Former Consultant to New York Democrats Is Sentenced to 3 Years in Fraud –

Prosecutors said Melvin E. Lowe stole $100,000 from the New York Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in an invoicing scheme with State Senator John L. Sampson.

The former consultant, Melvin E. Lowe, 53, of Manhattan, wasconvicted in September of charges including conspiracy, wire fraud and filing false tax returns.

He was hired as a consultant by the committee in 2009 after Democrats won control of the Senate, and Mr. Sampson became his party’s conference leader. Prosecutors said Mr. Lowe filed a fake invoice for a printing company in New Jersey to receive $100,000 from the committee in 2010, then took $75,000 for himself. They said Mr. Lowe used the money to pay for renovations to a house he owns in Georgia.

“Melvin Lowe’s corrupt actions were another example of a political figure in New York State putting his own personal greed ahead of the public’s trust,” Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “I hope today’s sentence will send yet another powerful signal to any public official who questions the resolve of this office to root out corruption.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NYC has 1700 segregated public schools; Mayor wants to change admissions to 8 |

By Alina Adams

On December 11, 2014, the New York City Council spent almost 9 hours debating the issue of racial segregation in city schools.

There are 1,700 elementary, middle and high-schools in NYC. Roughly half of them are at least 90 percent black and Hispanic, making New York the most segregated state in the nation, according to the Civil Right Project at UCLA.

And yet, the majority of the City Council’s time was spent discussing just eight schools, the Specialized High Schools, headlined by historical stalwarts like Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, as well as five other, smaller, newly created high-schools.

These high-schools require a single test for admission, the SHSAT. Nothing else, not grades, not attendance, not volunteer work. The Mayor Of NYC, Bill de Blasio, has decided it’s unacceptable that the schools have so few minority students. By which he means Black and Hispanic students. The fact that the schools are primarily Asian, many of them immigrants or children of immigrants, and that they are 50% Free Lunch is of no interest to him. He still believes these schools are populated by the elite, who buy their way in.

Bill de Blasio wants to change the admissions criteria for high-school. One test, after all, shouldn’t determine a child’s entire future.

Meanwhile, acceptance to the city’s K-5 Gifted & Talented programs is also determined by one test. Given to a four year old. By a total stranger. And even under those trying circumstances, over 1000 kids qualify for what is about 300 seats in five citywide, accelerated programs.

The majority of the children offered seats in G&T programs, citywide and district, are white and middle-class. Some neighborhoods in the Bronx don’t even have a single G&T class, much less an entire school.

The mayor has no problem with that.

Well, he does. He’d like to change the G&T test for four-year-olds to make it more fair and accessible to all. Like the previous administration did, several times. Only to see the new test skew even more white and middle-class.

But despite putting out a call for proposals back in October, this administration has yet to pick a new vendor, despite having promised to do so at several Educational Policy meetings in the past, then pulling it off the agenda at the last minute.

The fact is, it’s highly unlikely that students will do well on the SHSAT, if they haven’t had an excellent K-8 education up to that point. But since fixing that is hard, it’s easier to blame the test and spend nine hours talking about eight schools, while ignoring the other 1,692(-ish).

Go to: NYC has 1700 segregated schools; Mayor wants to change admissions to 8

To contact Michael Benjamin:
Skype: SquarePegDem

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Where is the outrage about the pipeline to prison for gifted students? | The Hechinger Report

Gifted students need specialized instruction to reach their full potential. However, due to a lack of funding, only 56% of high achievers from low-income families remain successful by fifth grade, according to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Furthermore, high ability students from low-income backgrounds, as compared to their more advantaged peers, are twice as likely to drop out of school. Dropping out triples the likelihood of incarceration later in life.

Many gifted students are impoverished, underperform due to distraction and boredom, or possess disabilities that most well-intentioned teachers are not trained to handle. The belief that gifted students can fend for themselves is misguided and inequitable

Read more of the full "The Hechinger Report" article here.
Contact Michael Benjamin:
Skype: SquarePegDem

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

City Council Insists On Swearing | City and State NY


After waiting for more than eight hours to testify at a New York City Council hearing on Dec. 11, a former state assemblyman was not allowed to speak—because he would not bend his knee and pledge his troth to the committee chair.

Chair of the Education Committee Daniel Dromm told former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin that “the rules of the Council” dictate all members of the public swear or affirm that they are telling the truth before they testify at a Council hearing—even though the rules only specify that government officials be sworn in.

Benjamin, who represented a district in the Bronx for four terms in the Assembly and is now a columnist for City & State, waited in City Hall all day to speak in opposition to a resolution calling on the state Legislature to impose racial diversity on the city’s elite high schools by changing their rigid admission standards. Benjamin, an African-American who attended the top-rated Bronx High School of Science, and who favors the current system, was ordered by Dromm to raise his right hand and swear that his testimony would be truthful, or else he would not be allowed to testify.

“You are not a court of law, and you have no oversight over me,” said Benjamin to Dromm in a heated exchange. “The fact that I am here proves that I want to give testimony, period.”

“The rules of the Council,” responded Dromm, after consulting with his colleague Brad Lander, chairman of the Rules Committee, “require that you be sworn in.” He then dismissed the panel without allowing Benjamin to voice his perspective.

Though Dromm spoke as though he were respecting ancient standards of protocol, the Council’s rules regarding swearing in have been around only since May of 2014, and explicitly do not “require” members of the public to be sworn in.

Council Rule 7.50.e, adopted as part of a package of progressive rules reform earlier this year, states, “The chairperson of each committee shall ensure that representatives of [c]ity governmental entities affirm prior to testifying at a committee meeting that their testimony is truthful to the best of their knowledge, information and belief.”

While committee chairs are probably allowed to make members of the general public swear they are telling the truth, the intent of the rule is clearly to ensure that city officials are not perjuring themselves.

Brad Lander, at a Rules Committee hearing on May 7, alluded to the change as “affirming that city government officials are telling the truth.” And Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, at the May 14 stated meeting, said, “We are further empowering committee chairs to run their committees and hold stronger oversight, by giving chairs the responsibility of directing city government officials to swear in.” (The emphasis is mine in both cases.)

Neither of these Council leaders said anything about compelling members of the public to swear in or else forfeit their ability to speak. After all, what is the point of this rite, other than to demonstrate the power of committee chairs in all their schoolmarmish splendor? Is it even plausible that a member of the public would wait around for hours to present his or her personal opinion, and then lie about it? And if so, who cares? Especially when the matter under debate is a non-binding resolution that Albany will never, ever look at—much less act upon—this ritual comes across as particularly ridiculous.

People who line up to give testimony have not been summoned before the Council: They come forward on their own volition to petition their government or to air a grievance. The barriers to do so are high enough: finding out when a committee meets, attending during the workday, and waiting, sometimes for hours. All this to get the floor for two or three minutes to speak—usually only to the committee chair and some staffers, because the rest of the Council members have left—and then to be waved off for the next panel. These concerned citizens, unlike the cynics and hacks they face, actually believe that their opinions matter, and that these hearings are not just a showcase for elected egos.

A great many other committee chairs do not even bother to swear in members of the public, because it is silly, and an abuse of ceremony. People who come voluntarily before the Council deserve respect and an assumption of honesty. They are not puppets for pompous, power-tripping legislators to order about. Speaker Mark-Viverito, whose spokesperson would not tell me what her opinion on the matter is, should advise committee chairs to exercise some discretion in how they throw their rather minuscule weight around, if only for the appearance of dignity.

Seth Barron (@NYCCouncil Watch on Twitter) runs City Council Watch, an investigative website focusing on local New York City politics.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Asian Students “Get” Specialized High Schools | Voices of NY

If it was not for her curiosity, the life of Ellie (Xinrui) Zhu would have had no overlap with SHSAT, the entrance test for specialized high schools in New York City. After all, 22-year-old Zhu came to the U.S. from China after she graduated from high school there. Now, however, she has made a documentary film about the journey Asian students travel to get into specialized high schools.

Zhu graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism and is pursuing her master’s degree in multimedia studies at New York University. Last summer, during an internship at CNN, Zhu’s supervising producer showed some interest in Asian students at specialized high schools. The producer told her that they had wanted to make a documentary film about these students but had given up because it was hard to find Asian families who would like to participate. “I was thinking then, it would be easier for me to interact with these families,” said Zhu.

When she went back to school, a professor who was also a producer at HBO mentioned SHSAT again, and the professor encouraged students to do films on this topic. “Their interest in this topic was inspiring to me,” said Zhu. “It means many mainstream Americans would like to know the story behind the academic success of Asian students.” Zhu said she found that many Americans thought Asian students would spend all their time studying. “But we know that’s not true. I wanted to show that to them.”

Soon after, at an education forum in Brooklyn, she met Stanley Ng, the Lower East Side representative for the Citywide Council on High Schools who is a strong opponent of specialized high school reform. Ng introduced her to the Coalition Supporting NYC Specialized High Schools. In her film, the students preparing for SHSAT are shown spending their time playing video games, participating in extracurricular activities and, on weekends, attending cram schools.

“[Most Americans] thought Asian students get there only by attending cram schools. They don’t know how much Asian families sacrifice for their children’s education,” said Zhu. This is what impressed Zhu the most during the process of making the movie: The families, she noted, are not as rich as some people may assume.

An example from the movie is that of twin brothers who are preparing for the exam. Their mother is a waitress at a restaurant and their father a delivery man. The parents work long hours. Every day when they get back home, the kids have already fallen asleep. They don’t have much time to spend with them. Still, the twins have been attending cram school since they were third graders. “Cram school is not cheap. It costs a few thousand dollars every year. But the parents never hesitated because they wanted their kids to have better lives than them,” said Zhu. The children may be too young to understand their parents’ thinking. “But I believe they see how hard their parents work. And they will understand their folks sooner or later.”

“So the secret is not studying from dawn to dusk, nor money, but the priority our culture gives to education,” said Zhu. She found that even in many of the free SHSAT preparation programs provided by nonprofit educational organizations, Asian students make up the majority of attendees. Asian students not only are better prepared for the exam, but also are more likely to take the exam. And many African American and Hispanic students are not interested in taking the exam at all.

Zhu said she once had a conversation with a non-Asian alumnus of Stuyvesant High School, which helped her understand the different emphasis placed on education in different cultures.

“The [Stuyvesant graduate] provides free SHSAT preparation programs in African-American and Latino communities. But specialized high schools are not a popular topic in these communities. Few people know about them. Some parents only learn about the existence of such schools at the high school fairs, and ask what scores are needed to get admission,” said Zhu. “But if you look at the Chinese-language newspapers, you’ll see there is so much information about specialized high schools. That’s the cultural difference.”


Michael Benjamin;
Follow on Twitter: @SquarePegDem
Skype: SquarePegDem

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Good Day NY Asks Why A Fmr State Legislator Refused To Take Council Oath

Former state legislator Michael Benjamin refused to take an oath during a City Council hearing at City Hall.


I was able to address and defend my decision refusing CM Dromm’s oath and segue into specialized high school issue: preserving the SHSAT, merit and excellence at those schools.


From Twitter:

@CM_RubenWills: @SquarePegDem on Good Day N.Y. has some substantive view points about education. I don’t agree with him all the time but he should be heard

@CM_RubenWills Thanks. Now amend @NYCCouncil rules to protect the public’s right to petition their government w/ swearing an oath.

;-)  RT @kwoods100: @rosannascotto well actually @SquarePegDem gets to give his message on TV now so maybe he wins after all.

@sophiequus @PoliticalCrazy Freedom to petition one’s govt w/o impediments is a worthy principle. Now able to make two worthy points.

Posted in Education, Government | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Early News Roundup – Diversity in NYC Public Schools

Early media reports on the City Council hearing on diversity in NYC public schools and the specialized high schools admission test (SHSAT).

Specialized HS Admission Test Newsconference.12112014

SHSAT Newsconference_IMG_0188-12112014

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

City Council Education Chair Refuses To Let Fmr Assemblyman Speak On High School Admissions

Been at Council Since 10After waiting 9 hrs to offer my perspective on legislation affecting the admissions process at the city’s specialized high schools (SHSAT), CM Dan , chairman of the Council’s Committee on Education, wouldn’t allow me to speak because I refused to be sworn in. It’s an abuse of power to insist upon requiring members of the public to take an oath before permitting them to have their say. Yes, I made it a point of principle to refuse to be sworn in this evening.

Earlier in the day, I tweeted that I would refuse to take the oath.

Hey NYCCouncil

I shared with Mr. Dromm my belief that he could not require me to take an oath to tell the truth because I am not the head of a city agency over whom he has oversight responsibility. I said that the oath requirement was an overreach and that I wouldn’t comply.

After Dromm dismissed my panel, I rose from my chair at the witness table and walked to the Council dais to again inform Mr. Dromm that he was being abusive of his authority. Thereupon one of the Sergeant-at-arms whisked Dromm away and signaled for police assistance. Stunned, I told a plainclothes police officer that Mr. Dromm was wrong. The officer said that it was the Council’s rules and that I’d have to leave. I left without further incident.

I hope that my stand will result in the City Council ending a pretentious practice instituted to make themselves seem a serious legislative body.

NY City Council Rule 7.50.e

I live-tweeted my displeasure with CM Dromm’s treatment of speakers whose views supported retaining the SHSAT. Unbelievable WTH

Hearing on Diversity in New York City Public Schools

Intro. No. 511-A, Res. 453 & Res. 442

Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 10 AM

City Council Chambers, City Hall

Education Committee, Hon. Daniel Dromm, Chairman

Testimony Respectfully Submitted By Michael Benjamin

Good afternoon Councilman Dromm,

My name is Michael Benjamin. I am a former state legislator and I am a proud alumnus of the Bronx HS of Science (Class of ‘76). And I am a recovering politician.

Succinctly, I oppose Reso 442 and support as presently constructed the use of the  Specialized HS Admission Test (SHSAT) as the sole criterion for admission to the City’s specialized high schools because the exam serves as a fair and unbiased arbiter of scholastic merit.

The SHSAT entrance examination is the only truly fair and unbiased arbiter because every student admitted will have earned his or her place.

My cousin, Kenon Tutein, a1993 Bronx Science graduate and a Carnegie Mellon University engineer, asked me to remind you that “the SHSAT is an entrance exam, not an assessment test.”

The test itself is neither racist nor discriminates based on race or ethnicity.

The much ballyhooed “disparate impact” on black and Hispanic students is not caused by the test. The test uncomfortably reveals the systemic disparities visited upon middle schools in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Only 3% of black and Hispanic students scored above grade level on last year’s seventh grade math assessment test as compared to 31% of Asian American and 22% of white students. That is the heart of the disparity.

I truly believe that the best way to aid the poor, black, Hispanic and underrepresented students is to commit significant resources to turnaround the low performing middle schools that for decades have ill-served vast numbers of those students.

And to that end, the Council should direct and fund the Department of Education to create high quality gifted and talented academic programs in every community school district.

Leveling the academic playing field should first begin by desegregating middle schools where possible, maintaining higher standards, implementing challenging curricula, and increasing academic supports in our low-performing middle schools (which are in predominantly black and Hispanic communities).

Ending unequal middle school education should be your goal, not weakening our best schools and certainly not establishing an academically harmful minority quota system at those schools.

I urge that the Council individually and collectively recall the despicable “gentlemen’s agreements” and changes in admissions criteria that once limited the number of Jews at elite US colleges and universities.

Asian students and their parents are opposed to lowering standards or instituting quotas. They, in fact, feel targeted for being high achievers.

Who could blame them?

Working class Asian families invest in their education and suddenly the City Council would penalize them for being “overrepresented” at specialized high schools.

Lastly, I stand my October 24 op-ed wherein I described Intro 511-A as a Trojan horse disguising an attack on charter schools and the Asian students attending specialized high schools.

The proposed admission criteria which range from administering the exam in five languages and adding an essay to using portfolios, attendance, grade point average, and extracurricular activities would favor non-Hispanic, white middle school students over Asians, Blacks and Hispanics.

In fact, the number of minority students offered seats at specialized high schools while low has held steady for a decade. However, the number of white students has fallen by 40 per cent and 22 per cent at Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, respectively.

I urge this Council to forget race-based solutions and, instead, to focus on providing fiscal equity and academic solutions which will fix the dismal middle schools which are disproportionately located in residentially segregated black and Hispanic communities.

Once we revamp the city’s middle schools, raise expectations and improve scholastic achievement, the number of blacks and Latinos at the very best public high schools will increase.

New Yorkers of good conscience want merit, not race and class, rewarded at our specialized high schools.

I urge you to withdraw from consideration Intro. 511-A, Resolution 453 and Resolution 442.

Thank you.

Michael Benjamin (@SquarePegDem)


Posted in Education, Government | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

As New York City Considers Criminal Justice Reforms, Police Unions Stand in the Way


Something for the PBA and their supporters to consider.

Originally posted on BLACK WESTCHESTER:

Rather than acting in solidarity with other unions and working towards progressive causes, police unions often defend officers’ reactionary and violent behavior. (Giacomo Barbaro / Flickr)

While the nation was waiting to hear whether a grand jury would indict the Ferguson police officer who killed Michael Brown, New Yorkers learned of yet another police killing. On Thursday, an unarmed 28-year-old African-American man named Akai Gurley was shot in a stairwell of his Brooklyn public housing complex. Both the police commissioner and the mayor extended condolences to the family and called the incident a travesty.

Local police union president Patrick Lynch expressed a few words of regret, too. But rather than focusing on remorse for Gurley, Lynch decried “those who make their careers criticizing police” and said that stairwells like the one Gurley was killed in are “fertile ground for violent crime.”

Progressive Democrats have heralded the ascendance of New York…

View original 995 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do Not Abolish the SHSAT! A Proposed Compromise

Originally posted on The Read Zone:


There is a major debate taking place right now in New York City now regarding the process currently used to admit students to the City’s elite specialized high schools (most notably Stuyvesant High School, located in TriBeCa).  For the last 30+ years, there has only been one factor used to determine admission to these schools: the Specialized High School Admissions Test (“SHSAT”), a solitary, three-hour test.

Now, the SHSAT is under attack.  Critics have long maintained that the test is unfair to minorities, and those advocates for change recently gained a new ally in Mayor DeBlasio.   DeBlasio has promised to do away with the SHSAT, adding his political capital to the already existing efforts of the United Federation of Teachers, the NAACP, and others.  Thanks to this momentum, there is now legislation before state lawmakers in Albany seeking to change the process (S.7738/A.9979), as well as a resolution before…

View original 2,611 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment