Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy New Year from Upper Manhattan

'Tis the season of New Year's resolutions.

We have been impressed by the recent efforts of a number of members of the New York City Council to encourage Mayor Bloomberg to make improving ethnic, racial, and gender diversity within his administration a high priority - in essence, he has received a compelling suggestion for a New Year's resolution for 2009.

The group of New York City Council members wrote an open letter to the Mayor, and it is reprinted below. Its signatories include Upper Manhattan's Inez Dickens, Robert Jackson, and Miguel Martinez. One particular sentence that stands out appears in the second paragraph of the letter: ". . . there is a complete omission of African American men in charge of any high level agency."

We hope that the Mayor will adopt the spirit of the open letter as one of his resolution, and we resolve to support efforts by Mayor Bloomberg to bring ethnic, racial, and gender diversity to his administration in 2009.

Happy New Year.

The open letter follows:

December 16, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

The following is an open letter. We, the undersigned urge you to dedicate high priority to filling the current vacancies at NYCHA, DFTA, HPD, and DEP with qualified and diverse individuals.

On many occasions you have publicly stated that the diversity of New York City is our greatest strength, yet your words ring hollow, as we examine the lack of diversity within your administration. Furthermore, there is a complete omission of African American men in charge of any high level agency. You have four high level vacancies that deal predominantly with people of color. You now have an obligation to ensure that those positions be filled by individuals who represent the people those agencies serve.

By appointing individuals who represent the magnificent mosaic that makes up New York City, the benefits of a diverse workforce are established and recognized. We reject the argument that diversity compromises merit. Diversity and merit can be achieved by casting a wide net to highly qualified individuals, who are often overlooked and/or may live and work in New York’s outer boroughs, people that relate to the concerns of average New Yorkers.

New Yorkers recently voted for Change. This Change was not intended to end on Election Day, nor to rest solely in the White House. This call for Change should also be honored in the chambers, and on the steps of City Hall. As we study the demographic shifts in our City, we urge you to give serious consideration to this letter, and our request for action.

Given the small number of high-level positions currently held by either women, or persons of color in City government, it is imperative that we not only work to maintain those positions, but also work towards taking corrective action to increase diversity throughout your administration.

We thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter, and we patiently await your decisions regarding the appointments.


Letitia James
G. Oliver Koppell
Diana Reyna
Charles Barron
Robert Jackson
Joel Rivera
Leroy G. Comrie, Jr
Miguel Martinez
Larry B. Seabrook
Bill de Blasio
Melissa Mark-Viverito
Kendall Stewart
Inez E. Dickens
Darlene Mealy
Albert Vann
Mathieu Eugene
Rosie Mendez
Helen D. Foster

Monday, December 22, 2008

Audacity of Hope in Caroline's Visit to Upper Manhattan

With the Holiday Season upon us, Caroline Kennedy is aggressively campaigning to receive a gift from Governor David Paterson. She is looking to convince Governor Paterson to appoint her to the Senate seat that Senator Hillary Clinton will vacate when she is confirmed by the Senate to the cabinet position of Secretary of State. She seems to believe that she is a good choice to be a Senator despite the fact that she has carefully avoided being involved with nearly all public policy issues for her entire life, has not announced her position on the key public policy issues facing our state and our country at this time, and has generally chosen not to vote in most recent elections. Here at Manhattan Viewpoint, we are not supporting any candidate for the Senate position, but we are not enthusiastic about the rising drumbeat of support for the candidacy of Caroline Kennedy. We are not satisfied that any person's first full-time job should be as a United States Senator.

One Man. One Vote.

Though she is traveling around New York State meeting elected officials and important thought-leaders (including a trip this past Thursday to Harlem to meet with Al Sharpton), the decision regarding the replacement for Senator Clinton rests with one individual, the Governor of the State of New York. It is truly a one-man, one-vote system. There is only one voter in this election, and election day occurs whenever that voter chooses to conduct it. The Governor can choose anyone who meets the qualifications set forth in the United States Constitution (at least 30 years of age, a citizen of the United States for at least 9 nine years, and an inhabitant of New York State). Given those qualifications, Caroline Kennedy seems to meet the minimum standard.

No Experience Necessary

We are waiting to see evidence that Caroline Kennedy is a capable campaigner and fundraiser for her own candidacy. We are waiting to hear why she is a better choice than any of those in New York State who have sought elected office and been successful. We are waiting to hear her positions on the issues that will affect the lives of those of us who live in Manhattan. Her recent effort to give brief written responses to press inquiries riased more questions than it answered and hinted that she would would not work to elect Democrats in New York City in 2009.

Senator Clinton faced the voters in a primary and in a general election. She had never been elected to office, but she had been a leader in children's issues, healthcare, and many other favorite topics for progressives. She had been an aggressive advocate for many constituencies and had battled the opponents of those constituencies. She had stood in the arena and done battle. She had lost some battles and won some battles, and Senator Clinton learned from both the victories and the defeats. She had been a public figure fighting for public policy issues and important causes since her graduation from law school.

Caroline Kennedy is more than 50 years old and yet has never taken on a controversial issue (other than her opposition to Hillary Clinton's campaign for the White House in 2008). We are left to wonder whether Caroline Kennedy's first steps into the tough world of electoral politics should be to support Carolyn Maloney for the Senate seat and then to seek Maloney's vacant house seat. She could support the candidacy of her former in-law Andrew Cuomo and then run for Attorney General (she has an Ivy League law degree). She could seek an appointment to a prominent non-elected position from Governor Paterson or from President-Elect Obama. But, instead, she is seeking this gift from Senator Paterson despite her lack of experience and her previous apparent lack of interest in the key public policy issues affective our lives.

The Audacity Not to Vote

The clearest evidence that Caroline Kennedy has not been interested in political issues is the fact that she chooses not to vote in most elections.

Manhattan Viewpoint has discussed the sacred nature of the right to vote. As we said on the eve of the 2008 general election:

It has long been a cliché to many, but it is a truth that one cannot ignore. For many of us, our ancestors died to give us the right to vote. To squander that vote or to relinquish it because of inconvenience would be obscene, whether we have faith that our individual votes will shape the outcomes of elections or not. Because the 15th Amendment (1870) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) were victories secured by the blood of our ancestors, every election day is a sacred day, and we show our respect for those who made our votes possible by going to the polls and by encouraging everyone we know to join us in that sacred activity - tomorrow and every election day of any sort.

Against this backdrop, we have learned that Caroline Kennedy doesn't view voting as an important activity. In fact, she did not vote in approximately half of the elections that have occurred since she registered to vote in 1988 on the east side of Manhattan. She failed to vote in the primaries for Mayor of NYC in 1989, 1993, 1997, and 2005, meaning she was absent for the historic victory of David Dinkins over Ed Koch as well as the race that put Ruth Messigner at the top of the Democratic ticket to take on Rudy Giuliani in 1997. Her recent unwillingness to pledge to work to elect Democrats in 2009 is consistent with her refusal to participate in Democratic primaries in NYC during the last 20 years. She might view herself as non-partisan or post-partisan. I suspect that Governor Paterson is seeking a Democrat with an eagerness to support the election of other Democrats to replace Senator Clinton.

Caroline Kennedy also missed both of her chances to vote for Carl McCall in his effort to be the first black Governor of New York State. She didn't vote for any candidate for in the 2002 primary or in the 2002 general election that saw Governor Pataki defeat Carl McCall, and she didn't vote in 1994 when the seat she now seeks was held by the legendary Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who successfully sought re-election that year.

Though Caroline Kennedy has failed to vote approximately half of the time, she is working to convince Governor Paterson that she is the best choice to help him win votes in 2010 when both Governor Paterson and whoever he chooses for the Senate seat will be on the ballot together throughout New York State in both the primary and, if successful in the primary, in the general election.

Proven Winners

Carolyn Maloney (, Kirsten Gillibrand (, Andrew Cuomo (, Byron Brown (, and many other New York elected officials have proven their ability to win votes from Democrats and Republicans as well as their ability to raise funds for their own election, which is quite different from the process one uses to raise money for "the arts".

We expect Rudy Giuliani to be the Republican nominee for Governor in 2010, and we would be surprised if the Republicans are unable to find a formidable candidate for the Senate in 2010 (Peter King has already announced his desire to seek the Senate seat currently held by Senator Clinton,0,5265937.story). The 2010 election will likely be a difficult one for incumbents, and New York Democrats need the best possible team on the field for that contest.

With the abundance of proven winners in the New York State, we hope that Governor Paterson will choose a new Senator for New York who will prove to be a first class campaigner and fundraiser in 2010 on a statewide level while continuing Senator Clinton's record of tireless dedication to the people of New York State and unsurpassed support for Manhattan.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Standing With Chairman Rangel on Military Recruitment in Manhattan Schools

We have been very fortunate to have the leadership of Charlie Rangel in Congress representing Manhattan for nearly 40 years. He is the dean of the New York State Delegation to Congress, and he is the chairman of one of the most powerful committees in Congress. But, more importantly, he is a biased and aggressive advocate for our children.

Chairman Rangel's leadership was again on display recently as he called for the New York City Department of Education to focus on protecting the privacy of our children as it deals with requests for information from the US Armed Forces.

Rangel to the Rescue

When the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by President Bush in 2001, it contained a provision related to military recruitment at public schools. The No Child Left Behind Act requires public schools to provide recruiters from the armed forces the same access to students as those schools provide to college recruiters. Schools are also required, when asked, to provide contact information for every student to the US armed forces. Students and parents can opt out of this information sharing process by writing a letter to their local school administrators.

The NYC Department of Education recently changed its policies regarding the provision of information to the armed forces to streamline and centralize the process while making it easier for the armed forces to collect information about NYC public school students.

Late last month, Chairman Rangel, a veteran of (and hero of) the Korean War, wrote a letter to Chancellor Klein requesting that the NYC Department of Education allow a 30-day period for students, teachers, and parents to comment on the recently altered policy. He also asked that the DOE suggest alternatives to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act. More than two-dozen elected officials from around New York City signed onto Chairman Rangel's letter, and the New York Civil Liberties Union coordinated the release of the letter as well as a press conference highlighting the risks of the new policy.

Chairman Rangel's letter sounds the alarm with regard to the enormous access granted to the US military by NYC public schools and highlights for us the challenges parents and students face in complying with the processes for preventing the distribution of their personal information to the US military. The letter includes an attachment with a long list of very specific recommendations from this group of elected officials regarding how the NYC DOE should deal with various elements of military recruiting at NYC public schools. Let us hope that the NYC DOE implements those suggestions. Without the leadership of Chairman Rangel, our children would be less likely to obtain the protection and respect they deserve from the NYC Department of Education.

Recruiting's Ugly Side

Our nation's volunteer military requires recruitment in order to maintain adequate numbers of troops to keep us safe, but the volunteer nature of the military results in disproportionate representation in the military by people of color and by people of modest means. Those with the greatest non-military opportunities and the greatest wealth and income are the least represented in the modern US armed forces. A cynic might believe that an ineffective educational system is a component of military recruiting - limiting our children's options and fast-tracking them for service in the armed forces. There would appear to be a conflict of interest for the US military as it interacts with our children and our children's schools, and we are led to wonder whether the US military desires improved education in our nation's big cities as it faces shortfalls in its recruitment results. Every year since 2004, the US military has not met its goal of 90% of its recruits having achieved high school graduation. For 2007, only 70% of those entering the military had completed high school. More and more, poor academic results are correlating with successful recruitment by the military.

There have even been documented abuses by military recruiters, including threats of arrest for those who choose not to enlist, misleading statements designed to trick students into joining the military after those students have expressed the desire to remain outside of the armed forces, and encouraging potential recruits to include false information in their submissions to the military. Complaints against recruiters have risen in recent years, and the military continues to provide bonuses to recruiters based on how many students begin basic training, leading to recruiting abuses that might be reduced if bonuses were based on successful completion of basic training.

In the face of concerns about privacy and recruitment tactics, Manhattan Viewpoint is grateful to Chairman Rangel for shining a spotlight on the role that our city's government is playing in steering students to the US military and for encouraging our city to take better care of the personal information it possesses about our children. We are grateful for this leadership, but not at all surprised to see it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Unnecessary Roughness in Bloomberg Vs. Plaxico in Manhattan

We need to end the mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent, first-time offenders in New York State, and Mayor Bloomberg owes an apology to all of us and to Plaxico Burress for his most recent comments about Burress' shooting incident in Manhattan on November 29, 2008.

Here at Manhattan Viewpoint, we are disappointed that the Mayor hasn't recognized the lack of balance in his comments and the inappropriate tone he has struck.

Mandatory Minimum Sentence

Plaxico Burress is charged with illegal possession of a loaded weapon. He shot himself in the leg on November 29, 2008 at a club in Manhattan. While nothing can excuse his lack of judgment, possession of a loaded weapon is clearly a non-violent offense. State law requires that anyone convicted of this crime serve a minimum of 3 and 1/2 years in New York State prison. The maximum sentence is 15 years.

The judge in the Plaxico Burress case will not be able to weigh any of the mitigating factors or assess how much damage Plaxico has done to the people in our community. The judge may ultimately feel that 3 and 1/2 years is not punishment enough. But if the judge decides that no one was harmed other than Burress himself and that Burress, while demonstrating horribly poor judgment and immaturity, has not demonstrated a tendency toward criminality, the sentence must be at least 3 and 1/2 years nonetheless. A judge might look at the killing of Sean Taylor and the gun-point attacks on other athletes and decide that Plaxico's desire to protect himself almost makes sense but that he needs to learn to protect himself by avoiding clubs where he feels he needs a gun to feel safe. The judge might even look at Sean Taylor's killing in his own home and be open to how Burress might not feel safe at home or at a night club. None of these thoughts would excuse the illegal weapons possession that Burress must address, but each of these thoughts would make one wonder whether 3 and 1/2 years in prison is the best way for Plaxico Burress to serve our community. What will 3 and 1/2 years in prison do to improve lives in New York City? How will that improve the economy, help us repair our educational system, make college affordable, or make our streets safer? I need to repeat that. How will placing Plaxico Burress in prison for 3 and 1/2 years make our streets safer?

Mandatory minimum sentences disable our judicial system and mandate dysfunction. They reduce the value of judges and ensure errors in sentencing. Perhaps this incident will help New Yorkers see the lack of common sense reflected by mandatory minimum sentences, particularly when the minimum sentences are more severe than the punishments some criminals receive for violent crimes.

Penalty Flag on Mayor Bloomberg

Our Mayor chose to speak out about the shooting incident and stated that "It would be an outrage if we don't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law."

He took this strident position with regard to a non-violent crime despite the fact that such a prosecutorial approach will not create jobs, will not improve consumer confidence, and will not make our streets safer.

The Mayor should not engage in this sort of rhetoric for three reasons.

1) There is a potential taint for the jury pool. We are all innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Plaxico Burress will have a defense strategy, and the Mayor shouldn't pre-judge the outcome of the jury's assessment of the defense case.

2) Hypocrisy. When the police shoot unarmed New Yorkers with 50 bullets and kill one of our fellow residents, the mayor expresses concern but encourages us to withhold judgment until all the facts are available. Yet, when he sees a non-violent criminal charge against a private citizen, he demands the most aggressive possible prosecution. He doesn't mention patience or withholding judgment until all of the facts are in. He is on the attack. The Police work for him, we can excuse him for being outraged and impatient for the judicial process when people who work for him kill his innocent fellow citizens. Ironically, he has the patience to let the judicial system work when those who report to him have taken innocent life, and he has no patience when a private citizen is charged with a non-violent offense.

3) Criminal law shouldn't be politicized or demagogued. We must remember that the officers who killed Sean Bell were found not guilty by the judge in their case. They didn't get lenient sentences because of mitigating circumstances. They didn't plead to a lesser crime to avoid a mandatory minimum. They didn't "get off on a technicality." The judge in their case determined that though they had shot into a car of unarmed men 50 times and killed one of the men, they had committed no crime whatsoever. One can imagine that a jury might find that Plaxico Burress committed no crime either. After all, he apparently fired only one shot and he is not alleged to have been trying to injure anyone. Of course, no one was injured other than Plaxico Burress himself. I'd much rather have private New Yorkers shoot themselves accidentally once in a while than have the city government send four guys to shoot me 50 times (or 41 times) and kill me every once in a while.

Perhaps the Mayor will retract his statements and look at the facts. If he did so, he would see that Plaxico Burress' shooting of himself is not an opportunity to attack Plaxico Burress but an opportunity to expose the outrage of mandatory minimums. As we have discussed previously here at Manhattan Viewpoint, the elimination of mandatory minimums would improve the economy in Manhattan and in all of NYC. Such an elimination would enhance the voting power of city residents and increase the state and federal funding received by New York City.

We welcome the Mayor to join us on the side of this fight that helps improve the lives of New Yorkers.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Remember World AIDS Day in Manhattan

Today is World AIDS Day. It is an important day for remembrance and reflection as well as for looking ahead and for advocating changes that will combat the spread of HIV and AIDS. Manhattan remains the capital of the AIDS epidemic, and African Americans remain its most victimized community.

AIDS Testing in NYC Must Be Expanded to Include Manhattan

In August 2008, Manhattan Viewpoint advocated HIV testing throughout Manhattan in response to the announcement by New York City that it would fund HIV testing for every adult in the Bronx. The Bronx was chosen for this effort despite the fact that Manhattan has the highest level of HIV infection in New York City. We continue to encourage our fellow Manhattanites to demand that New York City provide Manhattan's adults with the same opportunities to be tested for HIV and AIDS that are being provided to adults in the Bronx.

The Shocking Statistics

Even for those who are familiar with the AIDS epidemic and its devastating impact on New York City, the official statistics remain breathtaking.
  • Approximately 1 in 70 New Yorkers is infected with HIV
  • 1 in 40 African Americans in NYC is infected
  • 1 in 25 men living in Manhattan is infected
  • 1 in 12 black men in NYC age 40-49 years is infected
  • 1 in 5 black men age 40-49 in Manhattan is infected
New York City has the highest AIDS infection rate in the country. NYC has more AIDS cases than Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, and Washington DC combined.

Unfortunately, AIDS in NYC is becoming more concentrated amongst people of color, as 80% of new AIDS diagnoses and deaths are among African Americans and Hispanics. Black men in New York City are 6 times more likely to die of AIDS than white men. Black women are 9 times more likely to die of AIDS than white women. Hispanic men and women are 4 times more likely to die of AIDS than white men and women.

Take Down the Barriers to Testing

New York State laws prevent a more effective testing regime in NYC. The State laws currently in force regarding HIV were enacted more than 20 years ago. Today, the treatment opportunities for those who contract HIV are dramatically improved versus 20 years ago, but those who contract the disease must be aware of their infection in order to know to seek treatment. Without a more effective testing regime, much of the improvement in treatment is being wasted. Each year in NYC, more than 1,000 people realize that they have contracted HIV when they develop the symptoms associated with AIDS - long after the virus has begun to do damage to their bodies and long after we'd want treatment to start in order to have the best possible results.

Early diagnosis allows patients to receive treatment and care earlier. Earlier care reduces hospitalizations, cuts health care costs, and prolongs life.

Earlier diagnosis allows those infected to take steps to reduce the spread of AIDS, and studies show that those who are infected typically change their behaviors immediately and dramatically to prevent the spread of the disease.

We need changes to state law to require only documented oral consent rather than written consent for HIV testing. With these changes, physicians will be more likely to incorporate HIV testing into their typical consultations with their patients. As a result, more New Yorkers will be tested, and the spread of the HIV virus will be slowed.

We must also ensure that counseling programs and treatment programs are expanded and improved for those infected and for those who are the most at-risk for infection, and it is imperative that all testing remain completely voluntary and confidential.

The nature of the testing must also be the most effective. Rapid tests can yield results almost instantly, as opposed to the traditional blood tests which take days or weeks to reveal whether an infection is present. Many New Yorkers avoid testing because they are uncomfortable with the testing procedure, and many do not return for their results because they grow afraid of the results during the long delay between the time of the test and the delivery of the results. After finding the courage to be tested, they often cannot resurrect that courage a second time to finish the process. Rapid, non-invasive testing will bring out more New Yorkers and virtually eliminate the group who get tested but never receive their results.

Manhattan Needs Albany Now While We Hope For Help From Washington

Our country needs the incoming administration to change the approach we take to fighting AIDS at the national level. In October 2007, the National Conclave on HIV/AIDS Policy for Black Clergy convened in Manhattan with unprecedented attendance from leading church voices from all around the United States. The Conclave developed the basis for the HIV/AIDS Elimination Act, which will be introduced in the US House of Representatives during the next Congress by Upper Manhattan's Congressman, Chairman Charlie Rangel. The Conclave also agreed to promote HIV testing and awareness through black churches. As a continuation of the momentum of the Conclave, last week in her op-ed, C. Virginia Fields, the CEO of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, gave us an optimistic and clear vision of how we can work together at the national level to begin to make progress against HIV. Manhattan Viewpoint shares her national vision and her optimism. The January 20, 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama as our 44th President should also be the beginning of the end of the period in which we were losing the war against HIV in the United States.

Closer to home, we need the State Legislature and the Governor to change the state laws to make testing more likely to reach more of our people and reduce the spread of HIV in our neighborhoods. On this World AIDS Day, let us commit to standing united against HIV and standing united in favor of an improved testing regime for Manhattan and the for the rest of New York City.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Returning Education to Our Prisons Improves Lives in Manhattan

New York State and the rest of the United States became addicted to incarceration in the 1990's while simultaneously becoming infatuated with increasing the level of punishment for those convicted of crimes and even for those who had already finished their time in prison. The desire to amplify the punishment levels led to massive reductions in educational opportunities for those who are incarcerated, loss of education funding options for those out of prison, and direct barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals seeking employment.

The leadership at the national level and the leadership here in New York State must find the financial firepower and the political will to create increased quantities of higher education opportunities within our prisons and to lower the barriers to lawful employment for those previously incarcerated.

A Population Boom in the Prisons

During 1990's, the number of U.S. residents incarcerated per 100,000 residents ballooned from 461 to 703 after being only 209 in 1980 and at or below approximately 200 for the 80 years prior to 1980. See Page 4 -

Ironically, the more than tripling of the rate of incarceration corresponds to a period of reduced crime rates. From 1980 to 2000, the violent crime rate in the United States dropped from 597 per 100,000 population to 507. Nonviolent crimes per 100,000 population dropped from 5,353 to 3,618 during that same period. Since 2000, the crime rates have continued to drop, while prison populations have finally started to level off.

A Funding Bust in Educating Those in Prison

The Crime Bill of 1994 eliminated Pell Grants for higher education in prison. It was part of a package of changes at the federal level that increased the penalties for a laundry list of crimes and created new federal crimes in areas that had traditionally been left for the states. The elimination of Pell Grants put pressure on prison budgets to fund higher education without federal help, and a race to the bottom began.

In 1995, New York State ended the practice of allowing those who are incarcerated in New York State prisons to take advantage of the Tuition Assistance Program. The combination of the loss of federal funding through Pell Grants and the loss of state funding through the Tuition Assistance Program essentially eliminated higher education within the New York State prison system.

Thankfully, one party unassociated with the New York State government's anti-education approach stepped in to attempt to fill part of the gap created by elimination of the governmental role in the education of those incarcerated in NYS prisons. Bard College established the Bard Prison Initiative in the aftermath of the 1995 decision regarding the Tuition Assistance Program. The Bard Prison Initiative runs college education programs in four New York State prisons and serves more than 100 incarcerated students on the path to receiving associates and bachelors degrees. It is an excellent example of how the private and non-profit sector can demonstrate the value of activities which the government should replicate and implement on a much larger scale. In this case, they remind us how much opportunity we have lost around our state since 1995.

As 2009 emerges over the horizon, New York State has a governor who understands the devastating impact that high incarceration rates have on communities and neighborhoods. He also understands that communities must prepare to welcome back those who have been incarcerated for years but who have been denied the opportunity to make the most productive use of their years in prison by investing in their own education.

At the federal level, the incoming President of United States represented an area not unlike Governor Paterson's former State Senate district when President Elect Obama was a State Senator in Illinois. These two chief executives have the benefit of first hand knowledge of the fact that our inadequate educational infrastructure leads to larger prison populations and that the best way to ensure that those leaving prison do not return is to fill the years of incarceration with educational opportunities. With that first hand knowledge, they will have the obligation to use their new-found power and authority to attempt to return higher education to the prisons of New York State and to all of the United States.

Higher Education in Prisons Benefits All of Us

All of us benefit when those who are incarcerated are able to invest in their own education. Crime is reduced, and recidivism rates are reduce as a result.

Studies have shown that recidivism rates are cut nearly in half when incarcerated individuals are beneficiaries of higher education. And, those studies have shown that the greater the level of education, the lower the likelihood of that individual returning to prison.

Former prisoners need jobs in order to be productive contributors to our society. With all of the enormous barriers they already face, achievements in higher education are an necessary piece of giving these individuals real hope of making good lives for themselves. That hope helps reduce crime and makes all of us safer. It makes the prisons themselves safer, and it will help us improve our economy, increase the number of taxpayers we have in New York State, and drive down the costs we all pay to house our fellow citizens in our state's prisons.

Our elected leaders must make the changes necessary to bring that hope back to our prison population, and we must demand that they do so.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Manhattan Funds the Obama Victory

While it has only been a bit less than two weeks since the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the United States, it seems that months have passed. Controversies with the Bush Administration have emerged and subsided. Potential appointees' names have been floated, debated, rejected, and confirmed. The President Elect's advisers have suggested a wave of executive orders immediately after the inauguration, and they have then denied that they made any decisions regarding executive orders. The joy and exuberance unleashed by the election results have not subsided, and there will be time after the inauguration to look back at the transition for symbolism, for how it set the right the tone for the nation, for how quickly it kicked into full gear, and for how (of course) mistakes were made. But, it already feels like months have passed.

With two weeks of perspective, we Manhattanites can take renewed pride in our role in the election of the 44th President of the United States. We were amongst the largest sources of financial fire power for the Democratic Nominee for the Presidency in 2008, and that fire power made a huge difference in the outcome of the election.

Manhattan Led the Way to the Obama Victory

The New York City metro area was the top geographic contributor to Barack Obama's Presidential campaign, and New York State was the second largest state in terms of financial support for the next President as he funded his historic journey to the White House. Only California, with its far larger population, was a larger portion of Obama's campaign cash.

Six of the top 10 largest zip codes in the United States in terms of contributions to the Obama campaign were Manhattan zip codes. We led the way for the entire nation, and while each of the other boroughs had several zip codes that gave more money to McCain than to Obama, Manhattan was pure, with every zip code overwhelmingly favoring Obama in terms of dollars contributed (the one exception is zip code 10020, which has almost no population but did indeed support McCain more than Obama in dollars during the last election cycle).

Manhattan was powerful and unified in its support for the Obama campaign. We need to remain aggressively supportive in the governing phase, and we need to remain united behind the belief that progressive leadership in Washington, DC will improve our lives here in Manhattan.

Biggest Share of the Biggest Donors

Of the top 20 largest institutions represented by contributors to the Obama campaign, 7 were Manhattan institutions. In nearly all cases, the donors were employees of these Manhattan institutions. On that list were Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Columbia, Skadden Arps, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Time Warner.

There is good reason to be proud of our borough and how it helped give the President Elect the wings he needed to soar above his opponent and reshuffle the electoral map. If there were a prize for most valuable county in this presidential race, the winner would be Manhattan, and we are not arrogant to expect (perhaps, even to demand) that our county will be treated with the respect it deserves by the new administration. We are the world's political capital and the world's financial capital, and, for Barack Obama, we provided the financial capital to make history.

Photos of Victory

I found the election night photos of President Elect Obama, Vice President Elect Biden and their families arresting and poignant. It is easy to be cynical and skeptical in the 21st Century, and the 44th President is a flawed human being like all of us, but the controlled joy and earnest sense of determination that one sees in the election night behind-the-scenes photos of the November 4, 2008 victory tell me that a special and elevated level of inspired (and inspiring) leadership is at hand for our nation. Manhattan Viewpoint recommends these photos to all who love our great country and wish the best for our new leader.

The pictures will encourage your spirit and make you more hopeful and more committed to help our new leaders in the difficult tasks that now lay before him - no longer as a candidate, but rather as the leader of the free world.

Monday, November 10, 2008

White Out in Gifted Programs in Manhattan and in NYC

At Penn State's home football games, the fans often create a "white out" to intimidate the opposing team - all fans are asked to wear only white clothing, thereby creating an apparent envelope of a loud white sea around the football field. See the picture at the right.

As Penn State continues to benefit from the added boost of the "white out" conditions often faced by its opponents at its home games, the "white out" that is occurring in the NYC public schools' gifted program is both intimidating and terribly disappointing. The racial make-up of the 2008 to 2009 gifted and talented kindergarten class in New York City is an outrage.

Recent Changes in Gifted Admissions

In April of this year, the Chancellor announced that he wanted to make it easier for students to qualify for gifted and talented programs and that he wanted to allow schools with as few as eight qualifying students to be able to participate in such programs.

Contrary to the tone of the Chancellor's announcements and contrary to acceptable public policy, the NYC Department of Education used its new policy to reduce the number of students in gifted programs and to sharply reduced the number of Black and Hispanic children participating in the program. The number of gifted slots available to students in the highest income portions of the New York City were increased while the number available to students in lower income sections of the city were reduced.

The overall gifted program lost half of its population, and while 17% of New York City public school kindergarten students are white, 48% of those in the current gifted program for kindergarten students are white. Blacks and Hispanics make up 68% of the students in this year's kindergarten classes and only 22% of those in this years gifted and talented kindergarten programs. The Chancellor announced these changes as a mechanism for increasing the diversity in the gifted programs and for expanding participation in general in these programs. Unfortunately, the changes he implemented resulted in a breathtaking move in the wrong direction on both fronts.

Increased Applications - Decreased Enrollment

Perhaps even more troubling than the profound racial inequity of this year's gifted program admissions results is the reality that the 50% decrease in the number of students in the gifted program comes during the same time frame in which applications increased by 161%.

Whether because of extreme incompetence or because of traditional preferences for white students over Black students and Hispanic Students (and higher income students over lower income students), the NYC Department of Education has demonstrated that it cannot be trusted to administer the gifted program in a manner that creates the best opportunities for our city's children. The failures in the gifted program are part of an overall pattern of failure in the educational arena for Mayor Bloomberg and his team, and these failures serve as a backdrop to the re-election campaign of Mayor Bloomberg, who made Mayoral control of education a centerpiece of his seven years at the helm of our city.

Chancellor Klein now has an obligation to establish a plan to fix the racial balance problems and the declining enrollment problems. He should be encouraged to develop such a plan immediately to avoid a repeat of this year's fiasco.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Reminiscing - Obama in Manhattan - June 2004

Americans have made a choice for President, and that choice brings back memories for me of the fundraiser that I helped lead in Summer 2004 for State Senator Barack Obama of Illinois in mid-town Manhattan.

NYS Senate Goes to the Democrats

The choice that our country made mirrors the choice that New York State has made in ending Republican control of the State Senate after nearly 70 years.

With control of the Executive Branch and both houses of the legislature in both our nation's capitol and in Albany, the time has come for Democrats to deliver for the people. No excuses, and no blaming the Republicans. The responsibility falls squarely on all progressives to improve the lives of the people in our communities through public policy and public sector initiatives. This election is the beginning of our journey rather than the end.

Skinny Guy - Funny Name

Back in 2004, most New Yorkers couldn't pronounce Obama's name. He had not yet been chosen to keynote the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, and no one was suggesting that he run for President. There were even polls that suggested that he might be defeated in the Senate race. Instead, Obama's Republican opponent withdrew from the race in a scandal, and Obama went on to win a landslide victory without real opposition. While that Senate race ended without opposition, Obama's Presidential election required him to defeat John Edwards and Hillary Clinton, two very formidable candidates, to win the Democratic nomination; he then had to defeat a war hero with a centrist record to win the Presidency. He has come a long way, and we wish him well on this new journey - leader of the Free World.

My fundraiser was a huge success; we exceeded our fundraising goal and gave our friends a chance to spend some quality time with a future US President. The text of the 2004 invitation is below - I wrote the description of the need to elect Obama to the US Senate before I met him, and after meeting him, I would have amended it to say that the US Senate needs a skinny guy with a funny name (as he described himself) to help lead the way. Thanks again to those who served as hosts in 2004; you were part of history.

Indeed, we were a part of something big, and it was far bigger than we imagined.

Gregg Walker - Sheena Wright - Marianne Camille Spraggins

Invite You to a Conversation With

Barack Obama

Democratic Nominee for US Senate, Illinois

Frank Borges, Reverend Calvin O. Butts III, Don P. Cogsville and Nadja Webb Cogsville, Willie Dennis, Wanda Felton, Hon. Harold Ford Jr., Kirsten Gillibrand, Hon. Betsy Gotbaum, Claudette Hayle, Phil Isom, Doug Lawrence, Ed Lewis, Joyce Johnson-Miller, Joel Motley, Charles Simpson, Hon. Bill Thompson

Tuesday, June 8th
8:30 am - 9:30 am
Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz
51 West 52nd Street
34th Floor

$1,000 to $2,000 Per Person Contribution Requested

Please RSVP to Gregg Walker at 212-XXX-XXXX or Jenny Yeager at 312-XXX-XXXX

Barack Obama has spent a lifetime fighting effectively to empower working families and the poor - as community organizer, civil rights attorney and a leader in the Illinois Senate. He has brought new ideas and approaches in pursuit of traditional Democratic ideals to make a real difference for people -- from better schools to affordable health care to criminal justice reform. The US Senate needs Barack Obama, and Barack Obama needs our support. He will be the only Black member of the US Senate after his victory, and his performance in office will make all Americans proud.

Authorized and paid for by Obama for Illinois. Candidates are required to report the name, mailing address, employer and occupation for individuals with aggregate contributions over $200 in a calendar year. Contributions to federal candidates are not deductible for income tax purposes. Corporate checks are not acceptable for federal campaigns. Contributions are limited to $2,000 per individual for each election cycle.
This material was authorized and paid for by Obama for Illinois.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Leave No Voter Behind Tomorrow

So much controversy over voting, and yet it is all so simple. Make everyone you know cast a vote tomorrow.

NYC BOE - Board of Elections

Last week, the New York City Board of Elections asked all of us to be patient during tomorrow's elections. They expect to be overwhelmed.

Also last week, the Mayor was extremely critical of the planning work done by the Board of Elections. He even insisted that the Mayor's office has been attempting (without success) to prompt the Board of Elections to address many of the problems that are anticipated. Moreover, the Mayor stated that the Board of Elections was seeking emergency funding for tomorrow's elections but would not detail for the Mayor what the funding would be used for. One cannot be sure whether the Mayor is truly outraged at the incompetence of the Board of Elections or if he just wants to set the tone for the post-election recriminations. If there is chaos in NYC at the polls tomorrow, the Mayor wants all of us to believe that he is a victim of the Board of Elections rather than the person presiding over and responsible for the chaos. He is working to ensure than no blame lands on him. At Manhattan Viewpoint, we are more focused on how we can make tomorrow as successful as possible than on who should get the blame if we fail.

After tomorrow's election, our city needs to establish a plan for the future that addresses whatever challenges are highlighted by tomorrow's events. Our Mayor will be responsible for demonstrating leadership in this area in advance of his re-election attempt in 2009, and he will not have the option of allowing the problems to persist while blaming those problems on others.

Speaking of the Mayor's 2009 re-election bid, we find it ironic that the Mayor claims to be focused on ensuring that votes are cast in large numbers and without chaos tomorrow. Implicitly, he is signalling that voting is very important. Yet, he was very comfortable proposing that the votes of the people of New York City with regard to term limits (votes occurring in 1993 and 1996) be overturned by a vote of the City Council. He will sign the bill overturning term limits and nullifying two referenda today, on the eve of an election in which we all expect the choices of the voters to be respected. In essence, the Mayor has demonstrated that he believes that voting is very important unless you vote for policies of which the Mayor does not approve. We'll have to discuss this irony in greater detail in 2009.

The Rest of the Ballot

Far too often in Presidential election years, the Presidential election overshadows the rest of the ballot. In a county like Manhattan in a state like New York, one can easily be persuaded that the winner-take-all electoral college system used to choose the President of the United States renders our votes meaningless. Some may argue that, given the New York State has no chance of selecting John McCain, the Obama margin of victory is meaningless. Indeed, the Obama campaign chose not to invest any meaningful resources in New York State, and John McCain chose the same approach for the same reason - Senator Obama will win New York State tomorrow.

However, every seat in the state senate is up for election. Every seat in the state assembly is up for election, and every seat in the US House of Representatives is up for election. Whether or not our votes for President have any real impact, we are actually more affected by the activities of officials who represent fewer constituents and who are focused on the areas where we live and work.

In 2009, we will be electing all of the top city officials and determining who holds every seat in the City Council. We can encourage everyone we know in NYC to treat 2008 as a dry run. We need heavy voter turn out (and the patience requested by the Board of Elections) in 2009.

The following year, we will be looking to re-elect David Paterson as the Governor of the State of New York and to send Chuck Schumer back to the US Senate for another six years (at least). We can familiarize ourselves with victory by participating fully in 2008.

The Opposing Point of View

Now, as we gear up for tomorrow, there are voices in the media trying to encourage us not to vote unless we consider ourselves experts on the issues and personalities at the heart of the decisions we'll make in the voting booth.

The Manhattan Viewpoint View

It has long been a cliché to many, but it is a truth that one cannot ignore. For many of us, our ancestors died to give us the right to vote. To squander that vote or to relinquish it because of inconvenience would be obscene, whether we have faith that our individual votes will shape the outcomes of elections or not. Because the 15th Amendment (1870) and the Voting Rights Act (1965) were victories secured by the blood of our ancestors, every election day is a sacred day, and we show our respect for those who made our votes possible by going to the polls and by encouraging everyone we know to join us in that sacred activity - tomorrow and every election day of any sort.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Manhattan for Addabbo in Queens

The New York State Senate has been controlled by the Republican Party since 1939 (with the exception of a very brief period in 1965), and the New York State Assembly has been under Democratic control since 1975 (actually, for all but five years since 1959). Republican control of the New York State Senate allows progressive policies supported by a majority of New Yorkers to be blocked by the State Senate. Support that Manhattan needs in Albany is often unavailable because of the inability of pro-Manhattan Democrats to gain the support of the Republican-controlled and anti-Manhattan New York State Senate.

This November, Queens voters will play a large roll in determining whether Republican Control continues or whether 70 years of frustration finally comes to an end for New York Democrats.

Background - Most Dysfunctional Legislature in the US

In 2004, the Brennan Center for Justice studied the procedures of each legislature in the United States and determined that New York State has the most dysfunctional legislature.

Much of the change that is necessary in the New York State legislature is blocked by the Senate, and the divided legislature has long had an equilibrium that permits both parties and both houses of the legislature to avoid dealing with the dysfunction. Manhattan Viewpoint will examine the failings of the New York State legislature and the potential cures for their diseases in a future blog entry. For now, we must focus on the need to put the New York State legislature under Democratic control and on the need to hold the Democrats accountable for fixing the legislature once they have control.

The nearly 70 years of Republican control over the New York State Senate have institutionalized processes and procedures that make the minority party in the Senate virtually irrelevant in terms of legislation and oversight. The majority party in the State Senate has undermined efforts to protect Manhattan from the theft of its resources by other municipalities. They have blocked the taxation by NYC of those that work in NYC but live elsewhere. They have adopted formulae that shift the educational resources of the state to high income suburban communities and away from the big cities. They have attempted to attack women's reproductive rights, and they have (among other things) blocked the repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which incarcerate low level, non-violent offenders for unconscionably long periods of time.

So Close and Yet So Far

Today, the margin of the Republican majority in the New York State Senate is only two seats. The Republicans have 31 seats, and the Democrats have 29 seats. In what promises to be a strong year for Democrats in 2008, there are 9 or 10 seats that are competitive, yet the latest polls suggest that, if the election were held today, the Republicans would maintain their majority.

If the legislature ends up with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, the Republicans will maintain their control because they hold the tie breaking vote (the Lt. Governor would hold the tie breaking vote, but New York State has no Lt. Governor right now; the Senator Majority Leader (a Republican) is the Acting Lt. Governor and would decide who controls the Senate if the Senate were equally divided). Therefore, the Democrats need to win three seats to start the process of fixing Albany. One seat that is hotly contested and ripe for a change from Republican to Democrat is the Queens seat currently held by Serphin Maltese, who is being challenged by Democratic City Council Member Joseph Addabbo. Without an Addabbo victory, one is challenged to envision a scenario that results in Democratic control of the New York State Senate.

Addabbo '08

Addabbo, the son of a celebrated former U.S. Congressman and an accomplished member of the City Council himself, is more than prepared to contribute to improving the lives of those of us who live in Manhattan. In the New York State Senate, he will have even greater opportunity to make a difference for his Queens constituents as well as for New York State residence more generally. On all of key issues, Addabbo's positions are consistent with the views expressed by Manhattan Viewpoint. Addabbo wants to reform Albany, promote affordable housing, strengthen education, and protect women's rights.

Rudy Giuliani is supporting Maltese. For that reason alone, Manhattanites should be motivated to encourage their friends in Queens to vote for, volunteer for, and contribute to Joe Addabbo. To add insult to injury, Maltese (who won his last election by only 600 votes) has seen his office infected by a child pornography scandal.

With that backdrop, Manhattan Viewpoint urges the election of Joe Addabbo - a crucial ingredient of the progress we need for Queens and for Manhattan as well as for all of New York State.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Limits of Term Limits in Manhattan and NYC

While there are many good arguments for term limits, Manhattan Viewpoint believes that the arguments against term limits are superior. Nonetheless, the people of the City of New York have spoken loudly and clearly on two recent occasions to demonstrate that they favor term limits in NYC that limited elected officials to a maximum of 8 consecutive years of service and one successful re-election effort as an incumbent. The elected leadership of NYC would abuse their authority to test the limits of their power by overturning term limits without a vote of the people.

Term Limits - A Bad Idea Whose Time Came in NYC

The National Constitutional Convention of 1787 considered limiting the terms of members of Congress and the President. The participants at the convention decided against the idea, but the debate never ended.

The arguments in favor of term limits are based on the concept that incumbency advantage (which is real and observable) is unfair and corrosive. Lord Acton said that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and term limits are part of a theory of reducing the sense of absolute power for elected officials. Many proponents of term limits also argue that unlimited tenure prevents fresh faces from joining in the governing process. One might view proponents of terms limits as generally pessimistic about the quality of their elected officials; because those that are elected will generally be "bums", a policy that throws elected officials out of office based on the passage of time since their first election is a perpetual (and effective) "throw the bums out" mechanism. Lord Acton's famous quotation ends with "Great men are almost always bad men."

The arguments opposing terms limits center around voter choice. Such opponents often argue that voters have the opportunity to limit terms at every election and that voters should not be told that they cannot elect their favorite candidate simply because that candidate has earned their support in the past. One of the basic tenets of republican democracy is that elected officials work to serve the needs and desires of their constituents in order to be re-elected. Elected officials who are repeatedly re-elected may be viewed as experts in serving their constituents. Throwing out long-serving elected officials because of their long tenure suggests that success in being re-elected and years of experience in office are threats rather than benefits to the constituents served by those officials. Such a policy also suggests that voters are incapable of properly identifying the best candidates for the the next term of office and that a blanket prohibition of continuing service is needed to protect voters from their own poor choices.

Manhattan Viewpoint believes that voters should have the authority to choose their elected officials from pools of candidates that include those they've elected in the past, and Manhattan Viewpoint sees value in experience in office as well as in the infusion of new energy and new people into the community of elected officials.

However, Manhattan Viewpoint respects the power and majesty of democracy too much to endorse a weakening of term limits that a transparent and fully democratic process has supported and refused to weaken. The voters of New York City adopted term limits in 1993 and re-affirmed their support for them in 1996 (in 1996, the voters rejected an attempt to extend term limits from 8 years to 12 years).

Second Thoughts and Do-Overs

The day after voters adopted term limits by a 60% to 40% landslide in 1993, the Speaker of the City Council suggested a second referendum might be proposed to overturn term limits.

The 1996 referendum was just such an effort, but rather than looking to eliminate term limits, the 1996 referendum was designed to reduce their impact by creating staggered terms in the City Council in addition to the aforementioned extension from 8 years to 12 years. Term limits of 8 years won again; the margin was substantial, but it was smaller than the margin in 1993. The proponents of term limits started to see their success in New York City as a mechanism for making major changes in Albany , but the momentum didn't transfer.

The terrorist attacks of September 2001 gave Mayor Giuliani the excuse he needed to suggest that his terms should not be limited, but his efforts failed.

Now, it is 2008, and Mayor Bloomberg is arguing that the financial meltdown that has recently gripped Wall Street and the looming recession are appropriate excuses for his term of office to be extended beyond the limits set by the two referenda of the 1990's. Christine Quinn, the current City Council Speaker, announced a week ago that she would support the Bloomberg proposal that all term limits be extended to 12 years in NYC. She is advocating that the City Council make the change to the term limit laws on their own and without a referendum. Her new position doesn't easily mix with her statement of less than a year ago that, "The voters have made their will very, very clear" regarding term limits.

Respect the Will of The People

Though the City Charter doesn't demand it, the City Council would be wise to leave the decision to overturn term limits to another referendum. The people of the City of New York are the only entity that can be trusted to overturn the results of the previous two referenda, and no changes that weaken term limits should be implemented without the consent of the people who first approved them and then refused to weaken them a few years later.

Manhattan Viewpoint is joined in its view by Citizens Union and by our Friend of Manhattan, Assemblyman Hakeem Jefferies of Brooklyn. Assemblyman Jefferies is proposing a new state law that would require all municipalities in NY State that have local term limits to submit changes to those term limits laws to a referendum.

While Manhattan Viewpoint endorses the proposal of Assemblyman Jefferies, we continue to oppose term limits. Therefore, if Citizens Union, Assemblyman Jefferies, and the other supporters of the referendum-based approach favored by Manhattan Viewpoint are successful in forcing the City Council to let the people of our great city decide this issue, you should be unsurprised to see us using this forum to persuade you to support the referendum's substance (and the weakening of term limits in NYC) while cheering the triumph of democratic principals and cheering the fact that the final decision will be in the hands of the people rather than in the hands of the very same City Council that was a primary target of these term limits from the outset.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two Centuries of Faith - Two Centuries in Manhattan

One of Manhattan's oldest and most respected African American institutions is on the verge of a very special milestone.

Historical Context

On November 10, 2008, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which is currently located on 138th Street near 7th Avenue in Upper Manhattan, will celebrate its 200th anniversary with a white tie gala. Abyssinian was founded in November 1808 by African Americans frustrated with the racial segregation they experienced at the baptist church they attended in lower Manhattan (Manhattan didn't have much population beyond lower Manhattan at that time). In 1808, Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, was nearing the end of his second term as President of the United States. It would be nearly 19 years later that slavery would be abolished in New York State and nearly 60 years before slavery was outlawed throughout the United States by the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Though our nation was still very young, and though African Americans were more than 150 years away from obtaining legal equality with other Americans, a group of African Americans had the vision, determination, and courage to create the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and many generations of African Americans, as well as many persons from other ethnic groups, have participated in sustaining that institution over the past 200 years.

The Catalyst

Visitors from Ethiopia, one of the world's oldest Christian nations, attended church services in Manhattan at the First Baptist Church. When they encountered the racial segregation of the First Baptist Church, they left the church in protest, and many of the African Americans who had endured the racial segregation were inspired by the Ethiopian visitors and joined with them to found the Abyssinian Baptist Church. "Abyssinia" is the historical name of the Ethiopia, and the name "Abyssinian" was chosen for the church in recognition of the central role that Ethiopians played in creating the church and inspiring African Americans to create their own baptist institution in Manhattan.

Growth, Development, and Leadership

The church bought a building in Greenwich Village 1863 and worshiped there until the early part of the 20th Century, when the church moved to 40th Street as Manhattan's activities moved northward. Abyssinian's move to 40th Street corresponded with the opening of the first subway lines (elevated trains had been in use for many years). The improved mobility expanded Manhattan's business activity and created increased demand for residential properties well north of the City's heart in lower Manhattan. Showing insight into new center of African American life in Manhattan at the time, the church moved to Harlem, its current location, in 1923. It grew to be one of the largest protestant congregations in the United States in the 1930s.

In 1944, Abyssinian's 6th pastor, the legendary Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., became the first African American elected to Congress from the state of New York. He would become the Chairman of the House of Representatives' Education and Labor Committee, and he would leave office as the most legislatively potent member in the history of the Congress. He led the passage of more than 50 major bills, and he was responsible for the legislation that led to the desegregation of public schools and the military. He led the creation of the minimum wage, he was one of the key legislative architects of the Great Society antipoverty efforts.

Starting in 1972, the Reverend Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor led Abyssinian after continued the legacy of strong leadership at Abyssinian. He was the President of two universities; he received more than 50 honorary degrees; he mentored a large number of the leading ministers of today, and he earned the utmost respect from his peers who led churches around the country.

Since 1989, the current Pastor, the Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, was chosen to lead Abyssinian after 17 years at Abyssinian working under the leadership of Dr. Proctor. Dr. Butts focused the Harlem community on home ownership, community development, public education, care and housing for the elderly, and on the need to reject negative lyrics in modern music. Under his leadership, the church established the Abyssinian Development Corporation, which built housing for the homeless, housing for the elderly, established a public high school and a public elementary school, built the first public school building in Harlem in 50 years, established a Head Start program, and led the creation of many hundreds of units of affordable housing. Reverend Butts also led a campaign to eliminate negative billboard advertising in Harlem. Reverend Butts is a university president, president of the NYC Council of Churches, and the leader who captured the nation's sense of outrage, courage, and determination when he spoke at Yankee Stadium in the days following the 9/11 attacks.

The Celebration

The 200th anniversary celebration started in September 2007 with a trip to Ethiopia for church members, and it continued with performances at Jazz at Lincoln Center (and at the church itself) of a composition by Wynton Marsalis, a theme song written and performed by Ashford and Simpson, a black tie gala, the upcoming November 2008 white tie gala, and many other events and activities.

Two hundred years is an achievement worthy of a celebration, and Abyssinian planned for years for the more than year-long celebration of its 200 years as a beacon of hope and symbol of African American empowerment. At Manhattan Viewpoint, we pray for many hundreds of years of continued leadership in Manhattan by the Abyssinian Baptist Church.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ending the Double Exploitation of Youth in Manhattan and NYS

Starting in 2010, New York State will cease the additional victimization of young victims of sexual exploitation.

Other People's Children

In 2007, the New York State Legislature and the New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer, succeeded in enacting legislation providing support and protection to individuals who are smuggled into the United States from other countries for the sex trade.

Our Children

Now, under our new Governor (and Manhattanite), David Paterson, New York State is taking the lead in the providing similar support and protection for New York State's youth. In late September, Governor Paterson signed the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act into law. The new law will end the practice of treating under-age sex slaves as criminals, and start the practice of treating them like the victims they are.

The new legislation (which was advocated by many respected New York organizations including the Correctional Association of New York will stop the arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of children involved in prostitution, and it will initiate the provision of a number of required state-provided services to these exploited youth: counseling, crisis intervention, short-term safe houses, and long-term housing. Without these services and this support, most of these young victims would be likely to be victimized again after their first contact with the authorities. Now, they will be placed on a path that leads away from exploitation and toward a life as a productive member of our society.

The safe houses and the long term housing are particularly important aspects of this legislation. Many victimized youth originally left their homes because of parental abuse. Sending these victims back to their homes is often not a mechanism for putting them on the right track. These housing options will create a cushion for these youth away from abusive parents and away from those who exploited them after they left home.

In New York City, 75% of sexually exploited youth have been a part of the foster care system, and in New York State, 85% of such youth are from families that have the child welfare system intervening in their lives. Therefore, the exploited youth who had been criminalized in the past were not only victims of the sex industry, they had been "at-risk" prior to being captured by the sex industry.

The new law would change the destination of these exploited children from jailhouses to centers for social services. These children will now see adults not only as abusers and destroyers (as they did when their victimization was exacerbated by their incarceration) but also as liberators, teachers, mentors, and protectors.

The Opposition

This same legislation failed in 2007 because of opposition from prosecutors across New York State. Those prosecutors argued that they needed the threat of jail time in order to force the victimized youth to testify against their abusers. Rarely did abused youth make effective witnesses, and their testimony was often undermined by the fact that they were offering their testimony in exchange for a lesser sentence in a sex crime. Supporting and protecting these youth make them more effective and witnesses while also making their lives more likely to be free of future exploitation.

The Praise

At Manhattan Viewpoint, we are pleased that Governor Paterson and the New York State Legislature were able to provide this protection to the children of our state, and we give the legislature credit for succeeding where they and a different Governor failed not long ago.,0,6761686.story

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rescuing the Rescue Plan for America and for Manhattan

In light of the failure of the economic rescue plan in Washington yesterday and the resulting 777.7 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Manhattan Viewpoint goes off-cycle and focuses on our country's financial health.

There is no county in the United States with more at stake in the latest economic crises than Manhattan. As the financial capital of the United States and as the economic center of the world, Manhattan has the most to gain from stabilization of the US economy.

Congress defeated the first attempt at stabilization yesterday in large part because the package they received was poorly presented, poorly named, lacked certain key enhancements to create a better risk-reward dynamic for the American taxpayer, and lacked a respected champion or advocate to calm fears and add credibility. Without a stabilization plan, the world economy risks collapse and the accompanying high unemployment and wealth destruction that has not been seen in the United States since the Great Depression.

Dana Chasin (pictured at the right and bio at, Senior Advisor in the Federal Fiscal Policy group at OMB Watch in Washington, DC, published a blog today that articulated the views of Manhattan Viewpoint. Please read it at this link:

Manhattan needs a stabilized economy and a stabilized financial sector in order to create the future than Manhattanites deserve. Manhattan needs Congress to pass the legislation needed to stabilize the financial sector. The vote is Thursday. Try to get your friends from around the country to encourage their Congressional representatives to support this effort.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Crowded Schools in Manhattan

In Manhattan, our educational infrastructure needs larger quantity as well as improved quality. The desire for better quality education is well established all over New York City and all over urban America. In many neighborhoods in Manhattan, the lack of educational infrastructure quantity also deserves attention.

New School Construction Is Rare

When the Thurgood Marshall Academy on 135th Street opened its own building in early 2004 after sharing space with other schools for a decade, it was the first new public high school built in Harlem in over 50 years.

In an unprecedented development that may help light a path for others looking to improve the quantity of space in NYC devoted to educating our children, Thurgood Marshall Academy was built by a NYC non-profit organization rather than by the School Construction Authority that has been responsible for all such projects since its creation. The lack of new school construction is a problem in every part of Manhattan and has led to overcrowding in many communities, and an apparent lack of sufficient planning may cause that overcrowding to persist well into the future.

The Growing School Seat Deficit

In April 2008, the Manhattan Borough President's Office focused on this problem in its report Crowded Out, which illuminated some startling statistics. First, for the areas of Manhattan with the greatest crowding problems in the public schools, NYC issued permits for new buildings estimated to represent more than 2000 new students during the period from 2000 to 2007. During that same period, the number of additional seats added for students in those same areas was only 143 seats. If that deficit of nearly 2000 seats seems backward looking, the current state of planning for the future appears to exacerbate the problem. Over the next five years, NYC plans to create new seats in public schools to serve approximately 4,300 students in Manhattan. Unfortunately, the overcrowded schools in Manhattan already have a 3,900 seat deficit. If the number of students attending Manhattan's public schools did not grow, AND if we also could target all of the new seats to the most crowded schools, we'd still need all five years just to eliminate the deficit. Realistically, Manhattan's student population is very likely to grow materially in coming years, and NYC's official estimates assume substantial growth in the population of Manhattan. Moreover, the additional capacity for students at public schools in Manhattan will not be targeted 100% to the areas with the greatest capacity needs. Therefore, we are almost certain to have more overcrowding in five years than we have today, even if we achieve NYC's current plans for expanding capacity over that time frame.

Borough President Scott Stringer recently updated his April report to include data from January to August 2008. In that report, we learn that the number of housing units represented by buildings approved during the first 8 months of 2008 is 32% ahead of the average level established for a full year from 2000 to 2007, even though the year is only 67% complete. The increased flow of housing units is a positive development, but the additional homes result in an increase in the size of the public school seat deficit identified in the April report.

Planning for the Future

Later this year, the NYC Department of Education and the School Construction Authority will propose a capital plan for fiscal years 2010 to 2014. As Manhattanites, we should encourage Chancellor Klein and his leadership team take into account the public school seat deficit and the continued growth of the population of our borough. In Manhattan, several of our neighborhoods are already facing serious school overcrowding, and we'll need to create space as soon as practical for our children who are in school today as well as plan aggressively in order to allow ourselves to provide ample space for the children who will populate Manhattan's schools over the next 10+ years.

On October 3, at 9am on the steps of City Hall, concerned residents of NYC will rally for increased quantity and quality of educational infrastructure, reduced class size, and better planning for the future space needs of our children. Your voice can make a real difference in the decisions our city's leaders make with regard to school overcrowding.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Preserving Affordable Housing in Manhattan

Ennis Francis Houses - A Model

As communities in Upper Manhattan seek to reduce displacement, we need to take advantage of new ideas and promote innovation. One of the most encouraging examples of innovation in the fight against displacement is the landmark achievement of the successful fight to save 231 units of affordable housing at Ennis Francis Houses.Ennis Francis Houses is a housing development in a prime location - nearly a full city block of affordable housing from 124th Street and 7th Avenue to 123rd Street and 8th Avenue. Its ideal proximity to mass transportation and commercial goods and services positions the property as a prime target for luxury housing development, high-end retail development, or other uses that would result in the reduction of the affordable housing portfolio of Manhattan. After years of abuse and neglect at the hands of private owners, the tenants of Ennis Francis Houses, led by one of their younger tenants named Kim Smith, went to court to seek the removal of those landlords. The tenants had decided that they could no longer permit the landlords to abuse them with the sewage running through the development, the mold, the illegal drug activity, the prostitution, and the threats and the reality of physical abuse. With affordable housing so hard to find in Manhattan, where would these tenants go if their courage resulted in there removal from their homes? So, while conditions were beyond unacceptable, the question remained: Would removing the abusive landlords result in a sale to the highest bidder, a loss of affordable housing, and/or increased displacement?

Innovation and Preservation

That is where the innovation began. Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC), Harlem's leading community development organization, was asked by the tenants to administer the property while the landlords who had done so much damage to so many people sought to avoid being held accountable for their actions and disappeared for a time.The New York City Housing Court ejected the landlords and put ADC in the role of administrator. Later, the US Government sued the landlords for civil damages related to their misuse of funds received from the US Government during the period of their control over the property.

ADC worked with elected officials and governmental agencies in NYC and NY State to convince the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to avoid foreclosure on Ennis Francis Houses. If HUD had foreclosed, hundreds of Manhattanites would have lost their homes after enduring deplorable conditions for years in an effort to hold onto their homes. ADC was successful in guiding HUD to take the deed for Ennis Francis Houses rather than foreclose.With HUD taking ownership of the property, an unprecedented approach, ADC influenced HUD to only allow non-profit organizations committed to maintaining affordable housing and avoiding displacement to participate in the auction. Not only did ADC convince HUD that such an approach was proper, ADC won the auction and won a grant from HUD to rehabilitate the property. After rehabilitation, the property will offer more than 400 units of affordable housing.

A Model for the Future

As a result of the success of this innovative approach, other residents in Manhattan now have an additional play for the affordable housing preservation playbook. When possible, HUD, by taking the deed of a neglected affordable housing development rather than foreclosing, can preserve that housing by working with community organizations.
The crisis of expiring-use affordable housing properties can be seen all over New York City. The imminent threat of displacement for such residents is on the rise with HUD expiring-use, opt-outs, and funding shortfalls. As a result of these negative forces, the affordability of thousands of homes in Upper Manhattan communities is at risk. In January 2004, the National Housing Trust released a special report which listed the 10,217 HUD Section 8 subsidized housing units located in Harlem alone that would be lost due to expiring contracts. An additional threat posed in the upcoming fiscal year, is the $2 billion HUD funding shortfall. This inadequate funding makes it impossible for HUD to guarantee all project-based Section 8 contracts for the normal twelve-month period.

In the case of Ennis Francis Houses, 231 Manhattan families had their homes preserved through their own determination and through innovation of those working on their behalf, and nearly an equal number of additional families will have new homes to enjoy as a result of the courageous accomplishments of those who endured the difficult years of abuse and neglect. I am proud to share this Borough with those persevering (and now, triumphant) individuals.