Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Opinion

Opinion

New York Trails Neighbors in Helping Dreamers Achieve an Education


govcuomo excelsior

(Photo via the Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo has talked a big game about supporting immigrants in New York. Yet well over a year after Donald Trump’s inauguration - and more than seven years into Cuomo’s administration - the governor has little actual legislation to show for all of his boasting.

One key bill, the New York Dream Act, which would open up state financial aid to undocumented immigrant youth, known as Dreamers, has passed the state Assembly five years in a row. But, without the governor’s political muscle behind it, the Dream Act has languished each session, stagnant in the Senate.

Meanwhile, though the governor likes to say New York is a progressive leader, its neighbors are bolting ahead of us in offering equal access to higher education. Last week, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed his state’s version of the Dream Act into law. Connecticut passed a similar bill in April.  

Dreamers across New York are looking at the inspiring victories of their peers across state lines and wondering: when will it be our turn?

The New York Dream Act is a commonsense bill that would help ease the cost of higher education for undocumented students by expanding access to state financial aid and letting immigrant families participate in college saving programs.

For most undocumented students in New York, the only way to afford higher education is by working while in school or taking on significant debt. As a result, only five to ten percent of the roughly 4,500 undocumented students who graduate from New York high schools every year can attend college.

Take the story of Ricardo Aca, an immigrant New Yorker whose family came from Mexico whne he was 14 years old to give him the opportunity to pursue a better life, including a college education.

When Ricardo finished high school, he found out that, because he was undocumented, he could not access the state financial aid he needed to afford a quality higher education. He began taking photography classes at LaGuardia Community College, realizing that he could earn money shooting events. To pay for his education, he also worked in restaurants and hotels for years. Even so, he could barely afford tuition and ultimately had to stop attending classes.

He only re-enrolled years later, this time at Baruch College, when Make the Road New York, a community organization based in Queens, helped him get a scholarship that covered most of his tuition. Next year, he’ll graduate at age 28, meaning it will have taken him 10 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

While Ricardo’s story has a happy ending despite the lost time, there are many other immigrant youth in New York that don’t have the blessing of a scholarship.

As the Trump administration pursues an ever-clearer anti-immigration agenda, states have a greater responsibility to step in and do what they can to protect immigrant communities.

Ten states have now passed legislation to offer undocumented students tuition support, including California, Minnesota, and Texas. Every day, New York’s failure stands out more and more. It’s particularly shameful given our state has the second-highest share of immigrants in the country -- higher than both New Jersey and Connecticut. And the Dream Act would be a clear boon to our state -- the bill would only cost New York around $25 million per year, a tiny fraction of its $168 billion budget, and more than make up for its cost through increased tax revenue and economic contributions to the state.  

Immigrant youth across the state have for years called on Governor Cuomo to use his considerable power to pass the bill. But, while Cuomo has publicly supported it, he has never made it a top priority. Just this year, when Ricardo and other Dreamers went to his office in Albany to deliver petitions for the Dream Act, his staff locked the door and refused to let them in.

Thousands of undocumented students in New York every year lose the opportunity to improve their lives and the lives of their families because New York fails to provide the basic support to continue their education.

Governor Cuomo, the time for words has passed. Dreamers like Ricardo across New York are counting on you to make the New York Dream Act a reality. Let’s finally unlock the doors of opportunity for all in our state.

***
Ana Maria Archila is Co-Executive Director of the Center for Popular Democracy.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Legalize To Our Demise


Council Member King City Council

Council Member King, one of the authors (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


As we talk about legalizing marijuana, or cannabis, in New York, let’s look back on our nation’s history and see the good of endorsing harmful substances. We recognize that alcohol is legal, but let's face it -- it isn't good for you. Alcohol impairs judgement and making it easily available for adults means it is easily available for young people. For decades, our nation has seen alcoholism ruin marriages, families, and lives. We've seen countless alcohol-related vehicular deaths and alcohol-related activities destroy healthy academic careers and undo people's’ ability to go to work everyday.

Are we ready to have the conversation about the costs of legalizing another harmful substance?

Marijuana shouldn't be consumed by any young person, but our conversation recently on legalization has involved young black and brown men being policed unfairly, and all we seem hear is: let's legalize marijuana to end this unfair policing.

Can't we separate these issues? Of course we can, because they are indeed two separate issues. Poor policing has nothing to do with using drugs. If we want to deal with different policing strategies in communities of color and white communities, then that should be the conversation.  Legalizing marijuana does not address those policing strategies. What it does is send a poor message to kids that smoking weed is OK.

***
Fernando Cabrera, Chaim Deutsch, Andy King & Ruben Diaz Sr. are members of the New York City Council representing portions of the Bronx and Brooklyn. On Twitter: @FCabreraNY & @ChaimDeutsch & @AndyKingNYC & @revrubendiaz

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For 34,000 Children and Their Parents, A Summer of Uncertainty and More At Stake


mayorsoffice young leaders

(photo via the Mayor's Office)


In the Fall of 2014, New York City took an important step forward with the rollout of universal after-school for all public middle school students. SONYC, or School’s Out NYC, provides 6th, 7th and 8th graders with a foundation for success by offering opportunities, beyond the traditional learning settings of a classroom, that allow them to explore their interests and abilities in sports and arts and youth leadership and more.

Mayor de Blasio said in his announcement at the time that “Middle school is often a make-or-break time in an adolescent's life—and we're determined to use all tools at our disposal to expand learning opportunities for the future shapers of our city."

In the first year of implementation, the SONYC after-school program offered a summer component, mirroring all after-school programs established during the Bloomberg administration. This was a positive step as research has proven summer camp programming is a critical component of child well-being and academic success. Among the tremendous benefits of summer programs, they help to close the achievement gap and aid with preventing “summer slide” learning losses. According to the National Summer Learning Association, summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievements gap in reading, and low-income youth lose two to three months of achievement each year.

However, since the summer of 2015, the de Blasio administration has annually threatened to cut more than $20 million for summer camp programming from the students enrolled in the after-school programs of the mayor’s creation. This money, or a portion of it, usually gets restored after negotiations with the City Council; however, this back-and-forth “budget dance” process leaves parents and programs scrambling at the last minute and anxiety-ridden until budget adoption. And as the budget is adopted in late June, these restorations naturally result in a smaller and smaller number of program slots, as ramping up a program, hiring staff, engaging parents, and enrolling students all takes time. The beginning of the summer is not the time to make these crucial funding decisions.

Once again, the de Blasio administration is planning to cut summer programs for over 34,000 middle-school students. Those most at risk of losing programming are the low-income working parents and families who are already facing many stressors in trying to make ends meet. Keeping their children safe during the summer months should not be one of them.

The proposed cut impacts children and families in every corner of the city but is particularly drastic in communities with the greatest needs. The community district of Brownsville is facing the biggest cut of nearly 1,600 slots despite having the highest child poverty rate in the city. Other hard-hit communities include East Harlem (1,281 slots), East New York (1,219 slots), the Rockaways (1,137 slots), East Tremont (1,097), Central Harlem (1,087 slots), and the Lower East Side (1,030 slots). Each slot represents a child who will not have an enriching and stable location to learn and grow this summer.

The budget dance for summer camp must come to an end! We must return to the original model that recognized that the families whose children engaged in after-school programming during the school year need summer camp opportunities that allow children to explore cultural and recreational interests and abilities and offer academic components that prevent summer learning loss.

We agree with Mayor de Blasio when he says New York City must become the fairest big city in America. Threatening to cut summer camp from 34,000 children, with a profound negative impact on the poorest communities of this city, is not fair! Playing the budget dance with funding for summer camp programs is not fair! Fairness demands that the de Blasio administration restore and baseline this funding - 34,000 children and their families are counting on it!

***
Jennifer March is executive director of Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York and a leader of the Campaign for Children. On Twitter @CCCNewYork.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To Make New York City More Affordable, End the Cap on Density


far rockaway queens mayors office

(Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


New York’s severe housing crisis can be traced to a simple fact—our city doesn’t have enough homes for the people who want to live here. The shortage has led to ever-increasing rents, the steady displacement of long-standing communities, and levels of homelessness not seen since the Great Depression. To put it bluntly, we need to build more homes. Lots of them. Affordable and market rate. Yesterday.

One senseless obstacle to new housing is a statewide cap on the density of new residential construction. Since 1961, New York has prohibited the construction of any residential building that has floor space greater than 12 times the size of its lot. This limit is ill-suited for New York City, which needs to allow larger residential buildings to house its growing population in neighborhoods with good transit and good schools. The Regional Plan Association, a respected and nonpartisan think tank, has called for the repeal of this cap, arguing that without more dense construction, displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods will accelerate and the City will choke on worsened congestion.

It is encouraging that Mayor de Blasio and the state Senate have signaled support for ending these restrictions. Unfortunately, Andrew Berman, Executive Director of The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), recently published an op-ed with Gotham Gazette that includes several misleading arguments in favor of the density cap. Berman argues that fighting against new housing will somehow result in a more affordable city. He is mistaken; while new highrises will not single-handedly fix New York’s affordability problem, they deserve to be recognized as a serious tool for addressing the housing crisis.

In a shortage, the rich, whether they be landlords, wealthy tenants, or homeowners, always win. In a housing glut, tenants win. Denser buildings would produce more housing units, a substantial portion of which would be permanently affordable through the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law. Before leaving office in 2016, the Obama Administration published an analysis of the barriers to new construction of affordable housing, and the most destructive factor they identified were burdensome restrictions on the size and shape of new buildings, like those Mr. Berman endorses.

Many readers may be skeptical of the idea that new market-rate homes help keep rents low, but studies have shown that denser, market-rate apartments in in-demand neighborhoods relieve pressure on existing homes citywide. Recent construction has lowered median rents across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens, not just the top of the market. And south of 96 Street, the most affordable neighborhoods also happen to be the densest—the Upper East Side and the Lower East Side—and not, tellingly, neighborhoods hemmed in by ‘historic’ zoning, like Mr. Berman’s Greenwich Village.

If we don't produce enough new market-rate units, the people who might move into a new condo building in Downtown Brooklyn might instead buy a converted brownstone In Crown Heights, displacing existing Crown Heights residents in the process. People who might want to live on the Upper West Side are priced out and move into West Harlem instead. Forbidding dense development in one neighborhood is a recipe for gentrification in the next one over. Members of my organization, Open New York, have experienced this first-hand. Some of us, priced out of neighborhoods like Kips Bay, have become reluctant gentrifiers of Bushwick or Bed-Stuy. Others, like myself in the East Village, worry about our rents rising and facing the same fate.

Although unscrupulous landlords or rapacious speculators hardly help matters, the unfortunate truth is that the city’s housing crisis and the displacement it has wrought are primarily caused by these kinds of restrictions. Wealthy and politically-connected residents in desirable neighborhoods consistently use these laws to thwart the construction of new housing under the guise of ‘preserving neighborhood character,’ keeping their communities exclusive and pushing both new residents and their communities’ most vulnerable residents into less well-off areas. The result is gentrification and skyrocketing rents. New York needs to consider another way.

Lifting the state density cap would not affect residents’ right to have a say in new development. Any changes to a neighborhood’s zoning would still have to go through the regular land-use process and be approved by the City Council, and the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law would still apply, ensuring any changes include a mix of affordable and market rate units. But eliminating the ban would give residents more flexibility to decide how to grow, whereas keeping it forces us to double down on the same failed policies of exclusion. Rather than looking to Greenwich Village—one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the city—as a model to emulate, we should be working to eliminate the barriers to affordable growth. Removing this counterproductive restriction on density is a good first step.

***
William Thomas is an East Village resident and a member of Open New York, an independent pro-housing advocacy group. On Twitter, @OpenNYForAll.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Change the Political Status Quo: Run for County Committee


volunteer

(photo: NYC Mayor's Office)


Today, throughout Kings County, aka Brooklyn, there are many low-income tenants, working class people, and people of color in desperate need of and clamoring for true progressive political representation in their Democratic Party and from their state representatives. Leaders throughout a number of communities are critically looking at our elected officials -- especially state-level politicians running in primary elections this year -- and asking if those officials truly represent their views.

Locally-focused, civic-minded Brooklynites are questioning whether these politicians show up to important meetings or rallies that involve our public schools, our rent-stabilized housing units, our transportation system, and more -- and whether they deliver on those key issues when representing our neighborhoods.  

I often scratch my head and wonder why newly-founded groups like New York Senate District 17 for Progress and Rise & Resist,as well as some longer-standing groups like New Kings Democratsexist. And I often arrive at the same clear conclusion: they exist because they’re tired of having centrist politicians representing them and their communities; they want their more left-leaning views represented in government. They want to hold their representatives accountable to the stances that they care about, and they’re fed up with the closed processes of our county system.

Every county in the United States has committees of Democrats and Republicans that help to determine the agenda and endorsements of their local parties. In Brooklyn, there are 21 Assembly Districts that altogether make up the Kings County Democratic Committee. Each Assembly District has many election districts (each of which consists of a roughly three-to-four square-block radius) and Democrats can choose to gather an estimated 40 petition signatures every two years to join the county committee and help mold the platform of their party.

Today, the leaders of our Kings County Democratic Committee could play a huge part in giving the voiceless a voice by expanding the party and ensuring that Democrats from each election district have a say in how they want to be represented through party leadership and what policies the Democratic Party fights for. Unfortunately, this is far from the reality.

Why is it that in the 21st century in the fourth-largest county in the country -- Brooklyn -- there are still about 500 Democratic County Committee seats open? Is it not the function of our local Democratic Party to build our party and ensure inclusion of many voices as we determine the direction we want our party to take when endorsing candidates or crafting policy platforms? There is a key solution for solving this problem: we must organize to reform our party and hold elected officials accountable to our progressive priorities.

Next month, in June, I along with more than a dozen other long-standing Bushwick residents and activists will be petitioning to get on the Kings County Democratic Committee in our Assembly District (AD54). Others should do the same where they live. This includes knocking on doors and collecting roughly 40 signatures of registered Democrats in a four-to-five block radius of your home, depending on the exact map of your election district.

Door-knocking allows for honest conversation with our neighbors about why we’re doing this. We’re tired of having a Democratic Party that is not doing the utmost to push the envelope on things that matter to us. In Bushwick that means fighting the everyday displacement taking place and strengthening schools that have been ranked in the bottom third since state testing has been used as a performance measure.

I am proud to state that these new groups of individuals running for County Committee in AD54 are community board members, organizers, educators, community gardeners, and low- to middle-class tenants. This is important at a time when many progressive organizations in Brooklyn are being dismissed because of how heavily white their memberships appear to be. As a group, we are tired of business-as-usual politics. We are tired of not seeing our Assembly member and state senator at important local meetings. We are tired of progressivism not being the mantle on our table.

As a result, we’ll aim to get some of our very own neighbors to also join County Committee during our door-knocking adventures so we can further build voting blocs that hold our elected officials accountable. It is time for us to be the change we wish see in our local Democratic Party. It is time for us Brooklynites to join en masse and bust open the closed doors of the Kings County Democratic Party.

***
Boris Santos is a community organizer for the office of City Council Member Antonio Reynoso and a former public school teacher. The opinions expressed here are his alone.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Expanding Health Insurance Enrollment Will Help Heal New Yorkers and Our Public Hospitals


Carlina Rivera City Council

Council Member Rivera, one of the authors (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Even in an era of relentless attack on health care by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress, New York City is continuing to reap enormous benefits from the Affordable Care Act. This year alone another 80,000 city residents enrolled in health coverage through our state’s Obamacare exchange.

But a huge number are still being left behind: an estimated 962,000 adults in the five boroughs remain uninsured. These New Yorkers -- many of whom are living in poverty -- often receive no health care until their conditions are severe enough to land them in the emergency room.

The trend is not good for those New Yorkers’ health, as they should have access to preventive care, regular check-ups, and other aspects of quality health care. What’s more, the current situation is also dealing a serious financial blow to our struggling public hospital system (known as Health + Hospitals), whose vital mission it is to serve those in need, including the uninsured. For H+H to avoid financial disaster we need to close the health insurance gap in New York City.

H+H serves over a million patients per year in a network of 11 acute care hospitals and dozens of other facilities throughout the five boroughs. These institutions are by far our city’s largest provider of care to Medicaid recipients, mental health patients, and -- critically -- those who are uninsured.

For decades our public hospitals -- Bellevue, Kings County, Harlem, Elmhurst and others -- have been the ultimate safety net for New Yorkers with nowhere else to turn. H+H’s diverse and committed staff, its proximity to low-income communities, and its sliding-scale fees have helped establish it as second-to-none in serving the neediest New Yorkers.

But balancing the books at our public hospitals has never been easy, in part because Medicaid reimbursement rates are so low. The system’s challenges have only gotten worse in recent years as federal and state safety-net funding has shrunk. And now tectonic changes in the health sector have dealt further blows, as care rapidly moves from inpatient to outpatient services.

The result: H+H is confronting a $1.3 billion deficit this year, projected to balloon to $2.1 billion next year.

This financial strain has real implications for patients, compounding long-running problems in the system. The wait time for appointments at H+H can stretch into the months. Many of the system’s buildings are crumbling, with leaking roofs at Harlem Hospital, deteriorated plumbing at Lincoln, obsolete electric systems at Metropolitan, and elevators throughout the system that are so outdated that their replacement parts are no longer sold.

H+H’s new CEO, Dr. Mitchel Katz, has laid out a multi-pronged plan to address this crisis. He has set out to reduce administrative expenses, more effectively bill insurance companies, and retain more paying patients, among other efforts.

But there is another critical strategy needed to save H+H: New York City urgently needs to enroll more people in health insurance.

Our public hospitals treat over 400,000 uninsured patients each year. That represents hundreds of millions of dollars of lost insurance billing for those eligible for coverage. Providing this health care regardless of ability to pay is the moral thing to do. It also affects the health of all New Yorkers by helping us prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

We need to tap health insurance as a way to make this important work financially sustainable. That’s why it’s critical that we dramatically ramp up our outreach and enrollment efforts.

Today, most funding for ACA enrollment is provided by the State, which spends about $12 million per year on a network of community-based organizations in the five boroughs offering health insurance navigation assistance.

Several City agencies also have dedicated teams doing enrollment, but the numbers are small: only about 50 staff at Human Resources Administration (HRA) and 70 at Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

We need an aggressive, coordinated plan to take this work to the next level. And we need to be on the ground in neighborhoods. Community-based non-profits make ideal partners for this work, because of their cultural competence and because of the trust they so often have earned in low-income communities.

One group of New Yorkers can’t get enrolled no matter how much we spend on outreach: undocumented immigrants. But there’s a win-win possibility for them as well. By investing in a program to provide them access to primary care we can improve health outcomes and prevent the more costly H+H emergency room admissions that would otherwise occur.

A twin effort to enroll more New Yorkers who are eligible for insurance and to fund access to primary care for those who are undocumented would improve the health of our people while going a long way to shore up the finances of our public hospital system.

That would be a giant step forward to the goal of ensuring that each and every New Yorker, regardless of income or immigration status, has access to the affordable, high-quality care they need.

***
Mark Levine and Carlina Rivera are members of the New York City Council. Levine chairs the Council’s health committee, Rivera chairs its hospitals committee. On Twitter @MarkLevineNYC and @CarlinaRivera.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

End the Parking Giveaways, Increase Revenue and Reduce Congestion


mbdb alfred smith

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


New York City’s Department of Finance announced last week that it is moving to reduce the discounts it gives to commercial vehicles through a 15-year-old program that gives companies like Verizon and Fresh Direct a bulk break on parking tickets.

City officials say that the program’s new, higher fees will help reduce congestion by raising the pain for trucks that are double-parked or otherwise blocking traffic, as well as raise revenues by a relatively small amount: $17 million annually. They have sweetened the pill by creating a $120,000-a-year parking czar who supposedly will act as the ticket-payers’ advocate.

But the measure is too little, too late. The problem with the Finance Department’s parking programs -- one is for companies that make short deliveries and another for those with trucks that might stay longer -- is not lack of enforcement; it’s their very existence. New Yorkers should tell their representatives to end, not mend, these inherently unfair, road-clogging, fume-producing programs. A bill pending now in the state Legislature, sponsored in the Assembly by David Weprin (D-Queens), would do that.

Why are the city’s bulk-discount programs for parking tickets so unfair? Aren’t they good for businesses that make deliveries?

Much has changed since Mayor Bloomberg created the programs back in 2003 -- our shopping habits, for one. In the days before massive online shopping, a delivery might be a quick curbside hit by a van. Now, big trucks will park in no-parking zones for hours, as workers unload hand-truck after hand-truck. Traffic crawls around them. Congestion leads to more congestion -- and air pollution, as all kinds of vehicles sit idling.

The parking scofflaws also adversely affect safety for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, especially disabled people who must negotiate round the trucks and who depend on unfettered access to parking.

The programs also hurt the little guy. The average citizen does not get to enroll in the programs; we have to fight infractions in hearings or hire agents (like my firm) to do it for us. And higher fees for tickets also will hurt the smaller firms in the program, forcing them to spend more time in court.

The biggest losers may be the taxpayers. The city estimates that it settled almost half of the 3 million tickets incurred by businesses in the programs -- revenues that could have added up to $100 million to city coffers annually. When the city zeroes out tickets through the programs, it also expunges a $15 surcharge on all tickets mandated by the state, which funds anti-drunk driving education, help for indigent defendants, and domestic-violence programs. That deprives the government of another $45 million or so annually.

For all these reasons, these outdated programs amount to corporate welfare we can ill-afford, and they breed cynicism about our traffic laws. Why do some get their fines reduced as part of the cost of doing business, while everyday people pay full freight, so to speak?

Tell your representatives that the meter has run out on these programs.

***
Glen Bolofsky is the CEO of parkingticket.com, a nationwide, web-based service that disputes parking fines.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Contradictions of Cross-Endorsements in the Governor’s Race


howie h gov

(photo via Facebook: @HowieHawkinsForGovernorPolitician)


That didn’t take long. On Saturday, April 13 the Working Families Party endorsed Democrat Cynthia Nixon for New York Governor. By the following Tuesday, the WFP said they didn’t really mean it.

“We will not be a spoiler,” said Bill Lipton, the WFP’s political director, indicating that the WFP will take Nixon off its ballot line if she loses the Democratic primary against Governor Andrew Cuomo. Perhaps the WFP will offer Cuomo their ballot line for a third time if he wins the Democratic primary – if he will take it.

I feel for rank-and-file WFP progressives. It’s an abusive relationship. They got double-crossed by Cuomo in 2014 when they endorsed him. This year they got strong-armed by Cuomo when they didn’t.

I would like to reassure WFP progressives that, whatever happens in the Democratic primary, the Green Party gubernatorial ticket will offer a progressive alternative in the November 6 general election.

Only three parties – Democratic, Republican, and Green – created their ballot lines by running their own candidates. The other five ballot-qualified parties got the 50,000 votes for governor needed for a ballot line by cross-endorsing the Democrat or Republican. These so-called “fusion” parties function like political clubs inside the major parties, not independent parties.

When the WFP endorsed Cuomo over Zephyr Teachout in 2014, Cuomo’s double-cross began immediately. He backed away the next day from promises he made to get the endorsement in his so-called hostage video to the WFP convention. At the Celebrate Israel Parade the morning after, Cuomo told reporters, “It’s very simple at these political conventions: you either win or you lose. Uh, and I won…At the end of the day I won the endorsement, and that’s what’s really relevant.”

On that morning after, Cuomo broke his promise of the night before to allow municipalities to raise the minimum wage. Asked about his promise to help Democrats take control of the State Senate, Cuomo said, “This is about electing people who support an agenda. I also will oppose Democrats who have opposed things that we have tried to pass."

Over the next nearly four years, Cuomo spent none of his political capital to pressure the Independent Democratic Conference to break its governing coalition with Senate Republicans. Cuomo used the Senate to deflect blame for his failure to enact so much of what he had promised the WFP, including full funding of public schools, the Dream Act, abortion-rights protections, government ethics reform, and public campaign financing. Cuomo played the WFP and took their votes for granted.

So this year the WFP was right to endorse a progressive challenger. Cuomo’s response, according to WFP leaders, was a power play to pull the unions out of the WFP and threaten to cut union and state funding for WFP-affiliated community organizations.

Then there are the scores of WFP-endorsed “Working Families Democrats,” as this nominal third party refers to them, who are running for the State Senate and Assembly. No doubt these Democrats feel pressure from the Democratic machine, and particularly the big Democratic donors who back Cuomo, to endorse Cuomo...or else.

Such are the contradictions of fusion balloting. It would be confusing for the WFP to run Nixon against Cuomo in November when it is also supporting Democrats whose ticket would be headed by Cuomo. Organizing working people to vote for the corporate-sponsored Democrats is like organizing workers into a company union run by the bosses.

The Green Party takes a different approach. We organize working people and progressives into a party that is independent of the Democrats’ corporate donor swamp of real estate barons, Wall Street bankers, media and movie moguls, military contractors, and big pharma and insurance. Our political independence forces Democrats to compete for progressive voters instead of taking them for granted. The Green vote gives us political leverage. We try to win, but we don’t have to win the office to make a difference.

The 184,419 votes for 5% in the general election that the Green gubernatorial ticket received in 2014 reinforced the 192,210 votes that Zephyr Teachout got in the Democratic primary. Cuomo, who had wanted to run up his vote for a presidential run, received a smaller percentage than he had in 2010. Seeking those votes to his left after that election, Cuomo adopted a number of Green demands, from the fracking ban and paid family leave to partial implementation of the $15 minimum wage and tuition-free public college.

Greens will demand more this year, including single-payer health care, fully-funded public schools, a stop to fracked-gas infrastructure, 100% clean energy by 2030, and public campaign finance. And we will still be on the ballot in November.

***
Howie Hawkins, a recently retired Teamster from Syracuse, was the Green Party candidate for Governor of New York in 2010 and 2014 and is seeking its nomination again this year. On Twitter @HowieHawkins.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

New York City Tourism Industry Deserves Credit for Major Job Growth


mayorsoffice ferry

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


Over the past two decades, tourism to New York City has swelled from 33 million to nearly 63 million annual visitors, with powerful ripples throughout the city’s economy. Once just one sector among many, tourism has risen to become one of the top four employment drivers in the city, according to a new report published by the Center for an Urban Future, the Association for a Better New York, and the Times Square Alliance

This spike in tourists has sparked hundreds of thousands of new jobs in hotels, restaurants, retail shops, museums, airports, tour bus companies, and even travel-tech startups. More than 291,000 New Yorkers count on tourism for their jobs—putting it on par with the tech ecosystem, the creative economy, and the finance industry. Better yet, the tourism industry provides real, middle-class jobs with an average annual income of $62,000, outpacing comparable sectors like manufacturing.

Given this new data, the city should make concrete efforts that recognize tourism’s role in the region’s economy. Investments in infrastructure, marketing and promotion, and other commonsense initiatives that make this region more convenient to visit will fuel growth across many job sectors.

The city will need to upgrade its tourism infrastructure. New York has never adequately planned for 60 million tourists a year, and it has not made enough of the infrastructure investments that are needed to sustain this many annual visitors. The city needs to create new solutions for tour bus parking and elected officials should push to modernize the air traffic control system. The city should also create its first long-term tourism plan, with involvement from economic development, planning, and transportation agencies.

Despite the stunning influx of tourists, New York’s tourism sector faces several new and evolving challenges, from the strong dollar to a tourism promotion budget that has not stayed competitive with that of marketing agencies in other global destinations. New York boasts one of the best tourism promotion agencies in the world, NYC & Company, but the city should increase its budget to support its important mission and bolster the tourism industry citywide.

With tourists accounting for roughly 70 percent of passengers at JFK Airport and 50 percent at LaGuardia, the Port Authority should continue its work to improve the airport experience. The agency has made important investments in recent years, but should consider new initiatives like free WiFi in all airports, and more multilingual staff and wayfinding signage in terminals to support and encourage tourism.

New investments in infrastructure and a more welcoming environment for tourists would have resounding effects across the economy. Tourists are responsible for 24 percent of all Visa credit card transactions at the city’s restaurants and bars, and make nearly one-fifth of all purchases at the city’s retail stores, a crucial boost as many retailers face increasing pressure from online competition.

Out-of-towners are also fueling the growth in attendance at cultural institutions—and the job gains that have come with it. Tourists now comprise 73 percent of visitors to the Museum of Modern Art, 70 percent of visitors to the Whitney Museum of American Art, and 60 percent of the Metropolitan Museum’s visitors. The city’s museums and historical sites have added 4,500 jobs in the past 15 years—an 86 percent increase.

With a billion people poised to join the ascendant global middle class, opportunity lies ahead for New York City’s tourism economy—along with thousands of new jobs. But channeling sustainable growth in the future will require increased planning and a new way of thinking about the 60-plus million annual tourists that the city has today.

***
Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. Angela Pinsky is executive director of the Association for a Better New York. Tim Tompkins is president of the Times Square Alliance.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To Maximize Affordable Housing, Increase Collaboration Between Public and Private Sectors


department housing affordable

(photo: @NYCHousing)


The millions of New Yorkers struggling to deal with impacts of an urgent housing crisis deserve to see more collaboration between government officials and industry leaders who have the power to provide more affordable homes for low- and middle-income families.

Fortunately, the recently-passed state budget provides a reminder of what can be achieved when public officials advance smart, pro-housing policies with appropriate input and feedback from local leaders and those who build and preserve affordable housing. Alongside ongoing positive strides at the city level, New York City is well-positioned to further address its housing crisis and truly turn the tide in the months and years to come.

Just as importantly, this roadmap for crafting public policy – driven by an ongoing dialogue between the public and private sector – will help New York to more effectively mitigate recent changes at the federal level that have created some new challenges to maximizing affordable housing production.

Aside from continuing to advance New York State’s multi-billion-dollar commitment to financing affordable housing construction and preservation, the new state budget includes two prime case studies that demonstrate the benefits of increasing that kind of collaboration.

First, the state approved changes that will allow builders of affordable housing to utilize State Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (SLIHTC) separately from federal LIHTC. Previously, those credits could only be used together, even after recent federal tax cuts led to a devaluation in federal credits that made it harder to finance low-income housing.

Sensing the long-term implications of this challenge, NYSAFAH raised the issue directly with state lawmakers and administration officials. The result was a commonsense, pro-housing decision to split up, or bifurcate, the state and federal tax credits and to certificate the state credits – and these simple moves will attract millions in additional private financing for affordable housing each year, at no cost to the state.

Another area of fruitful collaboration involved a different issue regarding tax credits. The initial state budget proposal included a provision that would have deferred the use of several different credits – which play a crucial role in the production of affordable housing – for at least the next three years, and devalue the credits for a far greater period.

Again, NYSAFAH and other stakeholders understood from our experience on the ground that this was an area of tremendous concern. Taking pivotal tax credits off the table would have made it impossible to build and preserve affordable housing in communities that need it most.

And again, the conversations with and persistent advocacy before state officials led to a successful outcome – the tax credits were preserved and the affordable housing pipeline will continue to produce homes for low-income New Yorkers.

Together with the ongoing work at the local level, these statewide advances should demonstrate to all policymakers and stakeholders that open, fact-based dialogue is one of our best and most valuable tools in the fight to confront New York’s affordable housing crisis.

As NYSAFAH welcomes leaders from across the public and private sectors to its 19th Annual New York City Conference in the days to come, we have every reason to believe that these positive discussions will continue. And that is good news for all New Yorkers.

***
Jolie Milstein is president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH). On Twitter @NYSAFAH.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Mayor’s Much-Needed Investment in Culturally Responsive Education


de Blasio Carranza

Mayor de Blasio & Chancellor Carranza visit a school (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement last week that the City is investing $23 million in culturally responsive education and anti-bias training in schools -- likely the largest investment of its type nationally -- is welcome news for New York City parents, educators, and researchers.

Education researchers have long-known that culturally responsive education (CRE) -- the practice of aligning curriculum and instruction with students’ backgrounds, life experiences, and cultures -- has a positive impact on improving student outcomes, especially for students of color. Just in the past two years, research has shown growth in student outcomes from having Black teachers, fostering positive racial identity, and taking Ethnic Studies courses.

Results from a new survey concur. They show that New York City teachers are eager to use CRE as a strategy to improve educational outcomes. According to the survey of nearly 400 city public school teachers conducted by the NYU Metro Center, a majority of teachers believe that CRE would improve their practice. However, a lack of preparation and expertise has limited the extent to which teachers can put CRE to practice.

The vast majority of respondents (87%) felt that teachers are responsible for helping students acquire the skills to critically understand, analyze, and respond to issues related to race and ethnicity. An even greater majority (93%) said they would be willing to modify their lessons to connect with students of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Until now, support for teachers to do this has been scarce, both in teacher preparation programs and in professional development offerings. Fewer than one in three (29%) of the teachers surveyed reported that they receive ongoing professional development on issues of race and ethnicity in the classroom, and only 10% indicated that they rely on the city Department of Education for this support. When tensions related to racial, ethnic, sexuality, or other identities arise between students inside schools, over half (55%) of respondents said they felt unprepared to intervene, and 93% said their colleagues would be unprepared to intervene.

The mayor’s announcement can begin to change that.

However, the city’s program must become bolder. In order for them to actually shift their practices to teach more effectively across differences, teachers will need a program of deep, ongoing training – not just a one-day workshop. Unlearning biases, being reflective about one’s identities, reconstructing curricula that are sustaining and relevant to students, and bridging the distance between student and teacher does not happen overnight.

Survey respondents call for more training on integrating race and ethnicity into their lessons, more resource materials, and more opportunities for relevant discussions with colleagues. They will need ongoing support to work effectively across lines of race and ethnicity, to ensure that teaching and learning is culturally responsive for all our children, and that teachers are culturally competent to teach them.

In this time of heightened visibility and awareness of racial bias in education, teachers are eager for ways to reach beyond differences to close gaps not only in student achievement but also between student and teacher. Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, with his extensive history and track record with bridging cultural divides, is the right leader to make New York City a national model in the area of culturally responsive education.

We hope that New York City can now finally and truly make culturally responsive education the core of its strategy for educating all students, particularly those most implicated by cultural bias.

[Access the full survey findings here.]

***
David Kirkland is the Executive Director and Jahque Bryan-Gooden is a Research Analyst at the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.