A Simple Solution: Break All the Windows

Everyone in New York now understands that “Broken Windows” policing is a blight on our city.  All kinds of normal behavior have been criminalized, to the point that average citizens are constantly being harassed by the police for engaging in harmless behavior.  Even the Mayor's son walks in terror of being victimized by his father's security detail.

A striking example occurred earlier this week when Councilman Corey Johnson was stopped by three plainclothesmen when he was walking between subway cars.  Apparently it is a “violation of the law” to walk from car to car, because the police gave Johnson a $75 ticket.  The hapless cops, it seems, were unaware that they were harassing an elected official, not just a nobody, and that their reckless abuse of authority was going to make the pages of the city’s dailies. 

New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs were rocked by the news that Councilman Johnson himself was swept up in a “broken windows” sweep, but were relieved by news that he has initiated a formal complaint against his persecutors.

Councilman Rafael Espinal came out on Twitter in support of his colleague, announcing that he is “with Corey all the way.”  Espinal added, “as a NY'er I've walked through doors many times in my lifetime. 1. For convenience 2. Most importantly for safety reasons.”

Indeed, who could argue with the councilman’s logic?  “Convenience,” as everyone knows, is always its own justification.  Nothing else need be said—except that the wise and prudent Councilman Espinal points out that “safety” is an even more compelling reason to walk between the cars on a moving train.

We are reminded of a bill, Resolution 91, that Councilman Jumaane Williams proposed last year that would have asked the NYPD and the MTA to stop arresting people who commit "minor" crimes, because arrests can cause “significant stress” and “financial hardship” to the arrestees.  It is sobering to think that, if people of conscience had responded to Williams’ call, then Corey Johnson might never have been dragged into the fine procedural net that the NYPD has cast in pursuit of “Broken Windows” policing.

Rafael Espinal and Jumaane Williams have their hearts in the right place, encouraging people to act out of a sense of their own convenience or safety, and asking the police to stop arresting people “committing” “crimes,” whatever that means.  But the time has come for a bolder step: one that will not just end unjust arrests, but will cut the crime rate by 90% or more.

We need to eliminate laws.

Think about it: without laws, there would be no lawbreakers.  It’s so simple, that I don’t know why no one has thought of this before.  Without laws, a free people could go about their business without constant fear of arrest by police looking for broken windows in order to meet their quotas.

Corey Johnson would never again be molested for walking between subway cars, because the absurd rule against doing so would not exist.

“Showtime” dancers would be free to express themselves through dance.  Hardworking men and women on their way home would be allowed to relax and kick back with a beer or a smoke on the subway.  A youth encumbered with a candy wrapper would be entitled to drop it wherever he stands. 

Squeegeemen would be once again allowed to ply their trade at busy intersections, ensuring that we have clean windshields, and helping to realize the Mayor’s vision of zero traffic accidents.

Vendors of loose cigarettes such as Eric Garner would no longer be constantly harassed by policemen doing the bidding of local shopkeepers angry about his competition.  The abolition of petty legislation would mean that crime would plummet.  No one would fear arrest, and therefore, no one would fear, period.

As Riker’s Island became empty of criminals, we could repurpose it as a sanctuary for homeless families or undocumented immigrant children.  Where turnstile jumpers and sidewalk spitters were once incarcerated for cruel terms of solitary confinement, literacy classes could flourish.

The arrest of Corey Johnson will mark a revolution in human understanding.  The problem isn’t crime: the problem, my friends, is the law.  Once all the windows are broken, there will no longer be any windows to break.  And then, with the fresh air of freedom blowing freely through the empty sashes, we will have achieved true liberty.

Fiscal Follies at the Budget Hearings

Budget hearings began yesterday in Chambers, and really dedicated Council watchers got to catch some truly fantastic moments of irrelevance and idiocy.

Commissioner of Finance Jacques Jiha did a nimble job of answering questions and concerns about the city’s tax structure, revenue collection, deeds, etc.  Then Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez launched into his now-familiar prologue to virtually any public comment he makes:

We know that you and many other commissioners…we know that you inherit some mess from previous leaders, and that it is now our responsibility to continue working, cleaning whatever could be done better, and at the same time to continue with the vision of this administration, which is to close the gap that divides our city between the 1% and the 99%.

Few councilmembers appear to have accepted so completely, and are as willing to cough up so frequently, this founding myth of the de Blasio administration as Ydanis Rodriguez.  He cherishes it as death row inmates may cherish a vision of the Gates of Heaven. 

Rodriguez asked a few questions about the money that the city keeps on deposit in various banks, insinuating that the funds, which the city uses to pay for ongoing expenses, should be rightfully “reinvested” in local communities.  The councilmember, among others, appears to believe that the bulk of New York’s tax revenue is ripped from the piggy banks and mattresses of the city’s poorest communities.  “Our big brothers and big sisters on Wall Street have done very well from us,” Rodriguez said knowingly.

Saving his best question for last, Councilmember Rodriguez opened his arms and declaimed,

We need you, we need the Department of Finance, to collect the money…that we are able to save the firehouses, invest in afterschool programs.  But, it breaks my heart sometimes when I see a single mother, who parked the car in a non-parking area on 93rd Street and Riverside Drive, and somebody is waiting to tow the car for the purpose that we will be able to collect the money.  So there is now a ticket given to that individual because she parked the car during the time she was able to go and pick up her daughter or son from school.  Is someone waiting to tow the car and collect the money?  How can we change that approach?

Commissioner Jiha pointed out that parking regulations are out of his scope, and that the question might be better directed to the NYPD or Department of Transportation.

Then Councilmember Laurie Cumbo had her turn.  Property taxes are a constant concern for local elected officials, but Cumbo had a unique twist on the old question of rising rates:

I have a question about property taxes and not-for-profit organizations.  [My district] is gentrifying rapidly, and property values are going up very quickly.  So I am finding situations in my district where not-for-profit organizations and their landlords, the way they structured their leases was that the landlords would pass off the property taxes to the not-for-profit organizations, and as taxes are going up…many of these not-for-profit organizations are finding that they can’t keep pace, and some are seeing increases of ten, fifteen, twenty thousand dollars a year.  Have you seen cases like this, where property taxes of private landlords were passed off to not-for-profit organizations?

Commissioner Jiha said he would look into the question, and Councilmember Cumbo followed up by asking,

Is there some type of tax forgiveness program, or some way where some not-for-profit organizations can become exempt, who cannot afford to pay taxes? …. They are exempt from paying property taxes, but if they signed into their lease that they would assume the responsibility for it at a time when the community was very different, now they are held liable for paying those expenses.

Laurie Cumbo founded and ran a not-for-profit museum in Fort Greene, and has close ties with members of the Brooklyn arts community.  It is pretty clear that some of her associates probably signed weird leases that require them to cover their landlord’s property taxes, and are annoyed that increasing property values, which they as renters are not even seeing the upside of, are making their effective rent go up.  So Councilmember Cumbo is, basically, trying to figure out if there is way to make the city pay their rent.

Single mothers who got towed on the Upper West Side, or not-for-profit administrators with dodgy leases—do not fear!  Your advocates are hard at work in City Hall. 

Playing at Protest: Lander and Menchaca Smile at the Nice Policeman

Councilmembers Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca got themselves arrested yesterday as part of a demonstration against a car wash in Park Slope.  Marching in support of a lawsuit that eight employees of the Vegas Auto Spa have filed against the owner of the car wash, the elected officials blocked traffic and were removed by the NYPD in what Lander called an act of “civil disobedience.”  Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito participated in the protest but did not subject herself to arrest.

Civil disobedience is how people respond to repressive authority when politics has failed them.  It is an act against the state.  But Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca are elected representatives and agents of the state, and furthermore are part of the ruling clique.  In what sense are these powerful elected officials in a position to perform “civil disobedience” regarding a labor dispute between the employees and owner of a decrepit car wash?

Yesterday’s action brings to mind the farcical protest of a few months ago, when two dozen councilmembers blocked traffic on lower Broadway to protest the Eric Garner decision, held a die-in on the steps of City Hall, then went inside to participate in the scheduled Stated Meeting.  The point of civil disobedience is that there is some risk to the participants--30 days in jail, getting beaten up, at the very least a fine—in order to demonstrate their dedication to the cause.  Watching a bunch of legislators enact a zero-cost charade of civil disobedience, when they are actually the ones in charge of the city, is the ultimate sign that politics in our one-party city is totally empty. 

Even Mayor de Blasio praised the councilmembers’ feckless manifestation, citing proudly his own “civil disobedience” arrest in 2013 when he protested the closing of Long Island College Hospital—which wound up closing anyway, after he was Mayor. 

The problem with the Progressives is that they can’t admit they are in charge, because their whole mission is an endless uphill battle against the forces of reaction.  So Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca smilingly pantomime the gestures of revolution, while the police whom they control go along with the charade of arresting them for the cameras.

De Blasio's Immigrant Grandmother: Sweatshop Boss

Mayor de Blasio tugged at the heartstrings of all New Yorkers during his State of the City address when he spoke of his immigrant grandmother, Anna Briganti, who well over a century ago forsook the beauties of Italy “for an apartment at 205 East 17th Street in Manhattan, just a short walk from here…a place lacking the tranquil comforts of her childhood.”

The mayor explained that, in search of “a better life,” his grandmother and her two sisters started an embroidery company in 1910.

“My grandmother’s story – like most New York success stories – was not a fairy tale,” explained the Mayor.  “She did not stumble upon success through luck or charm; she forged it with hard work and raw grit.”

An inspiration, to be sure.

However, the Mayor omitted the part of the story where his grandmother and her sisters turned their house at 205 East 17th Street into a factory where no fewer than 34 people were working by 1915. 

Moreover, he neglected to mention that his grandmother’s sister Imperior was arrested, according to The New York Times (12/4/1915) on charges of “violating regulations relating to smoking and safety appliances.”  The arrest came “as a result of an extensive campaign against fire hazards in the factories of the city.”

Mayor de Blasio’s great-aunt pled guilty to “having an inadequate fire alarm apparatus,” four years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 garment workers less than a mile ("just a short walk") south of the “Misses Briganti” home/"factory at 205 East Seventeenth Street.”

Bill de Blasio certainly isn't at fault for how his grandmother made money running a dangerous sweatshop.  But he is at fault for prominently foregrounding his insipid version of a story of immigrant striving, when the truth is much more complex and interesting.  Even if it doesn't fit his simplistic "two cities" narrative.

Chirlane McCray Exploits Her Daughter's Woes

The shamelessness of Mayor De Blasio and his wife in foregrounding their children to score points is stunning.  There appears to be no limit to how far this scheming couple is willing to push their kids into the spotlight in order to gain political leverage.

This week Chirlane McCray announced a broad initiative to “create a roadmap” in order to “outline a plan” to provide better mental health resources to New Yorkers.  The initial roadmap will be rolled out this summer, and then the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City will work with city agencies to “pursue its findings.”

Then, just as her husband used their son Dante as a prop when he spoke in December about the dangers that the police pose to young black males, McCray trotted out their daughter Chiara to be the city's poster child for recovery from depression and substance abuse.

“I’m proud to say that Chiara is kicking butt at recovery—and she’s working really hard to help other young people dealing with similar challenges,” pronounced McCray.  All well and good for Chiara, though one wonders how eager this teenager actually is to have updates on her nascent recovery from alcohol and drug addiction used as part of her parents’ ceaseless public relations campaigns. 

It was one thing for the de Blasio machine to release news of Chiara’s addiction in late 2013 to get ahead of media reports, but creating a professionally filmed commercial of the announcement was in bad taste.  Then with (presumably) ghostwritten articles on xoJane.com, and now being used as an element of her mother’s speech, one wonders at what point the de Blasios will let up.  When she relapses, God forbid?

The most repulsive part of McCray’s speech, however, was when she insinuated that it was a financial struggle for her and then-Public Advocate de Blasio to pay for their daughter’s treatment:  “It was quite a task for us to find affordable mental health professionals and a program to meet Chiara’s needs. The needs of our daughter, who is no longer a child and not quite an adult. A young woman who has become an edgy biracial activist.”

Chiara being biracial is irrelevant to anything outside of a de Blasio campaign mailer, though at this point it is no surprise that the family would interject their demographic status anywhere.  But it is outrageous that McCray would pretend that it was a financial struggle for them to get help for their daughter.  Leaving aside the fact that the family income was likely close to $300,000 at the time of Chiara’s crisis, Public Advocate de Blasio, as a city employee, had access to excellent health insurance that covers unlimited inpatient rehab at nominal cost...and that’s with the HMO option.  Even in the unlikely case that the de Blasios chose one of the cheapest plans offered by the city, Chiara was still eligible for at least 30 days of rehab, and seven days of detox.

One supposes that, at their income and debt maintenance level, it could have been a stretch for the de Blasio family cash flow to pay for 90 days of luxe care at Promises Malibu, or some other spa facility catering to the elite.  But the recovery industry is mature enough now that it offers price points for everyone, and insurance companies know that it is cheaper to pay for a few months in rehab than it is to cover the aftermath of drunken car crashes.  In her effort to appear conversant with middle-class financial woes, Chirlane McCray comes off as clueless as Hillary Clinton did when she claimed that she and President Clinton were "flat broke" on leaving the White House. 

None of this is too shocking, of course.  Bill de Blasio has been using his wife and children as political props for years.  Aside from perhaps Sarah Palin, has any American politician since Nixon’s Checkers speech been as unctuous and ingratiating, so stupidly self-righteous in regard to his family, as Bill de Blasio?  Seriously: if you can think of someone, let me know.

Anti-Zionist Holocaust Protest: Evil, Stupid, or Both?

Anti-Israel activists disrupted the Council’s stated meeting yesterday, at precisely the moment that a vote was called on a resolution commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz.

Protestors, angry that a number of councilmembers, including Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, are taking a trip to Israel next month, booed and heckled the Council from the gallery, from which they draped banners and Palestinian flags.  The protestors were expelled from Chambers, and eventually the entire gallery was cleared after the protests continued.

One might be sympathetic to the argument that trips abroad by councilmembers, paid for by the propaganda arms of Israel, Taiwan, the Dominican Republic, etc., are questionable and should be disallowed.  After all, the Council doesn't even have control of the city's schools or most of the budget, so its influence on foreign affairs is likely to be fairly limited as well.

But clean government without junkets was not on the protestors' agenda yesterday.  No, the problem was Israel and Israel alone.  A coalition of anti-Zionist groups has been trying to gin up controversy over the planned trip, sarcastically calling it "Apartheid Tours," and targeting individual councilmembers, especially the Progressives among them, insisting that they cancel the trip.

The anti-Zionists undercut their usual claim--that opposition to Israeli policies is not equivalent to anti-Semitism--by patiently sitting through 58 minutes of the meeting until the words “Auschwitz/Birkenau” were pronounced by the Public Advocate as she was calling for a voice vote.

Four resolutions were voted on before the activists disrupted the proceedings: a resolution designating the week following the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. as “Peace Week;” a resolution making January cervical health awareness month; a call for the state legislature to pass laws that would facilitate treatment of HPV among young people; and a resolution asking the US Congress to pass legislation expanding the protection of a woman’s right to safe abortions.

At that point PA James read aloud the title of Resolution 548, “commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps on January 27th, 2015,” but was interrupted by boos from the gallery, as protestors raised a Palestinian flag and a banner reading “Don’t Tour Apartheid Israel.”

Ten minutes later, after the first protestors were expelled, several more individuals began screaming about “genocide,” and directly addressed the Speaker, “Melissa! You are a hypocrite! How can you say you are a progressive and support Israeli atrocities against children! Palestinian lives matter! Etc., etc.”  At this point the gallery was emptied and the stated meeting continued without any members of the general public present.

One of the organizations behind the action, Jewish Voice for Peace, distanced itself from the timing of the disruption with the vote on the Auschwitz resolution, calling it “a mistake and extremely unfortunate.”

Other groups involved in the protest took a familiar approach to spinning the ugly scene: first denying it, then justifying it.  Nastaran Mohit, an expert heckler of messianic self-regard, who made news in 2012 by repeatedly screaming “Fuck you” at a Mitt Romney appearance, insisted that her disruption began during the "Peace Week" resolution vote, though Council video proves otherwise.

The most egregious twisting of events came from the “Occupy Wall Street” Twitter feed, which angelically claimed, “Standing against apartheid is a stand in solidarity w/an anti-genocide reso.”  Yes, to disrupt a commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz to scream about Palestine in fact shows the deepest possible respect for the Holocaust: certainly more earnestly felt than that of the disrupted original ceremony.  Sophistry and doublethink at this level indicate either cynical brilliance or schizophrenia.

Anyway, the whole fiasco was a fantastic and depressing demonstration, if you care to make it, of the emptiness of the argument that anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. Correlation may not imply causation, but it sure does indicate correlation!

Mark-Viverito Hails Departed Terrorist as Hero; "National Patriot."

Council Speaker Mark-Viverito eulogized yesterday a convicted terrorist and sponsor of political violence against the United States, calling her “our icon and national patriot.”

Isabel Rosado Morales died in Puerto Rico Tuesday at the age of 107.  Morales was imprisoned three times for seditious acts, the final time in 1954, following a little-remembered gun attack on the floor of the House of Representatives, when four Puerto Rican nationalists, firing from the gallery, shot and wounded five US Congressmen.

Morales was apprehended the next day in San Juan, following a two-hour gun battle in which she took vigorous part, at the home of Pedro Albizu Campos, the “Maestro” of the Puerto Rican independence movement.  Her indictment linked Morales to the assassination attempt; she was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, who likely knew Morales from their mutual involvement in the 2000 Navy-Vieques protests, tweeted yesterday from her personal account, “Nuestro ícono y patriota nacional”; “Our icon and national patriot.”

It is curious that the Speaker called Isabel Morales, who even at the age of 105 spoke affirmatively about the use of militant tactics, including gun violence, to achieve liberation, “our” national patriot.  Who exactly is the “we” in this construction?  Puerto Ricans have had US citizenship since 1917, and the independentistas have received no more than 5% of the vote in any of the four referenda Puerto Rico has held since 1967 regarding the status of the territory.

Certainly it is normal for Melissa Mark-Viverito to see herself as culturally bi-national, as do many mainland Puerto Ricans.  But in the context of eulogizing a militant separatist, it is very odd for an elected official in the United States to identify herself politically with a “national patriot” who fomented revolution and categorically rejected association with the United States.

It almost sounds as though the Speaker of the New York City Council isn’t sure which country she wants to be part of.

The question of Mark-Viverito’s loyalties has come up before, as has her support for convicted Puerto Rican terrorists.  For most of her first two terms the councilmember stood for, but did not recite, the Pledge of Allegiance, and when asked about it, a staffer said that she was “unfamiliar” with the tradition and its 31 words.

Councilmember Karen Koslowitz disputed this claim, and says that Mark-Viverito told her specifically that she was opposed to saying the Pledge on ideological grounds.  "She wanted Puerto Rico to be independent," Koslowitz said. "She was looking for Puerto Rico to take its independence."

Mark-Viverito has long carried a torch for another convicted Puerto Rican terrorist,  Oscar Lopez Rivera, who is serving a 70 year sentence for seditious conspiracy.  As one of the leaders of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional/Armed Forces for National Liberation), Rivera is suspected of participation in the bombing of Fraunces Tavern, which killed four people, among other violent acts. 

In 1999 Rivera was offered executive clemency, along with 15 of his FALN colleagues, by President Clinton in preparation for Hillary Clinton’s US Senate run, but he refused the offer because it was conditioned on renouncing the use of terror.  Speaker Mark-Viverito has since agitated for Rivera’s release, having circulated a letter in support of his parole in 2010, and speaking up for him again in 2014.

It is unsettling to think that less than a week after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Melissa Mark-Viverito would be so tone deaf as to openly lionize and mourn the passing of a woman who was convicted of violent sedition, and who affirmatively praised the use of violence to achieve political ends for sixty years after her involvement in an assassination attempt in the US Capitol. 

Progs Froth over Rose/WFP; Corey Johnson Loses Plot/Mind

The Council’s WFP cadre turned out for a press conference this week to denounce the “political hatchet job” on one of its beloved members, Councilmember Debi Rose of Staten Island.  Rose was named as an unindicted co-conspirator along with two of the staff of her 2009 Council campaigns: shady dealings by Data and Field Services, the WFP’s old for-profit arm, had caught up to Richmond County’s sole Democrat.

Progressive rhetoric was let off its leash at the press conference, as councilmembers one-upped each other in foot-stamping outrage, expressing shock and dismay that someone as lowly as a Staten Island special prosecutor could deign to question the probity and rectitude of the Working Families Party electoral operations.  Indeed, may a cat look at a king? 

Brad Lander took the lead, explaining patiently that he used Data and Field Services in 2009, and that their services were strictly aboveboard.  “There is nothing here that merits criminal prosecution…it’s appalling,” said Lander.

Now it has been common knowledge since 2009, among anyone who was paying attention to city politics and the WFP, that there were irregularities in Debi Rose’s first Council campaigns.  Local North Shore ACORN operatives got involved in a way that didn’t happen in other WFP races, and eyebrows were raised. Maybe it all falls into a gray area, but for Brad Lander and the rest of his crew to pretend that investigation of Debi Rose has come out of nowhere and is purely malevolent or a politicized fishing expedition, is absurd.  

If the case is so vaporous, then why did top Bill de Blasio aide Emma Wolfe refuse to talk to the special prosecutor about her role managing the WFP’s campaign machine?  She was given immunity from prosecution, so she isn’t protecting herself.

Furthermore, how do Brad Lander and the rest of the WFP know that there is nothing to see here?  Isn’t that what investigations and prosecutions are for?  Note that whenever a Democratic politician is arrested and indicted (cf. Ruben Wills), his or her colleagues withhold judgment and say that they want to let the process play out.  So why don’t they trust the process in the case of Debi Rose?

Well to listen to Donovan Richards and Laurie Cumbo, we can’t trust the process because it is corroded with racism.  Cumbo, just one year on from her impassioned justification of anti-Jewish violence in Crown Heights, now claims that the investigations into Debi Rose’s campaign treasurer “have racial motivations.”  Earlier that same day, Cumbo held a press conference to expound her thesis that Rachel Noerdlinger, Chirlane McCray, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Letitia James have all been victims of a conspiracy, a “growing, growing attack particularly on women of color.”  Who is behind this conspiracy?  Unnamed forces of reaction, one presumes.

Donovan Richards linked the indictments to the Eric Garner case, perhaps not understanding that the current investigation has been going on for almost two years, and that the matters under investigation happened almost six years ago.  Richards noted cryptically, “we just have to watch with a keen eye, with a keen sense on what is happening and when it is happening and why it is happening.”  Indeed.

The most bizarre, even demented, comments came from Corey Johnson, who let loose against Roger Adler, the special prosecutor.  Johnson ranted, “Roger Adler is a failed civil court judge who has never been a prosecutor and is trying to make a name for himself. It is disgusting he is doing this to one of the finest elected officials we have in this body. Shame on you Roger Adler, go do something else with your life. Go after real criminals, not Debi Rose.”

Roger Adler is not a “failed civil court judge”; he ran for civil court judge in a 2008 election and lost.  He has, however, been practicing law since 1971, was president of the Brooklyn Bar Association, worked in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, and was three times appointed a special prosecutor, by Elizabeth Holtzman and Charles Hynes.  He was counsel to the NY Senate Investigations Committee, and was praised by Democratic Senator Craig Johnson as “a brilliant attorney and extremely fair minded.”

Given that Roger Adler is almost 70 years old, it seems weird that Corey Johnson would accuse him of “trying to make a name for himself.”  After all, Adler has argued cases in front of the US Supreme Court, and appears to have had a full career.  Certainly he is at least as accomplished as Corey Johnson, the part-time hotel lobbyist and former “political editor for Towleroad,” whose signature professional accomplishment was advocating for a higher percentage of affordable housing at a parking lot.  That and lettering in three varsity sports in high school…well done, Sir!

Does Corey Johnson understand that Roger Adler was given the job of Special District Attorney to investigate the Debi Rose case by Fern Fisher, the Chief Administrative Judge of the City Courts?  That Roger Adler is not running a Star Chamber where he can pick and choose whom to investigate?  Perhaps an attorney in the Council’s central staff can sit Corey Johnson down and explain to him some of the basics of the legal system. 

Corey Johnson, like Bill de Blasio, who cannot stop talking about the heroism of his historic victory, thinks that getting elected to office was his grand achievement.  Let’s hope the novelty wears off soon…the Progressives’ self-congratulation is really starting to cloy.


Espaillat Angry at Airbnb; Gives Herbalife a Pass

State Senator Adriano Espaillat wrote a letter criticizing City & State magazine for co-sponsoring a SOMOS cocktail party with Airbnb, but he failed to point out that Herbalife, which he has specifically targeted in the past, is a major SOMOS sponsor.

In a letter to Tom Allon, the president of City & State, Sen. Espaillat, joined by a number of other Latino elected officials, demanded that Airbnb be dropped as a SOMOS co-sponsor, claiming that the internet home-share middleman "exacerbates the housing crisis plaguing our communities...particularly the communities we represent."

Last year Espaillat wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission claiming that Herbalife is "an illegal pyramid scheme, using false income claims" to lure Latinos into "losing business deals."  

City Council Watch has previously covered the nexus of Latino politicians, including Espaillat, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Julissa Ferreras, all of whom in apparent conjunction with their political consultant MirRam Group, wrote letters demanding federal action on Herbalife.  The MirRam Group was hired by William Ackman of Pershing Square Capital to organize Latino opposition to Herbalife, which Ackman has bet against in major stock shorts.

Herbalife is a major sponsor of SOMOS El Futuro, and SOMOS conference name tags even have the name "Herbalife" prominently printed on them.

A spokeman for Senator Espaillat said, "I don't see this as hypocrisy.  Nothing we have done could suggest that the Senator supports Herbalife.  We asked for an investigation, and there is one."

Alerted to the SOMOS/Herbalife connection, the press office of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said she found the sponsorship "disappointing."



Melissa Mark-Viverito Surveys the National Mall

The Speaker seems to be preoccupied with the Smithsonian Institution this month.  First, Councilmembers Laurie Cumbo and Ben Kallos introduced a resolution urging Congress to commission a National Women's Museum.  The resolution has momentum, and an initial hearing has already been held on the topic, indicating that it will likely be voted on (and passed) at one of the next few stated meetings.  The resolution, like virtually all such statements, will go straight from Chambers into the circular file, but clearly someone in the Speaker's office is interested in pushing it.

Next, the Speaker herself introduced a resolution yesterday, asking Congress to authorize the construction of an American Latino Museum.  In order to spare planners the trouble of figuring out where to put it, the proposed legislation offers to house the Latino Museum in the venerable Arts and Industries Building, one of the oldest buildings on the Mall.

Does all this concern with the Smithsonian betray the Speaker's ambitions for a move to Washington as the next step in her political career?  It makes sense: the two Congressmen who overlap her district have a combined age north of 150 years, and the Speaker will be out of a job on the first day of 2018.  It seems unlikely that she is planning an early retirement.

Fractures in the Monolith?

Isn’t it funny how the number of Council committees and subcommittees is always equal to the number of council members, minus whoever is being punished by the Speaker?

The Council resumes its 2014 session with a brand new committee on Courts and Legal Services, to be chaired by Rory Lancman. Somehow the city’s courts and legal system functioned for decades without a council committee to oversee them, but now it has been found necessary to establish council oversight. And fortuitously, it happened just at the same moment that CM Lancman had demonstrated his readiness to play ball on the Speaker’s team.

How Lancman gained the Speaker’s favor is not clear—perhaps his vow to introduce a bill outlawing police chokeholds was enough to bring him out of the outer darkness. What is really piquant however is the list of remaining (Democratic) council members who are still in the cold.

Ruben Wills needs little explanation—his indictment for fraud makes it hard to countenance giving him much in the way of oversight. Andy King might suffer from being from the Bronx, whose delegation opposed the Speaker’s candidacy until the bitter end. Councilmember King is making the best of things anyway, flaunting his bow ties and sherbet-colored outfits in tabloid features and at Bronx Fashion Week. At King’s Times Square presser this week to announce his proposal to regulate the beggars who dress like cartoon characters, one passerby shouted out, “Which character are you?”

The fate of Councilmembers Annabel Palma and Rosie Mendez is puzzling as well. One might assume that Latina unity would suffice to get these veteran legislators a committee chair, although maybe it works the other way, and the Speaker wants to demonstrate that she does not play ethnic favorites. Palma contested the Speaker for the job, but unlike some of the other candidates, she doesn’t have the political weight behind her to ensure that she picks up some spoils. Again, being from the Bronx doesn’t help. It is widely known that the Speaker had wanted the last redistricting to remove her Bronx constituency entirely, and put her squarely and solely in the Manhattan delegation.

Rosie Mendez may have annoyed the Speaker by going after de Blasio in the mayoral primary race last year, when she supported Christine Quinn. Councilmember Mendez filed a COIB complaint two weeks before the election, questioning whether Public Advocate de Blasio was using his “worst landlords” list as extortion for campaign donations, a move that the de Blasio camp saw as going too far.

Does it look good that the Dems without committee chairs are all people of color? I doubt that the Speaker is losing sleep over it.

The primary election Tuesday didn’t do a lot for the reputation of the Mayor or Speaker as powerbrokers. Mark-Viverito looked absurd praising the upstate conservative LG candidate Kathy Hochul’s “progressive values,” and de Blasio’s grotesque performance at the Labor Day parade, shielding Governor Cuomo from having to acknowledge Zephyr Teachout, was embarrassing.

De Blasio acting as Cuomo’s wingman is the emblem of the Progressive sellout to the mainstream Dems—or rather, it demonstrates that the WFP Progs were never that “progressive” to begin with. They were always just another faction of transactional politicians who were on a run, bludgeoning their opponents as the enemies of progress. Well, now that Governor Cuomo has the WFP line, where does that leave the WFP? Does anyone imagine that Cuomo’s presumed victory in November will be a blank check for the Progressives? Not bloody likely, especially after so many of them defected to the left, giving him barely 60% of the primary vote.

So Cuomo extracted a vague promise from Senator Jeff Klein to return to the Democratic fold…big deal. The IDC came out ahead Tuesday night, and with Cuomo and de Blasio bruised, there is little leverage on Klein to lift his hand from the seesaw. The Senate remains in his control, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. You count the Bronx out at your own hazard.

We may see some stirrings of revolt in the Council, which has marched almost monolithically behind the Mayor. But now that de Blasio is preparing to bring the horse carriage issue to a head, splits are forming that could potentially derail the Progressives’ momentum.

Councilmember Rafael Espinal, Chair of Consumer Affairs, has publically come out for the carriage industry and against the ban. Legislation on the carriage horses would normally have to go through his committee, so the Speaker is shopping around to find somewhere else to introduce it.

Espinal is showing some fortitude here, and is likely playing a long game. The Progressive leadership has been getting a pass on a lot of its early foolishness, but de Blasio’s honeymoon will only last so long. If in the next 18 months the city begins to sour on its new executive, the pols who stuck their necks out early will look like heroes with foresight. Rafael Espinal could be jockeying to look like one of the sensible ones if and when the Progressives take a serious fall.

Are Petition Challenges Voter Suppression?

Petition challenges are, in their current form at least, a mode of candidate suppression that favors establishment candidates over insurgents, and wealthier candidates over their poorer opponents.  The Queens political machine is exercising its muscle in Jamaica to keep a woman Navy veteran off the ballot and ensure that its party stalwart has a clear shot at Malcolm Smith’s senate seat.

The petitioning season is 37 days long and requires candidates for office to develop at least the semblance of a campaign organization--arguably a positive means of filtering out clowns and non-starters.  Acquiring the 1000 signatures necessary for a state senate campaign necessitates getting out a troop of either volunteers or paid canvassers.  The rule of thumb in petitioning is to aim for three times the minimum, in order to account for “bad” signatures: those of non-registrants, non-residents, or duplicates.  So getting on the ballot isn’t something that a non-serious candidate with few resources can consider doing.

The acts of challenging an opponent’s petitions adds an abusive layer to the process, because it costs a huge amount of money to mount a challenge.  Challenges are thus almost always brought against insurgent candidates, and are most often brought by party organizations that want to clear the field for their selected candidate.  Non-establishment candidates rarely have the resources to hire an elections lawyer to pore over hundreds of pages of signatures and cross-reference them with a voter file.

Governor Cuomo’s challenge to Zephyr Teachout’s candidacy is an obvious example.  By challenging her petitions he can force her lean campaign to spend tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend her access to the ballot.  If the challenge works and he gets her thrown off the ballot, so much the better for him, but if the challenge fails, there is no comeback for the Cuomo campaign, and Teachout has to divert campaign money to cover the cost.  The nature of the political system is that the public pays no attention to these squabbles, and accepts the ballot as it reaches the voter as democracy’s fresh slate.  Kicking someone off the ballot is just seen as fair application of the rules.

In Malcolm Smith’s District 14, covering Southeast Queens, a petition challenge is on against candidate Bernadette Semple that illustrates the twisted nature of the challenge process.  Senator Smith, involved in a major corruption trial, is ostensibly running for re-election, but hasn’t raised any money.  Also running are attorney Munir Avery and former councilmember and Queens County Democratic Party choice Leroy Comrie.

Comrie served in the Council as the chair of Land Use and as the head of the Queens delegation.  He ran briefly for Queens Borough President but his tepid campaign was called off early: the rumor was that Queens Dem boss Joe Crowley wanted Comrie to step aside so Melinda Katz could have a clear shot at the post, without having to worry about the large Queens black vote.  Comrie’s reward at this point appears to be total “County” support for his Senate run.

Bernadette Semple threatens Comrie’s campaign because, as the only woman in a three or four-way race, she could make the election seriously competitive.  Semple is also a retired Navy Lieutenant Commander, and unlike Comrie, has no ties to the rats’ nest of corruption that characterizes SE Queens politics.  Comrie probably figures he can easily outgun Munir Avery, whose financing seems largely tapped out and whose support is mostly among the area’s substantial but limited Muslim community.  Running against a woman could pose other challenges.

Semple submitted approximately 2,900 petition signatures, most of which are considered solid, according to people in the know.  But in a startling parallel to what is going on in Brooklyn, where boss Frank Seddio is supporting a petition challenge against Dell Smitherman, who is opposing Senator Sampson’s re-election, the Queens County Dems are apparently organizing a petition challenge in order to secure Comrie a clear ballot.

Petition challenges get very granular, and often hinge on eliminating the signatures of people who live on the border of the district.  This technicality is a powerful yet understated effect of partisan districting.  Elected officials and the party apparatus get to draw the borders of their districts at redistricting time, and as a result many urban districts are totally jackstraw and segmented.  The borders may zig and zag back and forth from block to block, in order to capture or exclude certain segments of voters.  Good government groups have long pointed to partisan districting as a significant way that incumbent electeds protect themselves from challenges.

A side effect of this unfortunate wrinkle in local politics is that people often do not know precisely which district they live in.  If political borders do not fall on natural lines of division (e.g. “south of Union Turnpike”) then it is very hard for a campaign worker, even one who is knowledgeable and informed, to be able to tell a potential signatory who lives near a boundary exactly which district they should vote in.  District maps of sufficient detail are too unwieldy for petitioners to lug around. 

In the end, it seems that candidate suppression through petition challenges is another way for well-funded political machines to amass and retain power.  And in a one-party system, isn't candidate suppression ultimately the same thing as voter suppression?  

Espaillat and Rangel Still Wrong on Dominico-Haitian Crisis

Asked about their support for the Dominican Republic’s policy of denationalization of its native-born population of Haitian descent, Charles Rangel and Adriano Espaillat each spoke in defense last night of what is arguably the worst offense against human rights in the Americas today.

As City Council Watch reported, Espaillat travelled to DR last week in order to pose with President Danilo Medina and praise the Dominican government for restoring citizenship to some 25,000 people out of roughly 200,000 who had been retroactively declared non-citizens.  The government of DR had passed a 2013 law declaring that anyone born since 1929 to non-citizen parents was no longer a citizen, effectively reversing a longterm policy of jus solis, or “birthright citizenship” as we know it in the United States.

Adriano Espaillat had, to his credit, spoken out against the 2013 law, calling it inhumane, but then gave wholehearted support to the 2014 law, citing it as an exemplar of immigration reform.  The supposed rectification of the human rights disaster of last year, however, was only partial.  Twenty-four thousand people who had been registered according to a certain standard of correctness had their citizenship restored. 

The remaining 180,000, however, are now considered undocumented residents, and a pathway to legal residency is being designed to, supposedly, normalize their status.  In the meantime, however, these DR-born descendants of Haitians are in a highly vulnerable position, without the right to work, go to school, register births, or obtain travel documents.

Asked about his stance on the matter during the NY1 debate last night, Espaillat insisted that he had advocated for restitution of the rights of those affected by the 2013 ruling, and spoke of the 24,000 whose citizenship had been restored.  But then he made a most telling and damning statement, praising the Dominican government for “putting in place a road to citizenship for the rest of those immigrants.”  Even the staunchest worshipper of Trujillo would have to concede that Dominican-born Haitians, if not citizens, are nevertheless certainly not “immigrants.”  Espaillat’s Orwellian turn of phrase essentially rewrites the birth history of some 180,000 people, making them foreigners at home.

Charles Rangel wasn’t much better.  He also shook hands with President Medina and praised his humanity for having restored citizenship to those 24,000 Dominico-Haitians whose parents had registered them appropriately decades ago.  Regarding the others, Rangel spoke generally about how great it would be if all countries had such expansive citizenship opportunities as the United States, but unfortunately “a sovereign country determines its own citizenship laws.”

Rangel thus echoes the rhetoric of the most perfervid Dominican comment boards, where anti-Haitian Dominican exponents rave about the inviolability of their state sovereignty.  The question of the Dominico-Haitians, however, is not about violating Dominican sovereignty: it is just about not countenancing racial denationalization on a massive scale.    

City Council Watch doesn’t make endorsements, but the other candidate, Michael Walrond, at least spoke sensibly on the issue.

Espaillat Visits DR, Praises Ethnic Cleansing Law

Adriano Espaillat visited the Dominican Republic this week, where he met with the President and praised Dominican policies that have stripped hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship.

The Dominican Republic raised the ire and eyebrows of the world last September when it instituted a new law that retroactively denationalized approximately 210,000 people born in the country since 1929, on the grounds that their parents were not properly registered with the government.  The law primarily affects people of Haitian descent, and is the most recent manifestation of antihaitianismo, the racist ideology of Dominican supremacy that has a long, bloody history of murder and dispossession of the Haitian minority.

International tribunals and human rights organizations were aghast at the humanitarian implications of the new law, which would deprive children of the right to attend school, and deny civil rights to many thousands of people who had been born and raised in the Dominican Republic.  Kerry Kennedy, of the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights, called the Dominican high court’s affirmation of the law’s constitutionality “one of the most discriminatory rulings ever made by a superior tribunal.”  And the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights labeled the ruling “disastrous.”

Bowing to international pressure, the Dominican Republic this May passed a new Naturalization Law which restores citizenship to some 25,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent who had in fact been enrolled in the National Registry.  But the law still leaves many tens of thousands of people who were born in the Dominican Republic effectively stateless.  International observers universally regard the new Dominican law as a cynical ploy to regain standing in the eyes of the world.

Senator Espaillat is a willing puppet in the Dominican Republic’s PR charade.  Meeting on Monday, June 2 with President Danilo Medina, Espaillat praised the new law, saying that it had put a “human face” (una cara humana) on the original legislation.  Furthermore, Espaillat is reported to have said that official Dominican policy regarding denationalized Dominicans of Haitian descent “should serve as an example for many countries today discussing immigration reform (debería servir de ejemplo para muchos países que hoy discuten reformas migratorias.)"  Espaillat posted this article to his Twitter account, and appears not to have any problems with its accuracy.

The Dominican Republic dedicated this week to propounding its humanity.  Ambassador to the US Anibal de Castro penned an editorial praising the DR’s commitment to justice, and the Dominican representative to the Organization of American States staged a photo-op where he presented the OAS Secretary-General with a copy of the new law.  Senator Espaillat appears to have been part of the road show: his trip to Santo Domingo does not seem to have had any other purpose other than to give cover to the Dominican government’s legislative mockery of the rights of man.

Imagine if the United States decided to retroactively withdraw birthright citizenship from anyone whose parents were undocumented, back to 1929, and then regard such people as ineligible to attend school, obtain work authorization, get travel documents, or register the births of their children.  That is precisely the situation for as many as 180,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic today.  

It is grotesque that Adriano Espaillat, who has made a great deal of noise as a defender of the rights of undocumented immigrants to the United States, was happy to take time out of his run for Congress in order to heap praise on an egregious, racist law with untold human cost.

UPDATE: It is has been brought to my attention that Rep. Charles Rangel also supports DR Law 169-14, and took a picture with President Danilo Medina, smiling and congratulating him.  It has never been the position of City Council Watch that Congressman Rangel was a better choice than Adriano Espaillat...the two of them seem pretty odious.

Laurie Cumbo Stands up for Motorcycle Crews

Last time Councilmember Laurie Cumbo made the news, she was defending the hurt feelings of people of who beat up strangers on the street, on the grounds that they suffer justified “resentment” against “Jewish landlords.”

Now, CM Cumbo has found a new constituency to represent: motorcycle crews that stage drag races, rev their engines loudly and pointlessly, and otherwise perform dangerous stunts.

Yesterday the Council voted on a package of legislation in support of Mayor de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” plan, which is meant to eliminate traffic-related deaths in New York City.  Most of the bills passed with either near or total unanimity, and their scope, despite the revolutionary rhetoric of Council leadership, is fairly noncontroversial: establishing work zones on bridges, fifty dollar fines for failure to yield right-of-way to pedestrians, etc.

Intro 167, a law “in relation to prohibiting certain stunt behavior with vehicles,” expands existing rules forbidding drag racing to include obnoxious driving tricks such as pulling “donuts,” “burning out” after spinning the back wheels, and popping “wheelies”…all the stuff that fans of the “Fast and Furious” franchise think makes for a great weekend, but which doesn’t fit the “Vision Zero” image of the city as a place where no one gets hurt, ever.  The law prescribes a maximum punishment of sixty days in jail and a $600 fine for a first offense.

Laurie Cumbo nonplussed her colleagues when she voted against Intro 167 on the grounds that motorcycle “club culture” is popular in her Fort Greene neighborhood, and that the law would (unfairly?) criminalize an enjoyable activity.  

We may recall that the last time New York heard about motorcycle club culture, it was when a crew of several dozen bikers chased a SUV up the West Side Drive last September, beating up the driver near the GW Bridge bus terminal following his unsuccessful attempt to escape the gang after a minor fender-bender.  The biker club culture was held in such contempt after this incident that Councilmember Julissa Ferreras fired a member of her staff who commented, on her personal Facebook page, in support of one of the riders.

Well, maybe Laurie Cumbo likes bikers, or is a closet libertarian and hates helmet laws, etc.  But that doesn’t explain her bizarre reasoning that Intro 167 is racist.   “I would hate,” said CM Cumbo, “to see so many young people of color in prison for activities that are happening over the summer.”  Cumbo has thus taken the principle of disparate impact to a level of absurdity that possibly no one has ever imagined—or twisted it so much that it isn’t even a question of “disparate impact," just “any impact.”  Her argument appears to be, This law may be broken by people of color, therefore I cannot vote for it.  

Cumbo then noted that many of these bikers like to go to Jones Beach.  This may be true, but it is not clear how it pertains to the law in question, as Jones Beach is not in New York City.  Perhaps CM Cumbo is not aware of the geographical limits of the five boroughs, or perhaps she does not comprehend the jurisdictional reach of the Council, but Intro 167 will not cover any vehicular behavior in Nassau County.  It is worth noting, however, that there is a long history of illegal drag racing out by Jones Beach, and it remains a popular weekend destination for motorcyclists, if a general search of message boards is roughly accurate.

Knockout game aficionados, biker crews who can’t resist burning rubber preparatory to a fierce midnight drag race on a hot summer night…who knew that Laurie Cumbo, the founder of an art museum, would fight so vigorously on behalf of the demimonde?   I guess everyone needs an advocate!

Selling New York on a Marginally Useful ID Card

The Committee on Immigration yesterday held its first hearing on Intro 253, the bill to establish a municipal ID card for city residents, and Speaker Mark-Viverito kicked things off by sternly announcing, “let it be known, and let it be clear, that this is a priority for this New York City Council, and we will have municipal IDs in New York City.”

Well, so much for the new, more transparent legislative process. Municipal ID cards were proposed by the mayor in February, then advanced by the speaker, and the bill has been brought rapidly to committee, with swift passage assured. What is one to make of the fact that, in close to 4 hours of testimony, not one person spoke in opposition to the bill? Is all of New York chorusing in favor of ID cards for non-citizens, or is it that the Council operates in a kind of quasi-Stalinist bubble where legislation through acclamation is the norm?

In any case, all the arguments for the implementation of a municipal ID card were trotted out, virtually all of which I covered last week in my City & State piece on the topic. A number of people made the absurd claim that people who don’t drive are practically excluded from obtaining state ID, where in fact the DMV offers non-driver ID for only $10. Others claimed that undocumented parents can’t enter their children’s school buildings, while the DOE insists that the school safety agent at the front desk will call the principal’s office in such cases.

The primary anxiety that most of the bill’s advocates, including the councilmembers themselves, voiced is that the municipal ID card will carry a “stigma” as something that only illegal immigrants will acquire. “People told me,” related CM Peter Koo bluntly, “’Why would I want to apply for a card that will let everyone know I am undocumented?’” Again and again, witnesses and elected officials alike puzzled over the problem of the municipal ID card as a “scarlet letter.”

The answer, of course, is to get everyone in New York City invested in obtaining an ID card that would be totally redundant, and largely useless to those who already have state-issued ID. The idea of offering discounts to city cultural institutions has been raised, though it seems dubious that a residency-based discount could be tied to possession of a special card. Another suggestion is to get businesses or restaurants to offer discounts upon presentation of the card. San Francisco has a municipal ID card, and a couple of dozen small businesses appear to give 10 or 15% discounts to bearers. But with such thin offerings the card runs the risk of becoming, as The New York Times warns, “a glorified library or supermarket-discount card.”

Immigration chair Carlos Menchaca is sanguine about the future of the municipal ID card, tweeting “We are looking forward to discussing this benefit with our institutions,” and, “This is about partnership. Something we will continue to explore.” But the experience of other cities that have introduced municipal ID cards is not entirely promising in regard to establishing the card as something that is held universally, and not only by the vulnerable, undocumented groups for whom it is manifestly intended. New Haven, the first city to issue municipal ID cards to all residents in 2007, distributed 10,000 cards over the first five years of the program. Given that New Haven has a population of 130,000 people, the ID card has rather limited penetration into the community. Additionally, as cards reach their expiration date, some residents of New Haven who bear the cards are not bothering to renew them, because of their perceived lack of utility: the cards are not accepted by many businesses for writing checks, for instance, or for other purposes.

Oakland, California, also offers its residents municipal ID cards, which have the capacity to function as debit cards. Since its introduction in 2013 it appears that approximately 10,000 people have registered for the card: in a city of 390,000 those numbers are not promising. The debit card feature, incidentally, imposes very high per-use fees, which have received negative reviews from local advocates.

As far as New York’s program goes, clearly the biggest challenge is getting a critical mass of people who see value in obtaining a supplemental identification card that they will carry around and actually use. Otherwise, the only people who will get the cards will be the people for whom they are intended, which will indeed impose a stigma on their possession, which will then lead people to stop getting or using the cards at all. Sure, it will be great to have a identification card that all the progressive members of the City Council and various advocates for the undocumented carry around as a show piece to demonstrate their commitment to the principle of residence over citizenship. But it will look very silly if the Council pushes this through without establishing an actual utility for these cards.

On the lighter side: It was most amusing to hear Mindy Tarlow, the Mayor’s Director of Operations, testifying on the complexities of rolling out the municipal ID cards, say, “we don’t want to get ahead of our skis.” One could almost hear the chamber collectively chew that expression over a few times. Shades of the Bloomberg years? Someone didn’t send Ms. Tarlow the memo on the Tale of Two Cities! "Must not use elitist metaphors, must not use elitist metaphors."

Squadron Squashed by Lander over Parks Funding

The Parks Committee met yesterday to address the question of inequality amongst the city’s parks, and the City Hall audience was treated to the sight of Councilmember Brad Lander ridiculing Senator Dan Squadron’s proposal to tax the city’s richer parks to help their poorer brethren.  

Park funding inequity was a major feature of the Public Advocate campaign last year, when Squadron proposed, and Bill de Blasio supported, levying a 20% tax on all park conservancies that have operating budgets above $5 million.  The proceeds of this tax would then be distributed to the rest of the city’s parks through a “Neighborhood Parks Alliance.”  Squadron’s bill sits in the Senate Committee on Cities, where Chair and former Councilmember Andrew Lanza of Staten Island is making sure it rests comfortably.

When Squadron first announced his bill, large parks conservancies naturally were aghast at the idea that they would suffer, effectively, a 20% cut to their budgets.  Even while the Central Park Conservancy is figuring out how to spend the $100 million it got in 2012 from hedge fund billionaire John Paulson, regular parks around the city make do with whatever their local councilmembers scrounge up in capital funding on a year-by-year basis.

Yesterday’s Parks hearing, chaired by CM Mark Levine, started out with thunderous rhetoric about the stark inequity between the rich parks and the poor parks, directed at Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanagh.  Demanding to know why certain richer neighborhoods make the most 311 parks-related calls, Levine appeared to be setting the stage for a classic de Blasio-style “tale of two cities” confrontation.

Yet when Senator Squadron stepped up to discuss his bill, the tone changed, became practically soporific.  A number of councilmembers quietly left, including Ruben Wills and Darlene Mealy.  Chair Levine said a few words about how the hearing was a general discussion about inequality, and wasn’t addressing any bill in particular.  

Then CM Lander, who isn’t even on the Parks Committee, yet who was allowed to speak ahead of committee members, began slicing into Squadron’s proposal.  “Why not 50%?” he asked, deadpan.  Why let the richer parks keep any of their money?  Squadron fumbled for answers while Lander, channeling his inner Milton Friedman, mocked the revenue-sharing proposal as something that would result in “more equitability, and fewer resources,” as donors stop contributing to their favorite parks.  

Squadron, alone at the witness desk, was then essentially dismissed and replaced by representatives of the white-shoe conservancies, who explained that they were more than happy to extend professional courtesy to the city’s poorer parks by way of all forms of assistance short of financial.  Noblesse oblige, naturally.

Brad Lander, of course, is an ex-officio member of the Prospect Park Alliance, which is one of the conservancies that would take a hit from the passage of Squadron’s bill.  He is also the recipient of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from major donors to Prospect Park, including members of its board of directors.  For example, Steve Hindy, the CEO of Brooklyn Brewery, which gave the PPA between $10,000 and $25,000, personally contributed $1,300 to Lander’s 2013 run, and bundled an additional $10,300 for Lander as an intermediate: most of that money came from other PPA donors.  Libby Ryan, a prominent real estate agent in “brownstone Brooklyn” and a Prospect Park donor in the 5-digit range, gave Lander $1,000 towards his re-election.

Clearly CM Lander’s fellow PPA board members wouldn’t want to see their donations diluted by a 20% luxury tax, nor should they.  Prospect Park is an enormous, beautiful park that legitimately serves more of the city than just its immediate neighbors, and Squadron’s bill would surely have a chilling effect on large contributions to the city’s biggest parks.

Brad Lander’s performance wasn’t just about Prospect Park, however, even though he clearly has a strong interest in maintaining the status quo regarding financing.  Lander was flexing his muscle as a shadow Speaker--the one who pulls the strings.  Consider the fact that, like Sheldon Silver, Brad Lander sits on precisely one committee: Rules, which he chairs.  Lander's willingness to ridicule the type of progressive legislation that he would normally favor indicates his confidence in his own power, which is crescent.  

Corey Johnson's Ties to Corrupt Hotelier

Councilmember Corey Johnson took Transition and Inauguration contributions from a hotel magnate who pled guilty yesterday to violations of federal campaign finance law.

Sant Singh Chatwal, who owns and/or manages a number of luxury Manhattan hotels, including Chelsea’s hip Dream Hotel, gave Corey Johnson’s TIE committee $2,500.  Councilmember Johnson, who lives one block from the Dream, is the only Council candidate or member ever to receive a contribution from the billionaire.  Bill de Blasio, however, accepted a contribution from a relative of Chatwal in his 2003 Council run.

Chatwal admitted in District Court to having solicited money from “straw donors” in order to circumvent federal limits on individual campaign contributions.  According to the federal complaint, the hotelier “used his employees, business associates, and contractors who performed work on his hotels … to solicit campaign contributions on Chatwal’s behalf in support of various candidates for federal office and PACs, collect these contributions, and pay reimbursements for these contributions, in violation of the Election Act.”  Chatwal faces a $1 million fine and a possible 25 years in prison.

As I reported in City & State last month, developers associated with the Dream Hotel (including Sant Chatwal) gave Corey Johnson $15,000 towards his transition expenses; the latest revelations beg the question of whether Sant Chatwal was perpetrating a similar scheme on the local level, inducing his associates to make contributions for which they were reimbursed.

Sant Chatwal was recorded by the government explaining the need to make large monetary contributions to politicians in order to capture their attention.  "Without that nobody will even talk to you...That's the only way to buy them, get into the system."

I must note that there is no evidence that any of the beneficiaries of Chatwal’s machinations knew about his illegal efforts on their behalf, and one must assume the same ignorance on the part of Councilmember Johnson.  Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that during his campaign Corey Johnson assiduously steered clear of associations with real estate interests, only to accept large donations from that sector once he was elected.

Mark-Viverito, Ferreras, Espaillat and Herbalife

The New York Times’ piece on Herbalife yesterday, which details how billionaire hedge fund manager William Ackman is waging a PR campaign to destroy the supplement company for his own profit, buries the role of three of the city’s most prominent Latino politicians in a massive campaign to cast Herbalife as a pyramid scheme targeting minorities.

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras and State Senator Adriano Espaillat each wrote letters urging Federal Trade Commissioner Edith Ramirez to investigate Herbalife for its allegedly fraudulent trade practices.  Speaker Mark-Viverito’s letter even includes key phrases (“complex and abusive”) that the Times identifies, in other letters to the FTC, as indications that the letters were composed by someone else. 

The Times article leaves discovery of this connection only to the most intrepid readers of its website, because the letters in question are deep within a stack of documents provided as an annex to the main story.  But the story within the story is of great interest to anyone who wants to understand how money and influence flow through consulting firms to politicians and supposedly grassroots activist organizations.

William Ackman bet against Herbalife by shorting the company.  He then gave money to a number of ostensible civil rights organizations to lobby against Herbalife on the grounds that the company tricks blacks and Latinos into becoming distributors.  Ackman hired prominent uptown fixer Luis Miranda of the Mirram Group to work the project locally.  Ackman’s company Pershing Square Capital hired Global Strategy Group, which shares offices with Mirram at 895 Broadway, as the consultant of record.  Miranda, with close ties to Mark-Viverito, Ferreras and Espaillat (Mirram has consulted on the campaigns of all three officials) likely orchestrated their letter-writing.  

The Hispanic Federation, a think-tank with major institutional funding and a significant relationship with Coca-Cola in particular, was founded by Luis Miranda, and the Mirram Group is currently a registered lobbyist for the Federation.  According to the Times, Ackman gave the Hispanic Federation $130,000 to push the anti-Herbalife campaign. 

Other groups with very close ties to Ferreras, Mark-Viverito and Espaillat were paid by Ackman or his surrogates to support the campaign, including the Dominico-American Society of Queens (DAS), which has received tens of thousands of discretionary dollars from Ferreras, and Make the Road New York, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from both CM Ferreras and Speaker Mark-Viverito.

Politicians send out letters all the time.  In this case, they probably agreed to sign their names to the campaign after their friend and consultant Luis Miranda or one of their contacts at Make the Road or the Hispanic Federation asked them to do it.  It certainly did not occur to them that they were becoming dupes of a billionaire investor who was using a civil rights-based argument as a decoy to drive Herbalife into bankruptcy because he had a massive open short against it.

What is odd—or maybe not so odd—is that the Times chose not to even attach a sidebar explaining the local aspect of the story.  They just stuck that part of the report in the footnotes.  

De Blasio's Debt to UFT's Mulgrew Comes Due

Councilmember Daniel Dromm, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Education, appeared this week on MSNBC’s “Ed Show” to lend support to the administration’s war on charter schools, as personified in the figure of Eva Moskowitz.  Dromm corrected the host’s assertion that Moskowitz’ Success Academy is a for-profit enterprise, but stressed that charter schools nevertheless foster “inequality” through the “corporatization and privatization of our schools.”  The councilmember added that he is not opposed to charter schools per se.  In fact, Dromm asserted that he is in favor of “unionized” charter schools, including one in his district.

Councilmember Dromm thus cuts right to the heart of Progressive opposition to the charter school system, which is that their teachers are typically non-union.  He acknowledges in his interview that charter schools perform at least as well as standard public schools, but claims that the three Success Academy schools marked for extinction have “problems,” though their metrics are substantially higher than average, according to Department of Education data.  Dromm, painting a bleak picture of co-location, claims that sharing building space highlights “inequities” between charter and standard public schools, though a recent study by Marcus Winters for the Manhattan Institute shows no correlation between test scores and co-location.  Furthermore, many of the unionized charter schools are substandard, in particular one called “The UFT Charter School,” which ranks in the bottom percent of all city schools.

Indeed, while there are legitimate concerns that can be expressed about the charter school system, the Progressives currently running the city haven’t bothered to make a strong case against them.  Rather, much of the debate has been driven by either vituperations about Eva Moskowitz personally, or fear-mongering about the supposed “privatization” of the public school system, although all of the city’s charter schools are, as a rule, non-profit entities.  The real reasons for opposing charter schools, hinted at by Councilmember Dromm, can be found on the UFT website, which says that “the ideological goals” of the charter school movement are “privatizing public education and breaking the power of teacher unions.”

Why is the de Blasio administration, aided by his cats’ paws in the Council and Public Advocate’s office, putting so much political capital into this fight?  After all, unlike the UPK tax hike battle, the only people who will be negatively affected by his policy are his ostensible base: primarily black and Latino working-class people who are committed to getting their kids the best education possible.  The “optics” of the faceoff cannot be good for the Mayor, who no doubt is gnashing his teeth over Governor Cuomo’s skillful triangulation of the issue at the pro-charter rally in Albany on Wednesday.  Cuomo, praising Republican Senator Skelos, standing in front of a crowd of cheering minority parents, is using de Blasio as a pivot to cast himself as a moderate on the national stage, preparatory to a 2016 run for President.

It is hard not to conclude that the charter school battle is another step in de Blasio’s massive program of payback to labor.  Recall that in the Mayor’s first appearance before the legislature, to ask for UPK money, he admitted that the city has $2.5 billion in surplus, but that he is essentially holding it in reserve for contract talks with the unions.  It is prudent to reserve a surplus, but telegraphing how much one is willing to give away prior to negotiations is the height of foolishness. 

Following the disbursement of retroactive raises to 200 Environmental Protection officers, UFT boss Michael Mulgrew made it clear that he is expecting the same for his 200,000 members.  The teachers, who have famously not had a “raise” since 2009, have nevertheless had cost of living increases that have substantially outpaced inflation.  Mayor de Blasio has been preparing a counter-narrative of the Bloomberg years, in which what many mistook for managerial efficiency was in fact gross mismanagement and deferred maintenance.  “There will be a cost to pay,” de Blasio told the legislators in Albany.  “A cost that should have been handled over years is now going to be handled in many ways in the here and now. So that challenge makes clear to us we are in a troubled fiscal environment.”  In this retelling of the last twelve years, Bloomberg feasted on money that rightfully belonged to the workers, and which de Blasio is now going to restore to its proper owners.

One could argue that de Blasio in fact owes little to the UFT, which after all supported Bill Thompson with millions of dollars.  But consider the immediate timeline post-primary.  On the Saturday after the election, when de Blasio’s 40% threshold was tenuous, with tens of thousands of paper ballots yet to be counted, Thompson and de Blasio met with Michael Mulgrew.  Mulgrew characterized the meeting as “refreshing.”  Monday morning, Thompson announced his decision to drop out of the race, sparing Democrats a bloody runoff.  Two days later the UFT voted to endorse de Blasio, and Mulgrew revealed his part in the negotiations, saying Thompson’s withdrawal was “a result” of his intercession.

The current full-press, two-front effort--to pass UPK and simultaneously go after the most prominent anti-union charter school proponent--is likely part of de Blasio’s end of his bargain with Mulgrew.  In striking a deal to avoid an electoral runoff the Mayor signed another series of debits to add to his hefty stack.  It is richly ironic that the ones who have to pay these Progressive accounts are working people desperate to enhance their children’s life chances.