With “Participatory Budgeting,” New Yorkers Decide How to Spend Funds

By Leslie Gersing, Producer, Video Editor | May 1, 2017 | runs 1:46

On April 25, 2017, New York City Council member Helen Rosenthal announced the winners of projects to be funded with $1.27 million, as a result of voting by her constituents in the Participatory Budgeting (PB) process. See my companion print article in the West Side Rag, April 29, 2017.

For more information on Participatory Budgeting in New York City, visit http://council.nyc.gov/pb/participate/ or @PB_NYC on Twitter.



Frank McCourt High School student Austin Garcia (left), with his teacher Daniele Gates. Frank McCourt received funding for tech upgrades.

By Leslie Gersing
It’s like Sim City with real money.
Locals decided to spend more than a million bucks for library renovations, tech equipment, air conditioning and playground renovations at four schools on the Upper West Side.
The results were announced at The Center for West Park on April 25 at Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s Town Hall for District 6, which includes Central Park, Lincoln Square, northern Clinton and the Upper West Side.
The projects were chosen through participatory budgeting — democracy at the grass roots. Starting last year, numerous cultural, educational, security and other improvement projects were researched and debated for their worthiness, subjected to feasibility studies and budgeted. Any district resident or student, 14 and up, was eligible to vote for their top five choices. Eleven made the ballot during voting from March 27 through April 2.

                                     People voting for projects.

Four projects, at a total cost of $1.27 million, received the most votes, and will be part of the New York City Council Budget. Rosenthal allocated the extra $270,000 from her district budget to cover the overage. They are:

•Library Upgrades for P.S. 166 The project includes work to enlarge the library and creation of a new reading space at P.S. 166, 132 W. 89th St. Cost: $295,000 (1834 votes)

•Air Conditioning for P.S. 9 and Center School Gym Installation of a split system air conditioning system in the gymnasium shared by P.S. 9 and the Center School at 100 W. 84th St. Cost: $400,000 (1398 votes)

•Technology Upgrades at Frank McCourt High School including 11 new Smart Boards and 30 laptop computers with a cart, for use at Frank McCourt H.S. at 145 W. 84th St. Cost: $125,000 (1310 votes)

•Schoolyard Renovation at P.S. 84 Renovation of the playground, converting the asphalt to synthetic turf at P.S. 84 Schoolyard, the Sol Bloom Playground at 32 W. 92nd St. Cost: $450,000 (1304 votes)

During the last day of voting on April 2, volunteer Mark Diller said, “Every council member has a certain amount of money that they’re allowed to spend in the community. And Helen and a few other council members have taken $1 million of that and – capital things, projects and equipment and things – and made it available for the public to propose ideas and then to select among those ideas, which ones will actually get funded.”
At Frank McCourt High School on West 84th Street, 15 juniors and seniors got to experience participatory budgeting up close. Their class took part in all aspects of the process — from the initial development and research of potential projects, to serving on committees that short-listed finalists.
Austin Garcia, an 18-year old senior going to Hunter College next year, said: “It basically just helped me work with people and be more of a better asset in terms of doing group work with people.”
Garcia was pleased voters approved the McCourt High School project for smart boards, computers and other tech gear, which are needed to replace aging and broken equipment. His teacher Daniele Gates was happily surprised about the win, after losing out last year even though the entire student body voted in person. But she doubted there was any special favoritism among the class members. “They were super objective,” she said. “They were all working on different projects, so they weren’t invested in the project they were working on.”
New York City introduced participatory budgeting in 2011. This year, 31 of New York’s 51 city council districts took part during the 2016-2017 cycle, each agreeing to spend at least $1 million in the process. According to the City Council, 28 city council districts took part during the prior cycle, with 67,000 New Yorkers voting to fund $38 million in capital projects.
While many people laud the “small-d” democracy of the process, others are critical of asking voters to decide to spend council districts’ tax dollars on schools, roads, and other public services that should be funded by government agencies. In a recent New York Post op-ed, Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, called New York’s participatory democracy a “sham,” and said, “the exercise points out the city’s failure to spend money wisely, to an absurd degree.”
Rosenthal’s office said 3,111 residents voted for their favorite community initiatives this year, compared to 2,167 last year. While that’s a 43% increase, it’s still a small portion of eligible voters in the district — and comparable, to rising, but continued low levels of participation citywide. Rosenthal urged her Town Hall audience to sign up for her emails at HelenRosenthal.com to stay informed about the process.
Teacher Daniele Gates says more people might vote if ballots were mailed, or more attention were focused on online voting, or ballot locations set up where residents shop, such as grocery stores. But she has no doubt about the value of the class for her students. “They see the impact of participation. I think that a lot of people don’t engage in the process because their voice doesn’t matter and they have first-hand evidence that their vote and their voice matters.”

Photos by Leslie Gersing.

Occupy No More: What Zuccotti Park Is Like Now

By Leslie Gersing, Producer
Wednesday, 16 Nov 2011 | 2:05 PM ET CNBC.com
Leslie Gersing for CNBC.com

Occupy Wall Street protesters have been slowly returning to Zuccotti Park since New York City had them evicted on Tuesday.

Before dawn Wednesday, police and private guards rousted a few for lying down and otherwise sleeping.

Cops instructed private guards hired by the owner, Brookfield Properties, to clarify whether sleeping violates Tuesday’s court ruling that protesters can’t camp out in the park. Occupy Wall Street attorney Yetta Kurland said Tuesday night that nothing in the ruling prevents people from sleeping there.

A small number of people spent Tuesday evening in the park vowing to keep the Occupy Wall Street movement going.

Barriers prevent easy entry. One can only enter in middle of North and South sides of the park. The private guards examine belongings but are letting large bags in after they are inspected. They have denied entrance to some with large knapacks and other equipment.

A small library has been reestablished, but Occupy Wall Street members say books taken away during the cleanup were irretrievably damaged despite word they were saved.

The Sanitation Department opened its collection site Wednesday morning for protesters who want to get their seized belongings. Proof of I.D. is required. A Sanitation spokesman said claims forms for lost or damaged property can be filled out on site.

Patrick Koller, one Occupy Wall Street protestor seeking donations to go back home to Nashville, told us city workers took his laptop, wallet and identification. He doubts he’ll get them back and believes the eviction and harassment has ended the campaign.

A Brooklyn bystander named Dan praised Tuesday’s actions, saying people shouldn’t be allowed to occupy the park and that some demonstrators were seeking confrontation. He said he came by last night to thank the cops for their professionalism.

Rain fell by noon but didn’t dampen protestors’ enthusiasm or the growing number who showed up. Lunch got served; groups met to handle money, media and medical needs.

Some say Tuesday’s police action strengthened their resolve and energized plans for Thursday’s “International Day of Action.” According to their website, the protestors vow to shut down wall street, occupy the subways and take Foley Square.

As a popular sign says, “This is SO not over.”

Questions? Comments? Email us atNetNet@cnbc.com

Video: Venezuela’s Finance Minister on Bloomberg’s “For the Record”

By Leslie Gersing, producer | Bloomberg TV | May 2006 | 8:32

Excerpts of 3-camera interview with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez and Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hays in Caracas, previewing the June 2006 OPEC conference in Venezuela, the policies of Pres. Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s alliance with Iran, and deteriorating relations with the U.S.

ali rodriguez and hays

Video: Medicare Ambulance Fraud

By Leslie Gersing, Producer

Emmy-nominated investigation produced by Leslie Gersing at WCBS-TV; co-reported and narrated by Mike Taibbi. Airdate: October 6, 1995. This investigation began in 1994 and led to two reports for WCBS-TV (in February 1995 with Arnold Diaz reporting, and October 1995) and helped lead to the December 2002 sentencing of Hugh Nastasi to 6.5 years in prison and a $57 million in restitution for defrauding Medicare since 1994 through his undisclosed ownership and operation of Dell and Metro 1 ambulance firms.

It also led to a $2.85 million settlement with Steve Zakheim’s ambulance firms and Medicare in 2010.