January 8, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
The special commission charged with helping to map out New York State's response to Hurricane Sandy's horrific devastation has submitted its recommendations. But some grassroots organizations and organized labor groups are not happy with the results, saying that the communities hardest hit by Sandy are being "woefully" underrepresented.
"Make the Road New York joins fifty faith, labor and community organizations in urging Governor Cuomo, the New York State 2100 Commission and other disaster recovery task forces to create a permanent place for affected communities and their representatives in planning and the budgeting of rebuilding funds and projects, including climate response planning and planning for the state's infrastructure," Make the Road New York spokesperson Sara Cullinane said.
Chaired by Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Felix Rohatyn, former chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation – the New York 2100 Commission was created on the fly just a few weeks before the group was supposed to supply its list of ideas to rebuild and harden New York's infrastructure in advance of future storms like Sandy.
But members of the 25-member commission admitted that the rapidity in which the commission was thrown together, left them ill prepared to fully discuss ideas for mitigating future storms.
Critics, meanwhile, were concerned all along that the inclusion of business-centric figures like Rohatyn – with his history in NYC economic politics dating back to the bad old days of the 1970s – would ultimately favor business interests over the general welfare of communities-at-large.
"Red flags go up for many of us when we hear proposals for rebuilding from the same voices that transformed our city into two New Yorks decades ago," said Jeremy Saunders, lead organizer from VOCAL-NY. "We hope our elected officials have community members in mind, rather than just those who primarily seek profit, when deciding how to rebuild our City."
Groups like VOCAL-NY, Make The Road and others say that Hurricane Sandy exposed deep inequities throughout the city that must now be addressed when trying to figure out how to withstand future storms.
"Now more than ever, we can't afford to have a city that serves some New Yorkers and not others," said Alexa Kasdan, director of Research and Policy at the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center. "As we recover from the storm, we have an opportunity to rebuild the city in a smart, sustainable and just way that addresses economic equality and gives real decision making power to those that are most affected."
However, Agustin Juarez, a farmer from Staten Island and member of Make the Road New York, said that even though Hurricane Sandy destroyed his livelihood, he feels that low-wage earners like him are, in fact, being left out of the restructuring process.
"I know there are a lot of decisions being made about how to rebuild after the storm, but no one is asking our community what we need and what our priorities are," Juarez said. "We want to participate in the process so that we can provide food and services for our neighborhoods and come back stronger than before."
The broad-based coalition opposing Governor Cuomo's way forward planned to rally in Albany at the State of the State Address on January 9.
"Our members showed up to work right after the Hurricane and continued to supply New Yorkers with food and important necessities throughout the holiday season, UFCW 1500 Director Pat Purcell said. "Many are traveling to their jobs in communities that have fully recovered from the storm. Unfortunately, they are going back home to neighborhoods that are still facing severe devastation from the aftermath of Sandy. Rebuilding all of New York's communities, fast, fair and safe, is essential for New York State."
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said that after Hurricane Sandy, "Complete transparency and just distribution" is what's needed to move the city forward.
"We must make sure those who are most in need receive priority assistance from the aftermath Hurricane Sandy caused," Appelbaum said.
Cuomo's office did not respond to requests for comment.