Guest Op-Ed: Polls are now open! Vote today in this critical election

By Mayor Eric Adams

 

Tuesday, Nov. 8 is Election Day in New York City – your last chance to join millions of New Yorkers in making your voices heard and casting your ballots in these critical elections.

The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

If you can’t vote on Tuesday, you can also vote early in-person. Early voting polls will be open through Sunday, Nov. 6.

Your poll site may have changed, so it’s important to check your poll site location and its hours before you vote at nycvotes.org.

This year, voting is more important than ever. The outcome of these elections will affect you and your family’s future, our economy, education, healthcare and more. And in every single race, your vote matters – from the Governor and Attorney General, to your Congresspeople and State Representatives.

We’re deciding who will lead our state into the future, and what kind of future we want for our state.

Also, four ballot proposals are on the back of your ballot, so remember to flip yours over.

I’ve made my plan to vote – and it’s critical that you do, too.

And not just yourself; bring your friends and family along, too. All U.S. citizens aged 18 and older who have registered are eligible to vote.

I hope that you will join me and millions of your fellow New Yorkers in going to the polls and getting the change you want to see done.

For more information on where and how to vote, as well as who and what issues are on the ballot, check out nycvotes.org.

If you are not currently registered to vote, you can register for next year’s election on that website as well.

All New Yorkers have the right to vote in their language.

You may bring an interpreter to the voting booth – it can be a friend, a family member or a poll worker, but it can’t be your employer or union representative.

The Civic Engagement Commission will be providing interpretation services in select languages and poll sites on Saturday, Nov. 5, Sunday, Nov. 6 and on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8.

For more information on interpretive services, please visit participate.nyc.gov. And if you run into any problems when you try to vote, call 311.

Our democracy relies on individuals with different opinions coming together to find solutions.

Voting is one crucial way we do this, and having discussions with each other is another.

Recently, my Administration held a summit on criminal justice. We brought experienced defense lawyers, judges, district attorneys, advocates and law enforcement officials together in search of solutions to a goal we all share: keeping New Yorkers safe and ensuring justice for all.

There is a lot that this group disagrees on, and each individual group will keep pursuing their individual goals. But there is also much we agree on.

Both public safety and justice are prerequisites to prosperity, and we need to do a better job on both.

No one should be afraid of crime on the subway, and no one accused of committing a crime should have to wait for months to get a hearing.

Our discussion helped us find common ground on important improvements to our system, and over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be continuing our conversations and turning them into actionable solutions that will make New York a safer city. And I will never stop fighting for the steps we need to keep us safe.

Working toward a more perfect city and country is never easy.

It takes all of us engaging in good faith conversation, expressing our views, and casting our ballots.

See you at the polls on Tuesday.

Black-owned bookshop provides more than just good books

By: Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

 

Darlene Okpo always had the idea of opening up a bookstore in the back of her head since her early 20s, but it wasn’t until she became a teacher that she realized she needed to open a store that focused on Black authors.

“Instead of me trying to fight the system and change the curriculum to include multicultural education, I felt I needed to open up a black-owned bookstore that focused on black authors, writers and books that talk about BIPOC people,” Okpo told the Brooklyn Downtown Star.

Okpo says that the catalyst to open the store stemmed from her own students not feeling connected to the texts they were reading in class. She talked to a booksmart student in her class who was falling behind on a writing assignment, who admitted that she was having trouble connecting to the assigned texts that didn’t feature Black girls like her. After Opko gave her a copy of “Mondays Not Coming” by Tiffany Jackson, other students of color started soliciting recommendations.

Two years later, in May 2020, Okpo opened her 480-square-foot shop on Water Street. Okpo named the store “Adanne” after her mother’s middle name to honor the support she gave Okpo to be herself and pursue her goals.

“When we look at the history of Black-owned bookstores, we went from 300 to around 120. And people don’t know, when it comes to the history, that Black-owned bookstores have been such a staple in the community because of what we experienced in just the United States alone,” Opko said about her decision to focus on BIPOC writers. “It’s not to exclude any other ethnic group. It’s just to say that this is a store where you can get all the knowledge that, for so many years, has been banned.”

While The Strand is one of her favorite bookstores, she didn’t want Adanne to feel overwhelming with the sheer volume of inventory. Or for her customers to feel rushed to simply purchase books and get out. Instead, Okpo opted to keep a smaller inventory and use the rest of the store to create a welcoming environment.

Inside the store, you’ll find couches, floor cushions; Black Panther posters and stickers of James Baldwin; racks for store merch; white shelves that pop off the bright orange and red color themes; and plenty of African-inspired artwork. Definitely not like a Barnes and Noble or even your average hole-in-the-wall bookstore.

“I wanted it to feel like a home. As if you’re walking into your grandmother or your auntie’s or your grandfather’s living room, and you’re just receiving all of this knowledge from books,” Okpo said.

One of the favorite programs that Okpo has held at the store has been the “Black book swaps” – days where people can come into the store and swap out three of their books for others and talk to fellow readers about what they enjoyed or what they didn’t about the books. Okpo has also hosted poetry reading sessions and talks where, usually self-published,  writers can talk about their projects and field questions from readers.

“It’s not about just signing the book. The author will go over why they wrote the book, their purpose and what they want people to take out of it. It’s great because I think when it comes to local bookstores, we want to support local writers because it’s very hard to do – putting out a wonderful body of work and then being able to have a community that supports you,” Okpo said.

Starting this Friday, Adanne will be hosting “sister sessions” where women can come into the store to participate in a meditation session, do some journal writing, and have a topic discussion. She hopes for it to be an outlet for women to discuss what they’re going through and be able to heal from it.

Opko told the Brooklyn Downtown Star that she hopes to expand into a bigger space within the next one to three years and turn the store into a center for writers so that they can do research, attend writing workshops and be a true community space.

In the meantime, Okpo is looking to set up a work-study program to help get high school students job experience. She specifically wants to participate in the mayor’s new program that will help employ 100,000 New York teens over the summer, with tailored programs meant to help at-risk youth.

“That was my original mission, it took time for me to do it because I needed to set the store up and make sure that people understood what Adanne was about. It’s not just a bookstore. It’s definitely a community for people of color, families, friends, activists, and everyone to just come in, learn, share, and contribute to what we need to do in this world.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

BK — the progressive way

CM Shahana Hanif has been named one of the co-chairs of the progressive caucus (Credit CM Hanif’s office).

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

 

New York City Councilman Lincoln Restler and Councilwoman Shahana Hanif aren’t cut from the same cloth.

Restler got his start with reform-oriented politics by co-founding the New Kings Democrats – a group that helps elected transparency-oriented leaders. Then he beat the Brooklyn machine in an unusually high profile race for District Leader before working for the De Blasio administration.

Hanif served as director for community engagement and organizing for then-Councilman Brad Lander’s office. But that’s exactly why they think they’ll be good co-chairs of the New York City council progressive caucus.

“I come from a more leftist, Democratic Socialist tenant organizing background, while also having navigated leading participatory budgeting and community engagement in my predecessor, Brad Lander’s office. And then he worked for the de Blasio administration. So we’ve got really two diverse track records, which I think really allows for a blossoming relationship and partnership,” Hanif said.

The New York City caucus was formed in 2009 and has gone through a few different iterations under the previous three different speakers and two mayors it has existed.

“It was a more contentious dynamic between the Progressive Caucus, Speaker Quinn, and Mayor Bloomberg. It was a much closer partnership with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is one of the co-founders and original co-chairs of the caucus. The caucus perhaps played a less behind-the-scenes role during the Corey Johnson era,” Restler said.

CM Lincoln Restler has been named as a co-chair of the progressive caucus.

Hanif echoed similar sentiments, describing the previous progressive caucus under Diane Ayala and Ben Kalos as “dim and dead” and that now was a great opportunity to resuscitate the caucus as an “accountability machine” to the mayor.

When the caucus was founded it only had 12 members but this year has over 30 In the most historically diverse class of legislators yet with a high number of progressive-minded legislators. The caucus features some high-profile names like Majority Whip Councilwoman Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, Finance Chair Justin Brannan and even Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

This caucus will be a “big tent progressive caucus,” as Restler described it, with a range of ideologies from more DSA styled members to center-left liberal reformers. Both chairs emphasized having robust dialogue and debate in order to ensure different versions of being progressive can be embodied in the work the caucus does going forward.

The progressive caucus is ready to flex its muscles under the more moderate Mayor Adams administration. Before he was even elected, Mayor Adams said that city council members who opposed solitary confinement had no desire to move the city forward but to simply be disruptive. After Mayor Adams released his preliminary budget, which includes a series of budget cuts, progressive members have attended rallies to fight against them.

Restler has emphasized that while challenging the Mayor on issues they disagree with is part of his responsibility as an independently elected representative that going to “nuclear war” with the mayor won’t help anybody. When Hanif was asked about some of the things she envisions being able to work on the Mayor with she paused.

“I guess that’s a tougher question for me,” Hanif said before laughing. “We haven’t necessarily articulated this in the caucus yet but, I think the mayor’s position on food justice in schools is something that I support and want to improve. But at this moment, with the preliminary budget out and seeing that nearly every single agency is seeing a reduction in funding, it is really tough to see where there’s alignment right now.”

Later in her interview with the Brooklyn Downtown Star, Hanif qualified her statement by saying she wants room for debate and dialogue with the Mayor, as she wants for internal disagreements within the caucus, but still said the mayor’s policy decisions so far will make that a harder possibility.

In order to really build power and be a true accountability machine against the mayor, Hanif said just having a high membership rate won’t cut it.

“Something that the leadership has been in active conversation around in whether we see value in having quantity or do we see value in really ushering in a caucus that is very deliberate about some working groups that we’ve identified? We really want participation, we want this to be an effective caucus,” Hanif said.

Hanif said that the working groups – covering topics like the budget, communication, policy and bylaws – are a measure to ensure that members are there in just name only but are actively helping the caucus.

Restler will be leading the principles of statement and bylaws group, Hanif is running the communication group, vice-chair Carmen De La Rosa will be in charge of the policy group, and the other vice-chair Jennifer Gutiérrez will be taking the helm on the budget.

Hanif and Restler also said they would consider booting members from the caucus if they don’t participate enough.

Hanif also emphasized that it will take an inside-outside strategy working with unions, outside groups like the Working Families Party and DSA, as well as community activists and organizers to build an adequate coalition that can secure wins.

The legislative agenda has yet to be finalized as the first meeting of the progressive caucus won’t be until April 1. In talks with members, Restler said that treating housing and healthcare as a human right is near the top of priorities for the caucus and that they hope to create “a budget agenda that advances our goals of housing justice, environmental justice, and racial justice.”

Hanif said that the top issues she heard from members surround creating a just budget and divesting money from the police budget.

“My hope is that we can lean into areas of common ground with the speaker and the mayor to successfully advance a robust agenda that delivers for New Yorkers,” Restler said. “We’re independently elected council members and it’s our collective prerogative to represent the values of our districts and we are going to craft an agenda that that does just that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayor’s new subway safety plan goes into effect

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

A new subway safety plan went into effect on Monday, but homeless advocates fear the “crisis mode” plan doesn’t go far enough to deal with the root causes of the problem.

Mayor Eric Adams announced the initiative as violence in the city’s subway system is on the rise. Even since the Friday announcement, there have been a series of violent attacks.

The plan includes outreach teams for the homeless, cross-agency teams that include clinicians and police, increased police presence and enforcement, and increased availability of safe haven and stabilization beds.

While the mayor’s plan tries to strike a balance between assuring public safety while also helping homeless individuals, advocates say the plan leans too heavily on public safety without getting homeless people the adequate resources they need.

“There are aspects of this report that have an encouraging amount of information, that they’re aware of the problem and some of the root causes of the problem, but the solutions they offer are less about addressing those root causes and are more directed to a crisis mode,” Dr. Deborah Padgett, a professor and researcher on homelessness at NYU Silver, said in an interview.

Dr. Padgett said that models like converting hotels into supportive housing, as former-mayor Bill de Blasio did early in the pandemic, would be one of the primary solutions to addressing homelessness.

Dr. Padgett published a study in 2021 examining the effectiveness of these programs, and in New York found improvements in “general medical and mental health, personal hygiene, feelings of safety (from COVID-19 as well as violence), improved sleep, diet and nutrition, easier access to public assistance such as food stamps, and other advantages of having a stable address for applying for a job.”

The study also cites data from Seattle, where similar programs were enacted, that showed it increased transitions to permanent housing and keeping appointments with health care providers.

“And for those of us who are advocates, it’s not a good sign to increase the police presence, because it’s ultimately going to end up probably criminalizing more than it’s actually going to help homeless persons get off the street or out of the subways,” Dr. Padgett said. “And without someplace for them to go other than crowded shelters, this problem is not going to be resolved.”

Part of the subway safety plan includes joint state and city “Safe Options Support Critical Time Intervention” teams.

Critical Time Intervention was a model developed in the 80’s as a phase-approached of engagement with vulnerable populations to help them adequately transition through periods of life and sustain success after they graduate from a nine-month program.

While the state and city teams utilize the name Critical Time Intervention, one of the creators of the model says the plan falls short of actually achieving it.

“We developed critical time intervention and that does work, but you need somewhere for people to go to help people make a transition,” said Dr. Ezra Susser, director of the Psychiatric Epidemiology Training program at Columbia University. “And if there’s nowhere to transition to, then it’s not really what critical time intervention is.”

Dr. Susser’s model of critical time intervention has proven to be very successful. In a randomized trial at 18 months after the original project started, time spent being homeless was reduced by two-thirds.

The study also found that it was more cost-effective than typical measures.

While the subway safety plan will increase the availability of 140 Safe Haven Beds and nearly 350 Stabilization Beds in 2022, something Dr. Suzzer emphasizes is a good measure, he believes it falls short of really stemming the tide of homelessness.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, there were over 48,000 homeless people in New York City in December 2021.

On the campaign trail, Adams introduced a plan to convert 25,000 hotel rooms into supportive housing for the homeless, but there have been problems making the proposal a reality.

Nonprofits that provide services in supportive housing have taken anywhere from six months to two years to get reimbursed, according to Gothamist. There have also been issues with zoning regulations.

“The city and state need to make a big investment now in order to make a dent in the problem,” said Dr. Susser.

Restler looks to hit the ground running

Lincoln Restler is one of the newly elected NYC council members. Can he pull off his progressive agenda in an Adams administration?

By Matthew Fischetti

[email protected]

 

Lincoln Restler has big dreams for North Brooklyn. 

The freshman councilman for the 33rd District won a crowded Democratic Primary on an ambitious agenda of making the district the first to be carbon neutral in the city, reallocating part of the NYPD budget to create a new public safety agency of social workers and mental health care providers, and preventing the overdevelopment of the Brooklyn waterfront. 

But can he pull it off? 

The 37-year-old councilman may be a freshman in the City Council, but he is far from new to New York City politics. 

Restler first got involved in politics during the 2008 primary for Barack Obama. Inspired by the success of Obama, Restler looked to make the movement more than a moment but a real coalition. 

He helped found, and served for one year as vice president, of the New Kings Democrats, a progressive reform-minded organization that has challenged the Brooklyn Democratic machine. 

At only 26 years old, Restler won his first election in 2010 as a district leader in a successful rebuke against disgraced Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Vito Lopez’s preferred candidate, Warren Cohn. 

Even though district leaders are unpaid positions with very limited powers, Restler’s upset generated buzzy media coverage. 

After nearly 12 years, a few stints in city government and working for former Mayor Bill de Blasio, Restler still sees himself as the same outsider trying to reform New York City politics. 

Restler may have his work cut out for him under Mayor Eric Adams, a fellow native son of Brooklyn but also a product of the old school machine politics Restler has fought against. 

“I’m committed to pushing for ethical government, for our city to be as ethical as it can possibly be,” Restler said in a recent interview. “And my experience challenging the Brooklyn machine molded me to feel like you have to speak truth to power, you have to call out corruption directly to affect change, and you never have a hard time sleeping when you do the right thing.” 

More recently, Adams has made waves for two controversial appointments: Philip Banks, a former NYPD Chief and un-indicted co-conspirator in a federal police corruption case, as Deputy Mayor of Public Safety, and appointing his younger brother, Bernard Adams, as Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD. 

 

When asked about the appointments, Restler chose his words carefully. 

“I’m concerned any time a family member is appointed to a senior position or a position of power,” said Restler. “I look forward to understanding how they plan to structure the appointment of the mayor’s brother. I’m concerned about the appointment.” 

In regards to Banks’ appointment, Restler said “there are a series of open questions that still need to be answered regarding the investigations relating to Mr. Banks.” 

While Restler’s progressive bonafides and ambitious agenda may be in contrast with the person now sitting in Gracie Mansion, Restler sees opportunities to work with the Mayor to deliver for the residents of North Brooklyn. 

“My goal is to work with the mayor and his team, to work with the speaker and her team, to work with my colleagues in the council to get sh*t done and solve problems and make sure that the most pressing issues in our community are being addressed,” he said. “But I was elected by the people of the 33rd Council District, and it’s my job to faithfully represent their values and their priorities. 

“Sometimes that’s going to be in agreement with the mayor, sometimes that’s going to be a disagreement with the Mayor,” he added. “And that’s okay. We can disagree without getting into a nuclear war. I’m not going to shy away from my beliefs.” 

Specifically, Restler referenced Adams intent to reinstate solitary confinement as his public statements about how council members have no right to question the 22-year veteran of the NYPD. 

“Solitary confinement is torture, and we cannot allow it in New York City jails,” Restler said. “No matter what the mayor’s perspective on that is, I’m going to rally my colleagues in the council to push that legislation forward with a veto-proof majority.” 

Restler said the three biggest problems he wants to address are tackling the affordability crisis in his district, protecting the Brooklyn waterfront from the effects of climate change, and “making our community safer through intelligent, compassionate policies that don’t rely on the police to solve every problem.” 

Even though Restler has just been a Councilman for a little over a week, he has been busy on those issues. 

On December 27, the city announced $75 million for Bushwick Inlet Park, a project Restler has been working with local officials behind the scenes months before his inauguration. 

After a recent anti-Semitic assault in Bay Ridge, Restler canvassed Brooklyn neighborhoods with Councilman Chi Ossé, providing information on how to defuse and 

intervene in hate crimes as a bystander. 

Restler told the Star the first bill he is going to introduce will be repealing Option C of the 421(A) Program, a tax break that developers can qualify for providing affordably housing in new projects. 

Under Option C, affordable housing is defined at up to 130 percent of the average median income for the area. 

“The 421(A) program allows for developers in New York City to get massive tax breaks for building, quote unquote, affordable housing for a single adult making $108,000 a year,” Restler said. “Why are we possibly subsidizing, quote unquote, affordable housing for single adults earning triple digits? It doesn’t make sense.” 

When asked how he would define success when his first term is up, Restler said it would be “if neighbors in our district have more confidence that government can help them solve real problems.” 

“About 15 years ago, there were two massive rezonings in the 33rd Council District, on the waterfront and in downtown Brooklyn, and they have led to massive new developments,” Reslter said. “They have contributed to significant displacement of longtime residents and amounted to a set of broken promises.

“Fifteen years later, I am angry about the promised park spaces, the promised schools, the investments that were supposed to come to accommodate a growing community,” he added. “And I am laser focused on making sure that those broken promises get remedied and that we hold the city accountable.”

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