Elected Officials Stand in Support of NYPD’s New Marijuana Policy

Yesterday, Melissa, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, and Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, joined by advocates from the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives, VOCAL NY, and the Drug Policy Alliance, gathered in front of One Police Plaza to celebrate an internal order issued by NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly to all precinct commanding officers to stop arresting New Yorkers for small quantities of marijuana if the marijuana was not in plain view.

Photo by William Alatriste.

In 2010, over 54,000 people – mostly black or Latino – were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana in New York State. Over 50,000 of those arrests occurred in New York City, making it the most frequent arrest citywide. On Monday, September 19th, responding to mounting public pressure from elected officials and advocates, NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued an operations order that clarified existing marijuana possession laws, instructing officers not to arrest people for marijuana in public view when complying with an officer’s demand to “empty their pockets.”

Earlier this year, Melissa questioned Commissioner Kelly at two City Council hearings on the NYPD’s marijuana arrest policy,  highlighting the immense human and fiscal costs of this enforcement strategy.  Melissa endorsed Commissioner Kelly’s operation order and stressed that this is “a huge victory for communities of color in the city of New York.”  But the fight is not yet over. Kelly’s internal order can be made permanent, and apply to all of New York State, by passing A.7620 (Jeffries) and S.5187 (Grisanti, R-Buffalo). This legislation would standardize penalties for marijuana possession offences, protect New Yorkers from illegal searches, save taxpayer dollars, and bring down the disproportionately high number of arrests among black and Latino men for marijuana-related crimes by eliminating the misdemeanor charge.

Melissa has introduced a resolution supporting the state legislation and emphasized that she and other advocates “will continue to closely monitor how stop and frisk policies are carried out in our city and to advocate for the passage of the State legislation.”


Dates Announced for Participatory Budgeting Neighborhood Assemblies

Last week, Melissa’s office announced an exciting new initiative coming to District 8, whereby residents will be able to directly determine how $1 million in capital funds is spent called participatory budgeting. The process officially begins next month when we will hold a series of neighborhood assemblies, brainstorming sessions open to the public during which ideas for community projects will be generated. At these assemblies, local residents will also have the opportunity to sign up as budget delegates, who will help transform the ideas that emerge at the assemblies into concrete proposals for a public vote in March.  We hope that you will be able join us at one or more of these events to ensure that your voice is heard! Please help us spread the word to all in our community.

A flyer for the event in English and Spanish is available for viewing and downloading by clicking here. We are also currently looking for volunteers and organizations to help us with this process. Please visit http://tinyurl.com/pbvolunteer for more info.

Below are the current dates and locations for the assemblies. Additional background information on the entire participatory budgeting process is available at http://www.mmviverito.com/pbnyc.

Food will be provided at all assemblies. Additionally, child care will be provided at evening assemblies.

October 6th – 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Yorkville Common Pantry
8 E. 109th Street (between Madison & Fifth Avenues)
English with Chinese Translation

October 11th – 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Youth Hostel
891 Amsterdam Ave (@ 104th Street)
English with Spanish Translation

October 12th – 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Benjamin Flores Senior Center
Crystal Ball Room, Taino Towers, 4th Floor
2383 2nd Ave (btwn 122nd & 123rd Streets)
English with Spanish Translation

October 19th – 9:30 am to 12 noon
SENIOR ASSEMBLY – Union Settlement
237 E. 104th Street
English with Spanish Translation
Note: This assembly will be geared toward seniors.

October 20th – 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Children’s Aid Society Frederick Douglass Center
885 Columbus Ave (@ 104th Street)|
English with Spanish Translation

October 24th – 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Millbrook Community Center
201 St. Ann’s Ave (@ 137th Street) – Bronx
English with Spanish Translation

October 25th – 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm
YOUTH ASSEMBLY – Children’s Aid Society
130 E. 101st Street (@ Lexington Ave)
English Only
Note: This assembly will be geared toward youth.

Participatory Budgeting, a New Groundbreaking Democratic Process, Coming to District 8

Melissa speaks to community leaders about the participatory budgeting process.

Melissa joined three of her colleagues today in unveiling a new groundbreaking budgeting process called Participatory Budgeting. Through this process, community members will directly decide how to spend at least 1 million dollars in capital funds in each of the four participating districts.  Council Members Brad Lander, Eric Ulrich and Jumaane Williams are the other three members participating in this process.  Typically, this funding is distributed at the exclusive discretion of Council Members, but for the first time in New York City history, residents of these four districts will have an opportunity to brainstorm, shape and vote on capital projects in their district.

The NYC Participatory Budgeting (PB) initiative is the largest of its kind in the U.S.  Participatory budgeting has gained acceptance around the world as an innovative strategy for increasing civic participation and community engagement. But thus far in the United States, only one Chicago City Council ward has engaged in participatory budgeting.

How the Process Works
The PB initiative will take place in three stages, including a series of community meetings in each district, a process for finalizing proposals and a final public vote.  Throughout the month of October, we will hold a series of “neighborhood assemblies,” where the brainstorming process will begin.  All residents of District 8, as well as those who work and go to school in our district, will be invited to participate in these assemblies (Look out for the dates and locations coming soon!) and identify local priorities.  Out of those neighborhood assemblies, budget delegates will be chosen to refine and further develop the proposals that emerge.  After another set of neighborhood assemblies in the winter, a public vote will take place around March 2012.

We hope that everyone in District 8 will play an active role in this process.  Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Attend a Neighborhood Assembly
    Dates and locations will be available soon.  Check back to our new PB page (www.mmviverito.com/pbnyc) or join our e-mail list by clicking here.
  • Spread the Word to All of Your Neighbors and Friends
    Tell everyone you know in our district about this new initiative, especially once the dates and locations of the neighborhood assemblies are released. Talk to your neighbors and the other parents at your children’s school.  Announce it at your next tenant association meeting.  You get the idea!
  • Volunteer to Help Out with this Process
    You can help out at a neighborhood assembly by volunteering to provide translation or child care, or by helping us to do outreach in the community to ensure that we have lots of participation. E-mail mmvbudget@gmail.com for more information.
  • Sign Up to Be a Budget Delegate
    Budget delegates make a commitment to help transform projects from ideas into proposals that the community can vote on next March.  If you are interested in becoming a delegate, you can begin by attending one or more of our neighborhood assemblies.  Please contact mmvbudget@gmail.com for more information.

Learn About Redistricting Next Monday, September 19th

Due to changes in the size and composition of our population as counted in the Census and as compared to other states, New York is required to redraw the boundaries of some electoral districts, particularly Congressional Districts.  Next Monday, September 19, from 6-8pm, Melissa will convene a meeting, in conjunction with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Hispanic Federation, to discuss redistricting’s effects on our community.

The event will take place at Union Settlement Association’s Community Center on 104th street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Please join us to learn about these important changes and to voice your concerns in time for the upcoming New York State Legislative & Congressional Redistricting hearing, to be held on September 21, 2011.

Preparing for Hurricane Irene

As you may have heard by now, there is a strong possibility that New York City could feel the effects of Hurricane Irene, which is forecasted to move up the East Coast of the U.S. as we head into the weekend.  While the extent to which the hurricane will affect the city is still unclear, we are likely to experience a severe storm and possibly up to a Category 1 hurricane on Sunday. 

As we head into the weekend, it is important for all of us to be well prepared and informed for a worst-case scenario, including possible evacuation of some coastal areas.  Parts of El Barrio/East Harlem and Mott Haven are considered low-lying areas.  Residents of these neighborhoods should only expect to evacuate in the event of a stronger hurricane (Category 2 or 3), which is not currently in the forecast.  However, sometimes weather conditions can be unpredictable.  To download a map of evacuation zones and centers in your area, please click here.  You can also find out if you live in an evacuation zone by clicking here.

The City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is encouraging all New Yorkers to do the following, particularly those who live in low-lying areas:

  • Stay up-to-date on weather conditions and other important information at all times by watching the news and checking OEM’s website (http://www.nyc.gov/oem).
  • Stock up on supplies such as water, non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries and a first aid kit.
  • Prepare an emergency supply kit and a “Go Bag.”  For more information on what to include, click here.

We also encourage you to check on friends, relatives, and neighbors, especially those with disabilities or special needs, and assist them with their preparation and, if necessary, their evacuation.

If you need additional information, please visit the OEM website or call 311.

We wish you all a safe weekend!

Restricting Local Immigration Enforcement and Pushing Back on Marijuana Arrests

Melissa introduced a piece of legislation and a resolution in the City Council today that focus on critical issues in our criminal justice system: the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our city’s jails and the rampant arrests for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Restricting the City’s Collaboration with ICE

Melissa speaks at press conference announcing the introduction of this legislation (Photo by William Alatriste).

The historic piece of legislation introduced by Melissa today, along with Speaker Christine Quinn and Council Member Danny Dromm, will place limits on New York City’s ability to collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in our city’s jails.  Thousands of immigrants are deported each year after being sent to our local jails.  The Department of Corrections routinely shares databases of new inmates with ICE, which include information on country of origin.  Armed with this information, ICE places “detainers” on those inmates they suspect to be non-citizens.  After an interview and further investigation, if an immigrant is determined to be “deportable,” he or she is sent to a detention center and is often removed from the country.  Over the last two years, only about half of the detainers issued were for immigrants that had no criminal convictions, and 38% of those individuals had a misdemeanor as their highest immediate charge.

This legislation would prohibit the use of City resources (including space, personnel and funds) to honor detainers on those immigrants that have no criminal records, outstanding warrants or previous orders of deportation, do not have a pending criminal case and have not been identified as a confirmed match in the terrorist screening database.  Under this legislation, City resources could not be used to hold an individual who meets this criteria beyond the time when he or she would otherwise be released, nor could the City notify ICE of his or her release from custody.  We expect to have a hearing on this bill in the fall.

Calling for Changes to State Law on Marijuana Arrests

Tens of thousands of people, primarily from Black and Latino communities, are arrested each year for small-time marijuana possession, even though it was de-criminalized by the State in the 1970s.  However, a loophole allows police to make arrests for marijuana possession if it is in public view.  Police often ask individuals to take out what would otherwise have been concealed marijuana, leading to an arrest.  For the 50,000 plus arrests last year, the estimated cost to taxpayers was over $75 million.  This year, the city is on target to reach nearly 60,000 arrests.

Since the City Council does not have the power to legislate, Melissa has introduced a resolution calling on the State Legislature to enact a bill already introduced by Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Jeffries that would close the loophole on marijuana arrest policy.

Melissa Releases Report on Discretionary Funds Coming to Our District in the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget

Melissa reviews budget documents prior to voting yesterday.

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito released a report today on discretionary expense and capital funds that she has helped secure for organizations and schools in our district in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.  The budget was adopted by the City Council yesterday.  The report, which can be found below, also provides information on the restorations to the Mayor’s proposed budget made by the City Council, as well as Council initiatives.

The adopted FY 2012 budget included critical restorations of cuts proposed by the Mayor to the city’s safety net, in areas ranging from education, parks, libraries and senior centers to HIV/AIDS services, fire engine companies and child protective services workers.  Most notably, thanks to the Council’s negotiations with the Mayor and the UFT, the 4,000 plus teachers proposed to be laid off will remain in the classroom.  Unfortunately, not all programs could be kept whole in this challenging fiscal environment.  Melissa and many of her colleagues continue to push for the need for fair share tax reform and alternative revenue options to avoid further cuts in the future.

Please take a moment to review the report, which is embedded below.  You can also download it in PDF format by clicking here.

Progressive Caucus Calls on Mayor Bloomberg to Accept Offer from Municipal Labor Council

Criticizes Mayor from Blocking Plan to Save Essential Services

The New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus calls on the Bloomberg Administration to accept the constructive and responsible offer from the Municipal Labor Council – to avoid teacher lay-offs and massive class size increases, the closing of fire companies that put communities at risk, the elimination of thousands of day care slots, of neighborhood libraries, and many other essential services.

Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg is more interested in posturing than in the needs of millions of New Yorkers. He apparently is more concerned with “looking tough on labor” than in the best interests of our city. Mr. Mayor, this is not a competition with Governor Walker, Governor Christie, or Governor Cuomo to wring out the most concessions or look the toughest. This is not a game.

The offer from our city’s public sector labor unions is an extremely generous one. They are willing to contribute more than $260 million that was designated to be used for the health care of their members to the City, in order to keep class sizes low, save fire companies, workers who protect at-risk kids, day care slots, libraries, and cultural institutions. This is not public money, but funds from hard working union members who keep this city going and who are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. At the same time, the union proposal would use less than half that amount from the Health Insurance Stabilization Fund to contribute to union welfare funds, with narrow uses allowed, specifically for health insurance uses. This offer is not only appropriate and reasonable – it is incredibly generous. The Mayor should respect the good faith proposal made by the city’s unions.

Mr. Bloomberg is supposed to be the dollars and cents mayor, but his rejection of the MLC’s offer doesn’t make finacial sense. Mayor Bloomberg has consistently rejected a fair, balanced, and compassionate approach to this year’s budget. Despite the City Time scandal in which his Administration has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars, he has rejected reasonable proposals from Speaker Quinn and others to trim out-of-control consultant spending. Despite continued profits on Wall Street, his policies will give millionaires a tax break that will cost the City billions.

Mayor Bloomberg, this is not a time for posturing. Please reverse course, accept the offer from our city’s unions, agree to cuts in contract spending, and help achieve a responsible, balanced, “fair share” budget that does not jeopardize our future.

Progressive Caucus members are: co-chairs Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan/Bronx); Annabel Palma, from the Bronx; Letitia James and Jumaane D. Williams, from Brooklyn; Margaret Chin, from Manhattan; Daniel Dromm, Julissa Ferreras, James Sanders Jr., and Jimmy Van Bramer, from Queens; and Deborah Rose, from Staten Island.

Puerto Rican Elected Officials Express Concern Over Proposed Natural Gas Pipeline Project in Puerto Rico

Photo by Amal Chen/The Epoch Times.

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito and seven of her Puerto Rican colleagues in government from New York sent a letter yesterday to U.S. Army Secretary John M. McHugh, Secretary and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) District Commander Alfred Pantano to express their strong opposition to the “Via Verde” natural gas pipeline project in Puerto Rico (A copy can be viewed at http://scr.bi/mATdHJ). New York State Assembly Members Carmen Arroyo, Marcos Crespo and Robert Rodriguez and City Council Members Joel Rivera, Sara Gonzalez, Rosie Mendez and Annabel Palma joined Council Member Viverito in citing serious concerns over the potential for an environmental disaster as a result of this project as well as the lack of public process as the Puerto Rican government made its decision to support the project.

“Via Verde” is a 92 mile long cross-island natural gas pipeline project being proposed in Puerto Rico. This project does not comply with the most basic regulatory standards and procedural safeguards for the construction of such a high-risk project. Because the Governor of Puerto Rico declared an “energy emergency,” the project has been fast-tracked, and no public hearings or environmental impact assessments have been conducted. Still, polling data indicates that a vast majority of the Puerto Rican people oppose the pipeline.

The elected officials who signed this letter demanded that a thorough and transparent process be conducted in order to assure that the well-being of the Puerto Rican people affected by this project is preserved. The signers have asked that USACE slow down the process by denying all requests for permits until public hearings can be held and a thorough environmental impact study can be conducted.

Articles on the letter were published in Puerto Rican newspapers El Nuevo Dia and Primera Hora.

The letter can be viewed below:

Latinos Unite to Make Final Push for Marriage Equality

Latino elected officials and community leaders united again yesterday to make a final push for marriage equality.  Legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry has already passed the New York State Assembly, and just one more vote is needed in the Senate for full passage.  The rally and press conference was held at the LGBT Community Center in the West Village.  Puerto Rican human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano emceed the event, which also featured Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez, the bill’s sponsor Senator Tom Duane and actor Wilson Cruz.  Two same-sex couples, Maribelle Vázquez and Sophia Pazos, as well as Henry Velandia and Joshua Vandiver, also shared their personal stories to make the case for marriage equality.

Check out all the coverage of yesterday’s press conference:


Council Members Respond to Comments by Mayor’s Spokesperson on City’s Marijuana Arrest Policy

New York City Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jumaane Williams and Letitia James issued the following response to comments made by Frank Barry, a spokesperson for Mayor Bloomberg, regarding the city’s marijuana arrest policy and pending legislation at the state level (S.5187 / A. 7620) that would de-criminalize the public display of small amounts of marijuana. The comments were published in New York Times’ columnist Jim Dwyer’s piece on Wednesday, June 15th (available at http://nyti.ms/mjjV2I).

“The responses provided by Mayor Bloomberg’s spokesperson, as quoted in The New York Times, provide further evidence of how disconnected Mayor Bloomberg is with Black and Latino communities. No matter how much the administration thinks that arresting youth for what amounts to low-level marijuana violations is helping to stem violence, this could not be further from the truth. These arrests only serve to engender distrust between low-income communities of color and the NYPD, which will only undermine the Police Department’s efforts to address real crime in our neighborhoods. In a time of limited resources, the NYPD should be focusing on violence that impacts our communities, rather than on the overzealous enforcement of low-level marijuana violations, which has already been de-criminalized by the state.

“Efforts are currently underway at the state level to de-criminalize the public display of small amounts of marijuana. In stating that this bill will lead to the proliferation of ‘open-air drug markets’ on our streets and the ‘reversing (of) successful efforts to clean up neighborhoods,’ the administration is employing scare tactics, which should not be tolerated. Let us set the record straight. This legislation will do nothing to legalize the open sale or possession of large amounts of marijuana, but will close a loophole in the law that criminalizes tens of thousands of our young people each year, when they are asked to remove small amounts of marijuana from their pockets, and then arrested on the grounds that it was exposed to public view.

“According to data released yesterday, the NYPD is on target to make 60,000 marijuana possession arrests this year—more than any other year in history. Although statistics show that Caucasian youth make up the majority of marijuana users, almost 90% of those arrested in recent years have been Black and Latino youth. This is nothing short of a race-based policy of enforcement, and it must be stopped. We call upon the Mayor to support the bipartisan legislation introduced in the State Legislature by Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Jeffries.”

Council Members Call on Mayor to Take Public Position in Support of Strengthening and Renewal of Rent Laws

Melissa spearheaded a joint letter sent by 23 Council Members to Mayor Bloomberg yesterday, urging him to take a public position in support of the strengthening and renewal of rent protections for New York City residents.  Though there is less than a week left in the legislative session in Albany, the Mayor has remained silent on this pressing issue for millions of our city’s families.

While there has clearly been a strong, consistent chorus of City elected officials and community groups from throughout the five boroughs in favor of rent stabilization, your voice has been notably absent from the debate.

It is disappointing that you have not yet spoken up in favor of rent reform, considering that half of our city’s rental units are covered by rent regulations, translating to over 2.5 million individuals who are able to remain in their homes and neighborhoods as a result of lower rents and eviction protections.

You can view and download the full letter below or by clicking this link:

Melissa Joins Mayor Bloomberg, Mark Teixeira and Harlem RBI in Announcing New School and Affordable Housing in El Barrio/East Harlem

Melissa joined Mayor Bloomberg, New York Yankee Mark Teixeira, Rich Berlin of Harlem RBI and others in announcing an exciting project spearheaded by Harlem RBI that will create new affordable housing and space for the Dream Charter School in El Barrio/East Harlem.  Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, NYCHA Chairman John Rhea and Manhattan Community Board 11 Chair Matthew Washington also joined in the press conference.  Below is an abbreviated version of the press release with all of the details.  The full version of the release is available here.

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$85 Million, Thirteen-Story, 150,000-Square-Foot Building Will Include School for 450 Students and 90 Affordable Rental Units

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City Housing Authority Chairman John Rhea, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott and Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Matthew M. Wambua, New York Yankee Mark Teixeira and Harlem RBI Executive Director Rich Berlin today announced a partnership to develop a landmark, mixed-use facility in East Harlem that will include approximately 90 new affordable housing units, the DREAM Charter School and Harlem RBI’s program and office space. Scheduled to open for the 2014-2015 school year, the new school space will accommodate up to 450 students between kindergarten and eighth grade. The announcement took place on Harlem RBI’s Field of Dreams in East Harlem, where the Mayor was also joined by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, parents and students from DREAM Charter School and Harlem RBI program participants and alumni.

“This building will be a place where New York families can afford to live, children can get a first-rate education, and a fantastic non-profit can expand its services,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “East Harlem will experience the benefits of this development immediately, but the greater impact on our City as a whole will come in the future – when this school produces successful alumni who lead us to a better and brighter future. This partnership between the City, a non-profit, and generous donors is a great example of public-private collaboration making things happen.”

The building will be located on East 104th Street between Second and Third Avenues, on site at the Washington Houses. As currently planned, the $85 million, thirteen-story, 150,000-square-foot building is expected to break ground in the summer of 2012 and open in the summer of 2014. It will include:

• The new home of DREAM Charter School, which is currently being incubated at PS 38 on 102nd Street. In 2008, after 17 years of working in East Harlem and producing exceptional results, Harlem RBI opened DREAM Charter School. DREAM’s mission is to educate East Harlem children through a comprehensive K-8 program that builds a community of passionate, lifelong learners. DREAM is a model learning community with high expectations, a strong culture of care and a vision of student success and excellence. Today the school serves 200 students and will grow one grade each year until it reaches capacity at 450 students, grades K-8.

• Approximately 90 units of low-income housing, including studios, one-, two- and three-bedrooms. The building will be part of the Administration’s $8.4 billion New Housing Marketplace Plan to create and preserve more than 165,000 homes and apartments. Since July 2004, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Housing Development Corporation have financed construction or renovation of more than 113,000 affordable housing units, nearly 7,300 of them in East Harlem’s Community Board 11.

• Program space and the home office of Harlem RBI. Harlem RBI began in 1991 when a group of volunteers transformed an abandoned, garbage-strewn lot into two baseball diamonds for the youth of East Harlem. Since then, Harlem RBI has grown to serve more than 1,000 boys and girls, ages 5 to 21, with year-round academic, sports and enrichment programs. Harlem RBI’s comprehensive approach to youth development replaces the barriers inner-city youth typically face with concrete opportunities to build the skills and confidence needed to graduate high school, matriculate to college and break the cycle of poverty. Since 2005, 98% of Harlem RBI seniors have graduated high school, 94% of seniors have been accepted into college and 99% of participants have avoided teen parenthood.

“I became involved with Harlem RBI and DREAM Charter because I believe the work we are doing is truly changing lives,” said Mark Teixeira, Yankees first baseman, Co-Chair of Harlem RBI’s Capital Campaign. “It is my hope that my involvement can help shine even more light on this incredible organization and these extraordinary kids.”

“This innovative partnership demonstrates the possibilities for the use of NYCHA’s vacant land in a way that benefits its residents and the surrounding community,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This project brings new 100% income-targeted housing into our neighborhood that is so desperately needed, and represents an exciting step forward for Harlem RBI, which has a history of providing such great services to our local young people. The project also stands to benefit public housing residents in a big way, with dedicated school seats and priority affordable units for NYCHA residents. Best of all, the housing will remain affordable for decades to come, as it will ultimately be sold back to NYCHA. I welcome this project in my community of El Barrio/East Harlem and thank Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott, Chairman Rhea and all others who have made this possible.” Continue reading

Manhattan Vacant Building Count Next Saturday!

Melissa joins Picture the Homeless in announcing the vacant buildings count (Photo by Jeff Mays/DNA Info)

On Saturday, June 18th, hundreds of Manhattan residents will pound the pavement and walk every block of seven community boards in search of vacant buildings and lots. Why?  Because they know that their community needs housing, gardens, jobs, and open space – and they know that there’s a ton of vacant buildings, lots and storefronts that could help transform their neighborhoods in ways that help everyone.

In order to get the most accurate count possible of vacant properties, we need your help.  If you are interested in volunteering, or getting more information, please call Adrian at 646-314-6423 or email adrian@picturethehomeless.org.

You can also CLICK HERE for full details on meet up locations and other logistics.

We hope you will join these important efforts to gather data on vacant properties, as it will help inform our collective advocacy efforts to utilize these properties in order to create new, income-targeted housing, as well as open space for our communities.

Video, Photos and Media Coverage from Yesterday’s Latino Marriage Equality Press Conference

For those who missed yesterday’s press conference featuring Latino leaders and community members in support of marriage equality, we have compiled a video with some of the highlights, as well as photos and media coverage:

Press Coverage:


Melissa Speaks Out Against Five Borough Taxi Plan

Melissa joined a large protest of livery cab drivers and base owners on Monday morning who were speaking out against the Bloomberg administration’s latest Five Borough Taxi Plan.  The administration is seeking to expand street hail service in the outer boroughs and Manhattan above 96th Street, where yellow cabs do not typically pass, creating a market in these areas for illegal street pick ups by livery cabs.

Photo by Michael Appleton/The New York Times

However, the Bloomberg administration’s plan aims to sell new yellow cab medallions, which come with licenses for a new class of livery cabs that have the ability to do street pick ups in the outer boroughs.  Livery base owners, who have traditionally provided pre-arranged cab services in communities underserved by yellow cabs, worry that they will be displaced by this new plan, while current livery drivers have expressed strong concerns that the $600,000 to $900,000 cost of these new medallions is far out of reach for them.

This plan requires Council approval and Melissa and several of her colleagues have pledged that they would not support the plan as it stands.

Latino Elected Officials, Clergy & Community Organizations Unite for Marriage Equality

Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez led a press conference today featuring Latino elected officials and community organizations standing in support of marriage equality in the State of New York.  Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and many other Latino elected officials, along with the Hispanic Federation, Make the Road New York, UPROSE, El Puente, Alianza Dominicana and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.  Also attending the press conference was Reverend Fabian Arias of Zion Lutheran Church in El Barrio/East Harlem, who offered his support for marriage equality.

This coalition of Latino leaders called upon the State Legislature and the Governor to pass marriage equality legislation immediately.  A recent poll found that a majority of Latinos in New York State supports marriage equality.

Look out for video and additional photos from today’s press conference tomorrow!

Joint statement on marriage equality by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez, Congresswoman Nydia Veláquez, State Senators Gustavo Rivera, Martin Malavé Dilan, Adriano Espaillat, José Peralta and José M. Serrano, Assembly Members Carmen Arroyo, Guillermo Linares, Felix Ortiz, José Rivera, Peter Rivera and Robert J. Rodriguez, and Council Members Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Julissa Ferreras, Annabel Palma, Diana Reyna, Joel Rivera and Ydanis Rodriguez:

“We raise our voices as Latino/a elected leaders in strong support of marriage equality in the State of New York. It is unacceptable that our state’s same-sex couples are being denied a myriad of rights and benefits that come from having a relationship recognized by the state as a marriage. A bill legalizing same-sex marriage is long overdue, and we stand united and ready to fight for its passage in the current legislative session.

“Some religious and political leaders in our communities are currently engaging in efforts to mobilize Latinos against marriage equality and to define the debate in terms of their own religious convictions. Their cries of intolerance have been heard loud and clear, but cannot silence those of us who stand strongly on the side of justice and fairness for all New Yorkers, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“The right to marry is a fundamental civil right that should not be denied to any two adults who choose to share a life together in our state.  As Latino elected leaders representing communities that continue to experience a range of injustices, we are especially conscious of our responsibility to ensure that all members of our society have the same rights and protections under the law.  We believe that anything short of marriage equality relegates our LGBT brothers and sisters to being second-class citizens.

“We understand the important role that religion plays in the lives of our constituents and our communities.  However, this is a debate that is civil in nature.  The legislation to make marriage equality a reality in our state seeks to promote acceptance and equitable treatment of the LGBT community under our state’s laws, and does not dictate to our communities and religious institutions what beliefs and practices they adopt.

“Like in all communities, the Latino community is not a monolithic block that agrees on every issue, including the issue of marriage equality.  It is for that reason that we come together as Latino/a elected officials to voice our support for marriage equality. We could no longer allow our voices and the voices of a majority of Latinos who according to polling do favor marriage equality, to be drowned out by those who are so vocally opposed to granting this basic civil right.”

Joint Statement on Governor Cuomo’s Decision to Suspend Participation in Secure Communities Program


“We applaud Governor Cuomo’s decision to temporarily suspend New York’s agreement to participate in the Secure Communities program as it undergoes review. The Governor has demonstrated true leadership in hearing the concerns that have been expressed and taking action.

“We are confident that this review process will prove what we have been saying all along: that the singular goal of the Secure Communities (S-COMM) program is to deport as many immigrants as possible, without regard to their criminal records or whether or not they actually pose a threat to society. New York State — home to millions of immigrants — should not be a willing participant in a program that will only serve to separate thousands more of our immigrant families each year and deprive residents of our state of their basic due process rights, while doing virtually nothing to protect public safety. In fact, by engendering mistrust between immigrants and the police, S-COMM would actually make our communities less safe. In a time of limited resources, our local police departments should be focused on fighting serious crimes rather than facilitating the deportation of individuals without criminal backgrounds.

“We again thank Governor Cuomo and stand ready to work with him as this review process goes forward to ensure that New York State’s agreement with ICE is fully rescinded.”

Melissa Joins Rally Against NYPD’s Marijuana Arrest Practices

Melissa joined a rally held by VOCAL-NY near Mayor Bloomberg’s home to criticize the NYPD’s aggressive marijuana arrest practices, which disproportionately target communities of color and cost the City at least $75 million per year.  Watch the video above for Melissa’s remarks at the rally.

Photo by Angel Franco/The New York Times

In the 25th Precinct (East Harlem), there were 1,069 low-level marijuana arrests in 2010, compared to just 34 in the 19th Precinct where the Mayor lives.  Melissa is currently drafting a City Council resolution in support of bipartisan legislation introduced in the State Legislature that would de-criminalize displaying marijuana in public view.  Currently, possession of small amounts of marijuana is already de-criminalized under State law.  However, when police perform stop and frisks, they routinely ask that individuals empty their pockets.  If they take out marijuana, it is considered to be in public view and can be punished by arrest.

Click here to read more background information in the full press release.  Below are links to the press coverage from the event:

Upper Manhattan Electeds and Families Rally Against Proposed Cuts to Child Care

Yesterday evening, Council Members from Upper Manhattan stood in unity with parents, children and day care providers in protesting the proposed cuts to City-funded child care.  Footage from the rally and Melissa’s remarks are included in the video above.  The communities of Upper Manhattan are disproportionately impacted by the proposed cuts as nearly 80% of the scheduled slot reductions in the borough of Manhattan occur in these council districts.

For additional photos, courtesy of DNA Info, click here.

Though the Mayor recently announced a plan that he said would restore the funding for child care, there is still deep concern that thousands of families will find themselves without access to these vital services.  Only $40 million of the $91 million in proposed cuts have been restored, saving 4,400 of the 16,000 slots on the chopping block in the Fiscal Year 2012 Preliminary Budget.  The Mayor’s current plan hinges on offering 10,500 school-age children the option of enrolling in DYCD’s Out-of-School Time (OST) afterschool program, which itself has experienced severe cuts in recent years and does not address the needs of those working parents that require child care during traditional working hours.

The communities of Upper Manhattan are disproportionately impacted by the proposed cuts as nearly 80% of the scheduled slot reductions in the borough of Manhattan are set to occur in these council districts. Day care services represent a critical investment in our young people’s future, as it increases access to early childhood education.  It also helps boost our local economies, by enabling parents to remain employed.  According to the Emergency Coalition to Save Childcare, every dollar cut from child care leads to a $1.86 loss for the community.

Council Members Viverito, Dickens, Jackson and Rodriguez all pledged to make a restoration of child care centers a priority heading into budget negotiations, but called on the community to urge Mayor Bloomberg, who controls the overwhelming majority of the City’s budget, to come up with the funds for a full restoration.

This Thursday: Upper Manhattan Unity Rally Against Cuts to the City’s Child Care Centers

Upper Manhattan Council Members, parents, children, day care providers and advocates will rally this Thursday at 6:00 p.m. against the proposed cuts to the City’s child care centers at Colonel Young Park on 143rd Street between 5th and Lenox Avenues.

Though the Mayor recently announced a plan that he said would restore the funding for child care, there is still deep concern that thousands of families will find themselves without access to these vital services.  The Mayor’s plan hinges on offering 10,500 school-age children the option of enrolling in DYCD’s Out-of-School Time (OST) afterschool program, which itself has experienced severe cuts in recent years and does not address the needs of those working parents that require child care during traditional working hours.

We hope you can join us this Thursday as we unite to urge the administration to develop a real plan to save child care slots, hundreds of which are currently on the chopping block in Upper Manhattan alone.

Progressive Caucus: Austerity Budget is Fine for the Rich but Bad for the Rest of Us

Today, Mayor Bloomberg released his Fiscal Year 2012 Executive Budget.  The proposal includes layoffs of over 6,000 teachers and the closure of 20 firehouses, and other massive cuts to municipal and social services.  The Executive Budget will now come before the City Council, which will hold a series of hearings throughout this month, followed by more extensive negotiations with the administration in June.

Next Thursday, May 12th, members from dozens of community groups and unions are coming together to tell the Mayor “No More Cuts – It’s Time for the Big Banks and Millionaires to Pay Their Fair Share!”  Thousands of New Yorkers are scheduled to gather at assembly sites throughout lower Manhattan for teach-ins on the important service areas being cut, after which they will converge on Wall Street.  For more information on May 12th, visit www.OnMay12.org or join the Facebook group.

For now, the Progressive Caucus has released the following statement in response to the Mayor’s budget:

Austerity Budget is Fine for the Rich but Bad for the Rest of Us

Mayor Bloomberg’s austerity budget demands sacrifice from children, parents, seniors, women,  the sick, the at-risk, working families, the unemployed, the underemployed … in short, from everyone except the wealthy.  Year after year, Mayor Bloomberg has balanced the budget on the backs of New York families by cutting vital services. Meanwhile, the rich and powerful (including those on Wall Street who caused the economic crisis) are not only exempted from sharing the sacrifice, but even get special treatment through tax breaks and real estate loopholes.

Although the Mayor is right to place blame on Albany for the budget deficit, the fact is that he lobbied against the extension of the Millionaire’s Tax – which will cost the city billions – while we and busloads of our constituents asked for this fair share solution.

There are still many ways the City can achieve a FY 2012 budget that better serves New Yorkers.  We can extend the millionaire’s tax and eliminate tax loopholes for hedge-fund managers, which amount to an estimated $570 million. We can cut subsidies, tax credits, and special deals with big banks that cost New Yorkers around $250 million.  We can put a break on rapidly growing spending on expensive and out-of-control consultants.  If necessary, we can dip into the City’s “rainy day fund” (while still leaving plenty for the future).

We were glad to see restoration of capital funding for the marine transfer stations that make possible a “fair share” approach to solid waste.  And restoring $40 million of the $91 million cut to childcare will be a good first step if the Mayor works with the Council to achieve a full restoration.

It’s time to have real conversations about eliminating loopholes and increasing revenue, instead of coddling the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. We must consider new revenue options or we will continue to have this problem.

Some painful cuts will be indeed necessary, but not the brutal cuts the Mayor is proposing to schools, child care, libraries, firehouses, neighborhoods, and working families.

Next Thursday, May 12th, we will join thousands of new Yorkers to call on Mayor Bloomberg to support fair taxation, end Wall Street tax breaks, and put an end to harmful practices that cost New York City money and hurt our economy.  In the coming weeks, we will be asking New Yorkers to weigh in on what they would like to see in the City’s budget, as the Council prepares to negotiate with him before the budget deadline on June 30th.

Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) Applications Now Available — Deadline is May 27, 2011

Applications for the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) are now available for New York City residents ages 14 to 24. SYEP is a seven week job program that provides youth with work experience, life skills training and income during the summer months.

The application process will run for 4 weeks.  The deadline for submission is May 27th, after which a lottery process begins.  The program kicks off on Tuesday, July 5, 2011 and continues through Saturday, August 20, 2011.

Apply online today at https://application.nycsyep.com/

You can also download a paper application in PDF or view FAQs for more information.

Melissa Chairs Hearing on the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) Program

New York City Parks Enforcement patch

Image via Wikipedia

Melissa chaired a hearing on the City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee on Wednesday regarding the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP) program.  The hearing focused on the disparities in the allocation of PEP officers among different parks and communities as well as workplace issues faced by the officers.

PEP officers are unarmed peace officers, who enforce the rules of our parks and are empowered to issue summonses for quality of life offenses, as well as disorderly conduct and unlawful possession of weapons.  They also review park facilities for health and safety issues.  There are currently 92 PEP officers to cover over 28,000 acres of parkland, with an additional 83 officers that are contracted by conservancies and other private entities to work in specific parks.  There are often just a few at-large officers on duty at any given time for the entire borough of the Bronx, whereas in a single park in communities of greater means, there might be a dozen.

Melissa and other members of the committee stressed the need for more resources for the PEP program so that these officers can cover more parks, particularly at a time when the City is seeing an increase in crimes committed on parkland.  Melissa also highlighted that the practice of contracting with private entities that are able to purchase increased security from the department while the majority of other parks go unsupervised sets up a two-tiered system in our public parks.

The hearing also focused on the issues that PEP officers face as a workforce. Several officers came to testify about the difficult and dangerous jobs they do, including doing car stops and removing homeless individuals from parks, without the help of the NYPD or the Department of Homeless Services. They asked for greater numbers of PEP officers and more support to help make our parks safer.

In the coming months, the Committee plans to hold another hearing jointly with the Public Safety Committee on crime in parks, which will continue to examine these issues.

Coverage of Wednesday’s hearing:

Melissa Stands with Central Park Boathouse Workers

Melissa spoke at a rally last Thursday for the workers of the Central Park Boathouse, who have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices and union busting.  As Chair of the Parks & Recreation Committee and the Council Member representing Central Park, Melissa has made clear that any union busting efforts will not be tolerated, particularly within our city-owned public parks.

Speaker Christine Quinn, and Council Members Gale Brewer and Elizabeth Crowley also spoke at the rally.  You can watch video of Melissa’s speech above.

Melissa was quoted in a Crain’s New York Business article about the event:

City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the district the Boathouse is located in and also chairs the City Council Parks and Recreation Committee, called on the Parks Department to do more to pressure Mr. Poll to comply with his contract. She said she “wasn’t really pleased with the response of the [Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe] so far.”

“I interpreted his response as a little dismissive,” she said. “I would hope that we’d have a strong partnership with the Parks Department and this administration on these concessions.”

Watch Melissa Debate Living Wage Policy at the CUNY Forum

Melissa participated in a discussion on living wage legislation at The CUNY Forum in September (the video was only recently uploaded on YouTube).  Moderated by CUNY-TV’s Bob Liff, the panel also included Jeff Eichler from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Professor Fred Siegel from the Manhattan Institute and Professor Stephanie Luce from the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies at CUNY.

The discussion focuses on proposals introduced in the City Council to require that living and prevailing wages be paid in buildings receiving City economic development subsidies.

Council Members Viverito & Dromm Respond to Mayor Bloomberg’s Participation in Immigration Summit Held by President Obama

Photo by CBS Local.

Today, Mayor Bloomberg participated in a summit on comprehensive immigration reform held by President Obama.  Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Danny Dromm (Chair of the Council’s Immigration Committee) released the following statement:

“Today, Mayor Bloomberg joined President Obama and a group of leaders from around the country at a summit to discuss the need to fix our broken immigration system. We thank the Mayor for continuously taking a bold stance on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform at a national level and his efforts to help bring common sense to the debate. However, there is still a great deal to be done here in New York City to protect our immigrant communities from our nation’s dysfunctional deportation system.

“Each year, thousands of New Yorkers are funneled into detention and removal proceedings due to the entanglement of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the City’s Department of Corrections (DOC) at Rikers Island. While the Mayor’s Office claims that the City collaborates with ICE in the interest of public safety, half of the immigrants who are transferred by DOC into ICE custody have no prior criminal records, and many are never even found guilty of the charges for which they have been arrested.

“It is difficult to reconcile Mayor Bloomberg’s national platform that our immigration system must be reformed when New York City is a willing participant and partner with the federal government in that same broken system. We call on the Mayor to reconsider his administration’s current position and to join us in crafting a sensible and balanced policy that will stop DOC from facilitating the deportation of those New Yorkers who pose no threat to public safety.”

Council Members Viverito & Dromm Reject Claims by Mayor’s Office Regarding the Collaboration of DOC with ICE

Yesterday, the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor wrote a letter to New York Times reaffirming the administration’s support of the collaboration between the City’s Department of Corrections and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  The letter is available by clicking here.  Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Danny Dromm have issued the following statement in response to Mr. Feinblatt’s letter:

“This year the New York City Council has worked diligently to understand the complex issues surrounding the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) current entanglement with federal civil immigration enforcement efforts. It is regrettable that the Mayor’s Office has refused to engage with the City Council in an honest dialogue aimed at developing a sensible and balanced immigration policy for DOC. Instead, as exhibited by a recent letter to the New York Times authored by the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor, the Mayor’s Office has distorted the facts and has relied on the ugly politics of fear.

“The facts are that DOC’s current policy is to transfer anyone and everyone the federal government wants to deport into the deplorable immigration detention system, whether or not they pose any real threat. The claim by the Mayor’s Office that this is a public safety issue is in direct conflict with DOC’s actual policy. DOC’s policy does not distinguish between people convicted of serious felonies and those convicted of non-violent misdemeanors. In fact, it does not even distinguish between people who are found innocent and people who are guilty. DOC routinely transfers New Yorkers with no criminal record whatsoever into immigration detention. In his letter, the Mayor’s advisor acknowledged that half of the people affected by this policy have no criminal record. The effect of this policy is painfully exhibited in the case of wrongful arrests, such as a recent case involving the victim of a gay bashing incident who was later exonerated but now faces deportation because of DOC’s policy. Once DOC transfers someone into the custody of federal immigration authorities, most New Yorkers are shipped thousands of miles away to detention facilities in Texas and Louisiana, where they lack access to counsel and cannot effectively defend themselves.

“New York City is spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars every year to subsidize the broken immigration system. We take seriously our obligation to preserve public safety. But we also take seriously our obligation to protect the immigrant families and communities of this city. It is time for the DOC to develop a sensible and balanced policy that stops sending those New Yorkers who pose no threat to society into this deplorable system.”

Melissa Appears in PSA Urging President Obama to Halt Deportations

Watch Melissa in a public service announcement for the New York Immigration Coalition’s Stroke of a Pen Campaign urging President Obama to sign an executive order halting unjust deportations of immigrants (in both English and Spanish) and please take a moment to sign the petition at www.pencampaign.com.

City Council Passes Legislation on Energy Efficiency and Snow Response

The City Council passed two packages of legislation last Wednesday, one aimed at improving energy efficiency in our city’s buildings and the other to address the slow clean-up following the December 2010 blizzard.

Solar and Cool Roofs Legislation
This package of legislation seeks to encourage owners of existing buildings to reduce emissions and increase the usage of renewable energy.

  • Intro 341: Removes some of the barriers to installing large solar thermal panels on rooftops, by allowing solar thermal and solar electric collectors and/or panels and their supporting equipment to take up more than 1/3 of the area of a roof without being considered an extra floor.
  • Intro 358: Provides a legal definition for ‘combined heat and power systems’ as equipment that simultaneously produces electricity and heat from a single fuel source and reaffirms that these rooftop structures shall not be considered an additional story or be included in the height of the building.
  • Intro 347: Strengthens standards for cool roof coating, which involves covering roofs with white reflective material, rather than the traditional blacktop.  Doing so keeps buildings cooler, thereby reducing emissions during the summer months and improving air quality.  Under this bill, owners who choose to make this improvement to their buildings will have to adhere to the new standards so that the maximum benefit is derived.

Snow Response Legislation
This package of bills was introduced after the infamously slow response on the part of the Bloomberg administration to the December 2010 blizzard.  These pieces of legislation seek to ensure that such a poor response does not happen again.

  • Intro 498: Requires the Commissioner of the NYC Office of Emergency Management to develop certain protocols around how the office should respond when the national weather service forecasts severe weather conditions, including whether to contact other relevant city, state or federal government agencies for emergency assistance
  • Intro 505 – The public will now be notified by city agencies as to the status of government services, such as solid waste collection, public transportation, and the operation of schools in severe weather conditions or other emergency.  The public is to be notified through a website and other media intended to reach the widest population possible.
  • Intro 528: 311 will now have to provide tracking information for each complaint and a unique identifier for each call taker, as well as implement a protocol to deal with high call volume during weather emergencies.
  • Intro 508 – Each year, the commissioner will make available to the Council and on on the city’s website a detailed report about the city’s preparation for and response to all snow events during the preceding 12 month period, including the roles of various relevant city agencies, an assessment of the city’s performance and an inventory of all snow removal equipment.
  • Intro 511 – The Department of Sanitation will assist organizations to establish registries of volunteers to help remove snow on behalf of persons who can’t, due to infirmity, illness or physical incapacity.
  • Int 517 – Each year, the Commissioner will make available to the Council and on the city’s website a snow plowing and removal plan for each borough, including, but not limited to, the level of snow removal staffing per borough, an inventory of snow management equipment, the priority designations of each street in the city (primary, secondary or tertiary), and how the department plans to address snow and ice removal from curb cuts and bus stops.

While the Bloomberg administration initially opposed all of the snow response bills, after negotiations, the Mayor is planning to sign all of the measures into law.

Opportunity for Local Young People: Saturday Academy at the Museum of the City of New York

See below for an announcement from the Museum of the City of New York, regarding their Saturday Academy.  The deadline for applying is TOMORROW. Priority is given to children from El Barrio/East Harlem.

Saturday Academy is a free six-week program for students in grades 8 – 12 interested in American History or SAT preparation. There’s no homework or testing and all course materials are provided.  Saturday Academy was recently featured as the best museum program for high school students in New York Magazine’s “Best of New York in 2011” issue!

Spring 2011 courses meet on April 30th, May 7th, 14th, 21st, and June 4th and 11th. Course offerings include:

  • The Sixties: Music, Movements, and Mayhem
  • Striving for Freedom: Free Black Communities in New York and Brooklyn before the Civil War
  • Public Art in East Harlem: Interpreting Latino-American History in the 20th Century
  • Kaplan SAT Skills

Applications must be received by Friday, April 8th. Enrollment is first come first serve, so please apply early since space is limited! To apply, please fill out  our application (which you can open by clicking here) and mail it back to the Museum. For more information about the program, click here or contact Joanna Steinberg, Saturday Academy Coordinator, at jsteinberg@mcny.org.

The Museum has also set up a new Facebook page where you can receive announcements about Saturday Academy at the Museum of the City of New York and to show your support!

NY Electeds React to Puerto Rico Supreme Court Decision Limiting Domestic Violence Protections

Melissa joined 15 New York elected officials in releasing a statement last Friday denouncing a recent decision by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court which upheld a lower court’s decision that limits domestic violence protections for women involved in extramarital affairs.  See below for the statement.

APRIL 1, 2011


Joint Statement by NYC Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYS Senator Gustavo Rivera, NYS Assembly Members Carmen Arroyo and Robert Rodriguez, NYC Council Women’s Caucus Co-Chairs Jessica Lappin and Rosie Mendez, Women’s Issues Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras, and Council Members Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Gale Brewer, Margaret Chin, Inez Dickens, Helen Diane Foster, Letitia James, Karen Koslowitz, Diana Reyna and Joel Rivera

“The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico last week confirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals of Puerto Rico that found that a woman who suffers violence at the hands of an intimate partner with whom she is having an extramarital affair is not entitled to the same protection of law as a woman who is abused by her husband. This appalling decision sends a wrong message to society and women, and represents a step backward in the fight to end domestic violence.

“The Puerto Rican Supreme Court, in its sentence, has ignored the reality that domestic violence occurs in the context of an intimate relationship whether it is exclusive in nature or not.  Instead, the Court’s interpretation of Law 54 has effectively put into place an absurd double standard and establishes a suspect category in Puerto Rico: that it is somehow less serious when a woman committing adultery suffers violence at the hands of her intimate partner.  This Court’s attempt to impart moral and religious judgments through the interpretation of the law is completely illegal and unacceptable, and can only lead to potentially dangerous consequences for Puerto Rican women and families.   Women have the right to be protected from violence at the hands of intimate partners; and they need the protection of the law, which should be blind to what we may or may not consider to be moral behavior.  Domestic violence rates in Puerto Rico are alarmingly high and women are the primary victims and survivors.  In the context of Women’s History Month, this decision flies in the face of the long struggle, primarily led by women, to secure protections against domestic violence such as those guaranteed in Law 54.

“As lawmakers – many of us Puerto Rican, Latino/a and women – representing districts in New York, we denounce this outrageous decision by the Court, and also commend the three dissenting justices, particularly Justice Liana Fiol Matta, who wrote so passionately against the decision.  Additionally, we call on Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly and Governor Fortuño to correct any possible ambiguities in Law 54 so that is abundantly clear that all intimate relationships – including extramarital affairs, as well as same-sex relationships, which are not currently referenced in the law either – are considered equal when it comes to domestic violence protections.”


Join Us This Sunday for a Unity Rally in Support of a Progressive State Budget and the Strengthening of Rent Stabilization Laws

The New York City Council

Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus

jointly with the

Progressive Caucus

Invites you to


Sunday, March 27th at 1pm

City Hall Steps

JOIN US To Call For A State Budget That:

*** STRENTHENS the Rent Laws & REPEALS Vacancy Destabilization

*** RESTORES the Continuation of the Millionaires Tax

*** SAVES our children from devastating education cuts


Coordinated with Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change, the Real Rent Reform Campaign, Right to the City, VOCAL New York and the Coalition for Educational Justice

For more information, contact:

  • Mary Tek, Real Rent Reform Campaign, 212-608-4320 x 616 or mtek@tandn.org
  • Jonathan Wstin, New York Communities for Change, 917-637-9501 or jwestin@nycommunities.org
  • Francine Streich, Alliance for Quality Education, 917-439-9602 or francine.laurie@gmail.com

City Council Launches ‘Save Our Senior Centers’ Campaign

The City Council has launched its “Save Our Centers Campaign” in response to the possible closing of up to 105 senior centers citywide, as a result of Governor Cuomo’s New York State budget proposal.  The campaign aims to convince the Governor and the State Legislature to make the funding available in the State budget to keep the centers open.  Tomorrow, Melissa will join other Council Members in going up to Albany to meet with legislators on this and other budgetary issues of importance to the City of New York.

The Governor’s current budget would move over $25 million out of the City’s Department for the Aging (DFTA).  Of the current senior centers on the closure list, six are in our district (four in El Barrio/East Harlem and two in the South Bronx).  The full list is available for download here.

We need your help to send a strong message to Albany that allowing half of our senior centers to close their doors is unacceptable. Click here to download a letter to Governor Cuomo that you can sign.  Please ask your family, friends and neighbors to do the same.  You can mail or drop signed letters off to our District Office (105 E. 116th Street, NY, NY 10029).  Please also share the flyer below (in English and Spanish) with seniors and other community members to spread awareness of these impending cuts.

Check back here for more updates on the campaign to save our centers.

City Council Adopts Landmark Legislation Protecting Women, Tenants and Homeowners

The City Council voted to adopt three important pieces of legislation last week, which aim to protect, respectively, the rights of women, tenants and homeowners.  Melissa served as a co-sponsor of all three of these bills.

Protecting Women’s Rights: Pregnancy Services Center Bill

The Council voted to approve Intro 371, a bill which will require Pregnancy Services Centers to disclose whether or not they have a licensed medical provider on staff and whether or not they provide or refer for prenatal care, abortions and emergency contraception.  Under the bill, these centers must also inform women who are or may be pregnant that they are encouraged by the City’s Departmento of Health to consult with a licensed medical provider.  This legislation also protects the privacy of women who seek services at these centers.

Pregnancy Services Centers provide ultrasounds, sonograms and/or prenatal care to women who are or may be pregnant.  Though they are not licensed by the State of New York of the federal government to provide medical services, they typically have the appearance of a licensed medical facility.  A recent study found that these centers engage in tactics that dissuade women from exercising their legal right to choose to have an abortion, including providing them with misinformation or engaging in manipulation.

This legislation will not shut down Pregnancy Services Centers, but will ensure that women entering them are made aware of the services that they do and do not provide, while also ensuring that their information is kept private and confidential.  At the end of this post is a statement read by Melissa on the floor of the City Council in support of this legislation.

Protecting Tenants: The HEAT Act

The Council also adopted a bill sponsored by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio which will toughen penalties on landlords who are repeatedly found to deny heat and hot water to tenants.  The current law allows for a maximum fine of $500 per unit, per day for a first violation and a maximum fine of $1,000 per unit, per day for subsequent violations in the same building within the same calendar year.  The HEAT Act will extend those higher fines to two consecutive calendar years or heat seasons, rather than one year under current law.

Protecting Homeowners: Lien Sale Legislation

Finally, the Council adopted another piece of legislation re-authorizing the Departments of Environmental Protection and Finance to sell liens on properties with unpaid water bills or property taxes, but for the first time, with impotant new protections for vulnerable homeoners.  These protections include a standard zero-down payment plan, enhanced outreach to enroll homeowners in property tax exemption programs–for seniors, low-income New Yorkers, veterans, and others–that would remove them from a lien sale, and lower interest rates on smaller properties.  In addition, for the first time, HPD will be provided with an important enforcement tool against negligent landlords: the ability to place liens on properties where landlords owe money to the City for repairs that were covered by taxpayers.

Mayor Bloomberg is expected to sign all three of these bills.

Below is Melissa’s statement, as delivered on the floor of the City Council last week:

I rise in support of 371-A. The social structure of our country has embedded inequities that permeate throughout various areas of our lives.  Intro 371-A is one way in which we can positively address inequities in reproductive health, and lessen the power these centers have over women—and in particular women of color. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health provides research that clearly shows that African American women and Latinas are more likely to be uninsured or underinsured and often lack basic access to birth control and comprehensive sex education due to fundamental structural inequities in society.

Our country is continuously being faced with controversial issues, and it is important that we embrace measures that promote choice and democracy versus exclusion and degradation. It is important we remain committed to justice in thought and action, and stray from archaic mindsets and theories. State Representative Lisa Shepperson and State Representative Sue Wallis are both female Republicans in the Wyoming legislature who have shed the burden of upholding Republican ideals that degrade me and all women and seek to strip me and all women of having the ability to chose for themselves what reproductive health options they will exercise. Instead, these two brave Republicans are standing up for women’s rights in order to ensure women maintain their ability to decide what happens with their bodies.

These women were bold enough to speak out against their party, which strives to limit government’s interference in personal and business matters, yet does not afford women and reproductive health the same respect.

I not only applaud Wyoming Reps Shepperson and Wallis, I applaud our Speaker and our colleague Council Member Lappin for their valor in standing up for women—particular women of color—in this city. In seeing this not as a pro-choice anti-choice issue, but as one that safeguards the health and dignity of a woman’s choice and upholding the justice we deserve. Thank you, and I urge my colleagues to vote in favor of
Intro 371-A.

Melissa Leads Press Conference with NY Electeds in Solidarity with Wisconsin Workers, Unions and Legislators

Melissa led a press conference this morning with 18 other New York elected officials from the federal, state and local levels to stand in solidarity with Wisconsin, as public workers fight to oppose Governor Scott Walker’s union busting agenda.  Congressmen Charles Rangel and Anthony Weiner, Comptroller John Liu, Senator Bill Perkins and many others joined in thanking the courageous Wisconsin State Senators who have kept a measure that would terminate collective bargaining rights for state employees from passage.

“We have gathered here today to thank our Democratic colleagues in government for their courage in standing up to Governor Walker’s attempts to dismantle Wisconsin workers’ collective bargaining rights,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “As we heard in the prank call made to Governor Walker, his actions are part of a clear, concerted and coordinated national attack against the working class and labor unions.  What we are seeing in Wisconsin will have reverberating effects throughout the United States, and that is why we stand in solidarity with all of the workers, unions and elected officials in this struggle for justice.”

Check back soon for press coverage from the event.  See below for the full press release:

Melissa Joins Calls for JP Morgan Chase to Change its Mortgage Modification Policies

Melissa joined Council Members Jumaane Williams and James Sanders, New York Communities for Change and others this morning in protesting JP Morgan Chase’s mortgage policies.  A recent report found that Chase has failed to provide desperately needed mortgage modifications that could have helped New Yorkers to avoid losing their homes.  Protestors called on Chase to stop all foreclosures, while Council Member Jumaane Williams closed his account at the bank in response to its unfair policies.

Since the foreclosure crisis began several years ago, communities of color have been proportionately impacted as thousands in New York City alone have lost their homes.  Out of the over 1,000 New Yorkers that hold a Chase mortgage that asked for a modification, only 6% have had their mortgage modified, placing Chase’s performance in this area among the worst in the nation.

See the slideshow below for some pictures from the event.  Additional photos are available here.

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Melissa Writes to Parks Department Regarding Offensive Statue Outside Central Park


Photo by J.C. Rice, New York Post.

Melissa sent a letter to the Department of Parks & Recreation regarding an offensive statue outside of Central Park in El Barrio/East Harlem, asking that the statue’s location be reconsidered, and also inquiring regarding broader policies on statues and monuments that communities may find offensive.  This statue was the subject of an article in Sunday’s New York Post as well.


The statue in question honors Dr. Marion Sims, who helped make advancements in women’s health, but who did so by performing experimental surgeries, without anesthesia, on female slaves.

Take a look at the letter below:

What do you think?  Does this statue belong in El Barrio/East Harlem?  Let us know in the comment section below.

Melissa Joins in the Unveiling of a New Social Media Campaign by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS

This past Monday was National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Melissa joined the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) at a press conference, as they announced a new online social media campaign targeting African American communities.  Former Manhattan Borough President C. Virgina Fields is now the President and CEO of NBLCA and led the press conference, which was also joined by Council Member Jumaane Williams.

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African Americans account for 44 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in New York State, even though they only make up 17 percent of the state’s population.  For this reason, NBLCA has launched the “30 Years Strong! Together We Will Win” campaign, to utilize social media to encourage African Americans to get tested, while also pushing for policy changes and additional funding to support efforts to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS among black communities.  It will also give HIV-positive African Americans the chance to share their stories.  For more information, visit NBLCA’s website at www.nblca.org.

Click above to view coverage from NY1.

Council Members Viverito and Williams also presented a proclamation from members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus for NBLCA.  Each year, the City Council allocates millions of dollars in initiatives that seek to address the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color.

Council Holds Rally and Hearing on Walmart’s Plans to Come to NYC

Last week, the City Council held a rally and hearing on Walmart’s plans to move to New York City.  Melissa opposes the opening of Walmart stores in New York City because of the company’s history of labor rights abuses, their refusal to allow workers to unionize and their impact on local small businesses.

At the rally prior to the Walmart hearing (Photo by William Alatriste).

At the hearing, academics, small business owners and other community leaders testified regarding Walmart’s record in other cities, which has not ultimately resulted in more jobs for low-income neighborhoods, since while it has created new jobs, it also has led to the loss of jobs at surrounding small businesses.

Walmart refused to attend the public hearing, because it said it was being unfairly targeted.  The New York Times published a story on the hearing, and Walmart’s absence, here.

“Wal-Mart is definitely not welcome in New York City,” Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said. “It is a union-busting, tax-evading, wage-suppressing, job-destroying, civil rights-abusing, food stamp-denying, multinational corporation that has no place in New York City.”  Wal-Mart Critics Rip Retailer During Hearing, WNYC.

While Walmart is reportedly looking at a particular site in East New York, in Brooklyn, East Harlem has also been cited as a potential location for a Walmart store.

Melissa asks a question at the hearing (Photo by William Alatriste).

We were live-tweeting throughout the hearing.  You can take a look at our tweets for moment-by-moment updates by visiting www.twitter.com/mmviverito.

You can also sign a petition to keep Walmart out of NYC, by clicking here.  Stay tuned to the blog for additional updates.

Progressive Caucus Responds to Gov. Cuomo’s Budget: Watch that Axe! There are Some Cuts New Yorkers Can’t Afford


Contact: Laura Banish, Progressive Caucus Coordinator, nyccprogresscaucus@gmail.com

Governor Cuomo’s budget chops at some trees without realizing that he’s damaging a forest. Income inequality is greater in New York than any other state in the country, and New Yorkers can’t afford the costs of the Governor and Legislature cutting education, health care, transit, human services and the other quality-of-life services we value and need. We need a judicious balance between New York’s short-term and long-term economic needs or we will have a far more serious problems than the budget itself.

The Progressive Caucus supports a budget that:

  • Requires shared sacrifices in difficult times. The Progressive Caucus and most New Yorkers support extending the existing income tax surcharge on those who can afford it, which is set to expire at the end of the year. The Progressive Caucus also proposes a tax surcharge on household income over $250,000, to reclaim the “Bush era tax cuts” for the wealthiest 2%. The Caucus plan would generate approximately $8.1 billion statewide, and use this revenue to restore vital services now proposed for deep cuts, address severe deficits facing New York City and New York State, and stimulate the New York economy.
  • Helps working families. We ask for budget solutions that create and secure job opportunities and benefits for New Yorkers, not eliminate them. We oppose MTA fare hikes and increases to other essential public services, which are tantamount to raising taxes on working families.
  • Invests in our future. We oppose the Governor’s Property Tax Cap of 2% a year because it will bleed the poorer districts where schools are already losing teachers and resources, further widening the education gap between New York’s rich and poor. We also support keeping our public university system affordable; CUNY, a once tuition-free institution, has faced multi-million dollar cuts and tuition could increase as much as 7% this calendar year.

The proposed chops to the budget don’t cut a clear path through the financial crisis. They leave us with more problems ahead. We are asking Governor Cuomo not to lose sight of the forest as he takes his axe to our trees.

Two East Harlem Women-Owned Small Businesses Profiled in Daily News, After Selection for Goldman Sachs Entrepreneurship Program

Michelle Cruz, owner of the East Harlem Cafe and Sharon Sinaswee, owner of Armada Building Services, Inc., both based in El Barrio/East Harlem, were profiled in two New York Daily News articles today, after being selected for an entrepreneurship program run by Goldman Sachs.  Ms. Cruz and Ms. Sinaswee were two of 23 local businesses who received training and assistance through the “10,000 Small Businesses” program.

Below are excerpts from the articles.  We congratulate these inspiring women for their participation in this program.

East Harlem resident Michelle Cruz had dreams of opening her own business as a kid; Goldman helped (Click here to read full article)

At age 9, Michelle Cruz decided that she would one day run her own business. The moment came while watching a TV program that showed some of the city’s blighted areas. An image flashed on the screen of her East Harlem neighborhood.

“I realized I was poor,” Cruz said. But she was determined to do better.

She studied accounting and pursued a career in banking while nurturing a dream to open her own restaurant.

Two and a half years ago, she opened the East Harlem Cafe at E. 104th St. and Lexington Ave. It’s become a community hub to see local musicians, artists and authors. A second cafe will be in the Caribbean Cultural Center when it relocates next year.

Wall Street giant Goldman shares the wealth in entrepreneurship program ‘10,000 Small Businesses’ (Click here to read the full article)

Sharon Sinaswee, the Trinidad-born owner of a small janitorial company in East Harlem, didn’t know what to expect last summer when she rode the elevator to the 43rd floor of the new headquarters of Goldman Sachs.

Then one of the most powerful execs in the world, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, sat next to her.

Sinaswee, the 42-year-old founder of Armada Building Services, was a member of the first class of an entrepreneurship program sponsored by Goldman called 10,000 Small Businesses. It was time for execs from the investment bank to read participants’ business plans. She’d been paired with Blankfein.

They spent an hour together as the Wall Street titan grilled her about her business. Among his tips: Sinaswee should cultivate a large pool of freelance handymen to tap at peak times.

“He said I was on the right track,” said Sinaswee, who recently added two employees to her four-person staff and scored a contract from the city’s Department of Education. “I was flattered that someone in that position was so interested in me.”

Education Updates: Melissa Sends a Letter to Chancellor Black Regarding Co-Locations and Submits Testimony Opposing Success Academy at Brandeis Complex

Melissa has sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Cathie Black regarding the impact of school co-locations in all parts of our district.  In El Barrio/East Harlem, these co-location arrangements, whereby new schools (often charters) are placed within existing school buildings, are already common, and we have seen increasing proposals to establish similar arrangements on the West Side and in the South Bronx.

Melissa opposes co-locations, since they force schools, some of which are already struggling, to share limited space and resources, only further inhibiting their ability to succeed. You can read the full letter to the Chancellor below:

Melissa also submitted testimony opposing the co-location of the Upper West Success Academy at the Brandeis Educational Complex on West 84th Street.  The Success Academy had previously been proposed to co-locate with PS 145 and PS 165 in our district.  Her testimony is available below:

How do you feel about co-locations in our communities?

Statement on Mayor Bloomberg’s Work to Reform our Gun Control Laws


Mayor Bloomberg, surrounded by Martin Luther King III and 34 people affected by gun violence (Photo by Spencer T Tucker).

Melissa released the following statement in support of Mayor Bloomberg’s renewed efforts, along with mayors from across the country, to reform our gun control laws:

“Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg held an emotional press conference at City Hall to announce his renewed nationwide push for much-needed reforms to our gun control laws. He stood surrounded by individuals from across the U.S. who told stories of how they have been affected by gun violence. Three of these 34 courageous speakers came from El Barrio/East Harlem and the Bronx – including family members of Naiesha Pearson, Rory Forehand and Cheyenne Baez, who were senselessly killed on our streets. Sadly, we are seeing an alarming increase in gun violence in my district, with the homicide rate in East Harlem tripling last year, and shootings at public housing in East Harlem and Harlem increasing two-fold. This increased wave of violence has prompted my office to form the Youth Violence Task Force and to explore other means of addressing this growing problem.

“With the recent events in Arizona, this may be our biggest opportunity in years to reduce the number of illegal guns on our streets, and to try to keep these weapons out of the hands of emotionally disturbed individuals. I would like to thank Mayor Bloomberg for his leadership at a national level to promote sensible reforms to our gun laws, such as fixing the broken background check system, closing all loopholes and requiring checks for every gun sale in the U.S. The Mayor has also shown support for banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, which have been behind recent massacres like the one in Tucson.

“While our approach to combating violence in our city will continue to be comprehensive and multi-pronged, gun control at the federal level is a critical part of the equation. I join many of my colleagues in the City Council and members of my community in expressing my gratitude and support for Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to reform our gun control laws.”

To sign a petition calling upon Congress to fix the background check system, visit www.fixgunchecks.org.

Melissa Introduces Resolution Calling for the Reinstatement of Congressional Voting Rights to Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. and U.S. Territories

Melissa introduced a resolution on Tuesday calling on the U.S. Congress to reinstate the voting rights of the Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner and other delegates.  Previously, the Resident Commissioner and delegates from Washington D.C., American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands had the ability to vote on amendments.  Under the new Republican-controlled Congress, one of the first resolutions passed by the House of Represenatives removed those already limited voting rights, which they have held since 1993. 

As El Diario/La Prensa recently wrote in an editorial, “The bogus argument that states and territories should not be on equal footing in the House is a thin mask for the partisan political agenda to further marginalize the territories. Nearly all of the delegates are Democrats.  In playing politics, Republicans are ignoring a long, historical truth that they have had a part in: U.S. citizenship was cast on Puerto Ricans, who were denied the right to choose their status. So the island should not be penalized for a situation it did not hatch.”

The resolution is expected to have a hearing before the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee in the coming weeks.

Progressive Caucus Responds to Mayor’s 2011 State of the City Address

Caucus calls for living-wage jobs, more contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses, and a fair tax structure

Watch a video of the statement, read by Council Members Debi Rose, Brad Lander and Melissa Mark-Viverito below:

NEW YORK, NY – The tragic shooting in Arizona earlier this month has caused us all to reflect on the plague of gun violence in our society, and the need for greater civility in our political discourse. We laud the Mayor for his longstanding leadership and tireless efforts to get illegal guns off of our streets, and to reduce gun violence.

But we are disappointed that Mayor Bloomberg spoke about the need to “face reality” in his State of the City Speech today (Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011) without outlining a real plan of action to address the economic realities facing most New Yorkers at a time when our city remains in a severe economic crisis.

Residents of outer boroughs may appreciate the chance to hail a livery cab … but too many can’t even afford the ride. Especially when a recent report shows that income inequality is greater in New York than in any other large American city.  The top 1% of New York households, just 90,000 people, earn the same amount in one day as the 900,000 New Yorkers in deep poverty earn in a whole year.

Most New York City workers and their families have experienced very little real income or wage growth over the past two decades and high unemployment continues to plague our city. Unemployment remains at an official rate of 9%, but nearly double that when you factor in discouraged people who have dropped out of the labor force, and the rate is much higher among African-Americans, Latinos and residents of low-income neighborhoods.

The Mayor spoke to the need to attract tourists, college graduates and white-collar entrepreneurs, but we heard nothing about how we can create living-wage jobs for New Yorkers who are struggling to make a living here. The jobs that are being created in our city tend to pay low wages, often without benefits or even the ability to take a day off when you’re sick. And homelessness remains near its all-time high. 37,363 people slept in City shelters last Thursday night, of which more than 16,000 were children.

On jobs – our city’s most pressing issue – the Mayor’s speech, like his recent performance, was disappointing.

  • The Bloomberg administration has not launched a single new major jobs initiative for low-income New Yorkers. Community service jobs and wage subsidy programs are scheduled for further cuts.
  • Despite giving his recent “jobs speech” at the Brooklyn Navy Yard – where innovation is thriving in new industrial niches – the mayor has dramatically reduced his policy commitment to the manufacturing sector, and presided over a steep decline in blue-collar jobs.
  • City contracting with minority- and women-owned businesses (M/WBEs) is embarrassingly below goals set in 2005. While the Mayor acknowledged a need to improve in this area, a recent report showed that only 1 out of 15 major City agencies met even half of the M/WBE goals.
  • The Mayor has opposed and stalled consideration of living-wage job creation requirements, even when the City is providing millions in subsidies to for-profit corporations and real estate developers.

These challenging economic times do require fiscal discipline, and the City Council – under the leadership of Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Finance Chair Domenic Recchia – has worked with the Mayor to make difficult decisions and choose painful spending cuts. But we need a fair approach that keeps our city strong and asks for shared sacrifice, rather than balancing the budget primarily on the backs of the poor and the middle class.

Mayor Bloomberg said no today to any new taxes – but our current tax structure is unfair and regressive. That’s why the Progressive Caucus has proposed a temporary income tax surcharge on household incomes over $250,000 – to recapture the windfall that Congressional Republicans won for the wealthiest 2% of households. Mayor Bloomberg has been the chief defender of these very households – he’s opposed regulatory reform of Wall Street despite the fact that it was Wall Street speculation that cost us millions of jobs in the first place.

The Mayor today asked nothing of Wall Street or the wealthiest New Yorkers, and for sacrifice only from public school teachers, police officers, librarians, and the working- and middle-class New Yorkers they serve.

While the Mayor has often said that the rich pay more than their share, the opposite is true. The wealthiest 1% of New Yorkers earned 45% of the city’s total income, but they only paid 34% of city taxes. Our plan would make our tax structure more fair, raise $8 billion dollars to address State and City deficits, help us save core services like education and public safety, and allow us to create the jobs we so desperately need.

In response to the Administration’s failures to address the recent blizzard, the City Council held hearings, led by Speaker Quinn and the Progressive Caucus’ own Letitia James and Jumaane Williams. At those hearings, the Bloomberg Administration acknowledged its mistakes, announced significant policy changes, and pledged to do better in the future.

We need the same kind of commitment to do better to create well-paying jobs and advance economic security for struggling low-income, working, and middle-class families in neighborhoods across the five boroughs. We also need policy changes to ensure affordable housing for our residents and policies that make sure our children get the kind of education they need and deserve.

The Progressive Caucus calls for a real plan of action to move New York City out of this economic crisis and appeals to Mayor Bloomberg to work with us in our shared vision of a better New York City.

Melissa Responds to Chancellor Black’s ‘Joke’ that Birth Control is a Solution to School Overcrowding

At a meeting with Lower Manhattan parents last night, Schools Chancellor Cathie Black said that “birth control” could be a solution for school overcrowding in New York City, saying “Could we just have some birth control for a while?” Black said Thursday night. “It would really help us.”  See video below.  

While Chancellor Black has said that this was a “joke,” Melissa released the following statement today, in response to these comments: 

”The outrageous comments of Chancellor Black prove that our original concerns about her ability to connect with parents and local communities were valid. Overcrowding in our schools is a serious problem across the city that requires a serious look at the DOE’s own policies. Insinuating that birth control could solve these challenges is neither comical nor professional. With Cathie Black’s extensive background in management we would expect strategic solutions to the issues faced by our public schools, rather than ‘off the cuff’ remarks that are distasteful, demeaning and offensive.”

Here is a video from the meeting.  The comments begin around 1:20.

What do you think of Chancellor Black’s comments?

Council Holds Hearing on Administration’s Response to the Blizzard

The New York City Council held a hearing today on the Bloomberg administration’s response to the blizzard.  The hearing began at 11:00 this morning and at the time of the publication of this blog post (seven half hours later), it still has not ended.  We were live tweeting throughout the morning.  You can read our Twitter feed for the minute-by-minute updates.


Photo by Richard Perry/The New York Times.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and the Commissioners of the Department of Sanitation, the Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Department, who testified and answered Council Member’s questions, offered apologies and admitted openly that the response to the storm was unacceptable.  They also shared some of the information regarding conversations happening behind the scenes in the days leading up to and following the storm.

Testimony and responses to the questions exposed a serious lack of coordination and communication between our city’s agencies, which severely limited their ability to respond effectively to the storm and deploy all the necessary resources.

Due to the length of today’s hearing, public sessions have been scheduled for each borough.  We urge our constituents to attend these hearings just outside of our district in Manhattan and the Bronx:

  • Manhattan: Thursday, January 20th, 6:00 pm
    Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building
    163 W. 125th Street
  • The Bronx: Monday, January 24th, 6:00 pm
    Hostos Community College, Savoy Building D
    120 E. 149th Street (btwn Walton and Gerard Avenues)

Among the information revealed during questioning was that Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan were responsible for making the decision not to call a snow emergency, which among other things, would have required cars to be moved off of the city’s main streets.  Deputy Mayor Goldsmith indicated that declaring a snow emergency could have facilitated a quicker response to the storm.  The Commissioners, however, made this determination without consulting Mayor Bloomberg or the Deputy Mayor.

The administration released its preliminary internal review of the snow response, which includes a 15-point reform plan to improve the City’s ability to handle major snow storms.  You can download the report by clicking here.

These are only a few highlights from today’s hearing.  Please visit our Twitter page for additional highlights.  You can also click here to see many of the Twitter posts from Melissa’s Council colleagues, the press and members of the public about today’s snow hearing (those who used the #snowhearing tag).

The New York Times City Room Blog also was blogging live throughout the day.  You can see that article here.

We will keep the blog updated on the Council’s continued efforts to get to the bottom of what went wrong in the last storm and ensure that it never happens again.

New Web Address for the Blog – MMViverito.com

Our blog can now be conveniently accessed by visiting www.mmviverito.com.  While the old address (www.newsfrommelissa.wordpress.com) still works, this one  might be a bit easier to remember. 

We thank you for visiting the blog and keeping up with our office’s work.  If you are not yet subscribed to the blog, we encourage you to do so, by entering your e-mail address in the space provided at the top of the right-hand column.  Be sure to check your e-mail to confirm your subscription.  You can also subscribe to our monthly electronic newsletter by visiting www.tinyurl.com/mmvsubscribe.  We appreciate your continued support!

Major Mid-Year Budget Cuts Avoided in Deal Negotiated by the City Council

The City Council has negotiated a deal with the Bloomberg administration to avoid mid-year budget cuts to core services, from case management for seniors to shelter beds for homeless youth, as well as to defer increases in recreation center fees and parking meter rates.  This deal only applies to the current fiscal year, which ends in June.


Melissa questions the FDNY Commissioner at a Council budget hearing (Photo by William Alatriste).


By proposing alternative cuts, such as a reduction in the Department of Education’s private contracting budget, the Council was able to:

  • Defer proposed nighttime fire company closures
  • Restore funding for nearly 200 ACS staff positions in the areas of child welfare and child protective services
  • Fully restore case management services for seniors
  • Fully restore runaway and homeless youth programs and preserve the number of available slots in other afterschool programs
  • Defer parking meters increases above 86th Street and outside of Manhattan
  • Defer the doubling of recreation center membership fees

The City still faces a $2.4 billion deficit for the next Fiscal Year and the  Bloomberg administration is already proposing over a billion dollars in cuts for Fiscal Year 2012 (which begins in July).  Melissa strongly maintains her position that the only way to fully address these recurring budget deficits is to ask the wealthiest New Yorkers to put in their fair share through progressive taxation.

La Marqueta Kitchen Incubator Officially Launched!

Yesterday, Melissa joined Speaker Christine Quinn and others in celebrating the opening of the long-awaited commercial kitchen incubator.  Hot Bread Kitchen‘s HBK Incubates program will rent out space in the brand new commercial kitchen at La Marqueta to culinary entrepreneurs while also providing paid training in commercial baking and English as a second language courses to immigrant women.  La Marqueta has also welcomed a number of new vendors, selling everything from coffee and treats to fresh, locally-grown produce.

The incubator space includes two production kitchens, two prep kitchens, a chocolate kitchen, a specialty production space, and dough room, as well as dry and cold storage facilities. A demonstration kitchen for classes and other events is also available. The kitchens will be fully equipped and available on a part-time or full-time basis. Already, Hot Bread Kitchen has agreed to incubate 7 small businesses, with a second round of applications currently being accepted.  Subsidized rates are available for low-income food entrepreneurs.  More info on this space is available here.

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Staff at the kitchen will help entrepreneurs with: learning kitchen-use rules and regulations, product development, becoming certified food handlers, marketing products, completing a business plan and accessing capital.  We hope that local culinary entrepreneurs and other interested residents will seek to take advantage of the opportunities available through the HBK Incubates Program.  Click here for more information on membership and rental rates, and call 212-369-3331 to learn more.

“With today’s grand opening, we begin the long-awaited revitalization of La Marqueta, a historical and cultural landmark for the El Barrio/East Harlem community,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “The newly built commercial kitchen incubator will make affordable workspace available to culinary entrepreneurs, as immigrant women receive training and workforce development from Hot Bread Kitchen.  I strongly encourage my constituents to take advantage of these incredible resources.  This innovative incubator space, along with the brand new retailers that have moved in, will help La Marqueta to once again become an engine for economic activity in El Barrio/East Harlem.  I thank Speaker Christine Quinn for her leadership on this project, as well as the support of the Economic Development Corporation and all others who helped make this vision come to life.”

Please stop by the newly renovated La Marqueta to check out the commercial kitchen and all of the new vendors!

Here is some media coverage of yesterday’s grand opening:

TONIGHT: Candlelight Vigil at City Hall for the Strengthening of Rent Stabilization Laws

Join tenants and advocates TONIGHT (Monday, January 3rd) at 6 pm on the steps of City Hall to call on Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to strengthen and protect rent stabilization laws. Those state laws which provide for rent stabilization (for buildings built from 1974 on) and for rent control are set to expire in June 2011.  The Legislature is expected to renew these laws, but they may do so with substantial givebacks to landlords.  Tonight’s vigil will call for:

  • Full repeal of Vacancy Decontrol
  • The extending rent protections to all Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 buildings which leave govt program

Attendees will begin to gather at around 5:30 pm.  Be sure to bundle up and bring signs! The Real Rent Reform Campaign will provide hot cider. For more information, please contact Anderson Fils-Aimé at (347)392-9851 or andersonfilsaime@yahoo.com.

Happy New Year!

Community Leaders Stage Citizen’s Arrest on Wall Street in Response to $143 Billion in Bonuses

Community leaders recently gathered outside of the New York Stock Exchange to protest a projected $143 million in bonuses for Wall Street executives, while the local and national economy continues to struggle.  That same day, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) joined a coalition of groups in releasing a report detailing some of the ways in which these millions of dollars in bonuses could be reinvested to help revitalize our economy.

The report, entitled Big Banks, Bonus Bonanza, reveals that banks received $17 trillion in bailouts and other forms of assistance from American taxpayers.  Its authors argue that if Wall Street reinvested the $143 billion back into the economy, it could create 3.6 million new jobs, or fill the deficits of all 50 states combined.  Click here for more on the report.


Photo courtesy of Showdown in America.

According to a recent poll, 70% of Americans support banning Wall Street bonuses, in a context of high unemployment and budget cuts to social services at the local and state levels.  Even among Republicans, whose party leaders typically oppose regulation on business, 76% support a bonus ban.  One in six respondents also support a 50% tax on bonuses over $400,000.

Meanwhile, a recent New York Times editorial endorsed a proposal for states to tax wealthy residents on the windfall they will earn as a result of the Congress’ failure to roll back the Bush-era tax cuts.  The Progressive Caucus has been promoting a similar proposal at the New York State and City levels.

This coming year, our office and the Progressive Caucus will redouble our efforts to begin to reverse the tide of inequality which is only becoming greater in New York City and beyond, by continuing to advocate for fair share tax reforms, while fighting the crippling budget cuts being proposed by the Bloomberg administration.

What do you think of the record bonuses being taken in by Wall Street executives?

Melissa Joins Rally Against Cuts to Shelter Beds for Homeless and Runaway Youth

This afternoon Melissa joined nearly a dozen other council members, and over 100 young people and advocates on the steps of City Hall to voice opposition to a proposed cut in funding for shelter bed services for runaway and homeless youth, many of whom are members of the LGBT community.

Photo by William Alatriste.

On November 26th, the Bloomberg Administration, via the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, informed grantees across the city that Runaway and Homeless Youth Services expenditures would be cut by nearly $1 million in the current fiscal year and by another $700,000 in the upcoming year.

According to statements issued by Council Member Lew Fidler and the Ali Forney Center, there is an average of 3,800 homeless children in New York City without their families on our streets every night and a dearth of available shelter beds for them. Cuts would only serve to worsen an already bleak situation.

Photo by William Alatriste.


Adding remarks to the litany of speakers, Melissa, who is a member of the Council’s Youth Services Committee, offered her utter disdain for the budget cuts which will result in more homeless youth on our streets. Speakers called upon the Bloomberg administration to rescind the proposed cuts. If these cuts are enacted, organizations will have to cut services beginning January 1, 2011. The press conference culminated with Melissa and the other participants lying down on the steps of City Hall to symbolize the impact these proposed cuts will have on homeless youth in our city.


Attendees laid down on the steps of City Hall to symbolize the impact these cuts will have on homeless youth.


Progressive Caucus Calls for New York Surcharge on Bush-era Tax Breaks for the Wealthy to Restore Services, Address Deficits, Revitalize Economy

Temporary surcharge on income over $250,000 would generate $8 billion, to be shared by New York State and City

New York, NY – On the heels of the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, members of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus today issued a plan for an income tax surcharge on households earning over $250,000.  The surcharge would be set at the same amount as the additional income tax break the wealthiest households will receive under the tax cut plan.  The Caucus plan would generate $8.1 billion, and use this revenue to restore vital services now proposed for deep cuts, stimulate the New York economy, and address severe deficits facing New York City and State.

The extension of the Bush-era tax breaks for the top 2% of American households comes as New York City and State (like other cities and state around the country) are facing dire cuts and gaping deficits.  Mayor Bloomberg is proposing to lay off 4,000 teachers, reduce the NYPD and FDNY through attrition, cut home-care services for seniors and child care for families.  Yet despite these proposed cuts, as well as new fees for FDNY emergency service, a large deficit would remain.  And the budget gap New York State is facing is even bigger.  The Progressive Caucus proposal would narrow these gaps, prevent harmful cuts, and help revitalize New York’s economy.

Income concentration is growing in New York, but the top 1% of households do not pay their fair share.  According to a recent report from the Fiscal Policy Institute, the wealthiest 1% increased their share of income from 19.6% in 1990 to a staggering 44% in 2007.  Yet they only pay 34% of the City’s income, property, and sales taxes.

Under the proposal offered today by the Progressive Caucus:

  • Households earning under $250,000 (or individuals under $200,000) will receive the full tax relief under the federal package. A married couple with two kids earning $50,000 will continue to receive about $2,000 in tax relief.
  • Households earning over $250,000 would still receive tax relief on the first $250,000.  A surcharge would be placed on income over $250,000, per President Obama’s original proposal. A married couple with no kids, earning $500,000 per year, would still receive $7,000 in tax relief, but would no longer receive the extra $3,000 provided by the federal extension.
  • This income tax surcharge will be repealed when Congress and the President repeal the tax breaks for the wealthiest households.

The proposal would generate approximately $8.1 billion. The Caucus also proposed a revenue sharing formula, to share the new revenue between New York State, New York City, and other municipalities.

With this plan, New York City would prevent 4,000 teacher layoffs, maintain police and fire services at current levels, keep libraries and child care centers open, and substantially reduce its deficit.

The plan would need to be adopted by the New York State Legislature, as the City of New York does not have the power to raise income taxes.  The Caucus called on Governor-elect Cuomo, state legislators, and Mayor Bloomberg to support the proposal. Continue reading

Student Safety Act Moves Toward Passage in the City Council

Photo by William Alatriste.

After years of debate, amendments and negotiations, the Student Safety Act is finally moving toward passage in the City Council.  The Student Safety Act requires reporting on disciplinary actions taken against NYC public school students, by safety agents and the police.  This legislation was first introduced in 2008 by Council Members Robert Jackson and Melissa Mark-Viverito in response to increasing allegations of misconduct by some school safety agents, and the effects that excessive discipline was having on young people.  For example, middle school students have been arrested for scribbling on their desks, and a five-year-old was handcuffed and sent by police to a psychiatric ward after misbehaving in school.

Yesterday, Melissa joined the Speaker, Council Members and dozens of youth in rallying for the passage of this bill.  It is currently passing the final hurdles of the legislative process and is expected to pass the City Council at Monday’s Stated Meeting.  See below for video from yesterday’s rally:

Once this bill get signed into law, the Council will receive regular reports detailing:

  • the number of students who are suspended, broken down by school, as well as indicators such as race, ethnicity, gender and age, as well as special education and English language learner status; and
  • the number of arrests and summons issued in schools, including the charges that led to these arrests and summons and whether they were misdemeanors, felonies or violations.  This data will also be broken down by the indicators mentioned above.

Click above to open video from NY1.

“I am very pleased that the Student Safety Act is headed toward passage by the City Council, after several years of advocacy and negotiations,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This bill will equip the Council and advocates with the information we need to ensure that DOE disciplinary policies and the actions of school safety agents are promoting not only the safety, but the dignity of our students. I thank Speaker Quinn and Council Member Jackson for their leadership on this issue, as well as all of the young people and advocates who have worked so hard for this important victory.”

Melissa Talks DREAM Act, the Bush Tax Cuts and Mayor Bloomberg on ‘Pura Política’ This Weekend

This weekend, Melissa appeared on the NY1 Noticias show “Pura Política” to discuss the DREAM Act, the proposed continuation of the Bush tax cuts and Mayor Bloomberg’s policies around education, immigration and the economy.  Below are the two segments:

Council Holds Hearing on Proposed Mid-Year Budget Cuts

The City Council held a hearing today to discuss the mid-year budget cuts that have been proposed by the Bloomberg administration.  The City is currently facing a $2.4 billion deficit going into the Fiscal Year 2012, and is proposing $585 million in cuts for the current fiscal year, including everything from reductions in case management services for the elderly, layoffs for Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) employees, and cuts to the runaway and homeless youth program.

Melissa questioning Office of Management and Budget Director Mark Page (Photo by William Alatriste).

Melissa focused her questioning on a few key areas, including why the New York Police Department (NYPD) did not meet its own budget reduction targets, while nearly all other agencies did, and whether the City is looking actively into reducing its reliance on private contractors, which have been found to cause the City to spend more.

Melissa tells OMB Director Page that "we cannot continue nickling and diming our way to solvency." (Photo by William Alatriste).

Melissa also expressed her extreme concern regarding cuts to the already strapped Department for the Aging (DFTA).  After the adoption of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, a number of senior centers were closed down, in addition to several other cuts.  Now the administration has proposed an additional $3.3 million in budget reductions specifically to case management, which will cause some of our most frail seniors to lose services.

The Council will fight for restorations to key areas, and has proposed alternative cuts that could preserve some of these essential services.

The Fight Continues for Improved Wage Standards

Last week, as Council Members gathered for the Stated Meeting, nearly 100 clergy members led a procession and rally in support of living wage legislation.  They delivered collection baskets to the Council filled with postcards signed by their parishoners urging the Council to pass the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.

Melissa receiving postcards in support of the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.

This legislation, sponsored by Council Members Koppell and Palma, would require that entities receiving economic development subsidies from the City provide  jobs that pay, at minimum, a living wage, which is currently defined as $10 per hour with health benefits, or $11.50 without them.  Melissa is also the lead sponsor on the Good Jobs Bill, which will require that owners of buildings  receiving City financial assistance or where the City is leasing space, must pay its service workers a prevailing wage, as defined by the Comptroller’s office.

Mayor Bloomberg has expressed his opposition to policies that would require improved wage standards on economic development projects, saying “I’ve always wanted to let the marketplace set the wages… Government should not be in the business of doing that… The last government that tried that doesn’t exist anymore. That was the Soviet Union.”

His administration has instead commissioned a study that will look at the potential impact of living wage policy in New York City.  However, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has selected a consulting firm to run the study that has already taken a clear public position against living wages and even the minimum wage.  Therefore, the City is spending $1.1 million on a study that already has a pre-determined outcome (see video below).

For more information on the Good Jobs Bill, visit www.NotOnOurDime.org.  For more information on Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, visit www.LivingWageNYC.org.

Hundreds Rally for the DREAM Act and Family Unity in Brooklyn

Yesterday, hundreds of immigrants and supporters gathered inside a church in Bushwick to rally for the passage of the DREAM Act and other policies which will keep immigrant families united and stem the tide of deportations.  Melissa emceed the event, and was joined by a number of speakers, including Congressman Luis Gutierrez, who came in from Chicago for the event and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez.

The event focused on several important policy reforms to our immigration enforcement system, at the local, state and federal levels, as well as the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented students who have lived in the country for five years or longer, have graduated high school and complete two years of college or military service.  The DREAM Act is expected to come to the floor in the Congress in the coming weeks.

Speaker Christine Quinn also joined the event to reaffirm her commitment to restricting the City’s collaboration with ICE at Rikers Island and other correctional facilities, sharing a letter that she, Melissa and other Council Members have sent to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on this matter.

Speakers also urged attendees to participate in the “Stroke of a Pen” campaign, which aims to collect thousands of letters from immigrant communities and allies calling on President Obama to place a moratorium on deportations.  For each letter, the New York Immigration Coalition will send the President a pen, symbolizing his ability to enact a moratorium by signing an Executive Order, which does not require Congressional approval.

“This is the moment for the enactment of common sense and humane immigration policies at all levels of government,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “Right here in New York City, our correctional facilities are serving as a pipeline to inhumane detention centers, and nationally we are separating more families than ever.  Meanwhile, immigrant youth have courageously fought for the passage of the DREAM Act for a decade to no avail.  As immigrant communities and allies made clear today, we are ready to hold accountable those leaders who were elected on pro-immigrant platforms, from Mayor Bloomberg to President Obama, as we await action on these critical reform measures.”

Click here to view a slideshow with additional photos from yesterday’s event.

All photos courtesy of the New York Immigration Coalition and the New York State Immigrant Action Fund.

Melissa Stands with Electeds in Opposition to the Appointment of Cathie Black as Schools Chancellor

Melissa joined Council Members and State electeds in opposing Mayor Bloomberg’s appointment of Cathie Black to replace Joel Klein as the new Chancellor of NYC public schools.  Ms. Black, who currently serves as the head of Hearst Magazines and had worked entirely in the private sector, has no experience as an educator or working in public service.  Be sure to participate in our poll below!


Photo from the press conference held outside of the Tweed Courthouse (DOE Headquarters).


Because she lacks the qualifications set out under State law, the State Education Commissioner, David Steiner, must grant a waiver to Ms. Black before she can serve as Chancellor.  Melissa has signed on to several letters and a City Council resolution calling for the waiver not to be granted.

Ms. Black’s selection has also been criticized due to the lack of public process behind Mayor Bloomberg’s decision.  Council Members have called for public hearings where she can put forth her plans for the education system and make her case for why she should be the next Chancellor.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bloomberg is defending his pick, saying that her business experience will make her an effective manager of the city’s school system.


Click image to see a report from Fox 5 on the press conference.

What do you think about the Mayor’s selection of Cathie Black?

City Council Adopts Resolution in Support of the Wage Theft Prevention Act

Yesterday, the City Council passed a resolution sponsored by Melissa that calls on the State Legislature and the Governor to make the Wage Theft Prevention Act state law.  The Act will put stiffer penalties in place for employers that refuse to pay their workers the minimum wage and overtime.

Make the Road New York held a press conference yesterday in support of the resolution.  Below is a video from the press conference:

A recent study by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) has indicated that two-thirds of low-wage workers are not currently paid overtime when they exceed 40 hours, and a quarter are not even paid minimum wage.  All together, NYC low-wage workers lose $1 billion per year as a result of wage theft.

The Wage Theft Prevention Act has passed both the State Senate and the Assembly, but in different versions.  Yesterday’s resolution calls on both houses to resolve these versions, pass a unified bill and send it to Governor Paterson for his signature.

Joint Statement Regarding Congressman Charles Rangel from 15th Congressional District Latino Elected Officials and Members-Elect

“We, the Latino elected officials and members-elect who serve in the areas covered by Congressman Charlie Rangel’s district, stand in solidarity to support a man who has committed nearly 40 years of service to empowering our communities. Congressman Rangel has been a fearless leader, who has often taken on the tough issues that not only affect our communities in Upper Manhattan, but low-income communities of color throughout our nation.

“We also stand on behalf of the thousands of voters in all of our neighborhoods throughout the 15th Congressional District who resoundingly showed their support for Congressman Rangel in both the Democratic primary in September and the general election in November, even amid controversy.

“Congressman Rangel has been instrumental in bringing much-needed resources to our city, and has fought tirelessly to address a wide spectrum of social and economic justice issues, which are of importance to Latinos and all Upper Manhattan residents, including poverty, inequity, job creation and immigration reform. He has helped bring over $300 million to Harlem, El Barrio/East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood through the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ) Initiative. He also has a stellar record of delivering increased educational services, improved health programs, and various social services to our neighborhoods.  Additionally, Congressman Rangel has been an outspoken leader in the struggle to reform our country’s broken immigration system. On these and so many other issues, he has not wavered and he has not faltered.

“Therefore, it is no surprise to us that our constituents delivered Congressman Rangel yet another impressive victory this fall.  We expect that the Congressman’s colleagues will remember his unbelievable record of service and the base of support that exists in his district as they deliberate today.”

José M. Serrano, State Senator, District 28
Adriano Espaillat, State Senator Elect, District 31 and Assembly Member, District 72
Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Council Member, District 8
Ydanis Rodriguez, City Council Member, District 10
Guillermo Linares, Assembly Member-Elect, District 72 and Former Council Member, District 10
Robert J. Rodriguez, Assembly Member-Elect, District 68

Join Melissa, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Other Leaders at Special Immigration Event This Sunday

This Sunday, Melissa will join Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, other elected leaders from throughout NYC and community members to call for action at all levels of government to keep immigrant families united.  We hope you will be able to join us at this special event in Brooklyn at 2:00 p.m. (see more details below).

As we begin to approach the holiday season, we remember that thousands of families are torn apart by our immigration system each year.  Important steps can be taken immediately at the federal, state and city levels to protect immigrant families, including:

The event will be held at St. Brigid’s Church, 409 Linden Street in Brooklyn on Sunday, November 21 at 2:00 p.m.  Click here for map of location.  To arrive from our district, take any downtown train to 14th Street and transfer to the Brooklyn-bound L.  The church is just around the corner from the Myrtle Ave-Wyckoff Ave stop on the L line.

This event is being organized in conjunction with Make the Road New York, the New York Immigration Coalition and other NYC immigrant rights groups.

See the flyers in English and Spanish below and please help spread the word!

City Council Questions Department of Corrections’ Collaboration with ICE at Yesterday’s Hearing

The City Council held a hearing yesterday on the collaboration between the NYC Department of Corrections (DOC) and ICE, which allows federal immigration officers to operate on Rikers Island. Melissa joined Speaker Quinn and a number of her colleagues in questioning the DOC Commissioner, Dr. Dora Schriro, regarding ICE’s activities in City jails, the history of this relationship, its cost to City taxpayers and whether or not we are required by law to engage in this level of collaboration.

Photo by William Alatriste.

All City Council photos from the hearing are available here.

Currently, ICE has real time access to DOC’s arrest records, sorted by country of origin and citizenship status. They use these records to initiate investigations and to place immigration “detainers” on those individuals at Rikers or other facilities that they determine to be eligible for deportation. Many of those who are issued detainers are not accused of serious crimes, have not been proven guilty and have no previous criminal records.  Once detainers are dropped, those individuals, after being released by the City, are typically placed directly in detention and put through deportation proceedings.

In addition to the DOC Commissioner, the Council also heard testimony from advocates such as Make the Road New York, as well as attorneys, researchers and several New Yorkers who have been affected by this policy.


Immigrant New Yorkers give testimony of their experiences with ICE at Rikers (Photo by Michael Appleton for The New York Times)

One of those New Yorkers was Luis Guerra, a young man from El Barrio/East Harlem, who courageously testified at yesterday’s hearing. Luis had been wrongfully arrested for murder and was interviewed by ICE which placed a detainer on him, even though he had no criminal record. Once the charges were dropped, he was sent to a detention center far away from his family, and deportation proceedings were initiated. He is currently a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College and would be a beneficiary of the DREAM Act, once it passes in Congress. His case is currently on hold, but he may ultimately still face deportation (Melissa has submitted a letter on his behalf to ICE).

Melissa is seeking to introduce legislation that will require DOC to exercise greater discretion over the information sharing with ICE and the honoring of detainers. Continue reading

Melissa Stands in Support of Protected Bike Lanes in El Barrio/East Harlem

Melissa stood with cyclists and elected officials yesterday in support of extending protected bike lanes on 1st and 2nd Avenues beyond 34th Street, where they currently end.  While El Barrio/East Harlem has seen the addition of bike lanes, they are not designed to provide the maximum protection for bikers, pedestrians and motorists as they are below 34th Street.

Melissa holds hundreds of petitions from residents who want bike lanes to run on 1st and 2nd Avenues all the way to 125th Street (Photo by Evie Przybyla).

The Bloomberg administration has spearheaded the transformation of many New York City streets to accommodate bike lanes.  However, the redesign of 1st and 2nd Avenues below 34th Street allows cyclists to ride between the sidewalk and a line of parked cars, providing greater safety for bikers and drivers, while also including pedestrian islands that help those trying to cross the street.  None of these additional protections have been included in El Barrio/East Harlem.

“We’re talking about equity for our neighborhood,” said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem, where biking options are limited despite rising interest in cycling. “Why should Midtown get the benefit?” (from New York Times City Room article).

See below for some coverage from yesterday’s rally:

City Council to Hold Hearing on the Department of Corrections’ Cooperation with ICE

This Wednesday, the City Council’s Committees on Immigration and Fire & Criminal Justice will hold a joint hearing on the NYC Department of Corrections’ (DOC) cooperation with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  This collaboration involves using City resources to facilitate the deportation of New Yorkers, who many times are not even convicted of serious crimes.  Approximately 3,000-4,000 City residents are deported annually through this system, even though New York is widely considered to be among the most immigrant-friendly cities in the U.S.

Members of Make the Road New York protest DOC’s cooperation with ICE (Photo courtesy of Make the Road NY).

A young Mexican college student from El Barrio/East Harlem is just one of thousands of New Yorkers that have been negatively impacted by this policy.  He was wrongfully arrested on a murder charge and sent to a detention facility in Texas, until the charges were eventually dropped.  Still, he was left with a pending order of deportation against him, which he is still in the process of fighting.

Melissa is currently working to introduce legislation that will restrict the City’s collaboration with ICE to cases where individuals are convicted of violent felonies.  While the legislation is still being drafted, this hearing will serve as a useful tool to continue to gather information from the City on this topic.

The hearing will be held on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. on the 14th Floor of 250 Broadway.  Please join us to listen or to offer your testimony.  We will also be tweeting live from the hearing.  If you don’t already follow our Twitter account, please do so at www.twitter.com/mmviverito.

Community Leaders Call for Response to Disparities Among Puerto Rican Youth

Melissa joined other Puerto Rican community leaders and activists yesterday in demanding an aggressive response to recent findings in a Community Service Society study that Puerto Rican youth are the most disadvantaged group in New York City.  Among the statistics presented by the report, nearly 25% of Puerto Rican young men are “disconnected,” meaning that they are neither in school nor employed.


Photo by Catherine Yang of The Epoch Times.


Among those also represented at the press conference were Mujeres del Barrio, United Puerto Rican Organizations of Sunset Park (UPROSE), Caribbean Cultural Center, Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and Council Member Rosie Mendez.

The organizers of the press conference called for a unified strategy among  government officials, nonprofit organizations and the Puerto Rican community at large to reduce these disparities.  Proposals have included increasing the allocation of public dollars for organizations serving Puerto Rican youth, and creating expanded opportunities for young people to be placed in leadership positions within community groups to help inform the decisions made and services provided by those organizations.

The report examines Latino youth in general, as they are now the largest share of NYC residents under the age of 25.  While there were many troubling statistics around Latino youth in general, the findings around Puerto Ricans were most alarming, including that these young people experience the highest rates of poverty and, particularly among males, lowest rates of employment and school enrollment.  The data in the report is compared to Mexican, Dominican and “Other Latino” youth, as well as African Americans, Whites and Asians.  For example:

  • 33.4% of Puerto Rican households are identified as “poor,” compared to 29.3% of Dominican and 27.4% of Mexican households;
  • 55% of native-born Puerto Ricans attend school, compared to 61% of African American youth; and
  • 24.6% of Puerto Rican males are both out of work and out of school, compared to 23.7% of black male youth.

Click here to download a copy of the report in PDF.

Below is some coverage from yesterday’s press conference:

City Council Honors Ten Domestic Violence Organizations

In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the City Council honored 10 DV organizations during the ceremonials prior to last week’s stated meeting. Melissa presented a proclamation to New York Latinas Against Domestic Violence for the 10th anniversary of the Brides’ March and the Women’s Caucus honored nine service providers, including El Barrio/East Harlem-based Violence Intervention Program (VIP).


Photo by William Alatriste.


More photos to come!

Also, this week, we will be presenting awards to the winners of our domestic violence awareness school art contest at the Young Women’s Leadership School and the Renaissance School of the Arts. Check back for more info!

Council Adopts Two of Melissa’s Bills Requiring Publication of Domestic Violence and Hate Crimes Statistics on the City’s Website

In an effort to continue to bring attention to the important issues of domestic violence and hate crimes, the City Council passed two pieces of legislation sponsored by Melissa, which will require the publication of statistics on these two crimes on the City’s My Neighborhood Statistics website.

Under these local laws, NYC residents will be able to track the number of domestic violence incidents and hate crimes in their communities, local police precincts and throughout the city in a more user-friendly way.

These pieces of legislation help get the City closer to an earlier proposal by Melissa that domestic violence statistics appear in the Police Department’s CompStat report.  While this is a step in the right direction, the advocacy will continue to elevate the seriousness with which both domestic violence and hate crimes are treated in New York City.

“Domestic violence incidents and hate crimes remain at high levels in our city,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, sponsor of the bills. “A significant percentage of all murders in the city are committed at the hands of an intimate partner, and we have all seen the startling rise in hate crimes across the city. I am proud to be the sponsor of two pieces of legislation that will require the publication of data on both domestic violence and hate crimes on the city’s website. These statistics will enable local residents and advocates to more easily and effectively monitor trends in these two crimes. I thank Speaker Quinn, Governmental Operations Chair Brewer and the Mayor’s Office of Operations for their support of this legislation.”

The Mayor is expected to sign these two bills into law in the coming weeks.

Melissa and other members of the City Council also honored several domestic violence service providers and the organizers of the Brides’ March with proclamations in the pre-Stated Meeting ceremonials.  Check the blog tomorrow for a report and photos  from the ceremony!

New Parks & Recreation Committee Blog Launched

We have launched a new blog to help New Yorkers keep up with the work of the City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee.  The blog can be accessed at www.parksnyc.wordpress.com.


Click to open blog.


The blog will feature reports from committee hearings and parks events as well as news on parks issues throughout the city.  It also features a list of legislation currently being considered before the committee and a schedule of upcoming hearings and events.

You can subscribe to the Parks Committee blog by entering your e-mail address at the top of the column on the right side, and then activating your subscription after you receive a confirmation e-mail.

Raising Awareness about Domestic Violence in Schools, on the Street and on the Web

As you may know, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Melissa’s office is committed to taking this opportunity to raise awareness on this important issue.  Here are some of the things we are doing in the community and citywide during the month of October:

  • In Schools: This month, we are working with two El Barrio/East Harlem schools, the Renaissance School of the Arts and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy, in sponsoring an art contest, where students can submit artwork (in any medium) that seeks to raise awareness about the devastating effects of domestic violence.  Winners will be selected from each of the two schools and prizes will be awarded.   
  • On the Street: Today, we sponsored an event with Violence Intervention Program (VIP) and Marshalls that brought an outdoor exhibit on domestic violence to the corner of 106th Street and Third Avenue (see photos below). 
  • On the Web: On Monday morning, the City Council will hold a hearing on a bill sponsored by Melissa that will require the City to report data on domestic violence incidents on the My Neighborhood Statistics website.  After the bill is enacted, local residents will be able to track the number of these incidents in their community district, police precinct and citywide.

The Women’s Caucus of the City Council is also holding a special ceremonial event before next week’s Stated Meeting to honor domestic violence service providers throughout the five boroughs.

Photos from this morning’s event:

Melissa Gets an A+ on 2010 Human Rights Report Card

Melissa has received the highest grade in a new report card published by the  Urban Justice Center that looks at City Council Members’ voting and sponsorship records on key pieces of legislation that advance human rights in our city in the areas of housing, health, workers’ rights, criminal justice and government accountability.  She will be presented with the 2010 New York City Human Rights Award, along with fellow honoree Council Member Jumaane Williams, who also received an A+ on the report card.

The report card looks at 43 pieces of legislation and votes on land use, as well as a questionnaire, to tabulate each member’s score.  Melissa is the lead sponsor on three of the bills used to measure Council Members’ commitment to human rights.

Click here to open the 2010 Human Rights Report Card.

The Cheyenne Baez Memorial Fund + An Introduction to the Youth Violence Task Force

The El Barrio/East Harlem community has seen yet another victim of gun violence on our streets.  On Sunday, October 3rd, 2010, Cheyenne Baez, a 17 year old young woman was a victim of a fatal drive-by shooting in the East Harlem neighborhood.  The Cheyenne Baez Memorial Fund will support the Baez family through these extremely trying times.  The goal of the memorial fund is to raise the $3,000 necessary to defray the cost of homegoing services scheduled for Tuesday, October 12th, 2010.  We encourage everyone who can to donate to this fund, as 100% of donations go directly to Cheyenne’s family.  To donate, visit http://cheyennebaezmemorialfund.com/.

Sadly, these violent incidents involving youth have recently been on the rise in our community.  For this reason, Melissa has launched the East Harlem/El Barrio Youth Violence Task Force.  Below is a message about the work of the task force from our Direct of Youth Services, Elsie Encarnación:

Melissa, as a hands-on elected official, had the vision to create the East Harlem/ El Barrio Youth Violence Task Force in response to the increase in violence among youth. The task force has been meeting for over a month and I hope you all will join in and be a part of this movement going forward. Only through working together will this issue be at the forefront of our community’s priorities. Below is some information on our task force.  If you are interested in being on our listserv, please send an e-mail to eencarnacion@council.nyc.gov and I will add you immediately.

The East Harlem/ El Barrio Youth Violence Task Force

Who we are: The task force is comprised of numerous Community Based Organizations (CBO’s) from East Harlem, the District 8 Youth Council, community leaders and most importantly youth from East Harlem. We are looking to reach out to religious leaders and other interested parties.

What we have done: During the few first meetings the task force decided the only way to come up with real solutions to this issue was to first engage and listen to our young people. We needed to provide a safe space for them to express their ideas, fears, frustrations and dreams. With this in mind we set out to speak to the young people from NYCHA developments and other housing developments and started with the one closest to us, Johnson Houses. We have met with the young people there twice. In our conversations the young people really opened up and discussed how they view the issue, what they think causes the issue and how we can help them achieve a solution. Continue reading

Statement of the Progressive Caucus on the Paid Sick Time Act

The members of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus are disappointed with Speaker Quinn’s decision not to move forward with the Paid Sick Time Act at this time.

This issue is a priority for New Yorkers and a priority for the Progressive Caucus.  There are too many New Yorkers who will continue to be forced to choose between risking their job, or risking their health and the health of their children. We continue to believe that paid sick leave is good for working families, the economy and public health.

This is not only a workers’ rights issue, it is also a critical public health issue, as employees will continue to go to work sick and send their children to school sick.

We care greatly about supporting economic recovery, and about small businesses which are the foundation of our economy. However, studies of the implementation of Paid Sick Time in San Francisco showed no impacts on job growth.  Well-regarded, academic estimates show that the costs of the bill are considerably lower than the estimates with questionable methodology that were touted recently by the business community, and that there would be almost no net impact on small businesses. However, in spite of this evidence, members of the business community have irresponsibly distorted and overstated the fiscal realities associated with this legislation.

We continue to believe that now is the time to move forward with paid sick days.  As we have said consistently, we are open to a range of amendments that would address the vast majority of concerns raised by the business community.

The Progressive Caucus will continue to push for the passage of the Paid Sick Time Act and are hopeful that the many other sponsors of the bill will join us in doing so.  We hope to see the Council move forward with this issue in the very near future.

Next Friday: Walk Through the ‘Take a Stand Against Domestic Violence’ Outdoor Exhibit in El Barrio/East Harlem

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Our office will be coordinating and participating in several activities that highlight and bring attention to the devastating effects of domestic violence and how to seek help.  Next Friday, October 15th, join us for a walk-through of an outdoor exhibit on domestic violence, sponsored by Marshalls and Violence Intervention Program (VIP).  UPDATE: This event will be held on October 22nd from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The exhibit will be placed in front of Ponce de Leon Federal Bank on 106th Street and Third Avenue.

The event will begin at 10:00 a.m. and will also feature poetry, give-aways and inspirational speeches.  The exhibit will be open until 4:00 p.m.  We hope you can join us!

Free Universal Pre-K Seats Still Available!

There are still free Universal Pre-K (UPK) seats available for children who will turn four before December 31, 2010.  Parents must register their children by October 29, 2010 to qualify. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

For information on available seats, call 718-935-2009 or call the UPK programs nearest you.  You can find local UPK programs by visiting www.nyc.gov/schools/prek.  Please see the flyer below (click to enlarge) for additional information.

Parks Committee to Hold Hearing Tomorrow on Tree Safety

Tomorrow, October 6th at 10:00 a.m., Melissa will chair a hearing of the Parks & Recreation Committee regarding the protection of parks users and pedestrians from damaged trees. Over the past few years, there have been a number of tragic incidents related to trees, one of the most recent being the death of Gianna Ricciutti, a six month old who was killed by a falling tree branch in Central Park this past summer.  The hearing will be held at 250 Broadway on the 14th Floor.

The snapped tree branch that killed Gianna Ricciutti in June. Photo courtesy of A Walk in the Park (http://awalkintheparknyc.blogspot.com).

The hearing will focus on the Parks Department’s process for tree inspections and maintenance, if the current resources dedicated to Central Park tree maintenance is sufficient, what oversight the Department has over non-profit entities that manage public parks within the City and what steps are being taken currently for the upcoming winter season.

Tomorrow Evening: Film Screening and Discussion on Gentrification in El Barrio/East Harlem and the Lower East Side

Tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., Melissa’s office is co-sponsoring a film screening and discussion at the Museum of the City of New York (1220 Fifth Avenue @ 104th Street) on gentrification in two NYC neighborhoods: El Barrio/East Harlem and the Lower East Side.  Melissa will kick off the event, followed by the screenings of Whose Barrio? by Ed Morales and Laura Rivera and The Lower East Side: An Endangered Place by Robert Weber.  The filmmakers will hold a discussion after the screenings.

Reservations are required. To purchase tickets, click here.  Prices are as follows:

  • $8 Seniors and Students
  • $6 Museum Members, East Harlem Residents, and Lower East Side Residents.  Local residents should select the Partner option when ordering tickets online to receive your discount.
  • $12 Non-Members
  • Note: A two dollar surcharge applies for unreserved, walk-in participants.

For more information please call 917.492.3395.

This Sunday: Join the El Barrio/East Harlem Contingent of the Brides’ March to Raise Awareness About Domestic Violence

This Sunday, September 26th, please join us in the El Barrio/East Harlem Contingent of the 10th Annual Brides’ March to raise awareness about the devastating effect that domestic violence has on our community.  We will begin our march on 96th Street and 3rd Avenue at 1:30 p.m.

The Brides’ March commemorates the murder of Gladys Ricart, who was killed by an abusive ex-boyfriend on the day she was to marry her fiancé.  For this reason, we encourage women to wear a wedding gown, white clothes and/or a veil, and that men wear black to represent mourning. We will provide veils for the ladies on a first-come, first-served basis.

The march will end at the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center on Lexington Avenue between 105th and 106th Streets, where a closing ceremony will be held.

More information is available in the flyer below:

Melissa to Introduce Legislation that will Require Reporting of Shelter Inspection Results

Melissa will introduce a new piece of legislation tomorrow that will require the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) to report the outcomes of inspections performed on new transitional housing shelters to the local Council Member and Community Board.

Earlier this year, DHS opened a transitional housing shelter on West 107th Street in District 8, and many constituents raised questions about the quality of the housing and what level of inspection had been performed.  If enacted, this bill would enable members of the public to learn about inspection results before DHS enters into an agreement to open a housing shelter.

The W. 107th Street building where a transitional shelter was opened earlier this year (Photo by Andrew Schwartz / West Side Spirit)

The legislation requires DHS to provide the following information:

  • The name of the person or entity operating the transitional housing and organizations providing services there
  • The number of people to be housed at the location
  • A description of services to be provided
  • A list of any health, sanitation, safety and fire protection-related deficiencies that have not yet been brought into compliance with legal regulations and requirements and a description of corrective actions being required by DHS to enter into an an agreement

The bill will be referred to the General Welfare committee where we hope it will move forward during this session.

Today is Primary Day in NYS | Don’t Forget to Vote!

Today is Primary Day in New York State.  District 8 residents will vote in a number of important primaries for elected representatives at the state and federal level.   Don’t forget to go out and cast your ballot!

To find your polling site, please visit: http://gis.nyc.gov/vote/ps/index.htm.

Also, remember that this year, NYS residents will vote using new machines.  Take a look at www.votethenewwayny.com for more information on this new voting system.

Melissa Publishes Opinion Piece on Synthetic Turf on CityLimits.org

Melissa has written a new opinion piece for CityLimits.org on the issue of synthetic turf in New York City’s public parks and playing fields.  Below is an excerpt:

The issue of synthetic turf appears deceptively simple. With such a high demand for recreational open space throughout our city and a rising obesity epidemic, who would not want to facilitate greater use of our athletic fields? However, the debate over the proliferation of synthetic turf in our public parks is far more complicated than it appears at first glance. In evaluating these surface materials, policymakers must balance the health, environmental and safety implications of this surface material with community members’ desire for reliable, all-weather recreational space.  Click here to read the entire article.

City Limits has dedicated its September issue to the topic of synthetic turf.  New Yorkers for Parks recently released a report card on synthetic turf fields in our parks, which demonstrates serious deficiencies in the maintenance of these spaces.

Learn About NYC’s New Voting System at Upcoming Events in Our District

As you may know, New York City will begin implementing a new voting system this year.  With primaries coming up next month, it is important that we are all prepared to vote using this new system.

The NYC Board of Elections is currently holding demonstrations of the new voting machine throughout the city.  A few of these events will be held right here in our district (see details below).

If you cannot attend these demonstrations, be sure to review the instructions available here.  Don’t forget to vote on Primary Day, September 14th, 2010!

Upcoming Demonstrations

Date: August 31, 2010
Time: 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Location: 150 East 121st St

Date: September 6, 2010
Time: 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Location: 221 West 107th Street

Date: September 6, 2010
Time: 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM
Location: UPACA VI, 1940 Lexington Avenue (between 119th & 120th Streets)

Date: September 11, 2010
Time: 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Location: East 140th Street (between Brook & Willis Avenue in the Bronx)

Parents: Application for the Gifted & Talented Program in NYC Public Schools is Now Available

The deadline to apply for a gifted and talented seats in NYC public schools has now been extended to September 17th. These seats are for students entering the 4th grade in a K-5 school or the 5th grade in a K-8 school who scored a Level 4 on the ELA and math state standardized tests (you can verify your child’s scores by clicking here).  The application can be downloaded by clicking here.  It is also available for download in Spanish as well as other languages.

For students who are not currently in NYC public schools, parents may complete the non-public school application and submit the application along with comparable ELA and math standardized test scores.  For students who are currently in charter schools, parents should contact the charter school to access their child’s scores.

For more information on the gifted and talented program, click here.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact our District Office at 212-828-9800.

Melissa & Speaker Quinn Publish Op-Ed in Today’s New York Times on Community Gardens

Today’s New York Times features an op-ed written by Speaker Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito on the protection of the city’s community gardens.  Click here to open the op-ed.

New York’s community gardens, planted on city lots, are more than just pretty patches of green in the concrete jungle. They provide open space and healthful food, increase the value of neighboring property and offer a strong sense of community. Gardens are as much a part of our city as the Empire State Building or Times Square.

Yet it wasn’t long ago that their existence was threatened. As mayor in the late 1990s, Rudolph Giuliani tried to auction them off to developers. But gardeners dug in, held rallies. One protester chained himself to a building in a garden. The state attorney general filed a lawsuit to stop the auctions. Some of the gardens were sold to nonprofit groups. And, in a settlement agreement in the lawsuit, almost all of the rest — nearly 300 of them — ended up under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation Department. The city agreed not to sell many of them for eight years.

That eight-year period ends next month, and our gardens are in need of permanent protection.  Read More

Melissa Testifies in Response to Proposed Community Gardens Rules

Melissa testified this afternoon at a Parks Department hearing regarding the Department’s proposed community gardens rules.  She expressed her concerns that the rules do not go far enough to provide the protections that our gardens need.  Her testimony can be viewed below.

Additionally, we recently created a new page which contains a list of community gardens in District 8.  Our district is among those that have the greatest numbers of community gardens.Click here to view that page.

Parents: Learn About This Year’s Standardized Test Scores & Get Connected to Efforts to Improve Our Schools

The Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) is holding an emergency meeting for parents regarding the recently-released New York State standardized test scores, which this year showed a significant decline and an increase in the achievement gap between white students and students of color.  Click here to download a fact sheet on the 2010 results, in English and Spanish.

Below are details on the meeting:

2010 Test Scores and Their Impact on
Our Schools & Children

When: Wednesday, August 11th, 6 – 8 pm
Where: 74 Trinity Place near Broadway
Trains: R to Rector, 2/3/4/5 to Wall Street, A/C to Fulton, J/Z to Broad

  • Easy Breakdown of the Data
  • How This Affects Your School and Children
  • Next Steps for Parents and Community

Spanish translation, refreshments and childcare provided
For more information, call Mili Bonilla at 347.901.1049

Progressive Caucus Releases Statements on Mayor’s Support of Bush Tax Cuts & Tuesday’s State Budget Agreement

The Progressive Caucus of the NYC Council released two joint statements this evening, one regarding Mayor Bloomberg’s support of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and the other responding to Tuesday’s New York State budget agreement.  Both statements can be viewed below:


New York, NY – “We are deeply disappointed with Mayor Bloomberg’s recent comments in support of extending George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.  We find this position irresponsible and urge the Mayor to reconsider his position and join with President Obama and the Progressive Caucus in calling on Congress to let these unfair and unnecessary tax cuts expire this year.

Mayor Bloomberg’s arguments for the tax cuts represent both an ideologically driven view of how the economy works, and a deeply unfair perspective on who should bear the responsibility for supporting the services all Americans rely on.

Mayor Bloomberg claims that extending these tax cuts would be an excellent way to help revive the economy. However, the Congressional Budget Office has reported that, measured by the resulting growth in GDP, extending the Bush tax cuts is actually the least effective way to boost economic growth. Instead, they recommend tools like extending unemployment benefits, expanding temporary aid to states and localities, and providing job-creating tax credits that put money in the hands of middle and low income Americans who are more likely to spend it. Far from hampering economic growth, higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans have also been correlated with the fastest period of growth in a generation: the 1990s. Continue reading

Melissa Stands with NYC’s Community Gardeners to Call for Greater Protections

Melissa joined Speaker Christine Quinn and the NYC Community Garden Coalition for a press conference yesterday to call for greater protections for our city’s gardens.  Community gardeners have expressed serious concerns with a set of rules recently announced by the City, which they feel do not go far enough to protect these spaces from development.

Video from yesterday’s press conference:

There will be a public hearing on August 10th at 11:00 a.m., where Melissa will provide testimony expressing her support for community gardens and her concerns with the rules as they stand.  The hearing will be held at the Chelsea Recreation Center (430 W. 25th Street).  Click here for more information.

Next month, the agreement between the City and the NYS Attorney General’s Office, which has protected gardens since 2002, will expire.  A new set of rules promulgated by the City will provide critical short-term protections, as Speaker Quinn, Melissa and gardeners work together with the Bloomberg administration to identify a long-term preservation strategy.

“Community gardens provide vital open space and sources of fresh produce in neighborhoods across our city,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I remain very concerned that the proposed rules by the administration do not go far enough to provide the strong protections that our community gardeners deserve. While we will continue to work toward long-term preservation strategies for the gardens, it is my hope that additional language can be added to the current rules that will offer greater security to ensure that our communities do not lose these important spaces to development.”

Council Enacts Sweeping Recycling Reforms & Clean Heating Oil Legislation

At today’s stated meeting, the City Council enacted a package of sweeping reforms to the way our city recycles.  The Council also passed a bill that will help improve our city’s air quality by lowering the sulfur content in the heating oil used by so many of the city’s buildings and increasing the utilization of biodiesel.  Additionally, the Council passed a resolution in support of a boycott of Arizona, in response to their immigration law, parts of which went into effect today.

Photo courtesy of Gothamist.

There were 11 separate pieces of legislation passed in the recycling package, one of which, introduced by Melissa, will require at least one annual event to be held in each borough for the collection of hazardous household products.  Other bills passed today includes one that will expand the city’s recycling of plastics, place more recycling bins in public places and improve recycling at our schools.  Click here for summaries of all of the recycling bills passed today.

Intro 194-A, also passed today, will improve our city’s air quality, by requiring that all heating oil used after October 1, 2012 contain at least 2 percent biodiesel fuel.  In New York City, more pollution comes from burning heating fuels than from vehicles or power plants.  In a neighborhood like East Harlem, with one of the highest asthma rates in the city, measures like this that reduce particulate matter in our air are critical.

On the day that the Arizona immigration law has gone into effect (though some of its most controversial parts have been put on hold by a judge), the Council also adopted a resolution that calls on all branches of government to engage in a boycott of Arizona.  Employees of the Council will no longer be able to travel to Arizona using public dollars.  Additionally, the Council will be filing an amicus brief in support of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the State of Arizona.

Melissa Responds to Injunction Issued on Parts of Arizona Immigration Law

Just as Arizona’s immigration law was set to go into effect, a judge has issued an injunction on some of the most controversial parts of the law, keeping them from being implemented until a complete ruling is reached.

Those parts of the law that were most likely to result in racial profiling have now been put on hold as a result of today’s ruling.  Specifically, sections that required officers to check an individual’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that would have forced immigrants to carry documentation with them at all times, have been preliminarily blocked.

For more information, see today’s New York Times article on the judge’s decision.

Statement from Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito on Today’s News that an Injunction was Issued on Parts of Arizona’s Immigration Law:

I am very pleased to learn of the United States District Court Judge Sarah Bolton’s decision to place a preliminary injunction on those parts of the Arizona’s draconian immigration enforcement law that were most likely to encourage racial profiling and discrimination.  Since Governor Jan Brewer signed this law in April, so many of us in the City Council have roundly denounced Arizona’s actions, making it clear that this was simply the wrong approach to addressing our broken immigration system.  We were equally concerned that other states and localities would pass similar laws that go against the values we hold so dearly as a nation.

Fortunately, Judge Bolton’s decision today represents an important step toward what we hope will amount to a decision to fully strike down, at the very least, all parts of the law that threaten the civil rights and civil liberties of immigrants and communities of color in Arizona.  I would like to thank the United States Department of Justice, under the leadership of President Obama, for filing a lawsuit against the State of Arizona in response to this law.  I would also like to thank all of the advocacy groups who have filed lawsuits and the organizations and immigrant communities in New York City and throughout the U.S. who have stood so strongly against this law.

While today does represent a victory for immigrant communities, our fight is far from over.  Even if Arizona’s immigration law is struck down, Congress and the President must remain focused on enacting sweeping comprehensive immigration reform legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants across the United States, as well as other critical reforms such as the DREAM Act and the Uniting American Families Act.  In the absence of such reform, so many local governments will continue to seek to enact piecemeal legislation on an issue that should be regulated by the federal government.

Here in New York City, we take the utmost pride in being a city that welcomes immigrants from all over the world and truly values the enormous contributions they make to our social and economic life each day.

Free Summer Meals for Kids Every Weekday

Each year, the City offers free breakfast and lunch for young people under the age of 18 while school is not in session.  We encourage local residents to take advantage of these services.  Please help spread the word!

Meals are offered at schools, parks and public pools throughout the city, Monday through Friday.  To find the nearest location, please call 311 or search for a location by clicking here.

No documentation or identification is required to receive free meals.  See the flyer below for more information. The menus for each day are available here: July and August.

Melissa Speaks Out Against Closure of Subway Station Booths & Layoffs of Station Agents

Melissa has been speaking out against the MTA’s plans to close booths and lay off station agents, submitting testimony at a public hearing last Wednesday and helping to organize a press conference with Council Members and the Transit Workers Union Local 100 on Friday.

Video from Friday’s press conference:

The MTA is moving forward with plans to close booths in 89 subway stations and to fire over 200 more station agents throughout the city.  Several stations in District 8 will be affected by reductions, including 110th and 116th Streets on the 6 line and the 96th Street stop on the 1, 2, and 3 lines.

Click above to open video from NY1.

Melissa and her colleagues in the City Council have called on the NYS Assembly to pass a bill that would keep all booths open until a comprehensive study can be performed.  The bill has already been passed by the Senate.

See below for Melissa’s testimony before the MTA.

Melissa Stands with Governor Paterson at this Morning’s Bill Signing to Keep Innocent New Yorkers’ Names Out of the Stop & Frisk Database

Governor Paterson signed a bill this morning that will implement a critical reform to the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy.  The new law prohibits police officers from entering the names and contact information of New Yorkers who are stopped and frisked into its database if they are not found to be in violation of any law.  Melissa was invited to speak at the press conference, due to her work on this issue.  Streaming video from the event is available here.  You can listen to Melissa’s speech at the event below:

El Barrio/East Harlem is one of the most targeted neighborhoods under the stop and frisk policy in the city.  At the press conference, Melissa shared an experience she had right outside of our district office with a young man that was stopped, frisked and let go by police.

Melissa speaks at this morning's press conference.

This new State law will help protect the civil liberties of those who are not found to be in violation of the law at the time of a stop, while advocates and concerned elected officals also look at other potential reforms to reduce the adverse effects of this police practice on individuals and communities.  An overwhelming majority of those stopped — at least 80% — are black and Latino and 90% are found to be innocent.  Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly had opposed the law and asked the Governor to veto it.

Click above for coverage from NY1 Noticias.

Others in attendance at the press conference included the bill’s sponsors, Senator Eric Adams and Assemblyman Hakeen Jeffries, as well as Senator Eric Schneiderman, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comproller John Liu, Council Members Danny Dromm, Debi Rose and Ydanis Rodriguez, Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union and several others.

Governor Paterson signs the bill.

Melissa to Serve as Keynote Speaker at Tomorrow’s Launch of the Make the Road Action Fund

Tomorrow morning, Melissa will serve as Keynote Speaker at a special event to announce the launch of the Make the Road Action Fund, a sister organization of Make the Road New York.  The Action Fund will seek to build political power rooted in working class Latino communities, promote policy solutions that improve the lives of all New Yorkers and strengthen the movement for justice through electoral organizing and strategic alliances to advance progressive change in New York City.

Make the Road New York, is one of the largest community based organizations in the city that has helped to win so many victories over the years for immigrant and LGBT New Yorkers.  They have partnered with our office on a number of campaigns and pieces of legislation, including the Multiple Dwelling Registration bill, which is likely to pass at the end of this month.

The event will be held tomorrow, July 15th from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. at Campanile Restaurant (30 E. 29th Street, Manhattan).  For more information on the event and to purchase tickets, please visit www.maketheroadactionfund.org.

Melissa Joins Electeds in Keeping Pressure on Gov. Paterson to Sign Stop & Frisk Database Reform Bill

Melissa participated in a press conference yesterday, organized by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio’s office, to keep the pressure on Governor Paterson to sign a bill passed by the Legislature that would prohibit police from keeping data on those who are stopped and frisked but are not convicted of any crime.  Currently, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly is urging the Governor to veto this bill.  Governor Paterson must come to a decision by this Friday.

The city’s stop and frisk policy has come under serious criticism in recent years, as these searches have been found to disproportionately target blacks and Latinos.  About 90% of those stopped are not found to be in violation of any law, yet their names and contact information are still logged in the NYPD’s database, a practice which would end under the new state law, if it is signed by the Governor.

Below is a video of Melissa’s remarks at the press conference:

Council Members Danny Dromm and Jumaane Williams, Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat and four Democratic candidates for Attorney General were also in attendance at yesterday’s press conference.

Last week, Melissa signed a letter from the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus calling on the Governor to sign this legislation.  We will update the blog when the Governor announces a decision.

City Council Declares July 13th “NYC Day Against Homophobia,” in Solidarity with the LGBT Puerto Rican Community

In response to continued hate crimes against members of the LGBT community in Puerto Rico, Melissa joined elected officials and advocates at City Hall this morning to declare today, July 13, 2010, “The New York City Day Against Homophobia,” and to call for the investigation and prosecution of these vicious acts.

Melissa speaks at event (Photo by Juan David Gastolomendo).

This coalition also announced the release of a new report on hate crimes in Puerto Rico, as well as another more extensive report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) on hate crimes against the LGBT community across the United States.

Earlier this year, Melissa helped organize a delegation of NYC and Chicago elected officials to visit Puerto Rico in the wake of the brutal murder of Jorge Steven López Mercado, who was one of at least 25 members of the LGBT community who have been killed as a result of hate violence on the island since 2002.

Melissa reads the proclamation that declared today "The NYC Day Against Homophobia." She is joined by Council Members Danny Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, and activists Pedro Julio Serrano and Guillermo Chacon (Photo by Juan David Gastolomendo).

Here is Melissa’s statement on today’s event:

“Time and again, there has been an unacceptable, deafening silence from Puerto Rican authorities in response to the brutal violence and murders,” said New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Most egregious and irresponsible has been the lack of response from Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño who has been absent in the dialogue, media response and community building which have taken place after each and every violent act.”
More photos from the event (Photos by Alex Florez):

Melissa Stands in Support of Former North General Employees

East Harlem’s North General Hospital began shutting down last week, after declaring bankruptcy, a result of mounting debt.  As a result of the closure, over 1,000 workers — 900 of them SEIU 1199 members — are now unemployed.  While a new clinic will open in place of the hospital, there are serious concerns about the hiring and labor practices of this new employer.

On Friday, Melissa joined former North General staff, in protesting the Institute for Family Health, which is operating the new clinic.  The Institute has hired only a limited number of the North General employees, instead opting for many new, non-unionized workers.  For some of those that have been hired back, the Institute has asked them to switch labor unions, an illegal practice, which has prompted SEIU 1199 to initiate legal action against this employer.

“The new clinic at North General Hospital is starting off on the wrong foot with its workers and the larger community,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “It is simply unacceptable that the clinic is engaging in unfair workplace practices and has hired so few of the former unionized hospital staff.  The former employees of North General have already gone through enough with the closing of the hospital.  The maximum number of these workers possible should be retained at the new clinic and should not under any circumstances be asked by management to switch labor unions.”

For more information, read this press release, or watch coverage from NY1.