Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama, Clinton, Gillibrand and Donovan Take on New Roles and Manhattan Benefits

What an incredible week. We returned to Manhattan from the Inauguration in Washington, DC to find that the impact of the election of President Obama was still rippling through New York State.

In a week that saw Senator Hillary Clinton become Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and NYC Housing Commissioner Shaun Donovan become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, we welcomed a new President into the White House with a memorable Inauguration, and we witnessed the selection of our new junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand by Governor Paterson. In each case, we are fortunate to be represented by and served by these individuals.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Our association with Kirsten Gillibrand dates back to the 1998 Senate race in which Chuck Schumer took on Al D'Amato. D'Amato had generally been viewed as difficult to defeat, and Senator Moynihan was reluctant to work against the re-election of his partner from New York State. Kirsten and I were part of a small group of young professionals who raised tens of thousands of dollars for the 1998 campaign. The principal fundraising events were large parties at night clubs, and the most memorable of those parties took place on the same night that the New York Yankees completed their sweep of the San Diego Padres to win the 1998 World Series.

We listed Kirsten Gillibrand as one of our preferred choices for the US Senate seat when we question the media's attraction to Caroline Kennedy. We did so both because we have known Senator Gillibrand for more than a decade and because we know that she will serve our state well.

Senator Gillibrand was so drawn to public service that she left her very promising legal career at a top Manhattan law firm to join Andrew Cuomo's Housing and Urban Development Department in Washington. After the Bush victory over Al Gore in 2000, she practiced law in Manhattan again for a while but ultimately returned to the Albany area where she was raised. I was so grateful to have her as a host when I led a fundraiser for State Senator Barack Obama's US Senate race in June 2004 in mid-town Manhattan. I was far more excited to see her elected to the US House of Representatives two years later.

Some detractors have noted that Senator Gillibrand's House of Representatives record is less liberal than many members of the New York Delegation to the House of Representatives. We are eager to point out that her centrist stances make her more likely to be able to hold onto her Senate seat in 2010 and in 2012 (she will need to run state-wide twice in two years in order to gain her own six-year term). Moreover, she is well-regarded by left-leaning organizations with high credibility while being unpopular with conservative organizations. She received an 8% rating from the American Conservative Union and a 90% rating from the ACLU. She is a progressive who grew up in an area with a strong hunting culture. When she represented that same area as an adult, she reflected her constituents' desires for gun rights. Her ability to understand rural voters and hunters will serve her well in the US Senate, and the depth of her knowledge of New York City will affect how she looks at gun issues as she seeks to represent our entire state.,0,7080288.story

Senator Gillibrand is a hard working and tenacious leader with tremendous intellect and a very natural understanding of the challenges that face hard working families in New York State. She and her husband have two young children, and she is extremely well connected in NYC. She defeated an incumbent Republican member of the US House of Representatives in 2006 in a Republican district, and she served her constituents so well that she defeated a former head of the New York State Republican Party (who had virtually unlimited personal financial resources for the race) in the 2008 race by an eye-popping margin of 62% to 38%. She has proven herself to be an excellent student of the issues and a gifted fundraiser. Governor Paterson should be commended for such an excellent choice.

Secretary Shaun Donovan

This week, NYC's Housing Commissioner became our nation's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Here in Manhattan, housing is one of the most important public policy issues facing our leadership. Shaun Donovan knows the issues we face in New York City because he has been working to solve them. We look forward to benefiting from his leadership.

Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama

Finally . . . We finally were able to watch President Bush leave the White House and President Obama enter the White House. Our credibility with the world is being restored by our new President with the help of our new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton was an extraordinary Senator and a tremendous inspiration. We will miss having her looking out for just our state; she now represents all of the interests of the United States all over the world on behalf of our new President.

After a cold day that was both physically and emotionally draining, the Inaugural Balls were an excellent way to complete the celebration of the peaceful transfer of power that our country accomplishes so regularly and ordinarily without much attention beyond those fascinated by government and politics. As I watched President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dance at the Mid-Atlantic Ball, I thought about a particular portion of his Inauguration Speech and how the man who was gliding so effortlessly across the dance floor now faced enormous challenges and lofty expectations. I was reminded that he knows the enormity of the challenges and that as he inspires us, he is himself inspired by the courage and sacrifice of those who have gone before us and paved the way for us to enjoy the blessings of liberty and to have the tools to face our own crises with confidence. In his speech on January 20, 2009, President Obama said:

So let us mark this day with remembrance of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At the moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words to be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

We are ready to meet our challenges with our new President, our new Secretary of State, our new Secretary of HUD, and our new junior Senator from NYS, and we are grateful to have such talent working on our behalf.

Monday, January 19, 2009

NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Outrage

Today is the day our nation celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, and it is a day in which Manhattan Viewpoint highlights a traditional civil rights frustration - race based police enforcement tactics used by the NYPD and the impact of the racialization of law enforcement.

It was successful opposition of this type of government sponsored racial discrimination that is the most remembered element of Dr. King's leadership. His greatest legacy is the national consensus that exists today that discrimination against people of color, even by private institutions and individuals, is unacceptable and harmful. Many types of racial discrimination have been outlawed by federal and state statutes, and many types of racial discrimination persist. One of the most pervasive and and insidious forms of continuing racial discrimination is the discrimination perpetrated by law enforcement personnel against the residents they have pledged to protect.

Racial Disparity Revealed

Last week, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released data that CCR received from the NYPD as a result of an ongoing class-action suit related to accusations of race-based "stop and frisk" activity by the NYPD.

The statistics will not be surprising to people of color who live in New York City, but all of us should be alarmed to see that our suspicions about law enforcement behavior and our extrapolations from personal experiences are in fact supported by the evidence. After analyzing over 1.6 million stops in New York City from 2005 to 2008, the CCR shows us that 80% of those stops are people of color, despite the fact that people of color represent only 53% of the New York City population. In addition, only 10% of stops are of white New Yorkers, though white New Yorkers are 44% of the New York City population. The disparity speaks for itself and helps explain why views of law enforcement personnel are very different in communities of color than they are in other communities.

Exacerbating the problem of the racial disparity in stop and frisk activity is the reality of the apparent harassment of residents. The arrest rate from all stops is extremely low, and it is uniformly low across racial categories. Therefore, the skewing of this high-nuisance, high-humiliation yet low-value law enforcement technique toward law-abiding residents of color in our city increases our focus on ending the both the discrimination and the widespread use of the practice.

Lack of Discipline

We learned back in July that our city's Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) had repeatedly recommended disciplinary action against NYPD personnel for improper stop and frisk activity and that the NYPD had made a practice of taking no action against those NYPD personnel.

The Daily News reported that the CCRB had referred 74 stop and frisk complaints to the NYPD as of July 2008, and only 15 of the 74 complaints resulted in any discipline of the law enforcement personnel involved. In May 2008, eight complaints were substantiated by the CCRB, and none of the eight complaints resulted in any discipline.

Racial Discrimination in Law Enforcement Is Unacceptable

As in so many aspects of life, the first step for the Mayor and the Police Commissioner is to admit they have a problem. Their failure to acknowledge the reality of the racial discrimination suffered by New York City's residents at the hands of the NYPD makes fixing the problem impossible.

There are those that argue that racial profiling is a legitimate tool of police work and should continue, but they typically fail to understand the real impact of racialized policing. In 1999, former NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton talked about the early days of his career in law enforcement in Boston, and he described the police response to escalating numbers of stolen Lincoln Continentals. He said that white drivers were assumed to own the Lincoln they drove and that young black males in Lincolns would be stopped.
As a result, many stolen Lincolns were recovered. Of course, the value of recovering the Lincolns is undoubtedly outweighed by the stress, humiliation, and lost respect for the police experienced by all of the law-abiding black males who were stopped because they were black and male and driving a Lincoln. Moreover, the value of recovering the stolen Lincolns would be outweighed by the message sent by the law enforcement approach: white Bostonians can steal as many Lincolns as they wish without fear of being stopped by the police. It is the celebration of the recovered Lincolns to the exclusion of a focus on the horrors of government-led racial discrimination that permits our problems here in New York City to persist.

As we celebrate the life of Dr. King today and inaugurate a new President tomorrow, we set our sights on brighter days ahead for our country. We must also raise our voices to demand an end to race based policing by the NYPD here in our neighborhoods.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Paterson Budget Properly Reduces Juvenile Detention Facilities and Improves Safety in Manhattan

We are grateful to Charisa Smith for serving as our guest blogger for this week's Manhattan Viewpoint. She currently serves as the Director of the Juvenile Justice Project of the Correctional Association of New York.
Her mini-bio appears after the blog entry.

With New York State in a fiscal crisis, the closure of several underused juvenile incarceration facilities would generate much needed savings. For example, the Great Valley facility in upstate New York costs $1.7 million to keep open. This facility has no residents, employs less than 30 individuals. It is part of an ineffective juvenile prison system that includes as many as 500 empty beds.

The Governor's budget proposes closing six juvenile jail facilities — including Great Valley — and three evening reporting centers, while two residential centers would be downsized. The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) spends more than $170 million to operate its juvenile placement facilities. The agency estimates the downsizing of its facilities will result in $12 million in savings in 2009-10 and $14 million in 2010-11.
Why should the state spend between $150,000 and $200,000 to incarcerate a child for one year when it would cost only $12,000 per year to send a child to a community-based alternative program that would vastly improve outcomes for both the child and society at large?

Creating smaller, rehabilitation-oriented, community-based facilities for court-involved youth can be coined as "right-sizing" the juvenile justice system. Paterson's plan to continue right-sizing the system can significantly improve services for children and reduce the number of youth who are unnecessarily incarcerated.

Incarcerating fewer children will actually make for a safer New York. A 1999 OCFS study found that 81 percent of boys and 45 percent of girls released from OCFS custody were rearrested within 36 months.

Yet New York City's Administration for Children's Services' Juvenile Justice Initiative diverts foster youth who are placement-bound as a result of juvenile delinquency findings, and reports that fewer than 35 percent of participating youth have been rearrested or violated probation. Other alternative to incarceration programs boast recidivism rates as low as 20 percent. Further, in his State of the State Address on January 7th, Governor Paterson noted that “. . . crime in New York has decreased for 17 consecutive years. Today, New York is the safest large state, and the fourth-safest state overall, in the entire nation.”

New York State cannot stop at closing juvenile jails. A commitment to reinvesting public money saved from right-sizing into much less costly alternatives to incarceration and detention, and other community programs, is integral to New York's well-being. Government officials must have the foresight to recognize that community-based alternatives are the key to saving taxpayer dollars that would otherwise be spent on government benefit programs, more incarceration, and law enforcement in the future.

These alternatives help turn troubled youth into productive citizens and restore hope to impoverished communities. Further, alternative programs better prepare children to reintegrate into society by providing access to services that include mental health and medical care; evidence-based, family-focused programs that have proven to reduce youth crime; substance abuse treatment; youth development and employment programs; and special education services.

Proponents of juvenile facility closures can anticipate opposition from public employees' unions, some community members and certain legislators who voice concerns about job losses. OCFS has publicly stated its intention to help staff from the affected facilities secure positions at other facilities or other state agencies. Further, in a time in which all sectors are cutting positions, keeping facilities open that are underutilized and fundamentally unhealthy for youth to save jobs becomes harder and harder to defend.

Paterson's plan to reduce juvenile facility capacity deserves broad-based support. So do additional community resources that would provide youth with needed support services to enable them to become law-abiding citizens. In times like these, the New York State must implement and enhance programmatic remedies that save money, enhance public safety and reform our juvenile justice system.

Charisa Smith is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School. She has worked in the juvenile justice field for six years and currently directs the Juvenile Justice Project of the Correctional Association of New York. Ms. Smith co-directed Yale’s Legislative Advocacy Clinic. With her deep devotion to public service, Ms. Smith has worked for two human rights organizations in Latin America, a New Jersey Assemblywoman, U.S. Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, the Covenant House Youth Advocacy Center, the Youth Law Center, and a New Jersey Superior Court Judge.

Most recently, prior to joining the Correctional Association, Ms. Smith was part of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren Program through an Arthur Liman Public Interest Law Fellowship. There, she spent two years conducting re-entry advocacy for juveniles in Virginia. Ms. Smith is a licensed attorney in New York, New Jersey and Virginia.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Manhattan Provides Historical Precedent for Burris

US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the Governor of Illinois prior to that Governor's legal troubles and asked that the Governor not appoint three Black elected officials to the Senate who were rumored to be under consideration by the Governor. Reid gave the Governor only white candidates to choose from, including one who had recently lost and election.,harry-reid-blagojevich-jesse-jackson-010209.article Leaving aside how insulting it is to Black Americans to learn that Harry Reid thinks it is important that no Black person is selected by the Illinois Governor to join the US Senate (which currently has no Black members), we are dismayed that Harry Reid is not now seeking forgiveness and backing the Black man selected by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. We are left wondering why Harry Reid is focused on ensuring that no Black Americans are part of the US Senate. We are hoping that New York's Senators will guide Harry Reid to a less self-destructive position.

Reid, has stated that he will block the seating of the recently appointed Senate-designee Roland Burris as the next Senator from the State of Illinois. Yet, the controversy Reid and his supporters are creating was settled 40 years ago in a Supreme Court Case focused on a larger-than-life Congressman from right here in Upper Manhattan.

As New Yorkers, we have two Senators with law degrees from first class institutions (Senator Schumer graduated from Harvard Law School, and Senator Clinton graduated from Yale Law School, where the author of this blog completed his legal education approximately 25 years after Senator Clinton), and we can hope that they will encourage Reid to change his position and avoid the humiliation he seems to be courting. Ironically, President-Elect Obama also attended a top-notch law school (Schumer's Harvard), but he has expressed his full support for the Reid position. In doing so, Obama is opposing Supreme Court precedent and (hopefully unintentionally) conspiring with those determined to keep the Senate free of African Americans.

Historical Context

The most relevant Supreme Court case giving us guidance into the Roland Burris situation in 2009 is the 1969 case of Powell v. McCormack. The "Powell" in Powell v. McCormack is Adam Clayton Powell, the legendary Harlem Congressman. In 1967, he was denied his seat in the House of Representatives by a majority vote after being re-elected to his seat in the 1966 elections. The Speaker of the House (McCormack) based the denial on allegations of corruption against Congressman Powell, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee at the time.

The Supreme Court decided that the House could only deny a seat to an elected member who failed to meet the qualifications listed in the Constitution (25 years of age, resident of the state of New York, and a citizen of the United States for at least seven years - in the case of the Senate, it is 30 years of age and nine years of citizenship). Powell could have been seated and then expelled by a two-thirds vote.

As we look at the Burris case, we fail to see any element of the situation that distinguishes it from the Supreme Court's decision in Powell v. McCormack, and Harry Reid has failed to suggest any reason that it would end differently. Burris is 71 years old and has been a US Citizen since birth. He has been a resident of Illinois virtually every moment since birth as well. Moreover, Roland Burris has an essentially spotless record as an ethical public servant, and he has a long and respectable record as an elected official representing all of the people of Illinois. We have no reason to believe that he will not be an effective Senator for those same people, and Harry Reid has no basis to prevent Roland Burris from becoming a Senator.

History of Black Senators

The US Senate has a poor record with regard to Black members. Since Reconstruction, only 3 Black Senators have taken their place in the Senate chamber. Two of them were from Illinois, and both of those were elected since 1990 (an one of those two has been elected President of the United States). Roland Burris would be the fourth Black Senator since Reconstruction, and the third from Illinois, but he would be the only Black member of the Senate. The US Senate currently has no Black members. It has never had more than one Black Senator at any time since Reconstruction, and it has had zero Black Senators during the vast majority of Congresses since Reconstruction. When the Congressional Black Caucus challenged the election of George W. Bush in 2000, they were unable to even force a debate on the legitimacy of his election because no Senator would rise in support of their protest. There were no Black Senators in 2000, just as there are none today. Roland Burris, by becoming the only Black member of the US Senate, would play a huge role in giving the American People a reason to believe that the US Senate represents all of the people.

The first Black member of the US Senate was elected by the State Legislature of Mississippi during reconstruction. Hiram Rhodes Revels had to fight his way into the Senate. The Republicans had won the Civil War and abolished Slavery, and the Democrats were determined to keep this first Black member out of the Senate. The Democrats argued that, based on Plessy v. Ferguson, no Black person in the United States was a citizen until the ratification of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868. Given the requirement of nine years of citizenship, Revels would not have qualified to be a Senator in 1870, when he was elected. The Republicans controlled the Senate and seated Revels (some Republicans argued that because he had some white ancestry, he was a citizen before the ratification of the 14th Amendment), making him the first Black US Senator.

Roland Burris would be an excellent addition to the very short list of Black US Senators - Revels, Blanche Bruce, Ed Brooke, Carol Moseley Braun, and Barack Obama.

Burris Preferable to Scalia

With no Black members of the US Senate, Harry Reid wants to exclude the Black man coming from Illinois to serve in the US Senate, but Harry Reid has stated that he'd support Antonin Scalia for Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

We'd recommend that Senator Reid develop greater discomfort with Scalia obtaining greater power and influence while embracing the concept of having Roland Burris, a Black American, serve along side Senator Reid in the US Senate.