Vol. 1, No. 5
February 6, 2012
tricting was is d re ar ye e th as w is Th ess what? u G . rk o w to d se o p p su Page 6 DREAMSTIME/JOEY CAROLINO
Susan Lerner’s path from monkey research to reform advocacy. Page 4 Meet the 25 women honored for going “Above and Beyond.” Page 15
Why is it so hard to build affordable housing in New York? Page 24 Eric Schneiderman discusses his role as the White House’s new mortgage cop. Page 31
UPFRONT York City functioning—unlike when the city cut long-term spending in the 1970s and almost ground to a halt. It came with a price: New York City spends $2 billion a year more on interest now than when he took office. Bloomberg’s successors will have to make room in their budgets for the $850 million bullet he avoided last week. But the real question is whether they will be willing to make the tough choices when necessary—whether politicians who live and die for the next election will make an unpopular call now for New York City’s future. “We’ve now used up our reserve,” Bloomberg said at the end of his budget speech. “We’ll have to find ways to help down the road.” firstname.lastname@example.org
LOOKING DOWN THE ROAD
AROUND NEW YORK City & State First Read delivers every day’s headlines, schedules, birthdays and “Heard Around Town” news nuggets like these into your inbox before 7 a.m. Not getting City & State First Read? Sign up free at www.cityandstateny.com/first-read.
ROCKLAND Scratch the speculation that Senate Republicans would go easy on the four-member Independent Democratic Conference this fall: Vincent Reda, chairman of the Rockland County Republicans, said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos assured him the party would challenge one of the IDC’s most vulnerable members, freshman Sen. David Carlucci. Reda named three potential challengers—Clarkstown Councilman Frank Borelli, Rockland County Legislator Ed Day and former Orangetown Town Supervisor Paul Whalen— but does not expect a Republican primary.
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Critics of the state’s slow progress on mandate relief were pleasantly surprised by the makeup of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new mandate-relief council, which held its first meeting Jan. 25. “This is not what I expected,” said Stephen Acquario, the New York State Association of Counties executive director, who served on a larger mandate-relief task force last year but was disappointed that many of its recommendations weren’t enacted along with the property tax cap. “I was expecting a different mix of council members. When I saw every deputy secretary, and the secretary to the governor and the counsel to the governor on this—to me, that’s a signal that they mean business.” The tax cap statute created the new 11-member council and specifically included the governor’s secretary, counsel, secretary of state and the budget director. The governor picked his deputy directors for health, education and human services, operations and technology. “It’s noticeable that these are all state officials,” said Bob Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “These are public officials, they’re easy to find, and we will be communicating with them.”
QUEENS Former Queens Sen. Frank Padavan is mulling a comeback in the northeast Queens district he narrowly lost to Sen.Tony Avella two years ago, sources said, but Queens Republicans are concerned the newly redrawn district will not be favorable to a bid. Padavan’s name has risen as Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran has downplayed the idea of challenging Avella. Sources said Republicans are unlikely to do much through redistricting to make the district more conservative and are largely focused on convincing another Republican councilman, Eric Ulrich, to run against Democratic Sen. Joe Addabbo in eastern Queens. Padavan even took the question to Facebook, asking his 1,018 followers whether he should mount another run for Senate. FEBRUARY 6, 2012
The best items from the City & State First Read morning email
Over his last 10 years in office, Mayor the budget. The bad news is, that is an obligaMichael Bloomberg imposed plenty of tion we have just transferred to our children.” Whether you love his fiscal discipline budgetary pain on New York—but most of the time he did it for the long- or hate his tax hikes and service cuts, Bloomberg has spent a decade consistently term sake of the city. For better or for worse, refusing to ignore fiscal reality. While Albany that era may be coming to scoffs at the basic rules of accounting, New York City has spurned fiscal gimmicks that a close. The budget Bloom- amount to, in one of the mayor’s favorite berg unveiled last phrases, “kicking the can down the road.” Bloomberg has kept his eye on the future week wiggled out of an $850 million budget gap in other ways as well. He has presided over Adam Lisberg thanks to the city actuary, an enormous increase in long-term construcEDITOR who is independent of tion spending, building water tunnels and Bloomberg, who decided to make the city repairing bridges and buildings to keep New spread billions of dollars in higher pension costs over the next 22 years. BY T H E N U M B E R S Plenty of politicians would have ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION: NEW YORK’S MINIMUM WAGE rushed to wrap their arms around an $11 $850 million gift horse. Bloomberg $10 looked it in the mouth. $7.50 $9 $7.04 $6.37 “You’re going to have a bigger gap $8 $10.02 down the road, and our kids are going to have to come up with more monies $7 $8.50 that we should—being fiscally prudent $6 $7.63 and responsible adults—we should be $5 $6.75 putting in today,” the mayor said. $4 Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wants to raise New York’s minimum 2011 “We have funded this pension wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50. The inflation-adjusted value of the $3 $7.27 minimum wage in New York has varied widely over six decades. system to the extent that the actuary has asked us to fund it,” he said. “We $2 $1 were willing to do more, and in fact had planned to do more. So I suppose the good news is it’s easier to balance Source: Fiscal Policy Institute
CITY HALL CI
A church coalition protesting the arrest of a top aide to Queens Sen. Shirley Huntley and three other people for allegedly misusing taxpayer money has itself received taxpayer money from Huntley. Clergy United for Community Empowerment has received $70,000 in member items from Huntley since 2007, according to government transparency website Project Sunlight. The church group rallied outside a Nassau County courthouse Feb. 1 to protest the indictments. The four were indicted last month by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on charges they falsified documents to steal $30,000 in taxpayer money meant for an education nonprofit. Lelani Clark, a spokeswoman for the coalition, said she couldn’t comment on whether the group should have disclosed its connections to Huntley in announcing plans to rally in support of the senator’s aide. “The focus of that press release was the rally,” Clark said. “I don’t have any comment on that.” A spokesman for Huntley also declined comment.
What you don’t know about the proposed New York State Executive budget CAN hurt you. truth • Erodes good jobs • Harms our communities • Diminishes services New Yorkers rely on • Avoids transparency CoNSEquENCES • Disappearing middle class • Substandard services • Outsourced low wage workers • Politically connected vendors • Compromised public safety The proposed New York State Executive budget — Not good for people. Not good for the economy.
New Yorkers deserve real answers — and a budget that works…for all.
LOCAL 1000 AFSCME, AFL-CIO DA N N Y D O N O H U E , P R E S I D E N T
8761_Budget 7.458x10 Clr_CityState Final.indd 1
1/30/12 12:24 PM
SUSAN LERNER Klezmer, TV dramas and good government By LAURA NAHMIAS
Susan Lerner majored in primate reproduction and spent her first year out of the University of Chicago in a basement doing research on the habits of squirrel monkeys. It didn’t take. “What I found trying to do research is that I’m very much a people-oriented person, not monkey-oriented and not research-oriented,” Lerner said. “I very much like dealing with people.” Now, as executive director of goodgovernment group Common Cause New York, Lerner works with politicians instead. She’s heard the joke before. Lerner is one of the so-called “googoos,” people who lobby in New York City and state on behalf of governmentreform issues. The Southern New Jersey native’s love for politics might be genetic— her great-grandfather was a founding
member of the Workmen’s Circle, an organization that helped fund schools and insurance for its Jewish immigrant members in the late 19th century. “I’ve always been interested in making the world a better place,” she said. She attended the University of Chicago while the campus was rioting over U.S. military action in Cambodia. After her brief stint as a primatologist, she went to NYU law school, taking her first Juris-Doctoral job as a lawyer with the Federal Trade Commission in the department of “advertising substantiation”—“making sure that advertising is accurate,” she explained. Her first case was one attacking a contraceptive company that claimed its products prevented pregnancy, when in fact they had a high failure rate. It was her introduction to the issue of transparency. “It really taught me a lot about the need for disclosure and information and accurate
information for people to use,” Lerner said. She moved to California with her husband, Terry Curtis Fox, a television writer and theater critic who wrote for Hill Street Blues and JAG, whom she’d met and married in college. (“I have been with the same guy since I was 18,” she admitted. “Sometimes it freaks out our children.”) Lerner has been the executive director at Common Cause since 2007, when she and Fox moved back to New York, to Brooklyn’s Fort Greene. Weekends she spends her time cooking, gardening, and trolling the Grand Army Plaza and Fort Greene greenmarkets.
“The hidden thing about me,” she said, “is that I am very interested in Yiddish language and culture. So I am a big enthusiast for klezmer music, and I know a lot of people in the klezmer music scene, and go to concerts and dances.” Lerner has spent time on the West Coast, working in good-government as executive director for the California Clean Money Campaign. For Lerner, the two coasts illustrate the “two extremes of American democracy.” “California is where the dysfunction comes from too much direct democracy, and New York is where the dysfunction comes from no direct democracy,” she said, half-jokingly. “You could say that I, unfortunately, tend to find myself in fairly extreme situations,” she said. But the wild diversity is something Lerner seems to relish. “What I like the best is really being involved in issues that I think are important and that have the potential to really move the state in the direction that most people want to see it go,” she said. “It’s very varied, and that’s one of the things that I do love about this job.” —Laura Nahmias email@example.com
THE FOOTNOTE: A real press release, annotated Sent 1:18 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012, from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s press office.
Last year Bloomberg said he would need to lay off over 4,000 teachers to close the city’s budget deficit. Those layoffs were avoided after a last-minute deal with the teachers’ union and the City Council. City Hall knows those layoffs would be phenomenally unpopular, and has avoided them.
Bloomberg also hopes to consolidate the city’s pension system for what he says would be $1 billion in savings, but the effort stalled because of Comptroller John Liu’s legal troubles.
These changes will need to be approved by the heads of the city’s three main unions holding seats on the city’s pension board of trustees.
These out-year budget gaps won’t be Bloomberg’s problem anymore, of course. His last day in office will be Dec. 31, 2013.
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
P RE LIMI NA RY BUD GET MAY OR BLO OMB ERG PRE SEN TS FY 2 0 1 3 nt Plann ing and Spen ding Restra int Balan ced Budg et with No Tax Increases Due to Prude Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Prelim inary Budge t and Mayor Michael R. Bloom berg today presen ted a plan that achiev es a balanced budge t Ð a d an updated four-y ear financ ial plan. The Mayor outline of ses Ð which is made possible by the Cit yÕ s years closing a $2 billion budge t gap withou t tax increa ver-ye ar controllable year-o s reduce t Budge inary Prelim The nt. restrai pruden t planning and spending y controlled by the Cit y Ð primarily pensions Ð Cit y expenditures , but expen ses that are not full t g available for Cit y ser vices. The Prelim inary Budge continue to rise and continue to make less fundin o f de ficit closing action s rounds eleven though ted genera 2013 FY for s relies on $6 billion in saving taken by Cit y agenc ies since 2007. their heads above water Ð laying o f f Ò Cities across the countr y have struggled to keep to declare bankruptc y,Ó said Mayor having even few a with s, fighter fire or teachers, police o f ficers, years planning ahead , made spent we se becau steps, ful Bloomberg. Ò WeÕ ve a voided those pain are presen ting today is a we t budge The day. govern ment more ef ficient and saved for a rainy uni formed workers and no walking or rs teache f o s f f layo no ses, increa tax no balanced budge t Ð with sible budge t that continues to make respon sible away from our long-te rm invest ments . It is a respon r and invest ments that have helped our cit y to weathe spending cuts, while protec ting the core servic es n pensio rising in bomb time ticking a . But we face the national recess ion better than most other places pay for top-qualit y public schools, fire and police costs. The only way we will be able to continue to f the and also to protec t the very financ ial securi t y o protec tion, and other servic es New Yorkers need, .Ó reform n real pensio pension s ystem Cit y worke rs rely on, is to adopt econo my continues a gradual recove r y. New Tax revenues continue to rebound as the cit yÕ s jobs lost during the recess ion, while the rest o f sector York Cit y has regained 65 percen t o f the private cit y now is expec ted to recove r all jobs lost during the countr y has only gained back 36 percen t. The than the rest o f the countr y. r soone year one 2013, of the recess ion by the end
Pensions yÕ s Independent Actuar y will make a series of Cit the es assum t Budge The Prelim inary ine the Cit yÕ s pension bill, including an expec ted determ that changes to the actuarial assum ptions t to 7.0 percen t. The Prelim inary Budge t change in the assum ed rate of return from 8.0 percen costs b y $575 million in FY 2012 and FY 2013 n pensio s yÕ Cit the se increa will es estima tes the chang FY 2012 and $8.0 billion in FY 2013. The in billion $7.8 to Ð bringing the Cit y total pension costs g dollars the Cit y speci fically reserv ed over utilizin y b Prelim inary Budge t funds these increa sed costs s action s and the increa sed costs. The Cit y had the last two years in anticipation of the actuar yÕ 2013 in anticipation o f the actuar yÕ s changes and FY in billion $1 and reserv ed $1 billion in FY 2012 g to help close the budge t gap. fundin e the Cit y will use the reminder of the reserv
Bloomberg has advocated for pension reforms in Albany for years, without success. In January Bloomberg told state legislators the city’s pension costs have risen 500 percent from $1.5 billion in 2002 and now comprise 12 percent of the budget.
This is a popular way to talk about rising pension costs: Lawmakers in Florida, California and Rhode Island have similarly described their states’ pensions as “ticking time bombs.”
A recent analysis by the state comptroller suggests New York State still lags behind the nation in job growth, primarily because of losses on Wall Street. The financial sector lost $3 billion in the third quarter of 2011.
City debt has skyrocketed under Bloomberg because he has deliberately tried to launch large construction projects that will rebuild the city’s infrastructure for the long term.
Capita l Spending r capital construction progra m to $39.4 The Prelim inary Budge t increa ses the Cit yÕ s fi ve-yea . million billion, up nearly $700 Out-Y ear Gaps inary Budge t for FY 2013 presen ts a The Mayor also announced today that while the Prelim imatel y $3.0 billion in FY 2014, approx f o gaps t budge face still will y Cit balanced budge t, New York 2016. FY $3.5 billion in FY 2015 and $3.4 billion
Our Perspective Raising New York’s Minimum Wage
School Of International and Public Affairs
By Stuart Appelbaum, President, Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, RWDSU, UFCW
n January 30, I was proud to join Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and other members of the Assembly in Albany to announce legislation that would boost the minimum wage in New York from $7.25 to $8.50 per hour, with future increases tied to inflation.
Too many low-wage workers, particularly in retail, one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy, are struggling to survive. Their wages have not kept pace with rising costs of living and higher prices for basic The legislation necessities like food and shelter. It is a plainly unfair and unacceptable situation; introduced in the the current minimum wage is fueling an Assembly would alarming growth in the working poor. immediately help That’s why the legislation introduced in the Assembly is so important: it would people who work immediately help people who work but but struggle to struggle to provide for their families, provide for their because they often have to choose between putting food on the table and families. paying the rent.
Join us for our Upcoming Open Houses from 6–8pm:
Analysis from the Fiscal Policy Institute shows that the minimum wage hike would have a significant impact on retail workers and directly stimulate the economy. When retail and other low-wage workers earn more, they spend it quickly, and that spending drives demand for new goods and services, which leads businesses to create new jobs. The vast majority of New Yorkers understand this; a higher minimum wage has broad support.
Wednesday February 8th, 2012 Wednesday April 11th, 2012 Wednesday June 6th, 2012
In New York City, the RWDSU and many coalition partners built a living wage movement that recently resulted in a landmark victory for low-wage workers. The movement drew sustenance from organizations across the five boroughs and changed the conversation about wages, jobs, and inequality. Our union members and partners are eager to build on that victory and energize the campaign for a higher minimum wage. New Yorkers need a wage-led recovery from the recession. This legislation tells struggling New Yorkers they are not invisible or forgotten, and that government is going to do something to improve their lives. It is a small but crucial step that will help forge a path out of poverty toward the middle class. Raising the minimum wage is the next big fight for economic justice and fairness in our state. And it’s a fight I know we can win.
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FEBRUARY 6, 2012
This was the year redistricting was supposed to work. Guess what? By LAURA NAHMIAS
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
veryone but the winners in New York State’s unfair system of drawing election districts agrees New Yorkers deserve better. This was the year they were supposed to get it. But nothing has changed. In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, the Legislature has once again drawn maps that will all but guarantee they have to split the spoils of running the Assembly and Senate. The lawmakers who promised to do better went back on their word. The governor who promised to veto unfair lines may be going soft. The goodgovernment groups that hoped for change have once again been ignored. At a meeting of the Legislative Task Force on redistricting four days after the maps were released, New York Public Interest Research Group’s Bill Mahoney chided Senate Republicans for insisting the maps, which he called the most gerrymandered in history, were not drawn in a partisan way. He begged LATFOR co-chair Sen. Mike Nozzolio to prove otherwise. “I would absolutely love to have my cynicism shattered,” Mahoney said. “I believe you have interpreted [the constitution] as you best saw fit to serve your partisan interest, and not best to represent the people of New York.” Nozzolio, visibly agitated, ran his fingers along the inside of his buttonedup collar, as if to give himself more room to breathe. Of course, not everybody sees this as a tragedy of democracy. Plenty of people see it as a natural consequence of a ruthless life-or-death process, in which politicians facing an existential threat shouldn’t be expected to play nice. Republicans say the Democrats blew their chance to retain their Senate majority and aren’t fit to govern. “We can only go by what we’ve seen, and the Democrats were in the majority for two years and it was a total disaster,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans. “They raised taxes by $14 billion, and despite all that, they overspent their budget. Talk about dysfunction and scandal and not being able to get the trains to run on time. It was difficult for them to ever get 32 votes, even when it was a good bill.” People on all sides of the fight say this year is worse than ever. Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t seem to mind if Senate Democrats are thrown under the bus by a Republican majority that has proven to be a better partner in governing. The Republicans are fighting to keep their party from total irrelevance. Democrats who showed no interest in fairness during their brief stint running the Senate find few shoulders to cry on now. In a Capitol that has welcomed strong leadership from Cuomo, redistricting remains untamed. No one fully controls this year’s process. And no one with a hand on the levers of power will admit that New Yorkers were lied to.
Photo illustrations by Joey Carolino
few hours after newly drawn district maps were published on the Internet in late January, Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger gave her own new district a quick once-over. “But if you pick up the maps in total
charging Senate Republicans with malevolence and pettiness in their mapmaking, Assembly Republicans leveling similar accusations at Assembly Democrats, and even Cuomo calling the maps “wholly unacceptable as written.”
kept Republicans in power. This will be the first year since 1982 when a Democratic administration held power over the Justice Department, meaning that if Cuomo vetoes lines, it could be bad for Republicans. “No one knows where it’s going to land, so they’re all groping for a deal,” one consultant said of the frenetic negotiations. “Nobody’s bluffing, because nobody has all the cards. No one can win big anymore.”
“If you pick up the maps in total and you look, you just go, ‘These are just squiggles!’” and you look,” she said, “you just go, ‘These are just squiggles!’ ” Other senators were similarly surprised. Like Sen. Michael Gianaris. “I found out when Ken Lovett of the Daily News called me at 11:30 at night,” said Gianaris. He later said in a radio interview that the district seemed design specifically “to screw me.” Or Sen. Dan Squadron: “I saw my district lines when I clicked on them on the LATFOR website, after the press release went out.” And on it went—Senate Democrats
But the accusations of conspiracy from all sides are wrong, if only for the reason that no one—not the Senate Republicans, not the Assembly Democrats, not the good-government groups, not even Cuomo—has enough control of the redistricting process to successfully execute a plan for good, or evil. In past decades when a plan couldn’t be decided on, it was thrown to a court. A special master appointed by a Republican presidential administration could be reliably counted on both to give deference to states’ rights and to affirm plans that
edistricting reform is a perennial favorite of goodgovernment groups, but the issue took off in 2010 following a string of scandals and lawmaker arrests, and candidates campaigned on a platform of cleaning up Albany. People wanted to change the system that protected incumbent lawmakers and bred corruption. In a richly ironic twist, for example, former Bronx Republican FEBRUARY 6, 2012
Map Machers Who’s who in New York State’s decennial redistricting process
ehind every good redistricting battle is a good redistricting lawyer. These are the most important surrogates for the players in this year’s redistricting:
JEFFREY WICE The national expert on redistricting has served as counsel to Senate Democrats on the practice since 2003. He was a staunch advocate for counting prisoners in their home districts, not where they are incarcerated. The approval of a bill mandating that benefited downstate Democratic lawmakers. Wice also served as counsel to the Assembly in 1982, 1992 and 2002.
ROMAN HEDGES Officially a “professor in residence” devoted to “special projects” for the Assembly, Hedges is the Assembly majority’s point man on redistricting and a member of LATFOR. He was also deputy secretary of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee for 15 years. Those who know him say he is smart, competent and extremely knowledgeable about the technical aspects of redistricting. He has argued against nonpartisan redistricting in debates with former NYPIRG Director Blair Horner. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Rochester.
MICHAEL CARVIN Senate Republicans hired the Jones Day attorney for a three-year, $3 million contract to counsel them on the redistricting process, after doing the same in 1992 and 2002. He wrote the controversial memo justifying the creation of a 63rd State Senate district. A skilled litigator, Carvin frequently represents Republicans before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was part of the team that won the Bush v. Gore case (and the presidency) for George W. Bush, and represented Philip Morris and the tobacco industry in a $280 billion lawsuit to stop the Department of Justice from collecting class-action damages.
SEN. TOM LIBOUS The Senate’s deputy majority leader is a master strategist who led challenges to the Senate Democrats’ prisoner-reallocation bill and blasted their ineffective leadership when they held the majority. As chair of the Senate Rules Committee, Libous effectively killed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s independent-redistricting bill by not assigning it a sponsor. And in the interest of maintaining a working relationship with Senate Republicans, Cuomo has yet to complain.
JEREMY CREELAN The governor’s special counsel on public integrity and ethics was formerly director of the Democracy Program at NYU Law School’s Brennan Center, where he worked on voting rights issues. He advises the governor on the redistricting process, in concert with Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz. Observers say Cuomo has put more legal attention on the redistricting process than any other governor in recent memory, including his father.
MICHAEL McDONALD The associate professor at George Mason University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution specializes in electoral and voting rights law. He pioneered a new redistricting software called “District Builder” in partnership with Fordham University’s law school this year as part of a demonstration project to show how maps are drawn. Sources close to the debate say Cuomo has sought counsel from McDonald throughout the redistricting process. —Laura Nahmias
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
Sen. Guy Velella had gerrymandered his district to include Rikers Island, where he ended up serving time after his conviction on bribery charges. So when Cuomo announced his intention to run for governor, he pledged to reform the redistricting process, making it the first bullet point in a release promising he would “clean up” Albany. “We must remove legislative redistricting from partisan elected politicians and place it in the hands of an independent commission that works only for the people,” he wrote that May. A few months earlier, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch had created the New York Uprising PAC with the specific intention of shaming lawmakers into promising to vote for independent redistricting. Koch gave lawmakers a July 21, 2010 deadline to sign a pledge before they would be declared “enemies of reform.” That was less than four months before Election Day. Not taking any chances, Skelos and his Republican senators signed their names to the pledge on the last possible day. They have reneged on their word. When Cuomo sent them a bill to create an independent commission, they never took it up.
the 2002 redistricting were revealed in court. They showed maps designed to create trouble, like one in Brooklyn the Republicans labeled “Mischief, Brooklyn.” Breitbart says the strategy is simple: Changing the worst of those decoys will make it appear as though the Legislature compromised and improved the process, when in fact the system remains broken.
ranted anonymity to step outside their party positions and talk like humans, Albany lawmakers describe two problems at the heart of this year’s redistricting process—one mathematical, one rhetorical. New York State’s voters are increasingly Democratic, while reliably Republican districts upstate have lost population as the manufacturing economy eroded. Over time it has become harder for Republicans to maintain their majority unless they cast voodoo on the maps. But many people have a vested interest in making sure Republicans keep control of the Senate, numbers be damned. Sources close to Cuomo say the governor would rather keep the status quo, especially after a year when the mixed-party houses have given him a host of legislative victories. When Senate Democrats ran the chamber, ethical laughingstocks like Pedro Espada, Carl Kruger and Hiram Monserrate made a mockery of their newfound power. All three of them are gone, left to fight their legal battles, but the governor is wary of giving power back to their conference. “The business community is very happy,” said one Republican consultant. “It slows radical ideas in the Legislature. There are a lot of interests that are pleased with split government, who will not make a big stink when these lines get forced through.” Yet legislators who promised to support independent redistricting—especially the Republican Senators who broke their vows en masse—get sympathy from old Albany hands who believe they did what they had to do at the time. “The Senate never should have told Ed Koch it was going to do anything independent,” said another Republican consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I don’t know what they were thinking at the time, but I would have to say it was pure political expediency,” he said. “I think the Senate Republicans were doing and saying whatever they had to, to get through that election cycle, and it ultimately won’t matter because the voters don’t care about the district lines.”
“There are a lot of interests that are pleased with split government, who will not make a big stink when these lines get forced through.”
nd so when the maps came out this year, they were even more outrageous than usual. The Associated Press called one district “the lobster” and another “the claw.” Citizens Union decried a new AsianAmerican Senate district as “absurdly drawn,” and questioned the logic behind others. Six incumbent Democratic senators have been drawn into districts with one another, as were two Republican Assembly members, in a maneuver designed to maximize each majority’s grip on power. Democratic Sen. Tony Avella’s Queens district was “only contiguous at low tide,” said Citizens Union’s Alex Camarda, meaning that at all other times, Avella would need a canoe or snorkel to traverse the district end to end. Freshman Republican Assemblywoman Claudia Tenney questioned the logic behind her new district, seemingly drawn to make way for a Democrat in the next district over. “New Hartford certainly has nothing in common with Coxsackie or Schoharie County at this point,” she said to LATFOR members, before Assemblyman and LATFOR co-chair John McEneny corrected her pronunciation of “Coxsackie.” “See, I don’t even know,” she said in frustration. Her only familiarity with the new town drawn into her district was “seeing it on the Thruway sign.” Every decade, initial maps are deliberately designed to provoke outrage, said Democratic redistricting expert Todd Breitbart: The most ridiculous districts are “decoys” designed to draw attention away from other problems in the larger plan. The decoy strategy was clearly exposed in 2004, when Republican documents from
hat’s what many of them hope, in any case. Rumors first sprouted last spring that Skelos and his conference made a quiet deal with Cuomo: Let us do what we have to, to keep our Senate majority, and we’ll let you do what you want on same-sex marriage and your other priorities.
Electricity Means Serious Business By Arthur “Jerry” Kremer I recently had the pleasure of sitting on a panel with the governors of several states, where we discussed the role of public-private energy partnerships in helping to create jobs and expand the economy. It used to be that when a new energy facility would open, the entire community would come out for the ribbon-cutting to welcome the project and the jobs it created. But the times they are a-changing! We now have organizations using public and private funds to try to halt every energy project that comes along, regardless of merit. To address this challenge, public officials and industry have to be more proactive in supporting energy projects because, if we continue this current trajectory, there will come a time when our lights won’t turn on when we hit the switch. Some opposition groups play on emotion and rely on spotty science, knowing their role is to hinder any and every project, despite the fact that we need power to keep the economy going and keep people employed. The link between energy costs and economic development cannot be understated. New York’s key industries – finance, media, information technology, tourism, healthcare, real estate – all rely on the availability of affordable power. Businesses take electricity rates into account when analyzing their operating costs for the next year. If power costs are high, it will affect a business’ ability to operate and maintain its workforce. Businesses are dependent on reliable and affordable energy. In order to expand, businesses and industries need to know that their electric rates will remain affordable and stable. Governor Cuomo’s recent proposal to construct an energy superhighway to bring power, including renewables, from upstate and western New York to the city and downstate region has many desirable features. For New York to get the most out of the project – namely job retention and job creation – any proposal must guarantee current, in addition to new, in-state power generation.
Whether it is true is irrelevant: Recent events have cemented the perception in Albany that it is. Larry Schwartz, secretary to the governor, and Jeremy Creelan, special counsel on public integrity and ethics reform, have been building a reservoir of legal and technical information on redistricting, in order to give Cuomo the foundation he needs to make decisions on the subject. “The governor’s legal staff is paying more attention to legal issues and to the policy and legal merits of what is being done than has been the case with any previous governor,” said one redistricting expert. “Andrew wanted to come to a compromise,” said one source with knowledge of the governor’s thinking. “He’s been floating ideas to them.” Assembly Democrats, safely ensconced in a majority they stand little chance of losing, have been more honest in their defense of the partisan redistricting process. McEneny has argued, for instance, that self-interest could never be taken out of the process, even with an independent commission. Better to have lawmakers who are familiar with districts help draw the lines, he said. “It’s naive to believe that people who are embroiled in public politics don’t know where people live,” he said at a recent LATFOR hearing. Cuomo has never officially gone back on his promise to veto lines that aren’t redrawn by an independent commission. But he won’t actually use the
V-word anymore—and seemed to be stepping away from the fight, by saying it doesn’t matter to New Yorkers after all. “It’s not that they’re not receptive to it,” he said late last month. “I don’t think they believe that it is on their top tier of priorities. You know, it is a technical issue of how you’re going to structure a legislative body. It’s not about them; it’s not about their family; it’s not about their job; it’s not about their taxes; it’s not about their child’s education.” The governor who tries to wrestle every other problem in Albany now shrugged his shoulders about his very first bullet point for cleaning up the Capitol. “I don’t know that anyone knows where it ends. You have to have an election, so at one point you have to have lines so we can have an election, but between now and then I think we let the process play out,” he said. “I am sure this will wind up in the courts anyway.”
’ll be darned if I let them run on the old lines,” Gov. Mario Cuomo growled back in 1992, of the Legislature’s latest batch of gerrymandered maps. But that June, the first Governor Cuomo signed the plan anyway, even while denouncing it. The maps were approved with only one change by the Justice Department that fall. Some believe the younger Cuomo will respond to this year’s maps in the same way. He’ll grumble about www.cityandstateny.com
If New York relies on too many out-of-state energy sources, we will pay more for imported power. We need energy policy that encourages the maximum use of available in-state resources. It is unfortunate that some opposition groups have become an obstacle for every new energy source. If government and private industry don’t act now, the “antis” will have their way, and the cost of electricity will skyrocket. Arthur “Jerry” Kremer is the Chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA). A 23-year veteran of the New York State Assembly, he chaired the prestigious Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He served by appointment of the Governor on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Capital Review Board and the Public Authorities Control Board. Mr. Kremer is also a principal author of the state’s power plant siting law.
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The New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) is a diverse group of business, labor, environmental, and community leaders working together for clean, low-cost and reliable electricity solutions that foster prosperity and jobs for the Empire State. W W W. A R E A - A L L I A N C E . O R G FEBRUARY 6, 2012
TuiTion aT Avenues: The World school will be
while workers are Paid
Benno schmidt, Jr., chris Whittle & Milo reverso
AKA “Purveyors of PoverTy” The 2010 census showed us that 15.1 percent of americans are living below the poverty line, with 2.6 million slipping into poverty in the last year. This is the highest number since The bureau started publishing figures 52 years ago. This means about 1 in 7 americans are living in poverty. benno schmidt, Jr., Chris whittle & Milo reverso aka“ Purveyors of Poverty” are making sure that construction workers building avenues – The world school do noT receive fair wages and do noT receive benefits.
cleArly, This is clAss WArfAre. stand up for What’s right and stop Avenues: The World school from cheating Workers and our community
“It’s a smokescreen,” one prominent republican said. “they always say ‘constitutional amendment’ when they want a good talking point.”
the partisan process, but in the end, he’ll sign them. Cuomo and the Senate Republicans will survive the lie, experts predict. Republicans have vastly outraised Democrats in Senate fund-raising, and with the defection of four Democrats from the conference, there is little chance they will regain the majority. Part of an announced compromise could include a constitutional amendment, but many people doubt it will pass. “It’s a smokescreen,” one prominent Republican said. “They always say ‘constitutional amendment’ when they want a good talking point. It has to pass two consecutive Legislatures and then put it on the ballot. There’s no way that ever happens. I wouldn’t fall for
that. That doesn’t happen. That just doesn’t happen.” Cuomo, he said, will say he did all he could. “He throws his hands up, life goes on, next issue. A couple of bad editorials come out, the public doesn’t give a damn, and then you’ve got 10 years to recover from it,” the Republican said. “If you polled, you’d be lucky if you got one or two percent of the people that care about that.” The consultant paused a moment, and then apologized for sounding so cynical, before predicting the way it would go down over the next few weeks. “It’ll be two days of outrage,” the source said, “and then it’s on to the budget.” email@example.com
By Gavin J. Donohue
In this year’s State of the State Address, Governor Cuomo proposed an “energy highway” that he likened to the State Thruway system as a way to move power throughout the state. The Governor’s desire to invest in infrastructure recognizes the important link between energy and economic development. However, if this “energy highway” were to proceed, the current market conditions would need to be considered to ensure that ratepayers are not held responsible for unnecessary projects that may harm the economic goals of the state. New York’s energy demands are substantial, but it is estimated that no new resources will be needed until 2020. That fact reflects the thousands of megawatts of excess capacity present in the state, mostly due to billions of dollars in private investment.
Some wistful, some still bitter, the victims of gerrymandering speak out
The district seemed favorable to him, but after more than a quarter century in Congress, the new lines dashed ome still remember how frustrating it was. his hopes for another reelection bid. “Raising money had really become an unpleasant Some say it doesn’t really bother them. And some still disagree about how exactly necessity,” LaFalce said. “I didn’t like the prospect of having to run against a member of my own party, the it played out. prospect of having to run against Ten years on, the victims and an incumbent. Also, at that time in the survivors of the last round of “I call myself a 2002 I did not foresee the Demogerrymandering in New York offer poster boy for crats regaining a majority in the mixed views on the process and redistricting reform.” House of Representatives for how it altered their lives. some time. In the minority, you Vincent Gentile, who was a three-term state senator, saw his New York City just can’t set the agenda.” For LaFalce, the decision was a good one. He got seat carved up like a side of beef in one of the most his Congressional pension, returned to practicing controversially redrawn districts that year. “People now are saying, ‘Oh, look what’s happening,’” law, joined a number of boards and became a college Gentile said. “But it’s just a repeat of what happened 10 professor, which he enjoyed immensely. In other cases, getting gerrymandered out of office years ago. They were playing their shenanigans 10 years doesn’t stick. Republican Long Island Assemblyman ago, and they’re doing it again 10 years later.” Gentile says he was targeted by Senate Repub- Phil Boyle was drawn out of his district 10 years ago licans who reconfigured the district so then City after backing the wrong side in an intraparty dispute. “I call myself a poster boy for redistricting Councilman Martin Golden could challenge him. The Staten Island portion of Gentile’s district, reform,” Boyle said. “My house was literally on the which he had won handily in 2000, was cut off, while water, so they had to go down my block, around my more conservative portions of Brooklyn were added house, and over the water and back up the other side just to draw the lines they wanted to.” to help Golden, a former police officer. The new lines benefited a fellow Republican “They drew such a twisted district that, to get from Gravesend to Marine Park, they had to connect incumbent, Tom Barraga, who ended up winning the it with one avenue through Sheepshead Bay,” Gentile district. Boyle declined to run again. “The way the lines were finally drawn and said. “And so it looked like a little barbell with the bar in middle. It should have been an easy rejection adopted, he wasn’t in that district,” Barraga said. “I think that there was a feeling that one or the other of by the Department of Justice.” us would just have to move on.” Golden, who won the seat, sees it differently. Boyle did—until Barraga ran for the Suffolk “I believe I had nothing to do with the drafting of the seat 10 years ago,” Golden said. “They’re all County Legislature three years later to be closer to similar communities, all communities that should be home. Boyle ran for his old seat and won. These days together. And I think it was well put together, and I he supports a more nonpartisan process, but doesn’t sound too concerned about what will really happen. think we’ve served that community well.” Barraga is still angry. Not that Gentile holds a grudge. The two are collegial “These public hearings that go on, with reference and have partnered on joint initiatives in Brooklyn. While Gentile went down fighting and landed to getting input from the general public, it’s a lot of comfortably in a City Council seat, others find that gerry- baloney,” Barraga said. “In the end, it’s each majority sitting down and drawing the lines to give them the mandering makes retirement look like the best option. Ten years ago former Congressman John LaFalce best opportunity to get their members reelected, and was confronted with a map that combined his to eliminate members in the minority party that they district with that of another Democratic incumbent, can’t beat in a regular election.” firstname.lastname@example.org Rep. Louise Slaughter. By Jon Lentz
NY State’s Energy Highway
Therefore, new investment in the state’s energy infrastructure should be economic and based on market forces. Additionally, not all new investment in energy resources produces a benefit. For example, a transmission line originating in Canada that bypasses all upstate resources to provide energy into New York City, in fact, provides a disservice, as building such a line is extremely costly, produces no jobs in-state, and could likely lead to a loss of jobs due to the harming of existing New York State resources. Governor Cuomo conceded that, in order to implement his plan, New York will need to keep and reconstitute the power that already exists and add to the state’s supply. New York needs to focus on the resources that provide the greatest benefit to the most people. In-state resources provide needed power but they also provide jobs and revenues for the state and localities. If Governor Cuomo feels compelled to exert the state’s influence over the composition of New York’s energy portfolio, he must ensure that all resources – new and existing, various fuel types, and different technologies – are given the opportunity to compete. It is likely that the Governor will find our existing in-state resources provide the greatest value for New Yorkers. Gavin J. Donohue is President & CEO of the Independent Power Producers of New York Inc. and a member of the New York AREA Advisory Board.
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New York AREA’s membership includes some of the state’s most vital business, labor and community organizations including the New York State AFL-CIO, Business Council of New York State, Partnership for New York City, New York Building Congress, National Federation of Independent Business and many more. W W W. A R E A - A L L I A N C E . O R G FEBRUARY 6, 2012
A SHORT HISTORY OF A BROKEN PROMISE How politicians danced around their promise to make redistricting an independent process
April 12, 2011: Senate Republican spokesman says the conference has “already passed legislation to reform the redistricting process and fulfilled the NY Uprising pledge.”
April 2010: Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch forms New York Uprising PAC, to force lawmakers to sign pledge promising nonpartisan redistricting in 2012. If lawmakers break pledge, he says, “You’re a liar.”
July 6, 2011: Cuomo threatens to veto any lines not drawn in an independent fashion. LATFOR co-chair Assemblyman John McEneny calls threat “petty.”
May 3, 2010: Senate President Pro Tem Malcolm Smith promises to redistrict Senate Republicans “into oblivion.”
October 26, 2011: Cuomo appears to hedge on veto threat: “The veto could inject a certain amount of chaos and uncertainty that wouldn’t be in anyone’s best interest.”
May 22, 2010: Andrew Cuomo announces run for governor, making independent redistricting part of his campaign platform. July 21, 2010: Senate Republicans sign on to NY Uprising pledge on the last possible day before Koch would have branded them “enemies of reform.” September 8, 2010: After initially being branded an enemy, Senate Majority Leader John Sampson signs Koch’s pledge. November 2010: Senate Republicans win one-seat majority, though recounts delay the decision. December 20, 2010: Deadline passes for constitutional amendment to create independent redistricting by 2012. February 17, 2011: Cuomo introduces independent redistricting bill. Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos walks back reform pledge for the first time, citing concerns with partisanship in Cuomo’s bill.
March 7, 2011: Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous tells a reporter that redistricting promise was signed “in the heat of the campaign.” March 8, 2011: Senate Republicans block Cuomo’s bill from going to the floor. Libous says, “We’re going to deal with redistricting. We’re going to deal with it on our timescale.” March 14, 2011: Senate passes bill promising constitutional amendment for nonpartisan redistricting by 2022. March 30, 2011: Skelos says Senate will not revisit independent redistricting during session. April 5, 2011: Senate Republicans file challenge to bill counting prisoners in home districts instead of place of incarceration.
December 2, 2011: Prison-count lawsuit is decided in favor of Senate Democrats. December 8, 2011: Skelos expresses hope Cuomo will sign off on a LATFOR plan, saying, “I think that when the governor sees the plans, he’s going to see that they’re fair, and he’ll make a decision at that time.” January 6, 2012: Senate Republicans confirm plans to add 63rd Senate seat. January 27, 2012: Cuomo says he will not actively campaign for independent redistricting because it is not one of voters’ top priorities. LATFOR issues gerrymandered maps later that day. January 31, 2012: Skelos defends LATFOR lines in press conference: “I don’t believe this has been a partisan redistricting process.” —Laura Nahmias
IT’S ALL IN
tay plugged into New York politics all day long with The Notebook, the new political blog from City & State. Led by political writer Chris Bragg with contributions from the entire City & State staff, The Notebook is City & State’s new online home for breaking news and sharp analysis of the shifting sands of campaigns and elections in New York.
www.cityandstateny.com/thenotebook 12 FEBRUARY CITY &STATE 6, 2012
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Re-RedRawn The proposed Senate maps aren’t pretty, but five artists look for inspiration in them
The Original Gerrymander Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a law in 1812 that redrew district lines to give Republicans an advantage over Federalists in Senate elections. The Boston Gazette ran this cartoon describing it as “The Gerry-mander. A new species of Monster.”
Senate district 12 Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris Artist: John W. Tomac www.johnwtomac.com Tomac says: “The boundaries of New York’s Assembly and State Senate districts don’t make much sense, until you look at them as inkblots on a Rorschach test. I saw this monster, a sight no more scary than the practice of letting incumbents draw the lines of their districts so they can easily keep their job and majorities.
Senate district 36 Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson Artist: Thomas James www.thomasjamesillustration.com James says: “I was drawn to this map because it brought to mind the shape of a Russian Cossack dancer. In our western culture, this type of dance is sometimes seen as silly or ridiculous, which I thought made for an appropriate subject to also portray the ridiculous dance that is the redistricting process in New York.”
Senate district 22 Incumbent: Republican Sen. Marty Golden Artist: Michael Sloan www.illoz.com/msloan Sloan says: “The shape of the district 22 map suggested an active person with a large head, perhaps a pompadour, a jutting jaw, and a large foot. At first I thought of Arnold Schwarzenegger breakdancing, but the figure wasn’t sufficiently muscle-bound. So I went with John Kerry as a marathon runner instead.”
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Senate District 43 Incumbent: Republican Sen. Roy McDonald Artist: Owen Sherwood www.owensherwood.com Sherwood says: “This map definitely looks like a young werewolf coming out of the top of something. If you look long enough, that something looks like a robot’s arm and hand. There is the added bonus of it containing my hometown, which is marked by the star.”
Senate District 46 Incumbent: Democratic Sen. Neil Breslin Artist: John Daly www.skewedimages.com Daly says: “I chose this district because I grew up in Amsterdam and my dad (who was a Young Republican during the Rockefeller years) always worked on the campaigns of Hugh Farley—who represented the area under the previous district lines. I chose the image because regardless of what either party says, redistricting comes down to the two of them butting heads to see who can get an advantage (the hell with the electorate).”
Senate District 60 Incumbent: Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti Artist: Joey Carolino, City & State art director Carolino says: “To prepare for this assignment, I began reviewing LATFOR’s completely reasonable and fairly redrawn proposed districts. I was struck by how blatantly the Democratic stronghold of Buffalo was surgically carved out of Grisanti’s district in exchange for generous portions of constituent-rich Lake Erie. It seemed the lake was Little Red Riding Hood, giving cover to the slender Republican neck of the Buffalo suburbs, and I identified GOP-filled Hamburg and Orchard Park as a basket of seat-saving goodies. It’s up to the readers to determine who the Big Bad Wolf is in this fairy tale.”
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ood riddance to the time when women deserved special notice just for being the first in anything. New York is still far from full equality between the sexes in 2012, but the barriers that once kept women from male-dominated fields and careers are now noted mostly for being demolished. That’s why City & State is proud to honor a diverse selection of women who take a leading role in the public and civic life of New York. Some of them blazed a trail for women in areas like journalism and labor; others were able to follow in the path cleared by the trailblazers. From a list of over 500 nominations, these 25 women were chosen as our Above and Beyond winners not simply because they are women but because of what they have done. Read on to learn why. Profiles written by Chris Bragg, Andrew J. Hawkins, Jon Lentz, Adam Lisberg, Laura Nahmias and Eliza Ronalds-Hannon
NANCY PLOEGER President, Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Nancy Ploeger’s first experience advocating for local businesses involved dropping a bag of ping-pong balls out of a helicopter with no door. Ploeger, who was 16 at the time, was recruited by her father, a marketing director for Sears, to perform the stunt. The balls were to be dropped in the parking lot of a local mall, where they could be redeemed for prizes. Ploeger said she was thrilled to be helping her father—and also terrified. “To this day, I relive that doorless ride, take risks and try to drop ping-pong balls wherever I go,” she said. Now, as president of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, Ploeger is the voice for over 10,000 members representing a cross section of the borough’s economy, from large corporations to small mom-and-pop stores. And as a woman in the high-stakes, male-dominated world of business in New York, Ploeger says one of her top priorities is improving access to capital for women, so more women-owned businesses can get the assistance they need getting off the ground. “There’s still lots of challenges for women,” she said. “There are very few top-level women on boards of directors.… That has to loosen up.”
How did you get your start? I worked at [a sports club] for 12 years. The East Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, at the time, came to us and asked us to field a board member for their chamber, because we have a lot of clubs in their footprint. So I was on the board, and I saw what the chamber was doing and the potential they had. At the time a lot of business owners were starting their businesses off their dining-room tables, and this place called Starbucks opened, and it’s like, “Whoa, what are these people doing here?” And then a Staples opened next door. And I saw those same people having business meetings at Starbucks buying supplies at Staples. And I thought this was really how all these start-ups and entrepreneurs were utilizing these places. It was the late 1990s. Corporations were downsizing folks. And I thought it could be a linchpin of the chamber to help those types of entrepreneurs. On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? It’s definitely much easier. There are about 125 women[’s] organizations in New York: women in construction, women in film and television, women in communications, blah, blah. Many of those organizations were started years ago, when they still couldn’t get a seat at the table, when they couldn’t get access to capital, when they still weren’t hitting the heights of the executive boardrooms. If you look at them today, many of them have shrunk, because a lot of the goals they were trying to achieve have been reached. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? Family members or friends would ask, “When are you getting married? When are you having a family?” It wasn’t advice; it was telling me that my life should be built around a family. And that’s not the worst advice, of course, but life is so much more than that.
LILLIAN RODRÍGUEZ LÓPEZ
President, the Hispanic Federation Political Director, 32BJ SEIU Nonprofits have been a critical part of Lillian Rodríguez When Alison Hirsh got into politics, she aimed to López’s life for as long as she can remember: from the play the make people’s lives better. She didn’t expect she’d end Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre performed in her neighborhood up pursuing that goal by working for a union. when she was little to her job at the Tremont Community Council “I got into politics in the first place because I (which paid her way through college) to her position today at one thought it was a way to make social change, particuof the city’s most influential Hispanic organizations. larly around economic justice issues, and unions are “You can imagine, they’re very near and dear to my heart,” Rodrían amazing way to do it,” she said. “I engage in the guez López said. “I know how important they are to communities political world from the perspective of the workers.” and to individuals in terms of creating opportunities, exposure, posiHirsh learned politics on the ground from Assemtive experiences and just helping you get to the next stage of your life.” blyman Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn power broker Creating those opportunities is what she does as president of the Hispanic Federation, which legendary for knowing how to deliver votes whether serves about 100 Latino health-and-human-services agencies in New York and neighboring states. in his borough or on the Assembly floor. She joined “We work very closely with a lot of different communities, elected officials, government his staff in 2003 and became his chief of staff the next officials, that community at large, and the most difficult part is every day you wake up and year. say, ‘I can’t do enough,’” she said. “He’s an amazing teacher about politics and what you can do through the process,” she But she is quick to point out that it doesn’t require a job like hers to serve the community. said. “He taught me the mechanics of organizing. If you want to get 300 senior citizens to “You can make a difference wherever you are,” she said. “People think because they’re in come to a community meeting, how many do you have to call?” particular sectors, they lose their civic or social responsibility—and you don’t. That’s something Hirsh joined 32BJ in 2007 and ran the parent union SEIU’s Ohio effort to elect Presiyou should carry with you wherever you are, and that I will carry with me wherever I am.” dent Barack Obama the next year. Now she oversees the political agenda for 120,000 workers in eight states and Washington, D.C. How did you get your start? “It’s still largely men in positions of leadership,” she said. “But there are more and more I was in government for about 11 years, and the chairman of the board of the Health and women in labor. The president of SEIU is a woman.” Hospitals Corporation, who was my employer, was the president of the [Hispanic] Federation. I was clearly very impressed with the work the organization was doing, the influence How did you get your start? they had in the city. When he asked me, “Would you consider coming to the organization?” My background is in local politics. Vito fundamentally cares about his district and how over 16 years ago, I jumped at the opportunity to work with him and for an organization that to make it a better place. I knew was doing such critical work for Latinos throughout the city. On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? I think it’s probably helped me. More and more people want to see women accomI think there are differences to being a woman. I’ve worked for amazing men who have plishing things and being in positions of responsibility. I can’t really imagine not being a generous characters, and I’ve worked for women who were just as warm, just as generous, woman. just as insightful and practical. I think women are way better multitaskers than men are. You What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? can train a man to be a multitasker too, if you give him the right kind of training. People will constantly advise you to take on jobs with big titles in organizations, or for people you don’t necessarily believe in. The best way to succeed is to hunker down and What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? “You can’t do that. That won’t work.” It’s interesting, because by nature I am a little do what you love. cautious. I tend to really try to analyze situations very carefully, but I realize that certain opportunities don’t wait for that. Certain opportunities don’t tolerate paralysis of analysis. That won’t work; you have to think about that—I’ve learned sometimes you just have to jump right in and seize the moment if it feels right. You just try to make sure that you’re going in with your eyes open and moving and quickly as you can.
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“To do more for the world than the world does for you – that is success.” Henry Ford
vice president for special education, United Federation of Teachers At first, Carmen Alvarez wanted to be schools chancellor. She was already a parent-association president and a New York City school-board member, back when there was a school board. Alvarez was eager to keep climbing the educational ladder in the hopes of continuing to help children with disabilities, proving her own worth as an educational leader. Then Sandra Feldman, the UFT president at the time, said her expertise could best be served on the union’s leadership team. “She said, ‘Eh, you don’t want to be chancellor,’ ” Alvarez said. “Trust me, give me some time and I’ll make sure there’s an opportunity for you.’ And she did.” Feldman recommended Alvarez run for vice president of special education, a role especially suited to her experience working with kids with language and learning disabilities. She said the opportunity gave her confidence, and helped change the direction of the union toward an increased focus on special education. And while labor is still a male-dominated sector, Alvarez says she sees many positive gains for women, especially in the teachers’ union, which has traditionally been more open to female leadership than other unions. “I would say my work changed the complexion of the union,” Alvarez said. How did you get your start? I’ve always been a special education teacher. And I worked in Manhattan as a special ed teacher. I was also a school-board member…and a P.A. president in I.S. 44 in District 3. And I was also interested in working with the community. How has being a woman helped your career? When Sandra Feldman became president, the UFT structure was pretty much maledominated. And Sandy wanted to change that. After her years as president, more women became district reps, more women of color. She actually accomplished that. And I feel like her belief in me gave me the strength to be very clear about the direction we’re going as a union. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? In the early ’90s, inclusion was a new buzzword. I fondly recall the people who said, “All kids in special ed should be general ed, no matter what,” as the “inclusionistas.” On the surface it looked like the right thing, but it really wasn’t. And I had to listen to them to hear where they were off. And once I understood that, I could truly speak to it. And they couldn’t argue with me.
We salute and congratulate our own Frances A. Resheske, and all of the City & State honorees. Whether planting trees with an environmental center or painting public schools, Ms. Resheske truly goes above and beyond for the communities Con Edison serves.
elizabeTH benjamin Host, Capital Tonight; editor, State of Politics Liz Benjamin grew up taking New York politics for granted—so when she got out of college, it never occurred to her to pursue it. “I fell into this by mistake. I didn’t even read the newspaper,” said the woman who became one of the state’s preeminent political journalists. “I was waiting tables at the New Paltz diner.” Benjamin’s father, a political science professor at SUNY New Paltz, is a renowned expert on New York politics. So when the publisher of the local paper ordered an omelet and fries one morning, he asked her what Gerald Benjamin’s daughter was doing there—and she ended up with a job. Within a few years she was working at the Albany Times Union and noticed Ben Smith had launched one of the earliest New York political blogs—prompting her to follow in his footsteps. “I started seeing it and thinking, ‘I don’t know what this is, but we have to get on it,’ ” she said. “It took up more and more of my time.” She later succeeded Smith as the Daily News’ political blogger and wrote a widely followed column on state politics before trying her hand at TV for the YNN cable network upstate—while launching their State of Politics blog as well. A serious triathlete, Benjamin gets up at 5 a.m. to blog dozens of morning headlines before a two-hour workout, and keeps a frenetic pace throughout the day as she tries to stay a step ahead of her ever-growing competition. “Some people remember TV jingles. I happen to remember random things about politics,” she said. “I can connect the dots more quickly. That’s my father’s influence, and it’s a weird quirk of mine.” How did you get your start? I kind of fell into it. I thought I wanted to be an environmental lawyer, even though I didn’t know what an environmental lawyer was. I wanted to change the world. I’m argumentative and nosy by nature. It’s a way to be argumentative and nosy and get paid for it.
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On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? It’s harder to be a woman in politics. You have to work harder. You can make fewer mistakes. Things that are viewed as normal for men—going out at night, having a one-onone dinner with a lawmaker—are viewed differently for a woman. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? I don’t listen to anyone’s advice but my dad. And he always gives me good advice.
1/26/12 10:31 AM www.cityandstateny.com
Commissioner, new york state Office of Children & Family services As a practicing lawyer in the 1970s, Gladys Carrión was many times mistaken for a caseworker or a social worker when she entered the courtroom. “People would address their questions to the men I was with, when in fact I was their supervisor,” Carrión said. In those years, Carrión faced the triple barrier of being young, female and a person of color, but she said her gender was the most significant. “As I progressed in my career, I always felt that I had to be better than my peers and colleagues,” she said. “And not because there were high expectations.” In fact, the expectations were very low. When Carrión was acting as general counsel to a state agency some years ago, she worked with a male commissioner who expressed his satisfaction with her performance in a revealing veiled insult. “He told me, ‘I didn’t think you would be smart,’ ” Carrión said. When Eliot Spitzer became governor in 2007, Carrión took the reins at OCFS, managing an agency of 4,000 employees and a budget of around $4 billion. “It has been one big challenge,” she said. “We serve children and families when they’re in crisis, so we deal with some very difficult, difficult issues—with very limited resources.” How did you get your start? And the agency hasn’t always served children and families effectively, Carrión said. For that I started off working in politics. My first political campaign was for Ruth Messinger for mayor, as an intern when I was still in college. I worked my way up, and then started working reason, her leadership has involved reevaluating some of the methods and practices at OCFS. “Change has been a constant in this agency,” Carrión said. “We are always reengineering.” more directly in labor, through the Mason Tenders District Council and the Working Families Party. Then I did work with a number of unions, like the transport workers, and became the How did you get your start? political director at the Central Labor Council, before I decided to start my own company. When Mayor Dinkins was elected, he was the first to have transition committees interview his prospective appointees. I was interviewed for commissioner of what was then the On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? I’m usually the only “Heather” to walk into the room, and that helps people to remember me. It’s community-development association, and the mayor offered me the position. Principal Officer, Beaudoin & Company llC The work of a labor organizer is rarely dull, but the recession and a rightward swing in national politics have made the past few years especially fraught. Luckily for Heather Beaudoin, those obstacles have translated into renewed energy in organized labor. “What happened in Wisconsin has really mobilized a lot of union members who hadn’t been as active in the past,” Beaudoin said, referring to antiunion legislation passed there last year. “I’ve seen members become much more engaged and active, because they want to make sure what happened in other states won’t happen here in New York.” Beaudoin founded her company four years ago, after working for larger political and labor organizations for years. “I like to work on a variety of issues, and when you work for one organization, you often have to focus on one issue,” Beaudoin said. “This company gives me the opportunity to work on the many issues I’m passionate about.” Right now that involves mainly working with the Transport Workers Union, the Teamsters, and the Building and Construction Trades Council, alongside partner Rebecca Lynch. And as of recently, Beaudoin’s dog, Jack, has turned Beaudoin into an animal rights activist as well. She supports the Bideawee shelter on Manhattan’s East Side, and encourages her colleagues to adopt rescue dogs like Jack.
easier to be a woman in labor politics than it used to be, thanks to a lot of women who have paved On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? the way. The barriers have slowly dissipated and you see more female faces at labor tables now. As a lawyer, I faced a lot of discrimination for it. In my current job, I don’t think that being You’ll always have a situation where you run into some backwards person who’s going a woman has been an issue at all. It has never been as much of a problem in the nonprofit to give you a hard time, but I’ve learned over the years to just not take that as the norm. sector as in other industries. And also, we’ve come a ways. You just have to barrel through it. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? The worst advice was more of a leading-by-example situation. I once had a really bad I had people tell me not to go into business on my own. They said, “It’s very difficult; it’s supervisor, to whom I was the deputy. She was a screamer and a yeller. I was able to observe not going to work.” But I have no regrets. There are a lot of demands to being a small busi- her and realize that wasn’t the way I wanted to work with people. It was a good opportunity ness—I work a lot more hours now than I think I ever have—but it’s enormously rewarding to see what not to do. to able to set my own schedule and only work on issues that are really important to me.
Chief financial officer and assistant manager, finance, the Metropolitan Opera Before joining the arts world in early 2008, Diana Fortuna had a long and distinguished career in the public sector. “I was always most interested in two things: government and music,” Fortuna said. “For 25 years I did government, so for the last four years I’ve been doing music.” And that music is not limited to the workplace. Fortuna performs with the Vertical Players Repertory and Brooklyn’s Grace and Spiritus Chorale in her free time. In public service, Fortuna made her way from the local up to the national, starting at the New York City Budget Office, moving to the state level and culminating with a stint in the Clinton administration. Fortuna also saw government from the other side: For about nine years, starting in 1998, Fortuna was president of the Citizens Budget Commission, the watchdog group that monitors government finance. Under her watch the CBC advocated reducing New York State’s public debt load and increasing transparency in the state’s budget process, and it supported Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing proposal. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Business School, Fortuna is married to David Yassky, commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission and a former member of the New York City Council. How did you get your start? Music was always my avocation—until about four years ago, when I thought maybe I could make a career switch. It’s been just amazing. I felt like I had accomplished all that I was going to do on the government side, and I felt very drawn to what the Met is trying to do, which is to keep classical music alive and well and meaningful to all audiences—–especially new audiences.
Publisher and Editor in Chief, Amsterdam News When he named his daughter publisher and editor in chief of the family-owned Amsterdam News in 1998, Wilbert Tatum couldn’t have known that a spinal injury would force him into a wheelchair within the year. “It was very fortuitous that he handed over the reins when he did,” his daughter said, “because I was able to learn from him when he had all his faculties.” Fresh out of New York University’s graduate program in journalism, the younger Tatum was only 27 when she took over the paper. She had her father’s guidance for the next 10 years or so—though he wasn’t in the office, he was always a phone call away—until he died in 2009. Today Tatum is a media strategist and consultant in addition to her work at the venerable African-American paper, one of the city’s oldest. She also cohosts a weekly black press roundtable on “Keeping It Real,” Al Sharpton’s radio show, and she makes occasional TV appearances. She is on the board of trustees at her alma mater, St. Lawrence University, and on the board of directors at the New York Urban League, the Neighborhood Defenders Service of Harlem, the Creative Visions Foundation and the Chinatown YMCA. She also serves on the board of Community Board 3 in Chinatown. How did you get your start? When I came to work with my father in 1994 at the Amsterdam News, I started at the very bottom. I was the assistant to the publisher, and I did things like photocopying, getting coffee and faxing. This was before the Internet.
On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? When I started out, I had three strikes against me—I was young, I was black and I was female. Many times not only would I be the only woman in the room but I’d also be the only person of color in the room. The other people were usually there to listen to me, so they didn’t have a choice, but would they have wanted to listen to me? No. But I made sense, so they respected me, and eventually it got to the point where colleagues outside of On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? When I started in politics in the 1980s, it was a much more male-oriented workplace the office were calling me for advice and consultation. On the other hand, I think women than it is today. In my first job I remember learning to curse all the time because that’s what have a different sort of empathy, so when you’re looking at stories and issues, you can see everyone did, and then in later jobs having it dawn on me that not everyone did that. But I’ve them with a different point of view; you can bring something different to the table. never felt I’ve experienced much discrimination myself—and that may be because it’s my What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? style to plow ahead and pretend it doesn’t exist. Still, I’ve always felt an obligation to move I had people telling me to go out and do stories that were detrimental to my health, to go “the cause” ahead simply by being a successful woman. places in the middle of the night that a woman had no place being. But the worst was from my What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? To have a five- or 10-year plan. In all the moves I’ve made, I’ve always picked what seemed to be the most interesting next step. Working at things you’re passionate about makes you work so much harder and better, but it sometimes means unpredictable or surprising moves.
sixth-grade teacher, who basically told me that I wasn’t going to amount to anything. When I graduated from high school she asked if I was getting a job or going to a trade school. It’s not what she said, but what she expected. She expected nothing. Advice, you can take it or leave it. But when someone has no expectations of you, that can hurt you in your core.
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Chairwoman, Manhattan Community Board 1 On September 11, 2001, Julie Menin’s husband, Bruce, had a meeting scheduled in one of the Twin Towers—a meeting he moved to another location without telling his wife. When the towers fell, blocks from where Julie’s catering business was located, she frantically tried to locate her husband. And even after they reunited, she still feared for her neighborhood, her business and her employees. “I reopened my business on Sept. 17, even though we were in a frozen zone, even though my employees couldn’t get to work and we couldn’t get food deliveries,” she said. “We had no food, so we just served pasta, and we had three customers that day.” The challenge of rebuilding her lower Manhattan neighborhood led Menin to start a nonprofit called Wall Street Rising that lobbied for aid to help downtown families and businesses. She was elected to the local community board, first as a member and then as its chair, and she recently announced a run for Manhattan borough president. It’s a far cry from the restaurant business, but she never doubted the work she was putting into rebuilding downtown, even when it was inconvenient. Her plan to run for community-board chair, for instance, coincided with the birth of her twin sons. “The timing wasn’t always perfect,” she said. “But we were so lucky that Bruce changed his meeting at the last moment. When we started this, people said, ‘No one will want to live or work or visit downtown again,’ and we were able to prove them wrong.”
President, the newswomen’s Club of new York; editor-in-charge, Reuters Toni Reinhold learned how to read using her parents’ newspaper at age 6, and she has had a newspaper in her hands ever since. “Reporters are born, they’re not made,” said Reinhold, who made her way onto the streets as a reporter at the tender age of 19. A Brooklyn native, Reinhold put herself through night school at City College by freelancing for the Daily News and local radio stations. After graduation, she got a full-time job at the Brooklyn Spectator, where she worked on investigative stories. During her time at the Spectator, the paper expanded from 24 pages to 72 pages. “I like to think a lot of that success had to do with the kind of work I was doing,” Reinhold said. Reinhold went on to write and edit several mass-market books—including completing the as-told-to autobiography of Barnum & Bailey circus trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams on a six-month deadline—before becoming an editor-in-charge at the Reuters news service. But her biggest passion, Reinhold says, is her involvement with the Newswomen’s Club of New York, where she is the president and a longtime member. The club was founded in 1921, when women weren’t allowed to work in newsrooms or join most press clubs and had to fight to hold onto their stories when their value heated up. “[The club] is very near and dear to my heart,” she said, adding that to this day the club is an organization that “paves the way” for younger women in the industry.
how did you get your start? how did you get your start? I started a group called Wall Street Rising, after 9/11. Everyone reacts to tragedy in Not many women were covering murder and mayhem at that time, but to me that was different ways, so my reaction was to throw myself into rebuilding my neighborhood. I where you wanted to be—seeing people at their best and their worst. I earned a reputation just think that difficult circumstances cause you to change the direction of your life. among my sources for being very smart in the questions I asked, not wasting people’s time. That, and being very honest and very, very accurate. I built up sources that would call me on balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? In terms of chairing a community board, people are looking for someone who’ll take day and night about stories. They called me because they knew I would go; I would show up. a strong position. Women win elections at the same rates as men, but they don’t run as on balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? often as men. The other thing research shows is that women tend to run for office when The most important thing for women journalists is to not set out in the morning thinking, encouraged by other women. There are a couple studies showing that on average, if seven “I’m a woman; it’s gonna be hard.” If you do that, you’ve already defeated yourself. Some other women ask a woman to run for office, that can be very influential. women feel they’ve been hurt by discrimination, and I’m sure they have. That hasn’t been my experience, although I will tell you that I’ve worked very hard, sometimes much harder than What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? The issues that we have dealt with on Community Board 1—some have been issues of my male colleagues. national resonance or cultural importance like the Islamic Cultural Center near the World Trade Center or the Occupy Wall Street protesters. There are some people who have said, “Don’t take a position.” Whenever someone says, “Do not take a position” is exactly when you should take a position. I think sometimes fear and lack of courage inhibits people from taking strong stances. The worst advice I’ve ever heard, and obviously I’ve never heeded it, is “Don’t take a stand.”
What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? No advice is bad, but not all advice is appropriate for every circumstance or individual. You just have to listen and apply what is appropriate. Once—once in my entire career—an editor told me I couldn’t go abroad to complete an assignment I had been working on. He said, “That’s a job for a man.” This was pre–1985, but does it still happen? Oh, yes.
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Above and Beyond We join in honoring Women of Public and Civic Mind Congratulations to the UFT’s
Carmen Alvarez And all the other honorees
Government Affairs | Media Relations
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
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President, Hudson Yards Development corporation Over the past decade, Ann Weisbrod has overseen the progress of the massive Hudson Yards redevelopment from its earliest fits and starts to today’s robust activity. She took at job at the city’s Economic Development Corporation as a senior vice president at the advent of the Bloomberg administration, assisting Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff before taking the reins at the newly created Hudson Yards Development Corporation in 2005. The death of plans to build a West Side stadium for the 2012 Olympics was a setback, but the rezoning that took place nonetheless set the stage to begin building over the Hudson Yards railyards and turn a slew of desolate lots into a thriving commercial and residential district. Weisbrod said one of the biggest challenges of her job is to juggle the differing demands of various government agencies involved, from the EDC to the MTA. “It’s extremely complicated, because everything we do is interrelated between different agencies,” she said. By 2014 Weisbrod expects the 7 train extension to Hudson Yards will be finished—and she’ll be on to her next pursuit. Weisbrod, who is originally from Allentown, Pa., is also deeply involved with organizations from the New York Building Congress to the Urban Land Institute. She is now helping to reshape the city she once dreamed of moving to. “I came to this city to make my way in life,” Weisbrod said, “like so many others.” How did you get your start? I had been working at the MTA, as head of development. When Dan Doctoroff came in, I sort of had the perfect background of public development, mixed with the MTA.
Managing director, Goldman Sachs Urban investment Group The Kalahari condominium on 116th Street in Manhattan is one of Alicia Glen’s proudest achievements: modern, luxurious, LEED-certified and above all, a mixture of high-income and medium-income residents. “It was the first time we combined different income levels, not just in rentals but in home ownership,” Glen said. “That was really groundbreaking, because nobody before has thought that somebody would spend $1 million to buy an apartment in a building [where] other people could buy [one] for $200,000.” Thinking outside the box is part of Glen’s job description as managing director of Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group, an offshoot of the Wall Street giant that looks to leverage private capital for development projects in underserved communities, be they in New York, San Francisco, Newark or New Orleans. Glen came to the investment firm from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, where she developed an expertise in housing finance and construction. She took that knowledge to the private sector, where she partners with her former colleagues in the city to help advance Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s housing agenda. “There’s a lot of smart people in this building,” she said, referring to Goldman’s lower Manhattan headquarters. “We’ve been able to figure some structures to raise more money for projects, stretch the government’s buck.” How did you get your start? [Goldman Sachs] had really decided that they wanted to develop a strategy around how private capital could invest in underserved neighborhoods and contribute to a broader revitalization strategy, working very much with public partners, but really using a private-sector approach in how you make those investments. And so I thought: What an amazing opportunity to be able to take what I had learned in city government and come to a place like Goldman, that was prepared to give us a lot of resources, to start to think of a strategy to invest in emerging neighborhoods.
On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? You gotta have a lot of balls in this business. It has a male aura: If you’re going out on a job I think being in the public sector, where I’ve worked my whole career, really gives site, and men are wearing hard hats, I have to go in a hard hat, and have to remember to take women the chance to shine. And in real estate, I’m finding women are now not as much off my heels. I admit it. But I also think it’s an advantage, because you can bring the view of the only women in the room. people’s and families’ needs to conceptualizing a project or business strategy. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? I actually just can’t think of any.
What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? I’ve been given a lot of good advice. Sometimes you get advice that as you’re trying to work your way up and get more authority, [you should] conform to the culture of a place so that the folks at the top feel comfortable with you. And that’s the worst advice. I attribute a lot of my success at Goldman to the fact that I did come with a different perspective.
executive Director, the Union Square Partnership In 10 years working in the cauldron of New York City government, Jennifer Falk built a reputation for her communications skills—but what she was really learning was management. “It’s a great training ground for strategic thinking and getting the job done, but ultimately it’s implementing someone else’s agenda,” Falk said. “I was happy to find an opportunity to lead an organization.” So when Falk was ready to spread her wings, she stepped into the executive director’s role at the Union Square Partnership, where she runs a staff of 50 people at the business-improvement district for one of the city’s most improved public spaces. Falk—who graduated from the University of Rochester in 1994 with Elizabeth Benjamin, another Above and Beyond honoree—spent five years at the city Administration for Children’s Services, and another five in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s press office, where she was first deputy press secretary. “I spend a lot of time mentoring both my own staff and young women who come to me,” Falk said. “I tell them that city government is a great place to get incredible experience. You are in a rapid-fire environment where things are coming at you from all directions. It’s a great place to learn.” How did you get your start? A close friend from college, Justin Blake, had worked on the  Clinton presidential campaign and recommended me for my first city press-office job. On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? It’s definitely been a help. I started in city government at 24. Inevitably people would underestimate my ability because of my age and my gender, and it was always my ace in the hole to surprise them. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? When I joined the partnership, the Union Square Park renovation project was two years behind schedule and $2 million over budget. I was advised to move on because the project had garnered too much opposition and would never move forward, in their opinion. Obviously, I didn’t listen.
executive director, the new York immigration coalition As many as 800 languages are spoken in New York City, making it one of the most diverse places on earth. And as more and more immigrants choose to settle in the various ethnic pockets scattered across the five boroughs, the problem of connecting those immigrants to the array of opportunities available to them becomes more pronounced. That’s where Chung-Wha Hong and the coalition of immigrant rights groups she helps run come in. “We’re trying to clear that pipeline,” Hong said. “That’s the work that we do.” Hong is no stranger to the immigrant experience. She came to the U.S. from South Korea at 11, and said she instantly experienced a sense of belonging. After college she worked for a variety of Korean advocacy groups, labor organizations and civil rights groups. As executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, Hong helps oversee a network of 200 immigrant groups, all united in pushing for policy and legislative changes like the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented-immigrant students to apply for state and federal tuition assistance. And even though her work can get weighed down in governmental details, Hong said the personal element of her work is always fresh in her mind. “When I talk to immigrants, I remember my parents a lot, because they were the first generation,” she said. “It reminds me that despite all the ugly anti-immigrant attacks, we know most Americans that care about the future don’t want to discriminate against immigrants.” How did you get your start? Ever since college I worked in the nonprofit sector, on immigrant, community relations, labor and civil rights issues. That’s just in my trajectory. On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? As a mother of three, trying to balance very challenging work is a huge challenge. I was lucky enough to have the kind of support that I needed, but I see so many immigrant women who are coming here without any access to education or opportunity or economic mobility. And it’s just a real difficult situation. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? It cuts both ways. There’s no generically bad advice. I feel like our work—we don’t have a formula for success. We make decisions case by case. With each issue—sometimes we feel like you can’t compromise on some issues. Other times we’ve been very practical, made compromises, in ways that get us incremental steps. As a general matter, it was my own advice that I took that was bad. When I was younger, I used to be more focused on the work. The older I get, the more I see it’s really more about the people.
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
Linda SarSour Executive director, arab american association of new York When Linda Sarsour was born in 1980, a song called “Linda” was a big hit among Arab speakers, including her parents. She was her family’s first U.S.-born child, and her parents wanted to give her a name that was common both among Palestinians and the family’s new neighbors—and Linda fit the bill. “So while they felt it was a beautiful song, it was also a name that was easier for non-Arabs and nonMuslims to pronounce, and it was going to be easier for me to kind of make it in the world,” Sarsour said. Connecting her Muslim beliefs and Arab background with broader society has also become her life’s work. Her organization provides social services to Arabs and Muslims, from adult education to immigration services, as well as advocating for the community. It’s not an easy job, with Muslims facing right-wing opposition, hate crimes, police surveillance and Congressional hearings scrutinizing their community. “I think that while we as an institution in our local area have made a lot of strides and accomplishments and made new friendships, in general I think the Muslim community is living in one of the most hostile environments they’ve ever experienced,” she said.
Government affairs reporter, nBC new York Broadcast reporting in New York is hard enough, but Melissa Russo makes it harder on herself—by digging into city social-service agencies to find difficult stories about the most vulnerable New Yorkers. “It’s an area that’s not covered enough, and a lot of news organizations shy away from that kind of coverage because they think it’s too difficult. They think it won’t make good television,” Russo said. “You have to make the story compelling and not lose the average viewer.” After graduating from Columbia University’s journalism school, she became one of NY1’s first reporters, then joined NBC New York in 1998. She credits her bosses for giving her time and resources to break big stories—like proving homeless families were forced to sleep on the floor at shelters. “I went and shot [video] through the windows and proved that the city was lying,” she said. “That was later admitted into court and used to hold the city in contempt.” City government looms large in Russo’s life even when she’s off the clock—her husband, Frank Gribbon, is the Fire Department’s top spokesman—but she doesn’t mind. “I still get excited when I walk into City Hall. I’m kind of a government nerd,” she said. “I got married in City Hall.”
How did you get your start? I really wanted to be a high school English teacher. I started at the Arab American Association 10 years ago, immediately after 9/11, as a volunteer. A relative and founder said they needed me, since I spoke English and Arabic, to come and help them out. I saw a lot of things that I didn’t know were happening in my community. I felt like I must have been really sheltered by my family. That was an eye-opening experience.
How did you get your start? I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and then I changed my mind. I thought I wanted to be a print reporter, because I thought it was more substantive. [After a video journalism class], it was like, “Wow—you can make a movie every day.” It appealed to my creative side more than just sitting alone writing, which I still love to do.
on balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? I think that I would consider myself to be, in my local area and in New York, and maybe even in the country, I’m trailblazing for a lot of young women in our community. Unfortunately, there is a lack of visible woman leadership in our community. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? “Be careful.” That’s the worst advice anybody could ever give. If we were all careful in this world, the world would be a lot worse than it is right now.
on balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? I don’t know whether the viewers care whether the person giving them their news is a man or a woman. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? Some of the worst advice out there is to major in communications. No. Learn history. Learn how to write. Learn about politics and government and how the world works. There are too many people coming into journalism who focus on the delivery, which at the end of the day is not going to set you apart from your colleagues.
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FEBRUARY 6, 2012
director, district Council of Carpenters labor technical College Elly Spicer started out in organized labor almost three decades ago as an apprentice carpenter. Now, as director of the District Council of Carpenters Labor Technical College, she runs the shop that trains them—overseeing 14 people and a 100,000-squarefoot training facility for a four-year carpentry apprentice program. Spicer has filled a variety of roles in the organizedlabor world, most of them through Local 608. Until December she worked as executive director of the New York City and Vicinity Carpenters Labor-Management Corporation, where her duties ranged from building public relationships to leading prevailingwage investigations to helping find more jobs for union contractors. Spicer was a longtime member of the steering committee of the New York City District Council of Carpenters Women’s Committee, where she pushed to help women achieve bigger titles within the carpentry world. “Women really bring an attention to detail to this job,” she said. “There isn’t any part of this profession that’s too difficult for women—it’s just tradition that has to be overcome.”
associate commissioner, Customer Service and Government relations, nyC department of Sanitation Not long after Maria Termini-Miller was hired at the New York City Sanitation Department, she wrote an informational guide called “It Ain’t Just Garbage.” The guide’s title is an apt description for the department and also Termini-Miller’s career: While sanitation brings to mind picking up trash, the work encompasses much more. “I learned quickly that we do snow removal, we clean the streets, we enforce the rules and regulations,” said TerminiMiller, who started at the agency in 1980 and rose through the ranks to become an associate commissioner. “One day I’m dealing with planting trees, another day with enforcement issues, another day we’re talking about experimenting with a new piece of equipment to make the job more efficient. It’s incredible how much there is to do here.” She meets with elected officials and community groups, works on issues like alternateside parking, overflowing trash receptacles, and dog poop, and even coordinates with nonprofits to revitalize vacant lots. At first she wasn’t sure if it was the right fit, since she had studied teaching and was interested in journalism and creative writing. But when she was promoted to deputy director of community affairs, she began doing outreach, writing department literature and training staff. “All of a sudden it dawned on me: This is where I want to be,” she said. “I enjoyed teaching, How did you get your start? and that’s what I was doing. I enjoy writing, and that’s what I was doing. I enjoy the political I was a staffer at a nonprofit called Nontraditional Employment for Women, and I ended world and political science and government, and I was dealing with those aspects of it. So it up selling myself on that idea. So I enrolled in a preapprenticeship [carpentry] program. all came together. It wasn’t a job at that point—it became a career.” On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? How did you get your start? I was very lucky to get into union labor, where people really wanted to teach you if you In 1978 I began my career in government working for Community Board 5 in Queens, and I was wanted to learn. The boss of a business wants to make money off their employees, and if lucky enough to land a position assisting that office. I helped the local residents obtain city services you’re making your boss money, it doesn’t matter what color or gender you are. and navigate through the city bureaucracies of various agencies, since there was no 311 back then. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? People asking me why I don’t get into another business, saying things like “You’re Being a woman helps with my career and with the particular job that I have. I think women smart. Why don’t you go to law school?” intuitively are good listeners. I think women are good at establishing and maintaining relationships. I think women are good at following up. I think women tend to be sympathetic. All of these skills come naturally to women—to me, anyway. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? Early on in my career I was told that if I wanted to work with a city agency in city government, not to work for a uniformed agency, because as a civilian there’s really no career ladder. I’m glad I did not take that advice, because nothing could be further from the truth.
Founder and president, Bradford Companies Since Sandra Wilkin founded what has become one of the city’s leading women-owned construction firms, it only makes sense that she would also be a passionate advocate for women-owned businesses. Her firm specializes in building health-care facilities, but Wilkin said the work that most excites her now is consulting for minority- and women-owned businesses hoping to land government contracts. She says her firm does everything from technical assistance to contract applications to helping those businesses manage their projects. “Given the fact that that’s exactly the background I’ve come from, I’ve found that very, very rewarding,” Wilkin said. As founder and former president of the Women Builders Council, Wilkin has helped women break the so-called “concrete ceiling” by lobbying the City Council to fund an objective study on the need for direct construction dollars, subcontracting opportunities and technical support to MWBE firms. “Women have a unique ability to do construction,” she said. “They’re very focused on details. But I think it’s an industry that’s still underserved by women.”
President and founder, Patricia lynch associates, inc. The indomitable Patricia Lynch picked up her taste for politics around the dinner table as a child in Utica, New York. “I grew up in an Italian-Irish household, where the political discussion was always very lively,” she said. “It was not quiet.” After cold-calling Albany Mayor Erastus Corning for her first volunteer job in politics at age 18, she set about a career in communications. She has since worked in Washington, D.C., and Albany as both a Senate minority communications director and as a top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Twelve years ago she opened her own firm, Patricia Lynch Associates, which has since become one of the state’s largest lobbying firms. Lynch works every waking minute of her day. Asked where she makes her home now, she said, half-joking, “People in my life will tell you I live on a plane.” Lynch treats media relations in lobbying and government as an art form, one that was newly emerging when she entered the field in the late 1970s. For women in those days, “if you were going to be at the table, you specialized in fundraising or media relations,” Lynch said. If she could go back and do it again now that there are more options for women, would she have run for office? Lynch has no regrets. “I love every second of what I do,” she said. “I’ve always loved every second of what I do.”
How did you get your start? I started out as a nurse, and was the least qualified person for nursing, so they put me on a project helping coordinate the building of some new medical offices. What came out of it is that I really got a true appreciate for the building of spaces, and what really worked. I went to NYU and got a degree in business.
How did you get your start? I was always fascinated by politics, by current issues. When I was 18 I didn’t know any better, so I picked up the phone and called one of the most famous, most well-respected people, the dean of Democratic politics in the northeast at that point. That person was Erastus Corning. I learned ward politics in the Democratic Party from the street up—petitions, candidates, polls. Those lessons served me well both when I was inside government and now, when I’m representing clients.
On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? You have to have two pairs of shoes—one pair of construction boots and one pair of high heels. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? My worst pieces of advice were when people asked why I wanted to be on the job. “You’re a woman. Why are you in construction?” Most of the time I didn’t ever answer, because I didn’t think it was worth discussing with those people.
On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? Let’s face it—as a woman I wasn’t going to be doing the poker game or the cigars or the golf. So we made it more of a campaign format. We perfected the format of campaigns, strategy, walking the hallways, as well. It was a generational change, in the art of advocating on behalf of clients. And in between all of it, I had two children. It just goes with the turf. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? It was 1974, and I’m a junior in high school. My guidance counselor, a person who is supposed to help you with your career, told me, “Why bother going to college? You’re just going to get married and have kids.” I do wish I could find that guy today. I just hope that other people in school with me paid no attention to him like I paid no attention to him.
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
Metropolitan Editor, The New York Times Carolyn Ryan is in the newspaper business for the drama. When she was 10, the Massachusetts native read two great narratives in The Boston Globe. One story was about the Red Sox, who made it to the World Series in the fall of 1967. (Ryan is a lifelong Sox fan who named her dog Wilson, as in Woodrow, after the president who was in office when the Sox won the series in 1918.) The other was the story of Kevin White, “ a dashing new Boston mayor” who took office during a period of racial upheaval in 1967. “It was a very exciting time,” she said. “The idea of being able to enter a drama like that was very appealing to me.” And enter she did, quickly rising as a reporter through the ranks of local papers to become deputy managing editor at the Globe, before joining The New York Times as a deputy metro editor for government and politics in 2007. There was, she learned, no shortage of drama in New York politics. “You call it a mess, but think about it,” Ryan said. “We had Bloomberg flirting with the presidency; we had Spitzer, who was already having significant issues, then have this unexpected implosion; and then we have the unlikely counter-shift of David Paterson; then we have, again, the unlikely flirtation of Caroline Kennedy with the Senate seat. It’s been sort of spectacular just in terms of these big characters.” How did you get your start? I tumbled into a job covering towns and communities for a paper called The Patriot Ledger, where I covered an old mill town and an old beach town. My career kind of took off in 1994, because Ted Kennedy was going to run for reelection, and he had a challenger whose name was Mitt Romney. I put my hand up and said, “Can I cover that race?” No one else wanted to cover it because Ted Kennedy always won reelection pretty easily. As soon as I started covering that race, I was really hooked. That was when my career accelerated and I took off. On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? I traveled on this international trip with some reporters and a Massachusetts political figure—I’ll just leave it at that. The political figure made it very clear that he was eager to…observe and enjoy the attractiveness of the waitresses at the pubs in Ireland, and that that was one of the delights of his trip. I was the only female covering that trip, and I felt like that was awkward.
Cofounder, State & Broadway; coordinator, minority and Women-Owned Business enterprise Coalition Jacqueline Williams has an unusual pedigree for an Albanybased lobbyist: She was born in London, the daughter of West Indian immigrants. Nonetheless, she displayed a love for government at an early age. “My passion has always been government,” Williams said. “I always laugh because I look in my high school yearbook under interests, and right there, in black and white next to my photo, my interests are: government.” Williams originally planned to work in Washington, D.C., but instead received a paid internship from the New York Assembly—and never left. As the coordinator for the MWBE Coalition, she gets to focus on one of her lifelong interests: parity for women and minorities in business growth and economic development. The trajectory of her career might make it seem like she lives and breathes Albany and state policy and politics, but Williams says keeping her home life separate from her work life has been essential. “I’m happily married going on 19 years, and I have two children,” she said. “God, family— I think keeping things in that perspective is what sustains me. I don’t make work my primary concern, and I’m very interested and I’m very passionate about what I do. I love politics but politics is not my love.” How did you get your start? I came to Albany by way of the New York State Assembly internship, moving from intern to legislative assistant, then to chief of staff. The internship I did was with Assemblyman Hector Diaz. Then I worked for Gregory Meeks, Gloria Davis in the Bronx, and then Assemblyman Keith Wright. I also became acting director for the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators. From there, after 12 and half years, I decided I wanted to go out and lobby. On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? Just being a woman, and being a woman in this arena, with any position you’re in, there’s going to be challenges. I cannot shape other people’s mind-set, but I can certainly be in control of my actions. I’ve heard ridiculous things—and I still hear it—but you don’t let it affect you. It just lets me know how I have to deal with that person.
What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? “Go to law school.” I think even though that was a more lucrative time for newspapers, Oh, that’s easy. Anyone who tells you that they’re “going to take care of you”—run in the it was seen as a much less stable kind of life. It was seen as a little less respectable, a little opposite direction. Anyone who says, “I’ll do it for you; I’ve got you.” Because to me, that’s less prestigious.” a control thing. If someone comes to you and wants to work with you, that’s different. You grow by experience, so don’t take that false sense of comfort. You can’t live within someone’s limitations.
Political action and legislation director, Local 237, International Brotherhood of teamsters When Pat Stryker became a lobbyist for Teamsters Local 237 in 1990, she planned to stay for about three years. Twenty-two years later, she’s still there, running the political and legislative operations of the 24,000member union. “I’ve almost become part of the furniture here,” Stryker joked. “But I really like our members, and I like fighting for them.” Stryker’s duties at Local 237 keep her deeply involved in New York City’s main pension system, NYCERS, on whose board she has served as a trustee since 1997. She and Local 237 president Greg Floyd have helped lead the opposition to a plan to consolidate the city’s five pension systems into a single entity. She has also long been involved in women’s issues. Stryker founded the Local 237 Women’s Committee, serves on the board of the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee and served as national vice president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women. Stryker says working in public sector labor has provided a great opportunity to advance women’s rights. “It’s still a man’s world, and there’s still a glass ceiling,” she said. “I talk to others who say sexism is endemic and systematic, but when I speak with people in the Teamsters, there’s very few examples of that.” How did you get your start? I started out as a teacher in East Harlem, and the UFT got a good contact for us. I had no clue what they were doing, but it was so good I figured I would have to start paying dues. Then something happened where a guy had a grievance hearing, and I helped him win and did so well that everyone heard about it in school and elected me their district representative. I was pretty fearless, and I later became a lobbyist for the UFT. On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? Being a woman makes it harder to get things done. In government, it’s a boy’s club, and you’re in a world of men comfortable with one another. They talk sports with each other. And no one walks into your office just to have a chat. It’s made me have to fight harder. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? The worst advice is that you shouldn’t try. That’s a terrible thing to say to someone.
Senior vice president of public affairs, Con edison When Frances Resheske was young, she wanted to be president. “I always grew up wanting to run for office, which is not something I’m interested in doing at this point,” Resheske said. “When I was a little girl, I actually told my teacher I wanted to be the first woman president.” Her career has followed a different path, but one still situated firmly in the public sphere. She meets regularly with federal, state and city officials to advocate for lower taxes on utility bills and other company goals. She oversees how Con Ed communicates with customers about service outages—a challenging aspect of her work. Resheske also manages Con Ed’s support of 1,000 nonprofit organizations and coordinates the company’s volunteer efforts, from painting roofs to mentoring children. And in her spare time, she serves on nine boards—as well as being in her 15th year heading the Queens Theatre in the Park, which keeps her connected to the borough where she grew up. She landed in the energy world by chance, jumping from the outgoing Koch administration in 1989 to Brooklyn Union, a gas company where she planned to “go and think about what to do with my life.” But the industry, which had just been deregulated, fascinated her. She moved up the ranks, and in 1999 she was recruited to Con Edison. “I had no idea how involved utilities were in the life of the city,” she said. “I felt that energy is a vital part in our economy, so that we’re doing something important every day, from the business perspective.” How did you get your start? I got a job working for Mayor Ed Koch, and I represented him in Queens in the communityassistance unit, and I stayed with the Koch administration through the end in 1989. I credit that administration with a lot of my career, because I was very young, and he had really, really smart, capable people that worked for him and advised him. On balance, has being a woman helped or hurt? I don’t think either. When you work for an elected official, it doesn’t matter what you are. You need to win, and you need to advocate for positions. When I went to the utilities, to Brooklyn Union in 1990, I was very often the only woman in the room. It’s not that way here. This company has always been very progressive with women. What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you? I’m a big believer in listening. I think when you listen you get lots of advice and lots of tips and lots of information, and there’s probably something worthwhile in all of it, to varying degrees.
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT The path to New York pension reform is clear—but not the price By SUSAN DEL PERCIO
ov. Andrew Cuomo put pension reform front and center in his second budget proposal. He wants to give every new state and city worker a choice: Enroll in a 401(k) plan, or opt for the traditional pension system with fewer benefits. Unions are pushing back as expected, but this time they’re pushing back against a very popular Democratic governor. Now the fun begins. Getting something done in Albany doesn’t require much imagination. It has happened the same way for decades, except during single-party rule in 2009 and 2010, when the Democrats got nothing done. It starts with one—and there is always one—elected official or political player who wants to be the first to object. They do this for headlines, to pander to a
these discussions. Pension reform has constituency or as political payback. In this case, state Comptroller been a longtime priority for the Senate Thomas DiNapoli hit the trifecta. He Republicans, and Cuomo will need to went to Washington, D.C., and in one of publicly recognize them and give them the the biggest pandering moments of his credit they deserve. Make no mistake, the governor will career, he told a forum sponsored by the National Public Pension Coalition that the take credit—but this will also be a time when both Democrats and proposal was “unacceptable” Republicans can prove that it and “extreme.” This gave him is possible to work together the headlines he sought, and and that Albany is becoming a paid back the unions for their little less dysfunctional. tremendous support in his So far, so good—that is, tight 2010 race. until the deadline for the Next—assuming DiNapoli budget starts creeping up. comes to his senses or, more likely, is expelled to the corner Susan Del Percio Then both sides start leaking to the press that there are and deemed irrelevant—leaders from the two parties will start to negotiate. “new concerns” about pensions and They need each other to get anything done, someone isn’t living up to their end of the and so far they are off to a good start. Senate deal. That’s when everyone starts walking Majority Leader Dean Skelos has already called the plan “bold,” and went on to say, “I around the Capitol saying, “So what are you hearing?” think we’re going to get it done.” And this will take us back—back to That should not be surprising—Republicans have called for pension reform for three men in a room. This is where deals years. What’s different is that they have a are made, and where Cuomo and Skelos Democrat to partner with, and the word will finally know what Assembly Speaker “partner” will become very important in Sheldon Silver really wants in return for his
STRONG MEN What separates Cuomo’s New York from Putin’s Russia By RICHARD BRODSKY
I just spent a week in Moscow. I was struck by the enormous differences and similarities of the politics of New York and Moscow, and how individual strong men can come to dominate, for better or worse. It’s easy to joke about the similarities between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, but the differences fascinated me more—because they show what really separates New York from Russia. Immigration, corruption versus honesty in elected officials, the 99 percent versus the 1 percent, and stimulating the economy are the leading issues…in Moscow. Russians see them through the prism of presidential elections set for March 4 and the overwhelming presence of Putin. Power flows to the center in Russia, and Putin is seen as a symbol of stability at a time when the pieces seem ready to fly off. Recent street demonstrations, largely by disaffected middle-class voters, have everyone uncertain about what comes next; recent parliamentary elections were marred by vote tampering, but no effective political opposition has arisen. (Vladimir Prokhorov, owner of the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets, is a leading candidate for president—so Donald
Part of Cuomo’s strength is personal; he dominates conversation and the agenda by force of personality. Part of it is his shrewd judgments about the public mood and his willingness to pivot when events move past Trump doesn’t stand alone.) him; see: December’s switchPutin’s strengths are his eroo on the millionaires’ tax. steely countenance and his And part of it is the esoterica of control of the apparatus of New York’s constitution. government. Call it stability Join me, for a moment, or repression, Putin’s power in the complex details of and willingness to use it are how this state is governed. the dominant fact of life. It’s Gov. George Pataki discovered not exactly clear what he and used a provision of the state wants to do, but it’s his. Richard Brodsky constitution that has elements The facile comparisons of authoritarian regimes. It to New York politics are too easy to make—but there are insights to permits governors to add language on any subject to budget proposals, and bars the be gleaned from thinking about it.
The extraordinary powers given to New York’s executive branch, although well within the rule of law, are problematic for both policy and politics. New York’s governors are among the most powerful in the United States. That can cause problems when a governor uses the state apparatus to undermine political opposition—not a far-fetched problem when you think of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s use of the state police. But the extraordinary powers given to New York’s executive branch, although well within the rule of law, are also problematic for both policy and politics. And Cuomo is a master of the exercise of political and legal power, with profound consequences for every New Yorker.
Legislature from changing it. For an extreme example, a governor could put language into his budget to repeal all state traffic laws. The Legislature is powerless to remove it and powerless to amend it. That’s not the textbook explanation of how laws are made; we’re taught that the executive proposes and the Legislature disposes. But not in New York. It is also the key reason why budgets have been late for the last 25 years—the Legislature delays the budget vote rather than confront the limits of its power. This year that imbalance is at work
necessary support of a law that cuts against his union base. Rest assured, as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, Silver will want something having absolutely nothing to do with pension reform. That will put everything back on the table, and the three men will retreat and claim the others are not holding up their end of the bargain. Soon editorials will pour in from around the state, unions and business groups will air competing television ads and legislators will start thinking about how this will affect their reelection campaigns. Eventually we will hear there is sudden “movement,” and presto: The three men will be shaking hands in the Red Room. Pension reform will make many people in the Capitol squirm, but it will pass. It makes fiscal sense, it will appeal to voters worried about taxes and spending and it’s a top priority of a governor who knows how to work with Republicans to get what he wants. Only one question remains: What will be sacrificed to get it? Susan Del Percio is a New York-based Republican strategist and founder of Susan Del Percio Strategies, a fullservice strategic communications firm.
as three key issues are included in Cuomo’s budget—privatizing the pension system, consolidating state agencies and changing teacher evaluations. The governor has presented all of these in ways that threaten but do not use the nuclear option of imposing them on the Legislature. Like an affable businessman who shows up at a negotiation all smiles with a pit bull on a leash, he holds out the threat but doesn’t quite use it. Moscow and New York both have real strongmen at the helm. The difference is that in New York the rule of law remains the essential and unanimously embraced limit on executive power. We rightly believe that the remedy for most problems comes through mostly honest elections and the rule of law. Neither of these exists in Moscow. The result is a kind of cultural confusion that can only be resolved by a Russian embrace of the rule of law, which hasn’t happened yet. In Albany we’ve avoided most of the consequences of concentrated power because of the smart way in which such power has been exercised. But in Washington, Albany or Moscow, it is the people’s responsibility to make sure strong men don’t overreach. Richard Brodsky is a Senior Fellow at Demos, a NYC-based think tank, and at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. He served in the Assembly until 2010 and chaired the Corporations and Environmental Protection committees. He appears regularly as a contributing editor on WRNN-TV and on Fox Business Network. FEBRUARY 6, 2012
William Alatriste/New York City Council
S P OT L I G H T : A F FO R DA B L E H O U S I N G
BRICK BY BRICK
New York City’s affordable-housing system works—but it’s complicated By ADAM LISBERG
t a City Council hearing last week, two union leaders with concerns about New York City’s affordable-housing programs wanted to make a point. So they drew up enormous charts showing just how complicated the system is. The first one alone had 29 arrows linking seven public agencies, six housing developers and two private companies— all to build one project. “What you’re seeing here is sort of inherent to the affordable-housing world,” city Housing Commissioner Mathew Wambua said later as he perused a copy of the charts. “There’s a certain counterintuitiveness to affordable-housing
finance. It has to be highly structured, but while highly structured, it’s pretty template-oriented.” New York City has one of the most ambitious affordable-housing programs ever attempted. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he will have poured $8.5 billion into building or rehabbing 165,000 homes by the time he leaves office. Yet it relies on a crazy quilt of tax credits, tax abatements, rent regulations, private developers, nonprofit agencies and government funding to make the most complicated deals spring to life. It is hardly the most efficient way to find an affordable place to live in a crowded city. But it is the system New York has to live with. “You have to fit all these pieces
Residential tax breaks in New York City Amount of tax break (in millions)
Number of units
J-51 for renovations
421-a for new construction
Article XI and 420-c for nonprofit housing
Source: Citizens Housing & Planning Council, 2011 data
Rental assistance in New York City (Number of units)
Public housing Section 8 vouchers Project-based Section 8 Low-Income Housing Tax Credit HUD financing Mitchell-Lama
123,843 82,981 75,076 40,701 33,680
Source: Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy, 2010 data
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
together to build and preserve affordable housing,” said Nixon Peabody partner John Kelly. “You’re building housing that costs less to rent, you have to get your costs down and you have to get it built.” An entire industry of investors, lawyers, nonprofit executives and government officials wrestles with the tools to make it work, from discounted land to tax credits. One key factor links them all: They are leveraged against the private housing market, so developers construct homes that make room for below-market pricing. “There’s a huge amount of private investment going into these things, and that’s a good thing,” said Deputy Housing Commissioner Molly Park. “This is affordable housing that’s being built without the taxpayers having to foot the bill.” New York State rearranged its housing finance programs last year. State Housing Commissioner Darryl Towns told City & State he was happy to discuss his priorities, but his Deputy Commissioner, Christopher Browne, refused to schedule an interview or discuss any of the agency’s plans. “The problem is not the alphabet soup of programs,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development. “The alphabet soup of programs is what makes the affordable housing possible.” Even though the system works, Dulchin said, his organization is focused on finding ways to lock in permanent affordability for housing developments that put a time limit on their subsidies— and on ways to stretch subsidy dollars further. “You live in a city where private industry would never build a single unit
Nicole Vecchione from the Laborers Eastern Region points to a chart illustrating the funding streams behind a New York City affordable-housing project at a City Council hearing last week.
of affordable housing without subsidies,” he said. “Maybe we’re not leveraging the competitiveness of the development community enough.” In a recent report, the Citizens Housing & Planning Council counted 757,000 housing units that claim one of four popular tax abatements for developing affordable housing. They comprise almost one-quarter of the entire residential housing stock in New York City, the report said—and they cost the city almost $1.3 billion a year in property tax abatements. Last year, renewing the tax break for new residential construction known as 421-a became entangled with renewing New York City’s rent regulations. This year, renewing the J-51 tax break for renovating apartments may become entangled with a complicated court case involving how the tax break was applied in thousands of apartments. Neither is a case study in how to achieve the best policy goals. The impact of those accumulated tax breaks is poorly understood, said Harold Shultz, senior fellow at the Citizens Housing & Planning Council. Yet while lawmakers regularly tinker with program terms when laws come up for renewal, he said, there is little practical prospect of ever redrafting the entire system to ensure that it is as effective as possible. “It would be hard to rewrite the thing from the top,” Shultz said. “Here’s the thing to remember: People are still coming to New York City. They need a place to live. We have a very tight private housing market. We need for the private housing market to build housing.” email@example.com
WE HOUSE NEW YORK… “MY
CONSTANCE NUGENT-MILLER. I STRUGGLE LIKE MANY OF MY NEIGHBORS – AS A SINGLE MOM, WORKING TWO JOBS TO PAY THE BILLS. I PROVIDE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING TO SIX FAMILIES IN CROWN HEIGHTS IN A BUILDING THAT’S BEEN IN MY FAMILY FOR 50 YEARS. THAT’S A HARD JOB, WORKING UNDER THE TOUGHEST RENT LAWS IN THE COUNTRY. BUT I MANAGE – BECAUSE MY TENANTS ARE COUNTING ON ME.” NAME IS
ALBERT CORION. I’M
A RETIRED TRUCK
DRIVER, STRUGGLING LIKE MANY OF MY NEIGHBORS TO MAKE ENDS MEET . HOUSING TO IN
PROVIDE AFFORDABLE RENTAL
FAMILIES IN TWO SMALL BUILDINGS
THAT MY FAMILY HAS OWNED FOR
“WE HIRE NEIGHBORHOOD PLUMBERS AND PAINTERS TO MAINTAIN OUR APARTMENTS. WE GIVE JOBS TO LOCAL RESIDENTS. OUR REAL ESTATE TAXES PAY FOR COPS, FIREMEN AND TEACHERS – BUY BOOKS FOR SCHOOL KIDS – AND PROVIDE SERVICES FOR SENIOR CITIZENS. FACT IS, THOUSANDS OF SMALL BUILDING OWNERS JUST LIKE US HELP THE CITY AND STATE SURVIVE ECONOMIC HARD TIMES. AND, WE PROVIDE AFFORDABLE HOUSING TO OUR TENANTS. THE LAST THING WE NEED IS MORE REGULATION FROM ALBANY.”
A Few Facts About Rent Regulation… Fact: From 1994 to 2007, the deregulation of high-income/high-rent apartments resulted in a $6.9 billion infusion to the New York City economy.1 Fact: This included $2.1 billion in increased real estate tax revenue that funded municipal services and $4.8 billion in housing construction and improvements that generated thousands of jobs.1 Fact: During the same 14-year period, while 75,250 apartments were deregulated, rent-stabilized units increased by 25,811 to 1,077,333.1 Fact: Eighty percent of deregulated apartments are in Manhattan.2 Fact: Wealthy renters in Manhattan saw their rent subsidy increase from $159 in 1987 to $345 in 2005.3 Fact: A majority of multi-family property owners own less than 20 units of housing.4 Nearly half of all owners are at risk because rental income fails to exceed building operating costs.5
You Can’t Argue Against the Facts. Vacancy De-Control Stimulates Investment in Quality Affordable Housing, Fuels the Local Economy, Generates New Tax Revenue Streams, Creates Jobs and Protects Affordability for the People Most in Need.
Why Is Albany Helping Wealthy Renters Instead of Tenants in Need? “The Impact of Deregulation of Rent Stabilized Units by High-Rent/High-Income Decontrol and High-Rent Vacancy Decontrol: An Economic and Fiscal Impact Study” Urbanomics, March 30, 2009 2 “Changes to the Rent Stabilized Housing Stock in New York City in 2008” The New York City Rent Guidelines Board, June 4, 2009 3 “The Value of Rent Subsidies from Rent Stabilization by Borough & Neighborhood of New York City: An Econometric Study based on the2005 Housing and Vacancy Survey” Urbanomics, May 15, 2009 4 The Rent Stabilization Association Membership Files 5 “Survey of Owners of Rent Stabilized Property” Urbanomics, June 17, 2009 1
RENT STABILIZATION ASSOCIATION • 123 William Street New York, NY 10038 • TEL: 212-214-9200 • WWW.RSANYC.ORG
S P OT L I G H T : a f fo r da b l e h o u s i n g Catharine Young Vito lopez Senate Housing Committee Chairwoman
Assembly Housing Committee Chairman
Q: What are your priorities for the coming session? CY: One of my priorities is stimulating growth in the affordable-housing sector through tax incentives or zoning incentives such as a fully refundable housing tax credit. Last year we worked on a bifurcation bill which would have split the state and federal housing tax credits to make them more appealing to private investors. It’s something I think would have great economic and social benefits. I don’t always agree with [Assembly Housing Committee] Chairman [Vito] Lopez, but we work together very well, and I think he’s always interested in expanding affordable housing too. So hopefully we can work together to get a result.
Q: What are your priorities for the coming session? Vl: Part of our list is restorations to two important housing support programs. One of them is the [Neighborhood Preservation Companies and Rural Preservation Companies] programs, which were totally eliminated in the budget, to the tune of approximately $12 million.... My second priority is the restoration of the mortgageforeclosure-prevention programs. I’m going to be asking for $18.8 million to bring all of the NPCs/RPCs to what they were four years ago, and I’m going to be asking for approximately $20 million to do the restorations to the mortgageforeclosure program.
Q: What was your reaction to the governor’s call for a Tenant Protection Unit in his State of the State speech? CY: I’m more focused on expanding affordable housing. I think that’s the solution. These are downstate and upstate issues. There’s a terrible problem with vacant housing stock in certain areas of upstate. Last year we passed the 421-m program that targets underutilized areas and revitalizes them for commercial and residential use. And so I want to look for more creative solutions along those lines. I am concerned because there are anticipated federal cuts in lowincome and moderate-income housing programs, so we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop on those. There could be substantial cuts. Q: Are foreclosures on your radar screen? CY: We want to ensure foreclosure remediation services to keep individuals in their homes when possible, so I was glad to hear the governor speak of that. Q: What do you see happening with the renewal of the J-51 program? CY: We want to provide these incentives to owners to make these improvements, because it’s a quality-of-life issue for the tenants. So we’ll be working on that. And also, the Roberts decision is still hanging out there.... We passed a bill on it last year in the Senate, and we’d like to work to come to a final resolution with the Assembly and the governor. If we don’t bring some kind of closure to it, it affects the residential housing market. It is an inhibitor for people to invest in real estate right now, and obviously that could be a tremendous problem.
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
Mathew waMbua New York City Housing Commissioner
Q: How is the New Housing Marketplace affordable-housing plan going? Mw: We want to see if we can finish the plan not just on time but maybe a little early. One, we need to be aspirational; and two, while we are completely bludgeoned budgetarily, the way we’ve been affected is going to be more so on the capital side two years down the line. We have other development objectives, such as expanding significantly our supportive housing construction and production. There is an unanticipated passion that I feel around it, and to the extent that we can find new models, new ways to expand supportive housing, we’re still committed to coming up with the answer of how we’re going to do it. We’ve really just started scaling up on our overleveraged/distressed multifamily preservation efforts. That’s the direction we want to go in, especially in light of the need to not let our Q: What will happen to the J-51 stock be claimed by the downturn. You can see program? the same neighborhoods that we’ve invested in Vl: Where any type of program offers are the same neighborhoods that had the huge subsidies through tax breaks, we also infusion of capital that caused this risk. would like affordable housing. I believe that was the reason the Roberts decision Q: What is the impact of these budget cuts? went against the owners of Stuy Town, Mw: We’ve been slashed across the board on because they were getting that tax benefit, our HUD grants. Over 50 percent in two years. and the logic of the court decision was: The capital subsidy cuts for our projects are As long as you’re getting that benefit, you humongous. They start affecting us very soon, should stay in stabilization. but definitely impact us even more steeply two years out. That’s distressing.... Maybe we’re Q: What else do you hope to just not going to do as much as we did before. accomplish? And then, on the housing development side, Vl: We’re going to be looking carefully we’ve always been focused on whether we have at the title-insurance legislation.... There enough capital subsidy to make it to the finish are major disputes in some churches in line. We’re now focused on whether personnel Brooklyn, and in other places where the will be pushed to the point where, irrespective Jewish community has wars between the of how much capital you have, are you going to different sects. It’s very easy to cross-file make it to the finish line? and almost hold up the ownership for years. Q: What type of J-51 renewal will you recommend? Q: With the governor talking about Mw: The more we looked into J-51, the more leveraging the private sector for we realized it’s not really as effective as it public-sector improvements, could could be.... It needs to be modernized on a that be done for affordable housing multitude of levels. I’ll give you an example. at the state level? The base off of which the tax credits or exempVl: I have some disagreements with tions are calculated really only represents, say, the mayor, but his affordable-housing 30 percent of the actual capital expenditure that initiative of $7 billion really helped is made. So I spend $100 on a window and you’re stimulate the economy, [and] also built going to give me some kind of a tax exemption, a lot of housing. I’m trying to push for but you’re going to use your schedule that is 15 a capital initiative much broader than years old and accords me a $30 credit against what we currently have.... The question which it’s all calculated.... Secondly, we are is the additional money. It’s very hard going to look at a number of different measures to do additional funding unless it’s done that will allow us to refocus J-51 to the kind of by capital financing through bonding. capital investment that we want to see—capital That’s something that I’ve conveyed to investment in multifamily, likely outer-boroughthe governor, conveyed to the speaker, type rental buildings. Then, lastly, there is and I will continue to do that because I a component just of overall administration. think that it meets both purposes. And We need to make it a better program from a tax credits to build affordable housing customer-service standpoint.... We’ll see what also will go a long way. happens as it gets churned through the sausage factory that is Albany.
erik Martin Dilan City Council Housing Committee Chairman
Q: What are your priorities for the coming year? eD: One of them we just got passed. That’s a disclosure bill that will require banks to disclose information to [the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development] on all properties that they are going to initiate foreclosure proceedings against. Q: Does this mean the foreclosure crisis is not over in New York City? eD: I certainly hope things are starting to trend in a different direction. I think we can take lessons learned from the past and put laws on the books now. Q: Are you monitoring how the Legislature’s response to the Roberts decision will affect New York City? eD: Obviously, the J-51 program, I believe, should remain in existence. It has been vital. But in light of the Roberts case and the profound economic impacts that the case would have on owners and tenants alike, that’s another case that we’ll be watching, because this is another program that’s been vital to maintaining this city’s affordablehousing stock.... We’ll have to watch it...so that there are very few interruptions to the overall housing market. Q: How well is HPD doing at creating or preserving 165,000 units of affordable housing? eD: Obviously, when you build the number of units that they’re building, and you’re managing an $8 billion capital fund and the investment that they are, some problems will occur. But I think by and large HPD has done a great job, and the program has served the city as a whole tremendously. Q: What other creative housing ideas are you pursuing? eD: I certainly would like to take another look at the economic impact of solar-panel programs on city properties and city-owned buildings. Tax incentives for the private market to install solar on residential buildings. It could be a major energy saver in the relatively near term. In the very short term, if it’s implemented en masse, it could be something that a lot of New Yorkers get to work, which could be good. Long-term, the economic benefit to the city and state in terms of income tax revenue could have some tremendous potential. Some people will argue it has to be heavily subsidized, and there might not be enough subsidies around for it. But I just think the economic opportunity in terms of jobs and energy savings, potentially, could have a profound short-term impact.
G N I D L I U B TOMORROW’S SLUMS TODAY! WHAT ISN’T THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY TALKING ABOUT? • • • • •
POOR WORKING CONDITIONS FLY-BY-NIGHT CONTRACTORS WORKERS PAID “OFF THE BOOKS” DANGEROUS WORKING CONDITIONS POOR QUALITY CONSTRUCTION
IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT BUILT IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD? AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN OUR CITY HAS BEEN BUILT BY NON-UNION CONTRACTORS AND WORKERS WHO ARE PAID “OFF THE BOOKS” AND SUBJECT TO UNSAFE WORKING CONDITIONS.
TELL NEW YORK CITY THAT WE DEMAND BETTER FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN OUR COMMUNITIES.
District Council 9, IUPAT 45 West 14th Street • New York, NY 10011 Phone: 212.255.2950 • Fax: 212.255.1151 www.dc9.net
Association of Master Painters and Decorators of New York, Inc. 370 7th Avenue, Suite 418 • New York, NY 10001 Phone: 212.697.4790 • Fax: 212.687.4401 www.masterpaintersny.com
S P OT L I G H T : A F FO R DA B L E H O U S I N G THE PLAYERS GOVERNMENT Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new Tenant Protection Unit in his State of the State address after he was pressured by minority lawmakers who said he had not done enough to help low-income New Yorkers. He has refrained from announcing other major new housing initiatives, however. Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Vito Lopez traditionally drives the Albany agenda for housing groups by urging more public-sector resources for affordable housing and more private-sector programs that require affordable housing in exchange for tax breaks. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has overseen the $8.5 billion New Housing Marketplace plan to build or preserve 165,000 affordable-housing units, and city Housing Commissioner Mathew Wambua hopes to reach that goal ahead of its 2014 target.
NONPROFITS An array of organizations such as the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development and the Metropolitan Council on Housing advocate for affordable housing and changes to the rent regulations. Others, such as the Citizens Housing & Planning Council and the Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy at New York University, specialize in studies to understand the state of New York City housing and recommend policy changes. Many other groups work to develop affordablehousing programs through the many city, state and federal programs that subsidize it.
REAL ESTATE OWNERS The Real Estate Board of New York, one of the most powerful interest groups in the city and state, is the leading voice for the business of owning, leasing, buying and selling property. The Rent Stabilization Association has a smaller public profile but recently launched a TV advertising campaign to boost its goal of loosening New York City rent regulations. The Community Housing Improvement Program also represents apartment building owners, and works with them on a variety of operational issues as well as rent regulations.
Federal housing cuts take toll in New York City RENT REGULATIONS The U.S. Supreme Court has asked the city and state to respond to Upper West Side landlord James Harmon’s claim that New York City’s rent-stabilization law is an unconstitutional infringement on property owners. Many previous legal challenges to rent regulation have failed, and two lower courts dismissed Harmon’s claim. But if the Supreme Court takes the case, the future of New York City’s one million rent-regulated apartments could hang in the balance.
J-51 AND THE ROBERTS CASE New York City’s significant property tax abatement for owners who renovate apartment buildings expired at the end of 2011. While most observers expect legislators will renew the law, its passage may become entwined with the fallout from the state Court of Appeals’ Roberts decision. That case established that the large Stuyvesant Town complex in Manhattan and similar properties that received J-51 benefits should not have taken apartments out of rent regulation. The court’s decision did not clarify many of its consequences, and a bill to do so passed the Senate last year but was not taken up in the Assembly.
$783 CITY FUNDING
OTHER FUNDING $600
Source: NYC Office of Management and Budget
LABOR CONCERNS Construction unions want the city and state to require a prevailing wage on affordable-housing construction projects, though many builders and nonprofit agencies active in the field say it would make those developments unaffordable. In New York City, the City Council recently held a hearing on a bill known as Intro 730 that would require the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to disclose information about contractors working on subsidized projects. An HPD assistant commissioner was accused of taking $600,000 in bribes and kickbacks from developers of affordable housing, and unions contend contractors take advantage of nonunion workers and build substandard homes.
GOVERNMENT FUNDING Federal, state and local budget cuts are curtailing the ambitions of government programs aimed at building affordable housing, maintaining public housing, enforcing housing codes and helping homeowners facing foreclosure. The federal government cut $89 million from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the city budget projects flat spending for the agency, and the state eliminated $12 million for housing nonprofits and $25 million for foreclosure prevention.
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
of New York City commissioners, officials and thought t on the short and long term state of our city.
STATE OF OUR CITY
A Day of Candid Conversations with New York City’s Government and Thought Leaders THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2012 BARUCH COLLEGE Session 1: Infrastructure & Development
Session 2: City Living
Session 3: Higher Education
(9:00 AM – 10:15 AM)
(10:30 AM – 11:45 AM )
(12:00 PM – 1:00 PM)
Discussion will cover old and new West Side Development / Access proposals and progress; potential coordination of NYS and NYC Capitol Projects and agencies; New projects such as Flushing Commons and Rockaway Courthouse.
A unique discussion and insight into how New York City is evolving with regards to livability. Talking points will range from open space and new parks; plaNYC and other environmental initiatives; alternative transportation; touching on other topics such as architecture, city planning and life after the Bloomberg administration.
Leaders in higher education will be discussing topics such as; How is the city working with private universities? What is the role of proprietary and community schools, and are they necessary to remediate? How does the NYC plan to increase accessibility to the public and private universities in the 5 boroughs. Who will CUNY and private university look to partner with as part of placement initiatives?
Moderator: DAVID BIRDSELL, Dean of Baruch’s School of Public Affairs • SETH PINSKY, President of New York City Economic Development Corporation • DICK ANDERSON, President of the New York Building Congress • JOE LHOTA, Director of the MTA
Moderator: JON BOWLES, Executive Director of Center for Urban Future • CAS HALLOWAY, New York City Deputy Mayor of Operations • MARCIA BYSTRYN, Executive Director of the New York League of Conservation Voters • RONDA WIST of the Municipal Arts Society
Moderator: ANDREW HAWKINS, Managing Editor at City and State. • SHAEL POLAKOW-SURANSKY, Chief Academic Officer and Deputy Chancellor at NYC DOE • Additional Panelists to be announced
For further information regarding sponsorship opportunities surrounding this event unique half day forum, please contact Jasmin Freeman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.442.1662.
FEBRUARY 6, 2012
S P OT L I G H T : a f fo r da b l e h o u s i n g
Justice And the rent LAws Supreme Court challenge will likely fail, but still nobody’s happy
By AdAm LisBerg
ne million apartments in New York City charge lower rent than they would on the free market. For millions of New Yorkers, it’s a fact of life—one that makes winners and losers out of both tenants and building owners, but one that they all live with. Except for James Harmon. The owner of an Upper West Side townhouse with three market-rate tenants and three rentregulated ones, he has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to declare the city’s rent laws an unconstitutional seizure of his property. He has been shot down in two lower courts. Lawyers scoff at his chances. Few on either side of the rent-regulation divide expect him to win a case that would shatter New York City’s housing market. But one unnamed justice on the court has asked the city and state for arguments to defend the rent laws—providing the court a rare chance to review laws first put into place in the middle of World War II to address a housing emergency. “After 70 years, maybe it’s not an emergency,” said Sherwin Belkin, a partner at Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman who represents building owners, who contend
Protesters shout as the Rent Guidelines Board approves a 3 percent rent increase in 2009.
rent regulations force them to subsidize below-market tenants by raising rents for everyone else. “Even if there is an emergency, this doesn’t seem to do anything,” he said. “Maybe it’s a normal state of affairs in New York City, a place where people want to live.” Yet for every story Belkin tells of tenants who break the law to hold onto a deal—like the man who dressed as a woman to occupy a rent-controlled apartment in her name—veteran tenant advocate Michael McKee tells of landlords who abuse the law to jack rents higher
than allowed, threatening to drive longtime tenants out of their homes. To McKee, rent regulations are New York City’s way of making sure a city of tenants is not entirely subject to the whims of a real estate industry with powerful friends in City Hall and Albany. He contends that industry has stacked the deck at the Rent Guidelines Board, which studies a basket of financial information—but not building-by-building figures—to determine each year’s increase at an inevitably raucous public meeting. “The method of setting rent adjust-
ments is broken,” said McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC. “We take issue with the bias that’s built into the methodology, particularly the price index, which was deliberately selected so landlords wouldn’t have to open their books.” The rent laws were renewed in Albany last year with modest victories for tenants, such as raising the rent at which apartments can max out of rent regulation to $2,500 from $2,000. Tenant advocates don’t expect the Harmon case to succeed, and don’t have much sympathy for the claims of similarly situated landlords who they say are doing just fine. In a heavily regulated city, they say, any owner who bought or sold a regulated apartment building since 1943 knows the rules and factors them into the price. Even the Rent Stabilization Association, the most prominent group representing the owners of rent-regulated buildings, doesn’t expect the court to toss the rules out. But to keep New York City’s housing stock strong, RSA President Joseph Strasburg said owners are entitled to reforms like a means test, so what is effectively a housing subsidy is given to those who need it, not just those who got a lucky lease. “Once you’re in the system, the property is not yours,” Strasburg said. “If you hit the lottery and you’re living in a rentstabilized apartment, you’re never going to leave.” email@example.com
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B AC K & F O R T H
resident Barack Obama has proven willing to do something Gov. Andrew Cuomo has so far been reluctant to do: give Attorney General Eric Schneiderman more investigatory powers. The president recently tapped Schneiderman to co-chair a new joint mortgage-fraud investigation unit, giving him access to more resources and more ground troops to go after fraud and abuse on Wall Street. The move came as a shock to many, considering Schneiderman has been one of the most vocal critics of the White House’s attempts to finalize a settlement with the major U.S. banks over mortgage securities. Schneiderman spoke to City & State about his new responsibilities, his predictions on a final settlement and his fluctuating relationship with Cuomo’s office. City & State: Were you surprised by the president’s announcement? Eric Schneiderman: We had been talking about the possibility for a joint collaboration for a long time, so I wasn’t surprised in that sense. I was pleased to be asked, and honored to be asked, and [I’ve been] working very hard with my colleagues ever since. C&S: Why now? ES: From my point of view, when I took over as attorney general, I learned that there was a multistate investigation by a fairly large group of AGs, and that they were attempting to negotiate a settlement with a bunch of banks over abuses in the foreclosure process. I also learned that the banks, understandably enough, wanted as broad of a release as possible that grants them immunity from all of their alleged misconduct. Stuff that had nothing to do with foreclosure abuses, things that created the bubble in the housing market and brought about the crash. I took a hard line that we shouldn’t release that sort of conduct and we shouldn’t release claims that haven’t been investigated, and started my own investigation. Over the course of going back and forth with my federal counterparts about our investigation and their efforts to negotiate a settlement, it became clear that there were some areas that we could do a lot of really good work on if we collaborated. There were a variety of federal agencies that had different pieces of the puzzle. We agreed that a cooperative investigation was the way to go. Took us a while to work out some of the details. And last week I was very proud to be there when it was announced. And the goals of the effort really are to establish accountability and hold people accountable, those who caused this harm, make sure we get relief to the millions of people who are injured. In New York, one in 10 homes is headed toward foreclosure. Nationally there are 15 million families that are underwater. That means their homes are worth less than the mortgages they’re trying to carry. C&S: Does this change the dynamics of the negotiations for a settlement? ES: I think the settlement has been steadily improving since this process started. Most significantly, the releases have been narrowed to give us the ability to pursue the investigation, and accountability and relief for those who were injured, both borrowers and investors, people who bought these bad securities, which included a lot of pension funds and mutual funds. And the third element is, we can’t let them rewrite history. We have to get the facts of this out. This is not caused by an earthquake or a tsunami. This was caused by human conduct. This was caused by reckless deregulation, and some people just being too greedy for their own good. Brought down the economy, threw millions of people out of work. And we intend to hold them accountable and get the facts out, so history doesn’t repeat itself.
C&S: Robert Kuttner from The American Prospect predicted Wall Street allies in the Obama administration would try to reduce your role to a “symbolic fig leaf.” Are you anticipating that? ES: No. I think the fact the president elevated this by putting it in his State of the Union address, and I think comments made by Attorney General [Eric] Holder and others when the task force was announced, indicate to me they’ve made the determination to go forward. They’re taking ownership of this. Andrew Schwartz I’m certainly going to work hard to make sure we get the job done. I would be more worried if we didn’t have all of the necessary agencies working together in a coordinated fashion to go after this, because it’s difficult to do in isolation. I would think the prospects of us getting the kind of comprehensive investigation and broad relief we need would be very difficult. C&S: And this means more resources for your own investigations, more lawyers, more ground troops… ES: It’s many multiples. We have a big office, but we have a lot of responsibilities. We represent the state; we have lots going on in areas of the environment, labor, public integrity and other things. So if the New York State Attorney General’s office has 12 or 15 people working on a matter that’s big, it’s hard for us to get the kinds of results that you really want to get, to see relief for homeowners and relief for investors. Having hundreds of additional resources, investigators, lawyers, accountants from the federal government, makes it much more likely that we’re going to be able to attain significant relief. There’s areas we just don’t have jurisdiction. If you don’t have the Internal Revenue Service, it’s very hard to pursue possible violations of the tax law. If you don’t have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you can’t enforce some of these regulations coming out of DoddFrank. So having everyone come together makes it much more likely we’re going to get a good result. It was the right decision. I’m glad the president made it. I’m going to work as hard as possible to make sure we get a good result for the people of New York and the people of the country. C&S: On the mortgage settlement, they’re saying it could be $25 billion. Is that enough? Some people think it should in the hundreds of billions. ES: The major issue is what claims you give up. If you give up narrow claims like robosigning and foreclosure abuse, you get strict rules going forward with penalties and a monitor to make sure things are done right going forward. And you get some relief for homeowners in the form of principal reductions, but you don’t give up your ability to www.cityandstateny.com
go after the securities-fraud claims and other things my joint working group is going after. The amount you receive needs to be looked at in the context of what claims you’re agreeing to wave. That’s why my strong position on the releases was a part of us getting to where we are today. C&S: Why the shift from the White House on mortgage fraud? ES: I can’t say why they’re doing what they’re doing. Maybe they got fed up with their attempts at bipartisan collaboration with people who refuse to collaborate. It certainly made sense as our conversations emerged, just on the merits, that a joint investigation was the right way to proceed. I do think the president is reacting partly to the overreaching on the other side. That’s really what the debate is about, if you boil it down, in Washington. This is a debate over whether we should have the same set of rules from everyone, everyone should pay their fair share, get a fair shot, which is really what the president said in his speech. C&S: Are you optimistic about the outcome? ES: We’re still working out details of the settlement. As far as the releases go, I do feel comfortable that the final releases will enable our joint investigation to proceed. C&S: Have you reviewed the Assembly’s plan to close the Indian Point nuclear facility? ES: I have not. This is a huge win for our office. The fact that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is an agency that’s usually pretty friendly to the industry— for them to reject Indian Point’s request for more than a hundred exemptions from fire-safety requirements is a major, major victory. Our position is that we want to make sure that everyone abides by the rules. And that’s the really the theme of all of our activities in this office over the last year: one set of rules for everyone. Everyone has to abide by the rules. And that includes nuclear power plants. And if you want a nuclear power plant, you better make sure you’re taking care of issues like fire safety. We’ve also gone after Indian Point for failing to even consider seismic problems, even after what happened in Japan. I was sitting here in my office, and everyone says “Oh, we don’t have earthquakes here,” when all of the sudden the building started to sway a couple months ago. They better make sure they have emergency plans to take care of any situation. C&S: On hydrofracking, there’s a rumor that you’re in the process of developing a landowner bill of rights. Can you comment on that? ES: No. We’ve got a variety of things going on in the area of hydrofracking. We’ve been looking at issues related to the disclosures made by the oil and gas companies, looking at the federal government, which in our view, through the Army Corps of Engineers, issued regulations for hydrofracking in the Delaware River Basin without doing a required environmental impact statement. So we’re seeking to enforce the rules there too, but I don’t want to comment on any investigations or any work that’s in progress. C&S: Do you find it ironic that the president wants to give you more investigatory power, while Governor Cuomo does not? ES: No, look, we’re doing a lot in public integrity. For the first time ever, we have public integrity officers in all the regional offices. We have created a new taxpayer protection bureau to make sure that state contracts are scrutinized. We have a lot of good collaborative relationships in this area with the executive branch. Obviously we don’t talk about ongoing investigations, but since we’ve expanded our activities and expanded our resources, that’s going to be a busy area for this office over the next year or two. —Andrew J. Hawkins firstname.lastname@example.org february 6, 2012
2007 New York State Teacher of the Year Marguerite Izzo, Malverne Union Free School District
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The February 5, 2012 issue of City and State . Targeting the politicians, lobbyists, unions, staffers and issues which shape New York City...
Published on Feb 6, 2012
The February 5, 2012 issue of City and State . Targeting the politicians, lobbyists, unions, staffers and issues which shape New York City...