I have always been an activist for my community, from my earliest days in Park Slope, where I grew up and helped form the Fifth Avenue Committee, to my later work with organizations like “Bank on Brooklyn,” which pressured banks to invest in our then-neglected Brooklyn communities.
When I ran for City Council, I challenged the entrenched powers that were not serving us well. I served in the council for 16 years, the entire time considering myself a community activist at heart. And I always remained focused on doing the right thing and standing up for our neighborhoods.
I relish the idea of public service, so when my council career ended, I continued to put community first by helping to found the small, not-for-profit Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of Brooklyn.
I believed then, as I do now, that the communities of Windsor Terrace, Albemarle, and Dahill — wonderful neighborhoods of working families — deserve all possible assistance as they work and struggle every day to make these neighborhoods so special. I’m proud of the work that NAC has done, and proud of the fact we’ve been able to secure funding for seven years through the Department of Youth and Community Development.
Now, in the current “win-at-any-cost” climate of modern politics, I find that NAC and I are under attack for providing services to our community. Truth is said to be the first casualty of war, so in the interest of fairness, a few facts about NAC deserve to be stated.
As a recipient of city grants funding, NAC’s budget must be approved annually by the Department of Youth and Community Development, and every year, NAC has met or exceeded its city program targets. NAC has never received preferential treatment, and like many groups had its funding cut by almost 50 percent this year.
NAC provides important financial assistance to area youth by co-sponsoring soccer, basketball and softball programs; and over the years, NAC has run programs as different as stickball in East Fifth Street Park to Friday Night Summer Basketball in the IHM gym. Each year, NAC intervenes with dozens of families, helping them get financial assistance, to ease the stress they face; and each year dozens of area students learn a valuable lesson in civic responsibility by working at NAC for days or weeks at a time as they complete 20 or more hours of community service.
I am proud of the staff who has worked at NAC over the years. Dedicated, talented people who put community first. Hiring from the community, whether for NAC or for my Council office, always allowed me to hire the best and the brightest, and those most committed to community service.
As soon as I considered running for City Council again to serve the community, I resigned my part-time job with NAC to avoid any conflicts of interest. As I explored my candidacy, I found deep support from many wonderful community people who encouraged me.
But, I also discovered that politics has changed in the eight years since I left the Council. Facts and details fall by the wayside in favor of controversial headlines and shrill attacks. I’m more than willing to leave that kind of politics to other candidates, but I’m not willing to allow a good group like NAC to have its name sullied because it fits someone else’s political agenda.
That is why I will ask the Department of Youth and Community Development to release all of its information on NAC’s administration of grants so the public can see how its money is being spent and how many families and children have received assistance.
I welcome and support the Council’s current efforts to make the grant process fully transparent and accountable. It is my long held belief that government always works best in the sunlight. I know that NAC provides meaningful assistance to children and families.
Steve DiBrienza is a former councilman who is seeking election to his old seat.
©2009 Community News Group
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