Category Archives: Politics

Gowanus Canal Designated a Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today declared Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal a Superfund site over the city’s objections and after considering the designation for almost a year.

On a morning conference call with reporters, EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck announced that after holding over 50 meetings with city officials, community leaders and other interested parties, and receiving roughly 1300 public comments, the agency had decided to add the Canal to its National Priorities List (known as the Superfund program).

“We have determined that it is the most efficient and comprehensive cleanup,” Enck said.

The Gowanus Canal, which was built in the 1860s, has long been a heavily polluted industrial waterway, lined by coal manufactured gas plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, paint and ink factories, tanneries, cement makers and machine shops. Dangerous chemicals, coal tar sludge, pesticides, PCBs, and heavy metals are found in abundance in its sediment. Raw sewage and an oily sheen can be seen on its surface.

Superfund gives a federal mandate to the EPA to hold polluters accountable to pay for the cost of the cleanup. The EPA estimates that cleaning the contamination of the Gowanus Canal will cost approximately $300 to $500 million, and could take 10-12 years. Many Superfund sites have taken decades to clean up, due to years of litigation by companies defending against potential responsibility.

“The is not going to happen overnight,” Enck said, but added that it took decades for the Canal to become polluted so a cleanup that lasts one should be reasonable.

The debate in the neighborhood over whether to give the Canal Superfund status had been contentious. The Bloomberg administration had opposed the Superfund designation, claiming it would take too long and drive developers away. The city had instead proposed its own cleanup plan, which it said would not have taken as long due to voluntary agreements with past polluters to cover costs. In addition, it would have utilized funds from the federal Water Resources Development Act. Enck said her agency had concluded that not enough money would be available to take this path. She said there were limited funds available under WRDA and too much uncertainty in requiring annual Congressional approval of federal money.

Walter Mugdan, the Superfund director for the region, said that an agreement has already been reached with one of the potentially responsible parties (PRPs), National Grid, the successor company to Brooklyn Union Gas, which owned three manufactured gas plants along the Canal. Other PRPs include the City of New York, the U.S. Navy, Con Ed, Chemtura Corporation, Rapid American Corporation, Brinks, Beazer East, and Cibro Petroleum Products, with others to be identified in the coming months.

Enck also addressed the suggestion in recent weeks that development would be impeded by the Superfund listing. Pro-development and business groups have claimed that developers with sites within 3,000 feet of the Canal would have difficulty securing private financing and obtaining HUD and FHA-insured loans due to the stigma of a listing. “Unfortunately, there is already a stigma there,” she said. “I reject this as a reason why development can’t move forward.”

The EPA’s announcement clears the way for the next stage of the process to begin. The EPA says it hopes to complete a Remedial Investigation and an Ecological and Risk Assessment by the end of the year.

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Bloomberg’s Approach to Job Centers Seen As Successful, Despite Criticism

By Kieran K. Meadows

Dozens of jobseekers sized up the others seated in the packed waiting room of the city’s job training center in Brooklyn one recent Friday morning. Fifty people waited to see counselors, attend workshops and improve resumes. The bright blue walls and fancy logos offered a sense of a hope that, despite the city’s highest unemployment rate in 16 years, this center would connect them to a job.

With changes to the job placement system over the last six years, they might have a better chance than ever before.

“The focus has actually changed now,” said John Maul, the coordinator at the Brooklyn Workforce1 Center, one of the job development hubs found in each borough. “It’s more like, ‘Go out and find the companies and what their needs are, and then find the people to fill those. It’s a different perspective,” he said.

The workforce centers are the frontlines in a city that faces the most severe downturn in years. Job losses continue to mount; the jobless rate jumped to 10.3 percent in September and forecasts say it’s not likely to peak for at least another year.

It is against this bleak backdrop that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s overhaul of job development centers is being put to the test. Despite critics who say he hasn’t done enough, the mayor’s emphasis on building strong relationships with businesses that do the hiring—stressing placement over training—is seen as the reason for the overhaul’s success.

The change in focus was long overdue, according to David J. Fischer, the project director for workforce development and social policy at the Center for an Urban Future. “It’s crucial to get employers on board,” Fischer said. The mayor’s shift in focus “has been very good. It was absolutely the right decision,” he said.

Fischer believes that while Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit, it may be more because he overhauled a system that none of his predecessors took seriously.

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Mayoral candidates talk about stop-and-frisk at debate

AP

Courtesy: AP

Police in the U.S. stop more than one million people on the street each year. Civil liberties critics say that the stop-and-frisk tactic employs racial profiling. It’s hard to argue with the numbers—most stops are of black and Latino men. The New York City Police Department is a staunch defender of the practice and out of the million stops cited by the AP, the NYPD will be responsible for about 600,000 of them by year’s end.

Therefore it was no surprise that at the mayoral debate last Tuesday evening (see 45:30 in NY1 video), the issue of NYPD tactics under Mayor Mike Bloomberg came up when the Daily News’ Adam Lisberg asked challenger and current Comptroller Bill Thompson to clarify his position with regard to the stop-and-frisk policy.

I was at the debate along with two of my colleagues (check out Lindsay Lazarski’s post re: education) and my ears perked up when I heard Lisberg’s question.

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Law, NYC, Politics, Race

Rockefeller drug law reforms go into effect

David Paterson NYCNew York’s Gov. David Paterson may be ridiculously unpopular these days, but if anything, his legacy will include accomplishing something that no one could for over 30 years: reforming the draconian Rockefeller drug laws.

The governor visited Brooklyn’s Supreme Court on Wednesday to mark the day the reforms, through a deal reached in Albany last March, went into effect.

“Today is a day for second chances,” Gov. Paterson said to a crowd gathered in the Kings County courtroom.

Anthony Papa, the author of 15 to Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom, was there and lavished praise on the governor:

Governor Paterson deserves thanks and praise for getting the job done. He has been instrumental and worked tirelessly, first as a state senator from Harlem and then as governor, to make these reforms happen.

But Papa still said much needs to be done:

Now that the laws have been reformed, we have to make sure the changes are done right. Advocates and service providers have jumped in and have been working diligently to prepare for implementation.

The revisions to the law, signed by Paterson in April, now gives judges the option of sending nonviolent offenders to drug treatment and rehabilitation programs rather then sending them to jail. Under the old laws, there were mandatory minimums of 15 years to life, even for first-time offenders. The law that went into effect on Wednesday will also allow lawyers for nonviolent offenders to file petitions to judges for resentencing, although no one is guaranteed this chance. Each case—and advocates estimate there may be up to 1,000 incarcerated individuals eligible—will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

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Filed under Activism, Criminal Justice, Law, Politics

Dutch Scholar in New York Studying Communication Between Police and Communities

By Kieran K. Meadows

A Dutch communications scholar is conducting research on the way the city’s police department and its critics get their messages out in the public sphere. Based on the work she’s done so far, she believes that the two groups both feel victimized by the other, and what they say in public sometimes exacerbates the problem.

Michelle Knight, a doctoral candidate at the University of Groeningen in the Netherlands, is in New York working on her dissertation. She has already written the first part—a historical look at the police department and its critics from the 1850s to the present. Now she is specifically examining the Sean Bell shooting and its aftermath as a case study.

“People are always surprised that I am studying this,” Knight said. “I have a passion for the New York City Police Department. I have a passion for New York history.”

“And I have a passion for polarized communication,” she said.

Knight was a master’s student of American Studies on an exchange program at the University of North Carolina in 1999 when Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, died in a hail of 41 police bullets while he stood in his home’s vestibule.

Knight didn’t understand how it was possible for something like that to happen, so she closely followed the case and the ensuing debate. She went to New York and arranged meetings with police union and community leaders, and became fascinated they held such a different reality on the events that had taken place. She eventually wrote her master’s thesis on the history of the police department, which became the first chapter of her dissertation.

In 2006, Knight was back in Holland when she heard about the police shooting of Sean Bell, who was also unarmed, and killed the night before his wedding. This time, police had fired 50 bullets. Again, she followed the aftermath online, through the indictments of the officers involved, their trial and subsequent acquittal. As methodology, she chose to examine every utterance of a stakeholder in the New York Times’ reports.

“Everybody watches the NYPD and the various claims-makers interact in the press, on the stage of the metropolis,” said Greg Donaldson, a professor of communications at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. “But nobody has really studied it in a scholarly way.”

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Filed under Criminal Justice, Media/Journalism, NYC, Politics, Race

Federal Shield Law Approved by House Panel

A law that protects journalists from having to reveal the identities of their confidential sources was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday. Next step: the bill will be sent to the House, where it is expected to pass. What is unclear is whether the bill has enough support to pass in the Senate. A similar bill died there last year after former President George W. Bush threatened a veto, citing national security concerns. President Obama was a sponsor of the shield bill when he was an Illinois senator.

To learn more about the federal shield law, see this post I wrote when I live-blogged from a forum on the issue sponsored by the New York County Lawyers’ Association.

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Filed under Law, Media/Journalism, Politics

Journalism and Gaza

I read Ethan Bronner’s article today in the New York Times, “Bullets in my Inbox,” and I thought he did a very good job summing up how hard it is to navigate reporting the story of the Israel/Palestine conflict. So much is based on narrative, definition of terms, context/history, and perceived hidden biases/agendas. The idea of narratives and definitions made me think of this great book I read, “The Culture of Conformism: Understanding Social Consent,” by Patrick Hogan (though I wish he would publish an updated edition; the first is from early 2001, before Sept. 11, and is really before the Bush Presidency and the Iraq War, though Hogan does talk a lot about Desert Storm).

Anyway, re: Ethan Bronner’s Times’ article, I really understand in terms of looming deadlines and the struggle to be fair in one’s reporting, how much of the time, reporters don’t think one way other the other about an agenda or bias. However, just because they’re not explicitly thinking about it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t seep through. We all have biases, we all have agendas and everything is politics. I believe that there is no such thing as objective reporting, but that there is a thing called fair reporting.

Bronner points out that Israel banned all foreign journalists from Gaza during the three week assault on the narrow strip of land (which has been under a near total blockade since 2005, and had been fully occupied by the Israeli military before that). What happened was that you had all these foreign journalists reporting from towns in southern Israel that were being hit by Hamas’ rockets. As such, in the West, we didn’t see the death, damage and destruction in Gaza; instead we saw the aftermath of rocket attacks on civilians in southern Israel. The proportionality of what we saw did not match reality. It is crucially important to point out that over 1300 Palestinians died in Gaza (many if not most of them civilians), while 13 Israelis died. That is a 100:1 ratio of death. There is no getting around that fact when telling this story.

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