Mark-Viverito pledges to protect New York City from Trump in final State of the City address

William Alatriste
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito delivering her State of the City address.

Mark-Viverito pledges to protect New York City from Trump in final State of the City address

Mark-Viverito pledges to protect New York City from Trump in final State of the City address
February 16, 2017

New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito opened her final State of the City address Thursday with a reference to Juan Rodriguez, the first documented immigrant to Manhattan, and pledged to spend her final ten months in the City Council ensuring the boroughs remain a refuge for the immigrants who came after him, as well as women and vulnerable New Yorkers. In her speech, delivered at the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, Brooklyn, she expressed a sense of urgency, suggesting that actions taken in Washington D.C. are threatening these populations.

“We are the tribes of the Lenape and the city’s first immigrant – el primer inmigrante – Juan Rodriguez – who came here from Santo Domingo in 1613,” Mark-Viverito said. “This is who we are: a city of simple origins and outsized ambition, forged in adversity, shaped by the hard work and successes of immigrants. … New York has always persevered, no matter the obstacle. Whether defying a king in England or a president in Washington, we stand up for what is right.”

The East Harlem lawmaker asserted that New York City would not be a pawn in the federal government’s efforts to restrict immigration and ramp up enforcement efforts. She vowed to pass legislation blocking the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement from private city property and places where New Yorkers receive social services unless federal officials have a warrant or court order. She pledged to restrict ICE’s access to schools and student records. Mark-Viverito also outlined plans to create an immigrant family resource center in every borough and to develop a city alternative to the state’s disorderly conduct charge, which would prevent offenders from facing deportation.

Pivoting to education, the speaker said the government needed to do a better job of providing pupils with culturally relevant material. She urged the state to amend its curriculum, arguing that teaching Reginald Shepherd’s poems capturing the black, gay experience are just as important as Shakespeare’s themes. Mark-Viverito said she believed the city should spend $500,000 training 360 educators on culturally responsive techniques. And she vowed to convene a task force charged with recommending ways to improve sexual education and ensure it reaches students in all grades.

Mark-Viverito said the should increase the roughly $800,000 currently funded for contraception so that all women, regardless of any insurance policy they may have, are able to access free birth control. But she said the state must do its part and pass legislation that would codify federal abortion rights in state law.

Repeating a theme from her State of the City address last year, the speaker called for shrinking the number of inmates held at Rikers Island enough that closing the controversial jail complex would be feasible. To do so, she proposed the city allow people to post bail at any criminal court, and then require the Department of Correction to release inmates within hours of the transaction. Currently, the amount of time defendants are given to make bail varies, and largely depends on when the next bus departs for Rikers Island. The speaker said she would also work to seal some types of criminal records and collaborate with district attorneys on clearing longstanding warrants for low-level offenses.

Following on the heels of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that the city would offer free legal representation to tenants who cannot afford it, Mark-Viverito highlighted plans to change the law so that landlords carry the burden of proving harassment of tenants was justifiable – and not merely a ploy to force them out – and so that residents can collect money when they win in court.

Like de Blasio, who gave his State of the City address on Monday, Mark-Viverito did not offer strategies to resolve some of the city’s most vexing issues, including the rising numbers of homeless families, the death of children flagged by the city’s child welfare agency and the tremendous fiscal burdens weighing down the city’s municipal hospital system and public housing agency.

Although the Thursday afternoon program began with a self-deprecating video showing Mark-Viverito clumsily trying out potential new careers – in an acting studio, on a comedy stage, on a basketball court – the speaker did not touch on her future plans. She is prohibited from remaining in the City Council after 2017 due to term limits.

Sarina Trangle