Opinion: A case against term limits

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

It has been said that the profession of politics is the second oldest one and regarded on about par with the oldest. Politicians are often times reviled beyond any logical reason. If you are unhappy in life, blame a politician. If you feel overburdened, blame a politician.

But too frequently some public officials give good reason for this antipathy by doing corrupt things. While all professions have their bad players, when a politician is caught with his/her hand in the cookie jar, the rest are tarnished and brought down in the eyes of the public.

It is little wonder that the proposition to impose strict term limits is so popular. Of course, it is also entirely undemocratic and occasionally destructive. Dan Garodnick is a case in point.

Dan has been our City Councilman for 11 years. He has effectively represented our community with intelligence, passion and unquestioned integrity. We sorely need those traits in our government leaders today. But he is in his last year as our local representative. You will not be able to vote for him again and our community will be deprived of an exemplary public official and advocate, because of arbitrary term limits.

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Garodnick recommends Trump Tower police unit

Council Member Dan Garodnick

Council Member Dan Garodnick

By Sabina Mollot

Since the presidential election, traffic in the midtown streets surrounding Trump Tower has been consistently snarled, with local stores reporting a yuuuuge amount of lost business as a result.

While it did help that shortly before the New Year, the block of 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was once again opened to traffic, the area still feels somewhat militarized. The reopening had been pushed by City Council Member Dan Garodnick, whose district includes Trump Tower, and this week, Garodnick spoke with Town & Village about how the neighborhood has been inconvenienced since Donald Trump was elected president.

“It’s an ongoing headache that gets worse when he’s around and we hope he does not choose to use Trump Tower as a pied-a-terre,” said Garodnick.

Incidentally, First Lady Melania Trump has recently reiterated plans to remain at Trump Tower with her son Barron until the school semester ends before moving to the White House.

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Help for mom and pop lies in pending legislation

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Robert Cornegy, pictured last year while introducing a bill that a rep for Cornegy recently insisted isn’t dead (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Robert Cornegy, pictured last year while introducing a bill that a rep for Cornegy recently insisted isn’t dead (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Recently, a couple of City Council members proposed ideas on ways to combat “high rent blight” and promote retail diversity, or at least, keep the city from completely getting overtaken by chains.

This was at a hearing where the council members’ ideas, such as putting legislative restrictions on chain stores and imposing penalties on landlords who warehouse storefronts, were shot down by city planners.

According to the planners, as Town & Village previously reported, many stores that appear to be chains are actually individually owned franchises and as for lengthy retail vacancies, sometimes, the planners argued, they are not necessarily intentional on the part of property owners.

Meanwhile, a few legislators, including Council Member Robert Cornegy, the small business committee chair who’d chaired the aforementioned hearing on September 30, have come up with some legislative ideas to deal with the problem already.

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PCV’s Keith Powers a top candidate in city elections for small contributions

Photo courtesy of Keith Powers

Photo courtesy of Keith Powers

By Sabina Mollot

Peter Cooper Village resident Keith Powers, who’s running for the City Council seat currently occupied by Dan Garodnick, is currently one of the top five city candidates for small contributions. Small, according to the Campaign Finance Board, which has released the stats for the latest filing period, means a contribution of $175 or less.

Other candidates to make the list include Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James. De Blasio had the highest number at 691 small donors. Powers was fourth on the list with 170. James followed him at 162. Number two on the list is Carlina Rivera, who’s running for the City Council seat now occupied by Rosie Mendez with 226 and three is Queens Borough President Melinda Katz with 187.

Small donations are eligible for matching funds if they’re from New York City residents, and therefore the program encourages candidates to seek the financial support of constituents and potential constituents.

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Opinion: Time to nix these six

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Before you know it, the 2016 presidential election campaign will be (mercifully) over and then the political focus in New York City will almost immediately shift to the mayoral and other city elections in 2017. Aside from the mayor, there are elections including those for comptroller, public advocate, five borough presidents, district attorneys and all 51 members of the City Council. Each will be elected for four year terms of office. At least six of them are unnecessary.

But first a little recent history: Prior to 1989 this city was governed essentially by a body known as the Board of Estimate. It consisted of the three citywide elected officials: the mayor, the president of the City Council, the comptroller and each borough president.

The citywide officials had two votes on the board and each borough president had one vote.

The City Council was virtually powerless since most of the real decision making occurred at the Board of Estimate, including virtually all fiscal matters. After a lawsuit and changes to the New York City Charter much of that changed. The Board of Estimate was abolished and the City Council was empowered to make all legislative decisions. The office of the president of the City Council was also abolished and instead a speaker of the council was created, elected by the other members of the council.

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Another Council candidate enters race, raising $170G

Marti Speranza, City Council candidate and co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club, pictured at Madison Square Park Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Marti Speranza, City Council candidate and co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club, pictured at Madison Square Park (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The most recent person to enter the City Council race for the seat currently occupied by Dan Garodnick is Marti Speranza, a former city employee and the co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club.

Speranza, a 40-year-old NoMad neighborhood resident, is so far the only woman Democrat in the race. Another female candidate, Peter Cooper Village’s Diane Grayson, is running as an Independent.

Other candidates are Democrats Keith Powers and Jeff Mailman. As T&V first reported, former candidate Joshua Thompson dropped out of the Council race in May and is now running for mayor.

For Speranza, fundraising for the Council campaign has been in the works since April and just last week, she stepped down from her job as director at Women Entrepreneurs (WE) NYC, a new city initiative, to focus on the race.

So far things seem to be going well for Speranza, who announced that she raised $169,706 by the filing date last week, a fundraising record for the first filing of a Council race. She now has over $170,000. The record was previously held by Council Member Corey Johnson, who’d raised $166,000. Speranza also said this was the first time a woman candidate got $100,000 in contributions in the first filing. Of that campaign cash, 52 percent of those donating it are women and 72 percent gave $250 or less, she said. None were real estate developers or lobbyists.

On being the only female Democrat in the race, Speranza pointed out that at this time, because of term limits faced by members of the City Council, the number of female representatives out of over 50 could potentially drop to just nine.

“I do feel that more women need to step up to the plate and run for these seats,” she said.

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Stuy Town man out of Council race, running for mayor instead

Joshua Thompson on First Avenue (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Joshua Thompson on First Avenue (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Joshua Thompson, the Stuyvesant Town resident who’d been running for the City Council seat currently occupied by a term-limited Dan Garodnick, is no longer on the ballot — because he’s running for mayor.

The 30-year-old candidate’s name appeared last week on a list of candidates on the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s website. Asked about the switch in direction, Thompson said via email that there would be a campaign launch event on May 24.

Town & Village profiled the candidate, then the only person running for Council in the 4th District in February. Thompson has previously worked for the Booker administration in Newark, New Jersey, where he grew up, and also recently held a job as director of education for the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Currently, he serves as executive director of external relations for the nonprofit New Leaders, which promotes leadership in education.

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Third person enters race for Garodnick’s City Council seat

Jeff Mailman is currently a legislative aide to Council Member Liz Crowley of Queens. Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Jeff Mailman is currently a legislative aide to Council Member Liz Crowley of Queens. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The race for the City Council seat currently occupied by a term-limited Dan Garodnick appears to be heating up with a third person announcing his candidacy.

That person is Jeff Mailman, an East Midtown Democrat who’s currently a legislative aide to Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. Mailman had told Town & Village in February that he was seriously considering a run.

Others to get into the ring already are Stuyvesant Town Democrat Joshua Thompson and Peter Cooper Village resident Diane Grayson, who said she may run as an Independent.

During a recent interview at Aroma, a coffee joint near the Civic Center legislative building where he works, Mailman discussed his platform, which focuses on public safety, improved schools and quality of life issues.

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Garodnick: About those $36,000 City Council raises

Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo courtesy of B’Nai B’rith)

Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo courtesy of B’Nai B’rith)

By Sabina Mollot

Earlier this month, members of the City Council voted to give themselves $36,000 raises, and last Friday, it became official when Mayor de Blasio authorized the massive boosts in pay. He was also a beneficiary, though he won’t accept the raise for the remainder of his term. Most Council members defended the move, pointing out that that the money was contingent upon enacting a package of ethics reforms, like restricting certain kinds of outside income. It also put an end to the stipends, also known as lulus, that get doled out by the Council speaker to various members for chairing committees, a practice that has been linked to crony-ism.

Council Member Dan Garodnick, who authored the bill restricting outside income and changing the status of the Council to be considered full-time employment, along with fellow East Side Council Member Ben Kallos, was among those defending the raises.

However, he pointed out the next time the Council’s up for a raise, members will only be allowed vote to authorize raises for upcoming and not current terms. This will be ensured by having the Quadrennial Commission, which recommends the raises, be appointed later in the legislative session. (This could of course mean the same elected officials will get the raise they voted on if reelected.) The raises authorized last week, which boost legislators’ pay from $112,500 to $148,500, are retroactive to January 1.

On the raises and reforms, Garodnick said he’s long been against lulus (which can be as high as $25,000), and for the past 10 years he’s been in the Council, he hasn’t taken any. He currently chairs the Economic Development Committee and has previously chaired the Committee on Technology, the Consumer Affairs Committee and the Planning Committee. Had he accepted lulus, he said, they would have been for $10,000 each year up until the last two years when they would have been $15,000.

“I asked that the stipends be done away with altogether,” said Garodnick. “I felt very strongly that they should be eliminated.”

However, the main inspiration for the reforms was Albany, where last year’s sordid corruption scandals against both legislative chamber leaders led to long-called for ethics reforms actually seeing the light of day.

For the city’s elected officials, there will be more transparency regarding personal income, with disclosure reports being put online.

“Today it is too difficult more members of the public to see financial disclosure,” Garodnick said.

Still, not everyone within the legislative body supported the latest round of pay hikes.

A Post article noted that three Republican members who were opposed to the raises found them to be “an obvious conflict of interest.” They recommended an independent body rather than the Council be given the task of issuing raises.

The Council hasn’t gotten a raise since 2006. As for the reason for the 10-year delay, normally the Quadrennial Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor, convenes every four years to recommend raises, which the Council votes on. However, Mayor Bloomberg never called a Quadrennial Commission after 2006, so it hadn’t met since then. Garodnick noted that the Commission will meet again in 2020, which is when the new regulation about prospective raises will come into play. Garodnick is a co-sponsor of that legislation, which was authored by James Van Bramer.

The no lulu policy was a rule change, and required a vote in the Council, but didn’t require legislation.

In other news, Garodnick, who’s running for higher office, seems to be enjoying the fact that half a dozen people have already expressed interest in his District 4 Council seat, with one already on the ballot.

“I wish them well,” said Garodnick. “I’m happy to be a resource to whoever lines up for the seat. This is an important district and deserves top notch representation.”

PCV woman eyes Council seat

Diane Grayson said she’s primarily concerned about the lack of affordable housing. (Photo by Dana Wan)

Diane Grayson said she’s primarily concerned about the lack of affordable housing. (Photo by Dana Wan)

Potential candidate would run as Independent

By Sabina Mollot

The race to succeed Dan Garodnick on the City Council may soon have another candidate in Peter Cooper resident Diane Grayson, a 26-year old associate editor and former assistant teacher.

Grayson, who’s a third-generation resident of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village community, added that she may run as an Independent.

Currently, there’s only one candidate officially on the ballot so far, Democrat Joshua Thompson, a Stuyvesant Town resident who’s held government jobs in Newark, New Jersey and Bridgeport, Connecticut. However, as Town & Village recently reported, the Council seat for the city’s fourth district is also being eyed by a few others, also Democrats. There’s East Midtown resident Jeff Mailman, currently legislative director to Council Member Liz Crowley; Peter Cooper resident Keith Powers, who’s the president of a government and nonprofit consulting and lobbying firm and has previously worked for elected officials; Central Park area resident Renee Cafaro, a political consultant and fundraiser; and Andrew Kalloch, a Lenox Hill resident and deputy policy director to Comptroller Scott Stringer.

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Week In Review, Jan. 21

State Senator Brad Hoylman called on telecommunications giant Time Warner Cable on Monday to improve access for blind and visually impaired customers by voluntarily instituting basic product standards, including television guides and documents written in Braille, font size options for on-screen menus, as well as “talking menus” and “talking guides.” In a letter to Chairman and CEO Robert Marcus, Hoylman noted that while “Comcast has already set an example with its simple to use and accessible technology,” Time Warner has yet to implement similar programs for its share of New York’s 400,000 visually impaired residents.
Hoylman learned of the issue from a constituent while visiting VISIONS, a nonprofit that offers rehabilitation and social services to the visually impaired, in his senate district with NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Robert Cornegy (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

The City Council voted unanimously in support of legislation to change the way that the city communicates with New Yorkers who qualify for the city’s Rent Freeze Program on Tuesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Council Member Robert Cornegy, requires the Department of Finance to include a notice regarding legal and preferential rents on certain documents related to the NYC Rent Freeze Program.
Specifically, the notice must include the rent amount on which the benefit calculation was based, an explanation of why that amount was used in the calculation, an explanation that the tenant may continue to pay a preferential rent even once enrolled in the program, A statement that the tenant can obtain a rent registration history and file a complaint with the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal and a telephone number and email address for that agency. In addition, by 2018, the legislation would require the Department of Finance to include both the preferential and legal regulated rents of applicants to the NYC Rent Freeze Program in its database and include the preferential rent amount in the notice described above.

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Traffic safety improvements underway in Stuyvesant Town

Speed bumps are put into place near the daycare center. (Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick)

Speed bumps are put into place near the daycare center. (Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick)

By Sabina Mollot

Stuyvesant Town residents will soon see $100,000 worth of traffic and pedestrian safety improvements made to the neighborhood.

Funds for the project were allocated last week, as part of the city budget, at the request of Council Member Dan Garodnick.

What exact improvements are going to be made has not yet been determined with Garodnick saying he wanted to have the Department of Transportation make its own recommendations. The goal, however is to make the cityscape surrounding the property more child and senior-friendly with smoother curb cuts (the slopes from sidewalks to the street on corners) and other changes aimed at minimizing car and bike accidents.

Increasing crossing times at street lights is a possibility, as are changes to the service roads. Last month, a Town & Village reader asked Garodnick, via a letter to this newspaper, to make the service roads safer. This was after witnessing a pedestrian dart out into one to catch a bus, only to get hit by a car.

“Pedestrians treat the service road as a semi-sidewalk, while drivers drive at full speed,” observed the writer, Joseph Sanderson.

Garodnick said he’s been in touch with Sanderson. “We’re looking at the safety issue on the service road and that could be a part of this potentially,” he said.

He added that he’s also heard from residents that some curb cuts are difficult to manage by people using walkers or pushing strollers.

Meanwhile, other changes aimed at pedestrian safety are already afoot within Stuyvesant Town.

The Council member noted how the recent move of the onsite daycare center from East 14th Street to the old management office building on Avenue C has led to a higher concentration of kids on Avenue C near the southbound entrance to the FDR Drive. Due to concerns over their safety, CompassRock was asked to implement its own safety measures along the Avenue C Loop — and management agreed.

“They responded almost immediately, which we are very grateful for,” said Garodnick.

Improvements include putting two speedbumps along the C Loop, installing “Caution: Children at Play” signage and painting the street outside the center yellow to prevent double parking. The speed bumps were put into place on Tuesday morning, while the painting was already done last Thursday and earlier in the week, Garodnick said he spotted at least one sign.

The improvements inside Stuy Town are being paid for by CompassRock/CWCapital, not the city.

CB6 urges expansion of SCRIE to some unregulated tenants

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program is currently only available to residents who live in rent regulated housing, but a resolution in the City Council is urging the State Legislature to change that.

The council wrote a resolution in September that encourages the legislature to pass, and the governor to sign, a bill that would allow residents living in non-stabilized buildings where landlords have agreed to abide by Rent Guidelines Board increases to be eligible for the program.

The Community Board 6 housing committee met last Monday to discuss the Council’s resolution and write one of their own in support of such legislation. According to a representative for Councilmember Margaret Chin, who sponsored the resolution, there is currently no proposed legislation in Albany to make the change to the SCRIE program but both CB6 and the City Council are hoping to put pressure on the legislature to do so.

A representative for Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who has supported expanding the SCRIE program in previous legislation, said that he has been working on expanding the program, but no specifics on the legislation was available.

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Council backs expansion of eligibility for SCRIE

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, pictured at a Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association meeting on May 10, authored legislation to expand eligibility to SCRIE. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, pictured at a Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association meeting on May 10, authored legislation to expand eligibility to SCRIE. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

UPDATE: Following this story’s publication in the Thursday, May 29 issue of Town & Village, the SCRIE legislation was signed by the mayor.

By Sabina Mollot
Legislation recently enacted that would significantly expand seniors’ eligibility for SCRIE has now been incorporated by the City Council into the budget, and is expected to go into effect on July 1. Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who introduced the proposal, said the mayor has indicated his support of it and is expected to sign onto it today.
The plan, which was first enacted in the state two months ago, would increase the maximum income a senior can have in order to qualify for the rent assistance program from $29,000 to $50,000. SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption) limits rents for people over 62 in rent-regulated housing who pay more than a third of their incomes in rent. Any rent hikes after leases are signed get paid to the landlord through a tax abatement, not by the tenants. The expansion is expected to make 22,000 additional seniors eligible for the program, Kavanagh said.
The bill was actually first introduced in 2007, Kavanagh’s first spring in the Assembly, and finally enacted this year.
“All parties cared about getting it done,” he said.
What has been adopted by the City Council on May 14 is a change that will have the state paying the cost of any newly eligible participants with incomes between $29,000 and $50,000.
Currently, it’s the city that pays the full cost of SCRIE, and, noted Kavanagh, “the state doesn’t mandate that the city participate” in the program.
This change in policy would be up for renewal by the state in 2016. Meanwhile, Kavanagh said he’s trying to get the word out to seniors that they should apply for the program before July 1.

Our choices: Lhota for mayor, Lappin for boro prez, Mendez for Council

With the primary just days away, the residents of Peter Cooper Village (always a strong voter base) have remained unsure about who it is they want to make their next mayor. And based on the very cluttered ballot, we can’t say we blame them.

Republican candidate Joe Lhota

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota

In the last issue of Town & Village, we made an endorsement for the candidate on the Democrat side, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, because we believe he is genuinely interested in fighting for the preservation of the middle class and the rights of renters in this city. However, finding a Republican candidate with similar interests has proven to be a wee bit tougher. Last week, Town & Village reached out to the three Republican mayoral hopefuls to ask for their thoughts on how they would help middle class New Yorkers, including tenants, which we hoped to share with readers here. But unfortunately, none of the candidates responded to the question. Not one.

So what we did here was pick a candidate that we believe wouldn’t have a hands-off approach to matters like tenant rights and housing costs. It is after all that way of thinking that allowed a culture of predatory equity to go unchecked and result in real estate disasters like the Stuy Town sale to Tishman Speyer and the frivolous primary residence challenges of tenants and eventually, the default that followed.

Of the three Republican candidates, we think former MTA head Joe Lhota has the most potential to tackle the housing crisis New Yorkers now face. Though he isn’t committed to building or preserving a particular number of units of affordable housing as a few of the Democratic candidates are, he has acknowledged the need for more housing and for the government to step in to make it a reality.
In June, at a candidate forum held by CUNY covered by Town & Village, Lhota said,  “The city government should give tax incentives for housing. We have a million more people; where are we going to house them? Where is the property? We need to renovate existing housing and bring more onto the system. We need to evaluate property that’s not being used. Post offices aren’t as needed as they used to be. The government should grab them and use them through a building incentive program.”

Lhota is also an old hand at the workings of city government, having been the city’s budget director in Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s first term and deputy mayor for operations during the second term. Education is another important issue to him; he’s said he’s not in favor of a system that punishes teachers (as educators believe Bloomberg does in failing schools) and he has promised not to be “anti-teacher.”

Though we were somewhat tempted to go with Lhota’s Republican rival George McDonald, here’s why we didn’t. McDonald, founder of the Doe Fund, believes that everyone who “wants a job should have one.” This sounds great, but in order to make this a real positive for New York, there needs to be a clear plan that provides for the creation of jobs at all income levels, not just low income jobs that would be an improvement for the people the Doe Fund helps, who were at one point homeless or incarcerated. The idea is for those who work in the city to be able to pay rent or a mortgage there, too. To be fair, no one else has come up with a way to create jobs at all levels, but… we’re still not even sure what else McDonald’s campaign is about. Billionaire Gristedes chain owner John Catsimatidis has also not shown his platform to be a unique one, beyond an admittedly worthy goal of trying to reduce fines and other nuisances for small business owners.

So, though we disagree strongly with his position on kittens, for the Republican side, we endorse Joe Lhota.

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