My Ongoing Frustration With Gary Ackerman

1. A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.
2. A rule or belief governing one’s personal behavior.

Is there anything more boring than a politician with principles?

The Arizona legislature passed a bill that would make it so that special Tea Party license plates could be purchased for an annual $25 fee and displayed proudly on your car. But according to the bill, of that $25, $17 would go directly to Tea Party organizations. Effectively, the state of Arizona would be fundraising for the Tea Party. Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law two days ago.

Gary Ackerman has become the bills national opponent. In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Ackerman wrote, “It’s an unabashed Tea Party political pay-off. Thanks for campaigning for us, here’s a wad of cash collected by the government just for you.

“So, the next political attack ad you see on TV questioning the President’s birth certificate could be funded from a generous grant from the State of Arizona.

So Gary Ackerman doesn’t want special interest money funneled through the states. That makes sense. But to play devil’s advocate: isn’t the state just acting like the middle man? The money is coming from people who would want to donate to the Tea Party anyway. What’s the difference between this and any other donations that sponsor candidates and affect legislation?

So I started thinking about Gary Ackerman’s donors. Here were the top 5 industries that donated to Gary Ackerman for the 2009/2010 campaign:

  1. Real Estate
  2. Lawyers/Law Firms
  3. Securities & Investment
  4. Pro-Israel
  5. Public Sector Unions

Of those five industries, Ackerman introduced legislation in the 111th Congress supporting only the pro-Israel lobby. In fact, he sponsored bills that negatively affected two of his biggest donors: real estate and securities/investment.

What gives Ackerman?! I’ve been trying to figure you out for months. Every time you say something, it’s like you actually believe what you’re saying. Whenever you vote for something or sponsor legislation, it’s like you actually care about the issue–despite some on-camera politicizing every now and then. You don’t even cash in favors for the people who donate to your campaign? You, sir, are a crappy politician.

One of these days I’m going to find some dirt on the congressman from New York’s fifth. I’ll keep digging. (Maybe he’s a lousy tipper, or something…)

Earth Day = PR Day

Earth Day began 41 years ago when an unfortunately named Senator decided environmental issues needed a stronger presence in American politics.

“For several years, it had been troubling me that the state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country. Finally, in November 1962, an idea occurred to me that was, I thought, a virtual cinch to put the environment into the political “limelight” once and for all,” Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin told the Wilderness Society.

Whether or not the “limelight” has since shined on the multitude of environmental challenges still facing our planet today (global warming, species loss, fossil fuel dependency, over population,  shrinking potable water supply) is still in question, politicians are still using Earth Day to push their political agendas.

And Senator Nelson’s point is well-taken when it comes to advocating for the environment. A wise politician will use the annual Earth Day holidy to push legislation, as well promote environmental advocacy in what otherwise would be a PR stunt. Because, the fact that a legislator cares to be an environmental steward is only as important as showing their constituents that they care. That’s why a politician started the holiday.

Nydia: take note! You missed your opportunity.

Where other congressman did the green and promoted it on their websites, Nydia failed to complete the entire act.

Here are a few examples from congressional members’ sites:

From David Cicilline (D-RI) website: “We need to work together to create a better environment and economy for current and future generations of Rhode Islanders. While there has been progress made in reducing our dependence on foreign oil, more work needs to be done to assure our energy security and reduce the rising cost of gasoline….

From John D. Dingell (D-MI) website: Today, Congressman John D. Dingell (MI-15) marked Earth Day 2011 with representatives from the United Auto Workers and the Big 3 Automakers– Chrysler, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors for an Earth Day Auto Show…

From Dennis Cardoza (D-DC) website: In recognition of Earth Day (April 22nd), U.S. Congressman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) announced he has re-introduced legislation that protects the rights of homeowners to generate their own clean, renewable electricity through solar power….

On April 29th, Congresswoman Velazquez and EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck honored four individual/businesses from Puerto Rico with Environmental Quality Awards for their achievements protecting public health and the environment.

The award winners included a priest who runs an environmental health radio show and traveled  across the US in the 1970 defending migrant workers and educating them about pesticides; to two women who run a recycling education program in Barrio Obrero Marina (Puerto Rico).

Nydia’s last news update on her site is from mid-April. She mentioned nothing about honoring these leaders in sustainability, nor did receive credit for collaborating with the EPA. Her web presence is minimal, as I’ve mentioned before, and she would be smart to hire a more effective web manager to keep her good work in the limelight.

Happy Easter, Catholics.



It’s Easter Sunday and I want to honor Nydia Velaquez and her fellow Catholics with a little statistical round-up.



There are 68,503,456 Catholics in the United States (22% of the U.S. population),
and 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide. *

6 Cardinals currently lead U.S. archdioceses, none of whom are in NY. **

There are 41,489 priests and 60,715 religious sisters in the US. ***

The country’s 1,341 Catholic high schools educate 674,000 students. ****

There are 3 Catholic high Schools in Nydia’s district. *****

In 2009, 41% of births were aborted in NYC. The national rate is 19% of births.*******

Nydia Velazquez was rated 100% by NARAL, indicating a pro-choice voting record. ********

*United States Council on Catholic Bishops

**United States Council on Catholic Bishops

*** Kenedy “Official Catholic”  Directory

**** Kenedy “Official Catholic”  Directory

*****Google Maps

****** “God So Loved” hoodie, $36, (from website) “Shout out the truth of God’s abundant love and mercy for all His children by wearing this hoodie and starting great conversation!”

*******Wall Street Journal


To Healthcare and Happiness Pt. 3

Besides the giddy thrill that must come from beating your opponent’s signature achievement into a bloody pulp, freshman Rep. Michael Grimm’s assault on the healthcare bill carries implications for his reelection chances.

By virtue of his narrow victory and experience as an FBI agent, Grimm landed on the money magnet Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street.  By far, the Financial Service Committee’s largest source of campaign contributions from political action committees (PACs) and individual donations came from the financial, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector of the workforce.

It just so happens that many of the behemoth banks and investment houses cried during the height of the debate that the healthcare bill would damage their ability to rake in record-breaking profits almost annually.

In most cases, the top industries in this sector favored Democrats in the 2010 election cycle, but most likely because they held majorities in both chambers of Congress and The White House.  With Republicans in control of the House–and according to some, The White House, just saying—that largess will likely shift to Republicans such as Grimm.

Grimm already has some traction with that sector.  Of the top five industries donating to Grimm’s campaign, three of them—real estate, insurance, and securities and investment—fell under the FIRE sector.  And it doesn’t hurt that Staten Island’s second largest segment of the workforce came from that sector.

Some may point out that Grimm’s opponent, Michael McMahon, received far more money from vocal opponents of the health care bill, such as Goldman Sachs.  In fact, Goldman represented McMahon’s largest contributor, but that largess likely served as enticement for McMahon to vote against the bill.  It’s reasonable that Goldman’s charity may shift to Grimm in the next election cycle.

For a first-year congressman such as Grimm, having Wall Street just a Ferry ride away can be a blessing.


Nydia (V) is more progressive than Mike (B)

When 700 working parents took to the steps of city hall last Wednesday, chanting, cheering and demanding that their children not be cut from city childcare, they weren’t thinking of NYC’s $3.2 billion budgetary shortfall.

But, Mayor Bloomberg is.

The City’s budget for fiscal 2012 is due July 1st, and the Mayor’s plan is reduce the gap, which has increased by $800 million over the last two years. To accomplish this goal, he is forced to make cuts from all budgets and close the deficits of individual agencies. One such deficit is a whopping $95 million for the city’s Administration for Children Services.

“At the end of February, ACS sent letters to the families of 16, 462 children saying they would be terminated from childcare,” says Gregory Brender, policy expert at United Neighborhood Houses, who also says there are currently 100,00 children who receive services.”These are families almost all of whom the parents have jobs, a few are in school and working at the same time, so they both need care in order to educate their children but also in order to have somewhere safe for them at work during the day.”

ACS (and its boss, Mayor Bloomberg) site a few reasons they must shave almost all of the agency’s deficit ($91 million) from early childhood education, one of which has to do with the federal budget. As of Fiscal Year 2012, the stimulus act, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will expire. That means less teachers will be paid for with federal funding, and with 3 and 4 year olds (the age range of most children being cut) there is a small teacher to student ration. The younger the child the more the personal attention that is needed.

The biggest concern, says Brender and early childhood specialist, is that the cost of socializing these young children and teaching them fundamental information they will need to succeed in public school, will ultimately be passed down the line. In other words, we either invest now, or pay later.

For a politically progressive and government heavy administration, (banning smoking in public areas, labeling calories on menus, and creating controversial bike-paths throughout the five boros) the Mayor’s positions on education seem off kilter.

First, the Mayor hires a corporate CEO to be City Schools Chancellor, only to have her step down 5 months later in response to public outcry. Now, he is failing to invest in the pre-primary school aged children in yet another move that will short the city’s young, for all intents and purposes.

Nydia Velazquez, also a progressive New York politician, would never short education. She has stood up for investing in kids at every turn (most recently on the house floor fighting against head start funding cuts) and in face of federal budget cuts, Velazquez will always side with those spending.


To Healthcare and Happiness Pt. 2

Wikimedia Commons

In the lead up to the vote on the healthcare bill, former Rep. Michael McMahon faced a belligerent crowd of 800 in the auditorium of a Staten Island high school.

Compared to other lawmakers, the freshman democrat escaped the most vicious threats.  The Jerry Springer moment came when one indignant audience member with a microphone vowed to disrupt his reelection chances.  Uninterested in the torch-and-pitchfork vote, McMahon said he would not respond to threats.

McMahon eventually voted “no” on the bill.  He said it would hurt the hospital system on Staten Island and Medicare benefits for seniors, but he still lost—by three points.

McMahon’s eventual victor, Republican Michael Grimm, offered a counter argument during the campaign.  The bill would hurt the hospital system on Staten Island and Medicare benefits for seniors.  See what he did there?

All of this hints at a pretty simple calculus for winning the seat on Staten Island and part of working class Brooklyn in the last election.  Mention your Democratic opponent’s name in the same sentence as Nancy Pelosi with little regard to the context.  Because it appears that McMahon recognized the vital importance of the healthcare sector on Staten Island, which represents a third of its workforce, but it didn’t help him at the polls.

Sure, McMahon voted “no” on the heath care bill.  But he didn’t vote hard enough. He didn’t go that extra step of extorting lawmakers with compromising 8 x 10 glossies to vote “no.” Worst of all, Pelosi gave him a pass, according to the campaign storyline.

But what really separated Grimm from McMahon was Grimm’s willingness to repeal the bill.  In repealing the bill, Grimm would save us from the reprehensible character in Joker makeup threatening to destroy the hospitals on Staten Island.

Two of the three hospitals on Staten Island could lose federal funding.  Staten Island University Hospital may lose almost $23 million for a medical education program.  Richmond University Medical Center expects significant losses as a result of the bill.

McMahon would later justify voting “no” on these grounds during a congressional debate at Wagner College, but Grimm slammed him for admitting he would not vote to repeal the bill. Grimm would—and did.  With much of the district disgruntled with not just the healthcare bill, but what it symbolized, this put Grimm a neck’s length ahead of McMahon.

Meanwhile, the medical community didn’t seem too insistent on repeal in the first place. Health professionals seemed pleased enough with McMahon’s efforts, contributing $77,000 to his campaign.  Grimm received $31,500.  But the repeal effort continues, however fruitlessly.

Since the repeal effort now faces an unreceptive Democratic majority in the Senate, and a veto by President Obama, Grimm and other Republicans have called an audible.  Dissect and Dismember has overtaken Repeal and Replace as they attempt to dismantle the bill piecemeal style.


The 5th District’s Changing Dynamic

Add Gary Ackerman to the list of New York politicians upset about the census.

According to last month’s census count, New York City only has 8,175,133 people, a growth of only 2.1 percent and far different from the initial projections of 8.3 million, and Queens, one of the most populous counties in the country, grew by only 0.1 percent. The release caused quite a stir in New York City, to say the least, and the Mayor has announced that the city is formally challenging the results.

“Everything we know about these neighborhoods tells a different story,” Mike Bloomberg said. “People who have tried to find apartments in these neighborhoods can confirm there just isn’t an abundance of vacancies.”

Ackerman’s district – New York’s 5th – gained only 44,782 people. According to Social Explorer’s Andrew Beveridge, the current district population of 699,143 is a 2.59 percent deviation of the ideal district population size of 717,707. What that means is Ackerman’s is one of many seats in New York City that could be in danger of going away.

The redistricting of New York after the latest census could come as quite a blow to New York Democrats in general, who make up the vast majority of the state’s congressional seats. And with his many years in Congress, the presumed undercount may be the only way that Ackerman has even a chance of being bumped from his seat.

But Ackerman isn’t the only politician facing redistricting problems. As a matter of fact, New York’s 5th ranks as one of the least affected in the city. Peter King and Greg Meeks appear to be hit hardest on that front, as their districts deviate close to 9 percent from the ideal population size.

What could affect Ackerman, however, are his district’s shifting demographics. Ackerman’s district has seen great growth in its Asian and Hispanic population. Overall, the 5th District has dropped from 44 percent non-Hispanic white to 36 percent white. Asians, meanwhile, make up 33 percent of the district, and Hispanics 26 percent. Even in parts of historically white Port Washington and Manorhaven, the Hispanic population has increased by between 15 and 30 percent. This change means that his largely white and Jewish base isn’t as prevalent as it once was, and it’s a change he’s already working to address directly. When asked about the census, Ackerman called the Queens results “bizarre,” and blamed them on a faulty count – particularly in the borough’s more diverse areas.

“I know of no neighborhood where there are fewer people than there were in the last census,” he said. “But I know of scores of neighborhoods where the population has increased in multiples, particularly within the ethnic and minority communities in Queens.”

These census results – accurate or not – indicate that Ackerman will have to start appealing to a broader base of New Yorkers going forward.

Nydia Takes Care of Her (very different) People

Nydia Velazquez is committed to serving both the the poorest and richest members of society, it seems.

A look a the congresswoman’s voting record proves that Ms Velazquez takes care of the most vulnerable citizens -the very old, very sick, very young, very new to America – while a glimpse at the congresswoman’s donor list shows just who’s taking care of Ms Velazquez.

According to OpenSecrets, Nydia raised $838,912 in the 2010 election, none of which came from her own pocket. Top donors (both individual and PAC support) by industry for Ms Velazquez were Securities and Investment, Health Professionals and Commercial Banks.

Understanding how a liberal-minded, minority-identity politician like Ms Velazquez can be conscious of the interests of the richest and the poorest segments of society at the same time has been challenging for me.  But I think I now get how committee participation has helped smooth out the kinks which come from the pressures of these different interests.

The Senate just passed a bill that amends the Small Business Act (the Act) to reauthorize through FY2019 the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs of the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Nydia Velazquez and current Small Business Committee Chair (and republican) Sam Graves are both thrilled with the passage of the SBIR/STTR re authorization bill because it puts money- and opportunity- into the hands of small businesses (many of whom, Nydia hopes will be minority or women run as that has been her push and focus). The initial authorization ended in 2003 when an administrative judge said that the research firms benefiting from the grants failed to qualify as a small businesses as defined by the landmark Small Business Act of 1958.

Wait a minute; that doesn’t seem like a Ms Velazquez move to give small biz funding to already established (wealthy) business, does it?

It turns out, the firms that were in question in 2003, and want to now regain funding were venture capitalists. And venture capitalists are part of the Investment and Securities industry, and specifically contributed just under 15,000 to Velaquez’s last campaign.

It’s starting to make sense now.

Before the bill left the House, there was a proposed amendment that limited VC firms to receiving only 25% of the possible grants. At the Small Business Committee hearing on March 23 reviewing the bill, Ms Velazquez made it very clear that limiting the amount allocated for venture capitalists was not a good idea:

(To expert witness Dr Audretsch of Indiana University, ) “Under the current eligibility rules it is possible for a business with 222 employees and a net worth of $43m like Dr. Squillante’s company (another expert witness present at the hearing) to receive and SBIR grant. However a company with 5 employees and only $1m in net worth could be ineligible for these type of grants because it is majority owned by a venture capital company. So my question to you is does this seem like a fair and equitable system?

Later in a closing remark outlining her position that VC firms shouldn’t be exempted from parts of the funding Ms Velazquez said:

We all want to get this reauthorization done. But if we’re gonna authorize this for 10 – 14 years, we gotta do it right and it has to be in a way that works, and works for the small firms otherwise we cannot abdicate our responsibility in this committee. Thank you.

Of the congresswoman’s VC advocacy,  Rick Shindell of SBIR Insider Newsletter wrote “The word compromise does not seem to exist in Velazquez’s lexicon, as she again demonstrated in the hearing, displaying no interest in the Senate’s 25% VC compromise worked out with BIO, NVCA, SBTC and others.”

Nydia doesn’t take no as an answer when it comes to her base. Rich or poor.

To Healthcare and Happiness

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

On the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage, the Staten Island Democrats celebrated outside the New Dorp office of Rep. Michael Grimm.  But Grimm, a Republican, celebrated his vote to repeal the healthcare bill.

“What Obamacare does is expand the federal government’s authority, add to the national debt, and limit the freedom of Americans to choose and keep the plan they want,” Grimm said in a statement. “Obamacare must be overturned and that is why I voted to repeal it.”

Ever since Grimm burst onto the Republican political establishment in Staten Island and Brooklyn, the healthcare reform package has served as his main piñata.  And while the S.I. Dems offered ten reasons why Grimm should stop battering the bill, he has three reasons for busting it open.  The first: senior citizens.

Grimm’s second largest source of individual campaign contributions came from retired individuals, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  And Grimm has returned the favor heartily, citing the potential backlash on seniors in much of his anti-ACA rhetoric.

“The most hurtful part of this law is the heartless cuts to Medicare,” said Grimm on his campaign website, “which impact both the seniors of Brooklyn and Staten Island and the hospitals which serve them.”

And many seniors seem to believe that as well.  A poll conducted by Extend Health revealed that 61 percent of seniors thought the healthcare reform bill weakened Medicare.  That number is likely higher in Grimm’s district.  Grimm’s predecessor, Michael McMahon, estimated that the same percentage of letters, calls and e-mails his office received during the debate were similarly negative about the bill.

In addition to weakening Medicare, Grimm says the healthcare bill will deny retirees their prescription drug coverage.  But an analysis conducted by Democrats on the Energy and Commerce committee found that repealing the bill would increase prescription drug costs for 9,600 seniors, deny new preventive care benefits to 102,000 seniors, and increase the costs of early retiree coverage for up to 10,700 early retirees.  And the 18,000 of Grimm’s constituents who are currently uninsured would remain so.

Still, Grimm claims to have an audience as large as it is disgruntled.  He cites the southwest portion of Brooklyn, which includes areas in his district, as the area with the most senior citizens in the country.  Individuals older than 55 years old represent nearly a quarter of his constituents, according to the American Community Survey.

So next time Grimm swings by the V.F.W. Hall or the Rotarian club, it may pay to demonize “Obamacare.”  Literally.

This is the first article in a series.


Hey Nydia, It’s time for a technology UPGRADE!

The D.C. in Washington might as well stand for Digital Community because it seems like the whole town is as tech savvy as can be. Congresspeople (even the older set) tweet photos and town hall meetings (often more frequently than Kim Kardashian.) The President and Mrs Obama post videos from the White House on an almost daily basis. And with the recent that rumor that former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs might be going to work for Facebook, why not drop that whole District of Columbia part.

Because there are a few folks in the capitol lagging on the digital front. And Ms Nydia Velazquez, you are definitely one of them!

So, in order to help you, Ms Velazquez, spread the word to your constituents of district 12 (of which I am one) who are definitely online, I’ve laid out a 5 point plan.

1) Update your website more often, for both press releases and multi-media. A new press releases for your site is loaded between 5 to 8 business days, which would be fine if you weren’t such a busy and active member of the house and therefore making important speeches almost daily. And the “multimedia” component of the website needs a lot of TLC, considering the most recent video comes from Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing – August 2009!- and the photos are equally ancient (in new media terms, at least).

2) Get a twitter account and use it! Even this older looking Congressman from West Virginia shouts out legislation, his daily happenings, and even his birthday (which he shares with you – March 28th Happy Bday Nydia and David McKinley, though I wouldn’t have known it had he not tweeted it and then it been re-tweeted).

I know that McKinley’s twitter followers are few, the info is there for them, and so he doesn’t have to update his website (see suggestion number 1).

3) Great work on having a bilingual website, I’ll say that much. But, when you do post in English, make sure to check for spelling errors. (In a press release from March 17, the Congresswoman’s most recent, she said: “As the world’s greatest democracy, what kid (sic) of message does this war send to other nations? Do as we say, not as we do?”)

Nothing says low budget internet presence like spelling errars.

4) Nydia, it’s time to look into a better way to have your constiuents visit D.C. I’ve looked around, and this whole “visit the Capitol/or White House” section is on all Congresspeople’s websites. But, to visit any other Congressperson, all one must do is fill out the online form. On your website, a constituent must either email Jessica Garcia, or fax in a request. For one, Jessica Garcia is no longer the person to email, says the woman who answers your DC phone (Hi Gizeela!And for two, no one uses faxes anymore. Like at all.  And while this this may seem picky because you only receive like a few requests a month, says Gizeela, that might in fact be the reason you only receive a few requests a month (though, I was informed we are coming up on the busy season and if I want to visit, the tours are first-come, first serve so I need to jump on it.)

5) Hire an assistant communications director to help the current and only one, Alex Huarek. I say this because you ma’am are doing so much good work, and the 3 times I have called Mr Huarek to better understand how or why you are doing whatever you are doing (or 2 times I have emailed him) he hasn’t had the time to answer or get back. Maybe that’s because he is both your communications director and small biz committee communications director. Either way, it’s discouraging to keep leaving messages on an answering machine that never delivers.