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Tuesday morning at 9 a.m. sharp, the Feerick Center for Social Justice and Dispute Resolution at Fordham University School of Law opened for business as a new resource for the city, following in the wake of Monday’s mayoral announcement of novel plans to help those one in five citizens who live below the federal poverty line. The morning kickoff for the new think tank, which has a current budget of $2 million, drew such dignitaries as Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, along with others from the state judiciary; New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo; Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes; former Congresswomen Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic candidate for vice president; and top city officials involved in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s new poverty initiative. “It’s not words that count but rather what you do,” Professor John D. Feerick, namesake director of the center and Fordham Law’s dean from 1982 to 2002, said to a campus audience of about 150. “I promise on behalf of our center a total effort to making a difference in the area of poverty.” Efforts are to include legal and public policy research by law school students; summer fellowships to study innovative social justice solutions in the United States and abroad; collaboration with existing Fordham Law programs, other law schools, social agencies and bar groups; and conferences and publications. The first-born son of Irish immigrants who grew up in a cramped apartment in the Bronx, Mr. Feerick practiced labor and employment law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for 21 years, retiring in 1982 as a partner. He said in an interview that he was the beneficiary of “different realities”-including a two-parent family, close-knit school communities and neighborhood encouragement in seeking higher education-that provided structured support for earlier generations of poor people. Social support and family cohesion have both eroded over time, suggested Mr. Feerick, who has served on a number of governmental commissions, including appointment in early 2003 as special master of Family Homelessness in New York City. “Close to 70 percent of families in the [public housing] system involve single women who have two or three children, which may involve more than one father,” said Mr. Feerick. “But in visiting homeless centers, I was always extraordinarily impressed by the high quality of people I met.” He added, “We’ve got to figure out ways to help people who are anxious to get employment, people who have skills, people operating alone with children.” To that end, he told the morning assembly, “I expect our center to be involved with areas such as homelessness and hunger, to be helpful to Mayor Bloomberg as he launches his poverty agenda and to partner with our courts as they strive to be even more responsive to the poor and disenfranchised.” The mayor’s agenda, requiring approval by the City Council and state Legislature, would offer tax credits to poverty-level households to offset child care costs and some $24 million in private sector money to be parceled out as moderate cash rewards to poor people who perform well in school and subscribe to preventive medical care. The plan is to be executed by Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for health and human services, who was in attendance yesterday at Fordham Law. “Today New York City just became a better place,” said Ms. Gibbs. “Having this center to partner with makes us all the more hopeful that we will be successful in taking on these new challenges.” “What better purpose, what better mission could we imagine?” said Chief Judge Kaye. “A think tank that will educate students in addressing problems in a new direction-by turning the prism.” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she would take “extreme advantage” of the Feerick Center because “one of the really big problems in city government is not having time in the day to engage in analytic thinking.” Turning to Mr. Feerick and his successor, Dean William M. Treanor, Ms. Quinn added, “You may not realize what a gift this is. Thank you for being so wise to see the need for it.” Edward Skyler, deputy mayor for administration and a Fordham Law alumnus, echoed Ms. Quinn’s gratitude and added of the center’s non-litigation approach to developing policy, “Too often, the law community is seen as benefitting from conflict rather than trying to resolve it.” Ms. Ferraro, a Fordham Law alumna and 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate, said the Feerick Center for Social Justice and Dispute Resolution “is more than a mouthful of words, it’s a bucketful of hopes and dreams for those who have been forgotten.” Thomas Adcock can be reached at [email protected]

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