When Bill de Blasio moved into Gracie Mansion, he became mayor of 59 community districts that constitute New York City. As he eloquently described during his campaign, these districts comprise two distinct cities that have very little in common.
For example, just 8* of the 59 districts make up a third of the children removed from families into the Child Welfare System and a third of the youth in juvenile detention . Not surprisingly, these same neighborhoods also struggle with high rates of adult crime, poor educational institutions, negligible economic investment and limited opportunity for residents.
Mayor de Blasio steps into Gracie Mansion at an opportune time because previous administrations have actually made progress. For example, the number of children in foster care has plummeted from 50,000 in the 1990s when kids were sleeping in the halls of NYC's public child welfare intake center to 12,500 today. And the Close to Home initiative, a landmark deal brokered by Governor Cuomo and the Bloomberg Administration, is bringing hundreds of NYC youth back to the city from upstate juvenile jails. Instead of languishing in detention-oriented facilities, they are now being sent to therapeutic programs that provide treatment and youth development while remaining closer to their families and community. Incidentally, bringing the teens back is also bringing jobs into the City.
But, there is much more that needs to be done. As head of a charity that works in the "second city", I would like to see the following priorities in de Blasio's administration:
1. As promised by our incoming ACS Commissioner Ms. Carrion, continue to invest in the proven preventive care that has dramatically reduced foster care. We can do even better by keeping children with families when it is safe to do so. This is not only good for children and families, but it will save taxpayers millions of dollars.
2. Find a way to provide good education to poor neighborhoods. I won't get into the debate over charter schools, but rather implore that our educational professionals find common-ground upon which to develop solutions that will work on the frontlines.
3. Most importantly, recognize that government can't be the only solution for the neighborhoods in this second city. Today, these neighborhoods are already largely government funded, with many residents living in public housing and dependent on other government subsidies. Government programs are designed to provide short-term relief, not sustain a vibrant community. If Mayor de Blasio intends to grow the middle class and unite New York's two cities, he will need to invest in and encourage market driven opportunities that bring private enterprise and economic wealth back to the Second City.
I believe we have made a great deal of progress in recent years. We need to keep the momentum and engage the private sector. Poverty cannot be overcome by services and subsidies alone. Services and subsidies can help alleviate certain aspects of poverty, but to be successful, people must have the opportunities for self-determination. I am hopeful that the de Blasio administration can help us get there.
*Brownsville (BK16), Central Harlem (MN10), East Harlem (MN11), East New York/Starrett City (BK5), Fordham/University Heights (BX5), Highbridge/Concourse (BX4), Jamaica/Hollis (QN12), Saint George/Stapleton (SI1)
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