Monday, March 28, 2011

Upper Manhattan Congressional District Under Attack

The historic Upper Manhattan Congressional District, which has only had two representatives in its storied history yet has had more impact on Congressional accomplishments than any district in the country, is now facing potential elimination.

New York State Losing 2 Congressional Seats

As we stated in December 2010:
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.

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.

Governor Cuomo has proposed legislation that would create a redistricting commission to decide the new lines instead of the state legislature. Thus far, the Cuomo proposal has not been embraced by the State Senate's Republican leadership, which has suggested that the plan is more appropriate for the redistricting that will occur after the 2020 Census. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch has been pushing for a non-partisan approach, but his approach has not gained any greater momentum in Albany than the Cuomo plan has.

Potential Threat to Upper Manhattan's District

Reports have emerged suggesting that the New York State Legislature may attempt to redraw the Upper Manhattan Congressional District to pick up large portions of the Bronx and Westchester County. The District would be centered outside of Manhattan, and the history of the District would be undermined.

Because Manhattan benefits from having four Congressional Districts rather than a smaller number, and because the Upper Manhattan District is both historic and has a history of achievement, Manhattan residents should make the effort to keep the Upper Manhattan District a top priority.

As we stated in December 2010:
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.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bloomberg Voters' Remorse

Mayor Bloomberg's popularity is declining, according to published polls. The decline seems long overdue, given his administration's fiscal failures, snow clearance failures, repeated demonstrations of enormous incompetence, and shocking race-based policing approach.

Poor Poll Results

Mayor Bloomberg's popularity is as low as it has been since early in his first term eight years ago. A new poll shows that only 39% of New Yorkers approve of the performance of Mayor Bloomberg, while 51% of Mayor Bloomberg's constituents disapprove of his performance.

Eighty-four percent of New York City respondents to the pollsters stated that the Mayor should identify who is in charge of the city when he is out of town (the Mayor makes regular trips to Bermuda on weekends but does not state publicly where he will be or who is leading our city when he is not available).

With the Mayor's popularity plunging, we are compelled to speculate as to the reasons for the decline.

Racism Exhaustion

Perhaps the people of New York City are exhausted with the intensity and the nakedness of the racially discriminatory policies and behaviors of the Bloomberg Administration. The stop and frisk nightmare continues; the Mayor continues to refuse to adopt a non-racist approach to hiring fire department; and the Mayor continues to employ the least diverse administration in a generation.

After nine years, the basic decency of the people of New York City is offended by the behavior of the Mayor as he pursues indefensible approaches to law enforcement and hiring.

Fiscal Mistakes and Incompetence

Mayor Bloomberg's fiscal mistakes and incompetence are likely a major piece of his lack of support from his constituents.

The Mayor mismanaged the city's expenses and attempted to buy political support by spending tax dollars as well as by making charitable donations from his personal funds. His misuse of taxpayer funds to build his political alliances has left our city with an unhealthy imbalance between revenues and expenses as well as a record of stunning growth in the city's expenses.

The Mayor also allowed more than $80 million to be stolen from a $63 million project, and that $63 million project is now expected to cost nearly $1 billion. For a Mayor who based his campaigns on his strength as a manager, the missing $80 million and the nearly $1 billion of cost overruns on one $63 million project tell the real story of the Mayor's competence.

Snow Clearance

Not only did Mayor Bloomberg fail to prepare the city for the snow storm on December 26, 2010 that crippled the city, his decision to organize the city as if snow does not fall in NYC resulted in more than $115 million of city expenses for snow removal - a new record and nearly twice the previous record, even though this season's snow fall was not the largest snow fall on record.

Though the Mayor has been leading City Hall for more than nine years, he organized the snow removal approach of the city to assume that no major snow storm would hit our city. When his risky bet moved against him, our city suffered enormously and had to reach out to expensive private contractors to do the work of the city.

Polls Represent Perception Rather Reality

While Mayor Bloomberg has earned his low poll numbers, his poll numbers were high when he was not succeeding as a leader. We should not assume that his poll numbers are an accurate reflection of his success or failure. We do know that support for racists policing, fiscal irresponsibility, and incompetent snow removal planning are not acceptable realities for a Mayor in our city. The Mayor should change his approach to leading our city or show true leadership by stepping aside to allow others to fix the mess he's creating.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cremation Trend Costing Jobs in NYC

A growing trend for individuals to choose cremation of their remains instead of burial is causing financial strains at cemeteries in New York City. Also, the Republican effort to cut billions of dollars from Head Start should scare residents of our great city.

Cremation Burns Cemetery Revenues

New York City residents appear to have shifted their final resting place desires sharply in favor of cremation and sharply away from burial over the last two and one-half decades. With burials far more costly and labor-intensive than cremation, cemeteries are facing revenue reductions and looking to reduce headcount to avoid deficits.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the current cost of a grave is more than ten times the cost of cremation. To compare costs fully, one would need to add the cost of opening the grave and the cost of the burial itself, perhaps doubling the total cost of the burial as compared to the cremation and creating a 20 to one cost differential. The costs represent revenues to the cemetery, and those revenues provide jobs for cemetery workers.

The same Wall Street Journal article suggests that New York City cemeteries have seen their ratios go from seven to one in favor of burials over cremations to a ratio of two to one in favor of cremations in twenty five years. The financial impact of that shift is now starting to impact the employment at our city's cemeteries.

In February, cemetery workers and their union protested proposed cuts at the famous Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Woodlawn had suggested that it would seek massive lay offs and significant wage reductions. The proposed changes are shocking and may be designed to pressure the union and its members to agree to lesser cuts, but the shifting cremation versus burial ratios create a smaller revenue pie with which to employ cemetery workers.

Because cemeteries are non-profit institutions, there are no owners or shareholders to create wealth from creating profitable revenue. Cemeteries have Board of Directors that work to promote the longevity of those cemeteries and guide them to meet their mission of providing a place for the dead to be remembered and for loved ones to visit to remember and mourn. Boards across our city may seek to reduce their employee headcount figures to avoid having expenses that exceed their revenues, and the reduced headcount will further challenge our city's troubled economy.

Republican Cuts Aimed at Head Start

The Federal Head Start program is once again under attack from Republicans.

President Obama attacked the Republican Party last week for proposing major cuts in Head Start while failing to tackle the largest areas of spending. The Republican Party has been aggressive in defending subsidies for major energy companies and tax breaks for the highest earners in or society, but the dollars spent educating young children are under attack.

Many studies have shown Head Start to be one of the most effective uses of Federal dollars. Participants gain substantial long-term benefits.

Here in New York City, where only 28% of African American males graduate from high school, Head Start is absolutely crucial to efforts to reverse the collapse of the public school system in our city. Sadly, across New York State, only 25% of African American males graduate from high school.

The horrifying failure of the New York City public school system creates a pipeline of young people to fill our jails and prisons. Head Start puts children on a path that steers them away for prison and toward academic success as well as economic opportunity. Therefore, all of us in NYC should be standing up with President Obama to defend the Head Start program and to ensure that the children of New York City are not successfully targeted by the Republican Party as they seek to shift Federal resources away from neighborhoods and communities and toward to pockets of the highest earners and the wealthiest families in our country.

Monday, March 7, 2011

NYC Pays Stop and Frisk Victims

Mayor Bloomberg's racist and disgusting record-setting stop-and-frisk policies are costing taxpayers in our city large amounts of money that we don't have.

Record Setting Stop and Frisk Activity

Mayor Bloomberg has focused his law enforcement strategy on stopping innocent people of color. He has set a new record each year for stop-and-frisk activity, and while approximately 90% of those stopped are completely innocent, approximately 90% of those stopped are people of color. Our city is 53% people of color, but only 10% of our stop-and-frisk victims are white.

Law suits and public criticism of Mayor Bloomberg's racist approach to law enforcement have not stopped to steady growth in the number of victims each year. The Mayor's reaction suggests that the racist policy is one of his most important initiatives.

Many defenders of the Mayor's racist policies have suggested that the racial make-up of the stop-and-frisk victims results from the descriptions provided by crime victims. The records of stop-and-frisk activity in NYC demonstrate that the reason given most often for the stops is that the stop-and-frisk victim was behaving suspiciously. A "fit-the-description" excuse was almost never given for a stop. It turns out that people of color are viewed as suspicious by the NYPD, and their suspicious behavior causes the stops, even though 90% of those stopped are completely innocent.

One can imagine how long a stop-and-frisk policy would last that stopped more than one-third of all of the innocent white people in a white neighborhood every year. In Harlem, more than a third of the residents are stopped each year, yet the policy continues to escalate its abuse of innocent people of color.

Stop-and-Frisk Victim Payouts

NYC has paid approximately $170,000 to victims of the stop-and-frisk abuse that Mayor Bloomberg has insisted on bringing to neighborhoods of color.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Legal Aid Society filed suit against NYC as a result of the stop-and-frisk abuse occurring in public housing, and the costly settlements may be just the start of the cost of continuing the Mayor's racist and abusive policies.

There are plaintiffs still pursuing litigation against the city for the stop-and-frisk disaster that Mayor Bloomberg continues to force upon us.

If litigation fails to stop the escalating abuse, legislation might be a better path. I hope that the State Legislature and/or the City Council will limit this abuse soon.

Women's Health and Fitness Day at the Intrepid

You don't want to miss Women's Health and Fitness Day on March 13th at the Intrepid near the West Side Highway and 44th Street in Manhattan. It is a full day of health related events, including interactive fitness demonstrations and educational programs.

As we have discussed in the past, improved health in NYC is crucial to our economic future. We are in the midst of a health crisis, and the upcoming Women's Health and Fitness Day is part of overcoming the forced that are robbing residents in NYC of their health and their lives.