City Council member Margaret Chin (left) and State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, with Assembly member Harvey Epstein at a recent Lower East Side event.
Two Lower East Side elected representatives are speaking out about Mayor de Blasio’s controversial plan to change how students are selected for New York City’s specialized high schools.
If approved by the State Legislature, the city would eliminate the specialized high school admissions test, which is used to determine which students claim 5,000 seats in eight elite schools (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, etc.) A new admissions system would be based on grades and standardized test scores. As it stands, Blacks and Latinos make up 70 percent of students in the city’s public schools, but fewer than 10% in the specialized high schools. The mayor wants to address this disparity.
Yesterday, the assembly’s education committee approved the legislation (although approval by the full legislature is by no means certain).
Asian parents and advocacy groups have expressed outrage about the proposed changes. More than 60% of the students in the specialized high schools are of Asian descent.
Before that vote took place yesterday, local Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou told NY1, “I actually don’t like that Asian-American students are kind of put in the middle here… They are being used to be pit against other minority groups, which I don’t think is appropriate.”
Niou, who is Asian American and represents Manhattan’s Chinatown, put out a statement earlier this week. It read, in part:
I am deeply concerned about the language used around this issue, which has been focusing on how Asian American students are overrepresented in our City’s specialized high schools. Asian Americans are also minorities; there are over 180,000 Asian American students in the New York City education system, and 58.4% of them live close to or below the poverty line. It is unfair and wrong to pit minorities against one another when the goal is to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for all New Yorkers.
Niou also stated:
Tackling the diversity issue in our education system requires us to address the causes of segregation at every level, starting in our early education programs and pre-k, to our elementary, middle schools, and high schools. We must level the playing field by ensuring that families and students have equal access to resources like funding, administration, and parental involvement. Unfortunately, the Mayor’s current approach has left much to be desired. Per reports, the Department of Education (DOE) undertook this project years ago, yet there seems to be a community engagement aspect missing. Based on feedback, I am concerned that the DOE created this plan with minimal community involvement. When it comes to our schools and our students, it is absolutely critical for families to have ample opportunities to have their voices heard. Regrettably, the City’s abrupt announcement and desire to push this bill through the state legislature is unreasonable in terms of reviewing community feedback.
District 1 City Council member Margaret Chin, the first Asian American elected to represent Chinatown, released a statement last night after the assembly committee’s vote:
I am disappointed in the vote today by the Assembly’s Education Committee on legislation that would make fundamental changes to our city’s specialized high schools without discussion or consultation with the communities that would be most affected. It is time that state and local officials, as well as the NYC Department of Education, hear the concerns expressed by parents who strive to give their children the tools to succeed – both inside and outside the classroom. That is why I am demanding that the Mayor meet with us, work with us, and together create a solution that works for all of our students.
Many hurdles remain for the legislation, including passage by the full assembly and the State Senate. Governor Cuomo has expressed little enthusiasm for tackling the issue this year.
If you pass through the East Broadway Station with any regularity, you know that the escalator leading up from the F Train platform is frequently out of order.
The office of State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou has been receiving lots of complaints about the situation. Earlier this week, she sent a letter to New York City Transit President Andy Byford, asking the MTA to, “provide a plan to repair this escalator and make it reliable.” Here’s more from the letter:
Given the many Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) in the area, the East Broadway station is central to the Lower East Side community and serves dozens of seniors. It is unfair for my constituents to have to plan their entire days around whether or not the escalator is working at this subwaystation, especially if they experience mobility issues. While we appreciate the updates your office provided during March informing us when the escalator was down for maintenance, it is critical that the MTA work to make this escalator more reliable, particularly since we continue to hear from constituents about the escalator being down frequently and affecting their commutes.
In 2014, the MTA replaced this escalator. It took the transit authority a year-and-a-half to complete the job. But the problems have persisted.
Over the weekend, State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou joined NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer to speak out about heat outages at NYCHA complexes during last week’s cold snap. Stringer announced he’s launching a new audit of the New York City Housing Authority over the issue.
In a press release on Saturday, Stringer called the situation a crisis. “We cannot be a city,” he said, “in which those with luxury towers are living in comfort, while those across the street in NYCHA complexes are deprived of heat and hot water. Unfortunately, heating breakdowns happen year after year – and the bureaucracy continues to play whack-a-mole with short-term fixes instead of permanent solutions. We need to address this maintenance mess now, because our seniors, children, and families are struggling.”
According to the comptroller’s initial survey of Department of Buildings records, the rate of defective boilers in NYCHA complexes is five times the citywide average (39.5%). The new audit will be the comptroller’s ninth of the hosuing authority.
Stringer said there have been complaints about a lack of heat and hot water in more than 30 complexes. Among those developments on the Lower East Side are: the Jacob Riis Houses, the La Guardia Houses and Lower East Side Rehab.
In a statement, Niou said, “I have been receiving constituent reports about heat outages throughout NYCHA developments on the Lower East Side (for several weeks). There are 90-year-old seniors, new born children, and dozens of families in my district impacted by these outages, and it’s critical that NYCHA find long term solutions to these heating problems.”
Channel 2 visited the La Guardia Houses to see how residents were coping:
With socks, robes and layers of clothing on, it was survival gear inside one tenant’s no-heat apartment Saturday… “It’s cold, yeah,” she said. Neighbor Yvonne DeLeon shared a photo of her 2-month-old grandson, Liam Gonzalez, and the electric space heater used to save him from injury, even death, from the cold inside the Lower East Side tower operated by NYCHA. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work,” Linda Cherry said.
NYCHA spokesperson Jasmine Blake told Channel 4, “Our staff is working 24/7 to combat this extraordinary cold spell that has battered the city. This weekend we are focused on ensuring heat is on in all NYCHA developments.” NYCHA says about $2 billion is required to repair boilers in public housing complexes across the city.
Over the last few days across the five boroughs, we’ve seen reports from more than 30 NYCHA complexes that tenants are without heat or hot water.
We are facing below-zero and dangerous temperatures in NYC. @NYCHA tenants should not be left out in the cold, without heat & hot water in their homes. Tx to @NYCComptroller Stringer for calling attention to this issue impacting the Lower East Side and our City. pic.twitter.com/KnfMfSBhfS
Squadron and Niou visited the Good Companions Senior Center, Madison Street.
It’s been a week to assess the impact following the passage in Albany of a $151 billion state budget. One bright spot: funding for senior centers and NORC’s (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) was restored.
Back in February, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou toured local senior centers to advocate for funding. The governor was proposing a shift of $17 million from the Department of Aging to childcare services. That would have threatened 65 NYC senior facilities. NORC Programs could have faced a $700,000 shortfall.
In the end, the money was restored to both programs by the Legislature.
“Senior centers and NORCs are more than social services — they create the kinds of communities that make aging in place possible,” said Squadron. “It’s great news that Albany has heard the call of hundreds of community members to save our senior services.”
Niou added, “…I spearheaded efforts in the Assembly to restore funding to our neighborhood NORCs, NNORCs and settlement houses, which provide all-encompassing social services to our most vulnerable, and I am glad that our budget did not leave our seniors behind. I thank all the seniors who organized against these cuts, Senator Squadron, and my colleagues and advocates for supporting this important campaign.”
In many ways, it was business as usual in Albany yesterday. The State Legislature passed emergency spending bills after the two chambers failed to come to terms on a budget for the fiscal year that began April 1. But for the people of Lower Manhattan, there was a new wrinkle.
There is, of course, a new face representing the 65th Assembly District, including the Lower East Side, in the Assembly. That representative, Yuh-Line Niou, has pledged to help local constituents improve their access to state government. When she returned from a long day in the state house last night, Niou recorded a video report from her hotel room, and then posted it to all of her social media channels. It’s a safe bet you would not have seen anything like this from Niou’s predecessor, Sheldon Silver, who came into office in the Ford administration.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron and State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou visited a Lower East Side senior center yesterday as part of a campaign to restore funding for NYC senior programs.
They made a stop at the Good Companions Senior Center, located at 334 Madison St. It’s a facility within the Vladeck Houses run by Henry Street Settlement. Also yesterday, Squadron stopped by a center on Bayard Street run by the Chinese American Planning Council.
In Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal, he calls for shifting federal funds from the city’s Department of Aging to child care services. In the past, the city had flexibility in how it allocated those funds. City officials have estimated that the shift could result in a $17 million shortfall in the Department of Aging and force the closure of 65 senior facilities.
On the Lower East Side, 13 centers could be impacted. They include facilities such as the BRC Neighborhood Senior Center at 30 Delancey St., the Grand Street Settlement Senior Center at 80 Pitt St. and the Weinberg Center for Balanced Living at the Educational Alliance.
In a statement, Squadron said, “New York’s senior centers do more than provide food and resources — they create community. Forcing centers to close or cut services would essentially leave seniors out in the cold, plain and simple… I urge Senate Leadership and my Assembly colleagues to ensure funding is protected.”
Squadron, who’s in the middle of a district-wide tour of senior centers, has started an online petition in support of his campaign.
Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Niou is taking up the fight to restore state funding to Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs). The governor is proposing a cut of $700,000 in the the program, which offers services to people who wish to stay in their communities as they grow older. Several NORCs are located on the Lower East Side. She’s also calling on the state to add $5 million to the budget for the expansion of the program across the state.
Finally, Niou is asking legislative leaders to fund settlement houses, which are currently not included in the budget. She wants $4 million to support community-based social services offered by the not-for-profit organizations. There are six major settlement houses on the Lower East Side.
State legislators, of course, make laws. But they also specialize in providing, “constituent services,” aiding local community members and organizations in a variety of ways. Our new representative in Albany, Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou, is putting out the word about her efforts in this area.
The other day, for example, she helped resolve an issue at Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem, the Jewish school located at 145 East Broadway. MTA shuttle buses had been parking in front of the yeshiva. Teachers were concerned about safety, since the buses were blocking the school entrance. School attendance apparently dropped when the MTA buses started using this stretch of East Broadway.
“Safe access to our schools is critical,” said Niou,” and I was glad to work with MTJ Yeshiva and the MTA to ensure buses would cease blocking off access to our neighborhood’s yeshiva… I thank the MTA for providing their commitment to rearrange their bus parking plans so that safety is maintained, and for MTJ’s ongoing service to the Lower East Side community.”
If you need help with an issue, you can call Niou’s office at 212-312-1420.
Rabbi Shmuel Spiegel with Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou and staff.
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou invited reporters to her temporary district office near City Hall last week, where a Lower East Side rabbi offered a blessing and a few general words of encouragement.
Niou was elected to office in the 65th Assembly District in November. It’s obviously a big transition for her and for Lower Manhattan residents who had been represented by Sheldon Silver since the 1970s.
She’s looking for a permanent office that will make it easier for constituents to visit. The municipal building at 250 Broadway, where Niou is now working, is a high-security fortress. Rabbi Schmuel Spiegel of the First Roumanian American Congregation told the assemblywoman during the afternoon meet-and-greet, “I’m really proud to have you in the Assembly.”
“It’s a diverse neighborhood and I really feel you are the person who will represent everyone,” said the rabbi. “People really feel that.”
Niou took a few minutes to answer questions from reporters. She mentioned her first piece of legislation, the Rivington Act, which is being proposed along with State Sen. Daniel Squadron. It’s meant to create a transparent public process anytime a nursing home is under threat of closing. The legislation has attracted multiple co-sponsors. Niou said Community Board 3 had been very helpful in crafting the wording of the bill.
As for Governor Cuomo’s budget, Niou noted that she and fellow Democrats in Albany have a lot of issues with funding levels for social services. Niou has already been speaking out for more school funding. At her recent inauguration, said Niou, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie acknowledged that the district is undergoing a major transition. Under Speaker Sheldon Silver, money flowed into downtown neighborhoods. Now the district, represented by a freshman lawmaker, enjoys little clout. But Niou said Heastie is “very conscious of it,” and has agreed to support the 65th AD in any way he can. One early priority, she said, is a budget request for the Lower East Side’s settlement houses (she’s teaming up with Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh to make the request).
Niou is planning to host “mobile district office” events in neighborhoods across Lower Manhattan, beginning with the Lower East Side. A date and location have not yet been made public.
In the meantime, you can call her office at 212-312-1420.
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou and Mauricio Pazmino in Albany. Photo courtesy of Assemblwoman Niou’s office.
On Friday, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou announced the appointment of Mauricio Pazmino as her chief of staff. Last week, Niou was sworn in as representative in the 65th Assembly District, which includes the Lower East Side.
Pazmino is currently on the staff of State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who also represents the neighborhood, so he’s familiar with the community. Squadron has one of Niou’s earliest and strongest supporters in her bid to fill the seat held by Sheldon Silver since the 1970s.
In a statement, Niou said, “Mauricio’s knowledge of the district, along with his history of advocating for constituents across lower Manhattan is critical as I begin to fulfill the people’s work.” Pazmino, a first-generation immigrant fluent in Spanish, graduated from CUNY Hunter College.
In other news from Niou’s office, she’s inviting constituents to attend her inauguration on Jan. 19. See the invitation below.
In Albany today, Yuh-Line Niou was sworn in as Lower Manhattan’s new representative in the New York State Assembly. She was elected this past November in the 65th Assembly District, which includes the Lower East Side.
As you can see from the photo posted above, Niou was joined in Albany today by lots of local supporters. Her former boss, Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens, was among them (Niou served as Kim’s chief of staff). Others in attendance included Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, the local community development organization, and Zach Bommer, an AAFE staff member.
Niou is the first Asian American to represent Chinatown in the state legislature. She is taking the seat held for decades by Sheldon Silver, the former speaker convicted on federal corruption charges. Alice Cancel served out the remainder of Silver’s final term, but was defeated by Niou in the Democratic Primary this past fall.
Niou has set up a temporary district office at 250 Broadway, room 2212. Her phone number is: 212-312-1420.
Zach Bommer of AAFE, Assemblyman Ron Kim, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, AAFE’s Chris Kui.
While we’re still reeling from last night’s shocker in the presidential election, the results in local races were a lot more predictable. Yuh-Line Niou was elected to serve the Lower East Side in Albany. She will succeed Sheldon Silver in the 65th Assembly District, after winning the Democratic Primary in September.
According to the State Board of Elections, Niou was the choice of 67% of those voting yesterday in Lower Manhattan. She collected 27,679 votes, while Republican Bryan Jung was the choice of 13%. He pulled in 5411 votes. The 65AD seat is currently held by Alice Cancel, who won a special election in April but lost the primary election earlier this fall. Cancel ran yesterday on the Women’s Equality Party line, attracting just under 5% (2031 votes). Manny Cavaco of the Green Party picked up 3%, or 1273 votes.
Niou is a resident of the Financial District and formerly served as chief of staff to Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens. Her election is precedent-setting. Niou will join her former boss (Kim is a Korean American) as only the second person of Asian descent in the New York State Legislature. Silver, convicted last year on federal corruption charges, served the Lower East Side in Albany since 1976.
Niou celebrated her victory last night with supporters at Hotel Chantelle, the Ludlow Street night club.
In other political news, Daniel Squadron coasted to victory last night in the 26th Senate District (he ran unopposed). Squadron represents Lower Manhattan and sections of Brooklyn. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh easily defeated his Republican challenger, pulling in 74% of the vote.
At the federal level, Congresswomen Nydia Velazquez and Carolyn Maloney were easily re-elected.
Yuh-Line Niou came out victorious tonight in the battle for Sheldon Silver’s former Assembly seat. In the Democratic Primary, she beat out five other candidates to win the race in the 65th Assembly District. Among those defeated tonight was Alice Cancel, who won a special election in April to serve out the remainder of Silver’s current term.
Here are preliminary results from the State Board of Elections:
Yuh-Line Niou: 2742 votes, 31.55%
Jenifer Rajkumar: 1612 votes, 18.55%
Paul Newell: 1381, 15.89%
Alice Cancel: 1069 votes, 12.30%
Don Lee: 984 votes, 11.32%
Gigi Li: 827 votes, 9.51%
(A total of 8692 votes cast; 43094 registered Democrats in 65AD)
Niou and her supporters celebrated a hard-fought victory at Hotel Chantelle, the club on Ludlow Street. “It took us two tries,” she exclaimed, in brief remarks. Back in the spring, she ran unsuccessfully on the Working Families Party line after the local Democratic County Committee chose Cancel as its nominee.
Niou continued, “This victory silences the voice of hate, of racism, of division — desperate pleas of a clubhouse and a so-called progressive who reverted to Trump-style attacks… We are smarter. We are better than those who claim to be Democrats but run like Republicans. We need unity and I will provide that unity in the Assembly.”
[These remarks were an apparent reference to an anonymous flyer that surfaced during the final week of the campaign. The flyer insinuated that Niou was being supported by politicians seeking to “pander to the Chinese vote.”]
Niou is virtually assured of winning the General Election in November (the 65AD is overwhelmingly Democratic). Her victory is precedent-setting. She joins Ron Kim, Niou’s former boss, as only the second Asian-American in the State Legislature. Tonight, Niou said, “We are a caucus of two, finally… I am humbled to be the first Asian American to represent Chinatown or any part of Manhattan in the State Legislature.”
Niou thanked key supporters, including New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assembly member Kim. She also expressed her gratitude to the Working Families Party and local supporters, such as former City Council member Allan Gerson and Chinatown leaders, including Virginia Kee, Justin Yu, Chris Kui and Chung Seto.
“Now we begin the hard work of governing,” said Niou. “We live in a time of voter dissatisfaction with the status quo. We need to work hard to give the voters the change that they deserve.”
Niou, 33, was formerly chief of staff to Assemblyman Kim, who represents sections of Queens. She came to New York in 2010 to take part in the National Urban Fellows Program. Previously, Niou worked as a legislative assistant in Washington State and as a lobbyist for the Statewide Poverty Action Network. She lives in the Financial District with her fiance (the wedding was delayed due to the assembly campaigns).
Sheldon Silver held the Lower Manhattan seat from 1976 until his conviction on federal corruption charges last year. Cancel had the backing of the Truman Democratic Club, Silver’s political organization. She is already raising the possibility of challenging Niou in a couple of years. Here’s a statement Cancel released a short time ago:
This has been an incredible journey, one that could not have been done without the unwavering support of my husband, my family, and my supporters. While I am disappointed that I will not be able to continue to work as your representative in the New York State Assembly, that certainly does not mean the task is done. I will never stop fighting to improve the quality-of-life of the community or stop bringing attention to the issues most important to us: affordable housing, local control of education, over development, and rejuvenating Chinatown small businesses. I was honored to have been challenged by some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated candidates, who brought an incredible amount of talent and earnestness to this campaign. A crowded primary points to a robust and thriving democracy, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such a diverse and devoted field of candidates. I congratulate Yuh-Line on a hard-fought victory. I look forward to working with her on continuing to improve the lives of the residents of the 65th Assembly District. This district has been my home for 30 years, I remain as it’s District Leader and I know you will see me again in two years.
At Hotel Chantelle on Monday evening, Yuh-Line Niou officially kicked off her campaign for Sheldon Silver’s former seat in the New York State Assembly. She becomes the fifth candidate to formally announce her candidacy ahead of the Democratic Primary in September.
In an April special election, Niou ran on the Working Families Party line and collected more than 6,000 votes. She was defeated by Alice Cancel, the Democratic Party nominee. Cancel was chosen by the local County committee in a controversial selection process. Niou received most of the endorsements from party heavyweights and had a lot more campaign money at her disposal.
Niou lives in Battery Park City with her fiance. She was formerly chief of staff to Assembly member Ron Kim of Queens. We were unable to attend Monday’s Lower East Side event. According to a press release, she told supporters, “We are here tonight because we are ready to finish the job we started back in April. Not surprisingly, Albany has not reformed itself, our schools are still overcrowded, the right of workers to organize and earn fair wages is still under attack, tenants are still being harassed out of their homes and too many families still struggle every day to make ends meet.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer is endorsing Niou. In a statement, he said, “We are here today to continue our campaign to elect a true progressive Democrat to the State Assembly… We are going to win this race and change the status quo, because Yuh-Line has the right progressive values and the right experience to go to Albany and deliver for downtown.”
Other supporters in attendance included Virginia Kee, Jenny Low and Justin Yu, all activists in the United Democratic Organization, a Chinatown political club.
In addition to Cancel and Niou, Paul Newell, Gigi Li and Jenifer Rajkumar have also announced their candidacies. Don Lee and John Bal are planning to compete in the primary, as well. The candidates right now are in the midst of collecting petition signatures to qualify for the September ballot.
Last night, there was a public forum at the East River Cooperative, the first opportunity for voters to see and hear from the candidates on the ballot in an April 19 special election to replace former Assemblyman Sheldon Silver. It was hosted by Cooperatively Yours, a resident organization. Our own Ed Litvak was the moderator. Alice Cancel, Democratic nominee, and Yuh-Line Niou, who is running on the Working Families Party line, both participated. Republican candidate Lester Chang was invited but did not attend. Here’s a full audio recording of the event. As the tape begins, you’ll be hearing introductory remarks from Jeremy Sherber of Cooperatively Yours. We’ll have a synopsis of the event at a later time.