Soapbox: NY Democrats, fighting for landlords since 2000

By Barry Shapiro

Among rising residential and commercial rents, the demise of small businesses and dramatic increases in homelessness due to rising rents, does anyone recognize the behavior of NYC Democratic politicians as truly representing the values of the Democratic Party we have known for close to 70 years?

Dysfunction characterizes the party. Thanks to dysfunction in Albany, due to the defections of the Independent Democratic Conference and Senator Simcha Felder, Democrats remain the Senate minority and can offer little challenge to the Urstadt Law, a GOP-sponsored law that took most control of rent stabilization away from the City Council in 1971 and posited it with the state.

Overly landlord-friendly actions characterize the Democrats since 2000. Bloomberg was a Democrat who ran as a Republican and in many ways acted like a Republican. We saw some of the highest RGB increases under him even during the financial meltdown; his attitude toward real estate in Manhattan was close to laissez faire. The Trump Soho fiasco occurred under him, a saga that still hasn’t ended. And in 2002, under “Democratic” Speaker Pete Vallone, the vacancy allowance increase rule was passed by the City Council, which allows landlords to raise rent stabilized rents by 18 and 20 percent each time a unit is vacated. Given the strategy of renting to students we’ve seen applied in ST/PCV, this poorly-framed law gave landlords an invaluable tool for moving stabilized rents higher. After it passed the council, this law then passed over to Albany control.

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Soapbox: Support the homeless with Safe Haven

By Keith Powers

Two weeks ago, the city revealed its plan to open a “Safe Haven” transitional housing facility on East 17th Street. The plan is causing some consternation among those that live in the neighborhood, but the community should remain open-minded while the city presents its plan.

Many communities raise concerns about the siting of homelessness facilities. In Maspeth, Queens, the community fought against the siting of a shelter and defeated the proposal. None of these efforts solve the important and necessary issue of ending homelessness in the city. Here’s what does: a small facility for the chronic homeless operated by a high-quality provider that has social services included within the facility to permanently transition people out of homelessness.

There is often an immediate reaction of asking, “how can I stop this?” rather than “what are the facts and how can I help?”

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The Soapbox: Keep Playground 7 for hockey

By Joe McGrath

In light of all the discussion and now, published renderings of a fitness type playground on the drawing board for Stuy Town Playground #7, I felt it was time to make my contribution to the Soapbox “forum” regarding my thoughts, and more importantly memories of this iconic “hockey playground.”

While the makeup and demographics of the complex has changed over the years, and perhaps roller hockey is now not played every day in this playground, it would be a real shame if it went the way of other great memories and facilities in PCV/ST.

You see, growing up in Stuy Town, you were almost always identified or associated with what playground you hung out at or came from. Playground 7 was different, though. When it came to hockey, all roads led to Playground 7. Whether it would be rushing home from school every weekday from late September to mid-April to “lace ‘em up,” or participating in the Recreation Department sanctioned leagues, this was our life blood and formed lasting lifetime friendships!

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The Soapbox: Stuy Town’s VIP guest (Very Important Predator)

A hawk roosts on a Stuy Town air conditioner in February. (Photo by Jenny Dembrow)

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By John Cappelletti

You won’t see this celebrity very often in New York. In fact, you might never see him. He’s like the eponymous character in “The Invisible Man.”

But he does make an appearance every once in a while, like last summer for instance when he flew in from L.A., D.C. or some other location so competitive they use initials. Here there’s no competition. Attention, attention must be paid to this celebrity when he chooses to grace our lives with a welcome visit. Everyone at the park at Stuyvesant Oval where I hang out stops whatever they’re doing and moves to get a glimpse of him.

Semi-naked young people on the grass totally absorbed in painting their firm, shapely bodies with sunshine suddenly leave their comfortable blankets and move under our marvelous shade trees for a better view. Even though many of these beautiful trees have been chopped down by the landlord’s landscape designer, those that escaped the axe provide refreshing shade and filter the city air for residents like myself and I’m grateful to them.

Old folks relaxing on the wood and iron benches that line the cinder paths cutting through the Oval stop complaining to each other and focus their limited eyesight on our elusive visitor here. Stuyvesant Town has been designated as the unofficial home of the black squirrel because there are so many of these furry friends of the residents who have had their population driven sky high from being fed all kinds of nuts, including expensive black walnuts.

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The Soapbox: Many questions remain on East Midtown Rezoning

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By Barry Shapiro

For those not aware, East Midtown Rezoning is a city initiative to rezone roughly from 39th Street to 57th Street from Fifth Avenue to Third Avenue.
The proposed changes in the area will allow real estate developers to build higher and increase overall free space for development by about 6.5 percent. There will also be development of some public spaces and improvements to subway stations.

This along with the LIRR terminal at Grand Central planned to open in 2022 will significantly add to the area’s population density.

Major rezoning has to go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which requires pertinent community boards to have their say. Negative votes by community board reps on the project’s Borough Council would have a somewhat damaging effect.

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The Soapbox: Tips for writing letters to the editor

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By Seth Steiner

This humble discourse concerns some aspects of a popular form of civic engagement, letters to the editor (LTEs):

• writing them
• submitting them and having them published (although writing without submission may offer cathartic benefit in itself)
• enjoying the whole process.

Your letter may have an effect on some, or many, readers. Directly or indirectly it may impact the decision-making of your political representatives… and therefore the quality of your life. The icing on the cake is that the process itself can be satisfying for you.

Some of the following, I hope, will be useful in your letter endeavors. If you feel it’s worthwhile, please don’t hesitate to pass it on to others, making any additions or corrections that may be helpful.

Who the heck am I, personally, to expound on this topic? My first letter was published in a July, 1966 issue of the Long Island Star Journal. It was signed by me and three friends who, we felt, had been unfairly and arbitrarily banned from playing stickball in our neighborhood playground. As a direct result of our efforts, the NYC Parks Dept. changed its age-discriminatory policy. And that made a lasting impression on me, leading to several decades of pestering on paper… as well as in person.

My next letter advocated against U.S. policy in the Vietnam War and was published in my college newspaper, the State News (MSU). And then the war was over… a mere eight years later!

About 30 years later, as an adult living in Manhattan, a dozen or so of my letters appeared in our neighborhood paper, Town & Village. These LTEs took on various issues stemming from the unethical, and sometimes illegal, policies and activities of our landlord, Met Life. Those actions had adversely impacted the living conditions and personal finances of over 30 thousand fellow residents living in buildings owned by Snoopy’s corporation.

Sprinkled in there was a letter or two motivated solely by impishness and April 1st tomfoolery.

And now, after moving to Los Alamos, my letter focus has been mainly on the oil industry and its threats to our health, to the environment and to our economic well-being. LTEs have been part of a wide-ranging effort by many folks to bring attention to, and slow, the planned rapid expansion of dangerous oil drilling, and associated hazardous activities, too near our homes and our sources of drinking water. It’s led to some real successes (e.g., denials of permits for both PCEC drilling and for the Phillips 66 rail spur/oil train project). There’s much more to be done.

And why might you want to write a letter yourself, and maybe soon? Some reasons for writing your first, or your next, letter-to-the-editor:

1) offering an idea to inform or sway public opinion on a current and consequential matter
2) getting something in the civic realm “off your chest”
3) expressing something you believe others will also find amusing
4) achieving the satisfaction that any creative endeavor may offer… and once your first draft is down, the real fun begins as you sculpt and hone… trimming and enhancing it one word, phrase or thought at a time
5) seeing your name in print
6) having others (friends, neighbors, relatives) see your name in print
7) being part of the free and wide-ranging discourse that’s essential to a well-functioning democracy
8) releasing steam after reading someone else’s LTE that annoyed you, and
9) it doesn’t require marching in the rain with a placard but can be done in the comfort of your home, while in bed, or on the beach with a laptop.

What to write about? What’s going on locally or globally that concerns you? Even if you’re not an “expert,” your opinion counts and your voice is important. The number of possible topics for your letter is boundless… anything you care about.

Surprise?! Most of your submitted letters will actually be published.

Do not hesitate to express your thoughts. Don’t think that the way you express them will not “measure up,” will not be “100 percent accurate,” will not do “absolute justice” to the idea you have in mind, or that the topic is not the “most overriding issue in the world (galaxy)” today. Once you put pen to paper or finger(s) to keyboard, you’ve broken the ice and the writing will come easier than you might have expected.

Keep it longer rather than shorter to take up more space on the page and attract more eyeballs. But know that it may be subject to some editing by the newspaper; and the result will often be a piece with more punch. Keep it shorter rather than longer if you can accomplish your goal with brevity and focus.

If your publication piece is longer than the prescribed length for a letter, it may be offered as “commentary” (or “Soapbox”).

As you read LTEs written by others, consider what makes hem compelling for you. Whether or not you agree with the author’s stance on the issue, something may be learned. What was it about the presentation that got your attention, piqued your interest, swayed your thinking, broadened or changed your perception, or your actual conclusion?

OK, maybe it’s time to pick up that pen? We all look forward to reading your letter to the editor!

Soapbox: Speak up to end the use of chokeholds

By Michelle Deal Winfield

“I can’t breathe,” was uttered by Eric Garner in 2014, as he took his last breath after Officer Daniel Pantaleo applied a chokehold to his neck, a procedure banned by the New York Police Department, NYPD. The procedure is banned but some police officers have continued to use it. Alissa Scheller, in The Huffington Post in 2014, wrote, “Chokehold complaints are predominantly in black neighborhoods.”

In 1993, the NYPD ban prohibited police officers from applying any pressure to the neck during arrest. So what is all the fuss about if the tactic is banned? Despite the ban, officers continue to use the practice and there is no New York City law to address it. The chokehold is not illegal.

The Progressive Caucus, 28 members of the New York City Council, proposed Intro. 540-A, which defines the chokehold as an illegal act punishable by imprisonment and a $2,000 fine.

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Soapbox: What’s a voter to do?

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood in each one. All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 650 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

By John Cappelletti

Last May in a letter to the editor I wondered why the Democrat establishment was backing the political dynasty by giving Hillary a 541-superdelegate head-start over Senator Sanders and putting the Democrat National Committee at her disposal and at his expense. The senator had a double digit lead over Trump whereas Hillary could only manage a tie with him.

Now a week before the election two of the most unlikeable, untrustworthy and unbelievable candidates of any U.S. presidential campaign ever, Hillary and Trump are still running neck and neck and many questions remain unanswered. Trump will not release his taxes and Hillary will not release her speeches to Wall Street. Is Trump the sexual predator Hillary’s husband was when she defended him against his accusers like Melania is defending Trump now? Will Weiner-gate hurt Hillary as voters wonder why emails pertinent to her FBI criminal investigation would end up on her top aide Huma Abedin’s husband’s computer? How did they get there? Furthermore, did her husband Anthony Weiner who’s been known to do stupid things for all to see online, read and/or divulge the contents of these emails? Who’s responsible for this poor judgment, Hillary, Huma or…? And what’s Trump hiding in his tax return or in his foundation? And what about the Clinton Foundation? Lots of cash from all kinds of sources goes into these two foundations. Are they laundries?

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Soapbox: Men’s group talks things over in PCV

The group’s members, pictured at a recent get-together

The group’s members, pictured at a recent get-together

By Jack Goldfarb      

The conversation flows freely for the seven retired professional men who meet in a Peter Cooper Village apartment twice a month to talk about whatever is on their minds – a gabfest known in New York slang as a shmooze.

The gathering is not a group therapy session, nor an “organ recital” for airing health problems, but these knowledgeable guys are seldom at a loss for words during their two-hour get-togethers.

Rotating their venue in their 20th Street building, these men have come from a wide diversity of careers:  Milton, a presiding Appellate Court judge, Henry, a chemical engineer, Ira, an endocrinologist, Steve, a director of community relations, Lou, a Wall Street trader, Clyde, an educator, and Jack, a travel writer.

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The Soapbox: A plant is not just a plant

Regular park angel volunteers: Orlinda Calmeid, Tom Eccardt, Maria Pia Belloni and Barbara Bienenfeld (Photo by Liza Mindemann)

Regular park angel volunteers: Orlinda Calmeid, Tom Eccardt, Maria Pia Belloni and Barbara Bienenfeld (Photo by Liza Mindemann)

By Liza Mindemann, Stuyvesant Cove Park manager

As many of you already know, Stuyvesant Cove Park is a native species plant park. When we have school groups one of the first questions I ask is, “can anyone tell me what a native plant is?” It’s a harder question to answer than one might think, but the simple answer is that native plants are those species that naturally occur in a region and have evolved and adapted over many thousands of years to the specific conditions of that geographic area.

Many of us don’t think of gardens as having any purpose outside of providing beauty, or perhaps growing food to eat. But today, our gardens are actually one of the last chances we have to preserve the diverse species of plants, insects and wildlife that once prolifically populated our region. Due to urban development, NYC has already lost 30 percent of its native plant varieties. This brings me to the second question I usually ask school groups, “Does anyone know why native plants are important?” Native plants are important for many reasons, including the role they play in sustaining our ecosystems by reducing erosion and flooding, cleaning our water and air and by providing food and habitat for all the insects that our farms depend upon. Interestingly, native plants are not just food to any and all insects that pass by; often, they are food to only one particular insect.

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The Soapbox: Making sense of the presidential campaign

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Some translations on candidates’ big talk

By Bradford J. Gonzalez-Sussman

Why I am not feeling the Bern or the fallacy of the shoot-from-the-hip-candidate.

Many otherwise sensible people now enamored with Trump and Sanders have the idea their candidates “say what they think!” about fat cats on Wall Street and in Washington, Mexicans or Muslims or whoever the enemy de jour is.

I have two problems with this mythical “rebel” candidate concept. Are they speaking their truth without concern for consequences; and, do I want to share a tent with extremists who seem to be attracted to the shoot-from-the-hip image these candidates are cultivating?

Firstly; do populist politicians pander? Is the Don’s claim to be an anti-abortion bible scholar believable? When Bernie Sanders argues against gun manufacturer liability, is this a principled stand or an appeal to special interests in his state? These candidates analyze their audience, but because their core supporters are not mainstream their rhetoric may sound fresh. When Trump’s advisers say, “Let Trump be Trump,” that advice itself is the result of polling.

So, with advisers and polling aplenty, “outsiders” carefully craft their messages to have a Rorschach-like appeal to the disenfranchised and extremists in our country. This approach, like the Tea Party, has somewhat successfully herded cats in appealing to disparate groups of disaffected voters.

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The Soapbox: Hoylman calls for action on climate change

Town & Village is proud to present “The Soapbox,” a column featuring a different voice from the neighborhood each week (space providing). All are welcome to submit columns on the topic of the author’s choice, preferably not longer than 800 words, to editor@townvillage.net.

State Senator Brad Hoyman at a meeting of the Sierra Club

State Senator Brad Hoyman at a meeting of the Sierra Club

Hoylman calls for action on climate change

By Joy Garland

On September 9, the NYC Sierra Club that meets monthly at the Seafarers and International House on East 15th Street, hosted “The Waters are Rising: How will NYC and NYS Respond?” Members in the packed room listened to Cynthia Rosenzweig, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Dan Zarilli, Director, Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency for the City of NY; and NY State Senator Brad Hoylman, Ranking Member of the Environmental Conservation Committee.

Hoylman told the audience that one of his primary goals was to call the legislature’s attention to the threat of human-made climate change, but felt his message met a seemingly anti-science undercurrent from some of his colleagues.

Hoylman submitted an Earth Day resolution calling for action to fight climate change, but the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee told Hoylman that it was omitted because a recent cold winter in Syracuse appeared to debunk climate change.

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Rescue groups trying to save horses

By Susan Sheppard Landis

Thank you for printing my letter regarding American horses that are being brutally executed by knife in Mexico (“How NYers can stop the execution of horses,” T&V, July 9).  I want to follow up on the response to my letter, and want to stress that it is essential to support rescue groups, the ASPCA, Peta and the Humane Society who are actually rescuing horses, while the Bill HR 1942 S1214 is pending in the House and Senate.

As the last writer pointed out (letter, “Support legislation to protect horses” by Elizabeth Drury, T&V, July 16), it is essential to call representatives to support the bill.

Frank Guinta, sponsor (202) 225-5456, Lindsay Graham, (202) 224-5972, Peter King (202) 456-1414 or Carolyn Maloney locally. Other sponsors and numbers can be found online.

While the bill is pending, it is important to save as many horses as possible. The rescue groups are hands on saving horses, buying them at auction. Gentle Giants Rescue Group has a farm where the horses are cared for by volunteers and donated money. PO Box 5058, Hagerstown, Maryland, 21741-5058. The Rescue Group will send your letters and petitions to Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. It is also important to phone them; they are taking numbers in support of legislation to ban horse slaughter. Horses are not food; they do not deserve this brutal treatment. This is just wrong. This is America; if wild horses need food, the Bureau of Land Management can drop hay to them. This is America; we can put a man on the moon. Surely we can help innocent animals.  They need not be executed. Especially call David Rouzer, chair of the bill, at (202) 225-2731.

It is a slippery slope when horses are tortured and murdered like this. What is next, cats and dogs that are strays? I know we are animal lovers here in Peter Cooper and Stuyvesant Town.  Save these innocent animals. Donate, call your representatives. Keep up the pressure.

Anyone interested in having a fundraiser for the rescue groups, please call me at (212) 228-8966.

Faigy Mayer’s struggles and her strength

Faigy Mayer killed herself by jumping off the roof of 230 Fifth Avenue, a trendy Flatiron lounge.

Faigy Mayer killed herself by jumping off the roof of 230 Fifth Avenue, a trendy Flatiron lounge.

By Katherine Meeks

Faigy Mayer passed away on Monday, July 20. She was part of the diversity of the New Voice Toastmasters Club at the New School in Union Square.

Faigy Mayer was a woman on a quest, and I admired her for what she was trying to do. She was brought up in a strict Ultra Orthodox Hasidic sect which did everything it could to shape her and keep her in that mold. But Faigy rebelled. She said she didn’t want to be a mom with 20 kids. She envisioned another type of life. Faigy struggled to break free, and did make a break at the age of 24 to live a different kind of life, a kind of life she thought was more natural for her, a secular life of the kind most of us here in the city enjoy. It wasn’t easy for her.

As a result of her decision, her family and community shunned her. Her mother wouldn’t let her back inside the family house. Although she had never felt at home in her own culture, it was a struggle for her to adapt to the new culture in which she had no experience of making decisions for herself or using analytic thinking to make life choices. She went to college to get both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in accounting, and became a tech wizard – creating several apps and founding a start-up tech company. Our techy members enjoyed talking with her on that topic.

Being part of Toastmasters was part of her quest to find her footing in secular culture. She attended our New Voice Club for a while, dropped out, and about a year ago returned – she was interested in being part of the community again and I remember she expressed interest in working with a prison Toastmasters Club our club was sponsoring. She was doing everything she could to find her way in secular culture.

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Musings – An American journey

By Anna Maria Aniban

The first time I was asked this question was in the early 70s. A new bride at 22, I was being introduced by my white, blue-eyed husband (now ex) to his family and friends in the south. Our host’s mother was proud to recount her travels to SEA, India, and other parts of that world. Then, she turned to me and said, “We didn’t have time to see your country but someday, I would like to meet your people.” It was a compliment I thought for someone to show interest in my country. Just a week ago, I was still in my country.

A decade past, divorced with an American passport obtained not through marriage but by choice, basking in the glory of reaching an upper middle management position in a Fortune 500 company, it was a pleasure to go in and out of mainstream white society with ease. This was in the early 80s when equal employment opportunity was aggressively enforced and a female with the right qualifications, no matter what ethnic background, was “pushed” into management. A few remarked on the beauty of a flawless naturally tanned complexion, shiny long black hair, fluid command of the English language, and an ability to banter effortlessly with a touch of the American sense of humor.

But times really haven’t changed that much from the 70s. Invited to a catered afternoon tea party on the Upper West Side, a lovely blonde who left the corporate world to be a successful chef, casually asked me, “When are you going to visit your country again?”  She knew that I loved to travel and we were just talking about my recent vacation in Switzerland. It was the first time the reference to “your country” created a mental and an emotional stir.

“Your country?” I felt like an outsider and yearned to belong.

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