November 18, 2010
Missed in the hoopla last week between Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s selection of Cathleen Black as his new schools chancellor and another successful Veteran’s Day parade was the announcement of Terrance Holliday as the new Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs (MOVA).
In making the announcement at his annual Veteran’s Day breakfast at Gracie Mansion, Mayor Bloomberg, like his left-field school chancellor pick, surprised everyone in attendance and immediately set off a discussion: Who is Terrance Holliday? Where did he come from? Does anybody know him?
However, what the media missed and what veterans didn’t get was how eerily similar Mayor Bloomberg’s selection of Mr. Holliday was to Ms. Black’s. With the exception of quietly posting the position in early August and including two of his own staff members, this search appears to have been carried out under the radar of the veteran’s community.
This leads to the inevitable question of Why? Why did the Mayor and his people feel that the process had to be just as secretive as his selection of Ms. Black as the new schools chancellor?
From conversations with people both inside and outside the veterans’ community, it was known as early as July that Commissioner Roger Newman was in the process of leaving the office. Later conversations revealed that a number of qualified people applied for the position – individuals who not only had the qualifications and drive to succeed but more importantly could have possibility changed the direction MOVA has been going for the past eight years.
However, like the Black appointment, there is little evidence that anyone was vetted or considered and no known candidates were called or brought in for an interview. So while some may argue that at least there was a public search, the truth is that the process was superficial at best.
As the media reported late last week, Mayor Bloomberg defended his “clandestine” selection process for school chancellor by saying he wanted to avoid a public spectacle. If true, then why would he do this with the Veterans Affairs position? As Sam Roberts of the New York Times reported on Veteran's Day, the number of military veterans living in New York City has decreased by one-third since 2000, with census figures showing that there are only 233,000 veterans as of last year.
Sadly, it appears that while the “buck” may stop with Mayor Bloomberg - who is ultimately responsible for his Commissioners – he did nothing more than rubber stamp this selection. Anyone involved with veterans advocacy in New York City knows who is running MOVA from City Hall and all one has to do is look at the press release regarding Mr. Holliday's appointment to see the first name Mayor Bloomberg thanked for the appointment search.
Therefore, it’s more likely the process was conducted stealthily because of City Hall’s awareness of the lack of leadership, conviction, direction and overall poor relationship MOVA currently has with New York City’s veterans’ community. My friend Luis Carlos Montalván and I wrote an article last year highlighting some of these major issues.
If the word “Reform” is considered an incremental process in which leaders build on the accomplishments of those who came before them, then what will Commissioner Holliday build on from Commissioner Newman? The majority of veterans agree that Commissioner Newman was not able to build upon anything left to him from former director (now Deputy Commissioner) Joynes because she left the position in worse shape than when she got it. Because of Ms. Joynes and the strong oversight City Hall has taken with the office, Mr. Newman did little to enhance the office or offer any meaningful help towards veterans.
So what then, should the veteran’s community make of Terrence Holliday as the new MOVA Commissioner?
When City Hall began talking to Mr. Holliday about the position is not known. Very few people knew of Holliday’s appointment until the morning of the breakfast. Interestingly, Mayor Bloomberg appointed Edna Wells-Handy, the widow of Michael Handy (the former Director of MOVA), as the Commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) just a week prior and coincidentally, both Mr. Handy and Mr. Holliday knew each other well from their former positions and both served in the Air Force.
Regardless, like Ms. Black, there will be no learning period for Mr. Holliday, particularly like the one Mr. Newman had in 2007. Also, like Ms. Black, Mr. Holliday is entering a hostile battlefield. People within education and those directly affected by it are the most outraged and so are veterans and their families struggling with the inadequacy of the Bloomberg administration on dealing with veteran issues.
The bottom line is that Commissioner Holliday will have a long road to travel and without much in the way of support. Already there are questions regarding his initial statement at Gracie Mansion. If his comments are any indication of the help veterans can expect to receive, it would seem that Mayor Bloomberg has told the veteran’s community that they should look to the new Mayor in 2013 for change. Thus, while education will be a legacy issue for Mayor Bloomberg, veteran’s affairs will not.
The United States has been at war for almost a decade and for almost as long veterans in New York City have watched the Mayor's left hand work in disharmony with the right. His message towards veterans and their families during the past nine years have been long on thanks but short on substance. Last year Mayor Bloomberg ran on the campaign slogan – “Progress. Not Politics.” A year into his third term and nine years into his legacy, veterans are still waiting for the “progress.”
Joe Bello served 11 years in the US Navy/Naval Reserve and is a veteran’s advocate in New York City. He was one of several candidates who also applied for the Commissioner’s position.