Opinion: Running out the clock

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

To understand what is going on between President Trump, his attorney general, other high-ranking administration officials and the Democrats in the House of Representatives, it is useful to understand basketball strategy. When the game clock is winding down in a close basketball game, the team that is barely ahead and has the ball tries to make sure that the opposing team does not get another shot at scoring a bucket. So they protect the ball or just pass it back and forth to themselves.

With 535 days left before the next presidential election the Trump team is doing just that. Democrats in Congress have issued a subpoena to obtain the full unredacted report by Robert Mueller after newly appointed Attorney General William Barr refused to release parts of it. Barr said NO. Tick, tick, tick. Democrats have also subpoenaed President Trump’s concealed tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service. Thus far Trump and his Treasury secretary have said NO. Tick, tick, tick.

Democrats in Congress have requested bank records from a financial institution, which loaned Trump billions of dollars for questionable business dealings, that is now under scrutiny. Trump is suing to block that disclosure. They also want key Trump officials to testify at Congressional hearings regarding a variety of matters now under investigation. Trump is asserting “Executive Privilege” to try to block their testimony which might prove either embarrassing or unveil information about obstruction of justice during the Mueller investigation. Tick, tick, tick.

And to add to the president’s woes, The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee just subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. to return and clarify information that he provided about contacts with Russian operatives during the 2016 election…Uh-oh.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Opinion: The politics of giving

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column describing the utter futility of Bill de Blasio’s flirtation with a race for president and his frequent trips out of town in pursuit of that office. An avid Town & Village reader emailed us this week to ask why persons would contribute to such a campaign with little or no hope of victory. The answers are varied.

Yes, there are some political donors who truly believe in a particular candidate come hell or high water or ones who are close friends or relatives. Some candidates run for higher office thinking like those who play the lottery. Even though the probability of success is near zero, as the Power Ball slogan exclaims, “Hey, you never know” or “You can’t win it if you are not in it.” The chances of winning the jackpot and the odds of a nondescript candidate winning the presidency is about the same.

In the case of Donald Trump, he at least had a celebrity following from his business ventures, tabloid exposure, and his television show “The Apprentice.” None of those experiences qualified him to be president, but it did give him universal name recognition and political momentum as a candidate.

But back to Bill de Blasio and other office seekers who are not counted amongst the rich and the famous.

Continue reading

Opinion: Down for the count

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Something really important happened last week at the United State Supreme Court. Arguments both pro and con were presented regarding a Trump Administration policy to change the way in which the decennial census is calculated by the federal Department of Commerce. The outcome could impact New York State in a big way.

Every ten years the government counts the total number of individuals residing in the country, broken down by each individual state and its cities, towns and villages. Currently the national population estimate updated in 2017 stands at 325,719,178 persons. In New York State, the number is 19,849,399. That includes both citizens and non-citizens alike.

So what’s going on at the Supreme Court and what’s the big deal? And should we be concerned?

The Department of Commerce wants to make a change to the census questionnaires that will be sent next year to every household, and other residential facilities. They want to inquire whether the respondents are citizens or not. The validity of including that question has been challenged and the Supreme Court will soon decide. On the surface this all might seem innocuous…but it is not. In fact it is insidious.

Continue reading

Opinion: Make Albany great again?

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

This week the state legislature and the governor will try to beat the April 1 deadline and agree to a budget for the new fiscal year. That’s always the centerpiece of state government action.

It is easy to be nostalgic and imagine that previous times were the good old days. In truth, there were some really positive things happening in the state government back when I arrived in the Assembly in 1978.

For one thing, there was not such a partisan political divide. In those days, the Assembly was controlled by the Democrats and the Senate was controlled by the Republicans. But neither party had such a total numerical stranglehold on their respective houses. So it was necessary for Democrats and Republicans to try to work together to get things done between the houses and also within each house.

Of course there were profound differences of opinions on any number of issues. But Governor Hugh Carey and his successor Mario Cuomo always seemed to find a light touch to deal with the legislature and with the opposing party. The incumbent governor just can’t seem to find that same easy manner.

Continue reading

Opinion: A walk in the park

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

For many years the The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the first owner of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, advertised our environs as a “park-like residential community.”

A community of 110 buildings housing 25,000 persons situated amongst acres of green grass, trees, plantings and shrubbery removed from the teeming streets of Manhattan. Met Life was pretty much on point.

But the current ownership has taken this now-quaint community to greater heights of amiability and helpful amenities. So last week while visiting my mom, I decided to do something I have not done in years… to walk the length and breadth of our unique neighborhood.

I crossed over 20th Street from the redesigned playgrounds and basketball courts of Peter Cooper Village over to Stuyvesant Town. I walked passed Lenz’s, the venerable local deli/grocery store owned by the equally venerable Naz who has been a friend and merchant to our community for decades.

Continue reading

Opinion: Shutdowns and showdowns

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

The federal government shutdown is over, at least for now. This lull before the next budget deadline is a good time to reflect on recent events. Does the president really have an appetite for putting 800,000 federal workers through that financial trauma again? Does he really want to again halt essential functions rendered by FBI agents and air traffic controllers, persons running national parks or those dispensing critical human services to the needy?

Some years ago, when budget delays were common in New York State for lack of an agreement between the legislature and the governor, the state at that time enacted a policy whereby legislators would not be paid until the budget was passed. This was done both in the hopes of spurring agreements as well as punishment for negligent and tardy behavior. So here is an idea:

Come February 15, if there is no budget in place in Washington D.C. and hostages need to be taken, have the members of the executive branch of government, including the president, vice president, the cabinet and their staffs go without their pay until the issues are resolved. And do the same with all members of Congress and their staffs. Whether elected officials are paid bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or once a year, it is legal.

Rumor has it that there is legislation to do just that which is actually being proposed in the House of Representatives. Good. Let them put their money where their mouth is.

Continue reading

Opinion: Run, Bill, run

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Several weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would be spending time away from City Hall with an ambitious national travel schedule promoting progressive policies which he believes would be good for the country and New York City. He then said that he has “not ruled out” a run for President in 2020. And then in answer to a reporter’s question about his pledge to serve all four years of his second term as mayor, de Blasio’s reply was that “Times have changed since 2017”.

The Democratic Party will have no shortage of candidates vying for the nomination to run against President Trump. There will be more than a dozen and most of those candidates will hold progressive views similar to de Blasio’s. That is the nature of the Democratic Party these days. The route to the nomination travels through the more progressive and liberal ideology espoused by persons such as Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris to name just a few. And although the nation’s electorate as a whole is more centrist, the first order of business for any Democratic aspirant is getting the nomination.

But back to Mayor de Blasio. He was re-elected in 2017. With term limits he cannot run for mayor again. His height (six feet, six inches) is a metaphor for his outsized political ambition and his self-esteem. But being mayor of the city that never sleeps, the largest in the nation, is not like any other job in politics. It is a 24/7 responsibility. It is about managing the affairs of this sprawling metropolis and the almost daily crises that arise. It goes with the territory.

Continue reading

Opinion: The gift of hope

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It’s a story as old as the Bible, yet as new as yesterday’s headlines. It’s about the land of the free and the home of the brave. The Pilgrims, the Statue of Liberty… our past and our present.

Of course, I speak of those seeking sanctuary from oppression, violence or starvation. It’s about persons in dire need of a safe harbor, or possibly a single migrant family looking for a place to give birth to a child who would one day spark a great religion. It’s about the descendant of Irish immigrants fleeing famine who would be president. How different the world would be if the stable had been closed to outsiders or the border shut to the Irish.

Jewish people have a particular affinity for those in search of refuge since they were repeatedly driven from their homes by conquering armies in centuries past, or the pogroms of Russia, or most recently the Nazi onslaught that became the Holocaust. We have witnessed the tragic consequences when people are turned away because of their different religion or skin color or culture. It never ends well.

Most avert their attention from such desperation but some do not.

Our neighborhood congregation of East End Temple refuses to look the other way.

Continue reading

Opinion: Missing George H.W. Bush

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

Anyone who takes government service seriously had to be moved by the tributes to our 41st president, George Herbert Walker Bush. His life was an embodiment of patriotism and truly exemplified fidelity to our constitution and our laws. Of course, that does not mean that we agreed with every policy decision he made as president. But one cannot question his determination to do what he felt was best for the country, and as Abraham Lincoln said, “with malice towards none and charity for all.”

 The contrast with the 45th president could not be more poignant. Donald Trump more and more speaks like a mob boss. He demands unquestioned loyalty from his associates even to the point of praising those who refuse to discuss what they know about the circumstances that occurred during the 2016 presidential campaign. He has been effusive in his praise of those who refuse to assist the Special Counsel Robert Mueller like his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who has already pleaded guilty to multiple crimes but is undercutting the investigation of Russian involvement in American elections. But to those who have spoken candidly to Mr. Mueller, he has nothing but scorn and threats. He tweets that his enemies should be jailed and seeks to exact retribution.

Just last week, we learned that contrary to Mr. Trump’s long assertion of no involvement with the Russians, it is now revealed that even as he made those declarations his company was pursuing a billion-dollar building opportunity in Moscow with the direct knowledge of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Could that relationship be why Mr. Putin wanted to help Donald Trump become president, and why Mr. Trump has never uttered a cross word about Putin? Trump has inexplicably dismissed the findings of all our intelligence agencies that in fact there was an organized effort from the Kremlin to aid the candidacy of Donald Trump. Mr. Trump can yell “no collusion” all he wants but increasingly the facts are saying otherwise.

Continue reading

Opinion: Supreme questions

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

The great Motown singing group The Supremes had a big hit called “You Can’t Hurry Love.” But what is the rush in getting Judge Brett Kavanaugh safely ensconced on the United States Supreme Court for the rest of his life?

What seemed like a fairly easy road to confirmation albeit partisan is now is now filled with land mines for Brett Kavanaugh. Three weeks ago after the hearings ended, Kavanaugh seemed to answer all the questions in a knowledgeable and legally astute way. Sure he dodged the tough ones like how he might vote on abortion rights and presidential authority, but in fairness, so do all nominees, pretty much. There is no question that his qualifications from the standpoint of experience and scholarship are impressive.

The opposition to Mr. Kavanaugh did not stem from whether or not he was qualified, but rather how he might vote on critical issues and the belief that he will tilt the court unalterably to the political right. His predecessor Justice Anthony Kennedy was considered a centrist. That lurch to the right could easily last for a generation or more.

Continue reading

Opinion: Strikes and the city

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

There are valid reasons to support a candidate running for governor this year other than Andrew Cuomo. He has certainly failed to reign in corruption in Albany as he promised he would. That is principally because he has been weak on changing campaign contribution laws and gargantuan political donations. These are the very laws that have enabled him to build a bulging $31M campaign war chest. He was slow to try to bring together warring factions of the Democratic majority in the State Senate, so much so that the Republican Party with fewer elected members has maintained control of that House for the past number of years thwarting pro-tenant and pro-consumer legislation in favor of big business.

Governor Cuomo has refused to increase taxes, even by a dime, on the wealthiest one percent in New York State while vital social service and education programs have been underfunded for lack of resources. He has tried to evade responsibility for the deteriorating condition of our mass transit system even though he controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). He has unnecessarily ramped up the feud with Mayor De Blasio, displaying an unflattering vindictive streak.

However, he cannot be taken to task, as “Sex and the City” actress turned governor candidate Cynthia Nixon has tried to do, over the issue of allowing municipal employees to go on strike. Some of us vividly remember the devastating strikes in New York City by the transportation workers, the sanitation workers and public school teachers in the 1960s and ‘70s. We can recall how difficult it was getting around the five boroughs during the transit strikes and the mounds of rotting garbage on the streets during the sanitation strikes. Fortunately, fire fighters and police never went down that road, and that is largely because of the Taylor Law, which Ms. Nixon wants to abolish.

Continue reading

Opinion: Being mayor in New York City

By former Assemblyman Steve Sanders

Five years ago this month, Bill de Blasio was running for mayor against a bevy of better-known candidates featuring City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Congressman Anthony Weiner in the Democratic Primary. His early standing in the polls was fifth among five.

As the summer wore on, one by one they fell by the wayside.

Weiner’s political career dissolved amid a flurry of revelations about his obsession with sending pictures and texts of the most personal nature to women (and later even girls). He was utterly discredited. Quinn came across as entitled and arrogant and the voters soured on her. Another contender, City Comptroller John Liu, had been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for illegal political advertising and never gained traction. And Bill Thompson could not repeat his impressive showing from four years earlier.

By the end of August just weeks before the primary, voters began to gravitate towards de Blasio by process of elimination. He was progressive and made great promises about a liberal renaissance after 20 years of Republican rule in City Hall.

Continue reading

Letters to the editor, July 19

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Immigration debate all of a sudden

Re: “Politics & Tidbits: Greats of Cooperstown,” T&V, July 12 

Steve Sanders wrote that one of the reasons he liked his visit to Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame was because of the protest he saw against Trump’s separation of babies from their parents.

Children have been separated from their parents since the first parent in the United States was put in prison hundreds of years ago.  Why have we not heard protests against this by the Democrats until Trump started enforcing immigration law?

What is the solution proposed by the Democrats, to keep both children and their parents in detention? That is against the law. The solution of the Democrats is not to detain the immigrants at all and to let gangs such as MS-13, hostile terrorists and foreign disease invade our country unchecked.

Continue reading

Letters to the editor, July 12

July12 Toon Liberty

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Upsets at polls not earth shattering

Steven Sanders in his “Politics & Tidbits” column of July 5 could be completely correct that the results of the primary elections for two New York City congressional seats last month “carry (anti-establishment) messages and meanings. And politicians ignore those messages at their peril.”

On the other hand, primary elections often have extremely low voter turnout – which included those two elections cited by Sanders (the defeat of Joseph Crowley and the strong showing in a losing cause against Carolyn Maloney) – and are far from representative of the electorate. Well-organized and financed outsiders often do well in primary elections when 80 to 90 percent of the electorate stays home. In a general election, usually 60 to 70 percent of the electorate votes.

New York City political history is filled with stunning upsets in primary elections due to low turnout. Those upsets proved to have no carryover to any political trends locally or nationally. In 1970, our local member of Congress Representative Leonard Farbstein lost in the primary to Bella Abzug.

Continue reading

Opinion: Fixing rents and making enemies

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

It is said that a good deal is one in which neither party is entirely satisfied. More about that in a moment.

Rent regulations in New York City has been a thorny issue for decades. So a little recent history. The Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) was established in 1969 and modified by the passage of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974. There are nine members of the RGB all appointed by the mayor. Of the nine, two are from the real estate industry, two representatives of tenant groups and five “public members.”

The RGB will meet on June 26 to set rent increases for leases that will expire beginning on October 1 through September 30, 2019. Currently, increases are set at 1.25 percent for a one-year lease and two percent for a two-year lease. Based on the proposals that have been recommended for public comment by the RGB, next year’s guidelines will be similar. There have been years where the rent increases rose into the double digits and there have been years that rents have been frozen. Generally speaking whatever the RGB decides, both tenants and owners cry foul. This year will be no different.

The fact is that try as they may, the RGB satisfies nobody. Moreover, it is difficult to do any planning because nobody knows what the rents will be set at from year to year. It is also a very dubious claim that the decision by the RGB is tied to any real economic data in terms of owners’ costs or profits and certainly not taking into consideration the financial burdens on tenants. In short, it is an arbitrary and often political process.

Continue reading