Editorial: RGB desperately in need of reform

Last Thursday night, a mixed crowd of tenants, tenant advocates and even a few landlords wearily took part in a dreaded tradition that each and every party in attendance understood was a complete sham.

As tenant reps begged, as they do each year, for a rent freeze, citing the economy and job market, owner reps asked for rent increases that few people’s annual raises (assuming they even get them) could possibly match. And as for the so-called “public” reps of the Rent Guidelines Board, they did what they do every time they vote for what over a million New Yorkers’ rent increases are going to be: nothing at all.

For years, both tenants and landlords have griped that the RGB system is broken. Tenants in particular have had no confidence in the board since its members are all picked by Mayor Bloomberg.
There is legislation, that if passed, would reform the RGB by giving the City Council more oversight in making sure those appointed to the board are actually qualified to make the decisions that they do (and not just vote the way the mayor would).

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, said it passed the Assembly on Friday, just before the session ended for summer. This is not surprising, but what will be a surprise if it can make its way through the State Senate, where tenant-friendly legislation typically goes to die. This is unfortunate, since that legislation may be the best hope for the stabilized renters in this city, who’ve seen a rent increase every single time there’s been a vote.

Additionally, for the past several years at least, the June vote, which is the final event after a series of public hearings and meeting at which countless tenants, owners and advocates give testimony on why rent increases are either a disastrous idea or a necessary one, the evening plays out the same way each time. The two tenant reps propose a freeze, eventually hoping to negotiate by offering up percentage figures on the low side. The two owner reps usually propose increases around 10 percent, and then the board chair picks a number somewhere in between and the other four public members vote with him, giving that amount the majority vote.

In April, when the preliminary vote took place, RGB Chair Jonathan Kimmel insisted that the votes are not, as critics charge, decided beforehand. But this is pretty difficult to believe when the process is always carried out the same way, and in the same hurried manner too as if the RGB members feel they have better things to do than get heckled by tenants who fear getting priced out of the city.

While he wasn’t betting the bill would be given the blessing of the Senate this year, Kavanagh said progressive issues, such as this one, are now being pushed hard in Albany and RGB reform in particular is one of the top priorities of tenant advocates.

“The City Council having a say would be quite significant,” he said. “We don’t know if any of the current members believe there should be rent stabilization at all. If we had a hearing where (prospective board members) could explain why they want to sit on the board, we’d have a very different kind of process.”

Reminder: Tenants Association hosting mayoral forum tonight

May30 signThe major candidates for mayor have accepted the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association’s invitation to be part of a forum on the evening of June 26th at Simon Baruch IS 104, East 20th between First and Second Avenues. The audience will have an opportunity to learn first hand the candidates’ positions on a variety of issues, not the least of which is the matter of affordable housing.
All of the major mayoral candidates were invited and those who confirmed were Sal Albanese, Adolfo Carrion, John Catsimitidis, Bill de Blasio, Joe Lhota, John Liu, Christine Quinn, Bill Thopmson and Anthony Weiner.
The four candidates for public advocate were also invited to the event. The public advocate candidates are: Cathy Guerrero, Letitia James, Reshma Saujani and Daniel Squadron.
The meeting will be held from 7-9 pm. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors open at 6 p.m

Letters to the Editor, June 27

Lockout fee is excessive

Dear friends,

I am a senior citizen, aged 89, who has lived in Peter Cooper for 65 years. Contrary to the various letters that you have printed here regarding the problems with living in these buildings, I have never had a complaint before. I have loved living here. Following is the story of my huge dissatisfaction with PCV/ST.

I have waited to write this so that I could cool off with my intense anger and write a really practical and thoughtful letter re: the situation. Here goes:

About a month or so ago at noon, I came home to enter my apartment and found that I did not have my key and door card. (These are in one small case.) So, I went to the guard house and explained my problem and he was most sympathetic and kind and called for another guard to come with my key.

I must tell you here and now that in all the 65 years I have never needed to have assistance to enter my apartment because I never lost or misplaced my keys before. In any case — a guard came and cheerfully let me in.

I later found my key, but had other spares in the house so I needed no replacement. I even tipped the guard for his fast and polite response.

In any case, I got a bill… and here is the rub. The thing I am most disturbed about. The bill was for $85 plus tax of $6.62.

Especially because I have never had a demerit before — even criminals and DUI people get a chance — at least a reasonable one. I can see that they might charge something for the problem they thought was so dire… maybe $25, but $85 plus tax is utterly beyond words. I paid my rent bill and sent along another check for the unbelievable charge. I marked it “in protest.” Not that it will do any good, but I want everyone to know just how thoughtless and mean-spirited CW is to a longtime elder tenant. If they can do that to me, then who knows what comes next?

Okay, now I have said it and if anyone thinks this is a reasonable charge, I would like to know. So far those who do know are absolutely surprised and discomforted by it. I thought that the community should know what the policy is these days. I did speak with a very nice young man from “management” and he did try a number of times to alleviate this manner — to no avail.

So, that is that and now I must join those who feel they have been mistreated here at PCV/ST. I regret having to do it, but sometimes it takes only one thing to destroy a lifetime of beliefs.
Best to the community.

H. Spring, PCV

Continue reading

Tenants outraged as RGB votes to raise rents by 4 and 7.75 percent

Tenants sit, holding signs calling for a rent freeze, at the vote of the Rent Guidelines Board.
Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

On Thursday night, the city’s rent-stabilized tenants learned that their rents would be going up 4 percent on one-year leases and 7.75 percent on two-year leases.

The hikes are significantly higher than last year’s, 2 and 4 percent for one and two-year leases, respectively, though the Rent Guidelines Board Board’s preliminary votes could have allowed for increases as high as 9.5 percent for two-year leases.

As they do every year for the RGB vote, tenants came out to the meeting in full-force, often shouting over the two owner members on the board who wanted to implement the maximum increases.

Jimmy McMillan, of the “Rent is Too Damn High” party and mutton-chop fame, was one of the few people who stayed outside during the meeting, but that didn’t make him any less dedicated to the cause.

“I’m gonna do my next video butt naked. All my clothes money went to rent,” he said after learning about the results of the final vote.

One of the two tenant members, Harvey Epstein, offered the first proposal of the meeting, calling for a rent freeze. “Tenants are struggling. Unemployment and eviction continue to rise. It’s a direct contrast as the net operating income of landlords continues to grow,” he said. “Landlords can apply for hardship increases and not one landlord applied in 2012. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of tenants applied for DRIE and SCRIE benefits. Many tenants came and gave testimony saying that they have to make the decision between paying rent and paying expenses.”

As the board voted to reject the proposal, audience members yelled out in reference to the board’s public

Jimmy "The Rent is Too Damn High" McMillan says his next video will be done "butt naked" since his clothing budget will now need to be spent on rent. Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan says his next video will be done “butt naked” since his clothing budget will now need to be spent on rent.
Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

members, “You don’t represent us at all! This is a farce!”

Owner member Steven Schleider proposed a 6.25 percent increase for one-year leases and a 9.5 percent increase for two-year leases, as well as a 5 percent vacancy allowance and a 10 percent sublet allowance. Epstein voted a vehement “absolutely not.” In defense of the proposal, Schleider said that housing in the city is “generally affordable,” which was greeted by yelling and boos from the tenants.

“Tenant subsidies are available through SCRIE and DRIE,” Schleider continued, attempting to talk over the crowd’s jeering. “No board member denies that tenants are struggling (…) but we don’t have the power to address it. Operating costs are understated and buildings are more expensive to operate every year. The vast majority of landlords need the increases.”

Tenant member Brian Cheigh then submitted a second proposal, countering with a 3.25 percent increase for one-year leases and a five percent increase for two-year leases. All the members except Cheigh voted against this proposal and the owners didn’t submit a second proposal after this. RGB Chair Jonathan Kimmel then submitted the proposal that finally passed with a vote of five to four.

“This vote impacts diverse households and these decision affect large sections of the city,” Kimmel said before the vote amid supportive cheers from owners and shouts of “RGB has got to go!” from tenants. “Many people will feel that the board has failed them but there are new costs that directly impact owners’ wallets. The public members try to balance the needs of the owners and the tenants.”

Epstein made a last appeal to the other board members before the final vote, saying that the proposed increases were well beyond what most rent stabilized tenants could pay. “Unemployment is still at nine percent,” he said. “With rent increases like this, it might as well be our job to evict low income tenants. We had public hearings and heard testimony from (rent stabilized tenants) but what we’re saying is that even though tenants came, their voices weren’t heard. Please vote no.”

Although the vote did not swing in the tenants’ favor, local elected officials and advocates are continuing to work towards changes in the system. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Daniel Squadron are co-sponsoring legislation that would change the way the RGB members are appointed.

The legislation was passed in the Assembly earlier this week and is now pending in the Senate. If passed, it would ensure more scrutiny of the board members’ qualifications by requiring the advice and consent of City Council for all the appointees, who are chosen by the mayor. It would also expand the range of individuals who could be considered for appointment to include those who have experience with urban planning, public service, philanthropy, social sciences, architecture and social services.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who supports the legislation, was disappointed in the vote’s results. “The Rent Guidelines Board had an opportunity to protect tenants, an opportunity the Board squandered when they chose to subject New Yorkers to disruptive rent hikes instead,” she said. “The board must schedule hearings in all five boroughs next year and offer all New Yorkers an opportunity to stand up for the future of rent stabilized housing in New York City.”

Stuy Town General Manager Sean Sullivan replaced

Sean Sullivan in April at the Peter Stuyvesant Little League Parade Photo by Sabina Mollot

Sean Sullivan in April at the Peter Stuyvesant Little League Parade
Photo by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

Sean Sullivan, the general manager of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village, is no longer employed with the property, Town & Village has learned.

Reached on Thursday morning, Sullivan, who worked in ST/PCV for just 13 months, said he was not at liberty to discuss the reasons why. A former Marine, Sullivan is also a real estate industry veteran, previously having worked at Avalon Bay Communities and Tishman Speyer, though he left the latter company long before the Stuy Town purchase in 2006.

One source said he was let go, but a spokesperson for CWCapital said Sullivan left to “pursue other interests.”

While management employees and tenants don’t always see eye to eye, Sullivan has been described as a straight shooter by tenant leaders in ST/PCV.

Responding to the news of his departure, ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg said she was disappointed.

Although sometimes they’d be in adversarial positions over various issues, Steinberg said, “I felt that Sean had genuine sympathy for some of those issues, but of course he doesn’t work for the TA; he’s a property manager for CWCapital. But we all liked him. It’s hard not to like him. When someone would talk to him about something, he was on it.”

Sullivan came onto the scene last May, replacing then General Manager Jim Yasser. At the time, Sullivan was working under Rose Associates, the management firm CWCapital let go at end of last August when it hired CWCapital’s subsidiary company CompassRock. However, Sullivan remained on board after CompassRock took over.

At the time of his hiring, he told Town & Village, “Peter Cooper Village/Stuyvesant Town is celebrated for its strong sense of community within this city. I am very proud and honored to join the effort to make PCV/ST a place that this community is happy to call home.”

When asked for comment on Sullivan’s departure, Brian Moriarty, a spokesperson for CWCapital, said, “Sean left PCV/ST to pursue other interests. As our residents know, Sean led our community through the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and ensured our community was back up and running as quickly and safely as possible. CompassRock and the PCV/ST community are grateful for Sean’s contribution to this property, and we wish him well as he embarks on his next challenge.”

David Sorise, senior vice president of CompassRock Real Estate, has since taken over day-to-day operations in the community.

“David has been involved with operational initiatives at PCV/ST since January 2012,” Moriarty said. “With the assistance of the current onsite executive team, David will continue the improvements that commenced with the transition to CompassRock Real Estate last year.”

According to Sorise’s company bio, he’s a New York registered property manager and receiver and serves on the Rent Stabilization Association, an organization for owners. He began his career in real estate at PriceWaterhouse where he focused on operational analysis and process improvement. Most recently, Sorise was vice president for Laramar Communities and vice president of operations for Dermot Realty, where he was responsible for all capital improvements, budgeting, leasing, staff supervision and business development. He left that company in 2010, according to a Dermot blog post, which referred to Sorise as a “giant of a man — figuratively and literally.” Along with heading the property management group there, he was also, the blog noted, the tallest person at the company.

This article has been revised to include information from CWCapital on Sullivan’s departure and replacement.

Letters to the Editor, June 20

Lyric the latest loss in neighborhood diners

To the editor,

Several months ago, a resident of the building I live in went to the Lyric Diner at Third Avenue and 21st Street to get his morning coffee and found it closed. For several days, we all waited anxiously to find out what had become of Lyric. Finally, we saw a sign in the window, saying that the restaurant was being remodeled and would reopen in a month.

A restaurant called Taverna has opened on the site of Lyric. Its hours are considerably shorter, its menu items more expensive. The police from the precinct and Police Academy and the students from the School of Visual Arts, who routinely jammed Lyric at lunchtime, are conspicuously absent.

Lyric is just the latest of several neighborhood coffee shops to go. Remember Pete’s, the coffee shop on Third Avenue and 21st Street with the lovely old tiled floors and the decorative metal ceiling? Their back room frequently resembles an annex of the police station and the academy. Then there was the Third Avenue diner around 24th Street. They served the best Sunday brunches in the neighborhood, and a very serviceable pizza as well. I understand that it is a difficult and expensive proposition to run a restaurant these days. Rents are high, help is not cheap and food is perishable. One remedy is to get a liquor license. Some coffee shops don’t always have them, but many do.Sunday brunch at that nice Third Avenue Diner always came with a bloody mary!

We have a few diners in the larger neighborhood, and they are always busy. But there are none in my immediate area. I wonder where the cops go for lunch?

Bettijane Eisenpreis,
Gramercy Park

Continue reading

Notary services available for residents exempt from mid-lease rent increases

Letter issued by CompassRock

Letter issued by CompassRock

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association has announced that notary services will be available on several different days for the tenants who were led to believe by leasing agents that there would be no mid-lease increases and then got them, anyway.

On Monday, Town & Village Blog reported that following an investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, an agreement was reached with management so that those residents will not have to pay their new, higher rents.

Residents in this situation have until June 30 to fill out an affidavit that was slipped under their doors on Friday by CompassRock and have it notarized. Otherwise, they’ll have to start paying their increased rent in July. In related news, the agreement reached by the attorney general and CompassRock means there will be no additional mid-lease increases.

Schneiderman, Council Member Dan Garodnick and the Tenants Association have been working together over the past few weeks to identify 39 tenants who were misled.

Commenting on the settlement, Tenants Association President John Marsh said, “We appreciate the Attorney General’s taking the important action that he did. The allegations of misrepresentations were serious and numerous. We urge all those who received either written or verbal assurances that their rent would not be increased mid-lease to sign and return the affidavit.”

The TA also issued instructions, via email to residents, who need to get their paperwork notarized:

Complete the affidavit and sign it in front of a notary public.  If you have an e-mail or other correspondence with a renting agent, attach it.  If you simply recall a conversation on the matter of the mid-lease clause, write about it in the space provided.

Take the affidavit and any supporting material to be notarized. You must appear in person to sign and show photo ID. To facilitate this process, Tenants Association volunteers with a notary’s license will be available, at no charge, at the Community Center Tuesday, June 18, Thursday, June 20, and Tuesday, June 25, between 6:00 and 8:00 pm., and Saturday, June 22 and Sunday June 23, between 2:00 and 4:00 pm.  Please note that a notary only affirms your signature, not the content of the document.

(If you have discarded the material that came under your door, thinking it was a ruse, you can pick up a new affidavit at the Community Center at those hours) or you can print out the letter and affidavit linked here.

Return the notarized affidavit and support material, if any, by June 30th to:

Office of the Attorney General of the State of New York
Attn: Elissa Rossi
Real Estate Finance Bureau
120 Broadway, 23rd Floor
New York, NY 10271

Send a copy of this affidavit to:

PCVST Legal Department
Attention:  Roberts Administrator
317 Avenue C
New York, NY 10009

Important:  Your response must be postmarked no later than June 30, 2013

Mid-lease increases to be reversed in cases of misrepresentation

Letter issued by CompassRock

Letter issued by CompassRock

View full CompassRock letter

By Sabina Mollot

In news that is sure to be welcome to tenants who were recently on the receiving end of mid-lease increases, those who were led to believe by a leasing agent that they wouldn’t be getting mid-lease hikes will not have to pay their new, higher rents.

On Friday, management slipped notices under tenants’ doors, signed by the property’s general counsel, Fred Knapp, conceding that, “It has come to CompassRock’s attention that, in a limited number of cases,” tenants who signed leases pending the Roberts v. Tishman Speyer settlement “claimed that they were told by leasing agents that the increase set to go into effect on July 1, 2013 (the “July 1 Increase”) would not be applicable to them during the term of their lease.”

CompassRock said if tenants were in that situation then they should fill out an affidavit, which was attached to Knapp’s letter, with details of statements made to them, including emails or other documentation if available, and their rents would stay the same. The deadline for tenants to file their paperwork is June 30. Otherwise, they’ll have to pay their new, inflated rent starting July 1.

The notice came after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman conducted an investigation into allegations of tenants being misled by leasing agents. The matter was brought to the A.G. by Council Member Dan Garodnick after he said he’d heard complaints from numerous tenants. As of this week, Garodnick said there were a total of 39 tenants who said they were told, inaccurately, they wouldn’t be getting a mid-lease increase.

As for tenants who have no written proof of agreements that there would be no mid-lease hike, but have said they were told it wouldn’t happen, the rent rollbacks would apply to them as well.

“It is our understanding that verbal assurances will be treated the same way as written evidence, but there does need to be some sort of description” of statements, said Matt Mittenthal, press secretary for the attorney general.

Or, as the notice from CompassRock went on to suggest, tenants could also avoid paying the new rents simply by moving out.

“As you know, “ wrote Knapp, “you also have the right to terminate your lease and vacate your apartment. This notice does not affect that right in any way.”

The letter concluded by saying nothing “should be construed as an admission of wrongdoing or liability” against CompassRock or CWCapital.

Garodnick, who said around 1,100 tenants got mid-lease increases (around 1,300 got rent adjustment notices), added, “We appreciate this strong step taken by the attorney general. There clearly was an issue here that affected many people and any misrepresentations will now not be able to stand.”

Schneiderman, meanwhile, said ST/PCV residents “have been through battle after battle to preserve the character and affordability of their community. That’s why I was so concerned to learn that some tenants had been misled by leasing agents into signing leases that would result in skyrocketing rents. I am pleased that the owners cooperated with our office’s investigation and have entered into an agreement that ensures tenants are treated fairly: No one who was promised a steady rent will be socked with a mid-lease increase.”

Schneiderman added that the agreement means CW can’t impose any additional mid-lease rent hikes and, he noted, he’d be watching the special servicer to make sure of this.
“My office will keep a close watch in the coming weeks to ensure that all aspects of the agreement are honored,” Schneiderman said.

Even before Roberts was settled, attorneys were already warning tenants that CW could issue rent hikes, even mid-lease, as a result of language the special servicer had inserted into new leases. Rent hikes have reportedly been as high as over $2,000, although most are in the hundreds.

In response to the investigation and the agreement, CW said in an official statement that management had only known about 10 incidents of misrepresentations regarding the increases.

“Despite an exhaustive effort to solicit complaints from residents that leasing agents had represented mid-term rent adjustments would not occur, we have received only 10 complaints from affected residents,” CWCapital said on Tuesday.

“While it is clear that, legally, any such representation would have been superseded by the class action settlement in which residents received a $173 million benefit, we volunteered to make official our practice of deferring rent increases to the end of a lease term for any resident that has a factual basis for their confusion. Additionally, we agreed to make official our intention not to issue additional mid-term rent increases. We appreciate the Attorney General’s assistance in balancing our legal rights with a desire to accommodate any resident that was confused about the content of their lease due to purported misstatements by employees of the managing agent.”

This article has been updated to include quotes from CW Capital and Attorney General Schneiderman.

PCV, sections of ST in preliminary FEMA flood zone maps

(left) Screenshot of FEMA's 2012 flood hazard zone map (right) FEMA's preliminary flood hazard zone map for 2013

(left) Screenshot of FEMA’s 2012 flood hazard zone map (right) FEMA’s preliminary flood hazard zone map for 2013

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

With the impending arrival of hurricane season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Office of Emergency Management have begun releasing preliminary data on flood hazards and evacuation zones.

FEMA released new maps on June 10 based on the best available flood hazard data. The maps are only preliminary but there are already noticeable differences between this year’s and last year’s versions of the flood zones for Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village and Waterside Plaza. The preliminary map can be found at region2coastal.com.

According to the 2012 map, Waterside Plaza, Avenue C, one block of East 23rd Street, less than a block of East 14th Street and only part of the Avenue C loop had a 0.2 percent chance of flood.

On the preliminary map for this year, Waterside Plaza is in a zone with a one percent or greater chance of flooding and has an additional hazard associated with storm waves. East 14th Street to the 14th Street Loop, Avenue C, the Avenue C Loop, the 20th Street Loop, East 23rd Street to First Avenue and all of Peter Cooper Village to the 20th Street Loop have a one percent annual chance of flood hazard. Part of the 14th Street Loop and the Oval are also now in a 0.2 percent annual chance flood hazard zone.

However, the FEMA maps are intended to assist communities and property owners understand flood risks and are created for flood insurance purposes. They are not meant to designate evacuation zones. A spokesperson for the Office of Emergency Management said that there are sometimes overlaps between OEM’s evacuation maps and FEMA’s flood hazard maps, but they are based on different criteria.

The evacuation zones designated by OEM are based solely on the area’s vulnerability to storm surges and are based on life safety, while the flood hazard maps from FEMA tell homeowners what the risk is for flooding over a period of years, and not just due to storm surge. Creeks and streams are taken into account in FEMA’s maps so a building can be located in a flood zone but outside an evacuation zone.

The evacuation zone map from OEM is still preliminary and hasn’t been officially released yet but some changes have already been made, including a switch from letters to numbers to designate the zones. The new zones, from one to six, include an additional 640,000 residents that were not included in the boundaries of the former zones, according to the Hurricane Sandy After Action report that was released by the mayor’s office in May.

There is a link for an evacuation map on the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association Facebook page, but this map is only a beta site with preliminary zones and it is not always accessible because the maps are continually being updated, according to OEM. When the official map is released later this month, it will be available at nyc.gov/hurricanezones.

The Midtown East-Stuyvesant Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) was planning to give a presentation at the Community Board 6 full board meeting on Wednesday evening about updates to the evacuation zones based on the link posted to the TA’s Facebook page.

However, CERT chief Pat Sallin said on Wednesday morning that they have cancelled this to prevent spreading misinformation based on the posted link.

Presentations from CERT have also been planned for upcoming 13th Precinct and 17th Precinct Community Council meetings, and Sallin said that those presentations will be dependent on whether or not OEM has officially released maps with updated evacuation zones.

As of T&V’s press time, the next 13th Precinct Community Council meeting, set to take place on Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. at 230 East 21st Street, will have an update on NYC Coastal Storm Evacuation Zones.

Letters to the Editor, June 13

Tell Governor Cuomo: No fracking in NY

Hydraulic fracturing is a process that forces millions of gallons of fresh water, sand, and toxic chemicals, under high pressure, into shale rock to release natural gas.

Recently, Wendy Byrne, Kathy Reynolds, Anne Lazarus and I, all Stuyvesant Town residents, distributed information about fracking and gathered signatures on a petition to Governor Cuomo to ban the process in New York State.

If the present moratorium is removed, our water, land and air can become polluted as has happened in other states where fracking is used. Documentaries like “Gasland,” “Gasland II,” “Split Estate” and others reveal what the oil and gas industry has tried to cover up by refusing to name the chemicals in the toxic mix that Halliburton and others got exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts in 2005. Once the chemicals such as benzene get into the water, no filtering mechanism can get them out. The industry claims that if done correctly there is no danger of leaking chemicals or explosions. We know that accidents happen and with budget crunches there are not enough inspectors in New York State to monitor the drilling operations.

The bottom line is that natural gas (methane) is a fossil fuel affecting climate changes that trigger storms like Hurricane Sandy. Scientists and the United Nations Environment Program are urging us to develop renewable energy from the sun, wind, tidal water and geothermal sources and train people for these green jobs.

We should not leave our children and grandchildren a polluted planet but make every effort to restore the natural world and save it from those who seek its resources to enrich themselves.

Please consider joining us in Albany on Monday, June 17, where a demonstration will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. on the mall. Register for the bus from New York City here. Round trip tickets are $25 and available on line. Some full financial subsidies are available. Bus leaves at 8 a.m. from 460 8th Avenue (34th St. and 8th Avenue) and returns to New York City by 6 p.m.

Joy Garland, ST

Continue reading

Stuy Town’s unofficial mayor about to retire

Substance abuse counselor John "Butch" Purcell outside Beth Israel Medical Center by Stuyvesant Square Park Photo by Sabina Mollot

Substance abuse counselor John “Butch” Purcell outside Beth Israel Medical Center by Stuyvesant Square Park
Photo by Sabina Mollot

By Sabina Mollot

John “Butch” Purcell, a longtime resident of Stuyvesant Town affectionately known to some as the “mayor of Stuyvesant Town,” is getting ready to retire from a career in drug abuse counseling.

In May, Purcell, was one of several dozen employees of Beth Israel to be honored in a low-key, midday ceremony for those who’d worked at the hospital for 20 years, 25 years, 30 years or even longer. In the case of Purcell and just two others at the ceremony, it was actually a recognition of 45 years of service in the methadone treatment program. The other two being honored were Martin Berger, MD, and Marie Marciano, an administrator of the methadone program.

Purcell, who earned his “mayor” nickname over the years for somehow managing to get to know countless neighbors in Stuy Town, where his was only the fifth black family to move in during the 1960s, as well as becoming just as well-recognized in the Beth Israel community and through his work counseling NBA players, said he wasn’t sure what he’s going to do with his free time yet. He plans to retire this month.

Meanwhile, during the May 3 ceremony celebrating Purcell’s day job, fellow honoree Marciano had some kind words for her coworker. “If you want the official word on local politics, sports, music or the best dog park on the Lower East Side, then you’ve got to hang with John Butch the Mayor of Stuyvesant Town Purcell,” she said.

She went on to say he always knew how to promote a positive image of the methadone treatment program and deal with patients “with the style of a seasoned politician.”

Following the ceremony, Purcell received a bouquet and a few gifts from the hospital and coworkers (including a framed photo of him with his prized yorkie mastiff mix pooch, Ginger).

He also spoke with T&V about the steps that led to his career in drug counseling and his unofficial mayoral status.

Purcell, the first person in his family to graduate from college, began counseling at Beth Israel’s then-new methadone program in 1967, shortly after graduating. He had considered becoming a pro basketball player, but ended up taking a very different path. Before moving on to counseling, Purcell also worked briefly for Stuyvesant Town’s recreation department in 1965. As for being one of the first black residents in the complex, Purcell said it wasn’t weird. Because, he explained, “I knew everybody.”

He soon moved on though to Beth Israel, noting how his family had a history of social service work. His mother worked for the V.A., and his father, a veteran who died when Purcell was 10, had worked as a custodial engineer for the Pentagon. His aunt was a social worker and his uncle worked for the Parks Department. Another uncle was a housing cop.

It was through Beth Israel that Purcell met his wife Mary who’s been married to him for 45 years. The couple has one grown son, John Purcell IV.

It’s difficult to say how the “mayor” nickname originated, though it seemed to stick after coworker Patty Juliana, PhD, started calling him that after noticing that everyone on the street seemed to know Purcell when they walked around Harlem, between two of Beth Israel’s facilities.

“What should have been a short walk took a half an hour because he knew everyone,” she said. The same is true when he walks his dog on First Avenue. “And it’s not because the dog’s legs are only four inches long.”

Late Stuyvesant Town community activist Granville Leo Stevens also used to refer to Purcell as the mayor, cementing that as his nickname at home too.

Purcell also made a name for himself in the NBA, when he counseled between 20 and 30 players from 1981 to 1983. He also continued counseling pro basketball players on and off over the years as well as those in many other professions at Beth Israel.

There have also been a number of neighbors in Stuy Town he’s counseled, both kids and adults, over the years. The drug problems in the complex, he noted, are more prevalent than most people would like to believe.

However, things were especially bad in Harlem and the South Bronx when he first got into the field and at that time, methadone treatment wasn’t seen as the solution for the heroin epidemic.

“It was looked at as black genocide,” recalled Purcell, “switching one drug for another.”

Still, over the decades, Purcell said there have been many success stories.

“I’ve seen grandchildren of my patients finish college and doing really well,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of addicts really turn their lives around.”

But, he added, “Mostly it’s up to them. I’m like hamburger helper. The best success stories are the patients who graduate to a point where we hire them to be counselors. That touches my heart.”

Additionally, about three years ago, Purcell also started representing athletes as a sports agent in the firm Waldon & Associates, and said he may start to focus more on that.

Another plan is to try to get more acting work, something he got into several years ago through a neighbor, assistant director Sean Furguson, who got him his first job as an extra. Since then, Purcell has had multiple TV appearances on shows like “Third Watch” and “Law & Order.” This led to an extra role in the film, “Something’s Gotta Give.” On “Third Watch,” he had larger roles playing characters like a bodega owner and a Santeria dancer. In another, particularly challenging episode, a 70-yard sprint he had to run was filmed in 17 different takes, which he definitely felt in his knees later.

Therefore, yet another retirement plan is just to relax, with Purcell saying he’d give a report on how that’s going “when I don’t have to get up.”

Man missing from 17th Precinct



The New York City Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance in finding a man who was reported missing from the 17th Precinct last Saturday evening. Seventy-year-old Thomas Carrodus was last seen at 5:30 p.m. inside a barber shop at 482 Third Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Streets. He is six feet tall and weighs 175 pounds, with salt and pepper hair and blue eyes. He was wearing glasses and green shorts with a yellow short-sleeve button down shirt.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to contact NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at (800) 577-TIPS. Tips can also be submitted through the Crime Stoppers website or texted by sending the message “TIP577” to 274637(CRIMES).

Editorial: Rent hikes aren’t just bad news for tenants

In a recent Town & Village editorial, the topic was how the mid-lease rent hikes given to 1,300 residents was bad business. The reason was that it would cause hundreds of vacancies and end up replacing more stable residents like families with less stable ones like students and others living in roommate situations.

However, there is another reason why we think the mid-lease increases (which have been as high as over $2,000) are bad business and bad for the community.

The other reason is that an exodus of tenants means a sharp drop in business for local retailers, many of whom have already been hurting since Sandy and the temporary closure of the VA Medical Center. Obviously, eventually new tenants will replace the departing ones as customers of local shops, but with a large chunk of apartments being vacated, this is a process that’s going to take some time. Meanwhile, since apartment buildings around here for years now have had revolving doors due to steadily increasing rents, the challenge of regularly trying to attract – and to keep – clients is one that local businesses have already, on a gradual level, been struggling with.

But don’t take our word for it. Hear what a couple of merchants had to say.
Continue reading

Letters to the Editor, June 6

No closet door left unopened

My apartment was recently inspected by CompassRock.  Their notification letter was commanding but having no option and nothing to hide anyway, I waited for the day to arrive.

The inspector entered politely, accompanied by a security guard, and immediately informed me that he would also be “looking at” the closets.

Taken aback yet somehow not surprised in this environment of mistrust, I followed him from room to room and he opened the doors himself.  The security guard remained inside the front door.

The inspection lasted just a few minutes but, sadly, the negative effects on me have lingered. I approached the inspection in good faith, under the impression they were looking for illegal subdivision of rooms or major structural problems or similar. I consider it a violation of privacy and an insult to my integrity for a total stranger to inspect closets which, as well as utilitarian items, hold personal items.
The community newsletter, which arrived after the inspection, writes of ensuring apartments are in compliance with applicable laws, lease terms and community rules, looking for unsafe conditions, unregistered dogs and compliance with the 80 percent carpet rule. It had never occurred to me that closets fell into this category.

With nearly 25 years of tenancy, I have come to love where I live. For the most part, I welcome the physical and demographic changes, which have taken place.  Sadly, my experience with the inspection has left me feeling like some kind of criminal, and has further fostered the culture of unease that successive managements seem to enjoy encouraging. Indeed, a neighbor whose apartment was inspected in their absence with their agreement (but who did not share my feelings), advised me against speaking out for fear of reprisal.

Furthermore, I have now discovered that not all apartment inspections included closets – and not all were conducted by more than one representative.

Eileen Aarons, ST

Continue reading

Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner discusses band’s tour and new album

Soul Asylum, pictured at a recent performance in Jacksonville, Florida, is set to play Stuyvesant Town on June 8. Photo by Michael L. Smith

Soul Asylum, pictured at a recent performance in Jacksonville, Florida, is set to play Stuyvesant Town on June 8.
Photo by Michael L. Smith

By Sabina Mollot

Soul Asylum, an alternative rock band known best for the 90s smash hit “Runaway Train,” is in the midst of an East and West Coast tour to promote its last album, “Delayed Reaction,” and one of its next concerts will be played in Stuyvesant Town.

The event was announced by CompassRock earlier in the month as part of the annual summer event series for ST/PCV residents. The concert is set for Saturday, June 8, starting at 3 p.m. on the Oval with local band Skyfactor opening.

The tour comes at a time after the band has seen a number of changes, including the departure of two longtime members, Dan Murphy and Tommy Stinson. However, after regrouping – current members are lead singer Dave Pirner, Michael Bland, Winston Roye and Justin Sharbono  – and even some work on the band’s next recordings, Pirner said he believes that the band’s sound is the most solid its ever been.

“It’s better than it’s ever been from where I’m standing,” he said. “Everyone is better attuned to what it takes to pull off being in a band. It’s all coming together. You just figure out how to do things more spontaneously and in a way that sounds good.”

And that’s saying a lot considering the band was formed in 1981 in Minneapolis, as an offshoot of another band called Loud Fast Rules. The rock band was labeled both alternative and grunge around the time of its triple-platinum selling album “Grave Dancers Union” in 1992. However, these days Pirner said he finds the music more influenced by musicians who play in marches in New Orleans, where he’s lived for the past 14 years. Those musicians, he’s noticed, tend to have families who’ve passed down the tradition of performing.

“They’re like, ‘We play to live, but we love it,’” he said.

As for Soul Asylum’s latest release, Pirner described it as “trashy art” or “closer to trashy art than fancy craft.”

“Delayed Reaction,” with songs that range from a piano ballad to the more rough-edge rock Soul Asylum has always been known for, is the band’s first album in six years. The last one, “The Silver Lining,” came out in 2006.

Throughout the band’s lifetime, which spawned 10 albums, there have also been five record labels.  The journey from album to album was a bumpy road with some albums doing well commercially (the biggest was “Grave Dancer’s Union” though “Let Your Dim Light Shine,” released in 1995, also went platinum) and others not so much. After “Candy From a Stranger” was released in 1998, it’s been reported that Soul Asylum was dropped by Columbia. Its last album was done sans label for most of its production, though the band is now with 429 Records. The company used to be a jazz label under another name.

Reflecting on the on and off mainstream success, Pirner said, “It’s sort of become this situation where you’re living out your dream and it doesn’t matter what that dream is compared to everyone else’s, and you’re trying to get heard.”

The toughest part of being in a band over the years, noted Pirner, isn’t even the business aspect so much as it is all the complaining that goes around, especially on tour.

“If you’re going to have a complaint ledger, then you should have to listen to someone else’s complaints,” he said. Then there are various unexpected troubles a band can run into along the way, especially while touring, but Pirner added, “You just get used to it. Like firefighters, you just hope nothing’s going to catch on fire.”

Additionally, Pirner is also quick to say he’d prefer Soul Asylum to be with a label than not. From what he’s seen, it takes at least a $100 thousand to produce an album properly (including things like equipment and hotel stays) though ideally it would be $1 million — of a label’s money that is. Unlike some bands, who’ve felt they were going to the dark side when going that route, Pirner said that doesn’t have to be the case, or at least it wasn’t that way for him.

“When we were first signed to a major label, we had already been established,” said Pirner. “I had already been doing this for 12 years and they wanted me for my experience. I was never in a situation where I had to compromise to appease the budget. Maybe I’m just lucky or I thought f— it, I’m going to impose my esthetic on things. People tell you if you go to a major label, they’re going to tell you what to do that you don’t want to do, but if you don’t want to be in that position, don’t be. Labels don’t make you do anything. You submit to it.”

That said, on the state of the music business now, which has been dominated by online sales, Pirner has mixed feelings.

“Kids have their genres explained to them by Macintosh,” said Pirner. “This is good, this is bad, this is whatever Apple says it is, this is jazz, this is alternative.”

As for the music the band is currently recording, Pirner declined to discuss details, saying simply, “It’s just a bunch of stuff we don’t have any diabolical plans for.”

Through the ups and downs of his career, Pirner said he credits his biggest hit with reminding him of the impact music can have on society beyond influencing trends. With “Runaway Train,” the music video, which included numerous photos and names of missing children, was responsible for several of them being reunited with their families.

“I still kind of can’t believe that we had that much, I don’t know if power is the right word, but influence,” he said.

Other memorable career moments include performing at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 and contributing music to three Kevin Smith films, “Clerks,” Clerks II” and “Chasing Amy.”

As for the upcoming show in Stuyvesant Town, this would be the first time Pirner said he’s aware of the band playing in the middle of a residential complex. But, he added, “Over the years, we’ve played just about anywhere you can put a rock band. We hope we’ll have something for every person in every single one of those buildings.”