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Bill de Blasio’s Elusive City Council Papers Raise More Questions Than They Answer

If Democratic primary winner Bill de Blasio is elected New York City’s next mayor in November, one of his jobs will be to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in fines from the citizenry.

As a New York City councilmember representing Brooklyn from 2002 to 2009, however, de Blasio made a habit of trying to fix tickets for his constituents, repeatedly writing letters to agencies such as the Parking Violations Bureau and the Environmental Control Board throughout his tenure.

The revelation emerged in a Village Voice review of de Blasio’s City Council papers filed in the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College—and it comes with a heaping helping of political intrigue.

Under the New York City Charter, once records enter the archive, they are to be accessible to the public and to remain in the collection forever.

“Records of historical, research, cultural or other important value shall be transferred to the municipal archives for permanent custody,” reads the charter.

For at least a year beginning in December 2011, however, approximately 17 boxes containing the council papers of mayoral candidates de Blasio and John Liu were removed from the archives and made inaccessible to the public for reasons that remain murky.

The intrigue began innocuously enough in November 2011, with a routine request from a New York City resident to view the de Blasio and Liu files. At the time, neither man had declared for mayor, but it was clear both would run in 2013.

The archive complied initially with the citizen’s request, but records indicate that on December 13, 2011, archives officials removed all the files and sent them to the office of general counsel Elizabeth Fine, the City Council’s top lawyer.

And there they sat.

Fast-forward to September 3 of this year, when the Voice requests to view the documents. The following day, LaGuardia archivist Douglas Di Carlo responds via e-mail, saying he’ll have to consult the council as to whether the papers contain “private information,” writing that “[t]he City Council has required review of Council Members Papers in the past, prior to researcher access.”

When the Voice reminds him that there is no provision in the City Charter for the review of records once they have been added to the permanent archive, Di Carlo reverses himself, relaying that the council has green-lighted access.

Why, then, were the records made inaccessible in December 2011, under similar circumstances? Di Carlo maintains that the papers are the property of the council. “When they want to take papers out, they can,” he says during a subsequent telephone interview. “It’s the council’s decision, and I can’t speak to why.”

Asked whether other councilmembers’ files have been removed, Di Carlo ends the conversation, saying, “I don’t feel comfortable with answering so many questions about this. I think you should speak with the council’s attorneys.”

Elizabeth Fine referred the Voice‘s request for comment to council spokesman Jamie McShane.

McShane says it was the archivist, not the council, who initially raised the concern that some of the records in his care might include private content. “The archivist had concerns about personal information and constituents’ privacy,” McShane says, adding, “Neither de Blasio nor Liu had any role in it.”

McShane explains that Fine’s office consulted with the New York City Law Department and decided to treat the December 2011 request as a normal inquiry under the state’s Freedom of Information statute.

He says no documents were taken out or altered while the records were in the council’s care. He acknowledges that there was an undue lag in returning the records to the archives, calling it “an administrative delay that shouldn’t have happened.” (Precisely when Fine returned the boxes is unclear. A document in the archive indicating when the files were removed contains a space for the return date—but that space is blank.)

The current episode recalls a higher-profile controversy at the end of Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral administration. As the Voice‘s Wayne Barrett reported in 2002, Giuliani made a secret agreement with the archive that allowed him to squirrel away his papers under the aegis of a separate nonprofit.

The move brought sharp criticism from archivists and from the state Committee on Open Government, whose director, Robert Freeman, accused the former mayor of violating state law.

At the time, Giuliani claimed the papers would be used to create a “Rudolph W. Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs.” (To this day, no such entity exists.) About four years later, in 2006, Giuliani’s papers were restored to the possession of the municipal archives—though what happened to them in the interim remains a mystery.

Of course, as an employee at the archive tells the Voice, staffers there have no way of determining whether anyone tampered with the de Blasio and Liu papers, as the documents have not been indexed. Moreover, before the records were first sent to the archives, they would have been reviewed. Why they needed to be reviewed again in 2011 and held outside the archives for a year or more remains a mystery.

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“In essence, they got two bites at the apple,” the employee says. “What they did with them when they took them, we wouldn’t know.”

De Blasio spokesman Dan Levitan says no one from the candidate’s staff in the Public Advocate’s office or the campaign was involved in pulling the council records. Levitan adds that the campaign was unaware the records had been removed.

Liu’s campaign office did not respond to a request for comment.

The de Blasio papers are notable as much for what isn’t in them as for what is.

One glaring example: The files that contain letters from constituents, which are arranged alphabetically, only go up to H.

Curiously, the nine boxes that comprise the former councilman’s files include only a handful of communications—e-mails, letters, memos—authored by the man himself.

Still, the documents contain some interesting insights into the man who might be New York’s next mayor.

For one thing, de Blasio made repeated attempts on behalf of constituents to get parking tickets and garbage fines reduced or dismissed altogether.

• In June 2005, the councilman sent an e-mail to the Parking Violations Bureau on behalf of Jeff Getz, who’d been ticketed for double parking. “I recognize that double parking is illegal, however, as you know, double parking during street cleaning has long been an accepted practice in New York City,” de Blasio wrote.

• A month earlier, in May, de Blasio had made a similar plea for Blima Glustein. “I hope you will consider the circumstances when reviewing Ms. Glustein’s case and show her leniency,” he wrote.

• Writing on behalf of Imre Friedlander and other residents of 40th Street who had been ticketed by the Department of Sanitation, de Blasio wrote that he was “incredulous” that tickets were issued in the first place. In Friedlander’s case, he accused the city employee of “never leaving his car” to write up the violation.

• In January 2006, de Blasio wrote a letter in support of Bracha Breiger, who had been ticketed by the Department of Transportation for a parking violation. Breiger tells the Voice that the fine was dismissed without a hearing. “I think his letter helped,” she says.

Separately from the archival files, the Voice obtained the text of two decisions in which judges for the Parking Violations Bureau, ruling in favor of the defendant, cite de Blasio’s letters.

Ticket fixing in New York City is nothing new—some might call it a time-honored tradition. On the other hand, in 2011, the Bronx District Attorney’s office opened an investigation into the practice, ensnaring dozens of officers in the New York Police Department and going so far as to indict some of them.

When the scandal went public, de Blasio was a vocal critic of the practice. As the city’s incumbent public advocate, he called for a fuller investigation and even accused the NYPD of fixing domestic violence cases.

(Then again, in May 2011, de Blasio, in his role as public advocate, complained to NYPD transportation chief James Tuller about Williamsburg residents whose cars were ticketed and towed for parking in a no-standing zone during Passover.)

Two years ago, in a statement issued at the height of the scandal, Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, pointed out the hypocrisy inherent in politicians’ criticism of the NYPD for fixing tickets. Throughout his 30-year career, Mullins said, “It has not been the least bit unusual to get calls from . . . elected officials, members of the judiciary, business executives, celebrities, athletes, physicians. These phone calls are as much a culture of the department as arresting criminals.”

In light of de Blasio’s letters, the Voice reached out to Mullins last week for comment. “There shouldn’t be a double standard,” the SBA president says now. “If a police officer is being arrested for it, but a councilman is doing this sort of thing, too, it’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Captains Endowment Association head Roy Richter tells the Voice, “My general thing on this is if on day one you punish a police officer with a warn and admonish, and then on day two indict him, that’s unfair. If it’s been a long-standing practice, you have to give people fair warning.”

Asked to comment about the contents of the de Blasio files and the ticket issue in particular, spokesman Dan Levitan responds that such communiqués are simply part of a councilmember’s job: assisting constituents who need help navigating the city’s bureaucracy.

Responding to Levitan’s “constituent services” description, Mullins says, “Call it what you want. What’s the difference? At the end of the day, there’s a process that the tickets have to go through. If it works for a public official, why not for a police officer?”

[

Even though he was the boss, de Blasio apparently saw himself as a constituent, too. He would often call the council office himself and ask his staff to look into things he spotted in his travels around the district.

De Blasio also has a mystical side. He wrote to then–New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein to extol the virtues of transcendental meditation, recommending that the discipline become part of the curriculum in city public schools. “The technique is strictly a mechanical, natural procedure that allows the mind and body to settle down to a deep state of rest,” he wrote Klein.

Other entries in the files suggest de Blasio has a tougher edge than his populist campaign and feel-good television ads suggest. For example, back in 2007, several constituents accused him of ordering a purge of members of Community Board 6 who’d voted against the Atlantic Yards development project that resulted in a new home in Brooklyn for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets franchise.

Nine board members were removed in May 2007 by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, including four who’d been appointed by de Blasio and fellow Councilman David Yassky. In an interview at the time with the New York Observer, de Blasio acknowledged that he had told Markowitz not to reappoint one of the board members, on the grounds that a vote against Atlantic Yards was a vote against affordable housing.

“I was stunned and very disappointed to learn that you had retaliated against the hard working and very professional CB 6 members,” wrote resident Sarah Flanagan.

Wrote Jon Yasgur, a fellow constituent: “Your actions are totally undemocratic and demonstrate a shameful coziness with developers.”

A third resident, John Ife, expressed “outrage”: “Your action is so redolent with the odor of arrogance . . . that it spits in the eyes of any semblance of democracy.”

De Blasio spokesman Levitan did not respond to a query about the so-called purge.

De Blasio has promised to raise taxes on the wealthy and touts his support for the middle class. But that’s not how landlord Jack Wallace saw him in 2004. In a letter to the councilman, Wallace urged de Blasio to reverse his support for a tax on absentee landlords. “It appears to me that I am being punished for my hard work,” Wallace wrote. “A majority of absentee landlords you and the council are hurting with your taxes and surcharges are the same hard working, knuckle scraping middle class individuals you profess to represent.”

De Blasio wasn’t above using his office to do favors for people close to him. In 2005, for example, he ordered his staff to help solve immigration problems for a man engaged to de Blasio’s Boston–based sister-in-law’s assistant.

“Mr. Jules has run into immigration problems which may complicate the upcoming marriage,” de Blasio wrote in a February 2005 e-mail. “Patrick and Kathleen—do you know any Haitian social service folks in the Boston area. . . . Mr. Jules needs proof he attended PS 399 . . . Thanks good people!”

He followed up with e-mails reminding his staff to help out. Staffers e-mailed the Department of Education several times to supply the necessary documentation.

Also in 2005, de Blasio used his influence to try to get a teaching fellowship on Staten Island for then-resident Dina Greenfield, whose husband, David Greenfield, would be elected to the City Council in 2010. Members of de Blasio’s staff spent time over a two-month period phoning schools on Ms. Greenfield’s behalf. (The couple has since moved to Brooklyn.)

“Hi Dina, I work for Councilmember de Blasio and I’ll be looking for job openings for you,” wrote staffer Kerci Marcello on July 19, 2005.

“FYI, I found David Greenfield’s wife another job opening (PS 107, grade 1),” Marcello wrote to her boss. “I’ll let you know how the interviews go.”

“We got Bill’s friend an interview at PS 8,” reported a de Blasio staffer.

Responded Marcello: “You rule.”

If de Blasio could get that kind of help on his own job hunt, he’d be a shoo-in come November 5.

grayman@villagevoice.com

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Bloomberg vs. Liu: Mayor Sues Comptroller Over Shelter Contracts

John Liu is in dead last in the race for New York City mayor, and it might be because he is spending a lot of energy battling Mayor Bloomberg. Maybe no one’s told him Bloomberg isn’t running this time?

Liu, the city comptroller, picked a fight with the mayor earlier this month when he rejected a pair of contracts the administration wanted to award to a company run by the mayor’s former commissioner of homeless services.

The contracts would have given Aguila Inc. $67.6 million to operate two city shelters, one on the Upper West Side and the other in the South Bronx.

The comptroller called Bloomberg out when he rejected the contracts in early July. “The administration’s homeless policies have failed both the homeless and communities asked to accept shelters, and it would be unconscionable to compound past errors with these faulty contracts,” Liu said in a statement.

Bloomberg was not happy about that. On Thursday, he made his displeasure known by filing a lawsuit in which he suggests that Liu’s rejection of the contracts amounted to an attempt “to usurp the mayor’s authority.”

The City Charter, Bloomberg’s lawyers will argue, says the comptroller can only void contracts when there is evidence of corruption.

Liu sassed the mayor on Twitter Sunday, like oh, so now you care about the City Charter

Liu may be wasting precious time on Bloomberg. Last week’s New York Times/Siena College poll put him squarely in last place among the major candidates, with just 7 percent of voters in his corner–well behind Quinn (27 percent), Weiner (18  percent), de Blasio (11 percent), and Thompson (11 percent).

Or maybe Liu is betting that running against Bloomberg will pay off. The same poll found that while a majority of voters approved of the job that Bloomberg has done, his endorsement would not affect the way they voted, while 28 percent said his support would make them less likely to support a candidate.

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Comptroller John Liu Picks Up Huge Labor Endorsement From DC37

In late 2009, after a tumultuous back-and-forth in contract negotiations, DC37 ended its support for Mayor Bloomberg–a leader whom they viewed as emotionally numb towards union layoffs and benefit cuts with the Great Recession settling in. For the 2010 mayoral election, DC37 switched from a mayor it once endorsed in 2006 to Democratic nominee Bill Thompson. New York City’s largest public union consists of over 121,000 members; with those numbers in mind, DC37 stands as a formidable force this November. And, last night, they chose their favorite in the post-Bloomberg detente: Comptroller John Liu.

The union has yet to release an official statement of endorsement, but it was discovered yesterday evening that the union’s assembly voted to endorse the comptroller. Executive Director Lillian Roberts made it clear in an earlier press release that the union sought to support a politician who truly cared about “neglected communities and the public workers that serve them.”

But why is the city’s largest public union endorsing a candidate who currently stands at 8 percent in polls?

As comptroller, Liu presents himself as the justice figure in city politics; his main job is to detect and eliminate corruption in all areas of government. It was his office that was responsible for uncovering the CityTime scandal in 2010–an event that sparked the fury of DC37 and other unions with the project’s huge ties to private contractors. To the municipal workers, he’s the defender and watchdog of the city’s finances.

Because the union doesn’t have time for Bloomberg, in effect, it has faltered in support for Christine Quinn, even after her victory two weeks ago on the paid sick leave bill. The endorsement of Liu is a huge loss for the council speaker and yet more evidence of the difficult position Bloomberg has placed her in with the Democratic base.

However, the labor force has failed to unite behind a single Democratic candidate, which may cost them at the polls. DC37 is the city’s largest public union, but numerous other unions have divided amongst roster lines, some throwing their support behind Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, while others sticking to a firm belief that Quinn is (and always will be) the frontrunner.

And, of course, who could forget the Weiner factor in all of this?

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Comptroller John Liu Gives Back His Campaign’s Dirty Cash

With the primaries in four months, this is probably a good idea.

By now, the controversy over John Liu’s run for comptroller in 2010 is an old wives’ tale in recent New York City scandal history. His campaign’s treasurer and one of its fundraisers set up straw donors–which is when a person illegally taps into another person’s cash funds and makes donations in their name. By doing so, they paid themselves thousands in fraudulent kickbacks. But don’t worry: Kustice was served earlier this month when the two were found guilty of campaign fraud in federal court.

As damage control, Liu has been trying to distance himself from that story since it happened, stating time and time again that he had no part in the scheme and could not have known about it. Naturally, the mayoral race has kicked that PR effort into high gear. According to his most recent campaign filings, it’s been discovered that Liu refunded every cent in his fundraising treasure chest left over from the scandal.

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Lie has returned $14,000 from 29 donations (ranging from $50 to $1,000) and a ton of unnecessary stress. The targets were all implicated in the trial and, although the refunded donations weren’t all from the straw donor scandal, Liu’s lawyer announced that a solid majority of them were.

In recent weeks, his campaign has blown past the $1 million mark and continues to grow in funds, extrapolating widespread support from Asian-American communities across the five boroughs. Luckily for Liu, that $14,000 appears to be a more symbolic gesture.

Good riddance.

[jsurico15@gmail.com/@JohnSurico]

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Which NYC Mayoral Candidates Think Spying on American Muslims is Unconstitutional?

On Sunday afternoon, seven mayoral hopefuls gathered for a forum co-hosted by the Arab American Association of New York (AAANY) and the Islamic Center at New York University. Community organizers hailed it as an historic moment. Nearly three weeks after the Boston bombings–and in the heat of the debate on civil liberties that ensued–moderator Errol Louis posed the question to the candidates: By a show of hands, which of you think the current NYPD surveillance program is unconstitutional?

John C. Liu and Reverend Erick Salgado, both Democrats, raised their palms in front of a room of roughly 400 members of the Muslim, South Asian, and Arab American communities. “How could you think it’s okay to surveil or spy on someone just because they’re Muslim?” Liu asked.

“It is counterproductive to alienate communities, because if you do that, it means a less-safe city,” Salgado added.

Not every mayoral candidate was present–many, Louis pointed out, turned down the invitation. Noticeably absent were Republican candidates, with the near-exception of Adolfo Carrión, a former Democrat turned Independent hoping to run on the GOP ticket.

Still, all candidates present–including Sal Albanese, Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, and John Liu–stressed the need for a new and different kind of relationship between the NYPD and the Muslim community, emphasizing zero tolerance for racial profiling. After the AP discovered in 2011 that the NYPD had been sending “rakers” and “crawlers” into New York cafes and mosques to monitor activity of the American Muslim community over the past decade, community organizations and civil liberties groups raised hell–hosting rallies, boycotts, FOIL requests, and “Know Your Rights” workshops across the city. Several NYPD-monitored Muslims in New Jersey also filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the surveillance program infringed on their civil liberties. That case, however, is still pending.

A report put out by CUNY’s CLEAR project in March qualitatively highlighted the Muslim community’s fear and mistrust of the administration and NYPD as a result of the program.

“Everybody I see in the mosque, if they act a little abnormal, I always wonder whether they’re an informant, or just a regular person,” a Muslim Sunday school teacher told CUNY researchers. “This is really sad: sometimes when we get converts, and they are finding all this interest in Islam, I start wondering if they’re an informant.”

Bill de Blasio laid out a three-point plan to address these concerns. “Just in this week, the mayor of this city gave a speech which I can only describe as fear-mongering, trying to resent the notion that if we respect people’s civil liberties, if we change the overuse of stop and frisk, that somehow it’s going to be a less-safe city,” he said. De Blasio went on to propose that the city implement a bill to prevent racial profiling, hire an inspector general for the NYPD, and find a replacement for current police commissioner Ray Kelly. De Blasio also criticized Christine Quinn for saying she would keep Kelly on board.

“I believe we can keep this the safest big city in the America and put policies in place that are going to bring the police and the communities back together,” Quinn replied, adding that she was for the inspector general bill. “But I do have concerns about giving the state court the potential to rule on issues of racial profiling. The federal court is involved in the Floyd case, as they should be. And I have concerns adding more courts into this will create confusing rulings where we already have court jurisdiction.”

In 2011, the White House released a paper outlining how the federal government might better community policing practices and partner with local organizations to prevent violent extremism. “Countering radicalization to violence is frequently best achieved by engaging and empowering individuals and groups at the local level to build resilience against violent extremism,” it read. “Rather than blame particular communities, it is essential that we find ways to help them protect themselves.”

“I think passing the banning of racial profiling is an important step for the community,” AAANY’s executive director Linda Sarsour told the Voice. “Right now, relations with the NYPD are not good. And if the NYPD tells you that they’re good, they’re only good with a few select members of our community.”

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What’s Wire Fraud Again? Everything You Wanted to Know About the John Liu Aide Scandal

On Thursday, two of John Liu’s former aides were found guilty in an illegal scheme to raise funds for Liu’s mayoral race. Want the simplest breakdown? Read on.

So, who are these people?

Xing Wu (Oliver) Pan is a real-estate developer and was a campaign fundraiser for mayoral hopeful John Liu, and Jia (Jenny) Hou served as Liu’s campaign treasurer. Hou, the daughter of one of Liu’s friends, was a mere 25 years old when she was charged, and paid just $27,678 by the Liu campaign while she was treasurer, according to the Daily News. Both Pan and Hou were convicted of engaging in a plot to funnel large funds from individual donors through “straw donors” and get matching funds from the city.

What were they actually charged with?

In 2011, the FBI arrested Pan on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of attempting to commit wire fraud, and in early 2012, those same charges were filed against Hou, along with obstruction of justice.

And then…

After two and a half weeks of trial and one day of deliberating, on Thursday a jury in federal court found Pan guilty of conspiring to commit wire fraud and attempted wire fraud. The jury found Hou guilty of attempting wire fraud (though not conspiracy), obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI.

I forget what wire fraud is.

Like regular fraud, with wires! No, it’s just fraud that’s been committed by phone or some other telecommunication device, as opposed to snail mail.

Explain what they were trying to do with straw donors.

Current campaign finance laws limit individual campaign contributions to $4,950. If you’re loaded, however, and really want someone to become mayor, you might feel that 5K is harshing your political influence buzz. Pan and Hou took in large donations from individual donors, then claimed they were actually smaller donations made by multiple people.

And the thing about matching campaign funds?

For donors over 18, the city will match campaign donations with $6 per dollar up to the first $175, if the candidate so chooses. A candidate can receive as much as $1,050 in matching donations from the city per donor.

How’d the FBI figure it out?

Through a good ol’ fashioned sting operation. In August of 2011, an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman gave Pan $16,000 towards Liu’s campaign. According to the original complaint, Pan used 20 straw donors to make $800 donations each, then paid them back with the FBI agent’s money. The FBI agent also testified that Hou instructed a campaign volunteer to forge the handwriting of donors on forms to the NYC Campaign Finance Board, that she offered to reimburse a donor, and discussed ways to conceal info about the straw donors, among other acts.

In other words…

“As the jury found, Jia Hou and Oliver Pan stuck a knife into the heart of New York City’s campaign finance law by violating the prohibition against illegal campaign contributions, all to corruptly advantage the campaign of a candidate for city-wide office,” US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

What happens now?

Pan faces a max sentence of 40 years, and Hou 45. Their sentencing date is September 20.

And Liu?

Though he’s been wiretapped and investigated over the past four years, Liu hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing. After a mayoral forum at a Brooklyn school last night, Liu held an emergency press conference about the verdicts. “I’m deeply saddened by the turn of events today,” he told reporters. “I continue to believe that Jenny’s a good person, and we will continue to ask the voters of this city for their support in my campaign to be mayor of New York City.”

Needless to say, this does not make him look good.

[Politicker][WSJ][Daily News][Times Ledger]

 

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Mayoral Hopeful John Liu Files Claims For Over $3M In Public Funds

Who knew the Comptroller would come somewhat close (read: nowhere near) to Bloombergian levels with his finances for City Hall?

After only announcing his official candidacy two weeks ago, the New York Post has reported that John Liu is in line for $3.4 million in public matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board for his campaign. Regardless of the fact that the agency is still investigating Mr. Liu’s comptroller campaign in 2009 – it is uncertain whether this will harm his public funding efforts in the future.

This amount runs off a six-to-one basis with small donors. So, against frontrunner Christine Quinn, who leads with over $600,000 in funds for matching purposes, Mr. Liu has gathered about $564,400 from mostly small-time donors, including his large Asian-American electoral base. With that being said, he’s reached $3.2 million – a total of which he has already spent a solid $1.2 million of, leaving him with $2 million in the bank.

However, even with the high amounts, Mr. Liu can still be considered the ‘grassroots’ candidates. He’s only collected 11 checks for the maximum citizen donation, which makes him an outlier amongst big time spenders like Quinn and Lhota. And, also, we cannot forget Mr. John Catsimitadis – the billionaire grocer of Gristedes fame.

Relativity states that, with him in the race, everyone’s a ‘grassroots’ candidate. Or the fact that Mayor Bloomberg’s money is nowhere in sight.

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Comptroller John Liu Will Officially Join Mayoral Race On Sunday

Looks like we have another candidate to keep in mind come November.

The New York Observer‘s Colin Campbell reports that multiple sources have told the publication that Comptroller John Liu will announce his bid for City Hall this Sunday. Like with Christine Quinn’s official video released a few days ago, the Democratic candidate’s announcement is no surprise for most spectators, as Mr. Liu has been making appearances at debates and talks for the coveted position.

And, akin to Ms. Quinn, this will be his first time running for Mayor. Also, the two will both have ground-breaking campaigns: Ms. Quinn’s as the first woman and openly gay individual and Mr. Liu’s as the first Asian-American. So many similarities.

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Although he won his Comptroller position with 76% of the vote, Mr. Liu will have to fight down critics left over from a federal corruption trial involving straw donorsfrom his campaign. And the fact that, because of this scandal, he has told the Associated Press that he could understand why this would disqualify him as a mayoral candidate.

But, for the blue team, Mr. Liu will be joining a cast of frontrunner heavyweights. Ms. Quinn’s already in, former Bloomberg challenger Bill Thompson has made it clear he’ll be running and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has already started seriously campaigning around New York.

On the other side, we’ve got ex-MTA-head Joe Lhota, billionaire grocer John Catsimatidis and homeless defender Greg McDonald.

Oh, and we cannot forget Adolfo Carrion – the third-party candidate who’s fighting to get on the Republican ballot.

There is the list of your future Mayor choices, New York. You have eight months to make a decision. Best of luck.

[jsurico15@gmail.com/@JSuricz]

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NYPD Seeks an Air Monitor Crackdown for New Yorkers

Damn you, Osama bin Laden! Here’s another rotten thing you’ve done to us: After 9/11, untold thousands of New Yorkers bought machines that detect traces of biological, chemical, and radiological weapons. But a lot of these machines didn’t work right, and when they registered false alarms, the police had to spend millions of dollars chasing bad leads and throwing the public into a state of raw panic.

OK, none of that has actually happened. But Richard Falkenrath, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for counterterrorism, knows that it’s just a matter of time. That’s why he and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have asked the City Council to pass a law requiring anyone who wants to own such detectors to get a permit from the police first. And it’s not just devices to detect weaponized anthrax that they want the power to control, but those that detect everything from industrial pollutants to asbestos in shoddy apartments. Want to test for pollution in low-income neighborhoods with high rates of childhood asthma? Gotta ask the cops for permission. Why? So you “will not lead to excessive false alarms and unwarranted anxiety,” the first draft of the law states.

Last week, Falkenrath made his case for the new law before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, where Councilman Peter Vallone introduced the bill and chaired the hearing. Dozens of university researchers, public-health professionals, and environmental lawyers sat in the crowd, horrified by the prospect that if this law passes, their work detecting and warning the public about airborne pollutants will become next to impossible. But Falkenrath pressed on, saying that unless the police can determine who gets to look for nasty stuff floating in the air, the city would be paralyzed by fear.

“There are currently no guidelines regulating the private acquisition of biological, chemical, and radiological detectors,” warned Falkenrath, adding that this law was suggested by officials within the Department of Homeland Security. “There are no consistent standards for the type of detectors used, no requirement that they be reported to the police department—or anyone else, for that matter—and no mechanism for coordinating these devices. . . . Our mutual goal is to prevent false alarms . . . by making sure we know where these detectors are located, and that they conform to standards of quality and reliability.”

Vallone nodded his head, duly moved by Falkenrath’s presentation. Nevertheless, he had a few concerns. When the Environmental Protection Agency promised that the air surrounding Ground Zero was safe, Vallone said, independent testers proved that such assurances were utterly false. Would these groups really have to get a permit before they started working? “It’s a good question, and it has come up prior to this hearing,” Falkenrath replied. “What I can assure you is that we will look extremely carefully at this issue of the independent groups, and get the opinion of the other city agencies on how to handle that, and craft an appropriate response.” And if people use these detectors without a permit, Vallone asked, do we really have to put them in jail? Afraid so, Falkenrath answered.

Councilman John Liu was considerably less impressed. Why, he asked, should a community group like Asthma-Free School Zones have to tell anyone, much less the police department, that they’re testing for air pollution? “We have no interest in regulating air-quality sensors around schools,” Falkenrath promised. “That’s not what this is about.”

“But then can’t we just get that in the legislation from the outset, as opposed to putting it in the regulations afterwards?” asked Liu.

That, said Falkenrath, was asking too much. “It becomes a very slippery slope, and it would then be possible for many other entities to sort of drive things through that loophole.”

And Liu was just the start of the critics’ parade. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said the bill aims to fix a problem that doesn’t even exist. “I cannot think of evidence or events in our recent past involving false alarms that would create any urgency for this sweeping legislation,” he said. “If Manhattanites have any anxiety related to this bill, it is the very marked anxiety that residents have about their air quality.”

Dave Newman, an industrial hygienist for the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, claimed that under this law, the West Virginia air-quality experts who tested the air after 9/11 would have been a bunch of criminals. Dave Kotelchuck, deputy director of the New York/New Jersey Education and Research Center, pointed out the absurdity of having police regulate and permit research science. “Think about industrial-hygiene folks who are going from Boston to Atlanta to measure, and have atmospheric detectors,” he said. “They land in LaGuardia and JFK. As soon as they land, because possession is a misdemeanor, they’ve committed a misdemeanor. They’re not going to test in New York City; they’re just travelling through. But possession, which is the way the law has stated it, alone is a misdemeanor—not use. Not attempting to make measurements—just possession. That is just unwarranted.”

After an hour of this, poor Peter Vallone looked shell-shocked. He had planned to fast-track this legislation—in fact, the law was supposed to have been voted on last week—but that was before the critics had heard about it. As the opposition mounted, Vallone pulled the proposed legislation just before the meeting’s end and agreed to give it a second look. “When I was first given a briefing only weeks ago, the potential problems did occur to me,” he said in a later interview. “But the extent of the opposition, on such short notice, was a bit surprising.”

But don’t think Vallone has given up or anything. He and his colleagues will try to accommodate all the concerns when they redraft the bill, he said, but one way or another, the cops are going to have this new power. “No one’s going to be completely happy in the end,” Vallone said, “but I think the police department gave some very impressive testimony on the stand, and also expressed a willingness to listen to concerns.” After all, if you let research scientists and community groups do their jobs, the terrorists will have already won.

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The Others

Money talks, and the Wongs and Muhammads of this world are speaking louder in New York City politics. From 1989 to 2001, the number of contributions to municipal campaigns from those two surnames quadrupled as the population of Asians—a broad category that includes people from the Middle East to the Far East—grew faster than any other group in the city. Yet the ethnic calculus of this year’s mayoral campaign is still limited to blacks, whites, and Hispanics, according to the Marist and Quinnipiac polls, which report results only for those three groups, omitting a tenth of the city’s people.

Yes, merely a tenth. “For us, we’re still not that big,” says John Abi-Habib, a person of Lebanese descent and a vice chairman of the Brooklyn Republican Party, who helped found a Middle Eastern political coalition eight years ago, “but then we have over 50,000 registered voters in this city.” And that number is growing, partly as a reaction to negative fallout from September 11. “The last four years, we must have registered thousands and thousands of people to vote,” Abi-Habib says, “and they see the importance of it because they know their voice has to be heard.”

The black-white-Hispanic-obsessed lingo aside, mayoral candidates in 2005 are hunting votes in neighborhoods where the signs might be in Arabic, Urdu, and Cantonese. “I think all the candidates are paying more attention to the Asian American vote—the existing Asian American vote as well as the fast-growing numbers of Asian American voters,” says City Councilman John Liu of Queens, where 50 percent of the city’s Asians live, composing 18 percent of the borough’s people.

Liu noticed that this year all four Democratic contenders showed up for a debate he set up, while in 1989 no campaign even replied to invitations to an Asian American forum. Elsewhere in the city, among the hundreds of council candidates are a few names from these emerging groups, like Dilip Nath and Renee Lobo in Queens and Naquan Muhammad in Brooklyn. City Council Speaker Gifford Miller has held two press events featuring high-profile Asian supporters, including York Chan, whom some refer to as “mayor of Chinatown.” And Virginia Fields got into trouble when a campaign mailer faked a photo featuring Asians.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign, meanwhile, boasts the backing of the Chinese-language Sing Tao newspaper, which the mayor’s campaign calls “the first-ever such endorsement in the paper’s 40-year history.” Bloomberg 2005 also has set up Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Bloomberg, a group headlined by a Korean from Long Island, an Indian American businessman from Queens, and a Pakistani dentist from Staten Island.

Ethnic labels are crude by definition: You’re black whether you just flew in from Senegal or are descended from slaves shipped to U.S. shores centuries ago. Latinos include light-skinned Cubans and Indian-blooded families from Ecuador. But the categories make some sense if common concerns affect the people they cover. And while Asian and Middle Eastern New Yorkers care about failing schools, high rent, rats, and all the usual urban woes, they also worry about things that other groups needn’t fear.

“There are lots of issues that Asian Americans share,” said Liu, “one being the immigrant experience, being relatively recent immigrant arrivals. And Asians also suffer from a perpetual-
foreigner syndrome, meaning that you could be a fourth- or fifth-generation Asian American but still somehow it’s difficult to believe that you’re an American. I get that: First they compliment me on my ability to speak English, and often I get asked, ‘Well, where are you from?’ and for some reason people refuse to take Flushing for an answer.”

For Arab and Muslim New Yorkers, there’s the added fear of profiling. “What’s different for us,” says Abi-Habib, “besides addressing taxes, crime, auto insurance—the difference to us is awareness: We need education for people in the public sectors so they understand when they talk to people they don’t label them.” Contrary to popular belief, Abi-Habib says, 75 percent of Arab Americans are non-Muslims.

It was Bloomberg’s signing of a 2003 order preventing police from asking about people’s immigration status that earned him the backing of dentist Mohammad Khalid, president of the Pakistani Civic Association, a Staten Island group that claims a membership of 1,000 families. “Generally,” Khalid tells the
Voice, “the administration right now is very helpful to our community.” So far, at least. What Khalid wants to see next is more Muslims in top city jobs and more Urdu and Arabic speakers in the schools’ ESL classrooms.

Those desires mirror what immigrants have always sought in New York. Other Asian neighborhood issues similarly mix the familiar with the ethnic-specific: At a June event at Confucius Plaza in Chinatown, Council Speaker Gifford Miller addressed street lighting, bird flu, truck traffic, and the fact, as Miller put it, “that Chinatown doesn’t have an arch.” In Flushing, signs are posted protesting a plan to build on a large municipal parking lot right off Main Street—an old-fashioned urban dispute articulated in a new language. “Where is our politician we voted for when we need them?” the signs ask.

A candidate’s outreach—or lack of it—can itself become an issue. Assemblyman Jimmy Meng, the first Asian American elected to Albany and a Fernando Ferrer supporter, says Bloomberg ignored Flushing the first three years he was mayor. On the other hand, Khalid says the mayor is the only candidate who has shown any courtesy to Pakistanis in the city.

Part of a candidate’s reluctance to reach out, if there is any, might be the potential pitfalls of leaving familiar campaign territory. Walking into a room of Arab Christians and referring to them as Muslims, for example, is a huge
no-no. So is saying “hello” in Mandarin when you’re in Cantonese-dominated Chinatown. Even where the communities exist can be hard to keep straight. Abi-Habib jokes that when they want to do an Arab New York story, “all the media go down to Atlantic Avenue. But they’re not anymore on Atlantic Avenue.” Instead, they are in Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Astoria, and Highland Boulevard on Staten Island.

But while missteps still occur, there seems to be progress. “Elected officials and other entities are becoming more savvy about Asian Americans,” says Liu, “and the fact that there’s no one descriptor that can be applied to everybody who’s Asian American, and even within the different ethnic groups there are some nuances.”

For instance, Meng says candidates stress different themes depending on which part of the Chinese community they are addressing. “If they come to Flushing, they talk education,” as well as business opportunities and street cleaning, he says. “They come to Chinatown, they start with immigration. Brooklyn? Immigrant issues.” The reason, Meng says, is that the immigrants in Flushing typically arrived earlier than their Chinatown counterparts or they have the concerns of more established residents rather than newcomers.

Of course, the communities themselves are always evolving. Liu says that many Asians who are citizens still don’t bother to register or, if registered, to vote. But that might be changing. He sees Asian New Yorkers getting engaged in this year’s campaign, mainly because politicians are bothering to engage them.

In a poll of Asian American voters in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens on Election Day 2004, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund found that 36 percent were first-time voters. AALDEF’s Margaret Fung expects a big Asian turnout in 2005, thanks to the availability of bilingual voting information and the increasing prevalence of Democratic Party membership. The Democratic share has been increasing since AALDEF began polling in 1988, she says, reaching 60 percent in the 2004 poll. In a Democratic town like New York, that could translate into augmented influence for Asians.