District 16 Highbridge/Morrisania/Melrose

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What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a guide to the political races in what many are calling New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history.

What is so significant about it?
For the first time in memory, most political offices in the city will be wide open to people who have neither money nor connections.

Why will the races be so open?
There are two reasons. This year, a new law goes into effect that limits the terms of New York City elected officials, forcing the mass retirement of most incumbents in the city - including the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, four of the five borough presidents, and 36 of the 51 members of the City Council. At the same time, a new campaign finance law kicks in, which allows any candidate who agrees to certain restrictions to collect four dollars of matching funds for every dollar they raise.

What does this have to do with this site?
As a public service, Searchlight on Campaign 2001 has a separate page for each race, including all the races for City Council, that not only sorts out the candidates -- many of them new and unfamiliar -- but also offers an opportunity to learn about the issues, and the districts themselves.

Who is behind Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a project of Gotham Gazette, a non-profit, non-partisan, non-ideological (but non-boring) web site about New York City news, policy and politics published by Citizens Union Foundation, part of the oldest and largest good-government group in the city (founded in 1897).

What's wrong with the way the regular press covers the races?
That is for you to decide. And one of our regular features, Campaign Trail, helps you to decide. Campaign Trail provides succinct summaries and links to campaign articles in the commercial press.

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Transcript of forum with the three candidates for district 16, on July 16, 2001 at the Girl's Club in the South Bronx. The moderators were Ken Small of the Citizens Advice Bureau and Yvette Jackson of the Citizens Union Foundation. The candidates who participated were Michael Benjamin, Anthony Curry, Helen Diane Foster.

Opening Statements:

Ms. Foster:
Good evening. I'm Helen Diane Foster. Thank you for being here tonight. I'd like to thank the organizers for having the idea to do this, and thank you for being here because you could have been anywhere else and I say it often but, "doing nothing is easy -- it's doing something that's hard," so I thank you for your presence tonight and I thank the organizers for starting and allowing me to go because I do have another appointment after this. Again, I'm Helen Diane Foster. I'm very interested in being your next councilwoman for the 16th district.

I have been fortunate enough and blessed enough that I have been given opportunities to go away to Howard University where I got my B.A., come back to New York City, go to law school. I'm a former assistant district attorney of Manhattan, and I'm currently assistant vice president for legal affairs at St. Barnabus. But what's most important to me is that I'm born, raised, and still reside in the community that I grew up in. And it's important that, if I make it or if I succeed, that I come back home and come back to my roots where I know I can make a difference. And that's what I'm interested in doing and I think public service is a way that you're able to do that. It's a way of giving back and that's what I'm looking forward to doing.

And for you young people in the audience: don't think that what you do right now doesn't affect who you'll become later because everything that you're going through, that you're experiencing, things that happen or don't happen to you are preparing you for your next step. And I understand and I know that I'm here because I stand on the shoulders of she-roes and heroes that went before me. And as Mr. Small emphasized the importance of voting, understand that your forefathers and foremothers bled for and fought for and died for the right to vote so it's important that you get out and vote. And I look forward to not only your vote but your support because I understand that to whom much is given, much is required.

And I'm happy that I have the support of sixty-two pastors from different faiths and denominations because I am a child of the church, I grew up in the church, and I believe that the church has a role to play and, again, I thank you for this opportunity.

I look forward to answering your questions and I look forward to us working together because we don't have to agree, but we have to agree to communicate. I don't have to like what you say, but need to listen to and respect it. And it's easy to throw a rock and hide your hand - it's difficult to say, "This is my concern -- let's talk about it." So I thank you and I look forward to answering your questions this evening.

Mr. Benjamin:
I'm especially pleased to see how large and well filled this room is, and glad everybody's interested in seeing the candidates and having this conversation about the issues. I'm running for city council to mark myself to my community as a candidate this year to show that I can do more than I've been doing the last twenty years -- to serve the community in a different sort of capacity. For about fifteen years I've been a local advocate for my community as well as having worked for a number of elected officials; and also having worked deeply in Bronx politics and Bronx community affairs. I bring to this race a fifteen/twenty year commitment to young people, to our seniors, and to our residents of our public housing projects as well as residents of our tenements, and to homeowners

This city council that we're going to elect is going to be a city council that's going to be a majority black, Latino, and Asian -- a real opportunity to begin to focus our resources on communities of color that have been in need for a very long time. I think we need to have people in office who have the capacity and the proven record of working in those sorts of things.

I think what I, especially, bring to this race is a sincere commitment to communities like Highbridge, Morrisania, Claremont, Claremont Wood, and Concourse Village, and I've always sort of been a problem solver. I think that's what our community's looking for -- people who can solve problems and whose problem-solving ability goes beyond mere rhetoric, but an ability to bring home an issue and to bring in results, whether that result is significant change at local schools, or economic development for our community, or it's working with the next mayor to build and develop 100,000 new units of housing plus rehabilitate housing.

One of my issues when it comes to housing is the necessity of building multi-family dwellings of a higher density -- of a density that's at least fifty units per five-story building. The reason you want to have denser buildings is that it leads to further economic development in a neighborhood when you have at least fifty families who are gonna spend money locally in that district, whether it's for Pampers or some other grocery. You get some of that additional economic development.

I've come here tonight to listen to your questions and to respond to you in a fashion that I think you're going to find imaginative, and very responsive, and very, very specific and concrete. And good evening, again. Thanks.

Mr. Curry:
Good evening. I want to thank everybody for taking the time to come out. A lot of times they say that we don't care, that the community don't care about what goes on, but if you look at the room today we are filled to capacity as far as seating. I think that goes to speak a long distance in terms of the development and what people are beginning to think. I think that term limits has served its purpose in informing the people that now we can take the opportunity to control our own destiny.

I think term limits gave an opportunity for those who are locked out and blocked out of the bureaucracies and the many different mountains that were put in so people could not get where they need to get to.

But most importantly I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be heard. I say that because I want you to see, one, by the end of the evening you will convincingly see that I am the best person to represent you in the 16th council district; that being, by the mere fact that I have lived here for thirty-two years. I have worked at Taft High School. I graduated from Taft High School. I graduated from 166. I graduated from 82. I graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Most importantly, I have programs that are existing today.

I think I not come here today to ask you or tell you what I plan to do in the future, but to more or less let you know what I've done in the past and continue to do on a daily basis. I think that is more important than anything else. It is not so much -- people can tell you what they gonna do, they always do. Most importantly, my grandmother always told me, "I don't watch what you say, but I watch what you do."

Having said that, I currently have a program called, "Praise, Peace, and Pride," which served the community for the last ten years. Before that I had a program called "The Blue Fountain Youth Organization." I also am the vice president of NYCRA, they're building homes, and more importantly, again, before the evening is over, don't listen to what anyone else says -- judge for yourself. You will see that I am the only person that has done, or what I've done in the community, because what I've done in the community, and my commitment to the community you will see that I'm the best candidate to repre sent you in the 16th council district. Thank you very much.

Question #1: The 16th council district has witnessed a significant reduction in crime over the last 10 years. Despite this, tensions continue to exist between police and neighborhood residents. In particular, young people who are subject to "stop and frisk" tactics that many believe border on harassment. Our young people and their parents often feel humiliated by such searches and have little faith in the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The question is: What will you do in order to insure effective police practices without violating the rights of district residents and what are your plans to strengthen the Civilian Complaint Review Board?

Mr. Curry:
I think that the police department plays a very important role in our communities. I think that right now you all feel like, especially myself, being a black male, I think that it's very important at this time that being a black male living in the community in which I live and which I've come from, that we begin to realize that it is time the police and communities work together. We need to have some community involvement with the police department.

I think that, again, they say that blacks are against police officers, which is not true. What we want is what everyone else gets in their own communities, and that is good police services. We want to know that the services that are provided to us are provided to us in the same way that they're provided in other communities.

We have to live together and to co-exist at the community level. We have to have a joint effort. In the olden days I was a product of the police department of the 40th precinct, and the 40th precinct sent me to the Fresh Air Fund. I think that we need more involvement such as that. We need to get the police and the community to have partners together. Get the police and the community to do joint ventures together. We need to be building homes together, so that the police begin to become sensitive to the community and what goes on in the community, so we can begin to know each other by the first name and then we have a better product as what is police officers as well as a better product by us as community members. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

Mr. Benjamin:
Oversight and investigative functions. Too often we see the police department only through the mayor and the police commissioner. The city council has a role to play. We shouldn't just always be reacting. It should involve police from the whole budgeting process to the amount of personnel on the street, providing patrol.

After speaking with Inspector Clark here at the 44, his main complaint this summer is that he does not have enough men in uniform to be out on the street whether its in the regular patrol cars or out on the street patrolling, doing the community policing.

The other thing we need to look at as well is how will the department conduct community policing, as Ray Kelly had done when he was commissioner under David Dinkins. I think the council needs to work on getting the police back to that sort of patrolling. I grew up in public housing, in Abbots Housing down in the south Bronx, and we had this particular housing police officer who, whenever he patrolled our building we knew he was there because he would always tap his nightstick against our door so we knew he was in the building when he was doing his patrols, and that's real community policing.

The other thing that we need to do as well is look at the curriculum at the police academy. The police academy training when it comes to race in this city and diversity, it's a one-day, six-hour course. Race in this city of diversity should be a major part of police curriculum throughout their training. Whether it's dealing with how to do stop and frisk, whether it's dealing with a person who is emotionally disturbed, we need to know what are the cultural differences and the things you have to look at when conducting arrest in our major communities.

But on to the idea of the police-civilian community review board. I think we need to get good people on that board. The community has to have confidence and faith that when they make their complaints those complaints will be responded to and that's what people have been turned off to. And also police officers who do not give out the forms when residents ask for the forms, they are to be disciplined and it ought to be put in their personnel jacket that they are not responding to residents when it comes to providing those forms.

Ms. Foster:
First of all, I think that the police in our area, in our community, need to look like us and be one of us. As a former district attorney, I had the opportunity -- and I call it just that, an opportunity -- to go to Robin's Neck, which is the police training ground, and we went through something called "A Funhouse," and what it did was put us in a position of a police officer and having to respond, and, from that, I gained an understanding. But I think what's important is that our police need to be a part of the community, and the community needs to not be fearful, but know that they can turn to them. And we don't need to have a precinct where we get a new captain every four months.

What's happening with the 44th and Inspector Clark, and him going out and reaching out to the community is what needs to happen and we need to get back to good community policing, meaning the police officers -- you knew them, they were your friends. When I was growing up I knew my police officer, I knew my mailman, and I knew the bus driver on the 49 -- on what was then the 49 -- and the 37. These are the things we need to get back to. And in terms of strengthening the Civilian Complaint Review Board, I think the police officers shouldn't be given exceptions but should be held to the same standard that we're held to. If we're accused of a crime, we don't get forty-eight hours to get our story together. We need to make sure that the police officers are accountable and are willing to work with us and they understand they're in our community and they're not there to police us, but they're there to work with us.

And I encourage people to get involved with their local police precinct councils so that you get to know who your Captains are, your Inspectors are, your Lieutenants are -- everyone.

Question #2: Data from a city project report reveals that the 16th council district ranks next to last, of the 51 council districts, in terms of home ownership, with only 6% of area residents owning the homes they live in. By the same token, this community district has the third highest percentage of households that live in rental housing, 94% of all residents. With the lowest median income of the city's 51 council districts and a dwindling rate of federal and state support in terms of commitment to low income housing, it is apparent that the 16th council district needs a plan for affordable housing. Question: What is your plan for affordable housing in this district, including the promotion of home ownership?

Yes, I think I mentioned in my opening statement -- I have been campaigning around creating 100,000 new housing units in the Bronx and in the city throughout. And the housing I believe should not necessarily be private home ownership. I believe that communities like ours survive best when we have a community of people who live together, whether it's in a multi-family dwelling, whether its 50 units or 60 units. Again, to me it relates to economic development on a very local level where you keep a dollar circulating in the community.

Home ownership, as you have seen, has often had the effect of disbursing our political power. When you don't have a concentration of voters, you don't get the same response you get when you have the concentration.

Home ownership also, I think, allows homeowners, who probably have cars, to move, to drive around, and to shop outside of our community. That's not what we're looking for. We're looking for people who are going to, at least, spend a dollar, ten dollars, and a day for a week in our community to help the dollar circulate for our community to develop.

What we also need to do in New York City is make housing much more affordable. Besides building additional units we have to get the cost of housing construction much, much cheaper. The city cannot afford to keep giving subsidies to developers. One subsidy the city can afford to give is in the form of the construction code with wider, new materials that are more fire resistant -- the city can build additional housing.

What I want to see is us to build housing outside of Manhattan. Too much of the housing, which has been built in Manhattan, is luxury housing and that is what's caused the skyrocketing cost of housing here in the Bronx.

The other thing I think we need to do is that, the city council has to have an advise and consent role when it comes to their mayor's selection to the Rent Guidelines Board. As you know, right now the mayor selects, I believe, the entirety of the Rent Guidelines Board and recently they had major increases in our rents. If we have additional housing, that'll drop the price down and we'll have more supply. And if we have people on the Rent Guidelines Board who are more friendly towards the interests of tenants and our needs I think the city will have a much better housing policy.

Mr. Curry:
In reference to affordable housing, there appears to be a lot of things going on now. One thing I would not do is what's going on now where they're building homes near the 161st Street area on Ogden Avenue and they're charging $300,000 for the homes. That I would not do. That's central gentrification. People are being removed and moved out of the community so that they can bring in other folks. That's something I would not do.

Now, one thing that I am doing, as a vice president of NYCRA, we're currently building affordable homes on park. That's what I would do. We're building affordable homes that those can afford so that 90% of their income is not spent on rent. Most of us have a problem these days deciding if we're gonna buy food or we're gonna pay rent. That should not have to be the choices. I think that we should have affordable housing. I think a lot of emphasis in the 90s has been put on middle class housing and moderate housing, and affordable housing was neglected.

Having worked in shelters for twelve to sixteen years, I know that there are a lot of homeless people due to the fact that they could not afford their housing and the cost of their housing during that time.

I think that we need to have more affordable homes. As far as homes go, we need to have programs where, perhaps we could have persons who live in those communities participate -- who are interested in purchasing those homes -- participate in building those homes. Somewhat the same type of thing that Pr esident Carter had tried to do. We need to get people involved. We need to have people involved into the homes.

We also need, before anyone is given a home in our community, they should have to go through a class. I think that would go far. Everyone should have to go through some kind of social skills class before they are given homes, so they're informed of what we expect, how we expect, and what's expected of them.

So when they're given their homes, they're not throwing things out of windows, they're not taking garbage and throwing it in the hall. So I think that more important than spending money, we need to be spending time with these people before they move to our communities.

Ms. Foster:
First of all, I would be interested in seeing where some of those numbers come from, in terms of their accuracy. In terms of low income and affordable housing, I think, number one, it's important that we continue to refurbish the apartment buildings that at one time were abandoned when the Bronx was burning, and it was to landlords' benefits to burn buildings, get their insurance money and run.

In addition to that we need to make sure that these contractors who are coming in and refurbishing these buildings hire people from this community so that the community residents have opportunity also not only for economic development and to get some money, but be able to afford not only the houses that are being refurbished, but the new houses that are being built.

And we must continue to look to not-for-profit organizations to come in and build and refurbish housing in the district at an affordable rate. What we need to understand is that its to some benefit for us not be able to afford these apartments. Because, as you see what's happening with Harlem, it's being chic again to live in the city, and areas like this that are so close to the train -- don't be fooled, there's a reason for that.

But, again, if people want to have city contracts and receive city money, then they need to hire people in the area, in the community, that's working on these buildings and also afford them the opportunity to be able to rent these apartments by making them affordable and having not-for-profit organizations, such as the Ford Foundation and other foundations like that, come in and help subsidize the building.

Question #3: Opportunities for economic advancement are critical to the vitality of any community. The 16th council district is one of several Bronx districts that contain a portion of the Bronx empowerment zone. While this designation is supposed to bring jobs and businesses to this and other Bronx council districts, the lines for the Bronx empowerment zone are drawn in a way that some believe to be a convoluted manner. The end result is that many district residents are not eligible to participate in programs run by community based organizations with empowerment zone funds. What do you propose to change this?

Mr. Curry:
That's very right. That is a problem because currently the line stops at 162nd Street on the West Side near Ogden Avenue. Yet Ogden Avenue and the Highbridge area is one of the poorest districts in the entire Bronx. Yet, you find that the employment -- which is what the empowerment zone is supposed to empower -- those of need and the most needy are not included they're actually excluded.

So, one thing, if you look at the empowerment zone it favors Charlie Rangles people, it favors Harlem, it does not favor at all the Bronx. So what we need to do is, we need to go back and sit down, the lines need to be drawn, and it needs to be under different circumstances. It needs to be done by the poverty rate. The poverty rate should dictate whom and who is included in the empowerment zone.

Right now, it does not favor the poor. Right now we can see there are a lot of areas like Compton Avenue -- areas of that sort, which we consider prominent areas, are utilizing this. And what we have now is everybody moving into the empowerment zone -- take from other areas, from Manhattan, from Brooklyn, from Jersey -- they move themselves into the empowerment zone to take the money from the community and use it for their own usage.

The money was geared to be used in the community. And currently even in the Ogden Avenue area, the money has not been filtered down. The money goes from 162nd Street back toward Yankee Stadium. The money is not being spent or shared with the people who need it the most.

So what needs to be done the most is they need to re-district the lines, and we need to have pre-requisites as far as how that will be determined. And that determination should be done by poverty level, not by the greed of those who are in office.

Mr. Benjamin:
I want to share with you a little history regarding the empowerment zone. Many of you may have forgotten, but the empowerment zone was an idea of former Congressman Robert Garcia. He and Congressman Bob Camp, who was from Buffalo, had designed the empowerment zone to benefit communities like the south Bronx.

I'm going to share something with you that I haven't shared before. But before I left Congressman Serrano's office, the empowerment zone was under discussion and consideration. There was an extensive memorandum about the empowerment zone and how he had to fight to make sure it remained a south Bronx project and not be shared outside the Bronx.

The empowerment zone has been bastardized. It's become a tax give-away for businesses, whether they're legitimately started or not. The empowerment zone was originally conceived to empower people who are poor and provide them with job training and economic development, to provide entrepreneurial development. That's what many people want.

As I have been campaigning for city council I've come across so many people who've asked: how do I start my own business? The empowerment zone should be about including that help for the person starting her own business, to learn how to write their business plans, to get proposals off the ground.

It should not be about job relocation -- taking a job from another location and bringing it into the south Bronx or into Harlem, and then all you're doing is transferring jobs. The community isn't really benefiting. All you're doing is creating resentments and animosity. Governments should not be about creating animosities, division between people.

Governments should be about providing for persons who are poor, who are truly poor, and who need assistance in getting employment skills. It shouldn't matter which side of the street you live on if you're poor and want employment skills, they ought to be provided to you and to use the empowerment zone money for that. It should not be a political football, as it has become where we have two congressmen fighting for it, and the south Bronx wound up getting short-changed.

Ms. Foster:
First of all it's important that we understand that the zoning and the districting is done, again, not for our benefit. So the first thing I'd like to do is really look at the zoning in terms of where we're going to build economic development and have it be rational. You can't put a Home Depot in a residential community. But we also want to make sure that we have the resources and the allocations that other communities are getting. So, again, I would look to as people receiving city contracts to come in our community and build in our community -- that a percentage of those jobs need to be given to people in the community which will promote economic development. And also work with whoever the next governor is going to be and the state assembly and senate to make sure that we're getting adequate funds not only from our city but from our state because, in addition to being cut off by the city because of zoning and districting, it is happening at the state level also.

So, also interested in working with the city government, but also with our state representatives.

Question #4: Bronx schools have produced incredible talent in the past. Regis Philbin, Stanley Kubrick, and Wesley Snipes are among the individuals who went to school in this council district. Sadly, the Bronx, and this council district, in particular, rank near the bottom based on a number of education indicators including: reading and math scores, the number of schools on the SIR list, schools with the highest percentage of children enrolled in special education, and schools with the highest percentage of drop-outs. Many young people express frustration with the area schools that they attend, citing indifferent teachers and administrators as well as parents who are uninformed and unaware of recent governance changes. What will you do to improve the performance of the district's elementary, middle and high schools, as well as to improve parent involvement?

Ms. Foster:
Well, I think that when we talk about education and we talk about the schools we always hear it from the negative standpoint. There are some things that need to be changed, but we need to encourage those students and schools that are performing well. There's a young woman in the audience that came and interviewed me at my office about my position running for office. We need to encourage her and let her know that she has the potential to be whatever she wants to be, but in the same vein we need to make sure that our teachers are supported; that they get salaries that reflect those salaries of teachers in the suburbs; that we don't put our least experienced teachers in our poorest performing schools and wonder why our kids aren't learning, because that's an issue.

As we look to education, and we look to the schools, parents must become involved. There are no ifs, ands, or buts -- parents must become involved. You cannot drop your child off and think it's a babysitting service. You cannot drop your child in front of the TV and think they'll learn how to read, how to write. It's important. My mother is a retired school principal -- her school was the first city school to have computers. Computers in the classroom, that's what's important.

But during Parent-Teacher Association meetings, we would do things like give away groceries if parents showed up, and we still wouldn't have parents showing up. So it's imperative that parents and those who are concerned get involved; get involved in the local school board elections; get involved in your teacher-parent night. Make sure that you are involved.

And, lastly, I would like to say -- parents, your children will live up or down to whatever you expect. So if you expect great things, if you encourage our young people like this young writer, things will change.

Question #5: The arts have been shown to help improve the academic performance of young people, as well as increase their sense of self. A recent study released by the National Campaign to Reduce Teenage Pregnancy revealed that a comprehensive youth development model that includes the creative arts is the most successful approach to reducing teen pregnancy and improving academic performance. The question is: what will you do to increase the capacity of visual and fine arts services available to young people in schools and their community centers?

Ms. Foster:
First of all I'd like to excuse myself. I had to get up and take care of something, so I apologize for that. But, to answer the question, the first thing I would like to do is work with whomever the next mayor will be to refund or put money back into the schools and to the arts that were cut under the Giuliani administration. Because understand that when it comes to children who look like us, black and Latino children, what was good years ago when the schools were primarily made up of us, is now not good anymore, and so we cut the funding. And I'd like to see putting the money back in the schools and into after school programs that the Giuliani administration cut. Number one.

And number two, again, looking for funding not only from not-for-profit organizations, but also from faith-based organizations, so that they can offer to our kids after school or during school hours, like what VH1 is doing in terms of getting refurbished instruments and putting them back in schools - refurbished instruments and donating them to after-school programs because we fool ourselves when we think all kids need are reading, and writing, and arithmetic without giving them adequate opportunities to express themselves creatively through the arts or through sports. And both of them are equally important.

We need to make sure that there's adequate funding and that our different churches and community-based organizations are open and available to the kids so they can access the arts as well as sports.

Mr. Curry:
I think that the arts have long been a safe for many children. I think that the arts have been the attachment from one community to another. For many years, no matter how poor you were, or how rich you were, we could all kind of relate to the arts, and it's something that has always been around and has always kind of kept us all together. You would always find persons of all financial backgrounds, race, and creeds in those areas when it comes to the arts.

I think that what has happened in the last few years is a travesty. I think that the money that we're taking out -- the communities that were bled, the schools were bled. Again, we need to have marching bands -- we need to have music. Kids need to know how to play instruments -- what happened to the instruments? When I was growing up, I played four different instruments. Why don't our children know how to play instruments today? What's going on that our children don't know how to play instruments? What's going on that our strongest trait, such as the music and arts, are not being developed?

It's almost as though there's a plot, or someone who don't care, or a message being sent to our children. These are what we strive at, these are the things, which we excel at, and it seems that all the things we excel at are kind of being dried up. I think that our children deserve an opportunity to play instruments. I think that our children deserve the opportunity to do arts and crafts and things of that nature.

I think that as the next city councilman for the 16th district, I will do all that I can. And we will go further than that and put the money back into the arts where they belong.

Mr. Benjamin:
One of the extras is actually hiring qualified music and art teachers. One of the standards we have in the Board of Education is that besides not having qualified science and math teachers, we also lack qualified music and art teachers in our public high schools. That's where one of the serious deficiencies exists.

Second during a fiscal crisis many of our music and art departments were shut down as a result of our fiscal crisis. That was twenty-five years ago and we need to put the money back.

What I have been doing recently -- I sit on the board of two important groups in the Hunt's Point section and we're a community arts organization. What we have done is -- we've provided young people with the opportunity to develop their art, whether their art is spoken word poetry, or hip-hop, or spray painting graffiti arts, we've been supporting that, and that's what we need to do throughout the city -- supporting children where their artistic talents lie.

By exposing a child to art, you're also helping a child build their necessary self-esteem to do better in their academic studies. We need after-school programs to do that. The will and the money exists, we need to put it into affect. We have CBOs that are already doing it -- they need to be expanded. Groups like "Praise, Peace, and Pride" need to be given assistance to create an arts program. Groups that have marching bands also need to find the funding that's there to be able to do that.

I've also been a member of the Bronx Council of the Arts. I've been a board member, and one of the things we had done was to see that much more art is out there in the community -- that artists have support.

And lastly, one of the things I think we need to do most especially, beyond finding those qualified music and art teachers, but also making sure that children have other alternatives and other outlets to express themselves after school and in school.

But I think it really begins at home with the parents wanting to move the child into a location where they can get the necessary training and I think the council can do it. The money is there; we have to have the will.

Questions From Young People:

Q. Hello, my name is Zakiya Brown. I'm from the CYEP Program, the Community Youth Employment Program, and me and my team, Ramik, Marcia, Abdul, Sara, Diane, Ben, David, and Debbie went out into our community and handed out fliers to promote the community meeting and we asked them, "Is there any problems that you know of in your community?" And we turned them into questions to present to you. Now we're going to come up and tell you the questions.

Q. Hello, my name is Diane Desiree. Last year Councilman Wendell Foster promised to the Citizens Advice Bureau a speed bump on 166th and Sheridan Avenue as of June 20, 2001. My question today is: What happened to the speed bump that was promised to us and how can you promise us that we're going to get the speed bump placed there?

Mr. Benjamin:
That question goes directly to the heart of this particular administration in terms of not being responsive to the Bronx and getting us the things we want, whether it's a speed hump or other types of improvements in our neighborhoods.

What the next councilperson can do and should do is work with the next mayor, the next D.O.T. commissioner and the borough president to look at the neighborhoods and the streets that require speed humps. This particular program that Borough President Ferrer has that I've worked with is called, "Safe Routes to School." Part of that project is to survey the neighborhoods and streets around our schools and see whether or not they qualify for speed bumps or other types of traffic-calming devices, so that as children travel to school with their little brothers and sisters -- that they will arrive their safely, that they will leave and get home safely, and not have to worry about being run over by cars, that there are proper stop signs. And that streets that are wide can be narrowed.

The council can work on getting that done. Again, work starts with you and making sure and putting pressure on your elected official, whether that person's a council member or state assembly member, to put pressure in order to get that squeaky wheel greased. That's how you make that change.

If you don't see a change within a few weeks, you keep the pressure on, you constantly call to make sure that is does a call. I mean, that's my recommendation to you, aside from voting for me in September.

Mr. Curry:
I would say this -- I don't think you would have to continue to look for me. I think that one of the reasons why I decided to run was because I had to look for so many people for so long. I would say to you that, if the speed bump is needed in that community, I think that I, the city councilperson, would come out to that site, I would make that visual with you. I would go out there, look at it. If needed, even if we have to lay out in the street, I would make sure we get a speed bump.

I think the answer is not always the bureaucracy of blaming the next guy, or looking for someone else to do something that we have to do ourselves. I think that if we really need the things that we need, and our children are in danger, I think this is where I different than others because I am independent. I am not controlled by anybody. I am an independent individual. I don't owe my allegiance to anyone.

I will definitely go with you. We will make sure those speed bumps are there if they're needed, and we'll make sure that no more of our children are hit by cars because of the lack of that speed bump

Ms. Foster:
First of all I think that the question needs to be answered. If you ask someone to do something and they didn't respond you need to, number one, find out if they didn't respond and if they didn't you need to find out why.

It's very easy to throw a stone and hide your hand. We looked to put a speed bump on 166th Street and Sheridan. We looked to put a speed bump on Woody Crest, where I live, and found out where we wanted it we could not have it because where there's a hill you can't have a speed bump.

So, we need to understand and make sure we get answers to our questions. There may be a reason why the speed bump couldn't have been put on 166th Street and Sheridan Avenue. And in a situation like that you need to make sure that you call and you get an answer to your question and you don't wait for an opportunity like this to ask a question to a person who doesn't have the opportunity, and is not afforded the opportunity, to answer the question.

Q. Good evening. I'm a representative of the CYEP Program. My name is Rondik Davis and my question is: If elected to city council what would your three priorities become during your first two years?

Mr. Curry:
Let me start off by saying this, I think that twenty-three years is a long time to do anything. I don't think nobody should have to go find me if I'm there for twenty-three years, and I would get back to you about that speed bump. You would have to find me to get back to you. You wouldn't have to find me; I would get back to you. That's the proper way it should be done and that's how I'd do it.

Anybody, send me anything in writing and I would be sure to get back to you. That's my number one priority. My number one priority, again, is to make sure my allegiance remains with the constituents of my community. That's the number one issue. Because the bottom line is, you voted me in, you can vote me out.

Each and every one of our number one priorities should be to the constituents that we represent. That would be my number one.

Number two, is that we make sure for the community there is health programs that address the needs of those that need health issues within the community. That's number two.

Number three is to make sure that we have economic development, and we develop the waterfront that borders on the Bronx, on the side over here near Yankee Stadium. We need to develop that, we need to develop that, and we need to develop that. And we need to make sure that when it's being developed, that our community is given jobs in that development so we can bring money back to the community. Those will be my priorities.

Ms. Foster:
My three priorities would be, and that's typical, because there are many things that need attention, and continued attention, but my three would be -- education being my first because we cannot fail our children. There is no way that we would be able to explain why we failed. So we need to make sure that cuts, or money that was cut, will be put back into schools -- schools are refurbished, teachers are adequately paid, parents are involved, so education would be my first.

Another one of my priorities would be adequate and affordable housing. We need to continue to build low and moderate income housing in the 16th district and make it affordable so that people that reside and want to reside in the district can do so.

Another important priority would be making sure that we have access to adequate health care. Do not be fooled. Heath care in this country is based upon race and class, and we are under served because of the way we look and because of the money we don't make. And I would work with, again, not-for-profit organizations and local hospitals as well as with getting money back through the city and the state to make sure that we have access to health care. Because as a people, black and Latino, we are dying at a fast rate because we don't have the access to the services that will save our lives.

Mr. Benjamin:
I'll share with you my three priorities. This will sound a bit like repeating myself, but it shows the importance of these priorities. For me it's education and youth services going together hand-in-hand. It's not just what happens in a class of four walls of a local schools, but also what happens outside and after school. For our young people looking for places to go -- as I've been campaigning I've talked to so many young people who tell me they want to have a place to go after school for youth services.

It's been a shame and a sin for this city, and this state, and this nation not to put adequate funding into our schools and into our after-school youth services.

I also want to discuss with you my initiatives for housing, but I think another important thing is economic development from communities and the council can work with the mayor and private sector to do that without giving away the store, without tax breaks.

What I'd like to see us do is for those of us who are poor, that we have a living wage so people who have jobs, don't have jobs -- can have jobs that pay at least $10 per hour with benefits. In this city we have many hundreds of thousands uninsured poor children because their parents don't have good paying jobs and jobs that don't provide good health benefits.

That's why our community has suffered. It's because we did not get the benefit of care. Many of our poor families do not have adequate health insurance.

I also want to discuss the entrepreneurial people in our community. We need to help give people a place to start their business locally to begin to help us with economic expansion. Most Americans work in a small business, and if we, on city council, can help to develop greater small businesses in this council district, whether it's on Ogden Avenue, or Boston Road, or anywhere else in this district it's an important first step to begin to turn things around in this district and in the city.

Q. My name is Marie Legere from Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council/Neighborhood Parks Initiative/Community Youth Employment Program/Youth Making a Difference. I would like to know what are your plans in getting qualified teachers in the schools in district 16?

Ms. Foster:
I touched on this when we had the question on education, but my first thing would be in making sure that teachers are compensated accordingly. That the benefit packages reflect those benefit packages of teachers in the suburbs. We have a lot of teachers that are leaving our system -- good teachers -- that are leaving because they can't afford to teach because the salaries are low.

So I would begin by compensating our teachers and also giving them the support that they need. A lot of times teachers are social workers, disciplinarians -- they need to have the support of the local community school boards, from parents getting involved and that way they can concentrate on teaching.

I would also like to look at us putting something together where we can do a loan forgiveness program for teachers that are interested, eager, and qualified to come into our schools and teach, and we can set a three year, two year commitment so you're committed for how many years to teach in the schools. Make sure that you're a good teacher and your loan will be forgiven.

And, lastly. I would like us to work to make sure that those teachers that aren't performing are removed. I know that at my job, if I do a good job, I get out of there. And we have a system where we recycle teachers that, for whatever reason, aren't qualified, don't care -- we need to re-vamp that program to make sure that we have qualified teachers, teachers that are interested in teaching in our system.

Mr. Benjamin:
Regarding the issue of getting qualified teachers into our classrooms, for me it's not about the money. We all know teachers have been traditionally low paid because they have been women. Women have been going into other professions that will pay the more. We have to make teaching a respected profession -- if it's women or men -- we have to make teaching a respected profession, number one. And we have to pay them a professional salary, number two.

But we must make a deal with our young teachers coming out of our teaching colleges. Those teachers, once they're in our school districts need to develop professionally how to do deal with children in school district 9 and school district 12. I think we saw recently in PS 36 in district 8 in the South Bronx that children had a definite improvement in reading scores. It wasn't because the children were different, it wasn't because there was a special program for those children. The teachers of the course this year received professional development and they became better educators, and in essence, the students then became better learners. And as better learners, they scored much better on their reading and math tests. That's why you do pre-professional development across the board for our teachers and for our principals, who need to know how to manage their resources and their personnel, how to bring things together to make their school successful.

And then of course, for those persons who do not belong in a public school system, we have to get rid of them. They have to be screened out. The same way we don't want bad police officers, we should not accept or tolerate bad teachers. Union will tell you need to have a grievance process. We're going to give them the due process, but if you're found to be a bad teacher and your students don't learn, you don't belong teaching in New York City public schools. And it's up to us, the parents and the elected officials, to make sure that happensā¤²that bad teachers are out, good teachers are in, and they get the special development they need to help our children become better learners.

Mr. Curry:
I spoke to a lot of teachers. I've worked in 126th as a parent on the parent leaders team. I worked in 320 in Brooklyn as a counselor. I worked in 240 as a counselor to the children. I worked in 120. And for the most part, most of the things that I've found is that most teachers I've spoken to have all agreed is that the problem is not money. They feel that they're doing the best job that they possible can and that an extra $100 won't necessarily help. So we have to be mindful of that.

We have to be mindful of the way teachers are taught. I think, principally, one of the major problems with kids learning today is the way they're taught. One problem is that you have children in the same class with different reading levels. The real problem is with the system and the way children are taught. Students who learn quicker are bored, and slower children are left behind.

When I was learning in school, we all worked on different levels. We had a thing called SRA and we worked on our own individual level, and as you developed, you went to the next level. I think the problem mostly is the way kids are taught -- they're bored to death.

Closing Statements:

Mr. Benjamin:
I am a person who is interested, and is responsive to your questions, and is informed. There is a lot to be done between now and Election Day, September 11th. You have to consider the facts and who the candidates are and what they're offering you, and what direction you want our community and our district to move into in the next city council, beginning in 2002.

I am not simply running for city council. I'm offering myself to my community to be of service to my community in the larger capacity in the city council. It's about for me: continued service, continued access, and doing those things that everyone has long been asking for -- getting the city council and the mayor to fund our priorities. That opportunity will exist with this next city council. The city has a 39 billion-dollar budget and there's no reason why that budget should not be re-formulated to reflect our interests to work in our community, whether it's the contract budget or the expense budget.

One of the things that I'm committed to which did not come up today is Parks 2001, the state of our parks. Councilman Foster has done a wonderful job of getting money, capital dollars, for additional parks in our district. What we're missing has been the will of the mayor and others to put maintenance dollars into the parks to keep them strong and keep them going. For the last twenty-five years the parks have been devoid of parks workers. That's the sin of what's occurred and when I get to the council I'm going to make sure that the Parks Department is maintained with Parks personnel so that the parks can remain beautiful after they've been reconstructed.

Mr. Curry:
Thanks. I had nice time, it was fun. I was proud to see the young ladies and the young men -- how well they conducted themselves, how well they spoke, and I think that those are the people they need to start showing on TV and in the movies and in the newspapers -- these young people doing positive things. I think that for a long time, our community has been depicted in a negative light.

One thing I would like you all to do is to do what my opponents do and start sounding like me, and say the things that I'm saying. That's one thing you can do. By doing such you can, again -- I am not a politician, I am a people-tician. I am approachable. I don't want to be a person in a high office where I don't speak the language that you speak. When you speak to me, you don't understand what I'm talking about -- I don't want to be that person. I don't want to be that person that you're afraid to bring issues to me because I'm going to belittle you or make you feel less than you are.

A city councilman is supposed to be somewhat of an ombudsman. We are supposed to represent you on the local, local level and deal with the needs and issues that you have. I want to be able to know that my community can come to my door, ring my bell, walk in my office and feel comfortable as anyone. That is most important to me.

When I represent you, as I represented the city in many -- I represented the city, I ran corporations, I ran many different agencies, I have the experience of dealing with budgets, I've paid many people on salary, many things of that nature. Only with this thought and you should always remember this when you're voting for anyone, at any level: ask not what the community can do for you, but what you can do for the community.

Ms. Foster:
I'd like to begin by thanking you for coming out tonight. The fact that you're here in this room and it's crowded shows that you're concerned about your community. And I'm also concerned and I'm interested in giving back through public service. I believe that September 11th, when all the votes are cast, you are looking at your next councilwoman from district 16.

Districts of the Week

District 1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man, the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar, the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on the council. The key question is how many voters from each community will come out on Election Day.

District 7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home. The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students, artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers with those who have lived there for years.

District 16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household income. But those who live there also point out that much is positive and stable about the area, thanks in large part to local organizations, not-for-profit agencies, and houses of worship that help hold the neighborhoods together. Each candidate for City Council believes that through his or her connections to churches and local organizations, they can help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster, the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government officials and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.

District 20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone endorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen The campaign has also drawn national and international press coverage

District 25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise that this election year the district produced a diverse field of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will face off on September 11.

District 31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding problems.

District 35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district, and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria, and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention, to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods themselves.

District 39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.

District 45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush. The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting to come up with anything that will separate them from the pack.

District 49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon, an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.

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Links You Can Use

Government sites
NYC Campaign Finance Bd.
NYC Board of Elections
NYC Voter Assistance Comm.
NY City Council
Federal Election Comm.

Local non-partisan sites
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

National non-partisan sites
Ctr. for Responsive Politics
Common Cause
League of Women Voters

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
Joe Conason
Mario Cuomo (radio)
Rudy Giuliani (radio)
Clyde Haberman
Nat Hentoff

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

Political parties
Right to Life
Working Families
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
Central Queens Greens
The Jefferson Democratic Club of Flushing
NY Young Republican Club
Stonewall Democratic Club
Village Independent Dems.

Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

American Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Communist (Com)
Conservative (Con)
Constitution (CST)
Democratic (Dem)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Green (Gre)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Independence (Ind)
Liberal (Lib)
Libertarian (LBT)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Republican (Rep)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)

2001 Election Calendar

June 1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
June 5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties (Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to file petitions.
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates to file petitions to be included on the General Election ballot.
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.

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