A Poverty Panel Presents a Test For Parsons

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The New York Sun

The success or failure of Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-poverty commission could be an important litmus test for the CEO of Time Warner, Richard Parsons, who has been named as a possible 2009 mayoral candidate.

Mr. Parsons, who is co-chairman of the commission with the CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada, got a taste of life as a public official when a group of low-income New Yorkers descended on the lobby of his sleek Columbus Circle office building yesterday and demanded the commission be aggressive with its forthcoming plan.

The group, which was organized by a nonprofit organization called Community Voices Heard, invoked new poverty numbers released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau to stress that the commission needs to find a way to create jobs with upward mobility for the poor and to eliminate the red tape they say now stymies them when they try to get help through city agencies.

A professor of public affairs at Baruch College, Douglas Muzzio, said that if Mr. Parsons decides to run, this commission is a high-profile introduction to New Yorkers who many not know him in his executive post.

“If he has any inclination to run for mayor this would be a prominent public platform,” he said. “It would be an important item in his public resume.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Parsons, Danielle Perissi, denied that he has plans to run for mayor. “He is not running for mayor, he is running Time Warner,” she said.

A professor of political science and sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center, John Mollenkopf, said talking about a Parsons run for mayor is pure speculation. But, he said: “He is obviously a very astute and capable person. If he decided he wanted to run to I’m sure a lot of people would take him seriously.”

In the meantime, Mr. Parsons and the commission now have new census numbers to consider.

The figures released yesterday show that percentage of people below the federal poverty line dropped in the city to 19.1% from 20.3% between 2004 and 2005, according to an analysis by the city. Mr. Bloomberg and the city’s demographers said the drop was so slight that it is statically not significant.

Advocates for the poor note that there are still 1.7 million people living in poverty in the five boroughs and argue that the prosperity the rest of the city has felt has not trickled down to lower income levels.

The American Community Survey report from the Census Bureau showed that the Bronx remained one of the poorest counties in the country, with a median income of about $29,228 last year, compared with $49,480 statewide.

Among those in the lobby of the Time Warner building yesterday was a woman from the Bronx, Gloria Walker. The group was chanting and singing a song about poverty to the tune of “New York, New York.”

She thanked the mayor for creating the commission, but said she hoped it “didn’t recycle old programs.”

Mr. Parsons, a Republican who served as chairman of Mayor Giuliani’s 1993 campaign, did not come down to meet the group; a security guard said he was out of town. He has, however, outlined the commission’s focus in the past, saying it needs to make sure that it is cost-effective to work rather than to collect public assistance, and that it should help prepare New Yorkers to work through helping make college more accessible.

The 32-member Commission on Economic Opportunity will unveil its plan to reduce to the number of poor people in the city sometime after Labor Day.

The commission, which received about 60 ideas, is said to be narrowing its focus to deal primarily with the working poor, children, and young adults.

Some advocates have expressed concern about that focus, but Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday the strategy is designed to address the “so-called intractable problems” of being poor.

“You cannot go and make real progress if you just worry about opinion and say I’ve got to do everything for everybody because that’s just not possible,” he told reporters.

Reacting to the commission has proved to be tricky for those who advocate for low-income citizens. One the one hand, they acknowledge that Mr. Bloomberg in convening the commission has done what no other mayor has accomplished, but some are concerned that the commission will not be aggressive enough. Others wonder how a commission like this could possibly work.

The executive director of the New York Hunger Coalition, Joel Berger, said he is giving it “the benefit of the doubt,” but that the city has not done enough to date.

The city, he said, has been out of compliance with federal law when it comes to ensuring that food stamp applications are filed properly.

Mr. Mollenkopf said most mayoral commissions are fruitless, so the idea that the commission is seemingly making progress is a big deal.

The director of the population division of the Department of City Planning, Joseph Salvo, said that with the exception of Queens, where the poverty numbers dropped to 9% from 14.5%, the numbers remained within range.

The New York Sun

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