Bob Rob & Bob



Former Congressman Bob Turner hosted Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino and Republican comptroller candidate Bob Antonacci this afternoon for a press conference at Turner’s home in Breezy Point.  Astorino focused on a favored theme:  that Governor Andrew Cuomo has wrongfully used approximately $40 million of Hurricane Sandy relief funding for thinly disguised political ads promoting Cuomo.

Turner, elected to replace Anthony Weiner, was winding down his one term in Congress when Sandy struck.  More than 100 homes, including Turner’s, were destroyed by a fire that raged through Breezy Point as Sandy’s storm surge struck.  The homes behind Astorino, Antonacci and Turner are newly rebuilt, replacing some of the homes destroyed by that fire.

During the Q&A portion of the press conference (which begins at about 4:00) I asked Astorino questions about other Sandy-related topics, including his view of the overall response to Sandy by New York State government and whether he would do anything differently concerning the NYS Department of Financial Services and it’s regulation of insurance companies, which he would control as governor.  Astorino appeared unwilling, or unable, to move on to other Sandy-related topics, staying focused on Governor Cuomo’s use of federal relief money for TV advertising.  The Q&A began with my question of why Astorino’s fellow Republicans, in the state senate, have permitted Cuomo’s use of Sandy money as condemned by Astorino.

Note:  Astorino held a separate press conference this morning, with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, available here.

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Building It Back Edition



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference promoting his administration’s advances in the Build It Back program.  Created to assist homeowners in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Build It Back was immediately mired in bureaucratic quicksand, producing virtually no assistance to any homeowners by the close of the Bloomberg administration.  Although the program continued to drift in the early months of the de Blasio administration, it has markedly accelerated its efforts since the late March hiring of Amy Peterson as Director of the Office of Housing Recovery.

The mayor has set a Build It Back goal of 500 construction starts and issuing 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day.  While modest compared to the estimated 20,000 or more homeowners who could be helped under the program, that’s a dramatic improvement from the program’s first year in which virtually no homeowners received such assistance.  In today’s press conference, the mayor announced that Build It Back has had 132 construction starts and issued 397 reimbursement checks.

Preparation for the Next Storm:

I asked Mayor de Blasio whether he has examined, and made any significant changes in,  the City’s emergency management system in anticipation of future storms:

Eric Ulrich:

Council Member Eric Ulrich, one of only three Republicans in the City Council and whose Sandy-impacted district includes part of Rockaway, Broad Channel and Howard Beach, spoke briefly:

Press Q&A:

On topic questions included funding for items in the City’s SIRR report and whether there is an alternative source for such items, whether the mayor is satisfied with the pace of City spending of federal money for Sandy relief, whether the mayor is confident of reaching his 500 construction starts and 500 reimbursement checks by Labor Day, Comptroller Scott Stringer’s report on a lack of oversight on spending by the Department of Homeless Services, whether the City has the “right formula” for Build It Back, the total number of homes damaged by Sandy and when all will reached through Build It Back, how many of the 132 construction starts to date are repairs and how many are rebuilds and whether the mayor has closely examined the City’s emergency management system in the context of preparing for a future coastal storm.

Off topic questions the Long Island Railroad and possible strike, the City’s contingency plans and role in the event of a strike, whether the petitions supporting continued operation of horse carriages, with 40,000 signatures recently delivered to City Hall affect his thinking on the topic, what the 66 donors to Campaign for One New York expect from the mayor, whether he plans to take any additional vacations this year, what initiatives Campaign for One New York will next focus on, the status of the review of the 911 system upgrade and, concerning his trip to Italy, whether he is packed, whether he’s packing his own bags and what food he is most looking forward to.

Rebuild By Design (Updated x 2)



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Chuck Schumer and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced four winning designs in the “Rebuild by Design” program administered by HUD and the federal Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task force.  Three of the selections are for projects in New York City, with the fourth a project in Nassau County.  The New York City projects are (1) “The Big U”, a series of berms and bridges around lower Manhattan, (2) “Living Breakwaters”, a series of breakwaters off the south shore of Staten Island, and (3) “Lifelines”, to provide flood protection systems for Hunts Point, the site of a major food market that functions as a hub of the region’s food supply chain.

Their press conference included remarks by each of the four government officials as well as an on topic Q&A.

Off-Topic Q&A:

Afterwards, Mayor de Blasio separately answered off topic questions.  He began with a statement concerning the stabbing of two young children in Brooklyn and then answers questions concerning that incident, the proposed state law to allow municipalities to further raise the minimum wage and whether he would pursue a $13 minimum wage for New York City, how that proposed law fits into the political deal that gave Governor Cuomo the Work Families Party ballot line, a young boy hit and killed today by a car and how Vision Zero addresses that location and the large number of shootings in the City this past weekend.  Here is the Mayor’s full off topic Q&A, which began with some press dissatisfaction:

Update – Opening Yucks:

The three elected officials began with a couple of yucks:

Update #2 – On Topic Q&A:

The Mayor, Governor, Senator and Secretary answered several on topic questions, including why the approved projects do not include any in Brooklyn and Queens and whether actions taken by “other jurisdictions” are sufficient, when will the resiliency efforts be complete and when will the majority of Build It Back homes be completed, what complexities Secretary Donovan saw when his Department approved the Build It Back program and why is New York City slower than Nassau and Suffolk Counties to deliver post-Sandy assistance to homeowners.  Here is their full on topic Q&A:

Peterson Discusses Build It Back



We spoke with Amy Peterson, the Director of New York City’s Housing Recovery Office, about the Build It Back program.  Peterson, appointed by Mayor de Blasio in late March, oversees the widely criticized program and is charged with restarting what has been a moribund effort.

We spoke after a Sandy-recovery town hall hosted by Comptroller Scott Stringer in the Arverne section of Rockaway.

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Brooklyn Library Edition



This afternoon Mayor Bill de Blasio visited a Department of Education Universal pre-K enrollment workshop being held at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.  Following his visit, Mayor de Blasio held a press conference in front of the Library, promoting his pre-K/middle school program initiative.

Full Press Q&A:

Following an opening statement, the mayor answered questions from the press.  Topics included his reaction to Governor Cuomo’s statement that he is not planning to approve a specific amount of pre-K funding set forth in the state senate proposed budget, how confident he is of pre-K funding, the status of his administration’s review of the city’s Sandy relief programs, his reaction to Governor Cuomo’s statements on mayoral control of the city school system and charter schools, the current status of site clearing and the investigation into the cause of the East Harlem building explosion, whether New Yorkers should be concerned about gas leaks, his reaction to a tweet yesterday by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito critical of Governor Cuomo’s reaction to the East Harlem building explosion, how the church services he attended this morning for victims affected him personally and the relief efforts being led by his wife, Chirlane McCray, and the Mayor’s Fund for NYC.  Here is his full press Q&A:

Sandy Review:

I asked the mayor about his previously discussed review of the City’s Sandy recovery programs.  Here’s how he responded:

de Blasio Press Q&A: The HeyNow Edition



This afternoon Mayor Bill de Blasio met with elected officials on Staten Island to discuss Sandy recovery efforts.  Led by Borough President Jimmy Oddo (or @HeyNowJO as he’s known on Twitter), eight elected officials met privately with de Blasio and then joined him for a press conference.

Off Topic – Speeding:

A modest portion of the press conference was devoted to off topic questions, all four of which involved the speeding and stop sign-running imbroglio of late last week. Those questions included whether the mayor thinks recent criticism directed at him, on the driving flap and other actions, is fair, whether he thinks the speeding flap will negatively impact his efforts at implementing the Vision Zero plan, whether the mayor has discretion to direct how the NYPD drives him and whether his NYPD detail thought they were being followed by WCBS-TV news.  Here is the full off topic portion of the Q&A:

Full Q&A:

The Q&A was primarily on topic, with questions on Sandy recovery and the mayor’s plans for changes to existing city efforts.  Among the questions: what is working, and not working, in the Build it Back program, the mayor’s reaction to a report that a family he visited in the Arverne section of Rockaway is “getting close” to losing faith in the mayor, the scope/number of people still directly affected by Sandy, whether his weekend trip to Pennsylvania involved a meeting with the consultants running the Build it Back program, whether he stands by statements he made during a September visit to Far Rockaway’s St. Mary Star of the Sea, whether the Bloomberg administration allocated enough money to housing from the first tranch of federal assistance, whether he agrees with Oddo’s idea of acquiring land for redevelopment, the role of Michael DeLoach in Build it Back, whether New Yorkers should be concerned that they may lose desirable options under Build it Back after de Blasio completes his review and issues on elevation of existing structures v. new construction.

Here is the full press Q&A:

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Pothole Edition (Updated)



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio held a press conference in Maspeth to highlight the City’s efforts at pothole repair.  The city’s roads have been battered by a high number of winter storms and temperature fluctuations, producing a bumper pothole crop.  The mayor’s press conference, held at 69th Lane and 60th Avenue in Maspeth, featured the mayor and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg joining a Department of Transportation road crew in filling a pothole.

Full Q&A:

On-topic questions for the mayor included the cost of the pothole repair program, the furlough of seasonal DoT workers, the average time between pothole complaints and repair, the outlook for the rest of the winter, the number of potholes repaired, how potholes are identified for repair, the DoT’s road resurfacing plans in the near-future, how many crews are working, why this particular pothole was chosen for the press conference location, whether the mayor is enjoying “this aspect” of his job and an assessment by the road crew of how the mayor performed.  Off-topic questions included the mayor’s proposed budget and the potential cost of open labor contracts, a timeline for settling the open labor contracts, the Build it Back program, the administration’s “comprehensive review” of the city’s Sandy recovery efforts, release of Bishop Findlayter’s arrest report, the mayor’s September promise to visit a carriage horse stable before acting on his pledge to ban carriage horses and the administration’s community development block grant application.   Here is the mayor’s full press Q&A:

Sandy Recovery:

The mayor was asked three separate questions concerning the city’s ongoing efforts at recovery from Hurricane Sandy.  The first focused on the Build it Back program, which is widely criticized for a slow, even glacial, pace of funding repairs.  The second (from yours truly) asked about the “comprehensive review” briefly mentioned by the mayor in his State of the City address on February 10th.  The third asked about the city’s community development block grant application, due to be submitted to the federal government by March 18th.  Here is how the mayor responded:

Update – Pothole Repair:

Mayor de Blasio and DoT Commissioner Trottenberg filled a real live pothole; here’s how it went.

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Pussy Riot Edition (Updated x 3)



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the appointment of Carl Weisbrod as chair of the City Planning Commission.

Among the topics discussed during the Q&A portion of the announcement press conference was a vital question – can the mayor pronounce the name of guests scheduled to visit him this afternoon.

Update – Full Answer:

Sandwiched between the opening and closing giggles he elicited from the press, Mayor de Blasio gave a serious answer on why he plans to meet with members of Russian band Pussy Riot this afternoon.

Update #2 – Sandy:

Mayor de Blasio was asked about ongoing Hurricane Sandy rebuilding and resiliency efforts. It’s an issue that has not received much public focus in the first six weeks of the de Blasio administration.  With ongoing substantial rebuilding continuing in several parts of the City, however, it’s going to demand attention.  Here’s what the mayor had to say:

For background, here is our coverage from de Blasio’s October visit to Breezy Point and September visit to Far Rockaway.

Update #3 – Full Q&A:

Following statements from de Blasio and Weisbrod, de Blasio answered questions from the press.  On-topic questions included his process for selecting Weisbrod and whether as Transition C-Chair Weisbrod submitted his own name for consideration, what neighborhoods they are targeting for revitalization and what they plan for those neighborhoods, whether Carl Weisbrod is related to Ann Weisbrod, what plans they have for rolling back Bloomberg administration planning initiatives, governance of the City Planning Commission, the status of the Transition Committee co-chaired by Weisbrod, how Weisbrod’s past work in revitalizing neighborhoods and his current role intersect, the mayor’s strategic plan for post-Sandy rebuilding in waterfront neighborhoods and the challenges of finding neighborhoods primed for growth.

Following a statement on the importance of donating blood and a question on his own experience of donating blood that morning, the mayor answered off-topic questions including a preview of his State of the City address, why he was not wearing his wedding ring, his plan to charge rent to some charter schools, whether the administration has started labor contract negotiations, de Blasio’s scheduled meeting with members of the Russian band Pussy Riot, his plans for addressing potholes on city streets and Vice President Biden’s characterization of LaGuardia as a “third world” airport.

Here is Mayor de Blasio’s full press Q&A.

de Blasio Press Q&A: The Second Snow Edition (Updated x 2)



Today Mayor Bill de Blasio held a news conference on two separate topics: the significant snowstorm which had just begun and to announce the appointment of Maria Torres-Springer as Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services and of Dr. Ramanathan Raju as the Commissioner of Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Rockaway Ferry & Boardwalk:

During the Q&A portion of the press conference, Grace Rauh of NY1 asked the mayor about the interim extension of Rockaway ferry service, as separately announced by the mayor’s office this morning, and about the projected May 2017 projected completion date for rebuilding the Rockaway boardwalk.  Ferry service was instituted on an interim basis after Hurricane Sandy destroyed the only subway access to Rockaway and it has been very popular with Rockaway residents.  The post-Sandy rebuilding of the boardwalk, under Parks Department jurisdiction, is a sore point for many Rockaway residents who see the three year schedule as unreasonably slow.  Here’s how the mayor responded.

Update – Full Q&A:

Here is Mayor de Blasio’s full Q&A, featuring snow prep and the de Blasio family shoveling arrangements, the mayor’s pre-K/middle school program initiative and the governor’s competing proposal, Health & Hospitals Corporation challenges, the Rockaway ferry and boardwalk and more.

Update #2 – Pre-K/middle school initiative:

This excerpt contains a discussion of Mayor de Blasio’s proposed pre-K/middle school program and the associated income tax surcharge.  Governor Cuomo has recently sought to preempt de Blasio’s plan, proposing a less expansive plan statewide, and not supporting a dedicated income tax surcharge.  Reporters asked many probing questions but de Blasio, politely, refused to signal any assent to the Cuomo plan supplanting his own.  He noted that “other advances … are welcome”, but that “the people of the City have given me a mission … to achieve this [meaning de Blasio's] plan.”

Speaker Selection: The Muzzio Edition (Updated x 2)



Wednesday evening, Professor Doug Muzzio moderated a council speaker forum at Baruch College.  Seven contenders participated; Jumaane Williams, Dan Garodnick, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Annabel Palma, James Vacca, Mark Weprin and Inez Dickens.

Karen Koslowitz:

Following the forum, we spoke with Council Member Karen Koslowitz about the race, how it’s shaping up with her fellow council members and when she expects the winner to be identified.  Koslowitz, a Queens Democrat, was elected to office in 2009 and re-elected this year.  She previously served on the Council from 1991-2001.

(Lots more video on the full page.) Continue reading