Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/tony-avella 2017-10-21T12:23:34+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com For Election Year, De Blasio Moves to Eliminate ‘Distractions,’ Except the Gym 2017-01-10T05:00:00+00:00 2017-01-10T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6709:de-blasio-moves-to-eliminate-distractions-except-the-gym Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32110182745_74072618e4_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio press conference smile" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Heading into 2017, his re-election year, Mayor Bill de Blasio moved to eliminate several “distractions,” as he called them, attempting to clean up potentially self-sabotaging messes of his first term so that he can make as clear a case as possible for a second.</p> <p>De Blasio came under fire -- and law enforcement investigations -- for behaviors that he has largely eliminated in the run-up to his re-election bid. While he can’t make the investigations, and resulting grand juries, go away by changing course, ahead of 2017 he did close his controversial political nonprofits; cut back on meetings with lobbyists; <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank">remove his top outside advisor</a> from government meetings; and create a new policy on disclosure of emails with his non-government confidantes.</p> <p>The mayor continues to maintain that he and his associates did nothing wrong, instead touting his level of disclosure and only acknowledging that he moved away from certain behaviors because they had become distractions from the work at hand.</p> <p>“I don’t think anything we did was inappropriate,” de Blasio said at a recent press conference when Gotham Gazette provided him with three examples as a pattern of behavior changes and asked if he shouldn’t have been more proactive in holding himself to the new, higher standard.</p> <p>“I do think they’ve become distractions and I’ve been honest about it,” the mayor said in reference to the Campaign for One New York, meetings with lobbyists, and including consultant Jonathan Rosen <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank">in government meetings</a>.</p> <p>The mayor said that stopping a certain behavior doesn’t always mean acknowledging it was wrong. Sometimes, he said, “you can say practically it just became such a distraction that we’re not going to do it even though we don’t think -- very, very clearly -- we don’t think we did anything wrong at all.”</p> <p>On the other hand, one ongoing distraction de Blasio has done little to defuse, leaving it on the table for his detractors, is his gym routine, whereby on many mornings he travels from Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side to his Park Slope YMCA, then to City Hall. The mayor often does not arrive at City Hall until the late morning, a major departure from his two immediate predecessors, who were known for their early arrivals and cabinet meetings. De Blasio is quick to point out that he is constantly working, including from the car and the stationary bike.</p> <p>De Blasio again gave <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mayor-not-ave-subway-not-convenient-article-1.2941819?cid=bitly" target="_blank">the tabloids</a> and his critics fodder on Monday when he said it would not make sense for him to use the new Second Avenue subway, which now gives him a subway stop fairly close to his residence, to get to work because he often goes to Brooklyn first.</p> <p>Candidates who have already started their campaigns to unseat de Blasio regularly cite the mayor’s ethical, legal, and management challenges. The Campaign for One New York, meetings with lobbyists, his gym habits, and more are touchpoints hit in early campaigning by Democrats Sal Albanese and Tony Avella, and Republican Paul Massey.</p> <p>While in 2015 the mayor addressed a major problem and distraction from real city business of his first year when he started to regularly arrive on-time to events, he has not moved to eliminate the gym distraction. When presented with that discrepancy on social media in September, a top de Blasio aide explained the difference. Eric Phillips, the press secretary, <a href="https://twitter.com/EricFPhillips/status/778609032563191808" target="_blank">called</a> being late “a process problem, not a worldview.” He added, “One's fixable, the other doesn't need to be.”</p> <p>“I think he’s lazy and he’s mired in conflicts of interest,” said Albanese, a former City Council member from Brooklyn who’s run for mayor twice before, on NY1’s Inside City Hall.</p> <p>“When you're the mayor, you're a city manager, you're responsible for all the agencies, and I don't think the mayor is paying any attention to running the city,” said Avella, a state Senator from Queens, during his Inside City Hall campaign-launch appearance.</p> <p>The gym and other criticisms withstanding, unless there are criminal charges brought against his top aides or the mayor himself, de Blasio is going to be very tough to beat in 2017.</p> <p>During a soft launch period of his re-election bid, he’s rolled out early endorsements from several labor unions and elected officials. He and his team are focused on securing his Democratic base of white progressives and people of color -- if he can get his base to turn out strong, he’ll be a lock in the primary and a heavy favorite in the general. The city is experiencing low crime and high employment, and de Blasio has instituted universal pre-kindergarten, new affordable housing requirements, and other significant policies.</p> <p>It is still to be seen which other opponents may emerge, and whether Albanese, Avella, or Massey can show enough campaigning, policy, and fundraising potency to be considered a legitimate threat.</p> <p>While de Blasio’s 2017 opponents and other critics will continue to point to the “distractions” that the mayor has worked to remove from the equation, de Blasio is likely to maintain that he and his associates did everything above board -- and in the interest of noble causes like pre-K -- and point out that he went above and beyond legal requirements with openness on things like donors to his aligned nonprofits and meetings with lobbyists.</p> <p>“I have said thousands of times that disclosure is the main street of this whole issue – in all this, everything we’re talking about,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette last week at the news conference. “We proactively disclosed situations where city-registered lobbyists lobbied me on a city matter. No previous mayor ever did that. We did it proactively. Not because you guys were clamoring for it. We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do. I had done that previously as public advocate.”</p> <p>The mayor continued:</p> <blockquote> <p>“We proactively – not because the law required it – disclosed donations, for example, Campaign for One New York. I believe that if the disclosure is there it is a further guarantee of the public’s ability and the media’s ability to look into the situation. I never felt in any of those meetings that I had that anything was inappropriate because I listened and I’m going to make my own choice. It has nothing to do with whether I know someone a long time or any other fact. I’m going to make the choice I think is right for the people.”</p> <p>“But it’s all out in broad daylight. So, I don’t think anything we did was inappropriate. I do think they’ve become distractions and I’ve been honest about it. And again I think – I understand why someone might say, well, wait a minute, if you stopped doing something therefore you must’ve thought it was wrong. No. That’s just not intellectually consistent. Sometimes that’s true in life. Other times you can say practically it just became such a distraction that we’re not going to do even though we don’t think – very, very clearly, we don’t think we did anything wrong at all. We thought we did everything appropriately. But why go through the hassle. Let’s just get back to business. So, that’s what was governing our thinking.”</p> </blockquote> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/32110182745_74072618e4_z.jpg" alt="de Blasio press conference smile" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Heading into 2017, his re-election year, Mayor Bill de Blasio moved to eliminate several “distractions,” as he called them, attempting to clean up potentially self-sabotaging messes of his first term so that he can make as clear a case as possible for a second.</p> <p>De Blasio came under fire -- and law enforcement investigations -- for behaviors that he has largely eliminated in the run-up to his re-election bid. While he can’t make the investigations, and resulting grand juries, go away by changing course, ahead of 2017 he did close his controversial political nonprofits; cut back on meetings with lobbyists; <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank">remove his top outside advisor</a> from government meetings; and create a new policy on disclosure of emails with his non-government confidantes.</p> <p>The mayor continues to maintain that he and his associates did nothing wrong, instead touting his level of disclosure and only acknowledging that he moved away from certain behaviors because they had become distractions from the work at hand.</p> <p>“I don’t think anything we did was inappropriate,” de Blasio said at a recent press conference when Gotham Gazette provided him with three examples as a pattern of behavior changes and asked if he shouldn’t have been more proactive in holding himself to the new, higher standard.</p> <p>“I do think they’ve become distractions and I’ve been honest about it,” the mayor said in reference to the Campaign for One New York, meetings with lobbyists, and including consultant Jonathan Rosen <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6643-de-blasio-limits-government-contact-with-top-outside-advisor" target="_blank">in government meetings</a>.</p> <p>The mayor said that stopping a certain behavior doesn’t always mean acknowledging it was wrong. Sometimes, he said, “you can say practically it just became such a distraction that we’re not going to do it even though we don’t think -- very, very clearly -- we don’t think we did anything wrong at all.”</p> <p>On the other hand, one ongoing distraction de Blasio has done little to defuse, leaving it on the table for his detractors, is his gym routine, whereby on many mornings he travels from Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side to his Park Slope YMCA, then to City Hall. The mayor often does not arrive at City Hall until the late morning, a major departure from his two immediate predecessors, who were known for their early arrivals and cabinet meetings. De Blasio is quick to point out that he is constantly working, including from the car and the stationary bike.</p> <p>De Blasio again gave <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mayor-not-ave-subway-not-convenient-article-1.2941819?cid=bitly" target="_blank">the tabloids</a> and his critics fodder on Monday when he said it would not make sense for him to use the new Second Avenue subway, which now gives him a subway stop fairly close to his residence, to get to work because he often goes to Brooklyn first.</p> <p>Candidates who have already started their campaigns to unseat de Blasio regularly cite the mayor’s ethical, legal, and management challenges. The Campaign for One New York, meetings with lobbyists, his gym habits, and more are touchpoints hit in early campaigning by Democrats Sal Albanese and Tony Avella, and Republican Paul Massey.</p> <p>While in 2015 the mayor addressed a major problem and distraction from real city business of his first year when he started to regularly arrive on-time to events, he has not moved to eliminate the gym distraction. When presented with that discrepancy on social media in September, a top de Blasio aide explained the difference. Eric Phillips, the press secretary, <a href="https://twitter.com/EricFPhillips/status/778609032563191808" target="_blank">called</a> being late “a process problem, not a worldview.” He added, “One's fixable, the other doesn't need to be.”</p> <p>“I think he’s lazy and he’s mired in conflicts of interest,” said Albanese, a former City Council member from Brooklyn who’s run for mayor twice before, on NY1’s Inside City Hall.</p> <p>“When you're the mayor, you're a city manager, you're responsible for all the agencies, and I don't think the mayor is paying any attention to running the city,” said Avella, a state Senator from Queens, during his Inside City Hall campaign-launch appearance.</p> <p>The gym and other criticisms withstanding, unless there are criminal charges brought against his top aides or the mayor himself, de Blasio is going to be very tough to beat in 2017.</p> <p>During a soft launch period of his re-election bid, he’s rolled out early endorsements from several labor unions and elected officials. He and his team are focused on securing his Democratic base of white progressives and people of color -- if he can get his base to turn out strong, he’ll be a lock in the primary and a heavy favorite in the general. The city is experiencing low crime and high employment, and de Blasio has instituted universal pre-kindergarten, new affordable housing requirements, and other significant policies.</p> <p>It is still to be seen which other opponents may emerge, and whether Albanese, Avella, or Massey can show enough campaigning, policy, and fundraising potency to be considered a legitimate threat.</p> <p>While de Blasio’s 2017 opponents and other critics will continue to point to the “distractions” that the mayor has worked to remove from the equation, de Blasio is likely to maintain that he and his associates did everything above board -- and in the interest of noble causes like pre-K -- and point out that he went above and beyond legal requirements with openness on things like donors to his aligned nonprofits and meetings with lobbyists.</p> <p>“I have said thousands of times that disclosure is the main street of this whole issue – in all this, everything we’re talking about,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette last week at the news conference. “We proactively disclosed situations where city-registered lobbyists lobbied me on a city matter. No previous mayor ever did that. We did it proactively. Not because you guys were clamoring for it. We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do. I had done that previously as public advocate.”</p> <p>The mayor continued:</p> <blockquote> <p>“We proactively – not because the law required it – disclosed donations, for example, Campaign for One New York. I believe that if the disclosure is there it is a further guarantee of the public’s ability and the media’s ability to look into the situation. I never felt in any of those meetings that I had that anything was inappropriate because I listened and I’m going to make my own choice. It has nothing to do with whether I know someone a long time or any other fact. I’m going to make the choice I think is right for the people.”</p> <p>“But it’s all out in broad daylight. So, I don’t think anything we did was inappropriate. I do think they’ve become distractions and I’ve been honest about it. And again I think – I understand why someone might say, well, wait a minute, if you stopped doing something therefore you must’ve thought it was wrong. No. That’s just not intellectually consistent. Sometimes that’s true in life. Other times you can say practically it just became such a distraction that we’re not going to do even though we don’t think – very, very clearly, we don’t think we did anything wrong at all. We thought we did everything appropriately. But why go through the hassle. Let’s just get back to business. So, that’s what was governing our thinking.”</p> </blockquote> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
2016 A Far Different Election Year for Independent Democrats 2016-07-25T04:00:00+00:00 2016-07-25T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6454:2016-a-far-different-election-year-for-independent-democrats Amanda Sherwin <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/John_Nilson.jpg" alt="John Nilson" width="600" /></p> <p>Sen. Jeff Klein (photo: John Nilsen/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The five-member Independent Democratic Conference was under siege. Mainstream Democrats, liberal activists, and the Working Families Party were out to punish IDC members for having empowered Senate Republicans and for preventing a progressive agenda from advancing in the New York State Senate. In 2014, the groups fielded candidates to challenge Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, head of the IDC, and newly-minted IDC member Tony Avella, senator of Queens, in party primaries. It began as an aggressive attempt to oust two of the five members of the IDC, including its leader.</p> <p>Leading up to the September elections, pressure mounted as former City Council Member Oliver Koppell raised cash in his bid to defeat Klein and former city Comptroller John Liu lashed into Avella for his &ldquo;betrayal.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Let&rsquo;s help a real Democrat defeat a fake one,&rdquo; read the Daily Kos&rsquo; <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/6/10/1305437/-Let-s-help-a-real-Democrat-defeat-a-fake-one-Daily-Kos-endorses-John-Liu-for-New-York-state-Senate" target="_blank">June 2014 endorsement</a> of Liu.</p> <p>But on June 26 of that year, Klein issued a joint statement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat dealing with his own challenge from the left, pledging that the IDC - made up of Sens. Klein, Avella, Diane Savino, David Valesky, and David Carlucci - would partner with mainline Democrats for a new governing coalition.</p> <p>&ldquo;Therefore all IDC members are united and agree to work together to form a new majority coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Democratic Conference after the November elections in order to deliver the results that working families across this state still need and deserve,&rdquo; Klein said in the statement.</p> <p>Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader at the time, didn&rsquo;t buy it. He issued a statement saying, &ldquo;This &lsquo;agreement&rsquo; is nothing more than a short-term political deal designed to make threatened primaries go away.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Working Families Party and mainline Democrats dropped their support for Koppell and both he and Liu were defeated.</p> <p>In 2015, Klein and the IDC continued their deal to empower Senate Republicans and carve out as much power for themselves as possible. In the following months the IDC pushed its agenda more forcefully, inserting issues like paid family leave into the Senate Republican budget proposal and advocating for a larger minimum wage increase. In the waning months of the 2015 legislative session in Albany, Klein&rsquo;s push for those issues seemed to irk Cuomo, but, in retrospect, may have helped him evolve his position on the issues.</p> <p>In 2016, paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage seemed to suddenly become Cuomo&rsquo;s top priorities despite his having dismissed them the year before. Both issues passed with bipartisan support with the new state budget on April 1.</p> <p>Now, Klein and the IDC face a strikingly different election year than in the previous cycle, even while control of the state Senate - and with it, full control of state government by Democrats - remains at stake.</p> <p>The 63-seat Senate is currently made up of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. However, Republicans maintain control and are able to appoint Sen. John Flanagan as majority leader thanks to the support of Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, and the five members of the IDC, who have a coalition agreement with the GOP.</p> <p>Heading toward this year&rsquo;s elections, The Working Families Party has not made much noise in opposition to the IDC. Senate Democrats, even those with the most resentment toward the IDC, admit relations with the IDC have improved drastically and hold out hope that Klein will switch sides in 2017. The general perception of the IDC as obstructionists has all but dissipated. Bad feelings still fester and trust is hard to come by, but this year two IDC members may face challenges only from Republican candidates.</p> <p>&ldquo;Last time I was approached a year before by Senator [Michael] Gianaris and the Working Families Party, but both pulled their support along with the mayor and governor after Klein pledged he'd go back to the Democrats,&rdquo; Koppell told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview, referring to the head of the mainline Democrats&rsquo; Senate campaign committee, Gianaris, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo. &ldquo;No one approached me this time,&rdquo; Koppell added, noting that he would not have run anyway.</p> <p>Asked about their relationship with the IDC, the WFP sent Gotham Gazette a statement from state director Bill Lipton. "Given that the IDC and [mainline] Dems share views on so many issues, it's always been our hope that Democrats could unite to better represent working families in the State Senate,&rdquo; it says.</p> <p>The Senate Democratic Conference did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Sen. Savino, an IDC member who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said she thinks advocates and Senate Democrats &ldquo;took a step back and asked &lsquo;what are they trying to accomplish, and what did they accomplish? What was the IDC advocating?&rsquo; and they saw it is for things like medical marijuana, dealing with the foreclosure crisis, paid family leave, and increasing the minimum wage.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein told Gotham Gazette that the last two years have proven out his rationale for the IDC as it successfully achieved major progressive victories through bipartisan negotiation.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think I said all along since we formed six years ago that we wanted to use the IDC as a vehicle for change and the only way we would be able to achieve it is in a bipartisan fashion,&rdquo; Klein said in an interview. He pointed to the gridlock in Washington and noted that there are &ldquo;sit-ins&rdquo; in Congress over gun control while &ldquo;We passed the SAFE Act here in New York with bipartisan support.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein noted that it took time and consistent advocacy to move not only the $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave but other IDC priorities like the zombie properties bill, which gives homeowners more rights to fight foreclosure while expediting the foreclosure process on abandoned properties, and legislation to stop the sale of synthetic drugs.</p> <p>Koppell said he thinks the passage of the minimum wage and family leave changed perceptions of the IDC. &ldquo;I think it reduces blame the IDC faces for being obstructionists. The Republicans stopped blocking some things and it helps the IDC,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Just before the primary election in September 2014, Koppell, reeling from the loss of WFP and mainline Democratic support, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5299-koppell-promises-idc-death-sentence-if-elected-klein" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that if he was victorious it would mean the IDC was &ldquo;dead.&rdquo;</p> <p>"I will tell them they can come back as full-fledged Democrats and if not, I will tell them: 'as far as I am concerned, you will have a primary opponent and I will finance it,&rsquo;&rdquo; Koppell said at the time.</p> <p>Five members and staffers of the mainline Senate Democratic Conference told Gotham Gazette that relations between their conference and the IDC are significantly better now and that lines of communication have been established ahead of possible Democratic victories in the fall elections. Democrats are hoping that a presidential election year surge in voter turnout will help them retake the chamber.</p> <p>Asked about an improving relationship, Klein was quick to praise Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. &ldquo;I said early on that the IDC is not an exclusive club and it isn&rsquo;t about us, it is about governing. It is hard to say we didn&rsquo;t get things done this year. It&rsquo;s been fantastic working with Senator Flanagan. He has been more focused on policy than any other Republican leader.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein also noted that he worked well with Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in efforts to pass the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and other priorities. &ldquo;I worked extremely well this year with Senator John Flanagan and yes, this session we were able to work well with Andrea Stewart-Cousins - it is a much better relationship, but I think the Republican Conference has been even better and a lot of credit has to go to the relationship with Senator Flanagan, again.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked to comment on Flanagan&rsquo;s relationship with Klein, a spokesperson for Flanagan, Scott Reif, said, &ldquo;People want Democrats and Republicans to work together to get results, and that's exactly what Senate Republicans and the IDC have been able to achieve for the citizens of New York. Senator Flanagan enjoys a strong working relationship with Senator Klein, and he has tremendous respect for him as a legislator and as a leader."</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, said Democrats should temper their hopes that Klein will bring the IDC in their direction. &ldquo;I&rsquo;d be very wary about any deal. This is politics, don&rsquo;t assume anything is based on principle, it&rsquo;s based on &lsquo;What am I gonna get?&rsquo;,&rdquo; Muzzio said.</p> <p>Savino agreed that relationships with Senate Democrats have improved. &ldquo;The rhetoric between the IDC and Senate Democrats has been toned down,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You don't see the same nasty comments. There&rsquo;s been a softening of hardline stances across the board. But tell me who would have predicted that a $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave would have gotten done while Senate Republicans control the Senate?&rdquo;</p> <p>With all the successes and warm feelings toward Flanagan, Klein did note that one of the IDC&rsquo;s top priorities for last session and next, campaign finance reform, was blocked by Senate Republicans. Klein said he is &ldquo;optimistic&rdquo; that Republicans might be willing to move campaign finance legislation next year.</p> <p>Earlier this month, the IDC worked with the Independence Party to <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-senate-dems-create-campaign-committee-article-1.2697878" target="_blank">create a campaign committee</a> that will allow the IDC to funnel cash to their candidates. Klein said that this year the focus will be on defending IDC members Avella and Carlucci from general election challenges, but in the future it could be used to advance new IDC members and political positions. &ldquo;I really want to try to use this campaign committee as a vehicle for change,&rdquo; Klein said, adding that he may create a ten-point litmus test for candidates who seek the IDC&rsquo;s support. He said backing campaign finance reform would be a part of any test.</p> <p>As the battle for control of the Senate plays out, Democrats say they will continue to keep open lines of communication with Klein and the rest of the IDC in hopes that they will be inclined to rejoin the fold. There is no doubt that major resentment still exists - it appears Minority Leader Stewart-Cousins has led the communications with the IDC while Sen. Gianaris, chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, has remained on the sidelines. Gianaris and Klein have a notoriously bad relationship.</p> <p>Savino said she isn&rsquo;t sure how things will play out in November. &ldquo;A week is a lifetime in politics. I think the Democrats will win some seats, but I don&rsquo;t think anyone can predict what is going to happen this election cycle,&rdquo; she told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;I think the things that happened nationally during this election cycle have made experts throw out what they think they know about politics. There is a lot of middle class anger and I&rsquo;m not sure how that trickles down into local races.&rdquo;</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/John_Nilson.jpg" alt="John Nilson" width="600" /></p> <p>Sen. Jeff Klein (photo: John Nilsen/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The five-member Independent Democratic Conference was under siege. Mainstream Democrats, liberal activists, and the Working Families Party were out to punish IDC members for having empowered Senate Republicans and for preventing a progressive agenda from advancing in the New York State Senate. In 2014, the groups fielded candidates to challenge Bronx Senator Jeff Klein, head of the IDC, and newly-minted IDC member Tony Avella, senator of Queens, in party primaries. It began as an aggressive attempt to oust two of the five members of the IDC, including its leader.</p> <p>Leading up to the September elections, pressure mounted as former City Council Member Oliver Koppell raised cash in his bid to defeat Klein and former city Comptroller John Liu lashed into Avella for his &ldquo;betrayal.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;Let&rsquo;s help a real Democrat defeat a fake one,&rdquo; read the Daily Kos&rsquo; <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/6/10/1305437/-Let-s-help-a-real-Democrat-defeat-a-fake-one-Daily-Kos-endorses-John-Liu-for-New-York-state-Senate" target="_blank">June 2014 endorsement</a> of Liu.</p> <p>But on June 26 of that year, Klein issued a joint statement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat dealing with his own challenge from the left, pledging that the IDC - made up of Sens. Klein, Avella, Diane Savino, David Valesky, and David Carlucci - would partner with mainline Democrats for a new governing coalition.</p> <p>&ldquo;Therefore all IDC members are united and agree to work together to form a new majority coalition between the Independent Democratic Conference and the Senate Democratic Conference after the November elections in order to deliver the results that working families across this state still need and deserve,&rdquo; Klein said in the statement.</p> <p>Dean Skelos, the Republican Senate majority leader at the time, didn&rsquo;t buy it. He issued a statement saying, &ldquo;This &lsquo;agreement&rsquo; is nothing more than a short-term political deal designed to make threatened primaries go away.&rdquo;</p> <p>The Working Families Party and mainline Democrats dropped their support for Koppell and both he and Liu were defeated.</p> <p>In 2015, Klein and the IDC continued their deal to empower Senate Republicans and carve out as much power for themselves as possible. In the following months the IDC pushed its agenda more forcefully, inserting issues like paid family leave into the Senate Republican budget proposal and advocating for a larger minimum wage increase. In the waning months of the 2015 legislative session in Albany, Klein&rsquo;s push for those issues seemed to irk Cuomo, but, in retrospect, may have helped him evolve his position on the issues.</p> <p>In 2016, paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage seemed to suddenly become Cuomo&rsquo;s top priorities despite his having dismissed them the year before. Both issues passed with bipartisan support with the new state budget on April 1.</p> <p>Now, Klein and the IDC face a strikingly different election year than in the previous cycle, even while control of the state Senate - and with it, full control of state government by Democrats - remains at stake.</p> <p>The 63-seat Senate is currently made up of 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. However, Republicans maintain control and are able to appoint Sen. John Flanagan as majority leader thanks to the support of Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, and the five members of the IDC, who have a coalition agreement with the GOP.</p> <p>Heading toward this year&rsquo;s elections, The Working Families Party has not made much noise in opposition to the IDC. Senate Democrats, even those with the most resentment toward the IDC, admit relations with the IDC have improved drastically and hold out hope that Klein will switch sides in 2017. The general perception of the IDC as obstructionists has all but dissipated. Bad feelings still fester and trust is hard to come by, but this year two IDC members may face challenges only from Republican candidates.</p> <p>&ldquo;Last time I was approached a year before by Senator [Michael] Gianaris and the Working Families Party, but both pulled their support along with the mayor and governor after Klein pledged he'd go back to the Democrats,&rdquo; Koppell told Gotham Gazette in a recent interview, referring to the head of the mainline Democrats&rsquo; Senate campaign committee, Gianaris, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo. &ldquo;No one approached me this time,&rdquo; Koppell added, noting that he would not have run anyway.</p> <p>Asked about their relationship with the IDC, the WFP sent Gotham Gazette a statement from state director Bill Lipton. "Given that the IDC and [mainline] Dems share views on so many issues, it's always been our hope that Democrats could unite to better represent working families in the State Senate,&rdquo; it says.</p> <p>The Senate Democratic Conference did not respond to a request for comment.</p> <p>Sen. Savino, an IDC member who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island, said she thinks advocates and Senate Democrats &ldquo;took a step back and asked &lsquo;what are they trying to accomplish, and what did they accomplish? What was the IDC advocating?&rsquo; and they saw it is for things like medical marijuana, dealing with the foreclosure crisis, paid family leave, and increasing the minimum wage.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein told Gotham Gazette that the last two years have proven out his rationale for the IDC as it successfully achieved major progressive victories through bipartisan negotiation.</p> <p>&ldquo;I think I said all along since we formed six years ago that we wanted to use the IDC as a vehicle for change and the only way we would be able to achieve it is in a bipartisan fashion,&rdquo; Klein said in an interview. He pointed to the gridlock in Washington and noted that there are &ldquo;sit-ins&rdquo; in Congress over gun control while &ldquo;We passed the SAFE Act here in New York with bipartisan support.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein noted that it took time and consistent advocacy to move not only the $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave but other IDC priorities like the zombie properties bill, which gives homeowners more rights to fight foreclosure while expediting the foreclosure process on abandoned properties, and legislation to stop the sale of synthetic drugs.</p> <p>Koppell said he thinks the passage of the minimum wage and family leave changed perceptions of the IDC. &ldquo;I think it reduces blame the IDC faces for being obstructionists. The Republicans stopped blocking some things and it helps the IDC,&rdquo; he said.</p> <p>Just before the primary election in September 2014, Koppell, reeling from the loss of WFP and mainline Democratic support, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5299-koppell-promises-idc-death-sentence-if-elected-klein" target="_blank">told Gotham Gazette</a> that if he was victorious it would mean the IDC was &ldquo;dead.&rdquo;</p> <p>"I will tell them they can come back as full-fledged Democrats and if not, I will tell them: 'as far as I am concerned, you will have a primary opponent and I will finance it,&rsquo;&rdquo; Koppell said at the time.</p> <p>Five members and staffers of the mainline Senate Democratic Conference told Gotham Gazette that relations between their conference and the IDC are significantly better now and that lines of communication have been established ahead of possible Democratic victories in the fall elections. Democrats are hoping that a presidential election year surge in voter turnout will help them retake the chamber.</p> <p>Asked about an improving relationship, Klein was quick to praise Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. &ldquo;I said early on that the IDC is not an exclusive club and it isn&rsquo;t about us, it is about governing. It is hard to say we didn&rsquo;t get things done this year. It&rsquo;s been fantastic working with Senator Flanagan. He has been more focused on policy than any other Republican leader.&rdquo;</p> <p>Klein also noted that he worked well with Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in efforts to pass the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and other priorities. &ldquo;I worked extremely well this year with Senator John Flanagan and yes, this session we were able to work well with Andrea Stewart-Cousins - it is a much better relationship, but I think the Republican Conference has been even better and a lot of credit has to go to the relationship with Senator Flanagan, again.&rdquo;</p> <p>Asked to comment on Flanagan&rsquo;s relationship with Klein, a spokesperson for Flanagan, Scott Reif, said, &ldquo;People want Democrats and Republicans to work together to get results, and that's exactly what Senate Republicans and the IDC have been able to achieve for the citizens of New York. Senator Flanagan enjoys a strong working relationship with Senator Klein, and he has tremendous respect for him as a legislator and as a leader."</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, said Democrats should temper their hopes that Klein will bring the IDC in their direction. &ldquo;I&rsquo;d be very wary about any deal. This is politics, don&rsquo;t assume anything is based on principle, it&rsquo;s based on &lsquo;What am I gonna get?&rsquo;,&rdquo; Muzzio said.</p> <p>Savino agreed that relationships with Senate Democrats have improved. &ldquo;The rhetoric between the IDC and Senate Democrats has been toned down,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;You don't see the same nasty comments. There&rsquo;s been a softening of hardline stances across the board. But tell me who would have predicted that a $15 minimum wage increase and paid family leave would have gotten done while Senate Republicans control the Senate?&rdquo;</p> <p>With all the successes and warm feelings toward Flanagan, Klein did note that one of the IDC&rsquo;s top priorities for last session and next, campaign finance reform, was blocked by Senate Republicans. Klein said he is &ldquo;optimistic&rdquo; that Republicans might be willing to move campaign finance legislation next year.</p> <p>Earlier this month, the IDC worked with the Independence Party to <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-senate-dems-create-campaign-committee-article-1.2697878" target="_blank">create a campaign committee</a> that will allow the IDC to funnel cash to their candidates. Klein said that this year the focus will be on defending IDC members Avella and Carlucci from general election challenges, but in the future it could be used to advance new IDC members and political positions. &ldquo;I really want to try to use this campaign committee as a vehicle for change,&rdquo; Klein said, adding that he may create a ten-point litmus test for candidates who seek the IDC&rsquo;s support. He said backing campaign finance reform would be a part of any test.</p> <p>As the battle for control of the Senate plays out, Democrats say they will continue to keep open lines of communication with Klein and the rest of the IDC in hopes that they will be inclined to rejoin the fold. There is no doubt that major resentment still exists - it appears Minority Leader Stewart-Cousins has led the communications with the IDC while Sen. Gianaris, chair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, has remained on the sidelines. Gianaris and Klein have a notoriously bad relationship.</p> <p>Savino said she isn&rsquo;t sure how things will play out in November. &ldquo;A week is a lifetime in politics. I think the Democrats will win some seats, but I don&rsquo;t think anyone can predict what is going to happen this election cycle,&rdquo; she told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;I think the things that happened nationally during this election cycle have made experts throw out what they think they know about politics. There is a lot of middle class anger and I&rsquo;m not sure how that trickles down into local races.&rdquo;</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York’s Next Climate and Community Protections 2016-06-15T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6397:new-york-s-next-climate-and-community-protections Amanda Sherwin <p><img alt="NYRenews3" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2015/NYRenews3.jpg" height="400" width="600" /></p> <hr /> <p>A major shift in the climate debate is taking place across New York and a new front in the discussion is emerging. No longer faraway images of drowning polar bears and epic glacial melt, climate change has moved into our own backyards, devastating our local neighborhoods. And no one knows this better than New York’s working families.</p> <p>Extreme weather destroys upstate farmers’ crops and keeps hourly employees from getting to work. Air pollution exacerbates chronic health conditions, triggering asthma attacks and other health problems, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. And when a major storm hits, working families, particularly those from communities of color, are the last to see relief.</p> <p>What once was solely an environmental debate for some has been transformed into an economic and social justice one. The frontlines of the crisis have made this so.</p> <p>It was especially apparent here in New York during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Both storms caused massive flooding, knocked out power and water supplies, and displaced tens of thousands of families. Long-standing issues with toxic mold were revealed and compounded, and rodent infestations surged.</p> <p>These problems were uncovered and exacerbated by storms like Irene and Sandy but they were not new. Policy choices and disinvestment in infrastructure over the last decade have caused working families across New York to live in an ongoing state of neglect, putting them at a disproportionate risk during major weather events.</p> <p>But our future is not written in stone, and it’s time we bring justice and opportunity to the working people who are most impacted by climate change.</p> <p>That’s why a coalition of more than 70 organizations including the most influential community leaders, grassroots activists, unions, and environmental justice advocates have banded together to stem the tide of climate change in New York. They are workers, immigrants, and people of color from both upstate and downstate New York. And they are throwing their support behind the strongest climate protection bill in the country – the NYS Climate &amp; Community Protection Act (<a target="_blank" href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A10342&amp;term=2015">A.10342</a>/<a target="_blank" href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S8005">S.8005</a>).</p> <p>This bill would make Governor Cuomo’s climate and clean energy commitments legally enforceable and set specific benchmarks and reporting requirements to ensure emissions reductions and rapid deployment of clean, renewable energy. And it would ensure the new clean energy economy creates good jobs by applying a prevailing wage to both construction and operations projects that include energy spending. In short, it would clean our air, improve our health, make our communities safer, and create new opportunities with a next-generation green economy.</p> <p>The NYS Climate &amp; Community Protection Act recently passed the state Assembly after a massive convergence of New Yorkers at the state Capitol demanded lawmakers support the bill. It is now being moved through the state Senate by Senator Diane Savino, who championed the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-community-risk-and-resiliency-act">2014 Community Risk and Resiliency Act</a> that was signed into law just after the People's Climate March, along with cosponsors Senators Tony Avella and Brad Hoylman.</p> <p>We have an opportunity right now to set an example for the rest of the country to follow. The time is now for New York to rise to the occasion and make our state the gold standard for clean, renewable energy. That’s why we’re calling on Governor Cuomo and the rest of the state’s lawmakers to see this bill through, so New Yorkers get the climate change protections they need and New York gets the next-generation green economy it deserves.</p> <p>***<br />Elizabeth Yeampierre is executive director of <a target="_blank" href="http://uprose.org/">UPROSE</a>. On Twitter <a target="_blank" href="https://twitter.com/yeampierre?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor">@yeampierre</a>.<br />Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez is president of the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nysna.org/">New York State Nurses Association</a>. On Twitter <a target="_blank" href="https://twitter.com/nynurses">@NYSNA</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img alt="NYRenews3" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2015/NYRenews3.jpg" height="400" width="600" /></p> <hr /> <p>A major shift in the climate debate is taking place across New York and a new front in the discussion is emerging. No longer faraway images of drowning polar bears and epic glacial melt, climate change has moved into our own backyards, devastating our local neighborhoods. And no one knows this better than New York’s working families.</p> <p>Extreme weather destroys upstate farmers’ crops and keeps hourly employees from getting to work. Air pollution exacerbates chronic health conditions, triggering asthma attacks and other health problems, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. And when a major storm hits, working families, particularly those from communities of color, are the last to see relief.</p> <p>What once was solely an environmental debate for some has been transformed into an economic and social justice one. The frontlines of the crisis have made this so.</p> <p>It was especially apparent here in New York during Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy. Both storms caused massive flooding, knocked out power and water supplies, and displaced tens of thousands of families. Long-standing issues with toxic mold were revealed and compounded, and rodent infestations surged.</p> <p>These problems were uncovered and exacerbated by storms like Irene and Sandy but they were not new. Policy choices and disinvestment in infrastructure over the last decade have caused working families across New York to live in an ongoing state of neglect, putting them at a disproportionate risk during major weather events.</p> <p>But our future is not written in stone, and it’s time we bring justice and opportunity to the working people who are most impacted by climate change.</p> <p>That’s why a coalition of more than 70 organizations including the most influential community leaders, grassroots activists, unions, and environmental justice advocates have banded together to stem the tide of climate change in New York. They are workers, immigrants, and people of color from both upstate and downstate New York. And they are throwing their support behind the strongest climate protection bill in the country – the NYS Climate &amp; Community Protection Act (<a target="_blank" href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?bn=A10342&amp;term=2015">A.10342</a>/<a target="_blank" href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S8005">S.8005</a>).</p> <p>This bill would make Governor Cuomo’s climate and clean energy commitments legally enforceable and set specific benchmarks and reporting requirements to ensure emissions reductions and rapid deployment of clean, renewable energy. And it would ensure the new clean energy economy creates good jobs by applying a prevailing wage to both construction and operations projects that include energy spending. In short, it would clean our air, improve our health, make our communities safer, and create new opportunities with a next-generation green economy.</p> <p>The NYS Climate &amp; Community Protection Act recently passed the state Assembly after a massive convergence of New Yorkers at the state Capitol demanded lawmakers support the bill. It is now being moved through the state Senate by Senator Diane Savino, who championed the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-community-risk-and-resiliency-act">2014 Community Risk and Resiliency Act</a> that was signed into law just after the People's Climate March, along with cosponsors Senators Tony Avella and Brad Hoylman.</p> <p>We have an opportunity right now to set an example for the rest of the country to follow. The time is now for New York to rise to the occasion and make our state the gold standard for clean, renewable energy. That’s why we’re calling on Governor Cuomo and the rest of the state’s lawmakers to see this bill through, so New Yorkers get the climate change protections they need and New York gets the next-generation green economy it deserves.</p> <p>***<br />Elizabeth Yeampierre is executive director of <a target="_blank" href="http://uprose.org/">UPROSE</a>. On Twitter <a target="_blank" href="https://twitter.com/yeampierre?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor">@yeampierre</a>.<br />Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez is president of the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nysna.org/">New York State Nurses Association</a>. On Twitter <a target="_blank" href="https://twitter.com/nynurses">@NYSNA</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Why Don’t We Ever Hear About Commercial Rent Policy? 2015-07-01T05:01:01+00:00 2015-07-01T05:01:01+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5792:why-dont-we-ever-hear-about-commercial-rent-policy Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/levine_small_biz.jpg" alt="levine small biz" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Council Member Levine &amp; co outside an evicted business (photo: @MarkLevineNYC)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>Mid-June, it was a block in Washington Heights that was poised to be the next to close up shop. The landlord, Coltown Properties, looked to evict the mostly Latino-owned stores on the street, which included a barbershop, restaurant, and income tax service. The store proprietors faced the same issue as many other small business owners in New York — there was nothing they could do.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Collectively, the businesses on this block have been in operation for over 80 years,” local City Council Member Mark Levine said at a press conference on 162nd Street and Broadway. “At a time when unemployment rates in our neighborhood are disproportionately high, these businesses are vital to the economic livelihood of this area.” Levine’s office is partnering with Legal Aid Society to provide legal assistance to small businesses in his district.</p> <p dir="ltr">This is New York today, the plight of the city’s small businesses is grumpily accepted like a late train. It’s perceived by many New Yorkers as a part of the city grind, the dog-eat-dog, if-you-can-afford-it-here-you-can-afford-it-anywhere reality of a town teeming with opportunity, but becoming evermore competitive - and expensive.</p> <p dir="ltr">Echoing all too quietly in the halls of both city and state government, the average retail rent in Manhattan has risen <a href="http://www.rebny.com/content/dam/rebny/Documents/PDF/News/Research/Retail%20Reports/Fall2014_Retail_Report.pdf" target="_blank">22 percent </a>over the past decade, causing a sprawl of small businesses to relocate or simply close. It is a disease that’s spread to Brooklyn too.</p> <p dir="ltr">As news and debate over residential rent regulation dominated Albany and New York City over the past several months, what happens on a daily basis to small businesses throughout the city tends to fall by the wayside. Commercial tenants have far less protection against sudden rent increases than residents do, and now, that deficit is playing out in pockets of the city at an increasingly rapid pace. In <a href="http://www.city-journal.org/2015/25_2_snd-small-businesses.html" target="_blank">comes another</a> Chase, next to the new Duane Reade.</p> <p dir="ltr">Depending on who you ask, the reasons vary as to why elected officials in New York and Albany have acted — or, to some advocates, failed — on reforming commercial rent policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">“No one is lobbying the state Legislature for commercial rent control, so obviously legislators are not thinking about the issue,” Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC, says. “I am not even aware that there is a bill that would provide protections to small businesses.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As it stands, the only bill in the New York State government that pertains to commercial rent in New York City is the “Small Business Survival Act,” <a href="http://www.timesledger.com/stories/2013/26/smallbizbill_all_2013_06_28_q.html" target="_blank">first</a> proposed by Senator Tony Avella of Queens in 2013. It aims to level the playing field between tenant and landlord by mandating arbitration privileges to small businesses. Landlords must follow certain criteria when setting a lease, and the commercial tenant has more time in negotiations. “The current commercial rental market results in unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive leases for the payment of rent for commercial space in New York City,” the bill <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=S01040&amp;term=2015&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank">reads</a>. As of this legislative session, it has not seen a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The more common small business bills that do exist are like the resources offered by the city and state’s economic development agencies: they seek to provide clarity with forms, regulations, and other bureaucratic nuances that come attached to opening and operating a small business in a tax- and rule-heavy state. The same situation stands in the Business Council, the most prominent lobby for businesses in Albany. Providing commercial tenants with some sort of leverage in lease negotiations did not make its 2015 ‘Top Ten Objectives’ <a href="http://www.bcnys.org/inside/gac/2015/Fix-New-York-2015-Legislative-and-Regulatory-Agenda.pdf" target="_blank">list</a>, or the webpage for its <a href="http://www.bcnys.org/inside/smallbusiness.htm" target="_blank">subdivision</a> of small businesses. Rejecting a higher minimum wage did, though.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If there is ever to be any movement on this issue, folks have to organize,” McKee said, talking with Gotham Gazette while he was in the midst of yet another major push to influence tenant rent regulations being set by lawmakers in Albany and the city’s rent guidelines board.</p> <p dir="ltr">As many can attest, it is especially tough to compete against what is, without a doubt, the most powerful force in New York politics: real estate. This is a business community that spends millions every year on political campaigns; the contributions of one of its biggest entities, the Real Estate Board, made up a tenth of the entire state’s campaign money <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/04/8566024/rebny-members-gave-tenth-all-ny-campaign-money" target="_blank">last election cycle</a>. And that’s just one group.</p> <p dir="ltr">To James Parrott, the deputy director and chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, that wealth of influence explains the radio silence both down- and up-state, among Democrats and Republicans, on an issue that directly threatens real estate hegemony. Reasoning seems to be that if small businesses had more protections against space-seeking developers, it would cut into the pace and profits of the city’s longstanding natural order. Landlords either want to charge more for commercial space or developers want tenants out so they can sell or demolish and build anew.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The real estate community has always been aggressive in campaign contributions,” Parrott explains. “And, by doing so, they’ve successfully prevented anything that would restrict them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">This, of course, includes commercial tenant rights. Parrott makes a key point: in a state government where the recently former Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader of the State Senate are both indicted for <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/nyregion/big-names-in-new-york-real-estate-figure-into-skelos-and-silver-cases.html" target="_blank">crimes involving real estate’s influence</a>, it’s hard to believe a bill called the Small Business Survival Act would even last a day. Not to mention the probe into the abrupt closing of the Moreland Commission by Governor Andrew Cuomo; an investigation that is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/nyregion/governor-andrew-cuomo-and-the-short-life-of-the-moreland-commission.html" target="_blank">specifically looking</a> into tax breaks for huge developers.</p> <p dir="ltr">City government is not excluded, either, Parrott argues.</p> <p dir="ltr">The tale of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (better known as the SBJSA) in the City Council is a long yet uneventful one. Basically, the bill — which, in structure, is very similar to its upstate counterpart — has been floating around the chambers of City Hall since 2008. (Last year, Gotham Gazette&nbsp;dove into its <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5155-new-york-city-small-business-crisis-continues" target="_blank">reintroduction</a>.) It would let commercial tenants have the right to lease renewal ten years or more. If a landlord wants to raise rent, mediation with the tenant would be mandated, and, if the parties don’t come to an agreement, an arbitrator would make the final decision.</p> <p dir="ltr">In essence, it is a flexing of New York City’s <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/nyregion/justices-cite-vague-rule-twice-this-month.html" target="_blank">municipal home rule</a>, which allows the Council to bypass Albany and regulate commercial code on its own turf. Similar proposals have existed in the Council for decades now, but all have met the same fate: failure. No surprise, Parrott says: the power of real estate is as strong in the city as it is upstate, if not stronger. Also, past mayors and council speakers have strongly sided with that community, meaning any bill is unlikely to ever see a vote, and even if passed by Council, likely vetoed.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, to <a href="http://thevillager.com/2015/03/12/forum-on-small-businesses-offers-a-solution-within-reach/" target="_blank">tenant advocates</a>, this time around offers hope. Finally, they argue, a legislative body and a mayor progressive enough to actually take up the issue. At least on paper.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Historically, the deference to Albany has served as a smokescreen/distraction for elected city officials to validate their appalling inaction on issues that they, in all actuality, have complete control over,” Kirsten Theodos, a spokesperson for Take Back NYC, a grassroots advocacy group for tenants and subset of the larger group Save NYC, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Right now, the SBJSA has <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1825175&amp;GUID=AFE9C183-5929-43FB-80AE-C7595CB610BD&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">19 City Council sponsors</a> in a 51-member boday. Seeing the bill heard at a committee hearing and then brought to a vote is unlikely, and would probably first require a number of additional sponors signing on (Council members can support a bill without co-sponsoring, but sponsorship levels show strength). To land those additional sponsors, Theodos hopes that situations like the eviction of businesses in Washington Heights will shed light on the issue. When asked if Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who endorsed the bill before becoming speaker, would support the bill now, a spokesperson pointed to remarks made by Mark-Viverito to <a href="http://thevillager.com/2015/06/04/speaker-commits-to-hold-a-hearing-on-s-b-j-s-a/" target="_blank">The Villager</a> in late May. She did not provide an endorsement of the bill then, but mentioned an argument that has been repeatedly made by the real estate community in the past: that the SBJSA is illegal.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The bill gets introduced once the [Council] staff do their due diligence,” the Speaker said. “Then there are hearings to hear from all sides. And then we figure out what the next steps will be — because sometimes options are being explored that legally we don’t have the ability to implement as a city or as a legislative council.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, in&nbsp;Gotham Gazette, the president of the Real Estate Board, Steven Spinola, called the bill an “unconstitutional intrusion” on property owners. A spokesperson for the Board told me this position hasn’t changed. Essentially, the board believes it is not in the Council’s jurisdiction to regulate commercial tenants. Home rule doesn’t apply here, they say.</p> <p dir="ltr">Theodos stresses that this is not true; SBJSA would target the negotiations process, she says, and not install commercial rent control. The legal counsel to the Small Business Congress, a coalition of tenant advocates, supported this argument last year, citing Supreme Court decisions that enable local autonomy.</p> <p dir="ltr">As a member of the City Council, Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the SBJSA, but he has remained relatively mum on the bill since entering his current office. For many advocates, the hope is that he’ll extend <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/08/nyregion/de-blasio-prods-new-york-state-on-housing-laws.html?ref=topics" target="_blank">the drive</a> that he has recently demonstrated around housing rent regulations in Albany to the parallel issue for small businesses. However, although he was elected on a ‘helping the little guy’ message and a promise to embrace them, small business owners and their allies also worry that his <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/06/nyregion/mayor-bill-de-blasio-and-developer-rob-speyer-are-close-but-not-on-affordable-housing.html" target="_blank">tendency to meet</a> with representatives from the Real Estate Board and other commercial heavyweights threatens his adherence to their cause. Holding an office that naturally attracts real estate interests, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito has also <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/09/8552146/mark-viverito-introduces-herself-big-developers" target="_blank">met</a> with REBNY heads. While neither de Blasio nor Mark-Viverito appears especially cozy with real estate titans, neither has pushed directly on the commerical rent issue either.</p> <p dir="ltr">That isn’t to say nothing has been done by the de Blasio administration to help small business owners since he took office in January of 2014, though. His office’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is spending <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20150217/BLOGS04/150219891/mayor-vows-again-to-cut-small-biz-red-tape" target="_blank">upwards of $27 million</a> to streamline and defuse the regulatory process and, with the Department of Consumer Affairs, made sure that fewer fines are handed out to small businesses that can barely afford rent. More importantly, SBS has rolled out initiatives aimed at providing pro bono legal services to small businesses in lease negotiations; a policy which will soon expand, SBS spokesperson Merideth Weber told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are working to roll out additional programs that span the range of supports we can provide including education, assistance, and tools that can help businesses avoid pitfalls in leases, and make the retail market more transparent,” Weber said in a statement.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked if the mayor supports SBJSA, Weber responded, “We’re reviewing the bill and this administration is working on a comprehensive plan to ensure that small businesses have the tools and resources they need to compete in an ever-changing marketplace.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, tenant advocates argue that these measures dance around the main issue: that small businesses have no legal powers against immediate evictions or rent gouging. In a hyper-developing environment reaching further into several boroughs, small business owners are often defenseless. With a state government not inclined to act on commercial rent policy in New York City, and a city bill that, for now at least, is on the back burner of the Council agenda, the urgency stressed by owners and advocates doesn’t seem to be resonating here nor there.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Mark Levine, who spoke out against the eviction of the small businesses on a block in Washington Heights, in his district, says that there are other options that can help stem the tide of closing small businesses. And these, he said, do not necessarily require either a dying bill or a dead government. “Albany is not acting in any domain, really,” he quickly noted.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city government, Levina argues, could set an example by not renting out its own real estate to chain stores. Also, zoning laws can be regulated in order to prevent chains and encourage small businesses — a policy that Columbia University has undertaken in Morningside Heights, Levine said. He added that the city should look into preventing developers who receive city subsidies from renting out to chains.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the 19 sponsors of the SBJSA, Levine argues that the city needs to set out a structure in which commercial tenants can have enough time whereby they are properly notified of a lease change. He also referred to a bill recently introduced by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Dan Garodnick that would raise the commercial rent tax exemption in Manhattan (<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/finance/taxes/business-commercial-rent-tax-crt.page" target="_blank">below</a> 96th Street) from $250,000 to $500,000 per year. As of now, the bill has <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2324746&amp;GUID=5F1CB761-B063-4E8F-B72E-328714C639AF&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">16 sponsors</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">In terms of Albany attention, residential tenants supersede their commercial counterparts in numbers, Levine says, and the politics involved are different. But still, the council member describes challenges faced by small businesses in New York right now as a “crisis;” one that is perhaps even more alarming than the affordable housing problem, given the conditions. “There’s not much a tenant can do,” he says. “Therefore, we’re seeing dramatic changes in our streetscapes, and the scale of the problem is great.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is the mom and pop stores that make this city,” Levine said. “And the city government should be doing much, much more to protect them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br /><em><a href="https://twitter.com/JohnSurico" target="_blank">John Surico</a>&nbsp;is a freelance journalist. His reporting can be seen in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.</em></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/levine_small_biz.jpg" alt="levine small biz" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Council Member Levine &amp; co outside an evicted business (photo: @MarkLevineNYC)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>Mid-June, it was a block in Washington Heights that was poised to be the next to close up shop. The landlord, Coltown Properties, looked to evict the mostly Latino-owned stores on the street, which included a barbershop, restaurant, and income tax service. The store proprietors faced the same issue as many other small business owners in New York — there was nothing they could do.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Collectively, the businesses on this block have been in operation for over 80 years,” local City Council Member Mark Levine said at a press conference on 162nd Street and Broadway. “At a time when unemployment rates in our neighborhood are disproportionately high, these businesses are vital to the economic livelihood of this area.” Levine’s office is partnering with Legal Aid Society to provide legal assistance to small businesses in his district.</p> <p dir="ltr">This is New York today, the plight of the city’s small businesses is grumpily accepted like a late train. It’s perceived by many New Yorkers as a part of the city grind, the dog-eat-dog, if-you-can-afford-it-here-you-can-afford-it-anywhere reality of a town teeming with opportunity, but becoming evermore competitive - and expensive.</p> <p dir="ltr">Echoing all too quietly in the halls of both city and state government, the average retail rent in Manhattan has risen <a href="http://www.rebny.com/content/dam/rebny/Documents/PDF/News/Research/Retail%20Reports/Fall2014_Retail_Report.pdf" target="_blank">22 percent </a>over the past decade, causing a sprawl of small businesses to relocate or simply close. It is a disease that’s spread to Brooklyn too.</p> <p dir="ltr">As news and debate over residential rent regulation dominated Albany and New York City over the past several months, what happens on a daily basis to small businesses throughout the city tends to fall by the wayside. Commercial tenants have far less protection against sudden rent increases than residents do, and now, that deficit is playing out in pockets of the city at an increasingly rapid pace. In <a href="http://www.city-journal.org/2015/25_2_snd-small-businesses.html" target="_blank">comes another</a> Chase, next to the new Duane Reade.</p> <p dir="ltr">Depending on who you ask, the reasons vary as to why elected officials in New York and Albany have acted — or, to some advocates, failed — on reforming commercial rent policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">“No one is lobbying the state Legislature for commercial rent control, so obviously legislators are not thinking about the issue,” Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC, says. “I am not even aware that there is a bill that would provide protections to small businesses.”</p> <p dir="ltr">As it stands, the only bill in the New York State government that pertains to commercial rent in New York City is the “Small Business Survival Act,” <a href="http://www.timesledger.com/stories/2013/26/smallbizbill_all_2013_06_28_q.html" target="_blank">first</a> proposed by Senator Tony Avella of Queens in 2013. It aims to level the playing field between tenant and landlord by mandating arbitration privileges to small businesses. Landlords must follow certain criteria when setting a lease, and the commercial tenant has more time in negotiations. “The current commercial rental market results in unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive leases for the payment of rent for commercial space in New York City,” the bill <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&amp;bn=S01040&amp;term=2015&amp;Summary=Y&amp;Actions=Y&amp;Text=Y" target="_blank">reads</a>. As of this legislative session, it has not seen a vote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The more common small business bills that do exist are like the resources offered by the city and state’s economic development agencies: they seek to provide clarity with forms, regulations, and other bureaucratic nuances that come attached to opening and operating a small business in a tax- and rule-heavy state. The same situation stands in the Business Council, the most prominent lobby for businesses in Albany. Providing commercial tenants with some sort of leverage in lease negotiations did not make its 2015 ‘Top Ten Objectives’ <a href="http://www.bcnys.org/inside/gac/2015/Fix-New-York-2015-Legislative-and-Regulatory-Agenda.pdf" target="_blank">list</a>, or the webpage for its <a href="http://www.bcnys.org/inside/smallbusiness.htm" target="_blank">subdivision</a> of small businesses. Rejecting a higher minimum wage did, though.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If there is ever to be any movement on this issue, folks have to organize,” McKee said, talking with Gotham Gazette while he was in the midst of yet another major push to influence tenant rent regulations being set by lawmakers in Albany and the city’s rent guidelines board.</p> <p dir="ltr">As many can attest, it is especially tough to compete against what is, without a doubt, the most powerful force in New York politics: real estate. This is a business community that spends millions every year on political campaigns; the contributions of one of its biggest entities, the Real Estate Board, made up a tenth of the entire state’s campaign money <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/04/8566024/rebny-members-gave-tenth-all-ny-campaign-money" target="_blank">last election cycle</a>. And that’s just one group.</p> <p dir="ltr">To James Parrott, the deputy director and chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, that wealth of influence explains the radio silence both down- and up-state, among Democrats and Republicans, on an issue that directly threatens real estate hegemony. Reasoning seems to be that if small businesses had more protections against space-seeking developers, it would cut into the pace and profits of the city’s longstanding natural order. Landlords either want to charge more for commercial space or developers want tenants out so they can sell or demolish and build anew.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The real estate community has always been aggressive in campaign contributions,” Parrott explains. “And, by doing so, they’ve successfully prevented anything that would restrict them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">This, of course, includes commercial tenant rights. Parrott makes a key point: in a state government where the recently former Speaker of the Assembly and Majority Leader of the State Senate are both indicted for <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/07/nyregion/big-names-in-new-york-real-estate-figure-into-skelos-and-silver-cases.html" target="_blank">crimes involving real estate’s influence</a>, it’s hard to believe a bill called the Small Business Survival Act would even last a day. Not to mention the probe into the abrupt closing of the Moreland Commission by Governor Andrew Cuomo; an investigation that is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/nyregion/governor-andrew-cuomo-and-the-short-life-of-the-moreland-commission.html" target="_blank">specifically looking</a> into tax breaks for huge developers.</p> <p dir="ltr">City government is not excluded, either, Parrott argues.</p> <p dir="ltr">The tale of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (better known as the SBJSA) in the City Council is a long yet uneventful one. Basically, the bill — which, in structure, is very similar to its upstate counterpart — has been floating around the chambers of City Hall since 2008. (Last year, Gotham Gazette&nbsp;dove into its <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5155-new-york-city-small-business-crisis-continues" target="_blank">reintroduction</a>.) It would let commercial tenants have the right to lease renewal ten years or more. If a landlord wants to raise rent, mediation with the tenant would be mandated, and, if the parties don’t come to an agreement, an arbitrator would make the final decision.</p> <p dir="ltr">In essence, it is a flexing of New York City’s <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/28/nyregion/justices-cite-vague-rule-twice-this-month.html" target="_blank">municipal home rule</a>, which allows the Council to bypass Albany and regulate commercial code on its own turf. Similar proposals have existed in the Council for decades now, but all have met the same fate: failure. No surprise, Parrott says: the power of real estate is as strong in the city as it is upstate, if not stronger. Also, past mayors and council speakers have strongly sided with that community, meaning any bill is unlikely to ever see a vote, and even if passed by Council, likely vetoed.</p> <p dir="ltr">But, to <a href="http://thevillager.com/2015/03/12/forum-on-small-businesses-offers-a-solution-within-reach/" target="_blank">tenant advocates</a>, this time around offers hope. Finally, they argue, a legislative body and a mayor progressive enough to actually take up the issue. At least on paper.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Historically, the deference to Albany has served as a smokescreen/distraction for elected city officials to validate their appalling inaction on issues that they, in all actuality, have complete control over,” Kirsten Theodos, a spokesperson for Take Back NYC, a grassroots advocacy group for tenants and subset of the larger group Save NYC, told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Right now, the SBJSA has <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1825175&amp;GUID=AFE9C183-5929-43FB-80AE-C7595CB610BD&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">19 City Council sponsors</a> in a 51-member boday. Seeing the bill heard at a committee hearing and then brought to a vote is unlikely, and would probably first require a number of additional sponors signing on (Council members can support a bill without co-sponsoring, but sponsorship levels show strength). To land those additional sponsors, Theodos hopes that situations like the eviction of businesses in Washington Heights will shed light on the issue. When asked if Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who endorsed the bill before becoming speaker, would support the bill now, a spokesperson pointed to remarks made by Mark-Viverito to <a href="http://thevillager.com/2015/06/04/speaker-commits-to-hold-a-hearing-on-s-b-j-s-a/" target="_blank">The Villager</a> in late May. She did not provide an endorsement of the bill then, but mentioned an argument that has been repeatedly made by the real estate community in the past: that the SBJSA is illegal.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The bill gets introduced once the [Council] staff do their due diligence,” the Speaker said. “Then there are hearings to hear from all sides. And then we figure out what the next steps will be — because sometimes options are being explored that legally we don’t have the ability to implement as a city or as a legislative council.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, in&nbsp;Gotham Gazette, the president of the Real Estate Board, Steven Spinola, called the bill an “unconstitutional intrusion” on property owners. A spokesperson for the Board told me this position hasn’t changed. Essentially, the board believes it is not in the Council’s jurisdiction to regulate commercial tenants. Home rule doesn’t apply here, they say.</p> <p dir="ltr">Theodos stresses that this is not true; SBJSA would target the negotiations process, she says, and not install commercial rent control. The legal counsel to the Small Business Congress, a coalition of tenant advocates, supported this argument last year, citing Supreme Court decisions that enable local autonomy.</p> <p dir="ltr">As a member of the City Council, Mayor Bill de Blasio supported the SBJSA, but he has remained relatively mum on the bill since entering his current office. For many advocates, the hope is that he’ll extend <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/08/nyregion/de-blasio-prods-new-york-state-on-housing-laws.html?ref=topics" target="_blank">the drive</a> that he has recently demonstrated around housing rent regulations in Albany to the parallel issue for small businesses. However, although he was elected on a ‘helping the little guy’ message and a promise to embrace them, small business owners and their allies also worry that his <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/06/nyregion/mayor-bill-de-blasio-and-developer-rob-speyer-are-close-but-not-on-affordable-housing.html" target="_blank">tendency to meet</a> with representatives from the Real Estate Board and other commercial heavyweights threatens his adherence to their cause. Holding an office that naturally attracts real estate interests, Council Speaker Mark-Viverito has also <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2014/09/8552146/mark-viverito-introduces-herself-big-developers" target="_blank">met</a> with REBNY heads. While neither de Blasio nor Mark-Viverito appears especially cozy with real estate titans, neither has pushed directly on the commerical rent issue either.</p> <p dir="ltr">That isn’t to say nothing has been done by the de Blasio administration to help small business owners since he took office in January of 2014, though. His office’s Department of Small Business Services (SBS) is spending <a href="http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20150217/BLOGS04/150219891/mayor-vows-again-to-cut-small-biz-red-tape" target="_blank">upwards of $27 million</a> to streamline and defuse the regulatory process and, with the Department of Consumer Affairs, made sure that fewer fines are handed out to small businesses that can barely afford rent. More importantly, SBS has rolled out initiatives aimed at providing pro bono legal services to small businesses in lease negotiations; a policy which will soon expand, SBS spokesperson Merideth Weber told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are working to roll out additional programs that span the range of supports we can provide including education, assistance, and tools that can help businesses avoid pitfalls in leases, and make the retail market more transparent,” Weber said in a statement.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked if the mayor supports SBJSA, Weber responded, “We’re reviewing the bill and this administration is working on a comprehensive plan to ensure that small businesses have the tools and resources they need to compete in an ever-changing marketplace.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, tenant advocates argue that these measures dance around the main issue: that small businesses have no legal powers against immediate evictions or rent gouging. In a hyper-developing environment reaching further into several boroughs, small business owners are often defenseless. With a state government not inclined to act on commercial rent policy in New York City, and a city bill that, for now at least, is on the back burner of the Council agenda, the urgency stressed by owners and advocates doesn’t seem to be resonating here nor there.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Mark Levine, who spoke out against the eviction of the small businesses on a block in Washington Heights, in his district, says that there are other options that can help stem the tide of closing small businesses. And these, he said, do not necessarily require either a dying bill or a dead government. “Albany is not acting in any domain, really,” he quickly noted.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city government, Levina argues, could set an example by not renting out its own real estate to chain stores. Also, zoning laws can be regulated in order to prevent chains and encourage small businesses — a policy that Columbia University has undertaken in Morningside Heights, Levine said. He added that the city should look into preventing developers who receive city subsidies from renting out to chains.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the 19 sponsors of the SBJSA, Levine argues that the city needs to set out a structure in which commercial tenants can have enough time whereby they are properly notified of a lease change. He also referred to a bill recently introduced by Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Dan Garodnick that would raise the commercial rent tax exemption in Manhattan (<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/finance/taxes/business-commercial-rent-tax-crt.page" target="_blank">below</a> 96th Street) from $250,000 to $500,000 per year. As of now, the bill has <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2324746&amp;GUID=5F1CB761-B063-4E8F-B72E-328714C639AF&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">16 sponsors</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">In terms of Albany attention, residential tenants supersede their commercial counterparts in numbers, Levine says, and the politics involved are different. But still, the council member describes challenges faced by small businesses in New York right now as a “crisis;” one that is perhaps even more alarming than the affordable housing problem, given the conditions. “There’s not much a tenant can do,” he says. “Therefore, we’re seeing dramatic changes in our streetscapes, and the scale of the problem is great.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is the mom and pop stores that make this city,” Levine said. “And the city government should be doing much, much more to protect them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br /><em><a href="https://twitter.com/JohnSurico" target="_blank">John Surico</a>&nbsp;is a freelance journalist. His reporting can be seen in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. He lives in Brooklyn.</em></p>