April 3rd, 2016

Guests: Nassau County Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Times Union State Editor Casey Seiler

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Nassau County Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs

Full interview

Jacobs, a former chairman of the State Democratic Party, on reforms that he would like to see the state party adopt:

JJ: “I think that the party ought to be clear with voters as to what it stands for. I think that campaign finance reform and meaningful real campaign finance reform—not just the stuff that wins headlines but has no teeth or backbone behind it—(is) something that is essential if you want to have a real democracy here in the state. And I would say we ought to be aggressively pursuing a progressive but thoughtful agenda, understanding that there’s a balance between government and business and fostering a positive business environment. Look, I’m in business. I understand that. I recognize that you have to have that and I think the Democratic Party should stand for that and can at the same time build up the middle class.

When you talk about actual reforms of the party itself, I would love for a state committee meeting to be open and able to present resolutions and have them discussed, debated and then actually voted upon. And I know that that’s been difficult. And I also understand that the state party should not be embarrassing whomever it is that is the Governor of their party at that time. So I recognize that, too. But I do think that the reform caucus deserves an opportunity to be able to bring its issues to the floor and have them discussed and debated and that’s been a difficulty we’ve seen.”

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Jacobs on who will win the April 19th special election on Long Island:

JJ: “It is a very tight race. The polling shows that it’s tight, but what makes it so difficult and unpredictable is that it falls on the same day as both the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries. So a lot is going to be determined based on the turnout of the presidential primaries and voters have to vote twice, on separate ballots … using separate machines at the same polling location. So it’s a complicated ordeal on that given day and it’s really going to be very hard to predict who is going to have the turnout advantage. Never mind that you could have people coming for the presidential and then just deciding to skip the state Senate special election because they don’t care. And there always is a down-ballot drop-off. Under normal circumstances, it’s probably going to be more significant now because of the two-step process. So it’s going to be hard to predict who is going to win this, but we’re fighting hard. Democrats have a slight enrollment advantage, but the Republican turnout is always expected to be better. And, then again, if you throw in the presidential primary equation, who knows?”

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Jacobs on how the 9th Senate District will vote in the presidential primary:

JJ: “On the Republican side the polling that I’ve seen indicates that Donald Trump, at least as of two weeks ago, was significantly ahead of everybody else and pushing to near 50% of the Republican vote, at least down in the 9th Senatorial District. And on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton was significantly ahead of Bernie Sanders, at least two weeks ago. We’ll be getting new tracking numbers in I’m sure in the next couple of days. So that’s where it stands right now.”

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Jacobs on open primaries:

JJ: “I don’t believe in open primaries. I believe in closed primaries. My view is that if you are a Democrat … you’re supposed to stand for certain things. The voter is supposed to look at the candidate on the Democratic side and at least have some vague understanding of the brand and what that candidate stands for in general. Same thing for the Republicans. That’s why we have parties. And if you are going to want the nomination of the Democratic Party, it would seem to me that only enrolled Democrats should be the ones deciding. That said, everyone has the opportunity to become a Democrat. All of these 27% [of independent voters in New York State] that you are talking about, the blanks and other party members, or the minor party members as they call them, they have an opportunity to decide—it has to be well in advance—it can’t be that day—to enroll as Democrats and then participate in the Democratic primary. Now, again, they have to do it before the preceding general election. Why? Because we want genuineness. We don’t want people jumping into the party for two days to vote in a primary and then jumping back somewhere else. You want your party nominees to be nominated by members of the party.”

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Former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, President & CEO of Win

Full interview

Quinn says debate over homelessness in New York City is “driven by the covers of tabloid newspapers”:

CQ: “In my opinion, the debate about homelessness is very intense in the city and that’s not a bad thing because it’s a big crisis. But what is a bad thing is that it seems driven by the covers of tabloid newspapers, which is not a good way to have this debate. And the pictures on the covers of the papers are always of homeless men and, in my opinion—it’s just my opinion—they are pictures of scary men who are designed to make us fearful, to scare us, right? Now they look like criminals or this, that and the other thing. They are not pictures that are designed to make us as people say, ‘Wow, I really want to help that person.’ And what is that very negative portrayal and that really strategic decision, in my opinion, doing? It’s driving us apart as a city, not bringing us together to help all homeless people.

And in that misrepresentation, New Yorkers are also failing to know the reality of homelessness. 80% of the people in shelters in New York City (are) families. 20% of the people in shelters are 5 years of age or younger. Why isn’t the New York Post putting those kinds of images on the cover? That’s an image that is going to bring us all together and help the homeless single individual and help the families. And at Win, we have the privilege of housing 10% of the homeless families in New York City every night. 4,700 people … 2,700 children. And what we see in that work is that they are the forgotten face of homelessness in New York; families and, in particular, children.

Right now, the debate is reacting to the press and that means all the conversation is about the 20% of singles in the system. And they need help, don’t get me wrong. But we also need to think about what we need to be doing for the single mothers. 95% of our heads of households are single mothers. What are we doing for those moms to help them get stabilized and what are we doing for the children who are going through the trauma of homelessness?

You know another statistic I didn’t know until I got to Win? A huge percentage of single moms in shelters are working. At the end of 2015, 43% of our moms were working and about 35% of the whole system of single mothers were working. … 35% give or take of the whole system are working and they can’t afford to make their rent. So this a problem that is much more complex than is getting discussed. We need to get the facts out so that we can develop the policies and the responses that will break the cycle of homelessness, not just for that mom or that gal, but also for the children. The children that are homeless are much more likely to be homeless adults.”

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Quinn on the causes of homelessness and the consequences of the affordable housing crisis:

CQ: “I attribute it to a couple of things. First and foremost, the exit out of shelter is more narrow than it has ever been. You are, on average, going to be with us at Win—and we’re really no different than any other provider in this regard—you’re going to be with us on average a year and a half. Why? Because the inventory of apartments you can afford, as a lower-income New Yorker, is very, very small. And the inventory of apartments you can afford as a middle class New Yorker is small.”

Bill Samuels: “That’s a major point that nobody understands. The housing isn’t there as much as it used to be.”

CQ: “No, and what middle class folks used to go to rent isn’t there anymore. So, to some degree, the apartments that my folks at Win could rent are now getting rented by middle class folks. (It’s kind of) a negative trickle-down … you know what I mean? So that inventory is not there. That’s one problem.

The second problem is Mayor Bloomberg stopped funding the vouchers, the rental assistance we gave homeless people. When those were pulled, basically every person who had one—when they were gone, they didn’t have enough money to pay their rent and ended up back in shelter. So the numbers were inflated because of that influx and we’re still feeling the tail end of that.

But we’re also having an enormous problem now that we have vouchers back, to the credit of Mayor de Blasio. We’re still having trouble getting landlords to take them. There’s 3,000 families right now in shelter who have a voucher, who have that extra money to help them pay their rent, but they can’t find a landlord to take the voucher. And I talk to our clients, some of them are just bad landlords who don’t want poor people in their apartments. Some of them are those kind of landlords that think that tomorrow that their neighborhood is going to be the new quote-unquote ‘hot neighborhood’ so they’re waiting it out. And some, to be fair, are nervous about taking people’s vouchers because the vouchers were pulled in the past and what’s going to happen?

But for those folks who are not taking clients because they don’t want formerly homeless people in their apartments, I hope some of them are listening … (because) there’s a law against that in New York City and I was part of the effort to pass it, a law that says you can’t discriminate against somebody based on their source of income. And we are working right now at Win with the city’s Human Rights Commission and the New York State Attorney General. We’re going to bring a lawsuit against landlords that are discriminating against our clients and that will help open up more apartments by making a spectacle of those landlords. But we also need to move forward and make sure the governor and the mayor’s commitment to create more supportive housing for families and singles moves forward quickly and gets those apartments online because that’s really going to help people, too.”

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Quinn on the degree to which mental health issues are related to the homelessness crisis in New York City and whether the city has the capacity to deal with the magnitude of the mental health problems its homeless population endures:

CQ: “The Mayor and the First Lady deserve a lot of credit for that ($22 million mental health) initiative, but that initiative to date has almost exclusively, if not exclusively, focused on single homeless folks. So I can’t tell you that our folks at Win are really benefitting from it and that’s a problem. Families get forgotten. So I have been and I will continue to urge the de Blasio administration to expand the homeless mental health initiative much more aggressively to include families and children. Child psychiatric intervention is different from adults, right? So they deserve credit, but that is a fault with the program, (it’s) not really inclusive of families, not inclusive of children.

That said, the issue of mental health as it intersects with homelessness is profound. The level of serious mental health issues amongst singles—and I can’t give you an exact number because it’s not my area of expertise—is very, very high. At Win we promote the family, 11 shelters, 10 (of which are for) famil(ies). We do have one singles shelter we run for single women, 75 single women. They are all profoundly mentally ill … all 75. Very few of them, if any, are able to be medically compliant without the assistance of the psychiatric nurses that are at our facility.

And within our homeless population—it’s hard to give you an exact number, but we were just having this conversation with one of the city’s terrific hospital networks yesterday, Montefiore, because we’re working on a relationship with them as our health home in the Bronx around mental and preventive care. And we believe 30% to 40% of our clients—adults and children—have some type of serious mental health issue. Now that’s serious, right? In and of itself, in my opinion, being a homeless child is a trauma which should be treated with psychological, therapeutic, perhaps psychiatric, depending on the child, intervention. Because if we don’t treat a trauma, we know what happens in the future. But that’s serious when we say 30% to 40%.

Do we have the capacity? I don’t know if we have the capacity right now. It’s up to the agency, but this is New York City. We have the best hospitals in the world! And if you shake a stick on any block in Lower Manhattan, you’re going to hit 5 or 6 therapists. We can find the resources and even in just in the meeting yesterday with Montefiore, those dots have not been connected before between Win and a place like (Montefiore) on a big level. We’re connecting those dots now. We could do that everywhere with every provider with every hospital as long as we decide we’re going to and put in place the strategic guidance to…”

Morgan Pehme: “And acknowledge the magnitude of the mental health crisis.”

CQ: “And acknowledge the magnitude. And also acknowledge—we may not have a program that is exactly … of the magnitude on day one. Ok … but let’s get there. Let’s have a plan and let’s get there. And—this is kind of my new cause celebre, so you heard it here first—when we’re building these new supportive housing units, when we’re building new shelters, let’s build them with spaces in them where we could have a medical provider who could do preventive and primary care and do mental health, psychological, psychiatric care right there on-site.”

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Quinn on what governmental reforms would help her organization better serve the homeless populations it cares for:

CQ: “We certainly need to have other policy and regulatory changes on a city, state and federal level. The structure HUD has around how much they will give us for rent for supportive housing, how they determine the quote-unquote ‘fair market rent.’ They’re not really based in the reality of New York City. So that creates a situation where we as a nonprofit so that the clients will pay 30% of their income in rent, whatever that is. If the shelter allows if they don’t have an income, 30% of it if they have an income. Then you get the money from HUD in those cases and then if there’s a difference because the HUD amount is not really realistic in New York City, we end up having to pay the difference. That’s an unfunded mandate. So we need HUD to get realistic and realize that an apartment rent in Kansas is not an apartment rent in Crown Heights or anywhere else.

The other thing we need is to make sure the city and the state get their regulations around the shelters … get them in sync. Because right now you have city regs that contradict with city regs and you have state regs that contradict with city regs. So you’re getting violations all over the place but you’re not doing anything wrong. We literally had … Department of Homeless Services come and say the window stop—not the guard, the thing on the top so the window can’t go down too far—so the Department of Homeless Services came and said, ‘Yeah, these are good. You’re good to go.’ And that’s really important because I don’t want a child flying out of the top of a window, God forbid, right? I’m like, good, thank God. We did it right. Literally the next week, the Department of Housing comes and says these are wrong. I want the right one. I don’t care what they’re called. I want the right one. But how can I have two different agencies tell me two different things within a 7-day time period?”

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Quinn responds to Bill Samuels’ criticism of the cynical underpinnings of the Women’s Equality Party, for which Quinn is a surrogate:

CQ: “I am involved, not on a day-to-day basis where I have to do things like fill out filings, thank God. But I am absolutely very involved and I do think it’s a legitimate party. I mean, we won (50,000 votes), and met the standards required, but, two, look around the State of New York. We’re not succeeding as it relates to bringing real equality for women. … We still have an … anti-choice (State) Senate. We’ve not seen enough pro-women, pro-family legislation come out of the New York State Senate. We don’t have one pro-choice state senator from Long Island. Until we get to a place where things are better, I’m willing and happy and thrilled to take help from any existing and new organization we possibly can and I think the Women’s Equality Party is an articulation of that by the governor and I think that’s a good thing.”

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Times Union State Editor Casey Seiler

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Seiler on this year’s state budget process:

CS: “On the question of the process, I think everybody agrees, at least everybody outside the majority conferences and the governor’s office, would agree that this year’s process was certainly the most frenzied budget that we’ve seen since the governor took office in 2011. It is, however, a vast improvement over the budget rounds that preceded it. You may recall the months-late budgets that we saw leading up to that in the Paterson administration and in the Pataki administration as well, where deals would just go on forever and they would extend a kind of vanilla budget through the use of these extenders. Now, the governor, through really an innovation of Governor David Paterson, is able to sort of put the cudgel to lawmakers and say, ‘Look, if the budget is late, the first extender you’re going to get is going to be my entire budget agenda.’ And the governor really threatened that in 2011 and since then he really hasn’t had to. And lawmakers have taken it as kind of a campaign advantage … as a sign of effective government that the budget is on-time. This year, however, it didn’t come close to the wire, it went over the wire.”

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