Not worthy of honor

Council Member Levin calls for the portrait of New York Governor Horatio Seymour to be removed

Seymour_Elliott.jpg

A racist campaign

New York Governor Horatio Seymour's portrait is prominently displayed in City Hall. Governor Seymour ran one of the most racist campaigns in presidential history. The campaign's motto was "This is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule."

On August 18, Council Member Levin wrote the following letter to Signe Nielsen, President of the New York City Public Design Commission.

I write to you to request that the portrait of New York Governor Horatio Seymour be removed from its position of prominent display at City Hall.

This past Tuesday night, thousands of people gathered at the University of Virginia for a candlelight vigil honoring 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Heather, who was among hundreds protesting white supremacists and neo-nazis, died during an attack attempting to terrorize those speaking out against hate.

Cities across the country, many in former confederate states, are rising to the challenge of building a future without hate. For many communities this means the removal of monuments celebrating figures who promoted racial enmity. This is not to say we should ignore history—we should research, but not revere these individuals.

It was in this spirit that Charlottesville decided to remove a statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee. This decision precipitated a reaction from hate groups whose violent rhetoric and violent actions lead to senseless injury and death. We find ourselves in the midst of a struggle to define the future of our nation. 

This debate is not limited to former confederate states. Racism and hate were not exclusive traits of the Antebellum south. Many in the north shared the beliefs of white supremacy, and an example of this is former New York governor Horatio Seymour. In 1868, Governor Seymour was the Democratic candidate for President against General Ulysses S. Grant. The Seymour/Blair ticket ran perhaps the most racist presidential campaign our country has ever seen. The campaign was marked by open appeals to racism, vigorous opposition to Reconstruction, and intimidation and terrorism in the south by the newly formed Ku Klux Klan. The Seymour/Blair campaign slogan stated their position unequivocally: "Our ticket, Our Motto: This is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule."   

In addition, prior to his 1868 campaign, while governor of New York, Seymour denounced the Emancipation Proclamation in horrifying terms, opposed the enlistment of African Americans as Union soldiers, vehemently opposed the draft and is widely seen as having enabled the 1863 New York City Draft Riots, during which the Colored Orphan Asylum was burned to the ground by rioters, and over 100 people were killed, including 11 African American men who were lynched.

Many of the sentiments expressed by Governor Seymour throughout his career are antithetical to everything we in New York City government believe in. And yet at City Hall, as one turns left to walk towards the Mayor's office, there hangs a 105-inch portrait of former Governor Horatio Seymour prominently displayed. While I appreciate the historical significance of the City Hall Portrait Collection and acknowledge that Horatio Seymour was in fact Governor of the State of New York, the prominent placement of this portrait signifies veneration for him. For several years, every time I walk past this portrait I am reminded of Governor Seymour's 1868 campaign motto: "This is a White Man's Country; Let White Men Rule."  We should not be celebrating this man's legacy. 

I believe that some other portrait in the Collection, of a figure with a more constructive legacy to our city and country, would be more appropriate in this location. 

NYC Council Members Respond to Two Fatal Hit and Run Crashes Over Brutal Weekend

Council Members Rodriguez, Levin and Treyger to Call for Drivers to Turn Themselves In After Each Fled the Scene

BROOKLYN, N — Following a weekend where two separate fatal hit and run crashes occurred in Brooklyn, Council Members Rodriguez, Levin and Treyger gathered at the site of one of the two fatal hit and runs to urge those responsible to turn themselves in. At this time, the perpetrators of both fatal hit and runs are at large and the search by the NYPD is ongoing.

Early Saturday morning, 27-year old Neftaly Ramirez was riding his bike home after a long day at work when he was struck by what is thought to be a green private garbage truck. The vehicle did not stop and Neftaly Ramirez was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency responders. The crash, which occurred on Franklin Street and Noble Street in Greenpoint, marked the 11th cyclist death to occur in 2017. 

On Sunday afternoon, 18-year old Alejandro Tello was killed by a driver in a white BMW SUV as he rode across the street on his skateboard in Gravesend, Brooklyn. The driver ran him over, leaving him in critical condition in the middle of the street as they sped away. Mr. Tello passed away hours later at Maimonidies Medical Center where doctors were unable to revive him. 

"These tragic deaths demonstrate the horrific consequences of drivers not respecting cyclists, skateboarders, and pedestrians as equal partners on the road,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “My thoughts and prayers are with the families of 18-year old Alejandro Tello and 27-year old Neftaly Feliz during this incredibly difficult time. The drivers who so callously struck these individuals must do the right thing and come forward so that justice can be served. "

"The hit and run drivers who killed Neftaly Ramirez and Alejandro Tello are evading the law, and that is simply unacceptable,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “Two young lives have been cut short, but our pursuit of justice, from Gravesend to Greenpoint, will not be broken."

“After a violent weekend where we saw two lives lost to vicious hit and run drivers, we are demanding accountability and for these drivers to turn themselves in,” said Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. “The terrible scourge of hit and runs in our city must end and this can only happen when drivers know they will be caught and punished. We are committed to working with the NYPD to find these suspects because the families of Alejandro Tello and Neftaly Ramirez deserve this justice.”

“Regrettably, this is not the first time tragedy has struck this neighborhood, or any street in this City for that matter,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “But if nothing changes, it certainly won’t be the last. I’m appealing to the perpetrator’s basic humanity and asking them to turn themselves in. Neftaly Ramirez was just leaving work, engaged to be married, and by all accounts a beloved member of the community, and his life was cut short. This is not acceptable.”

"Alejandro Tello was a young man with his entire life ahead of him,” said Council Member Mark Treyger. “He was preparing to go to college and pursue a career in law enforcement. He did not have the option of walking or riding away from the scene of the crash that ultimately resulted in him losing his life. Neither did Neftaly Ramirez or any of the other dozens of people who lose their lives as a result of hit-and-run crashes in our city every year. These heartbreaking tragedies must strengthen our resolve to prosecute anyone inhumane enough to leave the scene of an accident and put a stop to hit-and-runs once and for all."
 
“The two recent hit-and-runs, which both resulted in fatalities, highlight the need for a stronger emphasis on traffic safety,” said Council Member Vincent Gentile. “It is increasingly evident from these two tragedies that stronger laws are needed for drivers who leave the scene of an accident. I am a prime co-sponsor and strongly support Council Member Rondriguez’s bill, which would provide for a reward for individuals who provide information leading to the apprehension, arrest, or conviction of an individual involved in a hit-and-run. This bill will mobilize the public in helping to ensure that drivers involved in hit-and-runs are identified, as many hit-and-runs remain unsolved.”

Though they represent different neighborhoods, the elected officials were unified in their call to justice and a renewed effort to increase accountability in New York City. While there have been signs of improvement, incidents such as the recent deaths of Neftaly Ramirez and Alejandro Tello show there is much more work to be done. If anyone has any information related to the perpetrators of these crimes, please contact the NYPD tips hotline at 800-577-TIPS.
 

Rethinking our approach to criminal justice

Closing Rikers Island would require both a reduction in the overall criminally involved population as well as sensible siting of community based facilities.

Closing Rikers Island would require both a reduction in the overall criminally involved population as well as sensible siting of community based facilities.

“As a City, we have fallen short of fully upholding our values of justice and fairness,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “Not only is our centralized justice system is inefficient, but it also deprives New Yorkers of their right to due process and needlessly severs family and community ties. We must do better. That is why I continue to support the closing of Rikers Island jail complex and transitioning to community-based criminal justice. We must do two things to make this a reality. First, we must commit to a calculated reduction to the overall prison population. Second, we must ensure detention facilities are close to courthouses.”

In recent years, New York City has started to make progress in reducing the overall prison population, already at half the level seen in the 1990s. Bail reform has shortened jail stays for individuals awaiting trial. One of these reforms, the supervised release program, grants judges the discretion to allow low-risk defendants to continue working and living with their families. Additionally, improved mental and behavioural health screening is better matching individuals to care instead of incarceration where appropriate.

Reducing the overall prison population is half of the solution -- we must also be more efficient and fair. The principle of having jail facilities next to our courts is the right principle. Transporting individuals to a court miles away and back to the detention facility takes hours. It is costly and inefficient. This is part of the reason the per-person cost of our jail system is more than $250,000 a year.  Furthermore, remote detention separates individuals from their family and community resources, increasing the chance of future involvement with the criminal justice system. Local jails near courthouses improve transparency, reduce costs, and reduce recidivism.

“In 2012, when the Brooklyn House of Detention reopened in Downtown Brooklyn, life went on as usual. Since reopening, I’ve received very few complaints about the facility itself. The overwhelming majority of local complaints have nothing to do with prisons, but with parking -- a ubiquitous New York City issue. Overall, the area has continued to grow and thrive.”

“Let’s keep the experience of residents in the neighborhood in mind as we engage in the difficult but important conversation about criminal justice in our city. No, there isn’t currently a specific plan to expand the Brooklyn House of Detention, which would require city approval to move forward. Furthermore, I’m not preapproving any application. But what I would like to do is urge everyone to reflect on what kind of city they want to live in. Let’s look at facts as well as experience. Let’s converse truthfully and sincerely about what values we hold and how we should organize our community.”
 

Highlights from this year's budget

A new park comes to Brooklyn

Step by step, a completed Bushwick Inlet Park is on its way. Last year, Mayor de Blasio reached an agreement with the owner of the last parcel needed to complete Bushwick Inlet Park. As a part of that $160 million deal, Council Member Levin committed to securing 4 million dollars from the Council. Council Member Levin designated $2 million from his discretionary capital fund and worked with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to allocate another $2 million from the Council. The Borough President also allocated $1 million.

With the passage of this year’s budget, the Council’s contribution is now official. “I thank the Mayor, the Speaker, the Borough President, and all the other elected officials who came together to make this happen,” said Council Member Levin. “It is also important to highlight the tremendous grassroots support that galvanized the community. This would not have been possible without the tireless advocacy from the community, especially the Friends of Bushwick Inlet Park and the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn. Their support throughout the years was instrumental, but we’re just getting started.”

No New Yorker should go to bed hungry

Photo 2.jpg

More than a million New Yorkers struggle with food insecurity. Far too many are forced to choose between paying for basic expenses or skipping meals. We can and should do better to make sure no New Yorker goes to bed hungry. Fortunately, New York City has a tool to fight hunger in our community. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) provides crucial support to our food pantries and soup kitchens.

Recently, the Trump administration proposed to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by over 139 billion dollars. Now is the time to step up and protect our community. Earlier this year the entire City Council, mirroring a goal set by Speaker MarkViverito, called on the Mayor to increase support to food assistance. I’m proud to say the City stands united against hunger, and is increasing funding to our food pantries.

Closing the literacy gap

Every child deserves the opportunity to follow their dreams. One of the best indicators for future academic and professional success is literacy. Unfortunately, too many children in our City have been left behind. By the time they reach the 3rd grade, 70% of NYC students are reading below grade level. Catching up only gets more and more difficult. That's why it is so important to engage early on in a child's life, well before starting school.

In 2015, the City Council had a unique opportunity to create new funding initiatives. Along with Council Member Antonio Reynoso, I proposed early childhood literacy as a funding priority. This was the start of City's First Readers (CFR). Through CFR, a coalition of literacy non-profits engage with families and children ages 0 to 5. In this year's budget, the City Council has increased funding by nearly one and a half million dollars. This funding increase will provide even more families the opportunity to share the joy of reading.

Entire City Council Demands $22 Million in Baselined Funding for Emergency Food

 Funding would feed over a million vulnerable New Yorkers

New York — At the Executive Budget Hearing of the Finance Committee, City Council Members Stephen Levin and Barry Grodenchik presented a letter on behalf of the entire Council, urging the Administration to include $22 million in baselined food funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) in the Fiscal Year 2018 New York City budget. The fifty Council Members echoed the call for an increase from $8 million to $22 million baselined funding made by New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her State of the City Address.
 
“The epidemic of hunger in our city disproportionately affects women, children, seniors, and communities of color and it’s critical that we can guarantee that no New Yorker is turned away from a pantry or soup kitchen,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, Chair of the General Welfare Committee. “It is unacceptable that this Administration has failed to recognize the clear need to feed more than a million New Yorkers who depend on emergency food to survive.”
 
Each year, more than 1.4 million New Yorkers depend on emergency food to survive, accessing healthy food through providers such as food pantries and soup kitchens. The City faces an annual meal gap of 242 million meals, finding evidence of hunger in every corner of our city. But rather than growing to meet demand, the amount allocated to EFAP in the Executive Budget has been reduced significantly to Fiscal Year 2015 levels.
 
“New York City is one of the wealthiest cities in the world, yet one in five children rely on soup kitchens and food pantries. I was disappointed to learn that for a second year in a row, the budget is going backwards instead of forwards on funding to address the issue of hunger,” said Council Member Barry S. Grodenchik. “Ensuring that all New Yorkers receive nutritious and high-quality foods should be a top priority. The mayor proposes spending just a $1.29 a New Yorker on emergency food – we can and must do better. It’s critical that the City provide the necessary $22 million to the Emergency Food Assistance Program to help alleviate the hunger being felt by too many hard-working New Yorkers.”
 
Increased funding is critical to meet the need for emergency food for vulnerable New Yorkers across the five boroughs. EFAP provides nutrition education, food stamp outreach, and a steady, year-round supply of nutritious food to more than 500 emergency food providers throughout New York City. Meals include all five food groups and meet the City’s rigorous nutrition standards. The program is also an important source of emergency food that is kosher and that meets halal standards. Importantly, pantries serve anyone who asks for help, regardless of immigration status.
 
“The number of hungry New Yorkers continues to grow and it is essential that we fund services to meet this basic human need. The Council should not have to negotiate and defend the Emergency Food Assistance Program every year,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Chair of the Committee on Finance. I look forward to working with this administration to reach an agreement to baseline EFAP and address our city's unacceptable meal gap.”
 
Since November 2013, the need for emergency food has escalated dramatically. Because of cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, vulnerable New Yorkers have lost more than 161 million meals annually. Demonstrably, emergency food providers reported that at multiple points in 2016, their resources have often been depleted:

  • Approximately half of providers ran out of food for adequate pantry bags or meals;
  • More than 2 in 5 food pantries had to reduce the amount of food in pantry bags; and
  • Nearly one third of food pantries and soup kitchens reported having to turn people away due to food shortages.

 These statistics speak to an insufficiency in the emergency food supply and the acute operational stress under which food pantries and soup kitchens have been functioning since the cuts. As the new federal administration threatens additional funding reductions, it is more important than ever that the Council and the Administration collaborate to ensure that New Yorkers have regular access to nutritious food.
 
“Half of food pantries and soup kitchens in New York City - the last line of defense against hunger - are facing food shortages. Without additional resources, more New Yorkers run the risk of being turned away,” said Margarette Purvis, President and CEO of Food Bank For New York City. “Ensuring no New Yorker goes hungry is a priority shared by leaders across the aisle. On behalf of our network of 1,000 charities and schools throughout the five boroughs, we are grateful for the unanimous support of the New York City Council in calling for an increase in funding for EFAP to $22 million. We look forward to working with the Administration and the City Council to ensure that the Fiscal Year 2018 New York City budget includes this much needed funding increase so that even in the hardest of times, hunger will not hold anyone back from reaching their full potential.”
 
“Hunger affects every borough and every community. We at Project Hospitality and the Staten Island Food for All Campaign are grateful to the entire City Council, especially our Council Members Joe Borelli, Steve Matteo and Debi Rose, who have shown unity in the fight against hunger by advocating for increasing EFAP funding for food to $22 million, which will help food pantries and soup kitchens in Staten Island and throughout the city,” said Reverend Dr. Terry Troia, Executive Director, Project Hospitality.
 
The Administration must work with the City Council to close this meal gap and ensure that no New Yorkers are turned away from nutritious food that they and their families need to survive. To keep up with rising food costs and increased demand, Mayor de Blasio must include $22 million in baselined funding for emergency food in the FY 2018 New York City budget.

This year's PB winners!

stephen levin pbnyc

Technology Upgrade for Two Special Needs Schools

STEAM Lab for Samuel Dupont Elementary School

New Electrical for AC at PS 110 Monitor School

Lockers for 13 Classrooms at Robert Fulton School

Real Time Bus Clocks

Renovated Toddler Playground at Independence Towers
 

I want to thank everyone that took part in this year's Participatory Budgeting process. Whether you were with us from the very beginning of the planning phase, volunteering, or simply casting a vote, you made PB special this year. Thanks to everyone's help, we set a new record for PB votes cast!

Remember, PB is all about engaging with your neighbors to improve your community. If you are interested in being a part of PB next year, reach out to Benjamin Solotaire at bsolotaire@council.nyc.gov. It's never too early to start thinking of a great idea you know will make life better for your neighbors in the 33rd district. 

Modernizing NYC's safety net

Council Member Levin introduces legislation to improve services for vulnerable New Yorkers

Each year, the City of New York supports individuals and families that are working hard to make ends meet by providing benefits such as access to emergency food, rental assistance, and job-training. The Human Resources Administration alone coordinates 12 major public assistance programs that serve over 3 million people. However, our office regularly hears of miscommunications and mistakes in the administration of benefits and services, due in part to antiquated case management systems. This includes, for example, an inability to track documentation to place chronically homeless individuals in appropriate housing, long lags in school transfers for homeless students, and failure to notify clients of appointments critical to the continuance of benefits.

It is essential to maintain and strengthen our safety net by bringing case management systems into the 21st century. My bill, Introduction 1577, would create an Office of Case Management to ensure that we are using the latest advancements in technology to modernize our systems and connect vulnerable New Yorkers to benefits and services that will help them overcome poverty and income inequality.

First, the office would advise and assist service-providing agencies such as the Department of Social Services and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to update case management systems and ensure appropriate integration among agencies. The Office will also be responsible for ensuring that clients can use digital tools to apply for services, upload documents, and receive service updates by text or email. To ensure ongoing quality improvements, the new Office will also monitor and evaluate existing and updated case management systems. Finally, the Office will develop recommendations to the State of New York to encourage coordinated systems development to achieve shared policy objectives and improve services.

If we are to truly tackle income inequality in our City, we must ensure that our agency partners have the best possible tools to meet the needs of vulnerable New Yorkers.

Update on 422 Fulton After Hours Construction

Additional disruption mitigations put in place at 422 Fulton Street. 

Additional disruption mitigations put in place at 422 Fulton Street. 

Our office has been in communication with Tishman Speyer, the Department of Buildings, and the Department of Environmental Protection regarding the After Hours Work at 422 Fulton Street. Many residents complained of excessive noise, especially late in the night, and the After Hour Variances were rescinded.

Since that time, Tishman Speyer has taken measures such as shrouding the lighting to include not just the hoist but the windows, lubricating the hoist and doing so on a weekly basis, adjusting the hoist speed in both direction so that the volume is consistent, and establishing a line of communication between the property management at 189 Schermerhorn Street. The modified hours are the following: Weekdays 6 PM – 10 PM, and Saturdays 9 AM – 5 PM. DEP inspected and monitored the decibel level last night, Thursday, March 30th.

The modifications have put the project in compliance and generating less noise. It is expected there will be no work this Saturday but that after hours construction will start again as early as Monday, April 3, 2017. Please contact the property manager at ORSID Realty if any issues arise so they can communicate with the night superintendent and construction manager. That phone number is 212-484-3775.

The Trump Administration's executive orders on immigration bring country shame, not safety

NEW YORK – One of President Trump's first executive orders unilaterally banned over 130 million people from Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The orders halt legal immigration from the countries of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Administration officials stated this ban is just the beginning.

“There is nothing patriotic about turning our backs to those in need,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. "There is nothing courageous about closing ourselves off to the world. If fear is at the foundation of our foreign policy, we threaten our nation's most central values. To many around the world, our nation is a land of freedom and opportunity. By allowing xenophobia and Islamophobia to take root, we threaten our standing in the world. Instead of safety, this administration's actions bring shame." 

"These are not values welcome in our City, much less our nation. Last year, I joined my City Council colleagues in calling for our country to welcome immigrants in the wake of exclusionary sentiments. We demanded we recognize the humanity of individuals fleeing war-torn countries and oppression abroad. That call is more urgent than ever. Our commitment to inclusion, respect, and compassion must rise to meet this challenge. I stand united with my Council colleagues to continue protecting New Yorkers from the Trump administration’s attempts to wipe away the progress we’ve made as a nation.”

The System is Failing Our Children

Council Member Stephen Levin is Chair of the General Welfare Committee / Photo Credit: NYC Council

Council Member Stephen Levin is Chair of the General Welfare Committee / Photo Credit: NYC Council

Council Member Levin calls for comprehensive and rigorous ACS review

NEW YORK – A heartbreaking pattern of child deaths has emerged over the last four months. We have mourned the losses of six year-old Zymere Perkins, three year-old Jaden Jordan, five year-old Michael Guzman, and four year-old Zamair Coombs. The constant in each is involvement with ACS that failed to save their lives. The system exists to protect the most vulnerable children in our City and the system is failing them. 

While I appreciate Mayor De Blasio’s consistent attention to reforms, identifying and addressing the system’s failures has to be his highest priority. The Administration for Children’s Services must undergo an independent and comprehensive review of policies, procedure, and staffing at every level of the agency. 

Following the death of Zymere Perkins, the City Council Committee on General Welfare, which I chair, held two hearings to examine City practices and procedures in child protective and preventive services and concrete recommendations emerged. In addition to reforms that ACS has already instituted, I sincerely hope the City will implement new procedures to ensure robust managerial review of casework, require bi-annual training of ACS and contracted provider staff, and invest more deeply in proven preventive services models. I also believe that it is critical to enhance ChildStat casework review with participation by the highest level of ACS citywide and borough staff in order to ensure maximum casework accountability. 

Further, it is unacceptable that the Governor’s budget proposes to cut funding that ACS receives from the State for child welfare and foster care services. These cutbacks are inexcusable.

The tragic deaths of these very young children are intolerable. This is an agency that must continuously evolve and so reforms must be ongoing to ensure ACS can benefit from fresh opportunities and meet new challenges. It is essential that there be rigorous accountability at each and every level in the child welfare system. ACS must ensure that every step is taken to ensure that all children and families involved with their programs have adequate support and resources to build and sustain safe and loving homes.