County Committee Update: Deputy Mayor Wolfson says Hello

The last County Committee Executive Board meeting held March 10th was a real party; and why not, it was the first meeting in several months. Aside from complimentary sandwiches and cookies, County Leader Wright gave the Board a brief update on how the budget process was going in Albany saying that this was the worst budget he’d seen in his 16 years in the State Legislature. Following that, the assembled District Leaders and County Committee people were treated to a speech by and an unbridled Q&A session with Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson.

The Deputy Mayor’s speech centered largely around the improvements we’ve seen in the city during the Bloomberg administration. A lot of attention was paid to the fact that New York experienced a smaller recession than nearly any other place in the US and was amongst the fastest to recover. He also made the point that crime is down and it’s never been safer to live in New York City. Afterward there were three main areas on which which Deputy Mayor Wolfson was questioned.

Teacher Tenure
Given the economy and the difficulty that older people have finding jobs in particular, there was a lot of questioning regarding the potential implementation of new criteria for letting go of teachers. The Deputy Mayor defended the proposition that teacher retainment should be based on some other criteria than only seniority and expressed a strong personal preference for changing the current system. When asked about what the new criteria would consider he said whether a teacher has

  • been convicted of a felony (apparently not a consideration right now)
  • been chronically absent
  • has received an Unsatisfactory (U) rating

He also mentioned that this is nothing like declaring war on older teachers. For example, only about 2.5% of teachers have even received a U rating. Firings or layoffs will have a clear rubric and will not be dealt out “willy-nilly” amongst the current workforce. He was clear, however, that the Mayor’s office thought “we can do better than just seniority.”

MTA Funding
Close behind teacher tenure was the question of what’s to be done about the ailing MTA. Service cuts and fare raises are cutting New Yorkers even as the State fails to properly fund it; and there’s the problem. Deputy Mayor Wolfson stressed the point that the city does not have control over the MTA and that its 4 members on the board comprise a minority.

When asked about whether congestion pricing for motorists in the city would be revived, he said that it would likely not be as the city had already unsuccessfully made that attempt at a solution, as well as others before, and the political situation in Albany has not really changed. He did make many references to the way the MTA operated in the 1970s, though, and said that no one wanted to return to that.

Rent Control
A huge issue coming up this year which we’ll all be hearing a lot more about is rent and vacancy de-control. If rent control isn’t extended all those lovely affordable units where people are living for less will re-adjust to market rates. When asked whether Bloomberg was going to advocate for Albany to extend rent-control Mr. Wolfson said he was unable to commit the Mayor to that stance at that time.

Other things
Mr. Wolfson also fielded questions about where Mayor Bloomberg was during the blizzard (he was not at a public event so his whereabouts will not be made public. Although he did admit the city and Bloomberg administration did a less than stellar job dealing with it), whether Bloomberg attempted to buy the Independence Party line by making a large contribution to that party (not according to the Deputy Mayor; the Mayor made a legal, individual contribution) and whether Senior Centers will be closed in response to the State budget cuts (unfortunately, that is the fiscal reality).

Conclusion
All told it was a very energetic and educational meeting. If you’re interested in getting more involved and getting opportunities to talk to electeds and government officials in a small setting it’s election year – sign up to run for an open County Committee seat by emailing  [email protected].