- With ink on the 2017 state budget barely dry, sniping began between New York politicians about the compromises made to get it passed. The budget, which has far reaching implications for residents of New York City, has been decried by Councilmember Jumaane Williams (Flatbush) as nowhere near progressive enough to meet the needs of city residents.The budget gives Cuomo additional power by creating a new inspector general with a focus on transportation, and allows him to nearly unilaterally craft a “federal funding response plan” in response to budget shortfalls stemming from federal cuts.
- A whole host of questions surround the version of the “Raise the Age” bill that Cuomo signed last week, including whether the Family Courts will see additional funding to accommodate the expanded caseload, what the new “Youth Courts” will look like, and where exactly juvenile offenders will be held. There’s also conflict between the law and De Blasio’s timeline for moving juveniles off of Rikers Island.
- New York State Assembly Democrats are frustrated with the Independent Democratic Conference, potentially looking to Cuomo to help reunite Senate Dems. The state budget battle only served to increase the already heavy scrutiny of the IDC and potential backlash against IDC members will likely be a major factor in 2018 State Senate elections with potential challengers to IDC pols already starting to organize.
- In the same week, New York City Council and the State Attorney General introduced legislation designed to protect tenants from harassment from landlords, both focused on expanding the definition of harassment to include non-physical threats such as repeated buyout offers and cutting off utilities.
- A leaked memo highlights City Hall’s doubts regarding the financial feasibility of the BQX streetcar and questions whether the plan, which was designed to inflate property values on the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, will raise enough revenue to pay for itself.
- After both news sites were bought and merged by Trump-supporter billionaire Joe Ricketts, workers at DNAinfo and Gothamist have voted to unionize, with a blessing from the Mayor.
- The developers of the Bedford Union Armory have come to an agreement with service workers union 32BJ to ensure that building workers are unionized when the development is ostensibly completed and occupied. Concerns about construction labor and affordability are still not resolved.
- A homeless shelter opened last month in Prospect Heights, apparently with general support from neighborhood residents, highlighting that shelters take on more political significance in neighborhoods that are already fighting battles over local lack affordability and community input.
- Constance Malcolm, mother of Ramarley Graham, filed a lawsuit against the NYPD to gain access to files related to the fatal shooting of her son in 2012.
- The South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance is hosting a series of candidate forums for the Democratic contenders in District 43 (Bay Ridge), starting with Khader El-Yateem this Tuesday, April 18th. On April 23rd, Rev. El-Yateem will be holding a public meeting to discuss his candidacy with community members.
- Ede Fox officially announced her candidacy for City Council in District 35 (Crown Heights), setting up a rematch of a close race in the 2013 Democratic primary. Fox made her announcement at the Bedford Union Armory and is planning to make affordable housing and the controversy over the Armory a key issue.
- Despite difficulty maintaining big dollar donors from the 2013 campaign, it doesn’t look like de Blasio will face stiff competition in this fall’s Mayoral race. City Limits has a handy round-up of all the current contenders.
- Bronx Democratic state senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. is joining the race for the 18th council district seat (Soundview, Castle Hill, Parkchester, Clason Point), in a wide open ticket for Annabel Palma’s term-limited seat. Diaz is known for his homophobia and support of Ted Cruz, and is the father of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.
In-Depth: Progressive Caucus
Why do they exist?
The City Council Progressive Caucus was initially organized in 2009 by Council Members Brad Lander (Park Slope) and Melissa Mark-Viverito (East Harlem) to create a left-liberal bloc within the homogeneously Democratic City Council, in opposition to then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Largely aligned with and supported by the Working Families Party (WFP), the Caucus now comprises 20 of the 51 Members of the City Council (48 of whom are Democrats).
Born out of the ashes of a brutal 2009 election season that saw Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn engineer a temporary term limit extension which allowed the Mayor to win a third term, the Progressive Caucus came to citywide ascendance in 2013. In the 2013 election, the Progressive Caucus and the WFP won major victories in the two top citywide offices, with Bill De Blasio winning the Mayoral election and Letitia James winning the Public Advocate seat. Furthermore, with the Caucus gaining seats on the Council, they were able to elect Mark-Viverito as Speaker in a coup against the previous system of unelected Democratic county bosses handpicking a speaker. The Progressive Caucus and WFP also made more room for organized labor at the table throughout this process.
What do they stand for?
It its short life, the Progressive Caucus has illustrated both the promise and the bounds of Democratic Party-approved progressivism in the City. De Blasio and Mark-Viverito’s control over both branches of city government have yielded genuine improvements such as universal pre-K, paid sick leave, and a plan to finally close Rikers. The Progressive Caucus recently released an impressive and comprehensive policy agenda for 2018, which includes Free CUNY, strengthening Sanctuary City protections, Fair Work Week legislation, and more.
However, Speaker Mark-Viverito still has not allowed the Right to Know Act to reach the Council floor, even though it is listed prominently in the 2018 agenda. Furthermore, Progressive Caucus members continue to take money from real estate donors, complicating their stated desires to improve housing affordability. And finally, only two members of the Caucus – Jumaane Williams (East Flatbush) and Ritchie Torres (Central Bronx) – endorsed Bernie Sanders last spring, while the others all publicly supported Clinton, including Caucus co-founder Brad Lander who justified his endorsement with this unfortunate bit of hand-wringing. While the Progressive Caucus has broken with some longstanding traditions of Democratic city politics in welcome ways, some rings are just too shiny to avoid kissing.
The Progressive Caucus’ standing in city politics following this fall’s municipal election remains to be seen. Establishment labor unions cut ties with the WFP during the 2014 gubernatorial race, threatening the party’s influence in local races and calling into question if/how the Caucus’ size will change after November. At least six prominent members of the Caucus, including Corey Johnson (Chelsea), Mark Levine (West Harlem), Julissa Ferreras (Corona), Ydanis Rodriguez (Washington Heights), Jimmy Van Bramer (LIC/Woodside), and Jumaane Williams, have publicly announced their intent to run for Council Speaker to replace the term limited Mark-Viverito.
A major sticking point in the Speaker race is likely to be the Right To Know Act, as a future Speaker could abandon Mark-Viverito’s pact with the Mayor to stifle the Act, which is close to having enough support for both of its bills to reach a veto-proof majority. As Mark-Viverito’s position illustrates, a Council Member’s allegiance to the Progressive Caucus may not guarantee their commitment to the Right to Know Act, and it is possible that the Mayor could intervene or seek new alliances with Democratic County leaders to ensure that a speaker is elected who will continue to hold the bills back. The Speaker field may narrow in the months before and after the election, but it is being speculated that the Caucus’ power could wane if it does not coalesce around a single candidate.