The Grades Are In
Low Marks For Queens On Human Rights
By MEGAN MONTALVO
The end of the year traditionally marks a time when it is encouraged to take a look back on an annual series of choices made in preparation of new resolutions and the New Year.
For the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center, this December not only marks a time to celebrate, but also proves to be a time to reflect on a year’s worth of key decisions made in legislation.
On Dec. 12, the Manhattan-based nonprofit agency released the 2012 New York City Council Human Rights Report Card, providing a year-long recap of highlights and low points.
“HRP has spent more than a decade developing and sharing models for using universal human rights to demand higher standards of government accountability at the local and national levels,” HRP Director Shani Jamilla said. “Today, 12/12/12 at 12 p.m., we are thrilled to launch the fifth annual New York City Council Human Rights Report Card.”
Known as the only report of its kind, the HRP report card is used to comprehensively evaluate the human rights records of both individual Council members and the Council as a legislative body.
While the report’s intent is focused upon the advancement of equality for New Yorkers living in poverty, particularly communities of color and women, the Center asserts that the data also acts as mechanism for coalition building and a tool for education and activism.
“Under a human rights framework, the Council has an obligation to act proactively to advance equality,” Jamilla said. “The Report Card is designed to measure the extent to which it succeeds in doing so in the legislative arena.”
After conducting an in-depth review of all legislation passed by the Council’s 51 members, the report found that 32 percent of all bills approved by the Council between Aug. 15, 2011 and Aug. 15, 2012 fit a criteria of legislation geared toward promoting the seven categories of human rights: housing, worker’s rights, criminal and juvenile justice, health, government accountability, voting rights and disability rights.
Major bills that factored into grading include the Paid Sick Time Act, which requires private employers to provide paid sick time to their employees, and the Fair Wage for New Yorkers Act, which requires certain direct recipients of at least $1million in government development assistance to pay their employees a wage of at least $10 an hour and a supplemental health benefits rate of $1.50 per hour.
In the case of the latter bill, the Mayor has filed a lawsuit against the City Council in an attempt to block the law.
“We were very pleased to see that 32 percent of bills that were enacted pertained to human rights issues,” HRP Research and Police Coordinator Erin Markman said. “The information gathered by this report not only shows a mark on real improvement made this year, but it also gives low-scoring Council members an idea on how they can make changes next year.”
Winners and Losers
Collectively, the Queens Delegation received at least a B minus grade in only three of the seven categories of human rights legislation, with less than half of the members receiving at least a B minus grade in human rights.
In addition, nine of the 14 members were primary sponsors of legislation that were assessed as promoting human rights.
“The Queens Delegation scored the second lowest of the boroughs in six of the seven categories of human rights legislation featured in the 2012 Report Card,” Jamilla said. “Housing rights legislation was scored at 24 percent, a C, workers’ rights was marked at 48 percent, a B, criminal and juvenile justice at 30 percent, a C, health was at 40 percent, a B minus, government accountability was 37 percent, a C plus, and voting rights came in at 52 percent, a B.”
While the voting rights score was Queens’ highest, it was still the second lowest in the City, coming behind Manhattan with 73 percent, Brooklyn at 61 percent and the Bronx at 54 percent.
According to the report, the high voting rights score may be attributed, in part, to the high individual scores of two Queens Council members who both received an A plus grade in the category - Daniel Dromm was marked at 91 percent and Julissa Ferreras at 88 percent.
“Voting rights are very important to me,” Dromm said in reference to his high score. “Throughout the year, I have made it a priority to introduce and vote on legislation that would improve voter turnout and eligibility. I’m pleased to see my participation make a direct impact.”
Despite the high score marks in voter rights, the report suggests that the Queens Delegation still has a long way to go.
Out of all the boroughs, Queens scored the lowest in the disability rights category of legislation at 34 percent, a C grade.
This number joins another low point in the report’s housing rights category, which graded the Delegation at 24 percent.
“Only three Queens Council members received at least a B grade in housing,” Jamilla said. “Daniel Dromm and James Sanders each scored a B, and Jimmy Van Bramer had an A.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, five Queens Council members received a D grade or lower in housing rights - Mark Weprin and Eric Ulrich each had 10 percent, a D, James Gennaro and Peter Vallone Jr. shared a 6 percent grade, a D minus, and Dan Halloran came out dead last at 4 percent, an F.
In response to the scoring, Vallone issued a statement describing his sentiments as “proud” to be at the bottom of the list.
“I am proud to be at the bottom of any list that Charles Barron is at the top of,” he said, in reference to the Brooklyn Councilman, who received an A plus grade. “This is basically a report card on who wants to change New York into a socialist republic the most.”
Looking To 2013
While the report card provides an extensive window into the legislative record of City Council members, it is not yet able to measure the allocation of funds within districts and the “behind the scenes” actions of each member, which includes attending protests and rallies within the community.
Among the high-scoring Queens Delegation members, both Dromm and Van Bramer have attributed their grades to a having deep concern for their districts.
“Jimmy and I have similar backgrounds in community activism,” Dromm said. “He and I grew up in Queens and have deep-seated concern for our districts and the people living in them.”
In addition to attending a large number of community-led protests and rallies this year, both Councilmen agree that when it comes to human rights, more is better.
A highlight of legislation introduced within this year includes a ban on curative therapy for LGTBQ teens, which Dromm introduced earlier this year, and an expansion on the Library Card Act, which was backed by Van Bramer.
“I think part of my work is about empowering people,” Van Bramer said. “I absolutely believe that having been born and raised in Queens makes you incredibly rooted in the community and gives you an extra obligation to listen and respond to people and help them.”
In addition to attending numerous community-based events, the Councilmen have also collectively spent thousands of dollars in discretionary funding in their districts, most of which were allocated to clean-up, anti-graffiti and education programs.
For next year’s agenda, legislation on the top of the list for Van Bramer include bills geared towards good wages, access to paid sick days and reforming the way the Board of Standards and Appeals makes decisions on building variances.
“There’s a never ending list of what I hope to accomplish next year,” he said.
Reach Reporter Megan Montalvo at (718) 357-7400 Ext. 128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Queens Roll Call
|Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) C+
Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) C
Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) B+
Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) B
James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) C
Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) C
Peter Koo (D-Flushing) C
Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) B-
James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) B
Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) C
Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) C-
Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) A-
Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) C
Ruben Wills (D-South Ozone Park) C+