Tag Archives: Elected Officials

Gunning For Change: Gun Safety in America

Whatever one’s feelings about the 2nd amendment, individuals’ gun rights should not supersede the health and safety of the American people.

I was in middle school when the massacre at Columbine happened. Everyone was devastated and appalled – those kids were only a little bit older than we were! What if it had been us? Our school officials took that reaction to its next logical step and started preparing us for such an eventuality with “lockdown” drills. We turned off the lights, closed the shades, and hid – scrunching along the wall that bordered the classroom door to avoid scrutiny from the door’s window. We were told not to let anyone in, regardless of who they were or how much they begged and pleaded. Anybody could be a potential shooter or hostage. The exercise was equal parts terrifying and surreal.

That was 17 years ago and what scares me more than the possibility of my own demise is how commonplace such carnage has become in our country. The actions that shocked us in their gruesomeness have now become almost banal in their regularity. Reports on the number of mass shootings vary depending on sources’ definitions and available information, but tend to agree that that number has increased in recent years. The American Journal for Public Health (AJPH) published a report on the matter:

By most estimates, there were fewer than 200 mass shootings reported in the United States often defined as crimes in which four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events between 1982 and 2012. [27, 28] Recent reports suggest that 160 of these events occurred after the year 2000 [29] and that mass shootings rose particularly in 2013 and 2014. [28]

As frightening as such occurrences are, people killed in mass shootings make up less than half of 1 percent of the people shot to death in the United States. Gun violence, including suicide, kills some 30,000 Americans every year. According to Snopes, toddlers actually kill more people (accidentally) than potential or suspected Islamic terrorists within the US. And yet, the frenzy of fear surrounding the latter group has fueled infinitely more federal and state action.

Vivek Murthy, served as the 19th and 21st Surgeon General of the United States under President Obama and President Biden. was clear in his opinion that guns have become a public health issue. In fact, many cite the NRA’s lobbying efforts against him as the reason his nomination took over a year to receive approval. It makes sense, though, that he would be concerned about something that has such a profound effect on the safety of the American people.

“Guns are a consumer product. We’ve taken a public health approach to reducing product-related injury for every other product, from automobiles, to toys, to airplanes. Every product is regulated from a health and safety perspective with the goal of reducing accident and injury. The only exception is guns,” said Kristen Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center.

 Comic relief: SNL’s take on the safety of consumer products.

 

Certain politicians enjoy passing this off as a mental health issue, reasoning that it’s not the guns, but the crazy people holding them that we have to control. It’s not actually that simple – most people who have mental illnesses pose no harm to themselves or others.

… surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, [25] less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120 000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness. 26 (AJPH)

Believe it or not, you don’t actually have to be “crazy” to want to hurt someone (or act on that thought). Not only that, but the same politicians who use the mentally ill as scapegoats refuse to pass legislation that would actually benefit their wellbeing. Yes, we do need reform on how we treat people with mental illness, but that’s not the question at hand.

The real issue here is that we need to get serious about reforming our gun control laws. This isn’t even a radical idea – the vast majority of Americans agree that at the least, we need more background checks and enforcement of existing regulation.

Chris Rock has famously said that we would be better served regulating bullets (pricing them at $5,000 each) than guns. Maybe he’s right. In any case, we need to start looking into creative and common sense ways to fix this problem.

Client News: ERFA’s New Zoning Plan to Stop Supertowers

East River Fifties Alliance Files New Zoning Plan, Promotes Affordable Housing; Manhattan Borough President Brewer, City Council Members Kallos and Garodnick, and State Senator Krueger Co-Sign

After months of intense preparation, our clients, the East River Fifties Alliance (ERFA), just filed a new zoning plan for Manhattan’s Far East 50s (the area between 52nd Street and 59th Street, east of 1st Avenue) with the Department of City Planning. The new zoning plan would restrict supertowers and out-of-scale development in that neighborhood, while providing for affordable housing. Not only that, but they had an elite list of co-filers: Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Members Ben Kallos and Dan Garodnick, and State Senator Liz Krueger.

This proposal, created via a partnership between the community (through ERFA) and city planners, is one of the most sweeping community residential re-zoning plans in City history, and the first plan of its kind to include affordable housing as a component.

Currently, the Far East Fifties is vulnerable to gigantic megatower development because its zoning is left over from the 1960s and sets no specific height limits on apartment buildings. It’s the last residential-only segment of the city that remains without such protections. (The same zoning is generally limited to busy commercial or mixed use avenues in Manhattan.)  In fact, one developer has already proposed a wildly oversized 1,000 foot megatower on East 58th Street between First Avenue and Sutton Place that would dwarf the entire neighborhood. ERFA is working to prevent not only that project but all others like it.

Affordable Housing

As Mayor de Blasio has voiced repeatedly, NYC needs affordable housing badly. ERFA not only agrees, but the neighborhood is welcoming such opportunities with open arms. This new zone would urge developers to devote at least 25% of new units to affordable housing in the neighborhood.

As it stands, the East River Fifties’ R10 zone and equivalent zones throughout the city only create about 4-5% affordable units with each new development. If fully implemented, the ERFA plan would nearly quadruple the amount of affordable housing in new developments in our neighborhood. The details of how that goal could be best met – whether by making the affordable housing component mandatory, voluntary, or by some other formulation – will be determined in ERFA’s negotiations with City Planning. it will enter a review process that moves through the various levels of New York City’s government for approval. You can learn more about ERFA and its new zoning plan at www.erfa.nyc

The media is already excited and we’ve received a slew of stories. Here are a few: City Land (New York Law School), Crain’s New York Business, Curbed, DNA Info, Manhattan Express, New York Daily News, Our Town Press, Realty Today, and The Real Deal.

Truthiness: How Hard Can the Windbags Blow?

Truth, Fact, Interpretation, Misdirection – In An Age of Liars, We Need A Decoder Ring

Think about this: we know the difference between truth and lies. Presumably, we form our opinions from the information given to us. Certainly, this ought to be the case for things like policy decisions. Shouldn’t our elected officials be able to incorporate relevant facts and factors into their plans of what to do next? Stephen Colbert’s “Truthiness” is alarmingly relevant right now.

When I was in college, I took a tremendous class from well-known writer Francine Prose, called “Language, Literature, and Lies.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a great primer for my work in PR. One of the most lasting exercises was to read the same big news story in three major outlets (The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Guardian). We pored over the articles, picking out how the authors referred to their subjects (e.g. President Obama, Barack Obama, Obama, Mr. Obama, the president, etc.), which snippets of quotes they chose to cite, how they framed an issue, and who they gave the last word. Subtle choices conveyed biases. As humans, it is nearly impossible for us to describe happenings completely objectively – the nature of language is that it necessarily filters everything through our own lens; our own version of truth.

That said, while most media outlets use specific language to shape their version of events, they still stick to the same basic facts in news. That’s something we expect; why read or watch news if none of it is true? So it is jarring to note that when it comes to picking candidates for the presidency, many voters are keen to disregard flat out lies so long as they serve a particular agenda. The author of Wag the Dog recently wrote a biting op-ed about this in Al Jazeera, and multiple papers have referenced Politifact’s “Truth-O-Meter” with regards to candidate claims (it ranges from true to pants on fire).

I’m a big proponent of free speech, but I do believe that there is a difference between fact and opinion. Facts are, by nature, true. They are true whether you believe them or not. The converse is not the case. Unfortunately for some of us dreamers, simply believing something very fervently does not magically make it true. There is a danger to pandering to that falsehood. We can handle the truth, and we must if we expect to do anything helpful or relevant in life.

Stephen Colbert: Truthiness

Fear of Ebola or Fear of Telling the Truth?

The biggest word in the news right now is Ebola.  Of course, the right wing has taken despicable advantage of this epidemic to try to strike fear into the hearts of Americans by saying, over and over, that the US is in jeopardy.  However, as someone recently said on twitter, “More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.”  While Ebola is a definite concern, since we should always be concerned when any other nation’s people suffer and the world’s health is in jeopardy, it’s clearly not an epidemic that will have an enormous impact here in the US.

Conservative forces have been successful, once again, in playing a game of three card monte with us; they are showing us the hand that isn’t doing the trick, distracting us from what’s really going on.  And, what’s really going on?  Aside from the obvious attempt to paint the current administration as incompetent and uncaring, they are masking their own major failure to protect our health; they have held up, for more than a year, the appointment of a Surgeon General. (And yes, the Surgeon General’s office does more than print those warnings on the side of cigarette packs.) There’s an acting Surgeon General who is not actually confirmed, so he has no power.

Oh, you say you didn’t know that?  You are not alone.  This fact has been well buried.  As reported in Politico, the nominee – Dr. Vivek Murthy – has had his confirmation held up by Republicans and conservative red-state Democrats because of his outspoken views on gun violence and public health.  It was apparently this tweet that sent right wing forces over the edge:

 

 

So it turns out that the real “fear” here is that the new US Surgeon General will openly make the case that rampant gun violence constitutes a major public health threat and that, in turn, will unleash the NRA’s public relations machine which, in turn, will try to defeat any Republican or Democrat who votes to approve Murthy’s nomination.

Unfortunately, fear does tend to work.  So, while spineless elected officials try to hold up the appointment of the Nation’s leading doctor for fear of not be re-elected, Americans are being told to fear a disease that is not killing them.

A confirmed Surgeon General would not only help focus American attention and resources on the real threats to American health – including gun violence – but would obviate the need for a so-called Ebola czar and create real US leadership on the issue.

Demand that Congress confirm Dr. Murthy now. NOW.  As a matter of fact, if you go here, you can sign a Credo petition that asks for the Senate to do just that.

When Will They Learn? How Big Development Projects Get Green Lighted Even Over Community Opposition

I was meeting with a client the other day, and we were bemoaning – yet again – another mega development project that did not deliver on promises made to the community.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s same stuff, different day and my client heartily agrees.  The both of us just sighed.

It is confounding to me that the same “drill” occurs, over and over again, and, yet, people don’t seem to get what’s happening.  Or, even worse, they do, but they just don’t care or are part of the problem.  This applies specifically to elected officials who continue to vote for these giant projects without changing the format – and for those of you unfamiliar with the format, here it is:

Developer wants to build a big project of some sort which will inevitably disrupt a neighborhood, take away green space, use public assets and/or financing, force lower income residents out, drive up rents, etc. – you can pick one or all of these.  Developer also claims great benefits for the community – it will stimulate the economy! Create hundreds or thousands of jobs! Bring needed services/space to the community! Etc!

They quite purposely make the project larger than they know will be approved and are very careful to include a list of so called “community benefits.”

Project goes to the local elected officials which, here in NYC, is the City Council.  The project goes to a specific committee where there is debate and “public comment,” before a vote. Some council members ask good questions.  Developers come with charts, power point presentations, people in suits.  There are the promises to the community, including jobs and a shot in the arm to the local economy, two promises that developers know elected officials cannot seem to oppose. There is sometimes even heated debate, especially during the public comment part.  Some Councilmember or other makes a big deal of telling the developer to scale back the project.  Project is scaled back (slightly), Council committee votes its approval and it’s on to a vote with the whole Council where the project is declared a win-win for everybody!

The same general “process” is used when the project involves state government too.

Perhaps I have oversimplified the situation, but that’s more or less it, unfortunately.

This is not to say, however, that there should never be any development projects or that they are all bad.  Since New York City real estate continues to become more and more valuable, many of these projects are really nothing more than a land grab in disguise and/or a way to get valuable public funding dollars for private projects.

Two NYC projects come to mind – one already mostly built, and the other on the drawing board.  The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn is almost complete except for – you guessed it – the affordable housing part that was promised to the community as part of the deal.  Some local officials did try to get the housing built along with the main project, but the move was turned down.

In Greenwich Village, NYU concocted an enormous, multi-billion dollar expansion plan that it said it needed for academic purposes.  Turns out even NYU’s faculty doesn’t buy this reason and has called NYU administration out on it.  There was a lawsuit filed by many groups and individuals in the Village, and the Court has ruled that three strips of important parkland that NYU wanted to destroy for its plan cannot be used because they are “real” parks. (NYU tried to argue that, since they weren’t “officially” part of the Parks Dept, that they aren’t really parks, even though some of those green spaces have been literally used for decades as parks.)  We’re hoping for a better outcome on this development plan, and the judge’s decision has been very encouraging.

No matter what you think of the two instances I cited, I think everyone should be able to agree that the process that leads to approval of these projects is woefully inadequate and needs to change.

Now to find some brave elected officials who are up to the task.

Latest Client News – Week of January 27, 2014

In our latest news, NYUFASP joined local officials, community groups and John Leguizamo to discuss the next steps in the NYU expansion.

On Friday, January 24th – two weeks after Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Donna Mills put a halt to NYU’s needlessly colossal expansion plan by ruling that the City illegally gave parkland to NYU for its development, elected officials, NYU faculty, Village area community organizations and other supporters – including actor John Leguizamo – held a press conference encouraging NYU to step back from its planned appeal and to “do the right thing” by going back to the drawing board and exploring alternatives.

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and the Historic Districts Council generously hosted the press conference in its offices. A slew of elected officials, including a representative from Congressmember Jerrold Nadler’s office; Assemblymember Deborah Glick; State Senators Brad Hoylman, and Dan Squadron; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Corey Johnson, spoke. Each of them expressed the opinion that the judge’s ruling was beneficial to the Village community and provided a perfect opportunity for NYU to restart the planning phase from scratch. The well-know actor and Village resident John Leguizamo added his voice to the cause, emphasizing that NYU could make an expansion that respected the culture of the community while still gaining the educational space it needs.

The community groups that filed the lawsuit, include our own NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (NYUFASP), GVSHP and Lower Manhattan Neighbors Organization (LMNOP), as well as, Historic Districts Council, Washington Square Village Tenants’ Association, East Village Community Coalition, LaGuardia Corner Gardens, Inc., SoHo Alliance, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Friends of Petrosino Square, and NoHo Neighborhood Association.

LCG is proud to be working with these groups that are fighting to save the Village.