Barbot bows out and Tish takes on the NRA

State Attorney General Letitia James announced that she is suing to dissolve the National Rifle Association.
State Attorney General Letitia James announced that she is suing to dissolve the National Rifle Association.
Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
State Attorney General Letitia James announced that she is suing to dissolve the National Rifle Association.

Barbot bows out and Tish takes on the NRA

Rounding up the week’s political news.
August 7, 2020

New York City doesn’t have a new sheriff in town, but he does have new responsibilities. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has tasked the small and quiet Sheriff’s Office with social distancing and quarantine enforcement. The city has long had a sheriff, who is part of the Department of Finance, but he and his deputies don’t tend to get the spotlight too often – considering the far larger NYPD that handles most crime in the city. Only time will tell if the Sheriff’s Office will handle the task better than the police, which got bad press for its discriminatory and sometimes violent enforcement of social distancing rules. Keep reading for the rest of this week’s news.

Barbot bows out

Dr. Oxiris Barbot stepped down as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, while the city continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. In her resignation letter, Barbot wrote that she is leaving with “deep disappointment that … the health department’s incomparable disease control expertise was not used to the degree it could have been.” Barbot has reportedly been feuding with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for months over the city’s pandemic response, as the mayor has continually failed to heed the recommendations of his own commissioner. De Blasio increasingly seemed to rely on and listen to Dr. Mitchell Katz, who leads the city’s public hospital system. The mayor even announced that the new contact tracing program would be run through New York City Health + Hospitals rather than the health department, which has experience in contact tracing. The decision confused public health experts who did not see the logic in removing one of the key responsibilities from a world-renowned health department. After Barbot’s resignation became public, de Blasio hastily called a press conference to appoint Dr. Dave Chokshi – a former high-ranking official in Health + Hospitals – as the new health commissioner. Later that day, a de Blasio spokesperson said in a statement that the mayor had asked Barbot to resign over the weekend, which is why Chokshi was ready to go so quickly.

Isaias wreaks havoc

Tropical Storm Isaias moved through New York quickly, but not without causing extensive damage along the way. The storm caused the second-largest power outage in Con Edison’s history, behind only Superstorm Sandy in 2012, leaving over 130,000 customers without power in New York City. The high winds from the storm also caused the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North Railroad and elevated subway lines to suspend service. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in downstate and Hudson Valley counties to help with cleanup efforts, and announced an investigation into utility companies after so many people lost power in the state.

Tish takes on the NRA

State Attorney General Letitia James announced that she is suing to dissolve the National Rifle Association and accused CEO Wayne LaPierre and other leaders of extensive criminal behavior, including fraud and using the nonprofit to fund their lavish lifestyles. The NRA is chartered in New York, which gives James authority to potentially shut it down for breaking state laws regulating nonprofits. The new lawsuit comes after an investigation James began last year into the NRA’s finances.

Eviction moratorium extended

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s moratorium on evictions came to an end on Aug. 5, but he issued a new executive order the next day that lasts until Sept. 4 that could apply to evictions. The order gives courts the ability to suspend civil litigation, which means the courts could continue the pause on evictions. But it sparked confusion because it was unclear whether the new order would protect tenants with eviction notices from the months before the crisis, whose orders were suspended under Cuomo’s first two executive orders that created the moratorium. Without that explicit protection, tenant advocates say that some 14,000 renters in New York City will be evicted for those pre-pandemic notices, even as the pandemic is far from over. Cuomo originally issued the moratorium in March to help ensure people were not kicked out of their homes during the coronavirus pandemic. He extended it in May to last until the beginning of August, but changed it slightly from an all-encompassing protection to one just for those facing financial hardship due to the pandemic. A new law will continue to protect renters from being evicted if they faced financial hardship during, but not just because of, the pandemic.

NYC election results finalized 

Six weeks after Election Day, the New York City Board of Elections released the final results for the June primary election that included the counting of hundreds of thousands absentee ballots. Those results confirmed the victories of Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the 12th Congressional District and New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres in the 15th Congressional District, the only two races that were still considered up in the air. The release of the results came shortly after a judge ruled that boards of elections around the state needed to count ballots lacking postmarks that were received on June 24 and June 25, which had previously been considered invalid. However, the city did not count those ballots before certifying its results, and the state Board of Elections is appealing the decision.

Schools get the greenlight to reopen

Cuomo announced that all schools in the state have the go-ahead to reopen for in-person classes in the fall, although individual districts will still decide whether or not to take advantage of that. He said every region in the state has an infection rate of below 5%, meaning that schools can reopen and stay open so long as the infection rate remains low. School districts still must get their plans for in-person learning approved by the state, and had until July 31st to submit those plans. Cuomo’s announcement means that New York City may become one of the only major cities in the country to have any in-person schooling, setting it up to be a test case for the nation. Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio began releasing details of his reopening proposal, offering what he called “blended learning” giving students the option to physically be at school for part of the week, and remote for the other part. At the end of last month, he offered more details about what would cause schools or individual classrooms to go remote. However, many teachers, parents and students still oppose any reopening and consider de Blasio’s proposal unsafe.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
20200924