Monday, December 27, 2010

NYS - Losing 2 Seats and Gaining Respect

Last week, we learned that New York State is expected to lose two US House seats starting with the 2012 elections. But we also saw New York's junior Senator demonstrate her powerhouse legislative skill.

Losing Seats

New York State will lose two of its 29 US House seats starting with the 2012 elections based on the 2010 Census. Congressional seats are apportioned amongst the 50 states based on the data from the census that occurs every 10 years. Though New York State gained population during the period from 2000 to 2010, its growth of less than 3% was too slow to keep up with the nearly 10% growth in the US Population since 2000. There are 435 seats in the US House of Representatives because of Federal law, and the faster growing states gain seats while slower growing and shrinking states lose seats. As the US population has moved westward and southward, Nevada, Florida, and other beneficiaries of population movement have gained seats while New York and New Jersey have lost seats. New York's slow growth will result in the loss of two seats in the 2012 elections.

Starting in 2012, Florida will have as many seats (and, therefore, electoral votes) as New York State. In fact, New York State has not had as few as 27 seats since 1810, when only 1 million people lived in New York State.

The New York State Legislature will draw new lines for US House districts in 2011. Some other states use commissions, but New York's process is fully political. The apparently-Republican-controlled State Senate, the Democratic-controlled Assembly, and the Democratic Governor will need to agree on the US House lines. It will likely be an ugly and frustrating process as the two parties attempt to gain an advantage versus each other while shrinking our Congressional delegation.

In Manhattan, where our population has grown, we hope to essentially maintain our current map while the two seats are lost in upstate New York, which was the source of the lost population and slow growth in New York that created the need to reduce our number of US House seats. But, by losing two seats, our State Legislature may be tempted to tamper with the district maps in Manhattan and in the other parts of the New York City metro area. Manhattan residents should work together to discourage major changes to our district maps.

Charlie Rangel's Upper Manhattan seat is historic and must be protected. It has only been help by two people, and it is the first "Black" district to emerge on the national stage. Charlie Rangel and his predecessor, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., have been the most productive and successful legislators in the history of our country. Adam Clayton Powell was the first Black member of Congress from New York State. The people of Upper Manhattan should pro-actively come together to push the State Legislature to make as few changes as possible to Charlie Rangel's historic district in the upcoming redistricting. We cannot imagine a higher priority in the next few months, given that the new district lines will likely be in place for the next 10 years.

Gillibrand Takes Control

Our US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand closed out 2010 with a flurry of stunning and gratifying victories.

First, she led the fight to repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and allow Americans of any sexual orientation to serve their country in our military. It was an achievement that has waited for six decades since initially being proposed, and it was the end of a 15 year period of living with the bizarre "lie to me" rule embodied in "Don't Ask Don't Tell".

Without taking a victory lap or getting any rest, Senator Gillibrand then led a successful fight to provide health benefits for the heroic first-responders who put themselves in harm's way to seek survivors and begin the recovery after the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The New York Times devoted its front page to praising Senator Gillibrand for her leadership, her determination, and her stamina.

For us, none of this was a surprise. In fact, we're tempted to say that we told you so, but we'll leave it for others to point out that Manhattan Viewpoint expressed unequivocal enthusiasm for Senator Gillibrand's appointment to the US Senate.

Happy New Year

This year, 2010, has had its ups and its downs. Senator Gillibrand made sure it ended with some ups. We wish you a healthy and prosperous 2011, where the ups outweigh the downs by a substantial margin.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Bad News for Black Men in NYC

Last week was a week of bad news for Black men in New York City. The Village Voice detailed the City's commitment to prevent Black men from obtaining a fair chance to join the Fire Department of New York, and the Community Service Society showed us that only 25% of young Black men in New York City are employed.

FDNY - A Closer Look

The Village Voice showed us last week how the leadership of our city has invested heavily in preventing the 90% white Fire Department of New York from becoming more representative of the racial make-up of our city.

Though the article in the Village Voice focuses initially on the plight of Black would-be firefighters who scored very well on the FDNY entrance exam but who cannot join the FDNY because New York City refuses to accept any of the options for accepting new firefighters put forward by a federal judge, the truth of the intensity of New York City's commitment to racial discrimination in hiring at the FDNY is made clear.

The entrance exam has a history of resulting in higher scores for white applicants than for Black or for Hispanic applicants. The test also has no relationship to being an effective firefighter.

Because the test results have favored white applicants without any relationship to the jobs being filled, the test has been declared by the federal courts to violate the US Constitution.

The federal courts have offered the City multiple options for hiring new firefighters without discriminating based on race, but New York City has refused to accept any of the options provided.

Though 5% of the FDNY was Black in 1971, it is now less than 4% Black, and the 90% figure for white representation in the FDNY compares to approximately 35% white population in our city.

As we have stated in the past, Mayor Bloomberg has demonstrated an obsession with finding ways to discriminate against people of color in New York City and has essentially excluded people of color from his administration.

If we are going to make any progress in moving away from racial discrimination as the primary organizing principal of New York City, we'll need a new Mayor.

Only 25% of Young Black Men in NYC Are Employed

The Community Service Society has issued a new report examining unemployment in NYC, and it has found a troubling trend. During the current economic downturn, Black men have been the hardest hit demographic in terms of lost employment.

Unfortunately, young Black men now have only a 1 in 4 chance in being employed in NYC.

That horrifying statistic nearly matches the horrifying 28% of NYC Black males who graduate from high school.

Our city is failing to educate its young Black men, and those Black men are suffering in the job market.

Perhaps our city will start to show the type of dedication to helping Black males that is has shown to keeping them out of the FDNY, excluding them from the city administration, or stopping and frisking them in record numbers in a humiliating display of the abuse of power permitted by our city when the victims are Black members of our community.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Injustice Grows in NYC

Those accused of misdemeanors in NYC spend 15 days in jail, even if they are innocent, because they often cannot not afford bail. Meanwhile, arrest and summons quotas are angering police officers, and a union head for cab drivers calls for racial profiling against Black and Hispanic riders.

Bail and Jail

The ugly reality of NYC's criminal justice system is that defendants accused of misdemeanors spend an average of more than 15 days in jail despite having been convicted of no crime at all. Moreover, many of those accused will plead guilty in order to end their ordeal in jail despite being innocent.

Prosecutors are able to create tremendous leverage for themselves against defendants through the bail system. The accusations of marijuana possession, shoplifting, jumping turnstiles, and other misdemeanors are turned into automatic jail sentences by the bail system. In nearly 20,000 cases in 2008, defendants suffered time in jail when bail was set at $1,000 or less, but the defendant could not afford to post bail. Eighty-seven percent of those given bail of $1,000 or less failed to post bail, and the average time in jail for such a defendant was nearly 16 days. The sad reality of crime and punishment in NYC is that 15 to 16 days in jail in the built-in sentence for the simple accusation of a misdemeanor for a person with little means. The pressure of 15 to 16 days in jail, even for a completely innocent defendant, gives prosecutors the ability to demand a guilty plea in exchange for no jail time. The power and leverage is entirely in the hands of the prosecutors, and some of them appear to be abusing that power.

Why plead guilty? By pleading guilty, often the defendant's sentence will include no jail time. Even if innocent, pleading guilty gives the defendant 15 to 16 days of liberty that fighting the case would not have provided. It is impossible to know how many defendants plead guilty for this reason alone, but we can guess that the number is significant, because we know that the quotas imposed by the NYPD on its police force cause officers to arrest innocent people.

NYPD Quotas Meet Resistance from Police Themselves

In a sign that the quota system within the NYPD is completely out of control, police officers are rebelling against the system and speaking to reporters about their frustration.

In the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn, officers are openly attacking the quota system. They are planning a day-long summons boycott to make their feelings known.

How did it come to this? Officers despise crime and criminals. Officers want criminals punished. Yet, the NYPD has asked our city's officers to punish non-criminals to such a great extent that the officers are fighting back.

We have addressed many times the horrors of the race-based system of stop-and-frisk activity brought to our city by Mayor Bloomberg. The immoral and ugly practice of stopping Black and Hispanic New Yorkers, harassing them, humiliating them, and abusing them in the name of crime reduction continues despite so many voices in opposition.

Beyond stop-and-frisk, the quota system attacks all races and both genders. It undermines the integrity of our law enforcement officials by forcing them to fabricate criminal activity and lie in summons documents. If we are trying to eliminate "bad apples" in the NYPD, the quota system takes good apples and asks them to behave badly.

We applaud the officers of the 79th Precinct in Brooklyn for attempting to regain their moral authority and oppose the abuse of the people of Brooklyn by the NYPD. We only wish that Mayor Bloomberg's arrogance were mitigated to an extent that would allow him to hear the voices of the good apples in the NYPD.

Racial Profiling By Taxi Drivers

Last week, Fernando Mateo, President of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, reacted to an attack on a livery cab driver by an apparently Hispanic attacker by stating that taxi drivers should use race as a guide for whom they agree to accept as passengers.

Driving a taxi is a dangerous job, and no one should have anything but respect for the challenges represented by that way of life.

But, for a leader of a union to call for racial profiling against Black and Hispanic passengers is as backward as anything that we have heard in recent years. It is already very difficult for a Black or Hispanic would-be passenger to get a taxi in NYC if there are other potential passengers nearby. Taxi drivers have a well-known record of by-passing Black and Hispanic would-be passengers for other passengers. They don't need any encouragement to leave Black and Hispanic people waiting by the side of the road.

One of the hidden costs of being Black or Hispanic in NYC is the additional time it takes to get a taxi.

A union leader should be aware that criminal behavior is not race-based, and he should not encourage his union members to abuse Black and Hispanic New Yorkers because of his own ignorance about crime. Let us hope that Fernando Mateo is replaced by a more suitable leader in short order.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Roosevelt Island Tramway Returns

The Roosevelt Island Tramway, one of the most pleasant modes of travel in our city, has returned.


Roosevelt Island sits between Manhattan and Queens in the East River and was, for many years, only accessible via an elevator inserted on the bridge between Manhattan and Queens. In 1957, an automobile route to Roosevelt Island from Manhattan and Queens was completed, but no convenient public transportation route was available.

As delays mounted for the creation of a subway route to Roosevelt Island, the Roosevelt Island Tramway began in 1976 as a temporary measure to serve commuters until the subway route was completed. For nearly a decade after its construction, the Roosevelt Island Tramway was the only aerial commuter tramway in the United States. There are only two other such aerial commuter routes in service today. The subway was not completed until 1990, and the Roosevelt Island Tramway had become an indispensable part of the transportation fabric of our city by that time.

The Tramway was even featured in Spiderman plot lines.

The Roosevelt Island Tramway transported two million people every year and lasted for 34 years before requiring replacement this year (in 2006, commuters were trapped for hours in a disabled gondola on the Tramway, highlighting the need for an upgraded system).

The Upgrade

The Roosevelt Island Tramway reopened last week after a $25 million upgrade.

The gondolas are now independent of each other, improving safety and flexibility. The windows are larger, and the gondolas now have screens inside displaying weather and news.

The Tramway ride is the best deal in our city. The cost of a ride on the Roosevelt Island Tramway is the same as the cost of a subway ride or a bus ride - $2.25, and the ride is both efficient and entertaining. Whether in the daytime or in the night, the Roosevelt Island Tramway provides breathtaking views of Manhattan in a comfortable cabin - similar to the very expensive experiences one can enjoy at the Empire State Building or the Top of the Rock.

You should be encouraged to enjoy a trip to and from Roosevelt Island on the Tramway, even if only for the views; it is public transportation at its best.