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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 9


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Wednesday is Veterans Day, with parades, resource fairs, and events to honor and aid veterans taking place before, on, and after the day itself. Mayor Bill de Blasio will hold a breakfast reception to honor the military veterans Wednesday morning. On Thursday, the City Council will hold a hearing on veteran homelessness, which the mayor vowed to end by the end of this year as part of a national pledge.

The mayor and the City Council agreed last week to create a new Department of Veterans Services, removing the agency from the Mayor's Office and making veterans affairs its own city department, which will give it more resources and Council oversight. There will be a celebratory rally outside of City Hall on Tuesday at 11 a.m., then the veterans affairs committee of the Council will vote through the department bill, followed by the full Council.

Could this be the week that First Lady Chirlane McCray unveils her much-anticipated "Mental Health Roadmap"? The week of Veterans Day would make sense considering the mental health challenges many veterans face. There's been no indication this is the week, but the 'roadmap' has been slated for release this fall. [Read our extensive preview of McCray's mental health roadmap]

According to Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), the City will release its first quarter modification to the FY2016 budget this week. "In advance of that release, CBC compares the Mayor's budget savings agenda, called the Citywide Savings Program, or CSP, with the Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) in fiscal years 2010 to 2015."

After a marathon Friday press conference at which de Blasio answered dozens of questions from assembled reporters on a wide variety of subjects, the mayor had a quiet weekend. De Blasio continues to be scrutinized for his approach to the media, his administration's transparency, and several policy areas in which he is having the most challenges, such as homelessness, policing, and education. We'll see what this week holds other than a focus on veterans and the budget. On Monday morning the mayor is set to meet with members of the city's congressional delegation and then hold a media availability - at which he'll take both on- and off-topic questions.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

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

The run of the week in detail:

MONDAY
At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10:30 a.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will convene to discuss several Land Use Applications in Brooklyn.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet.

On Monday at 10 a.m., Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams "will honor Brooklyn's military heroes at his "Start Strong, Finish Strong" resource fair for veterans...Additional speakers will include Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Loree K. Sutton, a retired Army brigadier general, and USAG Fort Hamilton Command Sergeant Kevin Fauntleroy. Borough President Adams will speak about Brooklyn's commitment to its veterans, including his efforts to restore the Brooklyn War Memorial and to address mental health challenges facing the community."

On Monday at 11 a.m., New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, along with Hetrick-Martin Institute CEO Thomas Krever and the LGBTQ Caucus of the City Council will unveil “HMI Goes Citywide For LGBTQ Youth,” a new initiative to address the challenges LGBTQ youth face in New York.

"On Monday, Mayor de Blasio will meet with members of the New York Congressional Delegation at City Hall to discuss a number‎ of issues impacting New York City. This meeting is closed press. After, [at 11:30 a.m.] the Mayor and members of the Congressional Delegation will hold a media availability on the Zadroga Act on the steps of City Hall," according to his public schedule.

At noon Monday, Crain’s New York Business will host its “Crain’s Business Hall of Fame Luncheon” to celebrate businesspeople who have transformed the city through their philanthropic and professional lives. The list of honorees include Ms. Pamela Brier, President and Chief Executive Officer, Maimonides Medical Center; Mr.Laurence Fink, Chairman and CEO, BlackRock; Ms. Shelly Lazarus, Chairman Emeritus, Ogilvy & Mather; Mr. Alan Patricof, Managing Director Greycroft; The Honorable Richard Ravitch, Former Lieutenant Governor, New York; Ms. Emily Rafferty, President Emeritus, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Mr. Steven Roth, Chairman and CEO, Vornado Realty Trust. EisnerAmper will sponsor the event.

At 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will “announce measures to expand affordability of NYC child care.” Joined by parents, advocates and other stakeholders, James will hold a press conference about the costs and accessibility of child care in New York City, releasing a report and outlining five policies to help increase accessibility, capacity, and affordability.

At 1 p.m. Monday at City Hal, the correction officers union will hold a press conference "following the vicious attack on a correction officer by two Rikers inmates."

At 6 p.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will deliver remarks at a pre-K family forum at the Children's Museum of Manhattan.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal will co-host a town hall meeting at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center on West 65th Street.

Also at 7 p.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will speak at New York Historical Society’s “Debt of Honor” program.

TUESDAY
Tuesday is a “Fight for $15” day of action, with many events planned to bring attention to wage issues and push for a $15 per hour minimum wage. Unions, advocacy groups, elected officials, and others will participate. Worker strikes, rallies, and marches will take place throughout the day all over the city and the country.

At 6:30 a.m., Mayor de Blasio "will deliver remarks at a Fight for $15 rally to raise the minimum wage...Immediately following his remarks, the Mayor will appear in several one-on-one interviews with local television networks to discuss the need to raise the minimum wage." At 2:15 p.m., the Mayor will appear live on WBLS 107.5 and at 2:30 p.m., on NY1. "In the evening, the Mayor will attend the 70th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner."

State Senate Republicans will convene in Albany on Tuesday to discuss their 2016 agenda. (A week later Assembly Democrats will meet in the capital, according to Politico New York.)

On Tuesday at 8 a.m., Chancellor of the State University of of New York Nancy Zimpher will speak at the Citizens Budget Commission breakfast at the Harvard Club. Zimpher will discuss SUNY projects and priorities.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday the Board of Corrections will hold a meeting.

At 11 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, Council Member Eric Ulrich, who chairs the Council’s veterans affairs committee, military veterans, and advocates will celebrate the imminent creation of a new City Department of Veterans Services.

At the City Council on Tuesday, the City Council will convene for a full-body Stated Meeting, which, as always, will be prefaced by a press conference hosted by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at 12:30 p.m.

Gov. Cuomo will make an announcement Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. in Manhattan at Foley Square, likely at a Fight for $15 event.

At 6:30 p.m. the Committee on Drugs and Law of the New York City Bar Association will host a discussion on marijuana policy in New York. Panelists will include City Council Member Rafael Espinal, state Senator Jeff Klein, Vocal New York’s Alyssa Aguilera, and others.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, “Trans-Pacific Partnership: Who Wins and Who Loses in This Secret Deal?”, a panel event presented by the Big Apple Coffee Party and moderated by Zephyr Teachout, Fordham law professor and CEO of Mayday PAC.

The only City Council Participatory Budgeting event of the week is on Tuesday: Council Member David Greenfield (District 44, Brooklyn), 6:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY
Wednesday is Veterans Day. At 8 a.m. Mayor de Blasio will hold a breakfast reception to honor and remember military veterans.

On Wednesday evening, many New York politicos, policy wonks, and others will gather to celebrate the 25th anniversary of City Journal, the Manhattan Institute policy publication.

THURSDAY
On Thursday at 8 a.m. Association for Better New York will host a breakfast with Congressional Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who will speak about the  projects, as well as her other priorities.

The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be Thursday at 10 a.m.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a Public Land Use Hearing.

At 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Politico New York hosts New York Playbook Lunch, a discussion with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, hosted by playbook writers Azi Paybarah, Jimmy Vielkind, and Mike Allen.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Transportation will meet for an oversight hearing on transportation deserts. The Committee will hear two bills: one to mandate a DOT study looking at the feasibility of a light rail system; another to mandate a study on transportation deserts. It will also look at resolutions calling on the MTA to allow commuters to pay the metrocard fare on commuter rails and to conduct a study on unused railroad rights.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet to hear CM Mark Levine’s bill that would create a taskforce to study the effects of building shadows on parks.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Aging will meet for oversight on DFTA’s home care program.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to discuss a bill that would require residential buildings to have photoelectric smoke detectors.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet to discuss two bills aimed at reducing noise by sightseeing helicopters.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will convene for oversight of DSNY’s 2016 snow plan, and the introduction of two bills that would identify pedestrian bridges and create plans for de-snowing and de-icing them and make exemptions for senior citizens and persons with disabilities from being penalized for failing to remove snow from on sidewalks.
  • At 1:30 p.m. the Committee on Veterans, jointly with the Committee on General Welfare will meet for oversight of the City’s efforts to end homelessness among military veterans.

Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at New York Law School: Law and the Lives of Young Black Men, "featuring Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives; Alphonso B. David, Counsel to the Governor; and Nicholas Turner, President and Director, Vera Institute of Justice. Moderated by Professor Mercer Givhan, New York Law School."

Thursday evening, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries is holding a campaign fundraiser, a reception with Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the honorary guest.

At 6 p.m. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the Bronx Borough Board will host a public hearing regarding the Zoning for Quality and Affordability and the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing proposals of Mayor de Blasio through the City Planning department and toward his housing plan.

Mayor de Blasio will host a town hall meeting focused on education in Jackson Heights, Queens, Thursday evening. Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the City Council education committee, will welcome de Blasio and his team to the district.

At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Department of Records and Information Services and WomensActivism.NYC will host the celebration of the 200th o birthday of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Women's Suffrage Centennial. Sponsored by the City of New York, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC, The Cooper Union, and Lebenthal Asset Management, the event is expected to be attended by elected officials including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

FRIDAY
On Friday at 8:15 a.m. Vicki Been, the Commissioner for Housing Preservation and Development, will speak at the latest New York City Law School CityLaw breakfast event.

On Saturday: "Newly appointed New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will give her first public address in New York City on Nov. 14 at the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators' (CSA) 48th Educational Leadership Conference...Elia will deliver the keynote at CSA's Professional Development Plenary."

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Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

The Week That Was in New York Politics, November 2-6


week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday November 6

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Gov. Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and others participate in solidarity march in Puerto Rico, via the governor's office on flickr; "Belongings of homeless individuals removed from Soho. Homeless outreach team offered social services," tweeted de Blasio press secretary Karen Hinton (with photo below) in response to CBS2 reporter Marcia Kramer's inquiries.

cuomo de blasio puerto rico march

hinton photo homeless encampment soho

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Election Results: After Tuesday's elections, New York City has two new City Council members, two new District Attorneys, two new Assembly members, and one new state Senator. See the results.

2. Silver Trial: The trial of former Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver began in New York City this week, with Silver, who had been Assembly speaker for 21 years, facing federal corruption charges. Dr. Robert Taub took the stand on Wednesday under a non-prosecution agreement, and testified that Silver had requested that the doctor refer Mesothelioma patients to his law firm because the cases were lucrative. Taub said he had asked Silver if his law firm could donate to aid the doctor’s research, and, after writing the state a request for grant money, received a $250,000 grant. Taub also testified that Silver had asked him to keep the arrangement quiet. Prosecutors allege Silver acted out of greed and abused his power for personal gain. [Read: As Sheldon Silver Heads to Trial, A Democratic Challenger is Poised to Run]

3. Politicians in Puerto Rico: Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio marched together at a rally calling for improved healthcare funding for Puerto Rico in San Juan on Thursday. The mayor, the governor, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and many others were/are in San Juan this week to show solidarity with the island territory as it faces a debt crisis, to attend the annual Somos El Futuro conference, and to put pressure on Congress to aid Puerto Rico with its financial crisis.

4. Calls for Voter Reform: Voter turnout was low as usual for this week’s elections, and on Tuesday, the “Vote Better NY” coalition, led by NYC Votes, the voter outreach arm of the city’s Campaign Finance Board, along with other advocacy and good government organizations launched a petition drive to highlight the importance of election reform and call on lawmakers to pass legislation to modernize elections in New York. The reforms call for early voting, better ballot design, and comprehensive online and easier voter registration in order to increase voter turnout.

5. MTA Criticism: City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, Mayor de Blasio, members of the state Assembly and Senate, City Council members, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and others criticized the MTA this week over its decision to delay construction on the northern end of Second Avenue subway and cut $1 billion in funding to the project. Elected officials called for the MTA to put the money back into their 5-year capital plan, with Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez saying the move to cut funds “screams of transit inequality and economic injustice.” MTA CEO Thomas Prendergast responded in a statement, saying if they could speed up the schedule, they would pursue a capital program amendment to do so.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 17% drop in the number of suspensions at New York City public schools last year.
  • $41,000 is the median income of African American households in New York City, roughly half of the median income of $80,200 made by white households, according to a report from members of Congress detailing the growing wealth gap between white and black Americans.
  • $900 million is how much New York plans to spend on capital improvements by 2020 on the state park system, in an investment that includes 215 parks and historic sites.
  • 20,000 new industrial and manufacturing jobs in New York City will supposedly be spurred by new investments and actions by the de Blasio administration and the City Council announced this week.
  • 1.3 million freelance workers could be afforded similar protections to those enjoyed by full-time employees under the package of laws the New York City Council is developing.
  • $2.3 million paid to political consultants advising Mayor de Blasio during the first year and a half of his term, according to the New York Times.
  • 37% of New York City’s population is made up of immigrants, and those immigrants account for nearly 1/3 of the city’s economic activity.
  • 11.6% decrease in the number of financial grievances against the NYPD in the 2015 fiscal year, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer's office. The drop comes after over a decade of steady increase in the number of legal claims against the NYPD.
  • $170,000 per year former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos made at “his own no-show job” at the Ruskin Moscou Faltischek law firm starting in 1994, new court filings suggest.
  • $1 billion surplus for New York entering its next fiscal year, state officials projected this week.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for the election winners, including soon-to-be new City Council Members Barry Grodenchik and Joseph Borelli; District Attorneys Darcel Clark and Michael McMahon; and others.
  • It was a bad week, of course, for those who did not win the elections held Tuesday.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time 22 years ago, on November 2, 1993, Rudy Giuliani defeated David Dinkins to become New York’s first Republican mayor in nearly three decades.
  • Around this time 5 years ago, on November 2, 2010, Andrew Cuomo became governor of New York after winning the race by a wide margin.
  • Around this time 6 years ago, on November 3, 2009, Michael Bloomberg was elected to a third term as mayor of New York City after winning a battle to overturn term limits.
  • Around this time 2 years ago, on November 5, 2013, Bill de Blasio was elected Mayor of New York City in a landslide victory.
  • Around this time 15 years ago, on November 7, 2000, Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York, becoming the first First Lady to win public office.
  • Around this time 98 years ago, on November 6, 1917, New York State adopted a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote in state elections, three years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution gave women the vote in national elections.
  • Around this time 121 years ago, on November 6, 1894, voters narrowly approved the consolidation of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island into the Greater City of New York.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

City Council Developing New Protections for Workers in ‘Gig’ Economy, by Samar Khurshid

Citing 'A Violence Problem,' Cuomo Calls on New Yorkers to 'Respect the Police', by David Howard King

East Harlem Tenants Group Rejects De Blasio Housing Plan, Offers Its Own, by David Howard King

As New Yorkers Go to the Polls, Activists Launch 'Vote Better' Campaign, by Ben Max

2015 General Election Results, by Samar Khurshid

In New De Blasio Heath Care Plan, Limited Coverage for Undocumented Immigrants, by Sarah Betancourt

With Risks, P3s and Design-Build Seen as Beneficial to Infrastructure Planning, by Ryan Brady

Prison Alternatives Enhance Public Safety & Must Be Left in Place, Lisa Schreibersdorf (opinion)

Wall Street Doesn’t Work for New York, Let’s Create a Bank that Will, Matthew Rigney & Evan Casper-Futterman (opinion) 

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

[Video] Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max participated in a discussion about this week's election results and New York efforts to reform voting access, on BRIC-TV.

[Video] Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch joined Errol Louis on NY1's Inside City Hall to discuss her position at the center of a polarizing debate over standardized testing, as well as her decision to leave the office next year.

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

East Harlem Tenants Group Rejects De Blasio Housing Plan, Offers Its Own


East-HarlemMovement

A Movement for Justice in El Barrio rally


An East Harlem tenants group is gearing up to battle Mayor Bill de Blasio over his housing plan, saying that the plan will see local mom-and-pop stores bought out by chains, further incentivize landlords to push tenants out, and destroy the culture of Spanish Harlem.

The group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, is countering the de Blasio rezoning proposal that they call a "luxury housing plan" with a 10-point agenda of its own designed to preserve current housing stock and protect the community from gentrification. It hopes to push the local community board to vote against the mayor's two rezoning proposals and wants a face-to-face meeting with de Blasio to discuss concerns.

Movement for Justice, an immigrant-led community organization formed in 2004, plans to make its opposition and proposals public at a Friday afternoon press conference at the corner of East 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue.

The tenants' decision to oppose de Blasio's sweeping affordable housing plan didn't come easily or quickly, they say. "We spent a lot of time analyzing the plan, yet we understand lots of people in the city haven't opened their eyes. We are very hopeful we can make our case to the public and convince them we are on the moral high ground," said Josefina Salazar, a founding member of the group and 20-year resident of East Harlem.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio held a series of community meetings and workshops starting this past spring that its members say involved thousands of Harlem residents. Only after formulating their position, creating a plan of their own, and reaching out to the mayor's office did they decide to take their position public.

Tenants' biggest concerns, which mirror those being seen in other neighborhoods around the city where de Blasio is first looking to rezone to create more density, are led by the administration's plan calling for all new residential development to set aside 25-30 percent for "affordable" housing units, but with affordability rates they say are too high.

"Affordable" as defined in the de Blasio plan is incomes between $46,620 and $62,150 for a family of three. According to census data the current average median family income for an East Harlem family of four is $33,600, according to 2010-2012 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Remaining units in new construction would rent at the real estate developer's discretion, also known as market-rate housing. Developers must agree to the administration's terms in order to build in areas being rezoned by the city.

In order to meet de Blasio's ambitious affordable housing goals, maintaining or building 200,000 affordable units over ten years, the administration argues that it must increase density in underdeveloped neighborhoods. The administration is starting with places like East New York, Flushing, and East Harlem. El Barrio is particularly interesting because it is represented in the City Council by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, largely an ally of the mayor.

Supporters of the plan note that the affordable housing would be mandatory for developers to include in their projects and it would be permanent. But the group fears that their current apartments and those of their neighbors will not be protected and as the neighborhood gentrifies landlords will be motivated to push them out to rent to higher-income tenants.

Community boards across the city have to decide whether to approve the mayor's Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability plans. City Limits recently reported that while most of the boards have yet to vote on the proposals, the majority of the ones that did rejected them and that there are widespread concerns about the plans as tenants and small business owners worry about being squeezed our of their neighborhoods.

Movement for Justice in El Barrio plans a series of protests and continued community education to push back against the zoning plans before they comes to a vote at Community Board 11 on November 17. The Community Board is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter on Nov. 9.

"When we watch TV we see de Blasio promotes this plan as an affordable housing plan," said Salazar. "But this is pure propaganda. We did the math and we realized after reading the report on housing and his ten-year plan that this is not truly an affordable housing plan. It favors the creation of luxury housing that we don't consider affordable."

The group has put together its own ten-point plan members want to see adopted to preserve existing affordable housing in their neighborhood.

The plan calls for independent oversight of the city's Housing Preservation Department; establishing a public education campaign to inform tenants about HPD's role; empowering a new body or building inspectors to collect fines against landlords; having HPD make repairs not completed by the landlord in the specified amount of time and then billing the landlord; making inspectors carry citations in multiple languages and send out reports in multiple languages; forcing landlords to make repairs within 24 hours of emergency violations; establishing an East Harlem HPD oversight team as a pilot for other areas with at-risk low-income housing; providing inspections 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week; and improving HPD's follow-up on violations.

Zorayda Aguirre, a member of Movement for Justice who has lived in East Harlem with her husband and three young children for 16 years, said she fears for the community she has grown to love. "This plan will destroy our culture and change the face of East Harlem," she said of the mayor's proposals. "Not only that but the landlords will become more aggressive and try to drive us out. We will see our small businesses replaced by large ones that cater to the rich and it will become very expensive to live here."

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer shares some of the group's concerns."The history of New York City is one of constant change, but that change can't leave current residents behind – it needs to benefit and complement existing communities," Brewer told Gotham Gazette. "I will be working hard throughout this process to ensure the existing community is at the heart of the discussion. Any rezoning in East Harlem needs to address the full range of neighborhood issues like housing preservation, schools, and community-based small business."

In response to de Blasio's plan, Brewer called for an inclusion of even more affordable housing, a reduction of luxury housing included in deals with developers, increased vigilance by HPD to make sure existing affordable housing units are not lost, that there are tenant education clinics (with no income restrictions) in areas where upzoning is proposed. Brewer has also focused on helping mom and pop shops stay in business as major chains move in.

"We will never have enough affordable housing if we are not able to help tenants remain in existing affordable units. HPD must help prevent evictions by coordinating with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) to ensure rents are legal and to enforce housing codes," Brewer wrote in a Febraury response to de Blasio unveiling his housing plan.

Amy Varghese, spokesperson for Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, said that the speaker encourages the community to get involved in the discussion of the city's housing plan.

"The East Harlem rezoning is an opportunity for all residents and stakeholders to engage in a community-driven, neighborhood-based planning process that addresses real local needs and concerns," Varghese said in a statement. "We need to have diverse voices at the table having meaningful conversations around these issues, from housing to transportation to open space and more. True to her grassroots leadership, Speaker is committed to facilitating these discussions in an empowered, productive environment and strongly encourages all residents to get involved, participate and harness this opportunity to make a difference in the neighborhood we are so proud to call home."

Members of Movement for Justice in El Barrio say they will do just that, making their voices heard in the coming weeks as community boards across the city consider the plan.

"This is a David versus Goliath type of battle," said Salazar. "The mayor is very powerful and has a propaganda machine. We really want a face-to-face meeting with the mayor. I think we can change his heart," said Salazar. "We want to tell him that we don't think his plan will preserve the simple, humble people of El Barrio."

The mayor's office did not return request for comment.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

City Council Developing New Protections for Workers in ‘Gig’ Economy


lander car wash workers

Council Member Lander with carwash workers (photo: William Alatriste)


There are more than 1.3 million freelancers working in New York City and with the help of the City Council, these workers may soon be afforded certain protections on par with full-time workers.

Initially focused on wage protection and health benefits, Council members and advocates are also looking at legislation to expand collective bargaining rights to certain groups of workers in the “gig” economy.

The on-demand economy of such workers has mushroomed in the city with Uber and Lyft drivers, Handy.com cleaners, and the more traditional writers, graphic designers, and other artists. These temporary, “for-hire” workers largely perform their various efforts without the benefits of job security, health insurance, pension buy-in, or paid sick leave. Even their wages are regularly not guaranteed. Eight out of ten freelancers have complained of being victims of late payment or non-payment of wages according to reports compiled by the Freelancers Union.

With the City Council aggressively tackling workforce issues, Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat who represents part of Brooklyn, has taken the lead in developing legislation to help people in the gig economy.

Lander is working with the New York City-based Freelancers Union to create a legislative framework for wage protection for freelance employees. In September, He appeared at a Brooklyn town hall hosted by the Freelancers Union to launch the #FreelanceIsntFree campaign, seeking to raise awareness and push for legislation.

“It has very real dark sides to it,” Lander said in a recent phone interview with Gotham Gazette, referring to freelancing and the company payment cycles that cause hardships for freelancers. “The rent is due and you still gotta put groceries on the table,” he said.

Lander believes that the best possible scenario would be a “cutting edge,” enforceable administrative solution, similar to protections guaranteed by the state Department of Labor and the Attorney General. Currently, the only legal recourse freelancers have is civil court, an expensive and time-consuming option. Lander wants to introduce a bill within the next two months.

But worker protections go beyond simply wages and Lander has found support from his colleagues for other ideas. Lander and Council Member Corey Johnson are working closely with the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance on a “drivers benefit fund” that would use a small fare surcharge to provide health benefits to for-hire drivers. After wage protections for freelancers, drafting this legislation is Lander’s next priority; and with the city looking at rules reform for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, he said this “is a good time to move it forward.”

Inevitably, workforce issues revolve in some important way around organized labor. On-demand gig workers are by their very nature unorganized. That’s where the Freelancers Union stepped in and now the City Council is moving toward creating new worker protections.

Eyeing Seattle, where a City Council member is pushing a bill to allow taxi drivers, for-hire drivers, and those from ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to unionize and exercise collective bargaining, Lander is considering a similar path in New York.

Uber’s success in the city, and its disruption of the long-standing taxi/black car marketplace, has garnered the for-hire industry new attention. The ability for drivers, who are seen as independent contractors, to unionize would change the game for thousands, and the company, of course.

Uber has added more than 20,000 cars to their service in the last three years and also handled more than 100,000 rides each day in July, four times its record from last year.  During a summer face-off between city lawmakers and Uber, the Mayor de Blasio and the City Council brought about a temporary detente by landing on a four-month study of the effects of ride-sharing companies like Uber (and no cap on the growth of the industry). The results of that study are due soon and will likely play an important role in the future of ride-sharing in the city.

An Uber representative declined to comment for this story.

The city’s efforts to create space for independent contractors to unionize may run up against federal law. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects the right of employees to collectively bargain with their employers. It lays down specific definitions for employees and employers which could preempt local jurisdictions from taking action since independent contractors do not qualify under the law’s criteria.

A class-action lawsuit brought by three drivers in California against Uber highlights this basic issue. The drivers are arguing for benefits as employees of the company while Uber maintains they are independent contractors who are not eligible for these benefits, and therefore should not have received class-action status. 

“Seattle’s leading the way,” said Council Member Lander. The proposed legislation in Seattle would create a precedent and likely face numerous legal challenges. Lander recognizes this fact. Even though the NLRA preempts the City Council from legislating, he believes there is room for cities to take action for workers not covered under the federal legislation. Currently there is no draft legislation but Lander said any proposal would attempt to protect workers across the on-demand economy and not just specific companies.

(He also talked of changes to the city’s human rights laws to clarify the workers covered. He said this could happen in the next few months after these initial bills.)

The Council recently took controversial action to help car wash workers unionize, but that is being challenged in court.

Council Member I. Daneek Miller is firmly in support of any proposal that would help on-demand drivers organize. As a former labor union leader, Miller’s perspective on the issue is decidedly pro-labor, and his position as chair of the Council's civil service and labor committee puts him at the front lines in addressing it. 

“The whole concept of the shared economy has to be put into perspective,” Miller told Gotham Gazette. “I don’t think it’s a sustainable model.”

He said the “irony” of the situation is that the shared, gig economy is contributing to its own demise and disempowerment -- a younger generation with few responsibilities finds flexibility and mobility attractive and then later on when people want security, they find themselves left out in the cold.

For the system to work, he said, there need to be checks and balances in the form of collective bargaining and the right to organize.

“I’m less inclined to create public policy legislation around this,” he said about the issue of unionization, perhaps recognizing the challenges involved. “We’ll let them do their job and give them the tools to support them. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of organized labor.”

***
by Samark Khurshid
@GothamGazette

2015 General Election Results


Cuomo voting Nov 2015

Gov. Cuomo votes on Tuesday (via the Governor's Office on flickr)


Although there weren't many high-profile races in yesterday's election, New York City now has two new members of the City Council (one in Queens, one on Staten Island), two new District Attorneys (Staten Island and the Bronx), two new Assembly members (Queens and Brooklyn), a new state Senator (Brooklyn), and a few new judges.

On Staten Island, former Congressional Rep. and City Council Member Michael McMahon, a Democrat, defeated Republican Joan Illuzzi to become District Attorney. The seat was left vacant when former DA Daniel Donovan was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats now hold the DA position in all five boroughs. 

The Bronx got its first new DA in 26 years as Darcel Clark was elected to the seat. Clark, a New York Supreme Court judge, replaced Robert Johnson who resigned to run for Supreme Court justice.

A Democrat also won the City Council seat from Eastern Queens. Former Assembly Member Barry Grodenchik beat his Republican opponent, Joseph Colcannon, a retired police captain. The seat belonged to Mark Weprin, a Democrat who left the Council to join Governor Andrew Cuomo's administration. The Staten Island City Council seat went to Republican Joseph Borelli, an Assembly member who ran unopposed to replace Vincent Ignizio, who had resigned for a job as a nonprofit leader. Borelli joins the Council's Republican minority, returning it to three members in the 51-seat body. Both Grodenchik and Borelli will have to run in 2017 to retain their seats.

As was the case with the two Council seats, the three special elections for New York City-based seats in the state legislature remained with the same political party. All three state legislative seats stayed Democrat. With a whopping majority, Democrat Assembly Member Roxanne Persaud won a Brooklyn Senate seat over Republican Jeffrey Ferretti, owner of a real estate company. The seat was left vacant when former State Senator John Sampson was convicted in July on federal charges of obstruction of justice and false statements.

The two Assembly seats were also won by Democrats. Pamela Harris, a retired corrections officer, defeated Republican Lucretia Regina-Potter to become the only African-American to represent a majority white district in the city. The district covers parts of southern Brooklyn and the post was left vacant when the former rep resigned to take a private-sector job.

In the special election to complete the term of Democrat William Scarborough -- who was forced from office after accepting a plea on corruption charges -- Democrat Alicia Hyndman beat her opponent with a wide margin. Hyndman, Harris, and Regina-Potter will all have to run for re-election next year, in 2016 when all of the state legislature goes up for election, to retain their seats.

In one of many unopposed races, Democrat Richard Brown won the seat of Queens DA for the seventh consecutive term.

***
by Samar Khrushid
@GothamGazette

With Risks, P3s and Design-Build Seen as Beneficial to Infrastructure Planning


MTA MetroNorth garage

A new MTA MetroNorth facility (photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)


At an Urban Land Institute conference last week, two panels of transportation experts – one from the public sector, the other from the private sector – discussed the issues plaguing tri-state transportation systems and the potential of public-private partnerships to address them.

“Transportation agencies are great at delivering state-of-good-repair projects, delivering normal replacement projects,” former New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said during the first panel. “I’m not so sure that transportation agencies are the entities best-suited to do some of these mega projects that are not just about transportation.”

With transportation infrastructure, a public-private partnership, or P3 agreement, is used most often in a design-build contract - design-build is a method of project-delivery in which a private contractor wins a bid to design and construct a project. Ongoing regional public-private infrastructure projects include the construction of a new Port Authority Bus Terminal and an MTA project to build a Long Island Rail Road station beneath Grand Central Terminal (known as East Side Access).

Organized by the Urban Land Institute’s New York, New Jersey and Westchester/Fairfield chapters, the forum was hosted at Shearman & Sterling’s East Midtown headquarters, drawing a crowd of around one hundred.

During the panel of current and former public officials, moderated by CityLab New York bureau chief Eric Jaffe, the speakers disagreed on the role of public-private partnerships in terms of their potential for improving transportation infrastructure.

“The bigger you get, when you have many more stakeholders, many more local zoning laws, then it becomes more difficult,” Steve Santoro, New Jersey Transit's assistant executive director of capital planning, said of expansive P3 projects.

All agreed, however, that area transportation infrastructure is in a state of crisis.

“The term 'transportation Armageddon' has been used,” Jaffe said, referring to Senator Chuck Schumer's remarks about the potential results of the damaged Hudson River tunnels. If the existing New York-to-New Jersey tunnels close - a plausible scenario given their age, deterioration and the fact that they have reached current capacity - it would be disastrous for commuters and the regional economy.

In remarks after the panel, Drew Galloway, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor chief of planning and performance expressed openness to working with a private sector contractor on the Gateway Project, a proposed high-speed rail corridor planned to help solve a potential crisis with the tunnels, which are used by NJTransit and Amtrak and bring many commuters into New York City.

“We absolutely intend to consider [public-private partnerships] and will welcome the proposals as it goes forward,” Galloway told Politico New York.

After the conference’s 15-minute networking break, the private sector panel convened to discuss the best P3 business practices globally, as well as the potential hazards and benefits of P3s.

“You have competition among entities of the private sector to come up with the best and most cost-effective design,” Karen Hedlund, national P3 advisor for Parsons Brinckerhoff, said at the panel, which was moderated by Urban Land Institute's senior vice president, Rachel MacCleery.

For underfunded tri-state transportation agencies, design-build can be an attractive method of cutting project costs. As Mike Parker, of Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors, LLC, pointed out, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimated that it saved ten percent by using a P3 for the Goethals Bridge reconstruction versus a public plan.

In the case of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, Hedlund explained, its dire need for infrastructure repair may repel potential private partners.

“Would they be willing to accept the cost of bringing the Northeast Corridor up to a state-of-good-repair?” Hedlund asked. “It's a much more complicated question than sometimes some politicians would like you to believe.”

Last year, P3s, especially as design-build, were recommended by the MTA Transportation Reinvention Commission, a team of 24 local, regional, and international transportation experts. In July, New York State Budget Director Mary Beth Labate again endorsed their use in a letter to MTA Chair Thomas Prendergast, calling design-build and other P3 tools a means of reducing the agency’s capital program costs and achieving “faster project delivery."

Certainly, the MTA needs faster project delivery - a recent report by the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), a nonpartisan watchdog group, estimated that MTA repair and upgrade projects will be finished by 2067 at their current rate. The Second Avenue Subway extension is notoriously behind schedule and beyond budget.

But though public-private partnerships are recommended for MTA repair projects, the CBC report warns that a “P3 can leave public agencies at risk when private parties fail to perform adequately,” as they did in the early 2000s with a London Underground repair project.

“The London experience showed that there’s some problems with P3s that dealt with a lot of maintaining existing assets and bringing existing infrastructure up to a state-of-good-repair,” Jamison Dague, the report’s author, told Gotham Gazette. “And that’s not to say that you can’t have a P3 that does those things successfully, but that was one challenge that they saw there.”

Meanwhile, design-build contracts for New York infrastructure, Dague added, have proven successful in the past. The newly approved (and controversial) MTA five-year capital plan was reduced by billions of dollars after the agency accounted for increased use of design-build and other cost-saving strategies.

From a policy standpoint, measures can be taken to prevent private sector malfeasance when engaging companies in major infrastructure projects. In his remarks, Galloway emphasized the need for transportation officials to independently estimate a project’s cost before private sector involvement.

“Otherwise, they will price their own investment in such a way to cover that risk,” Galloway said. “And you very quickly lose some of the advantages that you would otherwise see in a public-private partnership.”

Transportation officials and others have suggested oversight mechanisms as a means of preventing similar problems before. Independent evaluation of projects before private-sector involvement was recommended by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a 2013 report, which also calls for the creation of an oversight entity for public-partnership agreements and other changes to the state's P3 policies.

Jaffe mentioned the ongoing concern: “The fear is always that in the long run, the public will end up paying more than they said they would pay up front.”

***
by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette 

In New De Blasio Heath Care Plan, Limited Coverage for Undocumented Immigrants


bdb mmv idnyc alatriste

Mayor de Blasio holds his IDNYC (photo: William Alatriste)


According to a recent report from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, there are 345,507 undocumented immigrants in New York City who do not have health insurance. The Mayor's Task Force on Immigrant Health Care Access seeks to provide coverage next year to 1,000 of those individuals.

A new plan from the de Blasio administration, called Direct Access, is intended to expand health care to New Yorkers who do not have it and diminish the mounting number of undocumented immigrants without insurance. Direct Access is lauded by Task Force members, whose work led to the plan, but has critics and immigrants wondering if it is enough.

The Direct Access program will launch in the Spring of 2016 as a year-long pilot, coordinating access for 1,000 uninsured, undocumented immigrant New Yorkers, while accomplishing other goals. The launch is intended to be a preliminary step to collect data to design a larger citywide model. The estimated cost of the pilot is $6 million, paid for by a mix of public and private funds.

Dr. Ramin Asgary, professor of population health at the NYU School of Medicine, is skeptical. “The thinking is right, but it is nothing and close to a joke,” he said of the plan and its affect on the overall population of uninsured undocumented New Yorkers. “On paper they can say we are doing something, but it is a drop in a bucket in the ocean.”

Nancy Berlinger of the Hastings Center for Bioethics and Public Policy defended the number. “You don’t want to launch a citywide program and then realize you don’t have enough doctors, social workers, and nurses,” she said. “You make a commitment to people when you promise ‘direct access.’” The Hastings Center co-released a report on immigrant health care access with the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) in March with recommendations for the mayor’s office.

Uninsured undocumented immigrants in New York City have a handful of insurance options, but all come with hurdles in an increasingly complex health system.

For instance, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is not an option. The healthcare legislation from 2009 shut out undocumented immigrants, and made them ineligible for federal Medicaid. As a result of few options, 64 percent of undocumented immigrants in New York City go uninsured.

In emergencies, older immigrants use safety net health insurance at some hospitals. The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) and community health centers are the primary safety-net providers that care for uninsured New Yorkers.

However, some undocumented people find the cost of care prohibitive, and have major gaps in referrals to specialists for chronic conditions, according to the Hastings Center and NYIC report. Community centers and hospitals do not have access to the same specialists, so health providers often find themselves at a loss for where they can send their patients in situations of chronic conditions like diabetes and arthritis.

Young people are the select few with the opportunity to apply for help through Medicaid, but only on a state level, and only after applying for the protected status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). While the program’s participants are not eligible for the Affordable Care Act at the national level, five states, including New York, offer health insurance to low-income youth granted DACA.

Direct Access, Mayor de Blasio’s plan, aims to address four issues for the undocumented uninsured: language barriers; coordination shortfalls between health centers and hospitals; lack of education of healthcare options; and the mountain of high-priced services.

The mayor’s task force brought together 25 agencies and nonprofits beginning in June of 2014. The plan, released in early October, estimated the large number of undocumented immigrants who are uninsured, a higher figure than the previous estimate of 250,000 in Beringer’s 2015 report. The NYC Center for Economic Opportunity's Poverty Research Unit worked with the task force to develop a model to estimate the number of uninsured undocumented immigrants in New York City based on information contained in the Census Bureau's American Community Survey data.

Young Adults Struggle through a Two-Step Process
Applying for DACA is no easy task.

The initial deferred action application requires applicants to prove their age; that they arrived to the U.S. before their 16th birthday; have continuously resided in the US since 2007; were physically present on June 15, 2012 - the date of the president's announcement; are currently in educational programs (school, vocational training, etc.) or graduated from high school/have a GED; and haven't been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or more than three misdemeanors.

Many of the above are difficult for people who did not keep records, don't have a bank account, cannot speak English, or were not enrolled in school. Limited DACA enrollment keeps undocumented youth from accessing Medicaid, and creates more need for a program like de Blasio’s Direct Access.

Cesar Andrade is a 23-year-old deferred action holder interested in becoming a physician in order to address the very problem he endured— lack of access to vital services for undocumented immigrants. Andrade was insured through the Children's Health Insurance Program, which expired when he was 19. He was uninsured between the ages of 19 and 22, while he was attending CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College.

“I always had to be cautious,” Cesar explained, “If you play soccer and tear your ACL, that’s a lot of physical therapy. Once I got insurance, there was a sense of relief. I got glasses and got treatment for an autoimmune disorder.”

In the meantime, CUNY was able to offer him clinic check-ups, which cost $20 each. Cesar became insured last year through Medicaid after DACA made him eligible.

Deferred action applications are seven-page forms, and must be mailed to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services along with a $465 fee. Cesar said it was straightforward if you know English, but what gets most people, other than any language barrier, is the evidence one must submit.

Claudia Calhoon, director of health advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition said, “The take home is really that given how tough it is for you and me to understand, you can imagine how this is for an immigrant with low-English proficiency, who may be new to navigating the U.S. healthcare system.”

As DACA enrollment continues, the number of enrollees in Medicaid will increase. According to the New York State Statistical Handbook, the average monthly number of Medicaid beneficiaries in New York has increased, with approximately 424,740 new enrollees in 2013. Sixty-three percent of the recipients lived in New York City. An unspecified number were new DACA holders and thus undocumented immigrants.

Kinsey Dinan, acting deputy commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration’s Office of Evaluation and Research said in an email, “We do not have the ability to specifically identify DACA clients in our Medicaid data.”

An unknown number of DACA recipients are accessing an already existing healthcare option. One of the plans for the Direct Access program is to educate uninsured immigrants on the options they may have if they have a protected status like DACA.  

Harvard Professor Roberto Gonzales is working on an initiative, the National UnDACAmented Research Project, which is a study to assess the effects DACA access has among undocumented young adults.

Gonzales and the American Immigration Council published a report in 2014 that announces preliminary findings where over 21 percent of survey participants obtained health care since receiving the benefit. Although the number of applicants to health insurance is low, he thinks there are reasonable explanations for this.

“The more likely option is that some DACA beneficiaries are acquiring health care coverage through work and college. Our survey was carried out in late 2013, 16 months after the initiation of deferred action. I suspect that since then more of our respondents have acquired health insurance.”

Still, Medicaid for deferred action recipients only addresses a small percentage of the 345,000 uninsured immigrants in New York City.

Can Community Health Centers and HHC serve the rest of the population?
Community health centers do not ask for documentation for patient treatment, so undocumented immigrants often go to these centers for emergency procedures. Over 400,000 of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation’s 1.4 million annual patients are uninsured.

For those earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, these patients are offered a sliding scale for HHC health care services, including prescription drugs. However, patients and taxpayers often fall under tremendous financial burdens from copayments and subsidized care.

“If they are undocumented and don’t have financial resources, they aren't going to be able to pay the bill. The government will have to pay the bill. It is a cost effective perspective that is idiotic not to address,” said Dr. Asgary, of NYU Medical.

Asgary also mentioned that most undocumented immigrants do not have preventative care options that accompany being insured. “Imagine if someone has diabetes or heart problems, and doesn’t see a doctor in ten years. If they have kidney failure or an emergency, society has to pay for dialysis or surgery. One single night in a CCU in a public hospital will cost [taxpayers] $6,000. Five nights in a hospital will cost 20-30K, and they will need follow-up care. Forget just being a decent human being. There are a lot of costs on the line.”

An official statement from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene mentioned the expansion of current safety net services as outlined in the task force plan.

“The Direct Access program will build on New York City’s strong safety-net health care system. It will help make our safety net system more coordinated, will focus on prevention and primary care by providing “primary care homes” and will improve coordination of care while still preserving federal and state funds,” a representative from DOHMH wrote.

The Plan
Launching in the Spring of 2016, the initial $6 million cost of the plan will be partially funded by the Robin Hood Foundation through the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. The New York City Council has also committed $2.5 million toward related education and outreach efforts, including a recommended medical interpreter training program to address language barrier issues in immigrant health care access.

In a statement, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs expanded on the details: “The Direct Access program will provide predictable costs, provide a primary care home, and increase coordination of care. By providing a defined network and package of health services, set eligibility criteria and predictable fees, we will be enhancing the existing system for the uninsured in our city.”

The hope is that the program will expand access to health care, and coordinate many independent efforts throughout the city, including the new Caring Neighborhoods initiative, recently announced by Mayor de Blasio. Caring Neighborhoods,  a new program led by HHC and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), will expand community health centers in all five boroughs, so that 100,000 new patients will be able to receive care. The City is dedicating $20 million over two years to cover costs for new health centers.

According to the de Blasio administration press release on Caring Neighborhoods, the initiative will complement the Direct Access plan for immigrant New Yorkers by expanding services at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants.

There is also hope that the recently launched municipal identification card program, IDNYC, will play into removing the paperwork barrier for the undocumented. The Direct Access program will require a verification of identity and residency in New York. The program will allow use of IDNYC to verify both, and as a participant ID card that will expedite access to care.

Berlinger, of the Hastings Center, is hopeful that the plan will bring together private and public health providers who do not typically work together. “You have to figure out how they share information, how they work together, how they share patient info. Then you have to figure out what it is a better way to reach the population,” she explained.

Enough?
Not everyone is satisfied with the plan as it stands. The Task Force report shows that in the neighborhood of Flushing, 14-37 percent are uninsured non-citizens.

City Council Member Peter Koo, of Flushing, is aware of the high population of uninsured undocumented immigrants, and has held community meetings that promote the use of MetroPlus Health Plan, the insurance plan of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation.

A recent Monday afternoon meeting had 75 attendees. Koo’s Chief of Staff, Elaine Cheung, said, “In terms of the Mayor’s Task Force report, Councilman Koo believes that there will be a huge demand for these services and we would like to see the number of participants expanded, especially in an community such as Flushing.”

In Brooklyn, 14-37 percent residents in Sunset Park are also uninsured non-citizens. City Council Member Carlos Menchaca addressed the issue in a statement: “The inaccessibility of care for immigrant communities in our City continues to be of great concern for me, and for the City Council as a whole. In the Council, we’ve allocated millions of dollars in the last year alone to help bridge some of the information and access gaps that exist on this front.” The Caring Neighborhoods Initiative recently announced that two of the community health expansion sites would be in Sunset Park and Queens.

Asgary recommends the pilot target senior citizens. “I would target the elderly undocumented. In terms of cost saving, it should be directed toward elderly. They are equally neglected as children. This program moves in the right direction but needs to be expanded.”

The Direct Access plan is modeled after assessments of several other cities’ health plans for immigrants. The plan, with adjustments, is based on Los Angeles’ My Health LA, a no-cost program for low-income residents regardless of immigration status. It offers care through 164 community clinics, and incorporates a preventative health approach.

Of the estimated 400,000 remaining uninsured in Los Angeles County, 280,000 are being served through the plan.

***
by Sarah Betancourt for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Note: this article has been corrected to note that the Hastings estimate for undocumented uninsured New Yorkers is 250,000, not 150,000; to remove mention of use of passport for DACA age verification; and to clarify City Council funding toward relevant initiatives and rates of non-citizens who are uninsured in certain neighborhoods.

As New Yorkers Go to the Polls, Activists Launch 'Vote Better' Campaign


voter registration via NYC Votes

Voter registration efforts (photo: @NYCVotes)


On Tuesday morning - Election Day - in Manhattan's Foley Square, a large group of New Yorkers will hold a rally, kicking off a campaign to address two of New York's enduring problems: voting access and voter turnout.

While New York City voters go to the polls Tuesday to fill vacant City Council, District Attorney, and state legislative seats, as well as to vote for judges, a coalition of advocates and activists, including good government and community groups, will launch a petition drive toward passing legislation it says will "modernize elections in New York."

The "Vote Better NY" coalition is led by NYC Votes, the voter outreach arm of the city Campaign Finance Board; and also includes Dominicanos USA; Generation Citizen; New York Immigration Coalition, and other advocacy groups, along with good government organizations Citizens Union, League of Women Voters, and NYPIRG. The push is to garner popular support and "show lawmakers" that "New Yorkers from across the state want election reform to be a priority in Albany."

The petition calls for three key reforms to make voting easier in New York:
-The Voter Empowerment Act (A5972/S2538A) to upgrade our voter registration system
-The Voter Friendly Ballot Act (A3389) to establish better ballot design
-Early voting so New Yorkers have more than one day to cast their ballots

The hope is that Albany lawmakers will pass these measures during their 2016 legislative session.

Speaking of 2016, New Yorkers will go to the polls several times next year as they vote in presidential, congressional, and state-level elections on a variety of dates. Then, come 2017, there will be another round of New York City elections featuring a mayoral race as well as other citywide and City Council seats.

First, though, there's this Tuesday's Election Day. There aren't a lot of high-profile races on the ballot, but New York City will soon have two new members of the City Council (one in Queens, one on Staten Island), two new District Attorneys (Staten Island and the Bronx), two new Assembly members (Queens and Brooklyn), a new state Senator (Brooklyn), and perhaps a few new judges.

Judicial elections can often be the most mysterious, as City Limits recently pointed out, along with its discussion of how the election for Bronx District Attorney has transpired in a fashion that good government groups and other watchers have called an insult to democracy.

On Staten Island, the district attorney race has been far different as two candidates seek to replace Congressional Rep. Dan Donovan. It's unclear who has the edge heading into Tuesday's vote as former Rep. Michael McMahon, the Democrat, faces Republican Joan Illuzzi, a longtime prosecutor.

Along with its voter guide for Tuesday's city elections, the New York City Campaign Finance Board offers, "To learn more about judicial candidates running in your district, visit the online Judicial Voter Guide published by the New York State Unified Court." Still, there's limited information to be found on the candidates, as City Limits has shown.

The CFB outlines candidates for several special elections taking place on Tuesday to fill vacant seats in the City Council or the state Legislature.

The two Council vacancies are due to members who resigned to take other jobs. There are three vacancies in the state Legislature that are being filled. One, a Brooklyn Assembly seat (District 46), is due to a resignation for another job opportunity. Two others are due to corruption, where the former members were forced to resign. Those two seats include one Queens Assembly seat (District 29) and one Brooklyn Senate seat (District 19).

In District 23 in Queens there is a City Council vacancy created by the resignation of Mark Weprin, who took a job in Governor Cuomo's administration. The Democratic candidate, Barry Grodenchik, faces Republican candidate Joseph Concannon. Grodenchik, a former Assembly member, came out of a crowded Democratic primary.

In District 51 on Staten Island, there is another vacancy being filled - it is an uncontested race for City Council, where Assemblymember Joseph Borelli will be elected to the Council to fill the seat vacated by former Minority Leader Vinny Ignizio, who resigned to take a job as a nonprofit leader. Like Ignizio, Borelli is a Republican.

Borelli and the winner of the Grodenchik-Concannon race will have to run for re-election in 2017, when the entirety of the City Council and the citywide officials will be on the ballot.

First, a year from now, there will be elections for all the seats in the New York State Assembly and Senate. Just ten months from now, there will be primaries in those races.

As both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and form Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos head to trial this month on corruption charges (Silver's trial starts Monday), speculation continues to swirl around whether either will still be in office come next year's elections, and if they are, whether they will see significant challenges.

While there is more intrigue ahead in 2016 and 2017, don't forget to go out and vote on Tuesday in the 2015 elections, if you have races to vote in - check your poll site here, via the City Board of Elections. Turnout is expected to be quite low this year, even lower than it has been in other recent years with more high-profile offices on the ballot, part of why 'Vote Better' activists are launching their campaign Tuesday.

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

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 2


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Tuesday is Election Day 2015! There aren't many high-profile races on the ballot, but we will soon have two new members of the City Council, two new District Attorneys (Staten Island and the Bronx), and a few new state legislators. There are also lots of judges on the ballot. Tuesday sets the stage for several voting opportunities coming up for New Yorkers in 2016 (presidential, congressional, state-level primaries, etc.).

A year from now, there will be elections for all the seats in the New York State Assembly and Senate. Just ten months from now, there will be primaries in those races. As both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and form Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos head to trial this month (Silver's trial starts Monday) on corruption charges, speculation continues to swirl around whether either will still be in office come next year's elections, and if they are, whether they will see significant challenges. [Read: As Sheldon Silver Heads to Trial, At Least One Democrat Prepares to Run]

We're even closer to the 2016 presidential primaries - yes, there are *many* opportunities to vote coming up (too many, some say). Mayor Bill de Blasio endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Friday morning. De Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as well as many other New York Democrats, are now firmly behind Clinton and it will be interesting to see how much surrogacy they perform.

Over the weekend, de Blasio celebrated the Mets and Halloween: on Saturday afternoon, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray hosted a Halloween party at Gracie Mansion. In the evening, the Mayor and First Lady marched in the Park Slope Halloween Parade in Park Slope. They were dressed as Mets players. On Sunday, de Blasio kicked off the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon on Staten Island in the morning and, in the evening, was set to speak at the 60th Annual Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club Dinner Dance in Brooklyn, according to his public schedule.

There will likely be increased attention this week around traffic safety and de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative in the aftermath of a tragic weekend crash, which saw three people killed and several injured in the Bronx during Halloween festivities.

On Monday, at 1 p.m., "Mayor de Blasio, Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other elected officials will host a press conference to make a fire safety announcement." This will take place in Brooklyn. "In the evening, the Mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host a reception for the 50th Anniversary of the Lindsay Administration," at Gracie Mansion, according to de Blasio's public schedule.

This week sees Election Day as well as several other interesting hearings and events. It also features the annual Somos conference in Puerto Rico, where many New York politicos will head toward the middle or end of the week. See our day-by-day rundown below, and stay tuned for updates on Monday.

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

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corruption trial is set to start on Monday. [Read: As Sheldon Silver Heads to Trial, A Democratic Challenger is Poised to Run]

At 9 a.m. on Monday the Center for New York City Affairs in New School will host “Low-Wage NY: Pay Raises and Working New Yorkers” with economists, labor leaders, activists and policymakers. Experts will discuss the pros and cons of the $15 per hour minimum wage initiative that Governor Cuomo is pushing. Darrick Hamilton, associate professor of economics and urban policy, will moderate a conversation with Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City; Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU; Paul Sonn, program director, National Employment Law Project; Jennifer Jones Austin, chief executive officer, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies; and Edmund J. McMahon, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and president of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

Also Monday at 9 a.m., at City Hall, “Public Advocate Letitia James, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Council Member Margaret Chin, Council Member Andrew Cohen, Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Council Member Brad Lander, Local 372, principals, and public school parents will call on the NYPD to provide much needed crossing guards for downtown Manhattan public schools to increase child safety in one of the most heavily trafficked areas of the City.”

At 10 a.m. Monday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will visit an elementary school, P.S. 133 in Brooklyn, to read with 2nd-graders and make an announcement, according to her public schedule.

Monday is the only day this week where the City Council has hearings scheduled; at the City Council Monday:

  • At 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss several land use matters.

  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Technology will meet to discuss a five-year plan to expand wi-fi access in city parks.

  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Contracts and the Committee on Community Development will meet for a joint oversight on meeting self sufficiency standards for workers on Human Service Contracts. [Read our preview, with a deep dive into the issue of pay for city workers and workers at city-funded nonprofits: Hearing to Examine Pay for Workers Serving City’s Most Vulnerable.]

On Monday at 1 p.m. in Brooklyn, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams “will launch Code Brooklyn, his initiative to give every public school student in Brooklyn the opportunity to learn how to code.” It is a five-point plan. “The announcement will be made in the library of PS/MS 282 Park Slope School...Among the speakers at the press conference will be New York City Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco.”

On Monday at 1:30 p.m. at 7 World Trade Center, “Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Frank Pallone (NJ-6) Nydia Velázquez (NY-7) and Steve Israel (NY-3) and others will join 9/11 first responders and survivors to state their strong opposition to recent proposals from the Majority House Judiciary and Energy and Commerce committees that would provide an underfunded and temporary extension of the World Trade Center Health Program and Victim Compensation Fund.”

On Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James will have a "meet and greet with Brooklyn Community Board 3."

At 6 p.m. NYC Collaborates will host “Diverse Schools: Opportunities, Challenges in Integrating NYC Public Schools” at Brooklyn Law School. The event, focused on ways to increase diversity in the city’s schools, will include opening remarks by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, then a panel discussion with City Council Members Brad Lander and Ritchie Torres; Todd Sutler, co-founder of Compass Charter School, and others.

At 6:30 p.m. New Yorkers Against Gun Violence will hold its annual benefit, at which it is honoring Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and comedian Lewis Black. Political analyst Nomiki Konst will be the MC. Public Advocate Letitia James will attend.

Tuesday
Tuesday is Election Day! As mentioned earlier, via Tuesday's votes we'll know two new District Attorneys, two new City Council members, other new state representatives, and more.

In the spirit of Election Day, on Tuesday the "Vote Better NY" effort led by NYC Votes, good government groups, and others will launch a new petition drive in order "to modernize elections in New York." A rally will commence the campaign Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., Foley Square in Manhattan. Participating organizations include Citizens Union, NYPIRG, League of Women Voters, and more.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy will host a panel event on the on the 2016 primary elections and the challenges that each party faces while campaigning. Lis Smith, deputy campaign manager for Martin O'Malley; leading Republican strategist and CNN contributor Kevin Madden, and top aides from several other 2016 campaigns will be participating in the conversation with Robert George, deputy editorial page editor for the New York Post. Jeff Smith, assistant professor at the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy will moderate the discussion.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday the November NY Tech Meetup will take place at NYU.

Tuesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Jumaane Williams (District 45, Brooklyn) at 7:30 p.m. [Read our recent look at the pros and cons of PB: Participatory Budgeting Grows in NYC - Why Isn't Every Council Member Doing It?]

Wednesday
The annual Somos El Futuro conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico will begin on Wednesday and run through Sunday. As always it is a way for New York lawmakers, lobbyists, and others to convene for all sorts of conversation and networking. It also comes at a most-tense time for Puerto Rico and as Gov. Cuomo has offered special New York government assistance to the island, which is facing harsh economic circumstances and issues with its healthcare system. Attendees will discuss a range of social issues including healthcare, education, juvenile justice, and more. A large health care rally will also take place in conjunction with the conference.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday another Citizen Preparedness Corps Training Program event will be held, at Queensborough Community College. Sponsored by Governor Cuomo, Congressional Rep. Grace Meng, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, and Assemblymember Edward Braunstein, the program is aimed to help citizens be prepared in for emergencies.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday the New York City Civilian Complaint Review will hold a public board meeting.

At 7 p.m. #BetaNYC will hold a Civic Hack Night.

Wednesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Jumaane Williams (District 45, Brooklyn) at 6 p.m.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, Crain’s New York Business will host a breakfast forum featuring Maria-Torres Springer, president and CEO of New York City Economic Development Corporation. She will discuss the de Blasio administration’s economic development strategy and agenda. She will specifically address subsidy policies and upcoming projects. Erik Engquist, Crain’s’ assistant managing editor, will moderate the event.

At 9 a.m. Thursday the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on potential landmarks throughout the city which have been under consideration for more than five years.

At 5 p.m. Thursday in San Juan, Puerto Rico, City & State NY will host its kickoff event for the Somos El Futuro conference. Expect many elected officials, staffers, and other politicos to attend.

At 6 p.m. Thursday the Alliance for Quality Education will host its 2015 “Champions of Education” gala to honor Natasha Capers, Coordinator, NYC Coalition for Educational Justice; Andrew Pallotta, Executive Vice President, The New York State United Teachers; Laura Wolff, former program director, The Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, for their contributions and dedication to educating future generations.

At 7 p.m. Thursday the New York Young Republican Club will have a gala honoring Congressional Rep. Chris Gibson for his service to the country.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday the Arab American Association of New York will host its 14th annual benefit gala.

Thursday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting event is via CM Jumaane D. Williams (District 45, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
At the New York State Legislature on Friday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Libraries and Education Technology will have a public meeting to discuss funding for Public Libraries.

On Friday evening at NYU, the Muslim Democratic Club of New York and NYU Muslim Students Association host "Being Muslim in 2016: Why We Can't Wait," a panel discussion on anti-Muslim sentiment gaining political currency as we approach the 2016 elections and asking how Muslim Americans can stem the tide of Islamophobia among politicians and elected officials and gain political power in New York and elsewhere. The panel discussion will be moderated by Ben Max, editor of Gotham Gazette, and will include Faiza Ali, Vice President, MDCNY; Zaheer Ali, Oral Historian, Brooklyn Historical Society; Moustafa Bayoumi, Professor, Brooklyn College; and Essma Bengabsia, NYU MSA Member.

***
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 Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Note: this post has been updated since its original publish

The Week That Was in New York Politics, October 26-30


week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday October 30

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Officers line up on Merrick Blvd in Queens outside the funeral of fallen officer Randolph Holder, killed in the line of duty and posthumously promoted to detective, via the 103rd Precinct; Mayor de Blasio on Staten Island for the third anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, via John Kenny

NYPD funeral

bdb sandy john kenny

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:
1. Three Years After Sandy: October 29 marked three years since Hurricane Sandy hit New York, destroying thousands of homes, killing 53 people, and causing $32 billion in damages statewide. On Thursday on Staten Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s Build it Back program aims to finish its work repairing homes by the end of 2016. So far, the Build it Back program has spent more than $100 million to repair homes and has began construction on nearly 1,900 homes, according to a report released by the Mayor last week.

2. Success Academy Scrutiny: A report published by The New York Times on Thursday revealed that at least one school in the network singled out students who they wanted to get rid of - allegations that the network and CEO Eva Moskowitz had repeatedly denied. Success Academy representatives defended their integrity at a Friday press conference. The network’s high student suspension rates continue to draw attention while Moskowitz continues to explain the schools’ approach.

3. Departures: On Monday, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch announced that she would step down from her post when her term ends. This week, Andrew Albanese, acting superintendent of the state Department of Financial Services, and Matthew Anderson, the agency’s spokesman, resigned from their respective positions amid a disagreement with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office over the agency’s independence. And, one of Cuomo’s top aides, Joe Percoco, is leaving the administration. Cuomo says Percoco’s departure was a personal decision and is not related to ongoing investigations in Albany.

4. Gun Control: On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner Bratton, and Manhattan District Attorney Vance announced two indictments of gun traffickers for selling loaded handguns, assault weapons, and ammunition. Over the past six years, the Violent Criminal Enterprises Unit, working with the NYPD, have taken over “1,000 illegal guns off city streets over the course of 21 indictments filed against 64 gun traffickers,” said Vance. Most of the guns are believed to have come from out of state. On Friday, the New York Times reported that Governor Cuomo plans to take a lead role in the national fight to enact more gun control laws, pledging to work with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. [Read: As Cuomo Pushes for Federal Action on Guns, New York Measures Await His Support]

5. Honoring Police Officer Holder: Services took place this week to honor Police Officer Randolph Holder, who was shot and killed while on duty October 20. Thousands of police officers gathered at Holder’s funeral on Wednesday to pay their respects. Holder has been posthumously promoted to Detective by Commissioner Bratton. Holder’s death marks the fourth time in less than a year that a New York City police officer has been killed while on duty.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 91 cents is how much New York gets back in federal spending for every dollar it sends to Washington, D.C. in taxes - well below the national average of $1.22.
  • 1.8% decline in shootings citywide, with 947 incidents as of October 25.
  • $837,000 in restitution and fines for more than 6,000 employees has been secured by the Department of Consumer Affairs since New York City’s Paid Sick Leave Law went into effect.
  • $750 million in incentives is how much New York State has offered SolarCity to locate its GigaFactory in Buffalo, which has promised to create 5,000 jobs.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who held his first re-election fundraiser Thursday night, which was expected to bring in about $1 million for the mayor’s campaign.
  • It was a bad week for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who endorsed Hillary Clinton for president Friday morning after his delay in doing so earned him a lot of negative publicity and, likely, fewer friends in the Clinton camp.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time 111 years ago, on October 27, 1904, the New York City subway opened.
  • Around this time 29 years ago, on October 27, 1986, the New York Mets won the World Series by defeating the Boston Red Sox 8-5 in Game 7 at Shea Stadium.
  • Around this time 129 years ago, on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, was dedicated in New York Harbor by President Grover Cleveland.
  • Around this time 3 years ago, on October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit New York, resulting in the death of 53 people and the destruction of thousands of homes, causing an estimated $32 billion in damages statewide.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

De Blasio Attempts to Undo Negative First Impressions, by Ben Max

Hearing Will Examine Pay for Workers Serving City’s Most Vulnerable, by Meg O’Connor

As Sheldon Silver Heads to Trial, A Democratic Challenger is Poised to Run, by David Howard King

Brooklyn Neighborhoods Look to Address School Overcrowding, Avoid Rezoning Issues Seen Elsewhere, by Ryan Brady

As Cuomo Pushes for Federal Action on Guns, New York Measures Await His Support, by David Howard King

More NYC Families Will Soon Have Access to Care, by Nisha Agarwal, Commisioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

  • In an interview with City & State NY, David Miranda, president of the New York State Bar Association, discusses the organization’s constitutional convention committee and some of its priorities for 2016, including gun control reform.

***
NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

***
by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max



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