Let’s Honor Murdered Cops And Avoid Divisive War Of Words

nypdBy Jim Cavanaugh

The best thing our civic leaders – both elected and self-appointed — can do to honor the two New York City police officers who were murdered yesterday is to impose a self-moratorium on agenda-driven rhetoric while the City grieves and pays these officers the respect they deserve. They should focus on the officers and their sacrifice, and take time off from their increasingly divisive war of words.

But they can’t help themselves.

Today a local Congressman is on the air saying this is what happens when people start criticizing the police. A potential presidential candidate tweeted that the murder is the result of the atmosphere created by Mayor DeBlasio and the protesters.

Simple statements from politicians who want us to believe there are simple answers. There aren’t.

The gunman seems to be a career criminal of the type that should have been removed from the streets long ago. Before he murdered the police officers he also tried to kill a former girlfriend. He may have said the murder of the officers was in retribution for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, but the fact is that he was a repeat felon from way back. He didn’t need reasons to harm people. He just did.

At a time when one-third of all Americans have a documented brush with the law, we should be asking why this guy was still walking around when we spend so much time and effort to lock up non-violent offenders, drug addicts, and juveniles.  If our criminal justice was better focused, then police would be safer, along with the rest of us.

Those who use yesterday’s tragic murders to condemn those who have questioned police tactics in recent months are no more helpful than the Ferguson or Staten Island protesters who claim cops are institutionally racist. They might score points with their followers, but they lead us no closer to bridging the gap that still divides the races in America.

And what about the Eric Garner case? The public seems to have it right even if the headline-grabbers don’t. Sixty percent of New Yorkers think the police mishandled the Eric Garner incident – to the extent that they believe some sort of charges were warranted. But a majority is also sick of the protesters shutting down streets, and they don’t agree with demonizing the police department as racist. They have far more respect for the difficult job these men and women accomplish than do the protesters – or more importantly their headline-seeking leadership.

Yet those who advocate for police are also fanning the flames. The head of New York City’s police union is on the air claiming the City is back on a “war footing.” He’s wrong, as anyone who lived in New York during the eighties and early nineties knows. This kind of escalating rhetoric is exactly what we don’t need.

The anti-cop protest crowd has taken a momentary turn, scrambling over themselves to praise the police that they were so roundly condemning just last week. But as soon as there is another incident that jibes with their agenda, they’ll be back. Meanwhile, those who want to protest the protesters will use this tragedy to accuse them of collective responsibility for the act of a single murderous individual.

It is time to reject all of those who insist on casting our society as us and them. Let’s embrace those who only believe in us.

Jim Cavanaugh is former Supervisor of Town of Eastchester and former Chair of Westchester County Republican Committee.

Talking Past Each Other – Ferguson, Garner and Race

King-Hands-Up-300x174By Noam Bramson

The deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown have stirred a heated national dialogue about racial disparities in law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and our society as a whole.  I don’t claim any special wisdom or originality on these difficult subjects, but as the mayor of a city that prides itself on diversity — and as someone accountable for the conduct of a Police force — I feel a duty to speak out.

Let me acknowledge up front that it is hard for me to grasp how these incidents do not warrant an indictment, especially in the case of Eric Garner . . . yet I am reluctant to pass harsh judgment on the grand juries.  By their very nature, grand juries are required to focus narrowly on the specifics of a case as presented to them, and to set aside broad social context.  Moreover, every detail, from the physical position of hands, to an officer’s state of mind, to the distinction between surrendering and charging, is filtered through human memory and perception, which are always fallible and subjective.  While each of us may be convinced of our opinions from afar, when you get deep into the weeds like a grand jury, things may look murky and ambiguous.

It is only when you zoom out that the murkiness disappears, revealing a picture that is crystal clear and deeply disturbing:

•  Black males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males; black drivers are three times as likely as white drivers to be searched during a stop; black offenders receive longer sentences than white offenders convicted of the same crime.

Then zoom out even further:

•  White households have a median income 72% higher than black households; the typical white family hassix times the wealth of the typical black family.

It starts almost immediately:

•  Black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school; black students are four times more likely than white students to attend schools with under-qualified teachers.

And it shapes almost all of us:

•  A mountain of psychological research shows that subconscious racial bias is widespread, even among those who do not knowingly harbor any racist views.

These are stark and brutal facts.  And they pose a fundamental challenge to our nation’s core principles. Continue reading

Bramson’s Election Musings – Viewer Guide

By Noam BramsonVoting 2014

I don’t watch much TV — Game of Thrones, Top Chef on DVR.  That’s about it.  So I’ve been pretty disconnected from the ongoing campaign, which is playing out primarily in 30 second advertisements.  Then the other day, I turned on the box for a few minutes.

Whoa!

Heated charges, ominous voice-overs, dire warnings that the end cometh if Candidate X somehow attains public office.

There’s nothing new about this.  We get it every election nowadays, and I was up to my ears in it myself when I ran for County office last year.  But it gets worse with each cycle, as more money gets poured into the process.

It’s easy to understand why so many people feel disgusted by it all and swear off politics entirely.  But if you want to be a responsible citizen in a democracy, that’s not a good option, so I got to thinking about how to sort through these ads and determine which are worth our attention.

First, step back for a moment and consider how, in an idealized world, we would cast our votes.  In this fantasy scenario, every one of us would have perfect knowledge of how the election of one candidate or another would shape the actions of our government, we would be able to predict with perfect accuracy the consequences of our vote, and then we would cast ballots in order to best advance our own interests and values.  In other words, we’d behave like rational actors in classic economics theory.

Well, even if such perfect knowledge were attainable (and it’s not), who has the time?  So, in the real world, we use short-cuts.  We vote for the candidate who belongs to our party, or the candidate who was more cogent in a debate, or the candidate we met at the supermarket, or the candidate who seems like less of a jerk.  All those 30-second ads are aimed at influencing our shorthand, sometimes emotional, impulses.

And the more I reflected on those ads, the more I concluded that the usual standards for judging them — whether they are positive or negative, whether they are nasty or polite, even whether they are 100% truthful or cut some corners with the facts — kind of miss the point.

The better standard is whether an ad moves us closer to or farther away from that ideal, perfect understanding.  Does it connect our vote to future actions and consequences, or does it draw our attention away from future actions and consequences.  In short, does the ad clarify our real choice, or does it insteadobscure our real choice?

How can you tell one from the other?  There’s no foolproof method, but there are a couple of tests that make sense to me.

One, is the ad mainly about who a candidate is or mainly about what a candidate has done and will do?  Anyone can make claims about character, pro or con, and such claims rarely have much to do with the responsibilities of an office-holder.  Give more weight to ads that focus on deeds and plans.

And, two, is the ad about consequential topics or about minor side subjects?   If you’re on the wrong side of the big issues, you try to make the election a referendum on the trivial.  So beware of ads that focus on second or third rank nonsense with short-term emotional punch and no long-term relevance.

Apply these tests, and ads can start to look very different.  A nasty commercial that goes after Candidate X for positions on important public policy may be unpleasant, but it can help clarify our choices.  A gauzy, upbeat commercial featuring the testimonials of Candidate Y’s family may be nice, but it can obscure our choices.

Of course, a lot of this is a matter of opinion.  It would be hard, for example, for a media outlet to subject political ads to an objective clarity-meter, like the more familiar (and largely ineffectual) truth-meters.  But I still find this to be a helpful framework for my own use, and maybe it will be helpful for you, too.

So next time you see an ad for or against a politician, before deciding whether you agree or disagree with the position expressed, before deciding whether the ad leads you to think better or worse of the candidates, ask yourself a more basic question: does the topic of the ad even matter in the first place.  Does it matter to your life, to your family’s life, or the life of your community and country.

If the answer is no, then tune it out.  And if enough of us do just that, it won’t necessarily make our politics less nasty or less polarized, but it might make our politics more relevant, and that would be a step forward.

Guest Blogger Noam Bramson is the Mayor of New Rochelle

Arrogance In Albany: The State of Corruption in New York

By John Verni

100830_rice_mailer copy

NYS Capitol

British historian Lord Acton once said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Unfortunately, such is the state of affairs in our state capitol. Our Empire State is governed by a group of corrupt career politicians that have become so self-serving and arrogant that they believe they are above the law. Nothing is beyond the reach of corruption in Albany, and as recent events have shown, that includes the very commission set up to root out corruption.
A Corrupt Game of Musical Chairs
The corruption in Albany is so rampant and commonplace that most of our statewide officials owe their positions to the corruption of others. The Albany insiders seem to be playing a game of corrupt musical chairs where one member loses his seat in shame only to be replaced by another Albany insider. The music never changes, the chairs get rearranged, but the players remain the same. So here is a primer on Albany’s Corruption Musical Chairs – your very own “Cheat Sheet”.
The three top jobs in Albany are Governor, the guy running the State; the Comptroller, the guy watching our money; and the Attorney General, the guy making sure it is all legal.
Our present Governor is Andrew Cuomo who came to power on a promise of “cleaning up Albany”. At the time of Andrew Cuomo’s election, several members of the legislature were already under investigation, indicted or convicted. Former Governor David Paterson himself was seen as so ineffective and ethically challenged that he could not be re-elected. Paterson had admitted to personal ethical lapses involving cocaine use and having an extra-marital affair with a state worker. At the end of his time as Governor, Paterson was embroiled in a scandal in which he called the victim of sexual abuse by one of his key staffers and coaxed her not to proceed in court against the staffer – hardly the actions of a Democratic Governor supposedly sensitive to sexual harassment in the workplace.
Former Governor David Paterson, who is the son of former State Senator Basil Paterson from Manhattan, became a State Senator in his own right from Manhattan, then became the Lieutenant Governor, and then became the Governor himself when Governor Eliot Spitzer had to resign due to a corruption scandal involving the hiring of prostitutes.
Former Governor Eliot Spitzer was the former Attorney General who made a name for himself cleaning up Wall Street as the “Sheriff of Wall Street” and became Governor on the promise of cleaning up Albany, only to be found breaking the law himself by hiring high-priced prostitutes.
Our present Comptroller, the guy who is supposed to be watching our money, is Thomas DiNapoli, who is a former Assemblyman from Long Island, who became Comptroller when former Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who himself was a former Assemblyman, was caught accepting bribes from people who wanted to be paid to help him watch our money. Alan Hevesi was prosecuted by Andrew Cuomo, who was the Attorney General at the time and used that conviction as proof that he would end the “pay-to-play” mentality in Albany.
Our present Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was a State Senator from Manhattan who became Attorney General when Andrew Cuomo, who was the Attorney General at the time, decided to run for Governor on the promise of cleaning up Albany, when Eliot Spitzer, who ran for and won as Governor on the same promise of cleaning up Albany got caught breaking the law, and his ethically challenged Lieutenant Governor, David Paterson, became Governor, and then got caught in his own scandal and decided not to run.
And the drum beat of corruption has not stopped.
Corrupting the Corruption Commission
Now Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is the son of former Governor Mario Cuomo, is accused of corrupting the anti-corruption commission he set up to clean up Albany by telling the commission who it could and could not investigate.
Governor Cuomo had set up the Committee to Investigate Public Corruption to great fanfare and expectation with the promise of “cleaning up Albany”. The Governor asked several district attorneys, the top law enforcement officials in their respective counties of New York, to serve on the Commission.
The Commission had as two of its three co-chairs, William Fitzpatrick, the District Attorney of Syracuse, and Kathleen Rice, the District Attorney of Nassau County. Fitzpatrick and Rice were appointed by Governor Cuomo and deputized by Attorney General Schneiderman to look into any wrongdoing by the State Senators, of which Schneiderman had been one, or by the Assembly members, of which Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and his predecessor Alan Hevesi had been members. There had been many recent corruption scandals in the state legislature, the State Senate and Assembly, involving all kinds of criminality ranging from members of the legislature embezzling public funds for their own benefit ; to the paying of hush money to cover-up sexual harassment of legislative staffers by members of the legislature ; to domestic violence by members of the legislature; to outright attempts to buy elections.
In setting up the Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, Governor Cuomo promised that the Commission would be “totally independent”. At the time, Governor Cuomo stated, the Commission could investigate anyone – “me [the Governor], the Lieutenant Governor, the Comptroller, the Attorney General, any State Senator, any Assemblyman”. In order to give this Moreland Commission more teeth, the Governor had the commissioners deputized by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as Assistant Attorney Generals. Governor Cuomo knew the importance of deputizing the commissioners under the Attorney General’s Office because he had been the Attorney General himself – the guy in charge of making sure it is all legal – the guy who had prosecuted others in the past for public corruption.
Now it has come to light that Governor Cuomo’s Commission to Investigate Public Corruption was not so independent at all. After a three month investigation by the New York Times they reported that they “found that the governor’s office deeply compromised the panel’s work, objecting whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to Mr. Cuomo or on issues that might reflect poorly on him.” When questioned by the New York Times, the Governor’s office released a 13 page statement that took the position that despite his earlier assurances that even he could be investigated, “a commission appointed by and staffed by the executive cannot investigate the executive. It is a pure conflict of interest and would not pass the laugh test.” The only laugh is the statement itself, which belies the arrogance that pervades Albany.
Immediately after the revelations in the Times article, Governor Cuomo cancelled his public appearances for a few days as he pondered how he would respond to this expose’. Rather than the expected announcement that his chief aide, Larry Schwartz, the instrument of the interference, had “resigned” and had acted beyond the authority granted to him by his boss, Governor Cuomo extended his arrogant flourish with a pronouncement that the anti-corruption commission had been a “phenomenal success.” Only in Albany can you get caught red-handed and then claim victory for having a red hand.
The revelations that the Governor interfered with his own corruption-fighting commission seems to confirm what many Albany observers had expected from the very start of this Commission – that the Governor had set up the Commission to pressure the legislature to allow him to push his social agenda; pass an on-time budget to demonstrate his effectiveness; promote fiscally conservative measures to solidify a perception as a tax-fighting crusader; and allow him to paint a narrative of working with both Democrats and Republicans to become the type of transcendent “uniter” that we need as our President down in Washington. So after the passage of his fourth straight on-time budget, several liberal-endearing legislative triumphs, and the passage of some lukewarm “ethics reforms”, Governor Cuomo declared victory and closed the Commission. The legislature was happy because the Commission would stop prying around in their personal transgressions and financial shenanigans and they could get back home and campaign for re-election – a cycle that conveniently has returned close to 100% of the incumbents to office every two years for the last 50 years.

John Verni is the host of “Stuck in the Middle”, a local radio show on WVOX discussing politics from a “middle of the road”, moderate perspective. John is an attorney, a former assistant district attorney in Westchester County, and a senior legal correspondent for WVOX. He hopes this article helped you keep track of the corrupt state of New York politics and shed some light on the upcoming elections.

NERVOUS NITA SPENDS $1M AS ANGRY SUBURBANITES AID ASTORINO

By Ryan Karben

Seething suburban voters are threatening the re-election prospects of longtime Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) and markedly constraining the margin of victory for Governor Andrew Cuomo. The vaunted Democratic get-out-the-vote operation will likely carry the day in the end, but it is battling some of the most pissed off people in America.

Affluent and Angry for Astorino

Money certainly isn’t buying happiness for affluent suburban voters- and their discontent may be enough to allow Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino to deliver an embarrassing loss to Cuomo in Westchester County, where Astorino is the current chief executive and Cuomo lives. Cuomo carried Westchester with 66% of the vote in 2010.

Westchester residents and other voters in the New York City suburbs are super-sour about the state of the union. According to a survey conducted ten days ago by the Siena College Polling Institute, 69% of suburban voters think the United States is going in the wrong direction.

imagesCAOPE94N

(And the more you make, the more pessimistic you are- voters making more than $100,000 are 40% more likely to think things are going poorly than those making $50,000 or less.)

Despite their persistent foul mood about the nation’s direction, Sienna’s pollsters found as recently as a month agothat suburban voters still believed New York State was going in the right direction.

But the newer data shows that suburbanites are gloomy about New York too. Last week, Siena reported that voters in the suburbs now believe the state is headed in the wrong direction by a margin of 53 to 40.

Even in economically challenged upstate, voters who believe things are in the state are going in the wrong direction only narrowly edge those with a positive view. And it’s a world away from New York City, where voters who believe things are going well outnumber those think they aren’t by a 20-point margin.

This suburban angst steams from a politically toxic brew of relentless property tax hikes, anxiety over diversifying schools and shock over seemingly ceaseless land development. Despite a Cuomo-enacted 2% cap on property tax increases, well-to-do retirees and new suburban homeowners both blame state government for property tax bills exceeding $15,000 a year.

Intensifying suburban discontent is lifting Astorino’s suburban support. Astorino now edges out Cuomo by 2 points in the suburbs (46-44) after trailing him in the region by 19 points (33-52) in September.

That means nearly every suburban voter who made up their mind in the past four weeks opted for Astorino. The Republican made six stops in Suffolk County Sunday and may put the county in his win column on November 4th despite a nearly certain statewide loss.

Continue reading

American Politics Are A Mess. Is This Why?

American politics are a big mess. Is this why?

American politics are a big mess. Is this why?

(Thanks to New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson for appearing as our first Guest Blogger).

In a thought-provoking feature in this week’s New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai recounts in (surprisingly gripping) detail the collapse of Gary Hart’s presidential campaign and then pivots to make a larger point about the tabloidization of American politics.

Bai’s article, which is rightly getting a lot of attention, suggests that the push to expose personal character flaws in politicians has shoved substance to the margins, both for the media and for candidates. From there, the dominoes fall in ugly progression – capable people choose not to run for public office, mediocrities take their place and are never really challenged to demonstrate depth, campaigns devolve into nasty battles about trivialities, government grinds to a dysfunctional halt, and the public grows increasingly disenchanted with choices that all look bad. Here’s a key excerpt:

“As an industry, we [in the press] aspired chiefly to show politicians for the impossibly flawed human beings they are: a single-minded pursuit that reduced complex careers to isolated transgressions . . . Predictably, politicians responded to all this with a determination to give us nothing that might aid in the hunt to expose them, even if it meant obscuring the convictions and contradictions that made them actual human beings. Each side retreated to its respective camp, where they strategized about how to outwit and outflank the other, occasionally to their own benefit but rarely to the voters’. Maybe this made our media a sharper guardian of the public interest against liars and hypocrites. But it also made it hard for any thoughtful politician to offer arguments that might be considered nuanced or controversial. It drove a lot of potential candidates with complex ideas away from the process, and it made it easier for a lot of candidates who knew nothing about policy to breeze into national office, because there was no expectation that a candidate was going to say anything of substance anyway.”

Much of Bai’s account is hard to dispute; anyone who thinks our political system is in good shape just isn’t paying attention. And part of the appeal of his argument is that it can serve as a sort of grand unified theory for everything that’s gone wrong.

But is the media’s excessive interest in personal scandal really at the root of the superficiality and viciousness of today’s politics? I’m not convinced. Yes, tabloid-style coverage is a problem, but I see much bigger factors at play:

Continue reading