Monday, January 25, 2010

Rangel Takes the Lead with Haiti Tax Bill

Last Week Was an Amazing Week

On Tuesday, the Democratic Party suffered a major set-back in the race for the Massachusetts seat in the US Senate held for decades by Ted Kennedy.

Harold Ford and Andrew Cuomo continue to move toward challenging fellow Democrats for the US Senate and for Governor against our friend Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (the US Senate's youngest member and perhaps the member with the brightest future) and Governor David Paterson, Respectively.

Errol Louis summed up the state of the Harold Ford for Senate effort in yesterday's New York Daily News.
Harold Ford's problems in trying to unseat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand go way beyond his amusing, near-total ignorance of New York's geography, culture and politics. The doors shutting in the face of the newcomer from Tennessee are being slammed by activists who have every right to wonder where Ford has been the last few years, as ferocious battles over serious issues were taking place.

Cuomo is much better positioned to challenge our Governor than Ford is positioned to challenge our Senator, and Cuomo is expected to announce his intention to seek the Governor's Mansion at the end of March. The poll numbers and campaign war-chest figures make Cuomo the favorite at this time, but the primary is eight months away.
In the latest polls, Cuomo has a 64% job approval rating compared with Paterson's 31%. Cuomo also has $16 million in his war chest, while the governor has just $3 million.

Last week, Haitian relief efforts continued, and despite the passage of more than a week since the devastating earthquake hit Haiti, survivors were rescued as late as yesterday.

As New York's rescue team in Haiti returned to us, House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel made the most of his persuasive position as the leader of the tax-writing committee in the US House to bring additional support to the Haitian relief efforts.

Rangel to the Rescue

Last week, the US House of Representatives passed unanimously a bill proposed by Charlie Rangel to accelerate the deduction, for tax purposes, of charitable contributions made to support Haiti. While charitable contributions made in 2010 would typically be available to taxpayers to reduce taxable income only when filing taxes in 2011 (April 15, 2011 would be the filing deadline), Chairman Rangel convinced the US House to allow taxpayers to deduct 2010 charitable contributions from their 2009 taxes if the contributions are made before March 1, 2010. The impact is obvious. By allowing taxpayers to take advantage of tax deductions twelve months earlier than would typically be permitted, Chairman Rangel is making financial support of the Haitian relief efforts more economically attractive and, thereby, driving increased giving to the Haitian people during this difficult time in the their country's history.

The US Senate followed Chairman Rangel's lead and passed his bill last week by a voice vote. It now heads to the White House for the President's signature before becoming law.

We can add the people of Haiti in 2010 to the long list of individuals and groups that have benefited from the extraordinary leadership of Chairman Rangel. Let us hope that our fellow Americans, who have been quite generous with regard to Haiti, are inspired by the accelerated tax benefits to be even more generous during this time of need.

Correcting NYC Corrections

NYC is now investigating why it hired a convicted criminal who led a robbing and shooting spree (that resulted in a death) as a teenager to be the firearms instructor for the NYC Department of Corrections. The same firearms instructor is now being investigated for buying illegal weapons. We should keep a careful eye on this process to see if the Bloomberg Administration has a double standard.

When Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg accidentally, the Mayor demanded that he be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. He was sentenced to jail time, despite so many New Yorkers' views of his crime as victim-less. In the case of the NYC Department of Corrections, a violent gun incident in the life of a city employee seems not to have prevented him from being the firearms instructor. We'd like to imagine that we'll find that we have uncovered an honest mistake, but the record suggests that we're just finding new evidence of the injustice of the Bloomberg approach.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Obama Attacks NYC as NYC Extends a Hand to Haiti

Last week, the President declared that he is seeking a new tax on the financial services sector, and the tragedy unfolding in Haiti captured the attention of the people of our city.

Obama's War on NYC Continues

We have come to expect the Obama Administration to attack NYC, but we are having difficulty understanding why the President's dislike of New York City would cause him to undertake policies that threaten to undermine the overall US economy.

During the early part of 2009, we focused on the counterproductive attacks on NYC that were originating in Washington, DC. We were alarmed when the Congress and the President sought to outlaw bonuses of more than 1/3rd of salary at each of the institutions that took TARP money (even at the institutions that took TARP money because they were ordered to do so by the Treasury Department), and we were stunned when the House of Representatives voted to tax Wall Street bonuses at a 90% rate.

We were frustrated when the President attempted to order our Governor (the first African American Governor in the history of our state) to step aside and leave the Governor's mansion to another Democrat, and we were disappointed that the President was unwilling to support Bill Thompson's campaign to become the second African American Mayor in the history of New York City.

But, we had started to look at 2010 as a new beginning - the start of an era of cooperation between New York City and the federal government. We were wrong.

Last week, the President declared his intention to proposed a 0.15% tax on the liabilities of large financial institutions. The President's advisors estimate that 60% of the anticipated $117 billion in government revenue achieved by this new tax over 12 years would come from the 10 largest financial institutions. He made this declaration despite the fact that credit availability in our country is still inadequate, and despite the fact that the financial services sector's largest institutions have paid back their TARP money with interest. The federal government has already made a 14% return on the TARP money that was provided to the financial sector, and the federal government ownership of many of the financial sector's institutions will lead to even greater returns.

Someone has convinced the President that the banks will start lending more money to more credit-worthy individuals and institutions if the federal government requires more of the assets of the banks to be sent to the federal government as tax payments. The logic is very difficult to understand unless we see this latest maneuver as part of a pattern of anti-NYC policies coming from Washington, DC.

We applauded when Governor Paterson addressed the need for all New Yorkers to work to defend the financial services sector from these types of attacks with his remarks in December 2009.

He addressed the issues by stating, "You don't hear anybody in New England complaining about clam chowder. If you say anything about oil in Texas, they'll string you up from the nearest tree. We need to stand by the engine of our economy in New York State, and that engine is Wall Street."

He also used his Twitter account to reinforce his views. "Iowa, corn. Michigan, autos. Texas, oil. NY, Wall Street . . . We must stand behind the engine of our state's economy & strengthen it.""If we support Wall St, and make the tough choices necessary to stabilize our state, Wall St will help NY as we build a New Economy."

Ironically, the latest attack by President Obama is targeted specifically to New York City. The Detroit auto industry (Chrysler and General Motors) was a major recipient of TARP money, and the Washington DC based Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were bailed out by the federal government. Yet, none of those private companies' shareholders are being asked to pay additional taxes to the federal government. The financial services sector, headquartered and concentrated in New York City, will pay the tax on behalf of all of the sectors that benefited from TARP. Paterson was correct to assert that we need to speak more aggressively in favor of our city and our state. Clearly, the Michigan politicians have been successful in convincing the President that New York should pay the bill for the disastrous state of the Detroit auto industry.

We need to fix this problem quickly in order to promote a healthy economy for our country as well as to promote fairness for New York.

Haitian Relief Efforts

New York City is home to the largest number of Haitians in the world outside of Florida and Haiti itself.

We have a special connection with the Caribbean national that led the way toward the emancipation of slaves. Because the Haitians freed themselves from slavery in the early nineteenth century, freedom of Black people throughout in North America became a goal for many. Haiti paid dearly for its leadership with regard to notion that human beings should not be owned as property - Western nations abused Haiti and demanded enormous payments from Haiti in order to allow goods to flow to the nation. Western nations were determine to discourage others from seeking freedom by making life in Haiti as horrible as possible, but the Haitian nation persevered and has remained free for two centuries while still suffering from the legacy of abuse from the outside.

You can help the recovery effort in Haiti with your gifts. The number of organizations poised to turn your gifts into a brighter future for Haiti is seemingly endless, but the need is equally daunting. If you have already provided aid to Haiti, we thank you.

If you are planning to offer support but have not had the time to do so, we hope that you will choose an organization and make a contribution today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Harlem's Shrinking Black Population

In an alarming trend, African Americans are leaving Harlem.

Rise and Fall of the African American Population in Harlem

Based on statistical estimates and analyses by Social Explorer, the New York Times focused last week on the amazing fact that African Americans in Harlem have ceased to be a majority of the population for the first time since the Depression.

While the African American population in Harlem was a small minority at the beginning of the twentieth century, it grew quickly in the early part of the century. As we have discussed in the past, the legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church moved from mid-town Manhattan to Harlem in the 1920's as it both chased the African American population's movement and served as a catalyst for accelerating an African American migration to Harlem that lasted into the second half of the twentieth century. The African American population growth momentum encountered the countervailing forces of redlining and Jim Crow but moved forward powerfully nonetheless.

The decline in the Harlem African American population that ultimately resulted in the loss of the African American majority had the turmoil of the 1970's as a catalyst. The 1990's and the first decade of the twenty-first century brought many new residents to Harlem, but the African American population declined as a whole in Harlem.

The distinction between Central Harlem and Greater Harlem is important to understand. Central Harlem is the part of Manhattan that sits between 110th Street and 155th Street between 5th Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue. Greater Harlem is the full area of Manhattan from the East River to the Hudson River and from East 96th Street and West 110th Street to West 155th Street.

The New York Times specifically looked at the rising white population:
The 1990 census counted only 672 whites in central Harlem. By 2000, there were 2,200. The latest count, in 2008, recorded nearly 13,800.

The Times discussion of the declining African American population included numbers that were equally dramatic:
The number of blacks living in greater Harlem hit a high of 341,000 in 1950, but their share of the population didn’t peak until 1970, when they made up 64 percent of the residents. In 2008, there were 153,000 blacks in greater Harlem, and they made up 41 percent of the population.

The African American population is now smaller in Harlem than it has been since before the Depression, and it is now less than half of the size of the 1950's peak levels. It is a trend that is difficult to reverse, but it is a trend that we should not accept.

Bed-Stuy Stumbles As Well

Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is experiencing a decline African American population as well. The African American population in Bed-Stuy declined from 98% to 72% between 1980 and 2006.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Taking On Guns in NYC

New York's City Council is preparing to increase penalties for the sale of toy guns that resemble real guns and to take action against those that make real guns appear to be toys. Their efforts are laudable and should be combined with increased gun buyback activity.

Toy Gun Penalties Likely to Rise

As we begin this new year, an old legislative priority of the New York City Council will return to its agenda. In the closing days of 2009, Brooklyn City Council member Al Vann and Speaker Quinn announced their intention to impose 500% greater fines on vendors who sell toy guns that appear to be real guns. The City Council will address the proposed legislation early this year.

There have been far too many deaths around the US caused by law enforcement officers mistaking toy guns for real guns; in fact, any such deaths are too many. The use of realistic toy guns is also dangerous because it glorifies gun ownership and promotes the glorification of life-ending violence.

While New York City has collected more than 7,000 illegal toy guns and collected nearly $2.5 million in fines since 2002, the new legislation would increase the incentives for retailers to avoid selling illegal toy guns by raising the fines for selling realistic-looking toy guns to $5,000 from $1,000 for a first offense and to $8,000 from $3,000 for additional offenses. It would also allow the city to close stores for five days after three offenses occur within any 3-year period. These are penalties that are easy to avoid - simply refuse to carry toy guns in one's store, and the problem is solved. Bright colored toy guns remain permissible, but that provision creates a new concern.

Brightly colored real guns that appear to be toys are a new threat, and the city council needs to develop aggressive programs to prevent gun owners from coloring them to look like toys. To highlight the dangers of realistic-looking toy guns as well as real guns that are painted to appear like toys, New York City has launched an ad campaign that covers 2,100 subway cars, all 468 subway stations, and more than 5,400 buses.

Gun Buy-Back Programs

Real guns that appear to be real guns are still the largest threat to the safety of New Yorkers and to local law enforcement.

In October 2008, the Manhattan District Attorney, Robert Morgenthau, and the NYPD collaborated on a gun buyback program in Upper Manhattan that resulted in the collection of more than 700 guns by the NYPD. We need to bring back the gun buyback to Upper Manhattan.

The program succeeded because it included Upper Manhattan's churches and because the program did not require those turning in guns to make themselves subject to arrest. The decision to allow guns to be turned in without the threat of arrest or prosecution, and the decision to pay $200 per gun (up to $600 per person) combined to create an explosion of gun collection activity, despite the fact that the guns would be worth far more than $200 in the "street" marketplace that plays such a large role in gun sales in the New York City.

Our new Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, and the NYPD would be smart to initiate another gun buyback program in 2010.

It has been 14 months since the extremely successful buyback day in Upper Manhattan, and we are ready for a new one.