The Disease of Addiction – Blaming Victims

In September 2013 I wrote a speech for Raleigh Councilman Bonner Gaylord when he was addressing the Capital Area Rally for Recovery. It was a topic which was very personal for him and he had previously not spoken about how addiction in his family had impacted him. After the speech went went on to host a RaleighPlus hangout on the topic as well.

After the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I thought it appropriate to post this speech and help push the policy conversation about how we treat people with this disease and their families.

This was his speech:

Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord at the Rally For Recovery

Photo courtesy of the Capital Area Rally For Recovery – capitalarearallyforrecovery.com

I grew up in a big, fun, loving family that made us feel like we would always be safe from the pain and sadness in this world. But addiction is blind to race, class or creed.

It is a disease that bankrupts families, leaves loved ones homeless, and brings pain, sadness, and destruction the likes of which I never could’ve imagined. My brother has fought addiction for well over a decade and I have seen the devastation addiction causes with my own eyes, through my own tears.

All of you are here because you love someone who is suffering. Maybe this is new for you, maybe you have been alongside your loved ones fighting for years, like me, or maybe the addict you love didn’t make it.
But you are here surrounded by others that share or have shared the same daily fight. I stand here today as just another brother in our family of suffering.

Our legal families already quietly suffer with our brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and children.
Loving without enabling. Is there anything quite as hard as loving an addict?
But without good resources and policies that help them recover, it’s like treating cancer with warm milk and good night’s sleep. Many of our loved ones end up on the street, forced into the center of debates about who gets to feed whom and whether they are a blight to our parks. We must treat this disease with love and with put faces to those whom society views as faceless.

It’s funny. I recently read an article that Raleigh is one of the toughest cities to climb out of poverty in. I hear the General Assembly is requiring drug tests for people to get needed services, I see the failed war on drugs continue, I see addicts without help – I can see why it’s tough to climb out of poverty here.
All in the name of individual responsibility? This is not fiscal responsibility! This is not how we treat our families… especially when they’re sick!

But we have a voice. As taxpayers, PTA parents, churchgoers and community members we have the opportunity to share our experiences with our colleagues and friends. We have the responsibility to share our stories with neighbors and our congregations.

I’ve shared my story with you, now you can do the same for others.

And we have the right to put those words into votes every time we have the opportunity.

Let’s bring awareness of this disease our loved ones suffer! Let’s demand better resources for them! Let’s tell our policy makers that these people are not criminals or blights on our society, but rather our family members who deserve support and treatment!

Off The Cuff: Friday Edition

This is a mishmash of thoughts and ideas from inside my head. Let me know what you think.

Target
Target and companies of similar size owe the American people something more than an “oops“. I don’t know if that is legislation that holds them accountable for the losses or just an stronger apology, but the loss of a fifth to a third of the countries privacy information is just not acceptable.

24004318_SA

Raleigh, NC is in for an amazing change. State policies aside, if the city and area keep growing at the current rate it’s going to be a megalopolis by 2050. While that seems like a long time off, cities, counties and states have to think far ahead to plan and develop infrastructure. That means, we need to begin investing in transportation, power and land-use now. Luckily, in Raleigh, we have a forward-thinking and excited new City Manager Ruffin Hall who I think will kill it (in a good way) in that office.

Land-Use
Speaking about land-use: I am giving serious thought to exploring a career focused on Land-Use Development. After being thrown into a construction management role when I worked for the Presentation School Foundation Community Center and my community & government relations consulting work for Sebastian Mariscal Studios, I can’t shake this feeling of loving how awesome it is to be part of something that transforms a city and a community. Not sure when I will return to that world, but someday I will.

sparkling_2014_lightsAll In A Year
2013 was a year of crazy change and wild moves. My father-in-law passed, winter was never-ending, we made a plan to move to North Carolina, we actually moved, bought a car, put our son in a really incredible school and my grandmother passed. It was a lot in one year. 2014 has started off much better, thankfully. And with a lot more opportunities to grow our lives in North Carolina – including lots of great new friends. Here’s to hoping for more awesome stuff in 2014!

Letter To The Future
I am going to write a letter to my son (who turned two in November) that he can reference in middle school and high school. I think the hardest thing for me to learn growing up, and I hope that he will keep control of, is that confidence is about 49% of success. It opens doors, sweetens every conversation and helps people trust you. If he grow up confident of himself (and being a nice guy, of course) he will be able to reach further than everyone else. The other 51%? That’s 49% hard work and 2% luck.

Municipal Votes
3004595893_2fd8ffdbe3We vote is large numbers for a person with the least amount of power to influence things directly relating to our daily lives. But we vote in small numbers for the people who have huge influence on whether you are grumbling by the time you get to work. I believe this is largely in part because cities and local elected officials are not great at promoting themselves and issues. It’s easy for the President to be heard, he’s got the press corp waiting for him to speak. That much of a spotlight would do more harm than good for cities, but increasing engagement and growing the attention of individual residents is worth while and within reach.

Tell me what you think of the Off The Cuff style and any thoughts you have.

In New York, Market Research Is The Innovation

Back in Boston UniversalHub, a crowdsourced blog, would keep a running tab on the number of banks in each neighborhood. At last count, I think Brighton had nine bank branches in a small neighborhood center. What was never discussed however is why. Why are banks interested in Allston-Brighton, a neighborhood of 70,000 residents, representing 20% of Boston’s 20-34 year old population and responsible for at least a billion dollars’ worth of spending? What the they knew and I learned by working closely with the Boston Redevelopment Authority – Boston’s planning and economic development arm – is which neighborhoods are the best bets for different industries.

Neon_Open_SignThese resources are expensive to gather and analyze on your own. While it makes sense for banks to invest in this research, it’s much more out of reach for the small businesses and potential startups. That is if you live anywhere but New York City. The outgoing Bloomberg administration officials launched NYC Business Atlas (maps.nyc.gov/businessatlas) as a leg up for small businesses in need of market research. John Feinblatt, Mayor Bloomberg’s Chief policy Advisor who created the idea says “This tool will inform small businesses and ultimately help them improve and grow their businesses and hire more New Yorkers.”

raleigh_nightNow take a city like Raleigh. A city with strong entrepreneurial roots and a growing downtown area. How does a startup with a food truck know if it should launch its first retail location downtown, in North Hills or in the NC State area? A lot of assumptions could be made, but this kind of data can help that entrepreneur understand better where she should risk her money and possibly win. It’s this kind of innovation that can help foster a stronger small business community in Raleigh and occupy more of those open spaces.

I’d like to see this type of resource be implemented by the City of Raleigh!

The Real Power Behind Twitter

Recently the Boston Globe did a series on What We Learned in 2013. One of the articles “Black Twitter Gets Results” was a brief dive into Black Twitter which is described as the “networks of African-American, African, and Caribbean-American Twitteratti that foster conversation about issues flying under the radar of the mainstream media”. The author, Martine Powers – an extremely talented reporter – noted that Black communities on Twitter were just beginning flexing its muscle and that politicians, brands and regular people better watch out.

The article however missed a huge opportunity to educate the readers on this “new” technology. Black people may well be connecting and rallying about issues on Twitter. So are Asians, Latinos and pretty much everybody else. It’s not the What that is important, it’s the Why.

Woman looks at her phone at the bus stop

Woman looks at her phone at the bus stop

Twitter provides a public forum for communication without a group membership, page like or broadband internet. It is exactly why students sitting in class, people in non-desktop jobs, and many people who cannot afford to pay for the internet to be brought into their home (read: anyone with a smartphone) are using Twitter in increasing numbers. Sidenote: This is also why mobile technology and responsive websites are growing in demand.

These Twitter communities are especially important for government and policy makers to familiar themselves with and understand. In the past it has been that the folks who come out to community meetings, write letters or make phone calls and lobby their elected officials at their offices that get results. The squeaky wheel constituents who always vote and stand out in early mornings with candidate signs and sit next to the donors that write big checks. But Twitter offers the opportunity for the mother working three jobs and high school students with no actual vote yet a strong voice. If engaged, these people too busy or unable to attend meetings about changes to bus service or feeding the homeless, can add to a policy changing campaign without ever voting or donating a penny.

While I doubt that millions of people will suddenly wake up in November and collectively swing the mid-term elections, I would never advise a candidate to “Beware of those pesky newspapers” like the Boston Globe article seems to suggest for Twitter. In fact, I would advise city governments, candidates and policy makers to get ahead of it much like they would an article or reporter and become a welcome and responsive pulse for help, advice and information.

As technology becomes more accessible for everyone’s use no matter their background and economic class, I am brought to wondering if this George Burns’ quote will still apply tomorrow: Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.

Problem Solving in Raleigh: Crowdfunding

Raleigh has a unique approach to new ideas: It’s open to them. This is great for a person like myself who enjoys solving civic and policy issues. (Not so subtle plug: If you need help with communication, advocacy, government relations or policy please contact me via email or linkedIn)

This summer I attended CityCampNC which is an unconference where city staff, tech folks and community people are invited to sit down in the same room and discuss open government and solutions to everyday problems that often include the words “Why can’t we…” Add some innovative thinking, an incredible dynamic between people and a commitment to open data and you get apps like rGreenway.

One of the questions that was discussed in the open government conversation was why the city could not accept a check for a small neighborhood item such as a bike rack that most likely would be lost in the red tape and shuffle of large to small projects. Reid Serozi and Raleigh City Councilor Bonner Gaylord asked: How can we open up city government so that a group of neighbors working together can get a small project installed without a long process, huge city costs and possibly waiting years, but also address the long-term maintenance needs and the equity challenges of other neighborhoods?

After a lively conversation about possible solutions I offered to research the topic and write up language for possible legislation. I spent a fair amount of the next day and half discussing the issue of civic crowdfunding with members of the Raleigh Planning Department, City Councilor Gaylord, City Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin and other attendees.

Writing this legislation, like most, was about getting the most for every party without hurting any single group of people. The intent was for community members to be able to raise the needed funds for any small project (like a bike rack) and give the city a check as restricted funds. The Raleigh City Council prides itself on helping the city do it’s job and being visionaries not micromanagers, so wording had to give the program details to the city planning staff to figure out what worked best for them. Plus, if this did not work or, better yet, worked too well and the staff was overwhelmed, then the Planning Department had to be able to tell the City Council that it would not work.

Neighbor.ly is an example of a Kickerstarter-like entity that is for civic projects

Neighbor.ly is an example of a Kickerstarter-like entity that is for civic projects

A similar idea was floated by the City Council a year before, but failed because the issue of equity could not be resolved. Knowing this, I had to make sure that if an affluent neighborhood got something that they easily could afford, that there was a mechanism to help not as affluent communities afford similar or the same items.

I also laid out a few other things:

  • Projects had to be funded by 10 or more neighbors so as to keep one or two neighbors from hijacking the process

  • Abutters must be in full agreement with the project

  • Payments must include a 10% equity charge in addition to the cost of the item, services and maintenance

  • The pilot for this project would last for 1 year from receiving the first payment

  • The Raleigh Planning Department would make a recommendation after the year as to whether to continue the program, reduce it or cancel it

The legislation went before the Law & Public Safety Committee on June 25th and was approved to be piloted by the city staff.

Here’s the full text of legislation I wrote:

PROPOSED RALEIGH CITY COUNCIL CROWDFUNDING LEGISLATION

WHEREAS, The Raleigh City Council has received interest from its residents to “CROWDFUND” solutions for small projects (including but not limited to bike racks, bus shelters and murals)WHEREAS, The City of Raleigh recognizes that community members know their neighborhoods better than anyone else

WHEREAS, The City Council or Raleigh recognizes that city government can be assisted by citizens taking on small projects themselves

THEREFORE, The Raleigh City Council will accept a pilot program for CROWDFUNDING from groups of residents (with numbers more than ten (10)) for the funding of small projects

THEREFORE, City of Raleigh residents must have complete buy in by abutters, enough participants and have fully collected the payment for the project as described below

THEREFORE, Raleigh City Council will acceptable this pilot program as a trial to be run as the City of Raleigh Planning Department determines best and most equitable for ALL City of Raleigh citizens

THEREFORE, All CROWDFUNDED projects must cover the cost of the procurement of equipment as well as planning, engineering and installation

THEREFORE, All CROWDFUNDED projects must include a ten percent (10%) EQUITY cost based on the full amount of items mentioned above

THEREFORE, The City of Raleigh’s Planning Department shall be responsible for determining the method to administer this pilot and the accepting of payments for projects based on their expertise and experience throughout the pilot

THEREFORE, The pilot will run for not more than one (1) year from the first submitted payment

THEREFORE, The Raleigh City Council and the City of Raleigh’s Planning Department understand that equity of this program is of utmost concern for our citizens

THEREFORE, The City of Raleigh’s Planning Department will make recommendations to the Raleigh City Council on efficacy of this pilot program and how it shall be administered into a full program after the one (1) year pilot has completed

THEREFORE, The City of Raleigh’s Planning Department may make the recommendation for the Raleigh City Council to continue the program in full, in part or revisit the concept at a later date after the pilot has completed

THEREFORE, The City of Raleigh’s Planning Department will determine whether the ten percent (10%) EQUITY will go into a dedicated fund to procure equitable similar items or whether to the Capital Improvement Fund to be used at the digression of the Planning Department for equitable projects

THEREFORE, The Raleigh City Council accepts this pilot program to run as the City of Raleigh’s Planning Department determines best for all City of Raleigh citizens

I am loving my experience in Raleigh and look forward to sharing more soon!

You Are Lazy

Our political generation is lazy. We’re not lazy in the sense that we don’t want to work or have responsibilities, but as a body on a whole Americans are politically lazy. Don’t get me wrong, there are many great volunteers, activists and operatives that work tirelessly. However, they are carrying the weight for the rest of us.

How do I know this? I consider myself very active, but in the past few years I have watched many protests which I supported either financially or through social media but never attended. The polls tell us that Americans are angry about banks screwing around with our money and causing the financial meltdown, but most of us didn’t go and join the Occupy Wall Street protests. Many of us felt the anger and disappointment with regards to Zimmerman Verdict, but millions of us watched thousands across the nation protest in the streets.

Today, Public Policy Polling released their numbers on North Carolina. Mixed into the outrage about the latest abortion bill is this:

Moral MondayVoters are so unhappy with the legislature that the protesters are coming out more popular. 47% have a favorable opinion of the folks who have been getting arrested protesting the General Assembly’s actions to 40% with an unfavorable opinion and by a 47/41 margin voters say they have a higher opinion of the protestors than they do of the General Assembly.

It is often easy to look at a protest of a few thousand in a state of almost 10 million and assume little risk. But like many protests, the Moral Monday protests as they have been called represent the most active, outspoken Americans. Pictures of their numbers, coverage of their arrests and tweets from those deep inside the trenches reach millions. Those “lazy” Americans won’t be seen carry signs in hundred degree heat, but they will remember and more often than not speak out at the polls.

MBTA Expansion and the MA Economy

Last night I tweeted news that MBTA fares could double by 2020. I received a number of responses, one of which I’d like to address here.

A number of people have pointed out that even though the MBTA is in financial trouble, it keeps expanding. While I very much understand the sentiment – don’t spend what you can’t afford, there’s a larger issue here as well.

MA is growing. Development projects in Boston can’t keep pace with the growth and costs force people to suburbs that then need to grow. Places like Lowell and Worcester are cities that have capitalized on Boston’s density and are becoming dense themselves. This is good for MA because cities are economic drivers for states.

But without access to transit, these cities can only grow so much. Boston can only retain so much density before people begin to be priced out by people that can afford it more. The MBTA expanding service actually keeps your rent down as a Boston resident and helps keep all of our taxes down by spreading the tax base.

The MBTA’s growth is a very good indicator for the growth of the state itself.

Cure for the Common Mayor

I attended Michelle Wu’s campaign kickoff for her Boston City Council At-Large run. As the chair of her Innovation Committee, I am a supporter and was very happy when she announced her candidacy back in December.

The event brought out every person running for mayor and that’s everyone and their mother. Now that Mayor Menino has announced he will not seek another term, everyone who has ever had a dream of being the Mayor of Boston is making calls, talking with their spouses and lining up support. (For those asking, the answer is no, I am not one of the dreamers… this time)

Here’s the thing, only a little over 111,000 voters went to the polls in 2009 (PDF) to cast their vote for Mayor and City Council. That’s 44% of the 2012 Presidential election turnout and 2009 was a pretty good year for a city election turnout. If we have 15 Mayoral candidates this time around, they will all have to fight over that small percentage of the population.

The Good News

This may inspire a few of innovative candidates this think outside the box and start trying to attract some new voters. This is after all what I’ve been pushing candidates to do for years and how Mike Lake, through the Friends of Mike, will win MA Lt. Governor.

There are over 650,000 residents in Boston and almost 400,000 of them are registered to vote (PDF). If someone REALLY wants to be Mayor of today’s booming Boston, then they should reach out to the residents who may not be home at 3pm on a Wednesday. You know the ones. They usually don’t have a landline to robo-call. They are voters who don’t go to the polls because they’ve never been asked and no one has ever connected to them on how Mayor or City Council could possibly affect rent prices, the MBTA, jobs and quality of life – at least positively. The winner will have to bridge the old campaign styles and a new audience.

So, if you’re one of the stampede rushing out in hopes for the top seat in that cement box we all have to walk past to get to our jobs or a beer, you may think of reaching out to the 70% or the forgotten Boston. Can’t figure your way out of the box? Call me.

Are you one of the 70% of Boston that’s never voted in a city election?

Judaism, Values and Why It Matters

I grew up a Jewish family, which with the last name Spencer, is often surprising to people I meet. And while my wife rightly makes fun of the fact that I can’t remember when any of the holidays are, my religion plays a quietly significant role in my life.

I never spent much time on my Judaism past my bar mitzvah until I got married and had a kid. That’s when I started to ponder the future and what was important to me. My values, my teachings and how I treat others has origins in what I heard growing up. While I never considered myself much of an observant Jew, I stayed with the religion because I believe in these lessons:

Photo by Chajm Guski

  • Sex is a Mitzvah. Not just a good pick up line! It is a Mitzvah to have sex and considered to be natural and beneficial.
  • Your life is celebrated when you die, not mourned. The community focuses on taking care of the grieving family.
  • Treat people based on their actions not on their words. Is it any wonder I ended up loving politics?
  • Success is not yours alone. Success is good, but don’t forget the people, situations, and help you got along the way to get you there.
  • It’s important to give back. In success, one should give as much as reasonably possible to others without hurting one’s self or family.
  • Homosexuality is usually a non-issue.Judaism is one of the most accepting religions when it comes to sexual orientation. While Orthodox Jews differ like any religious extreme, most other types of Jews are accepting.

    The Pew Forum Comparison-Views About Homosexuality

I should note that not all of the above are written in Jewish law or teachings per say, but they are values and teachings I was brought up with within my Jewish learning. So what does all this have to do with politics?

After watching the never-boring fight between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren on the campaign trail, I spent some time thinking and felt that I had to voice my support for Elizabeth Warren for U.S. Senate.

Elizabeth Warren has had all the opportunity to do something to make her very rich. Coming from creating the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, as a bankruptcy attorney and Harvard Professor, there is no doubt she could have gotten a well paying gig at any Fortune 500 company. Her knowledge, especially in the financial crisis, would be invaluable to some lucky company. But instead she’s running for Senate.

I do think her campaign was hastily put together, but that was a Primary issue and she got through with flying colors. Her campaign is much tighter now and looks more like her – a person with values.

Scott Brown is not a disagreeable guy and, in fact, even his District Director is someone I like and respect. But if the Republicans take the Senate his first vote, the very first opportunity he will have to show MA voters who he is, will be for Mitch McConnell as Senate President Majority Leader. The legislative role of the Senate President Majority Leader gets to decide what comes to the floor for votes and is a position of immense power in the upper body. With Brown’s vote, McConnell will have plenty of power to quell legislation he does not support and drive policies he does.

This is significant to me because I have serious fears about what a Republican controlled House and Senate would do to the rights of my LGBT friends, the poor, and women. I can’t take the risk that I will have to tell my son that he or a friend of his is not allowed to marry the person they love. I won’t stand by and see my wife’s choices made for her. I was taught to treat everyone equally, with respect and try to give everyone the power of opportunity. I can’t support McConnell and I can’t support Brown.

Brown has accused Warren of not being who she says she is based on the idea that she claimed a heritage she cannot prove to gain advantage in life. Like Trump demanding to see a birth certificate, the idea of proving one’s heritage seems antiquated. But then, I’m biased: my last name is entirely fiction. My grandfather decided that “Rosenzweig” would hold him back as a lawyer in 1930’s Queens and changed our family name to Spencer (he was reading Herbert Spencer at the time.) There is almost no documentation for the change, and like many Americans, I can only use the documentation and my physical presence to prove I am who I say I am. Elizabeth Warren says she is who she says she is, and I believe her.

So on November 6th, when I walk into the polls, I will follow my values and my heart and vote for Elizabeth Warren. I hope you’ll join me.

How Obama Won The 2nd Debate And His Base

This week’s debate was chock-full of key moments and great theater. While a lot that was talked about, there were really only a few key issues being fought over. One of the most important was women.

Women are increasingly becoming the swing group of this election – sorry fellas. From a little noticed pocketbook reference by Obama:

Photograph by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

And that’s creating jobs. That means those cars can be exported, ’cause that’s the demand around the world, and it also means that it’ll save money in your pocketbook.

to overt conversations about “healthy” families, contraceptives and equal pay throughout the debate. By turning the conversation into a discussion about women, Obama was able to build back some of the credibility he lost in the first debate and targets the wives and mothers who can easily deprioritize voting in their busy lives. He came out strong in support of women, tying very personal issues to health care, the economy, and invoking his own daughters.

These debates are really not about undecided voters, even though there were 82 in the room asking the questions. They are about who can get the most busy working families and distracted citizens out of their homes to vote. By targeting women directly, Obama is making a strong case for their vote.

For the first time, in fact, the fighting over women’s health and rights between the two parties has thrown abortion into a motivating category for voters. In past years, it has neverbeen an issue that people led with when they went to the polls. I strongly believe that has changed this time around.

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of the Washington Post’s The Fix and their analysis of the Presidential campaigns thus far. This time, though, I disagree with them about the impact of women’s issues on this election. In a recent post they doubted if the issues related to women and discussion during the debate would be remembered on November 6th. As husband to an amazing wife and mother, and as someone who believes that what we call women’s issues really affect us all, I think women will remember not only what was said in the debate this week but also take careful note of what hasn’t yet been said, and will be moved to vote.

As my wife noted, “If your morning to do list is 1. take birth control and 2. vote, you better believe you’re going to remember what was said in the debate.”

When it comes to building up the base, Obama’s vocal support of women and social issues are exactly what many Democrats (especially women) will be thinking about on Election Day.

Are you going to be thinking about the social issues when you go to vote?