Council Speaker Johnson Addresses Ethnic Media

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (left), at the March 8 Newsmakers briefing at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, with Errol Louis, CUNY J-school professor and NY1 political correspondent (Photo by Marco Poggio for the Center for Community and Ethnic Media)

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, in his first formal press briefing with members of the community and ethnic media in the city, cited “daunting” statistics about homelessness and poverty and noted that four in 10 New Yorkers are living at or near the poverty line. In a city that is “superficially doing so well,” with the unemployment rate at an all-time low, Johnson said that he wanted to focus on “supporting, enhancing and strengthening the last remaining shreds of the social safety net that remain here in New York City.”

That, he said, would involve a focus on the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA), the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the public hospital system and the City University of New York – although he acknowledged that the performance and future of these institutions, vital to the well-being of so many poor and middle-income residents of the city, depend on Albany and Washington as well.

Johnson spoke to a packed room of community and ethnic media reporters and editors at a Newsmakers briefing held March 8 by the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. On the dais with him were moderator Errol Louis, NY1 political correspondent and professor at the CUNY J-School, as well as Debralee Santos, editor of Manhattan Times and The Bronx Free Press and Stephon Johnson, reporter for The New York Amsterdam News.

The speaker, fighting a cold, had only just come from hearings at which he questioned MTA chairman Joseph Lhota about the “Subway Action Plan” proposed by the MTA and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In response to a question about whether NYCHA chair Shola Olatoye should resign, Johnson said that he was “of course disappointed in certain things that have happened under her leadership,” but that many of NYCHA’s problems were “endemic and long-standing.” He said it was clear, nonetheless, that some recent staff departures show that NYCHA has “not just a money problem but a management problem.” He said he would not support a state or HUD takeover of NYCHA. “We need to ask tough questions and ensure that we have robust oversight over NYCHA.”

Johnson said in response to a question that while Mayor Bill de Blasio has said there should be no layoffs or closures of public hospitals, addressing the Health and Hospitals Corporation’s yawning $2 billion budget deficit might well involve layoffs of managerial positions and possible restructuring of hospitals – although these actions might not necessarily be construed as “layoffs and closings.” He said this might amount to a matter of “semantics.” The city hospitals, he said “need to be creative, hold onto their patient share, they need to get people to come back for specialty care, they need to bill people who have insurance, they need to do things to raise revenue while at the same time keep up the good care.”

On the subject of what can be done to ensure that New York is truly a sanctuary city and protects its immigrant residents, Johnson tipped his hat to his predecessor, saying that Melissa Mark-Viverito had done extensive work on protecting immigrants with actions such as fighting detainers on Rikers Island “long before Donald Trump became president.”  And, he said, a “legacy item” of her tenure would be that she told the lawyers at the Council to find “every single thing that we can possibly legislate to protect undocumented folks in New York City and let’s pass those things,” and numerous bills indeed were passed, Johnson noted.

Again, he said, there are limits to what the city can do. “Using our bully pulpit, funding organizations that protect immigrants and let them know their rights, and ensuring that the NYPD is not cooperating with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in any way, doing that type of work is really important.” From a legislative perspective he said he was “open to suggestions” as to what more the Council could do.

In response to a question about the restructuring of the public tech unit when he became council speaker, he said that the structure didn’t make sense to him, and that was why he disbanded it. He said that community and ethnic media concerns were now being addressed from the communications department, with everything “in one place.” He stressed that translation of releases and communication with the ethnic media would not change. “I want to make sure that this unit does even more and is more robust as a resource for community and ethnic media,” said Johnson. “I am completely available to the press,” he said.

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  1. Pingback: Center for Community and Ethnic Media – Newsmakers 2018: Q&A with City Council Speaker Corey Johnson

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