Tunnel from New Jersey halted by Gov. Christie

This article appeared in the Washington Square News on October 28, 2010. 

Stern freshman Jack Guo commutes to class every day from Cranford, N.J. But most of the time, it’s not a pleasant process.


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

“The trains are terribly slow,” Guo said. “If [New Jersey Transit] cancels one train, you’re done because the wait can be another hour.”

And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced yesterday that he was canceling the proposed Hudson River rail tunnel, which would have provided room for 70,000 more New Jersey residents to travel to Manhattan every day.

Christie explained his decision to cancel the so-called Access to the Region’s Core tunnel, which would have been the nation’s largest public transit project, citing the project’s increased costs.

Although the original budget was $8.7 billion, Christie said costs could have increased to $14 billion. The Federal Transit Administration and the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York each pledged $3 billion to the project; New Jersey taxpayers would have had to supply the remaining funds.

However, Zoe Baldwin, an advocate from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the governor’s office is too focused on the budget.

“Historically, infrastructure has done a good deal to boost economic development,” Baldwin said. “They are looking at this project as a pot of money and not as a needed infrastructure project.”

The Access to the Region’s Core would allow 25 additional trains per hour to enter midtown Manhattan from New Jersey. According to the Regional Plan Association, average commuter time would decrease by about 15 to 30 minutes.

“The tunnel now is at limited capacity, insufficient and over 100 years old,” said Mitchell Moss, professor of urban policy and planning at the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. “Having more rails allows you to bring more workers.”

The Regional Plan Association said New Jersey home prices would increase by an accumulated $18 billion if the tunnel was built.

“The residential communities will benefit from the tunnel because it will add to the property value in northern New Jersey,” Moss said.

Additionally, the new tunnel would affect traffic and the environment by taking a projected 22,000 cars off the road every day and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 67,000 tons.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a statement that Christie’s decision was “irresponsible.”

“Unfortunately he took the easy way out, citing cost overruns,” he stated. “But the hard and daunting task facing elected officials is to complete crucial infrastructure projects, not kill them off.”

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Fizzle New York City’s Proposed Food-Stamp Ban for Soda?

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has long made it a paramount goal to
rid New York City of unhealthful foods, and he recently asked the Federal
government for permission to prohibit Food Stamp recipients from using stamps
to buy soda and other sugared beverage in the city. Supporters are cheering Bloomberg’s stance, saying he’s
striking a blow for better dietary habits and ultimately lower public health
costs and consequences such as obesity. But critics question the move, seeing
it as an example of big government, even patronizing toward the poor.

Research can be a valuable guidepost for public officials.
In 2009, after Mayor Bloomberg required restaurant franchises to put calories
counts on their menus, NYU Wagner professors Rogan Kersh and Brian
 sought to measure the impact of the calorie labeling
initiative on consumer habits at fast-food restaurants in low-income
neighborhoods. Their survey of 1,156 adult found little direct evidence to
support the Mayor’s view that the posting of calorie counts causes fast-food
patrons to buy items containing fewer calories. Elbel’s and Kersh’s widely
discussed study, published in the journal Health Affairs,
underscored that follow-up studies are needed to determine the  value and
effectiveness of menu labeling as well as other obesity-related policies.

Professor Elbel describes the Mayor’s current proposal to
bar food stamps for the purchase of soda and sugary drinks “an extremely
innovative policy approach to tackle the complicated and multifaceted problem
of obesity. “It deserves a rigorous assessment, to evaluate its overall impact
on healthy food choice and obesity,” adds Professor Elbel, assistant professor
of medicine and health policy. “The rest of the nation can then learn from the New York City experience
as these and other policies to fight obesity are considered across the

What’s your opinion of the Mayor’s food stamp initiative? Is
it good public policy? Post your comment today.

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NYU Wagner Student Dave Algoso Says Nicholas Kristof is Wrong

Dave Algoso, a second-year student at NYU Wagner, studying international development, sees problems with New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof‘s D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution and makes his own case for why amateurs are not the future of foreign aid. The full article appears in Foreign Policy

Don’t Try This Abroad
Nick Kristof is wrong. Amateurs are not the future of foreign aid.

Many globally minded, can-do Americans these days have come to believe that the world’s major problems have solutions, and that these solutions are within reach. This feeling often leads to frustration: Why doesn’t someone just do something about these problems? Are the NGOs and foreign aid agencies lazy, incompetent, or both? Why can’t we end poverty?

Last weekend, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story about people who have taken matters into their own hands. The piece, Nicholas Kristof’s “D.I.Y. Foreign Aid Revolution: The rise of the fix-the-world-on-your-own generation” offered several aren’t-they-inspiring stories about Americans who have run off to save poor people in developing countries from whatever afflicts them. A woman from Oregon begins fundraising for community work in eastern Congo, and later shifts her attentions to conflict minerals. A recent high school graduate from New Jersey uses her babysitting money to start an orphanage and school in rural Nepal. You get the idea.

The stories sound lovely. I admit to feeling a little warm and fuzzy inside reading them. After all, this is what drives me to do development work: to make the world just a little better. (I study international development at New York University‘s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.) We all want to tell ourselves the story about fighting through hardship — each of these women made personal sacrifices for their work — to make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, such stories don’t reflect reality…
Dave Algoso is a second-year student at NYU Wagner, studying international development. His blog is called Find What Works.

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Adolfo Carrión, Jr. speaks at NYU Wagner’s Conversations in Public Service Breakfast

The Conversations in Public
Service (CPS)
breakfast held on Tuesday, October 19 at NYU Wagner featured one of the major players in
urban planning–the Bronx‘s own Adolfo Carrión, Jr.,
regional administrator of housing and urban development for New York and New
Jersey. Wagner students enjoyed an informative
discussion about the current state of urban communities and the importance of
smart planning in shaping our growing, and sometimes shrinking, U.S.

While Carrión was excited to return to New York this past June,
after serving as the nation’s first director of the White House Office of
Urban Affairs
and deputy assistant to President Obama, he expressed his
appreciation of the administration’s focus on urban issues and reemphasizing of
the “UD” in HUD, after years of being a low priority. Carrión believes that an
urban focus with a bottom-up approach is essential, as our nation’s population
continues to grow and urbanize and cities must be prepared to meet those

Carrión also spoke of the Obama administration‘s new Sustainable
Communities Planning Grant Program
administered through HUD. This innovative
grant program will disperse $150 million in funding through a competitive
application process, in an effort to improve the integration of housing and
transportation planning in urban areas. While the grant application process has
been criticized by some, the Obama administration and HUD view it as a positive
way to encourage cities to produce creative and effective

Furthermore, Carrión discussed the administration’s HUD-VA collaboration
geared toward ending veteran homelessness, which is part of the larger
administration-wide goal
of ending homelessness
in the U.S. Carrión acknowledged that these
challenges are not easy for policy makers, but reminded students of the
importance of setting goals in order to create comprehensive policy and chart

he next CPS breakfast at NYU Wagner will be held on
Tuesday, November 9, and features special guest Carol Thompson Cole,
president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners (VPP).

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Former Mayor Ed Koch pays tribute to public service

Dean Ellen Schall opened the event with a tribute to public service,
saying, “City government is the most amazing opportunity. You can get a lot of
responsibility and make a huge amount of difference.” Dean Schall had worked as
the deputy of Juvenile Justice in Ed Koch‘s administration and will always
refer to him as “Mr. Mayor.”

Rob Polner, director of Public Affairs for NYU Wagner, moderated the
discussion and gave a context of New
York City
in the late 1970s, when Ed Koch was first
elected as mayor. Polner described NYC as being in “permafrost of gloom” and
was anticipated to go the route of other industrial cities like Detroit. Crime was
rising, people were dying of HIV/AIDS, and homelessness was a huge problem.
“Koch,” he commented, “led NYC through a true renaissance” by securing business
investment and public works that would revitalize the city.

Jonathan Soffer then read an excerpt from his new book, Ed Koch and
the Rebuilding of New York City
. He pointed out that Koch’s successes were not
things people expected; his own campaign manager had said he had 20-0 odds of
winning the election! Koch added that in the first poll, only four percent of
people in the city knew his name. But he did win the election of 1977, and
again in 1981 and 1985.

During his tenure, he took on issues such as housing projects,
homelessness, crime, the city’s debt and corruption in the judicial
system.  Koch was asked, “What are you
most proud of?” He responded that he gave NYC and its people back their morale.
“We were in the depths of despair; people needed to be energized.” Soffer
reminded the audience that Koch balanced the city’s debt within three years, a
feat nobody thought possible. But Koch was quick to respond that it wasn’t him
alone that did this. Rather it was the people of New York, people like Ellen Schall, who
accomplished these things. “There’s nothing comparable to public service when
it’s done honorably and done well. It’s like an aphrodisiac.”

Koch reminisced about his policy to address homelessness and the
Billie Boggs incident. In 1987, Koch introduced a new program that would pick
up homeless people, take them to Bellevue
Hospital, and treat
them with medical and psychiatric care. Koch defended his policy that year to
the American Psychological Association, saying, “I am the number one social
worker in this town, with sanity.” However, the New York Civil Liberties Union
did not agree with the policy and defended one woman who was picked up, Billie
Boggs. In court they argued that she could not be forcibly committed to
psychiatric care and won the case.

A guest asked both Soffer and Koch what their most memorable moment
was in writing the book and serving as mayor, respectively. Soffer’s moment was
his interview with Robert Wagner, Jr., which was hours long. Koch’s response
was the twelve-day subway strike of 1980. He was in a meeting with the police
commissioner when he looked out the window and saw thousands of people walking
across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan.
“It was like Lake Ladoga,” Koch remembered, referring to a frozen lake
on the outskirts of Leningrad
that allowed Soviet soldiers to get supplies into the city and defeat the
Nazis. Koch went downstairs from the meeting and started yelling, “Walk across
the bridge!” encouraging people to continue coming to work.

In closing, Dean Schall asked all of the people who served in Ed
Koch’s administration to stand. Well over a dozen people stood, and Dean Schall
encouraged the current students at NYU Wagner to talk with them during the
reception. Koch added that members of his former administration continue to
meet every year, and roughly 200 people attend these get-togethers. “You can’t
stop them from coming,” he said. “Most are now in the private sector but if
they had the opportunity to go back to public service, they’d go in a

What do you think? If you could change one thing that Ed Koch did as
mayor, what would it be and why?

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Wagner’s Natasha Iskander Launches Optimistic Book on Migration Policy Development

Despite torrential rain outside, the Rudin Forum was packed on Monday
night with students and faculty eager to learn about, and celebrate, a new book
by Natasha Iskander, assistant professor of public policy at NYU Wagner. Creative State:
Forty Years of Migration and Development Policy in

examines how policy in two countries has evolved to reinforce the link between
labor emigration and domestic economic development.  

Wagner Dean Ellen Schall introduced Iskander and commended her on
completing the difficult journey of transforming a dissertation into a book – a
major milestone for any faculty member. “However,” Schall added, “this is not
just any faculty member and this is not just any book.” Iskander’s importance to
the Wagner family, Schall observed, relates to one of the book’s
acknowledgements, which states that home is not a place, but rather it is the
people around you.

Iskander herself remarked that, for many families, “home” reaches
across administrative borders. Her own experience with maintaining personal
connections that straddle political boundaries inspired her throughout the
process of researching the book. Even as she “lived out of a suitcase for three
years,” she never lost sight of the importance of her work, in discovering how
labor migration profoundly affects both the place left, as well as the place
traveled to.

Iskander’s readiness to be on the road for her research was just one
of the many things that caught the attention of Craig Calhoun, president of the
Social Science Research Council. The SSRC provides funding for research that is,
like Iskander’s, field-work based. Calhoun noted the difficulty inherent in a
project such as Iskander’s that spans two countries, in addition to the
numerous places that receive migrant workers. Nevertheless, he mentioned that
Iskander, in her work on Creative State,
answered the SSRC’s call to “ask the hard questions.”

Rounding out the panel were former Mexican foreign minister and
current NYU professor Jorge Castañeda, and Ruth Milkman, professor of sociology
at CUNY and associate director of the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker
Education and Labor Studies. Both offered insight into the political motivations
behind migration. Castañeda agreed with the book’s thesis that Morocco had more formal policies for
capitalizing on emigration, while Mexico “wrote policy without even
knowing it.” Milkman added that, in addition to financial ambitions, migrant
workers’ determination and perseverance are often responses to political
situations in their home countries.

As Craig Calhoun pointed out, Creative State
is an optimistic book, which gives readers hope that governments are able to innovate
and serve as sources of creative solutions. “Congratulations to Professor
Iskander on the first of what is sure to be many successful book projects.”

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A Call for Public Service Scholarships, NYU Wagner Dean Ellen Schall’s Op-Ed Appears in the New York Daily News

WHEN HE LAUNCHED his candidacy for governor of New York, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo bemoaned the lack of a “meaningful back bench” for the 42% of state government workers eligible to retire in the next five years. At a time when New York government is widely viewed as dysfunctional, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to enlist a new generation of talented, highly skilled public servants.

That has been the hopeful ideal ever since President John F. Kennedy expressed it half a century ago. Despite the present difficulties, there are promising signs that we can now make it real. In fact, the Cuomo campaign has offered a promising start by articulating a plan to create scholarships for outstanding undergraduate and graduate students who commit to three years of service in “mission-critical positions” in state government after they graduate.

The plan would help make public service not only an honorable profession, but an affordable one as well.

If we don’t act, we will face an increasing service gap. More than 37,000 state employees have finished their public careers within the past six years. Tens of thousands more are expected to do so by 2015. Who will take their place and, in a time of increasing complexity and fiscal scarcity, take up challenges decisive for our future – from improving educational outcomes in low-income and middle-class communities, to updating transportation networks, opening new pathways to affordable housing and equipping workers with the new skills of the global age?

As dean of NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, I see graduates of programs like ours as creators of that future. Our students explore and analyze issues as wide-ranging as the benefits and unintended consequences of offering pedestrians and bicyclists more space on major city thoroughfares like Broadway, the impact of New York State’s STAR exemption on school district property taxation, and the importance of providing access to anti-malaria nets in Cameroon, West Africa. Our graduates are ready to become innovators and leaders, not just working in state government, but making it work to resolve seemingly intractable problems and rise to the challenges of a transformed and transformative era.

But here’s the often-insurmountable barrier: While these talented young people have a deep commitment to public issues and a passion for public service, too many have to make too much of a financial sacrifice if they follow their idealism into the public sector. Some feel they have to enter the more lucrative private sector to pay off loans. And countless other graduates of law schools, business schools and medical schools never even consider asking what they could do in public endeavors. Scholarships in return for service can be essential to enabling the brightest and most committed students to choose service – not just from schools of government, but from other disciplines as well.

“I know a number of people who wanted to work in public service but went in a more profit-oriented direction because of the cost,” is how Dominique West – a 28-year-old Harlem resident who received a master of public administration degree from NYU Wagner last year – put it to me.

West, an outstanding former high school teacher who pioneered a program that helped University of California, Berkeley – her alma mater – recruit and retain students from underrepresented groups, is currently pursuing her dream, at the city Education Department, of working at a policy level to improve urban schools. But her $60,000 graduate school debt casts a shadow across her commitment. The Cuomo scholarship proposal or something like it could free thousands of promising young people from facing a similar dilemma.

We all know that New York State has a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. People will wonder how we can afford to pay for such a program. A more foresighted question, however, would be how can we afford not to? The costs of incubating excellence in the next generation of public service would be repaid countless times, in manifold ways, with the development of the more responsive, creative and effective public sphere we so sorely need.

If legislators are serious about strengthening the pipeline to public careers, they must meet this challenge. Regardless of who occupies the governor’s mansion in 2011, let’s make sure that in years to come, we bring the best to work for us all across state government.

(This op-ed article by Ellen Schall, dean of NYU Wagner, originally appeared in the July 12, 2010, edition of the New York Daily News.)

RCLA and Institute of International Education Launch Leadership Program Evaluation

RECENT NEWS reports have highlighted the first significant decline in decades in the number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth each year – a remarkable sign of progress in family planning and reproductive health services. Yet much remains to be done, and the health and well-being of women and families continues to be a global leadership challenge.

Since 2001, the Institute of International Education West Coast Center’s Leadership Development for Mobilizing Reproductive Health Program (LDM) has helped develop and sustain leaders working on the front lines of family planning, HIV/AIDS, adolescent reproductive health, gender-based violence, and improved maternal health care.

With support from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the LDM program has supported over 1,200 emerging and established leaders in developing the vision, commitment, knowledge and skills to make systemic improvements to reproductive health options and the overall quality of life, especially for vulnerable people. Currently, LDM focuses on institutionalizing strong in-country leadership programs, building and sustaining networks that are platforms for learning and action, and offering leadership development programs, especially for women and youth.

LDM leaders work in the poorest regions of countries in greatest need: Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines.  According to the new study on reproductive health in the medical journal The Lancet, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Ethiopia are among the six countries that accounted for more than half of all the maternal deaths in 2008.  That makes the LDM’s work with leaders in these countries and the Philippines all the more urgent.

In order to evaluate and document the impact of the program, RCLA is collaborating with the IIE West Coast Center and the Packard Foundation to conduct an evaluation utilizing action research and participatory methodologies. Amparo Hofmann-Pinilla, deputy director of the Research Center for Leadership in Action, and RCLA consultant Judith Kallick Russell will be the principal evaluators. The participatory process will draw on the insights of LDM fellows, staff from IIE and other key stakeholders to examine key components of the programs, assess gains over time and lessons learned, and determine together how to develop future initiatives.

“The LDM program has provided many opportunities for fellows and key stakeholders to connect, collaborate and learn from each other. The evaluation will support this effort by integrating findings from different countries, validating the experience of the fellows and LDM program staff and enabling us to envision possibilities for the future,” said LDM Program Director Cheryl Francisconi.

The nine-month evaluation process begins June 13-15 with an international gathering of IIE staff, national evaluators and country program managers in Manila, Philippines. The meeting will provide an opportunity for participants to get to know each other, learn more about the LDM program and context in each country; introduce and discuss the inception report and the diverse methodologies, and finalize initial research questions.

“We believe that this evaluation will support LDM program goals by infusing the collective work with a deeper understanding of the role leadership development can play as well as new lessons from program results. The participatory approach will also further strengthen leaders’ ability to continue advancing reproductive health and social change in their organizations and communities,” said Amparo Hofmann-Pinilla. 

The Time is Ripe for Leadership Diversity

By Bethany Godsoe

THE RECENT DEATHS OF ACCLAIMED CIVIL rights leaders Dorothy Height and Benjamin L. Hooks call for a moment of reflection on our nation’s history, the persistent and dismaying disparities confronting us, and the role we can each play in realizing a vision of a more just world. 

The National Urban Fellows Call to Action Summit on Diversity in Washington, D.C. on April 21 was just such a moment. An extraordinary group of people came together to discuss efforts to ensure that the highest levels of public service reflect and include the diverse people and voices that give our country its vitality, ambition, commitment to human rights, and creative spirit.

It was also a chance to share a key lesson from the work of NYU Wagner’s Research Center for Leadership in Action:  The bravado of heroic leadership has gotten us into trouble as a society. It has been our downfall in multiple arenas, from foreign affairs to financial services. The time has come to find a new model that will advance our nation toward greater opportunity and prosperity. Leadership diversity is that new model.

Leadership diversity is not about getting new faces into old roles. It is about radically shifting our understanding and practice of leadership. It is about opening ourselves to the possibility that effective leadership can take many forms and look very different from one context to the next. It is about taking up the work of leadership as a collective endeavor that taps the talents of people at all levels of organizations and across all sectors of society. Creating this openness to new forms of leadership both demands and supports the advancement and contributions of previously underrepresented groups from people of color to women to young people.

As we seek to promote the dominance of leadership diversity in our national discourse and practice of leadership, we must get past our pursuit of getting past our differences. Finding common ground is not the way forward. It is the way to limit our possibilities. Let’s use this call to action to lift up our differences and make them known. Let’s start living in the tensions those differences create. Let’s work with our differences to produce breakthroughs in how we take up the work of public service leadership.

This is not something that can wait for the next generation to resolve – the moment for change is now.  As Dorothy Height was known for saying, “If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.”

(Bethany Godsoe is the Executive Director of NYU Wagner’s Research Center for Leadership in Action,)

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The post-racial conversation, one year later

ONE YEAR after the inauguration of America’s first African-American president, MSNBC presented “Hope and Fear in Obama’s America: 2010″ on Monday, January 18, at 10 p.m. (Eastern),an extended discussion on race, with Irshad Manji, Visiting Scholar at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service (NYU Wagner) and the Director of the Moral Courage Project at New York University.

Manji, author of the bestselling book “The Trouble with Islam Today,” joined a lively panel of thought leaders in discussing some of the most pressing and provocative issues related to the changing landscape of racial relations in the United States. This Martin Luther King Day special broadcast will be conducted live from Texas Southern University in Houston, and moderated by Chris Matthews of “Hardball” and radio host Tom Joyner.

 Tune in to hear Irshad Mani’s comments at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/34929528#34929528  and offer your own by clicking the “Comments” link above.