Opinion: Help the SBJSA move forward

The following is an open letter from Small Business Congress founder Sung Soo Kim to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. It has been edited for length.

Honorable Speaker Johnson:

I am disheartened that you refused to respond to my first request to meet and at least try to create compromise legislation to stop the closings of our city’s small businesses and save jobs. I took you at your word made at the October hearing on the Small Business Jobs Survival Act that you recognized a serious crisis existed and that you were committed to a solution and moving the bill (Small Business Jobs Survival Act) to a vote.

It is obvious to every small business owner that the grossly unfair lease renewal process places their futures and the futures of their employees in grave jeopardy when their leases expire. The empty storefronts on every main street make it obvious to every New Yorker that their beloved mom and pop businesses, having no rights nor protections from exorbitant rent increases, are desperate for government intervention to save them.

Putting aside the REBNY, Chambers, SBS and BID spins, false narratives, and insulting studies and fake worthless proposals, the majority of the city’s lawmakers also know their small businesses cannot survive without this legislation that gives rights to business owners in the critical lease renewal process.

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D.A., Council discuss recreational marijuana legalization

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance (Photos by Michelle Deal Winfield)

By Michelle Deal Winfield

On Wednesday, February 27, the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety held a hearing to call on the New York State legislature to pass laws to legalize recreational marijuana.

Testifying in favor of this proposal was Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance who’d been invited by the Council to discuss the issue.

“Last year, my office prosecuted 603 marijuana cases and this year we have prosecuted just 13 cases,” Vance said. After being questioned further, he added, “My office has decided to devote its resources to enforce public safety. Selling drugs is still an offense and we will prosecute. We do not want to waste money and take NYPD officers off their patrols for minor marijuana offenses.”

Vance also noted, “There are tests to detect alcohol-impaired driving. Unfortunately, there is no scientific test for Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, marijuana.”

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Tenants push for stronger rent regulations

Tenants board a bus to Albany for a day of lobbying ahead of the rent laws expiring in June. (Photos by Sidney Goldberg)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Wednesday, over 30 tenants from different organizations, including 11 from the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, headed to Albany to lobby for stronger rent laws. The rent regulations that keep over a million apartments in New York City stabilized will expire this June. While they are expected to be renewed, tenants always hope to get them strengthened, which seems more likely to happen this year with Democrats having a majority in the State Senate.

At the Wednesday event, Anne Greenberg, vice president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, led one of the groups of tenants who came from Manhattan. Another group had come from Brooklyn. The Cooper Square Committee was also participating. Greenberg’s group met up with an aide of State Senator Kevin Thomas and there was also another meeting with freshman Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein. Tenants also eventually ran into local Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, which Greenberg noted, happened by chance because the capitol was so crowded with people.

Greenberg in particular said she thought it was important for tenants to tell personal stories like about how rents can go up drastically upon lease renewal because of preferential rents. Tenant activists are also hoping for vacancy decontrol and reform on rent increases for major capital improvements, individual apartment improvements and vacancy bonuses.

“Part of the mission is to put a story and a put a face to the issue of why we need rent reform,” Greenberg said. “The legislators aren’t always up to speed on all the issues. Now there’s a foundation where we could follow up.”

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Council pushing pied-à-terre tax

State Senator Brad Hoylman discusses his legislation in Albany, which the Council is now actively supporting. (Pictured with Hoylman) Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Council Member Mark Levine and Assembly Member Deborah Glick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A few weeks after an out-of-state hedge fund billionaire purchased a $238 million penthouse apartment on Central Park South, two City Council members have introduced a resolution in support of a pied-à-terre tax.

Currently, in New York, non-residents are not subject to state or city income taxes and do not pay New York sales tax while outside the state. The proposed tax, which would affect homes that cost over $5 million if they’re not the owners’ primary residences, isn’t new. It was first introduced in 2014 by State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Deborah Glick. However, with Senate Democrats now in the majority in Albany, it has a better chance at getting passed this year than ever before.

The City Council resolution was essentially a show of support for the tax, made by Members Mark Levine and Margaret Chin. At a press conference in front of City Hall on Monday, Levine and other Manhattan lawmakers argued that such real estate investments by out-of-state and foreign buyers are keeping buildings dark while the city gets done out of badly needed revenue.

“It’s a surcharge on property tax, so we can capture taxes from people who don’t really live here,” added Glick, who was also at City Hall.

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Powers, Rivera trying to reduce renters’ fees

Councilmember Keith Powers at a rally last year (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

After hearing from tenants who’ve paid up to six months worth of rent in various fees just to get a lease, Council Members Keith Powers and Carlina Rivera have introduced a package of five bills aimed at giving renters a break.

So far, Powers said 26 members of the Council out of 51 have signed on as co-sponsors.

One bill, sponsored by Powers, would limit broker fees to one month’s rent, which seems to be the typical amount charged. However, in some cases renters are charged up to 15 percent of the annual rent. This bill has already seen some pushback by the Real Estate Board of New York.

REBNY has argued that limiting the amount that can be charged isn’t fair to brokers, because they work solely on commission. In response, Powers said that he intends to listen to any concerns, and isn’t completely opposed to the idea of there being some negotiation between broker and renter, but also says the current business model isn’t fair to renters.

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Public advocate race cheat sheet

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, New York voters will have the opportunity to elect the next public advocate, following the last occupant of this office, Letitia James, becoming the attorney general.

While this is a role with little governing power, it’s widely seen as a stepping stone for individuals looking to become mayor or to gain other prominent positions. As to why New Yorkers should bother with this race, there is also the fact that the office exists to be a watchdog, a check on the mayor. Meanwhile, the public advocate is also the first in line to assume the title of mayor if something were to happen to the mayor. The public advocate can also introduce and sponsor legislation.

This race has proven to be extraordinarily competitive with 17 people on the ballot (one of them inactive) in an open special election. Voters shouldn’t expect to just pick a random name that matches their party as candidates have come up with their own party lines. The competition won’t end after February 26, though. In September there will be a primary and in November, a general election.

Read on to learn a few details about each name on this race’s bloated ballot.

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Protesters pack Union Square over border wall

Hundreds of protesters packed Union Square Park on Monday evening to protest the president’s renewed push for a border wall.

By Jefferson Siegel

Hundreds gathered in Union Square on the Presidents Day holiday, Monday night, to protest the policies of president Donald Trump and specifically his declaration of a national emergency to build a wall on the Mexican border. Dozens of similar protests were also held around the country. Sixteen state attorneys general as well as several legal organizations and numerous private citizens have filed lawsuits against Trump over declaring a national emergency.

At Union Square, there were also a handful of Trump supporters who were being kept apart from the main protest.

Photos by Jefferson Siegel

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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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At Epstein town hall, concerns abound on bikes, voting rights

Rachel Bloom from Citizens United Foundation (right) on voting rights at the town hall

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein hosted a town hall at the New York University Dental School on East 24th Street last Thursday, attended by more than 100 people braving last week’s arctic deep freeze.

Instead of a single-room free-for-all, the event was broken up into two separate hour-long panels with three different topics that residents could learn more about during each panel. Epstein said that the approach intended to give attendees one-on-one time with experts on a number of different topics, which included voting rights, education and legalization of marijuana during the first panel and transportation, housing and disability rights during the second.

Alex Camarda from Reinvent Albany and Rachel Bloom from Citizens Union Foundation discussed voting rights and good government during the first panel, answering questions about legislative issues such as closing the LLC Loophole, in addition to addressing difficulties that residents had while voting in the last election.

“I’ve lived in Stuyvesant Town for many years and I had so much trouble voting in the last election,” Adrienne Cosner said. “There’s been a lot of irregularity.”

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With anti-Semitic incidents on the rise, Maloney pushing ‘Never Again’ bill

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney speaks about her bill at Center for Jewish History. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Following a spate of disturbing incidents of anti-Semitism in New York City, including in her district, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is reintroducing legislation aimed at making holocaust education a mandatory part of the curriculum at schools around the country.

Maloney said she has introduced the Never Again Education Act at least five times already but is hoping that with Democrats in the majority, she can finally get the bill the hearing it has so far been denied. She said she’s also already gotten support from a few senators on a potential companion bill and in Congress, the bill has 22 co-sponsors.

“We’re making progress,” Maloney said, before blaming the bill’s inaction these past few years on what was then a GOP-led house. “It’s really hard to get anything passed in the U.S. Congress,” she said. But, she added. “If it comes to the floor of the Congress, I think it would pass.”

Along with making Holocaust education required, the legislation also provides a $2 million budget for things like textbooks, visits to schools from experts and holocaust survivors, field trips and a website with educational resources for teachers.

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Pols get behind female Boy Scout, who is still unrecognized by BSA

Local elected officials held a press conference by the Fearless Girl statue to draw attention to the fact that Stuyvesant Town Boy Scout Sydney Ireland, who’s been in the program for over a decade, still doesn’t have her record of work recognized. (Pictured) Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, Sydney Ireland, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Sonia Ossorio, president of the New York chapter of NOW (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Just as the organization officially began accepting girls into its program on February 1, elected officials last week called on the Boy Scouts of America to officially recognize Stuyvesant Town resident Sydney Ireland’s 13 years of work as a Scout.

Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, along with State Senator (and Eagle Scout) Brad Hoylman and other advocates, joined 17-year-old Ireland at the Fearless Girl statue last Thursday to demand the BSA formally acknowledge Ireland’s work with the organization.

Ireland joined the Cub Scouts at age four with her brother and has been fighting to be recognized by the organization since she was 11. She said that leaders at the local level have been more open to making decisions that allow her and other girls to participate but that despite changes at the national level, much of her work in the Scouts will have to be redone.

“If the (Boy Scouts of America) wants to welcome young women and build our program, we must be treated equally,” Ireland, who has been working to obtain the coveted Eagle rank, said. “(Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh) should not hide behind the discriminatory membership ban against girls to then justify dismissing my hard work and the work of so many young women.”

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Child Victims Act finally passes

State Senator Brad Hoylman during floor debate for the Child Victims Act (Photo by State Senate Media)

By Sabina Mollot

Amidst of a flurry of progressive bill passing and signing in the state capitol, the long-denied Child Victims Act, sponsored by State Brad Hoylman, has finally passed both houses. With Governor Andrew Cuomo having already declared his support — even getting some backlash from the Archdiocese for his newly leftist leanings — the signing of the bill seems just a formality at this point.

The legislation’s language was amended this week to make it clear that secular as well as religious institutions could be held accountable for past incidents of abuse.

Last year it was passed in the Assembly, as it was the year before, but went nowhere in what was then a GOP-led State Senate. This year, however, the bill passed unanimously in the Upper House and nearly unanimously in the Assembly. Opposition to the bill, which has been around at least 13 years, largely had to do with the one-year lookback window of opportunity for starting a claim of abuse in instances where the statute of limitations has expired. The bill will also allow survivors of child sex abuse to file a civil suit against their abusers or institutions that enabled abuse until the age of 55. Currently the age limit is 23. The lookback window will apply to survivors older than 55 as well. Additionally, those abused at a public institution will no longer be required to file a notice of claim as a condition to filing a lawsuit.

Following the bill’s passage, Hoylman admitted he was not expecting to get unanimous support from his colleagues, although he did think it would pass based on the fact that a number of freshman senators had made the CVA part of their platforms. He also credited the bill’s success to new Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins as well as the activism of sex abuse survivors.

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Council approves Waterside affordability deal

jan31watersidefromstuyvesantcove

Waterside Plaza as seen from Stuyvesant Cove Park (Pictured last August) Photos by Sabina Mollot

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The City Council voted last Thursday to approve an agreement that will protect longtime Waterside Plaza tenants against substantial rent increases as part of a lease extension between the property and Housing Preservation and Development.

The agreement will allow tenants who have been living at the property since before Waterside left the Mitchell-Lama program and will be retiring soon to receive rent protections. City Council Member Keith Powers, who has been working with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein and the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development on negotiations for the deal for over a year, was able to negotiate an additional year with HPD so that tenants have until 2020 to retire and qualify for the rent protections, compared to 2019 when the plan was first announced.

“It’s not huge but it at least gives people who might be affected a better idea of how they should plan,” Powers said after the Council vote of the additional year.

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New NY Senate passes long-stalled LGBTQ protections, progressive bills

State Senator Brad Hoylman is congratulated by colleagues last week after two of his bills, GENDA and a ban on gay conversion therapy, are passed. (Photo courtesy of State Senator Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, two LGBTQ rights bills that were long-championed by State Senator Brad Hoylman — and long ignored by what was a Republican majority until now — were finally passed. They included a ban on gay conversion therapy and GENDA (The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act), which expands the laws on discrimination to include gender identity and expression.

Additionally, the Child Victims Act, which would lengthen the amount of time victims of sex crimes have to file suits, was included in the governor’s proposed budget. The bill has seen some opposition from religious institutions, including schools and the Boy Scouts of America, and a story in the Times Union recently noted a potential loophole that could exempt public schools.

In response, Hoylman said while he is confident there is no such loophole, the bill will be reworked before it is reintroduced this legislative session to prevent there being any questions about this.

GENDA, meanwhile, is expected to go into effect within 30 days of being signed by Cuomo, while the gay conversion therapy ban would go into effect immediately. Part of the GENDA bill would go into effect in November to give local law enforcement agencies time to catch up and also make paperwork changes.

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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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