Monday, June 29, 2009

Remembering Michael In Manhattan

Michael Jackson's death last week was a shock that has not yet subsided across our city or across our country. Here in Upper Manhattan, the Apollo Theater is the epicenter of our celebration of the life of the greatest entertainer of our time, while other parts of Manhattan play supporting roles.

Touching Us With His Talents

Michael Jackson became a superstar before I was born, but I was introduced to him at an early age. Off the Wall was the first album I ever remember claiming for myself in my parents' home, and I still sing along to any of the songs from that album when they are played; my memories of my early years have Michael Jackson songs playing in the background along with Stevie Wonder and the Commodores.

At age 12, I earned extra credit points in my sixth grade class when I played a recording of a song called, "Read It" for Mr. Delmuto, my teacher. "Read It" was inspired by "Beat It" from the Thriller album, and I had used the instrumental sections of the song as background for my own recording. When I received my report card, I was grateful to Michael for the extra credit points he earned me with his music, and I remember thinking that writing lyrics for Michael's songs would be a nice occupation.

The previous year, Michael Jackson's appearance at the 25th Anniversary of Motown introduced the moonwalk and made him the King.

The following year, Michael Jackson collaborated with Lionel Ritchie and Quincy Jones to create the once-in-a-lifetime song "We Are the World" featuring nearly 50 music artists. Ten years later, he would speak for himself without music at the 1994 NAACP Awards as he faced criminal charges, and once again, his performance stole the show.

As Michael's image became more associated with strange behavior, his music remained enormously popular, and his success remains the standard by which all others are judged.

Remembering and Celebrating At the Apollo

Immediately after news of Michael Jackson's death became public (even during the time between the announcement that he had suffered cardiac arrest and the time that his death was confirmed), the Apollo Theater in Harlem became the unofficial East Coast headquarters of the remembrance of the King.

Tomorrow, from 2pm to 9pm EDT, the Apollo Theater will be the center of the Michael Jackson tribute universe. Reverend Al Sharpton will give a eulogy at 5:26pm.

Legacy of Love and Peace

Michael Jackson is best remembered as the peaceful and gentle entertainer whose talent and hard work made him the best entertainer in the world. For those of us who believed that Michael Jackson had further triumphs in his future, his life came to an end too early. But, he lived long enough to touch billions of his fellow human beings.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Moving Jobs Out of New York City

Perhaps, we should move jobs into New York City instead of moving them out. As the Mayor and the City Council battle over how to eliminate the residency requirement for New York City jobs, all residence of New York City should oppose efforts that will result in increased numbers of New York City jobs being held by residents of communities outside of New York City.

Police, Firefighters, and Teachers Have Residency Exemptions

While most of New York City's governmental agencies and departments are permitted to employ only workers who live within New York City's five boroughs, police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, corrections officers, and teachers are permitted to live in New York State counties surrounding New York City.

While these positions are often viewed as difficult to fill with highly qualified employees without the competition from the counties surrounding our city, the absence of the residency requirement has negative consequences as well. Many of us have encountered police officers who express a hatred for New York City, and we might be spared the horror of many of the worst incidents of police misconduct if officers who hate New York City worked elsewhere. If such officers were forced to choose between moving to New York City and finding jobs near their own homes, those officers would likely leave the NYPD, which would improve community relations and save lives.

A residency requirement for firefighters might improve the racial make-up of the FDNY to more closely reflect the racial make-up New York City. The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the FDNY has resulted in law suits and embarrassment that might be avoided or reduced with the implementation of a residency requirement. While most New York City residents are people of color, the Fire Department of New York is 90% white.

The combined Black and Hispanic populations of New York City comprise over half its total population. Yet, as of October 2007, Black and Hispanic firefighters comprised only 3.4 and 6.7 percent of the FDNY, respectively. New York City has the least diverse fire department of any major city in America: 57 percent of Los Angeles, 51 percent of Philadelphia and 40 percent of Boston firefighters are people of color.

Expanding Residency Exemption

Earlier in 2009, the New York City Council passed a bill lifting the residency requirement for the DC 37 union, the union with the largest number of New York City workers. Mayor Bloomberg opposed the bill because it included a provision demanding that any DC 37 workers employed by New York City who reside outside of New York City be New York City residents for at least two years prior to moving out of New York City. The Mayor vetoed the bill, and but the City Council overrode the veto, making the DC 37 residency exemption (with the two-year residency requirement) law.

The Mayor had agreed in 2006, as part of his negotiations with DC 37, to lift the residency requirement without the two-year residency requirement, but the provision required City Council to change the law. During the nearly three years of negotiation between the City Council and the Mayor over the residency requirement provision, other unions sought to get the same flexibility that the Mayor had offered to DC 37.

The Mayor reached agreement with the unions to lift the residency requirement (without the two-year residency requirement), but the agreement with those unions requires City Council approval. The result, thus far, is a repeat of the DC 37 experience. Last week, City Council passed a bill that would eliminate the residency requirement for city workers but would require two years of residency in New York City. The Mayor is expected to veto that bill, and the City Council is expected to override that veto.

Residency Has Its Advantages

The City Council's approach is better than the the Mayor's, because it attempts to address the concerns of city workers who are seeking to move to locations with lower costs of living, but it does not allow residents of surrounding counties to take jobs away from New York City residents looking for employment within the government that they fund with their tax dollars.

One must wonder whether it is good public policy to reduce the residency requirements at all. New York City residents need more job opportunities during this period of record-high unemployment, and the trend is toward creating job opportunities within the New York City government for those who live outside of New York City.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Albany Chaos With No End In Sight

The latest insanity in Albany started on Tuesday of last week with defections in the State Senate, and though one of the two defectors has recinded his defection, and though a judicial pronouncement is due out today, the Albany chaos is at its beginning rather than at its ending.

Unpleasant Surprise

On Tuesday of last week, two of the State Senate's Democratic members sided with the Republican Party to attempt to elect new leadership in the State Senate. Because the Democrats held a slim 30-32 vote majority, the maneuver created a 32-30 majority for the Republicans and threw Albany into Chaos. The two Democrats making the switch were already in serious legal trouble. One of them, Pedro Espada, Jr., is under investigation by the New York State Attorney General's office for misuse of State funds, and the other, Hiram Monserrate has been indicted for attacking his female companion. Any Senator that is convicted of a felony is immediately removed from office. Therefore, while Monserrate reversed his defection today, Espada's might be reversed by a jury in the coming months if it is not reversed in some other way.

Another Billionaire Anoints Himself Leader

In New York City, our Mayor is a multi-billionaire who felt that the two consecutive term maximum in the New York City Charter was too restrictive. He had it changed to allow him to serve a third term by enlisting the help of another billionaire, the same billionaire who initially promoted the term limits that the Mayor overturned. It seemed that the Mayor of New York City believed that any time two billionaires agree on a public policy issue, the absence of a billionaire in opposition to them demonstrated the correctness of their approach while also converting any principled opposition into "disgrace[ful]" attacks.

In the latest Albany nightmare, yet another billionaire, Tom Golisano, led the process to initiate the chaos because he felt slighted and angry after the Democrats voted to raise taxes in the highest earners in New York State. He met in secret with the Republicans and personally wooed the two defecting Democrats into the Republican fold.

Unclear Outcome

Unfortunately for the Republicans, their coup had an instant misfire. Monserrate refused to support his own coup the day after he initiated it. His change of heart intensified the sense that Albany is adrift and potentially unsalvageable in the near term.

Monserrate went so far as to pledge last week to vote "no" on all legislation until he could more Democrats switch to the Republican camp. Such an approach would have ensured that nothing could pass the New York State Senate and would ensure that Democrats and Republicans would have nothing to show for this session. His decision to return to the Democrats has a similar effect. It leaves the New York State Senate deadlocked at 31-31 with no mechanism to break the tie (because of the lack of a Lt. Governor in New York State after Governor Spitzer's resignation and the elevation of Lt. Governor Paterson to the office of Governor - New York State has no system for filling the vacant Lt. Governor position).

Unimportant Showdown

The Democrats have asked the New York State judiciary to declare the Republican takeover of the New York State Senate illegal. While we eagerly await the decision of the judiciary branch today (a decision almost certain to be appealed until it ends up in the New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals), we find it very difficult to see that such a declaration would have any practical impact.

Espada is not going to support the Democrats, one cannot imagine a justice declaring that State Senators must support a particular leadership team or political party. Ultimately, even if the judicial branch declares that the Republican takeover was invalid, the practical effect of having more Senators supporting the Republicans than the Democrats will be the same as if the coup were validated by the judicial branch. If remain deadlocked, no one will be in charge, and chaos will remain the order of the day.

The only questions that matter revolve around how Senators will vote in committees and on legislation that reaches the Senate floor. For now, we have many questions and no answers.

Unending Frustration

With so much riding on this session, including the potential legalization of same-sex marriage, the frustration of the latest chaos is greater than what accompanies the typical Albany foolishness. The Democrats worked for 70 years to gain control of the New York State Senate for long enough to make real changes in public policy as well as in the institution of the State Senate itself. Now, after less than six months in power, it seems that the 70 years of Republican control (with one brief interruption in 1965) continue endlessly into the future. If the Democratic control of the State Senate proves to have been a mirage (or even a fantasy), the people of the State of New York will not have the leadership in place that is needed to help pull New York through the global economic slowdown or prepare New York for the brighter national and global economic times that are certain to arrive sooner or later. Without Democratic control, we might never allow all New Yorkers to have the right to marry. We might miss out on a great future that we were supposed to have as a progressive State in the era of progressive politics that has emerged in Washington DC. We might have to wait another 70 years for the chance to fix our problems and get our public sector leadership moving coherently and enthusiastically toward better lives for the people of New York State.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Defeating the Health Crisis in NYC

New York City is in the midst of a health crisis, and that crisis, and entrepreneurs are launching a new service designed to fill the information gap that contributes to the crisis. Our city needs a place to turn to obtain the guidance our residents need to live longer and healthier lives.

Our Health Crisis

We wrote about our city's health crisis back in February 2009 as part of our discussion of Borough President Scott Stringer's thorough, innovative, and insightful report focused on the impact of food on the health of New York City residents.

As we stated in February, New York City is already suffering from poor health indicators and a lack of healthy food availability.

The rate of obesity and the rate of diabetes each increased 17% between 2002 and 2004 according to Stringer's Food Report. Manhattan Borough President Stringer's report also alerts us that, amazingly, most of New York City's adults are overweight or obese, and that a direct correlation has been demonstrated between the parts of New York City with the lowest levels of consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and the parts of our city that have the highest levels of obesity. Unfortunately, Upper Manhattan is near the top of the list of the areas affected by both the lack of consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and the abundance of obesity. As stated in the Borough President's report, one in six restaurants in Central Harlem and East Harlem serves fast food, while the number is only one in twenty-five restaurants on the Upper East Side. Upper Manhattan is in desperate need of greater availability of high quality fresh food, and our local Community Boards can use their land use approval authority to encourage such greater availability.

At the state level, the same lack of health creates budget pressures. New York State spends $6.1 billion on health care related to adult obesity - the 2nd highest level of spending in the nation. Obesity is a statewide epidemic with 56.7% of New York’s adults overweight or obese, and Obesity-attributable Medicaid expenditures in New York are $3.5 billion.

Knowledge Is Power

Today, R.E.A.L. Fitness & Nutrition ( is launching its information-rich services to help New Yorkers attack the health crisis we face and to help healthy New Yorkers find ways to be even healthier. R.E.A.L. comes from Relevant Experts and Access to Local information.

Amongst its initial offerings are R.E.A.L. Deals, which list special offers, promotions, and discounts from local and national fitness and nutrition companies; R.E.A.L. Events, which is an extensive list of fitness and nutrition activities such as outdoor bootcamp classes, running programs, and healthy cooking seminars; and R.E.A.L. Experts, which showcases some of the best coaches and counselors in New York City.

R.E.A.L. produces and distributes two weekly opt-in electronic newsletters that provide consumers with the most up-to-date local fitness and nutrition information, activities, and bargains.

At Manhattan Viewpoint, we have been impressed with R.E.A.L.'s vision and its experts. We have been so convinced of the need for such services in our community, that we recently made a small financial investment in R.E.A.L. and expect the portal and newsletters to change lives in our local community.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Mayor's Race Is Thompson vs. Bloomberg

The race for New York City Mayor is now a race between City Comptroller Bill Thompson and Mayor Bloomberg after Congressman Anthony Weiner declined to seek the mayoralty. Also, we experienced the killing of a Black police officer by plain clothes officers in New York City, reminding us how much being non-white is treated as a criminal act by the NYPD.

Weiner Leaves the Mayor's Race

Congressman Anthony Weiner declined to seek the office of the Mayor of New York City for this cycle. We wish him the best and hope that he will play a vocal and active role in the campaign that is emerging between Bill Thompson and Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg's most recent tantrum has caused us to question whether he is emotionally mature enough and stable enough to serve a third term as Mayor. The campaign will be an excellent laboratory for examining whether Bloomberg has the temperament to lead for an "extra" term.

Weiner has done a poor job thus far explaining why he is dropping out of the race - other than stating that he believes that Bloomberg's personal wealth will crowd out Weiner's message and make it impractical for an honest debate on the issues to take place. Wealthy candidates are often defeated (Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand defeated a very wealthy self-funded candidate in a heavily Republican district in her final Congressional race before being appointed to the US Senate). We'll need to see Weiner actively campaign for Democrats this Fall and articulate the case FOR ELECTING DEMOCRATS rather than hiding behind the wealth of his would-be opponent.

Walking While Black

We wrote recently about the Bloomberg stop and frisk outrage. This year, the NYPD is on a pace to stop more of our fellow citizens than ever before. Though only 5% of those stopped receive a summons, and only 5% are arrested, the practice continues. Though the white New Yorkers who are stopped are twice as likely to possess guns, drugs, or stolen property versus those non-white New Yorkers who are stopped, Ninety-one percent of those stopped are persons of color. Stops of whites amounted to only 2.6 percent of the white population. By contrast, stops of Blacks, represented 21.1 percent of the entire Black population.

Unfortunately, the race-based policing that is angering and inconveniencing ordinary New Yorkers is also causing deaths. Last week, a Black police officer was killed by plain clothes officers who apparently thought he was a suspect in a crime.

The silence of Mayor Bloomberg in the aftermath of the killing of a Black police officer by white officers is a reminder of his unbalanced view of justice. As we have noted, Mayor Bloomberg expressed a view that a private citizen, Plaxico Burress, be prosecuted in the immediate aftermath of the incident in which Burress shot himself accidentally, but he has generally been silent when the police, who are under his control, kill New Yorkers deliberately. This deliberate killing requires a full examination, and it is inappropriate for the NYPD to investigate its own dysfunctional and aggressive antipathy for non-whites (even for non-white police officers).

Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangel has called on the federal government to investigate the killing, and we hope that the federal government would do just that.

What We Said In 2008

Last year, we commented on Mayor Bloomber's attack on Plaxico Burress. Our comments are relevant as we contemplate the killing of a Black police officer last week by the NYPD. We said that the Mayor should not have stated that "[i]t would be an outrage if we don't prosecute [Plaxico Burress] to the fullest extent of the law." Burress was charged with illegal gun possession after shooting himself accidentally. We gave 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.