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Citizens Union



Foreign Policy for New York City: Now Is The Time

foreign policy

Mayor de Blasio at the U.N. in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

What would it mean for a city to have a foreign policy? And specifically what would it mean for New York City to have a foreign policy? At first sight, this question might seem somewhat absurd, or at least contentious. It is, of course, the United States government that has a State Department, a Defense Department, and embassies all around the world, not New York City. Diplomacy and international affairs are the work of the sovereign, are they not? Why would New York need to, or even be able to, do the work that Washington is already doing?

In short, the key question really is: could New York City make use of or benefit from an autonomous “metropolitan foreign policy?”

To answer, and to research and develop the policies that we will need to act, we have established the Metropolitan Society for International Affairs. We are New York City’s foreign policy think tank, and over the coming years, we will be researching and publishing on the nature of the city’s global interests, proposing new policies and programs for city government, and working with civic and commercial organizations throughout the city to integrate these global interests into local action.

We plan to make the case to all New Yorkers that in an era where national and metropolitan interests are no longer likely to be reliably contiguous, we must take it upon ourselves to develop and establish the institutional and policy structures necessary to articulate and pursue our own metropolitan interests through our own capacity.

But given that New York City has prospered so greatly for so long without this kind of autonomy, and that our proposals represent a rather large divergence from the norm, it is reasonable to explain our thinking, and suggest the path ahead.

To say that New York City is importantly distinct from the rest of the United States and uniquely influential among global cities is not to say anything particularly revolutionary, and certainly does not need to be enumerated for New Yorkers themselves. And yet, along with this obvious uniqueness, New York remains quite definitively a unambiguously American city. For most of its history, the city, its people, and its government have resolved this duality by expressing its New York-ness locally and through its culture and society, and its American-ness out into the world through the institutions of the U.S. government.

However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this solution will not continue to hold in the future as effectively as it has in the past. And while the roots of this disjuncture go back many years, recent actions of the Trump admin have made this tension far more obvious than before.

Recent federal policy decisions on climate change and immigration, to name the most prominent two, illustrate the depth of the divergence between D.C. foreign policy interests, and those of New Yorkers. Nor is the issue one of partisan politics. The D.C. foreign policy consensus advanced by the last Democratic administration saw the U.S. take a far more hawkish line on China and Russia relations than New York City interests, favoring financial and cultural exchange, might have chosen to pursue. Federal and metropolitan interests often overlap, but are not perfectly coterminous.

However, at present, the New York City government does not possess an institutional apparatus, a diplomatically-minded political class, or a cultivated sense of its international political interests among New Yorkers to act on these divergences in a systematic way.

We began the Metropolitan Society for International Affairs because we think New York City deserves all three of these things. We will research, analyze, and articulate a metropolitan foreign policy for New York City. We will work with the city government to develop a practical strategy to implement it. And we will engage with New Yorkers from all spheres of society to build a political consensus around this bold new direction in city politics.

Peter Marino is Executive Director and Research Director at the Metropolitan Society for International Affairs, and Senior Engineer at the Global Narratives Project. He is a fourth-generation New Yorker. On Twitter @nycitywonk and @themetsociety.

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Protecting Immigrant Workers in the City of Immigrants

nice immigrant protections

(photo: NICE)

Just last week, Juan Chonilla and another still unidentified worker died from construction accidents. These men were important members of our immigrant community. As one of the members of New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE), one of these men was family. These tragic deaths and severe injuries of multiple construction workers last week, on sites with safety violations, underscore the urgency for New York City to enact legislation that meets the needs of all workers.

The City Council is currently considering a bill, Intro. 1447-C, that would mandate increased safety training standards, and the Council has the opportunity to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we are talking about safety - and the very lives - of the city’s immigrant workers.

On any given day in New York City, there are thousands of immigrant construction workers seeking increased access to trainings for higher safety and health standards in their workplaces. These workers live under precarious and dangerous conditions every day due to their immigration status and work conditions. There are countless examples of bad-acting employers who use immigration status as a threat to workers, denying their rights to health, safety, and fair wages.

Organizations like NICE, a worker center and member of the New York Immigration Coalition,​ are often the only support these workers have. We are able to help workers get critical services such as health and safety trainings in their native language and help address other labor issues they face. Many of these workers come to us after they have already started working, only to discover health and safety violations at their worksites after receiving training.

The story of one of NICE’s members, Antonio, is the embodiment of the unique struggle of our city’s immigrant construction workers. Antonio and his two co-workers noticed a crack in the reinforcement of an excavation and informed their supervisor of the danger, as they had been trained to do. Their supervisor instructed them to begin work, and within minutes of beginning, the wall collapsed, trapping Antonio and another worker under crushing dirt and concrete. While the employer was busy locking the entrance to the site so no one could see, Antonio’s colleagues called 911 and recorded the incident on video. Antonio’s co-workers were subsequently fired for this act of solidarity and humanity.

Antonio’s story shows that construction workers are often the victims of blatantly negligent employers, who value their production over workers’ well-being. Workers like Antonio are not only deprived of safety on their jobs, but also of real protections and compensation after an accident. Their bad-acting employers face weak penalties and are able to continue construction projects that will inevitably put more workers at risk of injury or death.

Immigrant workers come to New York City with aspirations to support their families and build a better future, only to find that they are the target of unscrupulous employers, offered lower-wage work, and put in abusive and dangerous working conditions. If New York City is truly committed to its immigrant population, it cannot let these conditions continue on its watch. When workers like Antonio or Juan Chonillo are hurt or killed on the job, it is far from incidental. Accidents can be prevented when employers respect and adhere to the labor rights of their workers. We know from our experience that when an employer ignores health and safety laws, they will likely violate other labor laws; studies have shown this correlation.

This week, as the City Council considers Intro. 1447, we call on it to ensure that immigrant workers are able to obtain adequate safety training required by the bill. We furthermore call on the Council to develop stricter enforcement for safety protocols at constructions sites in the City in the future. The health, well-being and very lives of our members, our families, our neighbors are currently at stake. We need to make sure we are listening to their voices to develop solutions that protect them.

Manuel Castro is executive director of the New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE). On Twitter @NICE4Workers.

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Support, Not Trouble, for a School Successfully Teaching Students with Disabilities

lenny cci opening

Opportunity Charter School leader Leonard Goldberg, middle, the author

A new report from the city's Comptroller showed once again that the City is unable to fulfill its responsibility to provide the necessary services to students with disabilities, failing to track $84 million allocated for disabled student services. Worse still, these findings come on the heels of the Public Advocate's report that revealed a troubling trend whereby the city offers parents vouchers instead of the necessary, required services for children with special needs. Troubling, but not surprising.

It’s no secret that the city’s public schools are not designed or equipped to properly serve the individual needs of students with disabilities, particularly those in low-income communities. In fact, while roughly half of all vouchers issued citywide go unused, this rate climbs dramatically in lower-income communities. District 8 in the Bronx, for example, has the highest rate of vouchers going unused at 91 percent.

This is why so many Bronx parents turn to Opportunity Charter School (OCS), a Harlem-based charter school that disproportionately serves children with special needs from communities of color. At OCS, we have been providing wraparound services since our founding in 2004, and focus on providing comprehensive clinical services to students and their families.

The majority of our students live in the Bronx, making the commute every morning because they can’t find the support they need in traditional public schools. And in spite of this, the city’s Department of Education has tried relentlessly to close our middle school, even after a Manhattan Supreme Court judge cautioned that the DOE would be wise to take a closer look at how to better evaluate a school as unique as OCS.

The trouble is there’s a gap between these schools in theory and in practice.

The students, who enter our middle school after years in the public system, are among the lowest performing in all of New York City, and well over 60 percent have a moderate to severe learning disability. These are the students who benefit most from the extra support OCS provides, and the same students that the city has previously failed to help.

At OCS, we work hard to help these students catch up, develop critical life skills and prepare for post-secondary success. Our individualized approach to learning pays off. In fact, this year, 86 percent of OCS students graduated on time, including 82 percent of students with disabilities. But the city, which is responsible for holding the 51 charter schools it authorizes accountable and renewing their charters, relies on a flawed system to make these judgements. The city bases decisions largely on the percentage of students in each grade that achieve “proficiency” on state tests, without acknowledging the makeup of the student body or how much progress individual students are making over time.

Meanwhile, the tests themselves are not designed to measure achievement among students with disabilities. Even DOE Chancellor Carmen Fariña acknowledged as much, going as far as to say that students with disabilities are ‘never [going to] get to a certain level on this kind of test’ and would consider opting out her own child if she were the mother of a student with a disability. This accountability system advantages students and schools with a history of academic success; bolstering charters that curate their student bodies and punishing those that take in struggling students. In other words, the current system is designed to enforce the status quo.

Each student with an IEP is different. Some have relatively minor disabilities, such as a speech impediment, but others face more significant obstacles, such as a severe learning disability. At our school, we don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching, and neither should the city.

Better alternatives are available. For example, the State Education Department, as well as other state authorizers have created systems tailored to evaluate schools that focus solely on serving at-risk student populations. Authorizers can allow charter schools this flexibility in measurement and it is important that they use this function properly. The DOE, despite its rhetoric, chooses not to apply this sensible approach.

If the city really wants to help students with disabilities, its leaders are going to have to rethink their entire approach, from the supports they provide to measuring growth. It’s past time for the New York City DOE to concentrate its efforts on supporting the city’s most vulnerable children and getting them the help they need, rather than unfairly targeting the institutions that make these kids a priority.

Leonard Goldberg is the Founder and Head of School at Opportunity Charter School.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

Note: this column has been updated with more recent data than originally published.

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