NYSD 17 For Progress: Progressive Policies, Transparent Politics

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Editor’s Note: It is KCK policy to post all op-eds it receives, short of outright hate spewing, and even than, if KCP sees it as funny or satire, will let it go. The views expressed in these op-eds may or may not reflect the views of KCP.

With so many consequential actions taking place in Albany and Washington, now is the time for engaged citizens to speak out about the issues that matter to them and to their communities.

New York Senate District 17 for Progress (NYSD 17 for Progress) was launched in 2016 by residents of State Senate District 17 (Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Borough Park, Sunset Park, Sheepshead Bay, Bensonhurst) to address key issues in our neighborhoods and state, and to directly engage our Senate representative, Simcha Felder. We felt that too many matters, such as affordable health care, criminal justice reform, voting reforms, and street safety, were not getting enough attention from the Senator or his staffers.

Despite such goals (spelled out in our mission statement), a recent Kings County Politics (KCP) story suggested NYSD 17 for Progress is devoted to Sen. Felder’s defeat, and that we recruited primary candidates to run against him. A separate KCP piece said we are affiliated with the Working Families Party. These characterizations are inaccurate. We have no affiliation or operational ties to the Working Families Party. What’s more, we explicitly decided as an organization not to recruit candidates to run for public office. When Blake Morris, an NYSD 17 for Progress member, entered the race for the district’s Democratic Party nomination, he stepped down from our steering committee, and no longer has any operational role with the group.

Instead of having a narrow electoral focus, NYSD 17 is an open, growing, constituent-based organization focused on voter registration, building alliances, and issue-based advocacy through phone calls, letter writing, social media campaigns, in-person lobbying, and public forums. We have travelled to Albany with the Brooklyn Voters Alliance to lobby for voting reforms. We made endless calls to tell our state senator to drop his bill to raise the speed limit on Ocean Parkway (which, we are happy to say, he did). And we have attended numerous public events in the district to register and educate voters.

In his April KCP interview, Sen. Felder said he is eager to talk to “anyone who calls or comes into this office that has an issue in the neighborhood or in Albany.” While we are sincerely happy that our senator works to resolve individual issues, we have many issues in Albany that we regularly contact him about, as Sen. Felder’s decisions and his legislative actions impact the entire district and all of New York’s 20 million people.

Another part of NYSD 17’s mission is to advocate for transparent communication by elected officials. We met with Sen. Felder in person in July, 2017, and had a productive conversation. Since then, we have barely received any information from his office, despite our best efforts. Sen. Felder did not respond to numerous requests for a list of his staff members, even though they are public employees. More than a hundred of us asked him to host public town halls, but he said he has not done so before, and won’t start now.

We hosted a public forum on the New York Health Act — a bill advocates say could provide quality health care to every New Yorker — but our state senator declined our invitation to attend. What’s more, he has never discussed the legislation publicly in any detail, even after we were joined by 25 other community organizations who called on him to engage in a dialogue on the bill. And during his recent push for armed security guards in schools, we sent the Senator a series of questions asking him to explain his position and share if he would be open to new gun regulations. Once again, he did not respond.

It is critically important for the senator’s constituents to know where he stands on some of the most important matters of the day. But we’re struggling to achieve that basic tenet of democracy. To provide another example: in December and January, dozens of NYSD 17 for Progress members asked Senator Felder to list his priorities for the upcoming legislative session — the most basic question for constituents to ask their representatives — but we were ignored. As a result, no one knew that Mr. Felder planned to prioritize school educational standards at the end of the recent budget negotiations. And now, unlike the residents of any other district in New York State, we are left waiting to learn if our state senator will join with the Republicans or Democrats after April.

KCP asked Sen. Felder about our group, to which he responded, “There is nothing for me to say [about the organization]. We don’t spend our time dealing with political games.”

Senator, we are not playing games. We are your constituents, and sincerely care about the issues we advocate for — issues we think will benefit everyone in Senate District 17.  We are vocal and direct, and expect our State Senator to hear us out and to take clear, public positions on important matters, as well as listening to his constituents’ opinions, different as they may be. We will not stop fighting for our communities and our district.

In the coming months, constituents will be eager to hear from Sen. Felder and Mr. Morris on issues like housing, health care, and immigrant resources. These are the issues that keep us up at night and motivate us to action. These are the reasons why our organization exists.

Editor’s Note: It is the policy of KCP to put up every op-ed it receives, short of outright hate spewing, and  even than, if KCP (in our own perverted humor) sees it as funny or satire, will let it go. The views expressed in these op-eds may or may not reflect the views of KCP.

Jessica Byrne, David Goldberg, Rebeca Guerrero, John V. Santore live in Sen. Felder’s district and are steering committee members of NYSD 17. Rebeca and David live in Midwood. Jessica lives in Kensington, and John lives in Sunset Park.