Opinion: How NYC Dems turned their backs on immigrant-owned businesses

By Sung Soo Kim

For the first time in over a century, NYC as the Gateway to America for immigrants to achieve the American Dream has been closed.  All of the centuries of risk, hard work and scarifies made leading to success for immigrant business owners is being destroyed. The greatest transfer of wealth from hard working successful entrepreneurs to speculators and profiteers has taken place in NYC over the past two decades.

The Democratic Party is fully responsible for this historic destruction of our city’s diverse capitalistic economy.  In the face of a growing economic crisis, they have willingly joined in “rigging the system” with the big real estate lobby (REBNY) to deny any real solution to save our mom and pop businesses, the majority of which are owned by immigrants who employ immigrant families.

Thirty four years ago myself, along with several Korean business leaders began a campaign to recruit Korean families to invest their life savings in opening small businesses in NYC.  To calm their fears of crime, drugs and clashes of cultures in some communities, I founded, along with a few Korean business leaders, The Korean American Small Business Services Center, to help them start their businesses and be present at all times to deal with their problems. Korean families came by the thousands to risk everything in NYC. I was not prepared for the biggest challenge they would face nor had I any idea it would be caused by our own democratic government.

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Real estate attorney running for City Council

Erin Hussein (Photos courtesy of Erin Hussein)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Real estate attorney Erin Hussein, a candidate for City Council, said that she was motivated to join the race because she’s invested in her neighborhood, the East Village.

“I’m running for District 2 because of District 2,” she said. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years and it’s been intertwined with my entire life.”

Hussein, a Democrat, is running to replace term-limited City Councilmember Rosie Mendez. She moved to the city for college in 1988 after growing up in Waterbury, Connecticut. While New York is a bigger city, Hussein said she sees neighborhoods that make up the communities as similar to small towns like hers.

“Cities are organisms,” she said. “It’s a collection of neighborhoods, a collection of people. But we’re becoming less focused on people and more focused on buildings, and on the very wealthy elites.”

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Former Mendez aide running to replace her in City Council

Former Rosie Mendez aide Carlina Rivera in Madison Square Park (Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera)

Former Rosie Mendez aide Carlina Rivera in Madison Square Park (Photo courtesy of Carlina Rivera)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Life-long Lower East Side resident Carlina Rivera has been involved in local politics since as young as age 12, so it should come as no surprise that her next move is running for City Council. Until recently, Rivera was the legislative director for Councilmember Rosie Mendez, and she left the position to focus on running to fill the seat in District 2 that Mendez will vacate this year due to term limits.

Rivera’s introduction to politics at such a young age was thanks to tenant advocate Marie Christopher, who lived on the first floor of her building on Stanton Street when she was growing up.

“She was an amazing tenant advocate, always pushing issues of public safety and preservation of NYCHA,” Rivera said of Christopher, who died in 2013. “She brought me to my first community council meeting. She knew that the community was an ecosystem, and she knew the importance of working with elected officials but also holding them accountable.”

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Help for mom and pop lies in pending legislation

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Robert Cornegy, pictured last year while introducing a bill that a rep for Cornegy recently insisted isn’t dead (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Council Member Robert Cornegy, pictured last year while introducing a bill that a rep for Cornegy recently insisted isn’t dead (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Recently, a couple of City Council members proposed ideas on ways to combat “high rent blight” and promote retail diversity, or at least, keep the city from completely getting overtaken by chains.

This was at a hearing where the council members’ ideas, such as putting legislative restrictions on chain stores and imposing penalties on landlords who warehouse storefronts, were shot down by city planners.

According to the planners, as Town & Village previously reported, many stores that appear to be chains are actually individually owned franchises and as for lengthy retail vacancies, sometimes, the planners argued, they are not necessarily intentional on the part of property owners.

Meanwhile, a few legislators, including Council Member Robert Cornegy, the small business committee chair who’d chaired the aforementioned hearing on September 30, have come up with some legislative ideas to deal with the problem already.

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Another Council candidate enters race, raising $170G

Marti Speranza, City Council candidate and co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club, pictured at Madison Square Park Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Marti Speranza, City Council candidate and co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club, pictured at Madison Square Park (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

The most recent person to enter the City Council race for the seat currently occupied by Dan Garodnick is Marti Speranza, a former city employee and the co-president of the Gramercy Stuyvesant Independent Democrats Club.

Speranza, a 40-year-old NoMad neighborhood resident, is so far the only woman Democrat in the race. Another female candidate, Peter Cooper Village’s Diane Grayson, is running as an Independent.

Other candidates are Democrats Keith Powers and Jeff Mailman. As T&V first reported, former candidate Joshua Thompson dropped out of the Council race in May and is now running for mayor.

For Speranza, fundraising for the Council campaign has been in the works since April and just last week, she stepped down from her job as director at Women Entrepreneurs (WE) NYC, a new city initiative, to focus on the race.

So far things seem to be going well for Speranza, who announced that she raised $169,706 by the filing date last week, a fundraising record for the first filing of a Council race. She now has over $170,000. The record was previously held by Council Member Corey Johnson, who’d raised $166,000. Speranza also said this was the first time a woman candidate got $100,000 in contributions in the first filing. Of that campaign cash, 52 percent of those donating it are women and 72 percent gave $250 or less, she said. None were real estate developers or lobbyists.

On being the only female Democrat in the race, Speranza pointed out that at this time, because of term limits faced by members of the City Council, the number of female representatives out of over 50 could potentially drop to just nine.

“I do feel that more women need to step up to the plate and run for these seats,” she said.

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No help in sight for mom and pop

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer introduces her bill at a press conference in March.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer introduces her bill at a press conference last March. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

We have written before about the plight of small businesses and the fact that their owners have virtually no power when attempting to negotiate renewals of their leases. Like many we believe this phenomenon has been largely to blame for the disappearance of neighborhoods’ unique identities as banks and chain stores take over. Specifically we’ve focused on legislative efforts to help fix the problem such as the Small Business Jobs and Survival Act as well as a so-far unnamed bill by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer with partner Council Member Robert Cornegy of Brooklyn.

The latter bill would force a property owner to enter into good faith negotiations with a storefront tenant and if need be mediation, albeit nonbinding. If no agreement can be reached after that the tenant would get to stay on an extra year with a 15 percent rent increase. The bill was first introduced last March, presented by Brewer as a lifeline to mom-and-pops disappearing at the whims of speculative landlords. Since then the borough president has insisted progress has been made on getting the bill drafted but as of this week, no one from Brewer’s office could say when this would be. Cornegy’s office didn’t return our call. A spokesperson for Council Member Annabel Palma, the prime sponsor of The SBJSA, didn’t get back to us either.

The SBJSA, which has been controversial to say the least, has been languishing in the Council for 30 years though its supporters say it was closest to getting passed in 2009 when then Speaker Christine Quinn quashed it before it could come up for a vote. Its opponents in the real estate industry have called it unconstitutional as it’s aimed at giving any commercial tenant, who wants to the opportunity, to renew with a 10-year lease.

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Opinion: ‘Unconstitutional’ claims about SBJSA are real estate propaganda

Sept24 Associated

Stuyvesant Town’s Associated Supermarket is facing an uncertain future. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sung Soo Kim, President, Small Business Congress

Lawmakers claim proposed legislation will save mom and pop businesses. Small business advocates claim it’s a “Trojan Horse” created by the real estate lobby to keep status quo.  Who is right?

For over 30 years I have pleaded with local government to pass legislation protecting our hard working small business owners from profiteers, unscrupulous landlords and greedy speculators.  The past decades’ over-speculation in commercial real estate, bidding wars by franchises and banks and manipulation by warehousing storefronts, has wreaked havoc on the commercial rental market. Guided by big real estate campaign contributions, their friends at City Hall have remained silent and done nothing as the American Dream of our small business owners is being destroyed.

At first I was pleased to hear the commitments of Manhattan Borough President Brewer and Council Member Cornegy, to listen to the business owners and to pass legislation to save our businesses. Brewer said, “The mom-and-pop crisis has intensified with a fury.” CM Cornegy acknowledged numerous small and locally-owned businesses that many would describe as New York City institutions were forced to close or relocate as a result of exorbitant rent increases. Both lawmakers’ words sounded very encouraging and offered hope to small business owners who had become indentured servants to their landlords.

But upon analyzing their proposed solution to end this crisis and stop the closing of long established businesses, I have become saddened for the future of our struggling business owners. Their proposal is an insult to the desperate business owners whose survival depends upon fair and just treatment from government’s offering a real solution to end the crisis. The Brewer/Cornegy proposal is no solution in any way and would not save a single small business if passed into law. In fact, their proposal to extend the lease period for one year at 15 percent rent increase, allowing the business more time to find a new location, would, instead, actually help landlords and make the crisis much worse. Rent gouging and oppressive lease abuses are the root of this crisis and their solution addresses neither.

The rent gouging and oppressive lease abuses have been going on for many decades. Many business owners have already been forced to move several times. This gentrification tornado of greed has cut swaths of destruction across many neighborhoods and in every borough. There are no more “safe” locations to move to in NYC, because our government has done nothing to regulate the out of control rents. If a storefront is vacant on a busy main street, it’s because the long established business was forced to close when the landlord refused to accept a fair rent which would have allowed a reasonable profit for the business. I predict that if this weak Brewer/Cornegy proposal is passed, should a business want to stay in their neighborhood, the only choice is to go to another landlord and bid against other local businesses, making the crisis worse.

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Letters to the Editor, Jan. 14

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

The business of politics

After the T&V editorial on the SBJSA ran last week in the print edition, many offered negative comments online about New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick.

I met him for the first time many years ago when he first ran. He was friendly and seemed quite intelligent and won.

But Mr. Garodnick does need money each time he runs – as do all politicians. He may have first been elected as an idealist. But, now he lives in the real world of politics. Often people in his position morph into self-serving pols who run on helping the regular folks and end up accepting money from people in the real estate industry. Remember that power corrupts and the more one gets the greater corruption.

I gave quite moderate contributions to Obama and Sanders – so modest, that when and if they were or are elected, they owe me nothing. But, certain industries via lobbyists don’t care about the idealism or lack of it when they support a pol. All they desire is to be able to have access and call them directly or via a surrogate to suggest legislation which is in their financial interests.

This is my hypothesis about the insulting comments concerning Dan on the T&V Blog. And, if true it represents just a microcosm of what continues to occur in this city’s apartment and business rents – higher and higher. This also is happening in most areas of this nation.

If you have TWC they are running an important documentary on NY1’s Ch. 1020: “The Vanishing City.” This represents a comprehensive and honest explanation of what’s going down and affecting all of us. See it!

David Chowes, PCV

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