CBID Annual Dinner: A Roundup of Progressive Causes
Last night was the annual dinner of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats. This year again my wife and I can't afford both the IND and CBID dinners, so again we chose the CBID dinner because it is in our neighborhood. Hopefully by next year our personal economy will have improved enough to do both.
As my wife reminded me, a year ago, at last year's CBID dinner, Senator Chuck Schumer made his wonderful speech where he declared "I am not afraid of John McCain" and predicted a landslide win for Obama. Well, he was right and the enthusiasm of that win was a theme in many discussions and speeches. But more than that, this year's dinner represented in its honorees quite a cross section of progressive causes.
Small Business Part 1: Catherine Bohne, owner of the Community Bookstore in Park Slope (143 Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn) and popular community activist, was warmly honored for her work in the community. Her bookstore and cafe (I assume they still have the cool cafe in the back, but I haven't been inside for awhile...time to pay a visit, I think) have been part of the community for years. Catherine told her story of running a small business in tough times since 9/11 and during Bush's two Republican Recessions while also being an active part of the community. Eventually her business, like so many around America these days, was not going to make it. Word went out through the community and the community responded in, as was pointed out, an "It's a Wonderful Life" moment, helping her to save her business. Catherine seemed surprised and overwhelmed by being honored, and she also, after her speech, challenged politicians when they gave speeches about aspects of the economy and how government would be helping small businesses.
Small Business Part 2 and Diversity: Next was Nydia Velasquez, Congresswoman from the 12th district, Chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and first woman to be Chair of the House Small Business Committee. She was honored for her consistent progressive advocacy (with occasional nudges from CBID on healthcare) and for her leadership on immigrant and labor issues. She talked about the both enthusiastic and difficult job facing Democrats in Washington, DC. When I talked with her earlier in the evening that enthusiasm was clear. I get the feeling that despite the difficulties handed the Democrats by Bush, it is a good time to be a Democrat in Congress. She discussed the efforts to get small businesses breaks (something you don't hear about amid the big business scandals) like one-year no interest loans and reduced application fees for loans (if I have the jist of it right).
An interesting side note was that Steve Levin, Vito Lopez's candidate for the 33rd City Council district (where I have endorsed Jo Anne Simon) was in attendence. I was across the room from him during Nydia's speech on helping small businesses and on the thrill of being a Democat with Obama as President. I was struck at how bored and unenthusiastic he seemed on these subjects. I had heard that, despite being Vito Lopez's pick for the seat, he was a nice, decent guy. Yet there he was looking like a teenager someone had dragged to a political event, bored and surly. He would pointedly not clap or clap sarcastically while everyone else was enthusiastically applauding Nydia and Obama. What was up with him?
Then I realized. It was the fact that he WAS Vito Lopez's kid, and Vito Lopez HATES Nydia Velasquez. You'd think Levin would prefer, at a reform Democrat event like CBID's dinner, to show he is NOT so intimately linked to the corrupt Vito Lopez, but instead he chose to emphasize that Vito's petty grudges are his petty grudges.
Either that or he just had indigestion. But the impression he made was not a good one at a moment when the rest of the crowd was quite enthusiastic as progressives and as Democrats.
Children and Fighting Corruption: Speaking of fighting corruption (and speaking of people often referred to as "kid") Mark Peters was honored for his work as senior staff attorney for Children's Rights, and as the Special Deputy Superintendent in charge of the New York Liquidation Bureau (which sounds ominous, but actually sounds pretty cool. From their website:
The New York Liquidation Bureau (NYLB) is a unique entity. Receiving no funding from taxpayers, it carries out the responsibilities of the Superintendent of Insurance as Receiver, and acts on his behalf in the discharging of his statutorily defined duties to protect the interests of the policyholders and creditors of insurance companies that have been declared impaired or insolvent.
The NYLB has performed this function since 1909, when the New York State Legislature passed the law mandating that the Superintendent assume the separate responsibility of Receiver. In the case of each insurance company in receivership, the Superintendent as Receiver is appointed by the New York State Supreme Court. The Court approves all of the actions of the Superintendent, and by extension those of the NYLB.
I do have to wonder about the naming of New York agencies. The "New York Liquidation Bureau" and the "New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene" really just don't sound right.
Labor: Eduardo Rosario was honored for his work on behalf of labor. A teamster and executive with the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, he has been a strong labor advocate since 1985. Eduardo gave an excellent speech highlighting that all we are pushing for in things like the Employee Free Choice Act (supported by most Democrats but not by the Republicans) is to establish basic workers' rights that have long been guaranteed in most of the free world. He pointed out that the Employee Free Choice Act is seen in the Western democracies as just a baby step in trying to catch up with the rest of the free world. America is behind in fairness to workers and we need to catch up. I will add that contrary to what the right wing claims, the current trend is for businesses to migrate to Canada because the healthcare and labor laws there create a better BUSINESS environment. I will also add that Canadian banks, which escaped the disastrous deregulation Republicans foisted on America, have not been going under or needing taxpayer-funded bailouts like Lehman Brothers, Bank of America, AIG, Citicorp, etc. The Western democracy style system DOES BETTER than the Republican ideal of deregulation and worker exploitation. We need to catch up.
Environment: FROGG (Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus) were honored for their work on advocating for two very obvious things: 1.) that the Gowanus canal should be cleaned up BEFORE development occurs there (and anyone who has seen the canal on a bad day knows that clean up is desperately needed), and 2.) that increased development density should not happen until the city can upgrade our infrastructure like sewers (we ALREADY have widespread problems with sewage backups into homes BEFORE all this development). These are simple things, yet our city government and developers ignore the need for environmental cleanup and infrastructure needs before development. Our crowded roads, inadequate sewer system, inadequate fire house coverage (cut back by Bloomberg repeatedly!), inadequate schools, etc. cannot handle the development our government pushes for. FROGG is one of the few organizations advocating common sense on these issues.
Finally, Universal SINGLE-PAYER, Healthcare: Dr. Oliver Fein was honored for his advocacy of single-payer healthcare. Fein is president of Physicians for a National Health Program, who advocate healthcare as a human right, not a luxury. He advocates a healthcare plan that will include things like automatic enrollment in the emergency room for anyone not already covered and progressive premium rates that are geared to income. He points out that "universal" healthcare has been adopted even by insurance companies, but we need to advocate for the right KIND of universal healthcare and currently "single-payer" is the key difference between real healthcare reform and fake, insurance company inspired healthcare reform. Who is this radical healthcare reformer? He is the Associate Dean of the Weill Cornell Medical College in NYC, an extremely well-respected physician. THIS is the kind of expert we need guiding healthcare reform.
Finally, we come to the tarnished fork award, CBID's annual award (never accepted in person by the honoree) to a Democrat whose corruption or stupidity deserve special mention. This year was obvious. This year's tarnished fork winner was good old Steve DiBrienza, the former City Councilman who managed to get the City Council (thanks to first Gifford Miller, then Christine Quinn) to give him taxpayer money to keep an office that was shared by his law office and a "non-profit" organization that claims to have supported youth sports but so far no one can find any youth sports group that can remember ever being supported by him. The money given to DiBrienza (OUR money) went almost 100% to slaries for DiBrienza, his wife and his former staff members when he was with the city council. As a Brooklyn pol said to me earlier in the evening, it wasn't illegal to have a backroom deal to get the coucil to funnel money to you in this way, but where are the audits? Where did the money go? When you get money that way you have to "DO SOMETHING with it. What did he DO with it?" Had he actually run a non-profit that DID something, he wouldn't be in such hot water. But all he did was pay himself, pay for his office, and give money to his family and friends.
David Yassky and Bill de Blasio put in brief showings but as far as I know no one asked them about the money that went to DiBrienza. It has already been shown that Yassky funnelled money to DiBrienza immediately after DiBrienza endorsed Yassky in 2006. People pointed out to me that this is so typical of Brooklyn politics. Working Families Party endorsed Bill de Blasio right after he gave them $10,000. David Yassky tried to funnel city money to BUILD right after BUILD's president endorsed him in 2006. Pay to play. Endorsements exchanged for money and favors. That's how this city works all too often.
And, of course, politicians were present at the dinner in droves. Norm Siegel, Mark Green, John Liu, David Weprin, candidates for the 33rd aand 39th council races (yes...even Isaac Abraham), etc. Too many for me to remember this early in the morning.