Brooklyn’s absentee ballot debacle and NYC heads back to school

Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on the first day of school at One World Middle School at Edenwald in the Bronx.

Brooklyn’s absentee ballot debacle and NYC heads back to school

Rounding up the week’s political news.
October 2, 2020

Even as coronavirus cases spike in parts of the state and public health experts warn of a second wave as fall begins, Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered a glimmer of hope – for Buffalo Bills fans at least. The governor said he’s working to get football fans back in the stadium to watch New York’s football team after the Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said he believed the team could safely admit 7,000 people. Cuomo, himself a Bills fan, said people were “excited about the season” and that he was “100% eager to get fans back to the games.” Meanwhile, in New York City, struggling restaurants were finally allowed to open indoor seating at 25% capacity, months after restaurants in every other part of the state reopened at half capacity. Maybe restaurant owners could benefit from some of Cuomo’s eagerness about football. Keep reading for the rest of this week’s news.

NYC heads back to school

Public elementary, middle and high schools in New York City reopened for the first time since March, welcoming back students who opted for a hybrid learning model of in-person and online instruction after two delays pushed back their return. With the start of school, New York became the first big city in the country to attempt in-person classes during the pandemic, an astronomical feat that could present a test case and model for the rest of the country. It did not go off without a hitch though. The superintendents and principals union had a vote of no confidence in Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza shortly before the opening. And things may quickly change as city neighborhoods experience spikes in coronavirus cases, bringing the citywide rate of positive cases to 3%. The number of neighborhoods experiencing troubling increases in the rate of cases continues to grow in Brooklyn and Queens. De Blasio said if the city hits a 3% positive test rate average over seven days, then he’ll shut down schools again. The teachers union pushed back against the all-or-nothing approach, arguing instead that the mayor should only close schools in the neighborhoods experiencing spikes in cases.

Brooklyn’s absentee ballot debacle

A large number of Brooklynites received absentee ballots that included return envelopes with someone else’s name on them, sparking mass confusion and outrage over the mistake. The New York City Board of Elections said as many as 100,000 people were potentially affected by the vendor error. The elections board will send new absentee ballots to those people, with a letter explaining the situation and what to do with the old ballot. The vendor, Phoenix Graphics, will foot the bill for fixing the problem. For anyone who might have already returned an erroneous ballot, they can still vote with the second ballot, which will be the one that counts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo briefly tried to get the board to send only new ballot envelopes, arguing that the ballots voters already received did not contain disqualifying errors and that they just needed the right envelopes. Ostensibly, the suggestion was made to combat claims that President Donald Trump might lodge about double voting if thousands of voters received two ballots, even though the board has safeguards against that happening. But Trump already latched on to the mistake in Brooklyn as part of his ongoing misinformation campaign about absentee voting and to sow distrust about the upcoming election results. Meanwhile, election experts argued that mailing just the envelopes would cause even more confusion and could disenfranchise people who might have already disposed of the faulty ballots. Ultimately, the elections board moved forward with a plan to mail new ballots and new envelopes, intending to educate the public about the situation.

Union leaders indicted in major scandal

This year would not be complete without a New York political scandal. Federal prosecutors indicted 11 construction union leaders in Long Island for allegedly accepting $100,000 in bribes after a two-year investigation started by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office. At the heart of the scandal was James Cahill, the politically connected president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council with ties to Cuomo. Prosecutors said Cahill and other union leaders, all current or former members of Steamfitters Local 638 on Long Island, took bribes to corrupt the construction industry “at the expense of labor unions.

Trump tests positive for the coronavirus

President Donald Trump said that he and his wife, Melania, tested positive for the coronavirus and will quarantine for two weeks. The announcement came just a month before the election, throwing the future of his campaign into doubt. Trump may not be able to campaign for the next two weeks, and he may not be able to attend the next presidential debate on Oct. 15. Trump’s diagnosis caps off a roller coaster week for the president, which started with a New York Times report that revealed he paid only $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017, leading into his raucous and unruly first debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, where the president refused to condemn white supremacist groups.

Lawyers defend Rochester police in Prude’s death

Lawyers for the seven police officers in Rochester suspended for their role in the fatal encounter with Daniel Prude said that the cops acted according to their training and blamed Prude for his own death. One lawyer said that the officers acted “flawlessly” while restraining Prude, who was naked and in the midst of a mental health crisis when police placed a bag over his head and held his face against the pavement. The lawyers also disputed the official autopsy report, which concluded Prude died of complications from asphyxia after police detained him, ruling the death a homicide. They repeatedly said that PCP was the root cause of Prude’s death, which the medical examiner listed as a contributing factor to his death.

Lovely Warren indicted for alleged campaign finance fraud

A grand jury has indicted Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren on two felony campaign finance charges related to her 2017 mayoral reelection campaign. The first is for a scheme to defraud and the second is an election law violation. Warren denies any wrongdoing. If convicted, she would be removed from office and lose her pension. She could also face up to four years in prison, although the likelihood that she would actually serve time behind bars is low. The indictment comes at a turbulent time for Warren as she faces ongoing scrutiny over the police killing of Daniel Prude and the alleged cover-up of Prude’s death after the fact.

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