Vol. 2, No. 15 | AUGUST 5, 2013
The SLUSH FUND Legacy
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Morgan Pehme EDITOR Recently a political consultant confessed to me that as of now her vote for New York City mayor, comptroller and Brooklyn D.A. would be for “None of the above,” if only that were an option. While she meant the remark whimsically, the notion is not as ridiculous as it might sound. Currently the state of Nevada offers “None of the above” as an option on its ballots, as do Greece, Colombia, Ukraine and Spain. As John Fund pointed out last year in an excellent column in The National Review on the subject, NOTA (as it is affectionately known) played a noteworthy role in drumming the Communist incumbents out of office in pre-Solidarity Poland, as well as in the fall of the former Soviet Union. The hero of Solidarity, Lech Walesa, said the ability of voters to cast a ballot for NOTA rather than the same old party hacks—who were running unopposed—“changed history,” and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin concluded that the NOTA option “helped convince the people they had real power even in a rigged election, and [it] played a role in building a true democracy.” Though Russian democracy as it has played out over the last two decades is not exactly worthy of emulation, its failure does not discredit the usefulness of NOTA. As far too many New Yorkers would agree, we are often asked to select a candidate in races where, as Fund puts it, “second-rate incumbents” square off against “third-rate
challengers”—if indeed there is a challenger at all. Thus if we wish to exercise our right to vote, we are compelled to settle for the lesser of evils—no doubt one of the main reasons why our state has the most abysmal turnout rate in the nation. If we are to attract better candidates—candidates we want, rather than candidates we are forced to accept—voters must be given an opportunity to clearly demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the choices foisted upon us. NOTA is the means to that end. Here’s how the system should work. If NOTA garners a plurality of the vote in a given race, then that contest should be rerun, with all of the candidates originally in the field disqualified from again seeking that office. This process would be repeated as many times as necessary, until the electorate settled on a candidate whom it liked better than nobody. Even if the state chose to implement NOTA as it works in Nevada—where, if NOTA wins, the second-place finisher is declared the victor—it would still be worthwhile, because all but the most tone-deaf of politicians elected in that scenario would have no choice but to be more circumspect in how they approach their office, and responsive to the people who undeniably refused them a mandate. NOTA is a simple mechanism that should be embraced by concerned citizens on both sides of the aisle—it is just as valuable for Tea Party members to embrace as hardcore progressives—for it provides the people with a way to oust do-nothing incumbents, punish toxically negative campaigning and, above all, demand more from our government in the voting booth. Democracy is about choice. It’s about time all options were on the table.
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INDIAN LAKE Eighteen seconds was all Gov. Andrew Cuomo (below) needed to outlast Mayor Michael Bloomberg on the second day of white-water rafting during the Adirondack Challenge. Team Cuomo, which included the governor, top gubernatorial aide Joe Percoco and Alphonso David, deputy secretary of civil rights, edged out Team Bloomberg on the 3.5-mile course in Indian Lake in a contest that both offices have been hyping for months. Bloomberg, who found himself in the water at
one point, joked that he had been reluctant to participate until Cuomo pressured him to show up. “It was his idea; he called me,” Bloomberg said. “I said, ‘Oh, I can’t do that,’ and in his usual way he said, ‘You will come.’ ” Cuomo said the contest was aimed at getting more tourists to visit Adirondack State Park, the country’s largest state park. “All we have to do is show people the benefits of upstate New York,” he said. “They don’t know what we have. We’re underexposed.” A Bloomberg spokesman said that the mayor decided to “jump into the river and take a swim” when the raft pulled up to the river bank after the race was over.
KINGS PARK It was a beautiful day for a picnic—and a little politicking. Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez
held court at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council’s annual summer picnic at Sunken Meadows State Park, greeting about 2,200 sweating seniors. “I love you, Vito!” one senior said. “I love you, too!” he replied. Lopez resigned from office in May amid allegations of sexual harassment, but he is now campaigning for City Council. Lopez says he is an underdog since the political establishment, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Rep. Nydia Velázquez, are backing an opponent, Antonio Reynoso. “The reason they’re running Antonio … in the Council race is because they want a surrogate,” he said. Lopez also said that Bill Thompson has a strong chance to be the Democratic nominee for mayor—but he needs some help if he gets into a runoff. “It depends where John Liu and Bill de Blasio shift their support,” he said.
for giving him a second chance. “To some degree, with 49 days left until primary day, perhaps I’m surprised that more things did not come out sooner,” Weiner said. “This behavior that I did was problematic, to say the least; destructive, to say the most; caused many stresses and strains in my marriage, but I’m pleased and blessed that [Huma] has given me a second chance.” Abedin, in a rare
MANHATTAN Standing in a cramped office space in Chelsea, Democratic mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner (right), with his wife, Huma Abedin, by his side, responded to new reports of his online interactions with another woman by maintaining that he had expected these additional personal indiscretions to be revealed at some point during the campaign. Weiner—by now used to responding to questions about his infidelities—calmly read a prepared statement accepting responsibility for his behavior and declaring that he and his wife were “moving forward.” The former congressman, looking gaunt, called his actions “destructive” and thanked his wife
public appearance, seemed uncomfortable staring down the throng of reporters and photographers while explaining her decision to continue standing by his side. Before reading her remarks, she admitted she was “pretty nervous,” given that it was her first time speaking at a press conference since Weiner entered the race. “Our marriage, like many others, has had its ups and its downs. It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to a place where I could forgive him,” Abedin said. “It was not an easy choice in any way, but I made the decision that it was worth staying in this marriage.”
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UPFRONT BY THE NUMBERS
THE KICKER: A CHOICE QUOTE FROM CITY & STATE’S FIRST READ EMAIL “It’s a joke. Sad part is this is taxpayer resources and dollars being completely wasted on naked political ambitions. He was running for mayor the second he stepped into this job and had no interest in doing the job he was sworn in to do, only to abuse the position.” —Marc La Vorgna, Bloomberg’s press secretary, on New York City Comptroller John Liu’s rejection of city contracts, via The New York Times
Moving Right Along
ov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will be using state funds to expand service for the second straight year in order to make the experience more enjoyable for riders.
$1.3 billion Amount by which MTA plans to reduce annual costs
SCHUMER BOYS, DRIFTING AWAY BY AARON SHORT
It has been a sweltering summer for Sen. Chuck Schumer’s former staffers. Some have gotten in trouble with the press with embarrassing sext-ploits. Others are floundering in the polls in winnable races or were unable to get on the ballot in the first place. And a few failed to pass legislation to their liking, including Schumer himself. What happened, Schumer Boys? Your summer dreams are ripped at the seams.
$7.9 million Amount NYC Transit will spend on new bus and subway transit service
$5.9 million Amount NYC Transit will spend on enhancing customer environment with additional track and station cleaning, more controllers to manage service on numbered subway lines, better turnstile layouts and more security cameras
Amount MTA Long Island Railroad will invest in five new weekday trains, among other changes
230 Number of new trains MTA Metro-North Railroad plans to add per week
$1.7 million 1. Anthony Weiner His mayoral campaign took a nosedive when the news broke that he had not stopped sexting, starting online relationships with three women even after his resignation from Congress. 2. Micah Kellner His City Council bid soured when The New York Times reported that one of his female Assembly staffers complained that he had sexually harassed her online.
1 5. Chuck Schumer He helped immigration reform pass the U.S. Senate, but it appears dead in the House. 6. Josh Vlasto Never start a flame war with Fred Dicker that you are not prepared to lose.
3. Daniel Squadron Despite having outraised his opponents, the state senator is lagging behind in the public advocate race in a poll.
7. Phil Goldfeder The assemblyman failed to get full casino gambling in Queens added to the governor’s gaming amendment. Now Aqueduct will have to wait seven years for a blackjack table.
4. David Yassky Sources say the taxi commissioner was eyeing a bid for comptroller again— or any elected office, for that matter—but could not elbow his way into a crowded field.
8. Michael Cusick Actually, the assemblyman’s summer has been pretty good. But he didn’t put too much effort into paddling at the Adirondack Challenge.
AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Amount MTA Metro-North Railroad will invest to by 2020 on real-time customer information displays
$11.5 million Additional amount the financial plan includes for NYC Transit and LIRR to adjust service
$11 million Amount included in the financial plan to improve customer experience at stations
SOURCE: CUOMO ADMINISTRATION
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THE FIVE BOROUGH BALLOT
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WHAT SCANDAL? BY JON LENTZ Anthony Weiner’s Twitter scandal came roaring back last month with the revelation that he had continued to engage in sexually explicit online conversations with at least one woman after such behavior first prompted him to resign from Congress. But some Queens voters on the outskirts of his old congressional district do not think that Weiner’s online interactions with women other than his wife should disqualify him from becoming New York City’s next mayor. In fact, potential voters interviewed the day the news broke seem to be increasingly inclined to forgive and forget. In mid-May, shortly before Weiner officially announced that he would run for mayor, it was difficult to find anyone at the corner of Bell Boulevard and 48th Avenue in Bayside who would say that they might give him another shot. Two months later, a number of Bayside residents interviewed on the same street corner said they just might vote for the former congressman. Such sentiments mirror Weiner’s rise in several polls, where he quickly became one of the leading Democratic candidates for mayor. He has since dropped back. A July 15 Quinnipiac University poll also found that voters find public corruption to be worse than sexual misconduct by a threeto-one margin. Several Bayside resident echoed those poll results, saying that the mayoral candidate’s personal faults are exactly that— personal. “We’re electing them for their jobs, not their personal lives,” said John, a Bayside resident who works in information technology. “We’re not judging his morals, so I think I’d consider him.” John, who was chatting with several other parents while waiting for his kid to finish a tae kwon do lesson, wasn’t alone in his views. Three other parents outside the tae kwon do studio agreed that Weiner’s candidacy shouldn’t be ruled out. “I’m UFT, so my union is supporting Bill Thompson,” said Suzanne Miller, a teacher and United Federation of Teachers member who lives in the nearby neighborhood of Fresh Meadows. “If Thompson doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, I would consider voting for Weiner. I also like John Liu, but I would also consider voting for Weiner.” “Wasn’t there something with John Liu?” asked another parent. “There was,” Miller replied, acknowl-
edging an investigation into Liu’s fundraising, as the others laughed. “I know. I don’t know. I’d vote for anyone except Christine Quinn. She’s no friend to the teachers at all. She’s a friend of Michael Bloomberg.” The group also seemed to be receptive to another disgraced candidate positioning himself for redemption—Eliot Spitzer, the former governor who recently jumped into the race for New York City comptroller. All four parents agreed that Spitzer, despite his prostitution scandal, had done a good job as attorney general of New York. Across the street, a middle-aged woman named Sue who works in banking said that it was too soon to say whether she would vote for Weiner or Spitzer. But she initially didn’t rule out casting a ballot for either one. “No, not at all,” she said when asked if Weiner’s online interactions with multiple women would keep her from voting for him. “Whoever [is] the best candidate, I will vote for. I don’t know too much about him yet.” But when informed that Weiner had continued the online conversations after his behavior had gone public, and after he had already stepped down from Congress, she said she might reconsider whether supporting him was an option. “That means he lies—that’s not good,” she said. At least at this stage in the campaign, one potential advantage for both Weiner and Spitzer is that their scandals, as well as past positions in elected office, have resulted in relatively strong name recognition. For example, nobody interviewed could name any other candidates in the city comptroller’s race. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a Democrat, was seen as a shoo-in before Spitzer entered the race, and a long-shot Republican candidate, John Burnett, is also in the mix. The mid-July Quinnipiac poll found that more than 60 percent of voters didn’t know enough about Stringer to have an opinion of him. Only 12 percent had not heard enough about Spitzer, and 18 percent didn’t know enough about Weiner. Of course, some people view Weiner and Spitzer as little more than embarrassments. Leo Gorynski, a self-employed Bayside resident in his mid-50s, said that both candidates are a “disgrace.” “If New York elects him, it will just show that we’re Sodom and Gomorrah,” said Gorynski, who said he plans to vote for Republican candidate John Catsimatidis for mayor. “[Eliot Spitzer] is a bigger disgrace. He broke the law. People went to jail for the same thing he did.”
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THE FIVE BOROUGH BALLOT
VAN DYKE HOUSES
BROWNSVILLE VOTERS WAITING, WATCHING, WARY BY JARRETT MURPHY Most in the crowd at a local festival say they’ll vote, but won’t pick a candidate until September. They’re skeptical of promises, concerned about character and doubtful that identity politics will carry Primary Day. The people of Brownsville came home on a recent Friday to a broad, sunny stretch of Linden Boulevard between the local recreation center and the rail yards. The annual “Reunion Night,” celebrating its 50th year, brought former neighborhood residents from as near as Queens or Harlem and as far as Virginia, Florida and Texas. There was a fish fry, and music by acts like Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes. Linden Boulevard was ceremonially renamed for Greg “Jocko” Jackson, a beloved community leader who died last year. And unsurprisingly—with a good crowd on hand and less than two months to go until the primary election—local politics made an appearance as well. District Attorney Charles Hynes worked the dinner line as his opponent, Ken Thompson, arrived to do the same. Friendly teenagers sought names and numbers of potential volunteers for Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign. In the line for dinner, which snaked slowly but patiently around the side of the rec center, some residents said the mayor’s race wasn’t on their minds. “I can’t give any information about that,” one woman in her 30s, who declined to give her name, said politely. “I don’t know who’s running now.” Shaundel, a 35-year-old father of four who declined to give his last name, said he couldn’t vote because he’s “in the [criminal justice] system,” but made it clear that even if he could, he wasn’t sure that the ballot box was what mattered. Shaking his head at a few people trying to cut into the dinner line, he said, “When we start caring about each other, something will change.” But Joe Petty, wearing a broad smile and a biker jacket, said that while he was undecided about whom he’d support—he usually doesn’t choose until the final week before an election, he said—he was sure he would vote. “I always vote,” said Petty, for whom public safety issues loom large. “I just look to anyone who leans that way—quality of life, holding it together. Then I make my choice.” An unscientific sampling of the crowd on Reunion Night found Petty’s position to be the most common: committed to 8
AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
voting but not to a candidate—yet. that black voters feel much more strongly “When September comes,” said Ann about their preferred candidate than other Murrell as she sat in a lawn chair eyeing groups, with 50 percent of African-Amercampaign literature and waiting for the icans saying they “strongly support” their music to start, “then I’ll make up my pick, compared with 41 percent of Latinos mind.” and only 31 percent of whites. Some of those who had traveled from Over the past six months, no one other states said Reunion Night was an interviewed for this series in Brownsevent they attended every single year. In ville—which is 75 percent black, the the middle of the action, lashed to a ball- highest proportion of African-Americans field fence, were pictures of Brownsville of any community board in the city—has back in the day—not the 1920s, when it expressed any more enthusiasm about was a hotbed of Jewish socialism, but the Thompson than about any other candi1960s, when black-owned businesses like date. Ebony Sporting Goods and Floogies bar “Does it make a difference?” asked anchored the neighborhood. 58-year Brownsville resident Brother “Nobody came to Brownsville unless Ceville, eyeing Reunion Night through you were invited,” James “Mo” Johnson sunglasses as he repeated a reporter’s recalled, pointing with pride to photos of question about whether race will matter in local guys the voting w h o s e booth. “Yes t o u g h and no.” “I always hear people talk ness, he Speaking about the middle class, never says, was not about about the poor. We need legendary. Thompson But if but generprograms other than Brownsally, he basketball and football.” ville was a d d e d , cold to “Because outsiders, you have within the neighborhood everyone inter- some people who look like me who don’t sected as family: blacks, Jews, Irish and care about our people. You feel me? If Italians. “Racism was probably there, but you’re talking it but you ain’t walking it, we didn’t know it,” Johnson insisted. what’s it mean?” Nearby, Jackie Trevino sold T-shirts Denise Williams, who has lived at the denouncing racial profiling. Between Van Dyke Houses in Brownsville for 30 sales, Trevino said she plans to vote—”I years, agreed with Ceville. Reached by vote every year”—but is undecided. She phone, she said her neighbors aren’t going evaluates candidates based on what they to vote for Thompson just because he’s say they will do, not what they have or black. “I don’t think race has anything to haven’t done. “They can have negative do with it,” she concluded. things about them, it don’t matter to me,” As for her personal opinion of she said. Thompson, “He’s okay.” was all Williams She even has praise for Bloomberg. would say. Though she has not made up “He’s pretty cool, I think,” she said. While her mind about whom to vote for, she she does feel he “gets in people’s busi- added that she wouldn’t reveal her choice ness,” she notes, “The city is calm.” even when she does make it. Noting that it Pro-Bloomberg sentiment is rare in was not unusual for her to be undecided Brownsville, where only 15 percent of this late in the game, she said, “I like to voters supported the mayor in 2009. Bill hear everything and see what each candiThompson took 84 percent of that year’s date offers.” vote in the district, roughly in line with its One candidate she definitely won’t be 82 percent Democratic registration. voting for is Weiner. Citing the need for a In 2013 Thompson’s ability to capture a mayor to be a role model, she said: “One majority of the black vote will be tested in time is fine, but I mean, come on.” As for places like Brownsville. Pundits insist the polls showing Weiner with substantial former comptroller, who has amassed a support in the black community, she said, solid string of endorsements, will eventu- “I guess he’s open. And he’s not afraid to ally benefit from identity politics. But polls tell what he did, to apologize.” But in the show Thompson more or less splitting end, she believes, “I don’t think they’ll vote the black vote with former Rep. Anthony for him.” Weiner and City Council Speaker Christine While turnout in the 55th Assembly Quinn. The latest Marist poll also shows District, which includes Brownsville, was
21 percent in the 2009 general mayoral election—below the 28 percent citywide turnout—Williams insisted that her neighbors were tuned in to this year’s race. “Of course,” she said. “Yes, yes. We vote out here.” There might be little buzz in late July, but come 4:30 p.m. on Primary Day, she promised, the voting site at the Van Dyke Senior Center would be packed. Williams has been involved in efforts by East Brooklyn Congregations to elevate the needs of NYCHA residents—who comprise a city within New York City of some 500,000 people—in the mayoral race. “I hope that whoever becomes the next mayor does the right thing in terms of using that money they have for repairs,” Williams said. Her refrigerator is broken and the electrical system struggles to feed appliances on hot days. “The grounds used to be kept. Now there’s garbage and everything. The elevators—we have urine in them, and garbage,” she said. “When it rained heavily, it rained in the elevator,” she said, until recent repairs. Williams likes the fact that four of the mayoral candidates (Thompson, Weiner, Quinn and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio) recently spent a night at NYCHA’s Lincoln Houses “because they can see what it’s like to live in NYCHA housing. Maybe they’d see roaches. Maybe they’d hear gunshots.” Beyond their addressing NYCHA’s needs, she is evaluating the mayoral hopefuls with an emphasis on the person more than policy. “Their character,” she said. “As long as they’re a family man. Their religion. As long as they’re going to be for the people and not for themselves.” What can the next mayor do to help Brownsville? “What the people are asking for,” Williams said. “They need to come out here and look and see.” At Reunion Night, some voters had more specific ideas. Stephen Taylor, a registered independent, says providing employment options for young people is a pressing need—not just so kids have money in their pockets, either. “We’ve got to get them into the mainstream of thinking, language,” he said. “This community has been so alienated. Unless we do something to let people—literally—communicate,” said Taylor, he sees little chance for progress. For his part, Ceville is looking to hear language on the campaign trail that includes people like him. “I always hear people talk about the middle class, never about the poor,” he said. For Brownsville, he added, “We need programs other than basketball and football. Classes for the family, to teach them to love themselves.”
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cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
The SLUSH FUND Legacy And The Future
of Member Items
By NICK POWELL
Given her current standing as a leading candidate to be New York City’s next mayor, it’s hard to believe that five years ago City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s political future was on life support. In April 2008 the New York Post reported that Quinn and her staff in the Speaker’s office had hidden millions of taxpayer dollars by allocating grants to a “slush fund” with phantom organizations, alleging that Quinn would later use the money to dole out political favors. The day the scandal broke Quinn spent nearly an hour at a press conference facing down a throng of reporters ready to pounce on any inconsistencies in her side of the story. The tabloids plastered Quinn’s image on the front page, holding her up as a symbol of the Council’s dysfunction and corruption. The fictitious organizations mentioned in the investigation, such as the “Coalition of Informed Individuals” and the “American Association of Concerned Veterans,” became running punch lines in New York City political circles. In a lengthy New York magazine piece published a month after the scandal broke, Quinn, at the time mentioned as a potential 2009 mayoral candidate, openly questioned whether she would have to put aside any future ambitions as a result of the mushrooming scandal. “I ran the story over and over in my head: What’s this going to mean? Will I be able to do this? Will I be able to do that? And it was making me sick,” Quinn told New York magazine. The Council’s annual practice of handing out discretionary funds (commonly known as “member items”) to nonprofit organizations and other local groups has long been a point of contentious debate, both within city 10
AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
government and among good-government organizations, with some saying the process is ripe for corruption and abuse and others arguing that member items is the only real mechanism for funding organizations that provide vital community services. Each member of the Council receives an amount of discretionary funds each year that go toward “local initiatives”— i.e. nonprofit and community-based organizations—with the exact amount determined by various factors but never less than $80,000 per district. The scandal shone a bright light on a previously shadowy process, where the Council played fast and loose with discretionary funds and members informally requested money, sometimes directly coordinating with those government agencies distributing the funds. There was very little, if any, vetting of the groups vying for funding, and a general lack of oversight of the process. Certain Council members blatantly ignored conflicts of interest, steering member item funds to nonprofits or charities that employed friends or relatives, or using the system to line their own pockets and enhance their political standing. So with pressure mounting and her political life hanging in the balance, Quinn decided to finish what she had started when she was first elected Speaker in 2006: revamp the way discretionary funds would be handed out in the foreseeable future. Quinn instituted several reforms to provide greater transparency and accountability to the process—notably setting up an online searchable database so that the public could see which groups and organizations apply for money, which districts the money was allocated to, and how the
money was spent. Both prior to the slush fund scandal and after revamping the discretionary funding process, however, according to multiple current and former Council members, Quinn highly politicized the distribution of these funds. These Council members say that the Speaker plays favorites, especially with regard to money allocated from the “Speaker’s list”—the pot of money controlled by Quinn, which is used to fund organizations that provide services that exceed the amount an individual member can fund, or that serves a larger geographical area than a single Council district. Much of the Speaker’s power lies in the doling out of these funds. It is one area conspicuously ignored in the reforms instituted by Quinn. “This is the real problem,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York: “that this taxpayer money is used to punish or reward on a political basis. That’s true within the districts as well—and it’s not just the Speaker, and it’s not just this Speaker. This Speaker just seems to have engaged in it to a larger degree than others.” The Speaker’s office declined to make Quinn available to be interviewed for this story. Questions were instead posed to Council Communications Director Jamie McShane who responded via email. McShane wrote that Quinn established “rigorous oversight” and transparency mechanisms in how the Council funds local community groups. He also wrote that the safeguards put in place allows more thorough vetting of funding decisions to ensure the money is used for the purposes it was designated for. “Speaker Quinn enacted unprecedented and far-reaching reforms to the
discretionary funding process,” McShane wrote. “After Chris became speaker and there was the accusation of misuse of member items, she conducted a top to bottom review and contacted authorities when she found irregularities.”
THE SLUSH FUND Viewing the evolution of the member items process in hindsight, it is easy to critique Christine Quinn’s alleged discovery of the “slush fund”—the parking of reserve discretionary fund money under fictitious groups and organizations. But this reserve account originally had less politically driven intentions. The account was established by the first City Council Speaker Peter Vallone Sr. in the late 1980s, according to multiple sources and previously published reports, as a sort of emergency fund, a means for the Council to maintain some measure of control over the budget process, which historically is dictated by the mayor. The Council included “holding codes” in its discretionary budget—appropriations with names corresponding to the agencies for which the money was originally designated that could later be used midyear to plug holes and correct errors in the municipal budget. The Department for the Aging, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Department of Youth and Community Development each had one of these accounts that, reports indicate, totaled roughly $500,000. “There would be holes [in the budget], then you would go through budget modifications to fill those holes and [the
reserve fund] was the funding that was set aside,” said Sal Albanese, who was a councilman from 1983 to 1998 and is also a Democratic candidate for mayor. “Vallone was probably better at [using the money for its intended purpose] than [former speaker Gifford] Miller and Quinn.” It was under Miller, elected Speaker in 2002, that the account evolved from an innocuous “rainy day” fund meant to cut through government bureaucracy to the infamous slush fund that it would become, sources say. What was once only a few accounts became dozens, and the roughly $500,000 previously stored for emergencies ballooned into the millions, with the money hidden under phony organizations. The Village Voice reported that by 2005, after Miller had left office, the accounts held $9.8 million, allotted to 21 fake organizations. Vallone Sr. and Miller did not respond to requests for comment. A former housing organizer who had earned her political chops working under former Manhattan Councilman Tom Duane before successfully running for City Council in 1999, Quinn had fashioned herself as a politician in the good-government mold. She was and is regarded as a savvy backroom politician, a leader who knows which buttons to push to move her agenda forward and get legislators on her side, one with the pugnacity to push back against those who don’t fall in line. “Chris does sort of get a raw deal on that because she didn’t create it; other people had done it before,” said one Council member. “The thing that made it outrageous was the made-up names part. If they just took money and said, ‘This is what we’re holding aside to see
what comes up during the year,’ I think they would have been okay.” There are varying stories as to how much Quinn knew of the account before the New York Post broke the story about the slush fund scandal in April of 2008. The Speaker’s office maintains that Sullivan & Cromwell, a law firm retained by the Council after investigators began looking into the its finances in 2007, tipped Quinn off to the fictitious organizations in these holding accounts, information she then immediately relayed to the Department of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. These investigations would indictments of Council members Larry Seabrook and Miguel Martinez and two aides of former Councilman Kendall Stewart for stealing taxpayer dollars from Council-funded cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
COVER nonprofits. The practice of using nonprofits as means to enrich Council members and employ friends or relatives was not unusual, according to Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who said he was pressured to do so not long after he took office in 2002. “When I was elected, elected officials from Albany, and folks who weren’t electeds would come up to me and give me advice and say, ‘The first thing you have to do is start your own nonprofit, you put your people in it, your staff members there,’ ” Vallone Jr. said. “And these were not sleazy people. This is still going on today, and it’s the accepted way to do it. Still wrong, but it was just part of the establishment: You control it, you give it money, and it’s an arm of your office.” During budget meetings in May and June of 2007 Quinn, whom the Council elected Speaker in 2006, ordered her staff to stop using the holding codes for reserve funds, reports from that time indicate. But according to the Post, the budget set aside $4.7 million in 2007 and 2008 for 30 fake organizations, with the money used “at Quinn’s discretion to reward groups that were loyal to her and to fund favored council members’ pet projects.” Staci Emanuel and Mike Keogh, two top finance staffers in the Council, were dismissed after it was discovered that this practice continued, with no further details provided. McShane declined to give a reason for Keogh and Emanuel’s dismissal, citing the Council’s policy on not commenting on personnel matters. Keogh’s landing was a relatively soft one; he currently works as a lobbyist with the firm Bolton St. John’s, which also employs Emily Giske, a close friend of Quinn’s. Emanuel declined to comment for this story, while Keogh did not respond for comment. At the time the story broke, Quinn insisted that that all of the money under contention was used for legitimate purposes. In the New York magazine story, however, Quinn admitted that having the “slush fund” as another means of funding initiatives gave her a political advantage. “Did I think, as a speaker, having the
[reserve] money to give out through the year might give me political leverage? Of course I did,” Quinn told the magazine. She would later be cleared of any wrongdoing by federal investigators. Steve Peikin, a lawyer representing Quinn in the case told the Post in 2011 that the U.S. Attorney’s office had informed them that the slush fund investigation was closed without taking any action against the Speaker. Still, the Council has reportedly spent over $500,000 on legal fees defending the case. A Freedom of Information request was placed to the city comptroller’s office two weeks ago requesting documentation of all legal contracts and work product from the investigation. The request has yet to be acknowledged. The Speaker’s office asserts that Quinn “inherited” the slush fund debacle from previous leadership, and that rather than completely overhaul the system—which she would propose a week after the slush fund story broke—Quinn decided to take a more piecemeal approach.
submitted according to these terms. For the first time the Schedule C form, which lists the organizations that apply for Council discretionary funds, as well as the Council sponsor and the amount and purpose for the funding, were made public. Applications and allocations for member items funding are now searchable through the Council’s website. Council members were also required to declare potential conflicts of interest with organizations that lobby them for discretionary funds. In the wake of the slush fund revelations, Quinn quickly implemented the discretionary funds process that currently stands. Sources with knowledge of the scandal say that not long after the Post broke the story, Quinn huddled with
sources, this proposal was overwhelmingly defeated in the Council, 48–3, with most members not wanting to give the mayor’s office any control over the member items process. Others say that Quinn would have likely lost her leadership position if she had pushed this through, given that her support in the Council was on shaky ground at the time. “There was a fair amount of backlash,” said a source with knowledge of the RFP proposal. “My understanding of that is it was basically she wasn’t the actual choice of the Council; this was a way of reining her in.” In other words, just because they had voted her in didn’t mean they were going to let her do whatever she wanted. When asked why the RFP proposal was
QUINN’S REFORMS Under Miller, according to a source, the process for applying for member items had been akin to writing the names of organizations down and handing them directly to the Speaker, with few checks on whether or not the requested groups were legitimate. “My recollection is that it was a lot simpler, wasn’t that level of control or Speaker domination,” said a Council source, who asked to be quoted anonymously so as not to jeopardize his job. “You give your list, it gets approved. I don’t remember anyone ever getting called to the Speaker’s office about member items under Gifford.” Shortly after winning election as Speaker, Quinn took steps to make this discretionary funds process more transparent. Her efforts began with establishing terms and conditions for the budget— stating that no city agency or department would receive funding unless they
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, shown here in 2008, faced a threat to her political career when the slush fund scandal broke. (Photo: AP/Frank Franklin II)
fellow Council members David Yassky and Daniel Garodnick to come up with a merit-based “Request for Proposals” process that would replace the discretionary funds traditionally allocated by the Speaker. Under this plan, the Speaker would establish broad funding priorities, and groups would compete for the money under a process overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. According to
not part of the larger package of reforms Quinn put in place, McShane wrote in an email that smaller organizations don’t have the resources to compete in an RFP process. He added that a successful RFP requires a level playing field for applicants and that given the nature of the member items system, the proposal “simply wouldn’t be possible.” McShane was also asked whether
Member Items Timeline 1986
Queens Councilman Peter Vallone is elected as the first Speaker of the City Council.
The Supreme Court declares the New York City Board of Estimate unconstitutional on grounds that the city’s most populous borough, Brooklyn has no greater effective representation on the board than the city’s least populous borough, Staten Island.
New York City charter is rewritten, abolishing the Board of Estimate, and giving the Council full power over its responsibilities, including land use and the municipal budget. The number of Council members was increased from 35 to 51 members.
1988 The Council begins setting aside small amounts of municipal budget cash for a reserve fund to correct errors or emergencies during the fiscal year.
AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Gifford Miller is unanimously elected
Councilman Kendall Stewart.
Christine Quinn is elected Speaker of the City Council.
Speaker of the City Council.
Records show that Miller and his staff had concocted 21 phony organizations over four years and directed $9.8 million in member items their way.
The Department of Investigation and US attorney launch probe of a member items allocation to Donna Reid Memorial Foundation by
“THIS $$ IS HERS FOR THE FAKING” The New York Post discloses probe and expansion of investigation to include the Council’s “slush
COVER Quinn was at risk of losing her leadership position. He wrote: “Chris Quinn has never been afraid to take tough positions and sometimes unpopular ones.” Quinn proposed several reforms that were widely praised by several goodgovernment groups, which would be fully implemented in 2010. Among these was a more thorough vetting of organizations that apply for Council expense funding. These groups must now by cleared by the City Council and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services before receiving any funding, and the review of these groups is extensive. Organizations and nonprofits must submit all charitable filings, IRS status, prior funding sources and potential conflicts of interest, among other aspects of background checks. A similar review process is required for groups applying for capital funds with the mayor’s Office of Management and Budget. Additionally, all organizations seeking member items funding must explain how the funds will benefit the public. Newly created nonprofit organizations are limited to $15,000 in total annual funding and a maximum of $7,500 per Council member. Quinn also put in place a compliance officer that oversees the discretionary funding program for the Council, assesses risks, audits and develops policies to ensure that the Council is in compliance with all of the numerous rules and procedures. The new procedure also implemented a mechanism to replace what the “slush” fund was originally intended for. In order to designate budget funds, and make changes or corrections to previous designations, members must submit transparency resolutions, explaining in detail what the funding is intended for, to be approved by the Council’s Finance Committee and then voted on by the entire Council. Still, some Council members believe the process is almost too stringent, unintentionally weeding out new, smaller organizations hoping to apply for money. “It’s a delicate balance; in any situation the more bureaucracy that’s there, it creates hurdles for grassroots organizations who don’t have the infrastructure
to jump through all of those hoops,” said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. In his written responses, McShane said that the member items process is rigorous and should be because taxpayer funds are being allocated. “This is the price of good government,” he wrote. “Because the funds are discretionary, they must meet an even higher standard of scrutiny.” In a report by Crain’s Insider released after the recent indictment of Councilman Dan Halloran on bribery charges, Dick Dadey, president of the good-government watchdog Citizens Union said that because of Quinn’s reforms, Halloran could not have actually moved forward with his promise to allocate $80,000 in member items to a company controlled by an undercover FBI agent in exchange for kickbacks. “The recent reforms to the process would have prevented that money from being spent the way [Halloran] wanted it,” Dadey told Crain’s Insider. But the system remains far from perfect. As recently as last year, Councilman Ruben Wills was stripped of his legislative power for pleading the Fifth regarding member items money he gave to a nonprofit organization on whose board of directors he serves.
“In any situation the more bureaucracy that’s there, it creates hurdles for grassroots organizations who don’t have the infrastructure to jump through all of those hoops.”
fund”, with $4.7 million in taxpayer dollars set aside in 2007 and 2008 for 30 fake organizations.
searchable database of all funding requests and strengthening requirements for local initiatives.
Fiscal year 2008
Christine Quinn announces a comprehensive overhaul of the Council’s budget allocation process, including setting up a
$47.8 million in member items is directed to nonprofit groups by City Council members. June 2009 – Two aides of Kendall Stewart
THE SPEAKER’S WRATH Despite the reforms Quinn put in place, there are still areas of the member items process that good-government advocates and current and former Council members find unsatisfactory—specifically, the perception that the Speaker uses her pot of discretionary funds as means to “punish” or “reward” certain members. In July 2011 the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer issued a report on reforming member items in New York City. The report analyzed member items’ distribution in fiscal year 2012 and found significant disparities in member item allocations across the city’s Council districts. Councilman Domenic Recchia, an ally of Quinn’s, received the largest number of member items from the Speaker, for instance—$1,630,064. One of Quinn’s most vocal detractors, Councilman Charles Barron, received the thirdlowest allocation, $399,464. The report also found geographic “fault lines” in member items’ distribution between districts that border one another. Councilman Lew Fidler was awarded the second-highest amount of discretionary funds from Quinn, receiving $1,235,464, while Councilman Jumaane Williams, whose district abuts Fidler’s, received a mere $471,464, despite his constituents having “a much lower median household income.” A spokesman for Quinn disputed the notion that she plays favorites with member items, pointing to data that shows that only five Council members who endorsed Quinn for mayor, Jimmy Van Bramer, Julissa Ferreras, Rosie Mendez, Annabel Palma, and Maria Carmen del Arroyo saw their allocation from Quinn rise above the average amount of deviation from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal year 2014. Four others who endorsed Quinn, Recchia, Joel Rivera, Inez Dickens and Diana Reyna saw a below-average change in their allocation from fiscal year 2013 to 2014.
November 2009 Kendall Stewart loses re-election.
October 2010 plead guilty to stealing $145,000 from the Donna Reid fund.
July 2009 Councilman Miguel Martinez admits
that he stole more than $100,000 from nonprofits funded by member items, one of which employed his sister.
Former councilman Hiram Monserrate is indicted on federal corruption charges alleging that he used workers from a nonprofit which he gave discretionary
Multiple Council sources also suggest that Quinn used the slush fund scandal to inoculate herself from any scrutiny regarding her discretionary pot. “All she did was use slush fund scandal to give herself more control,” said a Council source who declined to be named for fear of political retribution. “It’s par for the course, but really astounding. She sells it as if it’s an accomplishment—it’s so twisted, almost Orwellian, that she can claim that she reformed the process under her watch.” Quinn’s spokesman disagreed. “The facts speak for themselves as do the statements of Citizens Union, Common Cause and other good government groups who applauded the reforms Speaker Quinn put in place to overhaul the member item process, bringing the same level of scrutiny and transparency to the allocation of all council funds,” McShane said. Another Council source raised the question of who has oversight of the Speaker’s office when it comes to handing out member items. He pointed to a recent Post report that found that since 2007 Quinn has given more than $130,000 in discretionary funds to a private park, Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, seemingly a violation of Council regulations against giving member items to private entities. The park resides in the district of Van Bramer, widely considered to be a Quinn ally. “It’s the Speaker’s money. They can’t stop the Speaker; they can do a good job of making us run through hoops, but no one’s watching their boss, and she’s still got her favorites—and she can go and give money to a group in violation of her own laws,” the source said. McShane disputed the notion that Quinn is not subject to the same level of oversight as the rest of the Council with regard to dispensing member items. “The facts speak for themselves as do the statements of Citizens Union, Common Cause and other good government groups who applauded the reforms Speaker Quinn put in place to overhaul the member item process, bringing the same level of scrutiny and transparency to the allocation of all council funds,” McShane
funding, to do campaign work for him in his 2006 bid for the state Senate.
for a series of scams involving $1.2 million in member items funding.
December 2010 Miguel Martinez sentenced to five years in federal prison.
February 2010 Councilman Larry Seabrook is indicted
January 2013 Larry Seabrook is sentenced to five years in prison.
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
COVER wrote in an email. State Sen. Tony Avella, a former councilman, often found himself on the Speaker’s bad side because of his outspoken behavior in the Council. Avella said Quinn used member items allocations to punish him so many times that he threatened a lawsuit. “She would use the discretionary funds, both capital and expense, as a way to punish people. No question about it. In fact, at one point I did speak to her staff, that if I didn’t get a decent amount of capital funds, if she really tried to punish me, I would sue her. And then they sort of backed off a little,” Avella said. McShane claims that the speaker never received such a threat, and noted that while his member items were cut from $130,000 to $80,000 from 2007 to 2008, Avella’s member items remained at that level until he left the Council in 2009. Some Council members said that “punishing” her membership through discretionary funds is not unique to Quinn. Peter Vallone Sr. would use similar tactics when he was in charge, according to Albanese. Miller cut member items funds for anyone who voted in favor of the still much-debated marine waste transfer station on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which he opposed, according to Avella and other former Council members. Critics of the member items system have also suggested that there are still subtle ways that the process can be corrupted, primarily by leveraging member items funding into campaign support. A Daily News article in June reported that 14 organizations who received discretionary funds from the speaker’s list had given or raised $210,000 in support of Quinn’s mayoral campaign.
THE NEXT SPEAKER What might the future hold for the member items process? Much of that will depend on which Council member is holding the gavel and a new Council’s appetite for change. But it’s safe to say such new electeds will have many interested parties whispering in their ears about going further than Quinn’s reforms of discretionary funding, while others may want to keep the system unchanged. “There’s a continuum of things which can be done to make this process more responsive to community needs, and more transparent,” said Common Cause New York’s Lerner. “What we’re hoping to do is to encourage more Council members to grapple with these problems within their districts, and for the new Council president to deal with a more equitable distribution of funding between the districts.” Some will surely push for eliminating member items altogether. In the 2011 report commissioned by his office, Stringer recommends replacing member 14
AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Councilman Jimmy Vacca
Councilman Mark Weprin
Councilwoman Melissa MarkViverito
Councilwoman Dan Garodnick
Councilwoman Inez Dickens
items with community grants distributed by mayoral agencies, with a baseline allocation in the municipal budget that guarantees support for nonprofit service providers each year. Stringer’s plan would allow elected officials, community leaders, and stakeholders weigh in on the needs within respective Council districts. Citizens Union, in a similar report on member items released in May 2012, recommends that Council members still receive their own discretionary funds, but under a different process. The report suggests that all capital funding should be awarded to individual Council members using an agreed-upon formula that takes into consideration socioeconomic indicators, among other objective considerations. At least five Council members have been floated as Speaker candidates, contingent on their being re-elected this fall: Manhattan Council members Inez Dickens, Dan Garodnick, and Melissa Mark-Viverito, Bronx Councilman Jimmy Vacca and Queens Councilman Mark Weprin. Running the gamut from consensus builders to political establishment types to progressive, reform-minded legislators, each would bring distinctive personalities to the table. Garodnick and Weprin declined to comment for this story. None of the other prospective candidates favor eliminating member items altogether, but all said they would take different approaches to improving the system. Dickens, who believes “transparency is good” with regard to member item funding, favors keeping things relatively unchanged from the present discretionary funds system in place. “No one knows a district like the person that lives in that area, that meets with the residents of that area, the business owners of that area,” Dickens said. “Who would know those groups better than me, and who would know whether they’re actually doing the work?” Dickens runs an educational workshop for groups in her district that want to apply for member item money, to help them better navigate the process, especially smaller organizations. Should she assume the leadership position, she would be open to continuing such programs, she said. Vacca would “evaluate” the current system in place, he said, although he generally felt that the changes that had been made to the system were “positive ones.” Asked if he felt the system was still open to abuse, he said that corrupt elected officials would always find a way to game the system, with or without safeguards. “Member items or no member items, if you have a public official that’s dishonest, they’re going to find a way to be dishonest,” Vacca said. “If it’s not one thing, it will be another. We’re seeing that in this day and age, but this is not the only vehicle where a dishonest person could surface.” Asked if it was healthy for so much of
the distribution power of member items to lie with the Council Speaker, Vacca said, “There is an argument to be made [that the Speaker should retain power over discretionary funds. Especially in New York City where you have a city charter, where you have a mayor who is very powerful versus the legislative body—therefore I do see the value in that, but I think it’s a power that you have to use in a sensitive way.” Mark-Viverito, who notes that her heavily minority, “historically disenfranchised” constituency is dependent on support from the types of communitybased organizations that receive discretionary funds, approached continuing the system in place from a different perspective. One of the Council members who utilizes the participatory budgeting, MarkViverito expressed interest in expanding such a funding system should she become Speaker. Participatory budgeting is a method currently used by eight different Council members as a way to promote civic engagement in the community. Participating districts receive at least $1 million of their Council members’ discretionary funds; the process also allows the community to vote on projects they want funded. She would like to see the Council be more supportive of the participatory budgeting process, said Mark-Viverito, who proposed that a pot of money be created for a citywide process. “When [discretionary funds are] done responsibly, transparently, with accountability, that’s what I’m looking to do: maintain the member items process but look at ways that we can reform it,” Mark-Viverito said. “The idea of getting the institutional support from the Council as a body to really create a more uniform process [for participatory budgeting] that would be applicable at a citywide level, and those of us that are doing it would advocate for it too—that brings visibility and accountability.” Quinn’s approach to reforming member items after the slush fund scandal is an indelible part of her legacy. Whether out of political expediency or a genuine appetite for reform, she put in a more transparent process, improving discretionary funding from the informal wink, nod, and handshake approach under previous leadership. After all, Quinn was viewed as a prospective 2009 mayoral candidate, and at the time it was speculated that the scandal and ensuing investigation played a role in her decision not to run, a charge that her spokesman denied. Still, to many it remains an imperfect system subject to the whims of the Speaker’s office. Meanwhile, with the primary election looming in less than 40 days, Quinn has championed her legislative record as one that “speaks for itself.” It remains to be seen whether pointing to these reforms along with her other achievements in the Council will be enough to persuade the average voter to accept her side of the story.
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VITO LOPEZ AND RIDGEWOOD BUSHWICK HAD A MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL RELATIONSHIP FOR NEARLY THREE DECADES. CAN THEY SURVIVE WITHOUT EACH OTHER? BY AARON SHORT
he unforgiving sun beat down on former Assemblyman Vito Lopez and some 2,000 Brooklyn senior citizens milling about the picnic grounds on one of the hottest days of the year. Lopez clutched a plastic water bottle that he would soon empty and stood near a roped-off table, greeting a line of seniors waiting for their steaks to finish sizzling on the grills. “I love you, Vito!” one woman said, as she shook his hand. “I love you, too,” Vito said, smiling. The charity Lopez had founded brought the crowd to Sunken Meadow State Park, on the north shore of Long Island, in 40 air-conditioned coach buses for a relaxing day out of the city. Many of the seniors, predominantly Latino, Asian and African-American, live in public housing and frequent adult day care centers run by the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, and they are
colleague and collaborator, state Sen. Martin Dilan, is running his own candidate to replace Lopez in Albany instead of backing Lopez’s preferred choice, Maritza Davila. Lopez no longer talks with his political protégé, City Councilman Steve Levin. Now Lopez is seeking to extend his political career largely on the strength of name recognition in his former district. He is counting on the goodwill built up with thousands of seniors, families and youths that Ridgewood Bushwick has served for decades as well as nearly 2,000 of the charity’s employees. He may not get it.
no longer Lopez’s campaign treasurer. Cameron arrived at Ridgewood Bushwick far removed from the world of Brooklyn politics. A retired U.S. Army colonel with experience running complex nonprofit organizations, Cameron wasn’t looking to jumpstart a second career. He began consulting with the group’s nursing home, Buena Vida, in 2008 and stayed on when its director took a medical leave of absence and did not return. Two years later, when the city ordered the charity to replace its management as part of a corrective action plan, he became Ridgewood Bushwick’s chief operating officer.
will have wide-ranging effects on housing, social services and healthcare in North Brooklyn. They see health and home care and job training programs as the primary growth areas for the agency, particularly as Latino and Asian baby boomers living in Brooklyn reach an age where they need services. And there are plans to launch a development office—something the organization never had before—and hold regular fundraising events. The group took in $13.39 million in government contributions in 2011, but government funds for nonprofits nationwide are diminishing. Cameron acknowl-
James Cameron, Ridgewood Bushwick’s new chief executive officer, said the lack of candidates at the picnic was no coincidence. “I didn’t want any of my staff being seen as being political,” he said. “We didn’t
“I don’t want to be quoted about Vito. I am totally neutral on this election. We need to reach out and work with whoever wins that seat.” among the poorest elderly residents in the city. They have been coming to the annual picnic for the better part of a decade, thanks to the generosity of Ridgewood Bushwick and a handful of legislators loyal to Lopez who fund the picnic from their discretionary funds. The picnic also attracts a bevy of city and statewide candidates for public office. Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have made the pilgrimage to Sunken Meadow in past summers, as have John Liu, Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson and others, in order to meet the seniors and pay homage to the Brooklyn boss. A wide-open race for mayor and scores of City Council seats—including one that Lopez covets—should have attracted a fleet of pols. But today there was only Vito. A chasm opened this year between Lopez and New York’s political establishment in the wake of an explosive sexual harassment scandal that swallowed up his party chairmanship and Assembly seat. Some of his closest allies abandoned him. His successor as chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, Frank Seddio, endorsed a Lopez rival for City Council. His former 16
AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
invite the candidates, we didn’t invite everybody. We purposely wanted to make it a nonpolitical event because of the sensitivity of the situation.” Cameron wasn’t referring to Lopez’s harassment charges. He has been steadily rebuilding the charity’s reputation since city officials forced out its former CEO and Lopez’s campaign treasurer, Christiana Fisher, in 2012, after a damning Department of Investigation probe found sloppy accounting practices, unqualified board members, widespread mismanagement and fraud. Fisher made headlines for getting board members to boost her salary from $363,000 to $782,000 in 2009 and then misrepresenting the figure on the organization’s tax returns. Her colleague, Ridgewood Bushwick housing director and Lopez’s girlfriend, Angela Battaglia, also received a salary increase but was not charged with any wrongdoing. Last fall Fisher pleaded guilty to falsifying tax documents and received a year of probation in lieu of jail time. She has since disappeared from both the nonprofit and political worlds, refrained from contributing money to political campaigns and is
Former Assemblyman Vito Lopez received a warm welcome at Ridgewood Bushwick’s annual picnic in July. (Photo by Aaron Short)
So Cameron set about to steer the organization out of its titanic mess. He consolidated its accounting functions and developed a centralized budget. The charity’s total revenues are down about $500,000 from the previous year—from $19.1 million to $18.53 million, according to 2011 tax forms. The organization also cut spending by nearly $3 million, from $22.35 million to $19.17 million. And it is finally in compliance in its tax filings and with the city’s recommendations. “We have very good programs,” Cameron said. “[Investigators] tried to turn them upside down to find corruption, and they didn’t find any. The city and state know this a top-shelf agency and we work very closely with the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services.” Cameron and the new board of directors are developing a strategic plan for Ridgewood Bushwick this summer that
edges that the group must move away from relying on funds from agencies and elected officials. “We’re trying to establish that mission in the future and adapt to the changing needs of this community,” he said. “My mandate is to be politically neutral, and I am. That’s what my staff is instructed to do. As politicians are elected and re-elected, we will work with everyone.” But the neighborhood’s political upheaval and changing demographics have put the charity at a crossroads. Ridgewood Bushwick is developing a number of projects throughout North Brooklyn, but it can no longer afford to acquire lots in its own neighborhood because of rising property values. The agency reported about $2 million in revenue from program services, and another $1.2 million from management and development fees for its properties—
POLITICS income sources the agency should be able to maintain. But Ridgewood Bushwick has likely lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in projected revenue, thanks to a lawsuit over the rezoning of a 33-acre site in South Williamsburg that has stalled development of several buildings. Now its housing office is looking
But under Cameron, even before the sexual harassment scandal broke, Ridgewood Bushwick distanced itself from Lopez. “I don’t want to be quoted about Vito,” Cameron said. “I am totally neutral on this election. We need to reach out and work with whoever wins that seat.” In the past, politicians unfriendly to
James Cameron, Ridgewood Bushwick’s new CEO, has steered the organization away from politics. (Photo by Bess Adler)
at properties in East New York, Crown Heights and other farther-flung neighborhoods outside its traditional base. “Because of lack of city-owned land, we’re branching out to other areas,” said Maria Viera, a deputy director of Ridgewood Bushwick’s housing department. “We’re partnering with private developers to continue to develop mixed properties. We’re trying to talk with developers and convince them affordable housing is a desperate need.” Providing affordable housing has been a core of Ridgewood Bushwick’s mission, along with senior services, but the organization can no longer play offense against the neighborhood’s creeping gentrification. “The core mission is the same, to take care of people’s needs, but how do you articulate that?” Cameron asked. “If housing is satisfied, what do you do next? Do you go out of business, or do you pick up and try to solve other problems in the inner city? The poverty is moving, and we have to chase the poverty if we have to continue our mission. That’s what I’m interested in.” Politics is another matter. Under Christiana Fisher, Ridgewood Bushwick provided senior services—along with a receptive audience and an eager get-out-the-vote operation for its political patron. Lopez still speaks with affection about Ridgewood Bushwick’s success, calling Buena Vida the “best hospital in the region” and touting the group’s youth center for “doing wonderful work” at its annual picnic.
Lopez did not receive the same access to senior centers as Lopez allies, and were sometimes escorted from the premises if they arrived unannounced. Councilwoman Diana Reyna, a former ally who became one of Lopez’s staunchest enemies, said the organization prohibited her from visiting even though she had given the group discretionary funding. “I haven’t been able to visit seniors there since 2005,” she said. “They made my life a living hell.” Top Ridgewood Bushwick staff often encouraged workers to volunteer on campaigns. Some even ran for higher office themselves. But the policies at Ridgewood Bushwick are changing. Lopez’s City Council opponent Antonio Reynoso has visited several senior centers this summer without incident, and he may bring Lopez critics Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Reyna with him on future visits. Lopez himself has not yet made an official visit beyond the picnic. “I feel they have treated me well,” Reynoso said. “Everything they say they can do, they will do. They didn’t do anything to detour communications with the seniors.” Rank-and-file Ridgewood Bushwick staffers said the culture has been changing since Fisher left. They say that the pressure to volunteer for political campaigns is less intense than in previous years, and that they can focus on providing services instead of dealing with Lopez’s political drama. Cameron noted that the nonprofit does not allow any work on campaigns at any time, and that employees face disciplinary
action if they violate these policies. “People are free to work on campaigns after work,” he said. “This is America, but there’s zero tolerance during work hours.” A campaign source said that about two dozen Ridgewood Bushwick workers and former employees are involved in Lopez’s operation. Battaglia has taken a leave of absence from work this summer to manage Lopez’s campaign. And a handful of loyalists who gathered petitions for Lopez plan to work on the campaign through Election Day. “When we host meetings in public housing and on buildings in the south side, it’s easy for us to say, ‘Vito is running a campaign and we need help,’ ” Lopez treasurer Andy Marte said. “Is there some overlap between Ridgewood Bushwick people and community people? Sure.” Lopez foe Velázquez has noticed that Ridgewood Bushwick does not have the same presence in Lopez’s campaigns as in previous years. “I believe they are working very hard as the organization becomes more sensitive and responsible,” she said. “They know the whole world is watching. I’ve been told the message has been sent that people have to stay out. They cannot use the organization.” But Reyna believes the connection between the nonprofit and Lopez has become subtler. “I don’t think the nonprofit itself is the key, it’s how [Vito] leveraged the nonprofit to lure others in,” she said. “And Angela is still there. It’s the influence of being a supervisor and being charged with hiring and firing.” One Brooklyn political operative believes that Ridgewood Bushwick’s longtime managers will help out Lopez in the end. “Those people who have reaped the benefits from the organization and have lived in the community, they’re going to do what they have to do to maintain the status quo of what they have,” said the operative, who declined to be named. “Vito is still a district leader. Some of those people will
be at the polls, there’s no doubt.” What effect they will have on the outcome of the race is less clear. Lopez said he considers himself the underdog in the race, but Marte is confident his candidate will succeed this fall despite a rash of negative media coverage. “I haven’t heard one person say anything,” Marte said. “We went to a bunch of block parties, not one person mentioned it. If anything, you hear the other way around. ‘It’s all BS. It’s politics.’ That’s what people think.” If Lopez wins, Ridgewood Bushwick might receive an infusion of City Council cash. He told legislative colleagues earlier this year that one of the reasons he was exploring a run for City Council was that he could give out discretionary funding to groups in Bushwick, according to an Assembly source. Reynoso stopped short of saying that he would give Ridgewood Bushwick any Council funding. “We have to be very clear that those things are not happening any more before we can talk about any kind of funding [for Ridgewood Bushwick],” he said. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but right now I have to win.” Reynoso is playing hardball. He has battered Lopez in the media and has racked up a slew of endorsements, including Seddio, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and scores of unions and women’s organizations. Reynoso’s election lawyer moved to bump another rival, Tommy Torres, from the ballot due to a residency issue, and Torres may suspend his campaign as a result. Lopez, sensing that his career is winding down, often raises his legacy of accomplishments during the few times he has spoken in public. But thanks to the sordid details of a state ethics report, he has lost control of that legacy. Now Ridgewood Bushwick is beginning to contemplate life without Vito Lopez, whether he wants them to or not.
Senior citizens dance at the Diana H. Jones Senior Center in Bushwick during their lunch hour. (Photo by Bess Adler)
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
UNION MAN? GOP CONGRESSMAN MICHAEL GRIMM MAKES INROADS WITH LABOR
Rep. Michael Grimm (center left), with Geraldo Rivera and NYPD and FDNY members last fall. Grimm, a Republican, has made inroads among labor groups. (Source: Grimm Flickr page)
BY STEPHEN WITT The Democratic Party’s grip on organized labor remains strong in New York City. But as the two major political parties gear up for City Councilman Domenic Recchia’s challenge to Republican Staten Island congressman Michael Grimm, Grimm’s courtship of the unions has been paying dividends—both monetarily and politically. According to the website OpenSecrets. org , 91 percent of organized labor’s $141 million in campaign contributions went to Democrats across the country in 2012, compared with just 9 percent for GOP candidates. Twenty percent of Grimm’s political action committee contributions last year came from labor, however. So far in the 2013–14 election cycle, labor has upped their contributions to 32 percent of Grimm’s total, with building trades and transportation unions leading the way at $24,500 and $23,500, respectively. “Congressman Grimm has been a strong and reliable ally of working men and women in the unionized building trades, which is why he won our endorsement for re-election in 2012,” said Robert Barletta, spokesperson for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “He has built a solid record on [Superstorm] Sandy recovery, support for good wages and benefits on federally funded construction, and the rights of state and local governments in New York to collectively bargain with the unionized 18
AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
building trades to give taxpayers the best quality on public works projects while also saving millions of dollars.” While it’s still early in the endorsement cycle, Barletta noted that there were strong indications Grimm will again get the union’s support in 2014. Sam Nasca, the legislative director of the United Transportation Union, said that Grimm and Rep. Peter King, a Republican who has represented part of Long Island for two decades, both deserve high marks for their records on transportation issues, which have benefited union workers. “[Grimm] has supported federal funding from the Federal Transportation Administration for the Long Island Railroad and the Staten Island Railroad, and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that,” Nasca said While Grimm has been gaining labor support, it has come at the cost of bucking the Republican line on some votes. Grimm has supported of the 1931 Davis-Bacon provision, which ensures prevailing wages on federal construction projects, and cast several appropriation votes that included project labor agreements (PLAs) that the GOP rank-and-file had repeatedly tried to cut from the bill. Grimm, a former FBI agent and U.S. Marine, acknowledges receiving some heat from his House colleagues. But he said that he always prided himself on being his own man, noting that he grew up the son of a union roofer and that he was raised to believe in an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.
“Some Republicans come from areas that never dealt with unions and don’t see the benefit of a PLA, but we need to preserve skilled labor,” Grimm said. “Not everyone can be a lawyer, banker or doctor. To build the Freedom Tower [requires] a skill set that is uniquely American. We have the best workforce in the world, and to preserve that skill set workers should be properly compensated.” The bulk of Grimm’s labor support has come from working class unions, such as those representing operating engineers, painters or firefighters. One of them is the National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents employees of the U.S. Postal Service—a federal agency facing furloughs and downsizing while coming under sharp scrutiny for being inefficient. “There’s a simple fix to the Postal Service. It’s the only agency in the entire country to pre-fund their pension liability. If they stopped that, they wouldn’t have massive deficits,” Grimm said, adding the agency also needs to thin its management ranks. Some unions, such as the NYPD’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, stayed out of Grimm’s 2012 re-election win over Democrat Mark Murphy. The contest was one of the rare cases from which the AFL-CIO, which typically backs Democrats, abstained, reflecting a split among its members. Other influential unions, including the Hotel Trades Council, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, and District Council 37, supported Murphy.
In next year’s race, however, the endorsement of DC 37, the city’s largest municipal worker union, could be up for grabs. Wanda Williams, the union’s political action director, said the relationship between DC 37 and both Grimm and King has warmed up in the past two or three years, and that while historically backing Democrats, the organization does support Republicans every once in a while. “At the beginning [when Grimm was first elected], he didn’t want to discuss anything with us, but we’ve had an increasingly better relationship and accessibility in exchanges of ideas, even if you can’t agree on everything,” said Williams. Fifteen to 20 percent of the DC 37 membership is Republican, she noted. Williams gave good grades to both Grimm and King for their support on funding issues pertaining to Superstorm Sandy and its cleanup effort. She said that the union is also working with Grimm on immigration amid a standoff between the Senate and the GOP-controlled House over sweeping legislation that includes a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. “Richmond County has an increasing immigrant population, and the largest population of municipal union workers in the city,” said Williams, referring to the county that encompasses Staten Island. The district also includes southwestern Brooklyn, whose large union population includes police, firefighters, sanitation workers and teachers. Ashleigh Owens, a spokeswoman for Recchia, the Democrat who is raising money to challenge Grimm next year, called the congressman’s record on labor issues “mediocre and lackluster” and asserted that was no substitute for the real deal. “Domenic Recchia has an undeniably strong record of fighting for the middle class and hardworking families of New York City,” she said. “As chair of the City Council Finance Committee, Domenic has saved hundreds of union jobs during budget negotiations, fought for protections for union workers, led on important issues like prevailing wage and much more.” Come election time next year, Owens said, Recchia would be up for the battle to gain labor support—including the support of unions that backed Grimm in the last election. “In Congress, [Recchia] will continue to champion workers—and the unions who represent them—because he knows that whether it’s the police, firefighters, teachers, transit, or postal workers, union workers are the backbone of NY-11 and the entire city,” Owens said.
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
THE NEW AGENDA
THE NEW AGENDA
Steven Lawitts, DEP (right)
Gregorio Mayers, Bloomberg administration
(Photos by Filip Wolak)
Rev. Jacques De Graff
Angela Talton, Nielsen vice president
year ago in June, City & State hosted a groundbreaking forum that brought together leaders in business, policy and government to launch a conversation on the role of minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs) in the economy. The event, entitled “The New Agenda” and hosted by New York University’s Kimmel Center, brought together the 2013 candidates for New York City mayor for 20 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Alphonso David, deputy secretary for civil rights
the first time, and opened up a discussion about the challenges M/WBEs face and the steps government can take to assist them. Over the past year Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn came together to pass new legislation that allows M/WBE firms to secure much larger contracts from the city. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration continues to make progress toward its ambitious goal of having 20 percent of all state contracts go to M/WBEs.
And the conversation is still going on. In July, a select group of government officials, stakeholders and advocates gathered again to assess the M/WBE landscape and identify areas ripe for future growth. The event featured key city and state officials, as well as two driving forces in the M/WBE arena: Rev. Jacques Andre De Graff, first vice president of One Hundred Black Men; and Sandra Wilkin, chair emeritus of the Women Builders Council. The event’s steering committee also joined the discussion: Louis Coletti, pres-
Elizabeth Velez, the Velez Organization
ident and CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association; Denise Richardson, managing director of the General Contractors Association; Lawrence Roman, chair of WDF Inc.; Claire Scanlon, a vice president at BNY Mellon; Angela Talton, a senior vice president at Nielsen; and Elizabeth Velez, president of the Velez Organization. The following pages include the highlights from the July event.
THE NEW AGENDA
We value diversity in the workplace and in the marketplace. In building an increasingly diverse supplier pool, we are able to work toward our goal of offering priority suppliers real procurement opportunities as they arise. BNY Mellon is pleased to announce on-line registration. To register, visit www.bnymellon.com/suppliers select the Supplier Profile Form and follow the directions.
2009 Regional Corporation of the Year NY-NJ Minority Supplier Development Council
Diversity paints our world. ÂŠ2013 The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation.
As a leader in higher education and one of the cityâ€™s largest employers, NYU is committed to supporting the MWBEs and small businesses that make New York great.
Incubators. Partnerships. Student placements. Conferences. Networking events. Connections to the NYC SBS. Continuing education courses. All in the service of small business.
Learn more: visit www.nyu.edu today. cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
THE NEW AGENDA
MINORITY REPORT PROGRESS CITED FOR NEW YORK MINORITY- AND WOMEN-OWNED FIRMS, BUT OBSTACLES REMAIN
everal weeks after taking office in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order aimed at giving minority- and womenowned business enterprises (M/WBEs) access to more state projects and contracts. Since then M/WBE participation has grown from 9.2 percent of all state contracts to about 17 percent as of last December, a remarkable jump, but still below the governor’s ambitious target of 20 percent. To Alphonso David, the governor’s deputy secretary for civil rights, this is all part of the process of M/WBEs overcoming obstacles and garnering recognition and respect in the industry. “At the end of the day this is about economic opportunity … that leads to economic growth,” David said. “If an M/WBE firm is able to attain a state contract, in many instances they’re able to grow, and in some instances they’re able to stay in business.” David was one of a number of public officials and experts to speak at City & State’s “The New Agenda” event on July 16
22 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
BY MYLIQUE SUTTON at New York University’s Kimmel Center. He emphasized the governor’s support for M/WBEs, including Cuomo’s 2011 executive order, which also created an M/WBE team composed of business leaders, academics and members of the administration and cabinet. David said that the state’s participation rate has grown through working closely with various M/WBE firms. “That’s really significant … in an environment where the amount of dollars the state is spending is decreasing, the amount of dollars the state is spending on M/WBEs is increasing,” David said. “In the fiscal year 2011–2012 there was $7 billion in available dollars, of which $1.78 billion [in state contracts] went to M/WBE firms. That’s what 17 percent means.” Other attendees highlighted some of the continuing challenges around expanding M/WBE contracting. Louis Coletti, the president and CEO of Building Trades Employers’ Association, shared his concerns during a roundtable discussion that touched upon the state’s controversial Scaffold Law. New York is the only state in the country with such a law, which makes a project owner or contractor 100
percent liable for an injury suffered by a worker regardless of the circumstances under which the accident occurred. Coletti claimed the law would “destroy M/ WBEs” if it were not revised to allow a jury to determine fault based on its own discretion. “Every contractor doing business with [the NYC School Construction Authority] will have to go get their own general liability insurance. … [They] won’t be able to afford it,” Coletti said. His sentiments were echoed by Lorraine Grillo, the president of the New York City School Construction Authority, who said that the Scaffold Law was already having a profound effect on her agency, which has made M/WBE contracting an integral part of its operation. “This Scaffolding Law, if it is not repealed, puts our [M/WBE] program in danger,” Grillo said. “A couple of insurance companies were interested in our program. This year we’re lucky because we have one. Nobody wants to do that kind of business anymore under these circumstances, and I really, really caution all of you.” Sandra Wilkin, president of Bradford
Construction and chair emeritus of the Women Builders Council, said she is well aware of issues that insurance costs pose to small businesses, and wondered aloud if insurance is “that tsunami that’s going to wipe us all out.” To protect and expand opportunities for M/WBEs and other small businesses, Rev. Jacques De Graff called for a united effort to tackle the issues that plague the industry so that businesses can have a brighter future. “That’s a front page story in any newspaper, us working together, and I think that that is what this ‘New Agenda’ is all about, is to create new solutions to problems so we can all make some money together,” said De Graff, a proponent of expanding opportunities for M/WBE firms. The “New Agenda” conference was a prelude to creating the framework and momentum for the bigger conference on Sept. 24. De Graff said that he hopes the upcoming forum will lead to further solutions through an open and enlightened discussion. “We become experts at describing the problem, and minimalists at describing the cause of action to change it,” he said.
THE NEW AGENDA
LAYING DOWN THE LAW
new law that went into effect this summer could help businesses owned by women and minorities in New York City secure much larger government contracts. Local Law 1, which was signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in January and went into effect last month, does away with a $1 million cap on city contracts going to minority- and women-owned business enterprises, or M/WBEs. The $1 million cap had been imposed on eligible contracts by Local Law 129 in 2005. Gregorio Mayers, the Bloomberg administration’s senior advisor on M/WBE policy, said the new legislation improves and builds on the 2005 law. “Local Law 129 was a good law,” Mayers said during City & State’s latest “New Agenda” event. “The total amount of contract opportunities was about $3 billion. Up to last year there was over $500,000 in contract awards to M/WBEs, but … there are flaws with [the law], because it limited the cap. It said that M/WBEs could not participate in contracts over a million dollars.” He continued, “We know what it said
BY MYLIQUE SUTTON
Sandra Wilkin of the Women Builders Council (Photo by Filip Wolak)
about women—there were no goals, zero goals, zero goals set for women. So despite the fact that this law—many of you were able to benefit from it, structurally and from a legislative perspective and from a moral perspective and from a business policy sense—it didn’t make good sense
at all, good economic sense. And so we moved forward to make changes.” According to Mayers, Local Law 1 has raised the overall value of available contracts from $430 million to $2.2 billion. With the bidding process still in place, Mayers said that firms must be “willing, ready and able to go.” Another change brought about by the law makes Cas Holloway, the city’s deputy mayor for operations, the director of the program requiring the commissioners and their agencies to submit quarterly M/WBE reports. “We want to see your legalization analysis, we want to see what your numbers look like,” Mayers said. Mayers said he also worked with Louis Coletti, president and CEO of the Building Trades Employers’ Association, to addresses issues regarding online certification. Agency chiefs and contracting officers will now be given more details and information about a contractor, including capacity, insurance and bonding information. The new law also supports strategic partnerships and joint ventures with M/WBE firms, which can be used to satisfy participation goals.
Another key element of the effort is the city’s Compete to Win program, which Mayers said would help prepare M/WBEs to run a business by providing them with the tools and skills needed to overcome an array of challenges. “We invested $3.2 million into creating some capacity building programs … [and] another set of $15 million in designated contracts to get them started,” he said. The programs include technical assistance, lessons for bidding successfully and help with bonding. Sandra Wilkins, chair emeritus of Women Builders Council and president of Bradford Construction, said the new legislation is an “obviously positive change.” But she urged qualifying businesses to remain cautious. “Be careful for the gifts that one receives in terms of … the details of that legislation that we all have to be aware of,” Wilkins said at the event. “Knowing about it, how do we craft it and how do we navigate it? What’s that communication we need to … have with the city and the state in terms of making this work for everyone. Because there are many, many things that we need to make sure [of so] that we’re surefooted.”
85% OF CR AIN’S TOP 20 CONTR ACTORS ARE MEMBERS OF THE BUILDING TRADES EMPLOYERS’ ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK CITY Contractors Who Employ Today’s New Building Trades Union Apprentice Workforce — 72% Live in New York City and 65% are Minority / Women THE BUILDING TRADES EMPLOYERS’ ASSOCIATION: BUILDING A BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL NEW YORKERS Building Trades Employers’ Association | 1430 Broadway | Suite 1106 | New York, NY 10018 | 212.704.9745 | www.bteany.com cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
IN THE DARK WHY DIDN’T LAWMAKERS PASS SOLAR LEGISLATION— AND WILL THEY HAVE MORE LUCK NEXT YEAR? By MYLIQUE SUTTON
With major legislation to expand solar power stalling again in Albany this year, some New Yorkers are wondering when the solar industry will a brighter future. The state Senate and Assembly passed similar solar bills this past session, with the Assembly working closely with the governor’s office, but the two sides did not reach a compromise. Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, the chair of the Energy Committee, said that there was only one difference between the bills. However, working out the kinks proved to be more than a minor obstacle. “The Senate has tax credits and the Assembly bill doesn’t include that, and the governor’s office didn’t want us to include that, so that’s where we differed,” Paulin said. “They obviously believe that that would be an added incentive, and the governor and the Assembly believed that that wouldn’t make much difference.” State Sen. George Maziarz told the Legislative Gazette that “it was clear the Assembly was not going to negotiate” when they delayed passing legislation until the end of the session. “We had a much better version of the bill,” Maziarz told the Gazette, noting that states such as Massachusetts also included tax incentives. “We put the tax credit in order to incentivize businesses to come in.” The bill would have extended Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY-SUN Initiative, enacted as a temporary incentive program in 2011, through 2023 to provide longterm certainty for the solar industry and lower costs for customers. Currently the state is not among Amer24 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
ica’s top “Dazzling Dozen” solar-friendly states—a list that includes Massachusetts and New Jersey—according to a July report from the Environment New York Research and Policy Center. New York did rank tenth nationwide for new solar photovoltaic installations with 60 megawatts, increasing solar capacity by almost 35 percent to 175 megawatts last year. The state also invested $251 million, a 91 percent leap, to install solar on businesses and homes. Even with these improvements, New York is still lagging behind states like New Jersey, which had more than 971 megawatts of solar capacity.
willing to budge on the tax credit request, but they were asking for more from the Assembly in return. “At the end of the day, they tried to find a compromise urging the Assembly to pass [a liquefied natural gas] bill, and if the Assembly had done that, then they would have dropped that tax credit request, but they couldn’t get it together, so the legislation didn’t move,” Bystryn said in a Last Look video interview with City & State. The LNG bill would have created regulations to pave the way for such citing facilities in the state. “It’s important because the major fleets,
“I’m always disappointed when we don’t have an end product, but I feel very confident that we will.” “I think we would have seen more growth in the solar industry because of the confidence a long-term program would give business. We’re seeing growth, but we would have seen marginally a little bit more,” Paulin said. The tax credit was introduced in the Senate’s version of the bill, sponsored by Maziarz, to give businesses even more incentive, thus creating more local jobs for New Yorkers. According to Marcia Bystryn, the executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Senate was
UPS, Fed Express and so forth are now moving to natural gas because it’s cheaper. People have been urging it for a long time now; it’s cheaper, but the problem is fueling stations,” Bystryn said. “There are no fueling stations in New York; this would have allowed for that. It’s a fraught topic, obviously, because it has to do with natural gas, so a deal wasn’t struck.” Matt Nelligan, a spokesman for Maziarz, said that the Senate’s legislation to allow storage facilities for liquefied natural gas had been stalled in the Assembly, but said he was not sure how that affected the
negotiations over solar legislation. “In terms of how one impacted the other, I’m not sure, but clearly the Assembly completely missed the boat on cleaner air when they didn’t pass the liquefied natural gas bill,” he said. “This is a bill that would reduce diesel emissions in the state, which are significant contributors to asthma and other ailments … and liquefied natural gas is probably the cleanest transportation fuel you can get right now.” Nelligan said that despite the failure to reach a compromise this year, both houses came closer on solar power than ever before. “So the senator is still very optimistic that we can adopt a bill in the near future, the next session I would think,” he said. Paulin said she is optimistic that the tax credit issue could be resolved. “Tax credits are usually resolved during budget discussions, so if the Senate wants to continue to push for tax credits, then we probably need to resolve that during the budget [discussion],” she said. Bystryn is skeptical that the Assembly and the Senate will get the bill on Cuomo’s desk, and suggested that the governor may have to do what he can through his executive powers. But Paulin said that she has “absolute confidence” that it won’t slip through the cracks again. “I’m always disappointed when we don’t have an end product, but I feel very confident that we will,” Paulin said. “I would expect that we’re going to be in this three-way negotiation, and we’re going to get the bill done, and that the governor would sign it.”
STOPPING STOP-AND-FRISK QUOTAS
“It’s exactly the reverse of what they’re saying.”
By MICHAEL JOHNSON Mayor Michael Bloomberg has staunchly defended the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk amid charges of bias against blacks and Latinos, claiming that whites are actually being stopped too often, not minorities. “It’s exactly the reverse of what they’re saying,” Bloomberg said on his radio show in June, arguing that stop-and-frisk should be viewed in the context of who is suspected of committing murders or other violent crime. “I don’t know where they went to school, but they certainly didn’t take a math course or a logic course.” The mayor’s office also issued figures showing that 87 percent of people who were stopped and frisked in 2012 were black or Latino, while those two minority groups made up more than 90 percent of murder suspects that year. But a new report from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Race, Crime and Justice undercuts the Bloomberg administration’s argument. The report found that the vast majority of stops in the past two years—about 85 percent—were not made in response to a suspect description, and that 90 percent of those stopped were found to be doing
nothing wrong. According to the report, which is based on NYPD statistics, blacks and Latinos are 15 percent more likely to be frisked as a result of a stop than are whites, and they are also more likely to face the use of physical force by a police officer. “Overwhelmingly, innocent people are being targeted by stopand-frisk, and it’s one of the reasons why New Yorkers are complaining,” Dr. Delores Jones-Brown, the report’s lead author, said in a recent Last Look interview. “The mayor has said that the racial disparity can be explained away by criminal activity and by the fact that the officers are responding to the descriptions that they’re given by victims, and so the fact that 85 percent of stops do not involve a description means that that particular statement is not quite accurate.” The report, “Stop, Question & Frisk Policing Practices in New York City: A Primer,” was originally published in 2010, and updated this summer with crime statistics for 2012 and part of 2013. Jones-Brown said the figures show that minorities are being disproportionally targeted when it comes to police deciding who is potentially carrying a weapon and should be frisked. “The frisk is only legally permis-
sible on the assumption that there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is armed or otherwise dangerous,” she said. “What we find, however, is that most frisks in New York City only uncover small amounts of marijuana.” Jones-Brown also blasted what she claimed was a stop-and-frisk quota system, which the NYPD has repeatedly denied exists. She said quotas are leading to unfounded stops, and that she had heard from police officers that some of their colleagues are filling out falsified forms, or UF-250s, just to meet quotas. “I have taught police officers at the college for about 10 years in a special leadership program that we have,” she said, “and I can tell you that those officers say they feel under pressure to produce a certain number of UF-250s.” In early July New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said that his union members also feel that the NYPD needs to do away with quotas. “We have to stop the quota system,” he said in a Last Look interview. “Allow us to use the tool and use it constitutionally. Our members want to go out and do the job constitutionally. We don’t want to violate anyone’s civil rights.”
If you haven’t been keeping track, there are currently seven Democrats running for mayor, three Republicans, one Independence Party candidate and various other candidates looking to get on the ballot on a third party line. Over the past two weeks, we sat down with two candidates in this crowded field—Republican George McDonald (pictured above), the founder of the Doe Fund, and third party candidate and tech entrepreneur Jack Hidary (below, right). Both candidates stressed the importance of job creation. McDonald made the case that the best way to reduce crime is to help the poor get jobs. He touted his work at the Doe Fund helping the homeless find employment as the key selling point of his campaign. “I am running on a platform of full employment because I think a job solves a whole host of other societal problems and issues that we have,” McDonald said. “I know we can do this because I have spent the past 25 years actually doing it. … So anybody that’s looking for a record of accomplishment or achievement of getting people at the bottom jobs—I have it.”
Hidary touted his experience in the private sector and his work for nonprofits in making his case to be the next mayor. He proposed the use of state-of-the-art technology to solve many of the city’s problems—including use of shot-spotter microphones on buildings to track gunshots and reduce gun violence. On job creation, Hidary said he wants to build on the economic development the city has seen under the Bloomberg administration by putting a focus on all five boroughs, with particular attention on increasing tourism to 65 million visitors a year. “Key to that plan is to bring tourists not just to the core box of Manhattan but to other parts of the city,” Hidary said. “Let’s look at Brooklyn, for example. Downtown Brooklyn has been flourishing. Flourishing with restaurants. Flourishing with new food companies offering all kinds of food from many different
cultures. Tourists want that kind of access to those kinds of experiences. … But we don’t have the type of hospitality services right now in Brooklyn to offer that and welcome tourists.”
To watch all of our Last Look interviews, go to www.cityandstateny.com/video.
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
SPOTLIGHT / MASS TRANSPORTATION
UP IN THE AIR
COALITION PUSHES FOR IMPROVEMENTS TO AREA’S AGING AIRPORTS
BY WILDER FLEMING Anyone who frequents New York City’s airports is familiar with the delays that plague them, which are consistently ranked among the worst in the nation. And while the causes are myriad, the sheer volume of flights crowding the runways and airways is putting the system’s aging infrastructure to the test. Newark, JFK and LaGuardia handle more passengers combined—109 million in 2012—than any other regional airport system in the country. Last year the number of flights approached the prerecession peak of 110 million—from 2007, a year notorious in the aviation industry for its record delays. While rates of growth are hard to predict, a 2011 Regional Plan Association study estimated as many as 150 million passengers by 2030. The economic losses from congestion at the airports, while hard to quantify, are very real. Not only are regional businesses and travelers affected, but delays in New York have a cascading effect on air travel throughout the nation. According to The New York Times, a third of all delays in the country each year originate in New York airports. A study from the probusiness Partnership for New York City put the figure at closer to three quarters of all delays. Some steps are being taken at the local and federal levels to streamline, modernize and expand, but many New Yorkers are not satisfied with the snail’s pace of improvement. In response, an unlikely coalition of policy analysts, labor representatives and business leaders came together earlier this year to launch the Global Gateway Alliance, an advocacy organization vowing to lobby for significant improvements at the city, state and federal level. “This involves multiple levels of government—and, frankly, when something requires intergovernmental cooperation, it very often doesn’t happen without an outside catalyst,” said Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for 26 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
New York City and a Global Gateway Alliance board member. “The idea is that the Gateway Alliance provides an external advocate and pressure point for getting the multiple levels of government to cooperate and invest.” The Partnership for New York City’s 2009 study estimated that air traffic delays dealt a $2.6 billion hit to the regional economy in 2008, and projected $79 billion in avoidable costs and lost opportunities by 2025 if no improvements are made. The study, which relied on input from the Port Authority, looked at factors like lost time for leisure and business travelers, losses sustained by shipping companies, and the costs of increased staffing and wasted jet fuel in the airline industry. The negative impacts on the environment and on New York’s ballooning tourist industry were taken into account as well. Wylde noted that places like London and China have invested heavily in upgrading their air traffic control systems from radar to satellite-based technology, something the Federal Aviation Administration is still struggling to implement as part of their “NextGen” program. To date it is unclear when New York will receive the NextGen technology. The FAA’s regional office did not return requests for comment. “There was a period of time during the first Obama administration in which there were a lot of people at the FAA who were focused on it and working hard to implement it,” said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of the Global Gateway Alliance. “And I think as the gridlock has happened in Washington, there just simply has been no real movement on it recently. You can’t get it done because the money’s not flowing.” Joseph Sitt, a real estate magnate and chairman of the coalition, promised an investment of $1 million to get his airport advocacy group up and running. The Alliance has recruited an impressive collection of backers, including New York City’s Economic Development Corporation,
ABNY, NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service, the Hotel Association of New York City, the Hotel Trades Council, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, along with business leaders like Jared Kushner and Alvin Trenk. “We need a full-court press approach to reducing delays, with everyone responsible for airports playing their role,” Sitt said. “But most critically, we need the federal government to make New York City its top priority in fully implementing NextGen to reliev[e] congestion in the skies, because without New York’s airspace functioning at its best, the rest of country won’t fully benefit from this new technology.” Sigmund, who once headed up the Port Authority’s public affairs department, says that aside from trying to influence federal policy, the Alliance will push to modernize and expand infrastructure, and for customer service and quality of life improvements in terminals, which have outdated signs, endless TSA lines and Wi-Fi that is only available for a fee. The Alliance also hopes to circumvent government gridlock and bureaucracy by harnessing private investment, which Wylde said has been a major factor in improvements at airports worldwide. New York State laws prohibit public-private partnerships without special legislative permission, but the Port Authority, which straddles New York and New Jersey, is exempt from such restrictions. The Port Authority’s planned renovation of LaGuardia’s grungy Central Terminal, which involves just such a private investment, is a model for the Global Gateway Alliance—but Sigmund says he isn’t sure if the plan is moving forward. “I think the Port has expressed its priority to do so, but I don’t know that there’s any process on it moving forward,” he said. “They certainly haven’t picked a developer or done anything in that area.” A Port Authority spokesman said that private sector bids for the Central Terminal project are still being evaluated. In late July the board approved $225 million for repairs and maintenance to keep the terminal operational in the interim. The Port Authority also reached an agreement with the South Jersey Transportation Authority recently to assist in the operation of Atlantic City International Airport, in the hopes of attracting new airlines and more passengers to the underused facility. But some observers note that Atlantic City is some 150 miles away from the core of Manhattan. “I don’t think it’s terribly relevant to New York City,” Wylde said. In 2011 the Regional Plan Association, which is not formally affiliated with the Global Gateway Alliance, released a study assessing the region’s air travel needs and made recommendations for how best to manage demand, expand runway capacity and improve transit to and from the airports. One of the study’s authors,
Jeff Zupan, said that the Port Authority showed interest in the group’s findings but insisted on hiring a consultant to verify and expand on the study. The Port Authority expects its own study, which has been undertaken in conjunction with the FAA, to be ready early next year, according to a spokesman. Sigmund said that the lack of momentum on these projects illustrates the need for an organization like the Global Gateway Alliance. Some politicians, like Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, have been supportive. But legislators have a lot on their plates, and airports don’t get the same level of attention as other forms of mass transit, like subways and roads. “Airports don’t get the same kind of sustained coverage from the press or attention from the stakeholders that they need to keep moving forward,” Sigmund said. “So you get things like the announcement of the LaGuardia plan and then the attention goes away. Just as the straphangers were the vehicle for sustained improvements to the subways in the ’80s and the ’90s, we hope to create a vehicle for sustained focus on airport infrastructure today.”
WORST ARRIVAL PERFORMANCE Newark Liberty International Airport ranks as the country’s worst major airport in the country in a measure of how many flights arrive on time. Here are the five worst airports in the first five months of 2013. 1 NEWARK LIBERTY International Airport (EWR) 2 CHICAGO O’HARE International Airport (ORD) 3 LAGUARDIA Airport (LGA) 4 JOHN F. KENNEDY International Airport (JFK) 5 FORT LAUDERDALE HOLLYWOOD International Airport (FLL) Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Airline On-Time Data
MASS TRANSPORTATION / SPOTLIGHT
G L O B A L G A T E W AYA L L I A N C E . O R G
Ensuring the Future of NY/NJ Air Transportation The Global Gateway Alliance was established to address the major challenges facing the metropolitan regionâ€™s airports that, if left unaddressed, will serve as a major impediment to the long-term growth of New York City. By harnessing the expertise of leaders in business, government, academia, labor and other sectors, we seek to tackle these challenges head-on and serve as the leading advocate in an effort to improve our airports and facilitate the continued growth of the region.
Board Chairman and President
JOSEPH J. SITT
WILLIAM C. RUDIN
JOSEPH E. SPINNATO
ALVIN S. TRENK
KATHRYN S. WYLDE
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MASS TRANSPORTATION
LONG ISLAND LAWMAKERS WORRY AS MTA EYES NEW BRONX COMMUTER RAIL STATIONS By WILDER FLEMING
he Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s plan to bring MetroNorth trains to Penn Station in 2019, linking Connecticut, Westchester and four new aboveground stations in the East Bronx with Manhattan’s west side, has been gaining momentum over the past year.
Informational sessions were held in the Bronx last fall, and the results of an environmental impact study are due later this year. The idea is a complement to the MTA’s East Side Access project, which will bring the Long Island Rail Road directly to Grand Central Terminal by the end of the decade. Metro-North currently is the only regional train with service to Grand Central, while Penn Station’s owner, Amtrak, shares its space with the LIRR and New Jersey Transit. Bronx politicians are pushing hard for the so-called Penn Station Access plan. They hope that a new commuter line would stimulate commerce in and around the neighborhoods of Hunts Point, Morris Park, Parkchester and Co-op City. East Bronx commuters could reach Manhattan’s west side in 20 minutes, and would also have swift access to Westchester and Fairfield counties to the north, where some 5,000 Bronx residents are employed. Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn has joined the chorus, calling Metro-North “a
MOVING THE NEXT GENERATION A New York based company for over 25 years utilizing New York state resources in providing high quality, reliable, and cost effective trains.
28 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
lifeline to the Bronx residents” and calling for “a firm commitment from the MTA to add these four new stops.” But this spring a group of Long Island senators raised concerns that the plan could mean a reduction in service for the Long Island Rail Road at Penn Station. The plan was originally touted as hinging upon a reduction in LIRR service at Penn Station once a portion of its commuters were diverted to Grand Central. But LIRR officials project an increase in ridership, and the Long Island lawmakers told MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast, whose nomination was up for Senate approval at the time, that a reduction in LIRR train slots was not acceptable. Prendergast acknowledged at a Senate Transportation Committee meeting in June that the Long Island Rail Road indeed holds “exclusive jurisdiction” over their 37 rush-hour train slots at Penn Station, though he told reporters afterward that he’d only promised senators to “do my best” to meet their demands while acknowledging that the station was “very crowded,” according to Newsday. But he wasn’t so ambiguous in private meetings, according to Sen. Charles Fuschillo, who said Prendergast “assured” him and his fellow Long Islanders “that there would be no interruption in peak or off-peak services” for the LIRR if the Metro-North plan were to go through. And now Prendergast has included this assurance in a letter accompanying the MTA’s latest amendment to the 2010–14
Capital Plan, which proposes $5.67 billion in disaster mitigation projects involving the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, subways and buses. The amendment, he writes, “does not include monies to be used for the construction of any project that will necessitate or result in the reduction of Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) service at Penn Station to levels lower than the thirty seven trains per peak hour.” (The amendment, which is still pending approval from the state’s Capital Program Review Board in Albany, also proposes cost saving measures designed to meet a commitment made previously by the MTA to reduce the 2010–14 plan by $1.6 billion.) What is clear is that the MTA, which serves as the parent agency of both regional train lines, is taking steps to find space for Metro-North at Penn Station as well. The authority co-sponsored a study with Amtrak and New Jersey Transit assessing the possibilities for running more trains through Penn Station in the future, the results of which will be incorporated into their environmental analysis due out this year. MTA officials have also been searching for ways to fund the project, and they may have found an answer in a $5.67 billion proposal for disaster mitigation, which the MTA expects will be “predominately funded through reimbursements obtained from the federal government (including the Federal Transit Administration [FTA] and the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA]).”
MASS TRANSPORTATION / ISSUE SPOTLIGHT
Metro-North currently enjoys only one access point into Manhattan, via the Harlem River and into Grand Central Terminal. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the MTA has come to view single points of failure affecting entire transit systems as unacceptable; creating and maintaining multiple access points has become part and parcel of their strategy to defend against future disasters. Penn Station Access was included in
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NYS 2100 Commission report, which offers recommendations for strengthening the state’s infrastructure in the face of climate change and future natural disasters. The heavy reliance on existing infrastructure in the MTA’s proposal—MetroNorth would lease existing rails from Amtrak—makes it cheap in comparison with the $8 billion-plus East Side Access plan, which involves excavation
of a brand-new underground terminal at Grand Central. The cost of Penn Station Access was estimated at $1.2 billion in a 2008–13 Capital Plan report from Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office, but the MTA has yet to make a more recent official estimate. The plan, which calls for two new stations on Manhattan’s west side along with the four East Bronx stations, would bring six to 10 Metro-North trains into Penn Station during rush hour. But the question of future capacity at Penn Station is not limited to trains coming from the north and east. While the LIRR is the largest commuter train service in the nation, with over 330,000 riders on an average weekday, demand on New Jersey Transit has been growing faster than either of the MTA’s commuter rail services. Over the past decade New Jersey Transit saw an increase of over a million average monthly riders, from 5.3 million in 2001 to 6.6 million in 2012, according to the American Public Transit Association. Metro-North saw 6 million monthly riders in 2001 increase to 6.9 million in 2012. And although LIRR officials predict future growth, the train line actually saw a dip in ridership, from 8.8 million monthly riders in 2001 to 7.9 million last year. Amtrak’s proposed Gateway project, designed to alleviate the increasing bottleneck from the west, would involve the construction of new tunnels under the Hudson River and could add 25 train slots to the current system used by New Jersey
Transit and Amtrak. In May, $185 million in funding was announced to get the project off the ground. As a part of its plan, Amtrak has proposed to build a new four-platform, seven-track annex called “Penn Station South.” But the MTA has not yet revealed how it plans to accommodate MetroNorth at the station, and declined to comment for this article. State Sen. Jeff Klein, who represents parts of Westchester and the Bronx and shares leadership of the Senate with Long Island Sen. Dean Skelos, says he never thought Penn Station Access would be anything but a boon for the entire region. “This is something that’s going to breathe life back into these communities,” said Klein, who commissioned a study of the plan’s potential economic impacts with fellow Bronx lawmakers and Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. earlier this year. “I think it means jobs, an increase in home values .... When you can change someone’s commute to Manhattan from an hour to 20 minutes, that’s huge.” Klein says MTA officials are determined to make the plan happen. “Tom Prendergast, board members like David Paterson, Freddy Ferrer and Chuck Moerdler, they know how important this is,” he said. “And in my role as co-president of the Senate, I get to determine and sign off on the capital plan, and certainly this is one of my top priorities. So I’m pretty positive it’s gonna happen.”
WE MOVE NEW YORK •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
Millions of people. And we move them in and around the Big Apple every day. If you ride the rails in New York, chances are you’re doing it on a Bombardier product. Built in New York, by New Yorkers.
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
29/07/2013 11:04:21 AM
ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MASS TRANSPORTATION
SCORECARD: MASS TRANSPORTATION THE ISSUES
THE PLAYERS THE STATE Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made replacing the aging Tappan Zee Bridge a top transportation priority, and late last year a mass transit task force was named to look into options for the new bridge. Patrick Foye is steering the Port Authority away from real estate and back toward focusing on transportation infrastructure, while transit veteran Thomas Prendergast took the helm at the MTA this year. Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr., the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, has pushed for public-private partnerships, including a designbuild law used on the Tappan Zee project. THE CITY Janette Sadik-Khan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s influential transportation commissioner, took over in 2007 and has reshaped the city’s landscape with new bike lanes and pedestrian plazas—and when she leaves office, she may join Bloomberg Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden to form a policy institute or consulting firm. New York City Councilman James Vacca, who chairs the Transportation Committee, is seen as a potential contender for City Council Speaker next year. Sam Schwartz—a.k.a. “Gridlock Sam”—is a well-respected transportation expert who once served as traffic commissioner and now runs his own transportation engineering firm.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority 2013 OPERATING BUDGET
AVERAGE WEEKDAY RIDERSHIP
RAIL AND SUBWAY LINES AND BUS ROUTES
RAIL AND SUBWAY CARS
BUS ROUTE MILES
RAIL AND SUBWAY STATIONS
Source: MTA.info (financial data as of Feb. 28, 2013; statistical data as of Dec. 31, 2012)
30 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Transit Funding Last month the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced $18 million in improvements—including more trains on the G line, restored bus service and increased cleaning of stations. The Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth will also see some improvements, such as more trains or other station investments. In a budget briefing a few days later, however, the MTA said that getting back to speed after 2010 cuts would take some time, given an economy that is still recovering and the lingering effects of Superstorm Sandy, which last year shut down the system and has since raised insurance costs. Mayoral Race New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his mark in transportation policy by shifting away from car-focused infrastructure, and the leading candidates to succeed him have plenty of transit-oriented ideas of their own. Council Speaker Christine Quinn has called for more city control of New York City Transit—a proposal Bloomberg dismissed as a non-starter—as well as aiming to give all New Yorkers a commute of under an hour by 2023. Former Rep. Anthony Weiner has called for more ferry service and tax breaks for commuters who bike to work, while former MTA chief Joe Lhota wants to extend subway lines in the outer boroughs and give the mayor control of bridges and tunnels. Citi Bike The Bloomberg administration’s Citi Bike finally launched in May, months after its planned start date, and now the distinctive blue bikes are seen all across the city—or at least in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In the first month the bike share program notched more than half a million rides and more than 113,000 subscriptions. Some public officials now want to see it expand to the Bronx, Queens and other parts of the city. Even mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who once pledged to rip out Bloomberg’s bike lanes, hopped a Citi Bike to a mayoral debate.
Mayor Bloomberg (center) joined Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-khan (second from left) and then-Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit (far right) to announce the bank’s sponsorship of the “Citi Bike” bike share program last year. (Photo by Edward Reed, nycmayorsoffice Flickr page)
MASS TRANSPORTATION / ISSUE SPOTLIGHT
BIG DIGS New York City’s public transit system is among the most extensive in the world— and it is still getting bigger. A handful of major projects are in the works, from the Second Avenue Subway to a new Fulton Center.
Second Avenue Subway Subway line from 125th Street to the Financial District Estimated cost: $4.45 billion Deadlines: Phase 1 scheduled for completion on December 2016 Aimed at reducing the heavily overcrowded Lexington Avenue line, the project will have four phases. Phase 1 will include new tunnels between 96th and 63rd Streets, with handicapped-accessible stations at 96th, 86th and 72nd Streets. Connecting to the existing 63rd Street station as an extension of the Q train, the first phase is expected to serve about 200,000 riders when completed, and could reduce ridership on the Lexington line by 23,500 people on an average weekday.
The East Side Access Connection of the Long Island Rail Road to new terminal in Grand Central Estimated cost: $8.24 billion Deadline: August 2019 The largest transportation project in the country and the first LIRR expansion in over a century, East Side Access will allow Long Island commuters to arrive directly at Grand Central Terminal. This could save up to 40 minutes for some commuters and free up space on trains heading to Penn Station. The project will connect the LIRR’s Main Street and Port Washington branch through new tunnels in Queens and Manhattan to a new eight-track terminal at Grand Central.
7 line extension Extension of the subway line from Time Square to the Javits Center Estimated cost: $2.4 billion Deadline: June 2014 The project, which the city is paying for, is 1.5 miles long and will include a new station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue. Another station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street was dropped from the plans. The extension of the Flushing line has generated a flood of investment in the Far West Side, which the Bloomberg administration has touted.
Fulton Center A new station linking eight subway lines (A, C, J, Z, 2, 3, 4, 5) with an underground concourse connecting to the E, R and 1 lines Estimated cost: $1.4 billion Deadline: June 2014 The revamped and reconfigured Lower Manhattan transit hub is projected to serve 300,000 customers a day and provide easier access between nearly a dozen different subway trains. The project, which also includes a restoration of the 1888 Corbin Building, will also eventually connect to the PATH train and the World Trade Center site.
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MASS TRANSPORTATION
THE ROUNDTABLE Thomas Prendergast
Chairman and CEO, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Executive Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Q: What is your top priority? TP: A big part of my job is to establish how fundamental the MTA is to the continued growth and success of New York and the metropolitan region. We are aggressively cutting costs, addressing our financial needs, building for the future and preparing for climate change. As chairman and CEO, I need to do more than just lead the MTA through these challenges—I need to show our customers, our stakeholders and our elected officials that we are doing everything we can to help New York get around, grow and thrive. Q: What are you doing to develop noswipe subway cards? TP: As the MetroCard approaches the end of its useful life in 2019, the MTA is developing standards for an open-source new fare payment system, which will use the best innovations from the private sector rather than forcing us to issue millions of our own cards. The MTA is preparing to build out the back-end systems that will connect all stations, turnstiles and fare boxes to accommodate a new fare payment system, and is working closely with the mobile payments industry to study what the best and most efficient frontend system should be. By 2019 the market will determine whether customers prefer credit cards, mobile phones or some other still emerging technology to pay for goods and services—and rather than force customers to use our favorite payment system, we’ll be ready to use theirs. Q: Should food be allowed in subway stations? TP: The subway system faces an enormous challenge from food and drink. Even if people consume them responsibly and dispose of them properly, they contribute to the 40 tons of garbage each day. But too often, food and drink ends up spilling on station platforms and subway car floors, creating hazards and attracting rodents. The MTA is funding a new effort to better fortify our trash rooms to control rodents, and is working with researchers on a new strategy to interrupt their breeding cycles. However, many of the vendors who operate newsstands in the subways sell food and drink, and banning them would put a serious dent in their business. Past proposals to ban eating on the subway have proven controversial, and the MTA has no plans to introduce any such proposal. 32 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Q: What is your top priority right now as head of the Port Authority? PF: Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s direction, the Port Authority is focused on returning the agency to its core mission of building, operating and maintaining transportation infrastructure and serving as an economic engine and job creator for the region. We recently awarded two construction contracts, a $1.5 billion contract to build a new Goethals Bridge through a unique public-private partnership that utilizes private sector capital and expertise; and a $1.3 billion project to raise the Bayonne Bridge to allow larger, cleaner and more efficient super container ships to access our ports. Both projects will begin later this year. We also are advancing a public-private partnership for a new Central Terminal Building at LaGuardia Airport. Transforming our airports into 21st-century facilities is vital to the region’s economy, and the Port Authority is committed to providing a first-class experience for passengers using our airport facilities. From 2008 through the end of 2013, the PA and our private partners will have invested more than $5 billion to make improvements at our aviation facilities. Over the next five years the numbers are even bigger: nearly $3.4 billion from the PA and more than $3.6 billion from our private partners. Q: When will One World Trade Center be completed? PF: One World Trade Center remains on track to be completed in early 2014 for tenant build-out. The anticipated opening date remains early 2015. The building is already 55 percent leased, with tremendous interest in the remaining lease space. The recent lease agreement with Group M at Tower 3 validates the attractiveness of the entire site for technology and new media companies. Q: Shifting away from real estate, have you made progress on this front since becoming executive director? PF: We have made great strides to refocus on our core mission of transportation infrastructure and disposing of real estate assets. We recently sold off the Essex County Resource Recovery Center, and last month issued an RFEI with the New York City Economic Development Corporation to explore private development interest in the Teleport in Staten Island.
Janette Sadik-Khan Commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation
New York State Senator
Q: What was the outcome of the G train review you requested? DS: The G Full Line Review was the third subway full line review that we’ve done in collaboration with the MTA, and the first one was on the F Line a few years ago. It came out of a feeling that constituents had that the line was getting worse, and I said to the MTA, “Let’s really take a look at this.” To their credit, they did, and the resulting review found cost-effective ways to improve the service in ways that had a particular impact for riders. So we then requested the same review on the L line—similar result. And the G Line review comes out of the same process. Q: What are some of the concrete changes people might see on the G Line as a result of this review? DS: We’re going to be ending the notorious “G Line sprint,” because the trains will spot in places that are clearly marked on the platform. We’re going to increase G train service by 25 percent in the afternoon and evening. The train will run in much more even intervals, so there is more predictability in when they’re coming, and they’ll come more regularly. And we’ll get public announcement systems over time at the 12 G stations that currently lack them.
Q: What is your top transportation priority? JSK: With five months left, we’re focused on the basics—making our streets safer, expanding options for getting around and making investments in our longterm infrastructure. Citi Bike launched two months ago with 6,000 bikes, and more than 1.7 million trips have been taken so far. We’re now working on plan that will get us to 10,000 bikes in even more neighborhoods. And with the planned launch of faster Select Bus Service on Nostrand and Rogers avenues in Brooklyn this fall, some 60 million annual SBS passengers will save a cumulative 578 years in annual commuting time. We will also continue to make muchneeded street redesigns across the city to make our streets safer to cross and more inviting to live, work and travel on.
Q: At his state Senate confirmation hearings, MTA CEO Tom Prendergast said he will be expanding these reviews system-wide. DS: He said exactly that. The MTA deserves credit, and I am really excited about the fact that 30 or 40 constituents working together with the MTA collaboratively, through my office and my work, were able to create a mechanism that’s going to improve subway lines across the system. It’s pretty exciting.
Q: What will be your legacy as transportation commissioner? JSK: Safer streets that prioritize people and that provide more and better transit options. If the number of people killed in traffic crashes remained the same as it was in 2001, there would have been one thousand more deaths on our streets, and the last five years have been the five safest since traffic fatality records were first kept in 1910. These changes to our streets have also made them better places to do business, with tax receipts and real estate values shooting through the roof where we’ve installed bike lanes, bus lanes and plazas. And because New York is an influential city, many of the street designs we have proven in New York, and our methods for implementing them relatively quickly, can now be seen in cities across the country, and increasingly in other countries.
Q: As a candidate for New York City public advocate, are there any key transportation policies in your platform? DS: As public advocate, I’d like to work first with the MTA to ensure these reviews are used in the right way, and to bring together some of areas where the bureaucracy doesn’t do as well as it should. We’re going to talk about how the bureaucracy responds to citizen complaints. Another transit issue that I worked on has to do with dealing with the “ponding” issue in Chinatown, which was falling between agencies.
Q: Has the Bloomberg administration also made the city safer for cyclists? JSK: We’ve installed 350 miles of bike lanes in the last six years, including the nation’s first parking protected bike paths in the nation, and found that they help reduce injuries by upwards of 40 percent for everyone—including pedestrians and motorists, while storefronts are seeing better business. We’ve also seen no increase in serious bike crashes despite the number of riders quadrupling over the last decade. That’s a nearly 75 percent reduction in risk.
Working With: • NY City Department of Transportation • NY City Metropolitan Transit Authority • Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority
• NY State Department of Transportation • The Port Authority of NY/NJ • NY State Bridge Authority
Kieran Ahern • President • Dan O’Connell • General Counsel cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
INSIDE THE CAPITOL The Capitol Pressroom’s host, Susan Arbetter, recaps recent highlights of her one-hour public radio show, broadcast live from the State Capitol. Arbetter is the news and public affairs director for WCNY in Syracuse.
The Governor’s Next Adirondack Challenge
t was Monday. Vacation was over. After pancakes with maple syrup at Chrissy’s Diner in Indian Lake, I walked outside to wait for my husband to unlock the car. We were headed south to Albany. I was depressed. An older man with a cell phone to his ear was standing by the door of the restaurant. He said, “I can tell you’re not from around here.” Of course you can. It’s 8 a.m. I’m sweating through my foundation makeup. I look like my serotonin reuptake inhibitor is no longer doing the trick. “How so?” I said with a sigh. “Nobody around here locks their doors.” Paradise found.
f you sit in your car at the intersection of NY-28 and NY-30, you’ll see most of Indian Lake: the library, Stewart’s Shop, the outfitter, the bar, the other bar. Indian Lake sits in Hamilton County: over 1,800 square miles of rivers, lakes and mountains without a single traffic light. It’s so vast that 52 Manhattans could squeeze into the county’s borders. To give you a sense of how remote it is, the region just got cell service. And no, it didn’t extend to our B&B. This summer my husband, Bill, and I spent five days and four nights in Indian Lake. I had only slept in the Adirondacks one other time since I moved to Albany in 1991. That night public policy wasn’t at the top of my mind; this time it was. The region’s challenges were obvious. “For Sale” signs hung here and there on buildings populating the main intersection in town. The structures were in various states of dilapidation. Once upon a time they could have been retail shops. With 130,000 full-time residents and over 10 million visitors each year, the Adirondack Park is rich in lakes, forests, fish, space, oxygen, water, solitude— everything that counts. But it’s poor in services that Americans take for granted, like the Internet and grocery stores. Indian Lake hasn’t had a grocery in three years, ever since the IGA shut down. Bill and I were on vacation, so the absence of a Price Chopper only added to the feeling of “being away.” It was fun to pretend (for four days) that we were visiting an exotic locale with beautiful vistas but no soy milk. My husband joked 34 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
The natural beauty of the Adirondack Park is one of the region’s assets. (Photos by Susan Arbetter)
Jim Herman and Dave Mason
that we had unwittingly stumbled into a Star Trek episode about alternate realities, and in this reality, lactose intolerance had been eradicated. There was one moment that made us wonder about living in Indian Lake fulltime. After a stormy night, a power outage prevented us from buying gas with a credit card. If we hadn’t had cash we would have spent the day exploring the majesty of that gas station.
ike other communities in the park, Indian Lake is losing population, according to town historian William Zulla. Young people move away after high
Dilapidated shacks in Indian Lake reflect the area’s economic decline.
school now, but Zulla recollects when things were bustling. In 1970, he says, about 400 students graduated from Indian Lake Central School. This year there were just over 20. Next year the graduating class is expected to include just eight students. The town’s tax revenues reflect population loss, as do the ubiquitous
“For Sale” signs: Town Assessor Meade Hutchins estimates there are over 100,000 acres of state park land in the Town of Indian Lake. The state is assessed $14 per thousand acres of assessed value. Some quick arithmetic indicates that Indian Lake’s primary asset—the park—generates a third of the town’s annual revenue.
PERSPECTIVES Hutchins and Zulla know what’s at stake: Unless Indian Lake gets an infusion of economic plasma, it’s going to die. But there is hope: pockets of potential that populate the region like glacial erratics—atypical boulders stranded by a glacier, which I learned about at the Adirondack Museum. Stakeholders in the park who had been at odds for decades have started listening to one another. Ironically, the long-standing animosities that prevented progress were bested by technology: the promise of universal Internet access. For
Bill Farber, Hamilton County Supervisor
once environmentalists and economic developers wanted to same thing. “Broadband was really one of the first issues we identified where there was almost 100 percent commitment that that was a ‘have to have’ item for the Adirondacks,” Hamilton County Supervisor Bill Farber said. Some of the park still isn’t wired. Regardless, Farber says the broadband initiative is considered the first success of an influential coalition called the Common Ground Alliance. “The Common Ground Alliance really humanized the conversation,” he said. “It brought it to a level where people understood that other people had other viewpoints, and where the commonalities of those viewpoints were.” When asked to characterize how stakeholders in the park interacted before the creation of the Common Ground Alliance, Farber joked, “Are you at all familiar with Washington politics?” Ross Whaley, a former Adirondack Park Agency chairman, once famously observed that Adirondackers would rather fight than win. The seventh anniversary of the Common Ground Alliance’s first meeting took place in July. CGA is now considered the premier umbrella group for building consensus around the park’s future. Environmentalists, economic developers, year-round residents, summertime visitors, hunters, conservationists, snowmobilers, mountain climbers, professors and technicians have all
contributed to the conversation. According to Farber, two factors contributed to the Alliance’s success. First, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bottom-up approach to economic development. “This kind of economic development, where you figure out region by region what makes sense … is probably the first time in the state’s history that … we’ve really had a chance to figure out projects that fit Hamilton County,” he said. The North Country Regional Economic Development Council has won almost $200 million via the governor’s economic development competition. The money is not specific to the Adirondack Park. But the projects the money funds are helping communities within the park. These include the Wild Walk at the Wild Center; a biofuel project at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake; a series of downtown revitalization efforts; updated county 911 systems with built-in redundancies; a broadband “slick network solutions” project in Long Lake; and two Frontier projects that are expected to serve 80 percent of Hamilton County residents with broadband. Farber describes these as “big projects, really important to the communities, not only from an economic development standpoint but from a community sustainability standpoint. All good stuff.” The other factor contributing to the success of the Common Ground Alliance is something I find hard to name. Kismet? Luck? Serendipity? Here’s the story: Two longtime Adirondack residents who happened to be Internet entrepreneurs offered to help CGA pro bono. Strategy consultants Dave Mason and Jim Herman earned their stripes in Boston in the mid-’80s at the forefront of innovation around the World Wide Web. Years later, after moving to Keene, N.Y., the duo became frustrated by the infighting around policy issues and the resulting stagnation that prevented park residents from successfully addressing problems. So they approached the Common Ground Alliance with an offer the group couldn’t refuse. Mason and Herman said they would design and launch a project “to stimulate new, creative thinking” about the challenges and opportunities ahead and start a new conversation among a broad set of people that care about the park. They would use a “scenario modeling approach” they had originally developed for corporations like AT&T to help communities “reimagine” the park. For free. CGA accepted the offer. Over a period of months Mason and Herman tirelessly solicited input from individuals and groups as varied as the DEC, the Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Park Agency, economic developers, town and county supervisors, the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, and many others. Eventually
they created six distinct visions of the park’s future. These “scenarios” were labeled “Wild Park”; “Usable Park”; “The Sustainable Life”; “Adirondack County”; “Post–‘Big Government’ Solutions”; and “The Adirondack State Forest.” By the end of the process 95 percent of stakeholders agreed that the “Sustainable Life” scenario was the best option for the park. Finally, Adirondack Park residents had a unified vision.
t the most recent meeting of the Common Ground Alliance, Willie Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, noted that things had changed for the better. “Both sides have taken steps toward each other,” he said. Bill Farber agreed. “It’s something I couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago,” he said. Dave Mason, who makes up one half of the strategy team, said he was shocked by the initial agreement among stakeholders, but not by the state’s new investments in park resources. “Politics is well set up to help those who are aligned,” Mason said. “It is not set up to help those who are in disagreement.”
ot all disagreement is relegated to the past. Fierce arguments continue over how to classify
69,000 acres of land formerly owned by the Finch paper company that the state is in the process of purchasing from the Nature Conservancy. During the recent Adirondack Challenge weekend, some park residents couldn’t agree whether the governor was a friend for using his political capital to promote Adirondack tourism, or a foe for curtailing gun rights. Hamilton County’s Bill Farber seems convinced that the governor is doing the right thing. He just needs to continue doing it. The Adirondacks needs more of everything—jobs, sustainable tourism, population, retail outlets, services, broadband. Saving the Adirondacks is a marathon, not a sprint.
he morning after the governor’s white-water rafting challenge, my feet were killing me. Coincidentally, it was the same day we were heading back to Albany. Of all the body parts white-water rafting could tax, why my feet? My husband, a science teacher, suggested I was a victim of the primitive hindbrain, which prompted a prehensile clinging-of-toes-to-raft response generated by a natural fear of falling out. I think I just wanted to stay.
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
THE COMPLETE-STREETS ELECTION?
By NICOLE GELINAS
he last time New Yorkers elected a new mayor, in 2001, 21stcentury transportation policy was on no one’s agenda, even before 9/11. Things have changed—so much that Transportation Alternatives, which advocates for cycling, walking and public transit, is on the list of groups that will sponsor the official debates this fall. Why the change—and which candidates get it? Younger people are embracing mass transit, and not just as a painful way to get back and forth to work. In mid-July, the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority told its board how “millennials” use transit throughout the day—and night. Twentysomethings and young thirtysome-
things would just as soon take a bus home than a taxi after a late dinner. They also embrace incremental change—or as MTA special-project chief William Wheeler puts it, improvements that “can be implemented in the person’s commuting lifetime.” They like countdown clocks and Second Avenue Select Bus service. These are the same folk who view bicycling as a way to get around, and a practical complement to the MTA, not as a radical environmental statement. Since springtime 64,718 people have signed up for an annual Citi Bike membership. To the folks who have embraced new subway cars, countdown clocks, better bus service and bikes, transportation isn’t supposed to be an ordeal—it’s an integral part of quality of life. Plus, all of this goes together; one day you may take the train, the next day, the bike. Moreover, bikers need efficient subways and buses to keep cars and trucks from clogging the streets. But what will happen next? Despite the massive changes, New York is really in the early phases of this transformation—or should be. To serve all New Yorkers, Citi Bike should expand up past Central Park and down past downtown Brooklyn as well as into the other three boroughs. Says Adolfo Carrión, who’s running for mayor on the Independence
line, people in outer Brooklyn “constantly ask me, ‘Why don’t we have the bike program?’ ” The city also needs fast bus service between boroughs—which means taking lanes away from cars and trucks, like with bike lanes. But building on the past half decade requires a mayor who is willing to stand u to special-interest squawkers—whether it’s voters who would rather have idling graffiti-covered trucks double-parked in front of their houses than a nice, quiet, shiny new bike dock, or donors who don’t like the fact that their drivers no longer can speed through Midtown traffic. We have that in Mayor Bloomberg. The next mayor, though, may build on what Bloomberg has done only because enough voters want him to, outweighing the voters who don’t. There are some positive signs. First, polling data. In a Quinnipiac poll of Democratic primary voters this month, 67 percent said transportation was “extremely important” or “very important” to them. Quinnipiac’s June poll showed that 57 percent of New Yorkers, including half of Staten Islanders, want bike sharing in their neighborhoods. Poll after poll shows majority support for bike lanes and other traffic-calming measures. Second, thanks to social media and other technology improvements, pro-
streets organizations have a better chance of congealing their voters into a significant group. In a close race, does any candidate really want to run the risk of motivating voters who do care enough to rule out a candidate based on streets issues, and then vote against him or her? StreetsPAC, a new political action group, is getting candidates on the record via a questionnaire ahead of making endorsements down to the City Council level. Transportation Alternatives won’t endorse, but it wants candidates to commit to bringing “safe streets to 50 New York City neighborhoods a year,” including more space for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as lower car and truck speeds. Social media and email efforts, including on Election Day, can affect turnout, especially among young voters, who are famous for staying home in nonpresidential years. And turnout among any motivated, organized group can change the election outcome. The biggest risk to any candidate who criticizes improvements to the streetscape may be a negative image problem. Even a voter who doesn’t care much about this stuff can tell who is irrelevant and out of touch, and who isn’t. Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.
GRADING THE UFT supporting Bill Thompson for mayor, and I am a consultant to his campaign. But this column will neither address nor seek to advance the UFT’s endorsement of Thompson.
BY BRUCE N. GYORY
f you believe that the steady stream of editorials and op-eds pillorying the United Federation of Teachers reflect public opinion, any association with the teachers’ union would seem to be a political liability. Yet why did all the Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City seek the UFT’s endorsement? I will leave it to those more knowledgeable about educational policy to assess the merits of the union’s positions on the issues. Here I seek only to put a spotlight on the political advisability of attacking New York City’s teachers and their union. In the interests of full disclosure, I am 36 AUGUST 5, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Two basic arguments have been consistently leveled against the UFT in a number of these opinion pieces. The first is that it stands in the way of reform that would improve educational outcomes. The second is that the union’s endorsement is a liability. I believe both attacks carry thunder, but neither delivers any lightning. On the basic question of whether the Bloomberg approach to education reform has worked, it is Mayor Michael Bloomberg who, despite his early support, is gasping for breath, not the UFT. Voters approved of Bloomberg’s handling of education, by 57–30 percent, Quinnipiac’s polling found in July of 2009. But by May of 2012, 60 percent disapproved of the mayor’s education record, while only 29 percent approved—a total reversal. In June of 2012 Quinnipiac found that New York City voters had a favorable opinion of teachers by 44–25 percent. Underlying this political struggle is an intellectual battle. On one side stands Michelle Rhee, the former head of Washington, D.C.’s, schools, who argues that
teachers’ unions impede progress and that reformers must confront unions like the UFT. Rhee’s positions influenced Bloomberg to advance strategies along the lines that class size really doesn’t matter, that school closures work as policy and that testing regimens are central to progress. On the other side stands Diane Ravitch. Ravitch has at once chronicled and participated in the school wars, especially here in New York, as both an academic and a public official. Ravitch argues that class size does matter, and that teaching to the test stunts the pursuit of excellence, while school closures, as a first step, is really tantamount to giving up on students and their communities. Instead of confrontation, Ravitch advises policy makers to pursue a policy of trust, collaboration and respect for parents as well as teachers. Which bring us to the charges advanced by the Bloomberg and Lhota camps that the UFT endorsement is the kiss of death. They cite as proof that the union has not endorsed a winning candidate for mayor since 1989. Two points refute these charges. First, when Mayor Rudy Giuliani (Lhota’s political patron) sought re-election in 1997, he worked fervently and successfully to keep the UFT neutral in his race. Bloomberg did the same when he ran for re-election
in 2005 and 2009. Those actions resonate more than sound bites. Second, in last year’s state Senate races, the UFT carried out a robust independent expenditure effort on behalf of six Democratic candidates: state Sen. Joe Addabbo, Assemblyman George Latimer, Terry Gipson, Cecilia Tkaczyk, Ted O’Brien and Ryan Cronin. All but Cronin won hotly contested races, and Cronin reduced state Sen. Kemp Hannon’s 2010 landslide margin to a squeaker in Nassau County. Those who closely watched those races know that the UFT’s supple and sophisticated political operation was a big factor in undercutting the over 4–1 resource advantage enjoyed last year by the Senate Republicans’ political arm. The op-ed bashing of the UFT reflects a popular view on educational policy among elite pundits. But when the votes are counted, I sense that New York voters will opt for a cooperative approach over attacks on teachers. Of course, the question is an open- (not closed-) book exam, in which the voters give the final grades. Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.
PERSPECTIVES Possibly the most bizarre example of the staffer-ascandidate phenomenon is taking place right now in Brooklyn, where two former chiefs of staff to Assemblyman Vito Lopez, Council Members Stephen Levin and Diana Reyna, currently occupy neighboring districts. In a veritable warren of political intrigue, Lopez is running against Reyna’s chief of staff, Antonio Reynoso, while next door Levin is making every effort to pretend that his own re-election campaign has nothing whatsoever to do with the scandals plaguing his former boss. The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council— BY SETH BARRON founded by Lopez and the fount of his power for decades—continues to receive discretionary money from Levin, despite the fact that the RBSCC is not located in Many of the current crop of New York City Council Mendez, formerly a housing advocate, worked as chief of the 33rd Council District and provides most of its services candidates, including incumbents, got their start as staff for two-term Councilwoman Margarita López. López outside the district. Levin’s $10,000 annual allocations to political staffers. In fact, a great many have no significant went on to become a commissioner of the New York City the RBSCC are typically stipulated to “provide transporprofessional experience except as staffers for the City Housing Authority, and Mendez became the chair of the tation and entertainment” for the yearly senior citizen Council. In an era of seemingly ingrained corruption and Committee on Public Housing, which has nominal over- picnic that Lopez, in grand Tammany style, presides over political scandal, is it healthy for the political body to be sight over her former boss’ agency. at Sunken Meadow State Park. This year Levin did not constituted by what amounts to a kind of professional In her eight years of presiding over the one body that even attend the picnic he had helped pay for: a tribute to nepotism? can compel NYCHA to testify, Mendez has remained tepid a political boss whose power must be respected, even if Among current Council members, Christine Quinn, in her criticism of the city’s largest landlord, consistently Levin cannot kiss Lopez’s ring in public. Jessica Lappin, Rosie Mendez, Leroy Comrie, Julissa deflecting blame to the federal government for cutting In the 34th District, Councilwoman Diana Reyna, who Ferreras, Vincent Ignizio and Jimmy Oddo all served as back funding. This year, with an election looming, Mendez was installed in 2001 by her boss Lopez, clashed with him chiefs of staff to their respective predecessors; Steve Levin has joined the chorus of complaints regarding NYCHA’s over whose favorite nonprofit housing developer would and Diana Reyna were chiefs of staff to Brooklyn boss and repair backlog and failure to install security cameras. get to develop Broadway Triangle. She is now running former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, and Karen Koslowitz However, one year ago, according to The Villager, Antonio Reynoso, her own chief of staff, to assume her was aide to Council President Andrew Stein when she was Mendez organized a press conference to defend NYCHA seat. Reynoso has won endorsements from across the first elected in 1989. against criticism from the media, which she character- Democratic establishment, which is desperate to keep The typical staffer running for Council makes the ized as destructive toward NYCHA, praising the latter’s the deposed Kings County boss from taking office. But claim that he or she knows the Reynoso has a tough road ahead, for Lopez job from the inside and is best maintains tremendous popularity across the “He plays politics every day and night in the year, prepared to be an effective district, having brought jobs, services and and his headquarters bears the inscription, ‘Never representative immediately. housing to thousands of people for decades. Check out the campaign literaTo quote one knowing wag, “Vito has been closed.’ Everybody in the district knows him. ture of leading contenders and feeding his old ladies steak and Chinese food Everybody knows where to find him, and nearly current Council employees Ede longer than Antonio has been alive. Fox (“has worked for the New A failed example of this kind of bossism everybody goes to him for assistance of one sort or York City Council since 2006”); can be seen in the case of Councilwoman another, especially the poor of the tenements.” Antonio Reynoso (“as the CounJulissa Ferreras of Corona and East Elmhurst. cilmember’s chief, Antonio is Ferreras (for whom I worked in 2010) got her well acquainted with … the inner-workings of the City “progress” in reducing repair requests to 300,000. She also start in politics as staffer to former Councilman Hiram Council”); and John Lisyanskiy (“John has extensive insti- praised NYCHA Chairman John Rhea for freezing Council Monserrate, who ran an insurgent campaign against the tutional knowledge regarding the workings of the City allocations for security cameras, saying, “It was the right Queens Democratic Party, and won, in 2001. Early on Council”). thing to do.” Monserrate made it clear that he was looking to estabThere is some truth to this claim, and “institutional Mendez also defended the provision of vehicles and lish his protégé Ferreras as part of a political dynasty, knowledge” of the “inner workings” of government is by drivers to the NYCHA board, despite her opposition to this announcing upon taking office that a new Assembly no means insignificant. A chief of staff knows the nuts perk in the 2009 election cycle, and defended the board’s district in Flushing was his to assign, and Ferreras was to and bolts of how things work at City Hall, knows all the salaries, in opposition to Mayor Bloomberg’s suggestion have it. players in the district and is ready to run a well-organized that the commissioners serve as unpaid volunteers. (The As it turned out, Monserrate got ahead of himself, constituent services operation. state earlier this month abolished López’s position, and and the seat went to now state Sen. José Peralta. Ferreras “He plays politics every day and night in the year, and that of the board’s other full-time member, though the won her boss’ seat in 2009 when he moved to the Senate, his headquarters bears the inscription, ‘Never closed.’ two apparently remain on the city payroll, according to though the county establishment opposed her. Following Everybody in the district knows him. Everybody knows the Daily News.) Monserrate’s arrest for slashing his girlfriend’s face, where to find him, and nearly everybody goes to him for Rick Del Rio, who is running against Mendez in the Ferreras broke with him. Her former boss attempted to assistance of one sort or another, especially the poor of Democratic primary, calls her a “hypocrite” and suggested retain control of the district by calling the heads of citythe tenements.” that the public housing crisis was partially her fault. “How wide nonprofits and futilely ordering the redistribution of So spoke George Washington Plunkitt, a legislator can she stand here,” said Del Rio, “on top of the NYCHA discretionary funds he had previously allocated. Boss of and Tammany Hall veteran, in 1905. The appeal of the garbage heap and play the hero? Didn’t she have over- nothing, the disgraced Monserrate was thrown out of the responsive insider politician remains the same today. But sight over it?” Senate, lost successive races for his old Senate seat and the downside of insider succession remains the same as The ties between Mendez and her former boss and the same Assembly seat he had once claimed to control, it was in the era of Tammany: corruption, allegiance to sponsor play out in terms of campaign finance as well. and wound up working in a pizza parlor before heading bosses and entrenched power. In addition to the $2,500 that López has contributed off to federal prison in Pennsylvania. Since the decline of powerful and fearsome polit- directly to Mendez’s campaigns, the number of major In the meantime, Ferreras has remade herself, erasing ical machines, installing one’s staffer as a surrogate has donors to López’s campaigns who have maxed out to her work for Monserrate from her bio, distancing herself become an effective end run around term limits and a Mendez in past or current cycles include Steven Leitner, from his scandals and aligning herself with the county way to establish local dominion. Why give up authority the disgraced former co-director of the National Arts Democratic establishment. just because you have to run for another office? Run your Club, Aaron Sosnick, a hedge fund manager, and John As for her work as a chief of staff, Ferreras says protégé and effectively keep both jobs. D. Howard, a private equity investor. Part of installing a cautiously, “It was a great learning experience.” An example of this kind of machine politics by another placeholder in office is making the right introductions, name can be found on the Lower East Side, where Coun- and letting the big money know that the new face doesn’t Seth Barron runs City Council Watch, an investigative cilwoman Rosie Mendez is running for a third term. offer any surprises. website focusing on local New York City politics.
SOFT MACHINE: ELECTING STAFFERS
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
WINNERS & LOSERS
GET YOUR COMMENT IN THE PAPER. TWEET US @CITYANDSTATENY
There’s a pol who leads a life of danger. To everyone he meets, he stays a stranger. With every move he makes, another chance he takes. Odds are he won’t live to see November. Carlos…Danger Man! Carlos…Danger Man! They’ve given him a handle, and taken away his name.
Go to cityandstateny.com each week to vote.
Week of July 15, 2013
WINNERS Mariano Rivera 45%
Week of July 22, 2013
WINNERS Bill de Blasio 38%
Christine Quinn 20%
Scott Stringer 34%
Kirsten Gillibrand 17%
Huma Abedin 14%
Ray Kelly 12% Carmen Arroyo 6% Kirsten Gillibrand: Support for sexual assault reporting Ray Kelly: Floated as Homeland Security chief Christine Quinn: Rescues intern, critiques 911 response
LUCKY LADY Carmen Arroyo: If luck be a lady, her name is Carmen Arroyo. The Bronx assemblywoman amended her financial disclosure statement to claim nearly $30,000 in casino winnings, meaning she’s either got a great poker face or, as some believe, she’s using the story as a cover. Arroyo has walked the ethical tightrope before, and there are whispers that she’s not even a gambler, but if she is, we’re bringing her to the tables to show us how it’s done.
YOUR CHOICE Mariano Rivera: “Mo” has 638 career saves and five World Series rings, but he’s also a winner for the standing ovation he received at the All-Star Game (where he was clearly the star of the show), as well as the news that he is headlining a group of Yankees and Mets stars featured in an “I Love NY” campaign pushing tourism in the state. Rivera is pure class, and New York State is lucky to have him as a pitchman.
Andrew Cuomo 11% Daniel Sekula 3% Huma Abedin: Why isn’t she running for mayor? Andrew Cuomo: Adirondack Challenge champ Daniel Sekula: Keeps job despite death threat
YOUR CHOICE Bill de Blasio: The public advocate had been experiencing polling inertia for months, hovering around 10 or 11 percent—that is, until Carlos Danger struck. The hoopla over Anthony Weiner’s personal life may have created an opening for de Blasio, as one recent poll showed him in a three-way tie for second with Weiner and Bill Thompson. Weiner will probably have to continue his implosion for de Blasio to win, but he’s making progress, and the specter of 1199 SEIU spending big money on him could loom large late in the game.
GREAT SCOTT! Scott Stringer: Stringer has been playing catch-up since Eliot Spitzer upended the New York City comptroller’s race, but Stringer just might be able to close the gap. He secured the backing of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as a trio of endorsements from prominent women’s groups. And two polls showed Spitzer at 49 percent—not quite able to pass the 50 percent threshold—with one of them showing Stringer just four points behind Spitzer.
LOSERS David Petraeus 27%
Carlos Danger 47%
Leroy Comrie 25%
Micah Kellner 29%
Rice, Fitzpatrick and Williams Jr. 23% Mark Weprin 18% James Cox 7% James Cox: Medicaid IG delays news of privacy breach Leroy Comrie: Quits Queens BP race Mark Weprin: Under fire on Community Safety Act
Kathleen Rice, William Fitzpatrick and Milton Williams Jr.: Gov. Andrew Cuomo kept promising this session that if the Legislature didn’t vote on public ethics, he would deal with the matter himself—by appointing a Moreland Commission to deal with the matter themselves. So what was the first thing the commission—headed by Rice, Fitzpatrick and Williams—decided to do? Meet in secret. Well played, Mr. Cuomo, well played.
38 AUGUST 5, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
YOUR CHOICE David Petraeus: This whole story couldn’t have played out worse for the four-star general and former CIA director. He was hired to be a visiting professor at CUNY for an eye-popping $150,000. He was blasted in the press for the exorbitant salary, and in response agreed to teach for one dollar. If he had signed on for a buck in the beginning, he would have looked generous and helped rebuild his tarnished image. Instead the opposite happened.
Sheldon Silver 11% Jim Dolan 10% John Rhea 3% Jim Dolan: Madison Square Garden will have to move John Rhea: Candidates highlight NYCHA problems Sheldon Silver: Another sex scandal swept under the rug
DIRTY FLIRTY Micah Kellner: Running for public office despite sex scandals hasn’t always hurt politicians, but it might be different for Assemblyman Micah Kellner, if only because his scandal is a new one. Kellner made inappropriate statements to a staffer back in 2009—prompting at least one advocate, Jessica Lappin, to pull her support for the Council candidate. Now others may follow her lead, and Kellner could be back in Albany come January instead of City Hall.
YOUR CHOICE: Carlos Danger: He’s a mysterious ladies’ man who trolls the Web for companionship, typing his way into women’s hearts and wowing them with photographs of his anatomy. Too bad he’s also a married former congressman with an infant son and happens to be running for mayor of New York City. Anthony Weiner’s behavior could erode his good standing with voters, and dragging his wife into the fray was perhaps the most uncomfortable moment of the campaign.
BACK&FORTH A Q&A WITH HOWARD DEAN
Howard Dean, a doctor and the former governor of Vermont, arrived on the national scene during the 2004 presidential election. Questioning the invasion of Iraq and building up a strong Internet-based campaign, the longshot candidate became the Democratic front-runner until he fizzled in the Iowa caucuses. During a concession speech in Iowa, Dean’s enthusiastic “Yeah!”— dubbed “the Dean Scream”—was shown repeatedly on cable channels and pointed to by some as a key turning point in the race. Dean went on to found Democracy for America and served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He is now a strategic adviser to McKenna Long & Aldridge. City & State Managing Editor Jon Lentz spoke with Dean about Bill de Blasio, Anthony Weiner and the 2016 presidential race. The following is an edited transcript.
City & State: Why did you decide to endorse Public Advocate Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York City? Howard Dean: Actually, you can quote New York magazine. This guy is a real policy guy, and I think he’s the only person in the race who’s really talking about policy. He’s progressive, and he gets that the income gap matters, and he’s got some solutions to talk about it, and nobody else seems to do that. New York magazine actually said that, and I think The New York Times repeated it, saying that de Blasio is the only person in the race that was actually talking about real ways of reducing the gap between the wealthy and the poor. C&S: Do any particular policies de Blasio has proposed stand out for you? HD: Well, one is universal prekindergarten financed by a surtax on people who make over half a million dollars a year. The average surtax would be $2,000 a family, and I think that’s something that many New Yorkers who make that kind of money would be happy to do if there could be universal kindergarten, so that’s just one example. Universal kindergarten is really important. Zero to 3 is more important, but he gets this stuff. He gets early childhood, he gets the gap between the rich and the poor, he gets that you better run the city to the middle class. I think that’s what makes him an attractive candidate. C&S: He is still behind in the polls. Does he have time to gain ground? HD: I think he has plenty of time. He hasn’t even gotten on television yet. He’ll do that with four weeks to go. The press is focusing like crazy on this race, but I think the average voter is not—yet. But they will.
C&S: Another candidate, Anthony Weiner, has also positioned himself as a policyoriented progressive, but his Twitter scandal has returned amid revelations of inappropriate online interactions after he resigned from Congress. HD: Well, I actually—before this second round, I predicted that he would be in the runoff. But I think it’s really going to be tough now. C&S: Another interesting race in New York City is for comptroller, at least since former Gov. Eliot Spitzer jumped in. Could he win? HD: Well, obviously he’s a very competent guy. I’ve seen the numbers on him, and I’m no expert on New York City politics, but he seems to have a fairly decent edge. But again, it’s very, very early. He has a big edge, some of that is clearly because he has probably close to 100 percent name recognition. I don’t think he was over 50 [percent support in the polls], and he needs to be. The problem with both him and Anthony, if you have 100 percent name recognition and you’re not over 50, you don’t have a lot of room to grow. So I suspect that will be a close race, much closer than the polls show now. C&S: Would you ever run for political office again—even for president? HD: What I say is, you never say never in this business. But I think there are a lot of other good folks out there, and we’ll have to see what happens. I like Hillary, I hope she runs, but who knows? There are a lot of problems in this country, and a lot of them aren’t being looked at by either party, so I don’t know the answer. C&S: In a recent interview, you said that if Hillary Clinton runs, she won’t get a free pass. HD: The idea that someone would not have a primary, other than a sitting president, I think we haven’t seen one of those ever. I certainly don’t remember, because it hasn’t happened in my lifetime, but I’m trying to remember a time in American history where there was no contest to get the nomination for a party that wasn’t in the seat. That’s why I said that. It’s not a reflection on Hillary. It’s just a reflection on our American politics. C&S: A couple other New York figures are mentioned as potential presidential candidates: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Would they be viable candidates? HD: I think they’re both quite possible. I’m sure that Kirsten won’t run if Hillary does because they’re very close, but I think they’re both potential presidential candidates, either now or later. C&S: You have also been a proponent of healthcare reform. President Obama recently pushed back against Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act, arguing implementation will demonstrate its success and defending the delay of a requirement that businesses provide insurance to employees. HD: I think he has done those things right. I was just saying how impressed I was by the effort that’s going into making sure healthcare works. It really is the first time since his presidency started that he has been as absolutely focused on something to the same degree that he has in his campaigns. His campaigns are the best campaigns I’ve ever seen, both of them, and now it looks like he’s got an effort that’s going to match his campaigns in terms of getting this healthcare thing up and running, and I think it’s great. There are still some things I would have done differently, but I think it’s important to get this done and get this up and running and get these folks insured. C&S: You recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the Independent Payment Advisory Board, saying it’s rate-setting and won’t actually lower medical costs. HD: It won’t. Rate-setting has been tried for years, and it doesn’t work anywhere, and it’s not going to work now. But that’s not going to cripple the bill. C&S: You are now a consultant with McKenna Long. Is your concern about ratesetting shared by any companies you represent? HD: I suspect it is, but I say what I think. I don’t say what people tell me to say. C&S: When you were at a fundraiser for de Blasio, you brought back the “scream.” It seems like you are able to laugh about it now. HD: I never had any trouble with the scream. That was a concoction of cable television. There were 75 reporters in the room the night I did that, and not one of them wrote about it. But I think it is funny. cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 5, 2013
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