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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Council Member Helen Foster Has a Long History of Absenteeism

Helen Foster in her district office on Jerome Avenue (File photo)
In today's amNY, Helen Foster is named as the council member with the worst attendance record.

She showed up at just 61.7 percent of her Council meetings in 2010.

In years gone by, Maria Baez usually headed the list of council members least willing to make the trip to City Hall. But with Baez gone (she was ousted by Fernando Cabrera in 2009), it looks like another Bronx politician has assumed top spot. 

Foster told amNY that she had to travel out of state several times to visit ill family members - hence the no shows. (We linked to the article earlier in our news roundup.)

But the councilwoman, who took office in 2002, has been cutting meetings for years. From 2004 through part of 2008, she had the fifth worst record in the Council. She was also the subject of a Times article after she skipped the congestion pricing vote in 2008. She said she was in Las Vegas and that her flight back to New York was delayed.

In an interview with the Gotham Gazette in 2009, Foster, on the defensive again, insisted there was nothing wrong with her work ethic. She said her South Bronx district is more than 13 miles from City Hall, and she often has to choose between dealing with constituent issues in the Bronx or heading downtown.

For sure, attendance isn't the only criteria by which to judge an elected official's performance. But the numbers do say something about a council member's commitment, at his or her willingness to do the job. As the Gotham Gazette put it:
We may not be able to administer an IQ test or grade representatives on their loyalty to their districts, but we can see if they show up for the mandated semimonthly council meetings, the scores of hearings they are assigned to and check on how often they call their own committees to City Hall -- all of which is part of their job description.
On a side note, Foster received just $80,000 in member item money in 2010, the lowest in the Council. (Member item money is money given to lawmakers to distribute to local groups they deem worthy of help.)

The small amount likely reflects her relationship (or lack of one) with Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  Larry Seabrook, who was indicted last year on corruption charges, was also near the bottom of the pile with $80,000.


  1. Why is this type of work ethic even tolerated? If I showed up for work only 61.7 per cent of the time, I would be fired or, at least, have my pay docked. Our electeds should experience the same work guidelines the rest of the world seems to follow.

  2. You are a coward, anonymous. Have the guts to attach your name to your statement.

    I can't take anything you say seriously if I don't know from whom the statement is coming.

    Ms. Foster deserves to know that you are not one of her political enemies just trying to create a mountain our of a molehill. Why are you not attacking white and male council members. You are a racist, a sexist, and a coward anonymous.

  3. Perhaps people are attacking her because she has the worst attendance record of all the City Council members?

  4. Sounds like Coleen is on the rag - or is related to Ms. Foster. "The lady doth protest too much methinks" (Will S.)

  5. Coleen,

    It is small-minded thinking like this that should go anonymous. Perhaps people aren't attacking the white and male council members because they are not at the bottom in attendance. Idunno, just sayin'.

    And as far as name attachment goes, anyone can attach a pseudonym that still allows them to be anonymous. Kinda like what I just did. Wise up "Gonzalez".

  6. The constant complaining on this blogsite about anonymous commenting is getting fucking old. Either the content and substance of the comment is worthy or not. Who gives a shit who said it?

    In fact there is value in anonymity. There can be no personal attack to replace actual logical reasoning in response to a claim that you don't agree with.

  7. Coleen... should no one criticize Ms. Foster because she is a black woman? And if u do criticize this absolutely unacceptable work record, this makes you a sexist and a racist? That's really quite a stretch and frankly the sort of reasoning that historically has paved the way for Bronxites to be woefully under-represented..

    I can't speak for "anonymous", nor do i support making that kind of critique anonymously, but the comment reads to me like it's reasonable and nowhere does it make any suggestion that would elicit the kind of charge you levied.

    I'm pretty sure if a white male concilmember had a 61.7% attendance record, he would receive - and quite deserve - a serious rebuke from right-thnking people of the Bronx. i know i'd be on line to call him out on it without reservation.

    Just wondering, Coleen, do you support this sort of legislative record for Ms. Foster, or any Bronx elected official, particularly one who represents a needy district? Is this helping them address the many important issues they face?

  8. I wish it were possible to bet on things like, "Will supporters of an African American city councilperson with a 61.7% attendance rate respond to complaints about her 61.7% attendance rate by accusing others of racism and sexism?" I'd clean up!

  9. Here is the problem with this analysis of 61.7% it only relates to council meetings, and that is not the only aspect of a councilman's job. If the council person only attended 61.7% of council meetings, but was in her district,serving the community and her constituents 80% of the time, I would say she is a good councilperson. ALso how many meetings we talking about 10, 15, 20? If there were ten stated meetings and she missed 4, not a big deal.
    I dispise statistics because they can be interpreted or misinterpreted in any way. Go into the District and ask the community what they think of their council person, then you get a better reflection of how that person is doing. Statistics are bogus

  10. There is importance for a council members to attend meetings. That is where information is disseminated that can be useful for constituents, it's where representation of a community's interests can be offered, it's where votes are cast on legislation, and it's where a council member can offer advocacy in a number of ways that can have real affect on improving his/her district.

    If the standard of attendance at these meetings was 61%, then you could say that Ms. Foster's attendance record at these meetings was acceptable. But her record is LAST of the 51 members. Somehow, other members figure out how to have presence in their districts, serve constituents, AND attend a larger percentage of meetings than she does.

    Sorry, i can't see looking the other way and doing straw polling as a way to look past this lagging attendance record. It's undeniable evidence that the Bronx is not getting the representation it deserves.

  11. GAX..good point...but then the question is, why does she keep getting re-elected if she is doing such a bad job?


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