Archive for January, 2006

Where Was the Family?
January 19th, 2006

At the funeral for little Nixzmary Brown yesterday, the crowd of hundreds hushed when dozens of the girl’s family members entered. The press ran photos of sobbing relatives and reported on how her anguished grandmother wearily said she’d sue for custody of her daughter’s five other children.

But Juan Gonzalez takes a less sympathetic view of the uncles, cousins and other relatives who he feels must have had more contact with Nixzmary and her troubled mother and step-father than any lax case worker, cop or teacher ever did.

“Where had they all been during the months and years when this terrible outrage unfolded?” writes Gonzalez. “Where had they been when, according to police, this innocent child was repeatedly tortured and beaten by her stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, the man now charged with her murder?”

Some family members did wonder aloud how they let it happen. “I’m sorry! I couldn’t help you! I’m sorry,” screamed Yasminda Villanueva, 22, a maternal cousin, according to Newsday. “If our family had been united, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” cried an aunt.

That wasn’t enough for some opinion writers — or other mourners. “How could you not see it?” wondered one funeral attendee. Andrea Peyser sees the city’s rage as real, even if she thinks the family’s tears are fake.

By on January 19, 2006, 8:34 am
In category: Social Services | 3 Comments »

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Protecting Children, Preserving Families
January 18th, 2006

As hundreds mourned Nixzmary Brown at her funeral today, commentators debated how to strike the proper balance between keeping children with their families and protecting kids from abuse,

Charles Millard in the Post believes that the Bloomberg administration has been too focused on keeping families together — even if a child might be at risk as a result. ” Keeping a family together is important — but protecting the welfare of children is more important,” he writes. “The Giuliani administration learned that in 1995 [with the death of Elisa Izquierda]. The Bloomberg administration is learning it now.”

Certainly the administration’s policy has been to keep children out of the foster care system, writes Jason Horowitz in the Observer, and it has carried through on that, with the number of kids in foster care declining by about 8,600 in three years. But, Horowitz says, “it takes only one case to go horribly wrong to provoke a public outcry.” Now that has happened, and the mayor faces a major crisis, only days into his second term. And “some political commentators are wondering how much of that accountability falls on the mayor and the upper reaches of his administration, and how much of the responsibility belongs to a bureaucracy that may be ungovernable.”

While the city failed Nixzmary Brown, Julie B., who identifies herself as a former child welfare worker elsewhere, writes in “Yesterday’s Danish” that government should not be too quick to separate kids from their families: “It should be recognized that taking a child away from their home is perhaps the most incredibly violent well-intentioned act that exists.”

By on January 18, 2006, 1:41 pm
In category: Gotham City,Social Services | 6 Comments »

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Talking Segregation
January 18th, 2006

In the last few days there has been a spike in discussion about school segregation. On Monday — Martin Luther King Day — Harvard’s Civil Rights Project published a study saying that New York schools are possibly the most segregated in the nation (in .pdf format). [Gotham Gazette also ran an article by education author Jonathan Kozol on Monday saying the same thing, and proposing a solution].

The next day in the Daily News, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein acknowledged the problem, but said that it mirrored the racial segregation of the city’s neighborhoods, rather than any educational policy.

In an editorial today (available in both English and Spanish), El Diario agreed with Klein that “geography matters,” but said that Klein and Mayor Bloomberg “must turn their attention to integrating schools along economic and geographic lines as well as ethnic and racial, providing the resources to make it happen.”

The Columbia Spectator says a proposed magnet school in Manhattanville offers a positive example, but adds that “realistically, it is hard to believe any high school will be able to cross all the racial and class divisions in New York state. Segregation in education begins as early as preschool. And it doesn’t help that Governor George Pataki is calling for $3 billion worth of tax cuts in his 2006 budget proposal.”

By on January 18, 2006, 12:36 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Pataki's Budget
January 18th, 2006

The papers weigh in on Governor George Pataki’s proposed budget and do not find much to like, faulting the governor for ignoring long standing problems. Where they disagree is over what those problems are. (For news stories on the budget, go to our finance links in the news.)

For the Times, it’s the court decision ordering $5.6 billion a year more for city schools, which, it says, “makes the $2 billion surplus that Mr. Pataki was boasting about look less like a bonus and more like a down payment.” Newsday agrees that school funding presents problem but also scores the budget for neglecting the state’s debt. The editorial says, “The danger is that Pataki and the legislature will fritter away a surplus that exists only this year, and turn it into deep deficits and more debt in the future.”

In general, the News says “Pataki comes up short on education….He still refuses to cough up the $1.4 billion annual increase in school aid that New York City is owed under a 2002 Court of Appeals ruling. He offers instead a paltry $330 million and says the cupboard is bare” so he can cut taxes

And those tax cuts are not what they seem, the News continues, because most would not take effect until after Pataki leaves office and because he has not enacted “the tough spending discipline that should properly accompany tax reductions.”

The Post agrees — on the spending, anyway. “If the $111 billion budget Governor Pataki proposed yesterday is his way of establishing conservative bona fides for an ’08 presidential run, he might as well change his name to Mario Cuomo right now,” it says.

By on January 18, 2006, 9:06 am
In category: Education,Gotham City,Public Finance | Comments Off on Pataki's Budget

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Like A Plantation
January 17th, 2006

There has been much comment on Hillary Clinton’s remarks during a celebration of Martin Luther King Day at the Canann Baptist Church of Christ in  Harlem, comparing Congress to a plantation: “When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation,” she said. “And you know what I’m talking about. It has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary point of view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument.” According to The Politicker, “The audience loved it, as did the press corps clustered in back.”
 Gothamist took it lightly: “Well, of course, that’s the way the Republicans like to run things – it helps them forward their agenda!”

Republicans, especially the Congressional GOP,  reacted with fury, righteousness and maybe some glee. “It’s always wrong to play the race card for political gain by using a loaded word like plantation,” said Long Island Congressman Peter King.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said: “On a day when Americans are focused on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton is focused on the legacy of Hillary Clinton.”
 Urban Elephants was harsher: “Yes, we know what you’re saying Hillary. You’re drumming up anti-Republican sentiment by calling them slaveowners. You’re joining Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson as race hustlers.” 

The Daily News devoted an entire article quoting experts as to whether she made a blunder

Bloggers nationwide chipped in.Decision 2008 (Because It’s Never Too Early) wrote: “Not only is the comment absurd, tasteless, and pandering in the extreme, I’m quite baffled as to what it even meansWhy is it that politicians feel the need to change their message, tone, and even words when they speak to black crowds? Isn’t this condescending and borderline racist? I challenge anyone, anywhere to show me a case before or since where Hillary uses the word ‘plantation’ when referring to the U.S. Congress “ 

Well, would Newt Gingrich do? Here’s a quote dredged (drudged?) up by Ben Smith of Politicker: “Since [the Democrats] think it is their job to run the plantation, it shocks them that I’m actually willing to lead the slave rebellion,” Newt Gingrich told the Washington Post on October 20, 1994.

By on January 17, 2006, 11:14 am
In category: Civil Rights,Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | Comments Off on Like A Plantation

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Nixzmary Brown, Nothing New
January 17th, 2006

In his Daily News column, Juan Gonzalez says in effect that the death of seven-year-old Nixzmary Brown, whom police allege was beaten by her stepfather, is not a new story:  “A decade ago, the murder of 6-year-old Elisa Izquierdo horrified the nation. And in 1987, the dead girl’s name was Lisa Steinberg. Go back even further and the story doesn’t change Over time, our leaders responded with a vast bureaucracy meant to protect the city’s children. A measure of how poorly that bureaucracy functions is how often City Hall keeps changing its name. Years ago, it was called the Bureau of Child Welfare, or BCW. Then it became Social Services for Children, or SSC. For the past few years it’s gone under the name of Administration for Children’s Services, or ACS. Not until Elisa’s death in late 1995 did city officials actually begin to sharply reduce the caseloads of its social workers and increase pay and training. But children, being the most powerless group in our city, are inevitably forgotten – until the next shocking murder suddenly captures the public’s attention.”

By on January 17, 2006, 8:40 am
In category: Social Services | 3 Comments »

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Will Albany Do It Again?
January 16th, 2006

With the New York State Legislature back in session for barely a week, the question we want to know is: Can Albany do it twice in a row?

2005 could reasonably be dubbed The Year Of Reform. The legislature passed a budget on time for the first time in twenty years, and there were modest but important measures passed on lobbying, ethics, campaign financial disclosure, public authorities, freedom of information, the televising of legislative proceedings, and elections and voting.

Of course, everything is relative. We good-government groups gave New York lawmakers an overall grade of only C minus inour just-released Report Card On Reform, which is at least a passing grade.

Governor George Pataki got only a D plus and that was for a year that began with a State of the State address in which he said “New Yorkers want a more open, accountable, and responsive government. This year, let’s give it to them.”and then laid out a seven-point government reform agenda.

By contrast, this year is not starting out as well. In the 2006 State of the State, a lame duck governor whose political sights are clearly now focused beyond New York barely mentioned reform, certainly not of state government.

Whether or not 2005 deserved to be called the Year of Reform, whether or not 2006 will prove an adequate sequel, one thing is clear: An increasing number of New Yorkers believe that Albany needs to be fixed, and fast.That’s what twoeditorials have demanded just in the pastfew days. One of them,in the New York Times, began: “In Albany, it’s never a good idea to open the Champagne too early – especially if it’s to celebrate reform.”And it ended: “lawmakers have to get to work cleaning out the legislative stable. And the rest of us need to make certain that the reforms they have made will actually work.”The other editorial, in the New York Post, mostly detailed a newly-released report by the Manhattan Institute , which explained how New York was in a state of disarray,” its government captive of special interests. An accompanying poll showed that the majority of voters believe state lawmakers are more responsive to special interests than to the interests of the general voter.

The issue of government reform will also undoubtedly figure in the race for governor. Candidates on the Democratic side already are presenting themselves as reform candidates. Eliot Spitzer came out in November for an independent redistricting commission being formed to draw state legislative and congressional lines for the 2012 election — a reform that gets to the heart of the problem, the lack of competitive elections.

Spitzer’spresumed Democratic challenger, Tom Suozzi, known in 2004 for his ‘Fix Albany’ campaign and his successful effort in aiding the defeat of an incumbent Assemblymember in a Democratic primary, is beginning to portray himself as one who sparked the Albany reform movement.

The expected Republican candidates for governor have yet to weigh in on the issue of government reform, but – given voter dissatisfaction – all will surely soon have their own proposals.

Whatever else 2006 brings, expect civic groups, editorial boardsand this new blog to continue the drumbeat of reforming Albany.

By on January 16, 2006, 7:59 pm
In category: Eye on Albany | 2 Comments »

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Recent Posts
January 15th, 2006

By on January 15, 2006, 7:01 pm
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Mattingly on Nixzmary Brown
January 15th, 2006

The newspapers continue to carry story after story about Nixzmary Brown, the 7-year old girl who was allegedly beaten to death by her stepfather last week [See our Social Services links the news]. The Daily News interviews John Mattingly, the head of the Administration for Child Services today, who says that the city is “beginning to be extremely concerned at our inability to take that one extra step or ask that extra question or push that one issue harder to make sure children are safe.”

“One wonders how Mattingly sleeps at night,” it writes in an accompanying editorial. “Not because he bears guilt for Nixzmary’s murder, but because he must live in fear that his army of caseworkers has in its charge more abused children who are right now in great peril.”

By on January 15, 2006, 12:23 pm
In category: Crime & Safety,Social Services | 28 Comments »

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Defending The Drawing Center, Attacking Pataki
January 14th, 2006

An editorial in the New York Times uses the news that the Drawing Center may relocate to the South Street Seaport to praise the museum, lament once again the cultural squabbles at Ground Zero, and take several shots at George Pataki who, “in a memorable spasm of apparently unscripted patriotism” essentially drove the Drawing Center out of the planned cultural center to which he had previously welcomed it. “If nothing else, the battle over culture at ground zero made it perfectly clear that Governor Pataki favors free speech, but only if it takes place in another part of town.”

By on January 14, 2006, 4:11 pm
In category: Arts,Gotham City,Land Use | Comments Off on Defending The Drawing Center, Attacking Pataki

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Brooklyn After Norman
January 13th, 2006

Errol Louis writes about post Clarence Norman Brooklyn in today’s Daily News. A new generation is looking to step up, writes Louis. It sort of reminds Louis of his days as a cub reporter covering the rise of another generation of headstrong Brooklyn Democrats, one of whom was a young Clarence Norman.

Soon enough, Norman “ended up strutting around in fancy silk suits, and chiseling nickels and dimes from the public he swore to serve.” But Louis writes optimistically about those vying to fill the power vacuum that the former Democratic leader’s fall has created:

“May all of these newcomers resist greed, vanity and mediocrity and bring Brooklyn enough pride and prosperity to make us forget Norman’s shame.”

By on January 13, 2006, 5:48 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | Comments Off on Brooklyn After Norman

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The City and Nixzmary Brown
January 13th, 2006

A day after reports of the death of 7-year old Nixzmary Brown hit the newspapers, the city’s Administration for Child Safety is coming under increasing criticism for its failure to follow up on repeated warnings that something was terribly wrong at the young girl’s Brooklyn home. [Wonkster wrote about the initial reaction yesterday].

“By all accounts, Nixzmary was a battered, bruised skeleton. Are the caseworkers so poorly trained? Is ACS that incompetent?” wrote the New York Daily News in an editorial. “An explanation for the failure is not yet forthcoming from Mattingly. Must a child be on fire and running around in circles before ACS suspects there might be a problem?”

The New York Post attacks Bloomberg for the agency’s failures — and for saying that “the city, the country, the world failed this child.”

“The world didn’t fail 7-year-old Nixzmary,” it writes in an editorial. “Nor did the country. It was Mike Bloomberg’s Administration for Child Safety that failed the child“. The mayor should fire the agency’s commissioner, John Mattingly, the Post writes, and take responsibility for fixing an agency that has let four children die in the last three months.

By on January 13, 2006, 12:09 pm
In category: Crime & Safety,Social Services | 37 Comments »

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A Child's Death
January 12th, 2006

The Daily News wonder how the city’s Administration for Children’s Services and so many other adults could have failed Nixzmary Brown, the 7-year-old Brooklyn girl found dead yesterday after what was years of abuse. “How did caseworkers fail to see that Nixzmary was being starved? How did they miss the injuries that were inflicted on her over the course of years – the scars from which were readily apparent in her autopsy? Did they not look into the room where Nixzmary was imprisoned? Did they not question the siblings who were witness to her suffering?” The paper’s editorial asks. “And what of all the other adults who saw Nixzmary, her neighbors and relatives and her teachers and school principal. Yes, school authorities did file reports, but in the end they failed to protect a child.”

Noting that Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday that “overall, ACS does a very good job,” the paper concludes, “doing a good job ‘overall’ was meaningless here. Nixzmary is dead, and many bear responsibility.”

Underscoring its point, in a related story, the paper lists three other cases of children “who had a history with the child-welfare agency” and died of apparent abuse or neglect in the last three months.

By on January 12, 2006, 10:52 am
In category: Gotham City,Social Services | 8 Comments »

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Randall's Island Dreamland?
January 12th, 2006

A private developer’s plans to develop a water park on Randall’s Island jumped a hurdle yesterday after the city’s Franchise and Concession Review Committee voted to let the project move forward.

For web surfers, comment has begun to bubble up from the bloggers. “I bow to few in my admiration for water parks. The flues and slides and wave machines and spurious soaking devices are part of what makes America great,” writes Gringcorp. But the Brooklyn scribe thinks this project, now slated to cover 26 acres, doesn’t have enough room to become a top-notch water park. “Raging Waters covers 50 acres, and that’s pretty cozy,” he says. “Building a state-of-the-art water park on that kind of space is simply not possible, especially if the Randall’s Island park’s 25 acres includes a seven-acre beach. Crazy slide space will be at a premium.”

Gothamist likes the name Hell’s Gate Water Park but thinks that might not go over as well with kids as the dazzling wave pools proposed back in 2003.

Couldn’t a beautiful vista make up for a lack of space or a humdrum name? “Imagine us sitting in rafts, floating down the lazy river, jumping in the wave pool, shooting through the waterslides,” muses Max. “In the background: A nice, big mental institution.

Don’t forget the Ward’s Island sewage treatment plant and the Fire Department’s training academy nearby.

By on January 12, 2006, 10:12 am
In category: Land Use,Waterfront | 6 Comments »

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Protesting Lack Of Translations In The NYC Public Schools
January 11th, 2006

In its editorial today, El Diario urges Mayor Michael Bloomberg in both Spanish and English to change his mind on the Educational Equity Bill (sometimes called the Education Equality Act), which (as the newspaper explains in the English version) “guarantees that the city Department of Education will translate important documents and provide interpreters for the parents of students in the New York City public schools.”

The City Council passed the bill last month. Bloomberg has said he will veto the bill on the grounds that the City Council does not have the legal authority to pass the legislation, and also because of the cost. “We can`t demand that parents get involved, ” El Diario writes, “then speak to them in a language they don`t understand.”

In an effort to lobby the mayor to pass the bill, the New York Immigration Coalition will hold a rally tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of City Hall, holding signs with the slogan “Open the Schoolhouse Door: Pass Intro. 464” in English and Spanish.

By on January 11, 2006, 6:13 pm
In category: Education,Immigrants | 2 Comments »

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School Test on Muslim holiday
January 11th, 2006

Muslim parents are criticizing the city and state education departments for beginning testing of elementary schoolchildren Tuesday, the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha (the feast of sacrifice).

“This is a problem that could have been avoided if a little thought was put into it, not to have the exam that day,” Moustafa El-Shieakh of Astoria, Queens, whose son is a fourth-grader told the Daily News.

Councilmember Hiram Monserrate said he had sent a letter to the city and state Education departments, calling on them to avoid testing on the holiday in the future.

But according to a state education department spokesman, the calendar was consulted before the exams were scheduled to minimize religious conflicts and students who are legally absent because of religious observances can make up tests later.

By on January 11, 2006, 2:57 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | Comments Off on School Test on Muslim holiday

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Corruption Then and Now
January 11th, 2006

Twenty years ago this week, police stopped a car swerving on the Grand Central Parkway and inside discovered city political power and Queens Borough President Donald Manes bleeding from a botched suicide attempt. Marking the anniversary in Power Plays, Tom Robbins recalls, “Manes’ suicide attempt opened the floodgates on a string of scandals involving crooked city officials and political leaders that rocked the mayoral administration of Ed Koch who had just been overwhelmingly re-elected to a third term.”

Probably coincidentally, a Brooklyn court marked the anniversary another way. Today, Brooklyn State Supreme Court Justice Martin Marcus sentenced former Brooklyn Democratic leader and Assemblymember Clarence Norman to two to six years in jail for charges related to campaign contributions. And this could be just the beginning, NY1 reports. He still faces sentencing on his conviction last month of misusing a $5,000 contribution and two more trials on other corruption charges. The onetime political boss hopes to stay out of jail for the time being by asking for bail while he appeals.

His sentence comes despite pleas for leniency, according to the Daily News. Brooklyn Justice John Leventhal, who has long-standing ties to Norman , reportedly asked Marcus ” to please take into account the good things he did, his years of public service. He fought hard for the people of Brooklyn, that he fought hard for the underprivileged.” And Councilmember Leticia James said a group of supporters told Norman ” we would be there for him, and we appreciated all he did and would send him care packages.”

By on January 11, 2006, 2:27 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing,Law | Comments Off on Corruption Then and Now

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Praise for Gibbs
January 11th, 2006

So far, the New Yorkers who may have to deal most with Linda Gibbs, the new Deputy Mayor for Human Services, seem to love her.

The heads of some major New York City nonprofit service organizations said in the New York Nonprofit Press that they’re thrilled with both the creation of the new position and with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s choice.

“I am delighted,” said Fatima Goldman, Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. “Linda is a perfect choice. She has earned the respect of those with whom she has worked. She has experience and knowledge of the City and human services sector.”

“This is the first time in a very long time that we have had a ‘go-to’ person in city hall,” said Ron Soloway of the UJA-Federation. “Linda has the respect of the sector.”

But back in 2003, a New York magazine article called Gibbs, the commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services, the mayor’s “most controversial commissioner.” This extensive profile of Gibbs outlines her early tenure and her successes and missteps as she set out to transform the entire system. And it notes her ability to weather criticism — a trait she’ll need even more now that she’ll be overseeing 11 city agencies.

By on January 11, 2006, 1:46 pm
In category: Housing,Social Services | Comments Off on Praise for Gibbs

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How Much Fuel Does it Take to Make Ethanol Fuel?
January 10th, 2006

Daily News columnist Bill Hammond, commenting on Pataki’s State of the State address, picks up the critique that the governor’s proposal to increase the use of ethanol fuel in New York State was really intended to “pander to Iowa farmers.”

To prove the absurdity of the proposal, he cites a study by Cornell University’s David Pimentel, an ecologist, in which he states that “turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates.”

The study is also cited to show ethanol as an unsustainable option to fossil fuels at The Oil Drum: New York City, a blog that focuses on NYC’s oil dependency.

But posts on the blog’s large comment section dispute the Pimentel study and one commentator points out a report published by the United States Department of Agriculture (pdf). In this report, the authors compare many studies on the subject – including their own – and find that more studies weigh in ethanol’s favor. (The commentator links to a colorful presentation on the report, in which page 16 plots the studies on a graph.)

The Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy policy nonprofit that focuses on market-based solutions, also finds fault with the Pimentel study. They say he only focuses on one method to make ethanol, which is the least efficient of three possible ways.

The oil blog has a link to a good piece by Danny Hakim for The New York Times that takes a much broader look at the governor’s proposal.

By on January 10, 2006, 5:38 pm
In category: Environment,Health,Tech,Transportation | 10 Comments »

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18 Months For 11 Deaths: Justice?
January 10th, 2006

Editorials in both the New York Post and the Daily News reacted to the 18-month prison sentence given to Richard Smith, who was asleep at the wheel of the Andrew J. Barberi ferry when it crashed into a Staten Island pier, killing 11 people. Both believe the sentence was better than that recommended in a report that blamed higher-ups. “Sure, the city bears significant blame in the disaster: For starters, some of the ferry system’s managers appear to have been less than optimally qualified,” says the
NY Post
. “Still, it was Smith who jeopardized the lives of his 1,500 passengers when he took the wheel in an impaired state.”

Both say that 18 months for 11 deaths is light. But the Daily News is far harsher, calling the sentence “an abomination.”

By on January 10, 2006, 6:01 am
In category: Crime & Safety,Gotham City,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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