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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Opinion: Powers and Epstein

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It sounds like a law firm. But in reality, this duo is now the political first responders for our Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village community.

Keith Powers became our new City Council member in January following the term-limited retirement of 12-year Councilman Dan Garodnick. Harvey Epstein was elected to the State Assembly last month in a Special Election occasioned by Brian Kavanagh vacating his Assembly seat for the State Senate in lower Manhattan.

Given the fact that most of our State Senate’s district represented by Brad Hoylman is west of Fifth Avenue, and our community is but a small part of Carolyn Maloney’s Manhattan-Queens Congressional District, the predominant burden of representing this community on a day to day basis falls to Powers and Epstein.

And there are no shortage of issues. Preserving affordability in our housing stock and repairing public housing projects, improving mass transit especially the subway system, keeping our streets safe and maintaining city services while the federal government retreats are but a few of the issues facing Manhattan’s East Side and the City.

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Opinion: Request for study on SBJSA

The following is an open letter to Public Advocate Letitia James from Sung Soo Kim, founder of The Small Business Congress. The letter has been edited for length.   

Honorable Public Advocate James:

Recently, Councilman Ydanis Rodriquez as prime sponsor reintroduced the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. This bill has the same language, word for word, as the one you proudly sponsored and championed at times in 2009, 2010 and 2014 as Public Advocate. It’s the same bill that you touted over the year’s at citywide events as the best solution to stop the closing of our small businesses and end their crisis and address the “Malling of Main Street.”

The new speaker of the Council, Corey Johnson, has pledged a public hearing on the bill, as well as finding a real solution to end the crisis. While small business advocates applaud this commitment, we are cautiously guarded in hoping our city’s small businesses finally, after eight long years, receive evenhanded and just treatment at City Hall.

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Opinion: Why we’re pushing for stronger rent laws early

(Pictured after returning from Albany, left to right) Tom Kuhn, Peter Sullivan, Judy Miller (back row), Mary Garvey, Sherryl Kirschenbaum, Michael Madonia (back row), Susan Steinberg, Patrice Michaels, Anne Greenberg, Alex Lee, Regina Shane and Chandra Patel. (Photo by Harvey Epstein)

By Susan Steinberg
President, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association

Here we go again.  New York State’s rent laws expire in June 2019 and tenant groups are already taking action to renew and strengthen them.

The 2019 date was deliberately set at the time of the 2015 rent law renewal so it would occur in a non-election year, saving incumbents from the danger of losing their seats as a result of a strong, forceful tenant lobby. 2018 is, of course, an election year which means that now is the time to start putting the pressure on state legislators who want tenant support for their election or re-election runs. Since bills to strengthen rent laws can be passed any time prior to the June 2019 expiration, the challenge is to get them to the floor of the Senate for a vote. They are now languishing in the Senate’s Housing Committee. (The State Assembly has already passed two bills and will easily pass a third but the Senate has yet to act.)

What is the tenants’ game plan? We are pushing for passage of three bills to strengthen regulations by repealing two laws most responsible for the loss of rent-regulated units — vacancy deregulation and vacancy bonus — and for closing the preferential rent loophole.  Vacancy decontrol is responsible for the loss of 250,000 rent-regulated units over the past decade; the vacancy bonus gives landlords a 20 percent rent increase each time an apartment turns over; preferential rents are a discount from the legal rent that can be taken away at lease renewal leading to a sudden increase of hundreds of dollars.

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Opinion: Very special election

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The stakes are high in next week’s special election to fill vacancies in several state legislative seats on April 24. In our own Assembly District Democrat Harvey Epstein will be squaring off against Republican Bryan Cooper and two third-party candidates, Adrienne Craig-Williams and Juan Pagan, to fill the vacant seat left by Brian Kavanagh who was elected to the State Senate representing lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.

The winner of that election will be a key player for our community. But the real significance will be in the several special elections for the Senate across the state. The results of those elections could have important policy and political implications for New York as well as national ambitions.

 For most of his two terms as governor, Andrew Cuomo has presided over a divided government. The Senate has been controlled by the Republican Party with the essential aid of a handful of Democratic Senators aligning themselves with the Republicans to give them numerical control. In exchange, these Democrats have received certain personal and political perks. This arrangement had the tacit approval of Cuomo. Why (you might ask), would a Democratic governor prefer a Republican-controlled State Senate?

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Editorial: Make Epstein an Assembly member

On April 24, there will be a special election in which voters of the 74th Assembly District will choose their next Assembly member. There are four candidates on the ballot, but we are solidly in camp Harvey.

Harvey Epstein, a social justice attorney, is no stranger to the community he hopes to represent. Over a decade ago, when residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were being issued residency challenges like they were going out of style, it was Epstein who ran a free legal hotline for tenants. More recently, he served for five years as a tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board and in two of those years, the board issued rent freezes for tenants signing one-year leases and low increases for those signing two-year increases.

If someone wants to top that act, they’ll need to get a rent freeze for three years or a rent rollback. (And hey… please do try!) But since none of the other candidates have yet managed to demonstrate how they’d be a better champion for affordable housing, we don’t see why voters should favor someone’s campaign promises over someone’s results.

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Opinion: Great American Pastime

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

On Saturday morning, a great community is tradition will be renewed. Led by President Seth Coren, the Peter Stuyvesant Little League baseball season kicks off its 62nd year. It will be preceded by the parade of players and their parents starting from First Avenue at 20th Street and finishing at the Con Ed baseball facility at Avenue C and 16th Street.

In the early 1960s I played in our Little League organization. But in those days, we were homeless. We did not have a field to call our own. We played on the West Side of Manhattan and on Randall’s Island in the middle of the East River. But thanks to the partnership with Con Edison, land adjacent to the East River was developed into ball fields and became home to our local teams which have grown to over 60 teams more than 700 youngsters and scores of adult volunteers coaching, umpiring and taking care of the grounds.

Baseball is the Great American Pastime. It connects families and generations to each other. To underscore that point, when World War II began in the dark days of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to the baseball commissioner and asked him not to suspend Major League Baseball games while this country fought for the salvation of civilization. Roosevelt believed that baseball was that important to the American spirit.

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Opinion: Creating commercial waste zones in NYC would be a mistake

By Jessica Walker

A troubling situation taking place in Los Angeles should be setting off alarm bells across Manhattan, especially for small businesses. LA recently implemented a new system for handling trash pickup at businesses that, despite several years of planning, has resulted in skyrocketing bills and inefficient service.

This matters to Manhattan because the de Blasio administration is planning to implement a similar system right here in New York. You may not know that large businesses and commercial establishments in our city currently pay private carters to remove their garbage and recyclables and they rely on competitive bidding to get the best contracts. However, the mayor’s proposal would limit choice by allowing only one company to pick up commercial garbage and recyclables in each large geographic zone – with no input from the businesses themselves.

This plan would do away with the current competition that drives down prices and improves service from efficient and well-regulated private companies. What has happened in Los Angeles demonstrates just why this is so problematic.

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Opinion: Star Wars

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The first Governor Cuomo (Mario) was fond of saying that “politicians campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.” What he meant was that political campaigns are filled with lofty sounding rhetoric, but leading a government takes practical and carefully detailed policies. The place to actually look for what public officials mean to do and their priorities is found in the budget each year. That is the vehicle to literally put your money where your mouth is.

Last week the legislature and the governor put the finishing touches on the state budget for the new Fiscal Year. It was passed during the Passover Seder and hours before Easter Sunday. One thing for sure: There was no candy for Mayor de Blasio in those Albany Easter eggs. Mostly just bitter herbs.

Andrew Cuomo, who has never been shy about reacting to real or perceived slights, is using his powers as governor to the fullest extent to belittle and damage Bill de Blasio. However, he is doing a disservice to the people of New York City. It does not matter how this rivalry began. It has morphed into full-scale war. To make things even more interesting, both men fancy themselves as the progressive champion and alternative to the policies of President Trump. And there is not enough space for two such gargantuan egos in the same room or from the same state.

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