6/19: NYC Public Advocate Letitia James, Toms River Author, Theatre World Awards, Artist Kara Walker

June 18, 2014 at 11:33 am

On this edition of MetroFocus, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James takes on her critics and shares her agenda with host Rafael Pi Roman. James is the fourth public advocate in New York City history and, along with the mayor and comptroller, is one of only three city-wide elected officials. As public advocate, James acts as a government “watchdog” on behalf of city residents. She is also next in line to succeed the mayor. In the six months since she was elected, James has challenged the city’s charter schools, advocated for universal free lunch and is working to make public housing safer for residents by lobbying for the installation of cameras. In her role as ombudsman she says it is critical that she challenge Mayor Bill de Blasio when necessary.  “I’m not afraid to speak truth to power. I never have been and never will be,” she tells Pi Roman.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, Toms River, New Jersey was hit with an extraordinary number of childhood cancers with seemingly no apparent cause.  After years of investigation, the cancers were scientifically linked to water and air pollution. The New Jersey Department of Health found that nearby chemical companies had been dumping toxic waste into the town’s river for years, contaminating the town’s water supply. Residents of Toms River filed a class-action lawsuit and won a multi-million dollar settlement in 2001. Environmental journalist Dan Fagin, an Associate Professor and Director of the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, recounts the dramatic tale in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation. He tells reporter and anchor Jack Ford, “It’s kind of a saga lasting over many decades…there were a lot of twists and turns.”

It’s awards season on Broadway and one week before the Tonys came the Theatre World Awards. Since 1944, the award has been given to six actors and six actresses for their Broadway or off-Broadway debuts. There is also the John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement and this year the winner was legendary actor Christopher Plummer. MetroFocus’ Rafael Pi Roman talks with Plummer, a man who has graced the stage and screen for six decades, perhaps most famously as Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music. Plummer says receiving a Theatre World Award is “…just about the nicest, friendliest award anyone could get in this crazy profession of ours because it welcomes you onto The Great White Way, no matter what your age.”

And picture this: a 35-foot tall sphinx sculpture made out of 35 tons of sugar, sitting in a vacant sugar factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It may sound strange, but people are lining up to see artist Kara Walker’s latest installation, “A Subtlety,” a unique commentary on race and history. Multimedia producer Marisa Wong takes us inside the former Domino Sugar Factory to see what the buzz is all about. In a conversation with Radiolab co-host Jad Abumrad as part of the New York Public Library’s “LIVE from the NYPL” series, Walker says that she was cautious at first to work on the project, “…until I saw the space and I saw all the potential, and I felt my whole potential as an artist expand.”