Opinion: Leading by example

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

During tough times, I often take refuge and inspiration from history and the leadership that helped people get through the worst moments.

The coronavirus pandemic has caused unimaginable disruptions to our daily lives and poses a serious health and safety threat to possibly tens of million Americans, and hundreds of millions more around the globe. But it is not the first calamitous threat a nation has ever faced.

Exactly 80 years ago another deadly enemy was on the move causing whole nations to be swallowed up in just weeks.

The Nazi war machine was spreading across all of Europe faster than the COVID-19 contagion. Countries were falling like dominos. In just a few months during the spring of 1940 Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Finland, Denmark, Norway and France were overrun by the Nazis, soon North Africa too. The year before, parts of Eastern Europe fell victim to the German army rout.

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Confusion reigns as renters, owners worry how to pay their bills

By Linda O’Flanagan

Multifamily borrowers with Freddie Mac loans have been granted a 90-day extension on loan payments, it was announced yesterday (Tuesday, March 23).

It was the first officially sanctioned program announced to help renters and mortgage holders following days of “guidance” from the state on who will get financial aid as the coronavirus brings New York to a standstill.

Although Governor Andrew Cuomo has said renters and mortgage holders will get relief, and REBNY has issued a pledge that its members won’t evict renters for non-payment, housing advocates say an official order must be passed.

Cea Weaver, of tenants rights group Housing Justice for All, said. “We need rent relief — in the form of canceled rent, for the duration of the crisis — now. Cuomo can do this by executive order, and he must.”

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Peter Cooper announces COVID-19 case

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since publication on Thursday, March 26 to include more information about cases that have been reported in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. 

StuyTown Property Services notified tenants in an email last week that a resident of 5 Peter Cooper Road has tested positive for COVID-19. So far, there have been 10 reported cases in 10 different buildings across the 110 buildings in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. The exact buildings will not be made public but residents of those buildings have been notified.

“To date, a small number of the buildings in PCVST have a self-reported tested positive resident,” StuyTown Property Services General Manager Rick Hayduk said. “Those residents are self-quarantining and our extraordinary team is immediately dispatched to disinfect the building in accordance with CDC and NYC Health guidelines. Residents are being updated regularly and this will continue throughout the pandemic.”

Management sent the email about Peter Cooper’s first case last Monday, noting that the household was self-quarantining and maintenance completed a deep cleaning of all public areas in the building.

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Supermarkets offering special hours for seniors

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Some supermarkets with locations in Gramercy and Kips Bay are designating some early morning hours for seniors to get their shopping done to help the at-risk population avoid crowds. Morton Williams, which has locations at 313 East 23rd Street and 278 Park Avenue South, and Whole Foods, which has a location on East 14th Street across from Union Square Park, have announced that they will be setting aside special hours for seniors. West Side Rag reported the changes for the stores last Wednesday.

Morton Williams will be allowing vulnerable populations, including seniors age 60 and over and those who are immunocompromised, to come to the stores between 7 and 8 a.m.

“We are asking our customers to please prioritize the hours of 7 to 8 a.m. for our senior citizens, immunocompromised and similarly disabled neighbors,” the company said on their website. “Those most vulnerable in our communities would greatly appreciate it.”

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Speaker Johnson introduces $12 billion relief plan

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Councilmember Keith Powers came out in support of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s relief plan for workers and businesses throughout the city that are impacted by COVID-19 that was introduced last week.

Johnson’s $12 billion relief plan, proposed last Thursday, includes a temporary universal basic income for all New Yorkers, unemployment protections for hourly and freelance workers, up to $250,000 to cover costs for impacted businesses, temporarily deferring fees for businesses and refunding business taxes.

“We’re calling on the city to take action to help our restaurant and bar industry,” Powers said of the proposal. “We mandated they had to close. It’s already a struggling industry and it’s the lifeblood of NYC. They’re dependent on that paycheck.”

According to City Council estimate, more than 500,000 workers and more than 40,000 businesses generated $40 billion in taxable sales last year and are among the hardest-hit industries so far in the COVID-19 crisis. These businesses include the hospitality industry as well as retail shops, performance venues, salons and other businesses.

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Letters to the editor, March 26

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Plastics destroy the environment

I applaud the thoughtful, detailed article by J.G. Collins in last week’s Town and Village paper on the issue of the disastrous role plastic is playing in our environment. The recent ban on plastic bags is a very important first step to address the problem (and this took years!) but so much more needs to be done.

Read the list Mr. Collins presents and cry! I am appalled at the amount of plastic and glass refuse we regularly take to the recycle bins in our building. And this is from a two-person household where take-out food is a rare occasion.

Ultimately it all comes down to money. What is to be done when so many important conflicting demands are made on City and State budgets? One (partial?) solution is: Increase taxes on the middle and upper-income population. This is the way some European countries have successfully chosen. It will be controversial here but what is the alternative? Think about it and take action.

Irmgard C. Taylor
Stuyvesant Town


Modest proposals for the pandemic

I offer up two modest, sensible proposals as we attempt to make our way through our new pandemic age.

First, the more local one. We here in Stuy Town have one of those Little Free Library boxes along the southeast edge of the Oval. Last I checked, the bird-house-style box was filled with books, which, during normal times, is as it should be. But for now, maybe the books should be cleared out to allow space for folks with the means to place non-perishable food items in that mini-library space— cans of soup and beans, boxes of cereal and pasta — for folks who might need such items.

Second, and more broadly for all New Yorkers, Gov. Cuomo should consider pushing back the April 15 deadlines for the filing and payment of New York State income tax returns. Now that July 15 is the new deadline to both file returns and make payments to the IRS, our state needs to match up its deadlines with that of the feds. In the midst of this unprecedented crisis, with growing financial burdens on so many New Yorkers, such a three-month pushback of state income tax deadlines for those who owe the state money should be a no-brainer.

Ken Chanko
Stuyvesant Town


Restrict hours for seniors

Dear New York City Grocery Store Operators:

The grocery stores you operate are a crucial asset in communities across New York, including in my Senate district. Unfortunately, there have been many press accounts in recent days of mass hoarding by shoppers in your stores of basic necessities.

In response, as our city and state begin a new phase in our COVID-19 response, I write to seek from you two voluntary commitments: (i) you make accommodations for your most vulnerable shoppers by instituting special shopping hours for them; and (ii) you implement purchase restrictions on goods that have been the subject of hoarding, including such as toilet paper, bottled water and hand soap.

First, due to the enormous influx of shoppers at your stores, elderly, disabled, and immunocompromised individuals have found it difficult to go to their local grocery stores to purchase the supplies and food necessary to self-segregate themselves and avoid crowds. I’ve heard from many constituents who are unable to stand in long lines because of a disability or able to go into busy grocery stores because of the danger of infection. A solution to this problem undertaken by grocery stores in Jersey City, NJ is to implement special times to allow particularly vulnerable populations to shop without the crowds that put them at risk and allow them to buy the goods they need to survive. Stores like ShopRite of Metro Plaza will be open from 9 to 11 a.m. for shoppers that would benefit from less crowded stores.

Second, I also ask that your stores implement reasonable restrictions on the amount of certain goods like toilet paper, bottled water, and hand soap that can be sold to any individual. In addition to crowds, excessive purchasing and hoarding are also impeding access to essential goods for the vulnerable populations I mention above. Walmarts across the country, H-E-B in Texas, and Wegmans here in New York have already instituted these restrictions with the result of protecting the supply chain for all consumers.

These are turbulent times and New York State is doing everything it can to limit the effects of COVID-19, but additional steps should be taken to ensure everyone’s safety. I hope you agree that grocery stores should undertake these two common-sense solutions to be good neighbors and aid some of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors.

Sincerely,

Brad Hoylman
State Senator 27th Senate District 

Mount Sinai Beth Israel offering space for COVID-19 patients

Mount Sinai Beth Israel (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mount Sinai Beth Israel will be making space available in the First Avenue hospital in order to provide additional capacity for New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, the hospital system confirmed this week. Governor Andrew Cuomo also signed an executive order on Monday requiring all hospitals in the state to increase their capacity by 50%, with the goal of increasing capacity by 100%.

Mount Sinai would not specify exactly how many beds can be made available because that determination is made by the state’s Department of Health, but the hospital system confirmed that it is making space available in the unused portions of Beth Israel on First Avenue and the new Rivington facility, which is a former nursing home that Mount Sinai intends to convert into a mental health facility that will include services currently available at the Bernstein Pavilion. The hospital system has been in contact with the state since the pandemic began and the Department of Health is in the process of evaluating all of the options for creating additional hospital beds.

“In the past few weeks and in the weeks ahead, our sole focus is helping the communities we serve prepare for and address the COVID-19 crisis,” a spokesperson for Mount Sinai said. “These are extremely unique and challenging times and we are doing everything in our power and utilizing every resource possible, including, but not limited to, offering the city and state usage of our Rivington facility and unused portions of Mount Sinai Beth Israel to help fight this growing crisis.”

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Millionaire New Yorkers say: Tax us, please

Group pushing pied-à-terre tax among others for wealthy

Abigail Disney

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, a coalition of 35 millionaire New Yorkers, including Abigail Disney and Morris Pearl, retired managing director at asset manager BlackRock, signed onto a letter asking Albany to tax them higher. The reason, they explained in their open letter, which was in the works even before the coronavirus, is to help meet the “urgent” budget needs the state is currently facing.

“If we want our state to continue being a national leader, we need to continue investing in our people and our communities, and that requires higher taxes for wealthy New Yorkers,” said Pearl. “There’s no reason that millionaire investors who have profited the most from our state’s success should have lower tax rates than regular New Yorkers who have to work for a living.”

Among the taxes they’d like to see include the proposed “pied-à-terre tax” on second and additional homes over $5 million, which is having a second go in Albany after being previously shot down. Other taxes the wealthy letter signers say they ought to be saddled with are what they’re calling a “strengthened millionaire’s tax,” with a new marginal rate of 9.62 percent on income over $1 million, and new income brackets starting at $5 million (10.32 percent marginal rate), $10 million (11.32 percent) and $100 million (11.82 percent). This tax, they said, would bring in roughly $4.5 billion per year. They’re also calling for a “modest” annual tax on net assets, applied to households with over $1 billion in assets.

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Opinion: Crisis, yes… apocalypse, no

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Over the past twenty years, we have had more than our share of calamitous events, each one with worries and dire fears. But it is said neither our greatest hopes nor our worst fears are ever realized. And so it will be with the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2001, the New York City World Trade Center and the Pentagon building were hit with terrorist missiles in the form of passenger airplanes. The World Trade Center towers were utterly destroyed with a loss of life of over 3,000 persons including hundreds of first responders. For those of us in New York City, it seemed like the end of the world. The Stock Market crashed and closed for several days. All of New York City was on lockdown. Nobody knew if there would be more attacks in the days to come. It was terrifying.

But our city showed courage and resilience. We somehow got through those dark days where destruction and fear seemed to permeate everyday life. We persevered. We rebuilt and we restored downtown Manhattan. We came through it arguably even stronger than before.

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Stringer looks for savings to pay for virus impact on city

City Comptroller Scott Stringer

By Sabina Mollot

With Big Apple restaurants and bars now relying on takeout and delivery only and Broadway having gone dark, the city will lose $3.2 billion in taxes over the next six months, Comptroller Scott Stringer said today. In order to protect vital services, Stronger said the city must figure out ways to save money and then set aside four percent of current agency spending, which would amount to roughly $1.43 billion. Social service agencies like the Department of Health and the city’s public hospital network, NYC H+H, would be exempt from the budget siphoning. The savings would then be included in the mayor’s executive budget due later next month if needed.

Meanwhile, Stringer is also calling for additional city, state and federal measures to help businesses that are suffering the most as the virus spreads and the city is further shut down.

His suggestions include:

• Having the state defer sales tax payments that are due for March 20 for hotels, restaurants and small storefront retail

• Extending the city’s assistance program announced last week by the Department of Small Business Services to non-profits

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Petitioning suspended for congressional race

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Multiple candidates running for the Congressional seat in District 12, including incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, suspended petitioning last week in order to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic shortly before the governor suspended all petitioning on Saturday. 

Candidates Lauren Ashcraft and Peter Harrison also signed an online petition calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to suspend or reduce petitioning requirements in response to coronavirus fears and the governor signed an executive order suspending the candidate petitioning process on Tuesday at 5 p.m. for the June primaries for Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly and Judicial races. The order also modified signature requirements for ballot access. Candidates will only need to collect 30% of the statutory threshold. For Congress, candidates would need 375 signatures instead of 1,250.

Maloney issued a statement on Thursday announcing that she would be suspending petitioning.

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New York State to go ‘on pause’ this Sunday

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Friday requiring that all non-essential businesses close statewide by Sunday, with exceptions made for essential services like grocery stores, pharmacies and healthcare services. The executive order includes additional mandates about social distancing requirements that the state is encouraging individuals to practice if going outside. While city courts announced a 90-day moratorium on evictions last week, Cuomo made the moratorium on residential and commercial evictions statewide, while State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh also introduced legislation that would enact a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during state emergencies. 

The policy, which the governor called “New York State on PAUSE,” institutes a 100% closure on all non-essential businesses effective on Sunday, March 22 at 8 p.m. The governor’s office released a comprehensive list of what are considered essential services, broken down into separate categories: healthcare operations, infrastructure, manufacturing, retail, services, news media, financial institutions, providers of basic necessities for economically disadvantaged populations, construction, defense, essential services to maintain safety, sanitation and operations of residences or other essential businesses, and vendors that provide essential services or products. 

The plan also specified that houses of worship are not ordered to be closed, but it is strongly recommended that no congregate services be held and social distancing should be maintained. Many local houses of worship in the Gramercy and Kips Bay area have announced the closure of their buildings while posting services online through live-streaming. 

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Gramercy prepares for coronavirus pandemic

A plastic sheet separates the cashier from customers at the 99 cent store on First Avenue at 21st Street across from Peter Cooper Village (Photos by Jefferson Siegel)

As the mayor and governor announced school closures and event cancellations along with restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, New Yorkers made adjustments by stocking up on medical supplies and working from home. See more photos of the neighborhood from the last week below.

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Churches and synagogues go digital amid coronavirus

Middle Collegiate Church’s Rev. Jacqui Lewis (pictured left during Pride last year) said that the church wants to encourage community even while people can’t meet together in person. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

In this bizarre new world of isolation and self-quarantine, local houses of worship are adjusting with the circumstances to bring services to people in their homes to give New Yorkers a sense of community. 

Various synagogues and churches emailed members at the end of last week as the number of coronavirus cases in the city began escalating and government officials began to implement restrictions on gatherings, letting them know that services would be live-streamed or in some cases available to watch later. Rabbi Josh Stanton of East End Temple sent a message to members of the synagogue near Stuyvesant Square Park last Thursday to announce that the building would be closed starting on Friday following the advice of public health officials. 

“This is a moment in which we need to fully live out our values, in this case to protect each other and society more broadly from the spread of COVID-19,” Stanton said in the email. “We acknowledge that some other institutions will remain open, but we feel a social duty to engage in ‘social distancing’ in order to slow the spread of the virus. […] At the same time, we need to be even more present for each other. Each household can expect to hear from our clergy in the coming week. We also invite you to call and email your friends from the community, so that they can feel the warmth of the relationship.”

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City halts evictions due to coronavirus

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City officials have indefinitely suspended eviction proceedings in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a memo from the state’s chief administrative judge on Sunday. 

The memo from the Unified Court System last weekend said that effective at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16, the courts would be postponing all non-essential functions until further notice, including pending trials, due to the ongoing public health emergency in New York State. 

Prior to the city’s decision to halt evictions, a group of 29 New York rental building owners and managers, including Blackstone, instituted a voluntary 90-day moratorium on evictions, which was announced shortly after the court system had issued a one-week moratorium. 

Various housing groups, including Right to Counsel NYC Coalition and Housing Justice for All, pushed a joint city and state strategy, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to implement an eviction moratorium and to close the courts. More than 15,000 tenants across the state also signed a petition to the governor calling for an eviction moratorium and immediate rent freeze. 

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