Vol. 1, No. 7
March 5, 2012
AP/iSTOCKPHOTO/DANIEL S. BURNSTEIN/JOEY CAROLINO
Brooklyn’s aging black leadership faces new challengers. Page 12
City Council photographer William Alatriste offers a different perspective. Page 4
Tolls could keep roads and bridges intact, but government officials remain leery. Page 18
In Pedro Espada’s upcoming corruption trial, nothing is as it seems. Page 8
Tom DiNapoli trashes the governor’s pension plan, but not the governor. Page 31
The Contributions Of John Liu
BILLIONS OF DOLLARS
SOURCE: NYS COMPTROLLER’S OFFICE
In some ways, John Liu is the perfect politician: pushing hard in his gation into his fundraising. Prosecutors are clearly after more than the two little fish who day job to show voters why he deserves a promotion, campaigning voraciously all over the city at night, channeling both outlets of his have been arrested so far. Court documents filed in their cases paint a picture of widespread fraud within Liu’s campaign, with deepraging energy toward a single goal. It’s too bad those two strains of his ambition are pocketed supporters allegedly filtering their contributions through illegally reimbursed straw donors. inextricably intertwined. Liu is still working on audits and budgets in his office and still Even before he was elected city comptroller in 2009, Liu stood out as a city coun- campaigning around the city—whether out of sheer determination, cilman who was tireless in his work and an ability to ignore reality, or a little bit of both. He may never get unbound in his desires. He first eyed running indicted, but he will never be mayor of New York City. The city could have used the best of Liu’s traits in a mayor. But for public advocate, but jumped into the comptroller’s race instead because the path the worst of his traits will prevent him from ever becoming one. firstname.lastname@example.org seemed easier. He built a multiethnic coaliAdam Lisberg tion and won even after his mother EDITOR denied his campaign tale of working in a BY T H E N U M B E R S Fa l l S t re e t sweatshop as a child. Wall Street profits are down by half for the second year in a row, according When he took office, both sides of Liu’s character found an to the state comptroller. Profits from broker/dealer operations from member firms of the New York Stock Exchange barely hit $13.5 billion in 2011, outlet. less than half of the $27.6 billion earned in 2010. He brought in a team of experienced deputies, cleared out 70 61.4 the cobwebs from moribund bureaus and turned New York 60 City’s bookkeeping office into an activist force. 50 WALL STREET PROFITS Liu expanded the pool of companies that handled city financing, 40 lowering costs and opening doors for minority-owned firms. He put 27.6 30 21.0 20.9 the city’s contracts and expenses online, setting a new standard for 16.8 16.3 20 13.7 13.5 11.3 12.2 9.7 10.4 9.4 transparency. He used the powers of his office to question expen6.9 10 7.4 sive contracts and out-of-control projects like CityTime. 0 Yet the comptroller who safeguarded the taxpayers was also -10 the politician obsessed with higher office. Stories trickled out of -11.3 -20 Estimated by the Office of the New York State Comptroller Note: Profits are for the broker/dealer operations of New York Liu expecting underlings to stand when he entered the room, of -30 Stock Exchange member firms. looking people in the eye while lying to them, of giving his polit-40 Sources: New York Stock Exchange; Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association ical aide Chung Seto more sway than any of his official deputies. -42.6 -50 In other words, the seeds of Liu’s rise and of his fall were both planted by the time word emerged of the federal investi-
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City & State is published twice monthly. Copyright © 2012, Manhattan Media, LLC
AROUND NEW YORK The best items from the City & State First Read morning email 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.
ALBANY When news broke that country music star Reba McEntire was recording an ad in support of the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Albany insiders immediately knew where the idea came from. OPWDD spokesman Travis Proulx is a selfconfessed Reba superfan, with a Reba poster in his office. “One could say I am very familiar with Reba’s work,” he wrote to City & State, “including her advocacy for the developmental disabilities field. Reba has done a lot with other states in the past and spoken about her [developmentally disabled] niece often.” Proulx said he was talking with Joe Rich, founder of the Disabled Persons Action Organization in the North Country, when he “halfheartedly” mentioned McEntire as a possible spokeswoman for an ad.The next thing he knew, Rich had called her management team and was told that Reba was in.
Congressman Michael Grimm is on the attack against The New York Times for its critical coverage of his fundraising and business experience. “When you’re effective and you’re doing good work, you’re going to get targeted,” the former Marine and FBI agent said at the grand opening of the Staten Island Republican Party’s new headquarters. “That’s what this is about. I will always be a Marine. When you pick a fight with a Marine, they only fight harder.” The crowd greeted Grimm with a standing ovation and words of support from the island’s new Republican chairman, Bob Scamardella. Grimm’s mentor, former Rep. Guy Molinari, had his own blunt assessment for the crowd: “Stand firm, and don’t let the [expletive] newspapers tell you what to do.” MARCH 5, 2012
Rekindling an old rivalry, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to follow through on his threat to veto the Legislature’s gerrymandered district lines. “The bottom line should be that he veto the lines and demand that there be a neutral arbiter to create lines that are not based upon incumbent protection,” Spitzer said at a Columbia Graduate School of Journalism appearance, reports Sasha Chavkin of the New York World. Asked to reply, Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto emailed, “The governor’s office has no comment on anything Spitzer says.”
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is reaching out to Republicans and former rivals to build support for his anti–prescription drug abuse reforms, holding a rally in Long Island with Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, whom he narrowly defeated in the 2010 Democratic primary, and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican running against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Schneiderman’s bill, which would create an electronic tracking system to curb prescription drug abuse, has 33 cosponsors in the Senate and 48 in the Assembly, which Schneiderman’s office says is a sign of mounting bipartisan support. But Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon is reportedly putting together a more modest set of reforms favored by the drug industry.
Why do the 1% dump everything on us and get away without paying their fair share?
“I work hard every day, pay my taxes and contribute…I saw what Wall Street did to the economy but they got bailed out at taxpayer expense…I’m told to give up my rights and benefits and pay more because times are hard.” “It’s just not right to take away the future security of young people — Cutting pensions won’t improve the quality of life in our communities.”
SAY NO to TIER 6!
Corporate CEOs, who have their own million dollar benefits, want to slash the modest pensions of future nurses, teachers, public safety officers, school bus drivers, highway crews, mental health workers and others.
The Tier 6 plan would reduce pension benefits 40 percent.
CSEA member — Reuben Simmons, Jr.
Tell the governor and state lawmakers.
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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
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EYES OF THE CITY COUNCIL Photographer William Alatriste sees the City Council in a different light
Photographing a politician behind a podium can be about as exciting as watching paint dry. Which is why the City Council’s official photographer, William Alatriste, tries to avoid those shots at all costs. “Propaganda—I don’t do that,” Alatriste says. Alatriste started out at the City Council writing proclamations in 2002 and shifted to photography four years later. After years of watching the Council at work, he has launched a new project—online at nyccouncil.tumblr.com—to document a day in the life of each of the Council’s 51 members. That can take him from the City Hall steps to Alatriste photographs last week’s a sidewalk in any neighborhood, where he has a City Council stated meeting rare ability to find compelling human moments amid the endless hearings and news conferences that make up a politician’s day—catching the instant that makes a scripted event come alive. “It’s my hope that some of my images reach beyond the often prosaic, onedimensional ways that politicians are seen,” he said, “and show them in ways that are a bit more unguarded, engaging, and sincere.” —Andrew J. Hawkins email@example.com Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley calls on the MTA to create green space at an abandoned store.
Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James shelters Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron under her umbrella during a City Hall rally.
Queens Councilman Leroy Comrie attends the launch of “Healthy Happy Meals” in his district.
Queens Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer attends an urban art exhibit beneath the Ed Koch Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams announces a concert against youth violence in his district. Queensboro Bridge.
MARCH 5, 2012
Make higher education a budget priority After cuts of nearly $2 billion since 2008, a flat budget for CUNY, SUNY and the state’s community colleges just won’t get the job done. A college education is essential to her future, and that takes resources. n Replace state funding that’s been lost in recent years. n Invest in more full-time faculty, to ensure a quality, accessible education for SUNY and CUNY students. n Rebuild the universities’ academic departments. n Meet the state’s commitment to its community colleges so that they are affordable for New Yorkers of all ages.
States need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. … Higher education can’t be a luxury — it has to be an economic imperative that every family in American should be able to afford.
— President Barack Obama 2012 State of the Union
Richard C. Iannuzzi, President Representing more than 600,000 professionals in education and health care.
800 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, NY, 12110-2455
Affiliated with AFT / NEA / AFL-CIO
U P F R O N T • EYES OF THE CITY COUNCIL
Brooklyn Councilman Steve Levin tours the Fulton Street Transit Hub.
MORE PHOTOS BY WILLIAM ALATRISTE
Queens Councilman Ruben Wills speaks at a news conference on religious organizations renting space in public schools.
THE FOOTNOTE: A real press release, annotated Sent 4:07 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 29, from the Senate Republican press office. DATE SENATE PASSES BILL TO REPEAL MASSIVE MAN
Wage Theft Prevention Act Is A Mountain of Costly, Usel
The law, intended to protect low-wage workers from thieving bosses, passed in 2010 when Democrats controlled the Legislature. Now, even some of the bill’s original supporters like Sen. Diane Savino agree the measure is too costly. Nonetheless, Savino and the rest of the Senate Democratic conference voted against the bill.
Last week a Manhattan nightclub agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a wage-theft claim brought by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
It’s unclear whether the Assembly will take up the bill. A spokesman said members of the Democratic majority have not reviewed the Senate’s bill yet.
(S.6063A), sponsored by Senator The New York State Senate today passed legislation ce Committee, to repeal the notiﬁcation John A. DeFrancisco, Chairman of the Senate Finan ive, costly mandate on every employer in provisions of the Wage Theft Prevention Act, a mass the state.
and waste millions of dollars, this “Other than costing businesses to lose countless hours new jobs,” Senator DeFrancisco said. mandate has done nothing to help employees or create York more competitive so businesses “We have to eliminate mandates like this to make New ng track of more paper and paying can focus on growing and creating jobs rather than keepi ﬁnes if they don’t.”
te Republicans opposed, includes The Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2010, which Sena s be provided by all private sector a requirement that each year, a written notice on wage nt forms depending on the type of pay employers to all employees. There are seven differe primary language of each employee. A (hourly, salary, etc). The forms must be provided in the must be obtained from every employee written acknowledgement of the receipt of this notice and maintained for six years. wage, notice and record keeping Businesses face stiff ﬁnes for failure to comply with the cost large employers thousands of requirements. The penalty of $50 per employee could dollars.
and make our economy stronger,” “Our priority has to be to create new private sector jobs imposed a new cost on every business Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said. “This law d by Senate Democrats who insisted in the state. It was another job-killing measure passe ate on businesses. To strengthen our on placing this onerous, duplicative and costly mand and I hope the Assembly will also act on economy we have to get rid of mandates like this one
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made mandate relief a key goal for his administration, creating a council to target government and business mandates to be reduced or eliminated.
The law stemmed from a 2009 survey of restaurant workers, grocery baggers, household cleaners and other low-wage workers, who complained their employers were paying them less than promised, if at all.
This is hardly the costliest mandate on the books. Business and conservative groups are urging the governor to look into repealing the Triborough Amendment, for example, which allows public-sector unions to operate under the provisions of an expired contract while a new contract is negotiated.
people employed in New York One employee beneﬁt ﬁrm calculated that, with 7.3 million d to comply with this law, or about State, more than 51 million pages of paper are neede 600 trees. CORRECTIONS
That’s a quarter of the number of trees in Central Park.
The bill was sent to the Assembly.
An article about gay political power in our Feb. 21 issue contained several errors. Richard Socarides was not present when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and said he privately objected to it; Socarides’ laugh during a quotation should not have been characterized as “nervous.” Brian Ellner has not left New York. And the Human Rights Campaign says it will advocate for other gay rights issues in New York. An article about NY1 host Errol Louis in our Jan. 23 issue contained two errors: Louis’ father bought the family house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in 1956. And New Rochelle is, of course, in New York, not New Jersey.
MARCH 5, 2012
Dream A Little DREAM New York immigrant groups push hard on scaled-back DREAM Act
a reality the New York DREAM Act,” Linares said. “I wanted [Skelos] to know what my intentions were, and he was obviously receptive to what I had to say.” Lawmakers also said they may have better odds in an election year, when more voters are paying attention, especially given the growing Latino and Asian populations in the state. “Obviously, something that we can never dismiss is the fact that in an election year, there is heightened attention to any decision the Legislature makes,” Linares said. “That will weigh in with the discussions that we have, hopefully in a positive way.”
The DREAM Act has its roots in federal legislation that would offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. as children and attend college or serve in the military. The Obama administration made the bill a priority, but the failure to pass it has prompted several states to take up modified versions of the law. Last year California made it legal for illegal immigrants to apply for private scholarships and loans, as well as statefinanced scholarships. Illinois passed a version of the law that set up a private scholarship fund for immigrants. Daniela Alulema, a member of the New
York State Youth Leadership Council, which has spearheaded the campaign, said New York could build on the legislative victories in California and Illinois. Her group has stepped up its campaign this year, including plans for hundreds of students to flood Albany on Tuesday and make their case to lawmakers. “We only have a few months; it’s crunch time and we’re working very hard,” Alulema said. “I think it’s now a matter of getting more support, particularly Republican support, to make sure that the bill happens.” firstname.lastname@example.org
By Jon Lentz
ot all dreams come true, or at least not right away. That’s why state lawmakers are including fewer of them in the New York DREAM Act, in the hopes that a narrower focus will bring more success in Albany. Introduced last year after the failure of a broader measure in Washington offering young illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, the state legislation would allow young illegal immigrants going to college to qualify for state financial aid. A related measure would set up a private scholarship fund for immigrant students. But after legislation failed to gain traction in Albany last year, sponsors dropped provisions granting driver’s licenses, work permits and health insurance to illegal immigrants, and shifted the focus solely to helping students pay costly tuition bills. “I think everybody recognizes that it cannot come with all the bells and whistles,” said Sen. Adriano Espaillat, a cosponsor of the legislation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos have not weighed in, but advocates say they are hopeful they can persuade the two key players to back the measure. The legislation has gained momentum, with endorsements from a growing roster of elected and government officials, including U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Carl McCall, chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees. The New York Board of Regents has also endorsed the legislation, along with the SUNY university system and other colleges. That support could encourage Cuomo, a Democrat, to back the measure. But opposition has typically come from Republicans, who argue that such legislation rewards immigrants who arrived illegally. “We continue to look at a number of DREAM Act proposals that have been advanced and are reviewing their fiscal implications,” said Scott Reif, a Senate Republican spokesman. Advocates say Skelos’ growing interest in Latino issues could aid the passage of the bill. Assemblyman Guillermo Linares said he made the case for the DREAM Act when he spoke at Skelos’ Unidad Latina conference last fall. “I let them know that I was making my top priority this session to work on making
march 5, 2012
Espada Again Looming trial doesn’t faze inimitable former Bronx senator By Laura Nahmias
march 5, 2012
n the 10th floor of the Brooklyn federal courthouse, former Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada Jr. waited, in a dark suit with broad white pinstripes and a purple tie, surrounded by his son and five-person legal team. The February weather was unseasonably warm outside and Espada, facing an 18-count fraud indictment, was immoderately relaxed. “I feel hopeful about life,” he said with an impish grin, “because I am blessed.” Aware of his media audience, he launched into a short biographical sketch, detailing how he had grown up on public assistance in the Bronx, fought for everything in his life and would continue to fight. The 59-year-old former senator hinted at the defense he and his counsel are preparing to present for a trial scheduled to start March 13, after months of delaying tactics that have exasperated prosecutors. Espada accuses Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a government conspiracy to take him down, and blames his alleged fraud on the Soundview HealthCare Center he helped found, whose board of directors, his defense claims, should have known what he was doing all along. As he told the Daily News in August, he believes Cuomo has a “personal obsession to take on and dominate my world and my manhood.” All of this promises what is sure to be an interesting trial. Espada, formerly a master tactician of the Senate whom The New York Times once described as “skilled at exploiting disorder,” seems to thrive in the rules-based world of the courtroom, where common sense occasionally takes a backseat to due process.
Federal prosecutors claim Espada is guilty of embezzling and laundering money through Soundview and two related janitorial-services companies. He and his son, Pedro G. Espada, are accused of stealing millions of dollars from the clinic, which receives more
than $1 million annually in Medicare and Medicaid grant funding for its patients. The clinic serves about 20,000 people a year, said the clinic’s director of public affairs, Rachel Fasciani. Among the allegations Espada faces: pocketing rent from religious organizations trying to use Soundview conference rooms for services, using Soundview funds to pay for pony rides at a relative’s petting-zoo birthday gathering, hiring a ghostwriter with Soundview money for a book Espada thought of writing, making a down payment on a $125,000 Bentley, spending $1,300 on fruit baskets cut to look like floral arrangements and dropping upwards of $100,000 on restaurant meals over four years, including $20,000 at one sushi restaurant in Mamaroneck, the town outside his former Bronx district where he owns a home. Espada, who served four terms in the State Senate and has been known to refer to himself in the third person as “Hurricane Espada,” treats the criminal charges as a trifle. He could face a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment on each of the embezzlement counts and five years for conspiracy, as well as a fine of $250,000 on
each count of conviction, a spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s office said. When the indictment was first announced in December 2010, then Attorney General Cuomo accused Espada and his son of “secretly siphoning money from a healthcare clinic in order to fund [his] lavish lifestyle.” For months, Espada’s attorney Susan Necheles (pronounced like “necklace”) and co-counsel have fought back in a war of attrition, filing motions and countermotions to each government filing, withholding discovery documents and pushing for dismissal of the case. In early February, for instance, prosecutors sought assurances from Judge Frederic Block that Espada couldn’t refer to his theories about personal vendettas or try to sway the jury by arguing that his conviction would hurt Soundview’s patients. Prosecutors also sought to block the defense from arguing that Espada isn’t guilty of fraud because the government should have known he was lying. The Espada team’s tactics appear to have exasperated prosecutors, who have repeatedly requested that Necheles turn over items required in the discovery phase of the case. More recently, Espada’s lawyers argued the government committed prosecutorial misconduct when it searched computer records at Soundview because prosecutors may have seen communications between Espada and his attorneys protected by attorneyclient confidentiality. “The government’s egregious actions have violated defendants’ due process rights and irreparably prejudiced them,” Necheles wrote. She asked the judge to dismiss the entire case, “based on severe government misconduct.” The motion was denied. As the March 13 trial date approaches, former Soundview employees expected to testify against Espada said that he and his attorney had tried to intimidate them out of testifying against him. A former employee named Maria Cruz said Espada had withheld $10,000 in vacation and sick-leave pay until the day after the government was required to notify his counsel who was going to be testifying against him. During a recent hearing, as the counsel for both sides argued the fine points of jury selection, Block took a pause from the proceedings to remind the assembled of some basic principles of right and wrong apparently lost in the muddle. “Fraud is fraud, whether the government is a victim or someone else is,” he said with a note of exasperation. “There is no defense for fraud.” email@example.com
is not in the interest of New Yorkers
By Danny Donohue
It’s no surprise the demand for a new pension tier for public employees in New York might be politically popular with some people. The public doesn’t know that most public employee pensions are very modest or that public employees contribute towards their pensions or that historically, 83 cents out of every pension dollar comes from investments, not taxpayers. Most New Yorkers also don’t know our pension system is strong and stable because of recent reforms. Pension obligations are not the result of excessive benefits; they are the fallout from Wall Street greed. When the economy melted down, Wall Street got bailed out at taxpayer expense and New Yorkers got the bill for pension fund losses. Tier 6 will provide no immediate budget relief and means people will have to work
longer, pay more and receive drastically less benefit. It actually reduces benefits for young workers 40 percent! Tier 6 promises great savings at the expense of working people. Whether we’re talking about current or future employees, the proposed Tier 6 provisions would further erode our middle class. We hear radical reform is necessary for public sector pensions because it’s now the private sector norm. Nonsense! Copying the worst behavior of private companies that have drained their pension funds, destroyed their employees’ futures, contributed to the most unequal distribution of wealth since before the New Deal, and abandoned working people and communities, should not be the aim of government. Tier 6 would be harmful now and forever.
Danny Donohue is president of the nearly 300,000 member CSEA – New York’s Leading Union – representing workers doing every kind of job, in every part of New York.
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
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STATE OF OUR CITY Highlights From City & State’s State Of Our City Conference
City & State’s second annual State of Our City conference Feb. 23 brought together nine leading minds to talk about the future of New York City in three critical areas—infrastructure, city living and higher education. Almost 200 people gathered at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs for a morning of insights, questions and conversations. What follows are videos and transcript highlights from the morning’s three sessions. Photos by Andrew Schwartz
go about this path, we’ll be able to hire more people, so that we’re going to have more trains. We’re going to drive and get more people there more frequently. To do that, as I said, we need the technology. Because right now the switching system that we have is as close to manual as possible. So to avoid any types of calamities and collisions down there, we need modern systems. That’s infrastructure that, quite honestly, is not that sexy. It’s not as sexy as building a new tunnel. It’s not as sexy as putting in a new line on Second Avenue. But it’s critically impor-
“The infrastructure model would not have been designed by anybody with a rational outlook. No one, no single institution, no single person, is responsible. No one’s in charge.” tant to the expansion of the city. Dick Anderson: Let’s cut to the chase. The infrastructure model would not have been designed by anybody with a rational outlook. It’s a shared responsibility, where the city, the state and the federal government share in providing the funding and the direction and the management of a very complex $15 billion-a-year system. No one, no single institution, no single person, is responsible. No one’s in charge, in effect.... When you have this kind of a complex system, this kind of a complex model, there are a lot of discontinuities. There are a lot of issues.
Session 2: City Living
(L–R) Moderator David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs; Dick Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress; Seth Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation; Joe Lhota, Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Session 1: Infrastructure and Development David Birdsell: What I’d like to do is to begin with your broad-scope perspective on where we are with infrastructure development in New York. Do we have the right model—is it the right model that’s going to keep us competitive in an increasingly global environment, and if not, what more do we need to be doing? Seth Pinsky: Under Mayor Bloomberg we haven’t gutted our capital budget during what are obviously still very difficult fiscal times. The mayor’s recent capital budget called for spending $39 billion over the next five years, which is actually an increase of about $700 million over the previous budget. And we are continuing to invest. We’re investing not just in basic infrastructure but also in amenities, which we know are critical for quality of life and attracting the best and the brightest to the city, which
march 5, 2012
in turn is critical for attracting business. And we’re also, in some cases, investing in whole new neighborhoods, areas like Willets Point, Hunter’s Point South.… The problem is that we’re competing with cities around the world that are not just competing with a 20th-century infrastructure; they’re competing with a 21st-century infrastructure. And figuring out how we don’t just maintain what we have but improve what we have is going to be the great challenge, I think, of the next several years. Joe Lhota: With this amount of expansive growth that we’re seeing in the number of passengers, the future of infrastructure is not about expanding the system but using the existing system and putting in modern technology so that in the future we can get more trains on the same tracks.… We’re going to have to put in a more modern switching system. We’re going to need to hire more workers. And I see my brothers here from the TWU. I want you to realize that if we
funding mechanisms that will allow us to maintain those things. And I just want to throw out one thing, and that is: The efforts New York City [has] made to reconnect people with the waterfront have been extraordinary. It’s transformed the face of this city. But there are parks like Hudson River Park, which is a fabulous park that basically does not have the money going forward to ensure that the park doesn’t fall into the Hudson River.… It’s going to require people to take a look at a lot of the assumptions that people had when these parks were put in place. Some of
Jonathan Bowles: Increasing numbers of cities across the country and around the world are competing with New York for talent. And when talent is such an indicator of a city’s success, it seems like livability has become even more front and center as an important issue for New York’s future. Marcia Bystryn: We have made such extraordinary progress on a number of fronts. What is going to be important, though, is making sure that we have
them were—well, you know, we really don’t want to have any kind of commercial activity too prominent in these parks, because parks are parks are parks. Is that in fact feasible if you want the park to continue to have structural integrity? Do you have to look at new kinds of financing mechanisms like tax increment financing or park improvement districts? Cas Holloway: From an operational perspective, the big question I ask every day is: Why do people want to live here? Because it’s clean and it’s safe and we have good schools and we have great parks, and the city runs and it’s going to be properly funded so that it stays that way and gets better. If that becomes untrue, you know, it’s a big country. People can live here. They can live somewhere else. So what does that suggest? I think these issues that some people may think are too far removed from them—like Tier VI pension and what about defined contribution versus defined benefit—these are the questions that are going to determine what the long-term resource obligations of this city are. So I would just, I guess, suggest everybody should get involved and get educated and form a point of view, because the time is now to deal with it.
(L–R) Moderator Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future; Ronda Wist, senior vice president for policy and advocacy at the Municipal Art Society; Cas Holloway, deputy mayor for operations; Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.
Ronda Wist: We are worried that this could become a luxury city. And that would make it not enticing to young people and entrepreneurs to come in. We are looking at arts and culture because, just as having a monoculture in terms of housing is not a good idea, it’s not a great
student debt in the last 10 years. And that’s completely untenable. John Mogulescu: It’s really important that that [Roosevelt Island engineering campus] project link up to the public school system in this city, particularly when it
“Why do people want to live here? Because it’s clean and it’s safe and we have good schools and we have great parks.... If that becomes untrue, you know, it’s a big country. People can live here. They can live somewhere else.” idea to have a city with only large cultural institutions. And one of the things we asked in our survey, which was interesting, was Do you like the cultural advantages of New York City? Yes. But do you feel that they’re available in your neighborhood? And again, the answer is very different borough by borough. And, of course, it would be very different neighborhood by neighborhood.
Session 3: Higher Education Andrew Hawkins: [President Barack Obama] said that he wants to increase the amount of money that goes toward Pell Grants, but the cost of living for students is, obviously, clearly going up in the city of New York. I’m wondering what’s being done to address this issue. Do you guys see it approaching some sort of crisis level, or
comes to the possibilities of creating a pipeline for kids of color to go into the sciences and technology.… One of the things I do at CUNY is oversee workforce development for the university. And my struggle has been a bit different. Because when you look at the labor-market data in this city, the huge number of jobs are low-wage work. And I have found, and we are very involved with trying to figure out, well, how do you get people who are doing the low-wage work all over this city out of poverty? And I must say, it’s really hard to even think intellectually how that would work in this city. Josh Thomases: The old way of thinking about public partnership was: How many kids did we see? So the New York Aquarium would say, “We saw 10,000 kids.” The Museum of Natural History would say—I’m getting the numbers wrong—“We saw 400,000 kids.” And what we’ve come to understand is that with the kind of
Business Leaders Agree: Keep Indian Point By Al Samuels
New Yorkers should be appalled by the recent “preliminary findings” from Assembly Chairmen Brennan and Cahill following a January 12 hearing on the feasibility of closing Indian Point. I do not understand how the Assemblymen could conclude that shutting down Indian Point would not be harmful to the regional economy. In fact, numerous scientific studies have proven the contrary: if Indian Point closes in Westchester, there will be dramatic effects in terms of increased pollution, job losses, and higher electricity prices, which will hurt the entire region. It is discouraging to see their personal perspectives being used as an excuse to force the closure the Indian Point. This shortsighted, counterproductive, and unnecessary action would result in significant consequences for New York City and the downstate region. New York’s key industries – financial and professional services, media, information technology, health and real estate – all depend on the availability of reliable power. Our strong power supply system has long been a competitive advantage for attracting and keeping jobs in New York State. Unfortunately, our power system is in jeopardy as the future of the state’s largest and most important power generator remains in question. Indian Point alone provides up to 11% of the entire state’s power and nearly a third of the downstate region’s power. With New York proceeding towards economic recovery and power usage growing, new sources of power should be used to complement our existing base load energy capacity – not replace it. Electricity costs are already high in New York State – the thirdhighest in the nation according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. High energy costs discourage business from creating new jobs here. Indian Point’s safe, dependable power is a price-stable commodity; generating budgetary predictability for businesses and residential consumers alike.
(L–R) Moderator Andrew Hawkins, managing editor of City & State; David Scobey, executive dean of the New School for Public Engagement; Josh Thomases, deputy chief academic officer at the city Department of Education; John Mogulescu, senior university dean for academic affairs and dean of the school of professional studies at the City University of New York.
do you think the issue of affordability is still manageable? David Scobey: We are all not near a crisis but at a crisis—in the middle of a crisis—in the financing of higher education, partly because higher education’s
resources that this city has, that that’s the wrong way of thinking about it. The way of thinking about it is changing kids’ lives.… There are 400,000 high school students. In this city, it should be easy to find internships—real-life
“There are 400,000 high school students. In this city, it should be easy to find internships—real-life work experiences—for 400,000 kids. That should not be hard.” costs have grown, for complicated reasons. And that’s as true for the New School as for CUNY and Columbia, in large fact because of the decline of public support for student access to higher education which, as access has grown dramatically and the mission—the stuff that higher education institutions are meant to do—has expanded, public investment in higher education at the state and federal level has declined.… That has exposed something that all of us have colluded in in higher education, which is to displace the costs of paying for the work that we do—it’s good work—onto our students and student debt.… The economic crisis has exposed the underbelly of how much we have relied on growing
work experiences—for 400,000 kids. That should not be hard. Between our government sector, our not-for-profit sector and our for-profit sector, you should be able to find 400,000. You should certainly be able to find 100,000. We don’t have more than 10–15,000 at this point. So one of the things I would call on folks in this room to do is to think about the work you do, the offices you’re in and the people who you know, and ask the question: What would it take to organize to have a couple students be on an internship on a regular basis?
An independent study by the energy consulting firm Charles River Associates found that the plant’s closure would lead to higher rates of airborne pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, while offering real challenges towards the long-term stability of our power grid. We need the safe, clean and efficient power produced at Indian Point to remain the cornerstone of our region’s energy infrastructure for decades to come. Al Samuels is the President and CEO of the Rockland Business Association as well as an Advisory Board Member of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance. S P E C I A L
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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
See videos from the three panel discussions at www.cityandstateny.com www.cityandstateny.com
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GENERATION GAP Brooklynâ€™s aging black leadership faces new challengers By CHRIS BRAGG Photos by DANIEL S. BURNSTEIN
Robert Cornegy, with Al Vann in the background.
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nnette Robinson rose slowly. The Brooklyn assemblywoman walked to the center of her political clubhouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant, home of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), its walls covered with posters from her past successful campaigns dating back to 1991. As she neared the center aisle, standing among 50 people gathered for a Saturday morning meeting, the grandmother of 10 held the fate of several political futures on the tip of her tongue. The central Brooklyn political world had been abuzz with reports that Robinson was set to retire, ending the career of a well-regarded lawmaker who helped turn Bedford-Stuyvesant into the center of the black political scene. City Councilman Al Vann, 77, sat nearby with his arms crossed. In the 1960s and ’70s he, Robinson and other like-minded activists spearheaded a seminal civil rights movement in the neighborhood. The fruits of their labor are still visible today—and so are the people who brought them. The local Assembly seat has not seen a true opening since 1974, thanks to a 2001 seat-swapping maneuver between Robinson and Vann, who has been in office nearly four decades. And though there have been primary challengers at times, in central Brooklyn—like most places in New York—incumbents are
Clarke said black political activism in central Brooklyn had actually withered. “What happened to the village that raised us? What happened?” Clarke said. “They had the buoyance of the activist movement behind them. Today, in this room, we have to admit that we’re a little bit flat-footed.” Later Clarke explained that central Brooklyn’s political leadership had failed to develop a strong bench. “There was a miscalculation,” she said. “In the attempt to translate political empowerment into day-to-day policy, it becomes more difficult to change the status quo. Now, acting as legislators, it can be more difficult to find constituents to support the policy agenda.” Yet to step outside the club onto Bedford Avenue is to see the results of that calculation: a sea of institutions built on Vann’s shoulders that brought a black middle class into being, from affordable-housing agencies to Medgar Evers College. Vann even got the street name directly outside the club changed to Harriet Tubman Avenue.
n central Brooklyn, Vann is one of several longtime incumbents nearing the ends of their long careers because of age, term limits or primary challengers. None of their situations is quite analogous. Their reputations vary. Some of the
“I don’t think it’s a positive simply because someone is young. I think it should be what they bring to the table.” usually only removed through retirement, indictment or death. So the rumors of Robinson’s departure had also brought excitement: It would inject new blood into a neighborhood where, over the years, black revolutionaries morphed into the black establishment. As Robinson stepped forward, Robert Cornegy stood behind her. The towering former basketball player, who played professionally for a decade in Europe, stood with his hands clasped behind him. The club had recently elected him as its new president, replacing Vann in a nod to the need for new blood. He very much wanted to run for Robinson’s seat—and he was not the only one. Robinson began to speak. “The mission of this organization has not changed, and my mission has not changed,” Robinson told the crowd. “And we’re continuing to work on it diligently.” She was not retiring. She would run for a sixth Assembly term. Cornegy showed no emotion. A few minutes later, he rose to introduce a historian friend of Vann’s to speak about Black History Month—only to defer to Vann, saying he was not worthy of the honor. The councilman began to chuckle. “This guy’s smart!” Vann said.
ongresswoman Yvette Clarke gave her own bombastic pitch for reelection to a third term at the meeting. Most of the other speakers had praised Vann profusely, but the 47-year-old
same people who decry one incumbent for sticking around too long praise the legacy of another longtime pol. There are accusations of machine politics, and questions about whether some in the younger generation would represent any real break from the past. Still, there is a persistent criticism from many in the younger guard that the senior politicians have hung onto their power too long, corroding the political empires they have helped build. And there is a persistent criticism from many in the older guard that the younger generation has failed to pay due deference to their accomplishments. Could another revolution be brewing? While Robinson and longtime State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery are unlikely to face a serious challenge, the generational dynamics will certainly play into two high-profile races coming up in the area—the race to replace the term-limited Vann and the reelection campaign of Congressman Ed Towns. Both are now 77 years old. During nearly 30 years in office, Towns has always faced some sort of a primary challenger—and has always emerged victorious. Yet this year he faces perhaps his toughest test, from both Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a rising star in the Brooklyn Democratic Party, and bomb-throwing City Councilman Charles Barron. Vann, who nearly lost a multicandidate primary race in 2009, is term-limited out in 2013 and eyeing successors to groom. His legacy, and the degree to which candidates
Uptown Overturned Tumult in Harlem underscores storied neighborhood’s generational and ethnic divide By Andrew J. Hawkins
arlem is in turmoil. Again. Three Democratic candidates are lining up to run against Rep. Charlie Rangel, who himself is gearing up for his 21st reelection campaign. The Latino community in Northern Manhattan is up in arms over the possibility it might not get its own congressional district. And the Manhattan and Bronx Democratic parties are feuding over how best to divide the spoils of redistricting. In other words, more political upheaval has come to a neighborhood that has seen its share of change over the last few years. Underscoring these conflicts is a generational divide between young, ambitious politicos and the gray-haired political machine in Harlem that to some seems to exist solely as a Charlie Rangel protection unit. Two years ago, the election cycle was brimming with youthful primary challengers of all stripes: first-timers, political scions, hedgefund-backed insiders—all buoyed by hopes of wholesale change until they fell short on Election Day. While there are fewer challengers this year, there is no shortage of condemnation for the process. Basil Smikle, a political consultant and Columbia doctoral student who ran against Sen. Bill Perkins in 2010, said Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s success at restoring order to Albany has had a calming effect on some of the neighborhood’s politics. “[Back in 2010] you thought to yourself, ‘How are these people still in office?’ ” Smikle said. “Now that there’s a grown-up in the room, you don’t hear a peep out of any of them. They fall in line and behave nicely. Not much impetus to force any of them out for bad choices or inactivity.” Still, Smikle says the neighborhood’s political leaders haven’t learned the lessons of 2010. “Let me be clear: There has never been any mentoring with the younger generation uptown,” he said. “Charlie’s been there 40 years; Inez Dickens has been around a long time; Bill Perkins has been around a long time. The youngest elected official, I think, is Keith [Wright], who’s in his late 50s.” But Cuomo’s presence—and the uncertainty surrounding redistricting and the state’s primary election dates—hasn’t deterred
everyone. Vince Morgan, an ex-aide to Rangel who ran against him in 2010, is running again this year, largely on a platform of dissatisfaction with Harlem’s insider politics. “The Harlem political machine is dead,” Morgan said. “They just don’t know it yet.” Assemblyman Keith Wright, chairman of the Manhattan Democratic Party, begs to differ. He declined to comment on how redistricting would impact Rangel’s reelection effort and on reports of a spat between Wright and Bronx Democratic Chairman Carl Heastie over who will eventually succeed Rangel in Congress. “Negotiations are still ongoing, so I’m not going to comment on that at all,” said Wright, who is quietly positioning himself as a successor to Rangel in Congress. “Life is always changing. Every neighborhood goes through an evolution.” Sen. Adriano Espaillat, a Democrat representing Washington Heights and a vocal advocate for a new Latino-majority congressional district, said the political leadership in Northern Manhattan wasn’t dead, just metamorphosing. “The new leadership, the emerging leadership in this neighborhood, will be more diverse,” said Espaillat, who has been eyeing a run for Congress but says he won’t challenge Rangel for his seat. “We can build on the legacy of the Adam Clayton Powells and the Charlie Rangels of the world.” Sources close to Rangel say they are resigned to the fact that the congressman’s district, which as it stands today is a Latinomajority district, will likely be redrawn into the Bronx and Westchester, which poses new problems for Rangel, Wright and the political establishment. “The dynamics you’re witnessing are a younger generation saying, ‘Look, the demographics are changing, the businesses are changing, the issues have become far more complex,’” Smikle said. “You need somebody who represents the spirit and ideology of the old Harlem, but also the actual the background of the folks that are coming into Harlem now.” He said, “You need somebody to bridge that divide.” firstname.lastname@example.org Read more of our coverage about Harlem politics at www.cityandstateny.com march 5, 2012
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries
are willing to break with it, will likely be a big part of the race to succeed him.
s a student at Brown University, Mark Winston Griffith, who was heavily involved in black student organizing, heard of Vann’s legendary activism. After graduating, he moved back to Brooklyn and tried to get involved. “I heard about this thing catching on with Al Vann,” Griffith said. “It’s one of the main reasons I went to live in Brooklyn.” There was much for Griffith to admire in Vann, who had risen from being a public school teacher who clashed with his union to a rebel assemblyman to a power broker. Perhaps most notably, during the early 1980s, as minorities grew to almost half of New York City’s population, the City Council passed a redistricting plan that actually reduced minority representation on the Council— and Vann launched a successful federal lawsuit that defeated the plan and helped waken what was seen as a dormant black electorate. He had started a movement he coined “community empowerment” or “nationalism,” the idea of self-determination— that culturally, economically and politically Bed-Stuy would assert its political power, gain access and take care of itself. The headline of a 1983 New York magazine cover story labeled Vann the “city’s hottest black politician.” He was a controversial figure at the time, thought to be suspicious of white people, and
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often sparred with then Mayor Ed Koch. Vann himself was even thought of as a hot property for mayor. Today Vann’s allies believe he has not
like Barron made the case that Vann was coasting. By not passing the reins to the younger generation and embracing its new ideas,
“What happened to the village that raised us? What happened? They had the buoyance of the activist movement behind them. Today, in this room, we have to admit that we’re a little bit flat-footed.” gotten his due among the city’s great modern civil rights leaders. And yet his critics say that by sticking around so long, voting for the 2008 term-limits extension and running again, Vann let an insurgency become the machine—with the decay and patronage that comes with it. After college, Griffith wrote and called Vann’s office, but couldn’t get a job there. Unable to get into Vann’s inner circle, he took a different career path. He started a credit union with NY1 host Errol Louis, then eventually became the executive director of the Drum Major Institute, a prominent liberal think tank. In 2009, spurred by the term-limits extension, Griffith challenged Vann. He narrowly lost the primary, but gained the support of some surprising allies, such as Rev. Al Sharpton and the Working Families Party, who felt Vann’s time had passed. Vann repeatedly called Griffith, who is 49, a “young man” on the campaign trail. During the campaign, supporters
critics said, Vann’s movement was never allowed to fully mature. During the campaign, Griffith said that “people feel like he’s retired on the job.” Vann’s campaign staff took Griffith’s primary challenge personally—seeing a possible Griffith victory as the real threat to Vann’s legacy. With the possibility becoming more real, Vann brought aboard a number of younger political operatives in the neighborhood, who have since become active members of his political club. And since Vann’s narrow reelection, his allies say he has brought new energy to a third term, introducing a number of substantive bills, addressing everything from police accountability to the foreclosure crisis. Vann’s camp seems to believe that Griffith represents a generation of young politicos simply too lazy to build their own political organizations—or to understand the true nature of their predecessors’ accomplishments.
To this day, Vann gets a bit rankled by Griffith’s critiques. “He’s a smart guy, but he didn’t seem to do any research at all,” Vann said. “I don’t think it’s a positive simply because someone is young. I think it should be what they bring to the table.”
uestions about establishment behavior from Vann’s revolution are not new. For instance, New York back in 1983 suggested Vann helped dole out a top job at the Urban Development Corporation to an aide, John Flateau. Recently a young corporate attorney involved in VIDA wanted to create a new “senior advisor” leadership position for herself and redraft its constitution. Sources in the club say Flateau, who joked at the club’s recent meeting about getting his AARP card, thought it was such a good idea that he grabbed the position for himself. Flateau, who was criticized in 2009 for landing a $100-an-hour senior advisory position with then Senate Majority Leader John Sampson while also holding a $102,000 job at Medgar Evers, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Some within Vann’s club say the perceived need to cede power is a real one. “The community benefits where there is an abundance of leadership connected to both the past and the future, and not when you skip generations,” said Kirsten John Foy, a young VIDA member and
The Ghost of Shoreham
rising political star who may run for Vann’s seat. “What we’ve seen is that instead of going from generation X to Y, you went from B to Z.” But among the many people in Vann’s world who are extremely loyal to him—even those affected by the decisions of longtime officials to stay in office—there is
“What we’ve seen is that instead of going from generation X to Y, you went from B to Z.” almost a cultlike reverence and deference. L. Joy Williams, a Brooklyn political consultant who also wanted to run for Robinson’s seat, said the lack of opportunity for people like her had everything to do with the limited number of districts in which Brooklyn’s African-Americans can run—not the old guard’s reluctance ever to retire. “It’s not about the old guard,” she said. “It’s about the limited leadership opportunities for people of color.” The dynamics developing—that of loyalty to Vann and independence from him—could well play into the City Council race to replace him. Griffith, who has opened a campaign committee, will likely again have the backing of the Working Families Party. Foy would have among the highest name recognition, and his extensive work within the community is very well-known. Cornegy, who is likely to set his sights on Vann’s seat now that Robinson is seeking reelection, seems to be developing the closest political relationship to the longtime incumbent. That seems strange to some observers, since Cornegy was one of the candidates who challenged Vann in 2009, placing a distant seventh in an eight-person field. But soon afterward, Cornegy wrote an op-ed praising Vann and saying voters should choose him over Griffith in the general election. (Griffith continued to run against Vann in the general election on the Working Families Party line.) Vann ended up supporting Cornegy for district leader in 2010 and eventually to be the next president of his club. To critics, it was another example of the tightening inner circle.
By Dr. Matthew C. Cordaro
Short-sighted decisions inevitably have long-term consequences, especially when it comes to the pocketbooks of several million people. Long Island residents are still feeling the economic impact from the closure of the Shoreham Nuclear plant before it ever operated. The saga began in 1965 when the Long Island Lighting Company proposed building a nuclear power plant on the island. The North Shore facility was completed in 1984, but never opened due to mounting opposition after the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, an accident in which no one was ever injured.
Councilman Al Vann
But Mandela Jones, a high-ranking Vann staffer who brought Cornegy into the fold after their primary battle in 2009, said there was never any discussion at the time of Cornegy landing a district leader spot, or the club presidency. For his part, Vann said he had not picked a favored successor, and would simply base his support on who has the best feel for the community. “I am looking for someone who really feels a real connection to the community,” Vann said, “and is not concerned about doing this as a career choice.”
fter nearly three decades in Congress, Ed Towns says younger people don’t really understand the old-school way he operates—or all his accomplishments. “People don’t know that I’m an ordained Baptist minister,” Towns said. “Do you know that I don’t
Politicians negotiated with the utility and Shoreham never opened its doors. Long Islanders, however, have been stuck with the $6 billion price tag for the facility, while never having the opportunity to enjoy any of the benefits of Shoreham’s clean, affordable, and reliable energy. Long Island pays some of the highest electricity rates in the nation and that has been a tremendous impediment to the economy of the area. Many of the economic and environmental woes of Long Island can be traced back to the abandonment of Shoreham. The highly-skilled jobs and economic output connected to Shoreham were lost and replaced by more polluting generation and a debt that still hasn’t been retired. Ratepayers, some of whom weren’t even alive during the Shoreham controversy, are paying it off. Like the movement to close Shoreham, the calls for Indian Point to wind down production are tremendously short-sighted. Opponents should be careful of what they wish for. Without Indian Point, electricity rates in the state would skyrocket, greenhouse gases and fossil fuel pollution would increase dramatically, and countless in-state jobs would be lost for good. If we’re going to meet the energy demands of the future, we need to develop a number of sources, including nuclear, renewables, natural gas combined-cycle generators and others. At the same time, economic and clean sources of electricity — such as Indian Point, which provides 30% of the energy demanded by downstate New York — must continue to operate. The justifications for closing Shoreham were never substantiated, which is especially painful in light of the unimpeachable safety records of all 103 nuclear power plants operating in this country for the last 50 years. Those questioning the future of Indian Point should keep this in mind. Dr. Matthew Cordaro is a member of New York AREA’s Advisory Board and Former Utility CEO. S P E C I A L
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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. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke
W W W. A R E A - A L L I A N C E . O R G www.cityandstateny.com
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curse, smoke or drink?” He added, “I do what I’m supposed to do. That’s it. Then I go home to my family. When something comes up, I make my staff available. You could make the case that I have the most effective staff any legislator has had.” Towns was never really part of Vann’s activist Bed-Stuy movement. While Vann was an insurgent, Towns came into his job as a party pick, from a position as deputy Brooklyn borough president. He has never had the same outsize reputation. But Towns argues that his staff’s experience, his seniority in Congress and his ability to bring in pork make his role indispensable—even though his vitality after all these years has certainly come into question. Others long ensconced in central Brooklyn politics agree the problem is not with the old generation but the new one. Chris Owens, a district leader and the son of longtime Rep. Major Owens, said the Coalition for Community Empowerment, a group founded by Vann, used to hold regular monthly meetings in either Vann’s campaign office or his father’s. That group withered away with age and retirements a decade ago. Back then, Chris Owens said, borough leadership would have gotten together and convinced Jeffries to hold off for a few more years and wait for Towns to retire. Now, he said, up-and-coming legislators in Brooklyn like Jeffries, Clarke and Assemblyman Karim Camara often simply pursue their own agendas. “It’s not clear if there’s any strategic planning going on,” Owens said. “People just veer from one crisis to the next. And while it’s clear the younger generation is talented, they’re also skilled in the art of self-promotion. They looked at what Al Sharpton does and said, ‘Okay, here’s what I need to do to keep getting reelected.’ ” Jeffries says that’s entirely untrue, citing a substantial record he built in Albany—prison gerrymandering reform, landmark stop-and-frisk legislation—in the two-year window that Democrats held power in the Senate. Similarly, Jeffries says another such rare window will exist for four years if President Barack Obama is reelected in Washington. “If this was just about me personally, I could hang out in the Legislature for several more years and wait for Congressman Towns to retire,” Jeffries said. “There’s significant risk involved in this for me personally, but politics are about more than personal achievement.” There are also problems with Towns’ argument that his seniority best allows him to provide for the district and that he’s best able to work across the aisle. Congressional Republicans have done away with earmarks, and took away Towns’ coveted chairmanship of the House Government and Oversight Committee when they won power in 2010; then Democrats took away his position as ranking member. Jeffries also notes that much of the foreclosure crisis happened under Towns’ watch as head of Congress’ investigative oversight committee— a major problem in Bed-Stuy and the rest of the district. And it was later reported that Towns got a special sweetheart mortgage loan from Countrywide, one of the worst offenders in the mortgage crisis. And as chairman, Towns resisted efforts to investigate Countrywide. “Seniority without action is like a race car with no engine,” Jeffries said. “It looks nice on the outside, but then you get inside and realize that it’s got no ability to get you anywhere. And at this point, after 30 years, the track record of my opponent needs to be evaluated.”
effries knows better than anyone the risks of running an insurgent campaign. In 2000 and again in 2002, while working as a litigator in a prominent Manhattan law firm, Jeffries ran primaries against longtime Assemblyman Roger Green. Jeffries only won his Assembly seat after Green retired in 2006. The two ran into each other recently at Medgar Evers, where Green is a professor and Jeffries was addressing a town hall forum on stop-and-frisk. They embraced and shook hands. The moment revealed a truth about incumbency that has surely crossed Jeffries’ mind, or the mind of anyone looking to challenge the old guard. “Hakeem used to run against me every year,” Green said, putting his hand on Jeffries’ shoulder. “But it made me stronger. It did. He would probe me in debates and keep me on top of my game.” The crowd applauded. “Assemblyman Green used to beat me every time,” Jeffries responded, to laughter. “So I’m just thankful he decided to vacate the seat. He gave me the opportunity to succeed him.” Jeffries added, “Or I might be in the audience. And not standing up here, right now.” email@example.com Read more about Brooklyn politics at www.cityandstateny.com
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Last train to Brownsville 55th Assembly District hopefuls start campaigning in a downtrodden district By Laura Nahmias
hrow out all the usual rules for campaigns when you talk about this fall’s race in Brooklyn’s 55th Assembly District. There are four challengers to the seat, now home to incumbent William Boyland Jr., facing his second federal indictment rap inside of a year. The assemblyman’s trial on honest-services fraud charges is scheduled to begin in May, and if he is convicted, the race is anyone’s to take. If he pleads guilty in the near future, the Brooklyn County Democratic Committee could select a candidate to fill his seat in a special election. Yet if Boyland is acquitted, he may very well be reelected—despite the fact he missed more than two-thirds of session days last year and sponsored no legislation, in a district where 46 percent of the residents live in poverty, more than half the residents are on Medicaid or uninsured, and the foreclosure rate is three times higher than the average for the rest of Brooklyn. The district is so starved for what other New Yorkers take for granted that voters will turn out for promises of the most basic services, said one Brooklyn political operative. “You tell them you’ll bring a supermarket, they’ll vote for you,” the operative said. “They need something to look forward to out there. They’re hurting.” The four challengers who’ve opened campaign committees so far are schoolteacher Dion
“The consensus around the community is that it’s about the Boyland business and not the community’s business. If you wanted to get something done, you had to ante up for their family. That dynamic has to change.” Turner, Anthony Basheer Jones, Nathan Bradley and a former nightlife promoter and community activist named Tony Herbert. Neither Bradley nor Turner could be reached for comment. Bradley is employed as Sen. John Sampson’s deputy chief of staff, and is also the chairman of Community Board 5. Anthony Basheer Jones, who was once allies with slain former City Councilman James E. Davis, laid out the race for the 55th in terms of a divide between old and young. “One of our biggest dilemmas in the 55th Assembly District, is to humbly request that the puppets move on and find a new home to undermine,” Jones wrote on Facebook. “We cant [sic] have this plantation mentally [sic] of the old against the young. Our seniors who have been on some of the council for decades fight against change. You mind [sic] as well get use to younger fold [sic] participating in the process because we aint [sic] going no where.” Herbert, a former radio-show host and staffer for former Councilwoman Priscilla Wooten, is the candidate who seems to have the most advanced campaign so far. He’s been in politics for more than a decade, and served as a volunteer for Congressman Ed Towns before attempting a run against Davis, who was murdered by a rival at City Hall in 2003. Herbert, who is running on a platform to create jobs for Brownsville and help quell gang violence, said the Boyland family’s grip on the district had not benefited the community. “The consensus around the community is that it’s about the Boyland business and not the community’s business,” Herbert said. “If you wanted to get something done, you had to ante up for their family. That dynamic has to change.” He said that the Legislature had changed enough in recent years to make him hopeful he could sponsor bills that would help the district. “There are people who are forward thinkers who are in office right now. Those are the progressives I can go in there and work with: Hakeem Jeffries, Karim Camara, Eric Adams,” he said. Brooklyn politicos said the key endorsements in the community will come from local faith leaders like Johnny Ray Youngblood, the pastor at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, Christian Cultural Center’s Rev. A.R. Bernard, and Bethel Baptist’s Rev. H. DeVore Chapman. Any one of the candidates might be a good assemblyman, but politicians acknowledge that doing good in impoverished neighborhoods like Brownsville and East New York is a heavy lift. “What that district needs is not another politician but a leader that is going to mobilize and organize around crime, foreclosures, jobs,” said City Councilman and congressional candidate Charles Barron. The district’s crime rates, though down from their peaks in the 1980s, are still the highest of any district in New York, according to CompStat figures, and the prison admission rate is three times higher than the average for Brooklyn. “That community is going to need a leader that can get their fair share from city, state and federal government,” Barron said. “Ninety percent of the people of Brownsville are good people, and they deserve a good leader. Brownsville is sorely in need of that kind of leadership.” firstname.lastname@example.org Read our past coverage of Assemblyman William Boyland Jr. at www.cityandstateny.com www.cityandstateny.com
BACK TO THE FUTURE IN 2013 The mayoral contenders promise business as usual
s Mayor Michael Bloomberg where to get $30 million to fund it. City Comptroller John Liu, in his own enters the twilight of his administration, New Yorkers ought State of the City address, echoed Stringto be nervous about what’s on the horizon: er’s call for a tax increase and upped him the crop of career politicians lined up to by referring to the pension-reform debate as “remarkably one-sided and shortreplace him. sighted.” Clearly Mr. Liu has In the last few weeks, they not chatted with Gov. Andrew have all spoken up about Cuomo lately. their vision of New York City, While Public Advocate testing out potential campaign Bill de Blasio did not make themes and trying to appeal to a speech, he called for the constituencies in next year’s passage of a living-wage bill, Democratic primary election. which would raise costs and What they had in common was a return to how the city Susan Del Percio have a tremendously negative effect on small business. used to run, when raising Next, Manhattan Media publisher Tom taxes, increasing spending and pandering to interest groups was business as usual. Allon (full disclosure—he runs the company that owns this publication) proposed, via New Yorkers have a lot to worry about. Manhattan Borough President Scott an op-ed, a two-tier minimum-wage system. Stringer wasted no time. In his State of the He’s the only candidate who hasn’t held Borough address—yes, there really is such public office, but his idea would still make a thing as a State of the Borough address— New York one of the least business-friendly he kicked off with class warfare and cities in the country. And former city Comptroller Bill continued with a proposed tax hike on top Thompson launched his website without of the increase recently passed in Albany. During her State of the City speech, a single economic proposal—though, to Council Speaker Christine Quinn be fair, he didn’t have any proposals on suggested kindergarten be mandatory, anything else. Thankfully, New Yorkers are sophisalthough it is already available to every child in the city, and made no mention ticated, and will see these proposals for
what they are: politically expedient pitches designed to woo their vote. New Yorkers also know real leadership when they see it, and they will take notice that so far no one has offered any meaningful solutions to our looming budgetary problems.
No candidate for mayor has shown any true vision when it comes to the economic health of our city, nor they have shown any backbone when it comes to making the tough choices. As much as we hear about moving from a recession to an economic recovery, the next mayor will still face tremendous challenges. New York City must keep its fiscal house in order, continue to find ways to create economic growth and strive to keep making government more effective and productive. Yet so far no candidate for mayor has shown any true vision for the economic health of our city, nor they have shown any backbone when it comes to making the tough choices. On this, they can take a lesson from Bloomberg. New Yorkers have disagreed with Bloomberg’s policies many times, but few have questioned Bloomberg’s fiscal stewardship. Even when it was politically difficult, the mayor made
THE NEXT CATASTROPHE
ur state government is glorying “Pension smoothing”—borrowing to pay in its newfound functionality. current pension costs. Flat-out borrowing Austerity has given way to the for operational costs. “Certiorari bonds”— new millionaires’ tax; the teacher-testing borrowing to pay property tax refunds. standoff is resolved; casino gambling is Industrial-development authorities taking on the horizon. The crises of the moment control of tax revenues from new development, while assessed values go may be this year’s budget or into free fall. reapportionment, but there’s Last year’s brand-new “tax a confidence that all can be cap” didn’t solve the problem. resolved. Its arbitrary limit on raising Not so fast. There’s a tidal revenue simply created a solid wave gathering out there and wall for New York’s local governsoon, quite soon, it’s going ments to finally crash into. to land on us. Within a few And, as happens in polimonths there will be a series of Richard Brodsky tics, blame has become a key municipal financial upheavals. part of the dynamic. Mayors Cities especially, but also counties, towns, villages and school blame the governor, the governor blames districts across the state are facing the city, everybody blames the unions unbridgeable budget gaps. There’s no plan and nobody will raise taxes. State aid has substantially decreased, as has and no money to try to keep things going. If you’ve heard this before and federal aid. Gimmicks and denial are the remember nothing ever happening, you’re responses of choice. There’s real evidence that 2012 is the right. For many a year, mayors have regularly predicted the end of the world as we year of reckoning, the year when we know it, blamed the state for their prob- simply can’t both balance budgets and lems, then cobbled together solutions keep municipal services at a decent level. Rochester Mayor Tom Richards used that got them through the year. There’s an amazing list of gimmicks chilling and powerful language in January and idiocies that have postponed the inevi- when he told the Legislature’s finantable day of reckoning: “spin-ups”—taking cial leadership that his city was on the next year’s state aid and using it this year. verge of “cultural and social bankruptcy,
the necessary decision, not the popular one. Think of his years of sounding the alarm on pension costs, rebating property taxes during the good times instead of permanently cutting the rate, and stashing away billions in the retiree trust fund during the fat years to cover gaps in the lean years. The current field of mayoral candidates have not learned that lesson, and continue trying to attract voters with
followed by financial bankruptcy.” Yikes. Richards is unencumbered by the mistakes and disingenuousness of the past. He’s trying to start a civic conversation
fiscally irresponsible promises. They would be well-advised to keep looking over their shoulders—because by their own doing they will have created an opportunity for a serious challenger. Bloomberg, just like Mayor Rudolph Giuliani before him, won office because he convinced a liberal city that his hardnosed approach would keep the city on a solid footing—even if they didn’t like how he did it. None of this crop of Democrats will do that. And if Democrats won’t, get ready for another Republican to try. Susan Del Percio is a New York-based Republican strategist and founder of Susan Del Percio Strategies, a fullservice strategic communications firm.
has never been on anyone’s radar, and gimmicks and Band-Aids have been the only and repeated remedies. Now the party’s over. There aren’t enough spin-ups or temporary borrowings or tax caps to push off the inevitable day of reckoning once again.
There’s real evidence that 2012 is the year of reckoning, the year when we simply can’t both balance budgets and keep municipal services at a decent level. about the looming crisis, hoping others will follow with similar stories. So expect things to get hot within a few weeks. The state’s historical response to these crises has been control boards. Buffalo, Yonkers and Nassau County all have forms of control boards and supervision by the state Comptroller. (I wrote the first control-board statute for small cities in 1983, working with then Gov. Mario Cuomo.) They’ve been used to give cover to increases in local taxes that local officials can disown, and to pressure public employees to put givebacks on the table. A new theory is also out there, municipal bankruptcy. It does much of what a control board does, but also brings the lenders and bankers into play, which may make the sacrifices of taxpayers and public employees more politically palatable. But a fundamental examination of the realities faced by local government
Restructuring debt and restructuring governments, cutting services, raising taxes, increasing state aid, reducing pensions—all will be on the table sooner than the governor or the Legislature may think. Keep an eye on the response to Richards’ warning. If nothing else, he wants to be candid with the public and precipitate the discussion that everyone else has avoided for years. We’ll see. 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. Read his earlier City & State columns at www.cityandstateny.com MARCH 5, 2012
S P OT L I G H T : T R A N S P O R TAT I O N
TOLLED OFF Tolls could keep roads and bridges intact, but government remains leery BY JON LENTZ
THOUSAND ISLANDS BRIDGE
New York, a pioneer in tolling, has more toll roads and bridges than most other states.
s New York’s roads and bridges WHIRLPOOL fall into disrepair and public RAPIDS BRIDGE dollars dry up, one of the most RAINBOW obvious ways to help rebuild the state’s BRIDGE transportation infrastructure is also one of the most controversial: raising tolls. THRUWAY Just ask former Port Authority NORTH GRAND PEACE AUTHORITY ISLAND BRIDGE head Chris Ward, ex Lt. Gov. CASTLETON-ONBRIDGE HUDSON BRIDGE Richard Ravitch or former SOUTH GRAND ISLAND BRIDGE Nassau County Executive Tom RIP VAN WINKLE KINGSTONSuozzi, who each proposed to BRIDGE RHINESCLIFF BRIDGE raise or add tolls and ignited a firestorm among angry motorMID-HUDSON BRIDGE ists. All three men are now no longer in government. 2010 TOLL REVENUE: NEWBURGHIt’s little surprise, then, that elected BEACON BRIDGE BUFFALO AND FORT ERIE THRUWAY AUTHORITY: and government officials steer clear of PUBLIC BRIDGE AUTHORITY: $641,200,000 the issue, especially as the economic $22,030,000 BEAR MOUNTAIN recovery struggles to gain steam and BRIDGE AUTHORITY: BRIDGE NIAGARA FALLS BRIDGE commuters and truckers chafe at adding $37,669,000 TAPPAN ZEE COMMISSION: tolls or hiking existing ones. BRIDGE $16,286,038 PORT AUTHORITY*: “Politicians have generally tiptoed $1,069,785,000 around it carefully,” said John Corlett, PORT THOUSAND ISLANDS BRIDGE AUTHORITY AUTHORITY: director of government affairs with AAA MTA: MTA $6,693,616 $1,417,000,000 New York. But without tolls, it’s harder to pay iSTOCK PHOTO/JOEY CAROLINO *Includes tolls and fares. OGDENSBURG BRIDGE AND for necessary work—or to lure private PORT AUTHORITY: investors to shoulder the upfront costs of $1,892,700 major rehabilitation projects. And that could limit the promise of or policy reasons, the government can around and patch these little things. fare hikes on Port Authority bridges was public-private partnerships, which have still enter into public-private partner- Privatization isn’t going to be the solution roundly criticized, and though a scaledbeen touted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ships, but has to pay for it with scarce to the nation’s infrastructure crisis. Tolls back version of his plan went forward, he too are just one piece of it. They’re not left office not long after. administration and some lawmakers as public dollars. As Nassau County executive, Tom “In a lot of these projects, tolling is the broad-based approach that we need.” a way to inject much-needed financing New York policymakers also face the Suozzi proposed congestion pricing on into the state’s crumbling transportation going to be a very important component,” said Frank Moretti, director of policy and challenge of a mature transportation the Long Island Expressway. Drivers system. Public-private partnerships allow research at TRIP, a national transporta- system that’s already largely built. Motor- revolted, and he quickly backpedaled. Before being named lieutenant governor, governments to partner with private Richard Ravitch, a former MTA chairman, investors, who bear more of the risk and proposed tolls on the East River bridges contend they can build roads and bridges in New York City as a way to fill the beleafaster and more cheaply. Legislation to guered transit agency’s multibillion-dollar allow them across the state is moving budget gap. That plan died in Albany. forward in Albany this year. And lawmakers in Albany, of course, The administration has ruled out using a public-private partnership to tion think tank. “Obviously, to get these ists are more likely to accept tolls on new also shot down Mayor Michael Bloomreplace the crumbling Tappan Zee projects done there’s going to need to be projects that add capacity or are built berg’s proposal for congestion pricing in bridge so as not to delay the renova- a revenue stream behind that in a public- in new locations than replacements or New York City. While some expect the idea to be revived, others said they don’t tion process further, but transporta- private partnership. So, certainly, tolls upgrades of existing roads and bridges. “We have an older, more developed see it coming back anytime soon. tion experts say it presents an obvious are an important part.” “I don’t think there’s going to be a favorThe increasing focus on tolls and infrastructure network in the Northeast example of how the existing tollbooths there can pay to keep a critical crossing public-private partnerships has come and in New York than some other states able audience in Albany to congestion against a backdrop of federal resistance that have successfully implemented pricing or toll increases,” said New York functioning. At the other extreme is the Kosciusko to raising the gasoline tax, Corlett said. public-private partnerships, like Florida City Councilman James Vacca, who chairs Bridge, a decrepit but free bridge The state’s dedicated highway and bridge and Texas, for example,” said Thomas the Transportation Committee. “There is a connecting Brooklyn and Queens over trust fund is also running out, much like Madison, executive director of the New feeling that taxes are already high enough, York State Thruway Authority. “Building and I certainly hear that in my district Newtown Creek. New tolls on that the federal highway fund. “There’s a lot of discussion about a brand-new facility that’s never been every day. I hear that people cannot afford crossing would likely spur drivers onto further taxes and further tolls.” local streets, making it a poor candidate [public-private partnerships] and tolls tolled before is easier to justify a toll.” email@example.com Ward, the former Port Authority chief, because things like gas taxes are off for private investment. When tolls are not a viable option on the table for political reasons,” Corlett learned firsthand the risks of raising Read more about transportation and tolls at www.cityandstateny.com bridges or highways, either for political said. “So everybody’s trying to scramble tolls already in place. His proposal for
“There is a feeling that taxes are already high enough, and I certainly hear that in my district every day. I hear that people cannot afford further taxes and further tolls.”
MARCH 5, 2012
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S P OT L I G H T : t r a n s p o r tat i o n
The Peace Dividend Foye sees transportation funding boost as World Trade Center rebuilding nears completion By Jon Lentz
verywhere Patrick Foye goes since he became executive director of the Port Authority, he brings up something he calls a peace dividend. As Foye describes it, a peace dividend will come once the Port Authority wraps up its work rebuilding the World Trade Center site, paving the way to invest billions of dollars in aging transportation infrastructure. The phrase is borrowed from the decline in military spending after the end of a war, when resources are freed up for other domestic priorities. “Just as there was a peace dividend when the United States left Vietnam in the 1970s, I think there will be the equivalent of a peace dividend at the World Trade Center,” Foye said earlier this year. That peace dividend reinforces Foye’s broader message: that the Port Authority should finally get out of the real estate business, a long-simmering source of controversy, and refocus its resources on transportation and infrastructure.
“The Trade Center has been an enormous distraction for the Port Authority,” said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, who noted that the rebuilding drained most if not all of the agency’s capital budget. “This is what Pat was brought in to do, which is get focused on their core mission.” Framing the freed-up cash as a peace dividend also fits with Foye’s portrayal of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an attack on the nation, and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center as a national priority. “Since the tragic events of 9/11 10 years ago, the Port Authority and federal and state funders have poured well more than $10 billion into the World Trade Center,” Foye said. “That was done not only as a real estate and financial matter but as a matter of national policy.” The Port Authority will be paying debt service for decades on $7 billion it borrowed for the project, but the agency will cease spending at such a high level, which will provide relief from a cash point of view. That will free up more capacity in the capital budget for airports, bridges,
at $3–4 billion a year in lost output. Two projects he has highlighted are the Central Terminal at LaGuardia and Terminal A at Newark. Yaro said there are plenty of areas where more investment is needed. A report from his Regional Plan Association called for new runways, technology upgrades and other changes to allow for more flights as part of a $10 billion airport investment agenda. Joe Woolhead/Courtesy of Silverstein Properties Other capital funds will be needed for ongoing upgrades to aging tunnels, ports and the PATH train. The bulk of the authority’s spending at bridges and tunnels, Yaro said, while money the site should end within the next two will also be needed to modernize the seaport years, officials say. The vehicle security and upgrade the Port Authority bus terminal. Chuck Brecher of the Citizens Budget center and One World Trade Center are scheduled to be completed by the end of Commission said the funds freed up in 2013, and the transportation hub should the Port Authority’s capital budget aren’t the only financial benefit that could be finished in 2014. Increased Port Authority funding will come when the World Trade Center is likely benefit the region’s three major completed. “It’s not what he’s referring to, but also airports—LaGuardia, JFK International and Newark International—that have down the road you get some revenue out some of the worst congestion and the of the investment in real estate,” Brecher said. “So it’s sort of a double dividend, in longest flight delays in the nation. Foye has cited the economic drag that way.” firstname.lastname@example.org from such delays, which one study put
New York’s Capital Region Is Saying...................
march 5, 2012
Count Me In!
Governor Cuomo has made investment in our transportation infrastructure a
Without adequate investment in transportation how can we expect our economy to recover and grow
NEW YORK STATE Must continue to make transportation a
18 Corporate Woods Blvd, Albany, NY 12211 • (518) 449-1715 • (800) 797-5931 • Fax: (518) 449-1621 • www.nysliuna.org
S P OT L I G H T : t r a n s p o r tat i o n
BUILDING SAFE IS A TEAM EFFORT Building Trades Employers’ Association www.bteany.com
A Message from Louis J. Coletti President & CEO, Building Trades Employers’ Association (BTEA) Many decades ago, there was an easy equation to figure out how many workers would be killed during a construction project – roughly one worker per floor. As the skyline of New York City crept upward, the fatalities climbed with it. We have come a long way since then. Mayor Bloomberg and NYC Buildings Commissioner LiMandri recently announced that New York City reduced construction accidents 18 percent from the previous year. Those accidents resulted in 5 deaths, many fewer than in recent years; still 1 death is 1 too many. That decrease occurred as the number of construction permits of all kinds increased for the third consecutive year, growing by 7.7 percent. That is welcome news for the construction industry and a good sign that the economy is on the rebound. These results prove what can happen when government contractors owners and labor work together. The Department of Buildings has implemented 25 new safety laws to enhance public safety in recent years while also reaching out to construction industry professionals for their input and expertise. BTEA union contractors spend millions of dollars every year training project management personnel and funding training programs for union workers. Regardless of the amazing, towering structures that we construct, without safety they are merely monuments to irresponsibility and suffering. BTEA also holds an annual safety conference where DOB officials and OSHA officials report safety and fatality trends so we can identify problem areas to address. OSHA statistics show that over the last 5 years in NYC, 73% of construction fatalities have occurred on non-union projects 10 stories and below. While building some of the tallest, most complex and logistically challenging projects in the world, the NYC union construction safety record remains unparalleled. Despite all our preparedness, we cannot completely remove the extreme dangers of construction work. There are still hundreds of things that can go wrong as thousands of tons of steel and stone are fused together hundreds of feet in the air. Welders wield torches spitting hot flame and crane workers hoist massive beams through the air like puppets on a string. It can be a treacherous environment. Every time something goes wrong on a construction site, it lands of the front page of every newspaper in town. It’s true that construction safety matters not only to industry workers, but to all New Yorkers. What most people do not hear about is all the good work that government officials, union contractors, building trade union leaders and owners are doing behind the scenes to reduce and eliminate the amount of accidents and/or fatalities that could endanger the public and construction workers. BTEA union contractors and building trade union workers build some of the most incredible structures in the world, but even more impressive is the fact that, they continue to build just as imprerssive a track record on safety. That has been and will continue to be the legacy of union built construction in New York City. If its Built Safe—It’s Built Union.
march 5, 2012
CHARLES FUSCHILLO JR.
Executive Director, Port Authority
Chairman, Senate Transportation Committee
Q: What are your goals for the Port Authority? PF: The main goal is to restore the Port Authority to its preeminent position as the region’s economic engine for transportation infrastructure. As a result of the murders that occurred on 9/11, the Port Authority engaged in rebuilding the World Trade Center site, an extraordinarily important regional and national priority. One World Trade Center is going to be completed at the end of 2013 or the first quarter of 2014. Once that occurs, there will be the peacetime equivalent of a peace dividend. While we’ll have to pay the $7 billion of debt incurred, we won’t have to continue spending at that level. We’re going to be able to reinvest those amounts into airports and bridges and tunnels and ports and PATH, which is our core transportation mission. Q: What will be different about your leadership? PF: I’m going to be more focused on our core mission of airports, bridges, tunnels, PATH and ports. Frankly, we’re going to take a look at noncore assets in a systematic way under the direction of the board of commissioners to figure out what makes sense for the Port Authority to continue to hold, and what might be better in the hands of others. That process is at the beginning stage.
Q: What is the status of your legislation allowing public-private partnerships in New York? CF: The legislation is still pending in both houses, but I’m confident that this legislative session we’ll have it passed. I held a couple hearings and we looked at what other states are doing, and it’s really a combination of what’s worked in other states—and what hasn’t, we didn’t put in there. I’m fairly confident that with the commitment the governor has put forth in the budget for infrastructure, and with design-build now, one of the other components that is necessary is P3s. Q: Are you disappointed it couldn’t be used to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge? CF: I would have liked that as an option. But I’m very pleased that design-build is now an initiative that’s able to be completed for the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Q: You’ve cited public-private partnerships as a way to help fund needed infrastructure investment. How much will it help? CF: I will tell you, based on testimony we received in the public-private partnership hearings we have done, there is tremendous support for P3s in New York, tremendous support from companies all over the country—financial, engineering, architectural and construction firms who are Q: Even getting away from real anxious to have New York State have the estate, is the authority’s portfolio option of P3s so they can come here and too broad? provide greater investment dollars for New PF: There are huge financial and oper- York State. There is nothing negative assoating and efficiency advantages in ciated with [using] P3s to complete some having the bistate region’s airports, projects in New York. bridges and tunnels and ports in a single integrated agency. That doesn’t mean Q: But it will only help so much, right? that that agency ought to be engaged in CF: Oh, absolutely. It certainly is not the billion-dollar real estate developments. answer to completing a $25 billion proposed budget for infrastructure. But between New Q: Is the bistate nature of the York State capital dollars, federal dollars, authority a challenge? the availability of design-build and the availPF: I think Governors Cuomo and ability of P3s, it will enable the state to Christie are united in their desire for accomplish its goals. reform and efficient operation of the Port Authority. When Navigant, the interna- Q: What did you learn from your heartional consulting firm, issued its report ing on distracted driving? recently, the governors joined together in CF: I did that based on the report from a statement praising it, and look forward the National Transportation Safety Board, to additional reforms. We have already and the incidents and numbers of fatalidone reform in governance by posting ties and crashes throughout New York compensation online and reporting over- and throughout the nation—and it’s quite time. We’re going to have employees startling when you think that, according contribute to their health insurance. to the federal government, 15 people die That is the market these days, both in every day, and there are more than 1,200 the private sector and the public sector, crashes. What we’re doing is looking to and we think it’s appropriate, however see if our penalties need to be enhanced, painful it’s going to be for some Port as well as educational requirements, too. Authority employees. On the revenue We’re going to gather all the testimony and front, we’re going to be focused on more see how we go forward. efficient operations and greater focus on core mission.
e x p e r t r o u n dta b l e JAMES VACCA
THOMAS MADISON JR.
Chairman, New York City Council Transportation Committee
Executive Director, New York State Thruway Authority
Q: What are your top priorities? JV: I’d like to figure out how people can get from point A to point B in a more efficient, safe way. For years people in the four boroughs outside Manhattan came to work in Manhattan and then went back home. But we have changing commuting patterns. They’re going from the Bronx to Queens, or Queens to Brooklyn; or they’re going to suburban job centers such as White Plains, Westchester County; they’re going to Stamford, Ct. We don’t have the mass transit to get people to move quickly within their own boroughs, from borough to borough, or from a borough to a suburban job center. We don’t want all these people using their cars, but right now many of them do not have alternatives. Q: What else? JV: The second thing is pedestrian safety. We’ve had hearings on several bills, including one to make our streets more accessible for the blind. I will have hearings on commercial cycling. I had a very important hearing concerning what the police department does in accidents where people are injured, often as a result of speeding. We have to focus on doing more than we’re doing when it comes to motorists who speed and cause an accident. Those motorists now oftentimes are just getting a traffic ticket. We have to look at this to see that people who speed and then cause bodily harm to a person—we have to have the police department do more than just issue the summons. Q: What can the NYPD do, given staff cutbacks and dismissals in the courts? JV: The police highway unit, which gives summonses to people who speed anywhere, has been cut by 40 percent since 2001. The police department has assigned those chores to local precincts, but they have had a staffing cut citywide of 7,000 cops since 2001. We can’t accept a reduction in manpower as a reason why there is not a vigorous speeding enforcement. Speeding kills more people than guns in the city. I’m going to insist that we look at our priorities and that the police department comes up with a plan. The judges and the courts have to be part of this. They have to see that we have zero tolerance for people who are walking away from accidents where they’ve caused them, and they’ve caused bodily harm by their negligence.
Q: What are your priorities for 2012? TM: For 2012 and beyond, the top priority is the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge. We’re working in an accelerated fashion right now to develop the project. We’re very excited about designbuild, not just for the Tappan Zee project but for other projects in our regular capital construction program as well. It’s going to be a great benefit not just to the Thruway Authority but to other transportation and infrastructure agencies. Using this delivery method really helps to distribute risk differently and take some of the risk away from the public owner. Typically, design-build projects are held to tight construction schedules and are much more competitive from a cost standpoint. Q: You were confirmed earlier this year. What will change under your leadership? TM: We’ve targeted a minimum of $25 million in operational savings in the 2012 budget year. And we were able to reduce our budget by fully 6 percent from 2011 to 2012, which is unprecedented here at the Thruway Authority. Another area to change, consistent with Governor Cuomo’s directives to other state agencies, is to coordinate more closely with our sister transportation agencies and authorities. So in that regard I’ve been collaborating closely with the leadership of the New York State DOT, the Port Authority and the MTA. We communicate regularly, and we look for opportunities where we can share best practices and maybe even identify specific projects we can work together on. It’s kind of a new approach. Q: Does red tape slow down transportation projects? TM: I was surprised, when I worked at the Federal Highway Administration in Washington, to learn the average transportation project takes 12 to 13 years from the time of its inception until it’s implemented—and that’s if it’s successful. There are plenty of projects on the drawing board for decades. That’s just not acceptable. We have to find better ways to deliver these projects, and design-build is one tool that we desperately needed in New York. Interagency cooperation can also help us cut through red tape and deliver projects differently. We may do some joint procurement with DOT, for example, if we’re doing similar construction replacement on our facilities. Maybe we could come together and do bridge decks and put out a larger procurement on a bunch of bridges rather than just looking at it in a singular fashion.
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S P OT L I G H T : t r a n s p o r tat i o n
Incremental Improvement Transportation planners look to tax increment financing By Adam Lisberg
aise tolls and fares, or beg government for more support: These are the traditional strategies for transportation agencies to pay their bills in cash-strapped times. Now another idea is gaining traction in New York infrastructure circles, one that in theory could let transportation improvements essentially pay for themselves through the development they spur: “tax increment financing.” “Techniques like tax increment financing—a terrible name, by the way— have raised billions of dollars for public infrastructure around the nation, but small amounts in New York State,” new Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye told a Citizens Budget Commission breakfast last month. “I’ll spare you the technical deficiencies with the current TIF law in the state,” he said. “But reforming the statute would allow substantial amounts to be raised for long-lived infrastructure without
burdening today’s stressed taxpayer.” Tax increment financing is based on a simple idea: Big public projects make nearby private property more valuable, which generates higher tax revenue. So if a public agency sells billions of dollars’ worth of bonds to construct a project, it can pay them back over time
projections, government agencies—and their existing taxpayers—are often on the hook to make up the difference. And every dollar used to pay back infrastructure bonds is a dollar that can’t be spent on regular government expenses like police and fire and sanitation departments, which will have to provide more
“It makes sense to try to match the people who are receiving the benefit with the people who are providing the financing.” using the incremental increase in tax payments. “In theory, it makes sense to try to match the people who are receiving the benefit with the people who are providing the financing,” said Stroock & Stroock & Lavan partner Richard Madris, who heads the firm’s infrastructure practice. The Hudson Yards project on Manhattan’s far West Side is being developed through a similar mechanism. A city agency sold $3 billion in bonds to prepare the area and extend the No. 7 train to the site, and expects to pay them back with the extra property taxes generated there. The idea is not without its critics. If the extra tax payments fall short of
services to new developments. In Chicago, which has aggressively used tax increment financing to subsidize private development, property owners in 2010 paid $500 million of their taxes into the system instead of into the city’s general fund. “You don’t want to do it in every place,” said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association. “Where tax increment financing makes sense is where you have a major transportation investment that you know is going to cause a major spike in other tax collections. Hudson Yards is rational.” Western New York Assemblyman Robin Schimminger has introduced legislation to expand tax increment financing
to include property taxes levied by school districts, which are a major revenue source outside of New York City. Thomas Prendergast, president of MTA New York City Transit, said tax increment financing is an obvious funding source to consider as the federal gasoline tax generates less and less money for transportation. “Now that you’ve got more fuelefficient vehicles and people aren’t driving as much, that’s not a funding source that is a reliable, sustainable funding source over a long period of time,” he said. “And if you want to have public transportation [and] you want to have a transportation infrastructure, you’ve got to find funding sources for it.” Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, says tax increment financing should also be considered as a mechanism to pay for major park projects— massive improvements on the scale of Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park and the High Line. “One can no longer rely on any level of government to cover the operating costs of the parks now put in place. There just isn’t the money,” Bystryn said. “It makes a lot of sense.” email@example.com
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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 CITYMARCH &STATE 26 5, 2012
JANUARYCITY 23, 2012 21 &STATE
S P OT L I G H T : T R A N S P O R TAT I O N THE PLAYERS THE STATE Gov. Andrew Cuomo has seized the reins of the project to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, and while some are unhappy about the lack of mass transit access on it, progress after years of inaction could provide him a political boost. Cuomo also installed two top transportation heads, Patrick Foye at the Port Authority and Joseph Lhota at the MTA, giving him more ownership over the state’s infrastructure. The governor has also called for a state infrastructure fund, though it’s unclear where the money will come from. Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr., chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, has spearheaded key transportation measures such as a bill to authorize public-private partnerships. The Legislature also plays an outsize role in New York City, notably killing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing proposal in 2008.
THE CITY Bloomberg’s top transportation deputy is Janette Sadik-Khan, the influential transportation commissioner who is reshaping the city’s landscape with bike lanes, bus lanes and pedestrian plazas. Councilman James Vacca, who chairs the Transportation Committee, is applying cautious oversight to those plans, focusing on motorists who seriously injure bikers and pedestrians, as well as the dangers posed by commercial cyclists.
THE INDUSTRY Major construction companies such as Skanska, construction unions, and advocacy and trade groups like the Associated General Contractors of New York State are strong proponents of greater investment in transportation infrastructure. Public-sector spending is buoying a construction industry still suffering from the effects of the real estate bubble and the economic collapse it created.
46 29 46 45 42
designNumber of states that had w York build legislation before Ne
ortation Number of states with transp legislation public-private partnership roads in Percent of New York’s major n poor or mediocre conditio urban Percent of New York’s major ed highways that are congest es Percent of New York’s bridg nt or that are structurally deficie functionally obsolete IETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS, SOURCES: AMERICAN SOC HORITY LEGISLATURES, PORT AUT E STAT OF NCE FERE CON NATIONAL
THE ADVOCATES Groups like the Empire State Transportation Alliance, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and, on the city level, Transportation Alternatives, have highlighted a need for more transit and more pedestrian- and biker-friendly streets. Neighborhood groups have also been vocal in the push for bike lanes. The Straphangers Campaign’s Gene Russianoff is a key critic and independent voice on the state of the city’s subways.
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S P OT L I G H T : t r a n s p o r tat i o n THE ISSUES TAPPAN ZEE BRIDGE The aging span between Rockland and Westchester counties is set to be replaced on an expedited schedule, thanks to its designation as a federal priority by President Barack Obama last year. But that doesn’t mean everyone is happy with Cuomo’s plans for the bridge, which won’t immediately include expanded mass transit. Commuters, local elected officials and transit advocates are complaining that bus rapid transit or a train line, which were found to be a critical part of the project during a decade of study, will have to wait for now. The Cuomo administration says the new bridge will be built to easily add a bus lane or trains in the future, when funding may be easier to come by. daniel s. burnstein
TRANSPORTATION CAPITAL SPENDING IN NEW YORK $6 $5
*The Port Authority includes spending on real estate development at the World Trade Center site **State DOT excludes MTA funding
The Legislature last year approved design-build legislation, a first step toward fullfledged public-private partnerships and a key component of the Tappan Zee project. Such partnerships, which would be allowed under pending legislation, give private investors more involvement in a given construction project. That involvement could include building, operating, maintaining and financing the project, and could potentially increase efficiency, speed and cost savings. It’s no silver bullet, but Cuomo and others have touted it as one more way to boost infrastructure investment.
MTA $4 State Dept. of Transportation** $3 $2
The controversy over bike lanes in New York City has subsided, but the installation of them continues to reshape the transportation landscape across the five boroughs by allowing for more commuting by bike. A city bike-share program expected to launch this summer, which would eventually be the biggest in the country, will add further momentum to the cycling movement. At the same time, the City Council is looking into the risks posed by commercial delivery bicyclists and exploring ways to make streets safer for pedestrians.
NYC Dept. of Transportation $1
Severe funding constraints for public transit, both statewide and in New York City, are an ongoing challenge. Cuomo last year scaled back an unpopular payroll tax that funds the MTA, and while his budget plugs that shortfall, advocates and experts worry how New York City will pay for its aging and increasingly crowded subway system in the future. Federal transportation funding, which has been stagnant, and which some in Washington want to slash even further, is another challenge for the state. And in many cities, bus service is being scaled back or seeing fare hikes.
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B AC K & F O R T H
A Lonely Voice On Pensions
ith the governor, the mayor, business leaders and editorial boards beating the drum for public pension reform, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has found himself singled out. The former assemblyman contends that while pensions may need to be adjusted to save money, a wholesale rush to 401(k)-style plans will saddle government workers with higher fees, fewer options and less security in retirement. We spoke with DiNapoli about the merits of pension proposals and the political battles ahead. What follows is an edited transcript. City & State: Where do you think things stand right now? Thomas DiNapoli: I continue to call for a thoughtful and inclusive and fact-based discussion on changes to the pension plan. The chief concern I’ve identified with the proposal that’s out there is the move to substitute a defined contribution 401(k)-style savings plan for the definedbenefit plan that we have now. I think in terms of retirement security, it really would compromise that issue for future employees. And I do think, as we’ve talked about many times in the past, retirement security really is an important issue for all New Yorkers, for all Americans. And the defined-benefit plan has been an important part of providing retirement income. It’s one of the reasons why close to 80 percent of the retirees from our system continue to live in the state, spend money in the state, pay their taxes in the state. I think we should keep in mind some of the benefits of having a well-funded and secure definedbenefit plan as we have. There are other aspects of proposed changes with regards to the defined-benefit side. I think those are reasonable areas for discussion, but the discussion needs to include all of the stakeholders, including the employers, as well as the representatives of the employees. C&S: How do you envision something like that going on? TD: It’s the way it went on with Tier V. You know, Tier V happened because the proposals were out there. Government expressed their concerns for a new tier. Labor expressed their concerns about what should be the parameters of those changes. We ended up with a new tier. You know, that just started in 2010. And, of course, we haven’t seen too much in terms of savings, because a new tier applies to future employees. So that’s another one of the concerns that you need to keep in mind. A new tier today, Tier VII next year—it’s not going to have an impact on the cost issue that local governments are concerned with today. C&S: Have you seen any indication that the governor is interested in having a fact-based debate on this issue? TD: I would say the governor is always interested in having a discussion based on the facts. C&S: He said he wants to put his proposal in the budget. Do you think
that would preclude having a debate on it like you would like to see? TD: There’s plenty of time for a thoughtful discussion if people are willing to engage in that kind of discussion. C&S: He also has the right to force certain proposals through the Legislature with the use of budget extenders. Are you concerned that that could be something that he chooses to do with his pension-reform plan? TD: Again, an issue as big as changes to the pension system in New York that would affect the future for our workforce needs to be considered in a thoughtful way. That’s my concern in this debate. C&S: We saw a story in The New York Times about amortization and localities borrowing from the pension fund in order to meet their costs today. Is this unsustainable? TD: No. I think the fund is stable. I think the problem we have is that we have a shortterm increase of significance because of the market meltdown in ’08 and ’09. Just as all investments were hit, pension funds were hit. Many people with individual 401(k)s are starting to make money back. The pension fund is in the same position in that regard. The way to help those localities—if they really had a cash-flow balance caused by these payments, we have offered the option to amortize. I would argue that it’s not borrowing in the strict sense of that term. No money is taken from the pension fund. It’s what was done the last time we had a big spike in the early 2000s.… There’s no doubt local governments are feeling pressure—healthcare costs going up, concerns about mandates in the state and not adequate relief in that regard—and no doubt that pension costs have been going up because of that market meltdown. C&S: Labor unions have characterized the governor’s pension plan as an attack on the middle class. Do you agree? TD: The parameters of benefits on the defined-benefit plan by law are established by the state, by the governor and the Legislature. So discussions about changes to the defined-benefit plan, that’s perfectly appropriate, legitimate and can be considered and debated. Issues like contribution level, retirement age and so on. That’s a responsibility of the state, to set those. I certainly think
that we have to acknowledge that that is an appropriate and well-established area for there to be state action. My biggest concern with the proposal overall is that addition, which is the first time we’ve been considering this in this state, even though it’s done as an option, to actually substitute, replace, do away with—because once you make the choice, that’s it, you get a one-time shot at it—to replace the defined-benefit retirement for defined contribution 401(k)-style plan. I think our recent history has shown that there are many Americans who only had 401(k)s, and when they were about to retire within the past couple of years, with what happened in the markets, retirement security vanished. And people who were about to retire couldn’t. People who were retired, and that was their prime source of retirement income in addition to Social Security, had to go back to work in their 70s and 80s. So I do think that that piece of it is something that we need to be very concerned about, and that’s really the part of the proposal I’ve got the greatest concern with. C&S: Do you feel a little lonely out there, being the lone prominent elected official who’s speaking out about this issue? TD: There have been a few. You’re starting to see an editorial out there in Binghamton, and some of the New York City officials have been speaking up. We’ve been talking about retirement security for a couple of years now. An item that gets lost in the debate is that New York is the best-funded of all the state pension plans. That’s a position of strength that we’re in. Many of the states that are moving to have dramatic change, they have to, because they can’t pay their benefits right now, because during the good times they underfunded their pensions. They didn’t pay attention to actuarial projections. They, for other budget purposes, went so far as to skip payments into the pension fund. So they were underfunded going into the downturn. We were over 100 percent funded going into the downturn. So that means we’ve been able
to weather this tough time better than most. We’ve been speaking about the strength of the fund for some time. C&S: You don’t mind being the punching bag for the people who want to see this plan go through and single you out as the only opponent? TD: I’m probably more convenient, because in the end I don’t have a vote on this. But I do have a voice in this, even if I don’t have a vote. And I believe my job as the independent, elected-by-the-people comptroller who is invested with the power to manage the pension fund—I have to make sure that there’s balance out there and that we keep in mind that the fund is set up for providing retirement security. And I think that that’s something that’s good not just for retirees but for everyone in this state. 401(k)-type plans were set up to be supplements for pensions. Too many people in the private sector don’t have pensions now. That’s a problem for all of us. But the solution to that is not to try to take away the pensions of employees on the public side because that’s been the trend on the private side. If we have a class of people that are retired and don’t have adequate income and, given some of the changes in family structure in our society, where are they going to end up? They’re going to end up coming back to government for shelter, for food, for services. So either way, government’s going to be on the hook. Let’s be smarter about how we plan for the future. C&S: Have you had any conversations with the governor about his plan since it’s been put out there? TD: I’m certainly well aware of the governor’s point of view, and I would suspect he’s well aware of mine.… I don’t say this in a flippant way, but I’m going to administer the plan however the law is laid out. I can have an opinion about what makes sense, but at the end of the day I really don’t have a vote in it. We have a lot of information, so I think it would be helpful if we were part of the discussion. C&S: Is it intimidating to be on the opposite side of the governor on this issue? TD: There’s much that we’ve talked about, especially with the budget. I’ve been supportive of the governor’s direction and praising a budget that’s not based on the gimmicks that have gotten us into trouble in the past. But where we see a concern that’s based on our point of view, particularly in regard to retirement security and the best way for it to be provided to our state workers, I can’t be silent about that. We offer our thoughts to be constructive and to inform the debate and the discussion, and I hope that all parties will take advantage of what we have to say. —Andrew J. Hawkins email@example.com march 5, 2012
It Doesn’t Add Up. The Governor’s Tier 6 pension plan isn’t “reform.” It’s a 40% cut in benefits for public employees whose average pension is just $19,000 per year. It’s also about fairness. The plan would give the same Wall Street bankers who drove our economy into the ground even more control over our retirement savings. And it won’t save the government a penny for at least ten years.
When profits come before communities, all New Yorkers suffer.
Published on Mar 5, 2012
The March 5, 2012 issue of City and State . Targeting the politicians, lobbyists, unions, staffers and issues which shape New York City and...