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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Maloney recovering after brief hospitalization

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, pictured here at a press conference this summer, nearly fainted during a vigil on Monday for the four homeless men who were killed in Chinatown over the weekend. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is recovering after a brief hospitalization on Monday following an incident during a vigil on Monday, later clarifying that she has been recovering from bronchitis.

The New York Post reported that Maloney nearly fainted while attending the vigil, which was held for the four homeless men who were killed in Chinatown over the weekend.

Maloney, 73, was escorted to a nearby bench, where a staffer pressed a bottle of Coke to the back of her neck. The Daily News reported that the Congresswoman was on the verge of blacking out and told a staffer that she felt pain and couldn’t see. A staffer from City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office called 911 and Maloney was transported to New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

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City announces changes to NYC Rent Freeze Program

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The de Blasio administration announced last Wednesday that the city will now be able to freeze rents at the preferential level for tenants eligible for the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disabled Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE).

“For far too long, thousands of low-income older adults and people with disabilities with preferential were unable to benefit from NYC’s Rent Freeze Programs,” said State Senator Liz Kruger, who is also the prime sponsor of preferential rent legislation. “I am extremely happy that New York State’s new rent laws finally eliminated the preferential rent loophole, making it possible for tenants with preferential rents to benefit from SCRIE and DRIE.”

The legal rent of a rent-stabilized apartment is based on the unique history of the unit and is the maximum legal rent for each apartment. Preferential rent is rent that a landlord charged to a rent-regulated tenant that is lower than the legal rent.

SCRIE and DRIE, known collectively as the NYC Rent Freeze Program, is administered by the Department of Finance and helps eligible seniors and New Yorkers with disabilities stay in affordable housing by freezing their rent. The programs are available to eligible tenants living in rent-regulated apartments. To qualify for SCRIE, residents must be at least 62 years old, the head of household on the lease, have a combined household income of $50,000 or less and spend more than one-third of their monthly household income on rent. DRIE is available to tenants who are  at least 18 years old, are named on the lease, have a combined household income of $50,000 or less and must be awarded one of the following: Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs disability pension or disability compensation; disability-related Medicaid if the applicant has received either SSI or SSDI in the past; or the United States Postal Service (USPS) disability pension or disability compensation.

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Hoylman combatting robocalls with legislation

State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou with representatives from AARP (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman urged the passage of legislation to curb robocalls on Friday, September 6 along with Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and representatives from AARP and Consumer Reports, prior to an Assembly hearing on how to combat the pervasive calls. The Robocall Prevention Act, sponsored by Hoylman in the Senate and Niou in the Assembly, would effectively ban unwanted robocalls in the state of New York and the hearing examined actions to fight robocalls in addition to nuisance phone calls and spoofing.

The bill passed in the State Senate unanimously on June 14 but has not yet passed in the Assembly.

“This legislation that passed in the Senate passed with both Republican and Democratic support, which shows how widespread this issue is, how it’s impacting the constituents, how it’s hurting our seniors, how it’s defrauding our citizenry and something has to be done about it,” Hoylman said.

According to the YouMail Robocall Index, which estimates monthly robocall volume in the United States, almost 50 billion robocalls were placed to consumers in 2018, which is an all-time record. As of September 1, there have already been more than 38 billion robocalls this year. New York City ranks third out of all cities in the country in 2019, according to the index, with more than 1.3 billion robocalls, which is roughly 79 calls per person.

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Local politicians, experts answer questions on rent laws

Delsenia Glover, Ellen Davidson and State Senator Brad Hoylman answered questions about the rent laws. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

More than 200 tenants attended a housing forum hosted by State Senator Liz Krueger’s office on September 10 to learn more about the impacts of the rent laws that were passed in June, addressing the repeal of vacancy decontrol, preferential rents and new rules for major capital improvements.

The forum, held at CUNY’s Graduate Center on Fifth Avenue, was also attended by State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, the former Assemblymember for District 74 and currently the Chairman of Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development for the Senate, housing advocate Delsenia Glover of Tenants and Neighbors, NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas and Legal Aid attorney Ellen Davidson.

The local elected officials, experts and advocates at the forum discussed some of the major takeaways from the new rent laws that were passed, specifically regarding how they would affect rent-regulated tenants, and answered questions about housing-related issues.

Visnauskas said that the strengthened rent laws are helping to preserve affordable housing throughout the state by removing loopholes that landlords could exploit to increase rents and push apartments out of rent stabilization.

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Stuyvesant Town residents shocked by polling site changes

A polling site in Stuyvesant Town during last November’s election (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Stuyvesant Town residents in multiple buildings were shocked to learn last Wednesday that their polling sites had changed to a location in Campos Plaza Community Center at 611 East 13th Street. The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association said in an email on Wednesday that residents who got the notices bombarded Councilmember Keith Powers’ office and the TA’s message center about the changes.

The message from the TA noted that residents from as far away as East 20th Street were being instructed to vote at the Campos Plaza polling site across East 14th Street.

The Board of Elections has been shifting polling places around in recent years, primarily to make sure that the sites are ADA compliant, and Powers’ office has been working with the BOE to find spaces in Stuy Town that can be used as polling sites.

Powers said that the changes are due to accessibility concerns because there are a number of long-term poll sites that the BOE has been using that are not fully ADA compliant. Schools are often a popular spot for polling sites but Powers said that a number of the schools in the neighborhood are not actually ADA compliant yet, although the city is also working to correct that discrepancy. In the meantime, he is still hoping that spaces in Stuyvesant Town can be usable and his office has been working with management to get access to those spaces.

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Housing, transit major issues at District 4 town hall

Councilmember Keith Powers and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at the town hall on Tuesday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Top priority for residents at a City Council District 4 town hall this week was affordable housing and transportation issues, in addition to addressing homelessness.

The town hall, hosted by Councilmember Keith Powers and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson this Tuesday, was held at CUNY’s Graduate Center and was attended by more than 300 residents.

Susan Steinberg, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, brought up the issue of affordable housing and the new rent laws for the first question of the night.

“Right away landlords went into a tailspin,” she said of the strengthened rent laws. “Blackstone who are the owners of Stuyvesant Town, have decided that they had to regroup and re-strategize because their business model no longer worked. And the way they did this was to hit the pause button on renovating vacant apartments and making them unavailable, so it’s tantamount to warehousing. And we were very concerned about that.”

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Elevator licensing law proposed after man falls to his death in Kips Bay

344 Third Avenue (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

This story originally appeared in Real Estate Weekly.

By Sabina Mollot

State Senator Brad Hoylman is co-sponsoring a law that would require elevator inspectors to be licensed is expected to be signed by Governor Cuomo following the death last week of a man in Kips Bay.

Sam Waisbren, 30, died trying to escape from a plunging elevator at 344 Third Avenue, the apartment building where he lived.

City records show the property, owned and managed by ATA, had a previous violation for a door zone restrictor, a safety device that had been tampered with, disabled and rendered inoperative, according to the Department of Buildings.

The building’s owner was fined $1,280 and slapped with two further violations this past May for not taking proper safety measures for unrelated construction work at the building, known as Manhattan Promenade. The death came as legislation languishes in Albany after being passed by both the State Senate and the Assembly.

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