- The complex web of players involved in a dysfunctional attempt to add a bike lane to 111th Street in Queens as part of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative reveals the inner workings of a power struggle between the Queens Democratic machine, the Progressive Caucus, and a community board.
- The City Council Committee on Immigration held a public hearing on potential actions the city could take to counter the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. The committee was addressed by members of NYC’s immigrant community and representatives from legal advocacy groups including The Legal Aid Society, The Bronx Defenders, and Brooklyn Defender Services. Among the ideas discussed were barring ICE agents from being present at court proceedings and abandoning current NYPD policy of asking arrestees their country of birth as this information can be used by federal immigration authorities in finding targets for community raids.
- The City Council discussed the city’s Office of Civil Justice in a recent budget hearing. Though there was general consensus around the office’s priorities of providing affordable civil legal services to New Yorkers for housing and immigration issues, significant concerns arose regarding the office’s non-profit funding model.
- A settlement was reached this week in an ongoing effort to curtail NYPD spying, largely by adding a single civilian to a committee that oversees surveillance operations. A NY Times Editorial goes into the history of what are called the “Handschu Guidelines” for NYPD, and City Limits highlights the limitations of the latest settlement.
- Public pressure mounts for de Blasio to close Rikers Island in anticipation of next month’s release of a feasibility report on a potential closure and re-use of the site while expanding jails in other neighborhoods.
- City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is ready to “move on” after charges against de Blasio were dropped this week, closing an investigation into his campaign fundraising history, but other electeds are less optimistic that this controversy will be forgotten before the mayoral election this fall.
- Khader El-Yateem, who is seeking to become the first Arab and Palestinian-American on the New York City Council, currently leads all candidates in fundraising in the 43rd District, which covers Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach.
- In District 6, representing the Upper West Side in Manhattan, Mel Wymore is challenging Helen Rosenthal, after finishing second to her in the 2013 primary. Wymore would be the first transgender member of the City Council.
- A special election for the New York State Senate will be held in Harlem on May 23, to replace Bill Perkins, who recently left the Senate for the New York City Council. And now three outsider candidates are accusing the New York County Chairman of rigging the election to benefit his favored candidate by notifying others of the nominating convention.
- DSA member/endorsee, Black Lives Matter leader, and labor activist khalid kamau (seen here addressing attendees at the recent Young Democratic Socialist conference in Brooklyn) has been receiving support in his bid for City Council in South Fulton, Georgia from DSA members across the country in advance of this Tuesday’s special election. DSA chapters from as far as Washington DC and Sacramento, California have gotten behind khalid with phone-banking over the last week, providing an early look at the sort of organization DSA can bring to electoral politics.
- Former NYPD detective, TV personality, and occasional Fox News contributor Bo Dietl is officially launching his Mayoral campaign this week, as an Independent. He shares the catchphrase “Bo-lieve” with WWE wrestler Bo Dallas who is a “jobber,” someone who only loses. He has strong feelings about homeless people.
In-Depth: The People v. Uber and Lyft
Less than three months in, 2017 has already proven to be a tough year for the Public Relations department at ridesharing company Uber. Over 200,000 people actually #deletedUber in protest after Uber crossed the picket line during the JFK airport strike. Numerous female employees have spoken out recently about the sexism they experienced at work. CEO Travis Kalanick was pressured into stepping down from an advisory council to President Trump. He then had to apologize after being caught on tape yelling at an Uber driver (and dancing to Maroon 5). Reports are now being spread of many drivers across the country who are sleeping in their cars.
Uber is notorious for its poor treatment of workers. Legally, drivers are treated as though they are small businesses (independent contractors) and thus Uber is off the hook for health insurance, vehicular expenses/gas, and guaranteeing their workers minimum wage. The City Council of Seattle is fighting back – unanimously passing a law allowing rideshare workers to unionize. Of course, Uber is doing everything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen including serving anti-union podcasts directly to drivers in its app as a part of a year-long propaganda campaign.
Seattle wouldn’t be the first time Uber has used misinformation as a weapon in its battle against local governments. In 2016, Uber and Lyft joined forces, spending over 8 million dollars to convince voters in Austin, Texas that their City Council aimed to ban ridesharing entirely. In reality, Austin was simply proposing mild safety precautions. It remains a popular misconception that Austin kicked out Uber.
Lyft has been seeing an increase in popularity due to Uber’s recent image problems (thanks in part to some from prominent virtue signaling) but it is only marginally better. Taxis are often valorized, but the medallion system is problematic in its own right. Companies like Juno in NYC or RideAustin (a non-profit that quickly filled the vacuum when Uber and Lyft left Austin) are genuine improvements for workers but don’t address the inherent costs to the public at large of ridesharing - especially when compared to public transportation.
Why this matters: Despite public perception that ridesharing is a net positive for a city’s transportation infrastructure, a recent study shows that issues regarding traffic such as gridlock are exacerbated in NYC by ridesharing companies. While the overall population of NYC rises, use of subways and buses are going down. The MTA is already cash-strapped from the lingering effects of Superstorm Sandy. Ridesharing companies undermine support of public transportation by artificially keeping prices low and wages high (thanks to a surplus in venture capital funds) until the infrastructure is dependant upon them - then drastically lowering wages and using enormous sums of money to wage wars against local governments that try to fight back. Investing in a robust public transportation infrastructure that works for all citizens (as opposed to allowing gaps to be filled by private ridesharing companies) is an objectively more efficient use of resources from an economic, environmental and ethical perspective.