Opinion: Crisis, yes… apocalypse, no

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Over the past twenty years, we have had more than our share of calamitous events, each one with worries and dire fears. But it is said neither our greatest hopes nor our worst fears are ever realized. And so it will be with the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2001, the New York City World Trade Center and the Pentagon building were hit with terrorist missiles in the form of passenger airplanes. The World Trade Center towers were utterly destroyed with a loss of life of over 3,000 persons including hundreds of first responders. For those of us in New York City, it seemed like the end of the world. The Stock Market crashed and closed for several days. All of New York City was on lockdown. Nobody knew if there would be more attacks in the days to come. It was terrifying.

But our city showed courage and resilience. We somehow got through those dark days where destruction and fear seemed to permeate everyday life. We persevered. We rebuilt and we restored downtown Manhattan. We came through it arguably even stronger than before.

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Stringer looks for savings to pay for virus impact on city

City Comptroller Scott Stringer

By Sabina Mollot

With Big Apple restaurants and bars now relying on takeout and delivery only and Broadway having gone dark, the city will lose $3.2 billion in taxes over the next six months, Comptroller Scott Stringer said today. In order to protect vital services, Stronger said the city must figure out ways to save money and then set aside four percent of current agency spending, which would amount to roughly $1.43 billion. Social service agencies like the Department of Health and the city’s public hospital network, NYC H+H, would be exempt from the budget siphoning. The savings would then be included in the mayor’s executive budget due later next month if needed.

Meanwhile, Stringer is also calling for additional city, state and federal measures to help businesses that are suffering the most as the virus spreads and the city is further shut down.

His suggestions include:

• Having the state defer sales tax payments that are due for March 20 for hotels, restaurants and small storefront retail

• Extending the city’s assistance program announced last week by the Department of Small Business Services to non-profits

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Petitioning suspended for congressional race

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Multiple candidates running for the Congressional seat in District 12, including incumbent Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, suspended petitioning last week in order to protect the public during the COVID-19 pandemic shortly before the governor suspended all petitioning on Saturday. 

Candidates Lauren Ashcraft and Peter Harrison also signed an online petition calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to suspend or reduce petitioning requirements in response to coronavirus fears and the governor signed an executive order suspending the candidate petitioning process on Tuesday at 5 p.m. for the June primaries for Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly and Judicial races. The order also modified signature requirements for ballot access. Candidates will only need to collect 30% of the statutory threshold. For Congress, candidates would need 375 signatures instead of 1,250.

Maloney issued a statement on Thursday announcing that she would be suspending petitioning.

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New York State to go ‘on pause’ this Sunday

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Friday requiring that all non-essential businesses close statewide by Sunday, with exceptions made for essential services like grocery stores, pharmacies and healthcare services. The executive order includes additional mandates about social distancing requirements that the state is encouraging individuals to practice if going outside. While city courts announced a 90-day moratorium on evictions last week, Cuomo made the moratorium on residential and commercial evictions statewide, while State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh also introduced legislation that would enact a statewide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures during state emergencies. 

The policy, which the governor called “New York State on PAUSE,” institutes a 100% closure on all non-essential businesses effective on Sunday, March 22 at 8 p.m. The governor’s office released a comprehensive list of what are considered essential services, broken down into separate categories: healthcare operations, infrastructure, manufacturing, retail, services, news media, financial institutions, providers of basic necessities for economically disadvantaged populations, construction, defense, essential services to maintain safety, sanitation and operations of residences or other essential businesses, and vendors that provide essential services or products. 

The plan also specified that houses of worship are not ordered to be closed, but it is strongly recommended that no congregate services be held and social distancing should be maintained. Many local houses of worship in the Gramercy and Kips Bay area have announced the closure of their buildings while posting services online through live-streaming. 

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Gramercy prepares for coronavirus pandemic

A plastic sheet separates the cashier from customers at the 99 cent store on First Avenue at 21st Street across from Peter Cooper Village (Photos by Jefferson Siegel)

As the mayor and governor announced school closures and event cancellations along with restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, New Yorkers made adjustments by stocking up on medical supplies and working from home. See more photos of the neighborhood from the last week below.

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Churches and synagogues go digital amid coronavirus

Middle Collegiate Church’s Rev. Jacqui Lewis (pictured left during Pride last year) said that the church wants to encourage community even while people can’t meet together in person. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

In this bizarre new world of isolation and self-quarantine, local houses of worship are adjusting with the circumstances to bring services to people in their homes to give New Yorkers a sense of community. 

Various synagogues and churches emailed members at the end of last week as the number of coronavirus cases in the city began escalating and government officials began to implement restrictions on gatherings, letting them know that services would be live-streamed or in some cases available to watch later. Rabbi Josh Stanton of East End Temple sent a message to members of the synagogue near Stuyvesant Square Park last Thursday to announce that the building would be closed starting on Friday following the advice of public health officials. 

“This is a moment in which we need to fully live out our values, in this case to protect each other and society more broadly from the spread of COVID-19,” Stanton said in the email. “We acknowledge that some other institutions will remain open, but we feel a social duty to engage in ‘social distancing’ in order to slow the spread of the virus. […] At the same time, we need to be even more present for each other. Each household can expect to hear from our clergy in the coming week. We also invite you to call and email your friends from the community, so that they can feel the warmth of the relationship.”

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City halts evictions due to coronavirus

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City officials have indefinitely suspended eviction proceedings in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a memo from the state’s chief administrative judge on Sunday. 

The memo from the Unified Court System last weekend said that effective at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16, the courts would be postponing all non-essential functions until further notice, including pending trials, due to the ongoing public health emergency in New York State. 

Prior to the city’s decision to halt evictions, a group of 29 New York rental building owners and managers, including Blackstone, instituted a voluntary 90-day moratorium on evictions, which was announced shortly after the court system had issued a one-week moratorium. 

Various housing groups, including Right to Counsel NYC Coalition and Housing Justice for All, pushed a joint city and state strategy, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to implement an eviction moratorium and to close the courts. More than 15,000 tenants across the state also signed a petition to the governor calling for an eviction moratorium and immediate rent freeze. 

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Letters to the editor, Mar. 19

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Tenants should campaign against Blackstone 

I attended the press conference on March 5 announcing that the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association had filed legal action in New York State Supreme Court to protect about 6,200 rent-stabilized units in the community from being illegally deregulated by The Blackstone Group.

The Blackstone Group, a global private equity firm, is a member of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). Blackstone, which is primarily owned and run by five of the greediest predators on earth, want to turn Stuy Town into a cash cow by raising rents sky high. The company is led by Stephen Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and co-founder. His net worth is $18.5 billion and he owns 231,924,793 shares or 47% of the company’s stock valued on March 5th at approximately $58 per share. His pay from 2016-2018 was $242 million.

The other four top executives at Blackstone are President Jonathan Gray (2016-2018 pay: $309 million), Executive Vice Chairman Hamilton James (2016-2018 pay: $232 million), Chief Financial Officer Michael Chae (2016-2018 pay: $65 million) and Vice Chairman J. Tomilson Hill (2016-2018 pay: $60 million).

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Where to order in during the coronavirus scare

Ess-A-Bagel, pictured here in 2016 before they opened in Stuy Town, is still offering pick-up and delivery. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order on Tuesday limiting restaurants, bars and cafes to take-out and delivery orders only as a precaution against coronavirus, also ordering nightclubs, movie theaters, small theater houses and concert venues to close. 

“Our lives are all changing in ways that were unimaginable just a week ago,” the mayor said. “We are taking a series of actions that we never would have taken otherwise in an effort to save the lives of loved ones and our neighbors. Now it is time to take yet another drastic step. The virus can spread rapidly through the close interactions New Yorkers have in restaurants, bars and places where we sit close together. We have to break that cycle.”

While many non-food related businesses have temporarily closed, some restaurants have also opted to close while the city fights the pandemic. 

The Union Square Hospitality Group announced on Friday that all of their restaurants would be closing temporarily. The list includes Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, Union Square Cafe, Daily Provisions and others, although Shake Shack locations will remain open and will shift to a “to-go” only operating model. The company said on Tuesday that they would be setting up an employee relief fund to support the team members affected. Through March 24, when patrons purchase a gift card, 100% of the sales will go towards the employee relief fund. The gift card purchases can be redeemed at any of the restaurants, bars and cafes in New York or Washington DC. 

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Opinion: Save taxpayers before saving the world

By J.G. Collins

Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Epstein recently wrote of their efforts to save the planet’s oceans and prevent global warming by voting to ban plastic bags in New York State and to assess a five- cent tax on each paper bag shoppers use to carry products home.

Those of us with more modest ambitions than saving the planet and a closer focus on municipal and fiscal matters would simply like to reduce the estimated $400,000,000 per year the city spends exporting its solid waste.

Why are we stopping with plastic shopping bags? And why inconvenience and tax already-harried New Yorkers in their hectic workdays to think to carry shopping bags—plastic or otherwise—instead of putting the burden upstream, on producers and distributors of products packaged in plastic?

Plastic milk and juice bottles, plastic take-out containers, and the huge plastic containers of coffee and other dry commodities could be abandoned if the state government had the will to stand up to business lobbyists who would oppose such moves.

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Police Watch: Man arrested for choking woman, Guitar theft in Union Square

MAN NABBED FOR CHOKING VICTIM ON WEST 25TH

Police arrested a 32-year-old man for obstruction of breath and assault in front of 109 West 25th Street on Saturday, February 22 at 12:30 a.m. The victim told police that he got into an argument with the suspect and was attempting to walk away. He said that he told the suspect to leave him alone and the suspect then grabbed the victim by the neck, causing pain and redness to the area. The suspect then punched the victim in the face multiple times, causing pain.

MAN ARRESTED FOR GUITAR THEFT, MULTIPLE TJ MAXX THEFTS

Police arrested a 45-year-old man for a theft from the TJ Maxx at 620 Sixth Avenue that took place earlier this year. Police said that on February 21 around 5:30 p.m., the suspect and two other people who haven’t been arrested entered the store and proceeded to use an unknown object to break open a glass case that contained purses and other items. The suspects then began to grab the items inside the case and put them in a bag before leaving without paying for the items. The suspect was arrested inside the 13th precinct on Sunday, March 8 at 11:45 a.m. and was charged with grand larceny.

Police said that the suspect also took a Givenchi purse from the store on February 11 around 7:15 p.m.

The suspect, along with two other men who weren’t arrested, also reportedly stole from the Guitar Center at 25 West 14th Street on February 12 around 2 p.m. Police said that while the man who was arrested distracted a store employee, the two other suspects grabbed a Taylor custom 12-string guitar with brown wood and ocean vine inlay.

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Opinion: Coming to our census

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

I must confess I do not much like filling our surveys or answering questionnaires. We all have busy lives with much to do and a lot to think about. However, the census material that is being sent out to every household this very week is very significant information to open and to read, and then to respond to the simple 10 questions. This is of critical importance to every New Yorker in particular. The stakes are very high for our city and state.

Every 10 years, the United States Constitution requires a tabulation of the total population of the nation, state by state, and community by community. The numbers that are yielded are not just interesting data, they are the basis for how much federal resources and political representation this state will receive relative to the rest of the nation. Ten years ago, we failed.

In 2010, only about 62% of all New Yorkers responded to the census questions. That compares unfavorably to the 76% response rate in the rest of the nation. That failure to respond has likely led to an undercount of persons living in New York State. The undercount has cost the State billions of dollars each year. A lower recorded population also impacts the number of Congressional seats that New York State is assigned and our strength in the Electoral College, which selects the President of the United States.

It is vitally important that New Yorkers not repeat that dismal showing again this go around. In baseball parlance, we need to step up to the plate!

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Random assaults up in Gramercy

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Following the arrest of a man wanted for a random attack in Union Square Park last week, Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman said at the 13th Precinct Community Council’s meeting on Tuesday that the neighborhood has seen a slight increase in unprovoked assaults recently.

Hellman noted the uptick after a woman at the meeting said that a homeless woman approached her and punched her in the head while she was waiting for the bus with her granddaughter.

“We’re seeing a lot of this even minor level harassment and assaults but we are making apprehensions,” he said, adding that the arrests have included homeless and emotionally disturbed individuals.

Hellman noted that officers have made an arrest on another random attack that occurred in Union Square Park, in which the suspect fractured the victim’s eye socket. A witness told police that he saw the victim and the suspect, 33-year-old Tyrone George, get into an argument inside the park on Tuesday, March 3 around 9:40 p.m.

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Local cops catch teens wanted for burglaries citywide

Cops at the 13th precinct were honored this week. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Multiple officers of the 13th precinct were honored with the Cop of the Month award at the most recent Community Council meeting this past Tuesday for catching a pair of teenagers responsible for late-night burglaries throughout the city and others wanted for various shoplifting incidents.

The officers on the night tour who were honored at the meeting included Sergeant Isaac Acevedo and police officers William Blum, Nicholas Clemente, John McCormick, Charles Morro and Robert Rufrano. The officers who work on the day tour who were honored were Lieutenant James Grillo, who will also be retiring soon, Sergeant Edward Faini and police officers Brendan Bellew, Danny Bermeo, Mahmoud Khaled, Thomas Knudsen, Joseph Orlando and Sutcliff Rattan.

Deputy Inspector Steven Hellman said that officers who work in the overnight hours spotted the suspects wanted for the burglaries, recognized because they had been caught on surveillance footage in previous incidents, but knew that the District Attorney’s office wouldn’t charge them just based on previous burglaries, so they had to catch them in the act.

“They followed them up Lexington Avenue into the 17th precinct and caught them on a live burg, and that closed out 35 burglaries citywide,” Hellman said.

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Tenants Association files lawsuit against Blackstone

Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg with local elected officials last Thursday (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association filed a lawsuit against property owner Blackstone last week in response to an attempt to deregulate more than 6,000 apartments.

Blackstone is attempting to deregulate units that are currently under the J-51 tax exemption, which expires at the end of June, and increase rents on those apartments for leases renewed or starting in July or later. The private equity firm is arguing that the regulatory agreement Blackstone signed with the city in 2015 supersedes the rent laws the state legislature passed last June, but tenant advocates and local elected officials argued at a press conference in Stuy Town last Thursday that the rent laws abolished deregulation all apartments, regardless of previous agreements.

“The new law is clear and unambiguous,” Tenants Association President Susan Steinberg said. “Blackstone Group is of the opinion that these pro-tenant reforms do not apply to them. We disagree. They cannot disregard state rent law and raise rents and deregulate units as if the law had never been changed.”

State elected officials at the press conference said that they were very specific when writing the rent laws that passed and that Blackstone was not interpreting the law as it was intended.

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