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Johnson's State of the City, Heastie's State of Play, Council Budget Hearings & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 4


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

As the week begins, school is closed in New York City and much of the city and state will be focused on the Sunday-into-Monday snowstorm that is expected, and the government response to it. Keep in mind that some if not all Monday events may be canceled.

We’re less than a month from the date, April 1, when a new state budget is due. As the State Legislature looks to continue moving bills over the next few weeks on issues like criminal justice reform, budget negotiations will begin to heat up as the two Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly look to get on the same page and work with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration on a budget deal that will not only come to spending agreements on key issues like local school aid, but also on controversial policies like marijuana legalization and congestion pricing for New York City. 

There are four days of legislative session this week in Albany. They come after the Legislature and Governor were unable to agree on a revenue forecast to use for budget negotiations, meaning the state comptroller’s office will set the number. Also at hand are issues like bail reform that appear to have hit a roadblock in negotiations. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will make a public appearance on Friday morning to discuss his chamber's priorities and where things stand in Albany.

Also this week: City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will give his first State of the City address. Johnson has said a main focus of the speech will be a new, detailed plan for city control of the subways and buses -- otherwise known as the MTA’s New York City Transit division. Expect other new proposals and plans from Johnson, who has not yet set out his own policy vision since taking over Council leadership a little more than a year ago. Johnson has advanced a variety of priorities for himself and his colleagues, and has taken a clear interest in transit issues, but the speech will be the first time he fully lays out an agenda of his own.

Johnson’s City Council will start its month of hearings this week on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s preliminary budget plan -- see below for details.

The speaker continues to be the Acting Public Advocate until Public Advocate-Elect Jumaane Williams is sworn in. Williams said he expects that to happen this week, though we don't yet have a day.

And we’re continuing to watch the next steps in the Amazon saga and the L-train repair work saga. City and state Census preparations are also on the agenda this week.

There's a lot to be aware of this week -- see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
NOTE: New York City schools are closed on Monday and some of the events below may be canceled.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

Also at the Legislature on Monday: At 11 a.m. the Senate Standing Committees on Banks and Consumer Protection will hold a joint public hearing in Albany regarding “the proposed Student Loan Consumer Assistance Program.”

At 8 a.m. Monday, Senator Chuck Schumer and Regional Plan President Tom Wright will give speeches on infrastructure, specifically the Gateway Tunnel project. The event, which will take place at the Mezzanine at 55 Broadway, is co-sponsored by the Association for a Better New York, the Regional Plan Association, and the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Health will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “accessing the state’s medical marijuana program and its intersection with a recreational marijuana program,” as well as to discuss two resolutions calling on the state to expand the state’s legal medicinal marijuana program and to pass legislation “rectifying any conflicts between the state's medical marijuana regulations and recreational marijuana regulations.”
--The Committees on Public Housing and Oversight & Investigations will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing “examining the DOI report on NYCHA mismanagement at the Throggs Neck Houses,” as well as to discuss two proposed laws requiring agency heads to publicly disclose false statements made by their agency in an official capacity and requiring the Department of Investigation to report bimonthly to the Council on NYCHA employee overtime. The committees will also discuss a resolution calling on the state to pass a law requiring NYCHA “conduct annual evaluations of agency property employees.”
--The Committees on General Welfare and Hospitals will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “impact of marijuana policies on child welfare,” as well as to discuss laws requiring ACS to report additional information on allegations in child abuse cases and requiring ACS to report on investigations initiated by the city for positive drug screenings. The committee will also discuss two resolutions calling on ACS to stop classifying the possession of marijuana as creating an imminent risk to children and calling on the state to create “clear and fair regulations” for hospitals to inform pregnant patients of their rights before drug testing.
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 2 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding loft laws, and to discuss a resolution calling on the state to pass an expansion of the loft law.

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, the Center for an Urban Future will host “Preparing New York State’s Workforce for Automation,” discussing what officials and policymakers should be doing to prepare for the changes to come with automation, at the Hilton Albany. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will deliver keynote remarks. After, there will be a panel discussion consisting of Assemblymember Marcos Crespo; Lois Johnson, Director of Workforce Strategies at the Workforce Development Institute; Annmarie Lanesey, CEO of Albany Can Code; Melinda Mack, Executive Director of NYATEP; and Todd Mack, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Monroe Community College.

At 1 p.m. Monday, "Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner O’Neill will hold a media availability on crime statistics." At 4 p.m., "the Mayor will sign Intro.1004-A which will establish the basement apartment legalization pilot in East New York." In the evening, "the Mayor will deliver remarks at the Legion of Honor Medal Ceremony for Charles Cohen." And in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours, "the Mayor will appear on NY1’s Inside City Hall."

At 1 p.m. "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Kicks Off Women's History Month with Elected Officials and NYS Women's Suffrage Commission Members" at the state Capitol in Albany. At 5:15 p.m., "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Attends the NYS Farm Bureau's 2019 Taste of New York Reception."

At 2 p.m. Monday, the state’s Census commission will hold the first of six public hearings to discuss the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census and the myriad related issues. The hearing will take place at Rochester City Hall.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At noon Tuesday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver his State of the City address at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

Wednesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

Wednesday marks the beginning of the City Council’s preliminary budget hearing season. The first hearing is on the mayor’s preliminary budget in general, with the Committee on Finance and Subcommittee on the Capital Budget, jointly at 10 a.m., and featuring testimony from the Office of Management and Budget, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and the Independent Budget Office.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks will meet at noon.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dare to Run will host “#WomenLead: How to Diversify the Pipeline of Women Leaders in New York” at the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side, featuring a panel of women who have run for office in New York discussing their experiences. Panelists will include City Council Members Carlina Rivera and Helen Rosenthal, recent Public Advocate candidate Nomiki Konst, former Assembly candidate Ashley Zanatta, former Senate candidate Jasi Robinson, State Democratic Party women’s vote director Ny Whitaker, and attorney Monique Cardial.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Member Eric Ulrich will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the issue of property taxes at the Knights of Columbus’ Rockaway location.

Thursday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Thursday in Albany.

The following City Council committees will hold preliminary budget hearings on Thursday:
--Fire and Emergency Management at 10 a.m., regarding fire/emergency medical service and the Office of Emergency Management.
--Higher Education at 10 a.m., regarding CUNY.
--Land Use at 1 p.m., regarding the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Department of City Planning.
--Technology and Land Use jointly at 3 p.m., regarding DoITT.

Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, New York City Census Director Julie Menin will appear at the Newmark School of Journalism with professor and NY1 anchor Errol Louis for a Q&A session on her office’s work to ensure all New Yorkers are counted in the 2020 Census. The event is hosted specifically by the journalism school’s Center for Community and Ethnic Media.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission will hold its second of six “issues forums” at City Hall to discuss potential charter revisions. This forum will focus on revisions regarding police accountability.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, the MTA will host the first of four open houses for community members regarding the “revised” L-train project. The first of these will take place at Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Bernard Church in the West Village.

Friday and the weekend
At 8 a.m. Friday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will join Crain’s for a “Business Breakfast Forum” at the New York Athletic Club, discussing “the state budget, other pressing topics facing lawmakers and his long-term goals for the newly constituted legislature.”

Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

The following City Council committees will hold preliminary budget hearings on Friday:
--Environmental Protection at 10 a.m., regarding the Department of Environmental Protection.
--Sanitation at 2 p.m., regarding the Department of Sanitation and the Business Integrity Commission.
--Parks & Recreation and Capital Budget jointly at 2 p.m., regarding the Department of Parks & Recreation.

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

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Public Advocate Election, Busy Legislatures & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 25


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

The Public Advocate special election is Tuesday!

The election is open to all registered voters across the city. Very low turnout is expected. Make a plan and be ready to vote!
-Find all of Gotham Gazette's coverage of the election here.
-Watch one/some/all of the 15-minute interviews our Ben Max did with 14 of the candidates.
-Use the City Limits voter guide.
-Check your polling place.

The Public Advocate is one of just three citywide elected positions and while its annual budget is relatively small at about $3.5 million, it comes with a lot of responsibility and opportunity. The last two public advocates are now New York City mayor and New York State attorney general.

Speaking of former Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the mayor was in Iowa this weekend, stoking talk of a possible run for president, of which he has repeatedly said he’s “not ruling it out.” De Blasio sought to promote his brand of progressive politics and outlining how he believes Democrats can better appeal to voters, intermittently criticizing the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign for not speaking enough to the needs of “working people.”

We’ll see what this week brings in terms of how de Blasio talks about 2020.

We’re also watching for the next steps in the fallout over the Amazon-to-Queens deal collapsing and how it has led to fighting between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate Democrats. Though is spokespeople had already done so in various formats, Cuomo took to the radio airwaves on Friday and launched a blistering attack against Senate Democrats for allowing one of their own, Senator Michael Gianaris, to throw up such a significant roadblock to the deal that the company changed its mind. The two sides have been publicly arguing since the deal fell apart, with Cuomo saying the Senate Democrats committed a grave error in governmental judgement, letting down the entire state, and Senate Democrats saying that the governor should not have orchestrated a secretive, flawed deal.

After its usual mid-February week off, the City Council and State Legislature are back in session this week; the Council has very busy week of hearings. As for the state, the clock is ticking for a new budget, which is due by April 1.

There's a lot on the calendar already for this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 9 a.m. Monday, “The day before the Public Advocate special election, Let NY Vote advocates, Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams and others will rally against the NYC Board of Elections' (NYCBOE) recent lawsuit preventing city interpreters from being inside polling locations. The City will be providing expanded interpretation services at poll sites with the largest numbers of Limited English proficient voters for the special election on Tuesday. The NYCBOE sued the City on Friday to prevent the interpreters from entering poll site locations, once again standing in the way of making voting easier for New Yorkers. The hearing on the lawsuit will take place after the rally at 9:30am at Kings County Supreme Court.”

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “sustainability and resilience of New York City wastewater treatment plants,” as well as to discuss two proposed laws requiring solidly enclosed containers for the transport of sewage sludge and requiring an “air quality monitoring program” for wastewater treatment plants.
--The Committees on Women, Cultural Affairs, and Parks & Recreation will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “improving the gender and cultural diversity of monuments located in city parks,” as well as to discuss the creation of a task force to study the city’s statues, monuments, and public art installations, and to discuss a proposed law requiring 50 percent of newly erected monuments, statues, and public art depict women.
--The Committees on Public Safety and Justice System will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “family separation in criminal cases,” as well as to discuss proposed laws creating a task force to study and make recommendations regarding the “obstacles faced by children of incarcerated children” and to require the NYPD to implement “child sensitive arrest policies.”
--The Committee on Health will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to sugar, including requiring signage at restaurants on the dangers of sugar, require beverages served with children’s meals to not contain added sugar, requiring sugar content be displayed on menus, and requiring the health department to report on the incidence of diabetes and how to reduce it.
--The Committee on Hospitals will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “access to specialty care at NYC’s Health + Hospitals.”
--The Committee on Education will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “DOE’s provision of special education services,” as well as to discuss proposed laws requiring DOE to provide data on school-level IEP compliance rates, report on its provision of special education services, tuition-payment requests for special ed, and preschool special ed, and to discuss a resolution for DOE to establish a “czar position” to ensure compliance with IEPs.
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “community board operations and needs,” as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring “notification of expiration of variances and special permits granted by the board of standards and appeals.”

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, the New York City Bar Association will host “New York State Environmental Year in Review,” discussing “the past year’s most significant developments in New York State and New York City environmental law.” Amy Turner of the NYC Climate Action Alliance will moderate a panel consisting of Adriana Espinoza, New York City program director for NYLCV; Patrick Foster, regional attorney for region 2 for the state Department of Environmental Conservation; attorney Scott Fein; Columbia law professor Michael Gerrard; and St. John’s Law professor Philip Weinberg.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance will rally at the Broadway Junction station to bring attention to the transit crisis as a racial and economic justice issue, and call on Albany to pass congestion pricing. Elected officials in attendance will include State Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz, Robert Rodriguez, and Michael Blake, who is a candidate for public advocate. Also in attendance will be public advocate candidates Melissa Mark-Viverito and Dawn Smalls.

At 3 p.m. Monday, City Council Members Margaret Chin and Mark Levine, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick will rally at the City Hall steps in support of Chin’s and Levine’s resolution calling for the implementation of a pied-a-terre tax in New York City, which would need to be passed at the state level and has the support of a variety of other elected officials.

On Monday at 3 p.m. in Washington, D.C., U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, along with “9/11 first responders, survivors, and their families will join with Jon Stewart” and several other elected officials from New York and elsewhere “to introduce the bipartisan Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act and call for its swift passage. The bipartisan legislation would ensure that all 9/11 first responders and survivors who have been injured by the toxins at Ground Zero and have certified 9/11 illnesses would receive their full compensation through the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) now and into the future as more become ill with 9/11 cancers. The bill would also close the funding gap recently announced by the VCF Special Master.”

At 6 p.m. Monday, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission will meet in the City Council Chambers at City Hall for an “issues forum” discussing instant runoff voting and other electoral reforms, the redistricting process, the structure of the Campaign Finance Board, and “alternative campaign finance mechanisms.” (This hearing was originally scheduled for Wednesday, February 20, but was rescheduled due to inclement weather.)

At 6:30 p.m. Monday, State Senators Alessandra Biaggi, Andrew Gounardes, Jessica Ramos, and Julia Salazar will join the Tri-State Transportation Campaign at its February happy hour at the Black Door in Chelsea, discussing congestion pricing.

Mayor de Blasio will appear Monday evening on NY1's Inside City Hall with Errol Louis in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Tuesday
The special election for Public Advocate will be held on Tuesday. Polls will open at 6 a.m. and close at 9 p.m.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics will hold a meeting in Albany.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws allowing DOB to issue stop work orders along with “notices to revoke work permits,” allowing HPD “discretion” in choosing whether to work with a community land trust, and allowing individuals to sign up for email updates for whenever construction status changes on specific projects.
--The Committee on Criminal Justice will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “Department of Correction programming,” as well as to discuss proposed laws requiring DOC to conduct an annual survey of inmates at city jails regarding quality of life and treatment by corrections officers and requiring DOC to maintain libraries for inmates in city jails.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Mental Health and Veterans will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “veteran suicide and mental health.”
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “protecting EMS workers from job related violence.”

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg will moderate a debate on whether to implement congestion pricing to address issues with transit, hosted by the Century Foundation and NYU Wagner at the Puck Building on Houston St. Manhattan Institute senior fellow Nicole Gelinas will argue in favor of congestion pricing, and former Assemblymember Richard Brodsky will argue against.

Wednesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday in Albany.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the MTA will hold a board meeting.

Starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Vocal-NY will hold a lobbying day in Albany to call on state legislators to end mass incarceration.

On Wednesday at noon at the state Capitol, the FREEnewyork Campaign will rally and meet with legislators “to demand the speedy passage of urgent reforms to the criminal legal system” including “three separate bills – S1716 (Open Discovery), S2101 (End Money Bail), S1738 (Speedy Trial).” Members of the coalition include “Citizen Action New York, JustLeadershipUSA, New York Communities for Change, New York Civil Liberties Union, Legal Aid Society, VOCAL-NY, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, Religious leaders and more.”

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committees on Justice System, Civil and Human Rights, Consumer Affairs, and Public Safety will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the potential for marijuana legalization in New York, specifically on “equity and justice.” The committees will discuss proposed laws banning the Department of Probation from conducting drug tests for marijuana and ban employers from requiring employees to submit to tests for THC as a condition of employment. The committees will also discuss several resolutions, including ones calling for legalization of marijuana at the state and federal levels, calling for the expungement of all misdemeanor marijuana offenses, calling for the reinvestment of revenues from marijuana in communities most impacted by the war on drugs, calling for those with marijuana convictions to be prioritized in both the issuance of licenses for selling and in hiring in the marijuana industry, and encouraging small business growth in the industry, among others.
--The Committee on Aging will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “senior center model food budgets.”
--The Committee on Sanitation will meet at noon to discuss proposed laws requiring the Business Integrity Commission establish standards for union registration in the private carting industry, require the BIC to post workers’ rights information on its website, require private carters to provide workers’ rights information to employees, and for the BIC to hand over labor and wage violation cases to state or federal authorities.
--The Committee on Mental Health will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding a three-year update on ThriveNYC.

This week's Max & Murphy on WBAI radio will air at 5 p.m. Wednesday and will break down the results of the Public Advocate special election and more. Listen at 99.5FM or wbai.org.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will hold a public meeting at MS 131 in Chinatown.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, BRIC TV will host a “#BHeard Town Hall” on economic inequality in New York City. Panelists will include Deputy Mayor J. Phillip Thompson, Student Debt Crisis Executive Director Natalia Abrams, NYU sociology professor Guillermina Jasso, former SEIU Chair Toni Lewis, Washington Post journalist Helaine Olen, and Fiscal Policy Institute chief economist Jonas Shaende.

Thursday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Thursday in Albany.

The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Speaker Corey Johnson will host the usual pre-Stated press conference at 12:30 p.m.

Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 9:30 a.m.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, City & State will hold a reception for its “NYC Power 100,” its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the city. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will deliver keynote remarks.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Citizens Budget Commission will hold its 87th annual awards dinner at the Pierre Hotel on the Upper East Side. Awards will be presented to Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, investor Stanley Shuman, and the City of New York for its Vision Zero initiative, and there will also be a special tribute to recently retired CBC President Carol Kellermann.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday at 10 a.m.

At 3 p.m. Friday, the Senate Standing Committees on Transportation and Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions will meet jointly at the Nassau County Legislative Building in Mineola for a public oversight hearing regarding the LIRR.

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

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Campaign Finance Reform May Come with Mandatory Debates for Statewide Elections


cr cuomo

2014 NY gubernatorial debate (photo: C-SPAN)


With Democrats in charge of the state Legislature, there’s broad optimism that New York may finally create a state-level public financing system for electoral campaigns modelled after the program in place in New York City, including mandatory debates for candidates for statewide offices who receive public campaign funds.

In his executive budget released last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a voluntary public campaign financing program that would provide a 6-to-1 match for the first $175 of each contribution. The proposal also requires that statewide candidates, though not those running for State Senate or Assembly, participate in official debates before each primary and general election if they receive public funds, unless a candidate does not have an opponent.

Debates at the state level, particularly in gubernatorial contests, have been a thorny issue in previous elections. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, is notoriously averse to debating his opponents and has often limited the number of debates he agrees to participate in, and he almost always attempts to strictly dictate the terms of those debates.

In 2014, Cuomo refused to debate primary opponent Zephyr Teachout and would only partake in a general election debate open to all candidates, something he also insisted on in 2010, instead of any one-on-one with his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino. Cuomo used the messy 2010 debate to justify his lack of participation in debates. “I’ve been in many debates that I think were a disservice to democracy,” he told the New York Times in 2014. “So anyone who says debates are always a service to democracy hasn’t watched all the debates that I’ve been in.”

Last year, Cuomo did agree to one debate with his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, who nevertheless hammered the governor for only agreeing to one, a scenario that played out quite similarly for the general election when Cuomo participated in one debate with Republican Marc Molinaro. The governor’s insistence on a low room temperature at the primary debate venue even triggered a discussion about sexism in the workplace.

Incumbent state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli participated in two televised general election debates last year after facing no primary challenger. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul similarly debated her opponent, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, twice before the primary though only one of the debates was televised. In an attorney general race with no incumbent, eventual winner Letitia James participated in a series of debates and forums in the Democratic primary, then agreed to just one general election debate against Republican Keith Wofford.

In New York City, the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the public matching funds program, organizes two official debates before each primary and general election for the three citywide offices of mayor, comptroller, and public advocate. Participation is determined based on financial thresholds for initial debates and additional nonpartisan criteria for subsequent ones. Participation is mandatory for any candidate receiving public matching funds.

Notably, the governor’s proposal only includes statewide candidates, which is more limited than the Fair Elections Act, versions of which have been introduced in the past in both the state Senate, by now-Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and in the Assembly by Speaker Carl Heastie. Both those public financing proposals included provisions for mandatory debates for all candidates who participate in the public campaign finance program.

But neither Stewart-Cousins nor Heastie have reintroduced the Fair Elections Act and it’s unclear if they intend to do so, indicating that Cuomo’s proposal may form the basis for negotiations with the Legislature. Asked about the Fair Elections Act and the governor’s proposal, a spokesperson for the Senate majority, Mike Murphy, simply said by email, “It is being discussed and we look forward to moving forward.” Heastie’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Jonathan Timm, a spokesperson for Senator Zellnor Myrie, who chairs the elections committee, said Myrie is working with other senators to improve on the governor’s budget proposal but had yet to finalize their plans. “The Senator is a strong supporter of public financing...and he is working with all parties to see how we can get to best system possible. Everything is on the table, including, possibly, debate requirements,” Timm said in an email.

Though a mandatory debate program is a desirable element for any public financing proposal, it’s not a top priority for advocates. “We don’t want the excuse of something not being perfect as a justification for not doing anything, which happens all too often in Albany,” said Alex Camarda, senior advisor at Reinvent Albany, a government reform group that is part of the Fair Elections for New York coalition.

What’s more important, he said, “is establishing the foundation for a public matching funds program in New York State and following the city model of improving it over time.”

He also said that though debates are important in informing the public and for allowing candidates to contrast their policy platforms, they tend to be more essential for elections that aren’t as high profile. For instance, the public advocate special election in New York City, which has 17 candidates, many of whom with little name recognition, running for a seat that many New Yorkers are unaware about. That’s the “poster child for the importance of debates,” Camarda said. Qualifying candidates in that field have now participated in two official, televised debates ahead of the February 26 vote.

At the statewide level, where the stakes are higher, voters tend to be more engaged. “In an era of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, debates are certainly not as critical as they once were,” Camarda said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

E-Scooter Companies Ramp Up Lobbying for State and City Authorization


birdride inc

(photo: @BirdRide)


With Governor Andrew Cuomo proposing the legalization of electric bikes and scooters in New York and the New York City Council considering several bills to achieve that goal, the two prominent e-scooter firms looking to do business in the state are ramping up efforts to lobby lawmakers and other officials.

Bird and Lime are barnstorming New York with lobbyists as they seek to expand into what could be a massively profitable market. The e-scooter companies have already established a presence in hundreds of cities across the United States and the globe, presenting their products as affordable “micro mobility” alternatives that get people around while reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion.

It’s an appealing argument that has been embraced as part of the broader public transit conversation by many elected officials and transit and street safety advocates, particularly in New York City with its crumbling subway system, slow buses, and crowded streets. And that argument is being spread widely through hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lobbying.

At the state level, Cuomo has proposed giving municipalities the authority to legalize both e-bikes and e-scooters, which many, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, argue would need to happen first if the city is to act.

“Authorizing these transportation alternatives in a sensible and safety conscious manner will provide cheaper and more environmentally friendly transit options to New Yorkers and visitors who can use these options for work or leisure,” said Jason Conwall, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo, in a statement. The proposal includes mandates for the use of helmets, reflective gear, a bell or horn, and a maximum speed limit.

“It will also attract new businesses and generate job opportunities for New Yorkers, and align the state with many other states and cities that have successfully brought this technology to their residents,” Conwall added.

De Blasio has seemed open to legalizing e-scooters, though he has emphasized that public safety must be the first priority. “If I can see something that will create safety in this city and allow people to use e-bikes or e-scooters, I’m very open to that,” he said at an unrelated news conference in November. But while he is in favor of pedal-assist e-bikes, he has strongly opposed legalizing e-bikes with throttles, citing safety concerns, though without evidence.

At de Blasio’s behest, the NYPD has been cracking down and confiscating e-bikes, which are often used by immigrant delivery workers, and fining individuals and businesses (most of the fines are levied against individuals, as reported by Gothamist in January, contrary to de Blasio’s professed plan to target businesses). Meanwhile, the city launched a pilot dockless-bike program last year in July -- in partnership with Lime, CitiBike, and Jump -- which allowed pedal-assist bikes, which are similar to throttle bikes but run at slower speeds.

Scott Gastel, a city Department of Transportation spokesperson, said the de Blasio administration is reviewing the governor’s proposal. “If the State takes action to provide a local path to legalization, there will be a conversation about what makes sense for New York City,” he said in an email.

The City Council is already pushing that conversation, however, through four bills that were debated at a transportation committee hearing last month where Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg raised concerns about the “unregulated, illegal nature” of e-bikes and “particularly their speeds and irresponsible use by some.”

The bills in question -- sponsored by Council Members Fernando Cabrera and Rafael Espinal -- would remove restrictions against e-scooter and e-bike use, create a program to help throttle-bike owners to convert them to pedal-assist bikes, and create a pilot scooter-sharing program.

“Legalizing electric scooters and throttle electric bikes may seem like distinct issues, but they share a common theme: transit equity,” said Espinal, in a statement, “the principle that all people – particularly marginalized communities – deserve affordable, accessible, and safe transit options that get them where they need to go, whether that be for a job, a social engagement, or anything else.”

For certain City Council members, lobbying by e-scooter firms has presented a golden opportunity to attach e-bikes to the conversation, providing what they say is much-needed justice for immigrant delivery workers who have suffered under de Blasio’s crackdown.

“There’s no doubt that the reason that we’re talking about e-bikes today again is because of the money and the power that has been wielded by these tech companies, these e-scooter companies,” said Council Member Carlos Menchaca, in a brief interview outside City Hall. Menchaca has been among the most vocal critics of the mayor’s enforcement policy on e-bikes, calling the crackdown “discriminatory.”

Over the last year, Bird Rides Inc. has hired several firms to represent its interests including Blue Suit Strategies, Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz, the Mirram Group, Dickinson Avella Vidal, and Tusk Strategies, which has close ties to Council Speaker Johnson and is known for its successful effort in helping the ride-hailing service Uber avoid new regulations in New York City in 2015 (those regulations did pass in 2018).

David Estrada, Bird’s chief legal officer, is among several Bird employees who have also registered as lobbyists in New York. By the end of 2018, Bird had spent about $142,000 on its lobbying effort, according to city and state lobbying records.

Those efforts are ongoing and Bird signed retainer agreements with several of firms to work throughout this year. Blue Suit, for instance, signed an agreement to be paid $3,000 each month through March 2019 to lobby before city officials. Connelly McLaughlin & Woloz signed on for a $6,500 monthly retainer through the end of the year. The Mirram Group’s contract, which extends till August, is expected to cost $10,000 per month. Ostroff Associates is expected to receive $5,000 each month till the end of July. And Tusk Strategies’ contract was the costliest, at $25,000 per month for the full year.

Neutron Holdings, Lime’s parent company, similarly hired James F. Capalino & Associates, Urban Strategies, and Yoswein New York to lobby local and state officials for both e-scooter legislation and for expanding its dockless bike share service into New York.

“We are working with both state and city officials to improve transportation options for all New Yorkers,” said Phil Jones, Lime’s senior director of East Coast Government Relations & Strategic Development, in a statement. “Shared dock-free scooters can make transportation reliable and affordable for all New Yorkers—especially underserved communities that do not have easy access to mass transit.”

The company had already spent about $146,000 by the end of last year and plans more. Capalino & Associates’ contract runs through the end of 2019 with a $10,000 monthly retainer. Urban Strategies was retained to work for the company through the end of May for $5,000 each month.

Menchaca is adamant that e-scooter legalization should only happen along with e-bikes, and the e-scooter firms also seem on board since it advances their interests. “I was very clear from the beginning...that we’re not even talking about e-scooters till we figure out what’s going on with the e-bikes and fix that problem,” he said. “They understood that so they’re gonna play...They’re savvy. We’ll do it together.”

And he seemed to partly excuse the de Blasio administration, even as he criticized the “discriminatory focus from the NYPD” on immigrant workers. “We can’t move that much because of the state, the state needs to move to unlock our ability to legislate this,” he said. “So I wouldn’t say that the administration’s not listening.”

Does the mayor really care? “I think we’re gonna make the mayor care,” Menchaca said.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso sees the issue as indicative of a larger de Blasio problem. “The way we’re thinking about it is we’re gonna leverage the lobbying effort made by the e-scooters to make sure that we get justice for the e-bike folks,” he said in a brief interview in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

“I think it’s less about whether or not the mayor cares about lobbyists and immigrants and more about the mayor just being bad on transportation policy,” he added. “Let’s put it in perspective. Who it affects, how it affects them is kind of second to the mayor not understanding that he’s a proponent of car culture in a significant way. So whether it’s e-scooters or e-bikes, I think to him, who’s advocating for it is second to just bad policy.”

De Blasio finds himself increasingly isolated in his position. E-scooters and e-bikes are one of those rare issues where the interests of transit and street safety advocates on the ground line up with those of large firms with a profit incentive.

“It is indeed disturbing to continue to see Mayor de Blasio...continuing to criminalize the use of an e-bike which is an efficient, sustainable mode of transportation,” said Marco Conner, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, in a phone interview he gave while riding a CitiBike, the bike-sharing program that de Blasio has expanded and which started to offer pedal-assist bikes as part of the city’s L-train shutdown mitigation plans. “Meanwhile, he’s en route to inviting e-scooter-share companies and has also legalized pedal assist e-bikes.”

Conner said the mayor’s argument that e-bikes are illegal and so the NYPD must enforce the law doesn’t hold water, particularly considering the mayor’s rhetoric about making New York the “fairest big city in America” with strong “sanctuary city” protections. The crackdown, he noted, exposes low-wage immigrants to the criminal justice system, opening them up to potential interactions with immigration authorities. “Every New Yorker jaywalks daily. Police officers jaywalk daily,” Conner said. “That’s illegal under local statute but you don’t see that kind of targeted crackdown.”

He also suggested that the city should institute a buy-back program for e-bike owners, similar to the NYPD’s regular gun buy-backs that take guns off the streets.

Conner did have concerns, however, about the governor’s legalization proposal, particularly the helmet and reflective clothing requirements, which he said are “well-intended” but would discourage the use of e-bikes and e-scooters. It would also harm the existing CitiBike program, which doesn’t require either, he pointed out.

“Helmet sharing is not a thing and will never be a thing,” he said, while the reflective clothing rule is “a recipe for subjective and racially disparate enforcement.” The governor’s proposal also gives motor vehicles the right of way over e-bike and e-scooter riders, which Conner said should be reversed.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Amazon Fallout, State Transit Hearing, Second Public Advocate Debate & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 18


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week we're watching several storylines, even as it is a quiet week in city and state government in terms of action at the City Council and State Legislature, with both bodies largely on the annual mid-February break.

One is the continued fallout over the end of the deal to bring a massive Amazon campus to Queens. There will also be continued dissection of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 30-day amendments to his executive budget plan, which were released at the end of this past week and will help set the stage for the legislative and budget negotiations are set to heat up as the April 1 deadline for a new state budget fast approaches. Those negotiations are now also going to be influenced by what happened with the Amazon deal, including the fact that Cuomo is attempting to sow division in within the Senate Democratic conference, which he has blamed for sabotaging the deal based on the opposition of Senator Michael Gianaris.

Another key storyline this week is the special election for Public Advocate, which will enter its final week. The vote is set for February 26, one week from Tuesday, and there will be the second official televised debate on Wednesday night this week, with seven "leading contenders."

As always, there are several events to be aware of this week - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Monday is the Presidents Day holiday.

At 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will give remarks at the Association of Towns 2019 Annual Meeting, in Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will host "#BreakThePatent Rally with Council Member Carlina Rivera, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Former State Senator Tom Duane, PrEP4All Collaboration (#BreakThePatent Campaign) and Advocates" at the New York City AIDS Memorial in Manhattan.

Mayor de Blasio will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall on Monday in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Tuesday
Tuesday marks one week until the special election for Public Advocate.

At noon on Tuesday in Brooklyn, "Mayor de Blasio will make an announcement about Vision Zero." "After, the Mayor will attend the wake of Detective Brian Simonsen." "Later, the Mayor and First Lady McCray will host a Black History Month Celebration where they will honor Me Too Founder Tarana Burke."

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Immigration Coalition Policy and Legislative Breakfast in Manhattan. At 6:30 p.m., Stringer will hosts a Lunar New Year Celebration in Flushing.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the State Senate will hold the first of five public oversight hearings on the “effectiveness of New York’s transit networks.” The hearing will take place at 250 Broadway in Manhattan.

On Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. at Lincoln Center, "11:45 AM Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Secretary to the Governor and Chair of the New York State Council on Women and Girls Melissa DeRosa Unveil the 2019 Women's Justice Agenda."

Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. will be U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat’s State of the District event, at Our Children’s Foundation in upper Manhattan. Several other elected officials will attend.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a Lunar New Year celebration at Flushing Town Hall. Stringer will honor State Senator John Liu, the Korean American Family Service Center, and Sun Yup Kim, President of the Korean American Business Council of New York.

Wednesday
At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy will air on WBAI radio -- 99.5FM and wbai.org -- and feature interviews with public advocate candidates Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission will meet in the City Council Chambers at City Hall for an “issues forum” discussing instant runoff voting and other electoral reforms, the redistricting process, the structure of the Campaign Finance Board, and “alternative campaign finance mechanisms.”

At 7 p.m. Wednesday will be the second official televised debate in the special election for Public Advocate, airing on NY1 television and the NY1.com website, among other places. The “leading contenders” debate will feature seven candidates seeking the position. The vote is set for Tuesday, February 26.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, James Patchett, President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, will join Crain’s for a “Business Breakfast Forum” at the New York Athletic Club, discussing “the Amazon deal, EDC’s biggest projects and the de Blasio administration’s economic-development agenda.”

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will deliver his State of the Borough address at Samuel Gompers High School in the South Bronx.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor Bill de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

Friday is the deadline for members of the public to apply to serve on the city’s new Civic Engagement Commission.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, and State Senators Michael Gianaris, Brian Benjamin, and Robert Jackson will host a “Town Hall for Democracy,” discussing opportunities to get money out of politics and reform New York’s election system. The town hall will take place at Washington Irving High School, near Union Square.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold her annual State of the Borough event at the NYU Skirball Center.

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

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Automatic Sealing? Expungement? As They Legalize Marijuana, New York Lawmakers Negotiate Clearing Criminal Records


may bdblasio office

Mayor de Blasio discusses marijuana policy (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


New York seems poised to enact the country’s first automatic record-clearing guidelines for past marijuana convictions. Doing so, advocates and officials say, could remove barriers for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose convictions -- for behavior that may soon be legal -- complicate tasks ranging from obtaining child custody to job searching to renting an apartment.

Automatic record-clearing is part of a larger ongoing discussion on legalizing adult marijuana use in New York, something Governor Andrew Cuomo has made a 2019 priority after years of opposition that also has support in both Democratically-controlled houses of the state Legislature. “Legalize adult-used cannabis,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address in January. “Stop the disproportionate criminal impact on communities of color.”

Bronx Senator and Senate health committee chair Gustavo Rivera also emphasized on the Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter earlier this month that “the primary concern for many of us is the restorative justice aspect of this.”

New Yorkers poised to benefit from record-clearing for past marijuana offenses are majority black and Hispanic. In New York City, these communities made up 85 percent of marijuana possession arrests in 2016. It’s still unclear, though, how many crimes will be eligible for automatic clearing. There are also different record-clearing processes within an automatic framework: to seal a record is to shield it from view, while to expunge it -- advocates’ preference -- removes it completely.

Melissa Moore, deputy New York director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said advocates with the statewide marijuana abolition campaign Start SMART took notes on California’s approach to marijuana legalization. There, people with certain marijuana-related convictions were invited to apply for their records to be cleared. The Drug Policy Alliance has hosted free legal clinics in the state to assist them. “It’s still onerous,” says Moore. “In New York, how do we do this in such a way that places the lowest burden possible on individuals who have already been wronged? Making it automatic.”

“I believe that the Governor's office shares the goal of Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes and I,” stated Senator Liz Krueger, “to create a mechanism for automatically clearing records for marijuana offenses that would no longer be crimes.” Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, carries the Legislature’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act along with Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat who is also the majority leader of the Assembly.

As for scope, Cuomo’s budget proposal would automatically clear the low-level possession convictions that make up the majority of marijuana arrests -- 800,000 over the last 20 years according to his office -- by amending existing record-sealing procedures. By contrast, Democrats in the Legislature have in recent legislative sessions proposed clearing more records: all possession-related, and some sale-related, convictions.

“We recognize and see where the governor was trying to go and we think it just needs to be much more expansive,” says Kassandra Frederique, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we are going to end the criminalization of marijuana in this state, then we have to end the criminalization of marijuana in this state, wholesale.”

"We have three goals,” Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David told Gotham Gazette, defending Cuomo’s proposal. “The first goal is to make sure that we advance social justice. The second is to advance economic development, and the third is to protect public health and safety. Our proposal addresses all three goals."

Currently there is no expungement procedure in New York, and the governor’s office has indicated he prefers sealing. But advocates say expungement would remove ambiguity. “You would be able to say, ‘I have no criminal record,’ and that would be the end of the conversation,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Emma Goodman, an expungement expert who helped draft relevant bill language shared with Krueger’s office in January.

Advocates have proposed that court records, including criminal complaints and any written decisions, be marked as expunged, while ancillary records such as fingerprints and mugshots are physically destroyed. (Even expunged marijuana convictions can be grounds for deportation, notes Immigrant Defense Project Supervising Attorney Marie Mark, so the proposal includes additional protective measures for non-citizens.)

“Expungement means completely erasing these convictions and criminal records to give New Yorkers of color a fresh start,” said Samaria Phillips, manager of the We Rise to Legalize campaign, in a statement. Her group is attending the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators’ annual conference on Saturday in Albany to call for expungement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also endorsed automatic expungement in a December 2018 task force report from his administration, with the caveat that district attorneys should have the ability to challenge on a case-by-case basis. “Expungement should occur as an automatic process…to minimize procedural burdens on those with past convictions,” the report states.

But in the interview, David emphasized the governor’s support for sealing. Because New York has strong sealing laws, he argued, the “impact of sealing is a functional equivalent of expungement, while immunizing the legislation from potential legal challenge.”

Senator Krueger’s chief of staff, Brad Usher, also confirmed that her office does not have a preference so long as the process is automatic.

“While sealing does essentially the same thing to the record, it does not bring the same level of clarity and peace of mind,” Goodman challenges. “Sealing is ambiguous and confusing for employers and people with convictions, whereas expungement is not.”

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

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Max & Murphy Podcast: A Hearing on Sexual Harassment in Albany


mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


February 13, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: A Hearing on Sexual Harassment in Albany, with Rita Pasarell of the Sexual Harassment Working Group

rita pasarell wbai 150Rita Pasarell was a victim of sexual harassment as a legislative aide and has more recently been an advocate pushing the state to hold public hearings on sexual harassment and improve its laws to combat the scourge in the public and private sectors. After much advocacy, the state Legislature held its first hearing in decades on Wednesday February 13. Pasarell and her colleagues were among those to testify. She joined the show to discuss the hearing and related issues.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Legislators Pursue Campaign Finance Reform for District Attorneys


cy vance manhattanda

Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: @ManhattanDA)


District attorneys wield nearly unfettered discretion as to whether to prosecute potential defendants, but nothing in the law prevents lawyers for the accused from donating to a district attorney’s election campaign. Most New Yorkers became aware of this glaring blindspot in the state’s campaign finance law in 2017, following news that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s campaign had accepted thousands of dollars from an attorney for Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood mogul who Vance’s office had declined to prosecute after he allegedly groped a woman and was caught on tape seemingly admitting to the act.

But the state Legislature could soon make sweeping changes to the rules governing district attorney campaign financing, as Assemblymember Dan Quart and Senator Liz Krueger, both Manhattan Democrats, are pursuing legislation to enact stringent restrictions on who can contribute, and how much, to candidates running for district attorney, of which there are 62, one for each county, across the state.

“Reforming of our campaign finance laws with respect to how district attorneys and candidates for district attorneys run is critical,” Quart said in a phone interview, “so that the public gets confidence that decisions made by district attorneys are on the merits and free of any conflicts.” Quart is rumored to be considering a run for Manhattan DA in 2021.

The proposed legislation would require that all district attorney candidates disclose to the state Board of Elections whether they have accepted campaign contributions from a law firm or an attorney at that law firm representing a criminal defendant in any New York state court. The bill would also mandate that the BOE create a statewide “legal dealings database” with the names of every licensed attorney, law firm or a firm executive who represents an individual or corporation in a criminal proceeding in any state court. The individuals and firms in the database would be restricted to donating only $320 to any district attorney candidate.

Spokespeople for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not respond to requests for comment about support for district attorney campaign finance reform. Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement, "The Governor has put forward a comprehensive ethics package in the Executive Budget and we will review any additional legislation if it passes both houses."

The proposal was first introduced by Quart in October 2017, shortly after Vance, a Democrat, requested an external, independent review of his campaign finances to rebut allegations that his office gave favorable treatment to Weinstein and other wealthy actual or potential defendants, including Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., whose lawyers gave to this campaign and who Vance’s office declined to prosecute for alleged criminal fraud in the sale of condos in the Trump SoHo hotel development.   

The review was conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia University, which issued seven recommendations for district attorney candidates to prevent real and perceived conflicts of interest or unconscious bias by prosecutors. They include blind fundraising (so candidates are not aware of donor identities), refusing or limiting contributions from donors with real or perceived conflicts, a strict firewall between a DA’s office and campaign, refusing contributions from one’s own office staff and their spouses, strong donor vetting processes, requiring certifications of eligibility to contribute, and published campaign contribution policies.  

Quart and Krueger’s bill would establish some of those firewalls. Quart’s legal dealings database is modelled on New York City’s own “doing business” database that logs companies and individuals who have contracts with the city and limits how much they can contribute to candidates in local elections. The $320 limit applies to candidates for borough president, whose districts are equivalent to the jurisdiction of a district attorney in the city. “I took those rules and that principle and applied it to district attorneys’ races,” Quart said.

The proposal would apply statewide. So, for instance, a law firm representing a defendant in Suffolk County wouldn’t be able to give more than $320 to a candidate running for Brooklyn District Attorney.

"It is vital that every New Yorker be able to trust our judicial system to reach conclusions based solely on the fact of cases, without even the perception that other influences might affect the results,” Senator Krueger said in a statement. “District Attorneys hold a singularly powerful position in our system, and therefore must be held to the highest standards to avoid potential conflicts of interest. This bill will help ensure that in New York, justice remains blind.”

The bill doesn’t cover all of CAPI’s recommendations, however. Berit Berger, executive director of CAPI, said the legislation is a “good start” but could go further. “The legislation does not require district attorneys to adopt blinding procedures that shield them from learning their donors’ identities,” she pointed out, in an email to Gotham Gazette. Blinding standards are currently used by candidates running for judicial seats in New York.

“As we explained in our report, this approach would most clearly address the conflicts of interest issue and safeguard against any conscious and unconscious bias in favor of campaign contributors,” Berger continued. “While the increased transparency from disclosing contributions from attorneys or firms representing criminal defendants is a great first step, I think more is needed to truly preserve the integrity of this fundraising process.”

It’s unclear if the bill will be supported or opposed by the District Attorneys Association of New York. Morgan Bitton, a DAASNY spokesperson, said the association is reviewing the proposal and that its legislative committee is set to meet later this month.

If the bill passes into law, Quart believes it could be in place for the 2021 elections. If he runs for Manhattan District Attorney that year, it would put him in contest with Vance, who will be up for reelection but has not declared whether he will run again or not. “My dissatisfaction with Cy Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney is well known,” Quart said, insisting that he had not made any decisions about his own political future yet. “I have said that whether this legislation passes or not, I would self-police in a way if I were a candidate in 2021.”

Whether Vance decides to seek reelection or not, the 2021 race could be a crowded one. This year, with no incumbent running, the race to be the next Queens District Attorney features more than half a dozen Democratic hopefuls, while races in the Bronx and on Staten Island with incumbents running again have sparse fields.

For his part, Vance, a former DAASNY president himself, supports Quart’s proposal. “As DA Vance said last year when he announced the most restrictive voluntary campaign finance limits of any elected prosecutor in New York, ‘legislative action is the surest way to achieve lasting, mandatory campaign finance reform,’” said a spokesperson for his campaign, who also noted Vance’s support for a public matching funds program for DA candidates, which is not part of the Quart-Krueger legislation, but could potentially be included in any broader public campaign finance system that Democrats in Albany hope to pass this year. Assemblymember Tom Abinanti, a Democrat, has reintroduced a bill this year that would establish such a public financing system for candidates for district attorney and supreme court justices. 

But the Vance spokesperson did say the Legislature should consider the feasibility of the legal dealings database proposal, which would be far more vast than New York City’s doing business portal. “As Columbia’s report notes with regard to the City database, ‘the class of individuals subject to Doing Business restrictions in New York City is relatively small, and is limited to senior company executives, major stakeholders, and registered lobbyists’ – as opposed to the vast and fluid population of lawyers who represent criminal defendants in New York State,” the spokesperson said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that Assemblymember Tom Abinanti reintroduced a bill on public financing for district attorneys and supreme court judges.  

Claiming Attempt to Silence Them, Advocacy Groups Oppose Cuomo Lobbying Proposal


Cuomo press conference

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 agenda includes a host of voting, campaign finance, and ethics reforms. Of three provisions related to government lobbying, one is spurring backlash from nonprofits, smaller advocacy organizations, and grassroots activists who feel threatened. Cuomo would like to require any individual or organization spending over $500 in a year on lobbying to be required to register as a lobbyist, lowering the threshold from $5,000.

The proposal is sparking outcry from nonprofit leaders and members, among others, who view the legislation as exclusionary of smaller organizations and unincorporated activist groups that do little formal lobbying and cannot afford the labor or time to navigate the state’s complex lobbying regulations. A letter from 15 New York nonprofits outlines vehement opposition to the new legislation. “Perversely, while this might increase the number of filings, it will effectively silence small groups while increasing the influence of big money in government,” the letter reads.

Signees include The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, the Hispanic Federation, Homeless Services United, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Lawyer’s Alliance, the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, and the NYC Immigration Coalition, among others.

In addition to lowering the registration threshold, Cuomo’s two other lobbying reforms include redefining “reportable business relationships,” i.e. compensation paid to individuals connected with lobbying, to those involving $500 or more, instead of the current $1,000.

The third provision would mandate a semi-annual report for lobbying expenditures exceeding $500, lowering the threshold from the current $5,000. Cuomo has included the three lobbying reforms in his policy book and Executive Budget, setting the stage for negotiations with the Legislature before a budget deal is due April 1 for the new fiscal year.

According to the governor’s office, his larger bill is a multipronged reform package. “It’s not just lobbying reform. It’s lobbying reform, and campaign finance reform, and independent expenditure reform, and voting reform, and procurement reform. It’s all related and we have an unprecedented opportunity to increase transparency and disclosure and improve our democracy for the better. The fact that some self-described reform groups are against reform speaks to the problem in better ways than I can,” said Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo.

Co-signers of the letter believe the bill would limit their ability to participate in New York democracy, and some observers of state politics believe it is purposefully aimed at quieting Cuomo critics.

Jim Purcell, chief executive officer of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, made the decision to add his organization to the letter. “It’s not a fundamental disagreement about accountability, but this is taken in a direction that’s unnecessary and burdensome,” he said.

Purcell gave an example of how quickly an individual can hit $500 in lobbying expenditure. “The train back and forth to Albany is $100. A cab is $20. An organization that spends one day a year lobbying or organizing a letter to support foster care for kids, it ends up feeling like you don’t want to hear from us.”

From a bigger picture perspective, $287 million was spent in 2017 on lobbying state government by 3,415 filers, per the latest available data from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Laura Abel, senior counsel for the Lawyer’s Alliance, an organization that co-signed the letter, said the top 100 filers spent 22 percent of the total amount, which translates to $63 million. By contrast, 390 filers spent less than $10,000.

“It’s a lot like election spending, where you’ve got a handful of really wealthy people and companies putting in most of the money. And then you’ve got a lot of small, really small spenders.” said Abel.

Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit watchdog that advocates for transparency and accountability at the state and city levels, also opposes the governor’s proposed lobbying reform. Its analysis, released last month, cites New York State’s 92 pages of lobbying regulations as “some of the most comprehensive in the country,” consisting of “carefully tracking and reporting compensation, expenses, hours spent lobbying, persons lobbied, and bills, executive orders, and procurement lobbied on in addition to potentially having to disclose reportable business relationships.”

Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for the organization, said “We think the benefits of the additional transparency are exceeded by the cost of burdens on smaller organizations.”

The burden of the legislation, if enacted, also goes in another direction. JCOPE commissioners during a January 29 meeting to discuss the governor’s proposed budget recognized what would be added responsibility for regulators. After the proposed legislation was read aloud, commissioner James E. Dering said, “Requiring lobbyists to spend $500 or more would precipitously increase the resources needed. One would hope if this is enacted there will be resources provided certainly at that time, but we may need resources in advance to gear up for that. It would be quite an increase.”

While many typically think of lobbying as done by high-powered for-hire firms, it takes many forms. As Purcell said, “I can hear someone saying ‘Lobbying is a dirty business, and I don’t want to do that,’ but if you want to have your voice heard, you have to visit your local official or go to Albany.”

Note - This article has been updated.

De Blasio Testifies in Albany; State Sexual Harassment Hearing & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 11


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week looks like it will be dominated by several storylines:

-Controversy over comments made by City Council Member Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr. that the City Council is "controlled by the homosexual community," as reported by NY1's Juan Manual Benitez. Diaz Sr.'s comments, the latest in a long line of controversial and bigoted statements, have been met with condemnation by many, and calls to resign from some, including many of his Council colleagues. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- who sought Diaz Sr.'s support for his speakership bid and rewarded him with the creation of a new committee for him to chair -- said Sunday that the Council is looking into its options for consequences for Diaz Sr., who said he has no plans to resign and refused to apologize for his comments.

-Monday will see Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local officials testify at a legislative budget hearing in Albany. It is de Blasio's yearly trip to the capital to discuss the governor's executive budget plan, the city's top state government priorities and funding needs, and to take questions from legislators.

-Wednesday will see a joint legislative hearing on sexual harassment in New York, both the public and private sectors. The hearing will also include discussion of how to improve upon the anti-sexual harassment laws passed last year without public hearings. Victims and alleged victims of harassment are expected to testify, including about how sexual misconduct has been part of a culture in state government in Albany and the systemic failures to address it that persisted for a long time, and may still have remnants even as awareness has been heightened and new laws have been passed.

-Tuesday will mark just two weeks until the February 26 special election for Public Advocate. Candidates are raising money, getting their messages out, working to secure endorsements, and trying to make sure they qualify for the second televised debate, which will be on NY1 on February 20.

It will also be a very busy week of hearings at the City Council, including a Stated Meeting of the full Council, at which new bills are introduced and those that have passed committee are voted on by the full body. That's not it, though. As always, there are a variety of events to be aware of - see our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, State Senator James Sanders will hold a press at the State Capitol to discuss new legislation for a “Green New Deal for New York.” [Read about Sanders’ proposal here: State Senate Bill Would Advance Framework for More Aggressive Green New Deal in New York]

Also at 10:30 a.m. Monday in Albany, “dozens of Mayors and village officials from across New York State” will hold a press conference “to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore over $60 million in funding to municipal governments across the State,” according to a press release from Village of Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on “local government officials/general government.” Mayor Bill de Blasio will be the first to testify at the hearing. After the mayor, Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will each testify, as will leaders from other cities around the state.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Justice System will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots (MARCH), as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to issue quarterly reports on MARCH.
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring landlords to take steps to eradicate “indoor asthma allergen hazards” and to establish a “demonstration program” for legal basement apartments in East New York.
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the Astoria transformer explosion and the transition to a green grid,” as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to study and issue a report on the feasibility of replacing gas power plants with renewables.
--The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at noon to discuss the DCAS provisional employee reduction plan.
--The Committee on Immigration will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding IDNYC.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 1:15 p.m. Monday, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, CUNY Interim Vice Chancellor Christopher Rosa, other elected officials, and student leaders will rally at the State Capitol to demand greater funding for students with disabilities in New York colleges.

At 5 p.m. Monday, there will be a meeting of the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet in Albany for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

On Tuesday, the State Legislature will hold joint budget hearings on:
--Economic development at 9:30 a.m.
--Taxes at 1 p.m.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Finance and Subcommittee on the Capital Budget will meet jointly at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring city agencies to electronically notify elected officials and community board members of delays in capital projects and requiring the city to create a publicly searchable database on all pending capital projects.
--The Committees on Juvenile Justice and Youth Services will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “runaway and homeless youth (RHY) and the juvenile justice system.”
--The Committee on Technology will meet at 1:30 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “Commission on Public Information and Communication’s collaboration in developing city information policies and promoting governmental transparency.”

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a public meeting at 125 Worth Street.

At noon Tuesday, Council Member Brad Lander, Families for Safe Streets, TransAlt, and the Red Hook Community Justice Center will rally at the City Hall steps to demand passage of the Reckless Driver Accountability Act.

Starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, faculty unions and student activists from SUNY and CUNY will hold a lobbying day in Albany to press lawmakers for full funding of public higher education.

Wednesday
The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. It will be prefaced by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s pre-stated press conference.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Immigration will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a resolution calling on the State Legislature to pass a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committees on Investigations, Ethics, and Women’s Issues, the Assembly Standing Committees on Governmental Operations and Labor, and the Task Force on Women’s Issues will hold a public hearing in Albany to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committees on General Welfare and Higher Education will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “food insecurity in New York City.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws prohibiting and establishing penalties for cashless businesses, and requiring cash-only businesses to post signage indicating that they only accept cash.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will join CNN commentator Symone Sanders for a discussion at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet at the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will deliver her inaugural address at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx.

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

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette



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