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Elizabeth Crowley Wants Teen Inmates Off Rikers Island

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 10:45

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (Screenshot: NY1)

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley called for the city to remove all adolescent inmates from its Rikers Island jail complex during a television appearance yesterday, in the wake of a report from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office alleging a “culture of violence” against teens imprisoned there.

“Our adolescents, 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, should not be on Rikers Island,” Ms. Crowley said during a panel discussion moderated by Errol Louis on NY1’s Inside City Hall. “Unfortunately, our state is behind, you know, 48 other states. We’re supposed to be a progressive state, but our 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds are treated like adults when they are accused and get arrested for crimes.”

New York is one of only two states in the nation where 16- and 17-year-olds accused of crimes are automatically tried as adults. In other states, authorities still have the ability to charge them as adults depending on the crime, but don’t automatically have to do so.

The U.S. Attorney’s report recommends removing the younger inmates whose circumstances it studied from Rikers — where people are typically held while awaiting trial before conviction, or sometimes for short sentences — and placing them in a different jail off the Island.

“The City Council is going to hold a hearing next month and look at the different recommendations, but look at this one in specific, because juveniles who are considered adolescents should really not be treated as adults,” Ms. Crowley, chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, said.

But Norman Seabrook, the outspoken president of the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, didn’t quite agree.

“A 17-year-old that pulls a 9-millimeter and shoots a 2-year-old baby in the head is not going to the Holiday Inn — he’s going to Rikers Island. He’s going to jail. And he deserves to be in jail,” Mr. Seabrook said during the panel discussion.

But, he added, a child locked up for jumping a turnstile should not be housed with hardened criminals.

“Should he be housed in the same environment as someone who is a member of the Bloods or the Crips that are committing violent crimes in the city of New York? Absolutely not,” he said.

Still, he maintained “90 percent” of the young people in Rikers aren’t there for minor offenses like marijuana possession.

“We’re dealing with some very violent individuals. We’re dealing with individuals wh don’t respect the law in the city of New York, and they come to Rikers Island and it’s lawless,” Mr. Seabrook said.

In a statement to the Observer, Ms. Crowley emphasized she believed any changes to state law needed to retain the power to charge those young people as adults for certain crimes.

“If an adolescent commits a heinous, violent crime, we must, of course, have the power to properly prosecute them to the fullest extent – which states do across the country. But the vast majority of teens on Rikers are being held on misdemeanor charges.  We need to be providing early intervention before violent adult jails harden adolescent offenders into lifelong criminals,” she said.

Jumaane Williams and Antonio Reynoso Back Rubain Dorancy for Senate

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 08:20

Rubain Dorancy shows off his ballot petitions with supporters. (Photo: Twitter/@RubainDorancy)

Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Antonio Reynoso today endorsed Rubain Dorancy in his tight primary race to fill Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ former State Senate seat.

The two Brooklyn legislators–both members of the council’s dominant Progressive Caucus–cited Mr. Dorancy’s liberal bona fides as their reason for endorsing him over his rival, Jesse Hamilton, a former aide to Mr. Adams.

“I whole-heartedly endorse Rubain Dorancy—a strong progressive Democrat—for New York’s 20th Senatorial District,” said Mr. Williams, widely seen as a celebrity of sorts in the district’s Caribbean community. “I believe that Rubain is a man with a clear and focused vision to tackle head on the issues impacting residents in the 20th district, such as public safety concerns and NYPD policing reforms; the lack of quality affordable housing; sound and quality education for the youth; and the lack of jobs and unemployment.“

Mr. Reynoso similarly argued that the former Department of Education administrator was the best suited to take on major progressive causes in the upper house of the state legislature.

“The state has many issues that need to be addressed, from campaign finance, to immigration issues, to fighting corruption.  Rubain Dorancy is smart, capable and has strong progressive values.  I’m confident that he will be the fighter we need to take on the issues in Albany,” said Mr. Reynoso.

Mr. Dorancy thanked both councilmen for their support, and vowed to work with them if elected.

“I am truly honored and humbled to receive the endorsements of Council Members Jumaane Williams and Antonio Reynoso, who are both well-respected and accomplished legislators,” said Mr. Dorancy. “This partnership is a reflection of our commitment to work on addressing the persistent needs of our district that have debilitated our community for far too long.”

Mr. Williams’ and Mr. Reynoso’s endorsements are just the latest in the highly competitive contest between Mr. Dorancy and Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Dorancy has also received the backing of 1199 SEIU, the Communication Workers of America District One and Local 1109, the Teamsters District 16, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke and Mr. Clarke’s mother, former councilwoman and central Brooklyn power broker Una Clarke.

Mr. Hamilton, on the other hand, has picked up endorsements from Mr. Adams, Councilwoman Darlene Mealy, 32BJ SEIU, CWA Local 1180, Heat and Frost Insulators Local 12, the Bridge and Tunnel Officers Benevolent Association, and AFSCME District Council 37.

With Shootings on the Rise, de Blasio and Council Roll Out Anti-Violence Initiative

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 15:47

Mayor Bill de Blasio with City Council and administration officials Wednesday. (Jillian Jorgensen)

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council announced today a $12.7 million expansion of a program that uses former gang members to curb gun violence, which continues to be on the rise citywide.

The new initiative will expand a pilot program from five precincts to 14 around the city to create a “Gun Violence Crisis Management System,” bringing together a slew of city agencies—from the NYPD to the Department of Education to the Department of Health—in what the mayor, City Council members and advocates promised would be well-rounded, inclusive approach to gun violence.

“It aims to prevent violence before it happens. It aims to prevent violence in close coordination with a host of other public safety strategies and policing strategies—but in a sense, to get this stopped before the police even have to become involved,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The “cure violence” model—which Mr. de Blasio said has been effective in the city’s pilot programs and in other cities—uses ex-gang members as “violence interrupters” who intervene in neighborhood disputes before they escalate to gun violence. Those “interrupters” will then refer people involved in the feuds to outreach workers who can help them with case management and supportive services.

The $12.7 million in funding will be split between the mayor’s office and the City Council, and builds on $3 million already baselined into the city budget to continue the work begun by the council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence.

“For any public policy or for any effort to be successful, to be effective, it needs to be inclusive—and that means that government itself cannot solve a problem. We all have a responsibility as community members to be involved and be engaged,” Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.

Typically, the programs employ four “violence interrupters” and four outreach workers and seek to “focus on a very small concentrated area,” said Ife Charles, deputy director of the Center for Court Innovation, which runs an existing pilot program in Crown Heights.

The idea, Ms. Charles said, is to approach the problem like any other public health epidemic: “Quarantine an area and then saturating the area with some sort of antibodies to eradicate the violence.”

It’s just the latest policy Mr. de Blasio has rolled out in an effort to reduce gun violence in the city — including keeping NYCHA community centers open later and flooding housing patrols with cops taken off desk duty.

Still, shootings are up 12.1 percent for the year so far compared to the same period in 2013, according to NYPD statistics. For the week of July 28 through August 3, the most recent statistics available, shooting incidents were up 56.5 percent compared to the same week in 2013—with 36 shooting incidents and 42 shooting victims.

But Mr. de Blasio said he believed his approach to gun violence was working.

“We’re about 3.5 percent down in crime overall compared to last year at this time. We’re down 23 murders today compared to last year at this time,” Mr. de Blasio told the Observer. “Those are good indicators. We are concerned about the shootings numbers, but we’ve seen some real movement in these last few weeks as we’ve flooded the zone, as we’ve gotten more officers to the precincts in greatest need.”

In addition to the jump in shootings for the week ending August 3, CompStat also shows a longer trend of a 27.5 percent increase in shooting incidents for the most recent 28-day period measured. But the mayor said he is seeing success in the precincts and NYCHA developments targeted with new programs.

“What we’ve got so far in NYCHA, what we’ve got so far in the target precincts, shows a turn starting to happen — and that’s a set of strategies we’re going to be reinforcing deeply in the coming weeks and months,” he said. “So we believe you’re going to see continued improvement on the shootings.”

Dorancy and Hamilton Clash in Brooklyn Senate Debate

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 15:08

Rubain Dorancy and Jesse Hamilton (center) face off. (Screengrab: Brooklyn Independent Media).

Rubain Dorancy and Jesse Hamilton, rival candidates in the Democratic primary for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ former State Senate seat, dueled over school, street and policy smarts in their first televised debate last night.

At a candidate forum hosted by Brooklyn Independent Media, Mr. Hamilton–a Democratic district leader and former aide to Mr. Adams once seen as his heir apparent–continued to try to cast Mr. Dorancy as an outsider and an ally of the Bloomberg administration. Talking about school policy, Mr. Hamilton blasted former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s record of supporting charter schools, co-locations, closures and allegedly reduced parental input–a record that he argued Mr. Dorancy, a former Department of Education administrator, was partially responsible for.

Also present at the debate was long-shot contender Guillermo Philpotts, a former candidate for state office.

“Under the failed Bloomberg administration, they took away the parental involvement component,” said Mr. Hamilton. “The policies under the previous administration, which Mr. Dorancy was a part of, have failed our students.”

Mr. Dorancy struck back, noting he had worked in Department of Education for two decades, predating Mr. Bloomberg’s election. He also argued that he had played a part in reforming the leadership of the local community school board at a time when Mr. Hamilton was getting his law degree.

“You were studying for the bar then,” said Mr. Dorancy, inviting viewers to float his name at neighborhood schools. “Ask about me, and you’ll find out I’ve led a legacy in the Department of Education. Bloomberg did not make me, I am my own man!”

The two also butted heads over a question from a constituent, who remarked that many locals are dropping out of school and “living recklessly.” Mr. Dorancy took issue with the claim.

“I don’t think that all young people are living recklessly. We have a lot of talented young people in our community, we have a lot of wonderful law-abiding teenagers,” the candidate said.

Mr. Hamilton, however, took another opportunity to attack recent city school policy.

“When we know we have a high percentage of our children failing in our school system, under the Bloomberg Administration, I don’t understand what this conversation is about, how our children are doing so well. They’re not doing as well as they should be,” said Mr. Hamilton.

Mr. Hamilton also repeatedly stressed the issue of residency in the contested central Brooklyn turf, echoing his longstanding claims that Mr. Dorancy–who grew up in the district, but at one point was registered to vote at an address outside of it–is a newcomer. Mr. Hamilton unsuccessfully sought to have Mr. Dorancy removed from the ballot last month on the grounds that his rival’s real permanent address was in a neighboring State Senate district.

“First off, I live in Crown Heights. My wife and I have been there with my children for 30 years, continuously,” Mr. Hamilton said.

Mr. Dorancy retorted shortly afterward, in a discussion of the redevelopment of Empire Boulevard, a major area thoroughfare.

“I live six blocks away from it, in Crown Heights,” Mr. Dorancy said with a grin and a glance at Mr. Hamilton, before rattling off a list of consecutive neighborhood streets where he had walked and talked to people. “Sorry, I don’t want to crush you here.”

His opponent came back with an equally sharp response.

“When I say I walk the district, I walk the district, and I don’t just drive by,” said Mr. Hamilton.

Mr. Dorancy also took shots at Mr. Hamilton’s understanding of immigration policy. When the former counsel to Mr. Adams said that the Dream Act would grant financial assistance to foreign-born college students, Mr. Dorancy carped at him, pointing out that the bill would in fact allow aid only to undocumented collegiates.

“The issue of the Dream Act is not having been born in another country. It’s critical that we focus on these issues and make sure we are familiar with them,” Mr. Dorancy said, before vowing to pass State Senator Gustavo Rivera’s New York Is Home Act–and goading Mr. Hamilton by not explaining the details of the amnesty legislation. “I’ll let some of you do research on it so you know what it is.”

De Blasio Blasts DNAinfo Report About Bratton Relationship

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 13:52

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio fiercely defended his relationship with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton today and slammed as “idiotic” a DNAinfo report that said he’d side with Rev. Al Sharpton over his top cop.

“Look, I have a high pain threshold when it comes to untruths being told in print, but this is ludicrous. It’s inappropriate. It’s idiotic,” Mr. de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference today. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said we have the finest police leader in the United States, and I believe that in my heart. I think Bill Bratton is doing an extraordinary job.”

The story cites “insiders” as believing if tension in the wake of Eric Garner’s death in policy custody worsens, Mr. de Blasio would “opt to stick with Sharpton rather than Bratton.”

Not so, the mayor said — adding he’s “sick of” stories that try to make the issues about specific personalities or conflicts.

“We are blessed to have Bill Bratton as our commissioner, and he is doing a great job and he and I are absolutely united in our approach in fighting crime and bringing police and community together,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We share a vision of bringing police and community together. That’s why stops are down. That’s why marijuana arrests are down.”

The mayor — who had not taken “off-topic” questions from the press since Friday night at 9 p.m. in Brooklyn — also knocked the story by longtime criminal justice scribe Murray Weiss for its anonymous sources.

“I wish that people that people would not talk to unnamed sources and would actually ask me,” Mr. de Blasio said. “I am quite available to answer the question.”

The DNAinfo report follows a tense moment when Mr. Sharpton blasted Mr. Bratton, sitting just feet away from him, in front of reporters at a City Hall roundtable, and as union leaders have bashed Mr. Sharpton and Mr. de Blasio for allowing him to attend the roundtable.

“We stand by our story,” DNAinfo Managing Editor Michael P. Ventura told the Observer via e-mail.

But today the mayor also backed Mr. Bratton on comments the commissioner made on the radio saying citizens should not resist arrest. Video of the encounter leading up to Mr. Garner’s death — which the medical examiner has ruled as a homicide cause by a chokehold — shows Mr. Garner verbally refusing to be arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes and asking police to leave him alone.

“He’s absolutely right, there’s no question about it,” Mr. de Blasio said of the commissioner’s comments. 

In a democratic society, Mr. de Blasio said, the police are tasked with enforcing the law. Arrest is just one tool police have, but when they decide to use it, Mr. de Blasio said, the public has a responsibility not to fight back.

“Once an officer has decided arrest is necessary, every New Yorker should agree to do what they need to do as a citizen, and respect the police officer and follow their guidance, and then there is a thorough due process system thereafter,” he said.

This story has been updated with a response from DNAinfo.

NYCLASS Hires Sheinkopf to Steer Mail Blitz

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 09:08

The front side of the NYCLASS mailer.

NYCLASS, the prominent animal rights group seeking to ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets, has added a veteran Democratic operative to steer its new direct mail blitz.

Henry Sheinkopf, who has worked as a consultant for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a host of city and state level candidates, will lead a new mail and field operation targeting the districts of City Council members undecided about the ban.

NYCLASS, short for New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets, will target the Brooklyn districts of Council members Mathieu Eugene and Laurie Cumbo, along with the Manhattan district of Councilman Daniel Garodnick–in addition to several others that have yet to be revealed. The operation will cost in the “six figures” and last into the fall, according to a NYCLASS source. (Mr. Garodnick, Ms. Cumbo and Mr. Eugene did not immediately return requests for comment.)

Mr. Sheinkopf, a consultant and lobbyist, has a long record of victories, though several of his City Council candidates failed to win office last year. He replaces the Advance Group, the firm that headed NYCLASS’ successful independent expenditure against Christine Quinn’s 2013 mayoral campaign but was dropped after a series of negative newspaper reports related to that effort surfaced.

The back side of the mailer.

The mailer is relatively graphic: the front side depicts what appears to be an injured or dead horse with the words, in large black letters, “Carriage horses have been injured and killed on NYC streets. Help us save their lives.” On the back, the mailer declares the horse carriage industry a “public menace” and urges the reader to call their local council member.

The mail campaign is just the latest salvo in what has been an aggressive campaign to ban horse-drawn carriages, which animal rights groups revile because they believe horses live inhumane lives on city streets. NYCLASS announced months ago they would begin lobbying individual council members to vote for a ban. Legislation, supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, has yet to be introduced, though some council observers believe a bill will eventually be presented to lawmakers.

“We appreciate the mayor’s consistent support for ending the unsafe and inhumane carriage horse industry,” Allie Feldman, the executive director of NYCLASS, told the Observer.

A ban is not assured, however, even with the mayor’s support. Unions representing the carriage drivers oppose the ban and are striking back against council members that have sided with NYCLASS. The labor-backed Working Families Party penned a letter to City Council members yesterday urging them not to ban the carriages, which the party argues are a source of stable income for several hundred people. Some council members have balked at supporting a ban until they know the carriage jobs will be replaced with equally well-paying gigs.

“The developers backing NYCLASS have spent millions attacking the working men and women of the horse carriage industry, but it hasn’t changed the fact that 66 percent New Yorkers support the carriages,” said a spokesman for the Teamsters union representing the carriage drivers. “That is what City Council members care about.”

There is a tinge of irony in the WFP’s opposition to the horse-carriage ban. Jon Kest, a founder of the party and an ally of Mr. de Blasio’s, also helped launch NYCLASS in 2008. Mr. Kest, along with his daughter, a NYCLASS organizer, passed away two years ago.

Updated with comment from the Teamsters union.

Andrew Cuomo Endorses Adriano Espaillat

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 08:50

State Senator Adriano Espaillat. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today endorsed State Senator Adriano Espaillat for re-election in his primary battle against challenger Robert Jackson, a former City Councilman.

Mr. Cuomo cited Mr. Espaillat’s work on affordable housing as the reason for supporting him for a third term representing upper Manhattan and parts of the west side in the senate.

“I am proud to endorse Senator Adriano Espaillat for re-election,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “Senator Espaillat has been a leader on housing and tenant issues and a fierce advocate for his constituents. I hope the voters of the 31st Senate District will join me in supporting Adriano, so we can continue to work together to protect affordable housing for all New Yorkers.”

Mr. Espaillat said he looked forward to working with Mr. Cuomo on renter concerns in his next term.

“Over two million New Yorkers are depending on us to renew and strengthen the rent laws next year, and I am thankful for the Governor’s support,” the Mr. Espaillat said.

The endorsement in the senate contest comes just months after Mr. Cuomo backed Congressman Charlie Rangel over Mr. Espaillat in the June primary for the seat Mr. Rangel has held since 1971. The victorious Mr. Rangel has endorsed Mr. Jackson, a longtime ally, to replace his former rival.

Mr. Jackson has been an outspoken critic of the governor’s support for charter schools and failure to pass public financing of elections. The pol also told the Observer last month that he had signed a nominating petition for Mr. Cuomo’s long-shot primary rival Zephyr Teachout and called for the governor to debate the Fordham professor, though he stopped short of making an endorsement in the race.

“I support her right to challenge. If anyone truly believes in democracy, she should be allowed to run. I want to see a debate, I want to see the governor debate her,” Mr. Jackson told the Observer. “We’ve been jammed by the governor on education, and he has jammed us on campaign finance reform.”

Barack Obama’s Toothless and Feckless Foreign Policy

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 08:30

Illustration by Dale Stephanos

A month after the German surrender ending the First World War, American President Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris to throngs of admirers. After four years of the most destructive war in human history, Europeans looked to Wilson to broker the peace. All over Europe there were parks, squares, streets and railway stations bearing his name. H.G. Wells described the scene in Paris on December 13, 1918 when the president entered the city. “He was transfigured in the eyes of men,” he wrote. “He ceased to be a common statesman; he became a Messiah.”

Like Woodrow Wilson, the arrival of President Barack Obama on the world stage was greeted with a fervor that bordered on religious worship. Despising President George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” many looked to Mr. Obama to order the peace.

Like Wilson, candidate Obama had promised to transform international relations: hope would overcome defeatism, diplomacy would replace aggression, a revived United Nations would tame American unilateralism. Gushing at the prospect of an Obama White House, Harvard University’s Joseph Nye spoke for many: “It is difficult to think of any single act that would do more to restore America’s soft power than the election of Obama to the presidency.”

Now, after almost six years, it is difficult to think of a time when American power—soft or hard—was so inconsequential. Indeed, the gulf between Mr. Obama’s vision of the world and the world as we find it is staggering.

An Orthodox priest gestures with a stick as Maidan self-defence activists clash Kiev-1 volunteer battalion in Kiev. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

The Syrian regime commits war crimes with impunity, creating a refugee crisis not seen since the Second World War. In a spasm of aggression thought a relic of the Cold War, Russia swallows up Crimea and destabilizes eastern Ukraine. The Arab Spring devolves into an endless winter of sectarian violence. Whatever gains U.S. forces made in establishing liberal and humane governments in Afghanistan and Iraq have completely unraveled: security is worse than ever and the one tiny island of pro-American sentiment faces extinction, as Kurdish towns fall to a new strain of virulent jihad. The forces of radical Islamic extremism—supposedly “decimated” a few years ago—are resurgent and threatening governments across the globe.

Many events are beyond any president’s control. Certainly the pathologies that afflict much of the Islamic world are impossible for any nation to cure. And Mr. Obama inherited botched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that severely damaged America’s standing and security in the world.

Nevertheless, the alarming fact remains that Mr. Obama seems not to understand the relationship of power to diplomacy. His vision of foreign policy, immature from the start, appears incapable of rising beyond campaign bromides and false choices. No president has so openly rejected America’s role as “the indispensable nation” in world affairs. The combined result is a leadership vacuum being filled by terror and disorder.

A Peace to End All Peace

Despite his self-description as a “student of history,” Mr. Obama embodies the worst foreign policy impulses of some of America’s most deeply flawed presidents. Let’s begin with Woodrow Wilson, an East Coast intellectual with a liberal Presbyterian moralism. Wilson regarded European “power politics” with high-minded revulsion. He believed that a new community of nations, committed to diplomacy and moral suasion, could eliminate war.

‘The world is less violent than it has ever been,’ Mr. Obama told a gathering earlier this summer. ‘It is more tolerant than it has ever been.’ In political science jargon, this is neither idealism nor realism—not even foreign policy minimalism. It is surrealism. (Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

“Wilson kept alive the hope that human society, despite the evidence, was getting better, that nations would one day live in harmony,” writes historian Margaret MacMillan. “In 1919, before disillusionment had set in, the world was more than ready to listen to him.”

Much of the world did listen, and the result was the hopelessly misguided Treaty of Versailles. Bearing Wilson’s imprint, the treaty created a feckless League of Nations that sought to end power politics through treaties, arms reductions and a global “brotherhood of man.”

Disillusionment set in almost instantly, as a militant and vengeful Germany waited in the wings. As George F. Kennan described it in his classic work, American Diplomacy, “This was the sort of peace you got when … you indulged yourself in the colossal conceit of thinking that you could suddenly make international life over into what you believed to be your own image.”

Woodrow Wilson’s Ghost Goes to Moscow

That’s a fair critique of the Obama doctrine, especially as it’s been applied to Russia. The diplomatic “reset” with Vladimir Putin focused on offering incentives to Moscow—giving up a missile-defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic—to achieve better relations with a demonstrably aggressive autocrat. Instead, it has produced the most dangerous international environment with Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Obama’s chief diplomat, Secretary of State John Kerry, channeling Wilson’s ghost, was stunned by Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty earlier in the year: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

A man throws a Molotov cocktail in Kiev. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

This childlike view of international relations was reinforced by Mr. Obama in a March 27 speech to the European Union. Although the president mentioned the importance of NATO to European security, he then made NATO irrelevant to the crisis. “Of course Ukraine is not a member of NATO, in part because of its close and complex history with Russia,” he said. “Nor will Russia be dislodged from Crimea or deterred from further escalation by military force.”

Wilson wanted “open diplomacy” to replace the diplomatic intrigues of the European powers. Announcing in advance to an aggressor that there will be no military response to further aggression is about as open as it gets. Mr. Putin has gotten the message: ignoring U.S. economic sanctions, he continues to supply separatist rebels with sophisticated arms and has massed another 20,000 Russian troops along the Ukraine border.

The Hubris of FDR and Obama

Mr. Obama’s foreign policy idealism is aggravated by his hubris—not the maligned Texas swagger of a Mr. Bush, but rather a fierce and narrow political ambition that ultimately endangers America’s national security interests.

In this, he walks in the steps of one of his political heroes, Franklin Roosevelt. FDR’s leadership during the Second World War is rightly praised: he presided over the transformation of America’s anemic economy into an “arsenal of democracy.”

Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, and Nouri Al-Maliki. (Photos by Getty Images)

But Roosevelt’s pre-war leadership was a disaster. Terrified of losing domestic support for his “New Deal,” he ignored the rising threat of international fascism. He gladly signed the neutrality acts of the 1930s, making it illegal for the United States to offer assistance to any combatant in a European war—no matter what the circumstances. Perfectly in step with the nation’s isolationist mood, he denounced the idea that America would side with the democracies in a European war as “100 percent wrong.”

It is often forgotten that FDR approved the infamous 1938 Munich Agreement—the diplomatic betrayal that delivered Czechoslovakia into Nazi hands and set the stage for the Second World War. While Winston Churchill denounced the pact as an “unmitigated defeat” for the cause of peace, Roosevelt asked Hitler for a guarantee that Germany would not attack other nations of Europe. (Hitler mocked the request during a Nazi party rally.)

Thus the devil in Berlin was emboldened, and the decade of appeasement reached its nadir.

Like Roosevelt, the hubris of Mr. Obama consists in his inclination to obscure unpleasant international realities for the sake of his political ambitions. For Mr. Obama, political success (re-election) depended on repudiating the foreign policies of his predecessor, regardless of the strategic consequences. Like FDR, he refuses to expend political capital to challenge a “war-weary” nation to exert its influence where it is desperately needed.

The Debacle in the Middle East

Hence the president’s catastrophic policies in the Middle East. Take Libya. The toppling of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, involving no U.S. ground troops and no loss of American lives, was trumpeted as the prudent alternative to Bush-style intervention. Mr. Obama called the military action “a lesson in what the international community can achieve when we stand together as one.”

A child sleeps as Iraqi Yazidis take refuge in Dohuk. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

The lesson, instead, is that the Obama administration will compromise national security in order to proclaim a foreign policy success. There is no other explanation for its clumsy deceptions in the days after the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, which killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Insisting the attack was not premeditated, the administration blamed a “very offensive video” for insulting Islam and stirring up resentments around the Arab world.

The act of terror, we were told, did not reflect growing al Qaeda influence in Libya because of American neglect. We now know all of this was a falsehood, maintained to serve a presidential election campaign. Today, Libya is in meltdown — its government in disarray, it offers safe harbor for jihadi terrorists as weapons and fighters from the former regime destabilize sub-Saharan Africa. 

Now take Syria. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president told reporters two years ago this month. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

In the end, Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people changed nothing. The Obama administration backed away from its threat to punish Mr. Assad militarily, leaving it to Russia—Mr. Assad’s most important ally—to orchestrate a deal to seize and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons

The White House says it was the prospect of American force that caused the Syrian leader to give up his chemical stockpile. Not likely. Secretary of State Kerry telegraphed to the regime the extent of the U.S. military threat, promising “an unbelievably small, limited kind of effort.” No administration in American history has described the use of U.S. military power in such diminutive terms. No dictator in history would have been frightened by it.

Mr. Assad has not been deterred from committing further war crimes—he is simply using other weapons of terror and destruction to remain in power (and probably still uses chemical weapons). The result, after three years of U.S. inaction, is that the conflict has metastasized into a regional disaster: 170,000 Syrians are dead, and 9 million have abandoned their homes, including 2.5 million who have fled to Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community carry their children as they cross the Iraqi-Syrian border. (Photo by Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

The Tragedy of Iraq

Let’s now consider Iraq. U.S. intelligence officials had been warning the administration for months that jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) were exploiting the chaos in Syria—they now control about a third of that country—and exporting it to Iraq. Their stunning success in seizing swaths of territory in northern and western Iraq could have been prevented.

Yet Mr. Obama—who failed to reach an agreement with Iraq to leave a contingent of U.S. forces to ensure stability—lays all blame at the feet of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for his divisive leadership. The United States, Mr. Obama says, “is simply not going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they’re prepared to work together.” It is hard to conceive of a more soothing message to the jihadists in the region.

In addition to major cities and towns, ISIS extremists are seizing dams, refineries and oil fields. This gives them access to cash and the ability to coerce unwilling populations into submission. Their aim is the establishment of a totalitarian, pre-modern caliphate, extending across the region. We face the gruesome prospect of Iraq—a nation for which the United States has sacrificed blood and treasure—forcibly absorbed into this dystopian future.

History will severely judge an American president who cannot or will not muster an alliance of nations to defeat this malignancy in the heart of the Middle East. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

It is already happening. ISIS forces have captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and the nation’s largest dam, which provides water and power to millions. They continue to seize cities and towns across western and northern Iraq, giving ethnic and religious minorities the same choice: leave, convert to Islam or be executed. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are being driven from their homes. Only days ago, the extremists have taken over Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, forcing its nearly 60,000 residents to flee.

Yet none of this has created in President Obama a sense of urgency. Only the latest crisis in northwest Iraq, where tens of thousands of Yezidis are trapped in the peaks of Mount Sinjar, has prodded the president to action. Facing starvation, yet fearing death if they descend into areas controlled by ISIS, the Yezidis have become a wretched symbol of human suffering and American impotence. In a token gesture of humanitarian intervention, U.S. air strikes—no doubt “incredibly small and limited”—began last week. Even so, when the Pentagon was asked this week if there were plans to actually prevent a genocide of the Yezidis and create a corridor to safety, the answer was the usual prevarication: “We’re assessing the situation.”

Despite the growing threat to U.S. security, as well as the appalling level of human suffering, the president has yet to offer a strategic vision for actually defeating the extremists. Several hundred U.S. “advisors” have been dispatched, but to no visible effect. A targeted, sustained and punishing air assault—the one action that could put the fear of God into the jihadists—is not even being contemplated. History will severely judge an American president who cannot or will not muster an alliance of nations to defeat this malignancy in the heart of the Middle East.

Power and Diplomacy 

In all this President Obama betrays his fundamental error, both intellectual and moral—the delusion that war is an unmitigated evil, easily avoidable, and that peace is the natural order of the universe.

Writing during the 1940s, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr assailed these “moralistic illusions” in his book Christianity and Power Politics. Modern liberalism, he said, has forgotten that the failure to use power effectively, to protect civilization, is a moral failure of the highest order. “In this liberalism there is little understanding of the depth to which human malevolence may sink and the heights to which malignant power may rise,” he wrote. “Some easy and vapid escape is sought from the terrors and woes of a tragic era.”

For most of his presidency Mr. Obama has sought an easy way out of the terrors of our age. His vapid foreign policy slogan was proudly announced on Air Force One: “Don’t do stupid shit.” Paralysis, however, is not the same thing as prudence. In this case it has invited a storm of violence, barbarism and insecurity.

Rebel fighters from the Islamic Front hold a position during clashes with militants of the Islamic State (IS). (Photo Ahmed Deeb/AFP/Getty Images)

A genocidal Islamist movement sweeps through Syria and Iraq, and the administration is “watching these events carefully.” Christian communities throughout Africa and the Middle East experience persecution not seen since the days of the Romans, and the leader of the free world remains in denial. “The world is less violent than it has ever been,” Mr. Obama told a gathering earlier this summer. “It is more tolerant than it has ever been.” In political science jargon, this is neither idealism nor realism—not even foreign policy minimalism. It is surrealism.

Thus the president persists with his diplomatic mantra: “There is no military solution to this problem.” What Mr. Obama fails to grasp is that any achievement toward peace and democracy—any diplomatic triumph—depends on the projection of American military power. The defeat of Nazism, the transformation of Japan and Germany into liberal democracies, the rescue of South Korea from communist tyranny, the liberation of Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union—none of it is conceivable apart from the credible threat of America’s armed forces.

Great statesmen, Democrat and Republican, have understood this political reality. They did not always authorize force to counter tyranny, but they used the threat of American hard power to support soft power strategies that worked. Harry Truman did this during the 1948 Berlin crisis when—ignoring advice to abandon the city—he ordered a massive, round-the-clock airlift to keep the West Berliners alive in the face of a Soviet blockade. Truman, the architect of NATO, knew that the preservation of democracy in West Berlin was the key to protecting freedom in the rest of Europe.

Ronald Reagan accomplished something similar when he vigorously supported the Solidarity movement in communist Poland in the 1980s. During the long years of martial law, the United States delivered a steady supply of covert assistance to help sustain the pro-democracy forces. As the Soviets struggled to match Reagan’s military build-up, the democratic revolution in Poland became the first crack in the Berlin Wall.

“The Polish nation, speaking through Solidarity, has provided one of the brightest, bravest moments of modern history,” Reagan told the American people in December 1981. “The torch of liberty is hot. It warms those who hold it high. It burns those who try to extinguish it.”

Mr. Obama, haunted by the demons of Vietnam and Iraq, cannot seem to decide what to do with the torch of liberty. And his ambivalence communicates American weakness. The problem is that the dark and demonic forces of this world are not in retreat. They thrive on democratic weakness. They advance when they sense a lack of political and spiritual resolve.

What power on earth can keep them at bay? Without its champion, the United States, liberty’s torch threatens to become a smoldering wick, overwhelmed in a world of shadows and fog.

Joseph Loconte is an associate professor of history at The King’s College in New York City and the author of God, Locke, and Liberty: The Struggle for Religious Freedom in the West (Lexington Press, 2014; josephloconte.com)

Cuomo and Leaders Depart for Israel, Blasting Hamas

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 18:10

An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome missile defense system. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Gov. Andrew Cuomo voiced his support for Israel while Senate Co-Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver took turns blasting the Palestinian group Hamas before taking off for a whirlwind 30-hour trip to the Holy Land today.

Speaking at John F. Kennedy Airport this afternoon, Mr. Cuomo and his colleagues expressed their fierce support for the Jewish state amid the bloody recent conflict with the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The governor argued that Hamas had provoked the violence by firing missiles at Israeli civilian centers.

“Israel is under siege,” said Mr. Cuomo. “Our message is clear: we stand with Israel and we support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

The governor said he and his entourage of political leaders would not be taking up an invitation from the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations to visit the Gaza Strip, where nearly 2,000 individuals–both militants and civilians–have died since fighting broke out in July. Mr. Cuomo said the emissary extended the welcome too late for the pols to schedule any stops in Palestinian-controlled territory.

“The letter came in very late today, and I haven’t been able to see it yet. This is a 30-hour trip and scheduled to the minute,” he said.

Mr. Cuomo, however, emphasized that he hoped for a peaceful resolution for all parties involved in the conflict–which has stalled for three days as negotiations are underway in Cairo.

“Everyone agrees the killing must stop. That’s the first and most important hope: peace for the Israelis, peace for the Palestinians,” said Mr. Cuomo.

For State Senator Jeffrey Klein, a senate co-majority leader, the trip is deeply personal because he is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, he said.

“This is very, very personal to me,” Mr. Klein said.

Mr. Silver and Mr. Skelos, however, had harsh words for the leadership of the Gaza Strip. The Assembly leader reiterated Israeli arguments that Hamas is to blame for the heavy civilian death toll, as the group stores its armaments in densely populated areas.

“The Palestinians are using their citizens to protect their missiles, and that is why there are so many casualties,” Mr. Silver, who is Orthodox Jewish, said.

For his part, Mr. Skelos said any visit to Gaza would validate Hamas in spite of its Islamist militancy and history of deliberately using rockets and suicide bombers against civilians.

“Why would I want to go there and so lend any credibility to Hamas?” the Long Island Republican said.

The governor turned down the opportunity to echo his colleagues’ sentiments, and instead reaffirmed that the voyage was to show support and sympathy for the Israelis.

“The purpose of this trip is to show solidarity with Israel,” said Mr. Cuomo, adding that he does not intend to travel back to the region to make stops in Gaza. “We’re not going to be planning any other trips.”

Koppell Calls Klein a ‘Reptile’ in Scathing Mailer

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 15:49

The front side of the Oliver Koppell-sponsored reptile mailer.

Leaping lizards.

Oliver Koppell is throwing some slime at State Senator Jeffrey Klein, accusing the majority leader of being a “cold-blooded reptile” in scathing new campaign literature. The mailer, to drive the point home, features what appears to be an iguana photo-shopped over an image of the state capitol building

“Do we really want a coldblooded political reptile representing us in Albany?” the front side of the mailer, paid for by Mr. Koppell’s campaign, asks.

On the back, it cites several negative news stories about Mr. Klein, the leader of a breakaway group of Democrats that govern the senate with the Republican Party. The mailer features a glowering image of Mr. Klein with superimposed scales.

“Say no to Jeff Klein,” the mailer reads. “Vote to end corruption in Albany!”

The back side of the mailer.

Mr. Koppell launched his bid because of Mr. Klein’s association with the GOP, arguing to voters that Mr. Klein betrayed the Democratic Party by keeping them in the minority. The rationale for his campaign took a hit, however, when the Independent Democratic Conference agreed to govern the senate with the Democratic Party after the fall elections. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, endorsed Mr. Klein, along with many labor unions. The Bronx political establishment is also firmly in Mr. Klein’s corner.

Mr. Klein’s camp, in response to the mailer, bashed Mr. Koppell for authoring the bill to temporarily repeal a city term limits law, an unpopular move citywide.

“The voters of the 34th State Senate District deserve better. Oliver Koppell spent 12 years taking up space in the City Council,” said Candice Giove, a spokeswoman for Mr. Klein. “His only claim to fame is his legislation to repeal term limits after the voters made it abundantly clear in two referendum that they favored term limits.”

Bill de Blasio: It Doesn’t Matter That New York’s Not a Swing State

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 14:13

A scene from the DNC committee arriving in New York City. (Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office)

Don’t tell Mayor Bill de Blasio that only swing states should have political conventions.

Mr. de Blasio, like Senator Charles Schumer, rejected the notion that Brooklyn shouldn’t play host to the Democratic National Convention in 2016 because New York State, very likely to vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic presidential contender, is less pivotal for the national party than places like Pennsylvania, which is also vying for the convention, or Ohio, where the 2016 Republican convention will be held.

“The message in the hall is what matters. Everything else is being created to facilitate what happens in the hall,” Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, told reporters this morning outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Mr. de Blasio said he didn’t believe a convention in a toss-up region could actually swing votes–Charlotte, North Carolina hosted the 2012 Democratic convention and Republican Mitt Romney narrowly won the state–and compared the line of logic to the conventional wisdom that a vice presidential contender should hail from a certain region of the country to balance the ticket.

“Our politics and our discourse has changed over the years. Not long ago in America, there was this ironclad assumption that the vice presidential candidate had to come from a certain region or that the state they came from they would carry out of local pride and that was really a deep, deep assumption for many decades in American politics. That assumption was dispelled in recent decades,” Mr. de Blasio said.

“I think there’s been an assumption at times that a convention in a swing state has a particular lift–I don’t think that’s been proven in fact,” he added.

Mr. de Blasio is pitching Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as DNC delegates visit the city this week to decide whether it should house the convention. A decision–delegates will pick among Philadelphia, Phoenix, Columbus, Ohio and Birmingham, Alabama–is expected to come at the end of this year or early next year.

Mr. de Blasio argued that the convention is a business for the party and the city–and a Brooklyn convention will be good for both.

“It has to be cost efficient, it cannot leave the party in debt–it has to be a good business, if you will, equation for the Democratic Party because the real business happens after,” the mayor said. “The convention is a foundation for the months immediately following.”

Bill de Blasio Vows He Won’t Make ‘Mistakes’ of Republican Convention

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 12:37

Protesters blocking traffic during the 2004 convention. (Photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Mayor Bill de Blasio may be pushing to bring the Democratic National Convention to Brooklyn, but he doesn’t necessarily have fond memories of the last time a national convention came to New York City.

Mr. de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, told reporters outside the Barclays Center today that his administration would not make the same “mistakes” of the 2004 Republican National Convention, when scores of protesters clashed with police and filed lawsuits against the city.

“I think we’re very good at accommodating people’s right to speak. We learned a lot from the mistakes of 2004. I think we’re going to do things in a way that reflects our values and I think it’ll work because we have the greatest police force in the nation,” Mr. de Blasio said.

“The time to really start those plans will be if the DNC decides to grant us the convention,” he added, providing no further details about how the city would avoid the same kinds of lawsuits again.

The city agreed early this year to pay nearly $18 million to settle civil rights claims of thousands of people arrested during the 2004 convention at Madison Square Garden, which nominated Republican George W. Bush for a second term in office. Police arrested more than 1,800 anti-Iraq War protesters, bystanders and journalists. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, lobbied for the convention to come to the city over the protests of Democrats and liberals.

Now Mr. de Blasio is hoping for a smoother, legacy-building 2016 convention at the Barclays Center, a basketball arena in downtown Brooklyn. Brooklyn is competing against Philadelphia, Phoenix, Columbia, Ohio and Birmingham, Alabama: members of the Democratic National Committee’s Technical Advisory Group are visiting Brooklyn this week to assess its viability as a DNC site. Democrats are pitching Brooklyn as the sort of up-and-coming, transit-rich borough that can play host to a successful convention, bringing in cash for both the city and the Democratic Party.

The two days of DNC talk are also, at the minimum, a welcome distraction for the mayor. For the second day in a row, Mr. de Blasio took only on-topic questions from reporters (yesterday about an inequality summit with other mayors and today about the DNC), dodging the cauldron of race and policing that has dominated news cycles for the past month since a black Staten Island man, Eric Garner, died in police custody on July 17.

Letitia James Will Represent Unaccompanied Immigrant Children in Court

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 12:24

Public Advocate Tish James during a January council meeting. (Photo: Official NYC Council/William Alatriste.)

Public Advocate Letitia James is calling on lawyers to help represent unaccompanied children pro bono in federal immigration cases — and said she’d join them.

“As the public advocate and an attorney, previously worked of the Legal Aid Society, I will also serve as an attorney in this capacity, pro bono,” Ms. James said at a press conference on the City Hall steps Tuesday.

A coalition of groups joined Ms. James to announce monthly clinics to train attorneys who would like to volunteer to represent children in federal immigration court, and set up a “help desk” in federal court to provide the children with resources and representation. The need has grown more urgent, Ms. James and activists said, as the federal government has decided to prioritize the cases of the unaccompanied children and adults with children in what is being called a “surge docket.”

“Imagine my horror, our horror when we found out the federal government had ordered the court just down the street to expedite the cases of the most vulnerable children — those fleeing horrific conditions in Central America on their own, crossing the border on their own,” Eve Stotland, director of legal services at The Door, a youth services organization providing legal help.

Ms. Stotland called the sped-up process a “deportation conveyer belt for children.”

More and more young children have been illegally entering the country alone as they flee violence in their home countries, sparking controversy here about how to handle their arrival. The federal government has run out of space to house the children; many who arrive in New York — second only to Texas in the number of children arriving, Ms. James said — are placed in the care of relatives pending court appearances, but others end up in the custody of Homeless Services. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others have called on the city to identify other locations the children can be housed.

“In my mind, this situation is a humanitarian and refugee issue — not an immigration issue,” Ms. James said.

Councilman Carlos Menchaca, chair of the Immigration Committee, compared the flood of unaccompanied children into the country to Hurricane Sandy.

“We’re gonna come with every force we can — this is a true humanitarian crisis, the city has experienced before,” Mr. Menchaca said. “And we want to make sure we have that same caliber response we did with Sandy. This is the kind of crisis we’re in today.”

Ms. James said she did not know when might represent a child in court — she will attend one of the planned trainings first, to brush up on the necessary aspects of immigration and family law.

Children and others in court for immigration charges do not have a right to an attorney — so if they cannot afford one or do not have family to help them find one, they go unrepresented in their hearings. Appearing in court with a lawyer gives a child a significantly higher chance of being able to stay in the country, Ms. James and advocates said, typically by proving they face a threat to their safety in their home country.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the title of Eve Stotland.

Bill Bratton: Minority Communities Want More Policing

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 10:33

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty).

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton argued on the air this morning that New York’s communities of color are crying out for more policing–even in the wake of a death of a black Staten Island man in police custody and the resulting outcry.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top cop told listeners of the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC that strict enforcement of minor offenses–known as the “broken windows” policy–is a result of complaints the police department hears from residents and elected leaders from black and Latino neighborhoods. Eric Garner, who died last month in what has been ruled a homicide after an officer placed him in an apparent chokehold, was allegedly selling tax-free cigarettes at the time of his fatal encounter with police.

“Those communities definitely want more police in their neighborhoods,” said Mr. Bratton. “The reality of policing is that selective enforcement is often what neighborhoods and the leaders of neighborhoods ask for.”

The commissioner recalled a meeting with minority leaders shortly after Mr. Garner’s death–though he did not name them–in which the elected officials all requested a crackdown on noisy parties and barbecues. Mr. Bratton argued that that the NYPD would come under fire if it pursued reactive, rather than preventative, policing.

“If we started responding only to 911 emergency calls or 311 quality of life calls, there would be a phenomenal hue and cry that we were neglecting minorities,” Mr. Bratton said. “We are being drawn into the neighborhood by the requests of the leaders of the neighborhood.”

The police leader pointed out that the law requires cooperation during an arrest. The video of Mr. Garner’s death records him vowing not to be taken in.

“What we’ve seen in the past few months is a number of individuals failing to understand that you must submit to arrest, you cannot resist,” said Mr. Bratton. “The place to argue your case is in the court, not in the street.”

The commissioner finally noted that many more people of color die from street violence than from police abuse.

“You have tens of thousands of young men and women in this country being killed by acts of violence. I think we need more attention on that,” Mr. Bratton said. “We have generations of young men and women, many in minority communities, unfortunately that are killing each other at a fast and furious pace. The loss of life at the hands of the police is unfortunate, but it pales in comparison to the loss of life due to incidents of violence in this country.”

Mr. Garner’s death triggered a bitter backlash against Mr. Bratton and his “broken windows” philosophy from black leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton and former city councilman Charles Barron, both of whom alleged that police policies unfairly target and harm minority men. In turn, police union leaders have also accused Mr. de Blasio if being too close to Mr. Sharpton and not supporting cops.

Groups Slam Campbell Brown’s Republican Registration

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 09:20

Campbell Brown. (Photo: Facebook)

Left-leaning groups slammed former CNN host Campbell Brown this morning for registering to vote as a Republican, further attempting to discredit the charter school activist as she brings a lawsuit against teacher tenure in New York.

The Alliance for Quality Education and New York Communities for Change–two left-leaning organizations with ties to Mayor Bill de Blasio and labor groups like the United Federation of Teachers–said Ms. Brown, who has touted her political independence, had been “caught in a lie” for telling critics on Twitter that she is not a Republican.

“The Real Campbell Brown has trouble telling the truth, and now she’s been caught in another lie. She’s a Republican with close ties to conservative Wall Street leaders, and has zero credibility on education. In my more than 10 years of advocating for equitable education funding, she’s been silent. I’ve never heard her fight to improve public schools or help vulnerable kids,” Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director of the Alliance for Quality Education, told the Observer.

The two groups are behind the “Real Campbell Brown” campaign, an aggressive operation aimed at highlighting Ms. Campbell’s ties to conservative causes in an otherwise liberal, overwhelmingly Democratic city.

Ms. Brown, who the city Board of Elections database shows is registered as a Republican, said through a spokesperson that she is a “lifelong independent” who has registered as a Democrat and a Republican in the past to vote in city primaries, and has given political donations only to Democrats. The spokesperson also said Ms. Brown is now not registered in a party, a fact that could not be immediately and independently confirmed.

Ms. Brown’s reps also hit Ms. Ansari for defending teacher tenure, which activists like Ms. Brown argue protects failing teachers at the expense of students. Ms. Brown hopes to weaken teacher tenure laws here in the wake of a successful lawsuit that could dismantle teacher tenure in California if the court decision survives an appeal.

(Defenders of teacher tenure contend that the hard-won protections are needed to attract good teachers and guard against against unfair, politically-motivated firings.)

“More inaccurate personal smears from a group bought and paid for by the United Federation of Teachers,” said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Ms. Brown. “Will Ms. Ansari ever address the public school parents who are suing the state to end New York’s broken tenure policy? Of course not, because she doesn’t have an answer.”

The city’s Board of Elections did not return requests for comment.

Democrat Albert Baldeo Convicted of Obstructing Justice

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 16:23

Albert Baldeo. (Photo: Baldeo campaign)

Albert Baldeo, a former Democratic district leader and candidate for city and state office, was found guilty of obstructing justice today, though he was acquitted of mail and wire fraud charges.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara indicted Mr. Baldeo two years ago for orchestrating a straw donor scheme to funnel illegal contributions to his 2010 campaign for City Council. Mr. Baldeo, Mr. Bharara alleged at the time, also asked his straw donors to lie to federal investigators once he learned the feds were probing the alleged scheme.

Mr. Baldeo, a Richmond Hill attorney who also nearly unseated a Republican state senator in 2006, faced 10 charges and was acquitted on all three related to mail and wire fraud, according to court documents. He was found guilty on the seven other charges related to conspiracy and obstructing justice, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bharara confirmed.

The fact that Albert Baldeo lost his election does not excuse his corrupt conduct. With today’s verdict of guilty, an impartial federal jury has found that Mr. Baldeo lied and instructed others to lie to law enforcement agents investigating the source of his campaign contributions, and threatened and intimidated others in order to conceal the truth,” Mr. Bharara said in a statement. “These practices have no place in our politics or our justice system, and there should be no doubt that this Office will prosecute such conduct while it continues to vigorously investigate and prosecute political corruption in New York City and New York State.”

Each of the seven charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Mr. Baldeo did not immediately return a request for comment, though a group known as “People for Baldeo” defended Mr. Baldeo for being acquitted on the mail and wire fraud charges.

“It is clear that our precious tax dollars are being spent in targeting Mr. Baldeo selectively and vindictively and this lynching must be stopped. We challenge all right thinking people to condemn these grave civil, human rights, constitutional and voting rights violations,” the group said. “We demand an immediate end to this political witch hunt of Albert Baldeo, and call upon these agencies which are funded by our tax dollars to stop this harassment and vendetta against him now!”

Updated with statements from Mr. Bharara and People for Baldeo. 

On Moreland, Gillibrand Won’t Defend Cuomo

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 15:23

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told the Observer today that she supported the federal investigation into Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s alleged interference with the anti-corruption Moreland Commission.

Ms. Gillibrand declined to comment on what she personally thought of reports that Mr. Cuomo’s aides had ordered the panel–charged with rooting out unethical activity on the part of state politicians–to drop subpoenas of organizations linked to the governor. She did, however, tell the Observer that she believed that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was right in his decision to look into Mr. Cuomo’s handling of the panel–which he formed last year but disbanded after just 18 months, sooner than expected.

“I think reviewing it is smart, and I think it is important to have this kind of transparency in government,” Ms. Gillibrand said at an unrelated press conference in Queens today.

Mr. Cuomo has long maintained that since he appointed the commission’s members, he was free to dismiss the panel and intervene in its activities. But that contrasts with comments the governor made upon assembling the commission–when he claimed it would enjoy absolute independence and the freedom to investigate anyone, including himself.

Ms. Gillibrand refused to remark on what she thought of the governor’s argument.

“Obviously there is an investigation going on, and I’m sure they will sort things out. It’s important that we have transparency in government,” the junior senator from New York said.

Ms. Gillibrand follows fellow Senator Charles Schumer in declining to defend Mr. Cuomo and his aides.

“It’s an ongoing investigation so I’m not going to comment,” Mr. Schumer told the Observer last week.

Mr. Bharara is a former aide to Mr. Schumer and widely seen as his protege–and a potential future candidate for governor.

Ms. Gillibrand’s stance sets her at odds with Congressman Charlie Rangel and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both of whom have defended Mr. Cuomo in the days since the Moreland Commission story broke.

Mr. Cuomo’s spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cuomo Camp Fails to Knock Teachout From Ballot

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 14:32

Zephyr Teachout (Facebook: Zephyr Teachout).

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout won a major victory in her challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo today, when a Brooklyn court dismissed claims from the incumbent’s campaign that the Fordham University professor has not lived in New York long enough to run for its executive office.

The Cuomo team had contended that Ms. Teachout, a major underdog in the race, had not lived in New York State for a full five years, subpoenaing a raft of her tax and personal records.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Edgar Walker, however, determined this afternoon that the allegations that Ms. Teachout had resided in her native Vermont in the past half-decade were spurious–just as the Board of Elections ruled on the Cuomo campaign’s challenges to Ms. Teachout’s nominating petitions. In his decision, Mr. Walker noted that Ms. Teachout’s voter registration and tax documents placed her in a series of apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn between 2009 and 2014, from which she commuted to her job at Fordham.

“It is evident that since June 2009, Ms. Teachout has clearly ‘lived’ in New York, as that term is commonly understood, in order to pursue her career as a Fordham professor,” Mr. Walker wrote in his ruling. “The court finds that the petitioners have not met their burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Teachout fails to meet the constitutional residency requirement.”

Ms. Teachout was triumphant after the decision, and demanded Mr. Cuomo debate her before the September primary.

“Today we beat the Governor and his old boys club in court. His two attempts to knock me off the ballot have failed–first by challenging my petition signatures, and second by challenging my residency,” said Ms. Teachout in a statement. “We won rounds one and two. Now it’s time for round three: a debate. New York Democrats deserve a debate between Andrew Cuomo and myself about the issues that real New Yorkers care about: schools, fracking, corruption and building a fair and strong economy.”

The Cuomo team’s attorney attacked Ms. Teachout, claiming she misrepresented her residency on her taxes, and vowed to appeal Mr. Walker’s decision.

“Ms. Teachout admitted under oath that she misrepresented her address on official and tax documents. Will Ms. Teachout be paying the taxes owed to the State of New York? We will be appealing today’s decision,” said lawyer Martin Connor, a former Brooklyn state senator.

Updated to include Mr. Connor’s comments. 

Philadelphia Mayor Plays Nice on Democratic National Convention Rivalry with New York

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 13:38

At right, Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter earlier this year. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

While Senator Charles Schumer took some shots at the cities vying against New York to hold the 2016 Democratic National Convention, the mayor of Philadelphia–a chief rival–played nice while he was in town Monday.

After a meeting of a U.S. Conference of Mayors task force at Gracie Mansion, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said he wouldn’t make his case for his city “while standing literally in the mayor’s backyard.”

“Every city has their highlights, has their strengths, and I am sure that Mayor de Blasio and his team will put on a very, very good presentation over the next two days. I plan to do the same on Wednesday and Thursday,” Mr. Nutter told reporters. “Ultimately, a committee will decide and we’ll go from there. So you know, I think of the moment I’m gonna wish my friend the best of luck — up to a certain point, and then we’ll do our best on Wednesday and Thursday.”

The Democratic National Committee’s Technical Advisory Group is in Brooklyn early this week to check out the borough and heard Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pitch that the convention should be held at the Barclays Center.

Philadelphia could have a bit of an edge because Pennsylvania is considered a swing state, though it has gone Democratic in presidential races since 1988. And New York has its own advantages — it’s said to be supported by former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton, who represented the state in the Senate and is thought to be a 2016 contender.

While other elected officials were cheerleading for the DNC in Brooklyn, Mr. de Blasio repeatedly refused to answer questions about the city’s bid for the convention during the Gracie Mansion press conference with a slew of other mayors, including Mr. Nutter. He dismissed the questions as “off-topic” — even when reporters sought to tie the issue to how mayors can work together while competing, or how hosting the event fits into their vision for addressing income inequality — and said he’d address the DNC bid tomorrow.

As Mr. de Blasio shot down a reporter’s question as a “nice try,” Mr. Nutter walked over to the podium beside him.

“This is my good friend. This is my good friend, right here,” Mr. Nutter said, taking Mr. de Blasio’s hand in his and raising them up.

“Thank you, brother,” Mr. de Blasio replied.

After the press conference, Mr. Nutter said there was a “passing acknowledgment” about the competition during the closed-press meeting of mayors from around the country.

“We have a great personal friendship and a great professional relationship as well,” he said. “Today was not about that at all — it was about income inequality.”

Schumer Mocks Other Cities as Brooklyn Vies for Convention

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 12:25

Senator Charles Schumer outside the Barclays Center Monday. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Senator Charles Schumer is not a fan of Los Angeles’ traffic, Chicago’s buses or Charlotte’s roadways.

That much was made clear this morning as New York’s senior senator pitched the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as the best site for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. As Mr. Schumer, along with many of the city’s elected officials, boosted the borough of Kings, the senator took time to compare Brooklyn to cities that hosted past Democratic conventions, casting the old sites in highly unfavorable light.

“There is no, no, no better place than Brooklyn, New York for the convention,” Mr. Schumer, a Brooklyn native, declared. “To say we don’t have hotel space is a canard. We have better hotel space than any other city and it’s closer to the convention center than it has been in most of the other cities, believe me, I was there, I sat in the traffic in L.A., sat on the buses in Chicago, tried to find my way around Charlotte and all those highways.”

Mr. Schumer also aggressively rejected suggestions that New York City, situated in a state that is almost guaranteed to vote overwhelmingly for a Democrat in 2016, shouldn’t have a convention center because it’s not one of the key battlegrounds that will determine the next president of the United States. “We are appealing–you win elections these days by appealing to voters. The best way to appeal to voters in America, they want a bright future, they want the American dream, symbolized by the lady in our harbor, to burn brightly,” he said.

“There is no place that says the American dream burns brightly better than Brooklyn. Like America, they counted us out but we came back and America’s gonna come back and the convention is gonna symbolize that–that knocks anything that Pennsylvania, Ohio or Arizona [has],” Mr. Schumer added.

Members of the Democratic National Committee’s Technical Advisory Group will be in the city the next few days to hear Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Brooklyn pitch. The mayor, a stalwart Democrat who is quickly becoming a national figure in liberal circles, is pushing hard for the 2016 convention to come to the Barclays Center, a basketball arena erected in 2012. Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Clinton, also reportedly favor a Brooklyn convention (Ms. Clinton, a former New York senator, is a rumored 2016 candidate).

Brooklyn is competing against Phoenix, Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio and Birmingham, Alabama for the Democratic convention. The city has played host to conventions many times before: Manhattan most recently held the 2004 Republican National Convention and Mr. Clinton accepted his party’s nomination at Madison Square Garden in 1992.

Mr. de Blasio was not on hand to meet the media outside Barclays Center this morning, but high-ranking members of his administration were present. Alicia Glen, the deputy mayor for housing and economic development, extolled the economic value of a convention in Brooklyn, while Peter Ragone, Mr. de Blasio’s senior adviser and a former spokesman for the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, took questions from reporters.

A procession of pols, including Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, boosted Brooklyn as the diverse, cutting edge sort of borough that is ready to host a convention. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton spoke briefly about the borough’s plummeting crime and its bevy of public transportation options, while Atlantic Yards and Barclays Center developer Bruce Ratner praised the glittering arena he overcame community protest to build.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo, who represents the district that encompasses the Barclays Center, thought Brooklyn’s je ne sais quoi alone could win the day.

“We have swag on lock down,” Ms. Cumbo said. “A convention anywhere else in the United States of America is just going to be ‘eh.'”