Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Brooklyn Senate District 20: Adams Seeks Re-election

Democratic State Sen. Eric Adams will defends his Brooklyn-based seat against Republican challenger Stephen Christopher.

Adams, who was first overwhelmingly elected in 2006, is a former New York City police officer and co-founder of One Hundred Blacks in Law Enforcement. A major issue of his candidacy is bridging the gap between the community and law enforcement. Little information could be found on his opponent.

According to his 32-Day Pre General filing, Adams raised $27,560 in contributions in the reporting period, but apparently spent much of it, ending September with about $16,180 on hand. Figures for Christopher were not available.

The 20th district includes Crown Heights, Wingate, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Windsor Terrace, and parts of Park Slope. Figures for Christopher were not available.


Brooklyn Senate District 27: Brighton Beach's $1.8 Million Man

Longtime incumbent Carl Kruger will face Vyacheslav Patrin next week. Kruger joined the State Senate in 1994, and became the first democratic and minority member to chair a committee - the Senate Committee on Social Services, Children and Families.

Information on his Conservative Party challenger could not be found.

Despite facing seemingly token opposition, Kruger's campaign reported having more than $1.8 million on hand in his 32-Day Pre-General filing. Figures for Patrin were not available.

The district is located in southeastern Brooklyn, and includes Brighton Beach and Flatlands.


Manhattan Senate District 25: A Republican Tries to Beat the Odds

When Daniel Squadron unseated 30-year incumbent Martin Connor in the Democratic primary for the 25th district State Senate seat, it looked like he had vanquished his opposition. But another contender now stands between Squadron and Albany.

John Chromczak, an openly gay lifelong resident of Lower Manhattan, will appear on the Republican line in this liberal-leaning district that includes parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Chromczak has the cards stacked against him, competing for a district with close to 130,000 registered Democrats and only 19,000 registered Republicans.

"I am optimistic about my chances," Chromczak said, but then added that he doubts he will win. Even at the beginning of his campaign, Chromczak said, he remembered thinking "clearly I would have absolutely no chance." But threw his hat in the ring anyway because, he said, he was "disgusted with government on so many levels." Also, Chromczak added, he thinks people are "hungry to hear someone with substance behind them."

Reasons for Running

Chromczak's interest in state government was sparked by the Deutsche Bank building fire that killed two firefighters in August 2007. He described himself as shocked that officials had failed to prevent the tragedy.

"It made me look up my state senator" he said, and the more he learned about state government, the angrier he got. This prompted him, Chromczak said, to "put my money where my mouth is" and become the only candidate to enter the Republican primary for the 25th district seat.

Part of what keeps Chromczak in the race is his dissatisfaction with Squadron, who, he fears, is not as pro-gay rights as he claims. Chromczak charges that Squadron does follow up on his stated support and notes he did not attend gay pride events like the Marriage Equality USA sponsored "Wedding March," which took place Sept. 14.

Squadron described gay rights as on of his highest priority issues. "I look forward to leading the charge," Squadron said of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. A spokesperson for Squadron said that Squadron wanted to attend Wedding March but had a scheduling conflict.

Even more important to Chromczak than gay rights is government reform. "Reform Albany" is the first issue listed on his Website, which details his plan to institute term limits in the state legislature and reform campaign finance laws.

The Long Odds

Garnering support in the 25th district, has proved difficult for Chromczak. He has been endorsed by New York Republican clubs and by Log Cabin Republicans, but Squadron won many major endorsements during the primary, including unions Chromczak has been a member of, like Service Employees International Union local 1199.

Though endorsements are hard for a Republican in the 25th District to come by, Chromczak says that the response to his campaign has been good. "It's been very positive. People who have been lifelong Democrats are willing to listen to me," Chromczak said. "To me that's positive. It means that people are paying attention. They don't want to just go into it blindly, which makes it more motivating for me, to get out there."

Chromczak has managed to raise more than $30,000 for his bid. Connor has raised less for the general election, but spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in his primary bid.

Of the race, Chromczak's opponent Squadron said "I feel good about the general election." In contrast, Chromczak said "I'm realistic about it."


Manhattan Senate District 32: Duane Faces Little Known Challenger

Democratic Sen.Tom Duane faces a Republican challenger in his State Senate race this year. Debra Leible will appear on the ballot as the Republican candidate. Duane was first elected in 1998, becoming the first openly gay and HIV-positive candidate to be elected to the State Senate. He is known for championing legislation supporting gay rights.

Little information is available about Leible.

Duane's 32 Day Pre-General campaign finance report showed him having collected about$22,000 over the reporting period and ending September with $117,600. Leible reported "no activity" during the period covered by the report.


For Council, Another Term Holds Risks and Rewards

Gotham Gazette image by Ya-Hsuan Huang

With his usual candor and humor, Councilmember Simcha Felder attempted to keep order in a crammed City Council chamber on Thursday.

"We're going to run a hearing," declared Felder, chair of the council's Governmental Operations Committee, staring down a crowd of hundreds there to testify on extending the city's two-term limit. "We're not running a show."

Some questioned, however, whether the hearings were just that: the City Council rubber-stamping a proposal that may be predestined for approval, while simultaneously bearing much of the criticism for considering the issue.

No one doubts the power hierarchy in New York City. The mayor, regardless of whether he or she has billions of dollars, is seen as the council's puppeteer, pulling the strings of the speaker and the other 50 City Council members. The mayor is king, said members of the public Thursday -- the council, his pawn.

Now many question whether a revision of the city's two-term cap could upend that. Would giving the council another term boost its leverage with the west end of City Hall or does it, instead, give even greater power to the city's already supremely powerful executive?

The Lap Dog

Standing up as a sponsor of legislation calling for a City Charter revision commission to examine the extension of term limits, Councilmember Letitia James read a letter from one of her constituents on Thursday. "The council is the mayor's lap dog," she recited.

That, most would say, is progress from 1989 when the body was considered "less than a rubber stamp."

Two decades ago, the City Charter was drastically revised in an attempt to change that power structure. The council president position was changed to speaker. The Board of Estimate was dissolved, and the council's power was propped up a rung so it could better challenge the mayor at the top of the ladder.

Since then, City Charter experts say, the council has made serious progress. Though its job is largely oversight, it controls the city's land use process, approves the budget and attempts (emphasis on attempts) to provide checks and balances on the executive branch. The separation of powers may not be perfect, say City Hall observers, but it works far better than it used to.

So how could a revision of term limits change that dynamic?

On one hand, allowing council members to serve three terms instead of two may give its members greater legislative expertise, proponents of the mayor's bill say. The council could take on larger projects, more ambitious proposals and have the time to see them through. With that expertise may come the ability to stand up taller to the mayor.

On the other hand, by acting legislatively on term limits, instead of sending the issue back to the voters, opponents argue, the council could diminish the so-called power it has acquired since the City Charter was revised two decades ago. By reversing two referenda approved by millions of voters in the 1990s, the council would be surrendering to the will of the mayor and simultaneously subverting the will of its own constituencies.

And though two thirds of the council could potentially get a third term, so could Mike Bloomberg, which may not put the council at any advantage.

Representative Democracy

When good government groups and former Public Advocate Mark Green sat in front of the City Council to testify on term limits on Thursday, they railed against the mayor's legislation --- saying sitting elected officials would be acting in their own self interest if they extended the city's cap from eight to twelve years. They called it a power grab and said the people via referendum should decide.

Councilmember Domenic Recchia vehemently disagreed.

Shaking a finger at the former public advocate turned pundit, Recchia scolded the panel: "We all bring choice to the people of the city," he ranted. "We get elected to lead and our constituents want us to lead... This is within our power."

Though his comments were met by boos from the audience, Recchia is not alone in his sentiments. A third of the council has pledged to support the mayor's bill, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

After all, extending term limits is within the council's right as superintendents of the City Charter, supporters say. This vote could be the ultimate example of the council flexing its muscles and exercising its power, in effect strengthening its role in the city's legislative process.

"The council should use its muscles," said Mitchell Moss, a professor at New York University, who supports the mayor's legislation. "You should use those muscles or they atrophy."

That right, supporters argue, was enshrined in the 1989 charter revision. Not acting, they say, would be a denial of the council's obligation to correct wrongs in the City Charter.

"I labored for many, many years to make this council free standing from the Board of Estimate," said Eric Lane, a law professor at Hofstra University who helped draft the 1989 charter revision. "And I think your integrity is better served by actually acting on this bill."

Testimony from the administration on Thursday emphasized that the city's government is a representative democracy. The council amends the City Charter regularly, administration officials added, and changing term limits falls well within its power.

"It's our responsibility, I believe, to correct the wrongs in the charter," said Councilmember Helen Sears. "We look at the charter all the time. We are obligated to do that... We have been put here by people who believed in the commitment to government, believed that we could represent them well and believed we could sustain a democratic process by the City Charter."

But opponents of the bill see it as an affront to democracy. Droves of New York City residents turned out last week to blast the administration for trying to change term limits without a referendum. It's the people's choice, not the council's, they say.

"We are a very strong mayoral form of government, and we consider the council as checks and balance," said Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group -- a good government organization that opposes the mayor's bill. "If you take action here, it will be a very big step backward."

The Long Term

Around 9 p.m. on Thursday, City Hall's lights were still on. The chamber was still relatively full, and bloggers were still chaotically searching for the correct spelling of a witness's name. By that time, clapping or any show of emotion was banned in an attempt to speed and control the hearing, then in its eighth hour. The audience waved their fingers when elated.

Emotion, though, still ran rampant.

Audrey Smaltz, 71 and a lifelong New York City resident, said, "Mayor Michael Rubens Bloomberg has been an exceptional mayor, and I have been through a lot of mayors in the city of New York... We're not asking for a lifelong term."

Smaltz then went on to say that Bloomberg, though needed, was not a king.


The mayoralty of New York City does not equate to royalty, but it does exude power. Term limits, some say, perpetuates this.

"They hurt our ability to be a substantive check on the mayor, but many of us also have a serious problem with how this is being done," said Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr., who says he is undecided on the bill, but is leaning toward supporting it.

Term limits supposedly weaken the council by empowering bureaucrats or City Hall staffers who -- out of the public spotlight -- can remain in policy positions for decades. Because term limits are not staggered, turnover is widespread in one election cycle, meaning it's the staff leading new blood through the legislative process. That, said former Council Speaker Peter Vallone, Sr., weakens the body institutionally.

"Whether he's a pauper or a billionaire, it makes no difference," said Vallone Sr., who supports the extension. "You have thousands of people working for you (as mayor)," when the council has far less.

Others see benefits to an infusion of new members in City Hall. Many say the council is a more diverse body now than when the city was ruled by the Board of Estimate, and it has gained far more independence -- albeit, some say, not enough -- from the executive. They worry a vote to extend term limits could undermine that.

"What this body was is what it can become again, if this kind of moral corrosion and self interest dominates," said Richard Emery, an election lawyer, on Thursday.

Legislative Term Limits

Throughout the country, many more governments have executive term limits than legislative ones. For example, said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia University, 37 states have a limit on how many terms a governor can serve, while 15 have a cap on a legislative branch.

The president has a two-term limit, while members of Congress can serve for life.

"We have to balance the virtues of new blood versus experience," said Briffault at a recent forum. "We also have to think about the balance of power in city government. We ought to think about different terms for different parts of the government."

Policy experts argue limits are important for a powerful executive branch, who may already have a leg up in any legislative fight. But a legislature may be better served sans term limits, so its members can gain the expertise to wage a better battle.

Though it's not on the table now, some would like to see the city look into keeping a cap on the executive but do away with one for members of the council. Allowing council members to become so-called experts could strengthen the body and ensure it's not always subservient to the mayor.

Former council speaker Vallone is one of these proponents, who recently called the current scenario "demeaning" to the city's balance of power.

This Mayor, That Council

Some City Hall observers argue that the City Council's position has been boosted by the leadership of Quinn, who as an ally to Mayor Michael Bloomberg works with the administration often on joint proposals. Others say her relationship has weakened the council; the body no longer flexes its muscles and instead succumbs to the mayor's will.

In Quinn's three years at the head of the chamber, the council's relationship with the mayor has been far more congenial than her predecessors. In her tenure, the council has overridden only seven of the mayor's vetoes -- substantially fewer than under her predecessor, Gifford Miller. This could be a possible a sign of a good working relationship or the body's inability to take a stand.

"There is already an imbalance here," said Councilmember Diana Reyna at a recent forum hosted by the city's good government groups. "He has cornered the legislative branch, which is supposed to balance out government in the municipality." Despite her recognition of Bloomberg's power, Reyna said she supports extending term limits.

Quinn, who did not show up for any of the public hearings last week, insists that the council is independent and not catering to the mayor's will. There are no favors or quid pro quos for backing the extension, she says, even though reports have emerged that she is strong arming her members to side with the mayor.

But how the term limits debate ends, could redefine the relationship between the council and the mayor. If the council defeats the mayor's bill, it would be an unprecedented loss for Bloomberg, but may prove to the public the legislature is willing to stand up to an all-powerful executive.

If it approves the bill, the council may be left as the mayor's marionettes.


Small Town Values in a Big City Election

Gotham Gazette image by Ya-Hsuan Huang

The day before the final debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, a group of mayors reiterated a longstanding plea. Cities matter, they said, and it was time for the candidates to show they understood that and tell the country what they would do about it.

Their entreaty went unanswered. Obama and McCain managed to touch on lots of things in their third encounter -- from Joe the Plumber to health to whether a community organization threatened the fabric of democracy -- but they did not discuss urban issues.

Small towns get a lot more notice -- at least from Republicans.

"We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity and dignity," Sarah Palin said in her acceptance speech, quoting ultra right-wing writer Westbrook Pegler. The GOP vice presidential nominee went on, "They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America ... who grow our food, run our factories and fight our wars."

This, some commentators quickly observed, does not paint a true picture of American in the 21st century. "We're in total denial about the fact that we're an urban country," said Diana Lind, editor of the Next American City.

Perhaps, but the rural image of America persists in campaign rhetoric and policy discussions. And this year, neither Barack Obama of Chicago nor John McCain of Phoenix chose to break the pattern.

Urban Nation

"We haven't been a nation of small towns for nearly a century," Time magazine's Joe Klein groused after Palin's speech. "It is the suburbanites and city dwellers who do the fighting and hourly wage work now, and the corporations who grow our food."

The comments by Palin, Giuliani and others at the Republican National Convention, the Time's Gail Collins complained, implied that people who live in cities do not have good values, work hard -- or even honor their war dead.

About 80 percent of Americans live in or around cities -- though most do not live in densely packed center city neighborhoods. Some 86 percent of U.S. jobs are located in the metropolitan areas, which generate an estimated 90 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Of course, as with almost all numbers, others offer a different interpretation. In terms of people, Carl Bialik has written, most people live neither in big cities nor small towns, according to the U.S. Census. By Bialik's count, though, about 82.4 million Americans live in large cities.

Given the propensity of politicians to pander to the smallest interest groups, why do they lambaste cities with such impunity? Or to put it another way, why does former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani -- a man who enjoys opera and pricey cigar bars -- sneeringly thrash Obama for being "too cosmopolitan?"

Lessons from the Past

Some see it as a remnant of our history. "The myth of rural virtue and urban vice is an old one in this country, and it persists no matter what changes the landscape," wrote Steve Chapman, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. ("Most Americans," Chapman snidely added, "can tolerate hearing of the superiority of small towns, as long as they don't have to live in one.")

Thomas Jefferson, for one, saw little to like in cities viewing them "as pestilence to the morals, the health and the liberties of man."

The attitude continued, as immigrants first from Germany and Ireland and then from eastern and southern Europe crowded into urban neighborhoods bringing different religions, cultures and habits with them.

Following World War II, many Americans left the cities -- though they tended to go to the suburbs and not isolated small towns. By the 1970s, many cities had seen their economies wither, their neighborhoods decay, their tax rolls shrink and their populations decline. To people in the surrounding suburbs, the country's center cities seemed dirty, dangerous and blighted.

Their very survival seemed in doubt. In 1980, a commission appointed by President Jimmy Carter and chaired by former Columbia University president William McGill concluded cities are "no longer the most desirable settings for living, working or producing," and said aiding them would inhibit national "policies that seek to increase productivity, to expand markets, to create jobs and to nurture new industries."

"Stated differently and harshly," a commentator observed, "let the people move to where the jobs are and let the national government stop worrying so much about people and places left behind."

Many cities, though, not only stayed alive but thrived. A number -- most notably New York -- have seen their populations grow, crime rates fall and, at least until the current turmoil, their economies boom. Some people even began leaving suburbs to return to the cities.

Politicians seemed slow to notice. While Democrats continued to win votes in the cities, the party's most successful politicians -- Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore -- stressed their rural connections. Republicans, particularly during the George W. Bush administration, persisted in their anti-urban bias. Bush cut programs aimed at cities, catering to the views of his fundamentalist supporters, many of whom saw cities "as sites of decay, ghettoization, promiscuity, moral pollution and unerring welfare dependency," wrote Stephen Graham, a British professor of urban geography.

Underscoring Bush's policies, said Lind, was his appeal "as somebody from Texas" who had a ranch.

Politics of the Present

Obama, though, does not, as far as we know, chop down brush. He has lived in or near the country's three largest cities -- New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- and has spent most of his professional life in Chicago as a community organizer, a professor at an urban university and a state senator representing a city district.

Obama, of course, is also the first black major party presidential candidate. With race as the great unknown in this campaign, no one can determine how much "small town" is a code word for white. "People don't like to admit one source of anti-urbanism is race," said Josh Leon, a political scientist who blogs for Next American City.

The Republican embrace of small towns is "a disingenuous marketing campaign ... aimed primarily at white people, and designed to set people against one another, to accentuate our differences and play on our fears," wrote Rosemary Weathers Burnham, a columnist in Lexington, Ky., who grew up in a small town.

Obama, of course, got in trouble during the primary campaign when, at a San Francisco fundraiser earlier this year, he described people in economically depressed small towns as bitter. "They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," he said.

Practical Politics

It is, in many respects, not surprising that Republicans do not like people who live in big cities: People who live in most big cities do not like Republicans.

For this election year, Patchwork Nation, a project of the Christian Science Monitor, has divided the country by variety of community, identifying 11 key types. "Industrial metropolises," including New York are the most overwhelmingly Democratic of the 11 categories. "Bush won roughly 32 percent of the popular vote in these communities in 2004, and that was the best the GOP had done there in three presidential elections," according to Patchwork Nation.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won 52 percent of the vote in urban areas in 2004, but less than 40 percent in rural and exurban counties, according to Slate. In 2004, Kerry counties had 836 people per square mile. Bush counties averaged 108 people per square mile in 2000 and 110 four years later.

Democrats, though, do not talk much about big cities either.

Chris Bowers of the Open Left blog thinks the realities of the current campaign go a long way toward explaining that. During the primary campaign much attention has traditionally focused on rural states -- New Hampshire and Iowa. In the general election most of the largest cities -- New York, Los Angles, Chicago, Houston -- are located in solidly red or blue states.

"Philadelphia and Detroit are the two largest cities in 'swing states,' and the only top 10 metro areas that are mostly or entirely in swing states," Bowers said in an e-mail. As a result, between the primaries and general elections, "presidents are not really forced to spend much time talking about urban policy."

In trying to win the swing states, said Leon, Democrats go after moderate voters and try to avoid the fault lines of religion and race.

Beyond that, the candidates have a lot of thing to speak about, making it perhaps not surprising that cities get squeezed off the stage. "We're in an enormous financial crisis, and before that, the campaign was a debate about the war in Iraq," said Lind.

Making Policy

Whatever the reason for the rhetoric, it has practical effects. "The perpetuation of this small-town myth is a large part of why candidates can't talk about cities," said Harry Moroz of Mayor TV, a project set up by the Drum Major Institute and The Nation to encourage candidates to discuss cities.

Mayors, said Moroz, believe "they really have no influence over federal policy and because they have no influence, there is no recognition of the critical role of cities."

Even if he chooses not to discuss urban issues before general audiences, Obama does have a section of his Web site devoted to urban policy. (For details of the candidate's urban policies, see related story.)

Poverty and its effects still pose a problem in many cities, Obama said in a speech in June to the National Conference of Mayors. He went on to signal a new direction in urban policy.

"We also need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution," the Illinois senator said. "Strong cities are the building blocks of strong regions, and strong regions are essential for a strong America. That is the new metropolitan reality and we need a new strategy that reflects it."

Lind, for one, views that perspective as vital. "It's important that we're not just talking about poverty and crime but talking about cities for economic reasons," she said.

Outside of a few specific settings, though, Obama does not stress his urban agenda. Leon said he attended an Obama rally in North Philadelphia and was "struck by how little that talk corresponded with North Philadelphia... He didn't discuss the blight and poverty issues."

Many see Obama's decision to tread lightly on these concerns as not simply an oversight, but part of his need to avoid alienating white voters who may not live in big cities. He won't be a spokesman for an urban agenda, Corey Dade wrote in the Wall Street Journal, "in an effort to insulate him from potential backlash."

McCain has sounded no urban theme and his Website is largely silent on the issue of cities. An analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation has said, though, that many of McCain's proposals would help Americans who live in cities. For example, she indicated school vouchers could benefit families in cities dissatisfied with the quality of local public schools.

Some experts think the lack of explicit urban programs in McCain's platform does not reflect a lack of concern but rather his belief that the private sector, not government, should solve urban problems, according to Scott Cannon of McClatchy Newspapers.

If polls and past elections can be believed, Obama will swamp McCain in most urban areas, though many suburbs will be hotly contested. As to whether an Obama victory would bode well for cities is harder to predict. With the economy tumbling, a President Obama will face many competing demands.

"I think the best that can be said is that Obama would have cities more in focus, but given Obama's economic stance and the financial meltdown, I am not convinced that an Obama victory will bring any great windfall to the cities," Neil Smith, a harsh critic of Bush urban policies and director of the Center for Place, Culture, and Politics at CUNY, said in an e-mail. Smith went on to express concern about Obama's "emphasis on individual and family spirit and lack of a class analysis." But, he continued, "Of course, the situation with a McCain (administration) would be predictably worse: a man who doesn't even know how many houses he has, (has) little allegiance to cities."

From the other side of the spectrum, E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy offered another view. "An Obama administration will focus on policies that benefit New York City," he said, but that might not be good. "Federal urban policies tend to distract from what cities need," McMahon said, adding cities did better "when the federal government had a policy of benign neglect."


The Fading of the American Dream

First, let me introduce myself. I am a 28-year old immigrant from Poland. I moved to New York six years ago and I currently live in Brooklyn. I graduated from college six months ago, and I am about to change my job soon to finally start working in my field. In about nine months, I am planning to have -- no, not a baby yet, but a wedding. Then, after the wedding, I would like to have a baby.

There is a lot of planning ahead of me, but so it is for most of us. We all at some point in our lives graduate, move out and move in, look for a job, a house or a car, plan a family, etc. The life scenario is more or less the same for every generation.

Unfortunately, something is different this time. I am not as optimistic about the future as my parents were at my age. Due to the economical crisis, I am skeptical about the changes that are about to happen in my life. Will I save enough money to have a nice wedding? What will my money be worth in nine months, when I exchange them for Polish zlotys (have I not mentioned that I am making my wedding in Poland)? I remember that six years ago, the ratio of one dollar to one zloty was four to one, and now it is only two to one. Will I ever afford to travel again after I start a family and buy a house?

This coming elections will have a huge impact on my future. I will be watching closely if the new president stands up to the task and rescues not only the devastated economy, but social issues as well. In the next few years, I have to be sure I made the right decision coming to America. I want to see some serious changes in healthcare, education and housing. I do not want to start a family here knowing that my friends and family in the European Union have better, universal health insurance that covers all kinds of health related expenses including all prescription drugs and dental. There is also no such thing as a co-payment there. Young mothers do not have to face the choice between staying home with their child or rushing back to work just a few weeks after giving birth. They can enjoy paid maternity leave that, depending on the country lasts, from three to twelve months. I say, that is only fair.

Why is America losing in education and affordable housing as well? Why should not we have all privileges that citizens of the European Union have? What happened with an American dream that brought all of us immigrants here? What is our military power worth when the nation is facing a clouded future? Am I the only one who seriously consider moving overseas?


Sad Times Call for a Bit of Optimism

Riding the F train to Brooklyn last night, I noticed a poster from the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center. It features a young couple with their daughter and the quote, "On 9/11 I was so scared I thought the whole world was going to end. Even my dad cried. We all got sick, I think from the dust in our apartment ... and now I still get nightmares."

We all thought the world was going to end on 9/11, but it did not. Yet New Yorkers, more than anyone else, know that we are still suffering.

Again on the train, I see two frail, thin older men with gaps instead of teeth, trying to decipher documents regarding government food stamps. I am reminded of my grandma's stories of the Great Depression and hard-working men, desperately standing in breadlines. To this day, she still says, "Waste not, want not." Now here we are in 2008 and once again the stock market crashes overnight. Some of us are going hungry.

It seems we have become greedy, narrow-minded, selfish, uncaring, and ungrateful, yet I want to be optimistic. One of our presidential candidates talks about hope and change and I believe him.

We need a courageous leader who truly understands our precarious position and will invest in education and health care (including mental health care for veterans), ensure Social Security for older generations, build infrastructure, restore our international reputation, and bring the troops home in a safe, efficient manner. Our future president must commit to creating alternative, renewable sources of energy and "green" job opportunities. In my mind, that leader is Barack Obama.

I know John McCain would like to disown the last eight years, but to me he just promises more of the same. As far as I can tell, if McCain were elected president, here's what would happen to me:

--There's a very real possibility that he would appoint judges who could reverse Roe v. Wade, subsequently taking away my right to an abortion, even in the case of incest or rape.

--McCain claims he will not raise taxes, but according to the Obama Calculator with my single income, no dependents and annual salary closest to $25,000, McCain would tax me $456.11 more than the $480.98 Obama would.

--According to the Tax Policy Center, McCain's health care plan effectively does just that. The $250 dollars that I receive monthly from my employer for insurance would be initially taxed as part of my income and I would receive a "tax break" at the end of the year.

For economic reasons alone, I cannot support McCain's ticket.

Leaving the train, walking down Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn toward my apartment, I see new buildings, parking garages, boulevards, etc. New York grows and changes incessantly. New Yorkers like change. It feeds us and rejuvenates us. We are resilient. We need a president who can keep up.


Beyond the Rhetoric of Change

When many American children-- boys or girls of any ethnic background -- are born, they often are told by proud parents, "You can be anything you want to be, even the president of the United States."

This inspirational sentiment will ring poignantly true for one candidate this year. The 2008 presidential race will mark an historical apex, where the winning ticket will include either a woman or an African-American man. I did not grow up believing I could be president, but after 2008, my children and all American children, regardless of race or gender, might look at their chances in a different light.

Gov. Sarah Palin, and Sen. Barack Obama are now the faces of long-oppressed minority groups. Each is charismatic and photogenic, and according to early polls, is idealized as the ultimate champion by supporters. Still, many Americans from all walks of life wonder if this election promises true change, or instead, more of the same traditionally stale rhetoric.

Both candidates have been catapulted onto political frontlines via linguistically eloquent and passionate debates designed to sway the voting population. However, frequently forgotten is that this election is occurring during war. Historically, war is a time when the economy thrives and the dollar remains strong; but, due to domestic and foreign issues including the bitter divide over the Iraq war, in 2008, it is not. As each party advocates change, promising a brighter future under new leadership, fuel and food costs are skyrocketing while housing prices and the stock markets plummet. Americans are distracted.

I see large numbers of Americans caught up in the hype of change, literally led astray by politicians who seem willing to say anything to win. We are distracted by other troubles too, such as drugs, lack of healthcare, homelessness, immigration and crime. I ask, who holds the power? Isn't it supposed to be "we the people," and not just a few billionaires spending millions on campaigns meant to strategically manipulate gender and race into the main issues?

I don't believe the 2008 election results will directly affect me in any practical way, but it will affect the ideological perspectives of future generations, my children's included. Sadly, I am someone who lost the right to vote due to incarceration, and though I am separated from many distractions, this election with all of its unique nuances, is bittersweet. To witness history, but not actually be a factor in the election process, is personally confounding.

The United States has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and I'm just one person. I may be a woman, but I'm not one of the richest 2 percent, or one of the middle class: I'm not even free. The issues currently on the table affect American citizens who deserve honesty and integrity from elected leaders, not shady campaign ploys. However, after all the debates are over, I will still hope for change, and yes, when my grandchildren are born, I will whisper, "You can be anything you want to be, even the president of the United States."


What The Candidates Can't Do

I'd like to think that electing Barack Obama for president would perhaps permeate our nation with his level of brilliance and intellect, but I'm afraid unquenchable greed and a myopic obsession with progress and growth has sealed our fate of doom.

Now, the day-to-day shenanigans in Washington rarely affect the day-to-day shenanigans of a CUNY undergrad from the suburbs of Staten Island, but information about Staten Island's local politics is held hostage by the local news monopoly, the Staten Island Advance. So subjected to limited information, I guess it's more sensible to write about this presidential election that has made political scientists out of us all.

Presidential elections have extraordinary histories of candidates mercilessly deceiving voters (Reagan Democrats) or reneging on campaign promises once elected (Clinton tax cuts). So this election might be more about peripheral persuasion than central issues. Sadly.

Obama speaks up for the middle/working class while he bathes in Wall Street contributions, and McCain refers to himself as a Teddy Roosevelt type of conservative while he champions offshore drilling. Teddy was perhaps our greenest president and would spit at the idea of such an environmental threat. Neither candidate addresses the fact that our entire way of life is suicidal.

Essentially this election is about which path of self-destruction to choose. To illustrate, Obama is like an alcohol and pill habit that will kill you in 20 or 30 years but John McCain is like shooting heroin and cocaine (speed-balling). You might last a while but you can die any minute. Life provides the beautiful option of sobriety but we have to pick one of these toxic candidates. Maybe they're not bad people with toxic souls, but this country is so screwed not even a man as intelligent as Obama or as daring as McCain can save it.

The collapses of financial legends like Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers, both over a century old, foreshadow the unpredictable tumult that lies ahead. My $125 economics 101 textbook is even irrelevant. The author defines a recession as two consecutive financial quarters of negative growth. The Washington Post reported that gross domestic product grew 3.3 percent last quarter. Is it not a recession when storied financial institutions crumble?

There seems to be a ubiquitous notion among Obama supporters that he will drastically change things. I plan on voting for Obama, but regardless of which candidate brings drastic change or spastic catastrophe, neither of them can defeat the culture we've built: A culture of unyielding consumption; a population mostly concerned with personal convenience and instant gratification, bound to vote against their own interests, denounce responsibility and blame everything on the government.

The result of this election might not ever directly affect me. But its end should curb my drinking and help my anger problems with the ignorant laymen on the Staten Island Ferry who don't really know much about politics but watched Lou Dobbs the night before and feels like blue collar liberal scholars in the morning.


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