Rights Revival?

One City Agency That Didn't Take a Budget Cut

Tests during the Giuliani administration were largely unproductive, as those who remember the 1995 arson in Harlem of Jewish-owned Freddy's Fashion Mart can attest. "We were trying to assess the temper of the protesters, and we did find that there were anti-Semitic comments," Varela said at the time, but investigators who had been dispatched to the scene days before were still unable to do anything to ease the tension or notify authorities of the situation.

Before the City Council, Gatling cited daily testing as a goal, but has no timetable as to when the process will begin. Systemic or individual cases of discrimination will be investigated and possibly tried, with the defendants facing stiff penalties, the likes of which were unheard of in previous administrations. If the agency is able to prove discrimination, fines of up to $100,000 can be imposed, money that goes directly to the city.

Critics wholeheartedly agree with Gatling's call for daily testing, but argue that it is not in itself the solution to the city's problems. "Take the analogy of having police on the street," says Gurian. "It's not as if having one officer on the street is enough; it's just that not even having one is ridiculous. Daily testing is the starting line, not the finish line."

Gatling promises to keep the city's fiscal crisis in mind as the commission investigates discrimination, but she was noncommittal in front of City Council about the agency's revenue generating potential. She sees the HRC as playing an important, but indirect, role in strengthening the city. "Creating and maintaining an open city in terms of housing, lending, employment, and public accommodations is a critical part of attracting businesses and individuals to New York City and keeping them here," she told the council.

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