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A Lion of City Government Issues a Warning


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Stan Brezenoff, middle (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


The dramatic growth in the size and cost of city government since Mayor de Blasio took office has been of concern to budget watchdogs: the number of city employees has grown by 35,000 and total annual spending by more than $20 billion since 2014.

The mayor’s latest budget presentation, delivered last week, came with talk of fiscal prudence, but assuaged few fears, including those of an unexpected new source adding his voice to those warning about the city’s long-term health.

The $92.5 billion proposed operating budget for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1 includes over $1 billion more in city-funded expenditures than was anticipated by the mayor’s Preliminary Budget released only a few months ago, offset by increases in revenue and “savings” through a variety of expenditure adjustments, netting out to an increase of about $350 million in planned spending since the mayor’s prior plan.

The budget for the coming fiscal year is balanced but the projected deficit for the 2020-2021 fiscal year is estimated to be $3.5 billion. The revised 10-year Capital Strategy is increasing a whopping $13 billion -- to nearly $117 billion.

The mayor stressed that his plan is fiscally prudent and that new initiatives have been kept to a minimum out of an abundance of caution about possible threats to the city’s economic picture. But Citizens Budget Commission President Andrew Rein succinctly summarized the general reaction from watchdogs and other commenters:

“Mayor de Blasio’s stay-the-course budget does not take the steps needed to preserve services or forestall tax increases in the eventual hard times.”

Will our city’s elected leaders heed the warnings and restrain their impulse to find more “savings” and add more spending to the budget that is finally adopted by the end of June? Not if past behavior is any guide.

But perhaps they will listen to someone who should command respect from the mayor and City Council alike: Stanley Brezenoff.

Last Friday, the day after the mayor presented his updated budget plans, Stan received the Civic Fame Award from the Center for New York City Law at New York Law School. his remarks were reflections about his years in government and the nature of the three mayoral administrations he has served. They were thoughtful, nuanced, and unexpected.

Stan started out as a young activist in the civil rights movement working for the Reverend Milton Galamison, who led the fight for community control of city schools in the 1960s. Indeed, it was noted at the award ceremony that Stan had some trouble getting a full-time job in New York because he had so many arrests from protests on his record.  

Stan entered city government in the administration of Mayor John Lindsay, went on to various positions including as the first commissioner of the newly formed Human Resources Administration, was Executive Director of the Port Authority, and eventually became First Deputy Mayor under Ed Koch, which is when I first met and worked for/with him.

I was fortunate to work with Stan again when he was the Vice Chair and I was President of the September 11th Fund, and since then we have been friends and colleagues on various projects.

Given Stan’s extensive background and his long relationship with then-First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris (who was his deputy and successor at the Port Authority), it is not surprising that Mayor de Blasio has relied on Stan to help deal with some of the weightiest challenges of his administration – first as an advisor on labor relations, then as Acting CEO of the city’s financially-strapped Health + Hospital system (which he ran 1981-1984), and most recently as Acting Chair of the beleaguered public housing authority, NYCHA.

So, suffice it to say, this is not someone who can be dismissed as a conservative, anti-government pundit who doesn’t care about the city’s social safety net or believe in unionized public employment. That is why his comments, while diplomatic, were especially noteworthy and startling.

His main points were:

-Mayor Lindsay came into office in 1966 at an important inflection point. He had an expansionist, activist agenda driven by social goals, i.e. equality and attention to the needs of the poor.

-Lindsay attracted a young, energetic staff that shared his agenda and they accomplished a great deal.

-But they were not prepared or oriented towards the tasks needed to manage the large business enterprise that is city government; hence the seeds of the fiscal crisis were sown.

-Mayor Abe Beame (1974-1977) and his administration lacked the understanding and tools to address the magnitude of the financial challenges that became apparent. Capital funding had been borrowed and used to support operating expenses and now the banks were refusing to loan the city government any more money.

-Mayor Ed Koch (1978-1989) brought a management perspective to the job. Because of the fiscal crisis the public psyche had changed and it became “easier to say no” to advocates and new social policies because there simply wasn’t enough money to do everything. Koch and his administration, subject to the constraints imposed by the Emergency Financial Control Act, engineered a financial turnaround that put the city on a stable footing.

-Moving forward to the present, the current administration is experiencing an extraordinary period of affluence that has enabled Mayor de Blasio, as did Lindsay, to focus on an expansionist social agenda. While his achievements –- e.g. universal pre-kindergarten, an aggressive affordable housing program – are laudable and important, there has been less attention to enterprise management functions and there are warning signs that good times will not last much longer.

-There has been little emphasis on efficient service delivery and achieving savings. The annual PEG (Program to Eliminate the Gap) that has been required by all mayors since Koch to exert savings discipline upon agency spending has been absent 2014-2018.

-This is the first budget of the de Blasio administration in which a PEG has been imposed, but it was “not very vigorous.”

-Good stewardship requires remembering and learning from history. Expansionist policies cannot be implemented without good fiscal management to sustain them.

Thus, in a very nuanced, diplomatic way, 40-year veteran of government Stan Brezenoff offered the same message as Andrew Rein from CBC: we are taking the good times for granted and are not prepared for a recession or some terrible crisis that rapidly decreases revenue and catches the city unprepared to fund all its current expenses and significant long-term liabilities.

City Council and mayor: listen up! Stan Brezenoff has committed his life to social justice. He is not anti-union or a believer in small government. If he is worried, you should be too!

Don’t make the situation worse by adding pet projects to what the Executive Budget already includes. Any more revenue that turns up should be put into reserves for that rainy day. We are far short of the $12-15 billion that would be needed to weather a recession.

The public and Stan B will be watching.

[Watch Stan Brezenoff’s comments in full here.]

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

 

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The Opportunity Ahead for the New CUNY Chancellor


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Former CUNY Chancellor James Milliken, left, & incoming Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez (photo: CUNY)


Today -- Wednesday, May 1 -- Felix Matos-Rodriguez assumes the post of CUNY chancellor following a year-long search. After successfully leading two CUNY colleges, Chancellor Matos-Rodriguez takes over an institution that has made important strides in recent years, including opening an innovative new community college and launching nationally renowned programs like CUNY ASAP.

To help grow New York City’s middle class and greatly expand economic opportunity, CUNY’s next leader will need to make boosting college and career success his highest priority.

The nation’s largest urban public university provides many thousands of New Yorkers from low-income backgrounds with an education that can make the difference between persistent economic struggle and transformative economic and social mobility.

But CUNY still has work to do. Too many students drop out without a credential; graduates do not always end up on the path to career success; curriculum development can lag behind the city’s fast-changing economy; and CUNY sometimes struggles to tune in to the needs of employers.

There’s no time to lose. Today nearly 3.4 million New Yorkers age 25 and older lack any sort of post-secondary credential, exacerbating the city’s opportunity divide. While nearly 61% of Manhattan residents hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, the same is true for just 19% of those in the Bronx.

For residents without a college credential, far too many of the city’s growing, well-paying occupations -- from software developer to registered nurse -- remain out of reach.

Narrowing that divide depends on CUNY.

There’s no institution better positioned to help lower-income and first-generation students earn a post-secondary credential -- and with it, the opportunity to participate in and shape the economy of the future. But despite recent progress, only 22% of students who enter CUNY's community colleges graduate in three years. At CUNY’s senior colleges, just 55% earn a degree in six years. Getting more New Yorkers on the path to economic opportunity will require a major effort to increase the number of students who graduate with a degree.

The new chancellor’s first goal should be to dramatically improve those figures. Fortunately, CUNY has at least two programs proven to significantly boost completion rates: CUNY ASAP and CUNY Start.

ASAP provides a set of integrated supports to community college students, including free MetroCards and intensive academic counseling. Start is a bootcamp program that significantly boosts academic readiness for underprepared students without burning through their financial aid. Both programs should be made available to all community college students, and a version of ASAP should expand to senior colleges, too.

While it’s true that most community college students enter the classroom struggling with at least one core subject, traditional remedial programs just don’t work. Students in these programs are far more likely to drop out, even though research shows that most can succeed with a little help.

Chancellor Matos-Rodriguez should champion a system-wide effort to move away from traditional remedial education in favor of highly effective alternatives like the corequisite model, which allows students to pursue credit-bearing courses from day one with extra support.

But the challenge for the next chancellor doesn’t end at graduation day. CUNY lacks a strategy to ensure that a CUNY credential leads to career success.

The next chancellor should lead a major effort to engage employers around every campus and develop industry-informed curricula tailored to growing occupations in tech, hospitality, creative industries, healthcare, construction, and beyond.

This will require CUNY to quicken the pace of development for new programs and courses and speed up technology procurement -- and New York City and State should support these efforts with more funding for employer engagement and a faster approvals process for new programs. Additional goals should include launching new apprenticeship programs with industry partners, expanding the number of internships and work-study opportunities available to CUNY students, and pushing to increase and improve career counseling services.

CUNY should also take steps to develop new certificate programs -- designed in partnership with employers, unions, or trade associations -- that can provide community college students with a marketable credential that counts toward a two- or four-year degree.

Doing all this will require sustained and expanded support from New York City and State. But it will also depend on strong and creative leadership at a decisive moment for public higher education. The new chancellor should ensure that CUNY’s faculty, administrators, and curricula have the flexibility to move at the speed of technology and a clear mandate to prepare students for the jobs -- and opportunities -- of the future.

By focusing his administration on elevating college and career success, Chancellor Matos-Rodriguez can help the nation’s largest urban university become its most effective launchpad to the middle class.

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Jonathan Bowles is executive director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. Winston C. Fisher is partner at Fisher Brothers and co-chair of the New York City Regional Economic Development Council. On Twitter @jbowlesNYC & @Wnston_Fisher1@nycfuture.

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Why is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries MIA on the Green New Deal?


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Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (photo: Kevin Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


The Green New Deal resolution has garnered a lot of attention since it was introduced in February. The nonbinding resolution, sponsored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), aims to reshape our energy system and economy by committing to a swift and just transition to 100% clean renewable energy.

Such a bold transformation is exactly what is needed according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. After all, the IPCC explained that we only have twelve years to get our emissions under control or else we will be locked in to climate catastrophe.

The Green New Deal promises not only to get us off fossil fuels, but will also create millions of good jobs retrofitting existing buildings so they are more energy-efficient and boosting wind and solar energy investments. The resolution also aims to protect frontline communities and those most affected by climate change and pollution. 

The Green New Deal has attracted considerable support in a rapid time, receiving endorsements from nearly all Democratic contenders for the presidency and having over 90 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. According to a Business Insider poll, over 80% of respondents support almost all of the components of the Green New Deal resolution.   Of course, the resolution has garnered its critics too, with President Trump referring to it as “socialism.”

Nearly all of the congressional representatives from New York City signed on as co-sponsors to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’ resolution. However, there remains a glaring omission in Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). Rep. Jeffries represents a solidly blue district in Brooklyn and Southwest Queens which has already witnessed the devastating effects of climate change firsthand with Hurricane Sandy wreaking havoc along the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. In fact, his 8th congressional district received more aid for Hurricane Sandy relief than any other district in the city.

While there is wide support for the resolution, the Democratic leadership in Congress remains disinterested in moving forward, exemplified when House Speaker Pelosi laughed off  the resolution by calling it the “green dream.” Likewise, Mitch McConnell’s stunt vote in the Senate failed to garner a single Democratic vote. The Democratic Party leadership in Congress, including Rep. Jeffries, should demonstrate that they are committed to tackling climate change head-on by supporting the Green New Deal.

Rep. Jeffries is certainly a major player and rising star within the Democratic Party, as he was elected chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and is rumored to be on the fast-track to be Speaker of the House. Interestingly, Rep. Jeffries owes his current leadership position in part to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who ousted the previous chair of the caucus, Rep. Joseph Crowley, in a primary.

Rep. Jeffries should prove his progressive bonafides by supporting the Green New Deal. Indeed, it may be bad politics for him to avoid the resolution; he wouldn’t want the same fate of Rep. Crowley by being primaried from the left.

As it currently stands, Rep. Jeffries and freshman Rep. Max Rose (D-NY) are the sole New York City members of Congress to fail to sign on to the Green New Deal. Rose represents another area massively affected by climate change and Hurricane Sandy -- Staten Island and Southern Brooklyn. However, Rep. Rose’s district is hardly safely Democratic, and he does not need to fear a primary challenger from the left.

To be sure, the Green New Deal is only a nonbinding resolution and doesn’t actually enact any measures that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rather it sets the vision and the goals to massively transition the economy away from its reliance on fossil fuels.

Rep. Jeffries has indicated that rather than signing on to the Green New Deal, he is inclined to wait until the bipartisan “House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis” makes recommendations on the issue, a process that can take over a year. However, with climate change, time is not a renewable resource. It is essential that congressional leadership at least entertain solutions commensurate with the challenges we face. Rep. Jeffries should show the courage and leadership on the climate and support the Green New Deal.

Rep. Jeffries has a duty to his constituents to support policies that will reduce carbon emissions, create green jobs, and build up the infrastructure that protects his district from the next superstorm. After all, not only is it good politics to support the Green New Deal, but according to the world’s top scientists, it is absolutely necessary policy. To show true leadership, for his party and the country, Rep. Jeffries should champion the Green New Deal.

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Ari R. Lieberman is an attorney and the legislative coordinator for 350Brooklyn, a grassroots climate change organization affiliated with 350.org. On Twitter @the_greenmarble.

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Heading in the Right Direction on City and State Census Funding, But More To Do


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(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


The 2020 Census is less than a year away, and it is imperative that every single person living in New York is counted. In Mayor de Blasio’s proposed Executive Budget, New York City now has $26 million set aside for census outreach, in addition to an undetermined portion of the State’s $20 million that will go to the City.

A good start, but we need more than $26 million to ensure a full count, and with less than a year to go before the counting begins, there is still too much uncertainty about how much of and how fast these funds will make their way to the organizations doing the work on the ground.

This uncertainty is particularly alarming because of how much coordination we need between the City and State to achieve a complete count. We cannot allow anything short of a comprehensive funding strategy to happen. There is too little time and too much at stake, and a smart down payment in 2019 will pay billions in federal dividends if the census is a success.

We’re talking about upwards of $73 billion in federal funding for food, schools, housing, and more for the state. Our representation in Congress is on the line. Even how we draw our State and City district lines is affected. Getting the census right isn’t a wonky statistical game. It directly affects the flow of federal resources going to New York and will determine our economic and political future for the next ten years.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Census Bureau has a hard time counting New Yorkers. More than half the people who live in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods, which the Census Bureau defines as areas with a self-response rate of 73% or less in the past census. Such neighborhoods exist in Manhattan and Staten Island as well. The hardest-to-count populations are already among our most vulnerable and underrepresented – immigrants, people of color, low-income people, people with limited English proficiency, and young children.

Yet instead of increasing funding for the Census Bureau, President Trump has slashed it to its lowest point in decades and is fighting to include a citizenship question in the Census that would further depress participation.

Many groups in New York recognize the importance of this moment and have mobilized to ensure a complete count, from community-based organizations, religious leaders, unions, and the business community.

Some of the most trusted and well-regarded advocacy organizations in the State – the New York Immigration Coalition, Asian American Federation, Citizens Union Foundation, NAACP, and Association for a Better New York, among others – have formed coalitions and started educating New Yorkers about the importance of completing the census.

Yet none of these groups can succeed without a commitment from government to work together and fund their efforts directly. These groups know how to reach hard-to-count populations and mobilize them to participate. And through the City Council’s Census 2020 Task Force, the Council can identify even more trusted hyperlocal groups for direct funds to ensure a complete count.

We believe the City and State should combine their efforts and use the most direct routes possible to fund these local census outreach operations to their maximum potential. We also believe we can do better and that the City and State must increase census funding to truly meet the challenge we face.

This is a one-time investment in our economic and political future. There are no do-overs. We will not have a chance to correct any mistakes for another ten years and will live with the effects of an undercount for a decade. We must treat this emergency with the importance it demands.

In ten years, we will either look back knowing we seized the opportunity to control our economic and political destiny or wonder why we lost out on billions for ordinary New Yorkers to save millions upfront. When you consider the choice, the answer is obvious. The City and State must work together and fully fund this effort.

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Steven Choi is executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition. City Council Members Carlos Menchaca and Carlina Rivera are co-chairs of the Council’s Census Task Force. On Twitter @SteveChoiNY & @cmenchaca & @CarlinaRivera.

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How the Mayor and NYPD Must Step Up for Sexual Assault Accountability


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(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Not nearly enough has been done to improve New York City’s response to sexual assault in the one year since the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) issued a blistering report on how the NYPD was failing to make sexual assault response a priority. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s primary response to the report has been to question its accuracy.

The mayor needs to see that many of the failures documented by the DOI persist today and recently released figures show an alarming one in four rape cases were closed in 2018 due to an alleged lack of cooperation from the victim. In Manhattan, a shocking 40% of all rape investigations were closed citing uncooperative victims and unfounded allegations. A high rate of rape victims not cooperating with police is a red flag pointing to ineffective investigations and likely mistreatment of victims.

The pressure is mounting for this global city that is home to 8.6 million residents and 60 million tourists a year to keep pace with resources and innovation. In the Me Too era reporting continues to rise, and what's more, survivors are taking their complaints public, victims are suing the NYPD, and a state law is about to go into effect that mandates law enforcement agencies adopt policies that are victim-focused and trauma-informed.

What the DOI investigation documented in its 165-page report should be of concern to every New Yorker: a severely understaffed division; too many officers with limited investigative experience; insufficient training; cramped facilities in need of upgrading; and a failure to take acquaintance rape as seriously as stranger rape. Indeed, the report found that although there were more than 5,600 sex crime cases in 2017, by last year there were only 67 detectives to handle them.

The NYPD has made some important changes in response to the report's findings. The department started sending all acquaintance rapes, not just all stranger rapes, to SVD. This is a significant change, but it’s also one that will require more SVD staff and resources to handle the additional cases. The department has also committed to revamping SVD’s facilities in every borough, a welcome change for detectives and survivors. However, more needs to be done and that need is urgent.

A senior advisor to Mayor de Blasio issued a statement calling the NYPD’s investigative efforts “the best in the nation” a year ago. It wasn't true then, and it isn't true today.

Advocates who work with New York City survivors continue to see too many cases falling through the cracks and basic procedures lacking. We've seen failures to call victims back, to keep them informed of their cases, to demonstrate that leads were pursued quickly and evidence was collected in a timely manner, and to meet victims with compassion, concern, and cultural competence. There are undoubtedly many dedicated and experienced investigators in SVD, but without a top to bottom culture shift across the division and investment of more resources, too many victims will get a substandard response. For these people, the experience of reporting can become a painful continuation of trauma, rather than a start to healing.

We continue to call on the mayor and the NYPD to:

-Build a culture that demands meeting all survivors with compassion and professionalism. Research demonstrates that meeting survivors with belief and support not only impacts the trajectory of their healing but helps investigators obtain better information and results. In fact, a strong victim-centered approach was recommended in the U.S. Department of Justice report on preventing gender bias in law enforcement.

-Significantly increase the number of detectives within SVD to lower caseloads: DOI calculated that at least 140 investigators dedicated to the adult squad were needed to do an adequate job, and this was before accounting for the rising reports of sexual assault. Although the NYPD has increased the number of SVD investigators, the recommended number has not yet been met.

-Significantly increase the investigative skill level of those assigned to the division: only 5% of SVD investigators are First-Grade Detectives, those detectives recognized with the highest level of investigative experience. Increasing opportunities for promotion within the division and engaging more experienced investigators from the outset lays the groundwork for a stronger and more effective unit.

-Provide more and better quality training to SVD. The move to ensure that every SVD investigator is trained in trauma-informed interviewing techniques was a significant investment and critical step in the right direction. We’ll continue to push for expanded training until it’s clear that all sex crime investigations are timely, competent, and robust.

We shouldn’t stop at just making changes to the NYPD, that’s just one small piece in addressing sexual assault. New York City aspires to be a model for the rest of the nation on so many fronts -- why not on sexual assault? A comprehensive approach is needed.

We can make consent and healthy relationship education part of every New York City child’s experience pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. We can launch evidence-based public-service campaigns that aim to shift cultural attitudes and beliefs that perpetuate abuse and invest in survivor-led and community-based outreach to prevent violence.

Me Too has done a great deal to break down taboos and to raise awareness of how ingrained and routine sexual assault is in our culture. April is sexual assault awareness month – it should be sexual assault accountability month. And accountability lies with the mayor of New York City, who has a great opportunity to tackle a societal problem with the urgency, investment and innovation it deserves.

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Sonia Ossorio is president of the National Organization for Women - New York. On Twitter @soniaossorio & @NOW_NYC/@NOWNewYork.

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Ending the Shortage of Black Male Teachers in New York


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(photo: New York City Department of Education)


Every day I stand in front of my classroom, filled with black and brown faces, intensely aware that I am the only black man teaching at my school -- but I am hardly the only one that feels this. New York City schools employ fewer black male teachers today than 20 years ago; only 3.7 percent of city teachers share my identity.

Without male teachers of color, thousands of students walk into schools each day where not even a single adult shares an important part of their identity. These students are missing out on the academic and social advantages of having a teacher of color. Studies show that having a race and gender match between student and teacher can help reverse some of the challenges black male students face -- higher dropout and suspension rates coupled with lower likelihood to attend and graduate from college.

It is time for New York to seriously invest in recruiting excellent black male educators.

A diverse teacher workforce had a deep impact on my life. Growing up in Miami, I was one of the few black boys in my schools. Fortunately, black educators like Mr. Carter, my mentor and role model, pushed me to become the learner and educator I am today. He validated my voice and writing in English, a subject where black boys did not typically fit in. Mr. Carter, and other black male teachers, put me on the trajectory to become a lifelong educator.

When I started educating a new generation of black students, I carried on the mission Mr. Carter sowed in me. In my classroom, I am not just a teacher or track coach. To my black students, I am a father, uncle, big brother, and mentor.

Brandon, a student from years ago, told me that having a role model that looked and spoke like him teaching history put him on the path to studying history and returning home as an educator himself. Last week, Brandon used his spring break to shadow and co-teach in my Manhattan classroom. He is joining the next generation of black educators making a difference in the lives of black kids.

When our students open their eyes to new subjects, career paths, and futures they never saw for themselves, that’s where we see our true impact. Our connection goes beyond academics and test results; I see myself 20 years ago and they see me as someone they can become.

The debate over how schools support black boys facing systemic racism and poverty often overlooks the impact teachers of color, and specifically black male teachers, can have. Our school system marginalizes our black students by suspending them at higher rates and limits their access to higher level courses.

Having a same-race teacher improves academic and social performance, shown by The Institute for Labor Economics. It found that when a black male student from a low-income background has one black teacher in elementary school they are 39% less likely to drop out of school and more likely to attend college.

Additionally, there are lessons that only a black man can pass on to a black boy -- how to survive an encounter with the police, how to code switch, how to resolve disputes with your words -- which is why studies show black students are suspended less by black teachers. Having a black male teacher is one way to address these problems and ensure our black boys are on the path to graduation, college, and success beyond.

While teachers have offered pathways to end the chronic shortage of black male teachers, New York has not done enough. Recently, Educators for Excellence-New York, a teacher-led advocacy group, released recommendations aimed at increasing teacher diversity in New York by investing in preparation programs that excel at recruiting and training excellent teachers of color. Unfortunately, state leadership continually fails to sufficiently address this issue.

Governor Cuomo and the Legislature included money in this year’s state budget to recruit 250 teachers of color by 2024 -- in a state that produces nearly 10% of all new American teachers each year. This is a small, positive step. But in a system where 40% of our students are males of color, these proposals are insufficient.

Truth be told, it goes beyond funding. It’s time for political leaders to authentically implement inclusion and expand effective initiatives that will develop, support, and sustain a pipeline for black male educators into the classroom.

As Educators for Excellence-New York recommends, it is time for the state to identify and support teacher preparation programs that are successfully recruiting and training men of color to teach. These programs must include teacher residencies that provide extended in-classroom experience in the schools that need educators of color the most.

Additionally, it is time to for school districts to prioritize hiring and retention strategies that address the unique challenges facing men of color as they enter and grow in the profession. With a sustained approach, New York can become a leader in what it looks like to address teacher shortages and close the educator diversity gap.  

Across New York, there are young men sitting in classrooms, just like I once was, whose lives could be changed by a role model at the front of their classroom that looks like them.


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Ashley Toussaint is a public high school teacher in Manhattan and a member of Educators for Excellence-New York.

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We Can't Let Trump Reverse Years of Improved School Food Policy


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(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


My nephew is 10-years-old, is obese, and has type-2 diabetes. He wasn't raised to eat healthy, and my sister and brother-in-law don't always do the best to encourage good eating habits. One place they have no control over my nephew's diet is at school.

He's in 5th grade in a public school in northern Manhattan. He often tells me what he has for breakfast and lunch at his school, and laughs when he sees my reactions to what he describes. Bagel sticks with cream cheese and jelly, cinnamon twists, juice, and chocolate milk are just a few of the items he brags about that taste good.

New York City's public schools have come a long way in improving the quality of school food over the years. The city has worked hard to make school meals healthier than other cities across the country, and the Obama Administration was on the same page when it passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which aimed to serve more nutritious and fiber-dense whole grains and less flavored milks, which contain harmful added sugars.

But then came President Trump, and in December 2018 his administration weakened the law by reversing limits on sodium, allowing flavored milks and reducing whole grain foods in school food. Earlier this month a coalition of state attorneys general and two food policy advocacy groups sued the Trump Administration for violating the Administrative Procedure Act and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act by authorizing the reversal last December and bypassing legal requirements.

As a graduate student at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, I’m passionate about improving public health (like my 10-year-old nephew's) through improved food and public health policies. I wrote a food policy brief last fall for one of my classes, arguing that New York City public schools should eliminate flavored milk during breakfast and lunch and instead offer plain milk as the default. It also proposed making 100% fruit juice available during breakfast and only upon request by the student.

Using evidence-based research, I explained that both flavored milk and 100% fruit juice are large contributors to diet-related chronic diseases like obesity and type-2 diabetes, which affect not only many adult New Yorkers, but children as well.

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, one in five city kindergarten students is obese. Studies show that obese children are at increased risk of becoming obese adults, and statistics show that obesity is more prevalent among black and Hispanic people compared to those of other races.

There is already strong scientific evidence linking poor quality school food, like flavored milks, to diet-related chronic diseases. However, many people (even doctors and nutritionists) are misled that 100% fruit juice is healthy. The sugars in these juices, even though all natural, are just as bad as added sugars in soda. Sugars in whole fruit are filled with fiber, so it's filling and hard to eat a lot of. Sugar in whole fruit is delivered slowly to the liver, which more easily metabolizes the sugar without being overloaded.

Fruit juice, without the fiber, sends a large amount of sugar quickly to the liver, just like when you consume a soda. Most of the sugar in fruit juice is fructose, and the liver can only metabolize it in small amounts. When the liver is overloaded with fructose, some if it turns into fat, and some of it stays in the liver, causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and eventually type-2 diabetes. Advocates like Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor emeritus of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), have been warning America about this metabolic epidemic for years.

School districts across the country have been trying for years to improve the quality of school food to make it healthier for children. The trend started in 2006 in Berkeley, California. There, under the direction of Chef Ann Cooper, then Director of Nutrition Services, the city banned chocolate milk from their school district. Chef Cooper moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 2009, and did the same for that school district. In 2010 Washington, D.C. and Fairfax County, VA both eliminated chocolate milk from their public schools. In 2011 Los Angeles removed all flavored milks, becoming the largest school district in the country to do so (even though in 2016 they reversed the policy as a result of pressure from the dairy industry). In 2013 Montgomery County, Maryland banned strawberry milk from its schools. In 2014 Connecticut considered removing chocolate milk from all schools in the entire state, but ultimately the governor didn’t sign the bill. Finally, in 2017, San Francisco removed chocolate milk from all of its schools.

At the time I was writing my food policy brief for my NYU graduate class, the Trump Administration announced that it was rolling back school nutrition standards, and I mentioned it in the brief. The Trump Administration thinks it can reverse policies that have taken years to fight for and implement without following legally required procedures. I applaud New York Attorney General Letitia James for leading this coalition of attorneys general who brought on this lawsuit.

New York City has worked hard to improve the quality of its school food and usually is a trendsetter for the rest of the United States when it comes to public health (see: smoking ban, menu labeling). The city needs to continue striving for excellence in public health policy and to help make New York City children healthier. Stopping irrational policy reversal decisions with lawsuits may be the only way to fight the Trump Administration, which doesn’t seem to care about the childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes epidemics currently facing New York City and the rest of the United States.

I do care. I care about my nephew's health and future, and I intend to contribute to positive change in public health not only in New York but the rest of the country. Won’t you join me?

***
David Lundquist is an Executive MPA student at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and works for NYU Langone Health.

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Advancing Efforts to Hire People with Disabilities Across New York's Economy


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Victor Calise, front-left, is one of the authors (photo: @NYCCalise)


In the fairest big city in America, everyone deserves the opportunity to be employed. Unfortunately, the reality is that people with disabilities in the United States are twice as likely to be out of the workforce as their nondisabled peers.

Data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor shows that the proportion of Americans with disabilities ages 16 to 64 that was employed last year was only 30.4% compared to 74% for non-disabled individuals in the same age group. In New York City alone, 79% of working-age people with disabilities are currently jobless according to the most recent U.S. Census statistics. This staggering disparity is one of the most pressing challenges to full accessibility and independence of the disability community.

New York City is doing our part to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities. The Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities’ (MOPD) NYC: ATWORK program is a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership, with funding from Institute for Career Development (ICD), the Poses Family Foundation, the Kessler Foundation, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation, ACCES-VR, and The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City that directly connects people with disabilities to prospective employers.

For example, Chelsea Dimond is a person with a disability who reached out to NYC: ATWORK after she was previously unsuccessful in finding employment through traditional job-seeking websites. After getting guidance regarding the search and interview process, she was ultimately hired as a Peer Respite Worker by Transitional Services Inc. New York.

On NYC: ATWORK’s assistance, Chelsea says: “This program took note of exactly what kind of job I was interested in and made a perfect match for me. This job feels like it was meant to be, and now I’m able to make a difference in the lives of those who have mental illnesses like myself.” Chelsea is only one of many examples of successful placement by NYC: ATWORK.  The overall goal of this three-year initiative focuses on connecting 2,100 individuals with disabilities to internships, jobs, and careers in their field of choice.

The City’s proactive approach to increasing employment for people with disabilities is rooted in the understanding that a good job and financial security are crucial to personal and professional independence. Before connecting with NYC: ATWORK, Simon Bondar was living with his parents. After working with MOPD on his resume and interview prep, he was hired by UNIQLO as a Sales Associate. With this new line of income, Simon was able to move into a new apartment with his wife.

New York’s business community plays a crucial role in hiring more people with disabilities, in turn creating a more inclusive workplace that leverages the diversity of its employees. Through NYC: ATWORK’s Business Development Council, the City has fostered relationships with companies across a variety of sectors including finance, hospitality, transportation, retail, and technology.

Additionally, the New York City Council has hired its first-ever liaison to New Yorkers with disabilities. Together, the de Blasio Administration and Council are dedicated to including disability in conversations about diversity in hiring practices and society at large.

Having an employee with a disability can be a catalyst for a cultural shift to a more inclusive workplace. Nondisabled business owners are more likely to think about accessibility and ultimately improve the company for all of its employees and customers alike. These employment opportunities also extend to city government where the 55-a program has paved the way for qualified people with disabilities to get hired without needing to take a Civil Service exam. By obtaining employment, a person with a disability will therefore not only gain the tools they need to live independently but will also make a positive impact on their employer and the community at large as well.

While New York City has made great strides to improve the lives of people with disabilities and many businesses have joined us in hiring members of the disability community, we know this is just the beginning. It is imperative that societal attitudes shift to recognize that disability is an important aspect of a diverse work environment and, indeed, that people with disabilities are productive employees who will positively contribute to a business and the community. All of us must make a conscious effort to recruit, hire, and retain qualified people with disabilities. Only then can we have a truly inclusive society and make New York the most accessible city in the world.

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Victor Calise is the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities. City Council Member Justin Brannan represents parts of Brooklyn. On Twitter @NYCCalise & @JustinBrannan.

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Say No to Faulty Voting Machines and the Conflicts of Interest That Come with Them


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(photo: Gotham Gazette)


In the coming days, the Board of Elections will select a vendor to provide voting machines to serve nearly 5 million New York City voters as part of the early voting launch this year. Unfortunately, the entire process has become tainted by corruption and ought to raise deep concerns to anyone who cares about the integrity of our elections.

Over the past decade, New York City has paid $43 million to Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) for its poor quality ballot scanners and other voting machines. This is the same company that showered Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan with perks including luxury travel and dining expenses in Las Vegas and other destinations.

Although Ryan was forced to step down from his advisory role at ES&S after his conflict of interest was exposed by NY1, he still brazenly lobbied the state for fast-track approval of the company’s touch screen voting machine – ExpressVote XL – that is less secure and twice as expensive as systems that print paper ballots. It is vulnerable to hacking, interference, and other glitches. Put simply, this may be one of the worst voting machines in the country.

Fortunately, the State Board of Elections rejected the City BOE’s request to bypass the certification process, but it did not close the door on approving this garbage machine for future elections. In the meantime, however, the City must select a new voting system for 2019 and beyond.

Ryan’s conduct illustrates that the Board of Elections cannot be trusted to make a decision that’s in the best interest of the public. There is no question that the mutual back scratching between election machine vendors and the agency is out of control.

But with a decision coming soon, what can we do to protect democracy?

For starters, Michael Ryan must be replaced. His mishandling of last year’s midterm elections, which were marred by endless lines, long waits, and machine malfunctions, is grounds for removal alone. Short of that, he must be recused from any decisions related to voting machine contracts. Any other members with ties to voting machine companies must be held accountable, and all commissioners should be disqualified from the Board if they do not approve voting technology that is secure and provides a paper record.

In the longer term, comprehensive Board of Elections reforms are needed, including a wholesale revamp of the oversight structure by lawmakers in Albany. At the absolute minimum, companies with business before the Board of Elections should be barred from lavishing perks on decision-makers, and local party bosses should not be handpicking the Board members.

This is an odd moment. Albany is finally taking action to improve access to the ballot box, while the New York City Board of Elections is moving deeper into the era of smoke filled rooms. While pay-to-play politics is nothing new in this state, we can’t become numb to corruption that undermines New Yorkers’ fundamental right to vote. There is still time to get this right. Through public pressure and support from reform-minded officials, we can force the city and state to protect voting rights, not shady voting machine companies.

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Jonathan Westin is the executive director of New York Communities for Change. On Twitter @jwestin2 & @nycchange.

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We Must Seize Today’s Path to Actually Closing Rikers; It May Not Be Here Tomorrow


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Speaker Corey Johnson, one of the authors, with Mayor de Blasio (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Three years ago, the idea of closing the nine jails on Rikers Island was widely considered impossible. But in April 2017, after an intense campaign by advocates and the findings of an independent commission convened by former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and chaired by Judge Jonathan Lippman, Mayor de Blasio committed to the goal.

Today, we are within hailing distance.

The starting point for closing the Rikers jails is dramatically cutting the number of people who are incarcerated, and we have made real strides towards this goal. Thanks to reforms to policing and prosecution, investments in alternatives to incarceration, and continuing pressure from advocates, there are 1,800 fewer people in city jails than there were two years ago—all while the city remains safer than ever.

The total number of people in jails is now under 8,000, the lowest it has been in many decades and representative of a lower incarceration rate than any other major United States city. Reforms recently enacted in Albany to bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws will reduce that number further and bring us much closer to the goal of 5,000 or fewer people incarcerated that would eventually permit the end of Rikers jails.

But to actually shutter the Rikers jails, and not just talk about it, it is imperative for the city to build a smaller system of facilities located in the boroughs to hold those who remain. Today there are three operating non-Rikers jails, including a 1950s-era tower in downtown Brooklyn and a 30-year-old barge docked in the Bronx that would be closed along with Rikers. None are examples of humane design, and together they have space for fewer than 2,400 people. 

New York City has launched the land use process that will determine whether Rikers jails can be shut down. If successful, it will lead to the authorization of four redesigned facilities to hold 5,000 people or fewer in total. Three of the planned facilities—in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan—are on the site of existing jails, next to borough courthouses. The fourth, in the Bronx, is on an NYPD tow pound lot in Mott Haven. The Bronx site is farther from the courthouse than the others, but still exponentially closer and more accessible than Rikers.

Of course, a plan of this scale and impact has critics.

Some say that closing Rikers is impossible. These are the same voices that said, two years ago, that everyone in city jails deserved to be there. They are the same voices that said, five years ago, that ending the policy of widespread stop-and-frisk that was devastating communities of color would lead to an outbreak of crime. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

Then there are those who oppose borough facilities for the exact opposite reason. They argue that borough jails would “normalize” incarceration. Nothing could do more to normalize incarceration and to perpetuate a toxic culture of violence and mass incarceration than continuing to warehouse New Yorkers on a hidden penal colony.

Others have said that we must pause this process. But every day that we wait is an extra day that the Rikers jails will remain open, harming the people who work and are incarcerated there. And many who call for delay understand that it would squander the once-in-a-generation opportunity the city has to move towards closing Rikers now, ultimately derailing the project. 

Finally, some people who live near the proposed facilities are concerned about the impact on their neighborhoods. These concerns, which include traffic, safety, and size, are understandable and must be thoroughly assessed, and that is what is happening in the land use process now underway. Yet we must remember: there are jails currently operating in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn without any negative impact to property values or crime.

The plan that the mayor has put forward is an essential step in the path to close the Rikers jail complex. Conversations with communities have already led to initial reductions in the height and density of the planned facilities and more thoughtful plans regarding the treatment of incarcerated women. Moving forward, we expect to see more work from the administration to improve the plan—such as finding non-jail, hospital-based alternatives for people with serious mental health diagnoses—and to address neighborhood concerns.

Equally important, the administration must invest in the socio-economic needs of the communities that historically have been hit hard by the inequities of the criminal justice system. And to demonstrate his seriousness about changing the justice system, Mayor de Blasio should raze the jail on Rikers that he closed last summer.

The land use process that began is necessary to put an end to Rikers, but it is not the end of the road. We will still need to determine crucial issues like how the facilities will be operated and what services and programs they will provide. Finishing the job will require the same focus and advocacy that got us to this point.

The misery of Rikers has been well-known, and well-documented, for decades. The reason those jails continue to exist today is that closing them was always considered too difficult. But to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we are not doing this because it is easy; we are doing it because it is hard—and absolutely necessary for a justice system that is worthy of our city.

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Corey Johnson is the Speaker of the New York City Council. Jonathan Lippman is a former chief judge of New York State, of counsel at Latham & Watkins LLP, and chair of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.

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How to Separate District Attorney Candidates All Claiming to be Progressive


queens da with assets of bust

(photo: @QueensDABrown)


The burgeoning progressive prosecutor movement seeks to distinguish between old guard prosecutors and new candidates who promise to address mass incarceration and the criminal law’s disproportionate impact on people of color. In many elections, the contrast between the old and the new is readily apparent, but in Queens County the candidates seeking to succeed long-serving and retiring District Attorney Richard Brown are battling over who will be the most progressive prosecutor.

A recent article in Mother Jones profiled Tiffany Cabán, the candidate who appears to have captured the support of those most invested in a new prosecutorial order. The article’s author writes that Cabán “has a radical vision for the position: she says she’d incarcerate as few offenders as possible.”  

Reflecting on that statement forces one to realize just how punitive prosecutorial practices have become. It is tragic that a prosecutorial candidate’s position of locking up as few people as possible is described as radical. The recognition that decades of hyper-aggressive policing and punishment have made such a fundamentally humane and moral statement seem not just progressive but “radical,” is made more apparent when you consider the self-described progressive positions staked out by most District Attorney candidates – i.e., declining to prosecute marijuana charges; not requesting bail in most misdemeanors; not seeking the maximum sentence in every case; etc.  

Those positions, however beneficial to the accused, are hardly radical and are espoused by virtually every candidate in the Queens District Attorney race. It therefore behooves those searching for a progressive candidate to try and figure out who might truly be progressive, let alone radical.

With that task in mind, here is a modest list of 13 questions that might reveal the depths of a candidate’s progressive beliefs:

1. The Queens County District Attorney, unlike any other prosecutor in New York City, insists that there will be no plea offer unless the accused waives their statutory right to a prompt grand jury presentation. Will you commit to immediately ending that practice?

2. New York’s highest court ruled that the Queens District Attorney’s pre-arraignment interrogation program was unconstitutional. Will you commit to immediately ending any vestige of that practice and, to guard against any similar kind of abuses, commit to not conducting any interrogations unless and until the accused has been provided with an attorney?

3. A case is currently pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals where it is alleged that the Queens District Attorney had a practice of deliberately insulating prosecutors from their duty to provide the defense with exculpatory evidence. Will you commit to immediately ending that and any similar practices?

4. Recent legislative reforms will require that the prosecution provide the accused with discovery within 15 days of an indictment. Fifteen days is the outermost date. Will you commit to providing discovery within one week? Will you commit to providing the accused with basic police reports at arraignment?

5. New York Civil Rights Law 50-a has been an impediment to access to police personnel records and is the subject of ongoing debate and litigation. Will you agree to publicly support repeal of Section 50-a?

6. New York’s former Chief Judge famously observed that prosecutors wield so much influence on grand juries that they could get them to indict a ham sandwich. Would you agree to replace the grand jury in all cases with preliminary hearings where witnesses testify under oath and subject to cross-examination?

7. In countless trials, the accused is unable to exercise their hallowed constitutional right to testify on their own behalf because the prosecutor will cross-examine them about unrelated prior arrests or convictions. Will you commit to limiting cross-examination of the accused to just the facts and circumstances surrounding the charges on trial? 

8. In order to enhance police transparency and accountability, will you commit to videotaping all interviews with police witnesses and to provide the accused at their first appearance before a judge with a copy of the tape of the initial interview with the arresting officer?  

9. In order to enhance police transparency and accountability, and given the systematic Fourth Amendment and Equal Protection clause violations found in the federal stop-and-frisk litigation, will you commit to immediate pretrial suppression hearings in all possessory offenses so that the arresting officers must testify under oath, in public, and subject to cross-examination about what they did and why they did it?  

10. The typical Criminal Court complaint drafted by the District Attorney is no more than a few sentences and usually provides no facts regarding the legality of search and seizure. In order to enhance police transparency and accountability will you agree to include in the complaint factual details that support the probable cause for search and seizure?

11. One of the reasons for mass incarceration is the length of sentences that have been meted out over the past several decades. New York has almost 10,000 people serving life sentences. Will you agree to publicly support sentencing reforms to eliminate mandatory minimums, to reduce maximums, and to eliminate enhanced sentencing mechanisms?

12. More than 40% of the 50,000 people in New York State prisons are serving indeterminate sentences and will be eligible for parole. Will you agree to only oppose parole if there is clear and convincing evidence that the individual is a current threat to public safety? Will you publicly support the American Law Institute’s revision to the Model Penal Code that urges states to adopt “second look” legislation that provides for a reexamination of a person’s sentence after 15 years regardless of their original sentence or crime of conviction?

13. More and more, whether in the form of community courts, court watch programs, models of participatory defense, or the role of community groups in fashioning remedies to stop-and-frisk policing, those people most impacted by the criminal legal system are demanding input into how they are policed and prosecuted. In what ways will you cede power over decision-making to the communities most affected by prosecution practices?

Most people now recognize that prosecutors were a primary driver of mass incarceration, and some opine that prosecutors are therefore best situated to undo the damage they caused. With limited exceptions, the platforms and promises of self-described progressive prosecutors are hardly profiles in courage. For those who truly want to see prosecutorial reform, it is time to demand more than liberal platitudes.

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Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law. On Twitter @SteveZeidman.

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