Guests: Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres
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Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney
Maloney on the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
CM: “Personally, I think the most important thing we can do to help women is to put women in the Constitution. We are not in the Constitution so any discrimination case—actually former Justice Scalia, I believe he did woman a favor when he said that, as a strict Constitutional lawyer, he would come down in any decision against women in a discrimination suit because they’re not in the Constitution. …
And so I think we should work hard to get in the Constitution and it’s difficult. And I’ll tell you on a personal level … I went to Congress with a list of things to accomplish. I’ve accomplished all of them except passing the Equal Rights Amendment. And what does that tell you? That you could build a subway, that you could take on the financial industry and reform it to the extent that economists are saying that you’ve saved consumers $17-20 billion a year. That’s a ‘b’ as in billion. That’s a lot of money. That you could pass the James Zadroga health care law, which was an $8 billion dollar entitlement program for the health care for the workers and the survivors of 9/11. You can pass all of these important bills, but one that doesn’t cost money—that basically says that women should be treated fairly and equally—hasn’t budged.”
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Maloney says New York should pass a state ERA:
CM: “In terms of helping women, I think we could pass a state ERA. We could pass a city ERA. In fact, I spoke to the First Lady about championing such an initiative in that area for New York City.”
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Maloney on statewide campaign finance reform:
CM: “Just to put in perspective the intransigence of state government—my first job in government, I was the state issues chair for Common Cause and the issue we were trying to pass was campaign finance reform. And that was way, way back in the mid ’70s. And to this day, Albany has never passed a campaign finance reform bill.
I went to the City Council of New York and one of my first bills that I put in was campaign finance reform and when it passed—it took me 10 years to pass it—it was called the toughest and best campaign finance reform law in the nation.
Then I went to Congress and worked—my first effort was I chaired the Campaign Finance Reform Committee for the freshman class and I ended up on the leadership panel that wrote the campaign finance reform bill that passed the United States Congress. And basically holes were shot through it with the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United and we need to push for a federal Constitutional amendment to repeal Citizens United, which I feel is the worst, worst case that I’ve ever seen come out of the Supreme Court. It basically just puts more and more money—and you don’t even know who is giving this money—you don’t even know who is trying to influence. I think it is an awful, awful step.
But I tell the story that we were able to get reform on the City Council in New York. We were able to get reform in the United States Congress, but not able, to this day they have not passed any kind of campaign finance reform bill in Albany. … That I think speaks volumes. Many people think it was the structure where three people can basically make the decisions, meaning the Speaker, the Senate leader and the Governor—whatever the reason—to bring this change has been so difficult. Everyone promises all of this reform in the state Legislature and yet we’re not able to get it.”
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Maloney on when the 2nd Ave Subway will open:
CM: “The MTA has said that they will open it in December of 2016 and federal government has been telling me for a year now—and there is significant federal funding in it—that it won’t, that they will be behind. But I backed up the MTA because I know how hard they’re working and how focused they are on it and I say the workforce, from the janitor to the Chairman of the MTA are spirited and focused and working very, very hard on it.
Let me put this way, if we don’t open it in December 2016, we will be opening it in January and, actually, after this election—I was very focused on this primary for Hillary Clinton—when that’s over, I need to go back and really meet with the MTA and study exactly what’s happening and when it will open. But the main point is that it will open and on day one the FTA—the Federal Transit Authority—calls this the biggest and best project, not only in New York City, not only in New York State, but in the entire country. And on day one, it will move 200,000 people.
Now, we had a huge breakthrough and success working with Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez and Assemblyman Keith Wright on the funding for the 2nd Avenue Subway to go up to 125th Street. And the budget at first looked like they did not have the money, but they were able to secure $1.5 billion in funding to bring it up to 125th Street. So we need a full build, not just a band-aid there—the initial one just goes to 63rd Street—all the way down to the end of Manhattan. But that 2nd phase is in the budget and moving forward and that is a big success moving forward.
I have the two largest transit projects in the nation in my district. One is the 2nd Avenue Subway, the other is the East Side Connector, which is a multi-billion dollar project bringing people in on the LIRR. Also, an economic development project in Grand Central as it will rebuild the entrances and the store areas and it will be a one-seat ride into Grand Central, which is very important.”
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New York City Councilman Ritchie Torres
Torres responds to the question of whether the New York City Housing Authority’s problems are just financial, or whether it has been plagued by persistent and pervasive incompetence:
RT: “Yes, but the two are connected. When you starve an institution of resources, it will become less efficient. … NYCHA lost billions of dollars over a ten-year period at every level of funding and it had a destabilizing effect not only on the bureaucracy of NYCHA, but on the infrastructure of public housing itself. I mean, if you were to starve any institution, whether it is the Department of Education or the NYPD, five billion dollars over a ten-year period, it’s going to have a deeply destabilizing effect, right? No institution could absorb cuts at that level.
Having said that, NYCHA could be more efficient, even within the constraints of federal disinvestment. But I should provide you with some numbers. NYCHA has been so starved of resources from the federal government that it has 17 billion dollars worth of capital needs. And in order to replace every system in every structure, every brick and every roof that desperately needs replacement, you would need to invest 17 billion dollars. And yet NYCHA only receives somewhere between 250 and 300 million dollars annually in capital funding from the federal government. So the gap between the need and the funding is dangerously unsustainable and the reality is that we cannot preserve public housing with the resources we have.
If you’re the Chair of NYCHA, you’re not actually preserving public housing, you’re simply managing the decline of public housing. And NYCHA is home to probably well beyond a half a million New Yorkers. You have a half a million authorized residents. You might have an additional 200,000 unauthorized residents. And you have 200,000 more residents who depend on NYCHA for Section 8. So almost a million people depend on the New York City Housing Authority for access to deeply affordable and yet that institution is danger of dying.”
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Torres on whether there is any mechanism by which New York City could build new public housing without new federal funding:
RT: “Unlike most of the affordable housing that we create, public housing is affordable to the poorest New Yorkers, right? Because it’s the deepest form of affordability. But the deeper the affordability, the more expensive it is to operate. And the truth is that cities and states cannot operate or build public housing without federal support. And there’s actually a federal moratorium on the use of federal funds for public housing development. It is illegal to build public housing with federal funds unless (it’s) in the context of a public/private partnership.”
MP: “And is it possible to have such a public/private partnership? It seems like with real estate and development being such a big industry in New York City that there might be some sort of way do that.”
RT: “So there’s a program known as the Rental Assistance Demonstration [RAD] program. There’s a cap on the number of units that can go through the program set by Congressional statute and it allows a public housing authority like NYCHA to convert its public housing portfolio into project-based Section 8, to convert Section 9 public housing, which is Section 9, into Section 8. So under Section 9, if you’re a public housing authority, your only source of funding is Congressional appropriations. And so as Congressional appropriations decline over time, so will your funding for the operation of your buildings. So it’s an inherently unstable model of financing. It’s susceptible to the vicissitudes of politics. Whereas, under Section 8, you can access both public and private sources of funding, lower income tax credits, tax-exempt bond financing and government subsidies.
So that’s a much more resilient model of financing. The trouble is that there’s no mechanism for converting all of public housing in New York City into project-based Section 8 because it’s too large. There are not enough tax credits or not enough bond financing to make the transactions work. So if you had a small public housing authority, a program like RAD could be a game changer, but with one as large as we have in the New York City Housing Authority, it can only be a marginal part of the solution. So, in the end, I do believe the solution is properly funding public housing. … It is a resource question in the end.”
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Torres on the current investigations into the Mayor’s office and city government and the needs for term limits in Albany and Washington:
RT: “I am not familiar with the details of the investigations so I want to be careful not to comment on something about which I have no extensive knowledge, but I do think it’s a cautionary tale. Even if no law got broken, I think every elected official has an obligation to be mindful of the manner in which we are raising money.
I think it reminds us that one of the keys to reforming our system is campaign finance reform, which has its limitations in a world of Citizens United. In fact, I would argue that there are two reforms. One is campaign finance, but the second is actually term limits. I think institutions benefit from an infusion of new energy… In the City Council, about a third of the Council is under the age of 40. You have young, dynamic Council members who are working their heart out. Members like me, we would have never been elected but for term limits. It allows for a new generation of elected leadership. In other words, the state Legislature or Congress—institutions without term limits—I think inevitably become more complacent, more calcified and in some cases more corrupt over time.”
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Torres on the flipping of Rivington House and corruption:
RT: “Specifically on the deed restriction, it seems strange to me that—or outrageous—that DCAS [Department of Citywide Administrative Services] has the authority to lift a deed restriction without authorization from the City Council. … That’s something that should be subject to a public process of review, like a disposition or a ULURP [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] action. That’s a change that the City Council should seriously explore.
To your larger question, I find that the more power, the more legislative power that an institution has, the greater the potential for corruption. And I do believe the Council has a more wholesome culture than the state Legislature, than Congress, a) because we have infinitely less power, but we also have campaign finance. We have severe limits on what we can spend and what we can receive in elections. And I do believe that has an edifying effect on our politics.”
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Torres on if he favors a yes vote in 2017 on the Constitutional Convention:
RT: “I do. You know, I’m a firebrand on the City Council and I believe—I forget the exact quote, but I remember I was at my sister’s house and I saw a quote on her refrigerator. It said ‘A woman has never made history by being on her best behavior.’ And I feel like that’s true of all of us. I’m not going to rely on the state Legislature to reform Albany. I think we need people on the ground like you and me and advocates who are actively participating in the convention and pushing for systemic reform because Albany cannot be trusted to reform itself. Washington cannot be trusted to reform itself. Reform will only arrive out of grassroots agitation.”
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