Congressional Contenders

Michael DeVito Jr.


It’s 2018, which means the Democratic primary for NY Congressional District 11, which includes Staten Island and South Brooklyn, will be getting into gear soon!

Our first guest for the New Year is Michael DeVito Jr., a former Staff Sergeant in the Marines in addition to a non-profit director focusing on at-risk youth.  In light of that, we spent alot of time with Michael looking at his congressional run through the lens of mediation and conflict resolution. We spoke in detail about how a more empathetic approach could kickstart Federal programs in transit infrastructure, pharmaceutical reform, workforce development, the green economy, and more.

Michael DeVito Jr. in the studio with Rachel and Mary.


Get in touch with Michael:
Twitter: @mdevitojr
Website: www.DeVitoForCongress.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/michaeldevitojr

Learn more about Michael’s Non-Profit work:
Occupy the Block Staten Island.
New York Center for Interpersonal Development
Youth WINS


Show Notes:

  • Firstly, to start off the show Michael thanked Major Boyd Melson following his emphatic endorsement, a Radio Free Bay Ridge exclusive. Earlier last year Boyd endorsed Michael when he withdrew from the race in order to deploy to the Middle East as a Major in the Army Reserves. Michael mentions that he and Boyd are “cut from the same cloth”, so if you like this episode be sure to check out Boyd’s episode too.

Workforce Development and At-Risk Youth

  • Michael references the phrase “Relationships happen at the speed of trust.” The term was coined by Dr. Stephen Covey, who is best known as the author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Speed of Trust.
  • The statistics discussed for the “Out of school and out of work” population on Staten Island are from JobsFirstNYC. Michael references 18% of youth for the borough as a whole, with the North Shore as high as 24%. The working paper he’s referencing are chock full of additional stats and proposed workforce initiatives.
    Graphic from Developing a Young Adult Workforce Partnership on Staten Island: A JobsFirstNYC Working Paper
  • Michael mentions that the city-run Workforce 1 system requires a high-school diploma or GED for training services to assist in job placement, which is true. The roots of the Workforce 1 system go back to its creation in 2011 by the City Council in collaboration with the NYC Department of Small Business Services. It focuses on job placement for multiple sectors such as food service, healthcare, industry and more. However, the limits and stipulations for training do seem to hamper the program’s effectiveness toward at-risk youth, instead focusing on adults seeking to make career transitions or re-enter the job market. By the way, one of the most recent Workforce 1 centers is located just north of us at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. You can see what one is like in the video below.

  • Michael also mentions that there are 185,000 kids at least one year behind in school, and even more when you consider younger kids that won’t be hitting the workforce for another 5-10 years.
  • When Michael references that Federal cuts are going to dramatically affect local non-profits and their ability to function, he is referencing President Drumpf’s 21% cut to the Department of Labor in his budget.
  • Michael discusses how the most recent City budget would cut non-profit programs like his and invest instead in charter schools to solve workforce development challenges. Indeed, there is evidence that Charters such as Success Academy intentionally let students drop out of their programs to avoid dealing with them. This also leaves empty seats in the classrooms, an issue we touched on in our previous episode about alleviating school overcrowding in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.
  • The City invests in out-of-school / out-of-work youth through the Department of Youth and Community Development, which doesn’t do anything directly, but instead funds other groups. Indeed, there are significant cuts to various programs in the 2018 budget, especially after-school outreach in housing projects.
    From the DYCD 2017 Budget provided by the New York City Council
  • The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act , which provides a vast majority of funding to local organizations and to the city, is on the chopping block now with the GOP tax plan. This isn’t the first time that the act has been threatened by Republican legislators.
  • Michael also briefly mentions his work with Young Adult Borough Centers (YABCs) as part of his involvement with the NYC Department of Education’s Learning to Work program. YABCs are limited to 17 to 21 year olds, which leads to some of Michael’s criticism of programs focusing only on kids rather than a full spectrum of those, especially young adults, who are affected by being out of school and out of work.
  • We briefly discuss the effects of opioid use on workforce development, and that a significant number of at-risk youth are summarily dropped from programs when they become adults. The role of opioid abuse in the labor market is shocking. For example, one analysis explains that drug usage rates actively discourage employers from setting up shop in an area. This results, as Michael insinuates, in a downward spiral of at-risk youth fleeing the island as opioid rates climb and economic opportunities dwindle, further pressuring the next generation of kids to resort to drugs and other at-risk activities. This is backed up by recent data from the Brookings that shows that Staten Island suffers from the highest correlation between job market suppression to opioid use… nearly double the suppression rate of Manhattan, and triple that of the other outer boroughs.
  • Michael mentions that his relative uses solar panels on his roof to get money back from the utility company. This is known as net metering, and an essential part of a green infrastructure network.
  • Michael is correct in pointing that the majority of advertising for “green jobs” centers on either high-education Silicon Valley style jobs or blue-collar installation jobs… but that isn’t the extent of it. While a majority of jobs are still in installation, as the sector expands, support jobs in marketing, sales, and project management will follow. Most importantly for Staten Island,  solar jobs often are locked to specific communities. Because the Island is reeling from long commutes and workforce factors, green economy jobs might be the “tip of the spear” in stimulating overall economic development. Staten Island already leads the state in solar installations. The solar industry has unique resistances to Staten Islands problems and a better market of private, sunny homes in open spaces compared to the rest of the city.

Gun Violence and Security

  • Michael confronted Dan Donovan with a question about HR 1478 (a gun violence research bill) at one of  his recent “Coffee with Your Congressman” events at Fort Hamilton High School. Donovan “pled ignorance” according to the Brooklyn Courier. With a response like that, it isn’t surprising that the bill has a 6% chance of being passed, according to govtrack. What is the radical agenda being pushed by this bill? It repeals an implicit ban on studying gun violence by the Department of Health and Human Services or publishing studies that end up recommending gun control.

  • You can watch footage from the second-annual Cesar Sanchez Tribute Run from 2017. You can briefly see both Natalie DeVito, and the sign that Michael references: “YABC Is Cesar Sanchez.”

Coalition Building

  • Here’s Michael’s first ad which we discuss briefly in the episode. Michael’s wife Natalie created the motto, and Michael said in the episode that the ad features a number of young people he’s been helping who have since volunteered for the campaign. 
  • Michael is an avid runner, and has participated in advocacy-based runs such as for Pride Day. He’s also ran local routes such as the Forest Avenue Mile (a favorite race of the Staten Island Athletic Club) as well as larger events such as the Boston Marathon. In 2016 he also won the Staten Island Track Running and Community’s Road Racer’s Triple Crown, which covers the Advance Memorial Day Race, the Arielle Newman race, and the Celic Race. Staten Island has a vibrant road-racing community… The Staten Island Runner is a good place to start learning about it.
  • Michael mentions his advocacy and coalition-building with the Tackling Youth Substance Abuse Steering Committee, which is an initiative by the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness. The TYSA focuses on reducing alcohol and drug use among youth by bringing together existing organizations into a coalition to provide cross-pollination and shared resources between non-profits, private groups and government programs.
  • Speaking of coalition building, Michael name-dropped Fight Back Bay Ridge and it’s participation in the NY-11 For Healthcare Coalition, which was honored at Metro New York Healthcare for All’s 2017 Annual Health Care Justice Leadership Gala. Michael has been present at a bunch of Fight Back Bay Ridge general meetings and other South Brooklyn progressive events for the past year.

Infrastructure Development and Union Building

  • Michael mentions that Staten Island has some of longest commutes in the country, at an hour and thirty minutes. This is from the 2010 census which clocked average daily commute times on Staten Island at 42.5 minutes each way. However, this jumps to nearly 70 minutes each way when using public transit.
  • Michael references the fact that in 2009 Congressman McMahon got significant funding to implement parts of the Staten Island Expressway Corridor Major Investment Study. It was meant to be a 2 part project, with a section from Victory Boulevard to the Goethals starting in 2011.  McMahon was not reelected and funding fell apart as costs for the first portion exceeded expectations, and Michael has been very critical of Congressman Donovan’s attempts to secure Federal funding for the island. Michael also mentions the ‘colonial roads’ in the district must be re-examined, a reference to the narrow horse-and-buggy lanes that dominate Staten Island. There have been many creative transit fix ideas over the years that may deserve attention.
  • Michael mentions his continued support of the Local 3 IBEW Charter-Spectrum strike. He’s been consistently vocal on the issue, which involved severe benefits cuts even after the 78.7 billion dollar merger of Charter and Time Warner Cable that resulted in Charter/Spectrum’s creation. You can stay in the loop at NYCCableTruth, which is run by rank and file members of the strike. Be sure to be vocal in your support with #SpectrumStrike #Local3 #IWantMyLocal3

  • Amazon warehouse will bring 1500 new jobs to the district, but they are not quality jobs, don’t provide a living wage or upward mobility

Healthcare, Pharmaceutical Costs and Medical Marijuana

  • Michael mentions the danger that repealing the Affordable Care Act and the recent Republican Tax Bill may have on healthcare employment on Staten Island. According to an NYU School of Professional Studies report, Healthcare occupations account for 32% of Staten Islands professional class, and 9% of workers as a whole. That’s about 64% higher than the national average. The cuts may also dramatically affect funding levels for small local hospitals, such as those run by Richmond University and Staten Island University.
  • Medical cannabis is passed in NY State in 2014.  However, Michael mentions that the classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic limits the number of conditions it is allowed to be used for, and that this must be changed. A contributing factor was Gov. Cuomo and State lawmakers not wanting to be as broad as California in it’s legislation. The full (and narrow) list of conditions for which medical marijuana can are listed on the NYS Department of Health website. You can also read more about NY State insurance companies failing to cover medical marijuana, which in concert with the narrow applicability seems to be a reason for the slow growth of the industry in the state.
  • You can read more on Michael’s thoughts on medicinal cannabis and the challenges he and Natalie have faced in his interview with The Highly.

Wrapping Up

  • Michael briefly mentions his 12 years spent in Okinawa on deployment for the Marines, where he got his bachelors in Asian Studies. He’s since been recognized for his two active deployments with an inclusion in the NY State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.
  • Another reminder: Community Board applications are due on February 15th. If you live in Bay Ridge or Dyker Heights, you’re local Community Board is likely to be Brooklyn CB10. You can learn more about what a Community Board does from the city or from the Gotham Gazette.

Further reading & listening:

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