Black Out, Walcott In As Mayor Shakes Up DOE
In recent months, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s official life has taken on a Perils of Pauline quality, moving from crisis to crisis. By last Wednesday evening, problems in the management of the school system came into sharper focus, and the next day he asked Schools Chancellor Cathie Black to resign, which she did.
In short order, the mayor turned to Dennis Walcott, who had served as Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development since the start of the Bloomberg administration in 2002, and appointed him to succeed Black.
According to published reports, the mayor decided Black had to leave after Deputy Chancellor John White quit. He was the fourth upper echelon Department of Education official to leave during Black’s 95 days as chancellor. Other reports said Black just wasn’t getting the job done, and Black virtually admitted this in stories following her departure.
“Cathie Black became chancellor of our school system earlier this year and worked tirelessly to continue to build our progress. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her, but we both agree it is in the city’s best interests if she steps down as chancellor. I am pleased to announce that Dennis Walcott—a key part of, and a leader on, all of our education reform initiatives— will serve as the city’s new schools chancellor.”
Walcott, 59, a resident of Cambria Heights in Southeast Queens, is no stranger to the 1.1 million student New York City school system. Since the start of the Bloomberg administration, he has been the mayor’s point person on all educational and youth policy.
Prior to the start of the Bloomberg reign, Walcott had been a member of the city Board of Education, a kindergarten teacher and an adjunct professor of social work at CUNY’s York College in Jamaica.
Walcott went right to work on his new job the next day, testifying before a City Council committee on the proposed budget for next year.
Handling several questions about school budget matters very deftly, he showed he was very familiar with what’s been going on with these issues. He left no doubt that he supports the administration’s positions on those issues, from teacher layoffs, if necessary, to offering space in public school buildings to charter schools.
At one point he declared, “I believe in what we’re doing, and I haven’t had any evidence that what we’re doing is wrong.”
Walcott also defended the mayor’s policy on changing the last in, first out policy for laying off teachers and using merit rather than seniority to decide who stays and who goes.
Thanking the mayor for showing confidence in him by appointing him, Walcott stated, “With my children and my grandson, my family now represents four generations of New York City public school children, and I am determined to ensure that we deliver what our parents expect and deserve—a higher quality education.”
Walcott has very strong ties to Queens. He is a lifelong resident of Southeast Queens, beginning his educational career at P.S. 36, J.H.S. 192 and Francis Lewis H.S. He’s a graduate of the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and holds a Master of Education degree. He also earned a Master of Social Work from Fordham University. Walcott has been part of every key educational policy decision
of this administration, helping to champion mayoral control of schools in 2002, ending social promotion, developing the school construction program, overseeing the opening of 474 new schools and helping to develop 109 charter schools.
As for the mayor, he said after Black was gone, “I take full responsibility for the fact that this didn’t work out. The story had really become about her and away from the kids, and that’s not right.”
Whether it will push up his favorability numbers, which had fallen to an all-time low of 30 percent recently, that does not appear likely to us. The woes of this winter’s record snow falls and bungled cleanups are still hanging around, the City Time corruption scandal still stains the administration, and the budget forced on the city by Albany and the teacher layoffs and other municipal labor cutbacks—all combined will keep his favorability ratings where they presently are.
Worse still, it doesn’t appear that Governor [Andrew] Cuomo and legislative leaders will give him any help in solving the city’s real fiscal problems, such as the oppressive pension costs that are weighing the city down now and in the future.
SEEK INCREASED BRIDGE SAFETY: Following two deadly accidents involving cars on the Queens side of the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria), Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood), and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Woodside) are demanding safety improvements on the span.
Gianaris declared, “Queens motorists, residents and small business owners should not have to endure errant projectile vehicles being launched at them on a weekly basis due to the dangerous design of an offramp.”
Nolan and Van Bramer joined him in asking the Department of Transportation (DOT) for a thorough safety check of every offramp of every bridge following the accidents on the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge.
The DOT said in both accidents the cars were being driven at high speeds, hit the guardrails and then went out of control before they reached the street.
COMMUNITY: RESCIND ASPHALT PLANT PERMIT IN LIC: Elected officials and community leaders are asking the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to rescind a permit it issued to an asphalt plant in Long Island City until a proper Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is issued.
Community Board 2 said in a statement that the so-called Green Asphalt Company plant at 37- 98 Railroad Ave. will have a negative impact on the community because the heavy volume of asphalt it will deliver for local construction projects will create additional truck traffic through the community causing congestion and pollution.
Besides that complaint, CB 2 Chairman Joseph Conley said in the statement, “No one in the community received notification of this licensing and the city Department of Transportation, which recently completed a study of a truck By- Pass Project in the same area, was unaware of the plans for this plant.
State Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) has stated, according to press reports, that the community did not receive proper notice of Green Asphalt’s application for a permit to the DEC for the Railroad Avenue plant.
Gianaris added there was no chance for public comment by the community. Gianaris, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood) and Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D–Sunnyside/LIC) have joined Conley in calling for revocation of the DEC permit.
Conley stated, “State and city agencies must work and communicate together no matter how big or small a project is. There was no proper notification given to our elected officials, residents, businesses and the surrounding community.”
However, the DEC reportedly sent out notices regarding the Green Asphalt applications to CB 2 and the Queens Borough President’s office and also had it published in the Daily News. There was no return of the mailings, the DEC said, and the applications met all requirements, so the air permit and tidal wetlands permit were issued.
But Conley’s statement said clearly “no one in the community received notification of this licensing” and said he is requesting that the DEC should be required to formally contact and notify elected officials and the community in a formal process and not just by ordinary letter via the mail.
NO WATER RATE INCREASE DRAMA THIS YEAR: For the past several years, the city Water Board met strong resistance from homeowners and some city officials as it inflicted double digit water rate increases upon property owners. Most vociferous in the objections raised were Councilmember James Gennaro (D–Fresh Meadows) and then-Councilmember David Weprin, who’s now serving as a state Assemblymember.
This year, however, the Water Board has proposed a modest 7.5 percent increase, breaking a string of four years of double-digit rate hikes.
The reasons why the Water Board, all of whose members are appointed by Mayor Bloomberg, did not seek higher tribute from homeowners, even in a budget-deficit year, was because there was greater water use last year because of the hot summer (and therefore increased revenue to the city from the water tax). There was also a reduction of expenses imposed by the city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Water Board’s overseer.
CONDO, CO-OP OWNERS SCAREDAND SPARED: Now it can be told: the reason the city’s co-op and condo owners were facing huge tax increases this year was because the city Finance Department made a huge error—a $300 million accounting error actually—which overvalued those properties when figuring out their tax bills for this year. The big boo-boo applied mostly to 139 co-ops in Queens only, according to last Saturday’s New York Post.
When Councilmember Mark Weprin (D–Oakland Gardens) confronted Finance Commissioner David Frankel over the huge overassessments at a council hearing recently, Frankel insisted his computer mavens hadn’t erred, but he and Weprin negotiated to cap market value increases for those Queens properties at 50 percent for this year only.
But that was several weeks ago and now that Weprin knows about that $300 million accounting error, he and Frankel will square off again at another council committee hearing on May 2 to examine the tax rolls which will determine what co-op and condo owners’ tax bill will be for the new fiscal year.
VALLONE DEALS WITH PUBLIC SAFETY THREATS FROM ON HIGH, TOO: Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D–Astoria) has been chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee since he was elected to the job about 10 years ago, and most of his attention during that period was directed to threats at ground level.
But last week, a 24-year-old pilot from upstate named Jason Maloney, with two passengers aboard, landed a single engine plane on a Rockaway beach, and although he and his passengers miraculously were able to swim and walk out of the water, he nonetheless found himself in hot water with Vallone and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Maloney, a student at Georgetown Medical School in Washington D.C., explained he had taken the flight from Stewart Airport in Newburgh Airport to teach some New York City kids how to fly. He never declared an emergency with local airports, but said he decided to land on the beach because one of his passengers was sick.
When DA Brown got word of the strange episode, he launched an investigation to determine if he should charge Maloney with reckless endangerment or violating possible other city codes. But he decided he would let the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) complete its probe first.
Vallone’s take on the wacky doings was that the FAA should immediately relieve Maloney of his pilot’s license.
“I ask that this incident be fully investigated,” he said in a press statement. “Mr. Maloney must face the strictest punishment. A pilot who abuses the privilege of flying, at a minimum, should have his license revoked.”
MENG PRAISED FOR ‘TRANSIT BILL OF RIGHTS’: Assemblymember Grace Meng has introduced a Transit Rider’s Bill of Rights which, she says, would articulate the state’s responsibility to millions of New Yorkers who daily use public transit and create a robust legal framework to protect and empower them.
Meng noted that Transportation Alternatives, a passenger advocate organization, has taken a leadership stance for such a law, promoting the concept as part of a Rider Rebellion campaign.
In turn, Transportation Alternatives praised Meng for introducing the bill.
Meng said her bill would clarify the state’s responsibility to guarantee timeliness and accessibility as well as safety and cleanliness, and to improve methods of informing the public.
The bill would also help guarantee riders’ rights to affordable and efficient public transit, Meng said, noting that public transit is a defining element of New York life.
MALONEY HAILS NEW VETS’ RESIDENCE: Speaking at the groundbreaking for Reality House on April 8, a veterans’ residence and substance abuse treatment facility at 8-13 Astoria Blvd. in Astoria, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) stated:
“We have a moral responsibility to care for the men and women who fought for our country. We must honor our veterans not only with words of praise, but with the care they need.”
“That’s why I am so thrilled that Reality House is bringing its Veterans Residence and Outpatient program to my district in Astoria. Reality House’s new facility will include a 30-bed veterans’ residence and a medically-supervised outpatient chemical dependency treatment program. Queens is home to more veterans than any other borough in New York City. I am thankful that Reality House is coming to our neighborhood and helping our great city give back to the heroes and heroines who gave of themselves to defend our democracy.”
AVELLA HOSTS CONCERT TO PROTEST JAMAICA H.S. CLOSING: State Senator Tony Avella (D–Bayside), joined by Assemblymember David Weprin (D–Little Neck) and Councilmembers Leroy Comrie (D–St. Albans) and Mark Weprin (D–Oakland Gardens), hosted a rally at Jamaica H.S. last Sunday afternoon to protest the Department of Education’s closing the school. Avella, who opposed the move with many others, invited the legendary doo-wop singing group, the Cleftones to entertain at the event. They formed the band while attending Jamaica H.S. The singers performed a 30-minute set for the approximately 100 protestors who attended the rally.
KOO’S EMERGENCY SNOW VOLUNTEERS REGISTRY PASSED: Seeking to create a cadre of volunteers to help in future snow removal efforts, the city council has passed Councilmember Peter Koo’s (R–C–Flushing) bill that would create a snow emergency volunteer registry.
Koo stated, “The creation of a volunteer registry will assist the Department of Sanitation to mobilize volunteers effectively and efficiently to go places where they are needed. As we all know, when called upon, New Yorkers are always ready and willing to help in a crisis. Our citizens are our greatest resource and therefore we should utilize them when we need to act quickly to respond to snow emergencies.”
The measure requires the Sanitation Department to establish the registry of individuals who volunteer to remove snow for persons who are unable to do so for themselves. The department would also coordinate the work of the volunteers.
In another matter, Koo protested the granting of a 12 percent rate increase for residents by Con Edison and by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and an 18 percent increase for businesses.
Describing FERC’s action as shocking, Koo stated, “Once again, hardworking men and women are being asked to pay more for utilities thanks to our out-of-touch government bureaucrats. The government needs to understand that their actions and choices have serious negative consequences for the hardworking people of our city.”
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) has protested FERC’s action and hopes to have the rate increases rescinded. Koo said he stands ready to assist Schumer in attaining that goal.
DENDEKKER, PERALTA WELCOME ASPCA VISIT: The ASPCA’s Mobile Spay and Neuter van is scheduled to be in Jackson Heights on Saturday, April 23 by invitation of state Senator Jose Peralta and Assemblymember Michael DenDekker.
The van will be parked in front of DenDekker’s district office at 33-46 92nd St. in Jackson Heights from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., when the animals must be picked up.
For anyone who wants their dog or cat neutered, the event will be conducted on a first come, first served basis. There is no charge for those on public assistance, those receiving Medicare, or those wishing to spay and neuter a pit bull.
For all others, there is a flat fee of $99.00. This includes, besides the spaying and neutering, a rabies vaccination and nail trimming.
Only dogs and cats are eligible for the program, according to the ASPCA, and they must be in good health.
Peralta, encouraging all pet owners to take advantage of the program, said, “There’s an influx of homeless kittens and puppies as the weather gets warmer. Over 40,000 unwanted dogs and cats enter the city’s animal shelters every year.” To offset this, he said, “Spray/neuter is a proven way to reduce pet over population and I encourage all pet owners to be a part of the solution by signing up for the ASPCA’s mobile spay-neuter clinic.”
DenDekker stated, “Pets are family and this event provides residents with an opportunity to look after their dogs and cats safely and affordably.”