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Fighting for New York's future

Chazz Palminteri arrives at the world premiere of

Chazz Palminteri arrives at the world premiere of "Beauty and the Beast" at the El Capitan Theatre on March 2, 2017, in Los Angeles. Credit: Invision/AP/Jordan Strauss

Daily Point

Battle over the airwaves

Just days before Columbus Day, WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show took on an Italian-American focus Friday morning, as Mayor Bill de Blasio and actor Chazz Palminteri got into a heated back and forth regarding accusations of racism leveled at de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray.

It was a conversation that started with talk of Mother Frances Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants, but quickly turned into a lesson about just how much words matter, and ended with an apology from Palminteri, the writer of the play of “A Bronx Tale,” and co-star of the movie by the same name.

Palminteri called in to Lehrer’s show to ask about New York City’s effort to add more statues of women, and wanted to know why the city wasn’t building one for Mother Cabrini, who established the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, which built schools, orphanages, and hospitals in New York and beyond. Palminteri also noted that Cabrini had received more nominations in an online forum than any other choice, though de Blasio noted that wasn’t meant to be a binding vote.

But de Blasio quickly turned the tables, asking Palminteri about reporting in the New York Post that said Palminteri went on another radio show to talk about the issue and said of McCray, who headed the statue effort, “Absolutely, she is being racist.”

Palminteri told de Blasio he was answering an interviewer’s question by agreeing that he did indeed think McCray’s decision not to include Mother Cabrini was “racism.”

“If anything, Mr. Mayor, it’s an implicit bias at the least,” Palminteri said on Friday.

De Blasio pounced.

“You don’t call someone a racist who isn’t a racist,” de Blasio said. “It just isn’t factually right and it’s inappropriate and it’s unfair.”

The back and forth continued, with Palminteri suggesting that African Americans might have objected if key figures in their history hadn’t been included, and de Blasio, who called himself “a very proud Italian American,” saying that Cabrini would be “at the top of the list for consideration” in a second round of statue decisions.Among the first-round winners were Rep. Shirley Chisholm and Billie Holiday. But de Blasio also noted that Susan B. Anthony, a white woman, was among the first round of statue-getters.

“She doesn’t compare to the fingernail of Mother Cabrini,” Palminteri shot back.

After Lehrer asked the actor for the second time whether he wanted to retract the controversial statement, Palminteri apologized to McCray.

For de Blasio, the conversation was clearly about the troublesome use of the charge of racism.

“I would urge people not to use that term where it doesn’t exist,” de Blasio said.

But for Palminteri, even after making the apology, the dialogue came back to the statue debate.

“Me and the mayor on the phone this morning discussing mother Cabrini statue snub – every Italian American and Catholic has to stand up and say something,” Palminteri tweeted Friday afternoon.

It was, as de Blasio said, “the beauty of live radio.” 

And then it was time to move on to another caller, whose mother was suffering from asthma problems due to nearby construction.

The beauty of live radio, indeed.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

Power vacuum

The retirement of Rep. Nita Lowey is setting off more than just a scramble for her own congressional seat north of New York City. She and the Bronx’s Jose Serrano, who is also leaving, both served on the House Committee on Appropriations, meaning their departure would leave Queens Rep. Grace Meng as the last New Yorker on the powerful committee. 

That could boost the influence of Meng, already a Democratic National Committee vice chair, and also set off a race among the New York delegation to join her. 

A spokesman for Meng said in an email that with the departure of “two champions,” Meng’s “seniority on the committee will increase, and as the senior New York appropriator in the next Congress, she looks forward to fighting for the priorities of Queens, New York City and New York State to make sure our funding needs are met.”

Fair regional representation is one piece of the puzzle when party leaders put together membership for important committees like this one. California, for example, currently has four representatives on Appropriations. 

So who might be in the running to fill the New York Democratic slots next cycle, should Democrats hold the majority? On Long Island, Kathleen Rice has had a thorny relationship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Tom Suozzi is already on the influential House Ways and Means Committee. Established senior members of the delegation like Reps. Jerry Nadler of Judiciary, Nydia Velazquez of Small Business and Greg Meeks of Financial Services may have their hands full being high up in or running their own committees, which could allow the gig to fall to a newcomer, sources familiar with congressional politics suggested to The Point. That would benefit upstate members like Joe Morelle and Anthony Brindisi, who are new but have experience in governance from Albany. 

Lowey, as chair of Appropriations, the first woman to do so, wielded a lot of power that newer committee members would be unlikely to have. Still, the role is a big prize. The committee “is responsible for funding the federal government’s vital activities to keep the United States safe, strong, and moving forward,” as phrased on the committee’s website. Strong New York representation allows members to direct funding priorities in ways that can benefit the state and region -- not a bad thing to mention on the campaign trail when running for reelection, either.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Half of everything

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Final Point

Meeting of the minds

The pledge card at the Regional Plan Association’s annual benefit dinner Thursday night had a suggestion that was too rich for all but one of the region’s wealthiest real estate moguls. 

A $100 donation would get you bagels and coffee at a breakfast when the RPA releases its research report on the tri-state region while $5,000 would fund a grad student internship next spring. The last of the six boxes on the card asked for $10 billion “to build a tunnel under the Hudson” — a subtle nudge to the NYC developer now living in taxpayer-subsidized housing in Washington who is withholding federal funds for the critical Gateway Rail Project.

While enjoying the view from the 86th floor of 3 World Trade Center, Scott Rechler, chair of the RPA’s board, chatted with fellow Long Islanders about finalizing a plan for the infrastructure needed for the Nassau County Hub, while LIA president Kevin Law spoke about the group’s meeting earlier in the day with State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Law, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Mitch Pally, head of the Long Island Builders Institute, made the case to Stewart-Cousins and everyone else that without approval of the Williams gas pipeline, almost all construction projects would slow down and get more expensive if they had to be redesigned for propane or geo-thermal energy. 

Among the dinner’s honorees was Nancy Rauch Douzinas, who was honored for championing the LIRR’s third-track project; WTC developer Larry Silverstein; and the late John Whitehead, the first leader of the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., who is credited with getting a master plan started for the rebuilding of lower Manhattan after the 9/11 attacks.

MTA chair Pat Foye presented the award to Douzinas for her vision in understanding how significant the third-track project is to the region’s economic health. Janno Lieber, now head of the MTA’s capital projects, was given a shout-out by Silverstein for heading the development of the World Trade Center. 

Former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine was there to honor fellow former Goldman Sachs chair  Whitehead, while Robert DeNiro spoke in a short video clip about efforts to establish the Tribeca Film Institute because of the importance of culture in establishing a community. In accepting the award, David Earls compared his grandfather’s life marked by “integrity” and “character” in public service, noting how these traits are missing in today’s political leadership. 

The aforementioned NYC developer who at the very same time was at a campaign rally in Minnesota making crude remarks about a former president and vice president went unnamed but not ignored.

—Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli

The Point will return on Tuesday. We hope you enjoy the holiday weekend.