Opinion: What’s on the governor’s plate?

The winning design

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

There was an election last week. Cuomo lost.

Being governor of New York State with its nearly 20 million population and world important venues is a really big job. To govern successfully requires great intelligence, leadership skills and a focus on what matters most.

Andrew Cuomo has had this job for the past nine years. But one must wonder if he momentarily lost his attention on what is really important. Of all his significant policy initiatives during his first two terms, Cuomo’s preoccupation with issuing new license plates for motorists is a head scratcher. Of course, the change is estimated to raise upwards of $100 million for the state coffers, whether the replacement is necessary or not.

It will tax each car owner up to $45 to replace their current plates, once in circulation, for ten years. Governor Cuomo says that is needed because EZ pass terminals are having a hard time reading the existing plates. Since when?

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Opinion: Back to school needs

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Labor Day has come and gone, which means that school bells will soon be ringing.

Our community has some of the finest public and parochial schools all in walking distance of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. I’m speaking about P.S. 40, Simon Baruch JHS 104 and schools in Epiphany and the Immaculate Conception churches. Each of those schools rank in the top tiers of their respective academic categories.

Unfortunately, they remain anomalies within the overall New York City education universe. Too many schools are failing our over one million school children. Too few students graduate from high school with the requisite tools or academic knowledge to succeed in college or a trade.

This is true in many school districts across America. If not remedied, it will leave this nation behind in the highly competitive 21st-century world where advanced knowledge is a necessary commodity.

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Opinion: ‘Revival window’ for child sex abuse survivors opened

By State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal

A window to long-overdue justice just opened in New York for survivors of child sexual abuse, thanks to the Child Victims Act (S.2440 / A.2683), legislation we sponsored.

Until earlier this year, our state had among the worst laws in the country for survivors of child sexual abuse. New York’s statute of limitations was so tilted against survivors that most had no later than until their 23rd birthday to file criminal charges against their abusers, or until their 21st birthday to file a civil lawsuit.

The Child Victims Act changed that by increasing the criminal statute of limitations by five years and giving survivors the ability to sue their abusers or the institutions that enabled them until their 55th birthday – ensuring that future survivors have more time for legal recourse.

On August 14, one of the most important provisions of the Child Victims Act took effect: a one-year window during which adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse for whom the civil statute of limitations has already expired will be able to file lawsuits against their abusers and the people or public or private institutions that intentionally or negligently enabled the abuse.

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Opinion: A litmus test for small businesses

By Sung Soo Kim, founder of the Small Business Congress

It took 9 years for the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (Jobs Act) to get a hearing in the City Council. Why the delay when the Jobs Act was unanimously selected at its last hearing in June 2009 as the best solution to stop the closing of small businesses by the entire Small Business Committee and had 32 sponsors? How is it possible in a progressive council to deny justice on a bill for 9 years, the only real solution, that would save the “backbone of our economy and creators of the majority of resident’s jobs? Would progressive lawmakers who pledged to promote progressive legislation if elected remain silent and complicit for 9 years to the rigging by REBNY to stop any rights to small business owners to survive?

 Even with the NYC courts issuing 52,314 warrants to evict commercial businesses since 2009, and long established businesses forced to close in record numbers and empty storefronts appearing on every main street where once thriving businesses were, our progressive lawmakers did “nothing” for 9 years to save a single business or job. This fact by itself is a good reason to be skeptical of any bills suddenly created after doing nothing for so long and with a real solution bottled up in committee.

After the last hearing on the Jobs Act, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn colluded with REBNY to cook up a bogus legal roadblock to stop any vote or fair treatment of the Jobs Act. She started the rigging that allowed REBNY to hijack our democracy and the Jobs Act and was responsible for the origin of the small business crisis today. This answers the question of why self-proclaimed progressive lawmakers allowed this economic injustice and catastrophe to happen and allowed the destruction of our small businesses. Face the truth, when it comes to economic policy, democracy does not exist at City Hall, only oligarchy serving the wealthy few.

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Opinion: As The World Turns

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Some weeks feel like a year in the life of national politics, especially as it concerns President Trump. He likes saying that no president in history has done more than he. Maybe, but is it good? If last week felt like a half dozen episodes of a soap opera, you are forgiven. It was produced by the recently self-proclaimed “chosen one.”

In just one week, Trump attacked members of Congress who have been critical of him and the Israeli government. He proceeded to pressure Israel to forbid the planned visit of two of them. Evidently the First Amendment has no meaning to this President.

He went on to lecture the Jewish community about anti-Semitism and said that any Jew who voted against him and for a Democrat was either ignorant or “disloyal.”

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Opinion: De Blasio’s Delusion

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders 

Last week I saw Mayor Bill de Blasio on a local newscast giving an interview from the Iowa State Fair. He looked very relaxed in his shirtsleeves with no tie or jacket. I think he had just eaten a corndog, a local favorite. He seemed a million miles away from the daily cares of his actual job as chief executive of New York City. To be precise, he was about eleven hundred miles away from home.

Hizzoner was enjoying himself free from the problems of the disgraceful public housing conditions, the mass transit infrastructure woes, another police suicide, the worry about a terrorist attack in Chelsea with the discovery of what appeared at first to be improvised explosive devices. You know, some of the stuff that requires a Mayor to be on the job 24/7. But Bill de Blasio assures us that he is in communication with his staff every hour. That sort of makes him New York’s first Skype Mayor.

To be sure, everyone deserves a vacation and respite from their job. But Bill de Blasio has been spending chunks of time out of the city on a regular basis for the better part of 2019. His venue of choice has been Iowa because that is the first state which will be holding a Presidential nominee contest in just five months.

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Opinion: A fitting tribute

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Last weekend, my wife and I hosted friends of ours from the great state of Michigan who were visiting New York City. Of course they wanted to see all the sites of interest in Manhattan. We did that and we also saw some wonderful shows on Broadway, including “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Ain’t Too Proud,” which is a wonderful musical about the life and times of that great Motown singing group known as The Temptations. I recommend both shows.

But as we approach the 18th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, my friends wanted to go downtown to “Ground Zero” and see the area which for many New Yorkers, and Americans everywhere, has become sacred ground and a pilgrimage.

It is hard to believe that so many years have now passed since that dreadful day when nearly 3,000 people were killed by the two planes that crashed into the Twin Towers and caused such destruction. Surely it is a moment in time that none of us will ever forget. I was just a few hundred yards away when the planes struck. No New Yorker in particular can ever forget the grief and anger that we all felt as our city was attacked.

I found myself reliving the whole experience as I walked my friends from the Brooklyn Bridge subway stop across City Hall Park to Broadway and then along Church Street to the site. Retracing the very path that I travelled that morning on 9/11.

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Opinion: Turning over a new leaf at Bellevue Park South

Bellevue South Park (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Assemblymember Harvey Epstein

For almost four decades, Bellevue South Park has provided Kips Bay residents a much-needed oasis for recreation and relaxation in an area otherwise starved for green space. Unfortunately, in recent years, the park has become a hotspot for illegal activity that includes drinking and drug use. These behaviors make the park unwelcome and unsafe for the families in the neighborhood. We must address these problems as a community and make the park a safe and enjoyable place for all.

Bellevue Hospital, which operates over 300 psychiatric beds, and the 850-bed 30th Street Men’s Shelter are just steps away from the park, making it a natural hang out spot for homeless individuals as well as those with mental health issues. Often these groups overlap, creating even greater challenges with providing services. Further complicating the situation is the nearby The Children’s Center, whose clients are city’s most vulnerable children waiting to be placed with a foster family. Teens in the facility face incredible emotional stress and unfortunately have a history of being involved in violent incidents around the neighborhood.

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Opinion: Gunning down America

On the Monday after two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, several dozen people gathered in Union Square to both mourn the several dozen victims as well as to criticize the ease of buying guns in America. Organized by the group RefuseFascism.org, many at the rally were critical of politicians who blamed mental illness as the cause of the massacres rather than the availability of military-style guns. (Photo by Jefferson Siegel)

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Last week I wrote about gun violence and mass murder. My column was a warning entitled “It could happen anywhere.”

Two days later, it did.

This time a shopping mall in El Paso, Texas. It was one of the worst massacres in U.S. history, leaving 20 dead and dozens more seriously wounded. The weapon of choice again was an assault weapon. And then just hours later a gunman in Dayton, Ohio opened fire on innocent bystanders killing nine with an assault weapon. It took 30 seconds. That’s the killing power of assault weapons.

Thirty-one dead and scores wounded in 12 hours. They won’t be the last.

In El Paso, the assailant was fueled by hatred of Hispanics and Mexicans who largely inhabit the city of El Paso. He was said to be enraged by what he referred to as the “invasion” of Hispanic immigrants. He used the very same language that we have heard this president use over and over again. “Invasion.”

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Opinion: Lawmakers: stand up to real estate

By Sung Soo Kim
Founder, Small Business Congress

For 10 years, small business owners have been denied economic justice and fair treatment by our government. The decade-long collusion between the powerful lobby REBNY and the Speaker’s Office successfully blocked a vote on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (Jobs Act), the only real solution to stop the closing of our small businesses and to end their crisis. The Jobs Act is a bill giving rights to business owners when their leases expire, rights needed to negotiate fair lease terms.

Finally in October 2018, the Jobs Act was given a public hearing by the Small Business Committee, chaired by Councilmember Mark Gjonaj. He was hand-picked by REBNY because Gjonaj owns his own real estate company and is the most pro-landlord and anti-tenant lawmaker in the council, and on record as opposed to the Jobs Act.

Unlike the last hearing on the Jobs Act in June 2009 by then-Chairman David Yassky, Gjonaj’s hearing did not focus solely upon the root cause of businesses closings, the one-sided commercial lease renewal process, which is what the Jobs Act addresses. Instead, Gjonaj’s hearing focused upon the empty storefronts on every main street and trying to sell the same old distracting false narrative that fines and over regulations were more pressing problems.

At the conclusion of David Yassky’s 2009 hearing on the Jobs Act, he and his entire committee selected the Jobs Act as the best solution to stop the closing of small businesses and save jobs. Every member of the committee became sponsors, making 32 sponsors of the bill ready to vote it into law. There were no legal challenges to the bill and the outcome of hearing disproves the REBNY narrative that the Jobs Act has been collecting dust for 30 years and going nowhere.

On July 23, Gjonaj presented his five solutions, which were a collection of REBNY-created bills that would not save a single small business or job and kept the status quo. All avoided completely addressing the cause of business closings: the lease renewal process.

One example of the disgraceful act of lawmakers’ failure to seriously address the small business crisis with a real solution was a bill from Councilmember Carlina Rivera. Her bill called for Department of Small Business Services to assess the state of storefronts in 20 communities every three years, code for counting empty storefronts and do nothing. Rivera should be ashamed to present this useless legislation while a real solution, the Jobs Act with 29 sponsors sits in committee and would save her district’s businesses. Why in the face of a growing crisis would any lawmaker insult small businesses owners with such a scandalous worthless bill that gave them no rights and would keep the status quo making landlords rich?

There are 75 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in New York City. It would take one hour for SBS to require each BID to count their empty storefronts and how long they were empty. Why wouldn’t every council member that is a board member on a BID also know the state of the empty stores? When long established businesses were forced to close in record numbers and storefronts remained empty for years, why didn’t they do something to stop the closings?

The time for disingenuous supporting the Jobs Act while at the same time being complicit to the rigging by special interests to stop it is over. New Yorkers who demand good government and want an end to the closing of their favorite mom-and-pop businesses must demand their lawmakers address the small business crisis with a real solution that gives rights to the long established business owners when their leases expire.

If former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had allowed democracy to work, the Jobs Act would have easily passed long ago and we would not have the crisis or empty stores today. Will Speaker Johnson allow democracy to return to City Hall? Or will the norm at City Hall be total control of economic policy by REBNY and lawmakers continue to do nothing? The delay and distractions will continue until the 2019 fully-vetted and legally-sound Jobs Act is passed.

Opinion: Love it or leave it

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Last week the political rhetoric from the President of the United States sunk to a new low, awash with disturbing invective.

Donald Trump attacked four members of Congress who happen to be women of color and have been very critical of Trump’s immigration policies and his efforts to ban Muslims from entering this country. Trump said of the four that they should “go back to the crime infested countries that they came from.” But each are United States citizens, three of whom were born here.

So “go back to the country that they came from?” Say what?

It was not lost on anyone that the women singled out by Trump were either of Muslim heritage or whose family ties include relatives from Central American countries. To state the obvious, Trump’s comments are as factually wrong as they are repugnant and bigoted.

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Opinion: The summer of miracles

By former Assemblymember Steve Sanders

Much of my childhood growing up in Stuyvesant Town was shaped by politics, current events and sports. Not surprisingly, it still is.

The summer of 1969, fifty years ago, was a time of extraordinary and nearly unfathomable moments. For those of us who were part of that generation it left indelible memories.

The year before was marked by tragedy and turmoil the likes of which we had not seen before. The urban street riots and looting across the nation. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy rocked us to the core. The anti-war protests that enveloped the Democratic National Convention in Chicago while hundreds of American soldiers died each month in Vietnam.

The anger stirred by George Wallace who ran for President mostly on his racist segregation policies, and carried five southern states in a contentious election that ultimately Richard Nixon won by a hair.

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Opinion: The rent gamble

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

With all the changes made last month by the State Legislature in tenant protections and rent regulations, the nine-member New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) appointed by the mayor remains intact. That is the entity which sets rent increases for leases expiring in any given year.

For hundreds of thousands of tenants facing lease renewals between October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020, the RGB has set the increases at 1.5% for a one-year lease renewal and 2.5% for a two-year lease renewal.

The question for tenants is, which one is best? It’s all about short-term and long-term dollars and cents. But it is not that simple.

To some extent clairvoyance is required, but that function does not appear on any calculator. What do I mean?

One thing is a certainty: you will save money in the first year if you opt for a one year renewal. But what about the following year? Well, if the guidelines remain the same next year, then a tenant will be spending more money in the second year if they opt for consecutive one-year renewals as opposed to a two-year lease renewal at 2.5%.

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Opinion: Drop the busway lawsuit

By Sophie Maerowitz

With the planned implementation of the 14th Street Busway on July 1, residents of the East Village were preparing for a major uptick in our quality of life. However, a frivolous last-minute court order has delayed much-needed bus improvements for tens of thousands of our neighbors yet again.

As a resident of East 14th Street and an advocate of the 14th Street busway since 2015, I was incredibly disheartened to see this snap decision. I have spent  years working with my neighbors doing grassroots activism, building widespread community support for a car-free bus corridor on 14th Street, and it is quite frankly perverse to argue that transit improvements are an environmental threat, as the suit alleges.

The truth is, this delay will only serve to keep the M14A and M14D buses moving at an appalling sub-4 mile per hour speed. It’s no surprise that the #BusTurnaround coalition has given these lines an “F” rating.

Whatever else contributed to the decision, I don’t think it helped that the judge in this case, Eileen Rakower, never heard the perspective of those of us in the community that care about quick and reliable bus service on 14th Street, which we know won’t work if buses are caught in car traffic. If only she was there when we raced the M14D on foot; it only beat us by two seconds.

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Opinion: What’s this picture worth?

A father and daughter drowned while trying to cross a river between Matamoros in Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc)

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

I remember the powerful image of an anguished female student standing over the bloodied lifeless body of a fellow Kent State College student killed by National Guardsmen during the Vietnam War protests. I remember the picture of the lone Chinese protester blocking a tank rolling through Tiananmen Square during that country’s crackdown on democracy. And who can forget the image of Neil Armstrong stepping on to the lunar surface with his giant leap for mankind 50 years ago next month? Such photographs capture a moment in history and became etched in our collective psyches. They also shape the way Americans feel about important events and shape policy issues to come.

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In an instant, it can define a policy debate or provide instant clarity to a complicated issue with its powerful graphic. And so it was last week.

Who amongst us was not moved to tears while viewing the father and his daughter both drowned in their perilous attempt to make it across the American border because all other entries were closed off? This was a parent desperate to escape his country’s violence and secure a better life for his daughter and family. Every parent can understand that impulse. This father was certainly not of the criminal element as President Trump has tried to depict all immigrants from Central America.

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