Opinion: Truth or consequences

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Anti-Vaxxers. That’s what they call themselves. They are mostly parents who for one reason or another refuse to have their children vaccinated for any number of childhood diseases or annual flu shots. Sometimes it is based on religious grounds and sometimes it is from fear that a vaccination can cause harm or that a child’s immune system may be compromised by avoiding these diseases and the antibodies that result.

This issue has been brought into sharp focus by the outbreak of the highly contagious measles infection in New York and other cities which had virtually been eradicated two decades ago due to the vaccination protocol.

Obviously all parents want what is best for their children. But to deny the availability and effectiveness of modern medicine does not seem a wise choice. And when children are not vaccinated, or adults opt not to get flu shots, it puts the public health at much greater risk.

Influenza kills thousands of Americans each year. Measles, chicken pox and mumps can also cause permanent damage to a young child in severe cases, and even death.

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Editorial: Thrift stores wish you wouldn’t do this

Donated VHS tapes and other items decorate the sidewalk outside Angel Street thrift shop. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

We get it. Sometimes the most convenient time to run an errand, like finally bringing in that donate pile to the thrift store it’s intended for, is before work. When said store is still closed.

But sadly, most of the time what happens is the bags will get picked through by the homeless. Now, you might say, fine, if they need it. But as we witnessed in front of the Angel Street thrift store on a  recent morning, this also means the donated items will end up everywhere, including in the gutter, where they become filthy and useless.

Prior to writing this rant, we spoke with the head cashier at Angel Street (at its new location on West 22nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues) Tiffany Davenport.

Of course, said Davenport. she and her coworkers would appreciate if people brought their donations during business hours, but ultimately Davenport said, “You can’t help what people do. We could try to enforce what we want them to do but at the end of the day, it’s their decision.”

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Opinion: Will this year be different?

By Assemblymember Steven Sanders

The Jewish festival of Passover is just around the corner. Families will gather at the Seder table where the ancient and traditional question will be asked “Why is this night different from all other nights?” But for tenants in New York City the most pressing question is: Will this year be different from all other years… and if so why?

Every spring around this time the Rent Guidelines Board meets to recommend rent increase adjustments for rent stabilized apartment lease renewals and vacancy allowances for new leases during the next 12 to 24 months beginning on October 1.

Moreover, some tenants also get notified of additional permanent rent increases from major capital improvement (MCI) work done in their buildings. Sometimes those MCIs amount to little more than necessary longterm maintenance which is required to keep buildings in good repair. Yet the owner can reap significant profits from tenants who continue to pay for those projects long after the owner has recouped the costs for their MCI project.

There is reason to believe that much of this may change this year.

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Editorial: And so it begins

This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve devoted this column space to the ever-divisive debate on squirrel feeding, but since the rules have just been changed in a big way it seems like an appropriate time to weigh in again.

Firstly we would like to recognize the Parks Department and the management of Stuyvesant Town for waiting until the warmer months to implement a wildlife feeding ban when at least it is easier for squirrels and birds to tap into their natural food sources. After all, Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21 came about because an advocate for the critters felt they had a tougher time finding food on their own in the dead of winter.

The conclusions are mixed even among experts on whether squirrel and bird feeding is helpful or harmful in the long run. And we understand the arguments for a ban as well as for human supplementing of urban animals’ sustenance, too.

Our view on the bans is that they should at least be given a chance to accomplish their goals. In the case of parks, to discourage the proliferation of rats and in the case of Stuy Town and Peter Cooper to truly to end the pattern of aggressive begging that has led to a few children getting bitten or scratched (though we doubt intentionally) by squirrels looking for a meal. As for whether these animals can be expected to break this habit after many decades of domestication we… well we truly don’t know. And we won’t know until we at least give them a chance to remember it’s their instinct to climb trees and collect nuts, not climb through strollers and garbage cans and collect leftover McDonald’s.

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Opinion: Make Albany great again?

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

This week the state legislature and the governor will try to beat the April 1 deadline and agree to a budget for the new fiscal year. That’s always the centerpiece of state government action.

It is easy to be nostalgic and imagine that previous times were the good old days. In truth, there were some really positive things happening in the state government back when I arrived in the Assembly in 1978.

For one thing, there was not such a partisan political divide. In those days, the Assembly was controlled by the Democrats and the Senate was controlled by the Republicans. But neither party had such a total numerical stranglehold on their respective houses. So it was necessary for Democrats and Republicans to try to work together to get things done between the houses and also within each house.

Of course there were profound differences of opinions on any number of issues. But Governor Hugh Carey and his successor Mario Cuomo always seemed to find a light touch to deal with the legislature and with the opposing party. The incumbent governor just can’t seem to find that same easy manner.

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Opinion: Forget Amazon and help mom and pop

By Kirsten Theodos of Take Back NYC

After the big news that Amazon was canceling its plan to build its new headquarters “HQ2” in Long Island City, activists and local elected officials celebrated it as a victory while others viewed it as a tragic collapse. The biggest complaint has been the loss of 25,000 promised jobs over the next decade.

Meanwhile, on every Main Street in every neighborhood across the city, there are empty storefronts where once-thriving businesses existed. Are supporters of the Amazon deal aware that New York City courts evict 500 businesses every month and over 1,000 are estimated to close every month, mostly due to high rents? Eighty-nine percent of all small businesses in NYC are considered “very small,” meaning they employ less than 20 people. Conservatively using eight as the average, that means New York City loses at least 8,000 jobs every month.

There are people lamenting over potentially having lost 200 new Amazon jobs per month when our city already sheds over 8,000 per month, which the Amazon deal would have exacerbated. And while it is true that online shopping has altered the retail landscape (namely by Amazon itself), it is the unfair lease renewal process that is shuttering our long established small businesses. Just on my block a ramen restaurant, a bike repair shop and pizza place were all forced to close due to an exorbitant rent hike upon their lease renewal, and none of them competed with Amazon.

Small businesses employ more than half of NYC’s private sector workforce. They provide jobs that offer a path to social mobility and in New York City are predominantly immigrant owned. Unlike Amazon’s imported tech bros, small businesses employ actual New Yorkers who live in our communities.

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Editorial: Transit transparency, please

L train neighbors finally got some good news this week with the announcement that work at the 14th Street construction zone will end significantly earlier each night. We thank the MTA (and the elected officials who’ve been working behind the scenes) for making this happen (finally).

However, as Town & Village has also been reporting, the MTA hasn’t committed to keeping the First and Third Avenue stations open for those looking to get onto a train during the L project slowdown. But what’s just as vexing is that the subject isn’t even being discussed unless riders or elected officials are the ones to bring it up.

The concerns have arisen after a story ran on Streetsblog earlier this year about the possible exit-only station plan based on a leaked internal MTA memo. Recently, the agency confirmed that it is reviewing the matter of station access.

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Editorial: Not so E-Z-victions

These days it’s impossible to have a conversation about small businesses without lapsing into how a heady, toxic mix of landlord greed, government fees and online shopping are slowly but surely destroying them all.

The biggest game changer we can think of, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, is still very much in limbo. However, there are fortunately some lawmakers coming up with some other ideas in the meantime aimed at giving mom-and-pops a break. While not as far-reaching as the SBJSA, we do believe a few will help and they certainly seem to have more of a chance of getting passed in a timely fashion.

A new bill by Council Member Mark Levine of Upper Manhattan would help business owners fight evictions by guaranteeing them the right to counsel, as those facing criminal charges get when they’re poor, and poor tenants facing evictions from their homes get, too.

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Opinion: Congestion indigestion

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

“The main arteries are clogged. The blockages are serious. We must reduce the congestion. We are choking from volume.”

If you thought this was dialogue from the TV show “ER,” you could be excused.

Rather these are statements from reports about the traffic conditions especially in Manhattan’s core.

The latest remediation to our transportation and corresponding air quality woes has been proposed by Governor Cuomo and endorsed by Mayor de Blasio. It is being hotly debated in the State Legislature this month.

In a nutshell, the policy prescription is to try to discourage motorists from driving into midtown Manhattan by imposing a new toll on those who enter the designated “zone.” It’s called “Congestion Pricing.” Its purpose is to use that new revenue source to support our mass transit system and its buses, subways and infrastructure.

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Opinion: A walk in the park

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

For many years the The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the first owner of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, advertised our environs as a “park-like residential community.”

A community of 110 buildings housing 25,000 persons situated amongst acres of green grass, trees, plantings and shrubbery removed from the teeming streets of Manhattan. Met Life was pretty much on point.

But the current ownership has taken this now-quaint community to greater heights of amiability and helpful amenities. So last week while visiting my mom, I decided to do something I have not done in years… to walk the length and breadth of our unique neighborhood.

I crossed over 20th Street from the redesigned playgrounds and basketball courts of Peter Cooper Village over to Stuyvesant Town. I walked passed Lenz’s, the venerable local deli/grocery store owned by the equally venerable Naz who has been a friend and merchant to our community for decades.

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Editorial: What the L is the MTA thinking?

As more details continue to be announced (or leaked) with regards to the revised L train repair plan, what becomes increasingly clear is that avoiding a full shutdown doesn’t mean avoiding a painfully slow commute.

As Town & Village reported last week, though many details are still up the air, there is a possibility of the two Manhattan East Side L stations becoming exit only (First and Third Avenue). Additionally, so far it appears that Select Bus Service won’t be made available until months after the project begins. On the latter issue, the MTA wants to do outreach first to see if SBS is truly needed.

This we don’t understand. Even under normal circumstances, the L train is crowded and alternative methods of transportation need to be expanded. The M14 as it exists today is currently too poky along this very busy street to be a truly dependable alternative. Of course SBS is needed.

Now, as for this other business of potentially not allowing anyone to enter the First and Third Avenue stations in order to mitigate crowding, this would be, as Council Member Keith Powers put it, “effectively a shutdown” for anyone who lives near the First or Third Avenue stations.

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Opinion: Down the Amazon

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Any way you slice it, last week was a bad week for Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America. Mr. Bezos owns the online retail shopping giant Amazon as well as other businesses. His net worth is reportedly north of $75 billion; yes, that is billions.

Earlier in the month, the National Enquirer tabloid threatened to release salacious photos of Mr. Bezos engaged in extramarital activities during what might become the most expensive divorce in history. Then a few days later, bowing to political pressure from politicians and communities in Queens, Mr. Bezos pulled the plug and backed out of his deal with Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to build a massive back office complex in Long Island City, just a stone’s throw across the East River. The deal had been consummated by promises of government subsidies totaling $3 billion from the city and state. So what happened?

As I wrote on this page several months ago, the entire Amazon announcement back in November was curious to begin with. First of all, the governor disclosed this agreement days after he was re-elected. With news like that, one would have expected that the governor would have wanted to make this public before the election if it was so terrific. Hmmm. On the surface it seemed like a pretty good deal for New York City with the prospect of thousands of new jobs. But then the details trickled out.

Very few could argue against the benefits to the city’s economy by opening a major new enterprise which may have brought significant new employment to our city and the new income tax revenue that such jobs would have produced. But there were other issues as well with such a huge land deal. These issues are routinely vetted by the local community and the City Council. That is how our city government works, or is supposed to work.

Amazon would only build this complex with the billions in public taxpayer subsidies and other little goodies like a private helicopter landing site for Mr. Bezos and his top executives to come and go. All city and state reviews of this city property transfer would be suspended. No oversight or official comment by the City Council or the local Community Planning Boards would be allowed. Why not? The answer is probably that Mr. Bezos did not want to negotiate with anybody other than the mayor and the governor and did not want to risk getting tied up in discussions if his plans were not to the liking of the immediate communities to be impacted.

But why did the governor and the mayor who usually agree on nothing but always talk about good government bi-laterally enter into this most non-transparent arrangement with Amazon and giving no community leaders or representatives of government a say in the matter? I suspect that it had as much to do with political development as it did with economic development. Reference back to my opening sentence. Mr. Bezos is fabulously wealthy and is known to help underwrite the political aspirations of his most favored politicians. Both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have aspirations that go beyond New York City or New York State. Pardon my cynicism.

But all is not lost. If the city and the state were prepared to give Amazon all those billions of dollars in public money for its private construction, why not re-purpose that money for job training, education including vocational, and support for small businesses? That investment would also create more jobs and more taxes paid, as well as economic activity. So evidently the money is there to be spent, but will it be spent on anything or anyone other than the richest man in America?

Editorial: Your vote really does count this time

Town & Village has opined before about the uselessness of certain city elected positions, like borough presidents and the public advocate, the latter of which has an office that’s currently up for grabs.

On Tuesday, February 26, there is an open special election for the office of public advocate, which was vacated by Letitia James when she became attorney general. Now, 17 people are vying for her position, which despite having no real power, has proven to be very powerful in another way, by boosting one’s profile for the next big race. Mayor Bill de Blasio is a good example of this.

We can understand, however, if people aren’t motivated to do these candidates  any favors. It’s hard to think of any important things accomplished by the public advocate other than the maintenance of the worst landlord watchdog list. But even this is not enough of a reason to keep the office open at the taxpayers’ expense in our view. That said, our view on this matter doesn’t actually matter at all because despite an ongoing City Council effort to eliminate the position, of public advocate, it’s still there. So New Yorkers may as well make the best of their (many) options.

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Opinion: Mark-Viverito blocked SBJSA

By Sung Soo Kim, founder, Small Business Congress

Normally, the small business advocates would call upon all New Yorkers to put aside the canned election political rhetoric and instead scrutinize the records, qualifications, public statements and past actions of the candidates. There is no time for this proper analysis, but one candidate’s shameful record on dealing with the small business crisis and being influenced by a lobby must be exposed to the voters, especially in the immigrant community.

We carefully reviewed public advocate candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito’s (MMV) record and actions as speaker on addressing the specific crisis of the closings of long established small businesses. Also examined were her actions to address the anti-democratic rigging by a lobby taking place in the speaker’s office for over four years.

Nobody is more qualified to make this assessment than the small business advocates who have been fighting for justice for decades. The small businesses themselves wrote the original legislation (Small Business Jobs Survival Act, Jobs Survival Act ) giving rights to businesses to survive when their leases expired and then advocated for over 30 years to get it passed.

We know from firsthand experience who is a true progressive and friend of small business and who has been bought off to stop our bill and deny rights to small business owners.  We know when we receive justice and fair treatment at City Hall and when justice is denied by a rigged system. Our warning to voters to not vote for MMV is based solely upon the true record of MMV as speaker on our crisis.

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Opinion: Shutdowns and showdowns

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

The federal government shutdown is over, at least for now. This lull before the next budget deadline is a good time to reflect on recent events. Does the president really have an appetite for putting 800,000 federal workers through that financial trauma again? Does he really want to again halt essential functions rendered by FBI agents and air traffic controllers, persons running national parks or those dispensing critical human services to the needy?

Some years ago, when budget delays were common in New York State for lack of an agreement between the legislature and the governor, the state at that time enacted a policy whereby legislators would not be paid until the budget was passed. This was done both in the hopes of spurring agreements as well as punishment for negligent and tardy behavior. So here is an idea:

Come February 15, if there is no budget in place in Washington D.C. and hostages need to be taken, have the members of the executive branch of government, including the president, vice president, the cabinet and their staffs go without their pay until the issues are resolved. And do the same with all members of Congress and their staffs. Whether elected officials are paid bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or once a year, it is legal.

Rumor has it that there is legislation to do just that which is actually being proposed in the House of Representatives. Good. Let them put their money where their mouth is.

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