Monday, February 28, 2011

Bloomberg Cuts Budgets of Critics and Rivals

Mayor Bloomberg, who gave his own advisors retroactive pay raises, has proposed drastic budget cuts for the other major elected officials in NYC.

Retroactive Raises for Bloomberg Advisors

Mayor Bloomberg quietly provided two years of retroactive pay raises (essentially huge bonuses plus major pay raises) to 7,000 members of his staff in 2009. He made this generous donation to the checkbooks of his advisors during the biggest budget crisis in decades in NYC and during the deepest recession in our country since the Great Depression.

The arrogance was astonishing because he was simultaneously raising sales taxes. His advisors were getting huge bonuses and raises that were paid for by the purchases of poor New Yorkers enduring a regressive tax. Bloomberg refused to raise income taxes (which could have been structured in a progressive manner) while embracing regressive taxation.

As the Mayor proposes layoffs for teachers in NYC and cuts services for our residents, he hasn't asked his own advisors to participate in the pain.

Bloomberg has worked hard to maintain an administration essentially devoid of people of color. He has a smaller percentage of people of color in his administration than even Mayor Giuliani (with all of his venom racist rhetoric and behavior) had. Giuliani refused to meet with any Black elected officials during his time as Mayor, but he had more people of color in his administration than Bloomberg has.

Bloomberg's non-diverse administration has kept its raises and bonuses while everyone else is cut.

Unfair Cuts

Unfairly, Bloomberg has proposed cutting the budgets of the five Borough Presidents and the Public Advocate by up to 36%.

Bloomberg is ensuring that his critics and rivals are crippled by a lack of resources, and he is also sending a message to all elected officials in New York City that he will slash their budgets if they don't support his agenda.

Bloomberg has taken advantage of his power in this way previously. In 2010, Bloomberg took $1mm away from the Borough Presidents without warning, leaving those elected officials scrambling to fill sudden budget gaps in their offices.

Bloomberg Without Checks or Balances

Because Mayor Bloombeg operates without checks and balances, and because he refuses to treat New York City residents fairly, Bloomberg has been able to exclude nearly all people of color from his administration, provide huge raises for his advisors while cutting resources throughout the rest of the government, and abuse other elected officials through the budget process. His arrogant emperor-mindset has never been acceptable, and it is getting worse.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Harlem Heartache on 137th Street and Beyond

Last week gave us a very clear glimpse into the heartache so many face in Harlem due to gang activity, and we also were alerted last week to the challenges Harlem's girls face as they battle for ice-time for figure skating with hockey teams from expensive private schools far from Harlem.

137th Street Drug Gang

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced last week that 14 arrests had been made as part of an anti-gang sweep in Harlem. The gang members are accused of operating an intense drug market on 137th Street between 7th Avenue and Lenox Avenue, and nine of the 14 individuals arrested were minors. Cyrus Vance said:
The gang, over years, created an environment where residents lived in a state of fear, waiting for the next gunshot, or the next drug deal, or the next act of
In the sad reality of life under attack from gangs, the residents of 137th Street have been abused for years. Some of the alleged gang members are also residents of 137th Street, and they have been abusing their neighbors without suffering consequences for years.

One particular young woman from the 137th Street Drug Gang has attracted special attention because she has attended elite high schools. She seemed headed to an Ivy League education when she was derailed by the drug arrest last week. Her current problems are an example of the destructive reality of the drug trade. She was drawn into the 137th Street Drug Gang and has now been drawn out of a promising trajectory.

While Mayor Bloomberg has invested enormous financial resources and political capital in stopping and frisking innocent people of color in record numbers, dangerous criminals have been allowed to terrorize people of color across our city. The 137th Street Drug Gang flourished while 36% of Harlem residents are stopped each year by the Bloomberg stop-and-frisk occupation forces. There is no excuse for the racially discriminatory approach that Bloomberg has taken in his law enforcement strategy: stopping more than a third of the innocent residents in Black neighborhoods while allowing criminals to inflict enormous harm on Black New Yorkers.

The Mayor has engaged in a conspiracy to arrest people of color for marijuana. Since 2002, there have been 350,000 arrests for low-level marijuana possession. Eighty-six percent of those arrested are Black and Latino in a city where 53% of the population is Black and Latino. Studied consistently show that white communities use marijuana far more heavily than Black or Latino neighborhoods, but the Bloomberg Administration focuses on making arrests of Black and Latino New Yorkers rather than on reducing crime.

The 14 arrests related to 137th Street are evidence of efforts aimed at protecting Manhattan residents from crime, while the 600,000 stops of non-whites each year and the 350,000 arrests for marijuana possession since 2002 are evidence of the Mayor's obsession with racial discrimination.

Ice Time In Harlem

Controversy is emerging in Harlem as a result of the lack of ice-time at Riverbank State Park's ice rink for young women who are training in the sport of figure skating. High-priced private schools far from Harlem are using the Harlem ice rink for their hockey teams, and the women are being left out.

We need to remind all of our readers that Riverbank State Park is in Harlem because Harlem residents stood up for themselves when a water treatment plant, with all of its odors, health risks, and annoyances, was planned for their community. Harlem's residents were convinced to accept a bargain: wealthier communities would benefit from the treatment plant while Harlem's residents would endure it, but Harlem residents would get a first-class athletic facility and recreational park. It is ultra-ironic for the park to now be captured and controlled by expensive private schools without any meaningful connection to Harlem.

Riverbank State Park needs to have a preference from community groups from Upper Manhattan rather than a preference for far away private schools. Let us hope that more Harlem girls get to benefit from the ice rink and that the battle for these young women reminds us all not to take for granted the public resources in our community. Other communities will take advantage of the resources in our community if we don't stand up and demand to be able to use them ourselves. In case of the Riverbank State Park rink, the resources have been transferred from Harlem to other communities despite strong objections.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Knicks and Carmelo

The New York Knicks are starting to blame their losses on the rumors that Carmelo Anthony, one of the most talented players in the NBA, might join the Knicks in the near future. Such an excuse is unacceptable. With the February 24 trade deadline approaching, the Knicks need to pray that they can add talent in the coming weeks, but they also must be prepared to go forward without 'Melo.

Carmelo Anthony

The story of Carmelo Anthony begins in New York City and may return there. He loved the Knicks as a child growing up in Brooklyn but moved to Baltimore at age eight. He was initially cut from his high school basketball team but grew five inches in one year to become one of the most sought after players in the country. He led Syracuse to the NCAA title in his freshman year and then entered the NBA, losing out to LeBron James in the Rookie of the Year battle.

'Melo, though young, became a leader on his team as well as a dominating offensive force in the NBA very quickly and was rewarded with large numbers of All-Star votes as well as tremendous success against the elite teams of the Western Conference in the play-offs.

As we fast forward to 2011, Carmelo Anthony stands as one of the three or four most feared offensive threats in the NBA with no signs of slowing down. His defense improves every year, and he has slimmed down in recent years to become a more athletic player in every element of the game.

His team, the Denver Nuggets, has promoted rumors that they are looking to trade 'Melo before the February 24 trade deadline, and the New York Knicks have emerged as one of his potential destinations. The New Jersey Nets, who are slated to move in two years to Carmelo Anthony's birthplace of Brooklyn, have stated that they are no longer part of trade talks with the Denver Nuggets. We don't believe that the Nets are truly out of the running, but only time will tell.

Knicks Excuses

The New York Knicks recent disappointing performance has been blamed (by the Knicks themselves) on the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors and speculation.

The excuses are not acceptable. Professional players need to be professional. They have a responsibility to their employers to provide a full and focused effort and get beyond distractions, whether on or off the court. The 'Melo rumors are not grounded in anything meaningful. The Knicks have the desire and the funds to land Carmelo Anthony, but they do not have the talent to offer Denver in a trade. Therefore, the Knicks are not well positioned to acquire 'Melo and should set aside all speculation and focus on the task at hand - gaining momentum heading into the playoff this year after a decade of being left out of the playoffs by poor performance on the court.

During the off season prior to this NBA season, Carmelo Anthony married a woman from New York, fueling speculation that he might push for a trade to the Knicks or Nets. But, Carmelo has stated emphatically that his wife's geographic connections to New York are not at all affecting his decision-making regarding his future as an NBA player. Nonetheless, the New York Knicks want 'Melo, and 'Melo and his wife are both from New York. The Nets are coming to New York and might be just as attractive geographically, if not as attractive in terms of talent.

Knicks fans want Carmelo to come to NYC (even Knicks fans who play for opposing teams), but no one can name a compelling set of talented Knicks that should go to Denver and satisfy the Nuggets' desire to get better as they lose their best player.

In the end, the Denver Nuggets will need to obtain enough talent from a trade counterparty to make the trade of Carmelo Anthony a wise move in Denver, and that makes the New York Knicks and the Nets unlikely counterparties. Yet, the rumors rage, and now the payers themselves blame the raging rumors for their poor performance. Silly and unacceptable.

Message to the Knicks: Play ball. He's probably not coming here, and if he is, obsessing about his future is not making yours any brighter.

Message to Knicks Fans: Keep praying for 'Melo (and his wife) to make their way to Madison Square Garden. It has been a decade of embarrassment and frustration. Stoudemire has more than lived up to the hype that surrounded his move to New York, and combining his all around effectiveness with the offensive dominance of 'Melo would make the Knicks an elite team (assuming that they learn to play defense). But, there is nothing you can do but pray. February 24th will be here soon.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Our Bankrupt State

Governor Cuomo's budget reflects the horrible reality that New York State is in terrible financial condition, but it is painful for New York City and cuts education and healthcare significantly.

Painful Spending Cuts

With a $10 billion deficit staring him in the face, Governor Cuomo has proposed a budget with enormous spending cuts and almost no tax increases. Governor Cuomo is more responsible than Mayor Bloomberg, who has sought to fill his budget gaps with regressive taxes. But, Cuomo's reliance on budget cuts also has the potential to be highly regressive and to undermine the economic future of our state.

In addition to significant cuts to healthcare and education, Cuomo's budget brings us 10% cuts to each state agency without regard to which agencies currently use our tax payer dollars most effectively and without regard to which agencies' activities serve the most vulnerable populations in our state. Across the board cuts are rarely the best approach to improving a budget's quality, but Governor Cuomo's focus is on reducing our state's deficit. Across the board cuts are an excellent solution to reducing a deficit.

A large portion of New York State spending goes to help pay the bills of municipalities in our state. The cuts will put pressure on many cities and towns in New York State, and New York City will be one of the municipalities facing exacerbated budget problems as a result of our state's need to cut its deficit.

Automatic Government

In the 1988 book Automatic Government, its author Kent Weaver demonstrates the growth at the federal level in indexing government spending to the inflation rate. Because nearly half of the US federal budget is indexed to inflation, it is essentially on auto-pilot. Elected officials who do nothing are essentially voting for indexed programs to represent a larger portion of the budget each year as non-indexed programs face squeezes and cuts as deficit reduction is attempted.

In New York, the "automatic government" is far more unmanageable in a deficit reduction era. Governor Cuomo revealed as part of his budget address that both healthcare spending and education spending are scheduled to increase by 13% in the next fiscal year if nothing is done by the New York State Legislature to change the auto-pilot trajectory. In an environment where overall spending must be reduced, automatic 13% increases are an unwelcome challenge, and even if those automatic increases are not implemented in the upcoming year, they will return in the following year to ruin a future budget in the absence of major cuts in the rest of the budget. Neither education nor healthcare are services that New York State residents can easily do without, and the size of the cuts may require real sacrifices that are likely to be borne by those with the least resources in our society.

What's Next?

Now, the fight begins. There are no clear heroes and few clear villains in this fight. Budgets cuts will hurt vulnerable people, and some opposition to budget cuts comes from self-interested groups seeking to profit from the state and not to protect vulnerable constituencies. Let us pledge to pay close attention to this budget fight and support efforts to reduce the deficit in ways that do not target poor people and other vulnerable groups. Let us also recognize that the process of getting our house in order will require most of us to sacrifice. We do not have to like it, but we do have to endure it in order to give our state the type of future our children and their children deserve.