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Tim Wu Wants Kathy Hochul to ‘Come Out of Hiding’

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 07:13

Zephyr Teachout with Tim Wu. (Photo: Facebook)

Tim Wu has a message for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate: come out, come out wherever you are.

Mr. Wu, a college professor and the candidate for lieutenant governor on Zehyr Teachout’s ticket, chided ex-Congresswoman Kathy Hochul for not appearing on the campaign trail after a New York Post column alleged yesterday that Mr. Cuomo was purposefully keeping his running mate out of the limelight because of her conservative views.

“When is Kathy Hochul going to come out of hiding? Maybe someone should file a missing persons report,” Mr. Wu said in a statement this morning. “Or maybe — just maybe — she’s in hiding because she knows that her anti-immigrant, pro-gun record won’t cut it among Democratic voters in New York state. There is no doubt about it: there’s a giant gap between my beliefs and Kathy Hochul’s.”

Ms. Hochul was briefly a Buffalo area congresswoman, where she was known as an aggressive opponent of gun control measures and a critic of programs intended to help undocumented immigrants. Mr. Cuomo in May named her to be his candidate for lieutenant governor; since then, she has been seldom seen in public. (Mr. Cuomo’s GOP rival, Weschester County Executive Rob Astorino, regularly releases a public schedule for his running mate.)

“Kathy Hochul made her name based on her anti-immigrant policies; my family story is an immigrant success story. I am of Taiwanese-Anglo descent; for generations New York’s hard working and vibrant immigrant communities have made New York a state of opportunity,” Mr. Wu railed.

“My opponent needs to let the Democratic voters decide whether they want a conservative Lt. Governor candidate like Kathy Hochul, who likes guns better than New Yorkers who are immigrants, or whether they want a progressive candidate like me who believes in safe streets and opportunity for every New Yorker, regardless of their background,” he added.

Ms. Teachout and Mr. Wu are running against Mr. Cuomo in the Democratic primary after the labor-backed Working Families Party, which threatened to endorse Ms. Teachout, eventually settled on Mr. Cuomo. Ms. Teachout is highly unlikely to defeat Mr. Cuomo, but a scenario exists where Mr. Wu can prevail over Ms. Hochul even if Ms. Teachout loses, potentially saddling Mr. Cuomo with a lieutenant governor he does not want.

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

Bill Bratton Would Not Consider an Increase in Homicides a Failure

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 15:22

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

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is still optimistic the city can close out 2014 with under 300 homicides–but if murders or shootings increase for 2014 compared to last year, he said he wouldn’t consider it a failure.

“No, in the sense that policing is, in this city, always about using information to assign our resources to end up with a positive result. But the reality is that we are not totally in control of those results,” Mr. Bratton said at a press conference regarding the NYPD’s plan to move more than 300 cops into neighborhoods with the most shootings.

An increase in shooting incidents compared to this time last year–murders are still down year-to-date compared to 2013–has garnered considerable press attention, and drawn commentary from some city Republicans and others claiming the spike is due to a decrease in the use of stop and frisk.

But Mr. Bratton, who spoke alongside charts showing past years where shootings have gone up only to continue an overall downward trend, swatted down rhetoric that the city was returning to its more dangerous days.

“I do not anticipate at the end of the year that we’re going to have an increase, but if we do, I don’t think it’s going to be so significant to be of concern–the idea that the sky is falling, or that the good-old-bad days are coming back again, not at all. This is an incredibly safe city,” Mr. Bratton said.

While Mr. Bratton said the department is always concerned about any spike in crime, he dismissed the idea that the city was “in crisis” or that “this is starting to get out of control.”

“As you can see in years past, we’ve had years where homicides went up, years past where shootings went up,” Mr. Bratton said. “The city didn’t fall apart. It wasn’t the end of the world. We addressed it, the next year it went down.”

This summer the NYPD will move 313 officers from desk jobs to high crime precincts, where they’ll walk the beat, Mr. Bratton announced at the press conference. Another 25 to 30 extra cops will shift to Operation Impact, which also targets high-crime spots, and Mr. Bratton noted many of the young officers who recently graduated the Police Academy would also be in high-crime neighborhoods.

But police unions and others–including City Council members behind a failed bid for 1,000 new police officers in the city budget–have argued the solution is adding more cops to the department’s ranks, rather than moving them around.

“I could always use more cops, but if the budget doesn’t support it, the budget doesn’t support it,” Mr. Bratton told the Observer Monday, reiterating his position — and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s — during budget negotiations.

But this time, he didn’t rule out the idea that he might need more cops in the future.

“I have talked with the mayor, that at the end of this summer if the reorganization that we are going through, the resource allocation initiatives that we’re engaged in, if we come out of the summer and crime has gone up, or the sense that somehow or another safety is deteriorating in the city, I’d be perfectly, then, in a position to go back and say, ‘Jeez, I do need more cops,’” he said.

Andrew Cuomo Calls Latest Fred Dicker Column ‘Absurd’ and ‘Silly’

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 13:20

Kathy Hochul. (Photo: Facebook)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo mocked a New York Post report today that said the governor wanted to keep his running mate, former Congresswoman Kathy Hochul, out of the campaign limelight.

The column by longtime columnist Fred Dicker claimed that Mr. Cuomo was limiting Ms. Hochul’s campaign appearances because of her conservative views, including her strong opposition to gun control measures and an old proposal to give undocumented immigrants drivers licenses.

“How absurd a theory is that? I select a person to run on the ticket with me who I don’t want anyone to know or see? Silly,” Mr. Cuomo told reporters after an unrelated announcement today.

Mr. Dicker, a right-leaning columnist who has been openly antagonist to Mr. Cuomo for several years, wrote that “key State Democrats” are claiming Mr. Cuomo is looking to keep Ms. Hochul away from reporters. Once close to Mr. Cuomo, Mr. Dicker had a falling out with the governor after he spearheaded a far-reaching gun control law last year.

“Hochul, who received a top rating from the National Rifle Association when she ran for Congress and strongly opposed former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s efforts to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens when she was Erie County clerk, was chosen by Cuomo as part of his aggressive effort to win over Western New York voters,” Mr. Dicker wrote.

“But Hochul has granted virtually no in-depth interviews, has made only brief and superficial campaign appearances, and has been almost totally silent on her controversial past positions — including her declaration that she would have illegal aliens who sought driver’s licenses arrested,” he continued.

Ms. Hochul was named the candidate for lieutenant governor at the New York State Democratic Party convention in May. Some liberal Democrats quietly questioned her appointment but hoped she would move leftward in the same way Senator Kirsten Gillibrand did from her days as a more moderate-leaning congresswoman.

While Mr. Cuomo is heavily favored to win the Democratic primary against long-shot candidate Zephyr Teachout, Ms. Hochul’s path to victory is a bit less assured. An unlikely but possible scenario exists where Ms. Teachout’s running mate, noted college professor Tim Wu, can defeat the relatively unknown Ms. Hochul in the Democratic primary, observers say.

Mr. Dicker did not immediately return a request for comment.

Andrew Cuomo Signs Medical Marijuana Bill Into Law

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 12:43

Andrew Cuomo. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

These are high times for medical marijuana advocates in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made New York the 23rd state in the nation to allow marijuana for medical use, signing into a law a bill that had recently passed the state legislature.

“New York State has a proud history of being in the forefront of many advances in medicine,” Mr. Cuomo said, signing the bill today at the New York Academy of Medicine in Manhattan. “We are here to help people and if there’s a medical advancement, we want to help bring it to New Yorkers.”

“It makes total sense for New York State to take this advancement of medical marijuana,” Mr. Cuomo added, warning that the medical marijuana program must be “done right,” calling marijuana a “gateway drug.” “In this situation, government actually legislated with nuance and legislated with balance.”

The bill, heavily debated in the GOP and Independent Democratic Conference-controlled State Senate, will certify up to five companies to grow and distribute the drug. Distribution won’t actually begin for 18 months and Mr. Cuomo has the power to halt the program if either the state’s health commissioner or superintendent of the New York State police recommends it.

Mr. Cuomo, seeking re-election this year, had long hedged on legalizing the drug and the final version of bill was watered down from several earlier proposals. The drug cannot be smoked, for example, because Mr. Cuomo said he fears the health repercussions of smoking marijuana.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who said today he never could have imagined as a young man that medical marijuana would be legalized in New York, boosted the bill in the Democrat-dominated chamber along with Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who carried the bill for almost 20 years. State Senator Diane Savino, a member of the IDC, aggressively advocated for the bill in the senate.

The states of Colorado and Washington have fully legalized marijuana. A bill in the State Senate calls for full legalization but Mr. Cuomo has not been very high on that idea.

“The legislation … gets us the best medical marijuana has to offer in the most protected, controlled way possible,” Mr. Cuomo said, reiterating to reporters that he does not support the legalization of marijuana.

Teamsters Joint Council 16 Makes Three State Senate Endorsements

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 08:48

Ex-Councilman Leroy Comrie. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Teamsters Joint Council 16, representing about 120,000 workers in the five boroughs, has endorsed a trio of contenders today in three competitive State Senate races.

The union backed ex-Councilman Leroy Comrie’s bid against indicted Queens State Senator Malcolm Smith, Dell Smitherman’s campaign against indicted Brooklyn State Senator John Sampson and Bronx State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s re-election campaign against Councilman Fernando Cabrera.

“We looked at the map strategically and decided these were three races where we could make a difference by endorsing early,” said Teamsters President George Miranda in a statement to the Observer. “Over 1,000 Teamsters are registered to vote in each of these districts. By mobilizing our members, we will have a big impact.”

The union chapter, not known for tilting local races like 1199 SEIU or the Hotel Trades Council, is looking to play a larger role in races where they can have even a marginal impact: a spokesman said they will be mailing, phone banking, and organizing Teamster activists to vote and volunteer in those races.

All three candidates have been racking up union endorsements, including the support of the labor-backed Working Families Party. Mr. Smitherman, a former 1199 SEIU political coordinator, and Mr. Comrie are each taking on members who were booted from the Democratic conference: their races, along with Mr. Rivera’s, represent top priorities for the Democrats in this election cycle.

Mr. Rivera is fending off a fellow Bronx elected official backed by the Independent Democratic Conference, a coalition of breakaway Democrats that govern the State Senate with the Republican Party. After the IDC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced a deal to unite the mainline Democrats and the IDC in a new coalition after the fall elections, many unions promised they would work to solidify a potential Democratic majority.

Several IDC and Democrat-backed primaries have begun to fizzle out, throwing these three races into an even greater focus, observers say.

“Gustavo, Leroy, and Dell all share our values and will get Teamster strength on the ground,” Mr. Miranda added

Sources: Advance Group Refunded Robert Jackson for Use of Voter Database Information

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 06:23

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

The Advance Group has said it did not use information from other campaigns for its Anybody But Quinn push–but the consulting firm has now reimbursed 2013 Manhattan borough president candidate Robert Jackson’s campaign for using his database, sources told the Observer.

The leading campaigning and lobbying group voluntarily sent a check to Mr. Jackson’s unsuccessful borough president operation, two sources said, shortly after the Observer reported last month that the group had drawn information from his Voter Activation Network–a repository of voter addresses, ages, and registrations–and used it for the anti-Christine Quinn effort. The effort to sink Ms. Quinn’s mayoral bid was largely funded by the anti-horse carriage group New Yorkers for Clean Livable and Safe Streets.

A whistleblower from ABQ furnished the Observer with documents last month indicating that the ABQ campaign’s canvassers went door-to-door with VAN “turf packets” that had Mr. Jackson’s name — along with the names of Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo’s and candidate Robert Waterman — clearly printed on them.

A source close to Mr. Jackson’s campaign said that the Advance Group’s internal information exchange–using Mr. Jackson’s database for another campaign they were running–was a breach of contract, as the ex-Manhattan councilman’s agreement with Advance specified that his resources could only go toward getting him elected.

“They illegally and unethically used the VAN we paid for and gave it to other clients,” the source close to the campaign said.

The Advance Group–already under fire for failing to disentangle other NYCLASS-financed expenditures from the City Council campaigns it ran last year–claimed to the Observer in June that it had only shared publicly available databases, and not proprietary information. The firm stood by the statement when questioned again, and refused to issue further comment.

But the refund to Mr. Jackson’s campaign, which the source close to Mr. Jackson said could only be for the use of the VAN, would appear to fly in the face of that assertion.

The source close to Mr. Jackson’s operation said that the Advance Group also low-balled the reimbursement, writing a check for less than $400 while the campaign had shelled out $13,250 for the VAN system. But the insider said he knew of no plan to pursue the Advance Group legally for further restitution.

“It was completely based on their own internal calculations for what they thought was the cost of their use of it was,” the source said. “VAN is expensive.”

Neither Ms. Cumbo nor Mr. Waterman have not yet received any reimbursement, a different source told the Observer. Their camps did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Campaign Finance Board declined to comment.

Mr. Jackson is now seeking the seat of Manhattan State Senator Adriano Espaillat.

Programming Note: Independence Day

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 16:50

This is Frankster. He danced in City Hall on Thursday. (Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office)

Politicker will be taking the day off for Independence Day. We’ll be back up and running on Monday, barring the sort of breaking news that can steal us away from our dancing hot dogs.

Stay safe out there.

Bill de Blasio Relishes His First Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Weigh-In

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 14:32

Mayor Bill de Blasio eats a hot dog in between contest co-founder George Shea and Joey Chestnut. (Rob Bennett/Office of the Mayor)

The Blue Room at City Hall went to the dogs Thursday.

Hot dogs, that is–and hot dog puns were on the menu when Mayor Bill de Blasio oversaw the “weigh-in” of the contestants for the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest.

“Tomorrow, rain or shine, tens of thousands of people will descend on Coney Island to relish the great hot dog contest,” the mayor said, to little laughter. “That was my first attempt at a pun–to relish it–get it everyone?”

While the festive weigh-in is often outside, this year it was in the staid Blue Room, where a giant hot dog mascot named Franksters danced in front of a portrait of Alexander Hamilton. Next to Franksters stood a table with silver platters of cooling Nathan’s hotdogs, along with trophies and placards listing last year’s records–69 hotdogs for male winner Joey Chestnut, and 45 hotdogs for female winner Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas.

A slew of contestants strode into the room as contest co-founder George Shea called their names like a carnival barker, but only the most elite were weighed in–including returning champions Mr. Chestnut and Ms. Thomas.

“Some might say it’s so competitive it’s a dog-eat-dog atmosphere,” Mr. de Blasio said. “I’ve got great writers. I’ll be here all week.”

Mr. de Blasio is not the first mayor to suffer the indignity of the hot-dog-themed press conference. In fact, his pun count–just two–was far below Michael Bloomberg’s in 2012, when he rattled off a long list only to ask aloud, “Who writes this shit?”

Despite the high drama of the weigh-in, the mayor seemed perhaps most excited about getting to eat a hot dog at the end of the event, noting he was only in it for “the free hot dogs.”

But Joey Chestnut offered a bit of wisdom: “One way or another, you’re paying for it,” he said.

After IDC Deal With Democrats, John Liu Soldiers On

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 14:05

John Liu with Councilman Rory Lancman. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

A deal between the mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference to eventually govern the State Senate together has halted some Democrat-fueled primary challenges to IDC members, but John Liu’s campaign is not going away.

Mr. Liu, the former city comptroller and mayoral contender trying to unseat State Senator Tony Avella, is still holding fund-raisers, racking up endorsements and hitting the campaign trail with the same intensity of a year ago, sans the unrelenting media coverage. Mr. Liu, who claimed today he held a fund-raiser every day this week, including one with Congressman and Queens Democratic Chair Joe Crowley, campaigned this morning with Councilman Rory Lancman in a sliver of central Queens that is actually outside the district.

Mr. Liu has a habit of campaigning beyond district boundaries. The logic behind the stop, according to Mr. Lancman, was that many people from Mr. Avella’s district flock to the Queens Valley Neighborhood Senior Center in Kew Gardens Hills.

“The thrust of my campaign has always been a desire to continue to serve in public service, to represent an area of Queens I have lived in my whole life,” Mr. Liu told the Observer. “I was excited to hear the IDC supposedly promising to come back and vote with Democrats. That just means I’ll be able to join the Democratic majority right away instead of potentially having to wait until 2016.”

Mr. Liu said he took the deal, announced last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the IDC, at “face value.” The group of five breakaway Democrats, which includes Mr. Avella, currently governs the senate with the Republican Party, irking liberals like Mayor Bill de Blasio who want to see the Republicans tossed from power.

The power-sharing agreement will not take place until after the fall elections and some Republicans are confident they can hold onto enough seats to force the IDC to govern with them. While primary challenges to several IDC members are likely to evaporate after the agreement, Mr. Liu is remaining steadfast because the Queens Democratic Party has long resented Mr. Avella and wants to drive him out of office.

Mr. Lancman, an ally of the Queens machine, cast more doubt on the power-sharing agreement than Mr. Liu.

“Each IDC member, when they ran the first time, agreed and promised as Democrats that they would form a Democratic majority and that didn’t happen. So I’m not really interested in taking chances or hoping that promises that were made will be kept next year,” Mr. Lancman said. “I want my senator to be a part of a Democratic majority … and that’s what John offers.”

Labor unions helped broker the deal and it’s unclear if the many unions who have already endorsed Mr. Liu will lend their full support to his candidacy. Mr. Liu said today he hadn’t heard from any unions saying they’ll pull away from him and implied more endorsements would be arriving in the coming weeks.

While the tenor of the race, at least between the campaign spokespeople, has grown increasingly nasty, Mr. Liu was diplomatic at the campaign stop. He schmoozed with voters as an enthusiastic DJ played a version of “God Bless America” and mulled performing the Macarena, the 1990s hit dance move, with the seniors. (He ultimately decided not to interrupt them.)

Mr. Liu never mentioned Mr. Avella, who is not well known in the heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. When he asked the group how many Democrats were in the room–Mr. Liu and Mr. Avella will face off in a Democratic primary in September–only about half the seniors raised their hands.

A campaign spokesman may have called Mr. Avella “one of the most ineffective legislators in Albany” just yesterday, but Mr. Liu declined to disparage the senator.

“We’ll have plenty to say. We have just under 10 weeks to go until the primary so I’m sure there will be much discussion and hopefully debates and we’ll let the voters decide,” Mr. Liu said.

You’ve Got Mail: Fund-Raising Emails Bombard Inboxes More Frequently Than Ever

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 09:05

Congressman Charlie Rangel’s successful re-election campaign included a major spike in fund-raising emails. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Nancy Pelosi had acknowledged the obvious this week. They keep emailing.

“President Obama has emailed you. Vice President Biden has emailed you. And now I’ve emailed you. We wouldn’t all be asking if it wasn’t so important,” Ms. Pelosi, a California congresswoman and minority leader in the House of Representatives, wrote in an email Monday from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “We wouldn’t all be asking if it wasn’t so important.”

The email’s subject line was apropos: “We keep emailing.”

In the heat of campaign season, emails begging for cash are bombarding inboxes with ever increasing frequency. No politico or donor is safe from the barrage, which is either highly effective or incredibly alienating, depending on who is asked.

“I must have gotten 20 emails already today,” one well-connected Democrat groused to the Observer on a recent early morning. “And I signed up for none of them,”

Indeed, fund-raising emails with subjects like “too much at stake,” “all hope is lost,” and “quick question” have been clogging inboxes, leading many recipients, at least according to their own accounts, to trash them before reading. With campaigns harvesting more email addresses and using many of the same sophisticated targeting techniques that made the Obama presidential campaign so successful–it’s not uncommon any longer for non-presidential campaigns to segregate lists by race, neighborhood and other indicators to craft specified fund-raising appeals–the emails, with their dire, pleading or even bubbly rhetoric, are here to stay.

“The fact of the matter is sending out lots of fund-raising emails works and works incredibly well for raising money,” said Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, a digital strategy consultant who recently crafted successful fund-raising pitches for Congressman Charlie Rangel’s re-election bid. “You need to ask people to donate money. Very few people unprompted are going to a campaign website to donate money.”

Mr. Rangel’s fund-raising emails arrived with far more frequency than emails from his top rival, State State Senator Adriano Espaillat. While Mr. Espaillat’s emails were less apocalyptic-sounding–and, in turn, blander–Mr. Rangel’s emails often touted the danger of Tea Party Republicans dominating Congress, where Mr. Rangel, a Democrat, has served for more than 40 years.

The campaign blasted out about 100 emails from the end of February to Election Day on June 24, Mr. Spitzer-Rubenstein said. Rather than tout the threat posed by Mr. Espaillat, a contender many pundits thought could topple Mr. Rangel, the campaign decided that the most effective fund-raising emails would need to conjure up a more well-known enemy.

“Having an enemy of some sort gets people excited and the difficult part of that is enemies have to be real and believable,” Mr. Spitzer-Rubenstein added. “I’d say in a lot of ways it’s easier to do fund-raising emails for candidates with something of a national appeal. In congressional races, everyone knows about the Tea Party, everyone cares about it.”

What works best, consultants say, is an emotional appeal. Playing on fear is typically effective. Before a recent fund-raising deadline, DCCC emails had subject lines like “DOOMED and “TRAGIC conclusion.”

Emails that lack any compelling, bite-sized narrative won’t bring in the big bucks. Don’t bother name-dropping, either, if you don’t have a big-name surrogate asking for money, consultants say.

It’s also generally assumed among consultants that the odds are incredibly low that any one email will lead to a donation. Hence the quantity sent out.

“I mean, it’s free,” said Jerry Skurnik, a Democratic consultant often asked for cash. “The economics of email is such that it basically doesn’t cost you anything to send it out. It’s hard to resist doing it.”

The reason many donors end up on lists they never subscribed to–a repeated complaint in the past few years–is that campaigns will readily swap lists with each other, a taboo practice that nevertheless is not uncommon. An ambitious finance director, campaign veterans say, can also amass contacts from one campaign and use them on another bid later on.

All of this leads to a perfect storm of email–and a New York Democrat finding out that Democrats in Pennsylvania or Oregon really want money too. Consultants are united in their belief that fund-raising emails work, but whether the technique will be a permanent part of the campaign landscape is not guaranteed–especially as technologies continue to evolve.

“At some point this becomes very, very old,” said David Birdsell, dean of the Baruch College School of Public Affairs. “There’s enthusiasm that greets every new medium and jadedness that greets its persistence.”

East Harlem Businesswoman Tamika Mapp Challenges Robert Rodriguez

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 06:30

Tamika Mapp at an immigration reform rally earlier this year (Photo: Facebook).

Tamika Mapp, owner of East Harlem Tax Service, is launching a bid to unseat two-term Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, who she says hasn’t been working hard enough in Albany.

“He’s just been a man in a suit,” Ms. Mapp told the Observer. “We need somebody who’s going to be there.”

Ms. Mapp knocked the East Harlem assemblyman for his frequent absences in Albany, where he missed 212 votes this year and 349 votes in 2013 — including votes on what she argued are key issues like the pay-equalizing Women’s Equality Act.

Ms. Mapp also vowed to fight to maintain affordable housing stock, and to push to create an Assembly committee charged with overseeing the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. She said she would seek to bring to New York the model of dealing with former mental health patients used in Iowa — where released persons immediately receive a social worker, help with job placement, and a place to stay.

“Right now, they have nowhere to go but 125th and Lexington,” Ms. Mapp complained.

Ms. Mapp said she would also advocate for full decriminalization of marijuana, noting the large number of young people arrested for minor drug offenses in the district.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the 38-year-old Ms. Mapp moved to East Harlem six years ago after serving in the United States Army. She launched her business on East 117th Street in 2009, and also serves as an ambassador for the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. She was briefly among the challengers to Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito last year, but dropped out of the race following the death of her daughter, she said.

Mr. Rodriguez’s camp did not immediately return requests for comment.

Bill de Blasio Does Not Think The Cannibal Cop Should Get His Job Back

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 16:46

To Mayor Bill de Blasio, the idea of the man dubbed the “cannibal cop” returning to the NYPD is a little hard to swallow.

“No, I don’t think he should ever get his job back, and I think it’s a troubling situation,” Mr. de Blasio said of former cop Gilberto Valle at an unrelated press conference Wednesday.

Mr. Valle graced the covers of the city’s tabloids when he was arrested and later convicted on charges of conspiring to abduct, murder and eat women he knew, including his wife. But he was sprung from jail this week after a judge overturned the most serious conviction in his case, kidnapping conspiracy, writing that the cop’s intricate dinner plans were no more than “fantasy role-play.”

“I’m a little surprised by the court’s action, and we’re obviously going to look very carefully at that situation,” the mayor said.

Mr. Valle was fired upon his conviction.

But even with the most serious conviction overturned, Mr. Valle might have a bit of trouble getting back onto the force — the judge upheld a conviction on a lesser charge, for inappropriately accessing an NYPD database, which prosecutors said he used to check out women he wanted to attack.

Bill de Blasio and DC 37 Announce a Tentative Labor Deal

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 15:35

Mayor Bill de Blasio with DC 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts today. (Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office)

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new labor agreement with District Council 37 this afternoon, granting incremental retroactive raises to the city’s largest municipal labor union.

“This is once again and example of what respect and cooperation makes possible,” Mr. de Blasio said at City Hall. “When you get rid of that negative and replace it with real respect, real cooperation, real dialogue, it’s amazing how well things can go.”

The mayor, a Democrat, said the deal with the 100,000-member union reflected his “progressive values” and implied he was working in a spirit of comity that was not found between his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, and labor unions.

“This contract has to do with a lot more than numbers on a sheet,” Mr. de Blasio declared. “It has to do with human beings.”

Mr. de Blasio, appearing with DC 37 members clad in green, the union’s color, said that he patterned the agreement on an earlier deal reached with the United Federation of Teachers. The 10 percent raises will be granted over seven years, offset by what the de Blasio administration called “significant savings.” Raises increase in the out years of the deal, culminating at a 3 percent jump in 2016, and there are no years without raises.

The deal begins retroactively in March of 2010 and expires in July of 2017, in the summer Mr. de Blasio is likely to seek re-election. The gross cost of the agreement is $1.75 billion.

The cost will be offset through healthcare savings the city and the Municipal Labor Committee have already agreed to find — $3.4 billion in health care savings through the 2018 fiscal year, Mr. de Blasio said, and $1.3 billion in recurring savings in years after.

Like with the UFT deal, specific health care savings have yet to be defined.

With this agreement, more than 60 percent of the city’s workforce have reached contract agreements with the city, the mayor said. Heading into 2014, all had expired contracts.

“I don’t know what to say because it’s been a long time coming,” said Lillian Roberts, the executive director of DC 37. “Thank you, Mr. Mayor.”

The tentative agreement, which must be ratified by the Municipal Labor Committee, includes a new committee of DC 37 members and city representatives who will make recommendations on how to increase recruitment, retention and promotion of minorities and women in DC 37 jobs. The city and DC 37 also agreed to work together to find workplace savings. Mr. de Blasio also said he will look into cutting down on private contracting to further cut costs.

“Think about what DC 37 members do, what they mean to this city,” the mayor said, calling the union the city’s “glue.” “They deserve a contract as good as them.”

Bronx Delegation Celebrates Their City Council Budget

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 12:16

The Bronx Delegation celebrates budget and promises a united front. (Photo: Paula Duran)

Council members Anabel Palma, Vanessa Gibson, Fernando Cabrera and Andy King, four members of the City Council’s Bronx delegation, gathered at East Fordham Road and Grand Concourse today to celebrate the spoils they had won from this year’s $75 billion budget.

The mood was festive because for the first time in decades, decisions were made to allocate resources instead of cutting them, they claimed. Three members of the Bronx delegation, Council members Jimmy Vacca, Carmen Arroyo and Ritchie Torres, were not at the event.

“The Bronx had a great victory. I’ve been in the city council for the last ten years and in the last ten years the way we negotiated the budget was by starting to cut funding from groups,” said Ms. Palma, who serves as the chair of the Bronx Delegation.

“This year we had the unique opportunity, after ten years, instead of looking at the budget and deciding where we were going to cut to be able to balance this budget, we engaged in conversations through the leadership of speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the budget negotiating team of the City Council, with the Mayor and decided to do things differently,” she added.

Ms. Palma also spoke about how the new Bronx delegation secured funding for six initiatives and guaranteed more than $69 million in capital funding and over 7.5 million dollars in expense funding for the Bronx.

Among the priorities that were addressed in the budget were street pickup, job creation, legal services for low and moderate income families, safety and anti-violence campaigns, and millions in funding to support Bronx institutions like Bronx Community College, Mind-Builders Creative Arts Center and Wave Hill, among others. In the past, the City Council would battle with the mayor over cuts to various programs they considered a priority.

“This is the first time in an incredibly long time that we as a Bronx delegation have come together to talk about something positive in the Bronx,” Ms. Gibson said. “I am so honored to be here to stand with all of my colleagues and community groups in really this momentous occasion. The Bronx is on the rise,” she added.

Mr. Cabrera emphasized the importance of the rules reform that more equalized the amount of discretionary dollars council members received.

“In times past, the poorest neighborhood got the least and the richer neighborhood got the most. Something is very wrong about that,” he said.

The story has been updated to reflect that Councilman Andrew Cohen did briefly attend today’s event and that Councilwoman Carmen Arroyo and Councilman Jimmy Vacca did not attend.

Rangel, Maloney Slam City on Section 8 Housing Downsizing

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 11:51

Congressman Charlie Rangel speaks at a rally with the Housing Alliance Against Downsizing. (Jillian Jorgensen/Observer)

A slew of elected officials including Congressman Charlie Rangel and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney slammed the city’s policy of forcing seniors and single parents with Section 8 vouchers to move into smaller apartments today.

“A bedroom is not a luxury,” Rita Popper, founder of Housing Alliance Against Downsizing, said at a City Hall press conference featuring federal, state and city lawmakers.

The city’s office of Housing Preservation and Development has been forcing people living in one-bedroom apartments to move into studios, and single parents in two-bedroom apartments to move into a one-bedroom, all while paying the same rent, advocates say.

The policy, which also allows residents to stay in their current apartments but pay more rent, was rolled out under the Bloomberg administration to cut costs after federal funds for HPD were sequestered — resulting in a $35 million cut to the program in New York City.

“It is wrong to tell a senior citizen, to say, ‘You have to give up your bedroom, sleep on your couch, and pay the same rent,’” Ms. Maloney said.

But if the agency hadn’t looked to cut costs, it would have had to cut 3,000 vouchers, knocking those people out of the affordable housing program, according to HPD.

“HPD has taken tremendous pains to ensure that despite these devastating federal cuts, not a single one of our families in the Section 8 program has lost their voucher,” HPD spokesman Eric Bederman said. “That’s no small achievement, and it reflects our commitment to helping our tenants through this crisis. However, we are extremely concerned that if Congress doesn’t end the Sequester, the deep cuts to Section 8 will restart in 2016, putting our tenants at risk yet again.”

Ms. Maloney said she knew HPD faces financial woes, but that moving tenants — often seniors — around was the wrong way to save money.

“The agency has to do something, but this strategy punishes the most vulnerable New Yorkers, and it’s wrong,” she said. “And we can’t even be sure of the cost savings downsizing will yield, because they have no information about it.”

Mr. Rangel offered an emotional analysis of what many seniors are facing — a fear of losing their home and being sent to a nursing home or the hospital, and being “deathly afraid” of losing the few friends they have in their communities.

“There’s no compassion in a computer,” he said of the system of downsizing.

Mr. Rangel painted the lack of affordable housing in the city as a federal problem, and ripped the model of building 80 percent market-rate housing and 20-percent affordable units.

“There should be a moratorium on luxury housing, because it’s a national crisis that we don’t have affordable housing,” he said. “80/20 makes no sense at all — if you needed a hospital and they told you 80 percent of it would be for well people, and 20 percent set aside for sick people, you’d say, ‘That’s crazy.’ Well, we don’t have a crisis in luxury housing — the crisis is in affordable housing.”

He said the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is “operating under a Republican-controlled house, they don’t have any sensitivity except hatred for our president.”

But while most council members and state legislators present appealed to the mayor to help change the policy, lawyer Norman Siegel, who once challenged Mr. de Blasio for public advocate, took a harsher tone and said advocates might have to take the city to court over the policy.

He said the mayor knew about the press conference — and even walked by it unnoticed — but did not attend.

“The mayor I voted for, the person I believed in, would have stopped, would have walked in here, would have shown the compassion and caring that he claims he’s about, and would have talked to the people here about this issue,” he said.

Mr. Siegel vowed not to let seniors be forced into studios. “If that means that not only in the city but in the state and national, the image of Bill de Blasio as a hypocrite, if that’s what has to be, so be it,” he said.

While advocates said it wasn’t acceptable to move disabled residents into smaller units, the city does take into account if people have disabilities or other reasons they cannot be downsized into smaller units, HPD said — it has granted 540 “reasonable accommodation” requests, and another 250 are pending.

This story has been updated with information from HPD.

Eric Adams Declares Himself a ‘Tender’ Borough President in First Newsletter

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 10:28

The Borough President Eric Adams newsletter.

Tender is the newsletter.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, elected just last fall, declared himself a “tough cop” and a “tender borough president” on the front page of his very first newsletter. Mr. Adams, a former police captain and state senator, revamped the newsletter of his jovial predecessor Marty Markowitz, transforming it into a newspaper-style periodical that is all about the new beep.

“The cover of our first newsletter is not only eye-catching, it encapsulates the story of Borough President Adams and his approach to public service; Brooklynites will be pleased to read its contents and find the substance that matches his style,” said Stefan Ringel, a spokesman for Mr. Adams.

The newsletter, printed by the Queens Courier with postage paid by the borough president’s office, features Mr. Adam’s stern visage in an upper panel contrasted with a gentler image in a lower panel, the hands of the beep clenched on a Dr. Seuss book. Children in “Cat in the Hat” hats sit in front of the borough president, who has introduced the slogan “One Brooklyn” to define his new administration. (Though Queens-based, the Courier also prints the Bay Ridge, Brooklyn newspaper the Home Reporter, Mr. Ringel was quick to note).

The newsletter itself, clocking in at 28 pages, is an ode to Brooklyn and Mr. Adams. Much like Mr. Markowitz, Mr. Adams wants Brooklynites to know exactly what the beep has been up to: there is a lengthy bio of Mr. Adams, photographs of the borough president at various community events, a story about Mr. Adams’ commitment to renewable energy and a story about his advocacy of the mayor’s plan to reduce pedestrian fatalities, among others. The stories have accompanying photographs of Mr. Adams.

Mr. Ringel said it was not clear yet what the print schedule would be for Mr. Adams’ newsletter. A first mailing went out to 440,000 households, he said.

For Mr. Adams himself, the newsletter marks the first six months of his borough presidency.

“The first six months of my administration at Borough Hall have been a great start toward building One Brooklyn, and this introductory newsletter connects hundreds of thousands of Brooklynites with our office’s efforts, engaging them in what will be an ongoing dialogue about strengthening our borough and getting involved in our community,” he said.

Sponsors of Sandy Monitor Bill Say Bill de Blasio Should Have Nothing to Hide

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 07:23

Council members Mark Treyger and Eric Ulrich. (William Alatriste/New York City Council)

Officials pushing for independent oversight of the city’s Hurricane Sandy recovery say Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration shouldn’t have anything to hide.

“No responsible public official should be concerned with having independent monitors making sure this money is being spent the way it is supposed to be spent,” Councilman Mark Treyger, chairman of the council’s Committee on Recovery and Resiliency, told the Observer.

Mr. Treyger, a Brooklyn Democrat, and Queens Republican Eric Ulrich — who both represent neighborhoods hit hard by the storm — introduced a bill last week to establish a monitor at the Department of Investigation for Hurricane Sandy recovery in the city.

“I think that an independent monitor is necessary any time when you’re handling billions of dollars,” Mr. Ulrich told the Observer. “We simply can’t allow the honor system to prevail here.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, who has pledged to make Sandy a top priority and has recently signed several laws regarding the recovery, said earlier this week they are reviewing the legislation.

A Department of Investigation spokeswoman said the department is already monitoring Hurricane Sandy housing recovery program Build it Back — and has a hotline for fraud, one of the things required in the bill.

“They haven’t done a very good job of telling people about it,” Mr. Ulrich said of DOI’s efforts.

Both lawmakers said what they’re asking for is a more formal, established oversight structure with a specific monitor in charge, looking at all aspects of the city’s Hurricane Sandy recovery.

“Heck, my colleagues voted for an inspector general to oversee the police department,” Mr. Ulrich said.  “What’s wrong with having an independent monitor overseeing almost $4 billion in [federal relief] funds?”

A city government source told the Observer earlier this week that the DOI was focusing on Build it Back because that’s where the bulk of the money is, and that the focus would shift as priorities do. But Mr. Ulrich and Mr. Treyger said they wanted a visible presence from DOI codified into law.

Mr. Treyger cautioned he’s not accusing anyone in the administration “of fumbling up to this point.”

“I think it’s about accountability and that there’s no guessing game on who we contact,” Mr. Treyger said, the way people might know Richard Condon is the special investigator in charge of education cases.

Mr. Treyger said the council has an obligation to perform oversight. “First and foremost, we have an obligation to protect precious taxpayer dollars,” he said.

The city has received nearly $4 billion in three separate allocations Community Development Block grants aimed at recovery efforts — though it receives access to those funds slowly, one round of cash at a time. So far, it has begun reconstructing just 96 homes and has spent $5 million reimbursing 320 homeowners who made repairs without the city’s help.

While that’s an improvement over the start of the year — no checks had gone out, and no homes were under construction — it’s little consolation in neighborhoods rocked by the storm or to the council members representing them.

“My constituents are outraged,” Mr. Ulrich said. “And I am outraged for them, because they’re watching on the news about all this money that’s flowing into the state and the city to help them, and they haven’t received a dime.”

Mr. Treyger pointed to widespread fraud after Hurricane Katrina, and recalled his frustration in March, when at a hearing city officials testified that just three homeowners had received checks — despite millions having been spent on consultants to the city’s recovery programs, he said.

“Why are we spending this much money on consulting and very few people are getting assistance?” Mr. Treyer asked.

To date, the city has spent about $8.3 million out of an $11 million consulting contract, according to its online Sandy tracker, and spent another $9.2 million of some $50.2 million in “case management” contracts — with lost paperwork and other case management woes among storm victim’s top complaints.

Still, Mr. Treyger praised the mayor’s new hires for Sandy recovery — including Amy Peterson, who now oversees Build it Back. And just yesterday, the mayor signed a bill waiving Department of Buildings fees for the recovery program, the latest in a series of pieces of legislation relating to Sandy he has signed. At the bill singing, Mr. Treyger thanked the mayor for his work on the issue, and the mayor noted that “even the tough judges in the city council” had thanked him for revamping the recovery.

“It all comes down to providing New Yorkers with the resources that they are entitled to – and acting as quickly as humanly possible,” Mr. de Blasio said Tuesday at the bill signing.

Still, Mr. Treyger said the city “can’t afford not to have answers for the public” when they ask where the money is going — but right now, everyone is simply “pointing fingers” at one another.

“Let’s now have an entity, an independent entity that is not afraid of any type of political retaliation from anybody, to take a look at this and make sure that money is being spent the right way,” he said.

This story has been updated to reflect new Build it Back figures provided by the mayor’s office.

Conservation Group Wants Stronger Environmental Focus From Bill de Blasio

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 16:23

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Vanessa Ogle)

The New York League of Conservation Voters gave Mayor Bill de Blasio decidedly mixed marks on his environmental efforts for his first six months in office – knocking the mayor for a lack of details on making the city more resilient to climate change.

“This issue hasn’t risen to the same prominence that universal pre-k or Vision Zero does, in terms of signature issues,” Dan Hendrick, a spokesman for the league, said.

The report, dubbed “Taking Stock,” gave the mayor credit for incorporating energy-efficiency, sustainability and public transit into his housing plan, and for making overhauls on Hurricane Sandy recovery and creating an office focused on resiliency. But the group pointed out that he’s yet to expand on former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vision for preparing the city for big storms and rising sea levels.

“We applaud Mayor de Blasio for taking a number of critical measures to help New York City recover from Superstorm Sandy, adapt to the climate crisis and advance the city’s sustainability goals,” the group’s president, Marcia Bystryn, said in a statement. “But six months into his first term, the mayor has yet to give a major policy address on his environmental vision. Climate change and sustainability are the defining challenges of our time, and we look forward to working with the administration to elevate them to the level of his other signature issues in the coming months.”

The mayor’s office defended Mr. de Blasio’s record on environmental issues.

“From the first days of this administration, Mayor de Blasio has made a clear commitment to resiliency and sustainability,” spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said. “The city’s first-ever mayoral office focused on resiliency has already established New York City as a leader in combating climate change, secured funding for key projects, and made significant progress to ensure a greener and more resilient city. It’s been a very productive six months and this is just the beginning.”

Mr. de Blasio created a new Office of Recovery and Resiliency, headed up by Daniel Zarrilli, originally appointed to a similar role by Bloomberg.

While Mr. Hendrick notes the mayor has done a “great job” on the recovery side of Hurricane Sandy, “there are a lot of questions around the long-term resiliency effort.” The sweeping, $20 billion plan was first outlined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a report last April, and Mr. de Blasio has embraced it, saying it’s one area where he and his predecessor agree.

But Mr. de Blasio “has yet to articulate his vision for how exactly he will expand and build upon the plan created by the Bloomberg administration.” He hasn’t addressed, for example, a $4.5 billion funding gap in the plan that could put many projects on hold, the group notes.

The issue is one the New York League of Conservation Voters wants to keep on the front burner, Mr. Hendrick said.

“If it doesn’t receive the full-on attention that it deserves, because the issues are so complex in some ways, it’s easy to sort of get lost in the bureaucracy of it,” he said.

The League of Conservation Voters report also points to an office that remains without a leader — the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, which must update every four years the PlaNYC report on the city’s efforts to become more sustainable by 2030.

The league noted that the ongoing lack of a director “raises questions about the administration’s focus on this unit’s important work.”

The next PlaNYC report is due to be delivered in April 2015.

“This would be a good time to have somebody in that office giving it good direction,” Mr. Hendrick said.

For the first time this year, a PlaNYC progress report included details on the 257 resiliency efforts underway — 29 complete and 202 in process, something for which the report praised the mayor. The report also highlighted the city’s work informing people about their evacuation zones and for pumping money into capital improvements, though it noted much more was requested than granted for parks funding.

NYCLASS Furious That Bill de Blasio Hasn’t Banned Horse Carriages Yet

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 14:56

A NYCLASS protest. (Photo: Facebook)

NYCLASS may be ready to put Mayor Bill de Blasio out to pasture.

The powerful animal rights group, along with other disgruntled activists in the city, is furious that the de Blasio administration has still not banned horse-drawn carriages from city streets, sources say. NYCLASS, which is short for New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, declined to comment, but individuals close to the animal rights movement want Mr. de Blasio to buck up and ban the carriages–or face the consequences.

“The honeymoon is over between animal rights groups and the mayor,” said a source close to several animal rights groups involved in the effort. “He’s not doing anything. He said he would and it’s clear the issue has been pushed to the back burner.”

“Animal rights groups are pretty pissed off,” the source added.

Mr. de Blasio and his advisers have been shying away from banning the Central Park-based carriages, sources say, and are not pressuring the City Council to pass a bill after promising last year the carriages would be history when he took office. Recent polls showed that New Yorkers still favor keeping around the tourist attraction, despite the arguments from activists that horses are treated inhumanely. The City Council is not united around the issue, either; Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito supports a ban, but many council members are worried about the loss of decent-paying union jobs if the carriages go away.

While NYCLASS is undertaking a lobbying campaign to sway reticent council members, the moneyed political group was expecting the mayor to use his weight to press for a ban immediately. With temperatures now rising, activists fear the horses will suffer in the summer heat–and they’re ready, in turn, to put the heat on Mr. de Blasio.

“A lot of things needed to happen for him to become mayor. NYCLASS was a huge, huge force behind him,” explained another animal rights source. “I think that the same power, the organizing power and money you saw that helped propel Bill de Blasio to City Hall can be turned against him.”

When Mr. de Blasio was a long-shot contender in last year’s Democratic primary, NYCLASS ran an independent expenditure against his top rival, ex-Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The negative attacks damaged Ms. Quinn early in the race and benefited Mr. de Blasio, who framed himself as her liberal alternative.

Since then, reports surfaced that the FBI is investigating NYCLASS for possibly illegally coordinating with the de Blasio campaign. Sources close to the animal rights group deny there is an investigation and Mr. de Blasio has said he did nothing wrong.

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

De Blasio Backs Up on Alternate Side Parking Reform

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 14:12

Bill de Blasio expressed support for Ydanis Rodriguez’s alternate side parking bill (Getty Images).

Mayor Bill de Blasio voiced support today for reforming alternate side parking rules–a day after his Sanitation Department told the City Council that such changes could leave many streets still jammed with trash.

Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez has proposed sweeping changes to street cleaning law that would allow car owners to return to their parking spots once sanitation crews leave the block–reforms he and some of his colleagues argue would relieve motorists of both stress and parking tickets. The Sanitation Department, however, warned yesterday that streets sometimes need a second go-over before they are clean

“The department appreciates the intent of the bill to make on-street parking available more quickly for motorists, but respectfully opposes the bill,” director of cleaning operations Paul Visconti testified. “That vehicle equipped with a GPS, let’s say, goes around the block—it doesn’t mean the block is clean. We want to reserve the right to come back around the block and clean the street. The bottom line is to get the curb clean,”

Mr. de Blasio, however, today praised Mr. Rodriguez’s legislation and vowed to find a way to make it work.

”What Council member Rodriguez is trying to achieve I think is commendable,” the mayor said. “I think his vision is a good vision, we have to figure out if we can find a way to make it practical, and I will certainly work constructively with him on that.”

Mr. de Blasio stopped short of making a full U-turn on Mr. Visconti’s testimony, however, and said that the bill would have to be fine-tuned to fit the needs of the city.

“There are still a number of issues that are unanswered,” Mr. de Blasio said. “They [the Sanitation Department] they don’t have yet all the details worked out on how they would implement such legislation effectively.”