Monday, May 30, 2011

Black Board Members Disappear at the Largest US Companies While NYC Remains Preferred Headquarters

As our city continues to fight to keep its place as the preferred headquarters for our nation's largest companies, we see that the Boards of Directors of our nation's largest companies have been dramatically reducing their number of Black Directors in recent years.

The Role of the Board

Boards of Directors are the governing body of companies and play an enormously powerful role. Board members are elected by shareholders, but there is no higher authority within a company than the Board during the period between shareholder votes. Each company's Board selects the senior management of the company (including the CEO), establishes the compensation of the company's employees, sets the strategic direction for the company, evaluates and oversees the performance of the senior management of the company, and undertakes many other governance responsibilities, including the nomination of future Board members for approval by the shareholders.

Board service is lucrative. Members of the Boards of Fortune 500 companies each earn an average of more than $200,000 on an annual basis from their role (many companies pay each director more than $300,000 per year for Board service), despite the fact that the role requires a limited time commitment and does not preclude the Board member from serving on other company Boards or from holding a full-time job. In fact, most Board members are current or recently retired senior executives of large companies who are earning or who have earned until recently very high levels of compensation from their primary employers.

New York City is the Preferred Location for Company Headquarters

Boards of Directors decide where their companies are headquartered, and New York City is the most common headquarters for companies in the Fortune 500.

Of the 500 companies, 42 are headquartered in New York City. That number is nearly twice as high as the next highest city, and it is nearly four times as high as the third largest city. Our city continues to dominate the fight to be the home of the most large companies.

Attracting and retaining companies in New York City improves the New York City economy, promotes employment, ensures that our city's desires are reflected in Board rooms and in decision-making at the highest levels of companies, and helps make our city the best city in the world in which to live.

Though our city and the other cities providing homes for our country's largest companies are very diverse, Board of Directors of our country's largest companies exclude nearly all people of color and nearly all women. Unfortunately, the trend is toward less diversity instead of more diversity on company Boards.

Reduced Diversity on Boards of Directors

The Executive Leadership Council and other organizations recently issued a report analyzing trends and reality in the ethnic and gender make-up of Boards of Directors within our country's largest 100 and within our country's largest 500 companies. The results were highly troubling.

Though people of color represent 34% of the US population, people of color are only 10% of the population of Boards of Directors of Fortune 500 companies.

Perhaps more troubling is the trend. The Boards of the largest 100 US companies lost nearly half of their Black male Board members between 2004 and 2010, going from 93 Board seats in 2004 to 51 Board seats in 2010. The combined male and female numbers for Black Board members dropped from 120 in 2004 to 77 in 2010. In 2010, Black Board members represented less than five percent of all Board seats.

As our country becomes more diverse, the Boards of Directors of our country's companies must follow the same trend. Right now, the trend is moving in the opposite direction and creating a larger-than-ever disconnect between the populations working in, consuming products from, and being affected by our country's companies and the Boards of those companies.

Perhaps a sign of the challenges our country faces in curing its race-oriented realities is a new study that shows that white US residents believe that the primary victims of racism are white Americans and that racism against white Americans in the US today is more severe than racism against Black Americans. While these findings are shocking, they may help explain why Boards of Directors of US companies are aggressively reducing their Black populations in recent years. Boards may have the false impression that people of color have too much power in our US companies and may be trying to reduce that power by eliminating people of color from the Boards of US companies. Let us hope that the success of those efforts can be reversed.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bloomberg's Foot-In-Mouth Disease

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg's dwindling popularity intersected with his insensitivity to people of modest means to create two embarrassing gaffes.

First Gaffe - "No Panhandlers in the Subways"

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg declared, in a very condescending tone, that there are no longer any panhandlers in the subways in New York City.

The statement left many of the Mayor's constituents shocked and puzzled. In an era of economic challenges and record homelessness in our city, the Mayor's "no panhandlers" statement suggests that he is both ignorant of the experiences of non-billionaire New Yorkers as they commute on the subway and that he is underestimating the level of suffering occurring in our city.

His condescending tone suggests that not only was he unaware that panhandlers are a major part of the subway experience but that he was very certain that panhandlers have been eliminated during a period in which homelessness and economic distress are rising. The Mayor embraced regressive taxation and has intensified the distress of low-income New Yorkers by requiring them to pay a larger share of our city's taxes. His erroneous view that panhandling had been eliminated may be influencing his willingness to demand that low-income New Yorkers take on some of the tax burden previously endured by higher earners. He needs to be reminded that regressive taxation reduced economic growth. Even if homeless were not at all-time highs, we should not ask low-income residents to pay more while high earners pay less.

Second Gaffe - "Parents Don't Understand the value of Education"

Mayor Bloomberg closed out the week by stating, "There are some parents who . . . never had a formal education, and they don't understand the value of education. The old Norman Rockwell family is gone. Some of these kids don't have parents. There's nobody to stand up for them."

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio responded calling the Mayor's comments "profoundly disrespectful" and by stating, "As a public school parent, I believe that the Mayor should admit that he made a mistake and apologize."

Other parents were outraged. "How dare he say we don’t know what we’re talking about!” said,
Zakiyah Ansari, a parent organizer with the Alliance for Quality Education, an umbrella organization representing more than 200 parent, teacher and student groups. “How dare he assume that because we’re poor or black or Latino or homeless or all of the above, that we’re uneducated, that we don’t know what’s best for our kids!”

The Mayor's performance with regard to education has obtained the approval of only 20% of public school parents (amongst all New York City residents, only 25% approve of the performance of the Mayor with regard to education). The Mayor is now resorting to attacking the victims of his failure to deliver quality education to our city after 10 years in office. This shameful behavior comes as he asserts that our city's subways no longer have panhandlers despite the record homelessness that came into existence under his watch.

Unfortunately, his third term as Mayor does not end until 2014.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Republican Donors Support Marriage Equality in NYS while Bloomberg is Embarrassed by His Budget

Last week, we learned that major Republican donors were adding their dollars and their voices to the fight for marriage equality in our state, and we learned that Mayor Bloomberg's budget proposal included an embarrassing $1 billion in spending on education consultants while firing 4,100 teachers.

Republican Donors Join the Fight for Marriage Equality

In a pleasant and encouraging development, major Republican donors are funding the efforts to end our state's discrimination against same-sex couples and bring marriage equality to New York State.

A week ago, we highlighted Governor Cuomo's determination to lead a coordinated initiative to bring marriage equality to New York. Having Republican donors as supporters of the initiative is a major step forward, and it may represent the key ingredient of success for marriage equality this year.

In our state, the Senate is controlled by the Republican Party. A marriage equality law will need to receive meaningful Republican support to pass (some Democrats do not support marriage equality, thereby making the support of Republicans even more necessary). Republican donors are likely to have influence over the Republican controlled Senate, and the rest of us should applaud their willingness to jump into this initiative after the failure of the push for marriage equality in 2009.

Mayor Bloomberg and other supporters of Republican elected officials around our state now represent two-thirds of the funding of the initiative driving the push for marriage equality. Without them, the Governor would lack both the resources and the political influence that will likely be necessary to win this fight.

Let us hope that these Republicans remain the right side of this issues, and perhaps we can pray that Bloomberg and the other Republicans will take the satisfaction of fighting for human rights for same sex couples and push New York City to end its law enforcement terrorism against people of color as well as its exclusion of people of color from the Fire Department of New York.

Bloomberg's Embarrassing Education Budget

Mayor Bloomberg's budget includes $1 billion for consultants while eliminating more than 4,000 teachers. Manhattan Borough President and other supporters of public education have criticized the imbalance, and the Bloomberg administration has dismissed the criticism. After the Cathie Black debacle, the Mayor continues to give his opponents ammunition with which to attack him as lacking a commitment to improving the education of children in New York City.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cuomo Leads Coordinated Push for Marriage Equality

Governor Cuomo has chosen to play a leading role in the fight for marriage equality in New York State, and he has prompted leading advocates for same-sex marriage to adopt unprecedented levels of coordination.

Marriage Equality in NY Would Create Jobs

As we stated in April of 2009, allowing same-sex couples to marry would improve the New York State economy and create jobs.
City Comptroller Bill Thompson produced a report in 2007 that attempted to estimate the economic impact of legalizing same-sex marriage. His analysis suggested that New York State would benefit from approximately $250 million of economic activity over three years simply from the weddings that would take place in the state after the legalization of same sex marriage. He also estimated that $175 million of the $250 million would be economic activity benefiting New York City.

Many couples living in New York City would take advantage of the new law and begin planning weddings, while both New York City and New York State would benefit from out-of-state couples coming to New York for their weddings. New York's hotels and banquet halls would see increased activity. The sooner New York State acts, the greater the benefit, as the lack of equivalent opportunities in neighboring states will increased the economic activity in New York State in the near term. Longer term, we'd expect neighboring states to follow our lead and provide equal rights to their residents irrespective of sexual orientation.
State-Sponsored Discrimination Should End

In that April 2009 posting we also discussed the need to end the discrimination against same-sex couples that is represented by the denial of the right to marry.
There are more than 1,100 federal rights and more than 1,300 New York State rights available to married couples that are not available to couples who are not married. Therefore, the prohibition against marriage for same sex couples in New York State who wish to marry is equivalent to the systematic denial of nearly 2,500 rights to those New Yorkers.

An excellent example of the types of rights that only married couple enjoy is the spousal privilege - a married person cannot be compelled to testify in court about communications with his or her spouse. Without marriage, there is no privilege, and same sex couples who wish to marry are left without this crucial protection.

Beyond the enormous psychological benefits of marriage, we must recognize that there are thousands of important rights that are available only to individuals who are married and that, by preventing some of our fellow New Yorkers from gaining the status of being married, we are participants in a state-sponsored discrimination exercise that attacks our neighbors.
Governor Cuomo Pursues Marriage Equality

He also has decided to push advocacy groups to band together to push marriage equality legislation forward. As described by the New York Times:

The most heartening new factor, though, is the active involvement of New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. His predecessor, David Paterson, also supported same-sex marriage, but he was too weak and unfocused to get the job done.

With Mr. Cuomo’s encouragement, the state’s most influential gay-rights groups have banded together to form a united front. Working under the guidance of Cuomo aides, their coalition is getting ready to mount an intense and well-financed campaign — including field organizers and a major media blitz — that would focus on about 15 Democratic and Republican lawmakers whose votes are thought to be in play. A seasoned labor and media strategist with close ties to Mr. Cuomo, Jennifer Cunningham, has been tapped to oversee the coalition’s political and media efforts.

Let us hope that Governor Cuomo's efforts result in marriage equality that will both make New York State a leader in human rights and provide New York State with badly needed new jobs.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The End of Osama; Also Homelssness at Record Levels, But Harlem's Abyssinian House Shines

End of Osama

Nearly ten years after the destruction of 9/11 and the suffering experienced by so many families in NYC, Osama Bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan. We congratulate the President, CIA, and the US military on this accomplishment. We also know that it is time for our fellow New Yorkers to be ultra-vigilant; terrorists may seize this moment to attack New York in retaliation for the US success in this mission.


New York City's homeless numbers are at record levels, but, in Upper Manhattan, the transition from homelessness into a permanent home is supported by an award winning transitional housing facility - Abyssinian House.

Record Levels of Homelessness in NYC

The number of homeless individuals in New York City is the highest it has ever been. More than 40,000 people in New York City go to sleep at night without a home, and approximately 40% of those homeless people are children. In 2010, more than 113,000 people slept in homeless shelters in New York City, and nearly 40% of that 113,000 were children as well. Many more homeless individuals live on New York City streets and are not included in the numbers mentioned above. During the term of the current New York City Mayor, the homeless population has nearly doubled, and it continues to rise.

Homelessness is largely an economic problem. Homelessness amongst families in our city is most commonly caused by a lack of affordable housing and triggered by evictions and severe overcrowding as well as by domestic violence and dangerous living conditions.

Those in homeless shelters are overwhelmingly people of color. Only seven percent of the individuals served by our city's homeless shelters are not people of color. More than 90% of homeless individuals in our city whose race and/or ethnicity is known are Black or Hispanic.

Of those living on the streets of our city and outside of the homeless shelter system:
1) 8o% are men
2) 60% live in Manhattan
3) most suffer from mental illness

Therefore, those of us who are people of color living in Manhattan can take a special interest in the homeless population on the streets of our city while we understand that the homeless population is largely made up of families with children who are not on the streets and who are not as visible behind the walls of shelters.

Abyssinian House Shines

Founded in 1992, Abyssinian House is a transitional living facility that moves families out of homelessness and into homes. The facility has 25 units and is located on 138th Street in Central Harlem. Since its founding, Abyssinian House has moved nearly 700 families out of homelessness, helped more than 1,300 homeless families find help, and enrolled 100 homeless children in Head Start programs led by the organization that leads Abyssinian House, the Abyssinian Development Corporation.

Abyssinian House has been recognized as representing the best of the transitional housing operations and leads the way in New York City by providing the families it serves with the services and support to help them overcome homelessness and place themselves on a path to stable housing and better lives. Abyssinian House was named as one of the best 20 shelters in New York City and was one of only 15 shelters selected to collaborate with the Department of Homeless Services to improve school attendance for homeless youth across our city.

Moving forward, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's funding support will enable Abyssinian House to upgrade its physical facilities, improve the energy efficiency of those facilities, and make the experience of living at Abyssinian House even more pleasant for future residents in transition.

In Manhattan, we have the majority of the individuals in our city's homeless population who live on the streets, and we are enduring record homelessness numbers. But, we also have Abyssinian House to show our city how to combat homelessness with support and services that change the lives of our city's families.