Quantcast

Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

GOVERNMENT

The Week That Was in New York Politics, October 12-16


week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday October 16

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio and former Mayor David Dinkins at the ceremony naming The David N. Dinkins Municipal Building, via The Mayor's Office; Hillary Clinton and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at a protest rally in Las Vegas before the Democratic presidential debate, via Pedro Julio Serrano

BdB Dinkins via mayors office

HRC MMV

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. MTA Funding Deal: This past Saturday, after months of debate, city and state officials reached a deal over funding for the MTA’s capital plan. New York City will pay an additional $2.5 billion, while the state will contribute $8.3 billion to meet what was the outstanding need of the $26 billion plan to expand and repair the MTA system over the next five years. As part of the deal, the state cannot divert funds from the capital plan, as the state has repeatedly removed money from the MTA budget in the past. Questions remain, however, over how the state and the city plan to pay for their shares - Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has said his conference won’t support new taxes to pay for the commitment and questioned new borrowing. De Blasio’s team is expected to outline its plans as part of a reworked capital budget in 2016.

2. De Blasio’s First Town Hall: Mayor de Blasio held the first town hall of his mayoralty in Washington Heights on Wednesday evening. The mayor took questions from a crowd of about 250 during the two-hour town hall with a focus on rent security and tenant protection. The town hall seems to be part of a shifting strategy for public interaction that began in late August, when Mayor de Blasio began making more appearances on TV and radio shows, as well as more formal in-person outreach to New Yorkers.

3. Cuomo Team Returns to Puerto Rico: A delegation of New York State officials led by Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul returned to Puerto Rico this week in an attempt to help the territory deal with its debt and health care crises. The delegation included Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Medicaid Director Jason Helgerson, and Assemblymembers Marco Crespo and Richard Gottfried. Cuomo led the first delegation to Puerto Rico about a month ago.

4. De Blasio to Israel: The mayor headed to Israel late Thursday to deliver a keynote address at the annual Conference of Mayors, where he will speak on the topic “Anti-Semitism in the West: How Cities Must Lead.” During the three-day trip, Mayor de Blasio will meet with Palestinians at a bilingual school in Jerusalem, a break from his predecessors, who only met with Israelis while visiting Israel in the past - though mayor won’t be meeting with official representatives of the Palestinian government. Questions remain around the private funding of de Blasio’s trip.

5. Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force: Governor Cuomo's "Common Core Task Force" met for the first time Friday. The panel, made up of 15 educators, lawmakers, and business leaders, could suggest overhauling the Common Core standards in New York. Governor Cuomo announced a ‘total reboot’ of Common Core was necessary after roughly 20 percent of state students opted not to take standardized tests aligned with the tougher standards. On a related note, earlier in the week, the State Assembly education committee held a meeting on the state's most struggling schools. After Friday's meeting the Common Core Task Force announced plans for at least a dozen public forums and that it had appointed its first "student ambassador." [From September 29 when the task force had just been announced: Absent from Cuomo's New Education Task Force: A Student]

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • $1.67 million in unclaimed funds have been returned to the city after Public Advocate Letitia James led a push for the city to recover money from New York’s unclaimed funds registry, which found that the city had more than 2,000 accounts with unclaimed funds.
  • $174,000is outgoing Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson’s new judicial salary, which he intends to collect in addition to his pension, which is estimated could be as much as $142,000 per year, according to The New York Post.
  • 41 months in federal prison for former Rikers correction officer Austin Romain for accepting over $11,000 in bribes as part of a scheme to distribute marijuana to Rikers inmates.
  • 3 states, 8 people, and over $100,000 in illegal weapons were involved in a gun-running ring busted by Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. 112 guns were sold to an undercover police officer during the year-long investigation into the gun-smuggling ring.
  • 11-year difference between the life expectancy of residents of Brooklyn’s impoverished Brownsville neighborhood and the residents of Manhattan’s more affluent financial district.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

  • It was a good week for former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, who this week had the Manhattan Municipal Building renamed in his honor.
  • It was a bad week for Wendell Walters, former assistant commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, who was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday for accepting $2.5 million in bribes.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time 103 years ago, on October 14, 1912, then-presidential candidate Teddy Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a Manhattan man while campaigning in Milwaukee. He went on with a scheduled speech despite his wound.
  • Around this time three years ago, on October 16, 2012, the FBI arrested Mohammed Nafis for plotting to detonate a 1,000 pound car bomb in front of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • Around this time last year, on October 14, 2014, Mayor de Blasio kicked off two Hurricane Sandy-related employment programs in Queens as a means to better connect residents with jobs and training programs in the storm-ravaged Rockaways.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

The Mayor's Media Blitz, by Ben Max

Reform Proposals Fly as Panel Evaluates Ethics Watchdog, by Samar Khurshid

Measuring the Mayor’s Education Agenda, by Kaela Sanborn-Hum

Albany Transparency and the MTA Funding Deal: Show Us Our Money, by John Kaehny (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

***
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

Note: this article has been updated

The Mayor's Media Blitz


de blasio media parade col day

The mayor & the media (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


Have you heard Mayor de Blasio's voice lately? He's been trying harder to ensure you have, sharply increasing the frequency with which he makes extended appearances on television and radio, and holding events to interact directly with New Yorkers.

Instead of New Yorkers only hearing and seeing quick clips of the mayor on networks covering his press conferences, de Blasio has pursued greater control over his message, making many more broadcast appearances. The push is indicative of a mayor seeking to correct a public perception problem, lift slumping poll numbers, reconnect with his base, and woo more allies.

In September, for example, the mayor averaged about one TV or radio interview per day. In July and August, the mayor averaged just one TV or radio interview per week. Going back to June, it was about two per week - more frequent than during the typically slower summer months that included a family vacation, but less often than recently.

The uptick began in late August after worrisome public opinion polls and de Blasio criticizing media coverage of his administration. The trend then took hold in September as the mayor seized on Pope Francis' visit to New York and the start of a new school year.

The effort to be on the airwaves more is "clearly part of a concerted effort," says Democratic political strategist Alexis Grenell. "It allows him to connect with the electorate, which is good for him and good for the public. Arguably, he should be doing more."

Not coincidentally, the mayor's media blitz has also coincided with an increase in planned in-person interactions with the public: de Blasio did pre-K canvassing, spoke about his housing plans at a church, and held a parents' night at a school, all in Brooklyn; he hosted his first town hall meeting, also focused on housing, on Wednesday evening in Washington Heights.

"It's about time," said Dr. Christina Greer, a Fordham political science professor. Greer thinks that although a bit late into his term, it was smart for de Blasio to do the initial town hall and that it is key for him to be on the airwaves more. "He needs to control the narrative, and you need to give yourself the opportunities to do so. If you don't leave City Hall, the media can craft the narrative more. If you get on the airwaves, you can deliver the message...if you go to the people, they hear it directly from you," Greer says.

With information provided by the mayor's office and gleaned from press advisories, Gotham Gazette counted 13 appearances by de Blasio on radio and TV over 79 days from June 1 through August 18. In the following 55 days, de Blasio made 36 such appearances, beginning with a 40-minute interview on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show on August 19.

Asked about the sizeable increase in broadcast interviews, Karen Hinton, the mayor's press secretary, emailed Gotham Gazette to say, "Whether it's walking through a neighborhood - something the Mayor often does spontaneously - or taking questions from the public during a radio show or a Town Hall, Mayor de Blasio is always looking for new ways to communicate with New Yorkers so he can learn more about their problems and find solutions."

Even frequent de Blasio critics see progress. Republican political strategist Jessica Proud told Gotham Gazette that she sees a different, and welcome, approach by the mayor and that she suspects Hinton has been a key force behind it. Proud, who helped run the campaign of de Blasio's general election opponent, Joe Lhota, said the mayor still has a long way to go, but it is positive for all involved if he is on the airwaves more and doing town halls.

"I see a little bit of progress, yes, but he will need a more aggressive pace if he wants to dispel that rap on him," Proud said of the impression that the mayor has been in his own progressive bubble. She said that the mayor and his team have been too siloed, and even as they branch out, they must continue to do more appearances in places like Staten Island, and that the mayor should appear on a broader diversity of radio and TV programs.

"Going on The Brian Lehrer Show, that's right in line with his base and his audience," Proud said, referring to the popular political talk show that appears to be de Blasio's favorite on-air venue. "The media and the public would relish the chance to have more in-depth conversations with him" on a wide variety of topics, she said.

Evan Siegfried, also a Republican strategist, says that more on-air hits are a good thing for any politician, but that de Blasio needs more accomplishments to boast, which comes down to his policies.

Polls show that the mayor must improve voters' perception of him and the direction of the city under his leadership. It's not clear whether New Yorkers are worried about de Blasio's openness to ideas that don't fit his typical focus on inequality and progressivism as he defines it. Proud argued, though, that "there are a lot of city opinion leaders, civic leaders that do matter - their perception of you has a ripple effect."

Grenell, Greer, and Proud all agree that more public exposure is smart for de Blasio in particular because he's actually good at delivering his message. "Some people aren't their own best messengers and need other people to articulate their vision," Greer says, "but [de Blasio] is not that person, he's actually the best person to explain his ideas, he's very good at it."

Grenell thinks similarly: "When you listen to the mayor on the radio, he excels, it is only good for him."

In short, being on the airwaves more, holding more public events to interact with New Yorkers is both good government and good politics.

Still, within de Blasio's media hits lies an ongoing problem for the mayor: his presence on the national stage and the perception that he is not as focused on city governance as he should be.

A handful of the mayor's recent TV appearances have been on national programs, like ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, but that has been a trend for the mayor. The real increase in de Blasio's media presence has been on local radio, with more appearances on WNYC as well as 1010 Wins, Hot 97, and AM 970 The Answer.

While he has mostly feuded with The New York Post, de Blasio has been critical of the media in general, though less so since August, when he expressed concerns with press focus on topics he finds less appropriate than policy points of his agenda.

One way to get around displeasing newspaper coverage is to do fewer press conferences and make more interview appearances over the airwaves. Even if somewhat filtered by the radio or TV host, live appearances offer direct channels to those who tune in.

"I'm baffled by why he and his handlers haven't done this more," Dr. Greer said, "because when he talks to the voters, he resonates. When he talks about New York City he makes you feel like no one wants to fight for New York City more than him."

Greer asserts that de Blasio's favorability will rise "if he does a sustained effort at TV and radio." Similar to Proud, Siegfried said "de Blasio should also be willing to sit down with adversarial media outlets for interviews. It would demonstrate he is not afraid to talk to people that might not laud him with praise."

Greer also said de Blasio should appear on a wide variety of outlets, though she didn't necessarily say they should be "adversarial."

"Hearing him on a station that's not say, NPR, it gives him access to people are who are not necessarily paying attention to the political scene throughout," Greer said, citing what she called a strong appearance on Hot 97.

It's a novel approach aimed at correcting course as de Blasio nears the halfway point of his term: more broadcast interviews, town hall-style events, and even attempting to mend fences with his predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

While the mayor is not shying away from his progressive brand of politics and battle with inequality, he and his team are perhaps recognizing a need to change the narrative and do some things differently in order to capture more good will and public approval.

To date, October hasn't shown the pace of radio and TV appearances de Blasio struck last month, when he was not only tying his agenda to the Pope's visit and promoting his pre-kindergarten program, but also addressing the NYPD's mishandling of former tennis star James Blake and sparring with Governor Cuomo over MTA funding.

When de Blasio returns from a weekend trip to Israel, he'll give indication of whether he intends to resume the more frequent pace of media appearances some say is essential to his potential success.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@TweetBenMax

Reform Proposals Fly as Panel Evaluates Ethics Watchdog


cuomo parade banner

The governor's office, on the march (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


The 2011 law that created the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) to be the top ethics watchdog in the state contained a proviso that the body would be periodically reviewed to find ways to improve its functioning. That mandate fell upon the New York Ethics Review Commission, more commonly known as the JCOPE review commission, which held its first-ever public hearing on Wednesday at New York Law School in downtown Manhattan.

The forum was sparsely attended with barely 20 people in the audience including legal experts and good government advocates who suggested ways that JCOPE could become a stronger, more efficient oversight entity. Their recommendations, though diverse, centered on a few core issues that plague JCOPE: the extent of its jurisdiction; the protocol of appointments; transparency in its internal functioning; and its online resources.

The review commission is comprised of eight unpaid volunteers, six of whom were at Wednesday's meeting. The hearing was in part held as the commission works toward preparing a report due by November 1, though that deadline appears fungible. Commission chair and former state Senator Dale Volker, stated at the outset that the review body's mission is to be an advisory charged with reviewing and evaluating the performance of JCOPE and the legislative review commission.

"We're looking at how well they're performing under current law as it's written and not to redefine the scope of what these bodies are charged with doing or establish new regulatory structure," he said.

Unfortunately for them, and perhaps New Yorkers, this mandate precludes the major recommendations made by Evan Davis and Dan Karson, members of the New York City Bar Association's Government Ethics Committee. They presented a joint report by the City Bar and good government group Common Cause New York titled "Hope for JCOPE."

Davis made it a point to say that the JCOPE commissioners are "very good people who all want to do the right thing and our disagreement with them is about what is the right thing in the circumstances presented today." With hypothetical ethics lessons, he tried to illustrate the legal technicalities and grey areas which JCOPE could address.

Karson focused on JCOPE's controversial appointment process. Of the 14-member commission, eight members are legislative appointees and six are gubernatorial - members come via the very entities which fall under the commission's purview.

"By its very design, the legislation for JCOPE provides that appointments will be made along party lines and in reality precludes membership other than by the two major political parties," said Karson. "Political party affiliation can prevent, effectively, JCOPE in conducting an independent investigation."

He emphasized that the structure and rules of the body allow micro-minorities of two or three members to veto decisions to initiate official investigations into members of legislature, legislative employees and candidates.

"The fact that the party leaders name eight members and political affiliation is a specific qualifier in the gubernatorial appointments creates the appearance of political influence and partisanship," he said.

Karson recommended that the express political test for gubernatorial appointments be eliminated; that the governor's appointments be reduced to four; that legislative appointments be reduced to six; and one member each be named by the state's Chief Judge, the Attorney General, and the Comptroller. Also, he suggested that the commission's size be made an odd number to ensure there can be no deadlock vote in case of full participation.

Karson said there should be firewalls between JCOPE commissioners and public officials who appoint them to prevent any communication. He also specifically addressed the issue of self-dealing by legislators through state-funded non-profit organizations, insisting that JCOPE publish lists of these organizations and prohibit any involvement by legislators, their staff and immediate families.

JCOPE's independence, or lack thereof, was also the focus of testimony by Talia Werber, policy and research manager at Citizens Union, a good government advocacy organization.

Werber submitted a number of recommendations for the commission on two fronts: operational management and legislative changes.

Among Citizens Union's proposals are: independent budgeting for JCOPE; investing in database resources and information technology; an open process of personnel selection; making internal workings public and transparent; improving the process of financial disclosure reporting by coordinating with different agencies; reducing response time to complaints; and improved guidance of grassroots lobbying to ensure ethics compliance.

Werber also reiterated Karson's concern over the structure of the commission, calling for a seven- or nine-member body with a reformed appointment process similar to that of nomination and selection of appeals court judges.

Laura Abel, senior policy counsel at Lawyers Alliance for New York, believes that JCOPE's heavy focus on small community-based lobbying organizations diverts resources from more pressing issues.

"I sometimes think of JCOPE as being like a puppy who's so busy yapping at passersby that when the burglar walks in the front door, it's too tired to do anything about it," she said at the hearing.

JCOPE Has been notoriously quiet in terms of exposing high-ranking corruption or major governmental malpractice, even while the drip of indictments by the U.S. Attorney's office continues.

Abel recommended changes to the lobbying disclosure process that would make the commission's job more efficient and make it easier for small lobbying groups to follow the rules.

Part of JCOPE's responsibility is to publicly provide the data it collects. However, it hasn't used the resources at its disposal to do this in the most efficient way. Prudence Katze, research and policy Manager at Common Cause New York, said JCOPE's website is "confusing" and "clunky" and that it needs to be more proactive in rulemaking to "facilitate easier reporting for lobbying entities but also make the data easier to understand."

"JCOPE has the power to shift the pattern of corruption in albany by becoming a proactive force but only if everyone understands the rules and consequences," she said.

In a strange turn of events, the meeting temporarily went off track with the testimony of Elena Sassower, co-founder and director of the Center for Judicial Accountability, Inc. which she described as a non-partisan, non-profit citizens organization focused on New York's "pervasively corrupt" judiciary which is "actively abetted by the executive and legislative branches."

Sassower directed a scathing attack at both JCOPE and the review commission itself in a testimony that devolved into finger-pointing and heated words exchanged with review commission chair Volker. Sassower called JCOPE and legislative ethics commission "corrupt facades" that have protected their appointing authorities from investigation.

She questioned the review commission's methodology and the protocol of dealing with conflicts of interest, stating that they were "unlawfully constituted" and should shut down.

A salient, simple point she raised was that the JCOPE review commission's website is not easy to find since the name changed to the New York Ethics Review Commission.

Although Volker said the commission would not field questions or give responses, Sassower's testimony solicited a defense. He critiqued her for giving false testimony in the past (to which she responded she had never done so intentionally) and that she was simply repeating testimony that was not relevant to the review commission's mandate.

"Our job is not to condemn JCOPE but is to recommend possible change," Volker said.

As the meeting wound down, Volker said the entire panel would meet next week and that they hope to have their report ready by November 1. (Sassower kept volleying parting shots as they left their chairs.)

Although there were no members of JCOPE itself present at the hearing, JCOPE external affairs director Walter McClure said in an email, "JCOPE looks forward to the report of the Ethics Review Commission, which we hope will take into consideration the recommendations made in our February 2015 report."

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

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

Measuring the Mayor’s Education Agenda


de blasio parents school brooklyn

De Blasio at a parents' night (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office via flickr)


There are three main data points by which New York City mayors are usually judged on their management of city schools: state standardized test scores; and rates of student graduation and college-readiness. As Mayor Bill de Blasio is now in his second year at the helm of the city’s 1,800 schools and 1.1 million students, his ability to improve these numbers is coming under intense scrutiny - from parents, pundits, and Albany lawmakers, among others.

To boost school and student performance and produce college- and career-ready graduates, de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have unveiled a series of new education initiatives, led by the much-heralded rollout of universal pre-kindergarten. The effectiveness of these programs and the pair’s stewardship of the city’s schools will largely be determined by the three aforementioned data points. Of key relevance within those larger statistics is also the outcomes for subgroups of students, like those with disabilities, and the so-called “achievement gap.”

In a recent speech called “Equity and Excellence,” de Blasio outlined a series of new education plans aimed at improving the opportunities and outcomes for city students. Many applauded the mayor’s announcements, which included more algebra, computer science, and reading coaches. Others, however, say benchmarks for student success are being set too far off and that more robust and immediate change is needed. Some continue to push de Blasio to close underperforming schools and embrace an expansion of charter schools.

“Our vision for the New York City public schools is that every school is going to be brought up to the point of excellence. We are putting an unprecedented level of resources in – that’s how we achieved full day pre-K for every child in this city - and that’s going to have a huge impact on the future of our children and our schools,” de Blasio said last week on 1010 Wins radio.

Over the course of two years, de Blasio and Fariña have put together an extensive education agenda. Progress, or lack thereof, will be a key to de Blasio’s 2017 re-election bid. More importantly, the success of the de Blasio/Fariña era of city school control will be key to the future of many young people. Parents and guardians of the city's 1.1 million students are seeing firsthand every day whether their children's schools give them confidence in those in charge.

As stakeholders and watchers keep tabs on the mayor’s education agenda and its impact, Gotham Gazette takes a detailed look at de Blasio’s major programs and how they fit into the assessment of this mayor’s education leadership.

First, the latest data on the three main metrics mentioned above:
TEST SCORES: The most up-to-date numbers say that about one-third of New York City students in grades 3-8 are proficient on state math and English-Language Arts tests. For math, it’s 35.2 percent proficient; for ELA, 30.4 percent. These numbers, released this summer, show a slight increase from the year before. (They also indicate performance on recently rewritten tests based on the Common Core Learning Standards - tests and standards that are the source of much controversy.)

GRADUATION RATE: The most recently published graduate rate, from 2014, shows 64.2 percent of high schoolers graduated in four years (including August graduates, the percentage rises to 68.4). Indicative of a long-term upward trend, this also shows an increase, with the August rate up 2.4 percent from the year before.

COLLEGE-READINESS: In 2014, 32 percent of students tested high enough to be considered “college ready.” The college-ready metric, initially introduced by the state, is determined by percentages of students who attain a score of 75 or higher on the English Regents and 80 or higher on the Math Regents (Regents exams are state standardized tests for high school students). This signifies that students will not require remedial classes to attend four-year CUNY universities.

Bill de Blasio, Education Mayor
To ring in the new year and quiet some of his critics, Mayor de Blasio gave a wide-ranging September speech to unveil several new education initiatives. Announcements of new efforts to ensure all students are reading at grade level; offer more algebra, advanced placement, and computer science courses; and individually guide the system’s most vulnerable students were mostly met with praise from officials, advocates, parents, and others.

Though all agree with the mayor’s expressed principles of “equity and excellence” in all New York City public schools, there are skeptics who question if the mayor is going far enough or fast enough, and those who question how well his programs, new and otherwise, will be implemented. After all, if one-third of grade 3-8 students are proficient in math or ELA, that means that two-thirds are not.

The numbers become even more frightening when looking at the city’s lowest performing schools, often in its poorest neighborhoods and populated by children of color, where there are in some instances grades full of students who do not meet the state standards.

De Blasio and others do question the new state tests and caution against using standardized test scores as the end-all. They also point to high poverty rates and the challenges faced by students that impede their ability to learn.

Still, the mayor consistently acknowledges there is a great deal of work to be done to make all schools good schools. He has little choice but to confront that reality. A new report from pro-charter school organization Families for Excellent Schools shows that black and Hispanic students beginning high school in New York City are one-fourth as likely as their white and Asian counterparts to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Much of the mayor’s wide-ranging education agenda - beginning with pre-K - is aimed at increasing opportunity and fostering greater equity.

Many ask how de Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, plan to measure progress on their signature changes to the city’s education system, looking for both what metrics and what benchmarks are in place to assess and ensure success. They and other top city officials are often hard-pressed to give data points other than the big three mentioned earlier, though they cite things like attendance rates and Advanced Placement course access and enrollment.

In de Blasio’s most recent announcement, he outlined several goals set a number of years down the road - such as increasing the proportion of high school graduates deemed ‘college-ready’ from less than half to two-thirds by 2026 - leading many to wonder about more immediate effects and goals. Some note that even a goal set that far into the future leaves one-third of city graduates not deemed ready for college.

Some schools and students must see immediate progress. Each of the city’s 94 “renewal schools,” the city’s persistently low-performing schools up against the prospect of state takeover, will have set benchmarks to meet, which usually include attendance and test score improvements.

De Blasio is banking on his pre-K initiative to be a game-changer. And it may be, but time and again de Blasio and others are asked how the program is being evaluated and there are few concrete answers, though a consultancy has been hired to track it. Much of the program’s efficacy will be pegged on the third-grade test scores of the students who have enrolled in the program (third grade is the first year of state standardized tests and seen as a key year for assessing whether students are reading at grade-level).

On the first day of school this year, in September, Mayor de Blasio celebrated the progress of programs implemented thus far in his tenure, including the expansion of UPK to enrolling more than 65,500 four-year-olds across the city; 130 new community schools; 126 PROSE schools, which are schools working with unique models and outside of some typical union rules; and free after-school programs for all middle-schoolers. Most of the celebration, though, involves their launch, and with much of it still new, like de Blasio as mayor, there is little else to measure yet.

The following week, de Blasio announced the roll-out of another wave of education programs buttressed by a vision of public schools running on the “twin engines of equity and excellence.”  Programs outlined included computer science and Advanced Placement courses for all; universal second grade literacy; “Single Shepherd,” by which at-risk students are provided individualized counselors; and college campus visits for all before ninth grade.

“Excellence and achievement cannot, and should not, discriminate...As we increase the number of student success stories, we have to make sure success is as common in East New York as it is on the Upper East Side,” said the mayor, striking the central theme of his campaign and his mayoralty.

Changing the largest school system in the country does not happen overnight, of course, and some defend the mayor’s extended timelines. City Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the Committee on Education and a former teacher, told Gotham Gazette, “I applaud the mayor for not allowing people to think [these reforms] can be done overnight. It takes awhile to change things, to change cultures, and to have real results.”

Along with Dromm, Gotham Gazette consulted several education experts and advocates to discuss the mayor’s education agenda and related metrics.

Pre-K
“In principle, [universal pre-k] is an extremely good idea, but in practice, it will depend on the caliber of the program,” David Steiner, executive director at Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and former New York State education commissioner, told Gotham Gazette.

“Research shows that teacher quality is the single greatest determinant of a student’s performance outside family background and context. So it’s the greatest in-school influence on student performance,” Steiner said, underlining the importance of “the caliber of instruction.”

As Steiner considers pre-K, he wants to know if teachers have “been prepared to handle the work that needs to be done to ensure that these young children can learn to read effectively.”

Suggesting a teacher residency program model in order to equip teachers with the clinical skills they need to ensure preparedness and high-quality instruction in the classroom, Steiner is among those who want to see systemic focus on teacher preparation and quality.

Along with teacher quality, Steiner cites sufficient socialization, play-time, and acquiring skills such as “phonemic awareness” for the students as critical to building the foundation for reading and long-term success in learning.

The de Blasio administration has indeed highlighted the significance of teacher instruction, offering the city’s first-ever “Citywide Professional Development Training specifically for pre-K,” with 6,000 educators participating at the launch of the program in 2014. It is not the residency system Steiner recommends, which would be more robust and expensive.

The mayor and others have continually stressed that pre-K is “high-quality,” but it is unclear exactly how prepared the teachers are and how strong the curriculum is - which is where internal and external evaluation will come into play.

There will, of course, also soon be those third grade test scores for the first class of pre-K participants. One major question about pre-K is whether initial gains that participants show last through third grade.

In the city’s implementation plan for UPK, a core feature of the model is “ensuring recruitment and retention of high-quality UPK lead teachers with early childhood certification.”

Instructional coaches from the DOE are placed in schools to provide professional development - which, generally speaking, has been a major focus of Chancellor Fariña, a former teacher and principal herself.

“As we move forward with this expansion, we must renew our focus on supporting our pre-K teachers and assistant teachers and creating an atmosphere of engaging and fun learning and play that puts our youngest learners on the path to success in kindergarten and their continuing education,” said Fariña at the initial pre-K launch, in 2014.

De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell told Gotham Gazette that the first wave of pre-K metrics will be released this fall.

Norvell described skill acquisition as essential, along with classroom interactions, and available activities. Pre-K participants are, after all, four-year-olds. When asked about ensuring quality in pre-K, the mayor has often stressed that the curriculum involves establishing key learning basics, such as those needed to become a successful reader, as well as plenty of play, which also builds skills.

Norvell stressed that enrollment itself is key to the success of the program, especially among disadvantaged families. "This is a two-year expansion, and the first year was heavily focused on low-income communities that benefit most from high quality pre-K. In the ten lowest-income communities, enrollment more than doubled last year. And that focus continued this year, where we pushed and successfully enrolled more than 1,000 children whose families were in homeless shelters,” Norvell told Gotham Gazette.

Moving children from under-resourced and unstable environments into school a year earlier can have significant effects in terms of their socialization and language acquisition.

In a recent defense against accusations that pre-K success is being measured by enrollment and not quality, Norvell wrote on Twitter that a “focus on quality” is the “reason we spread expansion over [two years],” adding that there has been a “huge focus on [professional development] and pedagogical oversight.”

Community, Renewal, PROSE, & Charter Schools
Community schools and renewal schools -- at the heart of the mayor’s education reforms -- provide striking examples of divergent policy from de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

De Blasio has promised to close schools only as a “last resort,” focusing rather on providing more and better resources to schools which may be struggling. The city’s most-struggling schools are the renewal schools, almost all of which are part of the community schools program, which means these schools become hubs of services, such as providing health care for students or English classes for parents.

“Labeling schools ‘low-performing,’ labeling them ‘failing’ makes everybody in that school community feel like they’re failing,” David Bloomfield, professor of education leadership at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, told Gotham Gazette. “We have to get away from this notion of a failing school; it’s an incorrect description and an obstacle to reform.”

In this regard, Bloomfield appears aligned with de Blasio, who has decided that instead of closing schools and reconstituting them as smaller schools with a remade faculty, that he would flood struggling schools with resources.

Bloomfield believes rigorous testing implemented during the Bloomberg years showed itself to be a “disaster” and “misunderstands the educational situation of students. It ostensibly equates short-term test performance with long-term educational proficiency.”

Assessment of “student learning across multiple measures,” not simply discerned through testing, as well as “professional observation” to determine teacher quality would give a more accurate portrayal of student and teacher performance, Bloomfield says.

“We are investing in tools that we know help students catch up and succeed – more learning time, extra tutoring, coaches to help teachers improve instruction,” said the mayor at a press conference with students and faculty of Richmond Hill High School, one of the 94 renewal schools.

“We have a plan to fix long-struggling schools, and we’ll hold ourselves and these schools accountable for results,” de Blasio said. When discussing his stewardship of city schools and the mayoral control system that New York City mayors are allowed through state law, de Blasio has repeatedly said that he has the education system on the right track and that closing school doesn’t solve the problems facing the students in them. He says he will be judged by voters come 2017.

Still, critics believe that the community and renewal school school approach of extra resources is not the answer, but that closing schools and opening more independently-run charter schools is a better general alternative path.

De Blasio has been a vocal opponent of the expansion of charter schools, though his rhetoric on the subject has cooled of late. The mayor and others have talked of partnering with charter schools as an opportunity to increase the quality of education in public schools.

A controversial recent advertisement by Families for Excellent Schools, the pro-charter group, slamming de Blasio for “forcing kids into failing schools” is indicative of a long-running dispute. Prior to that ad, which is being followed by another critical of the mayor’s education leadership, and a large pro-charter, anti-de Blasio rally, the mayor announced a new program to fund 50 formal partnerships between district schools and charter schools.

The administration cites that it will be similar to the Learning Partners Program, matching “host” schools with “partner” schools for collaboration on areas of demonstrated need by the partner schools. Drawing from individual strengths, schools will apply and be matched in pairs “to learn from each other's best practices” creating District-Charter Learning Partnerships.

Moreover, another DOE effort to support struggling schools is the Progressive Redesign Opportunity for Schools of Excellence (PROSE) initiative. Led by the Office of School Design and Charter Partnerships (OSDCP), the initiative aims to design and develop new schools, overhaul under-enrolled schools, and support school flexibility.

While de Blasio and Fariña’s teams track multiple measures, and have revamped the system by which schools are graded to show a diversity of metrics instead of a single letter grade, much of this can be seen as alphabet soup by those who simply want to know: are schools improving or not? There’s no getting around the fact that schools will largely be judged by state leaders and others through their standardized test scores, seen by many as the best objective measure.

Clara Hemphill, senior editor of InsideSchools.org, a publication of The Center for NYC Affairs at the New School, says that “Tests tell you where a school has been, but not where a school is going. There is other data that is predictive of where a school is heading.” She described “improved attendance, increased enrollment, and increased satisfaction by parents, teachers, students” as evidence for “signs of a flourishing school.”

Universal 2nd Grade Literacy
Every elementary school will receive support from a reading specialist to ensure students are reading at grade level by the end of second grade, Mayor de Blasio announced, noting that early intervention determines long-term success for young children and the importance of early literacy.

The Mayor’s Office cites that “students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers.”

Hemphill is pleased to see the initiative: “The plan for 700 reading specialists is long overdue,” she says. “It’s the one thing that’s really been shown to work in helping kids who may have some difficulties to read get the skills they need.”

“Learning to read is critical,” Hemphill continues. “There are a large number of kids who don’t learn easily even with good instruction. Reading specialists are teachers with master’s degrees specialized in how to teach reading. Putting one in an elementary will go a long way.”

Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, suggested “process-based metrics” in which a student is evaluated over time to gauge improved reading skills for grade-level proficiency by the end of second grade. This would create stronger tracking and assessment well before those third grade tests scores come back.

“Our goal is to have all second graders reading with fluency by 2026. Teachers will track students’ progress through nationally-recognized assessments, and provide the right kind of additional support to those kids who need it,” announced the Mayor.

Clearly, the success of this initiative will mostly come down to student scores on the state ELA tests all students take in third grade. One especially important subgroup to watch will be English-Language Learners, or students whose first language is not English. While this is true throughout all grade levels, it is important at younger ages that students show they are beginning to master the official language of most of their schooling.

Algebra for All
“For New York City public high school students, algebra 1 represents either the gateway to advanced math or a huge, even insurmountable, stumbling block in their education,” begins an August 2015 report prepared by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. Why is that so? The report states that the vast majority of students can fulfill math requirements for graduation by passing the Regents exam for the algebra 1 course.

However, according to the Center’s analysis, of the estimated 75,500 students who entered high school as the prospective Class of 2014, more than 22,000 failed the Integrated Algebra Regents on their first attempt. “Those who failed the first time went on to retake the exam an average of twice more in later years in order to graduate,” and among the students repeating the exam, “the pass rate plummeted to as low as 20 percent.”

And the test has only become significantly more difficult. A new exam was introduced in June 2014, aligning with the tougher academic standards of Common Core, as required in New York State. The test now consists of material that used to be on Algebra 2/Trigonometry Regents exams.

The difficulty of the exam has elicited reactions ranging from concern to outrage given the high stakes for students who may not graduate on time - or even not at all - depending on exam results. Part of the issue at play with algebra, like in other instances, appears to be access.

De Blasio announced the Algebra for All initiative to ensure algebra courses for all eighth-graders citywide by Fall 2021, along with “academic supports in place earlier in middle school to build greater algebra readiness.”

Today, less than 60 percent of public middle schools offer some algebra coursework.

Computer Science for All
By 2025, every student in elementary, middle and high school will receive computer science education. Funded through a public-private partnership, city money will be matched by New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (CSNYC), Robin Hood Foundation, and AOL Charitable Foundation for a total of $81 million invested over the next 10 years.

Tim Armstrong, CEO and chairman of AOL, said that these contributions will, “allow children of all backgrounds to share equally in the future of a software-driven economy and continue to bolster New York’s position as one of the leading technology cities in the world.”

Speaking with Gotham Gazette, Natasha Capers, parent leader and Coordinator of Coalition for Educational Justice, shared in the praise saying “giving [students] this education [will] build the workforce” of the future.

An initial pilot program during the 2014-15 school year, the Software Engineering Pilot (SEP), has implemented computer science classes in 18 middle and high schools, enrolling 2,700 students for courses about web design, coding, robotics and more. Computer science classes will expand significantly in other schools beginning in Fall 2016.

Some do not see computer science coursework as necessary for every student. De Blasio and others who support the initiative say that it will have multiple positive effects, including engaging students in school, preparing students for the workforce, and enhancing thinking schools. If it is part of improvement in college-readiness and workplace success rates, de Blasio will get credit.

AP for All
Today, nearly 40,000 students are enrolled in high schools, grades 9-12, that do not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Low-income students and black and Latino students are particularly affected, with only 44 percent enrolling in AP. Full implementation of AP for All is projected for Fall 2021, by which AP courses and prep classes will be available in all schools.

Again here, some may point to a far off goal. Progress will be measurable each year in terms of additional offerings, but it is a multi-year expansion plan, and one aimed at improving college-readiness, but also college graduation rates.

This initiative builds on the AP Expansion program created in 2013 by the NYC Department of Education which has implemented AP courses in over 70 schools since its launch.

A report reviewed by Inside Schools determines that “taking even one CUNY College Now or AP course reduces the likelihood that students will need remedial classes in college.”

Kim Nauer, education project director at Center for New York City Affairs, notes that statistically it is true that more students of all income levels are attending college but many are not completing their degrees. Taking AP courses in high school often serves as effective preparation for college course loads.

In fact, “we know students who take AP classes are twice as likely to graduate college in five years, compared to those who don’t,” noted de Blasio.

Students are also more likely to be prepared for college and careers with individual support from school guidance counselors.

However, in 2013, 61 percent of guidance counselors faced caseloads of 100 to 300 students -- far too many, critics say, to substantially help students individually prepare for college or career, much less navigate key aspects of their current schools. (The remaining counselors faced caseloads even higher.)

Thus, in addition to expanding AP course selection, the College Access for All program de Blasio announced will guide students through the college application process, in which “every student will have the resources and individually tailored supports at their high school to pursue a path to college.”

College campus visits, assistance in completing applications, mentorships with college students and strategies for family financial planning to afford college tuition are all resources which will be available for students, sixth-twelfth grade, launching in Fall 2016.

In increasing the focus on college preparedness and college goal-setting, de Blasio may be taking a page from the charter school book. Supporters often note that many charter schools have a college-going culture in place, talking with students about college from kindergarten onward.

Single Shepherd
The Single Shepherd program pairs counselors with specific students from sixth grade through their high school graduation and college enrollment, and is being piloted in District 7, in the South Bronx, and District 23, in Central Brooklyn. The program will launch in Fall 2016.

“Districts 7 and 23 have among the lowest graduation and college readiness rates in the city, and each serve high poverty, high needs students. We selected two districts with high need, in different areas of the city, and of varying size to serve as proof-points for the initiative so that with evidence, it can be scaled to other communities,” said Department of Education spokesperson Devora Kaye, in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

“The Single Shepherd role will focus explicitly on high school graduation, college readiness and on building a long-term relationship with their students,” Kaye continued. “Starting day one of implementation, we’ll be monitoring the progress of this program, and will expand it as we see progress.”

Students in the program, and the program itself, are sure to be measured in terms of improvements in attendance, grades, and test scores, along with graduation and college-readiness, as Kaye mentioned.

Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director at the Alliance for Quality Education, also said it is important to watch suspension rates. Ansari, whose group is largely aligned with the mayor and the teachers union, highlights the importance of looking at graduation rates and college placement for students, but also said more schools should be implementing “restorative justice practices,” referring to an approach to school discipline and community building that strays away from suspensions in most cases.

The social and emotional well-being of students and parent and community engagement are “crucial” for student success, Ansari said. De Blasio and Fariña have devoted new resources to restorative justice and believe that keeping students in school when suspension is avoidable will give students a greater shot at success.

Students for which restorative justice is an alternative to out-of-school suspension are likely to be candidates for the shepard program, though that program is only seeing a small pilot in the next school year. Still, the shepard program is another example of the de Blasio administration infusing significant resources toward addressing education problems.

School Segregation
Professor Bloomfield brought up one key for any big city mayor, the differences in learning experiences and outcomes of students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. There has been a renewed focus of late on New York City’s segregated schools - the city’s schools are among the most segregated in the country, some of which has to do with the city’s housing, which largely determines elementary school enrollment.

There are enrollment and admissions policies that many want to see changed. Others, still, want to see the expansion of charter schools - less so to reduce segregation and more so to reduce the so-called achievement gap between black and Latino students on one hand and white and Asian students on the other. Many charter schools have proved to be more successful alternatives to nearby district schools when it comes to student test scores, and charter schools in New York City are almost exclusively attended by children of color.

This past summer, de Blasio signed the School Diversity Accountability Act, which tracks demographic data relating to grade levels and programs within schools, but lacks a mandate for actionable steps to reduce segregation.

Bloomfield says, “The way to address [the achievement gap] is not simply through remediation, which is more or less what the mayor’s laundry list of [new] reforms [are].” It is necessary, he says, “to make sure that all students have access to resources by making sure affluent and low-income students are educated together and all students are educated in integrated environments because all students benefit from that.”

“I want to include the shameful inequity in our competitive high schools Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech,” Bloomfield adds. “The mayor promised he would change that and he hasn’t come up with any proposals.”

Bloomfield refers to the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools. De Blasio said as a candidate and repeated as mayor, though not lately, that he wants to see the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools change away from a single test. On the issue of school integration, de Blasio has been cool to innovative admissions models, instead saying that his pre-K and affordable housing programs would foster more integrated schools.

Lori Podvesker, a parent-advocate and manager of disability and education policy at INCLUDEnyc, also discussed the problem of segregation in New York City public schools. Podvesker cites the lack of initiatives for District 75 students, who primarily have significant disabilities.

“It feels like students receiving [special education] services are getting lost in this conversation --  and the overall education conversation --  because everything is being applied to all kids and it’s really not true,” said Podvesker, who also sits on the city’s Panel for Educational Policy.

“A lot of students in District 75 don’t take standardized testing and are not going to college. So, the new ‘shepherd’ program -- what does that look like for those kids?”

She believes, “special education is siloed,” in the general public conversation on education. “Under Chancellor Fariña it’s getting better,” she says, “but I still feel like it’s an afterthought and it’s not part of decision-making from the beginning.”

Though disappointed the mayor has not been more proactive on special education, Podvesker noted the initiatives that have been announced are “amazing.”

As de Blasio seeks an extension for mayoral control next year from the state legislature and Governor Cuomo, he faces tremendous pressure to ensure that others see his vision for education as his supporters do. He must present immediate results beyond pre-K enrollment, and the mayor and his team know it. This summer, de Blasio took great pains to tout small increases in state test score results for students in grades 3-8, and will bring those gains to Albany, as well as his list of programs and any data he can to support their initial successes.

In Albany in 2016 and then at home in New York City in 2017, de Blasio will be forced to present data - have test scores continued to rise? Are they rising fast enough? Have graduation and college-readiness rates improved?

The mayor will also have to contend with the impressions of parents, each of whom has a personal experience with the school system.

De Blasio will surely use whatever numbers he can to make the case that he has the city’s students on the right track. He’ll also make his equity argument, spelling out opportunity and access, if not yet excellence.

***
by Kaela Sanborn-Hum, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 13


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

We have an MTA funding deal! Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have agreed to a capital budget plan for the MTA, ensuring that the money will be there for the five-year, $26 billion program for infrastructure upgrades and expansion (the capital program is different from the operating budget).

The mayor and governor had been jockeying over how a remaining shortfall in the program would be filled - in the end, both agreed to increase the contributions from their ends, with the mayor ultimately putting up more money than originally expected and winning agreement from Cuomo that city-based decisions would largely be made by city reps and that the state would not "raid" money from MTA funds.

Is this the start of a new page in the de Blasio-Cuomo relationship? Will the mayor and the governor give more detail about how they are funding the commitments each has made to the MTA plan?

TRACKING DE BLASIO: Later this week, Mayor de Blasio leaves for Israel late Thursday evening and will be there Friday to Sunday. He will keynote the Annual Conference of Mayors, speaking "on the topic of Anti-Semitism in the West: How Cities Must Lead," according to his office. "The Conference is being hosted by the American Jewish Congress, American Council for World Jewry, and World Forum of Russian-Speaking Jewry, and will bring together dozens of mayors from around the world to discuss the issues and challenges facing cities."

Before leaving on Thursday, de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, and others will hold a ceremony to rename the Municipal Building for former Mayor David Dinkins.

Before that, on Wednesday, de Blasio will hold an open forum on "rent security and tenant protection," according to the mayor's office, as reported by the New York Times. It will reportedly include "about 250 tenants in Washington Heights."

De Blasio spent the weekend at a couple of different Columbus Day parades. On Tuesday, he'll "deliver remarks at the funeral for Department of Correction Assistant Deputy Warden Rodney Bowden....deliver remarks at the dedication ceremony for the Battery Park Police Memorial" and hold public hearings for several bills that have passed the City Council, signing some of them (others will be signed at a later date), see below for details. Tuesday evening, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will deliver remarks at the second annual UpStander Awards," according to his public schedule.

Before we give you an extensive day-by-day rundown, a few other highlights of the Week Ahead:

  • Governor Cuomo's "Common Core Task Force" is set to meet for the first time this week, though we don't know where or when yet, as reported last week by Politico New York. The task force is likely to meet privately and set dates for public hearings. [Read: The task force is without a student representative].
  • On Wednesday in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Education will hold a public hearing on "Chronically Struggling Schools and School Receivership" in order "to examine and study schools eligible for school receivership in order to better understand how to support these schools in their turnaround efforts to improve student performance."
  • And, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton heads back to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, for, as he explained it to the media this past week, "a day-long meeting" with "the attorney general, a number of police leaders, government leaders, on the issue of – the incarceration issue – the idea that so many people put in jail, are now coming out. What do we do with them? How do we deal with that issue?...And there might be a potential meeting with the President on Thursday as a follow up to that."

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, Columbus Day - Mets v. Dodgers, Game 3

Tuesday
At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet regarding three bills related to making buildings more bicycle-friendly.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on land use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m.The Committees on Health and Parks and Recreation will meet on a bill that would require defibrillators at baseball fields dedicated to youth activity.

"Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is in Colombia and Dutchess County on Tuesday" as he continues to tour the state.

More on Mayor de Blasio's Tuesday schedule:

  • 10 a.m: Delivers remarks at the funeral for Department of Correction Assistant Deputy Warden Rodney Bowden.
  • 11 a.m: Delivers remarks at the dedication ceremony for the Battery Park Police Memorial.
  • 3:30 p.m: Holds "public hearings for and sign Intro. 903, granting the Mayor authority to extend health insurance benefits to the widow and family of Frank Musella, a sergeant in the New York City Department of Sanitation who passed away while on duty; and Intro. 730, in relation to reports on school discipline and police department activity in schools. The Mayor will also hold public hearings for Intros 917-A, 885, and 897, which would provide additional tools for City agencies to combat the manufacture and sale of the synthetic drug K-2, and will be signed at a later date."
  • 6:30 p.m: With First Lady Chirlane McCray, delivers remarks at the second annual UpStander Awards.

On Tuesday starting at 7 a.m., The New York Civil Liberties Union will kick off its annual Week of Action, this year's focus is "students' rights when facing suspensions." On multiple days this week, "NYCLU volunteers will visit selected schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx before classes start and after the school day ends to speak with students and distribute Know Your Rights When Facing a Suspension palm cards."

On Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., New York City Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco will chat with Jordan Crook, Senior Writer at TechCrunch, and Jessica Lawrence, Executive Director of the New York Tech Meetup, about her first year in the new position. The event will be held at LMHQ in Downtown Manhattan.

Also at 8:30 a.m., “NYS School Environmental Health Summit: Is Your School Clean, Green and Healthy?”, a statewide conference focusing on school environmental health, will commence at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The day-long event aspires to raise awareness and support for the newly developed NYS Clean, Green, and Healthy Schools program that’s mission is to provide every child and school employee with “the right to a safe and healthy learning and working environment that is clean and in good repair”. The event will include city and state officials.

On Tuesday at 9 a.m., "New York City Council Member Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Deputy Commissioner Edwin Torres will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by presenting a $1.4 million capital award to The Hispanic Society of America (Hispanic Society) in upper Manhattan."

On Tuesday at 11 a.m., "Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) will join concerned NYC college students, representatives from Moms Demand Action, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence for a press conference on gun violence prevention at Hunter College's Roosevelt House...Maloney will stress the need for Congress to take action, and outline where gun violence legislation stands in Congress...A community forum will take place prior to the press conference," at 10 a.m. Public Advocate Letitia James will participate in both the forum and the press conference.

At noon in Albany, “Assemblymember Sandy Galef and nuclear expert, Paul Blanch, will join New Yorkers to deliver over 30,000 petitions calling for Governor Cuomo to stop construction of a high-pressure gas pipeline next to the Indian Point nuclear facility.”

At 6 p.m. New Yorkers for Parks will host the “2015 Party for Parks Gala” at ICQ in Chelsea. The event will honor former Parks Commissioner Veronica White, former Executive Director at the Center for Economic Opportunity and current Chief of Staff at Bloomberg LP; and Shola Olatoye, recipient of the NY4P Urban Leader Award, Chair & Chief Executive Officer at the New York City Housing Authority. Tickets require a donation to the organization.

Also at 6 p.m. Tuesday, "Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will co-host a forum with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to educate homeowners about deed theft and scammers in the housing market."

On Tuesday evening, city Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the Mill Basin Civic Association Monthly Meeting and then at the Bergen Beach Civic Association Monthly Meeting, both in Brooklyn.

On Tuesday night in Brooklyn, Public Advocate Letitia James will attend the official Hillary Clinton campaign debate watch party. Many miles west in Las Vegas, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito will be at the debate in person at the behest of the Latino Victory Fund. Both James and Mark-Viverito have officially endorsed Clinton.

Tuesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6p.m.
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 7:45 p.m.
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Higher Education will meet for oversight of College Testing Access.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on General Welfare will meet to discuss two bills concerning the administration of HIV-AIDS treatment and services.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Oversight and Investigation, the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, and the Committee on Technology will meet for oversight on the Verizon FiOS Franchise.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Waterfronts will meet for oversight on an update concerning the development of the Governor’s Island.

On Wednesday at 8 a.m. City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the Committee on Finance, will discuss her priorities while serving as head of the committee at a breakfast event hosted by Citizens Budget Commission (CBC).

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Morgan Library and Museum, "The Center for an Urban Future and the City of New York will hold a high-profile conference...about the future of the arts in New York City. The event...will feature NYC Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, Former NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Acting Commissioner Edwin Torres, Brooklyn Museum Director Anne Pasternak, Studio Museum Director Thelma Golden and choreographer Michelle Dorrance, a 2015 MacArthur "Genius" Award recipient." City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the cultural affairs committee, is also expected to speak at the conference.

"Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is in Suffolk County on Wednesday," touring and visiting with area legislators.

At 11 a.m. the the New York Ethics Review Commission will hold a public hearing at the New York Law School, “to receive public comments on the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission.”

On Wednesday at 11 a.m. on Staten Island, "Borough President James S. Oddo, City Council Minority Leader Steven Matteo, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation ("Parks") Staten Island Borough Commissioner Lynda Ricciardone, and Marie Didato, Executive Director of the New Dorp Friendship Club, will announce the progress made in the reconstruction of the Club, which was extensively damaged by Hurricane Sandy."

At 11:30 a.m., #PeoplesClimate groups and participants will assemble at St. Barts Church in Midtown to march to demand better environmental conservation policy. The protest, which will also have an early evening demonstration in Harlem, is promoted and organized by ALIGN NY and many other groups in the People’s Climate Movement NYC and is part of National Day of Climate Action.

At 12 p.m.,the Brennan Center for Justice will hold  “Stronger Parties, Stronger Democracy: Rethinking Political Reform,” a discussion on how strengthening parties in an age of super PACs can boost electoral participation and create a more transparent and inclusive democracy. The panel will feature Matea Gold, National Political Reporter at The Washington Post; Lee Goodman, Federal Election Commission Commissioner; Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; and Daniel Weiner Senior Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Also at noon Wednesday, on the steps of the City Hall, homeless New Yorkers, faith leaders, and other homeless will come together for allies “Faith Leaders Say NO: #HandsOffTheHomeless”: a protest against the inhumane treatment of the homeless by the NYPD.

At 2 p.m. the Office of Manhattan Borough President Brewer will sponsor a symposium on urban agriculture. The event will be held at the Natural History Museum and allow participants and attendees to “exchange knowledge, experience, and best practices for growing community-based urban agriculture programs.”

At 6 p.m. the Supportive Housing Network of New York will hold its annual gala to honor partners in public and private sectors. State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi will be honored as representatives of the public sector.

Also at 6 p.m. the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a Public Board Meeting to field grievances from city residents.

On Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Robert Siano is kicking off his campaign to reform the Bronx District Attorney's Office. Siano will launch his campaign from the Bronx County Republican Party Headquarters.

The Police Reform Organizing Project, or PROP, will host a Wednesday evening event: PROP leaders will lead a public discussion at the Ethical Culture Society to review relevant issues and topics and plan future events.

The welcome reception for the 2015 Annual Environment Conference, sponsored by the Business Council of New York State, will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The event will bring together professionals from both public and private sectors to discuss the ever changing environmental policies of New York. Senator Thomas F. O’Mara will attend the conference along with a number of other high profile members of the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. The event will run through Friday, October 16th.

At 6:30 p.m., at the Sunset Park Recreation Center in Brooklyn, NYCEDC will hold a public open house and information session on the future of the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal.

Wednesday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 4 p.m.
  • CM Mark Treyger (District 47, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Finance will meet to approve “the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget.”
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Public Safety will meet to discuss bills that would: require the police department to post weekly, monthly, and quarterly statistics reports on domestic and hate crimes; require the police department to post domestic crimes and murders that occurred in NYC’s public housing, and the percentage of felony crimes related to domestic violence; require the police department to report the percentage of all domestic violence crimes that involved intimate partners; and require the police department to report the number of all hate crimes and separate the tally to indicate which groups were most often targeted.
  • At 1:30 p.m. will be the City Council Stated Meeting, prefaced as always by the Speaker’s pre-stated press conference, at 12:30.

On Thursday Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host a ceremony to rename the Manhattan Municipal Building in honor of former mayor David N. Dinkins. “He’s left an indelible impact on this city – and on Chirlane’s and my lives. We are so grateful for Mayor Dinkins’ decades of public service and everything he’s done to ensure a stronger, safer city” said de Blasio.

Thursday is “NYC Go Purple Day” in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, chair of the Council’s women’s issues committee; Public Advocate Letitia James, state Senator Jesse Hamilton, and Assembly Member Walter Mosely will hold an 8 a.m. event outside Barclays Center.

On Thursday at 3 p.m. at CUNY School of Journalism, Errol Louis, of NY1 and the CUNY J-School, will team up with Tequila Minsky (Caribbean Life) and David Cruz (Norwood News), "two journalists from New York’s community and ethnic media,” for a Q&A with city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

At 7:30 p.m. the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association will hold its monthly meeting. The event with feature a panel discussion on “Citizens: Try creating a level playing field… before the field is purchased.” Adam Forman, senior researcher at the Center for Urban Future; Norman Siegel, attorney and past-director of NY Civil Liberties Union; Council member Jumaane Williams; and moderator NIck Powell, opinion editor at City & State NY, will participate in the discussion.

Mayor de Blasio leaves for Israel late Thursday evening, and is there for the weekend.

Thursday’s City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn) 10 a.m.
  • CM Donovan Richards (District 31, Queens) Time TBA
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 7 p.m.
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • CM Jumaane D. Williams (District 45, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:30 a.m. Friday, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Red Tape Commission will host its “Brooklyn Hearing for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs.” The event will serve as a brainstorming session for ideas and policies to improve government support for growing businesses, while eliminating detrimental bureaucracy. Commision members include: Council Member Robert Cornegy; Melissa Chapman, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; Antoinette Balzano, Totonno's Pizzeria; Jonathan Butler, Brooklyn Flea; Dr. Roy Hastick, Sr., Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and Deb Howard, Pratt Area Community Council.

At noon Friday, "The NYC Jails Action Coalition (JAC) will hold a rally prior to the NYC Board of Correction hearing with faith leaders, children and families of incarcerated individuals and other criminal justice advocates. City Council Members have been invited."

At 1 p.m. the New York Board of Corrections will hold a public hearing, as board members consider passing new rules, including changes to the Department’s visitation rules and requirements for the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit.

At 6:30 p.m. New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will be honored at the 3rd annual Power and Policy awards for her outstanding contributions as a New American Leader. The event will take place at the Newseum in Washington DC. Other honorees include California state senator Ricardo Lara and writer and Al Jazeera co-host Wajahat Ali.

On Saturday at 1 p.m., NYCEDC will hold the second public open house and information session about the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal for those unable to attend the first open house on Wednesday.

On Sunday PROP will hold its Mock Summons Action in Park Slope, Brooklyn. PROP volunteers with fan-out across the yuppie-filled, predominantly white neighbor to hand out mock summonses for “activities like biking on the sidewalk, jaywalking, spitting, open alcohol container, and being in the park after dark” in an attempt to bring attention to the racially biased ticketing practices of the NYPD.

***
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

Discussion of New York's 'Broken Bail System' Comes to Brooklyn


de Blasio Lippman

Mayor de Blasio testifies in front of Judge Lippman (photo: Demetrius Freeman, Mayor's Office)


New York's “broken bail system” puts an estimated 50,000 people behind city bars each year simply because they cannot afford to pay bail. These people are accused of low-level, non-violent offenses, many of whom wind up not even seeing trial or being convicted of a crime. But, they do not have the means to pay bail, part of system being questioned by many of late, including the state’s chief judge, elected officials at various levels, activists, and the experts who spoke on a panel Tuesday at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The panel was titled, “Why New York? Our Broken Bail System.”

"Money bail fails to distinguish between those who are the most dangerous and those who are low risk,” said panel moderator Shaila Dewan, of the New York Times, “but it easily distinguishes between those who have money and those who don’t. New York State’s own chief judge has called this system ‘ass backwards.’”

Tuesday’s discussion occurred just days after Jonathan Lippman, the very New York State chief judge Dewan referened, announced a series of initiatives aimed at addressing what he called the “unsafe and unfair bail system,” including an automatic review of all misdemeanor cases in which the defendant cannot pay bail within ten days of arraignment, and new training for judges to encourage them to use some of the other types of bail that are already available, rather than predominantly using cash bail for defendants.

The purpose of bail is to ensure that defendants return for their court dates, but for various reasons, in New York bail has overwhelmingly become something that keeps poor people in jail as they await their trials.

Panelists in Brooklyn discussed the human, economic, and criminal impacts of the way the system is being run.

Kicking off the conversation, Dewan said, "The Supreme Court has said, ‘in our society liberty is the norm, and detention without trial is the carefully limited exception.’ It has become, unfortunately, in practice, the norm."

Dewan pointed out that there are several different bail options available, such as allowing defendants to pay ten percent of the bail to the court up front and sign a paper promising to pay the rest later, or simply releasing defendants pending trial.

One key issue criminal justice reform advocates have with the cash bail system is the fact that those who are held in pretrial detention tend to have worse outcomes to their cases. "They get longer sentences, they get less favorable plea deals, they’re more likely to plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit," Dewan said, "and - perhaps most importantly - they are more likely to commit new crimes. So, we think we’re holding people in jail before trial to protect the public, but in fact we may be increasing the crime that’s out there."

Judge George Grasso, a panel member, said now is the perfect time to evaluate "the issues impacting the fairness of our criminal justice system. I think Judge Jonathan Lippman really hit the heart of this bail issue this past Thursday, I think he used the term ‘Alice in Wonderland’ - referring to the fact that we have a system that metes out punishment first."

"There are far too many people in jail who are really pretrial and who pose no threat to society," Judge Grasso continued. "Without waiting for state legislature to act, we can and we must make substantive changes to this system."

To that end, New York City officials recently announced new measures to assist nonviolent offenders stuck in the city's bail vice. In late June, the City Council approved Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito's proposal to set aside $1.4 million of the city's budget for a citywide bail fund to help pay bail for low-level defendants whose bail is set at $2,000 or less.

Though some taxpayers may rebuke the idea of their money being used to bail people out of jail, Mark-Viverito argues that the bail fund would actually save the city money, given the fact that it costs the city a little over $450 a day per inmate to keep people locked up. According to Mark-Viverito, a defendant who cannot afford bail stays in jail for an average of 24 days for nonviolent offenses, like jumping a turnstile or marijuana possession.

Similar initiatives, like the Bronx Freedom Fund and the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, have had excellent results.

Peter Goldberg, executive director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, told the crowd gathered at the Brooklyn Historical Society, "In the past five months, the bail fund has paid for 133 clients, at a cost of about $110,000. Ninety-seven percent have made their court dates, even though they had no financial incentive to return. These are individuals who would have been jailed, perhaps for months, for the lack of a few hundred dollars. Out on bail, they’ve had significantly improved case dispositions. Fifty percent have had or will have dismissals. Not a single client has been sentenced to additional jail time. Clients who are out have not been coerced to plead guilty."

In July, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a separate $17.8 million initiative to reduce unnecessary jail time for those awaiting trial. The program aims to help roughly 3,000 low-risk defendants per year by substituting cash bail with a "supervised release" program, which would allow poor defendants to be released and supervised until their trial, rather than detained on Rikers Island.

Judge Grasso, speaking of his own involvement in the development of city-wide initiatives to reform the broken bail system, said, "We are in the process right now of expanding supervised release for indigent defendants tried with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies. They will use a risk assessment instrument and focus on linking defendants with appropriate services, and a contact regime in lieu of cash bail, to release people on their own recognizance. That’s what we’re working on expanding right now through Mayor de Blasio’s task force - I happen to be a co-chair of the subcommittee that recommended that."

When asked why judges don’t use the many alternative forms of bail that are available more often, Judge Grasso’s answer made a solution to the problem sound shockingly simple, “Frankly we need more training in the court system. Not only do the judges need to be trained, but the court clerks who prepare the paperwork for the judges and the court need to be trained in that.”

“There’s about seven other types of bail,” Judge Grasso continued, “What we really need to do is embark upon top-to-bottom training, so the paperwork is available, clerks know what’s going on, and the judges are trained in how to use different types of bail for different types of situations. That’s something that Judge Lippman said this past Thursday that he’d make a top priority.”

As Dewan pointed out during the question and answer portion of the discussion, typically, judges set bail for two reasons: “one, so that person will return to court; two, to protect public safety in the meantime.” Yet “in New York State, the law says you can only consider their likelihood of returning to court; you can’t consider public safety?” Dewan asked.

“One of the problems in the state of New York is the fact that we’re not supposed to take public safety into consideration [when setting bail],” Judge Grasso said. “You can consider community contacts, you can consider the strength of the charges, but can’t consider public safety directly.”

As a result, wealthy, dangerous people may get out of jail to await their trial, while nonviolent, poor people must remain behind bars until their day in court. “It’s been a real serious problem in the State of New York,” Judge Grasso said. “Judge Lippman has been proposing legislation to change that, and so far it has stalled.”

Some criminal justice reform advocates want the city to entirely do away with money bail for low-level offenses, which officials in Washington D.C. did in the 1990s, opting instead for a system in which most defendants are either detained because they are considered a flight or safety risk, or let go without bail.

However, in New York, such an overhaul would need to be approved by state lawmakers in Albany, where legislation to change the bail system has gone nowhere time and again.

When asked by the Brooklyn Historical Society crowd what the obstacle to ending money bail in New York City is, criminal justice reform advocate and founder of JustLeadershipUSA Glenn Martin, who was previously incarcerated on Rikers Island, remarked, “the bail bondsmen have a very strong lobby, and they give money to our elected officials in New York State, which influences their decision making.”

Speaking to the larger issue of mass incarceration, public defender Josh Saunders told the crowd on Tuesday, “Let’s not forget that we are the world leader in incarceration - the United States has five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Are there people who need to be incarcerated? Sure, but are we also all participating in this kind of diseased fiction that the way we solve problems is to put people in cages? I think we’re doing that too.”

With 50,000 people - the population of Hoboken, New Jersey - locked up annually on Rikers awaiting trial solely because they cannot afford bail, the human cost of putting those “people in cages” can easily be forgotten. Panel member Miguel Padilla spent over a week at Rikers because he did not have the $1,000 he needed to buy his freedom. While driving his intoxicated brother-in-law home from a family gathering, Padilla was pulled over for a broken tail light, then arrested for driving with a suspended license. Desperate to see his wife and three children again, Padilla said he pleaded guilty “just so I could come home.” As a result of his brief stint in Rikers, Padilla lost both of his jobs and gained a criminal record, which in turn left him struggling to find a new job for over a year.

"We should ask ourselves,” Judge Gasso said, “what is the primary purpose of our criminal justice system? Do we want a system that is based primarily on the concept of punishment, or primarily on the concept of justice?

***
by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@MegOConnor13

The Week That Was in New York Politics, October 5-9


week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday October 9

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio pitches his rezoning plans in East New York, via Chang W. Lee for the New York Times; charter school supporters rally in Brooklyn, via Eva Moskowitz; Gov. Cuomo and former VP Al Gore celebrate a climate change-prevention announcement, via the governor's office

BdB East NY Chang W Lee NYT

charter rally

Cuomo Gore climate change

 

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. Cuomo On Climate Change: On Thursday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with former Vice President Al Gore, announced four actions to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions across New York State. Cuomo signed the Under 2 Memorandum of Understanding, reaffirming his pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. By signing the ‘Under 2 MOU,’ Cuomo committed New York to the global effort to keep the earth’s average temperature from rising two degrees. The governor reiterated several measures that will make up New York’s efforts to do so, including an increase in the cultivation and use of solar power.

2. Charter School Politics: A large pro-charter school rally led by Families for Excellent Schools was held on Wednesday; bolstered mostly by Eva Moskowitz, who closed her Success Academy Charter Schools so that students, parents, and staff would attend. Moskowitz accused Mayor Bill de Blasio of going back on his word to find space for seven new elementary charter schools in time for them to open in August. Generally, charter supporters are upset with the mayor for being against the expansion of charter schools. Then, on Thursday, Moskowitz announced that she will not be running for mayor in 2017, despite speculation that, as one of Mayor de Blasio’s biggest critics, she was going to run.

3. New Info In Deadly Brooklyn Explosion: On Thursday, fire marshals eliminated natural gas as a possible cause of the explosion in Brooklyn last Saturday that destroyed a three-story building, killed two, and injured thirteen. Investigators are now looking into whether some type of accelerant or fuel was involved in the blast. FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said information from the investigation and “examination of the building gas meters, found that there was no natural gas flowing to the second-floor apartment (where the fire originated) since June 26.”

4. MTA Funding Feud Continues: Governor Cuomo again took issue with Mayor de Blasio over funding the MTA in a WNYC interview on Tuesday. Cuomo and the head of the MTA, the governor’s appointee, are demanding the city contribute about $3 billion more. De Blasio is apparently offering over $2 billion, a major increase from previous commitments, but is saying he wants assurances that Cuomo will not remove any money from the MTA budget as he has done repeatedly in the past. The sniping continues.

5. Staten Island Family Justice Center Finally Breaks Ground: After years of delays, Mayor de Blasio, First Lady Chirlane McCray, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, and others gathered on Monday for the groundbreaking of The Staten Island Family Justice Center, largely focused on domestic violence prevention and response. The center is the first of its kind on Staten Island, following the lead of every other borough in the city, each of which already has such a center dedicated to providing comprehensive civil legal, criminal justice, and social services free of charge to victims of domestic abuse, sex trafficking, and elderly abuse.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • 1.5 million New Yorker City residents live in overcrowded (more than one occupant per room) or “severely overcrowded” (at least 1.5 occupants per room) situations, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer
  • 282,000 domestic violence incidents were filed by the NYPD in 2014 - roughly 800 per day.
  • $11.7 million in earmarks have been awarded to State Senator Jeff Klein over the last three years - more than triple the amount of any other senator.
  • 32% of the newest class of NYPD officers are Latino, the highest ever percentage ever. The new class of NYPD recruits hail from 36 countries, speak 22 languages, and are 20% women.
  • 68 is how old NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton turned this Tuesday. Commissioner Bratton has 45 years of policing under his belt as of this week.
  • $155 million will be spent by the city over the next year to fix up more than 35 parks in high-poverty areas.

THE FLASH:

  • Around this time four years ago, on October 7, 2011, the NYPD busted a Queens-based identity theft and retail crime ring, arresting over 110 people - the largest identity theft ring in the history of the United States at the time, making an annual profit of over $13 million.
  • Around this time two years ago, on October 9, 2013, a 'Times Square Elmo' was sent to jail for a year for trying to extort $2 million from the Girl Scouts of the USA.
  • Around this time last year, on October 7, 2014, the family of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died after an officer put him in a chokehold while wrestling Garner to the ground in order to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes, filed a claim to sue the city over his death.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Progressive Critics Largely Convinced by Cuomo's Wage Push, by David Howard King

Buffalo Billion Boss Offers, Cancels Interview; Claims 'Threat of Jail', by David Howard King

City Council Takes Aggressive Role in Workplace Issues, by Samar Khurshid

A Better Way to Fund the MTA, by Assembly Member Dan Quart (opinion)

Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon, by David Howard King

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

  • The New York Times' Liz Harris looks at the city's dual-language programs
  • WNYC's Beth Fertig reports from a "renewal school" in the Bronx
  • The Daily News' Harry Siegel writes about police-community relations in East New York

***
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

City Council Takes Aggressive Role in Workplace Issues


Miller UFCW

Council Member Miller & union workers (photo: @IDaneekMiller)


A slate of recent bills introduced in the New York City Council have a lofty objective indicative of the progressive streak running through city government and raising eyebrows in the business community. Through legislation, the Council is addressing the city's widespread economic disparities by incrementally tackling workforce issues such as wages, workers rights, and access to employment.

Since Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito both came to power, there has been one big picture aim: to address income and other forms of inequality. Headline-making moves such as an expansion of paid sick leave came within a few months. Less flashy yet crucial bills followed. In August 2014, the Council passed the mayor's proposal to supplement the wages of school bus drivers employed by private contractors.

De Blasio and Mark-Viverito have both been called anti-business, and there have been claims of overreach by the mayor and the Council. Business leaders are often loathe to see the hand of government reach further into industry.

In recent months, the Council's formidable progressive caucus has done just that, pushing bills that address large-scale and nitty gritty workplace issues, including others in specific industries. The Council recently heard a bill aimed at regulating personnel decision in the grocery industry.

Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, has been closely involved. He is currently working with the Freelancers Union to develop legislation that would protect freelancers, and by extension other workers in the on-demand "gig" economy, from wage theft. Modelled on similar protections provided by the state Department of Labor and the Attorney General, this "administrative solution with an enforcement option" would protect the likes of writers, graphic designers, Uber drivers, and Handy.com cleaners from being denied their wages and having to go to court to redress grievances.

"The economy is constantly evolving," Lander told Gotham Gazette. "Unfortunately it's doing so in the direction of inequality. And it's not only the Council but also the State which is fighting to level the playing field and lift up the floor in terms of wages for workers." (Governor Andrew Cuomo recently came out with a plan for an eventual $15 per hour minimum wage.)

At the city level, Lander called the Council's efforts a "thumb on the scale" to help workers have paying jobs. Of course, Lander expects this rebalancing of the relationship between employers and workers to be debated and contested. But he insists that the Council wants to be responsible in implementing changes rather than run roughshod over industry and business interests.

For instance, in April this year, the Council passed a bill co-sponsored by Lander that bans employers from discriminating in hiring decisions on the basis of credit checks. But the Council did make accommodations, Lander said, after consulting with business owners and advocates.

From a business perspective, however, the Council's efforts have uncomfortable connotations of government intervention in private enterprise.

Late last month, two bills were discussed at a hearing of the Council's Committee on Civil Rights but received little attention. The bills aim at prohibiting employment discrimination based on a person's status as a caregiver and at clarifying reasonable accommodations that businesses could make for applicants with disabilities.

At the hearing, President and CEO of Partnership for New York City Kathryn Wylde provided written testimony opposing the bills. She stated that the Council was proposing more mandates on employers, driven by special interest advocacy groups that argue based on anecdotal evidence that discrimination and mistreatment of employees and applicants is widespread.

"There is no data that justifies new and costly laws and regulations that make it even more difficult to create jobs and grow a business in New York City," Wylde wrote. She also asserted that the bills would drain resources from businesses and make the city less competitive, and that additional Council mandates would accelerate the loss of middle class jobs (she said the city lost 100,000 middle class jobs in the last five years).

Data consistently shows that inequality has only risen in the city over the last many years. A report last year by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York showed that there was a significant uptick in the concentration of wealth among the richest 20 percent of New Yorkers between 1990 and 2010. According to the study, the median income of the upper one percent of all household income earned in New York City jumped from $452,000 in 1990 to $717,000 in 2010 while the lower 20 percent of New York City households' earned median income rose from $13,000 in 1990 to $14,000 in 2010.

James Parrott, deputy director and chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, approaches any analysis of labor markets from a historical perspective. He said changes in the labor market in recent years have been unproductive and harmful to workers and to the economy. So there is definitely a need for regulation, he believes.

Ideally, he said, regulation would be at the national level and enforced by federal compliance officials. But, with federal action being hampered by an inactive Congress, it has fallen to state and local governments. He called the Council's bent in addressing these issues "reasonable and appropriate."

"Businesses tend to oppose any regulation at all. But a lot of history and analysis shows us that informed regulation is good for businesses," Parrott said, insisting that it keeps the competition honest as well.

In particular, he referenced the Grocery Worker Retention Act (GWRA), introduced by Council Member I. Daneek Miller. Miller, a former labor union leader, is now chair of the Council's civil service and labor committee. The bill would require large grocery chains to at least temporarily retain the workforce when an ownership change occurs, and then handle any personnel moves on an individual basis after three months.

Parrott testified years ago when a similar bill (Local Law 39 from 2002) dealing with building service workers was passed. "I don't see how one could oppose doing that in concept," he said, referring to the opposition from industry representatives who argued feverishly against the GWRA at a hearing two weeks ago.

For Council Member Miller, a Queens Democrat, the bill is just another of many measures to remedy an economic imbalance created by three successive Bloomberg terms.
"To a certain degree, we have come through 12 years of an administration that for all intents and purposes undermined the value of workers," Miller told Gotham Gazette.

His bill mandates personnel practice and grants workers legal remedies against unfair termination. It would help both union and non-union workers, he says, and create transparency and protect employees in an industry with a history of exploitation.

"Organized or unorganized, in order for the middle class to thrive, we need for people to have a voice," Miller said. "Without that, we see the wage disparity and wage suppression that we've seen in the last decade or two."

As expected, industry officials criticized the proposed bill for what they see as an overreaching mandate and even questioned the legal implications of the Council's intervention. But Miller said these objections are not supported by certifiable data and that he is confident the bill will be voted out of the labor committee and brought to a full Council vote.

(On a related note, Miller also sponsored a resolution that was approved by the Council in June calling on the state legislature to extend labor protections to farm workers statewide.)

"My personal preference is that we can educate and we don't have to legislate," he said.

Most of the workforce measures have received wide support from Council members and the mayor. Some have even come from de Blasio or Mark-Viverito themselves.

Last year, de Blasio issued an executive order that expanded the city's living wage law to thousands of individuals. Mark-Viverito successfully sponsored a bill that passed in June this year requiring car wash businesses to operate under licenses and enforcing stronger safeguards for employees. Another employment bill goes into effect by the end of October: the Fair Chance Act prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants based on their arrest record or criminal convictions.

But wide support does not mean unanimous. There are concerns even within the Council about the scope of legislation. Council minority leader Steve Matteo, a Republican from Staten Island, shares his colleagues' interest in improving working conditions but worries about possible harmful unintended consequences.

Matteo said he is a "firm believer" in the free market's ability to self-correct and adapt whether in response to consumer demands for healthier food or safer products, or to compete for better employees with higher pay, more benefits, and a better work environment. "Over-reaching government mandates, on the other hand, as many economic studies have shown, can be financially devastating to small businesses and lead to job cuts and fewer new hires," he said.

On the other hand, some question how easily workers can adapt to the free market.

"Businesses have a better ability to shift their economic resources to adapt to changing economic conditions, more so than workers, especially low-income workers who lack access to education, child care, the basic necessities of life," said Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, research associate at the Center for an Urban Future, who believes that the balance of resources has tilted towards businesses.

Gonzalez-Rivera said more people than ever before are working low-wage jobs in the city; even those working full-time are not able to make ends meet and are being treated as if they are expendable.

Gonzalez-Rivera praised the City's increased support for worker cooperatives. The Council announced in its budget this year that it will invest an additional $2.1 million in its Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative and create 22 new worker cooperatives.

"Government does need to step in and provide protection," he said. It's a sentiment that Council Member Lander echoes: "Looking to give people a fair shot is part of our job," he said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon


klein riverdale record

Sen. Klein's "newspaper"


The latest edition of the "newspaper" being published by state Senator Jeff Klein features frontpage news celebrating his ability to bring cash home to his Bronx district.

"UFT, educators herald Klein's $1.5M support for community schools," reads one frontpage headline.

Another: "Community applauds Klein for securing $250K for Hudson River Greenway study."

The timing is interesting given that the latest edition of "Riverdale Record" - circulation 37,000 - hit mailboxes just as Klein and the large sums of funding he secured have come under scrutiny by the press and good government groups.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo once railed against member items and pushed to abolish them but this year they returned with a vengeance, given Cuomo's approval, and Klein, an ally to both Cuomo and Senate Republicans, appears to be the biggest beneficiary by far.

The leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, Klein has been in a unique bargaining position over the last several years. Klein has brought home over $11.7 million in earmarks from the State and Municipal Projects Fund over the last three years, more than three times that of any other Senator, Politico New York reported on Monday. That funding is allocated through the Dormitory Authority to projects like building basketball courts, improving parks, and installing security systems in public places.

The funding Klein touts on his new front page do not appear to be from that allotment of cash, nevertheless it fuels Bronx-based critics who say Klein has been leveraging his largesse to combat or silence local media outlets. Those critics say Klein's "newspaper" is just another weapon that allows him to avoid scrutiny and damage the legitimate Bronx press.

klein paper

Klein's Democratic critics say his take home in pork projects is a reward from Senate Republicans for helping them keep their thin majority instead of enabling Democrats to seize the chamber.

Good government groups say the current member item system is ripe for corruption and political abuse. "It is stunning that the process of handing out legislative pork was restarted during the most disastrous session in history after the two most powerful Senators and the most powerful Assemblyman were toppled by corruption inquiries," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, referring to Tom Libous, Dean Skelos, and Sheldon Silver. "To restart the process now shows utter obtuseness to the corruption that is going on."

Klein broke from Senate Democrats in 2011 after Republicans won the majority, creating the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Klein said the move was motivated by dysfunction in the mainstream Democratic caucus, but Democrats and advocates have since accused Klein of creating the party simply to increase his power and ability to bargain with Senate Republicans.

Klein did in fact partner with Senate Republicans to give them a majority in 2012 when Democrats won a numerical majority. The IDC has enjoyed increased staff funding and more legislative input. Even after Republicans won an outright majority, they have continued to try to keep Klein happy as an insurance policy against future Democratic victories.

Now critics have even more ammunition against Klein's motives as the cold hard numbers are available. To put Klein's State and Municipal Projects Fund awards in perspective you just have to look at what the most senior members of the Senate Republicans were awarded. Former Majority Leader Dean Skelos won $3.6 million, Sen. George Martins, $3.5 million, and former Sen. Tom Libous, nearly $3 million.

A spokesperson for Klein defended the member items to Politico New York, saying it "funds important government projects throughout New York State."

Many legislators argue member items are important because they allow politicians to deliver for the most worthy causes in their districts. The Bronx has traditionally been underserved by state government, but Klein is not the only representative of the area and according to the list of member items released by Senate Republicans, only Republicans and members of the IDC were able to deliver this type of funding for their districts.

Good government groups note that the process has been abused many times and has led to embezzlement and corruption. Some groups call for depoliticizing the process by giving members discretionary funding based on the population of their districts.

Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, said he believes if the state insists on giving out member items it should follow the model created by the New York City Council under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

In 2014, the Council overhauled its member item process after a number of members were caught directing funds to projects that benefited them or their friends and family. The old process was also routinely criticized because it allowed the council speaker to punish and reward Council members. Now members bring home nearly equal funding to their districts, with some variance based on poverty levels.

[Related: In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Starts Own 'Newspaper']

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Buffalo Billion Boss Offers, Cancels Interview; Claims 'Threat of Jail'


Cuomo Kaloyeros Buffalo

Cuomo and Kaloyeros, both pointing (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


In response to a recent profile of him, Alain Kaloyeros, president of SUNY Polytechnic and the man Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose to administer his Buffalo Billion program, invited Gotham Gazette to meet him for a tour of the SUNY Poly campus. In doing so, Kaloyeros explained that he faces "the threat of jail" if he discusses the U.S. Attorney's investigation into the Buffalo redevelopment program, an investigation that is creating headaches for the governor and thrusting Kaloyeros into the spotlight.

After setting up a date and time for the tour, Kaloyeros' office abruptly canceled a few days later, without providing a reason.

A number of sources and other news outlets have confirmed that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office is investigating how contracts were awarded in the Buffalo Billion initiative, where concerns arose that some requests for proposals were tailored only to fit specific Cuomo campaign donors. Cuomo has denied that he or his staff have been subpoenaed and SUNY Polytechnic has denied Kaloyeros is the subject of any inquiry.

Kaloyeros contacted this reporter by Facebook messenger in response to an article published on September 29 that detailed how a number of officials and observers are concerned with a lack of checks and balances over Kaloyeros and the feeling that he operates with complete impunity and little regard to the fact that he is a public employee handling major sums of taxpayer money.

"Ooo...so you're the one who thinks I act like a teenager...cute," Kaloyeros wrote, referring to mention in the article of his predilection for Facebook posts of bathroom selfies and complaints about slow drivers accompanied by photos of traffic that he appears to take while driving.

After a back-and-forth Kaloyeros suggested that a tour and chat about oversight of the Buffalo Billion project might rectify his concerns with the article. When this reporter pointed out having reached out to SUNY Poly before publishing the article, Kaloyeros responded:

"The issue we have is confidentiality. We were instructed in no uncertain terms not to comment on the inquiry from down South with the threat of jail which is being interpreted as we are the target of an investigation. So that part we cannot comment on beyond what we were authorized to say publicly. The rest is not a problem."

Kaloyeros did not reply when asked if he had a particular issue with the article or thought an individual part of the investigation was being misrepresented in the press.

Gotham Gazette reached out to Kaloyeros via an official email address he provided and a spokesperson set up a meeting and tour for October 19.

In the days following, Kaloyeros continued to post to Facebook traffic photos with clear view of his dashboard and radar detector in the windshield along with complaints. This reporter tweeted one of those photos and Kaloyeros' complaint which apparently caught Kaloyeros' attention (even though he does not appear to be a public Twitter user).

"Since you seem so fascinated with my traffic posts and deem them newsworthy, here's one for you to post," Kaloyeros messaged this reporter over Facebook on Wednesday, October 7 at 11:39 a.m., with another photo included.

Later that day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a number of questions from the Albany press on the Buffalo Billion investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Cuomo was asked if he looked into the project after hearing reports of an investigation and he said he hadn't and wouldn't.

Cuomo appeared to waver when asked if he or his staff had been subpoenaed in the case. He denied that he had been, but declined to answer questions about his staff. "Well, you said, 'and staff.' I have not, but I don't want to get into commenting on a U.S. attorney's investigation," Cuomo said before repeatedly telling reporters to ask Bharara's office.

Later, Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi issued a statement saying, "Just to be clear, neither the Governor, nor his staff has been questioned or subpoenaed on the Buffalo Billion project. Going forward any questions should be referred to the U.S. Attorney."

Around that time this reporter responded to Kaloyeros' message that included a picture of traffic and asked who had warned him he could face jail if he spoke to the press.

Shortly after, Gotham Gazette received an email from Kaloyeros' spokesperson saying the tour and meeting set for the 19th had been canceled. Gotham Gazette reached out to both Kaloyeros and the spokesperson asking why, but neither responded. Kaloyeros appears to have now blocked this reporter on Facebook.

Bharara's office declined to comment on anything regarding the Buffalo Billion investigation when Gotham Gazette asked whether it had threatened Kaloyeros with jail if he spoke out on the investigation.

Jennifer Rodgers, a former prosecutor who served as deputy chief of Bharara's appeals unit, told Gotham Gazette that it was extremely unlikely that the U.S. Attorney's office would warn Kaloyeros not to speak to the press. Rodgers is now executive director of Columbia University's Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity.

"I don't know what was said in this particular case, but generally prosecutors don't tell witnesses or suspects what they should or shouldn't say to the press," Rodgers told Gotham Gazette. "Usually they have a lawyer who would advise them on those matters."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: Fixing City's 'Non-Functioning' Board of Elections Relies on State Fixing City's 'Non-Functioning' Board of Elections Relies on State Gotham Gazette: De Blasio Continues Deliberative Approach to Appointments De Blasio Continues Deliberative Approach to Appointments Gotham Gazette: Despite Expectations, Design-Build for New York City Not Approved in Albany Despite Expectations, Design-Build for New York City Not Approved in Albany Gotham Gazette: De Blasio and The Complications of Vetting Campaign Donors De Blasio and The Complications of Vetting Campaign Donors


Comments
Comment(s)

The comments section is provided as a free service to our readers. Gotham Gazette's editors reserve the right to delete any comments. Some reasons why comments might get deleted: inappropriate or offensive content, off-topic remarks or spam.