Page 1

Larry Seabrook, below, shrugs off his opponents (Page 8), Ed Koch reflects on how and why he reviews movies (Page 16) and

Vol. 3, No. 11

February 23, 2009

Carol Kellerman, above, reviews the city budget problems (Page 19).

I’m Not Gonna What Take a ll e v A y n o T ItthinAnymore ks he is doing running for mayor


February 23, 2009


Commission the Commission Now


andrew schwartz

here is nothing fair about drawing comparisons between Michael Bloomberg and Hugo Chavez, even though the Venezuelan president, like the mayor, successfully overturned term limits. Thanks to the Feb. 15 vote, Chavez will be able to run again in 2013, the year when Bloomberg now hopes the sun will set on his mayoralty. Yet there is something disconcerting about a nationwide election on the question of term limits held so close to the day when proponents of an extension referendum in New York City wanted to put one on the calendar. When they made that argument on the floor of the Council, only to have it shouted down as impractical, the city still had four months to prepare. With only three months to prepare, Chavez got the Venezuelans to approve his extension. And though there was likely vote fraud and coercion from Caracas to the countryside on a scale unimaginable to Americans, still, they had an election on the changes to their constitution. On election day this November, New Yorkers deserve the same chance to have their voices heard on term limits and other questions that determine the shape and structure of their government. More than a year has passed, after all, since Bloomberg declared in his 2008 State of the City address that he would be convening a charter revision commission charged with conducting “a top-tobottom review of city government over the next 18 months.” Almost five months have passed since he again made the promise, accepted by many Council members, though with the caveat that he would only convene a commission in 2010. That is not soon enough. Waiting until after November would mean that any changes proposed would either be voted on in a subsequent low-turnout special election or put on hold until 2013. But the money crunch makes the need for a comprehensive look at the structure of city government even more necessary now: rather than subjecting city offices to effective death by a thousand budget cuts, New York City should make the tough decisions on which positions and bureaucracies it needs. Those which the city does not need should be eliminated. Those which it does should be given set


funding, ending the cynical game that goes on whenever money runs short. Start with the borough presidents. There is a strong argument to be made in favor of eliminating these jobs. Since the dissolution of the Board of Estimate, one could argue, they have been little more than excuses to produce press releases and either stepping stones for politicians on the rise or landing pads for capping careers. But there is a strong argument as well that they serve an important purpose by giving the broader view that naturally eludes local legislators, while being much more focused than citywide officials. Both have their merits, which New Yorkers should have the opportunity to consider at the polls. What should not happen is to have the budget shortfalls used as excuses to slash their staff budgets, hobbling the borough presidents’ efforts to fulfill the duties currently mandated for them in the charter. Either we should have these five officials or we should not, but the mayor and the Council need to have an honest, frank discussion on this question, not slip decisions past the public by neutering the offices. These are people who have been put in place by the voters, after all. The same is true for the public advocate. After both this mayor and his predecessor worked to restrict the office that is supposed to be the check on their power, there is little doubt that if we are going to continue having a public advocate, that public advocate needs to have an independent budget and powers that are clearly defined. Alternatively, we could do what the 1989 charter commission was too timid to do and simply get rid of the office. But allowing the slow bleed of what is, according to the charter, the second highest elected office in town is irresponsible, devious government. New Yorkers should get a chance to say whether they want a public advocate. If they do, they should get one who has the resources to actually do the job. There are other changes a charter commission might want to address as well, starting, of course, with the question of term limits and ranging from the length of Council members’ terms to further refinement of the city’s campaign finance laws. But perhaps most importantly, the commission should present New Yorkers with the question of whether changing the charter is ever something that should be done legislatively, or whether changes should require the same kind of voter ratification that Constitutional amendments do. Is this a lot to ask of voters? Yes, but so was asking them to decide in 2005 on “fiscal mandates that, in general, now apply to the City through a State law enacted in response to the City’s 1975 fiscal crisis. The changes would add these mandates to the City Charter so that they would continue to apply after the state law expires.” But they managed to do it. The people got a chance to determine the government’s fiscal policy. They should get a chance to determine the government as well.

Those positions and offices which the city does not need should be eliminated. Those which it does should be given set funding, ending the cynical game that goes on whenever money runs short. President/CEO: Tom Allon CFO/COO: Joanne Harras Publisher/President: Steven Blank Group Publisher: Alex Schweitzer

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FEBRUARY 23, 2009


Carrión’s Post-Obama Political Prospects Unclear Follow-up to White House could be mayor or senator, or maybe even Puerto Rico governor BY ANDREW J. HAWKINS dolfo Carrión’s departure from city politics may have taken almost forever, but in his farewell State of the Borough address, the outgoing Bronx borough president made sure to raise the prospect of his return. “I will come back to our beloved New York,” he said, arms outstretched. “But for now I will join our president in helping to rebuild the promise of America.” As Carrión heads to Washington and his new post as head of the White House Office of Urban Policy, there seemed to be little doubt among those who had followed Carrión’s career that he would one day return to run for office again. Whether he has his sights set on comptroller, mayor or even governor, Carrión is widely seen as a rising star in the world of politics. Returning, however, will depend on how he performs as the country’s new urban affairs director and what opportunities will be available when his time in the Obama administration ends. “Could he run for Congress? The answer is yes, if it opened up,” said veteran Democratic strategist (and recent addition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election campaign) Hank Sheinkopf. “Could he run for public advocate if it opened up? The answer is probably yes. Could he run for comptroller? He has plenty of opportunities, but first he’s got to get to Washington, he’s got to do a good job, he’s gotta build a reputation and he’s got to come home.” Carrión’s final speech as borough president was heavy on rhetorical flourishes but light on details. While he talked broadly about renewing the federal government’s commitment to urban areas around the country through infrastructure improvements and new investments, he avoided saying how much of a mandate he will have to enact these changes, how much money he will be allowed to spend and what specifically those changes would be. And with President Barack Obama’s (D) appointment of Derrick Douglas, director of Gov. David Paterson’s (D)



Adolfo Carrión may be praying that his new post as Barack Obama’s urban affairs director will be a boon to his future political career. great pride in his appointment, saying it will mean nothing but good things for the Bronx and Carrión’s future. “Bronx boy does good,” said Fernando Ferrer, Carrión’s predecessor and a former mayoral candidate. “Years into the future, who knows? I expect Adolfo will mean a lot of good things for American cities.” Ferrer cautioned against speculating too much about Carrión’s career postWhite House, saying the task at hand— helping American cities recover from the economic crisis—is much more important. But many agreed that Carrión will be able to write his own ticket back into elected life when he finishes his stint with the Obama administration. Before accepting his new job, Carrión, an urban planner by training, was running for comptroller, a race for which he was

“Come back and run for mayor?” said one Bronx political operative. “I think he just grew out of it.” Washington office, as special assistant to the president for urban affairs, some are left wondering how much sway Carrión will actually have in his new position or whether he will just effectively be the public face for the office. Still, those who have watched and aided him in his political career expressed

widely seen as a frontrunner, if only because of identity and geographic politics. And before that, Carrión had expressed interest in eventually making the run for mayor he had put off to run for comptroller. As a popular Latino elected official, his name also came up quite a bit in the speculation about who would be tapped to replace

Hillary Clinton in the Senate. Now that he is on his way to Washington, many in the political world are drawing allusions between Carrión and another New Yorker with experience working alongside a popular Democratic president: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D). Cuomo ran the Department of Housing and Urban Development during President Bill Clinton’s second term, a job that enabled him to amass a lot of goodwill. Shortly after taking the post in 1997, speculation circulated that he might run for Senate the following year. Instead, he waited until 2002 to make his first run for office, but even that disastrous gubernatorial bid did not derail Cuomo’s career—these days polls show him soundly beating Paterson in a hypothetical 2010 match-up. Kevin Wardally, political director at Bill Lynch Associates, said he believes Carrión may have a similar future. “Look at the Cuomo model,” Wardally said. “If [Carrión] goes there and does a good job, does a good job for the cities, raises his national profile, he becomes even more of a superpower in the community than he is now.” But others believe that Carrión’s new White House gig might make him look to bigger things than local politics. “Come back and run for mayor?” said one Bronx political operative, responding to the farewell speech. “I think he just grew out of it.”

A follow-up to his time in the Obama administration, when it comes, could be heading a national organization. More than one person suggested that Carrión might not return to New York for his political future, and instead move to Puerto Rico to run for governor. After all, there are a fair number of rival politicians who seem happy to see him leave, especially those who resented him for staying above the fray during the recent Democratic infighting in the Bronx. Even State Sen. Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), who lost to Carrión in the 2001 borough president race, said Carrión left much to be done in the Bronx, which is still one of the poorest counties in the country. As a result, Espada said, he believes Carrión must exceed expectations in his new job before even considering a run for higher office. “He is not an overly aggressive person. He’s a diplomat,” Espada said. “He has his work cut out for him now.” Meanwhile, one of his former consultants is holding out hope that Carrión will use the position with Obama as a lead-in to the ultimate political prize. “If we were to have our first Latino president, who would that be?” said Chad Marlow, who was working with Carrión’s 2009 citywide campaign. “I think it’s very possible that you could make the argument that it could be a former Bronx borough president from New York.”


February 23, 2009

Special Report: HospiTals


Beds, Beds Everywhere, and Not a Dollar to Pay for Them Budget crisis puts new emphasis on overhauling bloated hospital system By Karen ZraiCK


hree years ago, the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, created by Gov. George Pataki (R), issued a report that argued that New York had too many hospital beds, creating inefficiencies in the health care system. Hoping to avoid unplanned bankruptcies, a number of closures and mergers were recommended in an effort to consolidate services and get rid of excess supply. But even though many of the recommended closings were carried out, there are still too many hospital beds and too much waste, according to many who sat on that commission. In the midst of the budget crisis, that may present a rare opportunity to overhaul the state’s bloated and mismanaged hospital system. “You shouldn’t let a crisis get away from you,” said Stephen Berger, who chaired the commission. “We should be using this to restructure our social network delivery systems in ways that serve the consumer and not the provider. We still have far too many beds. We spend far too much money on institutional care and not enough on preventive care and outpatient care.” The average hospital stay is a day longer in New York than other states. Meanwhile,

our Medicaid system, which provides health care to the poor, elderly and disabled, is the largest and most expensive in the nation. Moving away from an over-reliance on expensive inpatient care is the centerpiece of Gov. David Paterson’s health care reform agenda. Primary and preventive care is also more efficient, many say, allowing doctors to catch and treat illnesses in their early stages, before hospitalization or expensive treatments become necessary. Paterson also proposed reducing Medicaid reimbursement rates for inpatient care while raising rates for outpatient services. Then there is the issue of Medicaid abuse. In December, the state announced the recovery of $551 million in payments obtained through fraud. By carrying out detailed audits and investigations, the state found instances where Medicaid overpaid providers, then worked out deals with the providers to recoup the money, either through repayment or withholding of future Medicaid payments. These reform measures, rather than Paterson’s deep funding cuts that could force some institutions to close their doors, are what local hospitals want to see.

“New York hospitals are constantly trying to find ways to trim costs without reducing services or laying off staff,” said Brian Conway, a spokesperson for the Greater New York Hospital Association. The association argues the cuts are coming at the wrong time. As the full brunt of the economic crisis hits the state, local hospitals are seeing an increasing number of uninsured patients who may

areas of Queens badly need health care facilities, local elected officials say, and their problems are the result of just the kind of unplanned bankruptcies the Berger Commission was trying to avoid. In an effort to improve coordination between health care facilities and steer clear of these kinds of closures, the state is creating regional health planning agencies, according to Assembly Health Committee chair Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who argued that better coordination will allow for greater efficiency. Increasing access to public health insurance programs, which Gottfried believes are efficiently run and more transparent than private insurance companies, is also a top goal, and one he shares with Paterson. Berger agreed that increasing access to health insurance should be a priority, but said it can only come after the fat is trimmed from the system. “We can afford to provide basic insurance and health care for everybody,” he said. “But not the way we spend now. We have to change the way we spend.” Direct letters to the editor to

“We can afford to provide basic insurance and health care for everybody. But not the way we spend now,” stephen Berger. not be able to pay their bills, they say. Earlier this month, two hospitals that had served large numbers of low-income patients in Queens, Mary Immaculate and St. John’s, declared bankruptcy and began the process of emptying the hospital beds. Their economic problems predated the crisis, but the specter provoked widespread worry that other hospitals, battered by dwindling revenues, might follow suit. Even if there might be too many beds overall statewide, those


Big Changes for New York Children, Especially Immigrants, with S-CHIP Federal money to help plug budget gap, loosen restrictions on benefits By Kyla Calvert


ash-strapped New York State will be getting an influx of $50 million to $60 million in federal funding, thanks to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act signed by President Barack Obama on Feb 4. Gov. David Paterson (D) was on hand for the signing, staking New York’s claim to being a leader in providing health coverage for children. Most states will have to increase spending to cover additional children and pregnant women under the new guidelines for eligibility. New York, though, already provides the level of coverage made available across the country by the changes. “Now, instead of using state money to provide this coverage, we will be using federal money,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx/Westchester), who was one of the bill’s cosponsors. “This money will go a long way to closing the state’s budget deficit.” The state and city’s high cost of living made raising income eligibility levels essential to reaching families that could

not afford to insure their children. A family of four can now make up to $88,200 annually and still enroll in the State’s Children’s Health Plus program. In addition to supporting outreach work, the reauthorization loosens requirements for families needing to prove their immigration status. Now, legal residents will only have to provide their names and Social Security numbers, instead of their actual immigration papers. In New York City, where the 2007 American Community Survey estimates nearly 37 percent of the population is foreign-born, advocates believe relaxing the documentation requirements will attract families previously wary of enrolling their children. Requiring immigration status documentation “can have a chilling effect” on enrollment, even for legal immigrants, said Misha Agrwal, director of health justice for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. Whether these amendments will actually significantly increase enrollment remains unclear. “I haven’t heard of any effect to us yet,” said Jia Ho, marketing manager for Amerigroup Corporation, a company

doing on-the-street sign-up for statesponsored health insurance programs. “I am expecting changes because a lot of other companies are getting out of the market. But that has to do with financial issues.” The reauthorization act also increases federal funding for translation services provided to patients covered by the program. States choosing to fund translation services under the old law received dollar-for-dollar matching funds. Now, the federal government will cover 75 percent of the cost for states choosing to participate. Legislation to fund translation in medical settings has previously been introduced and defeated in Albany. With Democrats controlling the State Senate and required costs significantly reduced by the increase in federal funding, supporters are hopeful of the newest attempt to provide financial support for these services. If the bill, which passed the Assembly’s Health Committee unanimously earlier this month, becomes law, “the state could drive best practices and set provisions for providing translation,” said Adam Gurvitch, director of health advocacy for

the New York Immigration Coalition. Once the Ways and Means Committee figures out the bill’s financial impact for the state, there may not be as much consensus. “Sometimes you want to vote for these things, because they look great,” said Assemblyman Louis Tobacco (R-Staten Island), a member of the Assembly Health Committee. “But, if they turn out to have onerous financial implications for the state, then you just can’t support them.” While all hospitals in New York are required by law to provide oral interpretation and translation of most forms and documents, the services can be hit-or-miss, according to Gurvitch. Even for hospitals that are always compliant with state regulations the funding could be a boon in difficult financial times. “It seems all everyone is talking about these days is cutting services,” said Eileen McBride, director of patient relations and volunteer services at New York Community Hospital in Brooklyn. “It wouldn’t change the services we provide, but it would help pay for them.” Direct letters to the editor to editor@



February 23, 2009

Comings and


Donovan Richards,

district office manager for Council Member James Sanders (D-Queens), was promoted to deputy chief of staff.

Ben Kallos, chief of staff to Assembly Member Jonathan Bing (D-Manhattan) is leaving to run for Council Member Jessica Lappin’s (DManhattan) seat. His replacement is Keith Powers.

Anthony Crowell,

counselor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Ind.), has been elected the new chair of the Brooklyn Public Library. Crowell will remain with the administration, as the position is part-time and volunteer.

Matt Canter,

communications director for Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley (D), has joined the press office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York).

Jim Fuchs,

who was downstate press secretary for State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, is leaving effective Feb. 25 to become director of supervisory policy and risk analysis at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.


Comings and goings and weddings, too Let City Hall and The Capitol know about all your official staff changes by e-mailing information about your staff hires, promotions and departures. We’d also like your unofficial changes such as engagements, weddings and anniversaries. Please include photographs when possible.

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February 23, 2009


Weiner, Gioia and Yassky Look to Staten Island as Key to Primary Wins

In Weiner’s 2005 primary for mayor, he received nearly half of the Staten Island votes, keeping Fernando Ferrer from reaching the 40 percent needed to avoid a run-off. For those looking to make it into run-offs this year—or perhaps get enough votes to avoid one—the abundance of potentially overlooked Democratic votes on Staten Island could prove decisive. Sure enough, Weiner kicked off his 2009 campaign with a fundraising blitz across the five boroughs, stopping on Staten Island to have beer and pretzels at a house party and making B y D a n R iv o li the rounds at Democratic organizations. Mark Benoit, who managed the ack when former Mayor Rudolph campaigns of several citywide candidates Giuliani (R) was out campaigning in the including Weiner’s 2005 primary, said cornfields of Iowa, he often regaled the Weiner’s outer borough-tailored message farmers with stories about Staten Island, that was a hit in Staten Island. old bastion of conservative small-town family “His message resonated for the folks in values that gave him his margin of victory in Staten Island,” Benoit said. “We spent a lot of 1993. time in Staten Island.” But the trope about Staten Island—that the Given that Democratic trends have picked middle class-dominated, sparsely populated up significantly since 2005, campaign stops borough is full of conservative, Italian- and within the borough will exceed the typical Irish-Americans that vote Republican—is Staten Island Ferry commuter handshaking. giving way to new immigrants and outer “If you have a map with pins representing borough transplants, helping foster a newly each stop, Staten Island would usually have robust local Democratic Party. the fewest pins,” Benoit said. “Now, the This has not been lost on several of the Democratic vote is larger and [there citywide hopefuls this year, most notably are] more pins in the Staten Island Council Member David Yassky (D-Brooklyn), map. It’s just logic.” Council Member Eric Gioia (D-Queens) and Even though Mayor Michael Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Brooklyn/Queens), Bloomberg (Ind.), then a who have identified Staten Island as a key to Republican, swept Staten their electoral strategies in September. Where Island in both his mayoral runs, once Staten Island swung the general election Democrats have increased for New York, now the borough may well registration rolls by almost swing the primaries. 12,000 voters since 2001. This “It’s going to be crucial,” said Yassky, who is double the amount of newly is running for comptroller. “I’m making Staten registered Republicans in the Island a major focus of my campaign effort.” borough. With a healthy voter Of course, every citywide candidate has roll, campaign money from Staten spent some time on the island, mainly paying Island is flourishing as well. By deference to Democratic clubs. But Yassky is January, Democratic comptroller going several steps further: he marched in this and public advocate candidates year’s pride parade, attended a black history have raised more from Staten month event and addressed congregants Islanders than their counterparts at a slew of churches over the past several did over the entire 2001 cycle. months, appearing frequently there and on the That may mean that newly Upper West Side to expand his base beyond his elected Rep. Michael McMahon brownstone Brooklyn home. Gioia has been keeping pace. In the years David Yassky, Eric Gioia and Anthony Weiner are among the can- (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) could he has been campaigning for public advocate, he didates who are spending a lot of time traveling to Staten Island, end up something of a kingmaker in the citywide primaries. has studiously attended numerous Staten Island in search of the trove of Democratic votes now to be found there. But in order to get his and his Democratic Party dinners, house parties, fundraisers constituents’ support, McMahon and parades. warned that this year’s candidates will have to look to how “I think it’s very important,” Gioia said of the borough. Staten Island, as does his Italian last name. “It may sound cliché and it may sound simple, but Republicans boosted their popularity in the borough in “I’m a big believer of going where they are in their living rooms, coffee shops and pizza places—not expecting for the people out here vote the person, particularly in past years. Much as Giuliani and Bloomberg did, they need local races,” said Assembly Member to advocate for increases in public health care and greater Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island), investment in public transportation in the borough. “If you have a map with pins who recently spent an afternoon with “The next successful candidate is going to have to representing each stop, Staten Gioia handing out carnations at senior build on that and speak to the issues like lack of Health and Hospitals Corporation services in the borough and Island would usually have the fewest centers on Valentine’s Day. lack of real mass transit,” McMahon said. “Those are the “Candidates from other parts of pins,” said Anthony Weiner’s 2005 the city looking for votes out here, next two important issues.” campaign manager Mark Benoit. they’re not going to get them unless In the meantime, the borough’s new political clout “Now, the Democratic vote is larger the residents see them and know is already having reverberations into policy. Council and [there are] more pins in the who they are,” said Cusick, who has Member Melinda Katz (D-Queens), herself a comptroller Staten Island map. It’s just logic.” received phone calls from many candidate who has spent some time in the borough, citywide candidates asking for his said the borough’s political muscle led the Land Use Committee she chairs to downzone overdeveloped parts support. Given that traveling to Staten Island means driving of Staten Island. people to come to you.” “The civics, community activists there are strong,” His stump speech, focused on his personal narrative on congested highways and bridges or embarking on of growing up the son of outer-borough flower shop an hours-long commute using public transportation, Katz said. “You wouldn’t have half the rezoning there if owners and mopping floors to put himself through campaigning in the borough is an investment. But the the community wasn’t so active.” college at New York University, plays particularly well in pay-off can be huge.

Outer-borough appeal could unlock run-off insurance in September

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February 23, 2009


No Qualms or Matching Funds as Brewer Prepares for Third-Term Run Popular Upper West Side politician prepares to seek third term despite opposing extension B y E dwa r d -I s a a c d o v E r E

andrew schwartz


ack on the day of the term limits extension vote in October, Gale Brewer (D-Manhattan) was wavering. More like shaking, actually. Her amendment to force a referendum failed. Both her co-sponsors, Alan Gerson (D-Manhattan) and David Yassky (DBrooklyn) threw their support behind the extension. By then, the end result was clear: everyone knew the extension would pass, and everyone knew how each of the 51 Council members would vote. Each, that is, except Brewer. “I’m not big on change. Some people love change all the time, some people travel, change. I’m a creature of habit. So I thought, ‘Okay: Bloomberg,’” she said. “That’s why I was conflicted. It would be good to have him around for another couple years.” Her voice unsteady, her face red, Brewer felt all the eyes on her as she explained the vote she says she had only decided on minutes before. She embraced the idea of extending term limits, she said, but rejected the method. So drawn into herself and her notes, Brewer was unaware that her old friend Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum (D) was banging her gavel, insisting that she stop. Gotbaum, of course, opted not to run for a third term, arguing that she could not, given her objections to how term limits were extended. Brewer—who was the only Council member who would have been termlimited out and not planning a campaign for higher office who voted against the extension—made the opposite decision. “I think I’m saying to people: ‘Don’t you think it’s having your cake and eating it too?’” Brewer said. But, sitting in her storefront office on Columbus Avenue with pamphlets and reports crammed onto every open spot, Brewer said she felt no compunctions about seeking a term she voted against. Currently, the only other members who voted against the extension but are expected to seek reelection are Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) and James Oddo (R-Staten Island), both of whom had been planning on open races for borough president that now have incumbents in them. “I just thought we were going to get 12 years,” Brewer said. “I didn’t know how it was going to happen. But I just thought it was going to happen.” Not that she has much to worry about—the two most discussed candidates for her seat, political operative Micah Lasher and local community board chair Helen Rosenthal, immediately withdrew from the race. “I’m running for an open seat, but I support Gale Brewer and her candidacy,” Rosenthal explained. Lasher has since left his post as a community representative for Rep.

Gale Brewer was the only term-limited Council member not running for another office who voted no on the term limits extension, yet she is running again anyway. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn) to become executive director of public affairs at the Department of Education.

No one else seems likely to emerge on the Democratic side, and though Republicans on the Upper West Side tend

not to leave races uncontested, actually competitive general elections do not exist in the neighborhood. Brewer has yet to open a campaign office or hire any staff, and does not plan to until the summer. Nor has she opened an account with the Campaign Finance Board to do any fundraising (though she has already sworn off taking matching funds). “I haven’t gotten that far,” she said. “It’s not like I ever get organized on these things—I’m dealing with Con Ed, plumbing, cranes on West 78th Street.” That tendency to get involved with everything leads to grumbling in some quarters that part of Brewer’s reasoning for running again is a belief that no one else would be able to do what she does on the Council. Brewer dismisses this thinking, arguing that she simply needs more time to move forward on the broadband initiatives which have become a major focus for her, her ongoing constituent service work and helping her district survive the churn of development. Like many parts of the city, her district has undergone massive changes in recent years, with chain store outposts each occupying what used to be multiple storefronts. At the same time, skyrocketing rents have forced out many businesses, leaving the Upper West Side dotted both with shiny bigbox stores and vacant slots. Especially in a struggling economy, Brewer worries what this combination might lead to, as may happen when the two large Circuit City stores within 20 blocks of each other along Broadway soon close. Balancing these competing interests will be the major challenge of a third term, Brewer predicted. “That’s the only part of the job that I feel tense about,” she said. “Everything else I can do.” With reporting by Dan Rivoli.


The Teflon Rev Looks to Let More Problems and Challengers Slide Seabrook seems vulnerable, though even some opponents believe him untouchable B y s a l G E nt IlE


hings may be unraveling for Larry Seabrook. The garrulous, gruff-talking minister has suffered his share of setbacks in the last few months: he backed the losers in the Bronx party leadership battle and earned the ire of many unions and the Working Families Party for supporting the term limits extension. He even had to ask his own daughter to put off a run for his current Council seat so he could try for a third term himself. Now he has at least five challengers gunning for him in his northeast Bronx

Council district, and the WFP is gearing up to make him one of their primary targets in the fall campaign. “Larry Seabrook is public enemy number one,” said one of his opponents, Jerome Rice, a former corrections officer who has already interviewed with the WFP about getting their endorsement. Andy King, an organizer for 1199/ SEIU, the health care workers union, has known Seabrook since King was in high school. So when he decided to run against Seabrook, he broke the news to him personally. “I wouldn’t say he was defiant,” King said. “He mentioned that I should ‘bring it on.’”

Seabrook has not put together a campaign or started fundraising yet. As always, he remains unflappable. “I don’t get nervous over campaigns,” he said, reclining in a sofa chair at his City Hall office. “I just do what I’m supposed to do.” Seabrook’s no-worry attitude seems to flummox many of his rivals, including the “Rainbow Rebels,” who wrested control of the county party from Assembly Member José Rivera and his family last year. Seabrook has been buffeted by one controversy or political feud after another throughout his career. In 2000, while in the State Senate, he ran a bitter primary


February 23, 2009


andrew schwartz

We ALL want to stop the housing crisis….

With rumors of an engineered appointment to county clerk and José Rivera’s chairmanship of the Bronx Democratic Party both dashed, Larry Seabrook is facing at least five challengers in his re-election bid. against Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx/ Westchester/Rockland), making enemies out of Engel and his allies. In 2005, he took nearly $71,000 in matching funds for a re-election campaign even though he had no opponents, and spent most of it on furniture and appliances. And in 2007, several of the nonprofits to which he steered money through the Council were said to be under investigation as part of the Council slush fund scandal. “It doesn’t seem to matter,” said one Bronx Democrat. “He gets elected all the time anyway. His name is like a brand.” Seabrook’s decision to back Rivera over Assembly Member Carl Heastie, the leader of the Rainbow Rebels, came as a surprise to many, given their relationship: Seabrook mentored Heastie when he first got into politics and has known him since he was in high school. People with knowledge of the arrangement say the Rivera clan was working on having Seabrook appointed to a job in the county government, possibly as county clerk, so that his daughter could run for the Council seat. But now that Heastie and the Rainbow Rebels have won control of the party, those plans have been scrapped and Seabrook will have to run a contentious race for a third term. Seabrook, for his part, denied that there had ever been an arrangement with Rivera, and said he backed the old guard simply because they asked him first. And he insisted there was no ill will between him and Heastie. “There was never a fence for me to mend because I didn’t break it,” he said. But foot soldiers in the rebel faction that now controls the party do not feel the same way. If they can exert enough pressure on Heastie and the rest of the leadership, the party may back a different candidate. Seabrook has reached out to Heastie

and the Rainbow Rebels to try to soothe lingering tensions after the leadership battle ended. Rebel leaders say they are not quite sure whether Seabrook will be able get into the reconstituted organization’s good graces, though they admit ousting such a well-known figure in the district would be difficult. “I think he’s still not really totally in the fold with the new party,” said one Bronx rebel. “But my instinct is that he’s not going anywhere.” Even so, his race could prove to be one of the most contentious in the city in September, with five challengers, all with various ties to labor unions and Bronx political factions, ganging up on him. “We are going to do the best we can to overthrow the current councilman,” said Shirley Saunders, a perennial candidate and aide to Engel who came within 103 votes of beating Seabrook in 2001. Seabrook’s opponents have even resorted to embarrassing him on YouTube. Rice, the former corrections officer, confronted Seabrook in front of his district office earlier this year with piles of petitions protesting layoffs at nearby community centers. The confrontation— already something of an Internet sensation in political circles—quickly devolved into a free-for-all, with the two screaming in each other’s faces and Seabrook accusing Rice of taking bribes. Rice charged that Seabrook had lost touch with the district, especially after his vote to extend term limits. He said he would continue to hound Seabrook the way he did in the video. Seabrook said he was not worried. “These guys came up and they had this camera and so they created this atmosphere,” Seabrook said. “I don’t think he understands how the system works.”


None of us really want to bailout people who cannot afford their mortgages, while those who pay their mortgages get no help. Then why not a plan that allows CREDIT WORTHY people the opportunity to BUY these foreclosure homes at the fair market value as an investment and rent it to the current delinquent owners? The government will arrange, through the banks, a 3% mortgage as an incentive for CREDIT WORTHY people to buy these distressed homes. Then we know they won’t be foreclosed on in the future!

No moral hazard, no foreclosures and the GOOD PEOPLE get the BENEFIT!

OK, now tell me the ten million reasons why this doesn’t make sense. paid advertisement


FEBRUARY 23, 2009



Outsider THE

What Tony Avella thinks he is doing running for mayor

By David Freedlander


t ten minutes to two, 20 minutes after the scheduled start time of the Council’s biweekly stated meeting, the second floor chamber in City Hall is empty. Except for Tony Avella. The Queens Council member and quixotic mayoral candidate sits in the quiet at his desk, going over the day’s bills. Being at his desk promptly at the scheduled start of every stated meeting is one of his things. The other 50 members of the body are downstairs in the member’s lounge, or talking to reporters in the lobby, or still in their offices

CITY HALL Avella is not a politician who picks his fights sparingly or strategically, or limits himself to squabbles that affect his mostly white, conservative district in northeastern Queens. The indignity of horse-drawn carriages on city streets is his current crusade and is one that, like the rest of his crusades, he has embraced with ardor. On a bonechillingly cold afternoon in early February, while a soft snow blew in, Avella stood with former Golden Girls star Rue McClanahan on the steps of City Hall alongside animal rights activists who held up posters of maimed and mutilated horses at a rally to ban the practice. He scowled at a cluster of beefy Teamsters who, fearing that the end of the carriage horse trade would mean unemployed drivers, surrounded the rally in a loose counterprotest, shouting over the police blockade, “They’re our horses, not yours!” and “Get a grip on reality!” at the League of Humane Voters members. When Avella stepped up to speak, a groundskeeper started driving a sidewalk machine around to salt the grounds. “I’m sure it’s not a conspiracy,” Avella joked. He then stood staring silently and stone-faced at the throng of activists and reporters for what seemed like hours, waiting for the noise to stop. “Let’s face it, there’s a reason horse-and-buggies don’t exist any more,” he said when he finally spoke. “They are not appropriate for Midtown traffic. I don’t even like to drive in Midtown traffic! I don’t know how horses handle it.” He then turned his attention to what he always turns his attention to, no matter the issue—Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Ind.), and the way they stifle all of his best ideas and preside over the city with dual iron fists. “They want to be dictators!” he said. “They are afraid!” Avella was not joined by any other Council members—a near statistical impossibility, given how many cameras were present. But two Council candidates, Maria Passannante-Derr and Yetta Kurland—who just happened to be challenging Quinn in her re-election— were there. Avella introduced them. Then he turned the focus to himself. “And I’d guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t say I’m running for mayor!” he said, his voice rising. That fell flat. Avella turned to the crowd behind him and started waving his arms up and down to get them to cheer. Eventually, they did.

FEBRUARY 23, 2009

“It’s odd,” said one Democratic insider. “Here’s a guy who for his whole life was a skilled political player, and he gets elected to the Council and he forgets everything he’s ever learned in politics.”

across the street, or still out having a late lunch, but Avella is there, waiting, sitting by himself. Enter Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), trailed by aides, there to preside over the ceremonials that begin each session and always make things run late. She looks across at Avella, over in the third row. “Looks like it’s going to be a stalemate today, Tony!” she shouts across the room. “One to one!” Avella chuckles. Anything he wants to bring to the floor gets bottled up, rearranged and has someone else’s name slapped on it. Anything she wants sails through, with Avella often casting one of the lone dissenting votes. “That’s right,” he shouts across the hall. He shakes his head, then mutters under his breath. “I never know when she’s going to be nice to me.”


ony Avella’s favorite word is disgrace. He uses it liberally, to describe all manner of misdeed. The dynamic of the Council, where a system of punishment and reward leads to most votes passing by at least 49-2, is “an absolute disgrace.” The rezoning of 125th Street, which Avella believes will turn the heart of Harlem into Madison Avenue—“a total disgrace.” And the horse-drawn carriages that tourists take in and around Central Park are “completely disgraceful.”


epending on how you see it, Avella’s run for mayor is either one of the boldest, stupidest or most obnoxious moves a New York City politician could make. An Avella victory in November would depend heavily on a certain amount of despair and anger on the part of the electorate that has not appeared before. He would need hundreds of thousands of people in the city to be just mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. In the Democratic primary against Comptroller William C. Thompson and Rep. Anthony Weiner, according to a January poll by NY1, he gets 4 percent of the vote. But should he make it out of the primary, Avella does about the same as they in a head-to-head matchup against Bloomberg, according to the Marist poll released a few weeks later. Sure, the poll shows all three of them getting creamed by Bloomberg, but Avella points to their essentially equally poor performance as a sign of hope.


Besides a general frustration with the status quo, Avella’s politics can be a little hard to place. He comes from the far reaches of eastern Queens, an area more easily accessed by the Long Island Rail Road than the subway, and one of the city’s more conservative areas. He proudly points to the fact that he is the first Democratic Council member the area elected after the post-charter revision expansion of the Council in 1989. He is frequently described as a “conservative Democrat,” and gives off an air of being a populist in the mode of Lou Dobbs or even Ron Paul. When he joined the Council, he founded the Italian-American caucus, a move that struck many as a bid to stoke righteous anger among white ethnic voters who have watched their homogenous neighborhoods disappear. Early on in his tenure, he started a campaign to force store owners that cater to immigrants to add English to their signs, a fight that struck many people as silly and some as just offensive. But still, he was for marriage equality before being for marriage equality was cool, and is proudly prochoice (with a few caveats, like parental notification). In those 49-2 council votes, his only other partner is often Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), the former Black Panther who Avella supported when he sought to rename a street in Bed-Stuy after radical activist Sonny Carson. That may lead to some cognitive dissonance among many in Whitestone, but many progressives in the city believe him to be one of their own, especially since for the last eight years he has showed up to about every gathering of any group critical of Bloomberg and Quinn. Some of his most fervent battles have been with the Department of Buildings and with what he sees as the runaway development of the Bloomberg years. He is on a self-styled mission to save the fallen city from its own worst instincts, to bring the city back to the way it was, back when the job of government was to serve the people, not keep the city globally competitive. His is the voice of the small and of the local, of the city that existed before the current crop of glittering glass condos began to sprout like mushrooms. He is one of the most ardent preservationists in the city, putting him in line with a group made up more often than not of ladies who lunch from Manhattan. Avella is not one who sees the city as growing better with time. “For one thing, it’s much more crowded. Everything is much more expensive. In many neighborhoods a lot of the charm is being lost,” he said. “Queens has suffered greatly. That’s the cry I hear from most residents throughout the entire city, that the charm and character of the neighborhoods is just being destroyed and it’s all becoming one concrete village, and we are all going to be the same.” Surely, no one who has watched the city slowly morph these last several years into one gigantic food court broken up only by the occasional Duane Reade would consider these changes progress—but the question is whether such concerns can actually galvanize the city in these serious times. Avella could have run for the State Senate against a clearly vulnerable Frank Padavan (R-Queens) or even made a compelling push for public advocate. In fact, many people think the mayoral run is just a way to raise his profile for a future race for one of these. Either that, or to gratify his own ego. Avella denies this. “This is a mayoral campaign, it is not a Tony Avella campaign,” he said. “For me to spend more time hitting my head against the wall to resolve things that should be addressed easily, to make changes that should be done




FEBRUARY 23, 2009

based on merit, I can’t see it. You can’t get it done by being the borough president. It’s worth that once-in-alifetime chance—for all of us. I don’t think there has ever been a chance like this, where there has been a guy who talks out, who speaks out like me. It’s worth it to do that. All or nothing.” f his reception at the carriage horse rally is any indication, he has the animal rights vote sewn up. It is one he has been courting. Besides the carriage ban, Avella has worked to ban foie gras farms in the state and to protect the colony of Argentine parrots who escaped from an airport container years ago and now nest near Brooklyn College. But the League of Humane Voters is not, say, 1199, and cannot provide the money or the manpower that a union or other major political groups can. There are some things in his favor, though. In a primary against Thompson and Weiner, Avella would be the only white Catholic in the race, which many consultants would say counts for something. Plus, he would be the pick of the anti-development groups in the city, and the standard bearer for a lot of single issue-oriented voters who have seen Avella show up at their rallies and events around the city. Not that any of these tend to have a lot of money. “He’s definitely got a constituency among some disparate groups, but all of them are pretty small, and even if you combined them all I’m not sure you have enough to get elected,” said Democratic consultant Jerry Skurnik. “He’s definitely trying to do a guerrilla campaign. The question is, will he have the resources to compete with the other candidates?” The answer, Avella freely admits, is no. So far, despite three years of trying, he has raised just over $237,000, a fraction of the amount that the other two have, both of whom are expected to raise the maximum amount allowed. He combines forces with his wife, Judith, to pass out literature at his events. He refuses to hire a fundraiser or a high-priced consultant. “Consultants tell you that you need to spend 10-20 hours a week fundraising. I refuse to do it. What does a fundraiser do? They sit by you while you make the calls,” he said. “I promised the people in my district that I wouldn’t let this be a distraction.” Avella relishes making the distinction between his political ambitions and his work as an elected official. That makes for some odd arrangements, as when he appeared on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC last April, following the Council vote on congestion pricing. Whenever Lehrer asked about his vote on congestion pricing, Avella answered on his office line. Whenever Lehrer asked about the mayoral campaign, Avella hung up, and called back on his cell phone. “I cannot talk about the campaign on obviously city property, so we will have to then switch to my cell phone, and that’s good government,” he explained to Lehrer. He is equally rigorous about the often-ignored rule that says staffers cannot work on political campaigns. “You think Mike Bloomberg and Billy Thompson and Anthony Weiner do this?” he said one afternoon as he cleared a layer of snow off his car with his bare hands. “I love the way all of these politicians have these huge entourages with them wherever they go. I don’t even have a driver. What do I need a driver for?” When a journalist from New York came all the way out to his Whitestone office to interview Avella about the 2009 mayoral race, Avella insisted that the meeting take place at a restaurant across the street instead of in his office. He refused to give out his business card for fear that he would violate campaign laws. Then he cut the interview short in order to get back to work at his office. Avella believes this ultra-stickler approach will have its political benefits as well. “The only way we can beat someone who is going to spend $100 million on this race is to have a really anti-

politician campaign,” he said. “I’m the anti-politician. I’m the unpolitician.” Painting himself as the politician who refuses to be sullied by the dirty sausage-making of politics, he has made a show of distancing himself from money as well, refusing the pay raise the Council voted itself along with the $8,000 lulu he gets as chair of the Zoning Subcommittee. “Nothing is ever decided on the merits. It’s political and personal agendas. It’s ‘where is my next donation coming from.’ It’s money buys the influence and money rules this city instead of the people,” he said, adding, “I hate politics. I hate it. My definition of politics is you have to deal with people that in any other walk of life you’d cross the street just to get away from them. Politics is a disgusting business. I hate it with a passion.” He did not always feel this way. Avella has worked in politics his whole life, first for Mayor Ed Koch, then for Mayor David Dinkins, for the late State Senator Leonard Stavisky, and finally for his wife, Toby Ann. He ran for the City Council in 1991 and 1993 and lost both times, then methodically worked his way up the organizational ladder of the Queens Democratic Party, which he has basically ignored since he was elected. “It’s odd,” said one Democratic insider. “Here’s a guy who for his whole life was a skilled political player, and he gets elected to the Council and he forgets everything he’s ever learned in politics.” He has never lacked for gumption. Soon after first winning his Council seat, he made a brief bid for speaker. Then came 2003, when, in keeping with the sentiments of his district, he was one of just a handful of Council members to vote against Bloomberg’s property tax increase, despite some serious arm-twisting by the Bloomberg administration and then-Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan). That was the first disgrace. “That was definitely the first test for me,” he says. “That was the first time I had come face to face with a dilemma about what do you do. A lot of people said, ‘If

course of those years he developed an unrealistic expectation for what it would mean for his life and for the city,” a Democratic operative said. “When the reality didn’t match up to his expectation, he began to lash out at the political establishment that, ironically, had gotten him elected in the first place.” He supported Quinn for speaker in 2005—“I was the first person in Queens to publicly back her. Biggest mistake I ever made,” he said—but gradually evolved, colleagues say, into the Tony Avella of today, the guy who’s sure he is the only honest man playing the dirty game of politics in order to save the fallen city. These days, he is so unpopular among his colleagues on the Council that they vote down his initiatives merely to register their dislike of him. “He’s got this whole Joan of Arc bullshit about him,” said one. “You can piss and moan all you want that your bills don’t move, but at the end of the day that’s your fault. You can say it’s just politics all you want, but, my God, we are in government. Politics is the grease by which government moves.”


heir lack of support is exactly what validates the mission in Avella’s mind. So without them, without the support of the party, without money, without much of a base to speak of, without a political consultant on board, he soldiers on, hoping to stick his finger in the eye of the political establishment that is tired of him. What he wants is the backing of the people like those who attended the February candidate forum at the Three Parks Democratic Club in the basement of a youth hostel on the Upper West Side. He was invited on one condition: he had to let Thompson speak first. The comptroller made some connections with the crowd, received a smattering of applause when he spoke about lining up to vote for Barack Obama. Later, attendees complained that he was vague and flat. Meanwhile, they found Avella electric. And though Thompson barely acknowledged Avella’s presence and left right after his portion of the evening was done, Avella lit into the comptroller for, among other things, hedging on whether or not he takes money from real-estate interests. He had, after all, sat patiently off to the side for all of Thompson’s speech, avidly paying attention to what his prospective primary opponent had to say. Several times he was interrupted by applause and had to quiet the audience down so he could continue. “We need to take back City Hall! We need to reunite it back to the people of this city!” he proclaimed. “We have lost control of our government! We need a campaign that will send a message throughout the entire country that it’s not about money, it’s about people!” He proposed legalizing sports gambling in the city. He proposed taking the MTA under mayoral control. He said the first thing he was going to do as mayor was fire Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “And I’d be happy to tell him, ‘Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!’” Someone asked him about horse-drawn carriages. “I appreciate the fact that Comptroller Thompson said he would support the ban. That is the first time I’ve heard him say that. I wish he would have come to City Hall a couple of weeks ago and said that,” he said. “Because this is a disgrace! In today’s modern society we are allowing horse-drawn carriages in midtown Manhattan!” He got a standing ovation and was mobbed as he made his way to the door. “Inspiring,” said one middle-aged, professionally dressed woman in the hallway later as she clutched her chest. “I know,” another said. “I signed up to be a volunteer!”

Avella is not a politician who picks his fights sparingly or strategically, or limits himself to squabbles that affect his mostly white, conservative district in northeastern Queens. you vote against it, you are going to be punished.’ And I thought about it, and I says, ‘Why am I here? Am I here to do what I’m told or what I think is best for my constituents and the people of the city?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to do what I think is best, because in my opinion, once you make the other choice, you are absolutely lost.’ I will say, though, that it’s the first instance of politics being dirtier than I thought.” The punishment was fast and severe. He was stripped of his parking pass. His member items were slashed. His district was redrawn to make it even more Republicanfriendly. In 2005, two inspectors from the Department of Buildings came to his house to investigate an aboveground pool that they said was too close to the property line. (“Disgraceful,” he says of the incident. “It’s why the middle class is fleeing this city.”) There were others, though, who defied Bloomberg and Miller and lived to see another day. Not Avella. The more the powers that be ignored him, the more defiant he became, and the more, in turn, he was targeted. “Tony spent a long time trying to position himself to become an elected official in the city, and over the



FEBRUARY 23, 2009


Advocates, Developers Size Up Bloomberg’s New Housing Chief Skepticism and hope greet Cestero as he takes over HPD BY SAL GENTILE he city’s housing advocates are a tightly-knit group—”a little cabal,” as one put it. So when Rafael Cestero became the city’s new housing chief this month, they began scouring his past statements, searching for clues as to how he would lead the housing department through the spiraling fiscal crisis. Like etymologists sifting through ancient hieroglyphics, advocates and developers have been piecing together scraps of information to try to divine Cestero’s agenda, and their findings have sparked a debate over whether he is the right choice to head the department at a time of housing market turmoil. One quote that has begun to make the rounds in housing circles has offered an early and, to some, alarming glimpse into Cestero’s thinking on affordable housing. In a 2005 City Limits article about “inclusionary zoning”—a Bloomberg administration program that uses zoning laws to encourage the construction of affordable housing—Cestero seems to say that the market and for-profit developers can be trusted to solve the city’s lack of affordable housing. “Mandatory inclusionary housing is not the panacea people think it is,” said Cestero, then the deputy commissioner for development. “Mandatory doesn’t get you closer than a voluntary program, because in the end, development is voluntary.” The belief that “development is voluntary” has long been a controversial tenet of the Bloomberg administration’s affordable housing agenda. When the housing market was hot, advocates and policymakers say, the city could rely merely on incentives to get for-profit developers to build affordable housing. But now, as financing dries up and foreclosures skyrocket, many advocates hope the next commissioner will take a more aggressive tack, and are worried that Cestero will too closely follow the Bloomberg model of trusting for-profit developers to solve the city’s housing woes. “I think it comes from the opposite direction of where I’m hoping we’re going to go, which is, leaving the market to its own devices has not actually proved effective at providing for low-income people in terms of decent, safe and affordable housing,” said Dina Levy of the Urban Homestead Assistance Board. “That has a sort of ring to it that says, ‘If you leave the market to do this, it will do it.’ And that’s not the case.” But others who have worked with Cestero caution that he is not a Bloomberg ideologue, and point to his community development background as vice president of Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit affordable housing agency. Cestero’s boosters expect him to recalibrate the Bloomberg housing plan to rely less on incentives for developers and more on mandatory programs. “He has a strong background in community development and is familiar with the kinds of issues and projects we care about, which are neighborhood-based development and lowincome people,” said Irene Baldwin, executive


director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, who worked with Cestero when he was deputy commissioner. Cestero’s supporters point to a waterfront development project he oversaw in GreenpointWilliamsburg in 2005 as evidence of his commitment to affordable housing. After community activists protested the plans because they did not include enough affordable units, Cestero sat down with them and sketched out new plans that gave developers strong incentives to create housing for low-income residents. “At the end of the day, I think we achieved in Greenpoint-Williamsburg a deal that people felt very optimistic and felt good about, in terms of including and delivering affordable housing,” said Brad Lander, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development and a key figure in the negotiations. “[Cestero] developed a reputation amongst housing advocates as somebody who cared about affordable housing, who was a straight shooter.” Housing advocates and developers have also questioned how different Cestero will be from his predecessor, Shaun Donovan. While Donovan receives mostly glittering reviews from advocates, they almost universally acknowledge that his plans relied on the strength of the housing market at the time. A strategy that relies mostly on developers’ willingness to build affordable units, they argue, just won’t work in the current climate. Lander said Cestero’s experience in community development, as opposed to Donovan’s career at banks and think tanks, should ease housing advocates’ concerns. “Shaun comes more from a sort of affordablehousing-policy-wonk place,” Lander said, “whereas Rafael’s whole career has been from this community development center … This idea that neighborhood stakeholders ought to have a role in crafting community development strategies, that’s the world he comes from.” Though much attention will be paid to his affordable housing plans, Cestero is also likely to be tested by new problems that Donovan did not encounter as housing commissioner. His responses to those problems, advocates say, will likely provide the first real tests of his leadership. One such problem is “predatory equity,” in which landlords over-speculate on properties and then try to evict low-income tenants when they cannot pay. Housing advocates and policymakers are just now beginning to grapple with the problem of predatory equity as the housing market continues to tumble. Whatever Cestero’s response, advocates and developers agree that its impact on the city’s housing market will last for decades. “There will be generational impacts on not just people that have lost their homes, but people who have very deeply over-financed their homes,” said Michael Hickey, director of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, which is supported by the city. “We are very, very, very concerned about the impacts on those neighborhoods and the quality of life in those neighborhoods over the next 15 to 20 years.”




The weird and woeful mayors through hizz-tory

The Original Mogul Mayor TO PUT IT MILDLY, the first mayor of consolidated New York, Robert Anderson Van Wyck, was not too big on ethics. Van Wyck was tapped as Tammany Hall’s nominee in 1897 when Democratic bosses were looking for a yes man who would take orders from them. They found their man in Van Wyck, a former judge who was virtually unknown outside of Tammany’s back rooms. Described as a “colorless man” who detested public speaking, the New York Times headline covering his nomination stated simply, “Little Enthusiasm Shown.” To give credit where credit is due, however, in his first year in office Van Wyck brought a semblance of order to the chaotic finances of the newly consolidated city. He also turned the first spadefull of dirt on the metropolitan ROBERT ANDERSON VAN WYCK subway system. But in his second year, the 1898-1901 mayor got down to the serious business of engulfing his administration in scandal, stuffing his pockets with cash and generally destroying Tammany’s chances of a second mayoral term. (Not exactly what his benefactors had in mind when they chose him.) Possessed of both a prodigious mustache and appetite for wealth, Van Wyck’s political downfall came by way of a highly questionable business deal. In April 1899, the American Ice Company attempted to artificially increase the price of ice by doubling its cost. Not surprisingly, this did not sit well with New Yorkers who were fans of keeping their food cold, and a subsequent investigation found that American Ice held an illegal monopoly over the city’s ice supply. Unfortunately for Van Wyck, who had recently vetoed a bill that would have enabled competition from rival ice companies, the investigation also found that following the attempted price increase, he had received, for free, 5,000 shares of American Ice stock valued at approximately $12 million in today’s dollars. Oops. Not stopping there, Van Wyck became implicated in other scandals involving rampant police corruption and, in one case, a fake water supply company. Citywide condemnation of his administration spread, but despite an official attempt to have him removed from office, Van Wyck somehow managed to serve out his term before being trounced by Republican candidate Seth Low in the election of 1901. Following his ignominious exit from City Hall, the former mayor amassed a fortune of some $3 million, the equivalent of $74 million today. While New York’s current mayor might scoff at such a paltry sum, that made Van Wyck one of the richest New Yorkers of his day. Known as “a confirmed bachelor” and “man about town,” Van Wyck finally married in March 1906 on the same day he sailed for Paris with the intention to make his home there and generally “take things easy.” While never giving up membership in the posh New York clubs he belonged to, Van Wyck kept his word and lived out his remaining years in France until he died in his Paris home on Nov. 14, 1918. Random historical fact: while Sen. John McCain staked his presidential campaign on being “the original maverick,” the actual original maverick happened to be Robert Van Wyck’s maternal grandfather, Samuel Maverick, a Texas cattle rancher. Maverick’s last name coined the term that originally referred to cattle found loose without their owners’ brand, and could now refer to a politician wandering around without his party’s support. — James Caldwell



February 23, 2009

Classifieds JOB BOARD Manager - Lead Organizer Screen actOrS guiLd ESSENTIAL DUTIES & RESPONSIBILITIES: • Develop and implement internal/external organizing campaigns • Conduct outreach to potential employers • Conduct assigned research projects • Work with and provide support to appropriate committee(s) to develop and facilitate organizing efforts • Manage volunteers • Performs other duties as assigned REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS & ABILITIES: • Experienced organizer familiar with basic labor law as it relates to organizing • Experience working on strategic campaigns. Knowledge of traditional and non-traditional organizing methods • Research experience • Excellent bi-lingual skills • Knowledge of entertainment industry and SAG contracts a plus • Proficient in Microsoft Office Suite • Excellent leadership skills • Detail oriented with excellent analytical and problem-solving skills • Able to organize, prioritize and coordinate multiple tasks under daily deadlines EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: Undergraduate degree in Labor Studies or related field, and/or equivalent work experience in union organizing and/or campaign driven work of at least 2-5 years. Certificates, licenses, and/or registrations: Must have a current driver’s license with no infractions.

Assisting in all aspects of planning and executing press events Writing and editing press releases Drafting talking points, speeches, remarks Communicating with broadcast, print, radio and electronic media Other duties as assigned The Assistant Press Secretary will contribute to all media efforts of the Office of the Public Advocate. Areas of responsibility include writing and editing, pitching, research, message development, press event planning and implementation, and collaboration with policy staff. Additionally, the Assistant Press Secretary will be responsible for advancing media events on behalf of the Public Advocate’s press office as needed and arranging phone and on-site interviews with the Public Advocate. Skills: Strong writing and editing; excellent computer and research skills; organized, conscientious and detail-oriented. Must be able to multi-task. Knowledge: Understanding of media and communications, general knowledge of NYC media market, as well as NYC political landscape and local current events. Experience with podcasts, rss feeds, blogging, java/html script, indesign, and video editing a plus. 1-2 years in public relations, news media or public affairs preferred. Fluency in Spanish a plus. NEW YORK CITY RESIDENCY REQUIRED TO APPLY FOR CONSIDERATION, PLEASE MAIL YOUR RESUME TO INDICATING THE JVN#: Office of the Public Advocate 1 Centre Street, 15th Floor North New York, NY 10007 ATTN: Elba Feliciano, Director of Human Resources

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Press Unit 1 Centre Street, 15th Floor North New York, NY 10007 JOB DESCRIPTION: Assistant Press Secretary The Office of the Public Advocate seeks an Assistant Press Secretary to handle daily support functions in the press office. These include, but are not limited to: Monitoring media; compiling and organizing press clips Creating and maintaining press lists

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Embracing Senate Democrats, Skeptical of Bloomberg, 1199 Sizes Up New Role Health care union prepares to flex political muscles on behalf of new allies B y C hr is B r a g g


reaking up can be hard to do. But even though the 1199 United Health Care Workers East were for years bosom buddies with the Senate Republicans, the Democratic takeover of the chamber may make for a more fulfilling long-term relationship for the state’s most powerful union. “It’s not like the Republicans agreed with the ideals of 1199. This is a leftwing organization made up of black and Hispanic members,” said one progressive political operative who works closely with the union. “If 1199 had called Joe Bruno and told him, ‘We don’t have any more money,’ he would have turned around and closed 100 hospitals. So even though this relationship with Democrats is newer, it ends up being a stronger relationship.” Democrats say they are willing to accept that the union’s support that helped keep the GOP in the majority was based solely on advocacy for its members. “It was done out of an obligation to their members,” said State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn). “There’s no use picking a fight that will hurt your membership.” Savino said that during her 2004 Senate run, 1199 representatives held a meeting with her to apologize for endorsing her Republican opponent. “They told me that they didn’t like doing it,” Savino said, who before becoming a senator was political director for a chapter of the Social Service Employees Union. Politically, the union’s transition to a Democratic majority has been eased because many members of the Democratic Senate delegation are from safe districts in New York City, meaning that they never had to face down 1199. “I never had a problem with 1199, even when I was in the minority,” said State Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), who as Health Committee chair now has power over much of the policy which could affect union members. The ideological connection between Democrats and 1199 was on display recently when Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan/Bronx) introduced his “Fair Share Tax Reform” plan that would stave off some cuts for the state’s hospitals by raising taxes substantially for individuals making over $250,000. The bill was co-sponsored by 19 Senate Democrats. There were zero Republicans on the bill. The new relationship has involved getting used to some quirks. The union started a pricey TV ad campaign urging Paterson to implement a tax hike on the wealthy to close the $14 billion budget gap, but pulled it when the Greater New

York Hospital Association wanted to avoid antagonizing wealthy philanthropists who would be affected by those tax hikes, raising the ire of Senate Democrats. Meanwhile, the union will no doubt continue having an outsized influence in local New York City races. Money was the primary glue that held state Republicans and 1199 together in New York City Council primary races dominated by Democrats. But the union’s greatest resource has always been manpower. A legion of highly motivated members can be unleashed to campaign on behalf of chosen candidates. 1199 recently threw their support behind Debi Rose’s (D) candidacy in Staten Island’s 49th City Council district special election, for instance, and promised that thousands of members and retirees in the district would phone bank and go door-to-door for her. “They’re very influential because they have the bodies—the manpower— to make phone calls, to be the foot soldiers,” said Rose’s spokesperson, Roy Moskowitz, adding that he believes 1199’s support could make the difference between winning and losing the race. The union’s support could also play a role in the mayoral race. In 2005, Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned down 1199’s endorsement after the union tried to muscle him into putting 25,000 home health care workers on the city payroll in exchange for the endorsement. Whether the union will endorse one of Bloomberg’s opponents this time likely depends on how viable the Democratic nominee appears to be. Jennifer Cunningham, the union’s former political director, said she expected 1199 would wait and see how the race shapes up before deciding about an endorsement. In 2010 legislative races, meanwhile, 1199 is likely to slough off allegiances borne of convenience and exert even more power. In past state legislative races, many rank-and-file 1199 members would not mobilize for Republicans. But the new alliance with Democrats could energize 1199’s base to work for Democratic Senate candidates in the same way it has worked for progressive candidates in City Council races. As for the GOP, while the break-up may be painful in the short-term, one Republican strategist said the result may be a better party over the long haul because the supposed party of fiscal conservatism will no longer have to stand by as health care costs rise. “It may have helped us hold on to the Senate for a few more cycles, but it ruined the Republican brand,” said the operative of the party’s relationship with 1199. “In the long term, it’s going to be better for the relationship to end.”



FEBRUARY 23, 2009


Paying Big Bucks, Citywide Campaigns Log on to Web 2.0 Hopes to replicate Dean and Obama online organizing efforts abound

BY ANDREW J. HAWKINS ramed in New York Mets-orange and blue, the website for Council Member Eric Gioia’s (D-Queens) public advocate campaign features a shifting slideshow of different Gioias: Eric Gioia helping high school students perform a science experiment, Eric Gioia hanging out nonchalantly in a t-shirt and jeans with working class folk, Eric Gioia speaking at a rally with the city’s political elite at his back. There is also a multiplicity of Bill Thompsons (D) on his mayoral campaign website: Thompson grinning, Thompson at a rally, Thompson looking purposefully into the distance. Powder blue with the city’s skyline as background, the site invites users both to contribute (big red button) or raise money (not-as-big gray button). Council Member David Yassky (D-Brooklyn), running to succeed Thompson as comptroller, has a big green button to solicit contributions. At the top, Yassky, looking relaxed with his sleeves rolled up, poses next to a hybrid taxi, a not-so-subtle reference to the councilman’s environmental credentials. Though not everyone running for office this year has shown quite the same interest in being on the Internet, many are embracing the tools of Web 2.0, turning to Facebook and Twitter to communicate with voters on top of—and at times, instead of—stumping at subway stops and printing campaign bumper stickers. Still, there are big bucks involved to make everything run smoothly, even for those who have not invested in the Flash animation and other sleek features that are part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s (Ind.) re-election site. Already, Thompson has paid Blue State Digital $32,000 for development and consulting, according to campaign filings. Council Member John Liu (D-Queens), a candidate for public advocate, spent over $21,000 in Web-related expenditures, mostly going to InterCreative. For many candidates, waging an effective and multifaceted online campaign can be a way to actually save money, even as they write sizeable checks to tech firms to oversee their Web presence. “When you look at the cost of communicating over the Internet compared to communicating by other media, I think it’ll be a cost-effective part of the campaign,” said Yassky, who has spent over $13,000 so far on Web management for his comptroller run. Yassky added that cost-savings can be found when the online portion of the campaign dovetails with


This year, candidates clearly see their Web strategy as interthe more traditional (and expensive) twined with which firm they hire to develop that strategy. communications strategy comprised of television and radio advertising and door-to-door campaigning. He and other candidates, for half-dozen-or-so candidates for public advocate. example, are inviting supporters to register their names and While candidates expect to have a website that engages addresses so that the campaigns are able to build them into and involves potential voters, the influence of the web their database to stay in contact. team is growing inside the various campaign offices. The hot company so far this year is Blue State “We’d prefer to be involved at the message-setting Digital, a Washington, D.C.,-based firm made up of level with the organization,” Mintz said. “You get veterans of Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign that boasts more bang for your buck if you can reinforce Internet both Thompson and Yassky as clients. The group also messaging with the messaging the traditional news and spearheaded Barack Obama’s online operation, widely public relations arm of the campaign is pushing.” seen as the most Internet-savvy Until he was picked up by Blue campaign to date. State, Yassky had been working “You get more bang with Media Mezcla LLC, a company Even aides to Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Ind.) for your buck if founded by Ben Schaffer, another attempted to set up a meeting of the Dean campaign. you can reinforce veteran with Blue State Digital, but the Schaffer said that competition Internet messaging is strong between different company declined the meeting, citing their relationship with with the messaging Web firms, especially in New Thompson. the traditional York, where the politics is bare Thompson said he wanted knuckled and where techies seem news and public to outnumber politicos. Blue State Digital on board to relations arm of design a website that allows “There are a number of firms users to decide how they the campaign is that are well known,” he said. want to support his campaign there’s only a limited number pushing,” said Rich “And for mayor, whether through of candidates.” Mintz, vice president donations, volunteering or If Thompson and others are through social networking for strategy at Blue successful in using the Web tools like Facebook, Twitter State Digital. to organize support for their and LinkedIn. campaigns, they will have “A website is not just achieved a paradigm shift in how something to get contributions,” Thompson said. “It’s candidates run for political office on the local, citywide to engage people, involve people and get them to level. But there are some that are still skeptical that the engage others.” 2009 candidates fully grasp the power of the Web. Rich Mintz, vice president for strategy at Blue State “They’re all pretty typical,” said Andrew Rasiej, a 2005 Digital, said the firm spoke to eight citywide candidates public advocate candidate and tech guru, after glancing in total before deciding to sign on with Yassky and at some of the 2009 campaign websites. “Most campaign Thompson. websites still tend to look like brochure-wear with a In choosing to join both campaigns, Mintz said his donate button.” firm took into account the viability of both candidates, Those seeking office this year would be wise to do more as well as their commitment to using the Internet as a than just hire Obama’s Web managers and hope for the best, serious communications tool. Rasiej added. Using the Internet to change the message Candidates for City Council, however, were not campaigns are trying to sell would be a good first step. considered. “So many candidates, especially here in New York, have “We can’t really provide the same level of value at the been trained to make their campaigns about ‘supporting City Council level just because the population is smaller,” me,’” he said, “as opposed to ‘supporting you.’” said Mintz, adding that talks were still ongoing with the





FEBRUARY 23, 2009


of Politics

The Movie Mayor d Koch has appeared, either as himself or a character very much like himself, in 10 movies and many more television shows, but so far, no one has ever played him on the silver screen. If there is ever a film made about him, he has some casting suggestions: “I used to say I wanted Paul Newman, and then when he reached 70, I said, ‘He’s too old.’ I prefer Leonardo DiCaprio.” Koch would argue that he should know. A serious movie buff, he has been writing reviews since the summer of 1991 that have become a quirky New York fixture, appearing first in The West Side Spirit, and then in a succession of weekly newspapers and in the inboxes of all the people who have made their way onto his e-mail list. He finds the screen too small, he says, to watch movies on DVD or television, so his diet for regular movie consumption is whatever is currently in theaters, except when a classic may be playing at the Film Forum, his favorite local theater along with the Quad Cinema and Cinema Village. For nearly 50 years, he has been going with his old friend, former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who recalls that their first time in the theater together was to see Lawrence of Arabia—for which they were stuck in the front row for fight scenes and all. But though they go together every week, Stern said, he cannot keep up with Koch’s voracious movie appetite. Saturday nights, the former mayor goes with his sister and other friends. In the following edited and condensed conversation, he explains his method, why he prefers Irish movies and reflects on appearing in Woody Allen’s piece of New York Stories.

I enjoy the movies. I am not an auteur. I am not a professional. I just tell you whether I like them or I dislike them. In fact, I’ve changed the rating system. Most people who review do something from like zip stars to four, or even five these days. I only do plus or minus. I either liked it or I disliked it. It’s hard to say ‘I liked it two stars or three.’ It doesn’t make any sense. I go every Friday night, almost religiously, as if I were going to synagogue. And I generally go with a friend whom I’ve known for close to 50 years. I have asked him to write a closing paragraph, giving his opinion, which he does. I’ve never measured how many times he agrees or disagrees, but I would say he does both. And he has a quirky approach to movies, and I think it adds to my reviews because you get the two views. I have a radio program every Friday night. And anyone who wants to listen to that I urge them to. Bloomberg Radio, 1130 on the dial, 6 to 7 every Friday night. And so my movie on Friday night, the timing is always a little difficult. It has to start no earlier than 7:30 ’cause I have to get there. Saturday night’s not a problem, but Friday night the movie has to start—sometimes I can do a 7:15 movie ’cause



you have an additional 10 minutes for all the Ed Koch, pictured on his way into his weekly Friday night previews and so on. movie at Quad Cinema, said he enjoys a lot that the city When I go to the movies, I sit on the left has to offer, but nothing beats the movies. because … on the outside seat on the aisle, because I think it gives you a much better picture of the whole screen and you’re not blocked by the first night. I was the only one picketing. So now someone in front. At least that’s what I have found, if I was to picket—and I’m not—you don’t picket the as opposed to sitting in the middle and then you get movie, you go in and see the movie. You just don’t buy stuck with some guy who’s got the biggest head in the popcorn and the soda. That’s 10 bucks! America. I take no notes. I go to the movies, let’s say with When I was mayor, I led a boycott of movies when H.S. on a Friday night, and after the movies we generthey raised their price from six to seven dollars. I said ally go to Chinatown. He likes to eat cheap food. Good at the time I’ll lead this boycott every night, but the food, but cheap. And there’s nothing cheaper than minute there’s no one behind me, picketing with me, Chinatown. And we’ll discuss the movie. But I make I go into the theater and watch the movie. That was no notes, and I don’t write it that same night. I believe

Koch on the Best Picture Nominees The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I sat in Benjamin Button for the first hour, totally bored and saying to myself, “I should leave, I’m wasting my time.” But I never leave a movie before it’s completed. I think it should be and is a critic’s rule, because it may change. This is the first time it ever happened to me where the movie changed, and I was happy that I stayed. The balance of the movie—and it’s a very long movie—was superb and well worth staying there. I think it’s a movie worth seeing even though the first hour bored the hell out of me. Milk

Milk was excellent. Sean Penn is one of those whom I criticize for his political holdings. He seems to love Chavez as those on the radical left. I say to myself, “Why do I go and enrich him?” But he did a spectacular job. The acting was extraordinary and whoever did the makeup, I mean, he looked like Milk. And then I went—there was a red carpet event in the Village after the movie opened, and I met Milk’s family. It was very nice. They came over. It was very, very nice.

in the one that she’s touted for—Revolutionary Road—I didn’t like Revolutionary Road. But The Reader, I had read the book and I had forgotten I had read the book, and as I’m watching the movie, I said, this is familiar. And then it dawned on me. Frost/Nixon

I thought it was wonderful. I know Frank Langella. I tell you how I first met him. I met him at Orso. So I’m with friends and we’re sitting in that restaurant, and we’re chatting about a play we had seen which wasn’t any good. It was terrible. We were saying that. And there was somebody at the next table and it happened to be Frank Langella. And when we’re going out, I walked over to him and introduced myself. And I said, “I saw your play and it was wonderful”—I don’t remember which one it was at the time. He said, “You did?” I said “Yes.” He said, “You know, I was sitting here and I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation and I could just hear parts of it, but I thought you were discussing me when you were talking about this terrible play that you had seen tonight and my heart was sinking.” I said, “No.” And from that we became friends. But in Frost/Nixon, he was incredible.

The Reader

I really liked The Reader. I thought she [Kate Winslet] did a wonderful job. I didn’t think she did such a wonderful job

Slumdog Millionaire

That’s the best movie I’ve seen in many years.

CITY HALL that your brain works while you’re sleeping to figure out things, so I write it the next morning. I get up early Saturday morning. I get up around 6 o’clock and the first thing I do is write my review. I write them in bed on a pad. Then I come in on Monday and give it to my secretaries and they do it and then I edit it and send it to whomever I’ve seen the movie with to edit if they want to oppose an edit and to write a closing paragraph, if they’re so minded. There’s got to be something that I take from the story. Now for example, I gave The Wrestler a minus. It’s a marvelously acted movie, but I left saying, why did I come and give up two hours to see this, the dregs of life. I mean, the acting was wonderful, but I came away feeling wasted in time and intellectually. A regular reviewer would have given that a plus, but I explain it in the review why I didn’t. I like small movies. By that I mean, a small, well-done plot. Generally foreign if possible. American movies are quite good, but I love Irish movies, frankly. Some of the movies that are foreign are just stinkers. I just saw a couple, one was a Philippine movie—it was awful. And the reviewer liked it—the Times reviewer liked it. I often chastise the reviewers. I’ll quote some statement that they made extolling the movie that’s just ridiculous, based on my having seen the movie. I don’t want to rate them—my colleagues. I don’t want to do that. I respect them. I don’t agree with many of them too often because I depend on them to make sure that I’m not going to waste my time. And I find—I don’t really know if this figure is an accurate figure, but I tell it to people—I say, 40 percent of the movies that I see that have been reviewed with gushing reviews by other reviewers, I find to be total bores. But that means 60 percent are okay, and it also means that I don’t see the movies that they near unanimously agree are no good. I don’t go to those movies, with some exceptions. I will go if I particularly like the actors. Johnny Depp is a brilliant actor, and I go to see his movies whether—occasionally they’re panned, rarely, but they are, and I go anyway. Just as I go for Woody Allen. I was in one of his movies. He called me when I was mayor to ask if he could use Gracie Mansion for one of his scenes. I said yes. I was living there at the time. Then he said, “Would you consider being in my movie?” I said, “Sure, what’s the part?” He said, “Well, you’re defending as mayor the right of a woman to fly over this city using her arms, not in a plane.” I said, “Yeah, sounds good to me.” So I was in his movie. I think we did it on the second take. It was only one scene, and it was at Gracie Mansion and the scene was me having a press conference in which I defend her right from a civil libertarian point of view, to fly over the city. He said, “There’s no script, say whatever you want to say.” Then a year goes by, and I see him at Elaine’s. And I walk over to him at his table. He was then with the young woman he later married. And I say to him—I’m still mayor—I say to him, “Mr. Allen,”—like I was a little boy—“do you remember me?” I was still the mayor. He looked at me like I was nuts. He said, “Of course!” I said, “Did I make it? Or did I end up on the cutting room floor?” He said, “No, you were very good.” And I felt like a million dollars. I have about 5,000 people on my list. And I get it, simply ’cause when I’m sitting somewhere at a restaurant or just the other night at an event fundraiser for something, people come over and chat and I gently will say, “If you want to get on my commentary list, just give me your e-mail.” “Oh, I don’t have a card—” “Write it ou,t I’ll take it.” I learned it from Henry Stern. He has a list of more than twice that. But what I always say about my list is, what bothers me is, that they like my movie reviews more than they do my commentaries based on the mail I get. Although, some say they like my commentaries. I like to write. It’s not painful for me. Now I don’t claim I’m a great writer. I’m a good writer. You can make good writing better by editing over and over again, which I do. But I enjoy writing, and I have written 14 books, except two I wrote with my sister—those are children’s books. So 12 non-fiction books. I wrote them and I wrote everything in them, which I’m proud of, and I write my columns. I write them. There’s lots of people in public life that put their names on writings who haven’t written them, so I’m proud of that. And in terms of amusement, you know, some people like to go to hockey games, others to the theater. I’ve been to both, but I prefer the movies. —Edward-Isaac Dovere

FEBRUARY 23, 2009

he four hulking, amorphous sculptures that showed up in City Hall Park last December are not part of some effort by art-loving Mayor Michael Bloomberg (Ind.) to unload some of his collection to raise money for his re-election bid, but the latest installment from the Public Art Fund, scheduled to be in place through April. “It Sitting,” “It Standing Up,” “It Up” and “Her Leaving” are the names of the four large-scale, brightly colored bronze figurative sculptures by New York-based artist Robert Melee, who said he designed them to be open for interpretation and non-gender specific (except for “Her Leaving”). Though he started with mannequins to produce a human form, the original shapes are buried under layers of multi-colored paint, the features blurred to abstraction. “Her Leaving,” by Robert Melee, is one of Melee, an artist whose work in the abstract figures in the latest installment film, photography, performance, by the Public Art Fund in front of City Hall. sculpture and painting has been on display around the globe, lives and works in New York and New Jersey. He began making figurative sculptures in 2005. Melee made the City Hall Park sculptures in a foundry in Portugal. “I just felt that it was time to make some kind of stationary representation of what I’d been doing with form in the past with those other mediums,” Melee said. “I wanted them to be as psychologically charged as the films and the photographs and the performances, but not as obvious.” Ultimately, their meaning is meant to be elusive, he said. “There’re no answers,” Melee said. “They’re just suggestions on psychological states.” And Melee seems to have succeeded in making people stop and take notice. “I think they’re interesting,” Tiye Sheares, a student, said while contemplating the pieces one recent Sunday. “But I don’t know what they’re supposed to communicate.” “I thought it looked like melting wax,” said another weekend stroller, Isabel Simos. “Or crayons!” “But it’s nice to see the color in the park in February,” added her daughter, Demetra. The Public Art Fund, which last exhibited the work of world-renowned artist Alexander Calder, wanted to take a different tack with Melee’s art. “We really wanted to present something this time by a less established artist,” said Rochelle Steiner, director of the Public Art Fund. The fund, an independent non-profit art organization, has been doing exhibitions in City Hall Park since 1978. This is the 19th one, marking the program’s 30th anniversary. The project was made possible with support from the September 11th Fund. Melee had no strong feelings about his work being displayed in City Hall’s front yard. “My work doesn’t have any political genre to it,” he said. “But I think they look great there.” —Julie Sobel




My Pick n 2005 the New York Public Library sold the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. To me I thought that was big, when I heard about it and read about it and spoke to [New York Public Library President and CEO] Paul LeClerc about it, it really touched me, you know what I mean, I was very upset about it. And I just thought because it was a portrait of George Washington, his face that’s on the dollar bill, he [Stuart] painted portraits for a number of dignitaries, like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson. It’s something that you don’t get very

I By Council Member Dominec Recchia, Cultural Affairs Committee chair


often, you know what I mean? And it was a painting that everyone could relate to. And the thing was that I did some research into it. It was a gift, I looked into the estate law and stuff, to see if we could keep it like that. Because it was a painting given, I learned, from Alexander Hamilton, and Hamilton gave it to his grandson, and the grandson gave it to the Astor library. The New York Public Library combined all these little library systems. When the Astor Library became part of the New York Public Library system, they got to keep this beautiful

painting, this Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington. And George Washington’s wearing a black velvet suit, and he has a sword across his lap, and it’s just great detail. And there’s so much to it. And I just thought it was something the New York Public Library should have kept. It’s something everybody could relate to, everybody could enjoy, it has meaning. Every child knows who the first president of the United States of America is. Now they know who the 44th one is too. But who’s the 21st, you know?


February 23, 2009


Presidential Welcome for Pint-Sized Obama Figurines

andrew schwartz

Jailbreak Toys’ coveted Barack Obama action figures were on display at January’s New York International Gift Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The display included limited-edition gold electroplated “Inaugural” (right) and Shepard Fairey-inspired “HOPE” figures (top right).

Politics Get (Slightly) Raunchy At Planned Parenthood Event At an event billed as an opportunity to talk sex and politics over cocktails with New York officials, one Council member took the invitation quite literally. Standing in front of a crowd of Planned Parenthood supporters, Council Member Robert Jackson (D-Manhattan) praised the city’s efforts in handing out free condoms, and noted that even if they were not free, he would still be in the

about the things that impact you,” said Jackson. “We need to teach our children, at the appropriate level, about sex education, about reproductive health, about the differences between male and female.” And perhaps sensing that he was not being explicit enough, Jackson highlighted those differences. “All the things that come with it,” he said, “like penises and vaginas and all of that stuff.” In response to some nervous tittering, Jackson struck a defiant pose. “I’m not ashamed to talk about it!” Fortunately, though, without Jackson’s bold statements about anatomical differences, the event would have just been another stuffy politicsand-cocktail affair.

IB-Uh Oh market for, well, more than a few. “I’d buy a hundred,” Jackson said. “I’m joking of course.” As the laughter died down, Jackson said that open communication between family and friends about sex is essential to remaining safe and healthy. He praised Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), who was also in attendance, as one of the standard bearers of openness in dialogue about reproductive rights. “You cannot be embarrassed to talk

The Independent Budget Office seems to be having a little trouble crunching the numbers on this fiscal year’s city budget options. In IBO’s “Budget Options for New York City,” released in mid-February, the agency estimated a savings of $25 million annually by implementing a plan eliminating the pension payment system for employees of private cultural institutions. But the IBO overlooked dozens of

employees from city child care centers who also take part in the same pension system. The city will still shell out $25 million this fiscal year to the forgotten child care workers. The IBO has revised its proposal, saying the plan will now save the city only $8 million. No word on whether there will be an independent watchdog assigned to double-check the IBO’s budget figures in the future.

Nadler Proposes Filibusters, Primaries, Prosecuting Cheney Speaking to a crowd of supporters who gathered for a Feb. 18 fundraiser, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan/ Brooklyn) expressed his frustration with the Republicans in the Senate who have been stymieing legislation so far and threw down the gauntlet: force them into filibustering, he said. “They could only do that once or twice a year,” he said, adding that after those filibusters, the Democrats could pass their bills with the 51 votes in the Senate. In the meantime, he said, Democrats should start looking at their own ranks and starting to think about pushing conservatives out of their conference. “Now that we have a majority in the Congress, and a nice majority, I think people need to start paying attention to

primaries,” he said. He also railed against the Bush administration’s violation of civil liberties and said that he believed in prosecuting several key members. “I don’t think we have any choice— we have to have an investigation, and if there’s something, prosecute,” Nadler said. He pointed out that Eric Holder said in his attorney general confirmation hearings that he believed waterboarding was torture, and that former Vice President Dick Cheney said openly that he had authorized waterboarding. “We’ve been backed into a corner at this point,” Nadler said. “Now that there’s an admission by an official that he did what the attorney general defines as torture, we must prosecute.” Amid the discussion was a light moment, when former Democratic National Committee Chair and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, on hand for the event, was asked what he thought of the Obama administration’s health care plan. “I don’t have to say this—as you painfully know, I’m not in the administration,” he said, referring to the still-open spot for secretary of health and human services that he has not been offered. “But I actually think Obama’s bill is terrific.” —by Edward-Isaac Dovere, Andrew J. Hawkins and Nicole Turso




February 23, 2009

: Concerned Citizen

ith a worsening financial crisis threatening to swamp the city, this year all eyes are on the budget negotiations. Carol Kellermann, however, always has her eyes on the budget. As the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a non-profit, nonpartisan fiscal analysis organization, Kellerman has her hands full keeping track of the $4 billion gap in the city’s budget and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposals to make up for the loss in revenue due to the economic downturn. Kellermann talks about what makes this an election year budget, the idea of furloughs in New York and how the upcoming budget negotiations are likely to unfold. What follows is an edited transcript.


because it’s not a structural change. It’s kind of a one-shot. Oh, we have this budget gap, let’s just tell people not to work a few days. It doesn’t solve the problem in the long run. It doesn’t reduce the size of the work force. It doesn’t reduce the size of payroll. It’s an emergency kind of measure, and I don’t think we have a short-term problem here, we have a long-term problem. The size of the work force in New York City, the tax base is being eroded. The financial sector is not coming back to the way it was before. It’s going to be a different animal completely at a lower level in terms of revenue, and we have to deal with that. We can’t deal with that by furloughing people, so I don’t like it as an option, but my point about it is that [Bloomberg] has no proposal about large-scale contributions by current public employees other than the health benefits, which he doesn’t have any specifics, he just says, “I hope we will come up with ways to save money on health insurance and I am asking them to contribute something toward their premiums.”

andrew schwartz

City Hall: How does this year’s budget compare to other election year budgets? Carol Kellermann: It’s just different because of CH: How do you see this unfolding in the next our situation. There are many more unknowns. His few months as the Council negotiations get [Bloomberg’s] budget tends to be fairly specific. Here, underway? he’s got placeholders—$900 million dollars for sales CK: I think it will change. First of all we’ll know how tax. He doesn’t say, “I want a sales tax and here’s the much money the state is going to get from the stimulus legislation and here’s how it would work.” He says, package and how much is coming here. … You have the “I don’t know, if we have to have a tax, here’s an idea governor’s budget and what he does with it. And does of a tax. I can tell you how much money we need to he in fact pass through all of that education money come from a tax and I can suggest this one but it’s to New York City or does he allocate it elsewhere? not really a concrete plan.” It’s much more openSo I think it’s going to change a lot. I think that the ended, and he’s saying, first of all, we need to see As president of the Citizens Budget Commission, $900 million-plus sales tax placeholder is going to how much we really need. And second of all, it has to Carol Kellermann has her hands full keeping track change a lot. We have to see what kinds of taxes are be discussed with the Council, with the Legislature. added by the state legislature. It could be the payroll Now maybe to some extent, the presentation is being of the $4 billion gap in the city’s budget. tax for the MTA. There are a lot of taxes and fees that influenced by the fact that there will be an election, the governor proposed which people don’t like, so if could be done. You can change health benefits for current so it’s a little more conciliatory and diplomatic, but I think it’s because there are so many unknowns. That’s one employees, and he’s talking about that. He proposes about they don’t pass those, they’re going to pass other things. placeholder. Then he’s got, “Well, I hope we’re going to get $500 million for reforming the current employee health Everybody’s talking about the wealthy people’s tax; I don’t $700 million from the state, but if we don’t, we’ll have to do care but I don’t know what the details are. He had $200 think you can call it the millionaire’s since they’re talking something in terms of layoffs in the schools.” But it’s not million in the budget for that for two years and he hasn’t about going to $250,000. That’s the upper middle class. On “this is what we will do.” So it’s a little more of a road map come up with anything. Now he’s made it even higher and the one hand everybody wants to increase the amount of there, I think, election year or not, he’s talking to the unions income that you can have and still stay in a rent-stabilized than a budget. through the budget and saying, “Hey guys help me out here. apartment to $240,000 because those are middle class I have to plug this hole. Help me come up with ways. If you people. But if they earn $10,000 more, they’re wealthy and CH: Does that strike you as wishy-washy? CK: I wouldn’t describe it as wishy-washy. The timing is don’t like my proposals, come up with something.” But in let’s raise their personal income tax. I don’t know. But all very difficult for the city and he’s required to submit the this respect you might, your criticism that it’s not as direct of that is going to change, how much you can tax without budget in January. I think it’s interesting that he waited and affirmative as it should be has some validity. There’s making it really so burdensome that people just leave New until the actual last day in January. If you check back, nothing about wage freezes. The governor’s I don’t think the mayor does his budget on the last day proposed a wage freeze. You look around the of the month, the last business day. I think if he had his country, everywhere, every state and large druthers, he’d rather wait it a couple of months. It’s always city, is talking about wage freezes. On Long true that things are contingent on the state budget, and the Island, [Nassau County Executive] Tom state budget doesn’t get done in time, and so you have to Suozzi is talking about 7 percent reduction build in some contingencies. But here, I think about the in wages so you wouldn’t need a sales tax federal stimulus package, which everyone sees is going on increase if you could get concessions from hot and heavy right now. I think he did it because he had public employees. He doesn’t have anything like that, no York City, and I think the mayor is sensitive to that. And to do it. And I think it’s honest to do it that way. I’m not, furloughs, no four-day work weeks, no nothing. He hasn’t the Council, I’m sure, doesn’t want to do the sales tax. really, maybe I’m not as critical of his budget this time as really asked employees to give up anything, now he’s kind of edging up there with this health insurance thing, and CH: But the Council already approved a property tax you would expect. there could be more. But I think he is trying to get them to increase. CH: Citizens Budget Commission released a report come to the table and work with him instead of pounding CK: They had to, they felt they had to. I think they’re going a month ago about compensation for city workers his fist and antagonizing them. But if it doesn’t work, we to be angry if they have to do more, but they might. As I said, his budget is more of a starting point for discussion exceeding $107,000 per employee. How much of this may be back with something much more harsh. than a final budget, and I would suspect that nothing much budget is aimed at correcting this? CK: This is not a harsh budget for city workers. He has the CH: What about the idea of furloughs? California really concrete is going to happen in negotiations with proposal to change the pension system but only for new has already instituted a two-day-a-month furlough the Council for a couple of months. They’re going to be watching the state. employees, so that doesn’t affect current employees. The for state workers. pensions are required, there’s a constitutional provision. So CK: I don’t know. I see that it’s happening in other places. — By Andrew Hawkins it’s only for future employees. There are some things that It’s not a preferred method from the CBC point of view

“I don’t think we have a short-term problem here, we have a long-term problem.”


City Hall - February 23, 2009  

The February 23, 2009 issue of City Hall. Targeting the politicians, lobbyists, unions, staffers and issues which shape New York City and St...