Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Stealth Election in NYC: Community & Citywide Education Council Elections

Did you know that there was an election on here in NYC for Education Councils? I didn't until just recently. This seems to be a Bloomberg gesture to increase parent participation in the educational system, yet that gesture seems to be made on the sly in a way that no actual parents will know about it. Maybe some schools are publicizing it, but not from anything I have heard. And no political activists I know are talking about it. And not even any of the politicians I know have talked about it. Who knows about it???

But there is a website.

Here is what it says about the Councils:

Community and Citywide Education Councils (CECs) are education policy advisors responsible for reviewing and evaluating schools’ instructional programs, approving zoning lines, advising the Chancellor and hold meetings at least every month with the superintendent and the public at-large to discuss the current state of the schools in the district. CECs are an essential and critically important part of the public decision-making process in New York City’s public schools. Each council consists of at least nine elected parent volunteers who provide hands-on leadership and support for their community's public schools. Council members hold meetings at least every month with the superintendent and public at-large to discuss the current state of the schools in the district.

* There are 32 Community Education Councils (CECs) in New York City. Each CEC oversees a Community School District that includes public elementary, intermediate, and junior high schools.

* In addition, there are two Citywide Education Councils that represent the interests of high school and special education parents. These are the Citywide Council on High Schools (CCHS), and the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE)

Community and Citywide Education Councils (CECs) are education policy advisors responsible for reviewing and evaluating schools’ instructional programs, approving zoning lines, advising the Chancellor and hold meetings at least every month with the superintendent and the public at-large to discuss the current state of the schools in the district. CECs are an essential and critically important part of the public decision-making process in New York City’s public schools. Each council consists of at least nine elected parent volunteers who provide hands-on leadership and support for their community's public schools. Council members hold meetings at least every month with the superintendent and public at-large to discuss the current state of the schools in the district.

* There are 32 Community Education Councils (CECs) in New York City. Each CEC oversees a Community School District that includes public elementary, intermediate, and junior high schools.

* In addition, there are two Citywide Education Councils that represent the interests of high school and special education parents. These are the Citywide Council on High Schools (CCHS), and the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE)

The deadline to apply to run is March 19th. Go here to apply.

Voting will be ONLINE (meaning parents without computers are disenfranchised, particularly since library hours have been cut back). The chance for all parents with kids in public schools (not sure I qualify since Sarah is at Hunter...part of the public school system but technically not a public school?). But then again, that online vote is ONLY ADVISORY! Yes, the actual decision is made by "the President, Secretary, and Treasurer – collectively referred to as "Parent Selectors" – of every PA/PTA in the district."

So it is a secret election, conducted online for parents with access to a computer, that isn't really an election but only an "advisory vote." But then again, I guess so our Presidential elections are only "advisory votes" to some degree. Here is what the website has to say about the relationship between the advisory vote and the real vote (at least they are upfront about it!):

The "Straw Vote" or Advisory Vote is not binding and there is not an appeal process. However the Parent Selectors are expected to vote in good faith and take the results of the parent’s Advisory Vote into serious consideration.

There are informational and candidate forums being held. Go here to see the calender of forums.

The whole things seems suspicious to me, but if done in good faith, and problems of lack of publicity and the disenfranchisement of parents without computers, it is a step in the right direction to make our schools responsible to parents and not just a mayor who has no stake in the public schools. And I urge as many people as possible to get involved both as candidates and as advisory voters. I know all those reading this have computers so you have no excuse not to vote if you have kids in the school system. I need to check if I qualify this year (next year Jacob will be in public school) and then decide if I have time to run and serve (I don't! But...)

Let me know if any of you have more info on this. It could be an important thing for our schools.

Endorsement List


Mayor: Neutral between Thompson and Weiner (if he stop dithering and runs). Pluses and minuses for both.

Public Advocate: Norman Siegel wholeheartedly.

Comptroller: Best candidate is clearly John Liu. This is partly because he is a good, somewhat nerdy/technocrat kind of guy, but also partly because all other candidates are largely sellouts. David Weprin seems a distant second to Liu.


33rd City Council District: Jo Anne Simon.

34th City Council District: Diana Reyna. The first woman of Dominican-American descent to be elected to NYC public office. Reyna is being heavily targeted by Brooklyn Boss Vito Lopez because she hasn't gone along with his corruption. Seems to me a certain Surrogate Judge had a similar experience and won when Vito tried to take his revenge. I think we can defeat Vito again. I don't consider Reyna my ideal candidate (she is one of the Bloomberg 29, for example), but I certainly won't support Vito's corruption candidate against her.

35th City Council District: Letitia James wholeheartedly. An amazing woman!

36th City Council District: Saquan Jones (partly based on Rock Hackshaw's endorsement of him)

38th City Council District: David Galarza wholeheartedly. I know him and he is a good guy. Smart, honest, progressive and reform minded.

39th City Council District: Josh Skaller. My favorite candidate this year. I know Josh well. Very smart, very honest, very progressive and reform minded. And he has been running one of the best grassroots campaigns I have seen. He is ahead in fundraising while refusing to take any corporate or developer money. THAT is an amazing accomplishment already.

40th City Council District: Rock Hackshaw. He is a fellow blogger and his knowledge of Brooklyn politics is amazing. I differ with this guy on some issues. He is too conservative to my mind. But I know him and his honesty and integrity are unquestioned. Since he is running against a guy who lies about being a doctor and is as strange and squirrely as you can get, Rock would be a very welcome change.

45th City Council District: Two candidates I like. First Terry Hinds. I have three people giving very good recommendations for this guy. But I also think Rod Daley is good and represents a chance to get another educator on the city council.


19th City Council District: Steve Behar. I have met Steve at several Democracy for NYC events. Great guy who has worked tirelessly for progressives in NYC and throughout the state.

24th City Council District: Jim Gennaro. Excellent environmental advocate pushing for more biodiesel in NYC to reduce pollution, and a strong advocate for preserving the safety of our drinking water.

25th City Council District: Daniel Dromm. One of my favorite candidates this year. A teacher and gay rights advocate with excellent credentials.

26th City Council District: Two good candidates. I like Brent O'Leary. An active Dean Democrat! While spending time in Japan he helped organize Democrats Abroad Japan and in 2004 was elected to the Democratic National Committee. Strong advocate of Dean's 50 state strategy. This is the kind of guy I want to see more of in politics! I also like Jimmy Van Bramer, former Deputy Field Director for Clean Money, Clean Elections. Seems like two excellent candidates.

29th City Council District: Again, two good candidates from what I can tell. I also like Mel Gagarin. I like his experience with the National Foundation for Women Legislators and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Seems like a very interesting candidate worth supporting, but I don't know his record in detail. Lynn Schulman is also running and seems to be raising money very effectively. She has participated in disaster planning and had was one of New York City’s key spokespersons during the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

31st City Council District: Marquez Claxton. Another one of my favorites. Very much in the Eric Adams mold, he combines police force experience with as strong civil rights focus. I have been following his run and like much of what he says.


12th City Council District: Jerome Rice. Former National Guardsman and corrections officer who is also a strong voice for Civil Rights. I like these people who bridge law enforcement and civil rights. It is a refreshing trend!


1st City Council District: Top choice (IF HE RUNS!) is the progressive guy who almost won it before: Rocky Chin. His most recent efforts were with Asian Americans for Obama '08. If he doesn't run, my fall back candidate is Margaret Chin.

3rd City Council District: Top choice would be civil rights activist Yetta Kurland. Second choice would be Maria Passannante Derr.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Steve DiBrienza Leeching of Taxpayers?

I had heard rumors about this, but I am always skeptical of things that come from the NY Post, a notoriously inaccurate propoganda rag. However, in this case the NY Post article matches the rumors I had heard from other sources.

Steve DiBrienza, who wants to be the Once And Future Councilmember for the 39th Council District in Brooklyn, has essentially been using for his own private use an office paid for by the city (which means by us) ostensibly for a non-profit whose only impact on the community seems to be a name on an awning. From, gasp, the Post:

Since leaving the council at the end of 2001, DiBrienza has continued to work out of his former district office, which now houses a not-for-profit group - founded by DiBrienza and funded with a total of $1.185 million in council grants, according to city, state and federal records.

In fact, DiBrienza's group, the Neighborhood Assistance Corp., has paid a salary and benefits to him, to several former members of his council staff and to his wife, who worked a year for the organization when it first started...

...DiBrienza's office is two storefronts from current Councilman Bill de Blasio's district office.

DiBrienza is a lawyer who teaches college courses part time. His Neighborhood Assistance Corp. shares the corner storefront at 2903 Fort Hamilton Pkwy. in the Windsor Terrace section, with his law office and his real-estate and lobbying business.

Other than the group's name printed on the awning over DiBrienza's corner office, there's almost no other mention of the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. in any publication, press release or Web site.

So, if the Post is getting this straight (a big "if"), DiBrienza has had his private office, private salary, his wife's salary and the salries of his staff paid for by taxpayer money AFTER he was no longer serving the taxpayers as a councilman. And he was doing this under the nose of the City Council, Council Speaker Quinn, and current councilmember Bill DeBlasio, who's office is practically next door to DiBrienza's possibly illegal office. That is a LOT of corruption if the Post has it right and it could get DiBrienza, Quinn and DeBlasio in some trouble. DiBrienza has basically been leeching off you and me. Quinn and DeBlasio either were blind or let it go on with a wink. This is definitely Quinn's pattern of either being blind as a bat or deliberately blind as a bat to corruption. My impression of DeBlasio is that he has not made a habit of this kind of thing so much as having a more typical pay to play relationship with developers that I consider a problem, but not necessarily illegal as far as I have ever heard.

What is DiBrienza's excuse? He claims the non-profit that pays him sponsors sports teams. Yet they seem to have no visible presence in the community. And I am not just taking the Post's word for it, I did some searching myself. I can find no substantial reference to this organization other than what seems a very incongruous reference to "Neighborhood Assistance Corp. protestors invading Bear Stearns lobby." It is unclear to me if this is the same organization...if it is it sure makes it more intriguing! But given what I hear about DiBrienza, it doesn't seem likely that he is running out of his office an organization that sends protesters into Bear Stearns. A national organization with a simiar name, the "Neighborhood Assistance Corp of America" seems to do a lot, but not DiBrienza's local organiztion.

My friend Josh Skaller is running for the 39th council district seat and has issued this satement on the subject:


In response to the article that appeared in the March 6th edition of the New York Post entitled Grants Keep Ex-Pol In 'Office', City Council candidate Josh Skaller issued the following statement:

"The people of New York need to know that their hard-earned tax dollars support organizations that provide legitimate services. Given the current economic crisis, there is no more appropriate time than now to ensure that this is the case. A recent media report highlighted the need for a more formal investigation into the relationship between the so-called Neighborhood Assistance Corporation, Mr. Stephen DiBrienza -- a former elected official -- and the New York City Council.

As someone committed to reforming government, I was saddened to read that the City Council has been giving Mr. DiBrienza so many dollars for so many years with so little transparency and accountability -- raising so many questions. Accordingly, as a concerned resident of Brooklyn's 39th Council District, I will be submitting Freedom of Information Law requests to the Department of Youth and Community Development, the Mayor's Office of Contracts and to the City Council regarding these transactions."

I like Josh's approach. He is not assuming that the accusations made by the Post are true. He is filing a Freedom of Information Act request to get the agencies involved to make the necessary information public so we all can know what really happened. Is DiBrienza a crook? Or is the Post smearing him as they have so many others? A Freedom of Information Act request can determine which it is.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Stop Peabody Coal

In the 1980's I participated in actions to try and stop the forced relocation of Native Americans (Dineh/Navajo tribe) to make way for the corrupt Peabody coal company to pretty much destroy an entire mountain to mine coal. The issue continues today, as many of you may have noticed in past issues of this newsletter.

The issue has many componants. There is the environmental impact of mining coal, something that became painfully obvious recently in Tennessee, but really is something that poisons people every day in America. Then there is the impact on global warming of continuing to burn coal for energy, pretty much a 19th century idea whose time has long passed. There is the issue of native rights and the unfairness of the treaties that allow companies like Peabody Coal to pay pennies to Native Americans for the right to mine resources for millions of dollars in profits. Of course there is also the corruption behind companies like Peabody coal that buy off politicians so they can get away with violating environmental laws with abandon. And there is the injustice of forced relocations of people off land that their families have occupied for generations.

All of these problems come together at the place alternately called Black Mesa and Big Mountain (I knew it as Big Mountain when I visited it in the 1980's).

As an environmentalist Peabody Coal disgusts me to begin with. From the Sierra Club Ozark chapter:

Peabody has a long history of opposing efforts to mitigate the negative environmental effects of coal production and combustion. It was an active opponent of efforts to enact a strong Clean Air Act: in 1970, of acid rain provisions in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, and throughout the current efforts to significantly strengthen mercury provisions. Peabody’s most blatant attempt to undermine environmental protections has been its efforts over the past decade to discredit the world’s scientific community research that ties emissions from the burning of fossil fuels - like coal - to global warming. Its efforts have included contributions of more than $1.5 million to federal candidates and parties during the past four years -- with more than 93 percent going to Republicans– and an average of $400,000 per year on lobbying between 1997 and 2000...

Through its sustaining contributions to groups with names like Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), Peabody has tried to cast doubt on the problem of global warming. Even though more than 2,000 scientists associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) long ago concluded that global warming was a threat5, Peabody continues its attempts to discredit their findings.

Peabody has collaborated with the Republican Party to poison our air, water and soil, and to ignore the warnings of climate scientists until it may almost be too late to deal with global warming (according to the most pessimisstic of those scientists). When you hear about high levels of mercury in your tuna, Peabody coal is one of the culprits.

You can read more about the irresponsibility and lies of Peabody Coal in this report from the National Resources Defense Council (PDF).

Back to Big Mountain/Black Mesa. The greed of this most irresponsible of companies has led to many abuses against Native Americans whose homes stood in the way of Peabody getting to mine the coal they wanted. And the Dineh/Navajo have been resisting for more than 20 years.

Winter Rabbit on Daily Kos recently had a diary on Big Mountain. This led me to a piece written by Bahe Katenay on Censored News:

The last few elder resisters and their few supporters (native or non-natives) will continue to provide the much needed humanitarian aide to our surviving history: traditional Dineh living and maintaining on their ancestral and sacred homelands. However, we all need to act in the best means possible and stop the daily Gestapo tactics and the potential demolishment of a sacred hogan or earth lodge. We all need to prevent any harm that may be committed on our elders or their helpers and most of all, prevent this growing hostility from getting out-of-hand.

All legal recourses are no longer an option since this is a challenge against a U.S. Executive Order, and The Peoples are the only option to bring about attention, focus and restoration.

I have attached a petition with addresses of officials and I am making a plead to you all, my relatives, to sign it and either send it directly to the listed officials or send them to the Black Mesa Indigenous Support. This situation is very urgent. These elders are very old now and they truly deserve much honor. They have lived in a way that, we or our future generations may never see humans live in this country. These traditional elders must live their naturally-given, old life in peace and harmony, Hozhon goh. Yaa'at'eeh goh.

I apologize for the long list of officials, but it has become long because of so many years of ignorance and because certain, minor sectors of society believed that these Elders would have been defeated already.

Thank you for your time.
Sincerely & In the Spirit of Chief Barboncito,
Bahe Y. Katenay (Naabaahii Keediniihii)
Dineh of Big Mountain

"A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky."
The words of Crazy Horse (As remembered by Ohiyesa, Charles A. Eastman).

Here is the letter proposed to send to the Obama administration. Please feel free to use parts of it as you like to write to call attention to this issue:

Dear Mr. President Barrack Obama,

Copies to:
Mrs. Katherine Smith & Mrs. Pauline Whitesinger, Big Mountain Sovereign Dineh,
Selected Kimongwis of the Independent Pueblo of Hotevilla,
Mr. William Means & Ms. Andrea Carmen, International Indian Treaty Council,
President Joe Shirley, Jr., The Navajo Nation,
Mr. Roman Bitsuie, The Navajo-Hopi Land Commission,
Office of the Hopi Tribe’s Office of Hopi Lands,
Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Phoenix Area Agency
Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining


The Sovereign Nation of the Big Mountain Dineh is located in northeastern Arizona on Black Mesa and is part of ancient indigenous shared-territories. Members of this nation were affected by the 1974 legislation to relocate from certain partitioned areas, but have rather chose to resist this policy and try to: maintain their ancestral and treaty lands, keep cultural practices, value universal-granted freedom, conduct their ancient rights to ritual ceremonies, and preserve their sacred sites. The proclamation of these Dineh in 1979 states that through divine creation they were, “provided with the Ni’tliz’ (sacred stones) as offerings and the Dzil leezh (sacred mountain soil Bundle) representing the universe. With prayers and songs we offer the Ni’tliz to the trees, to the hills, to the wind, and the thunder beings in the sacred rain. The Dzil Leezh is our power to live close to our mother the Earth and father Sky. These are our sacred ways to survive in this universe and to communicate with the unseen forces in the Natural life.”

As you may be aware that, the relocation of thousands of Dineh (Navajos) and Hopis has been in process since 1977 after 1.8 million acres was partitioned and that, the Dineh elder leaders at Big Mountain began their resistance to U.S. government court orders to vacant areas partitioned to the official and federally-recognized, Hopi tribe. These traditional Dineh communities still continue to resist the harsh relocation policies and coal mining encroachment to this day. Despite a few elders are now left, they continue to reaffirm their ancestral land rights which are contrary to all court decisions related to the fore mentioned communities from 1974 to 1998.

U.S. Judicial System has had a vital role in this land rights issue ever since energy companies of the southwestern United States became interested in exploring the coal reserves of Black Mesa in northeastern Arizona. In 1962, there was a well-orchestrated rush to establish an Indian Land Claims on the behalf of the Hopi tribe and which was guided by a Peabody Coal Company attorney, and this allowed Peabody to acquire mining leases. The U.S. courts and corporate attorneys eventually, thereafter, help created the relocation and land-partitioning policies which only made way for coal exploration. None of these court rulings were based on proving that an actual “land dispute” did exist between the Dineh and Hopis.

Big Mountain on Black Mesa is the only place in the United States where two Indian nations can still define cultural coexistence and shared territories, and now have become endangered aboriginal peoples. The U.S. courts have ordered continued pressure on the remaining traditional Dineh and keep the areas sealed and isolated. The United States is allowing this tragedy and genocide to be sustained under the guise that relocation are on voluntary basis and that Indian police are being used rather than state authorities to carry out enforcements. These traditional resisters hold great knowledge and wisdom of ancient information and natural existence that are irreplaceable, and it is the world society’s responsibility to stop the United States and its largest coal-producer, Peabody Energy, from executing this human and mega-environmental destruction.

Additional documentations ( of human rights violation and religious intolerance are as follows:

*Limitation or complete denial of: crop cultivation and livestock husbandry, community and religious activities, access to or maintenance of water wells, and elder residents’ safety needs to attain wood fuels for heating and cooking,

*Forced relocation to foreign settings that does not support or replace loss culture and religions,

*Deliberate breaking up of family and clan structures,

*Controlled national media that portray the Big Mountain story as a result of legitimate and humane court decisions,

*Peabody mines create: daily detonation that causes micro-quakes, depletion of pristine aquifers that causes subsidence and fissure zones, and massive emissions of coal dust and engine exhaust.

We the undersigned hereof state our demand that the United States cease all forcible relocation enforcements on the Dineh, and reverse the decisions made for Peabody Coal Company’s Life of the Mine Permit on Black Mesa.

It will be furthered recommended that:

*Indigenous peoples’ inherent rights to their homelands be recognized and respected,

*Traditional tribal communities be allowed to reinstate and restore the inexorable ties to fundamental existence and spiritual practices,

*There must be serious reviews about the conclusion that Black Mesa coal is the primary source for energy, and that being reviewed in the context of global concerns for greenhouse gas emissions,

*Acknowledge that indigenous being has sustained all human cultures’ moral obligations throughout the ages, and it is much more crucial in this technological era that the demands and rights of indigenous peoples be received with greater human understanding.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



U.S. President Obama The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Phone Numbers:

Comments: 202-456-1111 Switchboard: 202-456-1414 FAX: 202-456-2461 U

Bureau of Indian Affairs Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20240 Office of Surface Mining Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, N.W. Washington DC 20240

PHOENIX AREA OFFICE: Bureau of Indian Affairs P.O. Box 10 Phoenix, AZ 85001 P: 602/379-6600 F: 602/379-4413 Hopi Agency Bureau of Indian Affairs P.O. Box 158 Keams Canyon, AZ 86034 P: 520/738-2228 F: 520/738-5522

Navajo Nation Office of the President Joe Shirley, Jr.
Communications Director George Hardeen: Phone: (928) 871-7917 Cell: (928) 309-8532

Staff Assistant Gloria Bowman Phone: (928) 871-7915 Fax: (928) 871-7005

Administrative Assistant Desiree Etsitty Phone: (928) 871-7916 Fax: (928) 871-7807

Hard Rock Chapter P.O. Box 20 Kykotsmovi, AZ 86039 Phone: (928) 725-3730/3732 Fax: (928) 725-3731 E-mail:

Forest Lake Chapter P.O. Box 441 Pinon, AZ 86510 Phone: (928) 677-3252/3347 Fax: (928) 677-3320 E-mail:

Black Mesa Chapter P.O. Box 189 Pinon, AZ 86510 Phone: (928) 309-7056 E-mail:

(To traditional Dineh or Hopi Kimongwis, or other Communiqué to Sovereign Dineh.) ATTN: TRADITIONAL ELDERS
Black Mesa Indigenous Support P.O. Box 23501
Flagstaff, Arizona 86002 Email:

Help if you can. This has been a long and difficult fight for some of America's most powerless and poorest people. And they are being destroyed for the benefit of a corrupt, pro-Republican, global warming denying coal company. For more info, go to Black Mesa Indigenous Support.

NYC Jacob