Progressives weigh pros and cons on vote for Con-Con

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

New Yorkers will have to turn over their ballots on Election Day next Tuesday to vote on a question that only comes up once every 20 years: whether or not to hold a Constitutional Convention. If the measure passes, voters would elect three delegates for each of the 63 State Senate districts and 15 statewide, for a total of 204 representatives in all. The convention itself, or Con-Con as it is sometimes affectionately abbreviated, would open up the state constitution for amendments proposed by the delegates and voted on by New Yorkers.

The measure didn’t pass the last time the question came up in 1997, and the last time there was a convention was 1967. The question was also put on the ballots that year as well. According to the State Archives, Convention leadership had hoped that the popular proposals would carry the unpopular sections and put the changes on the ballot as a single package instead of by individual proposal, but the tactic failed, since the entire document was voted down that year.

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Possible upgrades for 30th St. shelter

Council Member Dan Garodnick speaks at a meeting aimed at coming up with ways to improve the men’s shelter. (Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick)

By Sabina Mollot

The Department of Homeless Services is planning to make some upgrades to the dilapidated 30th Street men’s homeless shelter, possibly even turning an unused theater into a space for public use.

On Monday, July 17, representatives of the department met with a few representatives of Community Board 6 as well as a few elected officials to discuss ideas, including to create a co-working space where shelter residents can get job placement assistance and work on resumes. As for the theater, a possible plan would be to renovate it or even repurpose it and have it used by the shelter’s residents or the community. Outside the shelter, which is located inside the Bellevue Old Psych building on First Avenue, another idea was to create green spaces like a small park that could also be open to the public.

Following the brainstorming session, Council Member Dan Garodnick said ideas were based on what the shelter’s residents want as well as what the surrounding community wants.

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Pols urging left-leaning NYers to become activists

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman with State Senator Liz Krueger (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Local elected officials are urging left-leaning New Yorkers to become political activists, saying there’s been a surge in citizen activism around the country since President Trump took office.

The push was made at an event last Wednesday evening, hosted by State Senator Liz Krueger and State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman with an introduction by City Councilmember Dan Garodnick. Garodnick has previously hosted other so-called “State of the Resistance” forums, which offer information about how to get involved in local politics and with non-profit organizations around the city. More than 300 residents attended last week’s event, hosted at the Porshansky Auditorium in the CUNY Graduate Center.

“The state of the resistance is really seen in the burst of local activism since the election,” Garodnick said. “New Yorkers are holding their elected officials accountable. (Constituents) are breaking the all-time record for the number of calls to elected representatives.”

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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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Select Bus Service arrives along M23 route

Workers stand by a newly built bus stop for the M23, which now has Select Bus Service, at 23rd Street and Broadway. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Workers stand by a newly built bus stop for the M23, which now has Select Bus Service, at 23rd Street and Broadway. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After months of planning — and a canceled plan to remove a Stuyvesant Town bus stop — Select Bus Service has come to 23rd Street.

SBS buses have sped up service by 10-30 percent, according to the mayor who made the announcement via a press release on Monday. The news was cheered by local elected officials, who pointed out that the M23 has been one of the city’s slowest buses, even twice winning the annual Straphangers Campaign’s Pokey Award for the slowest route.

“My constituents agree: the M23 is one of the slowest bus routes in the city and it’s often faster to walk than take the bus,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman.

State Senator Liz Krueger said the SBS couldn’t come at a more needed time: ahead of the dreaded L-pocalypse.

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PCV man enters Council race

Keith Powers, pictured petitioning, is a lobbyist and community activist. (Photo courtesy of Keith Powers)

Keith Powers, pictured petitioning, is a lobbyist and community activist. (Photos courtesy of Keith Powers)

By Sabina Mollot

A Peter Cooper Village resident and executive at a lobbying firm has become the most recent candidate to join the race for the City Council seat that’s now occupied by Dan Garodnick.

Keith Powers, 32, has already led a pretty politically active career, having previously worked for two Manhattan elected officials, and until recently served as president of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club.

Though he stepped down from that volunteer position earlier in the year, last month he took on a new role as one of three new board members of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association. He’s also been serving as chair of Community Board 6’s Business Affairs and Street Activities committee, which focuses heavily on nightlife and liquor licenses. He’s still involved with Eleanor Roosevelt, too, as the club’s district leader.

“I bring a certain amount of experience and I think it’s a great next step for me to be running to replace Dan,” said Powers. He added, “With term limits you don’t have a lot of time to play catch-up.”

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Pols ask hospitals not to film patients without prior permission

Council Member Dan Garodnick with Anita Chanko, widow of Mark Chanko, a former Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper resident whose medical treatment and death was filmed for a reality show without permission, Mark’s daughter Pamela, his son Kennerh, Kenneth’s wife Barbara, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Edward Braunstein of Queens (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Council Member Dan Garodnick with Anita Chanko, widow of Mark Chanko, a former Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper resident whose medical treatment and death was filmed for a reality show without permission, Mark’s daughter Pamela, his son Kenneth, Kenneth’s wife Barbara, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Edward Braunstein of Queens (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

 

By Sabina Mollot

Over 30 members of the City Council are calling on hospitals to respect patients’ privacy, in response to the stunning case of a man who was struck by a truck only to then have his medical treatment and death filmed for an ABC reality show, “NY Med.”

The man was Mark Chanko, at one time a resident of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. His family, who never authorized any filming of his treatment, has sued the hospital, New York Presbyterian, and ABC. Arguments for the case are expected to be heard in September at the Court of Appeals.

While there is currently legislation pending at the state level that would prohibit hospitals filming patients without obtaining prior consent, the Council said it was asking hospitals to take that step voluntarily. The Council members wrote a letter that was sent to all New York hospitals asking them not to film patients or allow third parties to film patients for entertainment purposes. Or, if they do, the Council members said hospitals should at least make sure they get prior permission to do so.

The letter was also written in response to news that a reality show similar to “NY Med” would soon begin filming at a Boston hospital.

Mark Chanko with son Ken on a family cruise in 2006

Mark Chanko with son Ken on a family cruise in 2006

In the “NY Med” episode, Chanko’s face was blurred and his voice altered but those who knew him, including his widow Anita, recognized him immediately when she watched the show.

At a press conference at City Hall, she recalled how he’d asked, “Does my wife know I’m here?’ Whoever answered him said, ‘I don’t know.’” Since then, Anita said she’s had the segment featuring her husband pop up in her mind at unexpected moments. At these times, all of the evening’s events play out, starting from when her husband mentions wanting to run to the deli to pick up milk and bananas, to shortly afterwards, when the doorman at the couple’s building in Yorkville told Anita she needed to come downstairs, to then seeing Chanko lying in a gurney that she wasn’t allowed to get near.

“It’s a PTSD (experience),” Anita said. “It comes in unprompted. Watch a man die, now we’re going to sell you a car. Now we’re going to sell you some soap.”

When viewing the episode, which she said no one from the network or hospital warned her would be aired, she felt like she was reliving his death all over again. When the doctor told her and other family members that attempts to save Chanko were unsuccessful, he hadn’t told them he was wearing a microphone or that the conversation would be part of a show.

“We don’t want for this to happen to other people,” said Ken Chanko, Mark’s son, a teacher, who’s also a former film critic for Town & Village.

Council Member Dan Garodnick called shows like “NY Med” and its Boston spinoff, “Save My Life: Boston Trauma,” a “crude window into people’s medical care.

“Patients in our hospitals deserve to know that their sensitive moments will not be used for entertainment,” he said. “We deserve better from our medical institutions.”

Garodnick added that the Council will soon be issuing a report card for hospitals, “so you’ll know which hospitals will protect your privacy and which won’t.”

Last Thursday, Garodnick posted a petition on change.org calling on hospitals to not film patients. As of Monday it was signed over 500 times.

At the press conference, Council members also expressed their support for state legislation that would prevent future incidents like the one experienced by the Chankos.

Legislation that was authored by Assembly Member Edward Braunstein would create a private right of action for the unauthorized filming and broadcasting of hospital patients. It’s in the midst of some revising, though, with Braunstein explaining that the revisions were in response to broadcast associations’ concerns that some of the language was too vague. “But we’re confident we’ll be able to complete it next year,” said Braunstein, whose district is in Queens.

State Senator Liz Krueger, who’s co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, said there’s no way the presence of a TV camera wouldn’t impact the quality of patient care.

“(If a doctor says) ‘we need to get over there,’ and the director says, ‘We need a better shot over there’ — we’re not supposed to have that situation,” she said.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, another bill co-sponsor, added, “Shame on Dr. Oz and others for violating their Hippocratic Oath to do no harm.” Dr. Mehmet Oz is featured on “NY Med.”

A spokesperson for New York Presbyterian previously declined to comment on the Chankos’ litigation. A request for comment on the Council’s letter was referred to the Greater New York Hospital Association, whose president, Kenneth E. Raske, issued a statement indicating his agreement with the Council’s suggestions.

“Greater New York Hospital Association and its member hospitals agree that hospitals should not allow patients to be filmed for entertainment purposes without their prior consent,” Raske said. “Further, all New York hospitals take their legal obligations concerning patient privacy very seriously. Both New York State and federal law prohibit the use or disclosure of identifiable patient information without the prior consent of the patient or a suitable patient representative. New York’s hospitals will continue to vigorously safeguard the privacy of patients and their families.”

Lawsuit to close election loophole

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh (pictured at a rally in May) is one of the plaintiffs. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Tuesday, three Democratic state legislators filed a lawsuit against the Board of Elections aimed at closing the “LLC Loophole.”

The so-called loophole, created by the board in 1996, came under scrutiny this year due to all the campaign cash that had been legally funneled to legislators through limited liability companies. Many of the LLCs were controlled by real estate interests, most infamously Leonard Litwin of Glenwood Management. The loophole has allowed them to give nearly limitless contributions — up to $60,800 in a single election year by allowing them to be considered individuals.

“It’s not just (Litwin),” said Brent Ferguson, an attorney with New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which helped prepare the lawsuit. “In the real estate industry, they can operate a separate LLC for every building they own.”

He added, “We think it’s an incorrect reading of the law.”

The Brennan Center got involved with a suit on the loophole, said Ferguson, because it’s “become very popular” in recent years. “The amount has skyrocketed.”

Since 2011, $54 million has been donated by LLCs through the loophole, and while those doing the giving are usually traceable, they aren’t always.

“We think it’s one of the biggest problems in New York’s campaign finance system and democracy in general,” said Ferguson.

The legislators who are plaintiffs in the suit include Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Senators Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron who are all Democrats as well as

Republicans John R. Dunne, a former senator and former U.S. attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, and Maureen Koetz, who ran a campaign against Assembly Member Sheldon Silver last year.

Another plaintiff is SUNY New Paltz Professor Gerald Benjamin, an upstate Republican Party leader. The suit was filed with the Albany County Supreme Court with the help of the Brennan Center and the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP.

In April the Brennan Center and Emery Celli asked the BOE to close the loophole, but the board, after a 2-2 vote, didn’t reverse its decision.

Prior to the rent laws being renewed last month, Kavanagh had introduced legislation that would cap contributions from corporations at $5,000 per calendar year. The bill made it through the Assembly but not the Senate.

In an official statement, Kavanagh said, “The individuals and businesses who give large contributions through LLCs have much more power than those who have not contributed or have contributed under the lower limits that apply to other entities and individuals. The result is that government does not adequately represent those New Yorkers who do not have the ability or desire to exploit the LLC Loophole.”

Krueger said that she’s encountered would-be candidates for public office who got turned off from running because they didn’t think they’d be able to compete with candidates raising more money.

“The prominence of LLC contributions has a significant effect on the willingness and ability of people to run for office,” she said.

Ferguson said the plaintiffs are hoping the litigation will be resolved before the 2016 elections. The fight is not a new one though, he said, noting that in 2007, some good government groups raised some of the points to the BOE raised in the suit.

The lawsuit argues that an LLC is not individual because: “An LLC cannot vote. It holds no political view separate of its members.” It also noted how LLCs had been looked at by the governor’s now disbanded anti-corruption panel, who believed they contributed to Albany’s “pay-to-play culture.”

A spokesperson for the Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment.

Dinner with a senator

By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

Sandersheadshot

Several months ago during one of the late night pauses in the state budget deliberations, I had the occasion to have dinner in Albany with one of the rising stars of the New York State Senate, our own Brad Hoylman.

The meal itself was not all that memorable, although it did consist of my favorite Italian food and it was pretty darn good. But what I remember most about that evening was not the pasta or pastry for dessert but rather the intelligence, humility and the down to earth common sense of the fellow sitting across the table, Senator Brad Hoylman.

Unlike our mayor, Brad arrived pretty close to the scheduled time and without an entourage. But nonetheless he apologized for being just a few minutes late because work in the Senate was running a bit long that evening and he wasn’t exactly sure of the street that our bistro was located on.

I had actually known Brad a little bit prior to his 2012 election to the State Senate. Brad was a vice president of the prestigious New York City Partnership which is a progressive organization of business and civic leaders. I also knew of Brad’s work in local politics from the Lower West Side of Manhattan.

The reviews on Brad had always been good but I never really spent much time with him. We immediately launched into a multi-dimensional conversation involving the need for political reforms, tenant protections, education, health matters and family values. I was so impressed with Brad’s grasp and understanding of a wide range of important topics and his many good ideas about how to make government more accountable to voters and work better.Perhaps because he has only been in the State Senate for three years he has not had time to become jaded. But I suspect that if Brad serves in the Senate for 23 years, he will be the same positive thinking progressive elected official who cares more about good public policy than the personal enrichment either of money or power that some in politics seem to lust after. Brad seems to be cut from a different cloth. A fabric which is made of durable and sterner stuff.

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Baruch Campus High School students design gadget that vacuums subway

The Baruch InvenTeam with their prototype (left to right) Ivan Chang, Carmen Li, Kevin Zhang, Long Wang Lin, Wendy Ni, Xiao Hui Zheng, Conan Lin, Sherry Ou Yang, William Chung and Queena Chiu (behind the prototype, left to right) Elton Zhang and Tony Long (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The Baruch InvenTeam with their prototype (left to right) Ivan Chang, Carmen Li, Kevin Zhang, Long Wang Lin, Wendy Ni, Xiao Hui Zheng, Conan Lin, Sherry Ou Yang, William Chung and Queena Chiu (behind the prototype, left to right) Elton Zhang and Tony Long (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A group of college-bound seniors at Baruch College Campus High School will soon be heading to MIT to present a detachable rubbish vacuum that they designed and built for use in the subways.

What they came up with is an alternative that they hope the MTA will use to keep the subway tracks clear. The agency currently has entire work trains dedicated to vacuuming up garbage on the tracks, but the prototype that the students have created would instead attach onto the MTA’s existing work trains and, they say, would require less maintenance.

To create the prototype that they primarily worked on in the cramped back section of a classroom, they used motors and filters from actual vacuums, but added on features to make it semi-automatic. The device, which was built on a smaller scale than the real thing to cut down on expenses, has light sensors on the top so it kicks on when it pulls into the station and turns off when back inside the tunnel to conserve energy. Their version operated while plugged into the wall, but in practice the vacuum would draw energy from the third rail, which would also make it more powerful.

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Senate Democrats push ethics reforms

State Senator Brad Hoylman (at podium) discusses his legislation in Albany.

State Senator Brad Hoylman (at podium) discusses his legislation in Albany.

By Sabina Mollot

Amidst growing interest from the media about state lawmakers’ outside incomes and last week’s quick replacement of the longtime leader of the Assembly, Senate Democrats have introduced a package of legislative reforms aimed at cleaning up the Capitol.

Mainly, the new bills, which were introduced on Monday afternoon at an Albany press conference, are aimed at capping politicians’ outside incomes, making it illegal for officials to use campaign cash for any criminal defense fees they incur and stripping corrupt officials of their pensions.

So far, the Democrats have said the Republican majority has blocked its efforts for ethics reform.

However, with the spotlight being firmly planted on state legislators’ outside activities and U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara’s warning the public to “stay tuned,” some Democrats, like Brad Hoylman, are hopeful this might change.

“This is a great Watergate moment for the state legislature,” said Hoylman, “and by that I mean that public confidence is at an all-time low. And it is up to both parties to usher in some reform, much like the Congress did in 1974. We should look at that example.”

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Pols, tenants weigh in on Silver, Skelos

State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman say reports of corruption in Albany make people think all politicians are the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman say reports of corruption in Albany make people think all politicians are the same. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Just eight days after the arrest of one of Albany’s famed three men in a room, came the news that another one in the power trio, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, was also being investigated. U.S. Attorney Preet Bhahara, whose investigation into Sheldon Silver led to his stepping down as Assembly speaker on Monday, is looking into Skelos’ ties to real estate and outside income from a law firm, the New York Post reported.

Skelos, of Long Island, has since reportedly laughed off the allegations.

Meanwhile, at the ribbon cutting for the new Asser Levy Playground in Manhattan on Friday morning, Town & Village cornered a couple of local state senators as well as a few community leaders to ask for their thoughts on the latest scandals from the Capitol.

Senate Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman both told Town & Village that it’s a shameful day in Albany any time there’s news of alleged criminal activity.

“Everyone who’s in elected office knows that they’re supposed to be held to a higher standard,” said Krueger. “The vast majority of us believe in good government, and when this happens, people think, ‘A pox on all your heads.’ Who’s going to want to run for office if everybody thinks you’re a criminal?”

When asked if she was just relieved it was a Republican on the hot seat this time, the Democrat senator insisted she wasn’t.

“No. I think any time there’s an elected official in Albany that gets indicted, the general public believes ‘they’re all corrupt and there’s no point in government.’”

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Ribbon cut at newly expanded Asser Levy Playground

Feb5 Asser Levy Garodnick equipment

Council Member Dan Garodnick tries out the adult fitness equipment. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Friday morning, in near-freezing weather following the second snowfall in a week, local community leaders and politicians cut the ribbon on the newly expanded Asser Levy Playground.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver joked that “It’s a pleasure to cut a ribbon on this warm and sunny day,” as the politicians on either side of him sat bundled up for the cold. He then went on to say the project had been successful in terms of being both “on time and on budget and that gets a double round of applause.”

New features along the two-block-long park that was formerly a street include a track, adult fitness equipment, a synthetic turf field, drinking fountains, lighting, trees, tables and benches.

The work was funded with allocations of $1,175,000 from Council Member Dan Garodnick, $500,000 from the UN Development Corporation, and $670,000 from the mayor.

While at the podium, Silver joked that Garodnick was so enamored with project, “he named his son Asher.”

In response Garodnick confided that he’d actually told his son that the playground had been named after him.

“There are no limits to my deception,” he quipped. “I told him it was a typo on the sign.” He added that since he also has another son, “We’ll have to see what we can do for Devin.”

While construction had been underway at the site, the Council member said he and both of his young sons would pop by each day from their apartment in Peter Cooper Village and ask the project supervisor for status updates. And, he added, the supervisor was very nice about it.

The playground work was tied to a land deal that would allow the United Nations to put a building on space occupied by Robert Moses Park.While naturally the plan to remove that park space has been met with some opposition from neighbors, Garodnick said Robert Moses Park is underutilized, as the space now occupied by Asser Levy Playground was when it was a street.

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Airbnb grilled at packed Council hearing

Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before  a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

Stuyvesant Town tenants Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios were among hundreds protesting Airbnb outside City Hall before a legnthy hearing attended by Airbnb execs, hosts who use the service, tenants and politicians. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Airbnb, the controversial home sharing listings site, was the subject of a lengthy and contentious hearing on Tuesday that consisted mainly of accusations being traded between politicians and the company’s director of global policy.

At the heart of the conversation was whether Airbnb was making efforts to comply with state law that forbids short-term rentals in most residential buildings, which the hearing’s chair, City Council Member Jumaane Williams, said he doubted. Meanwhile, Airbnb’s representative, David Hantman, threw in — at every chance he could get — a chance to defend Airbnb users who rent their homes out infrequently, who he said make up the bulk of the service’s users — and asked repeatedly why the law couldn’t be changed to exempt them. Instead, he argued, the law should just focus on “bad actors,” tenants or landlords who regularly rent apartments to tourists for short-term stays, making life hell for neighbors.

Most of the people in attendance were tenants opposed to Airbnb, due to illegal hotel activity in their own buildings, but there were also a few dozen supporters of the company, including hosts, with both groups demonstrating outside before the hearing. Those against the company carried signs with slogans like “I don’t want strangers for neighbors” and “sharing = selfish.”

A couple of demonstrators in that camp were Stuyvesant Town residents Arlene Dabreo and Marina Metalios.
Both said they’d seen suspected illegal activity in the community.

“We’ve seen it for sure, definitely in the past year,” said Metalios. “A lot of people coming in with suitcases and garbage being kept in the wrong place.”

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Also at the event was ST-PCV Tenants Association Chair Susan Steinberg, who’d hoped to speak about illegal hotel operations in Stuy Town, but finally gave up at around 5 p.m. since she had a meeting to go to. At this time the hearing, which began at around 11 a.m., was still going on. Since the City Council chambers were filled with around 200 people, some of them standing, the rest of the attendees, like Steinberg, had gotten herded into an overflow room.

Had she been able to give testimony, Steinberg said she would have focused on how, when residents’ use of Airbnb started to take off in 2011, it coincided with an uptick in bedbug infestations in Stuy Town buildings where short-term rentals were taking place. Following meetings with company reps alongside reps from CWCapital, illegal hotel activity in the complex has decreased, though it hasn’t ended completely.

Steinberg also had included in her testimony how the TA had heard concerns from neighbors about their safety when they challenged short-term renters who wanted to gain entry into buildings. In one case, an irate guest “just pushed their way into the building.”

One tenant who did get to testify at the hearing was West Side resident Audrey Smaltz, who said she’d lived in a penthouse apartment in her building since 1977, always feeling safe with the same neighbors for many years. But in recent years, this changed, with the owner renting vacant units as hotel rooms. “The entire fourth floor is for short-term rentals and (there are) many units on other floors,” she said.

As for Airbnb supporters, not too many had signed up to testify at the hearing, which Hantman had explained as being because they’re working people who can’t afford to wait around five hours.

“They have jobs; they have no voice right now,” he said.

However, politicians seemed less than sympathetic about the plight of New Yorkers resorting to home-sharing to help pay their own rent.

Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents Greenwich Village, said he lives in a tiny studio apartment for which “the rent is too damn high,” but added with what New Yorkers pay in rent, they should have the right to not be surrounded by transients.

Another Council Member, Robert Cornegy of Brooklyn, asked Airbnb for their revenue in 2014 and projected revenue for this year, which Hantman said he wouldn’t be allowed to provide. “I’ve got to FOIL that?” Cornegy asked him. “You’ve got to go to our finance people,” Hantman responded.

When questioned about how the attorney general had found that 72 percent of Airbnb rentals to be illegal, Hantman said this was “inaccurate,” especially since Airbnb has since removed thousands of listings by users who don’t provide a “quality” experience.

In response, Williams blasted Hantman for mentioning the word “quality” more than once when discussing hosts’ renting practices.

“You keep mentioning quality — you never once mention following the law,” said Williams. “I’m sure you have lobbyists that can try to change the law, but I don’t know how you can be a business person and never mention state or federal law. You only mention quality of experience. That’s not an effective business model in the City of New York.”

Hantman had argued that very few Airbnb rentals turned out negatively out of two million people using the service to stay in New York over the past few years. He also said 1400 of those people had found places to stay when they were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, asked about quality of life issues related to short-term rentals, when Hantman mentioned Airbnb has a neighbor hotline that can be called if a resident wants to report problems with an Airbnb guest or host. Rosenthal challenged this, asking “How would they know?” if a neighbor is in fact an Airbnb user as opposed to a client of some other home-sharing service or that the number even exists for the reporting of such issues.

When accused of putting tenants at risk for eviction for hosting, Hantman said the company does have a pop-up on its site for New York City users warning them hosting may not be legal in their buildings or allowed in their leases.

“We know how much they earn, but we don’t know what their lease is,” he said. “We ask our hosts to obey the law.”

One host there to support the company, Lee Thomas, told the panel about how after he became ill with cancer, his high-paying career on Wall Street came to an end and the only means he had of supporting himself was by renting out his getaway cottage. In response, Williams told him the illegal hotels law didn’t even apply to him because it applies to multi-family buildings while his property was just a two-family one.

Along with Airbnb, also getting quite a bit of criticism was the city office tasked with investigating illegal hotel activity, with Council members accusing its director of not doing enough or having the resources needed to adequately deal with the ongoing problem.

Elizabeth Glazer, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, kept saying she believed her office was doing a good job at keeping up with complaints, but politicians countered that the system shouldn’t just be complaint-driven. Rather, Rosenthal said, it should be proactive enough to keep up with any suspicious short-term rental listing. This was after Glazer had said her office last year had received 1,050 illegal rental complaints, up from 712 in 2013. In response, Rosenthal told her there were over 2,000 listings in Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s district in Brooklyn alone.

“I publicly take issue with what you’re saying,” said Rosenthal.

When asked how the office investigates tips of illegal activity, Glazer said there is “an array of techniques that we use,” but she declined multiple times to say what they were.

This answer didn’t impress Council Member Peter Koo, who threw back, “I don’t see you using them though.”

He told Glazer about how he’d seen an inspector show up at an address where there was suspected illegal activity and knock once. When no one answered, the inspector knocked again. Then, after a few minutes more, when the door remained unanswered, he was gone.

“How come it’s so hard to open a door?” asked Koo. “Pretend you’re a tourist. Send a decoy. Tell them they’re here to give a massage.”

Despite getting some chuckles from the audience, Koo was then cut off by Williams. Koo said he represents an area in Flushing that’s become a “gateway of Asian tourism.”

Also sitting in at the hearing were the authors of the 2010 illegal hotels law, State Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. Krueger said what she hoped would come out of the event would be more and not less enforcement of the law at the city level.

“Without enforcement at the local level, it’s as if we didn’t pass it,” she said.

According to Glazer, out of the 1,050 complaints received in 2014, 883 resulted in inspections and 495 violations being issued.

Council Member Dan Garodnick, who was not at the hearing since he is not a member of the housing committee, later said he does support “more aggressive enforcement” of the law.

From hoarding to healthcare: CB6 holds forum on senior issues

State Senator Liz Krueger hosted a forum on senior issues.

State Senator Liz Krueger hosted a forum on senior issues.

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Community Board 6 hosted its first forum on senior issues at the NYU Medical Center on Monday, September 15. The event was hosted by State Senator Liz Krueger, a senior issues advocate whose office annually puts out the Senior Resource Guide, and panelists who attended included Linda Whitaker from the Department for the Aging, KARPAS Health Information Center director Julie Spillman, OATS and Senior Planet Exploration Center director of programs Kimberly Brennsteiner and Elder Care Giving Senior Care Advisor Joanna Leefer.

The panelists discussed opportunities for seniors and different healthcare options available, as well as some of the problems that seniors might face. Senator Krueger opened the forum with information on one of the issues that some seniors don’t want to talk about because of the stigma: hoarding.

“You’ve lived a long time. You’ve acquired a lot of stuff. But it can be a fire risk and can exacerbate a pest problem,” she said. “The worst calls that we get are from landlords who say they’re going to evict those tenants because it’s a health and safety risk.Our golden rule is to help people keep their homes.”

The senator also discussed the complications of providing healthcare to the rapidly growing senior population in the city.

“We don’t have adequate long-term health care programs and the programs that we do have pay for too little,” she said. “When you’re trying to decide in your 50s what will be good for you, things change by the time you hit your 70s and 80s.”

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