DFNYC Transition Memo for Mayor-elect de Blasio

To:                   New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio

From:              Democracy for NYC, a grassroots coalition group of Democracy for America

Re:                  Our Proposed Policy Ideas for the New Administration  

Date:              December, 2013

We were very proud to endorse your campaign in April and to be a part of your historic victory.  We have reached out to our members and the greater NYC political community for ideas to push forward the progressive agenda that inspired us to support your campaign, and we include some of those ideas here.

1. Police & Civil Liberties - Longer assignments in neighborhoods

From stop & frisk to unlawful arrests, there are a lot of problems with the way the N.Y.P.D. interacts with New Yorkers. Jerome Rice, who is part of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care and the NAACP, has suggested that there would be far fewer civil liberties violations by police officers if their initial assignment in a precinct was lengthened to a year or longer. Right now, an officer can transfer in 6 months, creating little incentive for the officer to form connections in the community. If the initial assignment in a precinct is lengthened to a year or even 18 months, there is more incentive for that officer to go to community meetings, listen to residents’ concerns, and get to know people in the neighborhood, which will likely decrease the problem of the same innocent young men being stop-and-frisked multiple times.

Feasibility:  We believe this would not require a change to existing law, but likely would require a change in the union contract with NYPD officers.  We look forward to working with Commissioner Bratton.

2. Voting - Easier, Quicker, Better Organized

A. Two Bottlenecks Creating Lines at the Polls & Two Easy Solutions

i. Bottleneck 1 - Voters Finding their ED - Big Maps with Election Districts

When voters arrive at the polls, if they do not know their election district (“ED”), they must wait in a line while a poll worker looks up their address.  We propose that at each poll site, the BOE put up a detailed neighborhood map that voters can look at and determine their ED.  This will greatly reduce the first line at the polls.  Another possibility is volunteers with smart phones helping people in line, but we are concerned that there may not be enough volunteers to cover all hours at all poll sites.

ii. Bottleneck 2 - Get rid of voter cards

The second bottleneck is at the second line a voter must wait in – at the desk for their election district. After signing the book in this most recent election, voters had to wait while a poll worker filled out a card with their information. Voter cards are necessary with lever machines, a voter must show the operator of the lever machine that s/he has signed in. But with paper ballots going to the scanner, the fact that the voter has a paper ballot is the proof that s/he signed in. Most fair elections groups believe that voter cards do not reduce the risk of voter fraud with paper ballots.

Feasibility:  We have confirmed with elections experts that that these two can be implemented without changing existing law; just BOE policy.  We believe the Mayor’s office can be very influential here.

B. Early Voting & Appointments to the NYC Board of Elections

Two other proposed solutions to voting problems in NYC are (1) Early voting (opening up some poll sites for up to two weeks before an election, as other states do) and (2) changing how we appoint leaders to the NYC BOE. The current process, where leaders come out of county parties, should perhaps be changed to a non-political process that focuses on a candidate’s qualifications first, similar to the Campaign Finance Board. However, both of these will require legislation in Albany, which we will work toward in 2014.

3. Jobs Portal for the Tech Sector – Helping the Unemployed & Small Business

NYC has seen a growth in the tech sector – internet and new media companies. Many of these businesses are creating jobs, including for people without a college education. However, for many of these startups, finding good talent is difficult and expensive. NYC government has a unique opportunity to create a tech-centered “jobs portal” that would make it easy for these small businesses to find and hire talented un-employed or under-employed New Yorkers, as well as connect those looking for education and training to companies offering internships and on-the-job training programs.  DFNYC’s friends in the tech sector are talking with people on the Transition Team about this idea.  

Feasibility: This does not require a change in existing law, and could use existing city resources.
4. Surgery Checklist - Reducing death, complications & infections

The Safe Surgery Checklist is a common sense approach to healthcare that could help save lives and reduce surgical complications for New Yorkers and their loved ones.  Proper use of the checklist, developed by the WHO in 2008, was found to reduce major complications from surgery by 36%, reduce infection rates by nearly 50%, and reduce deaths by 47%. (New England Journal of Medicine, 1/29/09.)  Unfortunately, this checklist is often not used, or used inconsistently, due to medical culture and other factors. (Harvard School of Public Health, 2/7/13.) NYC’s DOHMH could improve healthcare by increasing use of the checklist by surgery teams at local hospitals. In fact, many NYC hospitals could also benefit financially, as there are incentives for healthcare quality improvements under Obamacare.  More details and links to sources can be found at this page here at the DFNYC website

Feasibility:  We believe this would not require a change in existing law, but coordination with the state DOH is advisable. Dr. Atul Gawande, who developed the checklist as discussed in his 2010 book The Checklist Manifesto, has set up a non-profit to help hospitals with implementation. 

5. City ID Card that is also a Debit Card – Help for Underbanked Communities

We are very happy that Mayor-elect de Blasio has voiced his support for city ID cards.  We propose that NYC follow the lead of Oakland, CA, which has unveiled a new city government ID card with a debit card feature designed to assist low-income, “underbanked” individuals who pay high fees for debit cards.

Feasibility:  From a political perspective, the city will have to be clear that this is not a benefits card; this would be a debit card to which users would add their own money, to be used in situations where cash is unaccepted or not practical.  More details are in the website version of this memo at DFNYC.org.

6. Living Wage Bill – No Big Loopholes! 

Simply put, we feel if tax payer money is going to fund real estate projects, then the jobs in those buildings should pay a living wage, a key step to ending poverty and hunger in NYC.  In 2011, the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act was before the City Council.  The bill proposed to require hourly wages of $11.50 (or $10 with benefits) for workers in real estate development projects that receive $1 million or more in city money.  Developers would essentially just have to charge cheaper rents, passing the tax subsidy on to the commercial tenant, which can pass it on to its employees. There will be much advocacy and debate on details of a living wage bill. DFNYC would just like to strongly encourage Mayor-elect de Blasio not to cave in and allow huge loopholes to be added as a compromise, such as exemptions for developers who build affordable housing.  Loopholes mean far fewer people will earn a living wage; we would like to see benefits for as many workers as possible.

Feasibility: Because this is not an across-the-board minimum wage hike, NYC does not need Albany's approval. The previous bill had wide support in the council, which will likely continue in 2014.

About DFNYC:

We are a local progressive grassroots group that came out of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. We support social progressive fiscally responsible candidates and issues. We volunteer and fundraise for candidates at all levels of government, from Democratic District Leader to U.S. President.

Contacts:  (Replace -at- w/@)

Richard Wallner              Ousman Laast                Max Smith Jr.              Tracey Keij-Denton

rwallner-at-dfnyc.org   olaast-at-dfnyc.org       msmith-at-dfnyc.org    tdenton-at-dfnyc.org