Tag Archives: Lyndon Johnson

Presumptive Speaker Carl Heastie: Why the Speaker is a Really, Really Important Position and Why Heastie Can Become the Face of Progressivism in New York State

On Tuesday afternoon, February 10th, the New York State Assembly will probably select Carl Heastie, an Assembly member from the Bronx, as the Speaker.

Heastie has served in the Assembly since 2000 and is a graduate of the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he earned a Bachelor’s of Science in applied Mathematics and Statistics, which he followed up with an MBA in Finance from the Bernard M. Baruch College (CUNY).

Joe Lentol, a 40-year member from Brooklyn who chairs the Committee on Codes has withdrawn his candidacy and Cathy Nolan, a thirty-year member from Queens who chairs the Education Committee is still in the mix.

City and State parses the wheeling and dealing that has been going on behind the scenes.

Another factor is Wright’s recent announcement that he would run for the seat of Rep. Charles Rangel, a longtime ally who plans to retire in two years … Wright was in discussions with Heastie, the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, about stepping aside to secure the support of his Assembly colleague and the Bronx delegation in his 2016 congressional bid.

A New York Post editorial advocates for a reform agenda,

The bigger problem is [Silver] used his office to ensure the New York state Assembly’s sorry distinction as the least deliberative body in the United States.

The fixes are clear.

It starts with transparency about [Assembly member] outside income. But it also means reforming the entire structure so that the Assembly can operate the way a legislature is supposed to in a democracy: with bills put forth and debated, committees moving legislation, legislators considering amendments and so on.

Instead, we have a top-down Assembly where the people’s elected representatives are merely rubber stamps for the deals their leaders have already worked out behind closed-doors with the governor.

The crucial question is does the next speaker have the cojones, the toughness, the thick skin, if necessary the ruthlessness, to stand up to the governor and the Senate majority leader.

Silver both ran the Democratic Conference with an iron fist and managed the conference’s incredibly diverse membership. Dairy farmers, inner city representatives from New York City, as well as Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo, representatives from high tax affluent suburbs, the Afro-American and Hispanic caucus, the thirty-six female members, and the long line of lobbyists and campaign contributors.

Over the next two years members will submit over 10,000 bills, some high profile, for example:

* legislation to extend rent control, which expires on 6/30/15
* whether to raise the charter school cap
* the Governor’s Education Reform agenda
* the Dreamer legislation

and others, the overwhelming percentage, reflects
the interests of the members,

see Assembly member Rosenthal’s hundred plus bills/laws.

see Assembly member Nolan’s dozen bills,

The Albany legislative bodies have been the subject of scathing criticism for years. An NYU Brennan Center Report quotes a 1948 description of the functioning of the body,

Someday a legislative leadership with a sense of humor will push through both houses resolutions called for the abolition of the bodies and the speedy execution of the members. If read in the usual mumbling tone by the clerk droning on in the usual uninquiring manner, the resolution will be adopted unanimously.

A few of the younger members have asked for “reforms,” in fact, self-serving reforms. Term limits for committee chairs, questioning the use of seniority for committee chairs, committee staff selected by the members not the leadership; of course, they oppose term limits for themselves and might not care if committee chairs didn’t receive additional remuneration.

Heastie will suddenly become a high profile leader, the highest ranking Afro-American elected official in the state who will have to establish himself, (“there’s a new sheriff in town”), he will have to immediately stand up to the governor.

I hope he says,

“I look forward to working with the governor, however:

“There’s no reason to increase the charter school caps. I intend to appoint a committee and hold hearings: Have charter schools improved education in public schools? Are charter schools more effective than public schools? Are there lessons to be learned for public schools from charter schools? Why aren’t we closing low achieving charter schools? What is the impact on public schools when you open charter schools?”

“Washington should not impose testing and teacher evaluation rules on New York State, educational decisions should be made by educators and elected officials in New York State; the Congress is considering making changes in No Child Left Behind, there is no reason for New York State to change any rules, let’s wait for Congress, and let’s urge the Regents to do everything within their power to reduce testing.”

“The funding disparity in New York State is distressing, the lowest wealth districts receive the lowest levels of funding, the current property tax capped system is unworkable, and we have to reform the entire system.”

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party has been adrift; the philosophic leader of party has been Zephyr Teachout, the loser in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Parents, teachers, trade unionists, seniors, civil rights organizations and advocates look to Mayor de Blasio; however, the mayor has been regularly diminished by the governor and trashed by the print media.

Heastie can be the new voice, the anti-Cuomo, a voice for the voiceless, from an anonymous Bronx legislator to a national figure.

Cuomo was able to effectively crush de Blasio, and continues to show the mayor who is in charge. Cuomo “stole” pre-kindergarten by torpedoing the de Blasio “tax the rich” plan and funding pre-k through the state budget; the mayor now is dependent on the governor to fund the program at the core of his mayoralty; the decision to close the subways and keeping the mayor out of the loop was also a sign of disrespect.

The governor will have a hard time slapping down the presumptive speaker – he needs the speaker, and, with a Moreland Commission indictment hanging in the air the last thing the governor needs is an open fight with the first Afro-American leader of the Assembly.

For Heastie there is no boot camp, no pre-season practice, it’s learning to swim by being pushed off the end of the diving board. He could replicate Silver, the taciturn leader who operates behind the scene, the eminence grise, powerful and barely visible, or, the face of the Assembly, reviving the moribund Assembly that has been led by handful of shady powerbrokers.

The editorial board of the New York Times agrees,

“… more independence for legislators is only one item on a long list of reforms, and yes, such openness would make the Capitol a lot noisier. Also, it might take longer to craft and implement legislation. But the vote to replace an authoritarian speaker is a rare opportunity to breathe fresh air into a very stale place, and to begin reforming New York’s very broken system of government.”

Lyndon Johnson was thrust into the presidency,

“In his first address to Congress, on November 27, 1963, a few days after Kennedy was shot, LBJ told the legislators, ‘No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.’

Using his consummate arm-twisting skills and bolstered by ongoing civil protests in the South, LBJ got the Civil Rights Act – outlawing segregation in restaurants, buses, and other public facilities – through Congress and signed it on July 2, 1964. It was the first significant civil rights bill since Reconstruction and changed the country forever.”

Johnson followed with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The presumptive new speaker is noted for his political skills, and, while we can’t expect him to emulate LBJ he will be in a unique position, the opportunity to become the voice of a current sharply divided party that has meekly followed their sullen leader who was more concerned with enriching himself than enriching the citizens of the state.

Something tells me that until the vote on February 11th the governor’s operatives will be doing everything possible to sink Heastie’s candidacy. Did I see this episode on Scandal?

Did the War on Poverty Fail? How Can Schools Play a Role in Breaking the Cycle of Poverty?

Let this session of Congress be known as the session.. [that] ..declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States …

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it …

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.
For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union Address

Fifty years later the richest country in the world has done little to eradicate poverty. Yes, federal and state governments have provided a range of programs, Earned Income Tax Credits, food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8, etc., all programs which ease the impact of poverty, not erase the causes of poverty.

Taken together, the Supplemental Poverty Measure data and simpler apples-to-apples poverty comparison suggest that poverty is less widespread and severe than it was in the 1960s, but is still quite substantial. Poverty remains higher here than in most other western industrial nations.

We have made gains in a number of areas and watched gains eroded in other areas.

… incomes and the poverty rate improved in the last 50 years for several reasons. The share of the population that finished high school and went to (and finished) college rose; more women participated in the labor force; the average size of families fell as parents had fewer children; some racial gaps narrowed; and some families, especially working-poor families and families modestly above the poverty line, received more government support, especially non-cash benefits and tax credits.

At the same time, other forces pushed downward on incomes and upward on poverty. These included the decline in wages of less-educated men, increased incarceration, a larger number of single-parent families, and, in recent decades, a weakened safety net for many without jobs.

Perhaps the most disturbing metric is the widening income inequality, in New York City, the rich are getting substantially richer and the poor continue to wallow in the depths of poverty.

The heartrending series in the New York Times, “The Invisible Child” follows the life of a sixth grader living in a bleak, pest-ridden homeless shelter. In her neighborhood, Fort Greene in Brooklyn, “the top 5 percent of residents earn 76 times as much as the bottom quintile.”

The roots of poverty have been a politically explosive topic. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report for the U.S. Department of Labor, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” provoked a firestorm of debate in its probing of the roots of black poverty and the decline of the black nuclear family.” Administration after administration avoided the exploring the social and cultural causes of poverty: why were generation after generation seemingly fated to succeed their forbearers?

Nearly five decades later, “The Moynihan Report Revisited ,” … gauges how the circumstances of black families have changed and how they compare with other racial and ethnic groups; documents how blacks still suffer from intersecting disadvantages that Moynihan referred to as a “tangle of pathologies”; and suggests ways to improve the circumstances of black families and reduce racial disparities.

Among the findings in “The Moynihan Report Revisited”:

• The statistics that so alarmed Moynihan have only grown worse, not only for blacks, but for whites and Hispanics as well. Today, the share of white children born outside marriage is about the same as the share was for black children in Moynihan’s day. Meanwhile, the percentage of black children born to unmarried mothers has tripled, remaining far higher than the percentage of white children born to unmarried mothers.

• In 1960, 20 percent of black children lived with their mothers but not their fathers; by 2010, 53 percent of all black children lived in such families. The share of white children living with their mothers but not their fathers climbed to 20 percent in 2010, up from 6 percent in 1960.

• There has been a marked retreat from marriage. In 1960, just over one-half of all black women were married and living with their husbands, compared with over two-thirds of white and Hispanic women. By 2010, only one-quarter of black women, two-fifths of Hispanic women, and one-half of white women lived with their spouses.

• That the decline of traditional families occurred across racial and ethnic groups indicate that factors driving the decline does not lie solely within the black community but in the larger social and economic context. Nevertheless, the consequences may be felt disproportionately among blacks as black children are far more likely to be born into and raised in father-absent families than are white children.

“Reducing the structural barriers to black economic progress, enhancing the incentives to work in the mainstream economy, and improving family dynamics are all important components for reducing racial and ethnic disparities. Addressing those diverse barriers will require concerted governmental, community, and family engagement,” said Gregory Acs, the lead author of “The Moynihan Report Revisited.”

Presidential administration after administration, governors from coast to coast danced around the underlying issue of poverty. The Obama administration saw education as the key to “reducing structural barriers to black economic progress,” unfortunately the path they chose, the Race to the Top, has morphed into a world of accountability: testing, school closings, charter schools masked as school choice, “grading” principals and teachers and the Common Core.

The billions of dollars in Race to the Top lured state after state, trading dollars for the Obama/Duncan agenda.

New York State jumped on the band wagon, especially with the appointment of John King as Commissioner of Education. The opposition to the range of federal initiatives exploded with the results of the Common Core state tests, two-thirds of students across the state failed the exams, children of color failed at staggering rates. Parents from the suburban school districts attacked the Commissioner and the Board of Regents, in forum after forum parents packed school auditoriums to express their outrage.

While schools may be part of the problem, simply teaching “harder” will not eradicate poverty.

The New York Times Opinionator blog suggests economists, sociologists and psychologists have been studying poverty for decades. In a new book Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (2013) take a fresh look,

Poor people have more self-destructive habits than middle-class people. The poor don’t plan for the future as much. Compared to middle-class people, the poor have less self-control and are quicker to turn to instant gratification. These habits perpetuate a cycle of poverty … the authors propose a way to explain why the poor are less future-oriented than those with more money. According to these authors, one explanation for bad decisions is scarcity — not of money, but of what the authors call bandwidth: the portion of our mental capacity that we can employ to make decisions.

The bad decisions of the poor, say the authors, are not a product of bad character or low native intelligence. They are a product of poverty itself. Your natural capability doesn’t decrease when you experience scarcity. But less of that capacity is available for use. If you put a middle-class person into a situation of scarcity, she will behave like a poor person.

Mullainathan and Shafir argue that the effects of scarcity go further. Its capture of our brains leads people into a tunnel; your only focus is solving the emergency of the moment. If the rent is due, you use money that would have gone to the car payment. The fact that this will end in getting your car repossessed, and therefore losing your job, doesn’t really register. You take very little notice of what’s outside the tunnel.

Discussions with the poor must take place “inside the tunnel.”

On the “Ideas 42” blog a range of scholars make specific recommendations for addressing the burden of poverty. The site explores limited attention span, personal finance, economic mobility, status quo bias, health, procrastination, etc., and link to a range of basic principles. Take a look: a fascinating site!

One of the few locations where children and families of the poor lives intersect: schools. A possible answer to breaking the cycle of poverty are community schools, schools that are the hub of social services: from health services to job searching and job training, from educating children to educating the parents of children; from working with families in crisis to working with adults whose families have been tied to poverty for generations. Community schools offer the opportunity to use the decades of research to provide interventions.

For the past fifty years the federal government and states have created a range of programs to ease the impact of poverty, there are, however, too few interventions to break the generational cycle of poverty.

Programs to ease the impact of poverty are essential, we all agree that expert teaching and learning are essential, however, if kids are hungry, or poorly clothed, or live in dysfunctional households; if role models are grandparents and parents and relatives who are replicating behaviors that impede any movement out of poverty, poverty will not abate. Community schools offer a hub at which the range of scholarship can be converted to actual meaningful interventions.

What is so sad is that the rush to the Common Core or the other Duncan “(de)forms will do little to break the cycle of poverty.