Nydia Velazquez

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, CatholicToTheMax.com: (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


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.


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.

Buses don’t kill people, overworked drivers do

In the week that has passed since a Chinatown bus returning from Mohegan Sun Casino crashed on the highway in the Bronx and killed 15 passenger, buses are on the brain. I’ve overheard many personal accounts in bathrooms, restaurants and yoga class of experiences on these buses that traverses the North Eastern Seaboard for a fraction of price charged by major bus companies.

Many stories were similar to the audience input during a  segment of “The Call,” (a live show on New York 1 hosted by CUNY J School Prof John Schiumo) last Tuesday devoted to the Chinatown bus cash.

I travel the I 95 corridor all the time (New England Thruway). These Casino buses are always traveling at speeds of at least 70 to 80MPH. ….They are very aggressive,” wrote in one listener.

“On my trip to Baltimore on Friday, the Bolt Bus I was on was pulled over. Not only was he going 80 on a somewhat congested New Jersey Thruway, tailgating, swerving, and weaving in and out of traffic – he was also drunk! We must have far greater safeguards in place. It appears there is no regulations in place,” said another person.

And on the other side of the argument, were comments like:

“I travel the Chinese bus every other weekend to see my children. I don’t know that I could do it if the price was hiked up. I have to be honest, I use the same company every time and I have never felt fear for my safety. But I have ridden a Mega Bus to Pittsburgh and I definitely could feel the speed on that bus. I do believe in regulation but there are so many people in the same boat as me who would not be able to travel without these discount travel services.”

The day before this show, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Senator Chuck Schumer called on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to “broadly investigate safety regulations that govern the discount tour bus industry.”

“The low-cost intercity bus travel industry along the Northeast Corridor has expanded rapidly in recent years and it appears safety regulations haven’t kept pace.  There needs to be a thorough, extensive review of all rules governing these bus operators, so we ensure tragedies like the one on Saturday don’t happen again,” Ms Velazquez said in a press statement.

Would regulation improve the situation? City Councilman James Vacca, Chairman of Public Transportation Committee says federal regulation, because the buses travel interstate and are under federal authority, would be a start.

” I do believe that the MTS and the city of NY have regulations over vehicles under their jurisdiction and that the federal government would be wise to adopt over an industry that has seemed to avoid meaningful oversight to date,” Mr. Vacca wrote in an email.

“I appreciate the Senator and Congresswoman speaking out but while any legislation is an improvement, it is the federal dot that should be instituting administrative and regulatory reform and I find their silence to date deafening,” Vacca wrote.

So why are Velazquez and Schumer pressing the issue?

I think in Schumer’s case, his wife Iris Weinshall, a former NYC DOT Commissioner, might have suggested he speak out against the NTSB’s lagging regulation. And for Nydia, who appeared on Good Day New York to (basically) reiterate her press release of a growing industry that has outpaced regulation, one can suspect that her district boundaries, which includes Chinatown, could be the motivation to get involved.

Before Schumer and Velazquez took interest in the crashes, the conversation was geared toward the bus driver’s criminal history, more than a faulty system. The two politicians brought it back to a macro level and even the NTSB’s investigation, which found that the driver was fatigued, suggests a larger problem requiring a nuanced solution.

Toward the end of “The Call” segment devoted to the crash, an email in all caps was sent to the show that read,



Sneak Peek: Tomorrow’s House Small Biz Budget Hearing

The House Small Business Committee will hold its annual budget hearing tomorrow at 1 pm in DC, and if the past is a good indicator of the future, predictions can be made as follows:

Both parties will emphasize the importance of small businesses in job creation. The Republicans will likely suggest cutting the annual budget, and the Democrats will try suggest the opposite; all while checking in with Karen Mills, Administrator of the US Small Business Association (SBA) to see how her organization if fairing with a freshly-halved budget.

That, in itself, is not that interesting. In fact, that’s how most House budget hearings are going these days. But, what will be interesting, is how each side will justify its position, while still asserting its firm stance that “small businesses drive job creation.”

Oh what a refrain.

When Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO) , ascended to the position on January 5th after the Republicans took the House, he brought more than a splashy picture for the website. He also carried the GOP pledge to America: to spend less, and to make jobs.

When Rep. Nydia Velazquez descended from that position to ranking minority member on January 5th, she vowed to also make jobs, but never mentioned cutting the budget to do so.

And now more than ever, Nydia is against the budget cuts at all levels, saying in a statement regarding the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Appropriations Act 2 weeks ago that cutting funds doesn’t yield job creation.

My guess is that Nydia and the Dems will point to the success of programs that encourage entrepreneurship, especially for women and minorities, as proof that complete funding is needed. I also would go out on a limb to say that Sam Graves and the Republicans will speak about American ingenuity and handwork bringing keeping small businesses running in “these tough economic times.”

Meanwhile, Karen Mills will be asked to weigh in on weighs to cut spending, but not quality programs for entrepreneurs. Mills, a President Obama appointee, has a history in venture capitalism and a Harvard M.B.A. But just two weeks ago, the Small Business Administration, of which Mills is the head Administrator, felt its budget halved from 2010, which was unusually high because of stimulus money.

To be honest, these vague guesses are a lay-person’s take on complicated politics, but you can bet I’ll be watching the live stream come 1 pm.

Is Nydia Hot Enough?

Fashion Week is over, and so now I can focus on J-School. Half the week I produce and edit videos for websites and iPad apps for ladies magazines and so Fashion Week is a busy time.

However, as I return my focus to politics, I am struck the importance of the superficial for female politicians. In other words, to succeed in the political sphere, and woman must be savvy and also attractive.

The fem-politicians who use their looks to their advantage (obviously) include Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. And though she isn’t an elected official, many sites keep a close eye on the style decisions of the  fine First Lady, Michelle Obama.

Somehow, though, for  Nydia Velazquez – who had been the ranking Senior Member of the House Small Business Committee, and still heads the Hispanic Caucus – being powerful and good looking doesn’t land her national attention in the same way.

I have a few theories on why this is the case. Disclaimer: none of my theories are fair or nice. Just as in fashion.

One, she is too old.

Michelle Obama and Sarah Palin are 47. They both dress in hip and body skimming attire, which makes them look younger. Nydia is 57 and wears age appropriate, if not a bit too old, clothing.

Two, she is too ethnic.

Nydia Velazquez to Bank CEOs from Margaret Teich on Vimeo.

In this video, one can see just how a) sassy Nydia is, and b) how difficult to understand she can be.

I recently spoke with NY Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who represents some of the same neighborhoods in Brooklyn as Congresswoman Velazquez, and he remembers meeting her in the early ’80s when her accent was much thicker. He says that her English has improved leaps and bounds since then, but regardless of the improvement her ability to articulate her point has never been a problem.

But in NYC, and accent and sassy manner aren’t uncommon. On a national level, perhaps it’s a different case.

Three, she can’t be mainstreamed.

In this Elle magazine profile of the 10 Most Powerful women in DC, one sees that all of the women are either white, or in some way made to look more white.  Nydia doesn’t fall into the category, and frankly, doesn’t seem to care how she is perceived. Again, her constituents are diverse and are therefore used to an ethnic politician.

Perhaps Nydia doesn’t want the national acclaim. Or, maybe the nation isn’t ready to acclaim a woman like her.

Winning Strategy In Chess

There’s a thick silence in the room. Apart from the click of timers, the plunk of pieces moving and soft pretzel chewing, there is nothing but the quiet that comes with complete concentration.

And that’s an odd sound for kids ages 11 to 14, but it’s 3:00 pm at Intermediate School 318 Eugenio Maria de Hostos School in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the National Champion chess team is practicing. The team practices five days a week for an hour and a half and compete against other NYC schools most Saturdays.

The team is the subject of a new documentary, “Chess Movie,” that has been submitted to the TriBeCa Film Festival, and has been written up in the NY Times. Still, Principal Fred Rubino says that in the 12 years the team has been winning, Nydia Velazquez, the US Congresswoman representing the school’s district, has never seen them play.

“I don’t know why, but she hasn’t seen us,” Rubino says.

Upstairs, in a corner of one of the two rooms that the 80 student-strong club practices in, Chess coach Elizabeth Vicary is reviewing a game recorded in a notebook move by move, surrounded by students.

“I love this move,” she says, deftly sliding white and black pieces across the grid, “I love A4 or A6 for your bishop, Humzha, but look how you’ve left all of your pawns exposed with the next move. I feel like sometimes you move too quickly and need to think a bit longer about what will happen if you make a move. Don’t worry about the clock so much.”

Humzha Alboorati age 11 takes the advice and his notebook, as well as a second bag of pretzels on the sly and begins another round with Tommy Zhang, his opponent for the afternoon. Students are paired according to their rank outlined by the US Chess Federation.

With 80% of the 1600 students at I.S. 318 living below the poverty line, I ask Ms Vicary if the daily snack is a big incentive to join chess team. She looks at me as if I’ve just asked if students also play checkers and say, “They are here for chess.”

“Chess has taught me about everything,” says Humzh, as he takes Tommy’s rook. Unfortunately, he continues talking during the game, goading Tommy as he goes and in a final power move, Tommy traps Humzh’s king, “When you were talking all that trash, you didn’t see me,” he says grinning.

“The academic impact (of chess) is secondary to the social impact. Often times kids get to middle school and they kind of  get lost, not finding a niche and so chess offers that to a group of kids that otherwise might get lost along the path of middle school.” Says Vice Principal and chess club advisor John Galvin. “Our chess kids have amazing attendance, a great group of friends, and whether or not it impacts how they do on standardized math test is secondary to building kids who love to come to school. And it shows that urban education can work.”

Understanding Nydia Velzáquez – Chapter 1

In 1981, after hiding underground for five years, Oscar López-Rivera, a Puerto Rican born activist and independence leader was caught by the FBI and sentenced to 55-years for seditious conspiracy. López-Rivera was one of  thousands of Puerto Ricans fighting for the freedom of his homeland, in an ongoing fight spanning  centuries.

Elsewhere in the continental US that year, another Puerto Rican born, independence-activist and leader fought for the Island in a classroom. Nydia Velázquez, taught Puerto Rican Studies to undergraduates at the City University of New York’s Hunter College, in what would later be the department of Africana and Puerto Rico/Latino Studies.

A few years later, Velázquez would work her way into more mainstream politics, leaving the goals of national Puerto Rican independence aside. Yet, she didn’t forget her beginnings. In early January of this year, Velázquez and three other members of Congress of Puerto Rican descent sent a letter to the Parole Commission calling for Lopez to be freed on parole.

This balance of Puerto Rican identity and a quest for wider Latino support is important for Congresswoman Velázquez. Not only do Latinos make up 28% of New York City population, “if population growth continues at the yearly rates found between 2000 and 2007 Dominicans
will surpass Puerto Ricans and become the largest sector of the City’s Latino population in 2020,” found a study by the Latino Data Project based out of CUNY’s Center for Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies program.

Also, in 2008, the  National Institute For Latino Policy polled 1,000 Latino leaders across the US regarding the most important issues facing their communities. Regarding Puerto Rico’s Independence, NILP found that only 31% supported full independence, 54% supported some form of US statehood (be it a proper US state,  commonwealth status or associated republic), and the remaining 15% either wasn’t sure or didn’t care.

Still, there is more than statistics to encourage the Congresswoman to broaden her cultural identity from Puerto Rican to Latino.

The philosophy of the Department of Africana and Puerto Rican/Latino Studies, where the Congresswoman taught in 1981, says on its website that the curriculum is inspired by the work of Eugenio María de Hostos and Pedro Albizu Campos. Both were Puerto Rican leaders who believed in national independence, but that’s where the similarities stop. Albizu Campos (1893 –  1965) was dark-skinned, from meager beginnings and yet went to Harvard for law school. He returned to PR, and worked as a labor lawyer and national independence leader.

On the other hand, Hostos (1839 – 1903) was born into a light-skinned affluent family and attended law school in Spain. He viewed Puerto Rico’s independence differently Albizu, favoring a larger alliance or “Antillean Confederation” between Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba.

In the late 1930s, Albizu was imprisoned for 10 years for leading nationalists revolts, and then again in the 1950s. He died in prison in 1964, which the Clinton Administration later exposed was due to “experimenting” with radiation treatment. Hostos died in the Dominican Republic of natural causes.

Oscar López-Rivera founded a high school in Chicago, now called Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School.

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, there is I.S. 318  Eugenio Maria de Hostos, which is in Congresswoman Velázquez’s 12th district.

photos courtesy of wikipedia