Melissa Reaches Out to the NYPD & DOT After Last Week’s Fatal Accident

In the wake of last week’s tragic accident that resulted in the death of a 6-year-old boy named Amar Diarrassouba, it is imperative that we address and correct the causes of this tragedy to ensure that an accident like this does not happen again in our district. Melissa, along with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and State Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, held a press conference outside of Diarrassouba’s school. They called on the DOT and NYPD to take a zero tolerance measure against large trucks on non-designated streets, such as the narrow, one-way residential East 117th Street towards First Avenue, where the accident occurred; and to address the possible need for additional crossing guards at busier intersections.

Council Member Viverito During the Press Conference on Six Year Old's Death at an East Harlem Intersection 2-Credit to William Alatriste New York City Council

Following the press conference, Melissa wrote to Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan of the DOT and Commissioner Ray Kelly of the NYPD, to open up conversation about traffic enforcement and to make some requests. Please find the letters below. We will make sure to keep you updated on our further collaborative work with the DOT and NYPD on this matter.

Melissa Calls On DOE To Comply With New York State Guidelines for PE

Last week, Melissa spearheaded a press conference, covered by NY 1, calling on the New York City Department of Education to be in full compliance with New York State guidelines for physical education (PE) in New York City public schools.  Recent reports from the American Heart Association and the Women’s City Club of New York have demonstrated a clear need to improve the quality and quantity of PE in New York City.  The benefits of PE are far reaching evidence shows that school-based PE leads to improved academic achievement, increased state standardized test scores and a student’s health and overall well-being. PE also improves a child’s cognitive ability and behavior.

IMG_6687

Melissa expressed her concern regarding this critical issue saying:

“Providing quality physical education instruction for our children is absolutely critical in a time when our City is facing a staggering childhood obesity epidemic!  It is unacceptable that teens in East Harlem (which I represent) are nearly three times less likely to attend a daily gym class than teens in more affluent neighborhoods!  And we wonder why our community has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the city.  This is why I spearheaded a letter to the DOE signed by 35 of my colleagues, asking the department about its strategy to improve the quantity and quality of PE instruction in our schools and demanding a plan to address the disparities between schools that have sufficient PE programs and those that do not.”

Melissa Defends Young Leaders Elementary School from Closure

Melissa stands with PS 369X students.

Melissa stands with PS 369X students.

Last month, in response to the DOE’s threat to close Young Leaders Elementary School (PS 369X) in the South Bronx, Melissa took part in a press conference and rally in solidarity with parents, students and teachers, which was organized in partnership with the Coalition for Educational Justice. She also met with the principal, parents, students and Marc Sternberg, the Deputy Chancellor, Division of Portfolio Planning. Melissa made it very clear that she supports PS 369’s students, families and teachers, and is opposed to closing the school:

“If the DOE truly cares about supporting our schools in low-income communities of color, then they should take PS 369 off the list for closure,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This school is only 4 years old and has worked hard to serve the community’s most challenged children including high numbers of special ed and ELL students. PS 369 has increased its progress report score by 50% and the school has been proactive by actively engaging teachers and parents to develop a plan to address the DOE’s concerns. Parents and community members have rallied together in support of PS 369 sending a clear message that the DOE should provide the school with the strategic supports that its students need. Studies have shown that school closings disrupt the community and fail to improve the education of our students. We need to invest in our schools, not shut them down.”

Learn About Being a Responsible Pet Owner this Saturday at the Launch of “There is No Poop Fairy in East Harlem” Campaign

It’s undeniable, we love our pets – but there is no excuse for not cleaning up after our dogs. Not only is it offensive to our sense of smell when dog waste is left on the street, but it contains harmful bacteria, pollutes groundwater, and sticks around for a long time. Stepping in it is more than just a nuisance – it’s an opportunity to spread bacteria to your home. Please help keep our neighborhood free of poop piles by joining us in the launch of this important public service health campaign, “There is No Poop Fairy in East Harlem,” this Saturday, August 25. Enjoy a day of six different informative and free workshops, and also get a chance to win a physical examination for your pet at Oliver’s Dog & Cat Clinic of East Harlem, a PetSmart gift certificate or doggie goodie bags; and of course there will be free biodegradable poop bags.

Celebrity Groomer to the Stars, Jorge Bendersky come by to discuss the importance of properly grooming your pet. ASPCA will be joining us to provide free or low cost spay/neuter services as well as providing free tick/flea prevention, rabies and distemper shots. NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene will be administering dog licenses and Animal Care and Control of NYC will be sharing the benefits of the feral cat Catch and Release Program. Come join the discussion about being a pet owner in a NYCHA development and reacquaint yourself with the much improved Jefferson Park Dog Run. For the complete schedule, see below.

WHO: Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Jorge Bendersky, ASPCA, Jefferson Park Dog Run Committee, Animal Care and Control of NYC, New York City Housing Authority, NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, and Search and Care.

WHAT: There is No Poop Fairy in East Harlem Campaign

WHEN: Saturday, August 25, 2012 – 10 AM to 1 PM

WHERE: Thomas Jefferson Park Recreation Center – 112th Street and First Avenue (dogs are not permitted inside the Center)

To attend the workshops or learn more about the different ways in which you can volunteer, please call 212-828-9800. We hope to see you there!

Youth Violence Task Force Platform Released Yesterday!

The El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force released its official platform yesterday, following more than a year of community discussions and meetings with young people. The Task Force, organized by Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, was founded after the Council Member and community groups noticed a growth in neighborhood violence among the youth.  It is a diverse collaborative of youth and community organizations that aims to directly involve young people in the development of positive alternatives to gang and gun violence.  The platform is available for download here.

(c) William Alatriste New York City Council

The press conference unveiling the platform was held outside the Johnson Community Center, which has been in the works for over 10 years as an important resource for our community’s youth, but still has not been opened.  Senator Jose Serrano, Council Member Jumaane Williams and local youth and community groups were all on hand to support the work of the Task Force.   The platform calls for collective action on the part of government, law enforcement, non-profits, youth, parents, schools, and the community as a whole to address the recent rise in youth violence.

The recommendations, which derive from ideas that were shared during a series of community discussions and other gatherings of local youth, revolve around seven key areas:

  1. Outreach to High Risk Youth
  2. Improving Police/Community Relations
  3. Extracurricular Youth Programming
  4. Youth Employment
  5. Investments in Public Education
  6. Parental Involvement
  7. Youth Empowerment.

Some specific recommendations include: introducing the “Violence Interrupters” Model in El Barrio/East Harlem, which has helped to prevent shootings and retaliatory violence among youth in other communities, successfully re-opening the James Weldon Johnson Center, reinstating the New York Midnight Basketball program, and leveraging the Young Men’s Initiative funds for workforce development.

This platform is only the beginning.  To learn more about the work ahead, please contact Elsie Encarnacion at eencarnacion@council.nyc.gov or 212-828-9800.

Tomorrow: Join Us as the Youth Violence Task Force Unveils Anti-Violence Platform

Tomorrow, November 10th, at 3:30pm, Melissa, East Harlem community-based organizations, local youth, and other elected officials will release the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force’s official platform, which calls for collective action by government, non-profits and the community to reduce neighborhood violence.  The platform’s recommendations build upon ideas shared by East Harlem youth at community discussions held over the past year.  The press conference will be held outside of the James Weldon Johnson Community Center located at Lexington Avenue and 115th Street. This brand new community center, which has been in the works for over a decade, could be a vital resource to our youth, but is still shuttered.

The release of the Youth Violence platform follows a story published in this Sunday’s New York Daily News that revealed that Council Member Mark-Viverito’s car was hit by a stray bullet this past September. The alleged shooter was a 16 year old young man.  Council Member Mark-Viverito will speak about the incident and how it reinforces the need for collective action on the part of the community and the city to prevent more young people from turning to gangs and gun violence.  Youth and community leaders will also speak about the recommendations outlined in the platform and call for an end to senseless violence.

We welcome all community members, friends of East Harlem/El Barrio, and concerned citizen to join us. An official copy of the report will be made available here tomorrow afternoon.

More Benches Coming to East Harlem Sidewalks

Melissa with DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan and local seniors. (Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mays/DNA Info)

Yesterday, Melissa helped announce a new City initiative that will place 1,000 new benches on sidewalks throughout New York City, beginning with the two brand new benches at East 109th Street between First and Second Avenues, outside of the Leonard Covello Senior Center.  The initiative, called City Bench, was launched in our community in response to the efforts undertaken by Melissa’s office and East Harlem’s Aging Improvement District (AID) to make our neighborhood more age-friendly.  These new benches are mainly intended to help seniors have an opportunity to stop and rest as they are out walking in the community.

In the past year, the Department of Transportation (DOT) acquired federal funding to install 1,000 benches across the city to improve quality of life among the elderly. As part of the AID process, the New York Academy of Medicine surveyed seniors from throughout the East Harlem community last year to hear from the seniors directly as to what we as a community could do to make life easier for them. In response to the overwhelming request for more seating on our sidewalks, Melissa brought the idea back to DOT and they promised to launch their new and upcoming bench program in East Harlem.

Photo Courtesy of Jeff Mays/DNA Info.

This is just Melissa’s latest effort to help provide an improved quality of life for our senior residents. Last month, Melissa stood in support of a DOT proposal that would bring bike lanes to the neighborhood. These lanes not only improve the health of all members of our community but the lanes will also make it easier for older adults to cross 1st and 2nd Avenues, since pedestrian islands will be created as part of the plans.  This past summer, she also helped launch the first-ever Senior Pool Hours at Jefferson Pool in East Harlem, and earlier this year, the East Harlem AID distributed chairs to local businesses that agreed to offer seating in their stores for seniors.

Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan, Aging Commissioner Barrios-Paoli, Deputy Mayor Gibbs and Council Member Lappin, who chairs the Council’s Aging Committee were all on hand for the City Bench announcement, along with many older adults from the Leonard Covello Senior Center.

We look forward to bringing more benches to the district. If you would like to propose a new site for a bench, please visit http://www.nyc.gov to make your request.

Congressman Gutierrez Visits New York as Melissa’s Immigration Bill Advances

Capping off an exciting weekend of events with Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez, the City Council held its first hearing this week on the bill introduced by Melissa that will limit immigration agents’ reach in our city’s jails.  The Bloomberg administration now supports the bill, paving the way for its passage by the end of the year.

Press conference outside of Ascension Church. Photo by William Alatriste.

This past Saturday, we welcomed Congressman Luis Gutierrez to New York City. He spoke at an event in Staten Island on the importance of immigration reform, emphasizing the impact of the Secure Communities program and the changes to federal policies on deportation.

On Sunday, Congressman Gutierrez joined Melissa, Speaker Quinn, Congressman Rangel, Make the Road New York, and many other electeds and community members at Ascension Church on West 107th Street in Melissa’s district.  Following the 9:30 am Spanish language mass, the elected officials addressed the congregants and then held a press conference outside to celebrate the advancement of Intro 656, a bill introduced by Melissa that will restrict the collaboration between the City’s Department of Correction and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Congressman Gutierrez spoke highly of the legislation and stressed the importance of local and national collaboration on immigration reform.

Video from Saturday and Sunday’s events are available by clicking here.

Finally, on Monday, the City Council held a hearing on Intro 656. This legislation is truly pathbreaking, and we hope that it will pave the way for municipal immigration reform all around the country.  The hearing included testimony from the Bloomberg administration that it stood in support of the legislation as the proper balance between ensuring the security of our neighborhoods and protecting our city’s immigrants.  The bill is scheduled to be passed before the end of 2011.

As lead sponsor of the legislation, Melissa had the opportunity to offer some opening remarks:

Thank you Chair Dromm, and thanks to all of you for being here this morning.  This is a historic day, as we take one more step towards making this legislation a reality in the city of New York.  I want to take a moment to thank Speaker Quinn who has shown great leadership on this issue and of course all of the advocates, especially Make the Road New York, for your commitment, strong support and hard work.

The message throughout this process has been clear: in a city that truly values its immigrant communities, it is clear that we can no longer allow immigration agents to have unfettered access to inmates at Rikers Island.  While the Criminal Alien Program, which is the basis for the relationship between DOC and ICE, claims to place public safety first and focus on the most dangerous criminals, the numbers tell a different story.

Of the Rikers inmates who had a detainer placed on them by ICE, around 50 percent had no previous criminal convictions; and only roughly 20 percent had a misdemeanor as their highest charge.  These are not the hardened criminals that the Criminal Alien Program was meant to target. Still, every year, hundreds and even thousands of New Yorkers are separated from their families and communities for extended periods of time and, in some cases, permanently. Continue reading

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.”

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.

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.

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:

 

After 60 Years of Business, East Harlem’s Claudio the Barber Facing Eviction

Melissa joined Congressman Charlie Rangel and Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez at Claudio’s Barber Shop on 116th Street near First Avenue to show their support as the shop faces eviction, after 60 years of doing business in the neighborhood.  Claudio Caponigro, 80-years-old, recently learned that his landlord is seeking to nearly triple the rent for the location, which Claudio says would force him to close his doors.

Melissa would like to see the barber shop stay in the community, and has offered her support as Claudio explores his options.  She has also called for a commercial rent regulation program, that would prevent local small businesses from being displaced by escalating rents.

Read more about Claudio’s Barber Shop in the New York Times and DNA Info.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

MAYOR BLOOMBERG, HARLEM RBI, NEW YORK YANKEE MARK TEIXEIRA AND OFFICIALS ANNOUNCE DEVELOPMENT OF NEW SCHOOL AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING UNITS IN EAST HARLEM

$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

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.

Melissa & Youth Violence Task Force Kick Off Series of Community Discussions on Violence in East Harlem

Melissa and the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force kicked off a series of community discussions yesterday afternoon with a meeting at JHS 99 (410 E. 100th Street) in East Harlem. Yesterday’s meeting provided an opportunity for community leaders to hear directly from young people, as we confront a rise in violence in East Harlem and to brainstorm collectively about ways to address it.  About 100 young people and adults attended the community discussion. 

Elsie Encarnacion, Director of Youth Services for Council Member Viverito, sits with young people to hear their ideas on solutions to youth violence (Photo courtesy of DNA Info).

Following an open mic section, attendees went into breakout groups for solution-oriented discussions on particular topics that provided opportunities for youth to take ownership over efforts to curb violence in the community. In order to tailor the discussion to specific parts of El Barrio/East Harlem, yesterday’s community discussion focused in on 96th to 106th Streets (from 5th Avenue to the East River). Subsequent meetings, to be scheduled in the coming months, will cover 107th to 116th Streets and 117th to 128th Streets.

Melissa and Task Force members made clear that this is only the beginning, and that the ideas gathered in these community discussions will inform concrete next steps in the continued effort to curb violence in the neighborhood.

“As we all collectively experience the rise in violence among our community’s youth, we thought it was critical to provide a space for young people and other local residents to come together to begin addressing this complex problem,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “It is not enough to simply call for more policing; we must engage directly with our young people to formulate positive alternatives to violence and provide them with the opportunity to take ownership over the development of those alternatives.”

The El Barrio/East Harlem community has witnessed a serious increase in violence, particularly among youth, with the homicide rate in the neighborhood tripling last year, and shootings at public housing in East Harlem and Harlem increasing two-fold. In response to these trends, Council Member Viverito formed the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force, which aims to directly involve young people in the development of positive alternatives that will counter the increase in violence among youth.

The community discussion series is only the latest in a series of meetings organized by the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force. The Task Force previously met with youth at several NYCHA developments to learn about the unique challenges facing young people in each of those individual developments. The Council Member also brokered a meeting between NYCHA officials and young residents of James Weldon Johnson Houses regarding the Johnson Community Center, a project that has been stalled for over 10 years, and that will provide recreational space and programming for youth in the development.

The event was covered by NY1 and DNA Info.  Check back for additional coverage by CNN en Español and WNYC.  For a slideshow of photos from the event created by DNA Info, click here.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

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.

 

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.”

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.

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:

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:

East River Plaza Officially Opens for Business at Ribbon-Cutting This Morning

Melissa participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the East River Plaza development this morning in East Harlem, officially opening the Plaza for business.  Thanks to strong advocacy from the El Barrio/East Harlem community, 700 of the 1,000 permanent retail jobs created by this project have been filled by local residents. The project also created over 1,100 construction jobs.

Photo by William Alatriste.

The East River Plaza includes stores such as Costco, Target, Bob’s Discount Furniture, Best Buy, Old Navy, Marshall’s, Pet Smart and Gamestop (Target and Marshall’s will open this Sunday).  For some of these stores, the Plaza presented an opportunity to move into Manhattan for the first time.

Some media coverage of the opening of East River Plaza, from Fox 5 and NY1:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you’re unable to view the above video, click here.

Click above to open coverage from NY1.

To address issues of concern that may emerge as a result of this development, a working group will continue to convene regularly to give local stakeholders an opportunity to monitor developments at the Plaza and work with the developers and the city to resolve these issues.

Click here for streaming video from today’s ribbon cutting ceremony, where Melissa joined Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Speaker Christine Quinn, the developers of the project and other elected officials and supporters.

Photo by William Alatriste.

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 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.

Council Members & Advocates Call for Restoration of Immigrant Opportunities Initiative

Council Members and advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall today to call for the restoration of $5 million in funding for the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative (IOI).

Melissa speaking at today's press conference (Photo by William Alatriste).

IOI provides essential funding for community groups around the city to offer affordable legal services and adult literacy programming for immigrant communities throughout New York City.

Budget negotiations between the Bloomberg administration and the City Council are currently ongoing.  By law, the City’s budget must be passed by the end of June.

Check back to the blog after budget adoption for updates and a report on Council restorations and discretionary funding for Fiscal Year 2011.

Progressive Caucus Releases Budget Survey Results as Thousands Rally Against Cuts Outside City Hall

An aerial photo of the huge crowd outside City Hall Park (Courtesy of the United Federation of Teachers)

This afternoon, the Council’s Progressive Caucus released the results of its budget survey just before thousands gathered at the “Save Our City” Rally outside City Hall to demand that the Mayor find alternative solutions to budget cuts.

Melissa and other members of the Progressive Caucus joined advocates and social service providers on the steps of City Hall today to announce the results and again renew the call for the consideration of new revenue options.

Among the nearly 2,000 New Yorkers that responded, 89% supported protecting vital services by asking those who can afford to pay to put in their fair share.  The survey indicated that New Yorkers support a number of new, progressive revenue options, including closing a tax loophole for hedge fund and private equity managers and fair share reforms to our tax structure.

More detailed results can be viewed in the report below.  A press release on the survey results can be found here.

We would like to thank all of those who took part in the survey!

Below are the official results.  If you are unable to view this document, click here to download it in PDF.

Tomorrow: Save Our City Rally at City Hall

Tomorrow, June 16th at 4:00 p.m., unions, community groups and elected officials will unite at a huge rally outside City Hall to call on the Mayor to find alternative solutions to the over $1 billion in budget cuts proposed by his administration.

Since the Executive Budget was released, the Progressive Caucus has pushed for the implementation of new revenue options that would help the City close this budget gap by asking Wall Street and the wealthiest New Yorkers to put in their fair share.

Stay tuned to the blog tomorrow for updates on this rally, and please feel free to join us at City Hall!

Introducing Melissa’s New Video Channel

We have begun collecting video clips featuring Melissa on a brand new video channel, which can be accessed at http://mmv.vodspot.tv. Watch clips of Melissa at press conferences, rallies, special events and more.

The latest additions to this page come from a recent interview on Insight Nueva York, hosted by David Diaz.  On the show, Melissa spoke about the Progressive Caucus, this year’s budget, Latino leadership and asthma rates in District 8.  All of these interview clips can be found at the video channel.

One of the clips can be found below:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Wage Theft Prevention Act Resolution & Living Wage Legislation Introduced at Stated Meeting

At Tuesday’s stated meeting, Melissa introduced a resolution in support of the Wage Theft Prevention Act, a bill in the State Legislature.

Recent studies have estimated that each week, more than 300,000 workers in New York City are victims of wage theft, which typically involves employers denying workers minimum wage and overtime pay, taking back tips and misclassifying employees as independent contractors.  If passed by the Senate and Assembly, the Wage Theft Prevention Act would expand enforcement and increase penalties for underpayment and nonpayment of wages.

Melissa speaking at Living Wage press conference. Photo by William Alatriste.

Melissa also co-sponsored legislation introduced by Council Members Koppell and Palma which will require a living wage (currently defined as $10 an hour with health benefits, or $11.50 without benefits) to be paid at all economic development projects that receive City subsidies.  The Living Wage NYC Campaign has created a website to support this bill.

Below is a video taken following from Monday’s DMI Marketplace of Ideas Event where Melissa talks about both her prevailing wage legislation for building service workers (Intro 18) and the living wage bill introduced Tuesday (Intro 251).

Rally for Section 8 Vouchers Held This Morning

This morning, members of New York Communities for Change rallied outside of 250 Broadway, where NYCHA, the City Council and the State Legislature has offices, to call for the restoration of Section 8 vouchers.

Melissa and her colleagues Council Members Lander and Williams joined the rally to show their support.

In December of last year, 2,600 New Yorkers who had received Section 8 vouchers, but had not yet used them, had those vouchers revoked due to a budget shortfall.

While NYCHA did subsequently receive some extra funding from the federal government, there is still a $19 million deficit.  Currently, the Authority is still considering reducing the subsidy level for its current vouchers, putting additional financial burdens on thousands of New Yorkers.  They have also considered revoking even more Section 8 vouchers to address the budget shortfall.

Council Holds Hearing on Prevailing Wage Bill

The City Council held a hearing this morning on Melissa’s prevailing wage bill.  Intro 18, introduced by Melissa in February, would require a prevailing wage for building service workers in buildings that have received significant subsidies from the City or where the City rents space.

This morning, she was joined by a number of colleagues, workers and advocates, in calling for the passage of this legislation, which currently has 34 sponsors.

“When we subsidize development projects, and in terms of this legislation we are also talking about the rental of space by entities that receive above a specified amount from the city on a yearly basis, the City government acts as a powerful economic engine throughout the five boroughs,” said Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito at today’s hearing.  “This legislation challenges the City to harness that power to ensure that quality jobs, not just any jobs, are created.”

32BJ, the union that represents building service workers in New York City, has launched a website with information on this legislation: www.NotOnOurDime.org.

Check back here for updates on the prevailing wage bill.

City Council Denounces Arizona’s Immigration Law & Adopts Resolution in Favor of Federal Reform

Nearly two dozen City Council Members joined a press conference yesterday afternoon to denounce Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law and to call for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.  The conference was organized by Speaker Quinn, and Council Members Viverito, Dromm and Rodriguez, together with the New York Immigration Coalition.

Photo Courtesy of William Alatriste.

Later, at the Stated Meeting, the Council adopted a resolution introduced by Melissa earlier this month in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

During the press conference, Melissa echoed her calls for a boycott of Arizona in response to this anti-immigrant law, as well as for the Department of Justice to do an expedited study of the law to determine its legality.

Tomorrow, thousands of immigrants will rally in Lower Manhattan for immigration reform.  We hope you will join us at 11:00 a.m. at Foley Square (click here for a map).

City Council Unveils Plans for an Expanded and Improved Recycling Program

Yesterday, Melissa joined City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, several other Council Members and environmental advocates in announcing a package of legislation that will dramatically expand and improve our City’s recycling program.

Click above to open video from NY1 Noticias.

As part of this package, Melissa will introduce a piece of legislation that will help encourage NYC residents to safely dispose of household hazardous waste, by requiring the City to hold at least one annual event to collect these materials in each borough, with the goal of increasing the number of events or making collection sites permanent.

“I’m proud to be introducing legislation that will give people more opportunities to safely dispose of household hazardous waste,” said Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito.  “Every New Yorker has items like pesticides, cleaners, or leftover paint sitting in a closet or under a sink, and they often don’t know what to do with them.  We need to make sure these materials are properly collected, before they end up polluting our soil or water.”

Other components of the comprehensive plan include expanding the recycling of plastics, improved recycling by schools and City agencies, and the creation of special programs for the recycling of paint, clothing and textiles.  For a complete list of the proposed reforms, click here.

Introductions at Yesterday’s Stated Meeting

Yesterday, Melissa introduced several pieces of legislation at the City Council’s Stated Meeting:

Int 122: Establishing a pilot commercial waste audit program, which will help different businesses in our City to establish industry standards and best practices for waste management, recycling and the use of environmentally-friendly materials.

Int 123: Requiring a review process, including consideration for safety, health and environmental concerns, for any new surface materials to be used on playgrounds and fields in our City.

Res 119Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to create a tax incentive program for green businesses.

Res 120: Resolution calling upon the State to pass legislation that would provide tax incentives for food-service businesses that use environmentally-friendly alternatives to disposable food ware made from styrofoam and other non-recyclable or non-biodegradable materials.

You can access a running list of bills and resolutions introduced this term by clicking the Legislation tab at the top of the page.

Melissa speaking at Paid Sick Days conference.

Paid sick days legislation was also re-introduced yesterday by Council Member Gale Brewer.  Prior to the Stated Meeting, Council Members and advocates gathered outside City Hall to call for the legislation’s passage this term.

This bill, now re-introduced as Int 97, would require that employers provide their workers with earned paid sick time.  Currently, over a million employees lack this protection and often have to make the choice between going to work sick and losing a day’s pay.

The paid sick days bill has been identified as one of the priorities of the new Progressive Caucus of the City Council, which is co-chaired by Melissa.

Immigrant Rights Groups and Council Members Announce Historic March 21st Mobilization to D.C.


Melissa speaking at press conference.

Immigrant rights leaders and organizers packed the steps of City Hall today to announce an unprecedented national mobilization to Washington D.C. on March 21st to demand the passage of comprehensive immigration reform and an end to harsh immigration enforcement policies.

Melissa and several of her Council colleagues joined these community, faith-based and labor organizations to call for immigration reform and to raise awareness about the March 21st mobilization.  Over 10,000 people from New York State alone will be heading to D.C. on the 21st, where they will be joined by thousands from all over the country.

Click here for a press release from the New York Immigration Coalition on today’s event.

Be sure to check back soon for more information on how to get a seat on one of the buses leaving NYC on March 21st.

Melissa Joins Elected Officials in Calling for Hearings on Police Handling of Domestic Violence Cases

Melissa joined a coalition of elected officials and anti-domestic violence advocates led by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio yesterday in calling for a series of hearings that will examine the handling of domestic violence cases by law enforcement.

Melissa speaking at press conference with Council Members Jumaane Williams and Julissa Ferreras as well as Public Advocate de Blasio.

Council Members Julissa Ferreras and Jumaane Williams, as well as representatives from the National Organization of Women and the Violence Intervention Program, were also in attendance.

Melissa offered the following statement on their efforts to look into police practices when it comes to domestic violence claims:

The news of the past few days has really called into question the way in which our law enforcement and government officials are handling domestic violence cases.  A great deal has been accomplished by the City Council in recent years to improve police practices with respect to domestic violence, but more work still needs to be done.  We must work constantly to reassure domestic violence victims that their claims will be taken seriously, so that they continue to come forward.

For more information, take a look at this article.

Press Conference on Multiple Dwelling Registration Bill Held Today

About 100 members of Make the Road New York and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) joined Melissa and Council Member Chin on the steps of City Hall today to call for the passage of the soon to be re-introduced multiple dwelling registration bill.

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

This legislation, which was first introduced by Melissa last term, will help tenants of those buildings owned by LLCs to more easily reach their landlords when problems with their housing arise.  Under this legislation, corporate owners would have to provide the City with the names and contact information of their principal partners, information which, for some tenants, is currently only learned through legal action.

At the press conference, tenants and advocates spoke about the difficulties they faced in trying to get housing issues resolved when the only information they had for some landlords was a P.O. Box number.

Here are more photos from the event.  Click each one to enlarge.

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

(c) William Alatriste, NYC Council

Council Members and Advocates Express Concern Over Harold Ford’s Voting Record on Immigration

Melissa joined the Hispanic Federation, Emerald Isle Immigration Center and Council Members Danny Dromm and Julissa Ferreras at a press conference today to express deep concern over the immigration voting record of possible Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr.

Melissa speaking at today's press conference.

At the press conference, the speakers sent a clear message that these kinds of views on immigration are in stark contrast with New York City’s place as a home to millions of immigrants from around the world.

During his time in the House of Representatives, former Congressman Ford voted in favor of restrictionist immigration policies, including the infamous Sensenbrenner Bill.  He also voted in favor of ending the diversity visa program and deputizing local police to enforce immigration law.

Melissa Joins Press Conference on Federal Community Jobs Legislation

This afternoon, Melissa joined a press conference organized by East Harlem-based Community Voices Heard and other partners to call for the passage of legislation in Congress that would establish a community jobs program.

Melissa speaks to crowd at press conference.

Unemployment has skyrocketed in our city, particularly among black and Latino New Yorkers. This legislation would provide federal funding to create jobs in our city, which would be targeted to those communities that need them the most. Furthermore, the jobs created by this legislation would be focused in sectors that help build, maintain and green our city’s infrastructure, as well as provide vital social services to low-income communities.

In addition to the press conference, Melissa has also helped circulate a sign-on letter to urge our New York Senators and Congressional Representatives to support this legislation at the federal level. So far, 12 other Council Members have joined her in signing on to this letter.

Melissa and Delegation Make Trip to Puerto Rico to Denounce Hate

Part of the delegation in Puerto Rico (from left to right: CM Dromm, Speaker Quinn, Pedro Julio Serrano, Melissa and CM Van Bramer)

As you know, Melissa and a delegation of elected officials and activists made a special trip to Puerto Rico yesterday to denounce the brutal murder of Jorge Steven López Mercado and to call for justice for his family and the Puerto Rican LGBT community. On the trip, Melissa and the delegation met with the family of Jorge Steven, as well as with prominent LGBT activists, legislators and religious leaders.

Among the members of the delegation were City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Council Members Rosie Mendez, Danny Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer, as well as Illinois State Senator Iris Martinez and Pedro Julio Serrano, a leader and activist in the LGBT community.

In the below clip, Pedro Julio and Melissa speak with a reporter about the purpose of the trip (in Spanish):

Click here for another video from Telemundo Puerto Rico.

Melissa and other members of the delegation spoke strongly against Governor Fortuño’s weak response to this vicious act of violence. They called on the governor to unequivocally speak out against the murder of Jorge Steven, and to work so that U.S. and local hate crimes laws are applied to Jorge Steven’s case and all instances of hate crimes in Puerto Rico.

The delegation also met with the family to show their support and solidarity, and to deliver personally the funds raised at events both in New York and Chicago to help cover the funeral costs and legal expenses they have incurred.

Another photo of part of the delegation (Courtesy of El Nuevo Dia).

The meetings with LGBT activists, elected officials and religious leaders helped strengthen and create linkages which will help members of the delegation to remain active and involved in the struggle for equality in Puerto Rico. As the trial of Jorge Steven’s murderer begins, Melissa and the delegation will continue to watch the development of this case closely, and will keep putting pressure on the government until there is justice.

To read more, take a look at the following articles:

Melissa Joins Protest for the Release of Detained Immigrant Rights Leader

Melissa at today's rally.

Melissa joined a protest outside the Varick Street Detention Center this afternoon, demanding the release of immigrant rights leader Jean Montrevil, who was recently taken into ICE custody.

Melissa said the following in a press release about today’s event:

“I want to add my voice with all the supporters and our elected officials. We all know that our immigration system is extremely dysfunctional and is tearing our families apart…We need to increase the pressure to ensure that the system is reformed.”

Mr. Montrevil, who works actively with a number of local and national groups that fight against immigration enforcement tactics that separate families, is a legal permanent resident with a U.S. citizen wife and four children.  He is the breadwinner of his household and his deportation would be devastating to his family.

Mr. Montrevil's wife, Janay.

For the most up-to-date information on Mr. Montrevil’s case, and to get involved in the campaign for his release, please visit the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC’s blog.

Protestors stopping traffic at today's protest. All photos courtesy of Mizue Aizeki.

Park Conservancies and Benchmarking Bills Signed into Law

Mayor Bloomberg signs Melissa's legislation into law.

Yesterday, Mayor Bloomberg signed several bills into law, two of which were introduced and sponsored by Melissa.

The Park Conservancies Bill (Intro 1083-A) along with Greener, Greater Buildings Package, including the Benchmarking Bill (Intro 476-A) were among the 12 pieces of legislation signed by the Mayor.

Melissa & Mayor Bloomberg Speak About Park Conservancies Bill

Melissa Co-Sponsors Press Conference Against Section 8 Cuts

Melissa speaking at this morning's press conference.

Melissa joined a press conference this morning at 11:00 AM to protest the City’s plan to rescind Section 8 vouchers from 3,000 low-income New York City families.

A coalition of advocacy groups and elected officials are calling on the Department of Homeless Services to use stimulus funding to protect these vulnerable families from homelessness.

Melissa Joins a Press Conference Announcing Tougher Restrictions on Toy Guns

Melissa participated in a press conference this morning announcing tougher restrictions on toy guns, to be brought before the City Council in the coming weeks.  See the press release here.

“This legislation will help prevent further violence by deterring businesses from selling toy guns that look real,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “The increased regulations created by this bill will not only prevent toy guns from being used to commit crimes, but also will avert children from being wounded or killed by confused police officers who mistake their toy for a real gun.”

Below are videos of the press conference:

Part 1

Part 2 (Melissa is introduced by the Speaker at about 6:18)