Commerce and Community

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By Errol Louis

Corruption Trial Update
A bombshell hit the Clarence Norman extortion trial when Norman’s longtime pal, William Boone, testified for the prosecution. The  District Attorney contends that Norman, while boss of the Brooklyn Democratic Organization, illegally shook down Karen Yellen, who was  then a sitting judge, by demanding thousands of dollars in payments in exchange for the party’s support.
Boone testified that he ultimately got $9,000 from Yellen – and, considering it personal compensation, simply pocketed the funds.  Yellen lost reelection.
The whole dirty business was described by the late Jack Newfield in the New York Sun in a story that quoted one of the judge’s campaign  consultants as saying “Boone did zero work for the $9,000. He was supposed to provide Election Day workers but didn’t. He never spoke in one campaign meeting.”
The implication of such statements, now backed by Boone’s testimony,  is that a sitting judge was forced to pay $9,000 for nothing more  than being allowed to run as a Democrat on the party slate, which the jury could find amounted to extortion. The other question jury members may be wondering about – a question that prosecutors have never really answered – is why Norman got indicted and Boone never did.
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College for Your Community
One of the most important lines in Gov. Spitzer’s vast $120 billion proposed budget ups funding to the state’s 36 community colleges by  more than $614 million. That’s a smart investment – in fact, the number should be increased. Community colleges – two-year institutions that confer associate’s degrees – are an overlooked treasure, providing essential career education, a crucial center for economic development and a path to  the middle class for kids who might not otherwise continue formal education beyond high school.
Far too many community college students never move on to four-year institutions, but any amount of post-high school education is better  than none at all. A college degree is fast becoming what a high school diploma used to be – a minimum qualification for most white-collar jobs and a growing number of blue-collar ones. With few exceptions, you can’t become a cop or firefighter without at least two years of college – the  equivalent of the associate’s degree granted by community colleges.
Most people don’t realize it, but nearly half of all undergraduates in America attend community colleges – in New York, more than 290,000 students are in community college, out of just more than a million undergraduates statewide.
While attention gets lavished on flashy universities like Columbia and NYU, community colleges have quietly created partnerships with high-tech, construction and financial institutions to make sure students are learning what employers need them to know. Manhattan Community College, for instance, has teamed up with law firms to train legal secretaries, and Kingsborough Community College has helped train employees at nearby Woodhull Hospital.
La Guardia Community College has been a leader in training students for information technology jobs, and Bronx Community College recently  unveiled a group of programs to train local residents in the building trades. That not only helps the students find work, but the presence of a local, competent workforce helps convince companies to locate and expand near the schools – a crucial strategy for revitalizing inner-city neighborhoods and swaths of upstate New York.  We need many more vocal, highly visible champions of community college like Richard Carmona, who, until recently, served as surgeon general of the United States.
After getting a GED diploma, Carmona served in Vietnam, and later enrolled in Bronx Community College. Carmona went on to collect advanced degrees in medicine and public health and was named surgeon general in 2002 – and remained such a strong supporter that he sent his own kids to community colleges. There are more Carmonas out there. We need to put them on the biggest available soapbox where they can urge teachers and parents to steer kids to these forgotten jewels of the education system.
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Quiet Hurricane
To little or no media fanfare, Harlem’s Charlie Rangel has been holding hearings on income insecurity (what used to be called the plight of America’s poor), winning high praise from a member of his Ways and Means Committee, Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer. According to Blumenauer, “A Ways and Means Chairman under virtually any circumstance is a hurricane. But when that hurricane is a storm named Charlie, it is truly an amazing experience. He has brought to the committee Harlem street smarts, the sensitivity of somebody who knows what it’s like for life to be a little tough, a sense of  success and awe-inspiring smarts and personality. . . he has undertaken a series of hearings that weave together poverty, health care, pressures on the middle class and economic insecurity in the era of globalization.”