Lieutenant governor hopeful takes tour of Stuy Town

Kathy Hochul gets an earful from tenants and local elected officials during a walk through the complex. (Pictured) Council Member Dan Garonick introduces her to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Kathy Hochul gets an earful from tenants and local elected officials during a walk through the complex. (Pictured) Council Member Dan Garonick introduces her to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, which has recently enlisted the aid of the de Blasio administration in an effort to maintain some affordability in the complex, is also now hoping it will have an ally in Kathy Hochul, Governor Cuomo’s choice for the next lieutenant governor.

On Thursday afternoon, Hochul joined Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg along with a handful of TA volunteers on a stroll through Stuy Town, and got filled in on tenants’ more pressing concerns. She’d come at the request of Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was also there with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. Prior to the walk through the grounds, Hochul, a former Congresswoman asked the small group, “What’s on your mind?”

“You got a whole afternoon?” was Steinberg’s answer.

Tenants then began chiming in about the dormification of the community with students packing into apartments in order to make the rent affordable, major capital improvements (MCI) for what often seems like unnecessary work — and tenants’ frustration at having to pay for those improvements in perpetuity — and the fear of both longterm and newer tenants of getting priced out. Other topics brought up included more longterm tenants’ fear of harassment, increased transience and questions about what will happen to the rents when the J-51 tax abatement expires in the year 2020. Steinberg also briefed Hochul on the TA’s partnership with developer Brookfield aimed at a condo conversion as well as CW’s lack of interest in talking business with them. Al Doyle, the former president of the Tenants Association, brought up the ongoing issue of predatory equity throughout the city, with Stuy Town, of course, being the poster child for the practice.

Aug7 Kathy Playground10

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Kathy Hochul (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Kavanagh and Garodnick brought up that they wanted to see the rent laws get strengthened, but the State Senate hasn’t exactly been friendly to tenants. While refraining from making any promises, Hochul said she thought the community is “worth fighting for.” If she becomes lieutenant governor, she pointed out, she’d have the tie-breaking vote in the event of a deadlock in Albany. From 2011-2013, Hochul represented New York’s 26th District, which includes the areas of Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

During her time in Congress, she lived with colleague Carolyn Maloney in Washington.

“We used to say that we should have a reality show, ‘The Real Women in Congress,’” said Hochul. When asked how Maloney was as a roommate, Hochul admitted, “She’s a lot cleaner than I am.” As for the current state of the Congress, Hochul casually remarked that it’s “the most dysfunctional government on the planet.” However, she added quickly, “There are still a lot of good people out there.”

Hochul also touted her experience, claiming she’d helped make the Department of Motor Vehicles “a more positive experience” when she served as county clerk and when in Congress, fought with other Democrats “like pit bulls” to get more cash for restoration after Hurricane Sandy than Republicans wanted to allocate. During the walk through the grounds, Hochul said that from what she’s seen, “Everybody wants the same thing. A safe house, a job, their kids to get a good education. It’s universal. It’s not downstate or upstate. This is what the governor and I are focused on.”

Steinberg pointed out some positive aspects of the community like the playgrounds, a few of which recently got new water features, and the hayrides for kids that take place each Halloween. When passing by the Oval Café/Playground 9 area, Hochul remarked, “I’d like to live here.”

When the group walked past the Public Safety office, Garodnick, realizing officers might think tenants were about to rally, made a point to say hello and introduce Hochul to Public Safety Chief Bill McClellan. Soon afterwards, Hochul left the complex at First Avenue and the crowd dispersed.

Hochul (right) listens to tenants, including Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and Council Member Dan Garodnick, discuss quality of life issues and dwindling affordability in Stuy Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Hochul (right) listens to tenants, including Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg and Council Member Dan Garodnick, discuss quality of life issues and dwindling affordability in Stuy Town. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Steinberg then said that she did feel Hochul was genuinely listening to tenants. “I think she got it,” Steinberg said. Kavanagh also said he thought she’d make “a strong partner in the executive branch,” and support tenants, while Garodnick also said he believed Hochul would be in tenants’ corner. “She is clearly a serious and thoughtful person who was willing to take the time to understand our unique challenges,” Garodnick said.

Doyle, meanwhile, just seemed happy that the would-be lieutenant governor got to hear firsthand from tenants how all the different types of rent increases were impacting the community.

“Homeowners outside the city, when we tell them how (an MCI) is a permanent increase, they don’t believe us,” he said.

Following the stroll, T&V asked what Hochul’s thoughts were on the Cuomo administration doing something to preserve dwindling stability and affordability in the community.

Responding in a written statement, she said, “Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are critical to keeping New York affordable. I will work closely with the governor, along with the office of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, to ensure that the rights of thousands of rent-regulated tenants are maintained and preserved for generations to come.”

There was no response, though, when T&V asked Hochul’s campaign reps if she wanted to comment on investigation over corruption in the governor’s Moreland Commission. However, in an interview this week with Buffalo-based NBC news outlet WGRZ, she defended the commission, saying, “they had the independence to do what they needed to do.”

CW requests, then pulls request for wine and beer license at Oval Café

Oval Cafe may soon sell beer and wine. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Oval Cafe  (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot
That was fast.
A rep for CWCapital, who’d been scheduled to request a wine and beer license for Oval Café on Thursday, pulled that request on Tuesday.
The license request for the Stuyvesant Town coffee joint had been scheduled to take place at a meeting of Community Board 6. However, by Tuesday afternoon, that application was scrapped due to a timing issue by that representative, Spencer Rothchild of Barrio Foods consulting firm, said Sandro Sherrod, the chair of CB6.
Sherrod, who’s also a resident of Stuy Town, said he didn’t want to comment on the license request until he actually heard the proposal. And the request could be made again at another time.
A spokesperson for CWCapital said the application was pulled pending consultation with community leaders.
However, this was after the plan was blasted by John Marsh, president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, and Council Member Dan Garodnick.
Garodnick told Town & Village he’d made his feelings known to CWCapital expressing how “wholly inappropriate” he believes it is to have alcoholic drinks sold at the Oval.
“To change (the café) to a place where people congregate for beers changes the entire establishment to something different and makes it less family friendly,” said Garodnick early on Tuesday.
He added that he was annoyed about having to find out about the plan not from CW but from CB6. Still, he said he hoped management would rethink the plan.
“They were responsive when we raised concerns about the Public Safety office and I hope they will consider this as well in the community’s interest,” he said. This was in reference to management’s agreeing to remove a driveway from in front of the new Public Safety office for the officers’ vehicles in response to residents’ complaints.
Though he stressed he was speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the Tenants Association, Marsh also said he opposed a liquor license in a post on the TA’s Facebook page.
“I feel like if you want a drink go back to your apartment or to a neighborhood restaurant or bar,” he said. “The Oval is a place that was designed for peace and quiet. Coffee is one thing. Alcohol is another.”
Local blog Stuyvesant Town Report also blasted the plan, saying it would encourage rowdy behavior. CW, the author wrote, “should be thoroughly embarrassed.”
Following the news about the application being pulled, Garodnick said, “We appreciate that CompassRock has pulled this application. Selling beer and wine in the Oval Café could have very harmful consequences and we are relieved that management has taken a step back.”
Susan Steinberg, chair of the TA, added that even though the application has been pulled for the time being, tenants should still let CB6 know if they have something to say about it.
“Of course, the TA is pleased that the application was withdrawn and will be given more consideration,” she said. “There are many issues to be addressed and reasons why such a license is troubling. In the meantime, it is extremely important that residents with concerns email their comments to the CB6 (office@cbsix.org) because these comments will be held for the future should the license be reapplied for.”
Not everyone had been against the idea though.
A longtime Stuy Town resident, Kay Vota, told T&V, “I don’t have a problem with it as long as people act responsibly.”
Still, she said she guessed there would be some controversy.
“You can please some of the people some of the time but you can’t please everybody all the time, and in Stuyvesant Town you never have anything new where people don’t have something to say about it.”
Another resident, who’s lived in Stuy Town for four years, David Burstein, also said he didn’t think it would have been a problem.
“The whole neighborhood is surrounded by bars; I don’t think it would have been detrimental. I think people would be respectful and appropriate about it,” he said. Burstein added that for cafés, it’s “tough to stay afloat” without selling alcohol. “It’s the reality of the world we are living in.”
Since its opening in the summer of 2012, Oval Café has sold coffee, pastries and sandwiches and in the summer, offered a clear view of sunbathers on the lawn.
Ironically, though there was never a liquor license previously at Oval Café or the amenity space that came before it, Oval Lounge, it was once the site of a bar-style brawl. It was there where brokers for then-owner Tishman Speyer got into a fight at a private party, with one getting bashed over the head with a beer bottle.

This article was updated to include an additional comment from Council Member Garodnick, a comment from Susan Steinberg and information from Sandro Sherrod and CWCapital.