Boro botches human rights

Photos by Christina Santucci (l.) and Nathan Duke
By Phil Corso

As far as human rights are concerned, the Urban Justice Center gave the Queens City Council delegation a C-plus, landing it second to last in a report card surveying all five boroughs.

The Human Rights Project, which acts as one of 10 projects at the Urban Justice Center, released its fifth annual human rights report card grading the Council, basing its results on legislative trends, votes and sponsorship of relevant legislation. The Manhattan-based non-profit agency aims to serve the city’s vulnerable residents with legal services, advocacy, education and political activism.

Of the 14 Council members in Queens, the report card gave only two representatives a grade of B-plus or better.

Receiving the only A- minus grade in the borough was Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who scored the highest of the Queens delegation for the second year in a row in four of the seven categories of human rights legislation, including housing, disability rights, health and government accountability, the report said. Only 13 of the 49 Council members received a grade in the A range.

On the back end, however, nine of the 14 borough Council members received grades in the C range, with Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), chairman of the Public Safety Commission, at the bottom of the list for the second year in a row with a C-minus. It was a step up, however, from his grade in 2011, which was D-plus.

“I am proud to be at the bottom of any list that Charles Barron is at the top of,” Vallone said, referring to the Brooklyn councilman who received an A-plus grade. “This is basically a report card on who wants to change New York into a socialist republic the most.”

According to the report, Van Bramer received high marks because of his work to reform the decision-making process of the city Board of Standards and Appeals to encourage government accountability and transparency.

“The Queens delegation is a great delegation,” Van Bramer said. “The delegation is very much in favor of human rights. I stand by the borough and I think there are very good people in the City Council in Queens.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Fresh Meadows) received a B-plus, scoring highest of all Council members in voting rights and highest of all Queens Council members in both voting rights and criminal and juvenile justice, the Urban Justice Center said.

According to the Urban Justice Center, Queens scored highest as a whole for voting rights, with Dromm and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) receiving A-pluses in that category. The borough’s lowest score was in housing rights, where three members received at least a B, including Van Bramer (A), Dromm (B), and Councilman James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton) (B).

Five Council members in Queens scored a D or lower for housing rights, including Councilmen Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) with a D, Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) with a D, James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) with a D-minus, Vallone with a D-minus and Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) with an F.

In terms of legislation geared toward promoting human rights, the report found that 32 percent of all bills approved by the Council between Aug. 15, 2011, and Aug. 15, 2012, fit the criteria. The Urban Justice Center cited notable bills, such as expanding whistleblower protections and strengthening protections against workplace religious discrimination, which highlighted the year in the Council.

“Human rights principles call for discriminatory outcomes to be addressed, even if there is no proof of discriminatory intent,” said Shani Jamila, director of the Human Rights Project. “Employing this type of frame means we can call on the city to address racialized, gendered or other disproportionalities that can be tied to city policies.”

Topping the list in the Council was Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) with a grade of A-plus. The worst grade of D-plus in the report went to Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), whose borough also scored the lowest, the report said.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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