Melissa Mark-Viverito Misses the Mark

Was anyone in New York City more dismayed by Donald Trump’s victory than Melissa Mark-Viverito?  True, the Mayor looked pretty bummed out at his press conference yesterday, but one gets the sense that he didn’t have quite so much personally at stake in the election result.  Of course Bill de Blasio now has to go hat-in-hand to a President who owes him nothing, and probably thinks of him as a fool, but the mayor never really expected anything for himself from a Hillary Clinton administration anyway, except for an easy time in getting federal aid and plenty of White House access.  He will keep being mayor, and will probably even get another term.

 Melissa Mark-Viverito, on the other hand, had banked heavily on a Clinton win.  She came out very early for Hillary, and made herself available for all kinds of surrogacy opportunities.  She probably wanted to get the job of immigration policy czar that Clinton announced while she was in town for the DNC, and she was also probably counting on Clinton to pardon Oscar Lopez Rivera in exchange for all her hard work on behalf of the campaign.  There were likely all kinds of understandings about Puerto Rican debt and sovereignty that were mutually acknowledged as well. 

 The Speaker spent a lot of time working for Clinton in Florida, drumming up votes among the Puerto Rican expat community that has grown dramatically in the last few years since the economic crisis hit the territory.  It’s no secret that increasing Latino turnout was a key element of the Clinton election strategy.  It’s also no secret that Mark-Viverito was committed to promoting the idea that the Latino vote would be the decisive factor in a Clinton victory.

 For the last few weeks, Mark-Viverito’s Twitter feed and other statements were a constant hum hitting two topics over and over: that Hillary would win; and that Latinos would elect her.  “The Latino vote will be the nail in Trump’s coffin,” she told Jezebel on a Facebook Live chat.  “Pollsters far and wide better wise up soon. Latino voters only growing,” she tweeted on Election Day morning.  “It is the Latino vote that is going to be decisive, without a doubt,” she told Megyn Kelly the night before.  “#PoderLatino” she tweeted.  “Trump started this campaign denigrating Latinos - and it is Latinos who are going to end his campaign,” Mark-Viverito’s communication director tweeted, quoting her.  “Psst. It's #PuertoRico. #ByeByeTrump--The little island that could have a big impact on Trump's chances,” she tweeted last Saturday.  “Never ever EVER doubted this would be the case. Karma is rearing its head. Latinos are taking the Trumpster DOWN!” she tweeted last Friday. Etc., etc.; we could do this all day, all the way through the last year.

 Melissa Mark-Viverito assumed that Hillary would win; her job was basically to do outreach among Puerto Ricans.  She however assigned herself the role of promoting “Latino Power” as the bloc that would put Hillary over the top.  So which was her real goal—electing Hillary Clinton, or establishing herself as a power broker in command of an essential demographic segment? 

 For decades (literally) we have been hearing about the coming wave of Latino voters that would be the deciding factor in American politics.  Yet every four years the Latino share of the electorate runs between 9 and 11 percent.  It is creeping up, but at the same time, the Latino vote is becoming less and less monolithic.  The horrible takeaway this year (at least for Melissa Mark-Viverito) is that Latino support for Trump was two points higher than its support for Romney was in 2012, and the Latino vote for Clinton was seven points lower than it was for Obama four years ago.

 So could it be that increasing Latino turnout actually hurt Hillary? 

 Probably not in an arithmetical sense.  But the funny thing about ethnopolitics is that it cuts two ways.  Hammering on the Latino question the way she did, Melissa Mark-Viverito necessarily drove a wedge between the black/Latino constituency that is ever more essential to Democratic electoral victory.  Who’s to say that the apparent decline in black turnout this year wasn’t partially affected by the Clinton campaign’s appeal to Latinos as the new core of the Democratic Party, and the strong rhetoric of prominent surrogates such as MMV?

 Anyway, Hillary lost.  Melissa Mark-Viverito will not have a role in the Clinton Administration.  She is now just a lame duck city councilmember who was unable to deliver the vaunted Latino vote in Florida, despite her continual banging on that one note.

 While we are on the subject of Melissa Mark-Viverito’s screw-ups, let’s also take note of her silence on the arrest of Assemblymember Diana Richardson for beating her 12-year old son with a broomstick.

 Remember that it was very recently that the Speaker unveiled a new campaign against “domestic violence in sports,” whatever that means.  #NotAFan shows MMV and a bunch of local sports stars saying that they are “not fans” of domestic violence.  Ok, fine…a good cause.  So when a Brooklyn politician is arrested for DV/child abuse you would think that would fall under the Speaker’s rubric. 

 But apparently not!  She didn’t say a word about it…nothing.  And this is just a month after Zymere Perkins, another little boy, was beaten to death with a broomstick, apparently by his mother and her boyfriend, in some conjunction.

 So Diana Richardson’s alleged crime (note that her son, who is apparently a mild-mannered child and rather small, walked himself to the precinct and reported his mother) doesn’t matter to the Speaker.  No—the Speaker’s anti-DV campaign is only concerned with violence committed by athletes, not legislators. 

 Melissa Mark-Viverito has a very easy relationship with the local press, and hasn’t taken a lot of heat.  She has run a pretty smooth PR system heretofore.  But between her ethnosupremacy and her weird domestic violence campaign, one has to wonder if her PR machine is starting to show signs of strain.

MMV Security Detail: Semper Fi

Perhaps getting ready for her hoped-for gig as immigration czar for President Hillary Clinton, Melissa Mark-Viverito is spending a lot of time in Washington these days.  Today she is at Georgetown University talking about the role of the Latina in politics.  Last weekend she went to Lafayette Park, across from the White House, to stand next to life-sized effigies of convicted terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera and demand that President Obama release him.

 Almost every day the Speaker’s press office sends out a notice about what she’s doing the following day.  Curiously, there was no such advisory sent out the day before her trip to DC, even though she rallied with presumptive US Representative Adriano Espaillat, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and the mayor of San Juan.  Well, Melissa Mark-Viverito is allowed to do things on weekends without alerting everyone about it, one supposes.  Agitating for Oscar Lopez Rivera’s release from prison is like her private hobby.  We don’t expect her to tell us when she goes to the movies or ice skating, so why should this be any different?

Except, unlike most of the people in our nation’s capital last Sunday marching for their hero, Speaker Mark-Viverito was accompanied by at least one of her NYPD bodyguards.  One might assume that when the Speaker rides a chartered bus on a day trip to petition her government to let a seditionist out of prison, that she could manage it on her own.  Not to detract from her public image, but it is very doubtful that she is so widely known outside of (or within, for that matter) the five boroughs to merit such vigilance on the part of New York’s Finest.

Her press office wouldn’t confirm that the Speaker had her Praetorians with her last week or not, although they did say that she is going to today’s shindig by herself.  But there are photographs online that show one of her usual City Hall bodyguards keeping watch over her. Mark-Viverito’s spokesman also said that it is the NYPD that determines whether or not to accompany her.  Maybe the fact that there was going to be a demonstration made the police worry about her safety—let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and say that’s what happened.

 (As a counter-example and a sign of how far things have gone, let me relate a little anecdote: when I was a kid I lived outside Washington DC.  One time, my father was going to work in a snowstorm, and the buses weren’t running, or were late.  He started walking, and then someone stopped to give him a ride.  He got in, and it was Tip O’Neill, who was then Speaker of the House, third in line to the Presidency, driving by himself to work, and picking up strangers in the snow.)

While we are on the subject, what happens if Tish James becomes Kings County DA?  Presumably there are a number of people who might want to be Public Advocate.  Dan Squadron came close last time, and may want another shot.  Brad Lander is another reasonable guess.  But could PA be a spot for the Speaker to shoot for as well?  As of July’s filings she has almost $800,000 in her 2017 campaign account.  That would be a nice start towards a citywide run in a special election.  Also, this scenario would then advance the race for the next Speaker significantly.

 

ALSO.  Maybe you don't know it, but I publish pretty frequently in City Journal and other places.  Here are links to some of my recent items:

Now NYC has Publicly Funded Mobs

Sour Apple: New Yorkers push back against Bill de Blasio’s progressive vision for the city.

 

Real Walls and Imaginary Bridges

 

Peak Stupid at the City Council

Something odd is happening in the City Council. Perhaps it has something to do with the national nervous breakdown that the country is having over the Presidential election, but the aggregate stupidity on display at the Council is reaching a new height.

Last week Antonio Reynoso thought it would be a good idea to participate in the “shutdown” of a City Planning Commission meeting. Angry that a real estate developer was planning to build a residential building on private land near his district, Reynoso accompanied a mob to scream and blow whistles until the public hearing was closed. The videos are great: Reynoso’s gratified look of accomplishment when the City Planning people announced that they would end the meeting is adorable, like a three year old who is sure his mashed potato-and-ketchup art installation on the carpet will delight his babysitter.

When asked about the appropriateness of Reynoso’s gesture—invading Steve Levin’s district to disrupt an early-stage land use discussion—Speaker Mark-Viverito acknowledged that it was “not productive.” She went on to say that the Council’s protocol of letting CMs have power over zoning and land use negotiations is a matter of “respect.” Given her typical reticence over matters of internal discipline, it is probably fair to say that this unusually direct language signals some serious displeasure with Reynoso’s tantrum. (You can read my column in the Post about the city funded nonprofit groups that provided the muscle at the hearing here.)

On a side note, Reynoso put out a strange tweet the other day. The local precinct was holding a community meeting about the K2 epidemic. Reynoso put on his Twitter feed: “W/ @NYC fighting stigma & stereotypes of K2 as we find real solutions to assist the most vulnerable people of our communities @NYPD83Pct

“Fighting stigma & stereotypes of K2…” So is Reynoso trying to destigmatize K2? That’s a new one. My impression was that the entire city—including the mayor and the council—were working overtime to make K2 as stigmatized as possible, which is why they put up those “K2: 0% marijuana, 100% dangerous” signs everywhere. And as for fighting the “stereotypes” of K2, I would be curious to see the counter cases. You know, the working mother of three who buys a $3 bag of pesticide-laced lawn clippings to unwind after a hard day, but who still reads to her kids and helps them with their homework.

At the last stated meeting Jumaane Williams did not stand up during the Pledge of Allegiance. Just in case nobody noticed, he drew careful attention to his action by putting out press releases, tweeting about it, going on TV to talk about it, etc etc. Williams said he was aligning himself with civil rights leader and second-string quarterback Colin Kaepernick in protesting state violence against black people.

Charles Barron spent 8 years sitting down during the Pledge of Allegiance and I don’t recall anybody asking him much about it, mostly because it is an extremely cheap and obvious form of getting publicity while pretending to make a statement. As with other instances of council members playing at protest, nothing is at stake. The authoritative moment came in 2014, when CM’s blocked Broadway after Eric Garner’s death: protected by the NYPD, they stopped the flow of traffic, and then went inside and held a stated meeting.

Does no one else see how feckless and indulgent this kind of thing is? The Council is an elected body: they are the government. They are the Man. Whom are they protesting against? Themselves? The whole point of civil disobedience is that it has a cost: actual jail time, or loss of income. Striking a dramatic pose and pretending to be part of a revolutionary movement is just a form of dress-up when there is literally no consequence to your actions.

This week a few brave CM’s joined Jumaane Williams in not saying the Pledge of Allegiance. They stood outside and made idiotic, sophistical speeches about patriotism and justice. Brad Lander read some prepared remarks for four minutes, demonstrating once again that no elected official in New York City has a higher opinion of himself or sets a lower bar of personal accomplishment. A lot of the discussion surrounded Williams’ absolute “right” to sit in his seat while everyone else stands. But nobody is disputing his “right.” If anything, people are questioning his privilege.

Williams got hate mail from some crank, and this was trotted out as a kind of ex post facto validation of his insipid protest. Everyone wrung out their tear-soaked hankies and cried some more for the cameras, shivering at the thought that racists among us had ventured from their caves to hurl invective at Jumaane Williams’ nobility. Even Melissa Mark-Viverito got into the act. At the end of the stated meeting, she read a speech aloud (after first demanding that all the CMs be quiet and listen to her) reminding everyone that she also used to not say the Pledge of Allegiance, and that she was accused of not being patriotic…and it Hurt! It hurt a lot!

She looked right at Karen Kozlowitz during these remarks, for it was Kozlowitz who had told the papers in 2013 that MMV didn’t say the Pledge out of disregard for America’s foreign policy. Kozlowitz didn’t flinch: total stone face. Best part of the meeting.

Incidentally, the fact that MMV didn't say the Pledge isn't what makes me think she is unpatriotic: her devotion to jailed terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera says a lot more about that subject.

I wanted to get into the BDS stuff from last stated meeting…that was also fantastic. But to do it justice would push this close to 2000 words. Maybe next time...let me know if you want a play-by-play.

Jumaane Williams Says J'Ouvert Criticism is Racist; Housing in the Bronx

The Council voted “yes” yesterday on La Central, a massive new housing development in the Melrose section of the Bronx, near the Hub. The development will include almost 1000 units of affordable housing, maxing out at 100% AMI. The developers will build a YMCA and other amenities. Sounds like a great deal; a victory for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

Questions arose about what made this development acceptable, as opposed to the Sherman Plaza proposal in Inwood that was struck down last month. Speaker Mark-Viverito spoke in generalities about individual projects and the needs of different communities, and the ability to leverage neighborhood opposition. Everyone praised CM Rafael Salamanca for getting such a fantastic deal for his district.

Indeed it is hard to understand the economics of La Central at first face. Area rents are pretty low, and 100% AMI is basically market rate anyway. How are the developers making money here, and why isn’t the administration celebrating La Central as a victory for its housing policy?

It all becomes clear when you understand that the developers are getting the land for free. The city owns the land where La Central will rise, which completely changes the economics of the development. Throwing in a free YMCA or a school is easy when construction and labor are the only costs. There is no basis for comparison between La Central and Sherman Plaza: it is a totally different structure.

There aren’t very many massive city-owned lots like this one left, so La Central is not a model for future developments. And the whole thing was planned under Bloomberg, so the current administration can’t really take credit for it.

Following the J’Ouvert disaster, CMs Jumaane Williams and Laurie Cumbo went on Inside City Hall to defend the event, and argue for its continuation. Or rather, they contended that the city is more or less powerless to do anything about J’Ouvert anyway, short of imposing martial law. It was a gesture of surrender. This was the first year that the city issued a permit for the event, but for what? J’Ouvert isn’t a parade: it is a mass assemblage of people milling around and party hopping. The NYPD erected more than 200 light towers and doubled its presence to 3400 officers. Nevertheless “gunplay” broke out and two people were killed.

CM Williams made the astonishing claim that criticism of J’Ouvert is racist. First he insinuated that people concerned about the seemingly inevitable murders are hypocrites who don’t care about gun violence except when J’Ouvert rolls around. “The people who have been working on this issue should continue to work on it. There are people who haven’t been working on gun violence issues…there are people in the media…we can’t continue to equate ‘No J’Ouvert’ as ‘No gun violence.’” Indeed: the J’Ouvert murders are symptomatic of the high rate of gun violence in Brooklyn’s African American and West Indian neighborhoods. Who disputes this? Do we have to shrug our shoulders and accept the one city-sponsored event that almost always winds up with people dead?

Williams then went on to say, “I can’t pretend that there haven’t been attacks on every aspect of cultural stuff, particularly when it pertains to blacks. There has been no violence at the Brooklyn Museum events, but there have been people trying to stop those events for years. There was no violence with the drummers in Harlem, but people have been trying to stop that for years.”

This statement from Jumaane Williams is possibly the most demented concatenation of non-sequiturs I have heard from a council member on television. There are two million black people in NYC, with a hugely diverse number of cultural events (or “stuff”) going on all the time. Is it really the case that the city’s white racist cultural/political class is “attack[ing] every aspect” of black cultural expression?

The Brooklyn Museum event Williams references are the “First Saturday” evenings at the museum, which used to be basically a dance party, and was retooled to be more performance oriented when some people said that a club vibe wasn’t really in line with the generally reserved milieu of a museum. Nobody picketed it or said anything racist. The Harlem drumming refers to the Marcus Garvey Park Saturday evening drum circles, which go on for hours and annoy some of the neighbors. There was some minor racially-tinged tension regarding the drumming a few years ago, and their spot has been moved a few times. Probably there are some neighbors who would prefer not to have to listen to drumming. But there has been no racist suppression of the drummers. Black culture lives on in New York--somehow.

Jumaane Williams was totally off-base implying that J’Ouvert criticism is racist. Let two years go by with no shootings or stabbings, and the criticism will cease.

Julissa, Corey, Mark Levine: The Three Real Candidates

Let’s get down to brass tacks about the Speaker’s race.

Some of the people who are announced candidates aren’t really running, or have zero chance of winning.  They are in there in order to establish leverage for something later, or as stalking horses for another candidate.

For example, Vanessa Gibson is supposedly running, but she can’t win, and must know it.  “She has zero chance,” says a member of the Bronx delegation.  Why not?  She is an experienced legislator, not too, too liberal, and a woman of color…sounds perfect.  But the Speaker of the Assembly is already from the Bronx.  There is no way that the Bronx is going to be allowed so much political dominance: neither the Mayor, nor the Queens or Brooklyn delegations would ever countenance it. 

Also, for an outer-borough member, in certain ways it is better not to try to become Speaker.  “It gives you less to bargain with for your delegation,” says the Bronx member quoted above.  If Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx gets the Speakership, then they lose out on other goodies, such as patronage positions, top committee chairs, precedence in capital allocations, etc. 

From a simplistic perspective, the Speaker race can be made to sound like a popularity contest. But if that were the case, neither the notoriously prickly Christine Quinn nor the aloof Melissa Mark-Viverito would have become Speaker.  The Speakership is a power play, and it is mostly decided not by individual councilmembers, but by the county bosses and the Mayor.  

Unless someone can sit down and explain to you their path to the Speakership and how it threads the needle of county leadership, then he or she isn’t a serious candidate for the position.  It is that simple.  Part of the path obviously means demonstrating trustworthiness to one’s colleagues…but that is only part of it.

Jumaane Williams is not really in consideration.  As an outer-borough member of the Progressive Bloc he has a hard road, because the core of that contingent is already coalesced around Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.   As a member from Brooklyn he operates at a notable disadvantage (explained in greater depth below.) Also, Jumaane is pro-life and (apparently still) anti-gay marriage.  So that’s a tough call.

Ydanis Rodriguez is not a real candidate.  His stated path consists of “reaching out to other members.”  He is close to the mayor, which could be a plus or a minus, depending on how things go with Preet Bharara.  But Rodriguez is hampered by ethical questions such as the job his wife held under his friend Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora, as well as questions of temperament.

Jimmy van Bramer is not really running either.  His explanation of his path is nebulous. The likelihood is that he is positioning himself to retain his Majority Leader position or to get a good chairmanship next time.

Robert Cornegy told me he isn't running.  He gets mentioned as a candidate, but says he is interested in pursuing influence outside of the Speaker's office.

Donovan Richards was said to be in the running, but says he is not.

Right now there are three real candidates for the Speakership: Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Corey Johnson, and Mark Levine.  If you talk to any councilmember who isn’t just mouthing words, they will agree that these are the serious candidates.

You will recall that in 2013 MMV was one of several credible candidates, including Dan Garodnick and Mark Weprin.  She won the Speakership because Bill de Blasio, newly elected, weighed in for her and put pressure on the Progressive Bloc to unify behind her.  He then assembled the additional seven or eight necessary votes by squeezing Kings County boss Frank Seddio to come along, with the promise of jobs for his regulars and key committee chairs.  

Julissa’s path to power is to stage a repeat of 2013: to get the Progressives aligned behind her, and have the mayor nudge Brooklyn and some independents to put her over the line.  But this vision, which worked for MMV, is seriously flawed.

First of all, the Progressive Caucus is diminished, both in size and power.  Several members of the PC who are listed on its website are either no longer members, or are only there nominally.  The PC was founded in 2010 in order to influence the Speakership: once that happened, the caucus lost its motive force.  Who needs the revolutionary vanguard once the revolution has won?    

Except for MMV, all of the PC members can run for another term, so they will not lose any members through attrition.  Ben Kallos has spoken of expanding the Caucus next term, but the odds of that happening seem unlikely.  A total of 8 CMs will vacate their seats, and there is a good chance that 5 of those seats will go to current state legislators, all of whom already have longstanding alliances outside the PC.  At the outside the PC could maybe pick up one extra member, and that is by no means assured.

The PC cannot count on member discipline this time around, either.  The fact that they were promised an internal Speaker primary in 2013 but then ordered to get in line for MMV has made the members mistrustful of the Caucus leadership.  Brad Lander is generally seen to be carrying water for Julissa’s campaign, and his appeals for “Progressive unity” are thinly veiled calls to get behind her candidacy now.  Such clumsy power plays within the PC have annoyed members who haven’t yet signed on to march, to Brad’s drumbeat, over the cliff of fealty to the cause. 

Furthermore, as I have mentioned before, Julissa is not on particularly close terms with the party organizations in either Queens or the Bronx.  She has always positioned herself as an insurgent.  It didn’t help that she alienated a number of Central Queens colleagues when she got the mayor to help her establish a Flushing Meadows-Corona Park conservancy that is more or less under her control.  She even had her Make the Road ally Javier Valdes placed on the conservancy board…though he appears to live in Brooklyn.  Rory Lancman has sued the mayor over the conservancy deal, and by all accounts the other CMs whose districts border the park are also annoyed.

Basically, Julissa has about 9 or 10 votes that are solidly for her…core Prog diehards.  To win the race she would need the mayor to repeat his 2013 squeeze, but de Blasio is in a much-reduced state now.  In Philadelphia at the DNC all the buzz was reportedly about how weak and ineffectual de Blasio is, and his dismal speaking slot didn’t help matters.  It was hard not to think, as the Mayor left the stage, and the “In Memorium” video began, that the funereal strains marked the bell tolling for him.  Even people who don't like de Blasio cringed at his diminishment. Sic transit gloria mundi.

One CM put the whole Speaker race like this: “If it’s a Mayor play, it’s Julissa; if it’s a County play, it’s Corey.” Joe Crowley and Marcus Crespo, not to mention Carl Heastie, are angry about how things went down last time.  “They felt humiliated,” says a knowledgeable insider, “and do not want to let the mayor pick the Speaker again.” Corey Johnson has been aggressively courting members of the Queens and Bronx delegations, and making nice to the County bosses.  

“Corey can out-hustle anyone,” says the CM quoted above.  As an example of how Corey operates, take a look at Carlina Rivera’s latest CFB filings. Johnson is listed as an intermediary for her campaign, having raised $14,950 for her from his donors.  Corey is the only elected official listed as an intermediary in the entire system: a significant signal to the rest of his colleagues that not only can he raise money for himself, but that he is willing to spread the wealth.

Mark Levine is a bit of a dark horse at this point…but he cannot be eliminated as a candidate.  As a Manhattan CM he occupies that neutral space between Brooklyn on one hand and the Bronx/Queens on the other which seems so crucial to the balance of power in New York.  Levine’s play is to keep himself as a viable alternative should either Corey or Julissa implode, or if a standoff ensues where neither of them is considered acceptable to one party, he could emerge as a compromise.

So that’s where we are at.  But things could change.  So stay posted.

 

Mayor de Blasio's "Straw Intermediary"

Campaign finance intermediaries or “bundlers” are typically well-connected, wealthy and powerful people who collect a lot of money for a candidate in order to demonstrate their influence.

So how is one of Mayor de Blasio’s significant bundlers a 31-year old underemployed aspiring taxi driver who lives with her parents in Bay Ridge?

Look at the list of de Blasio’s bundlers…right between Harold Ickes and Suri Kasirer—two of the biggest players in city lobbying—you will find Ahlam Jaoui, who raised $18,800 for the mayor in January of 2016.  

A graduate of the College of Staten Island, Ms. Jaoui was on the swimming team, and later worked as a swimming instructor for autistic children.  She lists her employer as “Two Dots Marketing” of Torrance, California.  Two Dots is an agency that books people to work at trade shows or marketing events as “brand ambassadors.”

Ms. Jaoui was in the news in 2014 when a new woman-operated ride-share app was introduced. “SheRides,”also known as “SheTaxis” or “SheHails,” was advertised as a safe way to connect women livery drivers with women passengers.  The service’s publicity campaign focused on Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women—both drivers and riders—who only wanted to deal with other women.

Ahlam Jaoui featured prominently in several articles about SheRides.  In the Daily News she was pictured wearing a hijab, explaining that she wants badly to become a taxi driver.  “I’m so excited to be part of this movement … This gives us the opportunity to feel empowered while keeping our traditional values ... We as women can overcome this male-dominated industry.”

Elsewhere, Jaoui was quoted saying, “This is an opportunity to make money and also have my religious beliefs."  She added, "I have a lot of family members that are (male) drivers, but (they) wouldn’t feel comfortable with me driving other men." 

Ahlam Jaoui: modern woman

Ahlam Jaoui: modern woman

Ahlam Jaoui may be very religious, or have her own standards of religiosity of which it is not our place to judge.  However, her Facebook profile contains a number of revealing bikini shots that would seem to belie her stated need for cloistered modesty.

Clash of civilizations??

Clash of civilizations??

Additionally, Ms. Jaoui appears to have been arrested for drunk driving in September, 2015.  She filed a motion to dismiss the charges of “driving while intoxicated” and “driving while ability impaired” on the grounds that the court violated her right to a speedy trial; the motion was denied on May 16.  Naturally the presumption of innocence obtains in this unresolved case, though if Ms. Jaoui is guilty, then it might be hard for her to get a TLC license, and her strict religious practice might be brought into question as well—although only God is the true judge of that case.

SheRides, or SheHails as it is now called, was founded by Stella Mateo, the wife of Fernando Mateo, the prominent and controversial founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.  Fernando Mateo, a native of the Dominican Republic who now lives in tony Irvington in Westchester, made a fortune in carpets before organizing mostly Latino livery drivers uptown.  

Mateo, a noted Republican fundraiser who brought Texas governor Rick Perry to Inwood in 2012, makes the news frequently.  A few years ago he raised eyebrows when he called on taxi drivers to racially profile their hails.  More recently, as an investor in the well-known Dyckman Street waterside club La Marina, Mateo offered to have a boxing match with his partners in order to settle a contentious business dispute.

SheRides/SheHails was launched in 2014, but questions regarding the legality of hiring only women as drivers forced the service to go on hiatus.  Reconfigured to allow for both men and women drivers, the company is attempting to get around New York City’s Human Rights Law by letting the passenger choose the driver.  Supposedly the company will re-launch this summer with its new business model.

The donors whom Ahlam Jaoui bundled on behalf of Mayor de Blasio seem to travel in orbits that she would be unlikely to enter or influence on her own.  Two of the largest donors, Antonio Cabrera and Damian Rodriguez, are Dominican-American owners of major car service companies in Upper Manhattan who contributed $3500 and $2500 respectively to the 2017 de Blasio campaign.

Jaoui also raised $2500 from Jeannette Castillo, an unemployed Yonkers woman; $1000 from Wendy Estevez, a “consultant” to Washington Heights nightclub Arka Lounge; $3000 from Bronx daycare operator Luis Ducasse; and $2500 from New Jersey attorney Oscar Herasme, a former assistant DA in the New York County District Attorney’s office who specializes in anti-money laundering and immigrant affinity fraud matters.

Now it may be the case that Ahlam Jaoui of her parents’ house in Bay Ridge, who is signed up to find work as a trade show brand ambassador, who is willing to pose wearing a hijab and say that she wants to drive a taxi, and whose LinkedIn profile lists her as still working for an out-of-business investment company, is also a well-positioned power broker who can convince lawyers and business owners in Westchester and New Jersey to contribute thousands of dollars to Mayor de Blasio’s re-election campaign.

But it seems more likely that millionaire power couple Stella and Fernando Mateo are trying to get their woman-oriented rideshare business going after two years, and are still working out the regulatory kinks.  It seems more plausible that the Mateos raised money from livery and nightclub industry associates, and from neighbors and other business connections who have interests in upper Manhattan and the Bronx, perhaps in order to get leverage in the de Blasio administration when it comes to smoothing over the rougher edges in their business model, which at the end of the day still demands that either the rider or the driver discriminate on the basis of sex, and thus runs afoul of the law.  And more likely that they, for some reason, decided to suborn Ahlam Jaoui to serve as the straw intermediary in this weird scheme.

This is circumstantial.  But something is definitely going on.  Look at the list of de Blasio’s bundlers.  Virtually every single one of them is a well-connected, boldface name, or is an executive at a major real estate company or the equivalent.  Except for Ahlam Jaoui, whose only apparent connection to the world of city politics and money-power-influence is via the Mateos.  If there is a better explanation, make it fit.

Brad Lander's "Spouse Donors"

Brad Lander of Park Slope raised eyebrows recently when he called backers of Yungman Lee, who is challenging Nydia Velazquez in the Democratic primary, “scumbags.”  Lander refused to retract the insult, saying that he was characterizing “LLCs, shell corporations, and special-interest money” and not individuals.

LLCs and “straw donors” have been in the news lately, with questionable financing practices in the 2014 state senate elections in particular coming under heavy scrutiny.  These entities allow political donors to disguise their identities, and to give unlimited amounts of money, with varying degrees of illegality.

There is another way in which candidates and their donors work together to disguise the source of political contributions, which is to list spouses of prominent givers as the source of the donation.  This method is totally legal, and isn’t necessarily unethical.  But it is certainly interesting, especially when the spouse has a different name and is the only member of the marital unit to donate, and when you see it you can make useful assumptions about traces that are being intentionally brushed over.

We see a number of these kinds of spousal donations in Brad Lander’s current 2017 campaign finance filings:

Kate Engelbrecht is a “self-employed author” who maxed out to Lander.  She is the wife of Jed Walentas, who owns Brooklyn real estate development company Two Trees Management.  Walentas himself was limited to a $250 donation because he does business with the city.

Ayala Barnett, “homemaker,” gave Lander $2750.  Her husband Gary Barnett runs Extell Development, which built the 90-story luxury One57 tower.  Mr. Barnett does business with the city and was limited to a $250 Lander donation.

Amy Rutkin, Jerry Nadler’s chief of staff, gave Brad Lander $2750.  Her wife is Valerie Berlin, the noted political consultant and partner of BerlinRosen, currently under investigation by the office of the US Attorney.

Claire Silberman, “homemaker,” gave Lander’s campaign $1500. She is married to hedge fund magnate Stuart Leaf, who does business with the city.  The couple made news last year when they listed their Brooklyn Heights penthouse—combined from nine separate units-- for $32 million.

Kate Linker, “art critic,” gave Lander $1000.  Her husband is starchitect Bernard Tschumi, who is responsible for the Lower East Side’s Blue Condominium, which beetles over the Essex Crossing site.

Amy Glosser, “self-employed,” also gave Brad Lander $1000.  Her husband is Janno Lieber, president of Silverstein Properties’ World Trade Center development unit.

It probably scans better for Brad Lander, who describes himself as a “community organizer,” not to have a roster of the most powerful people in real estate development and lobbying at the top of his campaign filings.  So having their wives sign the checks at least provides some cover for everyone.


ITEM: Melissa Mark-Viverito is getting her budget passed very early—the earliest!—and for some reason this achievement is touted by her office as very important.  But the reason budgets notoriously don’t get signed until the last minute is because there is usually a lot of horse-trading and eyeball-gazing going on.  Getting the budget passed early simply indicates that someone wasn’t fighting very hard.

It's like if a brain surgeon bragged that he did the "fastest" surgery...ok, but are you sure you sutured everything correctly?

ITEM: Early Sunday morning we all awoke to horrible news of the Orlando massacre. Melissa Mark-Viverito’s Twitter timeline from those hours is a curious window into her thought processes.  

At 3:35 a.m. Sunday morning she posted this tweet about her favorite terrorist, Oscar Lopez Rivera:

 https://twitter.com/MMViverito/status/741942017110990848

Then at 5:09 she read about the slaughter in Florida and posted this:

https://twitter.com/MMViverito/status/741965758289285120

Then a few minutes later, she was back in her usual form: 

https://twitter.com/MMViverito/status/741973587884675072

Ok, we all get it now, that Melissa Mark-Viverito really, really wants Oscar Lopez Rivera to get out of prison.  But does she have to step on breaking news about an unfolding terrorist attack with an appeal for the release of a convicted terrorist?  Wouldn’t it work better tonally to wait a day or two?  Seems unlikely that President Obama was going to pardon him this week anyway.

ITEM: Ruben Wills has been on medical leave for six months, but managed to make it to a street co-naming for deceased Knick Anthony Mason on Saturday.  Carrying a cane and wearing casual clothes, CM Wills certainly looks rather peaked.  Let’s see if he makes in to Chambers today to vote.

SYEP and the Budget "Process"

The FY 2017 NYC budget is near completion, well ahead of schedule.  By all accounts it will be completed this week.  Why are negotiations concluding so soon, when the council has until June 30 to get it done?

A point of distinction that the current administration has drawn repeatedly between itself and the Bloomberg/Quinn years is the transparency and efficiency of the budget process.  Under the previous administration, goes the argument, we were subjected to a “budget dance.”  The mayor would present an executive budget that called for closing firehouses or ending HASA funding, or some other egregious act.  The council in the person of Speaker Quinn would then fight valiantly for restoration of the funding, and in the end the mayor would concede defeat.  Finally the mayor and speaker would stage a wee-hours “handshake” demonstrating their exhausting labor to reach a deal.

The charade was obvious to everyone.  And to their credit, Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito swore to end the budget dance.  But they have replaced it with something that is thinner and just as manifestly false—call it the “budget lockstep.”

The new process looks like this: the mayor doesn’t bother pretending to cut anything essential.  The council calls for some new program: last year it was hiring and deploying 1000 new cops.  The mayor pretends to oppose the new spending, but gives in at the end.  The mayor and council congratulate each other.

The 1000 new cops gave Mark-Viverito the opportunity to appear independent of the mayor, and to promote an issue that cut against the grain of her anti-incarceration, decriminalization, anti-Broken Windows approach to public safety.  Sure enough, profiles appeared in the press touting the speaker’s tough contrarian stance, and Mark-Viverito was given a lever to obtain some crack of daylight between her and de Blasio.

In reality, however, the 1000 cops was a ploy.  It was always a foregone conclusion that it would happen…the same way that Bloomberg was never going to close the firehouses.

In our city’s “strong mayor” system, the mayor holds all the cards of the budget process.  Out of 83 billion dollars in the expense budget, the council is given a few hundred million to play with.  The rest is determined entirely by the mayor’s office.  The reality of the budget process is that there actually isn’t one.  But for the sake of appearances it is important to maintain the illusion that the council is deeply involved.  It would be uncharitable, therefore, if the mayor didn’t give the council the opportunity to stand up and pretend to challenge him on some media-friendly point.

This year, I predict the following: the mayor will announce that he didn’t want to fully fund the Summer Youth Employment Program.  He will say that he wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but the Council led by Melissa Mark-Viverito forced him to the wall.  Now all city youth will have the opportunity to get a government-funded job, thanks to the progressive leadership and good stewardship of the budget process by Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and the rest of the Budget Negotiating Team, etc etc.

It is important to get the budget done this week in order to maximize media coverage of the SYEP story as the school year draws to a close.  It will also give the mayor another opportunity to divert attention from his growing scandals and dismal approval ratings, by promoting another instance of a functional municipal government.

The Coming Council

In considering the run-up to the 2018 Speaker election, we have to remember that the next council will have a different composition from the current one...though not by much. Almost all of the existing councilmembers are eligible for re-election.

Here is a list of the term-limited councilmembers, along with a few notes on their likely replacements. See if you can detect any pattern.

Annabel Palma. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. is said to be interested in the job, and will probably get it. Assuming he wins, the council will have two ordained Puerto Rican evangelical ministers. (Fernando Cabrera is half Puerto Rican/half Dominican.)

Jimmy Vacca. Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj can have the council seat for the asking.

Melissa Mark-Viverito. MMV wants her deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala to succeed her but her former opponent Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez will have the inside track to win the seat.

Dan Garodnick. There is a host of contenders for the seat, and with the amount of money that will probably be raised in this race it is hard at this moment to pick a winner. Among some of the likely candidates are:

Renee Cafaro, an Ohio mall heiress who lives in the Plaza;

Keith Powers, former staffer for Jonathan Bing and currently working at Peter Vallone’s lobbying firm;

Jeff Mailman, Liz Crowley staffer; has a twin brother and a campaign website;

Marti Speranza, state committeewoman;

Bessie Schacter, state committeewoman;

**ADDITION** Mark Thompson.  Executive at powerhouse lobbyist Capalino, Thompson wanted to run in 2013 when it seemed like Garodnick was going to run for comptroller.  Thompson got Ed Koch's (!) endorsement. 

Rosie Mendez. Carlina Rivera is likely to take over this seat, with biker/pastor Rick del Rio--who challenged Mendez in 2013--putting up a fight. Rivera has worked for the Good Old Lower East Side for several years and is well regarded by local clubs and elected officials. However if Rick del Rio and Ruben Sr. both win, then there will be three Puerto Rican evangelical pastors in the council.

Inez Dickens. Dickens will probably resign from the council to take over Keith Wright’s assembly spot when he wins Charlie Rangel’s congressional seat. I don’t know enough about the current roster of likely candidates in Harlem at this point to venture a guess. However, it will probably be whomever Rangel, Wright and Dickens get behind.

Vinnie Gentile. Though Justin Brannan, straightedge punk rocker and Gentile’s staffer, and Linda Sarsour, professional self-promoter, have been frequently discussed as likely candidates to succeed Gentile after 15 years, Peter Abbate will probably resign his assembly seat to join the council.

Darlene Mealy. Henry Butler is the former chair of Brooklyn CB 3 and currently district manager. He is also President of VIDA (Vanguard Independent Democratic Association), which was Al Vann’s and Robert Cornegy’s base. Butler has a pretty good shot. Also in the running may be Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who is Latrice Walker’s chief of staff, and who ran for the seat in 2005.

That’s it. Only eight CMs are term-limited. Notice that half of their seats will probably be filled by existing state legislators. An effect of the Council’s awesome salary “reform” has been to make the seat even more attractive for party insiders who are tired of schlepping to Albany, for only half the money and double the campaigning.

The odd case of the Council’s own dangling man Ruben Wills remains to be disposed of, however. After not showing up for work so far in 2016, it is hard to imagine he is planning to run for re-election. How is it he hasn’t gone to trial yet?

But as for the other 42 CMs, it is pretty safe to say that they will all be elected again. You have to be pretty bad to lose re-election to the Council. Last time Sara Gonzalez was the only CM to be defeated, and she was egregiously bad, even by existing standards.

Speaker-wise, it is safe to assume that Gjonaj and Diaz will both go along with whatever Bronx County boss Crespo decides. Similarly, the probable Brooklyn CMs will stand with Seddio. Manhattan is always a mixed bag when it comes to blocs. The Progressive Caucus is seeking to add a member or two to its eroding coalition, but the winds may be blowing the other way. Rosie Mendez never joined up, so why should Carlina Rivera? Robert Rodriguez is no MMV ally, and already has his own alliances in Albany. A Dickens/Wright proxy is not going to throw in with the Progs either.

So if things shake out as they did last time, with Bronx/Queens versus Brooklyn/Progs, then the independent votes of Manhattan could play an important role. Keep posted to City Council Watch for more detailed analysis.

ITEM: Which Astoria councilman received a $2500 contribution from Solomon Rubin, the CEO of the Allure Group, which made $72 million on the Rivington House deal? Costa Constantinides ducked repeated questions about how he knew Rubin, or why he got the contribution. The CM’s aide informed City Council Watch that he was returning the money…though the CFB shows no refund date on the item.

ITEM: Over Memorial Day weekend Melissa Mark-Viverito tweeted multiple times that it was the anniversary of the arrest of her hero Oscar Lopez Rivera…who is, after all, in prison for his involvement in bombing plots that killed people in New York City. Then on Memorial Day itself she put out a tone-deaf statement about veterans, as though she doesn’t get the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

ITEM: When Bill de Blasio says “I think investigations are unfortunately, in modern American public life, they are part of the [inaudible] now. You can basically assume there will be investigations,” does he understand that the only other people who talk about criminal investigations as part of the job description, are criminals?

 

Tensions Rising: Speaker's Race Mentioned in Chambers

There was an oddly tense moment at yesterday's executive budget hearing. David Greenfield had just finished a thunderous stemwinder on F express service to the MTA reps, and then Finance chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland turned the questioning over to Corey Johnson.

Johnson opened with a crack about Greenfield’s passion for speechifying about F train service and the plastic bag fee. The remark sounded harmless enough, given that CMs frequently tease each other in their clubby way. But Greenfield seemed annoyed: “Why don’t you talk about the Speaker’s race instead?” he retorted to Johnson (words to that effect; the video isn’t up yet.)

Usually CMs are pretty good about keeping up a solid front. Based on their public statements, for example, you would never know that the race to succeed Melissa Mark-Viverito is the primary obsessive question dominating their private conversations. So it is odd to hear someone as canny and careful as David Greenfield break the façade and reference the Speaker’s race on the public record, 19 months ahead of time, with the two leading candidates for the job (Johnson and Ferreras-Copeland) sitting right there.

So what’s happening? Basically one has to appreciate David Greenfield’s role in the Brooklyn delegation and his close relationship to Kings County boss Frank Seddio. Recall what happened in 2014: Seddio, encouraged by the new mayor, broke with Joe Crowley and Carl Heastie of Queens and the Bronx, and threw his votes with the Progressive Bloc. The Bloc, which was in theory supposed to have an internal vote to pick a candidate, was informed by Brad Lander that they had to coalesce behind MMV immediately or lose their chance to pick the speaker. The Bloc’s 16 or 17 votes plus Seddio’s 7 or 8 pushed MMV close enough to 26 to draw the unaligned CMs over, and that was it.

Greenfield got Land Use out of the deal; Gentile was given a committee at long last; and the new speaker made up some posts for the rest of the delegation. But really, what did Seddio’s organization get out of the deal? Not much. “Frank is not happy,” said one non-Brooklyn CM. “He was supposed to get City Hall jobs for some of his people, but the mayor gave all the Brooklyn jobs to Park Slope allies.”

So what does that mean for Greenfield? Let’s look at the candidacy of Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. She is the mayor’s choice for speaker. Melissa Mark-Viverito also wants JFC for the role. By all accounts Brad Lander is trying to get the Progressive Caucus to agree to remain united—which is weird because at least 4 members of the Caucus are at least nominally running for speaker—and he also wants JFC. JFC’s path to victory is a repeat of 2014. She is not close to the Queens Dems—her entire career from Hiram Monserrate until now has been based on being an insurgent WFP candidate. She will need de Blasio and the Progressives to convince Seddio to throw in with them, and then to pick up some stray undecided votes.

So what’s wrong with this picture? First of all, the members of the Progressive Caucus are resistant to Brad Lander’s demands for them to swear a death pact of loyalty that will essentially make him a kingmaker. (One non-Progressive CM even told me that Lander is hoping to become Speaker himself. “Look what happened to Brad when he helped Melissa,” the CM said. “She got annoyed when people started calling him the ‘shadow speaker,’ and pushed him to the side. So why would he do the same thing again, this time with Melissa’s close ally Julissa?” I find the logic here unassailable—if we were not talking about someone with the overweening pride of Brad Lander. I think Lander imagines that he has a better relationship with JFC than he did with MMV, and that he will take on a more significant leadership role in the next Council if she is speaker.) So it is not clear that the Progressives will be a bloc next time—indeed there are already indications that the Caucus, which was really formed to make MMV speaker and support de Blasio’s mayoral candidacy, has lost its motive force and is substantially weaker now.

But they aren’t the only ones who are weaker now. Mayor de Blasio has a great deal of trouble, and no longer is overflowing with excess political capital. Andrew Cuomo has waged a scorched earth policy against de Blasio and successfully wrong-footed him at every turn. De Blasio blew his endorsement of Hillary Clinton by trying to induce her to woo him. He could conceivably be indicted by mighty Preet. Powerful unions have deserted the WFP. So the chance that de Blasio will be able to call up a county boss and put the squeeze on to get his favorite councilmember the speakership grows increasingly less likely.

At the same time, Corey Johnson has become the Sammy Glick of the council—pushy, arrogant, thirsty and slick. “He is very aggressively courting voters,” grumbled one CM several months ago. “It is because of him that the race for speaker has become so heated this early.” Another CM told me that “Corey is rapidly becoming the most unpopular member of the council,” while nevertheless acknowledging that Johnson is certainly a serious candidate.

So on one side we see David Greenfield, whose faction controls between 7 and 9 votes, but whose authority to elect the speaker is diminished from last time. At stake for Greenfield is his powerful chairmanship, as well as goodies for the Brooklyn delegation. But his power—like that of Brad Lander—depends on quiet waters in the council. Similarly, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland has been playing a kind of Rose Garden strategy, and hasn’t been actively campaigning amongst her colleagues: her plan is to have de Blasio make her the speaker. Johnson has set the cat among the pigeons: by campaigning early and often he has forced the issue into the open well before it would have otherwise arisen.

So that explains why David Greenfield snapped at him today. He would prefer all this to be dealt with over a year from now.

But I don’t want you to think that this explanation above summarizes the entire race! There are at least two or three other candidates who have a plausible shot at becoming speaker. It is true that Julissa and Corey are the current frontrunners…but a lot can happen in a year and a half.

COMING SOON:

--What happens if Hillary wins and appoints MMV to run that office of immigrant affairs she mentioned? Then the existing Council will have to vote for an interim speaker!

--Who will fill the seats of the eight term-limited CMs? (Vacca, Palma, Mendez, Garodnick, Dickens [who may leave early anyway if Keith Wright wins], MMV, Mealy, Gentile) And how will that affect the Speaker’s race? (Also Ruben Wills, who hasn’t shown up for work in months.)

--Who’s in third place? We still have to talk about Mark Levine, Ydanis Rodriguez, Jimmy van Bramer, Vanessa Gibson, Robert Cornegy, Jumaane Williams…and maybe Donovan Richards?

Bill de Blasio's Slave Name

Having lost his fight to get rid of carriage horses, Mayor de Blasio has decided to join the winning side and embrace other 19th century modes of transportation: hence the city will spend billions on ferries and streetcars.

Both of these ideas appear to be aimed at satisfying the vision of the Walentas brothers (Two Trees), the Elghanayan brothers (TF Cornerstone), Toll Brothers (Toll Brothers), and any other donors—siblings or not--to his now defunct nonprofit who own real estate developments along the waterfront. 

Washington D.C.—admittedly not a city that anyone looks to as a model of municipal management—recently opened streetcar service ten years after having bought the cars and laid the tracks.  The streetcar line, which runs 2.2 miles, is apparently a disaster of sorts, and can be outpaced by a brisk pedestrian.

Atlanta, Dallas, and Kansas City are among other cities that have installed streetcars in the last ten years.  Most of these experiments are basically novelties: urban planners love streetcars and appear to have convinced local politicians that streetcar lines will invigorate ghastly downtowns. 

New York’s streetcar will ostensibly be funded by a TIF on all the future waterfront development, which is fine if it works out.  But what exactly do streetcars do that buses don’t?  Buses don’t require massive capital commitments for installing miles of tracks and the development of special rolling stock to run on them.  Buses can run flexible routes and go around stalled cars.

The problem with buses however is that they aren’t very attractive to the sort of people for whom all that luxury construction is meant.  Where streetcars have a nouveau-vintage appeal, buses smack of old people and poor people.  Shuffling, talkative types.  Cantankerous guys in plastic jackets that say METS.  No one wants to leave his or her 3 million dollar waterfront loft and say, “I hope the bus is on time.”

The ferry proposal is utterly nonsensical, however.  The city had an extensive ferry system for hundreds of years…and then they built the Brooklyn Bridge.  Ferries died for a reason: they are expensive and inefficient, and can’t run when there is ice in the water.  After Superstorm Sandy the city opened up ferry service from Rockaway to Manhattan, and had to cancel it after two years because the subsidies were ridiculous: the city was paying $30 per passenger per ride.

Also, ferries suffer from the perennial “last mile” problem with new transit solutions.  Most people don’t live or work right by the water, and there aren’t very many subway or bus stops right by the water, either.  So commuters wind up with lengthy pedestrian journeys at either end of the ferry trip.

The ferry system will be an expensive, heavily subsidized and underutilized boondoggle.

 

By the way, the mayor reached a new low in sanctimonious, pandering bullshit this weekend in Harlem.  Speaking about why he changed his name, de Blasio cited “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” as an inspiration.  Malcolm X rejected his birth name as “not really his name,” and similarly de Blasio decided that his slave name “Warren Wilhelm, Jr.” wasn’t right for him either.  His new name “was [his] true self.”

The fact that he changed his name 25 years after he first read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” while in the middle of his first run for elected office, shouldn’t make you think that there were any political implications to his choice.

Incidentally, why does the mayor constantly throw his father under the proverbial streetcar wheels?  “I honor my father for all he did for his country and all the good in him, but I only unfortunately got to see the bad,” he said at the First Corinthian Baptist Church.  A few years ago he told the Times that from his father, "I learned what not to do."

Obviously de Blasio must resent his father for killing himself, but he should save it for his therapist’s office, just for the sake of manners.  The guy fought in World War Two and lost a leg, and his son grows up and just constantly heaps scorn on his memory.  With that kind of gratitude, it isn’t surprising that de Blasio hemmed and hawed about endorsing his former boss Hillary Clinton.  

 

 

 

Ethno-lunacy at the City Council

At the pre-stated press conference yesterday Speaker Mark-Viverito was asked about Donald Trump’s recent successes, particularly his strong showing among Hispanics in Nevada’s GOP primary. Mark-Viverito corrected the questioner: “Don’t you mean Bernie Sanders’ support among Latinos?”

No, the reporter averred: Trump did well specifically among Latinos. MMV dismissed the idea as ludicrous, saying that at most “150” Latinos voted for him. “There are barely any Latino Republicans in Nevada anyway.”

Maybe if the speaker were more on top of Nevada’s political realities she wouldn’t have been removed last September from the fundraising committee of the state’s US Senate candidate Catherine Cortez Masto, who wants to replace Harry Reid. You may recall that Cortez Masto cut ties with MMV because of her avowed support for Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera.

The fact is that about 9% of the GOP Nevada caucus turnout was Hispanic, and about 40% of Hispanic voters went for Trump. Given GOP turnout was around 75,000, that leaves us with at least 2,700 Latino Trump supporters out of 6,750: not millions, but not 150 either. Given that the Speaker won her 2013 primary with less than 36% of the vote, it isn't really her place to minimize other people's electoral margins.

The secret about Latino voters in the United States is that immigration reform is not actually of great importance to them. To listen to Melissa Mark-Viverito and her cronies, one would think that the nation’s Hispanics are united in one voice demanding amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, but it isn’t true. In this Gallup poll, immigration reform is 5th out of 6 in importance; this Pew Research study shows immigration is last in issues of “extreme importance” to registered Latino voters.

If the Speaker were to emerge from her bubble of Puerto Rican nationalism and Vasconcelosista-style supremacism, maybe she would discover that Latinos in America are more closely aligned with the political mainstream than she is.

Inez Barron gave one of her mini-lectures to the Council yesterday, on the topic of Black History Month. African-American history, according to CM Barron (no relation to your correspondent) “predates Columbus.” As a source, she recommended Ivan van Sertima’s notoriously unscholarly and tendentious work, They Came before Columbus.

This book, which has been thoroughly debunked (when it isn’t being ignored) by actual scholars of pre-Columbian history, posits (basically) that Mesoamerican civilization was built by Mandinka and Nubian émigrés to America about 30 centuries ago. Key evidences—cited by CM Barron—are the giant Olmec heads of Mexico, of which, she told the Council, “the features are distinctly African.”

If looking at ancient statues and imputing to them racial physiometrics sounds a little recherché to you, well you are not alone. As a historiographical tool, it is useless. The entire thesis of African diffusionism to America has no basis in reality. They Came before Columbus belongs to a genre of wacky Cold War-era pseudoscience that includes Holy Blood, Holy Grail; In Search of Noah’s Ark; Worlds in Collision; and The Late, Great Planet Earth, to name a few exemplars.

This isn’t the first time Inez Barron has taken time during a stated Council meeting to go off on one of her weird tangents: recall two years ago when she sang a hymn to the African “bloodline.” One supposes this is her hobby-horse, the way some people are train enthusiasts, or keep canaries. Couldn’t she save it for the weekends, though?

I asked CM Carlos Menchaca, who is Mexican-American, what he thought of Barron’s revisionist version of pre-Columbian history. After all, many critics have pointed out that van Sertima’s thesis is just another form of racist cultural appropriation, this time erasing native Mesoamerican accomplishment in favor of a narrative of African dominance. Menchaca looked at me like I was an unspeakable asshole, and condescendingly said, “I support all histories here at the City Council.” All “histories,” including pseudo-history, are welcome at the circus, I guess.

Salary Follies

It was a bad week for Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito.  The mayor’s trip to Iowa appears to have been a depressing waste of time…the images of him and Chirlane walking down empty streets in their jeans while consulting voter lists could be a 21st century “American Gothic.”  The Iowans have just gone through months of exposure to all sorts of political celebrities, so what made de Blasio imagine that he was going to heat up the scene?  His supposedly brilliant handlers seem to have a tenuous grip on political realities and their boss's hinterland appeal.

Speaker Mark-Viverito is trying to cram the ridiculous horse carriage bill and salary increase into one hugger-mugger Friday session, the classic time to release bad news.  She is coming off as a complete tool of the mayor, and the rest of the council is being played as a bunch of pawns given a milksop to stifle their cries.

Regarding the pay increase: I’ve sat through hundreds of hours of Council hearings but nothing I’ve ever seen rivaled yesterday’s hearing for pure comedy.  The combination of self-pity, fulsome praise, and absurd justifications made for a true circus. 

I’m not going to rehearse all the politics and arguments behind the raise, because everyone knows them, and it is all but done.  Here is a link to an article I wrote for City Journal if you want to see my opinion.

I just want to relate some of the high points of the hearing…the choicest parts.  I wanted to include time-stamps so you could fast-forward to the most hilarious moments, but the Council hasn’t gotten the video up yet, so I am just going to cite from my notes.  The quotes aren’t verbatim, but they definitely express the gist.

--Ydanis Rodriguez, during the first round of questions, took up his entire allotment yelling at Fritz Schwartz, who headed the Pay Commission.  He explained that he loves his job, that he supports the 99%, but that he has to work so hard.  He works 60 hours a week!  He has to go to community meetings.  People talk to him in restaurants.  He believes that CMs deserve at least $175,000 per year.

Rodriguez kept coming back to the question of half-time versus full-time.  He demanded to know what constitutes full-time, because he puts in so many more hours than that.

It became sadly clear that Ydanis Rodriguez thinks that “full-time” means you work 40 hours and then you go home.  If you work more than that, then you deserve overtime.  Could it be that he doesn’t understand the difference between an hourly and a salaried employee?  Also, does he think that 60 hours a week is an unusual amount of work for a well-paid professional in New York?  I know plenty of people who put in those kinds of hours…including Council staffers who make like $30k.

As a former staffer for a council member and a longtime Watcher, I have a pretty good idea of what members do.  I am curious if Rodriguez counts the following activities when he adds up his hours: attending press conferences for civic groups, or to “save” El Diario; going to meetings of the Progressive Caucus; going to meetings of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus; going to meetings of the Democratic Caucus; going to meetings of the Manhattan delegation; getting plaques from local organizations; going to ribbon-cutting ceremonies; talking to other electeds; running for Speaker; sending out weather bulletins or press releases condemning a vicious criminal, etc. etc.

Rodriguez also claimed that some CMs “have Ph.Ds.”  Is this true?  I’ve never heard that.  Unless he is thinking about Eva Moskowitz.

--Inez Dickens was mad that no one is taking into account all the groceries and funerals she pays for, for her needy constituents.  She said that unlike other elected officials, CMs “are on the streets!”  

--Ben Kallos also said that CMs never have time off.  “If it is Christmas Eve and you are locking up your district office, and a resident comes by because he is being evicted, well there is no Christmas Eve dinner for you.”  He contrasted this to citywide elected officials who supposedly don’t have to deal with constituents’ needs.  Somehow he insinuated that he works harder than Michael Bloomberg ever did, which seems like a weird thing to say given Bloomberg’s reputation for total workaholicism.  (Bloomberg once said, "I have nothing in common with people who stand on escalators.")  Fritz Schwartz said that, when he was Corporation Counsel, he saw Bloomberg work quite a bit.  Kallos sneered, “Um, I don’t weekend in Bermuda.”

--Jumaane Williams is insulted that lowly commissioners and deputy commissioners often make more than he does.  Why should a staffperson make more money than an exalted elected official?  It was pointed out that some deputy commissioners run billion dollar departments and have hundreds of people reporting to them; Williams was nonplussed at this, and seemed to want to say, “So do I!”  But of course, he doesn’t.  

--Brad Lander repeated his glib refrain that “It is easy to be cynical” about council members’ pay.  It is especially easy to be cynical about it when one is given so much material for cynicism.

Amazingly enough, Lander will not even be present on Friday to vote on the bill.  How come?  He is going on vacation that day.  Sure, just taking off a few days in February when he thought the hearing calendar was clear, two weeks before the whole Council goes on its unofficial mid-Winter break.  Doesn’t everybody do that?

What f---ing gall.

I really believe that what the Council needs to do instead of forbidding outside employment, is to require its members to get outside employment, even if it is just ten hours a week bagging groceries or babysitting someone else's child.  It would teach them the value of a dollar and instill a good work ethic.  I'm no hypocrite: I tell the same thing to my teenaged daughters. 

On the bright side, Inez Barron came off as genuinely concerned for the fact that council staffers never or rarely get raises.  She came back to this point several times, and did not say one thing about how backbreakingly hard her job is.  

Ben Kallos' Self-Righteous Charade at Health Hearing

The Health Committee held a hearing the other day to discuss a bill that would regulate the nutritional content of kids’ meals that come with an “incentive.” Basically, McDonald’s Happy Meals are the target, though the law would apply to all restaurants.

Ben Kallos is the sponsor of the bill, and Corey Johnson (chair of Health) is a co-sponsor. The administration testified in opposition to the measure, and said it would be impossible to carry out, because most restaurants in the city are not chains, and don’t have to track their specific caloric and fat content. Also, what constitutes an incentive? How about a placemat for kids to color on while they wait for their meals?

Things got fun when a representative from McDonald’s testified. Dr. Cynthia Goody is the chief nutritionist for McDonald’s, and naturally enough, also testified against the measure. She explained that McDonald’s has changed its advertising practices and no longer promotes soda as a choice for its kids’ meals, though it is still available. She detailed additions to the menu that McDonald’s has made, in order to offer children better alternatives in the way of fruit and fat-free milk, etc. The basic takeaway if you read between the lines was that if they made Happy Meals any healthier (low fat, low sugar, whole-grains) then no one would get them, and people would just order for their kids from the regular menu. Pretty much what you expect: no one is forced to go to McDonald’s, and no one who goes there is under the illusion that they are eating health food.

Corey Johnson asked Dr. Goody some basic questions and pushed back on her statements in a normal way. Then he turned the questioning over to Ben Kallos, who instantly began grilling the panel (which also included some small business C-of-C types) in the most excruciatingly hostile terms imaginable.

“Do you receive money from McDonald’s or its franchisees?” he asked. “Do you support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour?”

Dr. Goody was nonplussed, and said that as a nutritionist she didn’t have any expertise on the question of wages. Kallos pressed her: “As a nutritionist do you think people who make $15 an hour instead of eight, nine or ten dollars an hour will have more money to spend on healthy food?”

Kallos ripped into Goody’s use of an anodyne motto: “What about health programming? There was specific testimony on point saying…’if you eat, move your feet,’ so what is McDonald’s doing in local communities to help give local children a place other than McDonald’s to congregate?” As though, in addition to having a monopoly on food service in New York City, McDonald’s also owns the Parks Department.

He then asked about McDonald’s lobbying efforts and expenditures, and demanded that someone explain why McDonald’s had spent more than $500,000 over five years lobbying the city. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” replied Goody. “I’m a nutritionist and I am here to talk about the bill.”

Kallos was undeterred, and insisted that he needed to know why McDonald’s was lobbying against the bill when Burger King and Wendy’s aren’t. He needed to know why McDonald’s spends so much on lobbying generally, and also demanded to know how much McDonald’s spends on advertising in the New York City market. Again, the nutritionist said she didn’t know anything about that.

Kallos asked, “Who else is here from McDonald’s?” He ordered Dr. Goody to tell him the names and titles of her colleagues, and then asked one of them to come forward to answer specific questions about McDonald’s ad budget and marketing strategies. The man brushed it off, stating that he isn’t authorized to speak publically on such matters. Kallos pompously announced, “so let the record show” that McDonald’s was not answering his questions.

The questioning went on like this for another ten minutes, with Kallos asking a wide range of answerless questions of a private corporate witness who was giving voluntary testimony. He was relentlessly sarcastic, and hectored the nutritionist about some program called “Kids LiveWell” that Wendy’s has signed onto, until Johnson whispered to him to move on.

Sorry for belaboring the point here: the Council has no oversight over McDonald’s. The witnesses were taking the same position as the administration in opposing the bill. None of the McDonald’s witnesses had been sworn in. Ben Kallos does not have subpoena power over McDonald’s, and had not summoned its representatives before him while he conducted a wide-ranging plenary investigation of the restaurant’s activities. He was just abusing a nutritionist and pointlessly grandstanding, as though he were Robert F. Kennedy yelling at Jimmy Hoffa at the McClellan Senate hearings. At one point he even said, “the whole world is watching.”

We see this kind of grandiosity in hearings on occasion. Sometimes councilmembers get confused or carried away and forget that they are only allowed to berate and insult members of the administration. Even that is embarrassing when it happens, but when councilmembers start harassing members of the public, it is like watching a dog chase a car: it wouldn’t know what to do if it caught it.

What Really Matters: Who's Running for Speaker?

As the Council gets into the second half of its current term, debate is heating up among the Members.  So what is the big issue now?  Is it decriminalization of petty crime?  Is it economic inequality?  The schools?  Affordable housing?  Banning carbon emissions?

If you imagine that any of these matters is foremost on councilmembers’ minds, you haven’t been paying attention to the low level of backbiting and petty squabbling that defines our (almost) one-party unicameral legislative body.  The primary focus and main gossip of the city council now is: Who will be elected Speaker in January 2018?

When Mayor-elect de Blasio shoehorned Melissa Mark-Viverito into the Speakership, he did so fully cognizant that she would serve as a lame duck.  Term-limited, MMV was handicapped from the start from wielding total fear-inducing authority over the Council in the style of Archduke Chris Quinn.  In promoting his loyal comrade and ally Mark-Viverito, de Blasio ensured that he would have a consistent rubber-stamp at his disposal, and that he would still be able to put the squeeze on individual councilmembers who knew that he would almost certainly be around longer than she would.

So while MMV still has the power of the Speaker’s pot of discretionary money to spread around, her authority over the Council remains largely as the Mayor’s cat’s paw.  No one has yet adduced any significant moment of difference or conflict between Mark-Viverito and de Blasio, and I do not accept that the 1300 extra cops was anything but a bit of theater.  She wants to write an amicus brief in support of building a mall in Queens, after he's moved on from that fight?  Please. 

Everyone, then, is looking to the future.  Who are the players in the next race for the Speakership?

Here is a list of candidates, in geographical order: Vanessa Gibson, Ydanis Rodriguez, Mark Levine, Corey Johnson, Jimmy van Bramer, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Donovan Richards, Jumaane Williams and Robert Cornegy.  If you think I have erred, please say so.

By all accounts, the Mayor (along with MMV) favors Julissa Ferreras, who is an old-time loyalist and partner from the 2009 WFP/DFS days.  She was made the chair of Finance because it was known that she would fit pliably into the Mark-Viverito/de Blasio sphere as a good soldier and ally.  Brad Lander is keeping himself busy these days trying to shore up support for JFC, and is tinkering with the engine of the Progressive Caucus, getting it tuned up for another run.  The PC was originated as a vehicle to bring MMV into power, so why not go for a repeat?

The hitch this time is that the bloom is off the de Blasio rose, at least somewhat and so far.  In 2013/14 the Mayor was fresh off his big win, and he was able to reach out to individual Brooklyn members to persuade them to get on board with his plan for a unified City Hall.  Between the Progressive Bloc and a few Kings County defectors, de Blasio was able to shift the balance enough for boss Frank Seddio to see where things were heading and to leave Queens Dem chief Joe Crowley in the lurch.

It helped that MMV was from Manhattan.  The Brooklyn machine doesn’t want a Bronx or Queens Speaker, and vice-versa.  Manhattan has served as the compromise borough for the Speakership for twenty years, and this arrangement has provided checks and balances on the power of the county machinery.

The issue with Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is less that she is from Queens, however, than that she is at odds with the Queens County machine.  She and her onetime mentor Hiram Monserrate ran as insurgents, and she has never really played along with Crowley or the party organization.  Rumors abound that she is seeking a primary challenger to her onetime Council opponent and Queens County Dem regular Assemblyman Francisco Moya, which if true will not salve many open wounds in Corona.

Maybe de Blasio will do the same thing he did last time, and use his Brooklyn influence to install his chosen Speaker.  Brad Lander is trying to get the members of the Progressive Caucus to vow to align themselves as a Spartan bloc, so with those votes and Brooklyn, the rest of Queens and the Bronx could be again discounted entirely.

Except one thing is very, very different in New York politics now: Carl Heastie is in charge of the State Assembly.  When Sheldon Silver was Assembly Speaker, he made a point of not involving himself in the internal politics of the Council.  But with Heastie as Speaker and de facto Bronx County boss, de Blasio will be less able to ignore the close team of Heastie/Crowley and get his own way in the Council.  With Cuomo and de Blasio still in a blood feud, the mayor desperately needs a friend in Albany if he wants to get anything done in Term Two.  And that could include letting the Queens and Bronx machines pick the Council Speaker.

Next time: the other candidates.

Pay Hikes, Puerto Rico, Some Blind Items

The Quadrennial Pay Commission is releasing its recommendations for salary raises for elected officials this morning, and we can only guess that councilmembers will be in line for at least a 25% raise, and probably more.  In return, perhaps their outside income will be capped: a compromise that means very little, since most members don’t have any outside income.  In fact, a great many of them have never earned any money outside of their work as council staffers and now members.

A better idea might be that elected officials should be required to have outside income, at a real job, for at least 10 hours a week, outside their districts.  Might keep them honest, and in any event teach them some job skills.  Suppose councilmembers are required to give up their outside income? So would Peter Koo, who actually has shown some grit in his life, have to divest himself of his drugstores?

Anyway, here is a powerful argument for a Council pay raise that was written by a now-former councilmember.  It first appeared in Gotham Gazette.  Can you guess whose it is?

 

We want and expect our City Council members to be the best and brightest our city has to offer, but it is becoming harder and harder to expect top-of-the-line professionals to choose public service. A recent Gotham Gazette article reported that many City Council members earn outside income, with some making substantial amounts. This suggests that New York City's council members should be full-time city employees. Such a change would go a long way to truly reforming our city government.

 ---

 Millions of New Yorkers no doubt pay their bills while earning less than their council member makes. Even though council members do have to disclose their incomes, the salary ranges they report have enormous variation -- sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. You could throw a dart at a board with random salaries on it and make a better guess at what your council member earns moonlighting.

 A Council Member's Job

Rather than have all this vague disclosure, the city should mandate that council members put in 40-hour weeks to enable them to provide true, full-time constituent services. Along with that, the city should increase the pay for the position. We should have to fill out time sheets just as our subordinates do and account for our time. Of course, some of the members already devote far in excess of a 40-hour week to their districts and the city, and for that, I am grateful.

 We need to make an investment in our city's legislative body that will ultimately make the council stronger and more responsive to the people. I consider myself a full-time council member, working over 60 hours a week for District XX. I come to my council office every day and go to every council meeting and attend meetings for six different committees. I meet with community leaders and constituents throughout the morning, deal with office matters and travel around my district and the city to events in the late afternoons and evenings, including weekends. My district office is open on weekends and has a late night each week to better serve the varied schedules of my constituents, and we also are available on the web; I even update my major events and happenings on Facebook and Twitter to keep people informed.

The Full-time Advantage

Making the job full-time would give New Yorkers the complete attention from their elected officials that they deserve, and constituents would notice the difference. Council members would be more active in the community and be more hands-on in addressing their constituents' concerns. Leaders in business, law and other fields would be more inclined to run for public office and the entire city would benefit from the dedication.

 Dozens of city department heads make over $200,000 per year, as well they should. They are top-shelf leaders and professionals who run complex agencies, supervising hundreds or thousands of personnel. Executive-level talent will earn at least twice this much, if not far more, in the private sector. And running New York City's bureaucratic, heavily regulated and sometimes archaic government is as challenging as any job you’ll find in the courtroom or on Wall Street.

 We've seen the conflicts of interest that occur when elected officials run businesses on the side. For example, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was taken down by the blurring of the lines between outside income and political influence. It is not even the actual scandal or wrongdoing that will happen no matter how careful we are; a move toward full-time legislators would provide an atmosphere where even the very appearance of impropriety could not survive because influence peddling would have been largely stamped out.

 Our public servants would be fully invested in one thing: public service. The time has come to ask our elected officials to make a full time commitment to the city and in turn, have the city make a full time commitment to them. It's about good government, it's about focused leaders -- it's about time.

 

Hint: the writer is now serving a ten-year sentence in the federal penitentiary.  Yes, Dan Halloran, the erstwhile Whitestone Wotan, could reasonably be counted as a prime theorist behind the Commission’s recommendations.  Who better to take advice from than a man whose elaborate electoral-theft schemes briefly netted him a few thousand dollars in a paper bag?

 

Last week’s stated meeting was very emotional.  First, Speaker Mark-Viverito almost melted down regarding the failure of the Congress to pass legislation letting Puerto Rico default on its debts.  As her colleagues sat staring at their cell phones, the Speaker launched into recondite arguments about Puerto Rico’s territorial status: “I want to be clear about something that some may consider controversial.  The current territorial status of the island was not of our doing….It is unconscionable.”

Yes, it is true that the current status of Puerto Rico was not of “our” doing, if by “our” Mark-Viverito means New York City and New Yorkers, or the New York City Council that she ostensibly leads. 

Has the Council or its Speaker ever so preoccupied itself with a matter that has patently nothing to do with the city?  The Council has passed three resolutions just this year regarding Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.  We have a mayor who jets off to Rome, Paris, Israel and the Midwest to advance his various agendas, and a Council speaker whose greatest preoccupation is Puerto Rico.  How about these two spend the second half of their terms focused on New York City?

Next everyone saluted departing councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who was almost not allowed to run in 2013, you will recall, because her petitions were signed by the Yankees lineup, Mickey Mouse, etc etc., all giving the same home address and using the same handwriting.  Her nephew went to prison for stealing from a Bronx non-profit, and then after he got out he got a job with another Bronx non-profit.

Maria del Carmen Arroyo gave a speech in which she said that her son had asked her to cite Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler,” about knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, etc.

The Councilmember did not mention the apposite nature of the lyrics to her own fairly constant activities at the Yonkers Raceway casino, where she and her assemblymember mother reported tens of thousands of dollars of winnings.

She also didn’t mention that her son, Ricardo Aguirre, Jr., was paid about $60,000 for campaign work on her 2013 campaign—more than a third of her total expenditures.

 

Elsewhere in the Bronx, we hear that two current councilmembers, each of whom has been touched by scandal in the last two years, are said to be wearing wires.  No one will talk to them for fear of winding up on Preet Bharara’s playlist.

Also, one has to wonder what is going on with Ruben Wills?  He was indicted 18 months ago.  When is his trial supposed to start?  Unless, as with his colleagues in the Bronx, he is a walking microphone with orders to get dirt.         

 

Council Follies, Again

City Council Watch is relaunching today with a new format: from now on we will be publishing more frequently, with shorter, punchier items.  You can look for our longer analyses at City Journal or various other venues.

 

The Council voted yesterday on David Greenfield’s school security bill, which allots $20 million to pay for unarmed guards at all private and religious schools.  The bill passed 47-4.

The “No” votes were interesting.  Half the LGBT caucus voted no: CMs Dromm, Mendez and Johnson.  Danny Dromm and Rosie Mendez expressed concern about subsidizing schools that supposedly discriminate or propagandize against sexual minorities.  Corey Johnson made no comment, but indicated that he agreed with his colleague Dromm.

Inez Barron also opposed the measure, claiming that “profit, hedge-fund operated and other entities that choose to establish private educational institutions” should pay all their own costs.

CM Barron did not identify which NYC schools are “operated” by hedge funds.  But she did aver that providing the security guards would directly hurt the city’s public school students by taking away funds from school construction, repairs, etc.

(Incidentally, we note that the statue of Thomas Jefferson that CM Barron promised to destroy in her inaugural comments still lurks over the Chamber, haunting the Council with his evil, pedophiliac aura. When will she fell the great slavemaster?)

David Greenfield struck back, pointing out that the city already provides transportation, nurses, and crossing guards to private schools, and called out the “factually inaccurate” statement regarding funding.  Greenfield pointed out that the city has recently announced expanded funding for HIV positive people, for mental illness treatment, and for supportive housing, and nobody was complaining then that the money was being taken away from anyone else.

“The city of New York, quite frankly,” said Greenfield, “we’re flush with cash.”

Well that’s good to know.  Does the Council imagine that the good times will roll on and on?  When a downturn hits, it will be interesting to hear the cries of pain when these social service programs are forced to scale down.

                                                            ***

Your Watcher was fascinated last February by the tremendous effort and resources that the Speaker’s office poured into her egregious “State of the City” address.  As you may (or probably don’t) recall, she built an extremely elaborate website to livestream her speech, which was branded with a special “Lift Every Voice” theme, very much like a political campaign.

As I wrote then, there is no reason for the Speaker of the Council to give a “State of the City” speech.  The mayor is supposed to give one, according to the Charter, but there is no such obligation for the speaker.  Think about it: does Carl Heastie give a “State of the State” address?  No.  Did John Boehner give a “State of the Nation” speech?  How absurd.

In any case I FOILed the Council to get information on the cost and planning of Melissa Mark-Viverito’s speech.  Building fancy websites is not cheap, and livestreaming an event costs a lot too.  The Council’s FOIL officer took nine months to answer my request, and what she gave me makes the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails seem like the epitome of transparent, open government.  I received scores of pages of emails that were entirely redacted except for the “From” line.  About twenty pages were totally black: it was only just possible to see that these pages were nothing more than screenshots of the website.  So why were they blacked from view?

So much for the openness Mark-Viverito promised upon her election.  Her office’s answer to my simple request to see emails pertaining to the production of the exercise in vanity that was her “State of the City” speech is an embarrassment.

                                                            ***

Regarding the Speaker’s testimony to the quadrennial pay commission, did anyone else have a laugh when they got to the part where she talked about how much more productive the Council is now than it used to be?  She asserted, ostensibly straight-faced:

From a legislative perspective, the current Council has been even more active than in prior sessions. Council Members have already made 105% more bill and resolution drafting requests, introduced 41% more bills and enacted 32% more Local Laws than through the same time period in the immediately preceding session.

Drafting a bill request takes about ten minutes: the councilmember jots down an idea on a piece of paper and submits it to the office.  It is the job of the Legislative Staff to actually figure out how to turn the member’s brainstorm into something resembling a legal proposal. 

“The Council has not had a raise in ten years….”  Actually that isn’t true.  The current Council hasn’t had a raise in two years, when it was elected.  No one promised the 2013 candidates that they would get paid according to a COLA retroactive to 2005.

In any case the spirit of the 27th Amendment to the Constitution ought to prevail here:  “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”  That is to say, you can’t vote yourself a raise.  Any salary increase should wait until January 1, 2018, after the voters have had a say.

 

Spitzer Revises History, But Why?

Eliot Spitzer is rewriting his failed 2007 push to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, telling David Axelrod that he pulled the proposal because of pressure from Hillary Clinton during her Presidential campaign.  Spitzer said he is "ashamed" of his decision.

Eliot Spitzer has plenty to be ashamed about, but most of it has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton.  Those of us with even the slightest historical memory will recall that Spitzer's proposal to award illegal aliens in New York State with driver's licenses was met with howls of disapproval from politicians across the political spectrum, as well as, more importantly, significant anger from the electorate.

In the weeks following his announcement in October, 2007, Spitzer's favorability ratings dropped from 54 to 41 percent, and only 25 percent of voters said they would vote for his reelection. 

The poll numbers at the time directly reflected popular dissatisfaction with Spitzer's proposal. Two-thirds of voters said that driver's licenses were a privilege that unlawfully present non-citizens should not have.

Siena pollster Steven Greenberg remarked at the time that "Eliot Spitzer's standing with voters has fallen faster and further than any politician in recent New York history....The governor's fall is directly tied to his license proposal."

The pressure to rescind the illegal alien driver's license offer came not from above, but from below: popular outrage forced Spitzer to back down.  

Why is Spitzer revising history on this point?  Why do sociopaths do anything?  Other people who know more about the man can probably venture better guesses than I.  But it is revealing that Spitzer shapes the narrative to disguise the fact that illegal immigration remains deeply unpopular among Americans, who by and large oppose the elite consensus that illegal aliens must receive expedited normalization of their status.

Why else is Donald Trump so popular, except that he has foregrounded illegal immigration as the core issue of his campaign? Trump has pretended to run before, and nobody paid any attention to him at all. His poll numbers do not reflect the Kardashianization of the electorate so much as the voters' hunger for serious issues dealt with directly. Any candidate, in either party, who embraced a firm anti-illegal immigration position would have polled just as well.  

Eliot Spitzer, imagining that the political winds have changed, is blaming Hillary Clinton for his sensible political calculation of 8 years ago.  Should be interesting to see if this weird revisionism bears any fruit in his efforts at political self-rehabilitation. 

 

 

Recap of CD 23; What about Make the Road?

City Council Watch called the race in the 23rd CD for Bob Friedrich, and we were wrong, though he came in a close second.  It remains hard to take on the Queens County machinery, which retains the resources, local endorsements, and organization to mount an effective ground campaign and GOTV.  As one councilmember noted, “Queens Borough Hall essentially became Grodenchik central the last few weeks.”

So Barry Grodenchik, kind of the obvious choice anyway, wins.  Bob Friedrich can resume absolute rule of his demesne at Glen Oaks Village, which to be frank is probably a better fit for him, as his personality apparently tends more towards the autocratic than the legislative.

Rebecca Lynch’s 3rd place finish has to sting, and not just for her.  Organized labor poured tens of thousands of dollars into her campaign, and even in the last week an additional $12,000 dropped in as news spread that her ground game was weak.  One prominent politician in the area who was watching closely commented before the election that Lynch was nowhere to be seen, and that her candidacy lacked buzz.

Even $30,000 in independent expenditures from New Yorkers for Progress, a de Blasio/labor front group, weren’t any help.  Hiring the esteemed Progressive consultants Berlin Rosen didn’t help.  And, most importantly, the WFP didn’t help.

In the run-up to the election, many people assumed that the WFP and its legendary ground game were Rebecca Lynch’s magic bullet.  Noted Republican consultants begrudgingly conceded that she had a good shot at winning.  Brad Lander was making lunch bets with his colleagues that she would win, and Jimmy van Bramer enlisted volunteers in a big last-week push, hoping to lock in Lynch as a vote for his next bid to be Speaker.

But the bloom is off the WFP rose. The three to five point advantage that superior field operations gave to WFP candidates seems to have evened out as opponents have learned the lessons of the importance of a strong ground game.

The other—or should we say, the major-- disaster in the race belonged to Ali Najmi, who came in a dismal fifth place out of six candidates.  That’s what a New York Times endorsement and having Zephyr Teachout on board will do for you, it appears. 

Najmi, otherwise a perfectly reasonable fellow,  inexplicably yoked himself to the questionable “Make the Road by Walking,” a group of rabble-rousers for hire who bully local politicians into funding their dubious social service projects.  These Make the Road literacy or training programs are always folded into a larger project of “worker organizing” or “empowerment,” which require recipients to attend political meetings as an implicit condition of getting services that are, in fact, city-funded.  The whole operation gives off a creepy, People's Temple-type of vibe, to be honest.

Make the Road claims to have 16,000 “member-clients,” though even a brief observation of a few of their rallies reveals that the same 50 to 100 participants consistently show up, banging on empty paint buckets and desultorily chanting “la gente, unida, jamas sera' vencida.”  Make the Road recently spun off a 501(c)(4) organization called “Make the Road Action Fund,” which is technically allowed to campaign actively for candidates for political office.  The two groups are theoretically separate, and the “Action Fund” lists an address in Brooklyn, though IRS tax forms filed in 2014 by “Make the Road” detail a $193,703 grant to the Action Fund, which is listed at the same Jackson Heights address as Make the Road.  The grant is made for the purpose of “non-partisan electoral organizing.”

Perhaps the two groups will have their paperwork straight by the time their 2015 tax info is available, but the story is pretty clear to anyone who has paid attention to the cute games that the Working Families Party played with Data & Field Services.  Establishing a phantom firewall in order to pretend that one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing is an old trick, but one that is pretty easy to see through.  It seems fairly obvious that Make the Road, which receives millions of dollars from local and state government to provide social services, is siphoning some of that money to an ostensibly independent “Action Fund” in order to campaign for elected officials who will, lo and behold, allocate money to Make the Road.

Anyway, for an organization that is supposedly so great at grassroots organizing, Make the Road did a pretty terrible job organizing for Ali Najmi, who got 650 votes.

 

Council District 23 Election: Why Everyone Has it Wrong

The Council race to replace Mark Weprin in the easternmost reaches of Queens has attracted sparse, puzzled coverage in the mainstream, non-local media. With six candidates running for the Democratic nomination it is not surprising that Manhattan has sought a familiar, comprehensible narrative to explain the race in the distant 23rd District.

Thus the race has been boiled down by a naïve press to a proxy battle between the two competing wings of the city Democratic Party. On one side, Barry Grodenchik, former one-term assemblyman, long-term habitué of Queens Borough Hall, purse-carrier for yentas from Claire Shulman to Helen Marshall to Nettie Mayersohn to current avatar Melinda Katz, represents the traditional Queens County Dems, who have all lined up behind him. Grodenchik is the archetypal time-server, ready for his long-awaited reward.

On the other side, according to this narrative, representing the self-described Progressive wing of the Democratic Party, stands Rebecca Lynch, princess of labor steeped in union politics from the cradle, a labor lobbyist from the age of 22, and recent de Blasio staffer. Backed by the Progressive Caucus and an impressive roster of trade unions, Lynch has raised copious cash and hopes to join the ranks of the Council as a WFP-approved regular.

One could make the mistake of assuming that the battle lines are indeed so drawn. Of course, the press has also taken notice of upstart Ali Najmi, a lawyer and former Mark Weprin staffer who appears to have had a falling out with his old boss. Najmi, of Pakistani descent, seeks to be the first South Asian elected to the Council. The 23rd CD has a substantial number of Asians, though the percentage of Asian voters is substantially lower than their share of the overall population. Najmi won the endorsement of the New York Times and of left darling Zephyr Teachout, though some wags have noted that those two endorsements and fifty cents will still leave Najmi fifty cents short of getting a cup of coffee in the 23rd CD.

The problem with looking at this election as a calculus of endorsements and backers is that the voters of eastern Queens aren’t particularly attached either to Joe Crowley’s machine, or to the de Blasio/WFP left, and both Grodenchik and Lynch are perceived as outsiders. The blog Queens Crap has done a fantastic job detailing the candidates’ campaign contributions, and demonstrated that neither of them has raised a significant amount of money from inside the district. Grodenchik has received more than ten thousand dollars from other politicians’ campaign committees, for example, and Lynch has taken close to $50,000—more than half of her contributions—from labor unions.

The dark horse in the race, and the one that City Council Watch believes to have the inside track to victory, is Bob Friedrich. Friedrich, who has run previously in the district, is the only candidate currently running for whom voters in the 23rd District have pulled the lever, and in fairly large numbers at that. For instance, in 2009 Friedrich ran against Mark Weprin for the Democratic nomination for the council seat that David Weprin was vacating. Friedrich polled about 2,300 votes versus Weprin’s 4,400. But then, running as a Republican in the general election, Friedrich got 7,300 votes out of a total of almost 25,000, in a district where Democratic registration runs 5-to-1 against the GOP. In a race with no Weprins, Friedrich’s odds only improve.

Why does Bob Friedrich have a base in the district, where Grodenchik and Lynch have none? The key to comprehending the 23rd CD is to understand that about 50% of the district’s voters live in garden apartment co-ops, which are middle-income housing units mostly owned by the occupants. The people who live in these co-ops are fiercely committed to preserving the middle-class, suburban lifestyle they have worked to achieve. The area has more in common with Nassau County than it does with Sunnyside. The co-op denizens are unimpressed with the county political machine, and distrust the de Blasio administration.

The largest of these co-ops is Glen Oaks Village, which has almost 3,000 units and about 10,000 people. Bob Friedrich has been the president of Glen Oaks Village since 1991, and is well-known throughout the district as a civic leader, particularly on co-op related matters. His fundraising consists largely of smaller-sized donations from individuals inside the district, with no union or campaign war chest grants. Friedrich received a surprise endorsement yesterday from the Queens Tribune, which has typically been known as a mouthpiece for the Democratic machine. Also, Mark Weprin, who is officially supporting Grodenchik, has apparently let it be known that he thinks Friedrich is likely to win.

The election will be very close. It will be held on a Thursday, which is rather unusual, and the council vote will be the top of the ballot. Turnout is expected to be about 10%, with perhaps 6000 people casting ballots. Friedrich, according to a councilmember who has been following the race, is estimated to be starting with 1500 votes, which is a solid leg up. Obviously it will be tight, and probably decided by a margin of hundreds at most, but remember that you heard it here first: Bob Friedrich, who has never been a staffer or a lobbyist, and is thus unknown to the City Hall cognoscenti, will win.

NB: An interesting twist in the race concerning Ali Najmi is his relationship with Mark Weprin. Apparently annoyed by his former staffer, Weprin supposedly leaned on Satnam Panhar (a Sikh), and Celia Dosamentes (a Hindu) to enter the race in an effort to split the Asian vote and wreck the Muslim Najmi’s chance to get a lock on it. Both Panhar and Dosamentes have long-established ties to the Weprin family, so whether this is just conspiracy bluster or not, it does have the ring of truth.