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‘Listen, We’re Not Building No Low-Income Housing:’ Recchia Reacts to GOP Email

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 12:26

Domenic Recchia. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Domenic Recchia wasn’t exactly furious after the Staten Island Republican Party accused him of pandering to the Brooklyn housing project vote.

Mr. Recchia, a Democrat running to unseat Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, said today he would not build any low-income housing in the right-leaning borough after an official in the Staten Island GOP said he would.

“Listen, we’re not building no low-income housing. I am gonna represent all the people in this district. I’m gonna represent everyone from the south shore to the north shore of Staten Island and to all of Brooklyn,” Mr. Recchia told the Observer. “The congressman has to represent everyone and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be a congressman for all the people.”

A top official in the Staten Island GOP blasted out a fund-raising email last week that accused Mr. Recchia, a former Brooklyn councilman, of counting on minority-heavy votes in Brooklyn “housing projects” to win in the fall. He also said Mr. Recchia would bring low-income housing to the borough, a sore spot for conservatives in the Staten Island-based district.

Mr. Recchia’s reaction to the email was in marked contrast to Democratic leaders in Staten Island and Brooklyn, who said the fund-raising pitch reeked of “bigotry” and “fear-mongering.” Mr. Recchia’s promise may also bump up against reality: Mayor Bill de Blasio, hostile to the Republican incumbent, has vowed to build 200,000 units of affordable housing, targeting all five boroughs for development.

The mayor has all but endorsed Mr. Recchia. His top ally and a fellow booster of affordable housing, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, headlined a fund-raiser for Mr. Recchia several months ago.

Protesters Crash Major Israel Rally at City Hall

Mon, 07/14/2014 - 11:01

Consul General of Israel Ido Aharoni. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

As the Democrats and religious leaders, one after the other, lined up once more to defend Israel, the cries beyond the City Hall gates threatened to drown them out.

“End the occupation now! Free, free Palestine!”

Dozens of protesters strained to interrupt officials like Congressmen Charlie Rangel, Jerry Nadler and the host of big-name Democrats who rallied for Israel on the steps of City Hall today as violence in the region fails to abate. Israel and Gaza, the Palestinian enclave, have traded rocket fire for a week, spurring the numerous pro-Israel politicians in New York to pile into City Hall to assert that Israel is on the right side of the conflict.

“The people outside protesting are protesting because innocent Palestinian civilians have been killed. It would seem to me the protest would be with Hamas because you cannot negotiate for peace if you cannot control those people who are supposed to be your negotiating partners,” Mr. Rangel declared.

“As peaceful as I am, I find it impossible for me to believe that someone who says I should be dead, I should negotiate and see how dead you want me,” he added.

Tension between Israelis and Palestinians boiled over after three Israeli teenagers were recently kidnapped and killed. Israel blamed Hamas, a Palestinian political party identified as a terrorist organization by the United States, and sent troops into the Palestinian territories. Palestinians claimed Israel was using the killings as pretext to further control and intimidate civilians and grew enraged after a Palestinian teenager, in what some claimed was a retaliation attack, was killed shortly after.

While Israel, with the aid of a United States-financed missile defense system, has intercepted many of the rockets launched their way since, Israeli rockets have killed almost 200 people, according to a New York Times report from today. The elected officials and pro-Israel advocates charged that the country is simply defending itself in hostile territory.

“Our enemies have sought the destruction of the Jewish people for thousands of years. Much of the opposition you’re seeing to Israel and its policies, much of what you hear out there, is no more than a new face for a very old hatred and a very old evil,” Mr. Nadler said, alluding to the protesters beyond the gates.

Congressman Eliot Engel, the ranking members of the foreign affairs committee, compared Hamas to the terrorists that carried out the September 11th attacks.

Protesters outside the City Hall gates. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

“Not so long ago, just a few blocks away on September 11th, 2001, terrorism reared its ugly head in New York City and Hamas is a terrorist group. Hamas is in sympathy with the people who knocked down the World Trade Center,” Mr. Engel said. “Hamas has killed many innocent men, women and children–they have a disregard for human life.”

Outside the gates and in City Hall park, the raucous protesters rarely let up during the nearly hour-long press conference. Unfurling a sign that accused Israel of carrying out an Apartheid system in the Middle East, the protesters from various pro-Palestinian groups remained after the many Democrats, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and members of the City Council and Assembly, shuffled away.

“The New York City Council is not representing the City of New York by coming out in support of the incredibly violent Israeli aggression that’s been happening over the last week in particular and in general for the last several decades,” said Conor Tomas Reed, an English professor at Medgar Evers College. “The City Council needs to look at its conscience and if it is supporting Israeli aggression then it has blood on its hands.”

Just as Mr. Reed was speaking to a reporter, a couple of Orthodox men fell into a shouting match with several pro-Palestinian protesters. Police soon split them up.

The protesters were hoping sheer size and volume would make up for what they lacked–establishment political support.

“These public officials are speaking as if they are New York. The main thing is they are not New York. We are also in New York. We are Jews, we are Palestinians, we are Christians, we are athiests, we are people who live here and we don’t stand with Israel,” said Dorothy Zellner, who described herself as a spokeswoman for the protesters. “This is the kind of situation where the big organizations, the big donors have their way.”

Councilman Wants to Regulate Drones Flying Over New York

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 13:00

Councilman Paul Vallone. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

The City Council is set to drone on about some drones.

Queens Councilman Paul Vallone said yesterday he is drafting legislation that will seek to regulate the number of illegal drones flying around New York City. The Queens district attorney’s office approached Mr. Vallone about clamping down on the unmanned aircraft, which Mr. Vallone said fly dangerously close NYPD helicopters, LaGuardia Airport and Citi Field.

“The first thing is to give the police department and fire department the ability to make a decision about drones without restriction. They should be allowed to take whatever measure necessary to regulate them,” Mr. Vallone told The Observer.

The goal of the legislation would be to empower authorities to better enforce Federal Aviation Authority Law regarding drones. The FAA bans drones for commercial use, though hobbyists are allowed to fly them in parks no higher than 400 feet. Mr. Vallone said city authorities currently have little guidance about enforcing these regulations.

Mr. Vallone also wants to introduce more local regulations to mirror federal law that would ensure the city is protected from any potential terrorist threats. The United States and other countries now use drones to carry out attacks on enemies.

“It’s the City of New York. There’s a bullseye on our backs,” he said.

Mr. Vallone said the primary inspiration for the bill, however, was an incident this week where a toy drone flew very close to an NYPD helicopter over the George Washington Bridge.

Mr. Vallone said he will meet with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to discuss the legislation today. His goal is to have a hearing next month to move the legislation as quickly as possible.

A spokesman for Ms. Mark-Viverito said she would review the legislation.

Espaillat, Jackson Tout Signature Counts in Uptown Clash

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 11:45

State Senator Adriano Espaillat. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

State Senator Adriano Espaillat is fighting for his political life after losing a congressional race last month–and his top rival is hoping a superior number of petition signatures is enough to put him over the edge.

Robert Jackson, a former councilman, turned in 8,142 signatures to qualify for the ballot in the Democratic primary against Mr. Espaillat, well above the 1,000 required, according to his campaign. That total is about 2,000 more than Mr. Espaillat turned in, though the Espaillat camp collected signatures over a much shorter period of time.

Mr. Jackson is also touting the endorsement of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, a relatively well-known club based in a downtown sliver of the upper Manhattan-based district that also endorses citywide. Mr. Jackson also has several union endorsements that he is hoping will be enough to counter the labor-backed Working Families Party, who again endorsed Mr. Espaillat after falling behind him in his race against Congressman Charlie Rangel.

“The Espaillat campaign collected more than 6,000 signatures in under 10 days, and is proud to have the support of the Working Families Party, Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, 32BJ, and other progressive leaders. Senator Adriano Espaillat has been a champion on critical issues for this district like affordable housing and environmental protection – his record far outshines his opponents’,” said Jonathan Davis, a spokesman for Mr. Espaillat.

A third candidate, Luis Tejada, is also challenging Mr. Espaillat in the Democratic primary. Mr. Jackson, who represented a Harlem-based district in the council for 12 years, is Mr. Espaillat’s chief competition, however.

Mr. Jackson has been running for the seat since Mr. Espaillat was running for Congress. While Mr. Espaillat claimed he was focusing only on his congressional bid, he immediately declared his intentions to run for re-election after losing to Mr. Rangel in the June 24 primary. Over a ten day period, his supporters furiously gathered about six times the number of signatures required.

It appears likely both Mr. Jackson and Mr. Espaillat will make the ballot. Whether Mr. Jackson, who is not as prominent among the Dominican-American base that makes up district, can actually unseat Mr. Espaillat is not clear, at least according to uptown political observers. The primary will be held in September.

Mr. Jackson’s supporters, however, are confident.

“When he is in office, you get full time service from a full time legislator. As a school board president, he secured 16 billion dollars in new funding for New York City school children. He is a uniter, and we need his voice in the State Senate,” said Allen Roskoff, the president of the Jim Owles Club.

Tish James Sweating Un-Air Conditioned Bus Rides for Special Needs Kids

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 10:13

Ms. James rallies with distraught parents and Assembly candidate Jo Anne Simon (Twitter: Tish James)

Public Advocate Tish James said she–along with parents of special needs children citywide–is losing her cool over the absence of air conditioning on school buses.

Ms. James said her office has received numerous calls in the past two weeks from parents whose disabled children are attending summer school complaining about possibly unsafe temperatures aboard many city-contracted buses. The Public Advocate added that she suspects even more complaints are going unheard because the 23,000 children affected are incapable of speech.

“A significant number of them are not verbal at all,” said Ms. James.

The broiling trips to school may also violate many of the young riders’ Individualized Education Programs–the specialized schooling plans for disabled kids–which sometimes contain comfort and temperature requirements.

“The Department of Education is not engaging in any oversight,” Ms. James said.

The pol said some parents are considering a lawsuit against the city over the hot issue, and said her office would file affidavits of support if a suit is filed. Ms. James, however, said that her office had been in talks with the Department of Education and that she hoped the problem could be resolved before it got to the courtroom.

“We are working with the administration,” said Ms. James.

The Department of Education promised it was working resolve the issue, and would be sure that the next round of contracts would only go to operators with working cooling systems.

“Ensuring the safety of all our students is always top priority and any complaint on any safety issue the DOE receives is immediately addressed,” said spokeswoman Kaye Devora.

Bill de Blasio Takes Bill Signings on the Road and Gets ‘Two Bites of the Apple’

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 05:00

Mayor Bill de Blasio signs Vision Zero legislation in Queens last month. (Diana Robinson/Mayor’s Office)

When it comes to turning key initiatives into law, Mayor Bill de Blasio has been  bringing the process on the road — transforming the ho-hum bill hearing and signing routine into a multi-day event.

While his predecessor typically signed bills into law immediately following a legally required public hearing, Mr. de Blasio has three times separated the City Hall hearings from the actual signing of the legislation. That allows for the bill signings to be held in more photogenic spots packed with supporters — a small business or a street corner set to be made safer, rather than the cramped Blue Room in City Hall.

“City Hall has a pretty strong gravitational pull, and it’s important for the mayor to be out in real neighborhoods where policies like these will actually be felt,” Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, told the Observer.

But separating the hearings and the signings also means the press had twice as many events to cover about the passage of paid sick time, Vision Zero, and municipal identification card laws — doubling Mr. de Blasio’s victory lap.

“He gets two bites of the apple,” said George Arzt, a veteran political consultant and former City Hall reporter.

After holding a hearing on the paid sick bill, the mayor got another day of media attention on the issue when he signed the legislation at a hip Brooklyn workspace, complete with a visit to an artisinal ice cream factory — not a step mentioned in the famous Schoolhouse Rock explainer of how a bill becomes a law.

And when the City Council passed legislation as part of the mayor’s Vision Zero transportation safety push, the mayor held a well-covered City Hall hearing and then, days later, signed the legislation near a Queens intersection where an 8-year-old boy died after being struck by a car.

For municipal identification cards, Mr. de Blasio even jazzed up the hearing process yesterday — holding it in the council chambers to welcome a bigger crowd, and setting up a handshake line for those in attendance. A day later, the I.D. cards are in headlines again as he signed the bill surrounded by supporters in a Brooklyn plaza.

“I think it’s a good way of getting coverage and attention, and I think it’s a good way of rebutting the argument that he’s kind of a do-nothing, or he hasn’t done anything since pre-k,”  said Kenneth Sherrill, an professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College. “It conveys the image of governing that is very important.”

The multi-day display is a marked departure from previous administrations.

“Usually, mayors hold the hearings and sign the bill there, or, in rare occasions where there’s opposition and someone makes a good point, previous mayors have said that they will not sign the bill, but they will consider the options on the bill,” Mr. Arzt said.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was persuaded in 2007 by testimony at a hearing on pedicab regulations to change his mind, postpone a decision and ultimately veto a bill he had originally supported.

But Mr. de Blasio isn’t taking extra time after the hearings to consider whether to sign the bills — they’re all signature issues of his.

“They’re using it as visuals for press conferences and announcements. They get out of City Hall to go into the communities,” Mr. Arzt said.

That draws a contrast between Mr. de Blasio and his predecessor, who was knocked for being too City Hall-centric and was not a fan of things like town hall meetings, Mr. Arzt said.

“There is a juxtaposition here between the two, that demonstrates that this is a much more community-oriented mayor, and that’s what he’s trying to show,” Mr. Arzt said.

The big spectacle of the signing also allows for members of the City Council — who are invited to speak about the bills they passed — to bask in the limelight.

“It makes the people in the City Council feel included,” Mr. Sherrill said. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that many previous mayors couldn’t conceal their disdain for the City Council.”

In the case of municipal identification — widely covered when Mr. de Blasio rolled out the idea, when the council introduced and finally voted on it, at the mayor’s hearing and then again for the signing — Mr. Sherrill pointed out that those who will benefit most from the measure may not follow the news each day.

“It’s almost a community organizing tactic, to repeat the message and to get as much focus on it as possible so that the audience that’s targeted for this change in policy learns about it,” he said.

Some of it, though, is more political than practical.

“I think that he also is working very hard at creating the image of not just being an activist mayor, but being a mayor who is actually achieving things,” Mr. Sherrill said, with an eye toward 2017. “It’s the beginning of a promises made, promised kept campaign.”

And just because the bill is signed doesn’t mean the press events are over.

“[He] can hold another meeting, another press conference, when it goes into effect,” Mr. Arzt said.

Questions Still Remain as Municipal I.D. Cards Come to New York

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 15:59

The mayor signs municipal identification legislation in Brooklyn, a day after holding a City Hall hearing. (Rob Bennett/Mayor’s Office)

Municipal identification cards will be coming to New York City next January, but many questions about the ambitious program remain unanswered.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Mayor’s Office of Immigrants Affairs commissioner, standing with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and a host of other officials, could not tell reporters today how much the cards would ultimately cost to applicants, what documentation will be required to obtain the cards or how financial institutions will be convinced to accept them. The New York Civil Liberties Union, typically supportive of the Democratic mayor, also withdrew their support for the program, citing fears that the cards could be used by the government to identify and penalize undocumented immigrants.

Speaking with reporters outside the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at a bill-signing ceremony, Mr. de Blasio dismissed those fears while remaining vague about many of the details of the $8.4 million municipal I.D. initiative.

“I do understand the theoretical argument about what some downsides might be, but I am much more focused on the here and now reality that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are suffering for lack of an I.D.–and that’s the problem we have to solve,” Mr. de Blasio declared.

Nisha Agarwal, the MOIA commissioner, said the city will work to protect individual confidentiality by destroying any documents the city holds after two years, and ensuring that any access from law enforcement will be subject to a judicial warrant or subpoena.

“We believe we can defend against any sort of attempts to access these documents that are a fishing expedition of sorts, so we are very confident about the security and confidentiality of these cards,” Ms. Agarwal said.

Though the bill to make the cards a reality overwhelmingly passed the City Council–where advocates argued the cards will allow undocumented immigrants and others without more typical I.D. cards to open bank accounts, rent homes and take advantage of other crucial services–much of the logistics of the program will be left to Mr. de Blasio’s administration to solve. That has irked some council members, who felt too much authority over the program’s implementation was ceded to the executive branch.

It’s not clear yet how major banks and credit unions will be able to accept the new I.D.’s, which Ms. Agarwal said would be resistant to fraud, yet another concern raised by the NYPD and some conservative critics. Ms. Agarwal said a “conversation” has begun about the cards with financial institutions in the five boroughs. (Cities that have implemented a municipal I.D. program with relative success include Oakland and New Haven.)

“We have begun a conversation with banks in New York City and credit unions and we’re working hard to ensure that the banks will accept this card,” she said. “We believe that the parameters of this card will meet the necessary federal regulations around what I.D.’s banking facilities can accept.”

Ms. Mark-Viverito, a leading advocate of the program, said she would proudly sign up for a municipal I.D. even though she already possesses proper identification cards. The city, however, hasn’t explained how it will convince New Yorkers who aren’t among the half million undocumented immigrants–many of whom may also be wary of coming forward to participate in a government-sponsored program–to sign up for cards. Nor have they explained how they’d prevent the cards from evolving to stigmatize those who are undocumented, homeless or lack the ability to gain a different form of identification.

Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Agarwal also could not clarify how people already missing the documents required to secure a driver’s license or another form of I.D. will be able to secure an I.D. in the new system. Applicants will need to prove their New York City residency and identity; Ms. Agarwal insisted the city is in the process of “finalizing” what proof will be required.

The mayor said the cards would be free, but only for the first year. Afterwards, a cost will be tacked on. That, too, was not revealed to the public.

“We want to make sure whatever it is it is affordable to every day New Yorkers,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Michelle Obama Talks Immigration and Education at Latino Summit

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 14:31

First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama at the LULAC/NUVOtv Unity Luncheon. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Michelle Obama backed up her husband on immigration and the border crisis while pushing her pro-education Reach Higher program at a Hispanic advocacy group summit in Manhattan this afternoon.

The first lady’s speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens convention focused mostly on her campaign to encourage disadvantaged youth to pursue higher education. But Ms. Obama did take time to push President Barack Obama’s plan to provide legal status and a path to citizenship for the 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants living in the United States–who have been subject to deportation.

“With a broken immigration system hurting so many of our families and neighbors, some of you right now might be wondering why I’ve decided to focus on education today,” Ms. Obama said. “We must try to tackle all these issues at the same time.”

The first lady also reproached the Republican-run House of Representatives for failing to pass the immigration reform measures that have already cleared the Senate, and for its hesitance to approve her husband’s $3.7 billion emergency relief bill to alleviate the growing crisis at the Mexican border, where thousands of Central American youth continue to pour in illegally. She repeated her husband’s vow to use executive orders to bypass Congress and force-fix the undocumented situation.

“Make no mistake about it, we must continue to fight on immigration. As my husband has said, he is going to do whatever action it takes!” the first lady said to raucous applause. “We can’t afford to wait on Congress to lift up our children! We can’t afford to wait for anybody!”

LULAC, an 85-year-old organization based in Washington, D.C., has long called for undocumented immigrant amnesty and the granting of government financial assistance to college students lacking proper naturalization paperwork. The group also recently praised the president’s promise to use executive action to move immigration reform and alleviate the situation on the border in the face of Congressional opposition.

Democrats Slam GOP for ‘Bigotry’ and ‘Fear Mongering’ in Grimm Fundraising Email

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 12:42

Michael Grimm. (Photo: Getty Images)

The chairs of the Brooklyn and Staten Island Democratic parties today slammed a Staten Island GOP official for what they called “outrageous bigotry” in a fundraising email sent yesterday on behalf of Congressman Michael Grimm.

The email, from Staten Island GOP Vice Chair Bill D’Ambrosio, said Democratic challenger Domenic M. Recchia Jr. would rely on “votes from Brooklyn housing projects” and if he won, that he would “pay back these votes, and surely build low-income housing in our neighborhoods.”

Kings County Democratic Chair Frank Seddio and his Richmond County counterpart John Gulino slammed those comments as bigoted fear-mongering.

“We call on Congressman Grimm to denounce the outrageous bigotry demonstrated by GOP Deputy Bill D’Ambrosio,” Mr. Seddio said in a statement. “I cannot believe that 50 years after we passed the Civil Rights Act, we still have people like D’Ambrosio who will use bigotry and base fear mongering to solicit money and votes.  There is no place for this contemptible language in this campaign.”

Mr. Recchia formerly represented Coney Island, a neighborhood filled with public housing where many minorities live, and in a New York Times profile noted he’d look to garner the votes of residents of Brooklyn’s Marlboro Houses, part of the congressional district. Mr. Recchia is white, but his campaign will need to win minority votes on Staten Island’s north shore and in Brooklyn to topple the Republican incumbent, observers say.

“It’s insulting to Staten Islanders to think their support can be bought by this kind of hateful language,” said Mr. Gulino. “The GOP has resorted to raising money by insulting Brooklyn voters while engaging in fear mongering with Staten Island voters. I strongly urge Congressman Grimm to condemn and disassociate himself from this hateful letter.”

The Staten Island GOP, Party Chair John Antoniello and Mr. Grimm’s campaign did not immediately return calls for comment Thursday.

State Senator Diane Savino, an outspoken Democrat whose Staten Island and Brooklyn district includes the public housing referenced in the fundraising plea, also decried Mr. D’Ambrosio’s email on her Facebook page.

“THIS IS SO OFFENSIVE! those folks that the Staten Island GOP VP is referring to happen to be constituents of the congressional district,” Ms. Savino wrote. “they vote, they matter, and they sure as hell will be voting for Domenic now.”

John Liu Doesn’t Think Bill de Blasio’s Endorsement Will Matter

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 11:31

John Liu today. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

No mayoral endorsement, no problem.

That’s the attitude John Liu had today when pressed about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to endorse his opponent, State Senator Tony Avella, in the race for the eastern Queens seat that Mr. Avella currently represents.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Mr. Liu, the former city comptroller, said at a campaign event in Bayside, Queens today. “It is what it is. I think it won’t affect the outcome of the election. The voters here are very independent-minded and are going to make the judgment for themselves.”

Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Liu, along with Mr. Avella, served in the City Council together and Mr. Liu lost to Mr. de Blasio in last year’s Democratic primary.

“I had not asked any body for their endorsement beyond the local electeds I proudly have the endorsements of,” Mr. Liu added.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week he would be backing Mr. Avella, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, over Mr. Liu, who is supported by the Queens Democratic establishment. The endorsement came after Mr. de Blasio helped broker a deal for the IDC, a group of five breakaway Democrats governing the senate with the Republican Party, to enter into a coalition with the Democratic Party after the fall elections.

As a result of that deal, Mr. Liu lost out on Mr. de Blasio’s endorsement and the labor-backed Working Families Party’s nod. The powerful liberal party initially endorsed Mr. Liu but decided ultimately to remain neutral: in exchange for the IDC’s decision to work with the Democrats, many labor unions were forced to withdraw their support for primary challengers to IDC members.

Mr. Liu was also unworried about losing the WFP support. Several unions have remained loyal to the former city comptroller.

“I’m happy to have the support of many of the unions who make up the Working Families Party and that’s where the boots on the ground comes from,” he said. “I’m very gratified that the troops from the unions who have already endorsed have been out here and helping with our petitions as well as knocking on doors.”

Mr. Liu is still counting on the support of the Queens Democratic Party, an organization that has been long alienated from Mr. Avella. At a press conference calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to avert a possible Long Island Rail Road strike, Mr. Liu was flanked by two Queens assembly members, David Weprin and Nily Rozic.

“I am very proud and happy to have the support of every elected official in this area that has some overlap with the district,” Mr. Liu said. “That’s what counts.”

Robert Jackson Rips Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio, Cheers on Zephyr Teachout

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 09:50

Robert Jackson. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Former Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson—a challenger to State Senator Adriano Espaillat—blasted Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio last night on education issues, while rooting for Mr. Cuomo’s longshot primary opponent Zephyr Teachout.

The former councilman cheered loudly for Ms. Teachout as she criticized the governor in remarks at the second annual Iftar dinner of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, of which Mr. Jackson is a founding member. Mr. Jackson then himself blasted Mr. Cuomo for including protections for charter schools in the state budget and for failing to pass public financing of elections.

“I think that the governor jammed us and the state of New York on education, and he jammed Bill de Blasio,” the State Senate hopeful said. “We’ve been jammed by the governor on education, and he has jammed us on campaign finance reform.”

Mr. Jackson then went on to attack Mr. de Blasio and his Department of Education for allowing a branch of the controversial Success Academy charter school chain to open in Upper Manhattan’s Mother Cabrini High School—claiming that the administration had failed to consult the local Community Education Council about the plan.

“Bill de Blasio jammed District 6,” Mr. Jackson said. “They didn’t even have the courtesy to let the CEC know or any of the leaders in District 6.”

Despite the cheering, Mr. Jackson declined to say if he was endorsing Ms. Teachout—who most see as having little chance of triumphing over Mr. Cuomo. But said he had signed one of her petitions to get on the ballot, and called on the governor to argue the issues with the Fordham professor.

“I support her right to challenge. If anyone truly believes in democracy, she should be allowed to run,” said Mr. Jackson. “I want to see a debate, I want to see the governor debate her.”

The governor’s and mayor’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Eric Adams Already Considers Himself a Mayoral Candidate

Thu, 07/10/2014 - 09:30

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams (Screengrab: NY1)

He’s only been Brooklyn’s borough president for six months, but Eric Adams is already looking eight years ahead—to City Hall.

Mr. Adams didn’t dispute it when Inside City Hall’s Errol Louis said Wednesday the beep had “basically been announcing” a run for mayor in recent speeches.

“You’re only six months in this job. I understand the power of positive thinking, but why tell everybody you’re running for mayor?” Mr. Louis asked.

“I want to do a good job as borough president. God willing, I’ll be re-elected. Eight years down the line, we’re going to have a new mayor,” Mr. Adams replied.

He recalled the encouragement he’d offered to children at 25 graduations this year.

“I tell them think big, dream big, be big in what you do—there’s nothing we should tell people not to reach for their next level,” Mr. Adams said. “I’m going to do a great job as borough president, I have a great borough president that I’m following. Brooklyn is the center of the greatness that is happening in the city of New York and I’m going to be a part of that.”

And while he’s still borough president, he’s going to continue traveling outside the country to boost Brooklyn’s profile, Mr. Adams said after Mr. Louis pressed him repeatedly on whether a recent trip to China, funded by nonprofits, was appropriate.

Asked if he would decline money from nonprofits and the Chinese government if he could do it again, Mr. Adams responded: “No. It’s totally appropriate.”

He said he wouldn’t apologize for traveling the globe to “bring business to the borough of Brooklyn.”

“I’m not going to be a MetroCard borough president—I’m going to be a passport borough president,” he said.

Staten Island GOP Leader Warns Recchia Will Rely on ‘Brooklyn Housing Project’ Votes

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 17:36

Domenic Recchia kicking off his campaign. (Photo: Vanessa Ogle)

A top official in the Staten Island Republican Party warned supporters this afternoon that Congressman Michael Grimm’s Democratic rival will rely on “Brooklyn housing project” votes to win in November, citing a recent a New York Times profile of the race.

Bill D’Ambrosio, the first vice chair of the Staten Island GOP, accused Domenic Recchia of seeking to build low-income housing throughout the single-family home-dominated borough in a fund-raising pitch to Grimm supporters.

“But Domenic still thinks he has a chance. His strategy for becoming Staten Island’s congressman relies on using votes from Brooklyn housing projects. ‘Marlboro Houses, Marlboro Houses … thousands of votes out here,’ said Recchia in the Times,” Mr. D’Ambrosio charged.

“Staten Islanders should have no doubt that this Brooklyn political hack will sell them out to pay back these votes, and surely build low-income housing in our neighborhoods with his cronies at City Hall,” he added.

Mr. Recchia is a former Brooklyn councilman who represented Coney Island, a neighborhood filled with public housing where many minorities live. Mr. Recchia is white, but his campaign will need to rely on winning minority votes on Staten Island’s north shore and in Brooklyn to eventually knock off the Republican incumbent, observers say.

Mr. D’Ambrosio also called Mr. Recchia a “foreigner from across the bay” and repeatedly tied him to Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat who has all but endorsed Mr. Recchia’s bid. Mr. de Blasio’s brand is not as strong in the moderate to right-leaning district and Brooklyn-born contenders have struggled to win the Staten Island-based congressional district in the past.

“Recchia’s abysmal record as a tax-and-spend Brooklyn liberal is making it impossible for him to connect with Staten Islanders, and it isn’t hard to figure out why,” Mr. D’Ambrosio continued. “As Coney Island City Councilman, he voted with his liberal buddy Bill de Blasio over 90 percent of the time, and raised your property taxes 18.5 percent—the highest in New York City’s history.”

Ironically, Mr. Recchia’s campaign also touted the Monday profile in the Times in a recent fund-raising pitch, reveling in its headline: “Staten Island’s Tough-Guy Congressman Faces Somebody His Own Size.”

Mr. Recchia’s campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.

View the full email below:

Congressman Michael Grimm is a “war hero” and
his de Blasio Democrat opponent
Domenic Recchia is a “foreigner from across the bay”

Dear Friend:

Domenic Recchia’s campaign is already on the ropes. Even the New York Times has confirmed that our Congressman Michael Grimm is loved and supported by his constituents, and is heading towards victory in November!

Recchia’s abysmal record as a tax-and-spend Brooklyn liberal is making it impossible for him to connect with Staten Islanders, and it isn’t hard to figure out why. As Coney Island City Councilman, he voted with his liberal buddy Bill de Blasio over 90% of the time, and raised your property taxes 18.5% — the highest in New York City’s history.

The Times has made it clear that little-known Recchia is unwelcome on the Island.

“I know who you are,” said Robert Kowth, 84, who wore a T-shirt of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge that read “Staten Island, Gateway to New York.” “I’ve been a Grimm supporter since he was born,” Mr. Kowth added, shooing Mr. Recchia away. “So enjoooy!”

But Domenic still thinks he has a chance. His strategy for becoming Staten Island’s congressman relies on using votes from Brooklyn housing projects. “Marlboro Houses, Marlboro Houses…thousands of votes out here,” said Recchia in the New York Times. Staten Islanders should have no doubt that this Brooklyn political hack will sell them out to pay back these votes, and surely build low-income housing in our neighborhoods with his cronies at City Hall.

What’s more insulting about Domenic Recchia’s candidacy is that he claims that “damage from Superstorm Sandy motivated him to run for Congress.” As a City Council Member Recchia did absolutely nothing to bring Sandy aid to over 5,000 Staten Island applicants, and he failed to hold a single hearing or call on then Mayor Bloomberg to fix the problems with the Build it Back and Rapid Repair programs. Someone needs to tell Dom that Congress has already done its job in providing $60 billion in federal Sandy aid, an effort led by Congressman Grimm. More importantly, while Recchia’s constituents were neglected and let down by his lack of action and advocacy, Michael Grimm gave Brooklyn and Staten Island residents, and millions of homeowners across the country, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which lowered their flood insurance premiums and stabilized home values.

The truth is, Domenic doesn’t even really want this job. He wanted to be Comptroller and according to political consultant Hank Sheinkopf “the New Bosses of New York just decided that Recchia wasn’t the right guy.” So let me get this straight, Bill de Blasio doesn’t think that Domenic is good enough to be Comptroller, but he’s fine to be our Congressman? Are these guys for real?

The Times could not have said it any better ” the election will ultimately be determined on Staten Island” and we need your help to make sure our voice in Congress isn’t stifled by a de Blasio democrat like Dom Recchia.

Thank you and God bless you,

Bill D’Ambrosio

First Vice Chair
Staten Island GOP

P.S. – We need to send a message that Staten Islanders won’t accept Bill de Blasio and Obama’s failed progressive policies that have weakened us on the world stage, ballooned the size of government and our national debt, and failed to create jobs or revitalize our economy. Domenic Recchia will be a rubber stamp for these dangerous policies, whereas Congressman Grimm will continue to fight them and deliver real results!

Squadron and Camara: Marijuana Law Would Weed Out ‘Unfair’ Arrests

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 15:00


A host of politicians and activists joined Mr. Squadron and Mr. Camara (Twitter: Tracy Pugh).

State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Karim Camara rolled out a new marijuana decriminalization bill that they say will end “unlawful, racist” arrests of young black and Hispanic males.

The pair’s Fairness and Equity Act would reduce public possession of marijuana from a misdemeanor offense to a fine-bearing violation–stopping thousands of yearly arrests, and leaving those caught and charged without a criminal record.

The pols pointed out that New York State decriminalized private possession of marijuana in 1977, but claimed the continued prosecution of public pot possession has led to sky-high conviction rates for youth of color making it difficult for them to obtain jobs and housing later in life.

“It addresses a problem that is not new: The deep and racial disparity in marijuana arrests,” said Mr. Squadron. “The status quo is unacceptable.”

The legislators noted that 86 percent of those arrested for possessing small quantities of marijuana are black or Latino–even though studies indicate whites use marijuana more frequently. Many of those arrested are first time offenders, and decriminalization advocates have long argued the minor offenses set young males up for a life of crime.

Another portion of the bill would create a system for clearing the criminal records of those convicted under the old statute, while another would create stricter standards for what constitutes the sale of marijuana–as the current law classifies anyone who passes a joint as a drug dealer.

Mr. Camara, however, was quick to point out that the new measure would not legalize the possession or use of the drug.

“There are still penalties, there are still fines, you still have to appear in court,” the assemblyman said. “We are not legalizing it, we are just saying it should not be a misdemeanor.”

Among a number of electeds who spoke in support of the initiative, was Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams–a former police officer–who argued that marijuana use does not speak to a person’s character or career prospects.

“Clinton smoked a joint, he became president. Obama smoked a joint, he became president. Our young men smoke a joint, they wind up in the joint,” Mr. Adams said. “If you go to the average cop, their son or daughter is smoking a joint, too.”

The proposed legislation comes just days after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing some forms of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Brooklyn District Ken Thompson also announced recently that his office would no longer prosecute people arrested with small quantities of the plant.

Even with the new law, however, possession of marijuana would remain a federal offense.

Pols Want Broader Push as 200 Cops Hit Public Housing Through Budget Deal

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 15:00

Members of the 2014 class of the New York Police Department. (Getty)

All 200 of the extra police officers hitting the streets thanks to the city budget deal will be working to patrol city public housing — and not everyone is happy about it.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday that all of the 200 cops whose desk jobs will be replaced by civilians, as negotiated in the budget deal between his office and the City Council, will head to the NYPD Housing Bureau to fight an uptick in crime in public housing. But some were hoping for a broader push.

“Clearly we have an increase in shootings throughout the entire city. I expected the NYPD response would be a 5-borough plan, not just a NYCHA initiative,” City Council Minority Leader Vincent Ignizio, who pushed hard in a failed bid for the city to add 1,000 new cops to its ranks in the budget, told the Observer.

The mayor rolled out a $210 million plan to beef up safety at New York City Housing Authority residences Tuesday that includes new initiatives for better lighting, the removal of scaffolding and keeping community centers open later to keep youth off the streets.

But while a slew of elected officials praised the mayor for his plan – Mr. de Blasio’s office put out a press released filled with quotes from those supporting it – Mr. Ignizio and others shifted the focus back to increasing the department’s overall ranks beyond the Housing Bureau.

“I understand the focus on NYCHA as the stats relate to a disproportionate amount of the increase, but this underscores the need for more cops,” Mr. Ignizio said. “The NYPD headcount is simply too low and the 600 cops that just graduated were filling spots lost to attrition, not a net positive of manpower like the NYPD is trying to sell today.”

During budget negotiations, it was not specified where those 200 officers whose jobs will be taken by civilians would go, just that they’d be out on patrol, Mr. Ignizio and others involved in budget negotiations said.

While extra cops will hit neighborhood precincts outside the Housing Bureau through Operation All Out, that program is just a temporary summer reassignment of some police from desk jobs. The city budget deal named 200 police positions to be held permanently by civilians — meaning the 200 cops it freed up will be walking the beat for Housing until further notice.

“Having a focus on housing is important, but clearly, we also need additional cops on the streets, especially here on Staten Island,” fellow Republican Councilman Steven Matteo said. “This problem will only get better if both our local commands and housing complexes have adequate staffing to beef up patrols and presence in our communities.”

Councilman Eric Ulrich, another member of the council’s trio of Republicans, said the 200 cops were a “step in the right direction,” but just a Band-Aid.

“We want more police officers assigned not only to the high-crime precincts, but to every precinct in the city of New York, and the only way we can achieve that is if we bring another class or another two classes,” Mr. Ulrich said.

Moving police around merely reshuffles the deck, he said.

“I don’t want to take away from anybody — I want to see the city add to what we already have,” he said. “The people living in the areas of the city with the highest crime, they need more cops. You know what? So do I. So does my district.”

Councilman James Vacca, a Democrat representing the Bronx, said the 200 officers headed to Housing is a “relatively small” amount that would have had “minimal impact” if they had been spread across the city’s precincts.

“I think concentrating that small amount of manpower makes more sense to me,” he said, particularly with data showing much of the city’s violent crime is occurring in public housing.

Still, the department needs to beef up its ranks citywide, he said — and while the proposed 1,000 new cops he too lobbied for would have been a “good downpayment,” he argued even more would be needed.

“You can always do more with less — but I think there’s going to come a point where we’re going to find we’ve done as much possible with less,” Mr. Vacca said. “And I think we could be arriving at that point.”

The 200 cops from the budget deal are just a fraction of the new officers slated for the Housing Bureau, according to the mayor’s office. Another 96 will be deployed to the Housing Bureau as part of Operation All Out, 320 as part of the roving Operation Impact and 101 members of the recent NYPD graduating class.

Queens Councilman Mark Weprin didn’t criticize the decision to allocate the new cops to housing, saying a spike in shootings there has to be addressed. But he, too, pointed out the council had hoped for many more officers, enabling them to cover “many more precincts throughout the city.”

“I assume they make decisions based on what makes sense in the moment,” he said of deploying officers to housing. “We’d like to get more cops, where my precinct could get more cops on the street, too,” even with a lower crime rate.

But the office of City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who made the call for 1,000 extra cops one of the council’s signature budget issues,  said the speaker was pleased with the steps the mayor and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton were taking — and added it was a matter of safety, not scoring political points.

Karim Camara Says He’s ‘Comfortable’ With Kathy Hochul on Guns and Immigration

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 12:50

Mr. Camara and Ms. Hochul chatted in Brooklyn yesterday (Twitter/Karim Camara).

Brooklyn Assemblyman Karim Camara told the Observer that his meeting yesterday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate, ex-Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, left him completely satisfied with her stances on firearms and immigration issues–even though her positions on gun control and undocumented immigrants while in the House of Representatives largely contradicted Mr. Camara’s own.

During the year and a half she represented western New York in Congress, Ms. Hochul was known for opposing programs for foreign nationals and restrictions on firearm ownership–in contrast to Mr. Camara’s outspoken support for immigrant amnesty and gun control in the Assembly. But Mr. Camara said that his conversation with Ms. Hochul revealed a great deal of common ground, though he refused to specify what the lieutenant governor hopeful said.

“There’s nothing wrong with sticking up for the right of people, hunters, to own guns,” Mr. Camara said, recalling in his youth crossing his uncle’s property in upstate Orange County. “What we have to do is everything in our power to eliminate illegal guns in our streets, and I think she gets that.”

Mr. Camara, the chair of the Assembly’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, was similarly vague but pleased about Ms. Hochul’s remarks on immigration reform.

“I left the meeting comfortable with her position on the issue,” said the legislator. “As someone who is a progressive in this state, there was nothing voters in New York City and upstate New York would find offensive.”

Some observers have noted Ms. Hochul’s near-invisibility in the campaign thus far this year, and some saw her meeting yesterday with Mr. Camara as part of an effort to dispel such complaints. Mr. Camara said he did not know exactly how the meeting had been scheduled, but mentioned he had been in constant contact with the governor’s office.

Amid the criticism that she’d been sparsely seen, other elected officials also tweeted photos of meetings with Ms. Hochul today and yesterday, including Council members Dan Garodnick and Donovan Richards.

Ms. Hochul, who will appear on the ballot separately from the governor, will face college professor Tim Wu–running mate of fellow academic Zephyr Teachout, a challenger to Mr. Cuomo–in the Democratic primary.

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

Pols Promise a Solution Against ‘Elmo Bullies’

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 12:49

An Elmo greets a child in Times Square. (Photo:Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Though complaints about Times Square can fill an entire encyclopedia, at the latest Times Square Alliance’s Midtown conditions meeting, one issue took center stage: how to deal with Elmo, Hello Kitty and Spiderman, among other costumed characters.

Costumed characters that panhandle or offer pictures in exchange for money have proliferated in Times Square, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, adding to the usual commercial chaos of the famed town square.

And while they may seem cuddly, elected officials said the characters are a serious problem.

“This is a cancer on Times Square that has to be excised soon. It spread from the West Coast, where it began in Hollywood, outside of Mann’s Chinese Theater,” State Senator Brad Hoylman said. “The panhandlers are exploiting the First Amendment, but I don’t think you have a First Amendment right to harass and threaten people as some of these characters have done.”

The alliance’s director, Tim Tompkins, said they’re not all bad — but their presence, and the number of complaints, has grown in the last two years.

“The problem is not with the folks that are out there making kids happy in an appropriate way, the problem is the folks that are both subtly and not so subtly intimidating and harassing people,” Mr. Tompkins said.

The companies that own the characters being depicted are also interested in addressing this issue, Mr. Tompkins added, and having a way to get troublemakers out of their character’s costumes. He called on the City Council to regulate them.

“If you have a licensing scheme, then you have the ability to leave the people alone who are doing the right thing, but also go after the people that are not doing the right thing” he added.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer told reporters she was open to examining a slew of possible solutions.

“Legally, what do we want to do?  We want to regulate them? We want them to be licensed? How do we not infringe on the First Amendment?” she asked.

But she said those characters who are not doing the right thing have become a real problem for tourists and children.

“They accost people. I’ve seen it with my own eyes — they ask to take a picture, they ask for money, they chase people to the ATM sometimes for money. They are very aggressive and it doesn’t show a good picture of New York,” Ms. Brewer said.

Councilman Andy King has already drafted a bill that proposes a licensing scheme and will present it at the next stated meeting at the City Council. Mr. King said he knew his bill would have to be sensitive to First Amendment rights.

“We’ve talked with our legal department about how we craft this legislation to allow you to express yourself, because I support freedom of speech and your right to freely act, speak and engage, but the minute you violate somebody else’s space then you have to be held accountable,” he said.

Mr. King seemed confident about the future of the bill. “I do expect huge support of the council members, I do,” he said.

32BJ Endorses Klein and Sits Out Liu-Avella Clash

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 12:25

State Senator Jeff Klein. (Photo: Getty)

32BJ SEIU, one of the most prominent unions in the city, announced today they have endorsed State Senator Jeff Klein and are sitting out another hotly-contested senate race in the city.

The building workers union will not endorse State Senator Tony Avella or his rival, ex-Comptroller John Liu, in the race for the eastern Queens seat.

“We will mobilize our members and focus our resources this primary season on taking back the Senate for the Democrats,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ, in a statement. “A solid Democratic majority in the Senate, combined with a Democratic-led Assembly, will mean that we can pass legislation like the DREAM ACT, campaign finance reform and a higher minimum wage, which will concretely improve the lives of working families.”

The union announced its full endorsement slate for many Assembly and State Senate races this afternoon. Coming a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio backed Mr. Klein over his rival, former Councilman Oliver Koppell, the union’s endorsement represents further fallout of the deal brokered last month to unite the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of five breakaway Democrats that Mr. Klein leads, and the Democratic Party in a new coalition after the fall elections.

The IDC currently governs the senate with the Republican Party, which angered liberals like Mr. de Blasio because it kept mainline Democrats in the minority. Democrats and unions had mulled and even launched primary challenges to members of the IDC like Mr. Avella. With the deal in place, much of the labor backing has vanished for the insurgents.

While Mr. de Blasio was able to endorse both Mr. Klein and Mr. Avella, members of 32BJ enjoy a strong relationship with the labor-friendly Mr. Liu, making it more difficult for them to work actively to thwart the former comptroller. Another major labor union, the United Federation of Teachers, is expected to stay neutral in that race as well, sources say.

32BJ made several other notable endorsements in competitive races around the city. They backed Pete Sikora in an open Brooklyn Assembly race over rival Jo Anne Simon (Mr. Sikora already had the support of the labor-backed Working Families Party) and Jesse Hamilton, a Democratic district leader, over several rivals in an open Brooklyn State Senate seat.

The union is also supporting ex-labor operative Dell Smitherman’s challenge of indicted Brooklyn State Senator John Sampson, Rebecca Seawright’s bid for an open Manhattan Assembly seat and Lori Boozer’s bid for an open Assembly seat in Brooklyn.

Domenic Recchia Lashes Out at ‘Bully’ Michael Grimm on NY1

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 09:10

Domenic Recchia. (Screengrab: NY1)

Domenic Recchia wants Congressman Michael Grimm to lose the bully pulpit.

The Democrat and former Brooklyn councilman railed against the Republican incumbent on NY1 last night, repeatedly accusing him of being a bully.

“We have a problem with bullying on the social media, alright, we have to address this and here you turn on the TV and you see our congressman bullying a reporter? That’s unacceptable, we deserve better,” Mr. Recchia told host Errol Louis.

Mr. Grimm in January threatened to throw Michael Scotto, a NY1 reporter, off a balcony after he asked him about an ongoing federal investigation into Mr. Grimm’s fund-raising. In April, Mr. Grimm was indicted on a slew of federal charges related to the operation of a restaurant he owned before he was elected to Congress in 2010.

Mr. Recchia, considered more of an underdog for the Staten Island-based seat before Mr. Grimm was indicted and lost much of his support among national Republicans, is hoping to capitalize off of Mr. Grimm’s negative headlines. He slammed the Republican again last night for the April indictment, calling the federal charges “serious” and “unacceptable.”

But Mr. Recchia, who repeatedly emphasizes on the campaign trail that he is married with children (unlike the bachelor congressman), alleged that Mr. Grimm was setting a bad example for children.

“We spend hundreds of thousand of dollars for anti-bullying programs, alright, I’m a father. I’m the husband of a public school teacher,” he said. “Three children, two of them in high school, one in middle school, I know what parents are talking about.”

“Parents are coming up to me and saying we need a new congressman, someone we can be proud of. This is bullying,” he added.

Mr. Grimm said Mr. Recchia was simply “exploiting” the issue of bullying and pointed to his own record of co-sponsoring anti-bullying legislation.

“For my opponent to exploit a heartbreaking issue like bullying, which affects thousands of innocent New York City kids every year, to score political points is nothing short of despicable,” Mr. Grimm said. “Since he has no record of fighting for Staten Island and Brooklyn, he politicizes this tragic epidemic to levy political attacks against me. Meanwhile, my office has helped numerous families with bullying issues, including 11-year-old Cyon Williams and his mother, a bright young man whom I’ve met with personally and am actively assisting in getting a school transfer. I’ve cosponsored two bi-partisan anti-bullying bills in Congress and took to the House floor demanding accountability from City officials charged with addressing bullying. My opponent can attack me all he wants, but it won’t help a single New York City child struggling with the torment of bullying.”

Updated with comment from Mr. Grimm.

Scott Stringer Rolls Out ‘ClaimStat’ Hoping to Cut Cost of City Lawsuits

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 06:00

Comptroller Scott Stringer. (Screengrab: NY1)

Settling claims and lawsuits against the city is slated to cost $670 million, or $80 per resident, in the next fiscal year — and it’s only projected to grow even higher.

But Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office is hoping looking at the data behind the costs can help drive them down.

The comptroller, whose Bureau of Law and Adjustment gets the first crack at investigating and negotiating settlements of claims, released the first installment of what he’s calling “ClaimStat,” a riff on the NYPD’s CompStat.

“By taking a closer look at the thousands of legal claims made against New York every year, ClaimStat will serve as an early warning system to help agencies improve services and make our City safer,” Mr. Stringer said. “ClaimStat is a new, data-driven tool that will help to identify costly trouble areas before they become multi-million dollar cases.”

The NYPD is among those trouble spots — in fiscal 2013, 9,502 tort claims were filed against the police department, more than the Departments of Transportation, Sanitation, and Corrections combined, according to the report, costing the city $137.2 million.

While police action claims have grown 173 percent since 2003, claims in other areas have dropped — defective sidewalk claims by more than 40 percent, medical malpractice by over 21 percent, and motor vehicle claims by 13 percent.

Precincts in certain areas of the city — the Bronx and central Brooklyn — have seen many more claims filed against their officers than those elsewhere, the report found, even when adjusting to take the area’s crime statistics into consideration.

In the Bronx, the 44th Precinct saw 13 claims filed against cops for every 100 crime complaints, the highest in the city — and the next three precincts with the highest rate of claims per crime complaint are also located in the Bronx.

It’s not just the police department — the report also highlighted the amount of claims filed against the Department of Environmental Protect for flooding, the Department of Sanitation for vehicle damage, and the Parks Department for injuries caused by falling tree limbs.

After the city cut back on its budget for pruning trees in 2010, the amount it spent settling injuries caused by tree limbs skyrocketed — climbing 92 percent from 2009 to 2011.

Like claims against police officers, the ClaimStat report also tracks where the most tree claims are being filed — with higher amounts in Queens and Brooklyn. The report also offers maps showing where people file the most claims agains the Department of Environmental Protection for flooding, and Sanitation for vehicle damage.

Having that kind of data can make it easier to reduce the amount of claims being filed, Mr. Stringer’s office said, citing an initiative in Portland, Oregon that identified patterns of excessive force and “virtually eliminated” the problem after re-training. In Los Angeles, after two precincts showed disproportionate amounts of claims filed, a special counsel was appointed to review tactics, and costs dropped by $30 million over five years.

“ClaimStat will provide City agencies with the tools they need to improve their risk management practices. In the coming months, we’ll be examining different agencies and tracking the trends at those agencies we examined in this report,” Mr. Stringer said.