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Freedom Center Postmortem -- "a profound fear of free speech."
September 30th, 2005

An editorial in The New York Times bitterly regrets that Governor George Pataki killed the Freedom Center , despite his earlier support. “Nor does it seem to have mattered that the protest against the Freedom Center – or, more truthfully, against any cultural presence at the World Trade Center site – was based on false information and a profound fear of free speech.”

A news analysis on the arts page of the Times looks back at the controversy, and holds little hope for the other cultural components of the World Trade Center site. Robin Pogrebin’s first sentence: “It’s not easy to pinpoint the day culture died at ground zero.”

By on September 30, 2005, 2:14 pm
In category: Arts,Civil Rights,Land Use | 1 Comment »

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New Subway Rules -- $75 For A Cup Of Coffee
September 30th, 2005

Announcement of new rules of conduct for the subway for the first time since 1994 has elicited less than a thumbs-up from blogging straphangers, especially about the increased fines.

“The MTA passed new transit rules today,” wrote the blogger OneEyedJack “or as I like to call them, new excuses to take your money.”

“Queens Village Depot,” writing in the BusTalk.net Forum: “The rules make no sense
and there is no way they can fully enforce them all.”

Jossip entitled a post “That coffee will cost you $75 under new MTA rules.” But the increased fines are not the worst of it: “They’re also trying to give MTA officials sole discretion on when to eject a disabled person using a seeing eye dog, which, would be, uh, completely illegal and stuff. But maybe that’s where some of that $928m surplus is going: settling class action lawsuits.”

By on September 30, 2005, 10:10 am
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Health Aides and Political Endorsements
September 29th, 2005

WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show (which currently features a series entitled Thirty Issues in Thirty Days focused on the NYC and New Jersey elections) looked at the plight of the city’s home health care workers, who work for below poverty wages and receive no health care.

The system works like this: Medicare and Medicaid pay roughly $20 an hour for home health services. A non-profit agency that manages the case keeps about a third of the money. They then contract with a for-profit agency that takes another 25 percent.

The home health worker ends up making $7 an hour and receives no benefits.

Putting 25,000 home health care workers on the city’s payroll would help address the problem. That is why health care union Local 1199 reportedly approached Mayor Michael Bloomberg with the idea. The mayor rejected it, arguing it would cost the city $1 billion. The union decided to endorse Fernando Ferrer.

But the plight of the workers was lost in most of the 1199 endorsement-for-jobs stories.

“Finding a way to get that done would be a perfect topic for the mayoral campaign,” wrote the Daily News editorial page. “It would make a far greater difference in people’s lives than resolving the question of who said what to whom about a political endorsement.”

By on September 29, 2005, 7:48 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Health,Social Services | Comments Off on Health Aides and Political Endorsements

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Responding to the Demise of the Freedom Center
September 29th, 2005

The newspaper editorial pages offer a range of views on Governor George Pataki’s decision to cancel plans to build the International Freedom Center at the World Trade Center site.

The New York Post is full of praise. “Pataki put the International Freedom Center out of its misery yesterday, ” the editorial page writes. “Good for him.”

The Daily News, however, blames the governor for the “monumental mess” of Ground Zero. “Four years after 9/11, he doesn’t have a clue, and no one else does, as to the future of America’s sacred ground.”

The New York Sun expresses its “sadness” at the news. “While the center was at times naive or clumsy in its execution or presentation, it was admirably idealistic in its goal – a goal shared by President Bush and by so many Americans who hung flags after the attack – of making September 11, 2001, about more than just death and destruction, but about renewed patriotism and commitment to the freedom attacked on that day.”

And The New York Times’ David Dunlap wonders if the controversy over the Freedom Center has the potential to unmake everything at Ground Zero. “If ground zero is too hallowed for a freedom museum, how much longer will a performing arts center be considered appropriate? Or a million square feet of retail space? Or four office towers? Especially if one of them is named Freedom.”

By on September 29, 2005, 8:33 am
In category: Arts,Civil Rights,Land Use | Comments Off on Responding to the Demise of the Freedom Center

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Can Ferrer Win?
September 28th, 2005

It certainly does not seem like a good week for Fernando Ferrer, who has come in for ridicule and attack for claiming on his blog that he went to public school when he really went to parochial school. And another poll shows Mayor Bloomberg with a hefty lead. But some writers argue all is not lost for the Democratic nominee.

Why? Political consultant Dick Morris (who says he used to work for Ferrer but wants Bloomberg to win) argues that most undecided voters will eventually go to Ferrer. Whatever polls now say, Ferrer will get almost all the Hispanic vote, and the former Bronx borough president is a strong finisher. And Morris professes to be unimpressed by the mayor’s 52 percent in a recent Qunnipiac survey: “When Bloomberg has had such an avalanche of advertising and all the publicity that comes with Gracie Mansion, for him to be only two points above 50 percent of the vote shows real weakness.”

In the Observer, Ben Smith gives Bloomberg tips on how to lose: Believe his own hype; put too much stock in his money; embrace Bush (been there, done that). At the same time, he continues, Ferrer would have to get a message, make people think he can win and capture New Yorkers’ imaginations. Now, why didn’t Ferrer think of that?

By on September 28, 2005, 10:59 am
In category: Electoral Politics | Comments Off on Can Ferrer Win?

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Stormin' on Norman
September 28th, 2005

The day after his apparent fall from power (with the emphasis on apparent), Clarence Norman will find little solace on the city’s editorial pages, which cheered the Brooklyn jury’s decision. Noting that Norman faces more serious charges, The Daily News called for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes to “keep up the heat” to get the longtime Democratic Party boss to come clean “Turning state’s evidence …will be his only way out,” the paper says. “The No. 1 question will be: What does it cost to buy a judgeship in Brooklyn? And No. 2: Who paid?”

The Sun — which boasts that reporting by the late Jack Newfield in its pages helped seal Norman’s fate — agrees and sees the verdict as a defeat for a laundry list of Brooklyn politicians who had appeared at a pep rally for Norman “where it was alleged that the charges … were motivated by racism.”

Calling the conviction “one of the more stunning political corruption results in recent memory,” the Post tempers its own optimism. It should end Norman’s career, of course, the paper says, adding parenthetically “Though given the vagaries of city politics — who knows? — it may give him enough of a boost to run for higher office.”

By on September 28, 2005, 8:23 am
In category: Electoral Politics,Law | Comments Off on Stormin' on Norman

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Clarence Norman Convicted
September 27th, 2005

Brooklyn Democratic Party leader Clarence Norman was found guilty Tuesday of mishandling campaign contributions. The state assemblyman was been convicted on two felony counts of violating election law by taking excessive campaign donations, and two counts of falsifying business records.

Norman could face up to four years in prison, but much of the initial reaction has focused on who will succeed him as head of the Brooklyn Democratic organization.

Readers of The Politicker throw names like Daryl Towns and Joe Bova into the mix.

Before the verdict, Daily News columinst Errol Louis wrote, “Many local pols probably realize that a conviction would usher in a new age of accountability in Brooklyn politics. For many Kings County Dems, being forced to follow the rules would be like waking up from a ferocious alcoholic binge, full of guilt and remorse and a splitting headache. In other words, the party could be over.”

By on September 27, 2005, 5:59 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Governing | Comments Off on Clarence Norman Convicted

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What Do The Test Scores Really Mean?
September 27th, 2005

In the first issue of the “30 Issues in 30 Days” leading up to the NYC mayoral election (and the New Jersey governor’s race) on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio, Diane Ravitch, professor of education at NYU, and Clara Hemphill of InsideSchools.org, discussed education
— specifically the meaning of the reading and math scores.

Both expressed skepticism about the reliability and accuracy of the scores. Ravitch was particularly harsh, seeming to discount the scores as political, part of an election campaign, and the students “are not being educated…You cannot trust anything that comes out of the Department of Education; everything is done for public relations value…There is no longer an independent research capacity.”

Hemphill said, based on visits, there does seem real improvement in some elementary schools (though not middle schools), especially in poor neighborhoods.

In the half-hour segment, both experts also said the students are being prepped too much for the test-taking, and that tests are being made easier.

By on September 27, 2005, 5:27 pm
In category: Education | 1 Comment »

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What New Teacher Negotiations Mean (Apparently Not Much)
September 27th, 2005

The city and the teachers’ union have resumed negotiating, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly willing to accept the recommendations made by labor arbitrators two weeks ago, but the blogger and teacher known as NYC educator is unimpressed: “Weingarten will boast of the tough negotiations, but the deal is still not worth the money.”

Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez says that “it could be too late” — that United Federation of Teachers Union president Randi Weingarten appears to be leaning toward endorsing Fernando Ferrer. “The sitdown with Ferrer is bound to irk City Hall. Bloomberg, our education mayor, vowed last week he wouldn’t let politics influence his bargaining stance. No matter what he says, his campaign strategists know teachers are a huge voting bloc. Keeping thousands of them dissatisfied is not the best way to boost the mayor’s reelection effort.”

Marc Epstein, the dean of students at Jamaica High School, in a piece in Newsday focuses on what he calls one of the main issues in the negotiations —- the Bloomberg administration’s desire to get rid of teachers’ “seniority rights” so that they can be transferred — in order to explore a more philosophical question: “what difference teachers really make.
Does anybody believe that if we could place Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in our worst-performing schools that they would turn things around?
” So what would? Epstein implies that being able to expel unruly students would go a long way.

By on September 27, 2005, 9:06 am
In category: Education,Public Finance | 2 Comments »

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Rubbing The Mob Out Of Road Repair
September 27th, 2005

In a follow-up editorial to itsexpose of “mobbed-up firms that somehow keep getting millions of dollars worth of state Department of Transportation contracts despite clear and present records of public mischief and misbehavior,” the Daily News says there is a ready solution. Its name is Vendex. “Vendex means Vendor Information Exchange, a comprehensive computer database of relevant information about contractors who seek public moneys. It’s a system that would enable our contract-letting agencies to sniff around into the histories of bidders – who they are, where they’ve been, what they’ve done, what they’ve been fined for failing to do – with a simple click or two of a button. Those with unsavory histories could be automatically disqualified from doing business with the state…The city has a local Vendex system up and running, and by all accounts it’s working most efficiently. It’s up to state Controller Alan Hevesi’s office to start pushing hard for Vendex at the Albany level.”

By on September 27, 2005, 5:50 am
In category: Crime & Safety,Public Finance,Transportation | Comments Off on Rubbing The Mob Out Of Road Repair

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Small Schools, No Big Success
September 26th, 2005

Small SchoolsThe Politics of Education Association has two articles about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to rely on small schools to solve the problems of New York’s education system in its new bulletin (in .pdf format). Neither of them gives a particularly positive picture.

Patrice Iatarola, an assistant professor at Florida State University, writes that New York’s experiment with small schools is the first real chance to evaluate how well such schools work, but concludes that there is not enough information to do so yet. While small schools seem to improve student attendance and attitudes, it is unclear whether they improve performance, Iatarola writes. Further, “conspicuously absent from the policy debate are questions relating more broadly to the effect that small schools have on a district as a whole.”

David Bloomfield, a professor at Brooklyn College, picks up this question and decides that, in New York’s case at least, introducing small schools have hurt the overwhelming majority of students who stay in larger ones. He is particularly critical of the way they have been introduced. The piecemeal implementation of small schools, he writes, has cannibalized promising staff members and students from larger schools, and left those schools overcrowded, less safe, and without sufficient funding.

“For a Mayor seen as a non-ideological tactician, more interested in ‘what works’ than political correctness, his monomania for small schools seems particularly ill considered,” he writes. “Rather than rigorously monitoring school quality so that all sudents are helped by his reforms, the startups seem to be given a free ride while larger schools are ever more burdened.”

By on September 26, 2005, 2:53 pm
In category: Education | Comments Off on Small Schools, No Big Success

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recent posts
September 26th, 2005

By on September 26, 2005, 12:43 pm
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Criticizing the Freedom Center
September 26th, 2005

Since June, the planned cultural institutions for Ground Zero have been under attack. A group including some family members of 9/11 victims, first responders, and the city’s tabloids say the International Freedom Center and the Drawing Center are “anti-American.” The critics grabbed an important ally this weekend in Hillary Clinton.

“Even Hillary agrees!” gushed the New York Post, a day after Senator Clinton said that she did not support the International Freedom Center being planned for Ground Zero, while conservative bloggers seemed to relish in the irony of agreeing with Hillary Clinton. The Post claimed that if Clinton was on board then “you’ve got to wonder: is there anyone left who still doubts that the center would be an abomination on that site?

Um, not so fast.

The Daily News, who has been in agreement with the Post on this issue, softened its line over the weekend. The newspaper said that Governor Pataki and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation had led the cultural development at Ground Zero astray by not being clear about what they wanted from the institutions involved. A report detailing the center’s intentions published last week (in .pdf format) “also allayed fears that the center would become a forum for inappropriate political squabbling or, worse, a soapbox for America-bashing,” according to the Daily News.

The newspaper now thinks the center “should get the go-ahead to keep developing their plans while trying to build public support.”

By on September 26, 2005, 7:27 am
In category: Arts,Civil Rights,Land Use | 9 Comments »

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Public Toilets Hooray -- Maybe
September 24th, 2005

“It is much too soon to celebrate, but the Bloomberg administration has finally selected a company to install 20 public toilets in New York City,” proclaims an editorial in the New York Times. “If this seems laughable in a city of 8 million residents plus 40 million tourists a year, having 20 new high-tech public toilets by 2007 would certainly offer an improvement over having zero. And if the users, the city and the neighbors like them, maybe someday there will be enough.”

Miss Representation has more doubts, expressed more bluntly: “There don’t seem to be any details about the important stuff: where the 20 will go? Will there be token placements in the outer boroughs, reducing the Manhattan total (of course we expect them all to be in Manhattan) to 16? Will hipsters be mad or glad at emplacements on Bedford or Clinton? Will the UES get all NIMBY, worried about undesirables? Will Community Boards have a say, or veto, about the locations? This is a surefire recipe for disaster And is 20 all we get? If you are counting, that’s one per every 150,000 people (daytime population). If so, you’d better get in line now. Should 20 minutes be allotted to each client, you won’t get your turn for something like 5 years, give or take a few months.”

Gothamist asks whether that is why the city took down the Astor Place cube — to replace it with a public toilet? And Keith comments skeptically on the Gothamist post that “a self-cleaning public toilet doesn’t sound like anything but a challenge to New York. I’m sure the citizens will find a way to make it as scummy and disgusting as everything else.”

Barry Campbell of the enrevanche blog had a simpler, and far less cynical, reaction: “And the heavens opened, and the angels sang…I will be following this story with considerable interest.”

It might be a bit humbling to contrast NYC’s baby potty steps with far more cosmopolitan cities, such as Beijing, which not only has finished upgrading 1,100 of its public toilets in preparation for the 2008 Olympics — in what the Beijing Times reportedly has called “the largest toilet revolution in its history…” — but it also played host to something called the World Toilet Summit in 2004. The 2005 World Toilet Summit begins Monday in Belfast, according to the World Toilet Organization

Meanwhile, back in provinicial NYC, while waiting for the public toilets, there is a Web site that offers a list of available rest rooms in restaurants etc. by neighborhood

By on September 24, 2005, 11:07 am
In category: Environment,Health,Land Use,Transportation | Comments Off on Public Toilets Hooray -- Maybe

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Bloomberg On Top of the World
September 23rd, 2005

Mayor Bloomberg on WTCA piece of Bloomberg campaign literature with a photo-shopped image of the mayor atop the World Trade Center produced the lead story in the Metro section of the New York Times and plenty of outrage from the Democrats, who called on Mayor Bloomberg to “apologize for his campaign’s outrageous tactics.”

But in contrast to the campaign photo flap involving Democratic candidate C. Virginia Fields, which produced an intense reaction for more than a week, initial reaction to Bloomberg’s doctored photo – at least on New York City’s blogs – was subdued.

Gothamist, which all wrote about the C. Virginia Fields incident several times, including an entry entitled Photoshop Fun for Fields, did not even mention the story.

Newsday’s political blog, which included the Field’s flap in its 05 Gaffe Guide opted to write about David Dinkins’ endorsement of Fernando Ferrer rather than Bloomberg’s towering image.

And even when prompted by its readers, the New York Observer’s Politicker (which indulged in a lengthy entry about a Monica Lewinsky-inspired musical) wrote cryptically; “A couple of people wrote comments or emailed to ask if The Politicker would be ‘addressing’ the Times flyer story today. Basically, the answer is that I tend not to post if I don’t have something new to add.”

By on September 23, 2005, 3:39 pm
In category: Electoral Politics | 1 Comment »

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Advice: Hit Bloomberg On Education
September 23rd, 2005

In his latest column, political consultant Joseph Mercurio (the one who got fired by Virginia Fields) advises Ferrer in effect to hit Bloomberg on education. He points to the results of a recent poll, showing that 66 percent of New York voters (74 percent of black NY voters) are dissatisfied with the state of NYC’s schools. “Though voters feel the schools have gotten better over time, this seems to be due solely to Team Bloomberg’s ability to frame the issues around education in better language, not actual better performance Voters are overwhelmingly not satisfied with the performance of the administration on school issues. Now the Democrat has to take that opening and gain control of the debate to close the spread between now and Election Day.”

By on September 23, 2005, 11:09 am
In category: Education,Electoral Politics | 1 Comment »

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Freedom Center II
September 23rd, 2005

International Freedom Center The International Freedom Center’s release of a report (in pdf) about its plans for the proposed museum at Ground Zero seems neither to have changed many opinions or dimmed the overheated rhetoric.

While some argue the museum will inevitably become a place to bash America, Bing, writing in America in Exile, a blog of “progressive friends,” opposes the center from a different angle — that 9/11 had nothing to do with freedom. “The people who died that day did not die for freedom. Their death did not advance the cause of freedom,” Bing says, adding “The Bush administration’s reaction to 9/11 didn’t advance freedom” either.

Supporting the center, Newsday disagrees “Freedom was an organizing principle of America. Our commitment to it is why America was attacked on 9/11,” the paper says. “What better place to examine its history and power”

And the Times editorial focuses on what it sees as efforts to censor the museum. “Since late June the Freedom Center has been caught up in a vitriolic protest …whose leaders claim for themselves the right of deciding for the rest of us what we should know and think about 9/11.”

Also irate at the process, Jeff Jarvis draws a different conclusion in “Buzz Machine.” With all the meddling and censorship, the term Freedon Center has become an oxymoron. So, says Jarvis, “If the IFC had the conviction of its principles of freedom, it would have rejected the demands of Gov. Pataki and the Lower ManhattanDevelopment Corp. to build the inoffensive center as an offense to free speech.”

By on September 23, 2005, 8:36 am
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The Teachers' Strategy
September 22nd, 2005

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten’s decision to use an arbitor’s report as the basis for contract negotiations with the Bloomberg administration – and perhaps go on strike if no agreement is reached by October – has received mixed reviews.

The non-binding proposal recommends pay raises of 11 percent over three years and increasing the starting salary of teachers. But it also calls for lengthening the school day by 10 minutes and curtailing some seniority rights. The plan would cost the city more than $1 billion.

An op-ed in El Diario urged Weingarten and Bloomberg to use the panel’s recommendations to negotiate a settlement, and an editorial from the Chief-Leader, New York City’s independent civil service weekly, seconds that. (Ms. Demeanor on EdWize reproduces it.)

However, an editorial in the New York Sun encouraged the mayor to “refuse to truckle to the teachers.”

And even though 90 percent of the 2,000 UFT delegates approved the plan, many comments on EdWize, the UFT sponsored blog question the strategy.

R. Skibins writes, “We should reject ANY contract offer which includes givebacks.”

Another, named Firefly, is ready to quit the profession. “I’ve run my own business before and I’ll do it again. I loved teaching, but heyenough is finally enough!”

By on September 22, 2005, 4:41 pm
In category: Education,Electoral Politics | 2 Comments »

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The International Freedom Center
September 22nd, 2005

As the deadline for a decision on The International Freedom Center at Ground Zero approaches, two more groups have come out and criticized the plan. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said it opposed the plan and three key New York congressmen threatened hearings into the appropriateness on federal funding at Ground Zero. The New York Post editorial argues that these groups and others before them worried that the center that is meant to celebrate “freedom” will degenerate into just one more bash-America venue. “The IFC … is meant to be an academically oriented “educational” center. You know what that means: Counting how many ways there are to blame America for the world’s ills, including the 9/11 attacks themselves.”

By on September 22, 2005, 12:53 pm
In category: Arts,Civil Rights,Gotham City | Comments Off on The International Freedom Center

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Pulling the Plug on Protest
September 22nd, 2005

Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan does not represent a threat to our national security. The same, writes the Village Voice’s Wayne Harkavy, cannot be said of the police interruption of her speech in Union Square earlier this week. When police shut down Sheehan’s microphone they were muffling dissent — standard city practice these days according to Harkavy. But few Americans notice. “It should be front-page news in this country that a prominent, peaceful protester, speaking to a crowd of 150 people, was silenced not far from a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, but it won’t be,” Harkavy comments. “And that’s frightening.”

By on September 22, 2005, 10:20 am
In category: Civil Rights,Crime & Safety | 2 Comments »

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