Fireworks and a message of unity on July 4th

Fireworks on the East River (Photo by Edward O’Rourke)

By Sabina Mollot

On July 4, thousands gathered at Waterside Plaza to view the fireworks from windows as well as outdoor areas on the complex. This year, with the barges centered solely on the East River from 24th to 41st Streets, the complex got an even more enviable viewpoint than usual. The roughly 25-minute display sponsored by Macy’s showcased 2,200 effects per minute from each of the five barges.

The event even drew a visit from Mayor Bill de Blasio who stopped by before the fireworks to discuss immigrant rights on Independence Day. He spoke about the travel ban and how if people are feeling disenfranchised by the Trump administration, they could fight back by remembering that New York is an immigrant-friendly place.

De Blasio, who began by saying it was his first time visiting Waterside, called it “pretty amazing. I’m seeing everything good about New York City in one place.”

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Pols pushing mayor to sign Commercial Rent Tax reform bill

Council Member Dan Garodnick, standing next to the bill’s co-sponsor Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Monday, Manhattan politicians and small business advocates gathered on the steps of City Hall to push the Commercial Rent Tax reform bill sponsored by Council Members Dan Garodnick and Helen Rosenthal.

This was the third public announcement in recent months about the bill, which so far the mayor hasn’t committed to supporting.

Garodnick said at this point, the Council has had a hearing on the CRT bill and although there’s been no vote yet, 38 of his colleagues have signed on as co-sponsors. Asked why there hasn’t been a vote, Garodnick said Council members usually first want to know if the mayor “will support it rather than veto it.”

Rosenthal later said, “We are optimistic that he will embrace it.”

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Rent freeze stays

Tenants protest the lawsuit last September. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, a judge ruled against a landlord group that had sued to undo the rent freeze for over a million stabilized tenants in New York City.

The fight might not be over though since the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents over 25,000 property owners in the city, later tweeted that it would review Judge Debra James’ decision and “seek grounds for appeal.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio, meanwhile, cheered the news, and while discussing it on Tuesday, also brought up the mansion tax, saying this would create affordable housing for 25,000 more New Yorkers.

“Everyone who has struggled to pay the rent ― here’s the good news ― the people won and the landlords lost,” de Blasio said.

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See Dan run for mayor… maybe

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Council Member Dan Garodnick (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For months now, Councilman Dan Garodnick would only say he’s exploring his options when asked what position he’s now fundraising for. But according to a Saturday item in the New York Post, Garodnick is “seriously considering” running for mayor. Citing unnamed sources, the paper said he is “50-50” about running. Garodnick didn’t return our call requesting comment, nor did Waterside Plaza owner/former lieutenant governor Richard Ravitch, who the Post said Garodnick had spoken to about his thoughts about running. In February, Politico also ran a story about how he’d been speaking with donors, consultants and others about possibly throwing his hat in the ring.

It’s been expected that Comptroller Scott Stringer will run for mayor at some point, when and if charges are brought against Mayor Bill de Blasio for his fundraising tactics. Former mayoral candidate Christine Quinn has also been a rumored candidate. However, at this time, de Blasio’s most serious opponent seems to be Republican developer Paul Massey.

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New leader for embattled ACS

ACS Commissioner David Hansell, with Mayor Bill de Blasio Photo by Sabina Mollot)

ACS Commissioner David Hansell, with Mayor Bill de Blasio (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After a particularly troubling year for the city’s child welfare agency, Mayor Bill de Blasio last Tuesday announced a new pick for commissioner of the Administration of Children’s Services.

David Hansell, who was previously the chief of staff at the New York City Human Resources Administration from 2002-2006, was named as the replacement for Gladys Carrion. Carrion resigned after the high-profile death of an abused six-year-old named Zymere Perkins who’d been under the ACS’s radar.

The introduction was made at a packed press conference at the ACS’s First Avenue headquarters in Kips Bay, with reporters asking about systemic failures at the agency, which the mayor to some degree denied. De Blasio said many of the problems at the agency during the Perkins case had to do with individual employees not doing their jobs and that those individuals had either been fired or “reprimanded in another way.”

Hansell, meanwhile, said he had not yet taken a “deep dive” into the agency’s past failures, but said he hoped his managerial experience would help fix any lingering problems in policy.

De Blasio praised Hansell for his “compassionate leadership,” adding that his takeover comes at a time when the agency is facing up to 60,000 cases a year.

“Often complex and painful situations that don’t present themselves obviously in a lot of cases,” the mayor said. “There are times we don’t have an indication that a family is in danger. Our job, our mission is to save every child. David Hansell understands that.”

The mayor’s statement is a contradiction of Carrion’s, who once reportedly said that not every child could be protected.

Hansell, who also worked for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis during the height of the AIDS epidemic, said he felt there was “no greater calling” than the opportunity to serve vulnerable communities.

“I worked on the front lines at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and it’s shown me what happens when the government takes a callous attitude to those who need help the most and also showed me what can happen when the government cares.”

More recently, he spent five years as managing director of the Global Human & Social Services Center of Excellence at KPMG, a tax advisory and auditing firm. Before that, he served as acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He’s also held other government positions.

As for the ACS, he said he planned to take a “top to bottom” look to “protect what’s working and change what is not,” using “metrics-based” management. Hansell added that he welcomed working with an independent monitor that’s been assigned by the state to oversee the ACS and looked forward to working more closely with the NYPD to protect children as well as ACS staff from dangerous situations.

Hansell also said he was a “great admirer” of Carrion, saying they’d worked together in Albany, though, he added, “There are things we’ll do differently.”

He said he was looking into the “child-stat” program that’s similar to the NYPD’s Crime Stat program for tracking crime. “My job will be to make sure it’s as effective as it can be,” Hansell said, adding that he was also planning on making sure ACS employees had proper training. The mayor said $49 million was being spent on improvements, including in training.

When reporters asked the mayor about how recently caseloads have gone up at the ACS, de Blasio responded that this was typical after a high-profile case like Perkins’.

After months of physical abuse, Perkins died after being beaten with a broomstick by his mother’s boyfriend, who then hung him by his shirt on a door.

De Blasio said he expected he would “not be surprised” if caseloads would start to decline with Hansell’s hiring.

He also disagreed with a reporter who’d heard that preventative services were not available enough, although he admitted, “It’s not where we want it to be.” He also said he would make sure the ACS was supported in getting resources. Asked about a recent state report about the the agency, the mayor said he thought it was “simplistic” to expect a report to be completely accurate.

Dr. Herminia Palacio added, “We need to be cautious about making some extrapolations. We need to be judicious and informed about the way we move forward.”

De Blasio said he had seen the agency when he agreed there were in fact system-wide problems, which came under a spotlight after the fatal beatdown of Nixzmary Brown. Seven-year-old Brown died at the hands of her stepfather, who also had sexually abused her, in 2006.

“Every New Yorker felt the loss personally because there were many chances to save her,” the mayor said. “One of the things that became clear after that was that there weren’t enough communications between the NYPD and the ACS. A lot was done in the aftermath to change that. No one disagreed that the two agencies were missing an opportunity to work on a common cause but we constantly see a need for more.”

He also pointed to cases in the more recent past where the ACS has pushed for removal of children from homes only to have a court not approve the request.

“The challenge is how do we get that agreed upon by a judge?” said de Blasio. “That’s one of the big challenges here.”

Another goal, he said, was to lower foster placements, with the mayor saying placing a child who’s been removed from parents with nuclear family members was preferable, and reduced reports of abuse.

Hansell, asked why he was taking the job considering the risks of being called a failure should there be another child death, answered, “I know it won’t be easy.”

Palacio also pointed out that New Yorkers could also play a role in saving abused or neglected children by speaking up. “If you feel a child’s life is in danger, pick up a phone,” she said.

Stuy Town resident quits mayoral race, joins Massey’s campaign

Aug11 Joshua Thompson1

Joshua Thompson, pictured in Stuyvesant Town last summer (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Joshua Thompson, the Stuyvesant Town Democrat who ditched a campaign for City Council last year to run for mayor has announced he is “suspending” that campaign to serve as senior adviser to another candidate for mayor, Republican developer Paul Massey.

In an email blast on Thursday, Thompson, 31, said that although he’d raised nearly $200,000, it was “time to put values before party politics.”

“I believe deeply in his vision for this city and believe that consolidating resources is the best way to spread our message and affect the lives of New Yorkers,” Thompson wrote.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Thompson’s title will be director of policy and outreach for the campaign and he’ll be focusing on education and homelessness.

Thompson previously worked for the Cory Booker administration in Newark, New Jersey, as well as having held a government position in education in Bridgeport, Connecticut from 2012-2014.

He’s lived in Stuyvesant Town since 2014 with his wife, Julia, who runs a Brooklyn charter school.

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Editorial: When affordable housing is a prize

Last week, Blackstone reopened its lottery for reduced rent apartments in Stuyvesant Town, an announcement that was welcome news to the rent burdened but still raised the inevitable question of whether a discount of a few hundred bucks on rents that would otherwise start at over three thousand is truly affordable.

The answer is of course it is not, and it’s still hard to grasp — at least to us — how things got to the point where in order to get an affordable place to live in New York, one literally has to win a lottery. It feels a bit like a dystopian cautionary tale of what could happen when a wealthy politician, untouched by the people’s concerns about the need for affordable living, prefers to simply let the market do its thing. Oh, wait… that actually happened.

Fast forward to the present. Mayor Bill de Blasio has been quick to tout the affordable housing he’s built and preserved, as he promised to do on the campaign trail, but again, the Devil’s in the details. In the case of Stuyvesant Town, the 5,000 units committed to so-called affordability (which start at $2,800 for one-bedrooms) only become available as each rent-stabilized unit turns over. Additionally, half of those units, once vacated due to a tenant moving out or dying, will become market rate. So income eligible market rate residents and others hoping for at least some relief may be in for a very long wait. Note: We don’t blame Blackstone for this 50/50 arrangement, which seems fair, or for reopening the lottery, which as we also reported last week, prompted a few hopeful people we spoke with to try their luck.

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Opinion: The good, the bad and the ugly

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

This past week after the celebrations and holiday observances, two moments in politics stand out. One for its civic dedication and the other for its audacity.

The Second Avenue Subway line for Manhattan’s Upper East Side opened after a century (yes, 100 years) of starts and stops. Governor Andrew Cuomo made sure the world knew that this was his success.

But truth be told, were it not for the tenacity of our own Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, this project would likely still be part of our imagination instead of the reality that it became this past Sunday.

Carolyn Maloney pushed for federal funding for this project throughout good times and bad, Republican Presidents and Democratic Presidents. She was America’s chief cheerleader for this mass transportation improvement that so many would have given up on. And there were many more in Congress who wanted to steal the money needed for the Second Avenue line and divert that funding to their pet projects.

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Mayor aims to create science jobs on East Side and in L.I. City

Mayor Bill de Blasio with other elected officials and speakers at an announcement at the Alexandria Science Research Center in Kips Bay. (Pictured) Dr. Vicki Sato, Dr. Harold Varmus, President of the Economic Development Corporation Maria Torres-Springer, Teeba Jihad, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (Photo by Michelle Deal Winfield)

Mayor Bill de Blasio with other elected officials and speakers at an announcement at the Alexandria Science Research Center in Kips Bay. (Pictured) Dr. Vicki Sato, Dr. Harold Varmus, President of the Economic Development Corporation Maria Torres-Springer, Teeba Jihad, Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Liz Krueger, State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (Photo by Michelle Deal Winfield)

By Michelle Deal Winfield

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan that he says will create 16,000 new jobs in life sciences and bio-engineering in New York City.

He made the announcement at the Alexandria Science Research Center in Kips Bay, alongside local elected officials.

The mayor paid homage to former Mayor Bloomberg saying, “We are taking a page from the former mayor’s playbook. Mayor Bloomberg diversified investments to help set up the Cornell Tech Center on Roosevelt Island. It worked. The city will invest in emerging companies to create innovative approaches that will lead to improvements in the health industry. We decided to look for spaces on the East Side in Manhattan and in Long Island City.”

Maria Torres-Springer, president of NYC Economic Development Corporation said the project is expected to generate 9,000 jobs in the life sciences.

“Seven thousand new jobs will be created in related fields like marketing, advertising and training,” she said. “There will also be 7,500 jobs in construction to set up labs.”

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City holds off on plan to diversify street fairs after community groups fight local vendor rule

Community organizations who rely on revenue from street fairs had opposed the proposal to make it mandatory to have 50 percent of the vendors be local. (Photo via Wikipedia)

Community organizations who rely on revenue from street fairs had opposed the proposal to make it mandatory to have 50 percent of the vendors be local. (Photo via Wikipedia)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

To the relief of a number of community organizations, the Mayor’s Office decided not to approve proposed new rules for street fairs for the upcoming year that would have required increased participation from local businesses. The proposal was aimed at sprinkling some local flavor into street fairs, which, despite where in the city they’re taking place, are often practically identical. The Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) of the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management (OCECM) announced on October 28 that it would be extending the existing moratorium on street fair applications through 2017. A public hearing on the proposed rule will be held this Friday.

The city had previously proposed new rules that, among other requirements, would require 50 percent of vendors participating in street fairs to be from within the community district boundaries of where the fairs were taking place. Another proposed rule would have decreased the number of fairs allowed in each community district per year from 18 to 10.

Community organizers were worried that the new regulation requiring increased participation from local vendors would affect their revenue because not enough local businesses would want to take part.

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Hoylman warns Vision Zero could face some opposition from Albany

By Sabina Mollot

Vision Zero, the mayor’s traffic safety initiative, was the subject of a discussion between the mayor and local seniors at the Stein Center on Monday.

The mayor made a last minute appearance at the center, alongside State Senator Brad Hoylman.

Hoylman is also trying to push the agenda in Albany, where many of the city’s traffic regulations are ultimately decided.

However, prior to the discussion (which was closed to press) Hoylman noted there is the chance the mayor could face some political pushback in Albany on traffic safety from Senate Republicans. This would be keeping in tradition with some political payback for the mayor’s effort in 2014 to flip the Republican-controlled Senate.

“We shouldn’t have to go to Albany every time we want to change the speed limits,” said Hoylman. Meanwhile, he added, “More people are killed by (traffic accidents) than a gun.”

The senator said he is trying to get more speed cameras and lower speed limits in more areas, in particular in front of more schools. Another goal is to get large trucks to install side guards to protect pedestrians.

Mayor, pols ask for $1.9B in Zika funding

Aug18 Mayor Maloney Kavanagh

Mayor de Blasio holding a letter to the leaders of the Congress and U.S. Senate, with State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Health Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett at the city’s public health lab (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

 

By Sabina Mollot

As the threat of the Zika virus spreads, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other elected officials called on Congress on Tuesday to authorize $1.9 billion in funding for research and prevention efforts.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who was at the announcement with the mayor at the city’s public health lab in Bedpan Alley, said the problem was that Congress, specifically Republicans, were only willing to fund $1.1 billion. In February, President Obama had asked for Congress to allocate $1.9 billion.

Additionally, Maloney said, the debate in the house over funding has led to Republicans including a rider that would ban funding to Planned Parenthood, limiting access to abortions and contraceptives to women here and abroad. Meanwhile, Zika, Maloney argued, is known to cause serious birth defects so New York City’s health department has been actively advising safe sex for people traveling to Zika-impacting areas.

“They added a poison pill,” said Maloney, who argued that the immediate health threat posed by Zika shouldn’t be turned into “ideological crusades.”

With Congress deadlocked on the issue, money to fund Zika efforts has been taken from other existing health initiatives, including $589 million in Ebola funding. “They’re stealing from Peter to pay Paul and it’s not a good way to solve a crisis,” Maloney said.

De Blasio noted how the city had launched a $21 million Zika offensive effort in April that includes the spraying of larvacide in different areas and outreach to warn people, especially those who travel to impacted regions, about the disease which has at last official count infected 530 New York State residents. Of those, 438 are city residents. The latter figure includes 49 pregnant women, with all of the cases being travel related except four that were sexually transmitted. One baby in New York City has been born with microcephaly, a severe birth defect caused by Zika that causes the baby to be born with a small head, a sloped back forehead and mental challenges due to a smaller brain.

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Landlord group files suit to stop city rent freeze

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The Rent Guidelines Board (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

 

By Christian Bautista

The city’s biggest landlord organization is looking to build a winning streak in the courts as it sues the Rent Guidelines Board over its decision to enact a rent freeze.

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords of one million rent-stabilized apartments across the city, has lodged a lawsuit in Manhattan State Supreme Court, arguing that the RGB acted outside the scope of the Rent Stabilization Law when it voted 7-0 to freeze rents on one-year leases.

“Nowhere does the law provide that the RGB is supposed to consider the subject of affordability when determining rent guidelines. Affordability is an issue that should be addressed not by the RGB, but through government-sponsored rent relief subsidies to tenants actually in need,” said Joseph Strasburg, the president of the RSA.

“The RGB, through the rent freeze, is inappropriately and unlawfully providing a rent subsidy to all tenants regardless of need. The rent freeze is not based on need, but rather on the perceived inability of tenants to pay, and to accommodate de Blasio’s political agenda of gaining favor with a large segment of the city’s voting block. “

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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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RGB gets new chair, owner rep

Mar31 Bill de Blasio

Mayor Bill de Blasio

By Sabina Mollot

Mayor de Blasio has appointed two new members to the nine-member Rent Guidelines Board, a new chair and a new owner’s representative.

The two appointments – new chair Kathleen Roberts, a former United States Magistrate Judge, and owner rep Mary Serafy – “have years of experience in both the public and private sectors,” the mayor said in a press release on Tuesday.

The Rent Guidelines Board is responsible for determining rent increases for around one million apartments in the city each year, last year issuing its first ever rent freeze for tenants signing one-year leases.

In an official statement, the mayor said, “Judge Kathleen Roberts has years of experience serving New Yorkers as a United States Magistrate Judge and Assistant United States Attorney in the Criminal and Civil Divisions. Likewise, Ms. Serafy is well-versed in the field of housing, planning and development in both the public and private sectors.

“I’m confident that their addition to the Rent Guidelines Board will serve New Yorkers well – tenants and landlords alike – in establishing rent adjustments that are fair and grounded in real-life conditions in our neighborhoods.”

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