By Sophia A. Niarchos
Oyster Bay, N.Y. — You could say Mike Beys took his initial steps toward a career in public service at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where, as a young man, he volunteered to feed the homeless. He also served his fellow students in his high school and college through student government, reaching the top office of president at Harvard where he studied law.
Today, Mike is one of eight Democratic Party candidates running for New York City Councilman in District 2. The district includes Gramercy Park, Murray Hill, Union Square, the East Village, Alphabet City and part of the lower East Side. Among Mike’s primary concerns are the increase in the city’s crime rate and school discipline and budget issues.
Having worked in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Violent Criminal Enterprises Unit, which after 9/11 was renamed the Violent Crimes and Terrorism Unit, Mike draws from his experience in criminal prosecution to offer solutions to the rise in criminal activity in recent years.
“As a former prosecutor, public safety is what animates me the most. Too many New Yorkers have the mistaken belief that because crime statistics are down, that means crime is down. That’s not true. Although arrests are down, that’s evidence of the problem rather than evidence of the solution.”
Mike attributes the decrease in arrests, despite an increase in crime, to low morale and high attrition in the police department. He notes that despite the sacrifices police made during the 9/11 tragedy, not a single candidate has said a word about these public servants, who “have been without an employment contract for many years.
“Crime is on the rise in subways, in the schools, and on the streets,” he points out. “The local crack dealer is back on the street corner, and we need to be vigilant now to stop drugs and gun traffic now before it spreads to the levels of 10-15 years ago. This is particularly true in neighborhoods like mine which had a severe crime problem 10-15 years ago.
“Before we can insure the quality of life New York residents are entitled to, we need to address this. There are so many valuable programs that both federal and state prosecutors employ on a daily basis that are not being used enough:”
One of the programs Mike believes can make a bigger difference in reducing crime is the Department of Justice’s “Weed and Seed” program, through which violent criminals are weeded from neighborhoods and replaced by youth programs and social services. It includes a community outreach component that has local police officers and federal agents speaking to area residents about the kind of programs they would like to see that would revitalize the neighborhood.
“Turning around neighborhoods is what I value the most,” he says, expanding the traditional definition of “neighborhood” to include schools, where he would like to see a crackdown on school violence.
“As a former prosecutor I have a different perspective from the other people in this race. I know which programs work well and which don’t work so well; I am a proven advocate.”
Mike believes that schools aren’t disciplining troublemakers who commit minor offenses quickly enough and that bullying isn’t given the urgent attention it needs.
“A broken-window approach whereby those who commit minor offenses are immediately disciplined should be used to break the existing culture of failure, destitution and lawlessness and create a culture within which law enforcement can prevail,” he asserts.
Mike applauds the city council’s “Dignity for All Students Act” as a start to address the bullying problem as well as a statute pending in the State Legislature although he is concerned that the latter doesn’t address bias-related bullying and harassment.
While he admits that it’s too early to tell if mayoral control of schools is at all effective, when it comes to the student suspension process, he believes it has led to a breakdown in authority and delays in decisions about whether a student should be suspended.
“It used to be those decisions were made within 48 hours [of an offense] in some schools, but now it takes weeks.”
Mike believes just as much attention should be given to counseling, vocational training, and a broader, more diverse curriculum because, “although we should yearn and strive to have 100% of students going to college, it’s not for everyone.”
He further believes that “if the mayor is going to control city schools, he should give an explanation about where the money is going.”
Pointing to an increase in the school budget by 50% in the last five years, with no commensurate change in the quality of our public school system as seen in student failure rates and state test results, Mike asks, “Where’s the money going? We don’t know. With control also comes accountability; the mayor has control – he has had it for three years – but we don’t have accountability.”
The candidate for city council appears to be enjoying the campaign process, during which he is taking the opportunity to speak to “as many different groups from as many walks of life as possible.
“I’m currently in the listening and learning, or investigative, phase of the campaign. I’ve been speaking to activist groups and other voters and plan to hold town meetings building by building. What I’d like voters to know is that I’ve been a federal prosecutor for the last five years, a proven advocate that’s going to fight for the issues that they care about most. I want to hear from the voters what they want done about those issues; and I’ll fight and fight hard. Solutions to problems will be community-driven.”
Mike applauds term limits, which have made it possible for so many people to enter the race in his district. He believes it is important that “citizens channel all the new energy that is going into city government as a result of term limits and campaign finance reform in a way that brings meaningful change to people’s lives.”
Although he hopes to have a Democratic mayor to work with should he be elected to City Council, “in the event that Mayor Bloomberg is reelected, I’ll do my best to work with the mayor. In fact, there are aspects of his policies with which I agree and others with which I disagree.
Mike is most appreciative of the support he receives from his wife Cheney whom he married a year ago and who is a great source of counsel and advice and from his mother, an active member of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, who although slightly reticent when he first indicated his interest in seeking elected office, has been extraordinarily supportive.
“Many people have encouraged and supported me along the way. From the moment I made the decision, everybody in the Greek community has rallied behind me. That’s the nicest thing about being Greek-American. It’s no longer a community; it’s family.”