Vol. 2, No. 16 - AUGUST 19, 2013
WILL WOMEN ACTUALLY VOTE FOR WEINER? SPOTLIGHT: ORGANIZED LABOR
HOW ANTI-SPITZER ATTACKS PATRONIZE PROSTITUTES
Q&A WITH SALSA LEGEND WILLIE COLÓN
TAWKIN’ THE TAWK
Are the mayoral candidates speaking New Yorkese for votes? City & State NY LLC 61 Broadway, Suite 2825 New York, NY 10006
UPFRONT WHERE THERE’S SMOKE
Morgan Pehme EDITOR
It is more than a little sad how often The Daily Show asks the tough, penetrating questions the ostensibly serious media either avoid or don’t think to raise. Take, for example, fill-in host John Oliver’s recent interview with New York’s junior U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. After a segment praising Gillibrand for her efforts to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, Oliver turned to a subject that he said made him “uncomfortable”—that from 2011 to 2012 Gillibrand received the most money of any member of Congress from Goldman Sachs and that over the last five years, J.P. Morgan was her second largest corporate donor. “What I deeply want to know is: What do you have to do for that? What is required of you for that money?” asked Oliver with disarming sincerity. Not surprisingly, Gillibrand steered far clear of the question—despite Oliver’s repeated attempts to elicit a direct response—and instead played to the crowd by voicing her support for publicly financed elections. “At the end of the day, regardless of whether it happens to be a lawyer or a banker or a stayat-home mom, it’s irrelevant where the money comes from,” reasoned Gillibrand. “What matters is that the public doesn’t trust politicians and they don’t trust politics, and they don’t trust it because of the level of money in politics.” Of course, the first part of this
statement is rubbish. It makes a great deal of difference whether a contribution comes from a private citizen who simply believes in a candidate or a multinational corporation with a significant financial interest before the Senate. However, the second half of Gillibrand’s point is spot-on. The reason Americans are so appalled by the current state of our politics is in large part because of what appears to be such a widespread pay-for-play culture at every level of our government. Just this month, the Daily News’ terrific Ken Lovett had two separate pieces unearthing troubling connections between Gov. Cuomo and some of his deep-pocketed supporters. In the first case, companies and individuals associated with the development company Extell gave Cuomo hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions before getting a $35 million dollar tax break on a luxury tower in Manhattan through housing legislation signed by the governor. In the second, three partners at Fisher Brothers gave the governor a total of $76,000 and ended up receiving a lucrative tax break. Do these donations necessarily mean that Cuomo sold his influence for campaign cash? Does all the money Gillibrand gets from the financial services community mean she’s owned by Wall Street? Of course not. But as Lawrence Lessig points out in his excellent book Republic, Lost, that the public can so plausibly draw the conclusion that our elected officials’ decisions are compromised by self-interest—regardless of whether that perception is accurate—tears at the very fabric of our nation. True patriots do not ask for favoritism; they ask for fairness. Now is the time for our country to decide if that has become too great a request to grant.
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AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
AROUND NEW YORK The best items from City & State’s website City & State’s website is your key source for political and campaign developments in New York. Stay on top of the news with items like these at www.cityandstateny.com.
BROOKLYN It looks like Brooklyn borough president hopeful Eric Adams (below) is going to have an even easier time at the polls than he imagined. A judge knocked his only opponent, former city councilman John Gangemi, off the ballot for an election law violation. Gangemi had mounted a challenge against Adams—who has the institutional support of nearly every Democratic elected official in Brooklyn—but was booted from the race because his petition’s cover sheets were
“fatally defective.” Adams’ attorney, Brooklyn Democratic Party counsel Frank Carone, challenged Gangemi’s petitions in July. “Just like Tiger Woods, who was assessed a twostroke penalty for a violation of the rules of golf, all who seek elected office must have their campaigns adhere to election law or they are penalized,” Carone said. Gangemi said he would appeal the ruling to the appellate division, which should take up the case quickly. “We believe that the court misapplied the law to the facts,” Gangemi said in an email.
MANHATTAN If Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer could pick one word to describe his comptroller candidacy, it would be “serious,” which he used repeatedly at a Chelsea
fundraiser. “This is a very serious job,” he said. “It requires temperament, it requires maturity. I’m not getting into his personal drama, but I am forced to have events like this … to compete with someone who wants to buy this office.” Stringer would not directly criticize his opponent, Eliot Spitzer, or New York City’s past two comptrollers, John Liu and Bill Thompson. Stringer said Thompson “has done a very good job” and that he appreciates his support. “Billy was able to do this job very well,” Stringer said. “A lot of the audits he did, we worked together. I’m going to take the best of Billy Thompson and incorporate it into my administration.” But Stringer would like to be involved before contracts go out to bid. “This is a job where an elected official has got to [look] out for the middle class in New York City and work collaboratively with the mayor,” he said. “This is not a job about being the sheriff. This is about being a serious mature steward of a $140 billion pension fund.”
BROOKLYN When in doubt, ask for the tax returns. Following a strategy that New York City comptroller candidate Scott Stringer (below, left) used in pressuring his opponent Eliot Spitzer to reveal his personal finances, public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani called on one of her opponents, City Councilwoman Letitia James, to release her unredacted tax returns. James has come under fire in the past for failing to disclose financial information. “It’s been two weeks since I called on my opponents to follow my lead and release their tax returns,” Saujani said in a statement. “When elected officials in Albany and City Hall are consistently betraying the public trust, New Yorkers have a right to demand transparency. If Tish James wants to be an advocate for all New Yorkers, she should follow the precedent set by so many other candidates and release her tax returns.” While running for City Council in 2009, James was criticized for owing more than $9,000 in property taxes on her Brooklyn brownstone. She later said that she believed tax returns “should not necessarily be considered public interest.” James also reportedly failed to disclose income from a brownstone she owns in Fort Greene to the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board.
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All-Star 2013 2teams2_City&State 8/15/13 2:01 PM Page 1
ore f e B r e Ev n a h t s er n n i W d ar w A F S NY N U C e r Mo
ore than 20 outstanding CUNY students in 2013 won National Science Foundation awards of $126,000 each for graduate study in the sciences. No other University system in the Northeast won more.
1-800-CUNY-YES cuny.edu/allstars cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
UPFRONT BY THE NUMBERS
THE KICKER: A CHOICE QUOTE FROM CITY & STATE’S FIRST READ EMAIL “No one ever thought that municipal finance could be sexy.” —New York City comptroller candidate Scott Stringer, speaking to the crowd at a fundraiser, via The New York Times
DOUBLE THE FUN By AARON SHORT Bill Murray will not sneak up on you in Central Park and put his hands over your eyes. Chuck Norris will not deliver a roundhouse kick through the windshield of a moving car. And Anthony Weiner will definitely not text you racy photographs of himself. Well, at least their doppelgängers won’t. Sharing the name of a famous person can be a burden, but it hasn’t bothered these political figures too badly. BILL MURRAY, legislative director for New York City Councilman Jim Gennaro Q: Why refer to yourself as Bill Murray and not William or Billy? A: I guess my parents gave it to me. And my grandfather had it before Bill Murray the comedian. It’s a common Irish name. Q: Do people ever confuse you for him? A: No. The closest thing to confusion is people have asked for clarification. I don’t think anyone ever fully thinks I’m Bill Murray the actor off the bat. Usually there’s a 10-second pause, and I can see them thinking, “You have a famous name, the actor Bill Murray.” It’s a great, pleasant icebreaker. Inevitably a few joke about Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, What About Bob? BILL O’REILLY, Republican political consultant Q: What has it been like to share the same name as the famous FOX News commentator? A: When I lived in New York City, I got a hundred calls a week for Bill O’Reilly from FOX News. I made my voice recording, “This is not Bill O’Reilly from FOX News.” I used to get stuff in the mail, too. I just delivered it to them. His producers found it so funny over the years [that] I was able to book a couple of guests on his show. It’s an instant icebreaker. Q: Do people ever confuse you for him? A: I used to get drunk calls at 3 a.m.: “Bill O’Reilly, you’re the greatest.” And letters from people from prison. It opened my eyes to what it must be like to be Bill O’Reilly. I’ve gone to speak at political functions; people sit on books. I’ll speak at things. They confuse it. They bring O’Reilly Factor books. But they sit on them. If the crowd was too big, I know they think it was the other guy.
REV. CHARLES NORRIS, a pastor at Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Queens Q: Who are you endorsing for mayor? A: Bill Thompson. Because I think he’s the best man for the race and the most qualified. And he’s going to have an educator for chancellor instead of a drinking buddy or an educated lawyer. Q: Has anyone ever confused you for Chuck Norris? A: No. There’s no confusion, no. He’s a movie star, and I’m a preacher. He doesn’t even know me and I don’t even know him.
AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under attack from a number of candidates seeking to succeed him over new student exam scores released this month, but the other four big cities across the state are doing significantly worse. Here’s a look at what percentage of students in grades 3 through 8 passed tougher new exams incorporating new “Common Core” standards.
BUFFALO 11.5% 9.6%
ED HARRIS, events coordinator for the New York State Assembly Q: Why did you go with the name Ed instead of Edward? A: I think it’s just easier. It’s less formal, too. Edward is a little much. Q: Has anyone ever confused you for him? A: No. I don’t think so. Every once in a while, people remind you or make a joke, “This isn’t the Ed Harris? Apollo 13 Ed Harris?” I don’t think anyone would expect that Ed Harris to be answering his phone. ANTHONY WEINER, freelance mechanical engineer and machinist in Maramoneck, N.Y. Q: What’s your life like? A: Really very boring. Unless it’s specifically pointed out to somebody my name is Anthony Weiner, nobody cares. During the first scandal, I got a call from CNN because somebody Googled all the Anthony Weiners in the U.S. and asked the same questions. Q: Has anyone ever mistaken you for him? A: No. We have a couple of friends who get a kick when Anthony Weiner shows up on their caller ID. The only thing that ever happened that was fun was around 2000 I was doing some work in Washington, D.C., and I would fly down on a US Air shuttle every Wednesday morning and come back in the afternoon. A few times when I got back to National Airport and I got my ticket, they would say, “Oh, you already left two hours ago.”
YONKERS 16.4% 14.5%
NEW YORK CITY 26.4% 29.6%
ROCHESTER 5.4% 5%
SYRACUSE 8.7% 6.9%
PHOTO OF REV. CHARLES NORRIS: QUEENS CHRONICLE/QUEENS DIGEST
BIG CITY EDUCATION
(Source: New York State Education Department)
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“FreshDirect’s move to our borough is a major positive step forward for our economy.” —Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. For more information about our move to the Bronx, please visit www.FreshDirectFacts.com © 2013 FreshDirect LLC cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
THE FIVE BOROUGH BALLOT
MOTT HAVEN, THE BRONX
CYCLE OF POLITICAL DISENGAGEMENT ON ONE BRONX CORNER It’s unclear which came first: voters in Mott Haven tuning out the politicians, or candidates writing the area off. BY KATE PASTOR
t the Camaguey restaurant on 138th Street in Mott Haven, campaign season hasn’t arrived yet. Maybe it never will. Men at the counter hunched over plates of steaming rice and meat crane their necks toward the TV screen, but it’s to watch a soccer game, not the latest campaign gaffe or fluctuating poll numbers. Just weeks before the Sept. 10 primary, it was hard to find anyone to talk about the election, and many seemed unaware there was one going on. “This September? That’s for the president, right?” asked Ramon Antunez, 65, a regular eating lunch at the counter one recent afternoon. “When I come to this country I only vote one time, for George Bush,” he said. “Not even in my country I used to vote.” Antunez, a Honduran immigrant, said that he was granted political asylum in the United States after being persecuted for anticommunist activities. But he wants nothing to do with politics in the country he has called home for the last 43 years. While concerned that there are people working below the minimum wage— “We have people right here in New York, they’re working for $3.50,” he said—he was resigned to the fact that voting would make no difference. “Politicians lie,” he said. “When they go inside the government, they clean the brain.” History of low turnout Data compiled and analyzed by WNYC on adult U.S. citizens’ voting patterns in the 2009 New York City elections— including the mayoral general election— show the voting rate around Camaguey restaurant among those eligible (not necessarily registered) was between 17 and 20 percent that year. Two thirds of the city’s census tracts had less than 20 percent of eligible citizens turn out. The Bronx, where 62 percent of census tracts had fewer than 20 percent of voting age citizens cast ballots, was the worst. The area covering Community District 1 (where Camaguey sits) and Community District 2 was in the bottom 10th percentile of voter turnout for both 2008 and 2009, according to “Voter Turnout in New York City,” a New York City Campaign Finance Board demographic analysis of the 2008 and 2009 elections that used data 6
AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
from the U.S. Census Bureau. Low voter turnout in the Bronx is not new. It was severe enough to have garnered the borough protection under the Voting Rights Act until key parts of the law were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court this year. In 1971 the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens joined the group of municipalities covered under the law because fewer than half of the voting age people were registered or voted—a problem the Justice Department linked to statewide English literacy tests for voters. Ignored by campaigns Now the literacy tests are gone. But low turnout remains. And it’s mirrored by low interest from candidates running for office. Candidates for mayor have made some 2,362 campaign stops throughout the five boroughs so far this campaign season, according to a New York Times analysis of campaign stops by all mayoral hopefuls. But they have been largely absent from the Bronx—and from Camaguey’s corner, and the sidewalk where a group of vendors hawks cookware.
date forum in the South Bronx in March, which was standing room only, Liu was the only one of the major party candidates to make it. Degrees of disengagement According to the CFB’s analysis of areas of low voter turnout, the neighborhood around Camaguey has some key demographic factors in common with other low turnout pockets in the city. Census tracts with low voter turnout had a higher proportion of men, young adults and naturalized citizens (as opposed to citizens born in the U.S.) and displayed higher residential turnover and lower educational attainment, the study found. Just over half the population in Mott Haven, Melrose and Hunts Point earned high school diplomas. Nearly a quarter of residents only made it through the ninth grade. Just 1 in 12 has a bachelor’s degree or higher. Juan Carlos Lopez, 34, one of Camaguey’s regulars, moved to Sheridan Avenue in Parkchester but still makes it in for lunch.
“Politicians lie. When they go inside the government, they clean the brain.” Even former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, the Independence Party nominee, has spent more time in Manhattan than in the Bronx. And Queens and Brooklyn got more love than the one mainland borough from all of the other candidates too. John Liu made more campaign stops in the Bronx than any other candidate. Still, Staten Island was the only borough he visited less frequently. Bill Thompson has trekked to the South Bronx only once; Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, Anthony Weiner, Joe Lhota and John Catsimatidis have made no stops in the South Bronx, according to the map. It’s a vicious cycle. Voter apathy gives candidates a reason to avoid campaigning in neighborhoods where they’re unlikely to get much reward, and residents, in turn, continue to feel that the upcoming election has little to do with them. Even when residents do show interest, campaigns don’t always react. At a candi-
If he were weighing in on the mayoral election, he said he would consider it important for candidates to address the need for more adult educational opportunities. He took English classes nearby at a school that has since shuttered its doors, he said. He struggled to find the words in English to say that he’d like to build on his year of education and have greater access to vocational training in his field of commercial construction. Almost 70 percent of those surveyed in the two community districts do not speak English as their primary language, which can be a factor in elections, the report found. But the most significant factor in the South Bronx is transience: 18.2 percent of the population lived in a different residence one year ago—a rate far greater than New York City overall. Ellion Wright, 22, is one of those people. He recently moved back to the neighborhood and was passing Camaguey on the
way home from Queens, where he had traveled with a buddy who was picking up his public assistance check. Wright said he plans to vote on the Democratic line at some point this year, but did not know who’d be on the ballot. “I would decide only for the person for helping the people on public assistance,” he said, explaining that he’d seen families suffer when benefits were cut off and that the next mayor should provide more activities, like camps, for young people. Magda Lopez, 48, traveled in her wheelchair past the restaurant. She’s a Democrat and votes in every election, she said. But she too has yet to tune in to the particulars. “This year, to tell the truth, I don’t even know who’s running,” she said. Pretty soon she’ll turn on the TV to learn about her choices, she said. The next mayor should focus on creating jobs, combating escalating rents, reducing the excessive cost of higher education, fighting crime and improving the overall welfare of the city’s minority populations, she said. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg “forgets about the minorities.” Getting out the vote 32BJ SEIU certainly hasn’t. The service employees’ union is in the process of canvassing the neighborhood in a get-outthe-vote effort that may be the surest sign yet of a campaign season in Mott Haven. The union has targeted the 8th Council District as one of the 13 across the city with high member density, large numbers of Latinos and contested New York City Council races. Organizers are encouraging people to get out to the polls and registering residents to vote. The union is supporting Quinn for mayor, Scott Stringer for comptroller, Letitia James for public advocate and Melissa Mark-Viverito in the District 8 Council race. Simon Torres, a political organizer for 32BJ, said he’s been out knocking on members’ doors in the district for about a month, and that the organization was intensifying its effort as of Aug. 10—adding more days and volunteers and increasing the goal of 100 doors a day to thousands. The majority of people he talks to don’t know much, if anything, about the candidates and are undecided about whom they will vote for, he said, which is where he comes in: to educate them.
OUR POLICE! This Makes No Sense!
The Community Safety Act is nuts and should be called the Community UNSAFETY Act. If somebody robs a bank in your neighborhood, You can’t say if the suspect is ASIAN, BLACK, WHITE, or HISPANIC You can’t say if the person is MALE or FEMALE. You can’t say if the person is 20 OR 60 YEARS OLD. THIS MAKES NO COMMON SENSE. Leave Law Enforcement up to COMMISSIONER RAY KELLY and the professionals of the NYPD.” - John Catsimatidis
IMATIDIS FOR MAYOR
These Council Members Voted To Make Your Streets Unsafe! Call Speaker Quinn & These Members And Tell Them To Uphold Mayor Bloomberg’s Veto Of The Community Safety Act! Maria Del Carmen Arroyo Charles Barron Gale A. Brewer Fernando Cabrera Margaret Chin Leroy G. Comrie, Jr. Inez Dickens Daniel Dromm Mathieu Eugene Julissa Ferreras Helen D. Foster
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John Catsimatidis Has Been Endorsed By The
NYPD’s Sergeants Benevolent Association “John Catsimatidis has the courage to stand-up to the City Council on issues like Stop and Frisk and the so-called Community Safety Act.” - Ed Mullins, President
SBA President Ed Mullins with John Catsimatidis
Vote For John Catsimatidis In The September 10th Republican Primary!
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THE FIVE BOROUGH BALLOT
TOTTENVILLE, STATEN ISLAND W’S BAR & RESTAURANT
DOG DAYS OF SUMMER AT W’S BY NICK POWELL
he dog days of summer have fallen upon W’s in Staten Island. Save for a handful of cars, the strip mall parking lot is bare; it’s easy to imagine tumbleweeds rolling across the concrete. W’s kitchen is closed—turning away several hungry and disappointed visitors—and a mere two patrons sit at the bar on this sleepy weeknight exchanging laughs and stories with the bartender. It’s peak getaway time, and many Tottenville residents are enjoying the comforts of their vacation homes anywhere from the Poconos down to the Jersey Shore. The bartender—call her “X”—a petite brunette with a sense of humor who holds her own in conversations with W’s male-dominant clientele, mentions that she “can’t wait for football season”—not only to delight in the Giants’ successes or wallow in the Jets’ miseries but because barstools will be filled, which means her pockets will be too. A man named Nick supplies the color this evening. He’s a stocky Italian of average height, with a mustache and a story for any topic. Nick, who is married with three kids, has run an auto repair shop in the area for years, proudly boasting, “Consumer Affairs don’t hear from my customers.” Nick admits that the last two or three years have put a strain on his business. The lousy economy has forced people to tighten their belts, making trips to the mechanic a luxury that many cannot afford. “With this economy, if you’re remotely handy, you’re doing your own [auto] repair,” Nick said. Nick talks a little bit about being a small business owner in this economic climate, which inevitably leads the conversation to Tottenville’s favorite politician: Michael Bloomberg—although Nick might as well have called him a saint compared with the usual vitriol reserved for Hizzoner in these parts. “Look, he’s much more successful than I am,” Nick said, as if admitting a personal flaw. “I can’t knock him. He balances our budgets, he raised our taxes, but only probably because they needed the money.” He added that Bloomberg needs to work on his messaging, and that his gruff personality contributes to his elitist reputation. “He should be less rough around the 8
AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
edges; his message would come in clearer,” Nick said. “He needs a better bedside manner.” Nick’s in-laws, a politically active family, help drive his own interest in politics, but that’s not to say that he can rattle off candidates’ names and policy positions. He sees the mayoral contest coming down to a two-horse race between Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former Rep. Anthony Weiner—which makes sense, given that they are the two somewhat known commodities in this race, with formidable personalities to boot. “It’s either a lesbian or a pedophile,” Nick jokes. “Quinn, I’d give her a shot. She seems honest enough, and she’s the most qualified.” Nick is similar to many voters in this area, who seem to weigh personality as highly—or even higher—than a candidate’s legislative or policy chops. Even Weiner’s seemingly compulsive urge to text racy messages to young women is less of an issue here. “He didn’t do anything differently than all the rest of them,” X chimes in. When I ask her why few voters seem to bat an eye with regard to Weiner’s infidelities, she gives a candid answer that perfectly encapsulates that perspective. “Everybody’s running around screwing everybody—none of [the other candidates] are any different,” she said with assurance. “Nobody cares about sex anymore.” Eliot Spitzer, a city comptroller candidate and another man with a questionable moral record, comes up in the course of conversation. Nick is a big fan, exonerating the former governor for patronizing prostitutes while advising him to try and offer the escorts jobs next time to ensure their discretion. “Spitzer, I like. At the end of the day, he’s not that good-looking. He probably had to pay [for sex],” Nick said, shrugging. Nick insists that party politics almost never come into play when picking a candidate to vote for—he maintains that a candidate’s qualifications trump any political affiliation. For that reason, he admires New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, saying he’d make “a great president” for his ability to appeal to voters from both parties. Superstorm Sandy is still fresh in the minds of Tottenville residents, and Nick and the bartender begin discussing what the coming hurricane season might bring.
Nick said that during the storm, the water came a few feet from flooding his entire business; his shop just escaped serious damage. Christie’s leadership through Sandy and his genuine appeal to President Obama for federal help caught Nick’s attention, and he suggested that New York lacked a leader to provide similar guidance during and after the storm hit— contrasting Christie’s pleas for help with Bloomberg trying to hold the marathon in the immediate aftermath of the storm. While making note of the changes in weather patterns over the past few years, X said that the storm reinforced Staten Island’s outsider status, and showed that the community did not need the help of politicians to get back on their feet. “Staten Island’s the forgotten borough. We take care of ourselves,” she said.
“People forget we used to be a shore town—by the time hurricane season rolled around, everybody was gone from here. Now people have to deal with storms every year.” Nick believes that the next mayor will have to confront this issue head-on. As if impersonating one of the candidates, Nick proposes that the city build a twoto three-mile-long seawall from “the surf club to the ball field” on Staten Island’s south shore that would be about 15 feet high. He said the wall could be funded by requiring that everybody who lived within that zone contribute money to the project. “It would protect all that prime real estate property from becoming obsolete. Politicians know that,” Nick said, pausing on that thought for a moment. “Well… they should.”
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“I wanna do a lawngterm, hundred-billion dollah bond issue.”
“I want to be a mayor who represents awl Noo Yawkahs.”
“I’m about making Noo York City a place for the middle cle-ahss.”
“I thawt we had it awl.”
TAWKIN’ THE TAWK The Noo Yawk City Accent and the Race for City Hawl By JON LENTZ
nthony Weiner was feeling at home. After a long day of campaigning, he made a final stop at a mayoral forum in Canarsie, a middle class Brooklyn neighborhood that overlaps his old congressional district. The last candidate to speak, he told the crowd he would be “just fine” if they voted for whoever had visited the run-down auditorium at the Hebrew Educational Society the most. The audience—a mix of older whites, remnants of the Jewish and Italian populations who settled in the shoreline community starting in the 1920s, and younger Caribbean immigrants who began arriving in more recent decades— responded warmly to Weiner’s colloquial manner. “I think for the middle class and those
AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
struggling to make it in communities like Canarsie awl around the city, things have actually gotten worse, not better,” Weiner said. The three legs of the stool that helped his family make it in New York City and eventually propelled him to Congress— affordable housing, a good education and good jobs—have grown wobbly, he told the crowd. “I eyask you, in today’s New York, where would you send a friend to find some affwardable place they can affward to live?” he asked. “When we were twaught in home economics cleahss, they said how much you should spend for housing, they said it should never be more than a third of your income. Almost half the city pays half their income for rent.” It wasn’t just what Weiner said—it
was how he said it. Anthony Weiner was employing the classic New York City dialect—in effect, letting voters in the outer borough of Brooklyn know that he was one of them. And he isn’t the only one. Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former councilman Sal Albanese and businessman John Catsimatidis all speak like native New Yorkers. City Comptroller John Liu and his predecessor, Bill Thompson, demonstrate the spread of key features of the accent to the city’s minority communities. Even for Joe Lhota, Bill de Blasio and George McDonald, an occasional Noo Yawk syllable can give them away—and perhaps even help them connect with voters. “Overall, politicians are in a unique position to play up their regional accents,
because they’re in the business of connecting with their constituents,” said Kara Becker, a linguistics professor at Reed College and a leading expert on the New York City accent. “In New York that is going to hold true, and I would imagine it would be a benefit for a lot of politicians to assert that authenticity of being a real New Yorker, by, if not playing up, by allowing their native New York way of talking to come out. They’re not going to be working to suppress it. They’re going to be reveling in it and allowing that to come out.”
he New York City accent is one of the most easily recognizable accents in the country. One of its most well known features is the tendency to drop the r in certain words, pronouncing
COVER mother as moth-ah and card as cah-d. Another common feature is raising the o in words like dog and coffee, which in the five boroughs have traditionally come out more like dawg and kwa-fee. Like a growing number of New Yorkers, Weiner rarely if ever drops his r’s. But like many of his rivals in the mayor’s race, he still tawks the tawk. Other features fly under the radar. For example, while most Americans say the words lot and thought or cot and caught identically, New Yorkers pronounce the two vowels differently. Another lesser known feature is the “short-a split,” or the difference in the vowels in words like bat and bad. The first vowel is pronounced the same way most Americans do, but in the second word the vowel is raised, like the word yeah, resulting in something like be-ahd. So while much of the rhetoric in the mayoral race this year is focused on the middle class, it’s often pronounced middle cle-ahss. The city’s accent is also one of the most unloved of any in the country. Along with the Southern drawl, it consistently gets the strongest negative response in surveys, but it wasn’t always that way. Linguists say that features like r-dropping along the East Coast mirrored the prestige accent in England, and they like to give the example of Franklin Delano Roosevelt barely pronouncing his r’s when he said, “The only thing we have to feah, is feah itself.” (Ironically, Weiner, who told City & State he doesn’t have an accent, recently mocked a female British reporter’s accent while campaigning.) After World War II, the middle of the United States quickly displaced the five boroughs as the place considered to have the best accent. Although New York City remained the country’s cultural capital, locals began to view their own speech with disapproval and embarrassment. In the 1960s a graduate student named William Labov conducted his now-famous department store study, in which he asked employees for directions to a division he knew was on the fourth floor. If they said “fawth floah,” he knew they were locals— and how often he heard the distinctive syllables was linked to social class. His 1966 landmark study, The Social Stratification of English in New York City, coined the term “linguistic insecurity” to describe the dislike New Yorkers had for their own way of speaking. “What happens in New York is that when a New Yorker speaks more formally, they sound less like a New Yorker,” said Michael Newman, a linguistics professor at Queens College. “So they take the features that are specific to the New York dialect and try to sound less like they’re from New York. That’s different than someone in Paris or London or Toronto does. They don’t sound less like a Torontonian, a Parisian or a Londoner. They just sound more like an upper class Parisian, Londoner or a Torontonian.”
Over the decades, a dialect once tied to the aristocratic FDR became associated in the popular imagination with mobsters, comedians and working class stiffs. Catchphrases like “fuggedaboutit” and “Yoo tawkin’ to me?” perpetuate the negative stereotypes. It’s no surprise, then, that some features have declined. In Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, with the influx of outsiders from other parts of the United States, one might think that the accent has died out entirely. It is rare to hear anyone ask for directions to toity toid an’ toid, or to ask to use the terlet. Dese and dose are now these and those. R-dropping is in decline, and r-intrusion—idear instead of idea, for example, or pizzer for pizza—has also waned. Yet linguists characterize the changes as an evolution, not an eradication of the accent. Some linguists have found that even as young white New Yorkers drop features that their parents and grandparents have, many African-Americans, Latinos and Asians in the city embrace the way of speaking as a sign that they truly belong. Becker’s study on the Lower East Side a few years ago found that some longtime residents emphasize r-dropping as a way to identify themselves as locals, especially amid gentrification and a flood of younger outsiders who speak so-called standard English. “One of the things that’s really interesting about that is it suggests that despite the fact that some of the features of this New York City accent are being lost, speakers are still connected to their New York identity, and they use language to express that identity,” Becker said. “Despite the change, there’s still the use of some of these features, to indicate to others, ‘Hey, I’m a New Yorker, and I’m proud of that.’ ”
arlier this month, Bill Thompson took the stage at a mayoral debate in Manhattan sponsored by the AARP. While the Noo Yawk accent originated with Italian, Irish and Jewish speakers and is today largely associated with their white descendants, Thompson’s speech was dotted with shibboleths. He introduced himself with a story about his grandparents, who arrived as Caribbean immigrants and worked hard to secure a “bettah way of life.” “We need to do bettah for awl New Yorkahs, and that’s the type of mayor I wanna be,” Thompson, an African-American, told the crowd. If it were just r-dropping in Thompson’s speech, it could be chalked up to a broader dialect linguists call African-American English, but other features identify him as a local. In fact, his raising of the o, as in “awl” for “all,” is widely used among New York City blacks and Latinos. Some Asian-Americans in the city share other less easily recognizable local features. “Interestingly, especially among Latinos and black people, you get that
really good ‘kwa-fee tawk’ vowel,” said Ann Marie Olivo, who recently finished a dissertation on the state of the accent on Long Island. “People want to keep hanging onto that, because it really is a signifier of what it is to be from New York, that vowel. Among the white community we kind of see it going away, but among communities of color we definitely still see it, and on Long Island you still see it too.” Asian-Americans in the city rarely produce the kwa-fee vowel, but the speech of some Chinese-American or KoreanAmericans, especially men, marks them as New York City residents. Amy Wong, an NYU doctoral candidate who has studied the speech of second-generation Asians in the city, said that City Comptroller John Liu has some elements of the New York accent. “Most notably, he has the thought-lot distinction,” Wong wrote in an email after listening to video recordings of Liu at a debate and during his campaign kickoff. “John Liu is r-less sometimes, but definitely not as r-less as John Catsimatidis, Sal Albanese or Bill Thompson.” Liu, who was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States at age 5, said that he has spoken the same way his entire life and never noticed anything unusual about it. He volunteered that some people have said he has a “distinctive Flushing drawl,” while others note that he lacks a Chinese-inflected accent. “I’m usually at a loss for words how to answer that question,” he said. “I’ve talked this way my whole life, I’ve heard myself talk this way my whole life, so I go with what people say to me.” Like their black neighbors, New York City Latinos share the r-dropping and o-raising of the dialect, which linguists refer to as New York City English. However, in the mayoral field, Adolfo Carrión, a candidate on the Independence Party line, displays very little of it. Erick Salgado, the son of Puerto Rican parents, often drops his r’s, but otherwise he simply speaks Spanish-influenced English. Other white candidates, such as Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, former MTA chief Joe Lhota, Doe Fund founder George McDonald and tech entrepreneur Jack Hidary, don’t sound very much like they
are from New York City, but occasionally a few local sounds slip out. Wong noted that Hidary, de Blasio and Lhota all make the distinction between the vowel in hospital and lot and the unique New York vowel in cost and thought, for example. Like many upwardly mobile New Yorkers, Lhota acknowledged that he had made efforts to reduce the stigmatized features in his speech, apparently with success, while attending college at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and at business school at Harvard University. “I guess I’ve worked on it over time, I really have,” he said. “I made an effort to focus, you know, as you take classes in public speaking, as you stand up in student council, and when I was an investment banker I would make presentations, and you have to focus on those things, how you sound, what you’re saying. But no, you ought to come to my house for Thanksgiving—you ought to hear what people from the Bronx really sound like.” Of course, those who really sound like they are from New York City are older whites. In this year’s race, the two who stand out the most are Sal Albanese and John Catsimatidis, both of whom were born overseas and arrived in New York City at a young age. Catsimatidis left Greece and moved to Harlem when he was six months old. Albanese, whose family moved to Park Slope from Calabria, Italy, when he was 8 years old, said that his own “Brooklynese accent” is “undeniable.” “It is what it is,” he said. “I am who I am, but I also believe there are people who judge you based on your accent instead of looking beyond that and getting at the substance. I accept it, and I’m proud of it.” Quinn’s is easily identified as a local as well, owing to her pronunciation of words like “sexual assawlt” and “middle cle-ahss”—though, much like Weiner, she almost always pronounces her r’s, whose absence at the end of words is associated with the working class. The Council Speaker was born to Irish-American parents and raised in Glen Cove on Long Island, a place of suburban exodus for many white European American groups once they had made it in the city. “Ya know, when ay wawk and tawk wit my dawg, I don’t think there is any accent
The Noo Yawk Accent r-dropping: Dropping the r in syllable-ending position, as in moth-ah for mother or wat-uh instead of water. o-raising: Raising and ingliding the long o vowel in words like coffee as kwa-fee and dog as dawg. short-a split: Raising of the short-a vowel in words like bag and bad to sound like the vowel in yeah, but not in words like bat. r-intrusion: Adding an r to the end of words ending with a vowel, with words like idea pronounced as idear. Low back distinction: While many Americans pronounce cot and caught the same way, New Yorkers say caught more like cawt. th as t or d: The fricative th turns into a stop, with words like these and those pronounced as dese and dose, with as wit, and youths as yoots.
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
THE CANDIDATES: Will New York City’s next mayor be a genuine Noo Yawkah? Patrick-André Mather, the chair of linguistics at the University of Puerto Rico, listened to clips of each of the candidates and filled us in.
Sal Albanese - occasional r-dropping - some o-raising - some short-a split - th as t “He said ‘alma mat-ah’ and ‘mast-ah’s degree’ or something like that. One trait, which is even more working class, is ‘working wit young people.’ So there there’s not even a fricative. It’s a dental stop. That’s even more working class than dropping the r. So I don’t know what the story is here, but he sounds or projects more working class than Christine Quinn or Anthony Weiner or John Liu. I know nothing about his politics.”
Joe Lhota - infrequent o-raising “Almost nothing, but I think once or twice he did raise the o. Very light, almost indistinguishable.”
AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
John Catsimatidis - occasional r-dropping - some o-raising “In some words, he wouldn’t pronounce the r’s in some instances. But it was partial r-lessness. I should mention that this particular feature of dropping the r at the end of words or syllables is typically associated with working class English in New York City. So some of the r-lessness, and some of the o-raising and ingliding, like tawk and chawcolate, there was some of that. But it wasn’t 100 percent.”
Bill de Blasio “I honestly didn’t notice any obvious features of New York City English.”
- some o-raising - some short-a split
- some o-raising - some short-a split
“He also avoids dropping his r’s. So it seems like he’s adopting the prestige. He, like Christine Quinn, uses the prestige r. However, like Christine Quinn he does have a couple of the vowels that are typically New York. He said he had a ‘middle cle-ahss’ in Brooklyn.” And then he said, “I thawt we had it awl.” And that’s also the long-o raising, which is across the board. So I found him quite similar to Christine Quinn in his phonetics—I’m not talking about his politics.”
“My take on her would be that she certainly, in the way she talks, does associate herself with New York City, and probably, maybe does it on purpose, to show that her roots are here, but she avoids the one feature that would drag her down to the working class. She’s trying to assert her New York-ness without being working class.”
George McDonald - rare short-a split “Almost nothing. One slight a-raising.”
Adolfo Carrión “He sounds very standard to me. I did not notice any regional accent.”
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John Liu - some o-raising - some short-a split “He said at one point ‘City Hawl,’ so that sounded a bit like o-raising, and he at one point said ‘be-ahd.’ To me, that’s interesting because that’s a New York City feature—araising—but usually associated with whites. So why would he use this feature? Well, maybe to broaden his appeal. In other words, ‘I’m a New Yorker, and I speak like all New Yorkers, including white New Yorkers,’ but carefully avoiding the working class r.”
Bill Thompson - some r-dropping - some o-raising - some short-a split “I would say he had a pretty interesting combination of the New York City features. A lot of these people don’t use them consistently, they sort of go back and forth between standard and New York City, but he had a bit of each. He had a smattering of all three features.”
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Erick Salgado - some r-dropping “That was difficult, because he has a Latino accent, even in English, but what I did notice is that his English, it’s r-less. He says broth-ah, fath-ah, etc. The one feature I notice was this working class feature, which may be simply his background. Maybe where he acquired English was a working class neighborhood.”
Jack Hidary - light o-raising - infrequent short-a split “He used the prestige r, consistently pronouncing it. Maybe a touch of o-raising, but very light. The only thing that was maybe local was the o-raising. That’s the one feature, the long o, that really seems to be found across the board in New York City.”
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“Bloomberg uses a little bit of the o-raising, which is across the board. He does seem to use the r consistently, but not 100 percent. A few tokens of r-lessness in his speech, but he’s probably being very careful, and he doesn’t use the a-raising, either. His New York City accent seems to be something that is under control.”
“Dinkins, I didn’t hear much. I didn’t find anything very striking. To me, he sounded white. I couldn’t really pinpoint anything in specific as a New Yorker.”
Patrick-André Mather, a linguist at the University of Puerto Rico, gives a rundown on which of the city’s recent mayors—er, may-ahs—had a Noo Yawk accent.
“Giuliani to me sounded more typically New York than Bloomberg. He had a bit of all three, the a, o and some r-less. So he sounds more strikingly New York than Bloomberg.”
at awl, so ya know, it’s been a dawg’s age since anyone told me that I tawked with an accent,” Quinn said, laughing. “I like my accent. It’s mostly New York, with a little bit of Long Island where I grew up, so I’m proud of it.” Along with pockets in the outer boroughs, like Howard Beach, Gerritsen Beach and much of Staten Island, Long Island is a bastion of the classic New York City accent. Olivo, a native Long Islander who grew up with the accent, said that it is widely used as far east as the forks, where the old money on the North Fork and the new money on the South Fork generally lack any of its features. But in places in closer proximity to the five boroughs, like those where she and Quinn grew up, the accent is a source of pride, Olivo said. “People aren’t embarrassed,” she said. “They know they have an accent, and they know people pick up on it, but they’re really proud of being New Yorkers, so they don’t mind it. Labov talked about it in 14
AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
terms of linguistic insecurity. I don’t think Long Islanders are very insecure about their language any more.”
he day after the AARP debate, Thompson cut loose at the mayoral forum in Canarsie. The anecdote he had shared with the Manhattan crowd about his “mother,” a former public school teacher, and his “dad,” who is still working, became a story about his mothah and fathah when he repeated it in Brooklyn. “My mothah was a New York City public schoolteacher for almost 30 years,” he told the Canarsie locals. “She twaught in Brooklyn for almost her entire career. My fathah, my fathah is still goin’ strong at 88 years old. He is workin’ five days a week … as a matter of fact, he’s out there these days, he’s in such great shape he’s trying to pass himself off as my brothah.” Playing up the accent for the Brooklyn crowd may fit conveniently with the narrative of Thompson as a candidate who tries
“Ed Koch, he had the typical New York o-raising, coffee/kwa-fee. His speech was surprisingly rhotic; he pronounced the r’s almost consistently, and that’s surprising for someone of his generation. That I find a little surprising because people of that generation would typically not use it all the time. That might have been a class thing or because of his job. It might have been something he worked on.”
to be all things to all people, but it is not necessarily a fair characterization in this case, linguists say. “It’s not like they go up on the stage and say, ‘Oh, I better play up my New York accent right now,’ right?” Becker said. “I don’t know how conscious it necessarily is, but I do know that it is probably a process that happens naturally, where if you have access to local features in the place where you’re campaigning, it makes a lot of sense that you would naturally play up those features when you’re giving a speech or talking to voters.” One linguistic phenomenon at play is “accommodation,” or the tendency to adjust one’s speech to approximate the speech of others. Becker said that everyone also employs what linguists call “style-shifting,” or moderating one’s speech depending on the social context or the formality of a situation. Politicians, she added, would likely be more adept at it. “They might be doing a very formal
speech in the morning, and in the afternoon they’re having a casual conversation with voters in the outer boroughs,” she said. “I would bet on the fact that we could predict the direction of that style-shifting, so that you sound more ‘standard’ in a more formal context or one that feels less local, if your audience is broader with New Yorkers and non–New Yorkers. But when you get into those really local contexts, you’re going to shift into a more local way of talking.”
o can an accent actually help a candidate win votes? In the South, politicians experience a similar stigma with their speech, yet many of them maintain it, even if they make it to Washington, D.C. President Bill Clinton kept his southern drawl, and President George W. Bush maintained something of a folksy Texas accent. Closer to home, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not shed his New York City speech—a
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is sworn in for a second term in 2006. Linguists told The New York Times that he used more local New York City features in his second inaugural address than his first one.
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John Liu, who came to New York City from Taiwan as a child, has certain features of the local accent.
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Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who endorsed Council Speaker Christine Quinn for mayor, said she shared some features of his “Brooklynese” accent.
In a campaign video, Anthony Weiner evoked his “working cle-ahss” background.
“Queens accent,” he calls it—which seems to have played well enough with voters. Even Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was raised outside of Boston, gradually began to sound more like a local, according to several linguists interviewed by The New York Times in 2006. As Bloomberg’s three terms in office prove, the local accent is certainly no prerequisite for getting elected mayor. The Bostonian dialect that Bloomberg grew up with has similar r-dropping—the popular example is “Pahk ya cah in Hahvahd Yahd”—but he has yet to grasp certain other local features. David Dinkins, who was mayor in the early 1990s, sounded to one linguist more like a white speaker of standard American English. Of course, any differentiation from the current mayor could resonate with voters, especially with outer borough residents who felt alienated during the Bloomberg years. And as some of the candidates play up class divisions and concerns about the income gap, any association with regular, middle class voters could also prove to be an advantage.
either consciously or unconsciously have dropped the most stigmatized feature (r-dropping) while maintaining other salient characteristics. “In the way they talk, I think they are trying to maintain their connection with the city,” Patrick-André Mather, the chair of linguistics at the University of Puerto Rico, said of Weiner and Quinn. “But at the same time, in many cases they are avoiding the features that are more stigmatized with the working class. And I don’t know to what extent they can control the way they talk, but certainly I would think that they want to maintain a sense of connection with the electorate.” Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was once seen as a potential candidate for mayor, said that he hears the accent less and less as newcomers from the Midwest and from overseas make their home in his borough. “Everything changes,” he said. “I think the fact that I see young people in my awffice building, not buying newspap-uhs and reading everything onloin, ya know,
Chris Koops, a linguistics professor at the University of New Mexico, said that the local accent is part of a larger image that the candidates are trying to project. In public appearances, the candidates hammer away with rags-to-riches stories about their parents and grandparents immigrating here and striving to improve their lot in life. Campaign ads are chockfull of local shops, local streets, local sports teams. “Just looking at the general feel of these ads and what they say and how they construct a life history and the personality seems to be all about, ‘I’m from here and I’m one of you guys and I understand you all,’ so the accent fits right in there— especially when they do it when it’s pretty subtle,” Koops said. “I think it’s to the level where if you are from there, you can definitely hear it, but it’s not to the point where if you’re not from there it’s going to be too much, or somehow it marks you as extreme.” Two candidates who are finding that middle ground are Quinn and Weiner, who
it’s hard for me to understand how you could read a newspap-uh on a computuh instead of having your hands get dirty. But once again, I’m 68, and they’re in their mid- to late-20s. It’s different, it’s different. Things change.” Markowitz went on to say that he was unsure whether accents would play much of a role come Election Day. The borough president, who would have had the thickest accent of any of the mayoral candidates had he jumped into the race, said other factors would likely have more of an impact. “I think there are lots of other things, how someone carries themselves, certainly their ideas, whether or not they feel comfortable with them, whether they like ’em, and so many intangibles,” he said. Accents are simply not that big an issue, Markowitz said. “Boston’s got their thing, other regions have their thing. … My attitude is, we’re in Kings County—we speak the King’s English. So there’s no accent. It’s the rest of the country that has an accent.” cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
AD WATCH: 2013 NEW YORK CITY MAYORAL PRIMARY EDITION
In this installment of Ad Watch, City & State and our panel of experts look at one of the television commercials from each of the candidates for New York City mayor who has hit the airwaves to date. To read this complete feature and view all of the spots in their entirety, visit www.cityandstateny.com. By MORGAN PEHME “MANNY’S LAW”
CANDIDATE: Christine Quinn
CANDIDATE: Joe Lhota
CANDIDATE: Bill de Blasio
PRODUCED BY: SKDKnickerbocker (New York City) and Mark Guma Communications (New York City)
PRODUCED BY: Wilson Grand Communications (Alexandria, Va.)
PRODUCED BY: AKPD Message and Media (Chicago/New York City)
LENGTH: 30 seconds
LENGTH: 30 seconds
DESCRIPTION: The ad casts the Democratic primary as a “circus,” and offers Lhota’s serious record of achievement and leadership as an antidote.
DESCRIPTION: A Brooklyn teenager lays out the reasons why de Blasio is the progressive choice for mayor—a teenager who turns out to be de Blasio’s son.
PROS: A crisp, succinct spot with a clear message, it gels with recent polling showing that New Yorkers are embarrassed by Anthony Weiner, who is quite deliberately shown first in the ad. The photos of the Democratic candidates (de Blasio in handcuffs, Quinn with bunny ears, Thompson with an awkward expression and a scandal-scarred Liu grinning broadly amid a sea of reporters) all hit the mark. A classic sickness-to-cure ad, the voice-over pillories Lhota’s opponents without tarnishing the candidate by having the attack come out of his mouth.
PROS: Ads that play to the emotions of viewers are hard to pull off, but this one does so adeptly. De Blasio’s son, Dante, comes off as likable and sincere, which makes his straightforward articulation of de Blasio’s positioning as a foil to the Bloomberg years and “a mayor for every New Yorker” believable. The woman nodding her head eight seconds into the ad, coupled with de Blasio appearing to reach out to the crowd, effectively helps to reinforce the tenor of the ad.
LENGTH: 30 seconds DESCRIPTION: The mother of Manny Lanza, a young man without insurance who died because he was denied medical coverage, gives a firstperson testimonial explaining how Quinn passed “Manny’s Law” so her son “didn’t die in vain.” PROS: This ad is undeniably powerful, particularly the last line: “I love her for that.” That the last line comes after a poignant beat during which the camera stays patiently on the speaker makes it all the more impactful, since ads rarely allow even a millisecond to digest anything emotionally. The turning of the page in Manny’s mother’s scrapbook to show Quinn’s name and picture along with her son’s is a subtle, moving detail. CONS: The audio on the line “She refused to let another family suffer” is equalized differently from the rest of the ad and is a little difficult to hear. EXPERT OPINION: “The facts of this case are sad, and you never want to see a family face a loss like this. That said, one can only assume that this ad is aimed at women, Hispanic and black voters, groups with whom Quinn is underperforming. That’s fine and makes sense, but the ad leaves Quinn vulnerable on the healthcare front. Her poor record consisting of severe budget cuts has led to the closure of multiple hospitals and therefore access to healthcare, particularly in the outer boroughs. Quinn has done nothing to help the root of the problem and can actually be blamed for making it worse. Cue de Blasio.” —Lynn Krogh, Political consultant, The Casale Group
AUGUST 19, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
CONS: The image of Central Park with a skyscraper under construction in the foreground is not bad, but could probably have been improved upon. Perhaps the Freedom Tower rising would have been superior, particularly given the candidate’s association with 9/11. EXPERT OPINION: “This is a smart ad. It combines three strong elements: (1) The triedand-true practice of using known media outlets to establish credibility; (2) A great, timely hook that dredges up the embarrassing circus on the other side of the ticket; (3) It positions Lhota as the presumptive Republican nominee and the only rational candidate that the voters can elect. The tag line sums it up nicely, too. For everyone that gave Lhota credit for getting the subways up and running post-Sandy, the messaging also reinforces what they believe.” —Anat Gerstein, President, Anat Gerstein Inc.
CONS: What amounts to a reveal for most viewers—that the speaker is de Blasio’s son—is slightly lost at the end of the ad, since we don’t see Dante when he says it and the audio trails off a bit. The onscreen image reinforces the point, so it’s not a total misstep, but perhaps it would have been better to amplify the last line slightly more. EXPERT OPINION: “It’s a solid ad, and Dante deserves credit for delivering it well. The last thing Bill de Blasio wants is to be seen as the candidate of Park Slope privilege, so he’s smartly showing the diversity of his family while talking about issues that matter to working families and people of color. He clearly highlights poll-tested issues—taxing the rich, affordable housing, stopand-frisk—but having his son deliver the message and showing him in his home family situation makes him a more authentic candidate to address these issues.” —Doug Forand, Founding partner, Red Horse Strategies Do you have an ad you would like to see analyzed by our experts? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestions.
CAN WOMEN VOTE FOR WEINER? BY MEGAN BUNGEROTH
hen Anthony Weiner announced he was running for mayor of New York City, questions naturally arose. Is he serious? (Whom did he sext, and when?) Can he actually do it? (How many women received photos of, um, Weiner?) Who does he think he is? (Will we ever run out of powerful men who do sleazy things in the shadows cast by their tall reputations?) But now that Weiner has dropped to fourth place in the polls in the aftermath of a second flare-up of his scandal, one question seems to be increasingly on New Yorkers’ minds—besides whether he should drop out of the race: Who are the women who would vote for him—and are they serious? Both men and women still support Weiner’s campaign, of course, but no one is asking why men have remained in his corner. Of the nearly one million dollars Weiner has raised from individual contributors since the beginning of May 2013, right before he officially declared his candidacy, approximately $348,000 has come from women, most giving less than $200. After it came to light that Weiner’s sextcapades went on much longer than he had led the public to believe, he lost his lead in the polls; he now trails Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio and Bill Thompson. A July 29 Quinnipiac poll which asked voters whether they think Weiner should drop out of the race, showed that “there is almost no gender gap [...] on this question: Women say 54–42 percent that Weiner should drop out, compared with men at 52–37 percent.” In other words, people are disillusioned with his candidacy, but women no more than men. For some, the idea of any Democratic woman throwing her support behind a man who publicly humiliated his wife is an outrageous affront of historical magnitude. “I think about Susan B. Anthony,” said Sonia Ossorio, the executive director of the National Organization for Women’s NYC chapter, when asked about Weiner’s campaign. “Here’s a woman who spent 50 years of her life, traveling this country in a horse and buggy as a single woman, getting tomatoes thrown at her when she stopped in town after town to talk about what was a crazy idea at the time—for women to get the vote. If she had a look into the future, to think that the women of New York City would use the vote, the vote she fought so hard for, to elect the same old bad crop of men that we have been faced with or had as representatives, decade after decade, century after century, she would be rolling around in her grave.”
Anthony Weiner was joined by his wife, Huma Abedin, at a press conference in July addressing a sexually explicit online conversation he had with another women after he resigned from Congress. EMILY’S List, the national organization that supports pro-choice female political candidates, sent a letter to supporters last week urging them to back Quinn—the only woman in the race—and quoting Nancy Pelosi’s characterization of Weiner as “reprehensible.” Ossorio and other women’s rights advocates have expressed disgust at the hubris of Weiner and Eliot Spitzer, who is attempting to shed the role of disgraced ex-governor with a predilection for highend prostitutes and step back onto the public stage as the city’s comptroller. But the advocates’ incredulity is reserved for the female portion of the electorate that has not rejected their candidacies outright. “It’s hard for me to understand why anybody would choose an impetuous, reckless guy like Anthony Weiner with a thin record on women’s issues when there is a strong experienced woman candidate who could be making history as the first woman mayor of New York City,” Ossorio said. So how can women, especially women who would identify as feminists, support Weiner? Feminists have a choice when voting: They can recognize the vast disparity in gender equality in almost every legislative body in America, and believe that true equality for women will not be achieved until there are just as many women as men making laws. Voting for female candidates as often as possible, regardless of other
issues, can help achieve that goal. In New York City, there are currently 18 women serving on the 51-member City Council. According to data from DecideNYC, only about 54 of the 200 female candidates running for various Council seats in 2013 are women, so that ratio is not likely to change very much this election cycle. On the other hand, a feminist may believe that women, already being inherently equal to men, should not be judged any differently from the opposite sex. A woman weighing her vote with that mentality gives no bonus points to Christine Quinn for being a fellow woman and instead attempts to judge the candidates through a gender-neutral prism: Everyone is just a person, not a man or woman, and should be judged on her or his merits alone. If the ranks of women still supporting Weiner are dwindling, the feminists among them would clearly point to the second philosophy as a motivating factor. Only one woman in an online poll querying New York City voters about their feelings about Weiner’s campaign said she wouldn’t vote for him solely based on the sexting scandal; for the others that factor alone was not enough to sway any of the respondents from discarding Weiner from the pack of potential future mayors. “I don’t think what he did inhibits women’s rights,” wrote one respondent. “His wife clearly wanted to stay with him and forgave him, so women should be able
to as well.” “Feminism is about equality for women. It’s not about absolutes,” wrote one selfidentified feminist Democratic voter. “To say feminists can’t <insert anything here> is antifeminist. Saying feminists can’t vote for Weiner is antifeminist. Subscribing to feminism doesn’t curb any of your decisions or choices and, in fact, should expand them.” “I agree with his politics, his personal life is between himself and his wife and she doesn’t seem to hold his past actions against him, why should I?” wrote another. Considering Weiner’s place in the polls and his increasingly unlikely chance of making a potential runoff, that is a question voters are increasingly unlikely to be asking themselves. Yet it goes to the heart of what makes New York City politics tick. Before the uncovering of “Carlos Danger’s” more-recent-than-we-realized Internet dalliances, Weiner’s campaign was surging. The information we had then is not really that different from the information we have now, but it has apparently been enough to convince a sizable portion of the electorate that he is no longer a credible candidate. This is no sudden realization among female voters. It’s an evenly gendered decline in support. Maybe that’s the feminist answer to Anthony Weiner’s candidacy: He’s managed to alienate as many men as he has women. cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / ORGANIZED LABOR
SHIFTING ALLEGIANCES What will happen to the unions who back losing candidates in the mayoral race? BY NICK POWELL
uch of the debate around the power of labor endorsements in the 2013 mayoral race centers around whether a given union can play a significant role in delivering the election to a candidate. While some labor leaders make much of their ability to play “kingmaker” in election years, there is no definitive metric that can substantiate these claims. What is clear is that unions are a valuable supplement to practically any campaign. They can spend large sums of money on a candidate’s behalf through independent expenditures, bolster his or her field operation and mobilize their often sizable memberships to get out the vote. But what happens when unions back the wrong horse in the primary? Will the eventual mayor have a short memory with regard to union-sanctioned attack ads against them in July and August? Will unions that flocked to another candidate 18
AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
rake the eventual Democratic nominee over the coals to secure their support? These questions will all be answered in the coming months, and the consensus among labor insiders is that despite splintering across the primary field, organized labor will eventually unite behind the Democratic nominee, whoever he or she may wind up being. Should a runoff election happen—which, judging by recent polls, is looking increasingly likely, with no candidate close to the 40 percent threshold—many believe that is when the real wrangling will happen, behind closed doors. Primary campaign wounds will be healed, deals will be made and eventually a nominee will emerge with a more unified coalition of labor support. “What we’re seeing right now is a tremendous amount of relationship spillover for a number of years with electeds now running for mayor,” said Ed Ott, a labor consultant and former executive director of the Central Labor Council.
“Who makes the runoff? You’ll see unions meet amongst themselves, the Working Families Party, Central Labor Council, and see if there’s somebody who they can unite behind. The candidates are gonna shop around.” The runoff “shopping” will reveal a lot about the relationships that unions have with each candidate. Currently it looks to be a three-person race for the Democratic nomination between—in order of the most recent Quinnipiac University poll—Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson, with Anthony Weiner and John Liu looming as potential spoilers in the race with long-shot chances at winning. Among the three front-runners, de Blasio has the city’s largest union in his corner, 1199SEIU, as well as the smaller but politically powerful Communications Workers of America, District 1; Quinn has received the support of 32BJ SEIU, the Hotel Trades Council, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union;
Thompson has the backing of the United Federation of Teachers, United Firefighters Association and the Transport Workers Union. Liu’s most notable labor endorsement is from District Council 37, the city’s largest municipal union, while Weiner has been largely shut out, with no major union support. A runoff between any two of the three candidates currently leading in the polls will mean tough choices for all of the unions. A Quinn versus de Blasio runoff would put the powerful UFT up for grabs. Sources say that Quinn enjoys a good relationship with UFT President Michael Mulgrew despite her alliance with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has had a contentious relationship with the teachers’ union. Political observers feel that backing Quinn would be a natural move for the union, although perhaps a tough sell to the union’s membership. De Blasio was reportedly heavily lobbying for the UFT endorsement early on, though he
ORGANIZED LABOR / ISSUE SPOTLIGHT may have jeopardized any second chance at their backing with recent comments that curiously invoked Bloomberg— a common punching bag for de Blasio during the campaign—and asserted that his own lack of municipal labor support reflects his political “independence.” “Lots of people like to say … Mayor Bloomberg had the great advantage of independence. He didn’t need anyone’s money. He didn’t need anyone’s endorsement,” de Blasio said, according to a report by Gotham Schools. “I have my own independence.” Should Thompson and de Blasio make the runoff at Quinn’s expense, 32BJ SEIU would likely be the most coveted union for the finalists, owing to its large Hispanic membership and robust field operation. De Blasio would seem to be the most likely choice for 32BJ, with sources saying that previously the decision-making process came down to him and Quinn for their endorsement. For private-sector unions, specific policy initiatives come into play. For example, the UFCW Local 1500, representing supermarket workers, would want to see the next mayor continue to keep Walmart out of the five boroughs. Building trades unions, on the other hand, will be keeping a close eye on the future of the Midtown East rezoning, because their members would be in line for a consid-
erable number of jobs on any large-scale construction project. “Unions, whether public or private, are not monolithic, and they have diverse and often competing interests,” said Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College. “You almost have to go to each of the unions and [ask] where they stand in terms of program and policy implications [in order to] begin to figure out where they are and what the interactions and outcomes might be.” As for DC 37, with Liu now on the outside looking in—though still with a formidable voting base within the city’s Asian-American community—it would be logical for the union, and most other public sector unions looking to shift their support in a runoff, to back a candidate who takes a less hard-line view in settling the city’s outstanding municipal contracts. That is particularly true in light of the fact that the union has been burned in the past by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom the union endorsed in 1997, after accepting a two-year wage freeze in 1995, with promises of retroactive pay increases when the city’s finances improved. “DC 37 was told that the city’s finances were tight at the moment—‘When things improve you’ll get your pay back’—and they never did,” said James Parrott, deputy director and chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute. “There’s a sense that labor
will never do that again. City Hall never made good on that commitment.” There is also the possibility of political retribution. A maxim in politics is “Reward your friends, screw your enemies.” A union that throws its weight behind a losing candidate might be in for some form of payback from the eventual victor in the race. Some labor leaders have indicated that the specter of political revenge is part of the thought process when making initial endorsements. “It’d be irresponsible not to calculate [potential retribution] as well. Within that calculus, one of the things you have to consider is, if you don’t stand up for what you believe in, then what are you?” said Arthur Cheliotes, president of the Communications Workers of America, Local 1180, which endorsed John Liu for mayor. “You have to make political decisions, but I would rather any candidate who wins an election know that we have the reputation that if you tread on us, we will bite. So tread carefully.” Of the Democratic candidates, many labor sources feel that Quinn would be most likely to seek some form of retribution, given her reputation as a tough negotiator and for doling out punishments and rewards to the City Council’s members depending upon the level of their cooperation in advancing her agenda. On the other side of that equation, Thompson is
the candidate that many believe would be the most beholden to the unions that back him, as he is regarded as a loyal politician, sometimes to a fault. “Those [unions] who are with Billy, he might be pretty beholden to teachers and uniforms that will endorse him,” said a source with ties to organized labor, who asked not to be identified so as not to antagonize any candidate. “Chris [Quinn] would probably be the one who keeps names and seeks some retribution for those who aren’t on their team.” The revenge factor has not always held true in recent elections, however, with much depending on the style and political motivations of the chief executive. When Bloomberg was first elected in 2001 he had almost no labor support to speak of. But he worked well with certain unions during his first term, settling municipal contracts and building relationships with many of the powerful unions, who in turn helped him get re-elected in 2005, and, to a lesser extent, in 2009. “Endorsements are an important factor, but never a deciding factor [in currying favor with the future mayor],” Parrott said. “Particularly for somebody just getting elected, it depends what their governing style is and who they surround themselves with, and what they see as the coalition that they have to retain in place in order to govern effectively.”
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
District Council 37 Endorsements—Primar
These candidates have been endorsed by Dis Tuesday, September 10th. Pol
OR THE LAST FEW YEARS, as the national recovery has stalled, we have seen municipal unions all too often cast as the impediment to our city’s economic prosperity. We are concerned that as Mayor Bloomberg closes out his last term he’s trying to cast us as being selfish and acting only in our own self- interest. In reality we have always stood for social justice and upward mobility for working people. We have watched with alarm as the income disparity here in New York City and around the country continues to grow and middle class households slide backward into the ranks of the working poor. When Mayor Bloomberg came into office 800,000 New Yorkers relied on food stamps. Today 1.8 million do. We know that our young people are in the throes of an unemployment crisis that is tragically being ignored by our nation. Today one in seven young people in the 16 to 24 age group are not in school nor employed. In communities of color the numbers are even more distressing. We are committed to full employment because we know America and our City work better that way. As we demonstrated when we came to the rescue of the City during the great fiscal crisis of the 1970s, we understand the value of shared sacrifice and won’t flinch from stepping up when required. We always have. In a recent speech that referenced Detroit’s bankruptcy Mayor Bloomberg discussed the “importance of responsible fiscal stewardship” and said “the City has never been stronger”. But Bloomberg said New York City had the risk of becoming a Detroit if it did not move to deal with the “explosion” in City pension and health care costs. In the same speech the Mayor said the fact he was leaving office with all of the City worker contracts expired for years was going to provide his successor with an “unprecedented opportunity” to win concessions from the City workers. Mayor Bloomberg’s self-congratulatory spin came the same week that we learned that close to three quarters of the City’s third through eighth graders failed the state’s new English and Math exams. In a press conference after the release of these devastating results the Mayor offered an alternative analysis and called the results “very good news”. Voters need to know just how high a price they paid for such miserable results. All too often the media has given the current incumbent a pass when it comes to accountability. During Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure the use of expensive outside consultants advising the DOE exploded from $1.5 billion to almost $5 billion dollars annually even as they laid off school aides. Across the entire munici-
20 AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
pal government the cost of outside consultants under Bloomberg ballooned from $5 billion to $11.3 billion a year. Throughout the Bloomberg era these big ticket tech projects consistently came in years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars above their cost estimate. In the process they were easy prey for white collar criminals who ripped taxpayers off for hundreds of millions of dollars while Mayor Bloomberg used his bully pulpit to try and build a football stadium on the Westside and ban super-sized soft drinks. The City’s 911 emergency call system makeover was supposed to cost $700 million but taxpayers are on the hook for $2.3 billion dollars, is five years late and the new system still has problems.
In the Citytime scandal, which DC 37 uncovered, a payroll software system that was supposed to cost $70 million dollars was jacked up by a criminal conspiracy to $700 million dollars. Two of the alleged conspirators got $400 million out of the deal and left the country. Mayor Bloomberg said recently that the City was “lucky” the massive fraud was discovered. There is no doubt that Detroit’s bankruptcy deserves national attention but New York City’s situation is very different in some critical respects. It is blessed with a growing population and a dynamic economy. Of course New York City, like every local, county and state government faces the same challenge of funding its long term commitments to its public workforce while maintaining services. But it is our experience that big challenges like that are met best with collaboration and cooperation not the kind of brinkmanship displayed by the current Administration’s decision to let all of the city contracts lapse. As Comptroller, John Liu has consistently used his position to root out waste, fraud and abuse that saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Comptroller Liu has consistently stood up for New Yorkers who must depend on someone to stand up for them. He understands their struggle and has always governed accordingly. That is why, this year we are enthusiastically endorsing City Comptroller John Liu for Mayor. We need a mayor who knows how to work with people as if their views matters. John Liu is that candidate. In solidarity,
Lillian Roberts, Executive Director District Council 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO
Vote for John Liu for Mayor A Vote for you
ry Election: Tuesday, September 10 , 2013 th
strict Council 37 for the Primary Election on olls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Vote for candidates who fight for the needs of working people and retirees
John Liu NYC Mayor
Borough President Gale Brewer
1st C.D. – Margaret Chin 2nd C.D. – Rosie Mendez 3rd C.D. – Yetta Kurland 4th C.D. – No Endorsement 5th C.D. – Micah Kellner 6th C.D. – Noah Gotbaum 7th C.D. – Joyce Johnson 8th C.D. – Melissa Mark-Viverito 9th C.D. – Inez Dickens 10th C.D.– Ydanis Rodriguez
BOROUGH PRESIDENT Ruben Diaz Jr.
11th C.D. – No Endorsement 12th C.D.– Andy King 13th C.D. – James Vacca 14th C.D.– Fernando Cabrera 15th C.D. – No Endorsement 16th C.D. – Vanessa Gibson 17th C.D. – No Endorsement 18th C.D.– No Endorsement
STATEN ISLAND CITY COUNCIL
49th C.D. – Deborah Rose 50th C.D. – Mendy Mirozcnik 51st C.D. – No Endorsement
Letitia James NYC Public Advocate
Scott Stringer NYC Comptroller
19th C.D. – John Duane 20th C.D. – Peter Koo 21st C.D. – Julissa Ferreras 22nd C.D.– Costa Costantinides 23rd C.D. – No Endorsement 24th C.D. – Rory Lancman 25th C.D. – Daniel Dromm 26th C.D. – Jimmy Van Bramer 27th C.D. – No Endorsement 28th C.D. – Ruben Wills 29th C.D. – Karen Koslowitz 30th C.D. – No Endorsement 31st C.D. – Donovan Richards 32nd C.D.– Eric Ulrich
43rd C.D. – Vincent Gentile 44th C. D.– No Endorsement 45th C.D. – Jumaane Williams 46th C.D. – Alan Maisel 47th C.D. – Todd Dobrin 48th C.D. – Ari Kagan
*Special Election STATE ASSEMBLY 53rd Assembly District Jason Otaño (Brooklyn) 86th Assembly District Victor Pichardo (Bronx)
Borough President Eric Adams
33rd C.D. – Stephen Levin 34th C.D. – Antonio Reynoso 35th C.D. – Olanike Alabi 36th C.D. – Robert Cornegy 37th C.D. – No Endorsement 38th C.D. – Sara Gonzalez 39th C.D. – No Endorsement 40th C.D. – Mathieu Eugene 41st C.D. – Darlene Mealy 42nd C.D.– Inez Barron
New York City’s Largest Public Employee Union Representing 121,000 members and 50,000 Retiree’s
PAID FOR BY DISTRICT COUNCIL 37
cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / ORGANIZED LABOR
CUOMO’S LABOR PAINS
COURTESY EXECUTIVE CHAMBER
By NICK POWELL
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other elected officials from across the state, signed sweeping pension reform legislation in March 2012 that is projected to save more than $80 billion over the next 30 years.
ov. Andrew Cuomo’s relationship with organized labor is best described as complicated. Unlike many statewide Democrats who rely on heavy labor support in elections, Cuomo won his race in 2010 with underwhelming labor support for a politician who fashions himself as a progressive. And while logic would have him relying on union support to help push his legislative agenda and bolster his credentials for a potential run for higher office, Cuomo has taken a somewhat combative stance toward certain sectors of organized labor. Yet simply characterizing Cuomo as pro- or anti-labor would be too reductive—rather, he seems to have a knack for working with the unions that most closely align with his policy agenda, while keeping those that have challenged him at arm’s length. In an interview with The New York Times published shortly before the 2010 gubernatorial election, Cuomo—then the Democratic nominee—asserted that he would not be beholden to the interests of labor, and stated his intentions to reorganize state government, a perceived slight to the public sector unions. Referring to the lobbying power of the private-sector unions during budget season, Cuomo told the Times: “We’ve seen the same play run for 10 years. The governor announces the budget, unions come together, put $10 million in a bank account, run television ads against the 22 AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
governor. The governor’s popularity drops; the governor’s knees weaken; the governor falls to one knee, collapses, makes a deal.” Cuomo added in the interview that he was already preparing himself for the showdowns with labor that he would inevitably face as governor. He reportedly sent some labor leaders copies of former Gov. Hugh Carey’s biography, which details how Carey worked with union heads to help rescue the state’s finances in the 1970s—a gesture that would seem to indicate a desire by Cuomo to engage in a collaborative relationship with labor. He also said that one insight he gleaned from Carey’s tenure as governor was his ability to use a crisis as a means to power. When it comes to Cuomo’s often tense relationship with the public sector, the “power” dynamic is impossible to ignore. “It’s a complex relationship—I made this point going back to the Mario Cuomo era— to many of our members, the governor is the boss,” said Steve Madarasz, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest state worker union, representing 66,000 employees. “There’s a different dynamic in the relationship there than you would have with other unions where he just happens to be the chief executive of the state.” The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Cuomo’s battles with the public sector began before he even set foot in the governor’s mansion. When then Gov. David
Paterson proposed eliminating as many as 2,000 jobs from the state workforce, unions like CSEA and the Public Employees Federation, which also represents a large plurality of state workers, were naturally up in arms. Upon taking office, Cuomo went a step further, floating layoff numbers as high as 10,000 to 15,000 as part of an effort to downsize state government and help close a large budget deficit. These layoffs would have been the biggest since his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, laid off thousands of state workers in 1990. While Cuomo would eventually avert the layoffs by agreeing to new contracts with both the CSEA and PEF, there were wounds opened in that fight that still have not healed. The continued tension stems from these unions’ perception that they were strong-armed into acquiescing to Cuomo’s contract proposals in order to avoid job losses, according to representatives from both unions. Susan Kent was elected president of PEF not long after the dispute over the proposed layoffs in part because the union’s members felt that the terms agreed upon were unfavorable. She pledged to be a much tougher negotiator when PEF’s contract expires in two years. “[The 2011 negotiating session] in no way resembles what I believe a negotiation should be,” Kent said. “We will be negotiating in two years, and what we will do will be much different. We will not be bullied and treated in the way that the governor
and his people did in the last contract negotiation.” The animosity between the executive chamber and the public sector worsened when Cuomo proposed Tier VI pension reform during the 2012 legislative session, which, among other measures, introduced a voluntary defined pension contribution plan similar to the 401(k)s commonly offered to nonunion employees, raised the retirement age and reduced the percentage of a worker’s salary that can be collected through a pension. Cuomo touted Tier VI as a necessary cost-saving reform—to the tune of as much as $80 billion over the next 30 years—though its passage left a bad taste in the mouths of public unions. Many national organizations ran advertisements against Tier VI, including the CSEA’s parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, as well as the state AFL-CIO, which represents both public and private-sector unions. Still, some political observers felt that the magnitude of organized labor’s reaction to pension reform was incommensurate with the impact of the legislation. “One way the union leaders show that ‘I’m standing up for you’ is to spend gobs of union money on ads attacking anybody who would dare touch the pensions of future union members even though they know: (A) no current union member will be touched, and (B) not even the new members will be much worse off than you were,” said E.J. McMahon, a senior fellow
ORGANIZED LABOR / ISSUE SPOTLIGHT for tax and budgetary studies at the Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute. “You have to cut through the way they react [compared with] what’s happening.” Cuomo has also incurred the wrath of New York State United Teachers, the statewide teachers’ union, as a result of his having won passage in 2011 of a controversial measure to cap state property taxes. The law forces school districts to win the support of 60 percent of voters if they want to increase the portion of their budget that comes from property taxes by more than 2 percent. While state officials hailed the cap as an imperative relief measure for upstate taxpayers, who send half of their property taxes to local school districts, NYSUT argued that the tax cap will force thousands of layoffs and severely curtail school budgets. The union filed a lawsuit challenging the law earlier this year. “In challenging the constitutionality of the tax cap, we are fighting for that principle, just as we are fighting for the democratic principles of ‘one person, one vote’ and for the right of citizens, through local control of their schools, to determine for themselves how much they want to spend on their own community’s schools,” NYSUT President Richard Ianuzzi said in a statement. The governor’s working relationship with private-sector unions has been markedly different, and has exposed emerging divides within the labor movement. After the governor launched an advertisement campaign against the public sector unions over pension reform with the help of the Committee to Save New York, a coalition of business leaders that support Cuomo’s agenda, the Times revealed that some of the committee’s largest donors were private building trades unions. Buildings and construction workers’ unions have reaped the benefits of the governor’s commitment to public works projects, most notably winning a project labor agreement from the state Thruway Authority to rebuild the Tappan Zee Bridge. “[The governor] has been very responsive to the concerns that we’ve had,” said Paul Fernandes, the chief of staff of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. “In negotiating project labor agreements, it saves taxpayers money and it helps put our members to work.” McMahon argued that the Cuomo administration has been overly generous with giveaways to the private-sector unions. “This administration has been aggressive in pushing union prerogatives in public works projects,” McMahon said. “In terms of private-sector labor, that’s what they get as political lobbying organizations. The general health of the economy upstate is not being helped by the policies of the Legislature and the governor the last few years, and they ultimately will suffer with everyone else, but in terms of [the unions’] agendas as organizations, I’d say they’re doing fine.” Other private-sector unions such as
the Hotel Trades Council and 1199 SEIU have also enjoyed solid relations with the governor, with HTC being instrumental in getting upstate casino legislation passed— for which they also received a project labor agreement—and 1199 SEIU collaborating with state officials in overhauling New York’s Medicaid system. So how will this dichotomy between Cuomo’s relationship with private and public sector unions play out should he seek higher office? Labor insiders acknowl-
edge that Cuomo may have some difficulty garnering the support of organized labor in a national race, considering that representatives of CSEA and NYSUT will surely have the ear of their national organizations, AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers, respectively, over their difficulties with Cuomo as governor. Others take the view that as long as Cuomo wins re-election in 2014 and continues to stay the course in improving the state economy and passing fiscally
responsible budgets, the rest will take care of itself. “If he continues to fix the state of New York’s economy, if he continues to pass responsible, on-time budgets, it’s good for him politically,” said Evan Stavisky, a statewide political consultant. “The nature of his relationship with labor unions is sort of secondary to that. It’s more the core Andrew Cuomo brand, which is making New York State government function again.”
“Special” employees who pay no state income tax?
Gov. 1% is at it again.
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
8958_Tax Free 1% 7.458x10 CS.indd 1
6/13/13 cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 20139:36 AM 23
ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / ORGANIZED LABOR
WORK IT OUT : NEW YORK’S LABOR-MANAGEMENT STALEMATE By ADAM JANOS
24 AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
n New York City, every public employee union is working under expired contracts. From firefighters to teachers to police officers, it’s a management-labor impasse the likes of which the city hasn’t seen since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. According to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, this isn’t entirely a bad thing from the city’s perspective. “My successor will enter negotiations with enormous leverage, because union leaders will have gone about four years without new contracts, and that has never happened before,” Bloomberg said in a speech earlier this month. New York City isn’t the only municipality in this predicament. So too are places like Yonkers, Syracuse and Jamestown. According to Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors, the number of towns and cities in the Empire State with employees working under expired contracts is reaching an alltime high. “I’ve been in the Conference of Mayors over 25 years,” Baynes told City & State. “I’ve never seen it as prevalent as it is right now.” Assigning blame in the stalemate between labor and municipalities depends largely on political convictions, but the cause of the stalemate appears more clear-cut. Municipal revenue streams have slowed to a trickle. In upstate cities like Syracuse, manufacturing jobs have dwindled and left behind pockets of poverty in city centers. James Parrott, of the left-leaning Fiscal Policy Institute, said that the relationship between state and local government is at the heart of the labor strife. Medicaid is a nationwide federal-state program, with the country and the state splitting the bill, but New York is unusual in that the state’s portion of the bill is split between state and local government. When cities become poorer, their Medicaid populations (and costs) go up while tax revenue falls. “The state needs to revamp its fiscal relationship with localities in New York,” Parrott said. “That involves further lessening the Medicaid burden.” Aside from Medicaid, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature passed a 2 percent property tax cap in 2011 aimed at protecting upstate residents and business owners from the steeply climbing costs of living. The cap, which is being lowered to 1.66 percent for 2014, keeps city governments from leaning too hard on those who choose to stay in a slumping, shrinking part of the state. But it also cuts off one more potential source of revenue for city governments short on options. Combine
Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has questioned the objectivity of arbitration boards that help settle municipal labor contract disputes.
that with the 2008 financial crisis, and New York’s cities are facing their toughest test in a generation. As for the lack of labor contracts, fiscal conservatives and city government representatives generally claim that state labor laws disincentivize unions from going to the table to hammer out new deals during prolonged economic slumps. Under the 1982 Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law, the terms of an expired union contract remain in place until the next contract is decided upon, including all benefits and any automatic pay increases in the lapsed contract. If union leaders recognize that the economic climate will bring about municipal belt tightening, they may stick with the last deal. “We’ve never experienced such a prolonged recession with disinflationary tendencies,” said E.J. McMahon, of the conservative Manhattan Institute. “Government, especially employee compensation, it’s basically tuned to run on high-octane fuel. And now local governments are sputtering because they
haven’t had these prolonged bursts of revenue growth.” Also among the causes of the “sputtering” are significant provisions for pensions and healthcare benefits, both flashpoints for debate in the showdown over new contracts. According to Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner’s office, pension invoices in her city have grown from $1.9 million in the 2001–02 fiscal year to over $24 million in 2011–12. In the same period, healthcare costs have more than doubled from $16.4 million to $37.5 million. Mayor Bloomberg has cited similar concerns. Further complicating labor negotiations is Compulsory Binding Arbitration (CBA), a mechanism to settle labor disputes between uniformed employees and municipalities. Arbitration boards are made up of a panel of three arbitrators: one appointed by city management, one by labor and one arbitrator mutually agreed upon by both interests. For those unions working with CBAs, benefits and pay have outpaced the unions that don’t have arbitration boards to help settle
disputes—leading some, including Miner, to call into question the objectivity of the arbitration process. “Neutral arbitrators tend to look at what other arbitration decisions are and follow those,” Miner told City & State. “They want to keep their jobs as arbitrators, and so they want to have good relationships with unions. Mayors change all the time, but the union leadership sticks around a lot longer. In basic layman’s terms, you have a neutral arbitrator with a credit card, and the bill goes to someone else.” To combat this scenario, Cuomo reformed binding arbitration this year to demand arbitrators more heavily weigh municipalities’ ability to pay the salary increases that the arbitrators mandate with their decisions. While Miner calls the reform a “step in the right direction,” she questions whether the measure is strong enough to resolve the problem. In the small city of Beacon, Mayor Randy Casale resolved his impasse with uniformed labor through a series of moves including restructuring healthcare benefits and overriding the 2 percent property tax cap to help bring in additional revenue. In other localities like Auburn, decreased city budgets have led to layoffs in the fire department. But New York City and Syracuse are not like Auburn; the idea of laying off police and firefighters in a high-density urban environment during times of financial distress could be a recipe for higher crime rates. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, Detroit—a cautionary tale of unaffordable labor costs and municipal bankruptcy—has the highest violent crime rate in the country. Stockton, Calif., which is also facing bankruptcy, has the seventh highest rate. For Miner, the answer isn’t in any one policy; she insists that a longer, more difficult conversation is in order. “[Cuomo] could convene a meeting and require the big five mayors to present four-year projections and spending plans,” she said. “Ask the heads of the unions to also participate. Bring in the representatives for retirees. You could start with four-year projections for New York City, Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, and say, ‘Where are we going? And how do we prevent Detroit from happening?’ ’’ In Syracuse, Miner said, “If nothing changes, we’re talking three years [until bankruptcy]. I haven’t talked to a mayor or county executive who has a good four-year projection.”
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ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / ORGANIZED LABOR
SCORECARD: ORGANIZED LABOR THE PLAYERS THE UNIONS: Organized labor unions continue to play a big role in New York’s political world. Among the key private unions are 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union and the Hotel and Motel Trades Council. All four unions play a big role in moving legislation and influencing policy, and are expected to have a meaningful impact in the coming citywide election, with 32BJ, RWDSU and HTC endorsing Christine Quinn for mayor. 1199, the city’s largest union, has a reputable ground operation and a large minority membership that should be a boon to their endorsed candidate, Bill de Blasio. Communication Workers of America Local 1109 is also backing de Blasio, though CWA Local 1180 is backing John Liu. Liu also has the support of DC 37, the city’s largest municipal union. Among the public sector unions, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which is backing Bill Thompson, will bring serious clout to the citywide races as well. Statewide, unions like New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the
26 AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Civil Services Employees Association (CSEA), and the Public Employees Federation (PEF) have a major voice legislatively, and will likely have a real impact on the 2014 gubernatorial and congressional midterm elections. Other umbrella organizations like the New York City Central Labor Council, New York State AFL-CIO and Building and Construction Trades Council also wield significant clout. The Working Families Party is closely allied with unions, and its support is coveted by progressive candidates across the state. The political action group Jobs for New York, which combines the interests of the Real Estate Board of New York with several private sector unions, including the Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 and the New York City District Council of Carpenters is expected to play a major role in this year’s New York City Council elections through its independent expenditures.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s relationship with organized labor has soured, especially during his third term. His legal challenge to legislation establishing a living wage law and his recent victory in state Supreme Court striking down the prevailing wage bill have made him enemies in the labor community. Since former deputy mayor Kevin Sheekey left for the private sector in 2009, the administration has not had a single point person for labor issues. James Hanley, the city’s commissioner of labor relations, represents the mayor in any negotiation with labor that affects the city. Mike Nelson chairs the Council committee on labor, but is term-limited after this year. Other Council members with close ties to labor include the outgoing Letitia James, who won her seat on the Working Families Party line, and Speaker contender Melissa Mark-Viverito. Current Speaker Christine Quinn plays a pivotal role in all wage and labor-related issues, and made headlines for finally passing paid sick leave legislation.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not have one key player within his administration that deals with organized labor, delegating to administration officials such as Executive Deputy Secretary Joe Percoco or Secretary to the Governor Larry Schwartz, depending on the nature of the issue. Peter Rivera is the state labor commissioner and has been integral to helping Attorney General Eric Schneiderman crack down on unemployment insurance fraud. Diane Savino, who enjoys good relationships with many labor unions, is the chair of the Senate Labor Committee, while Carl Heastie chairs the Assembly Labor Committee. Other lawmakers with strong ties to labor include Assemblymen Keith Wright and Peter Abbate, and state Sen. Joseph Robach, who preceded Savino as chair of the Labor Committee. Schneiderman and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli are also seen as key labor allies.
ORGANIZED LABOR / ISSUE SPOTLIGHT THE ISSUES
GET EARNED MEDIA
OUTSTANDING MUNICIPAL CONTRACTS: Not long after New York City’s next mayor is sworn in, he or she will immediately have to address the outstanding contracts of the city’s public sector unions. None of the major unions representing city employees has a current contract—some have been without one since 2008—and the mayor’s budget sets aside little money for wage increases for city workers. Pay increases promised to public schoolteachers and administrators in bargaining sessions from 2008 to 2010 have not been delivered, heightening tensions between the UFT and the Bloomberg administration that continued to flare with the recent impasse over teacher evaluations. Factoring in the desired retroactive raises, the cost of settling these contracts will be astronomically high, and the city will have to get creative in bargaining sessions to satisfy the public unions. A resolution likely hinges on the approach of the next administration. Labor insiders say that the lines of dialogue with the various mayoral candidates have been open, and a few have even hinted that the unions will have to make major concessions in negotiations. Some feel that a new mayor will want to prioritize sitting down with larger unions such as the UFT and the police and firefighters’ unions in order to set a pattern for negotiations as well as to mend fences with kingmakers who can alter a mayor’s chances for re-election.
LOW-WAGE ORGANIZING: Last fall and winter, a spate of strikes in the fast food and car wash industries prompted many labor organizations to get involved and help workers in these areas advocate for better wages. The median hourly pay of fast food workers—most of whom are in their 20s or older, and many of whom are parents—is less than $9 for front line workers and just above $9 when shift supervisors are included. With the help of unions like SEIU, fast food workers are pushing for a $15 per hour wage and the right to organize without retaliation. Thousands of one-day fast food strikes have happened in New York and around the country this year during peak mealtime hours and with the backing of unions and community advocacy groups, with the aim of influencing federal and state lawmakers to take action. Organizing by car wash workers has been going on for slightly longer than the fast food strikes, sparked by reports of poor working conditions at car wash facilities, including unpredictable schedules, long hours and low pay. Efforts at unionizing have been backed by the RWDSU, which has had solid success in getting employees from several local city car washes to join their union. Still, car wash workers are pushing for state and city hearings on improving their working conditions, and it remains to be seen whether they will get their chance.
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FAST FACT: New York is the only state that still has the Scaffold Law, a controversial measure that makes property owners and contractors liable for “gravity-related” injuries on construction sites, regardless of the worker’s responsibility for the accident.
UNION CASH – A selection of some of the biggest campaign contributions from organized-labor groups to New York City elected officials and candidates in 2013. 1199 SEIU – Christine Quinn: $3,950 RWDSU – John Liu: $1,150 UFT – Antonio Reynoso, Ritchie Torres: $2,750 32BJ SEIU – Laurie Cumbo: $1,000 Mason Tenders’ District Council – Andrew King, Jessica Lappin: $2,750 DC 37 – John Liu: $4,150 AFSCME – Olanike Alabi, Ritchie Torres: $2,700 UFA – Sal Albanese: $4,950 PBA – Vincent Ignizio: $1,000 cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
“If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar... All that harms labor is treason to America.” — Abraham Lincoln
28 AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
ORGANIZED LABOR / ISSUE SPOTLIGHT
THE ROUNDTABLE Diane Savino
New York State Senator, Chair of Senate Committee on Labor
New York State Assemblyman, Chair, Assembly Labor Committee
Manhattan Regional Director, National Labor Relations Board
New York City Councilwoman, Public Advocate Candidate
Q: What are the key issues facing organized labor? DS: While there are broad issues that affect all labor organizations—like income security, maintaining gains and benefits, protecting retirement security— there are many individual and unique challenges facing the various sectors. The battle over Tier VI should serve as a wakeup call to all of us in labor that the only way to prevent further erosion and build toward a stronger future for workers is to go back to our roots: workers banding together for mutual aid and protection. We are seeing growth in nonorganized sectors, car washes and fast food; it is incumbent upon all of us to see to it that these workers are organized into a strong union. Legislating improvements in terms and conditions for workers is fine, but nothing protects workers like a strong viable union. Friendly legislators come and go, but the union is forever. Q: Are you optimistic that farmworkers’ rights legislation might pass the Senate this coming session? DS: Very optimistic ... [I] just recently spoke before the New York State Farm Bureau, the first labor chair to do so, and I put out my reasoning behind the need for the farmworkers’ bill of rights and was generally well received. Many of the members of the Farm Bureau now see a way to come to the table to help in crafting legislation that will benefit all. I plan to make farm visits this fall so that I have a better understanding of the “employer” side of the issue and proceed from there at the beginning of next session. Q: What is being done to address the shrinking public sector in New York? DS: I am definitely concerned, because as I have always said, just because the workers go away does not mean the work does, particularly in our 24/7 facilities. How will cuts affect overtime? How many hours without relief can workers [endure] servicing a needy population before something tragic happens? The administration has said that the most recent rounds of closures will not result in layoffs; that through other placements and attrition layoffs will be avoided. The question is how realistic will these placements be if workers will be asked to be uprooted and move far from their current homes?
Q: What unpassed labor legislation might resurface in 2014? CH: Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan’s Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act. The bill would grant collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits to farmworkers. Another bill that will definitely surface in 2014 is the New York State Fair Pay Act. Essentially this is a pay equity bill that will ensure that employees are paid equally for comparable work no matter their gender, race or natiaonal origin. Of course, there are exceptions for seniority and merit. Q: How can we address rising pension costs for public sector workers? CH: We need to make sure every employee who has paid into the system receives the benefits they have worked for. Public pension programs maintain quality of life for seniors and retirees who have worked hard and earned their retirement funds. The promises of a pension can go a long way in keeping quality people in the state. Throughout the years my colleagues and I have passed legislation that will not only secure the future of New York’s workforce but ... will save the state at least $80 billion in the next 30 years. An additional boost for us is that New York State’s Common Retirement Fund is well managed and earned double digit returns [on its investments] in 2012–13. Q: State unemployment insurance benefits haven’t changed in 14 years. Any chance of an increase? CH: As chairman of the Labor Committee I negotiated on behalf of every New Yorker who has found themselves on the employment rolls. My colleagues and I were able to make sweeping changes to the state’s unemployment insurance system, which allow increases to unemployment insurance that gradually increase to 50% of the average weekly wage (AWW) in 2026. Thereafter, the bill indexes the benefit to 50% of the AWW on an annual basis. New York State’s maximum unemployment benefit has been the same since 2000, and it hasn’t kept pace with inflation. The agreement reached in the budget will ensure that the maximum benefit for unemployment never falls so far out of touch with the needs of New York’s working families.
Q: What is the National Labor Relations Board and what are your duties as regional director? KF: The NLRB is an independent federal agency that protects the rights of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions. The NLRB was created in 1935 to enforce the National Labor Relations Act, to conduct workplace elections and investigate unfair labor practices by employers and unions. As the regional director in Region 2, I am responsible for the enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act in the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx; and in Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties. Q: The CWA has had an ongoing dispute with Cablevision over their efforts to unionize. What is the status of their complaints filed with the NLRB? KF: A trial has been scheduled to begin on September 16, 2013. The case is being tried before a NLRB administrative law judge in Region 29, under the authority of Regional Director James G. Paulsen. Region 29 covers the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, along with Nassau and Suffolk counties. Q: The NLRB has received criticism for how long it takes the board to address labor complaints. Is anything being done to streamline this process? KF: Yes. The NLRB prioritizes and streamlines case processing in [regard to] unfair labor practice charges which have a substantial impact upon the parties, employees and the public. We have a goal to complete an investigation and decide these cases within seven weeks of their being filed. In cases found to have merit, the region considers the need for seeking immediate injunctive relief in federal district court. In all cases involving discharges in initial organizing cases and first contract disputes, the NLRB acting general counsel has a streamlined approach for deciding these cases. In appropriate instances the case is sent to the board with a recommendation that injunctive relief be sought within a very short timetable. In every case, however, the parties are entitled to due process, and that requires that we take the time necessary to examine the facts and make determinations about the law.
Q: Were you surprised by the state Supreme Court’s decision to strike down New York City’s prevailing wage law? LJ: I was surprised. I don’t believe that requiring recipients of city subsidies to pay building service workers a prevailing wage contradicts New York State’s power to set the minimum wage; specifically since the law leaves deciding power with the comptroller. The municipal unions are all hoping for new contracts under a new administration. Q: Do you expect a protracted battle? LJ: I would hope for—and push for— contracts to be finalized early on under the next administration. Now would be the time for organized labor to push for their members’ interests with all the mayoral candidates—and they know that. No potential mayor wants to begin his or her tenure with a union battle. The next administration certainly needs to demonstrate more sensitivity and support to public workers. Q: What are some other issues facing organized labor in New York City? LJ: The same issues that are facing municipal workers everywhere: maintaining their jobs, benefits and salaries in political environments that are increasingly hostile to their very existence. When I first came to the City Council, I pushed for developers to provide jobs to community members in every project. Now I push for jobs that teach skills that are transferrable to union positions. As elected officials we have gone from talking only about the “unemployed” to talking about the “underemployed.” We need to connect— in the public consciousness—the issue of underemployment to the privatization of what were formerly public and unionprotected careers. When I chaired the Council’s Contracts Committee, I asked the deputy mayor to look into what the administration could do in the next 10 or 15 years to train municipal workers to work on some of the technology projects the city contracts out. Recently, when the school bus drivers were on strike, the administration came before the Council and misrepresented the city’s legal ability to bargain with Local 1181. There are major issues that need to be examined, but the first step is a mayoral administration that isn’t at best adversarial to organized labor. cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
No Sure Bet
Four casinos are in the cards for New York—or are they? By ADAM JANOS
n July 30 Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act into law. Should voters approve it by popular referendum in the November general election, four new full-scale casinos would be built, spread out over three parts of the state: the Catskills/ Hudson Valley, the Capital Region/ Saratoga and the Central-Southern Tier. New York City, the suburban counties directly north of the city and Long Island will remain off-limits to casino development for a period of seven years. Meanwhile, the rest of the state is disqualified from new full-scale gaming under exclusivity zones negotiated with the Seneca, Oneida and St. Regis Mohawk Indian Nations in Western New York, Central New York and the Adirondack region, respectively. In exchange for exclusivity, the tribes have agreed to share their own casino profits with the state and to remain neutral in the state referendum battle. According to the latest Siena College poll taken of registered voters on Aug. 12, 49 percent of New Yorkers support allowing non-Indian, Las Vegas-style casinos to be built in New York, with 42 percent against and 9 percent undecided. Those numbers have largely remained unchanged since Siena began polling the question last August. Karl Sleight, an attorney for the firm Harris Beach who specializes in the racing and gaming industry, is optimistic the measure will pass. According to Sleight, without Indian nation opposition, “You’re really left with the opponents who oppose casinos for social reasons, and they’re usually not well funded, or funded by someone who has [outside] interests in it being defeated. That [alliance] doesn’t seem to be coalescing at this time.” State Sen. John Bonacic, chair of the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, also feels confident, though when informed of the polling immediately asked if it were a poll of only New York City voters or the whole state of New York. (It was the latter.) With New York City’s mayoral race looming, citywide voter turnout is expected to be up this November. And while some larger upstate cities like Syracuse, Buffalo and Albany will also have mayoral contests, the fact that there are no statewide races this year means upstate New York’s voter turnout will likely be depressed. As a result, New York City voters 30 AUGUST 19, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
who have little to gain from casino development in Saratoga could largely decide the casino referendum. While the heavily taxed casinos may help bring in revenues to assist with educational aid and property tax relief statewide, the areas slated for casinos will get the added benefit of thousands of private sector jobs in regions of New York sorely aching for economic opportunities. According to the New York Gaming Economic Development Act, four licenses are up for grabs in three regions, and each region is guaranteed at least one; by that math, one region could get two casinos.
1860s. Unless, of course, local politics intervene. “Saratoga is the most logical place, but the conversation could change, and the question could be based on the mayor of Albany,” Sleight said. “Gaming is a highly regulated industry: Of all the industries, nuclear is the most regulated, healthcare is second and then gaming is a close third.” Meanwhile, in the Southern-Central Tier, the early front-runner appears to be Tioga Downs, a racetrack and racino in Nichols. Jeff Gural, owner of the establishment, thinks his site fits the profile because
“You’re really left with the opponents who oppose casinos for social reasons, and they’re usually not well funded, or funded by someone who has [outside] interests in it being defeated. That [alliance] doesn’t seem to be coalescing at this time.” Conventional wisdom in the industry suggests that the Catskills/Hudson Valley will be the destination for the extra facility. The region’s combination of proximity to greater New York City and pre-existing tourism infrastructure makes it an ideal place for the “resort destination” casinos that Cuomo’s plan envisions, and the high rate of unemployment (e.g., 8.2 percent in Sullivan County as of June 2012, according to the New York State Department of Labor) suggests that local governments in the area would embrace the economic opportunity with open arms. According to Bonacic, who represents the region, “heavy hitters” with deep pockets have shown interest in the Catskills. Empire Resorts, the owner of the Monticello Raceway, has partnered with EPR Properties to invest $300 million into restoring the Concord Resort Hotel to create a gaming destination. Other potential sites include former Borscht Belt megaresorts like the Nevele Grande Hotel in Ellenville and Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel in Liberty. In the Capital Region, Saratoga Springs seems the likeliest location for a casino, given the long tradition of gambling in the city. Saratoga Casino and Raceway is the oldest video slot parlor in the state, and the Saratoga Race Course has been drawing racing enthusiasts to the region since the
so much of the logistical legwork has already been done to establish the current gaming site. That is to say, he already has video gambling and racing; now it would just be a matter of adding in the table games and some amenities. “We have plans and approvals in place to expand into a casino, a spa, and we have the support of the community. We already have a license,” he said, adding that while “you could argue that Nichols, New York, isn’t where you want to be,” he is ready to “turn [Tioga Downs] into a casino in six months. I have all my approvals, all my environmental [requirements]. I’m ready to go, and expect to start construction immediately. The governor and the people of New York are not looking for jobs in 2019; they want them in 2014.” Still, of the three regions, the SouthernCentral tier seems vulnerable to emerging with a sleeper candidate for its regional bid. Stretching northward from the Pennsylvania border, the zone of development extends to Seneca County and Route 14 in western Wayne County on Lake Ontario, about halfway between the metropolitan areas of Rochester and Syracuse. “I don’t think when people draw maps in New York that anything is done unintentionally,” Sleight said. “Very rarely is something like that done by accident.” As for Rochester or Syracuse hosting a
casino, the exclusivity zones drawn around the Indian Nations’ casinos prohibit it. In fact, none of the five biggest cities in New York (New York City, Yonkers, Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse) will be in a zone eligible to develop a casino under the law that was passed, despite the potential profits that would come from putting a casino in an urban environment with a large built-in population. It’s also unclear exactly how much casino development the state will attract; New York will tax between 37 percent and 45 percent of a casino’s gross earnings after payout on slot machines in the three regions, and 10 percent of the gross from table games. By contrast, the effective tax rates on casinos in New Jersey and Nevada are 9.5 percent and 8 percent, respectively. “We’d all like to have the ridiculously low tax rates of Atlantic City or Nevada, but those days are over,” Gural said. “The government is interested in revenue, and when those were established they gave them a low tax rate because that was the only reason to invest in those areas. I think the tax rate [here] is fair.” With the state’s relatively high tax rate, it is ultimately unclear which investors will come to build casinos, and where the proposals will be targeted. But even talking about investors and sites is premature, asserted James Featherstonhaugh, the New York Gaming Association’s president. “It’s hard for anybody to be really predictive right now, because no one has seen the criteria that the gaming commission will put together after the referendum passes,” Featherstonhaugh said. That commission has not even been fully manned yet: Of the seven members that will make up the committee, only four appointments have been filled. Of the three members to be determined, one will be appointed by state Sen. Co–Majority Leader Dean Skelos, one by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and one by the executive branch. With all these unsettled factors—the unapproved referendum, the incomplete commission and the fact that no concrete proposals for sites have yet been submitted—any conventional wisdom about where the next casinos will wind up may be little more than wishful thinking. Which is somewhat fitting. After all, in the world of casinos and gaming, there are no sure bets.
HAS ANYTHING CHANGED? A year after Sandy, are we ready for the next big storm? By WILDER FLEMING
In June Mayor Bloomberg’s office released a $19.5 billion plan with over 250 recommendations for preparing the city in the face of climate change and severe storms. The proposals included building a giant levee to protect Lower Manhattan, creating wetlands along the East River and erecting floodgates along Staten Island. But measures like these would take years to implement. So with hurricane season again upon us, how is New York better equipped to handle the next natural disaster that could arise? The preparations may not be as substantial as we would like, given the short amount of time since Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the eastern seaboard. But government agencies, authorities, utilities and the Army Corps of Engineers have been working nonstop to restore equipment, rebuild beaches and other barriers, harden infrastructure and improve disaster plans in New York City and on Long Island. Con Edison, for example, is investing $1 billion over four years in strengthening its electric grid, and a healthy portion of the work is already completed. As a result of the storm surge being far higher than predicted, the utility had to pre-emptively shut down three of its networks—two in Lower Manhattan and one in Brighton Beach—leaving nearly 250,000 customers without power for days. But Con Edison officials maintain this won’t happen again. “If Sandy were to occur again this year, we would not have an impact to our substations or outages in Lower Manhattan,” said Robert Schimmenti, vice president for engineering and planning at Con Edison. “Our floodwalls were around 12 feet and the surge was predicted for 11 feet, but it actually came to 14 feet. So … we raised our floodwalls, installed additional storm pumps to keep the water out, installed floodgates and raised some other equipment. And we completed all that work by June 1 of this year in preparation for the hurricane season.” Con Edison is also working to prevent the spread of outages caused by isolated damage to the grid. Submersible remote controlled underground switches have been deployed in and around Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, an area affecting some 28,000 customers. Part of their federally funded “smart grid” technology program, these switches can be operated from miles away and will isolate parts of the system at the touch of a button, preventing surging
electricity from spreading throughout the grid. The utility has also installed over 1,000 aboveground “isolation devices,” designed to automatically de-energize when, for instance, a tree falls on overhead wires. These devices—3,000 of which Con Edison is on track to install by the end of the year—also prevent damage from spreading throughout the system, thereby reducing the number of customers with power outages. Electricity in the Rockaways and along the South Shore of Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties is provided by the Long Island Power Authority, whose officials say it will take up to two years to replace all of the damaged equipment. For now only temporary repairs have been made. Protection against this season’s storms comes in the form of “TrapBags,” temporary flood barriers constructed of plastic cellular skins commonly filled with dirt, sand, concrete and other rubble. Part of the permanent construction over the next several years will involve installing new equipment at higher levels, deemed out of reach of floodwaters. In the face of public criticism, both utilities are aiming to improve communications with customers in times of crisis. Both are beginning to deploy electronic tablets to collect information in the field in order to relay it to their respective command centers. “One of the things that we were criticized for, frankly, was that we were still utilizing paper tickets and paper information collecting in the field,” said Nicholas Lizanich, vice president of transmission and distribution at LIPA. “Now those of us who sit in a command bunker somewhere can analyze the data and determine a course of action from this readily available information.” LIPA is working to improve cooperation with municipal and county officials as well, both in the realm of more accurate progress reports and improved coordination among first responders. It has also added hundreds of thousands of customers to its email updates list and hired more personnel to disseminate information. “In the past we’ve struggled with getting information flow from the field, not only because of the way the data was collected but because of the systems that we have,” Lizanich said. “We now have liaisons who will be able to convey the information back to headquarters, so that we will be able to
carve messaging to [go] out to customers and municipal officials, such that we are able to tell customers with more certainty what is going on.” LIPA spent $850 million in Sandy’s aftermath, and it is in the process of allocating another $50 million for further repairs, according to Lizanich. Aside from electricity, public transit is perhaps the most vital factor in keeping New York City’s pulse alive. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s $5.67 billion plan to harden the system, which will involve plugging unnecessary openings to tunnels in places like Lower Manhattan, raising the walls around necessary air vents, relocating equipment to higher ground and installing stairway covers and submarinelike doors in subway entrances, has yet to commence and will take years to complete. (The plan, which will be federally funded, has been passed by the MTA board and is currently under review by the Capital Program Review Board in Albany. Its approval is expected sometime near the end of August.) Other MTA post-Sandy repairs involve disaster mitigation measures. Current repairs to heavily damaged infrastructure in the G and R train tunnels entail the relocation of switches to higher ground, for instance. But New York City Transit officials say their greatest asset in the face of an impending storm is the hindsight they gained from Sandy. “During Sandy we actually covered the level of the surge where we built temporary structures, like at our 148th Street yard,” said Fred Smith, senior vice president and chief engineer for capital program management at NYCT. “That worked well. But here in Lower Manhattan the surge was much higher than expected. Now we have a better handle, more information, from our surveys on additional penetrations and vulnerabilities. We’ve added these to our plan going forward, so we would provide more temporary coverage and closure to these openings.” With regard to disaster plans, the city’s Office of Emergency Management says it is better prepared than ever for the next storm. “Ever since Katrina we’ve been working on a comprehensive citywide disaster plan,” said Kelly McKinney, deputy commissioner for planning and preparedness at OEM. “Irene gave us an opportunity to turn everything on, and then Sandy was when we really activated and implemented
the full range of coastal storm operations. And now we’re about as ready as you can get.” In May City Hall released its “Hurricane Sandy After Action” report, a review of the emergency response operations conducted by the city in the weeks prior to Sandy’s landfall and in its aftermath. In contrast to the mayor’s June report, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” which looked at long-term plans for coastal storms and climate change, “After Action” is concerned with how the city can tighten its emergency response times in the short term. Take, for example, the strategy for supporting New York City’s elderly and special needs populations. Workers are supposed to go door-to-door in devastated areas, handing out food, water and space heaters, asking for information and providing medical assistance when needed. But this initiative didn’t even begin until a couple of weeks after Sandy. “Now we’re prepared to start this operation just as soon as it’s safe to do it,” McKinney said. “It’s really about shortening those time lines, and that’s really the difference across all of our different playbooks.” The OEM has also been busy surveying New Yorkers in an attempt to understand why some people chose to heed calls for evacuation while others did not. “We had the capability to shelter 70,000 people, but we had way, way fewer than that,” he said. “But we have a feeling if there’s another storm coming up the coast, a lot more people are going to seek shelter with us.” OEM is also looking at better ways to accommodate New Yorkers who have lost their homes. Next month OEM will start building stackable interim housing units based on a design drawn from an international competition. The units are an answer to FEMA’s notorious disaster trailers, which McKinney says are too bulky for widespread use in New York City. The city’s Recovery Office has been largely responsible for providing postSandy assistance to homeowners, landlords, renters and businesses, with initiatives like the Build It Back and the Business Recovery Loan and Grant programs. New York City’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, which is largely concerned with preparing the city’s coastline for the consequences of climate change, is outlining strategies to www.cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
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AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL Port Authority’s Pat Foye announces RFP for LaGuardia’s Central Terminal By JON LENTZ and MICHAEL JOHNSON
Planning and Sustainability, which is largely concerned with preparing the city’s coastline for the consequences of climate change, is outlining strategies to protect buildings as well, from the largest skyscrapers right down to private homes. “The city has put in place zoning relief for those who want to elevate their homes or make other resiliency measures in their homes,” said Dan Zarrilli, the city’s newly appointed director of resiliency at OLTPS. “So they’re not limited by ultimate building heights in the zoning code.” Some 60 percent of buildings in flooded areas lay outside the Federal Emergency Management Association’s 1983 100-year floodplain—FEMA was in the process of developing a new map when Sandy hit— and recent projections show sea levels around the Big Apple rising as much as five feet or more by 2100. FEMA’s new 100-year floodplain for New York City covers an area 15 square miles—or 45 percent—greater than the previous one. Across the city 67,700 buildings are now included in this floodplain, 90 percent more than the 1983 map encompassed. Zarrilli said that by 2015 FEMA will have finalized its updated flood maps, which will then be incorporated into the building code. He also notes impending reforms in the national flood insurance program, which will bring risk-based rates into the equation. “Our building chapter lays out a number of incentives, not requirements but market mechanisms so people can make investments that make sense and reduce risk,” he said. “It could mean elevating your mechanical equipment, it could mean somehow protecting equipment in your basement, and this is on top of things that may ultimately be required by FEMA in order to qualify for lower premiums, such as elevating your home.” While looking to achieve as much as the Bloomberg administration can in 2013, Zarrilli admits the city would be hardpressed if a storm with Sandy’s surge were to hit in the next few months. “In certain neighborhoods people could feel very exposed—and having gone through Sandy, I totally get it,” Zarrilli said. “The Army Corps is out pumping sand on the beaches as we speak. There’s repairs going on to floodwalls and tide gates around the city … but it’s important to note that the city did not have much in the way of coastal protections before the storm.” As luck would have it, Sandy is believed to have been an anomaly, a confluence of factors including a high tide and a full moon that isn’t likely to occur again for some time, much less this year. A recent study from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies calculated Sandy to be a 1-in-700 year event. But with sea levels set to rise as much as five feet around the city by 2100, it is not hard to imagine lesser storms doing just as much damage in the future.
Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye speaks at a City & State “Newsmakers” breakfast.
he New York metropolitan area’s three major airports—LaGuardia, JFK and Newark—have some of the worst flight delays in the country. In a recent City & State “Newsmakers” one-on-one interview, Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, outlined efforts he is making to improve the situation. At the event, co-sponsored by Global Gateway Alliance and Tonio Burgos and Associates, and hosted by Silverstein Properties, Foye announced a request for proposals for a new Central Terminal at LaGuardia Airport, the only terminal the Port Authority actually operates in the New York City area. Foye also said that the Port Authority, which has been evaluating private sector bids, planned to start construction on the $3.5 billion project in about a year. “We’ve got a plan,” Foye said. “We will be issuing an RFP sometime later this month. We have prequalified four, I think, world-class bidders for the Central Terminal building. And that RFP I mentioned will go out some time this month, construction will start around this time next year, and that is about a $3.5 billion project.”
Foye said that the project would create a lot of construction jobs, boost economic activity, improve customer experience and increase capacity without adding a new gate or runway. “I am not proud of its condition,” Foye said. “We all fly in and out of it frequently. That’s the terminal that currently accommodates American and United and Jet Blue and some other smaller carriers. It’s obsolete. It serves way more people than it was designed for.” One ongoing challenge Foye also touched on is the struggle over passenger facility charges, which help fund airport capital investments. The $4.50 fee is assessed on airline tickets, and some have called for raising it, perhaps to $8, as federal airport funding is cut. Airlines oppose such a move, which they say would hurt their bottom line. “I think the $220 million we get out of PFCs we are a wise custodian of,” Foye said. “And I think there ought to be a serious debate—it is a discussion we have had with the Global [Gateway Alliance] folks as well as members of the congressional delegation—as to whether the PFC ought to be looked at from a level point of view. Perhaps indexing to inflation is
something some have suggested, and I think that’s something that seriously ought to be looked at by policymakers.” Foye was also asked about the lack of attention to the Port Authority in the New York City mayoral race. The interviewer suggested that the most attention the Port Authority has received was in May, when Republican candidate Joe Lhota called the Port Authority police “mall cops.” “Joe Lhota was a colleague, and I hold him in high regard,” Foye said during the interview, which was held at 7 World Trade Center. “I think he has apologized appropriately for his ‘mall cop’ comments. I will note on the site behind me, 37 members of the Port Authority Police Department were murdered that day along with thousands of other people, so I don’t think I have to defend the Port Authority police and their role here, because I think their service over the last 90-some odd years to the Port Authority speaks for itself. … If your question is, ‘Am I angling for the Port Authority to become a big issue in the mayoral election?’—then, uh, next question.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
By MICHAEL JOHNSON
Last Look is City & State’s daily video segment. Over the past few weeks we have spoken to the four leading candidates for New York City public advocate (above, from left): Letitia James, Reshma Saujani, Cathy Guerriero and Daniel Squadron.
he summer’s two-ring circus of Anthony Weiner running for New York City mayor and Eliot Spitzer running for city comptroller has overshadowed the third citywide race, in which four Democrats are vying to be the next public advocate. The position of public advocate, created in 1993, has often been maligned. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said on multiple occasions that he does not understand what the office does, and during his tenure he has worked with the City Council to dramatically cut the budget for the Public Advocate’s Office, from roughly $6 million to $1.8 million. As the on-camera interviews conducted by City & State elucidated, the four Democratic candidates would take different approaches to overcoming the office’s budget challenges if elected. Brooklyn City Councilwoman Letitia James said she would fight to restore funding, possibly through legal action, arguing that the mayor and City Council have violated the city charter. “The question really should be whether or not the office of public advocate can operate independently of the mayor and of the City Council. And so to that extent, it should be tied to the budget,” James said. “The next public advocate should not be an individual who raises funds from private sources,” she added. James’ comment was a tacit dig at
former Deputy Public Advocate Reshma funds, saying, “You have to take the office Saujani, who has touted her record raising you get.” money for the office through the Fund for Squadron instead focused on utilizing Public Advocacy. Saujani argues that the the existing budget to help those most in fund, a not-for-profit organization incor- need by establishing four departments: porated by the Public Advocate’s office the advocate for the most vulnerable, the in 2002, enables the public advocate to children’s advocate, the accountability proactively create programs aimed at advocate and the housing advocate. helping underprivileged communities. “Within each in our detailed plan ... you “That’s how I built the Dream Fellow- can see ways of really making a difference ship and sent undocumented students to in people’s lives, whether it is people in college. That’s how we did our initiative on the city’s jails, who live in one of the less immigrant entrepreneurs. That’s how we progressive systems in the country, or did our work on foster kids who special educaare in a family tion,” Saujani court caught said. “I raised To watch all of these Last Look in a foster almost an addiinterviews in their entirety, go to system that too tional million cityandstateny.com/video. often moves dollars in too slowly funding—which and doesn’t is a lot given serve them, or our current the way that budget—to help us do that work, and as the city government and bureaucracy the next public advocate I will do the same considers how well it’s serving people’s thing.” needs, not just meeting its own goals, Political newcomer Cathy Guerriero, or housing, where organizing and really a professor at Columbia University, has having a citywide voice for affordability a different take on how to address the and quality is an ongoing challenge,” office’s funding deficiencies. She wants to Squadron said. tap in to New York City’s higher education One similarity among the four canditalent to repopulate the office by building dates was an overarching sense that the a staff of 50 unpaid research fellows, who office could play a vital role in helping the will be supervised by policy professionals. residents of the city by highlighting issues “[We will] put together this policy team that are being ignored and by giving voice so we churn out three-month, six-month, to communities bereft of powerful lobby[and] one-year snapshot studies, so when ists and special interest groups. someone tells me, ‘Cathy, this is the issue,’ City & State asked all of the candiI go, ‘Sit tight, let’s put some teeth around dates specifically about the criticism that that,’ so when I come out I’m not just the New York City Housing Authority has railing to the gods, but I actually have a received for its backlog of repairs and story, a narrative, that’s based on some- overall living conditions. All agreed that thing real,” Guerriero said. more needs to be done, but the candidates State Sen. Daniel Squadron was the articulated differing priorities. only one of the four candidates who did Squadron stressed the importance of not offer a specific plan to raise more the role the office could play in helping the
various tenants’ associations in NYCHA buildings across the city organize in order to speak with one voice, touting the SOUND (Save Our Underfunded NYCHA Developments) Housing campaign he established as a state senator. He is also calling for an end to the public housing authority’s payments to the New York Police Department for policing, which costs more than $70 million a year. James said she would use the office to provide technical assistance to tenants’ organizations, but admitted her plan was contingent on budget funds being restored. She pointed specifically to the “Infield Housing” program, designed to expand public housing to underutilized spaces like parking lots, as a model to emulate, saying she would deploy attorneys, engineers and architects, potentially pro bono, to help develop new low-income housing. One of the more creative approaches to addressing NYCHA came from Saujani, who talked about how her campaign has released a prototype of an app that would serve as a digital “wall of shame” calling attention to the most egregious maintenance requests that have not been fulfilled in NYCHA buildings. Guerriero also pledged to fight to help victims of poor housing, but stressed that the role of the public advocate was limited. She would focus her efforts on fielding complaint calls as the city’s ombudsman, and also pledged to dedicate five members of her research staff to investigate housing conditions and draft reports in order to elevate the discourse on the subject by bringing substantive facts and recommendations to the fore. Since there is no Republican candidate for public advocate, the winner of the Democratic primary—or, more likely, the subsequent runoff election—is all but certain to be the next person to fill the job. cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
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Council Watch BY SETH BARRON
DEFINING AFFORDABILITY DOWN
ho opposes affordable housing? For Democratic candidates, supporting affordable housing is like coming out for better schools or equal rights for women: It is so uncontroversial and obvious that it is almost beside the point. But what does affordability really mean in a city as obsessed and driven by real estate as New York? Taken literally, all housing is affordable because someone can afford to live there: If you can’t afford your apartment, you move somewhere else. As a term of art, of course, affordable refers to housing that is restricted to people whose income falls into certain defined bands keyed to AMI, or “Area Median Income.” The people who fit these criteria can range from the very poor to families earning up to $190,000, as in Manhattan’s Elliott-Chelsea Houses. Many candidates for office and elected officials in the current campaign cycle have used the rhetoric of affordability for political ends, but to what extent do they mean what they say? Marc Landis is a leading candidate to replace Gale Brewer in the 6th Council District on the Upper West Side. An attorney on leave from Phillips Nizer, Landis has an extensive record working on behalf of low-income tenants and for developers of subsidized affordable housing. In 2007 Manhattan Legal Services gave Landis its legal advocacy award for his pro bono work to stop the Salvation Army from evicting residents from its Gramercy Park SRO. The Working Families Party endorsed Marc Landis, and cited his work “fighting for affordable housing and tenants’ rights” as the primary reason for doing so. Assembly Members Linda Rosenthal (“I have stood shoulder to shoulder with Marc working to preserve affordable housing and protect tenants’ rights”) and Richard Gottfried (“no one will be a stronger advocate for protecting tenants”) praise Landis’ commitment to affordable housing in the strongest terms. It is odd, then, that Marc Landis was involved in one of New York’s dirtiest attempts to evict a building’s tenants wholesale. In January 2005 the 21 rent-stabilized tenants of 516 West 174th Street were served with letters from Climate Capital 174, the building’s new owner, informing them they had two weeks to get out, with all their movables. If they left obediently, the notice said, they would receive $1,000 in costs; otherwise they would be put out by force. “GOVERN YOURSELVES ACCORDINGLY,” the letter ended. The building’s previous owner had declared bankruptcy, and had snuck a clause into the bankruptcy agreement canceling all existing leases upon completion of the sale to Climate Capital. When the panicked tenants went before Judge Prudence Beatty, she excoriated the attorneys, whom she accused of “pulling a fast one.” Insisting that she had trusted the lawyers to present the case honestly, she said, “You fooled me, but there is no way I’m going to let you put these people out on the street.” She canceled the bankruptcy agreement and the sale of the building—which eventually took place with the tenants allowed to stay and provisions for a maintenance fund to
ensure that they had heat and hot water, and that repairs were made. Marc Landis was the registered agent for Climate Capital 174, and he notarized the contract of sale for the building. He acknowledges having represented Climate Capital 174 in the purchase and later sale of the building, but says that he had no part in the attempt to evict the tenants, calling the suggestion “ridiculous.” Landis says he had nothing to do with the seller’s bankruptcy, only with the purchase of the property; however, as the bankruptcy plan clearly indicates, “the Plan could not and would not have been confirmed absent approval of the Sale. The Sale is an integral part of the Plan.” So while Landis may not have literally handled the bankruptcy of the seller, he certainly played a substantial role in engineering the greater transaction.
“Politicians’ claims regarding the building and preservation of affordable housing can be hard to verify.” Marc Landis is also deeply involved with his client Tahl Propp, a real estate investment company that has a history of buying publicly subsidized affordable housing at speculative prices, and then converting the properties into condominiums, effectively displacing the existing tenants. In 2007 Tahl Propp received permission to begin demolition and rehabilitation of 305 West 150th Street, while it was still inhabited. The FDNY quickly evacuated the building, declaring it unsafe. The tenants were homeless for at least a year, while the building was upgraded into the high-end rental property it is today. Tahl Propp Operations LLC, Joseph Tahl and members of the Propp family have contributed close to $10,000 to Landis’ Assembly and Council races. Politicians’ claims regarding the building and preservation of affordable housing can be hard to verify. Owing to quirks in memoranda of understanding, federal and state housing regulations, shifting “bands” of income requirements and reliance on developers and other issues, it is easy to obfuscate how effective one has been in achieving the goal of more affordable units. In a few rare cases, however, candidates have boldly taken credit for the development of affordable housing when they had nothing at all to do with it—where it would have been impossible to have had anything to do with it, because the housing doesn’t exist. Corey Johnson, the front-runner to succeed Speaker Quinn in CD 3, has all the major endorsements, including Tenants PAC. Johnson has presented himself as a strong
housing advocate, citing on his campaign website the “thousands” of units of affordable housing that were created or preserved while he was a member of Community Board 4. At a candidate forum recently, Johnson faced some questions about his work for GFI Development, a company that turned a few decaying SROs into luxury hotels in the area around Penn Station. In defending his role as a liaison for the company, Johnson claimed that GFI had made great strides in increasing the availability of affordable housing in Brooklyn, in particular at 470 Vanderbilt Avenue in Fort Greene, and that he had played a crucial role in getting those units built. “When we started off, before I came in, they were going to do 20 percent affordable housing,” said Johnson. “When the rezoning was over, I got them up to 26 percent affordable housing and maximized the number of twobedrooms for people in the community that needed affordable housing.” What Johnson neglected to tell the audience was that, not only was the 26 percent level of affordable housing not met but that zero affordable housing was built at 470 Vanderbilt. In fact, there is no housing there at all. The building was zoned for commercial purposes only, and the part of the property that was intended for residences is a parking lot. Johnson’s solecism reflects the fact that what gets hashed out in land-use negotiations doesn’t necessarily translate into brick-and-mortar reality. There probably were discussions about building affordable housing units, and Johnson—who declined to comment for this column—may have had some kind role in it. But taking credit for plans that never materialized is laying it on a bit thick. Affordability is a term that can cover a lot of sins. Councilwoman Margaret Chin, representing CD 1 in Lower Manhattan, is a longtime housing advocate who, as Michael McKee of Tenants PAC said, “is great on housing rights and terrible on development.” Two years ago the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Hardenbrook-Somarindyck House at 135 Bowery as a landmark. The Federal Era wood-framed structure was built in 1817, and was among the oldest buildings of its kind in New York. Chin originally supported the designation, but later changed her mind and convinced the Council to lift the building’s protected status. The owner of 135 Bowery, a Chinatown bank whose executives were major donors to Chin’s campaign, demolished the 200-year old building in order to build what Chin referred to repeatedly as “affordable office space.” Asked why Chin had changed her mind, her office responded with a statement claiming “the property owner presented a rare opportunity for the creation of below market rate commercial and retail space in the building while preserving much of the building’s character.” Affordable housing is a legal term with actual meaning, though as we have seen it can be open to interpretation or abuse. Affordable office space, however, is practically an oxymoron: There is no such thing outside of rental listings. As for “preserving much of the building’s character,” 135 Bowery was totally demolished, so that was either an empty promise or a sick joke, and the new building is being rented at market rates. Margaret Chin thus takes the rhetoric of affordability to its most absurd and cynical extreme, claiming that the destruction of historic buildings for the profit of her associates is in the service of the public good.
Seth Barron (@NYCCouncilWatch on Twitter) runs City Council Watch, an investigative website focusing on local New York City politics. cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
WE WHO BELIEVE IN FREEDOM CANNOT REST
By MICHAEL BENJAMIN
n the days and weeks since the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Americans, like the proverbial blind men, are misidentifying the elephant in the room. Depending on where you’re standing and which end you grab, racism feels different and is identified differently. This was never more evident than in President Obama’s comments to Jay Leno and his earlier impromptu talk to White House reporters. President Obama, like other commentators, has missed the real issue. Last month Obama called for discussions about “How do we bolster AfricanAmerican boys?” On Jay Leno he said he sought to explain “why this was a particularly sensitive topic for African-American
BY ALEXIS GRENELL
ust days after jumping into the race for New York City comptroller, Eliot Spitzer was interviewed by Susan Arbetter, who asked him: “You solicited prostitution. Does your candidacy send a positive message to women who no longer want to be seen as objects?” Although provocative, the question assumes an attitude about sex work as inherently degrading to women. The theme has been repeated by Spitzer’s opponent, Scott Stringer, and his supporters, as well as by the National Organization for Women. Public advocate candidate Reshma Saujani has even started a campaign called “Up to Us” to oppose candidates like Spitzer and Weiner, claiming, “It’s up to us to stand up to the misogyny and change the conversation so women are empowered.” But whom exactly did Mr. Spitzer victimize with his male privilege? 36 AUGUST 19, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
families … who know the experience of being followed.” Obama spoke of wanting to make sure “we have a conversation to foster better understanding.” Leno agreed with Obama’s approach, saying that Obama didn’t “want to alienate the rest of America.” That’s nonsense. What’s the point of being president if you refuse to lead an uncomfortable conversation? Trayvon Martin’s death wasn’t caused by dysfunction in black families, crime in black neighborhoods, bad schools or “stand your ground” laws alone. The Martin-Zimmerman tragedy is rooted in America’s practice of turning a deliberate blind eye to racism and extrajudicial killing. George Zimmerman was a one-man lynch mob. And that’s why his action resonates so deeply in black America. Fugitive slave hunters, state militias, vigilante mobs, Ku Klux Klan night riders and police officers have been perpetuators of extrajudicial punishment of black men judged to be threats to the “social order.” The National Review’s Andrew McCarthy was only half right when he recently opined that “[Americans] needn’t be blind to slavery and structural racism to understand that 21st century Florida has moved beyond these blights on the nation’s history.”
The truth is, America as a nation hasn’t yet moved beyond the legacy of those awful blights. After devastating riots in the summer of 1967, President Lyndon Johnson impaneled the Kerner Commission to examine the conditions that precipitated the torching of U.S. urban centers. Unfortunately, LBJ rejected the commission’s conclusion that America was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Today America is growing more separate and unequal. We need to have an honest national discussion about race and the effects of institutional racism. A bright and potentially dangerous flame is burning in our souls. While empathetic, Obama, in his reluctance to confront race, impedes the opportunity to foster better, more permanent racial harmony. President Obama, however, can appoint a U.S. truth and reconciliation commission to examine these blights on our nation’s history, psyche and institutions. A truth and reconciliation commission could review the evidence of the past 240 years without passion, prejudice, fear or favor. The commission should send to Congress and the states policy recom-
mendations aimed at finally healing and uniting our nation. Race mongers and political demagogues who exacerbate the racial fissures beneath the American sociopolitical landscape must not be allowed to choke off this effort to pursue a serious understanding of race in this country. I was advised by some of my associates against writing this column because of the risk of alienating my readers. As usual, I’ve thrown caution to the wind because I must listen to an inner voice that sings: We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons Becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son. My parents taught me that there are none as blind as those who will not see. And the most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know. As Americans, we must finally resolve to see the elephant in the room with our eyes wide open and release it back into the wild where it belongs. Former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin represented the Bronx for eight years.
ANTI-SPITZER ATTACKS PATRONIZE PROSTITUTES Ashley Dupré, a woman he slept with once, was paid handsomely for their liaison and now owns a boutique in New Jersey where she lives with her fiancé and child. According to the documentary Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Spitzer’s preferred sex partner, “Angelina,” is now a commodities trader and says that her colleagues at the Emperor’s Club VIP were well paid and willing. And Kristin Davis, the “Manhattan Madam” whose connection to Spitzer remains unsubstantiated, worked on Wall Street before providing escorts and is a supporter of legalizing prostitution. Although it’s undeniable that Spitzer caused great personal injury to his family, particularly his wife, it’s hard to claim the same about the women he paid for sex. These are not victims of human trafficking; these are fully empowered and well compensated women who made a socially unpopular choice. Essentially, the “Spitzer as antiwoman” argument is an argument against prostitution, which plays into the stigmatization of women who do sex work. The situation is not unlike the never-ending debate about women who work outside the home versus those who do not. After winning key victories for women’s equality in the 1970s, the feminist movement shifted away from its previous stance that all housework is oppression and instead turned to a rhet-
oric of respect and tolerance for women who choose not to work outside the home. It was a defining moment whereby a movement born of Betty Friedan’s desire for liberation from bourgeois boredom had earned the freedom for women to stay home if they wished. NOW’s accusation that Spitzer and Weiner “mistreat women” and view them as “objects” ignores the fact that their sex partners were willing playmates (with the notable exception of the college-age woman to whom Weiner sent unsolicited photos), just as similar accusations decades earlier invalidated the choices of women who stayed home. Not all women agree, of course. Although she’s supporting Stringer, feminist icon Gloria Steinem told The Wall Street Journal that she doesn’t personally view Spitzer’s actions as a disqualifying factor to his candidacy, describing them instead as “self-destructive” rather than harmful to others. Likewise, polling consistently shows Spitzer’s support among men and women to be nearly identical. Neither an Aug. 9 New York Times/ Siena College poll nor an Aug. 14 Quinnipiac poll showed any gender gap at all. Yet when Lena Dunham, the star and creator of HBO’s hit show Girls, endorsed Scott Stringer, she strongly suggested that Mr. Spitzer was an unsuitable candidate for women, citing the need for “someone
with a record of respecting women and the issues that matter to them.” At root, feminism is about ensuring economic, political and social equality for women. There are plenty of valid reasons not to vote for Spitzer, but his record on women is a weak point of criticism. The employment discrimination cases he pursued as attorney general, the legislation and policies to increase penalties for human trafficking and protect reproductive rights that he implemented as governor, and his history of hiring women for senior positions are a better indication of his views on gender equality than the scandal that eclipsed his career. Frankly, the more relevant debate about prostitution in the comptroller’s race would be whether to legalize, regulate and tax it to create a new revenue stream for New York City, as in Amsterdam or Nevada. However, while the political establishment may be uncomfortable acknowledging sex work and talking about sex, the women whom Spitzer engaged and the broader industry of high-end escorts are not. It seems particularly patronizing to attack Spitzer on their behalf. Alexis Grenell (@agrenell on Twitter) is a Democratic communications strategist based in New York. She handles nonprofit and political clients.
HAVE A QUESTION FOR JEFF? EMAIL EDITOR@CITYANDSTATENY.COM
DO AS I SAY A P O L I T I CA L A DV I C E CO LU M N
whom I reviled as a U.S. senator and attorney general, ultimately made a very courageous decision, standing up to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card regarding a domestic surveillance decision as he lay on what he thought was his deathbed. I try to keep these examples in mind before falling too hard for—or harshly condemning—any politician.
Q By JEFF SMITH
What should you do if you work for a candidate or elected official who doesn’t turn out to be quite who you thought they’d be? I’m not talking about any kind of scandalous behavior but about pols who wind up not being as dedicated to the policies they preach, or candidates who try to present a reformer image but are in fact willing to take money from the “wrong” sorts of people. Should you stay to build up your résumé— and your connections? Or should you try to be true to what you really believe? —D.N., New York City Great question. The answer depends on why you decided to work for the politican in the first place. If you are an idealist who was inspired by the candidate when you first met him/her and thus decided to apply for a job, then I think you should probably leave, since the work appears to be a disheartening, compromising experience. If, on the other hand, you took the job because you saw it as a good way to get where you want to be, then you should probably stay, so long as the job continues to serve that purpose. No candidate is as wonderful as his staunchest supporters imagine or as awful as his fiercest opponents allege. Paul Wellstone, the first politician I ever “fell for,” voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 as he faced a tough re-election battle. While I understood the political context, his vote disappointed me. (He later apologized and said he regretted the vote.) Conversely, John Ashcroft,
So, dude, I’m a former high school teacher and I keep getting Facebook friended by girls I taught who have become WAY hot. So here’s the thing: I’m hoping to run for office next year and my question is, is it okay for me to message them to ask for help with my campaign, or will it totally creep them out? —Hot for Student, Somewhere in the Midwest
So, dude, maybe you haven’t been keeping up with the news, but have you heard of this guy named Anthony Weiner? Yeah, because you make him sound classy. Regarding messaging them: As your FB friends, they will be able to see all of your updates once you announce your campaign, and will be able to decide on their own if they would like to volunteer. But if you’d like to reach out to them to make an individual ask—which is always more effective than a mass update—I’d suggest you do so via a campaign manager or volunteer coordinator. I actually didn’t follow the advice I’m giving—I reached out to many former students personally for campaign help—but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say I wasn’t as creepy as you.
Have you been following the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina? I have, and they got me thinking about something. I know there are a lot of important issues at stake with the protests, but I wanted to ask about the strategic side of it. When the protesters gathered recently, Gov. Pat McCrory came out to give them cookies. Was that a good move, do you think? And do you think protesters should as a rule refuse food/drink in situations like that, even if they are really hungry/ thirsty? —A Carolinian Stranded in NYC
First question: Was it a good move by McCrory? In isolation, no. It’s one thing to bring food as a peace offering to begin a substantive conversation about a disagreement. In fact, I did that once. I was hosting a 3-on-3 basketball tournament/barbecue/community fair and a dozen protesters showed up with handmade signs blaring, “No BBQ, No Basketball, No Racist Jeff Smith!” I offered the protesters barbecue and lemonade, and they were eating so voraciously we could scarcely even hold a conversation. At least they stopped waving the signs. Of course, that may not be the best example since (we soon discovered) the protesters were being paid by my opponent’s father, unlike the Moral Monday protesters, who are clearly passionate and ideologically motivated. The problem is that McCrory did not bring the cookies as a prelude to a conversation. He brought them in lieu of a conversation. And so instead of being perceived as a conciliatory peace offering, the offer seemed condescending and dismissive. Food only works as a bridge to a genuine conversation about people’s differences. Second question: Should protesters accept food/drink in similar situations? I think the above delineation is probably a good guide. That is, protesters should only accept if the sustenance is part of a more substantive effort at reconciliation. As Michael Gecan writes in his organizing manifesto Going Public, the key to effective protests is having a strategy and clear objectives. That means, among other things, bringing food so that you are not operating from a position of weakness, and not having to accept anything from opponents other than that for which you are protesting. For more on the broader importance of dignity during protests under the media’s piercing glare, see Rep. John Lewis’ poignant memoir Walking With the Wind, which describes extensive training for civil rights activists to ensure they never act in any way that could hurt the broader movement. The acceptance or rejection of food is a small part of a protest, but protesters’ small decisions add up to a broader media image that affects a movement’s success or failure, so each decision should be carefully considered. Jeff Smith (@JeffSmithMO on Twitter) is a former Missouri state senator who resigned from office after a felony conviction and served a year in federal prison. Now an assistant professor of politics and advocacy at the New School, Jeff recently co-authored The Recovering Politician’s TwelveStep Program to Survive Crisis. cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
WINNERS & LOSERS
Perhaps this is a good time to review what on the record and off the record mean. On the record means your I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that rant is going in the story. Off the record means we’re going to put your rant in the story somehow. For the record, here are your Winners and Losers.
Go to cityandstateny.com each week to vote.
Week of July 29, 2013
Week of Aug. 5, 2013
WINNERS Bill de Blasio 64% Kathy Sheehan 12% George Pataki 11% Dennis Walcott 7% Tom Prendergast 6%
Tom Prendergast: $1 MetroCards add up for MTA Kathy Sheehan: Dominates in Albany mayoral poll Dennis Walcott: Fund for Public Schools has record year
BY GEORGE! George Pataki: Getting sued for policy decisions is part of any governor’s life. But a lawsuit more than six years after leaving the executive mansion is the situation the former governor found himself in when six convicted sex offenders sued him over his controversial decision to evaluate their mental health and hold them in custody after their prison sentences had ended. A judge ruled that Pataki was not civilly liable.
LOSERS Bill Thompson 37% Barbara Morgan 34% Susan Bruno and John O’Connor 13% Regina Calcaterra 9% Eric Stevenson 7% Susan Bruno & John O’Connor: Charges re: no-show job Regina Calcaterra: Sued 17 times by BoE Eric Stevenson: Holds fundraiser—for his legal defense
YOUR CHOICE Bill Thompson: Thompson continues to puzzle with his position on stop-and-frisk policing, whether appeasing African-American voters or satisfying the law enforcement unions that have endorsed him. He says stop-and-frisk has been abused by the Bloomberg administration, yet he also opposes creating an inspector general and allowing individuals to sue the NYPD over racial profiling. He also made a dicey comparison between the NYPD suspects and George Zimmerman chasing down Trayvon Martin, exploiting a national story to make a headline.
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George McDonald 38% Vito Lopez 24%
YOUR CHOICE Bill de Blasio: The public advocate has gone from treading water in the mayoral race to being neck-in-neck for second place with Bill Thompson in a recent poll, a result of Anthony Weiner’s implosion. How has he done it? Besides not being Weiner, de Blasio gets credit for staying the course and being highly visible on issues that resonate with voters, such as hospital closures and affordable housing. Barring some unforeseen development, it looks like de Blasio is in a three-horse race.
$$ $ CURSES! Barbara Morgan: What exactly is a slutbag? (Looking it up. Whoa!) Unleashing an on-therecord diatribe against a former intern who spilled Weiner campaign secrets, Morgan launched the most shocking rant since Carl Paladino threated to take out Fred Dicker. She had some success in deflecting media attention from her boss, who had a significantly worse week than hers, and tweeting a photograph of a swear jar filled with hundred dollar bills and a Visa card was clever.
Cathy Young 19% Michael Ryan 13% Dagan LaCorte 6% Dagan LaCorte: Back on the ballot Michael Ryan: Board of Elections’ new executive director Cathy Young: First woman to head Senate GOP’s campaigns
YOUR CHOICE George McDonald: While Grandpagate was much ado about nothing, what else could possibly have gotten the media to cover long shot Republican mayoral candidate George McDonald four weeks out from Primary Day? Sure, the crowd seemed to be behind Weiner at the candidate forum where the overblown exchange took place, but the room wasn’t filled with the GOP primary voters who will likely appreciate the 69-year-old Doe Fund founder standing up to the imploding former congressman.
LOSERS John Liu 44% Micah Kellner 41% Joseph Bruno 7% Kristin Davis 5% John King 3% Joseph Bruno: New bribery case okayed Kristin Davis: Busted for selling prescription drugs John King: Failing students
BI-CREEPY Micah Kellner: At least he appears to be an equal opportunity pervert. The Joint Commission of Public Ethics will open an investigation into claims that Kellner sexually harassed both a male and a female employee in 2009. An attorney for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver who did not act on the complaint has been fired and Kellner apologized for his behavior, but an ethics probe could derail his City Council hopes and leave him in the wilderness in the Legislature.
PHOTO OP Vito Lopez: Which politician in New York could photoshop Hillary Clinton into his campaign materials and face almost no repercussions? Welcome to the Vito Lopez Zone, where we are no longer surprised by anything he does—or that it will have any effect on his electability. Lopez dismissed questions that he doctored a photograph with Clinton at a rally, saying they often appeared together. Then he got $88,000 in taxpayer-funded funds for his Council campaign. What’s next: the speakership?
$ YOUR CHOICE: John Liu: Liu’s mayoral campaign was dealt a major blow when the Campaign Finance Board denied Liu public matching funds of as much as $3.5 million because of fundraising violations resulting in the conviction of two of his former aides. While the CFB may have been heavy-handed, defending his aides did Liu no favors. He needed the matching funds to stay competitive. Now he’ll likely be deciding where to steer his devoted Asian-American following for the runoff—if not sooner.
A Q&A WITH WILLIE COLÓN Few mayoral candidates have a Grammy-winning trombonist writing jingles for their campaigns. But Bill Thompson has salsa legend Willie Colón composing paeans in his corner. Colón spoke with City & State reporter Aaron Short about the problems of stopand-frisk police tactics, his feud with the late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, and why he doesn’t mind that Big Pun and Jay-Z sample his music in their rap songs. The following is an edited transcript. City & State: When did you first meet Bill Thompson, and why are you supporting him for mayor this year? Willie Colón: It must have been back in 2000. I met him at a couple of political things. He seemed to be a pretty humble, levelheaded kind of guy. I was impressed. He’s a sweet guy. Through the years I’ve known him to be a rock. He’s got a lot of stamina and he’s shown a lot of integrity in the way he behaves. I think with his history and the kind of work he’s done as an executive or administrator— he’s not a legislator. He’s got the Board of Education experience, as comptroller he understands the economics. You don’t have to explain the minority thing; he’s lived it. He’s got what it takes to humanize the city again. C&S: What do you think are the most important issues of the campaign? WC: Stop-and-frisk has really loomed large; education is really important. I think stop-and-frisk, the police state situation we’re living in in New York. C&S: What issues are not getting enough attention? WC: As a musician I have to say not having enough arts and music in the schools anymore. C&S: There are Hispanic candidates in the race: Adolfo Carrión and Erick Salgado. Why haven’t they gotten more support from Latinos, or anyone else, in the polls? WC: Latinos are brand loyal. [They’re] really strong Democratic voters. It’s hard to get them to go Republican and these other lines. Also, maybe it’s a lack of funds. Name recognition. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. C&S: You ran for public advocate in 2001. Why did you run? WC: I think it’s important for us to participate, to show that we matter, that we’re there. If you don’t address our needs, then one of us is going to run. C&S: Would you ever run for office again, and, if so, what would you do differently? WC: I don’t think so, but I’ll keep my options open. My main problem was raising money. Money is so important to these races. I have a lot of trouble getting on the phone and begging people for money. C&S: What do you think about the current public advocate, Bill de Blasio? Is he doing a good job? WC: It’s a pretty honorary, symbolic gig now. Toothless, has no budget. I couldn’t blame him for not getting much done because there’s not a lot he can do. The last one who really did something was Mark Green. That was mostly because he had a lot of energy and guts and he was always in people’s faces. No, de Blasio is nothing very remarkable. I don’t really want to bash him, but he’s unimpressive. C&S: Do you have a favorite in this year’s public advocate race? WC: No, I don’t even know them. C&S: Have Bloomberg’s policies made New York City more livable for residents? Is it susceptible to gentrification?
C&S: What’s your next album about? WC: I’m thinking of putting together an all-star group. Find a bunch of good musicians, do an album and go on the road for a season before I hang up the trombone. It’s about six months. Half the year. C&S: What do you think about Hispanic musicians who have waded into hip-hop, such as Eazy-E and Big Pun, as well as newcomers like Pitbull? WC: I think we have to thank Ronald Reagan for the rap and hip-hop era, where people stopped concentrating on writing and instruments. They composed stuff by sampling and stuff like that. I’m probably the most sampled Latin artist. Everyone’s done some of my work, [including] Big Pun and Jay-Z. C&S: What do you think about Big Pun and Jay-Z sampling your work? WC: I kind of resent it, but receiving the checks is not bad. C&S: Do you listen to any of them? WC: Not really. I’m not into one kind of music, even salsa. It depends on what mood I’m in. I like to listen to something where I don’t know where it came from and I try to find out what it is. C&S: What are you listening to now? WC: I was listening to a political protest. Gaita from Venezuela. It’s about the problems in Venezuela. It’s a traditionally political song, and the chorus is a group of men, eight guys. It’s a big, roaring chorus, with a rhythm section, the changes, and it’s usually written in a 6/8. I love it. It has a lot of balls. They go all out, and they’re complaining about the scarcity of food in the stores. Somebody sent it to me. I’ve been involved in Latin American politics also. I had a feud with [Hugo] Chavez. [President] Nicolás Maduro said I should stop meddling in Venezuelan politics. I wrote the jingle for the challenger’s campaign. He won, but Maduro stole it. C&S: Did you meet with Chavez when he came to the Bronx? WC: No, I didn’t. Chavez was a real disappointment to me. He made a lot of promises, and he betrayed everything. He wanted to be the next Napoleon, the liberator of Latin America, but the Venezuelan economy has been dragged into bankruptcy. It’s chaos there now. C&S: If you could write a song for Bill Thompson, what kind of beat would it have, and what would you call it? WC: I wrote a couple of things for him. He’s got one that’s a murga rhythm. And that’s a hybrid of Panamanian and Puerto Rican. I like making hybrid sounds of different Latin American countries. And there’s another one called “Transforming New York”—it’s kind of like a ballad, and it breaks into a salsa beat. I did three things for him. C&S: Have you ever talked with Thompson about music? WC: I haven’t been able to talk with him about music this time around. I met him at the Dominican Parade breakfast. It went pretty good. I was really impressed with the kind of support he has from the Dominicans. They’re all strongly behind him. C&S: What’s your favorite New York City parade? WC: The Puerto Rican Parade and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. They’re so big and wild and crazy and massive. I love it. I don’t know which one is wilder—and I mean that in the nicest way. cityandstateny.com | AUGUST 19, 2013
WC: The important thing is, where do you put all these people you move out with gentrification? You need affordable housing for everyone. It’s a Rubik’s cube for human beings. Infrastructure and things like that, Bloomberg did a lot of things that were good. I think the city needs to go in another direction now, a little more human treatment of citizens. I don’t think all gentrification is bad. But what are you going to do with all these people in the projects? The projects are like cemeteries for the living. The conditions in the projects are not great. I grew up on 139th Street and St. Anns Avenue. Those things have been abandoned for so long. I think they can be revitalized, bring some money in, jobs. And they’ll give us businesses.
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