Category Archives: Governor Andrew Cuomo

Following Mike’s Lead

Published in City & State

Even the most ardent critics of former mayor Michael Bloomberg would concede that PlaNYC was a landmark moment for municipal environmentalism.

Unveiled in 2007, the initiative pushed for the planting of one million trees, increased bike lanes and pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among other changes.

But despite his best efforts, Bloomberg did not entirely fulfill his dream of a gleaming green metropolis. His Manhattan congestion pricing plan met a painful death in Albany, where his brook-no-arguments style did not endear him to state legislators. Naysayers labeled it a regressive tax on the working class, though it would have been a valuable new source of revenue for the MTA, and also would have reduced carbon emissions. This stumble notwithstanding, PlaNYC receives praise from unlikely quarters.

“I tell people, ‘If you can’t stand Bloomberg, even a broken clock is right twice a day. If you don’t like anything else he did … you have to give the devil his due,’ ” said Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and a former Bloomberg official.

Even current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has certainly never been hesitant to criticize his predecessor, praised Bloomberg’s environmental efforts during his campaign.

“I think Bloomberg’s broad vision of the environment in New York City is something I agree with,” de Blasio said in an interview with The Nation.

Now mayor, De Blasio seems willing to keep the baby and throw out the bathwater when it comes to Bloomberg’s legacy on the environment. He established some ambitious objectives during his campaign with his program “A Framework for a Sustainable City,” including ending the use of Styrofoam by the city’s government and achieving zero waste.

De Blasio is also recycling some of Bloomberg’s staff. Emily Lloyd has returned as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, the same role she served in under Bloomberg from 2005 to 2008. DEP COO Kathryn Garcia was appointed commissioner of the Department of Sanitation, and Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency architect Dan Zarrilli is now the director of the Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

One thing most activists agree on is that environmental justice is about to have its moment in the sun under de Blasio. His rhetoric on inequality and wealth discrepancy folds well into environmental causes such as broader access to green spaces and a waste management plan that alleviates the burden on low-income neighborhoods.

“There are encouraging signs that a focus on environmental and quality of life issues will continue even if the priorities won’t be identical to Mayor Bloomberg’s,” said Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney at the National Resources Defense Council. “It’s likely that environmental protection and sustainability issues will be reframed with a focus on advancing environmental programs that also address the administration’s equity concerns, and that’s fine. The important point is that the focus on sustainability that was begun by Mayor Bloomberg does not look like it will disappear.”

The environment might be a vague catch-all term, but one area of specific concern to coastal cities like New York is the flooding and unpredictable weather events that have been occurring with increasing frequency in recent years. In New York there is the added complication of the location of heavy industry along the waterfront, making those facilities particularly susceptible to flooding. A major criticism of the Bloomberg administration was its rezoning of waterfront areas for dense development—an approach which remains contentious.

“Williamsburg and Greenpoint are two prime examples: There’s a lot of construction on the waterfront— that’s not a bad thing,” said Roland Lewis, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.

Lewis added, “There are some neighborhoods in Staten Island and elsewhere where it’s going to be very hard to maintain these neighborhoods in terms of sea level rise over the long term. Places like the Rockaways and Oakwood Beach. Building near the water, not on the water, is still something that’s viable to do, and we’re not against that.”

De Blasio has the opportunity to concentrate on attainable and measurable goals like increasing low recycling rates and improving sanitation. He also faces the near existential crisis, however, of rebuilding in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Earlier this month, de Blasio announced changes to the Build It Back program, setting a clear target of starting construction on at least 500 homes and issuing 500 reimbursement checks by the end of this summer. He also called for better engagement with the community and a desire to cut through red tape between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city.

Also impacting New York City is Gov. Cuomo’s proposal to buy out homeowners living in areas of New York City particularly susceptible to future storms. That plan requires federal approval. Most activists support the idea, but they think all levles of goverment should take a smarter approach.

“It’s really a complicated mix of the desire to build a community back and the New York sprit of resiliency, but then there’s also climate change,” Bautista said. “And then you’ve got people—just because they’re homeowners doesn’t mean they’re rich: lower middle income families that own [houses] along the shoreline in Staten Island that can’t recoup the equity in their homes.”

“We really believe that all communities should be equipped and better able to handle extreme weather events,” says Emily Maxwell, director of the Nature Conservancy’s Urban Conservation Program. “And we would like to see the city pursue adaptation strategies that utilized nature and natural defenses or infrastructure, like natural shorelines and wetland barriers.”

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Filed under Climate Change, Environment, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Green Space, Mayor Bill de Blasio

Letitia James Talks with Reporters, Discusses de Blasio, Charter Schools, Citi Bikes

On Wednesday, Public Advocate Letitia James sat down with a small group of reporters to discuss her work as New York’s Public Advocate, and her goals moving forward.

She covered subjects ranging from Citi Bikes, to Affordable Housing, to her opinions on Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In terms of her own office, James hopes for a budget increase, which Mayor de Blasio has proposed.  “It’s difficult to continue to operate with twenty staff members,” she said. James also emphasized that she is working closely with City Council. “I’m trying to remove the divide between City Council and the office of the Public Advocate.”  James has attended several City Council meetings, and talks about being a steady presence there.  “Operating in silos will no longer continue.”

James stated early on in the discussion that main priority moving forward is providing universal free lunch to New York City students.  “The children who are below the poverty line often times are ashamed, often times are ridiculed, and often times hide in disgrace or go hungry…I want to remove the stigma of poverty, and I want to allow all children to eat a free nutritious lunch regardless of income in the city of New York.”  James said that she needed $20 million for a free lunch program, most of which she claimed would be reimbursed by the federal government.  As of today, there are just over 1,660 signatures in a petition for the program on the website  James also claimed that 46 city council members have signed a letter in support of a universal free lunch. The cost of covering this program, however, is uncertain, and will involve talks with the Federal Government.  “There’s a question as to the reimbursement.  Hopefully they can get beyond the challenges.”

When asked about the struggling Citi Bike program, James reminisced that she came out in favor of Citi Bikes when they made their debut, and said that she would support a co-public-private venture to try to save the program.  She also expressed that she would like to see it expanded to reach more of New York.  “The bike network only reaches downtown Brooklyn and then it falls off the face of the earth.”  She remains open to the city using its own funds to help bail out Citi Bike. “I think what we need to do is put everything on the table, and have a robust discussion about how to save the program…I’m not saying no to that.”

On Charter Schools, James said that she is not against them per se, but outlined her problems (and lawsuit) with co-locating charter and public schools. “It’s unfortunate that we had to initiate litigation against the de Blasio administration in the absence of any standard or metrics in the instance of forced co-locations, and particularly in the absence of the blue book task force,” she said.  She often referred to co-locations happening at schools that were already over capacity, and cited complaints that she’s heard of lunch being served at 9 am, and special-needs students being taught in closets because of the lack of space.  “Halt the co-location in any school where children are being taught in trailers.  I think that’s a reasonable request.”

On the affordable housing front, James was clear that she agreed with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in supporting a moratorium on the downsizing HPD is carrying out on New York subsidized housing.  This downsizing involves moving tenants from bigger apartments to smaller ones. Citing HPD Commissioner Vicki Been’s testimony at City Council last week, James doubted whether the federal sequestration (and budget shortfall that HPD suffered) was completely at fault.  “It’s unfortunately that the federal government has turned its back on urban centers, but at the same time I think HPD can do a better job with carving out certain exceptions so that seniors and disabled can live in their home during the twilight of their life.”  She also listed her goals for affordable housing throughout the city that included redefining AMI to be between $30,000 and $80,000 for a family of four, increasing the size of apartments for families with children, and expanding the famous 80/20 affordable housing percentage to include more than 20% affordability.

On Police Commissioner Bratton, James was positive. “So far, so good.”  She called for an increase in the number of detectives assigned to cold cases, and an increase in the number of Police Service Areas specifically assigned to public housing crime.  There are currently only 9 PSAs in New York City.  She also called for an increase in the number of police officers as a whole, citing a growing number of officers who are retiring. “Do I think we should increase the rank and file? Yes.”

James was mostly complimentary of Mayor de Blasio, saying that they don’t talk regularly, but they do have conversations. “If I had to grade the mayor, he’d get a B+,” she said, citing his push for sick leave, stop and risk reform, and universal Pre-K.  “Were there some missteps in Albany? Yeah.  But Albany is a strange place, and they live by a different sent of rules. And it’s really hard to get accustomed to those rules in your first 100 days.”  On Cuomo, she said simply that his poll numbers were up, and declined to comment further.

James noticeably shied away from making any comments on the Rangel Espaillat congressional race taking place in Harlem right now.  “This is not a political discussion. This is a discussion on policy.”





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Filed under Affordable Housing, Bill Bratton, Budget, Charter Schools, Citi Bike, City Council, Education, Governor Andrew Cuomo, HPD, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police

Heard Around Town: Letitia James talks about de Blasio, Cuomo

Published in City and State

On Wednesday, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James sat down with a small group of reporters to discuss her first 100 days on the job and her vision for the office going forward. But first James is hoping that the additional funding Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed in his preliminary budget for her office remains in the final agreement. “It’s difficult to continue to operate with twenty staff members,” she said. James also emphasized she wanted to have more of a role in her old stomping ground at the City Council, hoping to “remove the divide” and play a more active role in policy. “Operating in silos will no longer continue,” James said. As for her evaluation of the mayor’s first 100 days, James was mostly complimentary, giving him a B+ grade, citing paid sick leave, stop-and-frisk reform, and universal pre-K as big wins. “Were there some missteps in Albany? Yeah. But Albany is a strange place, and they live by a different set of rules, and it’s really hard to get accustomed to those rules in your first 100 days.” Her evaluation of Governor Andrew Cuomo was considerably more brief; James noted that his polling numbers were up, and declined to comment further. 

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Filed under Budget, City Council, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio


Published in City and State

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued to hammer away on key education issues that have taken center stage lately, affirming his commitment to funding universal pre-K with state budget funds while portraying Mayor Bill de Blasio as his foe in the fight over charter schools.

Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Association for a Better New York in New York City, Cuomo reiterated his support of the charter school movement, the state’s Common Core standards, teacher evaluations and rewarding high-achieving teachers with bonuses.

On Common Core, the governor responded to the growing backlash against the standards by saying that he would delay any repercussions for low-scoring students. Earlier this week, a panel appointed by Cuomo recommended that tests tied to Common Core not be included on student records, but that they still be used in teacher evaluations.

“[It] was rolled out rather quickly and it caused a lot of anxiety,” Cuomo said. “This year we’re looking to continue the advancement of Common Core, but not count the test scores against the students for a couple of years while they actually adjust to it.”

Cuomo also emphasized his position on the simmering disagreement between himself and de Blasio over how to fund universal prekindergarten in the city, painting the conflict as one between New York City and the rest of the state. De Blasio has called for a tax on the wealthy, which would have to be approved in Albany, while the governor has insisted that a statewide expansion be paid for with state funds.

“I want it not just for the children of Manhattan, I want it for the children of Buffalo, and the children of Rochester and the children of Syracuse,” Cuomo said, as the ABNY crowd applauded rapturously. He added, “Rather than any one city having to come up with a tax to pay for it, the state will pay for it because it’s a fairer way of doing it.”

At a press conference afterwards, Cuomo addressed the issue even more bluntly: “The mayor’s point that a tax is more permanent is not true.”

During a Q&A with the audience, Cuomo elaborated on his support for the charter school movement with a remark about mayoral control over the school system, feeding into the “de Blasio versus charter movement” narrative that has been bandied about over the last two weeks. De Blasio recently rescinded several charter schools co-location in city public schools, although most of the co-locations approved by the previous administration will go forward.

“The way we’ve now written the law, we give tremendous power to the mayor, and it’s possible for a mayor [to say], ‘I don’t like charter schools, I’m not going to…fund any new charter schools,’ and it’s possible that the whole movement would dry up,” Cuomo said. “I think that would be bad for the city and bad for the state.”

In an earlier interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer today, Cuomo explicitly stated that he did not approve of “a system statewide where charter schools can be aborted by any mayor or any city.” He added that he hoped the state would enact a policy preventing that from happening.

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Filed under Budget, Charter Schools, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio