Archive for January, 2007

Off The Bus, And Off The Wall
January 31st, 2007

Throwing Joel Kleins favorite rhetoric back at him, the Staten Island Advance wonders who will be “held accountable” for the confusion and snafus involved in the Department of Educations reconfigured school bus routes. The changes left some students without transportation and others literally out in the cold. “Under Chancellor Joel Klein, accountability has become very much the watchword in the Department of Education, but it’s usually applied to principals and teachers,” the paper writes. “But principals and teachers aren’t to blame for this bus fiasco. So, we wonder: Just who will be held accountable?”

Meanwhile as the furor continues, Gothamist compiles an anthology of the school bus insanity, including the five-year-old who was given a Metrocard and told to tale a city bus (for some reason her older sister got to ride the bus). “We know saving money is important, but making kids endure hours of commutes or commutes by public transportation when subways or buses might not be close by is just nuts, Gothamist writes.

The problems affect more than student safety and comfort, writes the Post. “[Schools Chancellor Joel] Klein and his patron, Mayor Bloomberg, should realize that their sweeping reforms of the public-school system, now under way, can’t hope to take root and prosper if the public lacks confidence in the plan. Or, more to the point, in Klein and Bloomberg themselves. If they can’t see the folly of their school-bus debacle, how can parents trust them with dismantling and reconstructing the entire 1.1 million-pupil system?”

By on January 31, 2007, 3:37 pm
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Judges' Salaries
January 31st, 2007

The states judges are supposed to administer justice but, Chief Judge Judith Kaye writes in todays
Daily News
, they themselves are victims of an injustice: unconscionably low salaries. “New York State judges have been granted increases just twice in the past 19 years – and just began their record-smashing ninth year of frozen compensation,” she writes. According to Kaye, the low salaries “directly impact the quality of the men and women who sit on the bench, and that directly affects the quality of justice.”

To solve the problem, Kaye calls for creation of an independent commission that would set salaries for state officials. Such a body would replace what Kaye sees as our “current, wholly irrational system” and insulate salary decisions from the “whims of public officials.”

By on January 31, 2007, 2:34 pm
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Hidden Costs For Atlantic Yards
January 30th, 2007

Advocates reading the fine print in Mayor Michael Bloombergs budget have unearthed at least one item the mayor probably would have preferred remain unnoticed: a doubling of the city subsidy for the Atlantic Yards megaproject in Brooklyn. The added funding allegedly for infrastructure improvements (i.e. not the luxury high rises themselves) — brings the city’s direct contribution to $205 million, the Sun reports.

Details have been hard to come by, but Doug Turetsky of the Independent Budget Office told the Voice that the money will probably go for items “some of which might have been on the books prior to Atlantic Yards, but some substantial amount of which is likely related to the scale of the projectsuch as the need for expanding sewer and water capacity.” And, of course, no one knows how much the city will eventually have to ante up because of increased automobile traffic, demands for classroom space, strain on city facilities and so on that could arise from the project.

Dan Goldstein of the group Develop Don’t Destroy protested, “This doubling of the citys taxpayer cash subsidy to $205 million for Ratners project is just the first blast of helium into a very large balloon of public money. There will be many more installments made to Ratner under a blank public check euphemistically called extraordinary infrastructure costs.

And New York Magazine’s Intelligencer comments that the money the mayor is giving his pal Bruce Ratner is more than 5 percent of New York’s overall budget surplus. (Actually this expense is in the capital budget so its not exactly the same thing.) How did the mayor avoid media hoopla over this? funding is for infrastructure improvements that are supposedly independent of the construction. They just happen to be, um, concurrent with it.

And Atlantic Yards isnt the only supposedly private project benefiting from such budgetary legerdemain. The Voice notes that projected capital costs for land and infrastructure associated with the Yankees and Mets stadiumspreviously pegged at $160 million and $98 million, respectivelyare now listed as totaling $209 million and $172 million over the next several years.

By on January 30, 2007, 4:21 pm
In category: Gotham City,Land Use,Public Finance | 4 Comments »

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Spitzer On Education
January 30th, 2007

Governor Eliot Spitzer delivered a policy speech on education yesterday that generally won the approval of editorial writers and educators and even heads of teachers unions. It called for greater funding, an expansion of prekindergarten, a reduction in class sizes, a longer school day and school year, and streamlining education funding formulas. Its focus was on accountability, such as a contract for excellence” that will reward schools with more funding if they adopt suggested reforms. Spitzer also formally announced the appointment of Rochester Schools Superintendent Manuel Rivera as the states education czar, a new position.

United Federation of Teachers Union President Randi Weingarten reacted in a statement on the UFT blog that took a swipe at New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein: While some details are unknown, Weingarten wrote, the differences between the governors approach to pay differentials, tenure, accountability and school funding and that of Chancellor Klein are revealing and refreshing. The governors approach builds a strong school community while the chancellors foster divisiveness

By on January 30, 2007, 9:49 am
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Wall Street Is Not Doomed
January 30th, 2007

When last week, a report commissioned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Sustaining New Yorks And The U.S.s Global Financial Services Leadership ,
warned that New York Citys position as the worlds financial capital was threatened, editorial response generally endorsed the view expressed by financial services executives interviewed for the report that part of the problem is a regulatory approach overly punitive and public” (explicitly referring to the Sarbanes Oxley Act, a law that cracked down on lax accounting practices in the wake of scandals like the Enron debacle.)

For example, Newsday ran an editorial arguing that excessively burdensome regulations that threaten its financial muscle should be addressed quickly, without undercutting necessary safeguards, to help New York City preserve its role as financial capital of the world.

But in the New Yorker Magazine, James Surowiecki calls the effect of regulation on Wall Streets pre-eminence as represented in the report a radically oversimplified explanation of whats been happening and maintains there is no evidence that Americas attractiveness to investors has diminished
“Theres no doubt that Sarbanes-Oxley is an imperfect piece of legislation, but it is not a harbinger of doom for Americas capital markets, and we should be skeptical of any analysis that says it is. Wall Street, after all, has greeted practically every important market regulation introduced in this century with howls of dismay and predictions of disaster. In 1934, the head of the New York Stock Exchange told Congress that if the Securities Exchange Act, which became the foundation of market regulation in the U.S., was made law there was a chance that stock trading in the U.S. would be entirely destroyed. Needless to say, it wasnt.

By on January 30, 2007, 9:15 am
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Unfit For Comptroller
January 30th, 2007

With the replacement for Alan Hevesi as New York State comptroller expected soon (or at least requested right away) , many editorial writers have made clear their view that the new comptroller should be one of the three finalists chosen by the special panel of former comptrollers; they disagree with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silvers attempts to assure a member of the legislation gets the post. Today, an editorial in
the New York Post goes one step further: No assemblyman is qualified for the job – simply by virtue of the fact that he is an assemblyman. That’s partly because the Legislature, as a whole, is criminally tainted. In the past few years alone, no fewer than 10 lawmakers have been convicted, indicted or probed for malfeasance. Not coincidentally, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno is the subject of an extensive federal criminal investigation. But it’s also because many of the body’s legal shenanigans – while largely unindictable – demonstrate a stunning lack of rectitude. The Post then lists a half dozen examples, three of them making what the Post considers financially imprudent moves in order to appease various unions.

By on January 30, 2007, 8:30 am
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Cheap Shot
January 29th, 2007

Who wins?

By on January 29, 2007, 3:19 pm
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A Walking Town No Longer?
January 29th, 2007

New Yorkers may have a reputation for being walkers, but Robert Sullivan writes in today’s New York Times that the city needs to change its ways if we expect it to stay that way.

New York is lagging behind Albuquerque, which is replacing car lanes with bike lanes, and Grand Rapids, which is purposely limiting parking to discourage drivers, and Indianapolis, which is building walking and biking trails to link inner-city neighborhoods. Not to mention London and Paris.

“We have lost our golden pedestrian touch in New York mostly because we still think about traffic as though it were 1950, and we needed Robert Moses to plow a few giant freeways through town to get the cars moving again,” writes Sullivan (a day after the Times ran a piece about efforts to rehabilitate the reputation of the often derided Moses).

Streetsblog couldn’t agree more; it provides a version of Sullivan’s story with hyperlinks backing up every one of his claims.

By on January 29, 2007, 12:22 pm
In category: Gotham City,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Education Reform -- Again??!!
January 28th, 2007

An editorial in the New York Times criticizes Mayor Michael Bloombergs latest education reforms the third in five years: [T]his one radically alters funding formulas and guts the existing management structure roiling a system already struggling to digest earlier changesThe Bloomberg plan expresses some noble ideals. But reforms that affect the lives of more than a million schoolchildren should not be made in haste or on the basis of consultants hunches. Given the mayors habit of ignoring reasonable criticism, the City Council, the Legislature and the Regents should use what leverage they have to ensure that the reforms are closely scrutinized and modified where necessary to produce the best possible result.

By on January 28, 2007, 9:33 pm
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Weighing In On The Comptroller's Race
January 28th, 2007

As we reported earlier, the panel of three former comptrollers has picked three finalists to replace Alan Hevesi, who resigned last month after pleading guilty to a felony. The candidates selected are city finance commissioner Martha Stark, investment banker and Spitzer ally William Mulrow and Nassau County comptroller Howard Weitzman. None of the state legislators vying for the post made the cut, which has led to reports that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would ignore the panel’s recommendations.

An editorial in the Times says that the legislature should stick to selecting from among the three finalists — and suggests that Nassau County comptroller Howard Weitzman is the best fit for the job.

An editorial in the Daily News begins: “Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his Democratic colleagues face a fateful test when they gather this week to vote into office a new state controller. Will they choose competence or cronyism?”

An editorial in Newsday ends: “In a perfect political world, Spitzer shouldn’t have gotten so involved in picking his own fiscal overseer. Silver shouldn’t have said he preferred an Assembly member. Now public confidence will be best served by the legislature choosing one of three candidates vetted by the panel.”

By on January 28, 2007, 6:39 am
In category: Albany,Public Finance | 1 Comment »

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Honk If You Love Traffic
January 26th, 2007

Gasping for air? Getting headaches from honking horns? Tired of dodging cars when you cross the street while the walk sign is with you?

Its all a figment of your imagination. Or so says transportation commissioner Iris Weinshall. She told City Council yesterday, You have SUVs, you got these minivans. I think the cars are getting bigger and there is a perception there is more traffic. We think it is still manageable.

Critics say Weinshall may not know how bad the traffic is because her department does not do a very good job of tracking how many people move around the city and how they travel. But even if there is more traffic, those gridlocked exhaust-spewing vehicles may be a good thing. Traffic, Weinshall said, is an indication of the vitality and growth of the city of New York. We would not characterize it as a crisis. We would characterize it as a challenge.

Such comments prompted an anonymous commentator on Streetsblog to wonder, How can the city’s talk about sustainability be taken even slightly seriously when it keeps putting Iris out there with these know-nothing/do-nothing messages?”

Weinshall, Gothamist notes, was testifying about a bill that would set standards for her department, “such as cutting commute times and easing traffic congestion.” Not surprisingly, she is opposed.

By on January 26, 2007, 1:48 pm
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Silver vs. Spitzer
January 26th, 2007

The expert panel screening candidates for state comptroller released their list of three finalists yesterday. Expected to include five people, it only had three names none of them a state legislator. The list probably pleased Governor Eliot Spitzer, enraged Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and delighted political junkies hankering for a showdown between the new governor and the longtime speaker.

Before the list (city finance commissioner Martha Stark, investment banker and Spitzer ally William Mulrow and Nassau County comptroller Howard Weitzman) was announced, Silver said he expected that at least one of the finalists would be a member of the Assembly. So perhaps not surprisingly, when the names were revealed, Silver indicated he might abandon the screening process to push for someone not on the list.

The legislature officially chooses the comptroller if, as is currently the case, the elected comptroller has left office. And as Empire Zone explains it, Silvers word carries the heaviest weight because Assembly Democrats, if they line up behind one candidate, will control the outcome.

They can give me whatever they want, Silver said of the panel. We dont have to listen to them. And Richard Brodsky, one of the assembly members who, until yesterday, had been in the running for the job, told Daily Politics. We’re in a process that by no means ended today.”

The disgruntled assembly members, Empire Zone says, argue that the process was stacked against legislators, the panel promised five finalists and only came up with three, and that the groups members three former comptrollers — demanded experience that they themselves didnt have themselves when they became comptroller.

One member of the panel, former state comptroller Ned Regan, said the three simply picked the best-qualified candidates. None of the Assembly members seeking the post had enough managerial experience, he told the Times. Theyd never managed anything big, Regan said.

But the New York Post quotes an anonymous source as saying that Spitzer spoke to the panel several times yesterday. I think Spitzer lobbied the hell out of them, the source said.

The governors apparent influence alarms some who question whether the official charged with monitoring the financial workings of state government should be beholden to the person running that government. Someone such as Brodsky, they said, might prove too independent for the governor. Brodsky is hard to take, but, boy, Spitzer wouldn’t actually want a guy that would actually audit his administration, wrote an anonymous commentator on Daily Politics.

What happens now? Silver is expected to discuss the situation with the Assembly members, probably on Tuesday. But the speaker is in a quandary, believes Capitol Confidential. Elizabeth Benjamin writes, He has to choose between bucking his members by kow-towing to the governor or bucking the governor by kow-towing to his members (assuming the majority of them do, in fact, want one of their own to be comptroller). What a glorious mess.

By on January 26, 2007, 12:38 pm
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Juvenile Justice and Prison Reform
January 25th, 2007

Mandatory minimum sentences have taken their toll on the United States, the New York Times writes in an editorial this morning. The country is spending $60 billion a year on corrections and “has created a growing felon caste” with more than 16 million members, the paper writes.

The Times editorial recommends that Congress pass a law called the Second Chance Act, which would give more support to people leaving prison, and lists a series of other actions that could be taken in Washington.

The prison issue is gaining traction nationwide (The Times Magazine wrote last month about how right-wing Christians are increasingly interested in prison reform).

New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws served as the national model for severe mandatory minimums, and the state’s recent reforms were not as thorough as others who have eased. (Gotham Gazette’s Book Club recently discussed the issue at length).

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in his state of the city speech that his administration will look for alternatives to incarceration among one particular population of offenders: juveniles. Juvenile crime is on the rise in the city, and almost half of the juvenile offenders who ended up in custody in 2006 were repeat offenders.

On Gotham Gazette today, Asadullah Muhammad, the head of Each One Teach One, a 15-week youth leadership program that trains and educates teens who have been incarcerated, responds to the mayor’s plans.

By on January 25, 2007, 11:39 am
In category: Crime & Safety,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Ranting at the Police
January 24th, 2007

The Daily News harshly condemns City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for calling town hall meetings, as well as a City Hall hearing, in response to the police shooting of Sean Bell, the unarmed black man killed in Queens on his wedding day. Whatever her intentions, the editorial says, Quinn created racially charged spectacles and provided a platform for ranters and railers to rant and rail – at times in offensive terms – that the department is made up of racist, trigger-happy goons.

The New York Post made the same points even more harshly yesterday in an editorial entitled Quinn’s Witch Hunt

By on January 24, 2007, 9:10 am
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Health of the Union
January 24th, 2007

Since 1.7 million New Yorkers lack health insurance, you might expect any effort to address that would be welcome here. But President George W. Bushs health care proposal, announced in last nights State of the Union speech got generally poor reviews in the city. The plan would provide a tax deduction for people who buy their own insurance, seek to limit expensive health insurance plans and take money away from Medicaid payments and give it to the states in the form of something called “affordable choice grants. That, the Daily News reports, could cost the citys public hospitals and other medical facilities $350 million a year.

If the proposal is enacted (which many say is unlikely), Alan Aviles, president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, said in the
Times, We would have to do a wholesale dismantling of our ambulatory care system and scale down our emergency departments. “This is an anti-New York provision….It hurts the poor and is a dagger at the heart of New York’s fiscal budget,” Senator Chuck Schumer told the News.

In general, commentators questioned whether the plan would do much to address the health-care crisis confronting New York and the entire country. In his speech, the
Times said, the president acted as if he were really doing something to help the 47 million people in this country who dont have health insurance. But the editorial says, what he would actually do is take a few million off that scandalously high number and shift the burden to the states, while placing a new tax on Americans who were lucky enough to still have good health-care coverage through their employers.

Daily Gotham was similarly unimpressed, writing that Bushs plan was designed not for the purpose of getting more people insured, but primarily to reinforce the idea that private insurance is the way forward in health care. In its analysis, the Drum Major Institute said the market-based’ proposals favor the wealthy and healthy to the detriment of the sick, poor, and anyone who suffers a medical emergency.

Health Care Economist examined the pros and the cons and concluded the minuses outweigh the pluses: The plan does little to help those who need insurance most. The dollars saved from eliminating the deductibility of employer-provided health insurance could be used in a much more productive fashion to provide health care to more Americans.

By on January 24, 2007, 8:50 am
In category: Gotham City,Health | 3 Comments »

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Open the Files
January 23rd, 2007

Federal Judge James Francis IV thinks the Bloomberg administration does not give average New Yorkers enough credit. In a ruling released yesterday, the judge ruled that hundreds of records relating to the more than 1,000 arrests at the Republican National Convention in New York City, can be made public.

And in his decision, the judge roundly dismissed the administrations argument that the information might confuse or mislead people. “The city gives the general public very little credit when it contends that readers will be unable to grasp that the information contained in these documents might be incomplete or inaccurate,” Francis wrote, according to Associated Press. For example the city reportedly tried to block a document that contained information on using plastic handcuffs material, Francis said, that would be “obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense.”

The case arose from two lawsuits on the convention arrests filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2004. In its pre-trial discovery, the group collected thousands of pages of city documents and sworn testimony, along with police videotapes of the protests. Bloombergs law department has tried to stop the civil liberties union from making that material public, leading to yesterdays ruling.

The department says it is considering whether to appeal. But the administrations interest in keeping the documents secret could be seen as understandable. According to figures reported by the New York Times in August 2005, more than 87 percent of the 1,806 people arrested during the convention had been found not guilty or seen their cases dismissed or adjourned in contemplation of dismissal.

By on January 23, 2007, 11:49 am
In category: Civil Rights,Gotham City,Law | 1 Comment »

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Confronting Bush On 9/11 Health
January 23rd, 2007

An editorial in the Daily News explains that 21-year-old Ceasar Borja will be attending President Bushs State Of the Union address this evening, representing his father, a 52-year-old police officer who served at Ground Zero, and is now at Mount Sinai Medical Center hovering beneath consciousness. His son might just be the person who prompts the President, finally, to understand that the federal government has a long-term responsibility to pay for health care for thousands of sickened rescue and recovery workers.

By on January 23, 2007, 8:08 am
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Does Bloomberg Feel the Heat?
January 22nd, 2007

The weather has finally turned seasonal but after the weird weather of December and much of this month the cultural recognition of global warming has reached a decisive point, Chris Smith writes in New York magazine.

But that does not mean politicians have acted. George Bush, who has done less than nothing on the issue in years past, may address it in tomorrow’s State of the Union address but, according to Reuters, probably will not advocate limits on the emission of greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming.

In light of the federal inaction, efforts have been moving to the local level, but Smith says, New York City is lagging behind. He writes, When environmental advocates list the most climate-conscious cities, they put New York behind London, Chicago, and even Portland, Oregon. L.A. has boosted the use of solar power by giving subsidies to customers who install photovoltaic systems. Portland is requiring that computers use new energy-efficient power packs. However, London has made the biggest splash, cutting vehicle emissions by 20 percent through the use of congestion pricing.

In contrast, Smith writes, Mayor Michael Bloombergs record on such matters is decidedly mixed. He made a speech on sustainability last month that was almost completely free of specifics. He has resisted calls for congestion pricing and watered down Councilmember David Yassky’s proposal for cleaner taxicabs.

Smith wants Bloomberg to do more. Smoking and trans fats hardly make a legacy, he writes. But snow in the winter? That might be something to brag about.

By on January 22, 2007, 5:29 pm
In category: Environment,Gotham City,Health,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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Clinton and Chelsea-Clinton
January 22nd, 2007

To no ones surprise Hillary Clinton officially entered the race for the Democratic nomination for president Saturday. Clintons announcement was made on her Web site, but for her first appearance as official-candidate Clinton (as opposed to Democratic-frontrunner-all-but-declared-candidate Clinton), she chose the Ryan Chelsea-Clinton Community Health Center. This was, the Washington Post helpfully noted, named for the Chelsea and Clinton neighborhoods whose needs it serves, and echoing the name of Clintons daughter.

In her presentation, the Post reports, Clinton focused on the specific theme of health care for children, locking hands with a little girl who joined her onstage. In so doing, she signaled that she will use her uniqueness as a woman and more specifically as a mother to stake out her ground in the crowded presidential. To say nothing of the fact that, Gothamist notes, There is nothing like a photo op with lots of cute kids.

As to whether she said much of substance, unclear. Reviewing the Times article on her appearance, Norwegianity accuses the paper of giving her short shrift, and urges readers to notice how long it takes to get from the headline and opening sentence to any content that reflects the what she had to say about health care. (Eight paragraphs, for whoever is counting.)

In addition to using New York as a backdrop for her campaign, Clinton may use the tactics that have served her so well in campaigns here. Writing that Clintons Web site announcement urges Americans to engage in a dialog about your ideas and mine, Daily News reports that a poll shows Clinton leading the Democratic primary field among voters in the city with 43 percent preferring her, compared to 24 percent for Barack Obama.

But the Sun isnt letting such numbers dim its enthusiasm for a presidential bid by Mayor Michael Bloomberg who says he is not running. “The mayor has to realize,” the paper says, “that Mrs. Clintons negatives arent just the concerns about whether she can win a general election, but the feeling that she doesnt stand for anything other than her own ambition. What a contrast with the self-effacing mayor, who can console himself that at least Mrs. Clinton will have to spend the next year hitting up people for money.

Bloomberg certainly is rich. But self-effacing? Maybe the Sun did not hear the mayors
State of the City
address last week.

(For more on New York in the presidential race, see Hillary, Rudy, And George, But Not Mike ( Or So He Says).

By on January 22, 2007, 12:13 pm
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What WAS That Smell?
January 22nd, 2007

Although officials reportedly have given up on determining the source of the mysterious smell throughout Manhattan on January 8, five environmental scientists from Columbia University, an essay in the New York Times entitled Sniffing Out The Truth, offer their reasoning for their belief that the odor was caused by gases released from saltwater marshes in the metropolitan area.While these odors do not cause a health threat at low concentrations, they are undesirable. Whats more, they are troubling for what they may signal: an environment in need of our attention.

In an accompanying, more general essay — a sometimes historical disquisition on smells toxic and nontoxic, Luca Turin, a biophysicist who works for a perfume company, is more reassuring: Dont worry, because heres the thing: the more powerful the stench, the less likely it is to do harm

By on January 22, 2007, 9:20 am
In category: Environment,Gotham City,Health | 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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