not new. It has been labeled as a “crisis” as far back as the 1970s and was a focus of intense scrutiny during the Koch administration in the mid-’80s when the mayor responded by forming a commission to study the topic. Then-Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger championed a rent arbitration proposal back then.

Several of my favorite restaurants, diners, and clothing stores on the three blocks of Amsterdam closest to my apartment have closed over the last ten years. There are many vacancies in my neighborhood for a number of reasons.

Some are due to the creation of new, unrented retail space on the ground floor of brand new high-end residential buildings that have sprouted up along the corridors; some are because proprietors decided to retire, or because a new enterprise misjudged how much business it would attract in the area, or because the landlord -- sometimes a residential rental or co-op building -- is holding out for a chain store type of tenant that can pay a high rent to help offset increasing costs like property taxes. This is all part of life in an upscale neighborhood like the Upper West Side. It may be unsettling and even sad, but it is not a crisis. 

Also, while some of us may miss our favorite places, the new stores and restaurants that replace them are serving the people that live here, albeit in different ways.

An example is a large new restaurant/juice bar that has opened around the corner from my apartment. A beloved diner used to be there, and when the lease was not renewed nine years ago, it remained vacant for more than two years. The two small stores next to it were also vacated, while the rental apartment building owner held out for a larger tenant to take over the entire space. A slick new place arrived that lasted five years but didn’t seem to me to have been able to generate enough business to sustain the large space. (There were protests when the spaces were combined and when the new restaurant opened.) After another six months, Tacombi, which has several other branches in the city, opened. With a menu of reasonably-priced Latin-American food and drinks it appears to be thriving and is filled with neighborhood families.

It is understandable that elected officials feel compelled to “do something” when their constituents feel impacted in such a direct and personal way, which explains why my City Council representative, Helen Rosenthal, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, are two of the most vocal advocates for the SBJSA. But as the City Planning report shows, there is simply no basis for citywide legislation. Time will tell, but I expect that the newly-mandated reports from landlords will bear out that conclusion. 

Moreover, the SBJSA will do nothing to bring back beloved stores that have already closed and could make it even harder to bring in new tenants since landlords, with less flexibility to respond to the market, will be more selective and want only those with a proven record of financial viability.

A more targeted approach would focus on strengthening retail storefront presence in those areas that City Planning calls “Underperforming Corridors” – in Coney Island, Brownsville, Richmond Hill, and Longwood -- which suffer from long-term historic disinvestment. Incentives and/or modest tenant protections would help these areas without interfering with business decisions in high-income areas that don’t need help. 

We are not suffering from a shortage of places to shop or eat on the Upper West Side. The market will work here: if stores remain vacant for too long, landlords will lower the rents. That appears to be starting to happen.

The Council should not forge ahead with sweeping legislation that will impose real burdens on landlords in the majority of neighborhoods. 

Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

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State Campaign Finance Commission is About to Get to Work; Here’s How It Can Help Albany Clean Up Its Act

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(photo: governor's office)

Over the next few months, New York State is poised to overhaul its campaign finance laws in ways that will help reduce corruption and pay-to-play and give more of a voice to the average person. 

The potential for this major reform hinges on the actions of the Public Financing and Elections Commission. It is no exaggeration to say that the commission can achieve historic change when it issues binding recommendations on December 1.

The Commission was established during the April budget deal following a campaign for public financing by the 200-group coalition Fair Elections for New York, including Reinvent Albany. The nine-member state commission was appointed by Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders, and is charged with establishing a public financing program. 

We want the commission to create a strong small-donor matching program, dramatically lower campaign contribution limits, and establish independent enforcement as in New York City’s successful program, which is widely seen as a national model.  

A public financing system encourages everyday New Yorkers to participate in our democracy by matching small contributions (or a small portion of a contribution) with public funds. This amplifies the voice of regular folks who cannot make large contributions, and often aren’t even asked for donations.

Reinvent Albany found the state’s legislative leaders raised few campaign donations from the very people they were elected to represent during the 2018 election cycle. State Senate leaders raised only 23 percent of their contributions from their home district residents, while Assembly leadership raised just 16 percent.

Public financing is essential for fixing our broken campaign finance system. Most of the money donated to Albany elected officials comes from special interests – corporations, associations, and unions – and very wealthy individuals. The 2013 Moreland Commission found the Assembly Health and Senate Committee Chairs in 2011-2012 received about three quarters of their campaign contributions from lobbyists or the healthcare and insurance industries. Candidates received 65% of their funds from donors who gave $1,000 or more and just 3% from donations of under $100 during the same period. 

If this year’s commission truly wants to change Albany, it must establish a strong public financing system. Reinvent Albany has put forth 18 recommendations for a strong public financing program, including these critical components:

-Create an independent agency to administer campaign finance for all candidates, including those who take public funds. With the state giving public funds for campaigns, the enforcement agency must be fair, independent, and safeguard taxpayer funds so they are used appropriately.

-Dramatically lower contributions limits – and make even lower limits on doing business donors – for all candidates. Candidates must be incentivized to participate in the voluntary public financing program rather than opt out and accept large donations. Donations to all candidates must be low enough so they do not create the appearance or reality of corruption or pay-to-play.

-Set reasonable thresholds to receive public funds. Candidates only receive public funds if they show community support measured by the number of small contributions and the dollar amount raised. These figures must be low enough so community members with local support can run for office.

-Match small contributions only. Only small contributions should be matched with public funds. A common misconception of the New York City public financing program is that candidates are given $6 in taxpayer funds for every $1 in small contributions up to $175. The truth is the first $175 of any contribution, no matter the size, is matched $6 to $1. Reinvent Albany believes taxpayers should not subsidize large contributions – currently allowed up to $70,000 – under New York State campaign finance law.  

-Establish “sure winner” restrictions. To protect public dollars and the integrity of the public financing program, public funds should not be given in full to candidates with nominal opposition. Only a portion of public funds should go to candidates whose opponent has few endorsements, little media exposure, or hasn’t held an elected office previously.

If the Public Financing Commission includes these components in its program, and applies it to all offices and elections, New York’s campaign finance system will stand as a national model for addressing the problem of money in politics. 

The commission and its appointers – the state’s leaders – should seize the moment for, at long last, transformative change.

Alex Camarda is Senior Policy Advisor at Reinvent Albany. On Twitter @alex_camarda & @ReinventAlbany.

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New York City Further Dominates State Job Growth; Rest of State Still Growing Slowly

frst dep mayor ant sho

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

New York City is now utterly dominating job growth in the State of New York. In the past two-and-a-half years, 79% of all new jobs in the state have been created in New York City.

New York State Labor Department seasonally-adjusted data show that 230,000 of the nearly 293,000 jobs created in the state from December 2016 to June 2019 were in the city. The growth rate in the city for the two-and-a-half year period was 2.1% per year; for the rest of the state separate from the city, the growth rate was about one-half of one percent per year*.

The city's share of growth has picked up even more since the end of 2017; 138,000 of the 169,000 jobs created statewide from December 2017 to June 2019 were created in the city -- nearly 82%. The city's share of total state employment was 46.5% at the end of 2016; as of June 2019 its share was 47.5%.

In October 2018 I wrote about the increasing contribution of the New York City economy to the state's tax revenue, much of it due to its share of employment growth. The increasing share of jobs will only accelerate this trend. While the city economy has become the engine of the state's economic growth, the Cuomo administration has focused much of its attention to rescuing the Upstate New York economy, which faltered in the two recessions that occurred after 2000. 








New York State





New York City





Source: NY State Labor Department Seasonally Adjusted Employment

Job growth rates for both New York City and the rest of the state have slowed compared to the period between December 2010 and December 2016. The city gained 633,000 jobs in that six-year period and its growth rate was 2.8% per year, compared to 2.1% per year since December 2016. The rest of the state gained 274,000 jobs in those six years, a growth rate of just under 1% per year. The city was 70% of the state's job growth in those six years, quite dominant then, but its share of growth just keeps expanding. Comparable national job growth rates for December 2010 to December 2016 was 1.9% per year, and 1.6% from December 2016 to June 2019.

One reason for slower growth outside the city is that job growth rates in the New York City suburbs have fallen to about the same rates of growth as Upstate. Upstate New York is a big area and one should not generalize too much about it. The growth rates in Upstate New York vary greatly by metropolitan area; some areas are achieving modest growth, others hardly any growth at all nine years after the Great Recession ended.

Long Island gained about 100,000 jobs from December 2010 to December 2016, but just 19,000 jobs in the past two-and-a-half years. The Orange-Rockland-Westchester metropolitan area gained 50,000 jobs in the 2010-2016 period, but just 7,000 from the end of 2016 to this June. These two New York City suburban areas had their growth rates slow from 1.3-1.4% per year from 2010-2016, to under six-tenths of one percent per year in the past two-and-a-half years.

One of their possible challenges may be the competition from New York City itself, since the city has become such a powerful economic and social magnet and these suburban areas are right nearby.
















The four larger Upstate metropolitan areas are growing. The Syracuse metropolitan area has gained more than 9,000 jobs in the past two-and-a-half years, growing at a rate of 1.2% per year. The Buffalo-Niagara Falls area has gained 10,500 jobs since December 2016, for a growth rate of three-fourths of one percent per year. From 2010 to 2016, it gained 20,000 jobs, for a growth rate of six-tenths of one percent per year.

The Rochester area gained 7,300 jobs in the past two-and-a-half years, a growth rate of .55 of one percent per year. From 2010 to 2016, it had gained about 23,000 jobs and had a growth rate of .8 of one percent a year. The Albany-Schenectady-Troy area gained 7,700 jobs since the end of 2016, for a growth rate of .7 of one percent a year. It had done better in the 2010-2016 period, gaining nearly 34,000 jobs in those six years for a growth rate of 1.3% per year.







Buffalo-Niagara Falls


















Several other Upstate metropolitan areas are growing at more than 1 percent a year. The Ithaca metro area had the best sustained growth since 2010 in Upstate New York, gaining more than 7,000 jobs, including 2,600 since the end of 2016, for a sustained growth rate for the eight-and-a-half years of about 1.5% per year. Two Hudson Valley areas, Dutchess-Putnam and Kingston, have gained about 5,700 jobs over the past two-and-a-half years for a growth rate of 1.1% per year. They have gained 13,000 jobs since December 2010.

Five smaller Upstate metro areas are struggling. Binghamton, Utica-Rome, and Elmira have gained 2,200 jobs among them since the end of 2016, for a combined growth rate of just three-tenths of one percent a year. Glens Falls metro has lost jobs since the end of 2016 and Watertown-Fort Drum has only gained 100 jobs in the past two-and-a-half years. The combined employment base of these five metropolitan areas is about 368,000, making them combined just barely larger than the Syracuse metro area and smaller than each of the four larger Upstate metro areas.                      


































Glens Falls
















The Labor Department's estimates for the 12 Upstate metropolitan areas show job gains of 45,000 since the end of 2016 to June 2019, with employment rising from 2.512 million to 2.557 million, or a growth rate of seven-tenths of one percent a year. The metropolitan areas of Upstate New York include about five-sixths of total employment in Upstate New York.

State Labor Department estimates for the non-metro areas of Upstate New York from 2016-2018 show job gains of a little over 4,000, for a growth rate of about four-tenths of one percent per year. The non-metro areas of Upstate New York have a little more than 500,000 jobs. They are one-sixth of Upstate New York employment and about 5% of total New York State employment.

The loss of population continues to be a challenge for sustaining economic growth in Upstate New York.

Below is a population growth table taken from the New York State Assembly's annual Economic and Revenue report from early 2019. It shows that New York City was 95% of the state's population growth between 2010 and 2017. The Hudson Valley, the Capital Region, and Long Island had small but positive population growth, but the rest of the Upstate New York regions lost population. Clearly these regions would benefit from new immigrants and increases in the allowable number of refugees into the United States.


And what of the Cuomo administration's efforts to help Upstate New York? The administration's main initiatives have included the Buffalo Billion, the $1.5 billion Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (some projects are in the Downstate area), the Albany Nanotechnology Initiative (begun during the Pataki administration), infrastructure spending in transportation and water and sewer upgrades, Tax-Free New York, cheap hydropower allocations from the State Power Authority, new investments in renewable technologies, especially windpower in the Lake Ontario area.

Surely these initiatives, and there are many, have had a positive impact, and are ongoing efforts that are budgeted for several years of future investment. But for them, the Upstate New York economy would likely be in even weaker condition.

Since the end of 2010, the aggregate numbers for Upstate show a net gain of 156,000 jobs. The state had a $10 billion deficit in 2011, the first year of the Cuomo administration, and there were spending cuts that affected state and local government employment, especially local schools.

Upstate New York lost 37,000 government jobs between 2010 and 2016, with those jobs stabilizing around 2013. Government jobs have remained relatively flat since that time in Upstate New York, so private sector employment is higher than the 156,000 net gain, probably about a 190,000 increase. It should also be noted that the State Labor Department's separate regional metro data show somewhat higher job growth numbers*.

The most recent year-over-year growth rates by state, from 2017 to 2018, showed 16 states had growth rates of seven-tenths of one percent per year, the Upstate New York growth rate, or less. Twenty-three states had growth rates of less than one percent.  Upstate New York is not at the bottom of the nation in growth - it is slowly growing.

The state has also cut income, corporate, and property taxes, to the chagrin of progressives who would like to see stronger government spending. Governor Cuomo came into office in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and concern about whether New York taxes were undercutting business investment and encouraging out-migration affected early decision-making about how to grow the state's economy. More recently, recognition about the importance of infrastructure investment has replaced tax cuts as a priority, especially with the uncertain impact of federal tax reform on New York.

Since December 2010, the economy of the City of New York has essentially been carrying the state, with the city responsible for 863,000 of the 1.199 million jobs gained statewide.

(*The State Labor Department notes in its monthly employment press releases that the separate regional Metro area employment estimates do not match up (add up to the same numbers) as the aggregate employment numbers reported Statewide. The Statewide employment reports are estimated independently of the regional estimates. As a result there are discrepancies between subtracting New York City and its suburban areas from the statewide numbers to get the Upstate employment numbers, versus adding up each of the separate regional Upstate metro areas. Using aggregate numbers results in smaller employment growth totals for Upstate New York and the rest of the State outside New York City. The aggregate numbers show a growth rate of one-half of one percent a year; the regional numbers show .6-.7 tenths of one percent a year.)

Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

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We’re Transforming Public Sector Contracting

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(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

As the City of New York continues to work towards building the most efficient, most transparent, highest functioning government possible, the historically opaque and wasteful government contract procurement process is often overlooked, and for too long has been deemed too complicated to untangle.

But new technology has the capacity to make government procurement simpler, faster, and cheaper -- and it is happening in New York.

Of the city’s $92+ billion annual budget, over 20% -- approximately $19.3 billion -- is spent buying the necessary goods and services used to provide vital services to New Yorkers, maintain and improve the city’s infrastructure, and facilitate the government’s day-to-day operations via nearly 40,000 financial transactions. For any large organization, from governments to Fortune 500 companies, managing that kind of scale is a challenge, requiring dedicated people and state-of-the-art software that is up to the task of making procurement as efficient as possible.

At Ivalua we have spent the last two decades building our spend management software to maximize value for both private and public sector organizations along every step of the procurement process, and we’re in the midst of doing it for the City of New York.

Spend management technology enables procurement and supply chain leaders to more effectively manage how their money is being spent by:

-Identifying opportunities to reduce costs and drive efficiencies;

-Improving transparency in bidding to ensure competitive pricing;

-Speeding up the contracting process;

-Streamlining the purchasing process for procurement officers and suppliers to ensure invoices match contracts.

Leading private sector companies have long leveraged such technology to optimize their procurement processes, maximizing value, improving efficiency, mitigating risk, and ensuring transparency for shareholders. Unfortunately, the ability of governments to drive similar results has been greatly limited until now.

Despite their best intentions, strict regulations and complex, ever-evolving legislation have bound the hands of those charged with procuring the goods and services needed to run a government. For decades, city agency procurement teams have had to rely on paper-based processes or homegrown, subpar solutions, without the best-of-breed capabilities that drive real value in the private sector. This frustrates everyone, from taxpayers who just want a park built, to the companies selling the playground equipment.

For years, Ivalua has been helping the most proactive public sector leaders close this gap at all levels of government, including states such as Maryland, Arizona, and Ohio, Shared Services Canada, Paris’ airports, and now right here in the great City of New York. With a major office right here in Manhattan (one of 15 around the globe), we live here and rely on the same vital services.

For New York, we’re now implementing a complete suite to maximize the efficiency and transparency of city government.

The city planned its transformation over three phases spanning several years due to the massive complexity involved. The first phase focused on vendor management and deployed in 2017. A vendor registration process that used to require 12 pounds of paper per vendor and take most vendors 30 days has been fully digitized and cut to just a day.

Information that was previously siloed at dozens of agencies is now shared, improving transparency and efficiency, with input already provided by over 12,000 contractors, 24,000 members of their staffs, and 7,000 city agency staff. Contracts can now be registered more quickly with more timely, automated submission to the city Comptroller.

The second phase deployed more recently and focused on streamlining the purchasing process itself. The third phase will address the bid solicitation and invoicing processes to take taxpayer dollars further while improving payment timeliness and accuracy. It is in design mode, on schedule to be delivered in 2020.

All told, New York City has already significantly improved efficiency, transparency, and the ability to deliver better services more rapidly. While much work remains, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services has taken an incredible step forward that will prove to be a model for cities across the country, and we are proud to be leading the way with them. 

Dan Amzallag is CEO of Ivalua, Inc. On Twitter @ivalua.

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Attorney General James Should Sue to Dissolve the Trump Organization

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NY AG Letitia James (photo: @NewYorkStateAG)

For a company of only a few dozen employees, the Trump Organization has accumulated an astonishing rap sheet of fraud, crime, and other corporate misconduct over the years. And since its owner came to occupy the Oval Office, the company has sunk to new depths as a vehicle for influence and corruption by supplicants from corporate lobbies and foreign governments.

Now that federal prosecutors have refused to pursue a clear case of felony campaign violations using the Trump Organization as the fraudulent financial vehicle, Trump’s Attorney General and the federal Department of Justice are giving the boss’ company a green light for similar campaign crimes in 2020.

But New York Attorney General Letitia James doesn’t answer to Trump, and she has a power unique in America: the power to investigate and potentially dissolve the Trump Organization. It’s time to use that power.

Under the state’s Business Corporation Law—the modern version of a long-standing legal procedure with a rich history tracing back to the medieval English “writ of quo warranto” —Attorney General James can file a lawsuit in state court to dissolve a corporation, such as the Trump Organization, that is incorporated in New York. The test is whether the company “has exceeded the authority conferred upon it by law,...or carried on, conducted or transacted its business in a persistently fraudulent or illegal manner, or by the abuse of its powers contrary to the public policy of the state has become liable to be dissolved.” (This is a cousin of the separate legal provision under which the New York Attorney General successfully sued to dissolve the Trump Foundation.)

This type of lawsuit to dissolve a corporation isn’t common, but it isn’t rare either. Right now, Attorney General James is in the middle of a dissolution case against a credit card equipment leasing company, and just last year her office won another dissolution order against a different company. It’s true that neither of those were companies owned by the president of the United States—but it’s all the more important that the president should not get more lenient treatment for fraud than other citizens get. If no one is above the law, New York state law should apply to presidents and non-presidents equally.

Consider, then, the Trump Organization. That’s the small nerve center, based in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, that oversees a sprawling empire of about 500 tightly-controlled Trump businesses and real estate developments. Some of those, like the Trump National Doral Miami golf course, were legitimate businesses before the Trump Organization bought them. Others, such as the no-longer-Trump SoHo in Manhattan, seem on paper like they might be legitimate, but due to the Trumps’ poor business skills, can only be profitable through extensive fraud.

Still others, such as the Mar-a-Lago resort and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., began as legitimate businesses, but have become festering swamps of corruption since Trump entered the White House. And a few, such as a Panama City development dubbed “Narco-a-Lago,” or the failed Trump Tower Baku in Azerbaijan, seem to have been conceived at the start as vehicles for money laundering and corruption.

The case against the Trump Organization, detailed in a series of letters that we and our colleagues sent to Attorney General James and her predecessors, is extensive. Keep in mind that Michael Cohen already pleaded guilty to a campaign finance felony directly implicating Trump himself and Trump Organization officials knowingly and willfully.

Some of the charges on the company’s rap sheet—fraud against customers and investors, illegal political contributions, bribery, and obstruction of justice—reflect corporate misconduct of a relatively familiar type, but at an eye-opening scale. Other charges—violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, and facilitating the most flagrant presidential violations of the Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses as a business model—are more unusual and also more compromising of our national security. The overall picture is a company soaked in a culture of corruption and impunity.

Dissolving the Trump Organization doesn’t mean closing office buildings, hotels, or golf courses, or putting innocent people out of work. The law provides that the Attorney General can work with a court-appointed receiver to develop a plan to ensure that relevant businesses can continue to operate and pay their staff and vendors while dissolution is pending in court, and allow for successful operation afterwards under new ownership.

Will Attorney General James use her authority to hold this corrupt company accountable? She’s not afraid to tangle with Trump. When he accused her—the first woman and the first African-American to be elected New York attorney general—of just being Governor Cuomo’s “tool” for “harassing” Trump’s businesses, she kept her cool and responded, “No one is above the law, not even the President. P.S. My name is Letitia James.”

It’s a name that Trump—as well as Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and the assortment of corrupt “business associates” sweating in Trump Tower—had better learn. Because if enough New Yorkers make their voices heard, her signature may soon appear on a lawsuit to dissolve the Trump Organization.

Ron Fein is the Legal Director of Free Speech For People. Jed Shugerman is Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law. On Twitter @RonFein & @JedShug.

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Improving Opportunity Zones to Truly Benefit Needy Communities in New York City

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Speaker Johnson, the author, at a construction site (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

Opportunity Zones, which were part of the 2017 federal tax package, have the potential to improve low-income communities. But the way they are currently structured, they will only benefit neighborhoods already in the midst of building booms and gentrification.

Here is how they are supposed to work: Investors get tax breaks if they invest in businesses and property development in low-income communities. In New York City, investors are eligible to save on state and local taxes in addition to their federal taxes.

Unfortunately, in a city like New York that already has substantial incentive programs across the city and has enjoyed relative economic success in recent years, these new incentives could end up mostly going to projects that would have happened anyway. 

Opportunity Zone neighborhoods like Long Island City, Downtown Brooklyn, and Gowanus are communities where private investment has already poured in, and seems poised to continue doing so even without the extra tax incentive - and as a result, they are expected to attract the majority of any Opportunity Zone investment that does happen. Our city does have neighborhoods that would benefit from the additional investment right now, but these aren’t them.

Displacement is a concern, too. 

The expected concentration of investment in a small handful of already-affluent (and often rapidly-changing) communities, and in high-end real estate, could accelerate many of the elements of gentrification that we are already struggling to keep up with. 

Fiscally, the program could be a huge loser for New Yorkers. 

With investors looking for the optimal combinations of high-profit and low-risk investments, and no requirements that investments deliver any public benefit, capital is likely to flow toward large, low-risk companies and high-end residential, commercial, or hotel development. In other words, not the intended targets, and not the people or businesses who could use help from the government. 

New York City taxpayers will bear a huge chunk of the cost. The city’s loss of tax revenue shares from Opportunity Zone tax breaks at the federal, state, and local levels could amount to $715 million just over the next five years – and much more over the following decades as investors continue to cash in on tax-free capital gains.

In New York, officials must make sure these Opportunity Zones help the right targets in the most vulnerable communities.

First, lawmakers in Albany must add localized criteria to the incentives. In order to be eligible for state- or city-level Opportunity Zone breaks, I am proposing that a project must be receiving substantial state or city government discretionary assistance, such as direct subsidy, land acquisition, or subsidized loans. This would help because local government agencies consider public benefit as a factor in dispensing discretionary assistance, so this change would enshrine a requirement of at least some benefit for local communities.

Second, we need to right-size other, complementary subsidies for projects. State and city agencies should consider Opportunity Zone equity sources as part of their due diligence process and allocation calculations when disbursing subsidy. This could prevent the unnecessary over-subsidizing of projects receiving both government assistance and Opportunity Zone tax breaks.

Third, we need robust monitoring at all levels. Federally, and at the state level, administrators must mandate transparency, monitor compliance, and evaluate results to ensure that Opportunity Zone incentives are used appropriately, fairly, and to the benefit of the public.

In cities like New York, this program could be a windfall for wealthy investors to little community benefit. But with action from state legislators, there is still a chance to salvage at least some benefit for New Yorkers who actually need it.

Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. On Twitter @NYCSpeakerCoJo.

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A Monument to an Indigenous Future, Worthy of Attorney General James’ Support

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The Shinnecock billboard on Route 27 (photo via a Shinnecock Nation member)

New York State Attorney General Letitia James earned a reputation as a relentless fighter for working people in the Brooklyn gentrification struggles of the early 21st century. Representing parts of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Bedford-Stuyvesant in the early 2000s, City Council Member James insisted that low-income and working people must have a place and a future in Brooklyn.

Block by block, James helped community members keep their homes and businesses in a context where the rent -- tied to the speculative dreams of wealthy investors and not to the livelihoods of current residents -- was always rising. James's office supported my own rent battle in Crown Heights from 2005 to 2010.

But now, in her new statewide role as Attorney General, James is threatening the land rights of a community that has resisted and survived one of the original, violent processes of forced displacement in United States history. Why? 

The Shinnecock Nation of Eastern Long Island is facing legal threats from the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and the State of New York for launching a billboard project on tribal land.

The advertising revenue from two 60-foot electronic billboards on either side of Route 27, known as Sunrise Highway, at Hampton Bays is slated to support health and dental clinics, a community daycare facility, and other projects for the Shinnecock community. 

The town of Southampton, the Shinnecock's nearest neighbor since 1640, has deemed the billboards a driver distraction, an aesthetic blight, a detraction from the 'character' of the Hamptons, and has enlisted the DOT to stop the project.

The irony of Southamptonites' pearl-clutching in response to the Shinnecock’s modest attempt to chart a path toward economic survival, and not to the McMansions, the private jets, the environmental disaster of a golf course, and all manner of excess that characterize the Hamptons development trajectory is laughable, but not surprising. For generations, Southampton town has insisted that the Shinnecock should play a particular role (read: silent, servile, picturesque) in their shared community. 

And yet, the Shinnecock Nation's decision to use its land as its members wish is their right, the result of 32 years of successful struggle to become a federally-recognized Indian nation; NIMBY doesn't work when it is not actually your backyard.  The legal battle involving this only highway into the Hamptons tests the solidity of federal tribal sovereignty rights against a monied community’s belief that the future of the Hamptons is theirs alone to dream and develop.

Supporting the Shinnecock are the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and others who recognize that the survival of indigenous communities will require new, creative, and unapologetic assertions of sovereignty. In many parts of the country, state or federal highways run across tribal land. These thoroughfares are spatial evidence of a history of violent displacement but they also offer economic opportunities for native communities. By foregoing local or state permits, the Shinnecock root their economic development project in their hard-won federal legal status; and well they should. State and local courts have historically lacked the precedents or courage to support indigenous economic self-determination. The problem of so-called “home cooking” in biased state courts is legendary in federal Indian law jurisprudence

Given her 2018 election as the state’s chief legal officer, Letitia James has an opportunity to move Albany beyond the acrimony that predates her, and has long characterized the relationship between New York State and the Shinnecock Nation.

James had spoken of a desire to use the law to fight for all New Yorkers; there are few politicians who better understand the right to space as a key battleground for creating opportunity and equity. However, the entanglement of economic marginalization and geographic displacement looks different in the state versus the city contexts. Here, the "neighborhood" is the curling whippet of land along the Peconic Bay; "gentrification" has looked alternately like genocide, golf courses, and greenwashing (among other things) over the past five centuries. 

A phenomenon that native scholars have coined “indigenous erasure” helps explain why the Shinnecock billboard project faces such opposition in eastern Long Island, why few in the New York City-Hamptons circuit have spoken out about this issue, and why a progressive fighter like James has not yet reached out to the Shinnecock Nation, choosing instead to maintain the state’s track record of relating to this community through lawsuits and threats. 

I live in eastern Long Island, where indigenous names dot the landscape from Montauk to Massapequa and yet non-native communities are defensive or downright hostile when asked to acknowledge the indigenous present or make room for an indigenous future. Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman’s claim that "[the billboards] will completely change the character of the community we have fought long to protect" reflects a jarring sense of entitlement; 500 years of settler history will do that to you.  

In these parts, people wonder out loud why the Shinnecock can’t think of anything beyond cigarettes and billboards to earn money -- which is really a way of insisting that the Shinnecock future must follow a course pre-approved by the settlers in their midst who know little about the Nation and care even less. In my area, people crow loudly that this billboard project is the Shinnecock “straying from their culture”-- which is really a way of saying that externally-generated stereotypes of American Indians are more authentic than the voices of actual living indigenous people. ‘Why can’t they just follow the law?’ I have heard. ‘This is not about race, it’s the law!’ But this too is a smokescreen, a bemusing disregard of the copious evidence that U.S. law, particularly where land is concerned, has never been color- or power-blind.

And yet, with all deliberation and speed the Shinnecock Nation moves forward to pursue an economic future despite being largely excluded from the wealth streams of the Hamptons development machine. And so Shinnecock tribal elders have deemed these billboards a monument. They have claimed them as works of art and justice, as a tangible symbol of the Nation’s effort to choose how it is represented in public and to determine its economic trajectory.

As a historian, I understand the multivalent work of monuments -- the way they preserve and petrify particular narratives in their heavy materials. So this past July 4 at sunrise, I joined my Shinnecock neighbors at this monument as an act of solidarity and gratitude for their work of art and faith. I almost hoped to see Attorney General James there. I’ll be looking out for her on Labor Day Weekend at the 72nd Annual Shinnecock Pow Wow.  

Dr. Abena Ampofoa Asare is Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Stony Brook University (SUNY). She is the author of Truth Without Reconciliation: A Human Rights History of Ghana (University of Pennsylvania, 2018).

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Protecting Aging New Yorkers Amid Growing Threats Posed by Extreme Heat

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(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

In a city where flooding is the face of climate change, extreme heat is a silent but growing threat. Every year, extreme heat in New York City causes, on average, more than 450 emergency room visits and 150 hospital admissions, and results in the deaths of 115 New Yorkers from heat stroke and heat-related exacerbation of chronic health conditions. Older people are at the most risk.

For the first time in human history, our planet has more people over 65 than children under five, and the world’s global population is concentrating in cities. New York exemplifies both demographic shifts.

The city’s largest landlord, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), has approximately 62,000 residents aged 65 years and older, and seniors continue to be the public housing authority’s fastest growing population. Research shows that during heat waves older people suffer worse outcomes than the general population when air conditioning is not available or fails due to power outages. This makes it critical that the city augment its current cooling strategies.

As heat waves continue to increase in frequency and intensity, a new report commissioned by NYCHA recommends ways to protect the city’s most at-risk population. Sheltering Seniors from Extreme Heat compares the benefits and costs of a variety of physical upgrades, including energy efficient façades, mechanical cooling, and onsite generator backup, and provides a list of sustainable improvements that would allow NYCHA’s senior residents to remain safely at home during summer heat waves and power outages.

Arup’s study of NYCHA senior housing units reveals that, in the absence of air conditioning, indoor air temperatures rise dangerously high during heat waves and that upgrading building envelopes is not enough to remedy the problem. To ensure adequate cooling, these upgrades must be supplemented with backup power. Analyses comparing partial backup of critical systems to full-site backup found that the latter increases comfort and that implementation is less disruptive to NYCHA residents’ daily activities.

NYCHA recently launched a new cooling system initiative in response to the report. The smart air-conditioning pilot project is currently underway at Meltzer Tower, a NYCHA senior building in Manhattan. As part of the project, each of the building’s cooling units will be linked to a networked central control system for a safe and efficient service during dangerous heatwaves.

Another pilot project designed to test the feasibility of heat-pumps as an environmentally sustainable alternative to gas is slated to launch this summer. Seven apartments at the Fort Independence Houses in the Bronx will have their gas-fired hot water heating replaced by an electric heat-pump system that can also deliver cooling.

Smart and electrified cooling systems offer a great opportunity for New York City to meet its ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent before 2050, while ensuring that senior residents can remain comfortably and safely in their own homes during a heatwave or blackout. As the landlord to more than 400,000 city residents, NYCHA has an important role to play in safeguarding New York’s senior population and is paving the way to make New York a safer, more heat-resilient city.

Pallavi Mantha is Senior Energy and Sustainability Consultant at Arup. On Twitter @PallaviMantha of @ArupGroup.

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