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Helen Rosenthal Answers to DFNYC 2013 Candidate Endorsement Questionnaire

 

Helen Rosenthal is running for NYC Council in the 6th District, Upper West Side of Manhattan. www.HelenRosenthal.com.

1. Money in NYC Politics. Large donors, specifically real estate developers and landlords, have a huge amount of influence in NYC politics due to their campaign contributions. While NYC’s matching funds programs is seen as one of the most innovative public funding campaigns in the country, many DFNYC members feel that big money donors still have too much influence and candidates still spend too much time fundraising. Would you support a change to full public financing of campaigns, similar to the Clean Money Clean Elections programs in Arizona, Connecticut and Maine?

I’ve long spoken out against the influence of big money in NYC politics, publishing a piece in The Nation in October 2009 which called for a major-league baseball style “luxury tax” to level the playing field when wealthy candidates (or their supporters) look to evade campaign finance limitations. The subsequent rise of SuperPACs makes full public financing of campaigns both timely and urgent; reforms modeled on Clean Money Clean Elections programs have my full support – particularly when they address the involvement of “independent” expenditure committees, which threaten to distort the democratic process. To the extent Clean Money Clean Elections reform cannot muster a Council majority, I propose a simple, interim step which would build on NYC’s existing system: municipal candidates who gather sufficient signatures to make the ballot will receive a public “match” which enables them reach existing spending limits (i.e., $168,000 for a Council race). This simple step would more directly tie campaign funding to in-district voter support. Believing that the campaign a candidate runs offers insights into the kind of policies they will advocate in office, we have welcomed small, in-district donations – I’m pleased to report that, as of the latest (March 2013) public filings, our campaign leads all 6th District candidates in both in-district donors, and in-district donors making contributions less than $100. If elected, I’ll work actively to eliminate not only member “bonuses” (aka “lulus”) – awarded at the discretion of Council leadership – but also curb income allowed from outside business activities. (Please cut and paste http://www.thenation.com/article/big-kids-play-corked-bats)

2. Tenant Protection & Cost of Housing. Do you support rent stabilization and rent control laws? What will you do to crack down on landlords that break the law? Would you call on the state legislature to repeal vacancy decontrol and more generally, the Urstadt Law, so that New York City – and not Albany – can enact its own housing laws?

During my tenure as Chair of Community Board 7, I led two in-district projects which helped protect local residents from, respectively, purely profit driven real-estate practices and unregulated market forces. One involved formulating, with residents of Trinity House, a tenant-led buyout plan – which was embraced by building tenants and helped block a private equity-led plan which would have caused many tenants to lose their apartments. (Please cut and paste: http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/92170497/DinaHeisler.m4v) Another involved helping residents of Stern Housing, whose Mitchell-Lama status was terminated, successfully find new affordable housing units on the UWS. Consistent with my record as Community Board Chair, I’ll vigorously support rent stabilization and rent control laws, and work to overturn vacancy deregulation. Central to my campaign are policies to reduce income inequality and increase community empowerment – which is why repeal of the Urstadt Law (which thwarts both) would be so central to my work as a Councilwoman. Addressing Urstadt is so urgent that it cannot await a Democratic State Senate or campaign finance reform; rather, we must adopt the legislative strategy of targeting persuadable members and using the bully pulpit -- which Governor Cuomo successfully used in bringing marriage equality to NYS - to catalyze repeal of Urstadt. Further, we should expand upon the excellent work of UWS Councilwoman Gale Brewer in initiating monthly housing clinics where attorneys meet with district residents to provide pro-bono legal assistance in eviction and other tenant/landlord disputes. I advocate making these sessions continuous, and support using base-lined city funds for this purpose.

3. Paid Sick Leave. There is currently a bill in the city council that would require companies in NYC with 5 or more employees to give 5 paid sick days per year to each employee (if they do not already). While many councilmembers support this, it has not been brought to a vote. Supporters feel this is much needed public health legislation that would only minimally raise labor costs, while opponents say that it would be an unfair financial burden to small business. Do you support the bill and will you actively work to get it passed? Sources: ~For: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/news/2012/11/16/45152/myth-vs-fact-paid-sick-days/ ~Against: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/why_we_reject_sick_leave_bill_03pE50CZMFiHFhXzasDMLL

My understanding of and active support for Paid Sick Leave legislation is rooted in my commitment to address income inequality; my education – a Masters in Public Health; and my work at City Hall, helping manage the City’s health care budget under three mayors. A reflection of my commitment on this issue: I’ve signed on to Gloria Steinem’s public letter calling for paid sick days – and am pleased that Gloria Steinem has endorsed my campaign for the 6th District Council seat. Cities such as Washington, DC and San Francisco that have implemented a minimum number of paid sick days have reported the program’s wide success: employee loyalty and productivity have increased significantly, while employees are only taking an average of 3 to 9 paid sick days per year. We recognize the importance of small businesses to the economic vitality of NYC and job creation in the five boroughs. People – their talents and loyalties – are critical to the success of any business, especially small and growing ones. So it’s important that people considering work and career choices in the City do not turn away from small businesses because they do not afford certain health care protections and benefits found only with large employers. NYC has also, historically, drawn people from all over the country (and world) to pursue their careers here. We want to remain competitive, nationally and globally, with other small business centers who can offer to attractive benefits to their employees.

4. Fair Police Practices & Occupy Wall Street. The New York City Police Department has been highly criticized for its Stop & Frisk policy, which disproportionally affects racial minorities and poor and working class New Yorkers. The NYPD has also been criticized for its treatment of activists in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Do you support ending or modifying Stop & Frisk? If running for mayor, will you keep Ray Kelly or appoint a new police commissioner? Do you think Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD should have handled events in the OWS movement differently and what measures will you take to protect political demonstrations?

As we live in an age where our city (and country) is becoming more diverse, and where the income gap is widening, it’s especially important that we adopt policing and public safety strategies that are most like to affect all people equally, and do not disproportionally target racial minorities and the economically disadvantaged. Further, the sense of energy and renewal which so characterizes NYC’s history and culture has been substantially fueled by immigrants – we must be seen as a city which continues to welcome new and different arrivals on the most basic level. For these reasons, among others, I support ending the current NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” policy—800,000 are too many. Appropriately targeted “Stop and Frisk” would likely yield about 100,000 encounters. As for OWS: our First Amendment rights are seldom more important than when they involve speaking out against wide-spread inequities, and advocate reforms of an established economic and political order. In this context, I find the NYPD actions towards the OWS protests excessive, and would push for clearer – and more restrained – guidelines in protecting (as compared to curbing) free, political speech. Commissioner Kelly has headed the NYPD for more than 13 years, including the last 11 consecutively. Most large organizations benefit from new leadership after an extended period; and I believe both the NYPD and the City would benefit from both new leadership as well as new policies.

5. Mayoral Control of Education. Mayoral Control of NYC schools is set to expire in 2016, but the state legislature can renew it. If elected to city government, you will not directly vote on mayoral control, but you will have a ‘bully pulpit’ as renewal is discussed in the next 3 years. Do you support keeping Mayoral Control as is, letting it expire, or making changes, for example to the hearing process for controversial decisions? (Examples: Co-locations of multiple schools in one building, providing district school space to charter schools, phasing out schools that have been labeled as “failing” due to high dropout rates, low test scores, or other factors.)

“Mayoral Control,” in its current form, is more like “Mayoral Dictatorship.” It can only be renewed if modified to truly include input from parents, teachers, and principals who, under Mayor Bloomberg, have no voice. As a member and then Chair of Community Board 7, I worked with a team to bring two new public schools to our district—in the face of centralized policies based upon faulty data. This experience causes me to advocate for changes that would require DOE and Mayoral administrative policies to be based upon clear and transparent data – which could then be fact-checked and reconciled at the community level. Statutory requirements for a “hearing” do not guarantee a “fair” one, and legislative efforts that increase community involvement in actual decision-making (as compared to a simple airing of differences) are critical. I’m opposed to charter co-locations. On the UWS, providing district school space to charter schools has consistently been a losing proposition for public schools. Furthermore, a reflexive call to close schools deemed to be “failing” by “one size fits all” metrics is a flawed policy. “Failing” schools often exist in neighborhoods with oppressive social realities that drive attendance and drop-out rates to levels outside the school’s control—furthermore, the schools are often one of the few institutions holding a community together. As a philosophical matter, “top down” decision making – whether from Albany or City Hall – must give way to more “bottom up” input and control.

6. Teacher Evaluation. A key area where the mayor has influence in public education is in the negotiation of a contract with NYC’s public school teachers. Please give your opinion on the following proposed ways to evaluate teachers for the purpose of tenure, salary and other job benefits: Improvement in student test scores, observations by other teachers, student surveys, whether the teacher has an advanced degree, a principal’s evaluation of a teacher. Should principals be allowed to do unannounced observations of teachers? Do you have any experience negotiating labor union contracts?

My mother was a college professor (University of Michigan), so the question of teacher evaluations is one that I’ve thought about for years and strikes a personal chord. In virtually every field of endeavor, “peer review” is considered an invaluable yard-stick in measuring actual performance. Further, the DOE must invest in its teachers and principals with mentors and “master teachers.” Peer and principal evaluations should be central to teacher evaluations. And, teachers and principals should always have access to “due process.” Our own experience tells us that student and parent input can provide vital input to core questions – does a teacher inspire a love of learning, and actually get the material across? – And should therefore carry meaningful weight. In contrast, a focus on test scores creates overpowering incentives to “teach to the test” – and thus under-prepares students for critical thinking, the workplace, and for life in general. An over-riding, joint-objective to mayoral/UFT negotiations should be to reduce class size and teacher-student ratios: smaller class sizes can help teachers nurture students, many of who will be tomorrow’s leaders, and help struggling students “run with the pack” and avoid falling helplessly behind. To a greater extent, the tone of the mayor’s negotiating posture should reflect the status and importance of our teachers and principals as “every day, first responders” to the needs of our children’s education.

7. Co-location of charter schools. City officials do not decide how many charter schools can exist, or grant requests to be a charter school. However, the Department of Education - currently controlled by the Mayor - may decide to provide charter schools with space, usually by "co-location" with district public schools. While more than half of NYC schools (not just charters) are co-located, it is a controversial topic when a charter school is involved. Critics argue that cash-strapped district schools should not be forced to share resources with charter schools and that co-location creates a morale problem when students and parents see the contrast. Co-location advocates argue that charter schools are public schools and should have an equal right to publicly owned resources such as buildings, charter schools do not receive funding for space and therefore operate at a severe financial disadvantage if they have to find private space, and that differences between co-located schools result from decisions the principals make about how to spend their per-pupil funding. Do you support the DOE giving public school space to charter schools? Sources: ~ Against - funding and space arguments: http://www.classsizematters.org/our-lawsuit-vs-the-doe-regarding-charter-co-locations/ ~In Favor: Funding: http://www.nyccharterschools.org/resources/school-funding-comparisons-nyc-independent-budget-office-ibo-2010-11 Space (pdf): http://dl.dropbox.com/u/87134745/media/nyccsc_colocation.pdf

As a general and philosophical matter, the government should not pursue policies that magnify inequalities. To this end, I advocate for a ban on school closings and the co-location of charter schools in public schools. City government should take all reasonable steps to avoid morale problems in an environment where inequality is substantial and increasing. It’s one thing to ask people to accept large differences; quite another stare directly at them on a daily basis, with the government’s thumb on the scale accentuating these differences. The “Harlem Success Academies” in District 3 schools (particularly PS 242) have led to a two-tiered system of public education where vulnerable families are at further disadvantage. Placing “Upper West Success, K-2” in the Brandeis High School complex resulted in overcrowding the co-located high schools.

8. The City Wage Tax. New York City’s budget depends in large part on the city wage tax, which is only paid by residents, not everyone who works in NYC. Would you call on the state legislature to allow NYC to collect the tax from people from the suburbs who work in NYC and benefit from our services (police, fire, etc.)? Would you support efforts to collect the tax from people who actually live in New York City but use a second home (a loophole not available to middle class New Yorkers with just one home) to avoid the city wage tax? If these efforts work, would you be willing to reduce the city wage tax so that workers would have more take home pay, and there would be less incentive for people to move to the suburbs, reducing our tax base?

The philosophy behind the City’s tax objectives should be to tax all those who earn their livelihood and accrue other benefits from the City, based upon their ability to pay. This leads to my support for restoration of the “commuter tax”. We should recognize the evolution in public attitudes towards tax fairness, which became evident during last year’s elections and subsequent tax changes at the federal level, and use this opportunity to energetically pursue a commuter tax early in 2014. Another tax policy objective should be to close loopholes and discourage “gaming” the system, especially as the availability of these strategies tends to magnify income and wealth disparities, and introduces “morale problems.” To this end, tax-avoidance strategies involving “phantom” primary residences should be targeted and subject to heightened enforcement. Reductions in the city’s wage tax rate should be pursued with an ultimate goal of eliminating these taxes for the working poor.

9. Other Taxes. Do you support progressive taxation? Do you support Governor Cuomo’s approach to the marginal tax rate on high incomes? What is your opinion on the current property tax in NYC? Would you support a federal financial transaction tax to either raise revenue, reduce the practice of high frequency trading, or both?

I endorse efforts to introduce further progressivity to the tax code, applaud Governor Cuomo’s decision to extend the high-income tax “surcharge”, and support legislation to make this surcharge permanent. Further, the much lower tax rates associated with capital gains income (overwhelmingly received by wealthy individuals) should be increased to match tax rates associated with “earned income”. Even during the second Reagan Administration, Congress successfully moved to equalize income rates between capital gains and earned income, and a return to this approach is much needed today. In this spirit, the “carried interest” tax loophole which currently allows private equity managers to pay a 15% rate - as compared to a top rate of 36.9% - should be closed. NYC’s property taxes should be reformed with three goals in mind: seniors should not be forced to sell and move from residences where they lived their whole lives due to increased property tax rates; taxes on condos and co-ops should be equal to those on family homes of similar value; and owner-occupied properties should be taxed at a rate lower that those owned for investment purposes. Financial transaction taxes should be considered on “short sales”, and on margin transactions - where stock is bought or sold with borrowed money. When considering taxes on high frequency trading, one should be mindful that a current, higher tax on “short-term” (as opposed to “long-term”) capital gains exists – so that taxation of high frequency trading could be seen as a logical extension of this concept.

10. Poverty & the Social Safety Net. According to a 2012 report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, many struggling New Yorkers are eligible for welfare, but have not been able to obtain it due to onerous application requirements, and the excessive and arbitrary use of “sanctions” by the City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA). These obstacles have caused very little increase in welfare cases during the recent recession, as contrasted with large increases in Food Stamps and Medicaid. Would you change HRA to make it easier for eligible families to obtain cash assistance, connect them to jobs or meaningful job training, and reform the improper use of sanctions? How would you manage New York City's social safety net programs to ensure that people get the help they need, while at the same time preventing fraud? Report: http:/www.fpwa.org/cgi-bin/iowa/policy/article/218.html

My work as Co-Chair of ParentJobNet – a not-for-profit designed to help public school parents find jobs – has given me a window on the cost-effectiveness of job networking and training initiatives. Often, struggling New Yorkers are synonymous with single-parent households (mostly female); or those where both parents must work to support their families at any meaningful level. For economic opportunities to align with family and parental responsibilities, jobs must exist in realistic proximity to home. That’s why I support local job training and networking initiatives developed at the neighborhood level, in connection with local schools and Community Boards, so that parents can find jobs that enable them to support their families through both their work and by their presence – and not be forced to choose between work and home. Moreover, job training should focus on building skills in demand by the marketplace – like computer and Excel-based training; nursing and home health care. In part because the incidence of fraud is so low, in part because the economic need is so apparent, the entire mind-set behind the HRA cash assistance application process needs to change: the “burden of proof “should tilt from obviously struggling New Yorkers needing to “prove” eligibility, to a presumption that needy New Yorkers deserve some form of cash assistance.

11. Homelessness. When Mayor Bloomberg first ran, he promised to introduce policies to drastically reduce the numbers of people who are homeless in our city. But during the twelve years of his administration, the numbers of homeless have increased dramatically each year. This is in addition to the approximately 50,000 people sleeping in shelters on an average night, according to a recent report by the Coalition for the Homeless. What would you do to deal with this sad situation? Sources: http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/pages/state-of-the-homeless-2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/20/nyregion/20homeless.html

The roots of the increase in NYC homeless are primarily: increased joblessness; the low wages paid to many unskilled workers who do have jobs; and a decline in affordable housing. The City must build more permanent affordable housing as well as requiring new residential development projects to incorporate meaningful numbers of affordable housing units (50%, 30%, 20%). As a City Councilwoman, I would re-introduce a living wage law – which calls for a New York City minimum wage of $11.50, indexed to inflation. Further, my work in the Dinkins Administration in establishing the Primary Care Development Corporation (PCDC) – which brought primary health care facilities to low-income neighborhoods – suggests a way for private/public partnerships to establish sustainable, well-paying jobs while providing vital services to the needy. I propose rolling out the PCDC “template” on a systematic, citywide basis – modeled after the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration. By focusing the efforts of a New York City-WPA on industries like health care, media and technology – in which the City maintains a critical mass of technical knowledge and comparative advantage – we can lessen our economic dependence on the volatile industries of finance and real estate. In combination, these three measures can help bolster the city’s economic and wage base, generating increased resources to pay for the social services needed to address homelessness resulting from mental and physical health issues.

12. Hurricane Sandy & Environmental Protection. The devastating impact that Hurricane Sandy had on New York City poses short term and long term challenges: immediate support for those who lost their homes and businesses, and climate change, respectively. What measures do you support for helping Sandy recovery efforts, as well as energy conservation and reducing the carbon footprint of New York City? What is your position on hydraulic fracturing and the Spectra pipeline?

I advocate a combination of large-scale public works and tax incentives to address the challenges posed by the impact of Hurricane Sandy. If elected, I’d seek to join the Progressive Caucus, and as such support their Sandy-related rebuilding proposals – creating skilled, blue collar jobs aimed at producing an environmentally friendly “green zone” encompassing the storm effected areas. But public works alone, even on the WPA-model envisioned, would be insufficient. I further advocate a one-year, city “tax holiday” for individuals and business owners, for up to their first $100,000 in income; additionally, a one-year holiday on city sales taxes – for purchases up to $100 - on items sold by businesses in storm effected areas. I oppose hydraulic fracturing and the Spectra pipeline. My campaign hosted a "Food and Fracking" event to discuss the potential impact of fracking on our state's food and water supplies. To help reduce the city’s carbon footprint, I propose repealing the 8% New York City Parking Tax exemption for non-hybrid vehicles; and increasing the Parking Tax – by 10% over three years – on non-hybrid vehicles used for commercial purposes. I further advocate the aggressive expansion of bike lanes throughout the five boroughs.

13. Gun Control. While DFNYC members have long supported gun control, the December 14th shooting in Newtown, Connecticut seems to have changed the debate on the national level. Do you support the proposals President Obama made to (a) renew and fix the assault weapons ban, (b) ban high capacity magazines (limit the number of bullets that can be shot before reloading), and (c) improve the background check system? Please indicate any other methods you would support to reduce gun violence, including how you would implement them, for example: gun buy-back programs, training programs for gun owners, improved access to mental health care, and involving the business community in gun safety.

I’m pleased that my campaign has been endorsed by 6th District resident and filmmaker Michael Moore – whose documentary “Bowling for Columbine” shined an early and vivid spotlight on excessive trafficking in guns. In collaboration with New Yorkers against Gun Violence, I led three rallies in Times Square – in response to the Virginia Tech massacre – to remove guns from our city’s streets. I completely embrace President Obama’s proposals to renew and fix the assault weapons ban; to ban high capacity magazines; and improve the background check system. I’d further support licensing as a requirement for gun ownership; continuous gun buyback programs; expanded access to mental health care; and dramatically increased penalties for crimes involving guns and unlicensed gun possession. Fingerprint-based trigger locks, now a common-place security mechanism to prevent unauthorized access to many computer networks, should become “standard equipment” in the way airbags are now mandatory in automotive vehicles. Finally, a steep sales tax should be imposed on the sale of firearms – in part to finance education and mental health programs, but also in part to explicitly discourage stockpiling of weapons, which vastly complicates keeping track of and control of lethal weapons.

 

14. Choice & Marriage Equality. Please briefly state your position on the following three issues: marriage equality for gays & lesbians, a woman's right to choose, and access to birth control. (25 words or less)

I support full marriage equality for LBGT individuals; am completely pro-choice, and support access to birth control (and abortion), including Plan B, for women of all ages.

~ Helen Rosenthal, candidate for NYC Council, 6th District, UWS of Manhattan: http://www.helenrosenthal.com

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A local coalition group of Democracy for America since 2004

Democracy for NYC (DFNYC) is committed to the ideals espoused by Democracy for America, the organization founded by Howard Dean, and the national network of local coalition groups dedicated to the same.

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