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Michael Gianaris Says He Will Remain as DSCC Chair

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 08:54

State Senator Michael Gianaris. (Photo: NY1)

Michael Gianaris doesn’t think he’s going anywhere.

Mr. Gianaris, a Queens lawmaker who chairs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, said last night he intended to continue in his role as chairman–even after State Senate Democrats suffered a wave of defeats last week and chatter remains about Mr. Gianaris losing his post.

“I sure do,” Mr. Gianaris said in a response to a question on NY1 last night about whether he intended to continue as DSCC chair. “I think my conference has confidence in me. I’ve spoken to Leader Stewart-Cousins, I know she has confidence in what we’ve done here.”

Mr. Gianaris said Senate Democrats did just fine in spite of a national Republican wave that swamped Democrats coast to coast. He pointed to Democrat Marc Panepinto’s win in a Buffalo area seat once held by a Republican as proof the DSCC was firing on all cylinders last week.

“In an historically bad year, to actually pick up a seat in Buffalo and hold on to some incumbents who were endangered–I think that we’re moving in the right direction, we’re just one seat away with a presidential year around the corner,” Mr. Gianaris said.

On a night Gov. Andrew Cuomo underperformed and several House Democrats in New York suffered major defeats, Senate Democratic candidates lost almost every competitive race, handing Republicans an outright majority in the upper chamber. Three Senate Democratic incumbents lost and some Democrats privately blamed Mr. Gianaris–sources say Mayor Bill de Blasio, who played an outsized role in trying to steer the Democrats to the majority, was displeased with Mr. Gianaris, though a spokesman insisted on the record this was not the case. (It is up to State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the senate minority leader, to reappoint Mr. Gianaris.)

Senate Democrats had high hopes going into Election Day. A five-member bloc of breakaway Democrats promised to sit in the majority with the mainline Democrats after sharing power with the Senate GOP over the past two years. All that remained was for the Democrats to protect enough seats to keep that majority in tact.

But the Republican romp consigned the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Democrats to the minority. State Senator Jeffrey Klein, the leader of the IDC, is flirting with keeping some kind of power-sharing arrangement with the Senate Republicans, though it’s not clear what form that deal could take.

Mr. Gianaris declined to criticize Mr. Klein last night.

“It’s less relevant to me than if we had gotten that one more seat that we needed to be at 32, then we’d be spitting fire if someone was going to go hand the majority over the Republicans after we clearly had an understanding that would not happen,” he said. “But now the Republicans are in charge one way or the other so, unfortunately, it’s a little less relevant.”

Cyrus Vance and Mariska Hargitay Announce $35 Million to Test Rape Kits Nationwide

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 16:47

Mariska Hargitay joined Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance to discuss funding for a nationwide rape kit backlog. (Photo: Jillian Jorgensen)

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance will offer up to $35 million for municipalities around the country to process backlogged sexual assault evidence kits — a move praised today by activists including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Mariska Hargitay.

“Today our office is announcing a $35 million commitment to help to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits nationwide. The examination of those kits will provide DNA samples that I believe will solve previously unsolved sexual assaults throughout the country, and will bring some measure of closure to victims and survivors who have waited years for their cases to be resolved,” Mr. Vance said today at a press conference in his Manhattan office.

Sexual assault evidence kits, better known as rape kits, are compiled in the aftermath of a reported sex crime. The rape victim — who is unable to shower because her body has become a crime scene, Mr. Vance said – is then subjected to an invasive gynecological exam. After all that, around the country some rape kits have simply sat on evidence room shelves, with prosecutors or police unable to spend the roughly $500 to $1,000 per kit to test them in cases where a suspect isn’t immediately apparent. In other cases, the kits were simply forgotten over the years, building up to an amount it becomes costly to test all at once.

The money will be doled out as grants to ensure it goes to programs ready to actually make use of it, Mr. Vance said. The funding will come from the city’s $440 million share of an $8.83 billion settlement with French bank BNP Paribas S.A., which admitted to violating U.S. sanctions by moving money through New York on behalf of Sudanese, Iranian and Cuban clients.

On television, Ms. Hargitay portrays Olivia Benson, a crusading and eternally sympathetic NYPD sergeant who investigates sex crimes and advocates strongly on behalf of victims. In real life, inspired by her fictional persona, she runs the Joyful Heart Foundation to help sex assault survivors — and in recent years the foundation  taken up the national backlog of rape kits as a major cause for advocacy.

She praised Mr. Vance as a “hero.”

“This is, hands down, the biggest investment that anyone has made to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States,” Ms. Hargitay said.

The issue of untested kits came into the spotlight after 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered in Detroit — where they lingered in a city that possessed almost no way to pay for testing them.

“We literally had to beg and borrow,” Kim Worthy, the prosecutor for Wayne County, which includes Detroit, said at the press conference.

But people stepped up to help — including Ms. Hargitay’s foundation.

“Each day as we struggled for funds, the rape kits got older and older and older, and victims were denied justice yet another day, another month, another year,” Ms. Worthy said. “And the rapists kept on raping and committing other crimes…these rapists did not stay in Detroit.”

So while the money will be used to pay for investigating crimes outside of this state – New York City has already eliminated its own backlog of 17,000 rape kits in an effort that began in 1999 — Mr. Vance and Ms. Worthy said the nationwide effort would solve and prevent crimes New York City here, too.

Out of 11,000 untested rape kits in Detroit, prosecutors found 1,600 DNA samples that were later involved in rapes elsewhere – including New York.

“We’re funding this project because rape is not a local crime,” Mr. Vance said. “Many who rape, rape again — and they rape again elsewhere. That’s what makes the backlog a national problem. DNA evidence solves crime across state lines and throughout the country.”

Natasha Alexenko’s case is an example of that. After she was violently raped and assaulted at gun point in New York City in 1993, her case went cold and her rape kit sat on a shelf for nine-and-a-half years.

“As the D.A. said, each rape kit represents a person whose body was a crime scene — and everything was inside that box of mine,” she said.

In 2003, the city opted to use the DNA evidence in her rape kit to charge her unknown assailant in a “John Doe indictment,” since the statute of limitations was approaching. In 2007, the NYPD found a DNA match to her attacker — after he was arrested for fighting with an officer who stopped him for jaywalking in Las Vegas. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to at least 44 years in prison. Now, Ms. Alexenko advocates for the testing of rape kits nationwide.

“I don’t even have enough words to thank these people behind me — and I think the public owes them a debt of gratitude,” she said.

Ms. Hargitay said she believed the nationwide backlog in testing kits offered a “brutal and clear demonstration of how crimes of sexual violence are regarded in our society.”

“The rape kit backlog sends two terrible messages. To victims, it says: ‘you don’t matter. What happened to you doesn’t matter.’ And to criminals it says: ‘what you did doesn’t matter,’” Ms. Hargitay said.

But testing the kits, she said, changes that.

“At long last, survivors hear the message: You do matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter.”

Bill de Blasio Takes a Swipe at Alison Grimes’ Failed Campaign

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 16:45

Alison Lundergan Grimes. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

She fund-raised in New York City plenty, but Alison Lundergan Grimes shouldn’t expect much help from the mayor if she ever runs for the U.S. Senate again.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, took a jab at Ms. Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat who fell to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, for failing to say whether she voted for President Obama.

“Al Franken stuck to his guns–talked about economic reality, talked about progressive solutions, won handily,” Mr. de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference in Manhattan, referring to the liberal senator from Minnesota.

“But in nearby states where Democrats couldn’t find their true values and couldn’t speak about them or couldn’t even acknowledge whether they voted for the president of the United States–it’s not a surprise that people didn’t see the real thing so they didn’t vote,” he said.

Ms. Grimes, regarded as a rising star in the Democratic Party, was widely mocked when she repeatedly refused to say whether she voted for Mr. Obama in a state where the president is deeply unpopular. Ms. Grimes was a delegate when the president successfully sought re-election in 2012.

Mr. de Blasio, positioning himself as a progressive leader nationally, published an op-ed in the Huffington Post today urging national Democrats to stick to strong liberal themes like fighting income inequality, even though Republicans dominated the midterm elections last week. Mr. de Blasio promoted the piece on Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show and will appear on MSNBC, the liberal news network, tonight.

The mayor today underscored the themes of his op-ed, arguing that Democrats failed when they did not articulate the “core values” of the party.

“Howard Dean had a great formulation … when he said he’s from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. You know, I think that’s what people are looking for,” Mr. de Blasio argued. “They’re looking for actual, consistent values and that’s what will motivate them to vote and anything short of that won’t.”

Mr. de Blasio at times sounded more like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a hero among the party’s liberal base, than the presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton. Mr. de Blasio is close to Ms. Clinton, the former New York senator and secretary of state, even though the left flank of the Democratic Party bristles at her more fiscally centrist approach to governing.

Mr. de Blasio would not say definitively whether a liberal insurgent would be healthy for the Democratic Party, even if this challenge came at the expense of Ms. Clinton.

“My view over the years has been that I do not fear them–sometimes they can be very helpful in terms of preparing the candidate to be very strong for the general election,” Mr. de Blasio said of primaries. “Much more important right now is Democrats getting back to Democratic values.”

Council’s Land Use Committee Approves ‘Astoria Cove’ Mega-Project

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 16:06

Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides (Photo: Will Bredderman).

The massive Astoria Cove project is a major stride closer to launching today — as is long-proposed ferry boat service for the Queens waterfront area.

After months of negotiating and hours of backroom deliberation, the City Council’s powerful Land Use Committee today stamped its approval on the controversial 1,700-unit luxury development–permitted that it set aside 468 units for low- and middle-income tenants, hire unionized construction workers and building staff, include a co-operative supermarket, pay for improvements to local parks and a senior center and commit $5 million to the construction of a ferry dock.

“I am happy to say we have an agreement here at Astoria Cove that truly integrates this development into our community,” said Councilman Costa Constantinides, who represents the area where the development will take place, but does not sit on the Land Use Committee. “This deal is historic and we’ve changed the way development happens.”

The controversial luxury Queens waterfront project–which also includes retail and a new school–encountered considerable resistance over developer Alma Realty’s initial reluctance to hire union labor and to set aside more than a quarter of the new residences for low- and middle-income tenants. Mr. Constantinides–joined by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz–had led the opposition and the arm-twisting, and the Council almost always defers on land use matters to the wishes of the local representative.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, was a supporter of the project–seeing it as a test case for his new mandatory inclusionary zoning policy, which requires developers to insert affordable units into new developments as a precondition for construction. Previously, the city had relied on subsidies and tax abatements to entice companies into adding below-market rate units.

Committee Chairman David Greenfield noted that the 27 percent of units set aside for below-market rents is the largest affordable housing percentage agreement in city history.

“That means that this is really incredibly significant. The developer cannot build unless they build affordable, which is something we’ve never done before,” said Mr. Greenfield, who argued the community benefits and labor arrangements are unprecedented in his tenure as a councilman.”We have not had a better deal than this one. This is the best deal we have made to date in my five years in the City Council.”

Further complicating the already fraught Universal Land Use Review Process was the revelation that the mayor’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development had accidentally misread the zoning maps for the area, underestimating the amount of affordable housing Astoria Cove would require for a coveted 421-a tax break.

Councilmen Donovan Richards and Jumaane Williams expressed reservations about the lack of provisions for very low-income individuals, but voted in favor of the project anyway. Councilwoman Inez Barron abstained, noting that the affordable housing is reserved for those making 60 to 125 percent percent of the area median Income, an average of incomes in the surrounding area.

“We have to say ‘affordable to whom?’” argued Ms. Barron, who also noted a lack of accommodations for the homeless and special needs populations. “We’re not looking at approximately 70 percent of the people who don’t meet those levels.”

There will be a full council vote at tomorrow’s stated meeting, but the approval from the committee and Mr. Constantinides represented the project’s last major hurdle.

Even with a ferry dock, however, the area will still need ferry boats for water transport to other boroughs–which Mayor Bill de Blasio has said is one of the objectives of his administration.

Bill de Blasio Says ‘Very Rough Night’ Made Him Late to Flight 587 Memorial

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 15:43

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

He wasn’t intentionally tardy–just sleepy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said a “very rough night” of little sleep, in addition to fog, kept him from arriving on time to a Wednesday morning memorial service commemorating the anniversary of Flight 587′s crash in Belle Harbor, Queens.

“I was just not feeling well this morning. I had a very rough night, woke up sluggish and I should have gotten myself moving quicker,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters today at an unrelated press conference in Manhattan. He apologized several times for his lateness. “It’s my responsibility.”

Mr. de Blasio was close to 20 minutes late this morning to the memorial service, commemorating the plane crash’s 13th anniversary. Relatives of the victims were furious–one person at the service tweeted, according to Gawker, “this fucking Dumass mayor bill de blasio , is showing up late . Kill urself.”

He was reportedly so late he missed the moment of silence held every year 9:16 a.m., the time the flight crashed. “Since he’s not here, we should start reading the names (of the dead). This is a disgrace,” one man said at the ceremony, according to the Daily News.

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio attributed the lateness to the fog his police boat encountered on the way to the Rockaway peninsula. Mr. de Blasio confirmed that account today, but when pressed on why he didn’t just leave earlier knowing the weather conditions, the mayor copped to not being able to sleep.

“I just woke up in the middle of the night, couldn’t get back to sleep and felt really sluggish and off-kilter this morning,” he said.

Mr. de Blasio said “previous efforts” to use a police boat from Gracie Mansion to another location had gone swimmingly. The boat “had proven to be a real time-saver. Unfortunately, this time the fog caught us off guard,” he said.

Tardiness has long been an issue for the mayor. After he was elected last November, Mr. de Blasio raised eyebrows by arriving at events 30 minutes or even an hour late. In January, he told the Observer he was “very comfortable” with his constant lateness, chalking it up to how busy he could get as mayor.

Mr. de Blasio was more blunt in an interview with the Times several months later, dismissing punctuality as a hallmark of people like former President George W. Bush, a Republican the liberal Democratic mayor dislikes. Mr. de Blasio also drew fire for the slow pace of his administration appointments.

Bill de Blasio: ‘Democrats Have to Be Bold Again’

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 14:36

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Democrats shouldn’t blame a Republican wave for wiping them out in the mid-term elections, Mayor Bill de Blasio said today — they should blame themselves for not promising progressive policies.

“For everyone looking ahead to 2014, it comes down to this: Democrats have to be bold again,” Mr. de Blasio told Rev. Al Sharpton on his radio program, Keepin’ It Real.

The mayor doubled down on an argument he made in an op-ed for the Huffington Post today — that Democrats should not “soul search” or run away from their party’s values, but should offer big, progressive idea like minimum wage hikes and universal pre-kindergarten.

“If Democrats do that, we will actually motivate the American people to come out in droves in 2016 and elect a Democratic president,” Mr. de Blasio told Mr. Sharpton. “If Democrats fail to do that, it’s gonna be one hand clapping — and the only hand clapping will be a Republican one.”

Mr. de Blasio echoed the sentiments of many who have broken down the failure of Democrats to win or hold seats in saying that the party simply didn’t communicate a message.

“Too many Democrats in the midterms did not speak to people’s real lives, and speak to the economic reality that people are going through all over this nation,” Mr. de Blasio said. “A lot of people stayed home – a lot of voters stayed home, including Democratic voters, because they did not hear a message or a set of ideas that were relevant to their lives.”

Mr. Sharpton pointed to the mayor’s win in 2013 after running almost entirely on progressive issues, which would seem to go against this year’s right-wing successes. Mr. de Blasio added that his own victory came after 20 years of the seat being held by a Republican and a Republican-turned-Independent.

“We talked about income inequality right out in the open. It was core to the whole campaign,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Increasing wages and benefits, fixing schools, all things that would really change the dynamic.”

Those Democrats who lost did not give people “a clear reason to vote for them,” the mayor said.

“You look at the Democrats who stood up and made clear their progressive values, a lot of them did quite well,” he said.

Mr. de Blasio’s relentless endorsement of progressive campaigning and values may seem to some as a veiled message to the centrist Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who was challenged from the left in a primary by Zephyr Teachout and was derided by the Working Families Party and activists for not being progressive enough. The mayor did not mention Mr. Cuomo, who did win re-election, though by a smaller margin than he might have liked.

“Be real Democrats,” Mr. de Blasio urged members of his party. “Be progressive. Be consistent. Be proud of it.”

The mayor’s appearance on Mr. Sharpton’s radio show, during which he also discussed the city’s new policy on marijuana possession, is sure to rile NYPD unions, who have stridently objected to the mayor’s relationship with the civil rights activist, whom they have called as divisive an anti-police.

Letitia James: Every New Yorker Should Have ‘A Safe and Secure Pension by 2030′

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 11:39

Public Advocate Letitia James (Photo” Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

As private companies become more stingy with their retirement plans, Public Advocate Letitia James told a business group this morning she’d seek to create a pooled retirement fund for any New Yorker whose employer doesn’t offer a pension plan.

“Every New Yorker must have access to a safe and secure pension by 2030,” Ms. James told business leaders at a breakfast held by the Association for a Better New York. “This goal can only happen with the cooperation of employers, labor, and government working together.”

Ms. James said she would seek to accomplish that goal by creating a “centrally pooled retirement fund” for private workers by 2030, open to “all private-sector New York workers who currently have no access to a pension.”

Speaking to many private-sector employees, Ms. James sought to present the proposal as a win-win-win for the city, workers, and employers.

“Such a system could undoubtedly create a competitive advantage for private businesses here in New York. In addition to attracting and retaining employees, such a plan would offer employees an alignment of interest with long-term business growth, stability for their own lives and the hope of a retirement in place and with dignity, where they could continue to live, pay rent or a mortgage,” Ms. James said.

The proposal would be a significant expansion of local government’s responsibility for the private workforce, potentially a sort of miniature version of the nation’s Social Security system. Asked whether she thought New York’s workers had a right to pensions, Ms. James said she was simply responding to a growing retirement crisis.

“I think all of us need to be concerned about the looming crisis in 2030, the reality is the vast majority of New Yorkers in the year 2030 will not have a pension, and ultimately all of us will pay for it. So I think we really need to talk about our retirement security in the city of New York, otherwise we’ll see a number of retirees relying upon government programs and public assistance and that just is not sustainable in the city of New York,” Ms. James told the Observer.

The public advocate will introduce legislation to the City Council this month, she said, to create a seven-member “Private Pension Advisory Board” to study the possibility of a private-sector pension fund.

It’s not the first time the idea has been raised: In June, Comptroller Scott Stringer announced plans to form an advisory panel to examine ways to provide retirement options for sector workers in the city. That panel is in the process of being formed, his office said.

While Ms. James said the private pension fund could be run similarly to city and state employee retirement systems, she would leave the details to her proposed advisory board to determine.

“Right now what we’re proposing is a study bill, and we’re proposing an advisory committee that would really look at it. So whether or not it would be employee contribution, whether or not it would be matched by their employers, we don’t know — all of those things would be put on the table and we would look at the possibility of creating a private pension fund. This is nothing more than an exploratory bill,” she said.

Ms. James said she had not yet discussed the legislation with the Council or Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — who recently rolled out several policies to assist the city’s aging population — will be reviewing the plan.

“There are many challenges facing New York’s seniors, that’s why the Speaker announced several new proposals including the expansion of the Council’s Age-friendly initiative to all districts a few weeks ago. We look forward to reviewing the Public Advocate’s proposal,” said Eric Koch, a spokesman for Ms. Mark-Viverito.

Mr. de Blasio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

During her remarks — in which she also called for the creation of a city “Master Planner” position to take a bigger picture approach to what are often ad-hoc development decisions — Ms. James noted she may not be regarded as the most business-friendly city official, but said she was seeking to re-introduce herself to the business world.

“I fundamentally reject the notion that being pro-tenant, pro-union, pro-affordability, means being anti-business or anti-development,” Ms. James said.

Rangel Says He’ll Volunteer for Combat if Obama Can Prove ISIS Threatens Harlem

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 10:33

Congressman Charles Rangel at this year’s Veterans Day Parade in Manhattan. (Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

If President Obama can prove the Islamic State threatens his district, Congressman Charles Rangel is ready to do whatever it takes to defeat the extremists–maybe even don military fatigues himself.

The 84-year-old Korean War veteran, long opposed to military interventions abroad, claimed this morning that if Mr. Obama can show how exactly ISIS directly threatens his constituents, he’ll volunteer for the war effort.

“If the president or anyone can prove that ISIS is a threat to the people of my block where I live or my congressional district, hell, I’ll volunteer to do whatever I can … for the security of this country,” Mr. Rangel said on AM 970 The Answer this morning.

“A lot of this started off because we wanted oil and because there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and I just don’t believe that any governments have leveled with the American people when we send young men overseas and we bring them back with mental problems, physical problems,” he added.

While Mr. Rangel is a proud supporter of President Obama and often rails against Republicans trying to block his agenda, the Harlem lawmaker is wary of sending American troops into combat overseas. He voted against the Iraq War and was one of the few local Democrats to oppose the president’s recent plan to arm Syrian rebel fights to combat ISIS, an emboldened terrorist group which has seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Government officials fear an unchecked ISIS can eventually launch a terrorist attack on American soil, though there’s no direct evidence that any attack is imminent. President Obama angered anti-war lawmakers like Mr. Rangel when he announced several days ago the deployment of 1,500 “non-combat” troops to Iraq to help Iraqi forces battle ISIS.

“This whole idea of presidents sending out men and women abroad, saying that here’s issues of national security without having debate, without having the Congress declare war–to me is unconstitutional,” he continued. “It’s an insult to the American people when you say, well we’re sending 1,600, we already got 2,000 there but we don’t have boots on the ground.”

Mr. Rangel said any American troops abroad are authorized to “defend themselves” and troops on foreign soil are immediately interpreted as aggressors to the native population. “If we have foreigners with guns in our country, we will consider them aggressors. If we are bombing countries, which we are, and something happens and God forbid the plane gets shot down, that’s boots on the ground.”

He also mocked Mr. Obama’s strategy of training certain Syrian rebels to fight ISIS: “I don’t see how the hell you can even select who you are paying in terms of which rebels are the one on our side. Most of them have been on both sides.”

The Harlem lawmaker lamented that criticizing American foreign policy in Congress can still be difficult.

“It’s an awkward thing, it’s an appearance of a lack of patriotism,” he said.

In U.S.-China Climate Deal, Big Loser Is Russia

Wed, 11/12/2014 - 09:04

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A major bilateral agreement regarding limiting carbon emissions between China and the U.S. is the most significant development from the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing. The agreement calls for the U.S. to substantially reduce its carbon output over the next decade and, very importantly, also calls for China to begin reducing its carbon output in 2030. The China-U.S. accord may or may not make a direct impact on climate change, but it is a major step in that direction. It also may face opposition from the Republican controlled Congress, but the White House had indicated they have the authority to implement the agreement without congressional approval.

This agreement has bearing on environmental politics, partisan politics in the U.S and the most important bilateral relationship for the U.S., but it is also significant for another country, Russia, and its evolving role in the world. Russia, of course, was not part of this climate change discussion, but signed a non-binding memorandum for another major gas deal with China during the APEC summit. Though the details of that gas deal have not been finalized, it is expected to be worth well over $100 billion. While this contract would strengthen ties between China and Russia, it also solidifies Russia’s position as simply a supplier of raw material to Beijing, rather than as an economic or political equal.

Like the energy deal the two countries agreed upon in May, this one will also probably be better for China than for Russia. According to industry website Oilprice.com, “[t]he latest deal will likely be even more lopsided in China’s favor. That is because Russia’s leverage has been severely diminished in just the few months since the May 2014 deal. Western sanctions have struck a severe blow to the Russian economy.” In other words, American and European sanctions forced Russia into a bad negotiating position that was exploited by China.

Thus, unless something changes the story of from the APEC summit is that the U.S. and China are trying to work together, despite their many differences, to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems while Moscow, desperate for cash and markets, finds a way to sell more gas to China at a bad price. For a Russia that is anxious to be seen as a major player on the global stage, this cannot be good news.

President Obama may not be able to win support for his agreement on climate change with China from a hostile and confident Republican congress, but events in Beijing show that the western strategy towards Russia is beginning to show dividends, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin leaves Beijing again reminded that for much of Asia he is seen as somebody to whom to turn for cheap raw material, not global leadership. If for no other reason than that, Mr. Obama deserves credit for some success in Beijing.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.

 

Brown v. the Lords of Education: Campbell Brown’s Next Fight

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 23:36

(Photo Rick Wenner/New York Observer)

Campbell Brown’s hand strikes the straw in her drink, launching a chunk of ice into the air.

“Don’t parents have a right to weigh in here? I mean, don’t they?” Ms. Brown leans in, suddenly furious. “And a parent at a failing school in the Bronx—how does she get her voice heard, the single mother whose kid is stuck in the failing school?”

Ms. Brown is far from done.

The single mother, she continues, is “not Randi Weingarten, who has enormous power and enormous money and enormous influence.”

The mere mention of Randi Weingarten, president of the powerful American Federation of Teachers, is enough to melt the Southern gentility off Ms. Brown, the CNN anchorwoman-turned-education activist. Her gentle grin vanishes. She aggressively waves her hands.

In 2010, the Louisiana native left television news, where ratings are king and the superficiality began to wear on her, for the unpaid position of education advocate. She now pens Op-Eds, stages press conferences and runs two nonprofits, the Partnership for Educational Justice and the Parents’ Transparency Project, which, according to its Facebook page, aims to “expose deals that put special-interest groups ahead of NYC students.”

Ms. Brown finds herself, like her friend Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, in the crosshairs of people like Ms. Weingarten. Critics see her as a shallow front for Wall Street robber barons trying to eviscerate teachers unions and make public education a for-profit venture.

“I’m a reporter, I mean that’s all I know how to do and I have a platform which allows me to give voice to people who don’t have one,” Ms. Brown told the Observer late last month at a café in lower Manhattan.

Ms. Brown’s cri de coeur is not charter schools per se, though she sits on the board of Ms. Moskowitz’s growing company and adopts the fine-tuned rhetoric of their ilk (replace the word charter with choice, for starters). Rather, she is committed to reforming teacher tenure, railing that it’s just too damn hard to dismiss bad teachers in New York City, particularly sexual predators.

She tells a quick story about how she successfully marshaled parent outrage to force an abusive teacher from a public school classroom in Queens. “This system is so broken,” she said. “If you don’t put the power to remove teachers in the hands of the chancellor, the person who ultimately is responsible for the kids in the system, then that is a broken system. There’s no way to argue that that shouldn’t be fixed.”

“The union is gonna lose this battle,” vowed Ms. Campbell.

Following a lawsuit against teacher tenure in California, one of Ms. Brown’s nonprofits, the Partnership for Educational Justice, filed a suit to challenge the New York State Education Department’s employment policy. The suit argues that the protections make dismissing terrible teachers all but impossible and disproportionately saddle poor and minority students with lousy educators. The California lawsuit, upheld by a superior court judge, has been stayed pending an appeal.

Why Ms. Brown is now obsessed with the work rules protecting unionized teachers is a question many of her critics ask. Divining her true motivations (Pretty foot soldier for the hedge fund managers? Willing puppet of a GOP husband?) is a parlor game played among her detractors.

And it’s one she swats aside.

Campbell Brown (Photo: Facebook)

“What I’m doing now matters more than anything I’ve done before,” she says. Ms. Brown explained that becoming a parent of two boys—neither of which attend public school—motivated her to think seriously about the future of education.

“So much is at stake and I think I rarely felt that way about television journalism. With the exception of a few stories that I covered that, you know, were incredibly powerful and my experience in TV was definitely an evolution going into it believing, probably over-idealistically that you would do more to impact people’s lives,” she said.

Ms. Brown departed the television world for many reasons—low ratings on her CNN show didn’t help—but one reason she cited was the false equivalency many journalists are forced to regurgitate if they want to appear objective. All sides are not equally right, Ms. Brown argued, and on education reform, she found herself unhappily muzzled.

“You know, on this issue there’s a right side and a wrong side and I’m not going to pretend that there’s balance,” Ms. Brown said. “It would be hard for me to cover it as a reporter because I would have to pretend that both sides have merit when it’s very clear to me that they don’t.”

Labor-affiliated groups acquainted Ms. Brown with the bare-knuckle way of municipal politics when they launched a public relations blitz against her earlier this year. Replete with a website—realcampbellbrown.com, brandishing the slogan “Right-Wing. Elitist. Wrong”—and a report about her alleged ties to conservative causes, the campaign slammed Ms. Brown for once being a registered Republican and failing to disclose the donors of her nonprofit. (Ms. Brown, who says she is non-partisan, disavowed the blitz as offensive and even sexist. She said the donors, some of whom will come forward soon, have a right to privacy.)

Mother Jones, the liberal, pro-labor investigative magazine, rebuked Ms. Brown for using a Republican-affiliated consulting firm to craft a television ad that ran in the mayoral race last year. Attacking candidates like Anthony Weiner and future Mayor Bill de Blasio for allegedly not taking a stand against making it easier to dump inept and dangerous teachers, the ads ran throughout the race and made Ms. Brown—used to covering political campaigns from the outside—a participant in the line of fire.

What seems to gall Ms. Brown’s opponents most is that she lacks a background in education. Ms. Weingarten writes Ms. Brown off as a misguided lightweight. “In our culture, the John Wayne types get more headlines than the John Dewey types,” Ms. Weingarten told the Observer, referring to the pragmatist philosopher. (Ms. Brown acidly noted she had invited Ms. Weingarten on her show “many times” and the union leader declined.)

In response, Ms. Weingarten pivoted straight to Ms. Brown’s credentials, or lack thereof: “You don’t know schools, you don’t know teachers and you don’t really know New York and you really haven’t earned the right to be that kind of advocate—a lot of people generally think it’s opportunistic and I think she herself personally hasn’t gotten the traction that she initially wanted to get.”

Academics on the left say weakening teacher tenure, which Ms. Brown equates to a paradigm-shifting, civil rights issue of our time, is not proven to boost educational outcomes. “Quite simply: there is no research demonstrating causation between teacher tenure laws and lower rates of student achievement, which is the entire argument behind the lawsuit,” wrote Alyssa Hadley Dunn, an assistant professor of teacher education at Michigan State University, in a Washington Post story examining claims Ms. Brown made during an appearance on The Colbert Report.

To critics, Ms. Brown can seem like a moneyed voyeur treating education reform as a pet project. Tall and telegenic, Ms. Brown, 46, lives in Tribeca. She is married to Dan Senor, an advisor to Mitt Romney who previously served as the public face of the Coalition Provisional Authority during the dismal early days of the Iraq War.

“While it’s laudable that she wants to help black and brown children and let that be her charitable, philanthropic work now that she’s no longer an anchor, we the parents are the real stakeholders and what Campbell has attempted to do is bully us and hijack us on a lawsuit we filed first,” said Mona Davids, the president of the New York City Parents Union, another teachers union antagonist.

Ms. Davids’ beef is that her group also filed a lawsuit similar to Ms. Brown’s—they were consolidated, though Ms. Davids argued her lawsuit was different because she was not challenging teacher tenure, just the “last in, first out” seniority rules and the alleged difficulty of removing “racist, sexually abusive teachers,” in Ms. Davids’ words.

“She thinks because she’s wealthy, connected, has hedge fund money behind her, she can come in and push parents aside and make our struggle be about her,” Ms. Davids said.

In an environment where American high school reading and math scores can’t crack the top 20 worldwide, each side of this issue plays the underdog card. Teachers unions say their enemies are the 1 percent bankrolling sympathetic politicians to push a charter school agenda; Ms. Brown points out that it’s the unions themselves that represent the goliaths in this fight. Ms. Brown does traffic in elite circles, but her motives, allies insist, are genuine.

“She didn’t come at this the way many of us did through the schooling lens, she came at it as a smart person who knows how to do investigative journalism only to find that there were really perverse incentives in schools and schools are not as much about children as the interests of adults,” Ms. Moskowitz said. “She’s just a powerful, persuasive presence.”

The local political winds may be blowing at Ms. Brown’s back. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Republicans in control of the State Senate celebrate charter school growth and resent teachers unions. Ms. Moskowitz’s Success schools are booming. The nemesis of charter schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio, is tempering his rhetoric.

Ms. Brown thinks she has history on her side.

“What I’d love to see is for us to reach a tipping point the way we did for marriage equality. Where there was so much focus and attention around an issue that it forced many people to wake up, to really take a moment and think about it and realize that it was a moral issue,” she said.

“And I’d love,” she adds, “to help create that same kind of moment.”

Obama Pick for AG Let HSBC Off the Hook

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 16:47

US Attorney Loretta Lynch speaks after President Obama introduced her as his nominee to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Yesterday a group consisting mainly of “American service members or family members of soldiers killed in Iraq” filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn that accuses some of the biggest banks in the world of financing terrorism. As DealBook reported, the lawsuit cites “more than 50 attacks on American citizens stationed or working in Iraq during the war… accus[ing] the banks of helping to finance the violent activities through their ties to Iran.”

For HSBC, one of the five banks named in the suit (Barclays, Standard Chartered, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Credit Suisse were the others), the lawsuit follows a settlement with the Justice Department in 2012 that resulted in a $1.9 billion fine.

According to a Matt Taibbi blockbuster in Rolling Stone, HSBC, indirectly and directly, laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for entities that included Mexican drug cartels, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Russian gangs, Iran, and North Korea.

While the case was not the first by the DOJ to be resolved with an exclusively financial settlement without criminal prosecution, it was notable for the DOJ’s explicit statement of its reasoning that “had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges… HSBC would almost surely have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institutions would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized.”

That’s strong language from the Justice Department, which all but apologizes for not prosecuting a criminal case it clearly believes it could have won.

“Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution,” said then Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

The DOJ was heavily criticized for deciding not to indict HSBC, pursuing criminal prosecution, and charge any top HSBC executive despite its repeated gross violations and raised questions about the governments ability to prosecute criminal behavior by institutions that have grown too large and systemically critical to indict.

And one of the people chiefly responsible for that decision is none other than President Obama’s pick to head the Department of Justice, Brooklyn US Attorney Loretta Lynch.

Ms. Lynch said the bank had ignored “numerous red flags and warnings about the money laundering risks” but some identified a more serious problem. Former New York Attorney Eliot Spitzer told Rolling Stone, “you can’t make up more egregious money-laundering that permeated an entire institution.”

HSBC was fined $1.9 billion in a settlement with the Justice Department in 2012. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Ms. Lynch’s connection to the new lawsuit raises questions for Republican lawmakers eager to see a radical change from the status quo at Eric Holder’s Justice Department, which is known for extracting enormous fines from financial institutions (enormous to some but not for others) but nearly zero criminal convictions.

The Attorney General’s long and weary term has been marked by several high-profiles scandals for the Justice Department, from its suspicious dealing with the IRS email scandal to the outright debacle of Operation Fast and Furious. This legacy has not remained isolated to Attorney General Holder’s term. White House Counsel, Kathryn Ruemmler, rumored to have been on the shortlist for Holder’s replacements, was passed over, some speculate, because of worries that her involvement in the same scandals would stir up Republican lawmakers, preventing a successful confirmation process.

Widely seen as apolitical and supremely competent and with her two previous successful Senate confirmations suggesting bipartisan palatability, Ms. Lynch and her nomination has elicited a cautious, but positive reaction.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement that Ms. Lynch’s “nomination should be considered in the new Congress through regular order,” when Senator McConnell is expected to be majority leader of the Republican-controlled Senate.

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) added in a statement, “I have every confidence that Ms. Lynch will receive a very fair, but thorough, vetting by the Judiciary Committee.”

While US Attorney Lynch’s nomination has largely been seen as an astute political selection, Republican lawmakers may still seize the confirmation process as an opportunity to criticize the president’s use of executive power, especially regarding immigration, and further investigate the lingering scandals and criticisms surrounding the Justice Department under Mr. Holder’s tenure, especially if her nomination cannot be confirmed before the new year, as is likely to be the case.

A confirmation process that is more prolonged and difficult than expected may bring up the more general issue about Ms. Lynch’s capacity to, as Mr. Grassley put it, “restore confidence in the Attorney General as a politically independent voice for the American people.”

Loretta Lynch shouldn’t have to answer for Mr. Holder’s decision making. And while her supporters may say that it was Washington calling the shots on HSBC, the toughest questions Ms. Lynch may face could revolve around her involvement in the decision not to pursue criminal charges against the bank, a bank that her own office accused of egregious financial acts and which now stands accused of even greater treachery.

Video: Brooklyn Politicians Tear It Up on the Dance Floor

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 15:45

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo with Jamel Gaines (Facebook: Laurie Cumbo).

Brooklyn Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo’s scintillating rhythmic moves won her first prize at a dance contest honoring Rev. Al Sharpton on Friday–continuing the proud tradition her predecessor, now-Public Advocate Letitia James, began in 2010.

Ms. Cumbo reported on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that she practiced her routine with choreographer Jamel Gaines to the Jennifer Lopez/Pitbull collaboration “Live It Up” for three weeks before taking the stage at Long Island University’s Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn for the “Stars of NY” dance contest.

“Thank you to all who participated and attended!!!” Ms. Cumbo wrote, before adding the hashtag: “#winning.”

Proceeds from the five-year-old competition fund scholarships for students at Brooklyn’s Creative Outlet Dance Theater. According to a poster for the event Ms. Cumbo shared on her Facebook page, Inside City Hall anchor Errol Louis served as host, and Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson was among the borough luminaries in attendance.

Ms. Cumbo is not the first councilwoman from the central Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant to participate in the contest. Ms. James–Ms. Cumbo’s predecessor–also trained with Mr. Gaines to dance, with less apparent success, to Aretha Franklin’s “I Ain’t Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” at the first-ever “Stars of NY” event.

Ms. James’ team said she was proud to see Ms. Cumbo following in her dance-steps.

“The Public Advocate has happily donated her time to Stars of New York Dance, a wonderful event that helps raise scholarship funds for low-income youth. She has worked with some of Brooklyn’s finest dancers developing her routines, and is pleased that Council Member Laurie Cumbo, already a leader in Brooklyn’s arts community, will be participating this year,” said spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis.

Ms. Cumbo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ms. Cumbo’s act can be seen here:

Ms. James’ can be seen here:

De Blasio, Bratton and Kelly Cross Paths at Veterans Day Parade

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 15:00

Former New York City Police Commissioner and parade Grand Marshal Raymond Kelly takes part in the opening ceremony preceding the annual Veterans Day Parade. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio has often criticized Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s leadership of the NYPD, but he had nothing but praise for the former top cop when the two crossed paths at the Veterans Day Parade today.

Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Kelly — a veteran of the U.S. Marines who was the parade’s grand marshal — greeted one another toward the end of the route and had a brief conversation. Mr. Kelly also exchanged a warm greeting with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.

Mr. de Blasio said they didn’t talk shop.

“I have a lot of respect for Commissioner Kelly, both his service to this city and his service to this nation, and we talked about the fact that this is a year that the Marines are being honored,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The mayor noted his former boss, Mayor David Dinkins — who was also Mr. Kelly’s boss during his first tour as commissioner — was also a Marine.

“It’s a very, very rich culture of loyalty and service — so we were jsut talking about that. We were talking about the huge presence of Marines today. It meant a lot to him that there were so many Marines,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Mr. Kelly said leading the parade was “terrific.”

“It’s gratifying. It’s a lot of fun — Veterans Day is a day when we remember those that we lost, but we also should celebrate people in the military now,” Mr. Kelly said.

And he wasn’t in the mood to talk police policy. Mr. Kelly would not comment on the announcement yesterday that the NYPD will no longer make arrests for the possession of small quantities of marijuana.

“We’re not gonna be talking about that today,” Mr. Kelly said.

Mr. de Blasio, meanwhile, promised earlier in the day to end homelessness among veterans in the city and after the parade spoke about his own father’s struggle after World War II, in which he lost part of his leg during the Battle of Okinawa.

“Later, I understood that it was a huge emotional toll that literally stayed with him his whole life, and it affected the whole family. So, one of the things we’re trying to do here at the city level is address these issues for all veterans — they haven’t been addressed efficiently federally, it’s quite obvious,” he said.

Recovered From Ebola, Manhattan Doctor Is Done Talking to the Media

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 12:16

Mayor Bill de Blasio with Dr. Craig Spencer this morning. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

The Manhattan doctor once stricken Ebola will not be telling his tale to the city’s hungry press corps.

Dr. Craig Spencer, who came down with Ebola last month after treating patients suffering from the deadly virus in West Africa, made a statement to the press this morning and announced he would not be conducting any further interviews with the media.

“I would like to thank in the advance the media for respecting my right and my family’s right to complete privacy,” Dr. Spencer said. He briefly spoke with the New York Times while undergoing treatment on November 1.

“I will not be commenting publicly beyond this statement and I urge you please to focus your attention on where it’s mostly needed, at the source of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa,” he continued.

Reporters staked out the doctor’s apartment building in West Harlem anyway, not deterred by his statement.

Dr. Spencer spoke last at the press conference in Bellevue Hospital this morning, where he has been treated since he was admitted on October 23. Health officials announced yesterday the doctor was free of Ebola and ready to be safely discharged.

Mayor Bill de Blasio praised Dr. Spencer for traveling to Africa to help combat the virus, where it has killed thousands. Only one person has died from Ebola in the United States and every other Ebola patient has been successfully treated.

“It is a good feeling to hug a hero and we have a hero in our midst,” Mr. de Blasio said, underscoring the fact that Dr. Spencer could now be touched and is not a danger to the public. “He has been an inspiration throughout the challenge he faced.”

“Dr. Spencer is Ebola free and New York City is Ebola free,” Mr. de Blasio triumphantly added.

Mr. de Blasio said Dr. Spencer cracked a joke at his expense when he spoke with the mayor on the phone while undergoing treatment for the virus. Alluding to Mr. de Blasio’s much-mocked decision to eat pizza with a knife and fork in January, Dr. Spencer asked the mayor how he could be on the phone and “hold a knife and a fork at the same time.”

Mr. de Blasio also urged New Yorkers not to spread misinformation about Ebola, get their flu shots and not stigmatize healthcare professionals who work at Bellevue or travel abroad to treat Ebola patients.

Dr. Spencer echoed Mr. de Blasio’s sentiments, speaking with emotion about his time spent in Africa. He said Africans who he had treated successfully called his cellphone while he was being treated at Bellevue. Dr. Spencer urged the media to keep their focus on the disease there.

“While my case has garnered international attention, it is important to remember that my infection represents but a fraction of the more than 13,000 reported cases in the center of the outbreak,” he said.

Cop Union Boss Claims De Blasio Marijuana Policy Turning ‘Backs on Minorities’

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 12:06

Sgt. Edward Mullins. (Screengrab: NY1)

Sergeants Benevolent Association President Edward Mullins today argued that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s decision to end low-level marijuana arrests would harm communities of color.

Speaking on the Geraldo Rivera Show, Mr. Mullins argued that only issuing summonses rather than arresting people caught with 25 grams or less of the drug would give implicit approval to minorities to use it. Studies have shown whites use marijuana at greater rates, but blacks and Hispanics account for roughly 86 percent of all arrests related to the substance.

“Biased arrests of minorities against whites–I understand the numbers and I understand the feeling behind it,” Mr. Mullins said, before warning of the dangers the new regulations pose. “Are we then saying that it is okay for minorities to use marijuana? And are we writing that off in that community?”

Mr. Mullins, a registered Republican who has clashed repeatedly with the liberal mayor, said he supported medicinal use of marijuana, and even seemed to suggest legalizing the drug entirely and placing similar restrictions on its use and production as alcohol. But he claimed the illicit, street-level nature of the weed trade makes it dangerous.

“If you buy a Budweiser, you know it’s a Budweiser. Drug dealers can put different mixtures into marijuana,” he argued.

Using marijuana in public will still be a misdemeanor offense under the new protocol. But Mr. Mullins argued it was incumbent upon people of all colors to reject drug use entirely.

“It should be for everybody, white, black, Hispanic, to say ‘this may not be healthy for you and it may be an entryway drug,'” Mr. Mullins said.  “I think we’re turning our backs on the minority community by doing this. It’s not right.”

Republican Opposition to Net Neutrality

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 12:00

Senator Rand Paul. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

For progressives, President Obama must seem like a pitcher who gives up 12 runs in the first six innings, but begins the seventh by striking out the first batter with two great curve balls and a fastball that catches the outside corner. Now that his presidency is all but over, and the progressive hope that accompanied him into office has largely evaporated, President Obama has begun to make bold progressive moves that many expected from him back in 2009. Ironically, it is now a much easier environment for him to take these positions because nobody really expects him now to accomplish anything.

Since his party’s resounding defeat in last week’s midterm election, Mr. Obama has done two things, nominating Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General and taking a strong position in favor of net neutrality, that–though a little late–must be pleasing for his party’s activist base. The President’s statement yesterday regarding net neutrality and the direction in which he would like to see the FCC move was not ambiguous at all. “We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

This position is more or less exactly what millions of grassroots net activists wanted from the President. The statement has no legislative or regulatory teeth, but the President clearly can influence the FCC, and its chair Tom Wheelers, on this issue. Opposition was swift and predictable. David Cohen, the executive vice president of Comcast, the largest cable company in the U.S. articulated his industry’s opposition to net neutrality. “The internet has not just appeared by accident or gift — it has been built by companies like ours investing and building networks and infrastructure…The policy the White House is encouraging would jeopardize this engine for job creation and investment as well as the innovation cycle that the Internet has generated.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tx) was the most prominent politician expressing disdain for Mr. Obama’s statement, tweeting “‘Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.” Presumably, Mr. Cruz sought to take a position against government intervention in the internet comparable to how the Affordable Care Act has brought the government into healthcare. Mr. Cruz’s words, however, are probably richer in provocative imagery than in an easily understandable critique. Nonetheless, this is evidence that the Republican Party is going to make a fight over net neutrality.

Mr. Cruz is likely to seek his party’s nomination for President in 2016, so taking a visible position against Mr. Obama and net neutrality is a strategic move for him. It is noteworthy that another Senate Republican considering a run for the presidential nomination in 2016, Rand Paul, was relatively quiet on this issue. Sen. Paul’s tweets Monday were focused more on foreign policy and celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago. The position expressed by Mr. Cruz and cable companies like Comcast are not likely to resonate much with the younger tech-savvy voters who Mr. Paul believes will support his brand of Republican Libertarianism in 2016.

The evolving donnybrook regarding net neutrality could evolve into a major fight in Washington potentially involving Congress, the administration, lobbyists and the courts, but it also may begin to reveal some tensions within the Senate, where several members will shortly begin running against each other for President. For incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, holding together his delegation–populated by several prospective presidential candidates with significant ideological differences–could prove a challenge. Net neutrality is only one of the issues a clever White House can use to exploit this.

Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.

 

 

Bratton: Media Is Trying to ‘Scare the Hell Out of People’

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 18:45

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton fumed at the city’s news media today, accusing them of fear-mongering and saying reports that he’s ended marijuana buy-and-bust operations are “categorically false.”

“Why some of the press continue to try to scare the hell out of people in this city, that the New York City Police Department is somehow in full retreat from the practice of policies — many of which I put into effect the last time I was here —  we are not retreating from enforcing the law,” Mr. Bratton said at a press conference on marijuana policy. “We are going to continually focus on improving the quality of our arrests and the focus of those arrests, and that’s exactly what we’re doing on buy-and-bust.”

The New York Post first reported last week that the buy-and-bust operations for marijuana had been stopped “in a desperate attempt by the de Blasio administration to regain dwindling support from minorities.”

That was just the latest story in the Post a top city official has been forced to shoot down. Mr. Bratton and Mr. de Blasio held a joint press conference just to insist that the paper was incorrect in reporting tension between the commissioner, the mayor, and Mr. de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray over the resignation of Chief of Department Philip Banks. Several months ago, the mayor shot down a DNAinfo story alleging Mr. de Blasio would rather jettison Mr. Bratton than lose the support of Rev. Al Sharpton.

Mr. Bratton said today the buy-and-bust story included “significantly misreporting” of conversations between Mr. Bratton and top police officials from Narcotics and Organized Crime divisions.

“That is a basic function of the New York City Police Department, always has been and always will be,” Mr. Bratton said.

Buy-and-busts for marijuana are up 30 percent this year, he said, and for heroin they are up 25 percent. But he did acknowledge the police force would no longer  focus on smaller scale marijuana busts — so they could go after a bigger problem.

“As the drug problem changes in this city, heroin is emerging as a major problem. We’ll be focusing our best-trained detectives on that problem. I don’t want them chasing down 25-gram bags of marijuana and tying themselves up in court for endless hours,” Mr. Bratton said.

Bratton and de Blasio Announce NYPD Shift Away From Small Marijuana Arrests

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 16:40

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton holds up a bag of oregano to demonstrate what 25 grams of marijuana looks like at a news conference to announce changes to New York’s marijuana policy. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New Yorkers will no longer necessarily be arrested for low-level marijuana offenses, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Bill Bratton said today, announcing that in many cases of possession of the drug, police can write a summons instead.

“Persons found to be in possession of this amount of marijuana, 25 grams or less, may be eligible to receive a summons,” Mr. Bratton said today of a new policy outlined in an operations order issued today and taking effect on November 19.

Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Bratton both worked to frame the policy shift as good for residents of the city — many have argued small-time pot arrests needlessly hinder the future of young people and disproportionately target blacks and Hispanics — and good for its cops, too.

“This policy will allow officers, in a case where do find it appropriate to give a summons, to continue on with their work and to be able to put, therefore, more time and energy into fighting more serious rime — rather than get bogged down with the time and energy necessary for an unproductive arrest,” Mr. de Blasio said.

But don’t get ready to light up in public — Mr. Bratton said the policy change won’t allow for public consumption of marijuana:  “Persons who are burning and or smoking marijuana in public will still be subject to arrest.”

A misdemeanor arrest for marijuana possession, which happen more often to young people of color, can hurt their chances of getting a job or qualifying for student loans.

“It can literally follow them for the rest of their lives and saddle young people with challenges that for many are very difficult to overcome,” Mr. de Blasio said.

But even with the policy change, Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Bratton said officers will have the discretion to an opt for an arrest in certain cases — such if the person is possession of the drug near a playground or school. Likewise, officers would still be advised to arrest someone who is the subject of an active warrant, or detain someone being sought on probable cause in another investigation or who could not produce identification in a “reasonable amount of time,” Mr. Bratton said.

“An officer ultimately has to make the judgement on the scene — they have to decide whether there’s some other telltale signs that the individual may be in involved in some other, more dangerous, activities,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The policy shift follows a similar one rolled out by former Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who sought to put an end to the practice of police officers asking people to empty their pockets — and then, when they did and took out marijuana, arresting them for possessing the drug in plain view.

“That began that precipitous decline,” in marijuana arrest over the last few years, Mr. Bratton said. “If the officer, in the course of a lawful search, finds marijuana, then he certainly is in a position to actually charge for that.”

Now, barring other issues, finding that marijuana in a lawful search will lead to a summons — a violation, rather than a crime.

The NYPD’s shift comes after Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson announced this summer he would not prosecute minor marijuana offenses — something Mr. Bratton said at the time would have no effect on citywide marijuana policies.

Today, Mr. Bratton said the policy will mean real benefits for his department — and for the city’s five district attorneys, who will no longer be bogged down by the cases in court.

“I save an awful lot of arrest processing time for an offense that, when it gets people and a prosecutor in front of a judge, oftentimes nothing happens,” Mr. Bratton said. “Meantime, I’m also paying overtime costs for an officer to be in court while that is occurring.”

The news was met with an outpouring of support from some advocates and local elected officials. But police unions — with whom Mr. Bratton said he met before rolling out the new policy today — have not been so kind. That’s not unexpected, after months of tension between union leaders and the mayor (and by extension, Mr. Bratton).

“This will be the policy of the New York City Police Department. It will be complied with. If there is disagreement, fine, but there will be no not-enforcing-it,” Mr. Bratton said of rank-and-file cops.

Patrolman’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch accused City Hall of continuing to “surrender and change the policies of the NYPD.”

“Writing a summons to someone who does not respect the law can result in a volatile situation,” Mr. Lynch said in a statement. “Police officers always have to be on guard for violent reaction and resistance which can put them in danger of physical harm and potential disciplinary charges.”

But Mr. Bratton said an arrest can also result in a volatile situation: “Diminishing the action we’re taking, might actually, if you will, take the steam out of the situation.”

Some have questioned whether the directive will actually do anything to change the fact that blacks and Hispanics are more often targeted for marijuana enforcement than their white peers — noting that minorities could be disproportionately impacted by summonses, just as they are by arrests.

“You will see fewer unnecessary arrests. It will be good for New York City as a whole. It will certainly be good for New Yorkers of color, and particularly for young people of color, there’s no question about that,” Mr. de Blasio said. “A summons is not going to affect their future — an arrest could.”

It’s unclear how many New Yorkers might be spared arrest, as the NYPD does not classify arrests of those displaying marijuana differently from those burning it. So far this year, the department has made 24,081 arrests of marijuana possession, Mr. Bratton said.

This story has been updated with additional information from the press conference held by the mayor and commissioner.

Sorting Through the Recchage: Recchia Won Fewer Votes Than Harrison in ’06

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 16:21

Domenic Recchia Jr. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Just how disappointing for Democrats was Domenic Recchia Jr.’s loss?

The ex-city councilman, who failed to unseat Republican Congressman Michael Grimm last week, won fewer votes than a long-shot, under-funded Democrat from Brooklyn who ran for the seat in 2006, Steve Harrison, an Observer analysis of election returns showed.

Like Mr. Recchia, Mr. Harrison ran against a Republican incumbent in a midterm cycle where turnout was depressed. Unlike Mr. Recchia, Mr. Harrison, an attorney and community board member, racked up his vote total with a fraction of the resources.

Mr. Harrison was up against Vito Fossella, a popular Republican who held a significant fund-raising and name recognition edge and did not suffer from the taint of an indictment. Mr. Fossella was then a powerful figure in the Republican establishment, regarded as a young rising star in his party.

Mr. Grimm, indicted on tax evasion charges in April, could never keep pace with Mr. Recchia’s fund-raising and was shunned by national Republicans. About $2 million, including outside spending and his own campaign cash, was unleashed on Mr. Grimm’s behalf in the election cycle, compared to Mr. Recchia’s roughly $6 million.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee heavily invested in Mr. Recchia, bankrolling a barrage of television advertisements to boost the Brooklynite and blast Mr. Grimm. The DCCC boasted of an “unprecedented field operation” to support Mr. Recchia and privately celebrated his ability to raise money in a way previous Democrats who have run for the Staten Island and Brooklyn-based district could not.

Yet Mr. Recchia won only 42,786 votes last week, according to preliminary results from the New York City Board of Elections. Eight years ago, Mr. Harrison–who spent a little more than $100,000–won 45,131 votes. In comparison, Mr. Grimm won 56,221 votes and Mr. Fossella, his fellow Republican, won 59,334 votes in 2006.

Turnout was slightly higher in 2006, with 104,477 votes cast that year versus 101,565 in 2014. Mr. Grimm bested Mr. Recchia 55-42 percent, while Mr. Fossella won 57-43 percent over Mr. Harrison.

Mr. Recchia’s struggles are well-documented. A series of cringe-worthy gaffes amplified by Daily Show mockery helped sink Mr. Recchia’s once promising candidacy. The DCCC’s campaign management was also called into question. Mr. Recchia not hailing from Staten Island never helped.

The once influential councilman could never compete with the telegenic Mr. Grimm on the stump. The Republican successfully rallied conservatives in the district by tying Mr. Recchia to Mayor Bill de Blasio and President Barack Obama, two liberals unpopular with the midterm electorate.

Mr. Harrison railed against Mr. Fossella’s support for the Iraq War, never gaining much traction in a district where he was not well known. He was running in a more favorable environment for Democrats nationwide–2006 was the sixth year of Republican President Bush’s term, a time when the party opposed to the president often gains seats in Congress, and Democrats were able to take the majority in the House and Senate.

The opposite happened in 2014. President Obama’s unpopularity was a drag on Democrats as Republican seized the majority in the Senate and cemented their hold on the House for years to come.

After vanquishing Mr. Harrison, Mr. Fossella would not seek re-election in 2008 after he was caught driving drunk Virginia and was forced to disclose he had fathered child with a lover while married. Mr. Grimm will be tried in February and could resign if found guilty.

When Mr. Fossella stepped aside, Democrat Michael McMahon won the seat in 2008. Democrats are hopeful another open election could put the district back in their column.

One Democrat being floated as a potential contender is none other than Mr. McMahon.

‘A-Rod Wouldn’t Share Them': Bloomberg Cracks Steroid and Golf Jokes at Award Speech

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 14:19

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (Photo: Will Bredderman)

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg today showed off a lighter side rarely glimpsed during his 12 years in office–making gibes about hitting the links and using illicit substances while accepting his induction into the Crain’s New York Business Hall of Fame.

Mr. Bloomberg–whom Crain’s gave a lifetime achievement award for his success founding the billion-dollar business news organization that bears his name–received a standing ovation when he took the stage. He began his speech by thanking his sister, Marjorie, for leading the cheers when former Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson introduced him as the “best mayor the city’s ever had,” but noted less audience enthusiasm. Mr. Peterson declared him “the best mayor in the country.”

“We didn’t get as much of a round of applause for ‘best mayor in the country,’ but don’t worry about it, I have people taking names,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

He then addressed one of the earliest controversial measures he passed when he ran the city–outlawing smoking in the city’s many eating and drinking establishments.

“Let me just clarify a bit here: when I put the smoking ban in, everybody was on my side, even those people who gave me a lot of one-finger waves when I marched in front of their bars,” he said.

The mayor went on to recall golfing with Mr. Peterson and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, and winning a two-dollar bet with the fellow billionaire that Mr. Peterson paid in pennies–which happened to accidentally include a $75,000 rare coin.

“I think it was the first time I ever heard him use profanity,” Mr. Bloomberg said of the former Nixon administration official.

Keeping on the theme of his achievements on the green, Mr. Bloomberg admitted that he would prefer to have been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame–then tweaked Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who was seen as a potential Baseball Hall of Famer prior to his suspension for using a cocktail of illegal performance-enhancing substances.

“In my dreams, I would be in the Hall of Fame alongside Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, no offense to my fellow inductees,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “I’m also relieved that Crain’s didn’t believe the rumor that over the course of my career I had used performance-enhancing drugs. I actually tried, but A-Rod wouldn’t share them.”

Before launching into a somewhat more staid speech about New York City and the American Dream, Mr. Bloomberg saluted Crain’s itself.

“I’m proud to be recognized by my second favorite business publication,” he said.  “For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about; it’s hopeless.”