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Sanders, Comrie get human rights grades

TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) is going to have to make some room on his fridge.

The chairman of the Council Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations had the best record of the Queens delegation on human rights issues last year, according to the Urban Justice Center’s 2011 Human Rights Report Card.

The report card identified 72 bills introduced over the past year that focused on housing, voting, disability and workers’ rights as well as issues concerning criminal and juvenile justice, health and government accountability.

Each Council member was graded on his or her votes and sponsorship of these bills as well as their response to a questionnaire.

Van Bramer voted in favor of eight bills, sponsored 52 — including two he was the primary sponsor of — and returned his questionnaire, all of which earned him an “A-.”

He fared particularly well when it came to housing rights and government accountability.

On the other end of the spectrum, Councilman Peter Vallone’s (D-Astoria) score of 12 earned him a grade of “D+,” the lowest in the borough.

Vallone was the primary sponsor of two human rights bills and sponsored three others. He voted in favor of four bills and did not respond to the questionnaire.

The councilman criticized the methodology of the report, calling into question the voting records of other Council members who scored higher than he did.

“Apparently, supporting brutal and repressive dictators gets you an ‘A’ from this supposed human rights group. I’m proud to be at the bottom of any list Charles Barron is at the top of,” he said.

Councilman Barron (D-Brooklyn), who praised the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, earned an “A” on the report card.

Council members James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) both received a “B-” and Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) got a grade of “B.”

Receiving a grade of “C” were Council members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

Councilmen Peter Koo (R-Flushing), Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) each scored slightly lower: a “C-.”

Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows) got a “D+” and Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), who took office last November, did not receive a grade.

While the report assigned each Council member a grade, its primary criticism was of the political power of the speaker and the Council’s failure to challenge that power.

Of the 72 bills introduced, only eight were brought to a vote, and the report implied this was because Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) did not support them.

A spokesman for the speaker said the report card did not reflect an accurate picture of her human rights advocacy or achievements.

“Speaker Quinn is proud of the human rights legislation passed under her leadership, including a law that ended unjust deportations from Rikers Island, another that requires the Police Department and the Department of Education to release data related to suspensions and police activity in schools, and a third bill that strengthens religious freedoms for those engaging in religious observances in the workplace, just to name a few,” he said.

The report cited two rules that allow the Council to advance the process of legislation that does not have the speaker’s support.

“There are no clear reasons for the Council’s reticence in taking advantage of these two rules. However, based [on] reports that the speaker readily wields political power internally, and on conversations with advocates, we speculate that failure to do so is linked with the desire of most Council members to maintain a relatively friendly relationship with the speaker,” the report read.

“However, given its impact on human rights in New York City, business as usual is not sufficient to protect our human rights. Council members should act — individually and as a collective — to challenge the status quo even in the face of political reprisals,” it continued.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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