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What Happens in Bermuda Stays in Bermuda
September 28th, 2011

In case there ever was any doubt, the City Council will not require that Mayor Michael Bloomberg reveal his personal travels, the Wall Street Journal reports. And once again the mayor has City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to thank.

City Councilmember Peter Vallone has told the Journal’s Michael Howard Saul that Quinn will not allow a hearing to be held on his bill that would require travel disclosure. Vallone proposed the measure after the botched city response to the December blizzard. It later became known that, as snow pelted the city, Bloomberg was in Bermuda, then Deputy Mayor of Operation Stephen Goldsmith was in Washington, D.C. and Deputy Mayor Patricia Harris was somewhere.

Quinn, of course, has frequently pushed bill the mayor likes and blocked ones he doesn’t — though not usually ones where he has such a personal stake. Last year, for example she essentially killed a measure that would require paid sick leave for city workers.

And last week, Vallone, who seems to have an increasingly prickly relationship with Quinn, and the speaker clashed over a bill on homeless animals. With the city facing a lawsuit for not complying with city law on services for animals, the council bill, supported by Quinn (or else, of course, it never would have passed) was seen by Vallone and others as removing those laws and so letting the city renege on its obligations.

“I dont think you have to be smarter than Bonzo the chimp to figure out what’s going on,” Vallone said at the time.

By on September 28, 2011, 6:06 pm
In category: City Hall,Gotham City | 7 Comments »

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A Change on Marijuana Arrests
September 26th, 2011

With little fanfare, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has issued an “operation order” that could dramatically reduce the number of marijuana arrests in the city. The order, which appears on WNYC’s web site, says people can be charged with criminal possession of marijuana if they display the drug of their own volition.

Going black at least to 2005, many thousands of New Yorkers have been arrested for criminal possession of marijuana only after the drug was found during a police search. Under the law, people cannot be arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana — less than 25 grams — unless they publicly display it. Possession of such small quantities is punishable buy a fine of no more than $100. By all accounts, many people particularly young black and Latino men - publicly displayed a joint or two only after police asked them to empty their pockets or otherwise searched them. They then found themselves arrested, with a criminal record, and facing punishment or a rehab program they may not need.

This order would seem to end, or at least curtail, that. “A crime will not be charged to an individual who is requested or compelled to engage in the behavior that results in the public display of marijuana,” the order states.

Although the order is written almost as a clarification, the widespread marijuana arrests have almost certainly been a matter of city policy under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly.
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By on September 26, 2011, 3:37 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Crime & Safety,Gotham City,Law | 4 Comments »

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The Year's School Report Cards
September 23rd, 2011

In what has become an annual ritual, the Department of Education has today released its latest school progress reports, often called school report cards, today. (For links to summaries and individual school reports, go here.)

Today’s release covers only elementary and middle schools. The department will issue high school reports next month.

Once again the department has tweaked the oft-criticized annual reports. For one the grades seem to have stabilized somewhat from the time when the results would gyrate wildly from year to year, completely baffling parents. This year, according to the Times, 79 of the 1,219 schools dropped by two or more letter grades and 55 rose by two or more.

As part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’ s initiative on black and Latino males, a school now gets extra points for making significant progress with students in that group whose prior performance has put them in the lowest third academically. (A school, though, does not lose points if it fails miserably with black and Latino boys.)

The number of schools with low grades has increased again. Based on their 2010-11 performance, the department says, 25 percent of the schools received an A, 35 percent B, 30 percent C, 7 percent D and 3 percent flunked. This still might seem generous, but it certainly represents a change from 2009 when, in the midst of the mayor’s re-election campaign, his Department of Education decided 84 percent of elementary and middle schools deserved As and only two that’s two school, not 2 percent flunked.

This time around, according to Gotham Schools, the city decided in advance how many schools would get each grade.

The increase in schools getting D’s and F’s means more schools could be considering for closing, thought the departments says that that will not necessarily translate to more schools being shut down. Earlier this week, School Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he would look to close persistently failing middle schools as part of his efforts to bolster education in grades 6 through 8.

By on September 23, 2011, 3:02 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Bloomberg's Record on Poverty
September 22nd, 2011

For many months, the Bloomberg administration has boasted that as poverty rose elsewhere in the country, it remained constant here, thanks in part to his policies.

Unfortunately, he can no longer say that.

New census figures, as reported in the Times this morning, show that poverty rose more rapidly in New York City by 1.4 percentage points — than in the nation as a whole from 2009 to 2010. This brought the number of people living in poverty in the city to 20.1 percent, the highest level since 2000. Child poverty rose even more by 3 percentage points leaving three out of every 10 city children in homes below the poverty level.

A report by Alliance for a Greater New York said the situation may be even worse than those numbers would indicate because of the high cost of living in New York a luxury brand, as the mayor has called it.

Incomes across the city fell by 5 percent. But some people continue to do very well. In Manhattan the county in the country with the biggest income gap the average earning of the top fifth of the population came to $371,754,

While deploring this high level of poverty, advocates quickly responded that the figures only confirm what they see every day an increasing level of need in the city. More homeless. Longer lines at soup kitchens and food pantries. People desperate for work.

More reaction and a review of Bloomberg administration poverty policies after the jump.
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By on September 22, 2011, 5:05 pm
In category: Demographics,Economy,Gotham City,Public Finance,Social Services | 5 Comments »

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Walcott Takes on Middle Schools
September 20th, 2011

It’s no secret to anyone who has spent time in city schools, had an adolescent or been one that middle school is where things begin to go awry for many students. Test scores fall, behavior problems develop and many students begin to fall so far behind that they never catch up and simply leave schools a few years later.

The city has mounted various, often half-hearted efforts to combat this and none have accomplished much.

In his first major policy speech as chancellor, given this morning at NYU, Dennis Walcott focused on the issues of middle schools, ticking off a panoply of problems in grade six through eight and acknowledging his department must do more to address them. (This post is based on the prepared text of Walcott’s speech, available here.) To do that, Walcott plans borrow a page from the Bloomberg administration approach to high schools by closing failing schools and opening new ones. The administration claims success with this, but the policy has been controversial and has many critics.

In his speech, Walcott vowed to open at least 50 new middle schools in the next two years. Some will be charter schools, Walcott said.

On the flip side closing schools Walcott said, “We will hold our middle schools to the same tough standards we hold our high schools. If a school is failing, we will phase it out.”

More on the plan after the jump.
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By on September 20, 2011, 12:15 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Levy's Legacy at Bronx Science
September 16th, 2011

The Times yesterday had an interesting story on the exodus of teachers from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. According to Anna Phillips, eight of the school’s 20 social studies teachers decided not to return this year, sending the turnover rate at what one would think would be a desirable to teach to 19 percent, five percentage points higher than for the city as a whole. Phillips traces the discontent back at least as far as 2005 but actually it dates before that to the pre-mayoral control days and the region of now largely forgotten Chancellor Harold Levy.

Back in the Giuliani administration in 1999, Stanley Blumenstein announced his retirement as principal of the selective public school. A search committee unanimously recommended William Stark, an administrator and social studies teacher serving as interim president, to fill the post.

Levy, a graduate of Bronx Science, balked, reportedly wanting a scientist to fill the post, not an educator — although there was never an indication that any top scientist even wanted the job. Levy asked the committee to find someone else.

Levy was a corporate lawyer when he was named chancellor and, like Cathie Black a decade later, needed a waiver to become chancellor. (He now works in finance and raised eyebrows in 2009 for a $500,000 contribution to Al Sharpton.)

To many observers his handling of the situation at Bronx Science was a classic indication of what can happen when people with little experience running schools control them. Faculty and parents disputed Levy’s notion that a scientist would be the best pick for the job. “Running a public high school, they say, is more like running a fine restaurant than a political campaign, a foundation or a college. At Bronx Science, they say, the importance of spin and public relations pales compared with the mundane ability to deal with cantankerous union officials, powerful custodians and 2,700 needy, if talented, adolescents,” the Times wrote.
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By on September 16, 2011, 3:19 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 8 Comments »

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Manhattan District Leader Results
September 15th, 2011

Must still be recovering from the late blogging Tuesday. Thanks to the readers who pointed out the mistakes in this post. The corrected copy is below.

Now that Bob Turner has been officially sworn in as a member of Congress, we can turn to some less heralded races: notably those for district leaders in Manhattan. As we have noted before, these contests often shape up as proxy battles for larger factional fights within a party.

Contests in districts 64 part C and 66 part B featured battles between the longtime party reform organization Lower Manhattan DemocratsDowntown Independent Democrats and the more recently formed Downtown Independent Democrats Lower Manhattan Democrats. In all three contests the newer older club won out, with Paul Newell and Jenifer Rajkumar besting Jeff Galloway and Linda Belfer in the 64th. John Scott defeated incumbent David Reck, one of the founders of Lower Manhattan Democrats, in the 66th by a wide margin.

UpdateNewell notes that the Lower Manhattan Democrats now have no district leaders.

The incumbents held on in district 64 part D in Chinatown where Herbert Kee and Jenny Low fended off Paul Lee and Jin Mei Chen.

Farther uptown, incumbent district leader John Ruiz held off a challenge from community organizer Edward Gibbs, a former convict who has also been a community organizer.

And in another battle reflecting party rifts, also in Harlem, this one in the 70th district part D Jamaal Nelson bested two other candidates, Brian Benjamin and Michael Adams. Benjamin had backing from Manhattan party chief Keith Wright and other area district leaders and State Sen. Bill Perkin was pushing for Adams, one of his aides. But the victor prove to be Nelson, who the Daily News reported recently, had support from former Mayor David Dinkins and some charter school supporters. Nelson also tried to capitalize on being the only one of the three to live in part D.

In other Manhattan contests in district 68 part A Diane Green bested Theresa Richardson and in district 70 part D Marisol Alcantara defeated April Tyler.

By on September 15, 2011, 3:00 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City | 11 Comments »

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Message from the Ninth Congressional District
September 14th, 2011

With Republican Bob Turner preparing for his swearing in as the new representative from New York’s ninth district theories are flying as to how the Democrats managed to lose a seat they have held for 90 years and what, if anything, it means.

Turner, who hammered away at government spending during his campaign, told his victory party that he won because of Barack Obama, “We’ve been asked by people of this district to send a message to Washington and I hope they hear it loud and clear,” Turner said. “This message will resound for a whole year.”

The White House, not surprisingly begs to differ. Asked about the result, press secretary Jay Carney said, “Special elections are often unique and their outcomes dont tell you very much about future regularly scheduled elections You can make those predictions and look foolish in 14 months or not, I’m simply saying we do not view them that way [as a referendum].”

Overall Democrats tried to paint the outcome as the result of a number of largely local factors while Republicans and Conservatives saw it as a piece of a bigger picture. It’s the dance that takes place after almost every special election though the parties switch partners as circumstances change.

More comments and reactions after the jump.
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By on September 14, 2011, 2:45 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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The Organization Man
September 14th, 2011

At times he may have seemed like the candidate who couldn’t shoot straight but Rafael Espinal has emerged as the winner of a hotly contested three-way race for the Assembly seat from the 54th district in Bushwick. With some precincts still out, at midnight, Espinal had 42 percent of the vote versus 32 percent for Working Families Party candidate Jesus Gonzalez and 26 percent for Deirdra Towns, sister of the former Assembly member, Darryl Towns.

Espinal, an aide to City Councilmember Erik Dilan, did not run a terribly adroit campaign. He dodged interviews, boasted of his fealty to the party machine, gave conflicting answers to basic questions on candidate questionnaires and was lampooned for publishing a newspaper of his own when none of the real ones endorsed him.

His victory in a three-way race raises all kinds of questions about whose candidacy hurt and helped whom and there are other issues to ponder as well.

To wit, Espinal (a.k.a. Vito Lopez) forces claimed victory earlier in the evening with only 10 percent of the vote reporting on the sources most of us mortals see. According to Colin Campbell of BK Politics, Lopez has poll watchers who get the news before the rest of us do. If true, that seems to raise all kinds of tantalizing possibilities that almost certainly can’t be explored at midnight. (Update: We should have known that other candidates can have poll watchers too.)

In any event, aside from David Weprin’s defeat in the congressional race by Bob Turner, Lopez had a good night, with Espinal’s victory and the win by Sharen Hudson in the contest for Civl Court judge. And Weprin’s defeat was almost certainly more of a blow to Queens boss Joe Crowley (and maybe to Barack Obama) than it was to Lopez.

By on September 14, 2011, 12:19 am
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Eye on Albany,Gotham City | 2 Comments »

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Council and the Court
September 13th, 2011

Whatever his legal problems, Ruben Wills will remain on the City Council. Elected last year to fill the seat from the 28th district in south Queens after the death of Thomas White, the law requires Wills to go back to the voters this year. By a resounding margin, they let him keep the seat.

With almost all precincts reporting, Wills had 69 percent of the vote, compared to17 percent for former Councilmember Alan Jennings, 8 percent for Michael Duvalle and 6 percent for Clifton Stanley Diaz.

Since his election last year, the press unearthed some legal difficulties for Wills, including an unresolved misdemeanor case dating back to 1996 and open warrants for failing to pay more than $25,000 in child support payments.

That, though, may well have paled in voters’ eyes when compared with Jennings’ record. Accused of sexual harassment, he was censured by the City Council when he served on it, threw a metal object at a reporter and generally engaged in some fairly bizarre behavior.

In the two court contests yesterday — both for Civil Court — Sharen Hudson, reportedly the candidate of the party organization, holds a substantial edge over Cheryl Gonzalez, who was endorsed by the Times and some insurgent Democrats. In a Manhattan Civil Court contest, Tony Cannataro appears to have defeated Sabrina Kraus.

By on September 13, 2011, 11:55 pm
In category: City Hall,Electoral Politics,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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Goldfeder Wins
September 13th, 2011

With 57 out of 90 precincts reporting, Democrat Phil Goldfeder has defeated Republican Jane Deacy for the Assembly seat from the 23rd district in the Rockaways. Goldfeder has 61 percent of the vote to Deacy’s 39 percent.

Goldfeder, who, though only 30 has already worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Charles Schumer and two City Council members, was heavily favored for the seat formerly held by Audrey Pheffer, who resigned to become Queens County clerk. He trounced Deacy in the fundraising race and had support from Pheffer. Despite that, Deacy, a former police officer, ran a spirited campaign.

By on September 13, 2011, 11:29 pm
In category: Gotham City | 9 Comments »

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Two Assembly Seats Decided
September 13th, 2011

One barely had to wait for the results given the apparent lopsidedness of the contests but enough unofficial returns are in to call two of the four Assembly seats up for grabs in the city.

East Side Republicans extended their losing streak (decades ago this was GOP turf) as the Democrat, community board member and attorney Daniel Quart bested another attorney, Paul Niehuas, to fill the seat from the 73rd Assemby District. The seat became vacant when Jonathan Bing stepped down to take a state post.

With 25 of 113 precincts reporting, Quart was besting Niehaus by a 2-to-1 margin.

In Queens’ 27th district, Michael Simanowitz handily defeated Republican Marco DeSena to take the seat previously held by his old boss, Nettie Mayersohn. With about a third of precincts reporting, Simanowitz had 74 percent of the vote with DeSena at 26 percent.

By most accounts, Simanowitz had left little to chance. Mayersohn ran for re-election last fall and then suddenly decided a few months later that she wanted to spend more time with her family and resigned. That left the job of picking the Democratic nominee for her seat to party bosses –rather than the party rank and file. And when one Democrat did try to take on Simanowitz, the Board of Elections knocked him off the ballot on a technicality.

A little known onetime political aide, DeSena had little name recognition and even less money.

By on September 13, 2011, 11:15 pm
In category: Albany,Electoral Politics,Gotham City | Comments Off on Two Assembly Seats Decided

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A Poorer State
September 13th, 2011

One in six New York state residents — more than 3 million people — live in poverty, according to statement by theNew York City Coalition Against Hunger on census figures released this morning.

The figure 2009-10 represents an 11 percent increase from 2007-2008, the coalition said. The numbers become particularly striking when one considers just how low an income a family must have to be seen as living in poverty - less than $18,310 for a family of three.

In its statement, the coalition anticipated a rise in poverty for New York City alone, although it noted those numbers are not yet available. In 2009, more than one in five New York City residents lived in poverty, with experts saying the level would have been higher without the federal economic stimulus program.

While critics have warned of increased need in the city longer lines at food pantries and the like — the Bloomberg administration has maintained that poverty remained relatively constant during the recession and the weak — if that — recovery.

“To a large degree, economic stimulus programs and policy initiatives aimed at bolstering family income succeeded in preventing a rise in poverty in New York City,” concluded a report issued in March by the mayors Center for Economic Opportunity.

What no one can deny, though, is that the disparity in wealth in the city has increased. The wealthiest 1 percent of city residents has 44 percent of all income in New York, nearly four times as much as they did just 30 years ago, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

By on September 13, 2011, 11:58 am
In category: Demographics,Economy,Gotham City,Social Services | 1 Comment »

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Beer with Bloomberg
September 8th, 2011

Maybe Mayor Michael Bloomberg should not try folksy. His offer to sit down over a brew or two with the City Council member and political aide detained by police on Monday seems to have generated as much enthusiasm as a flat, warm mug of Keystone — or as President Barack Obama’s often ridiculed beer summit with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and a Cambridge, Mass., police officer

On Wednesday, Bloomberg described the police stopping and handcuffing of the councilmember, Juamaane Williams, and Kirsten John Foy, an aide to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, as probably “just a misunderstanding.” And he told reporters, “Hopefully every once in a while if there’s a misunderstanding, you have a beer together and work it out.”

Williams apparently does not drink beer. But the council member and Foy have more substantive problems with the mayor’s invite. While saying they appreciated the gesture, “this is bigger than the three of us over a beer,” the two men said in a statement. Instead they suggested a meeting with Bloomberg and police commissioner Ray Kelly “where young African American and Latino New Yorkers can talk openly and directly about their experiences with stop and frisk and other police interactions.”

Reactions from other City Council members after the jump.
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By on September 8, 2011, 4:52 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Crime & Safety,Gotham City | Comments Off on Beer with Bloomberg

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Jumaane Williams and the Police
September 6th, 2011

Anger and dismay over the police handcuffing of a City Council member and a top political aide following yesterday’s West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn today morphed into a call for changes in police stop and frisk polices and other procedures that target young black and Latino men.

At a crowded press conference on the City Hall steps the council member, Jumaane Williams of East Flatbush, and the aide to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Kristen John Foy, described their being stopped, handcuffed and briefly taken into custody as they tried to go to the Brooklyn museum yesterday afternoon.

By all accounts, the two men were attempting to enter a restricted or frozen zone after the parade. Both had identification and Williams was wearing a lapel pin indicating his membership on the City Council. They reached two checkpoints and the officers at them — probably senior, given that they were wearing white shirts - allowed them to go through. But, Williams said, police stopped them at a third checkpoint, despite their credential.

“I was actually handcuffed while on then phone with the chief of police telling him what was going on,” Williams recounted.

Both were taken across the street to a synagogue where they were held for about 30 minutes until police established their identities and let them go. Neither man was charged with any wrongdoing.

Police have maintained that during the incident, someone punched a police officer, an account Williams vehemently disputed.

“I defy the NYPD to find one shred of evidence of any police officer being punched in the face,” he said, adding that report was “a bald-faced lie.”

While not criticizing overall police policies, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn echoed Williams on his conduct. “There is nothing, nothing, to indicate the Council member or Mr. Foy did anything wrong, ” she said.

Foy said he was shoved down and cuffed because “in retreat, they [police] decided I wasn’t moving fast enough, in retreat, I wasn’t complying enough.” The reports of the punch, Foy said, showed the police “making up a story to cover themselves.”

The police department has said it is investigating the incident, and, according to Williams, Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for it.

Putting this incident in a larger context — after the jump
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By on September 6, 2011, 1:38 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Crime & Safety,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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A Precedent for the Mayor
September 2nd, 2011

As Mayor Michael Bloomberg reportedly dodges venues where he might face questions abut his handling of the resignation of former Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, Bloomberg might be wondering how he might have done things differently. Well, given the mayor’s reluctance to doubt himself, maybe not.

But if he does have second thoughts, he might want to consider his own handling of a previous problematic resignation.

In 2008, the city’s then commissioner for the aging Edwin Mendez-Santiago, abruptly resigned. His departure came amid a heated debated over plans to revamp the city’s services for the elderly, and some wondered if that explained his sudden resignation.

But it soon emerged that, like Goldsmith, Santiago-Mendez had left under a cloud. About a week later, Mendez-Santiago’s former secretary filed suit against him, charging the former commissioner with sexual harassment and discrimination.

While the mayor and his staff did not address this explicitly in announcing Mendez-Santiago’s departure, they also did not say anything that was out and out deceptive. Mayoral spokesman Stu Loeser told reporters only that Mendez-Santiago was leaving for personal reasons.

In his release, Bloomberg thanked Mendez-Santiago for his services, said he had served the city’s older resident well and gave no explanation for the departure.

Later he showed a bit of the legendary Bloomberg loyalty, but still did not seem to stray from the truth: Mendez-Santiago “left for totally personal reasons, and it had nothing to do with any policy whatsoever of the Department for the Aging,” Bloomberg said days later when he announced Mendez-Santiago’s successor. Never even came up. He did a good job. Im sorry he chose for personal reasons to resign.

Now contrast that with the comments on Goldsmith, who it now turns out resigned after he was arrested in the District of Columbia on a domestic violence complaint.
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By on September 2, 2011, 12:52 pm
In category: City Hall,Crime & Safety,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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The Goldsmith Fallout
September 1st, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s handling of the hurricane/tropical storm last week gave him a respite from the media criticism that has plagued much of his third term.

That probably came to an abrupt end this morning when the New York Post reported that Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith suddenly resigned last month not because he saw tempting opportunities in the private sector and not because of his botched handling of the last big storm you remember, the blizzard but because he spent two nights in a Washington, D.C. jail arising from a domestic violence complaint.

The Bloomberg administration knew the former mayor of Indianapolis, darling of the privatization crowd and high-level city official had spent time in jail. And, as the Wall Street Journal wrote today, “Goldsmiths arrest precipitated his sudden departure from City Hall.”

Charges were dropped. In a statement released today, Goldsmith said he was innocent, and a statement by his wife seems to support that, calling the arrest “a big mistake.” (That may well be true, but it also is true that that many battered women later deny the violence ever took place.) Despite all that, Goldsmith said he resigned so as “not to be a distraction to the mayor and his important agenda for the city.”
At the press conference announcing Goldsmith’s departure, neither Bloomberg nor Goldsmith breathed a word about Goldsmith’s domestic travails. Instead Bloomberg praised his former right-hand man, saying, “As New Yorkers, we were extraordinarily lucky to have Steve Goldsmith make our city government more innovative and efficient.”

The way Bloomberg handled Goldsmith’s departure is now coming under criticism.

Who and what they’re saying after the jump.
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By on September 1, 2011, 1:16 pm
In category: City Hall,Crime & Safety,Gotham City | 6 Comments »

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More Testing for Schools
August 31st, 2011

In the wake of the closing of a Bronx schools contaminated with a toxic chemical, two advocacy groups and eight members of the City Council have written to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott demanding immediate testing of city school on leased property and a public disclosure of he results.

Earlier this summer, the Department of Education shut Bronx New School, which had operated in a leased former industrial site in Bedford Park. Walcott has admitted the department knew of the contamination since January but did not tell parents until eight months later. The school had apparently never been tested before although students attended classes there for two decades.

While other cases may not be quite that egregious, as Melissa Checker reported in Gotham Gazette last month, Bronx New School, also known as PS51X, is hardly an isolated case. The city now leases more than 90 properties –many of them former industrial sites — for schools, and the regulations regarding leased properties, as opposed to those for sites the city owns, are lax, to say the last. Schools on leased sites, Checker wrote, do not have to undergo environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, and the city does not have to keep the public including parents, staff and students - informed about its plans for building or monitoring those schools or remediating any hazards at the site.

In the letter, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, New York Communities for Change and the council members seek to address some of these issues, focusing on 31 schools whose leases are up for renewal. The city does inspect school when their leases come up for renewal, although a schools spokesperson told Checker only that the inspections would take plan within eight weeks not necessarily before the school year begins.

More and the letter after the jump.
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By on August 31, 2011, 12:44 pm
In category: Education,Environment,Gotham City | 9 Comments »

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Weprin Cancels Debate
August 29th, 2011

Democratic congressional candidate and State Assemblymember David Weprin has withdrawn from tonight’s scheduled debate with his GOP rival, Bob Turner. The two men are locked in a tough contest to succeed Anthony Weiner in the Ninth Congressional District in Brooklyn and Queens.

Robert Holden president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, cosponsor of the debate, said he checked in with Weprin’s campaign earlier today and was told “logistics” would make it impossible for Weprin to appear un idle Village tonight.

“The hurricane caused major logistical and scheduling problems for the campaign and thus David is not able to make the debate this evening,” Weprin campaign spokesperson, Liz Kerr said in an emailed statement.

Many of Weprin’s people had been unable to get to work today, and the candidate’s schedule was throw into disarray by cancellations due to the weekend’s storm. While there apparently is little to no lingering damage near Bel Mondo Restaurant in Middle Village, where the debate was to take place, there are reports of some flooding in other parts of the district.

Holden, though, was not accepting the hurricane as a reason for Weprin’s change in plans. “This stinks to high heaven,” Holden said.

He said the candidate’s people had been voicing concern about the debate for the past week, expressing fear it could get disorderly and pressing for a forum instead of an actual debate. Holden said he had promised that the debate would be well run no placards allowed and some police on hand but he added, “I can’t guarantee youre not going to get tough questions.”

The cancellation “is going to backfire for Weprin big time, “Holden said. “Anybody who would do this would not be a straight shooter in Congress.”

Last week, the two men engaged in a debate before a rowdy crowd in Kew Gardens. According to, members of the crowd called Weprin a liar and a hypocrite, prompting the moderator to admonish the crowd and threaten to throw people out of the synagogue where the debate took place.

In an editorial this weekend, the Daily News cast doubt on both candidates’ ability to answer questions tough or otherwise. Asked the size of the national debt, the News said, Weprin was off by a mere $10 trillion. And Turner said the city should using its zoning power to block a mosque near Ground Zero even if such action violated the Constitution.

“Suspecting that neither candidate was well-versed in national or local matters, we asked each 10 questions about issues, places and people in the district,” the editorial said. “Weprin and Turner each got seven of 10 answers wrong. Giants they are not.”

The race has become increasingly contentious. With many viewing the Sept. 13 special election variously as a referendum on President Barack Obama, Congress and same-sex marriage, both parties have focused resources in the district. Even Jerry Springer has gotten into the act.

By on August 29, 2011, 1:17 pm
In category: Electoral Politics,Gotham City | 5 Comments »

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DiNapoli vs. Murdoch
August 28th, 2011

You might have missed this as you were taping your windows yesterday: The Daily News reports that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has rejected the state Department of Education contracts with Wireless Generation. The educational tech company is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — and as a result under the purview of former Schools Chancellor, now Murdoch consigliare Joel Klein.

In rejecting the $27 million deal, DiNapoli cited the phone hacking scandal that has shaken Murdoch’s British newspaper empire — and Britain’s government as well. “In light of the significant ongoing investigations and continuing revelations with respect to News Corp., we are returning the contract with Wireless Generation unapproved,” DiNapoli’s office wrote to the Education Department.

The education department blasted DiNapoli’s move, with a spokesperson accusing the comptroller of having “allowed political pressure to get in the way of vital technology that would help our students/”

The state was prepared to use part of its federal Race to the Top money to pay Wireless Generation to develop software to track student test scores, achievement and so on, creating a system similar to the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, that it developed for the city schools.

Even before the phone hacking scandal, the deal did not meet the smell test for many. The contract was a no-bid deal, even though many other companies reportedly expressed interest in it.
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By on August 28, 2011, 12:53 pm
In category: Albany,Education,Eye on Albany,Public Finance,Tech | 1 Comment »

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