Articles by " Gregory Dussaq"
23 Jan
2010
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Pontifications of the Public Advocate

Demagoguery has never been in short supply in politics, but as the economy tanks and budgets shrink, it’s on the uptick. Take Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who at a press conference two days ago slammed the Mayor for mishandling the City’s homeless population, particularly in Manhattan.

But de Blasio offered no real solutions, just demands for more services from a drowning city budget. He criticized the mayor’s proposal to move the men’s intake facility from Bellevue Hospital to Brooklyn because he says it is Manhattan that has the largest homeless problem. The Advocate should know that it takes more money to run anything in Manhattan than in the boroughs, just ask any business that has to operate within the constraints of the market and not in the make-believe world of the tax supported public advocate’s office.

It’s no accident that the homeless population tends to gravitate to Manhattan. The homeless know that’s where the money and the services are, so that relocating facilities to the boroughs as the Mayor proposed, is perfectly reasonable and budget conscious.

Despite his criticisms of the mayor, the public advocate nevertheless offered to work with the administration.  But unless Mr. de Blasio is willing to accept the constraints that the mayor has to work under—mainly that he can’t print money like the federal government—his carping and grandstanding will only perpetuate the useless finger-pointing of our political culture. He needs to accept solutions that are in accordance with current budget conditions, such closing facilities that cost too much to run and reopening them where they cost less to operate. He needs to accept that reductions in services are unavoidable at a time when the city’s taxpaying population is also tightening the belt.

“Although the City has fewer resources, government cannot renege on its promises to vulnerable New Yorkers,” says Mr. de Blasio. But the mayor cannot promise what he doesn’t have and reducing services when the money isn’t there is not reneging, it’s being responsible and making tough choices.

Public officials should tread lightly and think critically before spending valuable time and tax dollars issuing inflammatory sound bites simply to look like they are doing something or to get free face-time on TV and a blurb in tomorrow’s paper.

Edited by Mario Quirce

27 May
2009
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Babe step aside…here’s true Bronx Bomber!

It would seem that President Obama’s selection for Supreme Court Justice has all the potential of setting a brush fire the likes only California has experience with. However, I wanted to issue a few words of caution to all those critics and supporters, please step back and look at the facts. This is one of those rare instances in which you witness the demographic evolution of this great country in real time.

Aside from being an accomplished justice who allegedly instills the fear of god in every lawyer with the unfortunate fate of deliberating in her court room, she is a self made woman who has developed into a force to be reckoned with which we, as Americans, should all be proud of.

Justice Sotomayor is an educated woman (who by the way are dramatically underrepresented on the Supreme Court) with nearly 30 years of experience both in and out of court proceedings. Out of the 30 years she spent 6 as a lower court judge in New York City and 11 years as a Federal appeals court judge.

As a Latina (who are also dramatically underrepresented in the supreme court,) Sotomayor represents the potential and possibility this country can and should continue to offer anyone with the courage and determination to alter their current circumstances for the better. Sotomayor is a textbook example of the United States that we, for the past 9 years have been attempting to remind the world of. A country where odds and obstacles can be overcome and were a child from simple beginnings can rise to the highest level of Justice based on determination and character.

Justice Sotomayor, deserves a thorough and expeditious confirmation process, in which she further confirms to us her qualifications and is also given a fair chance to explain any prior blunders, gaffes, or mistakes.

19 May
2009
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A lesson in accountability

I wanted to write a short piece about the public school fiasco that is unfolding downtown between the (Mayor’s) office and several prominent power brokers here in the city. In what is again turning into an absolute embarrassment of comical proportions, the teachers union and a few other notable members of our elected officials want to strip Mayor Bloomberg’s control over the board of education in New York City.
They all claim the Mayor has too much power and influence over our children’s education, their teachers, and the school’s administrators. Nevermind that overall school performance during Bloomberg’s tenure has been revolutionized and dramatically outperformed previous administrations/policies.
Lastly, and probably most laughable of all, is the opposition’s desire to strip the Mayor of his ability to appoint board members while still making him accountable for their performance.
Mayor Bloomberg is an individual who understands the value of actionable data (the man built a behemoth by monetizing the value of data, at Bloomberg LP.) Most of the statistics pouring out of our schools encourage our continued support of Mayor Bloombergs control of the school system.
Let it be so, and allow the man to focus his attention back on other departments that need dramatic improvement in the bureaucracy that is New York City.

11 Feb
2009
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verb: Googorize

How is it possible that after spending $30 Million dollars three years ago to establish a secure database which simply houses every public students grades throughout the state we now have to lobby the Federal Government and the State Tax payers for additional funds to basically scrub the plan and redesign it completely?

In an age of companies like Google, Microsoft, AOL, and Yahoo, who in essence are giant database managers and sift through trillions of documents across multiple geographic locations in nanoseconds, we (the New York State tax payers) can’t seem to either build a database that in essence contains the grades of all k-12 children in public schools and can spit out the results in less than 10 minutes?

God forbid we were to expect this database would keep track of the 7,000 public/private schools and our 248 colleges and universities. Or our 7,000 libraries, and 750 museums. Or the 750,000 professionals we have hired to administer classes or maintain facilities.

We are severely overdue a reality check. Unfortunately it is coming in the form of severe layoffs and excruciating economic hardship. Lets face it, when the Department of Education is allowed to burn money the way it does, can this possibly be a surprise? We are constantly throwing good money at utterly incompetent people and not asking for concrete and realistic results.

Does anyone with any sort of realistic rational think we could not have put this project up for a competitive bid and demanded guarantees from the developers? Does anyone honestly think Google or Microsoft would not have built this database for us for cheaper? Furthermore, does anyone doubt that once one of these fabulously smart whiz kids was assigned to this database that it would not morph into a piece of software that would manage not only our young kids, but also our older ones, our facilities, our teachers, our administrators and probably anything else he/she/them might think was pertinent?

Take it one step further, by establishing a comprehensive database like the one I have portrayed, how much money would the Department of Education save that could be applied to special education programs, or new facilities, or teacher training, or extra curricular activities?

I don’t know for certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the savings would be large enough to completely revamp and fund every arts program in the State for example.

We need serious operators who grasp the severity of our problem and more importantly understand the vast resources we have available if we could just approach issues with an open mind and without a sense of arrogance. Members of the Board of Regents have failed us, and more importantly our kids.

The fact that the mayor and the governor have not stepped up to confront them is equally alarming. Yet again, another undeniable example of frivolous waste, cowardice and irreverence to their constituents.

4 Feb
2009
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A Tavern Hangover

Last night I was discussing my latest entry to this blog with my smarter/better half and I was scolded for not being clear enough.

So I am going to briefly attempt to clarify my thoughts. As I stated, I am not suggesting the city should take over the day to day operation at Tavern on the Green. The Tavern has successfully attracted masses from all over the world for decades and should remain so. My argument revolves around the paltry returns taxpayers receive in exchange for what is potentially the premier entertainment venue this city has to offer.

We need to recognize that there are options beyond extending the existing agreement and not enforcing its by-laws or transferring it to a different bidder under the same or slightly better conditions. Take for instance the possibility of relocating the fashion shows (currently hosted at Bryant Park and looking for a new home) to the grounds at Tavern on the Green. The fees generated by hosting these two events a year would generate in excess of the $286k the restaurant paid the City last year.

Additionally, turning the Tavern into a state of the art, quasi- banquet/conference hall owned by the city and operated by a professional event planner for a fee would most probably also generate cash flow in excess of the $1M we are paid in rent too.

Assume for a second that the countless bureaucratic entities in the City’s administration were to host their events at a City owned venue rather than at the Waldorf, or the Marriot, or the Hilton. The fees from those entities alone are well over a million dollars a year!

We need to approach Tavern on the Green for what it is, a huge revenue generator that the city should be apporpiately compensated for. If the city does have a revenue sharing provision attached to the lease, then we should ensure that we are treated with the same transparency and generosity all other partners recieve, especially if the City demands the same preferrential lease rate.

3 Feb
2009
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Binge Drinking at the Tavern

In what is going to be another great example of missed opportunities (and an extraordinarily unfathomable mismanagement by several key members of the city administration) the city has set May 1st at the deadline for bids to operate the almighty Tavern on the Green for years to come.

Tavern on the Green, that landmark venue in the heart of Central Park which hosts around 750,000 guests a year and generated $38M in revenue in 2007 has it’s lease and revenue sharing contract coming due at the end of this year!

Under the present agreement, the city charges the operator $1M in rent per year. This translates into $83,333 per month, or $3.0864 per month per square foot. We in turn agree to maintain the roadway and “garden” around it in pristine shape and beauty at a cost of tens of millions.

As tax payers we are also apparently entitled to 3.5% of the gross revenue generated by what apparently is the second highest revenue generating restaurant in the nation. According to the restaurants website, their revenue is roughly $34M a year. So if my mathematical skills are still what they were in 4th grade, that should mean the city was due around $1.19M. So for 2008 the city should have collected $2.19M total. Well apparently we only collected $1.268M.

Hmm, I wonder what happened there? Let’s make a few assumptions: Assume Tavern on the Green booked absolutely no private parties and lost half of the total revenue they claim to average. So their revenue is now $17M, the city would be due $595k not the $286k it was paid.

Lets make these assumptions even more tragic (to account for the terrible economy) and assume that not only did they not host any private parties, but they also had 50% less patrons and their revenue dropped to $8.5M for 2008. Under this new assumption the city would be due $297k not the $286k it was paid.

I understand that I might not have the exact figures to calculate an exact balance due to the city. However, even under the worst of assumptions I think it is clear that the city is not being compensated appropriately.

I am not suggesting that the city should assume the responsability of operating and managing the day to day business at Tavern on the Green, but considering the torrid financial situation, I do beleive it behooves the city to pay close attention to whoever the new proprietor is, what kind of a deal we grant him, and how transparent his bookkeeping is.

30 Jan
2009
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City’s Labor proposals…aka: UGH!

It appears Mayor Bloomberg has warned labor unions in the city that they must renegotiate their contracts or risk loosing 23,000 jobs. Most of these are going to come out of the Department of Education. No doubt they will push back and we will all come to some sort of understanding that does absolutely nothing for us but push back the inevitable.

When are we going to face the problem of wasted resources and uninterrupted bullying by our countless labor unions. Do not misunderstand me, I am all for people making a living and improving their quality of life and doing so in a collective manor if they absolutely must. However, I also expect you to accomplish that without compromising the well being and resources of the community at large.

Take for example my attempt this week to renew one of my dogs city licenses. Last years form indicated that I should use the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s website to renew said license. I went online, pulled up the web page, proceeded to search for my dog’s license under his name and the license number that had been assigned him a couple of years ago and guess what: “Our search resulted in no known record.”

Great! Awesome! I tried countless variables of the pets name, license number, web browser, etc etc… The end result was always the same, we can’t help you, please call 311 with any questions. So I did, and a lovely lady attempted to help me after having me on hold for ten minutes (it helped that I was making this call after 8PM otherwise the hold time might have been eternal.) It turns out, she had absolutely no idea were to start and she also had no idea how to find the telephone number to the Department of Health either.

I would be very curious to know a few things:

1 – How many millions of our city taxes have been spent on building the Department of Healths’ website and database?

2 – How many people are manning the 311 call center around the clock and how much do we pay them?

3 – And why are we considering axing most of the city employees out of the Department of Education (read teachers) when there are so many other areas that are clearly under performing?

Don’t misunderstand me, I do believe that our city’s educational department is in dire need of restructuring. I also understand that the changes needed will take a very long time to draft and implement. However, I also understand that slashing headcount from the Department of Education could very well mean forcing parents to divert energy and focus away from providing for their families in a time of great need.

22 Jan
2009
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Designated Driver (aka: Bridge Banking)

Andrew Jackson (the 7thPresident) closed down the Second Bank of the US in 1836 and aptly justified his actions with the following quote: “Gentlemen, I had men watching you for a long time and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the bank. You tell me that if I take the deposits from the bank and annul its charter, I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin! Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves.”

I bring this up due to the increasing chatter about the possible nationalization of some of our more troubled banks. While this is something I am terrified of experiencing (due to the far reaching power the Government would be assuming and the dramatic change in global banking that this would cause,) I understand that we might be fast approaching the point in which we might not have a choice.

I fear our appointed leaders will again mismanage this process by acting too hastily and with a God-like conviction in peoples desire to be each others keeper. However, how much longer are we going to accept the idea of continually propping up banks with guarantees and capital as a viable course of action? And how much longer are we going to allow the boards and management of these entities to look us in the face, apologize and/or claim ignorance while extending their hands out for help? Worse, I wonder how many banks we will decide to nationalize before falling back on the idea of creating a central clearing bank to bid on non performing assets.

Personally, if forced into a situation were I had to step in to avoid irreparable financial damage to this country and our respective communities, I would assume control of the largest and sickest bank in which I am most invested in (ie: Citi Group.) I would begin by guaranteeing all existing depositors and then replacing its’ senior staff with competent, prudent adults. Next I would handover the remaining $350B that are left in the TARP. My instructions would be very simple: “Lever up this capital gradually by purchasing (at a “reasonable price”) a significant amount of the “non performing” viable assets at other national banks which pose a systemic risk to our capital and commercial markets, while continually accounting to Congress and the US Tax Payer how each dollar is spent.

Consider this last call! And unfortunately as usual the tax payer is the desiganted driver. The time for half measures and meager patch work must end here and now. As much as I want to avoid this outcome, it reminds me of my childhood and the drastic measures my parents appropriately took whenever I wandered too far off the reservation.

21 Jan
2009
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Something for nothing and our Chryslers for free.

Among the amazing headlines of praise and ongoing rhetoric this morning I stumbled across one that brought to light Fiat’s (Italy’s premier manufacturer and owner of Ferrari and Maserati) interest in our very own secretly bankrupt Chrysler.

While I am not surprised that an industrial conglomerate like Fiat might be interested in coming back to the US after almost 3 decades, it disappoints me a little to read that they are only interested if we fork over another $3B in loans to Chrysler (we already loaned them $4B, and an additional $1.5B to its recently approved Chrysler Financial.)

Apparently, Fiat believes a 35% equity stake is fair compensation in exchange for engine technology and car designs (these would not be approved for several years because they have not passed safety standards.) Additionally, they should be entitled to purchase another 20% stake in the joint venture for the outstanding sum of $25M (this assuming the operational efficiency of this company has improved and met the goals established by a Congress who can’t tell the difference between a hybrid and a diesel engine) within 12 months.

Okay, I must apologize right now for what is about to follow because my blood is starting to boil and co-workers have started removing items from my desk which normally preceeds my smashing either a telephone, a keyboard or anything I might be able to pick up and express my frustration with!

Seriously? I mean we are one day into an administration that has clearly told us we need to grow up and “approach issues with maturity, creativity, tolerance, and loyalty.” Let me start with the fact that we have not begun with much maturity yet, but our demanding a course of action within the next four weeks is clearly a start.

As far as creativity, it’s true we have not demanded much of this either, and that is obvious because the same old matriarchs (ie. corporate executives) are still at these companies. This too I am sure will be addressed in short order.

Tolerance! Well, the fact that we have not addressed the previous two points and we are still at the table looking to solve the problem I think answers the question of tolerance.

Now, finally in terms of loyalty, it is unequivocally preposterous to even attempt to bring our intentions into doubt! Are you kidding, we are $5.5B into Chrysler and looking to dish out an additional $3B. No one, and I mean no one on the face of this great earth can possibly debate us on where our loyalty lies!

We care about three things here: First is the thousands of workers that are about to be displaced. Second is the intellectual capital industries of this type on our soil forces us to possess. And lastly we are terribly concerned about the crisis of confidence a dramatic collapse of an industry this size would mean not only for our moral but also for the integrity of global trade and processes.

Additionally, does anyone really believe that after pumping $5.5B into Chrysler we are not going to fork over another $4B? Furthermore, you think we are ready to walk away from $8.5B and let this company collapse? The answer is obviously, NO! That said, should we allow Fiat so assume 35% of an entity that is fully bank rolled for the immediate future in exchange for cars that will not be approved for several years and engine technology that does not wain us off oil base fuels? The answer to this is also as dramatic, NO!

Should we allow Fiat to purchase an additional 20% stake in this new entity which we bank rolled with $8.5B initially (and I say this because we will probably need more…) after 12 months of aggressive restructuring for $25M? Are you kidding me? Do we all look unequivocally stupid to you? Let me get this straight, we bank roll it. We force restructuring. We retool it. We give you access to one of the best distribution channels in the country. We hand you the keys to some of the best selling autos and manufacturing in the country. We give you 12 months of leniency, and we do this all for a final 45% stake and $25M in cash. Right, I can see the pigs flying past the window on the tenth floor of this dramatically overpriced midtown office I inhabit.

In closing, allow me to quote our now fearless leader President Obama: “In reaffirming the our greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never given. It must be earned.” Please, I implore you all to tread lightly. The solutions we come up with to our current problems come loaded with the possibility of stripping us of the fruits of our hard work, dedication and hard earned tax dollars.