Vol. 2, No. 17 - SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
Will DE BLASIO be bad for business?
Can THOMPSON manage the city? CANDIDATE COCKTAILS ICONIC NEW YORK WRITER GAY TALESE ON MIKE BLOOMBERG
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Morgan Pehme EDITOR Are the voters stupid? In Mark Liebovitch’s new book, This Town, he details the flap that ensued when Politico dared to pose this question aloud last year—and then concluded that, yes, the people were dolts. “The first thing you learn as a pollster is that people are stupid,” professed one insider in the article, giving voice, no doubt, to the unfiltered musings of a healthy, if not overwhelming, percentage of individuals who have ever worked in electoral politics. On the other side of the debate were critics who decried the piece as a “turgid pile of condescension” and deserving of induction into the “Snobbery Hall of Fame.” Despite the passions this question inflames—or perhaps because of them—on the eve of yet another election, it is nonetheless worthy of sober consideration. The two main arguments put forth to prove that voters are dim-witted are that they consistent fail to pull the lever for the candidate most likely to benefit their self-interest—generally economic—and that they are uninformed—particularly about how the candidates will impact their self-interest. Voting one’s self-interest does make for a sensible choice, of
course, but does it make it for a wise one? Should not our aim as voters be—at least in the ideal—to elect the candidate we believe will do the most good for the most people, rather than the most good for ourselves as individuals? Does the fact that insiders are so much more informed than the hoi polloi make our choice at the ballot box smarter, or just more calculating? Is it not hard to see that when we have something to gain from a candidate’s success, we are particularly susceptible to looking past that candidate’s faults and deficiencies, as glaring as they may be? And if we bear some malice toward a politician because of a personal interaction we have had with them or because of some gossipy dirt we were told about their lives, do we become blind to the virtues they exemplify in office? Certainly I am not assuming that voters who lives do not revolve around politics make their choices at the ballot box predicated upon some lofty platonic notion of the Good, or some other metaphysical measure of what is right and just. Perhaps they’re just pulling the lever at random, or picking the name that sounds the nicest. But before we can be so haughty as to decide the question “Are voters stupid?”, we must first ask what it means to cast an intelligent vote. And that is a debate worthy having this upcoming election day.
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Lost in the focus upon an unexpectedly collegial exchange between two bitter rivals toward the end of a recent New York City comptroller debate was Eliot Spitzer becoming the most prominent Democratic politician in New York State to call on the Assembly to replace Speaker Sheldon Silver. When the moderator asked if Silver should resign or be replaced, comptroller candidate Scott Stringer (below) hedged, suggesting a response would be “depending [on] the outcome of an investigation that
shows that he may have engaged in wrongful activity,” said Stringer, the Manhattan borough president. “You have to have the same standard for the Speaker as you would Eliot Spitzer. When Eliot Spitzer did something wrong, the federal government came to him, [and] he had to resign. Everyone has to be held to that same standard.” Spitzer, on the other hand, said his answer was “very simple: The members of the Assembly should elect a new Speaker. Right now the Assembly is ossified, it is broken, it is too rigid. There is a capacity for new and creative leadership in the Assembly. It’s time for action.”
ERIE COUNTY New York City has the wealthiest mayor in the nation, but New York State’s Congress members are relative paupers compared with some of their colleagues from other states. According to The Hill’s annual list of the 50 wealthiest lawmakers in Washington, D.C., New York’s deepestpocketed congressman shows up at a mere No. 16 on the list: Erie County’s Chris Collins (below). Don’t feel too bad for Collins: With a broad portfolio of holdings in fields ranging from pharmaceuticals to biotechnology, the freshman congressman comes in with an estimated net worth of $22.3 million. The other New
Yorkers in the top 50 include Rep. Richard Hanna, who ranks No. 25 on the list with $14.4 million, Nita Lowey, No. 27 with $12.8 million and Carolyn Maloney, at No. 31 with $11.2 million. Neither of New York’s U.S. senators made the list, though Kirsten Gillibrand was noted by the publication for being “barely in the black with a net worth of $166,000.”
ALTAMONT State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk understands a close finish. The lawmaker, who won her seat by a razor-thin margin last year, entered four sheep in the Altamont Fair—and her ram won a ribbon. “The ram got second place in a class of two,” she said. “They’re an unusual breed. We were competing with other breeds.” Tkaczyk owns a farm in the Catskills and has been entering her livestock in county fairs for several years. She clips their wool, trims their paws and otherwise cleans up the sheep before the competition. But the key to winning is good breeding. “They need to conform with breed characteristics. Judges look for consistency in the wool, they look at symmetry of the horns and balance,” she said. Tkaczyk found caring for sheep a little easier than herding her fellow senators around legislation. “It’s a little different from being in the Senate,” she said. “Sheep do have a mind of their own, and they do [think more independently] than Senate Republicans.”
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THE KICKER: A CHOICE QUOTE FROM CITY & STATE’S FIRST READ EMAIL “As a woman, you can’t just vote your vagina. As a mother, I’m more interested in other things.” —Actress Susan Sarandon at a fundraiser for mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, via the New York Daily News
IN THE JAILHOUSE NOW
RAISING THE BAR
$167,731 Average cost of an inmate in New York City last year By Aaron Short Coverage of this year’s mayoral primary makes us yearn for a stiff drink. Fortunately, Tom Macy, a mixologist at the Brooklyn cocktail bar Clover Club, has whipped up a menu of cocktails based on each candidate’s policies and personalities. Try making them at your Election Night party—when you’re going to need any kind of alcohol you can get your hands on. Bottoms up! Still thirsty? Visit www.cityandstateny.com for more cocktails invented for this year’s NYC mayoral candidates.
Christine Quinn is bold and brassy, so Macy reached for the tequila. He also added some Campari, whose scarlet color matches Quinn’s hair and whose bitterness matches her, well, apparent managerial style. This is a crowd-pleasing cocktail, but try not to down more than one at a time.
12,287 Number of inmates in New York City jails
The De Blasio
Bill de Blasio, the clear-eyed dry liberal stalwart, deserves a spirit that matches him—in this case, that’s gin. Macy gave a nod to de Blasio’s proposal to provide universal pre-K by taxing the rich with the apple flavor of Calvados. This is a nice and refreshing cocktail. Serve it in a tall glass.
93% Percent of prisoners who are male
1.5 oz London dry gin 1.5 oz blanco tequila
.75 oz Calvados
.75 oz yellow chartreuse
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz cinnamon syrup
.25 oz Campari
Shaken and served in a collins glass
.25 oz St.-Germain
Top with soda water
Shaken and served up
Garnish with cinnamon stick
Garnish with a grapefruit twist
The easygoing and calm former comptroller deserves a spirit with class—aged bourbon. In a nod to Bill Thompson’s Caribbean heritage, Macy also adding aged rum, which means the result should be a delicious, smooth cocktail that will give you a mean hangover in the morning—just like the day after the 1 oz good aged bourbon .5 oz aged rum .5 oz Lemon Hart 151
The hardworking, tough-talking former chief of the MTA deserves a classic, workmanlike cocktail, and that means rye whiskey. But New Yorkers have a complex relationship with Joe Lhota, who recently lamented ending stop-and-frisk and said it could turn New York into Detroit, so add some mezcal. This is a stiff and aggressive drink—one that Lhota might actually order.
1 barspoon Smith & Cross rum
prisoners who are black
prisoners who are Hispanic
prisoners who are white
prisoners who are Asian
1 barspoon cane syrup
1 oz rye whiskey
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 oz mezcal
1 dash orange bitters
.75 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Stirred and served on the rocks
Stirred and served straight up
Source: Department of Correction via the New York City
Garnish with an orange twist
Garnish with a cherry
Independent Budget Office
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All-Star 2013 2teams2_City&State 8/15/13 2:01 PM Page 1
e r o f e B er v E n a h st r e n n i rd W a w A F NS Y N U C More
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.
AD WATCH: BEYOND THE FIVE BOROUGHS So much attention has been paid to the New York City mayoral election that critical primary races across the rest of the state have played out largely under the radar. In this installment of Ad Watch, City & State and our panel of experts analyze commercials from candidates running for the mayoralties of Buffalo and Syracuse, and for Nassau County executive. To read our assessment of more ads, and to view the spots in their entirety, visit cityandstateny.com. By MORGAN PEHME “OURSELVES ALONE”
“PROGRESS IN BUFFALO”
CANDIDATE: Pat Hogan
CANDIDATE: Byron Brown
CANDIDATE: Tom Suozzi
PRODUCED BY: Unknown; campaign did not respond to multiple inquiries
PRODUCED BY: Brown’s campaign manager, Steve Casey
PRODUCED BY: Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly (Alexandria, Va.)
LENGTH: 30 seconds
LENGTH: 2 minutes, 12 seconds
LENGTH: 30 seconds
DESCRIPTION: City Councilor Pat Hogan talks about the grave challenges Syracuse is facing, but says that the city does not need Albany’s help, insisting instead that it can rise again on its own if its people join together.
DESCRIPTION: People from all walks of life hold up signs saying “PROGRESS” while talking about ways Mayor Brown has improved the city.
DESCRIPTION: Suozzi asks Nassau County kids to try to count to two billion as an illustration of the immensity of the $2 billion in new borrowing the incumbent Ed Mangano has left for future generations to repay.
PROS: In theory, this sickness-to-cure ad could be effective, starting with the woes of the city and then transitioning with a positive music change to the uplifting spirit Hogan will channel as mayor. Its script, which is somewhat reminiscent of a locker room pep talk, could fire up some viewers. CONS: The most glaring misstep of this ad is that the candidate is never seen, a particularly conspicuous omission in a spot where the candidate is the narrator. Although the candidate’s voice is folksy in an appealing way, because we never see Hogan we ultimately can’t connect with him. Moreover, since the candidate is largely an unknown, the fact that we don’t learn a single thing about him, other than that he is running for mayor—a point that is not well reinforced by the ad, and is easy to forget—the ad basically has no positive impact. On the contrary, it could actually have a negative effect on the viewer because its slogan—“Ourselves Alone”—runs contrary to the message of “togetherness” it is trying to convey, and instead stresses “alone”—a feeling that most people viscerally want to avoid. EXPERT OPINION: “With no visual of Pat Hogan or any mention of the incumbent, it’s unclear how this spot helps the challenger. The slogan “Ourselves Together, Ourselves Alone” is also distracting; it sounds like a women’s health book from the ’70s meets a militant separatist group.” —James Freedland, Managing Director, Metropolitan Public Strategies 6
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PROS: This extremely slickly produced Web spot is so effective that it could genuinely double as a spot to persuade people to move to Buffalo. As good as any commercial run by any candidate this election cycle, this sparklingly well-filmed ad dazzles with one high production value nuance after another, from the parade of people pushing recycling boxes to the building being demolished in real time behind the speaker praising Brown. Artful touches, like when the shot switches to the perspective of the surveillance camera, demonstrate how much thought was put into every second of this ad. CONS: None, except that it can’t be run on TV because of its length—though a version could likely be cut back to 30 seconds if needed. EXPERT OPINION: “Barack Obama, prepare to take a lesson: THIS is what a ‘hope’ ad should look like. Smart, creative work, visionary imagery and expert production make this ad not only effective but artistic and (the almost impossible to achieve) uplifting. Even the music is excellent; in tempo, tone and editing. We see the future in the kids in the opening scene who begin echoing the message of ‘progress.’ The soft warm light feels like dawn, and the day (and our outlook) brightens in each frame. We see America in this ad, with every drop in the melting pot, telling a story of hard work and hope—no accusations, no promises and clearly real people, not actors or stock photos. By the time Brown shows up and we realize this is a paid political ad, the case is already made. It’s hard to get people to watch a two-minute ad, but this ad makes it easy.” —Chris Miller, Partner, BrownMiller Group
PROS: This ad humanizes a wonky statistic to great effect. Artfully it ties the $2 billion in borrowing to the repercussions for Nassau County’s children, while driving home the immensity of that number with the light touch of kids counting. By placing Suozzi in a classroom as he speaks to the camera, it also positively connects him with children and education in the mind of the viewer—a happy bonus. That Ed Mangano’s name comes up on screen next to a chubby, comically flustered kid who somewhat resembles the county executive could have been unintentional, but given how carefully put together the rest of this ad is—down to the playful font—it’s hard to conclude that such a deft touch was by chance. EXPERT OPINION: “This ad is smart and focused. Generally, putting little kids in political ads comes across as gimmicky, but not in this case. The $2 billion amount hits an important issue with Nassau voters, and effectively uses very likable kids to pull off the connection. Due to a strong message presented in combination with good messengers, I give this ad an A.” —Thomas Doherty, Partner, Mercury Public Affairs
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TALE OF THE TAPE SCOT T ST RIN G E R
E L IOT SP ITZ E R
By MICHAEL JOHNSON
hen Democratic voters head to the polls on Sept. 10 they will have a choice between two veteran politicians. One presents himself as a compromiser; the other as an antiestablishment independent. But when it comes to some significant policy positions, Scott Stringer and Eliot Spitzer appeared to be pretty much on the same page, when they sat for their respective City & State Last Look interviews in August. Both candidates said that they plan to use the office to enact social change, and both insisted that they would not abuse the power of the position for political purposes. The two candidates also agreed that merging the city’s five pension funds into one, a plan proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and current Comptroller John Liu that stalled following pressure exerted by labor, was a good idea. In fact, they used strikingly similar language to make their points. “We have to reduce the $400 million in fees we pay to wealthy managers to manage parts of our pension fund, and I am going to work to do that,” Stringer said. “I think I do have the skill set to work collaboratively with the 58 trustees on the five funds, who work to allow the five funds to operate more cohesively, and the Liu-Bloomberg plan had real opportunity to do that. I am going to actually achieve that result.” Spitzer said: “We should certainly try to streamline and bring in-house the decision-making about how the assets are managed. We are paying $400 million 8
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in fees right now, and are getting subpar performance. And I am not saying that to be critical of the individual asset managers, but you look at that and you see a disconnect to pay $400 million, which is a big number even when spread across a $140 billion asset base. You should do better, and we are not.” Where the two candidates do differ is on personality and perception. Stringer pushed back against Spitzer’s charge that he is the establishment candidate, a cog in the wheel of the New York Democratic machine that has lined up en masse to endorse him. He spoke often about his record as an independentminded politician, citing the oversight and investigation committee he chaired as an assemblyman and the reports on fraud and waste he issued as Manhattan borough president. He also took issue with Spitzer’s depiction of himself as the antiestablishment candidate. “It’s hard to be the antiestablishment guy when you ran for governor with the whole establishment supporting you, when you raised millions and millions of dollars,” Stringer said. “Now you don’t even have to raise money. You can violate the tenets of the campaign finance system and finance your own race. It is kind of hard to be the defender of the little guy when you don’t do what the rest of us have to do. Two standards of justice. One for Eliot and one for the rest of us. And I think the voters will figure that out in the next couple of weeks.” Throughout the interview, Stringer repeatedly attacked Spitzer’s temperament. The former governor infamously referred to himself as a “f---ing steam-
roller” yet struggled to pass legislation during his tenure as governor in part because he often butted heads with then Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. Spitzer, no doubt aware of the criticisms of his governorship, focused on his experience as attorney general when asked if he could work with the new mayor. He said he had a good relationship with Gov. George Pataki during his tenure as attorney general, arguing with him only in private and representing him well as the state’s top lawyer. Asked if he would use the city comptroller position to again be the “Sheriff of Wall Street,” the nickname he earned as attorney general, Spitzer said he would not. “No, it’s a different job,” Spitzer said. “Mary Jo White is really beginning to flex the muscles of the SEC in a way that had not been done in prior years. Eric Holder is beginning to make some noises that there will be cases coming out of the Justice Department that will be significant. Whether they will be or not, we don’t know yet; we will have to wait and see. Having said all that, the job of the comptroller is to oversee the budget, the pension funds and to do many other things.” Polls show Spitzer with a commanding lead in the race. When Stringer was asked whether he had been actively seeking the endorsement of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who continues to have high approval ratings and could help garner votes for him, Stringer praised Cuomo and drew a comparison between the current governor and Spitzer’s tenure in office. “I think Andrew Cuomo’s endorsement would be powerful, but you know what is equally powerful—when you
look at the standards, the standard of an elected official who can work on complicated issues. I think Governor Cuomo, in contrast to Eliot Spitzer, has actually been the type of governor that New York has needed,” Stringer said. “Somebody who can work to get things done. When Eliot was governor and he resigned at the last minute, he left us with a $23 billion budget deficit. David Paterson inherited that. Governor Cuomo, working with the Legislature, fixed that.” Of course, Eliot Spitzer’s resignation as governor after admitting to soliciting prostitutes has been a key issue in the race. Asked about the scandal, Stringer, not surprisingly, used it as an opportunity to suggest Spitzer was unfit for office. For his part, Spitzer said it is an area he has avoided commenting on beyond the extensive remarks he has already given on the subject. What was more interesting than his response was the noticeable change in tone and manner he slipped into the moment the subject came up. The camera does not fully capture the mood and sudden drop in energy that was palpable in the room. A cynic may say it is just a professional politician attempting to show remorse. If that is the case, Spitzer is a damn good actor.
To watch these, and many other, Last Look interviews in their entirety, go to cityandstateny.com/video. To receive every Last Look in your inbox, sign up for Last Read.
IMATIDIS FOR MAYOR
Endorsed By Governor
“John Catsimatidis has the and needed to lead the skills, vision the courage New York City. John’s life story is the embodiment of the American dream. It has given him the common sense and practical business experience needed to run a city as complex as New York. His record of creating tens of thousands of jobs will be put to use in businesses, large and small, to add jobs throughout five boroughs. enabling the Most importantly, John Catsimatidis isn’t a career politician. He’ll keep New York City on track and moving forward and he’ll fight for small businesses, neighborhoods and New York’s struggling middle class.” - Governor George Pataki
John Catsimatidis Vote For In The Primary! September 10th Republican www.CATS2013.com Paid for by the CATS2013 Committee
PHOTOS BY FILIP WOLAK
BILL THOMPSON WANTS ANOTHER CRACK AT CITY HALL. DOES HE DESERVE IT? By NICK POWELL AND AARON SHORT
rooklyn’s native son has come home. A horde of supporters surround Bill Thompson as he wends his way through the masses at the borough’s West Indian American Day parade. The festivity is an enduring Brooklyn tradition marking the unofficial end of summer, and Thompson, like every mayoral candidate, wouldn’t be anywhere else. Sweaty brow and all, he carries a miniature flag of St. Kitts, home country of his grandparents, and works the rope lines on both sides of the street, glad-handing, schmoozing, even doling out a bear hug or two, while carrying himself with the confidence of a star athlete playing before his hometown crowd. “We love you, Billy!” some cheer. Others, however, simply see Thompson as the guy 10
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Bloomberg defeated four years ago. This enthusiasm gap is on display throughout the day. Supporters greet him warmly, with big smiles and encouragement, while the rest of the parade-goers manage an apathetic nod of recognition. Members of the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s powerful teachers union, join Thompson along the parade route on Eastern Parkway. The group has endorsed him for mayor, and its president, Michael Mulgrew, leads a float blaring Caribbean tunes decked out in the union’s blue and white. Marching at Thompson’s side are a handful of elected officials, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. and Assemblyman Nick Perry. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Wein-
garten is also with him, adding some national clout to the campaign. The presence of such powerful friends at the parade reflects the institutional support that has shaped Thompson’s campaign, and paints a picture of the candidate as Brooklyn’s own—the true establishment candidate. Thompson has built a career on his relationships while engendering goodwill, which has helped him land posts running several prominent city agencies—including the Board of Education and the city comptroller’s office. Yet being firmly entrenched in the city’s political establishment for four decades has not always been an advantage. His tenure as a manager of various government agencies has produced few major accomplishments. His cozy relationships with special interest groups raise ques-
COVER tions about his political independence. The common wisdom—reiterated time and time again by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign team in 2009—is that Thompson as a candidate lacks the “fire in the belly.” If many political observers concede he is one of the nicest men in politics, there is a sense that Thompson is incapable of running his own show—that he’s only as good as the people around him and the power brokers who enable him.
ill Thompson’s grandparents immigrated to the United States from St. Kitts, a small island in the Caribbean. His father, William Sr., an army veteran and aspiring politician, and his mother, Elaine, a schoolteacher, settled in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. The neighborhood was the kind of place where people knew and looked out for one another. “I remember being around the corner and using perhaps what one would consider not quite appropriate language—I remember someone coming out and saying, ‘Bill Thompson, I know it’s you, I’m going to tell your parents.’ That was the neighborhood I grew up in.” Thompson was shaped as much by his household as his neighborhood. His father, who associated with the likes of Shirley Chisholm, helped found the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and ran for the state Senate while his son was still in junior high school. By the time Thompson graduated from Midwood High School in 1970, his father had won a seat in the New York City Council. Thompson graduated from Tufts University in 1974. Meanwhile William Thompson Sr. had been elected a state Supreme Court justice and designated an associate appellate court justice. By 1980, then Gov. Hugh Carey made Thompson’s father an associate justice of the appellate division’s second department. “His father was a groundbreaking figure,” said former Councilman Ken Fisher, a longtime family friend. “I don’t think Billy grew up with any sense of entitlement. I think he grew up with a sense of obligation. You have to help raise people up and break barriers.” But Thompson’s father cast a long shadow over his son, who sources say struggled with his own racial identity. Returning from college, he chose to work for newly elected Rep. Fred Richmond, a white Navy veteran who represented downtown Brooklyn until he was convicted on corruption charges in 1982. Instead of joining Rev. Al Sharpton or the newly elected Rep. Edolphus Towns, another rising African-American star, Thompson pivoted to Brooklyn Borough Hall, where Borough President and Kings County Democratic Party leader Howard Golden gave him Towns’ old job as deputy borough president. The county bosses had nurtured the elder Thompson’s political career and selected him as a judicial nominee; the son was a natural fit to maintain ties to the borough’s growing black, Arab, Hispanic, Jewish and Afro-Caribbean communities. “He was a young ambitious guy,” said Assemblyman Alan Maisel, who has known Thompson for over three decades. “He was always well liked. He was a very easy guy to talk to. A very reasonable guy. Some people in politics were very difficult to deal with. I’ve found him as someone who you could sit down with. There are no airs.” The position was far from showy, which suited Thompson’s personality, but he went to work as a peacemaker between black and Jewish groups in Crown Heights after three days of riots in 1991, one of the darkest periods in Brooklyn’s history. In 1994, Golden appointed Thompson as his representative to the Board of Education. Two years later, Thompson became the board’s president in a coup. New
York’s politicos took notice. “He maneuvered very cleverly and quietly win the votes to become president,” Fisher said. “It took the political establishment by surprise. He had historically been viewed as a high-level staffer, and now he was stepping out as an operator and a principal in his own right.” During his tenure Thompson ended a practice stretching back to the 1960s that allowed political bosses to pick school principals. Other problems proved intractable. Plummeting test scores and graduation rates, and headline-making school safety incidents added to the perception of an out-of-control school system. State officials also became concerned with poor attendance rates and rising school construction costs. A report commissioned by Gov. George Pataki found that school districts had intentionally inflated enrollment and attendance data with “phantom” children to secure more state aid. The report concluded that the board knew about vulnerabilities in its data collection systems but failed to stem abuses. Thompson’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment regarding the findings of the Pataki administration. Other reports the Pataki administration produced between 2000 and 2002 found widespread disrepair in school facilities and a lack of capital planning efforts by the board. One report called the board’s five-year capital plan “little more than a charade” bearing little resemblance to what actually got built. Another report faulted the board for a $2 billion budget gap, for its “dismissive arrogance” in ignoring analyses and warnings, and for not owning up to its failures or holding anyone responsible. The report’s authors recommended that the state strip the Board of Education of its authority to construct schools. Thompson’s allies assert the board president had far less power than school leaders do today under Mayor Bloomberg. “The president of the Board of Education made policy, [but] he didn’t run the school system,” Maisel said. “Every mayor really controls things significantly because of the budget. I wouldn’t blame [Thompson] on the fact that schools were not doing so well. It’s a cheap shot. It’s nonsense that it was his fault. We’re all responsible. Society is responsible.”
y 2001 Thompson was ready for a change—and a larger spotlight. He used the bully pulpit of the school board to run for comptroller, in the city’s most wide-open election in a generation. Once elected, he spent the first few months in office working with Bloomberg to convince the city’s financial sector not to take flight and to continue to invest in New York City after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “He and Bloomberg took their oaths with Ground Zero still smoldering in the background,” Fisher said. “Thompson had to convince bond houses and rating agencies not to freeze New York’s credit, and that was the quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy. I think he was aggressive about using the powers of his office without being abrasive.” Thompson’s chief responsibilities as comptroller from 2002 and 2009 were to manage the city’s $85 million pension funds and a staff of about 700 people. He touts that record on the campaign trail, and friends in both political parties credit him for steady leadership as the city’s financial steward in unsteady times. “He is someone who has always served with distinction and dedication and brought credit to his office,” said Randy Mastro, a former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani. “He ran a very professional comptroller’s office as contrasted with his predecessor and successor.” But some subordinates disagree. Some staffers who worked in the comptroller’s office
during Thompson’s tenure said he was a distant manager who played favorites, hired people with political connections and did not hold anyone responsible when mistakes occurred. “Bill is a very defensive person. He’s not a take-charge kind of guy when in a take-charge position like management,” said one former employee who declined to be named for fear of retribution. “If you have a defensive personality it’s very hard to make a larger organization work. Management is an offensive position. You have to take positive stances on things. You can’t equivocate and call that strength. You can’t always be safe, and you can’t always be cautious.” Sources said Thompson frequently took days off and rarely attended pension board meetings. He was reluctant to challenge Bloomberg, with whom he golfed occasionally, save for a few lower-level skirmishes. A damning 2005 draft audit of the New York City Teacher’s Retirement System obtained by City & State found widespread mismanagement and lax practices and recommended that teachers consider an entity other than the comptroller to manage the fund. The report, written by the State Insurance Department, found that the pension fund’s trustees did not discuss or institute guidelines for managing the fund’s investment. The trustees delegated the pension fund’s investments to the comptroller, the audit found. Moreover, the board did not regularly monitor the pension fund’s performance, Thompson’s office did not identify risks or advise trustees about how to invest the fund, and there was little discussion over investment expenses. A summary of transcripts from board of trustees meetings in the audit indicate that the comptroller’s office did not adequately advise the trustees on whether a proposed investment strategy would meet or deviate from the board’s objectives or fund liabilities. These transcripts also show that that there was no discussion of distinguishing between controlling and accounting for investment expenses, and that no review was conducted on whether expenses were reasonable and necessary. The official audit of the teachers pension fund, released in 2009 by Gov. David Paterson—a Thompson supporter—four years after the draft audit was completed, drew different conclusions from the original draft, with no language suggesting the comptroller should not control the investment powers of the fund. The official report also indicated that investment policy guidelines were overhauled under Thompson. Thompson’s campaign declined to comment on the findings of the state insurance department in both the draft and official audit of the teachers’ pension fund. The lack of board oversight is significant considering that under Thompson huge increases in spending on financial firms by pension funds were authorized in spending on financial firms by city pension funds at the same time that the funds were losing large amounts of money. Data for the three largest pension funds, the New York City Employee Retirement System, the teacher’s fund and the police fund, shows that investment expenses for these funds rose from roughly $90 million in fiscal year 2002 to about $400 million in fiscal year 2010, the last year the funds were under Thompson’s control. Despite the evidence, Thompson disputes that the funds lost massive amounts of money, saying that they did relatively well considering how poorly the market was performing at the time. “One of the things I talked about when I ran [for comptroller], as far as diversifying our portfolio, was making us less dependent on the ups and downs of Wall Street,” Thompson said. “If you look, we went into different asset places in private equity, we went into areas of real estate, we expanded our portfolio and in fact it served us when you look at the fiscal collapse in 2008 and 2009; we lost cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
COVER less money. During up years would we make a little less? Perhaps. But at the same point, then, we also would lose less. I think it was a very balanced approach.” Records show that in Thompson’s last four years as comptroller, pension investment expenses totaled more than $1.2 billion dollars, compared to only $500 million in his first four years. Despite the significant increase in spending on fees, total assets for the three funds went from $88 billion in 2006 to $82 billion in 2010. A New York Times report also found that four out of five city pensions performed below the median for similar public pensions nationally and the city’s largest fund did worse than two-thirds of large public pension funds, even as the number of money managers who worked with the comptroller tripled. Throughout his tenure, Thompson was lauded for
increased the number of audits in his first two years to 90 and 92, despite a budget cut in 2011. Without getting into specifics, Thompson said that he directed his office to conduct audits that were more in-depth and strategically targeted, and also implied that his budget was tight. “You’re dealing with budget squeezes, but what you tried to do was look at audits that went a little more in-depth, try to focus on audits that would generate revenue or audits that would find savings within the city budget, so that was more or less intentional,” Thompson said. Thompson delegated many of his responsibilities to his top political aides, Deputy Comptroller for External Affairs Eduardo Castell and Deputy Comptroller Gayle Horwitz, who had little experience with finance. Horwitz
political calculus because of his mayoral ambitions, and partly because of the faith he put in Bloomberg and his budget team. “To have not challenged the mayor…there was a political reason for that. I was running for mayor, and obviously would have [challenged him] if there were the proper signals that showed there was something going on. I would have challenged him at least publicly,” Thompson said. “It came up repeatedly, [and] they continue[d] to make assurances based on the expansion of the [CityTime] project, based on the number of agencies that continued to grow from the original scope, as to reasons why there was an expansion in spending.” When Bloomberg decided to seek a third term in 2009 after the market took a nosedive and convinced the City Council to reverse term limits, Thompson emerged as the
“It’s not a question of forging relationships. People are supporting me in a number of different communities across the board, because they believe I’m the best person to get the job done.”
increasing investments in underserved neighborhoods and in minority and women-owned businesses, but some of those investments were in firms that sold subprime mortgages. Thompson also instituted a transition from investing in public equities toward private equities and real estate funds. Indeed, the biggest increase in spending under Thompson was for private equity firms. Private equity costs were $5 million the year before Thompson took over as comptroller, compared to $87 million in his last year. By contrast, when John Liu took over as Comptroller, he cut investment spending by more than $30 million in his first year in office and more than $45 million in the second, even as the fund grew from $35 billion to $42 billion. Thompson also used the power of the audit sparingly. In his last four full years as comptroller when his office budget averaged $58 million per year, Thompson did a total of 310 audits. His predecessor, Alan Hevesi, conducted almost twice as many audits—606—in his last four full years with a smaller budget of about $48.7 million a year. In Thompson’s last full year in office, he completed only 69 audits. By contrast, Hevesi put out 157 in his final year. Thompson’s successor, John Liu, 12
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in turn delegated many of her responsibilities, according to the former comptroller’s office employee. “[Horwitz] didn’t have a background in any kind of management,” the source said. “She was way in over her head. She had a remote management system. She had favorites; she managed her favorites. Between the two of them, it wasn’t an effective agency.” When real scandals struck the comptroller’s office— including a $500 million boondoggle involving the city’s computerized payroll system known as CityTime— Thompson and his deputies did little to monitor contracts and fix what went wrong. One source said Bloomberg told him to lay off probing CityTime, and he did. “They were at the table but they didn’t exercise that role,” another source said. “[Horwitz] removed herself from what was going on there. She didn’t like to get involved in controversy. Bill let her delegate. They should have been on CityTime way before that happened. When overruns were happening, they were in there and yet they did nothing. I don’t think she was equipped to do what she was doing.” Thompson acknowledged that he failed to flag the contract. His reason for not doing so, he said, was part
only leading Democrat to challenge him. Owing to his success in diversifying the city’s pension funds Thompson tapped a deep well of investors that would amplify his donor base in future elections. Thompson had been able to raise $500,000 in political contributions from money managers since he first ran for comptroller in 2001, according to a 2009 Times report. But his efforts were for naught. Bloomberg campaigned aggressively and outspent Thompson by a 14-to-1 margin. Thompson finished strong, closing Bloomberg’s double-digit lead in the polls ultimately to a 4.6 percent margin, but he received criticism in the press for his effort. One anecdote from the 2009 campaign stands out. Bloomberg canvassers reportedly knocked on Thompson’s home in Harlem on a weekday afternoon in the final weeks of the campaign by mistake. Thompson answered the door himself.
hompson’s cozy ties with the financial sector as comptroller helped him land a gig with Siebert Branford Shank—a Wall Street firm and one of the leading underwriters of city bonds. The firm had raked
COVER in millions during Thompson’s tenure as comptroller, according to a report by The New York World. Thompson also served a brief stint as chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, where he again installed Horwitz in a leading role, this time as president. Community sources from Battery Park say that Thompson delegated most of the day-to-day responsibilities at the agency to Horwitz, and that she presided over layoffs to key Battery Park staff, including architects and engineers, that contributed to the stalling of several key community projects. “There’s been a lot of construction and maintenance work that continued to be needed by the community and the Thompson-Horwitz stance that the agency has evolved from a construction agency to a management agency was misguided,” said George Calderaro, a co-chair of the Battery Park City Committee, speaking for himself. “Currently, the Battery Park City Authority is seeking $300 million bond issue for capital projects. That does not connote to me a management organization, it seems to me that it’s very much in the construction business.” In addition to Horwitz, Thompson installed other holdovers from his mayoral
tive officer. Thompson and his board of directors at Battery Park City also unanimously agreed to roll back a scheduled increase in fees paid by Battery Park City condominium owners by nearly $280 million, according to a report by The New York World. Howard Milstein, who owns 585 Battery Park City condos saved $59 million because of this decision. MIlstein would later contribute $4,950 to Thompson’s current mayoral campaign—the maximum allowed by city law. espite the various missteps and oversights in Thompson’s past as a manager, he has largely avoided controversy as a mayoral candidate. While his Democratic opponents John Liu, Christine Quinn and Anthony Weiner have had to fend off increased scrutiny into their legislative and personal history, Thompson has come through the meat grinder of the electoral news cycle relatively unscathed. Still, polling shows that Thompson’s base might not be wholly convinced that he is the right man for the job. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that the current Democratic frontrunner, Bill de Blasio, has eaten into a sizable portion of
de Blasio wants to ban racial profiling altogether—has perhaps contributed to the lack of enthusiasm in the black community. “You listen to him and you don’t get the sense that there’s passion there, you get the sense that he wants to win, but even then only to a certain point,” said Ronald Howell, a professor at Brooklyn College. “I don’t think even the people in Bed-Stuy are feeling that sense of rapport with Thompson. He had a fundraiser nearby where he grew up recently. There’s a sense that he’s going back last-minute to his natural base. [His campaign] seems to be really struggling to get the attention of people around there.” If he can make it through the primary, Thompson’s more populist tone could serve him well in the general election, where he will have to appeal to a larger swath of the city. “I think he was playing for November by being moderate,” said Michael Benjamin, a political commentator. “Instead of having to do the normal Democratic/ liberal pivot for November, he would do it early. He came close the last time against Bloomberg and he wanted to hedge his bets and not have any sort of backlash— not wanting to lose white votes.”
campaign and his time at the comptroller’s office, including Ann Fenton, the communications director for Thompson’s 2009 campaign, as Horwitz’s special assistant, and former deputy comptroller Phyllis Taylor as the authority’s chief administra-
Thompson’s African-American base, with only 47 percent saying they would vote for him. Thompson’s perceived moderate stance on issues such as the NYPD’s stopand-frisk policy—Thompson has said he will reform the practice, not end it, while
Thompson’s moderation—some would call it equivocation—on certain issues has helped him assemble a broad coalition of support in the race, including a diverse group of public officials such as Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, Rep.
“I think he was playing for November by being moderate.” Charles Rangel, and state Sen. Adriano Espaillat. Thompson has also garnered the endorsements of the more conservative police and firefighter unions, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, respectively. But it is the UFT endorsement that looms large for his campaign. The teachers union has already spent $2 million on Thompson, and many political observers believe that his education background will help the union at the bargaining table, when a new mayor will be charged with settling their, and every other municipal union’s, outstanding contract. Thompson has largely kept his negotiating strategy close to the vest during the campaign, hinting at cutting waste across city government to help generate revenue for bargaining sessions, but categorically denying that the UFT endorsement came with the expectation that he would favor it in negotiations. “There never has been a request or conversation about contract resolution or contract settlement,” Thompson said. “I would believe that the UFT, as every other municipal union, will be sitting at the table and negotiating with me as the next mayor. I don’t think anybody expects to be treated differently and no one will be treated differently.” Thompson supporters believe that his background in finance and long history in city politics gives him an undeniable advantage in appealing to the state Legislature and the federal government for assistance. Some have even suggested that his agreeable personality and good relationships with state and federal legislators will help him move his policy agenda forward. Thompson, perhaps growing tired of the “Mr. Nice Guy” label, said he hopes his personality is secondary to his leadership ability when it comes to winning over voters. “It’s not a question of forging relationships. People are supporting me in a number of different communities across the board, because they believe I’m the best person to get the job done. When they look at someone to lead the city, they want somebody they can work with, they want someone they can trust, they want somebody who has principles and will stand up for those principles.”
cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
WILL DE BLASIO BE BAD FOR BUSINE$$?
By MORGAN PEHME
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a candidate for mayor of New York City, campaigns outside City Hall.
t a recent press conference hastily squeezed beneath a scaffolding across the street from Brooklyn Borough Hall to avoid a drizzle of midday rain, Bill de Blasio was talking about his plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to fund universal prekindergarten education—one of the 14
SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
three main planks of his candidacy for mayor, along with ending stop-and-frisk and addressing the city’s growing income inequality. Usually at such an announcement, pedestrians blow by, annoyed at the obstruction to their path, but as de Blasio raised his voice to invoke the theme of his
campaign, a “Tale of Two Cities,” several people of varying age, gender and skin color, stopped to nod in appreciation of de Blasio’s message. A middle-aged white woman drawn in by the candidate’s words stood rapt a few steps behind the assembled crowd, punctuating the end of each of his declarations with a breathless “Yes.”
Perhaps the reason these passersby in downtown Brooklyn took the time to stop is because New Yorkers are finally taking an interest in the mayor’s race after months of largely ignoring it—and the polls substantiate that de Blasio’s simple, consistent platform has struck a chord with the electorate. Since late July
COVER de Blasio, New York City’s public advocate, has rocketed from being an essentially unknown and ignored candidate to crossing the 40 percent threshold in Quinnipiac University’s September 3 poll, thus threatening to pull off the once inconceivable feat of winning the Democratic nomination without having to endure a runoff. In his ads de Blasio has cast himself as “The Progressive Choice for Mayor,” and based on the New York Post’s response to his candidacy, as well as that of many of the city’s fiscal conservatives, it would be easy to conclude that de Blasio is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, preaching class warfare and intent upon leading New York back to the bad old days when it teetered on the brink of financial ruin. In a recent article for Breitbart.com entitled “Bill de Blasio: The Most Dangerous Man in New York City,” right wing talk show host David Webb and his co-author, Thomas J. Basile, accused de Blasio of perpetrating “the same leftist, us-versusthem mindset that reduced the city to an unlivable, burned-out, bankrupt shell of its former self back in the mid-’70s.” Webb and Basile go on to predict that if the “antibusiness” de Blasio is elected, he will reduce the Big Apple to “Detroit with bigger buildings” and bring about “the worst example of government failure in the nation’s history at the hands of another radical progressive.” Along the same lines, the gist of a September 3 blog post about de Blasio by Ronn Torossian, the 2013 American Business Awards’ “PR Executive of the Year,” from the conservative FrontPage Magazine’s website can be grasped by its title: “Occupy Wall Street May Soon Occupy New York’s City Hall.” On the flip side, Eric Alterman, in an article this week for The Nation, the leftwing magazine that has endorsed de Blasio, and in so doing helped cement his progressive credentials in the eyes of the public—along with the endorsements of prominent liberal celebrities like Susan Sarandon, Cynthia Nixon and Alec Baldwin—hailed the success of de Blasio’s candidacy as proof that “economic liberalism in America is not dead yet.” As de Blasio has surged in the polls, he has done little to contradict the impression, held by many of both his supporters and detractors, that fundamentally he is a populist determined to take on the plutocracy that has thrived under the reign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On the contrary, he has encouraged it. What is most striking about this image of de Blasio, however, is that in the opinion of many people who have known him since his days as a city councilman from Brooklyn—and earlier in his career—is that it does not conform with his history as a politician, even dating back to the start of his campaign for mayor. While few question that de Blasio’s core ideology is in line with the progressive principles he espouses, there was a notable consensus among the individuals
interviewed for this article that de Blasio is definitely not the liberal standard-bearer he made himself out to be but rather a centrist in the vein of the Clintons (he served in Bill’s administration as a regional director for HUD and managed Hillary’s first campaign for U.S. Senate in 2000); a shrewd political strategist with a propensity to morph to serve his self-interest. Time and again, the words “pragmatist” and “opportunist” came up in descriptions of de Blasio’s character, both from those who like and those who loathe him. There was also much agreement that although he now portrays himself as the only candidate for mayor with the gumption to take on developers and tax the wealthy, de Blasio has actually consistently been a friend to business over the course of his political career, particularly the real estate industry. “I like the term that somebody’s been using for him: faux-gressive,” said Lucy Koteen, the former president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, a political club based in Park Slope, one of the neighborhoods de Blasio represented as a councilman. “He’s supposedly the guy that
Kelly was referring to de Blasio’s opposition to the federal government’s designating the notoriously polluted canal a Superfund site—he maintained the city would be able to better conduct the cleanup on its own—and his advocacy in favor of a development project that would have constructed 460 condominiums and townhouses along the waterway. “You don’t want to drink out of it, you don’t want to eat fish out of it, but it is not a danger to live near it,” de Blasio told the Daily News in April 2009. In March 2010 the E.P.A. went through with the Superfund designation, based on its findings that the entire length of the 1.8-mile canal was contaminated by toxins, including “pesticides, metals and the cancer-causing chemicals known as PCBs,” according to a New York Times report at the time. The de Blasio campaign did not make the candidate available to be interviewed for this article, despite numerous written and telephone requests for comment. Though de Blasio has been extremely effective in distilling his campaign’s message to the succinct, powerful refrain
“I don’t think he’s always been this progressive, but it’s interesting how candidates can remake themselves when they’re running for office. It’s revisionist history.”
the real estate industry hates—meanwhile they gave him fundraisers. Bruce Ratner was on the host committee of one of his fundraisers!” said Koteen, singling out the developer of the controversial Atlantic Yards project, of which de Blasio was an ardent supporter in the Council. “I think people should know that Bill de Blasio takes care of Bill de Blasio. If it means putting his constituents last, that’s exactly what he’s going to do,” said Katia Kelly, a community activist from Carroll Gardens and the writer of the blog Pardon Me for Asking. “I am incensed that he dares to call himself a liberal or a progressive, especially because of the fact that while he was our councilman, [he] basically was not for the E.P.A. [Environmental Protection Agency] taking over the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, and protected big developers, because that was who was lining his pockets.”
“Tale of Two Cities,” even at the outset of his current campaign he was singing a different tune. Several prominent individuals in the business world, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize their relationships with de Blasio, confirmed that in the initial stages of his campaign, the thrust of de Blasio’s pitch seeking their support was that he was the candidate best equipped to bring the business and labor communities together. The argument was a credible one; he had amassed both a solid pro-business and pro-union record in the Council. Nonetheless, it failed to get much traction with the powerful individuals he approached, most of whom were already committed to supporting Council Speaker Christine Quinn for mayor. Then in late 2011, the first of what would soon become a pair of arrests rocked
City Comptroller John Liu’s campaign, tarnishing Liu with the specter of scandal. Before the onset of Liu’s troubles, the comptroller, a tireless, charismatic retail politician, had positioned himself as the most progressive of the major Democratic candidates, a claim validated by Liu having established himself as the most vocal and vociferous critic of the Bloomberg administration and the mayor. Liu’s candidacy had posed a significant obstacle to de Blasio’s aspirations. Both men would be vying for the same base of support—liberals, outer borough voters, unions. They would also both be aggressively pursuing the Working Families Party’s endorsement—the WFP had supported both Liu and de Blasio’s respective successful candidacies for citywide office in 2009. Once it became clear that Liu would no longer be considered a viable candidate for mayor, however—or could even be on the verge of arrest—de Blasio seized the opportunity to tack left, filling the void vacated by Liu as the most progressive candidate in the race. In late January 2012, de Blasio officially announced his candidacy for mayor in front of his three-story brownstone in Park Slope, with a message that has become his mantra over the last 19 months: “Let’s be honest about where we are today: a city that in too many ways has become a ‘Tale of Two Cities,’ a place where City Hall too often has catered to the interests of the elite rather than the needs of everyday New Yorkers.” Over the course of his rise, many of those “elites” have bristled at the relentlessness with which de Blasio has hammered away at the issue of income inequality and his extraordinary success in vaulting it to the forefront of the city’s discourse. Many business leaders, corporate giants, Wall Street titans and onepercenters across the city who have had no prior dealings with de Blasio have grown deeply wary of his candidacy, and now howl at the prospect of his election. Yet those with a history of working with him, shirk off his oratory as harmless, savvy campaigning. Kathy Wylde, the president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said she is not concerned about the prospect of a de Blasio mayoralty. “Bill de Blasio is a smart, practical leader, and I don’t think the business community has to fear that he will be unresponsive on their issues,” said Wylde, pointing out that de Blasio has embraced more of the recommendations made in the NYC Jobs Blueprint the Partnership released in April than any other mayoral candidate. While Wylde freely admits that de Blasio’s messaging “has alarmed some people” in the business community, she discounts it as “politics,” based upon her experience of having known and dealt with de Blasio on issues important to the Partnership for over 20 years. “Bill has historically not been a divisive, class cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
COVER warfare-type person,” Wylde explained, adding, “I don’t think he’s a captive of his own rhetoric.” Carlo Scissura, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, agrees. “I think that people who know him will agree that he’s very pragmatic,” said Scissura, who first met de Blasio when
colleagues from the City Council agreed that the notion that he is the “true progressive choice” for mayor—as his campaign website puts it—conflicts with their firsthand experience of working with him. “He is a pseudo-progressive, more of an opportunist,” said Councilman Charles Barron, who represents Brooklyn and is
property tax increase, there was a discussion within the Democratic conference and I remember—and I’ll never forget this—de Blasio getting up and saying, ‘Well, if we’re going to do this, we should do it now, because the voters will forget by Election Day,’ ” Avella recalled. “And I’ve never forgotten that, because that to me is
unexpectedly entered the race and threatened to usurp the crown of liberal champion by pure virtue of his star power, after the revelation came to light that Weiner had continued his Twitter escapades past the point which he had previously admitted, overnight his candidacy nosedived.
“Even if you’re coming from the right or he’s coming from the left, he’ll meet you right in the middle and the project will move forward, and I think that’s how he will govern should he be elected mayor.” De Blasio’s campaign has centered around a message of growing economic inequality.
they were both school board members, prior to de Blasio being elected to the Council in 2001. Scissura does not see much of a divide between the positions de Blasio has articulated as a mayoral candidate and the interests of his chamber’s members. “I think when he talks about issues of childcare, of early childhood, of graduation rates, et cetera, the bottom line is that the business community talks about the same things. We may say it in a different way, but we all want quality education—universal pre-K really helps businesses, because it gives parents a place to drop kids off in the morning—so a lot of the things he’s saying will resonate once the rhetoric of the campaign is over and governing begins.” In Scissura’s estimation, de Blasio is basically a centrist: “He is very willing to listen to very different positions than he has and many times come right in the middle and meet you. Even if you’re coming from the right or he’s coming from the left, he’ll meet you right in the middle and the project will move forward, and I think that’s how he will govern should he be elected mayor.” Several of de Blasio’s Democratic 16
SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
supporting Liu for mayor. “I served in the Council with Bill de Blasio for eight years. He voted on every economic development project that the mayor and the Speaker brought through the City Council. A progressive person would have stood up to Yankee Stadium; they would have stood up to NYU, taken on a stronger stance on Columbia University and their gentrification of Harlem. He voted for all of that stuff.” State Senator Tony Avella, who also served for eight years in the Council with de Blasio, agreed that de Blasio “would probably be favorable to real estate,” based on his past stances on development projects. “I don’t think he’s always been this progressive, but it’s interesting how candidates can remake themselves when they’re running for office,” observed Avella, who has not endorsed any candidate for mayor. “It’s revisionist history.” For Avella, one particular incident from 2002 vividly encapsulates his take on de Blasio’s character. “When the issue came up about the 18.49 percent property tax, before it got done when the mayor, I guess, told the Speaker that he wanted to do the
so indicative of how he looks at things. It’s not about what’s the right thing to do, [it’s about] how does it affect [him] politically. That’s why I’m not a fan of the guy.” De Blasio’s pragmatism—or opportunism, depending upon your perspective—has led to a traceable evolution of some of his positions. The Quinn campaign regularly sends out press releases with the subject line “Tale of Two de Blasios,” calling out de Blasio for various flip-flops on issues like the extension of term limits (he was for doing so when running for Speaker in 2005, then vehemently against it in 2008 when laying the groundwork for his run for public advocate). The Thompson campaign has launched a website aimed exclusively at exposing de Blasio’s inconsistencies—BilldeBliar.com—in a move to try to stem his surge. But de Blasio is peaking at the right time. Since he was a nonentity in the polls for much of the race, the other candidates did not bother leveling any attacks at him, and let him stake out the left of the field largely unchallenged. Though de Blasio had to endure a brief scare when Anthony Weiner, once a darling of progressives,
Ultimately the Weiner interlude proved to be advantageous for de Blasio; it woke up New Yorkers to the race, and the city’s suddenly energized progressives, who thought for an instant that they had found a beacon in Weiner, ended up casting about for another candidate to embrace. With Quinn and Thompson clearly incapable of galvanizing the left behind them (because of term limits and her relationship with Bloomberg for Quinn, and a lack of dynamism and personality in Thompson’s case), de Blasio finally had an opening to catch the public’s attention, and starting with his now famous “Dante” commercial featuring his son, he made the most of the opportunity. Before Quinn or Thompson could react, de Blasio had quickly hoovered up Weiner’s supporters and leapt ahead in the polls. It was only then that Quinn and Thompson directed their fire at de Blasio, but their attacks, launched so late in the race, have come across as hollow, selfinterested and desperate, even when they were valid. Quinn’s and Thompson’s counteroffensives have also faltered because the candidates have failed to articulate a clear
ENDING BLOOMBERG’S TEST-DRIVEN SCHOOL CULTURE By Michael Mulgrew President, United Federation of Teachers
“Bill de Blasio is a smart, practical leader, and I don’t think the business community has to fear that he will be unresponsive on their issues.”
The dramatic drop in student scores after the state introduced new tests based on the rigorous Common Core learning standards is a clear demonstration that — after a decade of Mayor Bloomberg’s obsession with data, test prep and proclamations of his strategy’s success — our school system needs a new direction. The mayor has predicted a huge public outcry if his school strategies are abandoned. But public polls shows that two-thirds of New Yorkers believe that the schools are no better, or indeed are worse, since he made New York City virtually the only system in the state where test scores are the most important — and often the only — thing that matters in decisions about children’s futures. Changing the test-driven culture should be the first priority for the new mayor.
vision of their own for the city. Quinn has largely repeated some version of the argument that while others talk a big game, she is the only one with actual accomplishments—a dicey assertion to predicate her campaign upon while at the same trying to separate herself from her close association with Mayor Bloomberg, since almost all of the achievements she can claim could also be attributed to him. As for Thompson, he has meandered though the months without a plainly defined message, only affirming the common conception that that he is passive and lacks the ability to lead. De Blasio, though not a stirring orator, has infused a modicum of passion into this otherwise passionless campaign. And regardless of whether his “Tale of Two Cities” is sincere, he has certainly tapped into the zeitgeist, giving a much-needed voice to the most important issue facing middle class New Yorkers right now. Recently, as a panelist on Marvin Scott’s television show Campaign CloseUp on PIX11, I asked the Republican mayoral candidates Joe Lhota and George McDonald (John Catsimatidis had a scheduling conflict) what they would do to address income inequality, if elected. They both rattled off some version of the response: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” To me, this answer demonstrated a failure on their part to understand the problem at hand. Income inequality is not just an issue plaguing the jobless; it is an issue plaguing those who have jobs—good middle class jobs—but who nonetheless see the city’s rising costs threatening to drown them. Income inequality describes the fear that grips most New Yorkers, who know only too well that if they moved out of their apartment, the rent would instantly be jacked up to a price so high that they could never afford to move back into the very same apartment in which they currently live. It is the constant foreboding that middle class New Yorkers feel that soon they will be squeezed out of the neighborhoods they call home, and that the city is rapidly running out of alternatives for them to turn to where they can still maintain the quality of life they depend upon. Only Bill de Blasio has really spoken to these most fundamental of concerns, and it is for this reason that
people are stopping to cheer him when they come upon his press conferences in downtown Brooklyn, in Lower Manhattan, and practically everywhere else he goes these days. With the polls standing as they are— assuming no extreme, last-minute reversals of fortune—it appears that de Blasio now has the best chance of any candidate of becoming the next mayor. The numbers show him beating Quinn and Thompson by large margins in a potential runoff, and the Republicans confront daunting statistical odds in their bid to extend their 20-year-long hold on the mayoralty. So, what kind of mayor will de Blasio make, if elected? Since de Blasio’s ascension to the top of the Democratic field, many commentators have drawn parallels between his rivalry with Quinn and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama’s Democratic primary showdown for president in 2008. They have observed that Quinn, like Clinton, has run on the strength of her experience, while de Blasio, like Obama, has grabbed the mantle of change. (His most recent commercial concludes with de Blasio exclaiming, to applause, “We have to change this city!”) As in 2008, the commentators note, the voters’ hunger for a new direction has stolen the momentum away from the long-standing front-runner and infused the newcomer with genuine excitement. But there is another parallel as well. In 2008 many liberals believed in their hearts that once elected Obama would abandon his centrist positions, and unmask himself as a true progressive. He did not. On the contrary, Obama ended up being just the president he promised he would be, though few of the faithful had really listened to the nuances of what he had said on the campaign trail. For New Yorkers who are now placing their dreams in de Blasio as their great progressive hope, perhaps it is only logical for them to temper those feelings with the same dose of realism many refused to swallow in 2008. “Bill de Blasio is not the progressive that people think,” warns Councilman Barron. “If he’s elected mayor, mark my words: The progressive community will live to regret it.”
Student promotion. One of the mayor’s first major education initiatives, his attack on “social promotion,” began in 2004. It said that the system’s policy would be to hold back a student who failed a single test. That strategy — which ignored the fact that what a child does every day in class is more important than one day of testing — became largely moot as the state tests grew so easy that only a small minority of students failed to meet promotion criteria. In later years, the city Education Department began quietly rolling back that test-scoresare-everything policy, particularly in 2010, when the state tests became increasingly difficult. With the Common Core tests looming this spring, it was effectively suspended when Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told principals that — rather than relying on a hard score cutoff — students would be graded on a curve. The next mayor and chancellor need to institute a system in which test scores are only a part of a thoughtful decision made by a teacher and principal about whether a child is ready to move on to the next grade. Gifted and talented. Individual school districts once used a multiple-measure system that looked at tests, teacher recommendations and observations to determine admission to their gifted-and-talented programs. Claiming that the system was rife with corruption and favoritism, and tended to exclude black and Hispanic students, former Chancellor Joel Klein introduced a new test overseen by the central bureaucracy as the sole measure for admission. The result: Fewer black and Hispanic students than ever are being admitted to gifted-and-talented programs, while coaching for the new test has multiplied among middle-class and wealthy families — and 5-year-olds are being ranked by tenths of a point. The situation has become ridiculous. These decisions need to take more into account than a single test. In addition, if the Education Department cannot expand gifted-and-talented programs to meet the demand, a lottery should be instituted for all children who qualify, as the Daily News has suggested. Specialized high schools. An analogue of the gifted-and-talented scenario plays out at the eight high schools where admission is determined based on a single competitive exam. Fewer than 2% of students at Stuyvesant and Bronx Science are black. At Stuyvesant, fewer than 3% are Hispanic. Those numbers are so low in part due to the fact that many children do not have access to information about these schools or the specialized prep programs that prepare them for the entrance exam. The criteria for admission to these schools need to take into account the fact that these children have talents and abilities that are not reflected solely in their scores on this test. School grades/progress reports. The Education Department’s school progress reports need to be tossed. The grading system, based almost completely on test results — including an almost impossible-to-understand formula that’s supposed to rate schools on the progress their kids make — shows huge year-to-year swings at schools. What’s more, the reports often show schools with excellent records, where kids overwhelmingly achieve, earning only a C or a D, based on the department’s opaque calculations. Ending the obsession with test scores will also help undo another Bloomberg legacy — the concentration on math and reading (the major state-tested subjects) that has come to dominate instruction in the city. We will finally have the opportunity to bring back subjects and programs that have been minimized or forced from our schools: art, music and other subjects that help maintain children’s interest in learning. There is a role for test scores in education — to help understand where children need extra help. By turning our focus to better curriculum and improving classroom instruction, New York under the next mayor can become a role model for education nationwide. This column is reprinted from the New York Daily News The views, opinions, and judgments expressed in this message are solely those of the author. The message contents have not been reviewed or approved by the UFT.
cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
ALBANY BRACES FOR SOMETHING NEW:
C H A N G E By JESSICA BAKEMAN
or the first time in a generation, the people of Albany will elect a new mayor. Gerald Jennings, the 20-year incumbent who is retiring, is one of only three mayors to lead the state capital in 72 years, and the candidates vying to succeed him argue that Albany needs a big change. Mayoral hopefuls and good-government groups question whether career politicians stifle the Democratic process, their success potentially discouraging challengers and disheartening voters. “When you have this culture where whoever is there gets to be there as long as they say they want to be there, that breeds a level of disenfranchisement, where people just don’t feel as though they have a say,” said City Treasurer Kathy Sheehan, 49, the front-runner in the race. “I’d like to see us change that in Albany.” Sheehan will face former city councilman Corey Ellis, 42, in a Democratic primary Sept. 10. Sheehan and Ellis both support instituting term limits, a reform that would require the Albany Common Council to amend the city’s charter and voters to subsequently approve the change. “The longer someone stays in office, democracy suffers, and ideas suffer,” said Ellis, who gained thousands of supporters when he challenged Jennings in 2009. “Sometimes you can get complacent.” Bob Van Amburgh, executive assistant to Jennings, said elected office carries inherent term limits; when officials aren’t performing well, voters oust them. Van Amburgh spoke on behalf of Jennings, who was not available for an interview despite repeated requests. “If someone’s doing a good job, and they become sort of institutionalized, as Mayor Jennings may have been,” Van Amburgh said, “[voters] have had plenty of opportunity not to re-elect him.” A MODERN LEADER Like the other cities in economically18
SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
struggling upstate New York, Albany is facing 21st century challenges. In the absence of a once thriving manufacturing economy, the city of nearly 98,000 suffers from an eroding tax base, which limits revenue sources while state and federal aid dwindles. Because Albany is a state capital with a large public university, much of its commercial property is not taxable. Local officials also grapple with technological deficits, mediocre educational outcomes and public safety concerns. Jennings, who first took office in 1994, announced when he ran four years ago that it would be his fifth and final term. He has not endorsed a candidate to succeed him. Sheehan and Ellis each claim to be the modern leader Albany needs to move forward. “The challenges have changed; the city has changed. And it’s time for a new type of leadership,” Sheehan said. Both candidates would be younger leaders of the city—Jennings is 65—but they would also bring different perspectives to the office. If elected, Ellis would be the first black mayor; Sheehan would be the first woman to serve in the role. The candidates argue that a different outlook would better serve Albany’s diverse population. About 31 percent of the city’s residents are black, and women make up 52 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A quarter of city residents live below the poverty level. A late July poll conducted by the Siena College Research Institute showed Sheehan leading Ellis, but researchers cautioned that each candidate has a strong base. “Sheehan is overwhelmingly the choice for mayor among older, white, Catholic and male voters,” Don Levy, the institute’s director, said in a news release. “Ellis’ support is strongest and reaches a majority among African-Americans, and
he has plurality support among younger and Protestant voters. In every election, but even more so in a primary in September, the candidate that succeeds in getting their faithful to turn out may very well be celebrating after the polls close.” FIVE TERMS TOO LONG? Bill Mahoney, a researcher with the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that Jennings gained power and renown, which made it unlikely for potential challengers to try to unseat him. “The general sense that Albany mayors are unbeatable has made it harder for strong campaigns to mount against them,” Mahoney said. He said there would likely be stronger turnout for this year’s contest, because it appears to be more competitive than traditional Albany elections. In 2009 fewer than 15,000 people went to the polls for the primary election, in which Jennings received about 8,100 votes and Ellis got about 6,300. In the general election about 17,000 people voted, nearly 10,000 of them supporting Jennings. The Republican candidate, Nathan Lebron, garnered about 1,200 votes, while Ellis, running on the Working Families Party line, got 4,800. The upcoming primary “should bring out more (voters), because they feel like there is an actual chance that their votes could help decide who wins,” Mahoney said. The Republican candidate for mayor, Jesse Calhoun, who entered the race in May, also supports term limits. He said he decided to run partly because he wanted to give Albany voters more choices. A Republican faces significant difficulty getting elected in Albany, as in most New York cities. Albany is home to nearly 36,000 registered Democrats and only about 3,100 registered Republicans. Calhoun is a preschool teacher, an Internet radio host and a musician. “A mayor shouldn’t serve longer than
a president,” Calhoun said. “Once they’re elected, they have substantial momentum and coverage, and they can build this bureaucratic system that will take years to disassemble if it’s not working.” HISTORY OF MACHINE POLITICS From a historical perspective, the fact that Sheehan and Ellis will compete in a primary election is an improvement for democracy, said Ivan Steen, an associate professor at the University at Albany who is an expert in local politics. Albany was long controlled by the Democratic political machine, in which local party members would choose a candidate, rather than allowing residents to vote for their nominee. The Democratic candidate was likely to prevail, Steen said, and Albany residents were loyal constituents. The city’s longest-serving mayor, Erastus Corning II, died in office in 1983 after serving more than 40 years as mayor. His successor, Thomas Whalen III, served three terms before retiring. In neither case did Albany residents reject a re-election bid. “People in Albany like to re-elect their mayor, frankly. It’s such a tradition here,” he said. “I think it would be hard for them to turn a mayor out.” Steen said the benefit of a mayor serving for multiple terms is that the leader gains valuable experience and develops a dense network of allies. “If a person is in office a long time, on the positive hand, that person has learned a lot, hopefully. That person has made a lot of contacts, and that person knows how to do the job,” Steen said. Van Amburgh said Jennings has built a strong community during his two decades in office. He is stepping down to spend more time with his family. “The change is going to be extremely difficult for people to come to grips with,” Van Amburgh said. “Twenty years is a long period of time.”
OUTSPOKEN ADVOCATE OR INEFFECTUAL SQUABBLER? SYRACUSE MAYOR’S STYLE IN QUESTION
By JESSICA BAKEMAN
Stephanie Miner, shown here in a 2012 file photo, is running for re-election as mayor of Syracuse.
o some, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner’s aggressive leadership style demonstrates her intense dedication to the fiscally struggling city. To others, her demeanor is unnecessarily controversial and combative, alienating potential allies in her quest to revitalize the central New York municipality of more than 145,000 residents. The Democrat faces two primary challengers in her bid for re-election Sept. 10, and her opponents claim that public battles with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and with local leaders demonstrate that her priorities are decidedly skewed. Miner, 43, who was appointed by the governor as co-chair of the state Democratic Party, wrote an editorial for The New York Times in February denouncing aspects of Cuomo’s state budget that were meant to address cities’ financial woes. In the piece, she called his plan to reduce local government pension costs in the short term an “accounting gimmick” that allows cities to borrow against the future. The high-profile editorial and further public criticisms of Cuomo followed volatile clashes with the local district attorney and the Syracuse Common Council. According to Miner, responses from residents on the campaign trail to her “professional disagreement” with the governor and disputes with other officials have been overwhelmingly positive.
“People in the city of Syracuse have repeatedly told me that they appreciate that I am standing up and advocating for [their] interest,” Miner said. “They appreciate that I am doing it in a professional manner.” Cuomo’s office declined to comment. Pat Hogan, 63, a city councilman who is trailing Miner in the polls, said the current mayor’s decision to hold the statewide political position while she is charged with governing the city robs residents of a full-time leader. He contends that being a strong local leader is no longer Miner’s primary goal. “Being mayor of a midsized city like Syracuse is time-consuming; it should be a 24/7 job,” Hogan said. “And she took on, in effect, another job—a political job. I don’t think the citizens of the city of Syracuse benefit at all.”
n a recent poll conducted by the Siena College Research Institute, Miner fared far better than her challengers, Hogan and businessman Alfonso Davis, 47, on every issue. She maintained 56 percent of Democratic voters’ support, compared with 22 percent for Hogan and 10 percent for Davis. That’s a particularly strong lead for a three-way race, pollster Steven Greenberg said. Voters believe Miner will fight crime, improve public education and address
neighborhood concerns better than her opponents, according to the poll. Conducted in mid-August with 957 registered Syracuse voters, 502 of whom are Democrats, the survey carries a roughly 3 to 4 percent margin of error. Greenberg said Miner is popular with Syracuse residents, most of whom appreciate her willingness to challenge others in power. “I think what voters see is that she is somebody who works with Democrats but is not afraid to take on Democrats, [and who] works with Republicans but is not afraid to take on Republicans,” he said. “I think that voters see in Miner someone who is relatively independent.” There is currently only a placeholder Republican candidate in the race. Lawyer Kevin Kuehner, who is now on the ballot, is not mounting a campaign for the position, and will eventually disqualify himself, giving the GOP more time to scrape together a candidate. In October 2012 there were 38,500 registered Democrats in the city and 11,600 Republicans, according to the Onondaga County Board of Elections. That gives Democrats a more than 3-to-1 advantage. Nearly every elected official in the city is a Democrat. “It’s very difficult to get candidates to run with those type of odds,” said state Sen. John DeFrancisco, a prominent Republican from Syracuse who said he has had a positive relationship with Miner.
rant Reeher, a political science professor and director of the Alan K. Campbell Public Affairs Institute at Syracuse University, notes that there are pros and cons to Miner’s leadership style. While most see her positively, Miner’s record of battling other local and state leaders is a “double-edged quality,” Reeher said—with some residents concerned she will damage key relationships. “The positive edge to that is that she is seen as a very strong advocate for the city, even if that means being willing to get into public dispute with the governor over some of the financial challenges … that she has been dealing with for the city,” Reeher said. “The other side of this is that she is considered to be someone who really will stand up for her views and push her views,
and so, sometimes that leads to a perception of being conflictual and combative.” Miner’s primary opponents have mounted campaigns that highlight her recent quarrels. “She is a controversial, confrontational politician,” Hogan said. “That’s her style of governance, and it’s not my style of governance. I’m more collaborative.” Davis, who was not available for an interview, wrote to Democratic supporters in early April announcing he would run again. He garnered about 1,000 votes when he ran against Miner in the 2009 primary; she received approximately 4,000. In his letter Davis criticized Miner for her interactions with the governor and others, accusing her of quickly assigning blame for the city’s problems. “I will be a leader that knows that he represents a city of many, not a person attacking, blaming and warning without offering solutions or working with those who are required to sit at the table to resolve these issues,” Davis wrote. Hogan accused Miner of acting based on ambitions for higher office, pointing to her New York Times piece. “Her desire is for more of a national and a state profile than it is to be mayor of the city of Syracuse,” he said.
iner said she is a strong advocate for her city. She contends that it is a mayoral responsibility to engage in Albany politics. “Syracuse is not an island,” she said. “The state controls and dictates how we spend money, how we raise revenue, what our programs need to be, what our mandates are, and as a consequence it is very important that the mayor be an active participant in state politics and state government, state policy.” DeFrancisco, the GOP senator, said her opponents’ claims are unfounded. She is focused on Syracuse; if she weren’t, why would she criticize Cuomo, a powerful governor? “If she is looking for higher office, I think the most foolish thing that could be done, if that was her goal, would be to speak out against the governor,” he said. “That’s the worst thing you could possibly do, to get the governor angry.”
cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
SETTING THE AGENDA
SETTING THE AGENDA: A HEAD START ON THE 2014 SESSION As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” For many organizations, interests and activists— and the media outlets that cover them—by the time the focus shifts to the next year’s legislative agenda in Albany, the top players have already set the priorities—the battle lines are already drawn. It’s with the aim of preparing for next year and keeping ahead of the curve—and engaging the 2014 legislative session in Albany instead of reacting to it—that we bring back a special section of City & State: Setting the Agenda. In this issue and the next, we profile 10 of the top policy areas the Legislature will be grappling with in 2014. We also review what happened in the 2013 session and invite leading advocates in these arenas to stake out their ground for next year’s legislative showdowns. The goal of Setting the Agenda is to begin a conversation with our legislators at a time of the year when there’s not too much noise to listen. The 2014 session will be here before you know it. Get ready. 20 SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
HEALTHCARE By WILDER FLEMING
So far 2013 has been a year of transition for much of New York’s healthcare system, with the action centered on the enactment and implementation of laws and policies from previous years. Officials are scrambling to promote the state’s new healthinsurance market, which is slated to open on Oct. 1, Meanwhile, the implementation of a 2012 bill aimed at curbing the abuse of prescription opioids, the so-called “I-STOP” legislation, was set to go into effect by the end of August. As for the state’s exhaustive redesign of Medicaid, the overhaul is ongoing, and patients are increasingly moving to managed-care organizations. A trend toward appointment-based “ambulatory” care, and away from long hospital stays is also increasing the number of empty hospital beds in New York. So far the effects of this trend have been seen most dramatically in Brooklyn, where two major hospitals, the Interfaith Medical Center and CUNY’s Long Island College Hospital, are on the verge of closing. But state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, the Senate Health Committee’s ranking member, says this is only the beginning. “Whether we’re talking about urban areas or, certainly, rural areas, it’s the potential closure of hospitals across the state,” Rivera said. “Since we are in the process of redesigning our healthcare delivery system, particularly as it relates to Medicaid, we will be looking at how this transition impacts hospitals to make sure they remain open—or at the very least the services in the community where they are remain adequate.” Rivera says the No. 1 priority for next year is compliance with President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, with a primary focus on the implementation of the state’s
health-insurance exchange, now dubbed the “New York State of Health” marketplace. But he’s also interested in pushing some initiatives of his own, including one regulating tobacco. “This bill would equalize the taxation rate of different types of tobacco, which would actually give us something in the neighborhood of $40 million in revenue,” he said. State Sen. Kemp Hannon, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, says he hopes to see the enactment of two bills that have already passed the Legislature but remain unsigned by the governor. One would provide hepatitis C testing for all New Yorkers with health insurance who were born between 1945 and 1965; the other is aimed at clearing up confusion over unexpected medical bills. “It would require that patients be informed about whether they have actual ‘patient status’ or are just merely being observed,” Hannon said. “If you’re older and covered by Medicare but you don’t get patient status, then you don’t get covered for your longer-term care. And people are finding surprise bills of $20[,000] to $30,000 that they didn’t know they were going to have to pay.” In the lower house, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, chair of their Health Committee, first introduced his bill for a statewide single-payer healthcare system in 1992. But he’s hoping the Affordable Care Act will now provide the momentum needed to make it happen. “The Affordable Care Act essentially enacts the Massachusetts approach,” Gottfried said. “And while that has some significant improvements over what we used to have, it is now clear that we can do a lot better. And so I believe there is a real opportunity to rebuild interest in a state single-payer bill.” Gottfried is also pushing a proposal that would expand upon the existing Family Health Plus program, which extends Medicaid eligibility to households with moderate incomes. He hopes to see the so-called Basic Health Program enacted as part of the 2014 state budget.
“The current income limit for Family Health Plus is 150 percent of poverty for household income,” Gottfried said. “Under the Basic Health Program option, households earning under 200 percent of poverty could sign up for health coverage.” The lawmaker said that the premiums would be covered using a combination of state and federal subsidies, and only minimal co-payments would be allowed. For Gottfried, medical marijuana has been a longtime issue that he hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo will eventually come around on. “We are the only North Atlantic state other than New Hampshire to not have [it],” he said. “And there are thousands of New Yorkers who are suffering … all because of political correctness.” Currently the state’s longest serving Assembly member and one of New York’s preeminent experts on healthcare policy, Gottfried says that over the longer term he worries about the shift of Medicaid to managed care companies, which he thinks are incentivized to care more for their bottom line than for their patients. He is also concerned about staffing cuts in the state’s Health Department. “Year after year, more people in the Health Department retire and are not being replaced because of severe budget limitations imposed by a series of governors,” he said. “It’s this administrative staff who develop and implement policies, write regulations, enforce laws—and there are any number of policy initiatives that are not moving forward in New York because they don’t have enough personnel to do the work … putting more money into internal department operations is never an exciting, vote-getting budget initiative. But it’s desperately important.”
INSIGHT: HEALTHCARE CSEA BY DANNY DONOHUE
WHAT GOT DONE IN 2013 -Development of State Health Insurance Exchange -Implementation of “I-STOP” -Ongoing Medicaid Redesign -Fights Over Hospital Closures
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA -Implementation of Affordable Care Act -Medical Bill Notification Transparency -Legalization of Medical Marijuana -Single-Payer Healthcare
New York’s mental health system needs a lot of improvements, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s flawed and misnamed “Centers of Excellence” proposal will likely make a bad situation worse. Right now too many New Yorkers struggling with mental health issues can’t get the help they need because of a fragmented system that leaves many at risk and localities footing the bill for the state’s irresponsibility. The governor needs to rethink his vague proposal, and responsible lawmakers need to immediately challenge the administration on its lack of transparency and accountability. No one disputes the need to improve
SETTING THE AGENDA the access and delivery of mental health care in New York. No one disputes the argument that more and better mental health services are needed in our communities. But no one should simply believe those objectives will miraculously result from further eroding state services and some political double-talk about improvements. The vague proposal just continues the state’s empty promises over community mental health services while creating winners and losers in an absurd political game of musical chairs with state psychiatric centers, which provide the backbone of mental health services in many communities. Making matters worse, there are also ill-advised plans to consolidate and move children’s services, creating additional hardships for families seeking treatment. Cuomo’s plan would simply diminish state services without any guarantees of improving community-based care or addressing the long-term needs of people with serious and persistent mental illness. That’s not acceptable. Right now, too many people with those long-term needs end up in county jails at local taxpayer expense—a form of unfunded mandate— because mental health services are simply not available. Most of these individuals do not belong in jail. The Cuomo administration’s own Office of Mental Health stated in its most recent five-year plan that current “state psychiatric hospital capacity cannot be responsibly and rapidly reduced without managed investments in community care.” Yet the administration is disregarding that warning. Enough is enough with the Cuomo administration’s public policy by press release. New Yorkers need a real plan that meets real needs.
NEW YORK STATE NURSES ASSOCIATION BY JILL FURILLO
Executive Director Every New Yorker deserves access to high quality healthcare where they live. That’s NYSNA’s legislative priority for 2014. Some hospital executives are forcing nurses to take on 15, 16 and even more patients at a time. That is too many. There is a solution: safe nurse-to-patient ratios. In the Assembly last session, 86 members signed on to support the Safe Staffing for Quality Care Act. But the bill was blocked from even coming to a committee vote in the Senate. Research shows that patients do better when there is safe staffing. California has already passed this legislation—not a single hospital closed because of ratios. New York patients deserve that same level of protection. Last session, legislators rejected multiple attempts to let Wall Street or private equity firms take over New York hospitals. Other states have let for-profit companies run hospitals: It’s been a disaster. A Duke University study found
that patient deaths spike when hospitals switch to a for-profit model. We expect Wall Street to try again—and we’re prepared to fight back. We also defeated an attempt to deregulate our state’s certificate-of-need process, which gives communities a voice when hospitals cut services. That process needs to be strengthened—just look at the proliferation of unregulated physician-owned practices, which could prove dangerous if left unsupervised.
From Brooklyn to the North Country, big chains are cutting back services, and some hospitals are in dangers of closing. We need a moratorium on all hospital closures until we’re able to bring together all the stakeholders with city, state and federal officials to ensure equal access to care—by getting access to critical sources of funding including the Medicaid waiver and disproportionate-share funding. The only long-term solution is a singlepayer health system that guarantees
quality care for every New Yorker. Our neighbor Vermont is boldly launching a single-payer system. Dick Gottfried has proposed a single-payer system for New York, and we will push to make it law. In 2013, New York patients and NYSNA stopped a dangerous attack on our hospitals. In 2014, let’s make positive change and guarantee every New Yorkers gets the care they need.
Nothing of “excellence” in Cuomo’s vague Mental Health initiative By Danny Donohue “State Psychiatric Hospital capacity cannot be responsibly and rapidly reduced without managed investments in community care.” — NYS Office of Mental Health Five-Year Plan Based on this statement in the New York State Office of Mental Health’s most recent Five-Year Plan, the Cuomo Administration is not heeding their agency’s own warning. Instead, under a vague and misnamed initiative called “Centers of Excellence,” Gov. Cuomo is moving forward with the closure and consolidation process without having the appropriate community programs and services in place. Purely on a policy basis this is ill advised for many reasons. But considering the human toll the state’s continued irresponsibility takes on individuals and families struggling with mental illness, it is shameful. No one disputes the need to improve the access and delivery of mental health care in New York. No one disputes the argument that more and better mental health services are needed in our communities. But no one should simply believe those objectives will miraculously result from further eroding state services and some political double talk about improvements. We’ve been hearing the same old song for more than a generation. New York lawmakers even passed a law in 1994 requiring that all savings from psychiatric center downsizing be reinvested in appropriate community programs and resources. Subsequent legislatures and administrations have ignored that requirement. The Cuomo administration doesn’t even pay lip service to the notion of continuing current, let alone providing adequate resources, as closure and consolidation goes forward. The vague “Centers of Excellence” proposal just continues the state’s empty promises over community mental health services while creating winners and losers in an absurd political game of musical
chairs with state psychiatric centers, which provide the backbone of mental health services in many communities. Without any real detail, it’s impossible to put any faith in the administration’s claim that their proposal will make things better: • Eroding access to long term care for people with serious and persistent mental illness will not improve mental health services; • Forcing families to travel long distances to other communities for access to children’s services isn’t a step forward; • Ignoring the reality of seriously ill people in need of intensive help ending up on the street or in county jails at local taxpayer expense because the state has shirked its responsibility and no other appropriate care is available is not making things better; Enough with Gov. Cuomo’s public policy by news release packaging! The people of New York would be far better served by an actual plan detailing how service gaps will be addressed community by community. This plan must include a recognition of the state’s obligation to provided appropriate long term and intensive care for people with serious and persistent mental illness. It would be foolish for the Cuomo Administration not to utilize the experienced and dedicated state mental health workforce to address this continuing unmet need. Danny Donohue is president of CSEA – New York’s Leading Union.
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
Correction: This advertisement was scheduled to appear in the August 19 print issue of City & State. Due to an internal mistake a previous ad from CSEA and PEF appeared. City & State apologizes for the mix-up.
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cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
SETTING THE AGENDA
By STEPHEN WITT
commission will follow the money, which she says often buys or stalls legislative proposals. The commission may also recommend that the LLC loophole that allows limited liability companies to be treated like individual campaign contributors—as opposed to regular corporations, whose maximum allowable contribution level is significantly less—finally be closed. But Scott Reif, a spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, called the commission a Cuomo power play after lawmakers refused to fall in line with his anticorruption proposal without any compromise. “It was the governor’s decision, and we’ll wait and see what [the Commission] comes up with,” Reif said. Despite this ongoing tension, Reif characterized the 2013 legislative session as a success on many levels for governmental reform, citing the final enactment of the 2011 ethics reform law and a “restored
measure to help increase voter participation, and we hope the Senate votes on it,” he added. While lawmakers generally pointed out the positives in the 2013 session, government watchdog groups had a more mixed opinion. “Campaign finance was supposed to get done [in this session] and nothing went anywhere,” said Bill Mahoney, who works on good-government issues for the New York Public Interest Research Group. “And, unfortunately, there were more scandals then we’ve seen in some time, but the Legislature said they were okay with this, because they failed to pass any reform to reduce the frequency of these scandals in the future.” Mahoney did express some optimism in the Moreland Commission investigating public corruption and abuses of power. Citizens Union Executive Director Dick Dadey said that while he was disappointed the 2013 legislative session did not enact comprehensive campaign finance legislation, including a matching funds system similar to that in use in New York City, there were some notable achievements, including instituting an open data system that will make more government information available online. He also praised another change: that the Board of Elections will now transfer results electronically, speeding up the time it takes to count votes on election night, he said.
“There were more scandals than we’ve seen in some time, but the Legislature said they were okay with this, because they failed to pass any reform to reduce the frequency of these scandals in the future.”
The New York State Capitol in Albany. The opinions of lawmakers and government watchdog groups regarding goodgovernance reforms in Albany’s recently completed 2013 legislative session have a lot in common with the perception of beauty: They are all in the eye of the beholder. While several measures aimed at cleaning up government were proposed and debated separately in both chambers of the statehouse, none came close to becoming law. However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has convened a Moreland Commission to investigate and expose corruption in the state’s political system after the Legislature refused to adopt the anticorruption measures he put forth last spring. In creating the commission, Cuomo 22 SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
gave it the teeth to investigate by issuing subpoenas and examining witnesses. Thus far it has ordered both the state Board of Elections and the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to retain documents that might be needed for its probe. Cuomo has mandated that the commission issue a preliminary report this December and another at the end of 2014. “I’m cautiously optimistic that the Moreland Commission will make comprehensive recommendations with real threats of criminal charges, and that combined with public threats in an election year, it will serve as a real motivation for the governor and Legislature to get campaign finance laws fixed,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. Krueger added she also believes the
functionality to the Senate.” “We talked about the need for additional transparency and reporting requirements so the public would know who’s contributing, and when Democrats were pushing for approximately $200 million in taxpayer dollars to fund political campaigns, we opposed it as a nonstarter,” he said. “There are many good uses for that money, including putting it into schools or roads or to pay for property tax relief.” Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, noted that the Assembly approved campaign finance reform legislation (the Fair Elections Act) this past session, and that getting it actually enacted will continue to be a priority next year. “We also passed an early voting
WHAT GOT DONE IN 2013 -Moreland Commission Convened to Investigate Corruption in the State’s Political System -Final Passage of the 2011 Ethics Reform Bill -Electronic Transfer of Vote Count Instituted in New York City
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA -Campaign Finance Reform -Moreland Commission Findings
SETTING THE AGENDA INSIGHT: GOOD GOVERNMENT NEW YORK PUBLIC INTEREST RESEARCH GROUP BY BILL MAHONEY
Research Coordinator Campaign finance reform is a top priority for NYPIRG in the next legislative session. Why is there any reason to believe 2014 will see action undertaken by a Legislature whose long failure to address this issue has amounted to a tacit approval of Albany’s dysfunction? For starters, one of the weakest campaign finance systems in the country has only gotten worse. The limits on acceptable use of housekeeping funds have been stretched so far as to render them meaningless. This soft money is used in ways that no rational person would claim are not directly connected on an election. This is largely due to nonexistent enforcement by the state Board of Elections, a partisan entity that sits idly by as political committees commit tens of thousands of violations every year. The Board has even created new problems, like the “LLC loophole,” which lets some individuals give candidates more than 10 times the theoretical limit. Finally, nascent super PACs have begun to appear, and are poised to play an increasing role in coming elections. New Yorkers are fed up with being a national punchline and watching special interests crowd out their voices by opening their checkbooks to campaign committees. While the governor and state lawmakers hope to argue that Albany’s dysfunction is behind us, the crime wave that struck the Capitol in 2013 tells New Yorkers a different story. Against this backdrop and in light of his inability to forge agreement on comprehensive campaign finance reform, the governor has created a Moreland Commission charged with investigating public corruption. The commissioners are off to a promising start, demonstrating that they understand that conduct that is completely lawful does even more to blemish the statehouse than the headline-grabbing criminal conduct. Reports indicate they have subpoenaed real estate interests to understand how exclusive tax breaks were made into law earlier this year. An exposé of the current “pay-to-play” system coming right before the pivotal 2014 election will do more to force legislators to reform the system than additions to the long list of convicts. If the Moreland Commission continues in this promising direction, then 2014 will finally be the year that a majority of legislators can no longer say they are comfortable with the corrupt status quo.
COMMON CAUSE/NY BY SUSAN LERNER
Executive Director 2014 is an important year for campaign finance and election reform at both the state and city levels. Common Cause/NY will be working to discourage abuses of the city campaign finance system, while working with allies to reinvigorate the effort to enact meaningful reforms to the state system. The 2013 legislative session ended with a particularly Albany-esque solution to campaign finance reform. Lawmakers ignored the public outcry for a system of small dollar donations built around a core of publicly financed elections and failed to pass Fair Elections, although the measure got closer to passage than ever before. Instead, the governor convened a Moreland Commission which so far seems to be taking its responsibility to investigate public corruption seriously. To that end, we have issued numerous reports that illustrate the ways in which industry and interests abuse the LLC loophole and party housekeeping accounts to circumvent existing laws. We will be evaluating the Commission based on its recommendations, and the governor and Legislature’s willingness to convert them into action. Although the city campaign finance laws impose strict spending and contribution limits, outside special interests have invested millions into the 2013 elections through independent expenditures. That’s why we’re already working with Councilman Brad Lander to pass legislation that would require PAC-sponsored independent expenditures to list their top five donors on all political advertising. Currently voters receive mailings from, or watch ads by, cleverly named PACs on a variety of issues, yet few voters are likely to have the resources or know-how to research their true origins. That needs to change at both the city and state level. More broadly, we’ll be working to make elections throughout New York State more accessible, focusing our efforts to pass early voting to make it easier for seniors, working people and parents to get to the polls. We’ll also be working to make the ballot more readable so that once people are at the polls they won’t have to squint to vote. The New York City ballot has used print as small 7.5-point font, meaning that anyone with less than perfect eyesight needed a magnifying glass just to see the candidates’ names. Finally, we will continue our advocacy for National Popular Vote, which has steadily gained support in the last few years.
CITIZENS UNION BY DICK DADEY
Executive Director Albany in 2013 featured one of the most corruption-ridden legislative sessions in recent history, as two legislators left office in a cloud of corruption and four more were indicted. Should all four leave office this year, a total of 26 legislators since 1999 will have been forced to leave office in disgrace amounting to an escalating crime wave of corruption. Citizens Union was formed in 1897 to combat the corrupt, transactional politics of Tammany Hall. Yet now we find a new battle against corruption in light of the state Legislature’s unwillingness to find common ground and pass meaningful campaign finance reform and other anticorruption measures. Our top legislative priority in 2014 is to polish up Albany’s tarnished reputation by pressing the Legislature to enact badly needed campaign finance laws and stronger ethics oversight. The state Legislature needs to pass campaign finance reform that reduces the influence of money on our democracy. That can best be accomplished by providing matching public funds to privately raised dollars, closing loopholes that allow extremely large donations to party committees, lowering significantly our current sky-
high contribution limits, ending “pay to play” by limiting donations from those who do business with the state, tightening regulations to ensures that “independent” political spending is not in reality coordinated with candidates’ campaigns, and ensuring greater transparency of campaign and independent political spending. We must ultimately create an independent enforcement unit at the state level with strong authority to separately administer and ensure compliance with election and campaign finance laws. On ethics reform, we will work to strengthen laws and enact stricter penalties for those convicted of political corruption and return to the attorney general the power to pursue independently allegations and initiate investigations of public corruption. Beyond that, we must also change the voting structure of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to remove the ability of a small minority of JCOPE’s members to block an investigation and require their votes be publicly disclosed in certain instances. These measures are necessary to create the possibility of a more honest state government that is worthy of New Yorkers’ trust.
cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
SETTING THE AGENDA
By ADAM JANOS The relationship between insurance companies and the state was heated at times last year. The Department of Financial Services (DFS) issued online report cards for insurance companies based on their response record in the wake of Sandy, a measure that drew the ire of those in the industry who already felt overburdened by the workload the storm had caused. Meanwhile, the state Senate and Assembly hit an impasse on regulatory measures and consumer protections, with the Assembly majority pushing to simplify homeowners’ insurance, and the Senate pushing to shore up businessside vulnerability by directly addressing the laws surrounding automobile fraud. Neither side saw their priority bills passed in the other’s house. Still, there is optimism on both sides that some of the prime issues for both the finance and insurance committees can be addressed in the coming session. Some legislation in these areas did move through both houses and now awaits the governor’s pen. Among these was the certificate of insurance bill, which mandates that insurers issue to their clients a one-page summary of their policy, so as to simplify the terms of what are generally long and complex contracts into a form that is comprehensible for the layperson. This measure was created to stem a practice by contractors issuing and requesting fraudulent certificates that implied policyholders would receive broader coverage than was actually written into their contracts. This new bill criminalizes both the request for and the writing of those misleading certificates. “Reputable contractors were in a bind, because disreputable contractors were providing these certificates, putting them at a competitive disadvantage,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, chair of the Insurance Committee. Cahill feels confident the governor 24 SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
INSURANCE AND FINANCE A New York City taxi is caught during flooding from Hurricane Irene will not veto the bill. “We vetted it with the state Insurance Department and the state Finance Department, and it didn’t conflict with what they had in mind. We got informal assurances that it met their standards.” In addition to the greater regulation of certificates, both the Assembly and the Senate have signed off on a deregulation measure allowing life insurance companies to increase the percentage of assets they can invest in foreign companies from 16 to 20 percent. “Diversification of assets is always a good thing,” said Alison Cooper, director of the Senate Insurance Committee, which is chaired by state Sen. James Seward. “You want to keep rates low, and you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. We’re in a global economy now, and it’s important to diversify. This will benefit the policyholders.” Of course, too much diversification overseas can become problematic. In June the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi-UFJ was assessed $250 million in penalties by DFS for violating New York banking law. The fine was the result of the bank processing over $100 billion in transactions through New York’s banking system on behalf of regimes and privately owned entities from Iran, Sudan and Myanmar/Burma. Standard Chartered Bank was penalized $340 million by DFS for similar offenses. Moving forward, DFS is aiming to enhance New York’s ability to detect, prevent and penalize offshore money-laundering operations for enemy states. Both Cahill and Seward’s offices are quick to point to legislation their houses successfully passed—even those bills that died or stalled in the other house—making the case thtat they are starting points for the coming session. Seward has his sights set on a comprehensive reform of no-fault fraud, a legal loophole that organized crime rings have
exploited to stage fake life-threatening car accidents to collect insurance money from automobile insurance companies. The Senate passed bills to allow for the retroactive cancellation of fraudulent credit cards used to take out insurance; make the staging of an accident a crime; and to criminalize the runner (the driver in an accident), but none of these bills made it through the Assembly—in part, Cahill asserts, because of the piecemeal approach to the legislation. No-fault fraud schemes “were created all at once … and now it’s time to look at in a massive way,” Cahill said. “We’re looking forward to going forward with the method we used with Sandy to come up with our package of bills. We believe we have to do this comprehensively.” The approach to Superstorm Sandy was a series of hearings and roundtable discussions to address problems and find best practices for the state moving forward. In this case, according to Cahill, that would entail codifying DFS’ executive orders around insurance companies using expedience to settle claims following a natural disaster. “We believe it’ll move in the Senate,” Cahill said. One of DFS’ chief goals this year is to erect guardrails for irresponsible bigmarket practices that could negatively impact New Yorkers. One such practice is the purchase of annuity companies by private equity firms. An annuity is a long-term slow-growth investment to help supplement retirement. “Generally, private equity firms follow a model of aggressive risk-taking and high leverage, typically making high-risk investments. If just a few of these investments work out, then the firm can be very successful—and the failed ventures are just viewed as a cost of doing business,” Benjamin Lawsky, superintendent of DFS, remarked in a speech in April at an
economics conference in New York City. “This type of business model isn’t necessarily a natural fit for the insurance business, where a failure can put policyholders at significant risk .… We need to ask ourselves whether we need to modernize our regulations to deal with this emerging trend to protect retirees and to protect the financial system.” DFS’ interest in regulating the takeover of annuity companies by private equity firms—as well as instituting some other regulatory measures in areas like virtual currency and payday lenders—have led some people in the world of finance to worry that an overly regulated market will push New York’s insurance industry to states with friendlier laws in place. However, if measures like those taken in regard to certificates of insurance and the proposed no-fault legislation can reduce corruption, they may ultimately save money for law-abiding New Yorkers and insurance companies alike.
WHAT GOT DONE IN 2013 -Certificates of Insurance Regulation -Percentage of Assets Life Insurance Companies Can Invest Abroad Increased
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA -No-Fault Fraud Reform -Establishing Better Claims Practices in Event of a Natural Disaster -Regulation of Private Equity Firms’ Purchase of Annuity Companies
SETTING THE AGENDA
INSIGHT: INSURANCE AND FINANCE NEW YORK INSURANCE ASSOCIATION BY ELLEN MELCHIONNI
President We applaud the governor and Legislature for their work to reduce state spending with the last three budgets keeping spending increases below 2 percent. However, one budget practice that involves inappropriate spending has not been addressed. Funds earmarked to regulate the insurance industry have been hijacked for more than 20 years and transferred to other state agencies to fund noninsurance programs. The 2013–14 budget assesses the insurance industry $413 million, of which a mere 28 percent is being properly used to pay for the expenses of the Department of Financial Services as mandated by law. The remaining 72 percent, or $301 million, is being unlawfully used to fund other state agencies for programs with no connection to insurance regulation. Since 2008 the assessments have nearly doubled and the suballocations have nearly tripled.
This massive improper assessment is a financial burden on all domestic New York insurance companies. Companies could use this money to employ more New Yorkers and further invest in the state’s economy. In just the past six years alone the illegal suballocations have provided the state government a hidden windfall of more than $1.8 billion. In essence, the New York State government is using the assessment as a slush fund with no monetary limit for programs that may be worthwhile but are not relevant to insurance. Besides being grossly unfair, it is consumers who ultimately pay the price for this shameful budgetary sleight of hand. We call on the governor and Legislature to finish the task of making New York a more attractive place to do business by eliminating this practice. It would be a huge step toward truly being able to say that New York is “open for business.”
NEW YORK BANKERS ASSOCIATION BY MICHAEL P. SMITH
President and CEO
New York needs a
The early months of 2013 were characterized by the banking industry’s work to help rebuild small businesses and homes in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. In the immediate aftermath of Sandy, the banking industry responded quickly to the urgent needs of the communities it serves. Within days, we saw banks large and small together donating tens of millions of dollars to various community organizations. This is in addition to the $30 million fund banks from all over the state of New York created with the New York Business Development Corporation to deploy critically needed small business loans well before FEMA aid could be made available. To further assist customers affected by the storm, banks granted forbearance on loan payments and waived loan fees, credit card late fees and overdraft fees. However, much work remains, and the New York Bankers Association’s legislative and regulatory initiatives for 2014 will continue to include Sandy-related items, such as mitigating the impact of escalating flood insurance premiums. In 2013, NYBA achieved several important gains for enhancing New York’s trust
and estates industry. The Legislature passed and the governor signed an important measure streamlining ATM fee disclosure requirements. Next year, NYBA will also work for: (1) authority for thrift institutions to accept municipal deposits; (2) expedited foreclosure of abandoned property; (3) nonjudicial, uncontested foreclosure of commercial properties; (4) tax reform that addresses the diversity of New York’s banking industry; (5) continued modernization of trust and estate laws; and (6) stronger incentives for reporting suspected cases of financial abuse of the elderly. The New York Bankers Association represents 150 community, regional, and money center banks operating in the state of New York with more than 200,000 employees. The industry is dedicated to working in partnership with government to achieve a healthy New York State economy, which benefits all New Yorkers. If these goals can be accomplished, New York’s banking industry will be a driving force for a stronger and more stable New York economy.
new plan for business
New York is the only state with the antiquated “Scaffold Law,” which mandates absolute liability on owners, businesses and contractors for injuries sustained from a fall, even if the worker was drunk or ignored safety protocols. This outdated law was originally enacted in 1885. Since then New York workers have protections from the rigorous safety requirements of OSHA and the generous benefits of workers compensation. Trial lawyers want to keep the broken Plan A because they benefit. It’s time to make New York safe from the trial lawyers.
/A PLAN / PLAN B
Implement Plan B. Rebuild business and reform the Scaffold Law.
cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
SETTING THE AGENDA
S. MORGAN DAVIES
By ADAM JANOS
sewage systems. According to a 2008 study by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, repairing sewage infrastructure would cost $36.2 billon over the next 20 years. The state Department of Health found that repairing and replacing drinking water infrastructure would cost $38.7 billion over the same time span. For the Environmental Bond Act to go into effect, the bill would have to pass both houses of the Legislature, be signed by the governor and then be approved by the voters through a popular referendum in the 2014 election. “Municipalities don’t have the money to go rehabilitate and rebuild their sewer system,” said Joe Erdman, the legislative director of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. “The good thing about it is it would be put before the voters.
A tanker ship carries natural gas, a controversial fuel source due to the debate over hydrofracking. According to New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn, the New York Legislature did pretty well with the environment last year. “We give them a B-minus, overall,” Bystryn told City & State, noting that—outside of a solar tax credit—the environmentalist group’s top goals for the session were all met. Those goals included a food metrics bill to help assess greener food production opportunities in the state, and legislation passed at the end of session requiring mercury thermostat manufacturers to collect and safely dispose of the out-ofdate environmentally toxic instruments. Mercury poses a considerable public health and environmental risk in solid waste facilities, and new mercury thermostats were phased out when a 2005 state law banned most products containing the poisonous metal. The group left off its list the contentious topic of hydrofracking, a controversial gas drilling procedure under review by the Cuomo administration. A decision has been delayed amid intense opposition to drilling. Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, chair 26 SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
on the Committee on Environmental Protection, is proudest of state legislation that requires home heating oil to contain at least 2 percent biofuel. The state regulation of this “bioheat” fuel, which comes from organic matter such as corn and soy, is a reponse to similar legislation New York City passed in 2012. Now Sweeney sees water quality as the front line. Locally the assemblyman is concerned about the deteriorating quality of groundwater in his home district on Long Island. A report by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services notes the increase of contaminants introduced by people over the last 25 years. “For us on Long Island, all our drinking water is underneath our feet. Once that goes, it’s gone,” Sweeney said. Sweeney and state Sen. Mark Grisanti, chair of the Senate’s Environmental Protection Committee, view water as central to New York’s environmental future, and both lawmakers are rallying behind the idea of a $5 billion Environmental Bond Act. The bond would borrow money from New York taxpayers and use the extra revenue to protect water sources and repair outdated, overburdened
If we pass both houses and the governor signs it, the public would have input.” For Bystryn, this legislative session goes beyond water quality. The most important lessons of last year relate to climate change, she said. In June Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled an exhaustive study entitled “A Stronger, More Resilient New York,” in which his administration laid out an itemized plan aimed at preparing the city for the new realities of 21st century rising sea levels, violent storms and increasingly brutal heat waves. As the state did with their approach to bioheat, Bystryn hopes it will take a page out of the city’s playbook and create a comprehensive plan to update and create new infrastructure that keeps climate change firmly in mind. “The lesson from Sandy is that we were all in a reactive mode,” rather than taking proactive steps to prepare for severe weather events, Bystryn said. On the flip side of the climate change battle is a need to reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than just setting goals, Bystryn said that New York needs a statewide model that
promotes green ideas in all spheres of infrastructure, including energy, agriculture and food production, transportation and city planning, and fuel efficiency standards. Grisanti hopes that his “green homes” bill—which failed to pass in 2013—will be one component that helps push the state in that direction. The bill allows municipalities to offer developers and homeowners property tax exemptions for several years if their new buildings meet greener standards. For New York voters, the fate of a section of the Adirondacks will be decided this November on the popular ballot. That is because NYCO Minerals Inc. has agreed to a tentative land swap with the state of New York that requires a constitutional amendment to a provision designating the Adirondacks as “forever wild.” In exchange for mining access to 200 acres of stateprotected land for the mineral wollastonite, the state would get 1,500 acres of forest. “This legislation attempts to portray a valuable mining interest and the jobs it creates in the Adirondacks as imperiled unless we tear at the fabric of Article 14 of the state constitution; the ‘forever wild’ provision that has been the bedrock principle of conservation in New York State for 119 years,” the Sierra Club wrote in a memo. The Adirondack Mountain Club, however, supports the land swap, writing that while the group takes “very seriously any proposal that might compromise Article 14 or diminish the Forest Preserve … the outdoor recreation and environmental communities would gain much more than they would be giving up.” At the heart of the referendum, the mining land swap is indicative of a larger debate in the Adirondacks about economic development and environmental protection; how people vote may be reflective of where they stand on the continuum. With heavy turnout expected in New York City for the mayoral election, the matter may well be decided in large part by voters who are far removed from the realities of both.
WHAT GOT DONE IN 2013 -Mercury Thermostat Disposal Bill -Bioheat Bill -Food Metrics Bill
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA -Environmental Bond Act -Statewide Climate Change Preparedness/CO2 Reduction -NYCO/Wollastonite Mining Land -Swap Referendum -Purchase of Annuity Companies
SETTING THE AGENDA
INSIGHT: THE ENVIRONMENT NEW YORK LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS BY MARCIA BYSTRYN
President New York is making progress on the environment, and both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers deserve credit for moving the ball forward in the 2013 session. But to truly make our state an environmental leader, our elected leaders need to think bigger and act decisively in 2014. Cleaning up New York’s “brownfields,” or land with a history of contamination, must be one of Albany’s top priorities next year. The Brownfield Cleanup Program helps transform polluted lands and get them back on the tax rolls. But the program’s tax credits will expire in a matter of months, much longer than it takes to clear all of the legal hurdles to enter the program. The number of brownfield projects in the pipeline has already dropped, and unless action is taken next year, cleanups will come to a standstill. The program has played an important role in transforming parts of Buffalo, the Bronx and Long Island, and its renewal is critical. Another major focus for the environmental community will be eliminating toxics from New Yorkers’ homes. Earlier this year, lawmakers had productive discussions about two bills, one that would prohibit the sale of children’s products that contain chlorinated TRIS, and another to create a system to categorize highconcern chemicals that impact public health. Although the Assembly passed both of these measures, some senators continue to have reservations. NYLCV and our partners will work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to address concerns and pass meaningful legislation that safeguards public health. Finally, it is absolutely essential that New York act now to adapt to a changing climate. That means enacting and implementing policies that integrate existing data about future extreme weather risk into the planning and permitting processes. An important first step New York State can take to ensure that people and infrastructure are out of harm’s way is to enact the Communities Risk Reduction Act. This bill incorporates climate projections into a suite of funding and permitting programs to make sure that long-term infrastructure projects can withstand the test of time.
ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATES OF NEW YORK Unlike years past when Gov. Andrew
Cuomo, Dean Skelos and Shelly Silver exchanged high-fives in the Red Room on the last day of session, this year’s silence spoke volumes about the quality of their work together. On the legislative front, green issue after green issue fell to political gamesmanship, particularly in the Senate. Using his administrative and budget powers, Cuomo delivered a mixed environmental bag; he had great initiatives like lowering the carbon cap for dirty power plants and secured more funding for recycling, conservation and parks projects. He’s also proceeding cautiously on fracking, which is responsible public policy. But these gains were offset by some rollbacks to environmental protections. In 2014 Cuomo must focus his attention on the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Years of budget cuts have meant a retreat from enforcing our state’s laws. The DEC now relies heavily on polluters to enforce the federal Clean Water and Clean Air Acts—but polluters have not earned the public’s trust, and the fox is indeed guarding the henhouse. If the governor wants the public to believe government is working for our environment again, he should fully fund the state’s environmental cop in his next budget and emphasize proper DEC enforcement. Cuomo should also use his next budget to fix the broken Brownfields Cleanup Program. The state has cut checks totaling more than one billion dollars to clean up about 130 sites, many in places like midtown Manhattan that would have been developed anyway. The current program disproportionately casts aside communities upstate and neighborhoods statewide with high unemployment and poverty rates. The Brownfields program is in desperate need of an overhaul. Doing what Albany does and waiting until the last possible minute to pass a straight extension would be a colossal and costly failure. Legislators should demand reform from the governor’s budget. Given the Legislature’s inability to get things done, all eyes will be on Cuomo to deliver the green goods in 2014.
gagging doctors and lying to landowners about everything from the impacts of fracking to what their royalty payments will be. Accordingly, our focus will remain on banning fracking as well as banning all fracking waste from being imported from other states. In 2014, we will keep the pressure on Governor Cuomo, who must acknowledge that the science and best interests of all New Yorkers dictate that he ban fracking. Similarly, we will continue to take that message to the state Legislature and build momentum for a ban. We will not stand by idly as the oil and gas industry buys support and the inaction of some legislators who have taken reprehensible amounts of their campaign contributions. Even in the face of an onslaught of manipulative propaganda from the oil and gas industry, opposition to fracking has only grown across New York as residents have educated themselves and their neighbors. We’ve seen that in the polls, the number of local prohibitions being
passed (more than 170), and the fact that our rallies have increasingly grown in size. Ours is an unparalleled and still growing grassroots movement of New Yorkers taking a stand for a better future. In that vein, we will push for legislation and initiatives that expand renewable energy and energy efficiency across the state. New York has the opportunity to create untold numbers of good, longterm jobs while simultaneously leading the nation and the world by building a renewable energy economy. With our topnotch universities, our history of innovation and leadership, Governor Cuomo can choose to build a future here—with good jobs and a high quality of life—for our children. Ultimately we will hold Governor Cuomo to his promises to listen to the science on fracking and to take action on climate change, which means saying no to fracking and leading the way with renewable energy.
POLITICS • POLICY • PERSONALITIES
Look Who’s Reading
FRACK ACTION BY JULIA WALSH
Campaign Director In 2013, the scientific case against fracking has only gotten stronger. More studies show water contamination, air pollution and negative health impacts, at the same time that the gas industry has only demonstrated more deplorable practices such as silencing children for life,
The Way to Reach Elected Officials For advertising information, please contact Jim Katocin at 212.284.9714 or Jkatocin@cityandstateny.com
cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
SETTING THE AGENDA
By WILDER FLEMING
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made economic development a key priority.
New York’s economy is faring better in 2013 than it has in recent years, with overall employment finally rebounding to prerecession levels. But while the revival has been felt in the Capital District, New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley, as well as in the smaller regions of Ithaca and Glens Falls, jobs in other areas remain harder to come by. Unemployment in the Syracuse, Buffalo-Niagara, Binghamton, Elmira and Utica-Rome regions is still well above prerecession levels, continuing a decadelong trend in these areas. And although the state performed better relative to the nation during the recession in most major job sectors, national job growth outstripped New York’s in 2013, according to a recent report from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. This year has also been one of highly publicized economy-boosting initiatives from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who successfully passed his “Start-Up NY” plan at the end of the spring legislative session. Start28 SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
Up NY, which has since been renamed “Tax Free New York” by the governor, is best known for its tax-free zones in and around SUNY campuses and at some private universities, an unorthodox plan that will affect a tiny fraction of businesses in the state and has been criticized by some as unfair. Select companies that align their enterprise with SUNY’s research mission will be given relief from state taxes for 10 years. The Start-Up legislation also includes changes to the eligibility guidelines for tax credits offered under the established Excelsior jobs program, allowing more small businesses to benefit by lowering the number of jobs they are required to create in order to qualify. In addition, it expands the scope of Gov. Cuomo’s Mandate Relief Council, which previously focused solely on addressing the grievances of local governments. Now businesses will also be able to seek relief from unfair regulatory burdens through the council, which will in
turn lobby state agencies to change policies they deem unreasonable. Cuomo also committed $60 billion to help grow and promote tourism upstate in 2013, and unveiled an “Innovation Hot Spots” competition, which will offer winning start-ups financial, technical and legal support services from the state in exchange for commercializing academic research. The governor also presided over the third year of funding for his Regional Economic Development Councils, which compete for capital funds at an annual planning presentation series in Albany. And his administration continues to promote his proposed expansion of upstate gambling, which New Yorkers will vote on in the November elections. But New York still suffers from a notorious reputation for excessive regulatory burdens and high taxes (it came in 50th—dead last—on the State Business Tax Climate Index, an annual report from the nonprofit Tax Foundation). According to state Sen. David Valesky, chair of the Senate’s Economic Development Committee, the next step is to identify what factors are actually impeding growth. This month Valesky and other senators will host a series of industry-specific public hearings around the state, one set pertaining to regulations and the other to taxes. “We often hear a lot in general terms about the regulatory and tax climate in New York State, and how that hinders business,” Valesky said. “But we will be looking for very specific examples from those in the field dealing with those regulations. And then once we take that testimony, it’s our plan to develop a report from those hearings with specific recommendations for legislation that we’ll present to both Senators Klein and Skelos.” While Valesky and his fellow senators are looking at developing their policy from the bottom up, the Assembly’s Economic Development Committee is focused on reforming established laws in 2014. Robin Schimminger, chair of the Assembly Economic Development Committee, wants to change a law designed to allow small businesses, notfor-profits and citizens of modest means who have been unfairly burdened by state regulations to seek relief in court. Recourse through the so-called “Equal Access to Justice” law has waned in recent years, because while the responsible state agency is supposed to pay a successful plaintiff’s court and lawyers’ fees under the law, the agencies have learned to take advantage of a precedent that requires a final adjudication by the court in order for this to happen. “The agencies settle early and then, applying these various court decisions, they don’t have to pay the court costs and lawyers’ fees of the aggrieved party,” Assemblyman Schimminger said. “And so lawyers are less willing to assist them, because they fear they won’t get paid.” Legislation designed to close the loop-
hole has passed the Assembly several times, Schimminger said, but it remains tied up in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Schimminger is also looking to reform the state’s controversial Scaffold Law. Dating from the 1880s and following the principle of “absolute liability,” the law works against the contractor or property owner as a matter of course: When a worker falls and is injured on a construction site, that worker is never at fault under the law. Schimminger says this statute drives up the cost of construction astronomically in New York because the cost of insuring workers is inflated as a result of the law. New York is also the only state in the entire country to retain the law with its “absolute liability” principle intact, Illinois having been the last state to discard it, back in 1995. “The Scaffold Law came before we had a workers’ compensation law and before we had OSHA,” Schimminger said. “Court decisions have expanded its application to cover virtually everything that occurs on construction sites that is related to gravity.” While 11 states have eliminated the Scaffold Law entirely and rely wholly on workers’ compensation coverage for construction site accidents, 38 have simply chosen to nix the law’s “absolute liability” standard, allowing workers to instead seek recovery for injuries by applying the “comparative negligence” standards ordinarily used in tort cases. Schimminger is pushing for this latter reform, but he says the legislation has been pending for a number of years. “Our brothers in the plaintiffs’ bar strongly support the guaranteed payday which the Scaffold Law represents, and have aggressively opposed the necessary reform,” he said. “I think it’s important to underline that this legislation is, itself, a compromise … and I am hoping the governor will embrace it as part of his agenda in 2014.”
WHAT GOT DONE IN 2013 -Start-Up NY (Now Tax Free New York) -$60 Million for Expanding and Promoting Tourism Upstate -Innovation Hot Spots Competition -Third Round of Funding for Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA -Upstate Casinos -Tax and Regulatory Reform for New York Industries -Reforming the “Equal Access to Justice” Law -Scaffold Law Reform
SETTING THE AGENDA
INSIGHT: ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT LONG ISLAND ASSOCIATION BY MATTHEW COHEN
Vice President of Government Affairs and Communications Confronted with a historic recession and record unemployment, Albany has properly repurposed its focus on economic development and job growth in the past few years. Under the leadership of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature, state government has tightened its belt by controlling its own spending and passing on-time budgets, given some pension and Medicaid relief to municipalities, implemented a 2 percent property tax cap and promoted creative new economic development opportunities with the Regional Economic Development Councils. That positive momentum continued this year with notable, worthwhile efforts such as Start-Up New York and new commitments to our tourism industries. But with the 2014 legislative session four months away, there is more work to do and difficult battles to wage to create more jobs, spur private investment, reduce the property tax burden and further improve the overall business climate. Albany should continue to support the work of the Regional Economic Development Councils and increase their funding so more transformative projects can be implemented while also investing more funds in our roads and mass transit that are so vital to our economic sustainability. Furthermore, the state needs to continue to keep New York open for business by providing more mandate relief and common-sense reforms to antiquated regulations like the Wicks and Scaffold laws while providing more tax relief for small businesses. Finally, while the LIA has helped with the recovery efforts on Long Island after Superstorm Sandy, and Albany has worked hard to ensure federal support so that we can rebuild stronger and smarter than before, those efforts must continue to be a priority in 2014. By investing in our infrastructure and strengthening our roads, bridges, rail, water, sewers, solid waste facilities, housing and utilities, we will not only protect ourselves from future storms but also create jobs and stimulate the economy.
THE BUSINESS COUNCIL OF NEW YORK STATE, INC.
What are Your Legislative Objectives for 2014?
Start Your Strategic Communications with Public Officials Now with:
BY KEN POKALSKY
Vice President of Government Affairs It is encouraging that the 2013 session closed with a focus on promoting economic growth, with a new business incentive program, expanded small business, and—subject to voter approval— allowing new gaming venues upstate. Each of these measures will promote new investments and jobs. Unfortunately, the Legislature missed opportunities to adopt other broad-based reforms. Both the Cuomo administration and the Senate majority coalition supported legislation to reform the state’s Wage Theft Prevention Act to eliminate expensive and unnecessary paperwork mandates, as well as legislation to ease restrictions on the storage and transportation of liquefied natural gas for fleet conversions and other business use. However, both were rejected by the Assembly majority. Earlier, New York had another on-time, low-growth budget and adopted useful reforms to the state’s unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation programs. However, those positive steps were offset by energy tax extensions and a minimum wage increase that will eventually add $1 billion a year to business costs. The Legislature also imposed additional costs on business with a new “biofuel” mandate for downstate that will add millions to annual heating costs, and new compliance standards on independent truckers and their business customers. The “Start-Up NY” program is an innovative approach to promote economic development in sectors with close ties to technology-focused college campuses. The final legislation also included reforms to the existing Excelsior program that will help small business looking to invest and grow in New York. The 2013 session provided mixed messages to New York’s business community. While New York is moving in the right direction with balanced budgets and controlled spending growth, more needs to be done. While there will be major carry-over issues including campaign reform and equity legislation, we look for the 2014 session to major focus on economic development and job growth. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set the stage with his tax reform commission and his public commitment to tax cuts. The Business Council will push the administration and Legislature to focus on measures to improve the state’s economic climate, reduce the impact of taxes and regulations on business, all with the ultimate goal of promoting new investments and new jobs.
Part 2: The September 23 Issue will Cover:
ENERGY EDUCATION RACING & GAMING ORGANIZED LABOR INFRASTRUCTURE CONSTRUCTION Each Special Section Features: Introduction: A Lead-In to the Industry
Political Perspectives: From Public Officials Influential to the Industry
2013 Analysis: What Happened in the 2013 Legislative Session
2014 Legislative Forecast: A Look at the Main Legislative Priorities for 2014
Expert Analysis: Perspectives from Representatives of the Industry Area
Ad Deadline: Sept. 18 - Issue Date: Sept. 23
Lay Your Messaging Groundwork Now – Before Legislators’ Minds Are Made Up!
For advertising information, please contact Jim Katocin
(212) 284-9714 or firstname.lastname@example.org cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
RAISING THE STANDARDS Tisch predicts test scores will rise; experts stand by Common Core
(Left) The event held at Club 101. (Right, from left) Dr. Joan Lucariello, Dean at CUNY; New York state Sen. John Flanagan; NYSED Chancellor Merryl Tisch. By MYLIQUE SUTTON
any parents across the state were startled at how high the failing rates were under the new Common Core standards, but Dr. Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, urged moving the discussion away from test scores at City & State’s “On Education” forum. To illustrate, with some dramatic effect,
how relatively insignificant the test scores were at this time, Tisch made a prediction that she likened to Babe Ruth’s “called shot” home run to center field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. “If we as a public continue to define success in the schools just on test scores … probably the next mayor is going to be successful because the test scores—as with any new tests the first year—it all goes down, and then incrementally starts
to increase,” Tisch said. “A year from now … I promise you, test scores are going up. If you’re going to judge that as success, I would say you’re shortchanging the system.” New York raced to become the second state after Kentucky to implement the Common Core standards, in a nationwide attempt to bridge the economic and educational gap between the United States and other countries.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, called Common Core a “good idea” and said that it “needs to happen for us as a country” after No Child Left Behind “lowered [stateƒ] standards as to what was appropriate for a child to learn.” Joining Mulgrew and Tisch in the panel discussion, which was co-sponsored by Copia, were James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center,
Look Who’s Reading
The Way to Reach Elected Officials For advertising information, please contact Jim Katocin at 212.284.9714 or Jkatocin@cityandstateny.com 30 SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
NYU Steinhardt professor Okhee Lee with UFT President Michael Mulgrew; NYC Charter School’s James Merriman, Lee and Mulgrew; AFT President Randi Okhee Lee, a professor in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, state Sen. John Flanagan, chair of the Senate Education Committee and Dr. Joan Lucariello, University Dean of Education at the City University of New York. All of the panelists agreed that the Common Core was fundamentally a valuable standard to adopt, and shared the sentiment that there was too much emphasis being placed on test scores and not enough on the curricula used to teach children and the environment in which they are taught. Mulgrew blamed politics for the condition of the education system and its test-heavy mentality, claiming the state wanted to get ahead and “people wanted to rush out and act like they’re getting things done.” As a result, the rollout of the Common Core was rockier than it should have been
had the state allocated more time to phase in its implementation, he said. “Do not convolute the tests and what’s going on now with the idea of what Common Core is supposed to do. If we do it correctly, in the end it will benefit our country and all the children inside of it,” Mulgrew said. Tisch stressed that the Common Core will be an essential component of the education system going forward as part of New York’s “drive to higher standards,” and that proper implementation will take time. “We need to reach out to parents so that they understand the expectations of Common Core,” Tisch said. “We need to do a great job communicating why these new test scores that we’ve just seen are not an indicator that there’s been no learning or teaching going on.” Discussing innovative ways to improve
the education system beyond the Common Core, Lucariello spoke of how teachers are being better prepared through residency training, a method akin to the way doctors are trained, while Mulgrew hailed the Brooklyn Generation School, which he pointed out was currently in session, for a flexible schedule that alternates between six weeks of lessons and two-week vacations to combat the “brain drain” caused by lengthy summer breaks. Technology was also discussed, an area in which many schools are lagging because of financial constraints. Tisch believes the gap must be remedied by introducing more tablets and computers into the classroom. “You know, if five years from now we are still opening up test booklets, we will know that New York State has decided not to be competitive in the 21st century economy,” Tisch said.
Lee highlighted the changing demographics of students as something to be aware of in the coming years, saying that the mentality regarding “English Language Learners” and the way they are viewed needs to change. “When we think of ELLs and students with their special needs, we think of them as a deficit instead of thinking of them speaking another language as a resource,” Lee said. According to Mulgrew, putting politics aside and instead concentrating on the advances in education that are substantiated by research is imperative to the success of the system. “You put [politics and education] together and usually it’s games that happen and children who will suffer because of it,” Mulgrew said.
It’s about great public schools. The New York City Charter School Center is committed to ensuring that all NYC students have access to a high quality education. We look forward to working with the next administration to achieve that goal.
To learn more about the Charter Center and charter schools visit: www.nyccharterschools.org
cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
(From left, top) Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz throws a pitch; (bottom) radio host Curtis Sliwa is the city’s unofficial stickball commissioner; Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.; Reshma Saujani, a candidate for public advocate.
CITY & STATE’S STICKBALL CHALLENGE SHOWS WHAT CANDIDATES ARE MADE OF By MORGAN PEHME After months of acrimonious campaigning, a lion’s share of New York City’s citywide and borough-wide candidates took a few hours off from the slugfest to enjoy an idyllic summer day playing stickball. On an afternoon that was supposed to be spoiled by rain, the skies cleared to a brilliant blue over Cadman Plaza, which extends from out in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall, as if the stickball gods had ordained that nothing would disrupt City & State’s first-ever Candidate Stickball Challenge. Organized in partnership with the Curtis Sliwa Show on AM 970, and with the support of Shake Shack and the Statler Grill, the challenge brought some much needed levity to the campaign two weeks before Primary Day, while benefiting Harlem RBI, a nonprofit organization that 32 SEPTEMBER 09, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
seeks to use “the power of teams to coach, teach and inspire youth to recognize their potential and realize their dreams.” Participating in the home run derbystyle event, where each batter took eight swings to see who could hit the ball the farthest, were most of the mayoral candidates, including all three Republicans— John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota and George McDonald—a host of the Democrats in the race—John Liu, Bill Thompson, Sal Albanese and Rev. Erick Salgado—the Independence Party nominee Adolfo Carrión as well as independent Jack Hidary. Noticeably absent were Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who has received attention of late for his allegiance to the Boston Red Sox; Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who abandoned the Mets, the team of her youth, to become a Yankees fan at the insistence of her wife, Kim Catullo; and Anthony Weiner, who referenced his love of stickball in a 2005 campaign commer-
cial and once had the No. 9 Play of the Day on ESPN’s SportsCenter, but nonetheless declined City & State’s invitation to prove his skill. Of the mayoral candidates who did show, the top finisher was Salgado, who smashed a fly ball 180 feet, a full 20 feet farther than Albanese and Liu, who tied with 160-foot blasts each. [Editor’s Note: The distances were estimated by Sliwa, the commissioner of stickball by appointment of Mayor Giuliani, and they fluctuated in consistency throughout the day. Mayor Bloomberg never appointed a commissioner, so Sliwa extended his own term.] Albanese, whose prowess as a baseball player when he was a young man once earned him a tryout with the Yankees, was among the most consistent hitters of the day, along with Liu, who had the honor of swinging at the afternoon’s ceremonial first pitch, hurled by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
Lhota, who said that he hadn’t played stickball in 47 years—since he was 11— came out on top in the Republican field with a drive that went 120 feet. McDonald finished close behind with a 100 footer, and Catsimatidis made contact a couple of times but ended with a 40-foot hit as his best. For the record, Hidary finished with a high mark of 80 feet, including a line drive that nailed Sliwa, who was pitching; Carrión’s best hit was a 100 footer; and Thompson’s best went 40 feet, though he hit several pitches that veered off to the left of the plaza—a vivid illustration, according to Sliwa, of the ideological direction Democratic candidates have to tack during primary season. Out of all of the day’s participants, the grand champion was Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., who is running for re-election. His biceps bulging from beneath a black T-shirt that said “Ruben
BY FILIP WOLAK
(From left, top) Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz throws a pitch; (bottom) radio host Curtis Sliwa is the city’s unofficial stickball commissioner; Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr.; Reshma Saujani, a candidate for public advocate.
from the Bronx,” Díaz creamed a 250-foot home run that sailed over the head of the statue of Henry Ward Beecher at the end of the plaza. The blast was one of many for the borough president, provoking Sliwa to call for Díaz to be tested for performanceenhancing drugs. Among the candidates for city comptroller, only the Republican nominee John Burnett, whose best hit of the day traveled 140 feet, showed. Scott Stringer and Eliot Spitzer both declined to participate, perhaps to avoid demonstrating to voters that their stickball prowess was on par with the singing ability they demonstrated in their last debate. Of the public advocate candidates, only Reshma Saujani participated, despite the fact that Daniel Squadron, Letitia James and Cathy Guerriero had all said that they would attend—and that Squadron held a press conference a few hundred feet away on the steps of Borough Hall at the same
M AYO R A L C A N D I DAT E S Erick Salgado John Liu Sal Albanese Joe Lhota George McDonald Adolfo Carrión Jack Hidary Bill Thompson John Catsimatidis
time as the game. Saujani, the only woman to step up to the plate, proved to be one of the day’s best hitters, launching several blasts, including one that flew a whopping 180 feet and earned her a tie with Salgado for third place overall finisher.
180 160 160 120 100 100 80 40 40
feet feet feet feet feet feet feet feet feet
As for the other borough president candidates, Everly Brown, a Democrat running for Queens borough president, registered a 50 footer as his top score, but it was the sole Republican in the field for Queens BP, Aurelio “Tony” Arcabascio,
who stole the show with a blistering barrage of blasts, several of which were among the farthest hits of the day. Though Arcabascio’s best shot went 220 feet—good enough to earn him second place overall on the day—it was a 50 footer he smashed that really awed the capacity crowd. In an echo of the film The Natural, when the fielder went to retrieve the pink rubber sphere struck by the candidate, he discovered that it had split in two. Arcabascio had literally torn the cover off the ball.
NO SHOWS: Christine Quinn, Anthony Weiner, Bill de Blasio cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
Baruch College, New York City TUES 09 /17 / 13 • 8:30 - 10:30 AM
City & State will host our 3rd annual On Energy forum on New York’s
energy policy, the politics of energy, and what emerging technologies may shift current landscape in New York in the next 5 years.
Arthur “Jerry” Kremer
For more information, please contact Dawn Rubino, email@example.com
hat do you say about a political system in which incumbents not only win as a matter of routine, but often do so without even having a challenger? Even in the Soviet election of 1937 the Communist Party only won 99.4 percent of the vote; many Council members facing re-election this year will do better than Comrade Stalin at the height of the Terror. Incumbency grants certain obvious electoral advantages, name recognition and fundraising capability among them. As a result, Council incumbents rarely lose. 2009 was an exception, when the voters turned out four egregiously poor members (Maria Baez, Helen Sears, Kendall Stewart and Alan Gerson) who hadn’t anticipated the term limits extension, and were caught sitting on their hands, with their feet on their desks. This year there are a few candidates facing challenging races, and two of them are among the longest-serving current Council members. If Brooklyn neighbors Sara González and Vincent Gentile, of Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, respectively, win their current campaigns, they will be the doyenne and dean of the Council, the members with the most seniority. Sara González of District 38 is facing a tough primary challenge this year, and is widely considered vulnerable against her opponent, former Christine Quinn staffer Carlos Menchaca. The New York Times last week endorsed Menchaca, calling González “unenthusiastic” and legislatively weak, and the Working Families Party, which gave González its line in 2009, also endorsed her challenger. González is the only incumbent Council member facing a primary challenge from the WFP. There are other incumbents who have taken more heat than González, who is not among the Council members speculated to be in line for imminent arrest by the authorities. So why is she the one being singled out by the paper of record, and turned on by her former supporters? True, she missed a lot of work, failing to attend 14 percent of hearings, but she is considered an ally of the Speaker, who has helped González raise money. González has also benefited hugely from the real estate industry, receiving large direct contributions from the Jerome family-funded Small Business Coalition and the Real Estate Board’s Taxpayers for an Affordable New York. Furthermore, independent expenditures totaling close to a quarter of a million dollars have been disbursed on her behalf by the SBC and REBNY’s Jobs for New York. Oddly, González also has received independent help totaling about $10,000 from a lesser-known PAC called the City Action Coalition, a socially conservative group that is supporting a number of pastors and openly religious candidates for office. The City Action Coalition is against abortion and gay marriage, while Sara González appears to have voted on the other side of those issues in the past; however, Carlos Menchaca is openly gay and an activist for LGBT causes, and the CAC may be opposing him more than supporting González. When we look at how González has fed public money to her political supporters we get a clearer sense of how longtime incumbent politicians use local nonprofit
groups as a means of keeping themselves in office. For instance, the Mixteca Organization in Sunset Park provides health and education services, primarily to immigrants from southern Mexico. González has directed more than $100,000 of her discretionary spending in five years to Mixteca, far more than she has allocated to any other group. Mixteca was founded and is led by Gabriel Rincon, who has contributed significantly to González’s campaigns since 2005.
New York City Councilwoman Sara González
BY SETH BARRON
THE POWER OF INCUMBENCY
New York City Councilman Vincent Gentile Part of the mission of the Mixteca Organization, incidentally, appears to be instructing the children of Brooklyn in Mexican history and teaching rudimentary Spanish to Mexican immigrants. One might imagine that public funds allocated to helping immigrants adjust to the United States would involve teaching them English, but Mixteca, in partnership with the Mexican government, is making sure that immigrants who speak only Nahuatl or Zapotec first master Spanish. Rincon sits on the board of Lutheran Family Health Centers, another local group that has received tens of thousands of dollars from González’s member item allocations. In return employees of Lutheran Family Health Centers and its sister organizations have contributed well over $7,000 to González’s campaigns.
None of these relationships or associations is notably unethical or especially venal, and the groups involved are legitimate providers of social services. But it is the mark of long-term incumbency that the exchange of funding for campaign support becomes transparent: As years pile up, the groups that receive funding become the groups that deserve funding, and the relationships between elected officials and the nonprofit groups they sustain begin to appear natural. Just to the south of District 38 is Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, where Vincent Gentile has held one office or another since 1997, first as state senator, and since 2003, as the councilman from District 43. Gentile is generally well liked in his party—he’s never faced a primary opponent—though this year he will face a serious general election challenge from Republican John Quaglione. Gentile lost his Senate seat to then Councilman Marty Golden; Quaglione is an aide to the popular Golden, so the campaign is a proxy fight between the two old rivals, in which Gentile will be forced to defend his record. Unfortunately for Gentile, his record has some weaknesses, notably that he has consistently ranked near the bottom of the Council for bringing home discretionary funding. One of the oddest mysteries of the eight years of the Quinn speakership is her apparent disdain for Gentile. In this term, for instance, he ranked 50th out of 51 in receiving member items, below even Quinn scourge Charles Barron in total funding. Despite having served in the Council since 2003, Gentile has never been given a full committee to chair or the $10,000 stipend that goes along with it. Instead he was made chair of the Select Committee on Libraries, whose title carries only a $4,000 “lulu.” The Select Committee on Libraries is so select that no one else serves on it; Gentile is its only member. Asked for an explanation of Quinn’s apparent dislike for him, Gentile said, “I wear it as a badge of honor,” adding, “If the price of my independence and dedication to the interests of my district means that I don’t get every single strip of bacon or every last shekel, then I accept that proudly.” Gentile did vote against the Speaker on term limits, on congestion pricing and on raising property taxes, but even though she is known to bear a grudge, her antipathy toward Gentile seems excessive. “I never had any problems with Gifford Miller when he was Speaker,” mused Gentile, who also expressed the hope that if he wins he will fare better under the next Speaker. In fact, the councilman voiced optimism that the next Speaker would “have some respect for seniority and consider that in his or her committee appointments.” Asked what significance his seniority should carry, Gentile replied, “Respect for tradition, for the way it used to be.” The problem with Gentile’s nostalgia for the days when the most senior Council members had special privileges is that term limits largely negate that kind of system. If a Council member serves for 30 years as the Speaker, or as chair of the Finance or Land Use committees, he or she can effectively stamp their personality on the post and truly own it, as Peter Vallone Sr. arguably did when he ran the Council. But with term limits, Council members cannot attain such a lofty status; rather, they become elected bureaucrats. Term limits kill machines. So even if Gentile and González win their re-election bids, their roles as the most senior incumbents on the Council will be largely inconsequential, providing enough leverage perhaps to claim the Council offices with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, but little else.
Seth Barron (@NYCCouncilWatch on Twitter) runs City Council Watch, an investigative website focusing on local New York City politics. cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
WHAT THE GOP MUST SOW TO REAP VICTORIES IN 2014
By BRUCE N. GYORY
he GOP in New York faces a real challenge in the 2014 statewide elections. New York’s Republicans have lost the last five elections—three presidential (2004, 2008 and 2012) and two gubernatorial (2006 and 2010), by landslide margins. I am not a Republican, but I greatly respect the GOP’s accomplishments from Dewey through Pataki. I also believe that having both parties actively engaged at the vital center of New York’s electorate is a good thing for governance. How should the GOP proceed? Realism and honesty requires weighing four factors. (1) New York’s gubernatorial cycles tend to run in 16- to 20-year periods (e.g., Republicans had Dewey’s three terms, interrupted by Harriman’s one term,
By NICOLE GELINAS
eople have whined for months that the mayoral election is depressing, but they should cheer up. As they vote this week, New Yorkers have real alternatives on big issues. Twelve years ago—the last time we elected a new mayor—it was hard for voters to discern policy differences among the candidates (everyone, including Mike Bloomberg, wanted to spend more money). This time, it’s easier. Of the three front-running Democrats, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is the classic ’60s liberal. His remedy for inequality is to make the rich a little poorer. He’d ask Albany to hike taxes on people making above $500,000, so that every New York child can go to a pre-K class taught by a well-paid teacher. Reform public sector retirement benefits to pay for pre-K instead? Not inter36 SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | cityandstateny.com
leading to four Rockefeller terms, replaced by five Democratic terms under Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo and into Pataki’s three terms). Thus, partisan fatigue in gubernatorial politics does not appear ready to break the GOP’s way. (2) Political demographics weigh heavily against the GOP. The Democratic registration advantage over the Republicans is 3.1 million voters (5.9 million to 2.8 million). The GOP has a tough time overcoming the Democrats sweeping New York City by margins of over 4 to 1, considering that Democrats often split or carry upstate and the four downstate suburban counties. Women now constitute a 53 percent share of November’s electorate in New York, and Democrats have crossed 65 percent among female voters in recent elections. (3) The aggregate minority vote (black, Hispanic, Asian and multiracial) grew to a 29 percent share of the total statewide vote in 2010. The Democrats carried well over 80 percent of minority voters in 2010. Once this aggregate minority vote hits a full third of the state’s electorate, no Republican can win statewide, unless they capture at least a third of that minority electorate. (4) New York Republicans no longer benefit
from a distinct brand. Dewey, Rockefeller, D’Amato and Pataki defined what it meant to be a Republican in New York. Their moderation was well suited to the state’s electorate, providing a viable contrast to the Taft, Goldwater and Bush 43 brands on the national level, which never played well in New York. In recent years, the GOP has too often been stained by the Tea Party brew—one of the reasons that no Republican currently holds statewide office. In order to surmount these daunting challenges, the GOP needs to recreate a winning coalition for the long haul. That means snaring votes from key Democratic registration blocs, as Pataki did with Jewish and white Catholic voters. Cracking the hard shells of gender and race are a necessity, not a luxury. As recently as 2001 and 2002 Bloomberg and Pataki carried just shy of half of Hispanics and a majority of Asian voters, and their pro-choice credentials helped with women voters. Just carrying pro-gun and rural small towns, as well as right-to-life voters, barely gets the GOP above 30 percent of the electorate statewide. Those voters are not even a majority upstate. For Republicans to prevail, the key is comfortably carrying
suburban communities on Long Island, in Westchester and all across upstate, as well as pulling 35 percent of the urban vote from New York City and the Thruway cities from Albany on to Buffalo, on top of the party’s small-town rural base. There is, in fact, a path to Republican renewal in 2014. GOP candidates need to resonate not just with the base but also with moderates and independents, especially from the female majority. If, however, they just keeping talking to themselves, as New York’s Democrats did in the 1960s and 1990s, they will only fall farther behind. That approach may lead to joyful summers before primaries, but there will be no victories to harvest after October’s full moon.
Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany.
A CHOICE, NOT AN ECHO ested. On everything else—from mass transit to public housing—his answer is to beg Washington for cash. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and former comptroller Bill Thompson are more pragmatic. Neither wants to raise taxes, although neither of them rules it out. On public sector benefits, both have said they won’t negotiate in public. The difference between Thompson and Quinn on this issue is that Quinn has signed off on Bloomberg-era budgets in recent years that have set aside no money for public sector raises, effectively agreeing with the mayor on a position the unions hate. Thompson has taken the endorsement of the teachers’ union, putting him in a more delicate spot when it comes to refusing back pay. Still, neither Quinn nor Thompson has announced big spending plans like de Blasio has. Fiscally, the Republican candidates are stronger. All have said they want public sector workers to pay for some of their own healthcare premiums, which would save hundreds of millions of dollars a year. And in the Aug. 28 GOP debate, the two top-polling candidates, former MTA chief Joe Lhota and oil refinery mogul John Catsimatidis, said they’d like bigger reforms to public sector pensions as well
(although, like de Blasio on taxes, they’d need permission from Albany). On another top issue, public safety, de Blasio is a radical, and the others are not. De Blasio has repeatedly said he’d “end the stop-and-frisk era.” Quinn and Thompson want it both ways. They don’t want to alienate voters who are upset about seemingly excessive stops, but they don’t want to alienate police or watch crime rise. On another important issue, pedestrian and bicycle safety, de Blasio again has the clearest position. He wants to see zero traffic deaths. Quinn is strong here too, promising to halve deaths. Thompson and Lhota are more circumspect. Lhota has been inconsistent on bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, although he did praise bike lanes in the late August debate. (Catsimatidis has sounded ignorant here, insisting with no evidence that pedestrian plazas and bike lanes have slowed ambulances, while ignoring data on lives saved.) There’s one critical topic the candidates won’t bring up: quality-of-life issues. No one wants to be the candidate who takes on the nightclub industry for illegal noise, or the construction industry for illegal work. New Yorkers who want a candidate who will fairly enforce all laws against allpowerful interests have no real choice. Nobody is going to close charter
schools, because it would anger motivated parents. Only de Blasio thinks the only education answer is more money. But on the rest: If you want an old-style liberal, you’ll pick de Blasio. If you don’t like Republicans—both Catsimatidis and Lhota voted for Mitt Romney, something the Democratic nominee is sure to remind voters about his or her rival come the general election—but you want a relative measure (compared with de Blasio) of fiscal sanity and order on the streets, you’ll choose between Quinn and Thompson. If you don’t mind Romney Republicans and you’re really worried about the next mayor’s ability to plain old run the city, you can pick Lhota, the guy who has the experience (under Giuliani) of actually having run New York. If, on the other hand, you worry more on a day-to-day basis about getting hit by a lawless trucker than about being shot by a drug dealer, you’ll think about it again. This line of reasoning has helped me make my decision. Tomorrow night, I’ll see if New Yorkers agreed with me in round one. Nicole Gelinas (@nicolegelinas on Twitter) is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.
INSIDE THE CAPITOL The Capitol Pressroom’s host, Susan Arbetter, recaps recent highlights of her one-hour public radio show, broadcast live from the State Capitol. Arbetter is the news and public affairs director for WCNY in Syracuse.
Syracuse Democratic Mayoral Candidates Spar in Televised Forum
CNY Public Television worked hand-in-glove with the Syracuse Media Group/ The Post-Standard to produce the one and only televised debate between the Democratic candidates for mayor of Syracuse. The WCNY team collaborated with SMG’s Editorial Opinion Leader Marie Morelli and Editorial Opinion Specialist Steve Carlic to draft questions that would educate the public about where the candidates stand on key issues. The questions we received from the public in the week leading up to the forum touched on a wide variety of issues, from prostitution (“There are prostitutes plying their trade in broad daylight! Why are they allowed to do that?”) to why the street lights in the city aren’t synchronized. If you’re thinking that Syracuse is very different from New York City, you would be correct. But to leaders in Yonkers, Albany and Rochester, the issues are familiar: foreclosures, litter, drugs. These cities have limited tax bases to draw upon to solve their problems. Most upstate cities, like Syracuse, will eventually face a future that includes cuts or some painful restructuring—or both. We wanted to alert the public to the city’s likely future, so we boiled down the many issues facing Syracuse to two. The first was crime and policing. While the crime rate in the city has dropped, the homicide rate has done just the opposite. By the end of August there had been more homicides in the city than in all of 2012. Was the current mayor’s data-driven approach to fighting crime working? The second critical area we wanted to discuss was the city’s finances. In the most recent budget, incumbent Stephanie Miner siphoned $18 million from the city’s rainy day fund to fill a budget gap. At that rate, the fund would be depleted in three years. How would she and her challengers, Pat Hogan, a city councilor, and Alfonso Davis, a community activist, handle such an enormous financial shortfall? CRIME & POLICING The first question was directed to the incumbent. We asked Stephanie Miner why her philosophy of policing had changed. Four years ago when she was running for mayor, she was a proponent
of “community policing,” something she recently called “a romantic idea.” Now Miner advocates a more data-driven approach. MINER: We saw the models working in other cities, especially in New York City, which has had a tremendous reduction in crime. … I would say when you look at the CompStat model, you’re looking at analyzing data. The other two candidates argued for a return to community or “neighborhood” policing. HOGAN: My idea is to have a severe police presence—40 officers on the beat at any given time. Police officers should be tethered to the city’s 38 neighborhoods. DAVIS: Who is better to lead a city with compassion and empathy than someone who has been on the ground level? When we talk about community policing, that has been my focus for years. There is a contentious relationship between the community and law enforcement. You cannot engage people by doing “drive-by policing.” Both Davis and Hogan were critical of the Syracuse police department for not making more of an effort to walk on foot around the city’s neighborhoods. CITY FINANCES The incumbent’s position on city finances also differed from her challengers’. Miner gained statewide attention by arguing in a New York Times op-ed that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pension-smoothing proposal would cost Syracuse over 100 million dollars. Both Hogan and Davis stated they would consider borrowing from future pensions to pay current obligations. Since Cuomo has said he will likely not increase state aid to localities, Mayor Miner was asked what her “Plan B” was. Closing a fire station here, a senior center there, and consolidating planning with Onondaga County is nibbling at the edges of a very big problem. Yet you say you don’t want a “handout” from the state. So what do you want? MINER: I want the state to change the underlying economic model for cities. But isn’t that just semantics? What you want is more state aid, whether you call it an obligation or a handout.
MINER: It’s much more complicated than that. I have spent three years talking about this very issue. It’s not just semantics. What it means is that 50% of our property is nontaxable. When we have 12% of our budget going toward pension costs and a full 20% going toward healthcare costs, we need the state to step in, because clearly the taxpayers of the city of Syracuse can’t bear the burden, [and] pensioners shouldn’t bear the burden. It needs to be shared across the board. But what’s your Plan B if the state doesn’t come through? MINER: We have said, and I have said, I don’t want just a handout. I want to make sure we talk about revenues and liabilities. We want flexibility. We want all the constituency groups to get together and solve this problem. And just because the governor has said right now he won’t doesn’t mean he’s not going to have to have a conversation. When all of these municipalities start facing financial control boards or bankruptcies there’s going to be a conversation, and I plan to make sure that Syracuse’s interests are represented in that conversation. From there, we segued into a critical “what if” question. In the wake of Detroit’s bankruptcy, many municipal finance experts are looking at city leaders wondering what they think about this conundrum: If a city faces bankruptcy, it will likely have two large debtors, the banks, and the pensioners. In your opinion, who is the more deserving debtor? HOGAN: I think we [have to] take care of the people who have worked for us for many years. That’s the fairest way to do it. DAVIS: I would also say that those individuals who provided the services for us are the ones we need to look at first. MINER: There is no moral distinction between the pensioners and the bank. They are both commitments the city has made. Miner’s comments drew criticism at one debate-watching party. Party attendee Howie Hawkins, a Teamster and former Green Party candidate for governor of New York, described a group of union members (himself included) who were furious at the mayor for what they viewed as a cavalier position toward their
retirement, “especially after the Obama administration claimed it had to use bailout money for Wall Street bonuses for AIG employees, because the bonuses were a part of a ‘sacred contract.’ ” On the other hand, finance experts like former Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch argue that there are no simple answers; that “banks” is a loose term given to bond holders, who may include you or your parents. The forum went smoothly, even though fireworks threatened several hours earlier when Hogan had issued a press release inviting the public to a local diner to vote on the question: Whom did Mayor Miner “insult the most in her quest for political stardom?” It was a thinly veiled reference to Miner’s other job as co-chair of the State Democratic Committee. Hogan’s ballot included Cuomo, with whom the mayor has publically disagreed (as mentioned above), as well as the Syracuse police and fire departments, which have seen their ranks dwindle as the mayor attempts to balance her budget. It was probably not Hogan’s intention, but his list helped underscore the feeling that we’d picked the right issues to zero in on. Several political analysts we spoke with, including Prof. Tara Ross of Onondaga Community College, think the primary will determine the ultimate outcome in this election, if for no other reason than the fact that the Republicans do not yet have a firm candidate. According to The Post-Standard, the Republicans have named a placeholder candidate, Kevin Kuehner. In a letter to the editor published on August 30, Tom Dadey, Onondaga County Republican Chairman wrote, “You should know that I continue to conduct a vigorous search for a challenger to go up against incumbent Mayor Stephanie Miner, and we remain optimistic that we will find a credible candidate who would make a strong mayor.” Among the rumored possible GOP candidates is Hogan, who, if he loses the primary, may run on the Republican line.
The forum, broadcast Aug. 28 on WCNY, can be viewed online at www. wcny.org/syracusemayoralforum. cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
WINNERS & LOSERS
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is an age of wisdom, it is an age of foolishness, it is a season of belief, it is a season of incredulity. It is election season, and once again it was a week of Winners and Losers.
Go to cityandstateny.com each week to vote.
Week of Aug. 19, 2013
Week of Aug. 26, 2013
Scott Stringer 39%
Bill de Blasio 44%
Christine Quinn 37%
Gale Brewer 44%
Stephanie Miner 14% Chris Collins 5% Thomas Richards 5% Chris Collins: Highest paid NY congressman Stephanie Miner: Leads Syracuse mayoral poll Thomas Richards: Rochester’s robust housing recovery
QUINNING Christine Quinn: The Council Speaker always loved the Daily News, didn’t she? Riding a wave of momentum after the paper of the people endorsed her, Quinn slammed rival Bill de Blasio for his wife’s criticism of her in a Times column and opened up about her family life with her partner, Kim Catullo. Meanwhile, her campaign seems back on track with the Tina Fey-approved theme of being the candidate who gets stuff done. #Quinning?
Eric Schneiderman 4%
YOUR CHOICE Scott Stringer: When you land the backing of the Post, Daily News and Times in one week, it’s hard not to make the winner’s list. Eliot Spitzer’s campaign argues this is just the establishment uniting against him, but that’s a tough case to make when the city’s three ideologically disparate dailies deem you unqualified. Many endorsements don’t matter, but this trifecta could give Stringer the boost he needs in the final stretch of the campaign.
Tom DiNapoli 4% Rubén Díaz Jr. 4% Rubén Díaz Jr.: Bronx Bomber! Tom DiNapoli: Lower pension fund contributions needed Eric Schneiderman: Takes on Donald Trump
YOUR CHOICE (TIE) Bill de Blasio: Call it ’fro-mentum. De Blasio’s slow climb to the top of the Democratic mayoral field was punctuated by the most recent polls, which has him as much as 15 points ahead of the field and within striking distance of the 40 percent threshold necessary to avoid a runoff. De Blasio’s campaign narrative appears to be resonating with voters—particularly within the city’s AfricanAmerican community—likely, in part, to his son Dante and that magnificently coiffed Afro.
YOUR CHOICE (TIE) Gale Brewer: The New York Times’ endorsement has waned in influence— and its value will be tested once again by Christine Quinn’s and Scott Stringer’s primary performances. But the one place where it still carries unquestionable weight is Manhattan, and perhaps no race is more impacted by the judgment of the Grey Lady than Manhattan BP. While the showdown remains a tight contest between four credible candidates, The Times’ embrace of Councilwoman Gale Brewer may prove decisive.
LOSERS David Paterson 35% Dan Isaacs 19% George Capsis 17% Tom DiNapoli 16% Helen Foster 13%
George Capsis: Slaps an elected official—and an intern Tom DiNapoli: The auditor gets audited Helen Foster: Lowest attendance in City Council
YOUR CHOICE David Paterson: Talk about the worst endorser ever! Paterson campaigned for city comptroller candidate Scott Stringer, whom he endorsed a long time before Eliot Spitzer got into the race. Paterson stuck to backing Stringer, but refused to attack his former boss, which could be viewed as noble if he hadn’t dodged questions about why Stringer would do a better job. Paterson followed that up with a semi-defense of Spitzer’s decision to solicit prostitutes.
38 SEPTEMBER 9, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com
Anthony Weiner 54% IN DENIAL Dan Isaacs: When you’re caught on tape talking to an undercover federal agent about getting paid for legal work, apparently in return for helping a potential mayoral candidate secure a place on the ballot, issuing the statement, “I never accepted a bribe. I have never been charged,” won’t help clear your name. Isaacs may not be in legal trouble, but in the court of public opinion he has been tried, convicted and is now awaiting his sentence.
Ray Kelly 25% Nelson Castro 15% RoAnn Destito 5% David Flaum 1% Nelson Castro: Lies to Feds—again RoAnn Destito: Drinking and dancing at OGS David Flaum: Seneca pact could break lobbyist rules
YOUR CHOICE Anthony Weiner: Weiner’s campaign stops are often spectacles, but some people in the crowd may have been paid actors feigning support or acting initially skeptical, only to be convinced by Weiner. The Post reported that Weiner’s campaign hired a rent-a-crowd firm to provide “supporters” at campaign stops, which a spokesperson denied. Weiner also had interns pose as “everyday New Yorkers” supporting him in televised ads. These tactics might be the exclamation point on the demise of Weiner-mania.
HIGH PROFILING Ray Kelly: Kelly’s Muslim spy program is back in the news with a report that the NYPD secretly labeled mosques as terrorist organizations, allowing it to spy on imams giving sermons, even without evidence of criminal activity. Kelly is already embroiled in the debate over the NYPD’s alleged racial profiling through the use of stop-and-frisk. Still, the commish is a candidate to run the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and judging by the Obama administration’s own extensive NSA surveillance programs, Kelly might fit right in.
A Q&A WITH GAY TALESE Gay Talese, one of the pioneers and most well-known practitioners of literary journalism, has been an iconic New Yorker since he made a name for himself in the 1960s at The New York Times and Esquire. Among his most celebrated magazine pieces are profiles of Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra, which demonstrate an in-depth, narrative style that bears more resemblance to works of fiction than to everyday journalism. Talese spoke with City & State Managing Editor Jon Lentz about Mayor Michael Bloomberg, his unique independence and the colorful field of candidates vying to succeed him. The following is an edited transcript.
City & State: What do you think about the New York City mayoral race this year? Gay Talese: I’m a very senior citizen, and I’ve known every mayor since La Guardia. I came to New York to live in the 1950s. And because I’ve been, so much of the time, in reporting, for 10 of those years with The New York Times, and later on as a writer of magazines and books, I got the chance to meet people … I’ve known every mayor, some of them well, like Robert Wagner and Koch and Lindsay. I’ve known them as you can know them if you cover campaigns, or if you’re just a curious person who is out a lot and run into people in restaurants, as I do, and sometimes they are mayors. So I have a personal awareness of what they look like, and what kind of suits they wear and what they eat, and a little bit about how they govern, if they do govern. Sometimes you don’t know. And I also know Mayor Bloomberg, to the point where I’ve even had him come to my house on occasion, such as on Christmas Eve, which he has the last three years, so I know him in a way—not just reading about him and watching him on television but actually sitting across a table or having a drink on a crowded cocktail floor with him. And now all that’s ending—and I feel the replacements are certainly not going to be bringing the sense of confidence that Mayor Bloomberg brought to the job, because he was independent of the job. Bloomberg’s 12 years, unlike all the other mayors that I’ve known through being a citizen of the city, this mayor, because he was so independent of mind and independent of pocketbook, un-dependent on the goodwill of unions, and a man who had the resources to do what he thought was right, not what he had to do because the votes were there or the votes were not there, or he was fearful of opposition. Even people who didn’t like the guy, I think, are going to miss him very much, because we never had to worry about him. Because he was so rich, you could never think he was corrupt, because sometimes people who are not rich are really vulnerable to the temptations of money. So we had for all these years a man who was not tempted by the power of cliques, whether they’re lobbyists or unions or ethnic groups or religious groups. He did what he wanted, and I don’t remember a mayor in my whole lifetime that could do what he wanted and could afford to do what he wanted and didn’t have to worry about the consequences—a unique personality for a municipal leader.
C&S: What are your thoughts on the candidates to replace Mayor Bloomberg? GT: Now we have a group of very vulnerable people whose collective backgrounds are so at variance with Bloomberg, and in a way more interesting than Bloomberg because they carry a lot of individual experiences that are not shared by everybody. All of them have a kind of dark story to tell. We have the Asian accountant here, you know, Mr. Liu, who has a little bit of accountability for his campaign colleagues. And of course you have the big mouth of Christine Quinn sometimes getting in her way. She looks like a grousy woman you don’t want to have a fight with in P.J. Clarke’s. And you have the rather smooth Mr. William Thompson, who could have been the uncle of David Dinkins, because he’s a refined person. You wonder what is this refined person doing with this group? Dinkins was sweet, wonderful, just a gentleman, and I don’t know if Thompson is that much of a gentleman, but he’s in the mold of that kind of African-American—you always say that’s a gentleman, very special, very unique. Then you have Mr. bucks from Gristedes, Mr. Cat, and he’s a bold, crude rich man, and while he’s selfmade like Bloomberg, has none of the posturing and the smoothness and the self-assurance of Bloomberg. Rich as he is, I don’t think John Catsimatidis has a boat or houses in four cities or a private airplane—I don’t know. He’s certainly a man who talks about money and power and all that he made himself, and I like his boldness. I don’t know that he has a chance. And of course, Giuliani’s friend Joseph Lhota, he also has his missteps in the background, and of course de Blasio, well he’s probably the tallest candidate we’ve had since Lindsay—it’s wonderful, he’s this tall guy. And I love the fact that all of them have these wonderful personal backgrounds. I love the fact that we have an interracial marriage, in the case of de Blasio and his wife, who’s had some experience of being with women in a private way, I love all that. I love that we have a lesbian. … It’s a wonderful thing about New York. I don’t know if other cities have the dubious distinction of having candidates and sometimes acting mayors whose marital life, if it exists at all, is never very predictable, as with Giuliani, his wife at the time learning through television that she was getting divorced. It’s just wonderful how the mayor’s office rises above or rises below what’s considered the moral norm. And I forgot Weiner. There was a wonderful piece by Hertzberg in The New Yorker about a month ago. This guy has committed no sin at all. This guy didn’t run off with anybody’s wife, didn’t get caught in the Oval Office with his pants down, didn’t do anything except play with technology in a way and play with his private parts in a way, but he didn’t do any harm to anybody, but here he is vilified as if he is the worst guy since Oscar Wilde. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s really a campaign of backstories. None of these people, no matter what question is asked by newspapers or television interviewers, what they’re going to do, none of these people have a clue, and we don’t expect them to have a clue, what they’re going to do. And they’re going to have to make it up as they go along.
To read an extended version of this interview, including Talese’s thoughts on the decline of political reporting, the state of The New York Times and one of the most rewarding magazine articles he ever wrote, go to cityandstateny.com.
cityandstateny.com | SEPTEMBER 9, 2013
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