Two remarkable press conferences occurred on the steps of New York’s City Hall not long ago. These events addressed two radical proposals from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the “woker than thou” New York City Council. Journalists gathered at the behest of two black Democratic City Council members whose districts are more than 90 percent non-white.
Council Member Robert Cornegy (D., Bedford-Stuyvesant) called the first press conference on September 4 to protest a demand from de Blasio and his de-education Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza’s School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG). The race-obsessed panel demanded the elimination of all gifted and talented programs on the Big Apple’s K–12 campuses. Cornegy, a longtime advocate of gifted education, said: “I’ve spoken to parents, for over six years now, who have demanded an expansion of the gifted and talented programs. And the idea — the recommendation of this task force, convened by the mayor, would be to disband it because of segregation — is a ridiculous proposition. We know that black and brown students, in particular, have found a way to incorporate themselves into the specialized high schools and into success academically throughout this country, based on being a part of gifted and talented programs.”
Cornegy recalled how Leftist “educators” hammered G&T programs in black communities, starting in the 1990s, via the so-called anti-tracking movement.
“We understood the necessity for these programs a long time ago,” Cornegy said. “Myself, as the former chair of the Black and Latino and Asian Caucus, was able to get several letters written from the Caucus, and support from the Caucus, to reinstitute those programs.”
Advocates for advanced learning often have contended that when smart children are bored, they become discipline problems. Cornegy concurs and takes this argument to the next level. “A lot of the ZIP codes where Gifted and Talented programs are absent are the same ZIP codes that populated the upstate prisons. That is a tremendous oversight. I’d like to think, on people’s parts, we know that where there is an opportunity for students who are high performing students to achieve, excellence happens. It’s not an accident. We have to be deliberate about making sure these programs are available.”
Cornegy explained how SDAG members exist in a cozy bubble in which they are oblivious about people like Cornegy’s constituents in Bed Stuy and Crown Heights. “Over the last three weeks — whether it was at a grocery store, doing an interview, talking to parents at school as they prepared for school — nine out of 10 people were aware of gifted and talented programs and demanded that we stand out here,” Cornegy said. “Parents, store owners, everybody understands we should have excellence in our school system. I don’t understand the dumbing down, potentially, of our students. It doesn’t make much sense.”
Council Member Andy King (D., Bronx) convened the second press conference on October 16, this time in a desperate bid to halt the closure of Rikers Island, NYC’s largest jail. De Blasio’s proposal, which the City Council approved 36–13 on October 17, calls for padlocking Rikers Island, which, as its name betrays, is surrounded by water — perfect for storing criminals. Instead, de Blasio and the City Council aim to open smaller, local jails, which the targeted communities detest.
Even worse, de Blasio’s neighborhood-destroying jails will house some 3,500 inmates. Rikers currently holds 7,000. Rikers has a capacity of 15,000 inmates and was overcrowded before the crime-fighting policies, conceived by the Manhattan Institute and implemented by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, cut lawlessness so much that it eventually reduced Rikers’ inmate population. Sadly, de Blasio’s plan to halve the inmate population does not involve “Broken Windows” or Comp Stat performance metrics and accountability practices. Instead, New York’s genius mayor simply would release sometimes-violent criminals onto the streets of Gotham. (Alas, the police commissioner cannot shine a Bat Signal for help.)
This bird-brained scheme is being imposed on the city because the Left’s soft-on-crime faith damns Rikers as emblematic of everything they consider wrong with prisons. Closing these buildings, Leftists believe, miraculously will expiate them from what they consider the cardinal sin of law enforcement.
“The three of us have made a conscious decision that this is a bad decision for New York,” said King, referring to himself, Council Member Reuben Diaz (D., Bronx), and Council Member Robert Holden (D., Queens).
“The three of us have made a conscious decision that Rikers is not the problem. The three of us have made a conscious decision that there are challenges within the criminal-justice systems that need to be corrected before we can even think about the brick and mortar.” King asks rhetorically, “How does closing Rikers Island cure the problems that we have in the criminal justice system?”
Calling the mayor’s scheme to build neighborhood jails “flawed and wrong,” King described his meeting with de Blasio: “When you tell me that an inmate, quote un-quote — You didn’t call him an inmate; you called them residents — that they will have their own rooms, decorated rooms, WiFi, television, kiosks, can order their own food, I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like someone who is being punished for violating the laws of society. It sounds like they’re going to a hotel.”
King then challenged the Leftists behind this fiasco in the making. “If you want to correct the criminal justice system, then let’s fix the criminal justice system. Be honest and true about us correcting that system. Don’t blame the brick and mortar of Rikers Island.”
Also at the presser, Councilman Diaz mocked those behind this scheme. “The progressives are doing this to the community? I don’t know. I don’t know. If you are progressive, what are you doing to the community?”
Interestingly, at both pressers, the vast majority of those standing behind the speakers were of Chinese descent. The Chinese community has been politically activated by de Blasio and Carranza’s failed attempt to sink the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which measures students’ preparedness for Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, and New York’s other Specialized High Schools. Now energized, these citizen-activists are combating the extreme Left’s attacks on their community.
Worries that some Chinese organizations do not represent their community’s views led activists to protest the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families’ annual fundraiser on November 4. They complained that Vanessa Leung — CACF’s Left-wing director and a supporter of de Blasio’s anti-SHSAT plan— “sells out Asians” for city funds. The protesters compared Leung to Judas, gave arriving dinner guests gold-foil-wrapped chocolate medallions, and waved signs that read, “Vanessa Leung Sold Out Asians for 30 Gold Coins.”
Protest organizer Phil Wong, spokesman for Parents of Five Boroughs and a member of Community Education Council District 24 said, “CACF supports proposals most Asians oppose. Meanwhile, this organization gets six-digit funding each year from the Mayor’s Office of Contracts. This organization is for themselves and does not represent Asian students or parents.”
“Demographics is destiny” is gospel to most Democrats. This credo contends that as black, Hispanic, and Asian populations expand, a permanent Democrat majority will emerge. This theory relies on these minority groups to keep voting overwhelmingly Democrat. Like good Keynesians, they think statically and ignore how incentives influence behavior.
As Gothamites are starting to learn, when Democrats propose far-Left, common-sense-crushing ideas, from New York’s City Council to the presidential campaign trail, many of these historically reliable voters rebel. If these Neo-Marxists keep concocting radical planks, their demographic destiny will be to lead a boutique constituency of snotty snowflakes and rapacious rent seekers.