Monday, September 28, 2009

Ravitch to the Rescue After Obama Falters

Last week, we learned that President Obama has pressured Governor Paterson to step aside in the 2010 gubernatorial race. We also learned that Richard Ravitch is now the Lieutenant Governor of New York State. If we had heard the good news on Ravitch earlier, perhaps we never would have heard the bad news on Obama.

Ravitch to the Rescue

In July, Governor Paterson appointed Ravitch as Lieutenant Governor to fill the seat that Paterson himself vacated to become Governor when Elliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace. At the time, the New York State legislature was in turmoil because the State Senate was evenly split between supporters of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. A Lieutenant Governor would have provided a tie-breaking vote.

But, many disputed the constitutionality of the appointment of Ravitch, a public servant with a spotless reputation and a history of achievement. The lowest courts rejected the appointment as unconstitutional. No Lieutenant Governor had ever been appointed despite the fact that the position had been unoccupied at times.

Last week, the highest court in New York State sided with Paterson and declared that Ravitch's appointment was constitutional. We are confident that Ravitch will serve with distinction.

Perhaps if the support of the courts for the Ravitch appointment had come earlier, the President would have saved himself and Governor Paterson a great deal of embarrassment.

Obama Falters

President Obama has pressured Governor Paterson to drop out of the 2010 race to retain his post at the helm of the executive branch of the government in New York State.

If the timing had been different, President Obama could have appointed Governor Paterson to a high post at the national level and allowed the new Lt. Governor to become the new Governor in New York State. Instead, such an appointment was unrealistic until last week because there was no Lt. Governor. The succession plan for New York State was unclear, and Governor Paterson would have been viewed as irresponsible if he had vacated the Governor's post without clarity regarding who would lead New York State thereafter.

The clumsy and public manner of President Obama's efforts to undermine Governor Paterson seem so unlike President Obama. Obama is a master poker player who keeps his cards close to his vest. One wonders whether President Obama is already losing his touch or if there is something (or someone) outside of team Obama driving the White House attacks on Paterson.

The most recent editorial in the Amsterdam News expressed the views of many. Paterson should refuse to follow the guidance of the President. He should run in 2010. His best revenge will be victory.
And what an unfortunate spectacle for our community to see: its first African-American president asking only the third Black governor since Reconstruction and the first African-American governor in the State of New York's history to quit without a fight.

A governor who, in a short and difficult time, has been able to end the dreaded Rockefeller Laws, get our famously unruly Legislature to settle on a budget on time, and lead the MTA out of its most serious financial crisis in recent memory. And on Tuesday the Court of Appeals ruled that Paterson pick Richard Ravitch could indeed serve as lieutenant governor. The former MTA chief had been handpicked by Governor Paterson, leading to some Republicans to file a legal challenge.

They begin to throw out “If Giuliani runs,” trying to scare folks into saying that Paterson cannot take him on. But does Giuliani want to run? Does he want to be governor? Does he want to deal with the headache of a crazy Legislature? Does he want to do the work? Does Giuliani want to do the fundraising and campaigning so soon after his crushing and humiliating defeat in last year’s presidential race? And is his donor base ready to invest in him after his poor showing when he was presumed to be the front-runner in that race as well? And has he even paid off his debts that he ran up for his presidential bid?We don’t know what the mercurial Giuliani has on his mind. And we do not expect to know until after the November elections. So why ask Paterson to bow out now? Why not wait until November, or longer, to make any kind of decision? Giuliani does pose a clear challenge to the governor. He plays to the worst instincts of white New Yorkers. From his days of inciting a police riot against David Dinkins before he became mayor, to ignoring Black and Hispanic New York City residents and criticizing Black male victims of police brutality, it was an ugly reign of terror for people of color during his eight years here in New York City. But there is a catch-22 or a “chicken before the egg” scenario here. If Paterson stays in the race, does Giuliani get in? If Giuliani gets into the race, does Paterson get out? If Paterson gets out and Giuliani stays out, Andrew Cuomo sweeps Rick Lazio—but anyone could mop the floor with Lazio—so, in that case, why doesn’t Paterson stay in? The whole house of cards is built upon the assumption that Giuliani will run. That is not a foregone conclusion, far from it. And maybe this time New Yorkers will rise above the demagogue tactics of the visceral former mayor. Getting Paterson out would create a free ride for Cuomo to the governor’s mansion, unopposed by a person of color in a primary. And the Cuomo family has not earned that. Make Andrew Cuomo earn our votes. Don’t let him be anointed. And Gov. Paterson, stay in the race. You can still win.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Republican Bloomberg Steers NYC to Record Unemployment

We learned days ago that New York City's unemployment rate leaped last month to 10.3%, the highest level since 1993. Mayor Bloomberg, who is running as a Republican for a third term as Mayor, has had a year to begin a turn-around of the NYC economy, but he has instead dug a deeper hole.

False Claims of Success

Mayor Bloomberg called a press conference in May to announce how successful his leadership had been in revitalizing the NYC economy that Bloomberg's leadership had plunged into a deep recession. But, a reporter asked if the fact that the economy was in excellent shape suggested that Mayor Bloomberg's re-writing of the City Charter in order to extend his own tenure as Mayor was now unnecessary. Mayor Bloomberg responded by ending the press conference and calling the reporter "a disgrace." Perhaps the Mayor should be a harsher critic of himself.

The economy is not improving; it is getting worse because of poor leadership. Bloomberg rejected federal help in the form of food stamps, because he wants to continue to push work requirements on those receiving aid. The federal government recognized that New York City's job opportunities had diminished and offered additional food stamp dollars to those unable to find work. Bloomberg chose to send the aid back to Washington, DC and express his solidarity with those who do not wish to see low income New Yorkers without jobs benefit from federal support. Bloomberg raised taxes on low income New Yorkers through the regressive sales tax increases that he preferred over income tax increases that would have been progressive. Now, we are all suffering because of his failures.

Record Unemployment

In one year, New York City's unemployment rose from 5.9% to 10.3%, a stunning rise in a statistic that is often a good barometer of the state of the local economy. New York City's level of unemployment is higher than the national level and higher than the level of unemployment across the state of New York. While these stats stunned many observers, one could expect bad news to result of Mayor Bloomberg's poor policy-making.

Yet, Bloomberg Claims We Need Him

Mayor Bloomberg claims that we need him to dig us out of the crisis that he has intensified. He says that we need to re-write the election rules, ignore his race-based hiring practices at the Fire Department of New York and his race-based policing practices (and record pace of stop-and-frisk activity in communities of color), and ignore the raises he provided for his own senior staff members in the middle of this recession. We need to do all of this in order to have a stronger economy, according to the Mayor. But, the Mayor's policies have brought us a horrible economy.

Bill Thompson is running for Mayor with a progressive agenda, and a progressive agenda is what is needed in NYC at this time.

It seems that the best way to improve the local New York City economy is to remember Bloomberg's blunders and replace him with another leader when we all vote in November.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Primary Voting Tomorrow in NYC

Please ensure that everyone you know votes tomorrow in the NYC primary elections. We made the same statement in November 2008, and we repeat it now.

Our Endorsements

We endorsed Cy Vance for Manhattan District Attorney last month, and we are eager to see Bill Thompson win tomorrow's primary election and take on Mayor Bloomberg in November.
With Thompson's likely victory tomorrow, we can only hope that the media will be ready to end its infatuation with Mayor Bloomberg and start to hold him accountable for his administration's policies and failures.

Voting Is A Sacred Activity

As we pointed out previously, voting is a sacred activity:

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.

Remember the Importance of the NYC Mayor

As we have also stated previously, Bloomberg should not be seeking a third term. He should be apologizing for his failed leadership in his second term. In NYC's system, the Mayor has far more power than all other institutions of city government combined. The NYC Mayor's power is far greater than that of all other big city mayors. So, when someone uses that power to abuse NYC's residents, that person must not be permitted to continue that abuse. As we stated in July of this year:

Mayor Bloomberg has surpassed his previous demonstrations of arrogance with his granting of retroactive raises to nearly 7,000 members of his staff. In essence, the Mayor's team will receive bonuses representing the additional earnings they would have received if the raises had begun 16 months ago. They get a 4% raise for all of last year and a 4.16% raise for all of this year. As absurd as the bonuses and raises appear on their face, a broader context illuminates how unacceptable this latest mayoral maneuver really is.

1) The Mayor demanded that City Council change the City Charter to allow him to seek a third consecutive term, despite two referenda in which the people of New York City voted overwhelmingly to disallow Mayors to serve for three consecutive terms. In arguing for the third term, Bloomberg has suggested that the intense economic and fiscal crisis facing New York City requires keeping Bloomberg in power (ignoring the fact that Bloomberg got us into this mess). Bloomberg's answer to the economic and fiscal crisis is to give huge bonuses and raises to his staff. Now, at least one of the Deputy Mayors will have a higher salary than the salary provided to the Mayor's office by law. The third term seems unwise.

2) At Manhattan Viewpoint, we have been highly critical of the Mayor's decision to use sales taxes to balance the city's budget. The Mayor's obsession with protecting high earners from taxation has resulted in a painfully regressive budgetary approach that relies on poor people to pay more taxes to fill in the budget gaps created by the
economic downturn and by the Mayor's unfortunate reliance on Wall Street
revenues during his first 1.5 terms. It is ultra-shameful that a mayor who so
thoroughly believes in regressive taxation would be so generous to his own
senior staff during a fiscal crisis. He is demanding that poor people pay more
so that he can pay his top advisers more.

3) Bloomberg is setting a record pace for stopping and frisking people of color. He has given the crime of "walking while black" the official City Hall stamp of approval, and his administration is retaining all of the personal information of those that are stopped. 90% of those stopped are non-white even though whites who are stopped are 2.5 times more likely to have illegal substances or weapons in their possession. Yet, Bloomberg will stop and frisk more people of color this year than any mayor has ever stopped in New York City.

4) The Mayor chose to reject federal aid from the Obama administration because it would have expanded the availability of food stamps to more poor people.Bloomberg
is demonstrating the type of leadership that suggests he should have had only
one term and should certainly not attempt to impose a third term on our great

Monday, September 7, 2009

Unshackling Child Birth for Incarcerated Women

New York State decided late last month to end the practice or chaining pregnant incarcerated women to their hospital beds during childbirth. The practice, called "shackling", has been outlawed by the New York State Legislature and Governor Paterson. New York is the sixth state in the US to outlaw shackling.

Health and Safety During Childbirth

New Yorkers should be proud that New York is one of the first states in the United States to outlaw the shackling of pregnant women during childbirth.

Until now, pregnant women were routinely shackled during childbirth. Advocates for incarcerated women, such as the Correctional Association of New York, have led the fight for the safety of these women and the elimination of the shackling activity throughout the state. The Correctional Association interviewed women who were shackled during childbirth and has allowed all of us to read there stories. The American Public Health Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Medical Women’s Association, and American College of Nurse Midwives all supported the imposition of restrictions on shackling pregnant women in prison.

While some may object to the ability of incarcerated women to give birth without being chained to their beds, we should all remember that 83% of women in New York State prisons are non-violent offenders, that 84% of women in New York State prisons are first-time offenders, and that 75% of women in prison were victims of domestic violence. These women are, with few exceptions, not a threat to themselves, their babies, or to the hospital personnel. The new law allows for precautions to be taken in special circumstances and recognizes that exceptions are necessary.

Childbirth is traumatic and stressful without shackles; it is not a realistic opportunity for escape or to attack others physically. In the states that have eliminated the practice of shackling women during childbirth, there have been no escape attempts.

Paterson's Support

Governor Paterson attended a rally in mid-August in support of the legislation that outlawed the shackling of women during childbirth. His willingness to lead and his eagerness to address the needs of a somewhat unpopular constituency (incarcerated women and their unborn children) deserve special praise. Whatever his faults, Governor Paterson has proven to be a consistent and valuable force for addressing longstanding problems in our state's criminal justice system. He signed the legislation repealing the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and he rallied for and signed the legislation that enhances the likelihood of successful childbirth for incarcerated women and their children. The achievements should not go unnoticed.