Monday, November 29, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg - Not Cathie Black - Should Withdraw

New York City's problem is its Mayor - not its School Chancellor.

Mayoral Control

In 2002, the New York State Legislature agreed to Mayoral control of the New York City school system. Under Mayor Bloomberg's predecessor, there was no chance that the New York State Legislature would have permitted such a change in policy. Where Giuliani was considered a loose cannon, racist, and anti-education, Bloomberg entered the arena with a reputation as a successful, moderate businessman, a life-long Democrat who had run as a Republican out of necessity, and a non-racist leader. Of course, Bloomberg turned out to be a fraud. He ran the New York City economy into the worst condition in many generations; used racial discrimination by the police force in its law enforcement, within the fire department, within his own hiring, within his selection of gifted and talented school locations, and in his "Detroit" messaging during his campaign for a third term as Mayor; and thoroughly supported Republicans - even suggesting that Rudy Giuliani should be our state's Governor.

Bloomberg's fraud brought Mayoral control, but we are now eight years into the experiment without seeing real benefits. In fact, with only 28% of Black males graduating from high school in New York City, we are actually destroying lives, limiting our residents to reduced expectations, and undermining generations. Bloomberg is not just an unsuccessful "education Mayor." He is nearly criminal in the way he has damaged the lives of young New Yorkers by refusing to provide high quality education.

Ironically, Upper Manhattan's Congressional representative, Charlie Rangel, is facing censure in the US House for sloppy bookkeeping that everyone agrees did not enrich him and did not hurt anyone. Bloomberg asked for control of the schools and then provided a system where 72% of Black males do not receive even a high school diploma in a world where a college degree is increasingly the minimum requirement for a middle-class life. It would be far more reasonable for Bloomberg to pay a $1 billion fine and serve a few years in prison for how he is affecting the lives of young New Yorkers than it is for the US House to censure war hero Charlie Rangel for poor bookkeeping.

Bloomberg made the creation of new charter schools the centerpiece of his education agenda in New York City, but the charter schools provided a poorer education (on average) than the failing traditional schools that the Mayor has refused to improve. Charter schools have fewer poor children, fewer English language learners, and fewer special needs students, but those advantages aren't translating into better performance for students.

Mayor Bloomberg's favorite charter school used $1.3 million for marketing over two years, when it had only 900 seats to fill - more than $1,000 per seat on marketing when traditional schools only have that amount to spend each year on actual students. It was a cynical effort to have large numbers of parents apply for seats that were unavailable in order to create excuses for establishing larger numbers of charter schools.

Our problem has not been the Department of Education. The problem has been the Mayor. We have MAYORAL control - not Chancelloral control. If we have any hope of improving our city's schools, we need a new mayor.

The Opposition to Cathie Black

There is intense opposition to the appointment of Cathie Black as the next NYC school Chancellor, and some leaders in our city are suggesting that they will seek court orders to block the appointment of Cathie Black as Chancellor. We do not benefit from such an approach.

The Mayor will run the schools the way he chooses, irrespective of the Chancellor. The Mayor was elected in a legitimate election. His performance has been highly disappointing, and voters are expressing "buyers' remorse." But, Bloomberg is the Mayor.

There is value in seeking the resignation of the Mayor, but there is very little value in fighting with the Mayor over his choice for Chancellor. Such a fight will give him an excuse for his failures and undermine the concept of Mayoral control for future Mayors who may have the management talent and values to be effective leaders of our city and of our schools. In the end, the Mayor runs the schools, and the Mayor should select his/her team to run the schools.

Cathie Black's lack of credentials is a symptom of the combination of Mayoral control and the election of a poor leader as Mayor. We need to challenge ourselves to elect better leaders, but we should allow those we elect as Mayor to select an education team without lawsuit delays.

Let us remember Cathie Black as we think about who will lead our city after the 2013 elections. We have made a mistake by permitting Bloomberg to be elected three times. Let us learn from our mistakes.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rangel is Black; NYPD is Blue

Congressman Charlie Rangel will face a vote on censure after Thanksgiving despite the fact that his conduct does not warrant a censure based on any reasonable understanding of history. The NYPD acknowledged last week that it has failed to provide translators to non-English speakers.

Charlie Rangel Is Black

Last week, the US House of Representatives Ethics Committee voted 9 to 1 to seek to censure Charlie Rangel, who has represented Harlem for 40 years with dignity and excellence. Congressman Rangel is a war hero and a role model, yet, the Ethics Committee voted to seek to censure him while admitting that they had no evidence that he had ever done anything to enrich himself.

No one has been censured by the US House since 1983 - 27 years ago. The most recent censures were as a result of sexual contact between members of Congress and teenage high-school students serving as Congressional pages under the care of Congress.

Nonetheless, the Ethics Committee is seeking the censure.

The Ethics Committee's approach is troubling in its unfairness. In recent years, members of Congress have worked to find jobs for the husbands of their mistresses and gone unpunished. Members have solicited sex in airport bathrooms and gone unpunished. There is a Republican member of Congress who made exactly the same financial disclosure mistake that Charlie Rangel made, but he has not even faced an ethics investigation. There are many other examples of conduct that is far more troubling than that of Charlie Rangel, but the members engaging in that conduct face no punishment and rarely face investigation.

Nonetheless, the Ethics Committee is seeking censure.

We have commented that the Ethics Committee treats African American lawmakers very differently from other lawmakers. Charlie Rangel is African American, and those who have engaged in the same conduct without punishment are not African American. We have also commented that Charlie Rangel's conduct - self-reported bookkeeping errors that harmed no one, did not help Charlie Rangel, and which were corrected - should not result in any punishment by the House. The voters in Upper Manhattan have re-elected Charlie Rangel with 80% of the vote, and in doing so, we gave our opinion of the quality of his service as well as our willingness to forgive sloppy bookkeeping.

Charlie Rangel is Black and has been Black for 80 years. He should know by now that the rules of Black people are different than for other people. It is a sad lesson that all Black people must grudgingly accept - we are subject to greater scrutiny and held to higher standards than other people. This reality is not acceptable, but it is the reality. Having a Black-sounding name makes one twice as likely to be rejected for a job opportunity before the first interview. The net worth of the median Black household is one-fifteenth that of the median white household. All Black people should remember that when we demonstrate the same weaknesses and deficiencies as other people, we will be punished where others are not and punished more severely than others.

White members of Congress are censured for having sex with teenagers under the care of Congress, and a Black member of Congress faces censure for bookkeeping errors that other members of Congress have committed during the same time period.

It is not fair, but it is the reality. Charlie Rangel is Exhibit A of this unfairness.

NYPD Language Barrier

An audit discovered that the NYPD has only 12 certified Spanish-speaking interpreters for our vast city of over 1 million Spanish speakers. To make matters worse, because the NYPD has only 12 interpreters, officers routinely ask those accused of domestic violence to interpret the words of the alleged victims. They often use the children of alleged victims as translators as well. Common sense would suggest that we need a better system, but the NYPD's record on stop-and-frisk tells us that common sense is not the governing principal of NYPD policy.

This most recent revelation confirms that the leadership of the NYPD should resign and that we need a new Mayor as well. The current team will not fix these problems because they don't see the abuse of communities of color by the NYPD as a problem.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Ethics Trap

Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General-elect Eric Schneiderman risk creating an unacceptable distraction by focusing on creating new prosecutors for Albany's legislators. Our state's problem is poor policy making rather than criminal behavior.

The Rangel Example

With his ethics trial beginning today, Congressman Charlie Rangel's challenges in the US House give us a great example of the risks of a runaway focus on "ethics" that ignores or even conflicts with common sense efforts to create the best public policy. Congressman Rangel has represented Upper Manhattan for 40 years and, after being accused of ethics violations, received 80% of the vote in the November elections. He did not face a serious challenge in the primaries or in the general election because the people of Upper Manhattan know his record of achievement, loyalty, and integrity.

Charlie Rangel has been accused of what amount to bookkeeping errors and paperwork mistakes. None of the mistakes enriched the Congressman, and the errors were largely sefl-reported and corrected long ago. One of the key attacks on Rangel is that he used his office stationary to seek donations for City College in Upper Manhattan. Irrespective of the ethics rules, anyone who asks for donations to be made to a wonderful organization that serves our city the way that City College does should be praised - the type of letterhead doesn't change the underlying effort, which is to promote increased and improved educational opportunities for young adults in our city.

Because of the ethics attacks, Congressman Rangel stepped down as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, one of the most powerful posts in Congress. Therefore, the flimsy accusations based on self-reported and already-corrected poor bookkeeping and stationary mistakes resulted in an actual reduction in the quality and the competence of the leadership of one of the most important institutions in our country, the House Ways and Means Committee.

Congressman Rangel's bookkeeping errors did not result in job losses, weakened military strength, or poorer healthcare infrastructure in our country, but the accusations related to the bookkeeping errors actually reduced our ability as a country to attack our biggest challenges.

With the deficit continuing to grow and job growth failing to ignite, we need Charlie Rangel's leadership more than ever, and we should not lose it because his political opponents take advantage of his revelations to them of bookkeeping errors.

Albany Needs Leadership Rather Than Prosecutions

Cuomo and Schneiderman have announced that they plan to push for more prosecutions of New York State legislators. There is a big risk in such an approach.

In Albany, we have the most dysfunctional legislature in the United States. Our problem is ineffective policy-making, concentration of power, and a lack of honest debate regarding how to make our state the best it can be. There is undoubtedly criminal activity and unethical activity in the New York State government, but that criminality and lack of ethics is NOT the priority dysfunction that we must address.

Our state has massive budget deficits and spends more per capita on nearly every service that the average state in the US spends, yet we do not have a realistic opportunity to address our challenges because of the dysfunctional nature of our legislature. There is too little transparency and too much influence from interest groups instead of from the broader public interest.

Prosecuting legislators is NOT going to fix our state. In fact, a focus on finding misbehavior and criminality in Albany could distract our leaders from the monumental compromises them must forge to bring our state into the next decade on solid footing.

The Rangel experience should be a warning to us. We can dig deeply into the lives of public officials and then make mountains out of the mole hills of mistakes and failures we find. But, if we are to succeed, we will need to focus our attention on finding solutions to our problems rather than finding personal faults in those whom we've sent to Albany to lead us to job growth, improved education, and better, longer, happier lives.

Let us step back and acknowledge that we do not condone criminal or unethical behavior, but we also do not condone prosecutions as an alternative to effective governing. We have real work to do. Let us get to work.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Democrats Sweep NY Statewide Races - NY State Senate in Doubt

All of the statewide races in New York were won by Democrats, but the control of the New York State Senate remains in doubt.

Democratic Statewide Sweep

Democrats won all of the statewide electoral contests in New York in 2010. Andrew Cuomo won the race for Governor easily, and with similar ease, Senators Gillibrand and Schumer were sent back to the US Senate.

The tighter races for Attorney General and State Comptroller were also won by Democrats with Eric Schneiderman, a Manhattan State Senator, winning the Attorney General race by more than ten percentage points and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli retaining his role by just two percentage points.

The top of the ticket set the tone. The Republican nominee for Governor, Carl Paladino, started out the post-primary campaign with poll numbers that suggested a tight race despite his low name recognition and lack of experience in elected office. But, as voters became aware of Paladino's love of racist and sexist emails, his unstable behavior on the campaign trail, and his aggressive anti-homosexual rhetoric, his poll numbers dropped, undermining the entire Republican statewide slate and handing a sweep to the Democrats.

State Senator and now Attorney General-elect Eric Schneiderman appeared to be trailing in the polls on the eve of the election but won the election by a wide margin. Schneiderman's victory can be attributed to both the Paladino problem faced by the Republicans and to the intense collaboration between the Schneiderman campaign and the Cuomo campaign.

DiNapoli did not have the support of Cuomo and found himself in the tightest of all of the statewide races, but the Democrat DiNapoli was victorious nonetheless.

State Senate Control In Doubt

The Democrats controlled the New York State Senate by only two seats (32 to 30) in the last session. Thus far in the 2010 election, the Democrats have won 29 seats, and the Republicans have won 30 seats. There are three seats that are still too close to call. In two of the three, Republicans lead by hundreds of votes with thousands of absentee votes yet to be counted. In one of the three, the math is reversed - the Democrat leads by hundreds.

The Democrats need to win two of the three disputed seats in order to have an equal 31 - 31 split of the State Senate seats and retain control through the tie-breaking votes of the state's Lt. Governor (a Democrat elected along with Cuomo).

If the the Republicans win more than one of the three seats in dispute, they become the leaders of the New York State Senate.

Redistricting on the Horizon

All of the Congressional district boundaries, all of the Assembly boundaries, and all of the State Senate boundaries will be redrawn in 2011 based on the 2010 Census by the New York State Legislature. If the Democrats retain the State Senate, their control of the Governor's Mansion and both houses of the State Legislature would provide the Democratic Party an unchecked role in redrawing all of the lines for the elections in our state of the next ten years.

If the Republicans gain control of the State Senate, the Republicans will have the leverage to push for lines that provide them with an advantage in future State Senate elections (and perhaps in some other races as well).

Therefore, the party that wins the three disputed State Senate elections may use those victories to reshape our state's electoral map to reinforce its control of the Senate and improve its ability to win US House and State Assembly seats as well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vote Tomorrow and Check Out Football at Yankee Stadium

Do not forget to vote tomorrow for Charlie Rangel, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Eric Schneiderman and all of the other Democrats. Also, consider visiting the Bronx on November 20 to see Notre Dame face Army at Yankee Stadium for the first time since 1969.

Vote Early and Often

As with every election, we encourage you to vote tomorrow. Not voting would be an insult to all of those who died to give us the right to vote.

I visited the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee in October and was reminded of the high price paid by so many good people to allow us to vote. In 1964, three civil rights workers were killed in Philadelphia, Mississippi for trying to encourage Black adults to vote. It was not very long ago. Those deaths helped create the momentum for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Long before the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th Century, many Americans began to face lynchings and terrorism when they dared to attempt to vote. Lynchings were quite common, and post cards and other souvenirs were routinely created to celebrate lynchings.

We are all in debt to those who suffered to provide us with the freedom to choose our local, state, and national leaders, and we cannot permit ourselves to squander the rights they sacrificed to leave us as their legacy.

Our enthusiasm for the election of Charlie Rangel, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Eric Schneiderman is as strong as ever. We also look forward to victories for Andrew Cuomo and Thomas DiNapoli.

Above all, we look forward to seeing huge turnout in Upper Manhattan.

Football Comes to Yankee Stadium

On Saturday, November 20, Yankee Stadium will host the Notre Dame - Army college football game for the first time since 1969. Army is scheduled to play one game per season at Yankee Stadium for the next several years.

It will be the first football game played at the "new" Yankee Stadium.

In December, Yankee Stadium will host the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl.

Bringing these high-profile college football contests to New York City helps our local economy and could pave the way for even bigger sports opportunities for our city. We'll join in the celebration of the ultimate sporting event, the 2014 Super Bowl in New Jersey, but we also need to host annual sporting events to develop sustainable, long-term business opportunities for our local businesses.

The November 20, 2010 Notre Dame-Army game is a great start.