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Hunger Action to Cuomo: Raise the Wage
August 29th, 2012

Cuomo Should Use Labor Day to Raise Minimum Wage
(Albany, NY) Hunger Action Network of NYS called today for Governor Cuomo to raise the state minimum wage by using Labor Day to convene a minimum wage board.
State Labor Law Sec. 653 gives the Governor the power to raise the minimum wage without the need for legislative approval if the Labor Commissioner in reality, the Governor determines that the minimum wage is inadequate to support workers.
Hunger Action also said that Cuomo should convene a Labor Day extraordinary session of the State legislature to deal with a host of outstanding issues critical to NY workers, including raising unemployment benefits and strengthening Farmworker rights.
It is time for Governor Cuomo to listen to New York voters who overwhelmingly believe low-income workers deserve a pay raise. Low wage workers may not contribute to the Governors various political committees like the casinos do but they contribute to the states economy. Rather than yet another photo op on Labor Day, the Governor and legislators should be in Albany taking concrete action to help workers, noted Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of NYS.
Hunger Action Network of NYS has called the Governors office and Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera weekly since the legislature adjourned to discuss administratively raising the minimum wage but have received no response. Hunger Action filed a petition under Sec. 653 of the Labor Law to begin the process of convening the minimum wage board but so far the Labor Department has failed to rule on whether or not the minimum wage is adequate. The Cuomo administration has acknowledged to Hunger Action that it does have the power to raise the minimum wage unilaterally.
Hunger Action has told the Governor and Rivera that it is willing to circulate a new petition, which must be signed by 50 individuals impacted by the minimum wage, if they are unwilling to act on the petition initially filed during the Paterson administration. Until recently, Patersons labor commissioner Colleen Crawford had continued under Cuomo.
Once the minimum wage is determined to be inadequate, the administration appoints a minimum wage board of labor, business and civic representatives to recommend within 45 days what the minimum wage should be increased to. The Labor Commissioner can then order a hike.
There has been speculation that the legislature would raise the minimum wage in a lame duck session after the November elections as part of a deal to raise state legislators and Commissioners salaries (an issue of concern to Cuomo). However, the escalating scandals involving the indictment of legislators for corruptions, patronage jobs and sexual harassment and overwhelming public opposition – has made a legislative pay raise much less likely.

The minimum wage in NY isnt even a poverty wage. The majority of New Yorkers who support a minimum wage hike want it to be raised at least $10 an hour so workers dont have to flood food pantries looking for food to feed their families. It is time for Governor Cuomo to step up to the bat for low-income workers, added Dunlea.

Mark Dunlea of Hunger Action wants Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take executive action to increase the state’s minimum wage. Dunlea thinks Labor Day would be a perfect time for Cuomo to convene a special board that could recommend an increase in the minimum wage that the governor would implement.

State Labor Law Sec. 653 gives the governor the ability to raise the minimum wage without legislative approval if the labor commissioner recommends it.

It is time for Gov. Cuomo to listen to New York voters who overwhelmingly believe low-income workers deserve a pay raise,” Dunlea said in a statement. “Low wage workers may not contribute to the governors various political committees like the casinos do but they contribute to the states economy. Rather than yet another photo op on Labor Day, the governor and legislators should be in Albany taking concrete action to help workers.”

Dunlea also wants Cuomo to convene a special session of the Legislature to address various workers issues, including raising unemployment benefits and addressing farm workers rights legislation.

The governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Here is Hunger Action’s full news release:

Cuomo Should Use Labor Day to Raise Minimum Wage

(Albany, NY) Hunger Action Network of NYS called today for Governor Cuomo to raise the state minimum wage by using Labor Day to convene a minimum wage board.

State Labor Law Sec. 653 gives the Governor the power to raise the minimum wage without the need for legislative approval if the Labor Commissioner in reality, the Governor determines that the minimum wage is inadequate to support workers.

Hunger Action also said that Cuomo should convene a Labor Day extraordinary session of the State legislature to deal with a host of outstanding issues critical to NY workers, including raising unemployment benefits and strengthening Farmworker rights.

It is time for Governor Cuomo to listen to New York voters who overwhelmingly believe low-income workers deserve a pay raise. Low wage workers may not contribute to the Governors various political committees like the casinos do but they contribute to the states economy. Rather than yet another photo op on Labor Day, the Governor and legislators should be in Albany taking concrete action to help workers, noted Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of NYS.

Hunger Action Network of NYS has called the Governors office and Labor Commissioner Peter Rivera weekly since the legislature adjourned to discuss administratively raising the minimum wage but have received no response. Hunger Action filed a petition under Sec. 653 of the Labor Law to begin the process of convening the minimum wage board but so far the Labor Department has failed to rule on whether or not the minimum wage is adequate. The Cuomo administration has acknowledged to Hunger Action that it does have the power to raise the minimum wage unilaterally.

Hunger Action has told the Governor and Rivera that it is willing to circulate a new petition, which must be signed by 50 individuals impacted by the minimum wage, if they are unwilling to act on the petition initially filed during the Paterson administration. Until recently, Patersons labor commissioner Colleen Crawford had continued under Cuomo.

Once the minimum wage is determined to be inadequate, the administration appoints a minimum wage board of labor, business and civic representatives to recommend within 45 days what the minimum wage should be increased to. The Labor Commissioner can then order a hike.

There has been speculation that the legislature would raise the minimum wage in a lame duck session after the November elections as part of a deal to raise state legislators and Commissioners salaries (an issue of concern to Cuomo). However, the escalating scandals involving the indictment of legislators for corruptions, patronage jobs and sexual harassment and overwhelming public opposition – has made a legislative pay raise much less likely.

The minimum wage in NY isnt even a poverty wage. The majority of New Yorkers who support a minimum wage hike want it to be raised at least $10 an hour so workers dont have to flood food pantries looking for food to feed their families. It is time for Governor Cuomo to step up to the bat for low-income workers, added Dunlea.

By on August 29, 2012, 11:47 am
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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City Gives Columbia $15M for Applied Science Institute
July 30th, 2012

The city will support Columbia University’s new Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering with up to $15 million in financial aid, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation projects that the new institute will generate $3.9 billion of nominal economic growth over the next three decades, with more than 4,000 permanent jobs created.

Columbia will spend more than $80 million of its own money on the project, and part of the city’s contribution comes from debt forgiveness, discounted energy transmission costs and lease flexibility.

It will create tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity, and it will encourage the growth of the tech sector in New York City and solidify our leadership in the innovation economy for decades to come, Mayor Bloomberg said in a press release.

This comes as part of the larger Applied Sciences NYC initiative, which aims to increase performance of fields like data science in the city, as well as bolster the city’s economy. Other efforts include the city’s collaboration with Cornell University to create a tech campus on Roosevelt Island.

“The discoveries produced by the Data Sciences Institute will establish a foundation for significant contributions to society and to the marketplace, Professor Kathy McKeown, director of the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, said in the release.

By 2016, the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering is expected to add 44,000 square feet to Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, with construction starting almost immediately. The university also plans to add approximately 75 faculty jobs in the next 15 years.

However, advocacy groups do not have full confidence in this initiative’s economic promises, seeking full transparency throughout the project.

“More and more, these large universities are running like large corporations,” said Bettina Damiani, project director at Good Jobs NY. “They should be under the same due diligence and expectation to create good jobs.”

By on July 30, 2012, 12:21 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City,Public Finance,Tech | 2 Comments »

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Con Ed lockout on hold thanks to power of Cuomo, storms
July 26th, 2012

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has faced some criticism for not getting involved in the Con Edison labor dispute earlier — but better late than never.

With storms on the horizion, Cuomo announced today that he has convinced both sides to have “necessary personnel” return to work for the sake of public safety.

“At my request and in the interest of the safety of New Yorkers, Con Ed and Local 1-2 have agreed that the necessary personnel will immediately return to work to prepare for the possibility of an approaching storm and will remain on the job for the duration of any emergency and any following repairs,” Cuomo said in a statement.

This follows a letter he sent yesterday asking for the state to oversee meetings between labor and management.

By on July 26, 2012, 1:40 pm
In category: Albany,Crime & Safety,Eye on Albany,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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City Reaps $260M from Same-Sex Marriage Law
July 24th, 2012

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the legalization of same-sex marriage last year helped generate almost $260 million in revenue for the city.

Gay marriage is a win for everybody,” he said at a news conference earlier today across the street from the marriage license building in Manhattan, where he was joined by other elected officials.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who also spoke, said the economic activity generated by marriage equality “has put a lot of people to work, helped restaurants, helped catering halls and helped others.”

NYC & Co., the city’s tourism arm, and the City Clerks office conducted a survey of more than 1,700 same-sex couples, finding that since the Marriage Equality Act went into effect in July 2011, 67 percent of gay couples held wedding receptions at restaurants, homes or catering halls in the five boroughs. The average cost was $9,000 per wedding.

The City Clerk says 75,000 marriage licenses were issued from late July 2011 to mid July 2012, with over 7,000 couples issued marriage licenses identifying themselves as same-sex.

Quinn said that advocates for same-sex marriage now need to turn their attention to the national stage.

Our job now is to make sure every American has that opportunity on a national level,” she said.

By on July 24, 2012, 5:12 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Economy,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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City Council Members, Business Groups Rally Against Soda Ban
July 23rd, 2012

City Council members and a beverage-industry backed group rallied on the steps of City Hall today to protest the Bloomberg administration’s proposed soda ban.

Members of New Yorkers for Beverage Choices were joined by city council members and representatives from a local soft drink and beer workers’ union to speak out against the proposal to restrict the size of sweetened drinks sold at certain stores to 16 ounces.

The speakers explained that the regulation would cause economic problems, as well as violate New Yorkers’ right to choose

“This is going to set up an unfair competitive advantage,” said Letitia James, city councilwoman for District 36.

The ban will affect only restaurants and other venues, such as movie theaters and ballparks, that require a health inspection report. Grocery stores and vendors like 7-Eleven, home of the Big Gulp, will not be restricted which Councilman Daniel Halloran argued is inequitable and thus illegal.

“That’s the standard. Either it applies to everyone or it doesn’t,” he said.

Halloran and other soda ban opponents said they were frustrated with the public’s relative inability to affect the decision on the proposal, which was recently backed by the city’s largest healthcare union.

A Board of Health hearing in Long Island City tomorrow may be the only opportunity to comment, and Halloran described the Board as a “strong mayoralty agency.”

“The agency’s already made up its mind. Having the hearing is pointless,” Halloran explained. “The mayor chose to go this route because he knew he would never get this bill passed through the City Council.”

Members of the City Council have already begun taking up the issue with the legislature in Albany, and Halloran anticipates a lawsuit against the ban almost as soon as it is passed.

“The City Council’s function is to set the laws of the city of New York,” he said. “We’re not going to let one man become king in the city of New York.”

By on July 23, 2012, 1:59 pm
In category: City Hall,Gotham City,Health,Law | 5 Comments »

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City BOE agrees to use modern tech for tallying votes
July 17th, 2012

Unofficial election night results will now be read from portable memory devices at police precincts, rather than off strips of paper, after a unanimous decision by the city’s Board of Elections earlier today.

The results will then be transferred to the New York Police Department, which will give the data to the press.

Elections Commissioner Juan Carlos “J.C.” Polanco said the new election night process will be in place for the September state and local primary elections.

“This is exciting for us. What it’s going to avoid is the element of human error,” he said, adding that the result would be “incredible accuracy.

The current process involves scissors, tape and calculators, and requires BOE staffers to count votes by hand late into the night.

Problems with the current process were highlighted after the June 26 primary, when unofficial election night tallies showed U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel beating his closest challenger by a respectable margin. Rangel’s lead narrowed over the next few days as it became clear that hundreds of votes had potentially gone uncounted because of the byzantine tallying process. (Rangel still won in the end, even after the votes were accounted for.)

The board was roundly criticized in the press for their handling of the election.

By on July 17, 2012, 6:07 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing | 3 Comments »

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State Board of Elections gives city counterpart more encouragement
July 17th, 2012

All four commissioners of the state Board of Elections now say the city can change election night voting procedures without a change in state law. Here’s the letter the NYBOE sent today.

It’s an encouraging sign, though it still remains to be seen whether the city’s BOE will follow through.

The issue is expected to be a topic of much discussion at this afternoon’s NYCBOE hearing. Watch our Twitter feed for updates.

By on July 17, 2012, 1:29 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City | 4 Comments »

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East River Ferry Ridership Reaches 1 Million
July 16th, 2012

Since its launch early last summer, the East River Ferry has carried one million passengers, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced today.

That’s more than double the predicted 409,000 riders a year, which the BillyBey Ferry Company cites as evidence of the program’s success.

Surpassing the one-million milestone is a testament to how popular our service has been with commuters, tourists and leisure travelers in the first year, BilleyBey CEO Paul Goodman said in a press release today.

After unexpected levels of ridership beginning last summer, the $9.3 million project now has larger ferries on weekends and concession stands on every ride.

To continue expanding and improving service for the remainder of the ferry’s three-year pilot program and beyond, Bloomberg announced a survey that will be available for riders to take online, on the ferry and by phone.

“Ferry service is only going to get better for the next million passengers,” he said in the release.

By on July 16, 2012, 11:22 am
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AP: BOE can change election night counting process
July 13th, 2012

The Associated Press is reporting that the city Board of Elections has received a legal opinion from the State Board of Elections that would allow them to change their election night closing procedures without actually changing the law.

As we reported earlier this week, the city BOE is considering changing its procedures so that it can use electronic data from voting machines when polls close to tally unofficial vote counts rather than using the current process that involves using scissors, tape, and calculators and requires BOE staffers to count votes by hand late into the night.

Recent elections, including the Congressional contest between Rep. Charles Rangel and State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, have seen election night totals come in drastically different from the eventual official count. Elected officials like Councilwoman Gale Brewer and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh want to change the process to avoid a further corrosion of public trust in the election process.

As we reported yesterday, Brewer will be holding a Council hearing on August 8 to look into the recent problems at the BOE.

Brewer has supported a Kavanagh-sponsored bill in the Assembly that would have allowed the BOE to use electronic data. The measure passed the Assembly but failed in the Senate; now it looks like the board can move ahead with the change in process without any official legislation.

By on July 13, 2012, 9:05 am
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City,Governing,Law | 1 Comment »

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NYC Jails Action Coalition Pushes Reform
July 9th, 2012

A recently formed coalition is calling for a reduction in the use of solitary confinement and what they refer to as a “culture of brutality” in the city’s jail system.

The New York City Jails Action Coalition, which formed in December of last year and is comprised of members of organizations that have worked on the issues for years, held its first protest outside the Board of Correction on 51 Chambers St. earlier today.

“The United Nations has likened solitary confinement to torture,” said member Richard Sawyer, referring to a statement by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment that specifically called out the U.S.’s disproportionate use of punitive segregation.

The issue of solitary confinement has recently been discussed on a national level, and NYC JAC is using that momentum to promote their cause.

Sawyer specifically condemned the practice of putting someone in 10-day solitary confinement for “horseplay,” butDepartment of Correction spokeswoman Sharman Stein said the term trivialized the problem.

“The Department’s first responsibility is to protect everyone in its custody. When an inmate assaults another inmate or an employee, he cannot remain in his housing unit, nor should he,” read an official DOC statement. “There are consequences for harming others.”

NYC JAC and its member groups recommend the city adopt a policy similar to one in Mississippi, where punitive segregation is only used as a last resort. In Mississippi’s case, the policy change led to reduced violence a point the coalition emphasizes.

The coalition also alleges that the DOC condones brutal practices, and spends millions settling lawsuits from former inmates TheDOC has denied those allegations.

The New York City jails system is one of the largest in the U.S., with a daily population of 13,000as of 2010.

By on July 9, 2012, 6:12 pm
In category: Crime & Safety,Gotham City | 5 Comments »

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Top Senate Democrats slam DEC on fracking regs release
July 5th, 2012

Top state Senate Democrats have called on the Department of Environmental Conservation to explain why it shared details about proposed regulations for hydrofracking with representatives of the national gas industry more than a month before the public.

The senators said the DEC’s action had given industry “an advantage in shaping the proposed regulations to its own benefit.”

The letter was signed by Sens. Liz Krueger, Martin Malave Dilan, Thomas K. Duane and Kevin Parker.

The Environmental Working Group obtained records through the Freedom of Information Law that showed regulators giving drilling companies’ exclusive, early access to the proposed policy.

Go here to read the full statement by the Senate Democrats:

2012-07-05 Letter to Martens Re Regs Release

By on July 5, 2012, 3:05 pm
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Rangel and Espaillat absentee votes set to be counted
July 5th, 2012

With the results still uncertain in Rep. Charlie Rangel’s most difficult primary battle so far, attention has turned to the opening of absentee and affidavit ballots by the city Board of Election.
Rangel’s most prominent rival, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, has filed court papers and called the primary a phantom election because of discrepancies in how votes were tallied. He is trailing behind Rangel by just 802 votes, with over 2,000 absentee and affidavit ballots left to be counted. The count could continue into next week.
At the BOE’s Manhattan borough office today, four “administrative bi-partisan assistants” worked through piles of ballots to verify that voter names, poll sites and registration was correct on the forms.
After each ballot is verified, the assistant displays the ballot to watchers and lawyers representing Rangel and Espaillat on the other side of the table nearly two feet away. At any point they can make an objection to the validity of a
ballot. Contested ballots are sent for court review. No objections had been made by about 2 p.m.
One observer from the Espaillat’s camp, Al Kurland, 63, noted that the process was like waiting for the paint to dry.”
He called the process “deeply flawed.”
For three days you sit or stand 12 to 15 feet away from people doing
the validity or invalidity of ballots and you just wait for the
results,” he said. Youre not really observing the process in totality

With the results still uncertain in Rep. Charlie Rangel’s most difficult primary battle so far, attention has turned to the opening of absentee and affidavit ballots by the city Board of Election.

Rangel’s most prominent rival, state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, has filed court papers and called the primary a phantom election because of discrepancies in how votes were tallied. He is trailing behind Rangel by just 802 votes, with over 2,000 absentee and affidavit ballots left to be counted. The count could continue into next week.

At the BOE’s Manhattan borough office today, four “administrative bi-partisan assistants” worked through piles of ballots to verify voter names, poll sites and registration.

After each ballot is verified, an assistant shows the ballot to watchers and lawyers representing Rangel and Espaillat on either side of the table nearly two feet away. They can object at any point. Contested ballots are sent for court review. No objections had been made by about 2 p.m.

One observer from Espaillat’s camp, Al Kurland, 63, noted that the process was like waiting for the paint to dry.”

He called the process “deeply flawed.”

For three days you sit or stand 12 to 15 feet away from people doingthe validity or invalidity of ballots and you just wait for the

results,” he said. Youre not really observing the process in totality

The police department reported unofficial results for the June 26 primary that showed zeroes in 79 out of the districts 506 precincts. Many Latinos whose votes might have helped tip the election in Espaillats favor are registered in 65of the districts that contained zeroes.

BOE spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez said the NYPD puts zeroes for sometimes illegible or even accurate data.”

“We dont have an answer as to why they do that,” she said.

At a BOE public hearing on Tuesday, Steven Richman, an attorney for the BOE, defended the agency’s performance during the primary.

The only thing out of the ordinary was the extraordinary need for affidavit ballots in Brooklyn and Manhattan,” he said, adding that the BOE was proud to have a sufficient amount of affidavits to provide for all voters.

Richman said Thursday’s counting of the absentee and affidavit ballots would include two bipartisan members from each borough, a watcher and a note taker at the table to make objections to open or not open specific ballots.

By on July 5, 2012, 12:54 pm
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Development Corps Illegally Lobbied City Council: AG
July 3rd, 2012

Three local development corporations illegally lobbied City Council members in 2008 and 2009 to promote development projects in Willets Point and Coney Island, the state attorney general says.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today announced a settlement with the city’s Economic Development Corporation, Flushing-Willets Point-Corona Local Development Corporation and the Coney Island Development Corporation. The settlement included provisions to increase transparency and reduce loopholes through which these organizations lobbied New York City officials. However, no fine or other punishment was meted out.

Members of the groups ghostwrote op-eds and prepared testimony in order to create the appearance of a grassroots movement in favor of development projects they were backing, the attorney general said. Influencing legislation is barred by statute for local development corporations.

These local development corporations flouted the law by lobbying elected officials, both directly and through third parties, to win approval of their favored projects, Schneiderman said in a press release. This agreement will bring greater transparency, and ensure accountability for these and other local development corporations operating in New York State.

The agreement includes mandatory compliance training for local development corporation employees, more public disclosure of interaction between these corporations and reminders that it is illegal to lobby the Council regarding development projects, even indirectly.

The EDC will be restructuring to remove the organization’s local development corporation status to avoid further violations.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation intends to undertake a restructuring, the primary effect of which will be to allow the company to remain a not-for-profit corporation, but to cease to be a local development corporation,” Patrick Muncie, an EDC spokesman, said in a statement. “As discussed with the New York State Attorney General, NYCEDC is currently taking all appropriate steps to effectuate this restructuring.

City Comptroller John Liu described the restructuring as a long time coming.

While these revelations of illegal lobbying are alarming, we cannot say that they come as a surprise,” Liu said in a later release. New York Citys economic development process is in dire need of greater transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness, something EDCs current culture fails to provide.

By on July 3, 2012, 2:29 pm
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Developers Chosen for Brooklyn Bridge Park Hotel Complex
June 19th, 2012

The board of Brooklyn Bridge Park announced today the final plan for construction of a hotel and residency complex by the park’s Pier 1.

Toll Brothers City Living and Starwood Capital Group will collaborate on the approximately 550,000-square-foot complex, slated for completion in the fall of 2015, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

Brooklyn Bridge Park has quickly become one of the most loved public spaces along our citys waterfront, Mayor Bloomberg said in the release. The major private investment is a vote of confidence in Brooklyn and its future as a great place to live, work and visit.

The $295 million project is set to break ground next summer, generating as many as 510 jobs, both permanent and temporary. The board’s aim is to keep the park financially sustainable with a series of hotels along the piers when completed, it will cost $16 million a year to run the park. They expect to take in $3.3 million yearly in rent and other payments, adding up to an expected $119.7 million net revenue by the end of the 97-year ground leases on the hotel and residential sites.

The mayor’s office also released four renderings of the proposed complex, showing its stone-and-glass facade and surrounding green space. Rogers Marvel Architects designed the 10-story hotel, called 1 Hotel, which will include 200 rooms, 18,000 square feet of banquet, meeting and retail space and a 6,000 square foot spa. There will also be a five-story building with 159 residential units.

Todays vote helps to ensure Brooklyn Bridge Parks future, NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said in the press release.

By on June 19, 2012, 4:25 pm
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NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe Steps Down
June 18th, 2012

The citys parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, resigned after serving with the Bloomberg Administration since 2002. Benepe plans to take a senior position for a national nonprofit, the Trust For Public Land, whose mission is to create close to home parks in and near cities.

Benepe oversaw the largest expansion of parks since the 1930s, and worked on two of Bloombergs signature projects, PlaNYC and MillionTreesNYC

Benepe said in a news release that he looked forward to dedicated his time to “sustainable landscapes in cities across the country and here in New York.

Speaking at a news conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday that Benepe had done extraordinary work as parks commissioner, leading transformative changes in every corner of New York City.

The New York Times reported that during Benepes tenure the city added 730 acres of parkland. He also had a role in the creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park and the High Line.

Commissioner Adrian Benepes successor will be Veronica M. White, the executive director and founder of the Center for Economic Opportunity. She may be best known for her work for theOpportunity NYC, a $63 million privately-funded initiative that uses monetary, health and education incentives to reward low-income adults and children for behaviors such as workforce participation, attending job training and passing assessments during the school year.

By on June 18, 2012, 8:33 pm
In category: Environment,Gotham City,Parks | 1 Comment »

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Support for Stricter Sex Trafficking Penalties
June 12th, 2012

Legislation to update the state’s human trafficking policy, which would include increased protections for underage victims, received the backing of key members of the City Council today.

The committee on women’s issues unanimously passed a resolution calling on the state Legislature to pass the bill.

The resolution, created by 23 council members including all five committee members, strongly recommends that the Legislature pass the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act. If passed, the bill would amend a 2007 anti-trafficking law that the Council resolution says does not go far enough.

Councilmembers and advocacy groups support the bill in its current form, and are concerned that crucial pieces of it will be lost during negotiations to get it passed, committee chair Julissa Ferreras said.

“I hope that this will be a clear message to our colleagues in Albany,” Ferreras said.

The bill as it stands now would remove the need for prosecutors to prove that underage victims of trafficking were coerced into prostitution; elevate penalties for patronizing underage prostitutes to the level of statutory rape; and require that anyone under 18 arrested for a prostitution offense be tried in family court rather than criminal court. They also recommended upgrading sex trafficking to a class B violent felony from a non-violent one.

Nearly 4,000 minors are trafficked in New York City yearly, according to a 2001 study by End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT-USA) cited in the committee’s report.

By on June 12, 2012, 5:06 pm
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NYCLU Unveils "Stop and Frisk Watch" App
June 6th, 2012

The New York Civil Liberties Union wants citizens to document police street stops using a new smartphone app.

The NYCLU unveiled its “Stop and Frisk Watch” app earlier today in front of police headquarters.

The app, available as on the Android platform, allows witnesses of police street stops to record them and send the clip to the NYCLU. It also tracks the locations of street stops.

“Its for bystanders,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Leiberman. “And hopefully this will help us shine some much needed light on police practices. Everybody in New York knows the numbers. But I think this will help us continue to put the human face on stop-and-frisk.

The police did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment about the app.

Critics of stop-and-frisk say the NYPD policy predominantly targets young black and Latino men. But police defend the tactic, saying it promotes public safety in the city’s communities. About 685,000 stops were made by the police last year.

Dawit Getachew, 26, an advocate for Copwatch and a Harlem resident who said he has been subjected to stop-and-frisk, was among the activists who showed up to lend their support for the app.

There are many instances that go unreported because people dont know what to do, so this is a huge opportunity for people to feel empowered to fight back,” he said of the app.

Steve Kohut, of Communities United for Police Reform, noted that the tool will help see the abuse, experience the abuse and now document the abuse so that the police can no longer deny it.

Lieberman said the NYCLU hopes the new app will connect directly with affected communities.

The app, designed by Jason Van Anden, also includes a survey for users who would like to report questionable NYPD action they see or experience and a Know Your Rights Card instructing those who are confronted by police officers about their rights.

By on June 6, 2012, 6:38 pm
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NYC Schools Propose Changes to Discipline Code
June 5th, 2012

The New York City Department of Education is proposing to eliminate suspensions for students who get caught breaking minor rules, such as cutting classes and cussing.

Suspensions for Level 1 and Level 2 infractions would be eliminated under the proposed changes to the schools’ discipline code. The DOE has scheduled a public hearing to discuss the proposed revisions of the code for 6 p.m. tonight at Stuyvesant High School.

“We believe a more progressive discipline is warranted with strongcounseling and youth development support,” said Marge Feinberg, spokeswoman for the DOE. “We want to be able to address improper behavior before it reaches a higher level, and to do that we are focused on providing strong student support services coupled with parent involvement.”

While advocates for students say they applaud some of the changes, they say more needs to be done.

“Changes made are minor and won’t provide systemic change,” said Sarah Landes, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, a collection of teachers, students and youth organizations working to reduce suspension and mandate alternative discipline methods.

Shoshi Chowdhury, coordinator for the Dignity in Schools Campaign, said the punishment of suspension should end for the first three levels of school misconduct, including insubordination, pushing and shoving. Suspension should be a last resort as it allows many students to fall behind in schools, she said. In cases of level 4 and 5 fighting in schools, positive alternatives should be offered.

Chowdhury cited one example, Lehman High School in the Bronx, which had faced a high suspension rate. She said increased funding for positive alternatives for the 2010-2011 school year has already led to a decrease in the rate of suspension.

Feinberg said “more serious infractions warrant suspensions as an option.”

Advocates have long argued that the discipline code disproportionally affects students of color and those who speak English as a Second Language.

The DOE is required under state law to review and revise the discipline code each year and make changes, if necessary. The proposed modifications are then presented to the public.

By on June 5, 2012, 5:15 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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State Sen. Thomas Duane plans new chapter in his life
June 4th, 2012

State Sen. Thomas K. Duane, the first openly gay and openly HIV-positive member of the legislative body, announced today he will not be running for re-election this year, opening up his seat in the important 29thState Senatorial District that runs from the Upper West Side to Greenwich Village.

“When I first was elected to the Senate people told me it was a foolish career choice,” Duane said in a statement announcing his retirement. “I was told that an openly gay, openly HIV-positive man would accomplish little in a highly partisan and conservative State Senate. I was not discouraged by this talk.”

Duane, who first entered the Senate in 1998, told the New York Times in Sunday editions he was leaving because he was tired of traveling from the city to Albany over the past 14 years. “I always knew that I was going to have another chapter in my life, and it’s time for me to start that new chapter,” he told the newspaper.

The state senator has been an advocate for those who do not have a voice in the halls of government, playing an important role in 2009 and last year during the battle for same-sex marriage. In addition to The Marriage Equality Act and The Family Health Care Decisions Act, Duane also cites lesser publicized bills like the Sex Trafficking Victims Second Chance Act as some of his major accomplishments.

Duane does not plan to run for office again, but said he would continue to be “an activist and an advocate.”

By on June 4, 2012, 3:03 pm
In category: Gotham City | 7 Comments »

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Senate Dems "thank" Cuomo for redistricting help
May 23rd, 2012

New York’s Senate Democrats offered up a video response to last night’s Legislative Correspondent’s show — and it’s a bit of a doozy. The video features Sens. Michael Gianaris, Liz Krueger and Kevin Parker sitting around a speaker phone anxiously waiting to speak to the governor about redistricting. Gianaris happily lays down the law on redistricting to a dial tone after an executive chamber secretary insists the governor is not available. That is when the hijinx start. Former Gov. David Paterson makes an appearance with Errol Louis on NY1′s Wise Guy’s segment. Paterson delivers his patented SNL “NEW JEERRSEY!” line. Check it out.

Cuomo famously changed the standards for what kind of lines would earn a veto while Senate Republicans and Democrats held their breaths. In the end, Cuomo came to a deal with Senate Republicans and Assembly Democrats that allowed the Legislature to draw district lines one more time in exchange for a constitutional amendment that will change the process the next time around.

By on May 23, 2012, 10:11 am
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany,Gotham City | 7 Comments »

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