Mark-Viverito on Voting, Rikers Island and More

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito with Errol Louis, NY1 News political anchor and Director of the Urban Reporting Program at the CUNY graduate School of Journalism, at the Feb. 18 Center for Community and Ethnic Media Newsmakers briefing (Photo by Aaron Montes for Voices of NY)

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito with Errol Louis, NY1 News political anchor and director of the Urban Reporting Program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, at the Feb. 18 Center for Community and Ethnic Media Newsmakers briefing (Photo by Aaron Montes for Voices of NY)

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has made a point of reaching out to the non-mainstream media in the city, spoke on a wide number of topics at a Newsmakers briefing for community and ethnic media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism on Feb. 18.

In her opening remarks, Mark-Viverito said she was “passionate about civic engagement” and noted that voter participation in some city neighborhoods has been “dismal” in recent elections. She emphasized the importance of “preparing a new generation of voters” through initiatives such as registration efforts in city high schools with a goal of registering 10,000 students, and she said the council will work on a voting app and online portal to make it easier for voters to find polling places and check their registration.

But she also touched on other subjects of importance to her, from her endorsement of Hillary Clinton and her strong support of the city’s Young Women’s Initiative, to which the council has allocated $10 million that will be matched by $10 million in private funds. The fact that there are only 14 women in a city council with 51 members, she said, “is a problem.”

The Newsmakers briefing was sponsored by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Errol Louis, director of Urban Reporting at the J-School and political anchor at NY1 News, moderated a panel with Debralee Santos, editor of the Manhattan Times and the Bronx Free Press, and Milton Allamadi, publisher of Black Star News.

Mark-Viverito commenting on the City Council’s recent approval of a higher-than-recommended salary bump for Council members. Reports Meg O’Connor in Gotham Gazette:

When asked about the increase at a Thursday event held by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY School of Journalism, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, “The commission did not take into account the value to the outside income [which the Council is virtually banning]. And that is why we went above the $138,000 recommendation to $148,000. We gave it a modest 10,000 value.” (Technically, the recommendation was $138,315, which the Council increased to $148,500.)

Responding to a question about her recent proposal to close Rikers Island Correctional Facility which she floated in her state of the city speech, Mark-Viverito called it a “bold vision” but stated that given the fact that a commission would be reviewing plans “we don’t know what the end product would be.”

She spoke about the real need for criminal justice reform. “When I speak of vulnerable New Yorkers, I’m also referring to people who are brought into jails unnecessarily. If you commit a minor offense, a low-level nonviolent minor offense, the punishment should fit that. A trip to Rikers should not be the standard.” For that reason, she said, the council is seeking to achieve more justice for New Yorkers through the criminal justice reform act that will ensure that there are fair, more proportionate enforcement and penalties for low-level offenses.

On the subject of affordable housing, she acknowledged the many criticisms that have been raised by community boards about Mayor de Blasio’s mandatory inclusionary housing and zoning for quality and affordability proposals. But, she observed, building is happening anyway, and “doing nothing adds to the problem.”

For more, watch a video of the complete Newsmakers briefing with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

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