Opinion: One flag, many stars

“One nation Indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Those are the words from the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag first written in 1863 and formally adopted by Congress in 1942. Twelve years later “under God” was inserted after “one nation.” The Pledge articulates the ideal of a unified society with the common belief that everyone is valued and that freedom and fairness guides our civic life. These are principles worth reflecting upon as America observes Flag Day this week.

The Pledge contains nice words for sure, but aspirational at best. Over the decades many Americans have struggled to secure their liberty and justice. Women were only granted the right to vote in the last century and black people and other minorities were suppressed or restricted and also kept from voting by discriminatory local laws.

As for a “nation indivisible”… that is a tough one. From our inception there have always been profound national schisms. At first it was the agrarian states, mostly in the south with their particular cultural orientation vying with the industrialized northern states. The southern states coveted cheap and even free labor to work their fields and desperately protected the immoral and inhumane institution of slavery. Every school child knows that the fracture between free states and slave states led to the bloody Civil War which divided regions and even families, pitting brother against brother on the battlefields of America.

Despite Lincoln’s hopes for a charitable reconciliation at the war’s end “with malice towards none,” the defeated Confederacy lived under a virtual occupation during the Reconstruction Period. Resentments festered giving rise to hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which sought to restore the bigotry of a white supremacist society through intimidation and violence against blacks and others. In the succeeding years America remained deeply alienated along racial, religious and geographic lines.

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Editorial: For stronger rent regulations, call Cuomo

June 15 is the day New York’s rent laws expire, and although the now-Democrat controlled Assembly and State Senate have promised to stregnthen them, Albany is still Albany and this means anything can happen before then.

To ensure that all of the legislature’s bills aimed at protecting tenants are passed, the Met Council on Housing recommends calling the governor’s office at (518) 474-8390 and asking that they be kept intact. Additionally, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is advising tenants to do the same and also call Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Heastie’s Albany office can be reached at (518) 455-3791 and the district office can be reached at (718) 654-6539. Stewart-Cousins can be reached at (518) 455-2585 (Albany) and (914) 423-4031 (district).

The real estate industry has always given generously to Albany’s elected officials, including Cuomo, but tenants can still have power in numbers. Not a political kind of person? You don’t have to be. Just think of a time your life was personally impacted in some way by vacancy decontrol, MCIs, IAIs, vacancy bonuses, preferential rents or just plain unadulterated greed. (See? It’s easy.) And then let those elected officials know this price gouging spree has gone on long enough.

Editorial: Landlords scared and should be

The fact that the power has shifted drastically in Albany has been missed by no one, in particular landlords, who for many years could rely on the Republican-controlled State Senate to kill any bill deemed too tenant-friendly. While it’s tempting to dismiss the ongoing preening of Albany Democrats as the usual hot air, it isn’t. Good evidence of this is that the property owners of New York City are fighting tooth and nail to defend the status quo.

To keep major capital improvement (MCI) and individual apartment improvement (IAI) rent increases, which are permanently tacked onto a tenant’s rent, they’ve sought cooperation from contractors to argue that owners will stop improving their buildings, which will hurt middle class people who need the jobs. It’s a pathetic argument, however, because if a landlord allows his or her property to deteriorate, just because they can no longer get reimbursed for the project (and earn a profit on top of that) then he or she is nothing but a slumlord. And not deserving of anyone’s pity. Certainly not any more than the renters who are made to pay in perpetuity to improve properties they don’t own.

The system that allows MCIs and IAIs has been abused for many years. A story in this week’s issue of Town & Village demonstrates just how easy it is for someone in charge of renovations to wildly inflate costs of IAIs for the purpose of deregulating units. All they have to do is be willing to fill out credible looking paperwork, send it to a housing agency too under-resourced to verify the information and employ people who don’t mind getting paid more than a renovation should actually cost. This must end.

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Opinion: Pick up the phone

May30 Sanders phone

One of the city’s remaining pay phones at First Avenue and 17th Street

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Thomas Jefferson once said when angry, count to 10 before speaking and when very angry, count to 20.

The problem with modern social media is that it is instantaneous with no pause before we unload our thoughts. Texting, Facebook likes, Instagram, and of course tweeting.

If you walk along First Avenue between 14th Street and 23rd Street, you may see a few communication relics from the past.

For those who were born after the year 1999, they used to be called “telephone booths.” They are very scarce now, sort of like the Model T car of transportation.

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Opinion: We will not lose the war on women

By Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney

In the nearly half a century since the Supreme Court affirmed in the historic Roe v. Wade decision that a woman’s right to an abortion was protected by the Constitution, we have seen countless attempts by abortion opponents to strip millions of women of this right. But this year has been especially shocking.

Since January, more than 300 anti-choice, anti-women bills have been introduced across the country. In numerous recent cases, states have passed legislation that would effectively be statewide abortion bans.

This is a war on women. And we will not go back.

One by one, these draconian laws are being struck down in the courts. But the threats to women’s healthcare persist. The legislators spearheading this legislative strategy are aiming to control women. They want to take away women’s right to make decisions about our own bodies. They want to shame women who make choices they don’t agree with or even imprison them and their doctors.

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Opinion: Time to end runaway MCIs

ST buildings

Stuyvesant Town

By Council Member Keith Powers, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and State Senator Brad Hoylman

As tenants in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village know all too well, there’s nothing minor about a Major Capital Improvement (MCI). That’s why we’re pushing for the elimination of MCIs in Albany this June.

Almost weekly, we hear from tenants about new MCIs being added to their rent, costs that never disappear, and the unfairness of a system that transforms sometimes dubious improvements into permanent revenue streams for landlords. These costs push rents higher and only exacerbate annual rent increases.

In theory, MCIs are designed to incentivize landlords to continually keep up and improve properties with rent stabilized tenants. For example, a landlord might pay to replace a boiler or install new windows with the ability to pass a portion of the costs onto the tenants. MCIs allow owners of residential buildings to apply to New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) for permanent rent increases after completing improvements or installations — not repairs — to rent regulated buildings. Part of the problem is that HCR almost always automatically approves these requests, leaving tenants bearing the burden. In fact, we have been helping the Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association contest 39 MCIs dating back over a decade.

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Opinion: Double-edged Sword

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

So it’s official: Bill de Blasio is running… away from New York City. He is seeking the nomination for president in a crowded field of nearly two dozen Democrats. His chances of success range from nearly impossible to absurd.

That would be ok if he were doing this on his own time. But he is virtually abdicating his responsibilities as mayor. That is the part that is really arrogant and offensive.

Blame term limitations at least in part.

You see, de Blasio is a politician with no path to future office but nothing to lose thumbing his nose at his current constituents. He can’t run for mayor again and when his current term ends in 2021, there is no other viable office for him to seek.

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Opinion: Tenants need another rent freeze

By Assemblymember Harvey Epstein

Before I became a state legislator, I was one of two tenant representatives on New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board, the entity responsible for setting the rents for the city’s million-plus units of regulated housing stock. During my tenure, I worked closely with advocates to push through two consecutive rent freezes––the first and second in the Board’s 50-year history.

Freezing rents for two years in a row provided much-needed relief for over a million rent-stabilized tenants––relief these working class New Yorkers still need today. Unfortunately, since 2016, the Board has voted twice to raise rents; they look poised to do so again this year. I don’t believe the data support increasing rents.

New York City is in the midst of a homelessness crisis of historic proportions not seen since the Great Depression. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, our city is home to the largest homeless population of any city in America: tonight, some 60,000 New Yorkers will sleep in shelters.

Those lucky enough to have a home face challenges: in an annual report produced by the RGB, a majority of rent-stabilized tenants were shown to be rent-burdened and a third are severely rent-burdened, meaning they pay 50 percent or more of their incomes towards rent. Rent-burdened tenants face serious difficulties meeting their everyday needs for nutritious food, healthcare and education and the health outcomes of children that live in rent-burdened households are worse than their non-rent-burdened counterparts, according to Pew researchers.

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Opinion: Running out the clock

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

To understand what is going on between President Trump, his attorney general, other high-ranking administration officials and the Democrats in the House of Representatives, it is useful to understand basketball strategy. When the game clock is winding down in a close basketball game, the team that is barely ahead and has the ball tries to make sure that the opposing team does not get another shot at scoring a bucket. So they protect the ball or just pass it back and forth to themselves.

With 535 days left before the next presidential election the Trump team is doing just that. Democrats in Congress have issued a subpoena to obtain the full unredacted report by Robert Mueller after newly appointed Attorney General William Barr refused to release parts of it. Barr said NO. Tick, tick, tick. Democrats have also subpoenaed President Trump’s concealed tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service. Thus far Trump and his Treasury secretary have said NO. Tick, tick, tick.

Democrats in Congress have requested bank records from a financial institution, which loaned Trump billions of dollars for questionable business dealings, that is now under scrutiny. Trump is suing to block that disclosure. They also want key Trump officials to testify at Congressional hearings regarding a variety of matters now under investigation. Trump is asserting “Executive Privilege” to try to block their testimony which might prove either embarrassing or unveil information about obstruction of justice during the Mueller investigation. Tick, tick, tick.

And to add to the president’s woes, The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee just subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to return and clarify information that he provided about contacts with Russian operatives during the 2016 election…Uh-oh.

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Editorial: Council bills will make a difference

Last week, the City Council passed a slew of bills aimed at tenant protection, and while not yet law, the mayor has indicated he’ll support them.

This is a tremendous relief. We believe these bills would go a long way in protecting tenants from landlords who flout the law, from making aggressive buyout offers to using construction as a form of harassment to blatantly lying on applications.

Additionally, the fact that so many housing bills were introduced shows how badly this intervention was needed in the first place. A perfect example is Council Member Keith Powers’ bill to crack down on landlords who lie in construction documents about whether or not their buildings have rent regulated tenants. This legislation was inspired by behavior by the Kushner Companies, who failed to disclose the presence of such tenants in 17 buildings a total of 42 times when filing applications to the Department of Buildings.

Another helpful bill will improve communication between city agencies with oversight of housing, making it easier to catch these inaccuracies.

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Opinion: The politics of giving

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column describing the utter futility of Bill de Blasio’s flirtation with a race for president and his frequent trips out of town in pursuit of that office. An avid Town & Village reader emailed us this week to ask why persons would contribute to such a campaign with little or no hope of victory. The answers are varied.

Yes, there are some political donors who truly believe in a particular candidate come hell or high water or ones who are close friends or relatives. Some candidates run for higher office thinking like those who play the lottery. Even though the probability of success is near zero, as the Power Ball slogan exclaims, “Hey, you never know” or “You can’t win it if you are not in it.” The chances of winning the jackpot and the odds of a nondescript candidate winning the presidency is about the same.

In the case of Donald Trump, he at least had a celebrity following from his business ventures, tabloid exposure, and his television show “The Apprentice.” None of those experiences qualified him to be president, but it did give him universal name recognition and political momentum as a candidate.

But back to Bill de Blasio and other office seekers who are not counted amongst the rich and the famous.

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Editorial: It ain’t over til it’s over

As members of the New York State Assembly made very clear last week at a packed hearing, landlords in this city don’t have as many friends as they used to have in Albany. Newly-elected members of the State Senate have also been promising that 2019 will be the year of the tenant.

But New York City renters have had local elected officials whispering sweet nothings about fighting the good fight for affordability for ages, only to see small returns in the past few years. Additionally, while the dymanics of power have unquestionably shifted recently, Albany is still Albany. This means tenants shouldn’t take anything for granted and assume every elected official who claims to care about affordable housing actually does.

If we want to see the end of a system designed to consistently chip away at the city’s remaining stock of affordable housing, than New Yorkers must make their voices heard before the rent regulations expire in June 15. The Assembly is on board but if tenants have a moment, it doesn’t hurt to call state senators and the governor’s office and make a point  of why stronger rent regulations, in particular the repeal of vacancy decontrol, which will decrease the incentive for a landlord to try and push a tenant out, are necessary and urgent.

Opinion: Down for the count

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Something really important happened last week at the United State Supreme Court. Arguments both pro and con were presented regarding a Trump Administration policy to change the way in which the decennial census is calculated by the federal Department of Commerce. The outcome could impact New York State in a big way.

Every ten years the government counts the total number of individuals residing in the country, broken down by each individual state and its cities, towns and villages. Currently the national population estimate updated in 2017 stands at 325,719,178 persons. In New York State, the number is 19,849,399. That includes both citizens and non-citizens alike.

So what’s going on at the Supreme Court and what’s the big deal? And should we be concerned?

The Department of Commerce wants to make a change to the census questionnaires that will be sent next year to every household, and other residential facilities. They want to inquire whether the respondents are citizens or not. The validity of including that question has been challenged and the Supreme Court will soon decide. On the surface this all might seem innocuous…but it is not. In fact it is insidious.

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Stuyvesant Cove concerts canceled, here’s why

The John Colianni Quintet performing at Stuyvesant Cove Park

By Jo-Ann Polise, event organizer for the Stuyvesant Cove Park Association

After more than a dozen years the Stuyvesant Cove Park Association will not be sponsoring the free concert series at Stuyvesant Cove Park this summer. The cancellation, first announced in an e-mail sent out to Friends of Stuyvesant Cove Park on April 4, prompted many to respond with expressions of sadness and disappointment over the decision as well as praise and appreciation for seasons past.

The series cancellation was not due to funds being cut; Councilmember Keith Powers, like his predecessor, had made discretionary funds available to the organization for the program. However, the process of applying for the funds and the additional work required to receive payment of the funds has, over the years, become much too complicated and time consuming for an all-volunteer organization.

Additionally, the SCPA had been notified that its arrangement with Solar 1 was changing. In addition to paying a fee to Solar 1 for each event held at the Park, the SCPA would also have to purchase their own insurance to cover future events. This additional expense would undoubtedly result in a reduction in the number of concerts.

Unlike some organizations that have dedicated, paid staff to handle grant applications, the SCPA consists of members of the community who donate their time for the love of the Park.

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Opinion: The long and short of it

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Two American mayors both with one ambition, to defeat President Trump and become the 46th president of the United States. That is where the similarity ends and the disparity begins.

If elected, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio would become the tallest president in history.

If elected, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg would become the shortest since Harry Truman. Mayor Buttigieg presides over a city of around 100,000 residents. Mayor de Blasio’s city has 80 times that number of residents. Buttigieg is something of a longshot, but de Blasio has no shot whatsoever.

It’s an interesting contrast.

Why has Buttigieg gained momentum and national attention in his presidential quest while de Blasio has about as much traction as a pair of bald tires going down a slippery steep hill to nowhere? Try as he has almost nobody is interested in what de Blasio has to say outside of the five boroughs. Buttigieg on the other hand has more interview requests than he knows what to do with.

So what’s up with this picture?

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