NYC's Unopposed Candidates: Accountability Tools

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NYC Council/City Limits

Leroy Comrie, a former City Councilmember, is running unopposed for a Queens state Senate seat. He is the only non-incumbent in a group of candidates with no opponent next Tuesday.
As Gotham Gazette and City Limits are reporting today, the high number of legislative seats in the city that will be awarded next Tuesday without any actual contest can be blamed on a number of factors: gerrymandered districts, disinterested party apparatus, arcane ballot access rules and, of course, money. Whatever the cause of the phenomenon, one effect is that voters in those districts don't get the kind of healthy debate about qualifications and agendas that a campaign can offer.

A Third of NYC Races are Uncontested

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NYCBOE/City Limits

Senator Adriano Espaillat is one of several Senate candidates facing no race next week.
The strength of a democratic government is in its citizens' ability to choose their representatives. But if the choices are limited, is the process truly democratic?

On Election Day--Tuesday, November 4--more than a third of all races for seats in the New York State Legislature, 74 out of 213, feature a candidate running unopposed. The same holds true when you zoom in on New York City, where 21 of 63 races are uncontested.

Looking at this startling democratic mutation, Gotham Gazette spoke with experts seeking answers as to why such a phenomenon exists and what can be done to make New York elections more competitive. The theory goes, of course, that more competition for office moves candidates to further engage with voters, explain specific policy positions, and remain more accountable to constituents if victorious.

Talking Corruption, Brooklyn-Style

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BRIC/City Limits

Azi Paybarah of Capital New York carefully considers his answer to one of my vague and poorly worded questions.
It sometimes seems like you're more likely to hear a New York state legislator's name as the target of an indictment than as the author of a bill.

But does the recent wave of corruption allegations and arrests indicate the presence of more wrongdoing, or the effect of more sunshine? How do politicians deemed to have been corrupt see themselves? And with the Michael Grimm-Domenic Recchia race in the forefront, how does an allegation of corruption play as a campaign issue?

To answer those questions, Brooklyn Independent Media brought Azi Paybarah of Capital New York and Gotham Gazette's Ben Max to hang out with me at The Emerson Bar in Clinton Hill. Watch our chat below:

Steal this Poster About Tenant Rights

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J.Murphy/City Limits

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development received more than 548,000 complaints in the fiscal year that ended in June and in the same period completed 578,000 inspections during which its inspectors issued 392,000 violations. Not bad for an agency that lost a quarter of its staff between 2008 and 2013.

But a recent report by an East Harlem advocacy group suggests that, in that neighborhood at least, HPD doesn't have sufficient visibility. A survey of several hundred East Harlem pedestrians late last year by the group Movement for Justice in El Barrio revealed that “1 out of every 2 respondents had not called 311, even though all tenants surveyed had maintenance problems." The report added: “The most common reason was that tenants didn’t know about HPD or 311 or its features." It also found that two-thirds of respondents “did not feel confident that calling 311 improved their housing conditions" and that many of those who did call 311 had been told to submit their housing complaint online even though they don't have access to a computer. And it noted that the HPD website isn't especially well-designed for the purpose of receiving complaints.

Will the State Wage Board Listen to Harvey Keitel?

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David Shankbone/City Limits

Mr. White sayeth: "You don't have any idea what you're talking about. These people bust their a--. This is a hard job."
The sprawling ignorance of Gov. Chris Christie's comments earlier this week about the minimum wage make you wish the New Jersey governor had breakfasted with Mr. White, the gruffly compassionate criminal played by Harvey Keitel in the 1992 Quentin Tarantino film “Reservoir Dogs."

In that film's famous diner sequence (which also includes a frank discussion of what Madonna is really laying on us in the lyrics to “Like a Virgin") Keitel rises to the defense of food-service workers when a fellow thug—Mr. Pink, played by Steve Buscemi—refuses to leave a tip. (The clip is below. Be warned: Bad guys say naughty, naughty things.)

Where Do the Homeless Come From?

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ICPH/City Limits

A map of the family shelters (the symbols marked F) in Council district 8, represented by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and home to more family shelter beds than any other district in the city.
There are a lot of stunning numbers about the city's homelessness problem—starting with the fact that as of last Wednesday the city's shelter system housed 57,000 people—but here's one to chew on: In fiscal year 2014, for everyone homeless family that came from Greenwich Village, 94 came from East New York.

That's according to a report out today from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness called "On the Map: The Atlas of Family Homelessness in New York City."

Trash Fight is Sequel to Bloomberg Battle

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Kevin B./City Limits

New York City throws out 3 million tons of refuse each year.
The City Council is considering a law to limit the impact of the city's sanitation system on the communities who host most of New York's garbage infrastructure. For those of you who think you've seen this movie before, you're half right: The proposal would double-down on a nine-year-old plan that was supposed to solve the underlying problem.

The brawl over that earlier initiative—the 2005 Solid Waste Management Plan, lovingly nicknamed "the swamp"—was one of the real legislative tussles of the Bloomberg years.

City Revamping its Affordable Housing Toolkit

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Office of Mayor de Blasio/City Limits

Getting from the housing plan (announced in May, above) to 200,000 units of production will require a more efficient system for vetting, financing and tracking affordable housing development projects.
The city's housing department aims to boost the number of affordable housing starts by nearly 25 percent this fiscal year—the first full budget cycle with Mayor de Blasio in office—with a goal of 16,000 units.

That's a lot of units. But that's also a pace that would put the city far short of de Blasio's target of 200,000 in 10 years.

"It will take time to ramp up," Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been told a lunchtime crowd Tuesday afternoon just blocks from City Hall. The plan is to keep accelerating "until we reach full production."

Long Before Today's Ebola Scare, City Fended Off Smallpox

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NIH/City Limits

New Yorkers lined up for the smallpox vaccine in '47.
Terrors like ebola can seem like byproducts of the era of globalization, but they're nothing new in New York City.

Not only has ebola been on the city's radar screen for nearly 20 years—there was a scare in the Bronx in 1996—but the city's epic 1947 campaign to prevent a smallpox outbreak indicates that disease threats can come on buses as well as airplanes and that aggressive public health efforts can squelch even the most frightening epidemic.

Immigration Detainers in NYC: The Numbers

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ICE/City Limits

An ICE agent making an arrest.
The City Council is looking to restrict New York City's cooperation with federal authorities in enforcing detainers, under which local law enforcement holds people it might otherwise release so immigration officials can come get them. The city's role in the detainer system is a long-standing concern of advocates, and some have expressed some frustration at the continuation of the policy under Mayor de Blasio.

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