At a press conference about transparency, Speaker Quinn puts on a poker face
At a press conference to announce two bills that would make city government more transparent, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn obfuscated.
To be precise, Quinn declined to take a position on a proposed reform of the state pension system or on a recent proposal by a councilman to create an inspector general for the NYPD.
It is frequently Quinn's lot these days, as she positions herself for a run for mayor in 2013, to be faced with issues that put her in a position of having to choose between possibly angering the current mayor, who is her ally, and alienating the liberal officials and interest groups whose support she'll presumably need next year. Sometimes, eventually, she finds a middle ground to occupy. Not infrequently, she defers.
Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo have been advocating the creation of a new pension tier for yet-to-be-hired government workers that would come with less generous benefits. Public-employee unions strenuously oppose the effort.
Asked what her position was, Quinn said she was still talking to people in the mayor's and governor's offices and to labor leaders and was not yet ready to formulate an opinion.
"We need to finish our due diligence,” she said.
The speaker also declined to give an opinion on a recent proposal championed by the Brennan Center for Justice at N.Y.U., and put forth by Brooklyn councilman Brad Lander, one of the founders of the Progressive Caucus. The idea, inspired by a recent series of mini-scandals involving the police department, is to create an independent inspector general for the N.Y.P.D.
"I can’t really comment on it until I see the bill," Quinn said.
The official purpose of today's press conference was to announce that the City Council would pass three bills this afternoon.
The first, initially championed by late Councilman Tom White, and then sponsored by Erik Dilan, would require banks to notify the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development within 15 days of beginning foreclosure proceedings on a residential property. It would also require the city to post new foreclosure information on its website by community district on a quarterly basis. The bill follows through on a commitment Quinn made in her State of the City address last year.
“Blocks that were once robust are now decrepit," said Quinn. "We’ve seen residential properties fall into disrepair, and we know that buildings in foreclosure are likely to have more violations. But we don’t always known when these buildings are in trouble, and we find out they’re in trouble too late.”
This bill, by shedding light on ongoing foreclosures, would theoretically allow tenants, advocates, and government officials to pay closer attention to buildings in foreclosure.
"Look, slumlords exist on the belief that nobody’s watching and that they can let buildings erode to crap without attention or pressure from government," said Quinn. "When they know they’re going to be under the microscope, they’re a little bit like roaches. They run away."
The Council will also vote this afternoon on a bill that would require the Bloomberg administration to do more to elucidate the terms of its agreements with outside contractors. According to Quinn, last year, New York City procured more than $15 billion in supplies, services and construction through more than 15,000 contracts. Procurement of that sort comprises nearly 30 percent of the expense budget and is the budget's fastest growing segment.
"We can’t let any corner of our budget remain unexamined, and right now it’s nearly impossible to get information on city contracts in an easy, quick and accessible way," said Quinn. "We don’t even know at times the most basic terms of huge contracts.”
As an example, she cited the city's 1,500-page contract with Cemusa for bus shelters. Following last year's snowstorm, the city cleared the shelters of snow, even though it was Cemusa's contractual responsibility."
The bill, also mentioned in Quinn's 2011 State of the City, will require city contract officers to outline the deliverables of contracts clearly in a publicly accessible database. A beta version of the database will be up and running by July 1 of this year.
The Council will also vote today to approve a new Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District in Councilman Stephen Levin's Brooklyn district, an initiative fiercely opposed by the real estate industry.
On a lighter note, the speaker said she was mystified by the news, reported by Politicker, that her face had popped up in an advertisement for a car repair shop in Weymouth, Mass.
"I have no idea how this happened," Quinn said. "It’s bizarre."
"It ain’t that good of a picture either," she continued. "If they were looking for some like va-va-va voom headshot that would probably bring people in ... it’s just a goofy governmental headshot."