Monday, June 30, 2008
Now we're not opponents of using testing to determine educational achievement; and we have nothing but scorn for critics of testing who appear to really oppose the whole idea of both measurement and merit. That being said, it's hard to deny that linking testing to merit can lead to corruption: "The school is P.S. 33 in the Bronx. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein traveled to the school in 2005 to announce their "historic" gains on the fourth-grade reading tests. That year P.S. 33 experienced a one-year gain of nearly 50 points; 83% of the students there were, according to the mayor, then reading at or above grade level. This not only helped the mayor win re-election but it won a $15,000 bonus for the school's principal, Elba Lopez."
Which brings us to the point of our earlier post-better scrutiny of school performance is needed and the results of the investigation into the scandal that Wolf writes about is certainly less than encouraging. It seems that, "These roller coaster test scores, combined with the merit pay bonanza for Ms. Lopez has, according to a Department of Education spokeswoman, Julia Levy, resulted in the matter being referred to the Special Investigator for the New York City School District, Richard Condon."
Yet, according to Wolf's message to us, the investigation was turned back to the DOE when Condon refused to investigate and the so-called investigation is STILL "under investigation." Which leads us to remember Karl Mark's aphorism; "Who will educate the educator?"
There's still much too much mystery surrounding the entire mayoral control experiment; and without greater transparency it won't be possible to judge whether the Bloomberg model has been good for the kids (or at least what aspects have been good, and what's not working). This is exactly what legislative oversight should be about. Is something missing here?
With the DOE patting itself heavily on the back, it's incumbent on the city to examine whether all of the euphoria is, well, manufactured. As one teacher points out in the Bronx: "Several staff members at M.S. 201 said they have long suspected cheating went on at P.S. 48. The school feeds its graduates into M.S. 201, and they said students from that school often come unprepared — despite having high test scores..."These kids didn't know how to write, they didn't know how to add," a math teacher at M.S. 201 who is leaving the school, Elizabeth Cano, said. "How could they be getting level 4?"
With testing becoming the bottom line-for funding as well as for evaluation-the incentive to cheat also becomes irresistible for some educators all over the country: "Across the country, as standardized tests have become more important to schools — determining everything from whether schools close to teachers' pay — cases of cheating have become increasingly apparent. In Texas, a newspaper analysis by the Dallas Morning News last year found that more than 50,000 student test scores showed evidence of cheating."
Which says to us that the NY Post may need to temper its attack on the UFT this morning. Oh not because we think that the union's being unfiarly attacked-it may, or may not be. Rather, in looking to beat up the union the Post is using test results that nay have an ephemeral sweet smell: "Fully 74 percent of city elementary- and middle-schoolers met state benchmarks in math this year - up 9 percent from just a year ago. The pass rate in English is up nearly 7 percent. Some questions remain as to the difficulty of this year's exam, but gains in the city outpaced those statewide nearly across the board. This is, at the very least, promising news for a city that's for too long suffered under the weight of atrociously unaccountable public schools."
So what we have in NYC is potentially an embarrassing situation-watered down tests producing inflated results or, even worse, inflated results derived from teacher-aided cheating. Either way, there's a need for an independent evaluation of the DOE's testing so that we're not simply getting a false positive on tests that determine just how well our kids are doing in school.
Who indeed, but that great tax cutter and special interest scourge, Mike Bloomberg. Is Brodsky really serious? Aside from the fact that Mayor Mike hasn't yet exhibited the political skills necessary to actually threaten the speaker's reign, there's little in his resume that indicates he's any reformer in the Brodsky mold.
After all, isn't this the same guy who boosted NYC property taxes through the roof in 2002, after running on an anti-tax platform against Mark Green (and attacking him as a tax hiker)? And isn't this the same Bloomberg that let Deputy Dan Doctoroff run amok aggrandizing his buddy Steve Ross? There is no greater special interest in NYC than the real estate lobby, and as the mayor himself admits, they've done very well under his watch-and without the benefit of the nefarious lobbyists; indicating it seems that, under Bloomberg, you don't even need a lobbyist to advance the special interests.
So aside from the impracticality of a Bloomberg challenge to Shelly, it is hard to see how the Albany climate would improve from this exercise in dilettantism. Let the mayor return to the private sector where he can pursue paying off the poor to behave better; and do so with his own funds, not the public's.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Why's that? Well, for one, there is a greater degree of concern for the lowest performers and a general philosophy of leveling pervades the educratic set-talented kids, it seems, can fend okay by themselves. But can they? Not according to a blogger that Wolf cites, as well as a respected report from the Fordham Institute: "It appears," according to Eduwonkette, "that schools are focusing on pushing lower performing students over the passing mark, and shortchanging high-achieving students in the process. In Bloomberg's New York, as it turns out, a rising tide does not lift all boats." This is a serious charge, one that cannot be ignored. Within the past few days the Thomas B. Fordham Institute issued its report, "High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB," which suggests:
Teachers are much more likely to indicate that struggling students, not advanced students, are their top priority.
Low-achieving students receive dramatically more attention from teachers.
Teachers believe that all students deserve an equal share of attention.
Most teachers, at this point in our nation's history, feel pressure to focus on their lowest-achieving students."
What this means is that are talented kids aren't getting nurtured, which is not a good sign for the country's future. Talented kids need to be treated as "special needs" children, not only for themselves, but for society as a whole.
On top of all of this, however, there's a serious suspicion that the tests themselves are being watered down; which puts a dent in all of the "high-fiving" that's been going on at Tweed: "Complicating all of this is concern that the state tests themselves are inflated, producing results that misstate the true numbers of children at risk. New York State has already come under criticism for its inflated results, and this year's scores only widens the gap."
In the final analysis, there is an urgent need to bring in an independent evaluation team to examine the work of the Kleinmen. The current results raise more questions than they answer and we need a more sober review so it can be determined whether the current mayoral control structure needs to be overhauled.
And there were some good concessions for workers, but the fate of the displaced businesses is less certain; something that needs to be addressed if this development is to go forward, since local council member Hiram Monseratte is still holding out for a better deal: "City Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Queens), who represents Willets Point, has made it clear from the start that he won't support any rezoning of the area that doesn't address things like good-paying permanent jobs, fair relocation of existing businesses and workers, and a significant amount of affordable housing. Monserrate has lined up 28 fellow members out of 51 to publicly oppose the plan. That explains why City Hall decided to announce an agreement with union leaders on jobs. Bloomberg's aides will ask the unions to be the mayor's foot soldiers to pressure the Council on behalf of the project."
Monserrate believes that keeping the council strong in its opposition is the only way to insure that the project will be as good as it can be; which means that the 225 businesses and their workers need to get a fair shake, And affordable housing ma be the key here: "In order to win those concessions, though, the union leaders ignored how the city is treating existing businesses and workers at Willets Point. They ignored the plans of the city to build mostly market-rate housing in a borough where the median income is less than $50,000 a year."
So we'll see if Hiram's able to do for the Point, a district that he represents, what he was unable to do for the Bronx Terminal Market, where the local electeds wouldn't stand with him in solidarity with the merchants. Already, however, his strong stand is insuring that whatever comes out of the Willets Point negotiations will be better for the fight that was made.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
We guess that Bloomgerg finally gets it: you have to really negotiate with Shelly Silver and you can't simply bogart him as you do some others we can think of. But what really has the mayor gained from this deal? According to his court historian, quit a lot it seems: "The victory allows Bloomberg to complete his massive revision of the city's Solid Waste Management Plan.
The plan represented Bloomberg's answer to the looming trash crisis he inherited after then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani closed the massive Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. "This is a legacy project for the mayor," Deputy Mayor for Operations Edward Skyler told The Post. "We're fundamentally handling the way the city handles its garbage, to deal with it an environmentally friendly way and not pit communities against each other."
A legacy project? We'll let the real historians be the judge of that; but let's just say that as far as garbage removal is concerned-there's not much there there. The mayor still hasn't figured out any significant way to actually reduce the amount of garbage exported, and the administration's cluelessness on organic waste is right up there as one reason why this Gansevoort deal ain't no great shakes.
Some tinkering with how you transport the waste you're exporting is no substitute for a plan that would radically reduce the amounts sent out to area landfills. As we've said in the past, if this is, as the mayor has described it, a "groundbreaking" plan, than the man must be digging with a plastic spoon.
Whoever's lobbying for the council and the city needs to be ashamed of their ineptitude-if this issue was so important to the city. As the Sun points out: "The council was blindsided by the state legislation, which was introduced late last week in the Assembly and Senate. The sponsor of the Senate bill, Senator Carl Marcellino, disputed the idea that the legislation was slipped past the city's lawmakers, saying both bills had been on a list of active legislation for five months."
What's missing in all of this, of course, is the fact that these are exactly the kind of regulations-along with the bottle bill as a prime example-that increase the cost of doing business for supermarkets in the city and state. Plastic recycling, along with all of the container recycling that is done under the deposit regimen, should be moved out of the food stores and into free standing recycling centers.
Ironically, the one recycling measure that actually could benefit local food markets-the legalization of food waste disposers-was killed by council leadership. Here's an initiative that could reduce store disposal costs by more than half, and dramatically reduce the export of wet garbage to area landfills. On top of this, all of the organic waste that is processed through the waste transfer stations ends up as compost material and is re-used for fertilizer.
But that's the measure that the council torpedoes, and now comes clamoring into the picture with a public geshrie about disappearing food stores. Here's our message: Reduce the operating cost for supermarkets and restaurants by passing Intro 133; it's a pilot program for Pete's sake! And start do do other concrete measures to make it more profitable for supermarkets to do business in New York City.
Now it wasn't long ago that the city council had a press conference that trumpeted an "investigation" that demonstrated that local markets were gouging customers on the cost of milk. The council report claimed: "Forty-three of the 50 stores surveyed (86%) charged a price that was higher than the threshold for at least one unit of milk. The 43 surveyed retailers that charged above the threshold for at least one unit of milk charged an average of $0.40 per unit above the threshold. Twelve (63.2%) of the 19 supermarkets surveyed charged above the threshold for at least one unit of milk. A total of 458 units of milk were surveyed,11 with 238 (51.9%) units priced above the threshold."
Now, however, it appears that the investigation did little more than prove that all food retailers were simply reflecting the higher distribution costs. As one milk dealer told NY1: "With the huge increases in gasoline, which is driving all these other factors, normally we're able to predict going forward based on supply and demand and -- what prices are going to be, but I wouldn't even venture a guess," said Henry Beyer, president of Beyer Farms and Tuscan Dairy."
Ase said at the time, the who;e claim was bogus something that the council recognized, even though the recognition was buried in the report: "And ironically, the council does understand this to some degree. Yet it buried this understanding under the sensational "findings" in its report. On page 12 we find: "Finally, it must be recognized that rising rents, high operating costs and slim margins have made it difficult for supermarkets to thrive in New York City."
All city officials must understand that high local operating costs-particularly taxes and regulations-are crippling supermarkets and other smaller food stores. That's where the focus of attention should be placed when the issue is the high cost of food and the disappearance of local markets.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Clearly, this will be a big challenge since Related has not distinguished itself for being a real friend to community interests. As the Times points out: "Related has already negotiated one community benefits agreement in the Bronx, for its Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market, a big-box shopping center that is under construction. But that agreement — like a handful of others that have been made in New York — has drawn criticism from advocates and scholars for being weaker than those in other states. At Gateway Center, only three local groups were parties to the agreement and few obligations were actually imposed on Related, Mr. Gross said."
Which only underscores the difficulties ahead, problems that are exacerbated by the city's cool response to the CBA process; "When you do a C.B.A., the decision may be made in a vacuum, and that’s what we’re looking to avoid,” Seth W. Pinsky, president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said in an interview last week. “We’re not opposed to benefits for the community, and we’re not opposed to community involvement. But we just think it should be part of the larger process.” He said the city’s land-use process “gives ample opportunity for the community’s voice to be heard.” Proposals are reviewed by the local community board, whose members are appointed by the borough president and the City Council member representing the district. The board’s powers are only advisory."
Pinsky may be the only one left in the city who feels that the ULURP process adequately represents real community interest-particularly in the Bronx where a local board's demonstration of independence led to a wholesale sacking of its most vocal members. Related, CBAs, and the Bronx are not perfect together it would seem.
We do, however, have a concern about the Bronx's original supermarket, and give a shout out to the RWDSU for its effort to protect it: "Jeffrey Eichler, a coordinator for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW, said one of the alliance’s objectives was to avoid harming existing businesses, including the Associated Supermarket on Jerome Avenue, opposite the armory, which is unionized."
On the other hand, CB# 9's board chair discounts the KARA role, and feels that a food store should be part of the armory development: "Gregory Faulkner, the chairman of the Community Board 7, whose area includes the armory, said it was now up to his board to assume a leadership role. “There are more voices than KARA,” he said. Mr. Faulkner said many people in the community want the new mall to include a “top notch” food market, something that is not on the alliance’s agenda."
This could set up an interesting battle, and we should remind some folks that the debacle over the Gateway Mall, one that led to the sneaking in of a BJs Warehouse Club, will not be repeated here; and if Related plays it cute it may well find that the political landscape has shifted and the entire project rests on quicksand, CBA or no CBA.
What this means is that there will be a great opportunity to put a nice new modern supermarket in the Domino site-but this possibility isn't without obstacles, the largest of which may relate to cost. This new project will not only be expensive to build, but will also include a good percentage of affordable apartments that will need substantial subsidies. In this kind of situation, developers generally look to recoup from the commercial tenants.
As a result, if a supermarket tenant is found for the development, it may not be able to offer groceries to the local community at a price structure it can afford-that is if a market even bites on the lease costs for the site. Which means that the city's challenge will be to act as an intermediary to insure that a new affordable market can be part of the Domino deal.
Which it can do because the entire deal needs to have city council approval. As the NY Daily News points out: "The developer also plans to add up to four additional stories to the refinery, to the tune of more than $40 million. The City Council must still approve the plans, which include an 11-acre revamping of the Williamsburg waterfront, boasting 2,200 housing units, shops and parks. He said he hopes to start building by fall next year with the New Domino as his architectural centerpiece. "The ritzy apartment building will pay" for the rest, Lappin said."
Along with the retail component, unless the city intervenes. We believe that this will present a real challenge to the city's expressed desire to get more supermarkets into underserved neighborhoods, and should be a galvanizing force for labor, community and food advocates who have made the supermarket disappearance issue so compelling.
The council rightly asked whether the delay demonstrated that the city had sold the legislature a bill of goods when it was trying to insure that the stadium redevelopment package would get the council's green light. As stadium critic Diane Foster told the paper: "On Tuesday, council members asked Liam Kavanagh, the parks department’s first deputy commissioner, a series of pointed questions, including whether the agency had been dishonest about its original cost estimates. “Is there a possibility the numbers were watered down or made less to make the package more appealing?” asked Councilwoman Helen Diane Foster, the committee chairwoman."
Parks denied skulduggery, but skeptics can't help but wonder: "When Councilman Alan Gerson asked why the agency had not done a more thorough analysis of replacement park sites to determine what they contained before starting construction, Mr. Kavanagh said that in many cases, the department had lacked access to do proper studies. Mr. Gerson said, “All the reasons you cited are reasons why we should do full-fledged estimates before funding is in place.’’
And it appears that one of the sites in question-down by the water front-has an expensive clean up before it can be used for a park. That's part of the site that the Related Company (remember the Velodrome for the Olympics?) swapped to the city in exchange for its lucrative development deal at the Terminal Market: "Another replacement park, on an abandoned site along the Harlem River waterfront, ran into trouble when crews found more oil barrels buried there than they had been told to expect, he said. That led to significant costs for removing the barrels and cleaning toxic substances. “This site is much different than something we typically deal with,” he said. The park along the waterfront will cost about $56 million to build, the department now says."
The entire fiasco cries out to be investigated: what did Related and Deputy Dan know, and when did they know it? The BTM deal was outrageous enough without a bait and switch land swap that needed a full environmental cleanup. Where's the US Attorney when hundreds of millions of dollars are ceded to a member in good standing of the city's permanent government without competitive bidding or proper oversight? Instead we get the indictment of the hapless Asquith Reid. Way to go!
Adding to the spectacle of city law makers balking on a tax increase is the fact that Speaker Quinn is siding with her colleagues against the mayor: "Council leaders who called off negotiations yesterday say they are frustrated by the mayor's refusal to give way on the positions he's staked out. Council members said Speaker Christine Quinn agreed to the decision, marking a change from her normally close working relationship with the mayor."
The council's looking to raise the hotel tax, but the mayor-correctly in our view-sees this as a business killer, What's missing, of course, is the concept of more responsible government-more efficient and less expensive; an idea that the mayor sees as foreign since his first days in office were accompanied by a whopping real estate tax increase; and little he's done since demonstrates he understands how much the city's high tax environment hurts residents and businesses alike.
Sp now, with the mayor's term winding into the homestretch, we get a political stalemate with both sides looking to raise some form of taxation. As the NY Daily News reports: "Planned negotiations between the Council's budget team and the mayor's side collapsed over key sticking points like school funding and the reimposition of a 7% property tax hike. "We're not going to participate in one-hand clapping," said City Councilman Lewis Fidler (D-Brooklyn)."
Which leaves some of us, including council minority leader Jimmy Oddo, as odd men out. As he told the Sun: "The council's minority leader, James Oddo of Staten Island, said he finds himself in a "no man's land" when it comes to budget negotiations at City Hall because he disagrees with some of the budget restorations other council members are seeking. "And I certainly would disagree with the notion of raising taxes to pay for them," he said."
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
A little late for this isn't it? Kappy captures the tardiness here: "Especially, as some critics have noted, after all the rolling over and sitting the BP's done for City Hall on controversial projects like the Gateway Mall and new Yankee Stadium." Indeed he has, so why the posturing now after the development cat's long out of the bag?
It's not as if, as Kappy says, he's not going to take credit for the "economic development." And after all, what really did Adolfo do on all of this besides waive a pom pom? It does seem rather curious behavior at this late date, doesn't it?
Slam dunked, that is! The NY post captures the esssence here: " The US Supreme Court yesterday delivered a major blow to opponents of the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, refusing to hear a legal challenge over the use of eminent domain to make way for the $4 billion plan."
This makes it twenty losing cases in a row, but the DDD folks remain undaunted: "The plaintiffs in the suit are now pledging to take the case to state court, a route they initially avoided as eminent domain laws in New York tend to be relatively favorable to the state." Shall we say, gluttons for punishment? Here's the NY Times' take this morning: "The Supreme Court’s decision on Monday was a victory for the developer Bruce C. Ratner and for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who supports the project. The centerpiece of the $4 billion plan, which includes 16 high-rise office and apartment buildings, is a basketball arena intended to house the New Jersey Nets. Brooklyn has not had a professional major league sports team since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957."
The DDD team's remarks on the on the swatting (courtesy of the Brownstoner and the Politicker): "Now that the eminent domain case is toast on a federal level, the plaintiffs are going to file suit in state court, according to a press release from Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (copy on jump). "We are, of course, disappointed that the Court declined our request to hear this important case. This is not, however, a ruling on the merits of our claims. Our claims remain sound. New York State law, and the state constitution, prohibit the government from taking private homes and businesses simply because a powerful developer demands it..."
Sounds just like some losing manager, doesn't it? Isn't it time for the DDD ownership to bring in Jerry Manuel to replace Daniel Goldstein? After all, this is quite the losing streak, and a fresh managerial start would do the team a whale of good, we believe. Or maybe Goldstein shold simply resign and let someone else have a shot at leadership.We've always maintained that the AY project, on balance, has much good to offer Brooklyn and the rest of the city, but as the critics point out, we're paid to say that. So don't take our word for it, listen the the kids and the amateur athletic teams that turned out on Brooklyn Day to trumpet the Nets coming to the city-they know what kind of excitement and support the team will bring to the youngsters; and we still haven't touched on the housing which will follow the team's entrance.
It is always unfortunate when folks are forced to move, but this is one case where the eviction road was paved with gold, even though the 11 plaintiffs decided to stand firm and fight this rear guard action. It is, in this case, the greater good that is achieved, and the Custer-like opposition will be meeting the same fate as the General did at the Little Big Horn.
Monday, June 23, 2008
This isn't all that surprising, since we've long argued that the patrician sentiments of the mayor make it unlikely that he can fully understand the plight of the average citizen. Up until this year, however, he's been pretty good at masking his true feelings. Now we're getting the unvarnished Bloomberg and it's kind of a refreshing change from the six year masquerade.
In making the suggestion, Mayor Mike once again conflated-and confused-government tax policy with capitalist free market philosphy: "They should be raising the tax and encouraging people to reduce consumption. The anti-tax people don't like that. But using capitalism to encourage the right behavior is exactly the [right] direction of going. Tax policy is the way government uses capitalism."
Wow! We think that Mike's confusing "use" with "abuse." But doesn't underscore the extent to which ther mayor is out of touch with the plight of those that the Post sardonically calls "peons?" And the peons responded: "Motorists at a Harlem gas station filling their tanks - and emptying their wallets - were angered by Bloomberg's comments. "Bloomberg's a billionaire and has no idea what it's like out here," said Les Cox."
And on Sunday, the Post follows up with this: " Mayor Bloomberg may think it's a good idea for the little people to suffer a gas-tax hike to cut down on driving and help the environment - but that doesn't stop the billionaire from keeping his own private fleet of gas guzzlers." All of which has caused a strong reaction from gassed New Yorkers: "But news of his remarks that taxes should be raised so people would drive less fueled bad feelings among some city drivers.
"For someone with money, it's just a few extra dollars, so they'll keep driving their cars, which defeats the point," said Ilene Malkin, who spent $45 filling up her Honda Accord on the West Side yesterday. "That tax will only hurt the little guy."
All of which demonstrates, doesn't it, just how Bloomberg views the role of government-as a scold and a prod rather than an entity that does best when it gets out of the way of the folks. Certainly, reducing the role of municipal government, something that would involve lower taxes and less regulations, has simply never even crossed this guy's mind as a serious alternative to nanny meddling.
The escalation in the cost of groceries is becoming both a health as well as an economic justice problem: "The sharp rise in food prices is being felt acutely by poor families on food stamps, the federal food assistance program. In the past year, the cost of food for what the government considers a minimum nutritional diet has risen 7.2 percent nationwide. It is on track to become the largest increase since 1989, according to April data, the most recent numbers, from the United States Department of Agriculture. The prices of certain staples have risen even more. The cost of eggs, for example, has increased nearly 20 percent, and the price of milk and other dairy products has risen 10 percent."
This food crisis is felt most acutely in NYC: "Families on food stamps have been hit hard across the nation, but perhaps not as hard as families in New York, where food costs are substantially higher than prices almost everywhere else, including other urban areas, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a research and advocacy group in Washington." Which brings us, of course, to the problem of lost supermarkets.
As food prices rise, and supermarkets disappear, it is more difficult for low income New Yorkers to shop economically-and the more expensive healthier items such as fruits and vegetables are often the first to go: "June Jacobs-Cuffee of Brooklyn shares $120 a month in food stamps with her 19-year-old epileptic son. She says that even after her once-a-month trip to the food pantry at St. John’s Bread & Life in Brooklyn, she has had to give up red meat and is also cutting back on buying fresh fruits and sticking instead with canned goods and fruit cocktail."
So, with poorer areas already underserved by large discounting markets, it becomes even more incumbent on city officials to act expeditiously to preserve existing supermarkets, and to build new ones. Our Key Food supermarket in Soundview is a test case-let's see how they all respond.
Which brings us to the city's cockamamie campaign restrictions, the subject of an interesting article in the City Journal: "A constitutionally dubious campaign-finance law, passed last June by the New York City Council and signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has some residents up in arms. It may still be true that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, as Frank Sinatra put it. But how you make it will now determine which of your political rights the city will protect."
As we have commented before, the law in question protects certain rights while threatening those of other less protected classes of people-like lobbyists for instance. At the same time, however, there's nothing to restrict someone as well-heeled as the mayor from dumping boatloads of cash in the effort to bamboozle the electorate. That Mayor Mike signed the law in question only goes to show you how much of a sense of irony he lacks.
At the same time, we have countless examples of incumbent pols racking in tens of thousands of dollars in non-competitive races, and using the funds to reward relatives acting as staffers in these nonexistent elections. Which has led opponents of this silliness to file a lawsuit on the grounds First Amendment violations: "Attorney James Bopp, Jr. has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of more than a dozen plaintiffs challenging the law’s constitutionality on First Amendment grounds. The measure, he argues, forces citizens to choose between their right to petition the government and their free-speech right to support their preferred political ideals, interests, and candidates through campaign contributions. Bopp, it’s worth noting, has won four campaign-finance cases before the United States Supreme Court."
Of course, the exemption of our friends in labor is the primary target of the suit: "The law is also unfair, since it exempts unions from the reduced contribution limits. As a result, Michele Russo, a plaintiff in the case who is the secretary for a registered lobbyist, now has fewer political rights than George Gresham, president of the powerful health-care workers’ union Local 1199."
We'd like to see a central data base created that the public can easily access. Once this is established there should be no bar on who can contribute to any local campaign; and if Related and Vornado want to bundle money from their employees that should be allowed and duly noted so the voters can see where influence is being brought to bear. The current law needs to be changed.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Can you really think of anyone, more so than Big Al, who'd know more about operating from an agenda rather than from facts? Ask Steve Pagones about all of this. This certainly brings hypocrisy to a new level; but the Sharpton modus is all too familiar: when confronted, he attacks and makes it a racial and political vendetta.
As the Post points out: "It's the investigators that need investigating, a defiant Rev. Al Sharpton said yesterday in the face of the widening federal probe into his finances. With the IRS and the US Attorney's Office breathing down his neck, Sharpton's civil-rights organization is appealing to Congress to launch its own investigation into the federal authorities. "This is harassment and manipulation," Sharpton told The Post in response to news that some of his most generous corporate donors, including beer giant Anheuser-Busch, were slapped with subpoenas concerning their gifts to the National Action Network."
As the old saying goes, however, every one's entitled to their own opinion, just not to their own set of facts. And we're eager to see what the feds come up with here. As the Post editorial says, the Reverend doth protest too much: "Sounds to us more like a case of the feds doing their job.
(Meanwhile, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who'd launched his own probe, has turned over his files to the US attorney.) There's plenty of grist for the mill, like:
* The $1.9 million in payroll taxes and penalties that NAN owed as of 2006.
* The $175,962 in state taxes that Sharpton's profit-making company owes.
* The $1.3 million in federal and local taxes that Sharpton owes personally.
* The rev's 2004 presidential campaign, in which federal matching funds - tax dollars - financed Sharpton's stays in swanky hotels."
Agenda or facts? We can't wait to see the results of this "vendetta."
As Wolf points out, "narrowing the gap" racially has been turned into lowering the bar for everyone: "There has been a lot of talk lately about how the reform of the public schools is somehow a civil rights initiative. This is nothing new; policy wonks have been engaging in similar conversations for years. But this is wrong-headed thinking. So consumed are we with "narrowing the gap" that the only real strategy put forward by the educational establishment is lowering the bar for everyone. The most mediocre gains are interpreted as great victories. And in some cases attempts to be inclusive and fair end up backfiring in a dramatic way. This apparently is what happened to the gifted program this year."
What we need is better education for each and every child; something that the current group of reformers have badly mishandled. As Wolf points out: "New Yorkers have caught on to the crisis at Tweed. Lost in all the minutiae of the New York Times poll released earlier this week on Mayor Bloomberg's performance is this tidbit: in October, 2005, 19% of voters thought that his performance on education was the best thing Mr. Bloomberg achieved since taking office. Now that number is down to just 5%."
So now Klein gets into the gutter with the Rev Al. Ready for the misdirection? "The chancellor co-chairs a new activist group with Rev. Sharpton identifying education as a "civil rights issue" to be "remedied" by structural reform including mayoral control, free market solutions, and limiting the power of teachers' unions." Oh boy!
As we commented earlier, all of this tinkering is a noxious brew, no substitute for excellence for all. Let's give Herman Badillo the last word on this fiasco: "Mr. Klein can hardly claim to have created a model here in New York worthy of replication nationwide, given our poor results and soaring expenditures. "Why is Joel Klein traveling the country when after six years in office he failed to deliver the goods here in New York?" Herman Badillo asks. Mr. Badillo, who is widely credited with turning around Gotham's public colleges during his tenure as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the City University, suggests a different approach: raising academic standards and level of instruction for all — One City, One Standard."
And guess what happened? The more affluent, and we're guessing less racially diverse neighborhoods, scored an even higher percentage of the sought after places: "Now, an analysis by The New York Times shows that under the new policy, children from the city’s poorest districts were offered a smaller percentage than last year of the entry-grade gifted slots in elementary schools. Children in the city’s wealthiest districts captured a greater share of the slots." So what the problem, and how do we solve it?
The reality is that the educational gap between white students and their black and Latino counterparts continues to stymie the educational experts; which leaves the situation open to all kinds of foolish remedies that simply can't transcend the family backgrounds of the children who do better at all levels of school achievement.
This doesn't stop the racial gerrymanderers, and all those who ridicule standardized testing, from getting into the act: "The Miami-Dade public schools have spent more than $6 million over two years to identify more gifted and advanced students from what officials described as “traditionally under-represented groups.” Some districts are rethinking gifted programs under pressure; last year, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California threatened to sue the Tustin school district, saying that Latino and black students were “grossly underrepresented” in the programs."
So if these students are "under-represented," should we simply assign them more slots on the basis of some rigid formula? Would this be fair to those students who were left out, but who had scored much higher on the tests? And what other criteria should be used if the tests are jettisoned?
Usually, as was once suggested when the Dinkins administration was trying to get more minorities into the FDNY, there's an effort to develop "fairer" tests. So, as to be expected, we get this: "At Yale, researchers are devising a test that they hope could identify a more diverse gifted population." And how many times do we find that the tinkerers have actually sent their own kids to private schools?
This can really end up being a noxious brew, with standards being discarded in the pursuit of some pre-designed formula: "While the plan has fallen victim to budget cuts, widespread kindergarten testing is so controversial that last week, a group of professors and luminaries — including Deborah Stipek, the dean of Stanford’s School of Education, and former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo — deplored the practice in a letter to the chancellor and mayor. “Testing young children for gifted classes most likely will increase inequities,” read the letter, “and undermine educational opportunities for all children.”
This country's children-all of them-badly need the highest standards to live up to. Once we start the dilution process, the quality of the educational process enters a slippery slope, one that will lead to school systems where democratic leveling will replace excellence. Talented and gifted children of all kinds and colors are badly needed; they are the inventors, entrepreneurs and visionaries that a country needs. A school system that doesn't identify and properly nurture these kids is nothing but a mediocre failure.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Everything's going up, and all New Yorkers are feeling it. As one immigrant worker tells us: "The landlord raises the rent, the gas company raises the cost of gas, the supermarkets raise the price of food, the MTA raises the subway fare. ..." Durán said." All of which makes the disappearance of the local supermarket that much more compelling. The bodega and drug store are expensive alternatives that most folks with low incomes or fixed budgets can't afford.
The reality is that the local supermarket also can't afford the city either. Our friends at the Food Bank are charting this crisis: "And low-income workers are no longer the only ones struggling, as made clear by NYC Hunger Experience 2008, the fifth in a series of Food Bank of New York-commissioned reports tracking the difficulty city residents have affording needed food. The report was released last week at City Hall. "While the hardest hit are our city's poorest and most vulnerable, record numbers of middle-income families are joining the ranks of New Yorkers who are having difficulty affording needed food," said Lucy Cabrera, president and CEO of the Food Bank."
Middle class New Yorkers are feeling the squeeze: "Those middle-class New Yorkers making $50,000 to $74,000 - many of them highly educated - are supposed to be, if not well off, at least not in major financial straits either. Yet they were among the hardest hit. In that group, 27% said it was difficult to afford food - a dramatic jump from 14% in 2003. Those middle-class New Yorkers making $50,000 to $74,000 - many of them highly educated - are supposed to be, if not well off, at least not in major financial straits either. Yet they were among the hardest hit. In that group, 27% said it was difficult to afford food - a dramatic jump from 14% in 2003."
One solution is greater access to the Food Stamp program, something that Speaker Quinn, to her credit, is spearheading. Our good friend Triada Stampas of the Food Bank makes the point here: ""The city needs to do greater outreach at the local level for more people to enroll in the Food Stamps program," Stampas said. "Right now, there are about 500,000 New Yorkers eligible but not enrolled."
As the Daily News reports today tens of thousands of Bronxites are eligible for food stamps but aren't getting them: "Thousands of Bronxites may be eligible for food stamps without even knowing it, says a new citywide study..."This is something that impacts a tremendous number of New Yorkers and Bronxites," City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera said at a news conference Tuesday at Part of the Solution, a soup kitchen and food pantry in Bedford Park. The study found that more than 635,000 New Yorkers may qualify for food stamps, with nearly 120,000 living in neighborhoods such as Williamsbridge, Morrisania and Highbridge."
So let's get cracking. More food stamps and more supermarkets for New Yorkers. City Planning's on the case, now we need the economic development people to get energized, and stop fixating on things like green roofs. Access to healthy and affordable food should be the city's highest priority.
What bothered us particularly in the latest round of subpoenas was the one that went to Anheuser Busch: "Anheuser-Busch, the brewer of Budweiser and Michelob, confirmed yesterday that it received a federal subpoena in connection to its charitable giving to Sharpton's National Action Network. "We have received a subpoena and are cooperating with the IRS," the company said in a statement."
The Budweiser people have long ignored the push for a minority franchise owner in New York, and beat back an effort by Hispanic distributors a number of years ago to get a piece of the action. So clearly, whatever money Sharpton's "network" gets from Bud is money that helps insulate the company from real empowerment; and if it's happening with beer then we can be sure it's happening elsewhere as well.
In the end, just as it was with shopkeepers and mobsters in the old days, it's cheaper to pay the extortion than to resist the strong arm tactics and become tar baby for the racial arsonist. We wish the Feds well, and hope that, "This Bud's for them."
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Vornado, after whining about all of the media furor we've generated on this issue, told the Speaker that it is willing to everything possible to accommodate Key Food; Vornado honcho Sandeep Mathrani, the executive VP of real estate told the meeting that the media attention wasn't necessary but was reminded that Vornado head Steve Roth had personally told Palma to essentially piss off when she asked him to intercede on behalf of the supermarket and the community.
Which is why we call them The Distrusters; and we'll remind one and all that these negotiations will be watched very closely-and with extreme suspicion. Vornado's goodwill ain't a given in all of this, and the company has made a lot of folks unhappy in many areas of the city. No one is going to give the real estate powerhouse any benefit of the doubt, and pressure will be continued to insure that the intentions here are honored and Key Food is given a new lease on life in Soundview.
Now what's wrong with this is the fact that the borough's first major supermarket, MortonWilliams Associated, lies directly across from the armory project. This is the market that stayed in Kingsbridge even when all of the area's major retailers were fleeing in the 1970s-the store that was remodeled to the tune of over two million dollars so that the neighborhood would have a state of the art food store.
In testimony before the City Council a few years ago when the armory development was first discussed, Morton Sloan, the store's owner, laid out the history: "Our Bronx store became our flagship store and, over the years, we have established ten other, mostly Manhattan based supermarkets. In spite of this geographic diffusion we hire almost all of our employees from the Bronx neighborhood where we first started. We know the people and, over the years, have hired their children and even their grandchildren. Many neighborhood kids got their first job at Associated and we still see them come back into the neighborhood after they have become successful in other areas of life. Last year we employed over 650 Bronx residents. Our Bronx store is also our corporate headquarters and the spiritual center of our business."
These are all good union jobs, with pensions and benefits we're talking about, and the Sloans also bought an renovated another supermarket down the road at Fordham and Jerome. These are not the kind of local businesses that you look to hurt when you redevelop an area; and this is not a neighborhood that can easily accommodate another market so close to two that are already servicing the community.
In addition, the siting of a larger regional store will have a serious impact on the neighborhood traffic. The comments of the community board's district manager here are unwittingly ominous: "CB7 District Manager Fernando Tirado said he wanted the Armory to be a big draw from outside the Bronx. Masyr said Related needed it to be a big draw for the project to be fiscally viable, calling the project “extraordinarily expensive.”
So much for concerns about asthma and congestion we guess; and wasn't it Related that led the charge for the mayor's congestion tax? As the Daily News points out: "Related is also contracting out for an environmental impact study that will then be distributed to community members who can weigh in about their environmental concerns for the project." Just like the one that was done to minimize the traffic at the Gateway Mall on "asthma alley." We desperately need an honest broker here.
So now we enter the CBA dance, with Related as the orchestra leader. Here's the NY Daily News' take: "A Bronx community board involved with the development of the long-dormant Kingsbridge Armory is making sure it gets an early start in talks with the selected developer. Community Board 7 held the first of a series of planned meetings last week with developer Related Companies that will address residents' demands for the $310 million redevelopment of the vast armory on W. Kingsbridge Road and Jerome Ave. The developer's plans reportedly include at least one big-box-style retailer, a cinema, a fitness center, a bank branch and a large community space."
Oh boy! We wonder where this puts KARA, the community coalition that has been formed to advocate for the neighborhood? As the News points out: "Related was criticized for its community benefits agreement for the development of the Gateway Mall, because terms such as minimum wage requirements were impossible to enforce." Among a host of other things.
The one thing we do know is that we will fight any attempt to put a competing (likely non-union) food use at the armory. As Morty Sloan put it in his testimony: "To superimpose hundreds of thousands of square feet of big box retail on this neighborhood, or any neighborhood, will simply destroy the quality-of-life of the local communities. The same pattern of abandonment that we have seen all over the country will repeat itself in this area of the Bronx. The big box cannibals will not only destroy my store, they will suck the economic life out of Fordham Road and the smaller commercial strips nearby, in as pattern that will be repeated throughout the city...
The “oases” we create will in turn create retail deserts everywhere else. What this means is that thousands of businesses that have struggled just like mine did through the economic hard times, will be put on the endangered species list. Business owners, and their well-compensated workforce, with long established roots in the community will be replaced by largely non-union national chains with absolutely no concern for a local neighborhood. For these mega retailers New York City will be just another profit center -- for us, however, it’s our home."
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Now we know that the governor has only just arrived, and his arrival was a bit, shall we say, unorthodox, but the harshness of his remarks were unprecedented in our thirty plus years of following this business. Which means that Bloomberg really got under his skin. And now Paterson, by his vigorous denial, has succeeded in making himself the story because Dicker's not backing down: "His denials were made all the more ridiculous by the fact that only a few people know the source for the story - and Paterson is one of them. That's right, the governor knows where - as we say in the media business - the story came from. He knows the source is someone who, if their identity were revealed, would be seen as unassailably authoritative on Paterson's political views."
From our vantage the entire dust up is refreshing because it takes the view we've long had about the mayor's true nature and elevates it right into Macy's window. We're just surprised that it took the governor this short a time to be so bent out of shape by Blomberg's manner. But maybe it is a shot across the bow for 2010. As the NY Sun reports this morning: "Others wondered if the remarks were a warning shot from a governor concerned about a potential rival in the 2010 race. Mr. Bloomberg has said he isn't running, but polls show that the popular billionaire mayor would beat Mr. Paterson if the election were held now. Perhaps, as some guessed, Mr. Paterson is offering a taste of attacks to come should Mr. Bloomberg change his mind."
Perhaps, although it's a wee bit early to get into that kind of pissing contest. Consider this observation: "The people of New York City may be okay with the mayor taking off and flying to his private home in Bermuda every weekend, but if he did that at the state level, I think the people would send him a different message," the Post article quoted Mr. Paterson as saying."
No, if true, Paterson's comments underscore a real animus-a view that, according to a NY Times poll this morning, isn't shared by an electorate that continues to give the mayor high marks while at the same time supporting the city's term limits law: "Despite their favorable views of the mayor, two-thirds of residents called the city’s term limit law a good idea, although it will force Mr. Bloomberg from office in December 2009. Mr. Bloomberg, who has recently acknowledged that he is uncertain about what to do when his term is over, has been in discussions with his aides about how to remain in public life, and he recently commissioned his own poll asking residents whether they would be open to loosening the limits."
In our view, then, is Bloomberg tries to tinker with the limits he'll find that his support (inexplicable to us) will become evanescent; and the Times' observation here is to the point: "The Times poll showed that even though residents like Mr. Bloomberg’s leadership, many are hard pressed to point to any particular accomplishments of his administration, a troubling signal as people inside and outside City Hall begin to assess the mayor’s legacy."
In the poll, New Yorkers were hard pressed to name one thing that Bloomberg has accomplished: "The Times poll showed that even though residents like Mr. Bloomberg’s leadership, many are hard pressed to point to any particular accomplishments of his administration, a troubling signal as people inside and outside City Hall begin to assess the mayor’s legacy...Whereas his predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, for example, was widely credited with reducing crime, when residents were asked to name the best thing Mr. Bloomberg had done as mayor, there was no single achievement or area identified by a broad swath of respondents."
But as far as the OTB fiasco's concerned, it appears that the mayor once again got rolled by Albany pols, a familiar scenario. As the NY Daily News tells us this morning: "Bloomberg's handling of the OTB showdown got mixed reviews yesterday, with some praising him and others contending he got steamrolled by Albany leaders. Political consultant Hank Sheinkopf gave the upper hand to Albany's ruling troika, saying, "They couldn't beat him in a corporate boardroom, because that's what he knows. They beat him at politics, because that's what he got elected not to know."
Maybe Hank is right, but it goes to show that there are times where political acumen comes in handy, especially when you're trying to do things on your own and are not coasting on the achievements of your predecessor. It's been close to seven years now, and Bloomberg's trained incapacity for politics hasn't changed, and the Times poll's a harbinger of the legacy evaluation to come.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Anyone who has used Mullaly Park and returns today to see what remains, will be devastated by what they see-but there were many who saw this coming, even though the Times had blinders on when the decisions were being made. Here is what it said two years ago: "The Yankees worked hard to win over Bronx officials with a community benefits agreement. Some of it is the stuff of bread and circuses: 15,000 free tickets for distribution every season (hopefully not just to the well-connected). And some of it is real, including $1 million for job training and hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual community grants...
The Yankees also promise to spend $8 million on improving local parks, which should partly compensate for the green space the stadium will take away. On the whole, the agreement is a good start toward restitution for the many years in which the team, the richest sports franchise in the land, largely ignored residents of the disadvantaged South Bronx."
And we have a bridge that these folks can buy. Our friend Geoffrey Croft at Save Our Parks was right from the beginning on this scam, and pointed out the Bloomberg baloney in an editorial earlier this year: "Even before it seized a large swath of historic South Bronx parkland for a new Yankee Stadium, the Bloomberg administration had promised the community it would not only replace what it was taking away, but would provide even more parkland in return. Yet a close examination reveals that only 21.3 acres are actually being replaced - a net loss of nearly 4 acres."
The deal on the stadium, just like the sweetheart one at the adjacent Bronx Terminal Market (which the Times also failed to criticize) stunk from the very beginning. The question here is why didn't the people who should know better speak up? Croft gets the last word on this: "Of course, for the tens of thousands of poor people who depended on Macombs Dam and Mullaly parks, none of this comes as a surprise. Before the City Council vote, I accompanied neighborhood residents to many meetings with elected officials, where we laid out these issues very clearly.
One by one, the Council members repeated the same thing: "They're telling us you're getting more parkland than they're taking away." Everyone said it would be better. For the elected officials who supported this deal, better meant destroying 400 trees, splitting a neighborhood by building a 54,000-seat stadium, replacing lost parkland with inferior features spread miles apart, and - to add injury to insult - installing artificial turf on top of a parking garage.
All of this in a community that suffers from an asthma hospitalization rate 2.5 times greater than the city average."
All of this is part of the Bloomberg legacy. That the mayor would, after the BTM and Yankee Stadium fleecing of the South Bronx, emerge with a grand congestion scheme to, at least partially, address the asthma rates in the Bronx, has to rate extremely high on the historic hypocrisy scales in the city's political history. Bloomberg should pony up a hundred million and build the new Bloomberg Park next to the stadium. It's the least he can do to make up for the "green thievery" he sponsored.