Real estate attorney running for City Council

Erin Hussein (Photos courtesy of Erin Hussein)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Real estate attorney Erin Hussein, a candidate for City Council, said that she was motivated to join the race because she’s invested in her neighborhood, the East Village.

“I’m running for District 2 because of District 2,” she said. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and it’s been intertwined with my entire life.”

Hussein, a Democrat, is running to replace term-limited City Councilmember Rosie Mendez. She moved to the city for college in 1988 after growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut. While New York is a bigger city, Hussein said she sees neighborhoods that make up the communities as similar to small towns like hers.

“Cities are organisms,” she said. “It’s a collection of neighborhoods, a collection of people. But we’re becoming less focused on people and more focused on buildings, and on the very wealthy elites.”

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City Council takes aim at bullying landlords

Council Member Helen Rosenthal has proposed opening an Office of tenant Advocate. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Wednesday, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a set of bills that’s been dubbed the Stand for Tenant Safety Act. The legislation aims to crack down on acts of harassment by unscrupulous landlords by increasing penalties and making it easier for tenants to prove they’re being harassed, including when the behavior comes in the form of construction. Other bills call for the creation of a task force as well as a new office to help tenants cut through red tape.

That bill, sponsored by Helen Rosenthal, would create an “Office of Tenant Advocate” within the Department of Buildings.

“While many at DOB do important work on behalf of tenants, the bureaucracy just isn’t in place to make tenants’ voices heard,” Rosenthal said. “This bill will change that, giving tenants a dedicated watchdog and workhorse on their behalf.”

The bill to create a task force is aimed at evaluating current practices used by city agencies with regards to renovation and construction at residential buildings. Dan Garodnick, who sponsored this bill, said the task force would then come up with ideas to improve communication between the agencies, including the DOB, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the mayor’s office.

“Construction harassment is a lesser known but deeply troubling form of harassment,” Garodnick said. “We are determined to deliver effective and consistent strategies to help combat this practice.”

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Attorney running to replace Mendez

Jorge Vasquez, a lifetime Lower East Sider and attorney (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Lower East Side resident Jorge Vasquez has his lifelong neighborhood to thank for his aspiring City Council candidacy. Vasquez, an attorney who is running to replace term-limited City Councilmember Rosie Mendez in District 2, said that it was the local Boys & Girls Republic, as well as his mother’s influence, that got him involved in community advocacy.

“It was a tradition with me and my mom on Election Day where we would wake up and I would go with her to the polls,” he said, recalling that he and his mother also canvassed for Antonio Pagan, the City Councilmember for District 2 in the 1990s prior to Mendez’s predecessor, Margarita Lopez.

Vasquez said that he started attending programming at the Boys & Girls Republic, which offer youth the opportunity to participate in self-government, at age six and was putting bills together by age 10. When Vasquez joined, the program was known as the Boys Brotherhood Republic but the program later became part of the Henry Street Settlement and was renamed the Boys & Girls Republic.

“Those programs give youth the opportunity to be active in the community,” he said. “Being part of democracy, and even to be familiar with the courtroom and jury rules, is so important. I wouldn’t be an attorney without access to these programs and the advocacy it instilled in me.”

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Kavanagh to run for NY Senate

Brian Kavanagh

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A few hours after State Senator Daniel Squadron announced he’d be leaving Albany, citing special interests and corruption preventing true democracy from taking place as a reason, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh said he’d be running for the position.

Since state elections aren’t until next year, the election for the Senate seat, which covers downtown Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn, will be a special election. The date would be determined by the governor though it will likely be in November during the general election for citywide races. Prior to that candidates will be nominated by the county committee for each party.

According to State Senator Brad Hoylman, this process tends to be an insider game, which would make it easier for a well-known candidate like a current elected official to get the nod from the party as opposed to an unknown aspiring lawmaker. While Hoylman admitted he thought this process could use some reform to become more egalitarian, he nonetheless praised his colleague, an 11-year veteran of Albany, as a potential senator.

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District 2 Council candidates square off at forum

Residents watch the forum at Boys & Girls Republic

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Candidates running to replace term-limited City Councilmember Rosie Mendez met to discuss the central issues of their campaigns at the Boys & Girls’ Republic on the Lower East Side this past Monday night. District 2 covers the area west of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village to Fifth Avenue, covering Flatiron, the East Village, Alphabet City and parts of the Lower East Side, and stretching up to Kips Bay.

Democrats Ronnie Cho, Juan Pagan, Carlina Rivera, Jasmin Sanchez, Mary Silver and Jorge Vasquez and Republican Jimmy McMillan appeared at the forum to talk about affordable housing, small businesses, issues important to seniors and education. Democrat Erin Hussein is also running for the seat but was unable to attend the debate.

The Henry Street Settlement, along with the Women’s Political Caucus of New York, sponsored the event and Henry Street executive director David Garza moderated the discussion among the candidates. Garza started the conversation by asking the candidates to outline what they feel is the most important issue for the district and what they plan to do.

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Council committees support East Midtown Rezoning plan

Council Member Dan Garodnick discusses how current zoning egulations have stunted commercial growth in East Midtown. (Pictured) Assembly Member Dan Quart, Garodnick, Council Member David Greenfield, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday, Council Member Dan Garodnick and a few other elected officials celebrated another step in bringing East Midtown rezoning closer to reality. Earlier in the day, a revised plan for rezoning, a project that’s been in the works since the Bloomberg administration, was approved by the Council’s Zoning & Franchises Sub-Committee. Later, the Land Use Committee would also give the plan its blessing as would the mayor. The full Council is expected to vote on the plan in August.

Takeaways of the plan include mandating that any developer looking to take advantage of building bigger and higher than what is currently allowed have 75 feet of building frontage. Any building that has more than 30,000 square feet must have open space accessible to the public, also known as POPS (privately owns public spaces). Additionally, before a building can even be occupied, the developer will have to first make an assigned infrastructural transit improvement in the district.

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Candidate threatened with arrest while calling for reform of the city’s privately owned public spaces

Marti Speranza said she tried but was unable to get a permit to hold her press conference at the Trump Tower Atrium, which is supposed to be publicly accessible. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Marti Speranza, a Democrat running for City Council, risked but ultimately evaded arrest on Monday while calling for reform of Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS).

Ironically, the threat of arrest came because of the venue of her press conference, one of the city’s so-called POPS located in the atrium of Trump Tower.

As Speranza and supporters gathered at the space before the press conference, which was on a level below the ground floor, they were told they’d be arrested if they didn’t leave, her campaign staffers later said. However, Speranza and a couple of other speakers went on to make their arguments anyway, uninterrupted, as a few suit wearing men hovered at the room’s entrance. Afterwards, they stepped forward to ask the candidate and staffers if they’d be dispersing. Speranza’s campaign manager said the men later identified themselves as police from the NYPD’s Intelligence Unit. While no voices were raised, one of the men said he would normally turn the matter over to the legal department, but then added, “We don’t want to go that route.” He also asked if the campaign was planning any similar events in the future. When a staffer responded that doing so would be the campaign’s right, the man disagreed, but ultimately no one was kicked out.

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(UPDATED) Council candidate, booted off ballot over late filing, trying to get back on

Bessie Schachter, pictured at last month’s debate next to fellow candidate Jeff Mailman (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

UPDATE July 27 at 2:15 p.m.: Schachter contacted Town & Village on Thursday afternoon to say she was reinstated by court order.

By Sabina Mollot

On July 13, all candidates running for City Council races were required to submit petitions with a minimum of 450 signatures — or more if they expected to ward off challenges.

But one candidate, who said she actually got over 5,000 signatures, was knocked off the ballot for filing her paperwork a day late, and is now attempting to fight her way back on. That candidate, Bessie Schachter, told Town & Village she does expect to be on the ballot in the September 12 primary, though, calling the problem a “minor, technical” one.

According to an employee at the New York City Board of Elections, Schachter was removed on July 20 for responding a day late to a noncompliance notice. The notice had indicated a problem with her petition’s cover sheet, since cover sheets must mention how many volumes are included, and each volume must have its own identification number. Schachter had to have filed it within a three-day notice period that ended on July 19, but she filed the next evening, he said.

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Council votes to support low-income tenants’ right to counsel

Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Mark Levine at the vote on the legislation (Photo via Mark Levine’s Twitter page)

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday, the City Council voted overwhelmingly to support the right of tenants facing eviction to access free legal representation. In support were 42 Council members with three opposed and one abstention.

The mayor has already indicated his support for the bill, which was sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson. The legislation, introduced in 2014, has since been pushed along by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, which is made up of dozens of civic, tenant and legal assistance organizations.

The legislation likely took three years to get voted on due to the cost, which is estimated at $155 million a year. That figure is based on $93 million to be added to city money that’s already budgeted for similar services, around $62 million, according to Andrew Scherer, the policy director of Impact Center for Public Interest Law at New York Law School, who’s been deeply involved in the coalition’s efforts. Continue reading

U-turn on Silver is bad for tenants: Hoylman

State Senator Brad Hoylman

By Sabina Mollot

Following a stunning decision last Thursday by a federal judge to overturn the conviction for corruption against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Senator Brad Hoylman is predicting more of the same bad behavior in Albany.

“I am concerned that the overturning of the Silver verdict might give a green light for some public officials to engage in legal graft,” said Hoylman, who’s been pushing for ethics reforms for years. Those reforms include the closure of the so-called LLC Loophole, limiting outside income for legislators, prohibiting convicted legislators from using campaign cash on their own defense and taking away convicted legislators’ pensions.

Additionally, Hoylman said he believes the court’s decision will hurt tenants in New York City.

“The Silver case props up the status quo and the status quo if left alone will result in the end of rent stabilization as we know it,” said Hoylman.

Hoylman added, “It’s up to the legislature to provide clarification (on what constitutes corruption). It’s up to the state of New York to pass laws that prevent that from happening, but given what we’ve seen, I don’t think the current Senate leadership has any desire to address this disaster, especially since their former leader may get off using the same argument that Sheldon Silver’s attorneys did.”

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Council candidate focused on housing, mental health services

Jasmin Sanchez (Photo courtesy of Jasmin Sanchez)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Lifelong Lower East Side resident Jasmin Sanchez had already been working in public service for most of her career when she decided to try to transfer those skills to the City Council.

Sanchez, who still lives in LaGuardia Houses in the Lower East Side where she grew up, has experience in the nonprofit sector, working with community leaders at Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and in State Senator Daniel Squadron’s office, which is where she said she learned how to be a community advocate. She is running for the Council seat in District 2, with City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez being term-limited out next year.

A major focus of Sanchez’s campaign is mental health services, primarily because it’s an issue that ties into not only healthcare, but can affect housing and education as well, and has an impact on homelessness. She added that she feels having affordable housing can sometimes be the lynchpin for communities and families, and that it can be especially detrimental for students if they have a tenuous living situation.

“If you don’t have housing, you don’t focus as much on everything else and your performance suffers,” she said.

“It’s not a stable life for kids from shelters. It can be very stressful for them not to have a stable place to live. Schools have mental health services but they have to be holistic and make sure that families are receiving those services as well.”

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Kronfeld drops out of City Council race

MJ Kronfeld at T&V’s debate last month

By Sabina Mollot

Melissa Jane Kronfeld, one of two Republican candidates running for the City Council seat now occupied by Dan Garodnick, has dropped out of the race.

Kronfeld, better known as “MJ,” offered no explanation for her change of heart after having been an active candidate, even participating in a debate co-hosted by Town & Village at Waterside last month.

The self-described “progressive Conservative” announced her withdrawal in an email to supporters on Thursday evening and in a Twitter post.

“It is with great humility and gratitude that I am writing to let you know I will no longer be seeking the City Council seat in Manhattan’s District 4,” she said. After expressing gratitude to her supporters, she added, “I look forward to the next opportunity to continue my service to my community, city, state, country and all humanity in the months and years to come.”

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PCV Council candidate fighting for affordable housing

Barry Shapiro in Peter Cooper Village (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

In the City Council race for the seat currently occupied by a term-limited Dan Garodnick, a Peter Cooper Village resident has recently stepped in as a candidate, with a platform of affordable housing and maintaining quality of life in the district.

Barry Shapiro, 72, who’s lived in Peter Cooper for 25 years (with another 15 in Stuyvesant Town before that), said he entered the race “quietly” in April and is now in the process of petitioning.

“I know a lot of people are concerned about rent stabilization and the continuation of the Democrats having a majority (in the State Senate),” said Shapiro.

Housing regulations, of course, are determined in Albany rather than in City Hall, but Shapiro maintained that it still helps for the local Council members to fight in the ongoing battle for tenant protections.

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Tenants and homeless protest side by side at ‘Cuomoville’

A protest for stronger rent laws spanned three days outside the governor’s midtown office. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Tenant activists, including some who are homeless, gathered in front of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s midtown office for three days last week from Wednesday evening to Saturday to demand rent reform in Albany.

A coalition of tenant groups organized the efforts, including New York Communities for Change, Tenant Power NY, Community Voices Heard and others. The groups dubbed the temporary encampment on the sidewalk “Cuomoville,” and linked the governor’s failure to enact stronger rent laws with the increase in homelessness throughout the city.

Gigi Morgan, an activist from Brooklyn who currently lives in a women’s shelter in Harlem, was at the protest on Friday morning after having slept there Thursday night and participating on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Garodnick says he’d work with NYPD on surveillance bill

Councilmember Dan Garodnick

By Sabina Mollot

In March, Council Member Dan Garodnick, along with Council Member Vanessa Gibson of the Bronx, introduced a police oversight bill that’s aimed at making the technology the NYPD uses for its anti-terror efforts and the policies under which they are used more transparent.

But it was last Wednesday, when the Council members held a rally and hearing to push the bill, dubbed the POST Act, when the NYPD as well as the mayor responded to slam it, arguing that it would put too much sensitive information in the hands of terrorists.

Garodnick has since reiterated an earlier claim that he was willing the work with police to tweak the bill, adding that police’s bashing of the act as “a blueprint for harm” has amounted to fear-mongering.

Other opinions have already varied just as widely. A Wall Street Journal editorial with the headline “A Terrorist’s Guide to New York City” cited last year’s bombing in Chelsea while calling Garodnick and the bill’s supporters “anti-anti-terror stalwarts.” Meanwhile, an opinion piece in the Daily News called the legislation a much needed step considering previously reported incidents of NYPD surveillance incidents of students and activists.

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