New York City Council
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Voters in forty percent of the city's 51 districts are looking at new names as they pick their council members – thanks mostly to term limits. In some key races for open seats, it's a battle of political power bases. And some incumbents are facing challenges that illustrate demographic shifts in neighborhoods.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn joins Brian Lehrer to talk about her State of the City address and the "middle class squeeze."
Monday, February 04, 2013
As the country celebrates civil rights icon Rosa Parks' 100th birthday, Brooklyn College professor Jeanne Theoharis explains why people often get her role in history wrong. Plus: a conversation on how redistricting and changing demographics will affect New York's city council elections; and CNN's Jake Tapper discusses the latest news out of Washington.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The New York City Council wants to make sure New Yorkers know exactly how much they’re paying at the pump. Lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would require gas stations to advertise their cheaper rates for customers paying with cash.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
By Kate Hinds
The New York City Council Transportation Committee met Wednesday to discuss a slate of bills designed to make life easier for New Yorkers who park.
Three bills are under consideration: Int. 762 would make it easier for vehicles to stand near a school or day care center; Int. 527 would require the DOT to post notice of permanent street sign changes that affect parking, and Int. 824 would make it expressly legal for homeowners to park in front of their own driveways -- something committee chair Jimmy Vacca called "a simple bill -- quite frankly, it should be a no-brainer."
That last idea didn't fly with Kate Slevin, the New York City Department of Transportation Assistant Commissioner testifying on behalf of the NYC DOT.
"It's unclear what issue the bill attempts to address," she said, adding it was "particularly troubling" that the bill, as written, could effectively provide 'blanket forgiveness" for a variety of parking violations.
Slevin also said the DOT wouldn't support the other two bills. The no-standing regulations near schools, she said, are necessary to protect children. And as for posting advance notice for permanent parking sign changes: Slevin said the DOT maintains over 1.3 million signs -- of which 20 percent are devoted to parking. Providing advance notice, she said, would "essentially double the workload" of staff people who change signage, which would result in increased costs.
Rather than debate if people should read signs, or signs about signs, the hearing first focused on a topic not on the agenda: prices, specifically an already-rescinded rate increase notice the DOT had sent out to people who use municipal parking facilities.
Jimmy Vacca, reading from the letter, said "Effective January 1st, the City Council has approved rate increases for all New York City DOT municipal parking facilities."
"This City Council never approved any rate increase," Vacca said, adding that the same letter had been sent out last year. "This is two years in a row that this is a mistake."
He took the occasion to argue for more Council control over parking regulations, and said he wanted the City Council to be brought in as a partner when it comes to parking rate increases -- not an afterthought. "I don't appreciate agencies telling me what they're going to do, after they've decided what they're going to do."
The often-tense hearing did deliver some choice exchanges that reveal a persistent tension in city transportation planning.
"What do people do who have cars in this city?" Vacca wanted to know.
"Well, luckily for us, we have a wonderful transportation system," said Slevin, "and less than 50 percent of the households in New York City own cars, so there's a lot of other options people use to get around town."
This did not placate Vacca.
"Some people who live in boroughs outside Manhattan do need a car," snapped Vacca. "I hate to break that to DOT. Some people who do not live in Manhattan, especially, need a car. We do not have mass transit options that you think we have, or that we should have."
Slevin told him the new municipal parking lot rates were going into effect in February 2013.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Mayor Bloomberg has signed off on a package of legislation designed to regulate the behavior of commercial cyclists.
The laws create civil penalties for businesses whose bicyclists fail to adhere to rules already on the books, like wearing reflective vests and helmets. It also requires commercial cyclists to complete a safety course, and revises the identification requirements for cyclists.
The New York City Council overwhelmingly passed the legislation earlier this month. The New York City Department of Transportation is currently going door-to-door to commercial businesses to make sure they understand the new requirements.
Starting in January, the DOT will begin issuing fines to businesses whose cyclists fail to comply with the new laws.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
(Elizabeth Spain - New York, NY, WNYC) New York's City Council overwhelmingly passed a package of four bills designed to give the Department of Transportation more enforcement power over delivery cyclists.
The legislation creates civil penalties for businesses whose bicyclists fail to adhere to rules already on the books, like wearing reflective vests and helmets. It also requires commercial cyclists to complete a safety course.
“New York is a city on the go and we want to keep it that way, but we must do so safely,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “Business owners are responsible for the safety of their employees and anyone else in the workplace ... We must all work together, along with the Department of Transportation and law enforcement, to make our streets safer. This is what this legislation aims to do.”
Civil penalties will give the DOT more power to issue fines and enforce the rules, which previously were criminal penalties and often not followed through on. Ticketing bicyclists for moving violations, like riding on sidewalks or running red lights, will remain under the purview of the New York Police Department.
The city's DOT has a six-person bike inspection team that's been going door to door to businesses on Manhattan's east and west sides. The inspectors' job right now is outreach and education; in 2013, however, they will begin enforcement.
A spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg says that he will sign the new legislation.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
By Kate Hinds
(UPDATED) New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is remaining mum on whether she'll back legislation to reform the way the NYPD investigates traffic crashes.
"As with all legislation on the day that it's introduced," said Quinn, "it will be referred to committee, I will review it, and it'll make its way through the legislative process."
Several New York City Council members have introduced a package of legislation that would broaden the number of crashes the New York Police Department investigates.
Current NYPD policy is to investigate traffic crashes only if the victim is dead or has suffered a life-threatening injury. And only members of the 19-member Accident Investigation Squad can conduct those inquiries.
Some 243 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2011. A TN investigation found that in "all cases where a driver kills someone — pedestrian, cyclist, other motorists, themselves — forty percent of the time, there’s not even a traffic ticket."
Council Member Brad Lander, who's co-sponsoring 'The Crash Investigation Reform Act,' says too few officers are dedicated to crash investigation. "We can train a lot more people to do that investigation work who are patrol officers or regular precinct cops," Lander said.
The bills and resolutions introduced into City Council would also require the NYPD to investigate serious -- not just deadly -- crashes; create a task force analyzing how crashes are investigated; broaden the NYPD's crash statistic reporting; and require the NYPD to collect insurance and ID information from drivers who injure cyclists.
These proposed reforms come five months after a bruising City Council hearing where NYPD brass defended the department's procedures.
"A broad set of people came out of that hearing feeling really troubled," said Lander. He said that he, Peter Vallone, and Jimmy Vacca -- three council members who haven't always agreed on transportation issues -- see eye on eye on this one.
The NYPD did not return a request for comment.
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
By Kate Hinds
Let's go back in time to December 2010. The city's tabloid editorial pages are just beginning to sink their teeth into the transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, for -- among other things -- her avid support of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas. In Brooklyn, well-connected residents are preparing to sue to remove a bike lane.
On December 9, New York's City Council holds a standing-room-only, overflow-room-inducing, five hour-plus hearing on bikes and bike lanes in New York City. Bronx councilman James Vacca, who chairs the council's Transportation Committee, kicks things off first by warning the crowd to be polite, then sets the stage by pointing out "few issues today prompt more heated discussion than bike policy in New York City."
In the hours that followed, he was proven correct: Sadik-Khan was grilled, interrupted, and accused of ignoring the will of the public, prevaricating, and acting by fiat.
And she was put on the defensive, repeatedly exclaiming "That's what we do!" when yet another council member excoriated her for not soliciting sufficient community input.
At one point, Lewis Fidler, a council member from Brooklyn, told Sadik-Khan her answer was "kind of half true. I don't say that to be snooty. I say it because I think maybe you're not aware."
And then he reeled himself him. "This is not like you've got to be for the cars or you've got to be for the bikes or you've got to be for the buses. It's really not...the cowmen and the farmers can be friends."
The mood at this week's Transportation Committee hearing, held in the same hearing room as the 2010 hearing -- and with many of the same players in attendance -- was markedly different.
"I want to first off say thank you to the agency," Fidler started, before launching into an encomium. "Quite frankly I don't always get the answer I like from DOT, but we get a lot of answers from DOT. And they're very responsive, your agency, your Brooklyn office continues to be a very responsive one."
He then waxed on about major construction work going on on the Belt Parkway -- a roadway almost entirely in his council district. "I will say for a project of that size to have gone on, without my getting repeated complaints from constituents -- that says something all by itself, and the work that's been completed looks really good."
Back in 2010, Fidler's questioning of Sadik-Khan was one of that hearing's most contentious exchanges, with the two of them repeatedly interrupting each other. Fidler at that time told Sadik-Khan that her answers were "half true;" he later accused the DOT of failing to solicit community input on bike lanes -- a charge Sadik-Khan repeatedly denied.
On Tuesday, Fidler asked Sadik-Khan to look into repairing a bike lane in his district (a lane under the Parks Department jurisdiction since it's on their land. Sadik-Khan said she'd make sure her office reached out to the Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe.)
So maybe the cowmen and the farmers might be friends after all.
To be fair, Tuesday's hearing was not one in which members of the public could comment (public hearings on the budget will be held next week), and biking wasn't the only topic on the agenda.
Peter Koo is the Queens councilman who represents Flushing (a neighborhood so heavily trafficked by pedestrians that the DOT said Tuesday that it's slated for a sidewalk expansion project.) At the 2010 hearing, Koo complained that bikes lanes had been implemented at the expense of motorists and pedestrians, and that they were empty. "I hardly see any people using the bike lanes," he said at the time. (Transcript here; Koo's remarks begin on page 39.)
At Tuesday's hearing, Koo had a different complaint. "I find a lot of bicycles chained to the fence, to the trees, light poles, meter poles, everywhere." He wants the NYPD to cut the chains of bikes that are illegally parked. But before that happens, he said, "we have to find a place for them to park."
Letitia James -- long a bike lane supporter, put the cherry on the Charlotte Russe. "Commissioner, I want to thank you for all the docking stations in my district. I want to thank you for the bike share program. I want to thank you for using my picture, my image, on your website, on the bike -- it's absolutely fabulous. Thank you for the plazas in my district...thank you for all the street renovations...thank you for the bike lanes, thank you for recognizing that we all have to share the space and no one is entitled to a city street."
A few minutes after James spoke, the May 29th hearing ended.
"I do think since that hearing in 2010, many actions my committee has taken, and the legislation that we have passed, has brought New York City DOT to a realization that they could do a better job when it comes to community consultation," Council transportation chair Jimmy Vacca said in a phone interview. "I think there's been more outreach, there's been more involvement, so I think that the strongly held views that existed in 2010 have somewhat been mitigated by DOT realizing that it's better to work with local neighborhoods where possible and to try to seek areas of consensus."
And is he happy with bike lanes? Yes -- even though he said the ones in his Bronx district weren't heavily used. "I do think in time, though, people will be bicycling more in neighborhoods where they are not bicycling now. And I think the groundwork that we've laid legislatively will make that reality more positive, have a more positive impact on neighborhoods throughout the city."
Vacca said the Bronx bike lanes have been successful in reducing speeding. "They've had an impact in slowing down vehicular traffic, and that's always a positive thing," he said, adding that that's a persistent issue for his constituents. "In my neighborhood there's not a block party I go to, there's not a civic association I go to, where people are not demanding speed bumps, where they're not demanding police enforcement for ticketing of people who speed in their cars."
Next up for the City Council: reigning in rogue delivery people -- a project they're collaborating with the DOT on. "We cannot have commercial bicyclists driving the wrong way on one-way streets, we cannot have them ignoring red lights, we cannot have them on sidewalks," Vacca said, adding that he's working on legislation to address this. "I think within the next several weeks we should have a consensus bill that will reflect my views as well as the views of the Department of Transportation. We're working together to come up with type of bill, and I think we're making good progress."
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
By Maria Newman
At a City Council hearing, advocates and city officials criticized the schools for relying too much on the police and hospitals to cope with troubled children.
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
(New York, NY -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC) Sometime in the fall, many more New York cabs will be wheelchair accessible, and it will be much easier to hail a cab in northern Manhattan, and in the other four boroughs. New York City will also start collecting on what it hopes will be $1 billion in revenue from the new medallions sold.
But multiple layers and flaming hoops lie ahead.
There's the $20 million the Taxi and Limousine Commission will need to pay for grants to make cars wheelchair accessible -- a full third of its $60 million budget.
At the City Council Transportation Committee budget hearings on Tuesday, Commissioner David Yassky testified that it’s still unclear whether the grants will be distributed up front or if they’d be spaced out.
Yassky added “There’s a big difference between a $1000 dollar grant on day one and then $14,000 a few years from now-- versus $15,000 up front.”
The Bloomberg administration’s 5 Borough Taxi Plan calls for the sale of 18,000 HAIL licenses or permits over the next 3 years. 20% are required to be accessible. The first 6000 are scheduled to be sold this June.
Yassky said that the HAIL licenses will be sold on a first come, first serve basis.
But only licensed for-hire vehicle operators in good standing will be able to purchase them.
The Commissioner is standing by the Mayor’s and his agency’s estimate that the yellow medallion auction, also scheduled in the upcoming budget, would bring in a billion dollars in city revenue. At the hearing, some council members expressed concerns if that was realistic.
But the city has its work cut out for it. The TLC has to re-write existing rules, and go through the required public comment period before putting the HAIL permits up for sale. After that, it's legally permitted by the state to start selling medallions. Even then, only 400 can be auctioned. After the initial sale, the city must submit its long term accessibility plan to the State Department of Transportation for approval before moving forward with the rest of the auction.
Then there’s the pending federal lawsuit. A judge ruled in December that the TLC must assure that its providing meaningful access to wheelchair bound New Yorkers. The city is appealing that decision but Yassky conceded that sometimes it's prudent to spend more money than policy dictates.
“If down the line you see us spending money and you say its not worth that level of expenditure—I would say to you that we also have the courts to worry about.”
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
By Kate Hinds
In two and a half hours of sometimes heated testimony, NYPD brass defended the department's record investigating bike and pedestrian deaths before the New York City Council.
"We have utilized the resources at our disposal...to drive accidents down in the city," said John Cassidy, chief of the NYPD's transportation department.
"There doesn't seem to be any discussion of that at the Council hearing at all," he said. "It seems the fact that accidents are down, injury accidents are down, injuries are down -- those are done by utilizing the patrol force that we have. So it's not that we are not doing anything out there -- I think it's quite the contrary. We are doing a lot with a lot less."
A number of recent deaths -- like Brooklyn cyclist Mathieu LeFevre, who was hit by a truck last October in Brooklyn, and 12-year old Dashane Santana, who was struck by a minivan on the Lower East Side in January -- have caused the council to question how vigorously the NYPD enforces laws in these kinds of cases.
Teresa Pedroza, Santana's grandmother, said: "My granddaughter's gone because it's just that easy for dangerous drivers to end a life on our streets."
Added Erika LeFevre, mother of Mathieu LeFevre: "The only person the NYPD showed courtesy, professionalism and respect towards was the driver who ran over my son," she said, referencing the slogan painted on the side of patrol cars.
"What actually happens when a pedestrian is struck and killed by a car?" City Council member Jimmy Vacca -- who chairs the transportation committee -- asked at the opening of the oversight hearing. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that unless the driver is drunk or distracted, in the overwhelming majority of cases involving fatalities or serious injury, there are no charges filed at all."
Cassidy said in 2011, the NYPD issued over a million summonses to drivers for moving violations, as well as 10,415 criminal court summonses to truck operators. He added that last year the department issued 13,743 moving violations to bicyclists and 34,813 criminal court summonses to bicyclists.
But this didn't satisfy the council members. Council member Peter Vallone asked the police brass: "Are any of you aware, personally, of any reckless endangerment charges brought as a result of one of these traffic injuries?" After a pause, Cassidy responded: "No, sir."
Recent legislation (known colloquially as Hayley and Diego’s Law) amended section 1146 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law to establish careless driving as a more serious offense. But according to Susan Petito, an attorney for the NYPD, the only officers who write 1146 violations are members of the NYPD's Accident Investigation Squad. The AIS is only called out to investigate if the victim is either dead or has suffered a life-threatening injury.
The AIS, which covers the entire city, has 19 detectives, one lieutenant, and three sergeants.
"Even with those (1146) summonses that are written," Petito said, "they are invariably dismissed by traffic court, because traffic court judges believe that it's inadequate because it wasn't personally observed."
"It's really unacceptable," said Council Member Brad Lander, who wanted to know why more patrol officers couldn't be authorized to write 1146 violations.
The council wasn't the only frustrated party in the room. "You know, we're well aware of the catastrophic nature of what we are discussing. We realize these are not just numbers on a piece of paper," said Cassidy at one point.
Other city council members complained about what they perceived to be a the NYPD's lack of transparency. At one point Vacca wanted to know how many drivers were charged for criminally bad driving. "Unfortunately, reckless endangerment is not segregated for record keeping purposes in our arrest database," said Petito. "So we can't give you a specific number of reckless endangerment charges connected with speeding ... connected with a vehicle. Unfortunately that data's not available."
"Why is it so hard to get information from the police department?" asked council member Jessica Lappin, who has worked to try to get the NYPD to make more data available to the public. "Why did Mathieu LeFevre's family have to file a FOIL request about their son's death? That's literally adding insult to injury."
Lappin called the NYPD's approach to releasing data "irritating" and "infuriating." "While putting up a PDF may comply with the law, it doesn't comply with our goal. It's information we're entitled to."
After the hearing, Peter Vallone said the council is committed to giving the NYPD the tools they need to go after bad drivers. "They are not paying enough attention to reckless drivers, and I think that's clear from the testimony of all the victims who were here today."
Monday, January 23, 2012
The City Council got its newest member to the Democratic majority today, as now-former Republican Peter Koo made the change official. But, as the full statement below shows, Koo didn't mention the word "Republican" once in his comments today:
Thursday, January 19, 2012
The New York Times first reported earlier that Republican City Councilman Peter Koo of Flushing is planning on switching party registration. A source confirmed the story. Koo is scheduled to announce the switch on Monday, according to the Times story.
The source, who is close to Flushing politics, pointed out that there were reports Koo was dissatisfied with the Queens Republican Party. This dissatisfaction played in the Councilman's decision the source said, who went on to say Koo was feeling "under appreciated."
But Koo has also apparently found being a Republican in New York City too isolated.
"He probably wants to be united with people," the individual said. "It's probably hard to do, being a Republican [in New York City]."
Koo has apparently also mentioned in the past wanting the chance to introduce legislation and to have the chance to chair a committee--things that will be next-to-impossible in the council's tiny minority.
Peter is a rock star and a superstar in his community. He represented the future of this party and I tried to do everything I could to help him stay in the Republican Party. But I don’t think people at county level or the local level were particularly helpful in respect to that.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
On more quick Quinnipiac poll finding.
By a ratio of nearly 3-to-1, voters across all political affiliations support the passage of the living wage bill that's been proposed in the City Council.
"True to its image as a liberal town, New York gives big support to the City Council plan to require a 'Living Wage' by companies that do business with the city. Does the government have an obligation to mandate a living wage? Overwhelmingly, voters say yes,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in the release about the poll.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Citing a $1.3 million discrepancy between the most and least funded council districts through a process described as murky and subjecting, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released a report calling for a complete overhaul of how New York City Council members receive discretionary funding for their districts.
"I know people are going to be upset with this proposal but we can't keep putting our head in the sand," Stringer said on a conference call with reporters. The Manhattan borough president is seen as a likely candidate for mayor in 2013, as is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
City councilmembers and the borough presidents are given these discretionary funds each year during the budget process. These funds are primarily spent on constituent services through non-profits and other groups. While the distribution of the funds by individual councilmembers has at times been the subject of controversy, the borough president’s report focused on which members were getting what, pointing to what the report described as “too often based on a member’s political standing within the Council.”
"The member items are used by the speaker as an instrument of power," explained Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College and an expert on city government. "You reward your friends and you screw your enemies." Reforming member items as Stringer is suggesting would be, in essence, curtailing the power of the speaker of the city council—currently Christine Quinn.
Specifically, the report called for replacing the current, speaker-based system with one that would have the mayor’s office allotting the money evenly, or on a more transparent process that took the needs of the districts’ constituents into account. Currently, $49.6 million in funding is divided among the council’s 51 members. If the report’s recommendation were implemented, it would likely mean even more power in the hands of the mayor, at the expense of the council’s speaker, and potentially the council itself.
Quinn’s office released a statement through Maria Alvarado, the council’s press secretary, saying they were reviewing the report and were “proud of the budget reforms the Council has already implemented that increase transparency and accountability—including an online database that the Borough President has embraced today.”
The borough president’s report highlighted the significant difference between the council members. For example, Brooklyn Councilmember Domenic Recchia received the most funding during the budget process--$1,630,064 to be exact. This is more than four times as much as either Bronx councilmembers Larry Seabrook or Helen Foster received. Their districts are some of the poorest in the city. The report’s figures are based on reviewing the past four years of available data.
"I agree with Borough President Scott Stringer that District budget allocations should be based on the needs of each district," Seabrook said in a statement. "City Council Speaker Christine Quinn decides on the budget allocations for each district and I certainly hope that next year’s decision for my district is a more favorable one."
“The players at the table get more,” Foster said about the current system. “It’s not based on fairness at all. I don't know that there is any system in politics that is based on need." While she made it clear she was not in favor of any reform that took power away from the council in favor of the mayor, Foster agreed with Seabrook, that the system should be taking some level of need into account.
"The disparities should not be so great," she said.
The map below illustrates just how removed from a standardized system the process is. When the districts for the five lowest and highest receivers of total funds are put on a map, it turns out that three of the highest receivers are directly next to or one district away from all but one of the least funded districts.
NYC City Council "Member Item" distribution for fiscal year 2012.
Top five district allocations are in green, bottom five are in red.
Source: Office of Mannhattan Borough President Scott Stringer
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The Bloomberg Administration on Wednesday released the names of 20 fire companies the mayor is considering closing to help close the city's budget gap. The document given to the City Council lists eight closings in Brooklyn, four in Queens, three each in the Bronx and Manhattan and two in Staten Island.