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Our Time Press: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries 2014 State of the District Address

It was an event full of all the pomp and circumstance attendant with a congressional office. Representative Hakeem Jeffries’ first congressional State of the District Address attracted constituents, elected officials, and youth who filled the auditorium at Boys and Girls high school.

Describing his first year in office month-by-month, Jeffries said he “did everything to make sure that our presence was felt in Washington and here at home.”

Guns are a national problem that requires a sensible solution, said Jeffries.  Noting that the majority of youth in our communities are doing the right thing, Jeffries said he would launch an initiative to identify at-risk youth in our community and offer them services.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, Jeffries called for investing in the American economy.  Jeffries plans to co-sponsor of legislation to increase the minimum wage. He called for strengthening emergency management services and erecting a seawall in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy.

Jeffries called the development of far too many luxury apartments being built that are not accessible to teachers and other civil servants, “economic gentrification.” He called on a moratorium on luxury housing development in outer boroughs. Next month Jeffries pledged to introduce legislation to change 80-20 housing to at least 50% affordable.

After his formal address Jeffries said that 80/20 development started as a positive thing and has worked well in many other parts of the country. “The problem in New York is that in many communities market rate by definition becomes luxury that is unaffordable to working families, moderate and low income folks, senior citizens and young people starting out,” said Jeffries. He called for an additional 30% set aside for moderate income folks added to 20% for low income to create housing that is 50% market rate and 50% affordable.

On making affordability permanent, Jeffries said when a program lapses – if it is connected to tax credits, for instance, after a certain period of time – 15, 20, 30 years –that program should then fall into rent stabilization. In addition, “I don’t believe that you should allow for the privatization or sale of Mitchell Lama units that were created to allow for some affordability but then over time someone is able to take that unit, sell it on the open market, and not allow the affordability in the development to continue,” said Jeffries. “We haven’t had that problem too much in Brooklyn, but it’s a concern and something we need to closely monitor.”

On policing Jeffries said, “I was proud to be there when Mayor de Blasio made the announcement that the lawsuit (regarding Stop and Frisk) would be settled and eventually the appeal will be dropped. That is a significant step in the right direction. In a democracy there has to be a balance between effective law enforcement on the one hand and a healthy respect for civil rights and the constitution on the other. The previous administration did not respect that balance.” He added, “I am pleased the Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Bratton seem to recognize that in order to continue the dramatic decline in crime we’ve got to work closely together with the community as partners.”

While in the assembly Jeffries said he and his colleagues fought to dismantle NYS’s prison industrial complex. “But the gateway,” Jeffries said, “was contact with the police via stop-and-frisk. Hopefully the first step we can take is to reform completely the manner in which the police engages the community, which is why the announcement of the city settling the stop-and-frisk federal lawsuit was so significant. We have to increase the resources available to inner city communities in terms of after school programs, summer enrichment opportunities, STEM training.”

Regarding some police taking innocent citizen’s money and valuables during an unconstitutional encounter then placing that money into the police retirement fund, Rep. Jeffries acknowledged that the policy was initiated to literally remove the financial incentive from illegal activity. “A few years ago a few of us called for a new commission to investigate corruption within the NYPD. This was during the time when there was a particular outbreak of activity: eight undercover narcotics officers and detectives who were convicted of planting drugs on individuals, a few rouge officers convicted of trafficking guns or stolen merchandise. In the past we’ve had the Knapp Commission in the 1970s, the Mullen Commission in the 1990’s. It may be time to look at another commission to investigate issues related to systemic corruption during the previous administration,” said Jeffries. “The majority of officers are hardworking and doing the right thing and are from the community working closely with the community. Bad apples on the police force can be problematic.”

Jeffries added, “In 2014 we have an inspector general, we’ve got an active Dept. of Justice led by Eric Holder, we’ve got a progressive attorney general in Eric Schneiderman. We’ve got some avenues to deal with any outbreak of corruption.”

Congressman Jeffries said that next year constituents can hold him accountable for implementing agenda items outlined in his first congressional State of the District address. “One of the reasons why many of us do these types of addresses in January is to lay out an agenda of things you want to work on,” said Jeffries. “It gives you, your staff and everyone around you a blueprint as to the type of issues you want to tackle, and then you can measure the progress you have been able to make at the end of the year and figure out what else you can work on to complete the things that were started and hopefully be able to point to some of the things that got accomplished.”