Tenants push for stronger rent regulations

Tenants board a bus to Albany for a day of lobbying ahead of the rent laws expiring in June. (Photos by Sidney Goldberg)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Wednesday, over 30 tenants from different organizations, including 11 from the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, headed to Albany to lobby for stronger rent laws. The rent regulations that keep over a million apartments in New York City stabilized will expire this June. While they are expected to be renewed, tenants always hope to get them strengthened, which seems more likely to happen this year with Democrats having a majority in the State Senate.

At the Wednesday event, Anne Greenberg, vice president of the ST-PCV Tenants Association, led one of the groups of tenants who came from Manhattan. Another group had come from Brooklyn. The Cooper Square Committee was also participating. Greenberg’s group met up with an aide of State Senator Kevin Thomas and there was also another meeting with freshman Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein. Tenants also eventually ran into local Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, which Greenberg noted, happened by chance because the capitol was so crowded with people.

Greenberg in particular said she thought it was important for tenants to tell personal stories like about how rents can go up drastically upon lease renewal because of preferential rents. Tenant activists are also hoping for vacancy decontrol and reform on rent increases for major capital improvements, individual apartment improvements and vacancy bonuses.

“Part of the mission is to put a story and a put a face to the issue of why we need rent reform,” Greenberg said. “The legislators aren’t always up to speed on all the issues. Now there’s a foundation where we could follow up.”

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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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What a Democratic State Senate means for tenants

Nov20 Mike McKee color

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

For years, Democrats in Albany have been pledging to strengthen rent regulations in New York City, but whenever legislation aimed at doing so dies on the chamber floor, fingers get pointed at their Republican colleagues, who, up until November 6, held a majority in the State Senate.

Now, with the chamber having turned unquestionably blue, tenants might just have a chance at seeing some of the legislation, most notably the repeal of vacancy decontrol, get signed into law. Following the election, the Democrat to Republican ratio is 40 Democrats to 23 Republicans. While this figure includes Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, the Democrats still have a clear majority.

But even still, it won’t be easy, Michael McKee, the treasurer and spokesperson of Tenants Political Action Committee, is warning.

“Nothing is guaranteed,” McKee said. “We are going to have to work very hard to make sure our friends in both houses do the right thing and hold them accountable. Just because the Senate is now under Democratic control, it doesn’t mean stronger rent protections are automatically going to happen.”

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TenantPAC’s top 3 priorities for 2018

Mike McKee of TenantsPAC (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

When it comes to resolutions for tenants in the coming year, TenantsPAC treasurer and spokesperson Mike McKee says time is of the essence.

“They have to pass some of our reform bills this year, not 2019,” the activist said.

McKee is adamant about the timing of a growing, organized effort to strengthen the rent laws, explaining that the following year when the rent regulations are up for renewal or expiration, tenants will no longer have leverage that exists this year. The reason for this is simple. Elected officials, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, will be up for reelection in 2018, and, explained McKee, six months after the new term, “he’ll have no interest in June 2019 of doing anything for the tenants” nor will the Republican-aligned members of the Independent Democratic Conference.

McKee, who was reached on the phone last Friday, added that he was planning, along with dozens of other activists, to protest outside Cuomo’s State of the State speech. A number of participants, he added, had committed ahead of time to getting arrested for blocking the entrance to the capitol.

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Now a senator, Kavanagh says rent regs are still top priority

State Senator Brian Kavanagh reflected on his career in Albany so far at a Pret shop near his office, which was already in boxes earlier this month. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday, December 7, Brian Kavanagh, who had served as Assembly member representing Manhattan’s 74th District for 11 years, took the oath of office for his new role as state senator. While his Assembly district, which included Stuyvesant Town, Waterside, Tudor City and a handful of other East Side neighborhoods, is now vacant, Kavanagh’s new beat, the 26th Senatorial District, formerly represented by Daniel Squadron, spans part of Brooklyn’s waterfront and much of Lower Manhattan.

Just days before Kavanagh officially began his new position, he met with a Town & Village reporter at a Pret sandwich shop near his legislative office (since the office itself was already packed up in boxes) to discuss his reason for switching chambers and how he still plans to fight for affordable housing.

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Editorial: Rage against the Democratic machine

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who recently announced his intention to run for a downtown State Senate seat, just got a big boost this week with the support of the Brooklyn Democratic Party and the Manhattan Party bosses, the mayor, the governor and other elected officials. This was all in lieu of a primary since State Senator Daniel Squadron’s sudden withdrawal from public office ensured there would be no opportunity for one.

Naturally, this process has been widely blasted as being a shady “backroom” deal, for giving too much power to party bosses and allowing Squadron to handpick a successor. We have to say; we couldn’t agree more. Such blatant cronyism reeks of Tammany politics. Along with cheating voters and Kavanagh’s opponent, District Leader Paul Newell, it has also got to sting a little to the dozens of candidates who just went through the grueling process of campaigning for open and vulnerable City Council seats.

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Garodnick doesn’t want Kavanagh’s Assembly seat

Council Member Dan Garodnick

By Sabina Mollot

With Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh expected to get the downtown Senate seat he wants, it remains to be seen who’ll be replacing him in the Assembly if he wins in November. One thing is for sure though — it won’t be Dan Garodnick.

The popular City Council member, who’s being term-limited out, told Town & Village he believes there won’t be any shortage of candidates though.

“I think there will be lots of worthy candidates,” he said, “and I will look for other ways to serve New York City.”

 

No one yet vying for Kavanagh’s Assembly seat

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh is a candidate Daniel Squadron’s Senate seat. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

With Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh having expressed his interest in taking over the State Senate seat occupied by Daniel Squadron, who announced his resignation last week, it is unclear who would fill Kavanagh’s spot in Albany if he’s successful.

Two obvious choices would be City Council Members Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez, since they both live in the area covered by Assembly District 74 and are both getting term-limited out of the Council. However, neither of them has given any hint that they’re interested in the job, which involves taking a substantial pay cut and regularly commuting to the state capital.

Reached on the phone a day after Kavanagh made his announcement of his intention to seek the Senate seat, Mendez said she hadn’t had a chance to give it much thought.

“It’s absolutely too soon to say,” she told us. Instead, Mendez said, she’s been focusing on all the things she wants to get done before leaving office. “It’s a busy time. My plan was to start looking for a job after the primary.”

She did, however, get a call from Kavanagh ahead of his announcement to share his intentions and she also heard from others she didn’t name who were interested in running for the vacant Senate seat.

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Albany does little on ethics reforms

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo courtesy of Senator Hoylman)

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo courtesy of Senator Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

In a recent interview with State Senator Brad Hoylman, Town & Village reported on Albany’s refusal to pass any LGBT protections or stronger gun control legislation this past legislative session.

But those aren’t the only bills left collecting dust on the floor of the State Senate. There are also ethics reforms.

On those proposed reforms, just one major measure did pass, Hoylman reported, which would strip any elected official convicted of corruption of his or pension. However, he said, this will have to be approved again next session and then sent to voters for their approval, as well as “some disclosure provisions for groups engaging in independent expenditures.”

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No ethics reforms for Albany

The Senate Democrats vote on closure of the LLC Loophole, which failed to make it into the budget. State Senator Brad Hoylman called the budget process unchanged since the Silver and Skelos scandals.  (Photo by State Senator Brad Hoylman)

The Senate Democrats vote on closure of the LLC Loophole, which failed to make it into the budget. State Senator Brad Hoylman called the budget process unchanged since the Silver and Skelos scandals. (Photo by State Senator Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

After an all-nighter in the Capitol, Governor Cuomo signed off on a budget that included none of the ethics reforms he claimed he’d be willing to pass during his state of the state address in January.

Those reforms included closure of the LLC Loophole, which currently allows nearly limitless donations from limited liability corporations, limiting legislators’ outside income and stripping pensions from any legislator who’s found guilty of corruption.

Following the 17-hour session that led to the budget’s signing on Friday morning, a groggy State Senator Brad Hoylman told Town & Village that even after two major scandals last year, nothing’s changed in Albany when it’s time for negotiations.

“The budget process doesn’t lend itself to transparency,” said Hoylman. “It’s still the same three men in a room.”

He then blamed the Republican majority in his own house for not allowing the proposed reforms to reach the floor.

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Democrat control of Senate is likely

TenantsPAC wary of Klein’s leadership

State Senator Jeff Klein

State Senator Jeff Klein

By Sabina Mollot
On Wednesday, June 25, a group of breakaway Democrats in the State Senate, called the Independent Democrats Conference, formed an alliance more mainline Democrats. As a result of this cooperation, which would begin after the November elections, IDC Senator Jeff Klein, if re-elected, would become a “co-leader” along with Senate Minority Leader Andrea-Stewart Cousins, and the IDC’s alliance with Senate Republicans would end. The IDC was formed in 2012.

The move, while cheered by Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, is being seen as potentially disastrous by the real estate industry since it’s expected to put Democrats back in control of the Senate. Additionally, Stewart-Cousins is a tenant-friendly Democrat. At the same time, it’s also being eyed with caution by TenantsPAC, which views Klein as a tool for landlords.

TenantsPAC has been actively campaigning to get Klein’s opponent in the primary, former City Council Member Oliver Koppell, elected instead.
The political action committee has even begun phone banking to get close to 700 registered democrats in The Bronx to support him.
“Tenants anywhere should care about this election,” TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee said.
TenantsPAC has also given $4,000 to the campaign, and hopes to give the candidate $2,500 more, which would bring the donation to the maximum allowed.

Of the new Senate Democratic coalition, McKee said, “It makes sense for the real Democrats to do this, but we’re raising a note of caution about a major issue which is coming up in the legislature next year.”
This statement was in reference to the law governing rent regulated housing that will be up for renewal, and Klein, noted McKee, has a history of shooting down pro-tenant legislation.

TenantsPAC actually supported Klein a decade ago, because, “his opponent was worse.” The opponent, Steven Kaufman, had said he would caucus with Republicans. And as for Klein, McKee said, “we didn’t know he would be this bad.”
Over the years since then, McKee has had three meetings with the senator, two in his district office and one in Albany, with constituents present, in an effort to get Klein to support a repeal of vacancy decontrol.
“He told us flat out he would vote on it if it comes up, but ‘I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t get to the floor,’” said McKee. “And it never got to the floor. You have to give him some credit for being so honest and not stringing us along.”

A spokesperson for Klein didn’t respond to T&V’s request for comment.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, meanwhile, said the new cooperation should still make a big difference because, as McKee noted, Democrat legislation doesn’t currently tend to make it to the floor for consideration. This would be legislation on issues such as tenant protections, LGBT rights, the DREAM Act and de-criminalizing small amounts of marijuana.
“Everything has been stymied by Republican control of the Senate,” Hoylman said. “It’s at-will legislation, whatever they want. The leaders of the Senate have tremendous strength.”

For this reason, Hoylman said he wants to see more power given to committees.
“I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a new term in the Senate with new leadership that defies the dysfunctional label some have wanted to paint Democrats with,” he added.

This dysfunction was the reason for the formation of the IDC.Following its creation, out of 63 Senate members in New York, 24 are currently Democrat, five are IDC, 30 are Republican, although, noted Hoylman, “One of the Republicans is a Democrat.” That would be Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who conferences with Republicans “even though he was elected as a Democrat.” Then there are two vacant seats formerly held by Republican Charles Fuschillo of Long Island, who resigned to work for a nonprofit, and Democrat Eric Adams, who’s now the Brooklyn borough president.
There are former Democrats John Sampson (who’s been charged with lying about a liquor store he’s a partner in) and Malcolm Smith (who’s been accused of being involved in a scheme to bribe Republicans) who were “kicked out and floating without a committee,” said Hoylman.

As for the shakeup in leadership, Hoylman called it “a good position for the Democrats to be in, but,” he warned, “it is not a done deal.”
There are after all primaries coming up and “tenants were bitterly disappointed the last time Democrats were in control,” said Hoylman.
This was in 2009, a year that was marred by a coup in which two Democrats, Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, temporarily switched sides. (Both men have since been convicted of crimes, Monserrate of assaulting his girlfriend, and Espada of embezzling from a nonprofit he founded, and are no longer in office.)

As for this year, “Tenant advocates cannot sit on the sidelines,” said Hoylman. “They have to make sure their voices are heard. “This could hopefully do a lot for rent regulated apartments in my district, mainly Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. This could make a big difference but it could also be a lost opportunity.”

Public school teacher running for Duane’s seat

Tanika Inlaw

Primary Day is Thursday, September 13. Town & Village is running bios of Democrat candidates for the positions of Manhattan Surrogate’s Court judge and the State Senate seat to be vacated by Tom Duane.

This article was originally published on July 12

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By Sabina Mollot

For potential candidates for the State Senate seat now occupied by Tom Duane, it may be hard to believe that it was only just over a month ago when the longtime lawmaker announced his intentions not to seek reelection. After all, for them, there’s been something of a mad dash to collect enough petition signatures to ensure their names on the ballot for the September primary. The deadline is this Thursday.

As of Monday, no candidates had yet submitted their petitions to the Board of Elections. However, there are now at least three Democratic candidates who’ve said they definitely plan to run in the September primary:

The first is Brad Hoylman, a nonprofit attorney and friend of Duane who received his support the day Duane made his announcement. The others are Hell’s Kitchen bar owner Thomas Greco and Upper West Sider Tanika Inlaw, a public school teacher.

Town & Village previously interviewed Hoylman and Greco, and this week, Inlaw spoke with this newspaper about her campaign and her agenda, which focuses on affordable housing, education and job creation.

Already, Inlaw said she’s been pounding the pavement throughout the district and recently learned firsthand from residents of Stuyvesant Town about their top issues of concern, from classroom overcrowding to the stuffing of students into divided apartments.

In response, she said she thought CWCapital should be made to stop the practice of putting up pressurized walls and renting to students.

Tenants, she learned, “are upset that a lot of families are being displaced and that now all these students are coming in and making noise. We can’t have dormitories. We need to stop that.”

Inlaw also said she considers herself an advocate for LGBT rights as a result of being raised by her uncle, who’s gay, and her grandmother. She called Duane an “amazing” senator. “He’ll be a tough act to follow.”

Though her background is in journalism (she worked for several years for ABC News Radio and for the network’s TV show, “The View”), Inlaw said she “got the bug” for politics from her husband, Evan Inlaw. He had run for a City Court judge position in Yonkers in 2005, and won at the primary level, but lost the general election. Meanwhile, Inlaw was active in the campaign, talking to district residents about their problems and finding that she wanted to do more than she could do at the time. This was just to steer those individuals to the right city agency or public official.

Inlaw around that time also got involved in advocacy work, becoming president of her local chapter of the NAACP. She held that position until a few years ago, and said when she heard about the Senate seat for what will soon become the 27th District, she just decided to go for it.

“I’m a teacher at a Bronx elementary school, and I feel I’m the best candidate because I have no special interests behind me,” said Inlaw.

Though Inlaw knew Hoylman was all but officially endorsed by Duane on that first day, she said she wasn’t going to be deterred by any political “machine.”

“I’ve seen that before with just one candidate, but how can you call that democracy?” she said.

She added that as a senator, she would be an advocate for the middle class, which she feels is now shut out of the political process.

“Barack Obama is a black president, so color is not the shut-out anymore; it’s class,” she said.

“Middle income people don’t have opportunities anymore. It used to be that as long as you had a good education, you could buy a house. Now you could have a good education and have to live with your parents. And I don’t want my daughter living with me when she’s 40.”

Inlaw, who’s 38, began her career in education not long after having children. She now has a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. The idea originally was to be a stay-at-home mom, but that didn’t last too long.  “I needed a break,” she admitted, “and you don’t get any break as a stay-at-home mom.” She also noted she she’s “about to be a single mom,” since she’s in the midst of a divorce from Evan.

On matters related to education, Inlaw said if elected, she would fight to create smaller classrooms and have additional support via assistant teachers for special education classes. She also said she wanted to “bring back extra curricular and arts programs,” which are the first things cut from any school budget. “Every child should have the opportunity for a well-rounded education,” she said.

Bullying is also a focus, with Inlaw saying one way to help stop it would be to demand accountability of the schools where it happens. However, she stressed it should be done in a way that doesn’t shame the schools or administrators, since that approach too often leads to incidents of violence or other problems being swept under the rug. She also thinks it’s important to create a classroom environment that’s rigorous. “That’s what we need — to make kids more competitive.”

And Inlaw says she’s the voice of experience on that topic, being the first person in her family to graduate from college. She got her bachelor’s degree from SUNY Purchase and later her master’s in education from Hunter. She also attended a specialized high school, La Guardia, studying drama.

She also wants to see hydrofracking completely banned and focus on repairs needed to the city’s infrastructure, including bridges and tunnels. The work would create jobs and not the minimum wage sort. (She also supports raising the minimum wage.)

On issues of housing, Inlaw, who grew up in a Mitchell-Lama building, said fighting for affordable housing is a top priority.

Repealing the Urstadt Law is also a goal. Obviously, Inlaw said she knows what she’s up against in Albany with the Republican majority frequently blocking any tenant legislation. However, she said if elected, she would try to plow through the bipartisan divide by being willing to give and take at the negotiating table.

“(Right now) everything is landlocked because everyone is holding fast to their own opinions and not seeing how it is through someone else’s eyes,” she said. “We have to come together. Even if someone’s attacking me, I’ll agree with them, and that disarms them. They’ll hear me, because I hear them. People want to be heard.”

Another challenger steps up for Duane’s Senate seat

Primary Day is Thursday, September 13. Town & Village is running bios of Democrat candidates for the positions of Manhattan Surrogate’s Court judge and the State Senate seat to be vacated by Tom Duane.

This article was originally published on June 28.

 

Thomas Greco

By Sabina Mollot

Not long after State Senator Tom Duane announced he wasn’t seeking reelection ― and that he thought a friend, attorney Brad Hoylman, would make a good replacement ― another challenger for the Senate seat announced he too would be running. That candidate was 36-year-old Thomas Greco, owner of Hell’s Kitchen gay bar/lounge, The Ritz. Though not gay himself (he’ll be married to fiancée Tia in a week) Greco said he is a big LGBT advocate and also said if elected, his top priorities for the 27th senatorial district would be affordable housing and education.

Greco said his decision to run was made recently, pretty much right after Duane’s announcement that he wouldn’t be running. Part of the reason, he explained, was the way that particular bombshell was dropped, including the endorsement for Hoylman it led to.

“He did it at the 11th hour,” said Greco of Duane. “He did it in a way where no career politician could have the option of getting a campaign together.”

Greco, however, said he wasn’t deterred by all the publicity for Hoylman, noting that as the owner of a business, he has some startup cash for a campaign.

He opened The Ritz in 2006, though he’s also been the part-owner of a restaurant with his brother, Philip Marie, since 2001 and he also owns an LGBT bar called Posh. Prior to those ventures, the Park Ridge, New Jersey native worked as a financial consultant for A.G. Edwards.

As for his latest endeavor, already, Greco’s gotten started collecting signatures, saying he hopes to get quadruple the amount he needs to avoid any potential ballot challenges.

What’s also helped him beyond the immediate need to fundraise is that he’s active in two political clubs, as the executive vice president of the McManus Midtown Democratic Club and director of fundraising for the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. Otherwise, Greco said he considers himself a political outsider, and it’s this that he feels makes him the right person for the job.

“Because I don’t have an alliance with this politician and I’m not worried about making that one mad,” he said. “I just care about what the district needs and I don’t care how many eggs I have to crack to get it done. I’m the kind of guy who just keeps running into walls until the walls start falling down.”

On issues facing the district, Greco said affordable housing was something he’d fight for, because he’s tired of seeing longtime residents of his own neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, being priced out.

“I see all these massive buildings under construction and they’re all luxury high-rise,” he said. “We have to come up with a better plan, because now it’s becoming a gated neighborhood.”

Specifically, Greco said he thought there should be more tax breaks given as incentive to develop more affordable housing than the current 80/20 structure provides for. And not just dumpy-looking projects, either, but, he added, “a nice building where you give people some dignity.”

Another aspect of affordable housing would be the protection of what’s already in existence, including Stuyvesant Town.

“I feel what went on there was horrible,” he said, referring to the years of tenants being pushed out through residency challenges. “But I’m pro tenant.”

Education is another priority, with Greco saying he’s seriously been considering private school for his own children when he has them. “And why should I cough up the money for private school when I’m already paying all these taxes?” he said.

In his view, the quality of education offered would be improved through better communication between schools and parents, including allowing interested parents to know details like what’s in the lesson plans and what children are expected to know by the end of the year.

Another issue of concern, affecting the west side of the district, is the lack of a full-service hospital following the closure of St. Vincent’s.

This was one of the issues that prompted Greco’s run, because he said he wasn’t satisfied with the way the area’s elected officials responded to news of the closure.

“They kind of just let it happen,” he said. “They made speeches, but no one threw themselves in front of a bulldozer.”

Along with the area’s residents’ loss of access to healthcare, the closure caused a nosedive in business at nearby restaurants that relied on the patronage of physicians. “It was like a bomb went off,” said Greco, noting that one of the affected restaurants is Philip Marie. The Village’s restaurants, he said, have soldiered on, but one newsstand owner told him he’d lost 90 percent of his customers before ultimately deciding to close.

“It’s like they looked at the first ripple, but not the other ripples,” Greco said.

Being a restaurant owner himself, Greco said even if he does end up in Albany, he would still identify as a businessman rather than a career politician.

“At the end of the day, I’m doing this as a public service,” he said. “I’m not making a career move. I have a career. I have my business. I’m not going to make deals so someone can benefit me.”

 

* In related senatorial race news, a recent published report alluded to the fact that Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh could also run for Duane’s Senate seat. However, an employee at Kavanagh’s office said last week he definitely won’t be running.