T&V asks teens about governor’s free CUNY tuition proposal

Interviews by Maya Rader

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed making tuition free at CUNY and SUNY colleges for students with households earning under $125,000. Town & Village asked students at Clinton High School for Writers and Artists if this would impact where they choose to go to school.

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George Weathers III
“I feel that I would probably want to stay in the city or the state rather than go outside and spend more money. My parent does not make over 125 thousand dollars, so I would want to get the free education.”

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Opinion: The hubris of Andrew Cuomo

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Andrew Cuomo will not be outdone or outmaneuvered, that is for sure. As Governor of the State of New York, Cuomo has stood astride State government in a manner not seen since Nelson Rockefeller back in the 1960s. He has dominated every policy at the state level and has even tried to influence the political landscape in localities, especially New York City. For him politics is a win at any cost game. He does not take kindly to defeat nor to criticism of any kind. Humility is not part of his DNA although he tries mightily to conceal an arrogance that traces back to his father’s campaigns for Governor over 30 years ago.

In 1982 he was the hard edged and hard charging manager of Mario Cuomo’s political operations. Although he never admitted to it, he is credited with having been the inspiration behind the slanderous attacks on his father’s rival for governor, namely Ed Koch. “Vote for Cuomo not the Homo” signs appeared throughout the conservative boroughs of Queens and Staten Island days before the Democratic Primary for Governor. Mario Cuomo won that campaign and went on to distinguish himself as a progressive governor for twelve years. Ed Koch continued as mayor until he was defeated in 1989 by David Dinkins.

Andrew Cuomo pursued his own political career by joining the Bill Clinton administration. In 2002 he took a premature shot at running for governor but flamed out. He made a comeback four years later and was elected attorney general, and then governor in 2010 after the Eliot Spitzer debacle.

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Opinion: The late great Andrew Cuomo

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

After decades of late state budgets and years of sleepy gubernatorial ineptitude, including one governor who was forced to resign following a prostitution scandal, Andrew Cuomo came roaring into the Albany State House vowing to change things. Almost six years later one must wonder what has happened to that guy?

His first term was punctuated with bold and aggressive action. It was “I won’t take no for an answer” style of leadership. Cuomo negotiated six consecutive on time budgets saving local governments millions of dollars. He reigned in Medicaid overspending costs which was threatening to bankrupt the state treasury with its yearly double digit increases. He limited property tax hikes, saving homeowners a bundle. He pushed a recalcitrant Republican State Senate to pass a marriage equality law legalizing gay unions and new restrictions on the sale of guns and ammunition just days following the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

But faced with the greatest crisis of public confidence in state government history, Governor Cuomo seems to have lost his nerve and his edge. The last number of years have seen a parade of public officials, mostly from the state legislature, indicted or convicted of felonies and abuse of their official positions. It culminated with the conviction and ouster of the leaders of the State Assembly and the State Senate, one a Democrat and one a Republican. Each now faces years in prison.

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How a Stuy Town veteran helped get pension buyback law signed

July14 Alperstein

Jerry Alperstein, of the Jewish War Veterans Post 1, had sent out a memo to legislators urging them to expand opportunities for veteran pension buybacks over a decade ago and has since seen a bill signed into law. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

New York’s veterans who will soon be eligible for a new pension buyback, through legislation recently signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, can thank a Stuyvesant Town veteran for the opportunity.

Jerry Alperstein, a Vietnam War Navy veteran, 72, and original Stuyvesant Town resident, had been pushing the legislation since 2005. This is when he, then serving as the legislative chair of the Jewish War Veterans of New York Post 1, sent a proposal memo to members of the state Assembly. A year later, Assembly Member Amy Paulin, of Scarsdale, signed on as a sponsor of a bill and in 2007, then-State Senator Vincent Leibel became a sponsor in that chamber.

During a recent interview, Alperstein explained that this bill will allow all veterans who served honorably and are employed by the State of New York, its municipalities or its school districts in perpetuity to buy back up to three years of military time toward their pension while still employed.

According to Alperstein, the law brings New York State more in line with most other states in their consideration for veterans who are public employees. Prior to its signing, which happened on May 31, there were other pension buyback opportunities, but they were time-limited to the point that many people they were intended for found themselves unable to collect.

A 1976 law gave the buyback only to World War II veterans; but those who were public employees on 20-year retirement had already retired and were no longer eligible to buy back. A 2000 law only applied to those who served during specified periods of armed conflict.  This meant that virtually all Korean War veterans had already retired as were the Vietnam War veterans on 20-year retirements.

“That’s a reprehensible history of buybacks,” said Alperstein. “They called the Korean War the forgotten war and that’s exactly what it was.”

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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: Talking the talk

By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Bill de Blasio is in double trouble. I have always liked him as a decent person. But his administration faces allegations of corruption, cronyism and election finance violations with possible criminal referrals. Those legal issues would be enough to deal with. But the mayor and his administration face an equally damning political charge of hypocrisy. The latter could prove to be fatal for his mayoralty.

The voters are used to a bit of skulduggery on the part of the ruling class. Politics is not missionary work and politicians are not saints. That has been true since the beginning of time. However, voters do expect at a minimum a level of competence and a modicum of trust that when a politician says something he or she will follow through. When officials hold themselves out to be paragons of virtue and then do the opposite they can rightfully expect the wrath of their constituents.

Bill Clinton was a case in point. Voters knew that he was a bit of a rogue and that he practiced politics without pretending that he was an exemplar of ethical behavior. So they forgave him his lapses. But Bill de Blasio promised that he was above all that. A different kind of politician who eschewed political deal-making and promised to reform the political process and its campaign finance practices, and to have an administration that was totally transparent and accountable. Uh-oh.

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No ethics reforms for Albany

The Senate Democrats vote on closure of the LLC Loophole, which failed to make it into the budget. State Senator Brad Hoylman called the budget process unchanged since the Silver and Skelos scandals.  (Photo by State Senator Brad Hoylman)

The Senate Democrats vote on closure of the LLC Loophole, which failed to make it into the budget. State Senator Brad Hoylman called the budget process unchanged since the Silver and Skelos scandals. (Photo by State Senator Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

After an all-nighter in the Capitol, Governor Cuomo signed off on a budget that included none of the ethics reforms he claimed he’d be willing to pass during his state of the state address in January.

Those reforms included closure of the LLC Loophole, which currently allows nearly limitless donations from limited liability corporations, limiting legislators’ outside income and stripping pensions from any legislator who’s found guilty of corruption.

Following the 17-hour session that led to the budget’s signing on Friday morning, a groggy State Senator Brad Hoylman told Town & Village that even after two major scandals last year, nothing’s changed in Albany when it’s time for negotiations.

“The budget process doesn’t lend itself to transparency,” said Hoylman. “It’s still the same three men in a room.”

He then blamed the Republican majority in his own house for not allowing the proposed reforms to reach the floor.

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Opinion: Worst kept secret

By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Barring some weird and unforeseen event (which this year is not out of the question!), Hillary Clinton is headed for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States.

However, there is one prominent Democratic Party Governor who while publicly supporting Mrs. Clinton is privately rooting for her to lose. That would be our very own Andrew Cuomo. Mr. Cuomo is a man of considerable political skill and unlimited ambition. Now at age 57 he knows better than most that the election of a Democrat as President in 2016 would virtually dash any hopes that he has to run for President before 2024 and by then he will be eligible for Medicare and it is likely that his political star will have eclipsed.

In many respects, the younger Cuomo has more political drive than his iconic father Mario… but not nearly as much of his dad’s authenticity, charm or eloquence. Andrew relies on calculation and raw political maneuvering to propel his reputation and prospects. And with a political season this year that has had more twists and turns than a James Patterson novel, Andrew Cuomo is trying to figure out how to stay ahead of the political winds of change. He wants desperately to run for President and just as desperately wants out of the mire of Albany politics. So he is angling in every way possible to remain relevant in national politics.

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Editorial: A kinder, gentler Andrew Cuomo?

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Governor Andrew Cuomo sits front and center during the passage of last year’s “Big Ugly” (Photo via Governor Cuomo)

Renters in New York have had good reason to be skeptical of anything that gets said by Andrew Cuomo.

Last year, as corruption scandals erupted around him involving two house leaders, he only chirped briefly about ethics reform but didn’t elaborate on what this meant he would do. Additionally, as rent regulations were up for renewal, he implied this was a job for the two chambers, rather than the state’s top elected official, to handle, and acted as if simply passing them as they were was being pro-tenant. He changed his tune a couple of times, at first saying there was too much chaos in Albany for him to focus on the rent laws, then later said he would strengthen them. Ultimately, the laws were slightly strengthened in a legislative package dubbed the “Big Ugly” by tenant advocates.

But in this New Year, New Yorkers got to see a more compassionate side to the governor in his State of the State address. Along with calling for long-awaited ethics reforms in the state capitol, including closure of the LLC Loophole, Cuomo discussed the importance of things like paid family leave and spending time with loved ones before it’s too late.

He recalled how when his father Mario’s health was declining before his death a year ago, the “indignity of his bodily failures” was difficult for his father to handle. Cuomo said he kept trying to motivate him by giving him reasons he was needed, but ultimately the younger Cuomo chose not to take more time off to spend with his father during that period.

“It’s a mistake I blame myself for every day,” said Cuomo, before making a case for passing family leave. “A lot of people don’t have a choice” on taking time off, he added.

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Cuomo: It’s time to close LLC Loophole

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Assembly man Brian Kavanagh has been pushing to close the LLC Loophole.

By Sabina Mollot

 

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said it was time to close the infamous LLC Loophole.

It was while making his State of the State address that Cuomo said that as far as the LLC Loophole is concerned, “The time for debate has passed. I call on the legislature to close the LLC Loophole. Pass it and I will sign it the very same day.”

He went on to say how there was a time when legislators, at the end of the day at the Capitol, went home to work on their farms. But nowadays, the governor said, they leave for their law firms, which is a recipe for conflict. He then proposed adopting the Congressional system of limiting outside income for legislators. He also acknowledged that the current campaign finance system makes it impossible for a candidate without funds to get anywhere. “We should encourage new participation,” he said, and also went on to say taxpayer money should not be used to pay the pensions of legislators who’ve been convicted of crimes relating to their jobs.

“2015 was a tough year. It was an ugly year on many levels,” said Cuomo, no doubt in reference to the Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver corruption cases.

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Report finds election exploitation through LLC Loophole

State Senator Daniel Squadron

State Senator Daniel Squadron

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

While this will probably not come as a surprise to anyone who’s been following the scandals in Albany this past year, a report by State Senator Daniel Squadron found significant LLC loophole exploitation in state elections contributions, with Tishman Speyer Development LLC one of the names topping the list.

Assemblymembers Brian Kavanagh and Jo Anne Simon, along with Squadron and other advocates, announced the findings of the report last Wednesday.

While the state prohibits corporations from giving more than $5,000 a year to candidates and political campaigns, through the so-called LLC Loophole, limited liability corporations, which are defined as businesses that share attributes of corporations and partnerships, are allowed to donate up to $60,800 to a candidate per election cycle and up to $150,000 a year to candidates and political committees overall. Corporations and individuals are also allowed to set up an unlimited number of LLCs through which to donate, and developers often have an LLC for each of their properties.

“This is why Albany and real estate interests run roughshod,” State Senator Brad Hoylman said of the loophole. “They can manipulate the law. These are often shadowy entities and have multiple owners. They exist primarily to circumvent detection of true ownership. The fact that they’re treated as individuals is outrageous and that needs to be fixed.”

Hoylman is a co-sponsor of Squadron’s bill in the State Senate that would close the loophole.

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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

Residents not enrolling for SCRIE/DRIE benefits

State Senator Brad Hoylman

State Senator Brad Hoylman

By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Local elected officials have started holding workshops to enroll residents in Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs since a report came out earlier this year noting that less than half of eligible tenants are receiving the benefits they are entitled to.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, along with State Senator Daniel Squadron, Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez, most recently hosted an event at 535 East Fifth Street on October 23 to encourage eligible seniors and disabled residents to sign up for the program that would freeze their rent, and the workshop was attended by about 30 tenants.

SCRIE and DRIE, collectively known as the New York City Rent Freeze Program, is available to seniors over age 62 and tenants with disabilities. Eligible tenants receive rent increase exemptions through a property tax credit and the income threshold increased to $50,000, from the previous limit of $29,000, earlier this year.

Attorneys from Legal Aid and legal firm Skadden Arps were available at the workshop to help residents complete their paperwork but Senator Hoylman noted that filing for the benefits doesn’t necessarily require a fine-tuned legal mind.

“A big part of it is education,” he said. “A number of people who are eligible just don’t know that it’s available, and because it’s pegged to income, you have to re-enroll every year.”

Senator Hoylman cited the low enrollment specifically in Stuyvesant Town as one of the motivating factors for holding the workshops. The report from the Department of Finance found that Stuy Town was one of the most underenrolled neighborhoods in the city, with only 1,317 out of 5,144 eligible residents enrolled in the program, meaning that only 25 percent of eligible seniors and tenants with disabilities are receiving benefits.

Liliana Vaamonde, Director of Training for the Civil Practice with Legal Aid, also noted that education is an important component for enrolling residents in the program, mainly because of the recent changes in the income limit.

“There was a big change that happened last year with the income level so a whole new, large group of people are now eligible,” she said. “The city has been making an effort to do outreach at senior centers and elsewhere so it’s going to take time to inform everyone about the increase.”

Vaamonde added that there are a few misconceptions about the program that residents have at the workshops as well, relating to eligibility and the income level. She clarified that some tenants are confused about why they are not eligible even though their own income is below the $50,000 threshold.

“It’s about the household and not their individual income, so even if a primary tenant has an income below $50,000, other members of the household might bump it up too high,” she said.

She also clarified that the program is only available to tenants who live in rent-regulated housing and they often get questions about eligibility from residents in public housing or privately owned buildings who do meet the income requirements.

“This is all contingent on the fact that they have rent stabilized housing,” Vaamonde said.

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, has been doing her part to increase education about the program, with legislation that requires landlords to notify tenants about programs that would freeze their rents. Assemblymember Rosenthal announced this past Monday that the bill had been signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Giant pandas coming to NYC

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney with a panda pal during a visit to a Chinese panda research center last year (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Maloney)

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney with a panda pal during a visit to a Chinese panda research center last year (Photo courtesy of Carolyn Maloney)

By Sabina Mollot

For Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, it’s always been a black and white issue. New York City has been in need of a pair of giant pandas, and now, she cheered, the city will finally get them.

The only obstacle to getting them into a local zoo, she said, was that the Chinese government wanted a letter of support from both New York’s governor and mayor. Previously, Governor Cuomo had been on board with the plan, but Mayor de Blasio had not. Because pandas are expensive to care for (around $1 million a year, according to a Daily News story), the mayor didn’t consider it priority. What changed, Maloney said this week, was that John Catsimatidis, Gristedes CEO and radio talk show host, has stepped in to start a nonprofit to raise the money needed for the effort. This includes paying for getting the pandas on loan, transporting them to the city and paying for their care as well as first building a new habitat at the Bronx Zoo.

Maloney has been attempting to acquire the cuddly creatures for over a year, a passion project that once got her mocked by a political opponent who said she should focus on more pressing matters. The 2014 Republican congressional candidate, Nicholas Di iorio, even had a pal dress up in a panda suit for a press conference.

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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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