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.