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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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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Opinion: Save taxpayers before saving the world

By J.G. Collins

Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Epstein recently wrote of their efforts to save the planet’s oceans and prevent global warming by voting to ban plastic bags in New York State and to assess a five- cent tax on each paper bag shoppers use to carry products home.

Those of us with more modest ambitions than saving the planet and a closer focus on municipal and fiscal matters would simply like to reduce the estimated $400,000,000 per year the city spends exporting its solid waste.

Why are we stopping with plastic shopping bags? And why inconvenience and tax already-harried New Yorkers in their hectic workdays to think to carry shopping bags—plastic or otherwise—instead of putting the burden upstream, on producers and distributors of products packaged in plastic?

Plastic milk and juice bottles, plastic take-out containers, and the huge plastic containers of coffee and other dry commodities could be abandoned if the state government had the will to stand up to business lobbyists who would oppose such moves.

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Opinion: Coming to our census

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

I must confess I do not much like filling our surveys or answering questionnaires. We all have busy lives with much to do and a lot to think about. However, the census material that is being sent out to every household this very week is very significant information to open and to read, and then to respond to the simple 10 questions. This is of critical importance to every New Yorker in particular. The stakes are very high for our city and state.

Every 10 years, the United States Constitution requires a tabulation of the total population of the nation, state by state, and community by community. The numbers that are yielded are not just interesting data, they are the basis for how much federal resources and political representation this state will receive relative to the rest of the nation. Ten years ago, we failed.

In 2010, only about 62% of all New Yorkers responded to the census questions. That compares unfavorably to the 76% response rate in the rest of the nation. That failure to respond has likely led to an undercount of persons living in New York State. The undercount has cost the State billions of dollars each year. A lower recorded population also impacts the number of Congressional seats that New York State is assigned and our strength in the Electoral College, which selects the President of the United States.

It is vitally important that New Yorkers not repeat that dismal showing again this go around. In baseball parlance, we need to step up to the plate!

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Opinion: Science versus convenience

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

This week, the ban on issuance of plastic bags in supermarkets and other stores went into effect in New York State. It is inconvenient, to say the least. Customers must now either bring their own reusable bags or deal with the more cumbersome paper bags that these retail places will substitute. Yes, life is tough.

But science has proven that the billions of plastic bags in circulation poses a serious threat to our environment. They are not biodegradable. And when they inevitably find their way into our water systems, lakes, rivers, streams and oceans, they do major damage to our already fragile ecosystem. Aquatic life below the waves are choking and suffocating. This carnage to sea life damages the fishing industries. These plastic wraps is also a cause of massive pollution which adversely impacts the environment and us all.

Next year, new regulations are scheduled to be issued which will implement congestion pricing in New York City. It is intended to reduce the number of vehicles entering and clogging Midtown Manhattan. Private vehicles would be charged a new toll when entering the zone. This is intended to be a deterrent to driving in congested areas of Manhattan and instead encourage the use of mass transit.

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Opinion: Circular firing squad

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Every now and then I like to put on my cap as a former politician and strategic election campaign thinker.

Like so many others, I have been watching the Democratic Party Presidential debates. Way back in the fall, they started out as fairly polite affairs with discussions largely on issues. It was must-see TV for issue wonks and political junkies. There were initially about 24 candidates divided into two separate groups of a dozen on a debate stage. You are forgiven if you have a hard time remembering who said this about that. It was pretty much a blur.

But with the likes of Bill de Blasio, Andrew Yang, Corey Booker, Kamala Harris and many others falling by the wayside, those debates are now coming into clearer focus. The genteel days are over and the gloves are off.

The Democratic Party has a history of divisiveness and lack of message discipline in part because unlike the more homogenized Republican Party, Democrats are much more diverse in their views and in their personal backgrounds. They call it a big tent, but it can get messy.

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Opinion: The truth about Mayor Pete

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Some people think that this is the most consequential Presidential election since 1860. I agree.

Had Democrat Stephen Douglas or any of the other candidates defeated Republican Abraham Lincoln, it is unlikely that the “peculiar institution” of slavery would have ended three years later. The savage brutality would have continued for years, maybe decades more. Southern states that had a vested economic interest in preserving the status quo would have grown stronger. The ramifications of that are impossible to calculate or even imagine. But it would have continued to tear at the fabric of this country, our ideals, our morality and our democratic institutions. The course of American history and our trajectory as a world leader would have forever been changed.

It is 160 years later now, and the election of 2020 is fast approaching. The Republican candidate will be its incumbent, Donald Trump. As for the Democrats, well, that is a much different story. There are still a half dozen candidates who are seriously vying for the nomination. In two months, on April 28, Democratic voters from Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village along with the rest of the state will get their say. That is the date of the New York Presidential Primary. And it may be pivotal.

After the very early voting in Iowa and New Hampshire, one thing is certain. The mayor of South Bend Indiana has emerged as a major contender. His name is Pete Buttigieg. I have watched his unlikely rise with fascination.

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Opinion: A changing of the guard?

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

I get a lot of political emails. It seems that I am on everybody’s mailing list. But none more than from 36-year-old Suraj Patel. If the name rings a bell it is because he ran against Carolyn Maloney in the Democratic Party Primary two years ago and did fairly well, winning about 40% of the vote. Undaunted by his defeat, he is challenging Maloney again. In truth, he never really stopped running.

This year the Primary is in June… just four months away. But who is Mr. Patel? And what makes him run? The trend in the Democratic Party starting with Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, now referred to as “AOC” by tabloid newspapers, is for young persons in a big hurry to run for high office. Two years ago, the then-unknown 20-something Alexandra Ocasio Cortez toppled Congressman Joe Crowley, who was an influential veteran of the House of Representatives for 20 years after having served in the State Assembly for over a decade. She has since gone on to become a progressive political rock star and is quoted in the press almost as much as President Trump.

But back to Patel. Like AOC, and actually like Trump, he runs for office having never served a day in his life in government. So clearly one can be elected to an important federal office without first having learned about government from the inside. Some people actually think that is a virtue. And like Donald Trump, Mr. Patel has a lot of experience operating hotels and has made a considerable amount of money. But why is he running against Carolyn Maloney, who is now a 28-year member of Congress and at the height of her influence, having been named Chair of the important Committee on Oversight? He says he has a lot of policy disagreements with Maloney but for the most part they seem to be nuanced and not notable.

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Opinion: New York’s new plastic bag ban

By State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein

We’ve all seen single-use plastic bags littered throughout New York City. They get stuck in trees, clutter up parks and sidewalks and wash up on the shores of the East River.

The Department of Environmental Conservation estimates New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually. Their usage is so widespread that EPA estimates there will be more plastic than fish in our planet’s oceans by the year 2050.

In fact, discarded single-use plastic bags are the main component of the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a free-floating island twice the size of Texas that is a proven hosts for microbes and toxic pesticides that often end up in our food.

Plastic bags pollute our waterways and oceans, causing harm to marine life by choking them or building up their stomachs. Producing plastic bags is a huge contributor to our current recycling crisis, and causes the release of harmful greenhouse gases, which drives the historic and dangerous warming of our planet.

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Opinion: Hear no evil, speak no evil

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

So it’s come down to this… after all the time spent in investigations and hearings and the mountain of evidence documenting Donald Trump’s wrongdoings to benefit himself while undermining American interests, the Trump defense against the impeachment charges is that the president can do anything he wants so long as he is not accused of breaking a specific law.

But his lawyers go even further asserting that even if the president does break the law, he may not be prosecuted while serving as president. Game, set, match.

And if there may be a crime, the president can refuse, with impunity, to hand over documents and can forbid witnesses from testifying who may have first-hand knowledge of the president’s actions.

Furthermore, the Republican majority in the Senate who are running this trial do not wish to be confused with the facts, or even know the facts. So they are doing their damndest to forbid witnesses or requests for withheld documents from the president. It is unclear whether Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who says he wants to offer important information, will be allowed to testify. Why the hell not? It’s not that hard to figure out.

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Opinion: An election and a warning for 2020

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Two hundred and thirty-two years ago, the American Democracy was founded with the approval of our Constitution. In the centuries that have passed, it is easy for some to forget how inspired and revolutionary that document was. Sadly, others choose to ignore it.

For the first time, a nation was to be a Republic, governed not by a monarchy or other form of dictatorship or autocracy, but rather by the will of its citizens with important checks and balances among three co-equal branches of government.

That was the enduring genius of our founders. Every president of the United States takes an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” rather than to preserve his own power.

Like me, you may be wondering whatever happened to those principles and that oath that guided this nation and its presidents for over two centuries.

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Opinion: Rethink the approach to help small businesses

By Carlina Rivera and Jennifer Sun

When Tamika Gabaroum decided she finally wanted to open her restaurant, Green Garden in the East Village, she understood it wouldn’t be an easy task. But Tamika, a former public health advocate with the Peace Corps who served in UN Peacekeeping Missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was used to a challenge. What she couldn’t expect was her landlord, Raphael Toledano, disappearing months after signing her lease, and a new landlord arriving with demands of higher rent. And she could have never guessed that Toledano had harassed the previous long-time tenants out of their stores as well.

The challenges facing Tamika and other small business owners in New York City are well known. Rising commercial rents, competition from corporate franchises, and the growth of online shopping have forced an alarming number of mom and pop stores to close their doors.

In many community districts, vacant storefronts have become a common sight, turning once-thriving retail corridors into ghost towns. When a small business closes, it is not only a loss for their neighborhood’s local economy, but also for its vibrancy and character.

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Nadler, Engel and Maloney

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

They sound like partners of a law firm… but in truth they are the firmament of law.

New York has taken center stage in the rapidly expanding impeachment inquiry of President Donald J. Trump.

Three of the key players in Congress are New Yorkers and one is our very own.

I am speaking of Manhattan Congressman Jerry Nadler who is chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Bronx Congressman Eliot Engel who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and our very own Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who just last week assumed the post of interim chair of the House Committee on Oversight following the sudden passing of Elijah Cummings.

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Opinion: The Fall of Rudy

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

“Men at some time are masters of their fates; the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.” The precipitous fall of Rudolph Giuliani is like something from a Shakespearean drama.

For a moment not so long ago, Rudy Giuliani was viewed as “America’s Mayor.” That title was given in the days and weeks following the attack against the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. During that horrible time, Giuliani used his considerable skills to rally a city wracked with grief and anger. His resolute leadership inspired the nation. It was a defining moment for Rudy. It was short-lived.

It is worth remembering that before the attack, Mayor Giuliani had fallen out of favor with most New Yorkers who had tired of his combative and snarling personality. He could not run for re-election because of term limits but if he could have, the odds were that he would have lost.

So off he went to the world of lobbying, forming his own firm working closely with his business associate the former NYC Police Commissioner Bernie Kerick until Kerick was convicted of corruption and sent to prison. That was an omen of things to come.

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Opinion: Science-based policy gets a booster shot

By State Senator Brad Hoylman

With the new school year, there’s a new law going into effect, too. This year, faced with a statewide measles outbreak of historic proportions, I sponsored legislation that ends all non-medical exemptions to New York’s vaccination requirements for school attendance.

For some people who’ve been misled by the so-called anti-vaxx movement, vaccines are part of a widespread conspiracy between government and drug companies to harm our children.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As your State Senator, it’s my job to base public policy on evidence to make our constituents’ lives better. Strong vaccine laws do just that. When California passed a law similar to ours four years ago, their immunization rates for kindergartners rose nearly five percentage points.

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