By Francesca Norsen-Tate, Religion Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
More than 2,000 faith and community leaders working with the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation filled ballrooms at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday for an assembly to accelerate efforts to improve the standard of living for their fellow New Yorkers. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is familiar with the work of Metro IAF, kept his commitment to attend and respond to the needs addressed at the assembly.
Metro IAF is the nation’s first and largest coalition of multi-faith organizations, with seven decades of experience winning tough battles across the nation, according to literature distributed at Sunday’s assembly. Among the 55 organizations that are part of Metro IAF is East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC) which brought 1,300 leaders to the assembly, reported Pastor Tyrone Stevenson of Hope Christian Center and EBC. East Brooklyn Congregations also has member churches from western Brooklyn, including Grace Church-Brooklyn Heights, which brought 13 members to the assembly.
The meeting updated members on IAF’s aims, which include ongoing efforts to make sure affordable housing is built, to improve conditions in the New York City Housing Authority buildings, to create new communities of diverse schools with the idea that there is room for them all, to reduce the threat of gun violence, and to announce new initiatives in senior housing and creating safe playgrounds for the city’s youth.
The March 30 meeting was a follow-up to the three mayoral candidates’ assemblies that Metro IAF co-sponsored during the first three months of 2013.
The meeting began with rousing prayer and praise, that the Voices of St. Paul, from St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York, a longtime EBC leader.
Mayor de Blasio delivered on his promise to address issues during the first 20 minutes of the meeting.
While introducing his points to Mayor de Blasio, the Rev. David K. Brawley, Metro IAF co-chair, and pastor of St. Paul Community Baptist Church, related the story of how, 36 years ago, leaders of the Metro IAF of that town met with “a tall outspoken new mayor with a progressive pedigree.” Identifying that mayor as Ed Koch, Brawley related how matters came to a standoff when “the mayor walked out of the meeting and denounced our approach.”
Despite that rocky start, said Pastor Brawley, relations between IAF and the mayors improved, and NYC went from an economic and population decline “to a city that now boasts a population of 8.4 million and we’re still growing. We have met with, disagreed with, and cooperated with every single mayor, ever since. We’re here today to work with our fifth mayor and his administration. “We want to move our city forward,” he reiterated, to much applause.
“I like basketball,” said Pastor Brawley. “New Yorkers kind of like basketball. The game moves on, it moves fast, and you got to catch the rhythm or you get left behind. We would like to move on and move fast. We want to work with this new lineup so we can score some more points.”
Pastor Brawley then posed three questions to Mayor de Blasio, prefacing his question with the point that Metro IAF has had “three excellent meetings with the NYCHA chair. We both agree that we need a large-scale building effort of affordable senior housing on NYCHA site. Mr. Mayor, will you support her and Metro IAF as we expand and celebrate this critical effort?”
Praising the prompt response from NYCHA Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, Brawley expressed frustration with other city commissioners whose response has so far been delayed or non-existent. He asked Mayor de Blasio, “Will you encourage the commissioners and heads of NYPD HPD and DOE, to meet with us in the next two weeks? We’ve got some plays to run. We got to score some points. But we can’t do that if they don’t play.”
Brawley also asked: “Will you meet with us, just for 15 minutes, at City Hall? Just 15 minutes. Just so we can assess the progress on these matters?”
Stating that he would incorporate his answers into his remarks, Mayor de Blasio began his response by saying that a “whole new leadership in place that will change the direction of the city’s approach to all the communities of people affected by Sandy, and for creating jobs for all those affected by the storm. All last year I said it, and I’ll say it again: we’re living ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ There are too many people suffering. We can’t continue policies that don’t address that. What we’ve said from the very beginning—with that basketball-like urgency—we try to create an energy and a rhythm, we’re making them aggressively and we’re making them fast. Because people are hurting and they need that change fast.”
On the eve of the state legislature’s passage of the new fiscal year budget, Mayor de Blasio pointed to accomplishments in education, such as whole day pre-k for everyone and after-school programs, in a safe environment. “And it’s not an abstraction. It’s something tangible, it’s something real for so many of us.” He also reported that U.S. Senator Charles Schumer helped secure $100,000 to replace defective temporary boilers given to Hurricane Sandy Victims. Sen. Schumer helped them tap into federal money to take care of this.
Mayor de Blasio also spoke of strides “in changing dynamics in favor of the people,” adding affordable housing as a requirement in real estate deals, requiring living wage jobs when subsidizing housing, and he cited as an example the Domino’s Sugar project in Brooklyn.
Regarding safety and crime: “From the beginning (forum last year) it was a false choice presented to us by some: ‘You can either have a safe city or a fair city. Take your pick.’ No. Wait. False choice. You need a city that’s safe AND fair. And we have done that already. We have settled a lawsuit that was standing in the way of changing the policy on stop-and-frisk; so that now what the NYPD is doing is driving down crime: Murders are down. Shootings are down. Stop-and-frisk applied arbitrarily is down. We are respecting people’s constitutional rights, making this city safer every day. That is happening now. And we will continue that effort. In conclusion, the relationship between my administration and IAF is not going to go through that first stage of that other mayor you mentioned,” he said to laughter. “We understand not only what you stand for, but that you believe in organizing people to make a difference, and that’s the tradition I come out of too. So we will certainly have a meeting at City Hall, and I look forward to that meeting.”
EBC speakers from St. Barbara’s Church and other congregations in Brooklyn spoke about victories in creating playing parks in Bushwick, fighting until mold and moisture resettlement issues in NYCHA housing were resolved, creating affordable senior housing at a time when elderly residents were being pressured to leave their longtime homes and communities, to make room for younger families, and on reducing gun violence.