News from Helen
April will be the busiest month we’ve had in our office to date. I’m excited to hold a variety of events to further engage and inform the Upper West Side. You can learn about my office’s upcoming events below: voting in Participatory Budgeting, Senior Forum, Healthy Teen Relationship Forum, my annual Town Hall, Breast Screening Van, and Tree Care Kickoff.
Over the last few weeks I led the effort to bring Student Voter Registration Day to all five boroughs, rallied for additional school crossing guards, redirected 911 calls from the far west side which had gone to New Jersey prior to reaching a NYC 911 operator, brought public housing residents to the American Museum of Natural History, and co-sponsored a forum on condo and co-op conversions.
In City Hall I made headway on government transparency and inefficiencies. I brought attention to a suspect Department of Education (DOE) contract that was then rescinded for shady practices, and I introduced and passed a resolution calling on New York State to require DOE to inform parents of their right to opt-out of high stakes testing. This week two more of my bills will have hearings: one to weed out inefficiencies and unnecessary fees and fines, and another to make permanent the higher income cap for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE).
As a member of the Council’s Budget Negotiating Team, I participated in reviewing the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget. As we craft our response, my priorities are clear: schools, traffic safety, job creation, parks, and affordable housing must be funded.
Vote on How to Spend $1 Million
Next week is voting week! It’s time to vote on how YOU want to spend $1 Million to improve the Upper West Side. Starting on Monday, April 13, my office will hold project expos all over the district. My district office will also be a voting location all week. Click on these links to see the voting locations, and learn more about the projects.
Town Hall: Monday, April 27
My annual town hall is two weeks away! It’ll be on Monday, April 27 from 6pm-9pm — one whole hour longer than last year’s, to ensure we can cover even more ground. Over a dozen agencies will be there to answer questions, including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Education, the Department of Sanitation, and the MTA. See the full list of agencies that will attend and submit your questions here. The event will be at W83 Redeemer Presbyterian Church at 150 West 83rd Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam, and it is wheelchair accessible. See the flyer.
Breast Cancer Screening Van: Thursday, April 30
Sign up with my office to get a FREE mammogram and clinical breast exam. I’ve funded a Mobile Care Clinic to come to the neighborhood on Thursday, April 30 from 10am-4:30pm outside of Goddard Riverside at 88th Street and Columbus Avenue. To qualify for a free exam, you must be a woman aged 40 years and older, a current New York City resident, and not have had a mammogram in the past 12 months. If you’d like to schedule an appointment, contact Marisa Maack at (212) 873-0282 x.200 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See the flyer.
Student Voter Registration Day
Young voters (between the ages of 18 and 30) have the lowest voter turnout rate in New York City; a paltry 4% of this group voted in the 2009 general election. I coordinated an initiative with NYC Votes (part of the NYC Campaign Finance Board) to bring a day of civic engagement and voter registration to public schools called Student Voter Registration Day. The response was impressive: 15 Council Members partnered with nearly a dozen non-partisan voting organizations to hold Student Voter Registration Day at 25 schools in all five boroughs on March 20. We brought civic education to over 3,000 students and registered over 2,000 of them. You can learn more about the citywide event, about our event on the UWS, and my op-ed on the initiative.
Senior Forum: April 13
Calling all seniors! On Monday, April 13 from 6pm-8pm I’m hosting a senior forum to hear from you about making the neighborhood more age friendly. We’ll also be handing out free reusable bags and serving light refreshments. The event will be at Goddard Riverside at 88th Street and Columbus Avenue. The venue is wheelchair accessible but hearing aid accommodations are not available. Please RSVP to Marisa Maack at (212) 873-0282 x.200 or email@example.com. See the flyer.
Crossing Guards Rally
The City faces a serious crossing guard shortage. A few weeks ago, a child was hit by a car on 77th and Columbus while leaving school. This is an intersection where I have asked for a crossing guard since September. One way to address this problem is to do whatever we can to attract more applicants to the job. That starts with giving crossing guards full-time, year-round work and healthcare. I joined my colleagues on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday April 8, to call for more funding in the City’s budget for crossing guards. You can learn more about the issue from coverage on Pix 11.
Tree Care Kick Off Event: April 30
We’re lucky to have a neighborhood full of trees, but sometimes our tree beds need extra attention. My office, the West 80’s Neighborhood Association, Trees New York, and other environmental advocates will host a couple events to address this problem. First, we’ll host a Tree Care Kick Off Event where I’ll join Caroline Bragdon (the Department of Health’s rat expert) and Cheryl Blaylock from Trees New York to discuss caring for your street tree (April 30 from 6pm-8pm). Second, we’ll do a Street Tree Bed Clean-up Day on Saturday, May 2nd, where we’ll beautify our neighborhood, one tree at a time. See the flyer and RSVP for either event (or both!) here.
911 Calls No Longer Bouncing to New Jersey
If you’ve tried calling 911 from Riverside Park or Riverside Drive, you may have had a difficult time trying to explain your location to the operator. That’s because 911 calls along the West Side of Manhattan were regularly bouncing to a New Jersey operator, with people on both ends of the call not realizing what had happened. I worked with 24th Precinct Captain Marlon Larin to bring the issue to Verizon and NYPD Inspector Richard Napolitano. As a result of our collaborative efforts, the problem is now fixed. Learn more in coverage from DNA Info.
NYCHA Family Day at AMNH
I funded two Family Days for Upper West Side NYCHA residents at the American Museum of Natural History. The the kids and I had a lot of fun!
Healthy Teen Relationships Forum: April 20
1 in 3 adolescents in the U.S. are victims of physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Public Advocate Letitia James, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and I are hosting a forum for students, parents, and educators to brainstorm strategies to encourage healthy teen relationships. The event will be on Monday, April 20 from 6pm-8pm at Macaulay Honors College at 35 West 67th Street. RSVP here and see the flyer.
Co-op / Condo Conversion Forum
Co-op and condo conversions have their own set of problems and legal issues which impact many residents on the Upper West Side. I joined Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal in hosting a “Know Your Rights” Co-op / Condo Conversion Forum on April 2. Thank you to the over 200 residents who came out to learn and participate in the conversation. I am also grateful to Kevin McConnell (Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue, & Joseph), Erica Buckley (Office of the Attorney General), Jeff Margolies (NYS Homes and Community Renewal), and Byron Munoz (NYC Department of Buildings) for their informative presentation. A handful of questions required follow up, so when we have those answers, we’ll post them on my website.
DOE Contract Rescinded
On February 24, 2015 the Department of Education (DOE) approved a contract with Custom Computer Specialists (CCS) after a questionable review process. Suddenly and without any transparency or input from the public, the value of the contract was reduced by 40% to $635 million with “no change in scope.” Hard to believe. I had already been communicating with the DOE about additional time for public review of DOE’s proposed contracts, when this arose. Class Size Matters alerted me to the fact that details of the CCS contract were not posted at 11am on the day of the vote. Immediately I called for a joint Contracts Committee (which I chair) and Education Committee Oversight Hearing to investigate. DOE could not answer our questions and on March 19, 2015 they announced that they rescinded the awarded contract and issued a new request for proposals. Learn more about this big win for transparency in the New York Daily News.
Parents’ Bill of Rights
On March 31 the Council passed my Resolution co-sponsored with Council Member Daniel Dromm, to require the Department of Education (DOE) to include the right to opt-out of standardized tests in their Parents’ Bill of Rights and to distribute that document to every family at the start of every school year. The next step is to convince the DOE to implement this change in September 2015 and at the start of every school year that follows.
Making Permanent the Higher Income Cap for SCRIE / DRIE
Last year the income cap to qualify for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) was raised to $50,000 — but only for two years. If we do nothing, the higher cap will expire (or “sunset”) in 2016, impacting 13,000 older and disabled New Yorkers who can use the higher SCRIE / DRIE cap to stay in their homes. Council Member Andrew Cohen and I introduced a bill to remove the sunset provision from the SCRIE and DRIE programs, and our bill will have a hearing on Wednesday, April 15 at 10am.
Weeding Out Inefficiency at OATH
The Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) tries thousands of cases every month. Examples include when the Health Department issues a violation to a restaurant or when the Fire Department issues a violation because a residential building is not up to code. Nearly half of these violations get dismissed by the OATH administrative judge. That’s a waste of time and money for the City and for the individual or small business that might incorrectly receives a summons. I’ve introduced a bill that would require OATH to regularly issue data on its cases, including its rate of dismissals and analysis of the reasons behind the dismissals. The bill will be heard on April 14 and you can learn more about the bill here.