By Grace Segers and Jeff Coltin
Originally published by City and State New York on August 16, 2017

(Photo by Alexis Arsenault)

(Photo by Alexis Arsenault)

With President Donald Trump again drawing a moral equivalency between the white nationalist marchers and their counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, racism and diversity have become a central topic of discussion at many events – including at City & State’s forum on New York education policy.

“I think that what’s happening in Washington is something we need to talk about in our classrooms,” New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm said during a panel discussion at the annual On Education event, held Wednesday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. Dromm said that controversies surrounding the Trump administration are raising issues about culture and history that students need to understand.

Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman agreed, adding that the Trump administration has “instilled an institution of fear in our public schools.”

“I think that kind of climate sets a bad tone, not just in New York state, but across the country,” added Hyndman, who previously worked for the state Department of Education and served on New York City’s Community District Education Council 29.

The president’s remarks and his administration’s education policies was a recurring theme during the conference. During a discussion of a federal push to promote private schools, Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of New York, said that many professionals in private schools were skeptical of the president’s campaign promises to dedicate $20 billion of federal funding to school choice.

The events in Charlottesville, in which brawls broke out and a counterprotester was struck by a car and killed, and the president’s response remained at the forefront of many discussions, even ones related specifically to New York. State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal from June, which outlined ways to increase diversity in New York City schools but failed to mention the word “segregation” or directly address integration.

“Call it out. You’ve got to name it,” said Rosa. She added that the events of the past six days had underscored the importance of school integration, alluding to Charlottesville.

The New York education sector has had its own controversy over race in the past week: Daniel Loeb, a political donor and chairman of the board of directors of Success Academy, the state’s largest charter school network, said in a since-deleted Facebook post that state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is black, was worse for racial minorities than “anyone who has ever donned a hood,” because of her support of teachers’ unions. A separate 2016 Facebook post from Loeb was also uncovered this week saying the teachers’ union “has done more to perpetuate poverty and discrimination than the KKK.”

Loeb’s comments have been roundly criticized, including during a Monday rally in Harlem where politicians showed support for Stewart-Cousins. Loeb has apologized for the comments, but many, including de Blasio, called for him to step down from the Success Academy board.

Rosa joined the chorus today, saying she was “outraged on every single level” that Loeb would compare an African American woman to the KKK, adding that Success Academy students would be better served by having somebody else as chairman of the board.

There were other signs of tension involving charter schools. Last month, the State University of New York introduced a proposal that would let some charter schools hire uncertified teachers and instead develop their own in-house certification that was less arduous. One proposal would require only 30 hours of classroom instruction.

“I could go into a fast food restaurant and get more training than that,” said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. Rosa called the proposal “insulting.”

Janella Hinds, vice president for academic high schools at the United Federation of Teachers, connected the proposal to the Trump administration, saying it was “an indicator of  what’s happening nationally around the deprofessionalization of education and this privatization moment that doesn’t really serve students or their families.”

Read more here.

Ny1: Touring Daniel Dromm’s District

NY1 VIDEO: The Road to City Hall’s Errol Louis visited City Councilman Daniel Dromm’s 25th city council district in Queens.

Queens Tribune: City Pushes Back On Deport Ruling

From Queens Tribune by Jason Banrey:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided to go over the heads of state governors and roll out a controversial federal law enforcement program that gathers biometric data from people arrested – convicted or not – in efforts to step up deportation of illegal aliens.

Advocates and members of the City Council have vowed to fight the decision.

On Aug. 5, ICE sent a letter to governors throughout the U.S. announcing their approval was no longer needed to activate Secure Communities in their states and counties.

Under S-Comm, an ICE directed program, local law enforcement agencies are required to forward biometric data of individuals who are booked into local and county jails to the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. With the intent of deporting criminal aliens, the collaboration allows the DHS to compare the prints to others on its files as well as share the birth place of individuals in custody.

“Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of federal government to share it with another,” said ICE Director John Morton.

Although former Gov. David Paterson approved the program in May 2010, Gov. Andrew Cuomo froze the state’s participation in the controversial program in June.

Some immigration advocates claim the enforcement program has contributed to the deportation of over 1 million immigrants under President Barack Obama’s Administration.

Jacqueline Esposito, director of immigration advocacy for the New York Immigration Coalition, says ICE’s reversal of decision is a “blatant disregard” to growing opposition from state officials and local law enforcement.

State governors previously had to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) if they chose to voluntarily enroll in S-Comm.

Despite ICE’s announcement, Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) is making an attempt to halt unjust deportations at the city’s main jail complex, Rikers Island.

In an effort to restrict cooperation between law enforcement officials at Rikers, Dromm is introducing legislation which would prohibit DOC from sharing information with ICE that could help facilitate the detention and deportation of inmates.

The legislation would also halt officials from holding innocent individuals beyond a 48 hour period, and bar officials from notifying federal immigration authorities of an individual’s release, provided they have never been convicted of a misdemeanor, felony or is not a defendant in a pending criminal case in any jurisdiction.

According to Dromm, ICE’s presence at DOC facilities including Rikers, has created a dragnet, resulting in the deportation of thousands of New Yorkers each year who have no criminal record or prior convictions.

What they are doing at Rikers is running an alien program rather than a criminal alien program,” said Dromm. “We cannot allow the cooperation between ICE and the DOC to continue tearing families apart and destabilizing immigrant communities that pose no threat to public safety.”

The bill is cosponsored by Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) and has the support of City Speaker Christine Quinn, who reportedly said she could pass the bill and override a veto.

Dromm said he believes if the bill is passed it will provide Rikers Island with a “much more just program” and be the beginning of the end of unnecessary deportations.

Queens Chronicle: Dromm Calls For More ESL Funding

From Queens Chronicle:
The four candidates for Helen Sears’ seat in the City Council laid out their reasons for running and responded to a range of questions from immigrants at a forum in Jackson Heights on Monday.
Among other things, attendees asked the candidates what they would do to ensure the availability of affordable housing, what measures they would take to help immigrants gain U.S. citizenship, how they would protect undocumented domestic workers from abuse and exploitation, what their positions are on non-citizen voting rights and where they stand on gay marriage.
The candidates, who are vying to represent parts of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Rego Park, Woodside and Corona, began with brief opening remarks about their reasons for running.
Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, who has been a teacher for 25 years, started in Spanish before switching to English.
“I’m running for City Council because I have a hope,” Dromm said. “I have a hope that we can have a better community. I have a hope that we can have a better education system. I have a hope that together we can fight for civil rights for everyone in the community.”
Dromm added that he thinks it’s important that the council representative for District 25 speak Spanish to be able to “communicate with the majority of the people who live here in this community.”

Stanley Kalathara, an attorney and former real estate agent originally from India, said he aims to improve the quality of life in all parts of District 25 by reopening St. John’s Hospital, building a new high school, rezoning Roosevelt Avenue as a business improvement district and beautifying the neighborhoods.
“I know how to create jobs,” Kalathara said, citing his business and legal experience.
Alfonso Quiroz of Jackson Heights, a public affairs manager at Con Ed, said he stands out from other candidates because he is independent and said that if elected, he would work hard to reach out to the various communities in the district.
“One of the first things I’m gong to do when I’m elected is to create a task force where I can sit down with a lot of the people in each of the communities and figure out what’s going wrong and how we can solve it,” Quiroz said. “I think it’s extremely, extremely important that everyone has a voice — that everyone has a seat at the table.”
Incumbent Helen Sears, who has represented District 25 in the City Council for the past seven years, spoke of her accomplishments in office.
“It probably is the most progressive council that has ever been,” Sears said. “We have passed more laws for immigrants; we have passed more laws for gay rights; we have passed more laws for human rights; we have done more for tenants in housing. Can we do more? Absolutely. Do I wish to do more? Yes, and that’s why I’m running for reelection.”
During the question-and-answer session, candidates pandered hard to their audience. Dromm began many of his answers in Spanish; Quiroz several times compared himself to immigrants by mentioning that he moved to New York from Chicago without knowing anyone; Kalathara pointed out that he was an immigrant and went through the naturalization process; and Sears said her years in office have given her the experience and the head start she needs to get things done.
In response to concerns that were raised, each of the contenders repeatedly began their answers with something to the effect of, “I think that’s an extremely important issue, and I care deeply about it.”
The candidates sometimes used up nearly all of their allotted speaking time by reiterating the importance of the issue at hand rather than explaining what they would do to remedy the problem.
Nonetheless, attendees said they thought the forum was informative and useful — in part because the candidates sometimes took clear stances on issues that are of importance to minority communities.
For example, all four candidates said it’s important to establish better means of protecting day laborers and domestic workers, and all clearly said they support gay marriage.
There were also some topics about which the candidates did disagree or at least proposed varying solutions.
For example, when someone said that 35 percent of the district’s population can’t vote because they’re not U.S. citizens, Dromm said he thinks anyone who pays taxes should have the right to vote. Kalathara agreed but added the qualification that individuals with a criminal record shouldn’t be allowed to vote. Quiroz called for general immigration reform, and Sears said immigrants should have to show a commitment to the United States and to learning English before being allowed to vote.
On the subject of immigration and citizens’ rights, the candidates each talked of their plans to facilitate the naturalization process for immigrants. Sears said two offices in the district already offer ESL classes and other services, but Dromm called for “much, much more funding for ESL and help with getting citizenship.” He said he would set aside some of his discretionary funds for this.
Kalathara said he would provide his constituents with help on “all immigration issues, any time, day or night — for free.” Finally, Quiroz called for public-private relationships that would help provide ESL instruction.
A third example of differing opinions involved after school programs, many of which are reducing services due to budget cuts. Kalathara pledged to give seven percent of his salary to pre-kindergarten programs. Dromm said he would work to reprioritize funding and channel money back into the district. Sears reiterated that it’s hard to come up with adequate funding for extracurricular programs but that at least the mayor is committed to maintaining the number of teachers in classrooms. Quiroz said budget cuts are inevitable and advocated sitting down with principals, parents and students to figure out how to deal with them.
Several of the forum’s attendees said they thought the event helped them get a sense of who the candidates are and what they stand for.
“I didn’t really know the candidates,” said Monica Lorza, a Jackson Heights resident. “With this, you can get a sense of what they’re thinking.”
Victor Oquendo agreed, saying the forum helped him differentiate between the candidates, although as he put it, “Sometimes they derailed from the questions.”
Brendan Fay offered warm praises. “I was amazed,” Fay said. “What we’ve witnessed here is the ability of diverse communities to gather and debate about issues that affect their lives. … I was glad to hear every single one of [the candidates] say they’re for ending discrimination in our community.”

JH Times: Dromm "Agent of Change"

From Jackson Heights Times:
Most of the answers at a City Council candidates’ forum at the Jackson Heights Diversity Center Monday night were expected, as the three leading contenders for Councilwoman Helen Sears’ (D−Jackson Heights) seat and the incumbent all showed strong support for the issues brought up by immigrant rights groups that helped organize the event.

Sears, who is seeking a third term in office; Democratic District Leader Daniel Dromm; Con Edison spokesman Alfonso Quiroz; and Jackson Heights lawyer Stanley Kalathara all said they would focus on increasing English classes and employment opportunities for immigrant communities if they win in September.

The 25th Council District, which includes Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and part of Rego Park, has a population that is 53 percent first−generation immigrants.

The four said they were in favor of granting legal noncitizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

Sears again touted her experience in the Council and her contributions to budget negotiations, noting that the previous two−term limit took Council members out of office before they could see the completion of projects they had inserted into 10−year capital plans.

Dromm said Sears did not get enough done in office and offered himself as an agent of change for the district.

Quiroz emphasized his pledge to bring officials and community groups together at a series of forums to determine the district’s problems.

Kalathara called Sears’ argument that term limits are bad for communities “the most ridiculous argument I have ever heard” and said he planned to create a business improvement district for Roosevelt Avenue.

When asked what she would do to help community groups preparing residents to take the citizenship examination, Sears pointed out that funding had been cut for citizenship classes in recent years.

“They’re filled and it shows the demand we have,” she said of the community organizations in the district. “We need more.”

Dromm criticized Sears’ answer.

“We have not received the full amount of funding that we need,” he said. “I would reprioritize my discretionary spending.”

Quiroz, who presented himself as a political outsider, said Dromm and Sears were being unrealistic.

“It’s really easy to say you’re going to move money from here to here,” he said, suggesting he would encourage public−private partnerships to help fund more citizenship programs.

In a moment of magnanimity, Kalathara, an immigration lawyer who became a legal citizen in 1986, offered his expertise to constituents free of charge if elected to the Council.

There were few moments of tension during the evening. At one point, Dromm called on the other candidates to commit to not accepting any campaign contributions from real estate developers. None of the other candidates responded.

Queens Courier: Dromm Will Fight for More After-School Funding

From Queens Courier:
by Claudia Cruz

If the turnout at the fourth District Council 25 candidate forum is any indication, the district’s primary election could be one of the most exciting in the borough.

As the available chairs quickly disappeared, a crowd packed into the Diversity Center of Queens to hear the four candidates – Daniel Dromm, Stanley Kalathara, Alfonso Quiroz and incumbent Councilmember Helen Sears – respond to questions prepared by community organizations.

Dromm, who highlighted his 25 years as a teacher, said that he would fight for after-school programs and, in Spanish, that more money should allocated to teach English.

A representative of Make The Road New York, a social justice community organization, asked about the tenant-landlord issues as related to Vantage Management and Apollo Investment Corporation, support of tenant associations and the preservation of affordable housing in Queens.

Having recently marched with Make The Road against abusive landlords, Dromm said he has organized tenants and been a member of a tenant association.
Kalathara said that abuses continue because there are no regulations. Quiroz said that it was important to fight how landlords treat people. “People [have] the right to keep and stay in their houses,” he said. Sears said that “bad landlords had no right in New York City.”

Dromm to Attend Candidates Forum on Immigrant Issues

Daniel Dromm, City Council Candidate for 25th District, will attend the Candidates Forum on Immigrants Issues on May 11th at the Diversity Center of Queens.

Monday, May 11th
76-11 37th Avenue, 2nd Floor
Jackson Heights

Organized by:
the Center of Cultures,
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, NYC Chapter
and co-sponsored by:
Queens Community House,
Queens Pride House,
New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE)
and Make the Road New York

Moderated by Claudia Cruz,
Editor of El Correo de Queens
and staff reporter for the Queens Courier

The candidates will take questions addressing the issues of education, workers, health, voting, and housing with a specific emphasis on the immigrant community in Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst and Woodside and the City of New York. The 25th City Council district has the largest foreign-born population of any district in NYC. More than 53% of the residents of the district are first generation immigrants.

Queens Courier: Dromm ‘Important to be Creative’

From Queens Courier:
by Claudia Cruz

From the tone of the first candidate forum, District 25 incumbent Councilmember Helen Sears has her work cut out for her.

“Here’s an example of walking the walk and talking the talk,” said challenger Daniel Dromm about Sears’ efforts to help the disabled community in the district. “Helen’s district office is not even handicap accessible.”

Dromm, a district leader in Jackson Heights, and fellow candidate Stanley Kalathara, a business owner, lawyer, and president of Indo-American Democratic Committee, did not mince words when describing Sears’ work in the district for the last eight years.

Sears, who has represented parts of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Rego Park, Woodside, and Corona, spent more time defending her record on issues such as the local economy, education, crime, youth and recreation, and Con Ed, among others, than talking about her goals if re-elected.

Sears pointed to her years on the transportation committee in the City Council and how she helped get medallion taxis to become wheelchair accessible. She highlighted her continuous battle for a ramp at the Jackson Heights Post Office and the success of getting an elevator in the 74th Street/Roosevelt subway station.

“It took 15 years to get an elevator in there,” she said. “It works and it doesn’t, but it’s better than what we had.”

Dromm pointed to his history of standing up for special education students and working with the 82nd Street Business Improvement District to get ramps in front of stores. Stanley Kalathara said concisely, “I agree with both and I’ll do a better job.”

The friendly banter between the three out of five candidates – Alfonso Quiroz and Mujib Rahman did not attend – kept the approximately 50 intergenerational and international crowd engaged. Assemblymember Jose Peralta, who publicly endorsed Dromm this past March, yielded his time to audience questions.

“What are you going to do about getting a high school in the district?” asked one person. “Would you vote for resolution 245 that grants the right to vote for non-citizens?” asked another. “Why did you vote against the lead paint resolution?”

More than once Sears found herself on her own. She said that Ivan Lafayette had led the charge for a new high school but that “geographically we’ve got no space.” Kalathara responded that Sears was “always shifting responsibility,” and Dromm said that it was important to be creative like building up or consider eminent domain.

Both Kalathara and Dromm favor the passage of resolution 245. Sears responded, “I’m here to tell you that I’m not sure where I’m on this. I haven’t given it much consideration.”

A heated debated ensued over Sears’ vote against the lead poisoning bill of 2004.

“Yes, I was one of the few who voted against and I’ll tell you the same thing I said then ‘It’s absurd that I’d want lead in children,’” said Sears, who said the city has targeted areas where incidents of lead poisoning was high versus applying the law to the entire city. She instead favored a law that would ban the importing toys from countries with no lead bill. “The fact is that it was a very bad bill.”

Dromm and Kalathara agreed that Sears had not done enough. “You see, this is what politicians do, politics as usual. Just give an answer, did you support or not support,” said Kalathara. “I don’t really think you focus on the community.”

After the forum, the feedback from the crowd was consistent.

One 30-year resident of Jackson Heights, who did not want to give her name, said that Kalathara was funny and that despite voting for Sears in the past, this year she’ll vote for Dromm.

Queens Chronicle: Dromm Offers Hope

From Queens Chronicle:
by Willow Belden

Three of the five Democratic candidates for Helen Sears’ seat in the City Council spoke at a forum hosted by the New Visions Democratic Club in Jackson Heights Thursday, explaining why they think they should be elected, and answering questions that community members posed.

Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights, who has been a teacher for the past 25 years, called for more emphasis to be placed on the district’s schools and on other programs for children. He promised strong support to the gay community and said he would work hard to create more green space in the area.

“In this community, it’s not that we’ve had a lack of good ideas, but that we’ve had a lack of leadership,” Dromm said. “I want to offer to people the hope that we can have things better in this community.