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New York jumps on 'brandwagon' with 'State of Opportunity'

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:07am


Education is orange. Public safety is smoky gray. And only the governor gets to use the Great Seal.

These visual commandments and hundreds more are contained in an 87-page branding bible that last week was distributed to every state agency to support the concept of New York as the "State of Opportunity." The motto and its accompanying logo "will be mandatory for agency and/or program communications," according to the handbook.

Don't be surprised to see the new brand logo — a registered trademark — used Thursday, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other leaders gather at the Capitol to announce the winners in the fourth round of Regional Economic Development Council grants.

The result of more than two years of research and development, the state's branding push is one project within a $217 million contract that has already seen the reboot of the I Love NY tourism campaign, a national effort to spread the word about the START-UP NY program, and (with help from $37 million in federal funds) a set of ads designed to show that regions damaged by recent catastrophic storms are back in business.

Completed under the aegis of Empire State Development Corp., the branding project was handled primarily by the New York City-based advertising giant BBDO. It received a soft launch last month with the redesign of the state's official website,

The branding kit shows the change as a pyramid built on a foundation of existing "brand values" — the perception of New York as progressive, diverse and resilient. The more aspirational brand "personality" rises from the foundation by showing the state as "Inspiring, Dynamic, Compassionate and Authentic."

"Telling New York's story as a state of opportunity for those seeking to live, work and start a business is a top priority of this administration, as is making government more accessible to New Yorkers," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi in an email. "This redesign is a reflection of both those efforts."

But if that philosophy is the beating heart of the branding effort, its skin and bones consist of strict rules for how state agencies present themselves visually, in everything from brochures and banners to business cards and media-kit flash drive casings.

In addition to specifying typography, font size and rules for positioning state logos — they may not be tilted, ever — the guide establishes color palettes for eight general categories of state agencies and government entities, from those providing health and human services (purple) to divisions handling recreation and the environment (olive).

Only a few "legacy logos" will be preserved — including I Love NY as well as existing tags for the New York Lottery, the MTA and the StartUp program. The use of the state's oldest logo, the Great Seal, will be "available for use only by the Governor's office or with permission of the Secretary of State." The state coat of arms will be used in legal documents such as vehicle registrations.

Design resistance is futile: "Because these elements and their relation to each other are so essential to the New York state brand," the booklet states, "the guidelines around these primary brand elements are very specific and not open to much interpretation."

John Greening, an advertising veteran who teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications, said the level of detail in branding guide was similar to that found in the ad kits that companies such as McDonald's distribute to franchisees to ensure regional ads chime in with national efforts.

"States turning to brands is not all that surprising," said Greening, whose work for advertising powerhouse, DDB Worldwide, included the popular "Whassup?" ads for Budweiser. "I wonder what took them so long. ... You have an asset and you want to use that asset."

Branding, he said, creates an expectation in the customer for their experience — whether the product is a meal or the provision of state services.

The "I Love NY" campaign, for example, was "a great rallying cry — that's about setting the expectations for tourists when they come to New York."

Greening noted even a unified and rigorous branding campaign can't convince people of something that isn't there. "Brands are evaluated by customers on their authenticity as well as their consistency," he said.


Categories: State/Local

Stefanik receives key pick for fort

Albany Times/Union - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 1:07am


Rep.-elect Elise Stefanik has been appointed to the House Armed Services and Education and the Workforce committees, she said Wednesday.

"It is critical for Fort Drum and the entire 21st Congressional District to have a voice at the table to fight on behalf of our military families and veterans," Stefanik, a Republican, said in a statement of her Armed Services Committee appointment. "It is an honor to follow in the footsteps of Reps. John McHugh and Bill Owens in advocating for our troops and veterans stationed in the district and in our surrounding communities."

The committee assignment is fitting for a 21st district representative because the 12-county district includes the Army's Fort Drum, near Watertown.

She also represents parts of Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties.

Of her Education and the Workforce appointment she said, "I look forward to working with members on both sides of the aisle to ensure our graduates and local workforce are in the best position possible to grow our economy in the North Country, as well as keep America a strong competitor in the global economy."

Stefanik also was selected last month to serve on the House Republican Policy Committee.

She defeated Democrat Aaron Woolf and Green Party candidate Matt Funiciello in the general election.

Categories: State/Local

New Term Limits Legislation Headed to City Council, for Community Boards

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 12:00am

CMs Dromm, speaking, & Kallos, far right to intro new legislation (photo: William Alatriste)

The New York City Council will once again see a bill on term limits introduced, although this one is not likely to be as controversial as the last time.

On Wednesday Council Members Danny Dromm and Ben Kallos will introduce legislation to impose a six-term limit for members of Community Boards, capping tenure at 12 years. Currently, community board members can serve as many two-year terms as they wish, so long as they continue to be approved by their respective borough president.

"Communities change and I believe Community Boards should change also," Council Member Dromm said by phone Tuesday evening. "I applaud those people who spend 30 or 40 years on a Community Board, and I thank them for service. But I do think we need to move things around."

The bill would not affect members currently on the boards, only those elected to a first term on April 1, 2016 or after.

"Many more New Yorkers should have the opportunity to serve on their local community boards and share their valuable perspectives," Council Member Kallos said by email Tuesday. "I want to create a culture of mentorship and knowledge-sharing, so residents who have been on for a long time can help train new members as they move to an informal role."

The city's 59 Community Boards represent slightly smaller areas of the city than city council districts, of which there are 51, and focus largely on qualify of life issues. But Community Boards also play a vital role in the land use process (also known as ULURP). Developers must see their projects passed through Community Boards before getting them to the City Council. The Boards are the first line of defense for projects and often the best place to negotiate things like affordable housing, park space, or schools in exchange for development.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer served on Community Board 7 in Manhattan for years before being elected to the City Council. During her time on the Community Board, she said the Board heard numerous highly complicated land-use proposals. Brewer, who is not supportive of the bill, said the veteran board members with years of institutional knowledge were vital.

"The expertise on that board is what enabled us to get 500 units of affordable housing [for Riverside Center]," Brewer said by phone Tuesday. "Without [the veterans'] land use experience we would have been overwhelmed by the developers."

She argued that if a board member was not fulfilling their duty then they should be removed from the Board. But she warned, "Without that kind of expertise, the developers will have a field day."

Kallos argued term limits don't have to be an end to participation on the Boards for members.

"Residents who have served a long time on the boards as well as community groups with knowledge and expertise can and should continue to mentor and train newer members, so that more individuals can have the chance to join the boards and serve their communities," Kallos said.

Dromm said he understands it takes a while to understand the process and structure of the Community Boards which is why the bill is looking at a possible tenure of 12 years, not the eight years imposed on elected officials (he was quick to reassure he had no intention of changing term limits for elected officials).

While institutional knowledge is certainly useful, Dromm said, new people bring new ideas—and that's not always a bad thing. He pointed to 2001 when 37 of the 51-member city council body were elected to be freshmen due to term limits. He said the new group came in and navigated the city through one of the worst periods in New York City history.

"It is important to have people with some institutional knowledge, but I do feel like 12 years is enough on the Community Boards and that others should be given the opportunity to have input in the direction of the community," Dromm said.

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

Council Bill Seeks Better Data on City's Military Veterans

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 12:00am

Council Member Paul Vallone (photo: William Alatriste)

Collection of data on the city's military veterans could become more robust if a pair of Queens Council Members gets their bill through the City Council.

Council Members Paul Vallone and Eric Ulrich, chair of the Committee on Veterans, are co-sponsoring a bill they will introduce to the Council on Wednesday that will require several city agencies to report on services they provide veterans. The bill would provide much clearer data on the types of services veterans are taking advantage of and could show the City where it needs to direct more resources.

"We need to ensure that every veteran who comes home to NYC is given every opportunity to prosper," Council Member Paul Vallone said by email Tuesday. "This data will go a long way towards allowing the Council and administration to make effective and fruitful efforts at ensuring that veterans are taking full advantage of the services offered to them."

As written the bill, a copy of which was reviewed by Gotham Gazette, would require the following data be reported:

-the total number of veterans residing in Mitchell-Lama housing
-the total number of applications received by HPD for Mitchell-Lama housing with at least one veteran
-the total number of vending licenses provided by DCA to veterans
-the total number of veterans who submitted an application to DCA for a vending license
-the total number of veterans residing in NYCHA housing utilizing a HUD-VASH voucher
-the total number of veterans receiving services through HRA-operated job centers

The bill would require the data be reported to the Director of the Mayor's Office of Veteran Affairs, the Veterans Advisory Board, and the City Council no later than the Jan. 30 of each year.

The data being requested could help clear up some longstanding issues in the veterans community related to housing. Data collection on veterans in the city has been spotty at best, leading advocates to guess where resources are needed and at times question statistics provided by the City - including, recently, of the number of homeless veterans the City claims.

"If the preference veterans have for HUD-VASH and Mitchell-Lama housing is consistently being underutilized then this data, including data from other agencies providing services to veterans, needs to be aggregated and given to the Mayor's Office of Veteran's Affairs (MOVA), the Veteran's Advisory Board and the City Council so that the proper outreach can be made," Vallone said.

A hearing on the bill, if there is one, would happen in the veterans committee and occur sometime in the new year.

by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

De Blasio's Next Campaign: Municipal IDs

Gotham Gazette - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 12:00am

(image via IDNYC website)

With ambitious goals and an attractive list of cultural benefits, the city's new municipal identification card program, dubbed IDNYC, will launch next month.

Recently, Mayor de Blasio announced the latest rules and criteria for the program, established as Local Law 35 in July, including documentation that will be required to apply for the card, which will be free of charge in 2015. The card will also ensure free membership to over 30 New York City cultural institutions, an impressive list that the City has told Gotham Gazette it is already in discussions to expand.

As the calendar turns to 2015 and the card becomes available, the City is preparing another marketing campaign in the mold of ones it ran to announce the implementation of the paid sick leave law and vastly expanded pre-kindergarten offerings. There is also the ongoing campaign to lure the 2016 Democratic National Convention to New York, of course.

The municipal card rollout will include the opening of 12 "IDNYC Enrollment Centers" around the city - the locations of which have not yet been announced. The "campaign" has recently seen a shot in the arm through the unveiling of a new logo, the launch of a specific Twitter account (@IDNYC), and the start of community-based public forums, including one in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, hosted by City Council immigration committee chair Carlos Menchaca, a major force behind the ID movement.

New York's will be the largest such municipal ID program in the country. Hailed as a progressive move to integrate the large undocumented immigrant population of the city, the program will provide access to city services and will be accepted as identification by the NYPD. Applicants will not be asked their immigration status upon applying for the card.

At a December 5 press conference, the Mayor and his two top commissioners tasked with implementing IDNYC laid out the application procedures for the ID along with strong regulations on preventing fraud and protecting the information collected by the Human Resources Administration (HRA) for the card.

"We want New Yorkers to feel proud to carry this card in their wallet," de Blasio said after explaining that "A great deal of analysis and care went into ensuring our IDNYC card is strong on privacy and security, while providing access to as many people as possible."

De Blasio and members of his administration seek to stress the security and the benefits of the card, both for the ears of undocumented immigrants living in the city as well as the larger population. A major part of the push behind the IDs will be to ensure that they are not just a card for the undocumented and that there is no stigma attached.

The application for the card will require point-based proof of identity and residency similar to the system employed at the Department of Motor Vehicles, with certain provisions in place for homeless New Yorkers who apply. Among the data protection provisions, specific guidelines have been put in place to protect vulnerable applicants such as survivors of domestic abuse. An appeals process was also established for applicants who are denied a card.

These rules were implemented through executive action by HRA Commissioner Steven Banks, partially in response to feedback the City received online and at a public hearing in October.

The ID will be available to all New York City residents 14 years and above regardless of immigration status or homelessness. It will be free for the first year and valid for five years after that. The cost for successive years has not yet been determined, said city officials.

In promoting the card, the administration announced a number of incentives, chief among them being partnerships with 33 of the city's largest cultural institutions, including museums, art galleries and zoos, which will provide benefits and discounts to those with a municipal ID.

Ryan Max, director of external affairs at the Department of Cultural Affairs says the 33 institutions are simply phase 1 of the program and that an expansion can be expected in 2016. "In phase 2, I'm sure we'll see a lot of other cultural organizations providing similar benefits and many have already expressed interest in participating."

The 33 participating institutions are a part of the Cultural Institutions Group (CIG), a system of public-private partnership. They are situated on city land, which they utilize rent-free, and receive energy and operating subsidies from the City. For 2015, CIG members were allocated about $109 million from the Department of Cultural Affairs' total expense budget of roughly $157 million.

This cultural partnership does come with a few caveats though. The municipal ID isn't a membership card and people will still be required to sign up for individual memberships at the cultural institutions. Although the free partnership program expires at the end of 2015, the memberships will last a year from the date of signing up. Also, those who already have memberships or had been members of an institution in the last three years will not be eligible, although they will receive discounts at other institutions where they were not members. "We wanted to make sure we weren't eating into that existing revenue stream," said Max.

(Although it is highly unlikely that any one person will sign up at all the 33 institutions, the program calculates a total $2100 discount for anyone who does.)

The Cultural Affairs department does not expect a heavy financial burden from the program and does not have projections yet for the number of people expected to sign up in the first year. City officials, who said they could not reveal their internal targets, said a number of announcements would be made in the next few weeks to spread the word about the municipal ID and it's expanded benefits.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Note: this article has been updated with more accurate figures on the CIG and DCA budget numbers.

Categories: State/Local

Yet another call for inquiry

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 1:07am


Monday it was the attorney general, and Tuesday it was the state Senate's Democrats calling for the creation of a special prosecutor vested with power to investigate cases of unarmed civilians killed by police.

At a Capitol news conference, the Senate's minority conference announced the introduction of a bill, sponsored by Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, that would establish an office of special investigation within the state attorney general's office to review criminal offenses committed by police that lead to the death of an unarmed civilian. If passed, the bill also would allow people to petition for the office to take over investigations in special circumstances.

The Democrats also called for $75 million to be set aside in the state budget to fund body cameras for police.

"The tragic death of Eric Garner ... and many others around the country have led communities like the one I represent, who need the most policing, to not trust the people who are supposed to serve and protect," said state Sen. Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx. "The reason why I stand here with my colleagues and, most importantly, we're doing it here in Albany, is to remind our colleagues across the hall, those over there that believe in law and order and believe in justice, they have to recognize that for law and order to work, it has to be just."

Rivera's call for bipartisan support was echoed by others Tuesday, though the chamber's Republican majority may not be listening. At least some Senate Republicans have indicated that the justice system is fine the way it is. State Sen. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn, told the Daily News on Monday that while he and his colleagues will look at anything, "You don't want to fix something that's not broken."

Golden was also supportive of the current grand jury process, a sentiment echoed by state Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, last week.

"From my experience as a former prosecutor, the grand jury process works well most of the time," the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said in a statement. "If one's motive is to politicize and/or intimidate the grand jury process, then it does not work."

A Senate Republican spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on the Democrats' proposal.

The battle shaping up for 2015 may be joined sooner if lawmakers return to Albany this month.

"I would hope we would not have a special session that did not address these issues," Stewart-Cousins said.

In interviews last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, mentioning police diversity, transparency, body cameras and district attorneys' roles in the grand jury process. In a CNN appearance, he said the review should include questions about district attorneys' role in these types of cases.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked Cuomo to grant him the power to investigate these types of cases moving forward on Monday, though a Cuomo spokeswoman was noncommittal.

The Democrat-controlled Assembly has passed a myriad of police reforms, including bills prohibiting racial profiling and allowing the attorney general to investigate and prosecute alleged police misconduct. Another bill that would allow the attorney general to investigate and prosecute all alleged crimes committed by police officers, regardless of if they are connected to their regular duties, is currently being drafted, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, a Westchester County Democrat, announced Tuesday.

" ... We look forward to working with our colleagues to finally enact laws that will ensure strong community relations between residents and police," said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

No terror link seen in Jewish center stabbing

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 1:07am

New York

A man with a history of mental illness slipped into the headquarters of a major Jewish organization in Brooklyn in the middle of the night and stabbed an Israeli student in the head as he was studying in the library.

Then, as the screaming, bloody victim was taken away, the attacker lunged at police with his knife and was shot and killed, authorities said.

Calvin Peters, 49, could be seen on amateur video waving the knife inside the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights at around 1:40 a.m. on Tuesday after the attack on 22-year-old Levi Rosenblat. Rosenblat, wounded in the side of the head, was in stable condition.

Police said the stabbing was not believed to be connected to terrorism. But it shook the Jewish community, still reeling over an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinian cousins last month that left four worshippers and an officer dead.

"The entire Jewish community is impacted by these cruel and senseless attacks," said New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose Brooklyn constituents are largely Orthodox Jews. "How can we help but be reminded of the recent, horrible tragedy ... which left five innocent people dead?"

At least one witness said he heard Peters repeatedly saying, "Kill the Jews!" according to Rabbi Chaim Landa, a Chabad-Lubavitch spokesman.

Police were still interviewing witnesses, but quoted Peters as saying instead, "I'm going to kill all of you." The case was not immediately classified as a possible bias crime.

Chabad-Lubavitch is a large, worldwide Hasidic movement that runs schools, synagogues and other institutions and reaches out to nonobservant Jews to encourage them to embrace their heritage and religious traditions.

It is active on college campuses and in cities around the globe.

Peters had wandered into the building earlier Monday and was ushered out, then returned after midnight and asked: "Do you have any books in English?" before he was escorted out again, police said. The building, which also contains a synagogue, is open 24 hours a day.

Chabad-Lubavitch officials said security at the building was tightened after the stabbing. They would not say what measures were in place at the time of the attack.

Categories: State/Local

AG seeks civilian death review

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 1:07am


As protests stemming from the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner continued around New York and the nation, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Monday asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo to grant him the temporary power to investigate and potentially prosecute cases in which unarmed civilians are killed by police officers.

Brown was shot in August by a police officer during an altercation in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson; Garner died in July after being placed in a chokehold by officers who spotted him selling untaxed "loosie" cigarettes on Staten Island. Both men were African-American.

Over the past two weeks, grand juries considering both cases decided against indicting the officers involved, prompting public fury in the streets and leading many critics to charge that the district attorneys involved were too close to local law enforcement to remain objective.

In his letter to Cuomo, Schneiderman said that while the "overwhelming majority" of county prosecutors are conscientious and capable, securing public confidence — especially among minority groups — requires reform.

"That erosion of trust and confidence must be addressed, and it must be addressed now," the attorney general said at a New York City news conference, where he was flanked by advocates and elected officials.

Schneiderman's letter, dated Monday, noted that Cuomo has ample executive authority to supersede local district attorneys by appointing the attorney general to investigate and, if sufficient evidence is uncovered, prosecute.

In the news conference, Schneiderman said the law dictated that the attorney general's office was the governor's only alternative prosecutorial option, and that intercession by the governor was the only option for local district attorneys concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest in such cases.

Schneiderman's request for an executive order did not appear to be a collaborative effort with Cuomo, a fellow Democrat (and former attorney general) who has had an often chilly relationship with the governor.

Relations have been especially strained since last spring, when Cuomo shut down his Moreland Act commission to investigate public corruption, a body that included numerous members Schneiderman had — at Cuomo's request — appointed as deputy attorneys general. The circumstances behind the commission's shutdown is being examined by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Though Cuomo last week called for a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system in the wake of the Garner decision, a statement issued Monday afternoon by his spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa was noncommittal on Schneiderman's request.

" ... (M)eaningful change will require thoughtful dialogue and a real top to bottom review with criminal justice experts, community stakeholders, and police, prosecutorial and judicial representatives," she said. "We are reviewing the attorney general's proposal as we pursue this broader approach that seeks to ensure equality and fairness in our justice system."

Schneiderman's proposed change would allow the attorney general to involve himself only in future cases, and the expanded role would expire as soon as the Legislature takes action to reform the current system.

A number of possible fixes have been proposed by lawmakers, from allowing judges to assign special prosecutors to empowering the attorney general to investigate and prosecute any crime committed by a police officer.

Those measures have all been offered by Democrats. In the state Senate — a chamber where Schneiderman once served — any legislative fix would have to be approved by incoming majority Republicans, who tend to ally themselves with the interests of law enforcement.

GOP Sen. Marty Golden of Brooklyn, a former New York Police Department cop, was quoted in the Daily News on Monday saying, "I personally think there's no changes to be made."

In his news conference, Schneiderman said the failure to take action immediately "carries an imminent risk of danger."

"When the trust between the police and the communities they serve and protect breaks down, everyone is at risk," he said.


Categories: State/Local

PEF hails job classification ruling

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 1:07am


A major state workers union is declaring victory in a job-classification turf war, although it remains unclear if the state would appeal a trial court ruling that would add 250 members to the union's ranks.

"This ruling is very welcomed and very just," Public Employees President Susan Kent said in a statement regarding Albany County state Supreme Court Justice Francis Collins' recent decision.

The decision upheld an administrative board's conclusion that the new employees should belong to PEF, which represents 54,000 predominantly white-collar state employees.

The Governor's Office of Employee Relations had tried to block an earlier opinion that the workers should be unionized.

About 90 of the newly hired people were budget analysts assigned to oversee spending in the various state agencies.

Joe Sano, executive director of the Office of Management and Confidential Employees, said that due to their oversight roles it makes sense to keep some of those people in management ranks. OMCE represents those non-unionized workers, who have for years complained about stagnant wages in comparison to their unionized colleagues.

"Many of those positions, we do believe, should remain in management. Others should not be," Sano said.

It wasn't clear if the state would appeal the court decision.

Civil Service spokesman Ed Walsh was out of the office on Monday and couldn't be reached.

This wasn't the only legal fight that PEF has had with the Cuomo administration, and it doesn't appear likely to be the last. Union officials say they plan to fight in court a decision that they say limits health insurance buyouts available to state employees.

Under an agreement in their current contract, PEF members are supposed to receive buyouts of up to $3,000 for family coverage if they give up the state health insurance benefit because they have insurance from another source, such as a spouse.

But because the state has interpreted that other source as being outside their workforce, it would mean a PEF member couldn't get the buyout the spouse also worked for the state and had similar insurance coverage.


Categories: State/Local

Hospitality trade likes tip credits

Albany Times/Union - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 1:07am


With a deadline looming for recommendations on how to address tipped wages, hospitality associations are calling on the state Labor Department's wage board to hold the line on the minimum wage for tipped workers.

The board, which was convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July, will hear from advocates on both sides of the argument at noon Tuesday at the Harriman State Office Campus. Little new information is expected to come from the hearing, the fourth to be held across the state.

The board is due to offer recommendations on the wage by February. The idea has long been that tips make up the difference between workers' wages — often less than minimum wage — and the minimum wage for the rest of the workforce. But with an incremental wage increase to $8.75 an hour set for the end of the year, some in the hospitality industry who previewed their testimony Monday are saying a boost in tipped wages could hurt employers' abilities to pay other workers.

"Our concern is that if there were a change to the tip credit, that would provide less opportunity for us to provide good wages to the back-of-the-house employees, the non-tipped employees, who by law are not allowed to take advantage of tips," New York State Restaurant Association President and CEO Melissa Fleischut said.

The tip credit allows employers to use a certain amount of tips as credit against the minimum wage. Employers fear that if an abolishment of the credit is on the table after Dec. 31, they could see labor costs rise dramatically. If the credit was done away with altogether next year, tipped employees would stand to make $3.75 more per hour than they currently do.

The hospitality industry argues that the current system works fine because if tips don't help employees reach the minimum wage, employers are supposed to make up the difference anyway. But workers and pay equity advocates argue that employers don't always make good on that requirement.

"I am here today to say that $5 is not enough to live off of," Carlos Tenemea, a Spanish-speaking busboy from New York City, said through an interpreter at an Albany news conference in July. "We need justice. It's incredible to me that in the 21st century, people in New York are still living in poverty."

While those advocates want the wage board to recommend a pay increase, hospitality industry advocates say better wage enforcement would be the right step. Scott Wexler. Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association executive director, called on the wage board to recommend that the Labor Department continue to pursue wage theft enforcement. He said there also needs to be better education about and greater awareness of the requirement for employers to make up the difference for employees who don't earn enough in tips. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

The 2014 Republican Victory for New York State Senate: Impressive...and Fragile

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 12:00am

Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos (photo: Skip Dickstein/Times Union)

The decisive GOP return to control of the New York State Senate has been attributed to many causes: disproportionate resources, clever campaign tactics, individual candidate strengths and frailties, the coattails of a nationwide "Republican sweep." All are plausibly contributory to this impressive Republican win. Most important, however, are these four structural and tactical factors: gerrymandering, a strikingly smaller electorate, selective voter drop-off among those who turned out, and systematic statewide inter-party coalition building.

New York did its typical bi-partisan gerrymander in 2010. Republicans designed the Senate districts; Democrats did those for the Assembly. Nonetheless, in 2012 there were a number of unexpected GOP losses in areas of rapid demographic change, for example the Hudson Valley. After his vote for same sex marriage, long time Dutchess County GOP veteran Senator Steve Saland was knocked out in a three way race. In a neighboring district across the Hudson, Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk used late big-money backing to win by a hair's breadth. Republican victories this year in both of these same GOP designed districts might be regarded as "a return to gerrymandered normal."

The electorate was unexpectedly small. A smaller electorate favors Republicans, who are disproportionately in demographic groups that are more likely to vote. The reasons:

First, the usual: It was not a presidential year: Turnout in New York is always lower in the even numbered years in which we elect a Governor than in those in which we elect a President.

This said, turnout was a million votes lower in 2014 than in 2010, the previous gubernatorial year. Why?

There was an incumbent governor running, with little perceived competition. The top of the ticket race thus did not bring voters to the polls. Andrew Cuomo also benefitted from the deterrent effect of a massive political bank roll and a record that appealed to right-center voters. Though he ran a lively campaign, Rob Astorino, the Republican candidate for governor, suffered from the self-fulfilling prophecy problem. He was written off early and relentlessly by analysts as an under-funded sure loser.

Many normally Democrat voters were mad at the governor: disaffected government reformers and social-activist liberal Democrats to his left, public employees in the center.

Additional evidence that Democrats disproportionately did not vote is that low turnout was not evenly distributed across the state. About half the proportion of eligible voters in overwhelmingly Democrat New York City (21.1%) cast ballots compared to voters outside the city (42.6%).

Politics generally is in disrepute. A November, 2014 Pew Research Center report documented that trust in government continued at "historic lows." Stay-at-homes may not participate because "voting 'just encourages them.'"

Add in another usual pattern, down-ticket voter drop-off. About 10% of the people who came out to vote cast no ballot in a Senate election. We can't tell what party each of these 381,000 voters might have favored, but we know that these down-ticket dropouts lived disproportionately in Long Island and upstate districts that elected Republican Senators.

All this resulted in a Republican total for Senate candidates (1,355,591) about 175,000 greater than Rob Astorino's for Governor, and just 26,385 fewer than cast for all Senate Democrat candidates in this dark blue state.

Then there's what New York pols call "the cross." Cross-endorsed candidates for office in New York may run on multiple party "lines." While much attention focused on whether the Republican/Independent Democrat (IDC) coalition would persist following the election, there was little given to the systematic pre-election coalition that the Republican Senate campaign effort cemented with the Conservative and Independence parties. The Republicans wrote off 15 Senate districts entirely (13 in NYC), and had mere token candidacies in at least another seven. This left 41; in 34 of these GOP candidates, whether challenged or not, had both the Conservative and Independence Party ballot lines. With few exceptions, Democrats with the Independence line were either unchallenged or IDC members.

The total Conservative vote in Senate races (251,103) exceeded that on this line for the race for Governor. The Independence total for Senate contests (185,427) was more than double that for Andrew Cuomo at the top of the ticket, even after removing Mark Grisanti's 21,826 votes in the unusual four-way contest in Erie County's Senate District 60. Almost all of these third party votes went to Republican Senate candidates.

Focus on these particulars brings into question any prediction of an incipient GOP resurgence in New York State politics. Many senior Republican Senators are aging; so are many of those who voted for them. Republican Senate candidates got clear majorities of those that turned out in fewer than half the districts they won (15 of 32) and in nine of these there was no Democrat on the ballot. If patterns hold, as they likely will, the 2016 New York electorate will be about two million or more voters bigger than that of 2014. And specific circumstances in the presidential race - e.g. a Hillary Clinton candidacy - may drive the New York participation up even further. Cross endorsement is volatile, and sometimes two edged. The base of GOP power in New York State government is still most fragile. If the GOP planning to protect its win did not begin on the morning of November 5, 2014 (the day after Election Day), it started too late.

Gerald Benjamin, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, is director of the Center for Research Regional Engagement and Outreach at SUNY New Paltz (CRREO).

Sadie Godlis, a major in Political Science, is a student researcher at CRREO.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max:

Categories: State/Local

The New City Council: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t in 2014

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 12:00am

Council members and the mayor celebrate a budget deal (photo: William Alatriste)

Horse carriages, chokeholds, and plastic bags. Legislation on these topics has recently been introduced to the New York City Council and shown marked division among its members.

"We look forward to a spirited debate," Council Member Rafael Espinal said in response to the introduction of a bill to outlaw horse-drawn carriages in New York City at the most recent full-body city council meeting, on December 8.

Espinal's comment came after he expressed his disapproval of the ban and on the heels of several other council members, including the bill's lead sponsor Danny Dromm, speaking either for or against the legislation. Dromm introduced the much-hyped bill at the request of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The horse carriage bill will not be voted on until 2015, if at all, but it could provide for one of the rare instances when a bill comes through a council issue committee (it will be evaluated in transportation) and to the full council without near-unanimous support of the Council's 51 members, 48 of whom are Democrats.

The City Council has also recently seen the introduction of several bills related to NYPD practices and one outlining a fee on plastic grocery bags that could all also lead to closer votes than any the legislative body has taken in all of 2014.

Dozens of bills have been passed this year by the New York City Council, a total of 72 through December 8, and the most opposition any single bill has seen is six 'nay' votes. Even this level of opposition, six against, has only occurred on three of those 72 bills.

(Note: six of the 72 were overrides of vetoes by Mayor Michael Bloomberg; four of the 72 have not yet been signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio)

None of this means that there hasn't been strong opposition to bills, of course. In its first year under the leadership of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and with more than twenty freshman members via term limits and the 2013 election cycle, the new City Council has seen a total of 590 bills introduced thus far in 2014. The vast majority of bills do not come to a full council vote.

To round out the year, several more of those 590 may be voted on during the Council's final full-body, or "Stated," meeting of the year set to take place on Wednesday, Dec. 17, and there is also likely to be new legislation offered. Many bills, such as those regarding the horse carriages and plastic bags, will be taken up in 2015.

With 2014 nearing an end, the new City Council has shown in its first year some similarities and some differences to previous iterations. A Gotham Gazette review, including conversations with the speaker and several other council members, as well as analysis of legislative data, indicates several findings:

  • As has been the practice for years, bills virtually never make it as far as a Stated meeting vote if there is any chance they will not pass. The vast majority of bills approved by the Council pass unanimously, or nearly so.
  • Council members openly express opposition to bills through statements, but there continues to be little public conversation between or among council members who disagree.
  • There has been a marked change in key aspects of the council culture: as Mark-Viverito and many of her colleagues promised, the City Council has become a more democratic entity, a new era ushered in by a change in leadership and important internal rules reforms.
  • The Council is largely dominated by its left wing, which is embodied by its Progressive Caucus, co-founded by Mark-Viverito in 2009 and officially including 19 members.
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio and Mark-Viverito are close allies and it is unclear how much the speaker is willing to disagree with the mayor or promote legislation that he has not signed off on.

Culture Change
Several council members, including some that were not initially supportive of Mark-Viverito's bid to lead the body, indicate that the Council has become more open and inclusive under her leadership. Reforms of the Council's internal rules passed in May have been roundly applauded by council members, good government groups, and others.

Council members say they no longer fear retribution for opposing the Speaker, as was alleged under Christine Quinn and her predecessors. This largely has to do with the rules reform enacted this year that changed the way discretionary funding is doled out to individual members. Under Mark-Viverito, member items are no longer allocated largely arbitrarily. Rather, there is a clear process that includes an objective formula through which disbursements are made.

"I was here in the last administration under the former speaker and there is not a question that this speaker is very welcoming in terms of discussion and debate," said Council Member David Greenfield, a Brooklyn Democrat who calls himself a moderate. "I think we have a pretty significant shift where in the past dissent was not tolerated and I think that under this speaker's leadership, if anything, she has embraced opposing viewpoints and has been very open to having conversation about literally every issue coming in front of City Council."

"Most importantly, there retribution, where in the past when individuals wanted to vote 'no' or wanted to speak out, there was fear of retribution that is not the case now," Greenfield added, stressing that implementation of rules reform was essential to this shift.

Mark-Viverito expresses pride over the changes she has helped spearhead, and many council members, including veterans like Greenfield, are quick to express praise, touting how refreshing they find the new normal.

"I'm very proud of the time that I've been the speaker in the change that we've implemented," Mark-Viverito said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of inclusive dialogue on any agenda we develop, how we discuss bills, a lot of healthy debate....A bit different than what it was when I was not speaker."

Among the key changes she has brought to the Council is the rules reform package, all but guaranteed during last year's speaker's race and passed in May. The measures aimed at greater transparency, public engagement, and empowerment of issue committees and individual members. The speaker has also made what many describe as an extraordinary effort to engage council members one-on-one, visit their districts, and create opportunities for robust discussion around policy.

"The speaker has gone out of her way to address concerns of individual members," said Council Member Mark Weprin, a Queens Democrat who ran for Speaker against Mark-Viverito. "She made good on her promise to baseline staff money. She has democratized and certainly has leveled the playing field for everyone."

The sense that emerges is that dissenting opinions, albeit not always effective in bringing change to bills, are at the very least being heard more than in the past. Mark-Viverito told Gotham Gazette that she has been very conscious to hear the Council's Republican members, including them in many deliberations and on the budget negotiating team that deals with the mayor and his team.

While council minority leader Vincent Ignizio declined to be interviewed for this article, his fellow Staten Island Republican Steven Matteo said that Mark-Viverito has been open to Republicans' feedback and to new legislation they have introduced. "There are times when we're going to agree and times where we'll disagree," Matteo said, "But we're always looking to work together on the Council."

Council Member Antonio Reynoso is a new face on the Council but has been around City Hall for years as an aide. He is also a member of the Progressive Caucus. "The reforms are the best thing that has happened to the Council and I am impressed with how the speaker has stuck to her word, " Reynoso said. "In the past, some people wouldn't be heard at all. [Rules reform] opened it up and brought less politics, especially with the discretionary funding. There will always be an element of politics, but we have done a good job of bringing more parity into the Council."

While it is clear that the Council has become more collegial and council members are much less fearful to express dissent, the Council is not necessarily a hotbed of internal debate.

Disagreement and Debate
"Given the nature of the City Council being so overwhelmingly Democratic and like-minded with the [de Blasio] administration, by the time legislation gets to the floor, there's not a lot of debate," said Queens Council Member Rory Lancman. "Everything's already been hashed out and negotiated."

Lancman, a Democrat who just moved from the State Assembly to the Council, added, "The City Council is also much less partisan and much more collaborative [than the Assembly]. The minority (Republican) members seem to be involved in the [Council] legislative process as much as Democratic members. I think their views and opinions are as valued and considered as anybody else's."

Most semblance of council "debate" tends to take place at committee hearings, and bills go through at least two hearings before being put to a vote - though the second hearing is often only the vote itself. During hearings, dissent is almost exclusively expressed by outside entities there to testify - whether they be representatives of the mayoral administration or advocates. At times, council members take pains to explain their dissenting votes on a piece of legislation when those votes are being tallied, either in committee or in front of the full Council.

"Debate rarely occurs on the floor of the Council," Weprin told Gotham Gazette, "it's usually done behind closed doors." He added about this new council, "But there hasn't been a lot of disagreement, there hasn't been a lot of discourse because there hasn't been a lot of opposition."

Lancman, who is often one of the most engaged and inquisitive council members at oversight or bill hearings, said he'd like to see members have time to question sponsors on legislation when they introduce bills at Stated meetings.

Naturally, the Progressive Caucus, which Mark-Viverito co-founded, seems to dominate the legislative process. Its members appear closely aligned with Mayor de Blasio and there has been the appearance of a nearly lock-step relationship between Mark-Viverito and the mayor - the two have heaped praise on each other on numerous occasions and the mayor was a key factor in the speaker's ascension to that role. But moderate Democrats have not shied away from challenging their more liberal colleagues.

Espinal, of Brooklyn, is one of the more moderate Democrats in the Council (though he and most others often align with progressives, whether they are part of that caucus or not). Espinal believes members' opinions are being taken into account - a theory which will, of course, be tested on the horse carriage ban which he opposes and Mark-Viverito favors. "The rules reform package was passed to make the Council more transparent and it's now a lot easier for members to express concerns on policy," Espinal told Gotham Gazette. "The speaker and bill sponsors do not take lightly their colleagues' opinions."

Espinal, who like Lancman joined the Council this year after time in the State Assembly, is becoming known to speak out against the issues championed by progressive caucus members, raising concerns over the proposed horse-carriage ban and now taking umbrage with a proposal to introduce a fee on plastic bags - something Greenfield and several other members have also expressed opposition to.

Espinal, Greenfield, and Lancman are among the more moderate Democrats who have at times dissented. Other Democratic voices of dissent have included Council Members Paul Vallone, Chaim Deutsch, and Vincent Gentile, each of whom also represents a district in the further reaches of the so-called outer boroughs. Council Member Dan Garodnick, of Manhattan, was one of six 'nay' votes against a bill to supplement school bus driver income and has shown no hesitation to ask tough questions regarding legislation, but Vallone, Deutsch, and Gentile have voted in the minority several times, usually alongside the Council's Republicans and often on bills related to law enforcement.

Vallone, Deutsch, and Gentile joined with the Council's three Republicans to vote against two bills sponsored by Mark-Viverito aimed at reducing New York City cooperation with immigrant deportation efforts by federal authorities. These two bills and the bus driver bill were the three to see the most opposition (six against) in 2014.

For his part, Gentile, who represents a part of Brooklyn that has voted Republican in the past, also says the Council is in a collegial place. "We all may not always agree, but everyone gets to voice their concerns in accordance with their position and what each member believes is in the best interest of their constituents," he told Gotham Gazette.

"Indeed, over the past eleven months, Speaker Mark-Viverito has led our body in a more democratic, transparent, and inclusive direction. It has been very refreshing," Gentile added.

2015: A Year of Discontent?
With a 48-3 Democratic majority in the Council and committees negotiating the nitty-gritty of each bill, there are few pieces of legislation that receive strident opposition when the votes are counted at a Stated Meeting. 2015 may hold some significant exceptions to this general rule, though, as the Council moves forward on the plastic bag bill, the horse carriage ban, a bill outlawing chokeholds, and the Right to Know Act, which deals with policing protocols.

It is still early for all of these bills and there is no guarantee that any of them will make it through committee to the full Council. Each will have a committee hearing (the plastic bag bill already has) and be the subject of much negotiation and speculation. There's always a chance that a bill more-or-less disappears, of course, which can happen when enough pressure is put on council members to drop their push of legislation. Again, only 66 of 584 new bills introduced thus far in 2014 have been voted on by the full Council (all passed).

A true test for Mark-Viverito comes on the Right to Know Act, a very similar version of which she championed in the prior council. Recently, Mayor de Blasio sidestepped questions about the two bills and Mark-Viverito said she would be considering them, but indicated that circumstances are different now than in the past, opening the door for her opposition. The bills are being pushed now by two of her fellow progressives, Reynoso and Council Member Ritchie Torres, of the Bronx. They require NYPD officers to identify themselves and to provide certain warnings when interacting with or attempting to search suspects under specific circumstances.

The plastic bag proposal that seems to have split the Council calls for a ten-cent fee on plastic and paper bags typically used at grocery stores and bodegas. The bill, spearheaded by Council Members Margaret Chin and Brad Lander, aims to reduce what they call single-use bags that wind up in the city's waste stream. Many outer borough council members, Democrats included, are calling it a tax and oppose what they see as a burden on middle-class families, lower income communities, and the elderly.

"Some putting forth this proposal say that it's not a tax and I respectfully disagree with my colleagues," said Matteo. "If it looks like a tax, smells like a tax, feels like a tax, it's a tax," he said in Council Chambers.

Matteo agrees that the progressives on the Council can push through legislation. "There are a lot of bills that are going to go through even if we (Republican members) have a dissent," he told Gotham Gazette. But Matteo also believes there is an atmosphere of cooperation. The Republican minority has been successful in passing legislation this year. Minority leader Ignizio, along with Matteo, sponsored and carried through a key bill offering property tax abatements after superstorm Sandy, and two bills dealing with building codes in terms of carbon monoxide detectors and mold-resistant construction materials.

The plastic bag hearing had certain Democrats on the same page as the Republicans, with Council Member James Vacca calling it a "hidden tax" and Greenfield calling it "outrageous."

Speaking to Gotham Gazette a few days before that hearing, Lander said there was ample support from the outer boroughs. "I respect the opposition," he said. "We worked very hard to craft a bill that works as well as it can for a wide array of stakeholders."

The sentiment was echoed by Chin, who said at a press conference just prior to the hearing, "This isn't an idea we came up with overnight. We did our best to incorporate feedback even before we introduced the bill."

The hearing saw robust dialogue from supporters and opponents representing the public, advocacy groups, and small businesses. Public Advocate Letitia James, early on in the proceedings, underscored the importance of the debate. "I recognize that there is disagreement about aspects of this bill and I believe well-intentioned disagreement breeds better and stronger ideas," she said.

Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat who has abstained on a couple of votes that have seen the most opposition this year, said he is still considering the plastic bag bill: "I am still undecided on where I stand with the bill," he told Gotham Gazette. "There has been a lot of discussion on this one." There appear to be quite a few council members undecided on several of these more controversial bills heading into 2015.

It is unclear what, if any, changes to these bills might be made before they come to a committee vote. As the new Council moves on the horse carriage and plastic bag bills and others that provoke more dissent than the typical legislation, watchers will note how much feedback is worked into bills as they move.

Many are watching to see what Mark-Viverito does about bills that she and/or the mayor are not behind. Many, including both the speaker and the mayor, were highly critical of former speaker Quinn for bottling up legislation that she or Mayor Bloomberg did not want to see come to a full council vote. Several council members indicate that because of the rules reforms, Mark-Viverito has a lot less leverage to do so even if she wanted to.

Speaking generally, Council Member Williams added, "I think we are in a good place [as a Council]...I think people genuinely agree upon most things. We need to see some genuine disagreement and I think we will be seeing that soon."

by Samar Khurshid and Ben Max, with reporting by Lisa Autz

Note: this article has been updated to reflect that CM Lancman voted against the confirmation of Mark Peters, not CM Garodnick, as originally stated. It has also been updated to remove a portion that incorrectly summarized a vote regarding confirmation of Mayor de Blasio's nomination of Mark Peters as DOI Commissioner - that vote was 48-2-1, with CMs Lancman and Palma against, with CM Williams abstaining.

Categories: State/Local

Report: RPI chief is highest-paid

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 1:07am


There are more than 7 million reasons why Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson is at the top of a new list of private college presidents.

Jackson was the top-paid private college president in the nation in 2012, according to data published Sunday by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her more than $7.1 million in total compensation ranked first by more than $3.3 million, though her $945,000 base salary ranked eighth. According to the publication, nearly $5.9 million of her pay came from a deferred-compensation payout.

Her rise to No. 1 on the list comes after she was named the ninth-highest-paid private college executive in 2011 in the Chronicle of Higher Education's 2013 rankings.

The data came from 2012 federal tax forms and shows the 15-year president is by far the highest paid employee at RPI — by $6.7 million.

Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer Virginia Gregg's $422,864 in total compensation ranked second at the university.

News of Jackson's big payday isn't novel. The Times Union reported in July that Jackson stands to earn nearly $5.8 million in deferred compensation if she remains RPI's president until 2022.

Jackson's base pay for 2014 is roughly $1 million.

In July, Arthur Gajarsa, chairman of the university's board of trustees and compensation committee, said the school will do everything in its power to recognize Jackson's value to RPI and prevent other institutions from wooing her away.

"Dr. Jackson has more than surpassed the expectations of the board," he said at the time. "Time magazine called her 'perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science' and the National Science Board described her as a 'national treasure,' and that's how the university views her."

Two other local private college administrators cracked the top half of the Chronicle of Higher Education's list.

Union College President Stephen Ainlay ranks 159th in the country with his $503,405 in total compensation.

Skidmore's Philip Goltzbach follows him at 179th with $474,631 in total compensation. • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Photos: A royal welcome

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 1:07am

New York City welcomed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on Sunday for a three-day visit. They have a full schedule of events in New York, including a visit to the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum and a Brooklyn Nets game.

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, December 14

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 12:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

New Yorkers continue to take to the street in protest. After tens of thousands marched on Saturday to protest police brutality and a criminal justice system many claim shows racial bias, New Yorkers will decide this week how much more action to take to bring attention to these issues. One group, operating under the banner of "This Stops Today" has promised to continue its "11 Days of Action" initiative that began last week. We're watching to see what that will include, as well as how NYPD treatment of protesters does or does not change in the wake of an incident of violence against two members of the force on Saturday night. Relations between Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD unions are already quite frayed over recent comments from the mayor and with contract negotiations ongoing.

We're also awaiting news from the internal NYPD investigation into the incident in which Eric Garner was killed, as well as any news from the federal investigation into the actions of officer Daniel Pantaleo and his colleagues who were involved that day. There is not necessarily anything expected this week, but news is highly anticipated. There is a "pro-cop rally" set for Friday of this week, something that will be very interesting to track as it comes together and how it plays out.

The Mayor had a quite weekend in terms of public events, but did quickly issue a statement condemning violence against NYPD on Saturday evening. De Blasio begins his week on Monday with two events on his public schedule: he "will join Brooklyn officials and community members for an affordable housing groundbreaking and press conference" and, "in the evening, the Mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host and deliver remarks at a holiday party for elected officials, labor leaders and advocates in Manhattan."

Justice League NYC, which organized the major Saturday march, has announced it is rallying people at the event the mayor is holding Monday evening at Gracie Mansion.

On Thursday, de Blasio is reportedly set to visit Rikers Island to take stock of much-needed reforms at the city jail.  

There's also a great deal of anticipation around whether state lawmakers will call a special session in Albany to pass a pay raise for legislators - along with whatever other legislation would be negotiated as part of a pay raise deal. Time is running out for this to happen. Be aware that on Monday those elected to fill vacant seats in the state Legislature can be officially sworn in, so they may very well be eligible to vote if there is a special session.

Whether a special legislative session happens or not, New York politicos are looking ahead to the new year in Albany and Governor Cuomio's January 7 State of the State address as well as the 2015 legislative session, where topics such as the DREAM Act, campaign finance reform, the Women's Equality Act, and many others will be front and center. And don't forget, that fracking report is due by the end of the year!

This week, we're expecting the decision of the New York gaming commission siting board on where New York's new casinos will be built. This is due on Wednesday.

The final City Council Stated Meeting, at which all council members gather to introduce and vote on legislation, of the year is on Wednesday. Leading up to the Stated, there's a bunch of City Council committee hearings. With the end of the year, expect many looks back at 2014 - the mayor's first year in office, and much more. Interested in these? Start with our look at Comptroller Scott Stringer's first year in office and our interview with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito about her first year in the post.

We're going to be publishing our annual article with predictions for the new year from politicos of various sorts - do you have a prediction about New York politics or policy to share? Submit to our editor Ben Max and you may just see it in our predictions piece later this month! E-mail:

We've pulled together events for the next ten days until Christmas. Much of city political life over the next ten days includes holiday parties - we've included a few, but there are many others being held by political and civic organizations. Chanukah begins on Tuesday evening and Kwanzaa begins the 26th. 2015 begins January 1.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito starts her week at the "City Council Sponsored Affordable Care Act Enrollment Session, which will take place at 5 p.m. at Gay Men's Health Crisis in Manhattan. Mayor de Blasio begins his week with the aforementioned groundbreaking and press conference in Brooklyn and holiday party in Manhattan. Neither Public Advocate Letitia James nor Comptroller Scott Stringer have any events on their public schedules for Monday.

Monday is a very busy day of committee action at the City Council. The schedule includes a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises to review land use applications; a meeting of the Committee on Public Safety jointly with the Committee on Courts and Legal Services for an oversight hearing regarding "examining the Operations of New York City's Summons Courts"; a meeting of the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services on a new bill regarding "the early intervention program"; and a meeting of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses to consider land use applications.

Also Monday at the City Council: a meeting of the Committee on Finance for an oversight hearing regarding "Examination of the Department of Finance's outreach efforts to senior citizens regarding the senior citizen rent increase exemption program" and to discuss intro of a new bill on "Senior Citizen rent increase exemption"; a joint hearing of the Committees on Technology, Contracts and Oversight and Investigations for an oversight hearing to "Examine Lessons Learned and Recommendations for Improving New York City's Management of Large Information Technology Contracts" and to address "Conflicts of interest in city contracts"; and a meeting of the Committee on Veterans to discuss a resolution regarding state-level legislation around "veterans' eligibility for public housing."

According to State of Politics, "Those lawmakers elected to fill seats that were vacant before the Nov. 4 elections can be certified as full fledged members of their respective houses prior to the start of the 2015 session in January. The eight Assembly members – six Democrats and two Republicans – who fit into this category will be certified on Dec. 15, according to Assembly spokesman Mike Whyland, which means they will take the oath of office and can be seated that every day. If a special session is called before Dec. 15, then a resolution could be passed to make those members eligible to vote."

On Monday at 5 p.m., "Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will celebrate the holiday season by lighting the Christmas tree standing in Brooklyn Borough Hall Plaza. After the lighting, he will promptly darken the lights for a moment of silence over the death of Eric Garner and of peaceful solidarity with those calling for local and national criminal justice reform; during the silence, a member of the Brooklyn United Marching Band will strike their drum eleven times to symbolize the eleven times Garner repeated, "I can't breathe," before he lost consciousness. Borough President Adams will speak to the importance of pursuing non-violent protest, particularly in the wake of the assault of two NYPD lieutenants during a march last night on the Brooklyn Bridge," according to a release from his office.

Tuesday's City Council schedule: a meeting of the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency to address "creation of a Hurricane Sandy community groups and houses of worship recovery task force" [Read our report: Sandy-Ravaged Houses of Worship Seek Aid, Left in Limbo]; the Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet for an oversight hearing on "the state of natural areas under the care of the parks department"; the Committee on Public Housing will meet for an oversight hearing regarding "the relationship between lighting and safety in the wake of Akai Gurley shooting"; and a meeting of the Committee on Land Use to discuss "All items reported out of the Subcommittees and such other business as may be necessary."

Tuesday's New York State Assembly schedule includes the Assembly Standing Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse meeting to examine "the overall impact of the 2014-2015 Enacted Budget in relation to the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) and to assess the impact and effectiveness of New York's prevention, treatment, and recovery services"; and a meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee on Health to "receive testimony concerning the New York Health bill" which would "create state single payer health coverage."

"On Tuesday, December 16 (the first night of Chanukah), Jewish and Muslim community members and religious leaders - led by the Arab-American Association of NY (AAANY), Jews for Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), and Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice - will gather in front of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to call on Commissioner Bratton to end discriminatory and abusive Broken Windows policing. This action is part of the 11 Days of Action organized by #ThisStopsToday. It is also part of the national Jewish #ChanukahAction to End Police Violence."

On Tuesday evening, "Equality 4 Flatbush" meeting at 5:30 p.m. looking at affordable housing and gentrification.

Also Tuesday evening, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is holding an event to spread the word about its working. "SSDP joins with allies to work on drug policy reforms such as ending marijuana prohibition, increasing access to life-saving overdose reversal drugs, reducing criminalization of drug users, and eliminating punitive campus policies that cause more harm than good."

Tuesday evening is Chalkbeat's Holiday Happy Hour: "Come chat with reporters and editors, catch up with old friends, and meet other people who care about education in New York City. Feel free to bring guests—loyal readers and newcomers, parents and teachers, advocates and officials, are all welcome."

From NYC Votes, part of the NYC Campaign Finance Board: "The public is invited to give comments at the next New York City Voter Assistance Advisory Committee hearing on Tuesday, December 16 beginning at 5:30 PM. The hearing will take place at the Brooklyn Public Library's Dweck Center." Members of the public are invited to discuss "Your 2014 Election Day Experience; Voter Advocacy in 2015; Preparing for Federal Elections in 2016."

Tuesday evening is the Manhattan Young Democrats' annual holiday party. It's typically an event at which quite a few Democratic elected officials make appearances and say a few words.

[Read the latest political reporting from Gotham Gazette]

Wednesday's City Council schedule will include a meeting of the Committee on Finance to examine a proposed law in relation to "notices of violation" and to discuss a resolution "approving the new designation and changes in the designation of certain organizations to receive funding in the Expense Budget"; a meeting of the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections to consider candidates Barbara Lowe for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation Board of Directors; Council Member Deborah Rose for New York City Waterfront Management Advisory Board; and Council Member Ben Kallos for the Council to the New York City Commission on Public Information and Communication; and this year's last Council Stated Meeting.

On Wednesday morning, State Senator Liz Krueger will hold a public forum at 250 Broadway on legislation she sponsors with Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes to regulate and tax marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Advocates, policy experts, and local officials will offer testimony on marijuana policy from the perspectives of criminal justice, health, and the fiscal and economic impacts. Council Members Jumaane Williams and Steve Levin are among those expected to offer testimony.

Wednesday's State Assembly schedule includes: the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts, and Sports Development will meet to review "the implementation of the State Budget and its impact on the programs under the purview of the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development"; the Assembly Standing Committee on Health will convene "to receive testimony concerning the New York Health bill."

Wednesday morning is set to see a press conference on the steps of City Hall aimed at addressing the "increasingly anti-competitive nature of New York State Beer Market...The press conference will include a diverse community of small business owners, community groups, elected leaders and activists speaking in opposition to beer pricing discrimination; the growing monopoly by beer companies; and the impending Manhattan Beer merger," according to a press release.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon "Silver is set to give a deposition Dec. 17 in the federal lawsuit brought by two victims of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez...," according to the Daily News.

New York casino picks are expected on Wednesday.

Community Service Society of New York will host four documentary film screenings on Wednesday at the "NY Reentry Roundtable Special Film Screening."

On Wednesday evening, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will introduce "NYC Data Czar Amen Ra Mashiriki" and speak at the Silicon Harlem Winter Soiree & Toy Drive.

Wednesday evening is also the Bay Ridge Democrats' 2014 Holiday Party.

Mayor de Blasio plans to visit Rikers Island jail on Thursday, according to previous statements: "Mr. de Blasio characterized the New York Correction Department, which oversees the complex, as the city's most troubled agency, and said he would visit Rikers for the first time as mayor on Dec. 18 to see for himself what should be done to fix it."

In Thursday morning, Manhattan BP Brewer hosts the monthly meeting of the Manhattan Borough Board.

In partnership with the City Council's Progressive Caucus Alliance, The Working Families Party is hosting its "2014 NYC holiday party" on Thursday from 4:30-8 p.m. at Fontana's Bar on the Lower East Side.

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Friday and the weekend
Friday is set to see the aforementioned "#ThankyouNYPD Rally" starting at 5 p.m. at City Hall Park.

Friday's State Assembly schedule consists of a joint meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee on Labor and the Assembly Standing Committee on Insurance "to examine the potential impacts of the proposed New York State workers' compensation fee schedule on injured workers' access to quality medical care services and return to work rates as well as the potential impacts on the no-fault system."

On Friday afternoon, Manhattan BP Brewer will speak at Apollo Theater's Toy & Book Drive.

Saturday, Dec. 20, at noon: "Breaking Broken Windows: Community Town Hall and Open Mic." 

Monday, Dec. 22, Mayor de Blasio is expected to attend the "PAL Luncheon at Mutual of America" according to John Catsimatidis.

Things are looking quiet for the week of 12/22, which is, of course, Christmas week. We'll update this post accordingly, and please do send us items to include for updating this post or for future Week Ahead previews. We won't be publishing a Week Ahead after this one until Sunday, January 4 - enjoy the holiday season and happy new year!

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Rati Mukhuradze and Ben Max

Categories: State/Local

Election Boards Look to Modernize Vote Counting, Finance Filing Systems

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 12/14/2014 - 12:00am

Gov. Cuomo and his girlfriend Sandra Lee cast their votes (photo: Reuters)

In the next two years, the New York City and State election boards may finally arrive in the 21st Century.

The New York City and New York State Boards of Election are planning major technological upgrades to their vote counting and finance disclosure systems, staff told State Assembly members at a hearing Friday morning in Manhattan.

By late 2015, voters in the city may know the results of most elections by 10 p.m. on election nights, thanks to tablets at every polling site that can upload vote counts just minutes after polls close.

And in late 2016 or early 2017, the state board plans to launch a new campaign finance filing system, replacing a two-decade-old network that candidates say is difficult to use.

No more waiting
On election night in New York City, poll workers and police officers usually transport memory sticks filled with vote count data to police precincts, where they are counted. It can take hours in some parts of the city for results to trickle in.

But at 216 polling sites in a pilot program this November, poll workers simply plugged the memory sticks into tablet devices and uploaded vote data onto the Board's servers. All of these sites posted their results by 9:35 p.m., just 35 minutes after the polls closed.

"I think we took everybody by surprise by how quickly the results were tabulated," City Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan told Gotham Gazette. "It demonstrates the promise of the technology."

Now, the Board wants to bring the technology to all of the city's 1241 poll sites.

"In a non-presidential year, 90% of the results by 10 o'clock is not out of the question, based on what we saw this past election cycle," Ryan said.

Ryan said the Board will be meeting with the de Blasio administration in the next few weeks to discuss funding to expand the pilot.

"Our goal is to have it fully implemented for the September election of 2015," he said. The Board hopes to buy 1,700 to 2,200 new Windows tablet devices to distribute to polling sites - all of the software for the devices has already been developed.

But the BOE has had a rocky relationship with the City Council, which would have to agree to allocated funds. In March, Ryan accused the Council of trying to "starve" his agency for funding. His more ambitious proposal to retrofit old lever voting machines into high-tech voter kiosks was shelved after council members expressed skepticism over the high price tag.

Ben Kallos, the chair of the Council's Committee on Governmental Operations, did not respond to a request for comment.

"We are never going to be in a position that the government agencies are on the same cutting edge as technology agencies," Ryan said. "The question is whether we're doing enough to service our constituency."

State of the art
Meanwhile, the State Board of Elections is working on a "complete redesign" of its campaign finance filing system, which was set up in 1994.

Candidates complain about dealing with byzantine webforms and confusing instructions. At the Board, staff members have to manually edit incoming data in Excel.

"I don't think it was state of the art in 1994, and it certainly is nowhere near state of the art today," said state BOE Executive Director Robert Brehm. "Nobody would design a system like this now."

Assembly members at the hearing echoed his assessment.

"The system is very user-unfriendly," said Assembly Member Thomas Abinanti of Westchester. "We want to encourage people to run for office, we don't want to put stumbling blocks in their way."

The redesign is intended to make it easier for candidates to report how they're using money and for the public to access the data. The State has allocated $2.4 million for the project, and staff expect the new system to launch in late 2016 or early 2017. Any earlier would mean launching it in the middle of an election cycle, Brehm said.

Good government groups applauded the planned upgrades. Common Cause Associate Director Lauren George told assembly members that the state board's current software was "antiquated and precarious."

The inefficient way data is released "makes analysis and explanation of campaign finance realities immeasurably harder, more time-consuming and expensive for the public," she said.

Peggy Farber, the legislative counsel of Citizens Union, urged the state board to borrow the filing technology of the well-regarded New York City Campaign Finance Board.

"We don't think the upgrade should take two years, and we see a path that could be faster and less expensive," Farber said, indicating the desire to see a new system in place before the 2016 state election cycle.

Enforcing compliance
At the assembly hearing, Brehm also discussed the state board's new compliance unit, an office dedicated to investigate campaign finance regulations, which started work in July.

Created in a deal to close Governor Andrew Cuomo's anti-corruption Moreland Commission earlier this year, the compliance unit is led by a Cuomo ally and literally walled off from the rest of the election board offices.

The unit, which is still in its early stages, has so far taken a more collaborative than confrontational approach, with an emphasis on training and helping candidates correct errors. Since July, the office sent out 1,957 deficiency letters, letting candidates or committees know that they were in some way behind in meeting finance regulations.

"Overall, treasurers want to do it right and do do it right," Brehm said. The new unit works to train candidates and treasurers to make the most accurate disclosures possible.

The state BOE has faced criticism for its inaction in enforcing regulations in the past, as the New York Times reported last week. According to a preliminary report from the Moreland Commission, the Board "largely abdicated its duty to enforce our election and campaign finance laws."

Some say that the compliance unit has already made a change.

"I have never seen this level of scrutiny," Abinanti said. For the first time ever, he said, his campaign was notified during this election cycle about a filing error it had been inadvertently making for years.

Farber of Citizens Union said that while helping candidates catch errors was important, the compliance unit should be more proactive at investigating improper disclosures. The unit "should actively look for omissions by sectors, by committees, and individuals," Farber said.

"If it does not, who will?" she added.

by Casey Tolan, Gotham Gazette

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 5:07pm

'Tis the season, and Wednesday brings the state's version of holiday gifts: The 2014 Regional Economic Development Council awards ceremony at The Egg. The rest of the week brings more cheer — if you're into public hearings and that sort of thing. Take a look:


• Hospitality industry trade associations preview their testimony before the state Department of Labor Wage Board's public hearing at noon in The Well of the Legislative Office Building, Albany.


• The state Gaming Facility Location Board will meet at 9:30 a.m. in Manhattan, but there will be no siting decisions. The board will likely quickly enter executive session to discuss the "financial history and employment history of particular persons or corporations" seeking to develop and operate a casino. Friday's meeting notice came less than a day after the Wall Street Journal published an in-depth story on the federal investigation of Och-Ziff Capital Management Group, connected through Och-Ziff Real Estate to the proposed Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on the Hudson River.

• The state Joint Commission on Public Ethics meets at 10:30 a.m. at their offices on Broadway. The meeting will be webcast at

• The Assembly Social Services and Oversight, Analysis and Investigation committees hold a joint hearing on homeless service in New York state at 11 a.m. in Hamilton Hearing Room B, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

• Tipped workers hold a news conference at 11:15 a.m. outside the governor's office on the second floor of the Capitol in advance of a noon public hearing by the Department of Labor's wage board, which is considering a minimum wage increase for this segment of the workforce.


• The Assembly Higher Education Committee holds a hearing on the state tuition assistance program at 10 a.m. in Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany.


• The Assembly Transportation Committee holds a hearing on the state Department of Transportation's two-year capital program at 10 a.m. in Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

• The League of Women Voters of Albany County holds a holiday luncheon with state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk at noon at the Normanside Country Club, 150 Salisbury Road, Bethlehem. Cost is $25. For reservations, contact Julie Elson at jelson510@earthlink. See for details.


• The Assembly Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry Committee holds a hearing on the 2014-2015 state budget's impact on the agencies and programs under the purview of the committee at 10 a.m. in Roosevelt Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

• The Assembly Agriculture Committee holds an oversight hearing on the 2014-2015 state budget for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets at 11:30 a.m. in Hamilton Hearing Room B, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

— Casey Seiler, Matthew Hamilton and

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo gets bill for M/C workers

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 12:07pm


For the second consecutive year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has received a bill that would establish a commission to consider raises for "management-confidential" public employees.

Cuomo vetoed a similar measure in 2013, saying that the issue should be taken up in the state budget process. It was not and the governor approved a 2 percent raise for M/C workers in June — the first increase since 2008 for most workers in this non-unionized classification.

The bill would set up a commission similar to one that sets salaries for New York judges.

While there's no guarantee the measure won't be vetoed again, Budget Director Robert Megna last month wrote to the Organization of Management/Confidential Employees to say that austerity measures in recent years had helped the state recover from the 2008 recession. The state is anticipating a surplus in the near future.

"The surplus now puts us in the position to consider how to address M/C compensation going forward," Megna wrote.

"We are exploring ways to address the issue in the context of the upcoming Executive Budget and, as always, we are working with all of the State agencies to ensure that they have the staff that they need to meet their agency's mission."

Categories: State/Local

Union removes council leader

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 12:07pm


The executive board for the state's second-largest public labor union voted Friday to overturn an ethics hearing panel's controversial decision to clear a downstate council leader of wrongdoing for spending union money at stores and restaurants.

The executive board of the Public Employees Federation also voted to remove the council leader, Deborah J. Lee, from their union for at least three years as punishment. In addition, the board voted to ask PEF's umbrella union to conduct a forensic audit of the finances of the Rockland County PEF union that Lee has headed for many years.

PEF President Susan Kent had faced internal criticism for her handling of the matter, including allegations that PEF leaders asked the Rockland County district attorney's office not to probe the matter. Kent denied that anyone from PEF's headquarters asked the district attorney's office to let the union handle the matter internally.

Jane Briggs, a PEF spokeswoman, said Kent recognized the matter was a "very divisive issue" in PEF but "feels that she fulfilled her obligation to make sure all the processes were followed properly (and) that Ms. Lee got her due process.

"She is looking very forward to having the healing process begin and moving forward to do the important work that needs to be done for PEF members," Briggs added.

Tensions flared in the union recently when a five-member hearing panel appointed by Kent determined that Lee's alleged misuse of a union debit card did not amount to a misappropriation of funds.

The ruling shocked many members of PEF's executive board, including some who questioned whether the hearing process was flawed because the panel's members are politically aligned with Kent.

Lee headed a PEF council that represents nearly 800 government workers, including many nurses. Her fellow union members accused her of misusing a union debit card to make thousands of dollars in improper purchases, but PEF's Secretary-Treasurer Carlos Garcia said Lee needed to pay back only $5,100 in "questionable charges."

Members of Local 235, most of whom work at Rockland Psychiatric Center, challenged Garcia's ruling. They said their internal audit indicated Lee may have misspent more than $30,000 in improper expenditures, including regular purchases at grocery stores near her home.

Two PEF members from Rockland County presented the allegations to the Rockland County district attorney's office earlier this summer, but the office took no action. They said prosecutors told them that there was no criminal case because unnamed sources at PEF's headquarters said the charges were authorized, and PEF would deal with the matter internally.

Kent denied that exchange took place.

Internal PEF emails shared with the Times Union show that last December a PEF vice president, Wayne Spence, questioned why the case was not reported to a law enforcement agency. Spence, who has declined to comment, raised his concerns in a Dec. 16 email sent to Garcia, Kent and five other PEF officials.

A day later, Garcia responded in an email that the "guidance I was given was something to the effect that our obligation is to follow our internal process to first determine whether or not there are any 'irregularities.' ... That process is under way so it is premature and unnecessary to bring in law enforcement."

PEF's general counsel, Lisa King, then responded in an email that PEF's obligation was to recover the money. "There is no requirement to seek criminal prosecution," she wrote.

Questions about Lee's use of the union debit card surfaced last year when members of her local union began questioning her alleged failure to file detailed expense reports. In internal complaints filed with PEF, the local union officials said Lee refused to hold council meetings more than once a year and shared little or no paperwork on her expenses. They couldn't audit her expenditures, the union officials said, because Lee was the only person who could appoint an audit committee.


Categories: State/Local

Gaming board to meet Tuesday

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 1:07am

Gaming site board will meet on Tuesday

ALBANY — The state's Gaming Facility Location Board, which had expected its next meeting to be its last, on Friday said it will convene on Tuesday morning in Manhattan.

The agenda suggests that the panel will go into executive session to consider "the financial history and employment history of particular persons or corporations" among the slate of applicants for up to four upstate casino licenses. The board has held similar executive sessions to weigh data from the 16 proposals that remain in the running — including Capital Region projects pitched in Rensselaer, East Greenbush, Schenectady and at Howe Caverns.

The location board, a subsidiary of the state Gaming Commission, still plans to hold its final meeting in Albany on Wednesday, Dec. 17.

— Staff report

Categories: State/Local
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