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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, January 4

New York City Hall

New York City Hall

Happy New Year! What to watch for this week in New York politics:

In this first full week of 2015, New York politics will be dominated by five things: the resignation of Rep. Michael Grimm and looming special election to replace him; the laying to rest of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo (father of current Governor Andrew Cuomo); the start of the 2015 legislative session in Albany; the New York City Council's first Stated Meeting of the year; and the ongoing tension between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD. On Monday, the mayor and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton will make an announcement at 3 p.m. at 1 Police Plaza.

There are always things popping up in New York politics, of course, so we're expecting more than the above to demand our attention.

Due to the passing of his father, Governor Cuomo's State of the State speech scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 7, has been postponed two weeks until the 21st. But, the two houses of the State Legislature are constitutionally mandated to begin their sessions on the 7th, so we'll soon know what the Senate leadership power-sharing agreement looks like - when the Senate adopts its rules for the session (the next two years), it will be clear how much power Sen. Jeff Klein and his Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) retain. Even with Republicans having taken outright control of the chamber without the IDC, Klein may be well be able to negotiate keeping his place at the decision-making table.

The City Council is back in action this week, starting with a full-body Stated Meeting on Wednesday, with several committee hearings thereafter. Council committees are then busy throughout next week as things get into full swing in the new year. 2015 looks like it will be a more contentious year in the Council, with stark division having already emerged over legislation the body is to take up this year regarding NYPD regulations, carriage horses, chokeholds, and pastic bag fees.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics (or to add to this one)?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in more detail:

Monday will see the formal resignation of Rep. Michael Grimm, Republican Congressman representing Staten Island and part of Brooklyn in the House of Representatives. Grimm is resigning from office after pleading guilty to one felony charge of tax evasion from his days as a restaurateur and whatever nudge was necessary from House Speaker John Boehner. Speculation is already swirling around who will be selected by the Republican and Democratic party leaders from Staten Island and Brooklyn to face each other in the special election to replace Grimm. Governor Cuomo will set the special election date. It is expected that the Republican candidate will be Richmond County (Staten Island) District Attorney Daniel Donovan, who recently presented the grand jury case of Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the July death of Eric Garner. A Donovan candidacy could bring increased scrutiny to the Garner/Pantaleo case and surrounding issues, which would add to the already tense atmosphere around race and policing in the city. Meanwhile, many are still awaiting word from NYPD and federal investigations into the Garner incident.

Neither City Comptroller Scott Stringer nor Public Advocate Tish James has a public event on their schedules for Monday. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not released a public schedule at time of our publication, but we'll update if or when her office does. Mayor de Blasio begins his week with one public event: a 3 p.m. announcement with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton at 1 Police Plaza.

Monday is the wake for former Governor Mario Cuomo: "calling hours will be held between 1:00PM-5:00PM and 7:00PM-10:00PM at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, located at 1076 Madison Avenue in Manhattan," according to the Governor's Office.

"In place of flowers, the Cuomo family requests contributions to be made to HELP USA for the Mario M. Cuomo Mentoring Fund: HELP USA Attention: Joe Gallo, 5 Hanover Square, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10004".

Tuesday will be the funeral for Mario Cuomo: "11:00AM...at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, located at 980 Park Avenue in Manhattan," according to the Governor's Office, which also noted in a press release that the funeral is not private, but open to family and friends.

On Tuesday evening in Albany, City & State NY is altering its planned pre-State of the State event to hold a 2015 Legislative Launch event and commemoration of former Gov. Mario Cuomo. Details: "The 2015 Legislative Launch event will feature lawmakers offering their agendas for the 2015 legislative session and a special commemoration segment for former Gov. Mario Cuomo. Elected officials and attendees will have the opportunity to share their tributes and memories of the former governor to be highlighted in City & State's Mario Cuomo commemorative issue later this month. The special print edition will highlight Gov. Mario Cuomo's contributions to the State of New York, the tremendous impact he had on our leaders, and the lasting legacy he leaves behind."

Wednesday is both the first day of the 2015 legislative session in Albany - read our 2015 Albany session preview here - and the first full-body Stated Meeting for the New York City Council - read our 2014 year in review/2015 preview on the City Counil here.

On Wednesday at 11 a.m. (moved from Tuesday) on the steps of City Hall, "Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Council Member Rafael Espinal, chair of the City Council's Committee on Consumer Affairs, will join colleagues, community members, business leaders and others to unveil a legislative package relating to the creation of a system of a letter grading system for cosmetology businesses, including nail salons, spas, barber shops, beauty parlors and other similar businesses throughout the five boroughs."

City Council committee hearings get going again on Thursday: the Finance Committee will meet on the "sale of tax liens"; and, the Women's Issues Committee and Health Committee will meet jointly around legislation regarding HPV treatment, awareness, and prevention.

Thursday evening, it's a "State of our schools town hall with Council Member Daniel Dromm" (chair of the Council's education committee) at PS 69 in Jackson Heights.

Senator Liz Krueger will host a SCRIE/DRIE Seminar on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House: "Are you 62 years of age OR receiving disability benefits? Do you live in rent regulated housing? Is your household income no more than $50,000? Is your rent more than 1/3 of your income? If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you may be eligible to have your rent frozen through the Senior Citizens Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) or Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) Programs. Come hear from experts on these programs. After the presentations, attorney's from Lenox Hill's legal staff will be on hand to answer your questions and to make individual appointments."

Friday and the weekend
Nothing on our radar at this point, but we don't expect that to hold up as the week unfolds, of course.

[Have you read "Predictions! Experts Look Ahead to New York Politics in 2015"?]

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).

by Rati Mukhuradze and Ben Max

The High Stakes Future of the Common Man Mayor

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Mayor Bill de Blasio (photo: @BilldeBlasio)

By January 1st, 2002 — the day of his inauguration as Mayor of New York City— Michael Bloomberg had been a billionaire for some time. It had been a decade since his information services titan, Bloomberg L.P., hit it big on Wall Street. As a campaign pledge, the diminutive Bostonian promised to take a city salary of only a $1 a year, but, throughout the duration of his twelve years in office, he'd ascend the Forbes list, defying economic woes to make even more billions. As of September 2013, his net worth was estimated at $30 billion.

Bloomberg's successor, Bill de Blasio, is a different story, of course. On January 1st, 2014 — the day of his inauguration as mayor — de Blasio was a middle-class, outer-borough homeowning husband and father of two teenagers. Sure, he had a fairly high-profile political career going, but de Blasio was living a modest New York lifestyle, without a lot of money coming in or accumulated.

Becoming Mayor of the City of New York changes everything. While de Blasio isn't popping up on the Forbes list any time soon, his profile and earning potential have skyrocketed as a result of his new position. He's just a year into what could easily be eight as mayor, but de Blasio is now a national, even international player, with a newly expanded list of lucrative and powerful options for the future.

Entering his mayoralty, the lanky Bostonian had pulled in $165,000 a year for his duties as Public Advocate, and $52,000 in rent from a second home he owns in Park Slope. Before that, he made $112,500 a year as a City Council Member — both salaries fractions of his predecessor's net worth and annual income. Not that de Blasio's income has been anything to sniff at for the common New Yorker, but the contrast between the two mayors' finances is symbolic of the income inequality that de Blasio ran on, in many ways casting himself as the anti-Bloomberg.

Mayor de Blasio has two children, one in college, another on the way there next year, and the Park Slope house with a mortgage that the family had been living with and recently rented for $4,975 per month (which is below the going neighborhood rate) while they live rent-free in Gracie Mansion. (You'll perhaps recall that Bloomberg shunned Gracie to stay in his Manhattan townhouse.)

Now in the Upper East Side mayoral residence with his wife Chirlane McCray and their son Dante, de Blasio has vowed a return to Brooklyn. The mayor is making $225,000 a year, while McCray makes no salary as Chair of The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City.

As mayor of the biggest big city in the world, de Blasio is on a path to richer pastures - how rich, though, is far from clear. Through his highly-watched campaign, election, and inaugural year, de Blasio has become a household name to many in New York and elsewhere. And in America, a national profile is currency.

The minute he became Mayor de Blasio, a whole set of prospects appeared for the self-professed progressive, with newfound ability to cash in on a future book deal, speaking engagements, consulting, or, what is likely the prized gem of them all for de Blasio: a shot at higher office.

De Blasio finds himself another in the line of New York City mayors to experience this catapult — one that could potentially help pay off Dante's and daughter Chiara's college bills, the Park Slope mortgage, and whatever outstanding expenses the family of four may still have.

In terms of what ones does after City Hall, recent history shows the basic mayoral formula tends to deliver the politician, in most cases, back to his comfy prior career, with more money and fewer press conferences. But de Blasio doesn't have a Forbes 500 company to return to, nor, like Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, a private law firm at which to become a partner — or better yet, a figurehead.

De Blasio doesn't seem to have the pop culture chops to host "Mayor at the Movies" like Koch did, nor does he come off, unlike David Dinkins, as being professorial to the point of teaching at Columbia. If you re-examine de Blasio's public life since high school, his time with the Sandinistas, and beyond, the mayor has known one thing: politics.

"It's no doubt that de Blasio has a very good mind for it, but he doesn't have much of an intense interest for policy, nor governing itself," Wayne Barrett, the famous investigative reporter and Giuliani biographer, told Gotham Gazette. "He has a taste for public service. I'm just not sure if that'll last after 4 or 8 years in City Hall."

If it doesn't, Barrett argues that de Blasio is perfectly suited to enter the massive consultancy industry, using his past as a political organizer and operative to help elect like-minded progressive candidates in New York and beyond. These types of firms, which have interested big names like Bill Clinton, former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod, former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and even McCray, de Blasio's wife, are moneymakers. In major national elections, top consulting firms can rake in millions.

And De Blasio clearly loves a good campaign. See UPK, his push for universal pre-kindergarten in New York City, or his ongoing pursuit of the 2016 Democratic National Convention - which, if it comes to Brooklyn as the mayor hopes, could be a major boon to his national profile. This would be especially true if tensions with the NYPD have settled and New York is thriving under his progressive policies by the convention.

There was the mayor, in the wake of a tough 2014 Election Day for his party, both in New York State and nationally, penning an article in the Huffington Post with diagnosis of what went wrong for Democrats around the country: not putting forward a strong enough progressive message; and looking ahead to 2016, which he has forecast as a promising year, especially - or perhaps only - if his allies follow his "blueprint to revitalize the Democratic Party."

Or maybe de Blasio will focus on fundraising, bringing in money for himself and others. On the national landscape of PACs and political donations, only people like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson can really rival Bloomberg, who had morphed into a powerful political donor long before even leaving office and continues to position himself as a major source of funds in certain congressional and other races.

The Kochs, Adelson, and Bloomberg spend lots of their own money, of course, not something de Blasio will be poised to do. As Mayor of New York City, though, de Blasio has already become extremely powerful and well-connected, building relationships that he may very well be able to leverage for future clients.

De Blasio has a net worth, not including future earning potential, in the low six figures — a rarity for someone in his position. The mayor has defined his fiery progressive brand on not having much; on relating to everyday New Yorkers, especially outer-borough middle and working class folks. As he campaigned, de Blasio was the anti-Bloomberg, the non-billionaire. He called for a tax increase for those making over $250,000 a year - a bracket he didn't even fall into.

So he may not have the personal fortune to back him up, but, should the next few years go well, he could become a major fundraiser for progressives across the country. But will de Blasio himself, like those who have come before him, swim in the more lucrative waters that a post-mayoralty has to offer?

According to Ken Sherrill, a Professor Emeritus of political science at Hunter College, not having the same network of wealth as, say, Giuliani may doom de Blasio's chances of a common post-political gig: the speakers' circuit, which recently ensnared Ray Kelly and has paid Giuliani $100,000 a speech in the past. "Unlike Giuliani, his audience is not the people who would pay that kind of money to see him," Sherrill said.

"I don't think I can see him joining a corporate board," Sherrill continued. "The one question is whether or not de Blasio has the affluent patrons that Giuliani and Koch had. Bloomberg just has himself. But these kinds of people who pay exorbitant money to Giuliani wouldn't spend that on de Blasio."

But that doesn't mean there won't be a market for de Blasio speeches, it just may not be as green as it can be for others. Nor does it mean de Blasio won't get paid for a memoir, or an administration post-mortem; both of which can be highly profitable, even if they don't sell well. Take, for example, Andrew Cuomo: his new memoir All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life sold very tepidly its first few weeks in circulation, yet the politician had already landed a $700,000-plus check from HarperCollins in advance. Though the lack of success of Cuomo's book could contribute to a market correction.

However, in terms of mayors, Giuliani banked hundreds of thousands of dollars from his widely popular, 9/11-themed memoir, Leadership. Koch wrote a library's worth of books, both for adults and children, after he left office. Dinkins has last year's A Mayor's Life: Governing New York's Gorgeous Mosaic, and, before he even took office, Bloomberg by Bloomberg was on shelves everywhere, recounting the tale of how the Wall Street maven made his Forbes fortune.

That said, de Blasio is basically forced to write a book of some sort, just to keep up with his predecessors. Not to say that he won't relish the opportunity to explain how he fixed all that was wrong with Bloomberg's New York if his liberal experiment does indeed go according to plan. We can almost guarantee that "tale of two cities," "progressive," or both will appear on the cover. Luckily for de Blasio, he won't have to go too far for help: as reported back in June, First Lady Chirlane McCray has taken to the memoir business early. Agent and advance unknown, but certain to be fairly large (and helpful to the family's finances as she works without compensation).

But then again, as Barrett says, de Blasio has ambition, and politics is driven by the motivated. Plus, de Blasio's young enough to remain in the political arena as an elected official himself even if he does serve out eight years as mayor.

Barrett says he wouldn't be surprised if de Blasio sought a higher office, particularly the governorship, as former public advocate and mayoral candidate Mark Green predicted to the Post. However, unlike in Mark Green's comparison to Zephyr Teachout's challenge from Cuomo's left, Barrett argues that de Blasio would never run for office against the governor if Andrew Cuomo runs for a third term, like his father did, in 2018. Cuomo or no Cuomo, a 2018 gubernatorial run for de Blasio would also likely require his doing so at the start of a second mayoral term (assuming his winning re-election in 2017) and is thus unlikely. But, there's always 2022.

There's certainly the question of whether de Blasio's liberal brand could work in more conservative areas of the state like Rochester or Buffalo - in any year, 2018, 2022, or beyond. "He's a better New York City candidate than he is a New York State candidate," Barrett added definitively.

Not to mention that going from Mayor of New York City to Governor of New York State actually comes with a pay cut: the governor makes $179,000 a year. The presidency, on the other hand, pays better.

And speaking of the presidency, making much of this moot could be fallout from what panels full of talking heads seem to see in their dreams each night: a Hillary Clinton victory in 2016. A Hillary win could have serious implications for Cuomo in D.C. As the former HUD Secretary under Bill Clinton, Cuomo is no stranger to the Cabinet, and a possible departure could leave an open seat in Albany for de Blasio.

But, Barrett thinks Hillary could find something for her old Senate campaign manager (de Blasio) to do in the White House or Capitol. And it's no secret that de Blasio has been building a national and international profile in just his first year as mayor. With his leadership of the Mayoral Task Force to Tackle Inequality, his security trip to the Situation Room in Washington, his handling of New York City's Ebola case and protocols, and his speech to the Labour Party in London, de Blasio has been busy on larger stages.

De Blasio made another D.C. trip in mid-November and soon after President Obama's executive action on immigration, de Blasio announced that he would be conveing "a first-ever summit on December 8th with at least twenty mayors from cities across the country to discuss and lay out a step-by-step implementation plan of an executive order on immigration," which he did. Then, another D.C. jaunt on December 1 to discuss police-community relations with President Obama and others.

With the New Left gaining momentum behind figures like Elizabeth Warren, who is to rule out that de Blasio doesn't stand a chance in D.C.?

"I can see de Blasio leading a Presidential Office on Income Inequality," Barrett said. "He does his time in New York, and then moves to Washington with the family."

Some have said de Blasio is more senatorial than mayoral, and a run to replace either New York senator seems at least somewhat plausible were a Schumer retirement or a Gillibrand vice-presidency, presidency, or cabinet appointment to occur.

To Doug Muzzio, a professor of politics at CUNY and city expert, all of these far-reaching aspirations hinge on 2017: the next mayoral election year. "A one-term mayor is different than a two-term mayor," he explained. "It all depends on getting a second term. If he wins, he can run for governor; if he loses, that becomes much more unlikely."

For now, of course, de Blasio must focus on repairing rifts with the NYPD and ensuring his agenda is successful. Whether the mayor likes it or not, though, Muzzio argues that de Blasio's future is binded to Andrew Cuomo. "The bottom line is that this is an ambitious guy who will undoubtedly run for [another] office, but it depends on what Cuomo does," Muzzio told Gotham Gazette of de Blasio. "He ain't gonna run against Cuomo — that's just not in the cards."

Still, Muzzio repeatedly admitted: "So many things can happen. I plead ignorance."

But, if you look at the history here, as is often instructive, a post-mayoral life is all too often marked by monetary and reputational gains, not political ones. Because if there's one thing City Hall doesn't seem to be any good at, it's guaranteeing any future success in elected office.

"What have modern NYC mayors gone on and done?" Gene Russianoff, the chief spokesperson for the Straphangers Campaign of NYPIRG, asked rhetorically. "Let's see: stayed insanely wealthy; tried to become insanely wealthy; joined a law firm; become a film reviewer; failed on the national political scene...And so it goes."

Bloomberg, of course, flirted with running for President - and Giuliani went a little further than that. With a rising national profile, demographic trends what they are, and the zeal with which many seem to embrace Elizabeth Warren's populism, de Blasio may already be dreaming of stepping onto the biggest stage, history be darned.

"The only thing I know is that the mayoralty is a stepping stone to nothing, politically speaking," Russianoff added. Just look at Ed Koch or Rudy Giuliani.

After asking "How'm I doing?" to New Yorkers for 8 years, Koch became a restaurant and movie critic, a professor, a political commentator, a children's book author, a judge on The People's Court, a radio show host, and a sought-after endorser in future races, until his death in 2013 at the age of 88.

"I used to say, 'He would never die if he had a camera on him,'" Barrett said. "He became such a public personality — it basically doesn't exist anymore. In terms of Koch's private success, too, it's amazing." That's why, in Barrett's opinion, Koch had the most exemplary post-mayoralty career in modern times.

And it's also why, in the end, de Blasio has a lot to accomplish - and think about.

John Surico is a freelance journalist. His reporting can be seen in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.

Today's Protests are Centuries in the Making

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Protests outside City Hall (photo: John Kenny @jjk607)

The tragic deaths of Eric Garner, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu offer New Yorkers an opportunity to have a real conversation about our city's sordid racial history. Racial politics may have come a long way in a city that prides itself on multiculturalism and progressivism, but community memories are long, and discussing the past must be part of moving forward. Mayor de Blasio recently acknowledged that some of the conflicts that have surfaced in recent weeks "go back centuries in their origins."

In New York City's black community, those origins are rooted in nearly 400 years of distrust and mistreatment. From slavery to Jim Crow, from unchecked white mobs to oppressive white police forces, the black experience in New York has been marked by pain, destruction, and neglect. There is no question that many in power have made an effort in recent decades to correct the wrongs of the past. But examining our history has to be part of the healing. Doing so will reveal that the recent protests are not just about Eric Garner, and not even just about policing. They are indeed about whether black lives matter in New York City.

Although the Dutch practiced slavery in New Amsterdam, the British assumption of New York in 1664 commenced a crueler period of slaves' treatment. One night in 1712, two dozen slaves revolted, torching houses and killing owners. The rebels were killed or captured, with those in the latter group suffering torturous executions - slowly burned alive, dragged through town by a horse, mutilated on "the wheel," and suspended by chains until death by dehydration - their heads left on stakes for weeks afterwards. In the aftermath of that rebellion, harsh new slavery provisions were passed, and even free blacks lost the right to own land.

These conditions worsened already tenuous race relations, leading to the 1741 slave conspiracy: part uprising and part witch trials for black people. After a white servant attributed an outbreak of arson around the city to a mass slave uprising, dozens of slaves were tortured into "confessing" the involvement of others before being deported, burned at the stake or hung. The historical record is ambiguous - it is possible that some slaves were plotting with abolitionist whites, but the trials were not serious inquiries. Every lawyer in town was enlisted in the prosecution. Only when prominent whites began accusing each other did New Yorkers realize the charade had gone too far.

The American Revolution did not end slavery in New York State. In fact, slavery within New York City actually increased significantly in the years immediately following independence. The end of slavery in New York, which finally took effect in 1827, did not herald any improvement in race relations. Abolitionists, both black and white, met at their peril. White mobs could be driven to fits of rage at any moment, such as one night in 1834 when the presence of a British lead actor at a theater (the British were anti-slavery) provoked a rampage, rioters beating any black people they found in the streets.

The Civil War draft riots are considered by local historians to be the absolute low point in New York City's history. Politicians and business leaders steeped in racism and cotton trade interests were already stirring up anti-black hysteria – Mayor Fernando Wood had proposed seceding from the Union – when an 1863 federal conscription requirement ignited a fury among the city's Irish.

Angry white mobs, who had no desire to fight a war to free black people from slavery, ransacked the city, focusing on federal property, wealthy elites, and especially black people, who were hunted throughout the city for days. Many were murdered, some hung in the streets. A black orphanage was burned to the ground, though thankfully the children escaped. The police performed admirably in protecting hundreds of blacks from the rioting crowds, which were finally beaten back by the Union Army. The draft riots are considered the worst civil uprising in American history.

Nor did the Civil War's conclusion bring racial justice to New York City. Tammany Hall, a political machine fueled by Irish and Italian votes and commensurate patronage, enforced the worst of Jim Crow Laws during its decades of dominance. Several of the worst incidents are spelled out in Jonathan Gill's excellent book, Harlem.

For example, on Christmas Day, 1901, three Irish teenagers beat down a black man in Harlem. A few white people actually came to his aid, but in the confusion they were in turn attacked by blacks, leading to a massive racially-charged street brawl. A white mob chased one wounded black man into the local drugstore, destroying it in the process, and the police beat another into unconsciousness with their batons.

In 1917, not far from Ferguson, Missouri, East St. Louis and other cities were ripped apart by a mass lynching that left hundreds of black people dead and thousands homeless. Harlem's NAACP chapter, which had been organized only recently by W.E.B. Du Bois, organized the Silent Protest Parade down Fifth Avenue, with hundreds of women and children in white leading thousands of men in black who held a banner reading, "Bring Democracy to America Before You Take it To Europe" - a sign the police took as provocation, attempting to break up the protest.

A few weeks later, Patrolman Robert Holmes was killed in the line of duty. One of four black officers in a police force that had only been racially integrated in 1911, his funeral was attended by 20,000 Harlemites.

Holmes was an exception. Through World War II, the number of black police officers remained extremely low, and they were confined to beats in poor black neighborhoods. The majority of white police officers assigned to such neighborhoods were there as department punishment, leading to community tension that would periodically erupt. In 1935, a misunderstanding over a shoplifting incident led to a frenzy on 125th Street that ended with three deaths and the wanton destruction of property.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, initially popular among the City's racial minorities, appointed a commission to investigate the incident, but then tried to repress the commission's report. The commission had found that anger over racism and discrimination – nearly every institution in Harlem, from schools to hospitals to social service agencies, was whites-only – had been the underlying cause, noting, "As long as these conditions persist, no one knows when they will lead to recurrence, with possibly greater violence."

Only eight years later, in 1943, Harlem was again engulfed in flames after a white police officer shot a black soldier during a street confrontation. During the ensuing pandemonium six black men were killed by the police, a thousand were arrested, and hundreds of civilians and policemen were injured. That this could take place at the height of nationalistic war fever was in part due to black New York being entirely left out of the economic opportunities that the war had brought to the city, as well as the vast infrastructure projects that had improved much of the city under the New Deal. This time LaGuardia attempted to address the community's grievances, but the damage was traumatic and severe, leading to exodus of the white and black middle class. Many prominent black leaders denounced the rioters, but resident-poet Langston Hughes countered, "All the best colored people declare that they have been set back fifty years. I don't know from what."

In 1964, following a tragically familiar script, an off-duty police officer shot and killed 15-year-old James Powell on the Upper East Side, claiming Powell was advancing on him with a knife. The whole incident had begun when a building superintendent named Patrick Lynch (no relation to the current police union boss, we presume) turned a garden hose on a group of black teenagers who had been taunting him. When Lynch began chasing Powell, an undercover police officer joined in pursuit, with deadly consequences.

Six weeks later the District Attorney exonerated the officer of wrongdoing. As an enormous crowd gathered in Harlem, the NYPD's Tactical Patrol Force, comprised largely of former marines, charged it wielding batons. In the ensuing mayhem, more than 100 people were hospitalized, and chaos spread to Bedford Stuyvesant, lasting in both neighborhoods for six days. (The only silver lining, you might say, was Mayor Lindsay's response: forming the Civilian Complaint Review Board in 1966.)

In 1967, El Barrio was overrun by what Mayor Lindsay inartfully called "a disturbance" after the police shot a young Puerto Rican named Renaldo Rodriguez. Four people were killed and over a hundred were injured in the chaos.

If this all sounds like old history, New York City has had more recent heart-wrenching incidents of racial divisiveness. In 1992, long-simmering tensions between the black and Jewish communities in Crown Heights led to three days of unrest in the streets.

It is surprising how many transplants to New York are completely unfamiliar with the story of Amadou Diallo, a young immigrant from Guinea. Four white officers from the Street Crimes Unit (3% of which was black) fired 41 shots at Diallo as he stood outside of his Bronx building vestibule, reaching for his wallet to show his identification. When the police officers were acquitted by an Albany jury (the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division had held that the officers could not receive a fair trial in the Bronx) and assigned to desk duty, organizers took to the streets with major, peaceful demonstrations.

The marches, noted for their interracial composition, lasted for weeks, with activists making very similar policy demands to those being made in the aftermath of Eric Garner's death and the Staten Island grand jury's non-indictment. In 1999, Reverend Al Sharpton and PBA President Patrick Lynch were both players, obviously with opposing bullhorns. The Coalition Against Police Brutality, which had formed a few years earlier after a different set of policing incidents, drove many of the protests, and its lawsuit, Daniels v. City of New York, led to the disbanding of the Street Crimes Unit and the release of police arrest data.

The stop-and-frisk data released after Daniels served as the basis of Floyd v. City of New York, the landmark lawsuit against stop-and-frisk that concluded in the plaintiffs' favor this year when Mayor de Blasio declined to pursue an appeal and agreed to reform certain police procedures. The Coalition Against Police Brutality was a precursor to Communities United for Police Reform, which is now responsible for many of the "#BlackLivesMatter" actions. Thus, in some respects, today's protests are part of an ongoing 20-year movement.

William Faulkner once wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." The young minority organizers of the Black Lives Matter protests say that the ongoing demonstrations are not only about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Akai Gurley, but about expressing the emotions of a community that has always been discriminated against. Today's activists respond to demands that they "respect the rule of law" by asking for whom laws are designed, and for whom they are enforced. Politicians who unconditionally back the NYPD or call for "law and order" fail to acknowledge that for some communities, the rule of law has been seen and felt as a weapon and not a shield for centuries. Even today, racial disparities in the criminal justice system amplify this legacy. Changing that perception and that reality will take time.

Much about police and minority community relations is slowly improving. The NYPD is more diverse than it has ever been, as the tragic deaths of Officers Wenjiang Liu and Rafael Ramos illustrate. However, as recently as 1980 the force was 90% white, which is reflected in today's command and union leadership.

Today the city's elected officials look more like the city they represent than ever before, especially in the City Council. Both Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton have publicly discussed the need to build community trust, and the mayor has noted that the conversation moving forward must acknowledge "centuries of racism."

The crowds marching in the street are diverse in race, age, and income and have broad support for their demands. Protesters and police officers are not hurting each other or physical property in bloody street clashes; in fact, with the exception of a few fringe protesters and fringe officers, these have been perhaps the most respectful demonstrations in recent city memory, a dynamic that inflammatory comments by the PBA's Lynch risk jeopardizing.

Yet despite these positive steps forward, we are still not a city of racial trust, let alone peace and harmony. For those who can envision a unified city, and want to put in the work, perhaps the first step is to admit that the past is real, and as long as we share these streets, it's not even past. Perhaps a Truth and Reconciliation Process could move New York City forward.

In a city of constant change, replenished with new immigrants, professional transplants, and dream-seekers who work and live alongside communities that have passed down these stories for generations, perhaps New Yorkers need to have this conversation more explicitly than most. As we begin 2015, let us respect how far we have come, and let us respect how far we have to go.

Janos Marton is an attorney, writer and activist. In January 2015 he will launch janos.nyc, a site that will revisit New York City's history to contextualize current events. Find him on Twitter @JanosMarton. For people looking for a readable history of the city, Janos recommends The Epic of New York City by Edward Robb Ellis.

Edward Robb Ellis, The Epic of New York City, Chapters 6, 9 and 18.
Jonathan Gill: Harlem. Chapters 7, 9-10.
Graham Russell Hodges, Roots & Branch: African-Americans in New York & East Jersey, at 65 and 93.
Eric Homberger, The Historical Atlas of New York City, at 96-97.
James Lardner and Thomas Repetto, NYPD: A City and Its People, Chapters 12 and 16.
Interviews with activists.

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that Amadou Diallo was from Guinea, not Haiti as previously stated.

De Blasio Administration, City's Tech Community Prepare for Big Year Two

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Mayor de Blasio announcing digital.nyc (photo: @nycgov)

When a flip-phone wielding candidate came out of nowhere to become the next mayor of New York City, the city's tech community grew a little uneasy.

Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a tech-media billionaire, the city's technology industry thrived. Silicon Alley was born, the Open Data Portal was launched, and New York City became a new favorite place for venture capitalists to pour their money into new tech initiatives.

Whether the driving force for tech industry growth in New York City was policies of the Bloomberg administration or the simple fact that technology was booming is an argument for another day. Either way, seeing her as the closest extension of Bloomberg, much of the technology community had endorsed third-place finisher Christine Quinn in the Democratic primary, and post-election was unsure how Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio would handle its needs at a critical time of growth.

As we close the books on 2014, it appears most of the worry was for naught. The tech industry is still thriving and in fact expanding outside of Manhattan. Venture capitalists have not fled. In addition, de Blasio notched two fairly large tech wins under his belt with the highly successful sale of .nyc domain names and the approval of the contract that will turn the city's outdated payphones into modern Wi-Fi hotspots (LinkNYC). The City also launched digital.nyc, "the official online hub of the New York City startup and technology ecosystem," in partnership with a variety of tech entities and largely sponsored by IBM. 

"I think they have done well in laying the groundwork to do more in this administration than the previous administration was able to do in 12 years," Andrew Rasiej, chairman of New York Tech Meetup, said in a recent phone interview.

Gotham Gazette takes a look at what Mr. Rasiej and other tech sector leaders have seen in 2014 - and what to look for 2015:

The Face of Tech
Ever the salesman, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg loved being the face of the emerging tech industry. He would go to tech events, give speeches, and constantly talk up New York City as the place to be for tech.

It's debatable whether Mayor de Blasio still needs to do this seeing as how the industry is now on solid footing and growing rapidly. But considering the city's economy is now in part dependent upon the tech sector, de Blasio will have to ensure New York City doesn't lose it's place to emerging markets like Austin that can boast blazing fast internet speeds, low taxes, and cheap rent.

"He has not done as much promotion as we would have liked," Erik Grimmelmann, president and CEO of the New York Technology Council, said in a recent phone interview about Mayor de Blasio. "He is not out there in the media as often as we would like highlighting tech in New York."

Grimmelmann noted de Blasio obviously had larger priorities in his first year with funding and rolling out universal pre-kindergarten at the top of that list. He said he would like to see de Blasio at more tech events in 2015 and promoting the sector more, but added stylistically it does not appear de Blasio will be the type of tech cheerleader Bloomberg had been.

That job may fall to his tech team.

De Blasio's Tech Team
It took months, but de Blasio filled out the leadership of his tech team by the fall. He named Anne Roest as the Commissioner for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) in May, followed by the appointment of Minerva Tantoco as the city's first Chief Technology Officer in September, and Dr. Amen Ra Mashariki as the city's Chief Analytics Officer in October.

"He has put in place good people in the important positions and he has created new positions as it relates to tech," Grimmelmann said. "I think it is a very good team, but the teams have been put in place to do longer-term things. It will take time before we know how well it turns out."

The team has been busy with Roest focusing on fixing the new emergency 911 system during her first few months in office. Then it was all hands on deck for the LinkNYC announcement and push to get the contract approved.

Few specifics have emerged from the tech team as to what the administration will be rolling out next year, but it appears much, if not all, will come back to de Blasio's broader goal of bridging the digital divide.

"The first step is to make sure you support and advance the mayor's overall strategy for the city and then the trick is to connect the dots and define a set of principles that can guide those technology decisions that support that strategy," Minerva Tantoco, the city's Chief Technology Officer, said in a recent interview.

Civic Tech
One of the areas de Blasio has room to make his mark is the civic tech space. Bloomberg created the BigApps competition which encourages civic hackers and tech entrepreneurs to use city data to make apps. Despite one of the most robust non-governmental civic tech communities in the country, BigApps is about as far as the data-friendly former mayor got with the civic tech community.

Mayors from cities across the country like Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco are beginning to team up with their respective civic tech communities to help solve problems. While de Blasio hasn't quite opened up City Hall for a hackathon yet, he has paired up with civic hackers to put the City Record archives online after signing a bill into law that requires it. The project could be a hint of more to come.

Tantoco said she is "still in the listening phase" with the civic tech community but noted she is eager to work together.

"I welcome ideas to collaborate with others and I have a strong commitment to make that a huge part of what we do in New York City," Tantoco said.

Collaboration may end up being easier after the first of the year. Rasiej and his business partner Micah Sifry will open Civic Hall, an 18,500 square foot space in the Flatiron District. Civic Hall will offer a collaborative workspace for those in the tech industry and could be the bridge between government and tech the city has been missing.

[Related: Gotham Gazette's Civic App Wish List for 2015]

Contract Procurement
In the coming years the City will need to purchase new equipment and software to update its aging technology. The City has not had the best track record in recent years with technology contract procurement, with the CityTime scandal being the highest profile of a string of projects that went over budget and/or over time.

New York City has not been the only one grappling with tech contract procurement, the slow pace of which typically doesn't keep up with the pace of technology. The biggest question is how cities can balance protecting their financial interests with ensuring the best product is purchased and delivered.

"It is a hairy, knotty problem," Tantoco said. "As new technology comes online, the way you buy them and select them becomes way more important," she added. "As technology becomes a huge part of our daily lives and how citizens interact with their government, these technology decisions and purchases become even more important."

The Department of Investigation recently released recommendations for large tech procurement contracts following the bungling of updating the 911 system. Those recommendations were discussed at a recent City Council hearing and will form a guide as the administration moves forward with contract procurement. City Comptroller Scott Stringer had announced a new directive in April outlining heightened requirements for oversight of city IT contracts.

Open Data
The city's Open Data Portal has been up and running for several years now, but there is still vast room for improvement. Data quality and simply getting more data on the portal have (and will likely always be) huge asks from the tech community.

"I would like to see him open up that considerably and do much more in that space," Grimmelmann said. "It is a great way of leveraging the talents of the community to provide data and for the community to figure out what it means."

Grimmelmann noted the biggest impediment to opening up data is for bureaucratic reasons: politicians don't want to release data that will end up burning them in the papers. It's a slippery slope for politicians, but one Grimmelmann wants to see de Blasio overcome.

"I would like to see him extend his leadership in overcoming those fears and reactions and make more data available," Grimmelmann said.

Tantoco called the Open Data Portal a "key priority" and said in the coming months her team would continue to focus on the ease of use and accessibility of the data.

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Predictions! Experts Look Ahead to New York Politics in 2015

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Looking ahead to the new year (photo: balldrop.com)

As we usually do about this time of year, Gotham Gazette asked a bunch of politicos to look into their crystal (New Year's Eve) balls for predictions for the year ahead. We also received a few responses to our Twitter solicitation. Below you'll find insights from current and former elected officials, journalists, advocates, analysts, and others who are tuned into New York politics.

Have something to add to the conversation? Tweet us @GothamGazette. And, be sure to read the latest reporting from Gotham Gazette, which includes year in review and year ahead articles on many issues and electeds (such as the New York City CouncilComptroller Stringercity veterans policy2015 Albany legislative session; and more).

Predictions for 2015 in New York politics:

Nicole Gelinas, Manhattan Institute and City Journal
The carriage horses will be securer in their jobs by next New Year's Eve.

Ruben Diaz, Jr., Bronx Borough President
The four new Metro North stations in the East Bronx—Hunts Point, Parkchester, Morris Park and Co-op City—will be fully funded in the MTA capital plan. These are our borough's highest priority right now, and we have never been closer to seeing this long-held vision become a reality.

More companies and organizations will take a fresh look at The Bronx, and we will continue to build on our success for the past five years. My office will continue to work to create jobs and new housing, [and] bring new business opportunities of all types to The Bronx.

Dan Garodnick, City Council Member
The East Midtown Rezoning Steering Committee will make recommendations that improve upon the last proposal.

The Upper East Side will have perfectly cleaned streets through every snowstorm.

Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President
In 2015, Brooklyn will continue to make history. We will be preparing to host the greatest convention our nation has ever witnessed, which will help elect the next Democratic president of the United States. Our borough will also be proud to host Pope Francis as he delivers a historic mass to thousands in Prospect Park.

Gustavo Rivera, State Senator
We will pass reforms that will serve as an initial step to remove doubt and strengthen our [criminal justice] system. One reform, that I believe will be at the center of the discussion, will be my bill to give the Attorney General, an impartial and independent prosecutor, the authority to investigate cases involving police misconduct, including those resulting in the death of an unarmed individual.

Governor Cuomo will announce that part of the $4.2 billion surplus in the state budget should be spent on transportation, either as MTA capital funds or to offset a fare increase.

Between the implementation of Mayor de Blasio's housing plan and the renewal of rent-regulation laws in the legislature, next year there will be a strong push throughout the state to ensure we preserve and expand our affordable housing stock.

James Merriman, CEO, New York City Charter School Center
In 2015, all public charter schools will get the full funding they deserve and New York City parents will continue to choose charters to educate their children in record numbers.

Alyssa Katz, New York Daily News Editorial Board
Conflict over renewal of rent regulation and a major affordable housing tax abatement, both of which expire in June 2015, will test the already tense relationship between Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. De Blasio backs a repeal of the Urstadt law, which gives Albany control over New York City's rent regulations; Cuomo has taken no position but big real estate world donors are dead-set against Urstadt repeal. Cuomo's developer-donors also have a big stake in curbing Mayor de Blasio's ambitions to expand affordable housing mandates attached to the tax break, known as 421-a. Pass the popcorn.

Dante de Blasio will be accepted at Columbia University but choose to enroll in a college outside NYC.

Christina Greer, political science professor, Fordham
Sharpton v. Bratton will come to a head, especially since it seems like there are more videos coming out about cops and negative interactions with young black and Latino youth. I'd put my money on Sharpton to win the war...if NYC isn't big enough for the both of them, it's Bratton who will need to find a new home.

Issues at Rikers Island will directly bleed into the larger fights about those who are charged with protecting New Yorkers, the unions who represent them, and everyone else.

Sal Albanese, former City Council Member and mayoral candidate
Bill Bratton will not be the Police Commissioner at the end of 2015.

Andrew Hawkins, reporter, Crain's New York Business
Unable to find any place that will take New York's newly emancipated carriage horses, Mayor Bill de Blasio turns Gracie Mansion into a dude ranch. He then shells out another $30,000 to replace the new fence with one made of barbed wire. Dante objects to working as a horse wrangler, mainly because he can't fit the hat on his head.

Sales of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's book skyrocket after reporters discover the whole thing is an acrostic mercilessly ridiculing Fred Dicker.

James Parrott, Deputy Director and Chief Economist, Fiscal Policy Institute
In 2015, business supporters will tell Republican leaders in Congress that it's time to raise the minimum wage because otherwise they risk losing the white working class. Even Republicans acknowledge that it's different this time since half the states have already increased their wage levels above the federal minimum. More than one Member of Congress will be embarrassed by not knowing the federal minimum wage is still $7.25 an hour.

Ben Kallos, City Council Member
I'm looking forward to...partnering with BetaNYC to put the City Record Online, making sure the full City law goes online at NYC.gov, and more city agencies have voter registration forms.

There will be a renewed focus on New York City's public transportation system, which is facing larger crowds and more delays than ever. We urgently need to invest in public transportation.

Robert Gangi, Director, Police Reform Organizing Project
After taking time to pause, reflect on, and join in the mourning of the two police officers killed in a senseless act of violence, the city's police reform movement will return in full, powerful force effectively pressing Mayor de Blasio to abandon quota-driven 'broken windows' policing that targets & harasses low-income people of color, charging them, sometimes falsely, with low-level infractions. Responding to his base, the mayor will reluctantly make this move when he recognizes that it is a necessary step on the way to keeping his campaign pledge to create a Police Department serves and protects all New Yorkers and that works to achieve a more safe, fair, and inclusive city for all its citizens.

Alexis Grenell, political consultant
I predict that the Governor and the Legislature will compromise and pass 9 out of 10 planks of the Women's Equality Act. The Governor will claim it's the best he could do despite herculean efforts to empower female voters, and urge women to express their outrage by voting on the WEP line in the 2016 election cycle.

Theodore Hamm, journalism professor, St. Joseph's College
2 of 3 will happen in 2015:

Bratton will retire.
Stringer will audit Gracie Mansion's catering expenses.
Bharara's office will be investigated for corruption.

Adam Forman, Center for an Urban Future
Mayor De Blasio announces a "historic" plan to build 200,000 units of affordable housing in Staten Island. Every Staten Islander moves to New Jersey.

Senator Schumer successfully cobbles together funding for a new Hudson River rail crossing. The Gateway Tunnel is completed in 2030, five years prior to the opening of Santiago Calatrava's WTC PATH Station.

After Brooklyn's efforts to annex Ridgewood are scuttled, Queens emerges as the artistic capital of New York City. Bukharian-Bhutanese fusion electronic dance music and Fujianese-Colombian digital art captivate the world. The New York Times christens every hip neighborhood in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America as the "New Queens.

David Bloomfield, professor of education leadership, CUNY
In education, the Mayor and Chancellor are likely to find their footing after mixed successes (pre-k, settled contracts, de-emphasizing tests and school grades) and missteps (charters, struggling school plans, snow days). Politicized school wars will continue, however, with well-funded adversaries among others lobbing missiles over charter space, teacher tenure, and student achievement.

Billy Easton, Alliance for Quality Education
Hedge Fund Billionaires like Paul Tudor Jones, Dan Loeb and Paul Singer will break Albany records for spending in order to push an education "reform" agenda of starvation for public schools, high stakes testing for public school students, and privatization through charter schools.

Governor Cuomo will champion this same agenda, but naturally the millions of dollars spent by these hedge fund titans will have zero influence on his decision making.

Public school parents, students, teachers and community members will fight back against the millions in lobbying spending by the Hedge Fund crowd and surprise everyone by winning.

Howie Hawkins, former Green Party gubernatorial candidate
Instead of raising the minimum wage, the four men in the room will agree to increase the state Earned Income Tax Credit. Cuomo's minimum wage board will give food tip workers a wage hike but maintain the tip credit.

The four men in a room will package the renewal of rent control with continuing the local property tax cap and sweeten the rent control side of the deal for real estate interests with more tax breaks for developers.

Cuomo will say the word poverty in his State of the State address.

Helen Rosenthal, City Council Member
The Yankees bounce back, make the American League playoffs.

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Partisan, with a Chance of Compromise: Forecasting the 2015 Albany Legislative Session

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Three men in a room: Silver (left), Cuomo, and Skelos (photo: @GannettAlbany)

As 2014 nears an end, state lawmakers have already begun posturing for a number of major legislative battles in 2015.

Not all of them will be fresh, in fact a few of the biggest will be retreads of hot button issues from last year like Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Women's Equality Agenda and the DREAM Act, not to mention charter schools and campaign finance and ethics reforms.

But there are also new fronts opening up. Expect major debate over policies that particularly impact New York City, like several regarding police-community relations and the state's justice system; a struggle over the city's rent laws and vacancy decontrol; and renewed debate over how to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) as it faces a $15.2 billion budget gap.

While Republican control of the state Senate means that anything passing through the Albany gauntlet will have to be a compromise among their leadership, Assembly Democrats, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the governor has shown an ability to push through items that he prioritizes. Perhaps the largest question heading into 2015 is what will make that list. Our preview of the major issues on the table:

Criminal Justice
Gov. Cuomo called for a full review of the state's justice system in an effort to restore faith after the a grand jury decided not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner despite graphic video evidence in which Garner repeatedly pleads "I can't breathe" as he dies. Cuomo has said there seems to be something incongruous when considering the video and the grand jury decision.

The governor has put off proposing specific ideas until the legislative session begins in January, saying that he will first convene a panel, but legislators are already posturing for the upcoming debate. Senate Democrats support Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's proposal to have Cuomo give him the power to investigate police killings of unarmed suspects in the interim before any legislation is passed. They unveiled a comprehensive platform on December 9th that is being met with firm resistance from Republicans and law enforcement unions.

Senate Democrats proposed creating a permanent special prosecutor for cases where unarmed civilians are killed by police, and they want state funding for body cameras for police.

A number of district attorneys have voiced opposition to losing jurisdiction over police brutality cases and Senate Republicans have already indicated they have no interest in creating a special prosecutor.

Other proposed legislation would allow for the release of the evidence reviewed by a grand jury after it has made its decision - New York law currently prohibits release of most information seen by grand juries without appeal, something that has been a sticking point in the Garner-Pantaleo case.

There are a slew of other criminal issues that are less likely to take up as much airspace. One such issue is decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Advocates continue to press the issue despite there being less of a legislative and media focus on it since the deescalation of stop-and-frisk and Mayor Bill de Blasio's implementation of a program that has the NYPD ticketing many marijuana offenders rather than arresting them.

A number of assembly members are concerned with prison issues - including violence at Rikers Island and how the mentally ill are treated in state prisons.

Cuomo's social reentry council began meeting this summer and it is expected it will begin making recommendations on how the State can help former inmates find housing and jobs and avoid recidivism sometime in the new year. Cuomo's office has touted its Work For Success program that encourages employers to hire the formerly incarcerated, but it ran into a wall with the Legislature when it pushed reestablishing a free college for inmates program in some state prisons.

Civil Rights
Three of the biggest issues from the last few legislative sessions will return with a vengeance next session. Supporters of the DREAM Act, the Women's Equality Act, and the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) are looking to Cuomo to deliver on his campaign promises, despite the fact that the Senate is now firmly in Republican control.

Cuomo had to publicly reaffirm his support for GENDA before receiving the endorsement of The Empire State Pride Agenda this summer after advocates worried Cuomo was taking them for granted.

Cuomo's failure to pass all 10 points of the Women's Equality Act led to his creation of the Women's Equality Party - which was met by steep criticism from advocates and pundits who said it was a trite political move aimed at several other goals. While Cuomo put major resources into the issue the odds of all 10 points passing this year may be worse than ever with Senate Republican in full control of the chamber. Some advocates blame Cuomo very directly for failing to do more for Senate Democrats and Cuomo could face major political backlash from women's groups if he fails to deliver the act. But, the governor is known for getting bipartisan agreement on tough issues that matter to him and after the 2014 campaign one would have to think this is one of those issues. If not, he might be faced with the tough decision of whether to accept passage of the nine of ten measures that Republicans have supported or continue to get none.

Meanwhile, Cuomo repeatedly pledged to pass The DREAM Act during campaign stops in the city this summer and listed it as a priority during his victory speech. Latino legislators feel their districts showed strong support for the governor when voters in other areas of the state were tepid in turning out for the governor. They expect Cuomo will include the legislation that would provide tuition assistance to undocumented students in his budget proposal. But even then it is sure to meet resistance from some Senate Republicans.

The city's rent laws are set to expire on June 16, 2016. The real estate lobby poured millions of dollars into senate races across the state to sure up backing before a session that could determine housing policy for years to come.

Tenant advocates are bracing for the worst as they feel Cuomo is likely to weigh in on the side of real estate because he has been a major beneficiary of their largesse. They are warning tenants that if they lose this fight they could see the end of affordable housing in the city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio's efforts to win funding for universal pre-k and moves to scuttle charter schools expansion in the city ignited the education fire in Cuomo's heart last year. Cuomo refused to allow de Blasio to raise city taxes to pay for pre-k, but found the funds in the state budget. And, he quickly positioned himself as the charter school messiah, thundering away at a pro-charter Albany rally, pledging to protect and expand charters across the state. Cuomo and the Legislature used the 2014 budget to strengthen protections for charters and strip away some of de Blasio's power over them.

Cuomo had nothing to lose with teachers unions that he already had a terrible relationship with and Cuomo enjoys major financial backing from charter groups. Pro-charter PAC New Yorkers For a Balanced Albany took in millions from financial industry donors who have taken a particular interest in education reform and used the money to help Senate Republicans win full control of the chamber.

This sets the stage for 2015, when Cuomo and the Legislature will look at things like teacher evaluations, the cap on charter schools, and mayoral control of New York City schools. Some suspect that Cuomo and Senate Republicans will look to reduce or even eliminate mayoral control of New York City schools in an effort to strengthen charter schools, as well as perhaps eliminating the charter cap. Cuomo referred to traditional public schools as having a "monopoly" late in his campaign, angering the Working Families Party and other labor interests. Funding for city schools will also be a major point of contention as groups and lawmakers continue to push Cuomo to fulfill the State's obligation from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision.

Education fights could pit Cuomo and de Blasio against each other in a major power struggle.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Conference of New York will be back pushing Cuomo to enact a tax credit for those who donate to private schools. One version of the bill applies the credit to charter school donations as well. Public education advocates say the bill will take public funds that should be going to public schools and instead send them to the private sector. Critics also worry that rich donors will eat up the pool of credits before average donors get a shot. Cuomo appeared to waffle on the issue last session, so his influence will likely decide the outcome.

The MTA says it needs $32 billion to keep its aging infrastructure in good repair. The problem is that it is short around $15.2 billion and Cuomo has indicated he thinks the MTA may be exaggerating its need.

The MTA board proposed raising fares and tolls by 4 percent next year but things could get worse if it decides to borrow cash to fill its budget gap. Chair Thomas Prendergast has repeatedly mentioned that legislators need to find new ways to fund the MTA so that it doesn't load up on already precarious levels of debt.

Any taxes related to the MTA aren't particularly popular in Albany but the return of the commuter tax conversation may happen this session.

The Budget "Surplus"
If there is one thing legislators love doing it is spending money. While the governor has positioned himself as a prudent fiscal steward who has instituted tax caps, it just so happens that the State finds itself temporarily flush with $5 billion in cash thanks to a number of major financial settlements.

Expect the debate over how to spend the cash to be time consuming and bitter.

Cuomo has said he does not want to use the windfall on recurring budget items which makes budget watchdogs happy. Instead Cuomo has indicated he wants to use the cash on infrastructure projects across the state. The Independent Democratic Conference has put forward a plan that would see the creation of two programs to hire New Yorkers to work on infrastructure repairs. The Empire Public Works program would take $3.5 billion and focus on major infrastructure projects. Sen. Jeff Klein estimates the plan would create 97,000 jobs. The Community Jobs program would use $1.5 billion for smaller repair projects and is estimated to create 40,000 jobs.

Cuomo likely has his own plans for the cash, as do the other houses of the legislature.

Campaign Finance and Ethics Reform
A massive overhaul of the system seems totally unlikely given Republican control of the Senate. Public financing of elections is all but dead. As a special session was bandied about, Cuomo said he was pushing legislative leaders to implement reforms on the use of campaign cash and limits on outside income in exchange for pay raises. But as the year comes to a close and no special session materializes, its unclear where these reforms may come from.

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Holiday Shopping: A Civic App Wish List for 2015

heat seek bigapps winner

Mayor de Blasio with this year's NYC BigApps winner (photo: @NYCEDC)

Thanks to a robust civic technology community and plenty of open data, New York City is home to several great civic apps. Citygram, created by civic hacker and open government group BetaNYC, uses 311 and crash data provided by the City to allow users to get personalized crash alerts for any area of the city.

This year's winner of the City-sponsored Big Apps competition, Heatseek, will use 311 data to create Cold Map, which will show where tenants without heat are located. They are also piloting a program which puts devices in some of those apartments to create automated temperature logs, something required to take action against landlords who refuse to fix the heat.

While these apps (and many others not mentioned here) are great, there are countless apps being used in cities across the nation that would be excellent to have here in New York - some for quality of life purposes, some for improving government effectiveness. With Mayor Bill de Blasio building out his tech team, the City Council committed to revamping its website, and open-data advocate and software developer Council Member Ben Kallos aggressively leading the Council's governmental operations committee, there is some hope that more of these innovative apps will be utilized in New York.

In that spirit and the spirit of the holidays, we decided to create a civic app "wish list" with five such apps that we think would benefit New York City greatly and should be looked at for 2015.

By no means a comprehensive list, these are five that have caught Gotham Gazette's eye as we've reported on civic tech and open government in New York. Have a great app used in your city that is not on this list? Tweet at us and let us know!

Open Budget
There is no government document more important than the budget. It determines how money is spent which in turn means what services will be provided to city residents and thus what the city's priorities are. While New York City does publish its budget online, the document is in PDF form, rendering it virtually useless for data analysis. For the average New Yorker reading the documents to find out, for example, how much money is in the parks budget, it is nearly impossible.

Earlier this year software company Socrata launched Open Budget, an easy to navigate web platform that allows everyday citizens to see exactly how much expense money is budgeted for every agency in any city that utilizes the application. On the capital side of the budget, which deals with building and infrastructure, there is a nifty map that shows exactly where a capital project is located and how far along in the process the it is.

Boston adopted Open Budget this summer and while the app would only cost New York City $1,000 per month, it has yet to be adopted.

The New York City Council holds hearing nearly every day and with 51 council members, more than 30 issue committees, and hundreds of pieces of legislation introduced each year, it can be difficult to keep up. The Council maintains a very detailed calendar on its website, but in the age of push notifications, checking a website daily is - or should be - an obsolete practice.

Civic hackers in Philadelphia built Councilmatic, an app that scrapes the data from the city's council website and presents it on its own. Councilmatic allows users to subscribe to see when legislation is updated, easily search, contextualize by seeing relevant information around legislation, and evaluate by seeing the pros and cons of legislation. The info is all sent via email whenever the topics you are following are updated. Information on Councilmatic also appears in Google searches, which is currently not the case with data on the New York City Council's outdated Legistar site.

Councilmatic became a huge hit and the open source software was used to build similar sites in Chicago and Oakland. New York City could grab the free code and get a version going here for a relatively low cost - something that has been recommended to the Council as it has committed to revamping its website. Gotham Gazette was told by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito that major changes to the Council's website are in the works for 2015, but she indicated that details were still being worked out.

The name would likely have to change if brought to New York City, but the service provided by CAPSure could certainly be beneficial. The City of Chicago requires their police precincts to have beat-based community meetings once per quarter. Since the meetings are not always on the same date, CAPSure sends a user an email when the meetings will take place. The idea behind the app is to allow Chicagoans to be more involved in community policing.

New York City regularly has Precinct Community Council meetings and, just like in Chicago, the dates are not regularly set. An app similar to CAPSure would be a great way to notify the public about important community-building meetings in user-friendly ways.

The code for CAPSure is free, however, the NYPD would need to put the meeting dates somewhere public for the app to pull from. In Chicago the meeting dates are pulled from the City's open data portal. The NYPD, though, does not currently post that information on New York City's parallel site.

Imagine going to purchase food using EBT benefits only to have the card denied, not due to lack of funds but because your benefits expired. While New York has made it easier to get re-certified by allowing phone instead of in-person interviews, knowing when to set one up is not always easy.

San Francisco began using Promptly, a first-of-its-kind text messaging program for human services agencies. The app sends text messages to residents letting them know important due dates and termination of services deadlines.

The service could be modified here in New York City to include other benefits that need recertification.

Open Data City
When New York City's Open Data Portal was first released using the search function was a nightmare. Type in a phrase and the results were often limited and not what you were looking for. The issue took two years to fix.

Despite complaints, the City was at the mercy of Socrata and its proprietary software. Even if the City had hired the most talented developers, they wouldn't have been able to make changes. It's akin to your wanting to change something in Microsoft Word to meet your workflow - even if you can code, you can't do it, the software is proprietary.

Recently, governments at various levels, including the federal government with its data.gov site, have switched to CKAN, which provides open source software. The benefit of open source software is customizability. Open Data City provides the expertise to develop the software without locking you into a contract.

In addition, Open Data City seeds the City data with census, labor, and other publicly-available data to deliver ready-made maps. This makes the data portal more user-friendly for those who would rather look at maps, graphs, and charts than spreadsheets.

And as an added benefit, the app is made right here in New York City.

Time to go civic app shopping, New York!

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Far From Mission Accomplished: Ulrich Battles for City's Veterans

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CM Ulrich speaks at the Council's veterans food drive event (photo: William Alatriste)

New York City Council Member Eric Ulrich finds great purpose in standing up for military veterans. The Republican from Queens comes from a patriotic family that has nearly every branch of the military represented over three generations.

Ulrich's great grandfather served as an MP in the Army during World War II, his grandfather served in the Navy following the Vietnam War, and his brother is currently in the process of enlisting in the Marines. Ulrich himself pondered enlisting when he was younger, but decided it wasn't the best path for him.

His career eventually led him to politics where he won his City Council District 32 seat in a 2009 special election. He became the youngest member of the Council at the time, taking over a district with a large veteran population. Ulrich's district, as well as his personal military connections, have made him a perfect fit to be a leading voice for the city's more than 200,000 veterans as chair of the Council's Committee on Veterans.

"I think I have one of the best committees in the Council. I wouldn't trade my committee for any other committee," Ulrich said from his legislative office during a recent interview with Gotham Gazette. "My job is really unique in that the stuff we do, the bills we pass, they are really going to make a difference in helping people who really don't get the help they deserve."

The city's military veterans community has been in dire need of a strong voice at City Hall as their issues have spent years on the political backburner. Ulrich's unapologetic, outspoken brand of politics has proven particularly useful this year as head of the often overlooked veterans committee.

"I think that for a very long time the City thought they can do things a certain way and that would be enough," Ulrich said. "Then someone like me came along and said, 'This isn't enough. We have to do more. We should do more. And when we don't do more, I am going to call you out on it.'"

Over the course of 11 hearings in 2014, Ulrich has brought to light pressing issues in the veterans community such as jobs, homelessness, and hunger; and pressed the de Blasio administration on its handling of veterans affairs. Ulrich's efforts have earned him the praise of veterans advocates in the process.

"I think he has really elevated this committee," Jason Hansman, director of external relations for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) said in a recent phone interview. "Not many people were participating and taking the lead, and Council Member Ulrich has brought new life into this committee."

Joe Bello, a Gulf War veteran who has been active with the Council's Veterans Committee since its formation in 2002 and is the founder of NYMetro Vets, an advocacy group, called Ulrich a "proactive and strong leader."

"He has been one of the better [veterans committee chairs] we have had in a long time." Bello said during a phone interview. "He has brought a seriousness and a focus to the position."

At the beginning of the year it was thought that a proactive focus from Ulrich would be an added bonus, not a necessity. When Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, the veterans community believed they would finally have someone in their corner for more than just parades and photo ops. De Blasio's father, Warren Wilhelm, served during World War II, losing part of his leg in the Battle of Okinawa. Wilhelm later took his own life after very difficult post-war years that included a cancer diagnosis.

De Blasio has discussed his father's service in several speeches and mentions his personal connection whenever questioned about veterans issues. The mayor has consistently expressed the same sentiment Ulrich stresses: that the city must do more for its military veterans. Veterans advocates believed having a mayor who personally understood the struggles of veterans would elevate their concerns to forefront. But in his first year as mayor, de Blasio's rhetoric has not been supported by action.

"When you look at what is going on on the Council side and what's going on on the mayor's side, it is really almost night and day," Bello said.

In his first executive budget, the mayor, despite urging from the City Council and veterans advocates, did not put in any additional money toward the Mayor's Office of Veterans' Affairs (MOVA). The five-member office tasked with serving the city's more than 200,000 veterans has a budget of just under $550,000, almost all of which pays staff salaries.

Requests for additional programmatic funding in the budget was also denied by de Blasio. Under the leadership of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Ulrich, the Council put $400,000 in discretionary funding toward job placement initiatives, and legal and mental health services for veterans.

De Blasio chose not to include $250,000 in his first budget to fund three benefits counselors MOVA utilized to serve veterans. The initiative was started under the Bloomberg administration and funded through a grant from the Robin Hood Foundation. The counselors trained veterans to navigate accessing federal VA benefits, a backlog for which has been a longstanding, well-publicized problem. The grant expired in late summer and without funding, the three benefits counselors were let go.

The move did not sit well with Ulrich.

"It is incredibly frustrating not only for me as an elected official, but for the 200,000-plus veterans who live in New York City...that in a $74 billion budget we only spend roughly $500,000 on veterans," Ulrich said.

More recently the mayor sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to veto bi-partisan legislation passed by the State Legislature that would allow peace-time veterans to buy back up to three years of pension credits for time served. Currently only combat veterans can do a buy-back. Just days after his re-election and right before Veterans Day, Cuomo vetoed the bill, citing a potential cost of $18 million for New York City.

"That was a terrible mistake to make and I think a lot of the advocates feel it was a slap in the face to those who have served our country," Ulrich said.

Ulrich and advocates had hoped the Legislature would override the veto during a special session, but it appears such a session, which must occur by year's end, is unlikely.

The one tangible move de Blasio has made on the veterans front has been his appointment of Loree Sutton, a highly regarded retired Army Brigadier General, as his new Commissioner for MOVA. Sutton, who recently moved to New York City, is nationally known for her work on mental health issues afflicting veterans, particularly PTSD. While Sutton's credentials stand on their own, the appointment was made more than eight months into de Blasio's first year, on August 18.

Sutton commenced a 90-day review of her department, which was due to the mayor on December 1. From that review, which will not be made public, Sutton will outline for the mayor her vision for moving MOVA forward. Any movement on this vision is unlikely to be announced until 2015.

"We want to be respectful of [the review period], but it is telling that it took this long to get someone appointed and the fact there is such a wait for him to put out this agenda," Hansman of IAVA said. "It is disappointing because most of the action around veterans has only been coming from the Council."

Gotham Gazette asked the mayor's office for comment on these topics several days prior to publication. Despite multiple emails promising a statement, one was not provided by press time.

A New Department
Ulrich has not let de Blasio's approach dictate his committee schedule. He has not been reactionary to the mayor, instead choosing to chart his own course based on the issues veterans bring to him. Ulrich said he realized early in the year that communication between veteran service organizations (VSOs) and the City was poor, so he decided to make his committee hearings a place where those groups could come, discuss problems, and—more importantly—talk solutions.

Ulrich sees the best solution to the communication problem (and others) as making MOVA its own department, and he has introduced legislation that would do just that. Currently MOVA is an office under the mayor with poor funding and limited oversight by the Council, a set-up Ulrich calls "structurally flawed."

When de Blasio appointed Sutton he appeared lukewarm to the idea of a separate department, saying, "we think the model we have now is an important and effective one and we think we can do a lot more with it."

Sutton, who had only been in her position 29 days on the day of the council committee hearing on Ulrich's bill, also did not put her support behind the bill, but added once her review was complete she would weigh in.

"There is no reason why veterans should be the equivalent of the mayor's office of film," Ulrich said. "This is really a way for the City to make a difference," he said of his bill and the new department it would create.

"I think this [bill] would be one of the best things to happen to veterans in a very long time," Ulrich added. "The mayor should get on board with it."

Hansman said the bill has picked up considerable steam among advocacy groups since its introduction and the fight to get it passed "won't be going away" in 2015.

More for 2015
With an active 2014 under his belt, don't expect for Ulrich to slow down in 2015. His "we can always do more" motto has been a staple at every veterans committee hearing and will be a driving force as he heads into what looks to be a busy next year for the committee.

In addition to continuing to push for MOVA to be its own department, Ulrich will move to get veterans treatment courts into all five boroughs. The treatment courts were introduced to New York City in 2009 and offer a veteran-specific drug and/or alcohol treatment program for non-violent offenders. Currently Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens have them and Staten Island has one in the works.

Despite its success, Manhattan hasn't jumped on board. Advocates have all pointed to District Attorney Cy Vance, although his office refuted that claim when asked by Gotham Gazette over the summer.

"I don't think we can legislate that, but if we can shine some light, maybe we can embarrass Manhattan into finally doing it," Ulrich said.

Reforming the Veterans Advisory Board (VAB) will also be a top priority for Ulrich in the new year. Six of nine appointments to the VAB have lapsed (four mayoral and two from the speaker) and the lack of transparency on the board has alarmed advocates and been discussed at several hearings.

When the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and MOVA released a report recommending against the City establishing contract procurement goals for veteran-owned businesses (something recently passed at the state level), it did not go over well in the veterans community. Ulrich plans to hold a hearing early in 2015 on the report, although it appears better data collection may be a priority first, rather than drafting legislation requiring a procurement goal like ones the City has for minority- and women-owned businesses.

Ulrich also hopes to continue his work outside of the committee room. He's eyeing his Memorial Day veteran employment fair, which included 50 vendors this year, becoming an annual event. The Council's Veterans Food Drive, which was a joint venture between Speaker Mark-Viverito, Ulrich, and the New York City Food Bank, brought in 3,000 pounds of food, and he hopes to also make it an annual tradition.

Both legislatively and through community outreach, Ulrich promises to continue his assertive veterans advocacy - and veterans have learned they can count on him for it.

"I love, admire, and respect people who have defended our country," Ulrich said.

"I just don't think we have done enough for veterans in the City. I say it all the time because I mean it," he added. "Some people might disagree. They are wrong."

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

12 Times De Blasio Broke From Bloomberg in 2014

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Bill de Blasio and Mike Bloomberg at City Hall on Nov. 6, 2013 (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Bill de Blasio won the mayoral election by drawing a clear contrast between himself and Michael Bloomberg. Since he took office almost a year ago, de Blasio has continued to attack his predecessor's policies.

While he was gracious during his inauguration speech with Bloomberg in attendance, de Blasio has not shied from criticism in the ensuing months. De Blasio usually refers to the "previous administration" instead of criticizing Bloomberg by name. His evaluations of Bloomberg policy on housing, policing, education, Sandy recovery, and other issues have ranged from "not appropriate" to "abhorrent."

Bloomberg himself has kept silent on the de Blasio tenure, as he promised he would. But in interviews, on Twitter, and on Bloomberg's website, his aides have defended the administration's record and corrected what they say is misinformation. "We've been surprised the extent to which it's been necessary," Howard Wolfson, a former deputy mayor, told The New York Times in September.

De Blasio has praised Bloomberg's work on issues like public health, environmental action, support for growth in the technology industry, and what he has called Bloomberg's "extraordinary and appropriate" advocacy for gun control across the country. He's also working to expand Bloomberg policies like the Citi Bike system.

"I have no trouble challenging the assumptions of the previous administration when I disagree with them, but I also am very comfortable saying when I think they were essentially right," de Blasio said at a February press conference.

Here are twelve 2014 moments when de Blasio criticized Bloomberg's policies and attempted to show his moves in a new direction:

1. On public housing:
"The Bloomberg approach to development at NYCHA was unacceptable. The previous approach, we rejected and this is entirely starting over." --Bill de Blasio, February 8

De Blasio has promised a "reset" of relations between the city and New York City Housing Authority residents, and specifically attacked Bloomberg's proposal to build market-rate housing on NYCHA property in order to raise revenue for the troubled agency. He also criticized delays in funding NYCHA security cameras and other improvements under Bloomberg -- but admitted that the delays had also been "unacceptable in my administration."

2. On municipal union contracts:
"The murky waters [in the city budget] have been created in part by the previous administration's unprecedented failure to resolve 152 collective bargaining agreements with city workers, some of whom have been without contract since 2008 ... The way they budgeted was not appropriate. You cannot ignore open labor contracts for years on end." --Bill de Blasio, February 12

De Blasio accused Bloomberg of publicly vilifying city workers during contract negotiations. When discussing the budget, he doesn't talk as often about the $2.4 billion surplus left over by the previous administration, though the path to that number has been questioned.

3. On charter school co-locations:
"Look, I'm not going to mince words about what I feel about how the Bloomberg Administration made decisions on co-locations. I think it was abhorrent. I think it was done without real consultation with parents, real consultation with the schools that were going to be affected, the receiving schools. And I think a lot of those co-locations proved to be very problematic in practice." --Bill de Blasio, February 27

One of the most contentious political issues of the year has been charter schools, which de Blasio accused Bloomberg of unfairly favoring. He has said he would put a moratorium on new charter school co-locations, but moderated his stance after opposition (and legislation) from Governor Andrew Cuomo.

4. On homelessness:
"[Gov. Cuomo and I] are going to work together to undo the mistakes of the previous administration. I think the cancellation of homelessness prevention programs is one of the reasons why we literally have the all-time highest number of New Yorkers in shelter at this very moment." --Bill de Blasio, March 25

He called youth homelessness one of the city's "most profound" problems. Homelessness is up under the de Blasio administration, as of August, as the new mayor seeks new ways to combat the crisis.

5. On affordable housing:
"We can get a lot more done than the previous approach allowed for ... In many cases there was a bit of a laissez-faire approach to development. And whatever was put forward in a particular case by a developer was accepted pretty much wholesale." --Bill de Blasio, April 7

Affordable housing is one of the centerpieces of de Blasio's policy agenda. He has outlined a plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing in the next ten years, which he says is key to fighting income inequality in the city. This is another area where Bloomberg administration veterans shot back, citing 175,000 affordable units preserved or built during the former mayor's tenure.

6. On small business fines:
"We have to also respect our small businesses ... That didn't happen all the time in the previous administration. Some real boundaries were overstepped in the name of revenue production. Many small businesses were treated unfairly. Many rules were applied very arbitrarily. And it undercut the ability of some small businesses to survive." --Bill de Blasio, April 24

According to de Blasio, small businesses in the Bloomberg era, especially businesses outside Manhattan, were subjected to punitive and unfair fees under a "de facto quota system." De Blasio has said he wants to create a more "compassionate" climate for small businesses.

7. On policing:
"For much of the previous 12 years, there was a growing tension and a growing disconnect between police and community all over our city. And that is not an acceptable state of affairs." --Bill de Blasio, July 28

De Blasio has emphasized that tension between the police and communities of color in New York is a problem that has gone on for "decades," not just during the Bloomberg administration. But his opposition to stop-and-frisk policy practiced under Bloomberg was a highlight of his campaign. Bloomberg resisted stop-and-frisk reforms "quite aggressively" before eventually changing his policy, de Blasio said.

8. On Superstorm Sandy relief:
"I have respect for everyone in the previous administration. I'm sure they were trying their best. But the formula was not a good formula ... What was missing in the previous approach is a focus on real human beings – homeowners, and public housing residents, who needed relief immediately." --Bill de Blasio, September 5

Bloomberg's policies to rebuild storm-ravaged neighborhoods in New York focused more on infrastructure than people, de Blasio said. But he has also praised Bloomberg's focus on resiliency for future storms. Cas Holloway, a deputy mayor under Bloomberg, released a long statement in response to criticisms of the administration's Sandy policy, saying that no other city or federal effort "invested as much funding in as many homes as quickly as New York City did after Hurricane Sandy."

9. On park funding:
"It's been decades of disinvestment in our parks, decades, and again, it did cut along demographic lines ... We believe fundamentally in an agenda of fighting inequality ... I think it's fair to say the previous administration didn't see the world that way. So it just wasn't a priority." --Bill de Blasio, October 7

De Blasio has criticized Bloomberg for investing more in Manhattan parks like the High Line and not as much in smaller, outer borough parks. But he didn't follow through with a plan to force wealthy, privately-funded park conservancies like the Central Park Conservancy to fund maintenance for smaller neighborhood parks. "The Bloomberg administration made $5 billion in capital investments in parks, the largest capital investment in the city's history," said former Parks Commissioner Veronica White.

10. On closing schools:
"The previous administration had a policy that a school like this was left to fend for itself, and that's why we're here today, because we reject the notion of giving up on any of our schools." --Bill de Blasio, November 3

De Blasio's plan, which he calls "Renewal Schools," aims to turn around underperforming city schools instead of closing them.

Bloomberg schools chancellor Dennis Walcott responded that closing failing schools and replacing them with smaller schools was one of the "great education success stories any city has ever experienced."

11. On Rikers Island:
"When I came into office...I knew there were problems, but I didn't know there had been this level of neglect. And I didn't know that so many failed policies had gone unchanged. And I didn't know that so much failed leadership had been left in place." --Bill de Blasio, November 20

Specifically, de Blasio talked about mental health on Riker's Island, and has claimed that his is the first city administration to seriously pursue mental health reforms on the island, which de Blasio visited for the first time as mayor this week.

12. On job training:
"What was quite striking [in the past] was a lot of placements worked for six months or nine months or a year and then the person was back out of work. And a lot of placements were low-wage jobs. This is just not a good public policy, not a good use of taxpayer dollars, not something that actually sets the person up for the future." --Bill de Blasio, November 21

De Blasio argued that the Bloomberg administration missed the opportunity for higher-paying jobs, and aimed instead for quantity of jobs over quality. Former Bloomberg press secretary Stu Loeser told Capital New York that the previous administration "increased job placements from 500 to almost 30,000 a year all across the pay spectrum and led to the highest-ever number of New Yorkers with jobs."

What to watch for in 2015: will Bloomberg break his self-imposed de Blasio gag order?

by Casey Tolan, Gotham Gazette

Effort to Organize New Residents in Gentrifying Neighborhoods Takes Advocates Into Uncharted Territory

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A new apartment building in Williamsburg (photo: Urban75.org)

An initiative to organize new residents in gentrifying neighborhoods is raising concerns among housing advocates. While organizers are eager to bring more people into the tenant movement, the initiative is in sensitive territory - new residents, a.k.a. gentrifiers, are so closely linked to the process of gentrification itself, which is taking neighborhoods by storm and causing considerable strife to many.

The initiative is still in its infancy but as advocates and tenants have learned of it, they've raised concerns that it could divide tenants just as a concerted push to lobby on the state's rent laws is starting. The laws are set to expire next June.

"This is very much an exploratory effort at this point - we've only had a few meetings," said Yonah Lieberman, the organizer at the Metropolitan Council on Housing that is developing the program. "Certainly, it is not our intention to divide tenants and we will revise the program to ensure that that does not happen."

The new initiative, dubbed the Neighborhood Sustainability Project (NSP), is pretty straightforward: new residents in gentrifying neighborhoods are tenants, too, and even if they are not the targets of the tactics - legal and illegal - that landlords use to force long-term low-rent tenants out, they are still concerned with rising housing costs and can bring energy and ideas to the housing movement.

Their link, however, to gentrification is something that makes new residents in these neighborhoods problematic to many who feel threatened by forces changing the city block by block. This is particularly true for those who see gentrification simply as a process of people moving to new neighborhoods; while that is not what defines gentrification, it is one of the more obvious indicators.

Gentrification is generally defined as a process of community renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into less affluent neighborhoods, which leads to the displacement of poorer residents.

"The reality is there are many bad actors involved [in the process] and they use a variety of tactics that are at best morally dubious and at worse, clearly illegal," said a housing financier who has worked in the sector for more than two decades and spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The business models are sometimes premised on the idea of getting people out so that rents can be increased."

"[New residents] understand broadly that they're part of the problem, but they don't understand what the problem is," said Lieberman of the Met Council, which is the city's oldest tenant organizing group, and home to the NSP initiative. "The question is, 'How do we engage these people in the fight?'"

"It's a unique constituency," continued Lieberman, who moved to Crown Heights four months ago after a year-plus elsewhere in Brooklyn and sees himself as a good example. "And right now very few people are trying to talk to them, very few people are trying to engage with them and say, "Hey, look, here's how you get involved, here's how you fight the negative aspects of gentrification.""

But as young as the initiative may be, it is raising concerns because some advocates think it risks driving a wedge between tenants. In Crown Heights, for example, the Crown Heights Tenants Union (CHTU) has rallied tenants to fight against displacement tactics as gentrification has roiled the neighborhood. There, new residents have been and are members of the Tenants Union; but some fear the new initiative will pull them away or pull away potential new members - and that CHTU will lose power as a result and, worse, the opportunity to bring people together. Like other unions, tenant organizations are, after all, fundamentally about solidarity.

"With the Michael Brown and Eric Garner movement it feels like we're on the cusp of something big," said one organizer who wished to remain anonymous. "Organizing gentrifiers without engaging the long term community is not the integrative strategy our movement needs right now. We need to be coming together."

Donna Mossman, a member of the CHTU and a resident of the neighborhood for 38 years, echoed that view.

"To us, a tenant is a tenant," Mossman said. "We've made it a point to be inclusive. This is the last thing we need."

Another member - a new resident of the neighborhood - said the initiative was problematic because, at least in Crown Heights, the tenants union is as much about building community as it is about fighting bad landlords.

"I don't see how [the NSP initiative] gets us toward the goal of building up these communities," said Esteban Girón, who moved to the neighborhood about two years ago. "[CHTU] is not just about affordability - it's about getting to know your neighbors."

He added, "I'm in housing court with my landlord right now and my neighbors are supporting me ... and I've done the same for them."

To be fair, Crown Heights is a unique area for an initiative like this to be rolled out: few neighborhoods in the city have an umbrella group like CHTU, which has been highly effective since it was formed in 2013. In other areas, the initiative may be the only larger effort for new residents to join - and in areas where it is not, organizers are reaching out to the larger groups to collaborate.

"We're developing this to bring these tenants into the larger movement - not to exist independently on their own," Lieberman said. "We are working across the City to educate and engage gentrifers, who realize they are part of the problem but don't understand how or what they can do about it. Bringing them into the rent laws fight with long-term tenants is a critical piece of that.

"The CHTU has been a new and powerful force working against illegal tactics by landlords, building community and now looking to fight for stronger tenant protections." Lieberman continued. "We are not trying to replace that model in Crown Heights or anywhere else."

The new initiative is focusing on 11 gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Manhattan, including Crown Heights. The neighborhood is one of the more pointed examples of gentrification in the city today with regular news of increased rents and heated community meetings, and indications of uneasy relationships between the new people moving in and those who have lived there for years.

At a recent meeting of the CHTU attended by Gotham Gazette, about 40 tenants gathering in a health center's meeting room recounted a variety of typical housing issues: someone was doing drugs in the stairwell of one building, gaining entry because the front door's lock was broken; heat and hot water were scarce in another; a super was caught trying to record a meeting of tenants somewhere else. The CHTU meeting included new and old residents alike and any tension between them was not immediately evident.

A recent arrival to Crown Heights said he could see the rationale for a "newcomers" group but was not joining the effort - he said he was busy starting a tenants association in his own building. He was getting ideas and assistance from CHTU in his effort, he said.

"I can understand" that new residents have different issues, he said, asking his name not be used because he was concerned his landlord would retaliate for his activism. "In my building, when I had my first meeting, I had two newcomers and one [long-term] tenant - and the perspectives were radically different."

The long-term resident, he said, was not as upset about building conditions as the new residents.

"He was saying it's a lot better than it was 10 years ago," the organizer said. "But for us, we were just trying to get things on par with the rents being charged."

A more significant difference between long-term residents and new residents - and often the focus of organizing efforts - is the extent to which the former is subject to more harassment, buy-out offers, and other tactics landlords use to encourage or force them to leave. Some landlords consistently target long-term tenants, a problem new residents generally do not have to worry about.

Still, new residents do experience issues - if there's no heat or hot water in a building, everyone suffers, of course, and a landlord who is not making repairs might not discriminate among tenants - but they are usually paying the higher rents that landlords want them for. And landlords are not typically hauling newer tenants to housing court on bogus claims, not refusing to fix their apartments, and not offering them paltry or even moderate sums of money to move out.

Lieberman said many of the new residents signing up for the Neighborhood Sustainability Project live in unregulated apartments that have been illegally deregulated. In other words, these tenants - comprised of low- to moderate-wage workers like school teachers and employees of non-profits - need to understand that they are being charged illegal rents that can and should be challenged, he said. And doing so would contribute to preserving affordability in the city.

Along with Crown Heights, other neighborhoods where NSP is organizing include East and West Harlem, Washington Heights, Red Hook, Bushwick, and Bed Stuy.

The new initiative was also born out of concern that new residents are not being brought into the housing movement to the extent that they could or should be, Lieberman said - the long-time tenants unions, focused as they are on urgent displacement issues, simply cannot go after them.

This is a slight twist on an oft-expressed concern in the tenant movement: that it is too white, middle class and skewed toward the 50+ demographic; so, many groups try to attract and promote younger people, especially those of color. Generally, Lieberman said, the new residents NSP is attracting are young and white.

"The Crown Heights Tenant Union and organizations like it are doing important work to fight for tenants who are being actively displaced and harassed out of their homes, and NSP groups are hoping to partner with those types of organizations as a unified voice," Lieberman said. "Both types of organizing are working towards the same goal of enabling people to stay in their homes and ensuring that New York City stays affordable to all who want to live here in the future."

He continued: "One key difference between the two is about how they recruit tenants into the broader fight for that shared future. Organizations like the CHTU are educating tenants who want to know their rights to repairs, against buyouts and around going to court. Meanwhile, NSP serves as an entry-point and engagement tool for tenants who may not face the same immediate risks of displacement but want to be part of the movement fighting for affordable housing and sustainable neighborhoods. These are simply different aspects of the same fight."

The larger housing movement will not be divided because a core tenet of the new initiative is partnership, he added.

Still, some advocates are not altogether convinced. Historically, organizers have not targeted new residents, though, one said.

"When we were organizing on the Upper West Side back in the early 1980s, we didn't consider gentrifiers to be our core constituents, even though we were happy to help them with our rent clinics and other services," said Gerry Khermouch, who was active with the Columbia Tenants Union. "We didn't feel their problems had the same urgency as those of the long-time, rent-protected residents who were being ruthlessly displaced, or that their priorities necessarily were aligned with ours."

Further concern is that it could exacerbate tensions among new and old residents. The timing is not propitious: the ongoing protests against police brutality in the city have been broadly inclusive; framing any initiative as divisive is something organizers are very sensitive about to begin with and doing so now is akin to fighting words.

"This is preposterous," one told me. "We risk alienating the tenants who are suffering the harassment and other efforts of landlords to get them out."

Organizing gentrifiers is almost nonsensical, said another.

"Organizing should be transformative - how is [organizing gentrifiers] challenging the power - what power structure is that challenging?" the organizer said. "The tenant movement needs the power of young energized, people - I get that. But I think we really need more effort toward integration - it needs to be about integration and recognizing that gentrification is sort of about race."

"If we want a strong movement we need to connect all of these things," he added.

To some, targeting new residents could be key to increasing participation in the tenant movement.

"We're always talking about reaching out to new communities," another long-time organizer told Gotham Gazette. "This is another community in the city that we need to reach out to," he said of new residents.

Lieberman said the new initiative is bringing more tenants into the housing movement - almost 200 people have signed up to participate through early December. And some advocates are curious whether new residents could be mobilized as never before to renew and strengthen rent regulation laws, which are set to expire in Albany in June.

"We aren't doing this in a vacuum," Lieberman said. "Addressing race and privilege is central to the organizing."

While the city's continued housing affordability crisis makes it unlikely that state legislators will not renew the rent laws, which come up for renewal generally every five years, strengthening them is another matter, particularly because the State Senate is now more firmly in the hands of Republicans after the November elections: Republicans have traditionally opposed the laws.

"Aspects of this campaign are still evolving, but this [new organization] is something we think needs to happen," said Kenny Schaeffer, vice chair of Met Council on Housing's board and a long-time tenant movement leader. "We want to bring newer community residents into the fight to protect existing tenants from displacement by enacting stronger rent and eviction protections."

"Also," Schaeffer added, "some of the newer tenants live in de-regulated apartments. And a major part of the campaign to strengthen the rent laws in 2015 will include extending protection to these apartments, but no one's been organizing them before."

by Joe Lamport for Gotham Gazette

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