News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bronx community takes on the real estate industry

Who said you can't beat City Hall? In the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, a predominantly Hispanic working-class neighborhood, people are feeling good these days about what they accomplished when they organized against powerful business interests allied with City Hall's current occupant, billionaire media mogul Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg and the Related Companies, a real estate corporation with nationwide investments, were planning to retrofit the landmark Kingsbridge Armory, no longer in use, with a mammoth shopping mall in one of New York's most densely populated and impoverished neighborhoods.

The community needed decent jobs at living wages, not the part-time, minimum wage, no-benefit version of employment for which shopping malls, housing national chain stores, are notorious and which Related, the Bloomberg administration and its defenders insisted was better than nothing at all. In fact, nothing is better, the community reasoned, because the race-to-the-bottom model meant working more than one job just to be able to pay the rent, and because the volume of trade the developers were hoping to generate would inevitably mean more traffic, more congestion, and more pollution. If the jobs produced paid only the minimum wage, then instead of prosperity all around, the community agreed, the future would bring more poverty as well. And as everyone knows, the Bronx has more than enough of that.

But first, some of the history. The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), a coalition of community residents, churches, and labor unions, led by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), was formed in 2005, after the Bloomberg administration launched the latest in a series of redevelopment plans for the armory. KARA struggled for the better part of this year just to get the developer to meet with it to negotiate a binding settlement involving jobs at living wages, preferential hiring for Bronx residents, non-interference in unionization, recreation space for families and other community benefits, under what has come to be known among grassroots organizers as a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

The demand by KARA for a living wage of $10 per hour with benefits and $11.50 per hour without benefits for all workers hired by the developer or any of its retail tenants became the centerpiece of its proposed CBA. As community residents see it, a living wage agreement means escaping poverty without having to work multiple jobs and without having to double up in order to keep a roof over their heads. For Related, the living wage was a non-starter. The developer, in lockstep with the Bloomberg administration, stubbornly refused to discuss the subject.

Related, confident that it had the backing of City Hall, arrogantly refused to talk directly with the community regarding the living wage or any other subject. So KARA lobbied its elected representatives in the City Council to vote down the proposal, hoping that the threat of a red light would bring Related to the table. Related hardly budged. In the end, with the very vocal and steadfast support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the Bronx delegation led by the Working Family Party's Anibal Palma, and the rest of the City Council sided with the community in rejecting the armory redevelopment 45 to 1 during a highly publicized City Hall vote on Dec. 14. It sided with the community again on Dec. 21 when it voted, this time by 48 to 1, to override Bloomberg's veto.

"We applaud all our elected officials for taking a stand against powerful developers who want to take public subsidies without giving anything in return," was the reaction of Ava Farkas, lead organizer for KARA, to the original vote. "The council vote was a victory for community organizing, for democracy, and for the dignity of the people of the Bronx," she added.

The vote was, to many observers, a truly game-changing development. Never before, in the eight years of the corporate-friendly and seemingly invincible Bloomberg administration, had the New York City Council dared to vote "no" to a redevelopment proposal bearing Mayor Bloomberg's seal of approval. It was a major defeat not only for the administration, but also for the lopsided, unsustainable economic development that makes millions for corporations with access to public subsidies and tax abatements, but does nothing good for the communities it claims to serve. Helping to change the balance of power in favor of the City Council that made the reversal possible was the very narrow margin by which Bloomberg was reelected in November despite his having outspent his Democratic/Working Family Party rival, Bill Thompson, by 14 to 1.

"It is no longer an acceptable business model to allow billionaire companies to take major tax breaks to do business in our borough while they create little more than part-time, low wage jobs without benefits or much chance for advancement," said Diaz regarding the significance of the City Council vote. "What we wanted all along was to have the armory developed in such a way that not only the developer and the tenants benefit, but also the people of the Bronx. What today's vote confirms is that we can no longer support any project that only ensures profits for the developer while leaving the people of the Bronx in poverty."

"This is a bittersweet victory," said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, KARA leader and community resident. "We want the armory developed. Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration chose to kill the project rather than require the developer to sign a binding Community Benefits Agreement that guaranteed living wages and other benefits for the community. Our billionaire mayor pulled the plug on the redevelopment to prevent a publically subsidized development from including living wage jobs, the right to join a union, community and recreation space and the exclusion of a big box grocery store. He believes government has no role in setting mandatory wage requirements. According to him, there should be no minimum wage law, no child labor law, and no protections for working people. He is on the wrong side of history."

KARA's forceful advocacy of the living wage during City Council hearings produced even more dividends. The arguments garnered such widespread and partisan support for the living wage among the progressive, predominantly Hispanic and African American City Council members that they rushed to introduce living wage legislation during the same week as the Dec. 14 vote. The bill's sponsors, with KARA's enthusiastic support, hope to make New York one of over 200 cities across the countries that have now adopted living wage ordinances.

KARA and the working families it represents have put New York's real estate developers on notice: our communities reject one-sided, unsustainable economic development by corporate fiat. Redevelopment projects paid for with our tax dollars must make life better for working families, not worse, for our communities will unite in opposition to them. RWDSU president and KARA co-convener Stuart Appelbaum summed it up, "It's time for developers to live up to their responsibilities to the community. New York needs a development strategy that puts people first, and that begins with the developers guaranteeing the rights of workers to a living wage."

By Frank Farkas

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NYC transit cuts byproducts of giveaways to the rich

Once again, city straphangers are being threatened by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which claims that it is out of money and has to cut service on the city's bus and subway lines-again. But the MTA is giving hundreds of millions of dollars to big developers, say critics; still others see the cuts as a political ploy.

This morning the authority's board approved sweeping cuts, aimed at filling a deficit of nearly $400 million, affecting just about every rider in the city. All services are set to be scaled back, with less trains and buses, especially during non-peak hours. In addition, two entire subway lines-the W and the Z-are to be eliminated, as well as numerous bus lines.

Most controversial, however, is a plan to eliminate reduced price and free fares for city students. While in most cities across the country, students rely on big yellow buses to pick them up and drop them off at school, local students often have to take a train or bus to a school in a far-off area. Consequently, many students will be left without transportation to or from school

At a hearing before the MTA's board voted this morning, City Council member Charles Barron asked, "You sit here and bring anxieties to young children. What do you want them to do? Jump the turnstiles and turn them into criminals?"

Bill Thompson, the city's comptroller said in a statement before the vote that the board's move would unfairly harm students. "The MTA has a duty to exhaust all possible options before these cuts are considered," he said. "I urge all the members of the MTA Board to vote ‘No' at tomorrow's meeting."

The MTA leadership argued that it needs to save money after Albany cut $143 million in funding, and payroll taxes earmarked for transit were to bring in $100 million less than expected. They also blamed the workers who operate the system themselves, arguing that money awarded to employees would add to the debt.

But it's not overly generous benefits for the workers that is putting the MTA into the red, said Council Member Letitia James, D-Brooklyn, but giveaways to rich developers.

Forest City Ratner, a multi-billion dollar developer that has found hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to finance a private for-profit project called Atlantic Yards has also benefited greatly from the MTA-they are selling the Vanderbilt Yards, in Brooklyn, to Ratner for $100 million, but accepting a down payment of only $20 million and allowing the developer to pay the rest over more than two decades.

"Forest City Ratner should pay the $100 million owed now for the purchase of the Vanderbilt Yards," James said.

James further explained that "for unclear reasons" the MTA, when it decided to sell the property, worked exclusively with Ratner and sold the property well under value. "unclear" seems to be code for "shady," as many believe that the whole project is a shady deal between developers and the city. The MTA board itself is dominated by big developers and their representatives.

In fact, another company, Extell, actually offered the MTA a full $50 million per year more than Ratner, and offered to pay up front.

"Had the MTA accepted a higher bidder," James said, "they would have received their funds upfront and their current budgetary gap could have been cut almost in half."

"Cancel the deal," she continued, noting that the property has actually been valued at $271.5 million.

"Something simply doesn't sit right with the community about the preferential treatment that Forest City Chairman Bruce Ratner has received from the MTA. Now it appears as though MTA customers and specifically our youth - the future of the City-may pay dearly to support the project of a multi million dollar developer that the community doesn't want to begin with," said Council Member James.

New Yorkers are clearly enraged by these cuts, which are on top of cuts earlier in the year, and a fare increase, and another fare increase, of 7.5 percent, is scheduled for 2011. While the board has voted on the newest round of cuts, none are scheduled to take place until June. In that time, New Yorkers, including elected officials and transit workers themselves, are likely to rally support to undo the recent round of cuts.

By Dan Margolis

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Health care's human face highlighted

Eric de la Cruz wasn't poor. In many ways, his future was bright: He had a girlfriend, Noelle, whom he planned to marry. He was in college and worked part time at a small graphic design company-a company not large enough to afford to offer health insurance to its workers.

The Obama administration, along with countless others, including health care activists and the labor movement, have done a great deal to highlight the plight of middle class Americans who are working but still have no health insurance-people like Eric.

Just over five years ago, after visiting several doctors, Eric was told that he had a serious heart ailment that was curable-by a transplant.

"He wanted to do things that all 22-year-olds were doing," his sister, Veronica de la Cruz, a well-known news journalist who worked as a CNN anchor for five years, told a rally for health care reform organized by MoveOn and others. "He wanted to hang out with his friends. Instead, my brother was stuck worrying about how he was going to get help, because his life depended on it."

Eric began calling insurance company after insurance company-and was denied by each one, because of his "pre-existing condition." But Eric was lucky enough to have a sister who loved him and who was a public presence. She began talking about Eric's condition-online, on Twitter, everywhere-and others took note. Many people, who became "Eric's Twitter Army," sent money. Celebrities, his sister said, took notice. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails sold high-price backstage passes to concerts to raise money for Eric.

They raised $1 million, enough to cover the cost of a heart transplant.

Even with a million dollars in hand, UCLA still refused Eric. They said he needed supplemental insurance. "That's the joke," Veronica de la Cruz said. "You can't get supplemental medical insurance if you have a pre-existing medical condition."

After calling numerous transplant centers, de la Cruz was able to find a single facility to take her brother on, but to no avail.

Through tears, de la Cruz told the group, "They said, ‘You got here two years too late. We're basically working against the clock. Eric is basically already in the grave, and we're going to have to dig him out.'"

It was too late. After five years, and after raising more than $1 million, and rallying hundreds of people or more, Eric succumbed to his illness. "Despite all those miracles that were happening, it wasn't enough to outweigh the damage that time waiting for insurance had done," his sister told the rally.

De la Cruz founded an organization, Eric's Law, aimed at health reform. She wants to stop what happened to Eric from happening to others. That's why, she said, she was at the rally, and that's why she supports a health reform with a strong public option.

In an ironic twist, Eric died on July 4, 2009, the same day that Americans celebrate love of country.

"We also know that in this country that we love," Tim Foley, of NYC for Change, told the rally, "122 deaths happen each day that simply wouldn't happen in any other industrialized nation in the world. 122 Americans die each day, and that is unacceptable."

New York's senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, sent representatives to the rally, which took place in neon glow Times Square. Both vowed to continue the fight for health care reform with a not-for-profit option, and implored others to keep fighting. Gillibrand vowed to ensure that the anti-woman Stupak language in the House bill would be defeated.

The rally was part of a larger mobilization to demand that the Senate enact health care reform with a strong. In the four outer boroughs rallies took place, as well in as in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States.

The rally in Times Square was somber, but optimistic as well.

"I went into medicine because I believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege," said Manisha A. Sharma, MD, of the National Physicians Alliance. "We have never been closer to health insurance reform as a basic civil human right. We are at the home stretch. We have already made change. Call your member of Congress, call your Senator. After 100 years, we can make history."

Monday, December 7, 2009

"If you had a child who was gay, would you deny him or her of following their heart?" -- Letter to a state senator

Friends and comrades,

Communist Party USA member Gabe Falsetta sent the letter below to State Sen. Joe Addabbo, a Democrat who voted the wrong way when the State Senate made the reprehensible mistake of killing a bill that would have allowed gay marriage.

Dear Senator Addabbo,

I’m writing to you today to express my deep disappointment in you vote against the gay marriage bill.

Let me say from the outset that I helped in your election campaign for the 15th senate district. I did so with enthusiasm in hope of flipping the State Senate to the Democrats. After more than forty years it happened! I’m proud that I was a part of the movement.

On Friday the 4th of December, I listened to your interview on the Brian Lehrer Show, I listened carefully to your answers to Brian’s questions, In all honesty, I was unconvinced of your reasoning. I believe Diane Savino hit the nail on the head!

True, you represent your constituents (had I known you did not commit to a yes vote, I would have contacted you) but, you should also be a catalyst for higher understanding of these issues, and make no mistake this a civil rights issue, and should be judged on the basis of separation of church and state. And I dare say, it is just a matter of time; the right of human beings to choose their partners in this society will come to pass.

Lastly Joe, I would want to know if you had a child who was gay, would you deny him or her of following their heart?


Gabriel Falsetta

Monday, November 16, 2009

Workers in U.S. most dangerous industry demand protection

From the People's World
By Dan Margolis, Chair
New York State Communist Party

He's had a gun put up to his head during a robbery. He's been assaulted with a crowbar, and had every window in his car broken. He's had a jagged beer bottle shoved into his neck. He was nearly maced.

All of this on the job.

Of colleagues he knows: One was stabbed in the lower neck with a hunting knife. One was choked by a woman. One was shot in the eye after being robbed. Another remains in a four-year coma after a violent assault. Still another, Ndiaye Serigne (pronounced "Jay Serene"), was beaten violently on Halloween by mask-wearing men.

Police officer? Soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan? What sort of job does he, David, as well as his colleagues, hold?

They work, according to the Department of Labor, the most dangerous job in the United States: New York City taxi driver. While New Yorkers tend to take cab drivers for granted, they perform the most dangerous, and one of the most grueling, jobs in the city.

In Serigne's case, the four masked passengers jumped into his cab, one of them taking the front seat. Since it was Halloween, Ndiaye wasn't surprised by the masks. But after crossing the bridge into Staten Island, the man in the front seat switched off the meter, and told Serigne that "now it's a free ride." Serigne, in a move that may have saved his life, ignored his assailants' orders to pull down a narrow street and instead drove to a nearby gas station. It was there that he was beaten and the passengers-turned-attackers fled. Now when he looks at the security camera video, he can't believe what he sees.

"I'm just thankful that I am alive," he said, noting that a childhood friend from his native Senegal was murdered on the job only three years ago. "We are just workers, but some passengers treat us so badly."

According to taxi workers and their representatives, this is a horrible story, but one that is neither an anomaly nor even surprising.

"Drivers are 60 times more likely to be killed on the job and 80 times more likely to be robbed on the job than any other worker in the United States of America," said Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance yesterday.

Taxis move nearly half a million people each day, she added. "The airports, finance, restaurants, Broadway, every single industry in New York City, depend on taxi drivers for their bottom line. Our bottom line is our lives need to be protected."

Now taxi drivers, united into the TWA and well as elected officials are going to do something about it. Standing next to Desai, New York State Assembly member Rory Lancman, D-Queens, announced that he would introduce a bill into the Assembly that would extend protection already won by bus and subway workers to taxi drivers.

"Men and women who drive these taxis are entitled to just as much protection as the people who run our trains, drive our buses," Lancman, who chairs the Assembly Subcommittee on Workplace Safety, said.

Under recently-enacted laws, won after a sustained fight by Transport Workers Union Local 100 and its allies, anyone who assaults a bus driver, or subway or railroad worker, is to be charged with a felony and potentially sentenced to prison time. Lancman, the TWA and some transit workers present, want to see that protection extended to taxi workers. The law would also require a sign in each cab warning would-be assailants that any assault could lead to prison time.

The bill would send a signal, Lancman said, that "we in New York state will not tolerate [violence against drivers], and we will take every measure that we can to make sure that when these men and women get into their cab to start their shift, at the end of it, when they leave that cab to go home to their families, to go home to their children, that they come home safe and sound."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Communist Party on NYC council election results: The struggle continues

New Yorkers elected a new city council November 3, with some remarkable, and contradictory, results. Some incumbents were sent packing, some new progressives were elected and some important victories were gained over the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine. At the same time, the pernicious effects of racism were exposed in some races, most notably the 19th district, in Queens.

Overall, the election results were better than might have been expected. Some of these important results are mentioned above. Another is that, for the first time in this city's more than 400-year history, most seats in the council are held by an African American, Latino, or Asian American, meaning that the council much more accurately represents the complexion of this predominately racially and nationally oppressed city. Four members, or about eight percent of the new council, will be openly gay, the highest number yet.

In addition, about 25 percent of the incoming council's members will be non-incumbents, i.e. new members. This is for various reasons: some went off to fight for higher office, others simply retired. But there is another, more important reason: popular revulsion with those city councilors who agreed to go along with Bloomberg's plan to override the will of New Yorkers and overturn the results of two term limits referenda-thus paving the way for himself to run for a third term. Many have seen this as an undemocratic power grab. Five incumbents were defeated, at least partially due to complicity in Bloomberg's power grab, marking the highest number of sitting councilors thrown out in nearly two decades.

At the same time, there were some serious setbacks. Two council seats were lost to Republicans, giving that party a total of five out of 51 seats. Worse still, one of the seats they picked up can be attributed to anti-Asian racism.

John Liu, the first Asian-American ever elected to any city office, left his council seat in the 20th district, which includes Flushing and surrounding Queens communities, to fight for-and win-the seat of city comptroller. There were several Democratic candidates who ran in the primary. Two Korean Americans, two Chinese Americans and a white candidate. In this district, the necessity was to build a coalition of Korean and Chinese people, as well as the relatively small African American community and some of the white population in order avoid a vote fractured along ethnic lines-and losing to the Republican.

John Choe, one of the Korean American candidates and Liu's former chief of staff, was in the best position to do this: he had worked for years with the entire community, and had the backing of the Queens Democratic Party. However, his candidacy was not able to overcome the divisions, especially given that another candidate, S.J. Jung, also a Korean American, received the backing of the Working Families Party. Choe ultimately lost to the little known Chinese American candidate Yen Chou, who lost to the (also Chinese) Republican candidate Peter Koo. It is worth noting that the margin of difference was less than the total number of votes cast for the Working Families Party and Green Party candidates if they were combined.

In the 19th council district, in Queens, Democrat and Korean-American Kevin Kim lost to Republican heathen Dan Halloran for the seat given up by Democrat Tony Avella. This, the other Republican pickup, looks to be due entirely to racism. Halloran ran an almost openly racist campaign, in which he essentially told voters that were Kim to be elected, Asian developers would change the entire community to look like (overwhelmingly Asian) downtown Flushing.

To make matters worse, the term used above, "heathen," was not an insult: this is what Halloran calls himself. In fact, he's a member of a bizarre religious sect called Theodism, which describes itself as heathen. This sect worships the gods and goddesses of Northern Europe-and has been linked to extreme racial beliefs.
Also, Kim's Asian campaign workers were reportedly harassed and surrounded by white thugs who chanted "white power" and "Asian man out!" all while carrying Halloran paraphernalia. It is clear that, in a district that is very much Catholic-and therefore not predisposed to vote for heathens and where Asian American campaign workers were set upon, and which had been previously Democratic, that the use of racism was the primary reason for Kim's loss.

It would be wrong to paint all whites in the 19th district as racist, of course. Halloran, beat Kim by only about 1,300 votes, so it is clear that at least a good section of the area's white population voted for Kim. Clearly, there is a basis here for the struggle against anti-Asian racism going forward.

At the same time, there were strong gains for Asian Americans. As mentioned above, John Liu, who was born in China's Taiwan province, has become the first-ever Asian-American elected to any citywide position. Also, Margaret Chin defeated incumbent Alan Gerson in the Democratic primary in the first city council district in Manhattan, making her the first ever Chinese representative of the district that includes Chinatown. Both of these elections are historic steps forward for the Asian American community, and New Yorkers should celebrate them.

In the 34th district, which represents Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn, as well as Ridgewood, Queens, incumbent Democrat Diana Reyna handily defeated, by a margin of 60-35 percent, her main opponent, Maritza Davila.

While Reyna is an incumbent Democrat, this race represents a victory for the grassroots. Vito Lopez, who represents the Brooklyn Democratic Party machine, and is notorious for alleged patronage and corruption scandals, and who is known to place people into office based on their allegiance to him, backed Davila, because Reyna, in essence, decided to fight for affordable housing instead of take Lopez's orders.

Even though she lost the Democratic primary, Lopez decided to take Davila to the general election anyway, on the Working Families Party line: He made an unholy alliance between himself, Democratic clubs he controls, the WFP and the Catholic Church. (The Brooklyn diocese is particularly thankful to Lopez for helping to scuttle state-level legislation that would have lifted the statute of limitations on child rape; the church claimed that if all their victims in Brooklyn and Queens were awarded compensation, the diocese would likely be bankrupted.)

Lopez failed miserably, delivering a rout to the Brooklyn Democratic machine, and empowering progressive currents within the party there.

On Staten Island's north shore, in a blow against racism, Debi Rose was elected the first African American council person to serve any area of the Island. In addition, Rose is openly progressive; she's a member of Staten Island's Peace Action and other organizations.

In uptown Manhattan, Ydanis Rodriguez, who is connected to Dominican left organizations, won with 94.7 percent of the vote-10,672 ballots to 592-after winning about 60 percent of the vote in a six-way primary. Rodriguez has been a staple figure in New York City progressive politics, especially in the fight for immigration reform.

In the primary elections, Jumaane Williams beat incumbent Kendall Stewart in the 45th district in Brooklyn, making him the first Grenadian to ever occupy a seat in the council. So ebullient was the Grenadian population, in New York City and abroad, Williams and his family were invited to meet with, and be congratulated by, the Prime Minister of Grenada. Williams beat Stewart in a six-way primary race by 12 points. Stewart, unpopular for siding with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in changing city term limit laws over the objections of city voters, ran on the Independence Party line in the general elections, after running an extremely dirty campaign. In that election, he suffered an even worse defeat, by a difference of 59.1 points.

Williams, who is only 32, has worked with progressive city council members, including Rosie Mendez, D-Manhattan and others, and has spent his time fighting for housing rights.

Of course, New York City has a number of progressive city councilors who were reelected. Perhaps the most well-loved on this list would be Letitia James, who enjoys an almost celebrity status in Brooklyn, as well as around the other boroughs, for her work in civil and human rights, as well as leading the fight against Forest City Rattner, a multi-billion dollar developer aiming to demolish much of the Fort Greene and Prospect Heights sections of Brooklyn in order to build luxury condos.

Twice in this discussion the Working Families Party was mentioned as playing a nefarious role. This fact cannot be avoided, but, at the same time, it is important not to demonize the WFP. Virtually all of the elected progressives (aside from Reyna) were backed by them. As the party is based in the city's labor movement, both the progressive and reactionary trends on display in the latter are also on display in the former. As we were so glaringly shown in the mayoral race, there are some big divisions in the labor movement-and they were also on display in these elections as well. The question for progressives becomes not how to defeat the Working Families Party, but how to help it, and all of labor, become more united, and to defeat reactionary trends. A weakening of the WFP would be a weakening of the progressive movement. The same goes for labor overall: progressives must work to help unite the labor movement.

Further, the Working Families Party is now leading or has recently led a number of important campaigns: it is fighting to ensure that all New Yorkers are eligible for paid sick days; it fought for fair share tax reform a few months ago; and, in what may have been its most heroic move this election cycle, the party fought a strong, if unsuccessful, battle to stop Bloomberg from overturning the term limits law.

This is only a brief sampling of some of the more exciting races, and some preliminary analysis, but even here it can be seen that the results of the elections were contradictory: some reasons for jubilant optimism, as well as reasons to renew important fights, especially against racism (as the mayoral election showed) are on display.

The struggle continues.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NYS Communist Party on budget crisis

Yesterday, Gov. David Paterson made a speech before an extraordinary joint session of the State Senate and Assembly, pushing the legislative bodies to accept his plan to alleviate the state's more than $3.2 billion deficit for this fiscal year (of which, four and a half months are remaining). Included in the Democratic governor's plans are about $1.3 billion in cuts to schools, health care and municipal governments.

Many people, both inside and outside the legislative chambers, are opposed to the governor's plan - and for good reason: there are ways for the state to remain fiscally solvent without balancing the budget on the backs of working people and the poor.

Today, both bodies, which the governor called out of recess, are expected to discuss these plans. Senate Democrats have come up with an alternate deficit reduction plan that would, they argue, eliminate the need to make any cuts to services important to working people. In the plan are the restructuring of the state's tobacco bonds and an increase in the hours casinos are legally allowed open.

Others, including some in labor, have signed on to this plan. Across the state, thousands of people and organizations have been demanding that there be no cuts to health care of the public schools and universities, which are already reeling from budget cuts and tuition hikes.

The Democrats are right: there is no reason for Paterson to cut these services. But, according to the New York State Communist Party, overlooked are a number of other ways to raise revenues.

From the New York State Communist Party:

Billions of dollars could be raised by implementing the full Fair Share tax reform that was demanded months ago (i.e. a surcharge on those making more than $250,000 per year, instead of $500,000, as was enacted). In New York City alone, there are about 60 people with an income of over $1 billion. A small one percent surtax on them would generate $1 billion dollars.

A one percent stock transfer tax on those with more than $500,000 (which would leave out virtually anyone whose retirement fund is tied up in a 401k) would raise another billion dollars.

But there is waste in the budget, says the NYSPC. There are things that can be cut - things that benefit only the wealthy and the big corporations. Ending the subsidy for industrial development zones would save $4 billion, more than the entire budget gap for this year.

Currently, there are 10,000 governmental units in the state, government bodies that overlap uselessly and serve mainly for patronage for a wealthy few. Trimming them a good deal would save another $4 billion.

Clearly, there are billions of dollars to be had. The question for the governor and the legislature is this: Will you go after the obscene amount of wealth that is being either given to or horded by the rich and super rich? Or will you put the burden on the already immiserated working people of our state?

Friday, November 6, 2009

In Thompson's defeat, seeds of future victory

It would be a mistake to classify Bloomberg's November 4 mayoral reelection win as anything but a defeat for the working people of New York City. At the same time, however, there is no reason to despair; on the contrary the election results represent a basis for optimism moving forward.

First, to dispense with the obvious: Although the billionaire representative of Wall Street, big developers and the Republican Party won, New York City elected John Liu comptroller, marking the first time in this city's more than 400 year history any Asian American has held citywide office. Further, a grand people's coalition formed around Liu: his campaign was composed essentially of the city's entire labor movement; the African American, Latino and Asian communities; women; youth; the LGBT community and a large percentage of white liberals.

It is this exact coalition that, if it remains united, can usher in all sorts of progressive changes in New York City.

Further, there was important progress made in the city council elections. For the first time ever, racially and nationally oppressed council members are in the majority. In other words, the council has actually begun to reflect the people of New York City. A prime example would be Margaret Chin, who defeated an incumbent and became the first Chinese American to represent the district that includes Chinatown-ever.

But the results of the mayoral race itself, though it was a defeat, should leave us feeling hopeful. Firstly, the Democratic challenger, lost to Bloomberg by less than five points, about 46 percent to 51. This is an astoundingly low margin of victory for Bloomberg, given that pollsters predicted the incumbent "independent" (read: Republican who supported George W. Bush and thinks Giuliani would be a good governor) would score a margin of victory in the double digits, as he did in 2005. In that election, he beat Fernando Ferrer by nearly 20 percentage points.

Bloomberg also put a lot into this election: officially, he put about $100 million into his campaign, the most any candidate has spent vying for municipal office in the history of the world, literally speaking. (By contrast, Thompson, who abided by the city's campaign finance rules, and therefore spent less than $7 million.) However, in reality, Bloomberg spent even more: if one counts money the Bloomberg campaign spent essentially buying the Republican and Independence Party lines, as well as giving "charitable donations" to agencies that, in turn, endorsed and even put people on the street for Bloomberg, the figure is closer to $200 million.

With his money, Bloomberg was able to send daily fliers to people, targeting recipients by race, gender, party affiliation, neighborhood and so on. He was able to run TV spots attacking Thompson every day for months. And he had the best campaign operation money can buy: hundreds of paid staff and a very highly sophisticated get-out-the-vote apparatus.

But with all of that, and two terms of incumbency, Bloomberg was only able to get ahead of Thompson by five points.

How did Thompson do so well, one might ask. The first thing to be said is that people don't really like Bloomberg that much anymore: he's known to be an out of touch billionaire, and people are especially unhappy with his maneuvers to change city election law to allow himself the opportunity to run for a third term (though New Yorkers had voted twice to limit all city offices to two-terms).

Thompson himself was good on the issues, and generally connected with the working people of New York City. While no campaign is perfect, his hit most of the right notes. He campaigned on a platform of, as he put it, taking the city back from Wall Street and the big developers who have been pushing working New Yorkers further and further out of the city. (In fact, a recent study showed that 1.1 million working New Yorkers had already left.)

Further, he had the backing of the vast majority of the African American, Latino, and Asian American elected leadership, and most of those communities. According to the New York Times, 82 percent of African Americans, and 65 percent of Latinos, voted for Thompson. Large sections of the Asian communities voted for Thompson, especially South Asians, who voted 61 percent for Thompson.

Thompson also had the backing from a number of the city's largest labor unions, including Transport Workers Union Local 100, AFSCME District Council 37, and a host of others. Labor did an impressive job of mobilizing the vote for Thompson. In many areas, DC 37 (which had endorsed Bloomberg in 2005) and TWU Local 100 worked together to bring out voters and drive them to polling places. All of the unions made efforts to contact their members and ask them to vote for Thompson. CWA Local 1180 put $500,000 into advertising, and TWU held several demonstrations and distributed leaflets condemning Bloomberg.

Thompson had the backing of most progressive elected officials as well as dozens of Democratic Party clubs, community organizations and churches.

Essentially, Thompson's campaign had the makings of the sort of all-people's coalition, the type we previously wrote would make it possible to defeat Bloomberg and his millions. As it turns out, we were correct in that assessment. A relatively little-known candidate, with less than $10 million (compared to $200 million), because of a broad coalition, nearly slew Goliath.

The question then arises: was it actually possible to win? The answer is an emphatic "yes." While Thompson had many things in his favor, he had a lot working against him (aside from a lack of money.)

Firstly, we can't ignore racism, which was fanned at the top, i.e. from the Bloomberg campaign itself, as a deciding factor. While it is true that there have been great strides forward in the fight against racism, especially with the election of President Obama, we are nowhere near living in a "post-racial" society. Simply looking at a map of who voted for Thompson and who voted for Bloomberg gives lie to that story: where red denotes an area that supported Bloomberg, the whitest neighborhoods were, on the map, also the reddest. To be sure, thousands of white people voted for Thompson, but there is clear evidence that a large percentage of the city's white population is still under the influence of racist ideology. (This was made shockingly stark in a city council race in Queens, where extreme racist rhetoric was used by a Republican pagan (literally) to defeat Kevin Kim, a Korean American.)

The Bloomberg campaign was almost explicit in its racism: Giuliani, stumped for Bloomberg, telling a crowd that "we don't want to go back to the days of Dinkins." He added, "You know what I mean." We know what he meant.

Another factor was a feeling, promoted by Bloomberg, that the incumbent's victory was inevitable. After the election, campaign leaders said this was an overriding strategy of the campaign: the spending overkill, even though Bloomberg's team knew it would annoy New Yorkers, was aimed at convincing people that he could not be defeated. This helped to suppress the vote for Thompson: If Bloomberg will win anyway, many reasoned, why go and vote at all?

This air of inevitability also played into another huge problem for Thompson: a split labor movement. While some big labor unions supported Thompson, a greater number sat the election out. SEIU 1199 and the United Federation of Teachers both avoided making any endorsement, while SEIU 32BJ and some others endorsed Bloomberg. It's possible to say that any one of these huge unions, with tens or hundreds of thousands of members each, could potentially have pushed Thompson to victory, had they either endorsed Thompson, not endorsed Bloomberg, or, better yet, both.

While we would never actually condone endorsing Bloomberg or sitting out the elections, We can certainly understand why they did: Bloomberg essentially told them, "I'm going to win the election, and you know what will happen to you if you oppose me." Most of these unions were simply concerned what might happen to them if they stood up to Bloomberg and he won: would he attack their contract? Would he go after them and do real damage to their members?

The results of this mayoral race are contradictory. We can look at the elections and see a bitter defeat, given that Bloomberg won. We could look at them and see a victory, given the closeness of the race and all the obstacles that Thompson and the movement around him had to go up against.

Most importantly, we can see opportunity.

What we said before was proven true: If we can build a movement of the labor movement, the African American, Latino and Asian communities, white liberals and other progressive forces drawn around that core, the people can defeat anyone. In this election, this coalition was built, but only partially. But even a partially built coalition was able to put us within a hair of replacing a 17th richest man in the world, who represents, as mayor, Wall Street and big developers with a mayor sympathetic to labor and progressive sectors of New York City.

Next time we go all the way.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Yorkers protest education cuts

Teachers, students and others are horrified at the prospect of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mid-year budget cuts to public education as the state faces a $3 billion budget shortfall-and they're fighting back.

The Alliance for Quality Education, a coalition of more than 230 organizations of parents, children's advocates, schools, teachers and others, is organizing people to contact their representatives as well as to attend hearings sponsored by the legislature. Under Governor David Paterson's (D) plans, public schools across the state would be hit with a whopping $686 million mid-year cut.

At an October 23 meeting in Syracuse, AQE members broke pencils during the meeting to symbolize "the state's broken promise" to public schools. Because so many people showed up to speak against the cut, the meeting went on for nearly six hours.

Revenues have been lower than expected, leaving the state with a $3 billion budget shortfall. Paterson has called a special meeting of the State Senate and Assembly to discuss his plans, which include $1.3 billion in cuts to local governments, health and education. The rest is to be made up, mainly, of extraordinary borrowing from the state's rainy day fund.

In higher education, Paterson proposes slashing $53 million in funding to the City University of New York alone. These cuts, as well as proposed cuts to health care, public schools and municipalities, all require legislative approval. However, millions of dollars have already been cut at state agencies, where the Governor doesn't need to seek legislative approval. He has already ordered an eleven percent cut, amounting to $90 million, to the State University of New York.

Mid-year cuts are considered to be the most devastating, because institutions have already made their budget based on projected funding.

Across New York City, protests have erupted at various CUNY campuses, and have included students, professors, city school teachers, labor unionists and others. Organizers of the various campaigns include the United Federation of Teachers and its parent organization, the New York State United Teachers; United University Professionals and the Professional Staff Congress, which represent professors at SUNY and CUNY respectively; the New York Public Interest Research Group; student organizations other labor unions and community residents.

At Hunter College, an October 28 demonstration brought out hundreds of people. "Now is the time we should be supporting schools, now is the time to be building schools," NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin told the crowd.

Education advocates point out that the proposed cuts are on the heels of tens of millions of dollars in cuts to education in the past year, as well as a tuition hike. They are demanding that there be no cuts to education going forward, and that the legislature roll back Paterson's cuts to SUNY.

"Students are already being squeezed into overcrowded classes, missing out on courses we need, and paying more for school," said Chris McCall, NYPIRG's higher education project leader.

Similar actions are being proposed to fight the proposed health care and municipal cuts.

Others have suggested that there should be no cuts at all. Suggested ways of increased savings include cuts in spending that benefit only the wealthy and big corporations, such as: the ending of subsidies for "industrial development zones," (saving the state $4 billion), reducing the number of governmental units down from the current 10,000 , the ending of subsidies and tax breaks to developers of housing for those above the median income ($3 billion) and other such measures.

Proposals for increased revenues include a one percent surtax on people making over $1 billion yearly (there are 60 such people in New York City alone, meaning a possible billion dollars in revenue), a one percent stock transfer surtax on those with net assets above $500,000 (another billion dollars) and other proposals.

PHOTO: A student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where NYPIRG kicked off its campaign against budget cuts, holds a "CUNY withdrawal slip" for $53 billion.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Demonstration demands end to Bloomberg education policies

NEW YORK - About 200 people turned out to an outdoor rally on Sunday sponsored by Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, to protest current Mayor Michael Bloomberg's handling of the city school system.

At the rally, NYC Kids PAC, formed in September, took the opportunity to announce their endorsement for Thompson. The group was founded because "we need elected representatives who take their responsibilities to our kids seriously and act on them when it counts."

"It's time to open the doors of schools and let the parents back in," Thompson told the cheering crowd. "Let teachers teach. Joel Klein must go."

Klein is the current schools chancellor. Critics of the Bloomberg administration, which appointed him, point out that Klein has no background whatsoever in education, and, they argue, runs the school system like a for-profit corporation. The call for his ouster drew cheers from the crowd and chants of "Joel Klein must go."

The issue of public education has been a major point in the election. Bloomberg has spent millions of dollars to paint a picture of himself as a mayor who's essentially saved the city school system.

But according to NYC Kids, Bloomberg is twisting the facts. A pamphlet distributed at the rally by the group notes that "the U.S. Department of Education says reading scores are flat since 2003, [but] Bloomberg claims that ‘reading scores are up 28 percent.'"

Further, says NYC Kids, Bloomberg cut new school construction by 60 percent, though half of city schools are officially over capacity. "Class sizes increased by the largest amount in ten years" in 2008, and "even Giuliani built more seats per year than Bloomberg."

Another fact the PAC put forward: no bid contracts under the Bloomberg administration have increased by a whopping 50,000 percent since 2001. In his position as city Comptroller, Thompson has uncovered millions of dollars of waste and corruption within the city's Department of Education, a great deal of which was in the form of no-bid contracts.

"Latino and African American kids are being left behind," Dr Luis Reyes, who worked in the schools, told the crowd. Thompson, he said, wouldn't allow this to continue.

Bloomberg has condemned Thompson handling of the school system when he was the president of the Board of Education, before mayoral control came into being. Thompson countered Bloomberg with his own words: when he was fighting for mayoral control, the current mayor said that the system itself was to blame for the troubles of city schools because "no one is in charge."

If no one was in charge, Thompson argues, and the system itself was to blame, it is deceitful and self-serving for the mayor to criticize Thompson.

Many have come forward to defend Thompson's record at the now-defunct Board of Education. They argue that the then-president, given the position he was in, did an excellent job fighting to reform the system and restore accountability.

Asked by a reporter whether he favored mayoral control of the schools, Thompson said that he did, but "the question is ‘Who is the mayor?'"

But Thompson also calls for changes in the way the Department of Education is run. The changes would allow for more input by the city council, which is closer to city residents, as well as from parents and teachers.

New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick, chair of the Assembly's Committee on Higher Education, told those gathered that "the kids of New York cannot afford four more years of overcrowded classrooms, unavailable gymnasiums."

Bill Davis also contributed to this article.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

New York bias attack points to rise in anti-gay violence

New Yorkers were horrified at the recent near-fatal beating of Jack Price near his home in the College Point neighborhood. Though the two men thought to be the perpetrators are now in custody, and at least one of them is facing charges of a hate crime, many activists and leaders say that way more must be done to combat anti-gay violence in this city.

Price, who identified his attackers after the beating, is currently in a medically induced coma at New York Hospital as he is being treated for cracked ribs, a lacerated spleen, collapsed lungs and a broken jaw.

The attackers were shown beating the man for a long period of time on a nearly empty street. Twice he seemed he would be able to break free, and twice he was pulled back for more beating.

"It is horrible incidents like this that remind us that we must all stand together against those who inflict such harm," said current city Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is also the Democratic candidate for mayor.

Thompson reiterated a point that is central to his campaign: unity of working New Yorkers against all forms of bigotry and oppression is to the benefit of everyone, saying that "we must work so that our city is one where all people - no matter their sexual orientation, ethnicity, immigration status, or any characteristic - feel safe in all communities. My thoughts and prayers go to Mr. Price as well as to his family and friends."

City Council member and almost certainly the city's next Comptroller John Liu called the crime "absolutely atrocious." An ally of Thompson, Liu has built a strong relationship with the city's GLBT community, as well as trade unions, the African American, Latino and Asian communities, and white liberals.

While anti-gay violence is far from unknown in this city, even in neighborhoods considered to be gay enclaves, this beating, which was captured on surveillance cameras, has shocked people for its extreme brutality.

"You get tired of doing these press conferences," Christine Quinn, speaker of the City Council said. "When someone is attacked for being who they are and for being proud of who they are, there is no other explanation for that attack than hatred and bigotry."

Quinn was joined at the press conference by State Sen. Thomas K. Duane, Democratic city council nominees Kevin Kim and Yen Chou, as well as Liu and others.

According to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs, incidents of violence against LGBT people increased by two percent from 2007 to 2008, "continuing the trend of a 24 percent total increase in 2007." National trends are far worse. "Bias-related murders were at their highest rate since 1999 with 29 known anti-LGBT murders committed in 2008. Reports of violence in Milwaukee increased 64 percent and Minnesota and Chicago saw increases of 48 percent and 42 percent, respectively."

In a darkly ironic twist, Price was nearly murdered on October 9, the day before the national march for GLBT rights in Washington, D.C., and President Obama's historic speech to the Human Rights Campaign in which he pledged to end the ban on gays serving in the military.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NYC: Returning to the days of Giulliani says mayoral candidate

Bloomberg: Worse than Giulliani?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Statement on Disqualifications of DeBlasio and Alan Gerson from Ballots

Every so often, something happens that shines a light on an important problem that is usually hidden. The actions taken by the NYC Board of Elections, in which Bill DeBlasio and Alan Gerson were thrown off the ballot for Public Advocate and City Council, respectively, illustrates the point.

DeBlasio needed less than 10,000 petition signatures to get on the ballot in September; he turned in around 125,000. Why was he thrown off? An idiotic technicality: His campaign staff filled out a form wrong—by a single digit. The campaign turned in 132 folders of signed petitions, but mistakenly wrote on the form that they had 131 folders. The fact that this error would actually count against DeBlasio, making it seem that he had less signatures, and therefore couldn’t possibly be in any way interpreted as fraud didn’t matter—he was disqualified from the ballot.

For Gerson, it was the same type of thing: Gerson needed only 900 petition signatures, but turned in around 7,000. Unfortunately, because of an error made by Gerson’s printer, his wrong home address was displayed on the forms: Instead of his house number being listed correct as 505, it was listed as 1505. Gerson’s team corrected the error; they crossed the extra digit off. But that didn’t matter either—Gerson was disqualified.
Whatever one thinks of DeBlasio or Gerson, this is sheer lunacy.

Both DeBlasio and Gerson are scheduled for a hearing at the Board of Elections. If they lose there, they will go to the courts, which will most likely reverse the negative BOE decisions. Nonetheless, New York’s system is full of this kind of preposterous nonsense. These hyper-technical rules, the intricacies of getting on the ballot, are pointless. Worse than that, they are anti-democratic. For example, a candidate with strong support in his or her community but who is underfunded may not be able to go to court to challenge such disqualifications.

Under this system, candidates with less money—less money to employ lawyers to make sure that all of the city’s arcane filing regulations are fulfilled, and less money to fight battles if the Board of Elections says they’re not—are at a disadvantage.

In the interest of democracy and allowing New Yorkers the right to vote for whom they wish, we call for the city’s filing regulations to be simplified dramatically. There is simply no real argument for these rules.

The law allows for finding submissions valid if the error is insignificant, thus leaving room for the BOE’s discretion. The problem is that the Board of Elections is controlled by the right wing of the Democratic Party machine. We believe that either an independent review panel should be set up to handle any of these types of issues and to watch over the BOE, or to at least put it fully under the control of the city council.

This would be another step, albeit a small one, towards a more democratic New York.

By Dan Margolis
New York State Communist Party

Friday, July 24, 2009

All out July 29th: Fight Atlantic Yards!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NYS Communist Party Statement on Education

At 12:01 this morning, the law that enshrined mayoral control of New York City’s public schools formally sunset, as the New York State Senate remained paralyzed by crisis. The old Board of Education was automatically resurrected, as were 32 community school boards, whose members are to be elected.

Whether or not this will stand, or if the State Senate will come back to order and re-issue some form of mayor control remains to be seen. However, what we’ve seen so far is not good: Bloomberg is making sure to keep himself and his corporate-world school’s chancellor, Joel Klein, firmly in control, with as little in the way of checks and balances as possible.

The seven-member board is composed of two people directly appointed by the mayor, and one person appointed by each of the five Borough Presidents. The mayor and the BP’s have made their appointments, and six of them are sympathetic to Bloomberg: There are three deputy mayors and three allies. The other, Dolores M. Fernández, was appointed by Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., and thankfully, she is expected to oppose Joel Klein’s continued reign as well as many of Bloomberg’s policies.

It’s too bad that four of the five Borough Presidents decided not to challenge Bloomberg’s power. If they had, we could have seen a board that would fire Joel Klein, and bring in someone who has an actual background in education. Klein has imposed a top-down corporate model on the schools, and has left room for virtually no input by parents or the community.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fight Bloomberg's Cuts!

It's short notice, but anyone who possibly can should come to the rally listed below in support of New York's Department of Education employees. Bloomberg wants to lay off many of them. Doing so will hurt these workers and their families, teachers who will have to pick up the slack, and all schoolchildren who will get a worse education.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Message from Bronx: Contact Congress on health care now

By Elena Mora

BRONX, N.Y. -- About 70 residents gathered here June 13 to “speak out” on the health care crisis. The event, co-sponsored by NW Bronx for Change and the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, featured health care organizer Tim Foley, from New Yorkers for Change, and heard remarks from local elected officials and testimony from members of the audience.

“Health care is happening now,” Foley said. “Your representatives need to hear from you. We know who else they’ll be hearing from -- the private insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry.

“People often say ‘my congressman is good on health care’ but you should call your representatives regardless, because there’s a great deal of pressure going on right now, and it’s happening very, very quickly.”

People in the audience signed postcards addressed to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, which read, “I strongly urge you to work for the inclusion of a public plan at a minimum.”

A string quartet of young musicians from the Bronx performed for the crowd, led by their former teacher Joe Sherman, who is the Bronx coordinator of In his introduction to the group, Sherman said, “Music is related to health care. Stutterers can sing without stuttering. President Obama has a big agenda and health care is a biggie and events like this can help get it done.”

Numerous elected officials attended as well. Congressman Eliot Engel stated off the bat that he is for a single-payer plan. He went on to praise President Obama’s pledge to pass comprehensive health care legislation saying, “Health care is a right of every citizen, not a privilege. For us to have 47 million Americans without any health care whatsoever, in the year 2009, is a scandal.”

Engel cited some of New York’s bleak health care statistics: 2.5 million people or 13 percent or the population have no health coverage. Health insurance premiums have more than doubled since 2006, while wages have only gone up by 2 percent.

And Engel told his own health care crisis story. His daughter was born with a minor heart problem. When she graduated college she was dropped from the family insurance policy. When she tried to buy her own insurance from that same company she was denied because of a “pre-existing condition.”

He said, “President Obama and I want to end this kind of nonsense.”

Gustavo Rivera, representing Sen. Gillibrand, referenced his work in the Obama campaign, thanking NW Bronx for Obama for its work electing the president and for continuing to organize around the key issues at the grassroots.

State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz expressed his strong support for health care reform, and talked about a health care bill he’s co-sponsoring in the State Assembly.

City Councilmember Oliver Koppell got a round of applause when he declared, “I am 100 percent in favor of a single payer plan. It’s a disgrace that every industrial economy has single payer health care, and we don’t. I understand that we have to compromise now, but that’s what we should get, eventually.”

Moving testimony was given by lifelong Bronx resident Sasha Quinones, who said, “I had planned to tell my own story, but last week my best friend called me and said, ‘Next Thursday I’m losing my health insurance. Sasha, I’m going to go blind.’ Her medicine costs $300 a month. If she goes a month without it, she’ll go blind. Her doctor said she had to have this medicine, but she asked, ‘What am I going to do, how do I make a choice between putting food on the table, or buying the medicine?’”

Quinones who was diagnosed with MS at age 21, added “When I started my career, I couldn’t get health care because of my pre-existing condition. In the words of President Obama, yes we can, we have to change this now.”

Miriam Ford, a family nurse practitioner, said, “The first thing I have to ask patients is ‘what kind of insurance do you have?’ And that frames everything that I do.” Ford added, “Solving the health care crisis can’t be done in isolation, what about the money we’re spending every day in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

Another speaker, Sister Clair Regan, talked about the opposition to the public option. “They are using scare tactics saying a government plan will ration health care. But health care is already being rationed, controlled, limited. There are people who can’t even get on the line. We need to help our brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends understand that these are scare tactics. We all know someone that’s suffering now, someone who is not on the line. We need to be strong, loud and clear: we need something now, for everyone.”

Ariana Ami-Holback came at the issue from the other side. “I have health care because I worked for the city. I recently had a serious illness diagnosed, and I was able to get the care I needed. One of the tests I had cost $4,000, another was $3,000, and although I had to pay a part, they were covered. I didn’t have to think, ‘should I get this test, should I not get this test?’ I had to deal with the diagnosis and then worrying about what to do, but at least I had insurance.”

The event wrapped up with plans being made for delivery of the petitions and postcards to Sen. Schumer’s office and to participate in a June 25 health care demonstration in Washington.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A coup in Albany

A coup in Albany
By Dan Margolis
Originally published in the People's Weekly World

The mess in the New York State Senate would make for a relatively enjoyable reality show—if the living standards of so many New Yorkers weren’t put at stake.

The actions of Sens. Pedro Espada, D-Bronx, and Hiram Monseratte, D-Queens, are as disgusting as their explanations are ridiculous. After New Yorkers voted overwhelmingly for a Democratic Senate, these two ethically challenged individuals have taken the state hostage at a time when there is essential work to be done.

Espada and Monseratte say that they acted because the Democratic caucus was too opaque. Both say they wanted to bring openness and more democracy to Albany. A noble concept, but the idea that this is what they’re doing would be laughable if it weren’t so infuriating. Or maybe infuriating if it weren’t so laughable; it’s hard to say.

Are we really supposed to believe this? That a Republican controlled Senate will be somehow more open? The Republicans held power for 30 years, and all they did was attack working people. The problems with Malcolm Smith’s Democratic caucus in the Senate are nothing compared with those of the Republicans. The recent tax increases on the rich would have been impossible had the Democrats not won control last fall.

What would the Democrats’ loss of the Senate mean?

Firstly, it would be a victory for the billionaires, specifically Tom Golisano, who masterminded the coup. Golisano is, of course, the businessman who campaigned against the Fair Share tax increases and then moved his legal residence to Florida after it was passed. Also, it would mean a victory for the Republicans, the party of racism, inequality and union-busting.

All of the pro-people bills currently in the State Senate could be killed.

Of particular importance are two bills on tenants’ rights: One would repeal the “Urstadt Law,” which took control of rent-control regulations away from New York City’s council and made them the domain of Albany. The other bill would mandate that any buildings leaving the Mitchell-Lama or Section 8 programs would have to be placed under rent regulations.

The loss would mean, then, a huge victory for the landlords of New York, and a loss for tenants.

In fact, some are speculating that the coup was, at least in part, pushed and coordinated by big landlords who do not want to see these bills passed. It’s likely that Espada receives a lot of money from landlords—but no one knows that for sure, because he’s never filed the legally required paperwork on campaign contributions.

It looks like Espada was bought by the landlords and sold to the Republican Party.

Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, has introduced a bill that would weaken the state’s anti-union Taylor Law, which bans public employees from striking. This bill would have been hard to pass with a 32-30 Democratic majority—but with the Republicans in charge? Forget it.

The loss would mean ending the possibility of actually bringing New York State into compliance with international labor law, under which workers are supposed to have the right to strike.

There are other bills as well, but the point is clear: Republican control is bad for working people.

Some are saying that this debacle is the result of animosities between the African American and Latino communities, and that the coup d’état will somehow help empower Latinos. This nonsense should be rejected outright. It is true that Latinos in New York’s leadership have been under-represented, and any democratic-minded person must be in favor of the empowerment of the growing and diversifying Hispanic community.

The idea that Latino advancement could or should come at the expense of the African American community is preposterous: Unity between African Americans, Latinos, and the working class is essential to the advancement of all three groups, none of which are mutually exclusive, of course.

But the idea that ceding control to the Republicans will help Latinos? Please. Let’s come back to the real world. The above mentioned bills would help to empower both the African American and Latino communities, as well as working-class white people. How is killing them a benefit to anyone who has to work for a living?

In any case, most people aren’t buying it: Editorials in much of the New York City Spanish-language press have condemned the right wing power grab, and rallies against Espada and Monseratte have been united. It seems pretty clear that there are others, behind the scenes, who would like to sow division between the two communities.

For example, one thing Mayor Bloomberg, the “independent” mayor of New York City, needs to win the 2009 municipal elections is a major split in the Latino and African American communities. Bloomberg has been specifically targeting people with Latino names to receive mailings addressed to them. There have been no major breaks among Latinos for Bloomberg.

The idea that either Espada or Monseratte is that altruistic is hard to believe. Espada has been fined thousands of dollars refusing to show from where his donations come. On top of that, though he “represents” the Bronx, he really lives in suburban Westchester County.

And Monseratte? He’s been indicted for allegedly stabbing his girlfriend with a glass bottle.

These are the great reformers?

We still don’t know how things are going to pan out. As of this writing, Monseratte is in discussions with the Democratic caucus, and seems to be on the verge—possibly—of returning to the fold. But even then, the house would be divided 31-31, and since we have no Lieutenant Governor to break a tie, that’s a bad situation. The Republicans want to see Espada as president of the chamber. And they are arguing, quite ridulously, that if Monseratte goes back and the chambers are evenly split, Espada should have two votes to break a tie: one as a state senator, and one as the chamber’s president. This, in the words of one lawmaker, is sending the state “lurching towards a constitutional crisis.”

Both Espada and Monseratte should end their betrayal of working New Yorkers and come back into the Democratic fold so that the business of working people can get done.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Send this letter to Schumer!


This is a sample. Please write it out in your own words, and add (or subtract) anything you want. (For example, you may want to put in information about your personal situation, or information about a relative, friend, or coworker.) Send it to your U.S. Senators (listed below), your Congressional representative, and anyone else you think can help. Be sure to sign it and include your home address. Feel free to share this idea with others, and get organizations in which you are involved to send a group message.

Senator Charles Schumer
313 Hart Senate Building
Washington, DC 20510

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

478 Russell

Washington DC 20510

Dear ___________________________:

I am writing as a concerned constituent. Health care for every person is a particular need for all people in this country. This includes the growing number of us who do not have any health insurance, the many who have only partial coverage, and those who have pretty good coverage. Too many of us fear losing our health benefits because of decisions of our employers or when an insurance company denies care after deciding the condition was “pre-existing.”

President Obama’s health care plan moves in the direction of providing complete, quality coverage to every person in this country, and I support that effort.

At the same time, the health insurance industry, one of the least regulated businesses in the U.S. today, is trying to protect their profits. That is why they are trying to stop any public option, which would provide an alternative to their plans to continue to rake in outrageous profits.

Please support and work for health care reform we can all count on. That would mean expanding both Medicare to people between the ages of 55 and 64; and Medicaid by elevating the federal poverty level. A “public option” that expands Medicare and Medicaid, with little or no buy-in by people, makes the most sense. Of course, the remaining uninsured need a “public option” that is as low and as affordable as possible.

Our country has the opportunity to remove itself from the “uncivilized” list. Please help President Obama in this effort.

Yours truly,
[home address, including ZIP]
[optional: telephone &/or email]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

New York State Communist Party hails move to extend same-sex marriage rights in New York State

Governor David Paterson has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of New York. In doing so, he seeks to bring our state in line with others, like Massachusetts and Iowa, in calling for the legal recognition of full human rights for all Americans, including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) persons who have faced historical and systematic discrimination in every facet of their lives. This is an important initiative for progressive and democratic social change, and the New York State Communist Party enthusiastically supports it as such.

Our support for full marriage equality is in keeping with our Party’s proud tradition of supporting progressive social struggles for the freedom and dignity of all human beings. Our long-standing work for African American equality, for union rights, for women’s rights, and against illegal and immoral wars of conquest and colonization all speak to our traditional commitment to human rights and dignity. We see efforts to provide equal marriage rights for LGBT members of our communities in the same light.

Some opponents of equal marriage rights have asserted that LGBT marriages threaten heterosexual marriages. We find that argument to be spurious. We think that the destruction of union jobs, the collapse of the working class housing market, skyrocketing college tuitions, and military policies such as “stop-loss,” for examples, are the real threats to stable family life. LGBT marriages pose no such threat. Such doomsaying on the part of opponents of marriage equality remind us of the dire predictions that were made when interracial marriages were decriminalized. These arguments tend to veil the spirit of hatred and bigotry that underlies real efforts to extend equal rights to all.

While we wish that our state, home to the Stonewall uprising that began the modern LGBT Rights movement in June of 1969, would have moved sooner, we salute both the activists who have demanded full social equality for LGBT members of our communities, and, while we have strong disagreements on Governor Paterson on economic issues, those of our elected representatives who have taken up the cause of equality.

We pledge our support for this initiative in particular, and for the full realization of equal rights for all LGBT members of our communities in general. To do less would be for us to insult our own legacy of unstinting support for the realization of full rights for, and the recognition of human dignity of, all.

NY State Communist Party

Saturday, April 4, 2009

NYS Communist Party expresses condolences victims of shooting

The New York State Communist Party expresses our most profound sympathy to the victims of the horrible shooting that occurred yesterday in Binghamton, New York. We extend our deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved ones, who are now grappling with the tasks of picking up the pieces and trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy.

We are concerned at the rise of mass shootings in our country. In 2007, the Virginia Tech shooting happened. There were three separate shootings in 2008 alone, and in March a series of shootings in Alabama claimed 11 people’s lives.

What is wrong with our society that gives rise to such horrific, senseless acts of violence?

While the facts are still trickling in, it will be important to understand why such a rampage occurred in order to prevent any further such tragedies.

Our thoughts are with the victims and their families.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Communist Party Statement on MTA Fare Hike Vote

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted 12-1 to raise fares by more than 20 percent and to impose dramatic service cuts, including the elimination of two subway lines and dozens of bus routes.

But their vote is far from the final word.

These are nothing more than empty scare tactics; no one expects such draconian measures to actually pass. The MTA is cynically attempting to manipulate public opinion in order to push Albany to enact the Ravitch Plan, which would also raise fares by a smaller amount and impose new tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges.

Why should we choose between bad and horrible? Why should working people pay more to commute into Manhattan? They surely aren’t driving in for fun or because they like to drive—there just isn’t enough public transit in many of the outer boroughs, Long Island and Westchester.

What about the stimulus money? They are using it in such a way that it’s not going to benefit the budget problem in our region. Instead they are using it for pet projects, like the extension of the 7 line, something only of interest to the big developers.

The MTA should open its books so that the public can see exactly how much money they need, how much is wasted or spent on projects that can wait.

The federal stimulus money gives $1.4 billion to the MTA, and $24.4 billion for the state and city. We need to set up a public control council for the use of all this money, to make sure that it’s used in the interest of regular, working people and not for the pet projects of the billionaires and big developers.

Also, New York straphangers pay a higher percentage of operating costs for our mass transit system than almost any other city in the country. Money from the general funds should be directed to transit, and a tax on those making more than $250,000 yearly would help fund that and other necessary services.

The MTA itself should be radically altered, so that its leadership represents the people of New York. Look at its board. Its voting members are mainly a bunch of big developers and Wall Street financiers, the kind of people who have brought disaster to the U.S. economy—does anyone really think that these people can represent New York’s working population? The board should be more representative of New Yorkers, and should include labor, as well as organizations of the racially and nationally oppressed, and people involved in the fights for better education, health care, really affordable housing and against foreclosures.

If the MTA board wants to do what’s right for New Yorkers, they should resign.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This just in: If we raise taxes, New York's wealthy elite will not move to Idaho

While Mayor Bloomberg has been telling anyone who would listen that we can't raise taxes on the rich (the ones who caused the whole financial mess in the first place), because they would leave New York City for Montana or some other place with lower taxes, he's been proven wrong (again).

The New York Times, in a recent article, finally acknowledge what the Fair Share Tax movement has been saying for a long, long time: Raising the taxes on the rich will not cause an emigration of wealthy New Yorkers.

Facts are facts: When New Jersey raised their taxes, only 50 to 350 people or households with an income of $500,000 relocated. How many households at that income level are there in New Jersey? About 44,000.

Those who did leave took with them about $38 million in revenue—at max. But the higher taxes, paid by those who stayed, generate $895 million annually. The same has been proven true in California.

What’s more, both New Jersey and California have higher tax rates than New York.

And this is New York we're talking about. In the words of the SEIU 1199 President at the Rally for New York, “Where are all these rich people going to go? To Iowa?”

So... What is the State Senate waiting for? We need to pass a fair share tax bill now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama needs you: "Keep on Organizing for the Change we need in America"

A few weeks ago, the President submitted a historic budget to Congress, a budget that would reverse nearly 30 years of Bush/Reagan policies, in which the super-rich were given tax cuts while services for working people were slashed. Obama's budget isn't perfect, but is huge break with that unfortunate past: It restores taxes on the wealthy and puts money into education, health care and the environment. Obama makes this perfectly clear.

This is a fight of historic importance, and, if it is victorious, will better the lives of millions of people across this country, and prepare the groundwork for even better things.

We want to join in with the millions of other democratic and progressive-minded people who are seeking to make the priorities expressed in this budget law.

Now click here to find a local canvass!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thousands demonstrate against NY State for fair budget, taxes

By Dan Margolis

NEW YORK—Tens of thousands of people—unionists, community members, religious leaders and elected officials—came out here, March 5, at City Hall and in cities across the state to demand a fair budget for working people, and that the rich pay their fair share in taxes.

New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson told the nearly 75,000 people gathered, “We must ensure that City Hall and Albany put forth proposals that take into account the needs of all New Yorkers. We cannot balance the budget on the backs of working people.”

New York State has a budget deficit of around $14 billion, and the City has a $4-5 billion hole to fill. While the state is poised to receive more than $24 billion in stimulus funds, the governor has argued that New York has a “spending problem” and that the funds will not cover future deficits. He has proposed regressive sales taxes and $2.5 billion in education and $3.5 billion in healthcare cuts, gradually ending aid to all cultural institutions, and huge cuts to libraries, among other things.

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for his part, has echoed the governor’s rhetoric, and proposed similar cuts at the city level. While Paterson has been pushed to retreat—due in large part to public outrage and actions such as the Rally for New York—Bloomberg won’t budge. He has proposed $127 million in cuts to the city’s medical institutions and nearly $1 billion in cuts to city schools. Bloomberg has also demanded another tier be added to the contracts of public workers.

United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told the crowd in NYC, “As President Obama has said over and over, we cannot simply cut our way out of this economic crisis because that would be a recipe for disaster. That is why we pushed so hard for passage of the stimulus package.”

Weingarten is also president of the American Federation of Teachers, the national parent union of UFT.

In a show of solidarity, the rally demanded no cuts to anything: the Untied Federation of Teachers demanded no cuts to healthcare, while 1199 SEIU, which represents healthcare workers demanded no cuts to education, for example. Instead, everyone demanded Fair Share Tax Reform, in which the wealthiest New Yorkers would pay slightly more in taxes.

Currently, New York’s highest marginal tax rate is 6.85 percent, whether you make $40,000 or $40,000,000. The plan would add a few new brackets, and would raise $6 billion. However, Bloomberg, and others of his ilk, argue that the rich would not pay, and would simply move out—though New Jersey and California have similar tax brackets, and, as 1199 SEIU President George Gresham said, “there are a lot of rich people there.”

Gresham noted that “study after study” have shown that the rich do not move when their income tax is raised. Further, “this is New York,” he told the cheering crowd. “Where are they going to move? To Iowa?”

According to Thompson, “all New Yorkers must play a part in bringing New York back.”

A huge cross-section of the city’s unions were represented, including the teachers, SEIU Local 32 BJ, AFSCME, most AFL-CIO unions. Many community and civic groups, like Citizen Action, Make the Road New York, ACORN, the city's immigration coalition, tenants' organizations, and others, were also out in force.