Archive for January, 2006

Coretta Scott King
January 31st, 2006

Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who died this morning at the age of 78,speaking at an anti-war demonstration in Central Park in 1968
By on January 31, 2006, 12:58 pm
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A Chance For Honest Judges
January 31st, 2006

Daily News columnist Errol Louis praises the federal court ruling that threw out New Yorks system of selecting judges and ordered open party primaries: Until last Friday, New York was the only state to nominate judges in boss-run judicial conventions. The process repelled many self-respecting lawyers and fostered mediocrity and corruption. But the encouraging news is not likely to last. There’s a good chance the state’s party bosses will use Albany to recapture control of the judge-making machinery.That means reform-minded political clubs and ambitious but honest lawyers need to hit the streets and start campaigning for Supreme Court – this year, while the historic window of opportunity is still open.

By on January 31, 2006, 6:26 am
In category: Governing,Law | 1 Comment »

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Wendy Wasserstein, 1950 - 2006
January 31st, 2006

Wendy Wasserstein’s “outrageously premature death yesterday,” her friend Gail Collins writes in the New York Times, “deprived the nation of a beloved playwright, but it also stripped the city of one of its best people.”

By on January 31, 2006, 5:50 am
In category: Arts,Gotham City | Comments Off on Wendy Wasserstein, 1950 - 2006

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Thinking Clearly About Children's Services
January 30th, 2006

The Daily News and the New York Times each have recent articles attempting to bring the death of 7-year old Nixzmary Brown in perspective.

Natasha Santos writes about her own traumatic experience in foster care, and wonders if she would have been better off had the city focused on helping her own mother deal with her drug problem instead of taking the family apart. She thinks that calls for the city to be more aggressive about taking children away from troubled families is simplistic.

“I always get frustrated when people who have no connection or real interest in the foster care system comment on it because it’s suddenly a hot topic,” she writes. “I’m not sure what the solution is. All I know is that both options have their victims.”

The Milano School’s Andrew White contrasts the state of the city’s child welfare system to its condition in 1995, when the death of Elisa Izquierda set off a wave of reforms. Then, he writes, “the child protection system was undeniably in crisis.”

Caseworkers were overwhelmed, some in charge of investigating more than 60 cases. Records weren’t computerized. Much has changed, he says. Today, investigators are better trained, better paid, and less overworked. They have access to better support services and better data.

“This month, the news media believe they are in the thick of a similar child abuse crisis,” he adds. “But this time, there is no data to support claims that the city’s child protection system is a mess.”

The city did fail Brown, writes White. But the answer is to improve the system, not overhaul it.

[Mike Arsham of the Child Welfare Organizing Project has also written about this subject on Gotham Gazette’s Childrens Topic Page]

By on January 30, 2006, 11:07 am
In category: Social Services | 1 Comment »

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The Public Wants Reform Too
January 30th, 2006

Good government groups do it. Journalists do it. Comptroller Alan Hevesi just did it in a report . Critics of Albany speak for the frustrated masses and advocate for change, but what do New Yorkers want?
Pretty much the same.
Earlier this month, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and its Empire Center for New York State Policyreleased a survey and report.The report was subtly titled”Albany Inc: The Special-Interest Conglomerate that Runs New York.”

According to the findings of the recent survey conducted by the Siena College Research Institute for the Empire Center“Ready for Change: A Statewide New York Voter Survey”, New Yorkers are indeed dissatisfied with the current state of things, so much so that two in five have considered moving.
Some highlights from the survey results include:
- 58% are dissatisfied with performance by the current legislature;
- 74% of the respondents support an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission redrawing district lines;
- 68% are in favor of term limits for state elected officials
- Roughly two thirds of respondents believe thatneither the governor nor the legislative leadersact primarily in the voters’ interests;
- 67% believe that the State Legislature primarily represents the interests of the legislators and special interests, rather than the interests of the voting public; and
- 58% of the individuals polled believe that special interests hold too much influence over the state legislature.
Interestingly, New York City folks were more optimistic that the state would be a better place in five years than upstate residents, with western upstate New Yorkers as the most pessimistic.
Across ideologies and regions, constituents are calling for reform, but entrenched incumbentsmay not have an immediate need or incentive to respond. While many New Yorkers are vulnerable to losing their jobs for flouting their employers, legislators rarely lose their seats despite this apparent chasm between their actions and the voters wishes. Incumbents have too much control over how their districts are drawn and how they can finance their campaigns, thus preventing meaningful challenges.

By on January 30, 2006, 7:03 am
In category: Eye on Albany | Comments Off on The Public Wants Reform Too

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Bloomberg, Tough Guy
January 27th, 2006

After watching Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City address, both the New York Post and the Daily News noted how much more assertive the mayor has become.

In an article entitled “He shed Clark Kent image and turns into a Superman,” Daily News City Hall Bureau chief David Saltonstall writes that this year Bloomberg has picked some serious fights — against Larry Silverstein, against the National Rifle Association, against unions, against “do-nothing Albany legislators.” Compare that, writes Saltonstall, to the “tentative accountant” whose big promise in his first State of the City was to cut his office staff.

Saltonstall’s counterpart at the Post, David Seifman, writes that “suddenly, Mike Bloomberg’s Mr. Tough Guy in public.” After a 19-point victory in the last election and no future political ambitions, “Bloomberg can afford to pull a lot fewer punches,” Seifman notes.

He gives credit to Bloomberg for setting concrete goals on diabetes and poverty, which come as a refreshing contrast to “the hard-to-measure promises [that] are the usual staple of State of the City speeches.”

By on January 27, 2006, 7:56 am
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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MTA's New Offer
January 26th, 2006

“There’s no reason to think more talks would work,” writes the New York Post editorial supporting the Metropolitan Transportation Authoritys decision to ask the state board to form a binding arbitration panel that has the power to impose a new contract on the union. “The Transport Workers Union, having already rejected a handsome deal, isn’t proceeding in good faith.”

“The deal is one of vengeance, politics, and greed,” writes Word
of the People. “The MTA figures that it has public opinion on their side and this gives them the right to inflict harsh penalties on the transit union.”

Although union leaders said there will be no transit strike in the short term, some New Yorkers are worrying that they will, once again, have to walk to work. “[I am] too tired to walk 8 miles just to sit in front of a computer all day,” writes one blogger.

By on January 26, 2006, 3:25 pm
In category: Gotham City,Transportation | 1 Comment »

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A White Administration
January 25th, 2006

No one — well virtually no one — accuses Mayor Michael Bloomberg of being a bigot, and after the racial confrontations of the Giuliani years, most New Yorkers appreciate his efforts to mend the city’s raw divides. But despite that some people are noticing his administration — like Giuliani’s — is awfully white.

In the Observer, Jason Horowitz observes that all the four new deputy mayors are white. Dennis Walcott, a holdover from term 1, is the only black deputy mayor, and Horowitz says some sees his influence waning. While Bloomberg has attracted little public criticism for this, some people have expressed concern. “He has not expanded the influence of blacks in his administration. Im dismayed and Im disappointed,” unsuccessful mayoral candidate C. Virginia Fields told Horowitz. “In a diverse city, more diversity would be beneficial to everyone and a motivating factor for young people looking up to him,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie. But Horowitz observes that some black and Latino leaders say they have good access to the administration and see Bloomberg’s policies as colorblind, rather than exclusionary.

Giving the mayor the benefit of the doubt, Jason Goolfar in
Working Families Party Man
says Bloomberg could do better. “I seriously think the mayor needs to look at ways to include more minorities in his administration,” he writes. “I know he can do it, and I’m sure he’s not opposed to it.”

By on January 25, 2006, 5:33 pm
In category: Civil Rights,Electoral Politics,Gotham City | Comments Off on A White Administration

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Cars as Weapons?
January 25th, 2006

As Sarah Ferguson writes in the Village Voice’s blog, crossing a New York City street seems especially treacherous this week. Three pedestrians were run over and killed in two days, which prompts Ferguson to ask readers, “Are police doing enough to hold drivers responsible? Are the streets getting meaner for pedestrians?”

Aaron Donovan aims his sarcasm at reckless drivers like the one that almost rammed into a crowd in front of him. On Monday, he was running an errand when a spaced-out driver flew threw a red light, barely avoided hitting crossing traffic, swerved, and then eked through the crowd crossing the street. “A few more feet, and people could have died,” he writes.

After a few irate curses were hurled at the driver, the crowd sighed and moved along. “No big deal,” Donovan says. “Imagine if someone had pulled out a pistol and shot into the crowd, but missed by the same narrow margin that this driver missed the folks walking in front of me. There would have been stories all over the front page of the tabloids: GUN-SLINGING MADMAN FIRES IN TIMES SQUARE! But a swerving lunatic behind the wheel? That’s just the risk you take when you venture out in public.”

Could be more ammunition for people in favor of congestion pricing and other measures aimed at limiting traffic in the city.

By on January 25, 2006, 5:13 pm
In category: Transportation | 7 Comments »

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Child Welfare Changes
January 25th, 2006

The changes in child welfare services that Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday are a good sign, says the Daily News. The reforms — more money and staff and better coordination — seem “well designed to address fundamental and, ultimately, fatal flaws that were allowed to fester for far too long.” But now Bloomberg must make sure the proposals quickly become a reality, the editorial continues, reminding readers that several months is “an eternity in the life of an abused child.”

The News Juan Gonzalez says Albany must act to protect abused children too. Connections — the states centralized child abuse information system created after the death of 6-year-old Elisa Izquierdo 10 years ago – “has quietly emerged as the biggest single boondoggle in the history of our state’s child welfare agencies,” he writes. As its cost has more than tripled, the system does not work completely and frequently crashes. While Gonzalez says there is no evidence linking Connections woes to the death of Nixzmary Brown, “there is little doubt that this system has been a nightmare for years, one that needlessly devours time and energy from thousands of dedicated social workers throughout this state.”

By on January 25, 2006, 9:02 am
In category: Gotham City,Social Services | Comments Off on Child Welfare Changes

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Albany's Latest Embarrassing Delay
January 24th, 2006

An editorial in the New York Times Dead Last In Voting Reform, more or less repeats the points made in an earlier post in Gotham Gazettes new blog, Albany Matters: “Here we are, more than five years after the disastrous presidential vote in 2000 prompted Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act. That powerful law provides each state with lots of money to revamp its old voting systems. And so far, every state except New York has gotten the job started. New York is so far behind the rest of the country that the Justice Department has threatened to sue. The state needs to end this embarrassing delay.

By on January 24, 2006, 10:59 pm
In category: Governing | Comments Off on Albany's Latest Embarrassing Delay

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Translation Bill Vetoed
January 24th, 2006

Advocates for immigrants criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his having vetoed last Friday a bill passed by the City Council that would require report cards and other school papers to be translated into up to eight different languages.

“Shame on you, Mr. Bloomberg!” Queens City Councilman Hiram Monserrate said yesterday at a City Hall news conference attended by dozens of supporters.

In his veto message, Bloomberg contended the City Council was trying “to regulate a strictly educational subject” that can only be done by the state.

The New York Immigration Coalition called the mayor’s veto “a grave mistake that signals to immigrant parents that their involvement in their schools is not a priority for the mayor.”

Andrew Friedman of the community group in Bushwick, Make the Road By Walking, writes in DMIBlog: “After spending more than twenty million dollars to advertise to New Yorkers who don’t speak English during his Mayoral campaign, Bloomberg denies these same New Yorkers’ children an equal chance of succeeding in school by vetoing the Educational Equity Act at the end of last week. Disgraceful.”

By on January 24, 2006, 3:40 pm
In category: Education,Immigrants | 3 Comments »

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Gold In Garbage -- Reuse, Recycle, Resell
January 24th, 2006

Omar Freilla, director of Green Worker Cooperatives in the Bronx, writes in the DMI Blog of the ways in which the City Council could turn Mayor Michael Bloombergs garbage plan “into a blueprint for a new wave of job creation.” How? Instead of so much time, effort and money spent on disposing of the thousands of tons of garbage produced in New York City, officials could focus on reducing it. “Reuse and the manufacture of goods from recyclables can create several hundred more jobs for every one job in disposal.”

By on January 24, 2006, 7:11 am
In category: Environment | 6 Comments »

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Uninsured Patients Don't Deserve To Die
January 24th, 2006

The first law proposed by new City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is named after Manny Lanza, a young man who, his parents say, died after St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital delayed treating him because he did not have medical insurance. An editorial in El Diario endorses Mannys Law, which would require hospitals to inform patients of their right to be treated, and the various ways they could get it paid for. “The bill also requires hospitals to report data on the charitable care they provide,” El Diario explains. “[C]ity hospitals receive hundreds of millions of dollars every year from the state to offset bad debt and charity cases. It’s time that money was put to good use, providing medical care to people who need it.”

By on January 24, 2006, 6:36 am
In category: Health,Social Services | 1 Comment »

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Child Welfare Watchers to Mayor: Don't Screw Up Gains We Made
January 23rd, 2006

Commissioner John Mattingly has promised a massive review and possible transformation of the city’s Administration for Children’s Services in the wake of three recent child deaths, including the torture, starvation and beating of Nixzmary Brown. But a group of some of the most well-informed watchers of the system is supporting Mattingly and urging him to exercise caution when making changes.

More than five-dozen leaders — parents, practitioners, advocates, analysts, attorneys and others, including some who are usually extremely critical of the system — signed onto an open letter (sent out in an e-mail but not yet posted on the Web) to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.”[W]e state emphatically that the problems illuminated by these recent deaths are very different from the wholesale dysfunction of the early-to-mid 1990s. They demand a very different response,” the letter says. The group was organized by the Center for New York City Affairs and City Futures, Inc., which jointly produce the Child Welfare Watch newsletter.

Compared with systems in other large cities, New York has made strides over the past decade or so toward accountable, responsive, family-friendly policies — believe it or not. Some of the improvements, according to the letter: “implementing rigorous accountability systems and performance reviews internally and with its contractors; pursuing low investigative caseloads and adequate pay for frontline workers; providing investigators easier access to clinical expertise on mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse issues; strengthening and expanding essential community-based family support services; steering the foster care system toward better and more permanent homes for children; emphasizing greater respect for and responsiveness to parents, youth and foster parents; and much more.”

The letter says, “In child welfare policy, there is too often an overly politicized, whipsaw effect that results from the intense public scrutiny that follows a child’s death. This can force administrators into extreme shifts in direction based on simplistic or ill-informed analysis. Instead, changes in child welfare policies and services must be based on evidence and experience in the field.”

“The city’s response to these deaths and the crisis of public trust will have to build upon the reform efforts of the last several years. Any other approach would threaten to scuttle what is surely one of the most successful, influential system reform projects in urban government and one that all concerned recognize as far from completed,” the letter says.

By on January 23, 2006, 4:15 pm
In category: Social Services | Comments Off on Child Welfare Watchers to Mayor: Don't Screw Up Gains We Made

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Mad About Toussaint, Hoping Others Don't Follow
January 23rd, 2006

Plenty of editorialists are still mad at the Transport Workers Union for their holiday-season strike late last year. The Sun says New Yorkers persevered during the strike and could even take more. New Yorkers would be happy to take a longer strike to get a fair and appropriate deal, the Sun writes. By fair deal, the paper means less for transit workers.

The Post hopes a Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge will throw the book at President Roger Toussaint for leading his union members to the picket lines.

Otherwise, strike-fever could grip New York Citys public unions, the Post fears. If Toussaint gets away with his public temper tantrum, the paper asks, what’s to prevent Weingarten from trying the same thing?

But the blog Reality-Based Educator feels that the transit workers did other public employees a huge service by rejecting the contract. Employee health care contributions indexed to rising costs MUST NEVER be agreed to by municipal union members no matter how union leadership tries to sell it, the educator writes.


By on January 23, 2006, 8:22 am
In category: Transportation | Comments Off on Mad About Toussaint, Hoping Others Don't Follow

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Failing To Meet Deadlines On Voting Machines
January 23rd, 2006

Today is the state deadline for public comments on the proposed guidelines for buying new voting machines in New York. The state government seems big on enforcing deadlines like this one for the public, but not so good at meeting their own deadlines. The New York State Board of Elections is already 23 days late in meeting a federal deadline — so late, in fact, that the United States Department of Justice actually sent a letter both to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and the State Board of Elections threatening to sue them for non-compliance with the Help America Vote Act.

In the letter, the feds also knock the state for missing the January 1st deadline to create a statewide voter database, and for examples of the state’s “lack of progress” in meeting forthcoming deadlines.For example,New York is supposed to have at least one voting machine in each polling site that is accessible to the disabled by the first federal election this year in September.

Thanks to the state’s delays, New York City has just seven months to select and purchase a new voting machine for each of the 1,300 poll sites in the city, train over 35,000 pollworker to use it and educate 4.3 million voters that it exists.

To complicate things further,the ballot will be particularly crowded this year, not just for Congressional races, but also stateraces for governor, attorney general, and all 212 seats of the state legislature.

By on January 23, 2006, 7:55 am
In category: Eye on Albany | 1 Comment »

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No, By Just Seven Votes -- Surprising, Self-Defeating, A Silver Lining?
January 21st, 2006

If the defeat of the proposed transit contract by the rank and file of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 strikes the editorial writers of El Diario as “surprising but not totally unexpected,” most editorialists today are both disappointed by the no vote, and taken aback by the thin margin — seven votes out of 22,461 cast.

An editorial in The New York Times calls the vote
“self-defeating.” One in
the Daily News begins: “Leave it to the transit workers to make the absolutely worst possible move for all the wrong reasons at every turn. In rejecting the deal negotiated by Transport Workers Union President Roger Toussaint by just seven votes, the rank and file yesterday snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”

The New York Post calls union president Roger Toussaint a “jerk” and blames him for just about everything: “In the end, Toussaint never figured out how to talk his members back off the ledge to which his radical rhetoric had led them. No great surprise, then, that some of them want to jump again.”

El Diario is more even-handed: “All sides must balance the fiscal realities of the 21st Century with the importance of properly compensating workers. These are people who buy homes, pay taxes and are stable, longterm residents of their neighborhoods, in addition to keeping a transportation system running that is vital to the city.”

Eli Blake of the blog Deep Thought saw something positive in the vote, having nothing to do with mass transit or public employee contracts or even really New York City. “This is an election in which thousands of votes were cast, the margin was seven votes, and no one is disputing it, or asking for a recount, or threatening to go to court over it, or challenging the legitimacy of a single vote that was cast, or leveling accusations of fraud or chicanery,” he wrote. “The lack of problems in the voting is in such sharp contrast to elections for political office that Blake offers a suggestion: Let’s turn elections over to a bunch of union guys. It looks like they can count the votes and get it right, so that no one questions even the closest elections.”

By on January 21, 2006, 1:54 pm
In category: Governing,Transportation | Comments Off on No, By Just Seven Votes -- Surprising, Self-Defeating, A Silver Lining?

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Transit Contract Rejected
January 20th, 2006

New York City transit workers have rejected their new contract. By a margin of seven votes — out of more than 22,000 cast — the workers rejected the accord negotiated after a three-day strike last month shut down subways and buses. Union president Roger Toussaint, who had negotiated and supported the proposed deal, said the union would be ready to meet with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as soon as possible.

By on January 20, 2006, 3:29 pm
In category: Gotham City,Transportation | 2 Comments »

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Voucher Lite
January 19th, 2006

Governor George Pataki’s proposal to give parents of kids in “underperforming” school districts a tax credit of $500 per child to use for tutoring or private schools may have, as the New York Times put it, only “a micro chance of passing” the state legislature. But that has not prevented a flurry of debate on the issue, which some see as yet another Pataki gambit aimed at voters in Republican presidential primaries. “The governor’s backdoor voucher plan is just a gimmick to make himself look good to conservatives in other states,” Alan Lubin of the New York State United Teachers told WINS.

It did look good to the New York Sun. “Currently, parents who send their children to private schools must not only pay tuition but must also write a tax check that helps subsidize the very public schools that are failing to serve their children,” it wrote in an editorial. “Tuition credits help right the scales by reducing those tax bills.”

State attorney general — and gubernatorial candidate — Eliot Spitzer questioned whether the proposal might run up against the constitution. “Whenever there is state funding — tax dollars — used for nonpublic schools in particular, there are First Amendment issues that are raised, not only federal constitutional issues, but state constitutional issues,” he said. But another aspirant for governor, John Faso, disagreed: “It’s constitutional because the credit doesn’t go to the school … I think that tax credits have been upheld and are constitutional in other states.”

And what about the people who might benefit? “This makes good sense,” said Richard Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference. “This refundable tax credit would literally put cash in the pocket of poor, near-poor, and middle class Jewish families, and that is a proposal we should all get behind,” wrote one Orthodox Jewish mother in OrthoMom. But while DovBear, another Orthodox blogger, thinks “the idea sounds nice,” the writer says, “Handing out cash won’t help Jewish families overcome monstrous tuition costs. The instant more money becomes available our fine Jewish schools will raise their tuition, or they will factor this new money into their scholarship packages. “

By on January 19, 2006, 1:36 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City,Public Finance | Comments Off on Voucher Lite

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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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