Monday, February 22, 2010

NY Times Humiliates Itself With Attacks on Our Governor

Last week, the New York Times twice published articles attacking Governor Paterson and his staff. Both articles were actually signs that the New York Times is lost at sea. They did no damage to the Governor.

Off the Mark on Paterson Aide

In the first article, the NY Times attacks the Governor by attacking his aide, David Johnson. The article takes us through Johnson's ascendancy from juvenile legal troubles to driver for Senator Paterson to advisor to Governor Paterson. Sprinkled in the story is a discussion of how Johnson has had difficult break-ups with girlfriends and that police had been called as part of a break-up. They cannot cite any reliable evidence of domestic violence, but they choose to call the Governor a hypocrite for his support of Johnson and his denouncing of Senator Hiram Monserrate. There are no arrests, no active complaints, and nothing about which to write an article for the New York Times.

The whole approach is tabloid-style and not at all appropriate for the NY Times, which has a record as a legitimate source of news. In this instance, they examined an important person in public life (who is nearly 40 years old, by the way) and wrote an article asserting that his sealed juvenile record and girlfriend break-ups shed a bad light on the elected official that promoted him - shameful.

The Governor's response was on-target.

The New York Times has chosen to splash [David Johnson's] youthful offenses across the pages of its newspaper – even though the courts of our State have ordered them to be sealed. Mistakes committed during one’s youth are determined by law to be kept sealed for a reason – to give a young person a second chance at a productive life. I profoundly believe in this principle of redemption and giving young people a second chance.

The more recent allegations reported on by the Times would be extremely troubling if true – but the conclusions reached by the Times report are not supported by the facts. There is no independent evidence presented that would substantiate any claims of violence committed by David Johnson against a woman, a fact underscored by the absence of a single judicial finding that any such incident ever took place. I would caution others from making a similar rush to judgment.

Swing and a Miss Part II

The New York Times had the same reporter who wrote the first piece of garbage take a second swipe at the Governor.

The second attack is a long article that is even more embarrassing to the NY Times than the first article and criticizes the Governor for paying for a $300 meal with campaign funds and for being asleep when a major plane crashed occurred in Buffalo at 10:20pm one evening. In their grasping at straws and groping in the dark for reasons to criticize the Governor, they revealed how little information they have in their possession that sheds a bad light on the Governor. Despite the Governor's low standing in the polls, it is difficult for his detractors to identify specific deficiencies.

Once again, the Governor summed up the situation quite well.

After weeks of expectations, and a circus-like atmosphere fed by the worst of Planet Albany, the New York Times article finally published today offers no explosive revelations about Governor Paterson. Despite a nasty and seemingly coordinated effort to attack the Governor based on nothing but rumor and innuendo, what we are left with is a profile of a sitting governor tackling historic challenges in a time of crisis for our State. It should not be news to anyone who has followed Governor Paterson’s fight to reform Albany and bring fiscal discipline to State government that the special interests and chattering classes are opposed to his efforts. These attacks will not stop Governor Paterson from standing up to the special interests and fighting for the people of New York.

Lowered Standards

If the poor quality of journalism and lacking integrity of these two articles represent the future for the NY Times, we have a great deal to mourn. After more than a century as an example of quality journalism, the New York Times appears to have given in to the pressure from to become a tabloid, lower its journalistic standards, and participate in biased attacks on individuals in public life.

One wonders where the New York Times finds the flexibility to ignore Bloomberg's million dollar gift to the Independence Party (the nearly $1 million payment Mayor Bloomberg made to the Independence Party during last year's campaign has been accounted for as being received by an entity that didn't exist until after election day) and write two long articles attacking the Governor for an aide's youthful mistakes and the Governor's good taste in Manhattan restaurants.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sex (Ed) in the (NY) City

NYC schools are in need of a better approach on sex education. Also, Westchester County stumbled last week as it attempted to address its history of racial discrimination in housing.

Sex Education for NYC Schools

With Manhattan (and all other NYC boroughs other than Staten Island) experiencing teen pregnancy rates well above the New York State average and above the national average as well, the lack of effective sex education in our schools should be addressed.

Teen pregnancy rates are rising across the country, largely as a result of the George W. Bush Administration policies opposing quality sex education and forcing school systems to embrace abstinence-only education in order to obtain federal funds. Now that the George W. Bush Administration has receded into history, there is no longer an excuse for New York City's lack of effective sex education.

In New York State, the abstinence-only curriculum was so thoroughly discredited that it was abandoned during the Bush Administration's reign. In some communities outside of New York, health officials are encouraging teens to ask questions of health experts, including through the use of text messaging. It is time for some innovative approaches to this issue to make their way to our city.

NYCLU Principles

The NYCLU has proposed steps to institute comprehensive sex education in New York City schools. Below are their proposed principles for moving forward in our city. With the end of the abstinence-only era, New York City should help lead the country in applying 21st Century tools and common sense to the sex education effort.

Sex Education Must be Taught Every Year: Research shows that when young people have accurate information -- whether or not they are sexually active at the time -- they are much more likely to protect themselves when they do enter into relationships. The Chancellor should issue a regulation requiring the teaching of age-appropriate sexuality education every year, rather than leaving inclusion to the discretion of individual principals. Ideally, sex education lessons would be integrated into the six HIV/AIDS lessons mandated to be taught in grades seven to 12 every year. The former Family Living including Sex Education (FL/SE curriculum), which was in use in the 1980s, was required every year; we can not afford to take a step backwards regarding the new curriculum.

Contraception and Prevention Must be Taught: 95 percent of parents of junior high school students believe that birth control and other methods of preventing pregnancy are appropriate topics for sexuality education programs in schools. We know many NYC middle school students are already sexually active; one in 10 students reports having had sex before the age of 13. Incorporating information on contraception promotes health and prevention strategies; to deny middle school students access to the information to protect themselves is irresponsible from a public health perspective. Furthermore, DOE should heed the advice of their consultants and curriculum and include condom demonstrations as a part of comprehensive sexuality education at the high school level. Condom demonstrations are vital to teaching proper usage and should be included in classrooms at the high school level.

Sexual Orientation Diversity Must be Acknowledged: DOE must clearly commit to including issues concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth (LGBTQ) youth in the sex ed curriculum. CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Surveys have found that, as a result of violence and isolation, LGBTQ young people are two to five times more likely than their heterosexual peers to report skipping school because of feeling unsafe during the past month, and more than four times as likely to say they made a serious suicide attempt in the past year. Curricular inclusion, especially within health education models, is a necessary component of remedying the isolation of LGBTQ youth. Additionally, 79 percent of parents want their children to learn about sexual orientation in sex education classes at school.

Sex Education Must Have An Implementation Plan: We recognize that implementation will take time given the complexity and size of the New York City school system; however, we hope that the implementation of health education will be given the same attention and priority as any other subject matter. When the DOE updated the HIV/AIDS curriculum during the last school year, it created an ambitious schedule of parent meetings and selected a week in March for implementation in elementary schools, but offered no implementation plan for middle and high schools. The sex ed implementation plan that is created should be comprehensive for grades seven to 12.

Sex Education Must Be Taught By Trained Teachers: Both state and city mandates require specific levels of teacher training for HIV/AIDS education. We are delighted that DOE has finally selected evidenced-based curricula, but the best curriculum in the world isn’t of any use if teachers are not comfortable teaching. Teachers don’t need a “script,” but rather training to empower them to make appropriate decisions regarding their students. For the HIV/AIDS curriculum a “train the trainer” model was used, but we have yet to learn how many teachers were actually trained or even which schools sent staff. DOE must ensure that teachers receive adequate training to accurately and sensitively offer sexuality education.

Sex Education Requires a Plan for Evaluation: There must be a purposeful and public evaluation plan for the curriculum. Best program practices dictate that evaluation occurs from the very beginning of implementation, should be both quantitative and qualitative and should have buy-in from all stakeholders. Tools that will best measure knowledge, attitudinal and behavioral changes and track positive outcomes on a continuing basis must be designed as soon as possible and integrated into the implementation plan to ensure future success and public support of the curriculum. These components were not included in any meaningful way in the implementation of the HIV/AIDS curriculum. DOE should not make the same mistake again.

Westchester County's Housing Discrimination Response Plan Is Rejected

Westchester County was so aggressive in its racial discrimination in housing for all of the first decade of this century that it was forced to agree to a settlement of a racial discrimination suit. The settlement included having Westchester Country commit to build 750 units of housing geared toward attracting residents of color and spend $30 million on housing while paying the US government a penalty of $30 million for a total of $60 million of settlement costs of Westchester County. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York accepted the settlement in 2009.

Last week, Westchester County's plan for addressing its history of racial discrimination in housing was rejected by the court's monitor. The monitor gave specific feedback on the plan:

1) The county has not identified who would be responsible to ensure the settlement's mandates are carried out and fulfilled.

2) The plan "lacks any concrete short-, medium-, or long-term strategies for how the county plans to develop" the housing that will address the history of discrimination.

3) The county has not stated how it "will employ carrots and sticks" to ensure that the housing will be built over the objections of local municipalities targeted for units.

4) The county has not included general information about sites under consideration and should do so, even though the county expressed concerns that such information could affect the price of property.

Let us hope that Westchester County does a better job addressing its long history of racial discrimination in housing than it has addressing its settlement commitments thus far.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ethics Challenges from Bloomberg and Housing Discrimination Persists

In a stunning move, Mayor Bloomberg hired an ethics-challenged campaign aid to a senior position in the Department of Education, and we separately see fresh evidence of racial discrimination in housing availability in New York City.

Bloomberg Embraces Campaign Aid Who Broke the Law

Last week, the Bloomberg administration very nonchalantly selected a serious government ethics law violator as the New York City Department of Education’s executive director of external affairs. The embraced ethics law violator will be a key spokesperson for the Department of Education, an ironic role for a person whose credibility is horribly impaired on her first day in her new job.

Before this appointee became a part of the Bloomberg campaign for a third term as Mayor, she helped push through the City Council the change to the City Charter that allowed Bloomberg to seek a third term. At the time, this new appointee was working for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, but she violated the law in that role by soliciting donations from unions for Speaker Quinn while working on legislation related to unions for Speaker Quinn.

The Mayor's double-standard is both stunning and infuriating. He attacked former Comptroller Bill Thompson repeatedly for "pay to play" politics - asserting that Thompson's willingness to accept campaign donations from individuals doing business with the City made Thompson unacceptable as a Mayoral candidate. It was a particularly cynical campaign tactic for a self-funded candidate who did not need to accept any campaign donations. Because the new Department of Education appointee's ethics violations were made on behalf of an ally of the Mayor, because that same appointee helped the Mayor gain the right to seek a third term, and because that appointee worked on Bloomberg's campaign for a third term, the Mayor sees no problem with appointing an admitted ethics law violator. He says that she made a "mistake" and pay her fines, so we should all ignore the violation of the law and move forward.

But, the double-standard also applies to "mistakes" made by supporters versus those made by others. When Plaxico Burress made a "mistake," the Mayor had a different approach. Here is what he stated, "It would be an outrage if we don't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law." When his Department of Education appointee made a "mistake," he stated, "When you screw up, you fess up to it and pay your penalty and get on with it." He made that statement as he was defending appointing an ethics law violator to a high ranking City position. When you support the Mayor, your illegal activities are ignored, but when you are not a supporter of the Mayor, the Mayor wants you to face the maximum possible penalty for any "mistake."

Racial Discrimination Persists in Housing in NYC

We live in 2010. Yet, racial discrimination in housing continues to persist in NYC.

Last week, two communities in the Bronx were accused of racial discrimination in a law suit filed in federal court in Manhattan. The Fair Housing Justice Center filed the suit after sending "test" couples to seek housing in the two Bronx communities. While the two communities require reference letters from at least three existing residents of those two communities, the white test couple, after saying that they knew no one who lived in the communities, was shown multiple potential housing options and told that the reference letter requirement could be ignored. The Black test couple was refused the opportunity to see any housing options and was told that their inability to identify existing residents to write reference letters would prove fatal to their efforts to join either of these communities.
The suit says that 2000 Census figures show that while blacks account for 35 percent of owner-occupied homes in the Bronx, they account for less than 1 percent of the 1,100 homes in Edgewater Park and Silver Beach Gardens. Diane L. Houk, a lawyer representing the Fair Housing Justice Center, and also its former executive director, said the requirement of three reference letters from existing owners “sounds neutral at first, but has a discriminatory impact on nonwhites.”

As we in NYC face our examples racial discrimination in housing, we need to be vigilant in finding an eliminating racial discrimination throughout our city.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bloomberg Faces Money Troubles While Gillibrand Protects Haitian Immigrants

Mayor Bloomberg's generous spending of our tax dollars to reward his campaign advisors with City jobs has coupled with his personal spending to create a scandal dynamic, while Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is shining in the midst of the Haitian tragedy as she leads the effort to get the United States to allow Haitian immigrants to remain in the US for a minimum of eighteen months while the Haitian recovery and rebuilding process begins.

Mayor Bloomberg's "Money Troubles"

The latest pieces of the Bloomberg Money Scandal are 1) his hiring of participants in his campaign for City jobs, and 2) his mysterious and still unexplained $750,000 payment to the Independence Party that ended up in the hands of an advisor.

The Mayor has decided that our tax dollars should be used to reward his campaign workers, despite his "doomsday" budget cuts that slash the jobs of so many hard working City workers. He has also been caught in the most obvious case of "pay to play" politics we have ever witnessed. These latest pieces follow the growing scandal of Bloomberg's enormous bonuses paid to his campaign staff (many of whom had worked for the City and were taking a leave of absence to support the Bloomberg campaign) out of his personal fortune.

The hiring of Bloomberg's campaign advisors to City jobs is somewhat shocking during this period of cost cutting. The advisors, fifteen of them, are not inexpensive additions to the labor pool at City Hall. Many of them are earning six-figure salaries, and they include some of the highest paid City Hall workers. To add insult to injury, Bloomberg has hired seven advisors who left their City Hall jobs to work on the campaign. That brings us to 22 workers and more than $2 million of annual expense that is now the responsibility of the tax payers and is entirely devoted to compensating Bloomberg's campaign staff while City workers face cuts.

As Bloomberg demands reduced services for all of us who live in New York City, and as he proposes 18,000 lay offs of City workers, he generously rewards his campaign staff with high-paying positions in City Hall. Some of the positions were created specifically to allow his campaign staff to shift to taxpayer funding.

This latest scandal is part of a pattern. Bloomberg provided retroactive raises to his City Hall staff last summer despite the harsh economic times and his calls for cuts nearly everywhere else in the city government. The pattern has its roots in Bloomberg's three electoral victories and the large bonuses he paid out of his personal fortune to his campaign staff. Some on the campaign earned more than $400,000 for two months of work.

The retroactive raises and the creation of City Hall jobs for campaign staff are clear evidence of Bloomberg's arrogance and unwillingness to apply the same "belt tightening" requirements to himself that he demands of others. The lavish bonuses are a potentially corrupting influence on our politics, particularly because so many of the campaign workers had been working in the City government until late in the campaign.

Now, we see an additional scandal in a mysterious $750,000 payment Bloomberg made to the Independence Party during the campaign. Bloomberg should explain the payment and why there has been no explanation of it for many months.

Gillibrand Protects Haitian Immigrants

Earlier this month, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand demonstrated her leadership once again by guiding the United States to provide temporary protected status to Haitian immigrants living in the United States. The President followed her lead, and as a result, Haitians living in the United States cannot be forced to return to Haiti for at least eighteen months.

France and other nations worked very hard to bankrupt and undermine Haiti over two centuries. The emergence of a free Black nation in the Western Hemisphere was unacceptable to many part of the Western World. The forced end of slavery in Haiti was a great victory for the concept of freedom, but it was the reason that Haiti was forced to be a poor country. The Western World was determined to punish Haiti for being the first country to end slavery on a timetable set by the slaves rather than by the slave owners. Now, we hope that the tragedy that began in January 2010 in Haiti will help the world address the tragedy that has been occurring in Haiti for centuries. The world is responding to the earthquake.

As the world works to help the people of Haiti to build a stronger and better country, we could not be more proud of our Senator for leading our country as our country leads the world.