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Citizens Union

GOVERNMENT

In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Publishes Own Newspaper


klein riverdale record

The August issue of Riverdale Record, Sen. Jeff Klein's 'newspaper'


 

Some residents of the Bronx were surprised in August when what looked like a new newspaper arrived in their mailboxes. Upon closer inspection of Riverdale Record, some could tell they had received an elaborate piece of campaign literature from state Senator Jeff Klein dressed up as a community newspaper.

“Riverdale Record Serving the communities of Riverdale, Van Cortlandt Village & Kingsbridge” reads the masthead, next to a picture of a smiling Klein.

Underneath, in smaller white-on-red type: “The Official Publication of Senator Jeff Klein and Our Community.” The paper is also labeled as having a distribution of 36,000. At the very bottom of the fourth and last page there is a note that reads: “Paid for and approved by Klein for New York.”

The front page of the August edition features a headline about Engelbert Humperdinck and another that reads “Klein delivers during long legislative session.” Several pundits say Klein’s newspaper may be deceptive but has become part and parcel of big-money politics. However, some Bronx politicos and a host of journalists say that it is only the latest move by the extremely powerful and press-sensitive senator to bully and pressure local journalists and hamstring media outlets.

Klein’s press aides are notorious for lashing out at local journalists with threats, personal barbs, curse-laden tirades, and even boycotts. Staffers have tried to physically block journalists from speaking to Klein at public events and are accused of using their influence with the editorial boards of local papers that rely on access and political support from Klein to squash offensive stories.

A number of journalists offended by Klein’s latest move - publishing his own newspaper - say that it was borne of his displeasure with two articles from The Riverdale Press that examined the donations he received from real estate mogul Leonard Litwin and another that covered a protest by tenant advocates at Klein’s office. Litwin has been tied to the corruption cases against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Klein, who heads the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, has had a close working relationship with both Silver and Skelos, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The first issue of Klein’s paper includes Klein’s direct rebuttal to a Riverdale Press column that criticized the senator for his position on sex offender legislation. Klein has boycotted the paper on at least three occasions. He reportedly told The Riverdale Press, “Find another target!” when asked why he was ignoring its inquiries.

Shant Shahrigian, editor at The Riverdale Press and author of two of those articles, used to cover Klein in his previous role as political reporter. Shahrigian said that Klein’s office mailed him a copy of the Riverdale Record at his office. Shahrigian gave Gotham Gazette this statement:

“Politicians at every level today are doing their best to thwart independent reporting on their policies and activities. State Sen. Jeff Klein is a case in point. His staff has endeavored to control access to the senator — even at public events — and he has, from time to time, refused to communicate at all with his local newspaper, The Riverdale Press. Now he has packaged the same sort of self-promoting message that every office-holder sends to constituents in the guise of a newspaper. I am confident that readers will be able to tell the difference between that and real news.”

bronxpapers1

A veteran Bronx journalist expressed concern to Gotham Gazette that Klein’s paper could hurt the borough's already small media footprint. “It’s important that there be independent and responsible media,” said the journalist, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of hurting a relationship with Bronx Democrats in general. “Putting out a faux newspaper is disingenuous at best and fraudulent at worst. If Senator Klein disagrees with an editorial, he should respond in kind. But this poisons the media climate in a media-starved borough and that’s not good for anyone, including the senator.”

Bronx journalists theorize that Klein spokesperson Candice Giove is in charge of the paper as she used to write for The New York Post. Most of the articles in Klein’s paper do not feature bylines. One of Giove’s 2011 Post articles, “Bronx Dem Deserter’s Reward: $1M Staff,” centered on Klein and featured a quote likening Klein to disgraced Sen. Pedro Espada and detailed the increased salaries of his staffers.

The article noted that Klein’s spokesman at the time, Richard Azzopardi, made more than $95,000 a year working for Klein and the IDC. (Azzopardi now works in the governor’s press office.)

Reached by phone, Giove declined to discuss Gotham Gazette inquiries about the paper and asked that questions be emailed to her. She provided a statement about the intentions of the Riverdale Record, but did not respond to questions about who writes the articles. Klein was not made available for a requested phone interview about his relationship with Bronx media.

“The Riverdale Record is geared toward keeping local residents up to date on the latest news, upcoming events and important work Senator Klein is doing to build up our borough and invest in Bronx families,” wrote Giove. “Each month, highlights include Bronx small businesses, programs and services Senator Klein sponsors and the important legislation he is fighting for in Albany on behalf of all New Yorkers. Most importantly, the Riverdale Record champions the community – all the progress we’ve made together, and the work that lies ahead – to build a stronger, brighter borough.”

Gotham Gazette spoke to a number of journalists who currently cover Klein on a local level or who did previously, and they described being repeatedly abused by his press staff, insulted by the Senator personally when they asked relevant questions, and constantly contending with the pressure Klein can bring on them and their editors as the most powerful Bronx Senator.

The journalists’ major concern about Klein’s Riverdale Record is that it could negatively impact local community journalism that is already contending with lower readership and harsh financial realities. They say Klein’s delicacy and his office’s tactics have become major impediments to providing accurate, detailed coverage to the Bronx community that is already news-starved.

"Senator Klein speaks to local reporters throughout his district,” Giove wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette, responding to questions about Klein’s relationship with local press. “Just look at the pages of the Riverdale Review, the Bronx Times, the Bronx Free Press, the Bronx News, the Norwood News, the Bronx Chronicle, the Hunts Point Express, the City Island Current, the Irish Echo, Pelham Weekly, the Pelham Patch, the Pelham Post, Pelham Plus, Pelham Rising, Westchester Rising, Mount Vernon Rising, the Mount Vernon Inquirer and DNAinfo or broadcasts on News12 The Bronx, News 12 Westchester and Fios1."

Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz, said that Klein’s paper is simply par for the course. “This is no more deceptive than some radio or TV ads we see out there. We aren’t playing softball,” Benjamin told Gotham Gazette.

Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that his group believes campaign funds should be spent during election season, not in off-years, but that Klein’s paper does not seem to be violating any particular piece of election law.

Good government advocates note that Klein is capable of putting out a monthly paper with a reported circulation of 36,000 because he is such a prolific fundraiser. Klein’s committee reported having $1,140,634 on hand in its periodic July campaign finance report, making Klein one of the largest fundraisers in the state. The senator may not have to report expenses incurred from publishing the Riverdale Record until January.

One question that could be answered by Klein’s next filings is whether he paid celebrity chef Padma Lakshmi for her column titled “Healthy Eating With Top Chef Padma Lakshmi,” or if the column was an in-kind donation. Giove only replied to a question about the column to say that Klein and Lakshmi have worked together in the past.

As Klein’s influence has grown as he has leveraged his Independent Democratic Conference’s votes to earn powerful positions and favorable legislation from Senate Republicans, Bronx reporters say he and his staff have become less likely to talk and more abusive.

One Bronx reporter who has run into significant backlash while covering Klein said, “They call him the golden goose and you don’t want to piss off the golden goose.”

The September issue of the Riverdale Record reports a circulation jump from 36,000 to 37,000.

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

Proposed Rikers Visitation Rules Stir Debate


Johnny Perez of the Jails Action Coalition

Johnny Perez of the Jails Action Coalition (photos: Meg O'Connor) 


On Tuesday, City Council members, faith leaders, and activists spoke out against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed restrictions for visitors to Rikers Island jails. At a rally on the steps of City Hall organized by the Jails Action Coalition, speakers called de Blasio’s plan to limit visitors and physical contact by those who do visit inmates counterproductive and wrong.

The proposed visitation limits were first announced when de Blasio visited Rikers Island in March, and are part of a 14-point plan to reduce violence among inmates and among inmates and guards.

 “We have to keep weapons, drugs, and other contraband off this island,” de Blasio said at Rikers on March 12. “The only weapons that should be used on this island should be used by people wearing uniforms, not by inmates who got weapons, who got drugs, who got contraband illegally and inappropriately.”

The proposed rules seek to limit the physical contact inmates may have with visitors, broaden the criteria for restricting visitors by allowing the Department of Correction to consider factors like criminal record, and establish a visitor registry. 

Yet, critics say the limitations would deter visitors, needlessly make an already arduous visitation process more difficult, and disproportionately affect black and Latino families, as well as poor people unable to afford bail.

 “I want to remind everybody that the overwhelming majority of people who are on Rikers have not yet been convicted of the crime for which they are being held,” City Council Member Daniel Dromm, of Queens, said at the Tuesday press conference. The jail complex has an average daily population of about 11,400 – roughly 85% of whom are pretrial detainees.

Others, like Tanya Krupat, Program Director for the NY Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, say that what is “most concerning is the way they’re talking about looking into the backgrounds of visitors and making an assessment about whether that person is deemed a threat, including a threat to the ‘good order of the facility,’ which is very vague.”

Krupat added, “the potential for arbitrary subjective implementation of these is what’s really worrisome. Where are the checks and balances? They have over 1,000 visitors coming in every day, and over 3,000 children visiting each month, so who is making these decisions?“ 

De Blasio and his corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, have been credited by prison reform activists for other changes they’re making at Rikers, including around treatment of mentally ill and younger prisoners. The proposed visitation limits fall into a different category - and the city’s Board of Correction will hold a public hearing in the near future before voting on the plan.

Advocates for the incarcerated and their families fear that the proposed changes will harm the mental well-being of those imprisoned on Rikers Island by denying inmates the much-needed sense of support and connection that visits from loved ones bring. “I believe the proposed plan to restrict visitation has the capacity to deteriorate the already-fragile family unit of people of color, contributing to depression, isolation, loneliness, and increased recidivism,” Reverend Que English, Chair of the NYC Clergy Roundtable said.

Asked about this criticism, a spokesperson for the mayor, Monica Klein, wrote Gotham Gazette to say, “Commissioner Ponte understands how important family relationships are in the rehabilitation and re-entry of inmates, and DOC’s proposed visitation policy will allow the Department to foster the kind of positive visitation environment that help inmates’ well-being while maintaining the safety and security of the facilities.”

Some see the stricter visitation rules as a give by de Blasio in order to obtain support for other reforms he’s making and seeking at Rikers, such as his work to reduce solitary confinement and separate younger offenders and detainees.

The proposed rules would restrict the amount of physical contact between inmates and their visitors to a “brief embrace and kiss between the inmate and visitor at both the beginning and the end of the visitation period.” There is currently no limitation on physical contact like hugs and hand-holding during visits. 

Speaking about the importance of physical contact with a loved one, Anisah Sabur, who was incarcerated on Rikers for eight months in 2008, said, “being in a place surrounded by people that you don’t know, to see somebody that you know, be it your loved one, your mother, your brother, that hug and that holding of the hand is very important for somebody on the inside who doesn’t know when they’ll get that again. That love and affection is truly needed for somebody to keep their sanity.”

Significantly, critics of the proposed policy changes have pointed out that a majority of the contraband at Rikers is not smuggled in by visitors. During a May 12 Board of Correction meeting, board member Dr. Robert Cohen noted that the BOC’s recent report using data from the Department of Correction showed that 80% of weapons recovered on Rikers are constructed on site, meaning they were not brought in by visitors or staff.

Additionally, as Dromm (pictured below) mentioned during the rally Tuesday, a 2014 investigation conducted by Mark Peters, Commissioner of the Department of Investigation, “found that the majority of drugs that were getting into Rikers Island were being brought in by corrections officers themselves.”

CM Daniel Dromm

City & State NY reported that the city has said “371 [visitors] were arrested in fiscal year 2015,” meaning that with over 1,000 people visiting Rikers every day, a small fraction of those visitors are contributing to the flow of contraband into the jail complex.

“You’re changing policy [in response to] less than 1% of the visitors who come in,” Krupat said at the press conference yesterday. “That’s not how policy is made.”

However, the de Blasio administration says it is responding to an increase in those arrests - the 371 was up 307 in the prior fiscal year, and drugs recovered during visits were also up.

 In March, when Mayor de Blasio and DOC Commissioner Joe Ponte announced the 14-point initiative to reduce violence at Rikers, de Blasio said, “we know that the reality is that so many inmates acquire weapons and acquire drugs through visitors. In fact, we know that many criminal gangs use the visitation process to pass weapons and pass drugs to their fellow gang members here in these facilities. They also pass messages. You’ve seen it in the movies – it happens in real life.”

“So, to address this problem at the root, we need a much stronger, much stricter visitor policy,” the mayor continued, “which will limit physical contact between visitors and inmates and will, in fact, restrict the right of certain individuals to visit, in the first place, if they do not pass a security screen.”

 The mayor said that the proposed changes would bring Department of Correction policy closer in line with that of other large jail systems around the country that place limits on physical contact between inmates and visitors and restrict visitors based on security concerns.

Yet critics view the proposed limitations as a step backwards for de Blasio’s self-professed progressive administration, which was praised by advocates for the incarcerated earlier this year after city officials agreed to make sweeping reforms aimed at increasing safety for inmates of the violence-stricken jail complex.

“The mayor ran on not having a tale of two cities, and this is kind of a tale of two cities issue,” said Krupat. “Most people are pre-trial, they just can’t afford their bail. If you’re poor, you’re on Rikers and now maybe your family can’t come and see you, but if you have means, you’re out in the community at home eating dinner with your family. It’s kind of shocking from a progressive administration to go after visitors as part of an agenda to reduce violence at Rikers.”

The Board of Correction must approve the policy before the proposed changes to visitation rules can go into effect. The BOC announced Tuesday that it will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules, though the date has not yet been set.

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

McCray Set to Unveil ‘Mental Health Roadmap,' Signature De Blasio Plan


McCray roundtable

Chirlane McCray hosts a mental health roundtable (all photos: the Mayor's Office via flickr


Over the past several months, New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray has had conversations with many of the city’s service providers, non-profit organizations, and long-time advocates for mental health care provision. In preparation to unveil a “roadmap” addressing the “mental health crisis in New York City,” McCray has spoken with a diverse array of constituents who will be directly impacted by new policies.

In collaboration with key departments of her husband’s administration, McCray, who is Chair of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, is leading a multi-agency effort to evaluate mental health care provision city-wide, particularly for low-income and at-risk communities, and chart a path forward.

“It is long overdue to acknowledge that our inattention to mental illness is a public health crisis that requires a public health solution,” McCray wrote in a recent column at CNN.com, in which she discusses mental health care in a national context.

Key to the push behind the initiative is the notion that better mental health care can not only help people live healthier, happier, and more productive lives, but that an improved approach to mental health care can help the city’s education, housing, criminal justice, and other systems.

Schools, homeless shelters, senior centers, and jails have been highlighted in the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget as targets of funding for improved mental health care services. In unveiling her roadmap, McCray is likely to follow up with additional initiatives supporting and tying together these and other sectors, “bringing more resources and better resources to those who need it most,” as she writes. McCray’s plan is due to be released this fall and is certain to discuss mental health as important to all aspects of life, and city services.

Gotham Gazette spoke with service providers and experts in anticipation of the release of McCray’s roadmap and many applauded the work of the First Lady and Mayor de Blasio. There is widespread appreciation for their efforts to prioritize reforming mental health care in New York City - and relief that it is being spoken about so openly and with such urgency.

Regarding the roadmap, general suggestions were consistent, with experts and stakeholders saying that it should call for:
-Improved and sustained communication among service providers, city government and organizations for mental health care advocacy;
-Prioritizing mental health care in all aspects of city government policy;
-Reducing stigma of mental illness and promoting larger public education about mental wellness.

Last week, de Blasio’s office announced that Richard Buery, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, will spearhead the implementation of the plan “to create a more effective mental health system.” Over the past two years Buery has overseen and coordinated the rollout of de Blasio’s ambitious and initially successful universal pre-Kindergarten program. Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the city Health Department, is also sure to play a key role in implementing any new mental health programming.

“Mental illness touches the lives of most New Yorkers,” McCray said in a statement, adding that there has long been two separate health care systems, “one for physical health and one for mental health."

“We can – and will –  improve access to mental health care in New York City and bring mental health care services where New Yorkers live, work and study," McCray promised.

In drawing a “mental health roadmap” to accomplish those lofty goals, it appears that McCray will focus on reducing stigma around mental illness and treatment; conducting a detailed assessment of the current state of service provision city-wide; and, creating a comprehensive and sustainable plan for mental health care for all New Yorkers. Informing the entire plan will be the notion that both governmental and non-governmental service providers of all kinds can contribute to a better, more intertwined mental health care system.

Programming efforts will surely be tied with outreach and publicity campaigns pushing New Yorkers to seek treatment and ensuring that people are more aware of both warning signs of mental illness and available services. There will all but certainly be a focus on equity throughout the city’s boroughs and neighborhoods, with a special focus on the poorest New Yorkers and those who do not speak English - aligning with the motivating theme of the de Blasio administration.

A few recent announcements regarding mental health care show key elements of the roadmap and give indication of what the larger plan will look like. McCray's map and contracts with service providers should provide indication of how the city will measure the effectiveness of its efforts.

On August 6 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the NYC Safe program, “an evidence-driven public safety and public health program.” NYC Safe, a $22 million program, centralizes oversight of efforts by public health and public safety officials to intervene or prevent violence from people with mental health challenges.

“This is a subset of a much bigger mental health reform plan that you’ll hear about from the First Lady in the fall. This is just the first of many pieces,” said the mayor.

Connections to Care (CTC), a $30 million program launched in a public-private partnership between the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, the federal Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), and private funders, seeks to expand access to mental health care for low-income and at-risk communities.

The Mayor’s Fund announced the program on July 30, having successfully secured a $10 million federal grant, to be administered over the course of five years, from the Social Innovation Fund of the CNCS; an additional $20 million has been matched by the Mayor’s Fund and selected service partners. CTC will expand mental health care access by collaborating with community organizations to integrate mental health services into existing programs, providing training and support for staff.

The program will also fund a study to assess the efficacy of service providers and the experiences of those receiving care. In the fall, proposals from service providers will be accepted for review.

In May, de Blasio announced his fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget, allocating a projected total of $132.7 million for mental health care during fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The City increased funding for mental health care services in the sectors outlined below. The investment is intended to “build a more effective and inclusive mental health system in New York City” and create a national model. It is sure to form much of the backbone to McCray’s roadmap.

McCray de Blasio

Schools
According to the Office of School Health, it is estimated that 9% of 6-12 years olds in New York City suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. A survey conducted in 2011 reveals 8.4% of high school students have attempted suicide one or more times. McCray described the need to eliminate stigma around mental illness, citing statistics that 61% of adults and 35% of children in the city are not receiving the services they need.

More counselors and outside clinicians at city schools, especially in the "community schools" being opened by the de Blasio administration, are key to the effort of providing better mental health care to students.

Maria Astudillo, Director of Mental Health Services at the Children’s Aid Society, asks “what are some of the universal interventions we can do [in schools]?” Given that every year students are required to have physical examinations, Astudillo believes there should be social and emotional screenings for students as well. “We have to be creative, we have to think outside the box,” she said.

Jails
“What we effectively have seen in this country is that the largest mental health facilities in the country now are jails. And people who are mentally ill end up going through the criminal justice system in ways that are utterly inappropriate and hugely damaging and not at all helpful for community safety,” JoAnne Page, President and CEO of The Fortune Society told Gotham Gazette.

Rikers Island jails, recently headlining news due to the deaths of Bradley Ballard, Kalief Browder and others, are under review by the de Blasio administration and outside entities for both immediate and long-term reform.

“Being at Rikers is trauma -- when you’re talking about mental illness, both creation of it and exacerbation of it,” Page added.

Most recently, the de Blasio administration announced in June it would not renew the contracts with two contracted for-profit Rikers health care providers, Corizon, Inc. and Damian Family Care Centers, Inc. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) will take over as the primary provider.

“We have an essential responsibility to provide every individual in our City’s care with high-quality health services – and our inmates are no different,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a June press release. “This transfer to HHC will give our administration direct control and oversight of our inmates’ health services – furthering our goal of improving the quality and continuity of healthcare for every inmate in City custody.”

John Boston of the Legal Aid’s Prisoner’s Rights Project noted, “It is especially appropriate to make this change with respect to mental health care, since the City is attempting to improve mental health treatment in the jails,” adding that Corizon had a “track record” of failing to administer appropriate treatment.

Often anyone receiving treatment while in jail, juvenile detention centers, or homeless shelters has had “experiences with mental health services that were more about control than treatment,” says Page of The Fortune Society.

Furthermore, Page says that policing policies such as adherence to the “broken windows” model leaves “people getting arrested for things like being mentally ill and homeless. So the criminal justice system is stigmatizing people even more.”

In December 2014, the de Blasio Administration launched a $130 million, 4-year plan detailed in a report by the Task Force on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System in order to “drive down crime while also reducing the number of people with behavioral health issues needlessly cycling through the criminal justice system.”

First Lady McCray described the criminal justice system as “a maze [New Yorkers with mental health and substance use disorders] can never escape. The City has made a real commitment to addressing the root causes of this urgent problem.”

Initiatives outlined in the Task Force’s Action Plan -- fewer arrests for low-level crimes and, largely, more alternatives for police can use; better community-based treatment for mental illness; and better alternatives for incarceration or detention -- Page believes are a good start to  implementing any sustainable change.

“People should be in jail as a last resort – not on low bail,” Page says. “Not because nobody knows what to do with them, they should [only] be in jail because they’ve done something serious and there’s no better alternative. We lock up way too many people.”

McCray Oddo

Homelessness
The Coalition for the Homeless reports that every night thousands of unsheltered homeless people sleep in the streets and other public spaces. The large majority of street homeless people live with mental illness or other health problems, according to the Coalition.

“Many cities have a troubling number of cases in which a person with mental illness is subjected to unnecessary arrest or unnecessary violence,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College.

NYC Safe, the violence prevention program introduced in August by de Blasio, will partially assist in serving the homeless with “mobile treatment teams” and other resources for immediate care.

Though improved access to services and treatment is necessary, Vitale stresses that “ultimately, it is not just mental health outreach workers or a few targeted programs for violent offenders that is needed." To deal with chronic homelessness, to help mentally ill homeless people, “a supportive housing program” is essential, Vitale says. He wrote about such a need in a recent Gotham Gazette column.

Susan Wiviott, CEO of The Bridge, shares this sentiment. Wiviott believes McCray’s roadmap will revolve around preventative care and access to mental health services in communities, which is needed, but the costlier programs of supportive housing and in-treatment services must be on the agenda as well. “If you really want to help people and change their lives so they’re not living on the street, then there must be some access to a stable place to live.”

McCray’s outline could very well advocate for an increase of city funds toward supportive housing and renew de Blasio administration calls for the state government to significantly up its contribution to a new NY/NY supportive housing program, the source of recent controversy.

Seniors
Senior adults – 60 years and older – represent the fastest growing population in New York City. By 2030, one in five New Yorkers will be a senior adult. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) estimates that approximately 20% of New Yorkers 55 and older experience mental illness.

The de Blasio administration has allocated $800,000 in fiscal year 2016, which began July 1, to place clinical social workers in the city’s 20 largest senior centers.

This is not quite enough, though, for some service providers. “You have to recognize that a good portion of the people who are older, who will need mental health services, are homebound. There has to be support for those services,” Nancy Harvey, CEO of Service Program for Older People (SPOP), told Gotham Gazette.

“You can’t just be at senior centers because a lot of the older populations can’t get to senior centers,” Harvey adds. “Forty percent of clients at my agency are homebound, they cannot get out so you have to be able to deliver the services to their homes, there has to be support and recognition for that model, which is more expensive, but certainly less expensive than them ending up in hospitals or nursing homes.”

Harvey credits the First Lady for “bringing visibility to mental health” in New York City and is hopeful about the attention highlighting the need for greater services and treatment, especially for older adults. Senior centers cannot remain the sole focus, however, because “we need to have a broader view of how we’re going to reach [homebound] people,” she says.

McCray Bassett

Building a Better Mental Health Care System
DOHMH created the Center for Health Equity in 2014 under the direction of Commissioner Mary Bassett, hoping to employ a community-based approach toward healthy New Yorkers.

Marlon Williams works at the center as Director of Cross Agency Partnerships at DOHMH. He uses a “health-in-all-policies” (HiAP) approach, focusing on promoting community health in the work of different city agencies.

In an interview with Urban Omnibus, Williams spoke of external factors affecting the health of New Yorkers.

“Very few health outcomes actually have to do with your access to healthcare services,” Williams said. “Much of what determines your ability to live to your fullest health potential is about the physical and social context in which you live. Issues of race, discrimination, class, and poverty all have a tremendous impact on health and create specific health inequities.”

As has been cited in the recent Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak in the South Bronx, poverty and health care issues often overlap. The new Connections to Care program will soon be looking to contract with community-based organizations where vulnerable populations can be reached and people with symptoms or at risk of mental illness can be identified and helped. These can include people struggling with stable housing, employment, or sobriety; new or expecting parents; and out of work young adults.

McCray and her husband’s administration have announced programming so far that reflect the complexities of health, particularly mental health, disparities. McCray’s roadmap is all but certain to follow a HiAP model, including schools, jails, and other places where New Yorkers may access services and evaluating needs based on income, cultural background, and more.

Creating an effective and comprehensive mental health care system will require, Williams believes, that the city government figures out “place-based intervention to address, mitigate, or even prevent [health inequities] — so anyone anywhere in New York City has an opportunity for optimal health.”

Essential to the city's efforts will be tracking its programs and the work being done by community organizatins, service providers, and city agencies. With more investment comes more scrutiny and the need to prove the efficacy of devoting resources to new work.

In her recent op-ed for CNN, McCray extended a call for action to other local and national leaders, urging them to commit the time and resources to implement needed mental health care services.

“Stigma, a lack of resources and the marginalization of mental health for decades have left us a fragmented and broken system that must be fixed. Too many people's lives are at stake, in New York City and beyond.”

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

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 8


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

From the governor's office: "Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today [Monday] departed for Puerto Rico with a New York delegation that will discuss the Puerto Rican government's ongoing healthcare crisis and economic challenges. The Governor and the delegation will be meeting with Puerto Rican officials and will also be discussing the need for Washington to take action to help Puerto Rico." The trip is a quick one-night visit and the delegation includes, in part: New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Attorney General Eric Schneiderman; Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; Assemblyman Marcos Crespo; Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz, Jr.; New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer; Congressman Charles Rangel; and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez.

Cuomo said on the plane to Puerto Rico that the island should be allowed to file bankruptcy and restructure its debt - the first time he has indicated a position. Cuomo has been criticized for the large campaign contributions he receives from finance industry leaders who hold Puerto Rican debt.

Noticeably absent from the trip is state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who reportedly received an invitation after the trip was announced. And, many have pointed out, of course, that Mayor Bill de Blasio is not on the trip - de Blasio's office said that he had not been invited, Cuomo said it didn't make sense to bring the mayor.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: Meanwhile, de Blasio went to Connecticut again on Friday, visiting with his son Dante, who is now a Yale freshman, for Dante's birthday. De Blasio returned to New York City, but did not have public events on Saturday or Sunday.

On Monday, de Blasio attended and gave remarks at the West Indian American Day Carnival Association Breakfast and then marched in the West Indian American Day Carnival Association Labor Day Parade. De Blasio and Cuomo did not interact at the parade, though both addressed the overnight shooting of a Cuomo administration official, Carey Gabay, who was the victim of a stray bullet in Brooklyn late Saturday night. After the parade Monday, de Blasio visited the hospital where Gabay is being treated. Cuomo also visited with Gabay's family at the hospital.

Coming up: on Tuesday morning on MSNBC: "In a rare joint interview, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, First Lady Chirlane McCray, will appear on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." The live in-studio interview is on Tuesday, September 8 during the 7 a.m. ET hour of "Morning Joe." They will discuss education, crime, homelessness, mental health and the 2016 presidential race." Also on Tuesday, in the evening, the mayor will deliver remarks at the 2015 West Indian American and Caribbean American Heritage Reception, and he will appear in a taped interview on Telemundo in which he'll discuss Pope Francis' upcoming visit to New York.

On Thursday afternoon at Pace University, de Blasio will appear at an event being hosted by his national progressive group, The Progressive Agenda: "Hedge Fund Billionaires vs. Kindergarten Teachers: Whose side are you on?"

OTHERWISE: It's back-to-school week for the large majority of New York City students, even though some at charter schools have already begun the school year. Keep an eye out for major themes of this educational year: how does year two of de Blasio's pre-K program go now that 70,000-plus children are involved? Is progress being made at the city's most struggling schools? Relatedly, how is the community schools initiative going?

The New York City Council will surely look at some of these educational issues over the course of the coming months. The Council returns to more active duty this week, beginning what promises to be a busy fall of oversight and legislative hearings.

Thursday is primary election day, with many races happening around the city, mostly for hyperlocal positions like District Leader. One key result to watch is in the crowded Democratic primary to fill a vacant Queens City Council seat (Mark Weprin resigned this spring to take a job with Governor Cuomo).

Our look at the many voting opportunities - starting Thursday - for New Yorkers over the next 14 months.

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden is due back in New York City, this time for an event "addressing the national backlog of sexual assault kits" and an "event on the economy." It is likely that Manhattan DA Cy Vance will be a key part of the former and that Governor Cuomo will be involved with one, if not both.

Speaking of Cuomo, keep an eye out for a state Senate hearing this Thursday that will examine the process by which Cuomo's fast food wage board did its work this spring.

Friday is the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that hit New York City and elsewhere. There will be commemorative events on and around the 11th.

The 7-train extension to the far West Side will open on Sunday. Former Mayor Bloomberg will not be in attendance. It is unclear at this time if Gov. Cuomo will be there, one would expect Mayor de Blasio to be, but who knows.

For more detail on the week ahead, 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: Labor Day

Tuesday
De Blasio is due on MSNBC's Morning Joe Tuesday morning. "In the evening, the Mayor and First Lady will attend the 2015 West Indian American and Caribbean American Heritage Reception, where the Mayor will deliver remarks...The Mayor will also appear on Telemundo in an interview with Anchor Ricardo Villarini to discuss Pope Francis's upcoming visit. Note: This is a taped interview that will air during the 6 pm and 11 pm hours."

On WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show Tuesday morning: "Chancellor Fariña on the New School Year" at approximately 10:50 a.m. "New York City schools chancellor Carmen Fariña talks about what's changed and how best for kids, parents, teachers and administrators to approach the new beginning."

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Environmental Protection will see a bill introduced that would prohibit small stores from propping their door(s) open when the air conditioning is on.
  • 11 a.m., the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will consider several land use applications from City Council Member David Greenfield of Brooklyn.

City Council member Participatory Budgeting meetings to be held on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m. by CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)
  • 4 p.m. by CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan)

[Read our recent report on one Council member, Brad Lander, who has launched a project tracker so that constituents can better see how money is getting spent and whether projects are progressing - and it is an interactive mapping project that Lander hopes will be a model for the city]

On Tuesday at 9 a.m. the NYC Board of Corrections will have a public board meeting. There is a 15 minute "public comment period" at the end of the session.

At 11 a.m. Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Deborah Glick, both Manhattan Democrats, join forces with women's advocacy organizations and others to hold a press conference "to announce legislation requiring state contractors to disclose data on their gender wage gaps." Public Advocate Letitia James, NOW-NYS, A Better Balance, Eleanor's Legacy, PowHer NY, the Fiscal Policy Institute, and other various elected officials and stakeholders will attend.

At 1:30 p.m. the NYC Jails Action Coalition (JAC) will hold a press conference at City Hall with City Council members, faith leaders, children and families of incarcerated individuals, and other criminal justice advocates. Speakers will include Johnny Perez of NYC Jails Action Coalition, Council Members Daniel Dromm and Ydanis Rodriguez, and Julia L. Davis of Children's Rights, among others.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday state Senator Liz Krueger teams up with GenderAvenger founder Gina Glanz to give a talk on how Glanz's organization 'helps to ensure that women are always represented in the public dialogue.'

At 6:30 p.m. City and State NY will hold a reception to celebrate the launch of the publication's special Manhattan issue. A variety of Manhattan elected officials will attend.

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will have an oversight hearing to assess the "goals of the City's youth mentoring program" and whether or not they are being met.
  • 10 a.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor is scheduled to meet.
  • 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use meets to hear proposition Int 7705-2015, which would "establish a maximum period of time for the Landmarks Preservation Commission to take action on any item calendared for consideration of landmark status." [Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, penned a recent op-ed at Gotham Gazette warning against its passage.]
  • 1 p.m.. the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections meets to approve the appointment of Shampa Chanda to the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals, and to discuss the possible appointments of Helen Arteaga to the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Board of Directors, and re-appointment of Arva R. Rice to the Council to the New York City Equal Employment Practices Commission.

"On Wednesday, September 9th, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Rafael Espinal, the Council Jewish Caucus and nearly 100 Holocaust Survivors will join community leaders to commemorate the restoration of a recently discovered Torah Scroll which was hidden for over 70 years in Poland. The event will also recognize the Council's efforts to help our city's Holocaust survivors who are living in poverty with the allocation of $1.5 million in funding though the Survivors Initiative."

In Albany on Wednesday at 1 p.m., the Senate Standing Committee on Racing, Gaming, and Wagering will hold a public hearing "to discuss the future of online poker in New York State."

City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings will be held Wednesday:

  • 6 p.m. by CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan)
  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Laurie Cumbo (District 35, Brooklyn)
  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn)

On Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., the city Department of Consumer Affairs will continue its workshop series to help "employers understand their responsibilities under the Paid Sick Leave Law."

At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer and AARP NY are hosting a fraud protection workshop at the Swinging Sixties Senior Center.

At 6:30 p.m. the New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) will hold a public board meeting to field complaints about and recommend action against abusive police tactics.

Thursday
Thursday, September 10th is 2015 Primary Day in New York City. There are nominations for the following positions: Judge of the Civil Court District, Female District Leader, Male District Leader, Delegate to Judicial Convention, Alternate Delegate to the Judicial Convention, and County Committee. There's also the hotly contested Democratic Primary for City Council in Queens District 23. See a full list of candidates for all offices here. And read our look at how this is the first of many opportunities - too many? - for New Yorkers to vote over the next 14 months, culminating with the presidential election next year.

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden is due back in New York City, this time for an event "addressing the national backlog of sexual assault kits" and an "event on the economy."

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

In Albany on Thursday at 11 a.m., the Senate Standing Committee on Labor will hold a public hearing to "examine the overall process of the Fast Food Wage Board of 2015."

City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings will be held:

  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn)
  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan)
  • 6:30 p.m. by CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)

On Thursday at 12:00 p.m. #YesWeCode and the Office of New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake (D-Bronx) will join forces for "New Faces of Tech in the Bronx." In a one-hour special titled "Growing Hope Live from the Bronx," MSNBC will provide live coverage of the event at 2 p.m. MSNBC's program will include interviews with Blake, New York City Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco and Van Jones, founder of #YesWeCode.

On Thursday at 12:30 p.m. "NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and a panel of experts and advocates will join AARP to develop strategies for closing a federal legal loophole that allows bad-acting financial advisers to promote retirement investments that net them high commissions at the expense of clients' savings." Panel members include Ali Khawar, Counselor to the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Scott Evans, New York City Deputy Comptroller for Asset Management and Chief Investment Officer and Kathleen McBride, Chair of The Committee for the Fiduciary Standard.

At 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Pace University, it is, "Hedge Fund Billionaires vs. Kindergarten Teachers: Whose side are you on?", an event featuring Mayor de Blasio. "Did you know that the top 25 hedge fund managers in the United States make more than every single kindergarten teacher in the country—combined? There are a lot of reasons that the math shakes out so unfairly, but one of them is the carried-interest loophole, a tax law that essentially gives these one-percenters a much lower tax rate than they should be paying. On Thursday, September 10 at 4:30 p.m., director Robert Greenwald will premier his new short film that examines this problem and advocates for the clear solution. The screening will include a live conversation and Q&A with Robert and with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio—and we'd like you to join us."

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday at The New School, urban policy professor Jeff Smith will read from his new book "Mr. Smith Goes to Prison: What My Year Behind Bars Taught Me About America's Prison Crisis." After Smith's presentation, Touré, author of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?, will moderate a discussion about criminal justice reform with Professor Smith, Soffiyah Elijah (Executive Director of Correctional Association of New York), Dr. Carla Shedd (Columbia University sociologist), and Melissa Mark Viverito (New York City Council Speaker).

At 7:00 p.m. New York City is hosting a public hearing to "solicit community input" on future development projects in Lower Manhattan. The developments focus on coastal and storm protection measures and upgrades to affordable housing units.

Friday and the weekend
Friday is the 14th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and elsewhere in the United States.

On Friday at 8:15 a.m., New York Law School Dean Anthony W. Crowell will moderate a panel on New York City's lawyers response to 9/11, as part of City Law's Breakfast Series. Participants include city officials who were in office at the time of the attacks. Their names and (former) positions are as follows: Jeffrey D. Friedlander, Law Department; Steven Fishner, Criminal Justice Coordinator; Marjorie Landa, Law Department; Bryan Grimaldi, Mayor's Office; and Florence Hutner, Law Department.

On Friday at 6:30 p.m., Staten Island will host its annual Postcards Memorial Ceremony to commemorate the lost lives of Staten Islanders on September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. Borough President James Oddo, who will help lead the event, calls it "an opportunity for us to come together as one community and to show the families that even though it is 14 years later, we remain committed to honoring the memories of those who have lost."

On Saturday starting at 10 a.m., New York City will hold its annual Labor Day Parade. The procession will start at 5th Avenue and 44th Street and march up to 67th street before stoping. George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU, will be Grand Marshal and George Miranda, President of IBT Joint Council 16, will be Parade Chair.

On Saturday, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is holding another "Begin Again" event. New Yorkers with outstanding summonses and open arrest warrants will receive a Legal Aid attorney and a hearing in front of a judge. Read our story on Thompson's Begin Again initiative and its place in the larger justice reform conversation.

Weekend City Council Participatory Budgeting meetings:

  • Saturday at 11:30 a.m. by CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)
  • Sunday at 11:30 a.m. by CM Ben Kallos (District 5, Manhattan)

On Sunday, after a nearly two-year delay, the new 7-train extension to the far west side of Manhattan will open. The expansion, undertaken in conjunction with the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project, extends the subway line from 42nd Street Times Square to the new 34th Street-Hudson Yards station. The first train will depart from the station at 1:07 p.m.

***
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, Erika Wang, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

The Week That Was in New York Politics, August 31-September 4


week in review bus readers

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


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday September 4

PHOTOS OF THE WEEK: Mayor de Blasio rides the Staten Island Ferry, via Anna Sanders; de Blasio visits a homeless encampment, via The Daily News

BdB SI ferry

bdb encampment daily news

TOP FOUR STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. De Blasio & Homelessness: This week, Mayor de Blasio authorized a $10 million emergency measure to provide rental assistance to people facing homelessness. Not long after, the mayor announced the coming resignation of Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, after 20 months serving as deputy mayor of health and human services, where she oversees much of the administration's response to the ongoing homelessness crisis. Then, de Blasio visited a notorious homelessness encampment in the Bronx.

2. Cuomo to Puerto Rico: In the midst of the economic crisis in Puerto Rico, Gov. Cuomo "will lead a delegation to Puerto Rico to meet with local officials and discuss the Puerto Rican governments' ongoing healthcare crisis and economic challenges as well as the need for Washington to act." Leaving Monday (September 7) and returning Tuesday, the group will include financial experts and elected leaders, including City Council Speaker and Puerto Rico native Melissa Mark-Viverito, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

3. Cuomo Launches ‘Enough is Enough’: As students head back to college campuses, Governor Cuomo has kicked off his statewide awareness campaign to draw attention to his 'Enough is Enough' sexual conduct legislation, which will take effect in full later this fall. Legislation requires all colleges to adopt a set of comprehensive procedures and guidelines, including a uniform definition of affirmative consent, and expanded access to law enforcement.

4. Safe City Summer: New York City had the safest summer in over 20 years - the NYPD’s newly released crime statistics show that crime and shootings are at historic lows, along with over 40,000 fewer arrests made and 58,000 fewer criminal court summonses issued year-to-date over last year. New York City experienced the safest summer (June 1 through August 31) in the modern crime tracking era of the department. For that summer period, shootings and murders were the lowest they have ever been in the modern CompStat era; the NYPD recorded 82 murders and 345 shootings over the three summer months.

THIS WEEK'S NUMBERS:

  • $18 million in additional funding for final design and construction support services of the Brooklyn Bridge. Repairs for the iconic bridge are already $92 million over budget and a year behind schedule.

  • 25% wage advantage for New York women who belong to a union over women who aren’t union members

  • $1.25 million is how much a vacant lot in Crown Heights sold for after less than two days on the market.

  • 144 of the state’s struggling public schools have until Sept. 30 for administrators to finish improvement plans and file them with the state.

  • 180 feet is how high a mural of Pope Francis painted on the side of 494 Eighth Avenue in anticipation of the Pontiff's visit to the city will be.

THE FLASH:

  • 65 years ago around this time, on August 31, 1950, Mayor William O'Dwyer resigned amid rumors of a corruption scandal.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK:

Led by New Office, De Blasio Forms His Brand of Public-Private Partnerships, by Brit Byrd

In Defense of Plazas, From Times Square to Brownsville (opinion)

Advocates Rally to Keep Solitary Confinement in Spotlight, by David King

Bill Puts City Landmarks Law At Serious Risk (opinon)

On Twitter, De Blasio Continues Recent Efforts at Direct Public Contact, by Ben Max

Map Launched to Bring Greater Accountability to Capital Spending, by Brit Byrd

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

  • Anthony Weiner on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show discussing a possible state constitutional convention and the governor-mayor relationship.
  • The New Yorker profiles NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.
  • Chalkbeat NY looks at the city DOE dragging its feet on allowing schools to change admissions policies aimed at increasing diversity.

***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

Candidates Allege Wright Unfairly Influences Elections


Keith Wright parade

Keith Wright at the Puerto Rican Day Parade (photo: @KeithWright2016)


Afua Atta-Mensah, candidate for female district leader in Harlem's 70th Assembly District, had no illusions that running for office for the first time would be easy. But after campaigning against the entrenched Harlem political machine all summer she wonders if she would do it again. "Any newcomer is not taken kindly when they are running against the machine," said Atta-Mensah, a public defender who decided to run for the unpaid position because the job allows you to work for candidates at the grassroots level.

Her feeling is echoed by a number of candidates, including some already elected to district leader positions, but who are not supported by the County party. They say Assemblymember Keith Wright - who serves as the chair of the New York County Democratic Party and is head of the powerful Assembly Housing committee while representing the 70th AD - is unfairly using his influence and well-placed allies to tip the scales in his favor.

Wright, it is alleged, has brought political pressure for them to drop out of the little-watched races and has even used his allies at the Board of Elections to move polling places in a bid to reduce the Latino vote and ensure his loyalists are in place for what is expected to be a heated battle to replace Rep. Charles Rangel against one or more strong Latino candidates.

Since declaring for the office, Atta-Mensah has run up against the traditional roadblocks faced by new candidates, like fundraising and a lack of party apparatus and campaign network.

"These block parties they have, there is nothing like having Charlie Rangel campaign for you," said Atta-Mensah. "No matter what you think of him, he is simply a legend." But there have been additional obstacles for Atta-Mensah and other candidates for district leader and judicial delegate positions, including what they say amounts to drastic voter suppression that is meant to subvert the democratic process.

Recently the Board of Elections changed the locations of a number of polling places in Harlem adding to the confusion of a primary day that will be the first in recent memory to be held on a Thursday (September 10 - it was moved by the State to miss Rosh Hashanah). Turnout is expected to be miniscule at best and polling place changes are likely to further reduce the number of those who actually cast their votes.

A number of district leader incumbents and new candidates say the relocations are politically motivated and orchestrated by Assemblymember Wright's ally, Board of Elections clerk William Allen.

Allen, it happens, is also currently one incumbent male district leader in Assembly District 70. However, Board of Elections chair Michael Ryan told Gotham Gazette that he had Allen removed from making any decisions regarding the the 70th AD in accordance with his policy regarding anyone who is a candidate and a BOE employee.

"We have a policy in the agency in respect to political positions," Ryan told Gotham Gazette on Friday. "If an employee is a candidate and has an opponent we remove them from decision making. If they don't have an opponent it's not an issue. On July 17 I directed William Allen to refrain from activity in the 70th Assembly District."

Ryan added that no one had approached him about any possible conflict of interest before holding a Thursday press conference on the matter.

At that press conference at City Hall, several district leader candidates called this a major conflict of interest and said that Allen should step down from one of the two positions. They also said that it is all too easy for Wright and Allen to exert undue influence over poll workers, trained and hired by the BOE, and their efforts.

The uproar over the district races comes as Wright is set to run to replace Rangel against state Sen. Adriano Espaillat in a district notorious for political strife between black and Latino voters.

Joshua Bauchner, a judicial delegate on Atta-Mensah's ticket, said that he faced direct pressure from Wright's office to drop out of the race. He says Wright staffer Cathleen McCadden called him and told him his candidacy was an affront to the Assemblymember and that Wright intended to appoint the position.

"Cathleen told me these were appointed positions and asked me to withdraw," Bauchner told Gotham Gazette. "I told her I was extremely disappointed and that Wright should be encouraging debate. She asked what I would do. I said I intended to stay in because I thought there needed to be robust debate and that as County chair, Keith's job is to find people to run and increase voter involvement. She told me it would be an interesting summer."

McCadden denied the charge when reached by phone at Wright's district office, saying simply, "That's not the case," before insisting she would have to defer to Wright's press person. Gotham Gazette has not heard back from Wright's office since.

While Bauchner was the only subject willing to go on record, a number of other candidates and canvassers alleged to Gotham Gazette that Wright's office also pressured them to drop their bids for district leader or judicial delegate, or to stop working for certain campaigns. A few of these people say Wright called them personally and invoked his considerable influence both as County chair or head of the Assembly housing committee.

Bauchner said he was deeply disappointed by the call because the race is already expected to be low turnout and citing his proud involvement in politics, saying he's hosted candidates like Scott Stringer, Bill de Blasio, and even Wright at his home to boost voter education and involvement.

"Harlem is the last bastion of Tammany Hall," said Bauchner. "Keith and his generation of colleagues all suffered from the system in that they had to wait their turn for someone to turn 80-something before they could move up the ladder. I would think Keith Would support a robust election instead of a selection."

On Thursday, a group of district leaders and candidates held a press conference at City Hall to call for William Allen to resign his position as BOE clerk because of his connections to Wright. Marisol Alcantara, a District Leader in AD 70, told Gotham Gazette the polling site changes would make voting more difficult for Latino residents.

"We believe that the reason these voting sites were changed is to weaken new Americans, specifically in Northern Manhattan, from coming out to vote. And we believe that William Allen should do the honorable thing and step down," said Alcantara.

Alcantara says that she and other sitting district leaders are seeing County-backed challengers on the ballot, along with shifting poll sites. Alcantara has been honored by Espaillat for her work in the past.

John Ruiz, a District Leader for Assembly District 68, said he was concerned the polling place reshuffling will make it hard for his older constituents and those with health issues like asthma from making it to the polling place.

Maria Morillo, another uptown district leader, agreed with Ruiz. "People are telling me, 'I'm not going to vote, it's only district leader and it's too far to travel.' The polling site where I live, we have a lot of senior citizens, and a lot of them might not come out and vote. From 182 and Bennett, people have to travel seven blocks now to vote."

BOE head Michael Ryan told Gotham Gazette that politics had nothing to do with poll site moves, but instead, they were the result of the settlement of a lawsuit brought by a number of disabled voters concerned with poll site access.

Ryan did say that the BOE plans to review the changes to make sure they aren't actually creating a hardship. That review won't likely be complete until next May, and any other changes would have to be agreed upon and approved by a court. "What we are attempting to do now is to set up meetings with the plaintiffs to take a holistic look if some of the fixes created more of a burden. But so far the analysis has been done by an expert, but it hasn't included a look at distance or the terrain traversed that could have made it worse than it was before."

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

Led by New Office, De Blasio Forms His Brand of Public-Private Partnerships


Bdb Warby Parker

Mayor de Blasio & the founders of Warby Parker (photo: @BilldeBlasio)


The de Blasio administration is attempting a new approach to a familiar game in municipal politics. Public-private partnerships, also known as P3s, are a popular tool throughout local, state, and federal government. They are often sought after as a way to formalize coalitions around an issue and take advantage of the flexibility and resources of the private sector to accomplish goals of government.

Run a search in any given political press room, and one is likely to find several announcements of public-private partnerships spanning a wide array of issues and taking many forms, from contracting agreements for infrastructure projects to philanthropic gifts.

The de Blasio administration, however, is seeking to deploy P3s differently than prior administrations. Like with the rest of his agenda, the mayor is infusing the time-honored tradition of leveraging the private sector for public good to focus as acutely as possible on reducing inequities.

Last year, de Blasio announced the new Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP) with a clear mandate in mind: bring entities together to address income inequality and opportunity gaps in New York City. While P3s are common in many administrations, establishing a new office with such a coherent objective has been billed as a noteworthy new approach. "We have been handed a very strong foundation by Mayor Bloomberg, and we look forward to building on it," de Blasio said last year.

Of course, de Blasio has also given the mandate to all of his agencies and offices, pre-existing and otherwise, requiring that commissioners explain efforts their departments are taking to combat inequality in the Mayor's Management Report.

At OSP, Gabrielle Fialkoff, senior advisor to the mayor and director of the office, highlights P3 work on mental health, youth employment, and early childhood education. Focusing on issues intersecting income inequality is seen as a next step from a legacy of strong private sector engagement in the Bloomberg administration, which would often welcome private sector funding and innovation, but with less of a pointed focus.

So far, the administration is enthusiastic about the results of the new approach. "Over the past year and half, we've worked together with New York's corporate and philanthropic sectors as well as the City's agencies and non-profits to leverage assets and strategies – and we've made great strides," Fialkoff said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

For a mayor seen with skepticism by many in the corporate world, the de Blasio administration has had to find willing partners. There are no shortage of non-profits for the city to work with, of course, and no matter how ambitious the P3 approach, there is always room to be doing more. Thus, the new office.

In July, the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, chaired by First Lady Chirlane McCray, announced a $30 mental health initiative, "Connections to Care," the largest public-private partnership thus far in the de Blasio administration. The Mayor's Fund, itself a not-for-profit, is partnering with the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is a federal agency, and private funders.

Not long after, de Blasio announced that Deputy Mayor Richard Buery will assume the role of coordinating mental health reform in the administration, working in partnership with McCray, who is creating a "mental health roadmap" that is said to be set for release later this month and is sure to rely on the city's work with non-profit and other non-governmental entities.

The Connections to Care Initiative looks to utilize outside funding to contract 12 community-based service providers to screen low-income residents for mental health and substance abuse disorders, and pay for a study tracking and assessing the impact of the program.

At its launch, Fialkoff hit at the fact that the initiative is not a expansion in the size of existing programs, but rather a partnership to bring new mental health training to service providers the city already relies upon. "In applying for the grant, she said, "the service provider partners with the mental health provider and they apply together. And the mental health provider will train the staff and then stay involved in the long-term through coaching and follow-up."

For youth employment, the Mayor's Fund and OSP looked to improve the city's existing programs by establishing the Center for Youth Employment, which aims to "substantially increase private sector participation by instituting reforms to make involvement more efficient, and offering increased support for employers throughout the process."

In a statement announcing the center's launch, Fialkoff commented that there had previously been "limited coordination between employers, city agencies, non-profits and the philanthropic community," but that the center would serve as a first step towards a more holistic system.

Earlier this week, the city announced a surge in the Summer Youth Employment program, credited to a $12 million increase in city funds. But the Center for Youth Employment is seeking to contribute beyond what may be capable through a simple bolstering of funds to the existing programs.

At its launch, the center noted that while the Summer Youth Employment program is already the largest of its kind in the country, even before this year's growth, it still was unable to serve some 90,000 applicants in 2014. And in 2015, an increase in applications outpaced the growth in jobs: more than 130,000 applied for 54,263 summer jobs. The center is aiming to fill that gap by "substantially increas[ing] private sector participation by instituting reforms to make involvement more efficient, and offering increased support for employers throughout the process." As it stands, city agencies and external partners work largely independently on various youth programs.

Another especially significant point of intersection for non-profits, for-profits, and city agencies is found in the growing Community Schools Initiative that de Blasio has made a centerpiece of his education agenda.

One recent high-profile P3 involving community schools is a partnership with stylish NYC-based eyewear brand Warby Parker to provide glasses to 20,000 students, free of charge, in conjunction with a vision screening program. Fialkoff and Buery praised the partnership as exemplary of combining the flexibility and generosity of the private sector with the reach of the public sector.

Adam Forman, Senior Researcher with the Center for an Urban Future, praised the P3 work being done through community schools, which will serve many of the city's neediest children. "They're trying to do a good job of making schools a hub of social service delivery, so it's not just education but in the after hours you have mental health care, tutoring, services like language training or job training for parents," said Forman.

P3 graphic

The idea of improved data sharing between existing partners has been a theme within the de Blasio administration, according to Forman, and one particular point of intersection for non-profits and city agencies to better share information has been within the Community Schools Initiative. Combining overlapping sets of data about students and parents already participating in services offered at Community Schools could both help expand coverage and reduce redundancies. As with virtually everything in the still-young de Blasio administration, results are hard to come by as of yet - it will take time to tell how effective these P3s or any new data sharing is.

Fialkoff ultimately hopes that the de Blasio administration's approach "will be a model for other municipalities on how we can harness the power of the private sector and the scale of government to truly change lives."

To some observers, though, while the overtones of targeting P3s specifically at inequality are new, the fundamentals of employing P3s for social services are continuous with decades of New York City governance.

"For social services in general, the city has been contracting out forever," said Forman, referring to the most basic public-private partnership relationship of the city paying for services.

Although programming and policy decisions are made in-house at agencies and departments, relying on private, not-for-profit organizations for actual service delivery is a well-worn practice. Because of such arrangements, the city's involvement in social services is deeper than many may often realize. Forman estimates, "New York City might have 300,000 people working for it officially on the payroll, but the city has over a million people working for it in terms of contracting out service delivery."

Accordingly, it is important to not characterize the de Blasio administration's "new approach" to P3s simply as a new expansion into more aggressive social service delivery. The administration is not so much reinventing the wheel of social services, but rather an attempt to coordinate with more nuance and efficiency, and potentially garner more trust and participation from the private and non-profit sectors.

The sheer ubiquity of the term "public-private partnership" does attract skepticism from parties interested in government transparency and accountability, and cognizant of infamous cases where local governments were on the bad end of deals with the private sector.

"The word 'public-private partnership' seems to evoke these warm feelings of these parties coming together and working together, which on some level does happen," said Shahrzad Habibi, Research and Policy Director at In the Public Interest, a think tank with a focus on transparency and accountability in P3s. "But the devil is in the details of these agreements...a lot of the times we don't know about these until they're already underway."

While cost-benefit analysis has grown in popularity as of late, including within the Obama White House, phrases that appear in the press releases for the Center for Youth Employment such as "return on investment" can perk the ears of those familiar with past horror stories involving compensation clauses in contracts with the private sector. Habibi offers an example of a tollway in Washington, DC built on a P3 model where the contract stipulated compensation if over a certain percentage of users were carpoolers.

Although the de Blasio administration heralds its new approach as an ambitious, coherent vision aimed towards tackling income inequality, ensuring the efficacy and transparency of each deal remains a case-by-case task.

In New York City, oversight of P3s entered into by city agencies is often left to the city Comptroller and the City Council. City Council Member Brad Lander offers that due to the sheer volume of P3s and their wide breadth of focus, "It's hard to figure out any uniform oversight framework, you really have to look at them on a case-by-case basis."

***
by Brit Byrd, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Advocates Rally to Keep Solitary Confinement in Spotlight


solitary confinement rally

A rally to reform solitary confinement rules (photo: @NYCAIC)


Last November he United Nations committee on torture found that the United States was not in compliance with its Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment because of excessive use of solitary confinement in prisons across the country.

The UN found that use of solitary confinement of over 15 days amounts to torture. Nearly a year later New York state has no limit on how long an inmate can be held in solitary--some have served decades. With increasing focus on the conditions in prisons, New York is struggling to address flaws in its prison system that has led to deaths and that advocates say does irreversible mental and physical damage to inmates.

Up to 5,000 inmates are held in solitary confinement at one time in New York. Inmates in solitary spend 23 hours a day in an empty room with no outside contact. The brutal conditions faced by those subjected to this form of punishment, especially at New York City's most notorious jail, Rikers Island, have been splashed across front pages, the subject of major lawsuits and federal investigations, and the topic of debate throughout all levels of government.

Rikers has banned the use of solitary for inmates under 18 years of age and a plan is in the works to disallow the placement of anyone 21 and younger, moves made following a scathing federal report from the office of US Attorney Preet Bharara. Yet, bills that would limit the length of solitary confinement and who can be held in solitary have sat stagnant in the state legislature.

Activists hope to change that with a series of protests held on the 23rd of each month at locations across New York City. The rallies are held on the 23rd to draw focus to the fact that prisoners are held in solitary for 23 hours a day.

So far The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement have held two rallies. Their second rally, held in Rose Hill Park in the Bronx, aimed to relay the experience of Nicholas Zimmerman, an inmate in Attica who has been held in solitary confinement for the last ten of his 12 years in prison.

Zimmerman told advocates: "Since being in The SHU [Special Housing Unit], I have had a stroke, I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I have tried to commit suicide twice, and very often get these thoughts, but I fight really hard to keep my mind!"

Advocates have focused on relaying the human experience of being in solitary confinement as a way of getting the public to understand what it does to inmates and their families. Megan Crowe-Rothstein of The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement said that the rallies have been about keeping the issue alive in the grassroots by creating more understanding.

"People really become interested when they hear what [solitary confinement] does to people and their families--especially when it comes from people who have suffered and are brave enough to share their stories," said Crowe-Rothstein.

Supporters of solitary confinement, like the city's corrections officer union, say it is an important tool to protect guards and inmates from violence, as well as an effective behavioral tool. "You run a red light, you pay a ticket," corrections union president Norman Seabrook said at a City Council hearing in June of last year. "You punch an officer in the eye, you go to punitive segregation." (Punitive segregation is the term used for solitary confinement on Rikers.)

Advocates charge that the lack of interaction and sensory deprivation created in solitary can lead to severe physical and mental conditions.

Their argument is bolstered by the now-famous story of Kalief Browder. Browder was arrested at 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack and served three years at Rikers after he couldn't post bail, eventually being released without ever being charged. Browder spent nearly two years in solitary while at Rikers and suffered beatings by inmates and guards that were captured on video. Upon release, Browder struggled to put his life back together and eventually killed himself on June 8 of this year. Browder's death led to statements from major politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, and a major invigoration of grassroots attention on both the bail and confinement aspects of the system.

"There is no reason he should have gone through this ordeal, and his tragic death is a reminder that we must continue to work each day to provide the mental health services so many New Yorkers need," de Blasio said in a statement just after Browder's death. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, we send our condolences to the Browder family during this difficult time."

Bills that would restrict the use of solitary have been stalled in Albany for years. One piece of pending legislation, called the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT), would set major restrictions on how the punishment can be used.

The bill stipulates that no prisoner could be in solitary for more than a 15-day stretch, or for 20 days in a 60-day period. Prisoners who would be placed in solitary for more than 15 days would instead have to be sent to a separate residential rehabilitation unit with therapy and out-of-cell programming. The bill would ban the use of solitary confinement on prisoners under the age of 22 or above the age of 55, prisoners who are pregnant, who have a mental or physical disability or who are "perceived" to be LGBTQ.

This year the bill was referred to the Senate and Assembly corrections committees in January and never voted to the floor. In 2014, the same fate, as the bill's Assembly sponsor, Assemblymember Jeff Aubry, said the gubernatorial election would stymie any action.

A number of legislators concerned with criminal justice issues told Gotham Gazette that it was disheartening that the leadership of their houses did not take up the measures related to solitary given the public's focus on criminal justice issues stoked by police killings of unarmed civilians and deaths at Rikers Island. Legislators asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about angering leadership.

Advocates plan to continue their rallies into the next legislative session, giving themselves a head start on lobbying efforts when legislators return to Albany in January. The next rally will take place Wednesday, September 23 - the location has yet to be announced.

One of the roadblocks to reforming the state's use of solitary is the city's corrections officers union. Norman Seabrook, president of the 9,000-member union, lobbied hard to keep solitary confinement policy as it was in the city. He threatened to sue the Board of Corrections for every officer that was injured by an inmate after the board banned solitary confinement for those under 21.

The city's corrections board is expected to discuss further reforming solitary at upcoming meetings but no action is imminent. "Rikers gets so much attention for good reason," said Crowe-Rothstein, "but there are people in solitary across the state who are suffering and the state must act to change that."

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

Note: this article has been corrected to reflect the fact that 16- and 17-year-olds are now banned from being placed in solitary confinement on Rikers Island and that banning those 21-and-under is in the works, but not final, as originally stated.

On Twitter, De Blasio Continues Recent Efforts at Direct Public Contact


BdB subway mayors office

Mayor de Blasio on the subway (@NYCMayorsOffice)


Mayor Bill de Blasio appears to be making a concerted effort to increase his direct, public interactions with New Yorkers. The mayor, who is more than halfway through his second year in office and has seen his public opinion poll numbers slide, took to Twitter Monday afternoon for a live chat, during which he replied eleven times to people who tweeted questions for him using the hashtag #BDBchat.

At just before 1 p.m., de Blasio's @BilldeBlasio account wrote "Hey New Yorkers, Bill here" and asked how people were preparing for the start of school. This was quickly followed by a tweet that said, "I'm excited to take your questions for the next few minutes. The team says I need a hashtag. Let's use: #bdbchat."

Monday's social media outreach is another in a series of recent efforts by the mayor to highlight the work of his administration and reassure New Yorkers that he is following through on his promises and that the city is headed in the right direction. It has been a tough stretch for the mayor including an unfavorable legislative session in Albany, an ongoing public feud with Governor Andrew Cuomo, much media attention on the city's homelessness crisis, a battle with car-hailing company Uber, controversy over what to do about topless women in Times Square, and other setbacks and challenges. De Blasio has felt that the press has not treated him fairly and after repeatedly criticizing the media, he appears of late to have taken a more proactive approach to communicating directly with the public.

In less than two weeks, the mayor has made two radio appearances, published a lengthy op-ed column in the Daily News, and held his first Twitter chat. These efforts, along with a Saturday afternoon spent canvassing in Brooklyn to promote his pre-Kindergarten program and other public events have had the mayor interacting with constituents in distinct, direct ways. Since becoming mayor, de Blasio has stressed repeatedly that he hears from New Yorkers all the time when he's out and about in the city, sometimes in response to questions about whether he will hold any public town hall meetings.

Even without any acknowledgment of plans for town halls or a shift in communications strategy, there's a noticable difference of late as the mayor looks to correct any perception of his mayoralty as setting the city on the wrong path. The mayor appeared for more than 40 minutes on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show on August 19, taking several listener calls. He then appeared on Hot 97's morning radio show on August 25, spent time Saturday afternoon promoting pre-K in East Flatbush, and saw his column in the Daily News on Sunday before taking to Twitter Monday afternoon. Not to mention de Blasio taking in a weekend series of Mets games in Queens (the Mets were hosting de Blasio's hometown favorite team, the Boston Red Sox).

A mayoral spokesperson wrote Gotham Gazette to say that "The Mayor is very interested in connecting with New Yorkers directly, both to hear their concerns and thoughts, and to share information about his administration. He will continue to look for creative opportunities to engage with New Yorkers."

On Twitter Monday, de Blasio answered a fraction of the questions sent his way, ignoring the many tweeted by members of the city press corps, who had not been told about the chat ahead of time. The social media outreach was not listed on de Blasio's public schedule sent to members of the media and was given at least an air of spontaneity. De Blasio has said in the past that he does not control his own Twitter account and it is unclear if the mayor himself was typing his tweets on Monday, but the mayor's office assures Gotham Gazette that the answers coming from de Blasio were his.

In answering questions tweeted at him, de Blasio chose a couple of less substantive ones, answering that he is 6'6" tall when asked his height, for example. Otherwise, de Blasio was asked and answered questions about affordability, homelessness, environmental protection, and education. In brief answers that are all that the medium allows, de Blasio provided the link to his OneNYC plan aimed at addressing sustainability and affordability and highlighted efforts to combat homelessness and keep rent increases down in rent-regulated apartments.

On education, de Blasio replied to one particular question two times, writing, "We're focused on improving teacher training and retaining high quality educators" and that his administration has "Moved away from over-reliance on high-stakes testing and ended the misleading grading of schools."

The mayor is due in front of a large group of New Yorkers Monday evening as he is set to make remarks in Queens at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which has just begun. It's unclear if de Blasio will take the opportunity to highlight any of his policies.

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
@tweetBenMax

Map Launched to Bring Greater Accountability to Capital Spending


Lander map

A screenshot of the new map launched by Council Member Brad Lander


They are notoriously over-budget and late. Capital projects - infrastructure investments in things like transportation, parks, libraries, and schools - regularly leave members of the public wondering if their elected officials are competent or honest.

On a large-scale, think 2nd Avenue Subway, 7-line extension, and East Side Access. But, there are also many, many smaller capital projects all over the city.

As participatory budgeting has taken hold in about two dozen New York City Council districts, residents can see capital spending and project progress on a small-scale, down-the-block basis from the very start. One of the keys to the “PB” process is that district residents themselves get to design and decide where government money gets spent in their neighborhoods. Still, it is not always easy to keep track of these projects, which can often take longer than residents would like.

Now, New Yorkers of the city’s 39th council district have a new government accountability tool at their disposal. And, it is one that could be a model to bring greater transparency and urgency to capital projects across the city. Brooklyn City Council Member Brad Lander has published a new comprehensive map of ongoing capital projects in his district, which stretches from Cobble Hill to Park Slope to Kensington.

The interactive map, now available on the council member’s website, designates projects both in progress and completed, and whether or not they were funded through participatory budgeting. By simply clicking an icon on the map, users can find out more detail about each project in particular, including what year it was funded, the amount allocated to the project, and its current completion status.

Lander map zoom in on project

The tool, a Google Maps embed created by Pratt Institute summer intern Annie Levers (and a feasible project for anyone with a gmail account) is not being billed as the next big, highfalutin tech solution, but rather a simple common-sense step towards improving accountability in the city’s capital contracts.

The idea comes from desire for more transparency in the way that the city handles its capital projects. Discussing the tool and larger issue at hand, Lander points to the Parks Capital Tracker, introduced last year by the city Parks Department, as a good first step toward setting a new standard of transparency, but noted that council member-funded capital projects were still not included in discretionary funding information publicly provided the City Council.

Ideally, Lander considers the map a step toward a larger, more robust citywide system for tracking the ways in which public money is spent. Even though overhead costs were minimal and the data accessible to all council members, Lander does not expect his colleagues to follow suit and publish maps of their own.

“I think the long term answer is for the City of New York to provide a portal for all capital projects,” Lander told Gotham Gazette. “I am developing legislation that would require the city to provide something like this -- or the Parks Capital Tracker -- for all city capital projects, whether funded by an agency, City Hall, or by the Council.”

“I don't think the long-term answer is every council member developing their own map and database,” Lander said. Rather, “the long-term answer is a citywide system that tracks all capital projects.”

Such a system, Lander hopes, would be a resource for both individuals seeking information about a particular project in their neighborhood and for more formal research purposes, including the city’s own efforts to increase efficiency and accountability.

For instance, Lander offers that “it may be that a particular contractor works for three or four different agencies, but if you track it over time, you see that that contractor is persistently late or persistently coming in over budget. So there's a value in systems efficiency, there's value in meeting questions of equity: how's the number being spent in between neighborhoods; evaluating different priorities.”

This effort runs parallel to a broader theme within the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Lander’s predecessor in the Council: simplifying and streamlining the city’s capital investments.

“I think [improved accountability] has been a theme in the de Blasio administration on the capital budget side,” says Adam Forman, of the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank. City Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report in February looking at the rates at which capital projects are begun in the fiscal year they are supposed to, showing some of the inefficiencies in capital processes over the past ten years.

Meanwhile, Forman adds that due to the time that it takes to design contracts, bid them out, and finally get shovels in the ground, the City Council often authorizes some $15 billion of capital spending a year, “knowing full well” that only some $8-10 billion will actually be contracted out.

Simply opening up the details of capital contracts to public scrutiny could contribute more pressure towards a model where, as Forman puts it, “the money that we authorize to spend, let's actually spend it in that fiscal year.”

Bolstering a sense of public stewardship
A second goal of the map will be more difficult to quantify than improved contracting accountability. Lander hopes that making information more available, and importantly, more digestible will help bolster a sense of public stewardship in capital projects around his district.

Although increased accountability will be a main selling point when presenting legislation to the Council, the map was originally born out of a desire to merely better present updates about ongoing participatory budgeting projects within the district.

Lander map various

Lander says that a key value add of participatory budgeting, currently in its fifth year in the 39th District, is that it “enables people to feel like stewards of pieces of the public realm. They develop the ideas for them, they lobby for them, and so they feel a stronger sense of stewardship around the projects that they voted and advocated for, so that they're eager to know their status.”

“Because people voted on them, we felt a responsibility to provide updates on where these projects are,” Lander said. “And until now, we just had a big [Microsoft] Word-like webpage, where you have to scroll down and you see each year's project and which ones won, and look at it, and there it is. Now that we're in year five, we realized that's not the best way to keep people updated.” Thus, the new interactive map.

Constituent Julie Bero, a Windsor Terrace resident and member of the District Committee for Participatory Budgeting, agrees that the map has a deeper potential as a tool for public education. “Just a few years into the process, I think the effectiveness of PB is not quickly clear because many of the projects are not yet complete,” said Bero.

The PB process is largely run as a volunteer effort, where delays and bureaucratic holdups can present a challenge to recruiting and retaining volunteers, and winning over skeptics. Bero explains that “so much in our culture is about instant gratification and some people have expressed frustration that projects that won funding early on aren't already done.”

Bero thinks that tools such as the mapping project could compensate for the lack of feedback for many projects so far. Bero hopes that in several years, when a variety of PB projects finally are really bearing fruit, that a sense of communal stewardship and accomplishment may be more visible. “But in the meantime, this map can help residents of our district to understand the progress that's already been made and look forward to what's on the horizon.”

***
by Brit Byrd, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette



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