WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Dear Mr. President,
I heard that Wednesday evening you are coming to a fundraiser in Cresskill, New Jersey. I know you have been working overtime to get our economy unstuck, but I just wanted to outline some local conditions for you about how jammed up we are in these parts.
This week, because of a standoff between Republican Governor Chris Christie and the Democratic legislature, ALL work on state road and transit projects is to come to a screeching halt. I am sure it won't impact you getting to Creskill on time but thousands of engineers, planners, and construction workers on 300 projects worth $1.7 billion dollars will be out of work starting Monday.
At issue is how to replenish our state Transportation Trust Fund which is near depleted. I don't think Governor Christie is that worried about it because he and Mrs. Christie are starting their week in Waukesha, Wisconsin, to campaign for Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker.
This whole dysfunctional turn of events doesn't bode well for the almost $9 billion rail tunnel under the Hudson River that your administration is trying to help us build. Your administration already has $3 billion of skin in the game, making it one of the largest stimulus projects. Governor Christie has put a 30-day freeze on that project too.
To be fair, he may have reason for concern. This was supposed to cost just $5 billion in 2005 and it is prudent to ask how we will deal with the sure-to-come cost overruns. And it involves contaminated land in the Meadowlands. How much do you think you guys could pick up? The tunnel wonks say having it built would add 44,000 jobs by 2017, the year it was supposed to be finished.
There is one other regional update I wanted to pass along that indicates our region is not just stuck, but moving backwards. After a decade-long decline in New York City's murder rate, the first nine months of this year saw a 13 percent increase from the same period last year. In some places in the city, like Brooklyn's 72nd precinct, it jumped 100 percent.
Last year we had 466 murders, way down from the more than 2,200 in 1990. But the continued toll on African American households continues to be devastating. African Americans make up just a quarter of the city population, but are 58 percent of the murder victims and almost three quarters of the shooting victims.
I know it's not foreign terrorism, but this is defining the choices people have to make everyday. The police say that the homicide rate in New York City for African American males between 18 and 34 is more than 12 times higher than it is for their white peers. A combination of easy access to guns and an uptick in youth gang violence are contributing factors. New York City is down 6,000 police since 2001 and the NYPD has to commit 1,000 officers for counter-terrorism. Last week your administration stiffed New York City out of a share of Department of Justice grant from the Community Oriented Policing program, but I am sure there will be other opportunities to help.
Last week, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and several prominent African American pastors from Central Brooklyn came together to announce a ten-point program to engage the community, including gang members. Keeping kids out of gangs and in schools means youth employment and after school programs – exactly the kinds of things that have been taking the biggest budget hits. Anyway, it would be great if you could come to central Brooklyn sometime and lend support to this nascent effort.