Vol. 18, No. 23 Dec. 1 - 14,  2005


In the Public Interest


Council Speaker ‘Debate’
The seven City Council members vying for the legislative body’s top post had a friendly public debate on the issues last month. Candidates for the Council’s speaker position showed few differences in their responses to questions at the event, which had a massive turnout.

“I agree with everything that my colleagues have said so far,” said Council Member Leroy Comrie to a question about campaign finance reform. According to a debate transcript, the word “agree” was used 16 times in two hours.

The cordial tenor amid the high-stakes battle is indicative of where the real campaigning for the speaker position happens — behind closed doors. The 51 members vote on the post in January, but the politicking commenced well before last month’s election through campaign contributions and the courtship of party clubhouses, unions and other political kingmakers.

Organizers of the event, which was held at Baruch College, sought to shed some light on the mysterious process. But the event was more about typical campaign promises than about process. “My door is going to be open,” said current Council majority leader Joel Rivera, who emphasized his ability to be a unifier and respond to members’ needs.

The candidates — Leroy Comrie, Bill de Blasio, Lewis Fidler, Melinda Katz, Christine Quinn, David Weprin and Rivera — were in accordance on extending Council term limits by at least four years. “When you go to a dentist, do you want somebody straight out of dental school … or do you want someone who has experience?” Rivera said.

They also agreed that the campaign finance system needs to be revised, that non-citizens shouldn’t get to vote, and that the commuter tax should be reinstated (though Fidler doubted they’d be successful). Most candidates favored asking the state and federal governments for more money rather than increasing taxes.

The scene in Baruch’s lobby was much more confrontational, with dozens of people (including Norwood News staff) shut out of the debate due to a lack of space. “This is ridiculous,” said Eleanor Edelstein, an aide to Council Member Oliver Koppell, who was among the angry crowd.

Council Member Oliver Koppell said he thought the Bronx delegation should stick together in choosing a candidate, but wouldn’t be more specific. He also indicated that any of the possible contenders would be competent in the role. “They are more or less about the same,” he said after an event last month.

Emission Laws Beefed Up
Last month, New York became the second state in the country to adopt tougher vehicle emission standards than are required federally. The state’s Environmental Board agreed to join California in requiring automobiles sold in New York to abide by higher fuel efficiency standards by 2009.

“New York is continuing a long legacy of innovation and foresight in cutting global warming pollution, first from power plants and now from vehicles,” said Kit Kennedy of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.

Manufacturers will be required to use available efficiency technologies, such as better engine electronics, energy-saving tires and alternative fuels.

Transportation is considered to be the fastest growing contributor to pollution in the state. The Pataki administration is also now negotiating with companies to cut emissions from power plants.

Unfair Restrictions
Congressman Eliot Engel condemned the State Department last month for denying a U.S. visa to Gerry Adams, leader of the Sinn Fein political organization of Northern Ireland. Adams was seeking to attend an anniversary dinner of Sinn Fein, which has been alleged to participate in terrorist activities perpetrated by the Irish Republican Army. Engel argued that denying Adams a visa only upsets current peace negotiations between Britain and Ireland.

Meals Matters
Community Board 7 agreed to send letters condemning the Bronx Meals on Wheels overhaul during committee meetings last week. The Board is appealing to the mayor and the public advocate to begin studying the effectiveness of the pilot, which changed the meals delivery program for homebound seniors and is now entering its second year.

As the Norwood News reported last issue, the city Department for the Aging has not begun the survey as it had promised to do by the fall. Participating Bronx seniors now receive frozen meals twice a week, or reheated ones daily.

The Board also questioned why the controversial program has not been expanded citywide. “Why were we the only borough to get this?” asked Rita Kessler, the Board’s district manager, during an event last month. “Why is the Bronx always dumped on?”

Budget Measure Bombs
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz is disappointed that a ballot measure seeking to change the state budget process failed last month, but he’s not entirely surprised. “I wish it passed, but it was up against a lot,” said Dinowitz during an event last month. “It was an underdog.”

Dinowitz and other state legislators were hoping to delay the due date for the state’s chronically late budget by a month and allow for a contingency budget. The measure was strongly supported by the Assembly and Senate leaders, and some civic organizations, but was opposed by business groups and other advocates.

Criticism of the state’s budget process climaxed last year, with the legislature passing the first timely spending plan in 20 years. Dinowitz said he hopes to push the issue again this year. “Hopefully, it will be raised in the political agenda,” he said.

Cruel Cuts?
Congressman José Serrano decried a Congressional move last month to cut $50 billion from education and health programs in next year’s budget. “I voted against these shameful cuts because they are wrong,” Serrano said in a statement. “The Republicans are trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.”

House Democrats and moderate Republicans managed to derail the budget at the last minute. A congressional panel will now evaluate which cuts to keep.

The possible reductions target many social programs. They include at least 220,000 fewer Food Stamp slots and 330,000 fewer vouchers for childcare assistance, along with cuts to college scholarships and health insurance for the poor, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Making Law
• The City Council passed legislation last month to break up large coalitions of labor unions into separate locals when it comes to campaign donation limits. The Council defended the change as a measure of free speech, but its more obvious result will be an infusion of money into city races, including their own. All local Council members supported the bill, but Mayor Bloomberg is opposed to it.

•- The Council also unanimously passed a bill increasing the fines for vandalizing houses of worship from $10,000 to $25,000. Continuing to dip his toes in the water on citywide issues, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión inserted his opinion into the debate. “All New Yorkers should applaud [Council Member] James Oddo’s legislation that punishes these despicable acts of violence that are driven by hate and fueled by ignorance,” said Carrión in a statement.

Carrión joined another outer-borough Council member, John Liu of Queens, last month in decrying the MTA’s decision to give discounted holiday fares. Carrión is widely reported to be eyeing the 2009 mayor’s race.

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