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.

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