Archive for August, 2007

More Panel Picks
August 21st, 2007

The rest of the picks for the congestion pricing panel have been announced, and the membership does not include a lot of undecideds.

Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg named Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group and the Straphangers Campaign, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn and civil rights attorney Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE.

For his three slots, Governor Eliot Spitzer chose former First Deputy Mayor Marc Shaw, Port Authority Executive Director Anthony Shorris and Elliott Sander, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an opponent of the plan to charge people to drive in Manhattan, selected three Democratic members of the Assembly: Herman Denny Farrell, Jr., Richard Brodsky and Vivian Cook. From the other side of the Capitol, Senator Majority Leader Richard Bruno appointed New York Central Labor Council President Gary LaBarbera, SUNY Chairman Thomas Egan and Richard Bivone, president of the Nassau County Council Chamber of Commerce. Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, who gets just one pick, appointed Gerard Romski, the counsel and project director of Arverne By the Sea.

(Earlier choices are below.)

Most of those selected, like the previous appointees, have well-known positions on congestion pricing. Brodsky, for example, has been one of the most vociferous opponents; Russianoff has been a vocal supporter, and one doubts that Sadik-Khan would go against her boss big idea. Since proponents of the plan get to name more commission members than opponents do, the panel seems to favor congestion charges. Not that it means much, says the Politicker. If the panel ends up recommending a traffic-reduction plan that includes congestion pricing, opponents in the Assembly will no doubt say that the process was fixed.

And any plan the commission devises must, as we have noted previously, be approved by the City Council (where a Gotham Gazette survey found many members undecided) and the legislature. Some wonder whether the commission might make it harder to win approval. A number of council members are very unhappy with Quinn’s choices, which clearly were made with an eye toward making Bloomberg happy, observers the Daily Politics. Writing to Streetsblog, drose comments, I am worried that stacking the panel with known congestion pricing proponents will cause a revolt in the Assembly Majority.

By on August 21, 2007, 4:14 pm
In category: Albany,Environment,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Congestion Pricing Commission Countdown
August 21st, 2007

Council Speaker Christine Quinn has released her picks for the 17-member commission charged with reviewing Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan.

As some said yesterday and many before that might have guessed, the appointments seem to lean toward supporting the plan, which proposes to charge drivers $8 and trucks $21 to drive into or out of much of Manhattan.

Some see this as another example of Quinn siding with the mayor a trend throughout her tenure.

Her picks are: Andrea Batista Schlesinger, executive director of the Drum Major Institute; Edwin C. Reed, chief financial officer of the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York; and Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City.

Although Quinn gets her pick on who will serve on the commission, the City Council must also still vote on the matter. So far, according to a poll we did earlier this month, most council members remain teetering on the ledge.

The Assembly’s Republican minority has also released its pick (Andy Darrell, regional director of Environmental Defense and a congestion pricing supporter), and Governor Spitzer could announce his as early as today.

By on August 21, 2007, 1:06 pm
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Asking Questions, Calling for Answers
August 21st, 2007

Although an unintended consequence of protecting the neighborhood from toxins plaguing Ground Zero since the September 11th attacks, the conditions inside the Deutsche Bank Building has felled two other firefighters at the World Trade Center. The Times urges the city, and the handful of other authorities and agencies charged with overseeing deconstruction, to ensure that no one else loses a life at the seemingly cursed building, and compels the agencies to also ensure toxins do not leak into the surrounding neighborhood once the building finally comes completely down.

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By on August 21, 2007, 9:33 am
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Quit Stalling on the Express
August 20th, 2007

Unused express tracks along the F line in Brooklyn lay dormant, and some of the locals find this ridiculous. So much so, in fact, that two Brooklyn council members recently said that they would not support a fare hike unless the Metropolitan Transportation Authority opens the tracks up for use. While opposing a fare hike is not exactly politically risky, the move was a way for the council members – Simcha Felder of Borough Park and Dominic Recchia of Coney Island – to show they do not accept the transit authority’s explanation for not utilizing the tracks.

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By on August 20, 2007, 9:25 pm
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Noise Level, "A Witch Hunt"
August 20th, 2007

The Times praised Mayor Bloomberg of his attempt to reduce noise level in the city but warned that an enforcement staff of about 50, or about 10 per borough might not enough. The city may eventually need to consider building a staff more equal to the size of the mission, the paper said.

Meanwhile, Mona Eltahawy wrote in The Daily News that the firing of Debbie Almontaser as principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy was a witch hunt.

Critics had targeted Almontaser for months, ” she said. ” You can be sure that if it hadn’t been the T-shirts – which had nothing to do with Almontaser or her school – it would have been something else.

By on August 20, 2007, 12:06 pm
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Investigating the Fire
August 20th, 2007

As the city mourns and honors firefighters Robert Beddia and Joe Graffagnino in Saturdays fire at the Deutsche Bank building, many are examining the circumstances of their death and wondering how the tragedy could have been avoided.

There is too much to mourn and too much to rage about in the deaths, the Daily News writes in an editorial today. The paper recites the litany of woes at the building: contamination with asbestos and other hazardous substances, fights over insurance and the cost of the demolition, the discovery of human remains. And then, when demolition began, workers labored behind plastic shrouding, using torches and apparently smoking, while the standpipe needed to bring water to upper floors in case of emergency sat useless with a broken valve. The News writes, The Deutsche Bank building has for too long been a symbol of official incompetence.

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By on August 20, 2007, 11:54 am
In category: Environment,Land Use,Waterfront | 3 Comments »

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Nuclear Ground Zero
August 17th, 2007

A nuclear attack on the city undoubtedly would be deadly. But just how catastrophic would it be? A new report in the International Journal of Health Geographics breaks it down.

The population density would lead to staggering casualties from a nuclear bomb in lower Manhattan. Geography, weather patterns and the distribution of health care facilities would also help determine how much damage would be wreaked on the region.

By on August 17, 2007, 10:28 am
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Library Hours Matter
August 17th, 2007

Photo by LesterHead

Congestion Pricing, PlaNYC – but what about libraries? The recent decision to restore library service to six days a week is a major accomplishment that has been overshadowed, says Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future.

Instead, it “should be recognized as a landmark achievement for boosting the competitiveness of the city’s future workforce and improving the quality of life for untold numbers of seniors, parents, children and immigrants,” he wrote in a recent essay.

Bowles points out that libraries do more than lend books, “They foster reading skills in kids, assist adults in addressing skills gaps, help immigrants assimilate and bolster technology access for thousands of seniors and low-income individuals”

But for all the praise he heaps on the city’s initiative, Bowles’ essay includes a less flattering comparison of the library hours of the 20 largest cities. While the expanded hours will bump New York up from last place, it will only advance to number 15 out of the 20, the center’s numbers show. The 45 hours per week the libraries will now be open is still also below the national average of 47.

By on August 17, 2007, 10:23 am
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Spitzer Signs Housing Bill
August 16th, 2007

Community Voices Heard is lauding Governor Spitzer’s decision to sign the shelter allowance bill yesterday. The legislation, S.4329/A.7905 will increase the shelter allowance provided to public housing authorities serving families on public assistance, adding (by CVH’s estimate) $47 million in revenue yearly to the NYC Housing Authority’s budget, helping to close a $225 million budget deficit.

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By on August 16, 2007, 11:54 am
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Message Not in a Bottle
August 16th, 2007

Time magazine’s Brian Walsh is pushing for Americans to use less bottled water, and he likes Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign to encourage New Yorker’s to drink tap water. He also applauds Food Network chef Mario Batali’s decision to serve only tap water at his posh New York restaurant.

Among the reasons to switch to tap? Less oil for packaging and shipping, less carbon emissions and solid waste, and a need to address the perception that tap water is unnecessary – which is dangerous since our drinking water infrastructure is in dire need of investment, Walsh says.

By on August 16, 2007, 10:04 am
In category: Environment | 2 Comments »

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Little Liberia
August 16th, 2007

When conversations turn to Staten Island, references to child soldiers don’t usually come up. But the borough is home to a large community of former child soldiers, writes Alissa Quart in Mother Jones magazine. The island, she says, has the largest population of Liberians outside of their native country, and the enclave is often called “Little Liberia.”

Many of the young residents of the community, though, bear scars from their previous lives. According to one estimate, as many as 80 percent of the people who fought in Liberia’s civil war were children. Assimilation has proved difficult for these young people, who were taught to kill, not to read and write. Detailing the struggles of these young victims with terrible memories, the reporter offers accounts of a hard life in a new country, as the immigrants struggle with their own violent outbursts and with bigotry from local residents.

By on August 16, 2007, 9:54 am
In category: Demographics,Immigrants | Comments Off on Little Liberia

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Who is Debbie Almontaser?
August 15th, 2007

“I came to this country from Yemen, Arabia at the age of three. I remember it was a cold March night, and when I woke up the morning after we had arrived in upstate New York, I looked outside the window and saw, to my delight, that there was sugar everywhere, sugar covering the streets and all the trees. My father said “no, honey, it’s not sugar, it’s snow,” she wrote for The Gotham Gazette. “But not everything about America was as sweet. As I grew up, I faced great difficulty searching for my identity as an Arab-American.”

By on August 15, 2007, 12:11 pm
In category: Gotham City | 6 Comments »

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The Gibran Furor Continues
August 15th, 2007

The apparently forced resignation of principal Debbie Almontaser had done little to silence the tabloid frenzy over the Kahlil Gibran Academy, a new city school focusing on Arab culture and language. In fact the controversy seems to have gotten a second wind with the naming of Danielle Salzberg, a Jewish educator who does not speak Arabic, as interim principal.

The schools opponents, such as Daniel Pipes in the Sun, still want the school closed. In support of his argument today Pipes notes, The school has only an interim, non-Arabic-speaking principal something he helped bring about. And he cites the outspoken opposition of politicians such as Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose previous support for extremist rabbi Meir Kahane apparently makes him, in Pipes view, ideally suited to comment on this.

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By on August 15, 2007, 10:26 am
In category: Civil Rights,Education | 7 Comments »

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The Congestion Pricing Money
August 14th, 2007

 

The city has moved closer to getting the federal money for congestion pricing that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Times so often cited earlier this year in trying to get the state legislature to approve the fee. But just as the congestion pricing deal agreed to in Albany last month was not quite what the mayor wanted, neither is the federal announcement.

For one thing the Department of Transportation did not simply write a check. And for another, Washington is offering $354million far more than the $200 million the state government said was needed to move the plan along, but far less than the $500 million Bloomberg thought likely. According to the Daily Politics, only $10.4 million is slated for the technology (cameras and so on) needed to implement congestion pricing which means the city and state are going to have to kick in some cash in order to get the plan off the ground. Otherwise the federal government sets aside $112 million for bus rapid transit projects, $213. 6 million for infrastructure such as bus depots and $15.8 million for ferries.

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By on August 14, 2007, 12:48 pm
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The Latest on Choppergate
August 14th, 2007

UPDATE: Since the original posting of this blog entry, the office of the Attorney General has refuted the Sun‘s claims in a letter to that paper’s editor.

As Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat from Manhattan, comes out in support of Governor Eliot Spitzer, there is new news from the scandal involving the governor, the State Senate majority leader and the use of state aircraft.

Maloney, who agrees with Spitzer that any further investigation should be handled by the State Ethics Commission, said in a prepared statement, The Senate leadership should stop trying to score political points at the expense of doing the peoples business and instead let the professionals do the investigating.”

Meanwhile, The Sun is back to the original investigation of Majority Leader Joe Bruno, though this time the attack is targeted at Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo, according to The Sun, cited a nonexistent document when absolving the Senate majority leader (who is under federal investigation for other wrongdoing prior to this latest skirmish).

Andrew Cuomo, who also has been called out for misuse of government funds, is a possible gubernatorial candidate for 2010.

As the “choppergate” scandal drones on, the magnitude of the political capital at stake for all parties involved is becoming apparent, and it seems victors could be absent from this very political battle.

By on August 14, 2007, 11:44 am
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Eye on Albany,Gotham City | Comments Off on The Latest on Choppergate

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From Housing to an Arab Academy
August 14th, 2007

In light of the New York City Housing Authority’s fiscal crisis, The News is urging Governor Spitzer to sign a bill that would give authority tenants a “fairer” subsidy compared to residents on public assistancein private buildings . Currently, they state, those in privately owned buildings receive nearly triple what authority residents get, which cheats the fiscally handicapped housing agency out of state funding.

The Post reiterates and defends its position regarding Debbie Almontaser’s resignation from the Khalil Gibran International Academy an Arabic language school recently shoved into the city’s educational spotlight when students sported t-shirts blazing “Intifada NYC.”

In additional thoughts on Spitzergate, the Post is urging the state’s Ethics Commission to conduct its deliberations in public.

And The Sun sees Bloomberg’s recent comments on immigration as another reason for the mayor to “aim high” in his political future.

By on August 14, 2007, 11:14 am
In category: Albany,Education,Gotham City,Housing,Immigrants | 1 Comment »

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Buckling Bridges
August 13th, 2007

Following the collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis and a pipe explosion here, infrastructure reports and commentaries – like what we posted today – have accumulated more steam than what might have been initially anticipated.

New York City Department of Transportation veteran, Samuel I. Schwartz, explains in an op-ed in The Times today that saving the city’s fragile network of bridges will take more than quick fixes and one-time repairs. Schwartz states that effectively managing the city’s infrastructure to increase its lifespan would be to conduct routine repairs annually.

By on August 13, 2007, 1:44 pm
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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School Sweethearts
August 13th, 2007

When City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced the formation of a task force on middle schools last winter, it seemed the council wanted to take initiative on perhaps the most vexing education issue in the city the generally sorry state of education in grades six through eight.

The task force has now completed its work, and whatever the merits of its findings, it seems Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Department of Education have largely taken it over. The announcement of the report today came from the mayors office and not from the council as of 2 p.m. today it was not even on the council web site. The mayor praised the task force and said the Department of Education was already undertaking a number of initiatives to implement its suggestions including a $5million fund available to help 50 high-needs schools, providing Regents courses in middle schools across the city and creating an office of middle schools initiatives.

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By on August 13, 2007, 1:40 pm
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MTA Must Keep Riders Informed, Cellphones Ban
August 13th, 2007

Last weeks torrential rains closed much of the subway system and forced many straphangers to find alternatives to get to their destination. Now, argues the Times editorial, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority need to “work overtime to regain the publics confidence in mass transit. ”

Of all the indignities suffered last week, among the worst was feeling that no one cared enough to keep riders informed.

The Posts editorial praises Mayor Bloomberg for standing up to the city councils bill that took aim at the ban on cellphones in public schools.

Not only are phones a serious classroom disruption, the Editorial writes, but they’ve also been used to cheat on tests, bully, deal drugs and coordinate gang activity.

By on August 13, 2007, 11:56 am
In category: Education,Tech,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Gerson on Congestion Pricing
August 10th, 2007

Councilmember Alan Gerson, who said, “The plan as presented I oppose,” when commenting on our congestion pricing story , issued a statement today that says he “supports appropriate variations of congestion pricing as part of a broader traffic management plan.”

Gerson was singled out by some blog commentators after Gotham Gazette posted its story on Monday for being the only Manhattan City Council representative to take a stance against the mayor’s plan to charge cars $8 and trucks $21 to drive into or out of most of Manhattan.

His statement in full is posted on our message board here. While the councilmember said he opposed the mayor’s plan during an interview last week, he also expressed some of the other sentiments within his statement.

By on August 10, 2007, 11:19 am
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