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April 17th, 2016

Guests: NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried

Please note that this week’s show on AM970 was the first at Effective Radio’s new broadcast time: 10AM. AM970’s press release announcing the time slot move, which puts Effective Radio back to back with John Catsimatidis’ Cats Roundtable, is available at this link: http://effectiveny.org/2016/04/12/am970-moving-effective-radio-with-bill-samuels-to-new-time-slot/

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NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito

Full interview

Mark-Viverito on her efforts to elect more women to the New York City Council and the idea of instituting mandatory or voluntary quotas with the goal of gender parity in elect office:

MMV: “It really pains me, right, that when I walked into the City Council in 2005, there were 18 women in the Council. That’s really not enough, but we were at 18. We now find ourselves today, on this day, with 14 women in the City Council out of a City Council of 51. You know, this is the legislative body for the City of New York in the progressive city that is New York and we have a great gender imbalance in our legislative body. It is problematic.

We have countries in Latin America. We have countries, I think, in Europe, that mandate that legislative bodies have to have 50% representation by gender. So countries have figured out a way to really force this as a conversation. This is an issue of gender equality and the voices of women are imperative if we’re going to have a really vibrant democracy. So that is an issue of concern to me, so I’ve been raising the consciousness saying, ‘Look, the New York City Council doesn’t have enough women.’ We have to make everyone that plays a role in what folks call politics be aware of this and make a commitment that it’s not just about supporting issues anymore. It’s also about gender balance and that also has to be part of the priorities in selecting and endorsing candidates.”

Link to audio

Mark-Viverito responds to Bill Samuels’ idea that there should be fewer City Council districts, but one man and one woman should represent each one:

Bill Samuels: “I pride myself on putting forth ideas that some people think make no sense, but eventually get passed. Here is an idea that I’m quite serious about. It’s very hard because of money in politics and everything else to really get the end result (we) want (of gender parity) so one idea is that we have fewer City Council districts, but every district, like we have on the state committee, has one female and one male representative in the City Council. We do that in the state committee, where there is a woman and a man district leaders, and that, long term, if we could get a charter change on that, we would have 50-50. And I think it would be a revolution. Now, we’re not going to get that done right away, but do you have any reaction to whether that might be feasible over time?”

MMV: “I mean I’m willing to explore any ideas. I think what we need to do is put together some sort of a group that is committed to really making this a priority and seeing what options exist, right? Because the other part of engaging with people … whether it’s unions, whether it’s the Working Families Party, whether it’s Emily’s List, Eleanor’s Legacy, whatever it is, we engage and say what’s supposed to be a priority. So I would like to sit with you. I know you’re very interested in this and I’m appreciative of it. And let’s figure out how we can ensure that we have greater gender representation and gender balance in our legislative bodies.”

Link to audio

Mark-Viverito on whether the county leaders are to blame for the dearth of women elected officials in New York City:

Morgan Pehme: “Do you think a lot of this kind of falls at the feet of, particularly, the county chairmen …—they’re all men… —who they decide to back?”

MMV: “Yes. I mean, that’s part of it and I’ve raised this with some of the county chairs and expressed a concern. There has to be a recruiting (goal), creating pipelines of opportunity, saying, ‘Look, we’re going to make it a priority. If this candidate, a female, is leaving, let’s make sure that we replace her with a woman at least.’ … Right now what we’re seeing is the seats that are opening up are being replaced by men. And that to me is really a problem and I have raised it personally (with) some county leaders and I’m hoping that we can make some change happen.”

Link to audio

Mark-Viverito on the federal investigations into city government:

Morgan Pehme: “Speaker, over the past weeks a number of reports have emerged about federal investigations into the mayor’s fundraising, the police department and other city agencies. How seriously do you take these investigations and should the public be concerned that a major scandal could erupt at City Hall?”

MMV: “Well, these are processes that have to play out. I am not going to prejudge. Obviously, I’m someone who believes in transparency in government. We have actually taken a lot of steps to make this Council much more transparent as far as disclosure information, et cetera. And so my concern is always honesty and that we abide by the law. And so an investigation is an investigation, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything until the results are provided. And so I think it has to play its course and then once that happens, then we can speak further about that.”

Link to audio

Mark-Viverito on whether the corruption investigations could end up involving the Council:

MP: “Speaker, do you have any concerns that these burgeoning investigations could spread to the City Council and touch any of your members?”

MMV: “We have been very transparent. We have created more democracy in this Council than in the past, under my leadership. We have created more equity. I’m a firm believer in discretionary allocations. There is also a very thorough vetting process. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that my colleagues serve their constituents with dignity and a respectful manner and are open with them. And, obviously, I am not too concerned. I think the way we are conducting ourselves is really stellar, and I believe that that will continue to be the case.”

Link to audio

Mark-Viverito on whether she would support a ban on city elected official- or government-tied nonprofits taking money from people who do business with the city:

Bill Samuels: “Would you be open to support legislation in the City Council that might prohibit city-controlled, agency-controlled, mayor-controlled or any other elected official controlled nonprofits from taking money from people who do business with the city?”

MMV: “I don’t like … to commit to anything regarding legislation unless we have an opportunity to analyze it and discuss it further. … For any legislation the way my process is and the way we process it on the Council is that we hear from all sides and we explore the issue and analyze it and inspect it thoroughly. So it’s hard to say anything beyond that when you are posing it to me on radio. … We’ve done a lot of campaign finance laws and a lot of disclosure and self-imposed some policy changes internally. So I think I’ve gone further, I believe, than any other Speaker in terms of the level of openness that we’ve done and transparency. So I would be willing to explore that bill further, but I’d much rather give it a more thoughtful answer.” [Note: It is very hard to make out the end of the Speaker’s response so the last sentence may have some transcription inaccuracy.]

Link to audio

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried

Full interview

Gottfried on his push for single-payer health care in New York State and his response to the criticisms that single-payer will never pass and is too expensive:

DG: “An enormous number of people will say, ‘Everybody knows that single-payer is the only sensible way to finance health care, but it could never happen.’ Certainly at the federal level, given the direction that Congress has been in for a long time, doing this at the federal level is, shall we say, a really uphill fight.

But, fortunately, there are a number of states that have politics that are dramatically more progressive than Washington’s politics and New York State is one of them. And that’s why last spring we were able to get the New York Health Act, which is our single-payer bill, passed in the state Assembly by a vote, by a margin of about 2-1.

I would grant that to get it passed in the state Senate, we probably need to elect three or four more Democrats to the state Senate, but I think that, too, is doable. And the more people come to think that a state single-payer program is not something that, oh, it could never happen, but yeah, maybe that could happen, I think that brings us closer to where it becomes almost inevitable.

Now, on the cost, the truth is about 20 or more percent of our healthcare dollar is spent on insurance company administrative costs and profit, plus the administrative costs of doctors and hospitals to fight with insurance company administrative people. And a single-payer system would take that 20 percent or so out of the healthcare budget right off the top and would more than pay for the cost of covering the uninsured and eliminating deductibles and co-pays and out-of-network charges, et cetera. And so the bottom line is it would save New York State about $45 billion net every year. So it’s not a question of how much it would cost, it’s a question of how much it would save. And $45 billion is more than $2,000 for every man, woman and child in New York State. That a lot of money.”

Link to audio

Gottfried on whether he has a sense where Gov. Cuomo stands on single-payer health care:

DG: “I don’t. We haven’t pressed him to take a position on it because I think the governor, on an issue like this, likes to see a lot more public and legislative support before he jumps in. So we’re working on building support in the state Senate, building support among the general public and public awareness of it. I think when we’re ready to get the bill to the floor of the state Senate, I think at that point the governor will take a more serious look at it. Without throwing anybody under the bus in his administration, I can tell you that an awful lot of people dealing with health policy in the Executive Branch would certainly say, ‘Everybody knows it’s the only sensible thing to do.’”

Link to audio

Gottfried on the Affordable Care Act and what the state government is doing to address the double whammy of high premiums and high deductibles that most working families in New York currently face:

DG: “The Affordable Care Act … has done a lot of good for a lot of people. Nobody should want to go back to where we were before that, but it basically leaves us in the hands of insurance companies. And because when people go on the exchange to pick a plan … really the only factor they look at is the premium. In order to hold premiums down, insurance companies have higher and higher deductibles and co-pays and tightly restricted provider networks and pay you nothing if you go out of network. And so … people are buying coverage that they can’t afford to use, which is really a tragedy.

We’ve been working in New York for 20-25 years to try to pass various health insurance reforms about pre-existing conditions and the like. And we were doing that long before the Affordable Care Act came along. Part of the problem is that the insurance company lawyers are at least as smart as we are and we enact reforms and they figure out ways around them. And most people who think they have commercial health coverage, what they actually have is what is technically called a self-insured plan from their employer. The paperwork may have the name of an insurance company on it, but they’re acting as a self-insured plan, which is a lot of gobbledygook for the fact that they’re not subject to New York State regulation.

Under federal law, an employer self-insured plan—we cannot tell them what to do. And so a lot of the reforms we enact don’t apply to 60% of the people who have private health coverage. So that’s part of the reason why I think we need to just take insurance companies out of the picture—that that’s really the only way—and not only take them out of the picture, but then offer totally comprehensive coverage to every New Yorker—is really the only way out of this pickle. There are people advocating that, for example, that we should require every insurance carrier to offer a plan with out of network benefits. That would be a great idea, but the way they would respond is by either jacking up the premiums or jacking up deductibles or paying out of network providers so little that you’d regret having passed such a bill.”

Link to audio

Gottfried on the chances of New York legalizing recreational marijuana and whether any lessons can be gleaned from the successful medical marijuana fight to get recreational marijuana legalized:

DG: “I first put in the medical marijuana bill in 1997 so it took us, what, 17 years to get it enacted. From the very start, public opinion polls had solid majorities in favor of the bill and those majorities grew. But New York State elected officials are, despite our reputation for being the progressive capital of the world, very jittery when it comes to any issue relating to drugs. I think it’s going to take a lot of vocal public support and advocacy to get the recreational use done because while there is very strong public support, the folks opposed to it can be pretty vocal.

Part of what was crucial to getting the medical marijuana bill passed was the families of the young children with severe forms of epilepsy who—it was just amazing that they came to Albany from all parts of the state again and again with their children, which is, when you’ve got a child in a wheelchair because they have dozens of seizures a day … certainly not an easy thing. But it was the efforts of the patients and families that really made it happen in New York and is going to help us pass bills that make the law a lot better. I think the people of New York have been for (State Senator) Liz Krueger’s tax-and-regulate model for a long time, but it’s going to take a lot of effort to bring a lot of my more nervous colleagues on board.”

Link to audio

Gottfried on whether he has endorsed any candidate in the Assembly special election on April 19th to replace disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver:

DG: “I have not. It’s two Assembly districts away from mine. I rarely get involved in a Democratic primary that far away from my home turf. So, no, I have not endorsed anybody in that race.”

Link to audio

Gottfried on his defense of Sheldon Silver:

Morgan Pehme: “Assemblyman, you’ve come under criticism from the Daily News and some other news outlets for your initial defense of former Speaker Shelly Silver in the wake of his corruption arrest. You’ve particularly been criticized for having reportedly referred to him as a “hero.” Now that he has been tried and convicted of extremely serious public corruption, do you regret your defense of Silver and believe now that he had abused his office?”

DG: “Well, I don’t know in what context I may have used the word “hero.” If I had, it would have been in relation to what he achieved from year to year for protecting health care in New York or protecting the rent laws and tenant’s rights. And on countless issues, he was one of the strongest forces in New York politics for a long list of very important progressive issues. When I saw the paperwork in that case, the initial filings against him, as a lawyer—I don’t practice criminal law—I don’t practice law at all—but based on what I know about criminal law, it did not seem to me like the prosecutor laid out the elements of a criminal offense. You know, the jury made its decision. It will at some point be reviewed by the judge and maybe by an appellate judge. We’ll see where that comes out. I wasn’t in the courtroom. I didn’t hear all the evidence. So all I could really comment on is what was in the initial paperwork, which I did not think laid out the essential elements of a criminal charge.”

MP: “So it sounds like you’re still giving Silver the benefit of the doubt.”

DG: “Well, I think every New Yorker is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. I’m not saying that the conviction should be thrown out. That’s something that the judicial system is going to weigh.”

MP: “But didn’t some of the things, like with his relationship with Glenwood Management … I feel like some people, that caused us to reconsider some of the decisions he made on things like tenants’ legislation and renewing the … (rent) laws and whether he was necessarily working in the best interest of the public or whether he was working in a self-serving capacity. Has that made you reexamine at all the Speaker’s record?”

DG: “Well, if you look at the results … and what the Assembly took stands in favor of were stronger positions for protecting tenants than anyone else in the legislative process was doing. So I don’t think you can look at the Assembly’s record or his record on those issues and say, ‘Oh, he must have been doing the landlord’s bidding while we weren’t looking.’ I don’t think there’s any evidence of that. And by the way, you know, Glenwood and a lot of other landlords and developers contribute an awful lot more money to not only the current governor but probably all of his predecessors. And the governor has a lot more say about the outcome of legislative issues than the speaker of the Assembly ever does. Nobody looks at that and says, ‘Oh, you know, there is probable cause to believe that this governor and several of his predecessors were guilty of corruption.’ You don’t say that about somebody without evidence of quid pro quo and in a given case you need to look and see was that evidence there. Those principles are part of our legal—are fundamental to our legal system, that you want proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the elements of a legal charge.”

Link to audio

 

Articles about this episode:

http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2016/04/gottfried-recreational-marijuana-legalization-would-take-a-lot-of-effort/

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