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Vol. 2, No. 23 - DECEMBER 2, 2013

The Push For A State Constitutional Convention Q&A With Folk Music Great Arlo Guthrie Spotlight On MWBES

PRESIDENT KING? T H E G O P C O N G R E S S M A N ’ S R A C E T O S AV E H I S PA R T Y F R O M I T S E L F

AARON CLAMAGE

City & State NY LLC 61 Broadway, Suite 2825 New York, NY 10006


UPFRONT

Being John Boehner

AROUND NEW YORK The best items from City & State’s website City & State’s website is your key source for political and campaign developments in New York. Stay on top of the news with items like these at www.cityandstateny.com.

Morgan Pehme EDITOR

“I

don’t want to be John Boehner,” said Councilman Jimmy Vacca of the Bronx in a recent debate for New York City Council Speaker. “When he goes in to see Obama, Obama says, ‘I can’t negotiate with you because you don’t represent your body.’ … I want to be a Speaker that when I sit down with the mayor, he will know that I consulted my colleagues and that I represent the will of the body.” The remark was in response to a proposed package of reforms that would diminish the powers of the office, most notably by curtailing the Speaker’s control over the distribution of member items. Vacca’s argument is that the reforms weaken the Council in relation to the mayor by unilaterally disarming one of the most effective weapons in the Speaker’s arsenal. Without the carrot and stick of member items, the Speaker would have to depend more on the body’s ability to arrive at consensus on its own—a problematic proposition in any legislature, particularly one with so many firebrand ideologues and wild card freshmen. As a former good government advocate, I am viscerally inclined to support the proposed reforms to the Speaker’s office. I have bristled over the years as Speaker Quinn used the power of the purse to cajole her fellow Council members into submission and castigate them when they got out of line—particularly when the

reasons for flexing her muscle were petty or gratuitous. And let us not forget that it was the desire for the Speaker to be able to dole out member items year-round that led to the slush fund scandal. Still, Vacca has a point. The analogy between the House of Representatives and what the City Council could become is not so far-fetched. Even most of Speaker Boehner’s critics would admit that he has tried his best to lead his Conference reasonably—and yet inundated with members who don’t respond to reason, and denied the tools to compel them to do so, he has been adrift, watching momentous legislation like the so-called “grand bargain” drown in eddies of extremism. While it is noble in theory to narrow the influence the Speaker wields over the members, does the practical result of this reform negate the good it seeks to achieve? In The Prince, Machiavelli contends that if a leader must choose between being loved or feared, it is better to be feared, because “Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared.” Sadly, I believe this observation holds true 600 years later. So should the Council do away with member items, or distribute them evenly among the flock? Though perhaps doing so may one day be proven wise and just, at the moment I, for one, am having second thoughts. Just as Voltaire pointed out that “Common sense is not so common,” time and again we have seen that when reasonable people get into the government, they suddenly cease to use their reason.

61 Broadway, Suite 2825 New York, NY 10006 Editorial (212) 894-5417 Advertising (212) 284-9712 advertising@cityandstateny.com General (646) 517-2740 City & State is published twice monthly. Copyright © 2013, City and State NY, LLC 2

DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

MANHATTAN Scott Levenson, president and founder of the consulting firm the Advance Group, attended a party over the summer held for City Councilwoman Inez Dickens (below), the purpose of which was to “reelect Inez Dickens, Assistant Deputy Majority Leader to the City Council, and to insure that she is the next NYC Council Speaker,” according to a July report published in the New York Beacon, a Manhattan-based weekly newspaper. Levenson has recently stated that he and the Advance Group are “helping” Councilwoman Melissa Mark-

Viverito in her bid for Speaker. A spokeswoman for the Advance Group said that the party was a birthday celebration for Dickens, and that Levenson dropped by to wish his former client well. “Inez Dickens is a former client, and Scott attended the event to support her re-election to the City Council,” the spokeswoman said. Some political observers were not surprised Levenson attended the party for Dickens, noting that he is a consultant who tends to hedge his bets and keep relationships with a number of Speaker hopefuls.

Levenson also worked as a consultant with another candidate for the position, Councilwoman Annabel Palma.

BRONX Councilman Jimmy Vacca (right) made a strong case for himself to be City Council Speaker at a forum in the Bronx on the evening of Nov 18. Vacca played up his knowledge of outer borough issues and raised his energy level to match that of an engaged, occasionally unruly crowd. The forum drew a large number of people—roughly 200—giving Vacca and the other five Speaker candidates on the panel—Council members Annabel Palma, Mark Weprin, Melissa MarkViverito, Dan Garodnick and Inez Dickens—a sizable audience to showcase their leadership credentials. But it was Vacca who established the tempo for the discussion. A self-described “student of city government,” Vacca was forthright and confident in his positions from the opening question, when he firmly stated his belief that Council members’ discretionary funds

should be distributed based on the merits of the programs being funded, independent of the whim of the Speaker or poverty-based measures, which some Speaker candidates have suggested. “We have to make sure that the Council operates as a cohesive body, and that nothing that the Speaker does diminishes the role of the New York City Council,” Vacca said. Responding to a question on housing, Vacca displayed his knowledge of legislative nuts and bolts. When asked how he would curb evictions in the city, Vacca named several services already

available to people to fight eviction—including the senior citizen’s rent exemption program and the disability exemption program—to huge applause.

TOP TWEET

THE BEST OF TWITTER FROM CITY & STATE’S LAST READ EMAIL

Liz Benjamin @CTLizB: MT Thought this started a bad joke @ anniekarni “There are 2 ministers, 2 rabbis + one imam on the transition committee. 0 Catholic priests”

Publisher Tom Allon tallon@cityandstateny.com Editor-in-Chief Morgan Pehme mpehme@cityandstateny.com Managing Editor Jon Lentz jlentz@cityandstateny.com Associate Editor Helen Eisenbach Reporter Nick Powell npowell@cityandstateny.com Associate Publisher Jim Katocin jkatocin@cityandstateny.com Director of Marketing Andrew A. Holt aholt@cityandstateny. com Events Manager Dawn Rubino drubino@cityandstateny.com Government Relations Sales Director Allison Sadoian asadoian@cityandstateny.com Business Manager Jasmin Freeman jfreeman@cityandstateny.com Multimedia Director Michael Johnson mjohnson@cityandstateny.com Art Director Guillaume Federighi gfederighi@cityandstateny.com Illustrator Lisanne Gagnon CITY AND STATE NY, LLC Chairman Steve Farbman President/CEO Tom Allon


UPFRONT THE KICKER: A CHOICE QUOTE FROM CITY & STATE’S FIRST READ

“I have not heard of a white man in a suit being profiled in a bank or on Wall Street. When it comes to financial crimes, we stop short.” —New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, denouncing racial profiling at a hearing investigating Macy’s and Barneys for allegedly profiling and frisking its customers, via the New York Post

NOVEL POLITICIANS Rep. Peter King, the subject of this issue’s cover story, has authored three novels: Terrible Beauty, Deliver Us From Evil, and Vale of Tears. But he is not the only politician who has made a foray into fiction.

Murder at City Hall (1995)

The Edge (1976)

Blowout (2012)

By Edward Koch, former mayor of New York City, with Herbert Resnicow

By John V. Lindsay, former mayor of New York City

By Byron Dorgan, former U.S. senator from North Dakota, and David Hagberg

SYNOPSIS: Ed Koch, the mayor of New York City, turns sleuth when the body of a hated tycoon suddenly appears in the wedding chapel of City Hall, and the mayor, his associates and his friends all become suspects in the crime.

SYNOPSIS: The country is in desperate crisis. Its citizens have risen violently in riot. A puppet president is about to hand the nation over to military vultures. And Congressman Mike Stuart has begun the counterconspiracy to save America at the risk of his political career, his family’s safety and his most scandalous secret passion.

SYNOPSIS: America is on the brink of crisis. Unless we can curb our dangerous appetite for foreign oil, petroleum-rich countries and speculators will bring our economy to its knees … long before CO2 emissions will devastate our ecosystem. The president has answered the call with the Dakota District Initiative, a top secret research team that is developing a way to produce clean energy from coal. But powerful enemies will stop at nothing to sabotage this revolutionary technology.

A Time to Run (2005)

Fields of Fire (1978)

By Barbara Boxer, U.S. senator from California, with Mary-Rose Hayes

By James Webb, former U.S. senator from Virginia

My Senator and Me: A Dog’s Eye View of Washington, D.C. (2006)

SYNOPSIS: When her husband is killed in a car accident during his campaign for the Senate, Ellen Fines assumes his candidacy and achieves an upset victory over a political machine. On the eve of a crucial vote, past and public worlds collide when Ellen’s former lover, now a journalist with strong right-wing connections, gives her sensitive documents that could either make or break her career. From hideaways deep under the U.S. Capitol to wealthy southern California ranches to the political unrest on the streets of Berkeley, an up-close story of power and trust.

SYNOPSIS: They each had their reasons for being a soldier. They each had their illusions. Goodrich came from Harvard. Snake got the tattoo—Death Before Dishonor—before he got the uniform. And Hodges was haunted by the ghosts of family heroes. They were three young men from different worlds plunged into a white-hot murderous realm of jungle warfare as it was fought by one Marine platoon in the An Hoa Basin, 1969. They had no way of knowing what awaited them. Nothing could have prepared them for the madness to come. And in the heat and horror of battle they took on new identities, took on one another and were each reborn in fields of fire. (SOURCE: GOOGLE BOOKS)

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By Edward Kennedy, former U.S. senator from Massachusetts, illustrated by David Small SYNOPSIS: There’s an old saying: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Sen. Ted Kennedy decided to do just that. His beloved Portuguese water dog, Champion Amigo’s Seventh Wave (nicknamed Splash), is one of the most famous canines on Capitol Hill. Here we follow Sen. Kennedy and Splash through a busy day in D.C., from press conferences to meetings with school groups to committee discussions to a floor vote. The result is an exciting behind-thescenes look at the life of one of the most energetic figures in American politics—and his equally famous owner.


All-Star 2013 2teams2_City&State 12/3/13 11:43 AM Page 1

ore f e B r e Ev n a h t s er n n i W ard w A F S YN N U C e Mor

M

ore than 20 outstanding CUNY students in 2013 won National Science Foundation awards of $126,000 each for graduate study in the sciences. No other University system in the Northeast won more.

1-800-CUNY-YES cuny.edu/allstars


LAST LOOK

Brooklyn’s Biggest Cheerleader By MICHAEL JOHNSON

H

eading into 2013 Carlo Scissura was considered a likely front-runner to replace his old boss, Brooklyn

Borough President Marty Markowitz. But in April he dropped out of the race—helping to clear the field for state Sen. Eric Adams— and instead took the reins of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. At the time he told the media his “primary focus was doing good, positive things to grow Brooklyn.” Seven months later, he has no regrets. “Only one day did I wake up and I say, ‘Hmm, what if?’ And that was Primary Day,” Scissura said in a recent Last Look

We help out a lot of people every day. I dispatch police, fire and ambulance, and there is the life saving aspect of it. I’ve taken calls where people are in fires, and tell them how to get out and what to do. I’ve been a volunteer fireman for 27 years, serving the people in town and the people passing through. I do whatever I can do.

Meet Steve

On the line every day. 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

7.458x10 6 9014_Steve DECEMBER 2,CS.indd 2013 | 1cityandstateny.com

People working together to make a better New York for all.

SMART | DYNAMIC | CARING | DEDICATED 11/13/13 11:42 AM

interview with City & State. “And then I got to work and I was so busy and I said, ‘You know what? This is the best career decision that I made.’ ” In his short time at the Chamber, membership has more than doubled, from approximately 700 members to just under 1,500. Scissura attributes the dramatic growth to his efforts to reach out to all neighborhoods in Brooklyn, not just those considered “hip.” “I think we are messaging it better,” Scissura said. “We are letting people know and businesses know what the value is. We are in communities we were never in before. We are not just a downtown Brooklyn chamber—we are a boroughwide chamber.” Replacing monthly member mixers— which Scissura calls “the most boring things I went to”—with “Chamber visits” to neighborhoods like Coney Island, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, he is taking up the charge to “be different,” he says, “because the days of a Chamber of Commerce where you get together once a month and you get drinks are over.” While Scissura has left government service, his new job draws heavily upon his experience in politics and his network of connections in the arena. To make the Chamber a better resource to members of the New York State Assembly and Senate—and demonstrate the clout of his members—he has organized the businesses he represents by their respective legislative districts, a change that has already strengthened relations between the Chamber and the borough’s elected officials. He also plans to spend a lot of time in Albany to figure out the types of benefits available to his membership. Scissura’s close relationships with the incoming city administrations—those of New York City Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate-Elect Letitia James, both of whom hail from Brooklyn—should also prove advantageous to his work at the Chamber, as will his long-standing rapport with a number of new City Council members, including Carlos Menchaca, who used to work with him at Brooklyn Borough Hall. “For the last decade we have seen Brooklyn become the cool, hip place. The artists, the culture, the restaurants, etc.,” Scissura said. “The politics caught up.” Today Brooklyn is not only “the coolest, hottest place in the world,” he said, “but it is also now the political power center of New York City.” This coming June Brooklyn for the first time will also host the Chamber Alliance of New York State’s annual summer conference. In fact, it is the first time the event has ever been hosted downstate. “I think it shows what the Brooklyn brand is and what the Chamber has become. And now we are going to have every president of every Chamber of Commerce in the state in Brooklyn in June. That sends a strong message to everyone in the state,” Scissura said.


There’s more to the charter school story:

Community Diversity Collaboration

Learn more at charternyc.org and tune in to Open Line on WBLS 107.5 FM on Sunday, 12/8, at 8:30 am, for a vibrant conversation about charter schools in NYC.


INFRASTRUCTURE

THROUGH SANDY RECOVERY, AN OPPORTUNITY TO BRIDGE “TWO CITIES” By NICK POWELL

A

s Bill de Blasio prepares to take over City Hall in January, various interest groups are anxious to see whether the newest darling of the progressive movement can make good on his promise to unite the “two cities” he repeatedly referenced throughout the campaign season. While de Blasio will have many hurdles to surmount swiftly— beginning with negotiating labor contracts and the budget—one area where many believe he can make an immediate impact in bridging the equality gap in the city is through the Superstorm Sandy recovery process. Sandy largely blindsided the Bloomberg administration, not only through the sheer physical force and subsequent destruction of the storm but also in regard to how to funnel the proper resources to the people who needed it the most—displaced lowincome residents and homeowners literally and figuratively under water. The storm’s unprecedented nature has lent a trial-byfire aspect to the recovery, and while many

have praised Bloomberg for his vision and ideas about how to rebuild—in June he laid out an ambitious recovery blueprint with 250 recommendations, from flood walls to levee systems, to better protect the city’s power infrastructure—some have criticized the execution of his ideas. Bloomberg’s Build It Back program, which uses federal funds to offer homeowners the option to repair or leave property severely damaged during Sandy, has been slow in helping people on the ground, with the Associated Press reporting that since the program’s inception only one person has had her home purchased by the city. Community advocates say that many people displaced or affected by Sandy simply missed the deadline to apply. Further, it is not clear when the city will have enough money to cover all of the roughly 25,000 Build It Back applications, according to Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway. “You have people who continue to be displaced, living in moldy homes, living in otherwise untenable conditions, folks

GOVERNOR CUOMO’S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PLAN

Lost Revenue Lost Service Lost Jobs Adds Local $ Burden IN YOUR COMMUNITY

Save Our Services Support PEF’s campaign to keep services in your community For more information and to sign the petition please go to www.pef.org

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who are in debt and have maxed out credit cards because they have to pay for food and shelter of some kind or fix their house. The situation is pretty dire out there for Sandy survivors, particularly ones that were already struggling before the storm,” said Nathalie Alegre, the coordinator of the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding, a coalition of labor unions and community, faith-based, environmental and policy organizations dedicated to an “equitable and sustainable” Sandy recovery process. Where Bloomberg’s vision for recovery entails more grandiose ambitions—such as the large-scale infrastructure needed to mitigate the effects of climate change— the Alliance and some other organizations like it support a more granular approach. They view the coming influx of federal aid money as the foundation for a more inclusive, equitable city, and recommend using the additional resources to increase accountability and transparency, invest in affordable and public housing, and create sustainable jobs, among other goals. “A community like mine, which was underdeveloped, which the city and federal government did not pump money into the way that it should have years prior, Sandy now gives us the opportunity to rebuild our communities in much better shape,” said New York City Councilman Donovan Richards, who represents parts of the Rockaway section of Queens, which incurred substantial damage during the storm. Richards and fellow Councilman Brad Lander are helping lead the way on increasing transparency by co-sponsoring, along with 34 other Council members, a bill that would establish an online database for the public to track how federal aid dollars are spent, and which contractors receive the money. Richards said that many of his constituents have been “duped” by contractors who make cursory repairs to a person’s home. “People’s mold would come back after they came in and supposedly fixed their homes,” Richards said. “This legislation would require contractors and subcontractors to be online, and if they had any misdeeds on their record it would be publicly stated, so that we know that the money is going to good contractors.” The majority of on-the-ground community organizations are in agreement that public housing residents are suffering most severely. The New York City Housing Authority—already inundated with a backlog of repairs before the storm—has been even slower in meeting the increased demand in the wake of Sandy. Anecdot-

ally, advocates say that residents are still complaining about mold, intermittent electrical service and a lack of heat or hot water, among other problems. Nonetheless, housing advocates see Sandy as an opportunity for the city not only to conduct a thorough assessment of unmet housing needs but also to satisfy de Blasio’s stated aspiration of building or preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing in the city. Since the Economic Development Agency and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will likely be distributing much of the federal aid money to developers and real estate companies, advocates want de Blasio to direct them to make affordability a primary criterion of any new development as part of the Sandy recovery. “HPD is a big agency that is rebuilding with families after Sandy; there are ways that HPD can have an affordability component, that whoever receives public money [will be monitored to] make sure they will actually build for the people that are displaced,” Alegre said. “Right now we’re seeing jacked up rents and people not being able to afford where they used to live.” Advocates also maintain that de Blasio can tackle the critical challenge of job creation through the Sandy recovery effort. The Alliance recommends the mayor use his executive authority to apply community-hire standards to all Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery federal funds, so that 30 percent of all wages for Sandy jobs go to workers hired from low-income communities. The rebuilding is an opportunity to train workers in new skill sets, according to Bettina Damiani, project director at Good Jobs New York, who said apprenticeship programs such as those offered by many labor unions can help diversify a worker’s professional experience. “Unions and companies have been doing training programs for 50, 60 years,” Damiani said. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; these kinds of relationships have existed in the past. It’s not about creating it from scratch.” However he chooses to orchestrate the Sandy recovery, it is imperative that de Blasio bring a diverse group of stakeholders to the table and solicit strong community input, according to the Alliance and other like-minded advocates. The hope is that the new mayor might blend a more equitable approach to rebuilding with the bold vision of mitigation and prevention laid out by his predecessor.


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POLITICS

DE BLASIO BENEFITED FROM D’AMATO MONEY

FILIP WOLAK

By AZURE GILMAN

Al D’Amato, former U.S. senator and a founding partner of Park Strategies, publicly supported Bill Thompson in the New York City mayoral primary, but a number of his associates contributed to Bill de Blasio.

N

ew York City is still in the halcyon days of a de Blasio victory, and news coverage abounds about the sharp left turn the city has taken. It’s ironic, then, that as a candidate de Blasio was quietly collecting contributions from employees, business partners and family members of former U.S. senator and current lobbyist Alfonse D’Amato, the man whom many still view as the most powerful Republican in the state. While D’Amato was supporting Thompson, his associates were funding a de Blasio victory before the primary had even taken place. A total of $117,845 D’Amato-connected money was donated to the de Blasio campaign, $107,520 of which was donated before the primaries. D’Amato, a founding partner of Park Strategies consulting group, openly supported Bill Thompson during the primaries, bundling $69,800 and even going so far as to stump for him in key Orthodox sections of Crown Heights on the Sunday before the election. At the same time that D’Amato was openly favoring Thompson, however, D’Amato-connected money was being directed toward Thompson’s rival and future mayor-elect. Park Strategies has produced two bigmoney de Blasio bundlers: managing directors David Poleto and Joel Giambra. 10

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Poleto raised $7,850; Giambra, $28,350. Poleto has donors who include a Park Strategies vice president, John Zagame ($400), as well as Alfonse’s relative Amy D’Amato—who through Poleto donated $2,000 to de Blasio from 2011 to 2012, and another $2,475 after the primaries. Poleto himself gave only a few hundred to de Blasio, but Deborah Poleto gave $3,950. In de Blasio’s previous campaign for public advocate in 2009, D’Amato’s wife, Katuria, maxed out, donating $4,950. Park Strategy employees with more modest contributions to de Blasio include Kraig Siracuse ($200), Ryan Moses ($1,000), Robert McBride ($2,500, after the primary), Peter Molinaro ($150), Joe Rossi ($100) and former Assembly Speaker Melvin Miller ($400, after the primary). Another source of D’Amato money comes from Anthony Bonomo, owner of Physicians Reciprocal Insurance, and a client of Park Strategies. His fundraising includes $2,475 from Greg Serio, a partner and managing director at Park Strategies. Bonomo co-hosted a McCain fundraiser with D’Amato in 2008, and helped direct funds to the Paterson campaign. He bundled a total of $44,550 for de Blasio. Bonomo is also the link to Howard Fensterman, who bundled $20,400 for de Blasio. Fensterman raised money from

Anthony Bonomo, as well as Jaclyn and Julianne Bonomo. These donors are especially noteworthy, as they have no obvious ties to New York City. Bonomo’s company is based in Roslyn, on Long Island. Giambra is the former Erie County executive, and all the money he raised is from the Buffalo area. This disconnect makes it all the more likely they raised funds for de Blasio on behalf of D’Amato, a lobbyist who depends very heavily on cultivating a good relationship with city government.  Leonard Litwin, a longtime D’Amato associate and lobbyist, also maxed out at $4,950 to de Blasio. Charles Modica, founder and chancellor of St. George’s University, maxed out to de Blasio at $4,950, and previously donated to the Friends of Senator D’Amato committee. More significantly, however, he and D’Amato have a history dating back to at least 1983, when D’Amato brokered a deal to get 350 St. George students temporarily admitted to the Brooklyn Center of Long Island University and St. Barnabas in New Jersey after a coup in Grenada. When asked about D’Amato’s involvement with contributions to the de Blasio campaign, Park Strategies Managing Director Dave Catalfamo emphasized that D’Amato was a supporter of Thompson.

“One of the partners in our firm, David Poleto, has a long-standing relationship with de Blasio, and did in fact help raise money on his behalf, and has done so before, throughout de Blasio’s public career,” Catalfamo said. “That’s where that tie comes from.” The de Blasio campaign did not return a request for comment. A three-term senator, D’Amato lost his re-election bid in 1998 to Charles Schumer, but he has maintained his status as a major political player. After his Senate career D’Amato started Park Strategies, and went into consulting and lobbying. He also appears on the Fox News Channel and Bloomberg Radio, and is featured as one of the “Wise Guy” commentators on NY1. As for Park Strategies, its list of clients is impressive, and directors lobby on the national, state and city levels. D’Amato was once famously paid $500,000 in 2003 for making a single phone call to the MTA chairman on behalf of a building owner. In 2013 Park Strategies is on record in New York City as lobbying for eight companies, one of which (CGI Technologies and Solutions) is currently listed as having business before the city. Of 110 clients on the state level for the 2013–14 year, 15 have business before the city, and of the 26 clients on the national level, three have business before the city.


POLITICS • POLICY • PERSONALITIES

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COVER

B

ACK IN SEPTEMBER, a report that Republican Congressman Peter King of Long Island had become the first candidate to officially throw his hat in the ring for president in 2016 set the political world abuzz. The news immediately sparked a flurry of responses from pundits and the press, nearly all of them dismissive. The National Journal pointed out that the first candidate to declare in recent history has invariably lost; the New York Daily News dug up the nugget that the last (and only) member of the House of Representatives to be elected to the nation’s highest office was James Garfield in 1880; and Newsday, King’s longtime foe, wrote off his run as “quixotic.”

T

he only problem with the report about King’s announcement is that it was wrong. “I have not declared,” King says unequivocally. “I just basically am taking advantage of this opportunity to see what’s happening on the ground—and if I make a decision, it will at least be another year and a half or so.” What is accurate is that King is seriously considering a bid, though he has made no decision as to whether to jump into the fray. In fact, King is painstaking about describing his presidential ambitions as speculative at the moment, in part because a more definitive declaration would require him to file papers with the federal government to form an exploratory committee—a step he is not yet prepared to take. That is not to say that King’s aspirations are purely theoretical. He began floating a trial balloon for a run in July and since then has steadily kept feeding the media’s insatiable hunger for 2016 hype by giving a host of interviews in which he has contemplated the possibility aloud. He has also visited New Hampshire four times over the past year, and intends to make his fifth foray to the key early primary state later this month, when he will give several speeches to groups that could help provide the framework for a campaign. He has not yet ventured to Iowa or South Carolina, but now that he is on the circuit, invitations to 12

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visit will doubtlessly be forthcoming. King is not deluded about his chances of victory. He is thoroughly cognizant of the candidates the press and his party have anointed as the early contenders for the Republican nomination—and that his name is not included on their short lists. Moreover, having served in Congress for 20 years, he is well aware that the road to the White House is littered with the carcasses of current and former colleagues who have sought to defy the odds and failed miserably—Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo and Newt Gingrich, to name the House GOP hopefuls just since 2008. Still, the degree to which King has thought through a potential run makes it plausible that the prospect is not just a ploy to promote himself or raise campaign cash, as several media outlets have conjectured. A friend of his, who requested not to be identified so as not to violate the congressman’s confidence, puts the odds of King trying his luck at “50-50.” Were he to go for it, his reasons would be threefold. The first and foremost would be that King is deeply disturbed by his party’s shrinking tent and gravitation toward ideological extremism—a trend that he would hope to counteract by having a national platform to repudiate it. The second is King’s passion for foreign policy and his profound concern that issues of homeland security and international affairs are not given sufficient bandwidth by the media and attention from the public, except in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks. The third reason is less serious, but one that also resonates with him. A devoted student of American politics, King has savored his tentative steps down the path of the greats who have gone before him in pursuit of his profession’s ultimate prize. As King puts it, “Whether you end up being a Forrest Gump or a Ronald Reagan, you still are a part of history.”

THE BOXER King is clearly tickled by the media boomlet his potential candidacy has generated. “I’m not being overly modest, but I do find it crazy that I’m even having this discussion,” says King. “I remember when I was a student at St. Francis College, I ended up going on the elevator one time with a guy who was the Republican nominee for councilman-at-large from Brooklyn. I thought it was a big deal. ‘Oh Jeez, I’m in the elevator with a guy running for office.’ Now people are asking me if I’m going to run for president.” King, who prides himself on being a blue collar Everyman, is full of anecdotes like this, which he spins with the effortless zeal of a storyteller holding court at the end of a neighborhood bar.

PRESIDEN

THE GOP CONGRESSM H I S PA R T Y F


COVER Unlike presidential candidates who hire high-priced consultants to convene focus groups so they can determine how best to come across as the guy the average American would most want to have a beer with, King’s working class persona is not just shtick. He grew up in an Irish Catholic family in Sunnyside, Queens, the son of a lieutenant in the New York City Police Department and a homemaker. After attending parochial schools in Brooklyn and Queens, he graduated from St. Francis, where he wrote his senior thesis in defense of Jimmy Walker, the flamboyant Tammany Hall mayor who resigned amid scandal and fled to Europe with his mistress. In response to King’s paper, his advisor told him, “Four years of a Catholic education was wasted on you.” Upon completing his bachelor’s in political science, King went for a Hail Mary and applied for a law degree at the Holy Grail of Catholic universities, Notre Dame. Much to his surprise, he was accepted, making him officially the Fighting Irishman he had always been in his soul.

I’m not being overly modest, but I do find it crazy that I’m even having this discussion.

NT KING?

M A N ’ S R A C E T O S AV E FROM ITSELF

AARON CLAMAGE

By MORGAN PEHME

A month after he received his J.D. in 1968, King signed up for the National Guard, 69th Infantry Regiment. He spent five months on active duty but despite serving during the height of the Vietnam War, he never saw combat, because is unit was never activated. Returning to New York after being stationed in Fort Dix in New Jersey and Fort Ord in California, King settled on Long Island, where his family had relocated shortly before he had enlisted. Initially living in Great Neck, and then moving to Seaford, King joined both towns’ local Republican clubs and promptly became a devoted foot soldier in the all-powerful Nassau County Republican Party. Over the next three decades King would demonstrate the sharpness of his political instincts, skillfully navigating the shifting tides of the party’s leadership to ascend the ranks of the most formidable GOP machine in the country. Along the way he would become a councilman in Hempstead, Nassau County comptroller and finally, in 1993, a United States congressman. With the burly build of a veteran bruiser, a shock of salt and pepper hair and a thick New Yorkese accent, King, 69, looks straight out of central casting for the part of an outer borough pugilist, but it was not until 10 years ago that he actually became a practitioner of the sweet science.

Since then he has dutifully shown up at Bellmore Kickboxing on the Island at least once a week to tape on the gloves and go head-to-head with guys often half his age. While he boxes just for exercise—and occasionally for charity—the brutal hobby has taken its toll on his body. While sparring with a DEA agent, he tore his bicep from winding up and throwing “perhaps the greatest uppercut in the entire history of the world.” Instead of taking his opponent’s head off, the punch missed its mark, and King’s bicep slammed into the guy’s forearm and exploded with a sensation not unlike being shot. When King later retreated to the attending doctor in the House, the physician counseled, “Maybe instead of seeing me you should be seeing a psychologist.” That King decided on the verge of his 60th birthday to sign up to sustain regular blows to the head undercuts a dimension of his character he is inclined both by his blue collar background and his self-image to downplay: He is an intellectual, too. A voracious reader of history, who keeps a log of every book he has finished over the last 20 years, and who has an exceptional memory for dates and events, King has also written three novels—all of them thinly veiled pastiches of his own life revolving around the same protagonist: a gruff, no-nonsense congressman from Seaford named Sean Cross. While Cross is not exactly the same as King, his creator says, “He’s close enough. That’s why I tried not to make him too heroic. I didn’t have him jumping off of buildings or saving people’s lives.” Cross is a man’s man of the old school, who curses like a firefighter and never turns down a drink—the latter detail being one of the few departures from King’s own biography. Though the author is unabashed about enjoying a manhattan on occasion like Cross, he does so rarely and only in moderation. As for spewing obscenities, King admits that “in the right environment, I’ll curse. Sure I do. I don’t know if I’m a match for Bill Clinton, but I’m pretty close.” Despite the fact that King deemed his life worthy of fictionalization, he depicts himself in reality as salt of the earth. “I’m basically a conservative, quiet guy,” he insists. “I’m not rich. I don’t own stock; I’ve never owned stock in my life. I got my own home, and I’ve got an apartment in Washington that was cheaper to buy than to rent, and that’s it. No summer home, [and] I don’t take vacations or any of that stuff. But I don’t begrudge anyone that’s got billions of dollars. So long as I’m doing okay and nobody’s stealing from me, I’ve got no complaints. That whole idea of Two Americas or Two New Yorks, the rich and the poor—you know, my family is not filled with geniuses, but everybody who came over here somehow made a living for themselves, and that’s what you’re entitled to: the chance to make a living. Other than that, shut up.” King’s brand of straight-talking up-fromcityandstateny.com | DECEMBER 2, 2013

13


AARON CLAMAGE

COVER

Though he has the seniority to move to a bigger office, King prefers the Cannon Building across the street from the Capitol for its history.

the-bootstraps populism, combined with his commitment to his constituents and accessibility within the district, has kept him in strong stead with voters even as the GOP’s once-iron grip on Nassau County has slackened over the years. In his 10 re-election campaigns, he has never garnered less than 55 percent of the vote, and in a recent poll of 37 Republican-held districts across the country commissioned by no less unsympathetic a source than MoveOn. org, King was the only incumbent to have an approval rating in excess of 60 percent. The longest-serving member of the state’s GOP congressional delegation, King has also benefited from his independent streak, which has enabled him to survive elections like the 2006 midterms, when voters were inclined to purge the Congress of Republicans. In King’s first term in office, he bucked his party and voted to keep the assault weapons ban in place in the wake of the aftermath of the 1993 Long Island Rail Road shooting. He was also one of the few Republican members of Congress to support America’s intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. And most famously, King infuriated his 14

DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

colleagues by being one of only four Republican members of the House to vote against all four articles of impeachment brought against President Bill Clinton, an attempt he considered so spurious and such a “terrible precedent” that he even offered secret counsel to the beleaguered president as to how he might sway some GOP members to support him. King’s brash persona and propensity for iconoclasm often provokes a comparison with one of the juggernauts in the probable field for the 2016 Republican nomination for president: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Indeed, when King’s candidacy is discussed with any seriousness, it is Christie’s outsize presence that generally leads the chattering classes to conclude that a King campaign is a nonstarter. King respects Christie, whom he calls “a tough guy”—high praise in the congressman’s book. They worked closely together after Superstorm Sandy, using their megaphones as the two highest-ranking Republicans in the region to rip into the members of their party in Congress who opposed relief aid

for New York and New Jersey. They have also had “a few arguments,” particularly on the NYPD extending its operations into the Garden State, though King is quick to offer the qualification: “When I say argument, I have no problem with that. That’s part of me; that’s sort of the way we all grew up: You fight one day and you work the next day.” Although King acknowledges that he and Christie come from “the same wing of the party,” he is deliberate in making the case that they are not interchangeable, particularly on foreign policy, an area in which King is a noted expert and Christie has yet to demonstrate his chops. Several commentators have predicted that if Christie enters the race as expected, King would shrink from taking him on, but the congressman seems only too happy to duke it out with Christie in the national arena if the occasion arises. Asked whether a Christie candidacy would nullify his own aspirations, King lays it on thick: “You should ask Chris Christie if me being in the race disqualifies him.”

PA R T Y CRASHER

As much as King might enjoy exchanging blows with Christie on the campaign trail, he would take far more pleasure in pummeling some of the other early favorites for the Republican nomination, particularly U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. To King, Cruz and Paul are the latest— and perhaps most galling—incarnations of the fanatical far right faction of his party, with whom he has been brawling since his earliest days in Congress. Despite his reverence for Ronald Reagan and devoutly held pro-life beliefs, King has often found himself an outlier in his conference, as a New Yorker who grew up in the melting pot of the city. He recalls how when Next Gingrich was sworn in as Speaker of the House in 1995, Gingrich made a conciliatory speech urging members on both sides of the aisle to spend more time with one another, and for members of different races and ethnic-


COVER ities to invite each other into their homes. “The guy in front of me said, ‘Hey, Newt, now you’re going too far,’ and people down the aisle laughed at that,” King recounts, visibly appalled at the memory. “I’m not the great liberal, but I don’t think anyone in New York would be shocked if you invite a black guy over to your house. In fact, when Newt said it, it almost went by me until this guy, who was somewhat respected, made the wise remark, which

I think that someone with my views and somebody who can show leadership should be president. We can’t turn the party over to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

maybe I would have heard in high school 50 years ago, but here you are in Congress.” Today the element of his party that King views as intolerant, and intractably wedded to ideology at the cost of what he believes to be the core values of the GOP, is no less potent. He first locked horns with Cruz, Paul, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and their likeminded “acolytes” in January over their refusal to vote for Sandy aid—an action that enraged King and led him to boycott the New York State Republican Party’s annual dinner, at which Cruz was the keynote speaker. Then came the government shutdown in October. While most other Republicans who opposed the shutdown refrained from publicly criticizing their colleagues on the same side of the aisle, King lay the blame squarely at his own party’s feet. He derided the shutdown as a “disaster” and accused Cruz, the movement’s muse, of being a “false prophet” leading the country into “the Valley of Death.” “It was a fraudulent policy from beginning to end, and nobody was saying it,” King seethes. “I said that Ted Cruz was a fraud when it was obvious to the world. Talk about the emperor having no clothes! There it was!” King pegs gerrymandered districts, which insulate incumbents from having to answer to anyone but their base, and the hyperpartisan media, which allows extremists on both sides of the political spectrum to “live in a parallel universe,” as existential threats to the future of his party. “There’s a danger that we could become, in some ways, stronger than ever within a limited base,” King explains. “We could end up having in the Congress 198 seats that we couldn’t lose no matter what; we could end up having 46 percent of the vote that we could never lose no matter what, but not go beyond that.” While he thinks that the often lauded

example of President Reagan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s willingness to put aside their differences for the common good has been romanticized, he nonetheless bemoans what he sees as a steep decline in pragmatism and compromise in Congress. “There’s very little debate,” says King. “I’ll give you an example—on gun regulation, it’s never even [been] brought up in the Republican Conference since last year’s shooting in Connecticut, it’s never even [been] brought up to discuss. It would never be considered if we should consider a half of one percent tax increase if the Democrats would be willing to give us a trillion dollars in entitlement reform, and I’m sure among most Democrats they wouldn’t bring up the idea of entitlement reform—President Obama may, and I think when people become president they look at it differently—but as far as Congress itself, I don’t think people in either party are willing to consider what they consider a third rail.” King continues, “To me, what’s the beauty of democracy is that it is a clash, but it’s a clash that at the end of the day you resolve it. You don’t just keep shutting down the government, or punting it off for six months. So I think that we have to show that we are a party that has very strong beliefs, very strong values, but we know the importance of negotiating and getting the best deal that we can.” If King runs for president, his campaign would only amplify this message. “I think that someone with my views and somebody who can show leadership should be president,” King says, explaining why he is exploring a run. “We can’t turn the party over to Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.” King’s willingness to train his fire on these rising stars of the GOP and his gift for unleashing headline-ready sound bites has made him a popular guest on television news shows and—perhaps to his ultimate political detriment as a national candidate in an increasingly right-leaning party—garnered him plaudits from both moderate Republicans and Democrats. In July, when the “King for President” trial balloon first went up, he appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe along with President Obama’s campaign guru David Axelrod, who jokingly offered King a backhanded endorsement: “I think of the Republican Party today like a family, but the family is like the Borgias, so if he can tame this family he should be President of the United States.”

C A N D I DAT E KING If King does decide to climb into the ring and square off for the presidency, he would be able to cast off a reputation he has developed for flirting with higher office only to stay put when push comes

to shove. In 2000 and 2004 there was noise that King might run for U.S. Senate, though he maintains that it was only in 2009, when it seemed like then Gov. David Paterson was going to appoint Caroline Kennedy to the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, that he seriously considered a run. The difference that year was money. From his 1986 campaign for New York attorney general, the only time King actually sought statewide office—he was trounced by the incumbent, Robert Abrams, as expected—King says he learned that a candidate needed tens of millions of dollars to make a credible statewide run for office. Had a celebrity of Kennedy’s notoriety wound up the appointee, the national attention her opponent would have received would have opened the floodgates to adequately fund a serious challenge. Once Paterson went with Kirsten Gillibrand, however, the profile of a potential 2010 matchup plunged precipitously, and there was no longer the enthusiasm necessary to raise enough money for a Republican to have the resources to overcome the daunting voter registration advantage GOP candidates are up against statewide. While fundraising will be an even greater stumbling block if King runs for the highest office in the land, he is of the mind that the focus on the presidential race is so great that the campaign cash he would need would come if his candidacy got any traction. If he were to get to that point—a big “if”—as a flamethrower himself, King knows he instantly would find himself in his opponents’ crosshairs. King contends he is ready to counter any blows, and he is quick to rattle off chapter and verse as to what the likely lines of attack again him will be. He is sure he will be hit on his long involvement with the Irish Republican Army and his key role in brokering peace in Northern Ireland. Over the years, he has been labeled a “collaborator” with the IRA and “an apologist for terrorism”— accusations King vehemently disputes. “Some guy in a debate [will charge], ‘How can you say you’re going to lead the war against terrorism when you were the leading supporter of terrorism in the world yourself?’ or something like that,” predicts King. King says his retort will be to cite the strong statements former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Clinton released to The Washington Post in King’s defense when these allegations came up in 2011—though calling Bill Clinton as a character witness in a Republican primary debate is probably not the best way to silence criticism. (Another line of attack King does not volunteer is what could be construed as his history of colluding with Democrats and betraying his own party.) He also anticipates being slammed for his decades of fidelity to the GOP machine

on Long Island, which has suffered a host of scandals during the course of his career in office, and “everything that ever happened in Nassau County politics.” While King denies ever being involved in any corruption, in regard to the charge that he’s a “party hack,” he smiles and responds: “I’m guilty.” As for his personal life, he jests that “unfortunately” there is nothing interesting enough to be grist for opposition research. During King’s 2006 re-election campaign against former Nassau County legislator David Mejias, Newsday wrote multiple stories raising questions about King’s children’s business dealings. The prospect of his family being dragged through the muck makes King’s wife reluctant about his running for president. Among the articles’ allegations were that his daughter, Erin, was a lobbyist, a charge King dismisses as demonstrably false; and that his son, Sean, a vice president with former U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato’s consulting group, Park Strategies, was, in King’s words, “like the son of [Jack] Abramoff,” even though according to the congressman his son is “the most honest guy in the world.” Despite the past attacks, King says that both of his children are supportive of him seeking the presidency, though his son, who is also a foreign policy buff, would prefer his father continue his work in Congress. Lastly, though the charge would not likely be leveled against King until the general election campaign, the congressman would almost certainly face accusations of being an Islamophobe from his Democratic opponent, for the series of controversial hearings on Muslim radicalization in America that King called in 2011 as chair of the House Homeland Security Committee. The one Democrat who might not unleash an all-out offensive against King is none other than Hillary Clinton. King believes “it would be very hard to get personal” in the remote scenario of a Clinton-King matchup. “After me defending Bill Clinton it would be hard for me to say now ‘The Clintons are no good,’” acknowledges King. “That would be me undoing what I did, and considering I’ve had a close relationship with him, she’d probably have a hard time going after me personally.” While that remains to be seen (far off in the future), there has already been an exchange between the potential rivals on the subject. “I was down in the White House back in September,” recounts King, “[and] as I come walking out … who’s standing there, but Hillary Clinton. She’d just gotten some award, and she was coming in to meet with, I guess, the National Security Council, and also with Obama on Syria. … I said, ‘Hillary!’ and she said, ‘Mr. President.’ So there you go.” cityandstateny.com | DECEMBER 2, 2013

15


LABOR

THE SPEAKER POWER STRUGGLE

WITH WHISPERS THAT THE COUNTY ORGANIZATIONS ARE WEAKER THAN IN YEARS PAST, WILL ORGANIZED LABOR AND THE PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS FILL THE KINGMAKER VACUUM?

MELISSA MARK-VIVERITO FOR CITY COUNCIL, VIA FACEBOOK

By NICK POWELL

Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, whose candidacy was backed by 1199 SEIU, has been a strong supporter of Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito.

T

he New York City Council Speaker’s race has reached the point where every rumor and piece of gossip regarding who are the “leading” candidates should be viewed with suspicion. With so many interest groups pushing their preferred candidate and no reliable metric to gauge the race, it is easy to get taken in by whisper campaigns and planted stories. In a race that will largely be decided behind closed doors, the speculation about how it will ultimately turn out has centered as much on the contenders, as the insiders who could wind up playing the role of kingmaker. In previous Speaker races, the county Democratic party leaders have decided the leadership post, leaning on their delegations to vote for whichever candidate would best serve their interests. In this year’s race, with an emerging narrative depicting the county bosses as weaker than they have been in the past, some observers speculate that labor unions such as 1199/SEIU—which played a major role in helping Bill de Blasio win the mayoralty—will cash in on their campaign success by actively encouraging Council members to vote for the candidate they want. Union officials, however, steadfastly insist they are focused on advancing the city’s legislative agenda as a whole rather than anointing any individual leader. “For the most part unions are not directly involved in the Speaker race, and usually stay away from these types of leadership battles,” said Bob Master, political director for the Communications Workers of America District 1. “The progressive unions have been much more focused

16

DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

on providing support to the Progressive Caucus to make sure that it stays united in fighting for progressive leadership, progressive rules and a progressive agenda come January.” Nonetheless, 1199 has already staked out a strong position in the Speaker’s race, openly advocating for Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus. MarkViverito was an early de Blasio supporter for mayor and a strategic organizer for the union before running for Council. The city’s other major unions have not publicly backed a candidate, though Crain’s reported that Alison Hirsh, political director for SEIU 32BJ, is negotiating on behalf of the Progressive Caucus in determining the next Speaker, a sign of the political symbiosis between the Caucus and labor, to which many of the Caucus’ new members-elect owe much of their campaign success. “Who do you fear more if you’re a new Council member? 1199 and [political director Kevin] Finnegan, or Joe Crowley and county?” said one political insider. “Looking at this crop of new Council members, 1199 did so much this cycle that they have far more sway over a number of these members than county organizations do.” 1199 has always been one of New York City’s major political players, with the largest union membership in the five boroughs. Not since the 1989 mayoral election of David Dinkins, however, has the union enjoyed this close a relationship with an incoming mayor. Still, many have questioned what 1199 has to gain from being aligned with the mayor of New

York City when so much of the legislative and policy business it conducts is in Albany. The real power the union has with de Blasio is the ability to push Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to deliver legislation that benefits its downstate members. “The discussion about what the mayor needs for this city takes on strong political implications on January 1,” said a source with close ties to the city’s labor unions. “If they decide to mess with this governor because he is not giving the city what they need, it’s a big political problem, and I think 1199 having the mayor is part of a leverage that they feel they have with the governor.” To that end, crowning a Speaker would be another feather in the cap for 1199, and some view Hirsh’s involvement with the Progressive Caucus as an attempt by labor unions such as 32BJ and the Hotel Trades Council to have a voice at the table and prevent 1199 from owning the process. Others are skeptical of Hirsh’s ability to negotiate on behalf of a coalition of labor unions with widely varying interests, and believe her role in the Speaker conversation could start a war with the county leaders. “The Alison Hirsh issue damaged her and unnecessarily provoked that kind of discussion: I can’t believe the unions are trying to do this just for a speakership,” said a source with ties to both organized labor and the county leaders. “You need long-term relationships with [the county leaders], who are largely supportive of union issues.” Indeed the two most powerful county leaders, by all accounts, are Rep. Joe Crowley, the Queens Democratic Party chair, and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, the Demo-

cratic chair in the Bronx, both of whom can play a significant role in moving legislation and policy that benefit organized labor. Depending on how Democrats fare in the coming midterm elections, Crowley could see his role in Washington grow; the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the fifth-highest leadership position in the caucus, he is already a powerful ally for special interests. As for Heastie, he chairs the Assembly Labor Committee, which means all legislation dealing with labor goes through him. While the notion that the county leaders have been defanged is mostly spin, it does have some merit. Where county organizations were formerly the main engine in selecting candidates for office and supplying manpower for campaign field operations, unions have stepped in with larger resources and huge memberships to help get candidates elected. And while Queens and the Bronx are reputed to still have a solid county infrastructure and well-liked leaders, sources say Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Frank Seddio is trying to hold together a fractured county organization, with many fiefdoms emerging after he replaced longtime chair Vito Lopez. There is one certainty in the process of selecting the next Council Speaker: County leaders can no longer be assured of geographic loyalty, as the emergence of the Progressive Caucus shows. The political establishment will have to contend with a fast-growing bloc of legislators who have managed to stay in ideological lockstep, making it difficult for county leaders to sway certain Council members. In advancing progressive policies, that alone is a major victory for labor—Speaker or no Speaker.


Myth: Reforming the scaffold law

will make job sites more dangerous. Fact: Safety will improve at job sites when contractors and owners see an incentive in insurance rates for safer sites. Because the scaffold law imposes absolute liability, contractors with impeccable safety records are treated the same way as those who cut corners. Safety related incidents on job sites in states that have reformed similar laws have decreased.

Myth: This is about taking away

money from construction workers and laborers and helping construction and insurance companies profit. Fact: Because of contingency fee based awards, the people who really benefit are fat cat attorneys out for themselves. Think of it this way: When there is an accident, trial lawyers win and construction firms, owners and insurance companies pay. When job sites are safe, construction firms, insurance companies and owners benefit--and trial lawyers don’t get paid. Who do you really think cares about safety?

Myth: This is about protecting minority

and women workers. Fact: MWBE’s are losing jobs – especially in New York City where large projects are stalled for lack of insurance.

Myth: Other states have the same law. Fact: While other states have laws

regarding the erection of scaffolding and provision of safety equipment--and that’s a good thing--NO other state has an absolute liability standard like New York’s scaffold law.

REFORMING THE SCAFFOLD LAW WILL CREATE JOBS. www.GetNYBuilding.com


ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MWBE

AARON ADLER

CASE CLOSED?

(From left) Assemblyman Francisco Moya and Building and Construction Trades Council’s Paul Fernandes defend the Scaffold Law; critics like Willis executive Tim Walker have called for reforms. By JON LENTZ

B

uilding owners and contractors are mounting another campaign to modify the state’s Scaffold Law, arguing that the construction safety statute all but guarantees a big payout to workers injured in falls and drives up insurance costs to exorbitant levels. But defenders of the law, who say it is critical for worker safety, are striking back with legislation of their own that would open up insurance companies’ books to see whether the Scaffold Law is actually raising costs. Assemblyman Francisco Moya is preparing legislation to expand state reporting requirements for insurance companies, which he said would shed light on claims made under Labor Law 230, widely referred to as the Scaffold Law. Such financial information, which is kept secret for proprietary reasons, would help determine the law’s impact and assess whether it needs to be changed, Moya said last month at “The Cost of Doing Business,” a panel discussion co-sponsored by City & State and Get NY Building. “I think we need to open up these books,” Moya said. “We need to see those numbers that everyone is claiming [are] costing us so much money here in the state and costing so many jobs. Let’s open it up, and let’s see these facts. I think this will provide us with the ability to do that, and then we can have an actual discussion about how we would go about the future of this state and how we deal with this issue.” The insurance industry is not likely to accept such changes without a fight. Pam Young, an associate general counsel 18

DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

with the American Insurance Association, responded during the panel discussion that certain financial information simply has to remain private. “Because it is a competitive business— there’s more than one insurer—public disclosure of some of the details that you might be looking for just simply is not available,” Young said. The law, which holds contractors or project developers liable for “gravityrelated” injuries suffered by construction workers, has been fiercely debated for years. Building owners and contractors say that the “absolute liability” standard they face is unfair and does not take into account risky behavior or negligence by workers. As they gear up for another battle in Albany, they are making the case that the costs associated with the law have become so exorbitant that certain projects simply cannot move forward. Unions, trial lawyers and some lawmakers counter that the law is needed to ensure worker safety. They point out that the law only applies when the proper safety equipment and training has not been provided, and that having it on the books serves as a strong incentive for developers and owners to keep workers out of harm’s way. One proposed reform is to introduce comparative liability. The current law only applies when required safety equipment is not provided. Once it is applied, however, it does not take into account the worker’s behavior, instead making the owner or developer “absolutely liable” for the injury. Comparative liability legislation, which would apportion the fault between the worker and the employer depending on

the circumstance of the accident, failed to advance in Albany in 2013. Paul Fernandes, chief of staff for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, said during the panel that the proposed reform “would be a disincentive for the owner and contractor to take the appropriate safety protocols to actually keep job sites safe.” But Young argued that if the law were amended, there would still be strong incentive to provide a safe work environment at construction sites.

“What New York contractor is interested in taking on any culpability or liability? In the real world, you want a safe environment.” “What New York contractor is interested in taking on any culpability or liability?” asked Young. “In the real world, you want a safe environment. You don’t want a judgment coming down saying you’re [responsible for] 50 percent, 30 percent, 70 percent.” In cases in which a worker was partially responsible, a comparative liability standard could potentially reduce the costs for developers. Ross Holden, a vice president and general counsel for the New York City School Construction Authority, said that a ruling under the Scaffold Law could currently result in millions of dollars paid out to injured workers, even if they were drunk or on drugs.

“The plaintiff gets to put in its case,” Holden said. “We should be able to put on a case as well but not have our hands tied that if the plaintiff does something that is negligent, that that plaintiff does not have to hold him- or herself accountable.” As a result, Holden said, insurance costs are skyrocketing for the agency, which constructs public schools across the five boroughs and accounts for about a quarter of New York City’s capital budget. Over the past three years insurance costs have accounted for about 5 percent of the total value of the SCA’s projects, Holden said. The SCA is now trying to renew its insurance, and expects costs to rise to 12 percent. “We’re not talking about insurance companies coming in and taking advantage or gouging,” Holden said. “If that were the case, I’d have all these insurance companies in the country knocking down my door, because we have one of the biggest programs in the country. I can’t get but a couple to even be interested, and even today I don’t have a full quote.” But opponents reiterate that there is no clear evidence that the Scaffold Law is the culprit. Fernandes said that he has yet to be shown that damages awarded under the law are the main cause of the growing cost of premiums. “We’ve heard a number of things, and there’s only one we would really agree with, that insurance premiums and expenses are going through the roof,” Fernandes said. “And so far what we’ve heard is, ‘It’s because of the Scaffold Law,’ and that’s about it. ‘Just because we say it is, that’s why it is.’ That’s not evidence—that’s rhetoric. We want data, and we will drive our position on this issue on data.”


I’m Powering New York. TheresaMotko Motkoisisan an Theresa ElectricalEngineer Engineer Electrical theIndian IndianPoint Point atatthe EnergyCenter. Center. Energy

I am Theresa Motko, one of 1,000 workers at the Indian Point Energy Center who takes personal pride in helping to provide New York City and Westchester with over 25 percent of our power. That power is clean, it’s reliable, and it’s among the lowest cost electricity in the region.

We are New Yorkers. We are your neighbors, our children attend the same schools, and we support many of the same causes. For example, our employer, Entergy, proudly supports the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program, whose goal is to connect 100,000 returning veterans with job opportunities. Visit www.rightfornewyork.com, to see for yourself what we’re doing for our community.

cityandstateny.com | DECEMBER 2, 2013

19


ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MWBE

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Critics of New York’s Scaffold Law have opened a new line of attack by linking the safety legislation to the challenges facing minority- and womenowned businesses, or MWBEs. The most commonly cited case is the New York City School Construction Authority, a leader in awarding government contracts to MWBEs that is struggling to renew its insurance to continue the MWBE program amid rising expenses, costs it attributes to the Scaffold Law. The following comments are from City & State’s “The Cost of Doing Business” panel discussion.

but it certainly is a key player in the process.” —Pamela Young, associate general counsel and director of surplus/specialty lines, American Insurance Association

“I

f the insurance company were making a lot of money on this, they would be in the catbird seat. They were the incumbent; they would want our business. Right now we have only two insurance companies in the whole country quoting the work, and I don’t have, to this day, even though the process began in September, I don’t have full quotes, terms and conditions to consider at the School Construction Authority to enter into a new program.” —Ross Holden, executive vice president and general counsel, New York City School Construction Authority

—Samuel Padilla, president, Construction Services, Inc.

“C

20 DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

Padilla

“I

’ve been in business for 20 years, and safety is not a race issue. Safety is everybody’s responsibility. When somebody goes to work, we want them to go back safely. I

“N

othing we are advocating is taking away that injured party’s ability to file a lawsuit. All we’re asking is that a jury of that person’s peers makes that decision, not a judge based on a 120-year-old statute.” —Tim Walker, senior vice president and technical director, construction claims, Willis

“W

e’re here to protect workers. We’re here to stand up to make sure they have every ability afforded to them. I’m confused here about how this argument has turned around and pitted the minorityand women-owned businesses against minority workers. I am absolutely shocked and appalled at that. We are here to protect our folks in this industry. There are bad actors out there—that’s a fact.” —Assemblyman Francisco Moya

ertainly the Scaffold Act is a significant cost driver. We look at those costs, and an insurer has to make a determination about the premium that it sets. We can’t disregard the fact that when you look at other contexts, other states, the single significant difference is the Scaffold Act. There are other issues and other factors,

have a project right now—my concern is, I’m in business to keep people employed, just like all of you that are out there. We’re in business to keep [people] employed, to keep our family employed, to keep the residents in our community employed, that’s what we do. We’re in business to make them go home safely. But they have a responsibility. It’s got nothing to do with race—it has to do with culpability.”

“W

e need to have protections for those workers out there who, when their boss, quite frankly, isn’t doing what they’re supposed to do. We need two things: We need the deterrent effect of having a law in place that holds them responsible for safety so they actually do it. And number two, when they don’t do it, and the worker is injured due to that owner or contractor’s negligence, [there’s] a remedy to make sure that when they’re paralyzed or crippled, that they can get just compensation.” —Paul Fernandes, program CEO and chief of staff, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York

“W

e’ve got skin in the game. At the [School Construction Authority], we invested in that program, we paid political capital to create those programs. There’s no black way to hammer a nail. There is no Italian way to saw some wood. There’s no Irish way to work a screwdriver. We’re all in this together about building.” —Rev. Jacques Andre De Graff, co-chair, Alliance for Minority and Women Construction Business

AARON ADLER

THE SCAFFOLD LAW AND MWBES


Working With: • NY City Department of Transportation • NY City Metropolitan Transit Authority • Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority

• NY State Department of Transportation • The Port Authority of NY/NJ • NY State Bridge Authority

Kieran Ahern • President • Dan O’Connell • General Counsel


ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MWBE

ENTERPRISING NEW YORKERS AS MORE GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS GO TO MWBEs, WHICH GROUPS ARE GETTING THE GOODS? By ADAM JANOS

I

n his first State of the State address in 2011, Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged to expand the tent of economic development in New York by doubling the share of public sector contracts going to minority- and women-owned business enterprises to 20 percent. Less than three years later, Cuomo’s office claims success in meeting this goal. In October the governor announced that state government agencies had granted 21.06 percent of state contracts to MWBEs in the 2012–13 fiscal year, awarding $1.48 billion to minority and female business owners in a domain long dominated by white males. Of course, some contractors are benefiting more than others. Female business owners, who won close to $800 million in state contracts in the last fiscal year, are doing slightly better than minorities, who were awarded nearly $690 million. And left out of the state’s MWBE goals entirely are the disabled, veterans and businesses whose owners have limited wealth, or disadvantaged business enterprises. The goals for MWBEs across the state are multifold, and determined by a variety of factors related to the type of procurement needed. If a project is in a field where more MWBEs are available, the state agency granting work to prime contractors expects greater MWBE involvement. In some sectors, such as construction, there are a significant number of women-

and minority-owned firms. The construction industry accounts for 59 percent of state contracts going to MWBEs, according to state figures, while another 9 percent are for construction-related professional services. Just a fifth of state MWBE contracts are for professional services not tied to construction. On certain types of projects, fewer MWBE firms have the required skills. “If you have a dredging project, there are few minority or women in that [field]; therefore the goals of that project, objectively, would wind up being less,” said Sandra Wilkin, founder and president of Bradford Construction Corporation. “So there’s an overall goal, and a goal for each project, based on the number of firms certified” in that particular industry classification and area. The governor’s 20 percent target did not include individual benchmarks for women or specific minority groups. If a project requires 30 percent MWBE participation, for example, any combination of businesses run by Hispanics, AsianAmericans, blacks or white women qualifies, so long as the final tally gets the project across the finish line. Unlike New York State, in New York City assessment goals are broken down by specific subgroups. Women-owned business enterprises, minority-owned business enterprises and emerging business enterprises each have a different target, while

MBEs are further broken down with set goals for Hispanic, black and Asian-American subgroups. One potential advantage of the city’s approach is that it can safeguard disadvantaged groups from getting locked out of public sector contracts. However, from a practical standpoint, the city makes the work of hitting the goal more challenging, because a contractor has multiple standards to meet. For example, for city construction contracts under a million dollars, participation goals are 8 percent of annual spending for African-Americanowned firms, 8 percent for Asian-Americans, 9 percent for Hispanics, 18 percent for women and 6 percent for emerging firms. At the state level, minority-owned firms won $689.8 million of state contracts, or nearly 10 percent of the $7.07 billion in state work. Women-owned companies, in comparison, won close to $800 million in contracts, or 11.3 percent of the total contracts, according to the Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development. Of statecertified MWBEs, 47 percent are owned by women, and the rest are owned by racial minorities. The state’s MWBE program goals do not include war veterans. In New York City, Councilwoman Diana Reyna has introduced legislation to create a veteran business procurement category, but as it currently stands veterans are not included

in the city’s agency goals either. The School Construction Authority, which is responsible for the construction of all New York City’s public schools, requires prime contractors to make a good faith effort to subcontract 10 percent of their work to locally based enterprises, with firms qualifying for the designation if they derive 25 percent or more of their gross receipts from business conducted in economically disadvantaged areas within the city, or if veterans or welfare recipients make up 25 percent or more of the workforce. The New York State Preferred Source Program sets procurement goals for the disabled, but neither the state nor the city’s MWBE goals include providing work to the disabled. Mecca Santana, the Cuomo administration’s new chief diversity officer, said she is determined to empower groups in need of support across a broad spectrum. “For us, diversity is more than just race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation,” she said. “We understand that in order to secure the best talent and spark innovation throughout our state agencies, we must cast a wider net that includes veterans, people with disabilities and other individuals from various geographical, educational and nontraditional backgrounds. Engaging all groups and bringing them into state service in a meaningful way is one of my top priorities.”

Percentage of state contracts going to Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBEs), Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs) and Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) 25

MWBE

20 15

MBE 10 5

WBE

0 2007

2008

(SOURCE: EXECUTIVE CHAMBER)

22 DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013


ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MWBE

Fighting Fraud As MWBE CONTRACTING INCREASES IN NEW YORK, SUBCONTRACTING FRAUD POSES RISKS. BY ADAM JANOS

M

inority- and women-owned businesses have historically been at a competitive disadvantage when bidding for state contracts in the public sector, getting less than 4 percent of the state’s contracts as recently as 2006. In order to increase opportunities for these firms, Gov. David Paterson put together a task force aimed at reducing the stark disparities and signed several MWBE bills into law. Shortly after taking office, Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a target of awarding 20 percent of government contracts to MWBEs, a mark state agencies exceeded earlier this year. Yet at the same time, multimillion-dollar MWBE programs have been marred by cases of fraud. In 2010 Schiavone Construction had to pay the federal government $20 million for falsely reporting that they had subcontracted work to MWBE-certified firms for public works projects in New York City

24 DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

in order to meet state agency obligations. In 2011 Skanska USA Civil Northeast was charged with fraud for subcontracting work at the MTA and elsewhere that it claimed went to disadvantaged business enterprises, or DBEs. In fact, prosecutors assert Skanska performed the MWBE work themselves on some of their projects. In many cases the certification process is rigorous enough to deter fraudsters. For a firm to be MWBE-certified, it must be at least 51 percent owned, operated, controlled and managed by women or minorities. In New York City the Department of Small Business Services certifies MWBEs through an application process that requires proof of ethnicity of all owners, three years of tax returns, a letter from the business’ bank identifying all account holders with access to funds, and completed signed invoices and business agreements proving the functional operations of the firm. SBS receives up to 1,400 applications a year for MWBE certification status. Pending approval from the city comptroller, the department will soon begin conducting 200 yearly site visits to prospective MWBE firms, an attempt to dissuade contractors from fraudulently filing for MWBE status. On the state level, on-site review and auditing of MWBEs continues even after certification, and the state regularly issues audits to firms red-flagged for sudden spikes or dips in revenue, new investors or for entering a market in a location where

fraud has been commonplace. City and state officials say that MWBE fraud is less often tied to subcontractors and more commonly involving large prime contractors like Schiavone Construction and Skanska that claim to have MWBEs as subcontractors in order to meet agency goals on a project. But Louis Coletti, the president and CEO of the Building and Trades Employers’ Association of New York City, said the rules for prime contractors—which insist subcontracted firms be able to fully perform a “commercially useful function”—are oversensitive, and can saddle prime contractors with penalties for violating the letter—but not the spirit—of the law. The legal term “commercially useful function” used in MWBE contracting is a gray area that is open to interpretation, Coletti argued. “It’s never been clearly defined in either the law or the regulations, so the prime contractor is caught in a vise,” Coletti said. “They did a public job with MWBE goals, and they’re told, ‘You have to meet a certain goal.’ … You do your due diligence, you’re unable to meet that goal.” When a contractor fails to meet agency obligations, financial penalties may be assessed. At the same time, as a result of federal investigations into MWBE fraud, prime contractors are no longer able to help MWBE firms with projects they can’t

quite complete on their own, Coletti said. “If you have a MWBE firm that can do some of the work but can’t provide that commercially useful function completely on their own, but can with a little oversight—say they need a loaned piece of equipment, maybe some additional project management skills—in the past, there was a tendency for firms to help them grow, [but] as a result of numerous federal investigations,” that’s now seen as fraud, he noted. Anne Saile, the CEO of management company the Saile Group, said a fundamental problem between MWBEs and prime contractors is that the mandate for prime contractors to subcontract to MWBEs does little to persuade bigger players to take on unknown partners in industries where long-standing relationships play a major role in divvying up subcontracting opportunities. Saile, who is also the president of the board of directors at the University of Albany’s Center for Women in Government & Civil Society, believes that the solution to some of that reluctance would be a mentorship program that incentivizes large contractors to do business with smaller partners in exchange for a tax credit. Such a program, Saile argues, could go a long way in helping MWBEs connect with big contractors in New York State and learn the ropes as they emerge in the market.


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ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MWBE

THE ROUNDTABLE KARIM CAMARA MECCA E. SANTANA

ALPHONSO DAVID

New York State Chief Diversity Officer

New York State Deputy Secretary for Civil Rights

Q: You were recently named the state’s chief diversity officer. What are your top goals? MS: As the state’s CDO, I will focus my attention on exploring new and innovative ways to further enhance the participation of MWBEs in our procurement process, while also strengthening existing initiatives that have helped us make great strides over the last year. Additionally, the issues of workforce diversity and inclusion within state service are absolutely paramount. Q: What experiences prepared you for this job? MS: Growing up and attending college in upstate New York before moving to New York City to attend law school and establish my professional career has given me a firm understanding of the unique issues affecting both upstate and downstate. Additionally, my experience as a Manhattan criminal prosecutor, where I fought to secure justice for victims of violent crimes, sexual assaults and domestic violence, has definitely prepared me to be an effective advocate for those vulnerable populations for whom equality has not always been readily attainable. While the venue has changed, the pursuit of equality has not, and I am fortunate that this new opportunity allows me to continue on a public service path that is so incredibly rewarding. Q: The governor recently announced that the state exceeded a 20 percent target for contracts going to MWBEs. What is the next frontier? MS: We are firmly committed to not just sustaining these numbers but also continuing to identify and address any new barriers that hinder women- and minority-owned businesses from fully engaging in both the state contracting process and the economy as a whole. Further, we are looking at the impact of increasing utilization for MWBE firms. For an entrepreneur or small business, one contract can mean going from a small firm to a large firm or going from a subcontractor to a prime contractor. That could mean the difference between hiring three more people locally and taking those jobs elsewhere. In a very practical way, the more these firms succeed, the greater the chance that their dreams will grow more opportunities for others. Q: What areas will you focus on to boost MWBE contracting? MS: We are talking to both agencies and firms to see what barriers continue to exist for these businesses, what outreach efforts are working and what initiatives need to be re-examined in order to ensure everyone has a chance to take full advantage of current state contracting opportunities. 26 DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

Q: The governor recently announced that the state met a 20 percent target for contracts going to minorityand women-owned businesses. How did you get there? AD: We engaged in an aggressive multipronged strategy to remove barriers to growth and increase the utilization of minority- and women-owned businesses in state contracting. First, we created a state-of-the-art Web-based system that streamlines and improves the certification and recertification process and standardizes reporting. The system makes the MWBE certification process more user-friendly, enabling businesses to easily interact with the state contracting process, obtain information about requests for proposals, and market their services to agencies and authorities through one Web portal. The system also allows the state, for the first time, to closely and effectively monitor how and whether state agencies are spending state dollars with minority- and women-owned businesses and to utilize their best efforts to achieve the governor’s goals. Second, we created a single-application fast-track certification process to allow MWBE firms to certify across local municipalities and the federal government. Specifically, we created a single application with three agencies: the Empire State Development, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the Department of New York City Small Business Services. Third, we developed a consistent and comprehensive network of opportunities to exchange information, ideas and resources for business support. We have held over 500 workshops, lectures and other outreach activities specifically aimed at helping MWBE firms succeed. Finally, we actively engaged all state agencies and authorities to ensure compliance and monitoring and, for the first time in the program’s history, received 100 percent compliance from all agencies and authorities. Q: Which agencies are leading the pack? AD: Agencies and authorities across the state worked very hard at increasing the utilization of MWBE firms in both commodities and services. It is worth noting that for the first time in their histories, the following agencies reported MWBE participation above 20 percent: the Department of Transportation, the Department of Economic Development, the New York State Insurance Fund, and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Q: How does New York stack up compared with other states? AD: We are pleased and humbled that, according to the state’s vendor B2G Now, New York State maintains the largest active public sector MWBE online system in the country. We want to encourage more firms to seek opportunities with the state.

Assemblyman, Chair, New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus

Q: How is New York State doing in terms of expanding contracting opportunities for minority- and womenowned businesses? KC: Through the leadership and vision of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the great work of administration officials such as Deputy Secretary of Human Right’s Alphonso David and the diligence of members of the Caucus, New York State has become a national leader in expanding MWBE contracting opportunities. The state has set ambitious goals and dedicated resources to ensuring those goals are met. The current 20 percent statewide goal has spurred unique business partnerships with minority and majority contractors looking to do business with the state. And with the plethora of new projects on the horizon I see the state constantly meeting this goal for years to come. Q: How is New York City doing? Why is the city lagging behind the state? KC: The governor’s bond program has done a lot to increase New York State participation. It alleviated a major roadblock for smaller construction firms and allowed them access to bonds so they can bid on government projects. This in turn bolsters their capabilities for the next job. New York City should use the state program as a model, and it should lead to a significant increase in the city’s participation numbers. Q: Is there any state legislation in the works that would help MWBE firms? KC: There are range of bills sponsored by members of the BPHALC enabling municipalities to prioritize and increase participation of MWBEs in awarding public contracts and subcontracts. One such bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright, focuses particularly on housing, urban renewal and urban development action area projects. There is also pending legislation to create a directory of assistance for small businesses and minority and women business enterprises. Q: What is the biggest challenge to expanding MWBE government contracting, and why? KC: In my estimation it would be the certification process. It is very fragmented, with nearly every agency having its own program. It’s a huge entry cost for smaller MWBEs trying to do business with the state. Hence, many would rather not bother, and focus on the private markets. If New York State and New York City could [each] streamline its process reducing the fragmentation between agencies, then more smaller business would see the inherent value in certification.


MWBE / ISSUE SPOTLIGHT

THE ROUNDTABLE SCOTT STRINGER Manhattan Borough President and New York City Comptroller-Elect

Q: You’ve called for doubling MWBE spending in New York City. How will you reach that target? SS: In fiscal year 2013 only 877 MWBEs were awarded contracts, totaling $439 million, a mere 2.7 percent of the $16.5 billion spent. That’s down even from fiscal year 2012’s showing of roughly 5 percent of city procurement dollars. We can get to $1 billion in city contracts to MWBEs by expanding the pool of contracts subject to MWBE goals (as Local Law 1 of 2013 will provide in fiscal year 2014), demanding greater accountability from all city agencies and continuing to do outreach to communities of color to ensure that businesses are taking advantage of the opportunities available to them. Q: What is the biggest challenge? SS: Only contracts of under $1 million were subject to the MWBE goals laid out by Local Law 129. The City Council and the mayor changed that with Local Law 1, so now all city contracts are subject to the targets. However, we can’t stop there. As my survey of certified MWBEs found, nearly one-third of respondents said that they did not attend any workshops offered by the Department of Small Business Services, in part because the events took place at inconvenient times and locations. By offering video-conferencing for Small Business Services workshops, the city will make it easier for MWBEs to both bid on contracts and improve their skills. Q: You’ve also called for a chief diversity officer in City Hall. Why? SS: A chief diversity officer will not only play a central role in overseeing the city’s MWBE program but will also promote diversity in municipal hiring and leadership at our agencies. Other governments and companies that have appointed CDOs have already seen tremendous progress. At General Electric women, minorities and non–U.S. citizens made up only 22 percent of corporate officers and 29 percent of senior executives in 2000. In the decade that followed the appointment of a CDO, both figures surpassed 46 percent. Our government should reflect our diversity—both in its procurement and its hiring.

CAS HOLLOWAY New York City Deputy Mayor for Operations

Q: How is the city doing in expanding MWBE contracting opportunities? CH: Since 2007 MWBEs have gotten something like $3.5 billion worth of contracts, so by the numbers we’ve seen a steady increase. This fiscal year it flattened out a little bit, but we went from about 700 registered MWBE firms to 3,500 registered MWBE firms. Those things are all strong. But the groundbreaking stuff we’ve done is (1) Local Law 1, which ... significantly increases the amount of the contracts potentially available for setting MWBE participation goals. We also dramatically simplified how you count all of this stuff. The rules before were a little byzantine, and it made it difficult for firms to even try to comply or to set aggressive targets. There is also a program called Compete to Win, run by the Small Business Services Administration. Among the principal roadblocks to MWBEs getting government contracts are a couple of issues that all small firms face: having the capacity to do bigger contracts, being able to get bonding and being able to meet all the city requirements. The fact is there are more hoops you have to jump through— no matter how much you streamline government, in order to give a contractor public money, there are more requirements. This program is intended to address those capacity issues, and I think we’ve seen some real success. Q: How is New York City doing compared with the state? CH: I don’t have a good sense of the state’s program. I am very focused on the city program. The most important thing between the state and the city is making sure we have maximum reciprocity opportunity, so that firms that are registered to do business with the state and the Port Authority and the MTA also get cross-registered or certified to do business in New York City. Beyond that we’re not really competitive about it. We’re competitive internally. We really want to achieve the goals that agencies set. For me, MWBE programs are about opportunity, but they’re also economic development programs, and the more people that can compete for and do city work, the better quality and better pricing we’re going to get.

Are you a minority-owned, woman-owned or small business looking for greater opportunities? Then join with many of New York’s leading companies at our MWBE and Small Business Networking Reception. Presented by The Business Council of New York State, Inc. Tuesday, January 28, 2014 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. The Hilton Albany Albany, New York

Register today at www.bcnys.org/events.htm The Business Council — Working to create economic growth, good jobs and strong communities across New York State.

cityandstateny.com | DECEMBER 2, 2013

27


ISSUE SPOTLIGHT / MWBE

SCORECARD: MWBE THE PLAYERS

THE ISSUES

BARRIERS: Smaller MWBEs sometimes don’t have the required capital, and face other challenges in bidding for large contracts, which are often in the millions of the dollars. One obstacle is a lack of training for employees at smaller firms to enable them to be qualified to do the contract work. Another challenge is getting eligible firms to sign up. In 2010 only 5 percent of an estimated 160,000 eligible firms completed the certification process, according to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, although both city and state officials have made efforts in recent years to improve outreach and help MWBE firms with financing. LEADERSHIP: Experts say that having a buy-in from the top ranks of government makes a huge difference, since agency heads and deputies may be ambivalent about meeting MWBE targets without strong leadership. Building on steps taken by his predecessor, David Paterson, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has successfully pushed his administration and state agencies to significantly increase the share of state money going to minority- and women-owned contractors. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, has been criticized for failing to make MWBEs a priority. The state created a chief diversity officer position in recent years, and some have argued that the city should follow suit. SCAFFOLD LAW: Critics of the state construction safety law, which has been a source of debate in Albany for decades, have recently tied it to rising insurance costs for state agencies and smaller contractors, including MWBEs. The New York City School Construction Authority, a pioneer in awarding contracts to minority- and women-owned firms, is struggling with rising insurance costs, which it attributes to huge payouts to injured workers under the Scaffold Law. The law’s defenders say it is necessary to protect workers, and are calling for insurers to open their books to demonstrate the actual impact on rates.

BY THE NUMBERS

THE STATE Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made boosting the share of contracts going to MWBE firms a priority, recently exceeding a goal of 20 percent participation, which more than dou bles the rate since he came into office. Meeting that mark builds on progress made by David Paterson, who also made MWBEs a priority, both as governor and lieutenant governor. Empire State Development, headed by Ken Adams, oversees the state’s MWBE program. Mecca Santana, who was named the state’s chief diversity officer in September, and Alphonso David, the deputy secretary for civil rights, are among the team also playing key roles behind the scenes. THE CITY Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been faulted by some critics for failing to prioritize MWBEs, though his administration, under the direction of Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway and senior policy advisor Gregorio Mayers, has tried to change that in recent years, including the passage of legislation removing a $1 million limit on eligible contracts. Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, who has said Bloomberg deserves an F grade on MWBEs, has contrasted the city’s lackluster figures with the state’s while pledging to register more eligible firms and to assign a deputy mayor to oversee MWBE efforts in his administration. New York City Comptroller John Liu has closely tracked MWBE spending; and his successor, Scott Stringer, has set a goal of doubling the city’s MWBE rate while also calling for a chief diversity officer at City Hall.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year exceeded his goal of awarding 20 percent of state government contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses. New York City lags behind the state, though the Bloomberg administration has nudged agencies to increase the participation of MWBEs.

25

MWBEs in New York City and New York State

21.06

20 15

16.67 9.9

10.28 3.1

3.4

4.3

2.5 2010

2011

2012

2013

10 5 0

STATE

CITY (SOURCES: EMPIRE STATE DEVELOPMENT, DIVISION OF MINORITY AND WOMEN’S BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT ANNUAL REPORTS; NEW YORK CITY COMPTROLLER, M/WBE REPORT CARD NYC)

TOP PERFORMERS Here’s a look at the top performing agencies in the city and state by percentage of spending that goes to MWBEs. STATE OFFICE OR AGENCY

PERCENT

CITY OFFICE OR AGENCY

PERCENT

1. NASSAU COUNTY INTERIM FINANCE AUTHORITY

99.99

1. MANHATTAN BOROUGH PRESIDENT

27.39

2. PORT OF OSWEGO AUTHORITY

97.80

2. DEPARTMENT OF SMALL BUSINESS SERVICES

23.79

3. JOINT COMMISSION ON PUBLIC ETHICS

85.84

3. DEPARTMENT OF CITY PLANNING

23.58

4. QUALITY CARE FOR THE MENTALLY DISABLED

84.56

4. LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION

18.69

5. GOVERNOR’S OFFICE OF EMPLOYEE RELATIONS

80.73

5. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT PRACTICES COMMISSION

13.84

28 DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com


POLICY than for whites to elect representatives of their own choosing.” Additionally, there are new issues that could stand in the way of a convention. Take the question of logistics: Where would such a gathering take place? The last convention was held in the Assembly chamber from April through September. While that worked back in the ’60s when members of the Assembly decanted for their districts at the end of March, it won’t work anymore. 

I By SUSAN ARBETTER

The Con-Con Conundrum “The public bemoans the horrible campaign financing system, yet they expect the winners of that system to change the rules.” —Blair Horner, NYPIRG

T

he last time New York held a Constitutional Convention, in 1967, the delegates were primarily elected officials. The convention chair was Tony Travia, Assembly Speaker; the convention minority leader was Earl Brydges, president pro tem of the Senate. In 1997 reform groups like the League of Women Voters pointed to the ’67 convention when arguing the delegate selection process must change before another convention is held. They advocated for a “people’s Constitutional Convention,” rather than one led by politicians. By state law, every 20 years New Yorkers must be presented with a ballot referendum asking if we want to hold a Constitutional Convention. The next time this question will come up for a vote is 2017. Those who would argue against a convention could easily rehash the reasons used so successfully in 1997 to defeat it: The current delegate selection process ensures nothing of substance will change, and the cost is too high, particularly given that the results might only serve to maintain the status quo. The number of at-large candidates could also derail a possible convention. In  Decision 1997: Constitutional Change in New York, edited by Gerald Benjamin and Henrik Dullea, Columbia Law School’s Richard Briffault wrote, “The central problem with at-large or multi-member systems is that they extend the party of the majority’s domination, thereby making it more difficult for minorities

f 2017 seems a long way off, the actual convention would occur even further into the future. Provided New Yorkers vote “Yes” on the convention in November 2017, it would not be until the following general election that delegates to the convention would be selected. Thereafter, as the state Constitution specifies, the delegates would not convene in the Capitol until the first Tuesday of the following year: April 2, 2019. And that date is just when the convention would start! As for when it would end, that would depend wholly on the delegates, since they are mandated to meet until their work is concluded— an indeterminate amount of time. Six weeks after they finally wrap up their business, the state must hold a special election for voters to approve or reject the proposed amendments to the Constitution. Thus the earliest any changes would be enacted would be the summer of 2019, with the possibility of the process extending until 2020 all too real given the glacial pace at which things often move in Albany. As far off as these dates are, reformers are urging the public to pay attention now. Part of the reason for their early push is “Constitutional Conventionphobia”—the fear of conventions that exists at both the national and state levels—a concept coined in a 1996 paper of the same name written by the Rockefeller Institute’s Thomas Gais and Benjamin, a professor at SUNY New Paltz. In New York much of that fear stems from the delegate selection process. In theory the process permits anyone to run. In practice it is like any other partisan election. Three delegates are selected per each of the state’s 63 Senate districts, as well as 15 statewide at-large delegates. The result would be a slate of delegates that looks very similar to the current legislative body. In other words, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Temporary President Dean Skelos could very well be in charge of the proceedings, just as their counterpart predecessors were in 1967.

A

nother argument made against the Constitutional Convention is that opening up the document to any possible revision could jeopardize areas that some groups believe are integral to the fabric of the state: pension protections, labor organizing, the “forever wild”

provision protecting the Adirondacks, the rights of the needy and the state’s requirements around education. Why risk all this, they ask? Nonetheless, there is a growing chorus of reformers who argue that change is desperately needed. NYPIRG and others want to use the next convention to improve the state’s Constitution. They want to streamline it; fix the state’s redistricting problems; change its arcane election laws; amend how the state budget process works; and shift the state’s fiscal year. Other reformers want initiative and referendum, and term limits. All of those reforms are possible, says the longtime executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute Frank Mauro, but not with the current delegate selection process.  In order for that process to be altered in any way, the Legislature would have to begin taking action sooner rather than later. Like any other constitutional amendment, changes to the convention’s ground rules would have to be approved by two consecutive Legislatures. That means even if both houses of the Legislature were to agree on changes in 2014— no small task—they would have to do so again in 2015 with enough lead time for voters to weigh in on them in November of that year. If the Legislature cannot reach an accord in 2014, then 2015 would be its last chance to pass the initial round of changes, since by 2016 it would too late to alter the process for 2017. Which means the public needs to start paying attention now, says NYPIRG’s Horner.  But politicians may not want to. When asked why, Horner uses the fight over redistricting to explain: “In the first few years after redistricting, reformers begin to push for changes. Lawmakers respond, ‘It’s too early to think about it.’ Then when it gets close to the next round of redistricting, lawmakers say, ‘It’s too late to change the rules.’ Same rule can apply to the Constitutional Convention. Lawmakers will argue, ‘It’s too early to think about changing the delegate selection process.’ Then when the vote comes up they’ll say, ‘The delegate selection process is flawed, so vote No.’ ” To borrow again from Gais and Benjamin—this time from a paper they wrote for the Temple Law Review in 1995: “How can states respond to demands for fundamental changes in a thoughtful, deliberative manner if many of the same political problems and public attitudes that gave rise to those demands also block traditional channels for addressing them?” Therein lies the conundrum. 

Susan Arbetter (@sarbetter on Twitter) is the Emmy award-winning news director for WCNY Syracuse PBS/NPR, and producer/host of The Capitol Pressroom syndicated public radio program.

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PERSPECTIVES

I

By STEVEN M. COHEN

CORRUPTION THRIVES IN ALBANY. WHY DON’T PROSECUTIONS?

30 DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

f prosecuting corruption cases were fishing, Albany would be considered a trout farm. It seems that every time a prosecutor puts a line in the pond, out comes another lawmaker. Yet despite the number of cases, the general sentiment is that there are more investigations to be done and more arrests to be made. As the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, commented, “It becomes more and more difficult to avoid the sad conclusion that political corruption in New York is indeed rampant and that the ‘show me the money’ culture in Albany is alive and well.” Two things are striking about the litany of cases: the sheer volume and who is prosecuting them. The majority of cases have originated from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan and in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. There also has been a smattering of cases brought by the Attorney General’s Office and by the Manhattan and Bronx district attorneys. But few, if any, meaningful cases have been pursued by Albany’s own prosecutors. When lawyers discuss the lack of Albany-originated corruption cases, the explanation offered is that it is very difficult to pursue these cases in the state criminal justice system. Experts are also

District with serious corruption experience. What is harder to understand is why no one has bothered to do something about this dilemma. The U.S. Attorney is a presidential appointee who is typically chosen based on the recommendation of the local U.S. senator. Sen. Chuck Schumer certainly knows how to select a smart, aggressive prosecutor. He picked Bharara to serve in the Southern District. And, as a Northern District native who started her career as a no-nonsense litigator, Sen. Gillibrand certainly should know where to find the right talent for the job. There are U.S. Attorney for the Northern District Richard Hartunian other examples that provide a to political corruption cases, the U.S. template, if not a challenge, for the selecAttorney’s Office for the Northern District tion of a U.S. Attorney for Albany. of New York—the federal prosecutor In 2001, at a time when Illinois was responsible for Albany—is simply not a plagued with one of its perennial politplayer. Admittedly, the Northern District ical corruption scandals, Sen. Peter has significantly fewer attorneys than Fitzgerald broke with the tradition of the Southern and Eastern Districts, and nominating a prominent Chicago lawyer a smaller budget. But this alone cannot as U.S. Attorney. Instead Sen. Fitzgerald explain the dearth of public corruption went looking for an independent, toughprosecutions. The U.S. Attorney for the as-nails prosecutor. He recruited Patrick Northern District, just like his colleagues Fitzgerald (no relation), who was then in the Southern and Eastern Districts, has serving in the Southern District of New all the benefits of the federal law, a pros- York. Over the next decade Patrick ecutor-friendly grand jury system and Fitzgerald prosecuted an extraordinary a powerful partner in the FBI. Indeed, assortment of corruption and other the sole case of note that the Northern cases. No one can argue that his selection District has pursued is against former did not make a significant difference. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, While there is no doubt that fixing the and the Bruno case is a curious aberra- Albany culture of corruption requires tion. more than criminal prosecutions, homeIn truth, the problem is that the top grown cases are not a bad place to start. spot in the Northern District has typically Put another way, what does it say about been filled by a homegrown, hometown Albany that every major prosecution, lawyer. Currently Richard Hartunian guilty plea or trial is an out-of-town serves in that position. By all indications event? he is a competent public servant who There are times when complex probhas done a credible job in a district that lems do lend themselves, at least in part, covers 32 counties. He just has not pros- to simple solutions. If it takes a talent ecuted corruption cases. And that’s really search to make Albany-based misdeeds no surprise, given his background. subject to Albany-based justice, then let Before his appointment Hartunian the search begin. was an assistant district attorney in Albany, where he prosecuted narcotics and violent crime cases. He then became a federal prosecutor in Albany and Steven M. Cohen served as secretary to continued to focus on narcotics prosecu- Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In addition, from tions, which is what he was doing when he 1991 to 1998 he served along with Patrick was elevated to serve as the U.S. Attorney. Fitzgerald as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Is it any wonder that Hartunian has not the Southern District of New York. He is made public corruption a priority? currently a partner with the law firm ZuckBy the way, it’s not just Hartunian. You erman Spaeder and the executive vice preswould be hard-pressed to find any pros- ident and chief administrative officer of ecutor, federal or local, in the Northern MacAndrews & Forbes. quick to note that most district attorneys have relatively small budgets and staffs, and tend to put violence, drugs and street crime—not political corruption—at the top of their list of prosecutorial priorities. Of course, none of this explains a more baffling situation. When it comes


PERSPECTIVES

POST-BLOOMBERG, WILL NEW YORK REMAIN A GLOBAL CITY?

By NICOLE GELINAS

T

he world’s other English-speaking capital, London, took a keen interest in New York’s mayoral race. Bill de Blasio’s election is a “dramatic development,” the Evening Standard newspaper opined. “ ‘Socialism’ is no longer a bogey word in New York,” the paper’s Matthew d’Ancona wrote. But de Blasio’s landslide victory matters to London—and the rest of the world— not because de Blasio will move the only global American city radically leftward. The win matters—in New York, too—because de Blasio could move New York inward, curtailing Bloomberg-era gains. Throughout the Mike Bloomberg era London and New York have learned from each other, even as they competed. Both cities have the same problems, including “good” problems—e.g., that nearly everyone in the world wants to live in one of the two cities. London added nearly half a million people, or 5.9 percent, to its popu-

lation over the first decade of the century. New York added 200,000 more souls to a city already twice as dense as London. The challenge has been how to grow without sprawl—and that means more density. The critical part of density is better transportation. Bloomberg, as well as London mayors Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson—presumably on the left and right, respectively—embraced that approach and learned from each other. Bloomberg lives in both cities—he has a home in London’s Cadogan Square—and it shows. He has said that London’s construction of the Jubilee Line subway extension to encourage Canary Wharf development far from the center of London was his model for extending the No. 7 subway train to Manhattan’s far West Side. The No. 7 extension has helped spur 18 percent population growth in that part of Manhattan over the past decade—before it opens next year. Both cities have learned from each other, too, in how better to manage aboveground street space. Bloomberg tried to copy London more than half a decade ago in implementing a congestion charge on private vehicles coming into the densest parts of the city and using some of the money to fund better bus

service. The mayor’s billions, though, could not get the proposal through New York’s carfocused state Legislature. Undaunted by the loss, Bloomberg used architecture rather than economics to change New York’s streets. (The mayor can’t charge drivers to use a street, but he can close off that street, or part of it.) He took away street space from cars, building 31 miles of bike paths protected from faster motor vehicles by raised curbs or other physical barriers and encouraging 40,000 New Yorkers to take to our five-monthold bike-share program each day. Protected bike paths alleviate pressure on the subway system, already stretched beyond capacity. Bloomberg likely would not have embraced bicycles had he not seen other global cities, including London and Paris, roll out bike-share programs over the past decade to great demand. Before the election Bloomberg noted at the CityLab global cities conference—an event he supported philanthropically—that bike-share “was started in Lyon, went to Paris, went to London … and then came here. We’ve borrowed from around the world and things go in the other direction.” On public health initiatives, including

banning smoking in restaurants, he noted that though New York was a pioneer, “all of Western Europe is now smoke-free.” De Blasio’s City Hall likely won’t have such a global cities approach. The advantage of having a billionaire mayor with a private jet is that learning from London, and vice versa, was a casual, almost unconscious act. “I was in London two weeks ago just for a day,” Bloomberg mentioned offhandedly last month in discussing bike-share. De Blasio, an old-fashioned Democrat who came up through local politics, not through global business, won’t be able to say that. Indeed, de Blasio’s pre-election focus on redistributive politics—taking a bit more from the rich to give to the poor—shows he’s more interested in moving around the money New York already has than competing globally through better infrastructure and better quality of life (issues he has rarely mentioned). New York could lose out—and so could other world cities. Nicole Gelinas (@nicolegelinas on Twitter) is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

LESSONS FROM AN ELECTION: LISTEN, DON’T LECTURE

By BRUCE N. GYORY

V

oters appeared to be all over the lot in the recent election. The Republicans lost a governor’s race they could have won in Virginia to Democrat Terry McAuliffe, while Gov. Chris Christie swept New Jersey Democrats away in a landslide. Here in New York, Bill de Blasio trounced the Joe Lhota-led Republicans, who had won the last five mayoral elections, by just shy of a 3–1 margin. Yet the Republicans held county executive seats in Nassau and Westchester Counties by landslide margins. Despite these disparate outcomes, I believe we can deduce a common thread from these races. In all of them voters were really saying to candidates, “Focus upon what we want addressed, not your wish list.” In Virginia the Republicans pushed aside moderates when they shifted to a nominating convention instead of a primary. They wound up with the stridently conservative ticket led by

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as their candidate for governor. Cuccinelli got sidetracked by hard-right positions on transportation, abortion and gay marriage. Admittedly, McAuliffe’s margin tightened the last two weeks of the campaign when reaction against the rollout of Obamacare hardened, but Cuccinelli could not overcome the perception that he cared more about vaginal ultrasound mandates than sound approaches to curing the traffic jams plaguing the exploding suburbs of Northern Virginia. In New Jersey we saw the exact opposite effect take hold. Christie held the Republican base, while carrying women and Hispanics and securing the votes of two-thirds of independents. The result was no surprise that his landslide margin transcended New Jersey’s Democratic reflexes, given that Christie’s approach to governing, particularly in the wake of Sandy, has transcended partisan differences. In New York City de Blasio swept almost all demographic groups, running particularly well among the minority majority (exit polls showed minority voters cast 55 percent of the total vote), demonstrating that his call to confront the linked concerns of poverty, inequality and affordability united rather than divided city

voters. The incumbent GOP county executives, Ed Mangano in Nassau and Rob Astorino in Westchester, both used the property tax issue to successfully hammer their Democratic opponents. In Nassau it did not matter that former Democratic County Executive Tom Suozzi had raised property taxes back in 2002 to end the fiscal hole left by his Republican predecessor but then held the line for the next six years. Nassau’s voters rewarded Mangano for not raising county property taxes, only remembering that Suozzi raised them, not why. (Full disclosure: I worked on both Suozzi’s 2009 and 2013 races.) In Westchester Astorino ran on a record of reducing property taxes, and he effectively shaved Democratic margins among Westchester’s emerging black and Hispanic communities in securing his landslide margin. In New York’s suburbs, where the GOP can credibly assert holding the line on property taxes, the elephant can still trample its opponents. To sum up, in Virginia voters spanked Republicans for Tea Party extremism, while in New Jersey they embraced Christie for putting

aside partisanship in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. In New York City middle class and poor voters applauded de Blasio’s assault on the affordability gap while voters in the downstate suburbs underscored that property taxes remain the overriding factor driving their votes. Looking forward, neither party can afford complacency. Nationally, the patience of voters has worn thin both with the Republicans’ miscalculation on shutting down the federal government and the Obama administration’s rollout debacle on healthcare. Here in New York State progressive Democrats might remember, when inclined to dismiss Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s focus on property taxes, that there is no margin for error on property taxes in the swing suburbs, upstate as well as downstate. Democrats may come to see Cuomo’s approach to property taxes as a protective cloak should cooler fall seasons loom. The enduring lesson is that candidates ignore the real concerns of voters at their peril.

Bruce N. Gyory is a political consultant with Corning Place Communications and an adjunct professor of political science at SUNY Albany. cityandstateny.com | DECEMBER 4, 2013

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PERSPECTIVES

Council Watch By SETH BARRON

Twilight Of The Bosses?

Speaker Contenders: Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mark Weprin, Jimmy Vacca and Dan Garodnick

A

n odd bit of political theater surrounds the current campaign for New York City Council Speaker, in the form of a road show featuring the half-dozen or so candidates for the job making a pitch to the public, debating one another as though the position were open to a general vote. Of course, the Speaker is elected by his or her colleagues on the Council, and only needs to amass support from 25 other members to win. So what is the point of this present spectacle—this pretense of populist concern? Historically, the election of the Speaker, arguably the second most powerful political office in the city, has been even less democratic than it might appear, because more than half of the members of the Council essentially do not have free will over their votes. The county political organizations of the Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx Democratic parties have traditionally directed the votes of its members, and thus the Speaker and the key committee chairmanships have been divvied up through a series of negotiations and compromises among the party bosses. With the advent of the council’s Progressive Caucus, some have argued that the heyday of the bosses is over and 32 DECEMBER 2, 2013 | cityandstateny.com

that a new bloc of reform-minded Council members will dominate the Legislature of the city. The members of the caucus have vowed to vote as a unit in order to leverage the votes of their roughly 20 members into a powerful counterforce to the dominance of the county organizations. Yet as outgoing Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. commented, “Reports of the demise of the Queens County Democratic organization have been greatly exaggerated.” Indeed the grip of the Queens Democratic boss, Congressman Joe Crowley, on his party machine appears to be as firm as ever. When one member of the Queens delegation, who is also affiliated with the Progressive Caucus, was asked whether it was likely that anyone from the borough would vote against Crowley, the Council member replied, “Well, I wouldn’t.” What appears to be the fundamental difference between the strong county political organizations and an affinity group such as the Progressive Caucus is that no member of the Council is afraid of crossing the Progressive Caucus. The PC has no teeth. On the other hand, party organizations such as those in Queens, the Bronx and, to a lesser extent since

the collapse of its former boss Vito Lopez, Brooklyn, can make political life miserable for elected officials who go rogue. For example, county organizations control important resources, such as heavy-duty election lawyers, who can be deployed to challenge petitions and knock candidates off the ballot. The bosses also control judgeships and other jobs, which they dangle as rewards for politicians who stay in line, or distribute to divert unwanted competitors from mounting challenges against incumbents or their anointed favorites in races for open seats. Consider what happened in 2012 when Rory Lancman defied Crowley by taking on his preferred candidate, Grace Meng, for Congress: The Queens machine inserted party-loyalist Jeff Gottlieb into the race in order to split the Jewish vote, to Lancman’s fury. Or when David Weprin made his first run for Council in 2001 and his chief opponent, Bernice Siegal, was offered a judgeship to bow out. The Progressive Caucus may have a skillful press operation, but at this point in its development it does not have the kind of clout that makes kings. As Vallone puts it, “If anyone believes that the Queens County members of the Progressive

Caucus will vote against the party organization, then I have another bridge you can rename.” If we read between the lines of what the PC has been saying, it becomes apparent that its leadership is aware of the limits of its actual power. For instance, the Caucus is currently riven by the procedural question of whether it will have a secret ballot to determine its choice for Speaker. Incoming Councilman Mark Levine, who intends to join the PC, affirmed that the question “is right at the heart of what we are talking about now.” He continued, “The Progressive Caucus is committed to electing a progressive Speaker and promoting progressive issues”—which you will note is different from being committed to electing a member of the PC itself to the Council’s top job. Thus it appears the PC’s underlying aim is to demonstrate that it is having an impact on the decision process of selecting the Speaker, so that whoever is chosen for the post will have to acknowledge the influence of the PC and take its legislative agenda seriously in the coming session. Vote counting being one of the most important skills a legislative leader can possess, it makes sense to look at the arithmetic at play in this most exclusive of elections. The Queens delegation will likely deliver its 13 votes as a bloc. Brooklyn has 16 votes, but it lacks the cohesiveness of the Queens delegation, so it is not inconceivable that its PC members could defect, in which case 10 members will vote with the county organization. Assuming this tally is accurate, only three votes would be needed to close out the balloting, and the Bronx’s Democratic boss, Assemblyman Carl Heastie, is all but certain to be able to deliver at least five or six of the Bronx’s eight members, only one of whom, incoming Councilman Ritchie Torres, is likely to be PC-aligned. So who is likely to win? Of the seven announced candidates it is fair to say that only four are serious contenders. Manhattan’s Inez Dickens, once considered a favorite, is now seen as too closely tied to Christine Quinn and her opaque, topdown style of governing, which is out of step with the new spirit of reform that is supposedly ready to blow the cobwebs out of 250 Broadway. Brooklyn’s Jumaane Williams has social views on gay marriage and abortion that would make him unelectable to any office in most areas of New York City. And the Bronx’s Annabel Palma’s lackluster performance in the debates so far has shown her candidacy to be a nonstarter; her name never comes up in discussions with insiders. Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose district is split between Manhattan and the Bronx, came off a strong showing at the Somos conference in her native Puerto Rico, and exploited her home-field advantage to good effect, returning to New York a leading candidate in the eyes of the press. Her


PERSPECTIVES Educate & Influence NY’s Public Officials with: ISSUE SPOTLIGHT:

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Seven hopefuls squared off at a Speaker debate co-sponsored by City & State. union backers have worked hard to gin up the appearance of massive grassroots support for her candidacy, flooding social media with calls for her speakership, as though, like Caesar, she should be elected by popular acclaim. Mark-Viverito has also faced relentless beatings in the press, which have highlighted her left-leaning affiliations. It is clear that major real estate interests oppose her candidacy, and she remains unpopular among her colleagues, even though she keeps insisting that they will be her “co-partners” should they elect her. The mayor-elect is said to want her to have the job, presumably because she would likely take Christine Quinn’s place as mayoral cat’s-paw, but it is unclear why the party bosses would ever submit to such an arrangement, since it would signal a profound decline in their potency. If Crowley decides he wants the speakership, then Queens’ Mark Weprin is all but certain to get the job. Although Queens county has historically opted for controlling plum committee chairmanships rather than the speakership, the fact that Weprin has two terms ahead of him, unlike all the other contenders (except Williams), who are term-limited in four years, might make the post a greater prize to him then it is has been in the past. If, however, Queens passes on the speakership, then the race becomes extremely tough to call. It is noteworthy, though, that Jimmy Vacca is close to Crowley, whose congressional district includes the section of the Bronx that Vacca represents. Vacca also demonstrated political savvy and muscle in getting his protégé Ritchie Torres elected in the adjoining district. While Vacca initially seemed a very long shot for the post, increasingly insiders are buzzing that he could wind up a compromise choice that would be pleasing both to Heastie and Crowley, while appeasing the rank-and-file members, who would not mind the speakership opening up sooner than later, so one of them can get a turn four years from now. The last contender, Dan Garodnick, is universally acknowledged by his colleagues as a “nice guy,” and as a Manhattanite seems to be a plausible

pick, but part of the problem of being a Manhattan Council member is that there is no county machine pulling strings on your behalf. Weprin is in an enviable position at this point: If he is passed over for Speaker then he will surely become chair of the powerful Finance Committee—like his brother, David, before him—which traditionally belongs to Queens. Land Use, currently chaired by outgoing Queens Councilman Leroy Comrie, would probably then go to another member of the borough’s delegation, Julissa Ferreras, a founding member of the PC. Ferreras has overseen the Willets Point development and the soccer stadium deal in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, demonstrating her competency to negotiate with real estate interests. As a Latina Ferreras would provide the kind of representation in the Council leadership that Mark-Viverito’s supporters have demanded, while doubling as a progressive who is more palatable to many of the interests whose opinions matter in the process. In the case of Weprin being crowned Speaker, the chief committee assignments will be disbursed outside of Queens. Given that scenario, there is speculation that Vacca, or possibly Brooklyn’s David Greenfield, could get Finance, and PC co-chair Brad Lander, also of Brooklyn, would wind up heading Land Use. Another possible candidate for Land Use would be development-friendly PC-member Margaret Chin, whose selection would keep this key committee in the hands of a minority. Whatever the ultimate real-life outcome to this game of fantasy league politics is, the Progressive Caucus will share in the spoils, though it will not unilaterally decide the speakership. The PC has yet to achieved the political power to demand obeisance from its members. One is reminded of what Stalin said when warned that he should heed the Vatican’s authority: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” The Progressive Caucus has certainly mastered the art of self-promotion, but it still has a ways to go before it can become a major political force in the city.

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33


#WINNERS&LOSERS

WINNERS & LOSERS

From the race for New York City Council Speaker to the battle over Common Core testing to the Moreland Commission’s subpoenas of state lawmakers’ outside income, there has been no shortage of winners and losers. Check out who got the most votes here.

Go to cityandstateny.com each week to vote.

Week of Nov. 11, 2013

Week of Nov. 18, 2013

WINNERS

Tom Prendergast 12% C. Scott Vanderhoef 7% John Hertzler 3% John Hertzler: First Klingon ever elected Tom Prendergast: Future fare hikes slashed C. Scott Vanderhoef: Borrowing okayed

YOUR CHOICE Dan Garodnick: We’re not sure what role Garodnick played in pulling the plug on Mayor Bloomberg’s east midtown rezoning, but when you’re putting out a statement with the Council Speaker about a bill’s defeat, you’re wielding some power behind the scenes. The rezoning fell in Garodnick’s district, a high profile test of whether he would bow to the interests of real estate or hold his ground on behalf of the preservationists who oppose the plan. Now we know.

LOSERS

Eric Schneiderman 37%

Kirsten Gillibrand 28%

SWEET MELISSA Melissa MarkViverito: Not many legislators returned from Puerto Rico with a solid chance to become New York City’s second most powerful politician. Mark-Viverito is riding her liberal politics and alliance with MayorElect Bill de Blasio to brand herself as the progressive—and frontrunner—in the Speaker’s race. She also faces questions about ties to the “anti-American” Bolivian president and her reluctance to recite the pledge of allegiance. But if they’re taking shots at you, you’re doing something right.

$

Dan Garodnick 46% Melissa Mark-Viverito 32%

$$$

$

WINNERS

Bill Thompson 17% Byron Brown 10% Michael T. Welsh 8% Byron Brown: $225 million to Buffalo Bill Thompson: Lost mayor’s race, but lands cushy job Michael T. Welsh: Wins by a vote for Le Roy town justice

YOUR CHOICE Eric Schneiderman: Schneiderman has restaked his claim to being the sheriff of Wall Street. JPMorgan Chase’s $13 billion federal settlement vindicated Schneiderman, who had annoyed the financial industry and the Obama administration two years ago with his resistance to a nationwide settlement with the big banks for their behavior in the mortgage crisis. Now Schneiderman’s insistence on denying immunity to the banks has panned out.

MAKING HER MARK Kirsten Gillibrand: Gillibrand has led the charge on removing sexual assault cases from the military chain of command and having a special prosecutor investigate them instead. She finally got to 50 votes, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signing on. The bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law, but Gillibrand’s passion and endurance have gained her national prominence that won’t fade away, no matter what happens with the legislation.

LOSERS Jay Savino 48% Rahm Emanuel 20% Jill Abramson 15% Cathryn Doyle 9% Joan Carbone 8%

Jill Abramson: Big names leaving the Times Joan Carbone: Anti-Semitic allegations in Pine Bush School District Cathryn Doyle: Judge faces removal for ties to attorneys

TOWER ENVY Rahm Emanuel: We weren’t surprised when Chicago’s mayor fired off some snarky comments after New York’s One World Trade was officially named the tallest building in the country thanks to its massive 400-foot spire. Emanuel calls it an antenna; we think he is just jealous because his building the Willis Tower is not as big as ours.

Andrew Cuomo 56% William Boyland 22% Rob Astorino 10% Timothy Dolan 8% Eric Stevenson 4% Rob Astorino: Westchester’s debt downgraded Timothy Dolan: Church closing more parishes Eric Stevenson: Whining about his pension

YOUR CHOICE Andrew Cuomo: Poll numbers YOUR CHOICE Jay Savino: We were waiting for this to happen. Former Bronx GOP chair Jay Savino became the first to plead guilty to criminal charges stemming from the scandal involving state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s alleged attempt to bribe his way onto the Republican Party line for New York City mayor. Savino likely won’t be the last, and the other indicted parties may not be sleeping so well now that he has admitted to taking a $15,000 bribe.

34 DECEMBER 2, 2013 | www.cityandstateny.com

are always volatile, but Cuomo’s have steadily declined, falling from 63 percent to 51 percent between October and November. He hasn’t been helped by reports of meddling with his own anticorruption Moreland Commission—as well as revelations that some Moreland commissioners are not so squeaky-clean. But Cuomo topped it off by having his budget director attack state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli over a straightforward report on New York’s ballooning overtime pay.

FAMILY AFFAIR William Boyland Jr.: Boyland stooped to a new low in the annals of Albany corruption when he allegedly used his father, a former assemblyman and revered figure in Brooklyn, as a bag man to collect bribe money from an undercover FBI agent. Boyland Sr. reportedly believed he was collecting a check from a real estate developer doing business with his son. If so, it shows what kind of person Boyland is, roping his father into a bribery scheme.


BACK&FORTH

AMERICAN FOLKLORE A Q&A WITH ARLO GUTHRIE

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rlo Guthrie has spent six decades writing and performing songs that combine social commentary, humor and storytelling. The Brooklyn-born folk great played at Woodstock, testified at the Chicago Seven trial, appeared in a film directed by Bob Dylan, and recorded such beloved hits as “City of New Orleans” and the 18-minute-long epic “Alice’s Restaurant.” On the eve of Guthrie’s free concert at Lincoln Center on Dec. 1, City & State Editor Morgan Pehme spoke with him about his late father, Woody Guthrie, one of America’s most influential musicians; Ron Paul; George McGovern; and why he decided to become a Republican. The following is an edited transcript. CITY & STATE: You’re most associated with Massachusetts, but you were born in Brooklyn. Do you feel a strong kinship with New York? ARLO GUTHRIE: Sure! There’s things here that keep bringing us back. This is home. I’ve lived on a little hill up in the middle of nowhere for the last 40 years, but you never forget where you came from, and it’s still in you. And so it’s really fun for me to bring the kids just to show them: “This is real pizza. The crap you’re eating up there, that’s not.”

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C&S: You’ve been engaged in politics over the years, but it seems like you have had an evolution in your thinking. Is that accurate? AG: No. I’m basically the same I always was. I’ve changed parties from time to time to try to have some influence one way or another, although that never worked out. In real life I’m very independent. I like different parts of different things, but there hasn’t been anybody who has put together all of those parts yet for me as a candidate. … I’m waiting for somebody who thinks just like me, but that hasn’t happened—and it’s probably, at this point, unlikely. C&S: What is the model of the person who would think just like you? AG: I generally am not a corporatist. I like the strength of individuals. I’m also a very localoriented person. … I like smaller, local, independent stores, agriculture, education, all of that kind of stuff, so I’m a proponent of that. C&S: So the same man who supported George McGovern for president in 1984 is consistent with the man who supported Ron Paul in 2008? AG: Yeah. There were things about both of them that I really liked. One of them that was exactly the same about both of them was they wanted to bring the troops home. … Both George McGovern and almost everyone else who I have ever supported has been

somebody who doesn’t want to see us overseas unless it’s an absolute necessity, and none of the latest engagements, I’d say since the late ’60s, have been that necessary, as far as I’m concerned. Now, that doesn’t mean I support everything that Ron Paul stood for or that George McGovern stood for. It means in that particular case they agreed with me. C&S: You said that you became a Republican because “We had enough good Democrats. We needed a few more good Republicans.” Did you join the GOP to try to move the party in the direction you believe it needs to go? AG: It was kind of funny. I’ve been living in Massachusetts for years, but I moved my legitimate address to Florida some years ago. And when I get down there they ask me, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” and I started thinking, Well, this is a whole state of Republicans down here, so I might as well try to do something with ’em. [Laughs] And of course I wasn’t [able to]. People get locked into these categories as if they actually mean something, and I don’t think it does. I’m a union guy. I grew up that way. That’s where I would like to see Republicans go. … When you’ve alienated most of the country, which is what my buddy Republicans seem to have done, you run the risk of creating a one-party system, and that, to me, gets real dangerous. So it’s fun on the one hand, but it’s serious on the other, and I think there needs to be some serious opposition, some serious inquiry, some serious questions that are able to be asked by reasonable people, because I don’t think that [a] one-party [system] … is good for the country. I don’t think it’s good for anybody. C&S: Fifty-three years after your first gig, what keeps you passionate about being a musician and performing? AG: For me, it’s really important now to create moments for people that are important to them. After [my] Carnegie Hall [show] the other night somebody wrote in on one of my Facebook things: “Where would you see Republicans, Democrats, Communists and Socialists all singing together?” Who woulda thunk? … You see people put aside the petty stuff, get the spirit going, get the feelings back. I don’t want to use words like empowered, but that’s what it feels like. It feels like, “Yeah! I remember this. This is when we did something!” That feeling is really pretty good. C&S: What is next for you careerwise? AG: I’m finishing up a tour that runs into next May, which was a two-year tour celebrating my dad’s centennial birthday in July of 2012. After that I’m doing a few months of solo stuff, and then in January 2015 I’m starting a big “Alice’s Restaurant” 50th anniversary tour, ’cause I haven’t done it on the road for almost a decade. So I’m going to have to relearn that whole freakin’ thing and take them out on the road, and I’m looking forward to that. C&S: The respect for your father and his renown continues to grow. What is it about him you were seeking to honor in doing this tour celebrating his 100th birthday? AG: What I think [is] interesting is the view that many people have of him has begun to change as time has gone on. When he started out he was known as the Dust Bowl Balladeer. Nobody knows what a dust bowl is these days, let alone a balladeer. We don’t use those terms. We’ve outgrown them. And they thought of him as a political singer and a songwriter, but he also wrote love songs, and he wrote songs about outer space, and he wrote songs about movie stars and he wrote songs for little kids. He wrote all kinds of stuff! And the politics was only part of it. It was important, but it was only one part of it. He was incredibly well-read, and he wrote about everything, and the more that time goes by, the more we see a bigger picture of who he was. And so I love doing the tour, because it presents a little bit of that.

To read the full text of this interview, including Guthrie’s thoughts on universal healthcare and Monsanto, go to www.cityandstateny.com.

cityandstateny.com | DECEMBER 2, 2013

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