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$8.4M Muni ID Program Budget Includes $1.8M for Advertising


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IDNYC promotion, from Twitter (@IDNYC)


 

Let the marketing campaign commence. There will be more than two thousand advertisements in three languages across subways, buses, check cashing facilities, laundromats, nail and hair salons. You'll see advertisements in citywide newspapers and community and ethnic papers in numerous languages. Listen for radio ads running in nine languages. All that and watch for a PSA playing in taxis and online featuring Mayor Bill de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. That's the vast extent of the campaign city officials say will promote the country's largest municipal identification program.

IDNYC, the City's much-awaited, ambitious initiative aimed at providing photo identification to many thousands of New Yorkers, officially launched Monday to much fanfare and a massive marketing initiative. To promote the card, the City is unleashing a $1.8 million outdoor public awareness campaign, coordinated among different city agencies, advocates, and community organizers by a Campaign Outreach Director hired by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. Teams of neighborhood organizers are also spreading the word.

In total, the IDNYC program will cost the city approximately $8.4 million in 2015, a city official confirmed. For New Yorkers, the card will be free of charge this year and city officials do not have estimates for how much it might cost next year, though Mayor Bill de Blasio said it would be a small fee as he happily announced the program launch at a Monday press conference in Queens.

Along with the free one-year membership to 33 cultural institutions that comes with the card, the Mayor today announced a host of benefits to appeal to a wide swathe of residents. These include the card's acceptance by ten large financial institutions, including Amalgamated Bank, Carver Federal Savings Bank and Popular Community Bank. The ID will also be integrated with BigAppleRx, the city's prescription drug discount card. Along with these benefits, cardholders will receive discounts on movie and Broadway show tickets, theme parks, sports events, and other discounts at facilities like NYC Parks Recreation Centers, YMCAs, New York Sports Club and Food Bazaar.

These partners and others, such as public libraries, will also be involved in outreach and advertising efforts to boost enrollment.

To call the program a success, the City is hoping to enroll more than one percent of the population. Other cities with similar ID programs have seen an enrollment rate of about one percent, but a city official explained that New York expects to top that figure because of the city's demographics. With New York's diversity, large number of undocumented immigrants, and many residents who don't have a state driver's license because they rely on the city's public transit system, it is well positioned. Add in what the official called "a card program that has the most significant package of benefits nationwide" and there is optimism about higher enrollment than what other cities have seen.

One key feature of the card - a military veteran designation and associated benefits - that the Mayor proudly revealed Monday, will be delayed until later this year.

The media campaign was formulated in consultation with different city agencies to ensure maximum exposure and CUNY's Center for Community and Ethnic Media provided a list of media outlets. Outreach efforts will be "ongoing" the official said, as the program expands with new features.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@SamarKhurshid

Note: This article has been corrected to more accurately capture the role that CUNY's Center for Community and Ethnic Media (CCEM) played in the ID program planning. CCEM was not a strategic partner. 

Military Veteran Designation on Municipal IDs Delayed


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Mayor de Blasio launching the IDNYC program (photo: @NYCMayorsOffice)


On Monday New York City officially launched its new municipal identification card program, called IDNYC. The new form of ID, which will be accepted by city agencies including the NYPD and some financial institutions, gives a new opportunity to New Yorkers currently unable to get state or federal identification due to immigration or housing status.

During the press conference announcing the roll-out of IDNYC, Mayor Bill de Blasio made special reference to the benefits military veterans would receive with the new ID.

"We want to make sure that every veteran gets all the support and the benefits due to them, so there will be a special veterans designations on this card to help each and every veteran get the benefits they deserve," de Blasio said at the press conference.

But the cards being issued this week will not have a military veteran designation. In fact, the only mention of anything related to veterans on the two-page card application is the use of a military ID as one form of documentation that can be used to apply.

Gotham Gazette reached out to the mayor's press office for clarification and was told the veterans designation will be added "later this year," according to an email from a city official who would only communicate on background. The official said neither a veteran-identifying logo nor a date for availability had yet been determined.

It is unclear at this point how the City will identify veterans for the new ID. Beginning January 1, 1950 the Defense Department issued all veterans a DD214 form upon being discharged (honorably or otherwise). But veterans who deserted their posts (which happened with some frequency during the Vietnam War) did not get DD214 forms. In addition, homeless veterans may no longer have the papers.

It is also unclear if veterans with dishonorable discharges will be allowed veteran status with IDNYC cards. Veterans with dishonorable discharges are not allowed to receive VA medical benefits.

When asked by Gotham Gazette what paperwork veterans would need to identify as a veteran and if dishonorable discharges would be accepted, the city official said, "We will make that information available at the time of designation launch."

The official added the City would be reaching out to the veterans community for input on these issues in the coming months.

***
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

As Temps Drop, Urgency to Care for the Homeless Rises


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Bowery Mission resident receiving a coat from the New York Cares coat drive (photo: Zehra Rehman)


He calls her his angel. James Macklin was sleeping in a subway train when a woman woke him up in the middle of the night, Dec. 28, 1987. She gave him a slip of paper with information about the Bowery Mission. That piece of paper changed his life.

A few weeks later, Macklin went to the mission, a shelter for homeless men. He had lost his business and become homeless due to a cocaine addiction. He joined the mission's addiction recovery program. After a year of the program, Macklin stayed on and started working there. Almost 27 years later, he is still working at the Bowery Mission. He tried but could never find the woman who had brought him there. Today, Macklin is trying to provide the same opportunity to others in situations like the one he was in when his angel called.

They can be seen on many of New York's streets, bundled up to avoid the elements. While New York City is known as a city of lights and glamor, it is the most populous city in the country and also the city with the largest homeless population. Because of the scale of the problem, in 1993, New York became the first American city to create a department specifically to deal with the issue, the Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Each winter, as the city faces below freezing temperatures, the homeless population struggles to seek shelter, keep warm, and survive. And each winter, the city's activists shift into high gear, and strain under the weight of evermore to do in trying to help homeless New Yorkers survive.

"Everything is magnified by cold weather in the homeless world," said Jeff Foreman, director of policy and advocacy at Care for the Homeless. To help the city's homeless overcome these problems, there are dozens of private and religious organizations, some working in partnership with the city, that provide facilities such as shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries, and clothing banks. Many of these organizations must and do step up their efforts in the critical winter months.

As the weather gets colder, DHS also puts in place a policy called Code Blue, which comes into effect when temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Under Code Blue, the number of DHS outreach vans in the field is increased to check on the street homeless. These outreach teams try to convince those on the street to go into shelters or even bring them involuntarily if a life appears to be at risk due to the cold.

The homeless population of New York City is increasing each year and is at the highest since the Great Depression, according to the advocacy group Coalition for the Homeless. DHS reported that 58,433 people slept in shelters on the night of Jan. 8. The actual number of homeless in the city is much higher as this figure does not include those sleeping in church shelters or shelters designated for veterans, HIV/AIDS patients, or victims of domestic violence, according to Foreman. There are also thousands of unsheltered homeless in the city, the exact number of whom DHS will try to count on Jan. 26 in its annual Homeless Outreach Population Estimate. Still, organizations working for the homeless believe that this count underestimates the actual number of unsheltered.

One of the main factors behind the rapid increase in the number of homeless is the lack of affordable housing in New York, according to Gabriela Sandoval, policy analyst at the Coalition for the Homeless. Another contributing factor advocates for the homeless point to is the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg ending programs that provided priority access to public housing. According to Sandoval and Foreman, the Bloomberg administration was concerned that these programs were incentivizing homelessness as people were coming into the shelter system just to get public housing. Once the administration ended these programs, there was a large increase in the homeless population of New York City.

The adult population in homeless shelters increases each winter, according to Sandoval and Foreman. Meanwhile, the city's unsheltered often suffer hypothermia and even death due to exposure to the cold. "As systems get overloaded, the health problems get worse," said Foreman, whose organization provides healthcare exclusively for the homeless. Last winter was particularly severe, leading DHS, under the administration of new Mayor Bill de Blasio, to reinstitute a previous version of the city's Code Blue policy. Under this version of Code Blue, homeless families are provided shelter in any DHS facility without the usual intake process. The return to this version of the policy is "very important" for homeless families as they would no longer have to go through the usual eligibility assessment at a time when the homeless population is "at high risk of having health issues or perishing," Sandoval said.

New York is a "right to shelter" city and is thus obligated to provide shelter to any eligible adult who seeks it. This is the result of a consent decree signed in 1981 to settle Callahan v. Carey, a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Robert Callahan and other homeless men in New York City. Under the judgment, city-run shelters are also required to provide a certain minimum standard of facilities. The consent decree came too late for Robert Callahan, who died while living on the street. However, since then the "right to shelter" has helped many thousands of homeless get access to city shelters.

With this winter expected to be another severe one, city-run and private organizations must take further precautions to protect the vulnerable homeless population. In addition to city-owned and operated shelters, there are many others that the City has contracted to non-profit and for-profit organizations. Some of these shelters only operate in colder weather. There are also smaller shelters across the city that have to meet the increased winter needs of the homeless. Many of those shelters are run by faith-based organizations, such as the Bowery Mission where Macklin is now director of outreach. Once the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the Bowery Mission staff moves tables in the dining hall and pews in the chapel to accommodate around 200 extra men. "It's miserable to have to survive in temperature like this," Macklin said from his own experience.

To accommodate and feed the 200 additional people in winter, the Bowery Mission relies on extra donations around Thanksgiving, according to kitchen manager Trevor Mathura. The donations received during the holiday season help the mission handle the extra demands throughout winter. While the immediate challenge is to help people survive the cold season, Macklin says the mission also tries to find long-term solutions to "pull people out of the cycle of drugs, alcohol and brokenness." Having broken free of that same cycle with the help of the mission, helping others turn their lives around is what Macklin finds most rewarding about his work.

Mary House is another shelter in the Bowery that is dependent on the generosity of donors to help the homeless. Completely run by volunteers and residents, it houses 30 women and serves lunch to an additional 30 homeless women, according to house manager Joanne Kennedy. She says winter is a time when they are "extremely motivated." They provide warm clothing including hats and gloves and sometimes even provide fare for homeless women to sleep on subways rather than have to sleep outdoors in the cold. Kennedy says that they are lucky that the holidays align with the winter season; it is the time when the need is most but also when people's generosity is at its highest. Through careful rationing, they are able to make what supplies they receive between Thanksgiving and Christmas last until the end of winter.

Joan Stevens-Yates became homeless after an illness and the death of her husband. She stays most nights in a city-run shelter but comes to Mary House for lunch, laundry, clothes and other needs. On nights when she is not able to stay in shelters, she sleeps outdoors, such as in bus stations. "Horrible" is the only word she has to describe the experience. "The homeless have it so very hard," she said.

Stevens-Yates finds shelters run by non-profits and faith-based organizations to be much better than those run by the city. "The city shelter system is a monster," she said. Advocates for the homeless and administrators of church shelters have also reported reluctance among the homeless to go to city-run shelters due to problems such as thefts and general lack of security. When contacted, employees at one city-run shelter and two drop-in centers all said they were not allowed to comment or give any information about their facilities. DHS also did not respond to questions by phone or through email.

St. Luke's Lutheran Church, located in the Theatre District, also helps the city's homeless by running a soup kitchen and clothing bank. Despite a spike in the number of donations in the holiday season, Pastor Paul Schmiege says that they do not receive enough clothing to meet the "particularly critical need" for winter clothing and footwear. To supplement donations, the church contacts local hotels and dry cleaners to collect unclaimed clothes and shoes. "You have to be resourceful," said the pastor. St. Luke's also coordinates with other churches and a synagogue in the neighborhood providing similar services. Despite the need for shelters, soup kitchens, and clothing banks, Schmiege described their function as "like going to the doctor and being treated for the symptoms but not treating the cause." He believes that the City needs to work with social services to get people off the streets not just during the winter but for the long term.

While not housing people, one organization that has a program specifically to provide the homeless with warm clothing is New York Cares. For the last 26 winters, the organization has done a coat drive to collect and distribute coats to New York's homeless population. The organization says it has distributed over 1.6 million coats during this time.

This year New York Cares has received a request for over 100,000 coats, according to their executive director Gary Bagley. He says the donated coats represent "warmth and dignity" for their recipients. Retired NBA player Nate "Tiny" Archibald was at the coat drive launch on Nov. 17 and distributed coats to residents of the Bowery Mission. He hopes those coats can help people make it through the winter because "it's all about survival."

Foreman describes the problem of homelessness in New York City as "bad, growing, and it could be a whole lot worse." However, with the change in administrations from Bloomberg to de Blasio, advocates for the homeless are expressing hope, even as numbers continue to rise. Both Coalition for the Homeless and Care for the Homeless have pointed to an improvement in policies under de Blasio, such as a restoration of housing subsidy programs. According to Foreman, "Poor policy decisions created modern day homelessness, so good policies could end it."

While advocates are positive about the new policies, the homeless population is still increasing. According to Foreman, the problem is that measures such as the restoration of housing subsidies are not enough to deal with how great the problem has become. "We're just happy to have a tool, but the problem is that it is not scaled to size," he said.

During harsh New York City winters, the immense challenges of being homeless are exacerbated. Despite any problems there may be in shelters, tens of thousands go each night. The reason, as Stevens-Yates explains it, is simple: "it's warm and that's the most important part."

***
Zehra Rehman is pursuing a graduate degree in Journalism and International Relations at NYU.

First-Ever NYPD Inspector General Report Examines Chokeholds, Previews Next Major Investigations


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DOI Commissioner Peters, right, and IG Philip Eure (photo: @jill_jorgensen)


On Monday, the new Inspector General (IG) for the NYPD is presenting his first report to Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. The report, authored by Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters and his chosen NYPD IG Philip Eure, deals with "accountability and transparency in substantiated chokehold cases" against NYPD officers. It finds several areas of concern, including that recommendations for punishment of officers found to have used department-banned chokeholds were often not followed by former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The report's release comes at a fraught time in mayoral-NYPD relations and amid ongoing controversy around a Staten Island grand jury's decision not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Eric Garner's July death. There is also an internal NYPD investigation into Pantaleo's actions, which makes the report all the more relevant. As does the fact that City Council Member Rory Lancman has a bill with 29 sponsors (of a 51-member body) to make NYPD use of a chokehold during an arrest a misdemeanor offense.

Lancman recently told Gotham Gazette that he believes it is time to move forward with a hearing on his bill, which he sees as necessary because the NYPD has not been successful in stopping officers from using chokeholds despite a decades-old ban on their use.

Significantly, the new report from the Department of Investigation and Inspector General also explains three other major areas that the IG's office will be issuing reports on: "patterns of low-level arrests and summonses" (aka Broken Windows policing); "surveillance of religious and political groups," and "police encounters involving people with mental illness." No timetable for these subsequent investigations or reports is given, but it is made clear in the introduction to the chokehold report that the initial wave of work done by the new IG office yielded these four key areas of concern among stakeholders in NYPD practice.

For the IG office's first report, though, Peters and Eure examine what happened in ten recent cases where officers were found to have improperly used force by chokehold. The report highlights that when the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) issues disciplinary recommendations in such cases, they are often ignored. It also looks at problems with communication and training - some of which, the report acknowledges, are already being addressed by the mayor and police commissioner through such efforts as a new training course for all NYPD officers.

The report makes clear that "the death of a Staten Island man, Eric Garner, on July 17, 2014, after he was brought to the ground by an officer's arm around his neck in the course of an arrest, cast a spotlight on the use of chokeholds by NYPD officers and the enforcement of the chokehold prohibition." The report includes suggestions related to consistent discipline, better communication, and more, but as expected, it does not reference Council Member Lancman's bill.

Just days before the report's publication, Lancman told Gotham Gazette that it is time to move forward on police-reform legislation, including his. He said he expects a hearing on his and other NYPD-related bills in the coming weeks, though there is none scheduled at this time. If and when one occurs, it is likely that the IG's report will feature prominently.

On his chokehold bill, Lancman said, "The goal, ultimately,...is not to punish cops or put more cops in jail, it's to deter cops from using this particular maneuver. Because it's so dangerous, because the NYPD itself has said they shouldn't perform it."

"The misconduct is dangerous," Lancman reiterated. And, according to Peters and Eure's report, it is not being punished by the NYPD. "I don't want to tell the police how to do their job," Lancman continued, "but the way that they are doing their jobs is leading to people being killed who shouldn't be killed."

In November, Mayor de Blasio explained his opposition to Lancman's bill: "I think the best way to handle that is through NYPD policy, and what's going to happen is the retraining of the entire police department, on a variety of approaches, including the fact that the chokehold is not an appropriate tool to use. But I've also said publicly, and I'll say it again – there are some exceptional situations, and I want to respect our men and women in uniform who may be put into a life and death situation, literally one-on-one, them and a perpetrator who could literally mean to kill them, and they have to defend themselves – and that might involve a chokehold. And so I don't think it should be made a matter of a legal prohibition, I think it should be handled by department policy."

Lancman counters the mayor's points by saying that not only is the NYPD not appropriately ridding its ranks of chokehold use, but that there is nothing about his bill that could or does override the legal fact that anyone - police officer or not - may use whatever force necessary to defend themselves in a life-or-death situation.

***
by Ben Max, editor, Gotham Gazette
@TweetBenMax

Note: this article has been updated to remove mention of Peters and Eure appearing Monday on the Brian Lehrer Show - they were scheduled to appear, but had to cancel last minute according to Mr. Lehrer.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 11


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics - we're taking you through next Monday, the Martin Luther King Day holiday (we'll publish our next Week Ahead Monday night (the 19th) instead of Sunday):

This week is likely to be dominated by the following three storylines, perhaps among others that will spring up:

  • The 2015 legislative session in Albany, with legislators formally in session on Monday and Tuesday. Lawmakers are awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State speech, which was pushed back to Jan. 21 after the death of the governor's father. The Cuomo administration announced a slate of new appointments, promotions, and departures on Sunday as the governor's second term gets going.
  • The Mayor and the NYPD: tensions remain high between Mayor Bill de Blasio and police union leadership (and some rank-and-file, to be sure). There has been a bit of a cooling off period of late, but the conversation is sure to heat up again this week - starting with the Monday release of a report on NYPD chokeholds by the office of the new NYPD Inspector General, Philip Eure (it's the office's first report). There will surely be more focus on the NYPD slowdown that has been happening over the past several weeks.
  • The special election in New York's 11th Congressional District: Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan will be the Republican candidate in the race to replace Michael Grimm (a date for the special election has yet to be set by the governor) and the Democratic nominee should be determined soon. Donovan's candidacy is certain to keep tensions high around the Eric Garner case - Donovan presented the grand jury case against Policer Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose chokehold led to Garner's death.
  • Bringing these last two items together, watchers are still awaiting word from the NYPD investigation into the conduct of Pantaleo and his fellow officers in the Garner incident. We're also awaiting news from the federal investigation into the case. But, there's no indication news on either of these investigations is coming this week.

Also this week, the city's municipal identification card program is set to officially launch, we'll be watching to see enrollment numbers and what kind of a push the de Blasio administration and partners are making to boost membership, especially of New Yorkers other than the undocumented. Mayor de Blasio starts the week holding a Monday press conference to announce the launch, at which City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will also speak. The event will be held at the Queens Public Library.

And, there's a New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) filing deadline this week for 2017 candidates for city offices. Always interesting to watch as those filings occur.

For those community groups seeking funding, the City Council's application for discretionary funds in the next fiscal year is up. And, it's a somewhat busy week of hearings at the City Council too, details 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: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Monday is set to see an education-related rally in Albany organized by Alliance for Quality Education (AQE). AQE has been a frequent critic of Gov. Cuomo's education agenda and is putting together Monday's gathering to influence the discussion as legislators begin to consider education bills in the new session. The group says it is pushing for fairness in funding in education and says thousands are expected at Monday's mid-day rally.

On Monday morning, DOI Commissioner Mark Peters and NYPD IG Philip Eure will be on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show discussing the IG office's first-ever report, which deals with chokehold use and punishment in the NYPD.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer begins his week with one public event, according to his public schedule: he'll attend and give remarks at "We Remember Haiti" Monday evening at 1199-SEIU headquarters in Manhattan.

Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito, among others, will be launching the city's municipal ID card program on Monday at the Queens Library. Later on Monday, Mark-Viverito will appear on WABC radio at 5:20 p.m., according to her public schedule.

As we mentioned, the State Legislature is in session Monday and Tuesday this week.

Monday's City Council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Transportation to discuss bills relating to "removing the off-street parking requirement for base station licenses;" "prohibiting for hire vehicles from charging excessive rates;" "agreements between livery base stations;" and "allowing the taxi and limousine commission to consider improved trouble lights for use in licensed vehicles."

There'll also be a meeting of the Subcommittee on Senior Centers for an oversight hearing regarding "Examining DFTA's Senior Center RFP Process and Criteria for Subcontracted Senior Center Services."

The City Department of Consumer Affairs is holding a "Public Hearing and Opportunity to Comment on Proposed Rules for Pregnancy Services Center Disclosures" on Monday morning.

On Monday at 5:30 p.m. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer "testifies at Hudson River Park Trust hearing on proposed Pier 54 redevelopment project" at NYU, according to her office.

Also at 5:30 Monday, it's the Queens Borough Board Meeting, led by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz: "The Borough Board is chaired by the Borough President under the New York City Charter and comprised of the borough's City Council members and the chairperson of each Community Board in the borough."

Monday evening will see "Re-envisioning Branch Libraries Design Study Presentations" at the New School. "The School of Media Studies will be hosting Re-envisioning Branch Libraries Design Study Presentations with co-sponosor, Center for an Urban Future and in partnership with Parsons School of Constructed Environments. New York City's 207 branch libraries are serving more New Yorkers in more ways than ever before."

Also Monday evening: "NYC Open Data's Python Machine Learning Class Demo Day...Learn with our NYC Data Science Program (We offered corporate and individual training for more than 40 firms in NYC alone). We offer 12 week immersive program, weekend and weekday night Data Science training."

Tuesday
New York's casino siting panel meets again on Tuesday, perhaps to take up the governor's request to site a fourth casino in the Southern Tier.

Tuesday morning is "Crain's Business Breakfast Forum: Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.," who will discuss "transformative criminal justice investments he's making"; "New strategies and tools to combat cybercrime"; "How public-private partnerships can fight financial crime and human trafficking" and more.

The New York State Legislature Public Hearing Calendar for Tuesday includes the Assembly Committee on Health's public hearing on "The New York Health bill to create state single payer health coverage."

Tuesday's City Council schedule includes a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises to review proposed land use applications; a meeting of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses to review land use applications; a meeting of the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions to review the land use calendar for the week; and a meeting of the Committee on Environmental Protection to discuss legislation on the "use of biodiesel fuel in the city ferry fleet" and the "use of biodiesel fuel in marine craft owned or operated by the department of environmental protection."

Tuesday morning is the Queens Borough Cabinet Meeting led by Queens BP Katz. "The Borough Cabinet is chaired by the Borough President under the New York City Charter and comprised of the District Managers of each Community Board in the Borough and representatives from city agencies. It focuses on city service delivery and agency responsiveness across the borough and hears presentations on these issues from City officials and others."

On Tuesday evening, "Danielle Allen – "Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality...Join us at Roosevelt House for a special evening exploring the argument — and contemporary meaning — of The Declaration of Independence, the foundational statement of America's commitment to equality.Danielle Allen, author of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, discusses her acclaimed book in conversation with Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, and professor of law at New York Law School."

From New York Tech Meet-Up: "NYTM + Silicon Harlem Demo Night @ Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Summit" on Tuesday. "Join us along with Silicon Harlem at the 18th Annual Rainbow PUSH Wall Street Project Economic Summit."

Wednesday
In big education happenings, according to a WNYC report: "Teacher Tenure: oral arguments on whether or not a lawsuit challenging the state's teacher tenure laws can proceed are scheduled for Jan. 14, before a state judge on Staten Island. The case was brought by families who believe their children's right to a sound basic education is being violated by tenure. The teachers unions claim tenure is a guarantee of due process. The suit is modeled after a similar one in California."

Wednesday's City Council schedule includes the Committee on General Welfare holding an oversight hearing on "EarlyLearn NYC" programming.

Including one on Wednesday morning, "The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is hosting a series of trainings to help employers understand their responsibilities under the Paid Sick Leave
Law."

On Wednesday, BetaNYC Civic Hacknight in Manhattan: "What is a civic hacknight? This is a weekly project night is for technologists, designers, developers, data scientists, map makers, and activists who are working on "civic technology" projects. Consider this to be a study hall or office hours to improve the city."

Thursday
Thursday morning is the Manhattan Borough Board Meeting, led by Manhattan BP Gale Brewer.

Also Thursday morning: Brooklyn Newsmakers with Commissioner Bratton and Borough President Eric L. Adams: "Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, in collaboration with Hon. Eric L. Adams, Brooklyn Borough President invite you to attend: Breakfast with Police Commissioner of City of New York, William J. Bratton."

Thursday's City Council schedule includes a meeting of the Committee on Finance to review a bill related to "interest rate and discount rate recommendations provided by the NYC Banking Commission" and a meeting of the Committee on Land Use to review "all items reported out of the Subcommittees and such other business as may be necessary."

Thursday is a NYC CFB 2017 filing day deadline; via Twitter: "Attention candidates! Next #NYC2017 #FilingDay deadline is Thursday, 1/15. You can start filing Monday, 1/12."

On Thursday, "the Federal Reserve Banks of New York, Atlanta, Cleveland and Philadelphia will release findings from a joint regional survey on small business credit conditions. The Small Business Credit Survey captures information on the financing decisions and credit experiences of smaller firms in the Northeast. This year, the survey has been expanded to include insights from small businesses – on both the aggregate and state levels – from selected parts of the Southeast and Midwest. The survey was conducted during the fall of 2014."

City Council Member Andy King will host an Open House For 12th District Constituents on Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: "Joining Council Member King will be his staff and representatives from city agencies, who will be available to answer community questions. The open house also celebrates the observance of the birthday of the slain civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."

Thursday evening, "Affordable Housing Crisis - A Community Discussion with City & State Officials and Housing Advocates" including featured speakers "NYS Senators: Velmanette Montgomery & Jesse Hamilton; NYS Assembly Members: James Brennan; Karim Camara; Joseph Lentol; Walter Mosley; Felix Ortiz; Annette Robinson; Jo Anne Simon; Latrice Walker; NYC Council Members: Carlos Menchaca; Robert Cornegy, Jr.; Laurie Cumbo; and Stephen Levin."

From Brooklyn BP Eric Adams, "On Thursday, January 15th, from 6:00 PM until 8:30 PM at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, located at 85 South Oxford Street, I am joining many of my city and state elected colleagues in hosting a community discussion about our affordable housing crisis. Among the speakers in attendance will be representatives from the New York State Department of Homes and Community Renewal and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, as well as housing advocates. Topics to be discussed include stabilizing our affordable housing supply, addressing our state's expiring rent laws and organizing for action."

Friday and the (long, Martin Luther King Day) weekend
More things are sure to pop up for the end of the week, but so far on our Friday radar, a roundtable on veteran-owned businesses: "New York City is home to thousands of veterans who have selflessly volunteered to serve and protect our fellow Americans from harm, and the city is dedicated to ensuring that they receive the resources they need to succeed. The city recently released a report on veteran entrepreneurship and created several recommendations on how we can better meet the needs of veteran business owners by improving training, outreach, networking, and identification. Please join Mayor's Office for Veterans' Affairs Commissioner Loree Sutton and the Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer for roundtable discussions...to learn more about city's veterans report and give feedback on the report recommendations."

On Sunday, "Presented as part of the Apollo Theater's Uptown Hall series, WNYC brings its annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration uptown. This year's event will explore the 50 years since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. WNYC's Brian Lehrer and MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry will guide us through the past half-century and explore the significant moments leading to today's democratic landscape in America. This year's event will also honor the legacies of the great civil rights leaders who we lost last year: Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, and Yuri Kochiyama."

And on Monday, a "march for justice" being organized by criminal justice reform groups. See our report for more details.

***
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: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Rati Mukhuradze and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Advocates Expect 'More Professional,' Unified 2015 Push For Transgender Rights


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Transgender rights advocates (photo: @courtneymichie)


In December the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender girl from Ohio, garnered national attention. The teen left a note on her Tumblr blog saying that she hoped her death would spark conversation about discrimination, abuse, and lack of support for transgender youth. Alcorn had come out to her parents about her gender identity and was sent to a Christian conversion therapy to "cure" her.

"The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren't treated the way I was, they're treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights," Alcorn wrote.

Despite being a leader on civil rights issues, New York currently allows mental health professionals to practice conversion therapy - which can include severe punishments like isolation and shock therapy and that has been discredited by the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association.

Advocates and legislators in New York say the conversation over Alcorn's death has in some ways galvanized efforts to ban conversion therapy in New York and to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA. While there has been an ongoing push behind GENDA, proponents are increasingly feeling 2015 may be the year.

The Empire State Pride Agenda launched a Change.org petition this week to garner support for the bills. Advocates and legislators say it is just the start of a renewed and focused campaign that they hope will mimic the successful push for marriage equality in the state by drawing in major celebrities and business interests associated with the cause. One advocate called the new push "more professional."

"We're doing everything possible to make 2015 the year we finally pass GENDA, as well as the bill to protect LGBT youth from conversion efforts," said Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Nathan Schaefer. "It's our 25th Anniversary year and a landmark time for our community, as increased visibility and more inclusive laws sweep across the nation. These issues are not partisan, they're not progressive; they're life or death for tens of thousands of New Yorkers, and our lawmakers need to rise up and protect those they represent."

Last year the Assembly passed the conversion ban bill but the Senate did not bring it to a vote. Meanwhile, the Assembly has passed GENDA seven times and it has not come to a vote in the Senate.

"It's downright disgraceful that we allow therapists that are licensed by the State of New York to continue to subject minors to this dangerous and damaging practice and that we continue to legally allow discrimination against transgender New Yorkers," Schaefer. "The State of New York has historically been a leader in protecting young people from harm and all people from discrimination. We must pass these two bills and get them to Governor Cuomo's desk for his signature this year."

Advocates say that 75 percent of transgender teens report harassment in school, while 35 percent report being attacked. Transgender people of all ages face increased poverty, violence and discrimination. Many report being denied housing, healthcare, and employment.
A number of counties around the state already have GENDA laws in place.

"The discrimination and violence that transgender individuals face should be unambiguously identified and rejected in our state's laws," said Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, who sponsors GENDA in the Assembly.

Gottfried's colleague, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, looks at the push in historical context. "If you look back at the history of civil rights legislation in New York State it is true that many issues have taken years of passage in Assembly before being passed in the Senate," said Glick, who sponsors the conversion ban in the Assembly. "You shouldn't have to pass something 10 times in the Assembly to get one vote in the Senate."

Sen. Brad Hoylman, who sponsors the ban in the Senate, said he thinks there needs to be more education across the state about how the transgender community is impacted by conversion therapy. He is excited that advocates appear ready to bring the issue to the mainstream.

Glick said that debate over GENDA in the Assembly has always led to discussion over "bathroom paranoia." Assembly debates over GENDA have featured many conversations about problems that might be caused by transgender people using public bathrooms. Glick says she has never heard of an actual incident where someone complained about transgender use of a bathroom.

Glick and Hoylman both acknowledge that like with marriage equality, passing GENDA may also require major action from Gov. Cuomo. "It would be helpful for him to raise public consciousness," said Glick. "Many people are disconnected from reality or don't understand conversion therapy. It still happens. It would always be helpful to have the Governor, who has the largest platform in the state, to lend his considerable voice to the issue."

Cuomo reaffirmed his support of GENDA this August during the Democratic primary after some grumbling from LGBT groups that he hadn't put any effort into passing GENDA. "As my first term as Governor comes to a close, I am reaffirming my commitment to the progressive ideals and sense of equality that we have advanced and continue to hold dear," Cuomo wrote. "In this regard, I look forward to continuing my pledge to have our laws and policies reflect the core values of New Yorkers: equality and fairness for all."

Advocates and some legislators worked actively to elect a Democratic Senate and they acknowledge that likely won't help them when trying to work with the new Republican Senate Majority. And they further acknowledge that Senate Democrats as well as Republicans feel that gay and transgender issues could be "radioactive" as they note that a number of Republicans and Democrats who supported Cuomo's marriage equality legislation have lost their seats.

Gottfried remains steadfast, though, that discrimination against transgender New Yorkers must be outlawed. "Just like discrimination based on age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, race, disability, or ethnicity," he said. "Many cities and counties around the state have enacted local GENDA laws; New York State is overdue to add it to the State Human Rights Law."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Like It or Not, Police Reform Conversation Heating Back Up


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PC Bratton addresses a CompStat meeting (photo: @CommissBratton)


Heading into the second full week of the new year and remembrances of the best-known civil rights leader in American history, whispers and footsteps are beginning to be heard again.

As the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday approaches, many are looking to turn the heat back up on conversation around criminal justice reform in New York City. This includes legislators and activists, most of whom have muted their calls for action during the holiday weeks following the Dec. 20 murders of two NYPD officers.

NYPD reform groups are planning a Martin Luther King Day march for justice, advertising on social media that the event is inspired by both a larger vision of fairness and their specific agenda, which includes the firing of the police officer whose chokehold led to Eric Garner's death and the outlawing of such a maneuver during arrests. The lead sponsor of a New York City Council bill to do just that, outlaw the use of chokeholds during arrests, is also saying it is about time to resume the conversation.

"I think the time is right to move forward," Council Member Rory Lancman told Gotham Gazette. "Certainly the period after the officers were murdered and the funerals were being conducted, it was appropriate to put everything else aside and deal with that trauma - for the officers' families, for the city. But that period has to give way at some point to resuming the legislative conversation of how we're going to reform policing in this city."

For Lancman, that means a city council hearing on his bill, which currently has 29 sponsors. The bill is five sponsors short of the supermajority trigger that would require at least a vote on whether a hearing should be held (the Council includes 51 members). The bill would be heard in the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who has not signed on as a sponsor and whose office did not return a request for comment.

On Wednesday, Gibson told reporters that she is talking with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, additional council members, NYPD precinct commanders, and others about moving forward with conversations around policing. "I'm very optimistic that we will have the necessary conversations, the hearings, the oversight...and we will come to a point when we can find a necessary and delicate balance that is necessary for this city," she said. Gibson also expressed grave concern about the NYPD slowdown that has appeared to be happening over recent weeks and acknowledged that morale in the department is quite low.

With tensions high between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police unions, it is clear that many, including the mayor, would like to see a cooling off period continue - one that does not include large-scale demonstrations in the streets or public hearings around reform bills. The Council must not only decide whether Lancman's bill will be heard in committee, but also several other NYPD-related bills such as the Right to Know Act, made up of two bills aimed at requiring more communication from police officers to suspects.

Council Member Brad Lander told Gotham Gazette that the next step must be productive conversation. "We need to find a way to have a real dialogue across a complex set of issues," Lander said. "I'm confident that the City Council and New Yorkers in general are capable of that, but it takes time to get it right."

There is question among council members as to whether formal hearings on NYPD reform bills are the right near-term venue for those conversations. The city council calendar lists a Public Safety Committee hearing for Jan. 26, but there is no agenda provided as of yet. A spokesperson for Mark-Viverito indicated that she is reviewing the legislation and confirmed that no hearing on the chokehold bill is scheduled at this time.

Some council members and the mayor say that enough reform is actually already in place and that what is needed now is both healing and patience. De Blasio has said he does not support the chokehold legislation (he believes that NYPD policy banning chokeholds is sufficient) and has expressed doubts about the Right to Know Act. The mayor points to the retraining of NYPD officers that has begun, a continued reduction in the use of stop-and-frisk, as well as new policies and directives that have been issued.

Lancman expects a hearing on his bill. He said he has no indication that Mark-Viverito or Gibson is slow-playing the scheduling, but that the legislative process is just beginning again. "If we're still having this conversation in March, I might have a different view, but I don't expect that will be the case," Lancman said. "I don't feel that there are any either official or unofficial procedural roadblocks that have been thrown up. It's just a matter of resuming the conversation, which was paused to deal with the trauma of the murder of the officers."

Conversation around race and criminal justice will take center stage around New York City and the country as Dr. King is paid tribute over the coming weeks and into February, which is Black History Month. Even if the City Council does not hold public hearings, panels, marches, and other events will occur. There's also no indication of the mayor and police union heads reaching resolution any time soon.

Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and leading voice in the police reform movement, told Gotham Gazette that the movement lost some steam after the murders of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, which she called a tragedy. "There was some momentum lost with the murder of the two officers," Sarsour said on Friday. "But it's a just movement, since the murder there has been no grand demonstration. The movement is still here, though, and all the demands still stand, they didn't disappear because of those horrific acts."

"Our demands haven't changed," Sarsour continued. "We're using Martin Luther King Day to say this movement is back."

And none of this is to mention the spike in activity and outcry that could occur if Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan is officially named the Republican candidate to pursue Michael Grimm's vacated congressional seat in a soon-to-be-called special election. Donovan is, of course, the DA who presented the grand jury case against Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner, which resulted in no indictment. The announcement of that decision and Mayor de Blasio's reaction to it spurred massive protests and ill-will from the NYPD toward the mayor, respectively. On Friday, Donovan officially declared his intention to pursue the nomination.

Of a potential Donovan candidacy, Sarsour said, "Dan Donovan is the definition of divisiveness. That is what he represents for us right now, he represents the divisiveness that we're trying to heal in this city."

A Donovan candidacy would be provocative, she added: "It will activate folks on the Island - it could be in the form of protest, it could be in the form of voter registration and turnout. I'm expecting political and civic engagement from Staten Island communities in this race, even though it's a special election. They're not going to let Donovan take this seat without a fight."

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by Ben Max, editor, Gotham Gazette
@TweetBenMax

Note: this article has been updated with comment from Linda Sarsour.

De Blasio Faces Uphill Trip to Albany


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De Blasio & Cuomo side by side in Oct. at an ebola press conference (photo: @nycmayorsoffice)


An emboldened and strengthened Republican majority appears ready to block some of the biggest items on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's Albany agenda after his failed fall bid to help win the Senate for Democrats. There are major issues at stake for the city as rent laws and mayoral control of schools are set to expire and the mayor has invested political capital in pushing for an increased minimum wage.

De Blasio will soon have a chance to reset the tone of his relationship with Senate Republicans, led by Dean Skelos, who has not had kind words for the mayor of late. On Wednesday, Jan. 21, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will give his State of the State Address, in which he will discuss several issues important to de Blasio. De Blasio's comments immediately following Cuomo's speech will be telling. Last year, de Blasio offered Cuomo nothing but support despite tensions over pre-kindergarten funding.

Shortly following the State of the State, de Blasio will likely travel to Albany to address legislators as part of budget hearings and make a plea for the city's needs. At that point, we will get a much clearer picture of what de Blasio is prioritizing and thinks may be attainable in a more hostile 2015 environment.

Insiders say they expect de Blasio will be much less confrontational than he was last year during his fight for expanded pre-k and a city tax to fund it.

However, insiders note regardless of de Blasio's attempts to defeat Senate Republicans he had already become a target of theirs because of his progressive stances and growing national popularity. But now things are personal, and de Blasio is expected to be forced to move his agenda through proxies in the Assembly and grassroots organizations. And all while the governor is likely to ally himself with Republicans on issues like increasing charter schools and not allowing minimum wage home rule for localities.

Indicative of the icy relationship, Republican Majority Leader Skelos even took time on the first day of session to chide de Blasio for his troubled relationship with the NYPD. "I think that Mayor de Blasio has to be more sensitive in terms of the words or statements he makes concerning the police," Skelos told reporters.

"I went to those two funerals. Those policemen were assassinated...[A]s public officials we have to show strong support of our police officers and our conference will do it," he added.

This isn't the way the 2015 state legislative session was supposed to start for Mayor de Blasio. A number of pundits and Democrats thought de Blasio's relationship with the Legislature would be in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

Upon de Blasio's taking office, city-based Democratic legislators said they had been shut out of policy discussions with the Bloomberg administration and felt de Blasio would be more welcoming to discussions. The de Blasio administration successfully worked with legislators on pre-k and the mayor's traffic safety platform known collectively as Vision Zero. They noted that the Bloomberg administration made its presence felt by donating vast sums of money to Senate Republicans, a conference with few members hailing from the city. Now de Blasio has alienated those same Republicans and they remain as powerful as they were during most of the Bloomberg administration, if not more so.

Diane Savino, of the Independent Democratic Conference, members of which faced primary threats from de Blasio-backed candidates last spring before agreeing to caucus with Democrats if they won the majority (some still faced primaries), had a warning for the mayor in November 2013.

"I think the new mayor needs to understand that legislators have their own constituencies to answer to," Savino told Gotham Gazette. "It doesn't have to be a war. That didn't work too well in Washington."

Savino insists that despite any bad feelings, de Blasio's major issues are not at risk. "We've renewed the rent laws and mayoral control with a Republican Senate in the past. No one is going to look to jeopardize tenants because of a political grudge with the mayor," she said.

"On mayoral control of schools," Savino continued, "I think we should look at changes to make it better, like doing away with the Panel for Education Policy, which is essentially a staff meeting for the mayor's office. We aren't gonna end mayoral control. It's funny 'cause I think if you asked Councilman de Blasio 10 years ago whether he supported mayoral control of schools he would have said "no," but now I assume he is going to come out in support of it because he is in charge."

Other insiders insist de Blasio still has a strong lobbying presence in Albany and long-term personal and working relationships with major players on both sides of the aisle. "The mayor is still positioned really well. He has relationships on both sides of the aisle that span decades. He has experience working with Jeff Klein, Marty Golden, the Speaker, and his personal relationship with the governor," said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat.

In the end, though, de Blasio may very well find himself at Cuomo's mercy (again). Last year as de Blasio pressed for pre-k funding and sought to stop charter schools from being co-located with district schools, Cuomo rallied with charter school advocates and even indicated that mayoral control might stand in the way of the charter school movement.

In December, however, the Cuomo administration sent out an open letter questionnaire to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and outgoing State Education Commissioner John King asking for their takes on extending mayoral control of schools to upstate cities and what "improvements" they would make to New York City's version.

Cuomo appears poised to help renew control, but with changes that win him points in the charter schools sphere.

The governor's willingness to expend political capital on de Blasio's biggest issues will be a major factor in what gets done this year. "I think this amounts to the fact that this is divided between Republican and Democratic chambers and a Democratic governor," said Hoylman. "This will come down to what the leaders are able stomach."

One insider questioned how much Cuomo would go to bat for major city issues when he will need to bargain with Senate Republicans for his own policies like the Women's Equality Agenda.

This could spell trouble for de Blasio and others in the city when it comes to rent regulations. Cuomo is seen to be a major ally of landlords because of his close relationship with the Real Estate Board of New York.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, bring in millions of dollars each election cycle from the New York City-based real estate industry despite having few city-based members.

"We do have vacancy decontrol, which I think is appropriate," Skelos told the Daily News this week. "Certainly I think I'd like to modify it to make sure that those who can afford to pay higher rent are paying that rent." In an earlier interview with City & State NY, Skelos reiterated his belief in free-market principles.

There is a large segment of allies that de Blasio can count on this session: progressive grassroots organizations that will likely turn out en masse to support increasing the minimum wage, mayoral control of schools, and rent regulation renewal. The Working Families Party and other progressive groups are still bitter at Cuomo and blame him for Republicans winning outright control of the Senate. De Blasio may technically be a Cuomo ally, but the Cuomo administration remains concerned about maintaining the governor's position as the premier Democrat in the state. And Cuomo is clearly comfortable with legislating in a bipartisan fashion.

Senate Republicans have announced they will hold hearings this month on both police and public safety. Some Democrats fear Republicans will use the hearings to drag de Blasio's relationship with the NYPD over the coals.

Much of 2015 for de Blasio and his Democratic allies in the city and Albany will likely be about ensuring their "must" items, not necessarily pursuing a more ambitious agenda. In the end, most legislators expect mayoral control of schools and the rent laws to be renewed - but the devil will, as always, be in the details.

"The short of it is that the world isn't gonna end, the children aren't gonna die, and we are gonna do our jobs," said Savino.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

New Bills Aim to Professionalize Veterans Advisory Board


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Korean War veteran Tommy Lopez at a City Council hearing (photo: William Alatriste)


The New York City Veteran's Advisory Board (VAB) has come under increased scrutiny in recent months, but reform may be on the way.

On Wednesday two bills will be introduced by City Council Member Eric Ulrich, chair of the Veterans Committee, and Council Member Mathieu Eugene which aim to professionalize the VAB to better serve the city's veterans.

The VAB acts as a policy liaison between the New York City veterans community and the Mayor's Office of Veteran's Affairs (MOVA). But some veterans have argued their voices are not being heard because of the secretive nature of VAB meetings.

"There has been no real measure of accountability in how and when the board meets with the community in their respective boroughs, who they report to with issues, how those issues make it up the city's chain of command, or even how the public can give input into the board," Joesph Bello, a Gulf War veteran and advocate who runs NY Metro Vets, said at an October hearing.

Ulrich's bill aims to quell that concern by requiring the VAB to provide public notice and email veterans organizations of when and where it meets. In addition, the bill would increase the number of required meetings from four to five per year, with a requirement that one meeting be held in each borough. Ulrich's bill would also require the meetings be recorded and re-broadcast online for those who cannot attend.

"The Veterans Advisory Board does great work and strengthens the lines of communication between city government and local vets," Ulrich said by email Tuesday. "This legislation will allow for greater public input that will enhance the ability of the Board to meet the challenges facing veterans and their families in our city."

Eugene's bill would increase the number of VAB members from nine to 11, with the Council Speaker and the Mayor getting one more appointment each. In addition, Eugene's bill would ensure all members of the VAB get a city email address, something board members requested at a recent hearing. The bill would require those email addresses be made public, likely on the MOVA website.

The bills are expected to be heard in committee in early 2015.

[Related: read our look at the major policy issues around New York City services for military veterans in 2014 and what to watch for in 2015]

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by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette
@MeriwetherK

City Council Power Over Broken Windows Policing


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City Council Member press conference in support of the NYPD (photo: William Alatriste)


While specific incidents involving police violence – from the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, to the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island – have been highlighted in protests all over the country since the summer, some commentators have attempted to contextualize the unrest. They detail what many describe as the daily injustices, especially in black communities, suffered by residents in their routine interactions with the police.

It is these daily interactions that create the foundational distrust that has exploded into a national phenomenon this year, activist Opal Tometi explained

Yet, the police do not act independently but within a wider framework attentive to social order and, in many places, the maintenance of the status quo.
In New York City, local policing reforms have focused on departmental policies and tactics, but less attention has been paid to the bedrock of the NYPD's authority, the laws that officers, as agents of the state, have been empowered to enforce.

In New York City alone, there are nearly 10,000 laws, violations, rules, and codes that a person might break, and the NYPD initiates approximately 1 million punitive interactions with residents every year. Almost none of these interactions have anything to do with serious crime. About half result in summonses. Of arrests, just 25 percent are related to felonies. Between 2001 and 2013 there were nearly 7 million summonses issued in New York City, compared to 5 million 'stop-and-frisks' during the same period. In 2014, tickets for jaywalking were up about 275 percent.

It hasn't always been this way. A concerted effort was made by city lawmakers in the 1990s to expand the authority of the NYPD to include enforcement for behaviors that had not previously been considered crimes. This shift provided legal justification for the routine intrusions that some, like Tometi, have pointed to as provocation for the apparent decline in legitimacy felt towards the police in specific neighborhoods around the New York City.

While the police have borne the brunt of recent protests targeting criminalization and brutality, lawmakers have generally been left off the hook, despite their crucial role in determining which behaviors are considered "criminal" and which are not. The City Council - not the police - has the power to roll back some of these laws, providing them with perhaps the largest lever to push in fundamentally changing the relationship between the police and residents. The Council also provides oversight for the NYPD and controls, with the Mayor, the agency's budget.

In the 1970s and 1980s, law enforcement resources were focused on serious crimes. As order-maintenance policing became en vogue in academic circles, and was adopted by NYPD Commissioner William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani here in New York, the size of the police force was expanded and the emphasis shifted from policing serious crimes to the enforcement of low-level penal code violations and infractions of the City's administrative codes. Above all, Bratton wanted an increase in the number of interactions between the police and the public.

For the police to stop people constitutionally, however, they needed justification. In addition to beefing up enforcement on existing low-level laws, a strategic effort was made by the City Council and Giuliani, at the NYPD's urging, to create new laws explicitly for this purpose. Thus "aggressive panhandling" entered the realm of criminal conduct. At the time some council members balked, claiming the new laws and codes were "repressive," that the NYPD should not have increased authority to control particular behaviors, but today, it's the new normal.

In the early 1990s, along with a huge rise in misdemeanor arrests (recently detailed in a John Jay College report) there was a concomitant rise in summonses, which refer to behaviors, typically, that do not rise to the level of criminality. The number of summonses issued by the NYPD exploded, jumping from 150,000 in 1993, to nearly 500,000 just five years later. Of the seven most common summons infractions, which make up about half of all summonses in New York City, only two are actually penal code violations - that is those laws dictated by the State of New York. The others are violations of administrative code, health code, parks rules, and traffic law - generally local rules dictated by City Council. Open liquor container citations - an administrative code violation - were, in 2013, the top summons offense in the city. At least one judge has suggested that the police are enforcing this rule in a racially discriminatory way.

In the beginning, state lawmakers pushed back against this effort by the City Council, Bratton, and Giuliani to criminalize what had previously been legal behavior (in some cases de facto), in large part because they were concerned about the costs associated with adjudicating these new criminal cases – almost all of them violations and misdemeanors – in court. And so, in 1995 the State enacted a law that removed from criminal court jurisdiction all non-misdemeanor offenses charged under the Administrative Code. This would have made infractions, such as open container and public urination, into civil penalties, akin to a traffic ticket to be adjudicated in administrative, rather than criminal proceedings. Giuliani viewed the state law as "potentially devastating" because it divested the City of certain law enforcement authority.

At the behest of Giuliani, the City Council responded to the state bill with its own legislation to retain jurisdiction over violations. This allowed the police to continue the practice of using infractions as justifications to stop, question, detain, search, warrant check, and identify people who were suspected of breaking minor rules. This cemented the heyday of so-called "broken windows policing" - which Bratton, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others credit for leading to the city's precipitous drop in violent crimes, although this assertion is contested.

In one manifestation of the approach, marijuana enforcement was increased as a way to control public gatherings of youth – not necessarily to curb marijuana use. "The police were not really interested in the possession of marijuana but instead used marijuana arrests to try to discover people with felony warrants outstanding against them," Criminologist Frank Zimring explained.

One result of Bratton's new strategy was a dramatic increase in the number of defendants in criminal court with no prior criminal court experience – and the population of people marked with a criminal record began to grow swiftly. As did distrust of police. People with criminal records or open and unresolved cases are left vulnerable to heightened enforcement should they come into contact with police at a later date.

Over forty certified city agencies – from the Human Resources Administration to the Sanitation Department – have the legal authority to issue summonses, yet the vast, vast majority are written by the NYPD. In 2013 there were 458,095 summons issued citywide, down from 510,270 the year before and from a peak of 648,638 in 2005. As of late 2014 the city was on pace to see the decline continue, a trend perhaps welcomed by the communities most heavily impacted by summons practices – the same communities targeted by stop-and-frisk, vertical patrols, and Operation Impact.

As the data shows, it is specific neighborhoods targeted for this type of policing. For example, there were roughly the same number of summonses issued in the single Brooklyn neighborhood of Red Hook as issued in the entire borough of Staten Island in 2012; the jurisdiction of the Red Hook court covers approximately 200,000 people - less than half the population of Staten Island.

Also targeted are specific demographic groups. While only 17 percent of dogs in the city are licensed, according to an estimate by the Health Department, 91 percent of people ticketed for the offense of having an unlicensed dog are either Black or Latino. Black residents are especially likely to be stopped by police when they are moving through a mostly white neighborhood, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. Police argue they simply go where the crime is.

Broken Windows policing in New York City has been operationalized to mean the aggressive enforcement of minor crimes and violations in specific, targeted neighborhoods, and, as the NYCLU analysis suggests, against specific demographics of people; whether or not any of this has had any impact on crime reduction in New York remains unproven.

There is no empirical evidence to support the idea that aggressively enforcing so-called "quality of life offenses" through police actions has had a positive impact on public safety. These behavioral offenses, some of which are technically crimes, and others, like riding a bike on the sidewalk, which are violations, have come to include actually legal actions such as playing music on the subway platform or falling asleep on the train, for which people are now receiving criminal summonses.

Some academics have argued that the social costs of these enforcements, which might lead to job loss, housing eviction, or loss of parental rights, outweigh the benefits.

Meanwhile arresting and incarcerating, for example, a homeless person who cannot afford bail, costs the city at least $600 per day simply for housing at Rikers Island, which does not include the law enforcement or court administration costs; financially there is not a more expensive option to manage this quality of life concern.
Bratton and de Blasio have been vocal supporters of this type of policing, generally, while acknowledging the necessity of reforming the manner in which police interact with the public and suggesting that there should be off-ramps for people who have already been arrested to avoid spending time in jail for minor crimes. Arrests in 2014, both the gross numbers and the volume of misdemeanor cases, virtually mirror those of 2013 - the final year of the previous administration.

These policies have already scarred a generation of New Yorkers with criminal records and seem to have played a starring role in inspiring the profound distrust of the police felt in certain communities in New York. This distrust has turned to widespread civil unrest in the wake of the death of Eric Garner, who was accosted by six police officers soon after breaking up a fight. It doesn't seem from the evidence we have that Garner, accused of selling "loosies" – a tax violation – was breaking any laws when he was stopped by the police that day. He did not have any illegal cigarettes on him at the time of his death and was never charged with a crime.

Yet, the broken windows policies implemented by the City Council empowered the police to attempt to take him into custody. The law Garner was accused of violating, roughly speaking, is a similar type of offense as being paid off the books to babysit.

In December, New York City Council members joined the protests against police brutality, staging a "die-in" on the steps of City Hall, chanting "I Can't Breathe" and "I am Eric Garner" to honor the Staten Island man. Even as the City Council decried the results of the overreach of police influence, the body, led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, has sought to add 1,000 new cops to the force. While these additions would ostensibly be given the additional training and oversight aimed at improving the quality of police-resident interactions, (new training chief Michael Julian is working with officers to get them to swear less frequently) the Council could also consider using its legislative authority to reduce the quantity of police-resident interactions.

While a small number of members have raised concerns about broken windows policing specifically, the Council as a whole has remained mostly silent on the unlimited role of the police in initiating the interactions with residents of the City that invariably lead to summonses, arrests, and incidents of brutality. The Council did announce a plan to open CCRB outposts in the district offices of participating council members, but it is unclear how many members will participate and when, or if, that initiative will get off the ground.

The police reform legislation currently before the Council, such as the Right to Know Act, which has wide support among council members but is opposed by Bratton and de Blasio, focuses on the content of police interactions rather than the number.

There has yet to be a legislative proposal for the Council to invoke its authority to limit the role of the police by carving out certain quality of life offenses from their jurisdiction or mandating civil enforcement where the NYPD has that discretion. Fare evasion can lead to either a civil summons or an arrest - there were 24,747 such arrests in 2013 and 89,128 summonses. Black residents were most likely to be arrested, rather than given a summons.

Ironically, the NYPD, in apparent protest following the death of two on-duty officers last month has stopped enforcing many quality of life violations. While the sample size remains too small thus far to provide much statistical evidence either for or against a reduced role for law enforcement, it does provide an opportunity for the City to consider ways of addressing community concerns besides the knee-jerk response for more police.

According to former cop and current John Jay professor Eugene O'Donnell, rank-and-file officers would welcome a reduction in their responsibilities to enforce quality of life concerns. "The root of this is that loose cigarette enforcement is a lunatic mission that no cop ever joined the NYPD to be part of," O'Donnell recently said.

***
Nick Malinowski is a social worker and independent journalist, living and working in Brooklyn; and is on Twitter @nwmalinowski.



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