AOC claims NYC Council Leader is "punishing kids" to strike back at progressives

"Who defunds after-school programming for underprivileged kids in public housing to score a political point?"

Published June 16, 2022 5:00AM (EDT)

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram late Tuesday to denounce what she called "dirty politics" exemplified by New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, accusing the local leader of locking several progressive councilors out of funding that would have benefited their constituents.

The New York Democrat explained how six progressive city councilmembers—Tiffany Cabán, Kristin Richardson Jordan, Alexa Avilés, Sandy Nurse, Chi Ossé, and Charles Barron—were the only dissenters on Monday as the council passed a city budget which had "absolutely unconscionable cuts to education [and] housing services" while boosting funding for "really severe expansions in surveillance technology" and keeping the New York City Police Department's $11 billion budget in place.

Just before the 44-6 vote passing the $101 billion budget weeks ahead of the city's deadline and as disagreements over funding were still ongoing, budget documents showed that seven councilmembers—including the six who objected to the spending plan—were being locked out of the Speaker's Initiative to Address Citywide Needs.

The $41.6 million program contains discretionary funds which Adams can give out to members to spend on projects in their neighborhoods.

All members will still receive $400,000 in discretionary funds from the newly-passed city budget.

But in Cabán's case, the exclusion from the speaker's initiative means a vital children's center in Astoria, the Variety Boys & Girls Club, will lose $150,000 it needs to continue serving thousands of children in the neighborhood.

"This is just a very harsh cut," CEO Costa Constantinides told Patch. "This definitely is a setback for us to carry out our mission."

Ocasio-Cortez called the lockout and funding cut "an incredibly inappropriate line to get crossed," considering children will be impacted by Adams' decision.

"There are some things in politics that are fair game," said the congresswoman on Instagram. "You may really want to be named to a committee, you may really want a certain one of your bills to come to the floor, and if you really make leadership angry, they will say no. And that's a personal cost."

"But who defunds after-school programming for underprivileged kids in public housing to score a political point?" she continued.

Adams denied to City & State that the decision to allocate funds from the speaker's initiative was "about any single council member," but Barron, who represents parts of Brooklyn including East New York, called the speaker an "insecure" leader who is "working against the people."

"Alexa, Kristin, all of us, we represent hundreds of thousands of people," Barron told City & State. "She's not punishing us, she's punishing the people."

Barron, Cabán, and the other dissenters objected to $215 million in cuts to public schools and the budget's failure to devote 1% of city spending to parks, rent relief, and affordable housing.

"Yesterday, I had principals calling me telling me that they had teachers crying because of a $1 million dollar cut their school was getting," said Ossé. "I can't live with that."

Avilés noted that the city brought in high tax revenue this year and still has unspent federal stimulus funds.

"It is unconscionable to cut school budgets right now while we sit on unspent federal funds," Avilés told the Brooklyn Paper. "How we spend money matters."

Ocasio-Cortez expressed solidarity with the members who voted against the budget.

"Here's where the hope lies," she said in her Instagram video. "At the end of the day there were several extremely courageous councilmembers, almost all of whom we supported for election. I want to thank them because that kind of environment, having been in it myself, is not easy."

Punitive actions like the one Ocasio-Cortez and others accused Adams of happen "everywhere," said the congresswoman. "It happens on your city council whether you're a Democrat or a Republican."

While it can be difficult for councilmembers to fight against hostility from leadership without attracting more negative attention, added Ocasio-Cortez, "I'm gonna say, as the congresswoman for Astoria, do not mess with our kids, period."

She also called on her supporters to help raise funds for Variety Boys & Girls Club to help bridge the center's funding gap.

By Julia Conley

Julia Conley is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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