Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thank you

Today I am full of gratitude for the hundreds of people from throughout the district, and beyond, who gave of themselves in support of my State Senate candidacy. While we came up short of our goal when all the votes were counted last night, I am immensely proud of the coalition we built and the campaign we waged.

During this campaign I had the privilege of getting to know thousands of voters and countless grassroots leaders in every corner of this wonderfully diverse district. What I saw inspired me beyond measure. Everywhere regular people stood up to say they cared about the future of local government in New York, investing their energies in fighting for change--no matter how tough the odds.

This energy fueled our campaign from start to finish. So many of you knocked on doors, worked the phones, made financial contributions and tapped the power of online social networks. Your efforts inspired no fewer than 8,000 of our neighbors to cast their vote in favor of our progressive, reform vision for New York.

I know that the fabulously diverse coalition that came together over the course of our campaign will continue to be a positive force in this community. We face mighty challenges in our district and in our state and national governments, and so undoubtedly our work must continue. I am more excited than ever to partner with you in this ongoing effort to make progressive change.

With immense gratitude,

Mark

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Big union endorsement

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 29th 2010

Contact: Laura Kavanagh (347)860-9276

Mark Levine Earns Endorsement of UFCW Local 1500

Union is First to Pick Sides in Open Schneiderman Seat

New York, New York – The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW),
Local 1500, New York State’s largest labor union representing
supermarket workers, with over 23,000 members, endorsed Mark Levine
today for the 31st State Senate seat.

“Mark Levine has an impressive record as a community activist and
leader,” said Pat Purcell, Political Director of UFCW. “He has a
decade’s long record of fighting for working families and he
understands the importance of good jobs that can support and keep
working families in New York. We are proud to give our endorsement to
a progressive activist who we know will fight side by side with us in
the State Legislature.”

The 31st State Senate district seat became competitive when the
current State Senator Eric Schneiderman declared his campaign for New
York State Attorney General. UFCW if the first union to endorse in
this race. Mark has already received the endorsements of
Councilmember Robert Jackson and former New York City Public Advocate
Betsy Gotbaum, as well as numerous district leaders and local
community leaders.

“I am thrilled to receive the endorsement of UFCW Local 1500, because
I know we share the same goals in working to create jobs that provide
living wages and benefits to working families. I have always stood
with workers – on picket lines, in rallies and in lobbying our elected
officials in New York City and Albany. I am proud to have a powerful
force like UFCW Local 1500 standing with me in my campaign for the New
York State Senate.”

Mark Levine is a Democratic District Leader and community activist who
currently serves as the Executive Director of the Center for
After-School Excellence. He began his career as a bilingual science
teacher in the Bronx, and went on to work for a number of non-profits
serving the education community. He is also a founder of Upper
Manhattan’s first and only community credit union, served on his
community board as the chair of the transportation committee, and in
2009, founded the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan. He
lives in Washington Heights with his wife Ivelisse and their two sons.

For more information, please visit www.Levine2010.com.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Latinos por Levine

I am pleased to announce that "Latinos por Levine" continues to grow and gain momentum. This coalition of activists supporting my campaign for State Senate includes tenants leaders, heads of community organizations, education activists, business leaders and much more. Here are the current members of thie ever-growing coalition:

Lichiana Amiga
Evaristo Batista
Elizabeth Batista
Juan Eraso
Pablo Gonzales
Pablo Gonzalez
Raquel Gonzalez
Raysa Marcial
Jose Musa
Domingo Ortega
Luis Padillo
Maria Peralta
Rosie Perdomo
Diogenes Perdomo
Amado Plasi
Cecilio Ramirez
Rafael Sosa
Juan Tati
Miguel Avila-Rondón
Winston Brewster
Manuel Casanova
George Cruz
Miguel Corniel
Luis De Los Santos
Georgina Donis-Sanchez
George Fernandez
Lyana Fernandez
Felix Figueroa
Johanna Garcia
Esmeralda Gatón
Francisco Guzmán
Maria Herrera
Angel Lavergne
Tony Lopez
Jane Martínez-Dowling
Sam Massol
Nicole Monegro
Richard Nuñez-Lawrence
Mike Palma
Julio Peguero
Andria Reyes
Gabriela Rodriguez
Lupe Rodriguez
Carmen Rojas
Nelson Rojas
Ramón Severino-Goldstein
Ivelisse Suárez
Olga Tello

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This blog has moved

Mark's blog is now located at http://blog.markdlevine.com/.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to
http://blog.markdlevine.com/feeds/posts/default.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Announcing my campaign for NY State Senate

This September, our community will elect a new State Senator and it is essential that we send a fresh and progressive voice to Albany. After years of working with you to expand affordable housing, improve our schools and protect our community, I write to invite you to join my campaign for this critical office.

As we all know, there has never been a greater need for new voices in our State government. The dysfunction in Albany has made it all but impossible for New York to take on its most serious challenges. That is why my campaign is driven by a commitment to bringing about ethics enforcement, transparency and real campaign finance reform.

Our district - comprised of parts of the Upper West Side, Riverdale, Washington Heights, Inwood, West Harlem, and Marble Hill - is home to a fabulous diversity of residents. Within our district lie many of New York's greatest stories - in vibrant immigrant neighborhoods, legendary houses of worship, and rich arts and cultural settings. We face no shortage of serious challenges here, but we are an activist community that never stops fighting to preserve what needs saving and to change what needs fixing.

A few weeks ago one of our greatest activists, our State Senator Eric Schneiderman, announced his candidacy for Attorney General of New York. Our district must continue to be represented by a leader who is no less an independent, aggressive, progressive reformer. That's why your support for my campaign for State Senate is so important.

Those of you who know me know that for my entire adult life, I have been fighting for progressive causes and am dedicated to implementing pragmatic solutions to complex problems in our neighborhood and our city. In my role as Democratic District Leader, founder of the Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan, and Community Board Transportation Committee Chair, I have been a voice for tenants, school children, mass transit riders, and senior citizens. And I have stood up for reform of our political system as the only way to assure a functioning government in Albany.

My work for our community started long before I entered the political arena. I began my career as a bilingual math and science teacher at JHS 149 in the Bronx. Working with a group of fellow teachers concerned that local families had been shut out by banks, I created Upper Manhattan's first and only community development credit union. In the years since, Neighborhood Trust Federal Credit Union has given thousands of low-income families a place to save their money and receive financial literacy training, and has given over $10 million in small loans, helping residents start small businesses, pay for education and more.

Today, I have continued my leadership in the education field, running an initiative that supports after-school programs throughout our district and around the five boroughs. And of course, the education credential I'm most proud of is that of parent - my wife Ivelisse and I have two boys who attend PS 187.

I hope that you can join our campaign. Come be part of our official campaign launch event on Sunday, May 2nd, 12:00 noon at Mitchell Square Park (located on 168th St. between Broadway and St. Nicholas Ave). We will be joined by Councilmember Robert Jackson, former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Democratic District Leaders and activists from every corner of our community, in my campaign to take our progressive agenda to the New York State Senate.

To RSVP for the kick-off or to volunteer for the campaign please call 646-450-8241 or email volunteer4mark@gmail.com. To contribute, please go to www.markdlevine.com/contribute
Together we will make a difference. I look forward to working with you on the journey ahead!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Obama club launches endorsement process

The newly founded Barack Obama Democratic Club is getting some great press: see coverage in this week's Manhattan Times here.

As the article mentions, we will convene our next general meeting on Tues., April 11th, 7:00 pm. The agenda will include a forum for all the major candidates for New York City Comptroller and Public Advocate, in advance of our May endorsement vote for these and other offices. This will be an important opportunity for our community to make its voice heard in some incredibly competitive races. Our meeting on Apr. 21 will be held at the Common Room at the Church of the Intercession, 550 W. 155th St. (just east of Broadway). You are welcome to join us!

And mark you calendars for the Obama Club's first annual spring fundraiser, to be held Sun., May 3rd. Details are here. To RSVP to the fundraiser or for more info: nic179 (at) hotmail.com

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Yes We Can (in Upper Manhattan)!

I am thrilled to announce the formation of the “Barack Obama Democratic Club of Upper Manhattan”— the first new Deocratic club in a generation for Northern Manhattan’s 71st Assembly District, and the first in the nation named for our president.

The club will be dedicated to electing progressive candidates to local office, advocating for the needs of Upper Manhattan’s residents, and supporting the Obama administration in its efforts to advance a progressive agenda.

Local politics is where committed volunteers can have an immediate, direct impact on government. But it’s an arena in which far, far too few of our neighbors have been able to make their voice heard. Our club aims to change that, by reaching out to new voters, young people, and all those who until now have only thought about politics as something which takes place far away in Washington.

The Obama Club will of course be taking a stand on a variety of issues critical to our community: housing, schools, public safety, mass transit, parks, immigrant rights, jobs, marriage equality, and more.

But just as importantly, we will seek to put the Obama ideals into practice in our own community—through being animated by ideas, being honest about policy questions even when not politically convenient, and mobilizing citizens from outside the usual political structures to help determine the course of government in New York City.

The club will be up and running just in time to be a player in the New York City-wide elections this fall, in which there will be hotly contested races not just for mayor, but for comptroller, public advocate, Manhattan District attorney, and may local judgeships. And the political world is already taking notice of our potential (see coverage by Liz Benjamin of the Daily News here.)

You are invited to join us at our first general meeting, Thurs., March 12th, 7:00 pm, at the Armory--216 Ft. Washington Ave. (between 168th & 169th St.). Please RSVP to obamadems -at- gmail.com.

For more info, see our brand new website: www.ObamaDems.org.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama and King

I was fortunate enough to be in DC to witness history this past Tuesday. In my lifetime no one in American politics has inspired me more than Barack Obama. His eloquence, confidence, intelligence, temperament, charisma, and conviction are awe-inspiring. From the moment I began following his career in early 2004, I've been especially impressed by his courage--in taking on the establishment, avoiding the easy political pander, and daring to re-write the conventional political playbook.

On the Mall on Tuesday the symbolism was thick in the cold air. The day after the nation marked the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the inauguration of our first African-American president was cause for jubilation and amazment among the spectators all around me.

Pres. Obama himself only made glancing reference to the issue of race in his inaugural address (he didn't feel the need to state the obvious), and he totally eschewed any overt comparison to Dr. King throughout the weekend's events for fear of appearing self-agrandizing.

But how could any of us have missed it? As the film maker Ken Burns has observed, the ascendency of Obama to the presidency marks the beginning of America's third age. The first began when Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln's emancipation proclamation ushered in the second. And now Obama pushes us into yet another new world.

I would only amend Burns's analysis by adding Dr. King as another bringer of a new American era. A little-known quote from MLK (unearthed by my friend Noah Leavitt) speaks directly to this point, and is eerily relevent today:
[We are] privileged to live in one of the most momentous periods of human
history. It is an exciting age filled with hope. It is an age in which a new
social order is being born. We stand today between two worlds – the dying old
and the emerging new... [Yes] as we face the fact of this new, emerging world,
we must face the responsibilities that come along with it. A new age brings with
it new challenges...If I may speak figuratively, Old Man Segregation is on his
deathbed. But history has proven that social systems have a great last-minute
breathing power, and the guardians of a-status quo are always on hand with their
oxygen tents to keep the old order alive...If we are to speed up the coming of
the new age we must have the moral courage to stand up and protest against
injustice wherever we find it.
Words to remember as we witness the dawn of another new age--the age of Obama--in 2009.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, 1943-2008


For the second time in 4 months, our community has lost one of its giants. This past Thursday Jordi Reyes-Montblanc died after a bout with cancer.

Jordi (aka George) was a larger-than-life figure in the Hamilton Heights/West Harlem community. For decades he was one of the area's most energetic activists, fighting for safe streets and cleaner parks, and especially championing the cause of affordable housing and homeownership for New Yorkers of modest means.

Jordi's story was the stuff of novels. He fled his native Cuba as a young adult. He joined the US Marines, where he engaged in covert operations in Southeast Asia and--it was said--even Cuba (Jordi never spoke much about his past to those outside of his closest circle of friends). He loved to hunt, and demonstrating his trademark frankness he told the Columbia Spectator last year, "When things get to me, I go up north to Canada and kill something and then I feel better." I can see Jordi smiling as he said this--he always derived more than a little joy from being provocative.

Jordi was a pioneer in the movement to allow low- and middle-income families to purchase their own apartments through the city's HDFC program, and in 1993 he lead the conversion of his own building on Broadway & 136th St. to such a limited-equity coop.

This activism on housing issues secured his appointment to Community Board 9 in the mid-1990s. It was during that period when he developed a close bond to Councilman Stan Michels (the other signficant local leader who passed away this year). Jordi eventually rose to serve as Chair of CB9, a role he seemed to have been born for. Jordi was fearless in speaking his mind on local issues, regardless of who he might offend. That quality could have earned him nothing but detractors on the Board, but instead the reverse happened: he was almost universally repected for his even-handedness and devotion to the community.

Columbia University's plan to expand to a new campus in Manhattanville defines Jordi's tenure as CB9 Chair. While maintaining that he wasn't opposed to the expansion per se, he became a vocal critic of the displacement of local residents and businesses which would result from the specific plan Columbia was advancing. Jordi thrust CB9 into the center of the fight on this issue, and he become a fixture in the city's media as an outspoken critic of the expansion.

Jordi delighted in his many contradictions. He was staunchly proud of his Cuban heritage, but never self-identified as a Latino. He was a fierce opponent of Communism who nonetheless fought for not-so-Capitalistic affordable housing policies. He liked to recall what his political mentor, the late neighborhood activist Al Blumberg, once told him: "Jordi, you're so far to the right you're a leftist!".

For many years Jordi served as a friend and mentor to me, and I am immensely proud of the support he gave to my political career. Upper Manhattan won't be the same without him, and I'll be one of the many who will miss his singular voice.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Redevelopment of GWB bus terminal moving forward


As reported recently in both the New York Times and the Manhattan Times, the plans for major redevelopment of the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal are moving forward.  Apparently the dismal economy hasn't been enough the spook the developers, though it has thankfully convinced them to abandon their plans for one or more big box retailers on the site.  

The redevelopment will move the bus operations to a new indoor space on what is now the roof of the landmark facility.    That will create enough room on the lower levels for over 200,000 sq. ft. of retail, including new space to be opened up in the portion of the complex which is on the east side of Broadway.  

The developer, P/A Associates, offers some early details and images on their plans on their website.   But many questions still remain, including:
  • How will the massive $150 million, 36-month construction process impact the surrounding neighborhood?   The developer will need to do everything possible to minimize noise, street closures, etc.
  • Will the Port Authority incorporate green technology into the new bus facility?  This should include mechanisms to prevent diesel fumes from exiting to the street, and also provide for inside parking of MTA buses so these vehicles don't have to continue to idle on 179th St. 
  • Will the developer give guarantees to hire locally for construction and permanent jobs?
  • How will the problems of traffic and parking be handled for the new facility?  (200 existing parking spots on the roof of the bus station will be lost.)
  • What kind of businesses will be located in the newly renovated facility?  My informal poll shows that a book store is the number one request!
The answers to these questions will help determine whether or not this project is a boon or a bust for Washington Heights, and we should make sure the Port Authority answers them quickly.    Do you have another question about this project?   Let me know...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Let the people's voice be heard

The City Council is on the verge of striking a serious blow to democracy. Over 1 million New Yorkers have voted in two seperate referenda to limit City office holders to two consecutive four-year terms. Now that the mayor and most of the City Council are near the end of their maximum eight years, they want to change the rules of the game by extending term limits another four years. And they don't want to let the people decide on the wisdom of such a change---they want to vote themselves another term through legislative fiat.

Whatever you think about the merits of term limits, whether you aprove or not of Mayor Bloomberg's performance, it's imperative that all New Yorks stand up to this unprecedented power grab. I urge you to sign an online petition to express your opinion at http://itsourdecision.org/.

Below is the testimony I submitted to the New York City Council at the hearings on the topic last week:
Thank you Mr. Chairman. My name is Mark Levine. I am a Democratic District Leader and a likely 2009 City Council candidate. I wish to speak in the strongest possible terms against the proposal to extend term limits through legislative action.

Those who advocate overturning the 8-year term limit rule for city office holders routinely claim that all they want to do is to give the voters a fair chance to make a choice. Some even claim that any election is a form of term limits--since voters, they would have us believe, can easily vote an incumbent out of office. But such statements fly in the face of the reality of elections in New York.

The reelection rate for incumbents in New York is 98%. That's higher than the reelection rate was for officials in the former Soviet Union. In Albany, where there are no term limits, tenures in the state legislature routinely run past two and even three decades. The same was true for the City Council before term limits were instituted here in 2001. For all practical purposes, absent term limits, incumbency in New York is a lifetime privilege.

Now there are many things that those who oppose term limits could do if they were sincere in their desire to provide free and fair choices to voters:
  • We can, and should, reform the state's election laws, almost universally acknowledged to be the most Byzantine in the nation, to make it harder to knock grassroots candidates off the ballot by invoking obscure technicalities.
  • We can, and should, end gerrymandering, which is used to draw districts that
    favor keeping incumbents in office.
  • We can, and should, bring the City's Board of Elections into the 21st century, by ending the practice of staffing entirely with patronage hires.

But those now calling for a weakening of the term limits law have not acted to implement ANY of these reforms over the past 7 1/2 years, which makes it
obvious for all the world to see that their interest is in anything but "giving voters a fair chance to make a choice." Their interest is in giving themselves the chance to run for reelection under a system that they--and we--know is designed to virtually guarantee they will stay in office. That is neither fair, nor democratic, and it's a path that I urge the Council not to follow.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Uptown vols hit the streets of S. Philly for Barack

Last Sunday Northern Manhattanites super-charged the South Philadelphia office of the Obama-Biden campaign for the second time in two weeks. Once again we filled two buses, sending what the S. Philly campaign calls the largest contingent their office has ever seen. Our 95+ volunteers knocked on 4,000 doors and made hundreds of phone calls. Based on this huge sample, Barack Obama is poised to win a MAJOR victory in the home neighb of "Rocky".

We even had our own international press entourage. (OK, two reporters came along, but one really was from Sweden). For all you Swedish speakers, see an impressive article on our trip in Dagens Nyheter. For those who prefer their news in English, you can get the full story on p.4 of this week's Manhattan Times.




Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ride the bus the PA for Obama!

New York may not be a "swing state" in the 2008 presidential election, but
that doesn't mean our community can't have an impact in this historic race.
In the coming weeks I'll be leading bus trips from Upper Manhattan to
Pennsylvania so that local residents can volunteer with the Obama-Biden
campaign in this key battleground state.

We will be registering voters and canvassing in West Philadelphia. The
trips, co-sponsored by the Audubon Reform Democratic Club, will be held on
the following dates:

Saturday, Sept. 27th
Departing at 7:00 a.m. from 145th St. & Convent Ave.

Sunday, Oct. 12th
Departing at 7:00 a.m. from: 179th St & Ft. Washington Ave.

We'll be returning by around 7:30 p.m. on both dates.

Cost: $30, to help pay for bus rental. (Accommodations will be made for
anyone unable to pay the full cost).

SPACE IS LIMITED. To RSVP and for more information, contact Laura Kavanagh:
laura (at) theadvancegroup.com. You can mail checks in advance, made out to "Audubon Reform Democratic Club", to Mark Levine 255 Cabrini Blvd., 1J, NY, NY 10040.

Spread the word!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Stan Michels, 1933-2008

Today our community lost one of its giants. Stanley Michels, who served as our City Councilman from 1975 to 2001, left an indelible imprint on Upper Manhattan. Nowhere was his impact felt more than in the many parks here uptown, which thanks to Stan's leadership became some of the most beautiful in the city. 

I had the pleasure of working with Stan on many local issues over the past 12 years.  He was one of the earliest and most important supporters of the community development credit union I founded (this photo was taken at the credit union's opening ceremony on March 20th, 1997).

Our condolences go out to his wife Molly and their children and grandchildren.  Click here for a moving tribute to Stan, written by his lifelong friend and former Council colleague Henry Stern.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Our efforts have won more local police officers

Amid mounting concerns about quality-of-life public safety issues in Washington Heights-Inwood, I posted a petition online on Sunday calling for the addition of 20 officers to the 34th Precinct. In just 2 1/2 days 500 people have signed on. And I am thrilled to report that our message is getting heard: Dept. Inspector Capul, commanding officer of the 34th, called to tell me that he is assigning an additional 9 officers to the night-time Quality-of-Life Conditions Squad! I will be delivering a print-out of our petition to him so that he can read the many specific points which everyone has raised in the comments section.

We definitely still want to keep the pressure on, so continue to pass on the link for the petition to anyone who hasn’t yet signed: http://www.PetitionOnline.com/more4d34/petition.html.

Friday, July 04, 2008

First image of condo coming to 192md & Bway

The new luxury condos uptown just keep on coming. At right is an image of the building to be developed on the emptly lot at 4469 Broadway (@ 192nd St.). Here's how the architect's website describes the project:

"The first floor will have retail space, the second will be doctors offices and the 3rd through 8th will be luxury condominium apartments. There will also be parking in the cellar. Amenities will include a gym for the tenants, washer and dryer in every unit and terraces and balconies in various locations."

I applaud the developer for designing a building which fits into the scale and context of the surrounding community--unlike the infamous 25-story tower going up at 184th St. & Overlook Terrace. But I wish there were some affordable units included in the project. And we'll have to be vigilant during the construction process to make sure disruption to the neighbors in minimized.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Mega-project is underway

Residents living near the vacant lot at 184th St & Overlook Ave. have been worried for years about plans for a giant 23-story tower to be built on the odd-shaped site. Early renderings of the project showed a building that would dwarf its surroundings. AFter numerous false starts and delays, construction finally began last week. The structure will straddle the entrance to the A train on Overlook, and construction crews have already blocked half the entranceway.

There's even a bizarre bare-bones website marketing the soon-to-be built condos with an image of the final product: here. Many mysteries, and much cause for concern, remain...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Parents rejoice: public toilet coming to 181st St.

New York may be the most advanced city in the world, but we're behind San Francisco, Paris, and many other places when it comes to at least one piece of infrastructure: public toilets. After decades of debate and drama, we're finally about to catch up. The City will soon start installation of 20 toilets on streets around the five boroughs in a pilot phase this fall, and Washington Heights has been selected as one of the target communities. At this evening's meeting of the Traffic & Transportation Committee of Community Board 12 (which I chair), we learned from the City's Dept. of Transportation that an Automated Public Toilet will be installed on the southwest corner of Wadsworth Ave. & Broadway. This will be a sleek, modern-looking structure built and managed by the same company which is installing the new bus shelters you've seen all around town. If you're curious to know what it will look like see:
http://polisnyc.wordpress.com/2006/03/03/its-about-time/

Construction should begin by mid-October, so pretty soon they'll be no more mad dashes into the McDonald's when the little one REALLY has to go...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Help save 159th Street!

If there is one street in all of Upper Manhattan which is symbolic of the struggle of local residents to improve their neighborhood it is West 159th. Families on the block between Broadway and Amsterdam have waged a decades-long fight against drugs, crime, substandard housing, and poor schools. A home-grown non-profit, the Community League of W.159th St. (now known as the Community League of the Heights) has helped lead the way. Though residents have seen their share of setbacks over the years, there's no mistaking the steady improvements they have won over time.

But that precarious balance may soon be upset. A social service agency from the Upper West Side, Veritas, Inc., has acquired a property on 159th Street with plans to build an in-patient/out-patient drug addiction treatment center on the site.

Patients and staff at the facility are projected to exceed 200, and the steady stream of substance abuse clients entering and leaving the Veritas facility would transform West 159th Street. Local activists have been vocal about fears for the well-being of children on a block which is currently home to two day care programs and an after-school program, with an elementary school just around the corner.

West 159th Street and the surrounding blocks remain a major open-air market for narcotics, and representatives from the 33rd Police Precinct express concern that the presence of the Veritas facility would complicate their local fight against drugs. Then there's the welfare of the patients themselves--since placing someone struggling with addiction in an area where drugs are available on every corner seems about as wise as taking a diabetic to a candy factory.

Veritas is by all accounts a well-run, well-regarded organization. And there is no doubt that our community's fight against the scourge of drugs must include treatment for addiction as a key strategy. But Veritas serves clients from all over the five boroughs and beyond. It's this influx of hundreds of patients and staff which would undoubtedly transform the character of a fragile street.

Developable land is the rarest of commodities in Upper Manhattan. Does the Veritas plan meet the most pressing needs of the community? No need ranks higher for us than affordable housing--and in fact just such an alternative project has been proposed for the site by none other than the Community League of the Heights.

Veritas’s main funder and regulator is the state Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services (OASAS). Write to let them know where you stand on this project: Karen Carpenter-Palumbo, Commissioner, NYS OASAS, 1450 Western Ave., Albany, NY 12203. We need to demand that a better location be found for the Veritas project. Now is not the time to jeopardize decades of hard work on 159th Street.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Fix the 215th St. Stairs--NOW

A long-time resident of Park Terrace East was hospitalized this week after an incident in Inwood that left her with severe lacerations to the legs and face. Was it from a mugging? A car accident? No, she was a victim of the extreme state of disrepair of the steps rising west of Broadway at 215th Street.

The 215th Step-Street, as it is officially known, consists of no fewer that 11 flights of stairs, and is a pedestrian thoroughfare for residents of the Park Terrace area and others going between Broadway and the parks above. But in recent years it has become a treacherous path, as the stairs have crumbled and cracked with age. Landings have poor drainage and routinely flood, creating hazardous conditions which only worsen in winter when the pools of water turn to ice. Many of the pre-WWII era lamps are broken, leaving stretches of the steps in darkness at night. Hand railings are only partially usable.

And so it is that last Friday an Inwood resident had to be taken away in an ambulance after tripping on a hole in one of the steps and tumbling down.

Local activists have been calling for the City’s Dept. of Transportation (DoT) to completely reconstruct the 215th Step-Street since at least 1999. In 2005 Assemblymember Adriano Espaillat allocated $300,000 toward the project, and the Manhattan Borough Commissioner of DoT, Margaret Forgione, came to the steps for a photo-op with the Assemblyman in October of that year.

But there’s been little movement on the project by DoT in the year and a half since that picture was taken. This past September Community Board 12 passed a resolution imploring DoT to expedite the reconstruction (I chair the CB12 Traffic and Transportation Committee, which produced the reso). Today it’s still not even clear what the total cost of the project will be, let alone where all the funds will come from or when the work will begin. We need to let DoT know that our community will not tolerate further delay. I urge you to write to Commission Forgione directly (c/o NYC Dept. of Transp., 59 Maiden Lane, 35th Fl., NY, NY 10038) to demand that the reconstruction of the steps be put on a fast track once and for all.

Every day that the reconstruction is delayed means further deterioration of the already hazardous conditions. Last Friday’s incident wasn’t the first time blood was spilled on the 215th St. stairs. And if the community board, local officials and DoT don’t come together to take action quickly, it won’t be the last.