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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Mayoral candidates: We’ll be more pro-tenant than Bloomberg

Christine Quinn

Christine Quinn
Photos by Maria Rocha-Buchel

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Last Wednesday, the candidates for mayor attempted to appeal to residents of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village by discussing the property’s and other tenant issues at the first-ever mayoral forum to be held by the Tenants Association.

All nine candidates were invited to participate at the event, which was held at Simon Baruch Middle School.

TA board Chair Susan Steinberg moderated the forum, attended by over 200 people, and posed questions to the eight candidates who attended, which included former New York City Council Member Sal Albanese (D), City Comptroller John Liu (D), former City Comptroller Bill Thompson (D), former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion (I), former US Representative Anthony Weiner (D), City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D), Public Advocate Bill de Blasio (D) and businessman John Catsimatidis (R). Republican candidate and former MTA chairman Joe Lhota was invited but did not attend.

“The fact that this forum is so well attended by both residents and candidates shows that it’s an important time,” City Councilmember Dan Garodnick said at the outset of the event. “In January, we’ll have a new mayor so it’s important that we hear from all the candidates now.”

Garodnick set the tone of the event, noting that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had not wanted to get in

Bill DeBlasio

Bill DeBlasio

volved with the conflict between the tenants and Tishman Speyer in 2006 because it was a “private real estate transaction” and many of the candidates addressed this issue, as well as focusing on general affordable housing concerns.

A number of the candidates insisted that they would take a much more active stance than Mayor Bloomberg has in his decade in office, most specifically in terms of housing.

“We need a mayor who will stand with you and make sure affordable housing is part of what New York City is,” Thompson said. “Using the bully pulpit that I have, I would stand side by side as you purchase your homes. The sale (in 2006) was national news. It was an opportunity for the mayor to make a statement about affordable housing and he didn’t.”

John Catsimatidis

John Catsimatidis

Liu expressed similar concerns about the current mayor’s lax approach. “How can it have nothing to do with the mayor’s office when tens of thousands of New Yorkers are involved? It makes no sense,” he said. “It shows neglect and a dereliction of duty. I’m willing to engage actively. If companies want to take over where tens of thousands of tenants live, City Hall has to pay attention.”

Steinberg asked most of the candidates if and how they would help ST/PCV tenants in their efforts to purchase the property and all said that they supported the plan while taking a more active role than Bloomberg has in the past.

“The mayor has the responsibility to intervene on behalf of the tenants,” Carrion said. “We can’t watch the market crush the middle class. It’s a shame that we’re in this situation, this bidding war. I support your efforts to buy the property but in a much shorter time frame than CW Capital is asking.”

Quinn said that as mayor, she would use a more hands-on approach as well when dealing with CW Capital.

Sal Albanese

Sal Albanese

“All the efforts so far haven’t worked yet but there is no bigger bully pulpit than the mayor’s office, save for the US President,” she said. “I will use that to bring CW Capital to the table. We would do it publicly.”

Weiner, like most of his opponents, said that he would be more involved in tenant issues than the current administration and would also support the tenant bid.

“There is too much at stake so I would take an active, not passive role, not just watching it play out. We need to make sure that someone is looking over the shoulder (of real estate developers),” he said. “There is a role for ownership but tenants should be able to continue to rent.” And while Weiner said that he would take a more active role in tenants’ issues, when asked about what he would have done during the Tishman Speyer deal, he said that he wouldn’t necessarily be the one calling the shots. “I would have had a presence at the table but would have left it to the residents,” he said.

John Liu

John Liu

Liu, Quinn, de Blasio and Thompson all noted that there are disparities between the tenants and the rent increases voted on by the Rent Guidelines Board in recent years and Albanese expressed support for the recent bill sponsored by Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh that would give City Council more oversight when appointing members of the board.

“I would lead the tenant lobby and get the Urstadt Law repealed,” Quinn said. “There has been an erosion of tenant protection. We need to have power back here.”

Both Thompson and de Blasio called for more tenant representatives on the board.

“City Hall is supposed to think of the people who live here, not about the landlords,” de Blasio said.

Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner

Thompson added that there is a more urgent need for tenant representatives on the board due to the seeming disparities between the rent increases and landlord increases.

“The Rent Reform Campaign report said that the price index used by the Rent Guidelines Board is less accurate than what increases actually were,” he said. “We need more tenant-friendly people on the board.”

Adolfo Carrion

Adolfo Carrion

Weiner was one of the later candidates to speak and when he got to the stage, attracted a bit of attention due to his bright orange pants. His explanation for his fashion choice was that he’d worn them for a “West Village” audience. “I don’t normally dress like this but I just came from a rally in the West Village celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling against DOMA,” he said.

In his time at the podium, Catsimatidis made an attempt to appeal to a broad spectrum of residents, branding himself as a Republican Liberal. “I’m pro-business but I’m not going to give the streets back to the hoodlums,” he explained.

Public advocate candidates Daniel Squadron, Cathy Guerriero and Letitia James were also at the event.