CUNY students, pols protest tuition hikes

Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City University of New York students, education advocates and local elected officials rallied on the Baruch Plaza at Lexington Avenue and East 25th Street last Thursday, protesting tuition hikes for CUNY students.

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein argued at the rally that more money should be allocated to the city and state university systems, and also said that bills he has introduced would help provide that funding.

One piece of legislation from Epstein, which is co-sponsored by Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, would impose a 2% sales tax on various luxury items, including vehicles, jewelry and clothing over a certain amount, and the tax would be distributed equally to SUNY and CUNY. Another bill would increase taxes on beer and would direct the revenue generated from the tax to SUNY and CUNY, with Epstein noting that New York currently has one of the lowest beer taxes in the country. The bill would increase the tax to 30 cents per gallon, up from 14.

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Maloney challenger Erica Vladimer ending campaign

Erica Vladimer (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

District 12 congressional candidate and Upper East Side resident Erica Vladimer is ending her bid to replace incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Vladimer announced the end of her campaign in an emailed statement to supporters last Friday.

Vladimer said that she made the decision after difficulties fundraising and also due to a struggle with health issues, partially due to a lack of insurance since she’s been campaigning.

“Knowing myself personally, and knowing that anything I chose to do, I want to do my best, I realized that I couldn’t do that and didn’t feel comfortable with that,” she said of the overall decision.

Vladimer said that for a newcomer like herself, it was difficult to get momentum against Maloney, who already has a fundraising base as an incumbent congresswoman.

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Maloney challenger proposes free public transit

District 12 Congressional candidate Peter Harrison (standing, center) announced his transit plan at East 14th Street and First Avenue this past Tuesday with (from left to right) Brooklyn City Council candidate Victoria Cambranes and activists Dustin Jones and Dannelly Rodriguez. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuy Town resident and Congressional candidate Peter Harrison announced his campaign to make public transit free and increase accessibility throughout the system on Tuesday morning at the corner of First Avenue and East 14th Street.

Harrison’s proposal, the “Freedom of Movement in America Plan,” calls on the federal government to spend $1.7 trillion on public transportation over the next 10 years. One component of the plan is to make transit completely fare-free and provide $17 billion in federal funding to cover fare revenue, in addition to providing $9 billion in funding for paratransit in order to achieve 100% accessibility for public transit.

Another aspect of the proposal would fund the Federal Railroad Administration in order to invest $150 billion in Amtrak, $150 billion into the development of high-speed rail and update rolling stock to decarbonized, emission-free systems within 12 years at a cost of $500 million a year.

Harrison, a Democratic Socialist who is challenging incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in District 12, said that his plan isn’t intended to punish car-owners, but aims to make transportation more accessible for everyone, especially residents who can’t afford cars.

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Epstein hosts town hall for East Side residents

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein spoke at a recent town hall about legislation he recently introduced that aims to increase job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein held his second annual town hall last weekend to address concerns in the community on housing, as well as disability rights, climate change, prison reform and education. The event was held in the Friends Seminary at 218 East 16th Street and US Senator Charles Schumer also made an appearance near the end of the town hall after a stop at the Chinese New Year celebration in Lower Manhattan in order to provide an update for residents in the community about the impeachment trial.

Advocates broke off into panels for the majority of the town hall to discuss each of the topics but housing was combined into one panel at the end of the afternoon. Yonatan Tadele and Alex Lee of Cooper Square Committee, Barika Williams of Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, and Munir Smith of GOLES discussed preservation of affordable housing and how tenants can protect themselves against predatory landlords, as well as what advocates still need to work towards after the success of last year’s strengthening of the rent laws.

Williams said that homeownership should be part of the conversation in addition to the discussion about the rent laws.

“Sometimes you’re like, I don’t want to have to fight this renter fight for the rest of my life, and maybe would like to purchase a home,” she said. “So we have to be able to think of those things and we’ve got to think about preserving our stock. There’s going to be a huge battle to make sure that that housing doesn’t all go to market rate because then we’re right back where we started fighting.”

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Local Democratic club endorses Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney at forum

The Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club endorsed Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in her re-election bid over her four Democratic challengers. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club voted to endorse Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for re-election after a forum featuring the current representative and four of her Democratic opponents on Tuesday evening at the New York New Church on East 35th Street.

Stuy Town resident Peter Harrison, Upper East Side resident Erica Vladimer, Long Island City resident Lauren Ashcraft and Lower East Side resident Suraj Patel made their case in their campaigns against the longtime incumbent at the event co-organized by the Tilden Democrats, Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats, Four Freedoms, Coalition of a District Alternative (CODA), East River Democratic Club and Lexington Democrats. Tilden previously endorsed Maloney for re-election in November.

Members of the various Democratic clubs that were in attendance submitted questions for each of the candidates, focusing on topics such as housing, transportation, education and infrastructure. ERDC District Leader Mike Corbett lead the forum last Tuesday.

All of the candidates said that they are supportive of protecting and expanding affordable housing as well as protecting public housing, although Congresswoman Maloney was the only candidate who specified where she believes the district needs more affordable housing.

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Tenants rally to save Fifth Avenue building

Although the building is not in his district, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein spoke at the rally against the demolition of the Fifth Avenue building and the proposed development at the site. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenants, local elected officials and housing advocates last Friday rallied against a plan from Madison Realty Capital that would demolish a five-story, 20-unit apartment building on Fifth Avenue in a historic district and replace it with a building almost four times as tall as the existing structure but with fewer apartments.

The plan from the developer would replace the building at 14-16 Fifth Avenue, which was constructed in 1848, with a 244-foot, 21-story tower with 18 units of luxury housing.

Advocates at the rally last week condemned the project, arguing that the proposed building was an inappropriate size compared to other buildings in the neighborhood. The demolition of the building would also include the loss of at least 10 rent-stabilized units, which would then be replaced by fewer units, all of which would be unaffordable.

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Hundreds protest before Trump is impeached

The rally in Union Square was held on the night before the impeachment vote in the House. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Rain and raw, damp weather did not stop the hundreds of protesters who marched from Times Square to Union Square last Tuesday in support President Donald Trump’s impeachment, which the US House of Representatives voted for on Wednesday.

“Impeach and Remove” rallies organized by progressive groups such as MoveOn.org and the Women’s March took place in cities across the country prior to the impeachment vote that was scheduled for the following day in the House. Local groups that participated in the rallies included Empire State Indivisible, Common Cause New York and Rise and Resist.

One group of protesters at the Union Square protest carried a giant cloth banner with the words from Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution printed on it: “The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Other protesters at the rally had an inflatable caricature of the president along with LED signs that spelled out “End 45.”

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Petitions ask Cuomo to study hospital downsizing

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein delivered petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office in Midtown on Monday, asking the governor to further study Mount Sinai’s plan for downsizing Beth Israel. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, local residents and healthcare advocates delivered a thousand petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office on Monday afternoon, calling on the governor to further study the impact of Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s downsizing on the community.

The petition requested that Cuomo direct the State Department of Health Services to stop further closure of services at Beth Israel and conduct a thorough, independent study of the impact of the closures with community input.

“We just want to talk to the State Department about next steps,” Epstein said. “We want to talk about a larger study, a real study, to find out if this is really in the best interests of the neighborhood or if this is just a real estate deal.”

The petition argued that the reduction of beds from the current Beth Israel to the new facility being built is a “health crisis” because the hospital is still in use and that the Cardiac Surgery Unit, Maternity Ward and Pediatric Surgery Unit were closed in 2017 with approval from the State Health Department but without a community-vetted replacement plan in place.

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Mayor announces additional outreach for homeless New Yorkers

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the new initiative to provide additional outreach services for homeless New Yorkers and introduced new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, at the 14th Street Y. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mayor Bill de Blasio was at the 14th Street Y last Thursday, November 14 to introduce new Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, and announce the launch of a new program to combat homelessness in the city called Outreach NYC, which has since been criticized by other local elected officials and advocates.

The administration said on Thursday that the initiative will mobilize thousands of staff members from various city agencies who will be accessible for outreach assistance via 311. The city is encouraging New Yorkers to alert 311 when they see unsheltered individuals with the aim of helping those homeless New Yorkers transition off the streets and subways into more permanent, stable settings.

“We believe that this kind of outreach effort is the key,” de Blasio said at the announcement on Thursday. “We believe that constantly engaging folks is the answer. And I want everyone understand, I’m not talking about a few times and not talking about a few dozen times. Sometimes we were talking about hundreds of times before it works. But it is worth it because every time, and we heard from the outreach workers today, the sense of victory they felt when someone did come in and they were talking about literally in the last days getting someone in off the streets, who had been on the streets for years and years. What a profound victory that is.”

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Maloney elected to be Oversight Committee’s first female chair

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, joined by US Senator Charles Schumer (left) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right), at an event earlier this year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has been elected chair of the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday after she was nominated by the House Democratic steering committee earlier this week.

The New York Post reported that Maloney got the nomination after a vote from the steering committee in a meeting on Tuesday.

“I am deeply humbled and grateful to my colleagues for entrusting me with the chairmanship,” Maloney said after she was elected to the permanent position. “I’m honored by this opportunity to do more for the American people and will do my best to follow the honorable example that Chairman Cummings left for us all. There’s much work to be done, and I can’t wait to get started.”

Maloney became the acting chair of the Oversight Committee in October following the sudden death of Representative Elijah Cummings, who was previously the chair. Prior to her nomination, she faced three other challengers in a run for the permanent position.

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Hoylman introduces bill to allow adult victims of sex crimes to seek justice

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced legislation at the end of October that would create a one-year window so that survivors of sex crimes who were 18 years or older can file lawsuits and seek justice.

Hoylman introduced the legislation, titled the Adult Survivor’s Act, after successfully passing the Child Victims Act through the state legislature earlier this year alongside Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal after the bill was stalled for years. Governor Andrew Cuomo finally signed the bill into law in February 2019.

“For too long, justice has been out of reach for adult survivors of sexual crimes,” Hoylman said. “Survivors have experienced horrific trauma and abuse, and many do not immediately come forward—they deserve our support whenever they decide they are ready to pursue justice. The New York State Legislature has already made historic strides to protect survivors by passing the Child Victims Act and prospectively extending the criminal and civil statute of limitations. Now, we must stand with survivors who have been failed in the past by our state’s insufficient laws, pass the Adult Survivors Act, and give these individuals their day in court.”

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Garodnick advocates for Ranked Choice Voting

Christopher Marte of Arena, Julie Samuels of Tech NYC, former Councilmember Dan Garodnick and Common Cause executive director Susan Lerner advocated for Ranked Choice Voting earlier this month.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Former City Councilmember and Peter Cooper resident Dan Garodnick joined nonprofit watchdog group Common Cause and other advocates earlier this month in front of the City Clerk’s Office to push New Yorkers to vote in favor of Ranked Choice Voting during this year’s election.

The current system in New York calls for a runoff election, or a second election, if no candidate received a majority in the first race. Ranked Choice Voting would eliminate the need for a second election, which advocates argued would save the city millions of dollars, especially because turnout is so low in runoff elections.

“The reality here is that so few people vote in these runoffs that they do little for democracy while adding huge unnecessary costs,” Garodnick said. “In 2009 when there was a runoff for both public advocate and city comptroller, New York City taxpayers paid $48.90 per vote, and the turnout was a mere 8% of eligible voters. In 2013, during the runoff election for public advocate, taxpayers were forced to spend an additional $10.4 million for an election with just 7% turnout. That is $51.20 per vote.”

With Ranked Choice Voting, instead of voting for just one candidate, voters will be able to rank their top five candidates in local primary and special elections, although voters will still also be able to vote for just one candidate if they wish.

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Maloney named interim chair of House Oversight and Reform Committee

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, seen here celebrating the passage of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund earlier this year with US Senator Charles Schumer (left) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler (right), has been named interim chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Democrats have named Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney as the interim chair for the House Oversight and Reform Committee last Thursday following the death of Representative Elijah Cummings, who played an active role in the impeachment inquiry as the committee’s chair.

Maloney is a senior Democrat on the panel and the New York Times noted last week that her appointment as acting chairwoman is in line with House rules. A permanent leader of the committee is expected to be elected at a later time, a senior Democratic leadership aide said.

Local elected officials lauded the news of Maloney’s appointment while paying tribute to Cummings.

“While we all mourn the loss of Congressmember Cummings, I am reassured by Congressmember Maloney’s appointment as interim Chair,” Assemblymember Harvey Epstein said. “Congresswoman Maloney is dedicated to protecting our democracy and I am confident that she will carry out what is necessary to move forward with impeachment inquiries.”

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New workplace sexual harassment protections now in effect

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last Friday that new workplace anti-discrimination and sexual harassment protections have gone into effect. Provisions of the new law, which was signed in August, eliminate the restriction that sexual harassment be “severe or pervasive” for it to be legally actionable and prohibit confidentiality agreements in employment discrimination cases. 

The provisions officially went into effect last Friday and make it clear that workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, need not be pervasive or severe for workers to file suit against an employer. The law also expands protections to include all forms of workplace discrimination for domestic workers and all contractors, subcontractors, consultants, vendors or others offering services in the workplace. 

“The ongoing culture of sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and has held employees back for far too long,” Cuomo said. “This critical measure finally ends the absurd legal standard for victims to prove sexual harassment in the workplace and makes it easier for those who have been subjected to this disgusting behavior to bring claims forward. Now it’s time for employers across the state to step up and review their internal policies to ensure their employees are protected from harassment or discrimination and abusers who violate these standards are held accountable.”

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Floating billboards officially banned in New York

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Floating billboards are officially banned in New York waterways, thanks to a court order by Judge Louis L. Stanton on Tuesday, reinforcing a new state law originally introduced by State Senator Brad Hoylman and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo at the end of August.

The New York Law Department announced the settlement of a lawsuit against Ballyhoo Media, which has repeatedly displayed large floating LED billboards on a barge that traveled daily along the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts, despite the law that prohibits them.

Under the law, which was originally introduced in the Senate by Hoylman and in the Assembly by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, boats are not allowed to operate digital billboards or other billboards that use flashing or moving lights. The bill also empowers local governments to restrict or ban the use of outdoor advertising signage on vessels within 1,500 feet from shore.

Violations of the law are subject to a $1,000 civil penalty for the first violation and $5,000 for subsequent violations.

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