Monday, August 31, 2009

New York's Abuse of Incarcerated Youth Exposed

The US Justice Department issued a report this month stating that "[s]taff at [New York's Juvenile Detention Facilities] routinely used uncontrolled, unsafe applications of force, departing from generally accepted standards" when dealing with incarcerated youth. Now, the attention turns to Governor Paterson and whether his efforts to fix these problems will be bold enough and quick enough to prevent the abuse from harming more of our children.

Horrifying Abuses

The level of abuse suffered by our children in the four juvenile detention facilities of New York State is beyond anything that we should accept in a modern society, and the abuse reflects the lack of oversight in the system as well as the lack of respect for the rights of those who are incarcerated.

There was one year in one facility (a facility that housed only 50 youth) in which 698 individual "takedowns" (throwing children to the ground and holding them down in a face-down position) of youth occurred, and 123 injuries were sustained by those youth. These facilities house children ages 16 and under and are the wrong places for staff who enjoy inflicting pain on others.

One 15 year old boy from the Bronx was killed in a takedown in 2006, and while his death was ruled a homicide, a grand jury chose not to indict those that killed the boy.

Reasons given by the staff for the takedowns were as flimsy as the taking of an extra cookie during a meal, glaring at a detention facility guard, laughing, and placing sugar in one's own orange juice. The takedown that resulted from the glaring incident caused a broken collar bone.

Suggested Response from the New York Daily News

The New York Daily News offered very specific suggestions with regard to how our State should respond to the new awareness of just how poorly our juvenile detention center. At Manhattan Viewpoint, we hope that Governor Paterson and the State Legislature in Albany will follow the sentiments of the New York Daily News and begin to address the shocking abuses occurring regularly in our juvenile facilities. As the New York Daily News stated on August 28:

The abuses administered routinely in the state's youth lockups are beyond shocking. They are shamefully entrenched and demand an immediate fix. Before one more inmate has his or her teeth knocked out, before one more mentally ill teen is left in his or her own wastes:

Family Court judges must refuse to send additional teenagers into these snakepits.
Governor Paterson must transfer the facilities' 250 residents into secure, therapeutic custody elsewhere.
Gladys Carrion, the well-meaning commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, must make sweeping reforms - or get out.
The Legislature must empower Carrion or her successor to upgrade and train personnel and to fire those who use excessive force on residents.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Derek Jeter on MVP Pace in 2009

After last night's superb performance, it is clear that part-time Manhattan resident, Derek Jeter, deserves serious consideration for the 2009 Most Valuable Player Award in the American League.

In suggesting that the Yankee captain be the 2009 MVP, we mean no disrespect to the tremendous performance of Mark Teixeira in 2009 or to any other 2009 performance. But, we do believe that Derek Jeter is on a pace that should be recognized as the 2009 MVP performance by the Baseball Writers Association of America when they cast their votes in October of this year.

2006 Award

In 2006, Derek Jeter lost the MVP vote in one of the closest votes in history. His numbers were astronomical. He batted .343 and had a .417 on-base percentage. He had 14 home runs and 97 RBIs. Minnesota Twins slugger Justin Morneau won the 2006 award with a .321 batting average, 34 home runs and 130 RBIs. Both the Yankees and the Twins made the playoffs, and the fact that the Twins came from far behind in their division at the end of the season while Morneau rasied his batting average by nearly 100 points seemed to influence some of the voters. Both performances were worthy of an MVP award, but Morneau was chosen.

2008 Award

In 2008, Dustin Pedroia won the AL MVP award. He batted .326 and had a .376 on-base percentage. He had 17 home runs and 83 RBIs. While Pedroia's 2008 performance was quite clearly inferior to Derek Jeter's 2006 performance, Pedroia was a deserving MVP. He was a leader on a team that made the playoffs, and he was the offensive spark of that team. Interestingly, Pedroia was a middle-infielder when he won the award in 2008, and his offensive numbers reflected his position at the top of the batting order where RBIs don't come as easily as they do to those who hit in the middle of the line up.

2009 - Yankee Captain Deserving of Consideration

This year, after leading off last night's game with a home run off of Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett and collecting a second key hit later in the game, Derek Jeter is hitting .332 with an on-base percentage of .394. He already has 16 home runs with just slightly less than a quarter of the season to play, and he has 57 RBIs as a leadoff hitter. At this pace, the home runs could end up being greater than 20 and the RBIs could surpass Pedroia's 2008 mark of 83. In essence, Derek Jeter is surpassing Pedroia's 2008 performance, even if he is failing to equal his nearly unimaginable 2006 performance.

The most likely competition for the award comes, ironically, from Derek Jeter's own teammate Mark Teixiera, the 2006 MVP award winner Justin Morneau, and Morneau's teammate, catcher Joe Mauer. Two Yankees and two Twins. In politics, one might often be able to pick a running mate or run as a slate. Such arrangements are not available to these players, and often two players from the same team cost each other votes in the process. Mauer was the only player who had a better batting average than Derek Jeter in 2006, and Morneau was the only player with more MVP votes. However, there is reason to believe that the 2009 voting with disfavor Mauer and Morneau.

Team Success a Factor?

With rare exceptions, MVPs are chosen from teams that make the playoffs. There is a theory that is not shared by all but which is quite powerful and suggests that a player cannot be ultra valuable if his efforts fail to put his team in the playoffs. The old Ralph Kiner story about being told by the owner of his team that though Kiner's season had been spectacular, as a last place team, they could not have finished in a worse position if Kiner had played for another team. "We'll finish last without you." If the regular season is actually a competition for the right to play in the post-season, teams that don't make the post-season can be viewed as failures and their best performers ineligible to be the most valuable players in the entire league, given their apparent lack of value to their own teams.

Individual performances have, on occasion, been so much better than all other performances in the league for a given year that even a player on a last place team has won the MVP award. Alex Rodriguez did it in 2003, and Andre Dawson accomplished the same feat in 1987. These two last-place MVPs had performances that were so outstanding that the lack of success of their teams was overlooked by the Baseball Writers Association of America. But, most writers and most followers of Major League baseball believe that the most outstanding performance of a player on a team that earns a spot in the playoffs is the best definition of the MVP in the absence of a truly unimaginably outstanding performance by a non-playoff bound player, such as the 2003 and 1987 experiences. We should note that ever since 1995, four teams have made the playoffs in each league, and MVPs have almost uniformly come from those four teams. In previous eras, as few as one team from each league would enter the post season, and often, writers would pick the MVP from that one team. In 1934, Yankee Lou Gehrig won the Triple Crown and lost the MVP vote to a player from the team that won the pennant. In 1942 and 1947, the same thing happened to Ted Williams. In 1985, Don Mattingly won the American League MVP when the Yankees missed winning their division by just 2 games.

So, a more refined theory of MVP eligibility might be that 1) any player who far surpasses the performance of all other players is appropriate to consider for MVP; 2) in the absence of one dominant candidate, players whose teams either made the playoffs or came very close to making the playoffs should have an advantage in the MVP balloting.

In 2009, Morneau and Mauer are playing for a team that seems highly unlikely to make the playoffs. The Minnesota Twins have a losing record, and they are in third place in the weakest division in the league. While the Twins may experience a resurgence that changes their status, their current trajectory would leave them out of the playoffs and likely leave both Morneau and Mauer out of the MVP race.

Jeter for MVP

Of the teams that are likely to make the playoffs, the Yankees have the only legitimate MVP candidates. Teixiera and Jeter. Jeter has 21 stolen bases and plays the most difficult defensive position on the baseball field. We know that Derek himself would say that he cares little for individual awards and is focused only on winning a 27th championship for the New York Yankees. He is correct to have that attitude, but the Baseball Writers Association of America should take note: If the season ended today - just one day after Yankee captain Derek Jeter hit the first pitch of the game over the right field fence at Fenway Park in a huge game for the New York Yankees - the sometimes Manhattan resident Derek Jeter would have to be the most deserving. That is the easiest endorsement decision we've ever had at Manhattan Viewpoint.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bill Thompson's Momentum in NYC Mayor's Race

After cutting Mayor Bloomberg's lead in half in late July polls versus late June polls, Bill Thompson got more good news last week when our city's most prominent and largest municipal union, DC 37, endorsed him for Mayor.

Thompson's July Surge

In June, polls showed Bloomberg with a 22 point lead over New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson in the Mayor's race. The gap of 54% to 32% was thought by many to be more likely to widen than to shrink as Mayor Bloomberg's limitless financial resources would drown out any efforts by Thompson to cut into the Bloomberg lead.

But, in July, the polls showed a shift. Suddenly, the Bloomberg lead was only 10 points, and the support for the two candidates stood at 47 to 37 - a race worth watching. Separately, another poll showed that while nearly three quarters of New York City residents believe that Mayor Bloomberg will win re-election to a third term, a majority of New York City residents would like to see a new mayor in City Hall in 2010.

There is some evidence that Bloomberg's enormous campaign spending is hurting his campaign rather than helping it. While Bloomberg has spent approximately $40 million running for re-election, Thompson has spent less than $2 million challenging him. That is a 20 to 1 advantage. In fact, Bloomberg is spending at a pace that is nearly double the record-setting pace he established when he was elected in 2005. Yet, the polls show that Bloomberg's spending is driving down his own popularity and boosting the support of his opponent, Bill Thompson.

At Manhattan Viewpoint, we called on Mayor Bloomberg to limit his own spending. We have also criticized Mayor Bloomberg's racialized policing and his record setting pace of stop and frisks of people of color in New York City, his shifting of gifted and talented public school locations from communities of color to white communities, as well as his underhanded and dishonest (though successful) effort to change the City Charter to allow him to run for a third term, and his love affair with regressive taxation. Perhaps, New York City voters are starting to see what we at Manhattan Viewpoint have been seeing from our headquarters in Upper Manhattan.

DC 37 Endorsement of Thompson Suggests Thompson Can Win in November

DC 37, New York City's largest municipal union, endorsed Bill Thompson for Mayor last week. We then witnessed Bloomberg launch into attacks on the union as irresponsible, while he also accused Bill Thompson of making irresponsible promises to the union. One of the union presidents had an explanation for why Bloomberg failed to get the support of DC 37.
"He's arrogant, too arrogant."

Arrogant, regressive, racially discriminatory, and declining in the polls - a naked emperor who is hoping that his beautiful robes can carry him through the November election.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cy Vance for Manhattan DA and Gillibrand Unrivaled

We support the sentiments expressed in the New York Daily News in its endorsement of Cy Vance in the race for the Democratic Party nomintion for Manhattan District Attorney, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand benefitted from the departure from the Senate race of the last remaining potential challenger for the Democratic nomination in the special election in 2010 for the seat Senator Gillibrand now holds.

Cy Vance for Manhattan DA

The New York Daily News endorsed Cy Vance for Manhattan DA yesterday, and Manhattan Viewpoint takes this opportunity to echo that endorsement.

In addition to the views and praise expressed with regard to Cy Vance in the New York Daily News, Manhattan Viewpoint acknowledges Cy Vance's expressed interest in developing a stronger and more impactful presence for the Manhattan District Attorney's office in Upper Manhattan. Cy Vance's views on the death penalty, his commitment to extending the District Attorney's office to help improve lives in Upper Manhattan, his support from the retiring Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, and his record as a prosecutor make him the candidate that Manhattan Viewpoint hopes that you will support in the September 15 primary.
Vance stands well above his rivals in fitness to extend the excellence the city has come to take for granted during Morgenthau's 35 years at the helm. . . Vance built a distinguished career, both as a Morgenthau assistant and as a nationally known big-case defense lawyer. His experience ranges from homicide to white-collar crime to complex corporate litigation. Thanks to the depth of his background, Vance shows a greater understanding than do his two challengers of the missions of the Manhattan district attorney, as they have been elevated by Morgenthau. Those start with prosecution of violent crime and extend to policing Wall Street, busting corrupt politicians, even to stopping the illicit flow of money and weapons technology to regimes like Iran. Vance would build on strengths and address weaknesses. Among them, he would beef up quality-of-life enforcement by fixing a dysfunctional Criminal Court, maintain the DA's gold-standard rackets bureau and create a program to head off recidivism by newly released inmates.

Rivals . . . can't match Vance.

Gillibrand Unrivaled

US Representative Carolyn Maloney, who represents Manhattan's Upper East Side in the US House of Representatives, decided last week not to challenge Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat that Gillibrand now holds.

At Manhattan Viewpoint, we are relieved. A race between these two great women would have drained them both and left Manhattan less well represented on Capitol Hill, whichever woman had emerged victorious. Maloney's decision to drop out of the race gives us the possibility of having both of these superb public servants representing us for many years to come. Because Carolyn Maloney was the last potential Democratic challenger to Senator Gillibrand, we are now able to use all of our resources on 2010 to defeat Republicans rather than for Democrats to battle against each other.

Our association with Kirsten Gillibrand goes back more than a decade, and we are pleased to see her pathway cleared of potential Democratic challengers. We also acknowledge that Carolyn Maloney is more than qualified to be a US Senator and that we are fortunate to have her in the Manhattan delegation to the US House. Representative Maloney's decision last week to exit the Senate race strengthens the Democratic Party, strengthens Manhattan, and makes us even more proud of the high quality of Manhattan's elected representatives in Washington, DC.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Bloomberg Burned In Fire Department Scandals

Two Fire Department scandals ignited recently and threaten to undermine the ability of Mayor Bloomberg to continue to lead New York City.

Deutsche Bank Building Deaths

Two FDNY firefighters died two years ago in a fire at the vacant Deutsche Bank Building, and we now know that the Bloomberg Administration was the proximate cause of the deaths of these civil servants. What we don't know is whether the Bloomberg Administration will truly be held accountable for these deaths.

There was a "15-day rule" in place at the time of the tragedy. All construction sites must be inspected every 15 days by the FDNY, but the Deutsche Bank building was not inspected for six months prior to the tragedy. Yet, none of the senior leadership of the FDNY have been disciplined or terminated. Mayor Bloomberg has supported the cover-up strategy that places the blame on FDNY personnel who were simply following the policies set for them by their superiors. Bloomberg's team adopted a policy of ignoring the 15-day rule, and that policy killed two heroes. Bloomberg's team seems to have no interest in taking any responsibility for their role in the tragedy.

At Manhattan Viewpoint, we hope that the Mayor is held accountable for his role in these deaths. Of all possible scandals, the death of these firefighters that resulted from the Mayor's failed leadership is exactly the type that should cause New Yorkers to wonder whether he is as indispensable as Mayor as he claims that he is.
"Our billionaire mayor will never be tarnished by the traditional pay-to-play and influence-peddling schemes that compromise politicians with ordinary bank accounts. Instead, his defining debacle is a failure of leadership, accountability, and transparency, revealed in one law enforcement report or news story after another, ever since Beddia and Graffagnino succumbed to smoke on the 14th floor of the city's most toxic building, just 118 feet from where 343 of their brothers perished six years earlier."

Racial Discrimination at the FDNY That Even George W. Bush Would Not Tolerate

When a city discriminates against people of color so horribly that George W. Bush takes legal action against the city, those that led the discrimination should be forced resign their official posts.

In New York City, where more than 93% of Fire Department personnel are white (the FDNY is 2.6% Black) but where white residents are a minority of residents, the Mayor led an effort to prevent persons of color from becoming members of the Fire Department of New York. Then, he defended it when it came under attack from the George W. Bush Justice Department.

For all of Bloomberg's defense of his discrimination against people of color, the Judge in the law suit that resulted from that discrimination was very clear how unacceptable Bloomberg's approach had been.
"From 1999 to 2007, the New York City Fire Department used written examinations with discriminatory effects and little relationship to the job of a firefighter. These examinations unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color from the opportunity to serve as New York City firefighters. . . I recognize that it is natural to assume that the best performers on an employment test must be the best people for the job, but the significance of these principles is undermined when an examination is not fair . . . the city did not take sufficient measures to ensure that better performers on its examinations would actually be better firefighters."

Errol Lewis of the Daily News made the key point in a recent column. Bloomberg invested heavily in defending the racial discrimination that made the FDNY a more than 93% white institution. Now, we need to see if he'll be held accountable for that focus on defending discrimination rather than eliminating it. As Errol Lewis wrote:

"Many credible institutions tried, with zero success, to convince Bloomberg and Scoppetta that the fire exam needed a reworking. The city's own Equal Employment Practices Commission, an independent watchdog, presented City Hall with a long account of nearly a decade's worth of complaints about the fire test and a plea to re-examine it. They were ignored. The federal Justice Department under the Bush administration sued the city after issuing strong warnings about the need to desegregate the FDNY. Bloomberg fought the feds in court. Why Bloomberg's high-profile Black and Latino supporters don't call him on the carpet and demand an end to the spin and denial, I have no idea."