Petitions ask Cuomo to study hospital downsizing

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein delivered petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office in Midtown on Monday, asking the governor to further study Mount Sinai’s plan for downsizing Beth Israel. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, local residents and healthcare advocates delivered a thousand petitions to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office on Monday afternoon, calling on the governor to further study the impact of Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s downsizing on the community.

The petition requested that Cuomo direct the State Department of Health Services to stop further closure of services at Beth Israel and conduct a thorough, independent study of the impact of the closures with community input.

“We just want to talk to the State Department about next steps,” Epstein said. “We want to talk about a larger study, a real study, to find out if this is really in the best interests of the neighborhood or if this is just a real estate deal.”

The petition argued that the reduction of beds from the current Beth Israel to the new facility being built is a “health crisis” because the hospital is still in use and that the Cardiac Surgery Unit, Maternity Ward and Pediatric Surgery Unit were closed in 2017 with approval from the State Health Department but without a community-vetted replacement plan in place.

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New workplace sexual harassment protections now in effect

By Maria Rocha-Buschel 

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last Friday that new workplace anti-discrimination and sexual harassment protections have gone into effect. Provisions of the new law, which was signed in August, eliminate the restriction that sexual harassment be “severe or pervasive” for it to be legally actionable and prohibit confidentiality agreements in employment discrimination cases. 

The provisions officially went into effect last Friday and make it clear that workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, need not be pervasive or severe for workers to file suit against an employer. The law also expands protections to include all forms of workplace discrimination for domestic workers and all contractors, subcontractors, consultants, vendors or others offering services in the workplace. 

“The ongoing culture of sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and has held employees back for far too long,” Cuomo said. “This critical measure finally ends the absurd legal standard for victims to prove sexual harassment in the workplace and makes it easier for those who have been subjected to this disgusting behavior to bring claims forward. Now it’s time for employers across the state to step up and review their internal policies to ensure their employees are protected from harassment or discrimination and abusers who violate these standards are held accountable.”

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L train work three months ahead of schedule

Governor Andrew Cuomo toured the L train tunnel on Sunday, viewing the improvements made along the bench wall. (Photo courtesy Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Sunday that the L train project is three months ahead of schedule and will be completed in April 2020, exactly a year after construction began.

The governor’s office said that work on the Manhattan-bound tube is now complete and work on the Brooklyn-bound tube begins this week.

Cuomo and senior MTA leadership toured the completed tube on Sunday, reviewing the new construction methods that were implemented to avoid a complete shutdown of the line while the work was completed, which Cuomo said is also currently on budget.

“Today we saw up close what happens when you abandon the old ways of doing things and think outside the box—you get the work done better, faster and cheaper,” Cuomo said. “And in this case you get a better and safer tunnel than before. This project will ultimately be a case study for how the MTA needs to operate going forward, especially as they implement the upcoming historic capital plan that will completely modernize the entire system and deliver the 21st century transportation service worthy of New York.”

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Opinion: What’s on the governor’s plate?

The winning design

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

There was an election last week. Cuomo lost.

Being governor of New York State with its nearly 20 million population and world important venues is a really big job. To govern successfully requires great intelligence, leadership skills and a focus on what matters most.

Andrew Cuomo has had this job for the past nine years. But one must wonder if he momentarily lost his attention on what is really important. Of all his significant policy initiatives during his first two terms, Cuomo’s preoccupation with issuing new license plates for motorists is a head scratcher. Of course, the change is estimated to raise upwards of $100 million for the state coffers, whether the replacement is necessary or not.

It will tax each car owner up to $45 to replace their current plates, once in circulation, for ten years. Governor Cuomo says that is needed because EZ pass terminals are having a hard time reading the existing plates. Since when?

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Editorial: For stronger rent regulations, call Cuomo

June 15 is the day New York’s rent laws expire, and although the now-Democrat controlled Assembly and State Senate have promised to stregnthen them, Albany is still Albany and this means anything can happen before then.

To ensure that all of the legislature’s bills aimed at protecting tenants are passed, the Met Council on Housing recommends calling the governor’s office at (518) 474-8390 and asking that they be kept intact. Additionally, the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association is advising tenants to do the same and also call Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Heastie’s Albany office can be reached at (518) 455-3791 and the district office can be reached at (718) 654-6539. Stewart-Cousins can be reached at (518) 455-2585 (Albany) and (914) 423-4031 (district).

The real estate industry has always given generously to Albany’s elected officials, including Cuomo, but tenants can still have power in numbers. Not a political kind of person? You don’t have to be. Just think of a time your life was personally impacted in some way by vacancy decontrol, MCIs, IAIs, vacancy bonuses, preferential rents or just plain unadulterated greed. (See? It’s easy.) And then let those elected officials know this price gouging spree has gone on long enough.

Albany poised to pass much stronger rent regulations

Tenants rally outside the governor’s midtown office in support of the proposed rent laws on Wednesday. (Photo by Anne Greenberg)

By Sabina Mollot

Although nothing is yet a done deal, on Tuesday night the State Assembly and Senate announced that the package of bills aimed at repealing vacancy decontrol, among other tenant protections, is being pushed forward by both chambers. A vote is expected to take place on Friday, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign such a bill if it passes in both chambers.

The package’s protections for tenants, if signed into law, would:

  • Make the rent regulations permanent, instead of sunsetting every four years
  • Repeal vacancy deregulation and high-income deregulation, which has applied to residents whose household incomes were at least $200,000 for two years
  • Repeal the vacancy bonus, which allows owners to raise the rents by 20 percent every time an apartment turns over
  • Repeal the longevity bonus, which allows owners to raise rents on an apartment for new tenants based on the length of the previous tenancy
  • Prohibit Rent Guidelines Boards from setting additional increases based on the current rental cost of a unit or the amount of time since the owner was authorized to take additional rent increases, such as a vacancy bonus

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Letters to the editor, Apr. 11

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Tenants know who’s owned in Albany

On April 6, I attended a rent law town hall hosted by Cooper Square Committee. Our Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, former Assemblyman (now Senator) Brian Kavanagh and other electeds were there. They described the rich possibilities to strengthen the rent laws this year, as the Democrats hold the biggest majority in the State Senate since 1912. It was a veritable love fest of pro-tenant legislative possibilities they put forth.

But the landlord lobby still looms, which Hoylman explained as the reason his Pied-a-Terre Tax was axed out of the budget. I think the Pied-a-Terre Tax is magnificent and have cheered Hoylman on for years. It would have raised almost double for the MTA what its substitute, the congestion pricing plan which did pass, is projected to raise.

That the landlord lobby killed it is potent: there is no single politician in NY today who has gotten more money from real estate interests than Andrew Cuomo. He is the landlord lobby’s #1 favorite politician to fund. I think Senator Hoylman is being charitable in blaming “the landlord lobby.” I say follow the money.

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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.

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Editorial: Transit transparency, please

L train neighbors finally got some good news this week with the announcement that work at the 14th Street construction zone will end significantly earlier each night. We thank the MTA (and the elected officials who’ve been working behind the scenes) for making this happen (finally).

However, as Town & Village has also been reporting, the MTA hasn’t committed to keeping the First and Third Avenue stations open for those looking to get onto a train during the L project slowdown. But what’s just as vexing is that the subject isn’t even being discussed unless riders or elected officials are the ones to bring it up.

The concerns have arisen after a story ran on Streetsblog earlier this year about the possible exit-only station plan based on a leaked internal MTA memo. Recently, the agency confirmed that it is reviewing the matter of station access.

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MTA agrees to end late night L construction

The MTA has committed to stopping work at the East 14th Street construction zone at 7 p.m. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

While many of the details of the L train alternative repair project are still being decided, the MTA has committed to reducing the number of hours currently worked to six days a week at the East 14th Street construction zone.

Neighbors have said work often ends at 11 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays, although the MTA has said it tries to stop any noisy work by 10 p.m. But on Tuesday night, the MTA’s chief development officer overseeing the project, Janno Lieber, committed to stopping work by 7 p.m. at a meeting held by Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee.

“We’re constantly looking for ways to minimalize the impact of our work on neighbors, and they understandably have been asking for shorter hours,” Shams Tarek, a spokesperson for the MTA, told Town & Village.

Tarek added that the MTA wanted to first consult the contractor to make sure doing this wouldn’t lengthen the duration of the project, which includes the creation of an Avenue A entrance to the First Avenue L station. The new schedule of 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday to Friday, with possibly shorter hours on Saturday is effective immediately.

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Opinion: Congestion indigestion

By former Assemblymember Steven Sanders

“The main arteries are clogged. The blockages are serious. We must reduce the congestion. We are choking from volume.”

If you thought this was dialogue from the TV show “ER,” you could be excused.

Rather these are statements from reports about the traffic conditions especially in Manhattan’s core.

The latest remediation to our transportation and corresponding air quality woes has been proposed by Governor Cuomo and endorsed by Mayor de Blasio. It is being hotly debated in the State Legislature this month.

In a nutshell, the policy prescription is to try to discourage motorists from driving into midtown Manhattan by imposing a new toll on those who enter the designated “zone.” It’s called “Congestion Pricing.” Its purpose is to use that new revenue source to support our mass transit system and its buses, subways and infrastructure.

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Child Victims Act finally passes

State Senator Brad Hoylman during floor debate for the Child Victims Act (Photo by State Senate Media)

By Sabina Mollot

Amidst of a flurry of progressive bill passing and signing in the state capitol, the long-denied Child Victims Act, sponsored by State Brad Hoylman, has finally passed both houses. With Governor Andrew Cuomo having already declared his support — even getting some backlash from the Archdiocese for his newly leftist leanings — the signing of the bill seems just a formality at this point.

The legislation’s language was amended this week to make it clear that secular as well as religious institutions could be held accountable for past incidents of abuse.

Last year it was passed in the Assembly, as it was the year before, but went nowhere in what was then a GOP-led State Senate. This year, however, the bill passed unanimously in the Upper House and nearly unanimously in the Assembly. Opposition to the bill, which has been around at least 13 years, largely had to do with the one-year lookback window of opportunity for starting a claim of abuse in instances where the statute of limitations has expired. The bill will also allow survivors of child sex abuse to file a civil suit against their abusers or institutions that enabled abuse until the age of 55. Currently the age limit is 23. The lookback window will apply to survivors older than 55 as well. Additionally, those abused at a public institution will no longer be required to file a notice of claim as a condition to filing a lawsuit.

Following the bill’s passage, Hoylman admitted he was not expecting to get unanimous support from his colleagues, although he did think it would pass based on the fact that a number of freshman senators had made the CVA part of their platforms. He also credited the bill’s success to new Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins as well as the activism of sex abuse survivors.

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New NY Senate passes long-stalled LGBTQ protections, progressive bills

State Senator Brad Hoylman is congratulated by colleagues last week after two of his bills, GENDA and a ban on gay conversion therapy, are passed. (Photo courtesy of State Senator Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, two LGBTQ rights bills that were long-championed by State Senator Brad Hoylman — and long ignored by what was a Republican majority until now — were finally passed. They included a ban on gay conversion therapy and GENDA (The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act), which expands the laws on discrimination to include gender identity and expression.

Additionally, the Child Victims Act, which would lengthen the amount of time victims of sex crimes have to file suits, was included in the governor’s proposed budget. The bill has seen some opposition from religious institutions, including schools and the Boy Scouts of America, and a story in the Times Union recently noted a potential loophole that could exempt public schools.

In response, Hoylman said while he is confident there is no such loophole, the bill will be reworked before it is reintroduced this legislative session to prevent there being any questions about this.

GENDA, meanwhile, is expected to go into effect within 30 days of being signed by Cuomo, while the gay conversion therapy ban would go into effect immediately. Part of the GENDA bill would go into effect in November to give local law enforcement agencies time to catch up and also make paperwork changes.

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Letters to the editor, Jan. 24

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

This price hike won’t wash

On January 16, 2019, a “Dear Valued Resident of PCVST” note was taped to the laundry room in my building explaining that CSC Service Works was raising the price to use their washers and dryers.

CSC Service Works did not say we were valued customer of theirs. Supporting that blunder, however, CSC’s letter was dated November 15. Despite the price increase scheduled to be “finalized” on or about January 17, I got hit with the hike.

Every expense CSC offers as rationale to increase the price to use their machines pales in comparison to how much they make because one can’t round off the amount on their cards to fit the price of a wash and dry. The average balance that people carry around may be three dollars.

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MTA says shutdown officially off despite lack of board vote

Straphangers waiting for the L at First Ave. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Two days after the board members of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority held an emergency meeting on the alternative L train repair plan, albeit without holding a vote on a subject, the MTA announced that the shutdown was definitely not happening.

After reiterating that the agency had been presented with a plan for the damaged Canarsie tubes that would allow for less disruption for riders, it said in a press release last Thursday that “the total shutdown of both tunnels and all service scheduled for April 27 will not be necessary.”

The MTA added that the construction schedule and new contracts were expected to take several weeks to complete.

While no dollar figure was mentioned, the MTA also said the cost would not likely be higher than the original plan and that the repair time estimate remained at 15-20 months, as the governor had predicted.

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