Progressive Caucus debuts policy platform

By Matthew Fischetti 

The New York City Council Progressive Caucus unveiled their formal policy platform, dubbed the “Progressive Agenda” last Thursday: focusing on issues related to criminal justice reform, zero waste, providing affordable housing and economic reform.

On the steps of City Hall, members of the 35 member caucus (which represents a majority of the 51 person body) stood with advocates to support their agenda which is comprised of bills already introduced this year.

“We are the largest Progressive Caucus in New York City History. 34 members deep. You know what’s special about the number 34? Veto proof,” said Lincoln Rester, co-chair of the caucus (City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams is a technical member of the caucus, due to her position as speaker.)

The caucus was originally formed in 2009 with only 12 members but now represents a majority of the council. It ranges in ideological identity from members of the Democratic Socialists of America to more traditional Working Families Party style liberals – which Restler referred to as “big tent” progressive caucus in a previous interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star.

At the top of the agenda is banning solitary confinement,which was introduced by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. The issue has been a wedge between members of the council and the Mayor who has defended the program since before he was even sworn in.

The next two items of priority in the agenda are two sets of bills introduced by former vice chair of the caucus and current Majority Leader Keith Powers. 

The first bill would prohibit would prevent housing discrimination on the basis of a criminal record while a second group of bills would help lay the ground work for establishing a public bank – an issue progressives have fought for years, arguing it would better allow them to better invest money in accordance to issues like racial justice and finance projects that the commercial sector may not engage in.  In order for the city to set up a public bank, the state would need to pass legislation giving municipalities the authority. 

The next major plank of the agenda are a suite of six bills dealing with police transparency. The bill package would require reporting of use of force incidents by police using motor vehicles (introduced by Councilwoman Crystal Hudson); preventing the police from using the strategic response unit, which is used for civil unrest and counterterrorism for non violent protests (introduced by Councilman Chi Ossé); requiring the police to submit reports on complaints of police conduct (introduced by Councilwoman Cabán); requiring the NYPD to report on instances in which an individual denied an officer consent to a search; requiring cops to report on police-civilian investigative encounters (introduced by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Councilwoman Alexa Avilés); and abolishing the gang database (introduced by councilwomen Carlina Rivera and Althea Stevens.)

The next set of five bills aims to achieve the Zero Waste initiative, which aims to prevent waste going to landfills by 2030. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio spearheaded the initiative but fell dramatically short of his goal as POLITICO reported. The legislation includes establishing a citywide residential curbside organics program, mandating that the 2030 goals are achieved and enforced, as well as requiring the Department of Sanitation to establish at least one community recycling center in each community district. The pieces of legislation are sponsored by co-chair of the caucus Shahana Hanif, Sanitation Committe Chair Sandy Nurse and Majority Leader Keith Powers. 

Another three bills in the agenda look to to create permanently affordable housing. The first of three are the Community Opportunity Purchase Act, introduced by Rivera, which would give qualified entities the opportunity to submit the first offer on residential buildings ; the second is the “Public Land for Public Good”, introduced by Restler, which would give non-profits and community land trusts first priority when the city seels land for affordable housing; the third bill, introduced by City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, would establish a land bank tasked with acquiring land with property on it to develop and rehabilitate affordable housing.

The last piece of the agenda, sponsored by co-chair Hanif, would expand New York City’s paid sick leave law to gig workers depending on whether they meet criteria such as working over 80 hours a calendar year among others.