Monday, August 25, 2008

Preventing Terrorism in Manhattan

The NYPD is planning to install permanent license plate scanners at each of the 20 crossings into Manhattan.

While many respected members of our community have opposed the tracking of all vehicles entering and leaving Manhattan, I view the project as an important piece of creating a safer Manhattan that is more attractive for business activity as well as for raising our children.

Challenge of Privacy

We need to be vigilant in protecting the privacy of Manhattanites. We do not want our every movement tracked by the authorities. We do not want a public record of every telephone conversation we've had or a video recording of how we've reacted to everything that has occurred in our lives each day. Some of our privacy has already been lost due to EZ Pass. The government has access to information regarding where our vehicles have been, and the government can use our Metro Cards to track our movements as well.

For me, this latest proposed loss of liberty (not having the government know whether or not my vehicle is in Manhattan) is outweighed by the deterrent effect on criminals and terrorists. I respect the concerns about a slippery slope (if we allow the government to track every vehicle that enters Manhattan, how will we avoid the government's intrusion into every aspect of our lives with cameras and tracking devices?), but we can choose to look at this proposal on its merits and distinguish it from the recent Federal wiretapping and the potential for ubiquitous video taping of our movements as people. This proposal is focused on tracking which vehicles are here in our home county - the most important county in the world.

A vehicle was used as a deadly weapon in Oklahoma City in 1995, and we should be eager to invest in preventing such a tragedy here in Manhattan, which is now, more than ever, the center of the world for commerce, finance, arts, culture, international affairs, etc. We will always be a terrorist target, and we must engage in efforts to defeat the terrorists' schemes.

Protecting All of Manhattan

Early versions of the proposal for license plate readers focused on Lower Manhattan. The latest plan includes all of Manhattan. We should not encourage terrorists to view attacks in certain parts of the borough to be more acceptable than attacks in other parts. To the extent that we sacrifice some liberty to promote safety, it must be safety for all of our people and not only for those now living and working in close proximity to the location of the 2001 terrorist attacks. In Upper Manhattan, we expect that the NYPD and its law enforcement colleagues will show no less determination to prevent attacks and track the movements of those legitimately identified as threats when those potential attacks and identified threats are in the northern reaches of our borough.

Holding the NYPD Accountable

The NYPD has been unsuccessful in eliminating racial profiling, excessive use of force, and other forms of policy misconduct. It has supported rules protecting officers who engage in misconduct, and it has been able to avoid any real oversight from outside of its own ranks. As the NYPD gains the ability to track vehicles throughout Manhattan, we must unite to demand that the NYPD live up to its commitment to purge its records of the movements of those vehicles after 30 days in the absence of evidence of associated criminal or terrorist related activity. We will have an obligation to demand that the tracking data be used only to prevent violent crimes and terrorist activities - not to embarrass critics of the NYPD and not for general detective work and broad investigations.

I recommend that a special citizens oversight committee be established to review, on at least a quarterly basis, the work of the NYPD with regard to the tracking of the movement of vehicles into and around Manhattan. This committee would, at a minimum, prevent the widespread abuse of the acquired data by the NYPD from going unchallenged or unnoticed. The Borough President, Scott Stringer, would be the natural person to appoint the members of this committee and to ensure that the committee is a mixture of those with knowledge of law enforcement and those dedicated to preserving our civil liberties - all working together and with the NYPD to keep our borough safe and to protect our precious civil and Constitutional rights, simultaneously.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Stealing From Manhattan

Upstate New York is stealing voting power and economic resources from Manhattan, and we need to band together to put an end to the theft.

Federally Assisted Theft

The theft starts with the assistance of the Federal Government. The US Census Bureau counts incarcerated individuals as living in the locations where they are housed in prison rather than in their home communities.

When electoral districts are drawn, Census data is used. As a result, voting power is shifted from the areas that suffer most from having their residents incarcerated to areas that have prisons in their midst. In addition, when educational dollars are allocated, population is a key driver. When highway money is allocated and when other investments are made, absolute and relative populations play a major role in determining how much of various resources are available to various communities.

Theft from Manhattan

While, as of 2002, only 24% of those incarcerated in New York State are from Upstate New York, 91% of prisons are in that part of the state. Manhattan loses the votes of those incarcerated and must subsidize the education and lifestyle of upstate communities. Manhattan subsidizes the parks in upstate communities, and Manhattan's ability to fight back is limited by the increased voting power of upstate communities. In fact, many Federal program dollars are allocated based on the number of low-income residents in a given community, and the Census results in those dollars being provided to upstate communities who don’t use the funds to aid those incarcerated individuals whose presence in their communities creates the windfall from the Federal Government.

The Republican control of the NYS Senate persists today because of the theft of voting power by upstate communities. Republican counties upstate are able to elect more members to the State Senate than their actual populations would dictate. After stealing populations from Democratic counties (such as Manhattan) through the prison system the Republican control of the state senate allows the theft to be reinforced and amplified as public policy changes that would help the people of Manhattan are blocked.

It is worth noting that more than 80% of New York State's prisoners are Black or Latino, while the state's prison locations are nearly all in areas with very few Black or Latino residents. Though drug use is equally common outside of communities of color as it is within communities of color (see page 271 of this report by the US Department of Health and Human Services), ninety percent of those in NY State prisons based on drug offenses are Black or Latino. Therefore, this theft from Manhattan is also a piece of a broader crime against ethnic minorities and people of color who reside in New York State. The impact of the diluted voting power and reduced resources that result from this theft is concentrated in neighborhoods where Black and Latino residents live in the largest numbers. These facts add insult to the injury.

See a detailed report on the effect of prison populations on legislative districts in New York State in a report by the Prison Policy Institute.

Preventing Additional Theft

After the 2010 Census, all of the Congressional and State Legislative districts with be redrawn in 2011 and will likely govern our elections until 2021. We must advocate for a change in the Census procedures as soon as possible. We must ensure that Manhattan's proper representative power is restored in the 2011 redistricting process, or we will be agreeing to have our resources and our political power stolen from us for another decade.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Manhattan Needs a Borough President

The NY Post says that we don't need a Borough President. Please allow me to tell you why they are wrong.

Protecting Our Homes and Strengthening Our Neighborhoods

We need a Borough President to stand with those who have made Manhattan (particularly Upper Manhattan) such an increasingly popular place to live. Manhattan is the most important county in the world. The world comes here to solve its political problems at the UN. The world comes here to perform on Broadway, at Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall. Manhattan is the capital of the arts and the capital of culture for the world. Manhattan is the capital of the capital markets, commerce, and international trade. But, for so many of us, it is, first and foremost, the place where we live, the place where we have lived for so many years, and the place we want to continue to call, "home".

During many difficult years, Manhattanites, including many of modest means, built their neighborhoods into the types of locations that now attract the most privileged and powerful individuals from all over the world. As the privileged and the powerful seek to make their homes in portions of Manhattan that had not attracted such people until recently, many people of modest means are put at risk of losing their homes.

A Borough President can use the considerable power of that office to influence the path of real estate development in Manhattan and ensure that neighborhoods are maintained. New affordable housing can be demanded as part of development projects, and existing examples of high quality affordable housing can be protected from gentrification. Nearly every development project in Manhattan ends up facing scrutiny by the office of the Borough President. When the Borough President makes strengthening our neighborhoods his or her priority goal, the developers will work to strengthen neighborhoods in order to streamline their path to development and profit. The Borough President needs to have the right instincts for working with for-profit developers in order to trade their opportunity to generate a meaningful profit for the opportunity for our neighborhoods to remain whole and for our neighbors to be able to enjoy the benefits of development (e.g., improved governmental and private sector services, increased entertainment and dining options) rather than becoming victims of development.

Looking Out for The Interests of the Borough

Whether it is the World Trade Center site, the MTA Rail Yards, waterfront projects, or Upper Manhattan development for big-box retail, the people of the Borough of Manhattan should have a say in the outcome of the project. We live here. At the World Trade Center site, the Governor of New Jersey can block plans that are agreed by representatives of NYC and NY State. New Jersey's residents get a voice at the table. We need to ensure that the voice of those who live in Manhattan is heard. Manhattan is a county (New York County), and it is important that our county be represented by an executive in the public sector who puts our interests first. Beyond land use and housing, the Borough President's voice on health, education, job creation and a host of other key issues speaks loudly and clearly for all Manhattanites. The NY Post would like to silence that voice in order to have fewer places to turn when their allies seek to overcome the will of the people of Manhattan. They don't want an advocate for the people to interfere with any plans that they create to gain power or to obtain profit. We need to ensure that we have a strengthened Borough Presidency to stand against those who work against the interests of the residents of our great Borough.

Ensuring that City Services are Delivered

As the chair of the Borough Services Cabinet, the Borough President works to make city services more responsive to community needs. He or she meets monthly with those who are responsible for delivering services to Manhattan's residents and ensure that progress is being made to improve delivery and prevent service delivery problems.

Appointing Qualified Individuals to Boards and Commissions

Under the Charter, the Borough President appoints individuals to the following:

  • A member of the City Planning Commission A member of the Economic Development Corporation Board
  • A parent to the Public Education Panel and two members to the New York City Community and City-Wide Education Council
  • 600 members of Manhattan's 12 Community Boards; half on nominations from City Council members
  • Three members to sit on the Hudson River Park Trust Board Members to advisory boards of Manhattan's municipal health facilities
  • Thirty-five additional municipal advisory and tasks forces

Other important roles of the Borough President:

  • Sits on the New York City Off-Track Betting Site Selection Board when the board is considering matters pertinent to OTB locations within the borough
  • Serves as a Trustee to the New York City Employee's Retirement System

How should the Borough Presidency Be Expanded?

In order to look after the interests of the people of Manhattan, the Borough President should have the power to appoint:

  • Members to the Board of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation
  • Some of the members of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Board
  • Some of the members of the NYC Economic Development Corporation Board
  • Special ambassadors to represent the interests of the people of Manhattan to the Empire State Development Corporation

The NY Post Is Very Wrong

We need the Borough Presidency to remain in place and to be strengthened. Perhaps the other NYC newspapers will advocate for the people of Manhattan to have their voice heard as the NY Post attempts to silence our voices.

Monday, August 4, 2008

HIV and AIDS Testing for Manhattan

All of us need to commit to focus attention on HIV testing and prevention in Manhattan and to demand from our elected leaders increased leadership in this area. A number of recent developments have caused me to seek to catalyze Upper Manhattan communities to advocate for HIV/AIDS testing throughout Manhattan:

1) The NYC government announced in late June 2008 its decision to test all adults in the Bronx for HIV/AIDS. The decision should be applauded, but it highlights our needs in Manhattan. Manhattan has the highest level of HIV infection and AIDS in NYC. The city government needs to focus its AIDS testing and prevention resources on Manhattan with at least as much commitment as it is demonstrating in the Bronx. The article below from the New York Daily News mentions Manhattan's needs in describing the NYC choice to begin its mass testing efforts in the Bronx.

A 2004 report from the NYC Department of Health showed that Manhattan had 50% more AIDS cases than the Bronx and that Manhattan had far more individuals living with AIDS than any other Borough. Here is a link to that report.

2) In late July 2008, CNN focused on the Alarming rates of AIDS in the African American community and the lack of commitment by the US Federal Government to prevention efforts in the United States. The US spends billions on AIDS prevention overseas but less than one billion dollars each year on domestic prevention.

3) In Early August 2008, the Center for Disease Control announced that there were 40% more HIV positive individuals in the US than the CDC had previously believed. It is urgent that all in Manhattanites know their status and take steps to avoid the spread of HIV and AIDS. If the national numbers are 40% higher than previously believed, the Manhattan numbers might very well represent an even greater undercount. While we hope that Manhattan's numbers turn out to be more accurate than the CDC's national numbers of HIV infected individuals, only a strong testing regime will allow us to be certain.

4) Before the new, alarming CDC numbers came out, I attended, in late July 2008, a private event sponsored by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA - pronounced en-BLAK-uh or simply BLAK-uh). Its leader is the former Borough President of Manhattan, C. Virginia Fields, a dynamic and impressive leader who is certain to continue to groundbreaking fight against AIDS started by my mother-in-law, Debra Fraser Howze when she founded NBLCA more than 20 years ago. At the event, a group of young professionals from all over the NYC area were educated about the continued spread of AIDS amongst African Americans in NYC and throughout the US. NY State is the state in the US with the largest number of African Americans with AIDS, and the numbers continue to increase. Many of the other stats were astonishing even to those of us who have been associated with the AIDS fight for years. Below, and at is a sampling of these stats:

HIV/AIDS in 2005
  • According to the 2000 census, blacks make up approximately 13% of the US population.
  • However, in 2005, blacks accounted for 18,121 (49%) of the estimated 37,331 new HIV/AIDS diagnoses in the 33 states with long-term, confidential name-based HIV reporting.
  • Of all black men living with HIV/AIDS, the primary transmission category was sexual contact with other men, followed by injection drug use and high-risk heterosexual contact.
  • Of all black women living with HIV/AIDS, the primary transmission category was high-risk heterosexual contact, followed by injection drug use.
  • Of the estimated 141 infants perinatally infected with HIV, 91 (65%) were black (CDC, HIV/AIDS Reporting System, unpublished data, December 2006).
  • Of the estimated 18,849 people under the age of 25 whose diagnosis of HIV/AIDS was made during 2001–2004 in the 33 states with HIV reporting, 11,554 (61%) were black.
  • Of persons whose diagnosis of AIDS had been made during 1997–2004, a smaller proportion of blacks (66%) were alive after 9 years compared with American Indians and Alaska Natives (67%), Hispanics (74%), whites (75%), and Asians and Pacific Islanders (81%).

AIDS in 2005

  • Blacks accounted for 20,187 (50%) of the estimated 40,608 AIDS cases diagnosed in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black adults and adolescents was 10 times the rate for whites and nearly 3 times the rate for Hispanics. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black women was nearly 23 times the rate for white women. The rate of AIDS diagnoses for black men was 8 times the rate for white men.
  • The 185,988 blacks living with AIDS in the 50 states and the District of Columbia accounted for 44% of the 421,873 people in those areas living with AIDS. Of the 68 US children (younger than 13 years of age) who had a new AIDS diagnosis, 46 were black.
  • Since the beginning of the epidemic, blacks have accounted for 397,548 (42%) of the estimated 952,629 AIDS cases diagnosed in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
  • From the beginning of the epidemic through December 2005, an estimated 211,559 blacks with AIDS died.
  • African-Americans have the highest AIDS case rate per 100,000 population of all ethnic/racial groups-66.4 per 100,000 population compared with 8.2 for whites. African-American males have an AIDS case rate of 125.2, over seven times the rate for white males who have a rate of 17.8 per 100,000 population. African-American women have an AIDS case rate of 49.8, over 20 times the rate for white women who have a rate of 2.4 per 100,000 population.