Editorial: Not so E-Z-victions

These days it’s impossible to have a conversation about small businesses without lapsing into how a heady, toxic mix of landlord greed, government fees and online shopping are slowly but surely destroying them all.

The biggest game changer we can think of, the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, is still very much in limbo. However, there are fortunately some lawmakers coming up with some other ideas in the meantime aimed at giving mom-and-pops a break. While not as far-reaching as the SBJSA, we do believe a few will help and they certainly seem to have more of a chance of getting passed in a timely fashion.

A new bill by Council Member Mark Levine of Upper Manhattan would help business owners fight evictions by guaranteeing them the right to counsel, as those facing criminal charges get when they’re poor, and poor tenants facing evictions from their homes get, too.

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Opinion: Congestion indigestion

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

“The main arteries are clogged. The blockages are serious. We must reduce the congestion. We are choking from volume.”

If you thought this was dialogue from the TV show “ER,” you could be excused.

Rather these are statements from reports about the traffic conditions especially in Manhattan’s core.

The latest remediation to our transportation and corresponding air quality woes has been proposed by Governor Cuomo and endorsed by Mayor de Blasio. It is being hotly debated in the State Legislature this month.

In a nutshell, the policy prescription is to try to discourage motorists from driving into midtown Manhattan by imposing a new toll on those who enter the designated “zone.” It’s called “Congestion Pricing.” Its purpose is to use that new revenue source to support our mass transit system and its buses, subways and infrastructure.

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Opinion: A walk in the park

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

For many years the The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the first owner of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, advertised our environs as a “park-like residential community.”

A community of 110 buildings housing 25,000 persons situated amongst acres of green grass, trees, plantings and shrubbery removed from the teeming streets of Manhattan. Met Life was pretty much on point.

But the current ownership has taken this now-quaint community to greater heights of amiability and helpful amenities. So last week while visiting my mom, I decided to do something I have not done in years… to walk the length and breadth of our unique neighborhood.

I crossed over 20th Street from the redesigned playgrounds and basketball courts of Peter Cooper Village over to Stuyvesant Town. I walked passed Lenz’s, the venerable local deli/grocery store owned by the equally venerable Naz who has been a friend and merchant to our community for decades.

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Editorial: What the L is the MTA thinking?

As more details continue to be announced (or leaked) with regards to the revised L train repair plan, what becomes increasingly clear is that avoiding a full shutdown doesn’t mean avoiding a painfully slow commute.

As Town & Village reported last week, though many details are still up the air, there is a possibility of the two Manhattan East Side L stations becoming exit only (First and Third Avenue). Additionally, so far it appears that Select Bus Service won’t be made available until months after the project begins. On the latter issue, the MTA wants to do outreach first to see if SBS is truly needed.

This we don’t understand. Even under normal circumstances, the L train is crowded and alternative methods of transportation need to be expanded. The M14 as it exists today is currently too poky along this very busy street to be a truly dependable alternative. Of course SBS is needed.

Now, as for this other business of potentially not allowing anyone to enter the First and Third Avenue stations in order to mitigate crowding, this would be, as Council Member Keith Powers put it, “effectively a shutdown” for anyone who lives near the First or Third Avenue stations.

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Opinion: Down the Amazon

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Any way you slice it, last week was a bad week for Jeff Bezos, the richest man in America. Mr. Bezos owns the online retail shopping giant Amazon as well as other businesses. His net worth is reportedly north of $75 billion; yes, that is billions.

Earlier in the month, the National Enquirer tabloid threatened to release salacious photos of Mr. Bezos engaged in extramarital activities during what might become the most expensive divorce in history. Then a few days later, bowing to political pressure from politicians and communities in Queens, Mr. Bezos pulled the plug and backed out of his deal with Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to build a massive back office complex in Long Island City, just a stone’s throw across the East River. The deal had been consummated by promises of government subsidies totaling $3 billion from the city and state. So what happened?

As I wrote on this page several months ago, the entire Amazon announcement back in November was curious to begin with. First of all, the governor disclosed this agreement days after he was re-elected. With news like that, one would have expected that the governor would have wanted to make this public before the election if it was so terrific. Hmmm. On the surface it seemed like a pretty good deal for New York City with the prospect of thousands of new jobs. But then the details trickled out.

Very few could argue against the benefits to the city’s economy by opening a major new enterprise which may have brought significant new employment to our city and the new income tax revenue that such jobs would have produced. But there were other issues as well with such a huge land deal. These issues are routinely vetted by the local community and the City Council. That is how our city government works, or is supposed to work.

Amazon would only build this complex with the billions in public taxpayer subsidies and other little goodies like a private helicopter landing site for Mr. Bezos and his top executives to come and go. All city and state reviews of this city property transfer would be suspended. No oversight or official comment by the City Council or the local Community Planning Boards would be allowed. Why not? The answer is probably that Mr. Bezos did not want to negotiate with anybody other than the mayor and the governor and did not want to risk getting tied up in discussions if his plans were not to the liking of the immediate communities to be impacted.

But why did the governor and the mayor who usually agree on nothing but always talk about good government bi-laterally enter into this most non-transparent arrangement with Amazon and giving no community leaders or representatives of government a say in the matter? I suspect that it had as much to do with political development as it did with economic development. Reference back to my opening sentence. Mr. Bezos is fabulously wealthy and is known to help underwrite the political aspirations of his most favored politicians. Both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have aspirations that go beyond New York City or New York State. Pardon my cynicism.

But all is not lost. If the city and the state were prepared to give Amazon all those billions of dollars in public money for its private construction, why not re-purpose that money for job training, education including vocational, and support for small businesses? That investment would also create more jobs and more taxes paid, as well as economic activity. So evidently the money is there to be spent, but will it be spent on anything or anyone other than the richest man in America?

Editorial: Your vote really does count this time

Town & Village has opined before about the uselessness of certain city elected positions, like borough presidents and the public advocate, the latter of which has an office that’s currently up for grabs.

On Tuesday, February 26, there is an open special election for the office of public advocate, which was vacated by Letitia James when she became attorney general. Now, 17 people are vying for her position, which despite having no real power, has proven to be very powerful in another way, by boosting one’s profile for the next big race. Mayor Bill de Blasio is a good example of this.

We can understand, however, if people aren’t motivated to do these candidates  any favors. It’s hard to think of any important things accomplished by the public advocate other than the maintenance of the worst landlord watchdog list. But even this is not enough of a reason to keep the office open at the taxpayers’ expense in our view. That said, our view on this matter doesn’t actually matter at all because despite an ongoing City Council effort to eliminate the position, of public advocate, it’s still there. So New Yorkers may as well make the best of their (many) options.

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Opinion: Mark-Viverito blocked SBJSA

By Sung Soo Kim, founder, Small Business Congress

Normally, the small business advocates would call upon all New Yorkers to put aside the canned election political rhetoric and instead scrutinize the records, qualifications, public statements and past actions of the candidates. There is no time for this proper analysis, but one candidate’s shameful record on dealing with the small business crisis and being influenced by a lobby must be exposed to the voters, especially in the immigrant community.

We carefully reviewed public advocate candidate Melissa Mark-Viverito’s (MMV) record and actions as speaker on addressing the specific crisis of the closings of long established small businesses. Also examined were her actions to address the anti-democratic rigging by a lobby taking place in the speaker’s office for over four years.

Nobody is more qualified to make this assessment than the small business advocates who have been fighting for justice for decades. The small businesses themselves wrote the original legislation (Small Business Jobs Survival Act, Jobs Survival Act ) giving rights to businesses to survive when their leases expired and then advocated for over 30 years to get it passed.

We know from firsthand experience who is a true progressive and friend of small business and who has been bought off to stop our bill and deny rights to small business owners.  We know when we receive justice and fair treatment at City Hall and when justice is denied by a rigged system. Our warning to voters to not vote for MMV is based solely upon the true record of MMV as speaker on our crisis.

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Opinion: Shutdowns and showdowns

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

The federal government shutdown is over, at least for now. This lull before the next budget deadline is a good time to reflect on recent events. Does the president really have an appetite for putting 800,000 federal workers through that financial trauma again? Does he really want to again halt essential functions rendered by FBI agents and air traffic controllers, persons running national parks or those dispensing critical human services to the needy?

Some years ago, when budget delays were common in New York State for lack of an agreement between the legislature and the governor, the state at that time enacted a policy whereby legislators would not be paid until the budget was passed. This was done both in the hopes of spurring agreements as well as punishment for negligent and tardy behavior. So here is an idea:

Come February 15, if there is no budget in place in Washington D.C. and hostages need to be taken, have the members of the executive branch of government, including the president, vice president, the cabinet and their staffs go without their pay until the issues are resolved. And do the same with all members of Congress and their staffs. Whether elected officials are paid bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or once a year, it is legal.

Rumor has it that there is legislation to do just that which is actually being proposed in the House of Representatives. Good. Let them put their money where their mouth is.

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Opinion: Run, Bill, run

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Several weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would be spending time away from City Hall with an ambitious national travel schedule promoting progressive policies which he believes would be good for the country and New York City. He then said that he has “not ruled out” a run for President in 2020. And then in answer to a reporter’s question about his pledge to serve all four years of his second term as mayor, de Blasio’s reply was that “Times have changed since 2017”.

The Democratic Party will have no shortage of candidates vying for the nomination to run against President Trump. There will be more than a dozen and most of those candidates will hold progressive views similar to de Blasio’s. That is the nature of the Democratic Party these days. The route to the nomination travels through the more progressive and liberal ideology espoused by persons such as Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris to name just a few. And although the nation’s electorate as a whole is more centrist, the first order of business for any Democratic aspirant is getting the nomination.

But back to Mayor de Blasio. He was re-elected in 2017. With term limits he cannot run for mayor again. His height (six feet, six inches) is a metaphor for his outsized political ambition and his self-esteem. But being mayor of the city that never sleeps, the largest in the nation, is not like any other job in politics. It is a 24/7 responsibility. It is about managing the affairs of this sprawling metropolis and the almost daily crises that arise. It goes with the territory.

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Opinion: Now’s the time to speak up

By Assembly Member Harvey Epstein

New York is often held up as beacon of progressivism, but the truth is that our state has not been a leader on enacting criminal justice and re-entry reforms, fairly funding our schools, increasing voter access and protecting and amplifying the voices of groups that have traditionally been excluded from the political process. This year, with decisive Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature, we will have a unique opportunity to go from a laggard to a leader on many important issues by making substantial changes in state law that will have implications for decades to come.

Every issue the state government is dealing with this year is permeated by the issues of race and racism, which are ever present in our society. We need to hear from people with diverse perspectives and experiences. It is critical that people who share a social justice and racial justice lens engage in the legislative process.

Please get involved. Whether you care about single payer healthcare or the renewal and expansion of the rent laws, criminal justice reforms, or fixing the MTA –– pick your issue and dig in. Learn about the bills, think about the policy implications, consider how your community may be impacted and speak up: tell your representatives what you want to see.

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Opinion: The Cuomo watch

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Last week Andrew Cuomo began his third term as governor of New York State. This week the clock starts ticking on whether he will shortly seek a new job…president of the United States.

It’s not as if Governor Cuomo doesn’t have enough to occupy his time in Albany.

In fact, he and the state legislature have a full plate of issues to contend with. Rent laws for New York City, health insurance, MTA funding, repairing an aged infrastructure, ethics and election reform, passage of a new state budget by April 1, and much more.

To be accurate, Mr. Cuomo has said repeatedly that under no circumstances will he run for president in 2020. Yet the rumors persist. To a large extent, they have been fueled by his recently amped up talk about the conditions in Washington, D.C. and the failures of the Trump presidency with comparisons to his own leadership in New York. Andrew Cuomo would surely not be the first politician to say one thing and proceed to do another especially as it relates to a run for higher office. Some call that lying, some politicians call it strategy.

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Editorial: We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this will work. How about you?

We will freely admit that the governor’s slamming the brakes on a plan that would have made 250,000 straphangers miserable for 15 months (instead proposing significantly less misery for that time or perhaps five months longer) felt like a white knight rescue.

But.

Andrew Cuomo is no knight. Nor is he, for that matter, an engineer.

Andrew Cuomo is a politician, and the experts he’s relying on for all this newfound information also have no experience with the subway they’re proposing to fix. So please forgive us if we’re not phone banking for Cuomo’s 2020 presidential campaign just yet. Especially since it’s still curious as to why the famously calculating governor would take such an incredible risk. The election against his formidable primary challenger is over, after all. NYC Transit President Andy Byford believes he is the one who would be on the hook if this plan fails spectacularly and he is of course right, but so would Cuomo since we all know he’s the one strong-arming all of this.

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Opinion: With Dems in control of House, time for a progressive agenda

Congress Member Carolyn Maloney

By Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney

When Democrats take control of the House of the Representatives in January, we will have an opportunity to change the course of our country by pursuing a bold progressive agenda that serves all Americans and providing a badly needed check on President Trump and his administration.

In the next Congress, I will be the vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, chair of the Capital Markets Subcommittee and a senior member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Using these positions, I will fight to expand opportunities for all Americans, strengthen our health care system, defend our rights and liberties and make sure Congress acts as the check and balance envisioned in the Constitution.

The first order of business in a Democratic House will be H.R. 1, a bold reform package designed to strengthen our democracy. It will include campaign finance reform, similar to New York City’s system, that combines small-donor incentives and matching support — to increase and multiply the power of small donors — and requires all political organizations to disclose their donors. In addition, it will impose strong new ethics rules to stop officials from using their public office for personal gain, as well as election reforms to make it easier to vote by strengthening the Voting Rights Act, promoting automatic voter registration and bolstering our election infrastructure against foreign attackers.

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Opinion: The gift of hope

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It’s a story as old as the Bible, yet as new as yesterday’s headlines. It’s about the land of the free and the home of the brave. The Pilgrims, the Statue of Liberty… our past and our present.

Of course, I speak of those seeking sanctuary from oppression, violence or starvation. It’s about persons in dire need of a safe harbor, or possibly a single migrant family looking for a place to give birth to a child who would one day spark a great religion. It’s about the descendant of Irish immigrants fleeing famine who would be president. How different the world would be if the stable had been closed to outsiders or the border shut to the Irish.

Jewish people have a particular affinity for those in search of refuge since they were repeatedly driven from their homes by conquering armies in centuries past, or the pogroms of Russia, or most recently the Nazi onslaught that became the Holocaust. We have witnessed the tragic consequences when people are turned away because of their different religion or skin color or culture. It never ends well.

Most avert their attention from such desperation but some do not.

Our neighborhood congregation of East End Temple refuses to look the other way.

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Opinion: Missing George H.W. Bush

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Anyone who takes government service seriously had to be moved by the tributes to our 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush. His life was an embodiment of patriotism and truly exemplified fidelity to our constitution and our laws. Of course, that does not mean that we agreed with every policy decision he made as president. But one cannot question his determination to do what he felt was best for the country, and as Abraham Lincoln said, “with malice towards none and charity for all.”

 The contrast with the 45th president could not be more poignant. Donald Trump more and more speaks like a mob boss. He demands unquestioned loyalty from his associates even to the point of praising those who refuse to discuss what they know about the circumstances that occurred during the 2016 presidential campaign. He has been effusive in his praise of those who refuse to assist the Special Counsel Robert Mueller like his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who has already pleaded guilty to multiple crimes but is undercutting the investigation of Russian involvement in American elections. But to those who have spoken candidly to Mr. Mueller, he has nothing but scorn and threats. He tweets that his enemies should be jailed and seeks to exact retribution.

Just last week, we learned that contrary to Mr. Trump’s long assertion of no involvement with the Russians, it is now revealed that even as he made those declarations his company was pursuing a billion-dollar building opportunity in Moscow with the direct knowledge of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Could that relationship be why Mr. Putin wanted to help Donald Trump become president, and why Mr. Trump has never uttered a cross word about Putin? Trump has inexplicably dismissed the findings of all our intelligence agencies that in fact there was an organized effort from the Kremlin to aid the candidacy of Donald Trump. Mr. Trump can yell “no collusion” all he wants but increasingly the facts are saying otherwise.

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