Monday, June 27, 2011

Marriage Equality Comes to NY State

Last week, New York became the largest and latest state to embrace marriage for same-sex couples. All New Yorkers should be proud.

Marriage Equality's Economic and Moral Imperative

Denying marriage's legal benefits to those who's life partner is of the same gender as themselves was always morally indefensible. Inheritance rights alone represent a sufficiently powerful benefit to married couples that refusing to allow an entire class of couples to marry has been the practical equivalent of shifting wealth away from the would-be spouses in same-sex couples to other people.

As we stated in 2009:
Legalizing same sex marriage makes us all better. It continues the march to greater personal equality and freedom that our country has undertaken - from slavery to Jim Crow, women's suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, to today. 
Beyond the moral imperative of marriage equality, New York State and New York City will benefit enormously from the economic opportunity created by embracing marriage equality.

Once again, we addresses this thought in 2009:

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.

The economic opportunity is likely larger now than (now former) Comptroller Thompson estimated in 2007, and our city and our state both need the economic boost. The decision to end the discrimination against same-sex couples will make us not only happier but also wealthier.

NYPD Attack the Celebrants

Unfortunately, our city's police department chose the time of the celebration of the great victory of marriage equality over discrimination to raid a gay bar.

Mayor Bloomberg lobbied for marriage equality, but the NYPD seems unable to allow the historic celebrations to move forward without interference. The Mayor needs to tell the NYPD that, though he and they agree that people of color should be harassed aggressively in their neighborhoods, the Mayor, as the boss, is not seeking to have homosexual New Yorkers targeted by the NYPD, especially during the celebration of a major legislative victory.

The Proponents and the Opponents

We congratulate Governor Cuomo on leading a disciplined and street smart battle for marriage equality. We congratulate the New York Civil Liberties Union and all of the parts of the successful coalition.

We have noticed that our city's Archbishop was disheartened by the success of the marriage equality coalition, and we re-emphasize that there is no excuse for our city's religious leaders to promote discrimination. The religious community opposed equal rights for non-white residents of our country, opposed women's suffrage, and continues to view its support for discrimination against homosexuals as an important part of its identity.

Until the religious leadership in our city moves away from its focus on finding ways to support and promote discrimination, that leadership will continue to lose these defining battles of our time. If those leaders will begin to oppose discrimination, they will be embraced, and they will improve lives here on earth.

Monday, June 20, 2011

NYC Cuts Teachers But Adds Technology

Our city is reducing its financial commitment to education and laying off teachers, but New York City is also increasing its level of financial investment in technology for classrooms.

Teacher Layoffs

In an era of increasing unwillingness to accept poor classroom performance of students, New York City is making the counter-intuitive step of demanding teacher lay offs. The total reduction is more than six thousand teachers, with more than four thousand of them coming from lay offs.

At first, one might be shocked that a Mayor who ran for election to a third term based on his argument that he had improved the school system would use that term to reduce the number of professionals in the classrooms of our city teaching our city's children. But, there are some uncharitable explanations:
1) The Mayor may have given up on building a legacy of achievement in education. He chose Cathie Black as the Chancellorof NYC public schools, and her selection highlighted how little the Mayor values the educational mission of our city.
2) Test scores, once believed to have improved under the Mayor's leadership, have been shown to have failed to improve.
3) Success is elusive. Only 28% of Black males in NYC graduate from high school. The Mayor may be feeling that he is stuck with the legacy of that performance and should focus on a legacy of cutting government spending.

There is also a reason to be optimistic. The new Chancellor is Dennis Walcott, and Chancellor Walcott's desire to see our city's children receive a high quality education is largely unchallenged. The Chancellor's influence over the Mayor's decisions is often called into question.

No matter how one looks at the upcoming school year, the loss of more than six thousand teachers will not improve the quality of education in our city. Let us pray that our optimism regarding Chancellor Walcott is not misplaced.

Perhaps his commitment to technological advancement in schools is a reason to hold onto our optimism.

Technology Spending

The NYC Department of Education is seeking to spend nearly $1 billion on technology in the next fiscal year for classrooms in our city.

Some of those dollars will go to consultants on technologies issues. Some of the dollars will go to lap tops in classrooms. Perhaps those dollars will be a part of upgrading the level of internet connectivity in the classrooms around our city.

Interestingly, for the 2014-2015 school year, the high stakes New York State Assessment Tests will be given online, and some of the increased capital spending in New York City is being explained as preparation for that online assessment test challenge. New York State has stated that the 2014-2015 tests will be available in a more traditional format in addition to the online format, but  New York City is preparing for 2014-2015 as if there will not be an accommodation for school systems whose technology is insufficient for the online test.

Our city needs to lead the way in the US for investing in technology and for investing in high quality teaching. We may be moving toward a willingness to lead on technology, but we're moving in the wrong direction on teaching.

Monday, June 13, 2011

UBS Considers Returning to NYC as Pressure on Weiner Mounts

Financial powerhouse UBS is considering returning to NYC from Connecticut, and Congressman Anthony Weiner faces increasing opposition to his continuing in office.


As has been widely reported, UBS, the Swiss investment bank, is considering moving its North American headquarters to New York City. Such a move would reverse the move from New York City to the Connecticut suburbs that occurred fifteen years ago, and move three thousand jobs from Connecticut to New York City. The firm has faced difficulty recruiting the best talent because of its distance from New York City, and, while having several years left on its lease, the leadership of UBS is actively investigating multiple NYC properties.

As we discussed recently, New York City is by far the leader in corporate headquarters for the Fortune 500. New York City is also a leader in the role of North American or US headquarters for foreign companies. Maintaining that lead and increasing the economic success of our city will require us to attract headquarters from other locations while also preventing the departure of our large employers. If New York City can add a major international financial firm and its 3,000 employees in the next few years, the impact will be meaningful. Such a move might also inspire other firms located outside of our city to relocate in order to compete for talent. UBS could be the beginning of a new trend that helps save the New York City economy and solidify our position as the corporate headquarters location of choice for large companies.

Let us encourage our elected and business leaders to be aggressive, creative, and thoughtful in finding solutions for companies who seek to come to or stay in our city.

Anthony Weiner

As pressure mounts on Congressman Weiner to resign, we point out that he was elected by his constituents and not by the other members of Congress. Moreover, polls show that his constituents continue to want him to serve in Congress on their behalf. He undoubtedly has a great deal of work to do to repair his relationships with his family and his supporters, and he should not be asked to focus on gaining the support of other members of Congress while he has so many other people to engage in the humbling process of seeking forgiveness. Because of the recent scandal, it is unlikely that he will be a serious candidate for Mayor in 2013, and he may find that the State Legislature and the Governor take advantaged of his weakened political position to eliminate his district before the 2012 elections (New York State must eliminate two Congressional districts in preparation for next year's national elections). But, another election will come soon enough, and voters in Weiner's district can decide whether he should continue to serve them.

If he decides to leave Congress to focus on his family, we will understand why such a decision might be wise. If he decides to remain in office to attempt to fulfill his duties to his constituents, we will respect that choice and wish him success.

Monday, June 6, 2011

NYPD Sets New Stop-and-Frisk Record

The NYPD stopped more people in the first three months of 2011 than in any three-month period ever recorded. Given the grotesque level of racial discrimination exhibited by the NYPD in their stop-and-frisk activity, ending that activity must be our focus.

Stop-and-Frisk and Manhattan Viewpoint

More than any other issue we have highlighted, we have focused on Mayor Bloomberg's and the NYPD's obsession with stopping innocent people of color in our city.

In March of this year, we focused on the payments that our city has made using our tax dollars to the victims of stop-and-frisk activity.

In September of last year, we expressed frustration with the quotas imposed on NYPD officers by their superiors and how those quotas drive the stop-and-frisk abuses.

In May of last year, we summarized all of our previous blogs regarding the stop-and-frisk outrage and noted, with alarm, that the often cited "fit the description" excuse for the stop-and-frisk abuses were not even the excuses that the NYPD actually lists for the horrible racism that drives their policing philosophy. The NYPD's own excuse for stopping hundreds of thousands of innocent people of color each year is that the stopped individuals were behaving suspiciously. There is no crime reported in the area and no description to fit. The act of being a person of color makes one suspicious to the NYPD, and the NYPD's race-based suspicions turn into stops.

The Mayor and the NYPD continue to increase their racist tactics and intensify their abuse of communities of color, and non-racist people must stand up and oppose these abuses. If the Mayor will not end these practices, we must demand that the Mayor resign. No police force in our country should be permitted to abuse its citizens of color with such ferocious and racist dedication. We, as residents of the greatest city on our planet, must put an end to it.

A Disgusting New Record

We learned last week that the Mayor and the NYPD have now set a disgusting new record.

The Village Voice said it well:
Recent investigations into the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, which is ostensibly to find firearms but doesn't usually work out that way, show that not only are the searches illegal in many cases, but they overwhelmingly target men of color in poor areas. These stops result in tens of thousands of arrests every year for small-scale weed possession, some of which would be thrown out if a judge ever saw them. But because most people don't know their rights, the cycle spins on: through the end of March, the NYPD has 183,326 stop-and-frisks on record this year, the highest number since they started keeping track in 2004. Of those, 11,925 people were arrested and 10,292 were issued tickets. Unsurprisingly, a majority of those stopped were black.

There have been 183,326 stop-and-frisk encounters recorded from January through March in NYC, according to NYPD records obtained by the NYCLU. About 88 percent of those stops resulted in neither an arrest nor a summons, and it probably won't surprise you that about 84 percent of those stopped by police were black or Latino. (In 2010, only about 9 percent of people stopped were white.) So far, stop-and-frisk incidents are up 22 percent over the same time period last year . . .

The Wall Street Journal's report on this tragedy ended with a quotation from the leader of the NYCLU, and her quotation is an appropriate ending for this blog entry:
Critics of stop-and-frisk point out that suspect descriptions make up only a small percentage of the reasons officers list for making stops. Over the first quarter of this year, suspect descriptions accounted for just under 15% of the reason stops were made, according to NYPD statistics.

Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said, the stop and frisk numbers “are going in the absolutely wrong direction.”

“Stop and frisk has a place in law enforcement but the abuse of this tactic to target absolutely innocent people is bad for all New Yorkers,” she said. “This practice seriously undermines the quality of life for people of color in New York City, particularly in the poorest, most vulnerable neighborhoods.”