N.Y.Times to New York: Drop Dead!

Amazon plans to build a second headquarters for itself that will house 50,000 employees. New York City wants it and will make a bid. Don’t count on the N.Y. Times to be of help. “Stay away from her, Amazon!” says the paper. Its Upshot column (which served the nation so well during the 2016 presidential campaign) decided to do free consulting for the retail behemoth, ran some numbers, and insists that the complex should go to Denver. Upshot put the calabash on New York City because of its high housing costs and the balance between those and amenities, like “cultural edginess.” Separately, Times columnist David Leonhardt quickly urged Amazon to stay away from the country’s coasts, which would also mean New York City.

Thank you, N.Y Times. Isn’t is all such fun to theorize? Thank you for helping the people of our five boroughs and greater area. I guess we could say the paper can’t be bought, although it could show Amazon something about getting financial incentives from struggling cities. It received $79 million and more in tax breaks  from Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg after it threatened to move jobs and facilities out of the city.
The Altoona Times? Maybe if it had moved to one of those places it prefers it would have done a more balanced and accurate job of covering Trump v. Clinton and it readers would have experienced less disinformation in 2016. But I am sure Amazon can trust it on Denver. Please comment in the box below.

Does NYC Support Democracy?

Manhattanites who vote are still scratching their heads over this last ridiculous “election” in which six Democrats ran unopposed for six judicial positions. As a poll worker, from 6 a.m. to 9:42 p.m. on Nov. 3 I wallowed in the spectacle of seeing voters come to terms with the fact that they were participating in a sham. They had no say in whether or not nominees would take office. In effect, in full view, the fix was in. This raises the oft-asked question of whether or not we should “elect” judges. Of course we seldom know anything about them in the first place, but pity the citizen who tries to learn about a potential judge. Most did not feel the need to submit their bios to a voter guide.

Do you see a choice?

Where’s the Choice?

Tuesday, when distressed citizens asked me if they had any choice at all, I pointed out their options: 1) Vote as directed. 2. Write in their own candidates. 3. Scan the ballot without marking it.

Three of some 100 voters in my district told me to void their ballots because they saw no point to any of it. There were other reactions to the situation as well. Two sets of parents audibly exhaled and proceeded to “privacy booths” to mark their ballots with their kids. (One is led to wonder about the value of secret ballots when the only choice a voter has is whether or not to participate.) Several who identified themselves as Republicans studied the sample ballot taped to the wall, mumbled about Donald Trump, and stole out into the night. I rejoice that New Yorkers generally support the principles of the Democratic party, but I am concerned that extremists and Know Nothings are hounding moderates from the  party of Eisenhower. Couldn’t Manhattan Republicans manage to nominate even one judge?

In some parts of the city, notably Republican Staten Island where a Democrat became District Attorney, real elections did take place. Thus some of the estimated $13 million dollars the Board of Elections pays citywide to hold an election was well-spent. As for myself,  I am left with pressing questions. Why did I not think to write in Joseph F. Crater and William M. Tweed? Who are the fools – the ones who turn out to cast a ballot or the ones who stay home? Finally, what can we do now that a great big democracy serves so few? Please comment in the box below.

Is the Board of Elections a Job Program?

The New York City Board of Elections has some 700 days to prepare for the 2016 presidential balloting. Based on my experience in these past two election cycles, I expect the BOE to gum it up again, unless some basic changes are made.
This year I was a poll worker at the side of a very dear man who was incapable of doing his job. Let’s call him Fred. A veteran with ten years service in the Army, he participated in the Reagan invasion of Granada and was discharged after suffering seizures. Fred radiated sweetness and a near-total incompetence that was recognized by all.
Five minutes after the polls opened our supervisor called for replacements for four workers who had been identified as problematic and was told that replacements were in a cab on their way to us. However, by 11 p.m. when we went home after an 18 hour day (minus two hours worth of breaks), no reinforcements had arrived.
In the meantime we managed. Fred’s unending good will melted my stony heart and together we figured out how he could tear the paper ballots from the pad without ripping them. We decided that would be his job while I signed in voters and answered questions about the ballot and the scanner, which some 80 percent distrust.
At least Fred remained calm throughout. Last year during the mayoral primary I worked in Greenwich Village. Early in the morning a worker at the next table spied Sarah Jessica Parker. My colleague started shrieking her name and ran up to talk to her in what became a brief commotion with flashing cell phone cameras. Whether SJP now casts an absentee ballot or comes to polling places in disguise I cannot say for I transferred to my own election district uptown where I found Fred.
He told me that he had worked at this very polling place two years ago. I recall the place in 2012 as a scene of complete ineptitude, exponentially aggravated by a high turnout for the presidential election. Voters stood on line up and down the street for more than an hour, and once inside were directed to the wrong tables, misinformed about how to fill out paper ballots, and subjected to broken scanners. I think I remember Fred himself misinforming me while impervious to my snarls. The chaos created by the workers themselves inspired me to enlist as a poll worker to try to understand why the BOE operates as it does. (enter  Poll Worker in the search box above to read about last year’s experience).
To a certain extent, I then became part of the problem because of my lack of experience and sketchy knowledge, which are compounded by the fact that procedures change a bit each year. Many workers and nearly all supervisors know balloting procedures cold and do their best, but they can’t be with each of us simultaneously to correct mistakes during the day or when we close the polls at night’s end. They manage to do a credible job only when turnout is low. I passed tests this August, but had forgotten some key elements by November. Those who not pass are encouraged to take the training over and over until they do. Some ultimately accomplish this with the help of instructors, which may explain how my new friend Fred managed to qualify.
Here’s an idea: maybe those who cannot pass the open book test at the end of training should not be allowed to try again. The failure of this simple test, which does have a few questions that seem tricky, indicates that the job is not for them.

Last summer a Rob Lowe look-alike helped supervise my training. He told me that he takes a leave of absence from his job each year because he feels that Republicans like himself should get more involved and not leave it to registered Democrats. Thinking we were simpatico I asked, unwisely, if he thought that Republicans did not volunteer because they did not believe in government. He said they did not volunteer because Republicans tended to have jobs. Well, maybe there is something to that. Poll workers in New York earn about $10 an hour for a day that goes from 5 am to some time after 9 pm when the polls close. That money will be a godsend to many, including Fred.
Capable citizens are as much to blame for the alarming performance of the Board of Education as anyone. Friends and neighbors who saw me at work gave me patronizing smiles. Many people who say they care about voting have the free time and stamina to do this work and should sign up to do so, at least once.

On election night, a poll monitor thanked me for working with Fred. He said they knew he should not work again. I asked if the Board of Elections was about voting or make-work. The monitor mumbled, backing away, that it was a little of both. If so, the Board of Elections might seek new poll workers at unemployment offices, veterans groups, houses of worship, Facebook and Twitter where able-bodied, able-minded long-term unemployed people can be found. Those recruits might not be as pleasant or deserving as Fred, who made for better company than many world-beaters I know, but they might be able to do the job.

Should the BOE be a job program? What has been your voting experience? Please scroll down to the “Leave a reply” box

Let’s Take This Lying Politician Seriously

The only good thing you can say about Gabriela Rosa is that she makes a great case for immigration reform. Without meaningful statues governing immigration, people who lie and cheat their way into the United States, as she did, will continue to feel justified. Worse yet, they will find support. She is surely not a woman who before last Friday would have told her son that playing by the rules and working hard were the way to succeed.

Why last Friday? Because that’s the day that her crimes became known. Rosa came to New York from the Dominican Republic. In 1996 she paid a man $8,000 to marry her so she could become a citizen. She later used that sham marriage to defraud a bankruptcy court. Eventually she divorced the husband she paid and married the man she had been involved with all along. She was so comfortable with her behavior that she ran for office in 2012 and was hailed as the first Dominican-American elected to the state assembly. Along the way she received $1,000 from a foreign government in violation of campaign finance laws.

Happily the truth caught up with her. Now 47, Gabriela Rosa was forced out of office after pleading guilty to two felonies. She is a disgrace to every group to which she belongs. She is a stain on women, immigrants, Hispanics and Dominicans. Her plea deal included her resignation from office, so she no longer belongs on the roster of New York State officials. Lamentably, she seemed to fit in there. That set from this year alone includes a roster of native-born convicted lawbreakers, including Eric A. Stevenson, William F. Boyland, Jr. and possibly Malcolm A. Smith, who was recently granted a mistrial and will be retried in January. All are Democrats like Ms. Rosa.

As part of her plea agreement, the U.S. attorney Preet Bharara will recommend that she serve only 12 to 18 months in prison. Her attorney Matthew Myers, who is under obligation to provide spin, says that her crime was minor. I don’t think so. I hope that judge will give her the maximum of 10 years instead. Please comment below.

Turning Off the Trickle Down Spigot

These are the peak days for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office a day ago and has not disappointed New Yorkers yet. This high point provides an opportunity to reflect on his greatest achievement. No, it’s not that 33 years after the inauguration of Pres. Ronald Reagan, the notion of trickle-down economics has finally trickled out, or that Progressives are emerging from cover, or even that the media sniffs the change in the wind.

The astonishing thing is that de Blasio trusted middle class voters to finally recognize their economic interests. Candidate de Blasio’s stated platform was about standing up for the poor, but the middle class did not feel threatened or excluded. Assisting have-nots (and de-segregating the South) is how the Democrats lost their unassailed majority and they have been scrambling ever since. This time, however, in 2013 New York City, the middle class rallied to support a man whose name they barely knew a year ago because he proclaimed a fundamental truth they recognized: Giuliani-Bloomberg New York was fast becoming Dickens London, a place where only an unrepentant Scrooge could feel secure. This is the New York they have come to know. They are now in as much or more jeopardy than people in public housing.

With 46 percent of New Yorkers at or near poverty after the supposed recovery from the Great Recession, those in the middle have seen proof that they are one job loss, or one serious health crisis, from near-poverty and possible homelessness. Ask a 45 year old who has been out of work for seven months how he or she envisions the future. Most know at least one such person, and having a talk with them is painful indeed.

In contrast, those earning more than $500,000 a year tend to feel threatened when they hear about resources going to the less fortunate. The proof is that de Blasio’s opponent Joseph Lhota prevailed in the wealthiest zip codes, those where average income exceeded $140,000.*

The new mayor hasn’t given up on the wealthy yet — in his inaugural address, de Blasio pointed out that the tax he proposes to levy on them to fund universal pre-kindergarten enrollment would only cost them about three dollars a day. He cajoled that this was the price of a latte.  He got a laugh, possibly because such a tariff would cost the rich too little to drive them down to middle class level – unless $500,000 in adjusted gross income is what it takes nowadays to be middle class in today’s New York. This is a point that many do ponder. And a latte is the first thing to go.

The mega-rich have been silent about de Blasio since his blow-out win. The Catholic ones feel on safer ground denouncing the Pope. Billionaire Ken Langone, founder of Home Depot, told Cardinal Timothy Dolan that when Pope Francis warned  “Money must serve, not rule,” the rich were offended. One donor was so miffed that he threatened to retaliate by withholding a seven-figure donation to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Langone felt secure enough to offer this sentiment to CNBC.

This is the kind of billionaire mind-set that made middle class New York voters think.

*Click “average income” link in the lower right corner of the link for vote by personal wealth

Sen. Chuck Schumer Is Harrassing Me

In the recent election season I was subjected to harassing telephone calls from Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY). Before the Democratic primary, although I am on the Do Not Call Registry, Schumer robocalled me several times urging me to vote for his candidates — City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for Mayor and  State Senator Daniel Squadron for Public Advocate. His calls always came at inconvenient times when I was trying to eat a meal or balance on a stepladder. His endorsements were as ineffective as they were unwelcome. Both Squadron and Quinn lost their races decisively. In Brooklyn, however his candidate for District Attorney Kenneth Thompson prevailed. Schumer may be running out of juice in more ways than one — in previous election cycles he robodialed me many more times than he did this year.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that Schumer has proposed legislation to raise fines and increase punishments on telemarketers violating Do Not Call rules. Has he no self-knowledge whatsoever? Of course not. Does he not know he violates the spirit if not the letter of these laws himself? Obviously not. How could it be? Self-centered self-importance provides the thick hide that pols are always telling us they must have. Of course, Schumer is not the only pol to robocall. He has just made himself the most ridiculous.

The legislation that needs to be proposed is the expansion of the Do Not Call Registry to  include charities, political organizations, and telephone surveyors as well as debt collectors. In enacting the law, legislators gave the Do Not Call Registry no sway over these groups, which serve the politicians themselves. Chief among them are telephone surveyors, whose calls harass us as surely as robocall scam artists. They take the surveys that enable elected officials and wannabes to figure out which way the wind blows so that they can amend positions on public issues.

The Senator says the number of unwanted telemarketing calls has skyrocketed. His press release notes, “As of August 2013, the FTC was logging 140,000 to 200,000 robocall complaints monthly compared to 65,000 in October 2010, according to published reports.”

He is right about that, and I support whatever curtails telemarketers. Unfortunately, relevant laws now on the books allow Sen. Schumer and his ilk to call us whenever they wish and as often as they want. I would like to opt out of these as well. If politicians and non-profits believe their messages are important, let them use the mails, which they already do anyway. That way they would help the U.S. Postal Service (but admittedly add to junk mail to be recycled). They could also continue to spam us via Internet, which generates no paper waste. Meanwhile, I challenge Sen. Schumer to figure out the number of unwanted robocalls he is generating and stop generating them. It is for his own good too — the electorate is less likely to know that he supports candidates they don’t.

Confessions of A Poll Worker

I volunteered to work the polls to improve voting in New York City. Instead I became part of the challenge. If you meet me Nov. 5 I will do my best, but now we are using optical-scanning machines. I have not so much as seen one since I was trained on August 19 when 12 hours of training were crammed into six because we had to learn the scanner as well as the lever machine for the primary. My section never discussed write-in voting, but no matter. That wasn’t on the test.
Don’t despair. Assisting the first few voters on Election Day might enable me to get the hang of it, and I may have the guidance of a more experienced poll worker. I myself voted on a scanner last year when the confusion at my polling place during the presidential election inspired me to volunteer with the Board of Elections so I can help you this year.
You might remember me from the primary election, if you are one of the 22 percent of registered Democrats and 13 percent of registered Republicans who bothered to vote. Less likely, you encountered me at the Public Advocate run-off when only 6.7 percent of registered Democrats appeared. On that day to break the afternoon lull we poll workers broke into spontaneous applause when voters showed up. They must have known they were special because when they departed, they waved good-by in the grand manner of the British royal family.
Do you wonder what motivates us poll workers? Some believe in civic duty. Most are in it for the pay, which works out to about $13 an hour for a sixteen-hour day with two hours of breaks that are not always honored. We start at 5 a.m., sometimes far from home. One colleague, a social worker, told me that he volunteered after receiving a notice to tell his clients to sign up to be poll workers and earn extra cash.
Meanwhile, here’s a peek at a few things we’d rather you did not know: on primary day, one of the two coordinators at my election site whom we will call Susie told us to forget what we had learned in training. She observed that everything we were doing was irrelevant because “things are being decided at a very high level.” Whether her problem was corruption or medication levels, I will never know. However, detecting certain mood swings and her lack of interest my colleagues and I turned to the other coordinator, whom we’ll call Mary, who had conducted trainings and insisted on doing everything “by the book.” When the polls closed, Mary announced that as a result of working with Susie, she would never work the polls again. She may have meant it because when we returned a few weeks later for the runoff for Public Advocate, Susie was the only coordinator on site and she managed alone.
Also, the closing of the polls, when tallies and back-ups are recorded, gets a bit slapdash because we are all eager to leave. On primary night I ended up as chairman of my election district because no one else wanted to sign the time sheets and tallies. After hurried hubbub or retrieving forms, I signed and sealed support materials and gave them to a police officer who signed a receipt. But then Susie discovered I had left out something important. No matter. I snatched the package away from the surprised officer, peeled off the seals, inserted the missing item, and sealed it up again. Work done! A few weeks later on the night of the runoff Susie hurried me even more, herself pressured by the menacing woman collecting our blunt-end scissors who was ready to go.
If you don’t like our methods, you could demand that the New York City Board of Elections do a better job of training and recruitment, possibly calling for volunteers at places of worship, libraries and through public service announcements. Possibly outreach should be less about a payday for good people who need money and more about voting. However, what matters most is better training and improved management. You could write officials to demand a more organized process and back that up by actually turning out to vote yourself.
I swear it does matter. When I was a teenager in the segregated South people died fighting to claim the right to vote. Partly because of them, I saw candidates elected throughout the country who expanded possibilities for millions of Americans and for the mandate for peace. Then officials were elected who put the brake on those expansions. So that’s why I get a little serious about voting. Often I don’t like the candidates, so I write one in, which reminds me to check my manual to learn how you can do that too.

But whatever happens, I don’t think you have to worry about the accuracy of the vote unless it’s really close. Poll watchers from both parties and from all candidates check on us through the day and each writes down the final count at night. Checks and balances for an accurate count are in place, but they are above my level, which is not the level where I deal with you.