Arts and Culture

Schools, Libraries, and Our Charity

As one of the "spirited Brooklynites" who spent last weekend running (and even helping to organize) the Brooklyn PTA 5K Fun Run for Public Schools, and then Biking the Branches in support of the Brooklyn Public Library, I completely agree with Liza Featherstone's critique in this article: that we must not come to view our schools and libraries as "charities," but as fundamental public institutions that we have a duty to robustly (and more equally) support with our tax dollars. AND that we are not doing so. AND especially not in the case of NYC's public libraries. AND that this is a real shortcoming of the budget that Mayor de Blasio put forward this week (which cuts the expense budget of the 3 library systems $10 million from last year, and includes only a scant & largely illusory increase of capital funding).

For what it's worth, though, I do think events like the PTA 5K, and Bike the Branches -- and even more participatory budgeting (PBNYC) -- can be a fundamental part of efforts to "fight privatization, not revel in it," as Featherstone rightly demands. Read more »

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. Read more »

Planning for the future of Gowanus

When we launched the “Bridging Gowanus” community planning process a year ago, we knew we were taking on a big challenge. 

We’ve seen (and smelled) the fetid water after a rainfall.  I was there when it flooded its banks during Hurricane Sandy.  And we knew these toxic waters might seem still compared to asking Brooklynites to debate too-often-polarizing questions about development, density, infrastructure, industry, and housing. 

But deciding not to engage seemed worse.  Should we just wait and let developers make plans of their own (or pretend that they won’t)?  Should we allow hotels, big-box stores, and self-storage facilities (all currently allowed “as-of-right” throughout the Gowanus) overrun the whole area?  Should we miss the opportunity to frame the community’s priorities for the new mayoral administration? Read more »

The real champions of change

I’m honored to be in Washington DC today to receive a “Champions of Change” award from the White House for work (along with Alderman Joe Moore from Chicago, and Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito from East Harlem) on participatory budgeting.

I’m excited to meet and learn from other elected officials, not-for-profit leaders, and community organizers who are pioneering new forms of civic engagement and open government (like Jessica Klein, co-founder of Rockaway Help, which created new technology tools to enable people to collaborate for disaster relief). 

But there is something not-quite-right about getting an award for something as inclusive as participatory budgeting (which The New York Times called “revolutionary civics in action”). The whole idea of participatory budgeting is to see elected office not as a vehicle for one person’s leadership, but as a way to bring people together to take shared responsibility.  The best part of participatory budgeting is how people step up together to act as stewards of the shared public realm – our schools, parks, public transportation, streets, libraries – that makes our life together possible, and sometimes even ennobling. Read more »

Our City's budget, and our values

Last week was a busy one at City Hall. We passed two important police reform bills (more on those here), overrode the mayor’s veto of legislation that will guarantee paid sick days for a million more New York workers, and we passed the City’s FY2014 budget, for the fiscal year that begins today (for good measure, we also passed a bill to “save brunch,” which had apparently become threatened due to an outdated law).

In budget negotiations, we were able restore the essential public services proposed for cuts by Mayor Bloomberg. Libraries will keep their full hours. Low-income families will keep their childcare. Our neighborhood firehouses, parks, and pools will remain open. You can access all the details of the City’s FY2014 budget here, and on those areas where the Council focused on restorations and additions here. Read more »