Gotham Gazette

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City Council Stated Meeting - May 24, 2006

Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Searchlight covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.

"The goal is to make sure that... lobbyists can't wine and dine their way into the hearts of elected officials, and therefore wine and dine their way into the budget or into the law books." - Speaker Christine Quinn on a package of lobbying reform bills.

The New York City Council passed a bill (Intro 339-A) that will put more wheelchair accessible and alternative fuel taxis on city streets.

Of the 308 taxi medallions that will be sold next month, the legislation approved by the council ensures that 54 of them will be for new handicap accessible taxis and 254 will be hybrid taxis.

In total, the city will increase the number of wheelchair accessible taxis to 231 from 27 and the number of alternative fuel taxis to 273 from 19.

The legislation also seeks an additional 150 wheelchair accessible vehicles in the next medallion sale.

"Taxis are symbols of New York City," said City Councilmember John Liu, chair of the transportation committee. "But they are also a symbol of inaccessibility for too many New Yorkers and a symbol of pollution for too many New Yorkers."

Advocates for the disabled, who have fought for more than a decade for the taxis, said the effort was an important step, but that more must be done to serve the 60,000 city residents who use a wheelchair or scooter everyday.

The measure passed by a vote of 49 to 0. The bill also has the support of the Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The City Council also approved a set of regulations aimed at curtailing lobbyists' power at City Hall.

Intro 190-A will require that the City Clerk educate lobbyists on existing regulations and undertake random audits to ensure that lobbyists who also raise money for candidates or serve as political consultants are reporting their activities properly.

Intro 191-A will ban gifts from lobbyists to elected officials. Currently, officials are allowed to receive gifts valued at up to $50. Violators will be subject to a fine of up to $30,000. However, the bill was amended to allow exceptions for small gifts like pens, mugs and T-shirts.

Intro 192-A will change the city's campaign finance law so that contributions from registered lobbyists can no longer be matched with public funds. In the past, such contributions were matched $4 to $1.

The council also modified its own rules (Res 348) to limit access to the speaker's office, the private council lounge, and the floor of the council chambers when the body is voting.

"The goal is to make sure that... lobbyists can't wine and dine their way into the hearts of elected officials, and therefore wine and dine their way into the budget or into the law books," said Speaker Christine Quinn.

Some critics have said the council should have also prevented lobbyists from holding fundraisers for lawmakers and "bundling" donations that can still be matched by public funds.

Speaker Quinn said the effort was not the "final step on this matter" and that the council would continue to work to ensure that "scandals that have rocked other legislative bodies do not happen at City Hall."

The council also promised to make sure that the City Clerk enforces the new laws, something that has been lacking in the past.

"No City Clerk has ever fined a lobbyist ever," said Quinn.

The measure passed by a vote of 49 to 0 and has the support of Mayor Bloomberg.

The most divisive issue of the day was Mayor Bloomberg's appointment of Margery Perlmutter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Some preservation groups objected to the appointment of Perlmutter, who works for the law firm Bryan Cave where she has represented clients such as Con Edison and Viacom. Those who opposed the appointment said Perlmutter's work created a conflict of interest.

"We are approving the first registered lobbyist to the Landmarks Preservation Commission," said Councilmember Tony Avella. "You can't serve two masters."

In her testimony at the committee meeting prior to the vote, Perlmutter promised to recuse herself from any matters that would present a conflict of interest with her law firm or her husband's architecture firm. She also agreed to resign from community board 8 in Manhattan.

Some council members were also upset that Perlmutter, who lives in Manhattan, will replace a commission member from Queens.

"The Landmarks Commission has been too Manhattan-centric," said Councilmember Lew Fidler.

But most council members said they felt that Perlmutter was "highly qualified" for the job.

"There wasn't debate about her resume or qualifications," said Councilmember Jessica Lappin, who voted in favor of the appointment. "The Municipal Art Society did a great deal of work examining her record and testified that her decisions were `within the mainstream.'"

Perlmutter's appointment was approved by a vote of 39 to 10; Tony Avella, Charles Barron, Gale Brewer, Helen Foster, Vincent Gentile, Eric Gioia, Tish James, Annabel Palma, Melissa Mark Viverito, and David Yassky voted "no."

The council also made changes to the membership of its committees.

On the Contracts Committee, Michael Nelson will replace Al Vann.

On the Economic Development Committee, Michael McMahon will replace Peter Vallone, Jr.

And Carmen Arroyo and Dennis Gallagher were added to the Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Committee.

The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 13, 2006.






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