Editorial: Save mom and pop from scam suits

Just in case anyone was thinking that things are just too easy these days for proprietors of small businesses in this city, here is yet more proof that their problems are a lot bigger than Amazon and changing consumer preferences.

Many mom-and-pop shops, who already face an uphill battle thanks to the uncertainty of lease renewals, endless fees and fines from the city and rising rents, generally cannot afford to get tangled up in lengthy litigation battles. So it wasn’t surprising to learn that at least a couple of local businesses blinked when threatened by a potential lawsuit from a serial plaintiff charging discrimination against the disabled.

Access for wheelchair users and other people with mobility challenges is very much a real issue; one that is thankfully finally getting some attention thanks to a recent lawsuit that is trying to stop the L train shutdown.

That litigation has already successfully drawn attention to the willful ignoring of the needs of the disabled to get around the city on mass transit like anyone else. However, that isn’t what was filed by plaintiff Arik Matatov, a wheelchair-using man and his attorney, against dozens of small businesses in Manhattan, while, the New York Post revealed last week, he can actually walk.

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Opinion: That moment when you’re poked by a squirrel on a park bench

A similar offender in Stuy Town in 2016 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Squirrels have been a hot topic in this community and in this newspaper over the years. Each side has been unexpectedly passionate in defending its position, to say the least: one of the most recent controversies involved a resident who received a threatening postcard because of a lukewarm annoyance at the rodents’ ceaseless begging. But the debate has finally become personal because on a weekend earlier this summer, I had an encounter that tipped my bias in favor of a ban on squirrel-feeding.

I was sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park on a Saturday afternoon, minding my own business, when I felt something tap against my shoulder. I turned and realized I was almost face to face with a squirrel, not the expected human hand, perched on the back of the bench, who for some reason thought I had a treat for him.

I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about this topic before and could see both sides of the argument. Squirrels can be a bit ratty-looking but also cute in their own way and I can understand the appeal of communing with nature in a city where nature is scarce. And if someone wants squirrels surrounding them or even climbing all over their body, that’s their business.

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Editorial: Will the city guarantee our safety?

When the concrete jungle starts exploding, seemingly out of nowhere, shutting down much of a neighborhood for a week (with some buildings still off limits!) the first question is what happened and why? Then of course one has to ask when could this happen again and where? And whose fault was this?

The steam pipes underneath the streets’ surface are Con Ed’s to maintain but the company has not yet been able to explain the cause of such a major pipe malfunction although we can certainly guess. The system and this city’s infrastructure are old. This isn’t the first steam blast to rock a neighborhood and probably won’t be the last. Still, it’s a scary thought that these geysers-in-waiting can shatter right through the concrete at any time.

So it now has to be asked what can be done to prevent future catastrophes like the one in Flatiron last Thursday and whether the city and Con Ed will commit to some plan of action.

It is miraculous that no one was seriously injured as a result of this recent blast. (Just ask our company driver who nearly drove into it had it not been for a red light!) We believe Con Ed and the city are doing a thorough job in inspecting and cleaning the impacted buildings and in communicating their progress. Additionally, on Tuesday Con Ed made a statement on Twitter that once the cleanup is finished the utility would conduct a “thorough investigation” into what caused the pipe to break. That’s a good start. We will hold them to it!

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Opinion: Being mayor in New York City

By former Assemblyman Steve Sanders

Five years ago this month, Bill de Blasio was running for mayor against a bevy of better-known candidates featuring City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Congressman Anthony Weiner in the Democratic Primary. His early standing in the polls was fifth among five.

As the summer wore on, one by one they fell by the wayside.

Weiner’s political career dissolved amid a flurry of revelations about his obsession with sending pictures and texts of the most personal nature to women (and later even girls). He was utterly discredited. Quinn came across as entitled and arrogant and the voters soured on her. Another contender, City Comptroller John Liu, had been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for illegal political advertising and never gained traction. And Bill Thompson could not repeat his impressive showing from four years earlier.

By the end of August just weeks before the primary, voters began to gravitate towards de Blasio by process of elimination. He was progressive and made great promises about a liberal renaissance after 20 years of Republican rule in City Hall.

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Letters to the editor, July 19

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Immigration debate all of a sudden

Re: “Politics & Tidbits: Greats of Cooperstown,” T&V, July 12 

Steve Sanders wrote that one of the reasons he liked his visit to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame was because of the protest he saw against Trump’s separation of babies from their parents.

Children have been separated from their parents since the first parent in the United States was put in prison hundreds of years ago.  Why have we not heard protests against this by the Democrats until Trump started enforcing immigration law?

What is the solution proposed by the Democrats, to keep both children and their parents in detention? That is against the law. The solution of the Democrats is not to detain the immigrants at all and to let gangs such as MS-13, hostile terrorists and foreign disease invade our country unchecked.

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Opinion: Greats of Coopertown

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Two weeks ago my wife Tammy and I took our pilgrimage to the Baseball Hall of Fame in upstate Cooperstown.

As devoted fans of the game, we periodically renew our affection for the history of America’s great pastime by visiting the museum where the greatest of the great are enshrined for generations to see. Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Koufax, Mays, Seaver, Griffey, Piazza and scores of others. Immortals of baseball for sure.

Cooperstown is also a wonderful and quaint village, smaller than Stuyvesant Town. Nestled along Glimmerglass Lake, it is bucolic and it is politically conservative as is much of upstate New York. The Hall of Fame Museum is about a 15-minute stroll from our hotel. As we left for our walk, I was as psyched as a Little Leaguer, anticipating seeing all the new exhibits and to relive baseball memories from years gone by.

But like life itself, our plans were interrupted by the unexpected.

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Editorial: The voters have spoken

On June 26, New Yorkers cast their votes in a primary that was more eventful than usual due to a handful of upstart Congressional candidates who’d fought hard to unseat veteran lawmakers.

One, who identifies as socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, even managed to upset Rep. Joe Crowley, a Democrat representing a district in the Bronx and Queens.

Meanwhile, in Manhattan, 25-year congress member Carolyn Maloney managed to hold on to her seat with wide margins, though not as overwhelmingly wide as usual.

Like with the Crowley race, Maloney’s opponent Suraj Patel tried to paint the incumbent as an establishment politician, out of touch with younger members of the Democrat Party. Ultimately voters in the 12th Congressional District either didn’t agree or didn’t care and re-elected her.

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Editorial: Help re-elect Maloney on June 26

While less of a high-profile fight than that of Cuomo and Nixon, locally the hot seat is occupied by Congress Member Carolyn Maloney, who is running against Suraj Patel, a hospitality executive and NYU professor of business ethics who is hoping to ride the “blue wave” against the Trump administration (as well as the former breakaway group of State Senate Democrats) to victory.

This so-called blue wave has been an interesting phenomenon. It has helped Nixon, an actress who has never held office, gain credibility so far in her attempts to argue Cuomo is not a true Democrat. However, her attempt to dethrone an incumbent is still an uphill one as it is also for Patel, despite his being able to outraise Maloney in recent months.

The race has not been without its controversies. As Town & Village previously reported, Patel sued two other candidates over invalid petitions and they’ve since been knocked off the ballot. Additionally, other published reports have shown discrepancies over what has been Patel’s primary residence and where he’s voted in recent years.

Town & Village interviewed Patel, an East Villager who grew up in Indiana with parents who emigrated from India, about his campaign, in March. He has some relevant political experience, having worked on both campaigns for former President Obama and having worked pro bono as an attorney for immigrants stranded at JFK last year during a travel ban. Patel would actually like to defund ICE and with immigration detention centers where families are being separated indefinitely currently making headlines, the idea doesn’t just come off as the rantings of a far-left fringe candidate. (This week, Maloney signed into legislation that would end this despicable and un-American policy and has been protesting the separations.)

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Editorial: Now’s your chance, Cuomo

Even New Yorkers who are far from being political junkies know one thing. Andrew Cuomo is running scared over his primary against lesbian activist Cynthia Nixon. The most recent poll numbers are favoring the incumbent. However, political outsider Nixon is a threat to the governor’s LGBTQ supporters; with Pride Week coming up, so too will his name and hers among New York’s Democrat voters.

There will be those rightfully pointing out how Cuomo strong-armed marriage equality into reality in 2011, but as State Senator Brad Hoylman has proven with a study, LGBTQ New Yorkers have been “stranded at the altar” since then. And with seven years having gone by, it does appear they’ve officially been jilted by Albany.

This legislative session in the state capital is over now, but elected officials, including Cuomo, still have a chance to at least commit to passing some LGBTQ protections like (at least) banning gay conversion therapy of young people and ensuring a fairer workplace for gay and transgender people. And we truly don’t know what’s stopping them. Yes, the State Senate is controlled by Republicans and that is where all this legislation, like tenant protection legislation, has gone to die.

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Opinion: Fixing rents and making enemies

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It is said that a good deal is one in which neither party is entirely satisfied. More about that in a moment.

Rent regulations in New York City has been a thorny issue for decades. So a little recent history. The Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) was established in 1969 and modified by the passage of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974. There are nine members of the RGB all appointed by the mayor. Of the nine, two are from the real estate industry, two representatives of tenant groups and five “public members.”

The RGB will meet on June 26 to set rent increases for leases that will expire beginning on October 1 through September 30, 2019. Currently, increases are set at 1.25 percent for a one-year lease and two percent for a two-year lease. Based on the proposals that have been recommended for public comment by the RGB, next year’s guidelines will be similar. There have been years where the rent increases rose into the double digits and there have been years that rents have been frozen. Generally speaking whatever the RGB decides, both tenants and owners cry foul. This year will be no different.

The fact is that try as they may, the RGB satisfies nobody. Moreover, it is difficult to do any planning because nobody knows what the rents will be set at from year to year. It is also a very dubious claim that the decision by the RGB is tied to any real economic data in terms of owners’ costs or profits and certainly not taking into consideration the financial burdens on tenants. In short, it is an arbitrary and often political process.

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Opinion: Same fight, different jersey

By Assembly Member Harvey Epstein

In the ‘90s, New York’s legislature sold out tenants and tipped the scales in favor of big landlords by passing the Rent Regulation Reform Act. This piece of legislation passed in both houses, its sponsors claiming to be sticking up for the mythological “mom and pop” landlord, whose profits were supposedly being squeezed by rent regulation.

Among the most damaging provisions of the act was the invention of “vacancy decontrol” which, since its inception, has eroded New York’s stock of affordable housing by jacking up rents on units if tenants leave or are forced out by unscrupulous landlords seeking to cash in on another perversity of the act: the vacancy bonus.

The assault on tenants has not abated. In response, community groups have had to rise to the occasion and tirelessly defend tenants against the bad actor landlords playing with a stacked deck. I am proud to have been fighting to keep tenants in their homes for decades and as your new Assembly Member, I am eager to continue the fight having acquired a different set of tools to work with and new opportunities to win victories for tenants. The struggle is the same, but my election to the Assembly will afford new ways to achieve our goals.

Small business owners have even fewer protections than residential tenants –– they are at the mercy of their landlords, who have no constraints on how much rents can be raised.

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Opinion: Embassy relocation a bad move

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

The Middle East is a powder keg. Everybody knows that. Well, almost everybody.

It is a toxic cauldron of grievances dating back centuries. Disputed land, hatred between religions, tribal warfare, ancient cultures and grudges abound. Anybody who wants to try to bring a political settlement to these historic forces must be both very knowledgeable and extremely careful. Too much blood has been spilled, and too many lives already lost in that troubled region of the world.

So Donald Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the political reckoning within the State of Israel and the surrounding Palestinian areas was certain to become incendiary with loss of life the result. Anyone could see that coming. Well, almost anyone.

Sure enough, President Trump made good on a campaign promise to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem against the advice of our European allies and most experienced Middle East diplomats in this country. He did it to satisfy his political base here at home. Did he realize that the fate of Jerusalem is central to any negotiation to arrive at a real peace agreement between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab countries that support the Palestinians? He probably does not, or does not care. After all, it made for good politics at home. The consequence was predictable: violent protests occurred and scores of deaths resulted.

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Opinion: Felder overplays his hand

By former Assmeblyman Steven Sanders

Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder is a Democrat. But for reasons best known to him, he has been caucusing with the Republicans in Albany to help enable that Party to maintain control of the State Senate in spite of having fewer members than the Democrats.

But that’s not where the story ends. Last month, the seven Democratic members who have made up the so called “Independent Democratic Caucus” for the past number of years, reluctantly returned to the reservation. That leaves the Senate composition at 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. Governor Cuomo for years tacitly accepted that odd political marriage because he felt it worked to his advantage. He no longer thinks so. He has been pressured from the left, and from his primary opponent Cynthia Nixon, to stand up for Democrats. So he suddenly got involved and brokered a deal amongst the Senate Democrats.

But with Felder’s continued affiliation with the Republicans, they will maintain Senate control for the rest of this year. In exchange for Mr. Felder’s support, the Republicans have given him legislative perks and pivotal voting deference. But as the current session winds down and the November elections loom large and soon, Mr. Felder’s political strategy may need rethinking.

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Opinion: The business of stopping harassment

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation sponsored by Council Member Keith Powers that’s aimed at cracking down on sexual harassment on Wednesday, May 9. (Photo courtesy of Keith Powers)

By City Council Member Keith Powers

Most businesses in New York City are small businesses. Not just small, but really small: a whopping 62.8 percent of businesses in the city have just 1-4 employees, according to census data.

For this reason, I was surprised to discover that workers for New York City businesses with fewer than four employees had no legal protection from incidents of sexual harassment under New York City’s Human Rights Law.

That’s why I introduced my first piece of legislation in January to extend sexual harassment protection to all private employees in New York City regardless of their size. The protection already existed at the state level, but this law wasn’t already in place here. That means every single private employee wasn’t protected. It was important to address this oversight, especially given how many employees fall into this group.

Our country is experiencing a watershed moment as women and men speak up about their experiences of harassment, creating the era of #MeToo. As stories unfold and wrongdoings are revealed, cities and states are taking action to modernize laws and prevent any incidents in the future.

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Editorial: Rent-stabilized story tellers wanted

Tenants at this year’s preliminary vote for the Rent Guidelines Board (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

You know spring has sprung when the stories start coming out about jet-setting tenants who Airbnb their rent-stabilized apartments while only paying a few hundred dollars in rent or less.

Just one example is the recent tale in the New York Post about a woman paying $100 for her stabilized digs that she inherited after moving in on an older, dying man.

She convinced the elderly gent, the tenant of record, to adopt her as his daughter despite being close to retirement age herself.
It’s an intriguing tale that makes one feel sorry for the poor landlords of stabilized properties.

Meanwhile, these stories about unicorn-rare rents are, we suspect, planted by groups representing landlords as the Rent Guidelines Board gears up to decide how high of an increase the city’s tenants in roughly one million rent-stabilized units will be hit with. And it will be an increase rather than a freeze, based on last month’s preliminary vote.

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