Gotham Gazette Tue, 25 Sep 2018 09:51:11 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 21 New York City Hall

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What to watch for this week in New York politics:

THE POPE IS COMING: Pope Francis is coming to New York City at the end of the week, with public events on Thursday and Friday. The Pope's visit to the city will coincide with the UN General Assembly, at which he will speak, and will include mass at Madison Square Garden on Friday after a procession through Central Park, a visit to a school in East Harlem, and a ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. Significance, attention, security, and traffic will all be heavy.

TAKING ON K-2: There's a new drug crippling New Yorkers and it is "K-2" or "synthetic marijuana" (though it is not actually a form of marijuana) and city officials are working to quickly combat what some have said could lead to a new crack epidemic. Mayor de Blasio announced a multi-agency strategy last week and the City Council has seen several bills introduced to up regulation and enforcement. The Council will hold a hearing Monday on the bills, which have been introduced by Council Member Dan Garodnick, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: The mayor gave a big education speech on Wednesday last week and followed it up with efforts to spread the word about his plans, including an interview with the Daily News Editorial Board and another appearance on WNYC. De Blasio has said he will be taking his message to New Yorkers more and more in the coming weeks as he ramps up efforts to improve his public approval numbers and make sure that his programs and plans are known.

De Blasio had no public events Saturday. On Sunday, the mayor appeared on This Week on ABC, delivered remarks to the congregation at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, and marched in and deliver remarks at the African American Day Parade in Harlem.

On Monday, de Blasio is set to hold a noon press conference to discuss the upcoming papal visit. De Blasio is also meeting privately with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and former tennis star James Blake regarding NYPD reforms and the recent incident in which Blake was mistakenly arrested by an NYPD officer and handled roughly in the process.

We also know that on Thursday evening, de Blasio is expected to speak at an event at The New School: "to engage with world-leading Mayors and local government representatives as they pledge their support for the United Nations' new Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) in their cities and commit to implementing the new urban agenda between now and 2030."

AS FOR THE GOVERNOR: Governor Cuomo also participates in events related to the African-American Day Parade on Sunday. His remarks Sunday morning focused on calling for federal action on gun regulations and raising the minimum wage. Cuomo was asked about recents reports that federal prosecutors are investigating his Buffalo Billion program around the contracting process - the governor maintains he knows nothing about the investigation other than what he reads in the newspaper and downplays subpoenas being issued, saying that as Attorney General he used to issue many as part of fact-finding, but that does not mean there's been criminal behavior.

On Monday, Cuomo has no public events scheduled.

See below for more details about Monday and the rest of a very busy week in New York politics in our day-by-day rundown...

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

At the City Council on Monday:

  • 10 a.m. the Committee on Consumer Affairs in conjunction with the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services, Committee on Health, Committee on Public Safety, Committee on Aging  will meet to discuss “The Proliferation of Illegal Synthetic Cannabinoids: Health Impacts and Enforcement.” The bill would suspend cigarette dealer licenses for any “dealer who violates the provisions of the proposed synthetic drug prohibition” and “create a mandatory revocation for a second violation of such proposed prohibition.” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will give opening remarks.
  • 11 a.m. the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss three land use applications for Landmarks, Corbin Building, 11 John St, Manhattan , Landmarks, Stonewall Inn, 51-53 Christopher St, Manhattan , Landmarks, Riverside-West End Historic District Extension II, Manhattan.
  • 1 p.m. The Committee on Civil Rights will meet to hear the introduction of four initiatives. The first bill, presented by Council Member Deborah L. Rose, prohibits “employment discrimination based on an individual’s actual or perceived status as a caregiver.” The following three propose expansions on the New York City Human Rights Law. Rose will also introduce one of these bills, as she seeks to expand the definition of “employer under the human rights law to provide protections for domestic workers.” She will be joined by Council Members Inez D. Barron and Brad S. Lander who will introduce legislation to clarify “reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities,”  “expand the right to truthful information” and to create “an express cause of action for employers and principals whose rights are violated by conduct to which their employees or agents are subjected.”

At 9 a.m. Monday the New York State Department of Health will hold one in a series of “From Blueprint to Action: Ending the Epidemic - New York Statewide Regional Discussions,” to address the problem of HIV/AIDS in New York State. Monday’s event, on the Upper West Side, will provide information about HIV/AIDS and related services, include opportunities for public input, and offer a Call to Action to end the epidemic by 2020.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, "The New York State Democratic Committee will hold its Fall business meeting on Monday, September 21st in New York City."

Monday on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will appear to discuss “the film industry’s expansion into the Bronx, with several television shows being shot in the borough as of late and Silvercup Studios, home to shows such as "Girls"  and "30 Rock," spending $35 million to convert a warehouse in Port Morris to a film and television production complex.”

At 11 a.m. Monday in Brooklyn, "Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, joined by citywide elected officials, residents, and community organizations will gather at the Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses on Monday to make a public appeal for community cooperation to aid in NYPD apprehension of suspect(s) involved in Sunday's triple homicide." Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James are set to attend.

At noon in downtown Brooklyn, "At a major news event organized by the Real Affordability for All campaign, Mayor de Blasio will be pressured to revise his rezoning plan for East New York, the South Bronx, and other neighborhoods to ensure that current low-income residents have access to real affordable housing and good-paying union construction jobs...This event comes as the public land review process is set to begin Monday for the rezoning of East New York and amid growing concern that de Blasio's plan will accelerate gentrification and displacement in low-income communities of color, leaving behind too many vulnerable New Yorkers."

Also at noon, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito will moderate the Q&A session with Chelsea Clinton at the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee Annual Fall Luncheon.

At 1 p.m. in the Bronx, “New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Chair and CEO Shola Olatoye will announce the launch of "MyNYCHA," a new mobile application for residents to make repair requests. With the free app, residents can create, schedule, and manage work tickets via their mobile devices (smartphones or tablets). They can also subscribe to alerts for outages in their developments (NYCHA Alerts) and view inspection appointments.”

“Freelancers across New York City gather on Monday, September 21st for the #FreelanceIsntFree Campaign Launch and Brooklyn Town Hall Meeting at Brooklyn Borough Hall.” The event will be led by Sara Horowitz, Founder of Freelancers Union, Brooklyn City Council Members including Brad Lander, and “New York City’s finest freelancers to talk about the issue and ways we can make a change.”

At 6:30 p.m. The New School’s Milano School is set to host Politics & Policy Series: Examination of Voting Rights in 2016 US Election at 6:30 p.m. Ari Berman of the Nation will read from his book Give Us the Ballot. Following a brief reading, New School urban policy professor Jeff Smith will moderate a conversation with Berman, New York Times national political correspondent Maggie Haberman, and Fordham political science professor Christina Greer.

On a similar note, at 7 p.m. Monday The New York City Campaign Finance Board will host its National Voter Registration Day Kick-Off, part of a non-partisan effort to register all eligible citizens nationwide. Lisa Evers of Fox 5 News and Hot 97 will discuss voting rights and the immigrant vote with panelists Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of National Urban League; L. Joy Williams, President of the Brooklyn NAACP; Steven Choi, Executive Director of the NY Immigration Coalition; and Jaime Estades, Director of Latino Leadership Institute, voting rights and the immigrant vote in 2016. Crystal Valentine, the 2015 Youth Poet Laureate, will perform after the discussion.

Also at 7 p.m., Daniel A. Zarrilli, Director of the city’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, invites the public to join his office at the second public hearing regarding an update on Lower Manhattan resiliency efforts.  The discussion will touch on issues of coastal protection, stormwater management and resiliency upgrades for affordable housing developments. The draft for the Resiliency Update is available for review online at

"On Monday, September 21, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will be the guest on the 1,000th episode of "BronxTalk," hosted by Gary Axelbank and airing on Bronxnet. The show, which airs at 9 p.m., will be streamed live at, and can be viewed in The Bronx on Cablevision channel 67 or Verizon FiOS channel 33."

City Council Participatory Budgeting events Monday, September 21:

  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 1:30 p.m.
  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 p.m.
  • CM Laurie Cumbo (District 35, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Steven Levin (District 33, Brooklyn) 6:30
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Andrew Cohen (District 11, Bronx) 7 p.m.
  • CM Costa Constantides (District 22, Queens) 7 p.m. 

Tuesday morning NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton will speak at an Assocation for a Better New York (ABNY) breakfast event. He will discuss “the NYPD’s efforts to address public safety and quality of life conditions in New York.”

At 9:30 a.m. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will hold a meeting at Queens Borough Hall, which “focuses on city service delivery and agency responsiveness across the borough and hears presentations on these issues from City officials and others.”

At the City Council on Tuesday:

  • 10 a.m. The Committee on Contracts will meet with the Committee on Public Housing to examine “the Need for Contracting Accountability and Transparency at NYCHA in Light of Leaking Roofs at King Towers”
  • 10 a.m. The Committee on General Welfare will conduct a “Review of HRA’s Employment Plan Concept Papers.”
  • 10 a.m. The Committee on Environmental Protection will discuss “Use of geothermal energy in New York City.”
  • 10 a.m. The Committee on Higher Education will meet to discuss, “Higher Education Access for Incarcerated and Recently Incarcerated Individuals.” and  “Support of President Barack Obama’s Second Chance Pell Pilot Program”

Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day. Over the next several months drives will be held to increase awareness about the importance of voting. The list of the events can be found on this calendar. "Only 81% of NYC's eligible voting age population is registered to vote, and just 20% of eligible voters actually voted in 2014. NVRD is about increasing those numbers and invigorating the voting population. Our democracy, after all, is only as strong as its participants.”

On Tuesday, "Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the New York State Department of Labor and the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation will co-host a Bronx Job Fair."

At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday the New York State Preparedness Corps Training Program will host a two hour long event intended to provide residents with “the tools and resources to prepare for any type of disaster” and to “respond accordingly and recover as quickly as possible to pre-disaster conditions.” The program is sponsored by Gov. Cuomo, Rep. Gregory Meeks, Queens BP Melinda Katz, State Senator James Sanders Jr. and City Councilman Donovan Richards.

City Council Participatory Budgeting events Tuesday, September 22:

  • CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn) 6 p.m.
  • Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday looks slower in New York City as many participate in the Yom Kippur holiday. Other events can, of course, pop up last-minute.

City Council Participatory Budgeting events Wednesday, September 23:

  • Carlos Menchaca (Distict 38, Brooklyn) 6:30 p.m.
  • I. Daneek Miller (District 27, Queens) 7 p.m.

At 8 a.m. Thursday, City & State NY will hold its 4th Annual "On Diversity" event featuring leaders in government, business, and advocacy to discuss the social and economic advantages of promoting diversity in both the public and private sectors. Maya Wiley, Counsel to the Mayor, will make keynote remarks. Panels will include R. Fenimore Fisher, Chief Diversity and EEO Officer at the New York City DCAS; Carra Wallace, Chief Diversity Officer at the Office of the NYC Comptroller; Charissa Fernandez, Executive Director of Teach for America; Bertha Lewis, Founder and President of The Black Institute; Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight of MWBEs; and Assemblymember Michael Blake, Chair at the Subcommittee on Mitchell-Lama.

At 10 a.m. Thursday the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold its next public meeting.

At 10 a.m. the New York State Assembly will have a public hearing regarding child poverty in the NY state. New York currently has “some of the highest levels of child poverty in the country.”

At about 5 p.m. Thursday Pope Francis will arrive at JFK airport. It will be his first visit to New York and the first Papal visit since 2008. At 6:45 p.m. Pope Francis will hold an evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. [On Friday the Pope will visit the United Nations, attend a multi-religious service at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, visit Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, hold a mass at Madison Square Garden and have a historic procession through Central Park.]

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, a panel hosted by the New York City Bar Association: “New York City- Building Energy Benchmarking Law: Acting On the Results” will evaluate NYC’s landmark Local Law 84. The event is co-sponsored by the Bar’s Environmental Law Committee and chair Michael G. Mahoney in conjunction with the Sallan Foundation, the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School.

At 7 p.m., Cities Deliver Sustainable Development: Global Urban Leaders Endorse and Operationalize the SDGs will be hosted by Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN) at the New School, in association with the Campaign for Urban SDG, the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments and the Tishman Environment and Design Center. Expected speakers include Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as Edmund G. Brown Jr., Governor of California; Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris; Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro; Xu Qin, Mayor of Shenzhen; Mpho Franklyn Parks Tau, Mayor of Johannesburg; Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul; and Park Won-soon, Mayor of Seoul.

City Council Participatory Budgeting events Thursday, September 24:

  • CM Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan) 5:30 p.m.
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 p.m.
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Julissa Ferreras (District 21, Queens) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 p.m.
  • CM Andrew Cohen (District 11, Bronx) 7 p.m.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday:

  • 10 a.m. Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet to discuss two bills. The first “would require new grocery store owners to retain the previous owner’s staff for a transition period after a business is sold.” After the transition period, the new employer would also have to evaluate each employee and consider keeping them. The second bill seeks to “extend health insurance coverage to the surviving spouses, domestic partners and children of employees of the Sanitation Enforcement Division of the Department of Sanitation who died on or after July 29, 2015."
  • 10 a.m. the Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet to discuss three pieces of legislation. The first would require owners of buildings with over 50,000 gross square feet to file energy efficiency reports every five years. The second pushes “low energy building requirements for certain capital projects.” The bill would also require the Mayor to produce several reports that track and confirm capital project compliance with the law. The final bill would impose “green building standards for certain capital projects.”
  • 10 a.m. the Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet to examine “ACS’s Juvenile Offender Population.”
  • 11 a.m. Committee on Land Use will meet in the Committee Room in City Hall.
  • 1 p.m. the Committee on State and Federal Legislature will meet to pass resolutions on: Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act of 2015, Improving the Treatment of the U.S. Territories Under Federal Health Programs Act of 2015, and Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the “Jones Act.”
  • 1 p.m. Committee on Small Business will meet to discuss two bills. The first “would require an employee within the Mayor’s Office For People With Disabilities to be designated as a small business accessibility coordinator, responsible for liaising with agencies involved in accessibility projects and for educating business owners and operators about their obligations under local, state, and federal law to make their businesses accessible to people with disabilities.” The second “would create a cause of action for harassment of small businesses and other non-residential tenants by landlords.”
  • 1 p.m. the Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will meet to discuss the Build It Back 2015 Update.

Friday will be a busy day for Pope Francis in New York City.

  • At 8:30 a.m. he is set to visit the United Nations and give an address to the UN General Assembly. His speech will concentrate on challenges that face humanity in the 21st century, such as sustainable development and climate change. He will also meet with UN officials.
  • At 11:30 a.m. the Pope will visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.
  • Later, the Pope will pay a visit to an East Harlem School, Our Lady Queen of Angels, that has been providing elementary level education in the area for 120 years.
  • Then, in the late afternoon, Pope Francis will participate in a Central Park procession.
  • Lastly, at about 6 p.m., Pope Francis will hold mass at Madison Square Garden. He departs for Philadelphia on Saturday.

On Friday beginning at 9 a.m.: “NYC Media Lab's Annual Summit is a snapshot of the best thinking, projects, and talent in digital media from universities in NYC and beyond. This is an opportunity for media executives, technologists, and decision makers to explore interesting technologies and applications related to the future of media.” The event, being held at NYU, will include remarks from Maria Torres-Springer, head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation and Luis Castro of the Mayor's Office of Media & Entertainment.

At 8:30 a.m. Friday Crain’s New York Business is hosting an “Art & Culture Breakfast: The Next Generation of New York’s Cultural Leaders.

A City Council Participatory Budgeting event is being held Friday by CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) at 6 p.m.

On Saturday, there will be City Council Participatory Budgeting events held by CM I. Daneek Miller (District 27, Queens) at 1p.m. and CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, Participatory Budgeting events are being held by:

  • CM Robert Carnegy (District 36, Brooklyn) 1p.m.
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 9:45 a.m.
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6 p.m.

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, September 21 Sun, 20 Sep 2015 05:00:00 +0000
What Meals Should City Schools Provide, and When? lunch for learning electeds

CMs Dromm, Kallos, & King, Public Advocate James, & advocates (photo: @Lunch4Learning)

“All I know is that when I would tell him that I’m hungry, he would say that he doesn’t have money to buy me something to eat,” says 17-year-old Althea of growing up with her father. She describes getting food at her house as a “gamble,” adding, “Sometimes the school lunch was the only meal I would eat for the entire day.”

For many young people in New York City, like Althea, the only meals they eat are the free breakfasts and lunches provided to them at their schools. “We’re the richest city in the history of the world,” says Joel Berg, executive director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “We have 53 billionaires and half a million children who cannot afford enough food.”

While New York City schools provide free breakfast to all students and free lunch to middle school students and others who qualify financially, there is controversy over exactly when breakfast should be available and whether free lunch should be made universal. As negotiations lead to a final fiscal year 2016 city budget by the end of June, school meal policies and the funding of those meals are again key parts of the discussion.

Advocates and elected officials are asking for the City to do more – they want school lunches to be free for all students, no matter family income, and for students to be able to eat their breakfasts in the classroom, in what is known as “breakfast after the bell.”

The need for free school meals is particularly urgent in New York City. About 20 percent of the children in the city go to food pantries and soup kitchens, according to Rachel Sabella, director of government relations of Food Bank for New York City. As Mayor Bill de Blasio often says, 46 percent of New Yorkers are living below or near the poverty line.

At the moment, students can register for a free lunch if their family income is below 130 percent of the poverty level or if they fall into other categories such as receiving food stamps, or being homeless or in foster care. About 75 percent of New York City’s public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The US Department of Agriculture reimburses schools for each breakfast and lunch they serve that meet certain nutritional criteria.

Advocates say that universal free school meals would help the large number of students in the city whose family incomes are slightly higher than the qualifying threshold but still live paycheck to paycheck. “The eligibility threshold is uniform nationally but the cost of living is not,” explains Janet Poppendieck, Policy Director of New York City Food Policy Center and author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.

Universal free school meals would also benefit families that do qualify for the free or reduced price program but do not fill out the required paperwork, either because they find it to be too complicated or because of a language barrier. In some cases, undocumented immigrants do not fill out the paperwork, fearing it might be used against them by immigration services.

In New York City, about a third of the students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches don’t eat those meals. Many students do not take them due to stigma, not wanting to be seen as poor. As students get older, the number of students opting for free meals decreases, according to Liz Accles of Lunch for Learning, a coalition-led campaign that includes community organizations, youth advocacy groups, and student groups and has allied with elected officials like Public Advocate Letitia James.

While about 80 percent of eligible elementary school students eat free lunches, the number drops to about 60 percent in middle school and 30 percent in high school. “A primary reason for that drop is the poverty stigma that is associated with the program,” Accles explains.

Students are often teased or bullied for eating free lunches, advocates say. “A lot of the kids that are ashamed to get on line or afraid or anticipate that there will be problems just sit out and don’t eat anything during the day,” says Accles. Supporters of universal school meals say that this stigma would be eliminated if schools provide free meals to all students regardless of family income. This is the message that students from some of the Lunch for Learning coalition groups and Public Advocate James are delivering in a letter to the mayor on Tuesday afternoon, along with a photobook of over 300 pictures from the #lunch4learning selfie campaign.

Council Member Ben Kallos, who is among those in the City Council most involved in calling for the expansion of free school meals, talks personally about the free lunch stigma. Raised on the Upper East Side by his single mother, he was one of the few children in his neighborhood who qualified for free or reduced-price school lunches, Kallos says. “If you’re bringing the styrofoam tray, you get made fun of,” he said, recalling the tray that gave away that a student had received a free lunch. “I wish I could say differently but I did not make the smart decision. And rather than facing the stigma of having the school lunch, I just didn’t eat.”

According to an estimate by the Independent Budget Office, it would cost $20 million per year to provide free lunch to all of the city’s public school students. The Department of Education’s operating budget for 2015-2016 is $21.8 billion. Last year, under a pilot program, free lunches for all students were provided in New York City’s standalone middle schools. Within months of the program’s start, almost 10 percent more students were eating free lunches in these schools. Mayor de Blasio described the results of the pilot program as “mixed” in his presentation of his fiscal year 2016 Executive Budget, elaborating, “the additional number of children who are taking advantage of it has not been that large so far.”

Calling the increase “phenomenal progress,” Poppendieck disagrees. “I think maybe that they [the de Blasio administration] don’t understand the whole structure of reimbursements well enough or the culture of the school cafeteria enough to really appreciate the gains that have been made,” she told Gotham Gazette.

Many are surprised at the administration’s reluctance to expand free school meals. “This is in stark contrast to the rest of the record on food issues,” says Berg, of the Coalition Against Hunger, which he calls otherwise “stellar.” Advocates for universal school meals feel the expansion of this program to all New York City public schools would be consistent with the mayor’s efforts to reduce inequality, with Accles calling it “fundamental to any education or health equity agenda that the mayor has.”

The Most Important Meal of the Day
While free lunches are currently only available to qualified and registered students, free breakfasts are available to all students in New York City public schools, regardless of income. Yet, New York consistently ranks among the bottom of big cities in terms of low-income students eating school breakfasts, leading some to call for reform of breakfast accessibility.

According to the latest annual report by the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit organization working to eliminate hunger and under-nutrition, in the 2013-2014 school year only about 35 percent of the city’s low-income students were eating breakfast in school. The report shows that the number of students eating school breakfasts decreased last school year. “We’re just so far below what the norms are,” says City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the Council’s general welfare committee.

Low participation numbers intensified the push for “breakfast after the bell.” In most New York City schools, breakfast is served in the cafeteria before the first class of the day. Supporters of the after-the-bell program say that many students cannot arrive at school in time for breakfast in the cafeteria because school buses may not get to school that early or because parents have to drop off their children in different schools. And, like free lunches, there is also a poverty stigma attached to eating school breakfasts. While all students are entitled to the free breakfasts, the general perception in schools is that those who make the effort to arrive early, just to eat in the cafeteria, are those who cannot afford to eat at home. “Students feel shame. And it shouldn’t be that way,” says Sabella.

With ‘breakfast after the bell,’ students can eat their free breakfast after the start of morning classes instead of before the school day. “It’s the best way to get as much food as possible to children that need it,” says Council Member Levin.

At the moment, New York City public school principals can choose to opt in for ‘breakfast after the bell.’ Over 300 schools in the city have opted in so far, either serving breakfast in the classroom or providing “grab and go” carts for students to pick up food to take into class. “We’ve heard nothing but good things from those principals and teachers,” says Megan Cryan, New York City Campaign Director of Share our Strength. “It levels the playing field,” she adds, referring to research that children who eat breakfast after the bell are able to focus better, have fewer behavioral issues, and make fewer visits to the school nurse.

Advocates also point to the examples of other big cities that have successfully introduced ‘breakfast after the bell.’ Recently, Los Angeles completed a three-year rollout of the program in all of its public schools. The results include the number of children eating breakfast in schools surging from around 30 percent to over 80 percent. The city covered the costs of the program with $16 million in reimbursements from the USDA.

Some reluctance to implementing ‘breakfast after the bell’ in New York is due to concerns such as keeping classrooms clean and whether federal funding would cover the start-up costs of the program. There is also skepticism around students being able to concentrate on their studies while eating or nearby others who take food.

Supporters say that in New York City, ‘breakfast after the bell’ is likely to pay for itself as the more meals are served, the more is received in federal reimbursements. According to the Food Research and Action Center, New York City would receive more than $53 million in additional federal reimbursements if 70 percent of the students receiving school lunches would also eat breakfast at school. Berg estimates that the city would receive an additional $150 million if every child is served breakfast in school every day.

Although Mayor de Blasio supported ‘breakfast after the bell’ before becoming mayor, he has not remained on board since coming into office. This year’s preliminary and executive budgets did not include ‘breakfast after the bell’ or an expansion of universal free lunch. This omission was noted by the City Council in its budget response and raised in a Council hearing on the education budget. Public Advocate James also expressed her disappointment in a press conference outside the Department of Education and in an op-ed for City & State urging the mayor to expand universal free meals beyond middle schools.

In a statement sent to Gotham Gazette, the Department of Education said, “The DOE is pleased to serve free lunch for all students in standalone middle schools. We are continuing to work through the operational issues involved with the free breakfast in the classroom program and will work closely with City Council, school leaders and advocates as this process continues.”

“We don’t know what the holdup is but we are hopeful,” said Cryan of the possibility of school meals being expanded in the final budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Kallos similarly expressed hope but also said he was “unsatisfied” with responses he has received from the City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Kallos says it is time to act: “Folks seem to be pointing fingers. But at the end of the day, it’s up to us to make it happen.”

by Zehra Rehman, Gotham Gazette

What Meals Should City Schools Provide, and When? Mon, 22 Jun 2015 19:14:53 +0000
City Council Unveils 'Council 2.0' Digital Engagement Plan council tech plan alatriste

Council members unveil Council 2.0 (photo: William Alatriste)

NEW YORK - City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and several council colleagues released today a civic technology plan aimed at making the legislative body more transparent while facilitating direct engagement with constituents.

The "public technology plan," dubbed Council 2.0, is being touted as a new "roadmap to digital inclusion and open government" and has origins as part of the Council's rules reform package enacted in May of 2014. "We want to meet people where they are digitally active and we want to expand the conversation around civic tech so that it reflects the diversity of this city," said Mark-Viverito at a City Hall press conference on Monday.

"The council must grow into a digitally agile institution that can easily adapt to emerging technology while remaining grounded in our communities," she later added.

The Council 2.0 framework will employ social media and mobile communication to engage New Yorkers, crowdsourcing feedback on hearings, programs, and proposals. As part of the project, which will be implemented in phases, a public tech team will analyze open data, redesign the Council's website, use social media, and create easy-to-use interactive digital tools. The Council's legislative database will also be revamped and made more accessible, and reports provided to the Council by city agencies will be publicly displayed in user-friendly formats. It has been widely agreed that the Council website is in need of significant upgrades.

In updating its website and other digital platforms, the Council will also be mindful of accessibility. "We have to recognize that not everyone is a tech guru," said Council Member James Vacca, chair of the Council's technology committee, stressing the need to make civic technology user-friendly. "There's more to come," he promised.

Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Brad Lander, and Ben Kallos were also at the press conference, as were advocates Andrew Rasiej of Civic Hall, Jukay Hsu of Coalition for Queens, and Gene Russianoff of NYPIRG.

"We're the kind of government that's closest to the ground," said Lander of the City Council. "We want to hear what people have to say and we want to make sure that they understand what we're doing, and that's gotta be not just a two-way street but a real fundamental set of bridges."

The Council has partnered with Civic Hall, a new civic tech business, and others for expertise on digital solutions. In the fall, the Council will also launch "Council Labs," a mobile-friendly website to help New Yorkers navigate city government functioning; for instance, visualizing the budget process.

"This is truly what government is about, reaching everyday New Yorkers where they live, work, and raise their families," said Gibson. She called texting "a way of life" that will help with direct engagement at a local level.

In July, to help develop the public tech initiatives further, the Council will host a "Digital Inclusion Summit."

"Government is going mobile first, from a click away to a swipe away," said Ben Kallos, who chairs the Council's governmental operations committee and is himself a software deveoper. "Inclusive government means using every tool at our disposal, now and in the future, to engage New Yorkers where they're at, whether by text or online."

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

City Council Unveils 'Council 2.0' Digital Engagement Plan Mon, 13 Apr 2015 18:43:32 +0000
Experts Target Influence of Big Money, Voter Apathy bric panel

Panel at BRIC event (photo: Ben Max)

BROOKLYN - An expert group was called together Thursday night in Brooklyn for a town hall on the influence of big money on politics and to answer questions about what can be done to fix a system that virtually all in attendance agreed is broken.

Hosted by non-profit organization Brooklyn Independent Media, or BRIC, panelists broadly diagnosed the disease eating away at New York politics and offered antidotes, which combined may provide a cure.

About 100 people attended the event in space at BAM in downtown Brooklyn as the panel of politicians, activists, and advocates argued solutions to the problems of voter apathy and lack of engagement among New Yorkers who feel powerless to effect change in a system heavily influenced by monied special interests.

The panel included Fordham Law professor and recent gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout; New York City Public Advocate Letitia James; Executive Director of Citizens Union Dick Dadey; former New York Assemblymember and City Council Member Al Vann; economic journalist and author Doug Henwood; and comedian-political activist Ted Alexandro. Brian Vines of BRIC moderated the panel discussion and audience Q&A that followed.

Solutions offered by the esteemed panel largely revolved around campaign finance reform and reducing barriers to voter participation.

"One of the ways, and this is a traditional american way to deal with the problem of money in power, you change the campaign finance system but you also take it out at its root and make sure that we have decentralized power instead of this concentrated power," said Teachout, stressing that big banks need to be broken up to reduce their influence on politicians.

Teachout focused heavily on campaign finance reform while challenging incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year. "In some ways these campaign contributions are the gateway drugs to bribes," she later added as the panel discussed corruption in government.

The public financing of elections was instrumental in James being elected the first woman of color in a citywide office, the public advocate said. With its public matching system and spending caps New York City is a model for campaign finance reform and encourages political participation, James said. It was a point echoed by others, including Dadey, who leads a good government group. James also highlighted New York City's expanding participatory budgeting initiative by which City Council members allow their constituents to determine how some capital funds are spent.

The panel spoke of apathy among voters juxtaposed with politically engaged but disillusioned youth. "We're at the bottom of the barrel in the country in terms of the number of voters, eligible voters, coming out and voting," said Dadey of Citizens Union. "And why is that? I think people feel a sense of powerlessness, a sense that they're not able to influence the decisions. But by not voting we're giving up and what we need to do is take a look at ways that we can engage people more in our democracy."

Dadey said public funding of elections can both counteract the influence of big money and also motivate people to get involved in political life. He also called for a series of voting reforms to make it easier for people to cast their ballots.

Ted Alexandro, who was an active member of the Occupy Wall Street movement, said people are disillusioned by a "suffocated system" where only money ensures access to power. "People may [ask], 'What happened to Occupy?' but if you look around Occupy may have sparked a thousand other little things and made activism potent again," he said.

The movement, said Doug Henwood, momentarily changed the political discourse where influence and wealth were concentrated at the top. "People then get the feeling that everything is being decided for them," he said. "There's no popular influence over public policy so 'why bother?'" He emphasized the need to turn this popular spirit of uprising into long-term goals.

Al Vann was on the same page. "There is a significant role for the power of protest but it has to lead to the real power," he said. Beyond getting people's attention, protest "has to have more to it," he added. He prescribed four elements to restore and sustain democracy: an informed and engaged citizenry; an expectation of integrity of and adherence to some moral standards by elected officials; professionalised electeds; and stricter penalties for those who betray the trust of the public.

Dadey reiterated, and other panelists agreed, that New York must remove barriers to democratic participation by establishing early voting, mail-in and online voting, and easier voter registration. As they touched upon broad subjects from gentrification to increasing the power of the public advocate, net neutrality, and public education, one thing rang clear: hope.

All those on stage - and many in the audience - showed energy and enthusiasm about making change. James put it succinctly: "I'm not dismayed by apathy." Instead, James said she wants to inspire people to run for office and speak to the "bread-and-butter" issues that affect the everyman but politicians are afraid to talk about. "I'm drunk on hope," she said.

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union

Experts Target Influence of Big Money, Voter Apathy Thu, 09 Apr 2015 20:52:14 +0000
Theme of James' Mayoral Control Forums: More Local Say james edu event

PA James at Friday's event (photo: Sara Valenzuela)

With a Wednesday evening event in Manhattan, Public Advocate Letitia James concluded her five-borough "Our School, Our Voices" series of community forums on the future of mayoral control of the city's schools.

Speaking before a gathering of around 60 people at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, James raised the issue of increasing local control over school governance through more community engagement and parental involvement. "Mayoral control has functioned as a business model," James said, largely referring to its implementation under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who won the right to control the city's system through state law in 2002.

Mayoral control over the city's schools was established to address a chaotic and corrupt school governance system. It was extended by the State in 2009 and is set to expire in June of this year. State legislators will soon decide on extending the system, perhaps as part of ongoing budget negotiations that are set to conclude by April 1. Education policy is proving, as usual, to be among the most contentious areas of debate.

Mayor Bill de Blasio went to Albany in late February and asked lawmakers to make mayoral control permanent. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a three-year renewal, while the Democratically-controlled State Assembly has put forth a seven-year extension. The Republican-controlled State Senate has not taken a definitive position, but Sen. Jon Flanagan, who heads the Senate education committee, has said he's still waiting to see if Mayor de Blasio deserves to keep the power. There is mounting pressure on de Blasio to show that he can turn around the city's most struggling schools.

"In all likelihood, based upon my experience working with the New York State Legislature, it looks like mayoral control will continue. The question is, in what form," James told Gotham Gazette after Wednesday's forum. She believes that extending the degree of local control is still possible. "I believe that, yes, we could somehow expand the opportunities for parental engagement, parental involvement, and sharing governance on the Panel for Education Policy as well as strengthening Community Education Councils beyond just advisory."

Wednesday's forum, like the others James has hosted, included a panel, along with other guest speakers, and audience input. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Helen Rosenthal addressed the forum on issues of technology in education and increased transparency of Department of Education data, respectively.

While differing on the extent to which Mayor de Blasio - or any Mayor - should have power over city schools, panelists agreed on the central tenet that education should be removed from the sphere of politics as much as possible. Some even advocated for what seems to be the impossible task of ending mayoral control.

Sam Anderson, member of the Independent Commission on Public Education (iCOPE), which sees education through a human rights lens, said, "Mayoral control by definition is dictatorial." Its structure, he said, does not allow for the involvement of parents, students, and educators in the decision-making process, and that it should be done away with.

Most panel members, however, seemed to understand that mayoral control is a reality, however harsh it appears to some. Teresa Arboleda, a public advocate appointee to the Citywide Council on English Language Learners said, "I would love to see mayoral control go, but considering all the obstacles, we have to be real." She insisted that it be separated from the budget debate and that a big step in diluting the Mayor's power would be in establishing fixed terms for the PEP members. Currently, the Mayor appoints 8 of the 13 members, with the rest being chosen by the Borough Presidents.

Anne Looser, a high school special education teacher and a member of Teachers Unite, focused on the strengthening of School Leadership Teams as a means of "local control and site-based governance." Noah Gotbaum, a parent member of a Community Education Council, said if mayoral control does continue, it should be along the governor's proposal of three more years while the City explores alternatives.

James explained that in her belief and from what she hears from New Yorkers, people need to have a say and be heard at the community, neighborhood, and school levels. "We must demand that the infrastructure now in place under mayoral control is supported and respected," she said. "The School Leadership Team, Community Education Council, the PTA, and all the educational councils, which I have appointees on, must have an important role helping shape educational policy and priorities in their district and maximizing opportunities for community input."

Calls for attention to this issue may be heard at the state level, though it is unclear how much even Mayor de Blasio is listening. James capped her campaign with a Friday policy breakfast at CUNY Law School with renowned education policy expert Diane Ravitch as keynote speaker. (On Sunday afternoon, James will host an "Our Schools, Our Voices" rally at City Hall park, calling on the State to meet its funding obligations based on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity ruling.)

Then, on March 28, according to Gotbaum, students, teachers, and parents will come together in Manhattan to "fight Governor Cuomo's destructive agenda" by rallying outside the governor's office.

James is optimistic about the momentum the movement is gathering. "I think [these forums] are very effective because I really believe that there's power in people," she said.

"Our hope really rests in the Assembly and I hope the Assembly members are listening to basically the calls of their constituents," she added. "They're petitioning their government. They want change. They believe that concentrated power just does not work and [it's] in the interests of not only the students but the parents, and in furtherance of government - or I should say, in furtherance of democracy."

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette

Theme of James' Mayoral Control Forums: More Local Say Fri, 13 Mar 2015 15:30:32 +0000