NEWS AND ISSUES
March 2012 Community Report
The following is a summary of some of my office's activities since my last community report:
Working to Preserve Retirement Benefits for Public Employees
Many constituents have reached out to my office to express opposition to the proposed Tier VI pension plan for new public employees. I am strongly opposed to the creation of this new pension tier which, by some estimates, will reduce retirement benefits by more than 40 percent. It is simply wrong to blame New York State's financial troubles on its provision of a measure of retirement security to its teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses, and many other dedicated public servants. In reality, it was Wall Street greed, the collapse of the deregulated financial and housing markets, and other factors which were not perpetuated by our hard working, dedicated public servants, which placed our City and State in such a precarious economic situation. Wall Street should be forced to do its fair share to fix the problem it created.
It is also important to note that there is a mistaken impression that New York's pension system has remained unchanged for decades. This is simply not true. On January 10, 2010, public retirement benefits were significantly reduced with a new Tier V retirement system which, at the time, was touted to save our State $48 billion over 30 years. Now, two years later, the public sector is being unfairly pressured to take another significant pension benefit reduction. This is unacceptable.
Thanks to working people and their supporters speaking out against the unfairness of such a plan, there is a significant and aggressive movement in Albany to scrap the Tier VI proposal. However, the fight is far from over and I can assure you that I and many of my colleagues are diligently working to kill this mean-spirited and unfair proposal.
Rallying to Support Public School Teachers
On March 8, I participated in a rally organized by New York City Councilmember Stephen Levin to express our gratitude and support for public school teachers and to fight back against the "blame the teachers" message of the so-called education reform movement. Earlier that morning, the New York Times ran a story entitled "Teacher Survey Shows Morale Is at a Low Point," citing a survey that found teacher morale to be at its lowest in more than twenty years. While nobody would argue that New York City's current education system is adequately serving all students – for example, barely half of black and Latino students graduate on time and far fewer are college-ready – the real way to reform our schools is to work together to support our teachers, foster their professional development and reduce class sizes. I teach a once-a-week civics class at the Institute for Collaborative Education, a public high school in CB6, and I can attest that it is an incredibly difficult job. We should be commending those who have dedicated their lives to educating our children, not second-guessing them, and not publicly shaming them.
Announcing LPC Vote on the Riverside-West End Historic District Extension I
Like Manhattan Community Board 7, I am a strong supporter of the three proposed historic district extensions along West End Avenue and surrounding blocks from West 70 Street to West 109 Street. I am therefore pleased that the New York City Landmarks Commission (LPC), which has held a hearing on each of the three proposals, has set a date to vote on the first extension: the Riverside-West End Historic District Extension I, which stretches from West 79 Street to West 87 Street. The vote is scheduled for June 26 of this year. It is important to note that the proposal under consideration remains unchanged from the one presented at the March 22, 2011 hearing. No carve-outs were approved. I appreciate LPC's exceptionally hard work and dedication in crafting and considering these proposals and I look forward to the imminent protection of another large swath of the Upper West Side's magnificent architectural history.
Seeking Local Veto-Power over DOE-Proposed School Co-Locations
On February 28, I joined United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, public school parents, education advocates, and many other City and State elected officials in announcing support for proposed State legislation that would give local Community Education Councils – elected bodies of parent volunteers – veto power over proposed school co-locations in their districts. Currently New York City Department of Education (DOE) proposals to install schools inside other schools' buildings must only be approved by the City's Panel for Educational Policy, which has never rejected a DOE proposal. All too often such co-locations create rifts between school populations that negatively impact educational environments and result in an inequity of resources for students within the same facility. The proposed legislation would ensure that no school could be co-located with another, reconfigured or moved to a different site unless the Community Education Council for the area approves it. DOE must not be allowed to move forward with such drastic proposals without community approval.
Advocating for Continued Enforcement of Weight Limitation Laws for Megabus
Megabus, the low-cost, inter-city bus service, which currently maintains a fleet of buses that park on and travel through Clinton/Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea streets, has caused many quality of life concerns that I have been working with my colleagues in government, Community Board staff and members, and neighborhood activists to address. I recently became aware of a study commissioned by Adirondack Transit Lines, with information provided by the New York State Police, that indicates Megabus' double-decker buses may very well not be in compliance with city, state and federal weight limits for tandem axel vehicles. As a result, I spearheaded a joint letter from your local elected officials bringing this matter to the attention of New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald and calling on the agency to monitor Megabus vehicles and ensure that they are complying with applicable weight limitation laws. It is notable that several days after we sent our letter, a Megabus was weighed by the Port Authority police and found to be close to 5,000 pounds overweight. A violation was issued and the bus was forced to turn back and unload passengers. I will continue to work with all applicable agencies to ensure that vehicle weight limitation laws are both enforced and observed.
Joining Musicians' Union in Supporting Live Music at Lincoln Center
As I have said before, I believe that one of the most important ways to support the arts is to support the artists. Unfortunately, according to the musicians' union, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, the Paul Taylor Dance Company has announced plans to present 21 performances at the David H. Koch Theater without the accompaniment of live musicians. In response, I joined Local 802 and other elected officials in sending a letter to the Board of Directors at Lincoln Center urging them to require the use of live music in all major performances in residence there.
Honoring NYPD Officer Moira Smith
On March 10, I joined New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Ray Kelly, U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, New York City Council Member Rosie Mendez, representatives of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and Madison Square Park Conservancy, as well as the husband and 12-year-old daughter of NYPD Officer Moira Smith at a ceremony dedicating the playground at Madison Square Park in her honor.
Officer Smith, who for many years worked in the 13th Precinct, in which the playground is located, was the only female member of the NYPD to die in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. On that horrendous day, before she perished in the crumbling towers, Officer Smith guided dozens of people inside the World Trade Center to safety, shielding them from seeing the horrors outside the windows as they made their way out of the building. It was only one of many times in her career that she had shown extraordinary bravery in the line of duty and drawn upon her instincts as a mother to calm others in the midst of chaos.
At the ceremony, Officer Smith's husband, retired police officer James Smith, and her daughter, Patricia, noted how fitting it is that Officer Smith, who was full of life and laughter, will be watching over all the children who enter the playground that bears her name. I applaud Speaker Quinn for having the initiative and persistence to make Police Officer Moira Ann Smith Playground possible. It was my honor, as someone who worked for years on the revitalization of Madison Square Park and who knows very well of the 13th Precinct's ongoing efforts to keep it safe, to participate in the deeply moving dedication ceremony.