2014 Year-End Updates

2014 Year-End Updates

As the year closes, I wanted to update you on a few things I’ve been working on in recent weeks.

Confronting segregation & increasing diversity in NYC’s schools

Sixty years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal is inherently unequal,” New York’s public schools are among the most segregated in the country. On December 11, 2014, the New York City Council took a stark look at issues of school segregation and diversity – in a nine-hour hearing that I worked with Education Committee Chair Danny Dromm to convene.

Public schools are, for me, one of our most important democratic institutions – the mechanism by which all our children are supposed to receive an opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed.  Segregated schools communicate an enormous amount to our kids about what sort of society we really value. And there is persuasive evidence that diverse classrooms are good for all kids.

While the current situation is grim, the hearing showed strong support for a range of concrete steps we can take in a better direction – starting with legislation that I’m co-sponsoring, and proceeding with innovative admissions approaches already being piloted around the city and elsewhere. You can learn more about those ideas, and read a summary of the hearing on my blog.

Keeping faith with our elderly neighbors at Prospect Park Residence

All year long, our community has stood with the seniors facing a cruel mass eviction at the Prospect Park Residence on Grand Army Plaza. While the heartless actions of owner Haysha Deitsch, failed oversight by the NYS Department of Health, and deteriorating conditions have driven out most of the seniors who lived there, a core group of eight residents remain – and they continue to fight for their rights. You can read a recent piece about their struggle here.

Our legal team continues to win victories in court. In November, we were joined by Public Advocate Letitia James and Comptroller Scott Stringer in a community protest. And over the holidays, neighborhood residents brought cheer to the building by leading a holiday sing-along with the residents. Thanks to Susan Fox, Suzi Shelton, and many others for taking part. We will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the residents as their lawsuit progresses (with the next court date scheduled for January 30) and to push forward on policies that better protect seniors in the future.

Standing up for workers’ rights at our neighborhood carwash

The fight for dignity and fair pay for low-wage workers has made it to our doorstep – or at least to our neighborhood car-wash. The car-wash workers (or “carwasheros”) at Las Vegas Auto Spa (on 19th Street & 7th Avenue) have been cheated out of $600,000 in overtime and wages by owner Marat Leshehinsky, threatened, and denied their right to organize and form a union. They took the brave step to go out on strike, and have been on the picket line since Thanksgiving.

Many community members have visited the workers on the picket line, bringing coffee, offering support, and getting to meet workers like Luis Garcia, Rogelio Lara, and Angel Robelledo. Hundreds of neighbors came out to support them at a community march and rally.

Now, they need our financial support as well, to help them get through the next couple months and make sure their sacrifice doesn’t pass in vain. I am asking every one of us who cares about workers rights to make a contribution to the strike fund so these courageous workers can get through the holidays. Let’s show the owner that our community will not stand for worker abuse. You can read more here.

Charting a future for the Gowanus

After more than 17 months of community planning conversations that included homeowners, tenants, NYCHA residents, small business owners, environmental activists, artists, affordable housing advocates and others who care deeply about the future of the Gowanus, we have issued Bridging Gowanus, a draft planning framework for the neighborhood.

The plan focuses on five key elements: upfront investments in sustainable infrastructure, strengthening manufacturing businesses, a genuine mixed-use community that preserves the character of Gowanus, preservation and creation of affordable housing, and making sure the rules are followed. For more information I encourage you to read the executive summary of the report or this article from Capital New York.

From the start of this process, I’ve been humbled by deep community involvement in this effort – including people who I know disagree vociferously with one another. I believe that together, we've created a plan that will preserve and maintain the area’s outstanding character, while advancing a re-energized neighborhood with a clean canal and much needed infrastructure improvements.  

Safer Streets in Kensington & Windsor Terrace

In all corners of the district, we have been working to improve traffic safety, and especially to make streets safer for pedestrians. Throughout the fall, we met with residents of Windsor Terrace and Kensington about our next steps there. Several weeks before the tragic death of Mohammed Naiem Uddin, I wrote a letter to the NYC Department of Transportation – compiled from those residents' concerns – identifying the need for improvements at several intersections in the area, including the one at E. 7th Street and Caton Avenue where 14-year-old Naiem was killed by a hit-and-run driver last month.

We have organized a community meeting with the DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on January 8th at 6:30 pm at PS 130 (70 Ocean Parkway) to discuss the steps that the City will take to make streets safer, along that stretch of Caton Avenue and more broadly in Kensington and Windsor Terrace.  I hope that you can join us there.

I’ve also been working with Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson to make sure that the justice system works for the Uddin family – and for other victims of illegal driving. DA Thompson has committed to conduct a swift but thorough investigation of the incident which claimed Naiem’s life and to move forward with the charges warranted by the investigation.

You can read more on my blog about our traffic safety work with community organizations actively working for change.

Connecting with Cities Across the Country for “Local Progress”

In December, I helped organize the third annual "Local Progress" conference for elected officials from cities and counties around the country. We were grateful to be hosted at City Hall by Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito (who each gave great remarks), and at SEIU Local 32-BJ. I was proud that so many of the new members of the City Council's Progressive Caucus spoke on panels about the work we are doing in NYC.

As you can read in this great (and even funny) writeup in The Nation, we heard from innovative leaders around the country -- like those who just passed the first "retail workers bill of rights" in San Francisco, raised the minimum wage to $15 in Seattle, advanced LGBTQ civil rights in cities throughout Kansas, or beat back Chevron's attempt to take over Richmond, CA. We shared ideas, polices, and strategies around affordable housing, policing and public safety, climate change and resiliency, reproductive justice, LGBTQ equality, opportunity for immigrants, expanding voting rights and clean elections.

A Charge for Next Year

Finally, I’m pleased to share that the Daily News named me as one of their “15 New Yorkers who will shape 2015.” This puts me in some great company, and I am honored by the recognition. But I’ll take it more as an assignment for next year, rather than as praise for this one.

I promise to keep working hard at City Hall, and to keep fighting for more equal opportunity, more sustainable communities, and a more responsive government – but also to keep listening carefully across lines of difference, and trying to make sure we build a city that works for all New Yorkers.  

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