Diana Richardson Civic Minded Meeting

Diana Richardson's Civic Minded Meeting no. 3 for 2019

On March 23, I went to the third meeting of Diana Richardson's monthly attempt to connect with her constituents in the 43rd Assembly District. Unlike the first two meetings, this one ran for three hours instead of two, and I wasn't able to stay until the end. However, I did make it through a bit of the third hour before I had to leave. Having been to three of these occasions, I have noticed that there are certain things that are repeated from one to another. One is attendance. At the start of the meeting there are usually about thirty-five people present, but more keep coming in. By the end there were about sixty, some veterans, some new faces. Richardson begins the meetings by asking people to move to the front so they will be closer together, and she always encourages people to get to know each other. She says this is important because the 43rd District is “gerrymandered.” By this she means that the District lies across multiple boundaries so that her Civic Minded meetings are really the only place that the 43rd can meet as a community. She goes over all the different entities that crisscross the 43rd – three state senate seats, four police precincts, four community boards, three Congressional districts and more. However, one District does align fairly well with the 43rd. This is Community Education District 17 which is slightly larger than the 43rd. This fact played an important part in the rest of the meeting, and we will return to that below. Another point that Richardson has made before is that she has unscrupulous enemies. More than once she has mentioned that someone tried to surreptitiously film an interview with her. In this meeting she referred to her enemies as “they.” Someone in the audience asked who this “they” are. Richardson didn't like that. She broke off to speak at length. She said that there are enemies in the audience who wanted to get her to say something that would cause her trouble. The man who had asked eventually became irritated – it seemed she might be implying he was just such an enemy. Soon after he left, and I met him at the door. He was angry and said, “This is a political club not a public meeting.” Fear of enemies can backfire; one might accuse someone who is just asking an honest question of being a suspicious person. I don't think Richardson has figured this out. She needs to be able to say what she needs to say whether it is to friends or enemies. Being more politic would help, and it might not hurt to cut back on some of her colorful behavior and talk. She often asks the audience to agree with what she says or even to repeat it. This isn't reasoned argument – it is more like cheer leading and it would be intimidating to anyone who disagrees. Sometimes it seems she wants adulation, even though she always denies that. However, that denial is belied by the way she sells her personality; she is always telling the audience that they know what she is like and many nod in approval. But selling your personality can be dangerous. It always raises the question are you loyal to the person or to her ideas. One can like her politics without loving her or hating her enemies whoever they may be.

The real meeting got going with Richardson referring to her previous one when she asked people to call Cuomo's office to demand that funds voted on by the legislature be released and spent. She noted that many people had called in and received encouraging messages from Cuomo's Chief of Staff, Chelsea Mueller. She noted that $500,000 was released derived from an anti-violence bill and had been distributed in ten $50,000 grants to ten community groups. She also said there had been movement in medical funding and a healthy food initiative. Richardson made the point that persisting in politics always pays off. She told her constituents not to believe in clouds but to keep making demands until the rain comes down.

Then Richardson conducted a session giving information about education, starting with the structure of the Department of Education. She passed out a sheet showing who the Chancellor is and what departments are under him. She showed how individual schools are structured and discussed the responsibilities of the various officers. She then told about Community Education Council 17 and interviewed three members of the council about what they do. We also heard about the Education Committee of Community Board 8. And then she supplied a list of all the public schools in the 43rd AD, giving the names of the principals, parent coordinators and the heads of the PTA.

In terms of policy, Richardson said that she is opposed to giving Mayoral control for the whole term of the mayor. She argued that the Mayor's work needs to be open to review and correction. She pointed out that most schools in the district are under-enrolled and that there are periodic reports on the utilization of space. These reports are of course useful to those who want to open Charter Schools, which are big businesses that do a lot of lobbying. She pointed out that in the large budget bills all kinds of things can be slipped in and they are hard to vote against because one has to vote against the whole bill. Raising limits on Charter Schools is one item that keeps cropping up. Also, having empty space leads to dual use in the school and in fact every school in the district has some sort of dual use going on. This means that a school cannot grow back to its old size by improving and creating new programs.

Richardson said she visits all the schools in the district and keeps track of their needs and advocates for them. She pointed out the Department of Education sent a delegation into the district just before the vote in the legislature on education and decided to make many improvements. She said this was political; she asked why these visits don't happen all the time.

Richardson also said that the 43rd District is a doughnut whole, meaning that poorer districts like East New York get a lot of support through social programs, and districts like Park Slope are expert at applying pressure that gets results. The 43rd District is in between and is not as poor as some districts and not as good at getting results as the rich ones.

The Assemblywoman also pointed out how one issue affects another. The 43rd AD has the highest rate of evictions in New York. She said that nine housing laws have an influence on evictions, and as people are evicted, it has an effect on education. As families are evicted, they pull their children out of the schools, and that makes for empty space. In every school in the district enrollment goes down over the course of the year. That means that school funding goes down in the next year. At the next meeting on April 27, Richardson promised to go into issues related to housing.

The Assemblywoman also ran through the literature she had given out pledging help with medical insurance, employment, tenants' rights, tax preparation, healthy living, the problems of homeowners, and social security. And that was the end of the meeting for me. I had to leave to go to a party being held by the Dean Street Block Association.

– John DeWind

UpdatesJonathan Judge