The crisis at RikersSeptember 15, 2021
Pols who descended on Rikers Island for a tour this week may have expected a slightly sanitized experience. Instead, they described seeing a man attempt to hang himself, people living amid human waste, and detainees deprived of water, food and medication.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, on the other hand, hasn’t visited the troubled jail complex in four years.
But things finally got bad enough to command his attention, and the mayor announced a series of emergency measures Tuesday to address the crisis. Conditions, which have been bad for as long as any of us can remember, have gotten much worse because of a lack of officers at the jail complex during the Covid-19 pandemic. Guards are calling in sick or otherwise not showing up in large numbers, and those who do come in are often forced to work 24 hours straight with no relief, which in turn leads to more absences.
Now, correction officers who don’t show up for work will be slapped with 30-day unpaid suspensions, as will those who call in sick for more than a day without medical documentation. NYPD officers will be sent to do the jobs usually done by correction officers at courthouses, so that more correction officers can staff Rikers.
Critics disagree on the right way to tackle the chaos at the jail, but agree that the mayor’s plan is inadequate. The head of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association, arguing the solution is hiring more guards, called the mayor a “modern day dictator” who should resign “for failing to show up and do his job for the past eight years.” Defense attorneys and criminal justice advocates, meanwhile, want inmates released from Rikers. Legal Aid’s Tina Luongo calls it “unconscionable” that the mayor hasn’t released hundreds of people serving sentences of less than a year.
Even de Blasio doesn’t claim his plan is any solution for the long term. “We need to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible,” he said of Rikers. And there is a plan to do that, approved by the City Council back in 2019. But now its fate is unclear. It was delayed last year, and the next mayor may not be on board: Democratic nominee Eric Adams does not support the chosen locations for replacement jails, while Republican opponent Curtis Sliwa does not support closing Rikers at all.
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WHERE’S KATHY? Holding a Covid-19 briefing in Albany.
WHERE’S BILL? Making an announcement about NYC baby bonds and holding a media availability.
City releases NYCHA Covid data, showing higher death rates for residents, by POLITICO’s Téa Kvetenadze and David Giambusso: The city health department has released numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths throughout the New York City Housing Authority after more than a year of not doing so — numbers that show residents died at a significantly higher rate than their share of the city population. The numbers, released only days after POLITICO reported on the data gap, show that NYCHA residents constitute about 4 percent of the city’s population but made up roughly 7 percent of the city’s total deaths from Covid between March 2020 and June 2021, according to the health department data. NYCHA residents represent about 5 percent of the city’s total Covid-19 cases, according to the same data. In total, NYCHA developments had 47,462 Covid-19 cases and 2,249 deaths through June.
“Almost 18% of NYC Students Fail to Show Up as Buildings Reopen,” by Bloomberg’s Henry Goldman: “About eight out of 10 schoolchildren expected to show up to New York City’s first day of public school on Monday came back to class, according to a preliminary count by the education department. The 82.4% attendance rate may increase as hundreds of schools in the U.S.’s largest public school system haven’t yet reported their first-day enrollment, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday. That compares to around 90% in 2019 and 83% in 2020, when many children attended schools remotely during the pandemic, he said. 'We understand there is a disruptive reality to all the changes we’ve been through. I see this as a very strong number,' de Blasio said during a briefing. 'We have some ground to make up, I’m very confident we will.'”
— “No-show school buses leave some NYC students stranded on the first day,” by Chalkbeat’s Christina Veiga
“NYC court temporarily blocks City Hall’s DOE vaccine mandate,” by New York Post’s Julia Marsh and Kenneth Garger: “New York City’s major municipal unions scored a legal win Tuesday night when a Manhattan Supreme Court judge temporarily blocked City Hall’s vaccine mandate for Department of Education workers. Judge Laurence L. Love issued the temporary restraining order in response to a lawsuit brought against the city by a slew of major municipal unions who oppose Mayor Bill de Blasio’s directive. The judge set a Sept. 22 court date for the unions to argue against the mandate. Until then, Love ruled the city is ‘temporarily restrained from implementing’ the mandate, which requires all DOE staffers to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27 or else face termination.”
“Who Failed Baby Apolline?” by Streetsblog’s Julianne Cuba: “Failure has many fathers. The reckless driver who hit and killed a 3-month-old baby at a Brooklyn intersection on Saturday should never have been behind the wheel that day — his license to drive was suspended, he’s racked up scores of speeding tickets, and he’s previously been arrested for driving without a valid license — but the criminal justice system and its political architects failed to keep him off the road. According to police, 28-year-old Tyrik Mott was racing the wrong way down on Gates Avenue in Fort Greene in his 2017 Honda Civic with Pennsylvania plates when he plowed into another vehicle at about 6:20 p.m.”
— De Blasio could offer no explanation why his administration has failed to implement a law requiring drivers with 15 or more speeding tickets or five red light camera tickets in a year to either take a safety course or have their cars seized.
— “De Blasio officials grilled by NYC Council over lagging storm resiliency efforts after Ida: ‘We’re way behind,’” by New York Daily News’ Chris Sommerfeldt
“Temporary Restraining Order Issued Against NYC Vaccine-Or-Test Requirement For City Employees,” by Gothamist’s Jessica Gould: “The New York State Supreme Court has issued a temporary restraining order against New York City's vaccine requirements for municipal workers. The order means the city cannot enforce its COVID-19 vaccine mandates, pending a hearing on September 22nd. Judge Laurence Love signed the order after the Municipal Labor Committee and other unions brought a lawsuit against the city, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the city's Board of Education. In late July, Mayor Bill de Blasio called for all city workers to get vaccinated or tested weekly. All public school staff must be vaccinated but don't have the option to test out. Both rules set deadlines for employees to get their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines by September 27th.”
“Hochul ethics panel pick helps Cuomo keep $5.1M from book,” by New York Post’s Bernadette Hogan and Bruce Golding: “Disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo can keep the $5.1 million he made selling his memoir about the coronavirus crisis, the state’s ethics agency narrowly decided Tuesday — when a brand-new member appointed by Gov. Kathy Hochul sided with her predecessor. Cuomo scored six votes in his favor from members of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, including Commissioner Randall Hinrichs, a former Suffolk County district administrative judge who Hochul named to the panel shortly before its meeting in Albany. Other votes for Cuomo came from Commissioner James Dering, a Cuomo appointee who Hochul on Tuesday named JCOPE’s acting chairman, and Commissioner Juanita Newton, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers). The three remaining votes all came from commissioners Cuomo appointed before he resigned over a sexual harassment scandal last month.”
— RESPONSE to Hochul's pick from Senate Ethics Chair Alessandra Biaggi (D-Westchester): “Rather than fulfilling her promise to prioritize transparency and integrity in government, Governor Hochul’s appointment only maintains the status quo. It is now even more imperative for the Legislature to take matters into our own hands, and pass legislation to completely reform and restructure our state’s system of ethics and oversight.”
— “James says JCOPE leak referral was improper,” by Times Union’s Chris Bragg and Joshua Solomon: “Attorney General Letitia James informed the Joint Commission on Public Ethics on Monday that her office will not presently be able to investigate the leak of confidential information to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2019...In her letter to JCOPE, James cited the state law creating the ethics commission in 2011, which created much-criticized special voting rules that can serve to protect politicians from scrutiny. For an investigation to proceed into a Democratic governor, for instance, two of the governor's three Democratic Party appointees to JCOPE must vote in favor of an investigation. And in James' letter, she cited a portion of the law stating that the same rule applies to state employees and officers.
“Senate #2 Joins Mounting Opposition to Hochul’s Pick for Top Financial Regulator,” New York Focus’s Sam Mellins: “Two months ago, Obama-era Treasury Department official Adrienne Harris joined the board of LendingClub, a scandal-plagued online lending company. It was the latest of well over a dozen past and present positions Harris has held at financial technology ('fintech') firms or related companies, many headquartered in New York. Two weeks ago, Governor Kathy Hochul nominated her to be New York’s top financial watchdog, charged with regulating those same firms. The state Senate won’t vote on the nomination until it reconvenes in January, but it has already provoked significant consternation among some Democrats in the chamber—including Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), who told New York Focus that he will vote against Harris’ confirmation. ‘What we need is someone to oversee the industry that actually has interest in overseeing the industry. I don’t believe that Adrienne Harris is that person,’ Gianaris said.”
“Judge blocks medical worker vaccine mandate in NY state,” from The Associated Press: “A federal judge temporarily blocked the state of New York on Tuesday from forcing medical workers to be vaccinated after a group of health care workers sued, saying their Constitutional rights were violated because the state’s mandate disallowed religious exemptions. Judge David Hurd in Utica issued the order after 17 health professionals, including doctors and nurses, claimed in a lawsuit Monday that their rights were violated with a vaccine mandate that disallowed the exemptions. The judge gave New York state until Sept. 22 to respond to the lawsuit in federal court in Utica. If the state opposes the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary court order blocking the vaccine mandate, a Sept. 28 oral hearing will occur.”
“Hochul administration to award $23.7 million in grants to end gun violence,” by WKBW’s Tim Meehan: “Governor Kathy Hochul has announced the state will be awarding $23.7 million in grant funding to cut down on gun violence statewide. The state is looking to spend the money on new gun violence prevention efforts, including job training, community activities and intervention in areas with high concentrations of gun violence. About two-thirds of the grant funds, roughly $16 million, will go towards workforce development and job placement programs across 20 cities that are the most heavily impacted by gun violence statewide. The hope is that those programs will help connect at-risk youth — including young adults age 18-24 who are unemployed, or out-of-school — with permanent, good-paying jobs.”
#UpstateAmerica: It didn’t help the final score, but draft beer drinking in Buffalo was up by 40 percent for the Bills’ Sunday season opener compared to last year.
“New York Will Soon Lose 1 House Seat. The G.O.P. Might Lose 5,” by The New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos and Grace Ashford: “Seven years ago, New Yorkers voted decisively to empower a new bipartisan commission to do what self-interested politicians could not: draw new congressional district lines that were not gerrymandered to favor a particular party. But as the panel prepares to unveil its proposed maps for the first time on Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers in New York and Washington are already laying the groundwork to cast them aside — plotting to use their supermajorities in Albany to draw new district boundaries for the next decade that might eliminate as many as five Republican-held seats. The end result could drive one of the most consequential shifts in power in the country this redistricting cycle, the first since New York voters approved a 2014 ballot measure to curb gerrymandering.”
— A grand jury declined to indict the first police officer arrested under New York’s chokehold law.
— More than 2.7 million people rode the subway on Monday, setting a pandemic-era record at just over half of pre-pandemic ridership.
— A new lawsuit accuses a prominent Rochester obstetrician/gynecologist of impregnating a woman with his own sperm at his fertility clinic.
— Galway schools have already made a brief move back to virtual learning after the first week of school due to record numbers of Covid-19 cases in the small district.
— More than a million New York households do not have a broadband internet connection, according to a report from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
— An off-duty NYPD officer escaped out a window after her husband allegedly took her service weapon and shot at officers responding to a domestic violence call.
— Fourteen people, including 11 reputed members of the Colombo crime family, were charged in a sweeping federal racketeering case.
— The NYPD plans on shutting down underground train stations during extreme weather conditions in the future.
— The Javits Center completed its 200,000 square-foot rooftop event space, which includes a one-acre farm.
— Council Member Antonio Reynoso seeks to abolish the watchdog report on the NYPD’s database of alleged gang members.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Alex Yudelson of the White House … Chris Lehmann … NPR’s David Folkenflik … CBS’ Adam Aigner-Treworgy … Tiffany Haverly of Finsbury Glover Hering … CNN’s Ryan Nobles … Bloomberg’s Max Berley ... speechwriter John McConnell … Eliza Shapiro … Zara Rahim … Owen Pataki … Marya Hannun … Alana Russo … Anya Kamenetz
MAKING MOVES — Bradley Singer has been promoted to be a partner at WME. He most recently was a talent agent at the agency.
MEDIAWATCH — Peter Sterne is joining New York Focus as managing editor. He has been a freelance journalist and was previously a media reporter at POLITICO.
“Grand Prospect Hall Denied Landmark Status,” by Brooklyn Paper’s Ben Verde: “It’s a dream come true — for the developer. The Grand Prospect Hall was denied review for landmark status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Sept. 14, making its imminent demolition all the more likely. In a letter to the neighborhood activists campaigning to save the building, the commission stated that the building was not suitable for landmark status, citing extensive changes to its facade throughout the 20th century and the recent demolition of its historic interior.”