Opinion: Who is Gerry Mander?

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Well, actually, Gerry Mander is not a who but a what.

Gerrymander is the practice of reapportioning voters by drawing political districts from the local level to congressional seats that are designed to favor one political party over the other or even one particular officeholder, and in so doing virtually preordain the outcome of elections. It was coined after Governor Gerry of Massachusetts who engineered such a plan for his state legislature early in the 19th century. Evidently one district was drawn in such a way that it resembled a salamander… hence gerrymander!

This practice is as old as politics itself, but of late it seems to have become more sophisticated and more pervasive, so much so that the United States Supreme Court has agreed to take up a case when the Court reconvenes in October to determine whether efforts at redrawing political maps violates the United States Constitution.

Every ten years after the national census is completed, political district lines are required to be re-drawn so that districts comprise approximately the same number of persons. This is to insure that the power of the voters is evenly distributed.

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Opinion: The politics of NYC education

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The debate about continuing the Mayoral Control Law for NYC schools is still raging even after the legislature left the Capital and left that matter unresolved. With a looming expiration date of June 30, I am occasionally asked, why, if mayoral control is so important, was it not enacted while Rudy Giuliani was mayor who also coveted that authority?

Some think it was because Giuliani was a Republican and the State Assembly with its speaker was Democratic. But of course I remind them that when mayoral control was enacted in Albany back in 2002, another Republican, Michael Bloomberg, was mayor.

But there is truth to the fact that the legislation was not negotiated during the Giuliani tenure in part because of who was mayor. I know this because at that time I was chair of the Assembly Education Committee.

I believe that mayoral control and the coherent accountability to the mayor with community input into decision making is far superior to the previous system of decentralization with its authority disbursed across the education landscape.

After a few brief discussions with Giuliani officials in the 1990s, it became clear that the mayor was only interested in total and unfettered control. He did not wish to be bothered or impeded by community or parental involvement whatsoever. In fact, he disdained and even ridiculed those with contrary points of views. Giuliani wanted to run the school system as he ran the police department… no questions asked. That governance view may or may not be right for schools, but it was surely not a philosophy endorsed by Assembly Democrats.

In our strongly-held views, parents and the public needed to be invested and involved in issues and decisions affecting their one million children, the ultimate consumers of our education product. It’s not for me to say whether Mayor Giuliani was right or we were right, but that was the difference.

When Michael Bloomberg became mayor, he too wanted control of the city school system but was ultimately willing to accept public involvement as part of the construct. Even Mayor Bloomberg valued and stressed his authority far more than civic engagement and that was disappointing. But at least Mayor Bloomberg (grudgingly perhaps) allowed a degree of public participation.

At the end of the day, public education is not like running the Police Department or Parks Department or other agencies of city government. Parents entrust the schools with personal custody of their precious children for a large part of every week. They have a right and a need to know what is going on in their schools as well as to have an opportunity to impact school policy. It is their children’s future at stake. What could be more important?

Decentralization failed largely because no public official was ultimately responsible or could be brought to account.

That is why as imperfect as it may be, mayoral control is a better system.

But without a sense of partnership with parents and communities, mayoral control will not make our schools as good as they might be.

If the leadership in Albany truly cares about public education in New York City, they will quit the political gamesmanship and restore the tools this mayor needs by immediately reauthorizing mayoral control. Surrendering to the previous dysfunctional system would be a grievous and cynical abdication of responsibility. It would be the triumph of politics over children.

And if this or some future mayor truly cares about good policies he or she will pay attention to the stakeholders who care the most… parents.

Opinion: From Oswald to Hodgkinson

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Although separated by 54 years, the connection between Lee Harvey Oswald and James T. Hodgkinson is all too familiar.

They both possessed a legally acquired rifle, and for reasons only known to them fired shots at the government of the United States with devastating consequences.

In the case of Oswald, he bought his rifle through an ordinary mail order transaction and Hodgkinson legally purchased his weapon as well… no questions asked.

Oswald fired shots at the president of the United States and Hodgkinson fired dozens of shots at members of Congress last week. Both shooters were killed before they could answer questions or to stand trial for their actions.

But the most telling similarity of these shootings is that after more than a half century and over 1.5 million shooting deaths of famous and anonymous Americans, the government of this country is still unwilling to come to grips with the plague of ever more lethal firearms in the hands of ever more people.

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Opinion: Fair housing in an unfair world

Ashley Skaria
Baruch College 2019, Macaulay Honors College 2019

Every news cycle contains a headline documenting another case of widespread discrimination.  Whether it be President Trump’s executive order, coined the “Muslim ban”, which barred immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries to the alarming rise in anti-Semitic incidents, it appears that there is an increase in intolerant and prejudicial behavior. Despite this changing culture, it is important to stay vigilant and protect people’s basic rights. The rising discriminatory culture in America can have serious effects on many policy issues, one of them being fair housing.

Fair housing was established by the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and is essentially the right to choose housing free from discrimination. The Act was passed in the aftermath of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and was a key issue for the Civil Rights Movement.

The history of fair housing has been contentious and it remains so. The Fair Housing Act attempts to reverse decades of discriminatory federal housing policy, such as redlining and blockbusting, to create fully integrated communities.

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Opinion: JFK’s enduring legacy

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

This week marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. President for less than three years, Kennedy still fascinates and inspires us even after more than fifty years since his assassination in Dallas.

Born into a family of wealth and privilege, nonetheless John Kennedy was instructed that “to those who much is given, much is expected” and that public service was a high calling.

What is it about the JFK legacy that still kindles a flame within us?

I suspect that part of it was the manner in which he left us so young with so much unfulfilled promise. I also suspect that part of the Kennedy mystique is attributed to the turbulent years that were the 1960s. It was a time of hope and change and also triumph and tragedy.

Kennedy embodied all of that.

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Opinion: Five tips to testify effectively for fair rent in front of the RGB

Some of the members of the Rent Guidelines Board, pictured at a hearing last year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Angela Pham, member, Met Council on Housing

At my day job, I’m a professional storyteller — I use words and stories strategically to get executives to buy something. This kind of persuasion is handy not only in a business context, but also to be heard in other areas.

But you don’t have to be a professional storyteller to see impact. With the upcoming Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) vote, we all have the opportunity to use stories for persuasion.

If you’re a rent-stabilized tenant, or are just an everyday citizen concerned about the lack of affordable housing in our city, you can use your voice for good by providing a 2-minute testimony in one of the upcoming public hearings.

The downtown Manhattan Hearing will be Wednesday, June 14 from 2-8 p.m. at Alexander Hamilton U.S. Customs House 1 Bowling Green.

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Editorial: Small businesses need pols’ help and ours

City Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal have been doggedly pushing a bill that if passed would give some relief to many of the Manhattan retailers who are forced to pay Commercial Rent Tax. The tax, they’ve argued, is discriminatory as it punishes retailers and restaurants for the crime of doing business below 96th Street and above Chambers. We have to say, we agree it’s obviously unfair, and we hope the legislation doesn’t face any obstacles in getting signed.

However, as any Manhattan storefronter can attest to, taxes are just the tip of the iceberg. Amazon is an ever-present competitor and the rent is too damn high with commercial tenants not having much in the way of bargaining power when it’s lease renewal time.

Rosenthal, following the press conference that was held for the CRT bill, said the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, which is aimed at giving business owners an automatic ten-year lease renewal, is being looked at by the council’s counsel. The legislation has been languishing for decades though recently it has gained steam as neighbors have grown weary of seeing their local small businesses get pushed out by chains.

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Opinion: Trumpcare is no care bill at all

By Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney

Last week, House Republicans voted to rob millions of Americans of affordable healthcare when they passed the so-called American Health Care Act, also known as Trumpcare. This bill, should it become law, will devastate our healthcare system, drive up healthcare costs, and cause enormous harm to millions of American families. It also has several pieces that single out New York, making it particularly harmful to our state. That’s why dozens of medical associations, patient advocates and public health experts joined me and every single Democrat in the House to oppose this bill and it’s why I hope this bill goes nowhere in the U.S. Senate.

Trumpcare is probably one of the most damaging and devastating bills to pass the House during my time in Congress. It will result in at least 24 million Americans, including 2.7 million New Yorkers, losing their healthcare coverage. For those that do not lose coverage, Trumpcare dramatically increases your out-of-pocket health costs – including premiums, deductibles, and other copays. The average marketplace enrollee will see costs rise by $3,174 in 2020 and individuals with incomes below 250 percent of the poverty line will see their costs increase by $4,815.

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Opinion: Trump’s disciples

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

There is an old saying that “nothing succeeds like success.” In politics that is an axiom of election strategy. When a political campaign is successful, especially one that is so unexpected, it is carefully studied and often times imitated by the next group of candidates.

Last year we saw the rise of Donald Trump to the Presidency. He accomplished this long shot feat by breaking all the rules of political decorum. He was not only brash and boastful, he had absolutely no experience in government. He was beyond just a provocateur, he was personally offensive to his political adversaries and all those who opposed him in any way. He took the low road with insults and slurs. He targeted and attacked religious and ethnic groups much to the delight of many in his fan base. He offered up lies and passed them off as fact and made promises to his supporters that he has already broken. But there he is in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that was the point of it all.

So the Trump model of political campaigning is now taking root. Right here in New York State there are two individuals interested in running for high office who are doing their best Trump impersonation, hoping that such a style may propel them too into high office. Call them candidate copycats. Call it trickle down politics.

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Opinion: Tech Hub another oversized development

May4 E 12th St buildings

These three 19th century buildings at 47 East 12th Street (left) and 827-831 Broadway are slated to be replaced with a 300-foot-tall office tower. (Photo courtesy of GVSHP)

 

By Andrew Berman, Executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

Previously unheard of development is streaming ahead in the blocks between Union Square and Astor Place, Fifth and Third Avenues. A 300 ft. tall luxury condo tower is rising on University Place and 12th Street. A 300 ft. tall office tower is planned for Broadway and 12th Street. A 120-room hotel for party-hopping millennials is going up on East 11th Street. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Why is this happening in a largely residential neighborhood known for its historic character and modest scale? Mostly because the area’s zoning dates to 1961, when the neighborhood was largely commercial, and tall towers rather than contextual development were in vogue. And although virtually everyone in the affected community, including elected officials, supports a rezoning we proposed that would put reasonable height limits in place, reinforce the area’s residential character, and add affordable housing incentives, the mayor adamantly opposes it.

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Editorial: Same old, same old at the RGB

On the heels of tenants’ bargaining power getting stripped away in Albany through the renewal of 421a and the de-coupling of the tax break’s expiration date with that of the rent regulations, the Rent Guidelines Board made it clear that it’s not considering the rent rollback tenants have asked for or even another freeze.

Additionally, the city’s stabilized landlords, represented by the group Rent Stabilization Association, feel they need a win after losing a lawsuit in March charging that last year’s rent freeze wasn’t valid.

So despite this being an election year, in which a pro-tenant mayor is hoping to get reelected, there probably won’t be another freeze. The rent increase ranges voted on Tuesday night, 1-3 percent for a one-year lease, 2-4 percent for a two-year lease, are just preliminary, but there’s also no reason to believe there could still be a freeze without bringing new, significant evidence to light that could change the board members’ minds.

Landlords have made the argument that it costs big bucks to run buildings properly, even more so in the past year, and tenants did already get two years of a freeze if they signed a one-year lease. A small business owner (as the RSA insists most landlords are) who can’t make ends meet because the rent is too damn low does sound like a legit argument indeed.

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Opinion: Local kid makes good

steveFarhood

Steve Farhood

 

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

 

Longtime Stuyvesant Town resident Steve Farhood has made it to the top!

There have been many, many successful persons from this community. A number of them were born right here and grew up around the playgrounds of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. They attended the local public or parochial schools. Many remained here as adults becoming outstanding members of their chosen professions. But none that I know of have been inducted into one of the major sports Hall of Fame. That is until Steve Farhood.

Those who knew Steve growing up or as a young adult probably watched him excel at paddle tennis winning titles and even national championships, some played right here on the courts in Stuyvesant Town. He had a penetrating and accurate backhand. Take it from me, one of the many players who fell victim to his talent on the court. But paddle tennis is not a major sport. Where Steve found his fame was in the pugilistic “sweet science” otherwise known as boxing. And he did so without ever lacing up a glove or landing a punch against another person.

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Opinion: Is the rent too damn high?

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Let me state at the outset that I like Joseph Strasberg a lot. I have known him for something like 40 years. He used to live in Stuyvesant Town when I did. He is smart and he is savvy, and an all-around good guy. So who is Joseph Strasberg?

Joe is the long-time president of the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA). Their slogan is “we house New York.” They represent hundreds of rent regulated building owners throughout New York City. Much of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village remain under the Rent Stabilization law. As such, thousands of tenants in our community are subject to the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) annual determination regarding rent renewal amounts for leases expiring in any given year.

For the past two years those increases have been small, just about two percent for a two-year lease and zero percent for a one-year lease renewal. In essence for tenants who have opted for one-year lease renewals their rent has been frozen for the past two years. Good news for tenants, but is this unfair to owners? Well Strasberg and the RSA say “for sure!” In fact, as was reported in the T&V, they went to court to petition a judge to overturn the RGB’s freezing of rents. They argued it was arbitrary and capricious and challenged the independence of the board from the political influence of the mayor. Strasberg averred in his court filings that the current mayor had “corrupted” the process. Strasberg and the RSA lost.

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Opinion: Science be damned

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

The latest obsessive assault on the Obama legacy by his successor may be the worst and most irresponsible.

Last week, President Trump ordered research on climate change be scaled back. He is now encouraging the burning of coal as a primary energy source while also relaxing policies intended to curtail dangerous and toxic emissions and discharges into our air and water from a variety of sources and especially greenhouse gases. The President’s Environmental Protection Administration is also rolling back regulations on previously banned toxic insecticides claiming that such prohibitions hurt the farming industry.

The Trump Administration argues that our current policies on climate change and environmental preservation is bad for business and impedes job creation. That position is mortally shortsighted.

Scientific research has determined conclusively that the environmental challenges to our planet Earth constitutes a clear and present danger to our ecosystem. Comprehensive studies confirm that the polar caps are melting rapidly due to global warming, and the oceans and seas are rising at an alarming rate. And the impacts from storms and droughts are becoming more severe and more deadly every year.

Global warming is an undeniable fact whose ramifications are real. It is not “fake news” nor is it an “alternative fact” subject to dispute or interpretation. Hurricane Katrina engulfed New Orleans and Super Storm Sandy drowned coastal New York and lower Manhattan in particular. Parts of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper were literally underwater, and buildings remained flooded for weeks. Katrina and Sandy were apocalyptic previews… a shot across our bow by Mother Nature.

To ignore the warning signs and the gathering climate crisis is not just bad planning; it is profound ignorance or even worse, cynical politics.

The question as to whether the policies of the former president were bad for some jobs in certain industries is dwarfed by the magnitude of the crisis. If steps are not taken now to reverse the destructive trajectory of the climate change impacts, the result will be irrevocable in just a few more generations.

I am reminded of the decades of denial by cigarette manufacturers and their supporters about the devastating effects of smoking and the addictive quality of nicotine. The tobacco industry also called this fake science and clung to the fiction that smoking and the inhalation of second hand smoke was of little harm and no concern, nor should it be regulated. They knew better.

In fact, they knew for many years of the sickening impacts of their products but they cared more about profits than people. And they continued to market their products, especially to young people without regard to health consequences. A staggering amount of the cost of medical care and insurance today is attributed to smoking. The toll from smoking related deaths and illnesses is criminal.

With climate change and the Trump reversal of Obama policies, we are witnessing a repeat of the same arguments that were used by the big cigarette and tobacco companies back in the 1950s and 1960s and still to some extent even today.

But the present day climate crisis is worldwide and it is existential in nature. For the Trump Administration to bury its head in the sand is beyond bad policy. It is neglect of monumental proportions. It is suicide.

The global time bomb is real and it is ticking, and Donald Trump is making that fuse a lot shorter.

Opinion: Bait and switch

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

It was a sales pitch; it was always a sales pitch. It was like the defunct Trump University whose former students now have buyer’s remorse and have won a $22 million restitution of their tuition costs for a product that was promised but not delivered.

For nearly two years since the start of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to put Americans first and to “make America great again.” He advertised his credentials as the consummate businessman and the ultimate deal maker. Just the kind of tonic Washington D.C.’s unhealthy dysfunctional government needed.

To that end he promised to repeal the current health care law and replace it with something “much better and more affordable for every American.”

But instead he endorsed a plan that would toss 24 million Americans from their current health coverage, increase premiums and roll back benefits.

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