Transcript of forum with the three candidates for district
16, on July 16, 2001 at the Girl's Club in the South Bronx.
The moderators were Ken Small of the Citizens Advice Bureau
and Yvette Jackson of the Citizens Union Foundation. The candidates
who participated were Michael Benjamin, Anthony Curry, Helen
Good evening. I'm Helen Diane Foster. Thank you for being here
tonight. I'd like to thank the organizers for having the idea
to do this, and thank you for being here because you could have
been anywhere else and I say it often but, "doing nothing is
easy -- it's doing something that's hard," so I thank you for
your presence tonight and I thank the organizers for starting
and allowing me to go because I do have another appointment
after this. Again, I'm Helen Diane Foster. I'm very interested
in being your next councilwoman for the 16th district.
I have been fortunate enough and blessed enough that I have
been given opportunities to go away to Howard University where
I got my B.A., come back to New York City, go to law school.
I'm a former assistant district attorney of Manhattan, and I'm
currently assistant vice president for legal affairs at St.
Barnabus. But what's most important to me is that I'm born,
raised, and still reside in the community that I grew up in.
And it's important that, if I make it or if I succeed, that
I come back home and come back to my roots where I know I can
make a difference. And that's what I'm interested in doing and
I think public service is a way that you're able to do that.
It's a way of giving back and that's what I'm looking forward
And for you young people in the audience: don't think that
what you do right now doesn't affect who you'll become later
because everything that you're going through, that you're experiencing,
things that happen or don't happen to you are preparing you
for your next step. And I understand and I know that I'm here
because I stand on the shoulders of she-roes and heroes that
went before me. And as Mr. Small emphasized the importance of
voting, understand that your forefathers and foremothers bled
for and fought for and died for the right to vote so it's important
that you get out and vote. And I look forward to not only your
vote but your support because I understand that to whom much
is given, much is required.
And I'm happy that I have the support of sixty-two pastors
from different faiths and denominations because I am a child
of the church, I grew up in the church, and I believe that the
church has a role to play and, again, I thank you for this opportunity.
I look forward to answering your questions and I look forward
to us working together because we don't have to agree, but we
have to agree to communicate. I don't have to like what you
say, but need to listen to and respect it. And it's easy to
throw a rock and hide your hand - it's difficult to say, "This
is my concern -- let's talk about it." So I thank you and I
look forward to answering your questions this evening.
I'm especially pleased to see how large
and well filled this room is, and glad everybody's interested
in seeing the candidates and having this conversation about
the issues. I'm running for city council to mark myself to my
community as a candidate this year to show that I can do more
than I've been doing the last twenty years -- to serve the community
in a different sort of capacity. For about fifteen years I've
been a local advocate for my community as well as having worked
for a number of elected officials; and also having worked deeply
in Bronx politics and Bronx community affairs. I bring to this
race a fifteen/twenty year commitment to young people, to our
seniors, and to our residents of our public housing projects
as well as residents of our tenements, and to homeowners
This city council that we're going to elect is going to be
a city council that's going to be a majority black, Latino,
and Asian -- a real opportunity to begin to focus our resources
on communities of color that have been in need for a very long
time. I think we need to have people in office who have the
capacity and the proven record of working in those sorts of
I think what I, especially, bring to this race is a sincere
commitment to communities like Highbridge, Morrisania, Claremont,
Claremont Wood, and Concourse Village, and I've always sort
of been a problem solver. I think that's what our community's
looking for -- people who can solve problems and whose problem-solving
ability goes beyond mere rhetoric, but an ability to bring home
an issue and to bring in results, whether that result is significant
change at local schools, or economic development for our community,
or it's working with the next mayor to build and develop 100,000
new units of housing plus rehabilitate housing.
One of my issues when it comes to housing is the necessity
of building multi-family dwellings of a higher density -- of
a density that's at least fifty units per five-story building.
The reason you want to have denser buildings is that it leads
to further economic development in a neighborhood when you have
at least fifty families who are gonna spend money locally in
that district, whether it's for Pampers or some other grocery.
You get some of that additional economic development.
I've come here tonight to listen to your questions and to respond
to you in a fashion that I think you're going to find imaginative,
and very responsive, and very, very specific and concrete. And
good evening, again. Thanks.
Good evening. I want to thank everybody for
taking the time to come out. A lot of times they say that we
don't care, that the community don't care about what goes on,
but if you look at the room today we are filled to capacity
as far as seating. I think that goes to speak a long distance
in terms of the development and what people are beginning to
think. I think that term limits has served its purpose in informing
the people that now we can take the opportunity to control our
I think term limits gave an opportunity for those who are locked
out and blocked out of the bureaucracies and the many different
mountains that were put in so people could not get where they
need to get to.
But most importantly I want to thank you for giving me the
opportunity to be heard. I say that because I want you to see,
one, by the end of the evening you will convincingly see that
I am the best person to represent you in the 16th council district;
that being, by the mere fact that I have lived here for thirty-two
years. I have worked at Taft High School. I graduated from Taft
High School. I graduated from 166. I graduated from 82. I graduated
from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Most importantly,
I have programs that are existing today.
I think I not come here today to ask you or tell you what I
plan to do in the future, but to more or less let you know what
I've done in the past and continue to do on a daily basis. I
think that is more important than anything else. It is not so
much -- people can tell you what they gonna do, they always
do. Most importantly, my grandmother always told me, "I don't
watch what you say, but I watch what you do."
Having said that, I currently have a program called, "Praise,
Peace, and Pride," which served the community for the last ten
years. Before that I had a program called "The Blue Fountain
Youth Organization." I also am the vice president of NYCRA,
they're building homes, and more importantly, again, before
the evening is over, don't listen to what anyone else says --
judge for yourself. You will see that I am the only person that
has done, or what I've done in the community, because what I've
done in the community, and my commitment to the community you
will see that I'm the best candidate to repre sent you in the
16th council district. Thank you very much.
Question #1: The 16th council district has
witnessed a significant reduction in crime over the last 10
years. Despite this, tensions continue to exist between police
and neighborhood residents. In particular, young people who
are subject to "stop and frisk" tactics that many believe border
on harassment. Our young people and their parents often feel
humiliated by such searches and have little faith in the Civilian
Complaint Review Board. The question is: What will you do in
order to insure effective police practices without violating
the rights of district residents and what are your plans to
strengthen the Civilian Complaint Review Board?
I think that the police department plays a
very important role in our communities. I think that right now
you all feel like, especially myself, being a black male, I
think that it's very important at this time that being a black
male living in the community in which I live and which I've
come from, that we begin to realize that it is time the police
and communities work together. We need to have some community
involvement with the police department.
I think that, again, they say that blacks are against police
officers, which is not true. What we want is what everyone else
gets in their own communities, and that is good police services.
We want to know that the services that are provided to us are
provided to us in the same way that they're provided in other
We have to live together and to co-exist at the community level.
We have to have a joint effort. In the olden days I was a product
of the police department of the 40th precinct, and the 40th
precinct sent me to the Fresh Air Fund. I think that we need
more involvement such as that. We need to get the police and
the community to have partners together. Get the police and
the community to do joint ventures together. We need to be building
homes together, so that the police begin to become sensitive
to the community and what goes on in the community, so we can
begin to know each other by the first name and then we have
a better product as what is police officers as well as a better
product by us as community members. Thank you for the opportunity
Oversight and investigative functions.
Too often we see the police department only through the mayor
and the police commissioner. The city council has a role to
play. We shouldn't just always be reacting. It should involve
police from the whole budgeting process to the amount of personnel
on the street, providing patrol.
After speaking with Inspector Clark here at the 44, his main
complaint this summer is that he does not have enough men in
uniform to be out on the street whether its in the regular patrol
cars or out on the street patrolling, doing the community policing.
The other thing we need to look at as well is how will the
department conduct community policing, as Ray Kelly had done
when he was commissioner under David Dinkins. I think the council
needs to work on getting the police back to that sort of patrolling.
I grew up in public housing, in Abbots Housing down in the south
Bronx, and we had this particular housing police officer who,
whenever he patrolled our building we knew he was there because
he would always tap his nightstick against our door so we knew
he was in the building when he was doing his patrols, and that's
real community policing.
The other thing that we need to do as well is look at the curriculum
at the police academy. The police academy training when it comes
to race in this city and diversity, it's a one-day, six-hour
course. Race in this city of diversity should be a major part
of police curriculum throughout their training. Whether it's
dealing with how to do stop and frisk, whether it's dealing
with a person who is emotionally disturbed, we need to know
what are the cultural differences and the things you have to
look at when conducting arrest in our major communities.
But on to the idea of the police-civilian community review
board. I think we need to get good people on that board. The
community has to have confidence and faith that when they make
their complaints those complaints will be responded to and that's
what people have been turned off to. And also police officers
who do not give out the forms when residents ask for the forms,
they are to be disciplined and it ought to be put in their personnel
jacket that they are not responding to residents when it comes
to providing those forms.
First of all, I think that the police in
our area, in our community, need to look like us and be one
of us. As a former district attorney, I had the opportunity
-- and I call it just that, an opportunity -- to go to Robin's
Neck, which is the police training ground, and we went through
something called "A Funhouse," and what it did was put us in
a position of a police officer and having to respond, and, from
that, I gained an understanding. But I think what's important
is that our police need to be a part of the community, and the
community needs to not be fearful, but know that they can turn
to them. And we don't need to have a precinct where we get a
new captain every four months.
What's happening with the 44th and Inspector Clark, and him
going out and reaching out to the community is what needs to
happen and we need to get back to good community policing, meaning
the police officers -- you knew them, they were your friends.
When I was growing up I knew my police officer, I knew my mailman,
and I knew the bus driver on the 49 -- on what was then the
49 -- and the 37. These are the things we need to get back to.
And in terms of strengthening the Civilian Complaint Review
Board, I think the police officers shouldn't be given exceptions
but should be held to the same standard that we're held to.
If we're accused of a crime, we don't get forty-eight hours
to get our story together. We need to make sure that the police
officers are accountable and are willing to work with us and
they understand they're in our community and they're not there
to police us, but they're there to work with us.
And I encourage people to get involved with their local police
precinct councils so that you get to know who your Captains
are, your Inspectors are, your Lieutenants are -- everyone.
Question #2: Data from a city project report
reveals that the 16th council district ranks next to last, of
the 51 council districts, in terms of home ownership, with only
6% of area residents owning the homes they live in. By the same
token, this community district has the third highest percentage
of households that live in rental housing, 94% of all residents.
With the lowest median income of the city's 51 council districts
and a dwindling rate of federal and state support in terms of
commitment to low income housing, it is apparent that the 16th
council district needs a plan for affordable housing. Question:
What is your plan for affordable housing in this district, including
the promotion of home ownership?
Yes, I think I mentioned in my opening statement
-- I have been campaigning around creating 100,000 new housing
units in the Bronx and in the city throughout. And the housing
I believe should not necessarily be private home ownership.
I believe that communities like ours survive best when we have
a community of people who live together, whether it's in a multi-family
dwelling, whether its 50 units or 60 units. Again, to me it
relates to economic development on a very local level where
you keep a dollar circulating in the community.
Home ownership, as you have seen, has often had the effect
of disbursing our political power. When you don't have a concentration
of voters, you don't get the same response you get when you
have the concentration.
Home ownership also, I think, allows homeowners, who probably
have cars, to move, to drive around, and to shop outside of
our community. That's not what we're looking for. We're looking
for people who are going to, at least, spend a dollar, ten dollars,
and a day for a week in our community to help the dollar circulate
for our community to develop.
What we also need to do in New York City is make housing much
more affordable. Besides building additional units we have to
get the cost of housing construction much, much cheaper. The
city cannot afford to keep giving subsidies to developers. One
subsidy the city can afford to give is in the form of the construction
code with wider, new materials that are more fire resistant
-- the city can build additional housing.
What I want to see is us to build housing outside of Manhattan.
Too much of the housing, which has been built in Manhattan,
is luxury housing and that is what's caused the skyrocketing
cost of housing here in the Bronx.
The other thing I think we need to do is that, the city council
has to have an advise and consent role when it comes to their
mayor's selection to the Rent Guidelines Board. As you know,
right now the mayor selects, I believe, the entirety of the
Rent Guidelines Board and recently they had major increases
in our rents. If we have additional housing, that'll drop the
price down and we'll have more supply. And if we have people
on the Rent Guidelines Board who are more friendly towards the
interests of tenants and our needs I think the city will have
a much better housing policy.
In reference to affordable housing, there appears to be a lot
of things going on now. One thing I would not do is what's going
on now where they're building homes near the 161st Street area
on Ogden Avenue and they're charging $300,000 for the homes.
That I would not do. That's central gentrification. People are
being removed and moved out of the community so that they can
bring in other folks. That's something I would not do.
Now, one thing that I am doing, as a vice president of NYCRA,
we're currently building affordable homes on park. That's what
I would do. We're building affordable homes that those can afford
so that 90% of their income is not spent on rent. Most of us
have a problem these days deciding if we're gonna buy food or
we're gonna pay rent. That should not have to be the choices.
I think that we should have affordable housing. I think a lot
of emphasis in the 90s has been put on middle class housing
and moderate housing, and affordable housing was neglected.
Having worked in shelters for twelve to sixteen years, I know
that there are a lot of homeless people due to the fact that
they could not afford their housing and the cost of their housing
during that time.
I think that we need to have more affordable homes. As far
as homes go, we need to have programs where, perhaps we could
have persons who live in those communities participate -- who
are interested in purchasing those homes -- participate in building
those homes. Somewhat the same type of thing that Pr esident
Carter had tried to do. We need to get people involved. We need
to have people involved into the homes.
We also need, before anyone is given a home in our community,
they should have to go through a class. I think that would go
far. Everyone should have to go through some kind of social
skills class before they are given homes, so they're informed
of what we expect, how we expect, and what's expected of them.
So when they're given their homes, they're not throwing things
out of windows, they're not taking garbage and throwing it in
the hall. So I think that more important than spending money,
we need to be spending time with these people before they move
to our communities.
First of all, I would be interested in seeing
where some of those numbers come from, in terms of their accuracy.
In terms of low income and affordable housing, I think, number
one, it's important that we continue to refurbish the apartment
buildings that at one time were abandoned when the Bronx was
burning, and it was to landlords' benefits to burn buildings,
get their insurance money and run.
In addition to that we need to make sure that these contractors
who are coming in and refurbishing these buildings hire people
from this community so that the community residents have opportunity
also not only for economic development and to get some money,
but be able to afford not only the houses that are being refurbished,
but the new houses that are being built.
And we must continue to look to not-for-profit organizations
to come in and build and refurbish housing in the district at
an affordable rate. What we need to understand is that its to
some benefit for us not be able to afford these apartments.
Because, as you see what's happening with Harlem, it's being
chic again to live in the city, and areas like this that are
so close to the train -- don't be fooled, there's a reason for
But, again, if people want to have city contracts and receive
city money, then they need to hire people in the area, in the
community, that's working on these buildings and also afford
them the opportunity to be able to rent these apartments by
making them affordable and having not-for-profit organizations,
such as the Ford Foundation and other foundations like that,
come in and help subsidize the building.
Question #3: Opportunities for economic advancement
are critical to the vitality of any community. The 16th council
district is one of several Bronx districts that contain a portion
of the Bronx empowerment zone. While this designation is supposed
to bring jobs and businesses to this and other Bronx council
districts, the lines for the Bronx empowerment zone are drawn
in a way that some believe to be a convoluted manner. The end
result is that many district residents are not eligible to participate
in programs run by community based organizations with empowerment
zone funds. What do you propose to change this?
That's very right. That is a problem because
currently the line stops at 162nd Street on the West Side near
Ogden Avenue. Yet Ogden Avenue and the Highbridge area is one
of the poorest districts in the entire Bronx. Yet, you find
that the employment -- which is what the empowerment zone is
supposed to empower -- those of need and the most needy are
not included they're actually excluded.
So, one thing, if you look at the empowerment zone it favors
Charlie Rangles people, it favors Harlem, it does not favor
at all the Bronx. So what we need to do is, we need to go back
and sit down, the lines need to be drawn, and it needs to be
under different circumstances. It needs to be done by the poverty
rate. The poverty rate should dictate whom and who is included
in the empowerment zone.
Right now, it does not favor the poor. Right now we can see
there are a lot of areas like Compton Avenue -- areas of that
sort, which we consider prominent areas, are utilizing this.
And what we have now is everybody moving into the empowerment
zone -- take from other areas, from Manhattan, from Brooklyn,
from Jersey -- they move themselves into the empowerment zone
to take the money from the community and use it for their own
The money was geared to be used in the community. And currently
even in the Ogden Avenue area, the money has not been filtered
down. The money goes from 162nd Street back toward Yankee Stadium.
The money is not being spent or shared with the people who need
it the most.
So what needs to be done the most is they need to re-district
the lines, and we need to have pre-requisites as far as how
that will be determined. And that determination should be done
by poverty level, not by the greed of those who are in office.
I want to share with you a little history
regarding the empowerment zone. Many of you may have forgotten,
but the empowerment zone was an idea of former Congressman Robert
Garcia. He and Congressman Bob Camp, who was from Buffalo, had
designed the empowerment zone to benefit communities like the
I'm going to share something with you that I haven't shared
before. But before I left Congressman Serrano's office, the
empowerment zone was under discussion and consideration. There
was an extensive memorandum about the empowerment zone and how
he had to fight to make sure it remained a south Bronx project
and not be shared outside the Bronx.
The empowerment zone has been bastardized. It's become a tax
give-away for businesses, whether they're legitimately started
or not. The empowerment zone was originally conceived to empower
people who are poor and provide them with job training and economic
development, to provide entrepreneurial development. That's
what many people want.
As I have been campaigning for city council I've come across
so many people who've asked: how do I start my own business?
The empowerment zone should be about including that help for
the person starting her own business, to learn how to write
their business plans, to get proposals off the ground.
It should not be about job relocation -- taking a job from
another location and bringing it into the south Bronx or into
Harlem, and then all you're doing is transferring jobs. The
community isn't really benefiting. All you're doing is creating
resentments and animosity. Governments should not be about creating
animosities, division between people.
Governments should be about providing for persons who are poor,
who are truly poor, and who need assistance in getting employment
skills. It shouldn't matter which side of the street you live
on if you're poor and want employment skills, they ought to
be provided to you and to use the empowerment zone money for
that. It should not be a political football, as it has become
where we have two congressmen fighting for it, and the south
Bronx wound up getting short-changed.
First of all it's important that we understand
that the zoning and the districting is done, again, not for
our benefit. So the first thing I'd like to do is really look
at the zoning in terms of where we're going to build economic
development and have it be rational. You can't put a Home Depot
in a residential community. But we also want to make sure that
we have the resources and the allocations that other communities
are getting. So, again, I would look to as people receiving
city contracts to come in our community and build in our community
-- that a percentage of those jobs need to be given to people
in the community which will promote economic development. And
also work with whoever the next governor is going to be and
the state assembly and senate to make sure that we're getting
adequate funds not only from our city but from our state because,
in addition to being cut off by the city because of zoning and
districting, it is happening at the state level also.
So, also interested in working with the city government, but
also with our state representatives.
Question #4: Bronx schools have produced incredible
talent in the past. Regis Philbin, Stanley Kubrick, and Wesley
Snipes are among the individuals who went to school in this
council district. Sadly, the Bronx, and this council district,
in particular, rank near the bottom based on a number of education
indicators including: reading and math scores, the number of
schools on the SIR list, schools with the highest percentage
of children enrolled in special education, and schools with
the highest percentage of drop-outs. Many young people express
frustration with the area schools that they attend, citing indifferent
teachers and administrators as well as parents who are uninformed
and unaware of recent governance changes. What will you do to
improve the performance of the district's elementary, middle
and high schools, as well as to improve parent involvement?
Well, I think that when we talk about education
and we talk about the schools we always hear it from the negative
standpoint. There are some things that need to be changed, but
we need to encourage those students and schools that are performing
well. There's a young woman in the audience that came and interviewed
me at my office about my position running for office. We need
to encourage her and let her know that she has the potential
to be whatever she wants to be, but in the same vein we need
to make sure that our teachers are supported; that they get
salaries that reflect those salaries of teachers in the suburbs;
that we don't put our least experienced teachers in our poorest
performing schools and wonder why our kids aren't learning,
because that's an issue.
As we look to education, and we look to the schools, parents
must become involved. There are no ifs, ands, or buts -- parents
must become involved. You cannot drop your child off and think
it's a babysitting service. You cannot drop your child in front
of the TV and think they'll learn how to read, how to write.
It's important. My mother is a retired school principal -- her
school was the first city school to have computers. Computers
in the classroom, that's what's important.
But during Parent-Teacher Association meetings, we would do
things like give away groceries if parents showed up, and we
still wouldn't have parents showing up. So it's imperative that
parents and those who are concerned get involved; get involved
in the local school board elections; get involved in your teacher-parent
night. Make sure that you are involved.
And, lastly, I would like to say -- parents, your children
will live up or down to whatever you expect. So if you expect
great things, if you encourage our young people like this young
writer, things will change.
Question #5: The arts have been shown to help
improve the academic performance of young people, as well as
increase their sense of self. A recent study released by the
National Campaign to Reduce Teenage Pregnancy revealed that
a comprehensive youth development model that includes the creative
arts is the most successful approach to reducing teen pregnancy
and improving academic performance. The question is: what will
you do to increase the capacity of visual and fine arts services
available to young people in schools and their community centers?
First of all I'd like to excuse myself. I had to get up and
take care of something, so I apologize for that. But, to answer
the question, the first thing I would like to do is work with
whomever the next mayor will be to refund or put money back
into the schools and to the arts that were cut under the Giuliani
administration. Because understand that when it comes to children
who look like us, black and Latino children, what was good years
ago when the schools were primarily made up of us, is now not
good anymore, and so we cut the funding. And I'd like to see
putting the money back in the schools and into after school
programs that the Giuliani administration cut. Number one.
And number two, again, looking for funding not only from not-for-profit
organizations, but also from faith-based organizations, so that
they can offer to our kids after school or during school hours,
like what VH1 is doing in terms of getting refurbished instruments
and putting them back in schools - refurbished instruments and
donating them to after-school programs because we fool ourselves
when we think all kids need are reading, and writing, and arithmetic
without giving them adequate opportunities to express themselves
creatively through the arts or through sports. And both of them
are equally important.
We need to make sure that there's adequate funding and that
our different churches and community-based organizations are
open and available to the kids so they can access the arts as
well as sports.
I think that the arts have long been a safe
for many children. I think that the arts have been the attachment
from one community to another. For many years, no matter how
poor you were, or how rich you were, we could all kind of relate
to the arts, and it's something that has always been around
and has always kind of kept us all together. You would always
find persons of all financial backgrounds, race, and creeds
in those areas when it comes to the arts.
I think that what has happened in the last few years is a travesty.
I think that the money that we're taking out -- the communities
that were bled, the schools were bled. Again, we need to have
marching bands -- we need to have music. Kids need to know how
to play instruments -- what happened to the instruments? When
I was growing up, I played four different instruments. Why don't
our children know how to play instruments today? What's going
on that our children don't know how to play instruments? What's
going on that our strongest trait, such as the music and arts,
are not being developed?
It's almost as though there's a plot, or someone who don't
care, or a message being sent to our children. These are what
we strive at, these are the things, which we excel at, and it
seems that all the things we excel at are kind of being dried
up. I think that our children deserve an opportunity to play
instruments. I think that our children deserve the opportunity
to do arts and crafts and things of that nature.
I think that as the next city councilman for the 16th district,
I will do all that I can. And we will go further than that and
put the money back into the arts where they belong.
One of the extras is actually hiring qualified
music and art teachers. One of the standards we have in the
Board of Education is that besides not having qualified science
and math teachers, we also lack qualified music and art teachers
in our public high schools. That's where one of the serious
Second during a fiscal crisis many of our music and art departments
were shut down as a result of our fiscal crisis. That was twenty-five
years ago and we need to put the money back.
What I have been doing recently -- I sit on the board of two
important groups in the Hunt's Point section and we're a community
arts organization. What we have done is -- we've provided young
people with the opportunity to develop their art, whether their
art is spoken word poetry, or hip-hop, or spray painting graffiti
arts, we've been supporting that, and that's what we need to
do throughout the city -- supporting children where their artistic
By exposing a child to art, you're also helping a child build
their necessary self-esteem to do better in their academic studies.
We need after-school programs to do that. The will and the money
exists, we need to put it into affect. We have CBOs that are
already doing it -- they need to be expanded. Groups like "Praise,
Peace, and Pride" need to be given assistance to create an arts
program. Groups that have marching bands also need to find the
funding that's there to be able to do that.
I've also been a member of the Bronx Council of the Arts. I've
been a board member, and one of the things we had done was to
see that much more art is out there in the community -- that
artists have support.
And lastly, one of the things I think we need to do most especially,
beyond finding those qualified music and art teachers, but also
making sure that children have other alternatives and other
outlets to express themselves after school and in school.
But I think it really begins at home with the parents wanting
to move the child into a location where they can get the necessary
training and I think the council can do it. The money is there;
we have to have the will.
Questions From Young People:
Q. Hello, my name is Zakiya Brown. I'm from the CYEP Program,
the Community Youth Employment Program, and me and my team,
Ramik, Marcia, Abdul, Sara, Diane, Ben, David, and Debbie went
out into our community and handed out fliers to promote the
community meeting and we asked them, "Is there any problems
that you know of in your community?" And we turned them into
questions to present to you. Now we're going to come up and
tell you the questions.
Q. Hello, my name is Diane Desiree. Last year Councilman
Wendell Foster promised to the Citizens Advice Bureau a speed
bump on 166th and Sheridan Avenue as of June 20, 2001. My question
today is: What happened to the speed bump that was promised
to us and how can you promise us that we're going to get the
speed bump placed there?
That question goes directly to the heart
of this particular administration in terms of not being responsive
to the Bronx and getting us the things we want, whether it's
a speed hump or other types of improvements in our neighborhoods.
What the next councilperson can do and should do is work with
the next mayor, the next D.O.T. commissioner and the borough
president to look at the neighborhoods and the streets that
require speed humps. This particular program that Borough President
Ferrer has that I've worked with is called, "Safe Routes to
School." Part of that project is to survey the neighborhoods
and streets around our schools and see whether or not they qualify
for speed bumps or other types of traffic-calming devices, so
that as children travel to school with their little brothers
and sisters -- that they will arrive their safely, that they
will leave and get home safely, and not have to worry about
being run over by cars, that there are proper stop signs. And
that streets that are wide can be narrowed.
The council can work on getting that done. Again, work starts
with you and making sure and putting pressure on your elected
official, whether that person's a council member or state assembly
member, to put pressure in order to get that squeaky wheel greased.
That's how you make that change.
If you don't see a change within a few weeks, you keep the
pressure on, you constantly call to make sure that is does a
call. I mean, that's my recommendation to you, aside from voting
for me in September.
I would say this -- I don't think you would
have to continue to look for me. I think that one of the reasons
why I decided to run was because I had to look for so many people
for so long. I would say to you that, if the speed bump is needed
in that community, I think that I, the city councilperson, would
come out to that site, I would make that visual with you. I
would go out there, look at it. If needed, even if we have to
lay out in the street, I would make sure we get a speed bump.
I think the answer is not always the bureaucracy of blaming
the next guy, or looking for someone else to do something that
we have to do ourselves. I think that if we really need the
things that we need, and our children are in danger, I think
this is where I different than others because I am independent.
I am not controlled by anybody. I am an independent individual.
I don't owe my allegiance to anyone.
I will definitely go with you. We will make sure those speed
bumps are there if they're needed, and we'll make sure that
no more of our children are hit by cars because of the lack
of that speed bump
First of all I think that the question needs
to be answered. If you ask someone to do something and they
didn't respond you need to, number one, find out if they didn't
respond and if they didn't you need to find out why.
It's very easy to throw a stone and hide your hand. We looked
to put a speed bump on 166th Street and Sheridan. We looked
to put a speed bump on Woody Crest, where I live, and found
out where we wanted it we could not have it because where there's
a hill you can't have a speed bump.
So, we need to understand and make sure we get answers to our
questions. There may be a reason why the speed bump couldn't
have been put on 166th Street and Sheridan Avenue. And in a
situation like that you need to make sure that you call and
you get an answer to your question and you don't wait for an
opportunity like this to ask a question to a person who doesn't
have the opportunity, and is not afforded the opportunity, to
answer the question.
Q. Good evening. I'm a representative of the CYEP Program.
My name is Rondik Davis and my question is: If elected to city
council what would your three priorities become during your
first two years?
Let me start off by saying this, I think that twenty-three years
is a long time to do anything. I don't think nobody should have
to go find me if I'm there for twenty-three years, and I would
get back to you about that speed bump. You would have to find
me to get back to you. You wouldn't have to find me; I would
get back to you. That's the proper way it should be done and
that's how I'd do it.
Anybody, send me anything in writing and I would be sure to
get back to you. That's my number one priority. My number one
priority, again, is to make sure my allegiance remains with
the constituents of my community. That's the number one issue.
Because the bottom line is, you voted me in, you can vote me
Each and every one of our number one priorities should be to
the constituents that we represent. That would be my number
Number two, is that we make sure for the community there is
health programs that address the needs of those that need health
issues within the community. That's number two.
Number three is to make sure that we have economic development,
and we develop the waterfront that borders on the Bronx, on
the side over here near Yankee Stadium. We need to develop that,
we need to develop that, and we need to develop that. And we
need to make sure that when it's being developed, that our community
is given jobs in that development so we can bring money back
to the community. Those will be my priorities.
My three priorities would be, and that's
typical, because there are many things that need attention,
and continued attention, but my three would be -- education
being my first because we cannot fail our children. There is
no way that we would be able to explain why we failed. So we
need to make sure that cuts, or money that was cut, will be
put back into schools -- schools are refurbished, teachers are
adequately paid, parents are involved, so education would be
Another one of my priorities would be adequate and affordable
housing. We need to continue to build low and moderate income
housing in the 16th district and make it affordable so that
people that reside and want to reside in the district can do
Another important priority would be making sure that we have
access to adequate health care. Do not be fooled. Heath care
in this country is based upon race and class, and we are under
served because of the way we look and because of the money we
don't make. And I would work with, again, not-for-profit organizations
and local hospitals as well as with getting money back through
the city and the state to make sure that we have access to health
care. Because as a people, black and Latino, we are dying at
a fast rate because we don't have the access to the services
that will save our lives.
I'll share with you my three priorities. This will sound a bit
like repeating myself, but it shows the importance of these
priorities. For me it's education and youth services going together
hand-in-hand. It's not just what happens in a class of four
walls of a local schools, but also what happens outside and
after school. For our young people looking for places to go
-- as I've been campaigning I've talked to so many young people
who tell me they want to have a place to go after school for
It's been a shame and a sin for this city, and this state,
and this nation not to put adequate funding into our schools
and into our after-school youth services.
I also want to discuss with you my initiatives for housing,
but I think another important thing is economic development
from communities and the council can work with the mayor and
private sector to do that without giving away the store, without
What I'd like to see us do is for those of us who are poor,
that we have a living wage so people who have jobs, don't have
jobs -- can have jobs that pay at least $10 per hour with benefits.
In this city we have many hundreds of thousands uninsured poor
children because their parents don't have good paying jobs and
jobs that don't provide good health benefits.
That's why our community has suffered. It's because we did
not get the benefit of care. Many of our poor families do not
have adequate health insurance.
I also want to discuss the entrepreneurial people in our community.
We need to help give people a place to start their business
locally to begin to help us with economic expansion. Most Americans
work in a small business, and if we, on city council, can help
to develop greater small businesses in this council district,
whether it's on Ogden Avenue, or Boston Road, or anywhere else
in this district it's an important first step to begin to turn
things around in this district and in the city.
Q. My name is Marie Legere from Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens
Council/Neighborhood Parks Initiative/Community Youth Employment
Program/Youth Making a Difference. I would like to know what
are your plans in getting qualified teachers in the schools
in district 16?
I touched on this when we had the question on education, but
my first thing would be in making sure that teachers are compensated
accordingly. That the benefit packages reflect those benefit
packages of teachers in the suburbs. We have a lot of teachers
that are leaving our system -- good teachers -- that are leaving
because they can't afford to teach because the salaries are
So I would begin by compensating our teachers and also giving
them the support that they need. A lot of times teachers are
social workers, disciplinarians -- they need to have the support
of the local community school boards, from parents getting involved
and that way they can concentrate on teaching.
I would also like to look at us putting something together
where we can do a loan forgiveness program for teachers that
are interested, eager, and qualified to come into our schools
and teach, and we can set a three year, two year commitment
so you're committed for how many years to teach in the schools.
Make sure that you're a good teacher and your loan will be forgiven.
And, lastly. I would like us to work to make sure that those
teachers that aren't performing are removed. I know that at
my job, if I do a good job, I get out of there. And we have
a system where we recycle teachers that, for whatever reason,
aren't qualified, don't care -- we need to re-vamp that program
to make sure that we have qualified teachers, teachers that
are interested in teaching in our system.
Regarding the issue of getting qualified
teachers into our classrooms, for me it's not about the money.
We all know teachers have been traditionally low paid because
they have been women. Women have been going into other professions
that will pay the more. We have to make teaching a respected
profession -- if it's women or men -- we have to make teaching
a respected profession, number one. And we have to pay them
a professional salary, number two.
But we must make a deal with our young teachers coming out
of our teaching colleges. Those teachers, once they're in our
school districts need to develop professionally how to do deal
with children in school district 9 and school district 12. I
think we saw recently in PS 36 in district 8 in the South Bronx
that children had a definite improvement in reading scores.
It wasn't because the children were different, it wasn't because
there was a special program for those children. The teachers
of the course this year received professional development and
they became better educators, and in essence, the students then
became better learners. And as better learners, they scored
much better on their reading and math tests. That's why you
do pre-professional development across the board for our teachers
and for our principals, who need to know how to manage their
resources and their personnel, how to bring things together
to make their school successful.
And then of course, for those persons who do not belong in
a public school system, we have to get rid of them. They have
to be screened out. The same way we don't want bad police officers,
we should not accept or tolerate bad teachers. Union will tell
you need to have a grievance process. We're going to give them
the due process, but if you're found to be a bad teacher and
your students don't learn, you don't belong teaching in New
York City public schools. And it's up to us, the parents and
the elected officials, to make sure that happens⤲that bad
teachers are out, good teachers are in, and they get the special
development they need to help our children become better learners.
I spoke to a lot of teachers. I've worked in 126th as a parent
on the parent leaders team. I worked in 320 in Brooklyn as a
counselor. I worked in 240 as a counselor to the children. I
worked in 120. And for the most part, most of the things that
I've found is that most teachers I've spoken to have all agreed
is that the problem is not money. They feel that they're doing
the best job that they possible can and that an extra $100 won't
necessarily help. So we have to be mindful of that.
We have to be mindful of the way teachers are taught. I think,
principally, one of the major problems with kids learning today
is the way they're taught. One problem is that you have children
in the same class with different reading levels. The real problem
is with the system and the way children are taught. Students
who learn quicker are bored, and slower children are left behind.
When I was learning in school, we all worked on different levels.
We had a thing called SRA and we worked on our own individual
level, and as you developed, you went to the next level. I think
the problem mostly is the way kids are taught -- they're bored
I am a person who is interested, and is
responsive to your questions, and is informed. There is a lot
to be done between now and Election Day, September 11th. You
have to consider the facts and who the candidates are and what
they're offering you, and what direction you want our community
and our district to move into in the next city council, beginning
I am not simply running for city council. I'm offering myself
to my community to be of service to my community in the larger
capacity in the city council. It's about for me: continued service,
continued access, and doing those things that everyone has long
been asking for -- getting the city council and the mayor to
fund our priorities. That opportunity will exist with this next
city council. The city has a 39 billion-dollar budget and there's
no reason why that budget should not be re-formulated to reflect
our interests to work in our community, whether it's the contract
budget or the expense budget.
One of the things that I'm committed to which did not come
up today is Parks 2001, the state of our parks. Councilman Foster
has done a wonderful job of getting money, capital dollars,
for additional parks in our district. What we're missing has
been the will of the mayor and others to put maintenance dollars
into the parks to keep them strong and keep them going. For
the last twenty-five years the parks have been devoid of parks
workers. That's the sin of what's occurred and when I get to
the council I'm going to make sure that the Parks Department
is maintained with Parks personnel so that the parks can remain
beautiful after they've been reconstructed.
Thanks. I had nice time, it was fun. I was
proud to see the young ladies and the young men -- how well
they conducted themselves, how well they spoke, and I think
that those are the people they need to start showing on TV and
in the movies and in the newspapers -- these young people doing
positive things. I think that for a long time, our community
has been depicted in a negative light.
One thing I would like you all to do is to do what my opponents
do and start sounding like me, and say the things that I'm saying.
That's one thing you can do. By doing such you can, again --
I am not a politician, I am a people-tician. I am approachable.
I don't want to be a person in a high office where I don't speak
the language that you speak. When you speak to me, you don't
understand what I'm talking about -- I don't want to be that
person. I don't want to be that person that you're afraid to
bring issues to me because I'm going to belittle you or make
you feel less than you are.
A city councilman is supposed to be somewhat of an ombudsman.
We are supposed to represent you on the local, local level and
deal with the needs and issues that you have. I want to be able
to know that my community can come to my door, ring my bell,
walk in my office and feel comfortable as anyone. That is most
important to me.
When I represent you, as I represented the city in many --
I represented the city, I ran corporations, I ran many different
agencies, I have the experience of dealing with budgets, I've
paid many people on salary, many things of that nature. Only
with this thought and you should always remember this when you're
voting for anyone, at any level: ask not what the community
can do for you, but what you can do for the community.
I'd like to begin by thanking you for coming
out tonight. The fact that you're here in this room and it's
crowded shows that you're concerned about your community. And
I'm also concerned and I'm interested in giving back through
public service. I believe that September 11th, when all the
votes are cast, you are looking at your next councilwoman from