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Opinion

Op-Ed: Why Bloomberg's Housing Policies May Have Been Fundamentally Flawed


Hammel Houses in Queens, image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s second term, homelessness in his city was at an all-time high: Nearly 40,000 New Yorkers were without homes, which was astronomical considering the city’s homeless population had never reached 30,000 before Bloomberg took office. In response, he laid out an ambitious five-year plan to reduce homelessness by two-thirds.

Eight years later, 48,694 people were homeless, according to the New York City Department of Homeless Services.

What went wrong?

The administration’s critics might say that the mayor’s housing policies failed because he’s out of touch with most New Yorkers. His recent gaffe — ”nobody sleeps on the streets” — and the administration’s infamous policy of offering homeless families one-way tickets out of town certainly give credence to that idea. Critics may also point to the mayor’s support for the continued conversion of the city’s rent-regulated system to a market rate system, which continues to obliterate the city’s affordable housing stock.

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However, the mayor’s defenders would probably suggest that the rise in homelessness has more to do with nationwide phenomena; every city suffered during the severe economic downturn and collapse of the housing market, and this helped to create a perfect storm that no one could navigate, not even a man who became famous for understanding market forces. If people don’t have money, they can’t afford a place to live, simple as that.

Whichever camp you’re in, you would probably agree that the mayor’s efforts were, overall, unsuccessful. But was this a result of a billionaire’s blind faith in free markets or of housing policies that were fundamentally flawed?

When it came to the housing crisis that plagued all three of his four-year terms, Bloomberg clearly believed the road to success would be paved by the real estate industry.

Much of the administration’s efforts to curb homelessness relied on encouraging developers to create affordable housing; the “New Marketplace Plan” and 80/20 buildings, where 80 percent of the tenants pay market rate rent and 20 percent have their rents subsidized, trade attractive tax abatements for affordability (until the apartment becomes market rate).

These programs exempt building owners from paying the full real-property tax rate, and one tax abatement program, according to the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, results in an annual $257 million in uncollected city taxes.

But the mayor’s ideology dictates that such incentives are necessary, and that the market forces will solve problems in the long run. And it’s not far-fetched to view his appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board — a group of nine individuals that determine rent hike limits for nearly one million rent stabilized apartments — as an extension of that ideology. Two-thirds of the board members have backgrounds in investment banking, finance, or the real estate industry.

Perhaps the administration’s proximity to the real estate industry helped create the impression that he was far removed from the world of everyday people, and Bloomberg’s creation and preservation of approximately 150,000 affordable housing units and the expansion of supportive housing for people with disabilities, mental health, or substance use issues is overshadowed because of his relationships with realtors.

But the administration’s often-documented poor management of the city’s public housing system, the discontinuation of giving homeless families priority for Section 8 vouchers, and the de-funding of rental assistance programs suggest the mayor simply made bad decisions.

While tax abatements may have temporarily created more affordable housing units, tax breaks ultimately mean less revenue. So while developers took advantage of programs designed with building owners in mind, many of the city’s programs that were designed with the current and potential tenant in mind (as well as the homeless and potentially homeless) anguished. The “Advantage” program — which helped families leave shelters by finding apartments and work — was abruptly discontinued. Forty-four percent of the defunct program’s participants applied for shelter within a year. The program’s failure was reminiscent of its predecessor, the Housing Stability Plus program, which also resulted in many of the former participants returning to homeless shelters.

The mayor even lobbied against a measure that sought to save city funds and prevent homelessness among disabled New Yorkers living with AIDS. He insisted that there was a start up cost for the policy change, which advocates continue to dispute. However, both the mayor and AIDS housing advocates would probably agree that any cost associated with the proposed policy is dwarfed by the amount of money the city handed out in tax breaks to the real estate industry.

In addition to the quarter of a billion dollars the city sacrificed to entice developers into building affordable housing units, the Pratt Center for Community Development estimated the city gave away another $750 million per year because of a tax abatement program that doesn’t stipulate affordable housing units at all.

A full and thorough examination of Mayor Bloomberg’s 12-year record on housing reveals his commitment to free market principles as well as his astonishingly poor decision-making.

But maybe it’s not that complicated: New York’s income disparity gap — which was already one of the widest in the country — continues to grow. At the end of Bloomberg’s three terms, the gap has grown to rival sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2012 report by the US Census Bureau.

While Mayor Bloomberg tried everything from building more affordable housing units to shipping homeless people out of town, he did nothing to address poverty. His policies may have made the problem worse. And if you don’t have money, you can’t afford a place to live.

It can’t be any simpler.

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Jaron Benjamin is the executive director of the Met Council on Housing, New York City's oldest tenant union. He is also the coordinator of the Real Rent Reform Campaign, which represents thousands of lower and moderate income tenants throughout New York City.

 

The Next Mayor Needs To Make Job Creation A Priority


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Okay, stop us if you’ve heard this one: A guy walks into a New York City employment assistance office. He’s just been laid off, and he’s terrified. At the assistance center, he receives a cursory assessment of his interests, skills and barriers. No one there has a record of whether this is the first time he’s used the workforce system, or whether he has already received multiple services — the city has no system-wide data bank.

He’s given a voucher to attend a training class in an occupation he’s interested in and heads off to one of those proprietary schools he’s seen advertised on the subway. But after completing the training, it turns out that few employers are hiring right now for that type of job — the city workforce system doesn’t always use up-to-date labor-market information.

He’s then sent off to several interviews with employers where his skills are not a good match — his job counselor doesn’t have a close relationship with local employers and doesn’t know what they’re really looking for.

Soon he’s discouraged and decides that the workforce system is not worth his time and local employers are frustrated because they’re not seeing any candidates with the right skills — the system is not fully meeting the needs of either job seekers or businesses.

This story will be repeated all too often unless the next Mayor of New York City redesigns the entire workforce system. Though the Bloomberg Administration significantly improved the workforce system the past several years — despite decreasing federal and state financial support — the current system has likely improved as much as it can within the limits of its siloed and fragmented framework.

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With New York City’s unemployment rate hovering at 9 percent, the next mayor will make job creation for all New Yorkers a top priority. And yet our next mayor will face an even greater challenge: Public funding for workforce development is in steady decline—the city’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA) dollars were more than cut in half over the past decade, with many in Congress urging still further cuts—while the city’s job growth will likely continue to lag behind its population growth.

In response, the New York City Workforce Funders (a collaborative of NYC foundations investing more than $55 million annually into workforce development) and The Clark Foundation commissioned an independent Workforce Strategy Group to “re-envision the New York City workforce system.”

A Workforce System That Works

The good news is that our next mayor will have the power to redesign New York City’s workforce system into an innovative engine for job creation that serves both employers and jobseekers: The Strategy Group just published “Re-envisioning the New York City Workforce System,” which proposes an entirely new framework for how the workforce system could serve both businesses and jobseekers across the five boroughs.

The re-envisioning document frames five key recommendations for all the mayoral candidates to consider:

  1. Appoint a “job czar, ” reporting directly to the mayor, to oversee all workforce resources in the city under one office.
  2. Establish a network of nonprofit workforce partnerships, responsible for coordinating funding streams and putting programs into practice.
  3. Realign financing to reward long-term job outcomes, so that more workers stick with jobs once they are placed in them.
  4. Design a universal data system, to eliminate redundancy and help programs make informed decisions about what works to create jobs.
  5. Create a formal Council of Workforce Advisors made up of foundations, businesses, unions and non-profit organizations to advise the mayor on creating a 21st-Century training and employment system.

Re-envisioning the New York City Workforce System is a blueprint that the next Mayor can use to deliver on the promise of job creation across all five boroughs of New York City.

David LaGreca is executive director of VCG Governance Matters and co-chaired the New York City Workforce Strategy Group, along with Steven Dawson, strategic advisor to PHI. The Workforce Strategy Group included a diverse range of workforce stakeholders with decades of experience in the city’s workforce system. As a volunteer group, its charge was not to articulate the vision for the future, but rather a vision, one intended to engender spirited debate within the workforce, employer, philanthropic and public policy communities. Copies of Re-envisioning the New York City Workforce System are available at: http://www.reenvisionworknyc.org/.

Image courtesy of Thompson Rivers, used under Creative Commons license. 

We Need a Public Health Mayor


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When I walk around the city, listen to people describe their experiences, and observe my own family members, I grow disheartened. Too many New Yorkers are unhealthy because they have inadequate housing, are living in poverty, are unemployed or have low paying jobs, lack access to quality education and nutrition, are bearing inequitable environmental burdens, lack access to open space and safe areas for exercise. These “social determinants of health” adversely affect their health status.

New York needs a “Public Health Mayor” who will address these issues.

Municipal leaders are charged with promoting the health and safety of their city's residents. New York City is no different and, with a diverse city like the Big Apple, it is surely not an easy responsibility for any mayor to tackle.

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However, it is unacceptable that almost 2.5 million New Yorkers have been characterized as “medically underserved” — lacking sufficient primary and preventive care services — and that major gaps in public-health status persist in our city. These gaps were very apparent the day after Superstorm Sandy, when parts of the city’s health care system operated full swing while others were virtually immobilized.

Our next mayor must focus on eliminating health disparities, particularly in immigrant communities and communities of color. This can be done by ensuring the availability of culturally and linguistically appropriate services; improving access to health care for immigrants, the uninsured, and the underinsured; promoting effective primary care and prevention services; helping individuals with disabilities and chronic illnesses like HIV/AIDS; protecting resources for women’s health, children’s health, mental health, and early intervention; and developing a high-quality and diverse workforce within the healthcare industry; addressing issues impacting sex workers; and key parts of the Affordable Care Act incentives healthy outcomes, especially for vulnerable communities.

We need assurances that the next mayor will continue to support the public health and hospital system, with health services in medically underserved communities.

There are many moral arguments for public health issues to be one of the incoming mayor’s top priorities. However, I also recognize the insufficiency of those arguments. It is also important to understand the economic case for action. Small investments in prevention can stave off higher future health costs. Mayoral leadership on public policy recommendations like paid sick days only makes our workforce more productive and improves the health of our fellow New Yorkers. Providing social supports to pregnant and parenting women and families has been shown to improve birth outcomes, and avoid costly ongoing infant medical costs. The next mayor can ensure the sustainment of low-cost or no-cost measures that can jumpstart local efforts to address public health concerns and issues.

Whatever your opinion is about the current mayoral administration’s priorities around public health concerns, there is still a need for a systematic, comprehensive and holistic approach that truly involves planning from the ground up.

A “Public Health Mayor” must recognize the indispensable role that community members and labor play in improving health care throughout the city, and through leadership must create an environment that includes community voices in the decision-making and policy-setting processes.

In appointing people to positions such as the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Health, the mayor can exercise this type of leadership by selecting people who value community input and support community-led approaches to closing the gaps in health status. This can only be successful if the “Public Health Mayor” devotes sufficient attention to these issues, commits the necessary revenue and resources, ensures transparency in spending and operations, and provides accountability for public health programs.

We must recognize that a great city like New York can only fulfill its promise of greatness when it is better for everyone on all economic and social justice issues. For many of our community partners, the Mayor can make a profound effect on access to health care, prevention, wellness and other health issues. The next mayor must be a “Public Health Mayor” who will make addressing public health issues as one of the his or her highest priorities.

Anthony Feliciano is the director for the Commission on the Public’s Health System, whose mission is to fight for equal access to quality healthcare for everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, language spoken, diagnosis, or the ability to pay. CPHS coordinated a coalition of community, labor, academic, professional organizations and individuals who sponsored a New York City Mayoral Candidate Forum on Important Public Health Issues on January 16th, 2013. 

Taking A Stand To Restore Paralysis Research in New York State


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There seems to be no greater punishment than paralysis.

It’s easy, lazy even, for me to say -- so many people struggle with horrific illnesses and severe physical challenges. It’s impossible to rank one over the next. But people with spinal cord injuries, and their families, experience a unique, constant anguish.

I found this to be true on July 4, 1998, the single worst day of my nearly 29-year life.

My brother Jeff, then 17, had always been the type to self soothe teenage hormonal episodes with sports — lacrosse, basketball, snow boarding, you name it.

It was with his typical confident skill that he effortlessly dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool. I don’t need to close my eyes to remember what it looked like -- a clean move, one he’d made so many times before.

One simple dive, and our world collapsed. Drowning. My parents’ screams as they jumped into the pool fully clothed. The shock of witnessing a grown boy lifeless and blue, cradled in my mom and dad’s arms.

In an exceedingly cruel twist of fate, athletic Jeff fractured his neck, injured the C1-C2 vertebrae in his spinal column, and at 17 became a high level quadriplegic.

To think about that day is to forget how to breathe, and each flash brings with it an almost unimaginable anguish.

Jeff has battled to adapt to his new life in the years since — navigating a wheelchair, operating a phrenic nerve pacemaker — and the daunting social isolation that comes from being dependent on 24/7 care.

As his sister, and not his primary caregiver, it is agonizing to see his spirits diminish and not know how to respond. As the years go by, his body and soul continues to atrophy. The boy that ran to the field as I would the stage is now imprisoned in his body, a shell of what could have been.

I spent the night of his accident an anxious, bewildered 14-year old, pacing the bedroom of a family friend, realizing there was a great chance Jeff would die, and nothing I could do would save him.

And yet, he survived. Nearly 15 years later, he is alive. And what remains is an extraordinarily intelligent, well spoken, man. A man with life I once thought was lost forever.

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To consider his medical situation “lucky” is to have a measure of grace I do not comprehend. And yet, his story is not over. There are scientists and medical researchers in my state, New York, devoted to the hope that one day Jeff will be reborn again. That there will be a cure for paralysis -- that perhaps a family, years from now, will have treatment options that have yet been discovered.

The New York Spinal Cord Injury Research Program has raised over $70 million for spinal cord research since 1998. This money was raised through moving violation penalties that were put aside into a state fund specifically geared toward spinal cord research grants. And yet, due to political maneuvering beyond my comprehension, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo followed former Governor David Paterson in rerouting these necessary research funds into the state’s general fund. The money is available, but the leadership needed to maintain this financial commitment to paralysis research is gone.

Cuomo’s office said there are no plans to restore this vital funding to spinal cord research. This is absolutely unacceptable, and insulting. As a result of his inaction, potential cures have stalled without the necessary funding needed for scientific growth. Governor Cuomo, this funding must be restored for the 2013-2014 budget.

We must take a stand for the 5.6 million Americans with a form of paralysis. We must take a stand for the researchers currently paralyzed in a pool of red tape.

Take a stand. So that Jeff, one day, can join me.

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Sarah Galli is the Founder & Executive Producer of Born for Broadway, whose mission is to engage college campuses in raising funds for paralysis related organizations through performance, with an annual Broadway gala showcasing the performances of both established Broadway performers as well as up and coming talent. She also co-chairs the Political Advocacy Network for WIN.NYC, dedicated to empowering young, pro choice, Democratic women. For more information, please visit www.bornforbroadway.com. Image of Jeff courtesy the author. Photo by Kenie Huber. Used by permission. 

Downtown, West Side to Lose Voting Power Under Council Redistricting Plan


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After many delays and revisions, the New York City Districting Commission has presented its final proposed new City Council district map to the City Council for approval. Every ten years, the City Council’s lines, like those of every legislative body in the country, must be changed to reflect changes in population as determined by the Census. As the Council has ultimate authority over land use decisions and landmark designations, its decennial redistricting is of course of great interest to us.

One might expect pretty substantial changes in the boundary lines of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Council districts. These districts encompass the Village, East Village, and NoHo, among many other downtown and West Side neighborhoods, and each of these districts grew faster than the city as a whole (in fact, the 1st had one of the largest population increases of any district in the city, while the 3rd , consisting of much of the Village, Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen, had the largest of all fifty-one districts).

But in spite of these dramatic population changes, the Commission proposes only very slight changes to the boundaries of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Council districts, unlike many others in the city. This means that residents of the Village, East Village and the other neighborhoods in these three districts would be among the most underrepresented in the City Council under the proposed new plan. In fact, residents of the 1st and 3rd Council districts, which include most of the Village, would actually be the most underrepresented in the City Council, and have the least voting power, of any residents in the entire city.

READ THE ENTIRE POST HERE

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Andrew Berman is the Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. 

Guest Commentary: Means, Ends and State Constitutional Reform


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Politicians weigh means against ends every day. It’s part of the job description. In a masterful film, Steven Speilberg showed us how Lincoln balanced means and ends as he sought the abolition of slavery. The message: bend the rules, but don’t break them: trading jobs for votes was O.K. to pass the 13th amendment; buying them for cash, not O.K. It worked. History was made.

We are not hearing too much these days about New York state government being dysfunctional. Fiscal discipline has been established. Gay marriage was passed. A new decentralized regional economic development paradigm was put in place and made to work. After years of wrangling, scandal and stasis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown that New York State government can get things done.

He saw another opportunity to get things done in the tsunami of public demand for action in response to the tragic massacre of children at Newtown Connecticut. Though gun control was not on his announced agenda for the 2013 legislative session, he promised “the toughest assault weapon ban in the nation.” Cuomo wanted The New York SAFE Act passed fast — both because the iron was hot, and because of the danger that gun control would preempt his pre-laid plans for the session. And he wanted it passed first: before any other governor; before the president. To restore New York’s leadership, he said. To elevate his own political prospects, others opined.   

The governor lined up the votes, and issued a Message of Necessity. By this means the constitutional three day waiting period in the Legislature for acting on legislation was bypassed. No matter that Cuomo had previously been critical of the use of such messages in the absence of a true emergency, and in fact had refused to issue one while still passing a timely budget last year. The gun control bill passed. The end justified the means.

When things seem to be working, governmental structures and processes are a concern for a few professors, a few lawyers, an occasional elected official and a handful of others organized in so-called “good government’ (goo goo) groups. Legislators and lobbyists don’t usually embrace changes in ways of doing business that that they know intimately, and that have made them winners. Their mantra: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Cuomo came into office when things were widely believed to be broken. His key campaign policy document, The New New York Agenda, embraced a great range of structural reforms in state and local government. Thus far, results have been disappointing. Government reform goals – means – have been traded for fiscal and programmatic goals — ends.  The constitutional amendment on legislative redistricting, and now scheduled for a referendum vote in 2014, is a prime example. It does not give us a neutral process. The Legislature remains in control, with the Republicans in the Senate, teetering on the abyss, gaining an insurance policy against Democrats doing unto them in the future what they had always done to Democrats in the past. Hardly reform.

[Editor's Note: Read a letter from Citizens Union and the League of Women Voters on why the constitutional amendment on legislative redistricting was a victory for reform.]

The simple message: making government work is the enemy of reforming government, because it signals — falsely — that institutions and processes need no attention.

Another process change essential for democratizing our politics, campaign finance reform, will again be considered this year. Perhaps with Gov. Cuomo’s leadership, some progress will be made. Yet the agenda is packed, and the opportunities for tradeoffs abound. And even if the influence of big money in our politics can be mitigated through legislation, we still will have what Professor Peter Galie has begun to call our “Potemkin constitution,” full of provisions that have been emptied of meaning through practice or interpretation. We still have a Legislature too diminished in budgetary powers. We still have a judicial system that is in needed of serious structural reform. We still need to give the governor better tools for reorganizing the executive branch.   

The “means” of government, how things are structured and should work, is the special province of the state constitution. In the New NY Agenda, Cuomo called for a people’s constitutional convention to address the big “means” questions we face. Cuomo’s success in making our flawed system work does not diminish the urgent need to make that system better. The next time we have a real chance will be in 2017, when the constitution requires that the automatic constitutional convention vote be held.  

The opportunity to make the “means” of state government New York’s foremost concern presents Andrew Cuomo with a rare chance for truly transformative leadership: a Lincolnesque moment. Will he seize it?

 

Why Grassroots Activism Matters to New York City


 

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New York City is simply not working for a large percentage of the population. In Manhattan, the top 20 percent of families earn forty times more than the bottom 20 percent of families. The city’s homeless shelter population continues to grow and includes an unacceptable 20,000 children a night.  Poor Black and Latino children are disproportionately likely to attend the most troubled schools with the fewest resources. People on the margins struggle with a fraying social service safety net, and immigrants, homeless people and Black and Latino youth face harsh crackdowns on their basic rights.

The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy brought this reality into stark relief. Firms around Wall Street were up and running in a matter of hours. But just blocks away in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, people had no information or basic essentials for days. And in places like the Rockaways, Coney Island and Midland Beach on Staten Island, residents are still fighting for a return to normalcy. In these and other neighborhoods, local organizations are now coordinating an advocacy campaign to demand proper recovery plans.

To address inequities like these, North Star Fund is launching a $7 million Activism’s Future campaign. Our goal is to build a robust movement to close the chasm between New York City’s richest and poorest citizens. Through Activism’s Future, we are strategically partnering with grassroots activists in communities most affected by injustice. By growing our commitment to these groups, North Star Fund will strengthen the capacity of activist organizations and coalitions, and will fund victories that greatly improve lives in our city. In the process we will put forth a new model of progressive activism for our nation.

Grassroots activists directly affected by injustice are our best hope for creating real change. They know firsthand which policies aren’t working and which programs must be expanded. And with head, heart and bullhorn, they are taking on City Hall every day. Effective grassroots organizers often wield enormous influence in relation to their size and budget.

To expand grassroots leadership and secure activism’s future, North Star Fund will double its funding to activists so that they can use tools of organizing like public demonstrations, coalition building, and meetings with legislators to stand up for their rights. North Star will also expand the training of local leaders to organize their communities and build alliances to broaden their reach, and increase media coverage of social justice issues.

As a great city, we need to keep issues of equality, economic justice and peace on the front page and in the front of peoples’ minds. Finally, North Star Fund will broaden the community of donors who support activism in order to build a bigger and stronger social justice community.

Activism’s Future we will make New York City a place we can all be proud to call home. And it will safeguard one of our most valuable assets, our community of activists.

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Hugh Hogan is the executive director of the North Star Fund which, since 1979, has awarded approximately $41 million to over 1,750 community groups — from kitchen table activists fighting for better housing to citywide movements to protect civil rights. Images courtesy of the North Star Fund.

Hunger After Superstorm Sandy: Why We Need The Kosher and Halal Food Act


More than one million New Yorkers are in danger of going hungry every year, according to the National Coalition Against Hunger. Even before super storm Sandy hit, our city’s emergency food providers saw a 20 percent increase in the need for their services in 2012  — with the fastest growth in demand from families with children. Since Sandy, the number of people who need food assistance is only increasing.

GG CommentaryObservant Jewish and Muslim families are not immune from this crisis. In fact, an estimated 330,000 Jewish households in New York City and 300,000 Muslim households in the tri-state area live in poverty. Because of the dietary requirements of their faith, many families we serve are unable to rely on the federally funded network of food pantries to feed their families. As social service providers, it is not unusual for us to see dozens of families in a single day who are going hungry because there are no Kosher and Halal options in food pantries. And since the storm, we have had to double our efforts to serve families in the hardest-hit communities while continuing to help those in need outside of Zone A.

The examples are heartbreaking. After Sandy, a Muslim single mother with three young children did not have enough money to go grocery shopping. When she sought help at a public food pantry, none of the food available was Halal. A low-income Jewish family with two children under the age of five lost power during the storm and all of their Kosher food was ruined. Volunteers came to the neighborhood to help out in the only ways they could, but without any kosher food.
 
For these needy New Yorkers, the resources simply are not there and they are faced with an impossible choice -- sacrificing their faith or going hungry. Imagine looking into your child’s eyes and telling him or her that there is no protein for dinner.
 
Thankfully, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressmember Joe Crowley have introduced legislation that would ensure that some of our state’s most vulnerable families will no longer have to go hungry. As part of the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Kosher and Halal Food Act of 2013 would increase the supply of food for Kosher and Halal food pantries to address this demand, hopefully decreasing the number of New Yorkers going hungry in 2013 and beyond.
 
The legislation would also require the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to target, label, and track distribution of Kosher and Halal food to ensure that food bank operators can properly identify the protein for those who need it. Providing these types of meals would help so many in need, and would come at no extra cost to the state.
 
We agree with Senator Gillibrand when she says that “we must take steps to help the neediest observant families and children get access to nutritious food during these difficult times.” Now more than ever, as Sandy has devastated our most vulnerable populations and caused even more families to slip into poverty, we must take this simple step to ensure that no one is left behind.

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William Rapfogel, executive director & CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty
Mohammad Razvi, executive director of the Council of Peoples Organization

Guest Commentary: The Unity Map and City Council Redistricting


NEW YORK — The redistricting battles are here again. Every 10 years, the New York City Council embarks upon a quasi-independent process of redrawing its legislative boundaries to comport with the demographic changes evidenced in the U.S. Census.  

And every 10 years activists, lawyers, elected officials and political pundits weigh in on what is essentially a bare-knuckles political exercise.

Earlier this year, the worst aspects of redistricting made a comeback appearance in Albany.

First, the Legislature completely abdicated its role in redesigning congressional districts, forcing a federal court to usurp a state function at considerable public expense.

Then the three men in the room brokered a late night resolution of state Senate and state Assembly lines that especially flummoxed the liberal activists who were well within striking distance of initiating independent redistricting at the state level, but now have nothing to show for their efforts.

CommentaryNew York City Council redistricting is an entirely different affair. Gone are the partisan battles between D’s and R’s. Instead, political machinations about positioning for mayoral and City Council president runs provide the subtext for who’s on the outside looking in during redistricting.

Term limits clearly add another layer of complexity or, should I say, relief, since it reduces the incumbent protection mantra that characterizes most redistricting wars.  

All of it lands in the lap of the Redistricting Commission appointed by the Council and the mayor that provides, at least in part, a buffer between naked political ambition and revenge and transparency.

The process, however, is also beholden to the principles of racial and language minority equality as embodied in the Voting Rights Act, the federal law that has clearly protected marginalized voters from Black, Asian and Latino communities from the abuses of incumbency protection.

Unity-CC-2012-sm2This is where the Unity Plan comes in as a marker of what a compromise plan that strives to comply with federal and state law can achieve in a complex, multi-racial city. Produced by mappers, activists, and lawyers from the Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund, the Center for Law & Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and the National Institute for Latino Policy, the Unity Plan represents months of mapping scenarios, community meetings, legal discussions, and consultation with minority elected officials.

The Voting Rights Act requires the city to demonstrate that the voting strength of protected minorities in three of the city’s boroughs does not retrogress compared to what they possessed at the time of the plan’s submission for federal approval, or preclearance.

The Act also has a general guarantee on non-discrimination that provides blacks, Asians and Latinos an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice.

Finally, the constitutional requirement of equality in population, “one person, one vote” and the case law mandate that prohibits the division of communities of interest created additional guide posts for the Unity Map engagement.  

Following these precepts and accounting for the shifts and increases in black, Asian and Latino populations, the overall Unity plan unites communities of interest between Asians in Chinatown and Latinos in the Lower East Side; reduces significantly the fracturing of Asian communities in Richmond Hill and Bensonhurst; creates an additional Latino majority district in upper Manhattan; and solidifies black communities of interest in Jamaica and Canarsie.

The Unity Map is the first citywide proposal received by the Redistricting Commission that attempts to address the multiple requirements under voting rights law.

But it really is an opening salvo in a longer engagement with the public and the commission.  

Earlier this week, the commission issued its own preliminary draft, which itself is the starting point for negotiations. At least it better be because the commission’s plan egregiously splits Asian communities in Bensonhurst, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Elmhurst and Bayside; black communities in Canarsie and Wakefield; and Latino communities in Soundview, Bronx River, Westchester, Mount Eden, and Highbridge in the Bronx.

In short, the commission has yet to fully account for the distribution of racial and language minorities – something that it must do successfully to obtain preclearance, and something that the Unity Plan proponents will monitor vigorously.

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Juan Cartagena is president and general counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a civil rights and advocacy organization founded in the early 1970s.

Commentaries '99-03


Cooking With Gas (10/13/03) Once viewed as a pesky nuisance, natural gas has become more and more in demand - and more and more expensive. Sam Williams follows the journey that gas makes from prehistoric swamp to the grills, stoves, furnaces, clothing dryers and power plants of New York City.

Learning From L.A. (10/06/03) New Yorkers like to say that the only advantage to Los Angeles is being able to make a right turn on a red light. Not true, says David Halle, who argues that the nation's two largest cities can learn from each other's errors and innovations.

The Citizen (9/29/03) In this October edition of The Citizen, we take a look at protests surrounding immigrant issues, spirituality in immigrant communities and immigrant reaction to the second anniversary of 9/11. Articles from the Bengali, Chinese, French, Korean and Spanish press.

Guns in New York (9/22/03) The fatal shooting of Councilmember James Davis in City Hall has focused attention on gun violence in the city, and prompted a series of new gun control bills, including one that would give family members of victims the right to sue gun manufacturers for damages.

What Made The Blackout of 2003 Inevitable (9/15/03) Richard Hirsh argues that deregulation was a likely culprit.

My Own Private Blackout (9/15/03) Mike Misner explains why it was in some ways a good thing -- blackouts make environmentalists such as himself feel less guilty.

Campaign 2003 - Guide to the Last Minute Voter (9/08/03) A step-by-step guide to voting in New York's Primary Election on Tuesday, September 9th.

The Citizen? (9/1/03) In this September edition of The Citizen, we take a look at immigrant reactions to the blackout, primary elections in immigrant districts and minorities in the judicial system. Articles from the Bengali, Chinese, French, Korean and Spanish press.

Should Non-Citizens Be Allowed To Vote? (8/25/03) Over a million New Yorkers live, work, and pay taxes in the city, but they can not vote because they are not legal U.S. citizens. There is a movement afoot to give non-citizens the right to vote in local elections.

The Power Broker Revisited (8/18/03) In the debate over current NYC projects, from the rebuilding of Ground Zero to the bid for the 2012 Olympics, Robert Moses' influence is felt above all others -- a man who has been dead for more than two decades.

A Community Plan for Robert Moses' "Highway to Nowhere" (8/18/03) Community groups in the Bronx have a plan for Moses' Sheridan Expressway, a 1.25 mile stretch of highway that has been called a "road to nowhere." They want to tear it down.

After the Blackout -- Going Back to the Experts (8/18/03) Three days after we first posted our article (Studying How To Avoid Blackouts) about the effort Con Edison was making to avoid blackouts in New York, New Yorkers were among the victims of the largest blackout in the nation's history - and it had nothing to do with the research Con Edison was conducting.

Studying How to Avoid Blackouts (8/11/03) On stifling summer days, New Yorkers worry about power overload and power failure. Con Edison has opened a new research lab -- a mock manhole in the Bronx -- to study the problem. But critics say it could do more.

The Citizen (8/04/03) In this August edition of The Citizen, we take a look at immigrant smuggling schemes, the city's policy on reporting illegal immigrants, the Queen of Salsa's funeral and an interview with the Ecuadorian consul. Articles from the Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Korean, Spanish press, including stories from the Independent Press Association's "Voices That Must Be Heard."

Summer School Blues (7/28/03) This year, the city has cut way back on summer classes, and school officials seem to have lost interest in them, a difficult situation for those who really need the extra help.

Taking Back the Park from Crime (7/21/03) The first chapter in New York City's much heralded, triumphant campaign against that crime wave began in Central Park in 1980. Years before Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor or Bill Bratton appointed police commissioner, the team of officials overseeing Central Park devised a strategy for making Central Park safe again.

Welfare Reform (7/14/03) Life for welfare recipients was supposed to get easier under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But now, Jonathan Hafetz writes, the mayor has attacked training programs that could help poor people find good, permanent jobs.

Ban Car Alarms! (7/07/03) The New York City Council is considering a ban on car alarms. Aaron Friedman of the group Silent Majority ("Citizens Against Car Alarms") cries hooray.

The Citizen (6/30/03) In this July edition of The Citizen, we give you a chance to take a test for citizenship -- (who said "Give me liberty or give me death?" etc.) We also look at demographic trends in Haitian, Chinese and Jewish neighborhoods, reaction to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's executive order allowing city agencies to report the undocumented to law enforcement officials, a nationwide campaign for immigrants' rights and a way to help North Korean refugees. Articles from the Chinese, French, Korean, Russian and Spanish press.

Landlord Court (6/23/03) Housing Court was established to force landlords to repair their buildings, says Joe Lamport, but instead it has turned into a collection agency for landlords. And the newly-passed rent regulation laws, he says, will only make things worse.

Instead of Non-Partisan Elections, Consider Some Real Reforms (6/17/03) Mark Green criticizes Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to put the issue of non-partisan elections on the ballot in November, explaining why he calls it "the wrong answer to a non-problem," and suggesting some real "pro-democracy reforms" for Bloomberg's charter commission to consider.

An Appalachian Trail Through the Heart Of NYC (6/09/03) Will the City of New York ruin its chance to be part of the East Coast Greenway, a bicycle and pedestrian path as ambitious as the Appalachian Trail that will go right through the central business district of every big city on the East coast — except perhaps New York?

The Citizen (6/02/03) In this June edition of The Citizen, we take a look at pending legislation calling for more assistance to undocumented immigrants, a shifting attitude toward education among younger Poles, a labor movement that could hurt Korean business and a special section about food, from caviar to soup kitchens. Articles from the Chinese, Polish, Korean, Russian and Spanish language press.

Non-Partisan Man (5/23/03) Voters in most of the country's largest cities choose their mayors in elections in which candidates run not as Democrats or Republicans but as individuals. Frank Macchiarola, chair of the mayor's Charter Revision Commission, writes that it is time for New York to join this group. Changing the election rules, he argues, would encourage greater voter turnout and lead to a larger number of qualified candidates vying for office.

Judge to MTA: Tell the Truth (5/19/03) Last week's decision by a state Supreme Court judge to roll back the increase in the subway and bus fare is a "victory for truth," writes Gene Russianoff, whose Straphangers Campaign brought suit. He urges the MTA to earns its lesson and open up.

Transportation And Lower Manhattan: Where Do We Go From Here? (5/12/03) In 2015, if all goes as planned, people will be able to move easily to and from lower Manhattan by commuter trains and subways, and even take a one-seat ride to the airport. This vision of the future contrasts sharply with the realities of transportation in lower Manhattan today. Jeffrey Zupan explains what is planned and the decisions that must be made.

The Citizen (5/5/03)In this May edition of The Citizen, we take a look at the impact of SARS on the Chinese immigrant community, the history of immigrant soldiers in the U.S. military, the true meaning of the Cinco de Mayo celebration, Russian-Jewish immigrants' quest to live in Israel and American women's views on Arab men. Articles from the Arabic, Chinese, French, Polish, Korean, Russian and Spanish language press.

NYC Subway Token, 1953-2003 (4/28/2003) For 50 years the subway token has been a symbol of New York City, made into keyrings and ashtrays, adorning dresses and Frisbees. Starting Sunday, the only thing the New York City subway token will no longer be used for is to get you onto the subway.

Transportation as Civil Rights for the Disabled (4/21/2003) Thirteen years after the federal government made it the law that public transportation must be accessible to the disabled, New York City lags behind other American cities in what advocates see as a major local civil rights issue – the right to get around.

An Alternative to Suicide By Budget (4/14/2003) The Budget for a Livable NYC Coalition has come up with an alternative to the executive budget the mayor releases this week - an alternative revenue budget, writes Bonnie Brower, that, unlike the mayor's budget, does not rely too much on the kindness of strangers in Washington and Albany, and does not hit hardest the New Yorkers who can least afford it.

Teachers Who Quit (4/07/2003) Every year more than 11,000 New York City public school teachers leave their jobs. Some retire, some find other jobs -- but others simply cannot take it anymore. Three teachers tell why they quit teaching in city schools. It's not all about money.

The Citizen (3/31/2003) In this April edition of The Citizen, we take a look at immigrant communities' reactions to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an Al-Jazeera reporter's personal experience as an immigrant in New York, tax filing among undocumented immigrants and French business in an anti-French time. Also, articles from the Arabic, Chinese, French, Polish, Korean and Spanish language press.

Will Albany's Scandals Lead To Reform? (3/24/2003) A Pataki appointee indicted, charged with taking bribes. A corporation receiving the largest fine in the state's history for giving gifts to lawmakers. Contracts given for rebuilding lower Manhattan to major campaign contributors. These recent scandals are not isolated incidents, says Rachel Leon of Common Cause New York, who argues that there is a chance this year to begin to end the corrupt, scandal-breeding culture of Albany.

HAVA Heartburn (3/24/2003) Jillian Matundan of Citizens Union Foundation explains why New York will be uniquely affected by the new federal Help America Vote Act, probably for the worse.

City Council Or Security Council? (3/17/2003) Last week, the New York City Council joined over a hundred other cities across the country and passed a resolution stating that a war with Iraq should be a last resort. Excerpts from the liveliest council debate of the year. Also the first draft and the final draft of City Council's anti-war resolution.

Critiquing Bloomberg's Housing Plan (3/10/2003) In December, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined his plan to build or renovate 65,000 homes over the next five years, he was widely praised for his ambition. But as the details of the plan become clearer, critics say the mayor's plan falls short in several areas.

Waterfront Housing For Everyone (3/10/2003) Going beyond the mayor's proposal, City Councilmember David Yassky proposes one idea to encourage devlopers to provide more afforable housing, particularly on the waterfront.

The Citizen (3/03/2003) In this March edition of the Citizen, we take a look at immigrants views of the impending war with Iraq, a chat with the New York City Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, reaction to the new redistricting plan that's supposed to increase ethnic representation, how new traffic laws hurt Korean business, Columbus Park revitalization in Chinatown and the selection of Daniel Libeskind, immigrant, to redesign the site of the former World Trade Center. Also, articles from the Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Polish, Korean and Spanish press.

To Be Young, Gifted and Broke (2/24/2003) Individual New York artists have enough to overcome without having to compete with major cultural institutions in the city such as museums and theaters. But that is what is happening, as Justin Glanville reports, because the funds from government and private foundations are more and more going to non-profit organizations rather than individual artists.

Barred from the Ballot (2/17/2003) Under New York State law, tens of thousands of New Yorkers cannot vote because they are in jail on felony convictions. Three lawyers seeking to change the law say it illegally discriminates against black and Latino communities because, in New York, race and ethnicity have a lot to do with whether a person gets sent to prison.

Putting College Out Of Reach (2/10/2003) A college education, not a menial job, offers the best road out of poverty, but regulations keep thousands of New York welfare recipients from attending college. The city seems inclined to change this policy, but Washington might make the rules even tougher than they are now.

The Citizen. (2/3/2003) In the February edition of the Citizen, we look at the special registration program that has turned many lives upside-down, an effort to help undocumented immigrants who lost loved ones on 9/11, housing problems in the Dominican community, a shortage of Fujianese speaking social workers and why reading is the only way to save your children. Also, articles from the Chinese, Russian, Polish, Korean, Latino and Urdu press ďż˝ and much more.

Abortion In New York (1/27/2003) While much of the battle over abortion takes place in federal courts, advocates on both sides of the issue also pursue a state and local agenda. As the nation marked the 30th anniversary of the Roe V Wade decision legalizing abortion across America, a pro choice and a pro life advocate present their agendas for New York.

Downtown Democracy? (1/20/2003) At last week's public hearings on Ground Zero, Bill McLoughlin called for a separate memorial space for rescue workers. John Dellaportas urged the agency in charge to rule out a wide promenade along West Street, and Sally Regenhard said that the city of New York, not the Port Authority, should have control over the World Trade Center site. Michael Kuo and Paul Epstein used their three minutes to ask for a better public discussion, saying that these types of hearings, where whoever shows up gets to give a short speech while everyone else listens, don't make sense. Read transcripts of what these five people - and many others - had to say about rebuilding downtown.

The Bucks Start Where? (1/13/2003) Last week, President George W. Bush unveiled his $674 billion economic plan, which gives tax cuts to consumers and investors, but offers little aid to local governments. Reacting to the president's proposal, New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller writes that it is nothing more than "cynical shell game" that leaves New York drowning in red ink. In his State of the State address last week, Governor George Pataki argued the answer is to cut spending to everything except public safety. And in an address last month at the Citizens Budget Commission that is still generating discussion, Michael Bloomberg argued that commuters from upstate, New Jersey, and Connecticut must pay their share of the city's tax burden.

City Hall Quiz (1/13/2003) What do New Yorkers hate the most - noise, traffic, or rats? Is it illegal to talk on your cell phone on the subway? What new parking holidays were added in the last year? In 2002, the City Council and the mayor passed 47 new laws that they claim will make the city a better place. Test your knowledge of what they did at City Hall with our interactive quiz.

The Citizen. (1/6/2003) In the January edition of the Citizen, we look at immigrant reactions to the transfer of the immigration agency to the Homeland Security Department, the serious health challenges facing Brooklyn in 2003, and how the Queens Borough Public Library adapts to changing immigrant communities while checking out more books than any other library in the country. Also, articles from the Chinese, Russian, Polish, Korean, Latino and French press … and much more.

How To Close The Deficits (12/30/2002) Mark Green, former public advocate and former Democratic nominee for mayor of New York, explains what he thinks Mayor Michael Bloomberg should have done to avoid the cityis current fiscal crisis, and what he (and other officials) can still do to solve it.

Is Gangs of New York Historically Accurate? (12/23/2002) We asked this question of Jay Cocks, screenwriter of "Gangs of New York," and Tyler Anbinder, a historian and author of Five Points: The 19th-century New York City Neighborhood that Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became The World's Most Notorious Slum. "I would say they definitely got the hats right," said Anbinder. "But the neighborhood was not nearly as lawless as the movie implies."

Evicting the Homeless (12/16/2002) Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan that would create more housing than the city has built at any time since the 1980s, as Rebecca Webber reports in the Housing Topic Page. But at the same time that the mayor works to house the homeless and those of low income, he also has gone to court to gain the legal right to evict people from homeless shelters. Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless argues that if the Bloomberg administration is successful, it could thrust the city back into the days when “more than 30 homeless people died on city streets every month, and hypothermia and injuries were common.”

The Private School Alternative (12/9/02) Only a small fraction of New York City parents can afford to pay tuition at private schools, let alone arrange a million-dollar contribution to the nursery school of their choice to improve their kids' chances for admission, as stock analyst Jack Grubman reportedly did. As some educators and officials consider private schools as a model for educating all children, Teresa Kennedy looks at what these schools actually offer and how they operate.

The Citizen (12/2/2002) In the December edition of the Citizen, we look at how some New York hospitals are trying to better serve immigrants, the Polish joke phenomenon and the debate surrounding the northernmost member of New York City's Museum Mile, El Museo Del Barrio. Also, articles from the Chinese, Russian, Polish, Korean, Latino, French and Arabic press.

What Happened To My School?(11/25/02) In September, 1998, the Manuel de Dios Unanue School of Journalism, the only such middle school in the nation, opened its doors. Over the next four years, the school lost much of its identity -- its name, its location, its entire initial faculty, its original purpose. It was combined with two other schools, and then separated out again. It is now on its third principal. Jonathan Mandell, who conceived of the school, chronicles the bizarre journey of one New York City middle school.

NYC's Noble Prize Winners (11/18/02) For the recipients of the Union Square Awards, the $50,000 prize is like winning the lottery -- without buying a ticket. Twenty grassroots organizations honored Friday in the fifth annual class of winners include groups fighting for the rights of Korean immigrants, gay youth and Latino workers, as well as an organization called Hip Hop Cell Block. Four of them tell their stories.

Double Vision (11/11/02) With a new chancellor, a new system of running the schools, a new federal law, and an array of exciting ideas, public education in New York seems on the brink of change. Jill Chaifetz, executive director of Advocates for Children, details the bold new world of education that she hopes is a-dawning -- and also lays out what she fears is the evidence that things are staying the same.

The Citizen (11/1/02) In this November edition of the Citizen, we take a look at election issues related to immigrants from the Chinese, Korean and Spanish press. New immigration rules hurt foreign artists, Mexican painter Frida Khalo takes Manhattan by storm and Muslims in New York celebrate Ramadan. We also have stories about the impact of recession on immigrant business, new parking violations, divorce among Russian immigrants, and much more.

Gotham at War (10/28/02) Foreign soldiers haven't set foot in New York City since the Revolutionary War, but each of America's wars have made their mark on Gotham. Now, amid talk of going to war with Iraq, historians and curators are looking back at New York City during wartimes past. Three books on New York during wartime have just been published, a downtown exhibition compares the city's rebirth after the revolution to the recovery after 9/11, and a new Martin Scorsese movie takes place in Civil War New York. A look at New York City, war by war.

Overseeing Six Crises (10/21/02) The mayor gets most of the attention at City Hall, but the City Council's underused power of oversight gives them the tools to keep the mayor in check and to help solve the city's problems. A look at six critical issues currently facing the city -- education, the post-9/11 rebuilding of the fire department, the police department's anti-terrorism responsibilities, the homeless, rebuilding Lower Manhattan, and, above all, the budget gap -- and what the council hopes to do about them.

Major Changes For City Schools (10/14/02) "I am a guy who is about good news and bad news," writes Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. "The good news is, I will empower you. The bad news is, if you screw up, I will fire you." The goal of this approach: to "break a little china," he says, and bring sweeping change to New York City schools.

Creating Jobs, and Filling Them (10/7/02) More than 270,000 New Yorkers are out of work, many of them victims of the economic slowdown and the effects of September 11. But when jobs do become available in New York, city residents often lack the skills that employers need. To correct this, writes workforce development expert Bonnie Potter, New York must launch a major effort to create new employment and train workers for the jobs of today, and tomorrow.

The Citizen (10/1/02) This month: A special section on education and immigrants -- a look at second language learning process, obstacles immigrant students have to overcome in school and opinion about education from Russian, Korean and Spanish newspapers. Also should the United States grant amnesty to undocumented immigrants? And reaction to Amy Tan's new book, the continuing impact of 9/11 and the primary election -- and much more.

What Schools Need (9/23/02) The new chancellor in his new offices in the Tweed Courthouse faces the same old challenges of failing schools and poor classroom performance. Education policy professor Norman Fruchter argues that New York needs better prepared teachers. Education activist Leonie Haimson says that small class size can make a difference. But both agree that the city must find new and better ways to involve parents and other members of the community in the education of New York's children.

Leading Our Own Way (9/16/02) True leadership, argues Joan Minieri, is not found in the Oval Office or City Hall, but arises from the neighborhoods where we live. "If we believe we have the right to be truly safe here in New York City," she says, "we need to lead our own way."

Election Day Obstacles (9/9/02) Whenever New Yorkers go to the polls, such as for Primary Day this week, they find broken-down machines and poll workers who cannot answer their questions. Many of the problems can be traced to state election laws and to a system where party loyalty counts for more than competence. Also, David Jones, president of the non-profit Community Service Society, offers one solution to the city's number one voting problem: the masses of people who are eligible to vote but have never registered.

The Citizen (9/1/02) This month: A special section on the anniversary of Sept 11, which affected immigrants in special ways. And a schedule of NYC's ethnic parades (September is the busiest month for them). Also: Should non-citizens have the right to vote? You decide. And: Arabs and Jews talk to each other in Brooklyn. Immigrant laborers talk about their hardships and advantages. A Russian advice columnist talks to a couple with uncertain immigration status about how to wed in the U.S. Police warn about scams in legal services for immigrants in Chinatown. Koreans call for a stronger community. Indians parade on Madison Avenue. The French come together on Smith Street. And much more, including selections from the Irish, Polish, and Spanish press.

Walk At Your Own Risk (8/26/02) New York has long been called a walker's city, but New Yorkers have risked their lives just crossing the street ever since New Yorker Henry Bliss was the first pedestrian in the nation to be killed by a car, in 1899. Gail Robinson looks at the debate over what to do to curb traffic accidents and make it safer to be a walker in the city.

Looking At Memorials (8/19/02) Anita Contini, who this month began her job in charge of the memorial at Ground Zero, is visiting the Oklahoma City memorial, the Vietnam memorial, and a memorial to the victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan, as well as the Pearl Harbor memorial in Honolulu and various memorials in Israel, to figure out what works and what doesn't - and what lessons there are to learn for the September 11th memorial.

Have Tax, Will Travel (8/12/02) Facing the worst fiscal crisis in two decades, some in New York City are looking to the suburbs for help -- by bringing back the commuter tax that was repealed in 1999. But not everyone agrees. Glenn Pasanen argues that reinstating the commuter tax is a matter of fairness. "New York City is the economic engine of the entire region," he says, and suburbanites who work here should "pay for some of the fuel." E.J. McMahon counters that the commuter tax and "the notion that non-resident workers are a bunch of well-paid freeloaders" should be a thing of the past. If the city wants to recover, he says, it can not afford to give workers and their companies one more reason to leave the city.

The Citizen (8/1/02) This month: A tour of ethnic splendors on Brooklyn's "Immigrant Trails," getting away at a discount on Chinatown's buses, and a visit to the new Irish Hunger Memorial. An advice column about Indian in-laws; an angry word of advice from a French patriot. A look at unemployment in Chinese, Korean and Polish communities; immigrant reaction to the six plans for the World Trade Center site; how the state is forcing immigrant students to drop out. And much more, including selections from the Russian, Hebrew, and Spanish press.

Fight the Power (7/29/02) The recent explosion at the 14th street power station cut off electricity to much of lower Manhattan and raised concerns about the city's energy supply. At a hearing last week, New York's top energy official said that new power plants must be built to keep up with demand. But Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr., says statistics show that the city already has enough power and that energy companies have conveniently left sources of power out of their predictions.

Keep The City's Private Bus Lines Private! (7/22/02) In the midst of the ongoing strike by private bus line employees, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed allowing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to take over the seven private bus companies that serve the four boroughs of New York outside Manhattan. The mayor's solution, says former Transportation Commissioner Chris Lynn, "is ill-conceived and is likely to result in less and poorer service..."

Painting the Town Green (7/15/02) New York has the nation's largest and most complicated urban park system. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe discusses the state of the parks, playgrounds, pools and preserves and sets out the Bloomberg administration's agenda for the city's green space. In this time of shrinking budgets, the department plans to focus on getting young people out from their screens and into the fields.

Flying Stand-By For the Mayor (7/8/02) Who would take the mayor's place if he were to leave office? According to city law, it is Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. But Mayor Bloomberg is trying to change that. In her article, Advocating for Democracy, Gotbaum defends her position as the city's second in command.

The Citizen (7/1/02) This month: How to say "thank you" in the 18 languages New Yorkers most frequently speak. A World Cup roundup. The role of the ethnic press after September 11th. Political asylum for gay immigrants. The account of a factory death in two languages (translated from Chinese and Spanish). A French immigrant trying to bring her confreres into a community, a Saudi Arabian who reports on what it's like to go through airport security, a Korean who feels like a "floating weed." Immigration news in the mainstream press since last month - and much more.

Introducing A New Section Of Gotham Gazette - Eye On Albany (6/24/02) Eye On Albany is a guide to the NYC political races of 2002. We provide a page for each one of the races - statewide races (such as governor), and the contests for NYC seats in the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate. In "Blame Albany," a look at a dozen issues of vital importance downstate and what Albany legislators are (or, more likely, are not) doing about them.

Getting Control (6/17/02) With Mayor Michael Bloomberg having won control of the New York City school system, his deputy mayor for policy, Dennis Walcott, explains why this will make a difference to New York's 1.1 million public school students. Now, says Walcott, the challenge is to involve parents and the community in improving each individual local school.

Alexander Garvin, What's the Big Idea? (6/10/02) On Tuesday, June 11, Gotham Gazette will have its first live chat event online, with Alex Garvin, lead planner for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, as our featured guest. Find out more about this special event, and read a profile of Garvin, who may have a better idea than anyone else about what the World Trade Center site will look like.

The Citizen (6/3/02) The detention of South Asian and Arab immigrants, the impact of welfare reform on immigrants, and why some Muslim parents are worried about their children. Also stories translated from African, Bengali, Caribbean, Chinese, Irish, Haitian, Polish, Russian and Spanish newspapers. And beginning this month, we also offer a summary of news about immigrants from the mainstream press.

Public Funds, Empty Ferries (5/27/02) Being against ferries is like being against Bambi. But Matthew Schuerman questions the decision by officials to push some specific ferry routes to New York City -- and asks why, since there are hardly any passengers on them, taxpayers should be subsidizing a private ferry company at $149 per ride.

Money, Not Mayors (5/20/02) With Mayor Bloomberg and the state legislature negotiating whether to give the mayor control of the city's schools, Board of Education member Irving Hamer argues that a switch in governance will not solve the system's problems. Mayoral control has not done any good in the many cities that have tried it, Hamer says. More money, not political deals, will boost achievement in the city's classrooms. Jill Levy, president of the principal's union, agrees and calls for a truly independent -- and elected -- school board with its own source of money.

Name Your Price (5/13/02) When Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested recently that the city's parks could be named after corporate sponsors, it was the latest in a trend that has seen such oddities as the American Airlines Theater on 42nd Street, the Keyspan Stadium in Coney Island, and, in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, the Mitsubishi Wild Wetland Trail.

The Citizen(5/6/02) Immigration is in the news all over the world. Amidst protest and criticism, Jean-Marie Le Pen , an anti-immigrant candidate, won the frist round of France's presidential elelction. Domestically, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to dismantle the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); now the Senate is expected to follow suit. But as this May edition of the Citizen makes clear, there is still plenty of news about immigrants in New York City itself

A Moving Proposal(4/29/02) The recently released blueprint for rebuilding Lower Manhattan calls for a major transportation terminal linking subways, ferries and buses. City Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall applauds the plan and says the terminal could be both a memorial to the victims of the World Trade Center attack and a beacon for the entire area.

Green Energy (4/22/02) San Francisco does it. Fifteen states require it. Even Enron believed in it. So why isn't New York City using any "green energy" -- energy derived from the wind and the sun and the water's waves and the earth's heat? Chesley Hicks explains why, and what consumers can do about it.

Real Property Tax Scandal (4/14/02) For most New Yorkers paying taxes is one of life's unpleasant necessities. But some property owners do not see things that way. For 35 years, they avoided paying their fair share, bribing tax assessors to save as much as a billion dollars on their real property tax bills.

Who's The Animal? (4/8/02) A jury last month convicted a dog owner of second degree murder because her dog mauled a neighbor to death - thus finally placing the blame for dangerous dogs where it belongs, with human beings. Tracey Middlekauff details the animal rights agenda in New York, the laws that are currently on the books, and what more could be done to combat the abuse and neglect of animals by human beings.

The Citizen (4/1/02) The April edition selects articles about Chinese, Haitian, Indian, Japanese, Mexican, Polish and Puerto Rican, and highlights such problems as a shortage of court interpreters, the exploitation of domestic workers and continuing repercussions from 9/11. But we also offer tales of political power, new hope, and the one thing that unites all nations -- April Fool's Day.

Quality Of Life Is Not So Black And White (3/25/02) He considers himself a progressive political activist dedicated to social change, for whom the term "quality of life" always seemed fascist, and gentrification was a concept from hell. But ever since he got married and bought a house, Mark Winston Griffith finds himself lecturing litterers, worrying about a neighbor he used to think was just a colorful character - and wondering where he stands.

Does Welfare-To-Work Work? (3/17/02) In "Welfare Reform Gone Wrong," Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who wonders whether the people kicked off the welfare rolls actually found any jobs, criticizes the new "unrealistic work requirements" and other "sweeping changes" proposed this month by the Bush administration for those who remain on welfare. Linda Ostreicher details the current world of job training for New York City's welfare recipients in Gotham Gazette's Social Services Topic Page, while David Fischer of the Center for an Urban Future asks "The $67 Million Question" -- will New York City use, or through inaction lose, the federal funds it was given for job training programs? In "Look At The People, Not The Numbers," Verna Eggleston, the new commissioner of New York City's Human Resources Administration, explains how the agency she now heads has gone from one that responded to crises to one that has "one big agenda - get people into the world of work now!" She outlines how she hopes to accomplish this.

Should We Raise Taxes To Bridge the Budget Gap? (3/11/02) In "Consider Tax Hikes," New York's former commissioner of taxation and finance, James Wetzler, says that what the mayor is proposing to bridge the city's $4.5 billion budget gap will cause more economic harm than just raising taxes. In "Don't Tell New Yorkers To Take A Tax Hike," City Council Minority Leader James Oddo says "if you raise taxes, you lose jobs."

The Citizen (3/4/02) In the March edition of The Citizen, we report on various efforts to cross the great divide of language -- such as a new bill that would require city agencies to have free interpreters immediately available -- and make the effort once again ourselves, with stories translated from Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew Polish and Spanish, about an Afghani looking for work, politicians looking for Dominican votes, Koreans looking to play music, a Japanese make-up artist making it in the city -- and Kahlil Gibran advising Syrian New Yorkers on what it takes to be a good citizen.

Record Wrangling (2/25/02) When Rudolph Giuliani moved the records from his eight years as mayor to a warehouse in Queens rather than turning them over to the city, he set off a debate over how public records should be handled. He also raised suspicions about what he may be trying to hide. Archivist Richard Wandel says Giuliani's actions undermine democracy and set a dangerous precedent for future mayors. Saul Cohen, the president of the Giuliani Center for Urban Affairs, argues that his non-profit has done nothing wrong and that he is only acting in the best interest of the city. James Epstein looks at the history of troubles that plague the Municipal Archives, from cutbacks to backlogs.

Bloomberg The Big-hearted Or Bloomberg The Butcher? (2/18/02) -- Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg moved the day of his budget address to avoid headlines about a St. Valentine's Day Massacre. But even he admitted his budget was meant to "spread the pain" throughout the whole city. It cuts $1.8 billion dollars in services, reduces the city workforce, nixes the city's recycling program, and raises the cost of a pack of cigarettes to $7. So is it a Valentine's Day Massacre? Though they caution that it takes weeks to evaluate adequately such a massive proposal, three budget experts offer their preliminary verdicts. Glenn Pasanen from City Project finds that the mayor's plan lacks vision and asks the biggest sacrifices from children, senior citizens, libraries, and cultural institutions. E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute says Bloomberg showed his compassionate side (wrong-headedly) when he spared the city workforce from massive cuts. And Doug Turetsky of the Independent Budget Office says no matter what you think of the mayor's proposals, at least the mayor is being clearer than his predecessors about what he is doing -- except for a half billion dollars here and there.

Smaller Schools, Safer Schools (2/11/02) -- After two students were shot at Martin Luther King Jr. High School, school officials and others called for improved security. But a more effective solution would be a smaller school, says Candice Anderson of Citizens Committee for Children, who believes that small high schools offer students not only increased security, but also a happier atmosphere and a better chance of graduating.

The Citizen IV (2/4/02) -- In his State of the City Address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the City Hall press office will meet monthly from now on "with representatives of the minority and ethnic media in the city." Let them read the papers first, in this, the February edition of The Citizen, with a selection of articles translated into English this month from Arabic, Korean, Polish, Spanish and Urdu -- and an article by the founder of NICE (New Immigrants Community Empowerment)

Taking The Ugly Out Of The Voting Process (1/28/02) -- There is yet another Election Day coming up next month (on February 12th, to fill vacant NYC seats in the state legislature), and thus a good time for New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to recall the case of Bush v. Gore, and his own recount nightmare a couple of years earlier, and to argue that New York has been more lucky than prepared. Spitzer outlines his plan to prevent "another Florida" in New York.

Gimme Shelter (1/21/02) -- Residents call it a jail without bars, people in Brooklyn call it dangerous, police call it a "situation." But the Department of Homeless Services calls it an improvement. The story of the Atlantic men's shelter in Brooklyn, both two decades ago and today, is a persistent example of the city's ineffective policies towards sheltering the homeless.

The Citizen III (1/14/02) -- In the third edition of The Citizen, we offer a selection of articles from New York's immigrant press, translated into English from Bengali, Chinese, Hebrew, Thai, Polish and Spanish - and news about the discovery downtown of ancient graffiti in Gaelic! There are also English-original articles about the Haitian, Korean and Mexican communities. Many of these continue to reveal the special repercussions of 9/11 for immigrants, from arrests to tuition hikes for the undocumented.

To Tax Or Not To Tax (1/7/02) -- Almost immediately after he was sworn in last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg focused on the likely budget gap, telling New Yorkers everyone will have to do more with less. But in his very inaugural address, he made clear he does not want the sacrifices to include raising taxes. A labor union researcher and a budget watchdog economist weigh in on how to get the city out of its fiscal funk, and while their prescriptions are far-ranging and nuanced, they stake out something close to opposite arguments when it comes to taxes.
"The Case for Raising Revenues" by Mike Musuraca of DC37.
"Avoiding The Next Crisis" by Marcia Van Wagner of the Citizens Budget Commission.

Eight Steps Toward Rebuilding Downtown (12/31/01) -- Carl Weisbrod, the president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, answers Dick Netzer's argument in Gotham Gazette that we should rebuild "Fast, Not Fancy - And in Midtown, Not Downtown." Such a suggestion, Weisbrod writes, is "an insult to the thousands of people who are working around the clock to stabilize the area." Downtown must be rebuilt, he says, and he offers eight ways to do it right.

The Poor Get Poorer (12/17/01) -- Tens of thousands of New York families face a cutoff of federal welfare assistance at the same time a plummeting economy forces many others on to the welfare rolls. David R. Jones, president of the Community Service Society, describes the dilemma facing poor New Yorkers and urges the city to create 50,000 one-year jobs to ease the crisis, while two advocates list five things Mayor-elect Bloomberg could do to reform welfare reform.

But even before September 11, an increasing number of New Yorkers were lining up at food pantries and soup kitchens. Lucy Cabrera, president of Food for Survival, says that the city faces a worsening hunger crisis.

Living Near Ground Zero (12/10/01) -- Etta Sanders asks the people living downtown what it has been like in the past three months. Ann Farmer looks at the tenants who are still not permitted back into their building near the World Trade Center site, a buildingwith the horribly appropriate name of Post Towers. Gotham Gazette's Land Use columnist Tom Angotti considers the new 11-member Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation, and finds it wanting. And the only member of this Lower Manhattan authority who actually lives in Lower Manhattan, Madelyn Wils, blasts the city for its inaction in helping the residents living near Ground Zero.

The Citizen (12/3/01) -- Hundreds of Pakistanis from Brooklyn have been incarcerated. The families of those Dominicans killed in Flight 587 struggle to get financial help. Bangladeshis are returning to their home country because of New York's poor economy. This second edition of The Citizen, a selection of articles from the city's ethnic press, offers a glimpse into the immigrant communities that have experienced the dramatic events of the past months in different ways.

Sooner, or Later? (11/26/01) -- Rebuild fast, not fancy, argues Dick Netzer - and rebuild in midtown, not downtown. Pause, reflect, and respect, says Nancy Biberman.

911 For Charities (11/19/01) -- This is may be the season for giving thanks, and for giving, but it is "A Rocky Season" for New York's nonprofit agencies, as Linda Ostreicher explains on the Social Services Topic Page. Despite the generosity of the country, many of these agencies are "Down and Out," -- reeling from the aftermath of 9/11, according to Dr. Megan McLaughlin as well, director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. The resources of many agencies are being strained by the increasing need for services by the various victims. At the same time, the agencies' normal contributions are being diverted -- to newly created 9/11 charities.

Second In Command? (11/12/01) -- You may have thought Campaign 2001 was over, but there is one more political race to go. As many as eight City Council members are running to succeed Peter Vallone as the Speaker of the City Council, the second most powerful elected official in the city. The candidates are campaigning hard. But this time, you don't get to vote.

Advice To The Winners (11/5/01) -- "What do we do now?" Robert Redford asks at the end of "The Candidate," the moment after he is elected. Former Mayor Ed Koch offers his suggestions to the new mayor-elect (One piece of Koch advice -- call on Koch for advice). Former Councilmember Andrew S. Eristoff gives the new council members 15 tips for success. (One tip -- "show up")

Not Always As Sweet (10/29/01) -- Debbie Almontaser is an Arab-American who wears the hjiab or head-covering of a devout Muslim. She is also a schoolteacher and a mother whose son is a soldier standing guard at Ground Zero. Above all, she is a New Yorker.
Also: A brief look at the history of Arabs in New York City

Danger In The Air? (10/22/01) -- 1. The Anthrax Scare
Does anthrax pose a serious threat, or will the panic over a few cases be what threatens an already overburdened and under funded public health system? A much greater risk than anthrax, Maia Szalavitz argues, may be panicking over bioterror and trying 'quick fix' solutions that won't ultimately protect people from either terrorists or natural diseases.
2. The Environment Near Ground Zero
The hundreds of government scientists who have been testing the air in lower Manhattan have reported that there is little to worry about. Yet in the last two weeks it has become increasingly apparent, Michael Burger charges, that the scientists are not looking for precisely the right thing -- or, if they are, they are not releasing that information to the public.

Two Views Of The Twin Towers (10/15/01) -- As New Yorkers debate whether to replicate the World Trade Center, few have asked why the complex was built in the first place. Was it both the symbol and reality of global finance, as economist Rosemary Scanlon argues? Or was it just an elaborate scheme to bail out mid-century downtown business interests, as Robert Fitch maintains?

What We Will Do (10/08/01) -- We asked the candidates who will be in the Democratic runoff this Thursday, October 11th, for their plans on rebuilding the city. Betsy Gotbaum and Norman Siegel, facing each other for the Democratic nomination for public advocate, both address what their role in the rebuilding should be. Fernando Ferrer and Mark Green, facing each other in the runoff for mayor. write follow-up essays to those they wrote earlier, which offer more specific details about their plans.

What You Should Do (10/08/01) -- Rebuilding New York City includes restoring New Yorkers' psyches. Maia Szalavitz talks to one of the world's leading, and most opinionated, experts on post-traumatic stress disorder.

Coping (10/06/01) -- By the day after the attack on the World Trade Center, the hospitals were reporting that the injury for which they were treating the greatest number of patients was emotional trauma. Many of these were rescue workers who were witnessing gruesome scenes of death and the relatives of those who are still missing. But as the smoke spreads its way throughout the city, so too does the psychological stress of processing a third-rate disaster movie that has suddenly happened for real.

Letter For Democracy (10/01/01) -- The city's good-government groups wrote a letter September 24th urging Mayor Rudy Giuliani to make it clear he will not run for a third term. They wrote to the Governor George Pataki and the leaders of the state legislature on October 1st asking them to resist calls to intervene in the current election of a new mayor for New York City. "Terrorism wins if we respond by disrupting our laws or departing from our basic rights and systems of government."
Also: Professors Weigh In

A History Of Crisis And Recovery (10/01/01) -- In the very first week after the attack, the mayor looked to history for comfort and instruction in how New Yorkers could respond. The historical event he focused on was the blitz of London during World War II. But, as New Yorkers can discover in hundreds of history-related events starting this week, there is comfort and instruction as well in the long series of crises and recoveries that make up the history of New York City.

Rebuilding NYC (9/21/01) -- The six major mayoral candidates were asked to outline their individual plans for rebuilding New York City:
Reaching Out
By Fernando Ferrer
Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer says that, as mayor, he will lead the effort in the recovery of the city by reaching out to all involved, as he did when he helped rescue the Bronx from "a different kind of devastation." "But we refuse to lose sight of the pressing needs in our city, those that were important on September 10th - and are still important today."
The FIRE This Time
By Mark Green
Public Advocate Mark Green outlines his measures for rebuilding New York City, including the creation of a superagency called the New York City Emergency Reconstruction Authority. "The nation and the world look to us to rise from the ashes and prove that terrorism will fail. A City that built an Empire State Building in fourteen months during the Depression can and will renew and rebuild."
This is America and We are New York!
By Michael Bloomberg
"Getting the job done has been the basis for the success my company has achieved," Michael Bloomberg writes. "In the face of a massive rebuilding and a weakening economy, those are the qualities it will take to conquer the challenges facing us now.
The Terrorists Picked The Wrong City
By Peter Vallone
City Council Speaker Peter Vallone outlines what he has been doing in his role as Speaker in the days since September 11th, says he will be "exploring every option aimed at maximizing city resources," such as review of land use legislation, tax policy and zoning laws, and assisting displaced businesses and residents. "We will remember that terrible day. And we will honor our dead by building a city more beautiful, more just, more diverse and more united than any on earth."
Keeping Giuliani's Team
By Herman Badillo
To ensure an orderly continuation of the effort at recovery and reconstruction, Herman Badillo says he would ask every member of the Giuliani administration to continue to serve for at least one year; work with everybody, and twist arms. "We who have survived this disaster have a responsibility to conduct ourselves in such a way that everyone will be proud of what we will have accomplished in the years and months to come, because the city of New York must remain the capital of the world."
Restoring Confidence
By Alan G. Hevesi
In the second of the essays by the mayoral candidates on rebuilding New York City, Comptroller Alan Hevesi outlines his plans, including the creation of a security advisory commission; of a reconstruction authority with participation by the city, the state, federal officials and the private sector; a "Back to Business Incentive" package for businesses both big and small. "We will pause now to mourn our dead, an overwhelming task. But the true monument we will build for those who died is the new New York we will create."

Rebuilding NYC (9/20/01) -- The mayor and the speaker of the City Council have announced plans to form a special commission for rebuilding lower Manhattan. They are talking about creating a new Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after World War II, for New York City. But what will the city look like? What should it look like? Three opinionated New Yorkers, two of them professors of urban planning, give their views, in the first of what will become a continuing series.

The Lessons To Be Learned (9/17/01) -- We have had to explain to our children things that are incomprehensible to us, writes Teachers College President Arthur Levine.

The Twin Towers Attack: The First Hours (9/11/01)

New York Votes (9/10/01) -- Will New York be another Florida? What should a voter do before going to the polls? All six major candidates for mayor, Senator Hillary Clinton and many experts have answered these and other questions in New York Votes, our interactive diary. Now it is your turn. Visit our message board sometime today and tell us: What was it like to vote?

It'll Be Different At The Polls This Time (we hope) (9/3/01) -- For some voters, poor elections are like bad weather. They feel they cannot do anything but complain. But this year will be different, swear the advocates for electoral reform. And YOU can help. Gene Russianoff and Dave Palmer of the New York Public Interest Research Group explode four common myths about voting (It is NOT true that you need identification to vote. You CAN bring someone into the polling booth with you), and describe the Election Day Monitoring Project.
Margaret Fung of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund describes her organization's efforts to get the Board of Elections to stop in effect denying the vote to Asian-American New Yorkers.

Why We Have Signed Up As Poll Workers (8/27/01) -- Five people who have never done it before explain why they are signing up to be poll workers on primary day, September 11. And one explains why he isn't.

The Citizen (8/20/01) -- With over 200 distinct ethnic groups in New York, it is impossible for any single publication to cover all of the city's various communities, and the mainstream English-language press has not even begun to try. Gotham Gazette presents a sample of articles from the other New York press, the nearly 200 publications published in some 36 languages.

KEEP THOSE BOOTHS OPEN! (8/13/01) -- Bertha Lewis explains why a coalition of dozens of groups is fighting to stop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from closing, or reducing the hours of, 53 token booths. State Senator Eric Schneiderman makes his case in court: We include a copy of an affidavit he filed in court last week, as an attorney in the lawsuit against the MTA.

Ending Homelessness (8/06/01) -- Each year, 22 city, state and federal agencies spend over $800 million providing shelter, services and housing to over 100,000 different homeless New Yorkers. Ted Houghton argues on behalf of a new city-wide coalition that much of the money should be spent on permanent solutions. Their new campaign, the Blueprint To End Homelessness in New York City, outlines four simple steps.

Smoked Out (7/30/01) -- A battle has been heating up this year in the bars, restaurants and even the public parks of New York City. The issue? Cigarettes. One side is already claiming victory. But what will it win?

Protest Wave (7/23/01) -- How can the change in format of local radio station WBAI inspire so many marches, so much moral outrage? Miranda Kennedy tries to explain.

Got Blood? (7/16/01) -- The Food and Drug Administration recently announced a plan to ban blood imported from Europe for fear that mad cow disease might make it into the national blood supply. As Susan Waltman explains, this national policy affects New York City the most, since the area imports a quarter of its blood supply from overseas. While there has never been a documented case of mad cow disease spreading through a blood transfusion, the shortage that could result from the plan would be devastating to the city.

Bikes Are Vehicles Too (7/09/01) -- Last week, a bicyclist was killed in lower Manhattan when a livery cab crashed into him. Unfortunately, Charles Komanoff explains, this is not an unusual occurrence in New York City. While traffic laws grant cyclists the same right to the road as drivers, further measures are needed, he argues, to achieve this right in practice.

Not Just To Staten Island (7/02/01) -- The ferry -- to sightsee, to commute -- is making a comeback.

Giuliani's Legacy (6/25/01) -- As Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's term comes to a close, three of New York's leading observers debate his administration's impact on the city. Have his personality and policies, from welfare reform to stronger police presence, fueled prosperity or fractured the city? How has Giuliani changed New York City, and will those changes last?
"He has changed the way New Yorkers think about crime, welfare, quality of life, and squeegee men," by New York Times columnist John Tierney.
"He has taken credit for things he didn't do," by Village Voice senior editor Wayne Barrett, author of "Rudy!"
"He is the second most effective mayor of the 20th century" by Columbia professor of history Kenneth Jackson, the president of the New-York Historical Society.

We Uncover The Waterfront (6/18/01) -- Not enough New Yorkers think of the city as three islands and a peninsula, says Carter Craft of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a network of organizations and individuals that is pushing for greater awareness of the city's magnificent waterfront. What is needed in most waterfronts in neighborhoods throughout the city, he says, is surprisingly similar -- cleaner water, better planning, an easier way to reach them from both the land and the sea.

Sprawl and Smart Growth (6/11/01) -- "Sprawl" and "Smart Growth" are phrases that urban planners have used to describe 1. what is happening in the suburbs and 2. what should be happening in the suburbs. But in these concepts are lessons for New York City as well. Alex Marshall discusses sprawl and the city; Niko Fleming suggests a plan for smart growth for New York.

Which Side Are You On? (6/04/01) -- There are some 2,000 greengroceries in New York City now, owned mostly by Korean immigrants and staffed largely by Mexican immigrants. But this is not the shiny corner of New York's gorgeous mosaic that it may seem. Some employees say they are being exploited, and are trying to unionize. Some owners have found an unusual way to fight back - with their own picket lines.

A Fine Model (5/28/01) -- New York's Campaign Finance Board is now more in the public eye, and more under public attack, than at any time since it began in 1989, a creation of a local public finance law that was touted as a fine model for America. And fine it does; the Board has fearlessly levied fines on members of the City Council, on a couple of the current candidates for mayor, on the current mayor himself - who is the Board's most vehement critic. This week, which is the deadline for candidates to apply to the Board for public financing, Alex Viado looks at what the Campaign Finance Board actually does, and argues that, however bureaucratic it may seem, it is the scotch tape holding together local democracy.

Giuliani's Legacy: Ribbon Cuttings (5/21/01) -- The mayor has seven months to complete the Big Projects on his agenda, from stadiums to airports to subways.

The Giuliani Legacy: Race relations (5/14/01) -- Are ethnic relations better or worse, and should Mayor Rudy Giuliani be praised or blamed for them? In One City, One Standard, Seth Forman argues that the city is experiencing a remarkable ethnic tranquility, for which New Yorkers can thank two things: 1) the racial diversity of New York's immigrants and 2) Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. In Not All Black and White, Howard Jordan argues that the mayor has made things worse for poor people and people of color, in matters of health, education and welfare, and also in those things for which he is most touted, public safety and the economy.

Should We Miss Them? (5/07/01) -- Members of the City Council have been issuing the warning for months: Term limits will bring chaos! After the elections this year, ignorance will reign, institutional memory will disappear, the staff will take over; the public will be the real losers. Long-time Council watcher Lenore Chester asks whether all this is true, answering with her assessment of the current Council as a whole, as well as of the individual members who are being forced to leave.

Thinking Big Again (4/30/01) -- The bulk of the entire subway system was built in a decade. Now it takes at least three times that long just to build a subway station. Dick Netzer explains why big transportation projects take so long nowadays, and argues what can be done about it.

To Be Young, Homeless, and in New York (4/23/01) -- When a homeless shelter is itself threatened with homelessness, the homeless youth it serves become even more vulnerable.

NYC Guides (4/16/01) -- What was Dorothy Parker's favorite brothel? When did organized fire fighting begin in New York City? How did New York rank compared to the other states in human lives lost during the Revolutionary War? Who once tattooed his wife and then claimed she had been kidnapped by savages, who had been the ones to inflict the intricate designs? The answers to these questions can be found on some of the extraordinarily wide range of guides to New York City -- all of them online.

The Real "New Media" (4/09/01) -- New York has become the ethnic media capital of the world, with at least 198 magazines and newspapers now publishing here in 36 languages for 52 ethnic and national groups, mostly immigrants, but also long-settled African-American and Latino readers. Abby Scher gives the rundown, and explains how they are shaping the politics of the city.

Pupils as Poll Workers (4/02/01) -- She didn't know what she was in for when she stepped into the polling site for the first time in her life. Now, Puja Kumar argues, the system has to change -- and it is novices like her who can do it.

NYC Issues 2001: Housing (3/26/01) -- In conjunction with a seminar about the issues facing New York City, offered for free to all candidates for public office and their staff, Gotham Gazette and Gotham Gazette's Searchlight on Campaign 2001 this week launch the first of a series of "overviews" and "option papers" on the issues. Our Topic Page columnists are writing most of the overviews of the issues, which will be geared primarily to the voting public. Academic experts, mostly from New York University, are writing the option papers, which form the core of the curriculum for the candidates' seminar, "City in Transition: NYC Issues 2001." This week: Housing.
Housing Overview by Rebecca Webber
Housing Option Paper by Michael H. Schill

Lessons From The Garbage Wars (3/19/01) -- The South Bronx has seen more than its share of garbage, trucking, pollution, and asthma. Now there are plans to move the Fulton fish market there. Majora Carter says there are ways to balance development and the environment and to ensure the community plays a vital role in deciding the future of the neighborhood.

What's Money Got to Do With It? (3/12/01) -- While by court order New York State has six months to revamp its school aid formula to give more money to New York City public schools, Seth Forman argues that money is not the key to student performance -- and he has some data from Long Island to prove it.

The Art of Paying the Light Bill (3/05/01) -- The recent mayoral furor over yet another work of art in a New York City museum, and the announcements by several museums of major expansions, have obscured something as central to the cultural institutions of New York as artistic freedom or a vision for the future. Richard Mooney reports on a forum on the needs of small theater and dance companies, which was entitled: "2001: A Space Crisis?" Betsy Gotbaum, president of the New-York Historical Society, explains why it is important for city government to help pay the light bill.

Up Against the Machine: Lessons from a First-Time Candidate (2/26/01) -- "If you are running against an incumbent in New York," says Liz Krueger, who ran for State Senate from Manhattan, "find yourself a good election lawyer, and prepare to be shocked by your legal bills. Mine totaled nearly $75,000."

Follow The Money (2/19/01) -- On the fifth anniversary of the Independent Budget Office, its director Ronnie Lowenstein goes step by step through a year in the budget process. Also, Comptroller Alan Hevesi suggests what the city must do to shield the city's economy from the impact of national and international ups and downs.

Too Much On Faith? (2/12/01) -- President Bush is pushing his faith-based initiatives, greatly expanding what is being called charitable choice. Nancy Biberman, an attorney and the head of a social service agency in the Bronx, charges that the new program "threatens the very core of our pluralistic society," and Megan McLaughlin of New York's Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies wonders what the negative consequences will be, intentional or not, for the churches themselves.

NYC's Shocking Show of Heart (2/05/01) -- What are defibrillators, and why did the mayor get so excited about them at his State of the City address that he attacked one of his aides with one? Nadia Aguilar reports what the paramedics think, Councilmember James Oddo why this life-saving device is especially needed in New York.

Move Over, Con Ed (1/29/01) -- California has suddenly replaced Florida as the place that New Yorkers most fear and loathe, the electoral mess in the South having been replaced by the crisis in electrical power in the West. But there is a silver lining to energy deregulation. There are now many alternatives to Con Edison, including one company with a wonky name and a worthy cause -- the only non-profit company (but just one of many new companies) supplying electricity to consumers in New York.

Bush to NYC: ? (1/22/01) -- Now that George W. Bush has been inaugurated, what will a Bush Administration mean to New York? Republican New York State Assembly member Robert Straniere says Bush reflects the same common-sense Republicanism as Pataki and Giuliani, and will be of help to the city in matters such as education. Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler fears that, with both a Republican White House and a Republican-controlled Congress for the first time since Eisenhower, New Yorkers will lose out in a long list of economic and social issues.

Colin Powell, Jonas Salk and Me (1/15/01) -- Herman Badillo outlines what, he says, can once again make City University the Harvard of the poor.

My New Year's Resolutions for the Schools (1/08/01) -- by Chancellor Harold Levy

Top Stories of 2001? (12/26/00) -- In our annual predictions of the biggest stories in the new year, Elizabeth Kolbert of the New Yorker explains why Bill Clinton will not be running for mayor; talk show host Brian Lehrer explains that the people who WILL be running will have no choice but to run on - gasp! - the issues. These and more than a dozen other NYC journalists, public officials, advocates, academics and heads of non-profit agencies offer prophecies variously serious, fanciful, and scary.

A Caregiver's Christmas (12/18/00) -- As a mother about to go on welfare, she did not see her worth, especially since she could not even afford a Christmas gift for her newborn child. But Theresa Funiciello has come to see that all mothers have value -- concrete economic value to the society -- which is why she has launched the Caregivers Tax Credit Campaign.

Avoiding The Great Voter Turnoff of 2001 (12/11/00) -- You think the presidential race was close? Linda Stone Davidoff, the new executive director of Citizens Union, launches a civic campaign "to reform our antique and error-ridden voting system" in time for the really close races in NYC next year.

Immigrants Then and Now (12/04/00) -- The current wave of immigration to New York is as big as the one a century ago, but it is not wrapped in the same golden -- and false -- gauze of nostalgia. Nancy Foner explodes three myths by which New York's current immigrants have been seen as inferior to the immigrants of the past: "quality," race, and educational success.

Trash and the City (11/27/00) -- The "Solid Waste Management Plan" that the city is voting on this week is not much of a plan, but that's nothing new. When it comes to figuring out new ways to handle its garbage, the city rarely has had a clue, says Benjamin Miller, former director of policy planning for the Department of Sanitation, and author of a new book on the history of New York City garbage.

Waiting for the Cable Man (11/20/00) -- Waiting. This may be a national time of waiting, but New Yorkers are supremely practiced in waiting -- on lines, in restaurants, for the subway, and, as David Allyn explains, for the cable man.

Not Just in Florida (11/13/00) -- Election lawyer Henry Berger details the breakdown in the process of voting in New York City, from the machines to the inspectors.

What It Means To New York (11/06/00) -- Whatever the results of the election, New York, in a sense, loses. It doesn't have the political clout it used to have. What should New York's new representatives do? As little as possible, Fred Siegel says: "The more the federal government spends the worse it is for New York." Form the right alliances, counters Ester Fuchs: "We're in a partnership -- There's a real role for the ederal government to play."

A Different Kind of Subway Series (10/30/00) -- New York City Public Advocate Mark Green explores the century-long link between the subway and the series- --between baseball and mass transit -- and winds up with a pitch for support of the Transportation Infrastructure Bond Act of 2000, on the ballot Election Day. Gene Russianoff of the Straphanger's Campaign also makes a pitch (Madison Avenue style) for a yes vote. Diana Fortuna of the Citizens Budget Commission recommends a no.

Religion And Politics (10/23/00) -- This campaign season, candidates are making almost daily references to God and their personal faith. Barry W. Lynn says the mix between religious faith and politics is a dangerous one and recommends some ground rules for politicians and religious leaders. Seth Forman thinks there is a gap between the religious rhetoric and political action and says America is becoming more like New York City in how it views religion.

Polling Hell (10/17/00) -- The way the news media use the endless polling during campaign season is not just inaccurate, but wrongheaded, says Steve Ross, who explains there is a better way.

The Web Alternative (10/10/00) -- Voters unable to get the info they want from the usual sources -- the television news, campaign commercials, the handful of debates -- have another choice now, both nationally and locally. One local web site will launch a live chat this week about the Senate campaign. Two local web sites are permanently devoted to New York candidates, to New York issues, and to New York voters trying to find out where New York candidates stand on New York issues.

Winging It (10/03/00) -- Planes are stacked up over LaGuardia, and cars are backed up trying to get to Kennedy. Can anything be done to improve New York's crowded, out-moded airports?

Best Books About New York (9/25/00) -- You've heard of The Power Broker, and the Encyclopedia of the City of New York, perhaps. But do you know about the six-volume Iconography of the Island of Manhattan, or The Mole People? Here are favorite New York books by historians, librarians, booksellers, filmmakers, a museum director, a politician, and the director of the Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse and Recycling for the Department of Sanitation.

Remember AIDS? (9/18/00) -- Both major candidates for United States Senator from New York have completely ignored HIV as an issue, charges Michael Kink, who says that New York is still the center of the epidemic, and that either Lazio or Clinton could make a difference.

Term Limits (9/11/00) -- Incumbency isn't what it used to be. Philip Lentz explains why four congressmen from New York are running scared this week, and why this is just the beginning.

Labor Daze (9/04/00) -- Two Diagnoses: New York is still a union town, the nation's biggest. But even here only a quarter of the labor force is in a union. What's the problem? Inadequate laws and management intimidation, says union organizer Ed Ott. Corruption and lack of forceful leadership, says union critic Bob Fitch.

The Lie of Prosperity (8/28/00) -- Summer's gone, and the living is easy, according to government statistics, which report five percent unemployment, and according to the politicians, who campaign on "prosperity and progress." So why is it so difficult for so many people with a good education and good skills to find a good job, asks Paul Chapman, founder of The Employment Project, which runs a support group for job seekers. He offers his answer: the politicians and the statistics lie.

Tourism Troubles (8/21/00) -- It's Not Just the Buses, But the Guides Too (8/21/00) -- Critics have been trying to shut down New York Apple Tours, with its dozens of red double-decker buses, for its many safety and environmental violations. But its guides aren't so hot either, says licensed tour guide Norman Oder -- and they are far from alone.

City Council Senior Class (8/14/00) -- Few members of the City Council seem happy about what's going to happen next year when term limits disqualify 36 of the 51 members from running again. Six of the 15 who remain eligible for re-election discuss what they think the New City Council will be like, and what issues each wants to focus on if he or she is re-elected.

Mosquito, move over! (8/07/00) -- In some ways, the West Nile virus is nothing new, says public health historian David Rosner, who offers a look at how New York officials over the centuries have tried both to protect New Yorkers from epidemics and prevent them from panicking -- even when the officials themselves had no idea what was happening or what to do about it.

New York On Five Cents A Day (7/31/00) -- The Third World has come to the New York area in more ways than one, with immigrant domestic workers working 18-hour days æ- and eight hours on their "days off." Who's exploiting them? As Tracey Middlekauff discovered, it's often other immigrants.

Rats: Pest or Pet? (7/24/00) -- City Councilman Bill Perkins explains what should be done about "the epidemic of rats in our city." Elaine Sloan of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urges us to warm up to their "pink noses and twitching whiskers."

The Wrong Kind of Leverage (7/17/00) -- We may be on the threshold of Internet elections but, as Richard Mooney explains, New Yorkers still vote on old-fashioned lever machines that are several decades out of date.

The Incarcerated Ill (7/10/00) -- As it has for the better part of a century, the City locks up people with tuberculosis who are judged uncooperative. But, as Heather Vogell explains in her look at New York's TB sanitarium, these patients are prisoners not just of the State, but of their mediocre medicines.

Just Say Upside Down (7/03/00) -- One program works and is shunned. Another program has been shown to be ineffective-and gets all the money it wants. It's all part of an anti-drug policy that Maia Szalavitz argues is meant to save not lives but politicians' hides. But now, she says, there is a first glimmer in New York of a saner policy.

A Lesson They Haven't Learned (6/27/00) -- At least ten percent of all the students in New York City public schools have been ordered to go to summer school beginning next week. If they don't pass a test at the end of it, they will be held back. Jill Chaifetz explains why she thinks this won't work: It's virtually the same program the schools abandoned as a failure a decade ago.

Are We Really On the Move? (6/19/00) -- Will New Yorkers take trains to all three airports? Will the MTA finally build the Second Avenue Subway? Gene Russianoff asks whether these and other promised projects will really happen--and looks to past heroes like W.E.B. DuBois for an answer.

The Need for Green (6/12/00) -- Bette Midler looks at what's changed, and what still needs to be done, a year after she achieved sidewalk sainthood when she saved 51 community gardens from the auction block.

Urban Genie: 8 Wishes to Make the City a Better Place (6/05/00) -- Managing Editor Jessica Green grants her parting wishes to the City.

Census Confidential: Don't Count on It (5/29/00) -- Rhonda Zangwill attempts to become a census taker.

Deregulation sends electric bills soaring and you're surprised? (5/22/00) -- Phil Lentz on electric de-reg: rates could soar

Is New York's Economy As Good as It Seems? (5/15/00) -- Manny Tobier on the conflicting opinions and realities of poverty

Budget Rundown: How Kids and Families Fared (5/08/00) -- Michael Kink's round up of expenditures on children and families in the newly passed Albany budget.

CopLand (5/01/00) -- Jerome Chou talks to an NYPDer about real life behind the badge.

City Hall Under Siege (4/24/00) -- Jessica Green reports from somewhere near the seat of government.

Slamming to San Fran: Young Inner City Poets Find Their Voice (4/17/00) -- Rhonda Zangwill on poetry in the inner city.

How to Cut Taxes and Build a New Subway (maybe) (4/10/00) -- Phil Lentz explains why building bridges and subways and cutting taxes don't mix.

Inner City Press Bronx Report (4/05/00) -- Matthew Lee's study of federal campaign contributions from The Bronx.

Dorismond Digits: Round up and Count down (4/03/00) -- The issues around the death of Patrick Dorismond.

Governors Island (3/27/00) -- Jessica Green on the political players of Governors Island plan.

Immigrants in Detention (3/20/00) -- Social Services reporter Lynda Crawford on the life in limbo of asylum seekers.

What Watershed Protection Needs Next (3/13/00) -- Al Appleton calls for EPA leadership in guiding public understanding about the watershed.

The Great Port (3/6/00) -- Frieght/transport guru Roberta Weisbrod outlines what the 21st Century port would look like.

Spinning Super Tuesday (2/28/00) -- Phil Lentz explains why in politics, nice guys finish last.

New York City Council Term Limits Chart (2/21/00) -- Indispensable guide to who can and can't be re-elected in 2001.

Bill's Budget (2/14/00) -- "Even a half loaf from the President's generous-to-Gotham bakery would constitute a meal."

Governors Island: A (Half) Done Deal (2/7/00) -- Richard Mooney on the mythical $1 deal, the agreement between State and City, and the many steps that need to precede a done deal on Governor's Island.

Dr. Crew's Legacy (1/31/00) -- NYC public school parent Jacquelyn Kamin describes why New Yorkers should miss Rudy Crew.

The Race for Gracie Mansion (1/24/00) -- Phil Lentz assesses 1999 for the various Mayoral candidates. In sum: 1999 was good for Green, and not so good for Hevesi.

Still Another Bronx Tale (1/17/00) -- Emanuel Tobier on the latest stats from the Bronx and the "two Bronxes."

New York in the Greenhouse (1/10/00) -- Al Appleton outlines how New York City might fare the full-blown effects of global warming.

Electronic Welfare (12/20/99) -- Sarah Ludwig calculates the plusses and minuses of benefit payments by ATM.

Skyscrapers.alt (12/13/99) -- Michael A. Rivlin on NYC's environmentally friendly buildings.

Hillary's Dilemma (12/06/99) -- Philip Lentz surveys the havoc wrought by the HRC-for-Senate campaign.

Hudson River Eco-Comeback (11/22/99) -- John Waldman relates encouraging environmental news -- and what still needs doing.

NYC Taxi Turmoil (11/15/99) -- Bruce Schaller suggests that economic self interest is the best way to deal with who-picks-up-whom problems.

Defeat of Charter Revision (11/08/99) -- Conn Nugent explains why Rudy lost big and how Democratic mayoral candidates are affected.

Bill Gates Lost in Harlem (11/01/99) -- Partha Banerjee tells how Gates Foundation computers looked for homes in NYC public libraries.

Beyond 'Sensation' (10/25/99) -- Norma Munn talks about the problems of City support of museum operating expenses.

Rudy and Hillary (10/18/99) -- Philip Lentz describes the Longest Campaign and why it's bad for us.

Too Early to Shrink the Force (10/11/99) -- Eli Silverman criticizes proposals to reduce the ranks of the NYPD.

MTA Capital Plan (10/04/99) -- Gene Russianoff and Jeffrey Zupan argue for a Second Avenue Subway, and more.

Compassion Fatigue Syndrome (09/26/99) -- Stanley Mieses visits a homeless shelter and finds that it's lonely at the bottom.

Life After Fresh Kills (09/20/99) -- Marilyn Gelber surveys the inadequate plans for NYC trash disposal in the era post-2001.

Virtues of Tammany (09/12/99) -- Conn Nugent wishes we could bring back (a big chunk of ) the Bad Old Days.

Agenda for the Next Mayor (09/06/99) -- Mitchell Moss to Whomever: Think infrastructure!

On Fracking, the Cuomo Administration Must Slow Down


Little Pakistan
Photo by William Swet
Critics say hydraulic fracturing has caused damage to communities and the environment in neighboring states. Here, a truck near Dimock Penn., carries pipe to be used in the extraction of natural gas.

(For an opposing viewpoint, see The Cuomo Administration Strikes a Balance by S. Dennis Holbrook of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.)

New York state's Fracking Express -- the Cuomo administration's controversial plan to fast-track high-volume hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") throughout the Marcellus Shale -- is in danger of jumping the tracks.

To his credit, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had a strong environmental record as attorney general, has stated: "New York state must ensure that, if and when the shale's natural gas is obtained, it does not come at the expense of human health or have adverse environmental impacts."

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And the governor's talented commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Joe Martens, insists that he is seeking to adopt the toughest and best regulatory safeguards in the nation. Martens argues that such regulations -- along with vigorous and fully funded permitting and enforcement operations -- will protect New York’s safe drinking water, clean air and beautiful landscapes.

That is indeed an ambitious goal.

But whether it can be achieved is very much an unanswered question.

On the Fast Track

Even under the best of circumstances, insuring that fracking can be done in a way that protects public health and the environment poses enormous challenges. In states around the country, we have watched the consequences of fracking-gone-wrong unfold -- from contaminated drinking water to destroyed property values to communities transformed into industrial zones.

In New York, the state's latest actions -- procedurally and substantively -- raise further doubts as to whether the state will be able to successfully deliver on its promise to advance fracking in a way that is environmentally sensitive and safe.

One thing is clear -- fast-tracking the process is not the way to get there.

On Sept. 28, the state prematurely issued proposed rules that would regulate fracking even before it has completed the legally required environmental review process on which future environmental safeguards are supposed to be based. Public comments on the highly technical rulemaking proposal are due on Dec. 12 -- the same day as the deadline for public comments on the state's 1,500 page draft environmental impact study of fracking.

This timetable undercuts the spirit and intent -- if not the letter -- of New York's landmark environmental review law, which is designed to provide information that decision-makers need to knowbeforethey formulate policies. And combining the environmental review process and the rule-making process creates a hardship for concerned citizens and others who have been given little time to meaningfully review and comment on both the massive environmental study and the complex proposed regulatory program.

To remedy this failing, the state should, at a minimum, extend the comment period on the proposed fracking rules for 60 days, until Feb. 12.

Along with these procedural missteps has come a boatload of unresolved substantive issues and unanswered questions.

Gaps in the Plan

Take, for example, the proposed provisions for safeguarding the unfiltered drinking water supplies of New York City and Syracuse from the dangers of fracking. The proposal wisely places the forested watersheds of these two drinking water systems off-limits to well-pad development, correctly calculating that the economic and environmental risks to these unfiltered systems is simply too great.

But rather than fully safeguard these systems, which supply water to more than half the state's populations (including all of New York City), the proposal leaves gaping holes in the rules' protective blanket.

A case in point, highlighted at recent City Council hearings by Environmental Protection Committee chairman James Gennaro, is the stunning lack of protection for the aqueducts and tunnels that carry water from the reservoirs to our homes and apartments. These tunnels fall outside of watershed boundaries and their surrounding lands would be open to drilling. But such infrastructure is vulnerable to both structural damage and pollutant infiltration from fracking activities.

For these reasons, consultants to New York City who studied the issue called for a seven-mile protective buffer around the city's upstate water tunnels. In contrast, the state's current proposal provides for only a soft protective zone less than a quarter of a mile around these essential water structures.

The state's environmental plans also contain gaps when it comes to protecting other upstate public drinking water supplies and state parklands.

Then there are the unresolved issues. Chief among them: What is the state's plan for safely disposing of the hundreds of millions of gallons of contaminated fracking fluids and other hazardous wastes that would be generated every year in New York if big oil and gas companies are given the green light?

The environmental study fails to answer that question satisfactorily.

Take a Test

Yet another shortcoming of the state's fracking study is its failure to fairly explore the alternative of advancing a drilling program as a demonstration only -- as a pilot project of sorts, with permitting limited to a small number of wells, at least for the first three years.

Such an approach would enable the state to prove to the public that it might be possible to operate a carefully controlled drilling program in a manner that would effectively safeguard New York's communities and environmental resources. Under this alternative approach, the state would select only those drilling companies with the best track record, who agree to implement the most stringent environmental controls, and who are willing to work with communities to address their local concerns and special needs.

Nobody knows whether such a "demonstration project" would prove that fracking can be done safely in New York. But we do know that the business-as-usual, "trust us" approach to fracking has caused unacceptable environmental and community harm all over the country, including right next door in Pennsylvania. And we know we don't want those errors to be repeated in New York.

The Cuomo administration still has time to reconsider its approach and to propose a more limited, more protective fracking plan.

But in order to do that, it must pump the brakes on the Fracking Express.

Eric Goldstein is a senior attorney in the New York office of the Natural Resources Defense Council and director of New York City Environment.