Tag Archives: Melissa Mark-Viverito

Bratton Lukewarm on Additional Cops

Published in City & State

The New York City Council wants the city to hire 1,000 new police officers and to explore decriminalizing marijuana. Unfortunately for them, Police Commissioner William Bratton is not too keen on either subject.

Instead of adding the additional 1,000 cops that the Council asked for as part of their executive budget priorities, Bratton talked about focusing on resource allocation, overtime utilization, improving morale and negotiating a new contract for current police officers. Bratton, who testified before the Council’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, said that no police commissioner in the country would turn down more officers, but indicated that the decision was not solely his–Mayor Bill de Blasio has also been unwilling to add more officers. Bratton added that the effect of those officers would not be a sudden panacea, and would likely not reduce crime until the summer of 2015.

For now, the NYPD plans to increase overtime and rearrange police officers, including reassigning CRV patrol cars (traditionally used for terrorism in Manhattan) to high-crime housing developments in other boroughs, perhaps satisfying some Council members’ call for additional resources for local precincts seeing a spike in crime. The department’s total number of officers will remain at 35,437 in fiscal year 2015.

As for decriminalizing marijuana, Bratton was quick and firm in his response. “I will not be supporting decriminalizing marijuana,” he said. “I think it’s a major mistake and something I will never support.”

However, NYPD Chief Philip Banks pointed out that marijuana arrests have decreased and were not a departmental priority. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, at a mid-hearing press conference, affirmed her commitment to decriminalize marijuana.

Critics argue that law enforcement efforts to crack down on marijuana disproportionately target minorities. In 2013, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services’ Computerized Criminal History system, there were 28,644 5th-degree marijuana arrests for people found in possession of 2 ounces or less. Of those arrested, 49.5 percent were black, and 37.1 percent were Hispanic, while only 9.2 percent were white.

The hearing ended with a short discussion of drones. John Miller, the NYPD’s counter-terrorism chief, testified: “[As] tech develops to make this a potentially valuable crime fighting tool, it’s something we’ll continue to look at.”

While Bratton said he was supportive of drone use, Councilman Corey Johnson was among those expressing concern at the prospect of aerial drones being used for police work.

“I understand this as a crime fighting tool,” he said. “Given New York City’s uniqueness and it’s density, people have had serious concerns about drones in terms of privacy in our city.”

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Filed under Bill Bratton, Corey Johnson, Drones, Marijuana, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Police

With Member Items Reform, Mark-Viverito Creates Distance from Quinn

By myself and Nick PowellPublished in City & State

One Speaker’s power grab is the next Speaker’s platform for reform.

The New York City Council’s annual practice of handing out discretionary funds to nonprofit organizations and other local groups has long been a point of contentious debate, both within city government and among good-government organizations. Some say the process is ripe for corruption and abuse, while others argue that member items are an effective mechanism for funding organizations that provide vital community services.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Council can take a step toward ensuring more equitability in the member items system, one part of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s proposed sweeping rules reform package that will receive a public hearing before the Council’s Rule Committee. The member items section calls for all discretionary spending given to City Council members to be allocated based on a “fair, objective formula that is publicly disclosed.”

All 51 members of the Council receive discretionary funds each year that go toward “local initiatives”— i.e., nonprofit and community-based organizations—with the exact amount determined by various factors but never less than $80,000 per district.

The changes to the formula will include making equal the distribution of core member item amounts—“core” being those that go toward local organizations, as well as those that serve children or seniors. There will also be a needs-based increase to Council members based on the number of people in poverty in their respective districts, which could add up to 25 percent of a Council member’s core discretionary amount for antipoverty efforts.

The most momentous member items change, however, is to the Speaker’s power over her own pot of discretionary funds—dubbed the “Speaker’s List”—which funds organizations that provide services that exceed the amount an individual member can fund, or that serve a larger geographical area than a single Council district. Under the new rules, the Speaker would no longer have the authority to decide how much of the discretionary funding each Council member is given to distribute to local organizations and projects each year—a privilege the previous Speaker, Christine Quinn, had been accused of abusing, according to current and former Council members. Instead, the Speaker’s List will be limited to 50 percent of total discretionary member expense allocations.

“We will take the politics out of member items,“ said Mark-Viverito when she announced the rules change proposal.

Unfairly or not, there was a widespread perception that Quinn used her pot of discretionary funds as a means to punish recalcitrant members and reward the fealty of others. Tony Avella, a former Councilman who is now a state senator, told City & State last year that because of his outspoken behavior, Quinn had denied him member items as a means of retaliation.

A July 2011 member items analysis issued by then Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer (now the city comptroller) reinforced this notion, finding significant disparities in member item allocations across the city’s Council districts. For instance, former Councilman Domenic Recchia, an ally of Quinn’s, received the most dollars in member items from the Speaker: $1,630,064. On the flip side, former Councilman Charles Barron, one of Quinn’s most vocal detractors, received the third-lowest amount: $399,464.

“Personally, the prior Speaker was very vindictive, punitive, and denied the constituents of a district their fare share, so if you did not take the same position as the Speaker, you were punished … money went to persons who lived in those districts who had residents in their district who gave graciously and abundantly to the Speaker,” said Councilwoman Inez Barron, who took over the Council seat of her husband, Charles, after he was term-limited out of office.

Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who served under Quinn as well, agreed with Barron’s assessment, and emphasized the socioeconomic implications of the proposed rule changes.  “I represent the fifth-poorest district in the entire city and if you look at the allocations… [the] cost of speaking up on certain issues that differed with the previous Speaker was [being] penalized—and actually it wasn’t me who got penalized, it was the constituents.”

To be fair, many of the transparency reforms to the member items process that Mark-Viverito has floated largely piggyback on reforms Quinn had already put in place. Quinn made sure that the Schedule C form, which lists those organizations applying for Council discretionary funds, was made public, along with the name of the member who sponsors each item and the amount and stated purpose of the funding. The reforms under Quinn also required applications and allocations for member items funding to be searchable through the Council’s website.

Mark-Viverito’s proposal builds on those measures by adding discretionary spending awards to the city’s Open Data Plan; creating new “open data” requirements to facilitate the searching and downloading of discretionary spending awards; and requiring discretionary fund grantees to provide a short report on their use of the money.

Mark-Viverito has made a concerted effort to distance herself from her predecessor since taking over the Speaker post in January, aiming to fashion herself a consensus builder in the chamber. Her first major legislative initiative, an expansion of the paid sick leave law—which Quinn bottled up in the Council before relenting and passing it last year while running for mayor—passed overwhelmingly. With member items reform on the table, Mark-Viverito can potentially close another controversial chapter of Quinn’s tenure.

Interestingly, Mark-Viverito, one of the first four Council members to pilot participatory budgeting back in 2011, did not include institutional support for PB as part of her package of rules reforms, even though she had previously been in favor of doing so. Participatory budgeting is a method currently being employed by a handful of Council members to promote civic engagement in their communities. The residents of districts represented by Council members who choose to participate in PB are allocated a portion of their members’ discretionary funds to vote on how they would like it to be distributed.

“The idea of getting the institutional support from the Council as a body to really create a more uniform process [for participatory budgeting] that would be applicable at a citywide level—and those of us that are doing it would advocate for it too—that brings visibility and accountability,” Mark-Viverito told City & State in August.

It remains to be seen whether the proposed member items reforms will satisfy Mayor Bill de Blasio and several good-government organizations that have called for discretionary funding to be banned outright. Through statements, the mayor has reiterated his stance that member items should be eliminated, yet the Council does not need the mayor’s approval to change its rules.

The proposed changes also offer Mark-Viverito an opportunity to contest the notion that she is too close with the mayor politically—a criticism that was also leveled at Quinn for her relationship with former mayor Michael Bloomberg. For her part, Mark-Viverito was confident the reforms she laid out would be enough to win over Mayor de Blasio.

“We see it as a reinvestment of taxpayer’s dollars in our districts,” said Mark-Viverito. “These go to organizations that employ locally, that provide very grassroots community-based services … so we’re going to continue to make that case, and that’s what’s going to be part of our conversation with the mayor.”

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Filed under Christine Quinn, Inez Barron, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Member Item Reform, Money

City Council Hears Concerns on Municipal IDs, Implementation

Published in City & State

The New York City Council Committee on Immigration, led by Councilman Carlos Menchaca, held a hearing Wednesday on the proposal to create a municipal identification card program for New York City residents. The proposal has the strong support of the Mayor’s office, and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was highly confident the bill would pass the Council.

“This hearing is the first step towards achieving that ultimate goal of the largest municipal ID program in this country … Let it be clear that this is a priority for this City Council, and we will have municipal IDs in this city,” Mark-Viverito said.

The ID program is aimed at benefiting vulnerable populations, including immigrants, the transgendered and the homeless. There was widespread agreement, however, that the card must be widely adopted by all New Yorkers in order to avoid stigmatizing users who otherwise would not qualify for more traditional forms of ID, particularly when those users might be from populations that already suffer social scrutiny.

Testimony from City Council members and representatives of non-profit groups like the Immigration Coalition and the New Economy Project offered a range of ideas about how to make the card appealing to everyone. These ideas included store discounts and affiliations with banking institutions. Councilman Antonio Reynoso even proposed that children as young as twelve should be eligible to receive an ID.

Bryan Ellicott, a transgendered man, talked about the importance of male and female designation on the cards. He suggested in his testimony that rather than requiring proof of sex reassignment surgery, transgendered people could instead provide a letter from a therapist or doctor prescribing hormone replacements. He said the only way to change one’s designation with the state currently is to spend upward of $30,000 on surgeries.

San Francisco, a city that has already created its own municipal ID program, has done away with gender identifiers on its IDs altogether. Ellicott, who represented only himself at the hearing, not any particular LGBTQ organization, disagreed with this approach.

“I don’t support that at all. New York State has me walking around with a female gender marker on my ID. I would like a male one,” Ellicott said.

Mindy Tarlow, director of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, and Nisha Agarwal from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, testified about the implementation of the proposed legislation, which designates the Mayor’s Office of Operations as the administering agency for the ID program.

“The process for applying for a municipal ID card will be similar to the DMV model. Individuals will be required to show evidence of their identify and residency by providing acceptable documents,” said Tarlow.

The cards would cost a “reasonable fee” and financial assistance would be provided for those who cannot afford the expense. Among the forms of identification that could be used to qualify are foreign passports, consular ID cards, and a copy of a foreign birth certificate.

To accommodate the homeless, the Office of Operations would be required to create alternative methods of establishing residency for people without a fixed address. The city would not be allowed to retain originals or copies of records, and all information collected would be treated as confidential.

This point was of particular concern to privacy watchdogs like the New York Civil Liberties Union.  In New Haven, the first city to create a municipal ID program, tensions arose when information about applicants was requested by anti-immigrant activists who said they would turn it over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As to how the city would go about promoting the card, Agarwal cited “social media, community and educational institutions, famous New Yorkers, foreign consulates, faith-based institutions and beyond.”

Eric Mar, of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, also testified via telephone. He explained how his city rolled out its municipal ID program in 2009.

San Francisco’s ID cards cost $15 and individuals can quality for discounts. Mar said that the San Francisco program cost roughly $828,000 to set up, and now costs around $200,000 a year to maintain, which is “roughly paid for” by the $15 fee.

New York City, of course, with a population of nearly 8.5 million people, is much bigger than San Francisco, which has around 1 million people.

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Filed under City Council, Immigration, Mayor's Office of Operatinos, Mindy Tarlow, Municipal IDs, Nisha Agarwal

City Council Speaker Announces Rules Reform, Changes to Discretionary Item Funding

On Tuesday afternoon, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced a sweeping rules reform package that included changes to member discretionary allocation for over $50 million given to the City Council to spend annually. In the proposed reforms, all discretionary spending given to City Council members will be allocated based on a “fair, objective formula that is publicly disclosed.”  That formula will include a base amount given to every City Council member, and an increase based on the number of people living in poverty in their district. The Speaker’s own discretionary funding will be limited to 50% of total discretionary member expense allocations.

Beyond the money, there will be new open data requirements for discretionary spending, the creation of a dedicated legislative drafting unit to draft legislation requested by members, a plain-language summary of bills, a written attendance policy, and a “supermajority bill sponsorship” that would require bills with 34 co-sponsors to have a Committee decide whether or not to hold a hearing.

These are major changes, and what some see as a response to the politically-motivated allocation practices of former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

The mood in the City Council’s Red Room was celebratory, with many Council Members thanking Speaker Mark-Viverito for making good on her election promises, and seemingly acting against her own self-interest allocate the money.  “This process began last fall when 34 new and returning members signed onto a platform calling for significant reforms to the Council’s rules,” said Mark-Viverito.  “What followed was an exhaustive and comprehensive top to bottom look on the Councils’ existing rules…we engaged with members so the public, good government groups… and we did a public hearing where we took hours of testimony on best practices.”

“We will take the politics out of member items,“ she said.

Councilman Brad Lander, Chair of the Rules Committee that helped develop the reforms,  (and who later in the day turned his blazer inside-out in support of Clippers players) was ebullient.  “I challenge the press and the historian here to find any set of reforms that’s more bold and comprehensive and moves the Council forward towards good government in any point in it’s history.”

Inez Barron, for her part, spoke about the Fresh Democracy Council in 2002 that tried to introduce rule reforms.  “The problem was that those that were pushed through and accepted were not embraced and not implemented, because the Speaker at that time did not embrace it. “  After the press conference, Barron was very forthcoming with her opinions about former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who removed former Councilman Charles Barron (Inez’s husband) from the Committee on Higher Education.

“Personally, the prior speaker was very vindictive, punitive, and denied the constituents of a district their fare share, so if you did not take the same position as the Speaker, you were punished…  money went to persons who lived in those districts who had residents in their district who gave graciously and abundantly to the Speaker. So it was a reflection more of a political debt in terms of financial support …My predecessor Councilmember Charles Barron [Councilwoman Barron’s husband] didn’t get as much from the speaker, but he was resourceful enough and persistent enough to reach out to other agencies to get them to buy into projects that he wanted to have in his district.”

Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, whose district is in the Bronx, agreed with that assessment, and emphasized the socioeconomic implications of these reforms.  “I represent the 5th poorest district in the entire city and if you look at the allocations… [the] cost of speaking up on certain issues that differed with the previously speaker was penalized, and actually it wasn’t me who got penalized, it was the constituents.”

Dick Dadey, the Executive Director of the non-profit citizen’s Union, was positive about the proposed reforms. “Today’s proposed rules reform will do much to change the way in which the council operates.  It will be a much more democratically run…and allow members to be able to represent better their constituents, and result in more equitable distribution of funds for al the neighborhoods of the city as well as allow members to advocate and push for legislation that serves the needs of their districts.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio is known to be against discretionary item funding.  City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito disagrees.  “I’ve been a very, very strong a defender…of the discretionary allocations.  We see it as a reinvestment of taxpayer’s dollars in our districts.  These go to organizations that employ locally, that provide very grassroots community based services…so we’re going to continue to make that case, and that’s what’s going to be part of our conversation with the Mayor.”

Another public hearing about the rules reforms will be held on May 7th.






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Filed under City Council, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Money