News & Politics

Rezonings, Omicron and Adams Admin picks

Rounding up the week’s political news.

Winter is upon us, and with it has come a brand new surge of COVID-19 cases.

Winter is upon us, and with it has come a brand new surge of COVID-19 cases. WoodysPhotos/Shutterstock

The saga that is former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s book deal continues with not one but two twists in the twisting tale. First, the state’s ethics watchdog decided to make the ex-governor repay the $5.1 million he got in his deal to publish a memoir about the coronavirus pandemic. But enforcement needed to come from the attorney general’s office. And it looks like that won’t happen. A lawyer with the attorney general’s office said the repayment order was illegal. So the story of Cuomo continues. Keep reading for the rest of this week’s news.

An eventful end to the City Council year

In the final stated meeting of the year, the New York City Council approved a number of big-ticket items, including the SoHo/NoHo rezoning in a last-minute victory for de Blasio before he leaves office. The controversial plan had been met with opposition by members of the wealthy community, but supported by advocates of affordable housing, The rezoning is expected to produce 900 affordable units. Lawmakers also approved a landmark gas ban that would outlaw new gas hookups in buildings in favor of electric stoves and water heaters. And they joined the statewide march towards good cause eviction by passing a resolution in support of the proposal and calling on the state Legislature to pass it. Although a number of upstate cities passed their own local versions of the renter protections, New York City doesn’t have the authority to approve housing laws within its borders, so the resolution was the next best thing.

Adams makes administration picks

After what some considered a slow start to staffing up his administration, New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams made two important appointments. The first was his new police commissioner, picking the New York City Police Department’s first female leader in Keechant Sewell. An unexpected choice, Sewell comes from Long Island, where she spent about two decades in the suburban police force, rising through the ranks before getting the attention of Adams. Although she doesn’t have deep ties to the NYPD or extensive experience managing a force the size of New York’s, her appointment was met with praise by policing experts and reformers alike. Adams also tapped Louis Molina as the commissioner of the Department of Correction, who will take over the troubled system after a year marked by numerous deaths of those in custody. Molina will be the first Latino in charge of the city’s jail system. And when he announced the appointment, Adams also said that he would begin using solitary confinement again, a decision lauded by jail workers but decried by criminal justice reformers.

State’s longest-serving state legislator retires

After over half a century in the state Legislature, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried announced that he would retire at the end of 2022 and would not seek reelection. Elected when he was just 23, Gottfried spent the last 50 years as a progressive leader in Albany and spearheaded the push for single-payer health care in New York. Fellow progressive lawmakers and advocates for single-payer are now hoping that the Legislature can approve the New York Health Act before he’s gone. Gottfried’s retirement also quickly led to a crowded field of potential and announced candidates who want to win a seat that hasn’t been open for decades.

Winter COVID surge comes to NY

Winter is upon us, and with it has come a brand new surge of COVID-19 cases. The state, as well as New York City, are experiencing the highest rates of infection since the beginning of the year. Statewide, the number of cases has increased nearly 60% since Thanksgiving. In the city, the number of cases doubled in the course of a few days. And the new, highly virulent omicron variant is quickly spreading both among the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Statewide, Gov. Hochul’s mask or vaccine mandate for businesses went into effect, though not without pushback. A handful of county executives around the state said they would not enforce the mandate. Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio expanded the vaccine mandate for employers and said that he would open more testing sites, extend hours and send 500,000 home testing kits to residents across the city. The announcement came after the city had shuttered a number of testing sites and as lines to get a COVID-19 test began to once again wrap around blocks as they once did in the early days of the pandemic. Hochul also said the state would begin prioritizing getting home testing kits to the unvaccinated