Opinion: Big Plastic wins, environment loses

By State Senator Brad Hoylman

The winner in Albany’s repeal of the City’s “bring your own bag” law earlier this month wasn’t your average shopper who would have been charged 5 cents per plastic bag – although opponents of the law would like you to believe that.  No, the biggest beneficiary in the year-long showdown between the State Legislature and City Hall over plastic bags was Big Plastic — the plastics industry itself.

Big Plastic is represented by two shadowy groups that have spent millions nationwide to defeat bag laws just like New York City’s, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and American Chemistry Council. ALEC, a consortium of right-wing state legislators, works as a clearinghouse for model pro-business state legislation, ranging from weakening labor unions to loosening environmental regulations, like rolling back restrictions on plastic bags. ALEC is bankrolled by the American Chemistry Council, which also lobbies for Big Plastic on behalf of petroleum and plastics industry companies like Shell, Exxon Mobile and DuPont.

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Opinion: Planet Albany

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

I taught a class in politics at City College some years ago. Fortunately, I never had to explain what is going on at all levels of government these days, especially in Albany. From grade school we are instructed that in a democracy, the majority rules. In other words, if you get the most votes, you get to govern. In Albany that is not a given.

There is no need to rehash what happened in the Presidential election. As we know, the candidate with the most votes was not declared the winner.

Notwithstanding Donald Trump’s insistence that he was cheated out of millions of votes, he actually lost the popular vote. But in Presidential elections, the winner is the one who gets a majority of the Electoral College vote, which Trump did. That is a fact, whether we like it or not.

However, consider the curious case of Albany. Like at the federal level, there is a chief executive in the person of the governor. And like Congress, there is a bi-cameral Legislature, the State Assembly and the State Senate.  And that is where the intrigue begins. After the November elections, the Assembly continues to be dominated by the Democratic Party occupying over two thirds of the seats. In the Senate, Democrats also outnumber Republicans, albeit very narrowly by 32 to 31. Governor Cuomo is also a Democrat. So one would think that this could be the golden age for Democrats and their policies…right? Nope.

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Editorial: Albany gets even less transparent

Jan7 Hoylman

State Senator Brad Hoylman is opposed to the new policy. (Photo courtesy of Senator Hoylman)

Last week, State Senator Brad Hoylman, a frequent critic of his own chamber in Albany, posted a photo of that very chamber on his Twitter feed. It would likely be the last photo he’d be posting of the place, he revealed, thanks to a new rule voted in by the Republican majority to ban photo-taking there by anyone except official Senate photographers. This means lawmakers, members of the press and members of the public will from now on be made to ask permission first any time they think it’s important to record a moment, whether it’s of a vote or debate or any other relevant thing happening.

The vote came shortly after Congress proposed a similar policy to fine members for taking photos or livestreaming from the House floor.

The reasoning for the Senate rule, according to its sponsor, is that photo-taking and other cell phone use is disruptive during proceedings.

Fortunately, Hoylman has recognized this weak argument for what it is, an excuse to further shroud the legislative process in secrecy, since apparently having all major decisions impacting the state made by three men in a room just isn’t enough. Asked what inspired his colleagues to start 2017 with even less transparency than in prior years, Hoylman guessed it has to do with the fact that sometimes, other than candid photos of hands in the air that end up on social media, there’s no publicly available record of who voted for what. And many would like to keep it that way.

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Albany does little on ethics reforms

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo courtesy of Senator Hoylman)

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo courtesy of Senator Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

In a recent interview with State Senator Brad Hoylman, Town & Village reported on Albany’s refusal to pass any LGBT protections or stronger gun control legislation this past legislative session.

But those aren’t the only bills left collecting dust on the floor of the State Senate. There are also ethics reforms.

On those proposed reforms, just one major measure did pass, Hoylman reported, which would strip any elected official convicted of corruption of his or pension. However, he said, this will have to be approved again next session and then sent to voters for their approval, as well as “some disclosure provisions for groups engaging in independent expenditures.”

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Opinion: Hoylman on Albany: It’d be funny if it weren’t true

State Senator Brad Hoylman

State Senator Brad Hoylman

By State Senator Brad Hoylman

I was recently asked to speak at the inauguration of a local judge. When it was my turn to give remarks, I told the packed crowd that the judge had asked me to speak about Albany. Without much prompting, the crowd broke into giggles. It’s telling that our state legislature is a punch line.

I think some of us can’t help but laugh because the corruption in Albany has taken on comic proportions. Consider the fact that the criminal acts perpetrated by former Republican Leader Dean Skelos were so brazen as to have been committed after the governor created a special commission under the Moreland Act to investigate public corruption in the state legislature and after the U.S. attorney announced that he had personally taken up the cause. It’s pathetic, sad – and yes, even funny – that Skelos was so arrogant and inept as to pursue his transgressions while federal prosecutors were busy listening to his every word.

The Skelos conviction is just one example why the public has lost confidence in state government. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other reasons, too. Since 2000, 41 state elected officials have been accused, indicted or convicted of official misconduct, including five legislators this year alone, among their ranks, of course, Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver. In the Senate, it’s breathtaking that since 2008, five consecutive leaders of this body have been arrested.

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TenantsPAC: Don’t expect Albany to change

 

Sheldon Silver

Sheldon Silver

By Sabina Mollot
On Monday, one of Albany’s former famed three men in a room, Sheldon Silver, was convicted on corruption charges, for a bribery and kickback scheme that netted him $4 million. Part of the scheme involved the Lower East Side pol using his influence to benefit two real estate developers, in particular Glenwood Management, while at the same time positioning himself as being tenant-friendly. He also directed taxpayer money to a cancer researcher while a doctor there steered patients suffering from asbestos exposure to a law firm that paid Silver referral fees.

However, his failure to sway a jury of his innocence won’t be enough to prompt Albany’s remaining power players to renounce their ways by pushing for campaign finance reform or the closure of the “LLC Loophole.”

Mike McKee, the outspoken treasurer of TenantsPAC, told Town & Village on Tuesday of this gloomy forecast, predicting things will be as they were before, with the onus on tenants to put pressure of their local elected leaders to make meaningful changes. Otherwise, forget it.

“I would hope,” McKee said, “that this would be a wakeup call to the public that something is fundamentally wrong with our system of government, and unless people start holding legislators accountable, the pay-to-play culture is not going to change ever. Why would it change?”

Following the conviction, Governor Cuomo promised some ethics reforms, according to news reports. (His office did not respond to a request for comment.) But when T&V asked McKee if he thought the embarrassment of an Albany ex-kingpin facing jail time might make the governor regret his decision to shut down his commission aimed at rooting out corruption, McKee laughed.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Andrew Cuomo’s agenda is Andrew Cuomo. He has benefitted more than anyone from the system we have. He got more money from Glenwood than anyone else. When the Moreland Commission started investigating his fundraising, that’s when he shut it down. I really wish it’s going to change but it won’t unless constituents put on the pressure. Every time you see an elected official you have to ask, ‘What are you doing about campaign finance reform and the LLC Loophole and the election system so people can actually run against incumbents?’”

State Senator Brad Hoylman, however, disagreed with McKee, saying the Silver bombshell might be what it takes to get even his own house, where tenant-friendly legislation goes to die, to pass meaningful reforms.

“This is Albany’s Watergate moment,” said Hoylman. “I think this is a seismic event that has the potential to disrupt business as usual in Albany. The issue of outside income is key. The fact that Silver was able to take in $4 million in referral fees is on its face outrageous and is something we should consider ending.”

Hoylman said he’s been pushing for an end to this practice since his first year in office.

“It’s not a coincidence Congress came to this conclusion after Watergate,” he added. “The other key fact in the Silver case is the exploitation by real estate companies of limited liability corporations. The LLC Loophole is the primary vehicle of the real estate industry to hold sway over the legislature.”

The so-called LLC Loophole is a regulation that allows companies to make political donations for every limited liability corporation they run and real estate developers often have LLCs for each property they own.

“I think this is something we learned in the Silver case and I believe this issue is going to pick up steam — even in my house,” said Hoylman. “I think the public is rightfully outraged by what they’ve been hearing from the courthouse in Lower Manhattan.”
Earlier this year, Hoylman authored legislation that would make it a class C felony or a public servant to steer grants towards organizations that benefit their families or people they have business relationships with.

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who’s been pushing to close the LLC Loophole, did not respond to a request for comment on the Silver conviction.

As a result of the conviction, Silver must give up the Assembly seat he’s held onto for four decades. By Tuesday morning, Silver’s official Assembly web page was down. A spokesperson for the Assembly said she’d pass on a request for comment, but admitted she didn’t know who’d be handling Silver-related queries. One of Silver’s trial attorneys, Steven Molo, didn’t respond to a request for comment although he did tell Real Estate Weekly he’d be appealing.

“Weʼre obviously very disappointed and we had hoped the jury would see it our way,ˮ Molo said. “We are sorry that they didn’t but we believe that we’re on strong legal ground.ˮ

Opinion: Albany on trial

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

SandersheadshotThe trial began last week. It is officially referenced as “The United States vs. Sheldon Silver.” It is really about the culture of government in many state capitols… but in this case Albany. The facts in this trial involve the conduct of the former Speaker of the Assembly who for 20 years was arguably the most powerful state elected official with the exception of the governor. The prosecution is focusing on Silver’s alleged illegal activities which resulted in his personal enrichment. It is attempting to show that Silver broke the law and the public trust by taking actions not based on good policy but rather based on enhancing his own power and fortune.

And next week the corruption trial of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will begin. These two trials will shed considerable light on how laws are made and will peel back the onion layers of backroom deal making in Albany. The result will surely leave a bad taste.

But it is much more complicated than that.

I served in the State Assembly for 28 years until 2006. At the end I was privileged to be near the pinnacle of power in that body as chairman of an important committee and one of the most senior members. I also worked closely with Mr. Silver on a range of legislative issues. Whatever else may be said and alleged of Sheldon Silver, I can attest that he committed his time and intellect to the job. He devoted more hours than any other public official that I came into contact with. And at least in my experience he sought out what he thought was the right public policy on an array issues important to the lives of ordinary New Yorkers. Did he betray the public trust in some of his private back room dealings? I do not know. Is he guilty of pocketing millions of dollars because of influence peddling? A jury will have to decide that.

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On the rent laws’ limited improvements

By Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh

With the rent laws that protect more than 2 million tenants set to expire on June 15 this year, and the inadequacies and loopholes in the current laws all too apparent, the Assembly’s Democratic Majority, led by Speaker Heastie, fought resolutely to renew and strengthen these vital protections, in negotiations with Senate Republicans and Governor Cuomo.

In taking up this cause, we were joined by a diverse coalition, including thousands of my constituents and other New Yorkers who took the time to call and write their elected officials, attend rallies, and travel to Albany to make sure their voices were heard; advocacy organizations like the Alliance for Tenant Power, the Real Rent Reform Campaign, Tenants and Neighbors, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, Good Old Lower East Side, and the Cooper Square Committee; and many elected officials, including Senators Squadron, Hoylman, and Krueger whose districts overlap with my Assembly district.

While it was critical that the laws be extended, and there are minor improvements in the extension passed last night, I am profoundly disappointed that notwithstanding all of our efforts, the bill fails to provide anything close to the protections we need to maintain stable, affordable communities. I voted against it.

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Rent regs expire with no hint of progress in Albany

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and other tenants at a vigil on Sunday outside the midtown Manhattan office of Governor Cuomo. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

By Sabina Mollot

It wasn’t quite the climactic end to another four years tenants were hoping for when at midnight on June 15, the laws regulating rents in New York expired without being renewed or strengthened.

The following morning, the talks continued in Albany, though there was no sign that that they’d be concluded any time soon.

Part of the reason was that Governor Andrew Cuomo has been hoping to include the passage of an education tax credit in the negotiations, while Senate Republicans also last week passed a set of rent regulation legislation that’s wildly different from the package the Assembly passed in May. The much hyped 421-a tax abatement for developers who include some affordable housing in their projects has also been a factor, but hasn’t been given as much attention as it was expected to get, according to State Senator Brad Hoylman.

Hoylman described the tax program, which also expired on Monday, as being “radioactive” to many of his colleagues because of its being “at the heart of the investigations” into corruption in Albany by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.

“It’s understandable that it wouldn’t be a front burner issue,” said Hoylman, adding he wouldn’t be mourning the program’s loss if it isn’t ultimately renewed and that he thinks it ought to be negotiated separately.

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Letter from CR on rent laws

The following letter has been distributed by CompassRock to Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village residents concerning the expiration of the rent laws:

Dear Residents,

As you may know, the Rent Stabilization Law (“RSL”) is set to expire at midnight tonight, June 15, 2015 and as of this morning no deal has been reached in Albany to extend the RSL. As a reminder, all units in Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town are subject to Rent Stabilization.

We appreciate that the potential expiration of the RSL may be stressful for some residents and can raise questions about what will happen without the protections of the Law. We want to assure our residents that you have nothing to worry about at PCVST. All leases that are currently in place will remain in full force and effect even if the Law expires tonight. Furthermore, PCVST will continue to adhere to the current rules in place (even if the Law expires) until Albany acts.

We, like you, are watching developments in Albany closely and waiting for a resolution. Unfortunately, we don’t have any additional information to share about what the final resolution may look like or when it will occur. We will act in accordance with the new law as soon as it is passed.

Thank you,
PCVST Management

Stuy Town tenants head to Albany

Around 150 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village along with tenants from other communities headed to Albany on Tuesday to call for stronger rent laws. (Pictured) Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and President John Marsh with another resident (left) and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh on the Assembly floor (Photo by Maria Rocha Buschel)

Around 150 residents of Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village along with tenants from other communities headed to Albany on Tuesday to call for stronger rent laws. (Pictured) Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and President John Marsh with another resident (left) and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh on the Assembly floor (Photos by Maria Rocha Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Hundreds of tenants gathered in Albany on Tuesday to call on the state legislature about renewing and strengthening the housing laws that are set to expire next Monday. The ST-PCV Tenants Association sent three buses full of tenants (around 150 in total) to the rally. The Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village residents also made sure that they were seen, standing out from the crowd with their neon yellow-green TA shirts. Dozens of other tenant groups made the trip to the state’s capital this week, all easy to tell apart in the rainbow of signature colored shirts.

“It was great, the way the shirts worked out,” TA treasurer Margaret Salacan said. “It’s like all the groups coordinated to wear different colors but it wasn’t even planned.”

Other groups to make the trip included the Cooper Square Committee and the Met Council on Housing, along with Rent Guidelines Board tenant representative Harvey Epstein, on a fourth bus that also left from First Avenue and East 19th Street on Tuesday morning.

Former TA President and Stuyvesant Town resident Al Doyle said that the last Albany trip that the TA took was in 2011 but that the last time tenants came out in such high numbers for the trip to Albany was in 1997.

Councilmember Dan Garodnick was also in attendance, after hopping from bus to bus throughout the trip to give residents updates on the situation with the rent laws and answer any other concerns they had in what he called his “rolling town hall.”

“The reason that we need to renew the laws is obvious,” he said. “Rents could go through the stratosphere. The rent for a one bedroom in Stuy Town is already $3,500 and it’s $6,000 for a two-bedroom in Peter Cooper. It’s why you see so many students crammed into single apartments. How else do you afford five to six thousand a month without cramming in as many people as possible?”

Garodnick also said that he is cautiously optimistic after reading an op-ed from Governor Andrew Cuomo that was published in the Daily News last weekend. Garodnick had previously sent Governor Cuomo a letter (which ran in this newspaper last week) urging him to end vacancy decontrol and reform MCIs and preferential rents.

“The tenor from the governor appears to have changed,” he said. “Initially I was reading they were talking about a straight extender. To my great pleasure, it was like he took my letter and emphasized those three things. All these questions are now on the table.”

On the first bus at the start of the trip, TA chair Susan Steinberg outlined the plans for the day, which included a rally at the ornate steps at the Capitol known as the Million Dollar Staircase, which actually cost $1.5 million to build when it was constructed in 1894. She added that ST-PCV tenants would then be heading to the gallery at the Assembly to participate in a non-disruptive protest.

“Members of the Assembly will look up and be greeted by a sea of neon,” she said.

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OP-ED: The rent laws need teeth, so tenants will need to show theirs

By Susan Steinberg, Board Chair, Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association

Sometimes in the life of our community, I feel like a barker at a carnival. Two of those times are upon us: a June 8 public hearing of the Rent Guidelines Board and a June 9 major tenant rally in Albany to demand stronger rent laws.

I’m not selling you a ticket to a freak show where your pocket may be picked once you’re inside. On the other hand, thinking about it, both Albany and the RGB are freak shows, and the real estate industry does pick your pocket.

The June 8 RGB public hearing is the one opportunity tenants have to tell their stories about why rents should be rolled back or frozen. We need tenants to counteract the piteous cries of the landlords about how they can’t cover their costs (while ignoring their ever-increasing profits). Tenants need to let the RGB know that they can’t continue to be burdened to the point of spending 50 percent of their income on rent.

Getting on a bus to Albany is critical because rent laws expire on June 15 – but we need them strengthened, not just renewed. Everyone living in Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village stands to benefit from stronger rent laws. Without the laws having more teeth, the number of regulated units will dwindle to the point where tenants have no political clout, and we can all look forward to rents that are totally beyond our pocketbooks.

Experience has shown us that masses of tenants being seen and making their voices heard does have a chilling effect on the forces of darkness. That’s why showing up in numbers is important.

So here I go “barking.”

Who’s coming to the June 8 RGB hearing? Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue (between 34th and 35th Streets). The hearing will be held 2-6 p.m. Pre-register to testify either by email (ask@nycrgb.org) or by phone (212-385-2934), or register in person at the start of the hearing. Keep your spoken remarks to three minutes. You may submit your views in writing by addressing them to the chair or any board member, c/o NYC Rent Guidelines Board, 51 Chambers St., Suite 202, New York, NY 10007 or by email: chair@nycrgb.org.

Who’s coming with me to Albany on June 9? The TA has hired three buses. Sign up now, while your seat is still available. Internet: http://stpcvta.org/albany2015. For neighbors without Internet access, call (917) 338-7860.

The de-evolution of politics

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

One upsmanship, name calling, gotcha, the ends justify the means, winning at any cost, my way or the highway.

Pick any of the above, in fact pick all of the above. Sadly that is what American politics has become. This is true in Albany, City Hall and especially in our nation’s capital.

Witness in Washington D.C. the sorry spectacle right at this moment of our Homeland Security funding being held hostage because a faction in Congress does not like actions that the President took on immigration reform. So instead of dealing with that issue head on, they threaten to disable the government agency charged with keeping us safe from terror attacks, hoping that will force the President to yield on his immigration policies. Of course this is an attempt to slap down the President which plays well in some portions of the country. Threatening to shut down all or essential parts of the federal government to get their way seems to be a favored tactic. Politics before the national interest, not a pretty sight!

Compromise has become a dirty word, and it is harder to find a statesman among the ruling class than to have the winning lottery ticket.

In my 40 years in and around government I have never seen our political institutions at every level reduced and debased to such a self-serving and morally bankrupt condition.

The ultra conservatives in Washington D.C. would rather see President Obama fail than see the country (they loudly profess to love) succeed. And the myopic and partisan members of the political far left are too often mired in sanctimonious rhetoric to be able to reach compromise and govern in the best interest of the people. Politics seems more rife with corruption than ever before. Increasingly individuals seemingly enter government as a way to enrich themselves either through money or power or both advancing good public policies? Well that comes in at the bottom of the agenda.

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Senate Democrats push ethics reforms

State Senator Brad Hoylman (at podium) discusses his legislation in Albany.

State Senator Brad Hoylman (at podium) discusses his legislation in Albany.

By Sabina Mollot

Amidst growing interest from the media about state lawmakers’ outside incomes and last week’s quick replacement of the longtime leader of the Assembly, Senate Democrats have introduced a package of legislative reforms aimed at cleaning up the Capitol.

Mainly, the new bills, which were introduced on Monday afternoon at an Albany press conference, are aimed at capping politicians’ outside incomes, making it illegal for officials to use campaign cash for any criminal defense fees they incur and stripping corrupt officials of their pensions.

So far, the Democrats have said the Republican majority has blocked its efforts for ethics reform.

However, with the spotlight being firmly planted on state legislators’ outside activities and U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara’s warning the public to “stay tuned,” some Democrats, like Brad Hoylman, are hopeful this might change.

“This is a great Watergate moment for the state legislature,” said Hoylman, “and by that I mean that public confidence is at an all-time low. And it is up to both parties to usher in some reform, much like the Congress did in 1974. We should look at that example.”

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Pols, tenants weigh in on Silver, Skelos

State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman say reports of corruption in Albany make people think all politicians are the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman say reports of corruption in Albany make people think all politicians are the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Just eight days after the arrest of one of Albany’s famed three men in a room, came the news that another one in the power trio, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, was also being investigated. U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara, whose investigation into Sheldon Silver led to his stepping down as Assembly speaker on Monday, is looking into Skelos’ ties to real estate and outside income from a law firm, the New York Post reported.

Skelos, of Long Island, has since reportedly laughed off the allegations.

Meanwhile, at the ribbon cutting for the new Asser Levy Playground in Manhattan on Friday morning, Town & Village cornered a couple of local state senators as well as a few community leaders to ask for their thoughts on the latest scandals from the Capitol.

Senate Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman both told Town & Village that it’s a shameful day in Albany any time there’s news of alleged criminal activity.

“Everyone who’s in elected office knows that they’re supposed to be held to a higher standard,” said Krueger. “The vast majority of us believe in good government, and when this happens, people think, ‘A pox on all your heads.’ Who’s going to want to run for office if everybody thinks you’re a criminal?”

When asked if she was just relieved it was a Republican on the hot seat this time, the Democrat senator insisted she wasn’t.

“No. I think any time there’s an elected official in Albany that gets indicted, the general public believes ‘they’re all corrupt and there’s no point in government.’”

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