NEW YORK - Under the banner "A Better New York for All," City Councilor Robert Jackson set the tone for the day: "Youth services is our number one priority. [Union workers] you need to know that members of City Council are going to fight tooth and nail until the cuts are restored."
This was the message that came from every speaker at a rally May 31 near City Hall here where thousands gathered to protest the inhuman cuts to afterschool and child care programs.
What is at stake here is $170 million that the 2013 budget failed to restore to child care and afterschool services that advocates, and many on the New York City Council, deemed necessary to maintain the system's current capacity. These cuts to children's services in the Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget would devastate the families that depend on the dedicated union members who provide quality day care and other vital services for children and youth. More than 47,000 children could lose slots, mostly serving low-income, Black and Latino children.
Raglan George, executive director American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 1707, the union that represents day care workers said the cuts would also lead to mass layoffs of city workers at a time when people need to spend their pay checks to help the economic recovery.
Youth and LGBT advocate Dr. Wilhelmina Perry, her voice trembling as she spoke, said, "I think [Mayor Bloomberg's] arrogance and his opinionated sense of what he thinks is most important for people is outrageous; and I hope these demonstrations continue day in and day out until he is out of office."
She continued, "There are over 4,000 homeless children in our city, and they are cutting the beds down to 90. Where are these kids going to go? If we are such a caring and compassionate society what do we do? We throw away our kids, and the mayor has the arrogance to buy his eleventh home."
One parent from Sunset Park, Ann, said the cuts leave too many families high and dry.
"I'm here to support my day care center, Magical Years. We serve children from six months to 36 months; they cut 38 slots to 28 so we are here to see how we can reinstate the slots and fight for our children. Where are these children going to go? We need child care; I'm here to fight for my children."
Tonia Moore of Local 1707 works at Little Sun People Day Care Center in Brooklyn, "Everything is gone corrupt here, what's going on with our children? We need a future for our children - come on, Bloomberg"!
For the thousands who attended the multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-generational rally, emotions were running high. Many came with their children.
Other speakers were: AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, city and state elected officials including Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
City Councilor Letitia James fired up the rally: "You will not privatize child care, Mr. Mayor." Her remarks went to the heart of this mayor's mantra. She made a point of saying the media must look into the private contractors to which he has awarded contracts.
James visited private contractors' locations and said, "Some of these places are warehouses. They are not licensed to be child day care centers. Some are in industrial communities and some have never engaged in child care."
Then addressing her remarks to the media, she said, "These organizations received all of the contracts. Organizations that have been in place for over 40 years, organizations that even the mayor has applauded, have lost their contracts. The media has got to report this. This is a scandal in the City of New York!"
Bloomberg has recently come under fire for corruption inherent in privatization schemes. His administration contracted to a company to keep track of the "productivity" of city workers. The project, Citytime, which multi-billion corporate giant SAIC developed for New York, far exceeded cost estimates, ballooning from $63 million to half-a-billion dollars - at a time when budget shortfalls are depriving communities of badly needed services and forcing thousands of layoffs.
The project became a colossal kickback scandal and prompted a federal investigation, with a dozen people implicated and one SAIC executive facing charges.
SAIC was forced to send $466 million back to the city to avoid prosecution for the boondoggle.
Photo: (PW/Gabe Falsetta)