Cuomo Wants to “Destroy” the WFP + Ballot Measure Explainer Part 2

LOCAL NEWS

  • Governor Cuomo has apparently told his associates that he hopes to “destroy” the Working Families Party as part of his push to end fusion voting. City & State released an in-depth history of the WFP that details its roots in New York’s third parties of the 20th Century and traces its rise in influence over the past 15 years.
  • Noting the success of the 14th Street Busway, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the city should consider banning cars on other major thoroughfares, such as 34th and 42nd street.
  • The 500 police officers Governor Cuomo ordered the MTA to hire will not be required to wear body cameras. These police officers will be directed to target fare-beating and homelessness in the subway system. Unlike NYPD officers, these officers are not required to wear body cameras because they are state officers.
  • Council Member Andy King (District 12, Co-op City) is facing potential suspension, fines, removal from his committee posts, and the installation of a monitor to oversee his office. His fellow City Council members will vote on his punishment this week, after the Committee on Standards and Ethics substantiated several allegations of harassment and abuse of power by Council Member King.
  • The New York State Public Campaign Financing Commission has moved away from a 6:1 match of state funds to all donations toward an idea that would provide a 20:1 match for donations from within a candidate’s legislative district. There would be no matches for donations from outside the district and would only apply only to state legislative races. Advocates for public financing believe that this is an attempt to weaken the proposal.
  • Critics are questioning the role of the Police Foundation, a public-private charity that raises money for the NYPD with little oversight or accountability.
  • Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD officer who was fired earlier this year for killing Eric Garner in 2014, is suing to get his job back.

ELECTIONS

  • This Election Day will include another public advocate election, this time with partisan nominees unlike the February special election that Jumaane Williams won. Facing the Democrat Jumaane Williams will be Republican/Conservative Council Member Joe Borelli (District 51, Southern Staten Island) and Libertarian Devin Balkind.
  • With New York City’s first ever early voting period underway, parents and educators are complaining that more than half of the sites chosen for early voting are schools, creating operational challenges for school staff.
  • Council Member Ritchie Torres (District 15, Belmont) has already raised over $100,000 from real estate interests to support his 2020 congressional campaign to succeed Rep. José Serrano in NY-15.
  • A former chief of staff to Assembly Member Felix Ortiz (District 51, Sunset Park) pleaded guilty to stealing over $80k from the Assembly Member’s campaign coffers. Ortiz is facing a challenge from NYC-DSA’s Marcela Mitaynes in next June’s Democratic primary.

IN-DEPTH: Ballot Questions 2 & 3

Starting on October 26th (early voting is October 26th through November 3rd, and Voting Day is November 5th), New Yorkers will vote on five ballot questions that, if approved, will amend the City Charter. We covered Question 1 in last week’s issue of The Thorn. This week we are covering Questions 2 and 3, which address the Civilian Complaint Review Board and Ethics & Governance, respectively.

Ballot Question 2

Question 2 deals with the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), which investigates complaints against NYPD officers.

Current State of the CCRB

The Civilian Complaint Review Board is an independent agency responsible for investigating charges of police misconduct and abuse. The CCRB was in the news this year for its prosecution of Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who killed Eric Garner with an illegal chokehold in 2014. But the agency faces a number of limitations, some of which were illustrated in that case. For one, the CCRB can only make disciplinary recommendations to the NYPD; it cannot implement punishments itself. The NYPD can, and often does, simply ignore whatever recommendations the CCRB makes.

The CCRB is also forbidden from taking up a case unless a specific complaint has been filed, which many victims of police abuse are reluctant to do (and may not know they are able to). A lawsuit currently being brought by the police union, the Police Benevolent Association, aims to further restrict who can bring complaints. As a result, more than half of the deaths at the hands of police since Garner’s death have not been investigated by the CCRB.

Additionally, the CCRB has limited ability to compel cooperation from the NYPD in its investigations.

Proposed Changes

Ballot Question 2 attempts to empower the CCRB, although it falls short of what many activists have been pushing for, like an elected CCRB or giving the CCRB the power to enact punishments directly. All of the changes represent modest efforts to improve the Board’s enforcement abilities, but fall far short of the radical restructuring some say is needed. This ballot question contains five proposed amendments to the City Charter. Those amendments would:

Expand the CCRB from 13 to 15 members, and change how they are appointed. Currently, all 13 members are officially appointed by the Mayor, but the City Council nominates five (one per borough) and the Police Commissioner picks three. Under the proposal, the Mayor will keep eight seats (including the three reserved for the Commissioner), and the Council will appoint five directly. One member will be appointed by the Public Advocate, and the Chair would be appointed jointly by the Mayor and the City Council Speaker.

Tie the CCRB’s Budget to the NYPD’s Budget. Currently, the CCRB’s budget is decided every year in the City’s annual budget process. This proposal would mandate that, absent a budget crisis, the CCRB have a budget for a staff equal to 0.65% of the NYPD’s uniformed officers. (Currently, the NYPD has roughly 35,000 officers, which would translate to about 228 staff members for the Board.)

Require the NYPD Commissioner to Explain Any CCRB Recommendations That Are Ignored. Currently, the NYPD is free to accept or ignore the recommendations of the Board. Under the proposal, the Commissioner would have to inform the CCRB of whatever action is taken by the NYPD. If a recommendation is not followed, the Commissioner must provide a detailed, written explanation of the reasons, and has 45 days to report how the decision was made.

Permit the CCRB to Investigate Officers Who Lie to the Board. Currently, the Board has no power to investigate officers who make false statements in the course of a disciplinary investigation. As a result, reports of police officers lying to investigators are common. This proposal would allow the CCRB to investigate those officers and recommend disciplinary action against them.

Allow the Board to the Enforce Subpoenas. Currently, the CCRB can vote to issue subpoenas for evidence and testimony, but only at its infrequent meetings. The proposal would allow the Board to grant its Executive Director the power to issue subpoenas, allowing it to collect and preserve evidence in a more timely fashion.

Ballot Question 3

According to the Charter Revision Commission, Ballot Question 3 covers Ethics and Governance. If that sounds vague and all-encompassing - it’s because it is! This ballot question contains five proposed Charter amendments, which range fairly widely in impact and area.

Proposed Changes

Prohibit City elected officials and senior appointed officials from lobbying the City agency for which they worked for two years. The Charter currently prohibits all former public servants from appearing before the City agency where they worked for one year following the end of their service. A handful of senior officials face a stricter ban, such as elected officials and the heads of some City agencies. This amendment would extend these bans from one to two years for certain officials (specifically, elected officials, deputy mayors, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the Corporation Counsel, the Commissioner of the Department of Finance, the Commissioner of the Department of Investigation, and the Chair of the City Planning Commission).

Change the membership of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) by replacing two of the members appointed by the Mayor with one member appointed by the Comptroller and one appointed by the Public Advocate. COIB is a City agency responsible for interpreting, administering, and enforcing City law regarding government integrity and city officials’ ethics. COIB is comprised of five appointed members (who are assisted by staff). Currently, all five members are appointed by the Mayor and are then approved by a City Council vote.

Given its role in regulating and enforcing government ethics, the Charter Revision Commission argues that it should be independent from any single appointer. The Comptroller and Public Advocate are both elected citywide, independently of the Mayor. Giving two of the Mayor’s COIB selections to these positions would diversify the COIB appointers and give more power to the other two citywide electeds. Appointments made by the Comptroller and Public Advocate would still be subject to City Council approval.

Prohibit members of COIB from participating in campaigns for local office and reduce the maximum amount of money they can contribute to those campaigns. Lobbyists and people who have business with the City currently face restrictions on their ability to make local campaign donations. For example, they have lower contribution limits and their contributions cannot be matched with public funds. This proposal would impose the same restrictions on COIB members, and prohibit them from participating in local campaigns.

Require that the citywide director of the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program report directly to the Mayor and that the supporting M/WBE office continue to exist within the Mayor’s Office. The M/WBE program is intended to promote government contracting opportunities to minority and women-owned businesses. For the past six years, responsibility for this program has been held by the M/WBE Director, who reports directly to the Mayor, and the Director’s work has been supported by the Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises (OMWBE). However, there is not currently a requirement that this continue in the future. The Charter specifies some offices and officials that must be housed within the Office of the Mayor. While the Mayor can choose whomever they like to fill those roles, the roles must exist. Other roles within the Office of the Mayor exist entirely at a particular Mayor’s discretion. For example, Mayor de Blasio’s Office to Protect Tenants is not mandated in the Charter, and thus may not be continued in the next administration.

The Charter does specify that the M/WBE Director must exist, but it does not specify who this position should report to or that the OMWBE exist. Theoretically, a future Mayor could choose to change the reporting structure and eliminate OMWBE. This amendment would codify the M/WBE Director’s reporting structure and OMWBE.

Require that the City’s Corporation Counsel, currently appointed by the Mayor, also be approved by the City Council. The Corporation Counsel is the head of the Law Department and serves as the attorney for the City, including the Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, City Council, and every City agency. Among other things, the Law Department represents the City in all litigation, drafts and reviews legislation, and provides legal counsel to City bodies. Currently, the Mayor appoints the Corporation Counsel and can remove them at will (i.e., whenever, without giving a reason). Despite the Corporation Counsel serving as the City Council’s (and the rest of the City’s) lawyer, the City Council has no role in approving the Corporation Counsel’s appointment. In fact, the City Council is required to approve only a handful of mayoral appointments. This is distinct from every other major city in the country, where the city council is required to approve most important mayoral appointments. The legislature’s approval is also mandated at the federal level, where the Senate must provide advice and consent for major Presidential appointments.

Some City Council members and other City officials have noted that the Corporation Counsel very often sides with the Mayor in disputes between City entities. In one glaring example, the Corporation Counsel represented Mayor Rudy Giuliani in his attempts to sue and limit funds to the Brooklyn Museum after seeing “offensive” art there; nearly every other City official opposed the Mayor on this. This proposal would give the City Council a role in appointing a critical City official, and somewhat limit the Mayor’s control of the position. This could help make the Corporation Counsel more neutral in disputes between City entities.

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