Members of the city's largest LGBT political club, The Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, will decide on major statewide endorsements on Wednesday night. Stonewall's endorsement in the governor's race will give deeper insight into the relationship between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the progressive base.
The Jim Owles Democratic Club voted to endorse Cuomo's Democratic primary challenger Zephyr Teachout in June. LAMBDA Independent Democrats of Brooklyn had a contentious debate over choosing between Cuomo and Teachout - only narrowly endorsisng for the incumbent. Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats (GLID) endorsed Cuomo unanimously.
Stonewall president Eunic Ortiz said she feels Cuomo has delivered major achievements for the LGBT community, but stopped short of saying her group's endorsement was in the bag for Cuomo. "It just depends who comes out that night to vote," said Ortiz. "If you have paid your dues you can vote. We could have 500 members voting, it's a possibility."
Ortiz stressed that her club allows members to vote on endorsements without the influence of the board and that all candidates are welcome to attend, or send surrogates to speak to the club about why they deserve its endorsement. Ortiz expects representatives from the Cuomo and Teachout campaigns to address members on Wednesday. Candidates vying for endorsements in legislative races are also expected to attend or send surrogates.
Political observers are struck that Cuomo, who managed to deliver the passage of marriage equality early in his term, has such a mixed relationship with the LGBT community. However, two major legislative priorities for LGBT advocates have been stalled in the state Senate for years and many see Cuomo as having given Republicans the power to control the Senate through redistricting and backroom deals - leading to limited action on a whole host of progressive legislation.
Cuomo's success on marriage equality makes the lack of a Senate vote on either the Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act or a bill to ban gay conversion therapy look to some like he is taking LGBT votes for granted.
GENDA would prohibit discrimination against a person because of their gender identity and expression. The bill has major support from civil rights groups and law enforcement heads from around the state. The Assembly has passed GENDA seven times but the Republican-controlled Senate has not allowed a vote on the bill.
The conversion therapy bill would make it illegal to try to change the sexuality of someone under the age of 18.
A number of members of GLID, LAMBDA, and Stonewall expressed concern that Cuomo has taken their support for granted and note that he has not met with the head of the state's largest LGBT advocacy group, The Empire State Pride Agenda.
Pride Agenda president Nathan Schaefer acknowledged that Cuomo has not met with him personally.
"We do desire a meeting with the governor but we have met with his associates," said Schaefer. "I have a hard time managing my own schedule, but like a lot of other groups around the state we would like to meet with him. We would like to talk to him about GENDA and our other legislative priorities," said Schaefer.
The Pride Agenda is expected to issue its own endorsement in the governor's race in the next few weeks. Schaefer said his group has been in communication with Cuomo's camp and that they are submitting a questionnaire for an endorsement. Meanwhile, the campaign of Republican candidate Rob Astorino has been in contact to say they will not be filling out a questionnaire.
Sen. Brad Hoylman of Manhattan who sponsors the conversion therapy bill said that clubs like Stonewall are a signifier for the community in that they represent the grassroots. "The grassroots are usually the most skeptical of legislative achievements - even achievements as great as marriage equality," Hoylman said. "They play the necessary role of agitator to push candidates on certain issues."
Hoylman says that the new Democratic majority in the Senate will allow Cuomo to move GENDA and other legislation important to the community. "The old coalition wasn't working for his legislative agenda," said Hoylman.
Ortiz says that the Stonewall Democrats have only grown in influence in the last decade. "The interest from candidates grows exponentially every year," she said. "The days when candidates would shun us or ask for our endorsement but hide it are long gone. Candidates want our endorsement and they want people to know about it."
Note: This article has been corrected to state that GLID endorsed Cuomo unanimously, it originally stated that GLID narrowly endorsed Cuomo.
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
A mining company must delay test drilling on Adirondack Forest Preserve land under a temporary restraining order issued by a New York state Supreme Court justice in a lawsuit claiming the work was illegal despite state agency approval.
New York voters approved a constitutional amendment last fall for NYCO Minerals Inc. to expand its Essex County pit mine onto 200 acres of state-owned land in exchange for 1,500 acres elsewhere. The company had planned to do test drilling before completing the swap, to ascertain whether it contained a rich vein of wollastonite, a white mineral used in ceramics, plastics, paints and other products.
But Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice said Wednesday that since the 200 acres is still under state Forest Preserve protection, any tree-cutting or test drilling is illegal, despite approval by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit against the state agencies and NYCO on behalf of Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation.
State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Buchanan granted Earthjustice's request for a temporary restraining order Tuesday, providing the environmental groups post a $10,000 bond to cover NYCO's damages if Earthjustice loses the suit. Goldberg said the bond was posted Wednesday.
The restraining order is good until Aug. 22, when Buchanan will hear arguments.
Lawyer: Don't prejudge woman in son's death
WHITE PLAINS — A lawyer asked the public Wednesday not to rush to judgment in the case of a young mother accused of killing her 5-year-old son by poisoning him with salt, but he offered no details in her defense.
Lacey Spears "looks forward to her day in court and the opportunity to challenge the allegations," attorney Stephen Riebling said. "We continue to trust the people will keep an open mind and not judge Lacey or the facts of this case based on what's been reported," he said.
Spears, 26, of Scottsville, Kentucky, pleaded not guilty last month on charges of depraved murder and manslaughter in the death of Garnett-Paul Spears.
The boy died in January at the Westchester Medical Center when, prosecutors say, his sodium levels rose to an extremely dangerous level with no medical explanation. Spears was sharing her son's hospital room — he had been brought there after suffering seizures — and doctors thought she might be harming him. Prosecutors believe she administered sodium through a feeding tube in his stomach.
— Associated Press
Man accused of peeping in windows with drone
ULSTER — A Hudson Valley man faces an unlawful surveillance charge after State Police say he flew a personal drone outside the windows of a medical building, shooting video.
Police said David Beesmer, 49, of Lake Katrine flew the drone close to fourth-floor windows where patients were examined. Beesmer, a rock music promoter, says on his Facebook page he "made a huge error in judgment" but said he only shot the video to promote the facility.
— Associated Press
Talks resuming Thursday in LIRR labor dispute
MINEOLA — Talks aimed at averting a strike at Long Island Rail Road are continuing.
A Long Island Rail Road spokesman says the agency and union leaders will resume negotiations Thursday after an all-day session Wednesday. The unions say they're reviewing developments out of the session and are maintaining contact with the railroad's negotiators via teleconference.
The sides resumed talks at Gov. Andrew Cuomo's urging after a two-day impasse over whether future employees would have to contribute to health and pension plans. The unions have said their 5,400 members will walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Sunday if they do not get a deal.
— Associated Press
Andrew Cuomo is still king of the mountain — of cash.
And Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino's campaign filings show he has a long climb to come anywhere close.
The governor reported $35 million in his campaign war chest on Tuesday, the deadline for candidates to file their six-month campaign finance reports. Cuomo's campaign took in $8.5 million and spent $6.8 million since January.
Astorino reported a far more modest sum of $2.4 million after raising $3.4 million and spending $980,000. Astorino's camp previously said it hoped to raise $10 million to $15 million this cycle.
The funding gap between the two mirrors the distance between them in the political polls, which have consistently shown a more than 30-point advantage for the Democratic incumbent as Astorino fights for name recognition outside of his home Westchester County. Upstate, where analysts widely agree Astorino will have to pick up the most votes, his name is still known by only 30 percent of voters, a June poll by Siena Research Institute says.
Lack of funds may exacerbate his identity issues.
Political consultant Bruce Gyory said to be able to boost the ranks of voters who can identify him, Astorino needs to be in the $10 million range. What may be more telling is the return on investment for the $980,000 he spent.
"He raised $3.4 million but only has $2.4 million left — that's a pretty high burn rate given that most people have not seen Astorino TV ads or traditional campaign outreach," Gyory said. "For those who said he is not projecting issues so much because he is spending time raising money, when you look at the late winter, spring and early summer campaign activities, he's neither projected issues, nor has he raised the money to get known."
Cuomo spent $4.8 million on television ads, but just $11,700 on print. Astorino listed a single TV ad purchase worth $279,485.
Astorino's funds came largely from individual donors or partnerships, who chipped in $1.9 million. Among those not on the donor list are Senate Republicans or their campaign committees.
Astorino has some donors who have been Cuomo supporters in the past, though they appear to be giving him less than they gave the governor.
Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group noted that Clough Harbor & Associates, an engineering and design firm, gave Astorino $5,000, but gave Cuomo $50,000.
Roger Hertog, a nationally-known conservative donor, pitched in $20,000 for Astorino's campaign; he made an earlier $30,000 donation to Cuomo. Hertog's name does not appear on individual and partnership contribution filings for Cuomo this time.
Many Cuomo donors gave more than $25,000. Among the recognizable names are former State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, who gave two contributions worth $10,000 total, and Barbra Streisand, who gave $500.
Of note in other races was the minuscule pool of funds GOP comptroller candidate Robert Antonacci raised compared to Democratic Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. DiNapoli reported $2.7 million on hand; Antonacci filed for just under $30,700.
While Antonacci plans to opt into the public campaign financing pilot program, he must reach the $200,000 threshold before he can begin getting the 6-to-1 matching public funds. Even then, only the first $175 of each contribution counts toward those matching funds.
DiNapoli, an advocate for public financing of campaigns, has said he won't opt in to the pilot program.
In regional races considered competitive, U.S. Rep Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, reported $1.9 million on hand. His Democratic opponent, Sean Eldridge, reported $2.1 million.
In the state Senate's 49th District, Republican Sen. Hugh Farley has $189,839 while Democratics Madelyn Thorne and Patti Southworth show $47,312 and $3,925 respectively.
Reports were still being posted later Tuesday.
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Constituents cast ballots in participatory budgeting (pbnyc.org)
On Wednesday morning at 10:30, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, other council members, and advocates will gather in City Hall's red room to announce the expansion of participatory budgeting to at least 20 council districts.
Participatory budgeting, now entering its fourth year in New York City, will see implementation double, up from ten council districts the previous cycle, eight the second year, and four the initial year. This rapid increase in city electeds allocating $1-2 million in capital funding to community decision-making reflects the successes council members have seen in directly engaging their constituents in the budgeting process and empowering them to take ownership of bettering their communities.
The recently passed New York City municipal ID law, set to go into effect in 2015, is another effort, along with participatory budgeting (PB), to bring more New Yorkers into civic life. The ID law could even prove to be a boon to PB involvement among community members previously hesitant to register with government entities. All district residents 16 years and older can take part in the PB process where it is being implemented, which with this year's expansion nears half the city's 51 council districts.
PB allows district constituents to propose projects and vote on how to spend roughly $1 million in discretionary funds to improve their communities. Participants need not be registered New York voters or U.S. citizens, and advocates say PB has brought many more New Yorkers into community involvement.
While the official list of council members implementing PB will not be released until Wednesday morning, several participating council members have begun holding initial information sessions in their communities and Gotham Gazette has confirmed at least 20 council members who have committed to the program for fiscal year 2015, which just began on July 1.
And, though no official report on the efficacy of PB over its first three years in New York has yet been offered, the Urban Justice Center and the Participatory Budgeting Project, the not-for-profit organization that helps facilitate the PB process, released a report on year two of PB in New York that evaluated engagement and impact.
Participatory budgeting in New York City began in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 with implementation by Council Members Brad Lander, (now-speaker) Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jumaane Williams, and Eric Ulrich. In FY2013, the four pioneers were joined by colleagues Dan Halloran, Mark Weprin, Stephen Levin, David Greenfield.
Then, while the FY2014 PB process was happening, so were the 2013 city elections. Nine council members originally committed to PB in FY2014, with eight of them seeing the process through, and Carlos Menchaca taking over for Sara Gonzalez in council district 38 after he defeated the incumbent in the Democratic primary and went on to take the seat. Menchaca was one of many candidates in 2013 who pledged to PBNYC that they would implement the program if (re)elected.
Newly elected Council Member Ben Kallos, who had also made such a pledge, joined the nine other districts with his own truncated PB process after taking office in January of 2014, making for ten total participating districts in FY2014.
The ten districts were those represented by repeaters Lander, Mark-Viverito, Williams, Ulrich, Weprin, Levin, Greenfield; and first-timers Kallos, Gonzalez (replaced by Menchaca), and Donovan Richards.
Now, as the FY2015 process is underway, Gotham Gazette has confirmed that the ten council districts in which council members dedicated funds to PB last year will again run the program, while at least ten other council members have committed to initiate the process. These new confirmations include Council Members Corey Johnson, Dan Garodnick, Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, Andrew Cohen, Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer, Daneek Miller, Antonio Reynoso, and Mark Treyger.
Three other council members had pledged to The Participatory Budgeting Project that they would participate. The names of Council Members Chaim Deutsch, Inez Barron and Laurie Cumbo were listed in a September press release from PBNYC, the Project's NYC branch. Inquiries to the offices of the three council members have not been returned.
More clarity will be gained on Wednesday morning. There is, of course, the possibility that more than 20 council members will be implementing PB in FY2015. A higher number is more likely if Speaker Mark-Viverito has decided to dedicate greater council staff and/or funds to support PB. The speaker's office did not return multiple requests for comment.
The PB Process & Increased Community Input
PB's growth can largely be attributed to Mark-Viverito's early involvement, the community groups involved with PB, and the successes seen in the neighborhoods in which PB has been implemented. While PB funds are for capital work only and can often go to seemingly mundane projects, those chosen often relate directly to neighborhood quality of life issues. Over the past two years in New York City, PB has led to funding for expanded sidewalks for pedestrians, increased security in libraries, computers for schools, and much more.
Pam Jennings, Project Coordinator for the Participatory Budgeting Project, observes that the projects proposed through PB tend to better address community needs.
"We've seen projects that get implemented in areas where there's higher need in the community compared to in the past when it was just the council member deciding on their own," Jennings said in an interview.
In 2013, Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander (D-39) oversaw the repaving of pothole-plagued 50th Street between Fort Hamilton Parkway and 13th Avenue. The project, costing $150,000 and greatly easing traffic on the congested roadway, was entirely initiated by constituents through the PB process and completed just over a year after it was chosen for funding. Lander is one of the only council members with a dedicated web page to tracking approved projects in his district.
After a council member decides that his or her district will be home to PB and sets aside $1-2 million in capital funds to do so, the PB process has four stages that take months of planning and dedication from the community - and the council member's staff.
Information sessions for PB start in the summer, almost immediately after a new budget is passed. Here council members spread the word and educate constituents about the process. Newly-elected Council Member Johnson, representing District 3 in Manhattan, and incumbent Council Member Van Bramer, of District 26 in Queens, are two of the many council members that have already begun holding information sessions.
District residents then come together in the fall to brainstorm ideas for capital projects that will help their communities. Capital projects are intended to better the district's infrastructure and make it a better place to live. Projects can range from park renovations to new handicap-accessible ramps to updated technology in schools.
Next, brainstormed ideas are developed and defined by cost estimates, timelines, and projections. Steering committees, made up of constituents, guide this research and compilation process. Then the projects go to a vote.
The top projects get funded - with the number of winning projects varying. Projects become earmarked within the council members' discretionary funds in the completed budget that the mayor signs into law for the following the fiscal year.
The Participatory Budgeting Project and Community Voices Heard (CVH), a grassroots community development group, come together to provide structure for the process that spans almost the entire fiscal year. The two groups conduct outreach to get residents involved, and provide materials to take the creative process through the stages.
Sondra Youdelman, Executive Director of CVH, lauds how PB creates new space for all residents to engage in the budgeting process, especially groups that have typically been marginalized.
"Relationships across constituents and residents in communities that may never interact with one another start to get built across boundaries of neighborhoods, across boundaries that are traditionally established of class, of race, of culture...and people come together for the greater good of the community," Youdelman said in an interview.
According to PBNYC, in 2014 nearly 17,000 people came out to vote on how to spend approximately $14 million in discretionary funds allocated by their council members.
However, there are inherent challenges to eliciting engagement and ensuring projects enhance communities to help the most people, and help those that are most in need, Youdelman said. It can be a question of whether to pursue, for example, more streetlights and security in NYCHA developments or new turf fields at high schools. Like any other democratic process, these decisions can come down to get out the vote efforts.
Finite staff and resources limit the capacity of nonprofit organizations, but constituent steering committees are coming up with creative ways to tackle these challenges.
"Almost like the spicy spectrum on a menu where you have an extra logo that says 'Hey, look this is a spicy thing,'" the ballot might begin to highlight projects "that really advance equity in the neighborhood, allowing individuals to decide whether they want to choose that or not," Youdelman said.
Mark-Viverito, a pioneer of PB in 2011, is now in the position of leadership where she can dedicate greater resources for PB along the lines of central staffing and accountability measures.
Tracking PB Progress
While a list of funded projects is available to the public on the PBNYC website, a clear, systematic tracking system for the status of projects does not exist. Certain council members, such as Lander, have chosen to post results on their own web pages, indicating where in the process approved projects may be.
The delayed gratification here can be challenging, Youdelman said. "It can be hard because there's a lag time between when you make a decision and when you start seeing the results," she said.
But once constituents see projects come to life, she said, it "inspires people to both understand and respect what the city government and the public sector really bring to our communities."
by Nicola Licata, Gotham Gazette
A water main break in Manhattan (photo: Laura Shin)
Earlier this month, BNP Paribas plead guilty to money laundering and falsifying business records. The French Bank will pay $8.9 billion in fines, with approximately $4 billion directed to New York State and its municipalities. As politicians and civic leaders rushed to offer recommendations for directing this windfall, a consensus began to emerge: the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of New York State infrastructure.
While the recent settlement is a significant sum, even if it is wholly applied, it will not be enough to address New York's aging and outmoded infrastructure. In New York City alone, thirty-seven percent of subway signals exceed their 50-year useful life; 63 percent of cargo facilities at John F. Kennedy airport are considered "non-viable" for modern screening; 24 percent of the water that enters distribution mains never reaches customers due to leaks and other diversions; 11 percent of bridges are structurally deficient; and nearly 60 percent of NYCHA buildings do not comply with Local Law 11 standards for exterior and façade conditions.
The Center for an Urban Future estimated that $47 billion is needed over the next four to five years simply to bring the city's aging infrastructure to a state of good repair. However, based on accumulated funding gaps and shortfalls in upcoming capital plans, unmet needs will reach $34.2 billion. To address this large and growing funding gap, it's imperative that city and state policymakers identify new dedicated revenue streams and ensure that existing revenue streams are not raided, as they have too often been in the past.
Sam Schwartz's "Fair Plan," for instance, would introduce new tolls on those East River bridges carrying vehicles into the city's central business district while sharply reducing tolls on five non-Manhattan bridges. Most importantly, the dedicated revenue from Schwartz's plan would generate $1.2 billion annually for transit projects and regional highway improvements.
For an additional dedicated funding stream, New York City should follow Seattle, Philadelphia, and 500 other cities in replacing its sewer charges - currently assessed at 159% of the water rate - with a more nuanced stormwater management fee. Property owners would be charged according to the percentage of rainwater captured on their lots (before it enters the city's overburdened sewer system). This would incentivize increased water retention on private property, with customers paying a lower fee as they introduce new green elements – trees, swales, porous pavement, green roofs. This could be coupled with a credit program to help customers finance the installation of green elements, with loans repaid each month via a utility or property bill.
Finally, while the BNP Paribas fine is often described as a "one shot deal", it too could be converted into a continuous, dedicating funding source. By depositing the $4 billion into an infrastructure trust fund, it could generate $200 million a year in perpetuity, assuming a conservative 5 percent annual return (the MTA, by comparison, assumes a 7 percent annual return on its pension investments). This $200 million is hardly pittance. In New York City, it would afford 800 new units of low-income housing, the resurfacing of 1,300 lane-miles of city streets, or 34 miles of reconstructed sewers each year.
Moving forward, political wrangling and posturing over court settlements – like the protracted dispute between Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Schneiderman over control of an earlier $613 million settlement with JPMorgan Chase – could be avoided if the state Legislature mandates that a fixed share of future court settlements be deposited into the infrastructure trust. This would help stabilize the state's critical infrastructure for years to come.
As the city and state consider these new funding streams, political officials should refrain from diverting or dipping into existing (and already insufficient) dedicated revenue sources - a practice that has been all-too-common in recent years. At the MTA, $30 million from the Metropolitan Mass Transportation Operating Assistance account was transferred to the state's General Debt Service Fund in 2014. Funds from the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund have also been used to cover state budget expenses. In New York City, revenue dedicated to the water and sewage system is redirected to the city's expense budget through "rental payments." Since 2005, these rental payments have increased significantly, from $109 million to $183 million.
The city's airports have also been affected by political interference. While the airports generate significant revenues from landing fees, gate fees and other levies, $214 million at JFK was diverted to non-airport related activities between 2004 and 2010. Though federal regulations require airport operators to reinvest all airport revenue into their facilities, the Port Authority was granted an exemption. In several instances, area politicians have pushed the Port Authority to use funds generated by the airports to prevent toll and fare increases at other Port Authority-managed assets, such as the PATH train.
The protection of these dedicated revenue streams, as well as the introduction of new funding sources, should not be delayed. Without immediate, sustained, and generous investment in its core infrastructure, New York's quality of life and economic competitiveness will quickly diminish.
Adam Forman is research associate at the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City based think tank. He is the author of "Caution Ahead," a report published in March by the Center documenting New York's infrastructure vulnerabilities.
Do you have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Send it to Executive Editor Ben Max: email@example.com
Nearly 23 million private records of New Yorkers have been exposed in data security breaches reported by more than 3,000 businesses, nonprofits and governments over the past eight years, New York's attorney general reported.
Deliberate hacking was responsible for 40 percent of the 5,000 incidents, which exposed a majority of the records, followed by lost or stolen equipment, insider wrongdoing and inadvertent errors, according to the report released on Tuesday.
"As we increasingly share our personal information with stores, restaurants, health care providers and other organizations, we should be able to enjoy the benefits of new technology without putting ourselves at risk," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. He urged collaboration between industry and security experts so businesses and organizations have the tools to secure data and address the growing, complex problem.
Since 2005, New York law has required breached institutions to advise the attorney general and the individuals when computerized private data consisting of names and account, Social Security or driver's license numbers were acquired by an unauthorized user. The report noted that it excludes thousands of data breaches involving sensitive information that don't fit under the law's reporting requirements.
The 7.3 million records exposed in 900 security breaches last year cost institutions an estimated $1.37 billion to investigate, rectify and help customers, the report said. They included the two largest so far, both involving retailers, when Target Corp. was hacked, exposing the personal information and credit card numbers of more than 70 million customers nationwide including 1.8 million New Yorkers, and LivingSocial's data was hacked, exposing 4.75 million records of New Yorkers.
Target said it subsequently imposed several security measures with enhanced monitoring, limiting vendor access, streamlining firewalls and resetting passwords.
LivingSocial spokesman Kevin Nolan said none of its customers' credit card data was ever compromised, that the exposed data in 2013 was limited to user names and encrypted passwords that were useless outside of its system.
While black market sales of private data were cited as the primary motivation for hacking, the report didn't identify New York consumer losses.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday brushed off recent bad news for the gaming industry, saying that the private sector and not the state will determine "the scale and scope" of casino operations coming soon to upstate.
"The private market does this," Cuomo said in response to a question about the recent Moody's downgrade of the industry from "stable" to "negative," and the subsequent news that the Trump Plaza casino will likely be the next Atlantic City gaming hall to shut down.
"They have experts. So I am sure they will propose what they believe will be successful," Cuomo said Tuesday in Niskayuna. "The state isn't building any casinos and the state isn't spending any money here, right? These are private companies, which normally know what they're doing. If they don't, then the market will tell them that."
Last week Moody's Investor Services concluded that U.S. consumers would likely "continue to limit their spending to items more essential than gaming, even as the U.S. economy continues to improve."
The firm viewed the regional gaming industry's modest slide over this past spring as a "fundamental downward shift" in demand.
In New Jersey, four of Atlantic City's 12 casinos have announced plans to close unless they find buyers.
New York's Gaming Commission is currently assessing 17 bids from companies hoping to secure one of up to four licenses to develop and run casinos upstate, including one in the Capital Region.
Cuomo has spent years trying to establish the economic development blueprint for the gaming expansion, which was approved by a statewide referendum last fall.
As many as 44 trains a week, each loaded with at least a million gallons of volatile crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken region, move through upstate New York, according to documents released Tuesday by the state.
CSX Transportation said it hauls an average of 20 to 35 trains a week across 17 New York counties from the west to Albany and then south along the Hudson River. Canadian Pacific said it hauls an average of five to nine crude oil trains a week through five counties from the Canadian border to Schoharie County, according to the documents released to The Associated Press by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services in response to a Freedom of Information Law request.
The U.S. Department of Transportation in May ordered railroads to give state officials specifics on oil train routes so emergency responders can better prepare for accidents. New York officials declined requests from CSX and Canadian Pacific to avoid public disclosure of the information.
CSX oil trains follow a route roughly following the Thruway corridor, entering the state in Chautauqua County, heading north through Erie County, then east to the Port of Albany, a major transfer hub for Bakken crude which then continues to refineries by ship down the Hudson River or by rail.
CP Rail oil trains travel south from Canada from Clinton County in northeastern New York to Albany.
Federal officials ordered railroads to turn over shipment details after a string of fiery accidents involving Bakken crude. Derailments have caused explosions in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Quebec, where 47 were killed when a runaway train crashed in Lac-Megantic last July.
Crude oil shipments have grown significantly since 2008. The Association of American Railroads says major railroads delivered 434,042 carloads of crude in 2013, up from 9,344 in 2008.
On Tuesday, environmental groups asked federal officials to ban shipments of crude in older tank cars which accident investigators say can rupture or puncture during crashes. The Obama administration said it will propose a rule this month governing tank cars that could include retrofits of older cars and tougher standards for new ones.
Neighbors object to suburban gun range
GREENBURGH — Some neighbors are objecting to a gun range in a pricey Westchester County residential area.
Members of the Greenburgh Town Board, which is considering new regulations for outdoor ranges, planned to visit the Westchester Police Revolver and Rifle League on Tuesday, according to CBS New York
The private range, which is not affiliated with a police agency, is in a subdivision where home prices start at $1.2 million.
Last month, a woman in her back yard was hit in the leg by a piece of metal. Ballistics testing is under way to see if it's a bullet fragment; but an attorney for the range said a stray bullet was unlikely.
"If you try to go outside the port to the left or outside the port to the right, it can't be done," Robert Berkowitz said.
Nonetheless, the range has said it was willing to consider changes.
— Associated Press
2 men rescued from 150-foot-high lift
NEWBURGH — Authorities say two workers for a Hudson Valley rental company spent more than five hours stranded 150 feet in the air when a lift they were testing malfunctioned and the device's manufacturer refused to provide information that would have rescued them sooner.
Officials in Newburgh tell the Times Herald-Record of Middletown that two men got stuck early Monday morning at United Rentals.
Fire officials say the equipment's manufacturer refused to provide an override code that would have allowed the bucket to be lowered.
Firefighters used a ladder truck, a regular ladder and safety ropes to eventually bring the men safely to the ground around 1:30 p.m. With thunderstorms forecast, fire officials said the two workers were "a giant lightning strike waiting to happen."
The lift's manufacturer said it couldn't divulge the override code for safety reasons.
— Associated Press
Man gets prison for strangling his wife
A suburban New York computer programmer has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for strangling his wife.
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore announced the sentence Tuesday for Christopher Howson. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter in May for killing Theresa Gorski in their Sleepy Hollow home.
She was a part-time staff attorney for the Bronx Legal Aid Society.
Howson called 911 on Jan. 5, 2013, and said he had just strangled his wife.
Authorities have said the couple's daughters were home when the killing occurred. They were 5 and 8 at the time.
— Associated Press
New York City Hall
What to watch for this week:
Mayor Bill de Blasio is in Italy this week, where he kicked off his family trip that will mix business and pleasure on Sunday in Rome. De Blasio met with Roman Mayor Ignazio Marino on Sunday and his Monday includes meetings with "the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin...Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini at the Farnesina, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs" and "former Integration Minister Cécile Kyenge in Rome," according to his public schedule. New York City-based journalists in Italy reporting on the de Blasio family's trip include NY1's Grace Rauh and Juan Manual Benitez, The New York Times' Michael Grynbaum, The Daily News' Jennifer Fermino, and The Wall Street Journal's Michael Howard Saul.
De Blasio delayed his departure for Italy one day after the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island resident, during an altercation with the NYPD. This week will surely include more fallout from Garner's death, which occurred after a chokehold was used on him - a practice which has been banned internally by the NYPD.
Also key this week is more on the electoral front, as attention on the upcoming elections will continue to mount as legislating has slowed or stopped in the City and Albany, respectively, and politicos nearly shift fully into campaign mode for the summer leading up to the September 9th primary and Novemeber 5th general elections.
Last week featured news of which 2014 candidates for state-wide and state-level elected offices filed the requisite petition signatures to make the ballot and what candidates' campaign fundraising numbers look like (investigate those filings here). This week, candidates continue to campaign and fund-raise, with the primary just seven weeks from Tuesday July 22nd.
On Monday, Siena will release a new poll on the statewide races for governor, attorney general, and comptroller; and several of the most important issues to voters, including fracking and common core.
There is governing happening, though: on Thursday, the New York City Council will meet for its lone full-body State meeting of the month. There are a few other council hearings this week. See below for details.
And, as always, there are several interesting one-off events and conferences this week to check out.
The run of the week in more detail:
The aforementioned Siena poll should be the talk of the town on Monday - along with further fallout from the death of Eric Garner and reports from the mayor's trip to Italy.
On Monday at the City Council, there are meetings of the Subcommittees on Zoning and Franchises; Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses; and Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions.
On Tuesday, the City Council's government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, will hold the second hearing for two bills: one on publishing the city record online and the other on the online publication of city laws. Counsel to the Mayor, Maya Wiley, testified at the last hearing on these bills, expressing mild opposition. It is unclear if she will be testifying again.
Other council committee meetings on Tuesday include the Committees on Rules, Priveleges, and Elections; Land Use; Mental Health, Developmenta Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services; and Immigration.
The mental health committee, chaired by Council Member Corey Johnson, will be looking at "Increasing the maximum income level qualifying for exemption from rent increases granted to certain persons with disabilities."
The rules committee, chaired by Council Member Brad Lander, will meet to consider several recommended appointments by Mayor de Blasio to the City Planning Commission and one nominee to the Landmarks Preservation Committee.
And immigration, chaired by Council Member Carlos Menchaca, will meet regarding a "Resolution urging the President of the United States to include comprehensive immigration reform, and issues of importance to African immigrants and the African Diaspora, on the agenda for the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit."
On Tuesday evening, Democratic Leadership for the 21 Century (DL21C) holds its summer bash: "Join us for drinks, dancing, and mingling with fellow politicos from across New York and the nation. You'll be joined by local, state and federal elected officials, as well as civic leaders and special guests. This is the best political party of the summer and you don't miss out."
Crain's New York hosts a conference, "The Business of Taxis: Innovating an Industry," on Wednesday morning at John Jay College of Criminal Justice: "The yellow taxi is a New York City institution. However, the NYC of today has opened its arms to other avenues of private transportation, but not without a fight. There are a myriad of upstarts, including the city-sanctioned green cabs, e-hail apps and other car services, and the taxi establishment is not happy about it. Are these disruptors simply stepping in where taxis have historically feared to tread? What are the issues these new technologies and increasingly powerful interest groups raise in the sharing economy? And the underlying questions looms large: how do you innovate a highly regulated industry that's often resistant to change?"
On Wednesday evening, the Stonewall Democratic Club will hold it's state elections endorsement meeting. There has been some discord within the LGBT community over Gov. Andrew Cuomo's agenda and inconsistent support for the governor's re-election from LGBT clubs that have endorsed thus far. Stonewall is the largest LGBT club in New York and its vote will surely say much about the governor's standing. Meanwhile, the club will also vote on other offices that will be on the ballot this fall.
Also on Wednesday evening, it's another round of New York's "Citizens Preparedness Training Program." This one's being held at Fordham University on West 60th Street and "Sponsored by Gov. Cuomo, Congress Member Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Gale Brewer, Senator Brad Holyman, Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal, Council Member Corey Johnson, and Community Board 7."
The City Council holds its lone July full-body Stated meeting on Thursday. Stay tuned for meeting details.
Prior to the Stated, the finance committee will meet to consider changes in designation to certain organizations receiving funding in the recently-passed fiscal year 2015 city budget, among other business.
On Thursday evening, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer hosts an Iftar dinner at The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center and "honoring Sheila Canby, Walter Edwards, and Dr. Rudina Odeh-Ramadan."
Friday and the weekend
It's the summer, so of course Friday and the weekend look light - but if you have intel on events to look at for, please let us know!
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? Email Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: firstname.lastname@example.org (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).
by Kristen Meriwether and Ben Max in New York City and David King in Albany
State leaders readily admitted that they don't understand the intricacies of the cutting-edge technology that will drive the next generation of semiconductor innovation, but they believe in its potential enough to invest $135 million in public funds.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced the creation of the New York Power Electronics Manufacturing Consortium, which will begin its operations at the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. The project will be led by General Electric Co., which on Tuesday hosted the announcement with Cuomo and GE CEO Jeff Immelt at its Global Research labs in Niskayuna.
The project is expected to create 500 new jobs in the Capital Region over the next five years, Cuomo said.
"Upstate New York at one time was Silicon Valley before there was a Silicon Valley," he told a room filled with researchers, executives and local officials, citing the region's role in the development of past cutting-edge technologies such as television.
In addition to GE, the New York consortium will include more than 100 companies — including GlobalFoundries, IBM and Lockheed Martin — and universities from across the state to develop silicon carbide technology for a new generation of power electronics components that will be stronger and more efficient than today's electronics. Potential applications range from cars and planes to electric power grids.
New York will not be the only center for this brand of research: Tuesday's announcement comes seven months after President Barack Obama announced the establishment of a series of innovation "hubs," called the Next Generation Power Electronics Institute, that will work on similar technology.
The total five-year cost of the New York consortium will be $500 million, with the state's $135 million augmenting $365 million in funds from the private companies. The initial work will take place in an existing 15,000-square-foot clean room in the NanoCollege's Nanofab South building, and is expected to expand to the school's growing list of satellite facilities across upstate.
"Nano is not just a child of the Capital District anymore," Cuomo said.
The state will own the buildings and high-tech tools used to produce the 6-inch semiconductor wafers, with the private companies serving as research tenants.
NanoCollege CEO Alain Kaloyeros said the state investment and the "open-innovation model" of the consortium was the most efficient way to develop this sort of highly complex technology.
"The Chinese government is investing trillions to build the tech parks and bring in those industries," Kaloyeros said.
Immelt said the state's investment would help benefit small- and medium-size businesses alongside the giants such as GE. "The thing that's typically missing with a lot of these process industries — and now I speak as the investor in the room — is it takes an incredible amount of capital to commercialize these technologies," he said. "It leaves a lot of small businesses at the door where they cannot participate because they just don't have the capital to invest."
"We believe in private enterprise, but it makes it easier for us to our job when we have the support and help of good government," Immelt said.
Cuomo was not the only state leader at the podium to freely admit that the complexity of the technology was beyond his capacity for understanding, though he said that hadn't changed much since the administration of his father, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who approved the investment that gave birth to the NanoCollege.
"I am sure when Dr. Kaloyeros spoke to my father about 25 years ago and said, 'We're going to launch the computer chip revolution with nanotechnology,' he had no idea what Dr. Kaloyeros was speaking about — but he had the good fortune to like the way he said it," Cuomo said.
" ... I have no idea what he's talking about — but I believe it's going to work," Cuomo said.
Larry Rulison contributed • email@example.com • 518-454-5619 • @CaseySeiler
Proponents of a proposed $750 million pipeline to carry natural gas from Pennsylvania to a Schoharie County pumping station are hoping a key federal decision on the project could come as soon as this summer.
"We're optimistic," said Chris Stockton, a spokesman for Williams Partners, which, along with Cabot Energy and a consortium of other companies, wants to construct the 122-mile Constitution Pipeline from Pennsylvania across New York.
The planned line would carry natural gas extracted by hydrofracking and would stretch from Susquehanna County, Pa., through four New York counties: Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie. It would terminate in the town of Wright, west of the Albany County Hilltowns, where it would connect with existing lines run by Iroquois Gas and Tennessee Gas.
Stockton said the project's backers are hoping for a decision, perhaps as soon as August, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the environmental impact statement that was issued in draft form in February. The comment period for the draft, which concluded the project would have "limited adverse environmental impacts," ended in early April.
Anne Marie Garti, a lawyer for the opposition group Stop the Pipeline, called Stockton's timeline "impossible."
While approval or denial will ultimately be up to the FERC, Garti said a number of other state and federal agencies have raised questions about the line's impact on natural features like wetlands. FERC officials say they are still conducting their environmental review of changes to the route, but there is no firm timetable to release the final impact statement.
The blueprint for the pipeline has changed over the past few years, often in response to safety concerns. Stockton said engineers have adjusted about 50 percent of the route, which no longer runs the line through the flood-prone village of Schoharie, a major worry for farmer and landowners in the wake of dangerous storms beginning with Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The line's backers say the project would generate millions of dollars in property taxes for local schools and other services. Additionally, they plan to build "taps" that will allow local gas distribution companies to bring the fuel to areas that currently have no gas service.
One Southern Tier company, Leatherstocking Gas, wants to carry natural gas to a plant operated by Amphenol Aerospace in Sidney, Delaware County. Amphenol, which employs about 1,000 people in the economically depressed area, has said the use of gas will save money if it switches from oil as the plant's main heat source.
Local firms could conceivably bring gas to communities throughout Schoharie County — if there's enough demand and a sufficient population base.
Opponents insist many residents along the route still don't want the line despite the changes to the plan. The Sierra Club's Roger Downs said roughly a third of landowners along the proposed route weren't letting pipeline surveyors on their property as of this spring.
If the project is approved, the pipeline's builders could use eminent domain to build their line across private lands. That process, however, could prove to be politically troublesome as well as time-consuming.
A segment of the opposition to the project emerges from the proposed pipeline's role delivering natural gas derived from the drilling technique known as hydrofracking, which is in use in Pennsylvania and many other states but remains banned in New York state.
New York officials continue to study the environmental and health impacts of hydrofracking, in which large amounts of water and a small amount of chemicals are forced underground in order to crack open natural gas deposits.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU
Keeping up the drumbeat against what they describe as "a raid" on federal water-quality loan funds, a coalition of environmental groups on Monday called on the state Public Authorities Control Board to reject a plan to hand $511 million to the Thruway Authority to aid in the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement span.
The plan was approved two weeks ago by the board of the state Environmental Facilities Corp. The Revolving Fund supports municipal water-quality projects around the state, including work on crumbling sewer infrastructure.
The advocates charged that only about $3 million of the low- and no-interest loans would support genuine environmental projects, with the rest spent mainly on elements of the bridge — including dredging and removal of the old span — that they argue shouldn't be eligible for this funding stream.
"The list goes on and on about the number of places where clean-water projects go begging in this state," said Peter Iwanowicz of Environmental Advocates, noting that several Long Island communities are in dire need of infrastructure work in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
The advocates demanded that the Cuomo administration unveil the full fiscal plan for the new bridge, including calculations of any toll increases that will be required. The Thruway Authority has not yet released those details, but last week snapped back at Democratic Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, a critic of the loan scheme, by saying he "must also be in favor of higher tolls on the new bridge."
"Every time groups like mine and others criticize the plan ... we're criticized by the administration for wanting to raise tolls," Iwanowicz said. "We have no idea if this is an accurate statement or not because they refuse to release details."
The Authorities Control Board, which plans to take up the plan in a Wednesday meeting, is comprised of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Republican state Sen. John DeFrancisco and Robert Megna, Cuomo's budget director. DeFrancisco, one of many who have pressed the Thruway Authority on its fiscal silence, has said the loan plan raises serious questions.
Paul Gallay of Hudson Riverkeeper intimated that a lawsuit might result if the Control Board approves the plan.
In statements, the Thruway Authority and the EFC defended the plan. "Not a penny in qualifying EFC funding is being diverted from other projects, and hundreds of millions in EFC funds will remain even after the New NY Bridge loans," said Thruway Authority Executive Director Tom Madison in a statement. " ... The Authority has never defaulted on its debt obligations and we will continue to look for other funding sources, including loans, grants and other innovative financing concepts, to ensure that we keep tolls on the New NY Bridge as low as possible."
email@example.com • 518-454-5619 • @CaseySeiler
New York state will receive $182 million from Citigroup as part of the banking giant's $7 billion federal settlement resulting from an investigation into its mortgage securities practices in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.
According to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office, roughly half of New York's share will go to programs that help New Yorkers struggling to hold on to their homes, including mortgage-principal forgiveness and loan refinancing for current Citi clients.
The money can also assist local governments with community revitalization efforts, including land banks, and legal services and housing counseling agencies that provide no-cost representation through the attorney general's Homeowner Protection Program.
According to Schneiderman's office, 14,000 state homeowners have "distressed loans" — either in default, under bankruptcy protection or nearing one of these circumstances.
Kirsten Keefe, a senior staff attorney for the Empire Justice Center's Albany office, hopes the bulk of the money will be spent on refinancing or otherwise modifying the bad loans that Citigroup doled out to New Yorkers.
Schneiderman said the settlement, announced Monday, would stand as punishment for "the misconduct that led to the crash of the housing market and the collapse of the American economy." Even so, Citi stands to benefit from restructuring these loans as well, because it means the bank won't take a loss on properties that would otherwise go into foreclosure.
If Citi reduces interest rates, offers principle forgiveness on certain loans and gives financial assistance for down payments, "the bank is now not in a situation where they're going to lose as much," said Susan Cotner, executive director of the Affordable Housing Partnership.
"Citi is evaluating the customers who are eligible under the settlement programs and will identify and contact eligible borrowers," said Citigroup spokesman Kamran Mumtaz. He declined to comment further on how it might distribute the money to housing organizations.
While Citi must portion out the $90 million to different forms of consumer relief enumerated in the settlement, Schneiderman's office noted that the distribution is at the bank's discretion. Citi will also pick the recipient organizations, though they must have been approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Housing experts said giving Citi this kind of discretion make this settlements unique from other with financial institutions.
Cotner said that while underwater loans have not been a major problem in the Capital Region, many people who are underemployed or have lost their jobs would benefit from loan modifications. Her organization has received funds through the attorney general's Homeowner Protection Program, which will receive a chunk of the Citi settlement. "We've had a good ally in the state attorney general," Cotner said. "It's been a huge partnership."
The plot appears to be thickening around state Sen. George Maziarz's surprise announcement that the western New York Republican won't seek re-election.
The lawyer for his former chief of staff Alisa Colatarci confirmed Monday that she has been subpoenaed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara amid an investigation into Maziarz's use of campaign funds. According to a person briefed on the matter, other members of Maziarz's staff also have received subpoenas from Bharara's office seeking information and documents. None have been called before a grand jury to testify.
Colatarci resigned last week along with office manager Marcus Hall. The resignations prompted calls from Niagara County Democrats for investigators to look into why the longtime staffers left.
Daniel French, Colatarci's attorney and a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District, said in an email that Colatarci received a subpoena several weeks ago regarding matters related to Maziarz, including issues related to his campaign committee. French said Colatarci is not a target of the investigation and is cooperating.
Rodney Personius, Hall's lawyer, confirmed that he is representing the former staffer, but did not comment further.
According to the Niagara Gazette, longtime Maziarz campaign treasurer Laureen Jacobs was subpoenaed in late May by investigators looking for financial records from the campaign committee.
Jacobs, a hospital administrator at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, did not return telephone calls last week.
Matt Nelligan, a Maziarz spokesperson, did not respond last week when asked if the senator or any staff members or campaign workers had received subpoenas from the Justice Department. He did not return a follow-up message seeking comment Monday afternoon.
A message left with Bharara's office also was not returned.
Maziarz told the Buffalo News that his retirement announcement, which went out Sunday night after several hours of rumors that he would walk away, had nothing to do with any investigation and denied wrongdoing.
The retirement leaves Senate Republicans, who are in the thick of a fight for an outright majority in the state Senate, without an incumbent in a district they likely would have defended if Maziarz had stayed put.
However, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos expressed confidence Monday that Maziarz's decision won't impact the battle for the Senate, saying he expects the GOP to retain the seat and win a clear majority.
Brendan J. Lyons contributed. firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10
State Sen. George Maziarz, a top Republican, will not run for re-election this fall.
Sunday night's announcement came hours after western New York Democratic sources said Maziarz was considering declining his petitions.
Maziarz said in a statement he has been considering retirement for the last five years and as he prepared to defend his 62nd Senate District seat, he did not have the passion and commitment he had in the past.
"People will ask me why now and the simple answer is there is never the perfect time to step away," Maziarz said. "I had the honor of following the late John Daly into the state Senate. I remember him telling me when he left the Senate it was simply time for the next generation of leaders in the Legislature. After nearly two decades in office, I fully understand what he meant and feel that way today."
Sources, as well as the Politics NY blog, said the Republican Party may tap North Tonawanda Mayor Rob Ortt to take Maziarz's place on the ballot.
Maziarz has become one of the GOP's more powerful senators, but fell under scrutiny in May when City & State magazine reported that the Moreland Commission was looking into his campaign expenditures.
The announcement comes days after the Niagara County Democratic Committee put out a release regarding reports that Maziarz's chief of staff and office manager resigned, which The Buffalo News confirmed Sunday.
In the release, Nick Forster, the county's Democratic chairman, called on federal and state prosecutors to investigate Maziarz, claiming that the resignations raised questions about the operation of the senator's office.
James M. Odato contributed. email@example.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10
City of opportunity - and challenges
Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. They define the character of our neighborhoods and exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit of both new and native New Yorkers. Often, they are where young people get their first work experience and where seniors find a job that helps them make ends meet in their retirement years.
Mayor de Blasio demonstrated his concern for small business earlier this month, when the Department of Consumer Affairs made good on his campaign commitment to reduce fines and begin to reform city inspection processes. That is a good start, but much more remains to be done.
City and state government regularly add to regulatory and legal mandates that fall most heavily on the city's more than 179,000 businesses with fewer than 20 employees. Rhetorical support for small business too often does not translate into public policies that promote their sustainability.
One reason for this disconnect is that the small business community has not fully been a part of the citywide policy conversation. GoBizNYC, a small business initiative of the Partnership for New York City, aims to change that.
GoBizNYC was launched a year ago to elevate the small business voice and, in that time, we have built a network that reaches over 25,000 small businesses across the five boroughs. Our mission is to strengthen the voice of small, immigrant, and minority-owned businesses, and to create an environment where small businesses can create more jobs and build our city's neighborhood economies.
By working collaboratively with small business groups across the city, including the Five Boro Chamber Alliance, local development corporations, merchant associations, business improvement districts, industry associations, and community-based organizations, we help support the small business community by ensuring that small business concerns are heard and thoughtfully considered by local policymakers.
As part of our effort to amplify the voice of the New York City small business community, we are collaborating with Gotham Gazette to publish the "Small Business Corner," a bi-weekly column featuring the opinions and perspectives of small business owners and advocates from the GoBizNYC network on the range of issues that concern the city's small businesses.
These op-eds will address policies that impact a small business directly, such as government efficiency and regulations, while also considering issues that affect a small business' ability to survive and thrive in New York City, such as infrastructure, public safety, education, and livability. This effort also exemplifies Gotham Gazette's commitment to bringing a wide range of voices and issues into the civic discourse through both its original reporting and its op-ed pages.
To all New York City small business owners and advocates: we hope this new platform will better enable you to engage in the local policy conversation and we look to you to support us in this endeavor by sharing your thoughts, experiences, and voices. To learn more about how you can be a part of GoBizNYC and participate in this effort, visit GoBizNYC.org.
Victor Wong is the Director of Business Outreach & GoBizNYC at the Partnership for New York City
Reach Victor Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reach Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Ben Max at email@example.com
The City of Boston Open Budget Application
Few documents in municipal government are as important as the city budget. The New York City budget, an annual agreement between the Mayor and the City Council due before or on June 30th each year, dictates the priorities for those elected officials.
"A budget is a statement of values," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at City Hall on June 19 when announcing the fiscal year 2015 budget agreement. "A budget affects people's lives at the grassroots every single day."
Despite its importance, the budget itself continues to be very difficult for everyday New Yorkers to read, navigate, and understand. But, as other cities are showing, this does not necessarily have to be the case.
Following the official adoption of the New York City budget after the Council votes to approve it, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) puts the budget documents on the City's website. Those documents are released in PDF format, and, unless you are a budget expert or someone who has used the documents before, discerning even what document to search for your desired information can be frustrating. Want to know how much the NYPD budget is this year? Is that found in the "Fiscal Year 2015 Expense and Contract Budget Resolutions" or the "Financial Plan" or the "Budget Function Analysis"?
While releasing data online is more transparent than not releasing it at all, today's data-savvy citizens are beginning to expect more from their government. Publishing data is only half the battle. People also want information that is accessible, intuitive, and useful for making decisions.
Some cities are starting to listen and are making proactive changes. The City of Boston has become a leader in using open data and working with the civic tech community to create applications to help residents in their day-to-day lives.
After years of releasing its budget in PDFs online, Boston decided to use a tool that would present the budget in a way that Bostonians can read and understand. On July 9, Boston unveiled Open Budget. The app, built by software company Socrata, allows users to easily explore the city's budget data, identify city priorities, follow trends, and track capital projects in their neighborhoods and elsewhere.
"The city budget drives the scope of the work the city is doing, so it's important that the public can have the opportunity to dive into it, and understand how we're using the budget to make government work for them," Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in a press release.
Introducing a budget application like this in New York City would be fairly easy because the city is already a Socrata customer (Socrata built the Open Data Portal) and the app already exists. It would cost about $500 per month for the app, plus a small one time set-up fee, according to a spokesperson from Socrata. It could take as little as a few weeks to launch, but could take longer if the data was not in the proper format, the company said.
Despite the relatively low cost, it does not appear The City of New York is ready to commit to the new budget app just yet.
"Watchdogs have given the Mayor's first budget high marks, delivering a fiscally responsible, progressive, and honest result through one of the most transparent budget processes in city history," Amy Spitalnick, spokesperson for OMB said by email July 16. "We will continue to make the process even more transparent and accessible, as we are always seeking opportunities to use new tools and data to improve delivery of services and increase transparency."
Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Council's government operations committee and a champion of opening up government data, said he supports bringing the budget app to New York City because it is, after all, the people's money.
"Every New Yorker should be able to see how their tax dollars are spent in a way that is easy to find and understand," Kallos said via email July 16. "I look forward to working with the administration to bring the same great applications from other cities to New York."
Gotham Gazette sent a link to the Boston budget app to Maria Doulis, director of city studies at Citizens Budget Commission, to see how someone who lives and breathes the city budget would view the application. While it does not provide the level of detail she would need to do in-depth analysis, she did have a positive response.
"It is an impressive tool, and the interface breaks down the spending in a guided way that makes it easy for most citizens to understand where money comes from and where money goes," Doulis said in an email July 10. "New York City puts a remarkable amount of data online, but there are few tools such as this to really explore the numbers."
Some budget data is available on the open data portal, although it is out of date and not all of the budget documents are currently available. The only real visual representation of city budget information is provided by the New York City Comptroller's Checkbook 2.0 website.
While the level of detail on Checkbook 2.0 is much greater than the Boston application (you can, for example, find out how much money the City spent on police cars last year if you know where to look), it can be challenging to navigate and does not have a visual representation of the adopted budget - it only tracks money going out each month and a projected yearlong total.
The budget app used by Boston is not the answer to everyone's problems, at least not in its current form. To do the kind of deep-dive analysis done by journalists and budget experts more detail would need to be provided. But for the average New Yorker who is stymied at the sight of a budget PDF, this tool already offers a pathway to far greater understanding of where their tax dollars go.
by Kristen Meriwether, Gotham Gazette