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There was a palpable buzz last week after Crain’s New York Business included Human Resources Administration Commissioner Verna Eggleston on a list of mayoral advisors and appointees likely to be shown the door if Bloomberg wins a second term. Eggleston, who has overseen the agency since the start of the Bloomberg administration, has walked a delicate line between continuing Giuliani’s work-first legacy and improving service delivery, a stance advocates say took some time to form. “We didn’t see a lot of improvements right away,” said BichHa Pham, executive direct of the Hunger Action Network of New York State and a long-time advocate for low-income communities. “My sense was just that it took more higher-ups to say ‘Let’s start addressing some of these issues.’” Still, some say, the agency remains plagued by a low job retention rate among welfare clients and an unwieldy bureaucracy. Unlike Commissioners Linda Gibbs and Shaun Donovan, of the city’s homelessness and housing departments respectively, Eggleston has largely avoided the spotlight. Still, administration officials say they’re happy with Eggleston’s stewardship, which has produced a renewed focus on customer service, a special program for welfare clients with serious health problems and, most recently, an overhaul of the welfare contract system. While HRA declined to comment on the anti-Verna rumor, Deputy Mayor Dennis Wolcott took a stance last week at a public forum. “Verna has done a masterful job,” he said. “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspaper.” (T. McMillan)

If you found this year’s mayor’s race a bit too predictable, you might want to consider a few other candidates vying quietly for your vote. Jimmy McMillan, for example, a martial arts expert and private investigator is running for mayor on The Rent Is Too Damn High party line. McMillan ran once before in 1993 and was so outraged by the lack of media attention that he scaled a cable on the Brooklyn Bridge, refusing to come down until a reporter showed up. This time, he’s taken a slightly different path. On his website, the Vietnam veteran and former postal worker claims that the Union of Orthodox Rabbis are practicing apartheid in Brooklyn neighborhoods, and are connected to al Qaeda operatives responsible for 9/11. “It’s sad that you have to make those comments to get any attention,” he said. Also running on his own party platform is Bernie Goetz, nicknamed the “subway vigilante” in 1984 after shooting four teenagers. Goetz is hoping to unseat Betsy Gotbaum as the public advocate as part of the one-man “Rebuild Party,” which promises to push for a respectful World Trade Center memorial, along with vegetarian menus for school cafeterias and power naps for city employees. And don’t forget Manhattan Borough President hopeful Barry Popik, an administrative law judge and contributor-consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. Popik’s website contains hundreds of his literary findings, including the origin of the term “The Big Apple,” which comes from a horseracing term that means “the big time.” (B. Farrell)

Local housing groups are fighting to block the passage of a last minute amendment to the Federal Housing Finance Reform Act that would prevent them from encouraging their clients to vote. The legislation, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week, was intended to improve oversight over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-sponsored lending institutions. It also set aside profits from the companies to create an Affordable Housing Fund geared initially toward those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. But there’s a catch: At the last minute, House Republicans added a provision that would disqualify any group that had engaged in voter registration or lobbying during the previous year–or even those affiliated with them–from accessing the fund. “People that want a home don’t need a lobbyist, they don’t want a politician. They want an affordable place to live,” said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL), a co-sponsor of the bill, in a written statement. The National Low Income Housing Coalition and other groups argue that the provision is unnecessary since nonprofits are already barred from using federal funds for lobbying. “It goes way beyond anything we’ve ever seen,” said NLIHC Deputy Director Linda Couch, whose organization is now working to keep the provision out of the Senate’s bill and final version. Here in New York, local nonprofits like the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, a Bronx-based housing and job-training group, have long seen voter registration as a way to empower their clients. “The Bronx is still the poorest urban county in the U.S.,” said Executive Director Nancy Biberman. “There’s no reason people should be disenfranchised along with being poor.” (C. Feldman)

The New York State Board of Elections made news last week when it approved draft regulations for new voting machines, prompting protest from some civic watchdogs. But another controversial electoral issue has yet to be resolved: who should run city elections. Under current state law, all election positions–from the 10 commissioners who compose the city’s Board of Elections to the over 300 permanent board employees and the roughly 26,000 temporary election-day poll-workers– must be equally divided between the two major parties. This bipartisan system was introduced in New York in 1894, as a way to mitigate electoral fraud and party domination. But some experts would rather see a civil service-type administration composed of a staff hired on merit, instead of party affiliation. “The fear is that you don’t have professionals making these decisions,” said Neal Rosenstein, government reform coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group. A 2005 NYPIRG report found that one out of every four “poll inspectors” either failed to attend mandated training before the General Election or attended training, failed the standardized poll-worker test and were still allowed to work. Lee Daghlian, director of public information for the State Board of Election, acknowledged that a shortage of poll workers can lead to the hiring of less qualified staff. Yet the current system, he said, is essential for maintaining checks and balances. “It ensures that everything will be fair and on the up and up,” he said. Given the inertia of the state political machine, any major administrative change will likely take years, said Steve Carbo, director of the Democracy Project at Demos, a nonpartisan think tank that will host a Nov. 10 roundtable discussion on city elections. Indeed, the last major effort to establish a nonpartisan administration failed in 1984. But with new voting machines now on the horizon, he said, other reforms could be imminent. “We are on the cusp of New York City and State trying to implement some fairly significant changes in the way we run elections,” said Carbo. “This is an opportunity to raise issues that could improve the system.” (M. Herbert)

As the mayoral campaign headed into the home stretch, one constituency was scrambling to be more than a rhetorical device: Welfare recipients and the working poor. More than 50 members of Community Voices Heard, a welfare rights group, crowded into Harlem’s modest Second Providence Baptist Church last week to speak with the two campaigns. Ferrer graciously took the stage amidst whoops and hollers from the crowd, before wryly noting, “I bet you nobody called your houses to ask what you think in a poll.” With most of the prepared questions centered on job-generation, Ferrer pulled from his own personal experience and laid out a vision for boosting small businesses and building more affordable housing. Deputy Mayor Dennis Wolcott, offered similar solutions while relying heavily on highlights from Bloomberg’s record, referring more than once to the “beauty of the system.” Organizers were hopeful the event would push the candidates to consider their concerns; the group had collected 2,700 written promises to vote on election day, which they presented to Ferrer, while they offered Wolcott a letter to the mayor outlining their concerns. After the church cleared out, the moderator, Sindy Rivera, a 30-year-old single mother on public assistance in Brooklyn, said the event had helped make up her mind for Election Day. “I prefer to vote for Ferrer now, [rather] than Bloomberg,” she said, noting that Bloomberg himself didn’t even bother to show up. “To have his deputy mayor come and just explain how all these programs are happening, and ‘It’s great!’ and ‘It’s awesome!’?” she sighed, “My community is still suffering.” (T. McMillan)

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