Archive for October, 2005

Zap The Charter School Cap
October 31st, 2005

Two weeks following the New York Sun’s editorial supporting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to lift the cap on the number of charter schools, set at 100 statewide, the New York Post editorial argues that creating 50 new charter schools in New York City is Bloomberg and Klein’s most radical but necessary reform.

“More than 10,000 kids statewide are already on waiting lists at existing charter schools — that’s essentially one kid on a waiting list for each kid in a charter-school seat,” the Post writes.

By on October 31, 2005, 5:44 pm
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Debate Excitement -- Fighting Words
October 31st, 2005

The blog Drinking Liberally is so excited about the live debate that it is holding a party to watch it in this hip former firehouse in Tribeca turned non-profit TV studios.

Of course the debate they are talking about is the one next Sunday between Jimmy Smits (playing Democratic presidential candidate Matt Santos) and Alan Alda (playing his Republican rival Arnold Vinick) on The West Wing, which NBC promises will be live, and is even encouraging viewers to submit questions for the candidates. It’s not clear whether we will get to vote as well.

There was nothing I could discern on Drinking Liberally about those other debaters that New Yorkers could watch (and definitely vote f0r), Michael Bloomberg and Fernando Ferrer — who debated yesterday and are scheduled to debate tomorrow — and few other bloggers seem to have commented either.

The reliable (another way of saying slightly fanatical) Ben Smith from The Politicker did offer an exercise in minute-by-minute “live-blogging” running commentary during the debate itself early Sunday morning, and then followed up with an interesting take today on an easy-to-miss issue that was brought up obliquely during the debate -— Ferrer’s proposal to tax vacant land in order to encourage owners to build.

Jen Chung from Gothamist, who called the debate “sub-scintillating” (Now Jen, is anything scintillating at 9 a.m. Sunday morning?), handily summarized the press “analysis” (the Post called Ferrer “animated,” the Daily News said the debate was “too little too late,” the Times said it was Ferrer’s “best day in the race ever”) while mercifully sparing us from repeating their excruciating fight metaphors, such as this one from the Daily News — “But like an 11th-round flurry of punches from an already wounded prizefighter, Ferrer’s assaults were probably too little, too late in a race that is now only nine days away from the final bell, experts say.” (Why not “fight promoters say”?) — or this one from the New York Post — “Bloomberg and Ferrer continued to duke it out at center stage, regardless of the rules” — or these from the New York Times analysis — “outmatched”, “parried” “‘it’s hard to remember any major blows that landed’..”(that last a quote from Mark Green).

It might be unfair to, well, beat up the newspaper reporters for this — Julie from School of Blog, who clearly did not even watch the debate, repeated Ferrer’s line about not running for mayor of fourth grade, and then labeled it “apparentlyone of the only good jabs.” She was at least more original in her follow-up observation, offering visual proof of how the two candidates “strikingly resemble woodland creatures” — Bloomberg a tortoise, and Ferrer a chipmunk.

The only newspaper to write an editorial about the debate — as opposed to a news analysis in the news pages — was the New York Sun, which praised Bloomberg for saying something Sunday morning that he had refused to say previously — that he would try to avoid raising taxes to close next year’s budget gap. The editorial writer gushed sarcastically over “what a wonderful influence an approaching election can have on a politician’s mind” and suggested: ” Maybe the way to reduce the city’s tax burden, among the highest in the nation, is to have annual elections.”

Times reporter Patrick Healy believed that Ferrer “achieved two goals with his debate performance that his cash-poor campaign has not: He made himself look larger, and Mr. Bloomberg less mighty, than recent polls suggest. Problem is, yesterday’s debate – and a second one scheduled to be broadcast at 7 p.m. tomorrow on WNBC Channel 4 – may come too late to dash the aura of inevitability that surrounds Mr. Bloomberg’s re-election drive” — an inevitability helped along by some $64 million (so far) in campaign spending. Healy allowed himself to scoff at Bloomberg’s explanation for this unprecedented spending — that the mayor needed to get the word out and didn’t have a Democratic machine to do so. “In a city that is about five-to-one Democratic, this point could be taken with a straight face if the mayor could even remotely be considered an underdog.”

(A second Sun editorial agreed that the disparity in campaign spending was unfair, and blamed it on the city’s campaign finance laws.)

To make your own judgment about the debate, go here for the transcript.

By on October 31, 2005, 1:32 pm
In category: Electoral Politics | 1 Comment »

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Atlantic Yards "Spirited Exchange" In The Bloomberg-Ferrer Debate
October 31st, 2005

Norman Oder in his blog opposing the Atlantic Yards posts a transcript of the “spirited exchange” in the mayoral debate over that Brooklyn development:

“Errol Louis of the Daily News editorial board: Mr. Ferrer, in the first few weeks of his administration, Mr. Bloomberg undid many of the initiatives of his predecessor. If you’re elected mayor, which, if any, of the initiatives of the Bloomberg administration would you plan to undo?

“Freddy Ferrer: Well, there’s one important one that I will undo and that’s Atlantic Yards. I will call a halt to that project and reevaluate it. Look, as we’re beginning to scratch under the surface of a Nets arena in Manhattan and the construction of thousands of units of housing. The original promise was 50% affordability. Now we’re finding secret memos emerging that talk about condemning businesses that are ongoing and building then 26- to 2800 units of luxury housing. Those are things I think that deserve full view and a full review of the people who live there. Now I supported, and I felt strongly about the powerful aspects of 50% housing affordability, and the Community Benefits Agreement that would bring small businesses and community people into the full life of the project. But I object to the lack of transparency. I object to the backroom deals. I object to the things we are beginning to see emerge about a project that is becoming the twin brother of the West Side boondoggle.

“Mike Bloomberg: Well, I couldn’t disagree more. And I think Al Sharpton who supported my opponent said it very well: this is about jobs for people in that community, this is about housing for people in that community. This is a project that has had as much scrutiny as anything: community boards, and scrutiny from the newspapers, and scrutiny from every single state agency that’s involved. This is the right kind of project for the city, builds houses, creates jobs, helps the spirit of Brooklyn, and takes a place that’s been vacant for decades–50 years or more—and does something with it that will help this city.”

In his blog, Oder picks apart both answers — “Ferrer’s answer wasn’t completely coherent…But Bloomberg’s defense was much weaker….” — then provides a detailed critique of the inadequate press coverage of this exchange in the debate.

By on October 31, 2005, 9:58 am
In category: Electoral Politics,Land Use | 1 Comment »

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Mayoral Debate -- Quick Q and A's
October 30th, 2005

The following is a quick summary, mostly paraphrased, of the Questions and Answers during the first mayoral debate between Michael Bloomberg and Fernando Ferrer.

Q. Why have you spent so much?
Bloomberg: “I’m trying to get my message out… I don’t have a big Democratic machine behind me.” Ads are expensive.
Ferrer: Bloomberg’s money distorts debate, destroys ability to discuss the issues. You won’t hear in a Bloomberg ad there is a 50 percent drop-out rate, one in five New Yorkers live in poverty, Bloomberg vetoed three bills that would have made it easier for the hungry to get food stamps.

Q. What would Ferrer undo that Bloomberg has done?
Ferrer: Atlantic Yards

Q. What would Bloomberg do to help blacks and Latinos get jobs?
Bloomberg: Opening up the unions, programs for minority-owned and women-owned businesses.
Ferrer: Bloomberg shouldn’t have focused so much on the Olympics and the West Side Stadium.

Q. What is Ferrer’s opinion of Goldman-Sachs tax break deal?
Ferrer: Misdirected priorities
Bloomberg: That deal will bring jobs.

Q. Should voters expect more property tax increases and raised fees ahead, given the looming budget gap?
Bloomberg: “We’ll be able to get through without it.”

Q. How would Ferrer have closed the past budget gap differently?
Ferrer: Hiring freeze, growing the economy
Bloomberg: We did that.

Q. Is Ferrer still interested in stock transfer tax?
Ferrer: We have an educational crisis
Bloomberg: We’ve raised school budget

Q. Why did MTA money go unspent for security?
Bloomberg: What they did was wrong, but things are going right now; the MTA “has finally got the message.”
Ferrer: Bloomberg’s appointees to the MTA have been “potted plants.”

Q. Should the NYPD be in charge of emergencies?
Ferrer: No, the Commissioner of Emergency Management
Bloomberg: Yes

Q. Three thousand fewer police officers and an increase in shootings. Related?
Bloomberg: The city doesn’t have the money to hire more. “Crime overall is down.”

At this point, there was an exchange about the two candidates’ national supporters, Bloomberg mentioning Howard Dean’s approval by the National Rifle Association, and then Ferrer mentioning the lack of support in Washington for gun control and bringing up Bloomberg’s support for George Bush and the national Republicans.
“You’ve supported right-wing politicians including the chairman of your own campaign. You can’t disclaim responsibility… You could do the people of this city a big favor sometimes by putting your checkbook away.”

Q. Can Bloomberg assure us he won’t close any more firehouses?
Bloomberg: We’ve increased the fire department, but no. “You can’t have a firehouse on every corner. We have to constantly re-evaluate where we put our resources.”
Ferrer: I will reopen four immediately.

Q. Both candidates have housing plans, but how do they address so many current rent-stabilized apartments going to market rate housing?
Ferrer: didn’t address the issue specifically; criticized Bloomberg and talked about his housing program.
Bloomberg: didn’t address the issue specifically, but talked about his housing program, rezoning.

Q. How will Bloomberg help renters with their high energy costs?
Bloomberg: We can’t do anything about the price of heating oli, but we can help New Yorkers in others ways.
Ferrer: Plan to cut taxes for renters.

Q: Would Ferrer support city-owned housing for the homeless
Ferrer: Yes. We also need to create more affordable housing
Bloomberg: Things are getting better

Q: Should the public have a chance to look at the education test scores?
Bloomberg: He trusts the scores; when the question was reiterated, he answered yes, “I didn’t realize” they didn’t have that right now.
Ferrer: At one point, responding to Bloomberg’s talk of increasing fourth grade reading and math scores, he said: “Look, I’m not running to be the mayor for the 4th grade. I’m running to be the mayor of all the grades.” He also brought up the 50 percent dropout rate again.
Bloomberg: disagrees that that is the rate
Ferrer: Your own chancellor said it

Q: Ferrer said four years ago that mayoral control of the schools was a political gimmick? Does he still think that, and would he reverse it?
Ferrer: He wouldn’t reverse it, but what he was saying turned out to be true.
Bloomberg: “At least the public finally has somebody to blame” or to credit.

Q: Why Bloomberg’s lack of focus on high schools?
Bloomberg: There hasn’t been a lack of focus; there have been smaller schools, and the addition of vocational programs.
Ferrer: “What city are you living in?”

Q: Ground Zero. Ferrer said initially you wanted the money for rebuilding to be spread to the five boroughs..
Ferrer: That was at the time, while Ground Zero wasn’t ready to be rebuilt. Most important is building a fitting memorial, and to have Ground Zero serve as an economic engine. “For years we’ve wasted time.”
Bloomberg: One has to do things simultaneously

Q: How does Bloomberg respond to critics who say he should have focused on Ground Zero for the past four years rather than West Side stadium?
Bloomberg: We have been focusing on it all along. Nine thousand housing units have been built down there.
Ferrer: We need to rebuild office space, keep downtown as an economic engine, not luxury condos.”For four years we’ve chased Olympic dreams and sweetheart deals for West Side stadiums; now it’s time to rebuild that economic engine for all of New York.”

Q: Ferrer has said he responded carelessly when asked about Amadou Diallo. How can we be assured he won’t respond carelessly in the future?
Ferrer:” I am a human being.” But he’s been consistent in his position, for example he drafted the first anti-racial profiling legislation in the city’s history.
Bloomberg: The police have done a good job, crime is down and people have been brought together.

Q: Not given fair share from Washington

This segued into a back-and-forth between Ferrer and Bloomberg about the Bush administration, Ferrer saying he was proud of how he worked with Bill Clinton to help reconstruct the Bronx, “are you proud of George Bush?”
Bloomberg: “George Bush is the president. I agree with him on some things, and disagree with him on other things….You’ve got to work with everybody.”

Ferrer then said that the war in Iraq had taken the lives of 37 New Yorkers and taken billions of dollars away from the city.

Q: The candidates were asked their pet peeve about the city
Bloomberg: “Everybody wants more service, nobody wants to pay for it.”
Ferer: Ticket blitzes, and the fact that not enough attention is paid to the high school dropout rate.

Then they made their closing statements.

Bloomberg: “I’ve always tried to do what is right for the city, and I am proud of what we have accomplished. We’ve brought crime down. We’ve improved test scores. We’ve made life expectancy in this city longer than the country as a whole. We’ve reduced death by fire and pedestrian deaths. We’ve gone and built housing in record numbers, we’ve brought job here, and people are getting along better than they have in an awful long time, I think. Is there more to do? Absolutely. That’s why I want another four years.”

Ferrer: “This morning you heard two very different visions of New York. Mike Bloomberg thinks everything’s going just great in this town, and for some it is. But for millions of others it isn’t.I’m running for mayor so that millions of others can cross over the bridge that I did. Mike Bloomberg says everything’s going fine in our schools, but half the kids don’t graduate. I’ll end the dropout crisis. Mike Bloomberg says there’s a housing boom, but the middle class is being crushed by property taxes that he raised. I’ll cut those taxes, and provide 167,000 affordable homes and apartments. Mike Bloomberg admits that there are two New Yorks, but he hasn’t done anything about them. Instead he spent most of his time going after a sweetheart deal for a West Side stadium, and forgotten the fact that one in five New Yorkers live in poverty. I’ll do something about that. That’s why I’m running for mayor.”

Stay tuned for the transcript, to see how much of this was accurately summarized.

Meanwhile, here is an account and video clips from WABC, one of the sponsors of the debate.

By on October 30, 2005, 11:05 am
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Mayoral Debate Sunday Morning At 9 A.M.
October 30th, 2005

The polls make it seem as if the result is a foregone conclusion, the newspapers have virtually all already made their endorsements — indeed the NY Times seems so sure that everybody’s mind is made up that it bizarrely devoted much of the front page of the Metro section yesterday to what socks the two main mayoral candidates wear. But the first of two debates between Michael Bloomberg and Fernando Ferrer doesn’t occur until today at 9 a.m. on WABC. (The final debate is Tuesday November 1st at 7 p.m. on WNBC)

One topic sure to come up is the mayor’s spending — $63.8 million so far, compared to $7.6 million for Ferrer.

That is more or less the first question that Joyce Purnick suggested asking during the debate in her Times column Metro Matters last Thursday, “Questions To Stir Up A Quiet Race.” To paraphrase:

For Bloomberg:
1.How can we, in the long run, have fairer elections when one candidate is unusually wealthy?
2. What took you so long to support enrolling more city children in government health programs? (You just mentioned it this week.)
3. Why the delay in supporting housing over commercial development at Ground Zero?
4. Do you think it was a mistake to push for the Olympics and the West Side Stadium?
5. Why have you made such minimal progress in the high schools?

For Ferrer:
1.What would you have done differently from Bloomberg to close the budget deficit he inherited?
2. What is your stand on the death penalty?
3. Do you still support a stock transfer tax to support education?
4. What do you want to build at Ground Zero?
5. Why criticize Bloomberg for trying to maintain good relations with the White House and Congress?

For both candidates:
How would you solve the problem of one in five New Yorkers living below the poverty line?

The answers to those questions might make a difference, since, contrary to assumptions, not everybody’s mind is made up. After reading columnist Juan Gonzalez’s advice to Freddy Ferrer to emphasize what he considers Bloomberg’s poor record in jobs, education and housing during the debate, blogger TJ
(a divorced 36-year-old mother from Brooklyn) wrote: “Wow I really need to watch this debate, I was leaning towards Bloomberg but now I may have to re-consider Ferrer.”

Though she doesn’t like Ferrer’s appeal to her based on her race, she is disturbed both by the poor state of education, and the high cost of housing, and gives some specifics of her particular situation.” So I need to watch this debate and see exactly what plans Ferrer has for this city…and how voting for him will make a difference in my life!”

A blogger who calls her self only
P, has another reason to look forward to the debate: “Just had a great surprise: it’s Daylight Savings Time Which means I can actually go for my run BEFORE the 9:00 a.m. mayoral debate instead of after – yay! Nothing worse than watching politicians diss each other before you’ve actually woken up.”

By on October 30, 2005, 12:08 am
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Libby Indictment -- the New York Angle
October 29th, 2005

Here is how Maureen Dowd begins her Saturday column about the Libby indictment: “It was bracing to see the son of a New York doorman open the door on the mendacious Washington lair of the Lord of the Underground.

“But this Irish priest of the law, Patrick Fitzgerald, neither Democrat nor Republican, was very strict, very precise. He wasn’t totally gratifying in clearing up the murkiness of the case, yet strangely comforting in his quaint black-and-white notions of truth and honor (except when his wacky baseball metaphor seemed to veer toward a “Who’s on first?” tangle).

“‘This indictment’s not about the propriety of the war,’ he told reporters yesterday in his big Eliot Ness moment at the Justice Department. The indictment was simply about whether the son of an investment banker perjured himself before a grand jury and the F.B.I.”

An anonymous commentator in The Politicker had this local angle: “Mayor, close your eyes, click your heels, and repeat after me: ‘It’s not a local issue, it’s not a local issue, it’s not…'”

By on October 29, 2005, 4:00 am
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Yes on Ballot Proposal One
October 28th, 2005

Rachel Leon of Common Cause and Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group lay out their case for supporting Ballot Proposal One in this morning’s Newsday. [Wonkster has previously discussed why others oppose itseveral times.]

The proposal’s main merit, say Leon and Horner, is that it opens up the budget process to scrutiny. It does so by making agency budgetary requests public, moving items like health care onto the ballot instead of negotiating them separately, and creating an independent budget office.

Critics of the proposal who claim it will lead to fiscal mismanagement ignore these positive changes, as well as the key safeguards that remain in place like the governor’s line item veto, they say.

Leon and Horner do not claim that the proposal will guarantee on-time budgets — something that critics of the proposal attack its supporters for saying. Nor do they believe the proposal is perfect. But it is, they argue, better than the status quo.

By on October 28, 2005, 9:51 am
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Slowest Buses in NYC
October 28th, 2005

The transit advocates, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives released their annual Pokey Awards Wednesday, rating the city’s slowest buses.

Manhattan’s M34 gets the top prize at 3.4 mph. To give you a sense of how slow that is, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign notes that “The average human being walks at about 3.0 miles an hour.”

Rated by borough, the slowest buses are:

Manhattan – M34 – 3.4 mph – Cross-town on 34th Street in Manhattan,
Brooklyn – B63 – 5.2 mph – Between Bay Ridge and Cobble Hill,
Bronx – Bx19 – 4.9 mph – Between Fordham in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan,
Queens – Q58 – 6.9 mph – Between Ridgewood and Flushing,
Staten Island – S61 – 11.9 mph – Between the Staten Island Mall and Ferry Terminal.

I actually commute on the B63, and the Southbound regularly passes 2 or 3 times before a Northbound picks me up. Very frustrating.

Among the suggestions for improvements, the advocates recommend “Bus Rapid Transit” strategies :

Wider bus lanes with expanded hours.
Longer bus stops to eliminate waits for multiple buses to enter the stop.
Bus lanes with physical means to discourage other vehicles from violating bus lanes.
Pre-boarding fare payment at high-volume times and places to reduce dwell time at stops.
Bus priority signals to help late-arriving buses catch up to schedule.
Scheduling for even spacing while allowing buses to travel as fast as conditions allow.

Giving the city credit, they note that “In July 2004, the MTA awarded a $3 million contract to a team of consultants to review strategies to make buses faster. The ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ study is ongoing and is being conducted with the City Department of Transportation.

Over at the Gothamist, Jen Chung thinks the slowest bus in Staten Island would be considered speeding in Manhattan., a forum on buses, has a long thread discussing the report. A few general themes running through it are the need for better traffic enforcement, more bus doors, putting fault on passengers for time-delays.

[email protected] says Bus Operators used to “‘call in’ an out-of-synch traffic light to Console, who would in turn, notify the [Department of Transportation] who would in turn, dispatch a Welsbach maintenance truck to the location within 2 hours of the call thereby easing the flow of traffic in ‘real time’. Now, the DOT no longer takes these calls from the TA. Such issues must be submitted via letter from a depot manager (Road Control), which can take upwards of a week to remedy.”

Deaks makes an interesting comparison with England, “the bus lane has two raised bollards at the start of it – these lower when a transponder-fitted bus approaches, and raise again as soon as it’s passed. Soon after their installation, a local taxi driver proved that, no matter how closely a car driver may follow the bus through the bollards, they do raise again before” they can sneak in.

And finally, I just have to point out the Post’s headline: Wheely Slow.

By on October 28, 2005, 8:27 am
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The World Trade Center Bombing
October 28th, 2005

The jury was right to find the Port Authority liable for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, writes the Daily News,
since the authority ignored the warnings of a report it commissioned eight years earlier that predicted what would happen. “But where the jury went wrong by a wide margin was in apportioning responsibility, assigning 68% to the PA and only 32% to the bombers.

“The error was a boon to the victims because it exposes the Port Authority to potentially huge payouts, but it’s likely to be corrected as the courts take a second look. Why wait that long? Both sides, the PA and the victims, should begin negotiating a settlement that’s more in line with justice.”

The blogosphere generally has been less measured in its reaction to the assigning of blame, calling it variously “stunning,” “a comedy of terrors,” “the most insane news of the day.” “You have got to be kidding,” David Gillies writes in Daily Pundit. “Because the Port Authority failed to implement a bunch of safety measures despite warnings (in a city on the cusp of bankruptcy), they somehow became twice as culpable as the actual perpetrators… To be fair, the Port Authority does appear to have been severely complacent, but it’s the sheer disparity of the blame attached to each side that sticks in my craw.”

By on October 28, 2005, 6:18 am
In category: Crime & Safety,Law | 1 Comment »

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The Miers Withdrawal
October 27th, 2005

Columnists and commentators will spend the next several days debating what finally forced Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers to withdraw, but there were clear signs that the wave of opposition to her had turned into a tsunami.

The New York Sun reported this morning that “at least two Republican senators are poised to call on the White House to withdraw the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.”

And New York Senator Charles Schumer, a key player in the confirmation process, expressed irritation after Miers did not respond to a Senate questionnaire yesterday. “The Miers nomination is suffering from a serious bout of delay, distraction, and disorganization and needs a dramatic turnaround,” Schumer said.

Now that Miers’ nomination is history Schumer was a bit more charitable (emphasis on a bit). He called Miers “capable,” but added, “This clearly was the wrong position for her.”

And, following this morning’s withdrawal, New York’s junior senator Hilary Clinton said in a prepared statement, “I hope that the president honors the Constitution’s mandate and seeks the ‘advise and consent’ of the Senate as he considers his next nominee to serve on the Supreme Court. Whomever he chooses must be a guardian of the rule of law who puts fairness and justice before ideology.”

Looking back on the whole episode, Brooklyn based blogger Peaces of Heaven sees the nomination as doomed. “There seemed to be no support for her nomination from anyone,” she wrote. “[Miers] had no clear cut stance on anything to allow anyone to back her.” But the blogger sees little reason for optimism when President George W. Bush is involved: “I will sit here and dread who he drags out next… maybe his dog groomer?”

By on October 27, 2005, 12:32 pm
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Vote Yes On Transportation Bond, Times Says
October 27th, 2005

The New York Times today asks New Yorkers to support ballot proposition 2, the $2.9 billion Renew and Rebuild New York transportation bond issue, which would allow the state to borrow half of that money for “the whole complex transportation structure downstate.”

Unlike most state debt, which “is the wrong kind, debt contracted on the sly by the quasi-public authorities that don’t have to play by the state rules,” the Times says the “bond issue is straightforward: a request to the voters, as the law requires. Such ‘front door’ debt comes at a better rate, which ultimately costs the state and its taxpayers less money.” The alternative to this bond could be more bad debt or higher fares.

The New York Post previously urged a no vote. See Gotham Gazette’s transportation topic page for an overview, and arguments for and against the bond act.

By on October 27, 2005, 6:19 am
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Ferrer's Advantage — Jobs, Education, Housing
October 27th, 2005

Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez writes that Fernando Ferrer “gets a chance to keep his comeback hopes alive” if during the first of two debates with Michael Bloomberg on Sunday morning, he goes on the attack in three areas:

Jobs: “More than 81,000 have been lost in this city since Bloomberg became mayor”

Public Education: Federal test scores show only 34 percent of fourth graders in New York “met the standard for proficiency, while Albany officials – using their own standard – were claiming” 85 percent. “That’s an astounding difference.”

Housing: “Is there anybody in this city who doesn’t think the cost of housing is obscenely high?” Gonzalez asks, and then catalogues the “wholesale displacement of low-income and middle-class families” during the Bloomberg administration — the decontrol of 200,000 rent-stabilized apartments because they have gone over the $2,000-per-month threshold, and the conversion to the private market of 40,000 Mitchell Lama apartments (for the middle class) and 10,000 Section 8 apartments (for the poor). “Bloomberg’s aides routinely provide tax breaks for rich developers to build more luxury housing, usually throwing in a small percentage of ‘affordable’ units for public relations purposes.”

By on October 27, 2005, 5:45 am
In category: Education,Electoral Politics,Housing | 4 Comments »

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School Scores
October 26th, 2005

Education expert Diana Ravitch continues to argue that grade inflation has sparked much of the rise in student test scores since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took control of the city’s schools. Writing in the Daily News today, Ravitch compared scores on state tests with those on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “The performance of New York’s students on the NAEP is not as impressive as the claims made by the state about its own tests,” Ravitch said, adding the national exams ” reveal that New York and other states have a long way to go if they intend to prepare our students for tough global competition.”

The Wake-Up Call blog goes a lot further, faulting Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein for exercising raw power over the school system — despite a lack of any expertise. The schools rely too much on standardized tests, belittle educators and spin results to make the administration look good, said the blog’s Redhog , who concluded “Mayor Bloomberg is no more the ‘education mayor’ than China is a ‘people’s republic.'”

And New York magazine issued Klein a midterm report card this week. Calling him “the most polarizing chancellor in memory,” John Heilemann praised Klein for pursuing sweeping reforms and faults him for his management style. Assuming Klein stays for a few more years, he will have to address the shortcomings of his small high school initiative and deal with failing middle schools. And then? Well, Heilemann said, then Klein can be mayor. “”I think a lot about it.” the chancellor said.

By on October 26, 2005, 5:39 pm
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Bloomberg vs. Pataki
October 26th, 2005

Two local columnists take different sides in the dispute between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor George Pataki over plans for Ground Zero.

Writing in Newsday, Joseph Dolman cheers the mayor for speaking out — if belatedly — and calling for housing on the site. By doing so, Dolman writes, “The guy who hates histrionics is – right now – immersed in an open fight with Gov. George Pataki and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver over the future of lower Manhattan. The two Albany players feel angry, hurt, betrayed. Aw, poor babies.”

But the Daily News’ Michael Goodwin views Bloomberg’s move as an ill-advised flip-flop. As he plotted his ill-fated West Side stadium, Bloomberg spent three and a half years rubber stamping everything the governor wanted for Ground Zero. No wonder Pataki is perplexed by Bloomberg’s sudden interest, Goodwin says. And the governor is not alone. “By calling for a do-over, Bloomberg could turn downtown’s slow pace into no pace,” Goodwin wrote. That fact has united Pataki, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the Port Authority, all of them warning the mayor’s mixed signals could scare off firms from moving there.

By on October 26, 2005, 8:57 am
In category: Housing,Land Use | 1 Comment »

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Norman Won't or Can't Snitch
October 25th, 2005

The Politicker first reported that former Brooklyn Democratic party boss Clarence Norman would not bargain with Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes and give up corrupt judges in exchange for a lighter sentence. Norman’s lawyer released a statement saying that his client knows nothing, thus has no bargaining chip. He will be appealing the court’s ruling.

The next morning, the Daily News editorial board lamented that “hopes for a quick disinfection have faded for the moment.”

Skeptical of the new Brooklyn leader, Assemblymember Vito Lopez, the Daily News goes on to criticize Lopez’s pledge to reform the judcial process. They’ve “seen this movie before, and the ending stinks.”

News columnist Denis Hamill reacts with gallows humor, pointing out that the price of a judgeship has not even kept pace with inflation. Francios Rivera allegedly purchased his seat on the state Supreme Court for $50,000, the same price another judge reportedly paid for a Civil Court seat in Queens over three decades ago.

“‘In 1971, $50,000 bought you a nice second home in the Hamptons,’ says my source. ‘But in 2005, 50G couldn’t buy you a parking spot in Coney Island.”

“Have we sunk so low that a judgeship now costs less than a New York City taxi medallion?” asks Hamill.

By on October 25, 2005, 2:44 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Law | Comments Off on Norman Won't or Can't Snitch

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Party Matters, And Bloomberg Is A Republican
October 25th, 2005

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s reelection campaign is built on a central idea: it is his ideas, not his party affiliation, that matters.

But WNYC’s Brian Lehrer argues that there are at least five critical issues where parties matter in the race between Republican Michael Bloomberg and Democrat Fernando Ferrer.

The issues are:

1. Healthcare Security Act. The City Council recently passed a law requiring large grocery stores to provide health insurance. Bloomberg opposes it; Ferrer supports it.

2. Lead paint. The mayor vetoed more stringent regulations passed by the City Council; Ferrer supports them.

3. Taxes. Ferrer wants to tax the rich with a stock transfer tax and vacant land tax; Bloomberg’s property tax was focused at the middle class homeowners.

4. Home Health Aides. Ferrer has offered to help the city’s home health aides, who make below poverty line wages and get no benefits. Bloomberg turned down the request, and Ferrer got the endorsement of the health care union.

5. Inclusionary Zoning. Ferrer supports mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to build affordable housing. The mayor favors negotiating with developers individually and offering tax subsidies to encourage affordable housing.

“Classically, the Republican, Mayor Bloomberg believes in less regulation on business to help the working class,” Lehrer writes. “The Democrat, Ferrer, believes in more. Decide for yourself which approach you prefer. But don’t tell me this race has no issues, or no parties.”

By on October 25, 2005, 11:09 am
In category: Electoral Politics | 5 Comments »

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Bloomberg's Sudden Shift To Housing On Ground Zero
October 25th, 2005

Michael Bloomberg’s sudden re-entry into the planning for Ground Zero, and his announcement that he would like more housing and less commercial development at the site of the World Trade Center, has prompted some sharp differences of opinion among public officials and editorial writers.

Of the three newspapers weighing in today (the Daily News had its say on Sunday), The New York Post is the most critical: “It seems that redevelopment hasn’t been moving swiftly enough for Mayor Mike, so it’s time for a 180-degree shift in direction for Downtown — that is, time to transform Ground Zero and environs into a condo community for yuppies. We’re all for more condos — but not where the world meets to do business.Perhaps more to the point, where has Bloomberg been as the debate over the future of Ground Zero proceeded? ”

The Times is more welcoming — “Anybody who yearns for a speedy revival of Lower Manhattan should applaud the mayor’s re-entry into this difficult arena” — mostly, it seems, because it so disapproves of the job that Governor George Pataki has been doing. The Times disagrees with Bloomberg’s view that developer Larry Silverstein should be kicked out, fearing this would just slow down an already sluggish process, and it neither approves or disapproves of Bloomberg’s shift to housing, saying only that he will have time to make his argument.

Newsday approves both of Bloomberg’s sudden involvement and his shift in views. Of his late arrival: “Consider this a tough-love intervention by a mayor who sounds fed up with the growing implausibility of certain crucial aspects of the Ground Zero project…We forgive him for joining the game late – if, with his sharp words, he can jolt a new sense of urgency …”
Of his shift to housing: “Since 9/11, the demand for high-rise office space on the site of the Twin Towers has shrunk to microscopic proportions, while the market for housing has dramatically expanded. But the [Port Authority] and Silverstein, counting on insurance money, have doggedly pushed ahead with plans for more offices.” The public “has always favored more housing and fewer offices on the site.”

By on October 25, 2005, 8:35 am
In category: Housing,Land Use | 2 Comments »

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Bloomberg's Endorsements
October 24th, 2005

The New York Times and Newsday gave their mayoral endorsements to Michael Bloomberg on Sunday.

The Times writes, “If he continues his record of accomplishment over the next four years, he may be remembered as one of the greatest mayors in New York history.”

Newsday says, “In nearly every area you want to pick, Bloomberg has made life better for New Yorkers.”

But both editorials also take the mayor to task on certain issues. The Times criticizes Bloomberg’s campaign spending, and Newsday provides a list of “bone-headed mistakes” including the West Side Stadium and leaving the World Trade Center rebuilding process to Governor George Pataki.

The mix of praise and criticism is echoed by several blogs.

The blog of Working Families Party Man, for example, writes that “no mayor has devoted more effort to improving the schools, the poor children’s lifeline” while cursing him for using “his personal wealth to do things like support neo fascists in the Bush administration.”

Perry on the Gothamist message board, however, says the mayor and his endorsers have too much in common. “Don’t smoke, don’t make too much noise outside, don’t sit on a milk crate, don’t feed pigeons… and on and on… Oh yeah, the Times pretty much thinks that politicians should decide how you live your life too.”

By on October 24, 2005, 9:12 am
In category: Electoral Politics | 4 Comments »

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Bloomberg And The Arts (Something Omitted)
October 24th, 2005

On the same day that The New York Times “enthusiastically” endorsed Michael Bloomberg for re-election, it ran a long article on the front page of the Arts and Leisure section that said, while the mayor has little patience personally for the arts, “his administration has done more to promote and support the arts than any in a generation.”

Author Jennifer Steinhauer writes: “The mayor’s arts agenda has infused policy-making throughout the municipal government. The administration has created the first public school arts curriculum in a generation, and created zoning policies to encourage the growth of the art galleries in Chelsea. In the process, it has developed a constituency that is perhaps more enamored of the mayor than any other special interest group in the city.”

Oddly omitted from the article, though, are any comments from the major arts advocates in the city, including those from the Alliance for the Arts and the New York City Arts Coalition, who have not been shy about expressing their disappointment with the Bloomberg administration for having an arts expense budget lower than it was during the final fiscal year that began under former Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Instead, the Times article mentions Bloomberg’s personal contributions of many millions of dollars over the past three years to hundreds of small cultural institutions in the city through the Carnegie Corporation, and then concludes: “The donation blunted criticism about his budget-cutting.” An Associated Press article over the summer, however, put it differently: Bloomberg’s personal donations “help those organizations absorb cuts made by his administration.”

Not every member of this “special interest group” seems all that enamored of Bloomberg, or of the Times article. Alex Barreto, an artist on the staff of an (unnamed) arts organization, expressed outrage in the blog “Play Rey Play” at the Times “puff piece” appearing two weeks before the election: “This is not news; it is blatant political endorsement.”

For more about the current state of the arts in New York, see Is New York The Cultural Capital of the World?, Campaign 2005: Long-term Issues Facing The Arts In NYC and Arts Funding 101

By on October 24, 2005, 8:53 am
In category: Arts,Electoral Politics | 1 Comment »

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Rethinking Rebuilding Again
October 23rd, 2005

In an effort to take a more prominent role in the future World Trade Center site, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the Daily News editorial board that he would like to kick developer Larry Silverstein, who holds a 99-year lease on the site, out of the rebuilding process. “It would be in the city’s interest to get Silverstein out, [but] nobody can figure out how to do it yet,” Bloomberg said. The mayor also expressed his concern over the power of victims’ family groups, who lead the fight against the International Freedom Center.

In response, a Daily News editorial, entitled “How to Build at Ground Zero,” calls the plan to build huge office towers “fundamentally flawed” and warns that “New York faces the terrible prospect of having a ghost town around Ground Zero for decades.”

“Pataki, Bloomberg and the Port Authority must focus on breaking Silverstein’s hold on Ground Zero,” the News writes. “He must be made to see that his interests and New York’s interests rest in opening most of Ground Zero’s five parcels to residential, retail and hotel development. The area would then boom.”

By on October 23, 2005, 11:03 am
In category: Arts,Land Use | Comments Off on Rethinking Rebuilding Again

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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