Opinion: Benching of Bharara

The former U.S. attorney had this to say on Twitter last Monday.

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

If I were Donald Trump, I would have fired Preet Bharara too.

For the past eight years, Mr. Bharara has been the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Appointed by President Obama, he has been a relentless prosecutor of official government corruption. And he has been an equal opportunity crime fighter against both Republicans and Democrats, bringing down some of the most powerful state legislators.

Before his dismissal last weekend, he was in the midst of cases against several of Governor Cuomo’s most trusted advisors who are now under criminal indictment for bribery, bid rigging and other charges. Bharara was also investigating Mayor de Blasio and his administration for political fundraising violations and steering lucrative contracts in exchange of big donations to the de Blasio campaign. The mayor is using public funds to employ expensive defense lawyers in the hopes of avoiding indictment.

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Opinion: How many more lies?

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Not wanting to sound too melodramatic I still must ask the question: what more will it take for Donald Trump to say or do something that will cause him to forfeit the confidence of the American people as a stable and responsible leader of this nation? If lying and weird Twitter outbursts based on no facts were an impeachable offense then Vice President Mike Pence would be warming up in the bullpen to relieve this president.

Without recounting the dozens of insults, lies and provocations uttered by Mr. Trump during the campaign and before, it is instructive to remember some of what he has said since being sworn in as president less than two months ago.

He started by claiming that he won the election in an “historic landslide.” And then when corrected that the election was very close and that he actually was one of the very few presidents ever elected without having won the actual popular vote, he concocted a baseless assertion that there were millions of illegal votes cast for Hillary Clinton. He questioned the entire integrity of our political voting system, the underpinning of democracy.

There are no facts to support those allegations.

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Opinion: Some Trump in us all

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Okay, before we all get high and mighty about Donald Trump’s erratic and unpredictable behavior, let’s admit there is a little bit of Trump in all of us.

Have you ever lost an argument on the facts and refused to admit it? Have you ever tried to prop yourself up with assumptions of greatness based on vanity? Have you ever been caught in a lie and refused to acknowledge it? Have you ever thrown a temper tantrum or have been needlessly nasty with some person? I plead guilty to all of the above. How about you?

The difference is that the president of the United States does not have the luxury of such shallowness and self-absorption, and certainly not on an ongoing basis. The consequences can be terrifying. It is immature, but more to the point such mercurial unsteadiness is dangerous.

With age and experience comes some degree of wisdom, introspection and hopefully compassion. Adolescent children and especially teenagers can be mean spirited, cruel and impulsive. But most outgrow such juvenile traits over time and evolve into better selves from a life of successes and disappointments.

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Opinion: Big Plastic wins, environment loses

By State Senator Brad Hoylman

The winner in Albany’s repeal of the City’s “bring your own bag” law earlier this month wasn’t your average shopper who would have been charged 5 cents per plastic bag – although opponents of the law would like you to believe that.  No, the biggest beneficiary in the year-long showdown between the State Legislature and City Hall over plastic bags was Big Plastic — the plastics industry itself.

Big Plastic is represented by two shadowy groups that have spent millions nationwide to defeat bag laws just like New York City’s, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and American Chemistry Council. ALEC, a consortium of right-wing state legislators, works as a clearinghouse for model pro-business state legislation, ranging from weakening labor unions to loosening environmental regulations, like rolling back restrictions on plastic bags. ALEC is bankrolled by the American Chemistry Council, which also lobbies for Big Plastic on behalf of petroleum and plastics industry companies like Shell, Exxon Mobile and DuPont.

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Editorial: Rents are frozen, landlords need to cool it

While landlords in the city of New York were understandably upset about the Rent Guidelines Board issuing its second rent freeze in a row last year, the fact that an organization has sued the board on their behalf is laughable. Or it might be if it weren’t so sad.

As Town & Village reported last week, the landlord group Rent Stabilization Association has claimed that the board erred by taking into account what tenants could afford to pay as opposed to only what landlords’ operating costs and conditions were. But that completely one-side argument makes no sense. Of course tenants’ overall financial state matters. When you charge a price for a service that’s also one of life’s basic necessities, if that price is beyond what anyone can actually reasonably afford then that’s called price gouging. And this kind of gouging has been going on in New York City, openly and shamelessly, for far too long. The RGB finally recognized this and made its decision accordingly.

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Editorial: When affordable housing is a prize

Last week, Blackstone reopened its lottery for reduced rent apartments in Stuyvesant Town, an announcement that was welcome news to the rent burdened but still raised the inevitable question of whether a discount of a few hundred bucks on rents that would otherwise start at over three thousand is truly affordable.

The answer is of course it is not, and it’s still hard to grasp — at least to us — how things got to the point where in order to get an affordable place to live in New York, one literally has to win a lottery. It feels a bit like a dystopian cautionary tale of what could happen when a wealthy politician, untouched by the people’s concerns about the need for affordable living, prefers to simply let the market do its thing. Oh, wait… that actually happened.

Fast forward to the present. Mayor Bill de Blasio has been quick to tout the affordable housing he’s built and preserved, as he promised to do on the campaign trail, but again, the Devil’s in the details. In the case of Stuyvesant Town, the 5,000 units committed to so-called affordability (which start at $2,800 for one-bedrooms) only become available as each rent-stabilized unit turns over. Additionally, half of those units, once vacated due to a tenant moving out or dying, will become market rate. So income eligible market rate residents and others hoping for at least some relief may be in for a very long wait. Note: We don’t blame Blackstone for this 50/50 arrangement, which seems fair, or for reopening the lottery, which as we also reported last week, prompted a few hopeful people we spoke with to try their luck.

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Opinion: Planet Albany

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

I taught a class in politics at City College some years ago. Fortunately, I never had to explain what is going on at all levels of government these days, especially in Albany. From grade school we are instructed that in a democracy, the majority rules. In other words, if you get the most votes, you get to govern. In Albany that is not a given.

There is no need to rehash what happened in the Presidential election. As we know, the candidate with the most votes was not declared the winner.

Notwithstanding Donald Trump’s insistence that he was cheated out of millions of votes, he actually lost the popular vote. But in Presidential elections, the winner is the one who gets a majority of the Electoral College vote, which Trump did. That is a fact, whether we like it or not.

However, consider the curious case of Albany. Like at the federal level, there is a chief executive in the person of the governor. And like Congress, there is a bi-cameral Legislature, the State Assembly and the State Senate.  And that is where the intrigue begins. After the November elections, the Assembly continues to be dominated by the Democratic Party occupying over two thirds of the seats. In the Senate, Democrats also outnumber Republicans, albeit very narrowly by 32 to 31. Governor Cuomo is also a Democrat. So one would think that this could be the golden age for Democrats and their policies…right? Nope.

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Opinion: A case against term limits

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

It has been said that the profession of politics is the second oldest one and regarded on about par with the oldest. Politicians are often times reviled beyond any logical reason. If you are unhappy in life, blame a politician. If you feel overburdened, blame a politician.

But too frequently some public officials give good reason for this antipathy by doing corrupt things. While all professions have their bad players, when a politician is caught with his/her hand in the cookie jar, the rest are tarnished and brought down in the eyes of the public.

It is little wonder that the proposition to impose strict term limits is so popular. Of course, it is also entirely undemocratic and occasionally destructive. Dan Garodnick is a case in point.

Dan has been our City Councilman for 11 years. He has effectively represented our community with intelligence, passion and unquestioned integrity. We sorely need those traits in our government leaders today. But he is in his last year as our local representative. You will not be able to vote for him again and our community will be deprived of an exemplary public official and advocate, because of arbitrary term limits.

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Opinion: Fool me once…

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

It’s Groundhog Day and like the movie by the same name I feel as if we have been here before.

President Donald Trump is objecting strenuously to what he considers false reports by the media about himself. He is now labeling any personally critical news report as “fake news.” This from the man who spent years alleging that Barack Obama was not a legitimate president, propagating the myth that Obama was actually born in Kenya and not a natural born citizen. He also made veiled suggestions that Obama was not a Christian but really a Muslim. Both scurrilous allegations were false, but that did not stop Donald Trump from launching his political career on the quicksand of a lie.

Donald Trump has proved to be the great purveyor of fabricated information that becomes bogus news headlines. Now his White House team refers to that as “alternative facts.” During the campaign he falsely asserted that thousands of Muslims danced in the streets of New Jersey celebrating the destruction of the twin towers on September 11, 2001. Or the whopper about the father of his main Republican opponent Texas Senator Ted Cruz, somehow being involved in the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Or tweeting that 80 percent of whites murdered in the United States are killed at the hands of black people. He still insists that he achieved a “landslide victory” in spite of losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million. Now he asserts, with no proof, that millions of people illegally voted for his opponents which is why he lost the actual vote.

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Opinion: America’s greatness on 20th Street

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

There has been so much talk about making America great “again.” There has also been a lot said about the impact of immigrants in our nation. I submit that the two questions are inextricably tied together.

By definition, virtually every one of us are descendants of immigrants. Some from 20 years ago or less and others from 200 years ago or more. Only if your heritage traces back to say the Cherokee nation or Iroquois can you say that you are not from an immigrant family. America has always been the beacon of hope and opportunity for the multitude of newly arrived inhabitants.

This history is particularly poignant here in New York City where so many of our ancestors arrived on Ellis Island and then settled somewhere in the five boroughs. Irish, Italian, Scandinavian, East European, Asian, Indian, African, Latin American… and on and on. These immigrants built New York City and continue to serve our city in so many occupations and small businesses.

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Editorial: Squirrels: To feed or not to feed?

We definitely don’t recommend doing this. (Illustration by Sabina Mollot)

We definitely don’t recommend doing this. (Illustration by Sabina Mollot)

In mid-July, Town & Village published a story detailing recent complaints made by three parents on a neighborhood Facebook group, claiming that their children had been bitten by squirrels in Stuyvesant Town. While the squirrels in the complex are known for being overly-friendly, this was the first time we’d heard of a child getting bitten by one, let alone three. So we asked around for more opinions, which, as usual, were mixed, though most people we interviewed seemed to agree the resident squirrels were aggressive in their begging habits.

Well, as anyone who reads this paper knows, that coverage didn’t go over too well with the community’s squirrel lovers, who interpreted the parents’ concern as hatred toward the fluffy tailed critters in letters we published. In addition, this newspaper was blasted as being irresponsible. “Malicious,” “slander” and “perverse” were some of the words used to describe the article, written by Town & Village editor Sabina Mollot. Our publisher, Chris Hagedorn, even got a call from a woman who threatened to boycott every business that advertises within our pages for our treatment of the local Eastern Grey population.

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Opinion: Mirror, mirror

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

For many it seemed unthinkable. For some it was inevitable. But for all of us the moment is here. Donald J. Trump is our nation’s 45th president starting at noon, January 20, 2017. Stunning!

As with most new presidents the conjecture begins as to which other president does he most admire or wish to model himself after. The answer can offer a clue as to how he will govern.

Three Republican presidents come to mind and top the list of most admired amongst the party faithful. They are Lincoln, (Theodore) Roosevelt and Reagan. So for fun let’s mix and match and see which of these political icons best suits our new president.

Lincoln…probably not a good fit. Unlike Trump, Abraham Lincoln encouraged internal debate and criticism. He filled his inner circle with people who opposed him but whom he respected. He had empathy for people who were enslaved or victims of bigotry. And far from mocking his adversaries, as is de rigor for Trump, Lincoln declared a policy of “malice towards none and charity for all” even for those who engaged in rebellion. Trump on the other hand never misses an opportunity to attack those who have criticized him. Lincoln often deflected political affronts with self-deprecating humor.

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Opinion: The hubris of Andrew Cuomo

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Andrew Cuomo will not be outdone or outmaneuvered, that is for sure. As Governor of the State of New York, Cuomo has stood astride State government in a manner not seen since Nelson Rockefeller back in the 1960s. He has dominated every policy at the state level and has even tried to influence the political landscape in localities, especially New York City. For him politics is a win at any cost game. He does not take kindly to defeat nor to criticism of any kind. Humility is not part of his DNA although he tries mightily to conceal an arrogance that traces back to his father’s campaigns for Governor over 30 years ago.

In 1982 he was the hard edged and hard charging manager of Mario Cuomo’s political operations. Although he never admitted to it, he is credited with having been the inspiration behind the slanderous attacks on his father’s rival for governor, namely Ed Koch. “Vote for Cuomo not the Homo” signs appeared throughout the conservative boroughs of Queens and Staten Island days before the Democratic Primary for Governor. Mario Cuomo won that campaign and went on to distinguish himself as a progressive governor for twelve years. Ed Koch continued as mayor until he was defeated in 1989 by David Dinkins.

Andrew Cuomo pursued his own political career by joining the Bill Clinton administration. In 2002 he took a premature shot at running for governor but flamed out. He made a comeback four years later and was elected attorney general, and then governor in 2010 after the Eliot Spitzer debacle.

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Editorial: Albany gets even less transparent

Jan7 Hoylman

State Senator Brad Hoylman is opposed to the new policy. (Photo courtesy of Senator Hoylman)

Last week, State Senator Brad Hoylman, a frequent critic of his own chamber in Albany, posted a photo of that very chamber on his Twitter feed. It would likely be the last photo he’d be posting of the place, he revealed, thanks to a new rule voted in by the Republican majority to ban photo-taking there by anyone except official Senate photographers. This means lawmakers, members of the press and members of the public will from now on be made to ask permission first any time they think it’s important to record a moment, whether it’s of a vote or debate or any other relevant thing happening.

The vote came shortly after Congress proposed a similar policy to fine members for taking photos or livestreaming from the House floor.

The reasoning for the Senate rule, according to its sponsor, is that photo-taking and other cell phone use is disruptive during proceedings.

Fortunately, Hoylman has recognized this weak argument for what it is, an excuse to further shroud the legislative process in secrecy, since apparently having all major decisions impacting the state made by three men in a room just isn’t enough. Asked what inspired his colleagues to start 2017 with even less transparency than in prior years, Hoylman guessed it has to do with the fact that sometimes, other than candid photos of hands in the air that end up on social media, there’s no publicly available record of who voted for what. And many would like to keep it that way.

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Opinion: A New Year’s resolution to build the full Second Avenue Subway

By Keith Powers

Starting on January 1, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to ride the brand new Second Avenue Subway – a project over one hundred years in the making and once considered out of reach. We still have a long road ahead of us, but we have reached a major milestone and New Yorkers are right to celebrate. We should all make a New Year’s resolution to see this project through to the end and complete the entire Second Avenue Subway.

The new line is expected to carry 200,000 riders each day, easing congestion on the Lexington Avenue line, which carries over 1.3 million riders daily and is the most heavily trafficked subway line in the city. Easing congestion means faster running and less crowded trains. It means that we get to work faster and return home to our families sooner. Even better, it means that East Siders will feel more comfortable during their ride.

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