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