Melissa Responds to the Passing of Nelson Mandela

“Nelson Mandela was an incredible force for humanity. He will be greatly missed. His struggle has been a constant inspiration for so many people, especially those of us who fight for equality and justice for all.”

Advertisements

Melissa is Outraged About the Use of the Puerto Rican Flag on Beer Cans

Photo Credit: Latino Rebels

Photo Credit: Latino Rebels

Just two years after MillerCoor’s offensive EMBORÍCUATE ads (that were ultimately pulled down due to the mass outrage on social media outlets) the Puerto Rican flag is now being placed on cans of Coors Light as a “stamp of approval” from the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. Coors Light’s sponsorship and marketing for the Parade directly correlates our culture to an offensive stereotype of alcoholism, which is especially shocking when the theme of this year’s parade is Health.

Melissa has wrote a letter to the National Puerto Rican Day Parade’s Chairperson, Madelyn Lugo, along with four fellow Puerto Rican elected officials, expressing their disappointment of the Parade’s board and sponsors. Instead of focusing on the positive attributes and contributions of the Puerto Rican community, the sponsors that are working with the Parade have misrepresented our culture as a whole.

Here is a copy of the letter sent to Ms. Lugo, below:

If you are as equally disturbed as we are, share your concerns with the National Puerto Rican Day Parade (Twitter: @PRparadeNYC/Facebook), who has chosen to align themselves with MillerCoors.

READ MORE ABOUT THIS IN THE NEWS:

Stop the Bullying Candlelight Memorial Walk in Memory of Joel Morales

Please join Melissa at the upcoming Stop the Bullying Candlelight Memorial Walk, in memory of  Joel Morales, who tragically was driven to commit suicide last year at the age of just 12 years old after enduring relentless bullying. This event is being spearheaded by Assemblyman Robert J. Rodriguez and gives all of us in El Barrio/East Harlem the opportunity to come together, remember Joel and renew our fight against bullying in our schools and communities.

Check out the flyer below for details.

Stop the Bullying Flyer

A “Ghetto” Tour of the South Bronx?

Melissa has written a letter with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. to Real Bronx Tours, a company that reportedly gives tours of the South Bronx that offer “a ride through a real New York City ‘GHETTO.'” The letter urges the company to radically change the way this tour is marketed and presented to the public. You can read the letter by clicking here.

The account of the tour published in the New York Post yesterday is sickening. The tour guide not only painted the South Bronx as a haven for crime, but also mocked local residents who were waiting on line at a food pantry.

Are you as outraged as we are? Send an e-mail to Real Bronx Tours at realbronxtours@gmail.com or sign a Change.org petition that was created by BronxCentric: Bronx Movers and Shakers.

Why Are NYC Public Schools Failing Gym? Melissa Joined the Panel to Discuss the Issues

Last Monday, Melissa spoke on a panel entitled “Healthy Minds in Healthy Bodies: The Case for Implementing a Full Physical Education Curriculum in NYC’s Public Schools,” hosted by the Women’s City Club of New York. The panel was convened in response to a number of recent studies showing that NYC public schools are failing to meet State guidelines for physical education.

This issue prompted Melissa to write a letter to the Department of Education last year, signed by thirty-five Council Members inquiring about the DOE’s plan to improve the quantity and quality of gym class in City schools and to address the disparities between schools. Melissa was joined by education chair Robert Jackson along with other phys ed experts, all of whom discussed the many evidence-based benefits of PE, including improved academic achievement along with physical health.

mmv_physed

Melissa expressed her strong stance on this issue:

“Providing quality physical education in our public schools is critical in a time when our City is facing a staggering childhood obesity epidemic! It is shocking that according to the City Comptroller’s Audit none of the 31 elementary schools visited were meeting State requirements for gym class, due to factors such as co-locations and budget cuts. This issue is particularly important to low-income communities of color such as the South Bronx, East and Central Harlem, and Bedford-Stuyvesant which are disproportionately impacted by higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other related illnesses. The issue of gym class is a symptom of the overall direction the DOE has been headed over the last decade. Budget cuts, a lack of gym teachers, an overemphasis on high-stakes test prep, and the co-location of charter schools, have all served to undermine physical education in our schools.”

Melissa Responds To Accident Killing 6 Year-Old Boy in East Harlem

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito released the following statement in response to the tragic accident that resulted in the killing of a 6-year-old boy at 117th Street and 1st Avenue in El Barrio/East Harlem this morning.

“This morning’s heartbreaking accident which led to the death of a 6-year-old boy is an absolute tragedy,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “My office has been in touch with the local police precinct throughout the day as investigations continue so that we can understand the specifics of what took place and see what action might be needed to prevent a similar horrific accident from occurring in the future. I offer my most sincere condolences to this child’s family in this extremely difficult time.”

Council To Pass Melissa’s Street Vendor & Secure Communities/ICE Bills Tomorrow

We are happy to announce that two bills sponsored by Melissa will be passed by Council tomorrow.

vendy awards

STREET VENDOR BILLS (INTRO 16)

Intro 16 will require the reporting of data related to vendor licenses and permits, as well as the outcomes of vendor adjudications. This bill is integral to the future of the reforming vendor policy in NYC because of the information collected. In addition to Intro 16, Council Member Steve Levin’s bill, Intro 434, which Melissa has supported, will also be passed tomorrow. Intro 434 will cap the maximum fine at $500 and reform the unfair escalation of fines. These bills are a critical first step towards efforts to provide greater support to our vendor community who has played an essential part of the fabric of NYC life for generations. Today, punitive fines leveraged against vendors can easily add up into the thousands, making it nearly impossible for vendors to make a living.

“Our city needs to support and not criminalize our hardworking street vendors,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I am proud that the Council is taking a stand to lower the punitive fines that make it difficult for vendors to earn a living and I thank the Street vendor project for their incredible advocacy. Under the bill I am sponsoring, the Council will receive annual reports on vending licenses and fines. My hope is that this data will help inform future policy changes to our city’s vending system. I thank Speaker Quinn, Council Member Levin and Chair Koslowitz for their leadership and support.”

uncoverthetruth.org

SECURE COMMUNITIES/ICE BILL (INTRO 989)

We’ve previously discussed our objection to Secure Communities in this blog. Melissa’s Intro 989 amends current law to ensure that immigrants that pose no danger cannot be detained by the Department of Correction. Intro 982, sponsored by Speaker Quinn and co-sponsored by Melissa, focuses on being detained by the NYPD. Whether we like it or not, we are still in the secure communities program. But with this legislation, we will not use our personnel or resources to hold immigrants that pose no danger to our city.

“Today, the Council reaffirms its commitment to protecting our immigrant communities,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “We will not allow our city’s resources to be used to facilitate the unjust deportations of hardworking New Yorkers that pose no threat to public safety. These pieces of legislation place limits on our city’s collaboration with the Secure Communities enforcement program, as we await Comprehensive Immigration Reform. I thank Speaker Quinn and Chair Dromm for their leadership on bringing this legislation forward, as well as the Bloomberg administration for their support. I also thank Make the Road New York and the Cardozo Law School for being a critical driving force in passing these important bills.”

Melissa Responds to Mayor Bloomberg’s Marijuana Arrest Proposal & Stop and Frisk Rhetoric

Melissa released the following response to the Mayor’s comments on marijuana arrest policy and stop and frisk:

“In today’s State of the City Address, Mayor Bloomberg announced plans to change the city’s marijuana arrest policy while we await action by the State Legislature to finally decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in public view. Under the new policy, anyone who is able to present identification and clear a warrant check will be released with a desk appearance ticket, rather than being held in custody overnight.

“This policy shift is greatly encouraging and a step in the right direction. I thank Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly for recognizing the fundamental problem with the city’s marijuana arrest policy, which has resulted in record numbers of arrests – up to around 50,000 per year – of mostly black and Latino males. The way the city has carried out this policy in recent years is a corruption of the intent of state law, which decriminalized small amounts of marijuana decades ago. I still recall a time when we were not seeing this level of openness within the administration and the NYPD to look at what the City could do to reduce the number of marijuana arrests. I also thank the Drug Policy Alliance, VOCAL-NY and all of the advocates who have brought this issue to the forefront, and I look forward to continuing to advocate for this change at the state level to completely end small-time marijuana arrests.

“In spite of the welcome news on marijuana arrests, I was disappointed by the Mayor’s delusional defense of the city’s stop and frisk policy. The suggestion that without our current stop and frisk policy New York’s murder rate would equal Detroit’s is absurd and unfounded. It is time to stop irresponsibly cultivating fear as a way of drumming up support for this policy, which has damaged community-police relations and has made our young black and Latino men feel more alienated than ever.”


The State of the City Address doesn’t begin until around the 35-minute mark.

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 Responds to the Arrest of a Suspect in Eight Muggings of Asian American East Harlem Residents

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito released the following statement today in response to the arrest of Jason Commisso, the suspect in a string of eight muggings targeting Asian American residents of El Barrio/East Harlem:

“Today, we are all breathing a sigh of relief as the suspect behind eight vicious muggings of Asian American East Harlem residents has finally been apprehended by police. These brutal robberies have shaken all of us in the community, but I am happy to say that we had a unified response and came together to denounce this kind of violence.

“First and foremost, I would like to thank NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly, and all of the officers of the 23rd Precinct, who demonstrated such a strong response to this string of attacks. I would also like to thank all of my colleagues in government, Asian American community leaders and residents of El Barrio/East Harlem, who joined me in distributing flyers in the neighborhood this weekend. In particular, I would like to thank Comptroller John Liu and Asian Americans for Equality.

“We will all continue to remain vigilant and ensure that no group of people within our community is made to feel unsafe. All of us in El Barrio/East Harlem, and in every community throughout the city, have the right to live without fear.

“I urge the District Attorney’s office to prosecute this individual to the fullest extent of the law in order to send a message that these acts of violence will not be tolerated.”

Melissa Speaks at the Inauguration of Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto of San Juan

Yesterday, Melissa was honored to speak at the inauguration ceremony for Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, the newly elected mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

For so long we have watched and hoped for a moment like the one in which we find ourselves right now. A moment that is truly a transformative one for Puerto Rico and all its people. The people are demanding that their government represent the needs of the majority and not that of a small sector of interests. Some people have compared this moment in Puerto Rico to the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement, which literally helped reshape and reframe the public discourse around income inequality and government representation…

Her message has been simple but powerful: “Un San Juan Para Todos” (“A San Juan for All”). Her inclusive vision for the future of San Juan extends to all – old and young, women and men, poor and wealthy, members of the LGBT community, immigrants… everyone. Even those that did not vote for her. Those who historically have not had a voice in our society are included to bring forth a new future for San Juan, together with our inspiring mayor.

All this means that new ways of doing business must be put in place. I am proud to say that Mayor Carmen Yulín – who I consider a sister in struggle – has committed to engaging in a participatory budgeting process here in San Juan, a way to turn the power over to the people and their communities to decide how to spend public dollars. I was among the first Council Members to engage in this process in New York, which is only the second city to do so in the U.S. It was an honor for me to invite Carmen Yulín to City Hall to discuss this initiative with her, and I look forward to seeing it happen here in San Juan.

To watch Melissa’s speech, commence at the 38:30 mark:

For the full transcript, in English & Spanish, click here.

Melissa Celebrates the Resignation of Puerto Rican TV Personality Kobbo Santarrosa

Melissa released the following statement regarding the resignation of Kobbo Santarrosa from the WAPA-TV program SuperXclusivo. Santarrosa’s character on the show, La Comay, had inspired a grassroots boycott of the show, after a history of homophobic comments and recent remarks about the brutal murder of publicist José Enrique Gómez.

“On Wednesday, Puerto Rico rejoiced at the resignation of Kobbo Santarrosa from the widely-watched WAPA-TV program SuperXclusivo. Santarrosa’s resignation followed a massive grassroots campaign and boycott targeted at his character, a puppet named La Comay, who consistently spewed hateful, homophobic rhetoric on air. Most recently, La Comay made remarks in response to the brutal murder of José Enrique Gómez that he “looked for” his own death because he was in a particular neighborhood.

“I am truly moved and encouraged by this incredible victory, and congratulate all my Puerto Rican brothers and sisters who united so forcefully in this campaign, which linked our demands for an end to the horrific violence on the island and for an end to hate speech on our airwaves.

“In the context of the major electoral victories of Governor Alejandro García Padilla and soon-to-be-inaugurated Carmen Yulín Cruz, we are in the midst of a transformative moment on the island, where people at the grassroots are really driving incredible change at all levels and demanding that their government truly represent the needs of the majority and not that of a small sector of interests. Let’s not forget that a grassroots movement also defeated two harmful propositions that would have shrunk the legislature and given judges the right to deny bail in certain cases.

“I thank and congratulate Pedro Julio Serrano, a friend and longtime leader in the struggle to get La Comay off the air, for this victory, as well as all others who led and participated in this campaign.”

Melissa Testifies to Keep East Harlem Whole

Yesterday, Melissa testified at the NYC Districting Commission’s Manhattan public hearing. In front of the Commission and District 8 constituents, who were the overwhelming majority of those in attendance, Melissa had another chance to speak before the Commission’s next map revision comes on January 23rd.

Melissa testified:

My community of El Barrio/East Harlem has a clear message: we want to remain united within one district. We are asking for the full restoration of the current East Harlem boundaries in the 8th District, which will protect a historic community of interest, keep our public housing developments united and encapsulate critical community and cultural resources within one district. We are also asking for the restoration of Randall’s and Wards Islands and the preservation of Central Park within District 8. All of this is accomplished by the Common Cause map, while greatly expanding District 8’s portion of the Bronx, something I fully welcome. I strongly urge the Commission to use the Common Cause map as the basis for the reconfiguration of the proposed District 8.

For the full testimony, please click here. 

To watch Melissa’s testimony, please fast forward to around the 52-minute mark:

Thank you to everyone who came out to testify and signed our petition. We presented a petition with over 150 signatures to the Commission calling for the full restoration of the East Harlem boundaries. For those who were not able to make it out to testify, the final hearing is on January 15th, so there is still time to submit written testimony to hearings@districting.nyc.gov.

Read more about yesterday’s hearing from City & State.

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.”

Melissa Announces New Legislation To Protect Unjust Deportation of Immigrant New Yorkers

Today, Melissa joined her colleagues in announcing a new legislative action that will reduce the unjust deportations of immigrant families due to the federal Secure Communities program. Building on legislation sponsored by Melissa which became law last year, the two new pieces of legislation that will be introduced this month will limit the city’s ability to hand over immigrants who pose no threat to public safety for deportation proceedings. Melissa is the lead sponsor of one of the two new bills, which should receive a hearing within the first quarter of 2013. The other bill is sponsored by Speaker Christine Quinn.

Because of the current Secure Communities program in NYC, once an immigrant encounters the criminal justice system, they are at automatic risk of deportation. Under the current system, regardless of immigration status, age, criminal record or the accused crime, immigrants can be detained and deported – constantly living in fear. With this proposed legislation, the city would only be able to honor a detainer request from the federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) if the person poses a threat to our city or has serious criminal charges pending. It would specifically ensure that immigrant youth and individuals that only have old or very minor convictions, or convictions directly related to their immigration status like driving without a license, are not funneled into the deportation system.

Melissa commented:

“New York City continues to be at the forefront of protecting our immigrant communities from unjust deportations. I am proud that this Council is again ushering through legislation that expands our city’s ability to have discretion in its collaboration with federal immigration enforcement. This legislation comes in response to the forced roll out of Secure Communities in our state, which threatens to funnel immigrant New Yorkers directly from central booking to deportation centers. We must extend to our police precincts the same protections we put in place in our city’s jails to prevent the unfair deportation of immigrant New Yorkers. We also want to strengthen the current law to ensure that immigrant youth and immigrants with old or minor convictions are clearly protected from deportation. I thank Speaker Christine Quinn and Immigration Chair Danny Dromm for their leadership, as well as Make the Road New York and the Cardozo Law School for their continued advocacy.”

479758_10101556643196359_1531710150_n

This legislation will surely serve as a model for other municipalities throughout the U.S. as we await for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. We will keep you all updated on this piece of legislation.

Melissa Mourns the Tragic Death of Jenni Rivera

“The tragic and untimely death of Mexican superstar Jenni Rivera in a plane crash on Sunday has shaken the Mexican and Latino communities here in New York and throughout the U.S., not to mention millions and millions of adoring fans throughout Latin America.

“The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Rivera was not only a successful musician and TV star, but she was also an inspiration for our community and in particular for Latina women. Her music challenged machismo and communicated messages of female empowerment, and the personal struggles she endured in her relationships made her a fierce advocate for an end to domestic violence and sexual abuse. She was also a key ally in the fight for immigrant and LGBT rights.

“In a testament to her continued rise to crossover success, Rivera was to star in an English-language sitcom on ABC, which would have helped provide some much-needed diversity in prime time television.

“She will be missed but never forgotten by our community. I send my condolences to Jenni Rivera’s family, friends and fans in this difficult time.”

Melissa Mourns Loss of Hector “Macho” Camacho

Melissa released the following statement regarding the death of Puerto Rican boxing legend Hector “Macho” Camacho:

The El Barrio community and Puerto Ricans worldwide are mourning the loss of Hector “Macho” Camacho, a boxing legend who was shot last Tuesday and died on Saturday. Camacho was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico and moved to East Harlem as a child with his family where he lived in the Johnson Houses NYCHA development. His life was a complicated one but his accomplishments have brought pride to Puerto Ricans on the island, in El Barrio and beyond. He was a dynamic fighter who won world championships in three weight divisions and left an indelible mark on the sport of boxing. He was also a charismatic entertainer and a proud Puerto Rican.

In recent years, there has sadly been a rise in drug-related murders and other violence in Puerto Rico. It appears that Camacho fell victim to this unfortunate trend. My community and I send our condolences to his family and will continue to honor his memory.

Council Members Mark-Viverito and Brewer Urge New Yorkers to Respect Directive to Stay Out of Parks

Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito (Chair of the Parks & Recreation Committee) and Gale A. Brewer, who represent districts on the east and west sides of Central Park, issued the following statement to urge New Yorkers to follow the City’s directive to stay out of parks.

“Hurricane Sandy has had a devastating impact on our city’s public parks, including over 250 downed trees in Central Park alone. As Council Members who surround the park, we are strongly urging our constituents to please heed the directives to stay out of Central Park and all of our parks until further notice. This directive is meant for everyone’s safety. 

“We have already had incidents of people who have tragically been killed by falling trees in the wake of Sandy. Just because the storm is over, it does not mean that branches can no longer shift and fall down. Unfortunately, we have heard reports of individuals trying to defy the directive to stay out of the parks and force their way in. The Parks Department and the Conservancy are hard at work to clean up Central Park and make it safe for everyone’s enjoyment as soon as possible, but in order to do so safely, they need the park to be free of non-essential personnel.

“We are clearly in the process of a long recovery from the storm in areas across the city, including our public parks. This is a time for us all to come together. There are people in neighboring communities who are in desperate need of assistance, and so the most efficient use of our city’s resources has become more important than ever. We ask that everyone please respect directives from the City that are only intended to keep us all safe and allow the clean-up efforts to move forward as quickly as possible.

“Like all New Yorkers, we look forward to the reopening of our parks and thank Parks Department staff, conservancy groups and all those that are helping in the clean-up efforts across the city.”

Melissa Applauds Governor Cuomo’s Renewed Push for Marijuana Arrest Reform

Yesterday, Melissa issued the following statement in response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s strong support of legislation that would end small-quantity marijuana arrests, calling for its passage and the passage of a minimum wage increase before considering pay hikes for legislators.

“I commend New York Governor Cuomo for urging the State Legislature to adopt what he calls ‘The People’s Agenda,’ which includes an end to unjust small-quantity marijuana arrests, before they consider a potential salary hike for legislators.

“I strongly support this principled act of leadership in the face of a hostile Republican State Senate which in the last session blocked legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in public view. This inaction has led to thousands more unjust stop-and-frisk arrests of young men of color when they are told to empty their pockets during stops. Enforcement of this policy costs the city an estimated $75 million each year.

“The new law would make marijuana possession merely a violation, like a traffic ticket, and not a crime that the police can arrest people for committing. Since there are currently over 50,000 annual stop-and-frisk arrests for small-time marijuana possession in NYC, this will dramatically reduce the unjust criminalization of our youth. Earlier this year, the New York City Council passed a resolution in support of this legislation, which I sponsored, and Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have voiced their support of these reforms. The Commissioner even issued a directive to officers intended to slow down the number of marijuana arrests. Still, it is essential to codify this policy change at the State level, and I thank Governor Cuomo for taking this issue so seriously.

“I am also very pleased that Governor Cuomo is renewing the push to raise the state’s minimum wage, a vitally important measure which will help working families remain in New York City and the state during times of increasing poverty and income disparity.”

Melissa’s Statement on Approval of HHC Housing Development on E. 99th Street

On Wednesday, August 23rd, the City Council approved a land use item that will pave the way for the construction of a new housing project E. 99th Street, adjacent to Metropolitan Hospital. The project, which will be built by the City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) will provide housing to 176 low-income elderly and/or disabled New Yorkers who currently reside at HHC’s Coler Goldwater skilled nursing facility on Randall’s Island, but no longer require intensive care. After extensive negotiations with the Bloomberg administration and HHC, I arrived at the decision to support this project.

The move of the Coler Goldwater facility from Randall’s Island to El Barrio/East Harlem was in the works since at least 2010, but the final push to move this plan along came with the announcement that the City was seeking to use the land occupied by Coler Goldwater for a new engineering school on Randall’s Island (which will be operated by Cornell University). The new facility planned for E. 99th Street is one of several new developments coming into the East Harlem community as a result of the closure of Coler Goldwater. A new nursing facility will be built near North General Hospital, and a former North General building will also be renovated to provide acute long-term care (these two sites are outside of my Council district).

The E. 99th Street Sanitation Garage

The community had expressed a number of concerns about the proposed move of Coler Goldwater facilities into El Barrio/East Harlem. The most salient of the issues raised by community stakeholders like the Metropolitan Hospital Community Advisory Board (CAB) and Community Board 11 involved a longstanding concern with the location of the E. 99th Street Department of Sanitation garage.

I share the community’s frustration about the location of such a garage across the street from our public hospital, and now from a planned housing development for low-income seniors and disabled individuals, and I have raised this with the Bloomberg administration, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Commissioner and HHC in the past.

In negotiating the Council approval of the 99th Street housing development, I secured several commitments from the administration:

  1. Search for potential new location of sanitation garage: DSNY will work with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to try to identify another City-owned or privately-owned site on which to house the sanitation garage. DSNY has pledged to keep me updated on this process.
  2. Reduction in number of sanitation vehicles: DSNY will reduce the total number of vehicles stationed at E. 99th Street in its summer season (April 2nd through November 11th) by 20%. Additional vehicles will be added in the winter season, but those will only be used for the purposes of cleaning up snow in Community District 11.
  3. Additional parking space for trucks on 1st Avenue: The City has secured additional space to park Sanitation trucks on the corner of 1st Avenue and 99th Street, eliminating the need for trucks to park on 99th Street itself.

I believe that these commitments are an important step in the right direction to mitigating some of the negative impacts of the garage on 99th Street and opening up the possibility that the garage could eventually be moved if the right opportunity presents itself.

Resources from Cornell University

The community also requested that El Barrio/East Harlem receive consideration for resources that Cornell University is planning to provide to schools on Roosevelt Island, considering the burden our community is taking on with the influx of patients formerly located at Coler Goldwater. While we could not receive specific commitments at the present time, I am confident that there is a genuine openness on the part of the administration to help secure resources for our schools from Cornell, as the development of the engineering school moves forward.

Thank you for your continued support. If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact my office.

Melissa Comments on the Calls for a Federal Investigation of NYCHA

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is under the microscope right now by some elected officials and the media. Melissa released the following statement yesterday in response to these recent reports:

“With all of the challenges facing NYCHA, we as local elected officials and advocates for public housing need to be constructive in expressing our concerns and seeking real solutions,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “In the context of this Republican Congress, which would like nothing more than to dismantle one of the largest remaining housing authorities in our nation, now is not the time to call for a federal investigation of NYCHA. In a city that has grown too expensive and now has the highest income disparity in the nation, NYCHA serves as an important stabilizing force, as the cornerstone of affordable housing in New York City. Clearly, we want all of our agencies to function effectively and efficiently, but we must not lose sight of how these sensational news stories, and the political response they have provoked, could serve to undermine all the work that still needs to be done to improve the lives of NYCHA’s 400,000 residents.”

The fact is that in the past three years, NYCHA has been making progress on many important issues, including: addressing the work order backlog, federalizing and preserving 20,000 units, enhancing employment and empowerment opportunities for residents, wisely investing stimulus funding, developing a “Green Agenda” and planning for the future. It was also during these past three years that they spent about $1.5 billion for a number of vital initiatives, including: completing the 75,000 repair work orders in more than 16,000 apartments citywide, $400 million in capital improvements such as brick work, elevator modernizations, boiler and electrical system upgrades and the creation of 3,200 jobs for New Yorkers. NYCHA has been actively working on empowering their residents with connecting them to jobs through the proven Jobs-Plus programs. That included over 500 members of our communities of East Harlem and the South Bronx.

Despite continuous federal cuts, NYCHA is working hard to have their Operating deficit completely eliminated in 2015-2016. We applaud NYCHA’s efforts to preserve and protect New York City public housing despite all of the cuts that they have endured.

Melissa Denounces Racist Anti-Obama Tweets by Advisor to Speaker of Puerto Rico House of Representatives

Melissa has denounced racist tweets sent to President Obama by an advisor to the Speaker of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives named Heidi Wys (@HeidiWys) on July 26, 2012.  In response to a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama holding a birthday cake, which was tweeted with the message “Someone has a birthday coming up,” Ms. Wys replied “Who cares? Take her to Burger King, buy her a sundae with double banana, take her to your homeland, Kenya.”  Last month, Ms. Wys replied to a tweet regarding an Obama fundraiser saying, “Wah! Wah! I feel like vomiting! Dinner with a guy borned in Kenya and claims he was borned in Hawaii!”

She has sought to “defend” her comments by saying that she is not a racist since “mis sobrinas más queridas son prietas” (“my dearest nieces are dark skinned”) and that she is just anti-Obama.  She tweeted yesterday, “Combato a Obama con todas las fuerzas de mi corazon y pasion como descendiente de alemanes!!” (“I am fighting Obama with all my heart and passion, as a descendent of Germans!!”).  These tweets come just a few months after another set of racist Twitter attacks by Zaida “Cucusa” Hernández, a former Speaker of Puerto Rico’s House, against Rafael Cox-Alomar, a Democratic candidate for Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in the U.S. Congress.

“Heidi Wys’ comments against the President are vile and disgusting, and represent the height of ignorance,” said Melissa. “I am sickened by the continued racist attacks from prominent political figures in Puerto Rico. Instead of setting a civil tone and engaging in a responsible debate, Ms. Wys has stuck by comments that are inflammatory, highly offensive and continue to demonstrate the deep-seated racism that abounds in Puerto Rican political and social discourse.  I call on Ms. Wys to retract her comments and issue a real apology. If she continues to spew this kind of hateful and ignorant diatribe, she should be fired.  I also call on all Puerto Rican elected officials to denounce these racist statements.”

Ms. Wys currently advises Puerto Rican House Speaker Jenniffer Gonzalez of the Partido Nuevo Progresista, the political party that supports statehood.

Melissa Responds to Stabbing of Officer Loor

“I am deeply sorry to hear of the terrible attack that took place in my district this morning, in which NYPD officer Eder Loor was stabbed in the head by an emotionally disturbed man on Third Avenue and 107th Street. The officer had responded to a 911 call from the man’s mother who said he required hospitalization.

“Officer Loor is currently undergoing surgery.  I wish him a full and speedy recovery. This situation reminds us of the great risks that our police officers must take every day to keep us safe. I understand that his wife is in the hospital today, where the couple’s first child is due. We send our deepest thoughts and prayers to Officer Loor and his family at this time, and we eagerly await news of his recovery.”

City Council Members to Wear Hoodies Wednesday, Call for Justice for Trayvon Martin

This Wednesday, March 28th, New York City Council Members will wear hoodies at an action on the steps of City Hall at 12:30 PM to call for justice for Trayvon Martin. After a brief press conference, participating Council Members and their staff will attend the Council’s Stated meeting in their hoodies. They will also bring Skittles and iced tea, which Trayvon carried as he was shot and killed because he looked “like he [was] up to no good.” This action is being coordinated by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Letitia James, and several Council Members have already confirmed their participation (list in formation).

“The senseless murder of Trayvon Martin is an unspeakable tragedy and his family deserves justice,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “Incidents like these only serve as a reminder of how much further we as a society have to go until all people are treated equally.  As the 911 calls from that tragic night demonstrate, Trayvon was targeted strictly based on his appearance.  The fact that George Zimmerman has not been brought up on any charges only reinforces the cynicism in communities of color about our law enforcement and criminal justice systems.  I send my deepest condolences to Trayvon’s family and remain hopeful that, with the growing pressure being felt throughout the nation, his killer will be brought to justice. This Wednesday, we will send the message that the City Council will not stand silent against such flagrant injustices, no matter where they occur.”

“The sad reality of the Trayvon Martin tragedy is one that plagues urban communities throughout America,” said Council Member Letitia James.  “People of color, particularly young men of color, are faced with bouts of racism each day. As I zip up my hoodie, sip my iced tea, and snack on some Skittles, I extend my heart to the Martin family and demand justice for Trayvon.”

The hoodie has emerged as a symbol to remember Trayvon’s story and the failure of the Sanford Police Department to bring his killer to justice. Last week, Trayvon’s parents joined a Million Hoodie March in Union Square and on Friday, nearly 300 Congressional staffers held a “Hoodies on the Hill” protest. Yesterday, congregants in churches across New York City wore hoodies to call for an end to discrimination.

“Wearing a hoodie should not be a death sentence,” said Council Member Debi Rose.  “Today, we are standing in solidarity with all of the Trayvons, cut down in their prime solely because of how they look and what they wear.  The choice of clothing that one chooses to wear should not relegate them to unwarranted search, negative profiling, or the most tragic of outcomes, death.  All people of good conscience and a sense of justice must stand to ensure that this type of vigilante justice is stopped now.

“As a parent of two teenage children I am concerned about their safety and this tragic incident underscores my and many other parents fears in the African-American community. It is important we come together as a community, city, and nation, in order to understand why and how this took place so we can stop these calamities from occurring in the future,” said Council Member Leroy Comrie. “The attempt to hide behind the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in this situation is transparent and the profiling that took place in this matter is disturbing. Listening to the chilling 9-1-1 account as Trayvon called for help, compelled me to work with my local Community Council to organize a march and rally this Saturday at 10:00am in Southeast Queens to not only protest, but also to educate our youth about their rights. My hearts and prayers go out to Trayvon Martin and his family in this difficult time and I hope justice will prevail.”

Earlier today, Speaker Christine Quinn announced that she would be introducing a resolution with Council Members Mark-Viverito, James and other colleagues “that will condemn this killing, the weaknesses in its investigation and the lack of an arrest. Our resolution will also call for an examination of stand your ground laws nationwide, including their impact on increasing the flow of illegal guns to New York City.” Continue reading

Video: Melissa Makes a Statement on the Virginia Abortion Debate

Melissa made a statement on the floor of the City Council regarding the current debate in Virigina over legislation that would put in place new requirements before a woman can have an legally exercise her rights to an abortion, as well as other proposed measures that would undermine those rights.

You can watch a video of the statement below:

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito Responds to New York Fundraiser for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

Tonight, New York State Republicans will hold a fundraiser for Scott Walker, the union busting Governor of Wisconsin.  At a time when people across Wisconsin prepare to submit petitions for the recall of Governor Walker, it is disheartening that Republican New Yorkers would gather to support him in an effort to subvert the democratic process.  Governor Walker’s efforts to strip public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights, which were infamously bankrolled by the Koch Brothers, have made him the poster child for the austerity movement in the United States.

“While Governor Walker claims to have created ‘thousands’ of new jobs as a result of his economic policies, the Los Angeles Times reports today that ‘Non-farm employment grew by 4,500 jobs between November 2010 and November 2011, up just 0.2% — one of the worst performances among the states.’

“It is officials like Governor Walker that have inspired the kind of historic push back from communities across the United States – from the protests in Madison to the Occupy movements that emerged around the country, and continue to organize and galvanize around issues of income disparities.

“I express my grave disappointment that our state’s Republican Committee is bolstering the governor’s attempts to stifle the voices of Wisconsin residents and raise my voice in solidarity with those who seek to fight Governor Walker’s anti-union agenda.”

Melissa Demands that ABC Apologize for “Work It” Anti-Puerto Rican Comment

Please find below a letter sent by Melissa and nine of her City Council colleagues demanding an apology from ABC after their new show “Work It” insulted the Puerto Rican community by including the following line: “I’m Puerto Rican, I would be great at selling drugs.”

UPDATE: Sign this new online petition at Change.org to demand an apology from ABC!

Daily News Op-Ed: If Park Slope gets a bike lane, why not East Harlem?

Today’s New York Daily News features an op-ed written by Melissa in support of bike lanes for El Barrio/East Harlem.  Take a look at the excerpt below and follow the link to read the full op-ed.  Then, take a moment to add your voice to the comments section below the article.

If Park Slope gets a bike lane, why not East Harlem? 

City Council member says poor and minority communities deserve the same amenities

BY MELISSA MARK-VIVERITO / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

In October, Manhattan Community Board 11’s Transportation Committee and Full Board voted in support of protected bike lanes on First and Second Aves. from 96th to 125th Sts. Since then, a small group of local business owners has sought to stymie the process, peddling misinformation that has helped sway some community board members to vote to suspend support of the bike lanes pending further investigation.

This is bad news for East Harlem.

The addition of protected bike lanes — which have barriers to make riding safer for cyclists and drivers alike — is nothing short of a social and environmental justice issue. Until recently, nearly all of the proposed locations for these lanes were in primarily white and higher-income neighborhoods — from the East Village to Chelsea to the upper East Side to Park Slope.

But all along, communities of color like El Barrio/East Harlem have needed these lanes too.

READ MORE

New Year. More Progress.

Dear Friend:

I hope your holidays were both restful and full of cheer. As I looked back at our community’s many accomplishments in 2011, I couldn’t help but reflect on how hard we worked and how much it paid off.  In the coming year, I look forward to continuing to expand even further on the progress we are making in District 8.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions for our community?  Please leave them in the comments section below!

Last year, we engaged directly with local residents to help shape the future of our community.  The El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force, which was convened by my office, released its official platform, a plan to bring peace to our streets that was created in conjunction with our community’s youth.  Soon after the release of our platform, NYCHA finally opened the Johnson Center after over 10 years of community struggle.  Our community was also one of four in the city to take a major step towards democracy in 2011 as my office began implementing a Participatory Budgeting (PB) process in Council District 8. Through PB, community residents will decide how to allocate $1 million in discretionary funds towards capital projects of their choosing.

For our older residents, my office continued to make progress on developing El Barrio/East Harlem’s Age Improvement District, by working with the City to launch Senior Pool Hours at Jefferson Pool and to unveil several new benches on our sidewalks, which will provide a resting place for older adults as they walk outside.

And let’s not forget the citywide and national efforts to which we have contributed.  Like so many of you, I have became more motivated than ever to pursue economic and social justice in our community and our city. I marched alongside thousands of Occupy Wall Street protestors and was arrested for civil disobedience as a way of making a statement on the unconscionable level of economic inequality in our society. I was also proud to sponsor and see passed into law a bill that will help protect undocumented New York City residents from detention and deportation, which will help keep more families united.

Our accomplishments in 2011 have set the bar for a great 2012. We’re starting off on the right foot by celebrating Chinese New Year with our Chinese neighbors this month (more details to come). From there, the work continues. After another round of public meetings in February, we will hold the official Public Vote for the Participatory Budgeting process in late March.  And of course my office and the organizations that make up the Youth Violence Task Force will continue to lead the fight for safer streets, as we seek funding to implement the recommendations from our platform. In the coming months, I will also be fighting against City budget cuts and to bring more resources to our neighborhoods.

And as always, I will continue to be active on local issues of importance across our district.  Exciting and challenging times are ahead.

Please don’t forget to take a moment to share your New Year’s Resolutions for our community by leaving a comment below!

All the very best,
Melissa

Progressive Caucus Sponsors Resolution Declaring that Corporations Are Not People

The Progressive Caucus of the City Council has sponsored a resolution opposing the United States Supreme Court Citizens United decision, which gave corporations the same First Amendment rights as people (including the right to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns), and urging the U.S. Congress to pass an amendment to the Constitution rejecting this infamous decision.  Melissa is a co-lead sponsor of the resolution, which will be adopted by the entire City Council at a meeting today.

Restoring confidence in government and strengthening democratic participation is a core principle of the Progressive Caucus.  We believe that corporations should not share the same rights as people, that unlimited and unreported corporate donations meant to sway the electoral process should not be considered freedom of speech, and that the government should regulate the raising and spending of money by corporations intended to influence elections.

I want to thank Speaker Quinn and my colleagues for ushering this resolution to adoption. In this time of growing inequality in our society, which has been so powerfully vocalized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, the need to disentangle corporate interests from our democratic political process is more clear than ever. This Supreme Court decision does just the opposite and that is why we are calling on Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to make clear once and for all that corporations are not people and therefore cannot make unlimited donations to political campaigns to exercise their influence.

As Justice John Paul Stevens recognized in his dissent in the Citizens United decision, “corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help facilitate and structure the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

The Governor’s Plan to Make Our State’s Tax Structure More Progressive

We all breathed a sigh of relief when Governor Cuomo announced NY State’s new progressive income tax last week. The State was facing a $3.5 billion budget deficit that endangered vital social services and would have led to more layoffs at a time when many New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet. Under the Governor’s proposal, which has now been passed by the State Senate 55-0, the budget deficit will become far more manageable.

Yet, we have more work to do. Governor Cuomo and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly deserve credit for putting aside their differences, working together and remembering that a more progressive tax system is critical to putting our state in a better financial position. But NY State will still face a $1.5 billion deficit next year, and we have received no indication that our schools, parks, hospitals, and public housing will be shielded from the cuts. These institutions, along with many others, are invaluable, especially in hard times like the ones we are facing now. We cannot allow resources to be driven away from these essential resources.

Send Governor Cuomo a message. Remind him that we still need revenues and that cuts to our vital services are not acceptable.

I had been very vocal in my criticism of the Governor when he came out against the extension of the Millionaire’s Tax, which in my view made New York fairer. Last week, I set my criticism aside and I am happy to say that I stand in support of this new plan to invest in our state’s economy. Yes, I would have rather seen the Millionaire’s Tax extended, but it is nevertheless gratifying to know that Governor Cuomo agrees that those who earn more ought to contribute more to our State in furtherance of a more just society. I am particularly encouraged by the commitment to invest in jobs for our youth, which are so desperately needed in communities like ours.

The Governor has come a long way in recognizing that New York’s tax system has been unfair for many years. I believe he can come a bit further.

Let’s push Governor Cuomo a little further to the left. Ask for more revenues and less cuts.

Sincerely,
Melissa

NYCEDC Announces Selection of Julia de Burgos Arts Alliance to Expand Cultural Programming in East Harlem

Activation of Theatre Space at Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center Will Bring Additional Arts and Culture to Local Community

New York City, November 17, 2011 – New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) today announced the selection of the Julia de Burgos Arts Alliance (JdBAA) to lease and program the theatre and multi-purpose event space at the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center (Julia de Burgos) in East Harlem. JdBAA will provide over 1,700 hours of cultural, arts, and community programming in its first year of operating the spaces, with nearly 700 hours of the programming specifically planned for the previously underutilized theatre space. As part of its lease, JdBAA has also agreed to a community access plan which will ensure that the community has maximum opportunity to experience the arts, cultural, and community activities at Julia de Burgos.

“Today’s selection is a major step forward in our efforts to ensure the future viability of this historic cultural center,” said NYCEDC President Seth W. Pinsky. “As Mayor Bloomberg has repeatedly said, improving New Yorkers’ quality of life is sound economic development policy. By supporting and fostering important institutions such as Julia de Burgos for the benefit of community members and community organizations, we are making East Harlem an even more attractive place in which to live, work, and grow a business. I would like to thank the Julia de Burgos Arts Alliance for their commitment to this neighborhood as well as our City.”

“This is a great day for the cultural community of El Barrio,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “The Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center will move one step closer to fulfilling its original vision as a vibrant, active space that will benefit all members of our community. I stand in strong support of the decision made by the Economic Development Corporation regarding the future of the Center and thank them for their hard work on the RFEI process. I also thank all of the cultural organizations that make up the incredible partnership that will now operate in this space and look forward to seeing all of the exciting programming that they have planned for our community.”

“Expanded programming by the Julia de Burgos Arts Alliance will insure that dynamic cultural organizations are part of the Julia de Burgos Center’s commitment to vibrant art, creativity and service to the community,” said Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin.

“Community Board 11 looks forward to working with the new operator and the Economic Development Corporation to ensure that fair and equal access is granted to all potential users, capturing the original vision of the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center as a space available to all to promote the cultural depth, richness and history of the East Harlem Community,” said Matthew S. Washington, Chair, Manhattan Community Board 11.

“The Julia de Burgos Center is an outstanding asset for the residents of El Barrio,” said Kenneth J. Knuckles, President & CEO of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corp. (UMEZ) “We are delighted to know that the space will be filled with a variety of cultural activities and organizations, particularly through the community access plan, which will highlight the extraordinary talents of the neighborhood.”

The selection of JdBAA to operate the theatre and event space at Julia de Burgos is the result of a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) issued by NYCEDC in September 2010. The goal of the RFEI was to further activate Julia de Burgos with additional programming, increase access for local community organizations, and to strengthen local arts and cultural organizations. Activation of the theatre space was a top priority of the RFEI, which up until now, had been underutilized.

JdBAA is comprised of local East Harlem groups East River North Renewal, and Los Pleneros de la 21, as well as The Hispanic Federation. East River North is a nonprofit housing development program in East Harlem that for the past five years has organized and sponsored a summer season of live music performances and domino tournaments at the outdoor plaza of La Marqueta. Los Pleneros is a performing arts organization that has occupied space at Julia de Burgos since 1999. The Hispanic Federation, a national organization whose mission includes advancing the public affairs objectives of the Latino community and its network of institutions, also has strong local ties, having helped launch the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance in 2007.

JdBAA will join existing tenants to provide increased cultural programming in the space, which presently includes Taller Boricua/Puerto Rican Workshop, Puerto Rican Traveling Theater, The Heritage School, as well as Los Pleneros de la 21. JdBAA also plans to collaborate with a number of other local arts and cultural groups to offer additional programming. Some organizations that have already expressed interest include: Afterdark CATV PRO, El Teatro Moderno Puertorriqueno, Puertorriquenos Unidos, Teatro Moderno, Pregones, Teatro SEA and the Caribbean Cultural Center.

As part of the RFEI process, NYCEDC worked closely with Community Board 11 to develop a Community Engagement Access Plan for the space. The access plan will be part of the lease and will ensure that the community has maximum opportunity to experience the cultural activities at Julia de Burgos, and that there will be readily available guidelines and fee schedules for those who want to utilize the space.

Julia de Burgos is located at 1680 Lexington Avenue in East Harlem. The 2,800-square-foot event space is located on the first floor, with the 4,300-square-foot, 160 seat, theatre space above. Built in 1879 as a public school, Julia de Burgos is an approximately 60,000-square-foot five story landmarked building located in East Harlem. The Building has been historically occupied by cultural tenants and a school.

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.

Coming Together and Taking Collective Action on Youth Violence

Dear Friends:

The Daily News published an article today about a stray bullet that hit my car while I was driving up 3rd Avenue this September.  Thankfully, nothing happened to me or my mother that night.  But the fact that the shooter was a 16-year-old young man again reinforces the need for our entire community to come together and collectively take action to prevent more young people from turning to gangs and gun violence.  That is why we convened and are facilitating the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force, a collaborative of community organizations and elected officials working to curb violence in our community through the development of positive alternatives.

Although the incident I was unknowingly involved in, in retrospect, was truly scary, unnerving, and extremely unfortunate, it is in no way a reflection of our youth or who we are as a community.  To me it is indicative of a greater challenge before us.  That young man, out on the street at 10:30 pm, carrying a gun and aiming to shoot someone, was surely let down by many people along the way, and that saddens me.  It is an “all hands on deck” moment for our community and our city.  We all have a role to play, and that is the message of the Youth Violence Task Force.  We can’t stand idly by while we are losing a generation of our youth.  Young people and the community as a whole want to pro-actively be part of dialogue to arrive at sensible and effective strategies and solutions.

This Thursday, the Youth Violence Task Force will release its official platform, which is a direct result of our community discussions and other meetings with young people, who shared with us their ideas about how we should all work together as a community to reduce violence in our neighborhood.  The release of this report is only the beginning, as the Task Force will move on to more action-oriented next steps that will directly engage young people and the entire community in anti-violence efforts.

As a proud member of our community, I did not take lightly my decision to go to the press with this story.  I feared that it might reinforce the notion that our neighborhood is a dangerous place, when clearly, violent incidents are the exception, and not the rule.  However, I also thought it was important to draw attention to the hard work that our community has been doing on tackling the issue of youth violence.

Please stay tuned to my blog (www.mmviverito.com) for the latest on the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force, and check back on Thursday for the release of the platform.  Thank you as always for your support.

Sincerely,
Melissa Mark-Viverito

Melissa Reflects on Occupy Wall Street Protests

Occupy Wall Street has gripped the nation, with an estimated 30,000 protesters, including Melissa,  marching from Foley Square to Liberty Square last Wednesday. Before the march, Melissa spoke to her colleagues at the City Council stated meeting and encouraged them to stand up for reform and join hands with the protesters. Her full statement is included below. And you can learn more about what Melissa thinks by watching her interview with SEIU 32BJ’s Hector Figueroa on Pura Política (in Spanish).

Occupy Wall Street has stirred the conscience of our nation with protests focused squarely on the ethic of greed that has consumed Wall Street. I rise today to encourage the members of this Council to support their cause.

The protesters call themselves the Other 99 percent. Why? Because they represent the majority of Americans who have been hit hardest by the Great Recession. While the top 1 percent earns 25 percent of our nation’s income, controls 42 percent of financial wealth, and receives tax breaks and mega-million bonuses, the rest of Americans are struggling to get by. Hounded by spending cuts and wage freezes, the Other 99 percent are strangled by a mountain of debt. Mortgages, car notes, student loans, medical bills, rising insurance premiums, there is no relief in sight. These families play by the rules and still they have had the American Dream snatched from their grasp. This is wrong and Occupy Wall Street represents a collective effort to highlight that injustice.

I’ve heard several pundits and colleagues complain that the protesters lack a purpose or program. Nothing could be farther from the truth. They want what we all want, a more just and equitable society. The policies they support are broadly those supported by many in this Council: a progressive income tax, a living wage, collective bargaining rights for workers, more jobs, fewer cuts, social programs for the poor and needy. Occupy Wall Street is campaigning for a BRAND NEW DEAL, where workers and business, communities and developers, main street and wall street all collaborate for a better economic future and a stronger America.

It may surprise Wall Street to know what we’ve known all along, that more equity is better for long term prosperity, but the evidence has been there for decades. In the current issue of Finance and Development, the IMF’s quarterly magazine, economists Berg and Ostray explain that “Countries where income was more equally distributed tended to have longer growth spells.” In fact, making an economy’s income distribution just 10 percent more equitable prolongs the typical growth spell by 50 percent.

America has not invested in equality in a long time. Since 1973, the median wage of workers has stagnated and, in 2010, for the first time since World War 2, the median income actually declined. All the while, the top 1 percent has continued to increase its average income to over 1 million dollars a year and Wall Street CEOs have more than quadrupled their salaries. With this kind of inequality, it’s no wonder that booms and busts that plague our economy and decimate our communities have become more frequent.

New York State has gotten caught up in this race toward inequality. As of 2010, we became the state with the greatest income inequality, with median incomes in New York City dropping 5 percent and poverty claiming 20 percent of our residents. This is appalling and not worthy of the City that claims to welcome “the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses longing to be free.”

The Other 99 percent need a fair deal and that’s what Occupy Wall Street is pursuing. If they are successful, every American, including the wealthiest, will benefit tremendously. Shared prosperity is the only kind that lasts.

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

Council Member Viverito Responds to NLRB Decision Regarding Central Park Boathouse

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Chair of the New York City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee, issued the following statement in response to the decision by the National Labor Relations Board to issue a legal complaint against the Central Park Boathouse and to seek a judicial order that would force the restaurant into contract negotiations with the New York Hotel Trades Council:

“The forthcoming NLRB ruling will substantiate what we’ve suspected all along — that the workers of the Boathouse have experienced severe violations of their right to organize,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “Now that the NLRB has weighed in, the Parks Department can no longer remain silent on this matter. I urge the Department to step in and ensure that Dean Poll complies with the findings of the NLRB. If he does not, the City should immediately terminate the contract. We as a City should have clear expectations from all those entities we do business with that the rights of their workers must be respected.  We cannot sit idly by and continue to allow an employer operating on city-owned land to willingly and willfully violate workers’ rights.”

Melissa Sends Letter to the New York State Department of Health Commissioner Calling for a Public Hearing Regarding Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL’s) Possible Relocation to 97th Street

In a letter sent yesterday to the New York State Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, MD, MPH, Melissa writes:

“I am writing to you on behalf of the constituents of my district, many of whom continue to be deeply concerned about a newly-purported plan by Jewish Home and Hospital (now known as Jewish Home Lifecare or JHL) to construct a residential healthcare facility on West 97th Street in Manhattan. Before being able to continue with its plans, I again call upon the State Department of Health to convene a public hearing, where residents’ concerns about the project can be heard and taken into account.”

Read the full letter below:

Melissa Mourns the Loss of Puerto Rican Scholar Ricardo Alegría

Photograph by Héctor Méndez-Caratini, taken at the Alegría residence, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito issued the following statement in response to the death of renowned Puerto Rican scholar Ricardo Alegría:

I am very saddened by the death of the extraordinary Puerto Rican scholar Ricardo Alegría.  No single individual has done more to preserve Puerto Rican history, heritage and culture than Mr. Alegría.  During his long and fruitful life, Mr. Alegría helped so many of us proud Puerto Ricans – whether living on the island or stateside – to understand and appreciate more deeply our roots, and to preserve the history of the island within our collective identity as a people.

As founder of the Institute for Puerto Rican Culture and the Center for Advanced Studies on Puerto Rico, Mr. Alegría dedicated his entire life to studying the origins and evolution of modern Puerto Rican culture, focusing in particular on the strong influence of the island’s Taino heritage.  He also worked tirelessly to preserve the archaeological beauty and history of Old San Juan and other parts of Puerto Rico, which continue to serve as a visual reminder of our history.

Mr. Alegría’s work has been of importance not only to those Puerto Ricans living on the island but also to the millions of us who are part of the diaspora and have to make even greater efforts to preserve our cultural heritage.  As part of ASPIRA of NY I had the great honor of leading a group of young Puerto Ricans born and raised in New York on a trip to the island to help them learn about their culture and their history.  Mr. Alegría humbly welcomed us into the Institute and personally led a talk with the youth, which was as impactful for me as it was for them.  The ability to witness the generosity of his spirit in taking the time to speak with these teenagers was a truly unforgettable experience and one that speaks to his character as a person.

Mr. Alegría, “protector y promotor de nuestro patrimonio”, has left for us Puerto Ricans such incredible contributions, thereby ensuring that his memory lives on for generations to come.  I send my condolences to his family and to all Puerto Rican people as we mourn this terrible loss.

Melissa Responds to Killing of Another El Barrio/East Harlem Teen

Isayah Muller, a 19-year-old Jefferson Houses resident, was killed on Tuesday just hours after his graduation (Photo by Matt Ehalt - ESPNNewYork.com)

I am deeply saddened and distressed by the killing of yet another young person from El Barrio/East Harlem. In the past three weeks alone, three teenagers from our community have been killed due to senseless and endemic violence in our city.

A young woman, Tysha Jones, gunned down enjoying a day at the beach; a young man, Juan Ortero, shot while walking to a local deli; and now another talented and promising young man, Isayah Muller, stabbed to death on the day of his high school graduation. As we head into the summer, we are seeing far too many lives being cut short due to violence and few communities have felt the impact of these killings more than El Barrio/East Harlem. Though two of these three incidents did not occur in our community, it is no secret that we have also experienced a serious increase in shootings and other forms of violence here in our neighborood, particularly among our youth. We must all continue to come together and reaffirm that this violence must be stopped.

On behalf of my entire community, I send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of these three young victims and all youth who have been tragically and prematurely taken from us due to violence.

Melissa Responds to Historic Passage of Marriage Equality Legislation

Photo by William Alatriste.

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito is celebrating tonight’s historic passage of marriage equality legislation in the State of New York.

“Today marks a truly historic victory in the struggle for equal rights for LGBT New Yorkers,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “Lesbian and gay couples will finally have their love for one another recognized by our state and will be afforded with all of the benefits and protections that they need and deserve. Over the past few weeks, I have been so proud to stand side by side with Latino elected officials and community leaders in pushing for full marriage equality in our state. I want to thank the Governor and all of those State Legislators who supported this legislation, particularly Senator Tom Duane and Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, Mayor Bloomberg for his efforts and all of the advocates and community members who have fought so that we could arrive at this incredible moment.  I would most especially like to congratulate Speaker Christine Quinn on this momentous victory for equality and justice in our state, which was made possible in large part thanks to her tireless advocacy.”

In recent weeks, Melissa has helped spearhead efforts to highlight the Latino voice in this debate and to demonstrate the strong support for marriage equality within Latino communities.

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

Criticizes Mayor from Blocking Plan to Save Essential Services

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Amal Chen/The Epoch Times.

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

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

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

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

The letter can be viewed below:

Latinos Unite to Make Final Push for Marriage Equality

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NY Daily News: Ballfields at $120 million Randalls Island largely unused, not attracting neighborhood kids

Cross-posted on the NYC Council Parks & Recreation Committee blog.


Ballfields at $120 million Randalls Island largely unused, not attracting neighborhood kids

BY DANIEL BEEKMAN
DAILY NEWS WRITER

If you build it, they will come – but not to Randalls Island.

Dozens of new ballfields in the sprawling park beneath the RFK-Triborough Bridge went unused last summer by the kids who need them most, the city parks boss admits.

And with school almost out for summer, advocates are complaining the $120 million revamp of Randalls Island Park in early 2010 created a playground for the rich and took crucial dollars from neighborhood ballfields.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe cited the low traffic earlier this year to justify plans for a private sports camp.

“Fields on Randalls Island have gone largely unused during weekday daytime hours in July and August, and thus availability should not be an issue,” he wrote City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito in January.

The deal called for Florida-based IMG Academies to operate the camp on Randalls Island after donating $200,000 to the Randalls Island Sports Foundation. But plans for the $895-a-week camp fell through in April, with IMG citing low enrollment.

Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem/Bronx) slammed the pricey park rehab, claiming thousands of trees were cut down to make way for the artificial turf fields.

“Why would you build so many fields and then have a problem in terms of utilization?” she asked. “It was shortsighted and now we’re paying the price.”

“From day one, we were concerned there was no need to build so many” new fields, said Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates. “Now that has come to fruition. The result is the fields are empty.”

The park boasts fancy golf and tennis centers, but no basketball courts, he added.

During the rehab, the city took heat for a $2.2 million-per-year pay-to-play scheme involving Manhattan private schools. It was struck down in court after East Harlem and Bronx community groups sued.

“The fields were built mostly to accommodate the private schools,” Croft said. And Marina Ortiz, of East Harlem Preservation, called the park “a private playground … designed to bring in revenue.”

There’s a move afoot now to try and spread the word about what’s in the park. Randalls Island fields go unused partly because they are isolated and more people need to be made aware of the space, said Frances Masrota of Manhattan Community Board 11.

A renovated E. 103rd St. pedestrian bridge is set to reopen soon, while the M35 bus runs between the park and E. 125th St. – but few youngsters make the trip.

The Parks Department has assigned a representative to attend Board 11 meetings and share info related to Randalls Island to try to spread the word on what’s there.

The fields are “generally permitted to capacity” in the evenings and on weekends, Parks spokesman Zachary Feder said. The park foundation also offers a free summer program, he noted, and softball leagues
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2011/06/14/2011-06-14_kids_unaware_or_unwelcome_after_120m_randalls_island_fixup_theres_a_park.html#ixzz1PG07ybD9

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 Responds to Tragic Killing of Tysha Jones

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito issued the following statement in response to the killing of 16-year-old East Harlem resident Tysha Jones at Brighton Beach this Thursday:

“The tragic killing of Tysha Jones reminds us all again of the pain and suffering caused by rampant gun violence in our communities, particularly when young people are the victims.  Yet another young person with her whole life ahead of her is suddenly no longer with us.  We have learned that Tysha was a friend of the late Cheyenne Baez, another young woman from El Barrio/East Harlem who was killed by a stray bullet just last year.  I send my deepest condolences to Tysha’s family and friends in this difficult time.  We in El Barrio/East Harlem will continue to keep the memory of both Tysha and Cheyenne alive through the collective work we do to combat senseless violence in our community.”

Tysha Jones and Cheyenne Baez (Images courtesy of the New York Daily News)

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

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

Press Coverage:

Photos:

Melissa Speaks Out Against Five Borough Taxi Plan

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

Photo by Michael Appleton/The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER CHRISTINE C. QUINN, COUNCIL MEMBERS VIVERITO AND DROMM APPLAUD GOVERNOR CUOMO’S DECISION TO SUSPEND STATE’S PARTICIPATION IN SECURE COMMUNITIES PROGRAM

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

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

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

Melissa Joins Rally Against NYPD’s Marijuana Arrest Practices

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

Photo by Angel Franco/The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Sends a Letter to the State Health Department Reiterating Call for Public Hearings on the JHL’s Proposed Move to W. 100th Street

Melissa sent a letter to the New York State Department of Health today in support of the community’s request for a public hearing regarding JHL’s application to open a new facility on W. 100th Street. The full letter can be read below.  We will update the blog when we receive a response from the Department.

Melissa Stands with Central Park Boathouse Workers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council Member Viverito & NY Academy of Medicine to Hold “Senior Tuesday” at La Marqueta

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**
April 11, 2011

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, the New York Academy of Medicine and local community groups will be holding the second “Senior Tuesday” at La Marqueta in El Barrio/East Harlem tomorrow, Tuesday, April 12th from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon.  “Senior Tuesdays” are part of the local Age Improvement District initiative, which seeks to make East Harlem a more livable community for older adults.  At the event, seniors will be given samples by many of the market’s vendors, as well as special discounts on merchandise; one vendor is even offering each senior a pound of potatoes. Attendees will also be given tours of the new Urban Garden Center at La Marqueta, health screenings by Metropolitan Hospital and benefits enrollment by the NYC Coalition Against Hunger.

La Marqueta, a legendary marketplace situated under the MetroNorth rail line on Park Avenue between 111th and 119th Streets, recently received much-needed upgrades thanks to an investment by the New York City Council and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and now features a brand new commercial kitchen incubator, in addition to several new vendors.  Senior Tuesdays will feature a story-telling booth with a video camera whereby visitors can talk about their memories of La Marqueta at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s.

“So many of our local seniors remember La Marqueta from its inception.  Now with the wonderful revitalization of this space, we want to make sure that our older adults feel welcome and have a chance to really enjoy the market,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “I am proud to have launched the Age Improvement District with the New York Academy of Medicine and our many local partners in El Barrio/East Harlem last year.  Senior Tuesdays is just another example of the small but vital steps that we as a community can take together to make our neighborhood more age-friendly.”

Putting the spotlight on another initiative that has been sponsored by the East Harlem Age Improvement District, each vending booth at La Marqueta will be equipped with two chairs so that seniors have somewhere to sit down and rest, enabling them to really enjoy the morning.  The Age Improvement District recently gave out 100 chairs to local small businesses throughout El Barrio/East Harlem to ensure that there is sufficient seating for our older adults who may be in need of rest while out doing shopping.

The East Harlem Age Improvement District, sponsored by Council Member Viverito and New York Academy of Medicine, was the first to launch in New York City.  The East Harlem program has served as a pilot which is now being replicated on the Upper West Side.

Senior Tuesdays at La Marqueta will continue the second Tuesday of every month.  The East Harlem Age Improvement District is set to sponsor a number of other events and special programs this spring and summer, including WalkNYC, weekly walking groups for East Harlem seniors, as well as an East Harlem Pool Party in July and specially-designated times for senior citizens to use the pool at Thomas Jefferson Park.

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

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

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**
APRIL 1, 2011

NEW YORK ELECTED OFFICIALS REACT TO PUERTO RICO SUPREME COURT DECISION LIMITING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROTECTIONS

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

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

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

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

##

Melissa Questions NYPD Commissioner on Rampant Marijuana Arrests

At a City Council hearing this week, Melissa questioned NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly regarding the huge increase in low-level marijuana arrests in the City, which are estimated to cost over $75 million per year, according to a report by the Drug Policy Alliance.  Last year, over 50,000 people (84% of which were Black and Latino) were arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana, even though it was decriminalized in 1977.  In 2010, more people were arrested for marijuana possession than in the entire period spanning 1978 to 1996.

Click image to open video.

While possession of small amounts of marijuana was previously decriminalized by the State legislature, those who are arrested are typically caught with marijuana “in public view.”  However, there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that, during stop and frisks, individuals are asked to take out what is in their pockets, thereby exposing what was previously concealed marijuana.

“As the City asks agencies providing vital services to New Yorkers to cut back, it is unacceptable that the NYPD is using $75 million in taxpayer dollars to enforce low-level marijuana offenses,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “The disparities in the number of marijuana arrests is just as startling and brings attention to how our criminal justice policies disproportionately target people of color, and in particular our young people, who are too often introduced to the criminal justice system because of these low-level offenses. This funding could surely be better utilized in this time of economic need.”

Last year, the 25th Precinct, which covers El Barrio/East Harlem currently ranked number 14 out of 75 in the number of marijuana arrests, according to an analysis by the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform & Alternatives and the Drug Policy Alliance.  94% of those arrested are people of color.  The 23rd Precinct on the West Side of our district ranked number 31 and the 40th Precinct, which covers Mott Haven, ranked number 26.

Click the image above to open video from NY1.  Here is some additional media coverage from the hearing:

 

City Council Adopts Landmark Legislation Protecting Women, Tenants and Homeowners

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

Protecting Women’s Rights: Pregnancy Services Center Bill

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

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

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

Protecting Tenants: The HEAT Act

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

Protecting Homeowners: Lien Sale Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Writes to Parks Department Regarding Offensive Statue Outside Central Park

 

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

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

 

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

Take a look at the letter below:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRESS RELEASE

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

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

The Progressive Caucus supports a budget that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think of Chancellor Black’s comments?

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

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

Photo by William Alatriste.

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

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

Photo by William Alatriste.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Under the proposal offered today by the Progressive Caucus:

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

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

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

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

Student Safety Act Moves Toward Passage in the City Council

Photo by William Alatriste.

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

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

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

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

Click above to open video from NY1.

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

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

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

Progressive Caucus Applauds Study by Center for American Progress on the Benefits of Higher Wage Standards

*** For Immediate Release ***

Contact: Rachel Goodman (Lander) 646-319-8665, rgoodman@council.nyc.gov
Joseph Taranto (Mark-Viverito) 917-535-5531, jtaranto@council.nyc.gov

Progressive Caucus Applauds Study by Center for American Progress on the Benefits of Higher Wage Standards

Caucus Members Call for Passage of Legislation to Ensure that Taxpayer-Funded Subsidies in NYC Create Good Jobs

New York, NY – Members of the New York City Council Progressive Caucus hailed today’s release by the Center for American Progress of “Creating Good Jobs in Our Communities: How Higher Wage Standards Affect Economic Development and Employment.” The Progressive Caucus welcomed the study’s findings, and called for passage of two key pieces of legislation to insure that taxpayer-funded subsidies in New York City are used to create good jobs. The study is available at http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/2010/11/living_wage.html

Too often, taxpayer-funded subsidies and incentives – issued in the name of job creation and economic development – are used by developers and corporations to create low-quality jobs that pay poverty wages and provide no benefits. To combat this problem, cities across the country have adopted wage standards to make sure that when businesses receive subsidies, they are required to pay their workers family-supporting wages.

The new study released today by the Center for American Progress (CAP) finds that wage standards do not have a negative effect on job creation.  Cities that have applied these standards saw the benefits of family-supporting jobs, and still maintained the same levels of employment growth as a comparable group of cities without wage standards. This study proves that, despite arguments from the opposition to the contrary, it is not necessary to compromise job growth for job quality.

The Progressive Caucus called for passage of two bills before the New York City Council that would apply wage standards of the type studied in the CAP report:

  • Intro 18 (sponsored by Progressive Caucus co-chair Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito) would require owners of buildings receiving financial assistance from the City to pay a prevailing wage to their building-service workers.
  • Intro 251 (sponsored by Progressive Caucus member Council Member Annabel Palma and Council Member G. Oliver Koppell) would require companies receiving economic development benefits to pay a living wage to all workers in the project.

“With nearly a third of all New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet, New York must do more to help create good, family-sustaining jobs,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus.  “If developers want large hand-outs from the City, they should commit to doing right by the New Yorkers who are helping finance these lucrative projects.  In passing the Good Jobs Bill and the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, we as a City will be putting our foot down to end the practice of subsidizing poverty-wage jobs.  I stand with my colleagues in calling for the passage of these two critical measures.”

“The Center for American Progress report clearly illustrates the great potential of the Prevailing Wage and Living Wage bills,” said Council Member Annabel Palma.  “The report debunks the theory that these bills would hurt our city’s competitiveness and confirms that, if enacted, both Prevailing Wage and Living Wage would provide thousands of New Yorkers access to the well-paying jobs they need and deserve.”

“Public subsidies should create quality jobs not poverty wage jobs,” said Caucus co-chair Council Member Brad Lander. “This is really a pretty simple idea, and I am pleased that the Center for American Progress study shows that this common sense policy doesn’t cost cities jobs.”

“Economic development that receives public funds must be responsible and create good jobs for its workforce,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “Our city should never subsidize poverty level jobs. These two pieces of legislation are the right thing to do.”

The Low Road vs. the High Road

The Caucus also highlighted “low road” and “high road” economic development projects in New York City.  High road projects create good jobs, with health benefits, to help grow the city’s economy and create widely shared prosperity.  Low road projects create jobs with poverty-level wages, enabling developers to make money on a project without sharing the benefits with their workers.

  • Low Road:  The redevelopment of Albee Square Mall into “CityPoint” has received City subsidies for the development of a shopping mall in Downtown Brooklyn, the city’s third largest business district. Under the current agreement there are no labor standards, opening the door for low-wage retail jobs with few employment protections.
  • High Road:  The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center received City subsidies to rehab a loft building in East Williamsburg that will house over 100 well-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs.

Wage standard legislation would ensure that NYC subsidies are only used for high road projects, with good jobs for working families.  The CAP study shows this to be the more responsible route, so that communities can encourage investment in good jobs without a negative effect on job growth.

“Creating jobs doesn’t have to mean a race to the bottom—job quality and job quantity can go hand in hand,” said Council Member Letitia James.


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?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

Melissa’s Latest Statement on the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center

Dear Constituent:

As the public debate continues around the Economic Development Corporation’s decision to release a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for two underutilized spaces in the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center (the Center), allow me to respond to a specific type of criticism that equates my advocacy in challenging the status quo with an elitist agenda. Most disappointing is a recent column that missed the point on the need for change by resorting to inflammatory and dismissive characterizations of those of us who are striving to optimize the strength and vitality of our community’s assets.

At the core of this most recent community struggle is a larger dilemma we have been remiss to confront and is tearing at us. We must face the fact that too many of our institutions, community based organizations and political leaders, have ignored the urgent need for leadership development and succession planning. Continue reading

Statement of the Progressive Caucus on the Paid Sick Time Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Up Letter to the Community on the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center

Dear Constituent:

I want to thank all of those who attended the visioning discussion I held on Monday, October 4th regarding the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center.  I was very encouraged by those who spoke about what they would like to see come into the space as a result of the Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) process, such as the importance of opening up regular arts programming for youth in our community, as a strategy to address the rise in violence we are witnessing.  I hope we can continue to have this dialogue as the process moves forward so that our community’s input is taken into account seriously by the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), and I will ensure that this happens.

Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of misinformation about the RFEI and its implications on the current operations of the space.  First, Taller Boricua is not being ejected from the Cultural Center.  The City will continue to renew Taller Boricua’s lease for the gallery space on the first floor and the offices on the second floor.  The RFEI is for the operation of the multicultural and theater spaces only, paving the way for enhanced arts and cultural programming that will bring the Center closer to reaching its full potential, and presenting an opportunity to a greater number of cultural organizations to share this hard-fought-for community asset, which belongs to the greater community.

Additionally, it has been purported that the City has forced Taller Boricua to suspend Salsa Wednesdays.  I have verified with EDC that they have never pressured anyone at the Center to terminate these activities.  I am a strong supporter of Salsa Wednesdays as an important program that has brought members of our community together each week in a positive way to celebrate Puerto Rican culture.  Taller Boricua’s current lease of the multicultural space (where Salsa Wednesdays is held) will be renewed month to month until the new operator is identified.  Understanding the community’s strong support for this event, I am committed to ensuring that whoever is selected through the RFEI process will continue this tradition.

My support for EDC’s decision to release an RFEI for these spaces does not negate my deep respect and appreciation for the historic work and contributions that Taller Boricua has made to El Barrio.  However, I feel strongly that we must also be realistic in looking at processes of succession and organizational planning for our neighborhood institutions to ensure that El Barrio continues to grow and thrive while also maintaining our community’s identity.

I continue to welcome productive comments going forward on this matter as to how individuals and organizations in the community would like to see this vital community resource utilized.  Please feel free to continue to contact me via our District Office or through our blog.

Sincerely,

Melissa Mark-Viverito

Statement on Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL)

Melissa presented a statement on Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL) at last night’s Community Board 7 meeting, where a number of local residents spoke during the public session in opposition to JHL’s move from W. 106th Street to W. 100th Street.  She also shared a letter she wrote to the State Hospital Review and Planning Council (SHRPC) calling for a public hearing on JHL’s amended application to build its new facility on 100th Street, given that there have been substantial changes from the previous plans for W. 106th Street.

Below, please find the statement followed by the letter to SHRPC:

I remain deeply concerned with Jewish Home Lifecare’s (JHL) move to West 100th Street.  Members of the community have characterized well the de-stabilizing effects that this move could have on Park West Village and West 106th Street, as well as the lack of open and transparent engagement with the broader Westside community on this matter.

As previously reported, I have requested that JHL hold an open forum not only for local residents to share their concerns about the move, but to hear the latest from the institution about their plans. The absence of such public meetings has left a vacuum where community members have only been able to learn information about JHL’s plans through their own investigations and have had only listervs and community meetings as venues for voicing their concerns, venues at which JHL is not necessarily present or compelled to respond.  Fortunately, JHL has agreed to the request, and we expect that the meeting will be scheduled in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, local residents have been working to urge the State Department of Health to exercise greater scrutiny over JHL’s new proposed facility and to engage in public hearings with local residents to hear feedback.  I strongly have written a letter to the State Hospital Review and Planning Council in support of this request (see below).

It is my hope that in beginning with an open and productive community meeting, further discussions held and decisions made by JHL regarding the fate of either the West 100th Street or the West 106th Street sites will remain open and transparent.  Beyond this initial meeting, please count on my office to take part in follow-up conversations with the institution to ensure that we begin to address the many issues that have been raised since JHL announced the land swap deal with Chetrit over a year ago.

I thank the Westside community for your continued commitment to the neighborhood as well as to ensuring that our older adults are receiving the highest standard of care.

Here is the letter to SHRPC: Continue reading

Melissa Publishes Opinion Piece on Synthetic Turf on CityLimits.org

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

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

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

City Council Adopts Melissa’s Corporate Landlord Registration Bill

At yesterday’s Stated Meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt Intro 87-A, the Corporate Landlord Registration bill sponsored by Melissa. When signed into law by the Mayor, this bill will require the corporate owners of residential buildings (such as LLCs) to disclose the names and contact information of their principal partners, while also prohibiting the use of mail handling facility addresses in landlords’ registration statements to the city.

Previously, corporate landlords were not required to disclose the names of individual partners, and many of these entities registered addresses for mail handling facilities.  In some cases, the addresses provided to the City were found to be storefront properties filled with mailboxes.  Therefore, when tenants had issues with their housing, it was often difficult to locate the actual owners of the property without engaging in litigation.

“Today, the New York City Council is sending a message that landlords should not be allowed to hide behind shell companies as tenants scramble to resolve housing issues,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito.  “Thanks to this legislation, tenants will have access to the names and contact information of the principal partners of these corporate entities that are increasingly the owners of our city’s residential buildings.  Additionally, these corporations will no longer be able to provide the City with the address of a mail handling facility instead of a real brick and mortar address where the true owners of the building can be reached.  I would like to thank Speaker Quinn and Housing & Buildings Committee Chair Dilan, as well as the advocates, particularly Make the Road New York, for their work on this legislation.”

This legislation has continued the efforts of the City Council to provide our city’s tenants with additional protections as well as the necessary tools to hold landlords accountable.  The Mayor is expected to sign this legislation into law in the coming weeks.

Melissa also introduced two resolutions yesterday:

Res 415: Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to pass and the Governor to sign Assembly bill A.3659 and Senate bill S.1241, which are designed to improve the efficiency, accountability, and transparency of industrial development agency operations.

Res 416: Resolution calling on Congress and President Obama to abandon the proposal for a national biometric social security card as part of a comprehensive immigration reform package.

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Testifies in Response to Proposed Community Gardens Rules

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

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

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

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

STATEMENT BY PROGRESSIVE CAUCUS ON MAYOR BLOOMBERG’S SUPPORT OF EXTENDING BUSH TAX CUTS FOR THE WEALTHY

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

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

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

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

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

Video from yesterday’s press conference:

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

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

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

Melissa Responds to Injunction Issued on Parts of Arizona Immigration Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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):

U.S. Dept. of Justice Sues Arizona Over Immigration Law

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ), under President Obama, has initiated a lawsuit against the State of Arizona due to the controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070, which was signed by Governor Jan Brewer this past April.  Citing the sole right of the federal government to regulate immigration, the DOJ hopes that the courts will strike down the law on constitutional grounds.

Immediately following the signing of this law, Melissa united her voice with immigrant advocates in calling on the federal government to intervene before this law would take effect:

Last week, Melissa joined immigrant communities and other elected officials last week called on Major League Baseball (MLB) to move the All Star Game out of Arizona in response to S.B. 1070.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

To send a free fax thanking President Obama for initiating the Arizona lawsuit and calling for his continued leadership by ushering comprehensive immigration reform through Congress, click here.

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.

Black, Latino & Asian Caucus Urges Gov. Paterson to Sign Stop & Frisk Database Bill

The Black, Latino & Asian Caucus has sent a letter to Governor Paterson, urging him to sign legislation approved by the Senate and Assembly which would prohibit police from entering the information of New Yorkers that have been stopped and frisked into a database if they are not arrested or ticketed.

Currently, after completing a stop and frisk, police have the authority to enter each individual’s name and information into its database, even when they are not found to be in violation of any law.  This practice raises serious civil liberties concerns.

The city’s stop and frisk policy has been found to be highly discriminatory against people of color, with blacks and Latinos making up 80% of those targeted. Studies have also indicated that nearly 90% of those stopped are not found to be in violation of any law.

The letter can be read below.  If you cannot view the letter, please click here.

NYC and Chicago Elected Officials Release Joint Statement on Police Intimidation of Peaceful Protesters in Puerto Rico

NYC Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Annabel Palma along with Illinois State Senators Iris Martinez and William Delgado and Chicago Alderman Roberto Maldonado have released a joint statement condemning the actions of police officers that used intimidation and excessive force against peaceful protestors in the Capitolio, Puerto Rico’s legislative building.

The statement, as well as videos on these events, can be found below.

Click above to open video from NY1.

Statement by Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Annabel Palma, Illinois State Senators Iris Martinez (20th District) and William Delgado (2nd District) and City of Chicago Alderman Roberto Maldonado (D-26th Ward)

Re: Police Intimidation of Peaceful Protestors in the Capitolio, Puerto Rico’s Legislative Building

Yesterday the Police used excessive and unnecessary force against non-violent protestors whose only intent was to peacefully enter Puerto Rico’s Capitolio. In addition to several protestors, at least one reporter and two legislators were hurt in the altercation that ensued. This was a flagrant abuse of police authority, and unfortunately also appears to be a growing trend in Puerto Rico.

Press reports and video evidence clearly demonstrate that there was no justification for responding to the peaceful protestors with beatings and pepper spray without any attempt at dialogue first. People were denied entry into a public building that is constitutionally mandated to conduct its business openly and publicly.

We emphatically condemn this police brutality and express our concern regarding the incident, which defies the most basic democratic values we hold dear. We will not stand by and allow civil liberties to be disregarded and attacked. We join others’ efforts to fight the suppression of democracy in Puerto Rico and we call on Congress to investigate yesterday’s events.

Ayer la Policía reprimió de manera excesiva la manifestación de un grupo de estudiantes y otros ciudadanos, que pretendían ingresar al Capitolio de Puerto Rico. En adición a varios de ellos, por lo menos un reportero y dos legisladores sufrieron lesiones.  Los informes de prensa y la evidencia videográfica es clara que no había razón ni justificación alguna para recibir a los manifestantes con golpes y gases, sin que mediara diálogo.  Les negaron el ingreso a un edificio público, que por mandato constitucional debe conducir sus trabajos de manera pública.  Por este medio expresamos nuestra condena enérgica por los incidentes de brutalidad policíaca y la más profunda preocupación por los acontecimientos ocurridos, que ponen en entredicho los más altos valores de democracia.

###

New Op-Ed on Revenue Options Published Today on Gotham Gazette Website

Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Melissa Mark-Viverito and Brad Lander published an op-ed today on the Gotham Gazette news website, which again lays out the argument for new sources of revenue to address the city’s budget deficit.

Here is an excerpt from the op-ed:

Even as working New Yorkers are bracing themselves for these cuts, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have refused to consider taking a more balanced approach by enacting new revenue-generating options that would reduce cuts by asking Wall Street and the wealthiest city residents to put in their fair share. The current economic crisis has only made already longstanding inequities in our city much worse. In taking revenue options completely off the table, the administration is failing to demonstrate the leadership that the majority of New Yorkers needs in order to bring more fairness to the current budget and to secure a stable future for all residents of our city.

With an even bleaker outlook for next year, the city simply cannot wait any longer to ask the wealthiest for their fair share. This coming year, thousands of low and moderate-income families could find themselves hit by budget cuts on multiple levels and across generations — in just one low-income area in Brooklyn, two child-care centers, a senior center, a health clinic and a public pool are all on the chopping block. Meanwhile, the safety and quality of life of our communities as a whole could be compromised by the closure of fire companies, the reduction of public health services and decreased maintenance in our parks.  Read the rest of the piece on the Gotham Gazette website.

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.

Council Members Respond to S.I. BP Molinaro’s Comments on Mexican President Felipe Calderón

Last week, Melissa and four other Council Members sent a letter to Staten Island Borough President James V. Molinaro following comments he made regarding the recent visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderón to the U.S. Congress. The Borough President referred to President Calderón as a “despotic idiot” and to Mexico as a “banana republic,” in response to his address before Congress, where he criticized Arizona’s new immigration law.

The letter, which was also signed by Council Members Dromm, Ferreras, Rodriguez and Williams, can be viewed below: