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Opinion

Democrats Must Control the State Senate


ASC and other Sen Dems

Sen. Stewart-Cousins and fellow Senate Democrats (photo: @AndreaSCousins)


This November millions of New Yorkers will head to the polls on Election Day. While our state legislative races receive far less media attention than the Presidential race, they are still critically important. Today, much of the dysfunction in our state, and our government’s failure to address the real needs of working people, young and old, is a direct result of continued Republican control of the State Senate.

Now that the primaries are over, it is essential that New Yorkers focus on Democratic control of the Senate through November’s vote.

There are currently 32 Republicans in the 63-seat State Senate, including Simcha Felder, who was elected as a Democrat but conferences with the Republicans. The five Democratic senators who make up the Independent Democratic Conference have conferenced with the Republicans under a power-sharing agreement first announced in December 2012. Although the people of New York State went to the polls in November 2012 and elected a true Democratic majority, the victorious Senate Democrats have been relegated to minority status in the State Senate since 2013, despite holding a technical majority in the chamber.

Defenders of the current majority leadership point to recent successes on issues like the minimum wage and paid family leave. However, support for those vitally important initiatives was a long-fought effort of the Democratic Party, the Working Families Party, labor unions, faith-based organizations, and progressive community organizing groups. That effort, which Governor Cuomo only began championing in early 2016, was met with outcry and dissension from the Republican-led majority. Today, the minimum wage agreement has resulted in a three-tier structure, with different wage limits and phase-ins that offer only limited relief to the poverty-level pay of workers in Upstate New York and Long Island.

Governor Cuomo, who wields enormous power and benefits from a divided Legislature, was indeed able to push some legislation through in this year’s budget. But should progress in our state depend on the discretion of one person? And what about important progressive issues like the DREAM Act, campaign finance reform, increased MTA and education funding, election reform, and closing tax loopholes—the carried interest loophole among them—that benefit millionaires and billionaires at the expense of the middle class?

A number of bills passed by the Democrat-led Assembly can’t get a vote on the floor of the Senate because the Republican leadership won’t allow it; examples include Nicholas’s Law, which would require the safe storage of firearms in homes, and GENDA, which would outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression and has passed the Assembly nine times in consecutive years. Even the tenth plank of the Women’s Equality Agenda, which governs abortion rights, can’t pass the Republican-led chamber in a state that prides itself on being a progressive leader among other states.

Americans are conditioned to see a fully funded public education as the right of every child and every family. Our state constitution guarantees a sound public education to every student. Yet despite the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, decided almost a decade ago in favor of New York parents, public education here remains underfunded to the tune of billions of dollars, leading to the most racially and economically segregated classrooms in our nation.

Super PACs advocating for charter schools, which often siphon resources away from public education, and for tax credits for private and parochial schools have not shied away from advertising their interest in maintaining a Republican-led majority. In the primaries, one such PAC, New Yorkers for Independent Action, specifically targeted a Democratic senator and three Democratic Assembly members representing communities of color. Thankfully, these efforts were unsuccessful as voters chose candidates who support public education.

Fulfilling the promise of public education—and supporting the hard-working teachers who provide it—has become a Democratic prerogative.

This year saw corruption exposed at an unprecedented level in Albany. Nevertheless, despite promises of strong ethics and government reform, New Yorkers have been disappointed time and again by the paralysis of our state Legislature. Reforms that get passed are inevitably watered down. Last month, for example, the governor signed an “ethics reform” bill that was roundly criticized by good government groups and editorial boards for not going far enough or attacking the root of the problem. Rather than addressing the perverse amounts of money being thrown at our state legislators, the bill simply increases disclosure requirements for independent expenditures and lobbyists.

By contrast, the Democrats, led by State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, are looking to close the LLC loophole, which allows corporations to give nearly unlimited funds to candidates. They also propose enacting a public financing system for elections and lowering contribution limits for campaigns. These reforms would fundamentally improve our system of government by taking power out of the hands of large corporations and powerful lobbyists, who are able to wield extraordinary influence in Albany at the expense of tenants, immigrants, seniors, and students.

This November New Yorkers have a chance to take back some control of their state Legislature by electing a real Democratic majority. We urge New Yorkers to restore and expand on the promise of Election 2012 in this crucial election year.

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Kate Linker and Kim Moscaritolo are the president and vice-president of the all-volunteer advocacy organization Greater NYC for Change, a partner in the Demand Democracy campaign. Kim is the Democratic District Leader in AD76 in New York City.

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For a Better Judicial Nominating Process, Support a Constitutional Convention


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Mayor de Blasio swears in judges (photo: Ed Reed, Mayor's Office)


We need to change the New York State Constitution to curb corruption in our government, we simply cannot wait for our elected officials to make those changes for us.

Finding examples of corruption and self-serving behavior among our politicians in New York City and State is not difficult. It is part of all three branches of government - the legislative, executive, and judicial. In fact, New York has a judicial nominating process that has been condemned by Supreme Court justices. There is too much secrecy and politics in the process by which our judges are chosen, threatening to delegitimize our courtrooms.

Of the moment, this Summer New Yorkers are again witnessing the results of a judicial nomination process controlled by the political parties in Manhattan and Brooklyn. In Manhattan, Supreme Court Justice Doris Ling-Cohan was not recommended for reappointment by the Manhattan Democrats, and the party only allowed her to proceed to the nominating floor after party members and lawyers expressed their outrage. In Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Democratic Party declined the reappointment of Justice Laura Jacobson earlier this summer. Although there is much speculation regarding the political machinations that led to both of these experienced, well-regarded judges losing the Democratic Party’s support, we don’t know the actual reasons in large part because the process is shrouded by the private political organizations which make these decisions.

New York’s party control over the judicial nomination process is legal, and supported by our State Constitution. Current Surrogate Court Judge Margarita López Torres challenged the state judicial nomination process when the Brooklyn Democrats refused to nominate her for State Supreme Court in spite of her qualifications. She fought it all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and it was Justice Antonin Scalia who wrote the final opinion against her. She lost in a unanimous decision, but the Justices certainly did not endorse our State judicial nomination process.

In his opinion, Justice Scalia described the New York judicial nomination process and its criticisms. “In 1911, the New York Legislature enacted a law requiring political parties to select Supreme Court nominees (and most other nominees who did not run statewide) through direct primary elections. The primary system came to be criticized as a ‘device capable of astute and successful manipulation by professionals,’ Editorial, N. Y. Times, May 1, 1917, and the Republican candidate for Governor in 1920 campaigned against it as “a fraud” that ‘offered the opportunity for two things, for the demagogue and the man with money,’ N. Y. Times, Oct. 23, 1920.”

Justice John Paul Stevens, in a concurring opinion, went further and quoted Justice Thurgood Marshall, saying "The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws." In spite of the 2008 decision’s emphatic condemnation, this is still the system we have today.
To be sure, we cannot completely eliminate the politics from choosing judges. However, we live in a democracy that values the impartiality and strength of its judiciary. We should do all we can to instill people with confidence that when they go into the courtroom, they are being heard by the most impartial decider possible. Nobody going through a messy divorce wants a political hack making a decision over which parent gets custody on an appeal. And no judge should have to worry about whether their decision on an election matter will risk their reappointment years down the line.

Let’s remove the judicial nomination process from the total control of the political parties. In most of the city’s boroughs, Democrats decide who gets on the ballot and those candidates win without any actual opposition due to their majority voting bloc. Our elected officials will never have the will to change this system because they have zero incentive to do so. The best way to achieve this reform is by voting “Yes” in November, 2017 to a Constitutional Convention and working out a better, less partisan, less tightly controlled process for nominating, voting on, and appointing judges in New York State.

UPDATE: On September 14, 15 members of the New York County Independent Screening Committee Panel submitted a letter stating that Justice Ling-Cohan merits continuation in office.

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Richard Semegram is a practicing tenant lawyer. On Twitter @richagram.

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'Excellence & Equity' Must Include Smart Approach to Top High Schools


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Mayor de Blasio (photo: Rob Bennett, Mayor's Office)


As this school year began last week for over one million students, Mayor Bill de Blasio took advantage of the first day of classes to publicly highlight his efforts to improve the educational offerings of New York City schools. The mayor is now doing so under his banner “Equity and Excellence” agenda.

There is a long way to go. Currently, only about 38 percent of the students in our elementary schools are reading at grade level. About 70 percent of students graduate high school. Of those graduating, large numbers are not prepared to do college-level course work -- nearly 80 percent of our high school graduates attending CUNY community colleges must take remedial courses in reading, writing, and math.

According to one study, only students lucky enough to get into 34 of the system’s 428 high school programs that report graduation statistics have a decent shot at making it through college successfully.

To many, the challenges seem overwhelming. Because of their magnitude, I applaud Mayor de Blasio for recognizing the problems and trying to do something about them by adding pre-kindergarten, expanding course offerings, hiring more guidance counselors, and focusing on reading on grade level by third grade.

Unfortunately, instead of recognizing the outstanding performance of schools like Brooklyn Tech, which use a Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the criteria for gaining admission, the mayor also used opening day to bash these test-in schools by repeating debunked mythology about the need for multiple criteria to correct for a test that supposedly limits diversity.

Contrary to the mayor, according to NYU’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools, substituting multiple criteria for the test “would not appreciably increase the proportion of Black students admitted and alarmingly several of these alternative criteria would actually decrease the number of Black students offered” admission. The root problem for the demographic outcomes of the test, and the mayor’s initiatives recognize it, is that our school system provides unequal educational opportunities for many of the children in our city’s black and Hispanic communities.

Newsweek magazine recently published its annual list of the top high schools in the country doing an outstanding job of educating students from families qualifying for free and subsidized lunch, the criteria used in educational circles for measuring poverty. These schools are not only educationally exemplary – among the top 500 in the nation - but given the poverty levels of their student bodies, they are considered off the charts, so to speak, for producing college-ready graduates as measured by graduation rates and passing scores on Advanced Placement tests. New York City had five of the top ten schools in the nation on Newsweek’s “disadvantaged” list.

Of the five, four were test-in high schools, including Brooklyn Tech. Townsend Harris, which uses multiple admissions criteria, was the only other city school making the top ten list. Townsend’s admissions criteria include consideration of the applicant’s middle school grades in English, math, social studies and science; scores on state tests in language arts and math; and middle school attendance and punctuality. According to the Department of Education, black students make up only 5.6 percent of Townsend Harris’ student body. By comparison, black students at Brooklyn Tech are 7.5 percent of the student body. While Townsend is home to 64 black students, Brooklyn Tech educates 417.

The Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, which I head, is working with Tech to increase the number of its black, Hispanic, and female students. We are in our third year of running a successful pilot STEM (science, technology, math and engineering) Pipeline program which targets underrepresented middle schools in Brooklyn. With the help this year of $250,000 from the New York State Legislature we doubled the number of students in our program. In the past, we have had great success and we hope to do more with this additional funding.

The Legislature also added money to fund programs at the other test-in schools, including Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, to reach out to middle schoolers from underrepresented communities and prepare them to succeed on the SHSAT and to do well at a specialized school once admitted.

Our efforts, along with the DOE’s, to improve diversity at the test-in schools are important. But more must still be done. The DOE should revive the Specialized High School Discovery Program, which is moribund at most of the test-in schools but is the legally available alternative mechanism for disadvantaged students to gain admission to these schools. Highly effective for promoting ethnic and racial diversity in the past, economically disadvantaged applicants just missing the cutoff scores took summer classes to demonstrate mastery of skills needed to do the advanced coursework required by these schools.

Because poverty rates are now roughly equal among black, Hispanic, and Asian families living in New York City, to be effective a revived Discovery program should also redefine “disadvantaged” to include attending a poorly performing or poorly represented middle school. Because of segregated housing patterns, this would help deal effectively with the educational inequality suffered by too many of the students in our city’s black and Hispanic communities.

The city’s school system is not fair. We all know that. But that said, four of the top ten schools in the nation for working class, immigrant, minority and low-income families are test-in schools here in New York City.

I applaud Mayor de Blasio and the DOE for continuing to work on improving educational excellence and diversity in our schools, but it does little good to attack a test giving every test-taker an equal and fair shot at gaining admission, especially since elimination of the test as the lone admissions factor would negatively affect diversity at these special schools.

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Larry Cary is a Manhattan lawyer and president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

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Vigilance in the Fight Against Islamophobia


MMV Daneek Miller

Daneek Miller, left, & Melissa Mark-Viverito, the authors (photo: William Alatriste)


In New York, we have always embraced diversity. We strive to make sure that everyone feels welcome—no matter their race, faith, or background. This has never been more important for Muslim Americans, who have been the target of vicious political attacks during this election cycle.

This month, Muslim Americans across the country and in New York City will be celebrating Eid al-Adha. As our fellow community members observe this important religious holiday amidst a rising trend of Islamophobia, we must be mindful of their safety. Let us continue to set an example for strengthening our community and promoting open-mindedness.

Recently, Muslims have been the target of hate speech and violence in their homes, schools, neighborhoods, and places of worship. These verbal and physical attacks represent a broader trend of discrimination against Muslims.

According to the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, anti-Islam rhetoric in the United States has increased significantly during the current presidential election cycle. In fact, anti-Muslim attacks surged in the days and weeks after Donald Trump made anti-Muslim statements, suggested instituting a database to track Muslim Americans, and called for shutting down mosques. In recent months, organized, sometimes armed, protests against mosques have increased, as well as the targeting of Muslims for bullying or hate crimes.

This year’s presidential election has seen the candidate of a major political party not only endorse bigoted views, but also encourage the spread of these attitudes among his followers. Donald Trump’s message of bigotry has created a hostile climate against Muslims, immigrants, African Americans, Latinos, and women, dividing and weakening our communities. This marked increase in Islamophobia in the United States means that every day Muslims are unable to go about their daily lives without worrying about their personal safety. As we have seen with Imam Alauddin Akonjee and most recently with Nazma Khanam, Muslims are frequent targets of hate and violence. As a Latina legislator, as an African-American Muslim, we will not let any hateful rhetoric go unchecked and unchallenged. We have and will continue to stand up and speak out.

When an individual’s ability to publicly practice his or her faith is threatened, all of our liberties are at stake. We need to protect the freedom to practice faiths of all kinds and to educate others about diversity. That’s why the City added two Muslim holy days to the public school calendar in 2015, to ensure that all Muslim-American students can celebrate holidays together with friends and family.

Our fellow City Council members have also been very vocal about protecting the rights of Muslims in New York to practice their faith in peace and safety. Just last December, we helped organize a large interfaith rally on the steps of City Hall in coordination with other elected officials and faith leaders to denounce Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant remarks.

Despite challenges, our city will stand strong against these messages meant to divide us. Muslims continue to play important roles in our communities, contributing to the multicultural fabric of our city and our nation. Muslims are important figures in New York City arts, sciences, and businesses, as well as in public service – like Congressmen Keith Ellison and Andre Carson. Muslims are artists, teachers, doctors; mothers, fathers, and cherished members of their neighborhoods.

Institutionalizing Islamophobia only causes our communities to live in fear. This month, in the spirit of Eid, we must reject bigotry and collectively work together to spread awareness and hope. We have a responsibility to denounce discrimination and violence and to ensure that all communities can feel safe and respected in New York City. That is why, this Eid, we ask everyone in our broader community to do what they can to spread kindness instead of hatred, understanding instead of suspicion, and acceptance instead of close-mindedness.

Traveling across this city, whether to Bay Ridge or Midland Beach or Astoria, to connect with New Yorkers of all backgrounds and faiths has always been a highlight of serving in elected office. All of us are part of the New York City community, and we look forward to celebrating Eid together.

New York City is home to one of the most vibrant Muslim communities in the country. In order to continue preserving the values that make this city so special, we need to make sure that we are listening to the needs of Muslim-American New Yorkers.

Islamophobia has no place in New York City. Instead of embracing hateful rhetoric, we should be lifting up Muslim voices and sharing the stories of Muslim-Americans.

New Yorkers have always been stronger together. Together, we can work to protect and promote diversity and defeat Islamophobia.

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Melissa Mark-Viverito is the Speaker of the City Council and Daneek Miller represents parts of Queens and is the only African-American Muslim City Council Member. On Twitter @MMViverito and @IDaneekMiller.

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Corruption in Albany: Will Anything Really Change?


Cuomo 2016 State of the State side stage

Gov. Cuomo (photo via The Governor's Office on Flickr)


Can legal restrictions halt corruption in the state Legislature? History suggests that they are necessary but limited.

A new ethics law, more of the same
Several state legislators have been charged with corrupt practices in recent years and the leaders of both houses of the Legislature found guilty of violating federal laws. Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos are headed to prison unless their appeals succeed. The Legislature considered several basic remedies in the 2016 session. It passed a bill championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the very end, introduced so late in the session that many leaders did not have time to read it and speeded through with the help of a "Message of Necessity" from the governor, which enabled the Legislature to dispense with requirements for deliberation that would at least have provided time for news media and other watchdogs to dissect it and legislators to read it.

After waiting as long as possible, the governor signed it in late August with no public ceremony and only a brief statement that “New York is taking aggressive action to restore the people’s faith in government and increase accountability and transparency in the electoral process.”

"They needed an ethics reform so people knew they could trust Albany and this is a great first step," he added. "If people don't trust the system, the system can't function." That was a tepid endorsement at best. This is the fourth state ethics bill that Cuomo has signed and this one has almost nothing to do with the practices of state lawmakers.

The new law places new restrictions on independent expenditure campaign contributions but does not close the so-called "LLC Loophole,"which allows firms that control several limited liability companies to multiply the means of giving to campaigns. It doesn't restrict legislators' outside incomes or create blockades against a pay-to-play culture of campaign contributions and government decision-making. One of the things that it does do is force issue-oriented lobbying groups to disclose more donor information. That may undermine some of the good-government groups that pressed for more sweeping ethics legislation.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group, is among those who have said that the law is probably unconstitutional. Dadey said that "my organization's board was astonished by this piece of legislation."

"Common Cause/NY is deeply disappointed that Governor Andrew Cuomo has chosen to ignore the causes of systematic corruption in Albany, and instead wrongfully punish organizations' proper and lawful collaboration to more effectively advocate for their causes,” said its executive director, Susan Lerner.

Business, money and politics -- an old story in New York
As noted, Gov. Cuomo calls this new law a good first step. But is it really that?

In his annual message to the Legislature, the governor denounced "political contributions by business corporations" as "morally wrong....Its contributions are influenced by business and not by patriotism and, like other investments, are made in the hope and expectation of financial return or to avert threatened pecuniary injury." The governor recommended making political payments by corporations a criminal offense.

Cuomo in 2016? Actually, it was Governor Frank W. Higgins, in 1906.

Higgins was reacting to the long history of scandals over corporate funds swaying political elections in New York,  allegations of large secret corporate campaign contributions in the 1904 presidential election and the 1905 mayoral election in New York City, and a recent legislative investigation that had revealed insurance companies spending to influence legislation affecting them.

The Legislature took up and quickly passed three pieces of legislation. One prohibited corporate campaign contributions. Another required candidates and political committees to make public a record of their campaign receipts and expenditures. A third redefined corrupt practices by defining what campaign expenditures were acceptable. They went into the statute books as chapters 239, 502, and 503 of the Laws of 1906.

Since then, the campaign ethics laws have been amended and updated, and impacted by court decisions. But the role of money in politics has continued. There have  been lots of legislative scandals, but they have usually led to meager ethics reform, as they did this year.

Good government groups often call on the Governor to pressure the Legislature to adopt more sweeping measures. That would require the Governor to expend political capital and rally the citizens to pressure the Legislature.

"It is easy for an executive to run against the Legislature," said Governor Cuomo. "We want an ethics bill. [But] I cannot get an ethics bill by piling up political victory after political victory on the editorial pages."

That sounds like the rationale for Andrew Cuomo's seeming casualness about ethics reform this year.  Actually, it was his father, Mario Cuomo, in 1987, explaining yet another stunted reform initiative.

What might help, beyond the law and the prosecutor?
Legal proscriptions, and vigorous prosecution of corruption, such as that carried out by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in recent years, are essential to good government. But history suggests that other factors are also important:

* The tone starts at the top. If the Speaker of the Assembly and the Majority Leader of the Senate are models of probity, they set the right tone and their example may cascade down through the two houses of the Legislature. One example is Oswald D. Heck, New York's longest-tenured Assembly Speaker (1937-1959): scrupulous, honest, personally modest, but a very effective leader. Assembly scandals were very rare in his 22-year tenure.

*Real competition in legislative elections. It keeps incumbents on their toes, discourages ethics lapses that their opponents might use, and forces them to really explain and defend their records at election time. Throughout much of New York's history, most State Assembly and Senate seats were contested. More recently, particularly because of redistricting and gerrymandering, many districts are overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican. That discourages opposition, advantages incumbents, and may help promote a feeling of complacency.

*Giving rank-and-file legislators more power in their respective houses. The prosecution and conviction of Assembly Speaker Silver revealed his power to designate committee chairs and control the flow of legislation. Members of the Assembly's Democratic majority felt inclined, or compelled, to "go along" rather than take principled, independent stands that might have earned them the speaker's enmity. Silver stamped out potential opposition, e.g., from Majority Leader Michael Bragman who lost his position after challenging Silver for the Speaker's post in 2000 and resigned the next year.

Speaking in Albany last February, Bharara decried the complacency of legislators, whom he called "enablers" in the "rancid culture" at the Capitol. The current Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader of the Senate have both indicated they are giving more leeway to individual legislators. But still more is needed.

*Aggressive news media. Over the course of our history, the Albany press corps has exposed more corruption than any U.S. Attorney. Journalists’ vigilance and oversight help legislators avoid temptation. The hometown press follows, or should follow, local legislators' committee assignments, bills introduced, position statements, speeches, and to the degree possible, campaign contributions. The advent of 24/7 news, online forums, and social media can shed even more light and promote transparency.

*Widespread public frustration with government. Work by the Pew Research Center shows the distrust and disappointment. Public officials are seen as needing more integrity, values-based judgment, and application of personal ethics in their service to the public. Those are not easy things to impose by ethics laws or threats of prosecution for unethical or illegal acts. They are more deep-seated, character-based. Perhaps we should require every legislator, or at least every new one, to read Clayton Christensen's 2012 book “How Will You Measure Your Life?” It's about achieving a fulfilling life through ethically-based service to others, a reminder that pursuing -- or spurning -- corrupt practices is, fundamentally, a personal choice.

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Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne's latest book is The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State's History, published in 2015 by SUNY Press.

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

Taking the Wheel at Automotive High School


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Kevin Bryant, the author


The challenges I’ve faced as both a teacher and a principal have not only shaped my approach to education, but they’ve defined my career and my accomplishments.

During my four years as the Principal of Frances Perkins Academy I always sought new ways to challenge myself, colleagues and staff, students, and their families. By setting high standards and pushing ourselves to meet them, our school realized our boundless potential to exceed our own expectations, and those laid out by others. This idea guided my tenure at Frances Perkins and it will continue to guide me as Master Principal of Automotive High School, where I’ll lead the day-to-day turnaround and still continue to support Frances Perkins. I’m at the point in my career where I know I can do this hard work.

Over the last two years Automotive High School has been under immense scrutiny as it was named one of the lowest performing schools in the city. As a principal on the same campus as Automotive, I’ve seen its staff and students in the hallways and in meetings. I’ve seen their strengths and the persistent challenges that exist. I see hope, promise, hard workers, and the tenacity to do better. I enter my new role clear-eyed, knowing full-well that the road to progress will not be easy, but that it starts with earning the trust of my new colleagues and students and setting specific goals that will challenge us as a school and help us strive toward excellence.

In setting these goals and benchmarks, we need to first acknowledge that economic, achievement, and opportunity gaps persist. These can only be bridged when our students, teachers, and parents have a safe and supportive environment that invites them to become active and willing partners in education.

At Frances Perkins, we implemented a program similar to an advisory, in which a student and teacher were paired and met regularly to discuss the student’s progress and address any issues the student might be facing, either in and out of the classroom. This program was rooted in trust and accountability: it offered a safe and consistent space where teachers expected their students to show up, and students expected teachers to be there for them. Ultimately, the program helped increase both student attendance and teacher retention. I also instituted an open-door policy for parents, ensuring they always had the opportunity to ask me questions, voice concerns, and remain up-to-date on their child’s progress.

At Automotive I again plan to address some of the school’s greatest challenges by strengthening the relationship between students and teachers, fostering greater collaboration with our community based organization, encouraging parents to play a greater role in our school.

I want staff and students to feel supported by the administration and by each other; I want parents to feel welcome in our school and invested in its success; and I want to instill in our school the idea that every student, regardless of their circumstances, is capable of excellence. I know from first-hand experience that these efforts will pave the way for stronger instruction, an increase in enrollment, higher teacher retention, and expanded career and technical education (CTE) programming—something Automotive has the tools and resources to truly excel in. These efforts will all address our shared goal of improved student performance, helping our young people open more doors for themselves in the future.

At times the tasks ahead will seem daunting and as the new principal of a Renewal School I expect scrutiny from our community and the media. However, I plan to use the attention we receive as an opportunity to challenge the perception of school turnaround and to highlight the change, progress, and growth that I know will take place at Automotive.

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Kevin Bryant is Master Principal of Automotive High School.

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Opposing Shelters Won’t End the Housing Crisis


Crowley Maspeth shelter

Council Member Crowley opposes a shelter in Maspeth (photo via Twitter)


On Wednesday night I attended my community board meeting on a proposed homeless shelter in Maspeth, Queens. The city Commissioner of Social Services, Steve Banks, was there, along with hundreds of residents who are against the shelter. I was one of just a handful of homeless and housing rights advocates in the audience.

Though I was horrified by the residents who chose to stigmatize our homeless community – describing them as criminals, drug dealers, welfare hogs, and addicts, and questioning their immigration status – I was most struck by the vehement energy this community has thrown behind this cause, somehow believing that the community is exempt from the city’s housing crisis.

Homelessness is not an isolated issue. Homelessness is a product of the broader housing crisis – a crisis that is having an impact across the city in endless ways: gentrifying neighborhoods, segregating communities, and increasing income disparity, just to name a few. Keeping a homeless shelter out of your community does not solve problems.

At one point, a speaker shouted, “de Blasio brought this social engineering experiment to the wrong community!” But the “social engineering experiment” has been lingering in this community for years. Long before Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Banks came along, decades of failed government policies built the foundation of the housing crisis we’re living in today. Be it the loss of manufacturing industries and union jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, a state-sponsored shelter allowance for low-income households that has remained the same since the 1980s, quality-of-life policing of poor communities of color, and slashes to drug education and support programs, the city’s housing and homeless crisis was long in the making. This is what Mayor de Blasio inherited – this mess is what Commissioner Banks is urgently trying to reverse with limited resources, limited support from the State, and within a limited timeframe.

While failed policies have propelled the housing crisis, a lack of commitment and leadership from our elected officials has kept us from halting its momentum. Promising to preserve the “quality-of-life” of residents, Queens City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has helped legitimize NIMBYism in Maspeth.

On Wednesday Crowley’s office announced a lawsuit against the City over the proposal to open the shelter. Rather than becoming an elected official who is actively involved in the fight to end homelessness and the housing crisis, Crowley falls sorely short by opposing the creation of the first homeless shelter in the jurisdiction of Community Board 5.

Meanwhile, at the state level, eight months have gone by since Governor Cuomo made a commitment to build 20,000 units of supportive housing, and there has not been enough movement. Supportive housing is a crucial source of housing that pairs permanent housing with on-site services. Research has shown time and again that it is the most successful (and cost-effective) way to end homelessness for individuals living with disabilities or other special needs.

Since the 1990s, New York City and State have made a joint commitment to fund supportive housing. While few Maspeth residents mentioned the need for support and services for homeless individuals, most are likely unaware that our governor is currently sitting on nearly $2 billion set aside in the state budget for crucial housing, including supportive housing. Only a small portion of the funds have been allocated.

It’s worth mentioning here that the City has made true to its commitment.

With 80,000 homeless statewide and thousands more living on the streets, in three-quarter houses, doubled up in apartments and in other precarious housing, it’s incomprehensible that our governor continues to pay so little attention to this crisis. It’s also unconscionable that people in our communities are turning their backs on city officials working to combat the homelessness and housing crises, and on their fellow New Yorkers in need.

What I saw last night was a crowd of people who know little about what has propelled us into this housing crisis in first place; they know little about the needs of the homeless community in New York, and they are not willing to learn about either. Imagine where we might be if instead of vehemently opposing a shelter, the community put equal effort into fighting for truly affordable housing for the New Yorkers who need it the most.

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Paulette Soltani is a community organizer with VOCAL-NY, a grassroots organization that builds power among low-income people impacted by homelessness, HIV/AIDS, drug use, and mass incarceration. She is a resident of Community Board 5 in Queens.

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Don’t Let Airbnb Fool You


apartment building east harlem

photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette


If you are to tell a lie, make it a big one and repeat it often, is a mantra of many an absolutist regime. Alas, that applies all too often to many businesses. Few epitomize that dictum better than the illegal hotel rental platform Airbnb.

That certainly was the conclusion of a recent, well-researched editorial in the San Francisco Public Press, an independent non-profit focused on local news. The authors concluded: "Fear, disinformation, deception. That’s what San Francisco voters were bombarded with last fall through record-setting, multimillion-dollar TV advertising crafted to crush progressives, defeat restrictions on short-term rentals and reshape the city’s housing map for decades to come.”

The giant tech unicorn is looking for an encore in New York as it faces a sharp curtailing of business in the state, especially New York City, if Governor Andrew Cuomo signs a bill that imposes significant penalties on listings of illegal hotels. Airbnb has put out an avalanche of advertising in Albany and New York City along with pressure from big names like Peter Thiel and Ashton Kutcher, both of whom are early investors in the company.

The narrative, risible to all but the uninitiated, suggests that the ill-intentioned hotel industry is behind the legislation that would boot hundreds of middle class families from their homes on account of their inability to meet mortgage payments without income from renting out their “spare” rooms. In fact, entire apartments, floors, and buildings without any of the mandated attributes of hotels, such as access for the disabled or fire-protection safeguards, are being converted to illegal hotels. There are good, important reasons that hotels are regulated as they are and pay the taxes that they pay.

That so many illegal Airbnb hotels are in the city center area shows as a lie that the company’s business model is reviving the outer boroughs.

A glaring inequity is that real estate and income tax subsidies meant to spur homeownership are being used to gain an unfair competitive advantage over hotels. Unsurprisingly, in New York City a good deal of the illegal transient occupancy growth has occurred in rent-regulated buildings with many beneficiaries of rent regulations quickly snapping up the online arbitrage opportunity by extracting market value for their "ownership" of prime real estate.

An oft-repeated bromide of Airbnb points to their model allowing for better utilization of resources by using homes as hotels. Perhaps. But why not then use dining rooms at homes as restaurants and bars, and conference rooms in offices as banqueting halls? Why not allow private pilots to take on paying passengers in empty seats? The answer is obvious except to those who deliberately refuse to acknowledge it.

Airbnb’s New York City “inventory” now exceeds 20 percent of the total number of hotel rooms. That only underscores the fact that a majority of their rentals are illegal. That the transient lodging industry employs over 50,000 people in New York City alone and has been a pillar of stability during the Great Recession ought to put the “debate” about Airbnb’s spurious claims to societal benefits to rest. But a model where success is predicated on illegality will stop at nothing to ensure its continuity.

With the signing of new regulations by Governor Cuomo, order will be restored to what is now a dangerous, abusive industry that is out of control.

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Vijay Dandapani is Chair of the Hotel Association of New York City. On Twitter @dandipanivijay.

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In the Age of De Blasio, A Bloomberg Era Small School Reunion


reunion photo Andrea story1

reunion photo by Chrystina Russell, former principal of Global Tech


In July, I found myself back in the East Harlem cafeteria shared by Global Technology Preparatory and P.S. 7. The occasion for my visit was a reunion of Global Tech’s first class of eighth-graders, who were now, four years after their middle-school commencement, graduating from high school.

I was eager to return and see how the students had fared. I knew from my ongoing contacts with the school and its students that several had endured more than their fair share of tragedy, including homelessness, violence and depression, and yet many were getting ready to go to college. There were, however, at least two boys who would not make it to graduation because they were at Rikers Island.

Global Tech, as the middle school became known, was one of the first public schools that I began to follow as part of my research on how business ideas, especially those of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would influence K-12 education. I was curious to see how a school that was seen, in many ways, as a Bloomberg-era success story was faring under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña. A number of changes, some driven by the new administration’s desire to merge small schools—a major departure from Bloomberg policy—foreshadowed significant shifts at the school.

I learned about Global Tech when I served on the New York State Regents’ Committee to redraft the ELA standards, and shared train rides back from Albany to the city with Jackie Pryce-Harvey, one of the few educators on the committee who was both African-American and who taught in the inner-city. (The committee’s proposal was jettisoned when New York adopted the Common Core.) At the time, Pryce-Harvey was getting ready to launch Global Tech with her friend Chrystina Russell.

Pryce-Harvey and Russell had met in the New York City Teaching Fellows program and hit it off immediately—though they were an unlikely team. Pryce-Harvey, an immigrant from Jamaica, was in her 50s when she and Russell launched the technology-focused middle school in East Harlem. Pryce-Harvey’s technological skills didn’t extend much beyond sending emails.

Russell, by contrast, was 28 at the time they opened their school, and came from Muskegon, MI, an affluent white town, and a family of staunch Republicans. When it came to education, there was little about traditional schooling that Russell wanted for her kids; poor, inner-city, children of color should have access to the best technology because once they learn how to use the web and become thoughtful consumers of online information, they don’t have to worry as much about not knowing the texts written by old white men, she was sure.

However, both women were part of a generation of educators who had developed their careers in the wake of New York City’s small-schools movement, which dates back at least to Tony Alvarado and Debbie Meier’s “Miracle in Harlem,” which began in District 4 in the 1970s, and was newly embraced by Bloomberg.

Global Tech joined the administration’s “Innovation Zone,” or iZone initiative, to use “new” approaches to education, including digital technology and more flexible class schedules, such as longer learning blocks and extended school days, to improve student engagement and performance. (Flexible class schedules had actually been pioneered in  New York City years before the Bloomberg administration.)

Many early iZone schools dropped out of the program. But Global Tech thrived, and the school eagerly signed onto Chancellor Joel Klein’s grand bargain of increased autonomy in exchange for accountability. But, in the Alvarado-Meier tradition, Russell and Pryce-Harvey also saw their school as a collaborative venture in which they would work closely with both teachers and their community.

Both women were also trained as special education teachers and were committed to welcoming kids with special needs and mainstreaming them. Surrounded by charter schools, the special needs population at Global Tech - as at many neighboring Harlem schools - climbed sharply, from about 30 percent its first year to over 40 percent in recent years. Global Tech is a universal Title I school full of students from low-income households; almost all its students are black and Latino.

Pryce-Harvey was willing to help mid-wife the new school and to serve as the unofficial assistant principal—at least until she completed the administrator’s certification she would soon start working on. But, she was already planning her retirement and was sure she was not prepared to run the show. Instead, she encouraged Russell, who had graduated from the NYC Leadership Academy, a Bloomberg-era principal training program, to take the lead at their school, which featured a one-to-one student-to-laptop computer model.

And so it was that during the summer of 2009 the two women began hosting Sunday brunches in Pryce-Harvey’s Harlem brownstone for about half-a-dozen teachers who were hoping to teach at the school. None would be officially hired until the end of the summer. As Pryce-Harvey’s frequent travel companion to Albany, she invited me to attend the brunches and watch the school incubate.

The brunch participants included Jhonary Bridgemohan, who had once dreamed of becoming a mortician, but was now teaching English-Language Arts, as well as David Baiz, who had been rated “unsatisfactory” at the South Bronx school where he was then teaching, and feared he would be unfairly forced out.

Both Baiz and Bridgemohan had been mentored by Pryce-Harvey at PS/MS 4 in the South Bronx, which all three described as utterly dysfunctional and were eager to escape.

Now, seven years later, Russell has moved on to other educational ventures. (She first helped launch a hybrid university in Kigali, Rwanda, for Kepler, an educational nonprofit, and recently became a vice president at Southern New Hampshire University.)

Russell’s tenure at Global Tech serves, at least in part, as a commentary on the limits of the Bloomberg/Klein efforts to rein in the educational bureaucracy. Making the most of the autonomy-for-accountability bargain the administration promised, she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in private funding for Global Tech from companies like GE and Cisco and invested in a slew of opportunities for her kids, including an extended day program via Citizens Schools and an arrangement with Computers for Youth, which, for a time, provided a home computer for every Global Tech child.

An inveterate rule breaker, Russell also would field 27 bureaucratic investigations during her three years as Global Tech principal, though all but one would eventually be dismissed. The lone remaining charge—that fearing the loss of a treasured school secretary, an education-department veteran with both strong people skills and deep knowledge of bureaucratic arcana, when her family moved to Connecticut, Russell used privately raised funds to subsidize the secretary’s train tickets to work.

When I asked Russell, recently, if she could ever see herself back in the public school system, she responded elliptically: “The Bloomberg-Klein years were the ones for me.”

Russell groomed David Baiz as her successor. She had once said of Baiz: “David is skilled; he’s always moving forward.” “[H]e gives 125 percent” virtually every day, she added.

Baiz’s accomplishments at Global Tech were considerable. He helped win the school thousands of dollars in grants and served as its de facto technology guru. A nationally recognized math teacher, he won a prestigious Math for America fellowship complete with a $15,000-per-year stipend. And he was selected as one of six New York City teachers to be part of the Digital Teacher Corps, a Ford Foundation-funded collaboration among educators, technologists, and designers to develop interactive digital learning tools. He was also beloved by students and respected by his colleagues.

Meanwhile, Pryce-Harvey has taken over as principal of P.S. 7, the K-to-8 school that shares a building with Global Tech.

The promotions of Baiz and Pryce-Harvey are a testament to Global Tech’s reputation. During 2012-2013, the school’s third year, and the last year for which such data is available—the de Blasio administration discontinued school grades as well as test-score comparisons among “peer” schools—Global Tech’s student growth scores were far above “peer schools” in both ELA and math. The scores were especially high for kids in the “bottom third” of their classes.

In math, the “growth scores” of the bottom-third of Global Tech students almost equaled the performance of a comparable cohort of students citywide—that is schools with both affluent and poor children. Global Tech also enjoyed a 94 percent attendance rate, far above “peer” schools. The school earned an “A” for the student progress portion of the report card, which measures how much individual students improved over the previous year, and a “highly developed” on the academic rigor portion of the evaluation.

Moreover, virtually everyone loved the school. On its Learning Environment Surveys, Global Tech scored well over 90 percent on almost every measure of parent, teacher, and student satisfaction.

But the future of Global Tech also could turn out to be a referendum on the leadership of Carmen Fariña, who is not particularly keen on small schools, and is reputed never to have met a Bloomberg-era innovation that she likes.

Even as Baiz and Russell, who had just returned from Rwanda, were hastily putting together the reunion, the future of the school is uncertain.

For the reunion, close to half of the 60-or-so students in Global Tech’s first cohort showed up in the school’s cafeteria, as well as most of the teachers who taught that first year, including a few who have moved on to other jobs. Many of Global Tech’s alums have been visiting the school throughout high school for help with homework, SAT prep, or just a chance to visit with teachers who have served as their mentors since middle school. During close to two dozen visits to the school during the past two years, Global Tech alums have been a clear, regular presence.

Almost every alum at the reunion said she or he was going on to college—in most cases community college. Pryce-Harvey explained that four-year college was out of reach for most Global Tech alums unless they received hefty scholarships.

Kaira was a stand-out in her Global Tech class, and served as valedictorian of her graduating class at the iSchool, another flagship Bloomberg venture. She had dreamed of attending Stanford University, but as an undocumented student who has spent much of her teen years without a fixed address—and sometimes homeless—she is instead going to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York.

To hear Kaira tell it, school, especially at Global Tech, has been a refuge and a beacon. “It may be that I’m struggling with a problem in English class or math, but it’s nothing like whatever struggle I deal with at home,” Kaira said. “It’s easier to find solutions” to those academic problems, than the ones she faces in her personal life.

“My education has always been a therapeutic experience,” she said. “That place where I can escape.”

Kaira sings the praises of her iSchool teachers who held regular after-school office hours. But in her sophomore year, when she needed help with her American history Regents exam, she turned to her old math teacher, Mr. Baiz. Later, he helped her with AP English, “which is bizarre,” says the 18-year-old with a big smile.

For Kaira, teachers like Baiz and Bridgemohan have been a much needed anchor. Global Tech is also the place where she learned to dream big and to believe that she might be able to go to college.

Tabitha, Kaira’s classmate both at the iSchool and at Global Tech, also leaned on her middle-school teachers when times got tough. When Tabitha landed in a homeless shelter in her junior year of high school and suffered from depression, she fell behind in her school work. But she kept showing up occasionally at Global Tech. Baiz worried that Tabitha might not finish high school and consulted with the iSchool’s administration. Tabitha, too, succeeded in graduating and is planning on attending community college.

Miguel said of himself, at the reunion, that he had been a “horrible student” at Global Tech, one who was “always suspended”—though the suspensions usually involved doing his school work in Russell’s office. He transferred in and out of high schools, but eventually got his GED. He’s now enrolling in CUNY’s BMCC and planning to major in business management.

Raimi was one of several Global Tech students who got into Manhattan Hunter Science High, which has an early college arrangement that allows seniors to take college courses at Hunter College during their senior year. Raimi now has a four-year scholarship to Hunter College.

Raven, another Global Tech student who got into Manhattan Hunter Science, regularly sought out Baiz both for help with her math homework and for much needed advice as, for example, when she decided to transfer to a less competitive high school. Raven is taking a gap year and thinking of joining the military.

Quentin went from Global Tech to Cardinal Hayes, which he described as a “really good” Catholic school; but when the tuition fees got too high for his mom, he transferred to Life Sciences Secondary School. He found the transition from private school back to public school “difficult,” he says. He “got too comfortable,” but snapped back at the “last second.” He says he’s going to Monroe College in New Rochelle. His goal, he says without prompting, is “to take my mom out of the ‘hood.” 

Ismauri attended Manhattan Business Academy High and is going to the College of Staten Island. Travis is going to New York City Tech, a four-year CUNY college. Kamarthi got a basketball scholarship to attend SUNY Buffalo. Adonia is going to St. Francis in Brooklyn.

Dariya and Dariel, a sister-brother duo, are both going to Dutchess Community College. Dariya is planning to become a cosmetologist. Her brother, Dariel, has been completing a vocational program in auto mechanics and working in an auto shop through high school; he plans to become a mechanic.

Several students who didn’t get word of the reunion in time or couldn’t attend also are headed to college, among them David and Derek.

“Global Tech is a real family,” said Maria, one of the only parents who attended the reunion, there with her daughter, Amanda, who will be attending Guttman Community College in the Fall. “Of all the schools Amanda went to, this was the one with heart,” Maria said.

Yet, not all Global Tech graduates have overcome the considerable obstacles these kids face—including the gangs that rule the housing projects where many of them live. Two boys from the inaugural Global Tech class are in jail at Rikers Island awaiting sentencing. News of what had happened to a boy named Franklin hit Russell and Pryce-Harvey particularly hard. “I'm devastated,” emailed Russell when she first got the news this Spring. “Love that kid. And wow did Jackie and I ever spend a lot of time with him and his family.”

Russell and Pryce-Harvey both visited Franklin at Rikers and Russell showed up in court. Russell, who says she considers Franklin’s incarceration a “personal failure,” has petitioned the judge to allow her to take Franklin with her to Boston—and away from bad influences in his neighborhood; she wants to enroll him in a GED program and, eventually, at Southern New Hampshire University. She is awaiting the court’s decision. Russell says of Franklin: “He has no hate in his heart. And he is so smart.”

In a letter he wrote to the judge while he was incarcerated at Rikers, Franklin pleaded for the opportunity to finish his education.

The reunion in the Global Tech cafeteria had the air of celebration. Most of the students had kept up with at least one or two teachers from the school. Some had attended earlier pizza parties for alums. But there were hugs and high-fives as kids who hadn’t seen each other in four years reconnected.

Yet, unbeknownst to its alumni, Global Tech faces an uncertain future. In a reversal of Bloomberg’s small-schools policy, Farina plans to merge dozens of small schools, arguing that mergers will create economies of scale and allow schools to offer more programs.

Rumors that a new District 4 superintendent, Alexandra Estrella, was planning to merge Global Tech and P.S. 7 began swirling over a year ago. At the time, P.S. 7 was run by Sameer Talati, whose once cordial relationship with Global Tech had begun to deteriorate. According to several people close to Global Tech, Baiz suggested to Talati that they propose merging the two middle schools under Global Tech’s leadership and that Talati continue running the P.S. 7 elementary school. Talati,  however, is said to have made a bid to run both schools.

Many educators familiar with Harlem schools consider Global Tech to be the stronger school, and urged Baiz to fight to lead any merger. Somewhat belatedly, Baiz, whose strengths as an educator do not include bureaucratic politics, was persuaded to make the case that Global Tech should be the lead school in a merger.

Talati eventually moved to DOE headquarters. Pryce-Harvey was appointed interim principal at P.S. 7. Baiz, for now, remains in charge of Global Tech.

But the ground under Global Tech continues to shift. The rumors of a merger still abound. Meanwhile, Baiz was turned down for tenure and the school’s most recent quality review, dated 2014-2015, was decidedly mediocre even though more than one experienced educator has referred to him as “one of the best principals in Harlem.”

On the only “quality review” posted by the DOE under Fariña, Global Tech earned a “developing”—the second lowest on a four-point scale—on two of five evaluation criteria, and a “proficient” on three criteria. The school did not earn a single “well developed”—the highest rating—not even for school culture, even though, since its inception, Global Tech has scored off-the-charts school-environment surveys.

By contrast, the administration gave P.S. 7, under Talati, six ‘proficients,’ four ‘well-developeds,’ and no ‘developings’ on his last quality review in 2013-2014, on a slightly more detailed rubric than the one used by the DOE the following year.

Similarly, on P.S. 7’s next quality review, which took place just two months after Pryce-Harvey took over, the school received four ‘proficients,’ one ‘well-developed,’ and no ‘developings.’

Baiz’s mistake, says one educator close to the school, was that he didn’t “play the game,” relying on the reviewer to look at the students “digital portfolios” where students keep copies of their work.

Russell also believes that Baiz’s reluctance to fight the planned takeover by P.S. 7 may have been “viewed as weakness” by the superintendent.

Whatever the case, Pryce-Harvey, at P.S. 7, had carefully prepared for her review, having her teachers refine lesson plans to show, among other things, how they reflected administrator observations and feedback and how that feedback had positively impacted student performance on, say, test scores. The revised lesson plans were then placed, along with other school data, in two binders, each three-to-four inches thick, neatly separated by tabs listing key elements of the quality-review rubric—including curriculum, parent engagement, and teacher evaluations.

New York City educators loved to hate the Bloomberg/Klein administration, with its penchant for serial reorganizations and its army of MBAs. At the same time, some of the city’s best principals conceded that the businessman-mayor’s school administration had made their lives easier. For principals who survived the New York City iZone’s many incarnations, or who had inherited the small-school mantel from Meier and Alvarado, the Bloomberg years were an opportunity to experiment with some relief from bureaucratic control.

However, the Bloomberg/Klein era was also one of creative destruction, which has been described by insiders as a deliberate Humpty Dumpty strategy—one designed to break the education bureaucracy such that it could never be put back together again. If so, the strategy has proved short-lived.

Under the de Blasio/Farina administration, according to many city educators, micromanagement is once again rampant. Even the most prized power conferred on principals by Klein—control over their budgets—has not proved sacrosanct. For example, when Baiz sought to promote Bridgemohan, his long-time colleague, to fill Pryce-Harvey’s shoes as assistant principal, Estrella is said to have nixed the plan. It was the sort of interference in principal decision making unprecedented in Global Tech’s seven year history.

Estrella did not return repeated requests for an interview.

Many seasoned educators have voted with their feet. Spurred by new testing and teacher-evaluation mandates, as well as dismay over meddling by a newly muscular central administration, several veteran principals retired or transferred to new jobs at the end of the Bloomberg administration and beginning of the de Blasio administration. Many of those who remain report feeling increasingly frustrated, especially by what they describe as the new administration’s micromanagement.

For Global Tech, one of the few certainties is that as long as Baiz and the school’s long-time teachers remain, they will continue to serve a much needed support for students and alums.

PRIOR COVERAGE OF GLOBAL TECH, THE IZONE, & MORE FROM ANDREA GABOR:

A Harlem Middle School Bets on Technology

City Schools Gamble on Going Digitial

In the Waning Months of Bloomberg's Tenure, A Signature Education Innovation is at a Crossroads

When Making a Great Teacher is a Team Effort

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Andrea Gabor is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College/CUNY and is working on a new book on education reform. On Twitter @aagabor.

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City Council Embraces Mental Health First Aid


MHFA Training

Mental Health First Aid training (photo via Council Member Cohen's office)


As City Council members we are known mainly for our work of enacting legislation, passing the budget, and land use determinations. What is often overlooked is the business our offices and staff do all day, every day -- the business of constituent services. Any community member can walk off the street into our district offices or call those offices by phone and will be assisted by staff on whatever the issue may be.

You can come in if you need a document notarized or if you call in a 311 complaint and want help to follow up. If you have a problem with your housing situation, a traffic and safety issue, or a quality of life concern in your neighborhood, we can help. It is through this work that we learn about the priorities in our communities and the needs of our constituents, and these interactions are often the inspiration for legislation or for funding a new project.

Constituent services are the lifeblood of our work as Council members. New Yorkers rely upon these services and it is through these services that we encounter all different people, with a variety of needs and concerns, including persons with mental illness. In fact, one in five New Yorkers experience a mental health issue in a given year. Therefore, the Council is participating in the Mental Health First Aid initiative, including a two-day program this week that includes dozens of participants that work for the City Council and its elected members.

Mental Health First Aid trains people to support someone who may be suffering from a mental health condition, helps to reduce bias against mental illness, and allows people to more comfortably engage with mental health issues. The program teaches the common risk factors and warning signs of specific types of illnesses, such as anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and schizophrenia. It prepares participants to interact with a person in crisis and connect the person with help, whether it is professional, peer, social, or self-help care. Like CPR, Mental Health First Aiders are certified to deliver the initial intervention to an individual experiencing mental health problems until the appropriate treatment and support are received or the crisis resolves.

We are embarking on a new era in mental health, one where the shame, silence, and stigma that have surrounded mental illness are losing their stronghold. This City Council and this city administration are leading the way in bringing mental health out of the shadows and into the light. The Council is prepared to do its part in changing the culture of mental health, by doing what we do best: conscientious constituent services, one New Yorker at a time.

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Andrew Cohen is the New York City Council Member representing District 11 in the Bronx, which includes Bedford Park, Kingsbridge, Norwood, Riverdale, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield and Woodlawn. On Twitter @AndrewCohenNYC.

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To Prevent Zika Threats, Reproductive Health Care is Necessary


bassett mayor zika nychealthy

City's health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, discusses Zika (photo: @nychealthy)


As the Zika virus continues to make headlines around the world, it is crucial that our city, state and federal governments do all that they can to prevent the spread of Zika. This is especially important in New York City, home to approximately 25% of the cases in the United States.   

Our elected officials are doing just that. The Mayor’s Office has unveiled a three-year plan focused on increasing clinical services, controlling mosquito populations, and raising public awareness through media campaigns and outreach to over 200 health care providers that serve New York City women. Additionally, just this week, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James put forth a list of recommendations to prevent the spread of Zika in our city, which among its many important proposals, calls for more education and increased access to sexual and reproductive health services to protect New Yorkers from exposure to Zika and its related health risks.

Zika is primarily spread by mosquito bites. However, we now understand that it can also be transmitted sexually. The CDC recommends that men with symptoms abstain from sex or use condoms for at least six months and that all people who travel to places where Zika is spreading abstain from sex for at least eight weeks or use barrier methods like condoms or dental dams, whether they have symptoms or not.

At Planned Parenthood of New York City, we have long recognized how integral it is to public health that all people have the services and information they need to decide if and when to have children, and to protect their sexual health. This is even more critical with the threat of the Zika virus and its effects on infant development.

As one of the city’s leading provider of high-quality sexual and reproductive health care services, PPNYC delivers the care New Yorkers need to reduce the likelihood of sexual transmission of Zika through the provision of condoms and other forms of birth control that can prevent or delay pregnancy until the risk has passed.

Additionally, we understand that in the face of Zika, it is imperative that we continue to protect access to safe and legal abortion. As of August 2016, 49 pregnant women have tested positive for the Zika virus in New York City. PPNYC is committed to making sure that all people have the information and services necessary to make the best decision for them, whether that is to prevent unintended pregnancy, safely end a pregnancy, or carry a pregnancy to term and raise a child.

The importance of sexual and reproductive health services to public health cannot be overstated.

We applaud Mayor de Blasio and Public Advocate James for emphasizing the importance of stemming the spread of Zika, and for recognizing how PPNYC’s services can help ensure that all New Yorkers have the resources and care they need to protect themselves and their families against Zika.

PPNYC is proud to be working alongside our city’s other health care providers and elected officials to reduce the transmission of the Zika virus to keep New Yorkers healthy.

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Joan Malin is President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City.

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