Dark days, and brighter ones

Dark days, and brighter ones

The waning days of 2014 have been dark ones for New York City. The killing of Detectives Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu made real the worst imaginable fears for those who put their safety on the line to serve our communities. Reactions to their murders highlighted tensions among New Yorkers – around how we understand the challenges of public safety and policing – and have risked setting us against ourselves.

Just a few weeks earlier, here in the 39th Council District, we lost 14-year-old Mohammad Naiem Uddin in a traffic crash that reminded us that our efforts to improve traffic safety and reduce speeding have not yet done enough.

Still, as the year turns, I remain truly grateful for what we’ve done together. Democracy can be messy, even painful. We don’t all agree on how to understand the problems, and certainly not on the solutions. But I am genuinely glad about what we’ve achieved together in New York City in 2014. While much of the rest of the country is stuck in a place of political polarization, we have moved forward in tangible ways to make lives better for many New Yorkers.

Working together, with the leadership of Mayor de Blasio, the City Council (under the leadership of Speaker Mark-Viverito), and so many of you, we’ve achieved a lot. We’ve expanded pre-kindergarten slots to 53,000 four-year-olds (which persuasive evidence shows is one of the best investments we can make). We’ve guaranteed paid-sick days to over a million working New Yorkers, so they won’t have to choose between their jobs and their health. (I urge you to read Rachel Swarns’ column in the New York Times on what a difference both of these make.) And while we could not save Naiem Uddin, with Vision Zero in place, pedestrian deaths in NYC were at their lowest ever.

We’ve dramatically reduced the number of immigrants who will be deported for the smallest of infractions (or none at all). We’ve reformed the rules of the City Council to advance good government, taken steps to limit the impact of money in politics, and expanded participatory budgeting to half of NYC. We’re on path to create and preserve more affordable housing, including requiring developers to include affordable units in new buildings (something I’ve been pushing for over a decade). We joined hundreds of thousands from around the world to demand action on climate change before it’s too late.

As the year closes, I also wanted to update you on a few things I’ve been working on in recent weeks. You can read more below or click here to learn more about some of my office’s work on the following:

  • Confronting school segregation and advancing diversity
  • Standing up for our elderly neighbors at Prospect Park Residence
  • Supporting exploited car-wash workers who are demanding their rights
  • Convening the Bridging Gowanus community planning process
  • Improving street safety in the 39th Council District
  • Organizing with progressive local elected officials around the U.S.

Did we get everything right? Of course not. There were plenty of situations where I wish my office could have done more to help constituents. And I want to see the city do better on a range of critical issues: record-high homelessness, appalling conditions at Rikers’ Island, and repairs in public housing. We need to do better, and I hope next year we will.

We won’t always agree. I’ve had some of my best conversations this year with constituents who don’t share my “progressive” agenda, who fear we’ll over-regulate, over-spend, or focus so much on social justice or sustainability that we’ll forget the basics. I remain firmly committed to our agenda of confronting inequality and advancing opportunity – but I am eager to listen and learn.

As Nashville’s Chief of Police wrote in a remarkable year-end letter: “As imperfect humans, we have a tendency to limit our association with other persons to those persons who are most like us. ... It is only when we go outside that comfort zone, and subject ourselves to the discomfort of considering thoughts we don’t agree with, that we can make an informed judgment on any matter. ”

I offered some initial thoughts after Detectives Ramos and Liu were killed, and I’m grateful for your diverse and overwhelmingly constructive feedback. I’ve tried to reach out and listen to people with very different perspectives. Toward that end, I invite you to join me in reading some thoughtful pieces on policing, from some pretty different places on the political spectrum. I’d be glad to hear what you think (and to get your suggestions for other things to read):

I started this year believing that we are at our best as a city when we work to solve problems together in partnership. That we can reduce gaping inequality while keeping a strong economy. That we can confront climate change will still plowing the snow. That we can challenge school segregation while making sure our kids still learn to read, write, analyze, and create. And, yes, that we can take action to reduce the deeply disparate impacts of race in our criminal justice system, while working with police to support their work to keep all neighborhoods safe.

Even in dark days, I still resolutely believe those things are true. What’s more, the darkest days of this season are behind us – and I’m looking forward to some brighter ones in 2015.