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.

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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.