Two important neighborhood initiatives have moved steadily through the process of community input over the past few years only to have plans upended recently by our elected executives. For the upcoming L Train repairs and East River Park rebuild, what we are left with right now are a lot of questions.
East River Park
After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, federal funds were allocated to build flood protection for lower Manhattan. Because of the vulnerability of Con Ed at East 14th St, and flood-prone neighborhoods of the East Village, the waterfront from East 23rd St. to Montgomery was prioritized and plans were developed over years with plenty of community involvement.
But at the end of last year, the Mayor’s office announced some significant engineering changes to the plan and, for the first time, proposed a real timetable for the project, which included the entire park being closed for the duration of new construction, estimated to be three years.
The immensity of this project is finally hitting home, and community members are demanding more answers. Council member Carlina Rivera has pushed for a hearing a City Council hearing on the project on January 23, starting at 1:00 pm at City Hall.
L Train shutdown
Governor Andrew Cuomo has declared there will be no L Train shutdown, instead proposing repairs take place on nights and weekends. New York City Transit president Andy Byford told CB3’s Transportation Committee this week that Cuomo’s plan needs to be vetted through independent engineers and a full safety review before getting approved. So the fate of the shutdown is still unknown.
If Cuomo’s plan does go through, a lot of local questions will have to be answered again. Will the Williamsburg Bridge still be limited to HOV and bus traffic? Will the Clinton Street approach to the bridge still be closed?
With Letitia James becoming New York State Attorney General on January 1, there’s an opening for her old job, NYC Public Advocate.
A special election will be held on Tuesday, February 26 for this city-wide position. The list of candidates may be long and turnout will be low, so your interest and involvement in this race carries a higher degree of consequence than usual.
Grand Street Democrats will be hosting a candidate forum at Manny Cantor Center on Tuesday, January 29 (after which our voting members will decide whether or not to endorse any candidate for the special election).
If you would like a preview of the race this week, you can attend another candidate forum hosted by Village Independent Democrats on Sunday, January 6 at 2:00 pm. You can RSVP for that event here.
Thanks to everyone who came out Tuesday night to Eastwood — you made our first holiday party a big success!
We were so proud to be able to honor Linda Jones and Michael Marino, two local heroes who have donated countless hours on the Community Board and in the neighborhood. We particularly wanted to acknowledge their contributions to Seward Park and Corlears Hook Park, which have never looked better and are in store for more improvements thanks to their hard work.
Thanks also to our Hosts for the evening, who contributed more than absolutely necessary to help us close out our first year:
Councilmember Margaret Chin
District Leader Caroline Laskow
District Leader Paul Newell
We were honored to be joined by elected officials from our neighborhood — Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer — plus a few not from our neighborhood, along with many of the judges and candidates for civil court and supreme court we were able to meet during the year.
Andrew Cuomo will appear as the nominee of four different parties on Tuesday’s ballot. But only by voting for him on the Democratic line can you help increase the number of delegates our neighborhood gets to Democratic Party conventions, increasing your influence on important local elections.
For example, when there is a vacancy to fill in the NY Assembly or State Senate (as has happened for us twice in the last three years), delegates to the convention to select a successor have a weighted vote based on how many votes were cast for Governor on the Democratic line in their election district. Something similar is true for delegates to the judicial convention for NYS Supreme Court.
So more votes for Governor on the Democratic line give our neighborhood a stronger voice at these decisive party conventions.
The New York City Charter serves as our local constitution, creating a structure for City government.
Amendments to the Charter can be proposed by a Commission established by the Mayor or City Council, then must be approved by referendum.
There will be three Charter revision proposals on Tuesday’s ballot, proposed by a Mayoral Charter Revision Commission. Grand Street Democrats members voted to make the following recommendations:
YES on Proposal 1
This proposal would amend the City Charter to lower the amount a candidate for City elected office may accept from a contributor. It would also increase the public funding used to match a portion of the contributions received by a candidate who participates in the City’s public financing program.
NO on Proposal 2
Civic Engagement Commission
This proposal would amend the City Charter in several ways to create a new, vaguely defined, Civic Engagement Commission under the Mayor’s authority. The Commission would have a few appealing responsibilities that are already managed by other offices and would be an unnecessary addition to the City’s bureaucracy.
NO on Proposal 3
This proposal would impose term limits for community board members and would, in conjunction with Proposal 2, supplant local land use advisors on each community board with advisors from a central pool. Term limits for volunteer members would weaken community boards by eliminating years of local experience. Centralized land use advisors would be more likely to advocate for Mayoral political priorities without consideration for the the local community.
Elected members of the Manhattan Democratic County Committee gathered last night at City College to consider several changes to the Committee’s governing rules. All rules changes proposed by the Rules Committee — presented and voted on as one package — were approved.
The one potential amendment not recommended by the Rules Committee and therefore not considered last night was the most contentious one, to prohibit the County Leader from being a registered lobbyist or working for a company whose business is lobbying. But with the rules changes that did pass, proposing new rules changes for subsequent meetings becomes much easier, and it’s likely that the County Committee will be asked to vote on this prohibition next year, before County Leader Keith Wright is up for re-election.
These rules changes have no impact on the national political drama most of us are consumed with. But they do directly address the flawed process by which we selected a new State Senator after Dan Squadron resigned in 2017 — elected County Committee members in Manhattan now have even more say in the selection of Democratic nominees for vacated State Assembly and State Senate seats.
The rules changes also help make the Manhattan Democratic Party more open, accessible, and available to change. For many of us, it’s important that our own party institutions reflect our small-d democratic values. In New York City, the Manhattan Democratic Party is leading the way on internal progressive reform.
The New York County (Manhattan) Democratic Committee will meet on Monday, October 29 for its annual meeting. On the agenda this year are several rules changes that were part of a contentious meeting last year (following a controversial process to select our own State Senate candidate). Grand Street Dems County Committee members (elected in 2017, up for re-election in 2019) will attend the meeting and vote on these proposed new rules.
On Monday, Oct 29 the Manhattan Democratic County Committee will meet at Aaron Davis Hall (City College) to consider proposed changes to the Party Rules. There are several changes being proposed, several of which are minor corrections.
Most changes are expected to pass with flying colors. However, there is significant controversy regarding a change to ban lobbyists or people whose employer’s primary business in lobbying, from being County Leader. A full discussion is the last item in this report.
You can read all of them in their original language here. Below, however, are the major substantive changes:
Meetings to the full County Committee will be require notification by USPS mail and e-mail for any County Committee members designating a preferred email address. Additionally, notice for the first meeting after County Committee elections has been increased from five days to seven. Notice of all other meetings remains at 10 days.
There are some minor changes in timing for notices to Executive Committee members regarding Executive Committe meetings but these are largely irrelevant to most folks so I won’t delve into them here.
Posting of County Committee Member List Online
The new rules would require the list of all County Committee members – elected and appointed – to be published online at the Manhattan Democrats website. However, it would only include names and Assembly/Election Districts. Home address information would still be filed with the Board of Elections, but would not be made accessible on Manhattan Democrats outlets.
Subcommittees of the County Committee
The proposed changes leave all existing subcommittees of the full County Committee – Executive, Credentials and Rules – while moving the Ethics Subcommittee from Executive Committee jurisdiction to the full County Committee.
Ethics Committee Improvement
As mentioned, the Ethics Committee will be changed from a subcommittee of the Executive Committee, run by the District Leaders, to a subcommittee of the full County Committee.
The subcommittee will consist of five members who shall be nominated by the County Committee Chair with approval of the County Committee or Executive Board. Eligible membership excludes the Party Leader (Chair of the Executive Committee) and is limited to one member of the Executive Committee and one Officer of the County Committee. Therefore a minimum of three members must be regular County Committee members. The members may be removed by the County Chair for “substantial” neglect of duty, incapacity or misconduct.
The Committee is empowered to employ counsel, consultants and any necessary staff within a budget set by the full County Committee. It is empowered to decide its rules of procedures and any rules for appeal of its decision internally.
Removal of Executive Committee Subcommittees
All but three subcommittees would be eliminated under the new rules leaving only: Judciary, Law and Young Democrats.
Being removed are several unused committees. Arguably they should be used, but in an absence of engagement are being struck. The include the subcommittees on: Policy, Public Relations, Campaigns and Governmental Affairs.
You read the description of all of those committees in the Rules Committee Report. The Executive Committee can still create temporary subcommittees as it deems necessary.
Agenda Setting Requirement
The requirement for adding items the agenda of a County Committee meeting has been drastically slashed.
Original requirement: signatures of 500 members, including 25 members from at least 10 Assembly Districts
New requirement: signatures from 90 members, with just 15 from 6 different Assembly Districts.
Agenda items are required to be submitted at least 10 days before the next meeting and signatures are required to be no more than 60 days old at the time of submission.
Cross-County Vacancy Filling
If you’ve taken a (Real) Politics 101, you know that in the event of a vacancy for public office, the County Committee decides who shall be the Party’s nominee in a special election (unless you live in Queens, in which District Leaders do it).
In reality, that is a general case when a district resides wholly within one county (borough). If a district stretches across multiple counties, the decision is actually made by the Party Leader or Chair of the Executive Committee of each County Party whichever is higher ranking. That is to say, one person.
This rule binds the decision of the Manhattan Leader in the following ways:
1. If Manhattan has the majority of County Committee votes in an intercounty district, the County Leader MUST cast 100% of Manhattan’s votes for whoever receives the most votes in a Manhattan County Committee vote.
2. If Manhattan does not have the majority of County Committee votes in an intercounty district, the County Leader will be guided by a County Committee vote, but may cast Manhattan’s votes in any proportion he/she sees fit.
Banning Lobbyists from County Leadership
This rule change would disallow anyone who is a registered lobbyist, or whose employer’s business is primarily lobbying, from serving as the Manhattan County Leader.
There are strong passions on both sides of this issue. Not least because it would ban the current Manhattan Leader, Keith Wright, from running for Leader at the next County Leadership elections in 2019. Though Wright is not a registered lobbyist, he works for a firm, and in a department, whose primary business is lobbying. The fate of this rule has turned into a serious drama.
For and against
The point of such a rule change is obvious, it ideally prevents the corrosive influence of a Leader’s personal financial interests from driving Democratic Party decision making and policy.
However, opposition from some has been strong, arguing that banning lobbyists would exclude a large set of qualified individuals who may work for good causes – including non-profits, labor unions and advocacy groups. Opponents further argue that lobbyists undergo strict reporting requirements, making them more trustworthy and transparent than other allowed occupations such as hedge fund managers, bankers or real estate developers who clients or interests can be opaque.
Ultimately, though, while many occupations can have incentives that tie into issues or politics, very few do so in a way which is related to the intricately local politics over which a County Leader exercises political influence. Lobbyists are uniquely linked with our local politics, which is why we require them to disclose in the first place.
A possible compromise
In order to quell opposition and ensure passage, an amendment which would exempt the current County Leader has been proposed by some reform leaders and accepted by most reform proponents.
A dream deferred
Despite the the existence of a viable compromise which could see the Manhattan County Party banning lobbyists from its highest office, the Party’s Law Chairs have said that such an amendment is out of order at the next County Committee meeting. According to election law, proposed rules changes MUST be submitted to the County Committee members in writing at least five days in advance of any vote. Given that time has already passed, the Law Chairs, who are conducting the meeting, will likely bar any attempt to amend the resolution.
This, then, raises a second question. The Rules Committee voted in favor of all the proposed rule changes except the banning of lobbyists. Some are arguing that means the proposed changed cannot come to the floor. Others believe that all proposed amendments must come before the County Committee and a “no” vote of the Committee simply constitutes a recommendation to vote no on the new rule.
Should the amendment come to the floor during the County Committee meeting it will cause significant contention. But, should it be kept from the floor, or should it fail, there is a failsafe – the changed rule could be referred back to the Rules Committee and the matter placed on the agenda for the next meeting of the County Committee by a vote, or by using the new, easier process for adding agenda items by petition (assuming it passes). Either way, passing the amendment at this meeting or the next one makes minor difference as Keith Wright will stay Manhattan Leader regardless.